My 2016 DIY NAS Upgrade

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I spend a good chunk of every year researching, building, and writing about different NAS blogs. While I’m doing this work, every now and then I get bit with a temporary onset of jealousy and selfishness. Each of these NAS builds have been incrementally better than my own DIY NAS machine and each time that urge to keep the new NAS for myself has grown stronger!

Shortly after publishing the 2015 EconoNAS, I decided that the upcoming DIY NAS: 2016 Edition would serve a bit as a prototype for my own NAS upgrade. During the process of building and writing about the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition, I wound up learning a few lessons and made a few tweaks to suit my own needs a bit better.

What’s the same?

Case and Power Supply

I stayed with the U-NAS NSC-800 (specs). I do absolutely love the features of this case, most of all the case’s eight removable drive bays and its incredibly small footprint. But as much as I love this case, I hated working inside it, especially getting the motherboard finally mounted. Check out my timelapse video assembling the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition into the same case to get an idea of how much fun I had. If you’re building a DIY NAS and you’re tight for space, the U-NAS NSC-800 is worth its price and the effort of getting it into the case!

Along with the case, I also stuck with the Athena Power AP-U1ATX30A (specs) to provide the power. It was essentially the best deal on a 1U power supply that I could find which didn’t change in the weeks between ordering components for the two different NAS builds. I initially intended to use Pat’s Spacer Bracket for a 1U Power Supply to provide a bit of (unnecessary?) support to the backside of the power supply, but I actually wound up needing that object redesigned with new features to help solve a challenge unique to my own new requirements. More on that challenge below!

Storage Drives

Ultimately, my hard-drive configuration wound up the same as the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition, but this is purely coincidence. A few years ago I bought new hard drives, an additional SATA controller card, and rebuilt my ZFS zpool to hold seven 2TB hard drives in RAIDZ2 configuration. In the last four years, I’ve had 3 drives fail and get replaced with 4TB drives. For my upgrade, I wound up buying replacements for each of the four remaining 2TB hard-drives; a pair of Western Digital Red 4TB NAS hard drives (specs) and a pair of HGST Deskstar NAS 4TB hard drives (specs).

ZIL and L2ARC Cache Drives

Speaking of storage devices, I ultimately decided to stick with a pair of Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSD and use them both as ZIL and L2ARC cache devices. Those of you who read the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition may recall I was a bit disappointed with the performance of the NAS with the ZIL and L2ARC cache devices compared to without. Ultimately, I decided that my usage of the NAS at the time didn’t really line up with the benefits that the ZIL and L2ARC provide. It’s also possible that my own gigabit network is the primary bottleneck. If you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter then you’ve probably observed that I plan to be using my NAS a bit differently in the upcoming few months.

What’s Different?

FreeNAS Flash Drive

Starting off with differences between my NAS and the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition is how I handled the FreeNAS OS drive. As I have for almost every NAS build, I stuck with the low-profile 16GB SanDisk Cruzer Fit USB flash drive (specs). But for my own NAS, I added a second flash drive to mirror the OS on. The SanDisk Cruzer Fit flash drives are inexpensive enough that I’ve slowly acquired quite a collection of them, so it made sense to use one of those extras to add a little bit of additional redundancy to my own NAS.


Much like the flash drive, I’m still using the same RAM, but instead of just one 16GB kit (2x8GB) of Unbuffered DDR3 PC3-12800 (specs) I opted for two in order to bring the total amount of RAM up to 32GB. Among the things I learned as part of my understanding of ZIL and L2ARC is that I would’ve seen more performance benefit had I spent those same dollars on more RAM instead of cache devices. For this build, I toyed with 16GB sticks and even potentially 64GB of RAM, but the cost of the suggested 16GB DIMMS (over $300!!!) wound up making it way more pragmatic to buy 32GB (4x8GB) of RAM and also use the ZIL/L2ARC SSDs to supplement performance.

CPU and Motherboard

For my own NAS upgrade, I wound up going back to the motherboard from the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition, the ASRock C2550D4I (specs), which is essentially the quad-core little brother of the ASRock C27450D4I that was used in the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition. Originally I had picked the ASRock C2750D4I because I’d wanted to use those additional four CPU cores in order to add a bit more functionality to machine beyond storage. I was hoping that the extra CPU power would enable me to use the NAS to house a few virtual machines.

But then I re-re-re-read Pat’s Homelab Server build blog and rethought my approach. I wound up deciding that an additional machine to host my virtual machines made a bit more sense, hopefully something that I could build with considerable performance for a reasonable price. I hadn’t planned on building that machine until much later this year, but then this article about an affordable dual-Xeon machine got my attention. I finished ordering parts for my own homelab server as I worked on this blog.

I eventually decided that I could go with the ASRock C2550D4I in order to save some money. At the time of purchase, the ASRock C2550D4I was $150 less than the ASRock C2750D4I (specs). I used that money in part to increase the amount of RAM to 32GB and set what little was remaining aside for the parts needed for my homelab server buildout.

Intel recently (2/9/16) disclosed a hardware flaw with the Avoton C2000 family of CPUs as part of their 2016 Q4 earningss call. The flaw is going to require a change in how the Avoton C2000 CPUs are manufactured and probably explains the recent chatter of people having to RMA their C2000-based motherboards. I posted an update in the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition with my thoughts on the matter.


The process of the building, using, and testing the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition led me down the path of feeling I’d reached a point where my Gigabit had potentially become a limiting factor. On top of that, I am also planning on using my NAS for the storage of virtual machines hosted on my homelab machine. Because of this, I decided to build a small 10Gbe SFP+ network between my primary desktop, my NAS, and my homelab server by using either dual-port or multiple NICs and interconnecting each of the machines with twin-axial copper cable. My small little 10Gbe network and how it blew my little network-neophyte mind is a topic of its own blog. Due to the expense of 10Gbe network gear, I wound up trolling eBay for used NICs. I wound up finding that dual-port Chelsio S320e (specs) network cards could be found relatively inexpensively and I bought a lot of 3 cards for $90.

Power Supply Bracket

Unfortunately, the footprint of that inexpensive dual-port 10Gbe network card was pretty large, large enough that the backside of the network card was bumping into the stack of two Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSDs mounted in the U-NAS NSC-800. The default mounting method of these SSDs in the NSC-800 wound up preventing me from adding the Chelsio S320e NIC. I wrestled with the case for a few hours trying to find alternative ways of mounting the SSDs to make room, but the NSC-800 is a challenge in this regard since there’s not a whole lot of space to work with.

Ultimately I concluded that I could mount the SSDs and install the NIC in roughly the same spot, but not by using the mounting hardware that came with the NSC-800. Essentially, I decided that the best solution was to make a sandwich out of the NIC, mounting one SSD below it and another above it, but the stocking mounting hardware was insufficient for that goal. In the process of listening to me complain, Pat had a brainstorm—modify the power supply bracket used in the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition by adding some sleeves that the SSD would squeeze into to be held in place.

If you have access to a 3D printer then you can download and print Pat’s Spacer Bracket for a 1U Power Supply yourself from Thingiverse. Don’t have access to a 3D printer? No problem! Pat’s got the Spacer Bracket for a 1U Power Supply listed on the Store on Tindie.

FreeNAS Configuration

Since I imported my previous configuration, my configuration should’ve been identical in both the before and after state of my configuration. This is roughly the same configuration that I would’ve made with the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition. However, after a disappointing initial run of benchmarks, I decided to give the FreeNAS Autotune feature a try. Here’s what it says in the FreeNAS documentation, FreeNAS® provides an autotune script which attempts to optimize the system depending upon the hardware which is installed. Because the hardware had changed significantly, I thought it was a good idea to go ahead and enable this feature. As a result, FreeNAS created a few tunables:

I won’t pretend to have expertise in all of those tweaks that the Autotune made on my behalf, but I suspect that it’s a list of things that a few Google searches will give me a decent idea of why the changes were made and how it benefits the performance.

Parts List

Component Part Name         Count
Motherboard ASRock C2550D4I specs 1
Memory Crucial 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3 ECC specs 2
Case U-NAS NSC-800 Server Chassis specs 1
Power Supply Athena Power AP-U1ATX30A specs 1
SATA Cables Monoprice 18-Inch SATA III 6.0 Gbps (Pkg of 5) N/A 2
OS Drive SanDisk Cruzer 16GB USB Flash Drive specs 2
Cache Drives Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSD specs 2
Storage HDDs Various 4TB HDD Models N/A 7

Burning in CPU, Motherboard & RAM before assembly #1 Burning in CPU, Motherboard & RAM before assembly #2 Off the charts anal-retentive SATA Cable labeling SATA Cable Installation and management #1 SATA Cable Installation and management #2 SATA Cable Installation and management #3 SATA Cable Installation and management #4 SATA Cable Installation and management #5 SATA Cable Installation and management #6 SSDs mounted in stock location #1 SSDs mounted in stock location #2 SSDs mounted in stock location #3 SSDs mounted in stock location #4 Experimenting w/ alternate SSD mounting location. #1 Experimenting w/ alternate SSD mounting location. #2 Test fitting SSDs in Pat's 3D printed Bracket SSDs mounted using Pat's 3D printed bracket #1 SSDs mounted using Pat's 3D printed bracket #2 SSDs mounted using Pat's 3D printed bracket #3 SSDs mounted using Pat's 3D printed bracket #4 Brian's NAS mounted in his media cart #1 Brian's NAS mounted in his media cart #2

How Does it Measure up to the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition?

Out of curiosity, I executed the same IOMeter tests as I did in the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition to see exactly how my own NAS measured up performance-wise to the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition, and I also wanted to see the impact of the Autotune as well.



Overall, I had been expecting that my own NAS would be pretty comparable to the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition, and for the most part, I was right. Surprisingly, my NAS outperformed the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition in sequential writes by a good margin in both IOPS as well as MB/sec. However, for my uses, sequential writes (or reads) isn’t really a very real-world test. IOMeter’s “All Tests” mimics my real-world usage much better than the sequential read or sequential write tests. Within the “All Tests” my NAS benchmarked at about 87% of what the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition scored. I was hoping to be within 10%, but I was close enough that I am pleased with the outcome once you also factor in the additional money I was able to save by going with the ASRock C2550D4I.

What’s Next?

My ultimate goal for the upgrade to my FreeNAS machine is to create a box capable of serving as the disk storage for my yet-to-be-built homelab machine. As far as I’m concerned, I’m pretty certain that my upgraded NAS is up to that task. But I’ve got a couple projects to finish first: building out my poor man’s 10Gbe network and assembling my homelab server.

I’m pretty happy with both the performance of my NAS after all of its upgrades as well as its cost. In comparison to my prior NAS, its performance is light years ahead of where I was at prior to the upgrade. Depending on the test, IOPS and MB/sec for the benchmarks I performed ranged from 60% better to 4500% better. And while its performance lagged behind the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition, it was only by a half-step, and it even managed to out perform the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition in one test.

Hopefully, it’ll be at least another 4 years before I’m upgrading components again except for replacing/upgrading any hard-disk drives which manage to fail between now and the next major upgrade!

Mirroring the FreeNAS USB Boot Device

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One of the things that I like best about FreeNAS is the fact that you have the option to run it off an inexpensive USB flash drive; in fact, that seems to be the preferred option and is the most encouraged by the FreeNAS community. Consequently, that means you have an additional SATA port available for fulfilling the primary function of your NAS—additional storage. Almost as beneficial is the fact that USB drives are quite inexpensive. However, it’s not been unusual for me to receive some incredulous comments, questions, and other reactions when I explain that I entrust my data to an operating system which is hosted on a USB flash drive.

Usually, after listing out the benefits of having the OS on a USB flash drive, most people will come around and appreciate those same benefits. However, a minority of those people are a bit more skeptical, citing reasons like they’ve had bad experience with faulty USB drives in the past or that they simply don’t think that a USB drive can be counted on to be responsible for any kind of operating system.

Typically, what I’ve told the remaining skeptics was that losing your OS drive just isn’t that big of a deal in FreeNAS. In the event that the USB flash drive died, it’d be pretty easy to recover. First you’d need a bootable copy of the FreeNAS installation ISO, a replacement USB flash drive, and a few minutes of your time. FreeNAS would get installed on the new USB drive, then the existing zpool could be imported from the data drives, and finally the system configuration database could be restored from a daily backup that FreeNAS does automatically each morning. As part of an upgrade to my own NAS (a future blog topic), I went through these same exact steps just to see how long it’d take and how difficult it was. From start to finish, it took me about 30 minutes and it was not complicated at all.

Personally, I think 30 minutes of downtime is more than acceptable for the overwhelming majority of builders of DIY NAS machines, but that’s just my opinion. I certainly wouldn’t blame someone for saying that it isn’t acceptable for their own NAS. Thankfully, for people with standards a little bit higher than mine, FreeNAS will make a mirror out of your USB boot device. Even better? It’s really simple to set up. FreeNAS even wrote the exact steps in their user documentation (5.3.1. Mirroring the Boot Device):

How to Mirror the FreeNAS Boot Device

  1. Open your FreeNAS UI in a browser.
  2. From the System tab, select Boot
  3. Click the Status button
  4. Select either freenas-boot or stripe
  5. Click the the Attach button
  6. Select the appropriate device from the Member Disk drop down and click Attach Disk

From this point, the freenas-boot zpool will be converted into a mirror (from a stripe) and the new device will be added to that zpool. Once that action completes, ZFS will begin re-slivering and duplicate your data from your existing USB flash drive to the new one. Because it re-slivers the zpool, you will get a system alert about how the freenas-boot is degraded. However, this is temporary and clears up once the re-sliver is complete. On my machine, that took just a few minutes.

You can create this mirror from the get-go during the installation too. All that you have to do during the installation is to have your two USB drives connected and then to select them both as targets for the installation. The FreeNAS installer will then create your mirrored boot devices as part of its initial setup.

FreeNAS System tab FreeNAS Boot Device Info FreeNAS Boot Device Status FreeNAS Boot Device Status w/ Added Mirror Re-slivering freenas-boot zpool Re-sliver complete on freenas-boot


The FreeNAS user documentation features this suggestion very prominently:

Note: When adding another boot device, it must be the same size (or larger) as the existing boot device. Different models of USB devices which advertise the same size may not necessarily be the same size. For this reason, it is recommended to use the same model of USB drive.

This warning neither surprised me nor worried me. I’ve been using the SanDisk Cruzer Fit line of USB drives now for years. In fact, before building the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition I even bought a handful of these devices just to have a few extra around the house. When I decided to add a USB Flash Drive mirror on my own NAS, I decided I’d buy a couple more. I had enough USB flash drives from the same manufacturer and of the model that I didn’t think anything of this notice when I made my first attempt. Imagine my surprise when this error message was the result: Error: Failed to attach disk: cannot attach da1p2 to gptid/b2be8286-f11e-a058-00074306bdff: device is too small

Apparently, there have been variations to the 16GB SanDisk Cruzer Fit over time. The drives that I had purchased previously were ever-so-slightly bigger than the ones I bought just this week. How could I work around this? I had a couple options:

  1. Manually back up the system configuration and reinstall FreeNAS while choosing to specify both USB devices. As a result, FreeNAS would size the mirror to the smaller of the two USB drives. Then boot from that new mirrored installation and restore the system configuration.
  2. Dig through my collection of 16GB SanDisk Cruzer Fit drives and try them one by one while hoping that at least one of them is the same size or bigger than the one in my own NAS.

Thankfully, after trying 3—4 different 16GB flash drives, I found one that was the same size or larger.

Final Thoughts

Assuming you’re a bit more meticulous than I have been, you may want some sort of redundancy for your FreeNAS boot device. It’s wonderfully simple to do as part of the initial installation; just insert your two USB flash drives and select them both as destinations for the installation. If you miss it during the initial setup, it’s almost as easy to do through the FreeNAS user interface as is outlined in the user documentation to mirror the boot device. About the only wrinkle is that when doing it after the fact, you need to be careful that the new device is the same size or larger as your existing boot device. The complicated part of this is that you can’t necessarily count on the fact that two different USB drives are the same size, even if they are the same model!

What do you think? Have any of you been holding off because you don’t have much faith in USB flash drives? Does the FreeNAS feature to easily mirror multiple flash drives help with your concerns at all?

I (grudgingly) Realized that I Wanted a Smartwatch

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Update (12/9/16): In a recent announcement, Pebble announced that they were shutting their doors and selling off their intellectual property to Fitbit. As such, I probably need to retract any nice things that I said about Pebble’s products down below. My new recommendation to everyone is: don’t buy Pebble smartwatches. The watch might work for now but nobody’s going to honor any kind of warranty, provide any support, or further the platform. I’m sure retailers are going to purge their inventories at rock-bottom pricing, but considering what Pebble’s said lies in store for their products it seems foolhardy to buy at any price. You’ve been warned—you’re almost certain to get far less than what you paid for.

Moreover, don’t buy anything from Fitbit either. While I commend their business acumen in acquiring the intellectual property but none of Pebble’s debt or obligations (for example: supporting the existing users), I think it’s a crummy move on their part to turn their backs on all of the existing Pebble users. I already had a frustrating experience with the Fitbit Force when Fitbit “voluntarily” recalled the Force before fulfilling a pending order that I had waited quite some time for. I hope they do amazing things with the pieces of Pebble that they acquired, but I’ll never buy any of their products again after they disappointed me both directly and indirectly.

I’ll enjoy my Pebble Time Steel as long as I can but it will quit working at some point. When that happens, will I replace it with another smartwatch? I’m not so certain.

For the longest time, the entire smartwatch craze befuddled me. I spent the last twenty years or so being very anti-watch. I spent the ’90s and the decade after wishing that my mobile phone would shrink down to a small enough size that it’d easily double as a pocket watch while liberating my wrist. In fact, when I eventually replaced my watch with my Nokia 8260, I was quite prideful in my ability to predict the future. For the next fifteen years, I scoffed at the notion of needing a watch at any point in the future.

Then a couple weekends ago I was at the hospital, precariously holding my newborn son, when my phone chirped at me as a text message came in, then a few moments later a phone call came in, and then immediately after that another phone call, ultimately all of this followed by a voice-mail notification! My brother, Jeff, was trying to get in touch with me in order to find out where he needed to go in order to come see his nephew for the first time (and to also bring the delicious pork he’d smoked.) But I was both unable and unwilling to reach into my pocket and answer his call. As my Nexus 6 rang and vibrated in vain from the depths of my pocket, I asked myself, “Oh crap. Am I going to need to get a smartwatch now?”

To be fair, I’ve been wearing something on my wrist for a couple years now. I have had a Fitbit Flex for quite some time now, so it’s not like my wrist has been completely naked since banishing watches sometime near the beginning of this millennium. But it’s still a pretty surprising 180-degree reversal on my part, especially when you consider my stubborn nature. I grudgingly resigned myself to the fact that I’d be shopping for a smartwatch in the near future and began to think about the features that I wanted to see in my smartwatch.

Smartwatch Requirements

  1. Battery Life: It seems these days I’m always in search of a charger for some piece of electronics that I’m carrying around. I’d really like to see at least 3 days’ worth of battery life and I’d be willing to pay more or sacrifice other features for a longer battery life.
  2. Fitness Tracking: I’m not an especially active guy, but I like the data that I get to see from my Fitbit Flex, especially its ability to keep count of steps and sleep tracking. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to move off from Fitbit as my fitness platform of choice.
  3. Mobile Platform Independent: I’m pretty much a devoted Android guy, but there’s a remote possibility that someday that might change. I’d prefer not to be shackled to any particular mobile operating system just because I happen to own one device from their ecosystem. There’s nothing special about a smartwatch’s functionality that would prevent it from working in numerous environments. If a manufacturer disagrees and sees the smartwatch as an opportunity to further their grip on my household, they’re going to be disappointed.
  4. Color Display: Even though it may consume more battery power than a black-and-white display, I’d still prefer a color display on my watch. My days of a monochromatic watch experience ended with whatever watch I was wearing at the end of the last millennium.
  5. Reasonably Priced: I wasn’t quite sure what dollar figure to place on this, but the smaller the amount the better. The rate at which mobile electronics become obsolete is way too high for me to spend much money on them. For the purposes of my shopping, I set my limit at around $300. I’d consider watches over that price, but they’d really need to blow my socks off.
  6. Chronometer: Oh yeah, it’s a watch—might as well make sure it can perform its primary function.

Determining my requirements didn’t really help me pick a watch at all, but it certainly did help eliminate the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch’s battery would need to be charged at least on a daily basis, ashamedly requires an iPhone to work, and its cost starts above what I consider to be reasonable. Even if I had an iPhone, I would still be inclined to buy a different smartwatch than what Apple’s currently offering.

The Contenders

There are quite a few choices on the smartwatch market, which was a bit surprising. In fact, there are so many out there that I’m relatively certain I’ve overlooked quite a few products that might fit my needs. Ultimately, I narrowed down the list to the following watches.

Among my criteria, my battery requirement eliminated a number of watches. The Huwaei Watch (1 to 2 days), LG Watch Urbane Wearable Smart Watch (1 to 2 days), Motorola 360 (~1 day), and Fossil Men’s FTW2001 (1 to 1.5 days) each failed to meet my minimum of 3 days’ use on a single charge. Furthermore, I was a bit disappointed to find out that each of these watches required that the screen go to sleep in order to reach those “maximum” charge times. Considering the size of the batteries and the displays these watches have, this isn’t a surprising factoid, but it doesn’t stop it from being a disappointing one. I expected that the Fixing_DIY Bluetooth Android Smart Mobile Phone U8 Wrist Watch also has a similar battery limitation, but it does have a tremendous advantage—price! At around ten bucks you could buy one for every day of the month before you got to the price of the Huawei, LG, Fossil, or Motorola watches.

The Pebble Time Steel and Pebble Time both meet my battery criteria thanks to their e-paper displays. The best part about the e-paper display is that it only requires power to update the display, so not only does it use a fraction of the power other smartwatches’ displays take, but it also means things can like the time can be presented on the display and remain there without consuming any power until they require an update. I’ve owned a Kindle Paperwhite e-reader for a while, and I’ve enjoyed using it quite a bit, which gives me a measure of confidence in e-paper displays.

The Decision

Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too? The Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel, and Fixing_DIY Bluetooth Android Smart Mobile Phone U8 Wrist Watch all met most, if not all, of my criteria. Both of the options from Pebble offerings actually met all of my criteria. By the time I was done shopping, I had made up my mind to buy the Pebble Time Steel, mostly due to its larger battery. But at only $10, it also seemed like a no-brainer to also buy the Fixing_DIY Bluetooth Android Smart Mobile Phone U8 Wrist Watch too!

Both the Fixing_DIY Bluetooth Android Smart Mobile Phone U8 Wrist Watch and the Pebble Time Steel showed up on the same day, so what did I do? Put them both on, naturally! I actually expected that this would cause problems, but wound up being pleasantly surprised to see that notifications were getting sent to both of my phones. It wound up being a bit difficult to use either phone with both on my left wrist, so I wound up wearing one on each of my wrists. Thank goodness I’ve been housebound with fatherly duties, as I looked like a much bigger dork than usual!


The Fixing_DIY Bluetooth Android Smart Mobile Phone U8 Wrist Watch was really surprising to me, consider its price of around $10. Because of the price, I had pretty low expectations. However, the smartwatch was quite capable and exceeded my expectations. It instructed me to download an app, BT Notification, to manage which notifications would get passed on to the phone. One of the features present on the Fixing_DIY Bluetooth Android Smart Mobile Phone U8 Wrist Watch but missing on the Pebble Time Steel is the fact that it includes the functionality of a Bluetooth headset. I was able to successfully call Pat and leave him a voice-mail despite his well-stated position on voicemail. Speaking of Pat, when I gave him the smartwatch to play around with, he discovered a feature that I overlooked—the smartwatch also has a the ability to access your phone’s camera remotely. We couldn’t think of many uses for having access to a remote camera on our wrists, but Pat pointed out that it’d come in handy if you had to see behind something that you couldn’t quite fit your head behind. As expected, you’re able to control (and listen) to your phone’s music, place a call to someone from your phone’s contacts, and read your text messages. Atop of that, the smartwatch also contained a bushel of other miscellaneous built-in apps, including; a calculator, stopwatch, alarm clock, pedometer, calendar (unique from your phone’s calendar app and data), sleep tracker, and a couple others.

I wound up not caring much for the interface of this smartwatch—the touchscreen is just a bit too difficult to use precisely and the design of the user interface is both basic and lacking. The act of acknowledging and dismissing a notification on the smartwatch was difficult enough that I probably would prefer doing it from my Nexus 6 instead. I also found that the smartwatch’s configuration options left quite a bit to be desired. YYou can change the notification and ring tones, but the choices all are pretty crummy and there are only 2-3 for each. The battery life is also pretty lacking—I immediately charged the Fixin_DIY watch and within a few hours of heavy use it was needing another charge, and that was a letdown. The poor battery life gave me doubts about whether or not it could survive an entire day. The size of the watch was also a bit bigger than I would’ve liked, and noticeably bigger in all three dimensions than the Pebble Time Steel.

There were quite a few things about the smartwatch that I liked, especially the price and its handling of the phone’s notifications, but there were also things that I disliked: the touchscreen, size, the user interface, and the battery life. All that being said, I think the Fixing_DIY Bluetooth Android Smart Mobile Phone U8 Wrist Watch is a great value at $10. It ticks off quite a few of my “must-have” features for a smartwatch and does it all for less than the price of a movie ticket. I think that this smartwatch would be an excellent investment for anyone who isn’t quite sure if they want a smartwatch and aren’t willing to spend hundreds of dollars just to satisfy their curiosity.

Dead-on shot with Display Active Laying on its side, with left side up Laying on its side, with right side up Connected to charging cable Shallow(er) viewing angle #1 Shallow(er) viewing angle #2

Pebble Time Steel

At the price of roughly 19 Fixin_DIY watches, I had pretty lofty expectations for the Pebble Time Steel, although in its defense the price was quite more reasonable than the offerings from Apple, Samsung, and Motorola. The Pebble Time Steel surprised me in that it was quite a bit smaller than I expected. A friend of mine has the original Pebble Watch and I wound up being surprised to find out that the Pebble Time Steel was a bit smaller than her Pebble Watch. In fact, I’d wager to say that the Pebble Time Steel took up just about as much of my wrist as my beloved calculator-watch that I had back in the ‘80s, but my wrists are a bit bigger now than they were back then.

So what does the extra $180 get you when comparing the Pebble Time Steel to the Fixin_DIY watch? Quite a bit! First and foremost is battery life. When I first received it I never charged the Pebble Time Steel, and on its initial charge under pretty heavy use the battery lasted five days. And thanks to the properties of the e-paper display, the watch was always on. It was interesting to me how frustrated I got with having to hit a button on the Fixin_DIY watch in order to wake up the display just to see the time. Another exciting feature of the Pebble Time Steel was its plethora of apps and watchfaces. I definitely have a desire to display data from my Continuous Glucose Monitoring system as well as some of the data from my web-analytics platform, Piwik. While I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for in Pebble’s app store, in looking at some of Pebble’s development material, I’m reasonably confident that I can construct it myself. Lastly, the Pebble Time Steel has water resistance up to 30 meters with some limitations, which means all of my watery day-to-day activities (shower, washing dishes, getting peed on by the baby) aren’t likely to cause any ill effects.

Dead-on shot with Display Active Laying on its side, with left side up Laying on its side, with right side up Watch and Magnetic Charging Cable Connected to charging cable Shallow(er) viewing angle


I’m spending quite a bit more time these days with my hands full, completely unable to pull my smartphone from my pocket. I thought a smartwatch would help out in those situations, and I was mostly correct. But things that I assumed I could do one-handed all actually require two hands: one hand is tied up wearing the watch, and the other hand makes selections via the touchscreen or buttons, which I found a bit disappointing. On the flipside, I was already wearing something on my wrist, and I’d caught myself wishing a few times that it had a watch face and that I could somehow use it with my smartphone.

I’m actually pretty pleased that I bought the smartwatch, but a tiny bit disappointed it didn’t solve the exact problem that I purchased it for. I’m excited because it’s a fun little gadget that I get to tinker around with. The Pebble Time Steel wound up meeting all of my smartwatch criteria, and I truly am appreciating that all of the notifications I care for are getting forwarded to my watch. In fact, I’m tempted to mute the notification tone and vibration on my Nexus 6 as a result of buying a smartwatch.

It may not have been the perfect solution to the problem I was hoping it would solve, but overall I’m pleased with owning a smartwatch. There are a number of things that I wouldn’t mind incorporating into my smartwatch: keeping track of my traffic on my blog, keeping track of my blood-sugar data from my continuous glucose meter, and incorporating the watch into my own home automation. If I can accomplish those tasks then the smartwatch will wind up being a very useful addition to my arsenal of gadgets. Otherwise? Then it’s an expensive toy, but not the kind of toy I expect I’ll outgrow too soon.

How about you guys? What purposes do you have for smartwatches that I’m overlooking? And on the flip side, what concerns do you have that might be stopping you from seriously considering a smartwatch?

Home Brew: Das DoppelGanger

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As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, one of the big reasons I decided to join our local makerspace,, was their Brew of the Month program. I had always been interested in the prospect of brewing my own beer, but it took a group of other enthusiasts to finally act on my curiosity.

The last Brew of the Month that I attended was at the end of February when we brewed TheLab DoppleGanger. The DoppleGanger is a doppelbock imitating a Chocolate Stout. Of the beers that I’ve participated in brewing, this was by far the most complicated. As I understand it, it’s the first time that TheLab’s brewers have attempted to brew a beer that included a triple infusion mash. Our brew master, Richard, warned us that we had a long night ahead of us when he shared the details of the month’s brew at TheLab’s Monthly members’ meeting. Richard wasn’t exaggerating; the night we brewed I didn’t make it home until well after two a.m.—much to the chagrin of my dogs, Crockett and Zoe. On top of the complicated brewing process, it was going to be a doppelbock, which meant that it was going to wind up fermenting in the Brewterus for twice the normal time. Which meant it would be two months before we could all enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Over Easter weekend I kegged the DoppelGanger, and because I’m married to a German, I began referring to it as “Das DoppelGanger.” The smell of the chocolate malt really stood out as I transferred the beer from my carboy into the Cornelius keg. A pleasant chocolatey-beer aroma permeated the room where my keezer is located. If not for the power of Pine-Sol, that wondrous smell would’ve quickly enveloped the entire house due to the enormous mess I made while putting the brew into the keg.

Of the few beers I’ve brewed, I had the hardest time with Das DoppelGanger. The fermentation was a bit more complicated and wasn’t the set-it-and-forget-it that I’d done with previous beers. As a result of some of the excitement around our newborn son’s arrival, I wound up not exactly adhering to the recipe. Richard assured me that I was fine long before I kegged the beer, but I had that inkling of a doubt.

I really wish that I had a sophisticated palate and an armory of descriptive adjectives to describe what I taste, but sadly I think I lack some of the tools and definitely the experience to effectively describe what I’m tasting. Firstly, the DoppelGanger is a quite dark beer, reminding me quite a bit of a cup of coffee. I believe this is primarily thanks to the combination of the Munich Malt, Carafa III, and Chocolate Malt. Because it’s a doppelbock it’s got a pretty considerable amount of heartiness to it and a higher alcohol content than the beers I most typically drink.

Prepping the carboy and keg for transfer. The DoppelGanger is dark and quite coffee-like in appearance. It looks even darker with the camera flash active. Slowly being siphoned from the carboy into the keg. Updating the label on the beer tap handle DoppleGanger handle installed and ready to go #1 DoppleGanger handle installed and ready to go #2 DoppleGanger handle installed and ready to go #3 The first poured glass of the DoppelGanger

What did I think?

Historically, I’ve mostly enjoyed the lighter side of beers. I’ve always had a real bias towards beers that are crisp and smooth. The darker, heartier beers never really captured my fancy. That being said, I’m slowly coming around to the dark side. A few helpful bartenders have helped me identify and like quite a few darker beers.

If the DoppelGanger was on tap at one of my favorite watering holes, I’d definitely order a glass or two. But that being said, I’d probably prefer to do it on an empty stomach—it’s quite a filling beer. However, it’s really quite smooth and enjoyable. I worked on this blog while sipping on my very first glass of the DoppelGanger, finishing up both the glass and the first draft of the blog almost simultaneously. I’m going to enjoy drinking (and sharing……….maybe) all five gallons of the DoppelGanger currently on tap in my keezer!

DIY NAS: 2016 Edition

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A few years ago, I asked myself, “Can I build my own DIY NAS?” And ever since then, I’ve been answering that question in the form of a couple different build blogs each year. Each build has a bit of a theme: how I would rebuild my own NAS and what parts I’d select for a more economical build. For 2016, I’m varying from that theme ever so slightly. The DIY NAS: 2016 Edition was specifically written with my own NAS in mind.

In the past 4 years, I’ve added additional drives to my NAS and I’ve also replaced a couple failed drives. Today there are 7 HDDs in my NAS: 3x4TB and 4x2TB drives. But I’ve also had some odd communication errors writing to my HDDs. After replacing all the SATA cables, I’ve become convinced that the drive cage in my Lian Li PC-Q25B is the root cause. Because of this realization, I’ve decided that’s enough reason to go ahead and upgrade my own NAS; it just didn’t make any sense to me to take a 4+-year-old motherboard and put it into a brand-new case! I decided that the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition would be an ideal sandbox for me to go ahead and figure out exactly which hardware I’d wind up buying for my own upgrade.

Unfortunately, my appendix had other ideas—right when I was ready to put all the hardware together it became inflamed and required a trip to the emergency room, and ultimately to the operating room. Instead of spending the holidays working on this NAS blog, I wound up being busy getting better. Curse you, vestigial organs!

With all of that behind me, what exactly did I have in mind for upgrading my existing NAS to? My biggest motivating factor was the incorporation of bhyve into FreeBSD 10, which once it is incorporated into a future version of FreeNAS, would also allow for the potential of virtual machines being hosted on my NAS.

CPU & Motherboard

In my NAS-building experience the selection of the motherboard is the most important and therefore most time-consuming decision made when planning your NAS build. I have a set of criteria that’s incredibly important to me that I work from for each build:

  1. Small form factor: Real estate in our home office is very valuable for two reasons: it’s difficult to find and it’s full of important devices. Because of these factors, I like picking diminutive motherboards that don’t require full-sized computer cases. This usually narrows my search down to browsing through the various available Mini-ITX or Micro ATX motherboards.
  2. Low-power CPU support: Because I leave my NAS running 24/7 the costs savings of a power-sipping CPU justify the premium that gets charged for the low-powered CPUs. Over the life of the device, the low-power CPU will more than pay for its price premium.
  3. 6 or more SATA Ports: 6 SATA ports are enough to build out a pretty decently sized array while also including a couple drives’ worth of parity for the sake of fault tolerance.
  4. Onboard Gigabit: This is mostly because I wired up my house with CAT5e and wanted to make sure I could make use of it. But because transfer speeds to your NAS are going to depend on the speed of the network interface, it makes sense to try and ensure that the fastest possible is included on the motherboard. Because Mini-ITX motherboards usually only have one PCI-e slot, I like to keep it free for a future SATA controller card rather than occupy it with a network card, which is why I prefer the network card to be built onto the motherboard.
  5. Integrated and Passively Cooled CPU: There’s no real requirement here that the CPU is integrated, but I’d rather have a motherboard with an integrated CPU just because I’m a bit lazy and appreciate the simplified installation. But what’s really important here is that the CPU can be passively cooled without an added fan. I’m not a big fan of sitting in a room of noisy computers.

In my research for the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition, I discovered the ASRock C2550D4I motherboard which seemed to be designed entirely for a DIY NAS server in mind. To this day, I’m still impressed with its size, its fan-less design, and the number of SATA devices it can support. For the 2016 DIY NAS, I was quite tempted to stick with it for a second year in a row. However, because I have a goal to also run a small virtual machine or two on my own NAS machine, I decided to upgrade to the C2550D4I’s big brother, the ASRock C2750D4I (specs). The two motherboards are virtually identical, with the ASRock C2750D4I’s CPU featuring an additional 4 cores, which should come in handy considering my virtual machine aspirations. There’s a significant price difference between the motherboards—the extra CPU horsepower carries a hefty price difference of an additional $100. Because of that, I think the ASRock C2550D4I is still a fantastic alternative. Both of these motherboards fit all of my ideal NAS-building criteria.

Running Total: $418.04

Update (2/9/17): Atom C2000-family Design Flaw

A couple different readers alerted me to a story that came out of Intel’s Q4 2016 earnings call. Apparently there is a flaw in the Intel Atom C2000 which requires a hardware fix. This almost undoubtedly means it’s going to require replacing the motherboard to obtain that fix, assuming that ASRock manufactures repaired motherboards. The end result of the flaw is that the system becomes unbootable. This is a failure which I have personally have experienced once already and one of the past #FreeNASGiveaway winners also experienced a very similar issue that resulted in submitting the motherboards to the ASRock RMA process. This is pretty bad news for what’s been hands-down my favorite CPU to build DIY NAS machines around.

What’s this mean for DIY NAS builders? Buyer beware! I for one still love the Avoton C2550 and C2750 motherboards that I’ve picked. I’ve had to RMA my NAS’ ASRock C2550D4i motherboard once already and it’s a bit disappointing to me that another motherboard RMA probably awaits my own NAS. But I’m not going to rush out and replace the motherboard with something else. My hope is that ASRock produces new boards with the necessary fix and begins to use them in their RMA process. I’ve contacted ASRock’s support 2-3 times and I’ve always had positive experiences working with them. While my NAS is an important piece of hardware in my house, I can cope with an occasional stretch of downtime as I await the motherboard’s RMA.


Because the motherboard supports it and because it is the better option, I chose to buy ECC RAM despite my confidence in using Non-ECC RAM for my DIY NAS builds. FreeNAS suggests around 1GB of RAM for 1TB of raw storage, but I haven’t personally run into any issues building machines that fall short of that rule of thumb. For this NAS, I decided to go with a 16GB kit (2x8GB) of Unbuffered DDR3 PC3-12800 (specs).

Running Total: $505.03

Case, Power Supply, and Cables

The case is your second most important item when it comes to building a DIY NAS. I typically wind up spending almost as much time looking at different cases as I do motherboards. Mostly, you want to pick a case that’s going to fit the maximum number of drives you can project your NAS containing. Even if you wind up building a smaller NAS (2-4 HDDs total) I suggest that you pick a case that can hold up to 6-8 HDDs. That way, if you wanted to add storage quickly and easily, you have a few empty hard drive bays to work with.

Last year’s case was the Silverstone Tek DS380B and when I was building it, I was envious of the removable drive bays in the case. I think that easy access to the NAS’s hard-disk drives is a very luxurious perk. I’ve been very happy with my Lian Li PC-Q25B but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted last year to buy that case and use it in my NAS. I was bound and determined to buy another Silverstone Tek DS380B for this year’s NAS (as well as for my upgrade) but then somebody commented on Google+ asking me about the U-NAS cases.

Specifically, I was asked about the U-NAS NSC-400, which I think is a little small. But I was intrigued. If there were bigger version(s) of that same case I thought it’d be a very temping option to my prior favorite cases. I found that as I was hoping an 8-drive version existed, the U-NAS NSC-800 (specs). U-NAS built a great case for their own NAS devices and then wisely decided to sell the same case to others who wanted to build their own DIY NAS. Its most important feature was that it had room for 8 HDDs in removable and hot-swappable drive trays. In addition to that, it has room for a couple 2.5” hard drives. It seemed extremely compact with dimensions of 316mm x 254mm x 180mm and it claimed “Ultra Quiet Operation.”

Of everything I read on their specifications, I was pretty excited and hardly skeptical except for that last item. In addition to claiming it was ultra quiet, it also specified that you needed a power supply designed for use in a 1U server rack. For those of you who’ve never been in a data center or in the vicinity of a 1U server being run, “quiet” is the last word you’d use to describe its operation. Every time that I’ve ever heard a rack-mount server running, it’s sounded a bit like a 747 taxiing for takeoff.

All that being considered, I was hopeful that I could find a 1U power supply that was on the quiet side, hopefully no louder than the number of drives spinning up in the case. I’d actually picked an entirely different power supply, which is what you’ll see in all of the parts photos, but I found out that my original choice wouldn’t work. I instead picked out an Athena Power AP-U1ATX30A (specs) to go in the case.

Learning from one of my past mistakes, I assumed that I wouldn’t have anywhere near the SATA cables I’d ultimately need, so I decided to pick up two packs of (5) 18” SATA 3.0 cables. In my NAS-building experience I’ve found that even though the motherboards are designed to support a large number of drives, the manufacturers are keeping their costs low and only including 1-2 total SATA Cables. My suggestion to other DIY NAS builders is to make sure you have more SATA cables than you actually need.

Running Total: $761.15


FreeNAS Flash Drive

What’s impressed me most these past few years of building NAS machines is that there’s really only one component which hasn’t changed from year to year: the USB drive responsible for running FreeNAS. I continue to recommend the SanDisk Cruzer Fit USB drives (specs). The FreeNAS hardware requirements say that you need a drive that’s at least 8GB and their suggested size is at 16GB, which is what I picked out for this NAS. I’m a big fan of this USB drive because of its low profile. It can fit in the USB ports on both the front or the back of the case and doesn’t protrude excessively from where it’s inserted. I think it’s ideally suited for the back of the case. Because I continue to have good luck with these drives, I’m pretty certain I’ll be using them again in future builds.

Cache SSDs

I’ve been teasing a few surprises on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ pretty frequently and this is the first of those surprises. For my own NAS upgrade, I wanted to implement both a read cache and a write cache to sit in front of the HDDs. In order to accomplish that, I picked out the Samsung 850 EVO 120GB (specs). Everything that I’ve read about the Samsung EVO 850s is that they perform pretty well and more importantly are pretty durable. I picked a pair of SSDs because it’s imperative that your write cache is redundant. In order to achieve that I’ll end up creating a partition on each of the SSDs and then mirror those two partitions. The rest (or the appropriate remaining amount) of the SSDs will be used to create a striped read cache.

NAS Hard Disk Drives

The hard-disk drives that you wind up using for storage in your NAS should always account for most of your expense. If your HDDs don’t account for at least 50% of your total expenditures then you’re probably spending too much money on the wrong components! In building various NAS machines over the years, I’ve come to believe that it’s quite a bit better to buy more drives instead of buying bigger drives. The tempting advantage of buying bigger drives is that they’re almost always more cost efficient; the larger the drive, the better the dollars-to-gigabytes ratio is.

If you were buying one hard drive for your new desktop computer, I’d tell you to buy the biggest drive you can afford and to make sure you back up all of your critical data. But in this case, you’re not buying just one drive, you’re buying a number of drives, so the same advice doesn’t work out near as well. Let’s consider a couple different theoretical arrays both of 24TB of total raw storage using 6TB (4 HDDs), 4TB (6 HDDs), or 2TB (12 HDDs) drives and two different levels of redundancy: one HDD for redundancy and two HDDs for redundancy:

Size Quantity Raw Storage Useable Storage w/
1 Redundant HDD
Useable Storage w/
2 Redundant HDDs
6 4 24 18 12
4 6 24 20 16
*2 12 24 22 20

* Note: This is an example, I’m not suggesting a 12x2TB array is the optimal configuration.

I think what’s most important here is the “I” in RAID, Redundant Array of “INEXPENSIVE” Disks. The greater the number of HDDs you can squeeze into your budget, the more configuration options you’re going to have. The more configuration options that you’re going to have, your array is going to wind up bigger and/or more fault tolerant which is a very good thing!

Looking at hard-drive prices right now, I think the 4TB drive is definitely still the best bang for your buck. I was pretty tempted by the 6TB drive prices, but they’re still a bit too expensive to compete with the 4TB drives. However, the way things are looking, I’d be surprised if I wasn’t incorporating 6TB drives into next year’s DIY NAS blogs. Here are the two drives that I wound up going with:

2016 NAS HDDs
Seagate 4TB ST4000VN000
4 TB
4 TB

I typically wind up picking drives from 2-3 different manufacturers for a couple reasons:

  1. Avoid Bad Batches: When buying drives in bulk from the same vendor, you’re extremely likely (but not guaranteed) to get drives that were all manufactured in the same batch. Typically defects in hard-drive manufacturing result in the same issue across the same batch. So if you had 7 disks in your NAS that you bought all from the same vendor at the same time and those drives came from a bad batch, you might see similar issues start popping up at the same time on each of your drives.
  2. It Enables me to Buy Cheap Drives: There are inexpensive HDDs out there that are quite a bit of a good deal compared to their contemporaries. You may think that the price is “too good to be true,” but this is a good way to save quite a few dollars and count on the redundancy within your array to protect you just in case it turns out to be too good to be true. This usually applies more to the EconoNAS builds that I do, but it’s still a great way to trim some of the price down off your own DIY NAS build. That being said—be careful, sometimes you get what you pay for!

And the finishing flourish on this year’s NAS was an additional 3D-printed piece: a “case badge” that we designed and printed on the 3D printers at I liked the final product so much, that I printed a handful more. I’ve got enough for at least a couple more years’ worth of NAS giveaways.

The DIY NAS: 2016 Edition nearly broke the bank, literally. I wound up spending nearly $2,000 in total and almost more than I spent building my latest gaming rig. In the future, I’d prefer not to get anywhere near this price point for a NAS build. However, because I’m intending to upgrade my existing NAS I won’t be spending that entire price all at once. In fact, when I do decide to upgrade, I’ll probably do it gradually over a few months: first slowly upgrading the remaining HDDs from 2TB to 4TB and then by upgrading the remaining components. However, that being said, the 2016 NAS is a fantastic little machine which packs quite a punch. Here’s a breakdown of all the parts and their costs:

Final Parts List

Component Part Name Count Cost
Motherboard ASRock C2750D4I specs 1 $418.04
Memory Crucial 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3 ECC specs 1 $86.99
Case U-NAS NSC-800 Server Chassis specs 1 $199.00
Power Supply Athena Power AP-U1ATX30A specs 1 $43.14
SATA Cables Monoprice 18-Inch SATA III 6.0 Gbps (Pkg of 5) N/A 2 $6.99
OS Drive SanDisk Cruzer 16GB USB Flash Drive specs 1 $7.31
Cache Drives Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSD specs 2 $67.99
Storage HDD 1 WD Red 4TB NAS - WD40EFRX specs 3 $149.49
Storage HDD 2 Seagate NAS HDD 4TB (ST4000VN000) specs 4 $139.00
TOTAL: $1,894.93

U-NAS NSC-800 U-NAS NSC-800 Drive Sleds U-NAS NSC-800 Miscellaneous Parts U-NAS NSC-800 Drive Cage Innards #1 U-NAS NSC-800 Drive Cage Innards #2 U-NAS NSC-800 Drive Cage Innards #3 U-NAS NSC-800 Inside Top – PSU and SSDs U-NAS NSC-800 Backside U-NAS NSC-800 Right Side A few of the many SATA Cables ASRock C2750D4I #1 ASRock C2750D4I #2 Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSDs 16GB of Crucial ECC DDR3 RAM Seagate NAS 4TB HDDs Western Digital Red 4TB HDDs Almost all of the NAS parts (ignore the red cables and PSU!)

Hardware Assembly, Configuration, and Burn-In


No matter how much research I do, there are always one or two things that I still goof up. The DIY NAS: 2016 Edition is definitely no exception. First of all, I had a small power supply that I’d tried to use in a previous NAS build (coincidentally, a goof-up from an even earlier NAS build) that appeared to be the size and shape of a 1U power supply, but apparently I was mistaken. When I first attempted to fit it inside the U-NAS NSC-800, it wasn’t even close. It was too skinny to line up with the screw holes on the back of the case. I was tempted to see what kind of creative solutions I could come up with to use that power supply and the case together, but I’d prefer if everybody was able to build the same exact thing as I did by ordering parts from their favorite vendors. I wound up ordering a real 1U server power supply instead.

But when the new power supply showed up I was aghast to discover it was too short! There are two posts towards the front of the case that I assume are intended for the power supply to sit on. Because the power supply wasn’t long enough to reach those posts, it essentially was “floating” in midair parallel to the top of the drive cage. I was tempted to order another, longer power supply but I thought that was stupid. I was pretty confident that there would not be many ill effects of the power supply hanging in midair like it was. However, I did think of one worrisome scenario—shipping. Since I plan to be shipping this NAS to a lucky winner in a month or so, I knew that the NAS would get jostled around quite a bit between here and there. I was worried that it might not survive the trip.

So I called on Pat and his seemingly infinite 3D-printing and modeling expertise. I asked Pat how hard it’d be to design some sort of spacer to slide around the power supply and provide the missing vertical support to the other side of the power supply. Pat laughed at me like an all-knowing father laughs at his young child, grabbed my caliper to take some measurements, and by the next day he designed this: Spacer Bracket for a 1U Power Supply which we subsequently printed during our next trip to the, a Plano-area Makerspace, on one of their 3D printers.

Don’t have access to a 3D printer? No problem! I talked Pat into listing the bracket on Tindie so that people who want to follow this build out 100% had the option of having that same bracket. Check out PSU Bracket for U-NAS NSC-800 NAS Server Chassis on Tindie today!

I don’t think that this spacer is required at all. So there’s no need to start searching wildly for a 3D printer that you can borrow or to join a Makerspace like (although I’d highly recommend joining a Makerspace!) to print this spacer. It might come in handy if you plan to move your NAS around frequently. Removing the power supply is probably a better option if the NAS isn’t going to be moving around frequently. I would’ve removed the power supply prior to shipping it, but I didn’t want the lucky winner to have to reassemble the NAS before being able to use it.

The next goof-up was my worst of all; at least it was for this NAS. The U-NAS NSC-800 came with its drive cage already cabled up with something I’d never seen before. The drive cage was already cabled up with SAS/SATA cables, each of the 4 cables consolidating down into one single great big connector that I learned was a Mini-SAS connector. Being the neophyte that I am, I simply assumed that I’d need a “reverse breakout” cable to hook into that Mini-SAS connector and then plug the SATA ends into the motherboard, and I was wrong, oh so very wrong. In order to use the cables that came inside the U-NAS NSC-800 there would need to be some sort of SAS controller for it to plug into. What I had to do instead was remove the back of the case in order to access the drive cage’s cabling, remove the existing cables, and then replace them with the glut of SATA cables that I have been maintaining since running short during the building of a previous NAS.

I had hoped that overcoming my own knuckleheadedness (is that even a word?) would be my only obstacle in assembling the case, however there was one remaining obstacle: space. The U-NAS NSC-800 has very little room for you to work with. Once I took the cover off the case, I knew I was going to hate working inside that case, and boy was I right! The motherboard actually mounts on the left side of the case to the inside of the case’s frame and it mounts rather unconventionally. There are four total stand offs which line up with the Mini-ITX mounting points. However you screw into them from different directions on the different sides of the case. At the top of the case, you screw down into the motherboard and standoff, on the bottom of the case you screw into the motherboard from the reverse side. I can honestly say I’ve never installed a motherboard quite like that, or even seen one mounted like that. The other peculiar part of this install is that a thin plastic sheet, a little bit bigger than the motherboard, is included with the case. The motherboard actually sits atop that sheet. I assume this is to protect the motherboard’s circuitry on the bottom from accidentally shorting out on the sides of the case.

I have two pieces of advice for anyone who wants to build a similar machine around the U-NAS NSC-800:

  1. Do as much testing of components as you can outside of the case.
  2. Hook up everything on the motherboard before installing it.

When you consider everything the motherboard hooks into, especially the 10 SATA cables and ATX power cable, the motherboard actually gets pretty tricky to move around inside the case. This is exactly why I prefer to mount the motherboard first and then hook cables up, but that is impossible with this case. To help illustrate some of my difficulties and challenges assembling this computer, I decided to record it all on video and share it on Youtube:

As you can see from the video, there were some points that I absolutely hated working in this case. Take, for instance, the number of times I installed and removed the SSDs, or the times I struggled putting the case’s cover back on. And the kitchen was definitely rated NC-17 as I carefully maneuvered and worked on installing the motherboard. But that being said, I was pretty excited when I slipped the cover on, booted it up for the first time and saw that all of the RAM, the two SSDs, and all seven of the HDDs were recognized. All I needed at this point was a tiny bit more good luck to survive the burn-in test and I’d have the most difficult part of the build behind me. I may have hated working in the case, but I loved the final product quite a bit more!

Hardware Configuration

This year’s hardware configuration was pretty much the same as last year’s, considering the similarity between the two motherboards. The ASRock C2750D4I features a pretty straightforward BIOS. And I was already expecting the only curve ball: because of the number of SATA controllers in there (Intel and Marvell), it’s a bit overwhelming looking at all the different SATA options. That being said, I validated the same items and made effectively the same changes in the BIOS as I did last year:

  1. Enabled S.M.A.R.T. for the hard-disk drives.
  2. Quadruple-checked that ECC was enabled and that the installed RAM was detected as ECC.
  3. Configured the Boot Options so that the USB is the first device it would attempt to boot from.
  4. Set the Primary Graphics Adapter to Onboard.


The weekend I finished putting the hardware together I began to put the hardware through its paces. There weren’t a whole lot of different things to stress test because there are essentially 3 components to the machine: motherboard, RAM, and disk drives. In order to test the sticks of RAM, I stuck Memtest86 on a spare USB flash drive and booted the machine. Using the default values, I let Memtest86 run overnight. I checked the machine in the morning, ensuring that it had completed at least three full passes, which gave me confidence in the quality of the memory.

After the successful tests, I booted off a different flash drive with Stresslinux on it and ran the same stress tests but using two different durations: a two-hour test run and an eight-hour test run. For those of you interested in the exact parameters that I used, except for the duration I didn’t vary far from what the stress man page offers as an example.

Had I run into problems during the two-hour test, I might have had reason to log on to a new console and monitor some of the various system temperatures. But since the two-hour test went through without a hitch, I had confidence that I would wind up seeing the same results at the end of the eight-hour test, and it passed both the 2-hour and 8-hour tests with flying colors.

FreeNAS Configuration

You’d think I’d have this memorized, having done it twice a year for at least a couple years, but that’s not the case. I typically wind up referring back to my own blogs to make sure I remember how I set things up in the prior year’s DIY NAS machines. I suspect that some of this is due to the fact that there have been new FreeNAS releases between these builds which results in things moving around in the user interface a bit, but primarily it’s straightforward and easy enough that I never have had enough difficulty to justify me etching the appropriate steps into memory.

However, in this build I’m experimenting with a new feature: cache SSDs. So I thought I’d break up the “typical” configuration steps and the new steps that I had to go through in order to use the SSDs for read and write cache.

Typical Configuration

Upon the initial boot, you’re asked to update the root user’s password. Once you’ve done that, you’re free to login to the FreeNAS web interface, which is where all of my typical configuration is done. The newer versions of FreeNAS kick off a setup “wizard,” and being the arrogant techno-blogger that I am, I exited right out of that wizard and begin configuring things manually by myself. The first two items I updated were the hostname and the time zone.

Moving on, I set up users and groups. Firstly, I created a user whose credentials match the credentials I use locally on my desktop (and at my other computer(s) in case it’s needed). After that, I created a group named shareusers and added my new user account into that group.

Having created the users, I got into the creation of the FreeNAS volume (zpool): I added all seven of the 4TB hard-disk drives to a single array. I picked RaidZ2 as my RAID level, which allows for the failure of up to two of your array’s hard-disk drives. Once the FreeNAS volume was created, I added a FreeNAS dataset to the volume. I named the dataset “data” and then manipulated the permissions so that the Owner(group) of that dataset was the shareusers group I created earlier.

Next up, I enabled both the S.M.A.R.T. service and the CIFS service for hard-drive monitoring and filesharing with Windows computers respectively. I configured the S.M.A.R.T. service by providing it an email address that it could send reports to. With the S.M.A.R.T. configured, I turned my attention to the CIFS service. I updated the NetBIOS, Workgroup, and Description to what was appropriate for my home network. Then I went in and created a new CIFS share, sharing the “data” dataset (/mnt/vol1/data). Finally, I used the Windows File Explorer on my desktop to browse to the new share and to make sure I could read, write, and delete files in the share.

The easy setup Wizard,  I exited it! Updating the NAS' hostname. Setting the machine's time zone. Adding myself as a user matching my desktop credentials. Adding a group for use in the file share. Adding my user to the share user group. Adding the new 7x4TB RAIDZ3 Array FreeNAS at work creating the Volume Adding a dataset to the array. Setting permissions on the dataset for the share user group. Enabling S.M.A.R.T. and CIFS Services Configuring the CIFS Service Configuring the S.M.A.R.T. service Creatng a CIFS share. Validating the share is functional. FreeNAS Autotune

But wait, there’s more! Because I’m basing this build off what I’m likely to upgrade on my own NAS too, it simply wasn’t good enough that the CPU, RAM, storage capacity, and network were all substantial upgrades. I really wanted to drive this one out of the park by attempting to add some SSDs for use as a read and write cache.


Among the things I’ve been curious about is adding some sort of cache to sit in front of my hard drives. Mostly for no other reason than theoretically it should be much faster and it seemed like something neat to play with. The smaller-sized SSDs have become relatively inexpensive, so it seemed worthwhile to see if it’d boost the throughput of the NAS. The other (and primary) reason I was interested in the read/write caches was my eventual plan to use the NAS for some virtualization. Ramping up the speed of local file operations would pay dividends when I started hosting virtual machines on my FreeNAS machines.

In my research, I found the steps that I needed to follow already laid out for me in this excellent blog: Using one pair of SSDs for both ZIL and L2ARC in FreeNAS. For my build, I picked out two Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSDs to act house both the write cache (ZIL) and read cache (L2ARC). Ultimately, what I wound up doing is creating a 30-gigabyte partition on each of the SSDs and then mirrored those two partitions together for the write cache. Mirroring the two partitions is critical to the data integrity of the writes. The remaining 90GB of space on each drive went into a striped array for the read cache.


Power Consumption

I hooked the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition to my Kill-a-Watt and monitored how many watts it used each time I booted it up. As it was booting, the highest it hit was 126 watts. I left the NAS plugged into the Kill-a-Watt for the duration of the NAS benchmarking. During the most intensive write tests the highest wattage I observed was 95 to 97 watts. And while the machine was idle it settled down to around 70 watts. I left the NAS running on the Kill-a-Watt for 3 days, 2 hours and 45 minutes, and during that time it used 6.53 kWh.


To benchmark the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition I used IOMeter and a somewhat scientific (me with a stopwatch) measurement of some file copies across from my computer to the NAS. I did the Windows file copy test because it is a pretty decent approximation of a real-world test. As a baseline, I first benchmarked my NAS from 2012, I then ran all the same tests on the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition. I kind of expected it, but my little NAS got trounced! Not that I’m making excuses, but he had a bit of a handicap. I continued using my NAS as I normally do, so our regular day-to-day use of the NAS might have hindered it a little bit, but I highly doubt that reason is why it got so badly demolished in the benchmarks.

Here are the tests I performed and how the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition fared in each test:


  • 12 workers, 4K, 100% Read, 0% Random: 17349.16 IOPS and 67.77 MB/sec
  • 12 workers, 4K, 0% Read, 0% Random: 12898.3 IOPS and 50.8 MB/sec
  • 12 workers, All Tests: 9501.66 IOPS and 121.81 MB/sec

Timed Windows File Copy

  • 1 40GB file (40GB total) both to and from the NAS:
    • To: 7:15.66
    • From: 12:06.32
  • 31,250 128KB files (~4B total) both to and from the NAS
    • To: 28:04.08
    • From: 12:09.82

As an aside, I also grabbed the same benchmarks for the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition before I added the ZIL and L2ARC because I was curious what kind of performance bump I might see from it. Suffice it to say I did not see a performance boost when using the ZIL and L2ARC when running the same tests on this NAS. I’ll be digging into those benchmarks between now and the end of the giveaway and potentially use that data for a future blog. But for the time being, I’m chalking this up to the fact that neither my home network nor my usage (either typical day-to-day use or my benchmarks) simply don’t tax the NAS enough to see the benefits of using an SSD for a read/write cache.


First and foremost, I spent a ton of money. I honestly had a real hard time pulling the trigger and buying all of the parts when I saw how much they’d add up to. Spending this much money on the NAS puts you up into the neighborhood of many of the commercial NAS machines from QNAP, Synology, iXsystems, etc. I’m still quite confident that the specifications and features of the DIY NAS are favorable when comparing them to those other products, but the sticker price makes it much less of a no-brainer than it has been in the years past. That being said, my objective was actually to upgrade my own NAS, which is showing a bit of age. Because I won’t need to replace quite a few of the hard drives, the price tag becomes quite a bit easier for me to swallow. Don’t want to spend nearly $2,000 building your own DIY NAS? I don’t blame you! Make sure you check out the DIY NAS: 2016 EconoNAS blog too, it’s a very comparable build that makes a few compromises in total storage and its footprint but at a fraction of the price!

The most disappointing part of the build wound up being the pair of Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSDs to use as both a ZIL and L2ARC in the NAS. This was a feature that I was pretty excited to add to the NAS; in theory it seemed like it’d be a great way to accelerate the performance of the NAS. But ultimately I believe that my network and my usage simply don’t justify the addition of these two caches. Additionally, the machine isn’t exactly whisper quiet like I’d prefer it to be. The one drawback of drive sleds is there’s little to no material around them to dampen the sound of the spinning drives. The noise of the seven spinning HDDs escapes the front of the case and accounts for a bit of hum. But the ability to access the drives and swap them out without opening the case is a nice feature and makes living with that extra noise a fair trade-off.

My favorite part of the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition almost wound up my least favorite as well. I have a strong dislike for small cases, and the U-NAS NSC-800 is certainly a very small case; I can’t imagine cramming more components into a smaller area than what’s in the NSC-800. That being said, I do actually love how small the case is even after working inside it for what seemed like an eternity. I also really like the quality of the drive sleds; they remind me the most of the drive sleds found in rack-mount servers. My experience with prior cases has been that the removable drive sleds usually wind up feeling pretty chintzy and cheap. Even though I hate working inside a small case, the finished product was worth it to me. Of all the components I used for the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition this is the most likely to wind up being part of my own eventual NAS upgrade.

Don’t want to spend almost $2,000 building your own NAS? I don’t blame you! If you’re balking at the price, I suggest the following:

  1. Go with the ASRock C2550D4I (~$100 cheaper)
  2. Ditch the SSDs for the ZIL / L2Arc (~$140 cheaper)
  3. Different hard-drive configuration(s) (Varies)

Altogether, I’m pretty pleased with this machine even if it’s way beyond what my own usage seems to require. When it comes time to upgrade my own NAS, these parts are going to get heavy consideration, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that the same case, motherboard, and RAM all wind up in my own NAS by the end of the year.


Update (2/22/16): Congratulations to Dusten Snodgrass of Google+ for winning the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition #FreeNASGiveaway! This year’s #FreeNASGiveaway was by far the most successful; pretty much guaranteeing that I’ll continue on with this tradition in a few months when I build the 2016 EconoNAS and on into the future. There were over 1300+ entries to the giveaway in roughly three weeks! At times (especially when it was posted to /r/plex) it was nearly overwhelming to keep track of, which may lead to a tweak or two to future giveaways. Thanks everyone for making the #FreeNASGiveaway a success, I look forward to the next one!

Like with the DIY NAS: 2014 Econonas, the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition, and the DIY NAS: 2015 EconoNAS, I’ll be giving the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition away to a lucky reader. The giveaway works like this:

  1. You follow my blog and myself on Twitter, the blog’s Facebook page, and the blog’s Google+ page.
  2. You retweet or share the promotional posts from these social networks (links below) with your own friends and followers. (Note: Make sure that your share is public, otherwise I won’t be able to see it and give you credit!)
  3. Your name gets entered up to three times (once per social network) in a drawing.
  4. After a month or so, I’ll pick a winner at random and announce it here.

Here’s a link to the best posts to promote for each social network:

If there are any questions, please go read the #FreeNASGiveaway rules page, I explain it in a bit more detail there. Please keep in mind, it’s more about the “spirit” of these rules, rather than the letter of the law. If you go to the trouble of helping promote my blog, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure you get an entry into the giveaway. The best way to make sure you get your entry is to follow the steps above.

Nextion HMI Display: Brian’s Review

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Towards the end of 2015, I was contacted by ITead Studio after they read my Arduino blogs. Based on what they saw in my blogs, they asked me if I’d be willing to take a look at a couple of their related products. The first product they asked about was their HMI Display. My curiosity piqued, I quickly rummaged through their website and a few relevant Google searches. What I discovered had me pretty excited—it looked to be a product right up my alley.

The HMI (Human Machine Interface) Display is a cost-effective TFT touchscreen which can be controlled via an on-board serial port. The Nextion Editor is used to design an interface which is saved to a Micro SDCard and then loaded on the device. There’s quite a bit of interface logic built into the editor: you create pages and place objects (buttons, sliders, text boxes, etc.) within the page and include whatever control is needed to move between the pages you create.

More importantly? The serial interface on the devices also allow you to control the display from something like a Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or any other system-on-a-chip with the ability to communicate over a serial port. The ability to create a user interface in front of one of my Arduino creations piqued my curiosity the most.

The 2.4” and 7.0” displays side-by-side The 7.0” display atop the 2.4” display The 2.4” display atop the 7.0” display Front side of the 7.0” display Back side of the 7.0” display Front side of the 2.4” display Back side of the 2.4” display

Initial Thoughts and Impressions

Because the manufacturer claimed they were low cost, the first thing that I did was go out on Amazon to find out how much resellers were selling them for. I found the 2.4” Nextion HMI Displays for $17.99, 4.3” Nextion HMI Displays for $49.98, 7.0” Nextion HMI Displays for $79.99, and other sizes (both bigger and smaller) priced in a similar fashion. About my only complaint about what I found on Amazon is that there don’t seem to be many vendors selling the displays yet, which means they’re in and out of stock pretty quickly. Worse, there are unscrupulous vendors attempting to capitalize on the scarcity within Amazon by gouging buyers with exorbitant prices. Considering what’s going price-wise on Amazon, I’d suggest trying to buy through the ITEAD Studio Store or eBay until the Amazon vendors get their acts together. But for what you’re getting it certainly seems like a good value. Especially when you consider that the Nextion Editor will allow you to build a fully independent user interface without hooking up an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to control it.

After getting the editor installed, I started poking around Google, Youtube, and the Itead Studio website. There’s no shortage of information out there, but my initial impression is that it was a bit difficult for me to consume. It was pretty apparent that the authors of most of the content and the designers of the editor do not speak English as a primary language—quite a bit of the documentation and software dialogs were poorly written, sparse, and in some cases in Chinese.

This wound up being a bit of an obstacle, but nothing that I couldn’t overcome with a few dozen tabs open in Google Chrome and some trial and error.

Putting it to Use

The first thing I did was install the Nextion Editor and start tinkering around. It didn’t take me very long to figure out how to add a page, put some naughty words on that page, and get that profanity displayed on the 2.4” Nextion HMI Display. I learned a few things in the process:

  1. From within the editor, you needed to “compile” your file and locate the build output (File –> Build Output) to find the *.tft file that gets copied to your Micro SDCard.
  2. The HMI Display will process that file after being turned on.
  3. You may need to remove the MicroSD Card and power it back on in order to see it work the first time. I’m not 100 percent positive about this, but it seemed that if I left a Micro SDCard in the slot, it wouldn’t ever run what I loaded.

After having that success, I wanted to design something a bit more complicated that showed off a feature or two of the display. In the editor, I created a new project that had three different pages. In the lower left-hand corner of each page were three buttons labeled as 1, 2, and 3. Clicking on those buttons would take you to the page it corresponded to. And naturally, I added three images as a background for each page so that I could tell if the buttons were working.

Apart from the fact that the touchscreen isn’t particularly responsive, I pulled this off pretty simply. I found the editor a bit difficult to get started with, but once I got a bit more familiar with the display I was able to create this example in just a few minutes. Naturally, this was just my initial attempt at using the Nextion HMI Display. My basic interface wasn’t really good for much at all unless you’re an Animal fanboy like I am! In order to abstract the most value from the Nextion HMI Display, I’d want to be able to control it from an Arduino.

What’s Next?

I am thoroughly impressed with the Nextion HMI Display. The device falls right in a gap that I think exists between the Arduino and RaspberryPi devices; the Arduino lacks the processing capability to power much in the way of displays. Some of that can be offloaded onto the Nextion HMI Display. Along those same lines it can be done relatively inexpensively, and the Nextion Editor makes creating that interface a bit simpler. If you are an Arduino tinkerer, I think at the very least you should have one of the 2.4” HMI Displays in your inventory of spare parts.

Here in the very short term, I can think of two projects where the Nextion HMI Displays will come in handy:

Firstly, I recently got into home brewing my own beer in the home-brewing group at, a Plano-area makerspace. As a result of the home brewing I wound up building a keezer to serve our beers from. My original design was that I’d simply write on the keezer which brews are in each faucet using dry-erase markers. However, thanks to the Nextion HMI Displays, I’m now entertaining the idea of building an interactive menu that describes what’s in each tap and features some photos to set atop or mount to the keezer somewhere.

Secondly, I’m using curl on my Nexus 6 to display some of my web traffic metrics in an Android Notification. I think it’d also be pretty neat to have that data displayed and kept up to date in real time somewhere other than right on my desktop.


I’m pretty excited with what you can do with the Nextion HMI Displays, both as a standalone device with an interface that you design and load on it yourself, and as a “smart” display with an Arduino or RaspberryPi behind it adding additional features and functionality. The Nextion HMI Displays have a nice set of features and present quite a bit of value considering the price points of their various-sized displays.

What kinds of projects would you build around a Nextion HMI Displays? Please share your brainstorms in the comments below!

Sonoff & Slampher Home Automation Review

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My own recent foray into home automation went well earlier this year — I wound up automating the lamp closest to my desk, which has worked brilliantly so far. My only complaint with that solution so far has been that the WeMo Switch from Belkin is a bit on the expensive side. I couldn’t really justify the expense of buying a WeMo switch for every outlet that I wanted to automate in the house. My good friend, Pat, wound up doing some more complicated home automation of his own that really encouraged me. Pat used some inexpensive remotely controlled electrical outlets and an ESP8266 to begin automating some tasks around his house. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous.

Well, as it turns out my little home-automation blog caught the eyes of some people at ITead Studio, which was fortuitous since they had just launched a crowd-funding effort on Indiegogo that was right up my alley: Sonoff & Slampher: Low Cost Smart Home Solution

The folks at Itead Studio were wondering if I’d be willing to write a blog about their Sonoff and Slampher products if they sent me a sneak-peek sample of the product. For me, the answer was easy; “Yes, have some!”

I was excited about the Sonoff and Slampher because they were effectively providing product(s) that were competitive with the WeMo Switch but at a phenomenally better price. Pat and I both had discussed that it was within our ability to build inexpensive remotely controlled WiFi relays (essentially the Sonoff) on our own which were much cheaper than their commercial alternatives. But in this case, it’s a commercial-quality product which beat our own pricing.

Getting off to a rough start, RIP cheap-o wire strippers! Slampher installed and ready to go Sonoff test fit and experimentation Sonoff in place on the Beer Stein lamp #01 Sonoff in place on the Beer Stein lamp #02


Almost thirty years ago, a teenage friend amazed me when he added a switch (like this one) to a lamp so that we could turn it on/off more easily from the floor while playing video games in front of his television. I’m hoping that one day he gets to sit down with his children and amaze them too, but instead this time he’ll be able to turn it off from anywhere on the Internet using his phone or tablet. As a remote switch, the Sonoff could be used to turn off/on anything that runs off of electricity.

For the sake of demonstrating its capabilities, I used my favorite lamp and something that I’ve wanted to home automate for a long time: my grandfather’s beer stein lamp. To me, it was a priceless heirloom that I remember fondly from hours of playing down in his basement where it sat on an end table. A cousin brought him the beer stein as a gift back from Germany, and due to its size it eventually was brilliantly converted into a lamp — that lamp is now a focal point in my home office.

One of my favorite things about the Sonoff is that it’s relatively slim and it could be located anywhere. However, that comes at a price. It’s essentially hacking a switch into the device’s power cord, which is both potentially dangerous and would likely void any warranty you have on that item. That being said, I can think of a number of things I’d like to use the Sonoff with:

  • Lamps
  • Coffee machine
  • Several pieces of #MyNetworkCupboard:
  • Anything installed anywhere in the world where a friend/family member/associate/random stranger would call me for technical support, so I could remotely turn it off (and maybe back on… maybe)


On its face, I think the Slampher is a sexier product than the Sonoff for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it takes some gumption to use the Sonoff—you have to be willing to cut apart an electrical cord and wire it up correctly into both ends of the Sonoff. Secondly, most of my lighting is accomplished via built-in fixtures which don’t have readily accessible power cords for hacking into. In fact, it may not even be allowed in your city’s electrical code to use a switch like that with the Sonoff.

The Slampher fits right into a regular light socket and a bulb fits right inside it. About the only drawback of the Slampher is that it adds to the total height of the bulb and some width at the base. In my video, I had to completely remove the lampshade and its support structure in order to fit both the Slampher and the bulb in there.

Conclusion and What’s Next

Overall, I’m very impressed with the Sonoff and Samphler. My only points of constructive criticism is that it’s obvious that this product isn’t actively being designed for consumers in the United States. Some of the language in the documentation and within the app is a bit off and can make the product a bit more difficult to use. However, this is something I would expect the ITead Studio team to be improving on as their crowdfunding efforts near completion. More importantly, the price that they’re crowd funding at is low enough that I’m quite willing to fight through any unintentional communication issues.

What’s next for Brian using the Sonoff & Slampher? Is the best question that anyone could ask me about these products. For starters, I’m getting involved with their Indiegogo campaign and pledging enough money to buy myself a handful of both the Sonoff and the Slampher devices. Repeating some of Pat’s lessons working with his remotely controlled outlets, I fully expect to be able to reverse engineer the WiFi or RF signals being transmitted to the devices and incorporating it into my own home-automation schemes.

What about you? What would you use the Sonoff & Slampher: Low Cost Smart Home Solution for at your home? Use the comments below to share your brainstorms!

SlingFest 2015

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When I first joined the Plano-area makerspace,, there were a number of programs I was interested in. There seemed to be no end to the amount of creative endeavors the other members were into: homebrewing, information security, wearable electronics, etc.. But one of the programs that really got my attention was presented by a subset of trebuchet aficionados within This contingent of designed, built, and fired their own medieval siege weaponry as a hobby.

Better than that? They put together an annual event called SlingFest to showcase and compete amongst each other. A video from the 2014 SlingFest cemented it for me—I’d be attending SlingFest in 2015, especially since it was happening practically in my backyard at Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve where I’d previously attended the Plano Balloon Festival.

All the Competitors,  Ready to Fire! Fibonacci's Apprentice by Trey Bouchet Frankchet by Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad KRAKEN by Heart of Experian Mother Chunker by  Old School Trebuchet Not So Little Monster by Texas Trebuchet SlingKong by SNS by Paul Sanders Velocichunker by Velocichunker Funky Flings being showed off to the Crowd Baby KRAKEN's eating this pumpkin Superman sort of flew but did NOT stick the landing SlingKong covered everything in powdered sugar HexBug Tent and Catapult Competition #1 HexBug Tent and Catapult Competition #2 Smokin' Jalapeno Food Tuck #1 Smokin' Jalapeno Food Tuck #2 What remains of a fired pumpkin


SlingFest was broken up into three primary competitions:

Accuracy: Each team placed a marker out in the field and then fired their trebuchet. The distance between the target and where their projectile landed was recorded and added up across three shots, with the lowest score winning.

Funky Fling: The funky fling was by far my favorite competition of the event. Each team thought of creative things to load onto their trebuchets and then flung them out onto the field. The Kracken team attached a fresh squid to a pumpkin and launched it with horrifying success—the force caused the squid to be ripped apart and flung across the field, I believe I even saw some of it land amongst the competitors.’ own entry, SlingKong, decided to hollow out a pumpkin, cram it full it with powdered sugar and fling it — it was delicious! The winners of the event, team Old School Trebuchet, were picked by the crowd for launching a mannequin draped in a Superman cape with a horrific limb-removing landing.

Distance: Each team was given three attempts and the longest throw of all won this event. It was interesting standing amongst the trebuchets as the teams loaded them down with extra weight. The amount of creaking and groaning that came from the trebuchets had me both excited and a little terrified.

SlingFest was even kid-friendly with two “baby” trebuchets launching potatoes and golf balls, the latter of which fired at such a velocity that I had an impossible time trying to record any video for it. However, I did manage to film the launching of a potato or two.

In addition, there was a tent from the company HexBug which contained their Hexbug Kids VEX Catapult kit for the kids at the event to play with. They got to set up and fire the pumpkin-shaped marshmallows at targets. Each competitor received a score, and I believe a few lucky kids even won those catapult kits and are hopefully playing with them as I write this blog.

Lastly, The Smokin’ Jalapeno food truck came out to SlingFest and served up some food. Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of my brisket tacos, and judging by the constant line of people I saw at the food truck, I wasn’t the only one enjoying the food.


Pretending to be a journalist, I attempted to take pictures and video of everybody at SlingFest 2015. Because I’m a terrible journalist, some of those videos and photos didn’t come out too well. For a better experience, I suggest you start keeping an eye out for SlingFest 2016 and come see it in person! Here’s a rundown of each team competing in SlingFest 2015 with the names of their trebuchets in parentheses. Much of this information was gleaned from the SlingFest flyer as well as from what was announced at the event. If there’s anything incorrect or missing, then let me know and I’ll get this updated! (SlingKong)

SlingKong was’ entry to SlingFest, and as the title sponsor, they earned no benefit of the doubt from the field marshal. This is the team that I wound up spending most of my time around during the event, since Pat was an official team member. SlingKong is considered a traditional trebuchet whose prior claim to fame has been that it generated so much torque it cracked its arm in the 2014 competition. This year the team captain (and pretty much one-man band) engineered a new arm that was so strong and covered so much square footage that they ran out of spray paint covering it!

A few sling issues had SlingKong primarily firing in a backwards direction. In fact, for the accuracy contest it was suggested that he even be rotated 180 degrees! However, one of the biggest cheers from both the competitors and the audience was heard when SlingKong fired in a forward direction! Additionally, SlingKong had by far the best-tasting funky fling as they launched a pumpkin packed full of several bags of powdered sugar. Everyone downwind of the trebuchet and the pumpkin’s trajectory got a slight dusting in powdered sugar—it was delicious.

Heart of Experian (KRAKEN)

The KRAKEN is a trebuchet I’ve had the pleasure of seeing come to life over the past few months. The team captain, Richard, is also’ brewmaster and the driving force behind the Brew of the Month program. Because each brew event has taken place at his house, I’ve been able to see the KRAKEN slowly being assembled. While they wound up a few trebuchets down from where I was sitting, the smell from their funky fling draped the field in its aroma. I’d really wanted to get their funky fling on video, but I missed the signal that they were firing. However, that poor squid was torn asunder by the forces of the spinning pumpkin; bits of squid stench were strewn all over the battlefield. I have sympathy for the team member or volunteer who cleaned that up!

Texas Trebuchet (Not So Little Monster)

Not So Little Monster is a floating arm trebuchet that stands about 13 feet tall. It was one of two trebuchets at SlingFest whose arms are moving so fast they sounded much like a bullwhip moving through the air. Team Texas Trebuchet brought it all the way up to Plano from Houston and performed quite well. In addition, Not So Little Monster is a very-much scaled up version of the golf ball trebuchet that kids were getting a chance to fire.

Velocichunker (Velocichunker)

Velocichunker is a modified MURLIN (multi-radius linear nodes) trebuchet and as I understand a new entry to SlingFest. I especially liked their team sign. Prior to SlingFest and seeing Velocichunker, I’d never seen this type of trebuchet before. I feel a bit guilty because I think the one video I captured of Team Velocichunker happened to be on a couple of their less-than-impressive throws. I spent a bunch of my time assisting with SlingKong who was right next to Velocichunker, so I missed a bunch of their throws. They did however attempt to fling a pumpkin wrapped in what looks to be a basketbal hoop’s net; it went pretty high but not pretty far!

Trey Bouchet (Fibonacci’s Apprentice)

Team Trey Bouchet also brought a MURLIN-style trebuchet, Fibonacci’s Apprentice. As this trebuchet’s arm moved through the air, it sizzled much like a bullwhip. The velocity of the arm moving and the projectile being flung from the sling caused me to lose my calm journalistic demeanor and exclaim “Jiminy Christmas!” It’s my understanding that Fibonacci’s Apprentice is the baby brother of a much larger trebuchet, Trebzilla, who suffered at the hands of a cruel road trip to Route 66 Pumpkin Chunkin and was not repaired in time for SlingFest 2015.

Paul Sanders from Lavaca, Arkansas (SNS)

Paul Sanders brought his trebuchet, SNS, all the way from Lavaca, Arkansas, turning SlingFest into an intra-state competition. Not much was written in the SlingFest materials about this trebuchet on account of his late entry to the competition. However, I was at the field when they rolled in from Arkansas with SNS on a trailer; it was an impressive sight. My favorite SNS highlight was a slightly problematic trigger on one throw that caused a brief bit of micro-consternation and the subsequent humorous recovery.

Old School Trebuchet (Mother Chunker)

Mother Chunker is the output of the efforts of team Old School Trebuchet. Mother Chunker is truly keeping it old school with its traditional construction. Mother Chunker has been competing for 5 years and over those years has endured a number of repairs from whatever scrap materials can be found to get it back in competing form. Mother Chunker is the last remaining competitor from the original SlingFest and took home a championship in 2013. From what I overheard, it is very likely that SlingFest 2015 will be Mother Chunker’s last competition. After that, he’ll be put out to pasture and sired out as a stud in order to bring more trebuchets into this world.

Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad (Frankenchet)

Frankenchet, from Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad, was my personal favorite from SlingFest. As its trebuchet type, they listed it as a “floating arm nightmare” which seemed to be quite the apt description. It is a massive, complicated-appearing machine. It is a two-time returning champion whose counter-weight is built around a rusted-out engine block. Watching Frankenchet hurl objects through the Sunday afternoon was exciting, and at the end of my video you can hear me say “Wow!”

Final Thoughts

If you didn’t make it out to SlingFest 2015 then you really did miss out on a good time. The eight competitors each built really impressive machines, whether they were big or small and whether they fired forward or backwards. Each of the teams were proud of what they built and were gracious when interacting with the audience. Beyond gawking at the trebuchets and being entertained by their feats of strength, there were enough kid-centric activities to do. If you got hungry, there was The Smokin’ Jalapeno food truck serving up

And lastly, kudos to for being the driving force behind this year’s SlingFest as a title sponsor. The entire organization really got behind SlingFest and turned it into the great event that it turned out to be. Hopefully they can use this year’s success and build an even bigger event for 2016. I’m already looking forward to it!

Building a Keezer and Kegging my first Batch of Homebrew

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In my previous homebrewing blog, I talked at length about fermenting my first batch of homebrew beer, which I did during’ program, Brew of the Month. I also wrote about the fact that I had decided to keg my beer and that I’d need to buy/build some sort of keg-dispensing system for use at my house.

In my research I was pleased to find that there’s a plethora of ideas on the Internet for the burgeoning home brewer to consider for their own dispensing system. If you’re inclined, there are plenty of off-the-shelf kegerators which are essentially modified mini-fridges which have room for the keg, CO2 bottle, keg connections, and the beer-dispensing tap, already assembled and waiting to be hooked up to your home brew.

In order to design my own beer-dispensing solution I decided to make a list of requirements and nice-to-haves in order to facilitate my shopping. I covered that list briefly in my previous blog too:


  • 4 total taps
    • 3 carbonated tap (for most beers)
    • 1 nitrogenated tap (for stouts like Guiness or nitrogenated cold-brew coffee)
  • Each tap capable of running at a unique pressure
  • Room for at least 4 Cornelius (aka “corny”) Kegs
  • Fits in my laundry room alongside the washer and dryer


  • Dry-erase-marker-friendly surface
  • Doesn’t look too out of place alongside my washer and dryer
  • Avoid having to heavily modify the refrigerator/freezer.

What I found is that my requirements pretty much eliminated all of the off-the-shelf kegerators and practically put me up into the kinds of equipment you’d need if you wanted to open your own bar, which naturally carries a much heftier price tag.

Since I was delving off into something outside of my usual comfort zone, I was perfectly willing to buy a consumer-grade kegerator, but I just couldn’t find one that would meet my requirements. Because I wasn’t willing to compromise on those requirements, I decided instead that I’d build my own.

Kegerator vs. Keezer

Among DIYers, there are essentially two styles of DIY beer dispensing setups: kegerators and keezers. Just like a kegerator is built on top of refrigerator, a keezer is built on top of a freezer. Ultimately, I decided that the keezer was a better format for my purposes for a couple reasons. First, most refrigerators (especially those that would fit 4 corny kegs) were too tall to fit in the space that I had carved out inside the house. A chest freezer would be a much nicer fit. Second, a chest freezer appeared that it’d need much less modification than a refrigerator would require. As an added bonus, the chest freezer’s dimensions and layout were ideal for dropping the cornelius kegs down into.

Building my Keezer

One weekend not too long ago, I sat down at my computer and spent the entire day reading Home Brew forums gathering ideas from people who’ve built their own DIY keezers and placed what seems to be a dozen different orders from Amazon, who somewhat surprisingly had very competitive pricing and availability of the parts I’d need for a keezer. I halfway expected having to order a number of parts from a bunch of different websites, but that really didn’t wind up being the case.

What I wound up deciding to do is to build a collar, remove the lid from the chest freezer, affix the collar on top of the freezer, and then attach the freezer’s lid to the top of the collar. Ultimately, I’d drill holes for the taps and beer gas lines through the front of the collar.


Collar Parts:

The most important selection here was my choice of the melamine shelving, which we’d use to face the front and sides of the keezer. I picked the material because of melamine’s dry-erase-marker-friendly properties, as Pat captured in his blog article on building huge and inexpensive dry erase boards. We wound up using the 2x10” lumber to build a box that sat flush on the back of the keezer and left enough room on the front and sides for the melamine shelving. The melamine shelving was cut to run the length of each side with a “nice” uncut end facing the front of the keezer. The last piece of melamine shelving was cut to fit across the front of the keezer.

After test fitting the collar to the keezer many times, we were confident enough to use a healthy bead of silicone window caulk to attach the collar to the keezer. Once it was cured, the silicone was surprisingly sturdy and was holding the collar to the keezer quite well. However, we felt that the collar needed a bit more support to hold the collar in place.

The 2x4” pieces were used for two purposes: to hold the keezer in place on top of the freezer and the leftover 2x4” material was attached to the back side of the collar but still inside the collar for mounting some of the beer gas hardware. The legs were cut to length of the inside of the keezer and then we used the lag bolts to put a leg inside the keezer on two opposite corners. Originally, we planned to build 4 different legs to hold the collar in place, but after feeling how sturdy it was with the two legs and silicone we decided that four legs wouldn’t be necessary.

The freezer’s lid had a beveled edge to help guarantee a good seal when the freezer was closed. We emulated this on the keezer via the difference in height between the melamine shelving and the 2x10s used in the collar’s framing. But because we didn’t face all four sides with melamine shelving that left a gap on top of the collar on the backside of the keezer—a 1x2” was used to close that gap.

Finally throughout the collar’s build process, the lumber used for the collar framing and legs was coated on all sides in polyurethane to protect it from the conditions inside the keezer.

Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #1 Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #2 Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #3 Test fitting the freezer lid to the collar frame #1 Test fitting the freezer lid to the collar frame #2 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #1 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #2 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #3 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer and lid #1 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer and lid #2 Pat slopping polyurethane all over the collar frame #1 Pat slopping polyurethane all over the collar frame #2 Collar frame mostly coated in polyurethane #1 Collar frame mostly coated in polyurethane #2 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #1 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #2 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #3 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #4 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #5 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame #1 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame #2 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame with lid resting on top #1 Testing out the dry-erase marker on the melamine facing #1 Testing out the dry-erase marker on the melamine facing #2 A bead of silicone ready to hold the collar in place. Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #1 Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #2 Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #3 Close up on the collar's joints #1 Close up on the collar's joints #2 Close up on the collar's joints #3 Close up on the collar's joints #4 Lid is attached to the collar Rear view of freezer lid attached to collar Testing using the lid to ensure it's opening and closing nicely


Keezer Parts:

All of the Keezer parts Beer Gas Tanks,  Secondary CO2 Regulator, Taps, Kegs and Clamps CO2 Regulator, Secondary CO2 Regulator, Nitrogen Regulator, and Kegs Ball Lock Keg Adapters, Keg Rebuild Kits, and Kegs Clamps, Taps, Handles and Tank Kegs, Beer Gas Tubing,  Beer Tubing, and miscellaneous brewing supplies Cleaner, Sanitizer, Beer Gas Tubing, and miscellaneous brewing supplies Secondary CO2 regulator CO2 Regulator and Nitrogen Regulator A mountain of boxes.

Surprisingly, putting together all of the beer-dispending equipment wound up being easy compared to building the collar. The hardest part of any of that, was getting some of the various hoses pushed onto their respective barbs. A bit of Keg Lube helped make that quite a bit less difficult. Ultimately, we wound up deciding to store both the CO2 tank and the Nitrogen Tank outside the keezer: the MFL Bulkhead 4” pieces were pushed through holes on the backside of the collar and then each end had barbed fittings installed on both ends. From the outside of the keezer the high-pressure hose was hooked up to the CO2 tank and Nitrogen tank.

Inside the keezer, the MFL bulkhead was connected to the secondary CO2 regulator. Continuing further on down, each of the three barbs on the secondary regulator were plumbed to separate Cornelius Kegs. Similarly, the nitrogen line’s MFL bulkhead was plumbed directly to the Cornelius Keg since there’s only one nitrogenated tap. All of the hoses used for this plumbing were done using 5/16” ID High Pressure Braided Clear Tubing and each end of hose was kept in place by hose clamps on both ends.

Continuing on, the kegs were connected to the barbed side of the shank assemblies for each of the different kind of faucets on the keg. Because stout beers are served at a higher pressure, a more heavy duty and purpose-built faucet was required.

The most problematic part of the keezer build-out wound up being the drip trays. When we were first building the collar, we meticulously measured the taps, drilled holes from them and then began discussing how to install the drip trays. Pat and I both decided that the drip trays would screw into the bottom of the collar and hang down flush with the bottom of the collar. That way, if the collar ever moved, the drip trays wouldn’t be in the way or accidentally get damaged. We measured about fourteen times and drilled holes to hold screws for hanging the drip tray from and proudly began assembling one of the faucets to admire our handiwork.

And that’s when we realized our mistake! We never even bothered considering how much room would be needed beneath the faucet for a glass to fit. As it was, a shot glass would barely fit between our drip tray and the bottom of the stout faucet. We were equally shocked, amused, and disappointed in our utter lack of planning. This snafu caused us to have to remove the melamine shelving from the front of the collar, replace it, and drill new holes for each of the faucet’s hardware to fit through. And after that, I still had no way to mount the drip tray.

My first thought was to just get some sheet metal screws and install the drip trays exactly as we intended before by drilling into the keezer (but this time, with enough room for some beer glasses!) but I got cold feet when I realized that the cooling filament of the freezer wrapped all around the back and front. In order to safely drill the holes, we’d need to use a field repair manual in order to determine exactly where those cooling tubes were located and then make sure to not hit them when drilling into the freezer. Furthermore, I wasn’t very excited about permanently altering the freezer if it could be avoided. After thinking about it for a few days and discussing with my friends and wife, my wife asked a brilliant question: Why not use magnets to hold the drip tray to the freezer? Thankfully Pat has had a stockpile of neodymium magnets that he salvaged from old computer hard drives squirreled away for an undefined project. Using some quick set J.B. Weld, I glued five of the magnets to each drip tray and let it cure overnight. The next morning, I set a drip tray underneath each set of faucet(s) and each held strongly to the front of the keezer. The magnets held the drip trays in place, but the weight of a glass on the drip tray would cause the tray to start sliding down the keezer. In order to avoid any accidents, I keep the drip trays down the keezer far enough that nobody would be tempted to place a glass on one when filling their glass.

Taps Installed #1 Taps Installed #2 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #1 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #2 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #3 Affixing magnets to drip trays Drip Trays Mounted #1 Drip Trays Mounted #2 Drip Trays Mounted #3 Plumbing the kegs, taps and gas connections #1 Plumbing the kegs, taps and gas connections #2 Setting different pressures on the Secondary CO2 Regulator #1 Setting different pressures on the Secondary CO2 Regulator #2 Testing the taps,  doesn't that beer look funny? Relocating the beer gas to come from outside the Keezer Completed Keezer – Taps and Drip Trays #1 Completed Keezer – Taps and Drip Trays #2 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #1 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #2 (and my toes) Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #3 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #4 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #5 (notice the different pressures) Completed Keezer – CO2 Taps and Plumbing Completed Keezer – Beer Gas Tanks before being Tucked Away Completed Keezer – Nitrogen Tap and Drip Tray Completed Keezer – CO2 Taps and Drip Tray Completed Keezer – Drip Tray Completed Keezer

Post Keezer Build Thoughts and What I’d do Differently

Overall, I’m estatic with how my DIY Keezer turned out. Its feature-set far exceeds the things that I found in the available consumer-level kegerators. About the closest thing I could find to my keezer were things like the Turbo Air TBD-4SB and even then, I’m not sure if it allows for two different kinds of beer gasses like mine does. It’s a product intended for commercial use inside restaurants and it carries an astronomical price tag of over $3800. Altogether my keezer cost me right around $1250 and quite a few hours of our time—that’s less than 33% of the cost of the similar commercial product.

One of the things I was worried about was leakage of the cold air through the construction of the keezer’s collar. I had been prepared to go absolutely bonkers with my silicone caulk to seal up every little potential gap on the collar as well as considering buying some sort of spray-on insulation or insulated board to line the inside of the collar with. However, once the keezer got down to my desired temperature (34 degrees Fahrenheit), I felt all around the outside edges and seams of the collar to feel if I was being chilled by cold air escaping. But it felt exactly like everything in the room around it. I feel pretty confident that additional insulation simply isn’t necessary.

I started writing this blog a couple days after we finished putting it all together and here are some things I’d do differently if I were starting all over from scratch again:

  • Think a little bit harder before drilling holes in things to hang accessories like drip trays.
  • Consider building a shorter collar. This because I’ve found that hoisting kegs in and out of the keezer is a bit more difficult than I would’ve liked it be.
  • Or instead of a shorter collar, attach the collar to the lid instead of the freezer. That way opening the lid would move the collar out of the way.
  • Buy an additional drip tray. The one drip tray is not enough to cover all three of the carbonated taps.
  • For the beer gas (CO2 or Nitrogen) include: a tee-fitting, some extra tubing, and an additional set of Ball Lock adapters for Corny Kegs. This would allow for the carbonation of additional keg(s) without having to remove a keg that’s already on tap.

So far it’s a pretty short list but since completing the keezer a couple weeks ago it’s grown slightly. None of the above are deal breakers, and I’ve already taken steps to eliminate one of them buy picking up a third drip tray. It’s interesting how when you do a DIY project, you’re already thinking of things you would’ve done differently. Had I just bought something from the store, I think I’d probably be more accepting of its weaknesses, but when it is a product of your own labor you’re way more critical of it. That’s especially funny in this case because my keezer is already so much better than what I found online.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love this thing. I’ve showed it off to anybody who has come by the house. I keep waiting for one of the delivery people to make a comment about all the beer stuff I’ve had delivered lately, I’d invite them in and show them what we made. I’d even pour them a club soda or a nitrogenated coffee, or if they wanted to come back in when they’re off the clock, the could have a pint of my first batch of homebrewed beer!

Kegging “The Mexican”

Ultimately, my fermenting and clarifying batch of beer from the Brewterus was our primary motivation for completing the keezer. The same night we finished the keezer, we were scheduled to keg this beer. After the assembly of the keezer, we cleaned the kegs, sanitized them and left a little sanitizer in each keg. We pressurized the kegs with CO2 and when we felt confident there weren’t any CO2/Nitrogen leaks, we ran that sanitizer through the faucets looking for leaks along the way.

Once we were confident in the plumbing and that everything was sanitized, we transferred ‘The Mexican’ from each of the five-gallon glass carboys into two of my corny kegs. According to the recipe, we were aiming for a carbonation level of 2.50-2.80, so using one of the calculators out there we determined that would be anywhere between 9 psi to 12 psi. Since there were two taps free in my keezer, I wound up setting one keg to 9 psi and the other to 12 psi.

This recipe is supposed to be a Dos Equis tribute, I’ve tried it before but I’m not real familiar with the style. But, as far as I’m concerned, I think what we’ve made sure tastes pretty good. I think that I’m a little disappointed with the lack of head the beer poured at both 9 and 12 psi. I’m going to consult my home brew oracle, but I’m guessing I should probably up the carbon dioxide pressure a bit to get what I think is missing. Even without the head, the beer’s carbonation level seems fine, and most importantly it tastes quite delicious.

Siphoning the beeer from the carboy to the Keg Pat's really excited about the siphoning Pat's really excited about the siphoning, plus he's lit better! More siphon action Slowly filling the keg. Close up of the keg's mouth Nearing the end of the keg,  don't want any of the sediment! The Mexican,  Pre Carbonation #1 The Mexican,  Pre Carbonation #2 The Mexican – 9 PSI #1 The Mexican – 9 PSI #1 The Mexican – 12 PSI #1 The Mexican – 12 PSI #2 The Mexican – 9 and 12 PSI #1 The Mexican – 9 and 12 PSI #2

I found Sixth barrel kegs (approx 5.0 gallons) starting around $92.00 for Dos Equis. My cost was $60 cheaper due to the monthly rental fee of $30 in the Brew of the Month club from for members. Now all I need to do is drink (with help from friends and family, of course!) 20 corny kegs’ worth of beer. 100 gallons of beer comes out to be about 1,066 cans of beer—it might be a while before it will have paid for itself!

Movember: 2015

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It is that time of year again, Movember is upon us! During the month of November men shave their faces and grow mustaches in order to raise awareness and hopefully a few dollars towards men’s health issues.

It’s also an excellent time for me to take part in one of my favorite past-times, self deprecating humor—there’s very little that I enjoy more than poking fun at myself! Last year I took Movember to the nth degree, in addition to offering to match dollar-for-dollar the first $500 raised, I also said I’d keep my mustache for an entire calendar year, which I have. Leading up to the 1st, I was both excited to get this thing off of my face and a little bit petrified about how weird I’ll look without the mustache. Please keep in mind, I look weird with the mustache too, it’s just a different kind of weird.

This year, I’ve set a goal of raising $1,000 dollars before my contribution. I’ve also decided to match donations again but instead of matching up to $500, I’m going to match all the way up to $1000! When donating to my Movember page your donation will likely be twice as effective! It’s practically a no-brainer! Simply follow this link to my Movember 2015 page and make a donation!

For those of you unfamiliar with Movember, here are the rules:

  1. Once registered at, each Mo Bro must begin the 1st of Movember with a clean-shaven face.
  2. For the entire month of Movember each Mo Bro must grow and groom a mustache.
  3. There is to be no joining of the Mo to your side burns. (That’s considered a beard)
  4. There is to be no joining of the handlebars to your chin. (That’s considered a goatee)
  5. Each Mo Bro must conduct himself like a true country gentleman.

Pretty easy rules, I think. Well all for number five, that always gives me fits!

Because I need all the help I can get, I literally shaved and took my first picture at 12:00 a.m. Here’s what the starting point looks like!

Before After
Before After


Moving forward, I’ll take a daily photo and post updates (at least once a week) along the way. If you donated, please feel free to leave a note in the comments and mock my inability to grow facial hair. As a perk, I’ll personally thank you for your mocking.

Week One

Week one’s in the books, my progress is meager but steady. There’s a hint of nonsense on my upper lip, which either matches or exceeds my expectations. I suppose that’s the beauty of low expectations. The first week also so a total of $120 donated to the Movember cause, which is definitely more than I would’ve predicted. Let’s keep growing!

Day #1 of mustache growth Day #2 of mustache growth Day #3 of mustache growth Day #4 of mustache growth Day #5 of mustache growth Day #6 of mustache growth Day #7 of mustache growth

Week Two

Week two moved along at a pretty lethargic pace. There were two highlights of week two; I experimented with both dark and bright clothing to try and create contrast in order to accentuate my growth atop my upper lip and I’m pretty sure I got a compliment from one of my superiors at work on my progress. I studied him carefully post-compliment and detected no hint of stifled laughter — a very promising sign!

Day #8 of mustache growth Day #9 of mustache growth Day #10 of mustache growth Day #11 of mustache growth Day #12 of mustache growth Day #13 of mustache growth Day #14 of mustache growth

Week Three

Three weeks in and there’s a significant mustache burgeoning atop of my upper lip! In fact, halfway through the week I was annoyed to realize that the mustache had grown long enough that it was poking my lower lip when I pursed my lips whilst scowling at things; a frequent happening whenever I’m working on something or deep in thought. Having to break out the trimmer during week three was an unexpected surprise!

Day #15 of mustache growth Day #16 of mustache growth Day #17 of mustache growth Day #18 of mustache growth Day #19 of mustache growth Day #20 of mustache growth Day #21 of mustache growth

Final Week (or so)

The Movember wheels came off a bit due to the Thanksgiving holiday, an onset of crummy weather, and most importantly due to me getting sick. I’m barely photogenic as it is already, subjecting my readers to an unwashed, snotty, tired, and disheveled shell of myself seemed cruel and unusual. During those days, I stopped with my daily photos and mostly. Thankfully none of these factors can stop the growth of my mustache. By the end of the month, it’d grown back to all of its glory!

Day #26 of mustache growth Day #27 of mustache growth Day #28 of mustache growth Day #29 of mustache growth


Thanks a million to everyone who’s donated so far. As the month draws to an end, I’ll make my matching contribution. All together, we raised $240 for the Movember charity!

  • Julia Moses ($20)
  • Karen Moses ($100)
  • Brian’s Blog ($120)

Friends’ Movember Pages

I’m not the only Mo out here (both figuratively and literally). I’d love to spread the Movember attention around to the rest of you participating. Go ahead and leave a comment, send me an e-mail, or order up a singing telegram with your Movember page and I’ll share it here!