Plex, Synology and Streaming Nostalgia

Kaylin is much more of a movie buff than I am—some of her most cherished movies include classics like Pete’s Dragon, the Back to the Future trilogy, Elf, The Secret of Nimh and then take a sharp turn towards the broad category of Christmas movies. Our DVD collection is… something interesting.

Shortly before the winter holidays I won the argument that our DVD player was taking up excess space and not getting used. I was granted permission to begin digitizing the whole collection.

I’ve had a Synology DS418 Play since December 2019. It’s just been acting as cold storage for files and I’ve been anxious to put it to use as a media server.

Luckily, this isn’t much of a how-to post. The documentation for Plex and Synology made the process incredibly easy so I’ll only outline the tips that I collected along the way.

The Setup

  • Synology DS418 Play
  • Plex Media Server installed from the Synology Package Center
  • Apple TV 4K running the Plex app
  • LG C9 television

Initially, it was unclear to me that the media I wanted Plex to reference should live a folder other than the default Plex folder that Synogloy creates during setup. Once I realized this, I quickly made a Media shared folder that contains only two folders, TV Shows and Movies.

In an update some time after I initially completed the installation, Plex added new text files in the root directory instructing that no media should be placed in the Plex folder. Helpful.

Scanning Media

I was aware that Casey Liss had well written article about his DVD ripping process which I followed exactly, including the compression scripts mentioned at the end of his article. I found MakeMKV to be simple and easy to use.

Unfortunately, I got ahead of myself and scanned quite a few DVDs and compressed them before previewing on my television. I found the compression far too agressive for my taste when viewing on the LG C9 so I ultimately re-ripped those files and simply moved the ~4-6gb .mkv files to the server.

File Names

The advice in the article to use The Movie Database to search for movie titles was perfect. Plex was able to index all my named files following the Movie Title (Date) format.

TV Shows

I struggled when scanning a few television show seasons. Renaming became tedious and I started writing a quick script to do the heavy lifting. Before I got too far down that path I did a search in the Mac App Store and landed upon TV Show Renamer Pro.

It’s far from a perfect app but it does what it says on the tin. I ran in to a bug (that turned out to be a bit of bad UX) and I received a response within hours when I emailed the developer for help.

I’ll continue to use the app any time I add TV shows to our collection.

Enjoying the Setup

Once the scanning, sorting, and naming were completed everything has been working without any issues. We’ve been able to watch our movie collection on our TV and other devices streamed directly from our personal cloud running in the basement.

It’s been great to have easier access to some of the nostalgic and classic movies. Plex places your own media on par with a Netflix or Hulu experience. It’s so great to be able to jump in to your own media with ease.

2020

This blog has been fairly quiet over the last few months. I’ve struggled to find words to write here that seem worthwhile. Just now, I’ve written and deleted three paragraphs because it’s unclear how to sum up my feelings about 2020. Never in my life have I experienced the extremes that I’ve experienced this year.

This has been an intense year for our family. January began with losing my father-in-law to a decades-long battle with MS. Two weeks later our son was born. Two months later COVID-19 began sweeping the country, leaving Kaylin and I to raise Finnegan largely in isolation. As the summer began, the country was reminded yet again that Black lives do indeed matter and that our system of policing is broken.

Later in the summer, we spent time at the beach, alone. I launched a new product with my team at work—my colleagues all working remotely for the first time. This fall, election season ramped up and our country avoided four more years of catastrophic leadership. We watched the results roll in from a cabin in the woods, between many hikes, alone. Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone without the usual festive outings and family gatherings.

It sounds like this might be a complaint, a down note with hours left to go in the year. Although we’ve had incredibly tough moments this year, I feel lucky and blessed. We’ve been able to adapt and live comfortably and safely this year. One year ago I was sitting with Kaylin, counting the days until Finnegan’s due date, thinking about what the coming year would hold. We certainly could not have predicted this year.

My heart goes out to my friends and family who are essential workers. The stories they have to tell of this year are the real stories, the ones that matter. Wear a mask. Stay home. Get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible. These are the three best ways to say thank you to those who’ve been tirelessly serving our country.

Nothing about this year has been what I expected. I’m tired. I’m anxious to see what the coming year holds. I’m nervous, but I am hopeful that we have a path forward to a new normal.

Stay safe. Here’s to a new year—one where we can process the terrible losses of the year past and work to a better existence for us all.

A Needle of Hope

As I suspect most of us do, I too have a had a very unhealthy habit of checking notifications and scrolling feeds shortly after I unglue my eyelids each morning. For the past four years it has been a drudgery. This last year it’s been excruciating to see the news of the pandemic, lost jobs, political outrages, fires and smoke, and the vast array of other misery that is neatly summarized every day.

The last two mornings have been different. My feeds have been full of family, friends, and acquaintances posting selfies of themselves receiving the COVID-19 vaccination. I tweeted this morning to summarize my feelings, but I’m overwhelmed and joyful to see the start of the end of the pandemic.

It’s a surreal feeling to read the headlines over the last several weeks. A new president, multiple vaccine approvals, friends actually receiving those vaccines—it feels good. Having a bit of hope about the coming year is a very new feeling, but I like it.

Vote

This week Kaylin and I early voted in our county. Like many places across the country, it appears that early voting turnout is way up. I’ve voted for the last presidential and all state and local elections since moving to this county. I’ve truly never seen so many people queued to cast a vote.

Due to scheduling and juggling Finnegan’s needs we ended up voting at two different locations. I waited for about an hour and Kaylin waited for nearly an hour and a half.

We’re lucky—we have schedule flexibility and local family to assist with childcare. Others are not so lucky. It’s easy to get excited by the long lines, by the enthusiasm and the turnout. But like the ever-present stories of individuals raising money on crowdfunding platforms to cover healthcare costs, long lines indicate a systematic failure of our democracy.

Voting should be fast. Voting should be accessible. Voting should be available to all. Schedules, child care, work, access to transportation and hundreds of other variables impact someone’s ability to cast a vote. In many cases, the system is poorly designed or is designed to actively suppress your right to vote.

I’m both excited to see the enthusiasm and terrified that the system will fail. But, all we have is our vote. Please, if you can vote early, do so. Mail your ballot in by the deadline. Find your local early voting location and make your voice heard. And if you’ve not done so before Election Day, pack a lunch, make some coffee, wear a mask and get in line.

November 3, 2020 is almost here. Please vote.

TN voting sticker stuck to a wall.

The Toll

19 years ago today I was getting up and getting ready for school on a late summer morning in Maryland. Mom was making oatmeal and dad had already left to drive to Baltimore for work.

A friend called and told us to turn on the news. We did. I remember watching the second plane hit the tower and closely following the news of the attack at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. I remember the surge of anger and the sudden, sharp rise in fear and anxiety.

That day we lost 2,997 people.

19 years later, we are still holding memorials. We are remembering a time of coming together as a nation, of fear. A time of deep hurt for the country.

It was easy. We had The Other to blame. The attackers.

We rapidly pivoted to war. We’ve been fighting a never-ending war for over half of my life at a cost of some $2.4 trillion.


According to the Covid Tracking Project we lost 1,170 Americans yesterday in the US due to COVID-19.

At the time of this writing the US has lost 192,000 people. Write it out like a check: one hundred ninety-two thousand lives.

How do we memorialize these people? We memorialize them by sending kids to college to party. By going to churches and other large gatherings against scientific recommendation. By walking past signs in stores imploring people to wear masks, only to pull the mask down and sneer at other mask wearers.

This country is broken. We can’t come together and do the right thing for our marginalized communities of color. We can’t even properly wear a piece of cloth over our mouth and nose.

War is easy. Change is hard. We fund foreign wars and domestic police brutality, and meanwhile a thousand or more people are dying daily—often in our most vulnerable communities. Meanwhile, the rich get richer (by the way, we don’t need billionaires).

In the midst of this, both political parties refuse to address universal health care while one party actively works against the current healthcare protections.

What’s the point? The point is that the people lost on 9/11 matter. The point is that we are currently experiencing loss at an unprecedented rate for modern times—these hundreds of thousands of people also matter. For those of 9/11 we launched a 19 year war. For those of yesterday, we walk into a Walmart and pull our masks down after sneaking past a greeter.

Act like it matters. Do your part—wear masks, stay apart, wash your hands. Take care of each other in the midst of national and global loss. Be politically active. Educate your friends and families why progressive values matter to the least of those in our communities.


I don’t think I’ll ever forget the morning of 9/11. I also know that I’ll never forget this year. And I’ll never forget the vast disparity in how we’ve responded and the toll it’s had on the country.

Home sweet 192.168.1.1

We thoroughly enjoyed our excursion to the Gulf Coast even though we cut the trip short by one week to avoid the wind and rain expected from the twin tropical storms headed for the region.

After our week of relaxation, I went back to work for the remainder of our time at the beach. It was a great change of scenery for the month of August.

The quality of internet access is always a gamble when booking an extended stay — “Wi-Fi Access” in an AirBnB listing can mean vastly different things. Unfortunately, we had awful DSL coverage at the condo. Speeds ranged from 150 Kbps to 3.5 Mbps. The abysmal speeds and high packet loss made video calls, syncing Dropbox and accessing “modern” JavaScript-heavy websites a painful affair.

I was able to work, but it was difficult. I turned off Dropbox sync, held meetings without my video enabled, downloaded albums of music instead of streaming during the workday, restarted the DSL Wi-Fi box daily and generally exercised extreme patience.

Access to a high quality internet connection is critical in our modern digital age. In the midst of a pandemic when much of work and education is online, it’s now essential. Living and working remotely from Chattanooga, with gigabit municipal fiber connection from by EPB, our local utility company, is absolutely incredible.

While at the beach, I was able to make an unstable connection work. I knew I would be dealing with it for a limited time. However, across our nation and the globe, workers and families are facing bandwidth challenges. We need solutions. We need competition. We need more and more local municipalities doing the hard work that EPB has done—dare I say, treat internet access as a utility. We need a a national government that is actually engaged in fostering access to high quality internet.


EPB receives a lot of national press for being one of the first to move on municipal fiber. Fortunately, during this pandemic, they are offering reduced cost service to those who qualify. This is a great start.

In My Bag: Mini Pouch

I’ve always carried useful bits and bobs in my pockets and bags. When I was young, that was often scraps of paper, sticks, and the odd tissue—fortunately, my habits evolved.

In college I carried drawing and art supplies, hard drives and a laptop. When I started working (and commuting to work in SF), my backpack became a survival platform—layers (because micro-climates), water, snacks, coffee mug, pocket knife, multi-tool, small flashlight, computer gear and much more.

Since moving away from the Bay Area and working from my home office, my backpack hangs on it’s hook most days. In recent months I’m out and about even less, which means I’m not taking my normal bag setup with me.

Over the years a few key items have have risen to the top of things that I grab when I leave the house. Before Finnegan was born, I was thinking about my stuff-hauling situation and how that would shift towards including a diaper bag in my rotation. I wanted a small kit of the most useful items, something that I could easily grab and drop in my backpack or in the diaper bag.

I’m pleased with the kit I’ve put together. It’s almost always nearby when I need something, not too large or bulky and not full of incredibly expensive or irreplaceable things.

Overview of everything that fits in the pouch.

The Pouch

I’ve owned several bags from Topo Designs, including their flagship Klettersack and a smaller briefcase style bag. They’ve been around the globe with me and have held up incredibly well, so I landed their Micro Acessory Bag for this kit.

Topo Designs Micro Accessory Bag in Navy / Red (Link).

The Stuff

Chapstick
ChapStick Original (Link).
Ye olde generic ChapStick brand chapstick. I don’t like excessive flavors on my face or in my ‘stache, so this works out well.

Flashlight
Fenix LD02 AAA Flashlight (Link).
A small light comes in handy quite often. I’ve retrieved things from under beds, looked in dark basement corners, found things under car seats. I love that it runs on one rechargeable AAA battery which I have a reminder set to replace every 6 months.

Pen
Fisher Space Pen (Link).
I use pens infrequently but it’s always nice to have something reliable. With a newborn and shoulder surgery this year, I’ve been in and out of doctor’s offices more than ever. I’ve been happy to have my own pen instead of shared ones for filling out forms.

Knife
Swiss Army Knife – Spartan (Link).
I’ve had a few Swiss Army Knives and this one is my newest, a souvenir from our stay in Zürich, Switzerland a few years ago. It opens things, slices things, and yes—I’ve actually used the can opener while staying at an AirBnB with a faulty kitchen tool.

Pill Case
Slim Traveler Pill Box (Link).
This was a random amazon find many years ago which have proven to be super useful. Great for holding almost any allergy or pain pill.

Everything fits!

Break

2020 has been wildly different than I expected. The loss of Kaylin’s father, the birth of Finnegan, my shoulder surgery, and dozens of other difficult personal and professional challenges have resulted in a 2020 that would have been hard to imagine at Christmas last year.

We’ve been incredibly lucky to have the support of friends and family through it all. Fortunately Kaylin had the forethought to encourage us to plan a getaway to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary despite the state of things. We booked a nice condo in the Florida panhandle for a several week stay.

We’re obviously taking all the proper precautions when it comes to COVID-19. We’re staying in our condo, going out only for groceries while properly wearing a mask, and visiting local beaches when they are not crowded (in fact, we saw zero people today on our stretch of the beach).

No COVID-19 here!

This week of vacation will be followed by several weeks of work, just in this location instead of home. Working from home isn’t new for me, but in the midst of an intense year, the change in scenery is appreciated.

Overall, a break from the usual is so deeply restorative. And, we get to show Finnegan the gulf for the very first time!

It went… ok.

Murphy gets groomed

Before and after a much needed grooming.

Many of us are dealing with hair that is longer than we’d prefer due to ongoing restrictions. For Murphy, it was getting quite out of control and somewhat dangerous to his health. Our groomer has implemented great social distancing policies for her clients so we were finally able to schedule Murphy a session, providing him relief from the hot and humid weather this summer.

We’ve dealt with our veterinarian and now our groomer during these social distancing times. They are both doing curbside drop off and pay by phone. It’s actually a great improvement for both Murphy and I. Murphy gets to hang out in the car and not freak out in a waiting room. I get to sit in the car in my own air conditioning and with my own stereo system while I wait.

If we ever return to “normal” times, can we keep curbside dog services? I think we’d both like that.

Trash Can Baron

Quarantine has meant lots of things. More Netflix, mostly. But it’s also been a time to organize and refine our life at home.

Kaylin decided it was best to move her studio from the basement to the bedroom adjoining Finnegan’s room. After the switch, we had a new closet that needed storage solutions.

Instead of building more shelving, we opted to purchase shelves from one of our favorite online retailers, WebstaurantStore. The shelves arrived in two days. However, an additional, very large mystery box arrived at the same time.

Once opened, we realized that we were now in possession of five 20-gallon trash cans and matching lids. I triple-checked. These were not part of the order. After a quick chat via online support, we were instructed by the nice representative to keep these trash cans at no cost.

Yaaaaaaay.

It was such a strange shipping mistake. It wasn’t a full lot (that would be six), so this box was picked, packed, and shipped to us somehow. I’d wager that procedures, staffing, or other parts of the logistics at WebstaurantStore have changed due to COVID-19, but I’ll never know for sure.

Fortunately, we’ve already rehomed three of the errant cans and will find good uses for the other two.

Trashlandia, our very own tower of cans. Baron of the Can. Titan of Trash.

To be clear, I’m a huge fan of WebstarauntStore. Our kitchen is stocked with high quality gear purchased there at great prices, shipped quickly. 10/10, would recommend.