18 May 2021


It was almost exactly four years ago that I bought my first NAS, a Synology DS916+, which I populated with four 4TB Western Digital Red drives in an SHR-1 volume. It wasn't long until I outgrew the 12TB of usable storage and swapped all four drives out for their 10TB equivalents and 16TB became 40TB. To be honest, I don't recall what my original intentions were with the NAS when I bought it. What my NAS became, however, was a repository all my movies, television, music, photographs, documents, and, yes, pornography. I began ripping all the content from my physical media library with the aim of preserving it in the best quality possible. Where I needed to run some of the video through HandBrake to crop out black bars, I used settings aimed at doing so with the lowest possible impact on quality.

I soon fell in love with how convenient it became to stream any movie or television episode in my collection from my NAS to the various computers and devices in my home. Before long, I was even ripping the special features. What was once a hodgepodge of movies I had torrented over the years became a collection of films in consistently impeccable quality. The television, however, was what qucikly gobbled up my storage faster than anything. Since so much of it was made with a television aspect ratio in mind, there were fewer black bars to crop out and so the television didn't get the compression treatment of HandBrake. On its own, The X-Files devoured 1.9TB. While I could put every film and song in my collection on a USB-powered external hard disk drive and take with with me wherever I go, I really have to pick and choose with television, which is why I've recently been working on a project to transcode all of that uncompressed television to build a second collection of portable versions based on the same HandBrake settings I use when I simply want to crop out black bars. Sure, the compressed copies take up consideraly less space than their uncompressed counterparts, but they take up space all the same and it means maintaining two copies of entire television series.

I'm still at only 54% capacity as it is, but that was enough to get me thinking about my next move. I didn't want to upgrade my NAS unless it was going to prove a substantial upgrade in nearly every respect, an upgrade that would not be cheap. Now that I've been employed for the past fifteen months, I'm finally beginning to get back into a comfortable spot financially and now I'm pulling the trigger.

Sure, I could have built my own NAS, but I really enjoy the Synology experience and the compact form factor that I can easily put on my bedroom dresser. The three main candidates I considered were the DS1520+ ($700), the DS1821+ ($950), and the DS1621xs+ ($1,600). The DS1520+ only boasts one additional drive bay than my current DS916+, but, equipped with an Intel Celeron J4125, it's the best among the three for real-time video transcoding, as the other two do not feature any kind of iGPU. The thing is that I don't actually do real-time video transcoding and I have no interest in ever running Plex. I only do direct streaming or, if I want to take my content on the go, I put it on one of my 5TB Western Digital My Passport USB-powered external hard disk drives small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. I don't like Plex or any other program fucking with the files I spent countless hours transcoding to perfection in HandBrake. For Plex users, the DS1520+ would be the clear choice. For me, not so much. I also noted that the DS1520+ does not support the use of ECC RAM and tops out at 8GB. Realistically, 8GB should be more than fine for my needs, but the limitation was still worth noting. On the plus side, it is possible to buy a DS1520+ with the maximum RAM capacity preinstalled, something lacking in the higher-end models, though, given what Synology likes to charge for their house brand and the fact that the higher-end models support up to 32GB, shouldn't come as a surprise.

The next step up in price, at an additional $250, is the DS1821+. The most obvious difference between the DS1520+ and the DS1821+ is the fact that the DS1821+ boasts eight drive bays, meaning three more drive bays than the DS1520+ and double the drive bays of my DS916+. Fully populated with 14TB Western Digital Red Plus drives as I eventually intend to do, the DS1821+ would offer me 112TB of storage, whereas the DS1520+ would top out at 70TB with the same drives. This is a major advantage for the DS1821+, but one could also argue that there are some real disadvantages as well. Firstly, the DS1821+ uses the AMD Ryzen V1500B processor, which does not feature an iGPU that would help with real-time video transcoding. As such, the DS1821+ would be a decidedly poor choice for anyone running Plex or anything else that employs real-time transcoding. It also only comes with 4GB of RAM, whereas the DS1520+ can be purchased with 8GB; that said, the DS1520+'s maximum RAM capacity is 8GB and it does not support ECC. The DS1821+, on the other hand, supports up to 32GB of ECC RAM and, yes, the included 4GB module is ECC. The DS1821+ also features dual 120mm cooling fans compared to the DS1520+'s dual 92mm fans and, while it does not feature 10GbE out of the box, an add-on card can be purchased to give the DS1821+ 10GbE, a feature that can never be added to the DS1520+.

Lastly, the DS1621xs+ comes in at an additional $650 over the DS1821+. The DS1621xs+ actually has two fewer drive bays the the DS1821+, but it is, by far, the most expensive of the three due to the inclusion of some more enterprise-grade features, including its Intel Xeon D-1527 processor. It also includes 10GbE and 8GB DDR4 ECC RAM (upgradeable to 32GB) out of the box. Performance-wise, it definitely leads the pack, which is why I was very seriously considering it, despite it having two fewer drive bays that, with my chosen drives, would limit it to 84TB, or 28TB less than the DS1821+, not including the use of any of Synology's expansion units. In truth though, my use case doesn't demand the most blistering performance, but the real reason I was steered away from the DS1621xs+ is because it does not support Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). Call me a newbie if it makes you feel better, but I actually love SHR. It provides fault tolerance and makes adding new drives to the volume a breeze. It's not considered an enterprise-grade, feature however, so Synology chose not to include it on the DS1621xs+. As much as I wanted that built-in 10GbE and the better performance, it wasn't worth sacrificing the convenience of SHR, especially given the $650 price premium. SHR is one of the primary attractions to using a Synology NAS in my view.

Ultimately, I decided to go with the DS1821+. It seemed to offer the fewest compromises, some of which could be mitigated with a few upgrades; indeed, I have already ordered 16GB DDR4 ECC RAM (2 x 8GB) for it because, even if it is DDR4 and ECC versus the DDR3 non-ECC in my DS916+, I refuse to go from 8GB to 4GB. I have also recently purchased two 14TB Western Digital Red Plus drives, though I won't get the full benefit of the 28TB of additional storage because the intention is to switch from SHR-1 to SHR-2 for additional fault tolerance. As such, with eight of these 14TB drives eventually populating the system, the total usable storage pool will be 84TB. For now, I'll also be throwing in a pair of 4TB Reds I have lying around since I would otherwise have empty drive bays. The result is that, for now, I will have 48TB of usable storage (up from 30TB).

12 April 2021

Sometimes I dearly wish I didn't understand as much Vietnamese as I do. I spent an hour today listening to my parents-in-law stomping around the house. "Bốn giờ rồi!" they exclaim. "Nó không chịu ngủ!" They babysit my son on Mondays and, as always, they find themselves exasperated that my fifteen-month-old son often has little interest in taking afternoon naps. I appreciate when he takes a nap as much as anyone. It's always a welcome break, but I don't force him to take a nap if he doesn't want to. My mother-in-law in particular seems hell-bent on getting him to take a nap. It's obvious to me, however, that she just wants to take a nap herself, a nap she wouldn't need if she didn't insist on waking up at 5 AM on her day off. I dislike people who are culturally inflexible. They're not in Vietnam anymore. They don't get siestas when they're working at the Asian market five days a week, but they still cannot seem to function without one on their days off. You'd think, between the two of them, they could formulate a way to at least take turns.

I know I only watch my son on Sundays, but I cannot help but feel like I am the only one who does a decent job when I do. My parents-in-law get angry at him because he won't sleep to suit their schedule and, whether it's my parents-in-law, my wife, or my mother, he always seems to fall and have fresh bruises on his face from his spills on the hardwood floor. When I watch him on Sundays, I've just worked a ten-hour shift and I'm running on fumes, but you don't see me shouting at him or bitching about what time it is and he doesn't get any fresh bruises on my watch.

I was working on a project in the basement this afternoon when I heard a thud from upstairs followed by crying. I ran upstairs to find my boy in tears with a large gray bump on his forehead. He had fallen and hit his head in exactly the same place he had hit his head on Thursday. Whenever he gets hurt or falls ill, my son always takes the greatest comefort in my arms. From my mother-in-law's arms, he reached out for me. Instantly, his sobs grew softer and I put a bottle in his mouth to distract him from the pain. Moments later, my mother-in-law came out of the kitchen to literally rub salt on the wound. I don't even ask anymore. The Vietnamese cling tightly to beliefs so primitive and irrational they make my head spin on a daily basis and I guess that now includes the notion that rubbing table salt on a bruise provides some relief. I've learnt by now which battles aren't worth fighting, which hills aren't worth dying on. My son's middle name is Darwin. I gave him that name in tribute to science and facts, but, all the same, he is growing up in a household oozing with Stone Age supersitions. Hell, most of the time they don't even address him by his first name that my wife and I chose for him and I genuinely doubt my parents-in-law even know his middle name. They still cannot pronounce any of my names, including the one I share with their grandson.

My son, meanwhile, knows two words, both of them English. There's some dispute as to which was his first word, but it was either daddy or kitty. He's quite taken with my mother's cat, though we have to be careful because my mother's cat detests babies and young children. The only two people in this world she likes is my mother and me. My son's pronunciation isn't great, but there's no mistaking it when he utters the same two syllables every time he sees me. "Da-tsi!" he exclaims with an awkward pause between syllables. A year ago, he was nothing more to me than a bundle of frustration. Today, I love him more than anything or anyone in the world. It's amazing how it sneaks up on you. At the same time, a crushing guilt sneaks up on me as well. I wasn't good to him when he was just born. I often swaddled him too tight. On two occasions, it left purple marks on his skin. If I could go back in time, I would beat myself senseless for it. I often wonder if I'm the reason he always kicks off his blanket, no matter how cold it is. Did I leave some psychological trauma from being constricted too tightly or for too long? One thing is for sure though: I would never hurt a hair on his head today. While I was completely unsuited to be a father those first three months, I've come a long way. When he cries out in pain, my own eyes tear up.

30 March 2021

It has been over a year since Parasite (2019) dominated at the 92nd Academy Awards. It was the first time I had watched the Academy Awards since 2003, when I wanted to see what Michael Moore would do on stage when he inevitably won Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbine (2002). Over the course of the previous couple of months, I had become increasingly convinced that Parasite was about to make history. Yes, I was sure it would take the award for Best International Feature Film, but I sensed the real possibility of something more.

Most of it was a painful experience. Watching one sanctimonious speech after another got old real fast. All the best acceptance speeches came from the guy who didn't even speak English: Bong Joon-ho, the one man not standing on a soap box or sitting on a high horse, a man who lets his films do the talking. Up until only a few months prior, when I first experienced Parasite, I hadn't been a fan of Bong Joon-ho's films. I was perhaps the only Korean cinema enthusiast with no taste for Bong Joon-ho or for Lee Chang-dong, whose Burning had seen the most international impact of any Korean film of 2018. Even as I was enjoying my initial viewing of Parasite, however, I recognized very rapidly that this was Bong Joon-ho's greatest film. I had been a bit hesitant to watch it up until seeing actual television advertisements for it, for a Korean film, and I knew something was up. Bong Joon-ho's previous two films, 2013's Snowpiercer and 2017's Okja had been, by far, his worst films to date and they weren't even real Korean films, given that they were mostly in English and featured a mostly non-Korean cast. Parasite represented not only a return to form for Bong Joon-ho, it was also the first Bong Joon-ho film I actually loved (and I've seen all of them).

I wouldn't say I loved Parasite as much during my initial viewing as I would soon come to love it. As with countless other Korean films, it took a bit of time to sink in. I do remember being not even halfway through the film's 132-minute runtime and thinking to myself that this isn't going to end well. Much as I sensed the splash Parasite was primed to make at the Academy Awards, I had also sensed the dark turn the film was preparing to take. For many American viewers experiencing perhaps their first genuine Korean film, it must have come as a bit of a shock. For me, it was Korean cinema doing Korean cinema things. After giving the film some time to sink in and following a second viewing, I became convinced that Parasite ranked very highly among the greatest Korean films ever made. Neither 2017's A Taxi Driver nor 2018's Burning had lived up to the hype, but here was finally a film that lived up to all the hype surrounding it as it dominated one awards show after another throughout the latter half of 2019 and into 2020. Here was a film I could actually root for and, as much as I was already on team Parasite, Bong Joon-ho's statement as Parasite won Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes sounded as if he had plucked the words from my own lips. "Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films," he said. It was the kind of statement people would flame me for on an Internet forum but which, coming from the mouth of Bong Joon-ho's interpreter, garnered applause.

It wasn't the only bit of wisdom Bong Joon-ho would impart in the time leading up to Parasite's Academy Awards dominance. "Essentially," he said as he explained the universal appeal of his film, "we all live in the same country called capitalism." As I wrote in some of my initial remarks upon experiencing Parasite myself, "With its scathing satirical social commentary on class division, it carries a universality that couldn't have come at a more appropriate time as the struggle between the haves and the have-nots rocks the planet in fiery protest at the close of the decade." It is a film both timely and timeless.

When Parasite completed its awards season circuit with a dominating Oscars performance, I felt vindicated as someone who had been singing the praises of East Asian cinema for two decades and South Korean cinema in particular for over a decade. At the same time, I was far from appeased because I knew all too well how political these awards shows are. In actuality, they're entirely politics, which is why I generally avoid them like the plague. While Parasite, in my mind, deserved every award it won, I still don't believe its dominating performance had anything to do with its strength as a film. A new "woke" era was upon us and it had already wrapped its destructive tentacles around everything. There was an enormous amount of pressure for the Academy Awards to be more inclusive and the woke-ism of the 92nd Academy Awards was plain as day for all to bear witness, so why should Parasite's wins have been any exception? Parasite wouldn't have achieved what it achieved if it was a garbage film, but it didn't have to be nearly as good a film as it is to do what it did at the Academy Awards. As much as I don't want to believe that, I absolutely do.

In the end, South Korean cinema got the attention of one or two slightly more open-minded Americans and there was no shortage of articles from various publications pointing people to a handful of the same predictable Korean picks they should check out after Parasite. In the end though, over a year after Parasite's historic wins, Americans still don't give a shit about Korean cinema. Anyone could have seen it coming. Parasite, by foreign film standards, may have performed well in the US box office, but, by any other standard, it barely even registered. It was the 98th best performing film in the domestic (i.e., US) box office in 2019. Even after its dominating performance at the Academy Awards, it was still only the 19th best performer in 2020, right between The Croods: A New Age and Fantasy Island, a film which scored a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes versus Parasite's 98%. The truth remains that that one-inch barrier of which Bong Joon-ho spoke is simply too great for the overwhelming majority of Americans to overcome.

East Asian cinema has been my most long-lived hobby. I've been an East Asian cinema enthusiast for over two decades, or well over half my life, and that passion has become even more focused in the past decade as South Korean cinema now commands most of my attention. South Korean cinema has been enjoying a cinematic golden age since just before the turn of the millennium, but, even as Korean cinema continues to blossom year after year, the hobby is as lonesome today as it was when I saw my first Korean film in 2007 or 2008.