The OS Quest Trail Log #36: Year End Edition

This site has been silent for a couple of weeks so I figured I’d end the year with a Trail Log. I’ve been considering an expansion of the OS Quest data center and finally pulled the trigger with Newegg’s Year End Sale and placed an order on Saturday. I’ll wait for the stuff to arrive before I get into the details since it should be fodder for a few posts. Included are parts for two system builds and some network upgrades. Between the holiday and the fact that I like to pay as little as possible for shipping I probably won’t have anything in time for next weekend.

Software Updates

There’s been the usual flow of software updates. I’ve no idea everything that I’ve updated and haven’t already mentioned, but I do recall a few. Apple released OS X 10.5.6 and it went smoothly for me even though I used Software Update which caused problems for others. I picked up the habit of rebooting before applying OS patches so that may have helped me. All three of my Macs updated without a hitch. While my iMac (my workhorse computer) doesn’t crash a lot it’s not the solid OS I remember when I first got a Mac. The latest 10.5.6 doesn’t appear any more stable to me. Just today it wouldn’t shut down or log off . I hadn’t experienced any problem but needed to shut down to switch a power cable and ended up having to hold in the power button to force it off.

The one update I’ve really benefited from is Handbrake 0.9.3. While the version increment is minor there’s a bunch of new features. While I haven’t used any of the new capabilities I’ve benefited from the enhancements to existing features. It’s stability is rock solid. Over the holiday, while I was away two days, it churned through the encodes I had queued up. The previous version wouldn’t have allowed me to open that many files as the file open dialog would cause a crash if I used it that many times. So far every file it’s encoded has been valid. Another nice feature is that it caches the queue. My iMac crashed (there’s that instability again) while running Handbrake. After the restart the queue for Handbrake was still there.

WordPress 2.7 has also been released. Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll have upgraded but as I write this I’m still behind.

I’ve kind of lost track of all of Microsoft’s Internet file sharing options. FolderShare has been retired and folded into Windows Live Share which I use for one thing. The one thing I use it for is syncing Windows Live Writer drafts between my Windows VMs. I started with FolderShare and the upgrade to Windows Live Share doesn’t seemed to have caused any problems. Live Mesh has also received some updates and a Mac client.  And let’s not forget that SkyDrive has been up’d to 25GB of storage. Still, despite these options I’ve gravitated to Dropbox and use that for my file sharing and have stayed there, it just works.

Seagate 1.5TB Firmware

I still haven’t updated the firmware on this drive. I’ve downloaded it and created the bootable CD but still haven’t had the drive and DVD with me when a PC was available. I’ll probably end up doing the upgrade when the Newegg order arrives and I start the builds, so it’ll still be a couple of weeks.

Drobo

I figured I’d update the Drobo saga with the end of the year. It’s been a solid backup device since the firmware upgrade and repartitioning. It’s still not a speed demon, but solid. I’ve been tempted to try other drives in there to see if performance improves. While the speed doesn’t seem to approach the limits for the WD drives I use they aren’t fast drives and I wonder if the power saving benefits are affecting performance. I’m thinking about trying some of the faster drives I’m getting in for the builds to see if they’ll make a difference. I’m just not sure the time required to do the testing will be worth it to me. Especially since I’m considering moving the Drobo to my Airport Extreme so it can be easily shared on the network. If I do this it will have a USB connection and faster drives aren’t going to benefit me.

Network Printing (2nd Try)

I moved my Canon IP3500 printer to my Airport Extreme to free up a USB port on my iMac and to more easily share the printer. I haven’t used it enough to call it a success (and move the printer to where I want it) but so far I haven’t experienced any of the problems I had with my Epson printer.

Wrapping Up

This will wrap up the year as I’m unlikely to post anything in the next couple of days. This will be the 154th post of the year, and 502nd overall. If my stats program is to be trusted there’s been 41,475 unique visitors so far this year. January saw 2,164 unique visitors during the month and by September the monthly count had more than doubled to 4,449 unique visitors. December is on track to have the highest count of the year which will probably exceed 4,800.

The 5 most popular posts this year were WD My Book Button Manager Removed and Some Frustrations with 5,326 views in 2008 (still popular even though it was written mid-2007), Fedora 8 on VMware Fusion with 4,107 views, Centrally Managed iTunes Library on Windows Home Server with 2,554 views, Data Rescue II – File Recovery For The Mac with 2,449 views in 2008, and finally Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) on VMware Fusion with 1,831 views.

I’m not sure what any of that means exactly, but I like stats so figured I’d end the year with some.

Best wishes for the new year and good luck beating those computers into submission.

My Favorite Tech: Year End Review & Gift Shopping List

This is going to be that obligatory shopping list post and obligatory year-end view post combined into one. But let’s face it, it’s really a blatant attempt to make some money since most of the links are affiliate links and clicking on them and buying something will send a little money my way to help defray the cost of the quest. Along those lines the picture links to Egghead where I buy most of my hardware and the text links head to Amazon.com.

Computer Hardware

As I previously mentioned, the Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB 3.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive is my drive of choice, with nine of them in the house. They aren’t the fastest drives but they run cool and quit and they’ve been reliable. They work well in my Windows Home Server and Drobo. The drives are also available from Amazon. The prices just keep dropping and both Amazon and Egghead have them for $105.

The Xion XON-SAHDCB-USB SATA HDD to USB 2.0 Dock Station has been a mainstay on my desk for about 3 months. I use it to backup files from my Windows Home Server and to pull data off the odd drive laying around. I have the USB only version but there’s a newer version with an eSata connector along with a multi-card reader and additional USB ports. I get about 15MB/sec which is about the USB maximum on my iMac.

The Corsair 32GB Flash Voyager USB 2.0 Flash Drive has been a constant companion since I got it. It’s fast (as fast as any other USB drives on my systems) and reliable. I did pick up the 8GB version when it was on sale. The performance of that one wasn’t as good.

Software

Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac was recently released while VMware Fusion 2 has been around for awhile. Parallels was first on the Mac scene but Fusion is a solid performer built on VMware’s virtualization experience. I use Parallels on my iMac and Fusion on my Macbook. I like both and haven’t been moved to replace either one. If I was buying one today I’d probably pick VMware Fusion based on cost. I’ve only paid for the original product and so far upgrades have been free. Parallels has been a paid upgrade each time around.

Photography

I got the Canon Digital Rebel XSi earlier this year and I’m loving it. I switched from a Nikon DSLR. I knew the picture quality would be better since due to the newer technology. But I also find the controls and interface easier to use. Now if I can only improve my own photo taking capabilities to match the camera.

The SanDisk Extreme III 4GB SDHC Card works well in my Canon. I purchased it from Amazon bundled with a USB reader since I didn’t have SDHC reader already available but that bundle doesn’t seem to be available anymore. But Egghead does have a SanDisk 6GB Micro SDHC Flash Card w/MicroMate reader available.

A nice wide angle lens that gets great reviews. It’s been on my camera more than the kit lens of the 50mm I have. I almost held off buying this figuring I’d want to get a lens with a little more range first. I’m glad I went for this one.

Backup & File Recovery

Mozy is what I use for my offsite backups and I’m currently backup up over 159K files totally over 42 GB. They offer a free 2GB account which I use for my MacBook (Both OS X and Windows). The paid account is $5/mth. Whether or not Mozy (or any Internet based backup) is for you depends upon your upload speed. You should try out the free account first to make sure it’s fast enough for you. Just expect that first backup to take awhile (days even) but once that’s done it will only backup changes. I exclude large files like videos and even my music library. I write about Mozy in several articles and cover my backup strategy here.

When Internet backup isn’t an option Time Machine is a great alternative. Even with Mozy I still use Time Machine to back things up locally. To use Time Machine you’ll need an external drive. I’m a fan of the Western Digital MyBook line of drives. The 500GB, tri-connection (usb/fw400/fw800) drive if quiet, fast and reliable. It’s been running on my desk since I got it. Other external drives I got after it have already fallen into disuse. While I don’t currently use it, the Western Digital My Book Mirror Edition 2TB USB 2.0 (WDH2U20000N) is the one on my radar and is down to $250. The quad interface version (usb/fw400/fw800/esata) version is under $300.

And when the files are deleted and there’s no backup there’s still Data Rescue II from ProSoft Engineering. I write about Data Rescue II here.

What’s Not On The List – But I Wish Could Be

There’s a few things that aren’t on my recommended list but may appeal to some people or may have had the kinks worked out of them.

The Data Robotics Drobo 4-Bay with USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 has turned out to be a solid performer for me but wasn’t without its problems. While simple to setup and use I wasn’t alone in having performance issues. At $400-$500 (depending on discounts and rebates) for the Drobo itself plus the cost of the drives it’s not a inexpensive solution. Still, a lot of people like it and I am still reliably using it.

I’d love to be able to recommends the Seagate 1.5TB Barracuda drives. But as I recently encountered the lockup problem I can’t.It’s supposed to be resolved with a firmware update and if it is it may replace the Western Digital 1TB green drives in future purchases. Now if Western Digital would just release a reliable 1.5TB green drive.

Mac Mozy Changes

I recently received the following e-mail from Mozy concerning a change to their Mac product coming on Wednesday. Luckily it doesn’t affect me since I don’t use the discontinued features. This wasn’t totally unexpected as it brings it in line with the capabilities of the Windows version.

MozyHome Customer,

We recently announced the addition of MozyPro for Mac to the Mozy family. MozyPro for Mac builds upon MozyHome for Mac and offers additional business features, including Admin Console management, 24/7 phone support, and official support for network drives and Mac OS X Server.

As a result, MozyHome for Mac (version 1.2) will no longer support Mac OS X Server or network shares beginning Wednesday, December 10, 2008. If you are currently using the MozyHome service on Mac OS X Server, or if you require the ability to back up network shares, please choose from the following two options before Wednesday, December 10, 2008:

   1. Disable auto-upgrade in the Options tab of the Configuration menu and continue to use the service with version 1.0 of the MozyHome for Mac software. You may also downgrade to version 1.0 if necessary. Please note that this is not a viable long-term option and should be used as a grace period to migrate to a longer-term solution.
   2. Transition your MozyHome account to a MozyPro account. Along with the official ability to remotely and securely back up your Mac OS X Server with the Mozy service, you’ll also have access to improved performance and 24×7 phone support. Sign up today or call 1-877-669-9776 to speak with a knowledgeable sales agent.

If you have any questions regarding the upcoming change or your existing MozyHome account, please contact our support team at homesupport@mozy.com.

Be safe,
The Mozy Team

Pardon the Interruption, But…

This has become my new favorite book:

The Call of Trains

Jim Shaughnessy is the quintessential railroad photographer of the 50’s and 60’s although his work extends from the 40’s to the 80’s. The first thirty pages or so talks about Shaughnessy and how he worked while the remaining pages contain some great black and white photographs. The pictures are mostly from New England in the 50’s and 60’s a cover the transition from steam to diesel. They’re not just pictures of trains but include stations, tunnels, people and more.

The second photo in the book caught my attention and I spent about 10 minutes marveling at it. It’s a simple picture of a B&M passenger train in the Troy, NY station in1958. The E7 locomotive is the only part of the train visible and it’s a small part of the photo. I have to admit, from the angle and detail I figured it was a picture of a model RR. It’s going to take me a long time t get through this book.

The photographs are full size black & white pictures that cover the oversized pages. Even if you’re not a train enthusiast the book is some great photography. The book is available from Amazom.com for about $41.

You can see a sample of his work at Wired Online multimedia.

Ok, now I return you to the regular technology focused blog.

Seagate 1.5 TB Windows Home Server Problems

As I mentioned previously, I added a Seagate 1.5 TB drive to my Windows Home Server just under two months ago. Things were fine until this week when my WHS began acting up. Problems were sporadic, it would either just stop communicating for a couple of minutes or in one case, until rebooted. Disk access was also excruciatingly slow at times. There were some disk time-outs logged in the event log but they didn’t specify the physical disk affected. There was even one case of apparent file corruption. I say “apparent” because any attempt to access the files or view their properties (or delete them) resulted in the server access problem. No error, just a complete lack of response. I eventually resolved that by deleting the directory that contained the files and restoring the known good files from backup.

I was eventually able to trace down that the problems occurred when the 1.5 TB drive was being used.

Now, it’s not that the drive has been dormant for these two months. What changed this week is that the Windows Home Server has been in almost constant use copying files back and forth along with streaming videos. Based on what’s currently on the drive this also seems to be the first week where most of the video I’ve been streaming is located on that drive. It’s the drive currently catching most new files and it’s the new files I’ve been streaming.

A Google search quickly turned up a problem with the Seagate 1.5 TB drives. Sure enough, my drive has the affected model number and firmware. So, as I sit here writing this post the WHS drive wizard is removing the drive. Hopefully it will run to completion. I’ll replace the drive with a spare Western Digital 1 TB drive while I figure out how to update the Seagate’s firmware. Apparently the firmware needs to be burned to CD, then the CD needs to be booted on a computer where the drive to be updated is the only one connected. Simple, if you have a desktop handy, but I’m not about to crack open my iMac to do it so it’ll take some time to find the desktop. I’m hoping I can create a bootable USB with the firmware and then use my WHS with the Seagate as the only connected HDD.

Some additional information on the problem:

Seagate announcement of the problem and instructions for getting the firmware are here.

That announcement is part of a long forum thread that starts here.

Here’s another forum post with a way to test for the problem. (I haven’t downloaded the utility or done the test. I may try it if I find a PC to hook the drive up to.)

Drobo has temporarily decertified the drives for their Drobo hardware which they announced here.

The announcement of the firmware update was made in early November so I’d be concerned that drives with the buggy firmware are still in stores. Seagate will verify model and firmware versions before giving you the firmware, but affected drives seem to be part numbers 9JU138-300, 336 with firmware revisions SD15, SD17, or SD18.

AOL My eAddress Changes

MyeAddress I took a look at AOL’s My eAddress offering over two years ago. While I signed up for the free service I never really used it. The biggest hindrance for me was that AOL controlled the domain. So if AOL decided to discontinue the service there was no guarantee that I would keep the domain. I could be forced into changing my email addresses. While AOL isn’t discontinuing My eAddress they are restructuring it to remove that obstacle. Now they only offer a “Bring your own domain” option where you can use AOL My eAddress for email with a domain you already own. AOL will be releasing any domains that were registered through AOL My eAddress on December 31st. People who have a domain through AOL My eAddress have an opportunity to register the domain in their name before December 31st and maintain uninterrupted AOL My eAddress service. I received my email notification today.

If you want to keep the domain you need to register it with eNom using a link provided by AOL in the email. This link will provide special pricing and allow the email service to continue uninterrupted. According to the e-mail, prices for the transfer are $7.50 for .com and $5.50 for .net domains. I went through the process and transferred my domain. Because this is a company I never dealt with I used a temporary credit card number with a $25 limit which may have been a good call. The intro screen presented the special $5.50 price while the receipt indicated I was charged $10.99. In checking with the bank it appears the charge will be for $5.50 although at this point that’s just the amount held, not the actual charge.  eNom pricing in general seems higher than other providers ($30/yr when it’s time for me to renew). Since the AOL e-mail is unclear whether the special pricing is for the transfer only or for future renewals (seems to be for the transfer only) I’ll probably transfer the domain in a couple of months.

In general AOL seems to be doing the right thing here, letting users keep their domain if they want it. While My eAddress itself is technically still free, the fact that you need to provide a domain means there is a cost involved. I’ve generally used the free Google Apps for Domains if I needed a email address for a domain but this brings along the whole GAFD suite along. AOL My eAddress provides a email only replacement and a web interface that can be used to open multiple mailboxes at the same time in the same logon session. (Although I haven’t tried opening multiple mailboxes across domains since I only have one domain.)

AOL has a FAQ about the change. [Update: eNom also has a FAQ]

I’ll update this post once the domain transfer completes.

[Update Dec 7th] The transfer was completed this morning. Longer than the receipt page told me it would take but in line with other transfers. I also found a eNom faq that specified 5 calendar days for the transfer while the receipt said four. I was also billed the correct $5.50, not the $10.99 the receipt said. And one more problem with the receipt – the URL to check the status of the order was invalid. I had to copy the URL and past it into the browser then add www. to the beginning of the URL. Once I did that the order status status displayed fine. The Whois information also correctly reflects my ownership. The whois expiration date is Nov 25, 2009 which is the same date as when AOL owned the domain. It also correctly matches the eNom expiration date. The domain is set to auto renew.

The DNS settings point to AOL: for e-mail (click for full size):

AOLDNS

While logging onto AOL e-mail the first time I was presented with a captcha request (you know – enter these letters). Every logon so far has also displayed the following error (click for full size):

AOLError

 

When I click “Try Again” I go into the AOL web client just fine. I successfully sent e-mail to and from the AOL My eAddress account. I don’t have POP or anything other than web access set up so I’m unable to test that. I can’t say if the error message is related to the change or an completely unrelated problem.

Again, lot’s of talk about “special” pricing. There does seem to be a difference in what’s displayed when I’m logged on with the account that contains my AOL My eAddress domain and when I’m just a normal public browser. The difference isn’t always cheaper (guess “special” doesn’t have to mean cheaper) when logged on. I can’t say whether this is AOL specific or just because I have an account logged on.

Here’s the top of the eNom price list that I see when not logged onto my account (click for full size):

Public Pricing

And here’s the eNom pricing when I’m logged on…

AccountPricing

 

The common .com, .net and .org domains are cheaper when I’m logged onto my account, but others, such as .me, are more expensive. It’s all rather bizarre and I wonder if it’s due to bad coding or missed updates, such as my receipt displaying the wrong amount and URL. The URL is the same although is an active server page.

Personally, not a confidence builder for me and I won’t be bringing them any additional domains or services. Everything went fine so no complaints there. But their presentation is sloppy.  I plan to transfer the domain before it renews if I don’t decide to dump it completely. From the press section it appears they came under new ownership in November so this may explain some of the discrepancies.

In conclusion, while I’m not recommending eNom, if you want your AOL My eAddress domain they’re your only choice. It’s not a bad choice since my experience was successful and relatively hassle free. Save all e-mails and make screen prints of everything in case you get charged the wrong amount instead of just being displayed the wrong amount.