OS Quest Trail Log

OS Quest Trail Log #58: Snow Edition

Snowy Trees

The first two months of the year are just about history and there hasn’t been much activity on the Quest. I can’t blame the record snowfalls for that. And the good news is the ground is again visible in places. There haven’t been any changes to my Ubuntu Home Server, but it has gotten some heavy use and I’m reaching an inflection point where I’ll have to make a decision. Then there was the recent replacement of my Motorola Droid with the Verizon iPhone. As if the iPhone didn’t give me enough Apple products, I also just added a 13″ Macbook Air to my collection.

Ubuntu Home Server

My Ubuntu server has been rock solid, even after having a bookcase fall on it. Yea, that’s right, it was next to a wire rack that was a overloaded with books and stuff. I recognized the potential problem and had just pull the first books off when it collapsed and knocked the running server over. The server kept right on running, although I did shut it down for the cleanup. It seemed no worse off after the near disaster.

The only other minor problem had came a couple days ago when I noticed file copies from the server were extremely slow. Everything seemed OK but I went ahead and rebooted it. After the reboot I did noticed that both the OS mirror and the data drive RAID array where doing a rebuild. In both cases it looked like they had temporarily lost a drive as the status indicated a faulty drive was being rebuilt. Performance was good during the rebuild process, file copies were back to normal. The re-sync happened quicker than I expected and even the large data array finished the re-sync by the next morning. This wasn’t caused immediately by the collapsing bookcase as they were a couple weeks apart and all was fine during that time, but I did find one drive’s power cable became loose. This happened to be an extension cable I had questions about since it’s connect was heavy and wasn’t a tight fit, so I a added buying a replacement to my shopping list.

I’ve also pretty much filled the home server to capacity, using 85% of my 13 TB of available space. Added to this is I’m pretty well maxed out my available space for backups. So it time to make some decisions. I do have the hardware necessary to add storage to the server, but it would be in the external cage that had originally been with my WHS v1 box, I’d prefer to avoid needing a external box for storage, although it remains an option. So that leaves reducing my drive usage which is seeming like a better idea the more I consider it. Currently my video library is on the server in uncompressed form, while nice an convenient it’s overkill for most videos. But encoding them in a new format will take time. Currently the backup is split between my old Windows Home Server box and my Drobo, both of which are at capacity. I do have spare drives I could use but that would require me to do and manage the backups manually, which means I might as well not do them.

The recent release of the Windows Home Server 2011 Release Candidate solidifies things for that option, and it doesn’t seem so bad. Drive management will still be more complicated but performance over WHS v1 should be better. My existing hardware RAID controller provides the redundancy for the data I need to be reliably available, while my video library and other non-essential files can be on non-redundant drives. If the drives fail I can wait to recover the files from the backup. The Windows Home Server backup, while it seems lame (2TB limit on drives to be backed up) on the surface may actually work for my video library which doesn’t change much. Worst case is my video library gets manually backed up to bare drives like it did in the past. So high on my to do list is to install the Windows Home Server 2011 Release Candidate on my test machine so I can take it for a spin.

Despite a couple hiccups Ubuntu has been reliable but WHS may be better suited to my needs and my existing hardware can handle it. Ubuntu’s requirements are considerably less than WHS, but I sized the server in preparation for WHS so there won’t be any need to add horsepower. While Ubuntu appeals to the geek in me, Window Home Server will win in the ease of use category which is the primary concern for my daily data server. I still have virtual and test machines for running Ubuntu.

I downloaded the release candidate last night and hope to install it on a test server within the next few days.

Macbook Air

I gave into my impulses and bought a Macbook Air a couple weeks ago. It’s the 13″ model, with the base 2GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD drive. It’s a strange machine, the specs are low-end but it performs better than any other laptop I’ve used, even those with new processors. The SSD drive makes all the difference. I found myself running a Windows 7 Virtual machines, a couple different browsers (with multiple tabs each) and a half dozen other apps, all without a problem or delay switching between them and using the foreground app. In this case none of the apps where running background processes (except maybe an occasional sync to another PC). The Air easily switched between the apps and had the horsepower for the app I was using. Switching between Spaces is also nice and brisk.

The Macbook Air quickly became my “couch PC” due to it’s light weight. (I’m using it now.) I haven’t done any traveling in the short time I had it but with it’s long battery life and light weight I suspect I’ll be likely to carry it more than more previous laptops and will be more likely to use it. The nearly instant on also makes it feasible to use when I only have a couple minutes.

On the Agenda

I’m looking for a simple and low cost backup solution for my parent’s PC. Currently they back up to Mozy for offsite backup and data is copied to a second local drive. After a recent PC problem it became apparent that I needed an image type backup. Recently they had a PC problem and when restoring from Mozy the files were duplicated (due to the default to rename existing files on a restore). Cleaning this up was a hassle, especially since I couldn’t just delete the directories and replace them. It would have been nice to have a Home Server type backup where I could grab the entire directory tree and be sure to get every file that was there at the time of the backup.

I may just give them a small Windows Home Server that just does backups but that another computer that they need to keep running. When I built the PC I included an internal hard drive to use for backups so I may try to find some software that can use that. But I need more than a simple image, I need it to have some history as a problem may not be noticed before the backup image is overwritten. What I need is Time Machine for Windows. Any suggestions?

Between looking for the backup alternative and testing out Windows Home Server 2011 I should have most of my free time occupied. I’ve also been playing around with Mac software again. I’m writing this with Mars Edit (I typically use Windows Lie Writer) but so far this is the only new piece of software I’ve come across that I might want to keep using.

Hopefully things will be picking up on the Quest and things will be more active here over the next two months than they were for the last two.


Why I Got The Verizon iPhone

Iphone picture

Continuing the disturbing trend I started with the iPad, I pre-ordered the Verizon iPhone once it was available. There was a lot written about whether or not there would be a rush to the Verizon iPhone once it became available. I guess you could say I was part of the rush so I might as well get specific as to why. First, I didn’t leave AT&T. I’ve been a long time Verizon customer and used a Motorola Droid with them. While I don’t view Verizon as a customer focused company when it comes to their policies, I’ve always had a good experience dealing with their customer service and have always found their network reliable. Back when I was an AT&T customer it was a nightmare so going to them for an iPhone was not in the cards, even if they’ve changed.

So comparisons between the AT&T and Verizon network, such as simultaneous calls and data are moot for me. I’ve been happy with the Verizon network. I’ve been less than thrilled with the Motorola Droid. It’s been a solid phone but I’ve never trusted the app environment. So I pretty stuck with apps from companies who’s services ¬†already used. I’ve never purchased a paid app or downloaded free ones to experiment. There are a couple free apps I downloaded based on recommendations I trusted but I was still using my iPod Touch for many apps. When it comes to phones I just want something solid that will work so leaving the Android platform wasn’t a hard decision. While I can intellectually discriminate about Apples “we know best” attitude and sometimes find it irksome, in this case it’s better suited to my needs.

So, my next phone was going to be an iPhone once it became available. There was still a reason not to get the hone yet – there will probably be an iPhone 5 in a few months. I’ve always felt that waiting for the latest tech meant waiting forever, although I admit it seems like it will be quick. I’ve never needed the latest phone tech and there’s nothing I’ve heard of related to the iPhone 5 that would make me want one (sure, it will be “better”). A bit of a bigger issue might be iPhone 6. Depending on the upgrade policies I might have to wait until after it’s been out a couple months. Oh well.

I will get a cost savings by buying now. I currently have a Verizon MiFi that I use as a hotspot. I switched that to the iPhone hotspot. While the Droid could do USB tethering (at an additional cost) I wanted WiFi for multiple devices. The MiFi was $60 a month, the iPhone hotspot will be $20 a month. I’ll get less data, but based on my history it will be enough.

The Ordering & Setup Process

Despite some reports of website problems a couple hours into the ordering process I didn’t have any issues. Choosing sleep over gadget I didn’t set my alarm to wake up for the 3AM start time. I woke up about 5AM and had no problem placing the order online. It was smooth and went right through. I ordered the 32GB model.

The phone was delivered by UPS about 11am Monday morning so at lunch I hooked it up to iTunes to activate it. I’ve already had a Verizon account and had the latest version of iTunes on my Mac. Activation was also straight forward. The only hitch was when I accepted the agreement nothing seemed to happen. It took another couple unresponsive clicks to realized the phone itself was saying it was activated. Since I could clear the screen I stopped and started iTunes and the second phase of the setup continued. I don’t think the problem was a capacity thing. Either a poor process design by Apple (unthinkable!) or a problem with my PC. ¬†Other than that things were smooth.

I set things up not to sync automatically (my typical setting for iDevices) and went through and picked what I wanted on the phone. I was good to go.

First Impressions

I haven’t done any formal testing, rather I just started using it. As expected it’s replaced my iPod Touch which will either be sold or passed along to relatives. I had though I might need to keep it for music and video since I’m paranoid about my phone battery running low. So far I’ve been impressed with the battery performance. I haven’t done any formal tests, but it’s clearly better than my Droid. To get through a full day I’d often have to manage the wireless, bluetooth and GPS settings so they’d only be used when necessary. A day is from when I walk up to when I go to bed as I only want to charge at night. There were times th Droid didn’t make it, even though rarely used it for audio or video. The iPhone has been stellar, despite being used much more frequently. I haven’t had to manage wireless, bluetooth or GPS.

It’s a subjective impression, but the iPhone feels better in my hand than the Droid so it’s easier to type on. “Easier” is a relative term, it’s still a small keyboard. It also feels like a more solid device but that could be because the Droid has a slide out keyboard. The screen is much easier for me to read than my Droid, but that’s to be expected with newer technology and I’d probably say the same for any new phone.

The one thing I will miss is the Google Turn-by-Turn directions. I don’t need use the GPS routing a lot so I liked that the Droid made it easy and uncomplicated. The screen was clear as was the speech. This was all free and built-in on the Droid. It’s a add-on for the iPhone. I still haven’t looked for a replacement, but browsing the apps store tells me a replacement will be pricey.

As far as the apps, it’s mainly things I already had on my iPad or iPod Touch so there wasn’t much new there. But it’s nice to have them all on the phone which is always with me. I’d often not have the apps with me since carrying the Touch and my phone was cumbersome.

In Conclusion

So, overall, I like the iPhone. I was eligible for the upgrade and I didn’t have to jump carriers and don’t even consider another carrier, let alone AT&T. Add to that the $40 a month I’ll save by dropping the MiFi and the upgrade made sense. The iPhone’s not perfect and Verizon isn’t either, but it’s been a step up from my Droid. I don’t need to have the latest phone so I have no problem upgrading now despite the looming iPhone 5.

As for call quality it’s been fine, comparable to my Droid. I’ve never had an issue with dropped calls with Verizon and so far that trend has continued during the short time I’ve had the iPhone. Apparently Consumer Reports says there’s still an antennae problem. Maybe there is, but I’ve used the phone without a case and haven’t had any call quality problems while holding the phone normally.

All-in-all, I’m happy with the Verizon iPhone.