OS Quest Trail Log

OS Quest Trail Log #62: Mid-Summer Edition

A Desert Scene

We finally got the summer heatwave here in the eastern U.S. and it was a good time to stay inside where it’s air conditioned. All-in-all a good time for being at the PC. Even if the heat they generate make the air conditioning work harder.

Website Updates

WordPress 3.2 was released at the beginning of the month and the the inevitable WordPress 3.2.1 followed soon after. Between those two releases I trashed my just implemented site redesign and went with a new design which held truer to the previous design. It was made possible by possible by a time saving WordPress plugin.

Overall it’s gone pretty well with just a few speed bumps along the way. I still have a couple open issues. The most annoying is I can no longer use tools that connect via xmlrpc such as Windows Live Writer and MarsEdit. They just give an xmlrpc error when connecting. Google searches show a few potential causes with solutions. None of those solutions worked for me. The problem seemd to coincide with the 3.2.1 upgrade although it had been awhile before that since I used Windows Live Writer and there were a few other changes during that time. Usualy troubleshooting such as turning off all plugins and reverting to the default theme didn’t eliminate the problem So it seems to be a WordPress or server issue.

SpiderOak In – Dropbox Out

I finally got fed up enough with Dropbox and decided to find an alternative. There’s still nothing than Dropbox for syncing between mobile devices and computers. Especially since a lot of apps integrate Dropbox support. Still, I decided to go with SpiderOak and have been happy with it.

As Alan said in a comment to my post, Dropbox is the clear winner when it comes to syncing while SpiderOak is a clear security winner and better backup client. I decided to go with a paid account to have the extra space. I’ve been using it for backing up my Windows Home Server in addition to my Macs and Windows PCs. It’s been working well.

I’ve also been using it to sync and it’s been working but it only syncs after backing up which is a potential problem, although mainly during the initial backup phase where backups take a long time which could delay syncs. So far it hasn’t been a problem. I back up very little from my PCs while most syncing is PC to PC so the timing hasn’t been a problem.

I’ve also been testing it as a backup for my Windows Home Server 2011. I’m not particularly enthused that there’s no add-in or official server support. But at least SpiderOak did publish an article for getting it to work on a server and without having a user logged on. Although for the most part I have a log on session always open through RDP.

I still haven’t been using it long enough to be completely sold on SpiderOak, but I like what I see so far. Next step will be to try and get it working as a backup for my web server.

New MacBook Air and Lion

As I already mentioned, Apple sucked me into replacing my MacBook Air. I’ve had the new Air for just under a week and love it. It’s peppier than my older Air, naturally. For the most part that wasn’t a huge benefit and more power doesn’t let me read or type any faster. But I just built a couple VMs on it and there is a noticeable improvement there. Plus, as I begin to use it more I’ll be running more apps simultaneously.

I upgraded my old MacBook Air to Lion and the new MacBook Air came with Lion pre-installed. So far I’ve only used Lion on the Airs and have to say Lion seems better suited for a laptop with a trackpad and relatively small screen. The big trackpad on the Air makes Lion that much easier to use. I’ve yet to put Lion on any desktop Mac since I use trackballs with scroll wheels on them. To make matters worse I either share a keyboard/mouse with a Windows PC (through Synergy) or RDP into the Mac.

With any new software or upgrade I like to stick with any out-of-the-box settings for as long as possible. If for no other reason than it makes it that much easier to move from computer to computer. So I’ve been sticking with the Lion defaults. I got used to the scrolling quicker than I thought I would. Extremely annoying at first, but more natural in a day or two. I still scroll wrong every now and then but my muscle memory is learning the difference between a mouse and trackpad. I’m not sure I buy the argument that it’s “natural” but I do admit it makes sense and maybe someone who’s never used a computer would find it natural. It’s not like Apple didn’t understand the change. After firing up Lion there’s an intro video on scrolling and you have to pass a “scrolling test” before getting into Lion.

It took awhile but I finally got the new MacBook Air configured and can start using it as my daily computer. It’s time to format the old Air and ship it off so I’ll should get a better feel for Lion pretty quick. I don’t find the gestures or pieces of the interface all that intuitive so it’ll take some time to learn them.

Home Entertainment

In the last Trail Log I mentioned that my living room finally entered the 21st century with a LED TV. I added a LG BD570 Blu-ray player. The main reasons I picked it where the built-in wireless along with DLNA support and a USB port should the DLNA fail. I was pleasantly surprised that the streaming worked with Windows Home Server 2011 running on my HP MicroServer. I was a little concerned the HP wouldn’t have the processing power but it’s been working fine so far.

I have had problems with the LG player playing some of my video encodes. It’s not related to Windows Home Server since the files also fail when played through the USB drive. I’ve yet to figure out what the problem is as the files play elsewhere and I encode all my videos with the same Handbrake settings, yet only a few have problems.

On Tap

Coming up in August I’ll get more familiar with Lion. That’s unavoidable since it’s on my Air which is a PC I use every day, There’s a few website related things to work on – setting up SpiderOak for backing up and a couple minor issues.

Beyond that we’ll have to see what comes up.

OS Quest Trail Log

OS Quest Trail Log #61: Long Weekend Edition

Here in the States we have a nice 3 day weekend thanks to the Independence Day holiday. I took advantage of the time to move this site back to it’s original, but now upgraded, web server. It had been running on a second server for about a month while I did the upgrades. I ended up going with an entire site redesign rather than just tweaking the old design to work with the changes. That was mainly because those “tweaks” were looking like more work than expected so I took the opportunity to change things up. Since the new design has been active for less than a day I’ll hold off on any details until the dust settles. If you notice any problems or have any suggestion feel free to leave a comment. But it wasn’t all about the website in June…

Windows Home Server 2011

On the Windows Home Server front I ended up doing a Windows Home Server 2011 restore rather than rebuild the RAID array. That went well. Even so, I ended up moving my Windows Home Server to a new HP MicroServer. I’ve been happy with the performance although there was a bit of a rough spot after the migration. But theses performance issues seemed to be unrelated to the WHS itself but were network issues. Things do slow down a bit if the system drive is heavily used but that’s a rare occasion. I have the system drive in the optical drive bay and the reputation of that SATA port is that it’s slow. I’ve been hesitant to try the third-party BIOS that’s supposed to improve that ports performance but I may give it a shot.

Network Upgrades

I’ve been upgrading my network over the past month. I swapped out my daisy chain of switches and replaced them with a single D-Link DGS-1024D switch. As part of that change I also swapped out some older or unnecessarily long cables. If nothing else it makes things a lot neater and organized.

The other issue I had ended up being traced to the NIC in my Windows 7 desktop. Many of my problems went away when I switched it back to the mother board NIC. That’s my second Intel NIC to go bad this year. I’m beginning to sour on the Intel name. Until now I’ve gone with a Intel NIC for every PC as a standard reflex when building a PC. No more.

The biggest piece of the home network upgrades was the implementation of a software router/UTM (UTM = unified threat manager). I’ve been playing around with various options. While I liked pfSense as a router, it didn’t play well with my DSL so I looked elsewhere. I started with ClearOS, thinking it provided a nice router & UTM along with typical file & web server functions. But it didn’t last long, suffering from stability and performance issues once I installed it so I moved to Untangle. So far Untangle is working fine and seems like a keeper.

This about wraps up my network upgrades. I’ll look for a new NIC for my desktop so I’m not tied to the onboard NIC but it’s not a priority. I’d like to implement pfSense but that’s more for fun than out of need since Untangle is working fine.

Website Upgrades & Changes

While there’s been obvious changes to the look of The OS Quest there’s also been some changes under the hood. As mentioned in my server OS review the site is now running on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. This upgrade is basically what forced the other changes as the Ubuntu 9 that it was running on reached its end-of-life. Since it was an OS upgrade I went with a temporary second server rather than risk an in place upgrade.

I also switched the WordPress theme to WP-Clear. My old theme had become out of date and there wasn’t a direct (a.k.a. easy) upgrade so I took the opportunity to make some changes. While this theme is less flexible than my other one it was significantly easier to set up. Part of the problem is that the old theme had so many options I could play with it forever, The upgrade broke just enough things to require some significant work to upgrade. At least with WP-Clear there’s a much more manageable set of options. I also didn’t have to revisit and update too many old posts.

Update July 5th: I’ve reverted back to my previous theme (mostly). There were some things I didn’t like with WP-Clear so before going too far I rolled back and will re-evaluate my WordPress theme selection.

I also moved the commenting system to Intense Debate but I’m still allowing “guest” comments and not requiring a logon. At least not yet. Spam has been annoying so I might require a logon in the future. My testing shows it’s as easy to get out of Intense Debate as it is to get in so I’m not locked in.

Home Media

My living room finally entered the 21st century when I replaced my tube TV with a VIZIO XVT323SV LED TV and a Blu-Ray player. I’ve yet to link either of these directly to my home server but it’s on the list for the future. At this point I’ve been copying files to a USB drive and playing them from that and it works well. Batch files and some manual attention keeps the USB stick up to date with the shows and movies I want to watch.

On Tap

I’ll probably spend most of this month with WordPress and server software. The site redesign has left me with some things I want to look at a try out. I also want to make some changes to the content structure of this site although exactly what changes won’t be decided until I do some testing. Over the next couple of days I’ll eventually reach the point of no return on this site change and will be shutting down my old server. This post will be the first new content since the site redesign. (As I type this I still have the option to switch back to my old site with no more than a DNS change and still have all my content as it was.)

On the computer side of things it’ll be mostly cleaning up. My Windows Home Server version 1 hasn’t been powered up in a couple of weeks so it’s safe to say it can be retired for parts. I’ll pull the 2 TB hard drives in it and reuse them. But the memory/cpu/motherboard is probably obsolete (they won’t run Windows Home Server 2011 or any other 64-bit OS). There’s always the Linux/NAS option but I have no real need for that these days. I’m sure I’ll find a use for the case though.

So enjoy the holiday barbeque and fireworks if your in the U.S.