OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #67: End of 2011 Edition

Happy New Year 2012Despite the cliche, it is hard to believe 2011 is drawing to a close, probably only a memory by the time you read this. On the other hand, it’s still just one more month gone by so I’ll try to resist the urge for any year end wrap-up. But as usual I’ll recap since the last Trail Log among other things.

When I first wrote about replacing my cable modem I mentioned there didn’t seem to be too much difference in performance. Since then things have changed a bit. Typically CrashPlan would max out it’s upload performance at 2 Mbps. I added another 40 GB to the upload and it uploaded at 4 Mbps. Both speeds where as reported by CrashPlan. So there does seem to have been an improvement.

When I wrote about Cloudberry’s new Continuous Data Protection (CDP) I had decided to use it only for my critical data which had previously been backed up as an hourly basis. Since then there was one failure in that backup plan which caused it to stop and required a manual restart. I also found that email notifications worked in one case for CDP. As it stands now, I don’t have complete confidence in Cloudberry’s CDP, at least in their Windows Home Server 2011 Add-in, so I’ve gone back to an hourly backups for that critical data. I’m no longer using CDP.

I still like my Kindle Fire. I mainly use it for watching video – my own,  Amazon Prime and Amazon purchased. While there isn’t much memory available for local storage I’ve found that the Amazon videos are relatively small (at least the standard def ones). I find the standard def fine for viewing, even on my TV and the smaller size doesn’t needlessly use my capped bandwidth. If the movie deserves high-def I’ll go for a disk. I was able to copy a dozen videos (about 10 hours) locally without a problem and had them during my holiday travels. My own ripped videos are larger so it’s fewer of these. I also do occasional reading but find any LCD screen tiring so it’s usually for less than an hour.

A pet peeve of mine is comparisons between the Kindle and iPad as if it was a buying guide. Here’s my buying guide:  If you’re trying to decide between a Kindle Fire and an iPad then go for a iPad. If you want to watch Amazon video on a tablet, get a Fire. If you meet both criteria then resign yourself to getting both but start with the Fire since it’s cheaper and it might give you what you want in a tablet.

Even though my yearly backup review showed I was in pretty good shape it always gets me thinking about changes but I’m resisting the urge to make a change unless it plugs a gap. There’s a lot of options out there and I’ll probably check out a few. Unless I lose interest first.


My iPhone 4S is giving me problems. The external speaker died on Friday. The headphones work fine. Initially it would come back for short periods but would die soon after I started playing a podcast or song. Luckily it’s now completely dead. I say luckily because it’s much easy to deal with Apple (or any vendor) when they can see the problem themselves. With my luck it probably would have worked when I bring it in for my noon appointment on Saturday. Hopefully it will be quickly resolved.

I’ve been backing up my website to my Mac every night for over 4 years using iCal to schedule a Transmit automator task. Shortly after upgrading to Lion (but not immediately) the schedule task starting crashing, The problem became worse and recently became a daily event. I did the usual stuff like making sure all the software was updated. I also recreated the automator task. The frustrating thing is that if I run the task manually there’s never a problem. But it now consistently fails if it’s triggered by iCal. At this point it’s become part of my nightly routine to trigger the backup. I figure my effort is now better spent getting a backup setup on the web server itself and have it go directly to Amazon S3. So that’s on my project list for the new year although it probably won’t bubble to the top until I get really tired of having to double-click a file each night.

Google Chrome took away side tabs so now they’re back on top. It was never an official feature so I can’t complain too much. Despite that it’s really frustrating to have all those tiny tabs along the tap, differentiated only by their favicon if present. There is a tree tabs add-in i may give a try. I have a similar add-in for Firefox. I’ve considered going back to Firefox but that frustrates me too. The upgrade frequency and the way they do it is annoying. It seems add-ins are always breaking or flagged as not compatible. Add to that the annoying pop-up when there’s an upgrade and it’s drove me away. Google seems to do upgrades right. If I need to restart my browser there’s a little notification in the wrench icon. And after I restart all my tabs are restored, something Firefox doesn’t seem to get right. I really want to like Firefox since Mozilla only cares about a good browser (in theory) and Google and Microsoft consider us the product they sell to advertisers.But Google Chrome has been hard to drop, but the loss of side tabs may help in that area.

Servers and Storage

I’ve had the good fortune of having an Acer Aspire Easystore H342 Home Server pass through my hands. NewEgg has had them at clearance prices and a buddy on mine bought one as a low cost NAS and backup server. It’s Windows Home Server V1 so no doubt Acer is looking to clear them out (hopefully they’ll add a WHS 2011 box to the US market once the V1 is sold out). The price fluctuates but the current $260 is the lowest I’ve seen so far. It’s WHS V1 and not even the latest version of that, so the setup wasn’t straight-forward which is how I got my hands on it. I should have a write-up on it pretty soon. My overall impression is favorable (considering the price). Setting up a version 1 box was both nostalgic and frustrating. The software does feel and look old compared to WHS 2011 but the flashback was fun.

A second server will be staying, at least for awhile. I picked up a Western Digital DX4000 Sentinel Storage Server that runs Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials which has the same heritage as Windows Home Server 2011. I’m still getting to know it but I have to say that Western Digital got the ease of use right. Even when that Acer H342 was the latest software it’s setup wasn’t as easy as the DX4000. The DX4000 is less flexible in some areas (like supported hard drive and configurations) but that’s the price for ease of use.

I’ve also gotten motivated to start going through old hardware and hard drives to see what I have available and can put together. I’ve got 18 hard drives sitting in a cabinet as file storage. These are older smaller drives that were retired as they were replaced with bigger drives. So my current project is to clean up those drives and safely archive the files that are still needed. Then I should have a few good drives to use for various configuration in my MicroServers.

Another Year Ends

I think the most OS related fun I had this year was the short-lived Ubuntu Home Server project that actually began at the end of 2010. I enjoyed setting up the server and then learning about Linux software RAID. But that project ended in March when I returned to Windows Home Server 2011.  I left Ubuntu as things were getting a bit scary with all that data on it. Not that Ubuntu was scary but my maintaining that RAID array was. But that big WHS 2011 box was still more complicated than I wanted and I became obsessed with the HP MicroServers and my WHS 2011 server has been one of those ever since.

I’ll probably do a build or two this year, although mostly taken from parts I already have, But I’m hoping to spend more time diving into different OS’s and doing some web development.

And it will all be starting with a nice three day holiday weekend.

Happy New Year everyone!


Backup Review

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupAs the year draws to a close it’s a good time to review my backup strategy and do a few test restores. My last backup review was in November of 2010. My overall philosophy hasn’t changed from last year – a file needs to exist in three places, two of them geographically separated. In addition, the backup has to be automatic since I’m lazy and forgetful. As for testing the restores it’s fairly simple. I restore some files from the oldest backups, some from the newest backups and some in between and compare them to the live files. I don’t restore everything and don’t do any full system restores. Now on to the strategy and tools used.

All my data is kept on my Windows Home Server so my backup strategy is centered around it. And yea, many would probably consider it a bit overboard since I go way above the three file rule for the important stuff.

Windows Home Server Backups

Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server

I’ve been using the Cloudberry WHS add-in for most of the year and it’s served me well. I have 7 backup plans configured and they back up to 6 destinations. In total, I’m currently backing up a tad under 6 TB of data on the Windows Home Server with all of that 6 TB going to at least two different locations.

The important stuff gets backed up every hour to Amazon S3. This currently totals 13.6 GB of data which include versions going back a month. I also keep deleted files for 10 days before they’re purged. I do compress and encrypt the data that goes to S3. I compress because I pay for bandwidth/space and I encrypt since it’s in the cloud. This means I need to use Cloudberry to do any restores. Cloudberry does support server-side encryption in Amazon S3 but I do the encryption using my own key within the Cloudberry software before it leaves my PC. Cloudberry just added Real-time data protection (a.k.a. continuous backup) which I’m currently testing instead of hourly. I haven’t used it enough to decide whether to use it instead of the hourly schedule.

My Windows Home Server has four data drives and also four data backup drives. So there’s a Cloudberry backup plan for each data drive/backup drive pair. I use the drive level backup (rather than share level) option to select the files for backup. For each data drive I select the “Server Folders” directory on the drive and backup everything it contains. This avoids the recycle bin, shadow copies and other non-data files. These run once a night about an hour apart and everything gets backed up. Since alls the drives are local SATA or eSATA the backup is pretty quick. The initial backups did take awhile, especially since the MicroServers aren’t speed demons.

I have a second server in the house that’s currently running Windows Server 2008. The hardware was my original WHS 2011 hardware but at this point I haven’t repurposed it so it runs Windows Server 2008 and serves as a backup destination, I power it up every weekend and manually trigger the backups. There are two backup plans setup but they go to the same file share on the server. There’s one plan for Video and there’s another plan for everything else. The main reason for two plans is a hold over from the days when I was backing up a lot of video. The “Everything Else” backup typically takes longer since it goes through hundreds of thousands of files and backs up tens of thousands although the total data is relatively small.

I don’t compress or encrypt any of the local backups. I can go directly to the file system and pull out the files if I need them although I do need the software if I want to more easily find versions or maintain the file structure.

CrashPlan Backup

I recently began using CrashPlan for additional offsite backup. It’s an economical way to store a lot of data offsite. It doesn’t officially support WHS but it’s been working well. I’ve had a couple occasions where it stopped doing backups and I had to cycle the service on the server. But the test restores have been fine. Now that the initial backups are done I’ve limited the backups to between 2AM and 7AM every day and I’ve throttled the bandwidth. I currently backup everything except video.  I’m currently backing up 288 GB to CrashPlan. The problem with that amount of data is my bandwidth cap of 250 GB. So if I ever need to do a full restore I’ll either need to wait two months or have them send me the data on a drive.

Windows Home Server Native Backup

I have an external drive attached and use the WHS native backup to save the files needed for a OS recovery. My testing doesn’t include a OS restore although it did work way back when I needed it. Worst case is an OS and add-in re-install then restore the data.

Sneakernet Offsite

As part of my offsite backups I have two 2 TB drives that I rotate offsite. Every week I bring one to my office desk drawer and bring the other home. The drive at home is attached to my Windows 7 PC and every night a batch files runs Robocopy to update the drive with everything that’s not a video file. This drive is encrypted (Truecrypt) so I don’t have to worry if it’s stolen from my desk.

Backup Shortcomings

There’s no offsite backup for my videos. I have two backups in the house along with the original source disks but if the worst happens to the house there’s nothing off site. I figure I’d have more to worry about than the videos and that is what insurance is for. I used to keep copies of the ripped videos on drives offsite but that became a hassle to keep updated as the number of drives grew. Especially since I tended to use old, retired 1 TB or smaller drives.

I need the software (CrashPlan or Cloudberry) to do a restore. Being able to pick a file from the local backups can work in a pinch but that would be an exception. In the past I used to keep the same shares on another server and do a share to share robocopy every night. In theory this made it easy to quickly switch to the new server. Now that I have several Micro Servers I’ve approached a hardware failure by already having a duplicate of anything in house and I can swap hardware around and restore any lost files. Actually, I don’t have duplicates of some of hardware used for backups, but as there’s redundancy across the backups I figure I can lose updates to one while I wait for a new part. Of course, the failure will come at the worst time.

Windows PC & Virtual Machine Backups

This is simple. I use Windows Home Server 2011 backup  to backup my Windows 7 PCs and virtual machines. As I said, data is on the Windows Home Server itself so there’s not really much data to back up. To keep backups small I exclude the Virtual Machine disk files from backup. For testing I just went in and pulled a couple files out of the backup, I didn’t do a full restore.

In 2010 I used Jungle Disk for to do some Offsite Windows backups but I no longer use it. I don’t do any backups directly from a Windows PC to any offsite destination. Everything goes to WHS.

Mac Mini Backups

For my Mac Mini (Desktop) I use SuperDuper to clone the hard drive every night. This gives me a disk I can boot from should my Mini’s drive fail. I also use Time Machine to back things up. Time Machine is a hold over from when I kept local data on the Mac. It’s useful should I need to recover an old configuration file so I keep it.

I also run Arc Backup on the Mini to backup files to Amazon S3. I back up my application support folder along with my Documents folder (which is mostly empty). I have Arq Backup limited to $1/mth in Amazon charges which limits it to over 10 GB although it’s still only using 2.9 GB

In 2010 I used Jungle Disk to do my offsite Mac backups but didn’t like the direction the software was taking. Plus it didn’t support Amazon Reduced Redundancy Storage which would increase my costs.

MacBook Air Backups

I have a Seagate Portable drive I attach when I’m home and do a Time Machine backup to it. I’ll also pack it if I’ll be traveling for a few days but it typically stays home for short trips. I do use the encryption feature of time machine in case the drive gets lost.

I also use Arq Backup on the Air and it’s also limited to $1/mth (or 10.75 GB). Because it’s a laptop so does have more files locally, at least at times, there’s currently 3.9 GB stored on Amazon S3. I limit the backups to data files and a few configuration files. This is useful if I’m traveling since it moves the files far from the laptop.

Amazon S3

Amason S3 pricing isn’t the most straightforward because there are charges for bandwidth and other operations in addition to space used. My total Amazon S3 charge for November was $3.52 and this is pretty standard although down a bit from September and October when it was $4. The November charge was $1.81 for the storage and $1.71 for those other charge, I use the Amazon Reduced Redundancy Storage option to keep costs down. I’m saving a total of 19 GB with Amazon S3. Amazon does offer Free Usage Tier which is not included in my prices as it’s only good for a year.


My Windows Home Server backup software of choice is Cloudberry since it’s so flexible. It’s gotten new features since I started using it and while I don’t use them all it’s nice to see the software gets continual care. CrashPlan is my choice if there’s a requirement to store a lot of files in the cloud. CrashPlan is a bit less flexible when it comes to local sources but it is a better choice if you want more offsite flexibility.

Arq Backup is my choice for Mac backups and replace Jungle Disk. In addition to a feature set I prefer, Arq backup does an excellent job of handling file attributes and file bundles that are common on the Mac platform.

Are you sure your backups work? You do backups, right?



Oh No! My iPhone 4s Is A Flop

Picture of the Verizon iPhoneHaving just gotten my new iPhone 4S I was depressed to see Daring Fireball link to an article listing the iPhone 4S as one of the top 6 tech flops of the year. OK, I wasn’t really depressed and fell for the  linkbait to read the orignal post. The iPhone 4S is listed third and begins…

While it’s no flop when it comes to sales figures the iPhone 4S remains one of 2011’s biggest consumer letdowns.

They go on with some more praise…

…is certainly nothing to sneeze at — it’s still one of the fastest, best-looking smartphones on the block…

The  reason given for being a flop is it didn’t meet the rumors and wasn’t an iPhone 5. They don’t actually define what they mean by flop but a best-selling device doesn’t meet any definition I can think of. Any “flop” would have been the tech blogs/journalists salivating over rumors and wish lists.

So now I’ll defend my purchase of a flop. I had an iPhone 4 but my Verizon contract is up for renewal and I could get the renewal discount plus another $30 rebate. I’ve no idea what the rebate was for (“customer loyalty”) or how long it would last. It’s actually been available for months. I’m happy with Verizon and I’m not looking to switch, having been with them for years. And having been on Android before Verizon got the iPhone I knew I didn’t want to go back to Android.

The main cost of the new phone would be the 2-year contract since I could (and did) sell my iPhone 4 for enough to cover my out of pocket expenses. OK, I didn’t quit cover but I upgraded to the 64 GB phone so it cost me a few dollars, if I stayed with the 32 GB I would have pocketed a few dollars. If I waited until the next iPhone in a year I wouldn’t have been able to sell my phone for much at all since it would be two versions old in addition to the extra year of wear and tear. Since there’s no change in form factor all my accessories can stay. So in effect the upgrade didn’t cost me anything.

So what do I get for my upgrade:

  • A better camera. I didn’t use the iPhone for photos very much at all. Prior to upgrading I made a conscious effort to use it more to get comfortable with it. I’ve been using it more and have liked using it.
  • Faster processor. I have some apps that ran slow on the phone but ran fine on the faster iPad 2. There could be several reasons for this but I have seen an improvement. It was most noticeable to me with apps like OminFocus which synced or loaded data every time I switched to it.
  • More storage. I probably keep too much on my phone but I was out of space. I’d rather add storage instead of trying to juggle what I want on the phone.

There’s also Siri of course. But it wasn’t a factor beyond curiosity and I haven’t been using it very much. I’ve used it so little it’s always ben available when I used it, unlike what I read from others.

Next year’s iPhone will almost certainly be out before I can upgrade at a discount and will almost certainly have significant hardware upgrades (NFC, 4G, higher resolution, better camera) so I’ll have to wait a couple months before I can upgrade at a discount (due to multiple plans I can basically upgrade once a year by transferring the upgrade between plans).

I’d agtree the iPhone 4S isn’t a significant upgrade over the iPhone 4 but it is an upgrade and if you want those features it would be worth it. I wouldn’t have upgraded if selling my current phone didn’t cover the costs or if I had to buy new accessories. Still, it’s certainly doesn’t meet my definition of a flop and it doesn’t disappoint me, but as an iPhone 4S owner I am biased.

OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #66: Slow Month Edition

Image of a giy coming out of a computer screenIt was another slow month on the quest as real life tended to intrude and some best laid plans went bad.

Home Cloud

I had been working on setting up remote access to multiple servers through pfSense and thought I had things worked out. I’d even posted the introductory article. Then two things happened. First, a IP address change for my cable modem didn’t make it’s way to updating DNS. My previous testing had been to force an address change which required restarting the modem and changing its spoofed mac address. So in other words, a hardware reset and configuration change. This time the routing ip address change was detected, but failed to make it’s way to the DNS records. So I made some config changes but will have to wait until Comcast changes my IP again so I can see if it helps.

The second item was a comment by Jared that turned on a light bulb. He mentioned about using layer 7 for the routing which is something pfSense can’t do. But, I also have Untangle and had used it as a router in the past. The light bulb went off because Untangle works on Layer 7 so should be able to route based upon the destination address. So I’ll be looking at switching back the Untangle again if it can doe this without having to do port mapping which will greatly simplify things.

This is one of those times I wished I had built the router on a VM and could just fire up different virtual machines for testing. But the MicroServers are the next best thing since I can just swap out hard drives for my testing purposed and not lose the old configuration.

Further complicating things was the death of my version 1 Windows Home Server. It wasn’t unexpected and in fact the server had been replaced, just not stripped for parts. The problem presents as a bad hard drive but if history repeats itself it will be another bad sata port on the motherboard. Not worth fixing so it’s time to yank the drives and reuse them. I’ll build another WHS V1 as a virtual machine for my testing purposes.

CrashPlan Backup Status

CrashPlan ran into it’s first hiccups this month. There was a day long network outage back on Nov 14th. In my case CrashPlan said it couldn’t connect long after they posted the issue was resolved. I went in and manually told it to connect and it immediately started backing up again.

I had a second issue where at exactly 1AM (my time) the backup stopped and CrashPlan wouldn’t connect. But this time I could connect to my account over the web so it wasn’t the same type of problem as before. A quick search of the CrashPlan website revealed and old technote on this problem with the solution being to restart the CrashPlan server or the entire PC. I opted for a server reboot and that did resolve the problem.

Since those outages I’ve also noticed that the top upload speed I see is generally slower. In the past I would frequently see it nearing it’s 2 Mbps upload ceiling (that I configured) where as now it hovers around 1 Mbps.  There could be any of a dozen other things affecting this speed but I do see speeds greater than 2 Mbps up when I test other transfers (like a file to my web server).

I haven’t soured on CrashPlan. It’s a low cost service $42/yr (after a discount) for unlimited backup. Test restores worked fine after these outages so it does appear this was a network problem and not a problem affecting data.

As for what’s backed up I’ve been hindered more by Comcast’s data caps than CrashPlan’s capacity. I’ve backed up 178.4 GB consisting of 231,297 files. At this point I’m trying to decide what else I want to back up, There’s no point in backing up my movies as they are so large it could take me years to back them up and stay below my cap. And if I ever had to restore them doing so online would also take years and I probably wouldn’t want to pay to have the hard drives shipped. Any sort of backup to a friends computer would have the same data cap issue so while that’s a nice feature the CrashPlan online solution seems more reliable, despite recent problems.

Holiday Tech Deals

I pretty much avoided any Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. I didn’t see much that I wanted or see anything I knew was a good deal (as opposed to the merchant just promoting it as a good deal) and I could use. The one exception was a NewEgg deal for the HP MicroServer. At $250 it was a good deal and while I don’t need a sixth for my collection it was tempting. By the time I talked myself into taking a look at it they were sold out.

I did buy some discounted iTunes gift cards from Apple and Best Buy. I use them instead of a credit card both for safety and as a way to budget my expenses in an environment where it’s much too easy to buy things.

I do suspect we’ll see additional deals between now and Christmas so I’ll keep checking. Anyone see a good deal they’d recommend?

Domain Price Increases

If you own any domains be aware that the registry fee Verisign charges for .com domains will go up 51 cents (5%) and .net domains will go up 46 cents (10%) on January 15th. The increase is not retroactive so you can extend your registration at the current prices before that time. Whether your registrar increases their prices and by how much is up to them and can vary. I’m sure some will bump their prices by the percentage rather than the actual increase. You can register .com and .net domains for up to 10 years into the future and I’ve done that for this domain along with a couple others I know I’ll want to keep.

The Month Ahead

With the December holidays things are likely to be busy in the non-tech parts of life but I do have some vacation days during December which may make up for that lost time. I’ll be giving Untangle another try as a router to see if it can better handle the remote access. Beyond that we’ll see what pops up and catches my attention.