It’s world backup day. I was surprised to find it’s not a creation of a greeting card company or some other commercial entity. Even so, businesses have latched on with promotions on backup related products. According to CNet World Backup Day was created by:
…Ismail Jadun, a biology student from Youngstown State in Ohio who saw the need for it after reading comments on the lack of backup awareness on social news site Reddit.
There are several offers and links to backup how to articles on their site. But the unbeatable offer I saw cam through my email – 50% off Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server. It’s $14.99 through April 7, 2012. I use Cloudberry to create my critical backups. I do hourly backups of my critical data to Amazon S3 (Amazon S3 costs are additional) and then nightly backups of everything to a local NAS. In the past I’ve done backups to attached external drives.
I also use CrashPlan as a safety offsite backup. They don’t seem to be offering any discounts today (just a free e-book with sign-up) but they are relatively inexpensive if you have a lot of data you want to store offsite. They do have special offers occasionally which is how I signed up. Data caps and slow upload speeds limit its use for massive amounts of data, which is one way they get away with an unlimited data plan.
I guess the concept of World Backup Day is a good way to remind people, but backups should be a every day occurrence.
I looked at Instacast a couple days ago and while it was good enough to know I’d no longer need iTunes for podcasts, there were enough hiccups to make be look at an alternative, so I picked Downcast. It’s $2 and is universal for both iPhone and iPad.
Like Instacast, it has the features I require:
Sort all podcasts from oldest to newest so I can play the oldest first
Syncing between devices
Podcasts can be downloaded to the device
Keeps track of unplayed episodes
Handles password protected podcast feeds
Can play podcast at double speed (or triple speed, or some fraction in between)
Then it has the features I like but are just nice to have:
Can stream without downloading
Mixes video podcast in the same list and in the playlists list
Supports multiple playlists
Has a sleep timer which also works when Downcast is playing in the background. So it doesn’t prevent me from using my alarm clock app.
Highly customizable – each podcast or playlist can have it’s own settings or use the global settings
Things I Miss:
Nothing – not sure what other features I would want
Granular Settings – this is really only a problem during the first 24 hours, but the large number of settings and my experimentation led to some unexpected results.
Compared to Instacast
I found the interface more intuitive. I only had to read the online help once when I misunderstood the “Sync Episodes” setting. (It syncs the episode status – not the files themselves). The rest was pretty obvious although like many i-device apps it takes some tapping and swiping to find everything. Almost all the interface elements are labeled or pop up a menu when pressed, making it easier to know what’s happening.
I didn’t spend much time with the iPad app, but the interface was much easier for me to use than Instacast. It was functional and made sense.
Instacast is a simpler interface with fewer options and settings. Fewer options isn’t always a bad thing.
The Initial Experience
I emailed an OPML export of my podcasts to myself and then imported them into Downcast. Unlike Instacast it couldn’t read the Music app for my podcast list. I didn’t have any of the bugs or problems that I had with Downcast. My only problems came about when I changed around settings, especially sync settings.
I liked the ability to create playlists more than I thought I would. I also liked being able to assign settings per podcast. I listen to some podcasts at double speed, while others are always regular speed. I can set the defaults for each podcast but change them on th fly if I want to.
I’m keeping both apps on my iDevices, but I’ll be using Downcast until it gives me a reason not to.
Apple broke podcasting when they released iOS 5. On the iPhone smart playlists were broken and and my podcasts wouldn’t sort correctly when syncing. Fine in iTunes, a jumbled mess on the iPhone. As for podcasts on the iPad – a nightmare. I dealt with the iPhone issues and gave up listening to podcasts on the iPad. Yesterday at lunch I finally decided to install and use Instacast. There are several well regarded podcast apps but Instacast was a name I remembered and apparently I had bought it awhile back. Not sure why I didn’t use it.
I fired it up at lunch yesterday and have been using it since. It’s far from perfect but it may be good enough to keep me from trying out anything else.
It has the features I require:
Sort all podcasts from oldest to newest so I can play the oldest first
Syncing between devices
Podcasts can be downloaded to the device
Keeps track of unplayed episodes
Handles password protected podcast feeds
Can play podcast at double speed
Features I like but are just nice to have:
Can stream without downloading
Mixes video podcast in the same list and in the “all unplayed” list
Things I miss:
No playlists (but since playlists are broken in iTunes this isn’t a real loss)
Sleep timer. My alarm clock app integrates with the Music app to work as a sleep timer. I lose that with Instacast.
The app is buggy, at least on the iPhone (haven’t used the iPad app enough to know)
I didn’t find the UI very intuitive. But the built in help is pretty clear. The iPhone UI is better than the iPad UI. I admit this is subjective.
The Initial Experience
I was able to import my list of podcasts directly from the Music app on my iPhone which made it easy to get going. Only audio podcasts on the phone were imported. When I got home I exported all my subscriptions from iTunes and imported them into Instacast. The online help had clear directions.
I enabled iCloud to do syncing in anticipation of also using my iPad. Dropbox is also supported but that seems like a manual process. While working through the various settings to see how they worked I had a few program crashes which wasn’t encouraging but things seemed to settle down once I stopped changing the settings around.
The other annoying problem I had was the app would frequently go offline (4 times in the 24 hours I’ve used it), saying it had no connection to the internet. I could resolve it by killing and restarting the app, or by cycling wi-fi off and then on. All other apps had no problem getting an internet connection when Instacast was offline. The wireless off/on worked even when I was only on 3G and wasn’t even on wireless.
My final problem was just a few hours ago. A podcast was playing and when I went in to stop it, the interface was frozen just displaying the album art for the podcast. There wasn’t any UI although the podcast was playing fine. I had to kill the app to stop it. When I went back in it picked up right where I killed it and seemed fine, (Although I’ve yet to finish that podcast.)
It has more to do with my wireless service, but streaming was problem free even when driving to work.
The iPhone app is 2 bucks, the iPad app is 5 bucks. I ended up buying the iPad app once I got used to the iPhone app. The iPad app is different which could be a good thing since it is a different form factor. But I find the UI even more cumbersome. Touch points all over the screen and lots of swiping to get to a podcast. I’m sure I’ll get used to it and it’s light years better than the way the iPad natively handles iPads.
The syncing via icloud has been fine so far. My subscriptions showed up quickly and play podcasts update nearly instantly.
There’s been enough bugs that I may still look at other podcast apps, but other than the bugs Instacast seems to meet my needs quit well. Even if I don’t find something else, it’s enough to get my podcasts out of iTunes. Looks like I’ll have one less reason to sync with iTunes.
With the screen hype I expected to turn on the iPad and exclaim “It’s Gorgeous!”. Instead I thought “It’s an iPad 2”. The screen is certainly nice, but as an daily iPad 2 user it was only noticeably better when I displayed them side-by-side. Someone who does a lot of video or photos would probably feel different about this.
Verizon LTE was faster and a better internet experience than I expected. I had tried an LTE phone a while back and was not impressed. See my twitter feed for some speed test screenshots.
The iPad does not feel faster. I had to find my most intensive app and do some side by side comparisons. Obviously the iPad is more powerful and has faster hardware (it needs it to push those pixels around), I’m just saying I have to stretch to find a performance difference for what I do today.
This is based on how good the iPad 2 is and the way I use it (little photo or video)
Buyer’s remorse? Not really. I’m a fanboy and it is better. I suspect Verizon LTE will be a regular subscription on my iPad rather than the twice a year event that AT&T was. That makes up for the overblown expectations I had with the screen.
My new iPad arrived today. I already admitted I’m an iPad fanboy and pre-ordered it sight-unseen. So was it worth it? This is a completely self-centered recap of my first impressions. I’m not going to attempt a review, Google will provide links to plenty of those.
The new screen was my primary reason for getting the upgrade. I’m not a pixel peeper so I really only care how it looks in day to day use. The first thing I noticed is that the screen doesn’t seem as bright as the iPad 2. I mean this in a good way. It’s kind of like the vivid and movie mode presets on TV’s. Retailers have it set to vivid because people seem to like it better at first glance (so I’m told), but movie mode is better on the eyes actually watching TV. I never considered the iPad 2 as being too bright, but I immediately noticed the new iPad was more pleasing and seemed to have better color range. When I compared them side by side I saw the new iPad wasn’t as bright when set to the same brightness settings. I suspect this will make it better for long term viewing. I rarely read at length on the iPad. That may change now.
I mainly use productivity apps (not a lot of large pictures or video). When i run them on the new iPad they look nice enough but it wasn’t a noticeable difference, even for ones that were updated for the new iPad. But then I put old and new side by side and there is a noticeable difference in clarity. The new iPad just looks sharper. Instapaper looks better and I use it to read a lot, but this isn’t a fair comparison because the upgrade that included retina support also included new fonts.
I don’t have any HD video that can be played on the iPad so I looked at my existing video, both my own encodes and some from Apple. As expected there’s no significant difference since it’s the same video. I do think the new iPad seemed to have a little more clarity to the colors and everything looked better. Again, it’s more noticeable when played side-by-side.
I’m not a fan of iTunes video but I did find some free 1080p content to give a try. And this was clearly a better viewing experience. Still, I don’t see this as a big benefit. iTunes HD content has a relatively small file size but I dislike the DRM and other restrictions. If I’m going to pay HD prices I don’t want the restrictions. I can’t play the HD video on my Mac because the display doesn’t have HDCP which the content providers force Apple (and others) to require for HD playback. So it’s either iPad only viewing, standard def, or I buy and Apple TV. None are choices I like. It’ll be interesting to see if I mellow and give in over time and start getting some videos.
Photos are significantly better on the new iPad. But again, I didn’t typically have photos on my iPad 2 so it’s not a use case for me. But I did some comparisons and they are sharper and have more color depth. Interestingly I hadn’t sold my original iPad and I do use that one for photo more frequently. One thing I noticed is that the double-tap to zoom on a photo zoomed more. On the old iPad it seemed to double the size. On the new iPad it seems to quadruple the size.
The apps I use that I really would like to see get graphic improvements haven’t be updated for the new iPad – National geographic, a couple comic book apps and a couple games. So the jury is still out on how much I’ll benefit from the new screen, But it will only help.
There’s been a noticeable improvement in screen scrolling. Especially when I consider the screen display keeps up with all but the fastest scrolling.
Bento is the most resource intensive app I run on the iPad. There was a noticeable difference when I went from iPad 1 to iPad 2. Bento doesn’t seem any snappier on the new iPad than it was on the iPad 2. Maybe a little faster at times, but still a lag as I go from record to record. Searches also seem a tad faster. I don’t consider the difference significant and what I do see may be more wishful thinking than reality. I’m not saying it’s slow, just not faster than the iPad 2.
I’ve only been using it for a few hours so I may see more of a difference when I use it for real work and have more apps open. But so far app start-up and switching isn’t faster, at least that I notice.
The iPad 2 never got warm for me. The new iPad has gotten warm enough to notice. It’s not hot, but there was a temperture increase while watching video and after extended use. Never happened on the iPad 2.
One of the reasons I upgraded to the iPad 2 was to get the 3G model. I picket AT&T at that time to get some variety in my telcos, my phone is AT&T. I’m no fan of any telco but AT&T has always been at the bottom of my list. I took this opportunity to switch to Verizon even though I didn’t have any particular problem with AT&T.
I like that the plan is pay as you go. There’s only a couple times a year when I use it, but I really like the convenience of being able to grab the iPad and be online, I do have the hotspot on my iPhone and use that with several devices. But the iPad’s hotspot may be a viable replacement, at least while Verizon keeps the hotspot option free. I do always have the phone with me but my laptop is typically the only other device I use the hotspot with And while I may not always have the iPad with me, I typically have it when I have the laptop on the road.
I did buy a data plan for a month to try it out. My “Personal Hotpot” selection didn’t appear on the main settings page. After waiting a bit I went into General -> Network -> Personal Hotpot and was able to activate it there. Then it appeared on the main settings page. I found the default password to be a little too boilerplate. Seemed like only the last 4 numbers would change. I usually change defaults anyway but would recommend it especially in this case.
I did get a LTE connection. I’m on the edge of a coverage area and the last time I tried an LTE phone at my house it didn’t get an LTE connection. Maybe things got better, maybe that phone sucked, maybe the iPad is better. The speedtest.net app tell be I get 37.09Mbps down and 6.96 Mbps up. The download speed is fairly consistent. The upload speed has been as low as 0.43 Mbps but was usually above 6 Mbps. Over my home wireless (and Comcast ISP) it tells e I get 30.07 Mbps up and 5.82 Mbps down. By comparison a 3G connection tests at 2.12 Mbps up and 0.88 Mbps down. All these tests were done within a 30 minute period.
I did some real world downloads. I don’t want to burn through my data allowance so I picked a 89 MB file from download.com using my MacBook Air. Using my wireless connection and Comcast I get a fairly consistent 1.3MB/sec. Use the LTE hotspot I got as high as 1.5MB/sec in one test but the rest of the downloads (out of 4) were about 450KB/sec. Browsing and video were fluid over the LTE hotspot.
Was it worth it? I’m not returning it and that is still an option. I’ll wait a couple days before sending the iPad 2 to Gazelle but I’m 95% sure I’ll keep it. But it’s not a slam dunk upgrade form an iPad 2. Hopefully Verizon will keep the hotspot free for several months, but even so the data plans are considerably more than the cost of using my iPhone as a hotspot. At least with my typical data usage I can get by with a plan that keeps my cost about level.
The much lauded screen is nice, no doubt. Whether or not it’s worth the cost of an upgrade is subjective. Time will tell if I start reading or watching video on the new iPad more. Forget the specs, things look better on the screen, even text and standard def video. The colors just look better and text looks crisper.
Whether or not it was worth the cost probably depends on whether or not I use it more. Will I read more with the better screen? Getting me off a Kindle e-ink reader for extended sessions of plain text reading will be tough. Will I watch more video? The iPad 2 was better for video display than the Kindle Fire yet I gravitated to the Kindle for video, so probably not. If I was into the iTunes ecosystem for video this would be a big benefit, but a better screen won’t draw me into iTunes video.
Over half the cost was covered by selling my iPad 2, so that helps. I’m hoping I have the willpower to skip the next iPad. I’m hard pressed to think of a feature I would want in a year.
Bottom line – I’m happy, not thrilled with the upgrade.
CrashPlan has upgrades to version 3.2. The details are here. There’s some new features of course, although none that I’ll be using. There’s also a few bugfixes:
Real-time file watcher now works properly on Linux installations with 3.x series kernels
Attaching an archive no longer adversely affects existing archive.
Setting up a backup to an attached drive no longer redirects to the local install path of CrashPlan.
None of those bugs bit me.
I run CrashPlan on Windows Home Server 2011 and Crashplan updated itself about 1AM this morning, shortly before it’s scheduled backup start time at 2AM. Not sure if that was coincidence or intentional preparation.
I like how CrashPlan has been “basically set it and forget it”. I have it set to send me an alert if no backup occurs in 2 days. Even though CrashPlan is a safety backup of stuff already backed up, I don’t want the surprise of finding out I need it and there hasn’t been a backup in 3 months.
I haven’t given a status in awhile. I’m up to 363 GB stored with them. That’s more than Comcast’s data cap (250 GB) will allow me to restore in a month so if disaster strikes I’ll either need a couple months or some fast talking. So I haven’t been looking to add much more to the backup beyond changes of current selections.
CrashPlan is still on my recommended list for WHS backups, even if it’s not officially supported. CrashPlan related articles are here.
Back in the day when I got my first first iPod I didn’t use it much. I was on Windows and that was when the iPods were sold as OS specific and iTunes wasn’t an option. Then I was able to use iTunes and it was like having a new music player. Since then it’s been my favorite music player. The smart playlists and organization abilities sold me. But as iTunes got more features there wasn’t much I liked (pretty much just podcasts and audiobooks) and it just became bloatware.
And that bloat caused occasional but severe frustrations over the years. The last two days were no exception.
I’d recently changed my settings back to start iTunes automatically and sync when my devices were connected. I turned this back on recently because it’s now a rare event for me to connect via the USB cable and my primary reason to connect is usually to do a sync. The most recent update broke that feature. Not a huge deal since I had only recently started using it again.
Then, two days ago I rebooted my Mac Mini (which runs iTunes on it). The auto start & sync magically started working again. But then things got worse. iTunes would freeze shortly after starting. Even without a connected device iTunes would freeze. I went as far as to put my devices in airplane mode to make sure iTunes didn’t find them when it started. No joy. I get a few seconds between starting a freezing and during that time (during several force quits and restarts) I was able to get all the devices out of iTunes memory so they wouldn’t show when iTunes started. I guess you could say there was progress, as the time between starting and freezing could be counted in minutes with no devices in the device list. But the freeze was inevitable.
I left iTunes “running” for about two hours but did a force quit before going to bed for the night. I didn’t want to leave it running to avoid open files that wouldn’t be backed up. I figured my next step would be to revert to a backup but wanted a current copy to go back to when that didn’t work.
The next morning I started iTunes, watched the pinwheel appear, and headed off to work. I connected in from work about 6 hours later and iTunes was happy and responsive. Not sure how long it took, somewhere between 5 minutes and 6 hours. Tonight all is fine. Stops, starts, syncs, plays.
What changed to cause the problem? No idea. What changed to fix the problem? Nothing except my patience to let the pinwheel spin. I rebooted my Mini because I was moving cables and it would lose power. No software changes. There’s always content changing on the i-devices, but nothing out of the ordinary. No completely new apps. I do have my iTunes library on my Windows Home Server so the problem could have been there. And the one thing I did change was I applied the monthly Microsoft patches to the WHS shortly before the iTunes problem happened. I did reboot the server during the issue and that didn’t help the problem and since I didn’t change anything on the server to resolve the problem I don’t really think that was the issue.
I guess iTunes just had some issues that it needed to work through.
Had an interesting problem with my Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server that took longer to resolve than it should have, even though it was minor. To set the stage, I use rsync to backup my website to my Synology 1511+ NAS running DSM 4. The web server and the Synology NAS both run Linux and a case sensitive file system (hint, hint). I then use Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server to backup those files to Amazon S3 (Paranoid? Yup). Cloudberry connects to the Synology NAS through a Windows type share.
When the backup failed I checked the logs like a good troubleshooter and the logs said that 2 files couldn’t be found. Both were cache files on the server that only get updated once a week and sure enough the problems started after the last cache rebuild. I tried accessing both the original and backup copies of the files by pasting in the long path from the logs. All the files were there.
I then deleted the backup copied of the files in case it was an access issue. Both files deleted easily. The next backup resulted in the same errors and the files weren’t replaced. So next step was to refresh the Cloudberry database. Maybe what it thought was backed up was out of sync with reality. These are time consuming processes to run, but only a few clicks of my time to start. Same backup error in the logs.
Since these were cache files (static copies of dynamic content to reduce server load) they weren’t important so I called it quits for the night. Naturally the errors were there in the morning. But this time I read the console status and the error was some paths were not accessible. The logs themselves still said the two specific files were missing.
An inaccessible directory with many files is different than two missing specific files. This time rather then cutting/pasting the path to the file I browsed directory by directory to the path on the web server. And there was the problem. I had two directories with the same name, one in lower case and one in upper case characters. The lower case name was the one being backed up and with content. The upper case one was empty. Upper and lower case are unique in Linux but not in Windows. And since Cloudberry was accessing the files through what it considered a Windows share it was totally confused as was Windows Explorer when I had browsed to it. Synology and my web server had no problems differentiating case. I went in through the Synology File Station software (it’s version of File Explorer) and deleted the empty upper case directory names. I did the same on my web server. The backup ran error free.
So it looks like my caching software created an upper case directory name for some still unknown reason. It hasn’t been changed in a long while so no clue as to why it did it now. If it repeats the problem in a week at least I’ll know how to quickly fix it. And if it continues it may be easier to exclude the cache directory from backups than it would be to find out why the directory is being created.
The OS’s and files systems don’t always play well together, sometimes I’m amazed they work at all.
I’m a bit late in writing about this, but Synology DiskStation Manager 4 (DSM 4) left beta and was officially released a week ago on March 6th. I’ve been using the DSM 4 beta since I started using Synology (ignoring a day or two with the pre-installed DSM 3 to makes sure all was well with the new hardware) and I really like it. Like I said, my experience with DSM 3 is nearly non-existent so I can’t make any comparisons. Since I first wrote about the DS212j I’ve added a DS1511+ and I’m liking that one too. The DS1512+ has just been released with updated hardware so if your buying be sure to either get the latest hardware (DS1512+) or a discount on the older model.
While things have been slow this month on the osquest I have been exploring the Synology NAS so once articles start appearing again they’ll probably be Synology related.
Some features that I’ll be exploring more…
Synology gets into the cloud buzzword game with the new Cloud Station and ezCloud options. I claimed my exCloud names (one for each NAS) during the beta so managed to get some nice short ones. But I haven’t really dug into this and explore it as a personal cloud option. It’s on my shortlist of things to do.
I did get the Synology NAS set up as a backup destination for my web server using rsynch. It’s much faster than my FTP options, more reliable and uses less bandwidth.
I’ve also set up an iSCSI target and mapped it as a drive to my Windows Home Server and I’m using it as a backup destination for the Cloudberry Backup add-in.
There are numerous other apps and features, enough to keep me occupied for a year, but these three are my primary uses.
I’ve been considering using the Synology 1511+ as my primary server but so far I’m still coming down on the side of keeping my Windows Home Server 2011 box as my primary file server. Synology is still just used as a backup and file archiving destination. The biggest thing WHS 2011 has going for me is rather unique for me. I have replacements for all the hardware already available in my house. If a drive fails I swap it out and restore (no RAID). If a server component fails I can move the drives to an identical Microserver I use for testing. With the Synology NAS I get RAID so can recover from a drive failure quicker, but if a Synology component fails I’m down until I get it replaced or restore the files to another device. I like the hardware safety valve although the features of the Synology NAS are growing on me. The second biggest thing WHS has going for it is it’s PC backup ability and it’s Cloudberry backup Add-in. Both are more polished and capable than DSM but there are alternative backup solutions and strategies.
Synology DSM 4 highlights are available on the Synology website. I was happy to find I could update from the DSM 4 beta to the official release through the built-in updater in Control Panel and was good to go in short order.
I’ve come to the realization that I’m an iPad fanboy since I managed to talk myself into buying the latest one even before it was announced. I do have a defense, even if it is lame.
A couple days before the iPad announcement I checked its value on Gazelle.com and found that I’d get 50% of what I paid for it. I since I expected Apple to keep pricing the same I’d cover 50% of the latest model. So in order to avoid the rush (and anticipated price drop) I went ahead and sold it to Gazelle, locking in the price for 30 days. While I would be able to get more by selling it myself, the “lack of hassle” factor is important to me. I figured worst case I could simply let the offer expire. I figured Apple would be shipping a week after the announcement, two at most so the 30 days would be enough.
So what was I expecting? Basically, faster and better. Nothing “revolutionary”. I figured a better display, probably called retina for the marketing advantage, and a faster CPU. More storage for the money would have been nice. I was sure the rumors of a new dock connector were wrong and I hoped the form factor would be close enough to use my few accessories and cases. Apple ended up announcing almost exactly what I was expecting. To be fair, I did expect Siri but didn’t care about it.
I could make an argument that I’ve minimizing the cost by maximizing the trade-in price. But the reality is keeping what I already have makes the most economic sense. But I have little will power. While I did get an iPad 2 it wasn’t right away. Eventually I decided it was worth the cost to get more storage along with wireless (or the telecom variety). So I just gave into the inevitable and ordered the replacement up front. It’s not like the price will go down, baring special promotions and preparation for the next version.
The new iPad was announced and I had the option of just letting my Gazelle offer expire but I went ahead and ordered the replacement. I admit I lacked enthusiasm and waited over a day before ordering, getting my order in just before the delivery dates started to slip. Lacking enthusiasm doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to the upgrade. I read someplace that if you use the iPad 2 more than 10 hours a week the it was worth upgrading. I’m not sure that number is valid, but I certainly use the iPad much more than that and expect to benefit from the better screen.
The iPad sits on my desk as I work and I refer to it a lot for reference(books/notes/pdf) and task management. I also use it to RDP into my home network and servers at times. I’m hoping the improved screen makes it easier on the eyes (but not simply make the type smaller). I’ve begun to play my own videos on it a bit too, although the videos won’t match the screen resolution. I never really liked Apple as a video source source or library so won’t be viewing their HD video after the inevitable test.
I considered downsizing to the 32GB model since my current usage is just a tad under 32GB. But space requirements only seem to expand so I kept the 64GB. So my iPad has shipped (according to the email) and sitting at Fedex waiting for them to delivery it Friday. Friday will be the moment of truth to see if this fanboy is still happy. Oh wait, a true fanboy won’t care wait arrived.