Apache File Does Not Exist Error

Apache logo

Apache logoI spent some time over the past week killing some bugs and making some adjustments to my server. One of them was a message being logged to my default Apache error log (/var/log/apache2/error.log). The error was:

[Sun May 27 22:05:03 2012] [error] [client 127.0.0.1] File does not exist: /etc/apache2/htdocs

The error was being logged exactly on every five minute mark, no matter when the server was started. The interesting parts here are that none of my sites are configured to listen on the loopback address (127.0.0.1) although some are set to run on any addresses. Also, /etc/apache2 is not the document root for any of my sites. All of my sites were working and were properly configured. A Google search showed I was not alone with the problem but had no good solutions

What I ended up doing is specifying a default document root for a directory that does exist. I used the default site for the server.

sudo nano /etc/apache2/conf.d/DefDocRoot

I put in one line:

DocumentRoot /valid/path/to/site/public

I reloaded the Apache configuration and the error went away. It seems like there’s a default site of some type configured into Apache. It might be something I configured but apache2ctl –S doesn’t show any syntax errors and all my sites seem fine.

Adjusting Logrotate and Lessons Learned Redux

Apache logoBack in October I had some issues with logs and adjusted logrotate. This weekend I made additional changes while killing some website bugs and resolving annoyances.

By default logrotate appends a numeral to the file name as it’s rotated. (At least on Debian 6). There is a configuration file parameter dateeext that will append the date instead.  There’s also a parameter dateformat if the default extension isn’t suitable.

I also had an issue where logrotate failed when I deleted a test website but didn’t update the logrotate configuration to remove its logs. I added the missingok configuration parameter to handle this in the future.

I also changed logrotate to rotate files weekly or when the size exceeds 100MB. I’ll see how this works out and adjust it if needed.

I also had a self-inflicted wound where I left out the opening curly bracket. This caused it to rotate apache2ctl, causing my apache problems. I was probably sloppy in my testing and made a quick change after testing and somehow deleted the bracket.

To test logrotate the command: sudo /usr/sbin/logrotate -vfd /etc/logrotate.d/config_file_to_test can be used. The –vfd switch means to run in verbose mode, force logrotate even if it’s  not needed, and run in debug mode. Debug mode means no logs will actually be rotated. Sudo is not needed if logged on as the root user.

The file /var/lib/logrotate/status is logrotates memory of when files were last rotated. Deleting a file’s entry from here will force it to be acted upon the next time logrotate runs. It’s also a good place to see what files are being rotated.

So, the logrotated configuration for my websites is now:

/path/to/logfiles/*.log
{
rotate 5
weekly
size 100M
compress
dateext
delaycompress
missingok
nosharedscripts
postrotate
/usr/sbin/apache2ctl graceful > /dev/null
endscript
}

This rotates the logs weekly (or when the reach 100MB) and saves the last 5 logs. I experimented with mailing the logs when it came time to delete them but decided it would be too many emails and it would be easier for me to grab the files once a month. I may increase from 5 the number of logs I save to give me some extra time to grab them.

The OS Quest Trail Log #71: What I Use

I already covered what iPad apps I use along with what keeps this website running. Now it’s time for the big list. What I use in the home.

Servers/NAS

I have a bit of a problem with servers and accumulating hard drives in general, so this is a bit extreme. With fourteen 3 TB and another fourteen 2 TB drives spinning 24 X 7 it’s obvious I have a problem.

Windows Home Server 2011

An HP MicroServer running Windows Home Server 2011 is at the center of my home network. It has four 3 TB drives for data (no RAID) and a 160GB drive for the OS. It has an AMD N36L processor with 8 GB of RAM. The only add-in I run is Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server 2011 to backup to Amazon S3 and locally. I also use CrashPlan for additional offsite backup.

Small Business Server Essentials 2011

I also have a WD-DX4000 running SBS 2011 Essentials with a Lian-Li EX-502 Expansion Unit connected using USB 3. The DX4000 has four 2 TB drives configured for RAID 5 and the EX-503 has five 2TB drives also configured for RAID 5. Since this server has RAID to protect the Computer Backup shares it’s used for clinet backups. This server is also used for backups and long term file archiving/storage.

Synology NAS

I also have a Synology DS1511+ NAS with two DX510 expansion modules.  Currently this is used as a backup drive for my WHS 2011 server using an iSCSI connection. It’s also an iSCSI target for my WD-DX4000 for additional file archives. It’s also a destination for my Time Machine backups. Continuing the backup theme it handles backups from my web server.

I also have a DS212J NAS which has been relegated to testing and playing.

Desktop & Laptop Computers

Mac OS X

Measured by the time I use it, my primary computer would be my mid-2011 MacBook Air with Core i7 processor and 4 GB RAM along with a 256 Gb SSD drive. It runs OS X 10.7 Lion.

My desk has a late 2009 Mac Mini with a 2.66 GHz Core Two Duo, 4 GB RAM and a 320 GB hard drive. It’s connected to a old 20” Apple Cinema Display. I use Synergy to share the mouse/keyboard that’s on my Windows 7 desktop PC. It runs OS X 10.7 Lion.

Windows 7

My home built desktop is a Windows 7 Pro PC with with a AMD Athlon II x6 1090T processor and 16 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD drive. There’s also a 160 GB Velociraptor drive along with two 7200 rpm 1 GB drives. The SSD and Velociraptor are the primary drives while the 1GB drives are used primarily for Virtual Machines. Data is kept on my Windows How Server. For graphics it has a Radeon HD 6870 video card connected to a Acer H213H 21.5” monitor. I’ve been planning a monitor upgrade but never pulled the trigger. With two monitors on my desk going bigger would cramp things on my desk (or require wall mounts or stands) and I use the laptop more these days.

Portable, Mobile & Media Devices

My phone is a 64GB iPhone 4S on Verizon. I’ve been with Verizon as long as I can remember (my least objectionable telecom) and had an iPhone since there’s been one on Verizon. My iPhone is also my podcast and music player. I also have tethering on this phone.

I have an 64GB iPad 3rd Gen, also on Verizon. I only use the data plan a few months a year, such as when I’m on vacation or on extended business travels. Since tethering is currently free with the data plan I dropped my iPhone tethering for awhile to see if the iPad data was worth it. It wasn’t beneficial enough for me so I dropped the data plan and went back to iPhone tethering. I already covered the iPad apps I use.

I also have a Kindle Fire that’s mainly used for Video and short reading sessions. My Kindle Reader is used for longer, leisure reading sessions.

I have a LG BD670 Blu-ray player connected to my TV. It has built in wireless. I can view Amazon video using an app (bad, bad UI). There are other apps but I don’t use them. I can view video from my Windows Home Server over wireless or plug in a USB stick or drive.

The TV is a Vizio 42” TV that was inexpensive and works great. My only complaint is it’s annoying tendency to reboot when I’m watching something so it can apply a firmware update.

Home Network

My router is pfSense 2 running on an HP MicroServer. It’s reliable and I like it. This is connected to a HP ProCurve J9450A Gigabit switch. The switch supports link aggregation which I can use with my Synology 1511+ in addition to being a managed switch with a lot of features I’ll never need. It was the lowest cost Gigabit switch I found that did link aggregation and I’ve been happy with it’s performance.

For my wireless network I use a Netgear WNDR3700 router. I don’t use it as a router (since switching to pfSense), just a wireless access point. It’s dual band so I have a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz network set up. I use the 5 GHz network whenever possible since it’s less common and therefore has less interference from nearby apartments. I also have a D-Link DAP-1522 Wireless Bridge on my workbench so I can plug in non-wireless computers.

My ISP is Comcast. They’ve been reliable and performance is good. I’ve bumped against their data cap a few times thanks to backups but recent news has them finally re-evaluating the caps. It does seem that every time I actually have to talk to a person it causes a problem and an outage (new modem, moving, etc…) but luckily they’ve been reliable so I rarely have to talk to them.

Software

Since I run both OS X and Windows I gravitate to cross-platform apps and web apps. I use Wakoopa to track what software I use.

Productivity & Communication

I use Google Apps for Domains for my email. On the Mac side I use Mailplane as my mail client since it can handle multiple GMail/GAFD accounts. On Windows I rarely access email but when I do it’s just through the browser. I do have old regular GMail and MS Live Mail accounts but they rarely get used.

My primary browser is Firefox. I like Google Chrome but have problems with it on OS X so tend to avoid it there and want to use the same browser on all platforms for consistency. I use LastPass to manage passwords and secure notes. I’ve been a LastPass user since the early days and subscribe to their premium service. LastPass works on all my browsers and iOS devices. I use XMarks (now owned by LastPass) to sync bookmarks.

I make occasional use of Skype and I do use Twitter.

I do install Microsoft Office 2010 on Windows but don’t use it too much. I prefer regular text files for documents (UltraEdit on Windows and BBEdit on Macs).

I use Windows Live Mesh to sync files between PCs and SkyDrive. Unfortunately it appears the new SkyDrive software loses the pc-to-pc sync feature of Mesh and that Mesh will be going away, I make heavy use of the pc-to-pc syncing feature to avoid unneeded internet traffic with large files. I also use Dropbox for a few iApps that can use it for syncing. I don’t using it for much else. I also have a Spideroak account that I want to like for cloud storage but it had problems syncing OS X package files (Bento specifically) so I haven’t trusted it on the Mac side.

My finance/checkbook app is YNAB (You Need a Budget) which runs on Windows and OS X. The data file stays on my server.

Backup & Security Software and Services

I use Amazon S3 for critical files. I pay less than $5/mth and my usage varies from 25 to 40 GB. Amazon is one of the few services I trust to not lose my files. They’ve been doing it awhile and they’re truly “cloud”, with the files stored across multiple data centers.

As already mentioned, I use Cloudberry backup for WHS 2011 and CrashPlan for backups of my WHS data.

For Mac backups I use Arq Backup which backs up to Amazon S3 using a Time Machine metaphor. It’s a well thought out, great piece of software. I don’t keep much data on my Macs so this is mainly for settings and when I travel with my latop. I also use Time Machine on my Macs with the Synology NAS as my destination.

I use Microsoft Security Essentials on my Windows PCs and nothing on my Macs. I use the NoScript add-in for Firefox and NotScripts for Chrome to limit what web pages can do. I also have a copy of MalwareBytes but that’s mainly because I’ve needed it for other PCs. For the most part I rely on safe computing habits rather than software for security.

Digital Media & Entertainment

I recently moved my music to the iTunes Match service. This also removed the DRM from my older iTunes purchases. I hate iTunes as an application but like it as a music manager. These days I mainly purchase music through Amazon but will still buy through the iTunes Store. All my music is in Amazon’s cloud storage as well as iTunes Match and Crashplan’s backup.

Video is either from my own DVD library or Amazon Online Video. I’m a Prime member so have access to their Prime Video library. For online video I’m generally looking for “something to watch” rather than something specific and Amazon Prime works for this. I only have basic cable (the real basic cable with over the air channels only) so I do buy videos I want through Amazon. I recently re-subscribed to the Netflix DVD service to expand my options. All this is still cheaper than a cable subscription.

VLC Media Player is my player of choice for Windows and Mac. I use Slysoft AnyDVD  along with Handbrake to rip DVDs from my library and encode them for playing on my various devices. I use Slysoft CloneDVD to make backups of my DVDs. I only do this for DVDs I own. This makes them more convenient to watch and protects me when a DVD goes bad (which they frequently do, especially the two-sided ones). It also makes it easier to store them since they can go in boxes and be stored in a closet.

For Photos I organize them using a folder structure and store them on my Windows Home Server. I use Picasa to manage them. For editing I use Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 on Windows. Amazon was offering a slight discount a couple days ago so I ordered version 10. It’s been three versions so probably worth the upgrade. On Macs I use Acorn. I still need a better way to manage my personal photos. I may give Lightroom a try since it’s cross-platform and Aperture isn’t.

Misc Apps

I use Sumatra PDF rather than Adobe’s Acrobat Reader. I also use Evernote for information capture and storage. I use Instapaper as my read later service and PinBoard as my bookmarking service.

I use LogMeIn for remote access. I have the paid account from my Windows Home Server and free counts everywhere else. I may not renew the paid account when it expires in June.

I use VirtualBox for virtual machines on Windows. I run several on my Windows 7 desktop. I use VMWare for virtual machines on my MacBook Air.

I’m about to break 2,000 words on this post so it’s time to wrap up.

What I Use: Web Server

Tools TileWith my recent web server changes it’s a good time to update what I use on my web server. I run the site on a “Linode 512” Virtual Private Server from Linode. I’ve been with them since December 2009 and signed up for another 2 years back in January. It’s been problem free and my initial server stayed online for over 300 days at one point, only getting a reboot when changes made it necessary and I did the reboot. It’s a VPS server without any control panel but it suits my needs. There’s no support beyond the making sure the server is running, but they have an extensive document library. All administration is over SSH and from the command line.

I switched to Debian 6 as the OS with this months move. I’d been running Ubuntu, which is Debian based, so there wasn’t much of a change. I’d been having a few minor issues with Ubuntu so decided to switch. I can’t say of the problems were introduced by the Ubuntu or something else.

I run Apache 2 as the web server. With the latest move I switched from using pre-fork MPM with Apache to using Worker MPM. For PHP is use mod_fcgid and mod_actions rather than mod_php. This certainly uses less memory resources, performance seems about the same although some benchmarks do show improvement.

The site runs on WordPress and uses the Catalyst Theme. I’ve been using WordPress since I first created  a website so I obviously like it. I also like the Catalyst Theme, my main complaint is shared with all framework type themes. There’s some lock-in if heavy use of theme-specific features are used. I use the following WordPress plugins: Akismet (anti-spam), Contextual Related Posts, Fast Secure Contact Form, FeedBurner Feedsmith, Google XML Sitemaps, No Self Pings, Recently Popular, Redirection, Skimlinks, WordPress Popular Posts, WP-Piwik, WP Super Cache, WPTouch Pro. I also use the Google Analyticator plugin but will be dropping it when I drop Google Analytics at the end of the month.

For site analytics I just started using Piwik, an open source counter-part to Google Analytics where I maintain the data. There’s also an iPhone/iPad app for viewing the data. As I write this I still use Google Analytics but plan to drop it at the end of the month.

For DNS I use DNS Made Easy for this websites DNS service rather than the registrar’s own DNS. I find it to be more reliable and has more features.

For backups I use Linode’s backup service to get a full server backup and snapshots before updates. My website files and databases get backed up to my home network using rsync.

Moving Day – A New Web Server

Tools TileI completed moving this website to a new server over the past weekend. I’m still using Linode as my host and running on a 512 MB Virtual Private Server (VPS). The changes were minor and should be transparent. I moved from Ubuntu to Debian as the OS but since Ubuntu is based on Debian there’s not too much difference. I had a few strange things happen on Ubuntu after updates so I’m hoping for a little more stability without actually having too learn anything new. Of course, soon after going live I had problems which seemed to be related to an update on Debian. So much for stability as a reason.

As I was building the new server I also worked to squash some annoyances and did some testing. I’d been having problems posting updates through xmlrpc (for example, from Windows Live Writer) to all my sites except this one. That problem didn’t exist on the the new server. I also had some scripts which stopped working as expected and these worked fine on the new server.

The major change (relatively speaking) was I switched Apache from using pre-fork MPM and mod_php to using worker MPM and mod_fcgid.  Worker-MPM was the default when I installed Apache on Debian so it was easy enough to get Apache working. Getting mod_fcgid and mod_actions to handle php was a little more complicated but not too bad. This has reduced the memory usage by the server since php isn’t running with each Apache instance. Performance seems to be about the same.

I considered switching to nginx from Apache but I decided I didn’t want to much change and I didn’t want to spend the time learning nginx. Staying with Apache meant that I would be keeping most of my configuration. Maybe sometime in the future.

I only made a couple changes to WordPress itself. There were some updates related to security keys in the WordPress configuration file. It’s been awhile since I updated that file so I was missing a lot of keys. Now I have all the keys and salts used by the current version. I also changed the database name and user to match my current naming convention.

My checklist for the move is below:

  1. Set the DNS TTL for the domain(s) to a low value (300 seconds) so the DNS change will take effect quicker for the actual move. Do this a couple days in advance.
  2. Backup all website files.
  3. Backup the database
  4. Backup the Apache site file
  5. Create the database on the new server – use the same name as the old server
  6. Create the database user – use the same name/password as the old server
  7. Copy the website files from the backup to the new server
  8. Copy Apache site file to the new server – edit the file for any changes such as IP address the site is on
  9. Restore the database from the backup
  10. Edit hosts file on new server so that the server resolves to itself for the website
  11. Edit hosts file on my PC so it resolves to the new server for the website
  12. Edit my permissions scripts to set file permissions for the site. Run the script to set/test permissions (I have a script I keep updated that will set the proper permissions each night in case I change them and forget to change them back or they get changed in an update.)
  13. Edit backup scripts to include the new site.
  14. Edit WordPress update script to include the new site (I update WordPress through svn)
  15. Update logrotate to include the new site
  16. Connect to the new server’s WordPress site (using the PC with the modified hosts file)
  17. Delete cache files for WP-Supercache and restart plugin (this plugin seemed to dislike being moved). Check the rest of the plugins.
  18. Test the website on the new server
  19. Make a minor change on the new site so it can be identified
  20. Change the DNS from the old server to point to the new server
  21. Allow some time for the DNS change to propagate. Access the site from a different PC or remove the entries from the local hosts file. It may be necessary to flush the cache when changing the local hosts file.
  22. Allow a few days to pass. Check the logs on the old server and if there’s no access (except some search engines and other web spiders) the server can be shut down.

The move itself went smoothly.

My MacBook Air Trackpad is Ultra Sensitive

MacBook Air image

MacBook Air imageRecently my MacBook Air trackpad became much too sensitive to touch. I was clicking where I didn’t want to click and dragging files all over the place. I was opening and moving browser windows all over the place. Worse, I was dragging folders to unknown places and had to go hunting for them.

It was intermittent, usually after working a while. My initial searches resulted in “your doing it wrong” types of results. I’ve been using the MacBook Air trackpad for months, years if I include my earlier Airs so I knew that wasn’t it. I tried mucking with the settings without changing the issue. Even with tap-to-click off I would click (and drag) while barely touching the trackpad. The problem tended to occur after using the Air for awhile, not right after waking up or rebooting.

I took the usual troubleshooting steps. Logged on under a different user that didn’t start any apps and also logging on a guest. The problem persisted so I didn’t think an OS re-install would fix it. So I’ve been using a wireless mouse recently. That worked OK.

After getting home from dinner today I felt ambitious and did another Google search. This time I came across this Apple Insider forum thread that described the problem and a couple workarounds (posts 13 and 14 in that thread). Sure enough, they worked for me. The problem didn’t occur when I ran on battery or when it was plugged in and I let my left hand touch the MacBook Air next to the trackpad. Neither of these are actually solutions but at least they identified the problem as power or hardware related and not software.

The problem with this type of problem is there may be multiple causes for symptoms there’s a lot of potential solutions. Another work-around I found was to moisten the fingertips. This seemed to work until the fingertips dried up but water and computers don’t seem like a good idea. I also read that others replaced the power supply to resolve the problem. I don’t have a second power supply to try but I’ll try to dig one up for testing. I’ll still have the Apple Store problem, at $80 I don’t want to buy one and if I can’t reproduce the problem in the store I probably can’t get it replaced. Another mentioned the problem was resolved by tightening the screws. I can’t try that either since I don’t have the right screwdriver. Looks like it would cost less than $20 to get one delivered, but it would only be for the MacBook Air and some Toshibas I’ll never own. It’s not like I’m going to open the Air up until its out of warranty (I have Apple Care for it) which is still over two years away.

The problem will be reproducing the problem at the Apple Store so I can get it fixed. On the other hand, I’ve never been a trackpad fan and the mouse is working fine. It’s something I’ll want fixed before AppleCare expires, but if I stick with the mouse it may be awhile.

Update Woes–Apache Won’t Start–No Response or Messages

Apache logo

[Updated – see below] Today I had an issue with Apache. I moved servers last weekend and was still doing some tweaking. The problem started when changes I was making to the Apache site file for one of my sites wasn’t changing and that site was loading the default site as if it wasn’t found. After considerable time trying to find the problem without stopping Apache. I finally restarted Apache, no change. More time hunting around and finally I stopped Apache. The only problem was Apache didn’t stop. So I rebooted the server and Apache didn’t start.

So now the problem was serious. Luckily my old server was still running so I switched DNS for the site back to it. At least the site would be up once that change propagated.

More searching a looking but no progress. Nothing at all was being logged when I tried to start Apache. I received a starting message but that was all.

To cut to the end, the problem seems to have been caused with a recent update to Apache. When I looked at the apache2ctl file in /usr/sbin directory. The file was 0 bytes in size and there was a apache2ctl.1 file. It looks like a recent update caused the problem. The zero byte file was dated May 13th.

So I deleted the zero byte file and renamed apache2ctl.1 to apache2ctl. All was fine.

I did some more checking and I’m note sure what actually caused the problem [Self-inflicted, see below]. My test server, running the same software didn’t get any update to apache2ctl since the initial Apache install. Not really sure how to prevent it or even detect it. At least in the future I’ll recognize the symptoms and it will be one of the first places I look since it’s easy to see.

[Update 5/28/2012] – I found the problem, it was self-inflicted. A badly formatted logrotate config file for my website logs. I left out a curly brace so it saw everything as a file to rotate rather than the postrotate command.

What I Use: iPad Apps

Screenshot of my main iPad screenI use the iPad daily, mostly for productivity and work related used, and not entertainment. I figured I’d review the apps I use most and see if my impression of productivity use is true or a delusion.. The primary apps I use are all on the home screen (or in folders on the home screen) or the dock along the bottom. Click the picture above for a full size view (over 1MB). Here’s a breakdown of the apps I use most.

The Basics

Among the apps delivered with the iPad I use:

Mail – I configure mail using IMAP on my iPad so I don’t have push notifications which is what I like on the iPad. (On the iPhone I configure mail using Exchange so I get push notifications). I configure all my email accounts which include Google Apps email, Windows Live and Apple mail (I lost track of what they call it – iCloud or Mobile Me).

Safari – I haven’t found a reason to use a different browser.

Contacts – I’m not a fan but I do sync my contacts to it.

Calendar – I don’t like the built-in calendar at all so I use Calvectica. I’m not a heavy calendar user.

Reading Apps

Instapaper – I’ve been a long time user of the Instapaper website and the iDevice apps.

Kindle – I mainly use the Kindle iPad app for reference/training books and not long form reading. It doesn’t get a lot of use.

GoodReader – I’ve used this for viewing PDFs I receive and create, along with other documents. It’s grown into a pretty full featured file management app for the iPad.

Missing from this list is iBook and Newstand. I tried them but haven’t been drawn to using them.

Home Network

These are the apps I use for connecting to other computers/devices in the home.

Ignition (From LogMein) – I use this for remote access to all my computers. They recently changed the pricing model and this app now seems to be $130. While I frequently use it I’d have a hard time justifying that cost. But I’m happy I got it at the old price. I use it with free LogMeIn accounts except for my WHS which has a paid account (reconsidering that at next renewal).

FileBrowser – Great for getting files from my Windows Home Server, Windows PCs and Macs to my iPad. Can also stream video files over my home wireless network.

I also have the full suite of Synology aps installed but I don’t use them much. DS Finder is useful for checking alerts and disk status/usage, but that’s about it. Their usage may grow as my Synology usage expands.

My Web Apps

These are apps I use to manage and access my web server and applications on it.

The already mentioned Safari is great for running the WordPress admin panels. No problems.

Prompt – My SSH client for connecting to my servers.

Productivity

Bento – I have a couple databases I sync to my iPad. I can make changes and they sync back. Syncing isn’t automatic so I tend to do most updates on computer and use the iPad for viewing.

OmniOutliner – I also use their desktop version, but sharing documents between computer and iPad is too much of a hassle since it requires remembering which copy is the most recent. So any outlines generally stay on the iPad. [Updated 10/20 – This is still on my iPad but it’s rarely used these days.]

Outliner – Yes, duplicates OmniOutliner. A simple Outliner I use when it’s more important for me to sync to my iPhone.

Toodledo (in the dock) – My primary to do app. Not my favorite To Do app for the iPad but my favorite all around to do app. I have to do a lot of tapping. But it works the way I like to manage most tasks. One big benefit for me is that I can use the web interface from my work (or any) PC which allows me to cut and paste between apps and tasks. [Updated 10/20/2012 – I moved to using pen and paper for daily taks management so this isn’t used anymore.]

OmniFocus (in the dock)– This used to be my To Do app, but I found Toodledo worked better for  me on a daily basis. I still use OmniFocus for managing larger projects. [Updated: 10/20/2012 – This has been gathering cobwebs on my iPad.]

Info Management

Evernote – I use this for information storage and reference. Since it’s on everything this tends to get everything.

Misc Apps

NetNewsWire (in the dock)– My RSS reader for the iPad, using my Google Reader feed list. It hasn’t been updated in over a year but I’m familiar with it and can fly through the feeds sending articles of interest to Instapaper if there’s no time to read them. The lack of updates is a concern on one hand, on the other it’s not lacking any features I want.

{Updated May 29] Mr. Reeder has replaced NetnewsWire as my iPad news feed reader. It also uses Google Reader’s feed list. I can flip through stories quickly and it integrates with Instapaper and Pinboard which I use. Unlike NetNewsWire, feeds can be managed from the app.

Downcast – My podcast app, I wrote about it here. I use it more on my iPhone but it gets use on my iPad for video podcasts and the occasional audio podcast.

Tweetbot – My twitter client

Weather – I have an addiction to weather apps so have a rotating selection. But Wx for iPad is a daily visit.

The only game on my iPad is Plants vs Zombies. Still addiction.

There’s plenty more apps that I haven’t mentioned, you’ll see some in the screenshot, but these are the ones I use most.

Have an iPad? How’s this compare to your favorites?

Windows 7 Rebuild

Windows 7 Logo
Windows 7 Logo
Logo Credit: Yaxxe – click image for more of his work

In the last Trail Log I mentioned I was having problems with my Windows 7 PC so had decided to rebuild it. I got around to doing it this weekend. Just some notes from the rebuild, mainly to jog my memory for the next time I do it.

I wasn’t planning on any hardware changes but this was a good time to open up the PC and blow out the dust balls. This was my first opportunity to use the Metro Vacuum ED500 DataVac Electric Duster. It was better than expected, well worth the cost. It’s typically compared to 5 cans of compressed air as a way to justify the cost. The reason to use it is that it’s so much better than compressed air. It’s electric, so there’s a twelve foot cord which may limit its use for some people. It’s metal so it’s heavy. And it’s noisy. But it gets the dust out. I feels well built and has a five year warranty. There’s a variety of attachments for directing the air and it was easy to blow the dust out from between the cards, drives and fans.

Since I had the case open I did decide to pop in a 2TB Hitachi drive that I had. I run a lot of VMs on the PC so this will give me more space for snapshots and additional VMs. I can also split the VMs between this and the other drives which would improve performance (in theory) if I run them at the same time. We’ll have to see on that last point.

Some additional tips from the installation:

  • Before booting the install DVD I pull the power to all except the system drive. I’ve had problems in the past where windows installs some pieces on a second drive and then I remove that second drive, breaking windows and requiring a repair.
  • I don’t enter any activation key until my trial period nears its end. This way I can re-install without burning an activation (and I re-installed twice over the weekend to try different ways of moving the profile).
  • I used the procedure found on Lifehacker to move my user profiles off the SSD drive C: and onto a Velociraptor (10000 rpm drive) drive. The procedure worked as described in the article.
  • There were a lot of patches even though I installed from a Windows 7 SP1 DVD, 85 to be exact.

I archived my Windows Home Server 2011 backup of the PC before doing the installation. This brought on the “Monitoring Error” problem that’s been happening since Roll Up 2 was released. (In short, if there an archive PC it generates a monitoring error alert since the OS is unknown.) Theirs is a patch but I’ve decided to ignore the alert until I delete the Archive in a week or so.

My data is all on my Windows Home Server 2011 server so there’s no day to day data on the PC. I just made sure I had the latest virtual machines backed up and then I flattened the PC. I was treating this like a PC restore. If I didn’t have a good backup the files would be lost. This is another way of saying I was too lazy to verify everything and decided to go for it. No issues so far.

The computer is significantly faster. There’s less crud and any file system problems I was experiencing are behind me. I’ve yet to re-install everything, I’m waiting until I actually need the software before I install it. I’m also deciding if I should change the way I do things (like e-mail on Windows). Most of my apps are cross-platform or web based so having my MacBook Air means I don’t have to rush to do the re-installs.

Synology Time Machine Backup – The Quota Option

DS1511+ FrontBack when I first wrote about using the Synology NAS for Time Machine backups I had decided to go with a volume dedicated to Time machine. Since then I’ve cut back it’s us, using it only for my Mac Mini. Greg recently posted a comment to that post, asking about quotas, which got me thinking about alternative configurations. Especially since this coincided with me reconfiguring my DS 1511+ NAS. A dedicated time Machine volume on that was more limiting than I want. So I did some more testing and came up with a quota method on existing volumes taht aren’t dedicated to Time Machine.

Essentially, this is the problem to be solved:

  • Time Machine is designed to keep backups until a drive is full and then delete the oldest backups to free up space.
  • A share is assigned for Time Machine in the Synology DSM software. Only one share can be used across all computers.
  • Shares will use as much pace as available on the volume.
  • Quotas are user based and apply to an volume, not a share. If there are multiple shares on a volume, the quota is applied across them all for the user.

So the choices are to use a dedicated volume for backups and allow it to be filled, or use an ID dedicated to backups and set the quota on it. This article covers the latter option.

Requirements & Notes

I’ll need an ID dedicated to Time Machine backups. A ID could be shared across Macs but I decided to go with individual IDs per Mac. This gives me slightly more flexibility in the way I manage quotas.

I found that Time Machine does not handle quota changes. It appears that when Time Machine first attaches to a drive (or share) it registers how big the drive is. Even though Time Machine saw the extra space after a quota increase (in it’s space available display) when it got down to the actual backup it based the backup on the old quota. For example, I had to delete the Time machine backup for the Mac and have it start over after I increased the 1 GB quota I used for testing. . I suppose I could have copied the old files for safe keeping, but this was just testing. This isn’t much different than a physical disk, but it would have been nice to have the flexibility.

This works on my DS 212J and DS1511+ NASs. Both are running DSM 4.0-2219, which is the latest version at this time. My Macs are running OS X 10.7.3 Lion, also the most recent version.

Setup

The setup process includes creating the share, enabling TIme Machine in DSM, creating the IDs in DSM and finally, setting up Time Machine on the Macs. Click on any of the images in this section to see them full size.

Create the Share

First off I’ll set up the Time Machine shared folder using the DSM control panel.

Screenshot of the Synology Control Panel

Create the shared folder.

Enable Share

Don’t setup any privileges yet so just click OK on the privileges screen without enabling any access. I don’t want any of the regular IDs to have any access to this share.

Create the User(s)

This is also done through the Synology DSM Control Panel.

CreateUser

Create a new user

CreateUser2

Fill in the user information

CreateUser3

Click OK on the groups screen and allow the user to be a member of the Users group. (For this purpose I don’t think it needs to be a member of any group, but I’ve yet to test it and I’m not all that concerned with security for this ID.)

JoinGroups

Give the user access to the Time Machine share.

AssignPrivileges

Set the quota for the volume that the Time Machine folder is on. This is how much space the ID can use for Time Machine.

SetQuota

There’s no need for additional privileges so I disable access to the applications.

applicationaccess

After confirming the setup I’m done. I repeat the steps for a second ID, setting a 500GB quota for the ID MBUser.

Enable Time Machine on the Synology NAS

Time Machine is enabled through the DSM Control Panel

ControlPanel

Enable the Mac File Service and select the Time Machine shared folder.

MacFileService

Click Apply and acknowledge the warning that network services will restart.

Setting Up Time Machine on the Mac

This is a normal Time Machine configuration, but I’ll run through it.

Open Time Machine Preferences.

Time-Machine

Click the Select Disk button. The Synology NAS should appear in the available drives. I the screenshot below both my test and production Synology NAS’s are shown. Normally you’d see just one Synology NAS listed.

driveselection

You’ll be prompted to provide an ID/password. Enter in the ID created above.

idprompt

Time Machine will begin a countdown to start a backup. You can make any exclusions at this time. (For example, I exclude my virtual machines directory on my MacBook Air so I don’t back them up over wireless.) You’ll also see the amount of free space. In this example, the volume the share is on is 10TB in size so it is seeing the 250 GB quota.

TMAvailable

 

Further Testing & Wrapping Up

I’ve only used this configuration a short time so it’s long term viability is still undetermined.  I have setup my test server with smaller quotas and on a smaller volume so I can see what happens when the quota is reached. I also want to see what will happen when other files consume so much of the volume that there’s less than the quota available to Time Machine, I’ll come back and update this post when I have that information.

So far I haven’t had any problems connecting to shares using my regular ID from the Macs that have Synology Time Machine configured.

I’m still skeptical of using Wireless to backup Time Machine, which is unrelated to Synology. I have a pretty reliable wireless connection but there’s still the relatively slow speed. If I’m doing other work that makes heavy use of wireless the Time Machine backup could impact that. I’m going to leave it setup, at least until it causes a problem. I’ll come back and update this post if it does and I’ll include a status in my next Trail Log.

Anyone else have any experience using Time Machine servers, Time Capsule, Synology or others?