Mac OS X Microsoft Windows OS Quest Trail Log Server and NAS

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.


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.


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: 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.


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?

OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #70: April Showers Edition

Picture of a rainy dayApril showers held off for most of the month, so much so that there were almost daily Red Flag Warnings for brush fires. But at the end of the month a nor’easter rolled in. While it dumped snow elsewhere, it stuck to water around here.  April was also a light month on the OS Quest. It seemed to fly by. Most of my work revolved around problems.  I did upgrade the drives in my Synology 1511+. While there was a moment where I thought a drive didn’t rebuild it ended up being fine,

But Synology wasn’t about to be problem free.  I’ve configured Synology’s DDNS service on both my Synology NAS’s. Sunday morning I had a bunch of alerts from both saying they couldn’t register it’s address to the DDNS service. Long story short – the error message indicated the logon failed but I had numerous messages in the log that is was registering with their service successfully along with the failures. It was trying about every 15 – 30 minutes. Most were successful. My WAN IP address wasn’t changing and my other DDNS software wasn’t seeing changes so I figured it was Synology.  The was another recent forum post with a similar issue. I turned of DDNS temporarily. If my address doesn’t change (and it rarely changes) it will continue to work. I’ll just need to turn it back on within 30 days since Synology will delete my name after 30 days of no contact. By Monday Synology acknowledged it was a “glitch” at there end and I re-enabled DDNS. The DDNS registrations on my Synology boxes seemed to have returned to their once a day rhythm.

My Windows 7 PC has joined in the frustration fest. A while back I had a problem with Picasa needing to be re-installed.  I figured it was a Picasa issue, but the problem spread. I found it was a Windows 7 issue, the file permissions are getting changed/corrupted. If I fix them all is well and the app runs. I’ve also had other scattered disk issues. It looks like it’s time to re-install everything. The only question is will I get to it before the problem goes beyond mildly annoying.

Being an equal opportunity OS user I’ll go ahead an mention that my Mac Mini is also getting frustrating. Disk reads are getting pretty slow. To the point that if I’m watching a video I better not copy files. Other programs slow down when there’s other disk activity too. I haven’t really dug into the problem but it may be time to flatten it and re-install. At least I hope that’s all it is and not a hard drive going bad. Opening up the Mini is a real pain. On the other hand, being forced to replace the HDD would be a good excuse to put an SSD in there.

I already wrote about my Windows Home Server 2011 problems. Things have been fine since.

Operating Systems

I’ve yet to install the Windows 8 preview although I have downloaded both desktop and server. I can’t get too excited about it. I like Windows 7 and until I get hardware to take advantage of Windows 8 I don’t see much benefit. While it still remains to be seen what the hardware vendors will do with Windows 8, I am looking forward to the Windows 8 tablets.

I’m more curious about Windows 8 Server (and storage spaces) than I am about the desktop. I’m happy with Windows Home Server 2011 but I’m always interested in alternatives. Still, probably not something I’d look at before the release candidate due in June.

“Cloud” Storage

Then there was the Windows SkyDrive update and Google’s long awaited G-Drive. I already used Skydrive to a small degree so I was able to go in and claim the 25 GB. I haven’t spent much time with Google Drive (and only on my Mac), but so far I’m not impressed. It’s more like sync than cloud storage, I did see options to limit syncing at the folder level which may help. It copied all my Google Docs locally although they would only open when I was online.

Other than getting my 25 GB I haven’t done anything with SkyDrive. I use Mesh but what I like most is its ability to sync files among my computers withough having to go to the internet. I use this for videos and I don’t want to install SkyDrive and find all this video going to the internet and then back down to my other computers. So I’ll have to check it out before installing it.

Wrapping Up

I’ve been using the ipSec VPN feature in pfSense and it’s been working pretty well. I’ve been having some issues around name resolution between my local network and the internet. It seems like problems keep creeping in and I have to tweak the settings (or use IP addresses for my local network). It seems most of my remaining issues are related to specific apps, especially iPad apps.  Most of the remaining problems seem to be limited to specific iPad apps. Hopefully I can get them sorted out over the next month.

Also on tap for May is re-installing my Windows 7 desktop and my Mac Mini.  Once that’s out of the way I’ll start exploring the Synology apps to see if they’re good for more than disk storage. We’ll see hope much of that I actually get to over the next month.