Mountain Lion On My MacBook Air

Mountain Line Install Screen

Mountain Line Install Screen

I wasn’t very excited about Mountain Lion but an upgrade was inevitable. So with my vacation starting Saturday I decided to kick it off by upgrading my MacBook Air. Actually, I decided to take the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and do a fresh installation.

Creating a bootable USB drive with Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) on it is easy enough and there are numerous how-to’s out there.

I started off by making a backup image with SuperDuper. I also removed all the Time Machine folder exclusions so everything would be backed up to Time Machine without exception. This gave me two backups before I flattened the hard drive.

Installation was straightforward. I did make the same mistake I always seem to make. Booting from the USB and doing an install straight-away finds the existing install and upgrades it, rather than replaces it. So the second time around I did a drive format first with disk utility (available on the boot/install USB). The actual installation only took about 30 minutes. I installed both Chrome and Firefox since I knew I’d be using them, But the rest of the software gets installed when I actually need it.

The only system issue I’ve had is connecting to my Windows Home Server 2011 box. I can connect to a share if I type the full name directly, but I can’t browse for shares. When I try to browse the server I get a no shares found error. I can browse for shares on my Windows 7 boxes and my Synology NAS so there’s no problem there. So for now it’s manual typing and setting the shares to automatically connect at login. Once I upgrade my Mac Mini I’ll see if it has the same problems or if it’s machine specific.

The only app I have a problem with is Mailplane (A Gmail client). The current version was flagged as incompatible and I was pointed to the beta version. I installed it but bugs make it unusable for me. That drove me to configure Apple Mail. I’ve been away from it for a long time. It took a little tweaking to get along with Gmail, but its been OK. I typically view email on my iPad or iPhone anyway.

I haven’t encountered any other issues in my limited use of Mountain Lion. I did have to download the latest full installs for a couple of my apps so that I had signed copies from “identified devlopers”. So far I haven’t had to loosen security by allowing apps from anywhere, just from the app store and known developers. I suspect I’ll eventually have to open up, but I’ll see how far I get.

The software I’ve installed includes the latest versions of:

  • Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox
  • VMware Fusion
  • Bento
  • Acorn
  • Caffeine
  • Evernote
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Arq Backup (by Haystack Software)
  • PinPoint (by Lagente Software)
  • Wx (by Hunter Research and Technology)
  • DVDPedia

Those are the only apps I’ve needed so far. Roaring Apps has a comprehensive list of app compatibility for Mountain Lion.

It’s been less than 24 hours but all the important stuff works so I won’t be going back and I’ll be going all Mountain Lion when I upgrade my Mac Mini later this week. Anyone else running Mountain Lion yet?

First Hour: Synology 4.1 Beta

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jI was both excited and frustrated when I saw this tweet from @homeservershow this morning which linked to his post about DSM 4.1 beta. It was frustrating because I’ve been exploring Synology a lot recently and now it would likely change. I was excited because this more than a minor upgrade and has a lot of cool sounding enhancements.

Right away I noticed two changes to Cloud Station. They added SSL which addressed my primary concern. They also added the ability to sync 2 shares on a PC. Why is this cool? My use case – One share to sync files to all PCs. Another  share for device specific shares. There are files I want synced on some PCs but not others. Windows Live Mesh was my tool of choice for this, before Microsoft killed it.

I spent last night copying all my photos to Photo Station so I could begin using it since it seems meet my needs. (That’s a topic for another article), Photo Station got a bunch of enhancements although none seem to jump out as meeting a gap in what I wanted.

Their entire update list is here along with the download.

I upgraded my DS212j to DSM 4.1 Beta during lunch. The update was smooth. I noticed a new security setting when I was automatically logged off after 15 minutes of inactivity. There was also a lot of new packages available in Package Manager but beyond that nothing jumped out as new.

Video Station seems pretty cool. I copied a couple movies and a small TV series to its folders (one for Movies and one for TV). It went out and got the correct metadata. It did miss cover art for one of the movies but got it for the TV series. My naming format for movies is name.year.enc.ext where title and year are for the movie. “enc” is my own code for the settings I used and “ext” is the file extension for the movie type. In this case they were m4v files. My TV series is in a directory with the series name and the files are name.SxEx.enc.ext where Sx is the season number and Ex is the episode number. While my sample was small, Video Station had no problem understanding it to find the metadata. I’ve never attached any metadata to these files or imported them into another app.

I couldn’t play the videos but that seems to be a security or PC issue. I’ll need to read the documentation. The video should play through VLC and while I have it installed it wasn’t found according to the error message. I’m winging it at this point and haven’t read through the help so it’s too soon to call this a bug.

The existing iOS apps I use (DS File, DS Finder, DS Audio, DS Photo+) connect to the updated DS212j just fine and everything works as before. The release notes do indicate updates are pending for all apps (for the new features) and there are a couple new ones (or new mobile OS support) in there.

My own history with Synology beta software is good and it was stable. The forums indicated this had been true historically for their betas. So, I’m probably going to go for it and upgrade my production DS1511+ NAS later this week to give the beta a good workout. Until recently everything on the DS1511+ was backup data, but I’ve now begun using it for live data. Not much, but the most important stuff so I’ll need to make sure my backups are solid.

Anyone else running (or planning to run) the DSM 4.1 beta?

Synology Shared Folder Encryption

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jWhile I’m religious about encrypting my data when I move it offsite I do nothing to protect it in my house. If someone steals my Home Server it’s fairly trivial to get the data. It’s just a matter of finding it. The home server (and it’s backups) are the only places my important files reside so folder encryption seems like a good fit.

I never really wanted to go the Bitlocker route with full disk encryption. My MicroServer wouldn’t like the overhead and only a small subset of files need encryption. The alternatives, such as encrypting files, or having a encrypted container just had too much friction for me to use them.

Synology can encrypt shared folders so I decided to give it a try. All the files I want encrypted are already on a single Windows Home Server 2011 share so it was just a matter of moving the share to Synology. We’re not talking state or corporate secrets here so I’m not going to worry about scrubbing the disk once the files are deleted.

For the record, I’m using DSM 4 for this.

Creating An Encrypted Share

Unfortunately home folders can’t be encrypted since this would be the logical place for my files. Certain other system shares also can’t be encrypted. I’ll create a new encrypted share by logging onto the Synology web console and opening Control Panel –> Shared Folder (click any image for full size)

Synology Control Panel Shared Folders

Then Click the Create button and fill in the information.

Create a new share

Shared Folder creation dialog

 

I do not check “Mount automatically on startup” so I’ll need to do it manually when I reboot. I figure it’s more likely the entire Synology box will be stolen than just the hard drives. It’s I little more work for me but a little more secure. I don’t reboot very often anyway.

You’ll get a warning about protecting your encryption key. Acknowledge it.

Encryption warning

The share will be created and you’ll be prompted to download a file that has the encryption key in it. If you save the file, keep it in a safe place. Anyone with the file can mount the share.

Then you’ll be prompted to give the appropriate users access to the share.

Edit folder priviledges

 

Click OK to give permissions and your done.

Using the Encrypted Share

When the share is mounted anyone with the privileges to the share can access it without using the key. The encryption key is only needed to mount the share.

If you need to mount or unmount the share return to the Shared Folder section of Control Panel, select the share and click the encryption button.

Mount of unmount the share

If mounting the share either type the encryption key or browse to the exported key file saved when the share was created.

Mount an encrypted folder

If the share is mounted you’ll also have the option to export the key to a file.

Tips & Notes

Don’t save the file with the encryption key on the NAS itself. No sense making it easy for the thief. I need the key so infrequently I don’t use the file at all. I save the key is LastPass, my password manager, and cut & paste when needed.

Encrypted shared folders cannot be moved to a new volume unless it’s unencrypted first.

Any Synology NAS administrator can export the key assuming the share is already mounted so don’t expect this to keep a secret from other admins.

The encrypted share does need to be mounted before it can be unencrypted. This provides protection against decryption since the key is needed to mount it. But back to my previous point, if it is mounted any administrator can decrypt it.

I was hoping to attach an external USB drive and encrypt the files on it so I could use it for offsite backup. Unfortunately the USB share is created automatically and it’s one of the system shares that can’t be encrypted. Oh well, my current process using Truecrypt works well enough.

Finally, I did have to change by backup plan to encrypt the backup destination for these files. No point having an encrypted share if the backups are sitting out there . (I use Cloudberry Backup on my WHS to back up this share locally.)

Anyone have any simple encryption options for Windows Home Server shares?

Synology Apps: Cloud Station, Amazon S3 Backup, WordPress & More

Image of Synolog DiskStation 212j

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jI’ve been looking at several of the Synology DSM 4 apps (a.k.a. packages). I’ve only looked at a few but I’ve been rather disappointed. Since I’m unlikely to use them enough for a full review in the near future I’ll cover my frustrations here. For the record, this is on a DS212J running DSM 4.0-2219.

Cloud Station

Synology describes this a “Your Personal Cloud” and says its:

…actually a private cloud that always prepares itself up-to-date.

There are clients for Windows and OS X. The release notes do indicate that extended attributes of files and folders will not be synced on OS X, causing problems for some people.

While the lack of extended attribute replication on Macs is a potential concern, my real problem with Cloud Station is the lack of security. I couldn’t find any official Synology documentation but the forums make t pretty clear that communication is unencrypted (not using SSL/HTTPS), even over the Internet. Unlike other tools which have an HTTPS option, there is no such option for Cloud Station. It appears the password is hashed but that doesn’t give me a warm-fuzzy feeling.

Backup and Restore

I was excited to see Amazon S3 Reduced Redundancy Storage was now an option when using Amazon S3 as a backup destination. (Technically, Backup isn’t a app/package like the others in this article. It is part of the OS and does not need to be installed.) But that excitement turned to frustration as I went through the configuration. I could not enter an encryption key and encryption (of the files) wasn’t an option. I don’t want my data sitting out on Amazon S3 unless it’s encrypted with my own encryption key so this was a non-starter for me.

WordPress

When I saw WordPress as an available package I hoped to use it as a quick way to create (and re-create) a dev environment. I installed the available package only to be frustrated when an older version of WordPress was installed and I couldn’t update it. I suppose an update my be hacked but this defeated my “quick” expectations. I’ll try a regular WordPress install which should work unless I hit some security restriction.

MySQL and PHPMyAdmin

When I installed WordPress I saw that the MySQL root password was blank. Even though I didn’t intend to put this on the Internet this security whole bothered me. So I figured PHPMyAdmin was the easiest way to change the password. So I installed it. Sure enough, when I fired it up it did recommend I set the root password. Then it frustrated me at every attempt. No error message, but no password change. Eventually I just uninstalled it and MySQL.

I’ll stick to the command line for what little MySQL work that I do. For the Synology NAS it’s at: /usr/syno/mysql/bin/mysql.

Wrapping Up

Cloud Station still says “beta” in the release notes although it’s not labeled beta anywhere else that I saw. There’s plenty of requests in the forums to add https communications to the software. I’m hoping it will be added soon which would make me more comfortable with this. I do typically connect using VPN when I’m out and about with my laptop, but it’s not automatic. So there are workarounds and I may try it out.

For WordPress and PHPMyAdmin I’ll abandon the packages and go for a standard WordPress install and the MySQL command line.

Like many bundled apps these apps seem to fall just short of my needs. None of this makes these bad apps, they just don’t meet my own needs and requirements.

Anyone using these or other Synology apps?

Windows Home Server Is Terminal

tombstone_ripWhile not unexpected, Microsoft made it official, Windows Home Server joins the Zune, Kin and others in the Microsoft product graveyard. But that doesn’t mean its dead yet. It will be available as an OEM DVD (such as from Newegg) through 2013. Plus, mainstream support doesn’t end until April 16, 2016 so we’ll have security fixes through then at least. I assume we’ll also get general bug fixes if they’re bad enough. OEMs can install it on devices through 2025 but that seems more bizarre than realistic.

Microsoft’s Plan? From the Windows Server 2012 Essentials FAQ (PDF Link):

Q: Will there be a next version of Windows Home Server?
A: No. Windows Home Server has seen its greatest success in small office/home office (SOHO) environments and among the technology enthusiast community. For this reason, Microsoft is combining the features that were previously only found in Windows Home Server, such as support for DLNA-compliant devices and media streaming, into Windows Server 2012 Essentials and focusing our efforts into making Windows Server 2012 Essentials the ideal first server operating system for both small business and home use—offering an intuitive administration experience, elastic and resilient storage features with Storage Spaces, and robust data protection for the server and client computers.

Unless they discount the $425 retail price of the license I don’t see a lot of homes using SBS 2012e as a home server. (Except for enthusiasts who have a Technet subscription.)

I’ll be running my Windows Home Server 2011 until something better suited for me comes along. My Windows Home Server doesn’t know it’s terminal so it will keep chugging along. Technology is constantly changes as are my storage needs. April 2016 is the earliest I would be forced off WHS. I suspect it will seem like old tech long before that and I’ll move to something more appropriate for the times. That is, assuming I still want a central storage box. I’m already heavily invested in Synology NAS’s, which I love, so they certainly have an edge. But if they could replace my WHS they would have done so already.

Considering or running WHS? Does Microsoft’s announcement change anything for you?

The OS Quest Trail Log #73: Media Edition

Picture of a sunset over the waterIt was all about media on the quest this month. First I covered my tools for Blu-Ray ripping – MakeMKV and Handbrake. I finished going through and ripping the few Blu-Rays that I do have using the same method outlined in the articles. I lowered the Handbrake quality a bit on some to get a smaller file. I still don’t see myself getting a lot of Blu-Ray discs, but it does give me more flexibility with the ones I do get.

Then it was on to music in the cloud. At the time I wrote the articles I had settled on iTunes Match. I’m going to have to go back and update these articles. iTunes Match is history, It made a complete mess of smart playlists, especially on iDevices. The good new is that turning it off and everything was nearly back to normal. The only remaining issue was that many songs had their play count set to 1 (not zero). This was rather bizarre. It was most noticeable because I have a playlist that includes songs played just once. That list went from empty to over 300 songs. There were plenty of songs I knew had played many times although I’m at a loss as to why the play count is back to 1. It could be a lot more counts are off, just not as obvious.  So for now I have iTunes Match disabled everywhere. At least I got the DRM removed from my older iTunes purchases, but I probably won’t be renewing.

Amazon Cloud Player had its own problems. The iOS app wouldn’t display a complete list of songs available on the web cloud player. For example, a recently purchased album that Amazon automatically added to the Cloud Player showed 3 songs on my iPhone and 9 on my iPad. There were a total of 12 songs on the album. This wasn’t unique to purchases as any artist I checked had some missing songs on the device.

Google Play Music is the only one that hasn’t caused me any problems. Then again, I haven’t used it beyond some simple testing. I did have one unexpected problem. Unlike the other players it does support .flac files. For the CDs I ripped I have both MP3 and FLAC files in the same directory. The other players simply ignored the FLAC files. After Google got done uploading I noticed I had duplicates of everything. I couldn’t find any way to tell which song was which format so I deleted everything and I’ll re-upload just the MP3 files. I don’t see any reason to stream the larger FLAC files from the cloud. Although I want to do some research or testing to see if Google transcodes the FLAC files when streaming.

I have to say, Google seems to have the more reliable and solid tech in their web player. While I wouldn’t call it feature rich, it includes features that Amazon doesn’t: Instant Mixes, Play Counts, Thumbs up/down ratings along with a more flexible uploader. I may change my opinion once I actually look at using it. I’m still working on re-uploading the music. Like I mentioned in the article, I have a lot tied to my Google account so it’s not something I want to enter into a 3rd party app, so the lack of an official iOS app is a problem.

Tablets From the Source

Microsoft had a big news month and got a lot of positive spin. Although, their Slate announcement seemed to create more questions than it answered. Hopefully it lives up to the heightened expectations. It will be nice to have some competition and options for Apple. If nothing else, the MS Slate should be lacking the crapware prevalent in Windows OEM and Android devices.

Google also announced a 7” tablet that’s got the Kindle Fire in its sights. It seems promising. Hopefully the new version of Android will be tablet friendly. The few Android tablets I’ve seen appear to have an identity crisis trying to decide between a small or large display. Hard to put my finger on anything specific, but the just seemed “off”. iOS apps which can have distinct personalities depending on the hardware. I have to admit I find it tempting even though I can’t justify it.

One thing I found interesting was the hue and cry over Microsoft usurping their OEMs while I didn’t hear much complaints about the Google Nexus 7 despite Google saying they’ll sell it at a price to break even on the hardware absorbing any marketing and miscellaneous costs.This despite Google owning a Android hardware vendor (Motorola) and other OEMs using Android.

I’m not predicting any decline for Apple, but it looks like I’ll be able to consider alternatives when it’s time for my next phone and tablet. This can’t be a bad thing.

Wrapping UP

Looking at the various cloud players has go me into playing music more than I had in the recent past. For the most part it had been audio books and podcasts but I’ve been playing music again. I’m finally getting around to trying out the media related apps on my Synology DiskStation. It’s still to early to tell if they’ll be worth using. Then for true cloud music there’s always the subscription services.

So far nothing has been perfect. It will be more a matter of figuring out what I want and then picking the solution strongest in that area. The summer heat seems like it’s here to stay for awhile. Those hot humid days will be good for laying around listening to music, or staying in the air conditioning working at the PC.

For those of you in the States, have a happy 4th!