@#$%!@ Web Host

image of WWW on gold

image of WWW on goldAbout 3:30PM ET today I got an alert that my site was down. Sure enough, it was not accessible. I logged onto my Linode management console and there was a notice that they were investigating a problem affecting my server, They problem was so recent that the status page hadn’t been updated with the incident yet, but it soon indicated a power problem was reported at the site. Long story short, utility power failed and the generators failed to kick in automatically so power was lost to some servers and equipment.

Unfortunately when my server came up about an hour later there was a problem with Apache and it was returning my default site (just a placeholder page) instead of this site and it wasn’t until I restarted Apache a little while ago that the site was being served.

I give Linode high marks for communication, although the outage still stinks. According to the logs it looks like they tried to reboot the server, probably when power came back, and that reboot failed with an “already running” error. So it looks like there was a problem with the power on reboot.

I’m still looking through the logs to see if I can see what the problem is. I also need to see if I can change my alerting to identify my site. I got the email may wite was up, but it was returning the wrong page. So properly identifying my site will be on my to do list.

While I like doing the hosting myself, on an unmanaged VPS this is the downside. Problems occur at inconvenient times and I don’t have anyone to yell at to come up with a solution. Guess I can’t have everything.

Upcoming Tech

picture of plain cardboard boxes

picture of plain cardboard boxes

Between new iDevices and a major Windows release due before the holiday shopping season there’s a lot of new tech on the horizon. Some of it excites me, some I’m curious about and some is “meh”.

iPhone

With a new iPhone all but officially announced it’s been the hot tech news topic. This one is “meh” for me, I’ve no plans to upgrade from my iPhone 4S. It does sound like this will be a major change. The two features I have a use for are:

  • Wireless networking on the 5 GHz band, The 2.4 GHz band is mighty congested in my apartment complex. The iPhone is the only device I have on 2.4 GHz. It doesn’t affect me much due to the way I use the iPhone, but there are times I turn off wireless to force 3G.
  • LTE – more speed is always good and a LTE hotspot would be helpful. But I don’t use this feature enough to justify the upgrade. My next phone will have LTE, but it doesn’t have to be the next iPhone

I need to skip an upgrade cycle just to prove I can. I made a mental note to come back and read this once I start hearing about the greatness of the latest iPhone.

iPad

I’ve no interest in a smaller iPad. As for the current size – I also want to skip the next upgrade cycle to prove I can. Based on how I use the current iPad I can’t envision an upgrade that I would need.

Windows 8

Finally, a tech I’m looking forward to. I’ve yet to actually run Windows 8 so my views may change. I’m excited to see Microsoft changing things up. I do plan to upgrade my main Windows 7 PC soon after the official release.

I tend to ignore the most intensive negative reviews since some people just don’t like change. I do expect to hate the new UI on day one. The question is what I’ll think on day 14. I do like what I read about enhancements and new features.

Windows RT

I agree with Paul Thurrott that this is Microsoft’s vision for Windows of the future. I don’t think the future of Windows is ARM only but I do think Microsoft is using this processor to shed the old baggage and showcase what they want Windows to be, I expect it to be severely limited compared to the Intel version, but I want to see Microsoft’s vision. Desktop apps are to Windows 8 what the Program Manager was to Windows 95. Microsoft kept the program manager UI in Windows 95, but deprecated and hide it until it eventually vanished. Microsoft couldn’t hide the desktop in Windows 8 all at once so used RT to get there on one platform. I think Microsoft wants the same for the current desktop apps, they want them to eventually go away.

I plan to get a Microsoft Surface RT tablet to get a flavor of that vision. I won’t go for an OEM RT tablet so I get the unadulterated Microsoft experience, for better or worse. Of course, there’s still no price and I don’t believe the $200 rumor. So my final decision depends on the price. Right now I’d say $500 (including the keyboard cost)  is a definitie buy and pre-order. A  higher may cause a delay and I may change my mind and look for a lower cost OEM model.

Windows Phone 8

I’m interested in seeing what a Windows Phone 8 looks like. I like the idea of it being different. While not a valid criticism, I do see the iPhone as being a little old and stoggy.

Getting a Windows Phone isn’t a done deal. But I am curious enough that an iPhone upgrade isn’t automatic.

Windows Home Server

My WHS 2011 box isn’t going anywhere soon. I don’t have any plans to replace it with one of Microsoft’s new server products. I’m so sure of this that I let my Technet subscription expire so I no longer have the server software to test unless MS makes eval versions publicly available.

If I jump into the deep end of the Microsoft ecosystem with both a Windows phone and tablet to go with Windows 8 there may be some benefit to using a Windows server for central storage. But I’m a Synology NAS fan and would go with it over a Windows Server. And like I said, WHS 2011 isn’t going away anytime soon. If I really want a Window “Server” I may just use Windows 8 as a server.

Wrapping Up

So, will I have the willpower to avoid a iPhone upgrade? That will be the first test. Based on past history I’d call the odds even on this since I have weak gadget resistance. So I’ll have to come back and read this to remind myself there’s no reason to upgrade. I’m not eligible for an upgrade until December anyway. Plus I may be forced into some contract changes making it easier to stand with what I have. Windows 8 Phones should be available by then. Will I switch teams?

While the Surface RT pricing isn’t announced I’ve no doubt that I’ll be getting one. I won’t wait in line at the local Microsoft Store (yup, there is one, although I’ve never been) but I expect a pre-order or acquisition soon after it’s released. About 90% of this is curiosity and wanting to see first hand how RT evolves over time. And if it’s crash and burns, I’ll want to know if it’s justified or not.

Any particular new tech you’re waiting anxiously for?

CrashPlan Comes Through

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backup

Just a quick article to sing the praises of CrashPlan. Greg recently posted a comment asking if I still use CrashPlan on my WHS 2011 box. I do. I also had two recent occurrences where CrashPlan features came through to help me out.

First, my iTunes sync to my iPhone started reporting sync issues due to missing music files. A little research showed it was individual songs from a few different albums and they were deleted around the time I was trying out iTunes Match back in June. I was able to use CrashPlan to restore the missing music files. Even though they were deleted from the computer CrashPlan keeps them around forever (or until I stop paying the bill).

Second, both my Cloudberry backup to Amazon S3 and the CrashPlan backup stopped working around the same time. After two days CrashPlan sent me an alert email because there weren’t any recent backups. Since Cloudberry didn’t have a hard error there wasn’t an alert. While not doing a backup isn’t good, at least Cloudberry caught the problem. For the record – simply restarting both backup jobs resolved the issue. I suspect the problems were related to thunderstorms that rolled through around the times the problem occurred.

CrashPlan is having a back to school sale through Sept 8th and are offering 20% off 1 and 2 year plans. Unfortunately (for me) it appears to be for new accounts only.

Field Notes: Synology Photo Station 5

Image of Synolog DiskStation 212j

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jI’ve been playing around with Synology Photo Station and wanted to document some notes from my experience. These notes are from a DS212+ running the DSM 4.1 beta. Currently I’m using DSM 4.1-2567 and Photo Station 5.2-2284 although most of this also applies to DSM 4. The main difference is that performance seems to improve with each release.

Uploading Files

There’s a lot of complaints about the thumbnail generation process bringing the Synology NAS to its knees. Performance has improved, but the initial upload could be problematic if there’s a lot of images (or videos). My files were almost all photos, just a handful of small videos.

  • Uploading a large number of photos should be done using the Synology Assistant software from a computer. I ran it from my Windows PC but there are Mac and Linux versions too.
  • Copying a large number of files (20K+) directly to the photo share did not work well. Photo Station was unusable for a couple of days (at which point I gave up). The NAS itself was slower but still usable. In earlier versions the NAS itself was sometimes unusable during this process.
  • Uploading a large number of photos (20K+) through the Synology Assistant also had problems. Photo Station was slow for a couple of days (at which point I gave up waiting) and would sometimes report errors (such as when deleting a photo). In some cases Photo Station seemed to “lose” files. The album was created but no thumbnails were created and Photo Station reported the directory as empty. The primary process running at this time was Postgres which is used as the backend database to store information. Postgres would use any CPU cycles it could get. It would relinquish the CPU to other processes so the NAS itself performed well, but that CPU stayed pegged at 100% and Photo Station was slow, sometime painfully slow.

I took the following approach to the initial upload and things were smooth.

  • I deleted all the tags from the photo files. It’s possible that the Postgres processing was trying to process these tags (there were about 9,000 unique tags, For the most part I wanted to redo the tags so I deleted most of them before uploading.
  • I uploaded in smaller batches, still using Synology Assistant. I use a folder structure for my photos so just uploaded the individual directory trees in an order that made sense, This was about 2,000 photos at a time, although one upload was a little over 4,000.
  • During the upload the CPU usage stayed under 100% for the most part and things settled down shortly after the upload finished. Postgres processing was minimal which makes me think the tag removal had something to do with it. I did save a copy of the tagged photos and may do some comparisons if I get a chance.
  • Even during the upload the NAS itself performed fine. Photo Station itself was a little slow but usable without any of the timeouts that were common before.

Field Notes: Google Two-Factor Authentication

the Google Apps Logo

the Google Apps LogoThere’s been a lot of discussion recently about GMail’s two-factor authentication thanks to the Matt Honan hack publicity. I’ve been using it awhile and figured I’d share my thoughts and experiences. I had been using it for an account that I just used for email so it wasn’t much of a hassle. But I recently added it to a second Google account and it’s been more of a hassle. It’s probably needed more on this account, since it’s used for more than just email so I’ve kept it enabled. In the case of Google the two-factors are a password (something I know) and something I have (my phone).

Here are my notes from using Google’s Two Factor Authentication. For the record, I used my own domain with Google Apps accounts in both cases.

There’s plenty of backup available should I lose or break the phone with the authenticator app:

  • I have the Google App on my iPhone so I don’t need a cellular connection to get the code.
  • As backup I have another phone set up to get the code via SMS.
  • As another backup there’s also printable one-time backup codes. The assumption is that Google can keep these codes secure.

If an app or device doesn’t recognize Google Two-Factor authentication there are Application Specific passwords:

  • “Application Specific” is more a description of the intent, rather than a technical requirement.
  • The Application Specific passwords can be used on multiple devices and applications. I’d prefer they be locked to the first app or device they’re used on.
  • If you use the password in a malicious or poorly written app the password can be used my someone else to access your email. So common sense still needs to be used when using the application passwords.
  • While 16 characters is a long password it’s not as complex as it could be, All passwords are 16 characters and there seems to be a limited character set. While this could be more secure, it would still be extremely hard to crack and isn’t a reason not to use them.
  • The application specific passwords only provide limited access to the account, even if compromised, such as accessing email.
  • Application specific passwords are easy to revoke so they can be used to try out a new app and then revoked if the app isn’t used.
  • I’ve had some issues where my iPhone email (for example) decides it needs a new app password and I have to re-enter it. This is a pain as I have to go to the website and generate a new one then type it into the iPhone.
  • While I can see the last time the application password was used, I can’t tell where it is used, so if the password is taken I wouldn’t notice, unless I stopped using it.

Misc Notes:

  • The initial setup is a bit of a pain. When two-factor authentication is turned on all the existing logons will break and have to be redone.
  • PCs can be made “trusted” and then for the next 30 days it won’t be necessary to enter the code when logging on.
  • If Google Sync is used (in Google Chrome) it’s necessary to use a encryption passphrase specific to Google Sync, the account password can’t be used since an application specific password is required. Well actually, an app specific password can be used, but it would have to be remembered and used as the app password for all Google Chrome logons, which goes against the design of the application passwords.

Anyone else using Google two-factor authentication? What’s been your experience?

Amazon Updates Consumer Cloud Services

Amazon Cloud Drive Logo

Amazon Cloud Drive Logo

Amazon joined the update parade by updating their Cloud Music offering and separating it out from their Cloud Files offering. Now Cloud Files and Cloud Player are different products with their own pricing, although existing subscribers still get combined and discounted pricing for some plans. Amazon purchased music doesn’t count against the the space quota, although it appears that the deal where all music was free, regardless of source, is over.

I installed the updated uploader and had problems immediately. In short, the uploader screen was blank except for the Amazon logo and the help link, Since provide feedback was all I could do, I did. I didn’t expect a response as this wasn’t a trouble report but I did get an email response rather quick. I provided the log file but as I told the Amazon rep, this isn’t important enough to me for it to be worth my time. The Amazon Music offering has been finicky at best for me, and downright unusable at other times. I have to admit, the DRM has yet to get in the way for me.

Scan and Match along with quality upgrades bring iTunes Match type functionality.The press release is here.

More exciting, at least for me, was Amazon’s release of a video player for the iPad. Amazon is the one service where I’ve been willing to “buy” DRM’d video. It still has all the negatives of DRM – it’s more a rental than a purchase and DRM is just one more thing to break (like a down DRM server). Amazon minimizes the impact by making the video playable many places, taking the hint from Netflix.

The Player’s UI is better than the other Amazon UI’s and it’s usable. The sorting is still weird, seems to be based upon purchase date which makes sense in a way, but it would be nice to have an alpha-sort option. Streaming over wireless was smooth and there’s an option to download the video for offline viewing, Wireless is required for online streaming, no streaming over LTE.

Maybe it’s me, but Amazon Cloud Player doesn’t seem usable for anything beyond a storage locker for the Amazon music I purchase. On the other hand, Amazon Video (including Prime) has become my primary online video source.

Anyone having a better Cloud Player experience than I am? Using Amazon Instant Video on the iPad?

The OS Quest Trail Log #74: New Software Edition

The Future Is Now graphic

July brought a lot of new software even though it was a slow month as far as the post count goes. The beginning of the month was all Synology. Soon after I started looking at some of the Synology apps (not impressed) Synology released the DSM 4.1 beta and I’ve been running that ever since. But not to be forgotten, Apple released Mountain Line (OS X 10.8) and I installed it on my MacBook Air. Sandwiched between those events was Microsoft’s Public Preview for their latest Office Suite. I decided to give Office 365 Home Premium a look.

Like the earlier DSM 4.0 beta which was released shortly after I bought my first Synology NAS, the DSM 4.1 beta has been stable for me. I don’t use a lot of the features, sticking with file storage as it primary purpose. It’s been fine as an iSCSI destination along with basic file  shares. I have been using Photo Station and like it, although I’m still trying to figure out exactly what role it will fill.

Mountain Lion has also been stable on my MacBook Air. I’m still unable to browse my Windows Home Server for shares but can connect to them directly. As I’m writing this my Mac Mini Mountain Lion upgrade just finished and it too has the same share browsing problem. And like the Air, the Mini can browse shares on my Windows 7 machines and the Synology NAS. So I’ll have to plan some time on that problem although I’m not the only one with the problem according to this forum post. I suspect I’ll wait until the first Mountain Lion update to see if it’s resolved then.

I’m still not sure what to think about Mountain Lion. It continues the trend of computers becoming part of an ecosystem. While it’s not real lock in, the Gatekeeper security feature and iCloud file system make the ease of use a tempting benefit, but it erodes interoperability. I don’t think Apple’s goal is lock-in, I just think it’s a side-effect of their ease-of-use goal. My own history with Apple’s cloud services makes me hesitant to commit to the iCloud file system but I am giving it a try. I’m just dipping my toe in – a year from now I may find a better app and find I need need a forklift to get a years worth of data out of iCloud.

Out of all the new software I have to admit that Office 365 Home Premium (and the whole new Office product line) intrigues me the most. I’m skeptical, and expect disappointment, but Microsoft may have done it right this time. And at the right price it may be something I subscribe to personally. I like that SkyDrive is the cloud file system and unlike iCloud it’s easy to get the files out (just sync to a local disk) and do my own backups.

I used the Office 365 Blog template for my previous post. It’s clearly an attempt to replace Live Writer which I still prefer. Word did more than I expected. What I expected was a simple template. Instead it provides blog specific features and can publish the post (or a draft of it) to the blog. The bottom line for me was Live Writer had more polish but the Word blog template has promise.

Which new software are you excited about – Windows 8, Mountain Lion, DSM 4.1, Office, Microsoft’s new servers, none of them?

Microsoft Outlook.com

Outlook Icons

Microsoft is expanding is Outlook email branding to the web, with plans to replace Hotmail with Outlook.com. According to Microsoft’s blog post it’s a complete rework of email, rather than just a rebranding. I rarely use it but I do have a Hotmail (actually live.com) account so I took a look.  I like the new look. Others have said it’s metro-like, I’ll take their word for it since I’ve only seen pictures. Like GMail, there’s adds but they’re unobtrusive on the right, all text so far.

Outlook.com also allows up to 5 aliases so I claimed a few that I use for other email. It was also a nice touch that when the aliases were created I was given the option to create a folder for those emails and create a rule to put them there upon receipt. Also, I could use either the new @outlook.com or the old hotmail.com or live.com in the addresses. I could then change the default email for the account to the @outlook.com address.

Outlook.com doesn’t support IMAP but I was able to set up the account on my iPhone using Exchange Active Sync. I used the Hotmail server and account info but I see the folders I created on Outlook.com and could @Outlook.com as my sending & reply addresses. So it appears to work, at least until the band-aids come loose.

I’m firmly entrenched in GMail so it wouldn’t be easy for me to leave, although Microsoft does highlight configuring your Outlook.com mailbox to pull email from other services such as GMail. They do emphasize the social features which is a bit of a turn-off for me (so I turned them off). I’m set in my ways, I just want email to be email.

Microsoft is on a bit of a roll this year with new versions on the horizon for their main desktop and server OS’s along with their flagship Office product.  Lot’s of change which will drive people nuts at times (myself included) but it’s nice to see them thinking about their software and being willing to change it.

Any Hotmail users out there with first impressions of Outlook.com?