New Hosting and New Domain

It’s been awhile since this site was active. It’s not really active now, but it does have a new name and a new domain.

This site has been dormant nearly two years, with the most recent post made in June 2015. This post doesn’t really qualify as re-activating the site. But I did make some changes and it’s likely I’ll be posting here a bit more.

I moved this site to WordPress.com hosting when I shut down my Linode VPS in 2014. I’m back on a Linode VPS server and I’ve moved this site back to being a self-hosted WordPress site. I kept the same theme and didn’t make any cosmetic changes so it shouldn’t be noticeable.

The migration went remarkably well. There’s a lot of graphics and images missing from older posts, but these went missing when I imported them into the WordPress.com site three years ago. I never got around to fixing them at that time. This time I went through and removed the broken/missing images and broken links from the posts. I did indicate in the affected post that old images and links were removed. Most were of old and obsolete software. Missing images were fairly easy to find so I think I got all of them, there are probably broken links remaining since I didn’t really dig in to find them. Cleanup will continue.

I also changed the domain name. When I started the site back in 2006 the domain osquest.com wasn’t available (not at a price I wanted to pay), so I used theosquest.com. After ignoring solicitations to sell me the domain, osquest.com was dropped and I was able to register it a few years ago. I finally got up the nerve to make the change and now use this as the URL. All the redirects seem to be working.

I haven’t been able to test the RSS feed to verify that it redirects successfully. This post will let me know. But the site has been inactive so long I doubt anyone will notice. If you do subscribe via RSS I suggest you switch to the new feed to avoid future issues.

If nothing else, the site may see some activity as I write about the site move and WordPress setup.

OS Quest Trail Log #81: What I Use – March 2014 Edition

I’m long overdue in updating what I use. This covers the hardware and software I currently and includes Macs, Windows and Synology devices and their related software.

It’s been over a year since I recapped what I use so it’s past time for an update. The timing is also good since I’m about to begin re-examing the way I do things and this will get me going. Not too much has changed in over a year, which means either what I use is pretty solid, or I’m complacent, or I’m lazy. I’d like to think it’s because they’re solid choices.

Server/NAS

Windows Home Server

It seems like there was always constant change in this area. So I was a bit surprised to see that not much has changed.

Even though Windows Home Server 2011 is a dying product it won’t drop off support in April 2016. My server has been solid and I don’t have any plans to replace it until I need to, or something clearly better for me comes along. It has four 3TB drives (no RAID) for data storage and a 160GB drive for the OS. It’s an HP MicroServer with a AMD N36L processor and 8 GB of RAM. The server is used primarily for video files and other files I want long term storage for but don’t use frequently. The only add-in is Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server 2011.

Synology NAS

Synology feature image tile - blackThings have been stable here too. My Synology DS1511+ NAS was reduced to 1 expansion bay and a total of ten 3 TB drives back in October 2012 and that’s where it still stands.

The DS1511+ is dedicated to backups. The WHS box does a backup to it using Cloudberry Backup via a ISCSI connected drive. It serves as a Time Machine backup destination for all my Macs. Until I retired my web server it backed up to the Synology NAS using rsync. My other Synology NAS boxes also back up to it.

The Synology DS212+ NAS that I added in May 2012 is still going strong. I did swap the two SSDs with two 500GB Western Digital Velociraptor drives in a Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). In this case the SHR is just a mirror. This runs my Synology applications and serves my critical data files from an encrypted share. Synology applications include CloudStation, Photo Station, Audio Station and Video Station, all of which have mobile apps.

My original Synology DS212J is still used for testing and experimentation.

Both the DS212+ and DS212J are run the latest DSM 5 beta which has been reliable. I need stability from the DSM 1511+ so it’s still on DSM 4.

Desktop & Laptop Computers

This is where there have been the most changes, and where the most changes are likely to occur in the near future.

Synergy is used for mouse and keyboard sharing between my desktops and the laptop when it’s at my desk.

Mac OS X

Black Apple logoMy MacBook Air was replaced just days ago with a late 2013 MacBook Pro. The MB Pro is a 13″ Retina Display with 16GB of RAM, a 2.4GHz I5 cpu and a 256GB SSD. While the CPU is a step down, I found I rarely needed the CPU horsepower but I was severely memory constrained. The Air maxes at 8GB and that wouldn’t have been enough for me.

My desk has a late 2012 Mac Mini with a 2.3GHz i7, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB Fusion drive. It was just moved to be front and center on my desk so it’s hooked to my primary monitor which is a Dell S2340T monitor. It also drives a second monitor, a Acer H223H 23″ monitor.

Windows 8.1

Windows LogoMy Windows hardware remains the same but now runs Windows 8. The drives have changes. There are now two SSDs in RAID 0 as a 500 GB system drive and two more SSDs as a 500 GB RAID 0 data drive. I recently added a 2 TB spinning drive for file storage. The RAID 0 (scary RAID) is provide by the on-board controller and has been surprisingly reliable. Backup is to the WHS server using the connector software. The ancient Apple 20″ Cinema Display is now attached to this Windows box and the universe hasn’t exploded.

Future Considerations

I moved the Mac Mini to be front and center on my desk, replacing the Windows 8 desktop because I’m considering going “all-in” with Macs as my desktops and laptops. Part of this is because I want to free up the desktop hardware for other uses. The desktop hardware is the most capable hardware I have for some server testing. It helps that I’m finding myself more productive on the Macs.

Portable, Mobile and Media Devices

My Windows RT came and went. I liked it, a lot actually. But it was still rough around the edges and I found I wasn’t using it much anymore. I may get a replacement in the future but for now it’s gone.

I still have the third generation iPad and also don’t use that very much. It never leaves the house. It’s primarily used for viewing videos from Amazon or from my Synology NAS. I also use it for viewing reference books on my desk through Kindle reader.

I have a Nexus 7 with AT&T wireless and this is the tablet that leaves the house with me. I ended up using very little AT&T data but I like having it available without needing to tether. I also gets a lot of use around the house. Except for Amazon it used the same way as my iPad. There are a few additional apps on it that I’ll cover in future posts.

Nokia Lumia 928 next to the iPhone 4SMy primary phone is an iPhone 5S on Verizon. I still have my Nokia 928 Windows Phone which is also on Verizon. I like the Windows Phone OS but the apps are frustrating. It’s not the lack of apps, but the quality. I don’t know if they’re buggy because they are hard to write or because not enough resources are dedicated to writing the apps. For example, I need to constantly bookmark the audio books in Audible because it frequently forgets where I am. The frustration drove me back to using the iPhone as my primary phone.

I have a Microsoft Wedge Mobile keyboard that I use primarily with the Nexus 7 although it works with the iPad and iPhone too.

You can see the iOS apps I’ve tried on Applr although I’ve only begun to review the apps and favorite the ones I like.

My TV is still the same Vizio 42″ and the DVD player is the same LG BD670. My TV viewing has changed from basic cable to a digital antennae for over the air broadcasts.

Home Network

I still run pfSense on an HP MicroServer and it’s still reliable. The HP ProCurve Gigabit Managed Switch that could do link aggregation was destroyed in a water pipe break and wasn’t replaced. Basic NetGear Gigabit switches are currently used.

The Netgear WNDR3700 router still does wireless duties. It’s dual band and I have both a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz wireless network. The 5 GHz network gets less interference so it’s the network of choice whenever possible. A D-Link DAP-1522 serves as a wireless bridge to my workbench.

My ISP is still Comcast and they’ve been reliable as long as I don’t have to talk to a person. It seems every human interaction requires a follow-up or three to fix a new problem. Luckily these interactions are rarely needed.

Software

I’m finding Mac apps are allowing me to be more productive. So I’ve been tentatively moving away from my focus on cross-platform apps. This has just begun so we’ll see where it leads.

Productivity & Communication

I use Google Apps for Domains for most of my email. I do use Microsoft Outlook.com for one heavily used email.

My primary browser is Google Chrome but I use Firefox too. With my emphasis on using OS X I just started trying Safari as my primary browser. It’s improved over my last attempt but the jury is still out.

LastPass is my password manager. I have a Microsoft Office 365 Home subscription and it’s my Office suite.

I have several cloud services but primarily use three of them. Synology’s CloudStation is my private cloud. There’s no Internet storage but all my devices can get back to my Synology NAS and sync over the Internet.

Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) also gets a lot of use. My phone photos get saved to it automatically, my Office docs use it, and I use it whenever I do want offsite storage.

I use a free DropBox account for apps  that require it for syncing.

Amazon Cloud Drive and Google Drive haven’t caught on with me although I do use them in cases where they integrate well with an app or service.

My finance app has switched to Quicken. It’s the least annoying of my choices. This is mainly because it can easily do online updates of all my accounts. I’ve skipped this year’s upgrade and will consider alternatives again when support runs out with their 2015 release.

Backup & Security Software and Services

As I mentioned, I run the Cloudberry Backup on my Windows Home Server. It backs up to both offsite to Amazon Glacier and locally to my Synology DS1511+ NAS. For my Macs I use Arq Backup for offsite backup to Amazon S3 and Glacier and Time Machine for local backups to my Synology DS1511+ NAS. My Windows machines, both physical and virtual, use WHS backup. They don’t store critical data so there’s no offsite backup.

I also use CrashPlan on my Windows Home Server for redundant offsite backup.

I use Microsoft Security Essentials on my Windows PCs, including virtual machines. I use Malware Bytes on my main Windows PC. I don’t use anything on my Macs and rely on safe computing habits. I do use ScriptSafe and NoScript in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. I haven’t found a comparable add-in I like for Safari.

Digital Media and Entertainment

I dropped my Netflix subscription after it went unused for two months. I liked the online streaming and some of their exclusive shows but just didn’t use it.

Video is from my own DVD library or Amazon Online Video. My DVD library is ripped to files and sits on my WHS. I copy some video files to my Synology NAS to simplify viewing on my devices. I also use VLC Media Player for viewing. Slysoft AnyDVD along with Handbrake to rip and transcode my DVDs. MakeMKV is used on the few Blue-Rays that I have.

I have Amazon Prime and do view Prime Video. I also buy some TV series through Amazon Video which is considerably cheaper than a cable TV subscription.

My photo management is messy at the moment. I mainly use Aperture to organize and touch-up photos I’ve taken since they are raw files. JPGs and others usually just get saved in a folder structure. Synology Photo Station is used to manage and view pictures in those folder.

Misc Apps

Evernote is my primary information organizer. Pinboard is my bookmarking service. I no longer use Sumatra PDF for viewing PDFs, I find both the Windows and OSX native viewers fine for my needs.

LogMeIn is still my current remote access tool although the free version is going away. My free version extension is up in July and I’ll switch to something else before then.

VirtualBox runs my virtual machines. It’s free and good enough for my needs.

Path Finder is my file manager of choice on OS X. Transmit is my FTP client of choice and is also Mac only.

That about sums it up in just under 2,000 words. I suspect applications will be changing in the next few months but hardware should be pretty stable for the rest of the year unless things start breaking.

OS Quest Trail Log #80: Long Overdue Edition

I’ve dusted off the cobwebs accumulating on this site and have an update of recent activity.

I expected to upgrade my Surface RT on Saturday. I figured any initial rush would be over and it should be smooth. I’m using a Microsoft OS on Microsoft hardware, how many problems could there be? Well, apparently enough, either in quantity or impact, that Microsoft pulled the Windows 8.1 upgrade for Windows RT by the time I got around to it Saturday morning. I’m in no rush to upgrade my desktop and didn’t want to lose the PC for the weekend in the event I had problems. I may try it Sunday night, but for now I’ve yet to see Windows 8.1

So for now I have my recovery disks and backups and I’ll wait for the Windows 8.1 RT upgrade to return. This is disappointing.

Synology

I’ve been running DSM 4.3 since the beta and installed the final released as soon as it was available on August 27th. There’s been three bug-fix updates since it’s release, the latest on October 15th. The second one fixed an issue I was having with photo thumbnails, but I was still having sporadic performance issues on my DS212+. So I ended up re-installing from scratch. I’d been having performance issues since the beta. most due to a thumbnail generation problem. But the performance problems had continued, just with different processes using the cpu. The re-install resolved those issues. I figure the problem goes back to the beta software.

On my DS1511+, which never had the beta software, the update brought an annoying problem. I use rsync to backup this web server to the DS1511+. The destination is an encrypted file share on the Synology NAS. Since the upgrade the copy has failed. It’s was problematic to troubleshoot since the error would occur at different times in the copy process, although more often at the initial connection. I finally found simply dropping and remounting the share resolved the problems. Keeping a encrypted volume mounted when not needed probably isn’t the best security practice, so I just mount it before each backup rather than look for another solution.

I use Video Station on my DS 212+ and this is also being finicky, at least on my Mac. It doesn’t play some of the larger video files, such as movies. No error, it opens but never plays. It’s fine on my Windows PC and shorter videos, such as TV episodes, play fine. I say shorter, because it doesn’t seem to be related to file size. Large Blu-Ray rips of TV episodes play fine while smaller DVD movie rips have the issue. But VLC plays fine on the Mac so there’s a work around.

I’ve gotten used to Photo Station 6 but can’t say I like it. Photo Station 5 can be installed although I’ve avoided going back to that. I figure it’s only a matter of time before I’m forced to 6. I don’t like the iOS apps, whether it’s Photo Station 5 or 6 on the back end. I like the Android version much better.

Phones

I couldn’t bring myself to use my Windows Phone as my daily driver. The lack of a good podcast app was a killer although not the only reason. I use the Audible app and like it more than the iOS Audible app but it’s buggy. It’s gotten better but it can kill my battery in hours if I pause playing and fail to “back” all the way out of the app. But, I could listen for hours without much impact on the battery. I’ve found other audio apps to be buggy too so I wonder if there’s a inherent problem in the OS or it’s just hard to program for.

I love the app switching model, yet I never have more than 3 or 4 apps in the history that I can switch to so I never know what I’ll find in the list. I also find the back button itself confusing – will it bring me back in the app or out of the app?

So I upgraded my iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5S. I find the 5S to also be buggy, some of the bugs were on my iPhone 4S with iOS7. A lot of apps crash occasionally. Waze crashes every time I resume it, without fail. Other crash randomly. I been forced to power off and on the phone twice in the two weeks I’ve had it in order to restore stability. I like it, although it does have it’s flaws.

Website

I’m hoping to clear out the cobwebs and get this website active again. I’m consider a redesign to simplify things, especially the maintenance of the site. If I do start writing here more it will probably be web server and WordPress related at first and I test out different things and do some upgrades. So hopefully there will be changes coming.

The OS Quest Trail Log #79: Year End Edition

It was a slow month to end the year on the quest. Not much to cover, a little Windows 8 and my phone upgrade decision.

fireworksDecember was a slow month on the quest, so this will be a quick recap. And yes, technically this will be posted at the beginning, not end of a year. But I’m running behind.

I installed Windows 8 earlier in December. I haven’t written about it yet, other than a short review of the new monitor. The short version is that Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I do like it a lot.

I’m still looking to make iTunes a distant memory. I still start it but mainly to clean up my music and copy the files over to my NAS. I’ve gravitated to the Synology Audio Player on my iDevices although I’m moving the cleaned up songs to Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music along with the Synology NAS.

My phone became eligible for upgrade pricing just after Christmas. My decision on a new phone? Sticking with the iPhone 4S. Windows Phone 8 interests me the most but not enough to move yet. I won’t leave Verizon since they’ve been solid for me, so that limits my phone options. I also want to see how things shake out over time. Microsoft doesn’t have a great record with phones, especially updates. My second choice would be the iPhone 5. Not only is that more expensive to upgrade than moving to Windows Phone, but it also means all new cables and accessories. I don’t have a lot of accessories, but it would be an additional expense.

So for now I’m sticking with my iPhone 4S. If I was forced to upgrade today (for example, I lose my phone) I’d go with Windows Phone 8.

That’s all, on with the new year.

Happy New Year Everyone!

The OS Quest Trail Log #78: Late Edition

The month of November meant the Microsoft Surface RT settled in after its late October release. There was also some minor cell phone plan changes No Windows 8 yet, but it looks like that may change in December.

I actually had the draft of this written out by December 1st, but real life delayed my finalizing and posting it. But better late than never. The biggest change for the month of November was one I haven’t had a chance to write about yet. I replaced my 2009 era Mac Mini with one of the new models. As luck would have it, I had serious problem with it just as the new Mini arrived. The problem seems to be a corrupt user profile. Although since I’ve had what seems to be slower than expected disk performance awhile back I may have a problem disk or other hardware. My last OS upgrade was a full re-install, not so long ago, so any incidental file corruption would have been eliminated. I was able to logon once so I could de-authorize iTunes. After that I just used the backups.

I stopped short of getting the high-end model, opting for a Mac Mini with a 2.3 Ghz Quad-Core i7, 4GB of RAM and a 1 TB Fusion Drive. I upgraded to 16 GB of RAM by buying two 8 GB sticks from Crucial. Getting 16GB of RAM from Crucial was about $80, compared to the 4GB bump from Apple (to 8GB) at $100. Unlike my old Mini, the RAM upgrade is a piece of cake on the new models so this was a no brainer.

The Fusion drive benchmarked well, which is to be expected since the SSD drive gets priority. It’s only been a couple of weeks but I’m happy with the performance. Naturally it out performs its predecessor. I was a little concerned about the on-board video because I want to do some video work. Nothing major like Final Cut, so I hope to be OK.

With the Mac Mini and all that available memory I took the opportunity to move some virtual machines off my MacBook Air and onto the Mac Mini. I also migrated them from VMware Fusion to Virtualbox.

Microsoft Surface RT

I’ve had my Surface RT for just over a month and I still like it. It’s pretty much replaced my iPad for me. Not so much app for app, but in real life usage. Even though I like it, it does have some serious dannoyances and contributes to my frustration level at times.

The app store apps are either non-existent or really bad. People say they’ll get bettor over time, and I don’t disagree. But life is too short and the crapware is too deep, so I’ve given up searching and comparing apps. I’m sticking to built in apps, the web browser and apps for services I already use. I do find IE much more capable on the Surface than Safari is on the iPad. The lack of add-in support leaves some websites inaccessible (like the iPad) but so far I haven’t run into them. I also find the touch interface to be better on the Surface, especially of websites with scrolling frames and elements.

The one app I really need is a good SSH client (Putty for RT would be nirvana). Right now to use SSH when I’m out and about I VPN to my home network and remote desktop to my Windows 7 PC and run putty from there. That’s a lot of moving pieces that can break easily. If I was to travel for an extended time (like overnight) I’d take my iPad or Macbook Air rather than the Surface RT just to be safe,

The Surface RT, actually Windows RT, is still rough around the edges. The unexpected switches from Metro to Desktop are jarring. On the one hand I really like having the desktop. On the other hand it would be a better tablet if they removed the desktop completely. They would have to “metro-ize” Office and other included desktop apps of course.

Mobile Data

November also saw me make some changes to my cellphone plan. I’ve been tracking my usage for several months so I knew I didn’t need the unlimited data with my grandfathered plan. I’d been well under 2GB each month for my phone (including tethering) and iPad. And since tethered data wasn’t part of the “unlimited” I didn’t have much to lose by jumping to Verizon’s shared data plan.

So I ended up dropping my iPad plan and adding a 4G MiFi device. While the MiFi is one more thing to cary it’s fairly small and has a nice long battery life. I have the extended battery and it makes it through the day without me having to always turning it on and off. It’s not continuous usage, but it makes it through my real-life day once I turn it on, typically late morning. For bonus points I also ended up with a lower monthly bill.

My contract is up at the end of December so I’ll be elegible for an upgrade. I’ve been considering my next phone but at this point I’m leaning towards sticking with my iPhone 4S. I don’t see me gaining much with the iPhone 5. Plus the iPhone 5 would require accessory and cable replacements, just like a non-iPhone. I don’t have many, but it adds up. I’ve been looking at Windows 8 Phones but I’m not blown away. I haven’t liked what I’ve seen of the Microsoft eco-system (music, video, etc…) on the Windows RT. Even if I liked it, I’m not convinced they won’t kill it off like their previous attempts. To be fair, I try to avoid ecosystem lock-in of any type. Added to that is Microsoft’s treatment of Windows Phone 7 buyers which leaves me concerned. And to be fair here, I have the same concerns with Apple and Android has it’s own upgrade issues. The iPad 1 become un-upgradeable and obsolete awfully fast. And the iPad 4 came out rather soon after the iPad 3. I’ve decided to get off the automatic  upgrade train and simply wait until I actually need a new phone. At the very least I need a reason other than “new and shiny”.

December

December will probably be a slow month on the quest, with the holidays coming. Not to mention the push to get things done by year-end at my day job. I did order a Dell touch screen monitor, due to arrive any day now. Once this arrives I’ll upgrade to Windows 8. The monitor is a bit early and I haven’t decided how I want my Windows 8 PC set up. I’m considering a hard drive reconfiguration but I’m not sure how much effort I want to put into it.

The OS Quest Trail Log #77: Microsoft Rising

This trail log covers two months but despite that it’s still a bit short. The big event was the release of Windows 8 and my Microsoft Surface RT acquisition. And then there was a hurricane,

Photo of my Microsoft Surface RTThis trail log covers the last two months since September was too slow to justify a recap. But even in October, the bug news was at the end. Microsoft released Windows 8 to the world on October 26th. For me, the big news here was the release of Microsoft Surface RT. I jumped on the bandwagon and pre-ordered the 64GB version with the touch cover. We’re still in the honeymoon phase but I still like it. I forced myself to use it the first couple of days since change is never easy. But now I’m reaching for it by choice, I wrote about my first 24 hours on this site, but most of my Surface RT and Windows RT writing is on SurfaceGeeks.net along with great content and tips from others. Bottom line, annoying at times but I still use and like it.

I’ve been less eager for Windows 8 on my home PC. It’s not that I don’t like or want Windows 8. I’m surprised about how much I like it on Surface. But I think I’ll be happier running it on Windows 8 hardware such as a touchscreen. I’ll keep trying Windows 8 in a Virtual Machine, at least until the trial runs out. If I was buying a new PC I’d go with Windows 8, I’m just not convinced of the upgrade benefits.

Apple released iOS 6 in lates September and I upgraded both my iPhone 4S and iPad 3. It didn’t provide much of a noticeable change. I did have problems with wireless syncing but eventually came across a solution. Although I continue to have wireless problems with my iPad. It drops my 5 GHz connection every day or so although it eventually comes back. The 5 GHz band does have a shorter range but it was working OK before the iOS6 upgrade.

Even though I have a iPad 3 I wasn’t ticked off by the iPad 4 only 7 months later. My iPad 3 is unchanged and the iPad 4 was just a faster processor for me and hardware upgrades happen all the time. If I was outside the U.S. I would be ticked off if I was in a country that had newly installed LTE support in the iPad 4. The side effect of this is that if I don’t upgrade when a new iDevice is released I won’t buy one a few months later since it’s likely to be obsolete soon.

The iPad Mini was also a “meh” for me. Finally, a gadget I don’t have an urge to buy. Maybe after I touch one and the reality distortion field kicks in I might consider one when it’s time to replace my iPad. Although right now I think Microsoft Surface RT is my iPad replacement.

I updated What I Use before Windows 8 and the Surface RT release. It was time for an update and I wanted to get it on the record in case Windows 8 triggered additional changes. It didn’t, at least not beyond the Microsoft Surface RT.

Hurricane Sandy (or Superstorm Sandy) blew through the northeast a few days ago. For me it was just a minor inconvenance, unlike for many others. I have to compliment Linode. Despite my server being in their New Jersey data center, and their main offices being in New Jersey, there wasn’t any service interruption or drama around keeping the servers running, They lost phones for a while but still provided support through their ticket system (not that I needed it). Good job.

This wraps up this edition. Not much going on even though it was a two month recap.

The OS Quest Trail Log #76: What I Use – October 2012

It’s time to update what I use since my May posting is a bit outdated.. This covers the hardware and software I currently use. This includes Macs, Windows and Synology devices and their related software.

It’s been 5 months since I last wrote about what I use. Now’s a good time to recap what I currently use since I expect some big changes between now and the year end. Not much has changed with the  iPad apps I use so I’ve updated th original article. Changes are mainly removing apps I no longer use. Likewise, there haven’t been any changes with what keeps this website running other than version upgrades to keep things current. Now it’s time to update the big list. What I use in the home.

Servers/NAS

I continue to be addicted to servers and hard drives. I actually reduced the number of spinning drives from 28 drives spinning 24 X 7 down to fourteen. This doesn’t include a couple SSDs in a NAS.

Windows Home Server 2011

My WHS 2011 has been a solid, steady performer so there haven’t been any changes. My main home server is 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.

Synology NAS

There’s been some changes here. I have a Synology 1511+ NAS with two expansion bays. There are fifteen 3 TB Seagate Barracuda ST3000DM001 drives. I’ve done some digital cleanup so one of these expansion bays is kept powered off to save electricity. This NAS is dedicated to various backup functions. My WHS 2011 box backs up to it via an iSCSI drive. It serves as a Time Machine backup destination for my Macs. I also backup this web server to it using Rsync. Finally, it syncs files with my other Synology NAS as a backup for them.

I added a Synology DS212+ NAS back in late May. This has two mirrored (technically Synology Hybrid RAID) 256GB SSD drives in it. This is used as a file sharing and application server. I have an encrypted file share for personal file storage. This is basically anything that isn’t media or old file archives. I also have Synology CloudStation set up on it for syncing files among my devices. PhotoStation is also running as this NAS is now my primary photo storage location. I’ve also just begun testing Audio Station on it.

I still have my original Synology NAS, a DS212J NAS which has been relegated to testing and experimentation.

Small Business Server 2011 Essentials Windows Storage Server

I’ve retired my Western Digital DX4000 which had been running SBS 2011e Windows Storage Server 2008 R2

Desktop & Laptop Computers

No hardware changes here, just a OS upgrade on the Mac side to Mountain Lion.

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 10.8 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 10.8 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

No changes here since May, so to recap…

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

Things have been stable since May, so again, no changes here.

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. Back in May I was using Wakoopa to track my actual app usage, but that service has been shut down.

Productivity & Communication

I primarily use Google Apps for Domains for my email. I moved one account to Microsoft’s new Outlook.com. I no longer use Mailplane as my mail client, sticking to the web browser now that GAFD does a good job of handling multiple logons.

My primary browser is now Google Chrome. It’s back to being temperamental again so I’m spending more time back in Firefox. LastPass is still my choice 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 no longer use XMarks (or anything else) to sync bookmarks.

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

I moved from Office 2010 to the Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium Preview. I’ll probably subscribe when it goes to production although that depends on pricing.

Windows Live Mesh and Skydrive have been replaced by Synology CloudStation. Skydrive is still around but not used much. Dropbox is also used for those times it’s the only choice. Both my Skydrive and Dropbox accounts are the free subscriptions. I also have a Spideroak account (free subscription level) that I wanted 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 has switched from YNAB to Money Dance after a terrible upgrade experience. Money Dance also runs on Windows and OS X.

Backup & Security Software and Services

I use Amazon S3 for critical files. I pay a bit more than I did in May, just under $7/mth now with over 60GB on S3. 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.

Cloudberry and CrashPlan remain my backup solutions for Windows Home Server 2011. Cloudberry for local and critical files to Amazon S3 while CrashPlan is for bulk offsite backup.

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 stopped using iTunes Match shortly after signing up in May due to sync and other issues. 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 and even a few albums on sale through Google Play. I don’t use any cloud service for music beyond Amazon and Google for the music I’ve bought from them.

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.

I still organize Photos using a folder structure but I now store them on my Synology DS212+ NAS and use PhotoStation. Other photo management software can still access them since they are just files. I did upgrade to Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 but I’m still trying to get the hang of it. Acorn is still my primary editor.

I’ve been using Aperture for new photos I’ve been taking, I use a reference library that points to the photos on the NAS,

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.

 

The OS Quest Trail Log #75: End of Summer Edition

As summer comes to an official close with the labor day holiday, I recap the month of August.

Beach pictureThis Labor Day holiday marks the unofficial end of summer here in the U.S. August was another month of updates, but nothing truly new.

Upgrades

Amazon started off the month with updates to their consumer cloud offerings. They split the cloud music player off from their cloud file storage. With the exception of deals for exiting customers, the change resulted in a overall price increase for users of both services. Some of the special offers of free or added space also began to expire, requiring a new subscription. This results in some increased costs, depending on the deal you were previously on. I wonder how many people took the same approach as I did and cut back their subscription level.

I had problems with the first August update of the Music Uploader for Windows. I reported the problem and submitted logs. I received an email a couple days letting telling me their was a new version which should fix my problem. I never installed it. The Cloud Music Player just never struck a chord with me.

Amazon also announced their Glacier file archiving services. This caused a lot of speculation that backup services would begin to use it. I don’t think I’ll be joining that bandwagon. The pricing is complicated but seems targeted to archiving, rather than backups. It seems like a full restore could be fairly expensive. It also look like deleting files too soon after they’re added results in some added costs (in other words, a penalty charge). The files I would consider putting there are already stored with CrashPlan and I see no reason to move them somewhere else.

My favorite update of the month was Synology DSM 4.1 which was released as the month came to an end. I’d been using the beta since its release earlier this month, so I updated on the day of release. I like Photo Station and have moved to it as a photo organizer. I don’t use the online editors and I do wish I could open the files in a local editor. But I’m used to organizing my photos in a folder structure and don’t do a lot of editing so this hasn’t been a huge burden.

Another successful upgrade was OS X 10.8.1 which fixed my problem browsing for Windows (SMB) shares that appeared with the original Mountain Lion release.

Security

Security was in the news this month. Lessons learned included customer service is a weak link and backups are a lifesaver. I did a bit of security review and strengthened some older passwords. I’ve been using LastPass since soon after it appeared on the scene. I use it to generate complex, unique passwords for each site and save them  At the risk of jinxing things, I think I’m in pretty good shape.

As if to remind me, CrashPlan and Cloudberry backups stopped working recently but CrashPlan was nice enough to let me know it missed me after a couple of days and I was able to get things going again. Local backups were working during this time.

September

September promises to be the calm before the storm of new releases in October. While the bits are finalized, Windows 8 won’t see an official release until October, as will Windows Phone 8. Personally, I’m more curious and excited about Windows 8 RT. Curious is probably the better word. I think Windows RT is Microsoft’s vision of a future computer and Windows 8 Intel is a bridge to get there. I’m not sure I’ll like it, but I want to see and use it.

I’ve started a new website, with fountain pens as a topic. I’m still working on it so no link yet. I’ve taken a different approach. After working on a design for months I decided I needed constraints. I like working out the technical details, but it’s one rathole after another. All fun, but not getting closer to a working website. So I decided to build it on WordPress.com. I’m familiar with WordPress and can migrate it to this server in the future should I want to. But for now I only have to worry about content and a few design decisions. I’ll probably be spending most of my available time in that area, rather than technology projects, but we’ll see.

 

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?

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!