Categories
Mac OS X

Maestro Monday: Backup OS X Contacts

This week’s Maestro macro is entirely self-contained, no Apple Script or external utilities needed. The macro exports the OS X Contact list (aka Address Book) to a file that can be imported later if it’s needed. The two restrictions are that the screen cannot be locked when the script runs and it can only be run once per day. The macro runs on Mavericks, it may need to be changed for earlier versions (for example, when “Contacts” was called “Address Book”).

I set this macro to be triggered only from the status menu. I have a regular weekly backup routine and run it at that time. While I prefer automated backup solutions, having to be at the computer to trigger isn’t a problem in this case. My weekly routing includes making sure the backups ran OK and this one runs so quickly it adds almost no time to how long it would take to verify the backup. Plus if I make a lot of changes I can easily do an immediate backup.

This script is one of the longer ones when measured by screen real estate. The process is straight-forward: Start contacts if needed, export the contacts using the export menu, change the location to where I want it and save the file, then quit contacts. There are some pauses in there to give the app time to respond.

The export command automatically includes the date in the file name so the file will have a unique name every day. If the macro is run twice in one day it will break. It will prompt to replace the file and the remaining shutdown command will be lost. This hasn’t been a problem for me so I haven’t taken the time to create a workaround.

Screen capture of macro to backup OS X contacts

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Mac OS X

Maestro Monday: Unmount Backup Drive

Last week I shared my macro for automatically mounting drives. This one also deals with drives but this time is to unmount (disconnect them).

I use SuperDuper! to clone my drives to an external USB drive as a bootable backup. SuperDuper! can schedule a backup to occur when a drive is connected to the Mac. But this leaves the USB drive mounted when the backup finishes. I wanted to completely automate the process so all I had to do was connect the USB drive to start and disconnect it when it was done.

To do this SuperDuper! must be configured to quit when the backup is done.

Screenshot of SuperDuper settings

A short Apple Script is also needed for this and will be the following script with “BackupDrive” replaced with the external drive name as it appears in the Finder sidebar.

tell application "Finder"
    activate
    eject "BackupDrive"
end tell

I have one script that covers all my Macs and all the external drives I use for backups. The script unmounts any drives it find mounted when SuperDuper quits.

Here’s the Keyboard Maestro script.

The Keyboard Maestro script

 

Categories
Mac OS X

Maestro Monday: (Re)Mount Drives

Keyboard Maestro is fairly new to me but I’ve already put it to good use. One annoyance I had is having to remount server drives. Sure, I could automatically mount them at login but the connection could be lost, such as when the server rebooted. Enter Keyboard Maestro. I have a script that runs when I logon, when I select it from the menu, and every hour if I’m logged on.

A small bit of Apple Script is needed to actually mount (connect to) the drives. The address for the drive is also needed. I use SMB for the connections rather than AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) but the procedure for getting the connection string is the same, it will just look different than the screenshots. The screenshots are from OS X 10.9.2 Mavericks and Keyboard Maestro 6.4.1. It doesn’t really matter, but my “Server” drives are on a Windows Home Server 2011 box and a Synology NAS.

To get the connection mount the drive manually then do a “Get Info” in Finder. Get the “Server” information under general information.

Since the Apple Script does the real work I could use other utilities or schedulers. But Keyboard Maestro seems like a good place to centralize this and it makes it easy to create the logic.

screenshot of the Get Info screen for the drive

The snippet of Apple Script is shown below along with the info from above:

tell application "Finder"
    try
        mount volume "smb://user@osqwhs02/Archive"
    end try
    
end tell

Note that the user name has to be added to the mount volume command as shown by user@ in the above example. My password is saved in the Mac’s keychain otherwise it would need to be included in the Apple Script.

All this gets put together in a Keyboard Maestro macro:

Keyboard Maestro macro to mount drives

The macro checks to see if the drive is mounted and if it is not then it runs the Apple Script.

 

 

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

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

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.

Categories
OS Quest Trail Log

OS Quest Trail Log #80: Long Overdue Edition

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.

Categories
OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #79: Year End Edition

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!

Categories
OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #78: Late Edition

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.

Categories
OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #77: Microsoft Rising

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.

Categories
Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Surface RT: Day 1

Screen capture of Windows RT Start Screen
The Windows RT Start screen with the settings open

FedEx brought my Microsoft Surface RT to me about 10:30 Friday morning. My first day with a new gadget is generally one of exploration, installing, re-installing. Following a winding path since I don’t have a plan going in. This recaps my first day with my 64GB Microsoft Surface RT with Touch Cover.

I come to the Surface as an iPad user since the first iPad. The Microsoft Surface RT is the first device I’ve come cross that I thought could replace the iPad for me. Not only do I anticipate an iPad replacement, I expect to use it even more than my iPad. While I’m a long time tablet user, I had less than an hour hands on time with Windows 8 and the Surface is my only Windows 8 computer.

The Hardware

As other reviewers have said, the hardware is first rate and solid. It’s clear that the Surface is designed for “Landscape mode first”. So far it has been the primary orientation I’ve used it in. I like the aspect ratio, despite being more familiar with the iPad’s.

Others have complained that the magnetic power adapter is finicky but mine has been fine. It snaps in solid without me having to look at the port of fiddle with it. It’s not as easy as my Macbook Air MagSafe adapter. But if I hadn’t used the MB Air I’d think it was just fine. Although that may change with time. But the bad part is the wall wart for the electrical outlet. It blocks a second plug. These days a slim one-outlet plug should be standard for a device with this quality (not to mention price).

As I mentioned, I have the 64GB model. Out of the box it had 46.16GB free and once all the waiting updates were applied there was 43.9 GB free. This is less than I expected since I had heard that the 32GB model had about 20GB free. So I expected over 50GB free. I did use an existing Microsoft Account so it may have synced things like Mail and SkyDrive, but those are tiny.

Having a USB port is sweet, despite being USB 2. Besides the obvious USB memory stick I’ve also used a USB keyboard, a Logitech Wireless Mouse w/USB transmitter, a USB to SDHC adapter and several USB drives. Add the microSD port and the 64GB may have been unnecessary. I got it because it matched my 64GB iPad, which is consistently using more than 32GB.

I’ve heard that the speakers are quiet. While I wouldn’t call them loud, they are loud enough for me and louder than the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire (original model). My iPhone 4S and iPad 3 do seem a bit louder but I like the Surface a bit better for music. But let’s face it, for music on any of these devices I’ll use headphones or a Bluetooth speaker if at all possible.  But sitting here listening to streaming music through the speakers is pleasing. The speakers have been fine when I watched video.

Microsoft has made a big deal out of the keyboard. And I think it justified, I’m not a touch typist and I’m already prone to typos, but I’m doing OK with it and I’m getting more used to it. This article is the first real writing I’ve done with the Surface, and yup, this is being written in Word on the Surface using the Touch keyboard. The one potential keyboard issue is that it sometimes ignores the first character after I’ve been paused. It also seems to skip some keys even though the “key tapped” sound is made. But that might still be me or something else, it doesn’t happen very often.

I’ve also had occasional issues switching between the screen keyboard and physical touch keyboard. While the switch to the glass keyboard is fine, the switch back often fails to see the Touch keyboard until I remove and re-attach it. Let’s face it, this won’t be a common occurrence and happened mainly because I was moving the Surface around and changing its orientation while getting to know it.

The trackpad on the Touch keyboard has been a roadblock for me. It’s rather small and I’m having more trouble with it than the keyboard. For now I have a Bluetooth Microsoft Wedge Mouse attached or use the touch screen. I find I use the touchscreen more than I expected even when the Surface RT is in a laptop configuration.

The screen is great. I love it. I won’t argue that it’s better than a retina display and I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison. But the text on my Surface is crisp and the video has been great. I’m not a pixel-peeper and the screen width and available USB and microSD ports make any unnoticed deficiency worth it. I will admit I will never do a side by side comparison because if I see that the iPad is better to my own yes it will bug me. For now I’m happy knowing I like the Microsoft Surface RT screen and don’t notice any degradation when coming back from my iPad.

The Software

Screenshot of Wireless Networks
I have neighbors

This is the biggest area of criticism, namely the lack of apps and the inability to use legacy Windows Apps. Everything has to be written with Windows RT in mind and has to be distributed through the Windows Store. I knew this going in and I’m not expecting to replace my iPad apps on a one-to-one basis. It’s functionality I’m after. So how functional is it? I go back and forth. I’m having a hard time replicating, old functionality or process in some cases. But if I ignore that and look at achieving the goal things are better.

I suspect I would have the same issues with Windows 8 on Intel if I tried the same apps. But on Intel I’d have more work arounds and available apps.

For example, at a family gathering on Sunday I’d bring my iPad for sharing pictures taken there and for sharing pictures that are back on my NAS at home. That’s not quite possible with the Surface but I can still achieve the goal of sharing the pictures and improve on it. With the iPad I’d use the camera connection kit to get photos to the iPad for viewing and I’d do some posting or email sharing.

The surface will work like this:

  • • I’ll have to copy the photo that I want to share from my NAS to the surface for viewing in the photo app. I haven’t been able to get the photo app to see them even after adding the share to the library. I can also copy them to a USB stick. Not my preferred solution, but OK until I work things out. And the rest makes it all worth it.
  • • A USB to SD card adapter will get the photos from, my camera to the Surface. Also anybody else’s camera that uses an SD card.
  • • But new this time will be a USB to Compact Flash adapter. It didn’t work with the iPad but does work with the Surface. So if anyone still has compact flash they aren’t left out.
  • • I’ve been able to upload files to my Photo Station through the web interface but that is cumbersome. I’ll create the album in advance so I can give people the links and then upload the pictures when I get home. I might get this worked out before the gathering,

I have enough confidence that I’ll be leaving the iPad home.

I did struggle for a while trying to get the Synology Photo Station directories into the Metro Photo app. They are visible in the photo library on the desktop side, but not in the metro app. I’ve given up on that for now so I could move on to other fun. I’m having similar issues with the Metro Music App.

I quickly learned to swipe down from the top and up from the bottom since that’s where the application menus typically are. The settings menu is also context aware when opened with an app active. I also quickly learned to push to select. The UI for the apps are different but logical. So far it’s been easy to find features, unlike some iOS apps which have their own unique UI.

Office is a huge plus for me. There’s no Outlook but that’s OK with me, I’m not a fan. Access would have been nice but too much to ask for. I do use a simple Database on my iPad but didn’t see anything in the app store so it’s still a gap. Excel works for the really simply cases but it’s not enough.

I did download the usual suspects for apps – Kindle, Netflix, Evernote and Remote Desktop but I haven’t explored any of them up yet. Remote Desktop is already on the Surface but as a desktop app, this was a Metro app.

Music – Unfortunately, much of my local music was in unsupported lossless formats. It’s also a bit disorganized as I trying various options to break free of iTunes. Xbox Music had no problem streaming from their service and the Smart DJ did a nice job. But like Photos, the Metro music app had a problem with my Synology NAS based music but the desktop side of things works fines with the NAS files.

Video – So far I’ve only played video from local USB and MicroSD drives. It looked great. They were videos ripped by Handbrake using the “High Profile” defaults. These settings work in all my devices (except the occasional problem on my DVD player). I’m happy to see they play just fine on Surface and I won’t have to re-encode them.

Other Stuff

I was able to set up VPN to my Synology NAS so I’ll be able to use public wi-fi a little more securely. Up until now I’d been using IPSec to VPN into my pfSense router. But I ran into problem with Windows RT. There’s no IPSec client and the other options aren’t support by pfSense. So I enable the PPYP VPN server a=on Synology and I’m able to use that. PPTP isn’t the best choice for security but it should be good enough for me. One drawback of Windows RT is the inability to add 3rd party VPN clients, at least at this time.

I wish there was broadband wireless which I have with my iPad but for now I’ll tether.

Wrapping Up

I was a little depressed when I couldn’t get the Synology photo shares into the photo library. It was especially frustrating that it worked on the desktop side and seemed like it should work on the Metro side. But things looked up when I realized all the additional benefits surface brought to my photo management. I was back to being stoked as I wrapped up my first day with Surface.

I haven’t had any performance issues, but to be honest the most intense thing I did was play video. I did play music and video while editing a document and didn’t have any hiccups. But to be honest I didn’t do that more than a couple minutes as music and video at the same time is very annoying.

What’s your surface experience?

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

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

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.