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

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.

 

Field Notes: Synology Photo Station 5

Image of Synolog DiskStation 212j

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

Uploading Files

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

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

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

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

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?

First Hour: Synology 4.1 Beta

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

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

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

Their entire update list is here along with the download.

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

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

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

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

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

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