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OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #69: Irish Cheer Edition

Leprechaun with a beerWinter was so mild it was hard to notice the recent arrival of spring. But the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration served as a spring early warning. February was a slow month on the quest so there wasn’t a Trail Log last month, but things picked up a bit in March. The biggest change (well, arguably) was the new iPad. But I figure you’re as tired of hearing about it as I am so I’ll save that update until the end.

A Little Less iTunes

I recently looked at Instacast and Downcast as podcast apps for my iPhone and iPad. Both were good enough to get me off iTunes for podcasts. A long overdue event. Both are still on my iPhone and iPad although I’m going with Downcast as my first choice.

I also switched over to iCloud for my iDevice backups instead of my Mac. I’d stuck to Mac for backups for two reasons: security and time machine. I’d been saved once by being able to go back to an older iPad backup saved by Time Machine. But when I got my new iPad I rebuilt it from scratch, no restore. That rebuild took longer than the restore, but not by much and not for the important stuff. As for security, I recently realized I could exclude some app data which alleviated my security concerns. And not backing up that data isn’t a problem since that particular data exists elsewhere and syncs to the iPhone.

All that’s left for iTunes is my music management. These days that means I won’t use it very much. Synology has an iTunes services for music and video management. I haven’t used it yet and third party apps that emulate iTunes don’t appeal to me since I figure it’s only a matter of time before an Apple change breaks something, Plus, music management is the only thing I still do with iTunes.

Software Upgrades

Synology Disk Station Manager 4 left beta and saw a production release. I was already running the beta so the upgrade was a non-event. I didn’t notice a difference in the relatively small subset of features I use.

CrashPlan saw a minor upgrade. It’s been set it and forget it on my Windows Home Server 2011 so again,  no noticeable change for ne,

Picasa (on Windows) had another upgrade or two the last couple months, They usually go quickly without a hitch. But the latest one caused me problems. Picasa wouldn’t start after the upgrade so I had to uninstall and reinstall. It saved the setting (database) so everything was fine after the installation.

There was the typical stream of software upgrades but other than Picasa they were all uneventful.

Home Cloud

I had an email asking me if I had found a way to route my internal network based on target URL rather than just the port. (Layer 7 routing or deep packet inspection). I haven’t found anything suitable for a home (meaning free or low cost). This has made me go down a different path. I’ve been finishing up testing IPSec VPN into my home. This gives me the connectivity I need for myself as if I was local. And it’s secure.

That doesn’t work for public or family access that I want to keep simple. But that access is pretty simple and really only one web device (port 80/443) so there’s really no concern. Synology has some ability to target different Synology NAS’s from outside my home network so I’ve started looking at that.

iPad

OK, now for the iPad mention. The more I’ve used my iPad the more I’ve liked the screen. Since the text is sharper it’s been easier to read. I still prefer an e-ink Kindle for longer reader sessions when it’s just text. But the iPad is clearly the best LCD screen I’ve used for reading.

I guess this year’s internet kerfuffle for the iPad was the heat issue. As I mentioned in my initial review:

The iPad 2 never got warm for me. The new iPad has gotten warm enough to notice. It’s not hot, but there was a temperature increase while watching video and after extended use. Never happened on the iPad 2.

Compared the the iPad  2 which never seemed to get above room temperature the new iPad got warm, but never too warm to touch or anywhere near hat I would call hot. Maybe some sort of event trifecta would cause more problems or maybe there’s some bad iPads out there. But from my experience it’s a non-issue. I can’t remember the last time I had a laptop that wasn’t hotter.

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OS Quest Trail Log

The OS Quest Trail Log #66: Slow Month Edition

Image of a giy coming out of a computer screenIt was another slow month on the quest as real life tended to intrude and some best laid plans went bad.

Home Cloud

I had been working on setting up remote access to multiple servers through pfSense and thought I had things worked out. I’d even posted the introductory article. Then two things happened. First, a IP address change for my cable modem didn’t make it’s way to updating DNS. My previous testing had been to force an address change which required restarting the modem and changing its spoofed mac address. So in other words, a hardware reset and configuration change. This time the routing ip address change was detected, but failed to make it’s way to the DNS records. So I made some config changes but will have to wait until Comcast changes my IP again so I can see if it helps.

The second item was a comment by Jared that turned on a light bulb. He mentioned about using layer 7 for the routing which is something pfSense can’t do. But, I also have Untangle and had used it as a router in the past. The light bulb went off because Untangle works on Layer 7 so should be able to route based upon the destination address. So I’ll be looking at switching back the Untangle again if it can doe this without having to do port mapping which will greatly simplify things.

This is one of those times I wished I had built the router on a VM and could just fire up different virtual machines for testing. But the MicroServers are the next best thing since I can just swap out hard drives for my testing purposed and not lose the old configuration.

Further complicating things was the death of my version 1 Windows Home Server. It wasn’t unexpected and in fact the server had been replaced, just not stripped for parts. The problem presents as a bad hard drive but if history repeats itself it will be another bad sata port on the motherboard. Not worth fixing so it’s time to yank the drives and reuse them. I’ll build another WHS V1 as a virtual machine for my testing purposes.

CrashPlan Backup Status

CrashPlan ran into it’s first hiccups this month. There was a day long network outage back on Nov 14th. In my case CrashPlan said it couldn’t connect long after they posted the issue was resolved. I went in and manually told it to connect and it immediately started backing up again.

I had a second issue where at exactly 1AM (my time) the backup stopped and CrashPlan wouldn’t connect. But this time I could connect to my account over the web so it wasn’t the same type of problem as before. A quick search of the CrashPlan website revealed and old technote on this problem with the solution being to restart the CrashPlan server or the entire PC. I opted for a server reboot and that did resolve the problem.

Since those outages I’ve also noticed that the top upload speed I see is generally slower. In the past I would frequently see it nearing it’s 2 Mbps upload ceiling (that I configured) where as now it hovers around 1 Mbps.  There could be any of a dozen other things affecting this speed but I do see speeds greater than 2 Mbps up when I test other transfers (like a file to my web server).

I haven’t soured on CrashPlan. It’s a low cost service $42/yr (after a discount) for unlimited backup. Test restores worked fine after these outages so it does appear this was a network problem and not a problem affecting data.

As for what’s backed up I’ve been hindered more by Comcast’s data caps than CrashPlan’s capacity. I’ve backed up 178.4 GB consisting of 231,297 files. At this point I’m trying to decide what else I want to back up, There’s no point in backing up my movies as they are so large it could take me years to back them up and stay below my cap. And if I ever had to restore them doing so online would also take years and I probably wouldn’t want to pay to have the hard drives shipped. Any sort of backup to a friends computer would have the same data cap issue so while that’s a nice feature the CrashPlan online solution seems more reliable, despite recent problems.

Holiday Tech Deals

I pretty much avoided any Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. I didn’t see much that I wanted or see anything I knew was a good deal (as opposed to the merchant just promoting it as a good deal) and I could use. The one exception was a NewEgg deal for the HP MicroServer. At $250 it was a good deal and while I don’t need a sixth for my collection it was tempting. By the time I talked myself into taking a look at it they were sold out.

I did buy some discounted iTunes gift cards from Apple and Best Buy. I use them instead of a credit card both for safety and as a way to budget my expenses in an environment where it’s much too easy to buy things.

I do suspect we’ll see additional deals between now and Christmas so I’ll keep checking. Anyone see a good deal they’d recommend?

Domain Price Increases

If you own any domains be aware that the registry fee Verisign charges for .com domains will go up 51 cents (5%) and .net domains will go up 46 cents (10%) on January 15th. The increase is not retroactive so you can extend your registration at the current prices before that time. Whether your registrar increases their prices and by how much is up to them and can vary. I’m sure some will bump their prices by the percentage rather than the actual increase. You can register .com and .net domains for up to 10 years into the future and I’ve done that for this domain along with a couple others I know I’ll want to keep.

The Month Ahead

With the December holidays things are likely to be busy in the non-tech parts of life but I do have some vacation days during December which may make up for that lost time. I’ll be giving Untangle another try as a router to see if it can better handle the remote access. Beyond that we’ll see what pops up and catches my attention.