The OSQuest Trail Log #65: October Blizzard Edition

Picture of trees covered with October SnowAnd mother nature keeps right on attacking, Not content to wait until, winter officially starts mother nature decided to hit Connecticut with some nice, heavy snow clinging to all the picturesque October foliage. Eventually bringing much of that foliage, and the limbs it was on, crashing to the ground and bringing along power lines for good measure. I lost power on Saturday and just got it back Thursday, with cable/internet following on Friday. So I went through gadget withdrawal for a few days. The picture above is from Saturday afternoon after a couple hours of snow and before the trees started coming down. Luckily the ones around me missed cars and buildings. While not everyone was so lucky, I was pretty suprised by how many downed trees there were that managed to find open areas rather than other nearby targets. But on the the tech…

The highlight of the month for me was my first podcast as a guest on the Home Server Show podcast.

New Software

I installed CrashPlan backup on Windows Home Server, taking advantage of a discount offering unlimited online backup for $42/year instead of the normal $49. The backups been working well although I’d been hoping to get a bunch up there in October since I had plenty of space left in my cap this month, The power outage ruined that. It’s uploaded just over 54GB with about 15GB in the queue that started uploading once the internet came alive. But it’ll be later in November before I add much more. I want to avoid having to throttle myself by using too much early on. I figure I can do about 100GB a month and stay under my cap but want to play it safe.

I moved from using Untangle as both a router and unified threat manager (UTM) to using pfSense as a router but leaving Untangle as the UTM. I’ve been happy with the results and was just beginning to dig into some of the features during the snow-shortened weekend. I’ve started digging into pfSense a bit, more poking around than R & D. I also plan to do some testing to see if a caching proxy will reduce the bandwidth I use. I figure I need to make sure it will cache software and patches in order to make a dent in the bandwidth I use. (The cache in Untangle didn’t actually serve much from it’s cache when I tested it.)

Updated Software

It seems like everything I use was upgraded. But the highlights were…

I put Lion on my desktop Mac Mini only to find my upgrade fear imposed delay was unwarranted. Everything worked find with only a minor Synergy frustration due to Lion’s new feature where mouse movement doesn’t wake it. I’ve no plans to put Lion on anything besides this Mini and my Air. The other Macs have no reason to upgrade or the upgrade will remove features I use.

iOS is also updated to iOS5 of course. Despite some frustrations I managed to get both my iPhone 4 and iPad 2 upgraded. I’ve experienced shorter battery life for sure although no where near as bad as some complaints I read. I tend to keep things turned off and I hadn’t enabled much of iCloud. I saw the worst performance the days I was home and had a wireless connection. Despite typical usage the battery drained far faster than when I was in the office with wireless on but no network to connect to. No scientific test but typical usage each day. By 5PM at home the battery would be around 20% while usually above 50% in the office. But I just read Apple has an update in beta that’s supposed to help.

Not really software, but Google Reader saw an update. I use Google Reader on my computers (with the account being used by iPad apps). The timing was bad, the update came as I was grabbing some battery powered 3G access during the blackout so the last thing I wanted was change. I’ve trying to avoid hating it just because it’s different. I didn’t use any of the discontinued features so no complaints there. But I found it easy to blow through a bunch of articles and star ones I want to read later. That’s become a problem. Ignoring the performance problems (very uneven scrolling) the star isn’t in the same place in every post. It’s now at the end of the title, rather than the first things. And speaking of the titles, while it has a clean look the article titles blend right in. Sure the star at the bottom of the post is always at the very left, but it’s hard to find and I star based on title. I’ll be looking for a new desktop reader and use my iPad more to check through the feeds.

Google+

While I still maintain my status as the last human not on Facebook, I finally broke down and joined Google+ when they enabled it for Google Apps users. It wasn’t much later that I lost power so I don’t have much to say about it yet. I did find the Google+ iOS app doesn’t like Google Apps users and tells me to go get an invite when I log on, but the web interface is fine from the iPhone.

iCloud

iCloud was making news and I moved my MobileMe account to iCloud. I wasn’t a big MobileMe user having been burned by Apple’s cloud services in the past. I think my problem with iCloud (beyond not trusting Apple to keep things running) will be that it requires users to dive into the deep end, accept the way it works, and don’t expect a lot of options. I gave photo stream a try. Problem was my camera fumbling uploaded more bad pictures than intended pictures. Not really an iCloud problem, but still a problem. But I have no doubt it will improve over time and I’ll be drawn into the iCloud.

Web Work

I spent some time with the plumbing of the website. I seems like I have a bunch of minor issues that I can’t seem to get to (or keep putting off). At least I was able to tackle a logrotate configuration change. I also changed my caching plugin back to WP-Supercache. I always liked the plugin but stopped using it after it broke due to an upgrade. It’s working again and I’m using it. I did make an errant mouse click and enabled compression which didn’t work (possibly because I have compression enable in Apache). Unfortunately it went unnoticed in my testing and I didn’t notice a problem until my views went way down.

My change to WP-Supercache seemed to cause another problem which went unnoticed until recently. It doesn’t seem to have been rampant, but it was frequent. I don’t quit understand the problem completely but I don’t think it was a WP-Supercache bug. In short my Adsense ads would often display a “Page Not Found” error in the frame for the ad. I set up the ads to only display ads to new visitors. View a few pages over the course of a couple months and the ads are supposed to go away. I think WP-Supercache would sometimes cache the “don’t display” page which would cause a problem when a new “display the ad” visitor arrived and the code ran to display the ad.

Home Networking

I had been hoping I had pfSense and dynamic DNS setup to handle IP address changes so I could remotely access multiple home servers using my own domain. Well, when I got my internet back today Comcast gave me a new IP address as I hoped. But alas, no update to DNS, So it’s time to do some more research. I’ll be tackling that this weekend. I’m hoping I just have a pfSense setting wrong. [Update: Got this working so hopefully a write-up soon.]

The Month Ahead

The only thing I really want to get done is getting those home servers set up with Dynamic DNS and pfSense. [Update: Rather easy fix so hopefully a write-up soon] After that I’ll see what catches my interest. I’m also hoping this past week isn’t a sample of what’s to come this winter.

Move MobileMe to iCloud

iCloud IconAfter upgrading my desktop Mac to Lion 10.7.2 and my iPhone and iPad to iOS 5 it was time to convert my MobileMe account to iCloud and see what all the excitement was about. I don’t use most of the MobileMe features and in fact the features I did use weren’t moved to iCloud so I had to make other arrangements, But once I was ready these were the steps to move to iCloud. I did have problems getting the iCloud move to work, but eventually had success.

Start iCloud from System Preferences

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The 10.7.2 install will automatically bring up the iCloud preferences pane. But since I skipped it then I started it through preferences.

Start the Move

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Start the move by clicking the “Move to iCloud” button. This will switch you to a browser page.

Start Again – This Time in the Browser

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Click the “Get Started” button (you may need to logon with your MobileMe account).

Calendar and Email Will Be Moved

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The first screen notifies about the e-mail and Calendar move.

Gallery, iDisk and iWeb Will Stay On MobileMe for Awhile

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I don’t use any of these three apps but they’ll go away on Jun 30, 2012.

Not Everything Will Be Available

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I don’t sync any of these items so their loss is not a concern to me.

Is Everything Ready?

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I’ve already upgraded my desktop Mac and MacBook Air to Lion 10.7.2. My iPhone and iPad are on iOS 5, so I’m ready to upgrade. I check the confimation box then click Nect.

Confirm At Least Once Device Is Up To Date

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I don’t sync bookmarks through MobileMe but my contacts are up to date on both Macs that use MobileMe.

Confirm There’s a Backup

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I did a backup before beginning so I’m ready to go.

Agree to the Legal term

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Oops – Apple Is Busy

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This was a frequent message throughout the first day. I start from the beginning each time. Finally I had…

Success!

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The messages popped up on my computers, iPhone and iPad so I acknowledged it and verified the iCloud settings in preferences. I didn’t have to change anything,

Once everything is moved performance seems fine, although I sync very little with iCloud and I’m hesitant to enable more just yet.

iOS 5 and iCloud – Day 1

Try Again Message from iCloudI’ve had iOS 5 on my iPhone and iPad 2 for just about a day now. Along with these I’ve had two Macs on Lion 10.7.2 ready to see what iCloud is all about. I did have a couple issues with the iOS 5 upgrades and I still have an older iPad 1 that hasn’t been able to upgrade yet. I’m not overly anxious with that last iPad upgrade so I give it a try every few hours or so if I’m by my desk. But I’ve been completely unable to move my MobileMe account to iCloud, with the message in that earlier image being the end result when I run through the move wizard. If I actually needed MobileMe/iCloud I’d give up trying to do the move since this would probably be just the beginning of the problems.

Likes, Dislikes and Frustrations With iOS 5

By far my biggest like with iOS 5 is wireless syncing. I had read that the iPhone (or iPad) had to be plugged in to power which would be a hassle and the iPhone screen themselves imply this. Except the word “Automatically” is key. It requires power to sync automatically but can be synced manually anytime. I do have a dock for each on the night stand so do expect the morning sync to be slightly easier, saving a trip to the desk. I’ve found the wireless sync to be fast enough (I have 802.11N wireless). At this point there hasn’t been a backup done over wireless but I’m assuming it’s because the time for the next backup hasn’t rolled around yet as the last one was less than 24 hours ago.

One frustration was the re-organization of my app icons on the devices. Some of this may have been due to the Reminders and Newstand apps being added to the home screen, which was already full for me, I’ve read that others have had apps or folders removed completely but I didn’t experience any of that. (Or the app was used so infrequently that I didn’t notice). It was easy enough to fix, but still annoying.

Related to the moved icons I found that using iTunes to rearrange icons using the wireless connection was painfully slow and I gave up. As was scrolling through the app list to check and uncheck ones to install. I ended up doing this on the device itself, although connecting to USB would have been fine I’m sure.

I like the new notification drop down so I may actually turn notifications on for more apps. It’s taken from Android but it’s one of the features I missed from my Android days so I’ve no complaints.

It’s probably a frustration caused by iTunes and not iOS 5, but several of my smart playlists contain names of podcasts long deleted. They matched at the time but they don’t exist either on disk or in the podcast section. The main problem here is dead links in the playlists and sync errors since the files aren’t found. I had to delete the playlists.

On the other hand, one podcast related frustration was turned into a like with iOS 5. Previously the iPad did not sync playlists where the contents are podcasts. The playlists were there and the podcasts were there, but the playlists were empty.

One dislike is that the playlist display on the iPad shows album covers. In my case at least, the album covers provide little visual clue as the the playlist contents so I’d prefer the list names only, sorted alphabetically. I’ve yet to find a way to change this.

Frustration with iCloud and Apple Servers

Passed on Apple’s track record with “the cloud” I feared the worst. So I consider it a positive that they didn’t seem to break MobileMe.I don’t give Apple any slack for “unexpected demand” or launch bugs. This is the third cloud service I’ve used from Apple and all have had problems. I had no problem downloading the iOS 5 upgrade files themselves from Apple. It was only when the upgrade tried to communicate back to the mothership that I had problems. This is all before a couple million new iPhones hit the streets. It’ll be a long time before I trust Apple with any sort of cloud service. I’ll use it for convenience, but I’ll avoid having to rely on it always being there. Once they get this sorted out they’ll still have to prove they can do upgrades and enhancements without bringing the system down.

It may be a cute marketing ploy, but bringing down the Apple store every time there’s an update could be viewed as a inability to handle updating a live web service. Hopefully iCloud will prove this wrong, but it’s not looking good so far.

Wrapping Up

I’ve yet to be able to try iCloud and the trouble getting going doesn’t inspire confidence. So far my one liner is “lot’s of promise, little delivered”. No doubt iCloud will grow and get better I just hope it won’t be too painful. Anyone else using iCloud yet? What’s your favorite iOS feature?

Updates All Around

 

Guy surrounded by techIt seems like ever computer or computer-like device I have received significant updates in the past couple of days. The 8 security updates for my Windows 7 PCs and VMs were the least time-consuming updates, much to my surprise. Apple released iOS 5 today so the last couple of days have seen related updates from apps to operating systems. Let’s not forget all those iPhone/iPad apps that have been updated in the last few days. With new iPhones arriving on Friday (or before) I figured I better work on upgrading my phone as soon as possible, or wait a week. All this motivated to me finally upgrade my desktop Mac Mini to Lion.

Mac Mini To Lion

I’ll start with the quick and easy upgrade. My MacBook Air is already running Lion so I knew all the apps that mattered would work. I did allow time to get Synergy working again as I figured it would break. It kept right on working and Synergy was sharing my mouse/keyboard between my desktops – Mac Mini and Windows 7 PC. I installed Lion from the DMG file I extracted from my original Lion install rather than from the App Store.

The Lion install downgraded iTunes so I wouldn’t open after Lion was installed. I got an error that the library was an older version. Running software update allowed me to install the latest iTunes. It also presented the latest Lion update 10.7.2 which required a reboot. Once I installed those I was all set.

The iCloud configuration was presented after the 10.7.2 install but I ignored it for now since I wasn’t ready to tackle moving from MobileMe,

iPhone Upgrade to iOS 5

The upgrade to iOS 5 on my iPhone was more problematic. The upgrade sounded scary and complicated – a backup and restore that could take an hour or more according to the dialogs. The “upgrade” seemed more like a complete wipe and re-install as it included a backup and restore.

I upgraded shortly after I saw it was available (about 1PM ET) and received a “internal error” just before the restore part of the installation. The error implied old software or a security setting as the cause, but I suspected it was overloaded Apple servers. My software was already up to date so I removed backup encryption (since the error was just before the restore phase) and removed the passcode from the iPhone. It failed again one more time but then worked. At least it didn’t do the download each time but used the cache copy. Once the upgrade started it took just under 90 minutes to finish, including a very long sync after the restore.

iPad2 Upgrade to iOS 5

I tried the iPad 2 upgrade after the phone finished. I received a different error, but again right before the restore. Right after the progress message that it’s verifying the restore with Apple I received the error that the update server could not be contacted. By this time I’d seen enough blog posts and tweets to know it was in fact an Apple server load issue so I didn’t bother trying again. This is where I upgraded the Mac Mini to Lion, since it’s also my iTunes computer I wouldn’t be compelled to waste time trying the iPad upgrade.

I tried the upgrade several hours later and it went right through but also taking about 90 minutes. Although it seemed to be the luck of the draw as a second iPad upgrade after this failed with the same error.

Preparing For iCloud

All these updates were to enable iCloud in the Apple world. Despite that I’ve yet to enable iCloud on anything, First off, I have little confidence that the iCloud introduction will be problem free. Apple’s history with MobileMe and .Mac does little to inspire confidence, although the optimist would say they learned from their mistakes. I don’t use MobileMe for much, but what I do use it for doesn’t get migrated to iCloud. Namely syncing Transmit favorites, Text Expander snippets and OmniFocus data.

OmniFocus has their own sync service, OmniSync, which is in beta. I had used it months ago and had problems and OmniFocus syncing became my main driver for getting MobileMe. Despite this I decided to move back to it, mainly because I knew I had regular and reliable OmniFocus backups. This was actually more problematic than I thought. First off, I synced all my devices so they all had the same data. Then when I setup my first Mac to sync with OmniSync it failed silently so it was time to troubleshoot.

I went out to the OmniSync website and changed the password. The Mac setup didn’t prompt for a password so I though it might be wrong. I also deleted the registered devices (which hadn’t synced in months).This time it did prompt for the password and then it told me it was going to replace everything on the Mac with the server data – not at all what I wanted. I thought this might be a bad message so did a backup then did the sync. Yup, all my data was replaced with the really old data, So it was time for a restore. Then within the OmniFocus for Mac menu I found “File -> Replace Server Database” and that did the trick, uploading my data. For the other Macs and devices I let the server data update OmniFocus. Interestingly, the iPhone and iPad prompted to ask whether I wanted to use the local or server data, while the Mac software just takes the server data.

As for transmit and Text Expander I decided to go with Dropbox since both supported using it. I had cancelled Dropbox awhile back but signed back up for the free 2GB account. I don’t plan to expand my Dropbox usage, but for now this seems to be the best solution. The setup was simple enough as both apps have settings for Dropbox syncing, no hacking required.

Conclusion

It took about 8 hours (including breaks), but I got all my iDevices upgraded to iOS 5 and got my desktop Mac Mini up to Lion. Now that everything is upgraded I can finally start looking at what all these updates bring me. First off I’ll enable iCloud. While I don’t trust it will be smooth, I don’t have anything critical that will depend upon it. There’s still one older iPad left to upgrade but there’s no hurry and I’ll try again once things settle down.

Anyone actually using the new features? Is it going to be worth the trouble?