Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lenovo Superfish Fiasco

So I have a Lenovo Miix that happens to fall under the time period of the Superfish security bug. I just checked and I'm free and clear. This is why I hate bloatware. Unfortunately, this problem really soiled Lenovo's reputation.

If you have a Lenovo and want to check your machine, there are some online sites that check your SSL for the man-in-the-middle hijack attack.
Here is a good tester:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

QNAP TS-120 and TS-212P NAS review

OK, I haven't been blogging for a while. I've been just busy. However, today, I am going to resume and post about two QNAP NASes I've been using for the past 2 months. The 2 Bay QNAP TS-212P (pictured above left) and the single bay TS-120. I'm not going to go into a full review. I'm just going to jot my thoughts on using these two devices.

Now for a bit of a background. As many of my old readers know, I am a fan of home-grown systems; using FreeNAS and re-purposing Pogo Plug devices. Well, for the past year, my FreeNAS box has been at the office. At home, I'm a bit more energy conscious. I've been using various spare Linux boxes to act as SAMBA and TimeMachine shares. I've also used a few Pogo Plug in stock and ArchLinux form. However, my TimeMachine (TM) backups have been a bit flakey. Every other two or three weeks, I would get a corrupted TM image and would have to re-start. Furthermore, I had two pogoplugs fail on me. So when the QNAP went on sale during Christmas, I figure I'd give it a try.

I got the TS-120 for around $80 and the 2 bay TS-212p for $110. They are similar yet different. Both have Marvell 1.6 ghz CPUs with 512MB RAM. Both have a single USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports. Power consumption is very similar at 12/13 watts (5/6 watts sleep). The key difference is the single bay TS-120 has an eSATA connector. According to QNAP, the TS-120 is middle end and the TS-212p dual bay is an entry level model.

In terms of storage, I slapped a 3TB Seagate on the TS-120 and two 4TB Hitachis on the TS-212p. The TS-212p is running in a RAID mirror for redundancy. Both are similar in performance and capabilities.

Installation is straightforward. Screw in some drives, boot, update the firmware and access everything via a web base interface.

So what do I like about them? They're very much plug-n-play and zero hassle. It is kind of refreshing.
The browser interface acts like a pseudo operating system. In fact, QNAP does call it an OS. QTS 4.0. For a browser interface, it works surprisingly well within the limitations of HTML. You can drag-n-drop files and overal UI is well done for an HTML app. In fact, this works well with Chromebooks.

In addition, QNAP makes some fairly competent iOS and Android client apps to access the NAS.
Importantly, QNAP has a good repository of add-on applications.

You can install apps such as Squid Proxy server, WordPress, Node.js, Python, Plex, an USB web cam, etc. Pretty much, your useful standard open-source applications. Hence, you can turn your NAS into a variety of appliances from downloading bit-torrents, serving DLNA media, to a CMS application server. The capabilities are limited to the computing power of the specific QNAP device you are using. For example, I have Plex installed but neither devices are suitable for real-time transcoding. They serve h.264 MP4 media just fine to my iOS and Android devices but for 1080p MKVs, you'll want to look at the more advance QNAP models.

My needs are pretty simple. I wanted a simple TimeMachine box in addition to storing MP4 media files that I don't want running on the family Plex server.

For these two use cases, the QNAP boxes were fantastic. I even installed the CloudLink add-on which allows you to remotely access your NAS from the outside. Again, it was plug-n-play. There was no need to set-up port forwarding. The Cloud Link creates a tunnel link that allows you to access your NAS via Web browser or a mobile app. Sure, I had this before with ad-hoc set-ups using Pogos and open source cloud tools like OWNcloud/PyDIO. However, none of those solutions worked well. The iOS and Android app has one simple thing I like and that is searching. 

Something so simple yet profoundly compelling. Sure, connecting to a file server is trivial using CIF/SAMBA apps but the ability to search the file-system easily wasn't there. For example, open up ES File Explorer on my Android phone, mount a Samba mount, and I'd always have to browse folders; looking for what I needed. I normally, over-think things but this simple feature is a good reason for me to use QNAP.

There are some handy apps I want to mention real quick. You can set-up an Amazon S3/Glacier rsync. You can even rsync your Google Drive to a path on the NAS. The replication and synchronization tools are pretty good. I was able to set-up an schedule RSYNC to my FreeNAS box and it worked effortlessly. Thus, whatever is copied to my single bay QNAP, a duplicate copy is made in the background to my "real file server." You can even set-up one-touch USB drive copies. If you have an external USB drive, the NAS can easily synchronize to it whenever it is connected to its USB ports.

In terms of performance, it depends on your drives and network. I have a gigabit network and in comparison to my FreeNAS box, the QNAP was considerable slower with mix performances. The Seagate single bay TS-120 was pretty slow in terms of network copies in both AFP/SAMBA.

TS-120 Single Drive Seagate ST3000 3TB drive.

TS-212P w/ Mirror Hitachi 4TB drives

Overall, I'm not really expecting much in terms of performance. These are entry-tier devices. For Time Machine backups and accessing via my iPad, the performance is fine. However, I am genuinely curious about some of their small business models. I am seriously thinking about testing the soho models at my work for TimeMachine backups and RSYNC replication. I'm also seriously thinking about evaluating these for iSCSI vSphere application. 


I like these devices. I really like the simplicity and ease-of-use. After a full week of work, I don't really want to think about tinkering around anymore on the weekends. I like how they just work for my needs. Between the two, it is a toss-up. I really like the eSATA port on the TS-120 but the TS-212p in a RAID mirror is more disaster-recovery friendly. If you are not sure, I suggest you try the low-end TS-120 if you can get one for $80 on sale. Who knows, you might get hooked. Thats what happened to me. I had no intention of replacing my other devices but the ease-of-use is pretty compelling. At first, I thought of just having a secondary TM back up on my network but now,I am thinking about the 4-6 bay models. I had no intention about getting hooked into a NAS eco-system but I am sure glad I tried.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Secured Guest Account on OSX Yosemite.

I notice something interesting with the new Guest login on Yosemite. If you have an encrypted file-system, the guest login is completely different from the normal guest login of a non-encrypted drive.

With an encrypted filesystem (File Vault), you have to re-boot into an ultra-secure mode. This is almost analogous to a Chromebook and I like it. The new guest mode only has one app running and that is Safari.

Once in guest mode, the user has no other access. He/she cannot access any applications nor can they browse the filesystem.

For comparison, here is the guest mode on my iMac also running Yosemite without File Vault. The original guest mode has desktop, application and file system access.

So if you are running a full file-vault, the guest mode will be a complete surprise. I can see some people not liking it; preferring it to the original mode. I personally like it as it appears to be more isolated and there is little to no chance a user can see anything on my drive as it is intended.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Braun ET-66 Calculator

I've been busy lately so I haven't been posting much. My interests lately have been non-gadget, tech related. Today, I'm going to break that silence and write about a simple calculator.

The Braun ET-66 calculator designed by the famous Dieter Rams. This is a remake, re-issue from Braun. I hate to use the word replica as Braun is the original manufacturer and they have the right to re-issue a product from their past catalogue.

The calculator cost $50.

Yep, you read that right. $50. Sure, you can get any calculator from the drug store for $3. Heck, your smartphone probably has a calculator in it. In fact, if you have an older iPhone, the Apple's is basically a rip-off of this iconic ET-66 design. Steve Jobs was enamored with Ram's work that they made their calc app a digital copy.

Does this calculator do anything fancy? Nope! So what is the big deal.

Here is a quote from an amazon customer review that sums it up:

This calculator is considered a design classic, by one of the most famous industrial designers of the 20th century. The people who will buy this are interested in the aesthetics and maybe the status of showing off their design acumen. It has nothing to do with the function of the calculator. 

You either get it, or you don't. I'm not going to convince you otherwise. It is a good looking piece of tech. Rams has been quoted many times as saying "Design little as possible. Less is more." The last quote originally came from Mies van der Rohe.

The nice thing about the calculator is the round keys. It is so damn simple and round. Why is this a big deal? Back when I was a kid, most calculators had square or rectangular keys and when you pressed on them, they would get stuck in the cut-out. That is why this design is so genius, Simple explanation for a simple problem. That is Dieter Ram's legacy.

So why did I get it? I got me a new expensive desk ($2400) so I needed some desk accessories. This would look good on it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hand Off and Continuity on OS X Yosemite and iOS 8

After using Handoff and Continuity between iOS 8 and Yosemite, I have some thoughts on this. Hand-off is the ability to have Mac OSX computers and iPhone/iPads pick up from what you were doing. For example, if you are composing an email on your mac, you can easily walk away from your desk and pick up to the exact sentence you were typing on your iPhone.

So after a month, how does it stack up? Read on.

In theory, the idea of interchanging tasks between devices sounds pretty amazing. In some instances, I really like it but in general, hand off isn't a game changer. I'll go down the things I like and things I don't really care for.

Performance and reliability.

Picking up web pages is pretty quick. Only downside is if you are authenticated in a logged in session, an iPhone isn't going to know you are logged into a secure site and you'll be prompted to a login page. There is no way around this. However, the ability to see what other devices and what pages are opened have existed way before Handoff. When you create a new tab, you can previously scroll down and see what other linked iCloud devices have as their recent or open tabs.

Email works great for short messages. When you have emails with large attachments, there is a lag between switching between iPhone/iPad and a Mac. It does have to copy/transfer large attachments between devices over bluetooth. Thus, the transition doesn't feel smooth.

I haven't tried Pages or any of the other iLife suite.

It is also a hit or miss. Sometimes, I see the hand off icons and sometimes I don't. This is something that needs to work all the time to be useful. I also think it may be attributed to the fact, I have multiple iOS devices around my mac so there is a possibility, the Macbook doesn't know to notify my phone or tablets.

Hand Off is only a small part of what Apple calls Continuity. Hand Off may be a bit half baked right now in terms of performance but the rest of Continuity is pretty compelling.


(This is a phone# from some telephone spammer making a robot call to my Mac)

Answering calls from an iPad or Macbook is pretty cool. I know this has been done ten years ago and I remember doing it from my 12" Apple iBook but the whole experience is a bit seamless. In fact, too seamless. When I get a call, my iPad, Macbook, and a iPod Touch all ring in addition to my iPhone.

I also like the fact, I do all my SMS composing with a Mac now. I have proper diction and grammar in my text messages instead of doing it on a phone. I wasn't a big user of iMessage because I do work with people and have friends/family who are not in Apple's ecosystem. So the ability to do SMS from an iPad or Mac is very good.

Lastly, the biggest value to me is AirDrop. That is the most compelling feature to me. Yes, people will say you can do that you can transfer files with Bluetooth and apps. It isn't the same. There is no pairing involved and no set-up. It just works. It works with other users within your vicinity.

It is more than just transferring files. I am an extensive user of Apple "Notes" with over 3,000 entries of technical information from code tidbits, bash scripts, general how-to I use to diagnose problems for my work. It is my encyclopedia of knowledge. My notes are often formatted RTF style. Now, I can share those with colleagues and friends. For example, last week, they were stuck with some Cisco commands. I had an entire write-up with code snippets that I was able to AirDrop from my Mac to a friend's iPad. He then shared it out to two other colleagues who had iPhones. That was a Eureka moment. I didn't have to convert my notes into a Word file or PDF and email it. I feel more secure AirDropping an RSA key locally then sending it as an email attachment.

Another big plus are photos. I shoot mostly with my iPhone now. However, I like to edit them with my iPad due to the larger screen. I can round up 10-12 images and simply AirDropping them is very fast and intuitive. It is basically two clicks of a button and I will have my images ready for Pixelmator on the iPad. This to me, is the best feature of Continuity.

I haven't tried the hotspot feature as I have a work issued Mi-Fi and have no need for it. 

Overall, I like the new integration between mobile devies and desktop computers. I am starting to use iCloud much more now in the past month than I ever have since it was available.  In fact, I never touched it before iOS 8 as I had other alternatives such as One Drive, Google Drive and DropBox. With new iOS apps taking advantage of it and the ability for me to quickly share things to those apps, it now makes a compelling use case to use iCloud. Many of the great apps I do use also have DropBox integration but I am starting to see a push toward iCloud.

Monday, November 10, 2014

HTC Dot View Case

I have to admit, since I got my iPhone 6 Plus, I haven't been using my HTC ONE M8. It has been sitting in the carry brief for more than a month. However, I like to keep current gadgets relevant so I got me the HTC Dot View Case. As a result, I pulled it out this afternoon to try on my new case and there it is.

If you want to know what it is, it is a gimmicky folio case that is unique to HTC and gives you some notifications through the case.

The case retails for $45-49. I strongly do not recommend anyone purchase it at retail. It is simply not worth it. There is no real protection and the case makes it really hard to hold in the hand when making phone calls.

You can tell by looking at this picture that a flip out case like this will effect the ergonomics; especially one handed use.

However, I didn't pay $45 for this. Instead, I got it for around $12 and a month delivery time from China. At  $12, it is still gimmicky. I can see the weather and the time.
I can answer calls and cue my music playback tracks.

The dot view notifications are pretty limited. It supposedly supports text messages but none showed for me. Rather, it prompts you to open your case. It would be nice to have it delete messages.

So far, I'm not that impressed. It would be nice to get at least GMail or calendar notifications.

It does support some theming.

In conclusion, I think this is gimmicky at best with no real value. Especially at $45. I think your money will be better spent on a Spigen case that would offer better phone protection.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Going back to the iPad after using Windows 8 Tablets. From a DevOPS Dad.

The picture above summarizes what I use my tablets for. As a convenient on-the-go device when I am out and about. I regularly take my kids out to the local play park on a daily basis. I'll pull up in a stroller and watch them play. Occasionally, I’d get a call to log into some remote Linux server in the cloud or query some database for a client report. In these instances, I don’t want to lug around my $3,400 laptop, a top-of-the-line 15” Macbook Pro Retina. A Macbook won’t fit inside the diaper bag or the stroller. After trying a bunch of Windows 8 All-in-Ones and convertible tablets (as chronicled on this blog), I've decided to go back to the iPad. The iPad Mini.

Pictured above are a Dell Venue 8 Pro, the iPad Mini Retina, and a 10" 1920x1200 HiDPI Lenovo Miix 2. With all the hype of convertible, do-it-all all in one and the allure of running native x86 software in a tablet, I mistakenly went for that sales pitch. I ended up getting a few devices I no longer use. Now, I decided I need something that simply works when I'm out and about. That device ultimately is an iPad.

Read On.