Review: Jungle Disk Plus 2.0

I’ve been on a quest for the perfect off-site backup service. I’ve considered everything using my own servers and rsync, tried various free/cheap services like Carbonite and AT&T Remote Vault, and finally came across Jungle Disk. Jungle Disk uses Amazon S3 for storage, and Amazon EC2 for their Plus service. This review is of the backup features, and does not cover the flagship virtual drive features.

Licensing: Generous! Pricing: Cheap!

First, the bottom line. The software is a $20 purchase, and that’s good for lifetime updates and unlimited installs that share a single S3 account. They do not mark up Amazon’s pricing, so storage (as of 7/15/08) costs $0.15/GB, transfer in costs $0.10/GB in and $0.17/GB out. So, if we backed up a 100GB drive, based only on transfer and storage costs, we would expect a bill of about $25. Amazon has continued to adjust their S3 pricing, so we can likely expect those costs to go down over time.

Plus Service
Jungle Disk’s Plus Service is indispensable for doing backups. The ability to do block-level updates and upload resume are both key to cutting down bandwidth costs. And, at $1/month, it seems to be a no brainer.

Backup
Jungle Disk has built-in backup features, which are what I’ve been using. First, we’ll cover the down sides: Jungle Disk has to be running for backups to occur. It will wake your computer from sleep, but if your user is not logged in or Jungle Disk is not running, the backup will be delayed or skipped. There are some workarounds for running it as a Windows service, none of which I found to be reliable. Also, as with any online backup service, it only goes as fast as your internet connection. There is a bandwidth schedule, so you can throttle back on upload and/or download speeds according to your usage schedules.

Everything else is rainbows and unicorns. You can create multiple backup jobs, choose the files you want to back up, set up exclusion rules and schedules. Some advanced features include optionally removing files that have been deleted on your local system, and setting up rules for keeping previous versions of modified files. Here’s how my backups are now configured:

Desktop: Daily backup of users directory & development directories, with a 14-version history, up to a year.
Laptop: Daily backup of users directory & development directories, with a 14-version history, up to a year.
Web Server: Hourly backups of inetpub, with a 14 version history, up to 60 days.
Database Server: Daily backups of MySQL dumps, with a 14 version history.

For my first month of backups, I am expecting a bill of around $75. Considering that this is including a first-time upload cost that I won’t have in subsequent months, it’s really amazing. I have many, many gigs of pictures and videos, thanks to today’s 10 megapixel cameras and HD Video files, so it’s nice to get those precious memories backed up off-site, in addition to my Time Machine backups.

Availability & Security
One truly unbelievable feature that may go unnoticed is that Jungle Disk itself is not dependent on the stability of the company. The Plus service, but the basic service is only dependent on Amazon S3. Jungle Disk actually has open-source code on their download page that includes the code needed to read your data back off of S3. This provides unparalleled levels of service, when compared to other online backup offerings. Also, if you are the extremely paranoid type, you can opt to encrypt your files before they’re sent to S3 (over http or securely over https).

Final Thoughts
I’ve been supremely impressed with Jungle Disk as an application and a service. When doing backups, CPU usage has been minimal, and on my DSL line, web and email speeds haven’t suffered much, if any. I do get some lag when gaming, but it’s easy to pause and resume backups. The ability to use this cross-platform on OS X, Windows and Linux has proven indispensable, allowing me to further reduce the number of solutions needed to maintain my home network and development projects.

Review: Genie PowerLift Excelerator

So, last fall I bought a Genie PowerLift Excelerator garage door opener from Home Depot. I decided to go with a higher-end opener because of the nice warranty graphics on the box touting their superior warranty. It turns out to have been a great decision.

Over the past couple months, I’ve noticed that the garage door has been opening and closing with decreasing speed. I figured that the problem was that I just needed to adjust the sensitivity, but when I finally got around to it last week, it had no effect.

I called their customer service line, and after a few very reasonable troubleshooting steps, they determined the problem must be the controller board. It is a user-serviceable part, and I opted to just take care of it myself. They charged me $6 to ship out the new part, which arrived a couple business days later. I then replaced the part, but it did not solve the problem.

I called the customer service line, and they were able to pull up my previous call notes after giving them my phone number. They asked a couple “are you sure you installed the new board correctly” questions, and then gave me the option of either trying to replace the other circuit board, or swapping out the whole motor head. They also gave me the option, again, of doing it myself, or having a technician come out to do it. I decided that it would be best to just get a new unit, and that I had no interest in replacing it myself in the summer heat. They obliged, and also said that they wouldn’t charge me shipping for the new part because I already paid shipping for another part that didn’t solve the problem. They explained to me in great detail what the process involved, including faxing a service request to a local technician, and how long I should expect the process to take. They didn’t even have to collect my address a second time.

This is how customer service should be… Simple, reasonably generous, and exactly what is advertised on the box.

Review: Aiptek Action HD Camcorder

I got sucked into a spontaneous purchase the other day at Wal-Mart. I was walking by and saw they had an Aiptek Action HD Camcorder. It has several key features that had caught my eye in the previous weeks:

  1. It’s cheap ($199)
  2. It’s HD

I was in the market for a cheap, small, HD camcorder, and this seemed too good to be true. I wanted something I could use to take advantage of SmugMug’s HD video capabilities. I also wanted an optical zoom, and something that was able to accept a SDHC card. I was excited to find everything I wanted at a price comparable to a FLip camcorder.

Box errors

First off, a few corrections/clarifications to their specs on the box. The official name says “Aiptek Action HD 1080p Camcorder” which is inaccurate. Technically, it does support 1,080 lines of vertical resolution, however 1080p is generally accepted as 1920×1080, not the camera’s 1440×1080. Also, the box repeatedly says that 1440×1080 is a 16:9 aspect ratio, which it’s not (that’s 4:3).

Features

Once nice thing for me is that the camera records to a Quicktime movie using the h.264 codec. Perfect for displaying in Flash, and also editable by iMovie. It’s small, remarkably light, and charges over USB. It comes with a case, mini tripod, remote, wall charger, and all cables you could ever need. It powers on when you flip the LCD screen open, and is ready to record almost instantly. The camera connected to my Mac perfectly using a USB cable, and both the built-in storage and the SD card showed up on my desktop as mass storage devices. Normally, I’d say use a card reader, but since this charges over USB, there’s no harm in never taking your SD card out of the camera.

Shooting video is a snap. Open the LCD screen, hit the record button, and you’re off. It can’t take pictures while it’s recording a video, but I never intended to take pictures with this device. The zoom controls are easy to use, however, the zoom is pretty much useless. The auto-focus constantly searches around at any focal length greater than around 10mm. I’ll try again in daylight, but I’m not sure if that’s going to make any real difference.

Here’s a few video samples:

As you can see, the quality is really perfect for web viewing. The Macro mode performs well, and the LED lights on the camera actually do provide enough lighting to shoot in darker places. Uploading to SmugMug was a snap… All I had to do was upload it, and SmugMug did the rest.

Overall, I rate this camera as a great deal, for use as a camera for posting video online.

Expect a followup review once I’ve had awhile to play with this some more.

Mariokart Wii: First thoughts

Mariokart Wii is a blast as a game. Three complaints about the online experience:

1. Friend codes suck. It’s a pain to use, hard to track down your own friends, and then after all is said and done, your friend code only applies to a single game title, so your Mariokart code won’t work with Smash Bros. It would be marginally better if you could manage friend codes on a website, so you could at least copy & paste.

2. If you want to play with friends, you can only play with friends. There’s no practical way to get you and your friend(s) in a public race. Either you have a private, unranked, friend match, or you play with strangers.

2. Voice is everything. I was playing online against strangers, and without voice communications, I felt like I was just playing against some computer AI. I missed the trash talking and such; there’s just something gratifying about taunting the person in the lead with a blue shell for awhile before launching the sucker. When I started playing with a friend, we ended up using our Xbox 360’s voice chat while we were playing. We went into a COD4 private match lobby and just stayed there. If you do the same trick, be sure to press a button on your controller after every race so your controller doesn’t go to sleep.

Anyway, my Mariokart friend code again is 0430-8679-3315, leave your friend code in the comments.

I’m sure glad that Marokart came out when it did. I’m sure XBox live is going to crash and burn tonight with the release of GTA IV.

Apple’d and loving it

I’ve just realized that over the past 12 months I’ve gone Apple. It started innocently enough with a Juniper iTunes credit card and an iPhone on launch day last June. Then an Apple TV found it’s way into my home. Eventually, a MacBook and a Mac Pro followed suit.

I have to say I’m impressed with all my Apple products. Here’s a quick review roundup:

My iPhone gets plenty of use at home and on the go, and if the next version only adds in 3G and GPS, I won’t even be all that tempted to upgrade. It’s so much better than any previous phone I’ve owned, and AT&T’s customer service isn’t nearly as bad as it was in the Ameritech/SBC days. I can’t wait till the API is finally released and the 2.0 software comes out. I’m sure my wallet will take a beating that month. Interestingly, I use the iPod functionality less than I did my old iPod.

My Apple TV probably gets the least use of all my gadgets. We have ditched out Netflix subscription (kept forgetting to send movies back), and decided to put that money towards rentals & tv shows. Between the Apple TV and my Xbox 360, we could get pretty much anything except Smallville and NBC shows. Combine this with the rewards my Juniper iTunes card gets for just paying monthly bills with it, and we get quite a deal.

My MacBook is the surprise of the bunch. For many years, I’ve only had 17″ laptops. Unfortunately, the $2,800 Macbook Pro was out of my price range, and there were some great deals on MacBook refurbs, so I picked one up. I was pleasantly surprised that the screen size wasn’t that big of an issue. The real surprise was how quick and light, and long lasting this thing is. Sure, I’m not going to get any modern 3D game to run on it, but it’s almost half the weight of my previous laptop, and the battery life is amazing. I guess the LED backlighting really paid off.

The Mac Pro is, well, awesome. It’s great to run three virtual machines, plus all my development servers and software, email and still not break a sweat. It’s replaced three physical machines (dev/file server, photo server, and workstation), so I’m saving on electricity and space. The keyboard is surprisingly awesome to type on, though the Mighty Mouse doesn’t like to always tell the difference between a left and right click.

What’s left to be assimilated? Well, I want to upgrade my wireless network to N, and the likely candidates are an AirPort Extreme and AirPort Express to bridge some HD-capable streaming to my Xbox. My wife likely won’t be switching anytime soon, and is plenty powerful with XP for the internet/email/light web dev she does. Our daughter, however, will probably inherit this MacBook in a few years and eventually get an iPod.