Fritzbox 7490

The building I live in was probably built around the late sixties, the ground in the basement is just some gravel, with some structure to store potatoes, and there is a space under the roof to hang laundry. This also means that the phone installation is not exactly top-notch. Maybe because of that, I always had trouble with my internet connection, it would work well for some time, and then I would get more and more disconnections. In the end I would call the support from Swisscom.

They would ask the usual set of useless questions, trying to put the blame on my wi-fi or something, and would send a technician to my place, the guy of course would typically come sometimes between 9 and 12 in the morning. Of course, working from home when the internet connection is falling down all the time is not really an option, but Swisscom’s mentality is still shaped by the idea that each and every household has a housewife ready to welcome their technicians.

Fritzbox DSL Line Statistics

The technicians would do measurements, and be generally baffled, typically the problems occurs early in the morning or late in the evening, I suspect when many people use the internet and the rate of interference is high, of course, this is exactly not the time when the technicians do measurements.

You would think that Swisscom would somehow monitor their lines, but they don’t seem to do this, makes sense, if they acknowledged that their line is crapping out most of the time, the question of a refund who pop-up, inconceivable. Sometimes a technician would look at past logs and say something like wow you had a lot of disconnects. Eventually by replacing my router and futzing the line parameters, the connection would work again for a few months.

A few weeks ago, the circus started again and the technician solved the problem by changing the router, the line worked for a few weeks, and then the problems started again. The last technician who came mumbled stuff about billing me, so it seems that besides wasting my time, Swisscom wants to start billing me for this… Geeks around me often told me that the routers Swisscom bundles are crap, the Netopia I had certainly had a confusing interface.

So I had the choice between contacting Swisscom, wait for a Technician to come, loose half a day waiting for him to solve the problem by exchanging my router with an exact copy which would certainly exhibit the same problem, or buy a router myself. As I’m quite busy these days, and fed up with the Swisscom’s service. I opted for the later.

I decided to buy a Fritzbox 3490. Fritzboxes have very good reviews and are interesting devices, that incorporate many functionalities into the router, in this case it can act as a NAS and a DEC phone adapter. More importantly, the interface lets me monitor and adjust my DSL parameters, so I could make Swisscom’s bad phone line do its job.

I had to configure the settings to not try to get the maximum performance, but I now have a stable line. I have yet to fully use all the features of the box, and there seems to be some issue updating the firmware because of some Swisscom idiosyncrasy (again) but at least internet works properly.

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screen capture of the DSM control panel UI

Synology DSM 5.0

screen capture of the DSM control panel UI

Synology has upgraded the software of its Diskstation line of servers to version 5.0. This version brought mostly features for power-users and a lot of incremental improvements, in particular for file-sharing performance, which are very welcome. The most visible change is the new, more polished UI. It is interesting to see how far they got in emulating a window manager within a browser. The sad part is that the new UI looks like a clone of Windows 95, and is as intuitive.

Sadly, I mostly noticed the difference in terms of what broke: my squid installation first, but that is not critical. More annoying, the printing sub-system, which was providing both Airprint and Google-print broke. Of course this happened on the one week when I needed printing to work, and ironically, the one time I did not install the beta of the new software. The forums contained the usual recommendations so that the NAS would find my printer again: unplug, restart, replug, Windows 95 indeed. The one feature that motivated me to upgrade was a system to handle unified cloud storage (Google Drive, Dropbox) synchronisation – it took me quite some time to realise this is done by the way of an app one has to install.

The new release comes with new version of the mobile phone apps. Promising features, like the ability for DS audio to stream music to my Chromecast, but again broken by lack of testing, my Chromecast did not recognise the authentification keys of the app – the trick, I figured out, is to disable https, when you log into the NAS from the app.

All in all, a pretty disappointing release, I wish Synology had spent more time to test this version before releasing it to the public. If you don’t need the performance improvements now, I would recommend you wait until the various quirks are fixed before upgrading.

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Squid cache logo

Proxy Page

Squid cache logo

Squid’s default error page are pretty boring, and I was wondering if I could replace them with nicer ones. The pages are build using templates stored in the /opt/share/squid/errors/English/ directory, and they are simple text files with some printf style substitutions. There are two problems with this, first, squid needs to be restarted each time the files are changed, which is annoying, second one can only serve one text file, so no external style sheet or image files. Of course it is possible to embed everything, into the web page, by inlining the CSS and by using the data: protocol for images, but this is cumbersome.

A better solution is to have a page with a minimal amount of layout and do everything in an external CSS file. My NAS is running a web-server, so style sheets and images can be served from there, but how do I reference them. I could hardcode the ip address of the NAS in the template, but this feels brittle, if the server’s address changes, I’ll need to rewrite all templates. I first thought of using the mulicast DNS, in my case tekai.local, this worked very well with Mac OS X and my iPhone, but not so well with my Android tablet and my Chromebook. Those two devices seem to have limited support for RFC 6762. The squid templates offers a %I code that gets resolved to the address of the proxy. Alas, this is the externally visible IP address, and the web-server’s port is not visible on that side.

In the end I used a small hack: insert the server’s multicast DNS name into the /etc/hosts file. Mac OS X and iOS will see the .local name and resolve it by themselves, others will send the request for the resource to the proxy, which will resolve it using its static configuration and will call the web-server collocated with the proxy. The header of my template files look like this now:

<title>Error: requested URL could not be retrieved</title>
<meta http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="http://tekai.local/squid/style.css" />
<base href="http://tekai.local/squid/" />

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Unison on Synology DS211

Unison Logo

I finally replaced my NAS with a newer model, a DS 211, which has the same form-factor, but a faster ARM processor. CPU performance was one reason for replacing it (it would basically get maxed out at around 6 MB/sec) the other was that support was discontinued, and among the newer firmware features I wanted was support for Time Machine in Lion. Most of the stuff worked out of the box, and file transfers are way faster. I reinstalled the ipkg package manager following the instructions you can find on the official wikis. The catch came when I wanted to install the unison file synchroniser which always complicated because it is not written in C, but in Ocaml, which always complicates matters.

  • There is no ipkg for unison in the standard package list.
  • Installing gcc and friends a compiling from the source does not work, because there is no native compiler for ARM processors.
  • Compiling the code but disabling native code generation did not work either, I was getting some random syntax errors.
  • I finally found a package in the unstable tree of NSLU2 Linux, this one installs fine.
  • I had to enable ssh access for the regular user account I use for synchronisation, by default, user-account cannot remote login, simply editing /etc/passwd did the trick.

Now unison works, but when doing a big sync, I’m back to ~6MB/sec, but this time, the bottleneck seems to be sshd which uses around 60% of the CPU, I will have to try other ciphers.

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Installing Unison on Synology 207 NAS

Synology DS 207

Unison is a nice tool to synchronize file-system. It has the advantage of running on many different platforms, use an ssh connection and be good at one thing (file synchronization). I’m using it to synchronize my data between my laptop and a Unix server that acts as a back-up. I wanted to use it also to have a mirror of all my data on my NAS, in particular my music that is then served on my home network from the NAS. Until now I used so rsync scripts to do the trick, but rsync is quite stupid with permissions and cannot detect file moves. The main advantage of rsync is that it is already installed on any Linux machine, including my NAS.

Here are the steps to follow to install unison on a Synology DS 207 NAS:

  1. Enable ssh access
  2. Download the ipkg bootstrap script ds101-bootstrap_1.0-4_powerpc.xsh (the DS 101 and the DS 207 have the same processor, so this is OK).
  3. Copy the file to the NAS, for instance in the path /volume1/tmp.
  4. Ssh into your NAS as user root (ssh root@xxx.local).
  5. Go to the directory (cd /volume1/tmp)
  6. Execute the installation script: ds101-bootstrap_1.0-4_powerpc.xsh
  7. If there is an error about a missing dependency for wget-ssl, don’t sweat it, it still works.
  8. To check that it works, try to update the package list ipkg update
  9. Download the package definition for unison: unison_22757-1_powerpc.ipk. You can do this directly from the NAS or from your computer, and then copy the file to the /volume1/tmp directory.
  10. Install the unison package: ipkg /volume1/tmp/unison_22757-1_powerpc.ipk.

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Installing Net-Snmp on the Synology DS 207

I wanted to have an SNMP dæmon running on my NAS. This way all the boxes on my network can be queried using SNMP. This is quite simple, assuming you have ipkg installed.

  1. Install net-snmp: ipkg install net-snmp
  2. Edit the configuration file in /opt/etc/snmpd.conf, you can just use vi or call the snmpconf program. There a three fields you should edit:
    1. Comment ou the entry that defines write access # rwcommunity SNMPv1_RW you probably don’t need this feature and this is a security risk
    2. Edit the syslocation to add the physical location of the NAS.
    3. Edit the syscontact line to add the contact person for the device, probably yourself.
    4. Add a line define the types of services provided by the box, something like sysservices 76, this corresponds to the following service levels: Internet, End-to-end, Application.
  3. Restart the snmp dæmon: /opt/etc/init.d/S70net-snmp

I also updated the hostinfo script, I cleaned up the formatting and some of the code (I would still not call it pretty), and added code to extract storage information. This information is provided by the NAS, but also my printer.

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Synology DS 207 – new firmware

DS 207 -NAS Web screen capture

This week-end, I finally took the time to upgrade the firmware of my Synology DS-207 NAS to version DSM 2.0-0722. The upgrade was a little bit complicated: you first have to download the patch to Mac, prevent the Mac from expanding it, then upload the patch to the NAS by the way of a web-interface which does not work with Safari. The advantage when you don’t upgrade often is that you feel the difference: the whole web interface is way more polished and responsive thanks to some AJAX code, many services that kind of work are now stable (typically the iTunes music sharing service), and things that had to be hacked in are now installed by default (SSH access, NFS server). The Linux kernel is now Linux 2.6.15 #722 Fri Sep 19 20:30:34 CST 2008 ppc unknown. Finally the web interface is now better structured, and many components have their own interface. For instance the “Audio Station” can be used to see the various songs stored on the NAS, they can also be listened to using a flash player. Clearly Synology realized they can capitalize on their open-source foundation to build up the feature set of their product. They also seem to have shifted their focus from small businesses to private owners. The only thing I was missing was a SNMP interface, but I suspect I should be able to install NetSNMP one way or another.

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The return of PowerPC

Synology DS 207 - 2×SATA NAS

As reader of this blog might have notice, I have been using macintoshes for some time. One of the element in the history of those computers has been the rise and fall of PowerPC processors, since their introduction in the 6100/7100/8100 line, until their replacement last year by the very i8086 familly it was supposed to dethrone.

While the PowerPC is not used in desktop or even laptops, the familly is still around. I have recently bought a NAS, Sinology’s Disk station 207 with two 300GB SATA hard-drives. This device basically acts as a SMB server with a Gigabit Ethernet interface. Inside the box sits an MPC8241 running embedded Linux. Basically, this a PPC 603e core, which was in many Macintoshes. The NAS box has many features, I have only tried out a few. AMUG has a more complete review. It must be noted that my box came with 128MB of RAM.

For the heck of it, I updated my network map. The interesting bit is, while it is quite complex for a home network, there aren’t many computers in it, just many network enabled devices.

Home Network Plan with Attached Storage

Many people chimed in to remind me that PPC processors are used in quite a few places, in particular gaming consoles. All of the next generation gaming consoles are PPC based: XBOX 360, Playstation 3 and Wii all use PPC chips.

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