November 25, 2009

MySQL issue with short password hashes...

Some time in the past, during an upgrade to the MySQL software here, I somehow missed a step and didn't upgrade privileges properly, and after upgrading to PHP 5.3, have now finally gotten the dreaded 'mysqlnd cannot connect to MySQL 4.1+ using old authentication' error when launching phpmyadmin. A lot of googling failed to identify an easy fix, but did yield a few clues.

Some time back, MySQL expanded the 'user' table of the 'mysql' database to allow for longer password hashes. But it seems that new hashes weren't generated, and the shorter hashes were still in place for those old user accounts So, ultimately, the fix was simple, just reset the passwords for the old user accounts, using the same passwords, which would update the hash to the new longer version.

If in doubt, the following MySQL commands will show the critical fields:

mysql> use mysql
mysql> select host, user, password from user;

This will show the above fields, the shorter password hashes are 16 bytes long, the newer version is 41 bytes in length. All you need to do is update any of the shorter ones and you're done!

Posted by Jim at 10:15 PM | TrackBack

August 17, 2009

iTunes Syncing, Part 2

In my prior posting, I set up a script to handle the syncing of my iTunes library between my home system and the carputer. The script works fine, but executing it via the Terminal is a pain. With OS X, it is possible to rename a shell script with an extension of .command, which will allow it to be double clickable in the Finder, but this unfortunately will cause Terminal to launch, show the output, and then leave the Terminal window open when the script finishes. There are a few hacks to get around this, but the most common solution I've found is to instead call the shell script via AppleScript. As usual, this has caused a few additional headaches...

The AppleScript portion is extremely straightforward. Open Script Editor, and paste in the following:


-- do our sync
do shell script "~/Documents/Scripts/sync.sh &> /dev/null &"

Save this as an Application, and we're done. The line above will execute out script, and spawn this as a separate process, meaning that AppleScript won't be waiting for the script to finish, it will kick it off, and the AppleScript will then quit.

The headache I ran into is that the pmset command wasn't quitting like it should have, the issue turned out to be that the process for that was no longer able to be found by the ps command, because the script was now being launched via AppleScript and not directly via the Terminal. The solution was to use ps -e instead, so the working script is now as follows:


#!/bin/ksh

# this command will keep the system from going to sleep, spawns a new processes
`pmset noidle` &
# get pid of the pmset process so we can kill it later
pid=`ps -e | grep [p]mset | awk '{print $1}'`

# set the log file to be placed in user's home directory
theLog=~/sync.log

SERVER=10.0.0.5
USER=username
ping -c 1 $SERVER > /dev/null 2>&1
if [ $? -ne 0 ]
then
echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "server unreachable" >> $theLog
else
echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "server found" >> $theLog
rsync -avz $USER@$SERVER:Music/iTunes/ ~/Music/iTunes >> $theLog
fi

echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "Done" >> $theLog

# need to kill pmset we spawned earlier so system will sleep
echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "killing $pid" >> $theLog
kill -9 $pid >> $theLog

# Now tell system to go to sleep since we're done
pmset sleepnow >> $theLog

Posted by Jim at 12:09 PM | TrackBack

August 11, 2009

Carputer Software

There are a number of front ends used for Mac based carputers, unfortunately most of them are either abandoned projects, lacking in features or polish, or otherwise not quite exactly what I wanted. My main objective was simply to use this as a big, fancy iPod, my old click-wheel iPod just isn't quite cutting it anymore in the car. Something that used cover flow would be ideal, easy to navigate, clean interface, in short, what I was looking for was basically already part of the Mac OS, Front Row.

My main issue with Front Row, though, was that my plan was to use a touchscreen interface for the carputer, and Front Row did not allow for such use, it used keyboard input only, or the Apple IR remote, which is basically a remote keyboard, mouse or similar inputs aren't used. What I wanted, ideally, would have been some way to remap the touchscreen input, so that I could touch the top or bottom of the display for up/down arrows, left/right sides for left/right, etc. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to come up with any software that would let me capture inputs this way, so I was back to square one.

A number of folks had recommended the Griffin PowerMate for controlling Front Row, but I wasn't terribly happy with that solution either. At this point, my plan is to use a Logitech Precision Gamepad to control the action, and the USB Overdrive software to remap the controls for what I need.

After some testing, I found that I really only need four keystrokes, up, down, return, and escape to do all I need done in Front Row. My plan for phase two of this project is to disassemble the gamepad, remove the d-pad portion of the controller (lots of soldering and hacking there) and fabricate a new housing for this that would be placed at the steering wheel for easy access, that is, unless some better idea comes along.

So, with the controlling part done, the next thing I needed done in software was a way to keep my tunes in sync with my home system. Time to start coding...

Posted by Jim at 12:48 PM | TrackBack

August 10, 2009

Carputer almost ready

Back in April, I started work on a Carputer project for my new car, a 2006 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V. After some planning, purchasing of parts, testing of software, etc, I'm just about ready to begin a rough install this week as a proof of concept. Basically this will involve placing the key parts where they need to go, but the cables will be exposed and everything can be quickly removed. I've got a road trip coming up next week, so this is a perfect time for a good test.

The software was the trickiest part lately, I had to set up some custom scripts to do the iTunes library syncing with my home desktop, and coming up with a convenient way to control Front Row was also a challenge. I'll post a series of articles on the various pieces of the project.

Posted by Jim at 8:17 PM | TrackBack

July 10, 2009

Nintendo DS & AirPort Extreme

Got the kids a pair of Nintendo DS Lites, and after a few days, they got around to playing with the WiFi that's built into them. And of course, they didn't work with my wireless setup. Fortunately, the fix was relatively straightforward (eventually).

Both the original Nintendo DS and the newer DS Lite have built in WiFi. The problem I ran into though was that my AirPort Extreme was set to use WPA encryption, not the lesser (and more easily hacked) WEP encryption, which also required the rather ugly 13 character passphrase. I did test briefly using WEP here, but the thought of having to enter that 13 character phrase on every WiFi enabled device in the house (multiple laptops, multiple desktops w/WiFi, a pair of iPhones, the two DSs), plus having to do this for any guest systems just made this totally unattractive. So, in the end, I decided to set the wireless security to None.

However, all is not lost! I decided to use the old fallback, MAC Address Access Control. Basically, this involved me adding the MAC address for each device to the Access List on the AirPort Extreme, most every modern router will have a similar feature. With the AirPort, I was able to go to the Advanced settings and view the log of connections, so I just fired up an internet connection on all my devices (took a few minutes of going around the house and firing these up one at a time), then going back and copying the MAC addresses out of the log entries, and giving each a description for the device (important to remember the order used!), and in about 10 minutes I was done.

As a last step, I changed the Default setting to disallow access, so that only devices specifically listed will have wireless access. The down side is that any guest systems will need to be specifically added, or have the Default reset to allow access temporarily, either should work just fine.

Posted by Jim at 12:20 PM | TrackBack

July 31, 2008

Mmmm... Faster Firewire...

A new version of the IEEE 1394 Standard has been approved, promising Firewire, also known as IEEE 1394 and i.Link, speeds as high as 3.2Gbit/sec, up from the current standard of 800Mbit/sec.

Likely uses for such blazing speeds will be with storage media, DV camcorders could benefit, but even these have been slow to adopt the older 800Mbit standard, though this may now drive some manufacturers to upgrade to faster offerings.

Posted by Jim at 2:00 PM | TrackBack

July 21, 2008

10.5.4 upgrade

Not intentional, but I accidentally checked the update to 10.5.4 when I was running another software update on the mail/web server. I haven't rebooted it yet, need to make sure that I've got a good backup first, just in case...

10.5.3 introduced an issue with getaddrinfo (again?) and this is supposed to be fixed with 10.5.4, so hopefully I'll have nothing to worry about.

Posted by Jim at 5:40 PM | TrackBack

April 27, 2008

Turn your iPod into anything!

Travel Hacker has put up a fun page on all sorts of things you can do with an iPod, including my fun hack of using several Shuffles to build a RAID. A few of these ideas were new to me, so be sure to check it out.

Posted by Jim at 10:47 AM | TrackBack

November 3, 2007

Details on upgrades

To recap my recent upgrades here, I was transitioning my old web/mail server from a G4 box running OS 10.4 to a new Mac Mini running OS X 10.5. Funny that I wrote about using a Mini as a server back in 2005, and I'm only now finally getting around to putting one in here...

So, the basic process here was shutting down Postfix, then using Carbon Copy Cloner to clone my existing server to the Mac Mini (booted in Target Disk Mode), then rebooting the Mini into the Mac OS X 10.5 Installer. The Installer had absolutely no problems upgrading a PPC version of OS 10.5 to an Intel OS running 10.5, which was great. I really did not want to do a clean install, which would have been more of a hassle in converting mail files and other lower level items.

The next necessary step after installing 10.5 was to install Xcode 3.0, in order to compile all the apps I needed. Once that was done, I was finally able to start getting things up and running.

From prior dry runs, I had done a lot of testing of various packages to make sure that things would compile properly, and run without errors. There was a good bit of trial and error, and lots of googling. And thanks to someone else googling and finding an earlier entry of mine, a helpful tip out of the blue (Thanks to Paul S.) that helped massively. I had partitioned my drive so that I had a nice workspace partition to hold files between attempts at cloning and upgrading, and I had saved a few helpful notes there as well, which was very handy.

As I had mentioned a few days ago, the unix system accounts for postfix, mysql, www, and others, now for some reason all begin with an underscore character, so I had to edit a few config files where these accounts were specifically used to make sure that they reflected the current users. Also, 10.5 now runs Apache 2.2.x and not Apache 1.x, so I had to do some reading up on how this gets configured in order to migrate my config files, there were few surprises there, once I paid attention to the sample config files. Having saved copies of my working config files from earlier runs, it was a simple matter to copy these over before starting other work.

In retrospect, I should have worked on getting the mail server up and running before the web server, I didn't lose any mail, but I just hated it being offline as long as it was...

Starting with the web side, I installed MySQL 5.0.45 using a pre-build package, I used the one built for 10.4 Intel, and plan to upgrade that to a 10.5 specific build once one is available. After installing this, I simply copied my data folder over, ran the mysql_upgrade script, and all was well. Next, I compiled DBI-1.601 and DBD-mysql-4.005. For some reason I wasn't able to track down, DBD insisted on looking for mysql/lib files in /mysql/lib/mysql, even though my install never mentioned this path anywhere. Some googling finally revealed that the easiest fix was simply to fake it with some symlink trickery:

cd /usr/local/mysql/lib
sudo mkdir mysql
cd mysql
sudo ln -s ../*

DBI compiled fine, DBD threw up an error about incompatible pointers, which I was stuck at for a day or two before finding out that this was just a warning and could be ignored. Sure enough, it ran just fine, and I found that MovableType was now working fine. During the final install of everything, I discovered that I had to reset access privs for my web folder in order for MT to be able to write files, but after doing that, it worked fine again. I'm saving my upgrade to MovableType 4.x for another day.

Compiling Postfix was fairly straightforward, as before, I built Postfix according to the standard install docs to include MySQL and PCRE support, but this time included SASL in the mix. It is very important to read the SASL docs, there was a bit of needing to create symlinks and make sure that header files were in the right locations, but once I followed all the steps outlined, it compiled fine.

The Courier-IMAP pieces drove me nuts for several days. Courier-IMAP 4.2.1, the latest build, just couldn't be made to work here, I eventually tried building an older version, 4.1.3, and that worked just fine. Courier-Authlib 0.60.2 compiled but had problems running, the trick mailed in my Paul S. was to enter the following before doing the compile:

export MACOSX_DEPLOYMENT_TARGET=10.5

This handy command has been around for a few OS releases now, and forces some settings that apparently don't get set otherwise, a quick google search found many packages needing this to compile properly. Once set, AuthLib compiled properly and more importantly, ran properly.

Despite doing the 'migrate' steps, though, my old Courier settings never made it over, and so I had to edit the authmysqlrc and some other Courier files by hand using my older versions as templates, but this work was done in short order.

One site that helped a lot in checking over some of my steps was this one:

http://switch.richard5.net/isp-in-a-box-v2/building-the-mail-server-components/building-the-courier-imap-server/

The versions used there weren't current, but helped to validate what I was trying to do here, and setting the proper CFLAGS and compile arguments. His setup there was very similar to mine, virtual domains, MySQL authentication, etc, which was a great help.

With this done, I was now actually able to check mail the last necessary step, which made a good stopping point for the night with a fairly functioning server.

The next day, I tested a few more functions of the system, and found that one of the web packages I had installed was having problems with MySQL. This turned out to be a PHP issue connecting to MySQL, it was looking for the mysql.sock file in /var instead of /tmp. The easiest fix here was to create a /etc/php.ini file, consisting of the following:

; Default socket name for local MySQL connects.  If empty, uses the built-in MySQL defaults.
mysql.default_socket = /tmp/mysql.sock
; Default socket name for local MySQL connects.  If empty, uses the built-in MySQL defaults.
mysqli.default_socket = /tmp/mysql.sock

The second section for mysqli was required for version of MySQL 4.1 and later, once this was in place and Apache stopped and started, this problem was now history.

The last hurdle I had was getting policyd running, this is the greylisting package I use with Postfix. I had been struggling for some time to get newer builds of this running. I had somehow hacked the 1.7.x version into running previously, and was never able to duplicate my success with later builds. Thanks to some outstanding work by the developers, the final fixes to this are now available in the latest SVN builds, and I was able to get the 1.9.x experimental build to compile successfully, and more importantly, to run successfully as well.

In closing, what I'd like to say here is that when you're rolling your own code, patience is your best friend. Take things one step at a time, make sure you have a backup, and when you hit a wall, do searches and ask questions on mailing lists until you find the answers you need. If all else fails, post about your failures, and someone else might stumble across your post and supply the answers you need, it's amazing how things like that work out sometimes.

Posted by Jim at 9:27 PM | TrackBack

June 25, 2007

APC Back-UPS ES USB 650

Late last week I picked up a APC Back-UPS ES USB 650 for the office desktop system, the power at work has been quite intermittent lately with the thunderstorms rolling through the area, and it seems that the city just can't seem to keep the power on... I should have a full review soon, but I definitely like the software that's bundled with it. If I could just find a way to silence the alarm when the power drops, I'd be very happy...

Posted by Jim at 1:17 AM | TrackBack

May 26, 2007

FireExpress Triplet Enclosure review

At long last, I've finally managed to lay my hands on this beastie... Depending on where you find it, it might be known as FireXpress Triplet 3-in-1 FireWire USB to SATA Dual Drive Enclosure FX2U2S-EB2-35L (this is the one I picked up), or a CSS-35SSA2X (the one was originally wanting to review here). From looking at the online docs and the received product, these are in fact the same unit, but marketed under two separate brand names, the box itself gives no clue as to the actual manufacturer.

My ongoing quest for drive enclosures that support Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC) on SATA drives continues with a review of this stylish enclosure.

As you can see from the photo of the unit, it is styled similarly to the PowerMac G5/Mac Pro systems, and will compliment them well. The unit features aluminum construction, which is great for dissipating the heat generated by the two SATA hard drives. A built in fan (extremely quiet) in the rear of the enclosure keeps air moving past the drives, resulting in little noticable heat while the drives are running. USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 ports are available.

Included with the enclosure is an external power supply, a FireWire 800 cable (9 pin to 9 pin), a FireWire 400 cable (6 pin to 6 pin), and a USB 2.0A to mini-B cable (for attaching to your standard USB 2.0 port. A FireWire 800 to 400 cable would have been a nice addition, but was not included, as a FireWire 400 port is included on the unit itself.

The controller uses the Oxford 924 chipset, which fully supports SATA I and SATA II standards, and supports RAID 0 (Striping or Spanning), or can allow each drive to been seen separately. RAID 0 Striping was set (via an internal jumper) by default, and as the drive I was installing were identical (500Gb each) I left this setting unchanged. The controller type is a very important choice when considering an enclosure, older version of the Oxford chipset (922, etc) did not fully support SATA II, and non-Oxford chipsets to my knowledge do not currently support this standard either, so be sure to check this when looking at other enclosures you are considering.

OS X had no problems dealing with this drive or the RAID configuration, after plugging it in and turning it on, I immediately saw a message that the drive needed to be initialized, and Disk Utility made quick work of it, giving a total of 931.4 Gb usable space after formatting. My test system was lacking a FireWire 800 port, but tests using FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 showed that there were no problems in maximizing the available connection speed. As with any other similar device, running the connection through a hub rather than a dedicated port may result in slower than optimal throughput.

The unit includes an aluminum 'base', two separate brackets that attach on opposite sides of the drive in either a horizontal or vertical configuration. I use the term 'attach' loosely here, as the drive enclosure just sits on top of these brackets. There is a small rubbery pad at each end that at first I thought might have a removable film covering a sticky pad, but this was not the case. If the unit is going to be sitting flat and undisturbed, I'm sure that this will work fine. Four small rubber feet were also included, which might work better for some, I just left both of these off. The drive is currently sitting behind my LCD display, so the looks aren't all that important at this point. What I was expecting was that the aluminum brackets would use screws to attach, a bit of careful work with a drill and some self tapping screws would do the job nicely, if you were so inclined.

As I mentioned earlier, the enclosure will definitely handle drives using Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC), an increasingly common feature that helps reduce electromagnetic interference, especially between drives in close proximity with each others, such as you might have in a RAID setup, so that is a definite plus here.

Most serious computer users will eventually run out of drive space, requiring internal drive upgrades and/or external storage. Having an enclosure available that will let you continue to use your original drive after an upgrade is a great thing to have, and with SATA drives becomming the standard on most systems, this enclosure would be a great one to consider. Or if you come across some bargain drives, setting up your own RAID is a snap, since there really is no such thing as having too much storage.

Posted by Jim at 10:59 PM | TrackBack

April 22, 2007

New Router

I've been documenting my efforts at getting my new router up and running over at WRTSL54GS Adventures, basically just a place for me to make notes to myself. ;) My Linksys WRTSL54GS is now up and running, and so the Firewall script that I had just put into production here is now a thing of the past, now that I can handle the tasks I need at the router level.

This is a fantastic router, and running OpenWRT on it instead of the default Linksys firmware opens up a lot of possibilities by being able to run Linux on the router, and add whatever functionality you might happen to need.

Posted by Jim at 2:47 PM | TrackBack

April 15, 2007

Firewall StartupItem part 2

One thing that's very important when setting up a new StartupItem like I did with my Firewall script is to make sure that the privledges are set correctly so that it actually runs at startup... The acticle I referenced didn't include this, but the reader comments at the end did. Specifically, the folder and enclosed items should be owned by root with group wheel with privs 755.

I had one question regarding the script and how I references the set of rules I wrote, the original article had these saved in /etc, which to me seemed a bit silly, having them in the same folder as the Startup script seemed much more logical. Here is my working script for this:


#!/bin/sh

##
# Firewall
##

. /etc/rc.common

StartService ()
{
if [ "${FIREWALL:=-NO-}" = "-YES-" ]
then
ConsoleMessage "Starting Firewall"
sh /Library/StartupItems/Firewall/fw.rules > /dev/null
fi
}

StopService ()
{
ConsoleMessage "Stopping Firewall"
/sbin/ipfw -f -q flush
}

RestartService ()
{
StopService
StartService
}

RunService "$1"

Posted by Jim at 9:55 PM | TrackBack

February 5, 2007

Why Symbian is failing...

I came across an excellent article today that goes into a lot of detail on the Symbian OS and the various phones that use it, and the various factors that have conspired to cripple it. Give it a read here, and find out why the iPhone is likely to leapfrog this formerly great OS in short order.

My own take on this is that the article hits the mark pretty well. I had been investigating new phones for some time to replace my old Nokia 3650, one of Nokia's original Series 60 units, and was fairly disappointed with the newer Series 60 OS. My old apps wouldn't work, and suitable replacements were not to be found. Looking in from the outside, the 'new' OS made little sense from a consumer standpoint, the Symbian OS was in my opinion by far the best OS on any smartphone, but management decisions were killing 3rd party development, and a bloated OS was being built on what now appears to be a fairly shakey foundation.

The Symbian phones were succeeding despite themselves, simply because of the fact that everything else sucked more. The new iPhone with a core OS of OS X is indeed years ahead of other phones. With its core OS being based on OS X Leopard, the latest and greatest features and code are going to be available to developers who already have experience building Mac applications. The iPhone will debut years ahead of where other phones are heading, once developers get on board and Apple itself expands the feature set, this thing is going to be unstoppable.

Posted by Jim at 7:45 PM | TrackBack

January 9, 2007

iPhone prediction from 2004

As most of the tech and business world is aware, Apple has at long last announced the iPhone, currently set to ship around June. Rumors have been flying for years on this juicy bit of technology, so I thought I'd dig up my own thoughts from 2004, 2 years and one month ago, and oddly enough from close to the same time that this current product was conceived...

In looking back, I think I hit the mark pretty well, the full screen, touch sensitive display, built in WiFi and Bluetooth. I have to admit that the thought of something this size running a version of OS X never occured to me, but a more robust OS was certainly what I was after at the time, capable of handling QuickTime and iTunes content, web, and email access. It's amazing how technology has advanced in two years.

One key point that I hit on was games, something currently lacking on this product, the screen shots and demos do not include any hint at a games area, but as these are things available for current iPods, I'm sure that by the time the iPhone ships, a nice selection of games will be available for purchase, as well as a select few bundled with the phone, or possibly available as a free download. As FCC certification is pending, the bundled software may be fixed at this time, but should be easily expandable later.

Posted by Jim at 10:43 PM | TrackBack

October 4, 2006

CoolDrives Dual SATA enclosure

Well, it looks like the drive I wrote about a few days ago has a big brother... CoolDrives now has a Dual SATA enclosure, the CSS-35SSA2X, also based on the Oxford 924 chipset. I should have one of these in my hands in about a week, and will post all the juicy details after I've taken it for a spin.

Posted by Jim at 8:57 PM | TrackBack

September 30, 2006

Router Time...

I'm once again thinking of replacing my aging Asante router here, and am leaning heavily towards the Linksys WRTSL54GS, it has a lot of great features, and best of all can run an alternate (and customizable) firmware, which sounds like a lot of fun. I've been exploring several options over the last week or so, and right now this guy is leading the pack. More info in a week or three on this front.

What is really bugging me though is that I've also been searching for info on turning my web/mail server box (running Mac OS X 10.4.x) into a router, I can easily throw another ethernet card or two in there, and I can find these little embedded Linux devices everywhere that function as routers, and I know that OS X has to have everything I need in there, but docs are pretty sparce from what I can tell. Of course, I'm also looking for a fancy front end so I don't have to figure out all this IPFW stuff on my own, but is that too much to ask?


Posted by Jim at 1:09 AM | TrackBack

September 25, 2006

CoolGear SATA PRO-35AXC Enclosure

As promised, what follows is my review of the CoolGear eSATA HDD Enclosure (3.5"), not a terribly snappy name, but relatively descriptive. The drive is available from SATAGear.com as well as CoolDrives.com, and possibly other resellers, SATAGear.com is apparently CoolGear's own retail site from what I can tell, and they do offer the drive at a slightly lower price, though CoolDrives' site has prettier pictures.

This enclosure uses the newer Oxford 924 chipset, most other SATA drive enclosures that I found were based on the older 922 chipset, or even older versions. The specifications indicated that it supported both SATA I and SATA II drives up to 750Gb capacity, most other enclosures I had checked out seemed to top out at about 500Gb, so this one definitely seems a bit more cutting edge than the others, so playing a hunch, I gave it a whirl.

As I had mentioned previously, my main goal was to find an enclosure that, when attached to a system via USB 2.0 or Firewire, would properly recognize a Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC) enabled hard drive, this type of drive most commonly used in RAID arrays or multi drive systems. The SSC functions primarily to reduce EMF emmissions, and is almost a requirement for densely packed drive arrays, and it just happens that the drives commonly found in Apple's Xserves will typically have SSC enabled, and unfortunately it is not possible to disable this setting. Occasionally I have a need to transfer data from one of these drives to another system, perform data recovery, or other functions requiring that the hard drive be accessed via another system, and I generally don't keep spare Xserves sitting at my desk waiting for such moments to occur. Hence, my desire for a suitable external enclosure that could attach to most any other system.

And boy, does this enclosure have options for attaching. It includes a USB 2.0 port, dual FireWire 800 (1394b) ports, and an eSATA port for direct connection to a SATA controller card. Now, if your system only has the older FireWire 400 (1394a) ports, don't despair, as FireWire 800 can in fact attach directly to the slower FireWire 400 ports (with appropriate cable) and work without problems, though of course at the slower speed. The USB 2.0 port is actually a mini-B connector, like that found on most newer digital cameras, rather than the usual 'B' connector found on printers and such. However, don't let any of that bother you, because this drive comes with all the cables you could possibly need.

Included are the external power supply (of course), a full FireWire 800 cable (9 pin to 9 pin), a FireWire 800 to 400 cable (9 pin to 6 pin), a USB 2.0A to mini-B cable (for attaching to your standard USB 2.0 port, and of course, an eSATA to eSATA (Type 'I' connectors) cable for attaching directly to an SATA controller card (not included).

Three screws hold the back of the enclosure on, you'll need a very small phillips screwdriver (specifically a size 00 would be ideal), removing these allows the drive sled to slide out from the top housing. Shock mounts are on all four points where the drive attaches to the case to prevent vibration, a green LED on the front indicates power, this switches to red to indicate drive activity.

The aluminum construction is very solid feeling, not like aluminum looking plastic enclosures many manufacturers are making. The back of the drive has a very clean layout, the ports nicely spaced to allow cables to plug in. The only thing that actually felt wrong was the rocker switch for power seemed like it was recessed just a tad too far into the case, but my unit looks exactly as the web site says it should, and the switch works as you'd expect, but it feels slightly cheap, lacking a nice, crisp click when switching positions. A very minor nit to pick, really, since you're not likely to be turning the drive off and on all day long, and mine will only be powered down when I unplug the power cable anyway...

System Profiler gives some details on the enclosure, as well as the 400Gb drive I used for testing. Again, this model is using Oxford's 924 chipset, supports SATA I and II drives, including Spread Spectrum Clocking enabled drives, includes two FireWire 800 ports, a USB 2.0 port, and a eSATA port, and supports drive sizes up to 750Gb.

The bottom of the enclosure is vented to allow some airflow into the case, but are no other vents elsewhere to help heat escape. Despite that, even after running for several hours, the top of the case was warm, but not exceptionally so, and the sides (all part of the same aluminum piece) were still fairly cool. A small fan would have been a nice addition, but considering the small dimentions of the enclosure, even fitting a 20mm square fan would be a challenge.

Performance of the drive is excellent, attached to my desktop system (PowerMac G4 Quicksilver) at home via FireWire 400 (supporting speeds up to 40MB/s), and going through a Belkin FireWire hub at that, the drive was still able to copy a 300Gb disk image to an ATA drive on the internal 133Mhz bus faster than I could copy between ATA drives, one on the internal 133Mhz bus, and the other on the internal 100Mhz bus. USB 2.0 speeds are generally 48MB/s, and FireWire 800 speeds can reach 80Mb/s, so the faster your available ports, the better performance you'll see. Anyone with a SATA card in their machines can attach the drive directly via the eSATA port, and see performance up to 300MB/s for SATA II, or 150MB/s for SATA I.

All in all, this is definitely a great enclosure, it looks sharp, and is a fantastic addition for any system, be it as a permanent addition, or just temporary storage.

Posted by Jim at 9:46 PM | TrackBack

September 23, 2006

Serial ATA Enclosure Found!

It looks like my search for a functional Serial ATA enclosure that supports Spread Spectrum Clocking enabled drives has finally paid off. After contacting numerous manufacturers and distributors and even an email to Oxford Semiconductor themselves, I've stumbled across an enclosure which does in fact support SSC SATA drives.

Despite the fact that several of my emails went unanswered, and that no manufacturer would admit to making an enclosure that supported SSC, it turns out that CoolGear does in fact make such a beast.

I played a hunch, and ordered this puppy from CoolDrives.com, also available from SATAGear.com. I've only had a short time to test it out, but so far it's two thumbs up. Stay tuned for a full review.

Posted by Jim at 12:10 AM | TrackBack

August 30, 2006

The quest for a SATA enclosure...

What started out as a simple task has snowballed into a major endeavor. The job was simple, buy an external enclosure that I could put a spare Serial ATA drive into, and plug it into my Mac via Firewire or USB. Unfortunately, Serial ATA has a hidden gotcha called Spread Spectrum Clocking that a lot of SATA gear just doesn't support.

A number of SATA drives on the market don't even have this feature available, it's primary purpose is to reduce EMI emissions in multi-drive systems (RAIDs and such), so typically only higher end drives would feature this. Of the drives that do have this feature, a select few apparently have a jumper setting to enable/disable the function, but most drives don't have a way for the user to change this preset setting. And of course, as it happens, the drive I had intended to use had SSC enabled, as it was from an Xserve G5.

One of the main goals in purchasing the enclosure was so that I could perform data recovery, backup, etc, on a separate system that didn't have SATA built in, I could just move the drive to my enclosure, do my work, and get the drive back where it needed to go. So because I don't know what type of drives I'd be working with, and because it's likely I'll be needing to work with Xserve drives, I obviously NEED to have SSC support.

I've already spoken with several enclosure manufacturers, so far, none have had a model that supported SSC. The search continues...

Posted by Jim at 10:03 AM | TrackBack

March 10, 2006

New Camera

Well, I'm finally breaking down and getting a new digital camera to replace my old HP Photosmart 318, a 2.31 megapixel camera purchased purchased about 4 years ago. This camera was itself a replacement for my old Apple QuickTake 200 (and QuickTake 100 before that...). The thing that has driven me nuts these last few years was the lack of a zoom lens, and I'm tired of wide angle shots. Most digital cameras on the market have a wimpy 3x optical zoom if they have one at all, though a few have higher zooms. With the race for megapixels over the last few years, I still find it amazing that the camera's optics have barely been considered by most purchasers.

New new camera changes that, in fact, it doesn't even come with a lens. I'm going with the Nikon D50 a digital SLR camera. After reading reviews and talking with several folks, I've chosen Nikon's AF-S Nikkor 18 - 200 mm f/3.5-5.6G DX ED VR lens, a fairly new high performance lens that should handle most of my needs well.

A number of retailers will sell the D50 with various lower quality lenses or accessories, and these may work well for many folks, but I decided to spend a bit more and get a better lens right away, that way I won't waste time with lower quality items that I'll replace later. I'm also picking up a 2Gb memory card, which should serve my needs pretty well. I've never come close to filling the 512Mb card in my HP Photosmart camera, so 2Gb should do nicely.

I'll still keep the Photosmart around, maybe let the boys use it when they want to take some pics on trips and such, I've even got the QuickTake's around here somewhere, but the Nikon is all mine...

Posted by Jim at 4:46 PM | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

Apple & Palm = ?

Hot rumor floating around (again), several big Palm investors seem to want this to happen, but nothing brewing in the Apple camp that has been leaked yet...

I've said for a while now that Palm could use some help, an Apple takeover would certainly help them out, and could give their products a bit more flash than they have currently.

Posted by Jim at 11:56 PM | TrackBack

February 1, 2006

iPhone again

Way back in December '04, I wrote about the possibility of an Apple branded cell phone, and as we all know this turned out to be the Motorola ROKR. It did not include any iPhoto integration as the original rumor went, but still turned out to be a nice phone, though not branded by Apple.

Now, some months after this, Nokia announced that it would be bundling a new browser based on Sarari with their (excellent) Series 60 phones, thanks to help from Apple. I'm frankly surprised that this didn't spur another round of rumors at the time. But now, whispers are again being heard...

The press was not terribly kind with the ROKR, bloggers complained about various phone elements, and there were charges by many that Apple sabotaged the phone so that it wouldn't cripple iPod sales, and others considered the possibility that Apple was testing the waters for a phone of their own design to be released at a later time. The new SLVR model is a bit more stylish and hip, but carries the same iTunes limitations (100 songs), and slow transfer speeds for tunes.

What few folks are saying, though, is that this 100 song 'limit' is pretty much the max on the 512Mb TransFlash module in the phone, currently the largest capacity chip available of that type, and the slow data transfers appear to be a function of this memory, not a limitation of the phone's USB port.

On the Nokia front, their new browser is set to be available the first half of 2006, so of course we have no info on what the public will think of this yet. A browser isn't as sexy as iTunes, but still, it's another core Apple technology that will be in another phone.

So, the question now is, will Apple just be helping others to make their products better, or is this a preliminary move in the creation of a real Apple branded cell phone, something that incorporates Apple's sense of style and functionality with lifestyle apps like iTunes and iPhoto, and productivity apps like Safari, iCal, and Address Book (similar apps are already present in most phones)?

Posted by Jim at 4:37 PM | TrackBack

New iTunes Phone

Motorola is now shipping their second iTunes phone, as before only Cingular is picking up the new SLVR L7 model here in the US. Pretty sharp looking, thinner than their RAZR, looks very similar to the RAZR, but it isn't a flip phone, which is nice to see. I've never been a fan of flip phones, so it's nice to see some decent models in this form factor again.

I had been looking for a new phone for my wife, and she was leaning towards the ROKR, but this might be her next phone. Now, if only Amazon would get with the program and start selling it...

Posted by Jim at 4:31 PM | TrackBack

January 5, 2006

Microsoft Urge - Powered by Sun

Nice to know that Microsoft doesn't even trust their own OS for a major service. Now if only the rest of their customers would figure this out... Note the icon (soon to be changed, no doubt), when visiting their new music service...


Posted by Jim at 4:09 PM | TrackBack

November 20, 2005

Evolution TV Review

EvolutionTV is a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) for the Mac. It allowed the user to view and record TV, as well as pause/rewind live TV.

The unit features a USB 2.0 interface for bringing the audio/video into the Mac, which can leave some older systems out in the cold. A USB 2.0 PCI card can add this functionality to most systems that meet the speed requirements of the software (PowerMac G4/1Ghz or better), which would let most supported Macs but the iMac join the fun.


The unit is very stylish, with the brushed aluminum case providing looks as well as dissipating what little heat is produced. The one drawback was the lack of a stand for positioning the unit vertically, a nice feature for a cramped desktop. The back of the unit includes the coax input for TV, but also includes composite and s-video inputs, as well as stereo audio, so video from older sources (VCR or camcorders) can be imported easily.

The software provides several encoding options for optimizing video quality, or minimizing file size, and the built in iMovie integration allows recorded video to be edited and burned to DVD from within iMovie. Integration with TitanTV or (tvtv for European users) allows convenient scheduling of recordings, and integration with iCal provides yet another option for keeping track of your viewing schedule. And don't worry if your Mac is asleep or powered off, the software can automatically wake or boot the Mac in plenty of time to catch the next recording.

The one problem I had with the software (but not something that was claimed to be possible), was that it did not provide a complete one-stop solution for viewing/recording/scheduling, so it's no TiVo replacement just yet, but as the name implies, the software is continuing to evolve, the most recent version having gained the ability to pause/rewind live TV. So it is certainly possible that a future version may include such increased functionality.

Miglia also provides great support. When the package was first opened, a slight rattle was heard from the power adapter, apparently from a small bit of metal that had sheared off during manufacture. Though still functional, the adapter was quickly replaced. Later in my testing I downloaded a new version of the EvolutionTV software when setting this up on another system, and was not able to properly view video, a support ticket went in and it was quickly revealed that this software update was problematic with NTSC video, and a revision was quickly posted.

All in all, the Evolution TV is a fine product, and one that should continue to improve over time. The evolutionTV is available from many online retailers or direct from Miglia's online store, and has a suggested retail price of $279.

Posted by Jim at 3:13 PM | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

Keyspan USB Print Server

About a week ago, my doorbell rings, and before I can get to the door I can hear a large truck driving off, and on the doorstep is a small box. It really irks me when delivery drivers just drop stuff on the porch, but when I found out it was a new goodie to review, I quickly forgot all about that and tore into the packaging.

Behold, the Keyspan PS-4A USB Print Server! Not to be confused with the older US-4A model, which looks identical, the new PS-4A model is bi-directional (printers that can report back ink/paper status can now do so), and includes full USB 2.0 connectivity.

So, just what is a USB print server, exactly? Basically, this will turn your USB based printer into a networkable TCP/IP based printer, sharable to every computer on your network. I know, some of you are probably thinking, hey, I've got a Mac, I can share my printer already. And of course, I was thinking the same thing, until I decided to take this little box for a spin.

The first thing I thought that would be handy is that you wouldn't need to leave a system running to keep your printer shared. The second thing I thought of was that you could print to your printer from an entirely different network over IP, either from a separate subnet in a corporate environment, or to your home system from elsewhere through your home router, something that Rendezvous, er, Bonjour, doesn't do. So, I set about to set things up and see how it all worked.

The box included a CD with software that installed easily on my Mac, and basically this will let you configure your Print Server, set it up with a static IP or use DHCP addressing, etc, etc, and will essentially make it appear to be a separate USB port on your Mac. A connected printer will immediately pop up in your Printer Setup Utility as an available printer with no configuration necessary, assuming you have the necessary drivers already installed for that model, very nice.

The PS-4A directly supports attaching 4 USB devices, but according to the documentation devices that happen to supply extra USB ports for pass-through (internal hubs) will let it chain up to 8 devices total off the one server. Personally, I don't see folks having that many USB printers all in the same spot, but still, nice to be expandable.

First thing I tested was a HP Deskjet 5550 at the office, plugged everything in per the directions, installed the software, and after launching their config utility, sure enough, the printer popped right up. One thing that I didn't care for was that the default setup must have the user 'connect' to their printer in this utility to make it available for use (basically make it unavailable to other users), they can then print, and finally free it up for others to use. Didn't seem very Mac-like, must be a Windows thing. Fortunately, they also include an auto-connect option, which just as it sounds, lets the Mac connect on the fly without checking out the printer first, and releases it once finished.

The big advantage of the new model printer server is that it is bi-directional, meaning that the printer can communicate back to the Mac, for things like paper and ink status. I was able to use HP's utility to get the status of my ink levels and other info, worked just like it was there on the USB bus.

I tested with a few other model printers at the office, several HP models, both Inkjet and a Laser, all worked as expected. So, I packed up my trusty HP 5550 and the PS-4A and brought them home, hooked it all up here, installed the software, and again things worked as expected. I then set up my router's firewall to port forward the particular port I had assigned the print server to the print server's IP address. I connected back to my work system, entered the IP address of where the print server was now located, and in a few moments had again established a connection to the server, but this time across the internet from my office to my home, through my router, and finally to the print server. As before, the HP 5550 popped right up, and another print job came through just fine.

This last test wasm for me, the most impressive. My particular router doesn't like my IP printer at home, or probably any standard IP printer. The router included an option on some models to hook a parallel printer up and print to it via IP, my model didn't include this port, but the router still hogged that port assignment just the same, making printing to a standard IP printer impossible through the router, so I could never print to my home printer from the office before. At last, I was able to send jobs through to a printer here, basically because the Keyspan server uses a non-standard port (reassignable by the user) for printing.

All in all, I was very pleased with this product. In addition to supporting printers, it also supports scanners, multi-function printers, storage devices, PDAs, digital cameras, etc., but no audio/video type devices. I hope to get my hands on one of the newer HP multifunction printers soon and give that a try with this server, HP sells ethernet adapters for several of their printers, but the price on those is much higher than the cost of this little box, and if it works just as well, why spend the money?

Keyspan is well known for their great products, and this looks like another winner for them.

Posted by Jim at 4:17 PM | TrackBack

August 8, 2005

Spring Forward, Fall Down

Thanks to an act of Congress, the United States will gain an extra month of of daylight starting in 2007, when Daylight Savings Time begins three weeks earlier, and ends a week later. There are a number of positive askects to this, but for tech types, there may be cause for concern.

Daylight Savings Time was last changed in 1987, since that time, a number of devices have incorporated built in clocks that automatically reset for DST automatically (VCRs, etc), not to mention computers with built in clocks. So, in less than two years, these devices will no longer function properly (during those 4 weeks), which for some might be problematic. It is a given that software updates for the latest operating systems will be updated within that time to include fixes for this, and that most likely previous OS versions may also have minor patches released. But older systems may not receive updates, and devices such as VCRs won't be updatable.

Schools in particular tend to keep older computer equipment running as long as possible, and they are likely to be hit hard by this, but at the same time, the clock being off by an hour in a school lab is likely to be much less critical than a mission critical server in, say, a nuclear power plant.

Posted by Jim at 8:45 PM | TrackBack

August 4, 2005

Windows Vista Viruses

Just days after Windows Vista was made available to developers, the first Windows Vista viruses were already on the loose. Apparently this next-generation platform really delivers on the breakthrough basics and end-to-end experiences promoted on the Microsoft Windows Vista web site. If virus development continues at this pace for Vista, buyers may well find the shrink wrapped CDs already fully loaded with them by the time the product ships, saving customers the time of having their systems infected over the internet...

Posted by Jim at 11:25 PM | TrackBack

May 26, 2005

Intel chief (almost) recommends Macs

Intel's CEO Paul Otellini has stopped just short of recommending the Mac, but admits that security concerns on Intel hardware won't be fixed anytime soon.

Let the Apple/Intel rumor mongers chew on that one for a while...

Posted by Jim at 12:45 AM | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

Apple/Intel rumors - Bah!

Well, the media is just going nuts thanks to a rumor started by 'analysts' at the Wall Street journal about Apple possibly using Intel chips in upcoming products, and everyone's just falling all over themselves buzzing about the possibility. Personally I think that anyone in the media that starts talking about such things should be fired for their incompetence, but here's my take on all of this.

First of all, nowhere in the original article was the word PROCESSOR mentioned. You know, that really big chip that runs the whole show? Last time I checked, Intel made more than just Pentiums, and Apple has used Intel chips in the past in its products. In fact, at this very moment I'm staring at an Apple multi-port Ethernet card removed from a G4 server, and it has Intel chips all over it.

Next, even if there was the thought of moving to Intel processors, as I mentioned Posted by Jim at 7:28 PM | TrackBack

April 17, 2005

Asterisk GUIs

Asterisk is making the news again, this time with a story about various folks coming up with GUI interfaces for Asterisk to help manage various tasks.

Posted by Jim at 9:33 PM | TrackBack

April 8, 2005

Mac based PBX

Lately I've been reading up on a facinating piece of software called Asterisk™ , an Open Source PBX (Private Branch Exchange), basically a system for running multiple phones/lines just like most decent sized companies have. And the thing that caught my attention is that it can run on the Mac without too much fuss.

Of course, to get the most use out of it you'd need an IP enabled phone, or a softphone application for your desktop, but regular phones and phone lines can be made to work too with some extra hardware to interface them. I'm seriously thinking about setting up such a system here at home. I'll post more about this when I've had a chance to play with it a bit more...

Posted by Jim at 11:41 PM | TrackBack

March 4, 2005

Shuffle Raid wrapup

This looks to be my final wrapup on the iPod Shuffle RAID article I wrote a few weeks back that drew so much attention. Included are some final notes on installing OS X to a Shuffle, USB hub observations, and some USB 2.0 PCI card notes.

First, some comments on USB hubs. I received several questions from readers on why certain USB hubs were rejected, As several reviews of the iPod Shuffle have noted, the total width of the Shuffle is a tad larger than the average USB cable connector, consequently it has a tendency to block adjacent ports which are mounted side by side horizontally. Ports mounted vertically present less of an issue as the height of the Shuffle isn't significantly greater than a standard USB connector plug.

So, the main choice in hub selection was one where the ports were separated far enough to allow multiple Shuffles to be plugged in without interfering with each other, the cool look of what I ended up with was pure coincidence.

Next on the USB front, USB 2.0 PCI cards. I investigated several cards from a range of vendors, from the well known Mac vendors (Belkin, Keyspan, D-Link) and other no-name PC type companies, in all cases, what I found was that while I could find PCI cards with as many as 5 ports on a card, in each case these ports were all part of a single common bus. To put it another way, the cards featured a single USB 2.0 port connected to a USB 2.0 hub. So despite the fact that the cards featured multiple ports, each connected device would still be sharing a common bus.

In the case of a Shuffle RAID, I do not believe that any significant speed boost would be seen by using a card with multiple ports versus simply using a hub as I did originally. Some benefit 'might' be seen by putting some Shuffles on the Mac's internal USB bus, and others on a PCI USB card's bus, but I'm not convinced that even 4 Shuffles would saturate the bus sufficiently to slow data transfer by a noticeable amount.

Finally, installing OS X to a Shuffle. The Installer prevents this, it's apparently smart enough to know that the Shuffle can't be a boot device, so this choice isn't even offered. Reformatting the Shuffle (done automatically when it becomes part of a RAID set) doesn't help, and though there are some tricks that will apparently force the Installer to install onto 'other' drives, I don't believe that this would have made any difference.

Several folks suggested using Carbon Copy Cloner, an excellent utility for duplicating drives (among other things), to mirror a working boot drive to the Shuffle. This method would have involved creating a drive that was sufficiently slimmed down to fit onto a 4 Shuffle array.

Unfortunately, getting my original group of 4 Shuffles back together in one spot proved exceedingly difficult, so instead I used a utility called BootCD, a very clever bit of software that will strip out the essential bits of the OS in order to create a bootable CD containing OS X, the Finder, etc. So, I created an image weighing in at about 650Mb containing Mac OS X 10.3.5, and copied this back to a single Shuffle, reformatted as a Mac OS Extended partition.

Startup Disk now saw this drive as an available choice to boot from, but oddly prevented me from selecting it as my boot drive. The icon for the drive would highlight, but the system would beep at me each time I did this, selecting any other valid boot drive did not result in this same beep. Also, quitting from Startup Disk and rechecking settings revealed that this setting was not being preserved, and rebooting the Mac showed that this was in fact the case.

The final trick of holding down the Option key at Startup to select the boot drive resulted in the system hanging, apparently the OS just didn't know how to deal with a Shuffle that had an OS installed onto it. After a few minutes of waiting for the system to finish scanning for boot drives, I finally shut it down.

So ended the search for a bootable iPod Shuffle. However, several folks wrote about the possibility of using such a RAID as a way to secure data so that it could not be recovered without all Shuffles being present. Perhaps some secret documents could be stored on such a RAID, and several people given a Shuffle so that only this group could meet at some other location to recover the data (think James Bond or some form of corporate intrigue). This would obviously not need to be done with Shuffles, any similar Flash media would suffice.

One other reader pointed out that this may actually be the record for the world's smallest (physically) RAID array (cool!), but again since this could be done with any USB Flash device, it wouldn't take much for someone to throw one together about half again this size.

Finally, I'd like to thank all the thousands of folks around the world that visited my site, some to marvel at what I had done, others to simply marvel at the photos of 4 iPod Shuffles all in the same place at the same time. To all of them I'd simply like to say, stay creative, and keep Thinking Different.

Posted by Jim at 11:10 PM | TrackBack

February 14, 2005

USB card search

Well, I'm not having a whole lot of luck so far, I've researched several USB 2.0 cards, most 4-5 port models, and what I've found is that these cards basically offer a single USB 2.0 bus, shared among each of the ports on the card. Essentially, a 1 USB port card with a built in hub. Not really what I'm looking for. On the plus side, these same cards reportedly offer TWO USB 1.1 busses at the same time, so if you're mixing device types, it isn't quite so bad, but I already have two USB 1.1 ports (each on their own bus), so that functionality is useless.

Certainly there must be someone that offers a USB 2.0 card with multiple USB 2.0 busses, my search continues...

Posted by Jim at 10:13 PM | TrackBack

February 10, 2005

Shuffle RAID Redux

You've asked for it, you've got it! In the next few weeks I'll be revisiting my iPod Shuffle RAID project, and I've got a few new things to try out. First I'll be adding a USB 2.0 card and quality USB 2.0 extension cables to the mix (Manufacturers, please feel free to contact me regarding donating produt to review), and eliminating the USB 2.0 hub. Second, I've got a few ideas in mind that might just get a bootable OS onto the array, so stay tuned for that. The big delay, of course, will be getting my hands back on those four iPod shuffles... ;)

And to answer the big question that's been floating around the net since I posted that article 'Why', it's as simple as 'Why not?'. For those that complained that this was not a cost effective solution, they've obviously missed the point or are humor impaired. This was just one of those cool projects to see how far you can stretch a given technology, and hopefully give others some ideas on what things are capable of. But it might just be a record for the highest capacity RAID drive of it's size...

Posted by Jim at 6:21 PM | TrackBack

February 3, 2005

iPod Shuffle RAID

So, what do you do when you and some friends are all getting iPod Shuffles? You make a RAID array out of them, of course! Follow along as we explore new depths of geekery...

Special thanks to Justin, Melissa, and Shanea for the use of their iPod Shuffles. ;)

So, here we have our iPod Shuffles, all the top of the line 1Gb models. I'm sure that normal folks would probably take these home, install iTunes 4.7.1 from the CD in the box, and happily start putting music on the little things, but I had other plans for them...



Of course, for my plans to work, I next had to take a quick trip over to Fry's to pick up a suitable USB 2.0 hub, and by suitable I mean one that would allow two or more Shuffles to be plugged in. Not an easy task, but I finally found a nice little one from PPA Inc. that would do the job (Model 1820, not listed on their web site). After getting them all plugged in, it looked like this:





Next we have the process of preparing them to be used as a RAID array. So we fire up Disk Utility, and put them into a RAID set, Striping them for a grand total of 3.9Gb of storage.



Once that process has completed, we how have the new RAID volume available on the desktop and can copy files over to it. As far as the Mac is concerned, it's just another drive on the system. Of course, iTunes no longer recognizes it, but it's no longer really portable in this configuration anyway...



Total time to copy a total of 1.86Gb was just under 11 minutes. Obviously if each Shuffle had been on their own independent USB 2.0 BUS, this speed would have been improved.

My original intent was to actually install OS X on the RAID and boot from that, but the OS X (Panther, 10.3.5) Installer wouldn't allow installation onto the RAID array, either as a Strip or Mirror set. After restoring the Shuffles to their original configuation, I tried the OS X Installer again and even the Shuffle itself would not allow OS X to be installed on it, possibly due to how the volume itself is made available to the OS.



3/3/05 - Note: Be sure to read the followup article, Shuffle Raid wrapup.

Posted by Jim at 5:29 PM | TrackBack

December 2, 2004

New cell phone blues

My wife has finally decided it was time to upgrade her phone, so I went shopping online looking for options. Her only comment was that she wanted one that could play solitaire. Of course, my requirement was that it could sync via iSync to our Mac at home.

I wanted to stick with a Nokia phone, as I still love my Nokia 3650. But the only compatible phones I could find were both high end Nokias, the 3620, and the 6620, both Symbian Series 60 phones. None of the other Nokias were listed as being compatible with iSync, including all of Nokia's Series 40 phones. Quite a shame, considering that there's so many of these models now, with more on the way, and no amount of searching has revealed a hack for iSync to work with these models.

My search continues...

Posted by Jim at 11:26 PM | TrackBack

November 13, 2004

MS vs Palm OS

Interesting new today reporting thatMicrosoft takes the lead over Palm OS in the PDA market. Not entirely surprising considering some of Palm's problems and strategic decisions over the last few years...

I'm still standing behind my thought that what would really do well in this market is a 6" PowerBook, a full fledged computer running a standard OS. Maybe someday...

Posted by Jim at 7:35 PM | TrackBack

October 30, 2004

iBook built in Bluetooth

Tonight I came across a cool hack where a guy actually installed a USB Bluetooth module in an iBook. Yes, an external USB module inside the iBook. Not terribly involved, but will certainly void your warranty.

The author complains at the end that this will of course keep that USB port from being used for anything else. It occured to me from looking at the pics that there might actually be enough room to install a small unpowered USB hub in there too, giving him his port back. I've picked these up on sale at Fry's for under $5. You'd need to remove the shell, but I think it might work...

Posted by Jim at 8:20 PM | TrackBack

September 7, 2004

News flash, floppies obsolete!

I'm passing this on in case there's a few of you out there who aren't up on all this latest tech stuff like the folks at CNN, who are reporting that Floppy disk near obsolescence. Some of you might not have realized that Dell apparently started this trend way back in 2003 when they stopped including floppy drives with new computers.

Never mind the fact that Apple went this route 5 years before and never looked back, which you'll learn if you keep reading all the way down to the bottom of the article. Hmmm, wonder if I should tip off CNN that 8-Track tapes might be on their way out too?

Posted by Jim at 9:22 PM | TrackBack

August 29, 2004

Longhorn Lite?

CNET is reporting on some developments, or lack thereof?, with Microsoft's new Longhorn operating system, the next generation of Windows software due out sometime in 2006. Apparently, Microsoft is busy slaughtering features to meat, er, meet, their deadline.

What this means is that by the time Mac folks have been running Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) for over a year, and are getting ready to buy the next upgrade to Mac OS, Microsoft may finally be getting close to shipping their OS, and by all accounts, it may well end up being a bum steer...

Posted by Jim at 1:18 AM | TrackBack

July 28, 2004

Office Series 750VA Review

A few weeks back, the folks at Belkin were nice enough to send over one of their new Office Series 750VA Uninterruptible Power Supplies for me to review. After having had a chance to spend some time with the unit, I'm finally ready to publish my notes.

I should add here that both Tripp-Lite and APC were contacted regarding doing a comparison of their equivalent units (despite Tripp-Lite not having a Mac version of their UPS software), but neither company chose to participate.

As most of you are probably aware, power failures can be a major headache to computer users, resulting in anything from losing unsaved documents, to corrupted files, to damaged hardware. Case in point, while I was out on vacation in July, a power glitch at the office fried the hard drive in my main desktop system, not only damaging my drive, but causing an automated backup I have scheduled to copy over the corrupted data, essentially losing everything permanently. Obviously not what I wanted to come back from vacation to.

Back at home, the same storm that tore through the area apparently dropped power while I was gone, I was greeted with flashing alarm clocks and my VCRs blinking 12:00 at me. But my web/mail server didn't miss a beat, and more importantly, my cable modem was still up and running, thanks to the Belkin UPS.

My cable modem seems to be especially picky when power drops for brief moments then comes back, my CPU will restart all by itself, but the cable modem, even though it has power, will stubbornly sit there with all lights off until unplugged for a full 10 seconds before power is restored. To say the least, a major pain.

To the rescue comes the Belkin Office Series 750VA, rated at a battery capacity of 750 volt/amps, and able to power a 400watt load, this little unit now protects my web server, cable modem, and router from power failures. In fact, as I write this, the system is on battery power with the AC cord dangling off the edge of my desk.

My G4 for the site is an older model (rated at 200 watts), and does draw less power than the later G4 models, and certainly less than the G5 systems. With the router and cable modem I figure I'm pulling no more than 250 watts max, this puts about a 16% load on the UPS while in operation. Obviously if a user were to run their display through the UPS, this would cause a much larger drain on the available power, depending on the display type, but for my use, this isn't really needed.

Belkin offers several different models in the Office Series, with varying battery capacities, and some additional features like broadband protection (to keep spikes from your cable connection away from your router). For some folks, just having a few extra moments to do a proper shut down can be a lifesaver, for others, being able to keep a system up for an hour or more without power may be critical.

For my particular setup, I was able to run without power for 30 minutes, and had only run the battery down to about 50%, so I should be able to get close to an hours use out of this particular model during a power failure.

As you can see from the picture of the unit here and on Belkin's web site, it's a very stylish design, not the ugly brick of UPSs from years past. It would look just fine sitting on top of your desk, or alongside your computer. There are six outlets on top, four are battery backed, the other two are surge protected only.

The USB cable includes with the unit plugs directly into one of your Mac or PCs available USB ports (or through a hub, but if it's powered, be sure to put that on the UPS too!), and communicates to a software package called Bulldog.

Bulldog is pretty slick, there's a bar meter showing the current battery and loading level, and two other analog meters showing a number of other indicators selected via a pull-down menu, including battery, input, and output voltage, input or output frequency, and battery and output loading.

The software allows the scheduling of short and long UPS tests, as well as scheduled shutdowns and restarts. The software can automatically shut down your system after a power failure, or can even wait until the battery has run down and given a battery low warning, giving you every last bit of power remaining and still shutting your system down properly. The software will even let you set the UPS itself to power off after your CPU has shut down, to keep the battery from draining further..

For anyone that's ever lost a piece of electronic equipment to an electrical storm, you'll be happy to hear that a $75,000 connected equipment warranty is included.

The battery in the unit is replaceable, and the Bulldog software can even be set to give a battery replacement notification for some date in the future. Unfortunately, no information on the battery or with the unit indicates when the battery should be replaced, and Belkin's web site does not currently give any information on how a replacement battery for the Office Series of UPSs can be ordered.

The UPS itself retails for $109.99, but a quick search around the net found prices all the way down to $66.14.

As I was beginning this review, some questions arose that I submitted to Belkin's Tech Support staff, specifically the battery life/replacement date, availability of replacement batteries, and an updated version of the Bulldog software that might be more compatible with MacOS 10.3.4. After receiving their automated reply, nothing further was heard. More than two weeks later, a followup email was sent, which also went unanswered. My recommendation here is to call and reach a live person, as their email support is definitely lacking.

A 10.3 compatible version of Bulldog was found online, but it was problematic, with intermittent connectivity to the UPS, failure to show available gauges, and other problems I believe caused by their low level routines that monitor UPS activity. As the monitoring software is definitely not a requirement, I didn't weigh this terribly heavily.

All in all, I would highly recommend this unit, and Belkin's other models in the Office Series, for any user needing reliable short term power and peace of mind.

Posted by Jim at 12:22 AM | TrackBack

June 28, 2004

Call to action, INDUCE Act

Ok, when I first heard about this, I thought it was just another internet hoax making the rounds, but it looks like there's meat to this one, and folks need to speak up and make their voices heard.

I'm speaking about the INDUCE Act, check that link for more info and what you can do about it. Also do a Google seach on 'INDUCE Act' and you'll come up with more info.

I'm a Wright leaning sort, but this bill needs to be stopped...

Posted by Jim at 8:49 PM | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

Plantronics M3000 headset review

I've been using the Plantronics M3000 bluetooth headset for a while, and though slightly late to the party, I've finally had a chance to write up my review on it.

I got one of these shortly after they first came on the market, so I've had plenty of time to work with it. My primary goal in picking up a headset for use with my Nokia 3650 was that it have Bluetooth capability, be somewhat stylish, and also be very light.

I was originally looking at their M1000, apparently no longer made, it was a boom style affair with the microphone right up by your mouth, and was very light, but unfortunately supported an older Bluetooth profile not used on my newer phone, and so back it went.

The M3000 seemed to be what I needed, with a weight of only 30 grams, and a very long (advertised 8 hours) talk time, and a reasonably attactive look. After having had some real world experience with it, I'd like to share my thoughts.

First, the headset looks like something out of Star Trek, my wife always calls me Uhura when I forget to take it off after getting home. I've had a number of folks ask me about it both at work and while out in public, reactions are almost always very positive. Wireless headsets are a new concept to most folks, and I think that folks really can appreciate not having all those wires running down from your ear to wherever you keep your phone.

The range on the headset is also pretty good. Normally, my phone is worn on a belt clip, but I've also answered my phone from across the room, or sometimes left the phone at my desk accidentally while walking to another part of my office, and don't notice the phone's not with me till I'm at least 30 feet away or more (30 feet is the advertised limit, and is also the limit definied in the Bluetooth specs, and this may vary depending on your phone).

Battery life is impressive, the advertised specs are 8 hours of talk time, and 200 hours (about 8 days) of standby time. I've never once had the battery go dead, but I normally turn the unit off when not in use (evenings/nights), and only charge it about once every 3-4 weeks, or whenever it occurs to me that I haven't charged it in a while. Seriously, why would you leave the headset turned on when you're sleeping?

The controls on the headset are conveniently placed, answering and disconnecting is accomplished by pressing the large button in the center of the headset, volume up/down are along the top edge, and the power on/off/mute button is right next to the volume buttons.

The one feature I'm not crazy about is that while on mute, the headset will produce a tone about every 30 seconds to remind you that you're on mute. This wouldn't be so bad if the tone were a bit softer, and it also interrupts the call you're listening to, rather than just beeping in the background, so you may miss bits of conversation, which can be quite annoying.

The noise cancelling microphone is very good, the audio quality is equal to that of my Nokia 3650, people I've asked can't tell if I'm using a headset versus the cell phone itself, which is good. Wind is probably the worst problem, but my cell phone has the same problem. I've found that while in the car, I'll need to turn down the blower and roll up the windows to cut down on wind noise, but again this is no different than what I'd do with my cell phone anyway.

My one major complain is with the plastic ear loop included with the headset. The earloops included are reversible for left/right ear, and come in two sizes, a large and a small, to better fit your ear. I've found the plastic loops to be rather stiff and uncomfortable when worn for long periods, but the fact that I also wear glasses may also be a large factor here. Plantronics does however offer what they describe as 'extra comfort ear loops' for an additional charge, but my feeling is that these should have been included with the headset from the beginning. I've always found Plantronics headsets to be very comfortable to wear (I used to have one on my desk phone at work), and would have thought that the more comfortable ear loops should have been standard. This extra set though does include a third, medium size earloop, so you're almost guaranteed to have an excellent fit between those available choices.

The M3000 has a suggested retail price of $139.95, but a quick web search has found prices as low as $61.77 currently.

Recently Plantronics has begun shipping the new M3500 headset, an identical form factor, but with improved noice cancellation and audio fidelity thanks to digital signal processing circuitry. Battery time has been reduced greatly (3.5 hours talk, 76 hours standby), but this model does include the extra comfort ear loops, a car lighter charging cable, and a form fitting pouch for when you're not wearing the headset. This unit retails for $169.95, and can be found online for as low as $85. For my money, I'd go with the M3500 over the M3000, the improved ear loops alone make it money well spent.

Posted by Jim at 10:04 PM | TrackBack

Presidential Ringtones

My friend CK over at 3650 and a 12 inch has linked to a blurb over at Engadget about Presidential candidate ringtones for your cell phone.

I don't share CK's political leanings, but these ringtones seemed a bit humorous so I thought I'd pass the info on.

Posted by Jim at 8:30 PM | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

Does your phone have worms?

News is making the rounds about the first worm to infect Symbian Series 60 phones (Nokia 3650/6600, N-Gage, etc). The link posted even has a few screen shots of this proof-of-concept worm in action.

Like most worms/trojans of this type, it relies on the user to actually install it. Why anyone would just install something beamed to them via Bluetooth is beyond me, but it happens all the time with mail attachments in the Windoze world. P.T. Barnum's words were never truer than they are today... There's a sucker born every minute.

Posted by Jim at 3:12 PM | TrackBack

June 15, 2004

This is your brain...

This is your brain with a USB interface... Any questions?

Posted by Jim at 9:22 PM | TrackBack

June 14, 2004

Spam help from Comcast

Well, some good news on the spam front, it seems. Comcast has fessed up to being a major source of spam.

Good for them, let's hope their efforts pay off to cut down on that estimated 700 million spam mails a day their subscribers are sending out...

Posted by Jim at 1:06 AM | TrackBack

June 7, 2004

AirPort Express!

This little gadget is totally the coolest thing I've seen all day. It may be one of the coolest things I've seen all year, for that matter. If you haven't seen it, check out the AirPort Express, the smallest wireless access point around, retailing for only $129.

MacWorld has a bit more about it here, as well as some info on the AirTunes software, used for streaming music from iTunes to your home stereo. While not quite as flexible as a full fledged AirPort base station, it's an incredible deal for what it does.

Posted by Jim at 8:20 PM | TrackBack

June 2, 2004

Camcorder batteries for camera?

Ok, I had weird idea yesterday. In searching for batteries, I've found some larger battery packs that plug into a digital camera's DC IN port, and can mount using the same screw used by a tripod to the camera. Some of these packs don't appear to even have the power of the batteries I'm using based on the maH (Mili-amps per hour) rating, so I'm assuming the larger packs can put out power for a longer period at that rate.

So, I got to thinking of my Sony Camcorder and how I have a spare battery for it, and could I use that for my digital camera? Short answer would be yes, if it were 6v, but my Sony battery is rated at 7.2, and actually with a charge is over 8v. Ack!

I used to be very into electronics, but haven't done much in that area for years, and so I'm not able to really see an obvious (cheap/efficient) solution to this dilema. I know I can drop the power down to 6v using some resistors to create a voltage drop, but that will shorten the life of the battery. I know I can use a regulator and drop that down to 5v or 6v, but since the difference between vOut and vIn isn't but 2v or so, that complicates things further.

Any circuit I can think of would either waste that precious battery power, or wouldn't work with the voltage levels needed, or not be able to handle the current draw of the camera.

So, it looks like my Sony battery is out of the question, unless anyone out there has some thoughts on an efficient & cheap circuit that would do the job.

Now, I do know that some camcorders use 6v batteries, so I might just need to see if I can scrape up any of those. No need for fancy circuits there.

Posted by Jim at 9:55 PM | TrackBack

Digital Camera batteries

I wrote the other day about bad battery life in my digital camera. After doing some research, it seems that the Nickel Metal Hydride batteries have a pretty low shelf life, they start to lose their charge once they leave the charger. That explains why I'm having bad luck, my batteries might sit in my cam for weeks before I take a shot. Guess I should work on that a bit...

Steve's Digicams has a nice page about these batteries, some alternatives out there, and better chargers to help improve the life of the batteries you already have. Check it out...

Posted by Jim at 7:48 AM | TrackBack

May 30, 2004

Useless but cool USB gadgets

While browsing the net today, I came across two interesting items, a USB Beverage Warmer, and a USB Fish Aquarium.

While cool, it seems that the only purpose of the USB connection is for power, no control is possible. So, pretty useless in that regard, if I can't do something cool like control the fish or adjust the heat of my beverage, they might as well just stick to DC adapters.

Posted by Jim at 3:16 PM | TrackBack

May 27, 2004

PocketPC AIM chat? Nope.

There are quite a few various chat clients available for the PocketPC, being a Mac and iChat user, I obviously wanted something compatible with AOL's AIM network. So, after installing the PocketPC version of AIM and some others, I've found that all of the clients currently out there (including AOL's own client) are well out of date, and none are able to use email address based account names (.Mac accounts, etc) for either logging in or for buddy lists.

So, my thoughts of using a wireless PDA for keeping in touch with friends and coworkers has now flown out the window...

Posted by Jim at 9:47 PM | TrackBack

May 26, 2004

Holy Kodak Moment, Batman!

Ok, I know that there are some nice high end digital cameras out there that can take huge pictures, but still... Apparently Pretec has announced that they plan to ship 12Gb Compact Flash memory cards soon, and they'll be available at the bargain price of $9999. For those of you that can't afford that puppy, they've dropped the price of their 6Gb CF card to the bargain price of $3499.

I've got a 128Mb card in my HP digital camera, and I can't take but a dozen shots or so before my 2100mAh batteries die... I can't even imagine the battery pack I'd need to be able to fill one of those cards up...

Posted by Jim at 7:06 PM | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

Thoughts on the next 'PDA'

PDAs have always been a niche market, being a Mac user with a PDA may possibly be the ultimate niche market. PDAs are very handy tools, there's no denying that. Ever since the Newton introduced the world to the concept of a PDA, many folks have enjoyed having a handy device for storing appointments, contact information, various diversions (games, etc), and even checking email or browsing the web. But, also since the beginning, there have been problems inherent in using such a scaled down device and integrating it into the user's workflow.

The latest generation of PDAs have more power and capabilities than ever before, Tablet PCs are even more powerful and capable, but also much more expensive, and again share the same fundamental flaws; limited functionality, hardware and OS restrictions, and of course, marketshare.

When I last reviewed what I wanted of a PDA, before settling for a PocketPC, I had a number of things that I desired; color screen, wireless capability, reasonably fast performance, integration with my desktop, and a decent selection of software. At the time, I felt that a PocketPC was a better choice than a Palm for my needs, but what I really wanted was something more, something more tightly integrated with my Mac.

I even looked at the Sharp Zaurus, a nice PDA that runs Linux, and though that would compliment the Mac pretty well, but there is almost no sync capability at this time for Mac users.

In the end, what I decided that I really needed was a very small Mac. The 12" iBook and PowerBooks were still too large, not something I could easily carry around in my hand, and certainly not clip to my belt. And I know that Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, has on a number of occasions said that Apple would not be doing another PDA, would never revive the Newton or anything along those lines, but the phrasing of what he said seemed to partially leave the door open for something else. And I know what I'd like that something else to be.

PDAs are basically peripherals, they are not meant to be a primary system for a computer user, just an extension. A PowerBook is meant to be a primary system, though many Mac users also use these as seconds machines. For that matter, some Windows users also use a PowerBook as a second machine, the PowerBook G4 became very popular with Windows users because of its capabilities, and worked very well for them as an extension of their normal workflow. So this got me thinking...

What Apple has never done to this point is designed a Mac that would truly be a secondary system. You don't run Photoshop on your Palm Zire, you don't edit DV video on your iPaq, a PDA doesn't need to be that capable. If you toss those things out the window, you can build a system much smaller and cheaper than a full featured system.

What I'm envisioning is a 6" PowerBook, similar in shape to the existing 12" PowerBook, just smaller and thinner. You won't need the CD drive, simply include FireWire and use it in Target Disk Mode to install software. You don't need a full size keyboard, it wouldn't be necessary to shrink the keys much to make them fit a 6" model. A touchpad could still fit, but the addition of a touchscreen like other PDAs would be a nice touch.

A smaller screen means smaller resolution, but you should still be able to run 640x480 (newer PDAs do on a smaller screen), even 800x600 should be possible, the current low end resolution for OS X. You wouldn't need a G4 processor, a G3 would really work quite well, and the graphics wouldn't have to be high end either, a lower power graphics chipset would suffice nicely. You wouldn't even need the 60Gb or larger drive you find in most portables, 10Gb or less would probably work nicely.

Almost every feature can be scaled back when you're not designing a unit to be a primary system, reducing heat, power, space, and cost. Obviously you'd still want to have built in Ethernet, USB, Firewire (1 port each), forget using a modem, but let AirPort be an option, if only 802.11b and not 802.11g, and definitely include Bluetooth. The only area that I can see now scaling back on would be the battery, PDAs get pretty good battery life, so stretching battery power to the max is a must, but with the lower power components used, I don't see a huge problem here.

Now, some of you are probably thinking that such a Mac would still cost a cunk of change, and I definitely agree. A low end iBook currently sells for $1099, I'd tend to say we could easily shave a few hundred off that price. And now you're saying that you can pick up a cheap Palm for 100 clams, and you're totally correct. But, being a Mac, this puppy wouldn't be shooting for the low end market, it'll take its place with the big boys in the PDA marketplace, the full featured units that have built in wireless and speed and all the other cool features that can go for $650 and up.

I remember how the PC magazines raved about the PoweBook G4 when it came out, and Windows users began snapping them up for their road machines. If such a small PowerBook could ship, and folks could dump their PDAs for something that would let them run full versions of MSOffice, incorporate a full featured browser and email client, and let you run a large percentage of all the Mac software out there, and if it were priced comparably to the high end PDAs on the market now, this machine would be as big a hit as the iPod Mini, they would absolutely not be able to keep them on the shelves.

And I'd probably be one of the first folks in line to buy one.

Posted by Jim at 11:25 AM | TrackBack

May 16, 2004

AvantGo working!

Well, I finally have AvantGo running on my new PocketPC. One of the support staff there finally got what I was saying and was able to email me the .CAB file necessary to install this from the Mac. It apparently isn't posted separately as PocketPCs can have any of a number of different processors and code has to be compiled for each one, and the job of the .exe installer is to make sure the correct .CAB gets loaded. Another of the fun Gotcha's with PocketPCs, but at least I'm able to sync again.

Generally, most developers will be able to get you the correct .CAB file if you request it and let them know what processor you need code for.

Posted by Jim at 10:08 PM | TrackBack

May 13, 2004

Tablet PCs, a dying breed

The folks over at eWeek are reporting something that the market has already known, folks just aren't snapping up Tablet PCs. Oh, sure, they look cool, but get beyond that, and they're just overgrown PocketPCs.

And there are a number of reasons that they haven't caught on, but here's my short answer: OS. Now, unlike PocketPCs which run the Windows Mobile OS, the Tablet systems run Windows XP, but it's the Tablet PC Edition. So, yet another custom OS to support.

What this means is that it can run some, but not all, Windows XP software, and this comes with it's own support issues because of having a different OS, and a fundamentally different hardware platform.

To me, these same issues are what's held the PocketPC and Palm systems back, each run their own specific OS, making software development more difficult than developing for a mainstream system, and hardware limitations in handheld type devices have forced them down a different road from traditional computer systems.

Apple's CEO Steve Jobs has previously predicted the death of the PDA and the Tablet PC, and though they're not dead yet, they both hold a rather limited segment of the market, but those that do use such devices love them. So, what we seem to need at this point is the proverbial nail in the coffin to seal their fate. I have a few thoughts on that, so stay tuned.

Posted by Jim at 8:33 AM | TrackBack

May 11, 2004

AvantGo non-support

Well, for about a week now I've been trying to get the AvantGo support staff to send me a link to a .CAB installer so I can install the software on my PocketPC without having to sync with a Windoze system. I'm beginning to feel that English is not a language they fully comprehend there.

Their presumably form replies are nicely written, but are not bearing any resemblance to the problem I'm presenting them with. I usually don't mind emailing tech support folks, but when they don't even bother to try understanding the problem and are forced to stick with their 'script', it can be darned frustrating the for customer.

Posted by Jim at 5:22 PM | TrackBack

May 5, 2004

New PocketPC grumbles

I've acquired a slightly used Axim X3i, and I'm attempting to set it up entirely on the Mac without needing to resort to using Virtual PC. So far most things have gone according to plan, but I've run into two snags, and one may be beyond being doable Mac only.

First, apparently the AvangGo Connect application is not installed on this device by default, and requires that being able to sync AvantGo content be enabled in ActiveSync (the Windows sync software) prior to it being usable, despite the fact that this device has built in wireless and will be getting AvantGo content on it's own, thank you very much. I'm assuming that the required app on the PocketPC side is installed after this is set up under Windows. I've already written to the AvantGo support folks looking for a .cab installer file to transfer to the PocketPC to install this, they have an installer posted but the .exe they've made available won't launch on the PocketPC, so it's made to run under Windows.

The second problem I've run into is that there has been a ROM update to this model, and again it's a .exe file, and I'm fairly sure that there's more to the ROM update than just installing a simple app... It's always something...

Posted by Jim at 4:19 PM | TrackBack

Newton Blogging

Well, maybe I shouldn't have turned my back on the Newton after all. Seems that the Newton is alive and well thanks to a thriving community, and Mike Manzano is even writing his blog from a Newton.

Wired has a nice link about Mike and his Newton, see Mike's site for more info.

Posted by Jim at 3:34 PM | TrackBack

May 4, 2004

Laser Vision

This has to be one of the cooler things I've seen recently. Microvision has a product on the market now, and takes computer generated imagery to a whole new level, projecting images directly onto the retina using a low powered laser beam.

At $4000, it's a bit much for the average home user, but could have a big impact at the corporate level. But plans 5 years out could see this in a variety of consumer devices...

Posted by Jim at 10:32 PM | TrackBack

PocketPC Notes conversion

Thomas Lunde wrote in to let me know that Open Office supports the conversion of notes from a PocketPC. The format of these files is .pwi, also known as PocketWord Ink format. Not quite worth my installing X11 just for that, but Open Office is pretty cool for folks that need the functionality of Microsoft Office but want an alternative to M$.

Also, PocketMac apparently includes a Word Reader that will open the .pwi files as well. I'm still looking for any other apps that will handle this, but for not emailing the contents seems to work for me.

Posted by Jim at 9:04 PM | TrackBack

May 3, 2004

More PocketPC notes...

Found something interesting today, apparently neither of the sync apps I'm using has the ability to convert the Notes from the PocketPC to the Mac, not even the Mac version of Word will open them, go figure. I've found the only way to get the contents over to the Mac is to open the Notes, then copy and paste into an email and send it to myself.

Also, today I installed a 256Mb SD RAM card, and went through the joy of using a Registry Editor to get some of the built in apps (email, AvantGo, etc) to use that for data instead of the built-in RAM. Apparently, PocketPC apps aren't smart enough to know how to use another memory module, and you have to hack them to set this up, basically like editing a .plist file on the Mac, but apparently this needs to be done a lot more often on Windoze systems. And to top it off, even though this was a high speed SD module, it apparently accesses much slower than the built in RAM. An AvantGo sync used to take about 15 seconds, and it now takes 3 minutes. Ugh!

Posted by Jim at 11:45 PM | TrackBack

April 28, 2004

Free NetFront browser

I came across an interesting link today from Nokia to get a free license for the Netfront web browser for the Series 60 phones (3650, 3660, 3620, etc). Not a bad deal, all you need to do is provide some feedback on the browser and they'll send you a license code.

Posted by Jim at 5:53 PM | TrackBack

April 27, 2004

PalmOne intros new models

PalmOne today introduced a new model, the Zire 31, and upgraded the Zire 71 to the Zire 72. More importantly, they've reaffirmed their support for the Mac market, despite PalmSource (a separate company responsible for the Palm OS itself) having indicated previously that Palm OS 6.0 (Code name Cobalt) would ship with no Mac support.

Since Cobalt isn't shipping yet, this isn't an immediate concern, but it's another reason why I ended up not sticking with their product. If PalmOne finds some way to work around this, they may yet see some of my business. Note to PalmOne, evaluation units gladly accepted...

Posted by Jim at 11:18 PM | TrackBack

April 26, 2004

Reverse DNS, or lack thereof

In setting up my mail server, I made the decision to use some fairly strict settings in order to reduce spam. I was aware that there might be some legitimate mails that may not make it through from improperly configured mail servers, and I figured the chances of this would be fairly slim. Last night it looks like I bounced my first legitimate mail.

It doesn't seem to be a problem with this party's mail server, but rather something with their DNS, it isn't providing a reverse lookup for their IP address, so when my mail server sees a message coming from their IP address, it tries to determine the name of their mail server (ex. mail.yourcompany.com), and when no results are returned, the message is rejected.

I know of some companies that have set up restrictions on their mail systems to only accept mail from known hosts (those with reverse lookups) to help block junk mail, who quickly backed away from this, the article linked above specifically mentions that AT&T Worldnet ran this setup for only 24 hours in January 2003 before they had to turn it off because of legitimate mail being bounced.

So, I'm now left with a dilema, so do I disable this setting so this company's mail can finally reach me (I'm getting a bounce each hour right now as they attempt to resend the mail), giving in to the terrorists, er, technological nonconformists, or do I stand my ground against them like Spain, er, AT&T Worldnet didn't? For now, I'm standing my ground.

If someone can give me some legitimate reason why a full time mail server NEEDS to be misconfigured or have improper network settings, I'll be happy to listen, and possibly revise my opinion. At this time, I haven't seen any legitimate cases for this, all I've found so far is various companies and mail admins who have tried to enforce standards and given in because of others who continue to run out of date or sloppily written software. Granted, those that gave in seem to have done so because of complaints from paying customers (I suppose I'd be mad at my mail provider if they were blocking legitimate mail) or from employees who were unable to conduct business, but it seems that a line in the sand must be drawn, so for now, consider the line drawn.

Posted by Jim at 9:00 AM | TrackBack

April 19, 2004

Journey to the dark side

Ok, so after reading my last entry, you're probably wondering just what is so evil about the 3650 that I made the reference to the dark side, and the short answer is, nothing. ;) It's a great phone, and a great platform, I sync it to my work system all the time to keep my contacts and schedule up to date, and it works great. So, what's all this about the dark side then? I'm glad you asked.

If you've been following along, you'll remember that something I really wanted was AvantGo. And for some reason, the AvantGo software just wasn't cooperating with the 3650. So I was back to replacing my Palm III. I figured I had two choices, a newer Palm running the Palm OS, or a PocketPC running (gasp) Windows CE. It was an incredibly hard decision, but eventually, I went with the PocketPC.

Those of you that know me know just how much I loath Windows. It's Bloated, Inelegant, full of Techno-babble, Cumbersome to use, and just plain Hell to use. I'm sure there's a fitting acronym that sums this all up somewhere...

So, what made me pick a Windoze system? The short answer is, Palm just wasn't impressing me as much as they used to. I had researched a number of models, and one thing I was interested in was upgradability of the OS. What I found was that there did not seem to be an upgrade path to upgrade the OS on older, or even some current Palms to the latest OS. To me, this just did not make any sense. In analyzing what I wanted, the two things topping my list were a color screen, and wireless (802.11) capability. Palm had only one model available with 802.11 built in, and though it seemed that others could have this as a separate upgrade, I found the driver and OS requirements to be conflicting, and often dependent on future upgrades from with the manufacturer or Palm. This didn't instill me with a lot of confidence.

On the PocketPC side, I found a number of offerings that included 802.11, and those that didn't include it could add it easily. Eventually, after much reading of reviews and comparing models, I settled on the Dell Axim, in particular, the X5. What I wanted was the X3i, which included 802.11 built in, but I got a great deal on the X5 second hand, and it included a compact flash 802.11 card, so I was all set.

The unit apparently shipped with the AvantGo software bundled, so it was a breeze to set up and get going. And the wireless networking worked fine with minimal fiddling both at the office and at home (AirPort network in both locations), and even have my email mostly working. I say mostly, because I still haven't quite figured out the trick to getting VPN working quite right at the office, but that isn't a big deal at this point.

In short, I'm relatively happy with the unit. I didn't expect it to be perfect (I've already mentioned it runs Windoze), but it's doing the bulk of what I want. Tomorrow, I'll go into some more detail on the software I'm using to sync with the Mac, and some other software gotchas I discovered.

Posted by Jim at 3:20 PM | TrackBack

April 17, 2004

Replacing my Palm III with a Nokia 3650

Yes, it's true, I've gone over to the dark side. For as long as I can remember, I've been a gadget freak; I love having cool toys, especially ones I can use with my Mac. I had one of the original Apple Newtons, the first PDA, heck, Apple even originated that term. I later abandoned that (after many years of use) for a used Palm III, which lasted me up till about last year or so. I'm sure it still works, but it was no longer useful for me.

I wanted color, mainly. I needed something that would sync with my Mac and keep contacts and appointments, and most importantly, AvantGo. I'd gotten to be kind of a news junkie, and loved being able to sync up my Palm and take the news with me and read it over lunch. Apple's iSync was brand new at the time, and that's when discovered the Nokia 3650.

I'd heard about Bluetooth, and knew this was the way to go, no more having to sync up via wires, I wouldn't even need to take the phone out of my pocket. Sweet! I'd had my current phone for a few years, it was pretty beat up, and the battery connector was loose, so I convinced myself that it was time for a new phone. Nokia's 3650 was right at the top of my list, it had everything I wanted: a color screen and Bluetooth. OK, it was a short list. It also included a camera, which I figured I'd never use (I was wrong, but I do rarely ever use it), but I just wasn't finding a better phone, so that was my choice. I got a fantastic deal at the time through Amazon, $150 rebate from AT&T, $150 rebate from Amazon, meaning a free phone for me! Couldn't beat that deal.

The one thing that I didn't want, though, was AT&T's nasty data plan. I knew that it I was going to run AvantGo on the phone, I'd be pulling down some serious data, for the data plan I'd need, the cost would be well over what I pay at home for my high speed internet, so forget that. Some browsing around the net found some links to folks who had used their PC's internet connection shared to their phone, I figured that this would be perfect, if I could get it working on the Mac. So, when I finally received the phone, I set to work. And for a while, it was slow going.

Fortunately, several other folks were pursuing the same lines of research, and having some luck with other Bluetooth phones (mostly Sony-Ericsson models), and after posting messages on a number of discussion boards, sharing lots of low level code and shell scripts, and at long last my friend C.K. Sample of 3650 and a 12-inch finally whipped up a working script that managed to do the trick. If you're intersted, check out his early blog entries for more info on that. Sadly, the main thread we were using at the time on discussions.info.apple.com was at some point deleted when it hadn't been updated in some time, so most of that original research and conversation has been lost, but it certainly hasn't been forgotten. If you have a Bluetooth phone (especially a Nokia) and a Mac, be sure to check out his Share2Blue2th software.

Unfortunately, I never did get my AvantGo software working quite right on the 3650, and eventually gave up on that. I knew that at some point I'd need to get a real PDA again (the 3650 is great, and has a fair number of apps, utilities, and games available), but I'll save that story for another day. ;)

You may have a hard time finding the 3650 these days, after all, it's been on the market for about a year. The Nokia 3660 has replaced it, it has all the same featured, but with a better screen, and a more standard keypad layout. The Nokia 3620 is a close cousin, very similar to the 3660, but operating at a different frequency band, so the one you find will mainly depend on your wireless phone service.

Posted by Jim at 11:55 PM | TrackBack

April 16, 2004

CDs made of paper and corn

Some interesting news out today from Sony and Sanyo, who are making disks from paper and corn, respectively. The best part, while being environmentally friendly, the new Sony CDs will hold up to 25Gb per disk!

The key to Sony's capacity is the use of lasers that emit a blue beam instead of a red beam, allowing data to be packed tighter on the disk. I remember talking with a rep from a CD drive manufacturer back in the very late 80's, and he claimed then that the blue lasers would see some incredible breakthroughs when they hit the market in 'a few years'. Good to know there's finally some light at the end of the tunnel...

Posted by Jim at 12:48 PM | TrackBack

April 15, 2004

I just SO hate Microsoft...

Here I am, minding my own business, and I decide to run Analog again tonight to see what sort of activity my web site has been getting. My site has been running about a week, and Analog usually came back with a report in about 30 seconds or so. So I wait, watching little status messages go by, wait some more, thinking 'hmmm, must have had a few visitors today', and wait some more...

To shorten the suspense (I could have gone on for a while there), what was a 30 second report last night has been going on for 12 HOURS tonight! And the source of all this? Apparently it's a combination of some IIS WebDAV exploits (whatever that is), the CodeRED worm (I remember hearing about that), and some other worm/virus/Microsoft product that's attacking anything with an IP address...

First of all, I know that M$ this week released like four MAJOR patches to its OS. I'm so glad that security is such a large focus for them, but sheesh, couldn't they have fixed some of these problems a few years ago when they shipped the OS to begin with? It's no wonder that Longhorn has apparently been pushed back another year...

So, I'm sitting here, perfectly immune from any harm as a result of all those worms and viruses floating around the net happily spreading from one M$ system to another (I actually consider Windoze itself to be a virus, but I digress...), and even though the little Mac next to my desk is happily chugging along replying back to all of those requests 'nope, none of that here', my logs are filling up at an alarming rate, and I'm now at 12+ hours elapsed waiting for my log analysis.

This is the price Mac (and Linux) users pay for living in a M$ dominated world. Our systems happily keep chugging along, waiting for ISPs to come back online after being choked to death with floods of traffic from wayward software, waiting patiently while server admins around the globe quickly (or not...) apply the latest patches to stop the worm-o-the-day from spreading, and putting up with log files that ballooning out of control faster than if someone dumped a few truckloads of Viagra off at the bunny farm.

Posted by Jim at 1:17 AM | TrackBack

April 13, 2004

The joys of web design

Yesterday I accidentally launched Internet Explorer instead of Safari, so I figured that since I waited so long for it to launch I might as well see how my site looked. Ugh. Now I remember why I hated IE so much.

I've changed some of the style sheet code around a bit to make IE just a bit happier and display the page like it was supposed to, and now it's fairly close to how Safari displays. I've got a bit more tweaking to do with the look of the site, but it's getting there.

One thing that I've done that most of the folks running MovableType apparently haven't (even some folks that I consider HTML and style sheet wizards) is to make my individual articles, date and category listings all use the same sort of look as my main page, with the banner across the top, links along the side, etc.

It was fairly easy to do, too. Movable has a neat function that lets you define common sections of code into Template Modules, and then use special Tags to call those modules (basically a #include function) when the pages are created. It was just a matter of putting all of my code after the main blog content in a separate module, then just substitute this into the various other pages.

One other thing I changed, after running Analog , a web traffic reporting tool, I discovered that the little boxes I use over on the right were much larger in size than I intended, I believe around 32k each! I opened them up with GraphicConverter, and saved them as PNG files, and now the largest one is only 277 bytes. ;)

Posted by Jim at 10:20 PM | TrackBack

April 10, 2004

Getting the site online

Well, all my domain changes have kicked in, and my site is now live on the web. Time to notify a few friends that it's out there now.

As promised, I'd like to post some information on how I got my site up and running, hopefully this might be of use to some of you out there if you're looking at doing something similar yourselves.

Probably the most important decision in setting up a site for yourself is deciding on a name for the site, in my case, the Domain Name folks would use to get here. I can't really help you pick out a name, but once you do, you'll first want to see if that name is even available. Most registrars that sell domain names will have a page that lets you look up your potential names to see if they're available. It's quite likely that your first or second choices are going to be taken (the Internet's a big place...), so it might be good to work up a short list. Also, remember that in addition to .com, many other domains are also available (.net, .org, .us, etc). I had originally wanted to go with a .us name (it was cheaper than .com), but finally found a .com name I could live with.

The particular registrar I'm using is GoDaddy, apparently one of the more popular registrars out there. There are a number of others out there offering different services at various prices, so you may want to do a web search on 'cheap domain names' or something similar to find your own.

Next, and extremely important, I needed to find a company that offered dynamic DNS. This is needed if your internet connection does not have a static IP address. You'll know if you have one, because usually your internet provider will charge you a lot of extra money for this... A dynamic DNS service will let you set up a particular domain name (either one you've purchased through a registrar, or one available through the dynamic DNS service) and link it to the changing IP address of your home system. The one key ingredient needed here is some utility for monitoring the IP address in use on your cable/DSL modem, and pass these changes up to the dynamic DNS provider.

Most dynamic DNS providers will list at their site a number of clients that will perform this task. The particular company I chose, Sitelutions, didn't offer a Mac specific client, but with a little bit of AppleScript and cobbling together a few shell scripts, I think I've come up with a working application to handle this. It needs a bit more tweaking for public use, but I should be able to finish this up in a week or so.

So, now you've got what you need to make your computer at home visible to the rest of the world. I should probably point out that if you're one of the folks that are still using a dial-up internet connection, you'll want to forget everything you've just read. If you're going to have a public site, you need your system to be always available, and available at a decent speed. Dial-up just won't cut it, broadband (cable modem, DSL) is the way to go.

Hopefully before you've even thought of putting your home system online, you've already installed a router with firewall protection to keep unwanted visitors (viruses, malicious users, Windows users, etc) from getting at your unprotected system. Mac OS X includes a very nice firewall built into the Sharing settings, but if you have multiple systems on the net, you'll need a router, and it darned well better have a firewall built in.

There are a number of very nice routers on the market, I prefer Asante's routers, mainly because they provide an easy way for Mac users to be able to upgrade firmware (the software that runs the hardware) via a web interface, unlike some other routers I looked at that required a Windoze app to be run. Do some research before making a selection, and find the right one that fits your needs.

Posted by Jim at 5:27 PM | TrackBack