Dec 25, 2007

Sharing files across the internet

Can you recommend any do-it-myself FTP software? One of our co-workers has started working remotely, and we need to share files with her.

Two recommendations (neither of which involve setting up your own FTP site, which would be a bit of a hassle, and not terribly secure): 

The easiest thing to use is the 10GB iDisk that comes an Apple .Mac ("dot Mac") account. Check out the details at At $99/year, it's a service that Apple would like everyone to buy, because it's easy profit for them; a lot of people buy it, but not everyone understands what it can do for them, and the money ends up going to waste. But it can be very useful — I use my .Mac services daily — to publish photos, sync address book and calendar information, work remotely with the iDisk and the new Back to My Mac feature. 

The other possibility, one that I've used and thought was pretty cool, is a free 5GB Xdrive from, believe it or not, AOL. It works through a web browser, so it's just a little clunky, but in some ways that makes it pretty easy to work with.

Dec 10, 2007

Can I make my menu bar fonts larger?

is there a way to increase the size of the menu bar (mainly the type size)? I have a new large display, but the menu items are tiny.

An age-old question. Apple has not built in a way to do this, but that's when 3rd parties come to the rescue. I have used TinkerTool for a long time to do things like this, and a whole bunch more. It's free, and while it's a use-at-your-own-risk product, I have never had any trouble with it. You can always ask it to revert to the system defaults:



Dec 3, 2007

iPhone time off by an hour

When I sync my calendar to my iPhone, the times that go on my iPhone calendar always appear an hour later.

I had this problem myself. You have to turn off "Time Zone Support" in Settings -> General -> Date & Time. Then, you likely will have to reset the phone's caledndar information, which is done in the left column of iTunes: Click on your iPhone under Devices, then click the Info tab in the main window. Scroll all the way down to the Advanced section. Under "Replace information on this iPhone:" click the checkbox by "Calendars". Then click the Sync button.

Nov 29, 2007

Eliminate the annoying vibrating clock in iCal

Everytime I do an update to OS X, I have to run these commands in Terminal, because the animated alarm clock in iCal is just obnoxious. (It also pulls precious CPU cycles.)

Taken from this hint at, these are instructions for 10.4 Tiger:

cd /Applications/\

sudo cp -p alarmclock-mov.BAC

sudo echo "" >

cd /Applications/

sudo cp -p alarmclock-mov.BAC

sudo echo "" >

UPDATE: I posted instructions for 10.5 here at

Why are my safari fonts all whacked?

Try turning off Suitcase or whatever font management you use, and reload the page. Then, if that works, reopen Suitcase and start disabling fonts. There may be a font, such as Helvetica Fractions, that is confusing Safari.

If that doesn't work, you might need to scout ~/Library/Fonts for unnecessary stuff, or clean your "font caches," either manually, or with a tool like Maintenance.

Nov 16, 2007

Security cables

A little while back, the offices of two of my clients got broken into, only a couple of days apart. The similarities were weird! Both doctors’ offices, and both got 2 iMacs ripped off from the front desk.

This started to read like a Dickens novel: In one office, we had daily backups running to a server, and that office ran out the next day and got new machines (ultimately reimbursed by insurance). We restored from their backups, and they were back in business. In the other office, they had ignored warnings about backing up, and they had to re-input months of data. Some files, including pictures, could never be reproduced.

But in both cases, the entire situation could have been averted if security cables had been attached to the machines in the first place. Almost any computer — certainly any Mac — and many peripherals such as external hard drives come with little holes in the chassis that accommodate a security lock standardized by the peripheral manufacturer Kensington. Several companies make cables that fit into these holes, and are locked by key or combination.

It is nearly impossible to force the lock out of the hole without ruining the computer’s case (and thus its resale value), and most would-be burlgars don’t carry the bolt cutters necessary to sever the cables.

Here are some Amazon links to cables by Kensington and Targus. I bought a couple of each, and they’re fine. Be careful, as this one by Belkin (a company I usually like a lot for its quality and lifetime warranties) doesn’t fit some locks.

All of my home Macs, and their backup drives, are now locked down to their furniture, and I have a cable with me always for my laptop, in case I need to walk away from it in a busy environment.

Happy — and secure — computing!

Leap on Leopard?

Even if you have already bought Leopard, or are considering running out this week, please read the following! I promise it will save you time, effort, and headache.

I'm not going to give a review of the system. You can read a really good, thorough one by Ars Technica here. (Ars’ review of 10.4 Tiger was invaluable back in 2005.) What I do want to do here is give you a few quick pointers for upgrading.

This has been a few weeks in coming, but it has been nice finally to get my hands properly dirty in OS X 10.5 “Leopard”. I've been needing to see whether I should recommend the upgrade now, or wait until Apple released a major revision with some bug fixes. Now that update 10.5.1 for PowerPC and Intel has been released, I'm ready to say that anyone who is interested — AND whose Mac is NOT in a heavy-workload production environment — should go ahead and grab the next big cat, according to the following:
  1. Have a newer computer. Regardless of Apple's minimum system requirements, as of this writing I probably won't recommend installing Leopard on a G4 Mac unless I had a super-good reason, or the machine was a spare toy and I wanted a sandbox.
    G5 and Intel Macs are totally Leopard-happy.

  2. Have at least 2GB memory (RAM). Again, ignore Apple's specs. G5s and Intel Macs are RAM hungry, and Leopard is too, moreso than Tiger. Note that Apple now sells consumer-level machines with 1GB RAM, and MacBook Pros start at 2GB. That tells us that 1GB is barely adequate for a new system, and 2GB is OK for surfing, emailing, and a little photo work. Anything heavier requires 4GB. (All new Macs like their RAM in even numbers, so avoid 3Gb if your Mac can hold more.) See my previous blog posts here and here for more on this, including where to buy RAM.

  3. Have a good, complete backup. If you don’t have a complete clone of your hard drive before the Leopard install, you’re inviting a world of pain. If something goes wrong during the upgrade — say, the power goes out, or you trip on the cord — your Mac good wind up a paperweight until you finish the installation or restore from the backup.

  4. ARCHIVE AND INSTALL! If you’ve followed the above guidelines, then this is the last step. Insert the Leopard disk (which you bought cheaper from Amazon or someplace, right?), and reboot your Mac holding down the “C” key to make it boot from the DVD. Go through the intro screens until you get to pane where you choose the volume to install on. There, look at the bottom of the window, and click on the Options button. Choose the “Archive and Install” option, leaving on “Preserve Users and Network Settings”.
    Better instructions and Apple’s thoughts on this subject can be found here and here.

That’s it. Click through the subsequent windows to finish the installation, reboot, and you’re soaking in OS X 10.5! Do make sure to run Software Update to grab 10.5.1.

Now, the finer points: As is always the case with the latest Mac OS, Leopard is certainly the best, most secure, and most advanced operating system on the planet. But like any operating system, it ain’t perfect by a long shot. Many programs are yet to be 10.5-compatible — including, just for one example, Acrobat 8 — and if you rely on the Classic environment for OS 9 apps, Leopard will leave you in the cold.

As I mentioned above, if your Mac is expected to be reliable in a production environment, I won’t recommend Leopard until at least version 10.5.2 or 10.5.3. Read up on the applications you use, and keep checking with the developers to see if they have released a compatibility update.

Finally, for what it’s worth, I myself am not putting 10.5 on my 12" G4 PowerBook. It only has 1.25GB RAM (I can’t give it more), and it has been slowing down of late. A purchase of a new Mac with 4GB RAM and Leopard pre-installed is coming up for me in the next couple of weeks. I am, however, upgrading my Mac mini home media server to OS X Server 10.5 probably this weekend.

End User: Goodbye, Operator

Published in San Antonio Current, October 13, 2007. This was my last column.

Many users miss technology that's right under their fingers. While everybody "gets" the internet, and cell phones, and even GPS navigation for their car (those who can afford it), there's a whole slew of people who have never sent or received a text message.

So I just had to write this. For anyone still dialing 411 on their phone — and getting charged up the kazoo — or calling movie theaters to get showtimes, or even leaving short voicemails that have to be listened to and dealt with and deleted, listen up:

Text is now a verb.

Got text? I have a couple of friends who don’t have text messaging on their mobile plan. They get charged even if they unwittingly receive a message. Do yourself a favor and call your mobile provider. Like, yesterday.

The thing is, text is civilized. It’s quick. It’s efficient. It promotes good manners. It can even be hot if you do it right.

If you don’t yet know how to send a text message, I promise you it’s built into your phone. Look for the “messages” menu or something like it. Some phones call it by its proper name, SMS, which stands for “short message service.” SMS is a protocol built into all modern cell-phone networks, though it can also be used from some websites or to send an email.

Hey, for kicks, try that last bit. Send a text message to your own email. Then you’ll know your phone’s email address. That could come in handy.

Now the part where I save you time and money: Send the word “help” (no quotes) to the number 46645. That’s GOOGLE, and the great Goog in the sky will send you back a short set of instructions for using its SMS-based info service. If you send “m 78229” you’ll get movie showtimes in your area. “W 78204” will get you the weather. “Pizza 78209” is a beautiful thing. And by the way, if you first send “location 78209,” well by gum, you won’t have to type your zip code each time. Killer.

Now I blow your mind: “2*8” will return “16” and if you send “15 miles in kilometers” you’ll see “24.14016 kilometers,” which, by the way, works in a Google search, too.

“T” is for “translate.” I sent “t por supuesto from spanish to english” (caps unnecessary), and within seconds got “by all means.”

I update my Twitter feed by text. I can send “dinner with Michael 7pm tomorrow” to 48638 (GVENT) and it will add that event to my Google calendar, which in turn synchronizes via Plaxo and fairly quickly makes its way to my phone.

Finally, this tip isn’t about messaging, but you should call 800-466-4411 right now. That’s 800-GOOG-411. Free information, powered by Google. No ads, yet. Speak clearly, and Google’s friendly robot will connect you to the business of your choice.

So may I request that the phone company not send the big yellow book to my house anymore? I’m covered.

End User: Null and void

Published in San Antonio Current, October 3, 2007

Weird warranties: In March of this year, and others reported that a Compaq rep had told a woman that the problem she was having with her notebook’s keys sticking and being unresponsive was not covered by the one-year warranty because she had replaced the Windows operating system with a version of Linux. A similar story, this time about a laptop purchased at PC World, appeared in early September; a broken hinge and dead screen pixels were the problem.

In both cases, the inconvenienced consumers eventually received satisfaction. They had been initially misinformed, and PC World and HP (Compaq’s parent company) have clarified their warranties: Hardware defects will be covered by warranty regardless of the OS installed on the computer.

On Linux: Many computer users are still unaware that they have an alternative to Windows or Mac OS X. Linux is an open-source operating system that comes in many different flavors, most of which are freely available for download. One of these flavors — called “distributions” or “distros” — is called Ubuntu, and it is becoming increasingly popular for its uncomplicated installation and configuration. Ubuntu comes with free software, including alternatives to Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, called OpenOffice and Firefox, respectively, both of which are also available for Windows and Mac. In Ubuntu, many users (even non-geeks) have found shelter from the security problems and malware that plague Windows.

le iPHONE: Far more malicious than the misguided Linux advice above is Apple’s September 24 press release about the iPhone software update that they were to release on September 27. “Users who make unauthorized modifications to the software on their iPhone violate their iPhone software license agreement and void their warranty.”

Well, excuse the hell out of me, but I have made my iPhone all the more useful and convenient and entertaining by installing a slew of third-party applications which are now readily and freely downloadable. Now standing in long lines with my 7-year-old daughter is easy and fun with games like blackjack and a Yatzhee-like thing, and neither requires use of the battery-draining internet connection. The latest iPhone update, were I to install it, would delete all of those great programs.

Ironic and disheartening is the lameness of the features added by the update. Like the new iPod touch, the iPhone can now purchase music from the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. And double-tapping the space bar “intelligently” types a period where appropriate. Yippee-doodle-do. Where’s my freakin’ copy-paste?

Slashdot posted on September 25 a story that Apple’s prohibition may break the law: “The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act states that Apple cannot void a warranty for a product with third-party enhancements or modifications to their product.” My own comparison of the iPhone warranty against the Mac warranty finds the same phrase: “This warranty does not apply … to a product or part that has been modified to alter functionality or capability without the written permission of Apple.” Nothing else in the iPhone document seems to support Apple’s latest claim.

Now, the iPhone is clearly classifiable as a computer, albeit a very light one. It runs a version of OS X much like the Mac’s. Who would buy a Mac if Apple restricted it against software developed by people other than Apple? It’s like a grocery store making it illegal to take one of their frozen cheese pizzas home and put onions on it. Or Honda saying I can’t drive my Accord to Arkansas.

The iPhone update also re-locks the units that have been unlocked to work with carriers other than AT&T. That one we saw coming, and it makes sense for Apple to keep their corporate bedfellow happy for the foreseeable future. Disabling independently created software that makes your expensive, powerful device more functional, however, makes no bloody sense at all.

End User: Breaking the Chains

Published in San Antonio Current, September 19, 2007

Following up on my discussion of the auction of the wireless spectrum: Google had asked the Federal Communications Commission to impose four requirements on whoever won the use of the 700Mhz bandwidth: open applications, open devices, open services, and open networks. Of those, the FCC accepted open devices (e.g. unlocked phones) and open applications (such as Skype).

If you can’t join ’em, sue ’em: The wireless carriers — our great benefactors — are obviously unhappy with any of those requirements; the end of their inflated fees and shackling contracts may be nigh. Verizon has petitioned the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to make the FCC ditch the open-access mandates altogether. Google has expressed disappointment at Verizon’s move; Google’s head of special initiatives, Chris Sacca, blogged, “Once again, it is American consumers who lose from these tactics.”

Apple has reportedly been “studying” the ramification of joining the auction itself. Having finally acquired an iPhone, I can envision all the more clearly a near future for the clever devices — from different manufacturers, all unlocked, and many installed with open-source Linux — roaming a giant gas cloud of wireless internet.

Meanwhile, Google the Instigator has reportedly been collaborating with mobile-device-maker HTC on the rumored Gphone. HTC has already released the HTC Touch, a very sleek Windows Mobile smart phone with specs similar to the iPhone. I would be stunned if Google wants to put the terribly clunky Microsoft operating system on their first branded hardware; I will hope for a very hackable G-flavored Linux.

Speaking of, I’m well pleased by the hackability of the iPhone’s OS — you know, the one that Apple has supposedly blocked from accepting third-party applications? Just in the last couple of weeks, these hacks have come into their own, involving a simple initial “unshackling” or “jailbreaking” procedure. I’ve hacked the heck out of my iPhone with freely available apps, including games (not that I want them sucking on my precious battery), a Flickr uploader, a task list (which the iPhone so far lacks), and a simple word processor. One also gets access to the Ringtones folder to upload any MP3 in one’s collection.

I’m hoping all of this spells the beginning of some real and significant changes to the iPhone’s software. It’s an amazing device — it took my Treo out to the back shed and spanked it till it squealed — but there’s so much unrealized potential.

Finally, my personal chain-breaking story: In July, Palm released a software update for the Treo 700p. I followed the slightly Gordian instructions to install, and it promptly broke the phone’s internet connection. Meh. I had to take the Treo offline and then back online every time I wanted to use the speedy internet, the one I pay an absurd fee for every month. Oh, yeah: The Treo was also still hanging periodically (what the update was supposed to fix) and it synched all my calendar events into the wrong time zone.

Seven hours of tech-support calls later, and I was out of my Verizon contract with no termination fee … and back in another two-year contract with AT&T. Hello, iPhone. Hello, shackles.

End User: White Light, White Heat, White Space

Published in San Antonio Current, August 15, 2007

Urban dwellers now take their broadband for granted. Whenever I talk to folks who live near places like Floresville and La Vernia, rural communities not far from SA, I’m reminded to be grateful for my speedy connection. Outside the city limits, one has to go to weird lengths to get a decent signal, including renting a big dish that talks to another big dish far, far away. That ain’t cheap, but it’s actually cheaper and faster than satellite internet.

You may recall a few columns ago, I wrote of my frustration at lacking a Verizon phone signal in much of West Texas. The solution to blanketing America in broadband and phone access may be around the corner. Bear with me: There’s some science coming up, and some strange business happenings, but the results might be spectacular.

In July, Google made public its intent to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s January 2008 auction of the 700 MHz spectrum, the “white space” where the traditional analog TV channels 2 through 51 currently live. Google, in characteristic egalitarian spirit, asked the FCC that the frequencies be reserved for “open access” by wireless devices, a notion in line with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s call for a “truly open broadband network.” And Google tossed out a figure: $4.6 billion (that’s billion with a B). Damn.

Observers speculate that Google is scheming to pit itself against current mobile-phone providers. The term “Google phone” gets batted around a lot, and it’s funny how positive everyone seems to be about the notion of the big G becoming our new mobile master. But who on Earth gets good vibes from Sprint, Verizon, or — sheesh — AT&T?

Notes: Television owners learned a couple years back that those VHF and UHF broadcast channels are going away in 2009, to be replaced by digital TV. Also, the 700 MHz spectrum actually comprises frequencies between 2 MHz and 698 MHz. One can find a complete chart of the radio-frequency (RF) spectrum online — and it’s a yummy chocolate geeksicle, broken down to the third decimal place between the big services, including AM and FM radio, broadcast TV, cellular and cordless phones, and good stuff like “maritime mobile,” “aeronautical radionavigation,” “radio astronomy,” and “earth exploration satellite.” Briefly as I can, however: Each service is assigned exclusive portions of RF, but those portions aren’t continuous. AM, for example, gets 153 to 279 kHz, 520 to 1,610 kHz, and 2.3 to 26.1 MHz. And FM radio actually occupies frequencies between TV channels 6 and 7. (These numbers are specific to the U.S., dontcha know.)

Hours before I started writing this, Sprint released its second-quarter earnings: $19 million, down 90 percent from $291 million the same period last year. Damn. The explanation is that Sprint spent $51 million on their WiMAX initiative.

WiMAX is the intended successor to WiFi, the kind of wireless network that you can set up with a $40 router, getting you a range of 100 or 200 feet, depending on your building’s structure. WiMAX is intended to travel a bit farther, going the “last mile” of network, say from a tower to your home. Similar to DSL, the speed of a WiMAX connection decreases over distance.

Sprint is set to roll out its WiMAX network in 2008. They are partnering with a mobile broadband provider named Clearwire, and with — yup — Google. Clearwire has already received FCC approval for its WiMAX card for laptops, which would provide greater speeds than do mobile broadband cards currently offered by Sprint and its competitors.

Now comes the other possibility for that coveted 700 MHz.

Back in March, a coalition of tech companies, including Microsoft, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Philips, and — yup — Google, presented a prototype white-space wireless-broadband device to the FCC. (A second prototype was submitted in May.) The Commission will spend the next couple of years testing the technology, checking, among other things, that it doesn’t interfere with TV signals, as digital TV will continue to operate between 54 MHz and 698 MHz.

So here’s science: WiFi operates at 2.4 GHz, which has a limited range and has trouble going through walls. This is why some buildings need more than one wireless router. WiMAX works at 2.5 GHz and above, and again, WiMAX will only get to you a couple of clicks from each tower. (By the way, Sprint collaborator Clearwire purchased the 2.5 GHz spectrum from AT&T in June for $300 million.)

Broadcast TV, however, shows us that 700 MHz signals can span many miles.

Ah-hah! Could this be the beginning of internet phone everywhere? Could we finally get unlimited calling and see the end to those stupid minute-usage plans that are gouging our wallets every month? Will Sarah finally admit that it’s not Jack’s baby? Stay tuned, and rural America, hang on to your downloading hats.

End User: The Internet Giveth, and ...

Published in San Antonio Current, September 5, 2007

In May, I devoted a column to griping about how difficult it has been to keep one’s calendars and contacts synchronized between devices and online services. I am super-jazzed to say that our wait is officially over, and I’m wearing my party hat. Plaxo, whom I mentioned at the time, has released a preview, or beta, of its revamped service, which now offers syncing — of both calendars and contacts — between Outlook, Outlook Express, Mac, Yahoo!, Gmail (calendars only, for now), and several other databases. And not only does it work beautifully, but it has already saved my butt when my calendar got corrupted.

This, finally, is one completed lane in a bridge to a unified online experience, where we can use all the available tools, and our data is available in any one of them.

Run, don’t walk, to You’ll be glad you did.

Another service I want to mention is, where you sign up for a phone number for life, for free, to be forwarded to any other phone number you choose. Voicemail and everything. This is the latest über-cool web technology that Google has acquired. They have it in beta, and one can sign up to be invited to join. Now we get to wonder how Google plans to tie GrandCentral in with the rumored Google Phone …

... and the internet taketh away.

End of summer is typically a slow time for tech, but this month screeched to a halt a couple of times, forcing us to become all too keenly aware of our reliance on the internet.

On July 24, a power outage in San Francisco took out services at a major colocation facility at 365 Main St. Colocation, or colo, is a business that offers rental of a server in a secure, climate-controlled, 24/7-staffed, and yes, power-redundant building. Colo might mean sharing a single server with other folks, or having one, or two, or a gajillion servers all to yourself. One might own the server, or just rent it. To ensure that your website shouldn’t ever go down, you should host it on a colocated server.

(Bringin’ it back home: San Antonio’s Rackspace, for example, is a colocation agency.)

Apparently, 365 Main’s “continuous power supply” was not exactly that, and consequently, some of the web’s most popular sites — Netflix, Craigslist, and Technorati, to name a few — were out for several hours. It was money down the “series of tubes,” and at least one service’s user base is said to have been permanently damaged by the failure.

Then Skype went down on August 16. Skype is the incredibly useful voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) service that lets one have audio and video conversations around the world for free, or on the cheap if one needs to call a conventional phone. For two days, 220 million users were blocked from logging into the Skype servers.

And then Elton John claimed the internet is destroying music. He wants the internet taken down for five years. Sir Elton may be off his piano bench, but Web heads obviously can’t take anything for granted these days.

End User: Music, Stat!

Published in San Antonio Current, August 1, 2007

Once again, the government wants to kill our good time. Last week, the House Government Reform Committee called peer-to-peer file-sharing software such as LimeWire a “national security threat.” LimeWire and the Gnutella network it uses are a popular means to share music and video — often copyrighted — across the internet. Chairman Henry Waxman and his peers warned Mark Gorton, CEO of LimeWire, that his software could turn a computer into a weapon.

The Committee’s concern stemmed more from an accidental misuse of the software than from any deliberate leaking of sensitive material. LimeWire would be a pretty dumb tool for terrorists, but it is also a really dumb thing to install on a computer that contains classified information. Of course, there are a gajillion other ways to get files across the ’net. The mere act of connecting Microsoft Windows to the internet can compromise your digital stuff. Why wasn’t Bill Gates in this hearing?

While the recording industry does not seem to be directly involved with this particular attack on LimeWire, the RIAA has made 2007 its banner year to prevent you from actually hearing the music it records. It has threatened internet radio [“Dead Air,” July 11-17] and sued college students for sharing music. So this seems a fitting time to list some more above-board, even legitimate, ways to get great tunes for free.

First I’ll list some “streamed music” services. Streaming typically means that you can listen in one direction only — forward — and that you don’t get to store the music unless you use a parlor trick (easily learned) to record the audio your computer is receiving. I love turning people on to Pandora. This site asks you to create a “radio station” by entering an artist or song. Pandora then uses its database of “music genomes” to construct a list of songs related to your original selection. Pandora is one of the most high-profile services imperilled by the crackdown on internet radio.

Wolfgang’s Vault is a crazy good time. Bill Sagan discovered and bought the collection of concert recordings and memorabilia of late legendary rock promoter Bill Graham, and Sagan’s company has spent a considerable amount of time and resources documenting all of those recordings and posting them online for your listening pleasure. offers Rhapsody, a neat subscription that lets you choose from millions of tracks, store and share your choices. You can pay for “unlimited” access. I know many people who dig Rhapsody, though I found the site more clunky than others, and it crashed two of my browsers and wouldn’t work with the third.

Now comes the double-plus fun. Without installing any security-menacing software, you can find MP3s from all over the internet, yours to keep. Google can track down music files. You can look up the tricky syntax for the searches (Google “how to find mp3 with Google”), or use a site like to do the geek-work for you.

Somewhat newer to the scene are music or MP3 blogs, where fans discuss music and post listenable and viewable files. Sites such as Hype Machine ( and scour, track, categorize, and sort the content of these blogs.

But here’s the magic: Whenever you do a search in Hype Machine, a link to a “feed” is generated for you. You can ask iTunes (or another music app) to subscribe to that feed. Click “Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast …” and iTunes will start downloading the top song result from your search. Then you can ask it to grab more. A constantly refreshing set of songs from your artist is downloaded daily (or hourly, weekly, etc.), ready to be synced to your iPod (or another portable music device).

Hype Machine was the recent discovery that made me get up and do a little dance. (No, I didn’t post said dance on YouTube. And by the way, if anyone says “cat playing piano” to me again, I’m gonna drink Drano.) They let you play your search results in their own little window, but the ability to find and keep a track you like is just golden. And it’s just the kind of gold that the music industry wants to deny us, even though it ultimately attracts ears and purses to their product. So take a cue from Janis, and get it while you can.

End User: Nirvana for Gigabytes

Published in San Antonio Current, July 19, 2007

Data, welcome to Nirvana: a small black box with lights, called Drobo, the “data robot.” One pull quote called it “the iPod of mass storage.”

I’ve been waiting a decade for this.

The Drobo ( is the first device that can take multiple hard drives — of unequal size, by any manufacturer — and unify them into one giant walk-in closet for your digital stuff. If any one drive fails, you just pop in a new one. If you run out of space, you buy bigger drives and swap them in. All the while, the Drobo stays on, and you don’t lose access to your files for even a second.

If you’ve heard of RAID, Drobo takes RAID out to the shed and beats it with a belt.

For four years, I’ve made almost every one of my clients buy an external hard drive to sit on their desk, automatically backing up their stuff. Each time, I’ve said, “When that drive fills up, we’ll get you a new, bigger one and you can stash the first one in a closet.” It may seem wasteful, but as I discussed in my last column, very few computer users can afford to lose what’s on their hard drives.

I want to mention here that, if you do suffer a hard drive failure, services exist that can typically recover your data. Drive Savers of California has one of the best reputation (and employs a crisis-intervention counsellor). Their work can run between $1,000 and $3,000, but there are more affordable and locally based agencies. Also, the $89 software SpinRite, by Steve Gibson at, reportedly does the best job at recovering data outside of a clean room.

Back to good vibrations: Mass storage used to be unnecessary for non-geeks. Now any new computer can help anyone become a musician or filmmaker, work that takes lots of space to produce.

On the other end, internet-based consumers have put billions of dollars into pure 0s and 1s, assets that exist nowhere but hard drives. In January, the iTunes Store sold its two billionth song, and it offers more than 500 movies, and whole seasons of many TV shows. Amazon recently announced its own forays into digital downloads of music and video. Sales of physical albums continue to drop, while downloadable purchases claim bigger market share every day.

Then there are the terabytes of free (or free-if-you-know-where-to-look) files being downloaded every day. (Between us, did you know you could have your computer automagically grab new episodes of your favorte TV shows, sans commercials, without any subscription? Whatever you do, don’t visit, and don’t download, for example, Miro-né-Democracy Player, which also has wonderfully legitimate uses.)

So, the Drobo lets you stash that multimedia audio-visual glut in an expandable, protected space. Now that the first 1Tb (terabyte) internal hard drives have hit the market, the Drobo can combine four of those puppies for a total of 2.7Tb redundant storage. (Redundancy in computerdom, as opposed to, say, a philosophy major, is a boon.)

I can’t report that this magnificence comes cheap. The Drobo is $500 for the enclosure alone. But gigabytes have become very cheap, indeed; a year ago I advised people to be happy getting $1/gigabyte. Today, I paid $100 for a 500Gb drive. Three of those will put 930Gb in my Drobo. That, my friends, is 2,000 movies or 300,000 songs, whichever comes first. By the time I fill that (and I will), drives will be more capacious and markedly cheaper.

The Drobo currently only connects over a slightly slower USB 2.0. Many forum-posters have griped about this limitation, but it makes sense in the way the iPod makes sense: Keep it simple, and fewer things will screw up.

I bought my Drobo in August, and it is everything I expected. I feel a lot more secure knowing my data is (almost completely) safe from drive failure.

And… iPhone… Ooooh, you knew I was gonna sneak it in somewhere!

Jonathan Marcus publishes online at

Oct 6, 2007

GrandCentral "Call Me" badge

GrandCentral is a pretty neat service, recently purchased by Google. I signed up, and while I'm not giving the number out because I mostly get spam on it, I have put this badge on my web sites. Click it and check it!

Jul 18, 2007

Looking ahead to Leopard Server

Dear OS X Server-owners, and dear those-destined-to-be-OS X Server-owners,

I was just looking again at Apple's pages on the features of the new OS X Server 10.5, due in October. This is the first time I've been flat-out excited about a server release. Don't get me wrong, I dig them as much as the next geek, but they've never stirred me to, say, write an email to 20 non-IT people.

We can't invest too much in the hype, but there's stuff in here that I've been waiting for for years, and that I was always baffled Apple didn't have. And they say this:

"If you think it takes a dedicated IT department to deploy and use a server, think again. Leopard Server is designed to allow you to easily set up and manage servers."

I've never viewed J2 Consulting as your IT department, because Macs don't require that, and that's one of the things I love about 'em. We're advisers and technicians, and the solutions we get to put in place tend to keeping working, with relatively little maintenance. If Leopard Server can make our job easier, so we can serve more people, while each client pays less, sign me up!

Here are some of the tools they're including:

And here are some of the other phrases I'm glad to read:

"The end of manual labor

Adding clients to the network is now a quick and easy process. Just plug the new Mac into the network and launch the Directory Utility application. It will automatically detect and sign on to the server."

"Who's who

With Directory you can search for and, more important, find people in your organization. Just type in a name. ... it even shows you a map of their location. You can also manage your own record and distribution of personal contact data."

"Portable Home Directories 2  Home folder icon
External Accounts is a new Portable Home Directory feature that allows you to have a home directory on an external FireWire or USB portable drive."

Give me a shout to discuss how these technologies might play a part in your environment.


J2 Consulting ~ Chicken soup for the Mac ~ ~ 210.367.3420

Jul 5, 2007

End User column: Out of Range, Out of Mind

No, it has nothing to do with the iPhone. Yeah, right. Next time there will hopefully be something else to talk about.

BTW, I've helped two clients work with three iPhones, and they do rock, but we've definitely run into some limitations. I'm looking forward to the software updates, and to the next generation.

Published in San Antonio Current, July 4, 2007

Roswell, NM, two days before release of the iPhone — Yes, I asked if this motel room included wifi. Today, I asked. Yes, they have it, or at least they feature it, but today, it’s out. You’ll like this: They claim it’s out due to “a few car accidents.” I’m still picturing that.

Phone signal’s gone, too. I’m writing from a dial-up connection. Feh.

Thankfully, I have saved upgrading my notebook until autumn; some modern laptops don’t even include modems anymore.

Sunday, July 1 — Now we know: Should you buy an iPhone? If you’re a person who would right now spend $500 on the coolest gadget on the planet to entertain yourself, hie thee to the Apple Store. At just the right size and weight, the device does what it does marvelously. I found it responsive — snappy, says the geek — and almost tactile. Browsing the web on the big, bright screen kicks butt, typing works pretty well, and the audio/video experience cannot be beat. The iPhone owners I have talked to this weekend knew what they were getting, and while some had to overcome minor hurdles to get going with it, they’re generally very pleased.

If you wanted, however, to consider that $500 a business expense to make you a better, stronger, faster thing-doer, then you might want to wait. Among the iPhone’s failings, for example, the fact that it won’t cut, copy, paste, or even select text tops my list. I’d go crazy not being able to grab a snippet from a web page or easily forward just a portion of an email. Very strange, Penny Lane. So, I didn’t buy one, and I’ll have to wait for 2.0.

OK, no more iPhone today, I promise.

Avoid the worst day of your life: File this under “mundane, but vital.” If you store anything of value on your computer, you should know that storage is doomed to fail. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, Ilsa, but hard drives (the main storage mechanisms inside computers) are extremely delicate, and many are faulty right out of the factory.

Please, please, please backup, backup, backup: Always keep multiple copies of everything, and in at least two different places.

To start with, do yourself a favor and go to to sign up for 2 gigabytes of free online backup for personal use. They offer very smooth software for Mac and Windows that waits until you’re not touching your computer, then it backs up any files, or categories of files, you choose.

Extra cool: If you refer a friend to Mozy, they should enter your email address when they sign up, and you will each get an extra 256 megabytes of free storage.

Mozy Pro for business use starts at only $4.45 a month for 1Gb. One lovely alternative is, surprisingly, Amazon’s S3 (“Simple Storage Service”), which costs $0.15/Gb/month. Other online backup services exist, but they tend toward pricey.

It would take too long to back up your whole computer across the internet, so I encourage (read: rabidly demand) that everyone buy at least one “external hard drive” to sit next to your machine and receive daily automatic backups. CompUSA carries several models, as does the Apple Store. Then it’s best to download and set up software to make the backups happen for you. Grab a geek if you need help there.

(Microsoft Windows has semi-OK backup software built in, and Apple’s next version of Mac OS X will include something new and purportedly very snazzy called Time Machine.)

Finally, to be thorough, upload all those precious photos to a site such as or They offer more space than most people will ever need, and you can make images either public or private.

Then kick back and congratulate your wise self. You’re safe to surf.

Next time: nothing about the frickin’ iPhone, maybe.

Jonathan Marcus publishes online at

Jun 14, 2007

End User: The Littlest App

Published in San Antonio Current, June 20, 2007

I wanted to like MySpace. But it’s atrocious: ugly, clunky, ad-ridden, the polar opposite of Google. And like so many atrocities, it’s hugely popular. I got nothing from MySpace, however, except spam from pretend women, and as all the tech podcasters I listen to have shunned MySpace and emigrated to Facebook or Virb, I thought I’d give the former a try.

One of Facebook’s features is to scan your address book and look for email addresses of existing Facebook users. Also, searching in Facebook is more efficient, and within two weeks, I got howdy-do’s from three different high school classmates, all of whom I’m glad to hear from.

Turns out that one of my old ’mates, John Lilly (not the late Day of the Dolphin guy), is now COO of Mozilla, the non-profit org that manages development of Firefox, the free, open-source web browser that currently enjoys about 15% browser market share in the U.S. (“Mozilla” was the codename of Netscape Navigator, the first popularly available web browser.)

If you own a Windows computer, and you still use Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, your fly is open and waiting for some nasty digi-bug to crawl into your PC’s trousers and have its way with you. Plus, you’re missing out on blocked web ads and saved browser sessions. (If you rock a Mac, you’re safe on the ’Net, but you should check out Firefox, or Camino, a browser made for the Mac on top of the Firefox engine.)

Coincidentally, my reconnecting with John came at a fun time for browser buffs. First of all, Firefox 3 is on the horizon, with some lovely features such as private browsing. Next, this last Monday, June 13, Apple Computer made a couple of piquing announcements: It has released for Windows a beta version of Safari, the web browser that comes with every Mac; and the iPhone (June 29, y’all!) will run a full version of Safari, supporting Web 2.0.

I hear ya: What the @#$% is Web 2.0? To oversimplify, it’s the movement to make the web less boring than it used to be. You know how, on Netflix, you can put your mouse over a film’s name, and a little balloon pops up with plot and director info? Or if you go to, there’s a search blank at top right that now drops down search results as you type. That’s all Web 2.0. Google Documents and Spreadsheets are pure Web 2.0. Which means that, if Apple’s promises are fulfilled, then boom, the iPhone has word processing… IF you have an internet connection. And you will, and it will cost you.

The latest versions of Windows and Mac OS X also have mini apps, called “widgets” or “gadgets,” depending on who you ask. Many of these are created with the same kind of code that makes Web 2.0 tick, and I sniff that Apple intends to make these insta-apps playable on the iPhone.

In his presentation, Apple CEO Steve Jobs presented his vision for the web’s future, in which Internet Explorer and Safari will dominate to the exclusion of all other browsers. So I couldn’t resist asking John Lilly what Mozilla’s thoughts were on Apple’s news. He first got me a very diplomatic statement from Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla’s vice president of engineering: “Mozilla’s mission is to promote an open, interoperable and participatory Internet. We encourage Apple to put their weight behind open standards and the open Web to help ensure all browser users, regardless of operating system or browser, can enjoy the best possible Web experience.”

I suspected that somewhat stronger feelings ran through the Ethernet at Mozilla HQ. John confirmed this with a post on his blog: “There are a couple of problems [with Apple’s view]. The first is that this isn’t really how the world is. The second is that, irrespective of Firefox, this isn’t how the world should be. A world of tight control from a few companies … destroys participation, it destroys engagement, it destroys self-determination. And, ultimately, it wrecks the quality of the end-user experience, too. Remember when you had to get your phone from AT&T? Good times.”

Yes, I remember that, and I also remember the browser wars between Netscape and IE, when you’d find the words “This site best viewed by Internet Explorer.” To paraphrase Bill the Cat, pppphptpt! I found a thing I wrote about the browser wars back when I didn’t get paid to do so, on a proto-blog in 1998: “Computers connected to the internet will not be truly functional until they all speak the same language.”

I tried Apple’s new Safari, and am pleased that it works better on sites with which Safari used to have problems, sites that until now I have needed Firefox to view. So now I have more choice, and that’s fine. If Apple is simply encouraging development for cool little apps on the iPhone, I like that, too. But if the goal is control, I’m gonna start using Firefox more.

Jun 1, 2007

Site for valuing your old Mac

eBay has always been a good place to get a fair market price on your used Mac, but Mac2Sell has a more organized approach. Very cool!

May 30, 2007

My new tech column - End User: That syncing feeling

The San Antonio Current has asked me to pen a bi-weekly column. Two have run so far, and I'm enjoying the project. I used to be arts editor, and later production manager, for the Current, and I've kinda missed the gig. Fine, I'll say it: I'm a byline whore. But I always felt a bit of a dilettante writing arts reviews and features, so this tech bent feels more legit.

{OLD VERSION: Dontcha know the iPhone has been on my mind, and this first jaunt is really a two-parter: here and here.}

So here's the first one:

Published in San Antonio Current, May 31, 2007

If you want to practice swearing for an hour, try getting your contacts from your Gmail to your Yahoo! address books. Then try migrating your calendar.

It’s doable if you, the trained Googling bear, want to Google through a few hoops to get it done. None of the hoops are on fire, but you might still feel burned on your beary behind.

Wait, now comes the trapeze act: Try syncing your address book or calendar between Outlook and Gmail and Yahoo! accounts. By “sync,” I mean having your information flow, in both directions, between one or more devices or databases. Make a change in one address book — on your phone, say — and that information shows up in Gmail, and Outlook.

Believe it or not, more than one internet page refers to this idea the “Holy Grail of synchronization.”

Now, if computers can make Britney Spears a singer, could this syncing thing possibly be that complicated?

More mysteries: Sometimes I wait 15 minutes for my Treo to sync to my Mac. Sometimes it duplicates every contact in my address book, or every calendar event, or just makes multiple copies of the email addresses in each card. That’s a real laugh riot when I’m trying to get out the door. So I make backups almost every day, before I hit the sync button.

To be fair, Windows has long had nearly instantaneous sync with Windows Mobile devices. Plug a Windows-based smart phone into your computer, and pop! your data is the same on both. Also, Apple offers a $99/year online service called .Mac (“dot Mac”) that will, albeit slowly and not dependably, keep your address book, calendar, and bookmarks synced between Macs.

Stray just a little, however, from Apple’s or Microsoft’s closed systems, and you find yourself inventing new swear words.

I have found a couple of pages that discuss methods to attain the “Holy Grail,” using software and services with snappy names like GcalDaemon, Funambol, and ScheduleWorld. I messed with GcalDaemon, and it works, but it involves command-line heavy lifting — sudo chmod -R yadda yadda — that would daunt any non-geek. Even I didn’t enjoy it.

Another semi-option is Plaxo, a useful online address book that syncs Macs and Windows with Yahoo!, but only imports one way from Gmail.


So what’s to come? Speaking of holy grails, we return to the iPhone, that obscure object of desire. We still don’t know if the damn thing works, but here’s my latest penny for the iPhone wishing pool (I’ll probably end up throwing my Treo in):

Yahoo! is offering free mobile-syncing mail accounts with the iPhone. Google has teamed with Apple to make a cool Google Maps program for the handset. I would love it if these three entities have put their brains together, and will release an open system for syncing, one in which everyone (except probably Microsoft) agrees on the fine points and plays well together.

I’ll have bunting and confetti and party hats and T-shirts that say “Sync This!” printed and waiting for the day.

(Side note: One netizen has created a contest called the “notMac Challenge,” to offer a cash prize to anyone who develops a viable and easy-to-use replacement to .Mac.)

Not using Apple Mail

This has been a little weird, but I've recently had to play with browser-based email because my PowerBook died. Also, the Bigfoot mail server that I'd used since 1996 also tanked, which inspired a migration to Gmail. So while my little aluminum baby was away at Apple (you DO have AppleCare, don't you?), I actually moved away from Apple Mail, and I'm stunned how easy it was.

One thing I found, however, was that Safari didn't work so hot with the Gmail interface, so I use the free Camino, which is based on Firefox but made for the Mac.

If you have a address, you might try the Yahoo! Mail Beta in Camino and see how you like it. And check out Plaxo to sync your Yahoo! contacts with Apple's Address Book. (Plaxo doesn't sync yet with Gmail. Check my recent article in the San Antonio Current for some of my thoughts on that matter.

May 18, 2007

Where to buy a new Mac

I was wondering where the best deals would be for a new Mac would be? I want to start looking over the next few months for either an iMac like the one I use here, a Mac mini or an eMac. Any suggestions?

I just want to kick this one off, and ask for anyone reading to post their own thoughts on the matter. I'm going to ramble a bit now, but if you want to know how to buy a new Mac, I intend this to be a good place to start.

Which Mac Should I Buy?

Just poking around, I found this great Buyer's Guide, which will give you some idea (not gospel, just suggestion) about whether it's a good time to buy the particular model of Mac you have your eye on.

N.B.: I've said this before, but RAM, RAM, RAM! Don't buy a new Mac with less than 2Gb RAM. You certainly don't have to buy the RAM direct from Apple. I have all of my clients go to Crucial for much cheaper, and lifetime-warrantied, memory. Crucial actually makes the RAM that Apple puts in its computers, but they sell it for a lot less.

So, the eMac is dead, long live the educational-level iMac. But it's severely crippled -- it lacks Bluetooth and other stuff, so let's skip past that one.

The Mac mini is a fantastic product, for certain applications. I use mine as a media server and to back up my home computers. They are also great for office administration and clerical work, kids, and some basic document production. Don't consider them an option for more heavy-duty graphics or multimedia work. Factor in price of keyboard, mouse, and monitor if you don't already have 'em.

The iMac or MacBook are right in the pocket for a household, and I know many graphic designers and photographers who have landed on the iMac as their main production machine.

If you will use your Mac for any pro-level production, or you like a big screen, or you're a gamer or other sort of speed freak (wait, that's maybe not the best choice of phrase ;-) or you purely want bragging rights, you should think about a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro.

Where Should I Buy It?

It's very clear that, unless you're a bit of a geek and want to mess around with an older machine, you should buy your Mac new. That includes Apple-refurbished units. You can buy used Macs at from SmallDog or PowerMax, or even eBay, but Macs hold a pretty good resale value through at least the first 3 years, so you simply won't save all that much buying used.

Rejoice in refurb: Go to and look in the right column for "Looking for a great deal?" next to the "SAVE" sticker. On the ensuing pages, you'll find refurbished Macs, and as long as you buy AppleCare with them (which you must do anyway), any of those are great.

Before you make a purchase, please allow me to put you in touch with my friends at the Apple Store at La Cantera. Also, Apple has finally set up a small-business sales department, which seems to be doing some pretty aggressive outreach. I have a contact on that team as well, but I've been really grateful to the folks at La Cantera for the service they've given every one of my customers.

By the way, if you haven't been out to that store, it's really worth it. They've established themselves on the forefront of the Apple Retail division.

Lastly, if someone in your household currently haunts the halls of academia, the best discounts on Macs are for educators and students. Go to the Education version of the Apple Store

That's all on this for now. I'm anxious to hear some other opinions.

May 17, 2007

Re: I lost my ipod

Can you tell me if this is covered under my warrenty

No, lost or stolen iPods are not covered by AppleCare. Also, Apple will (typically) not repair or replace an iPod that evinces any physical damage.

These things may be covered by your homeowner's or (less likely) business insurance.

May 6, 2007

Slow Mac

My Mac has not always been sluggish but now it is, unless I shut it down everyday. It is sporadic. I'm afraid it has something to do with my anti-virus updates but I know nothing about computers. Anyway, it is a PowerBook G4 version 10.3.9 with a processor 1GHz Power PC G4, Memory 564 MB DDR SDRAM.

First of all, I think it's important to say that you really don't need virus protection on your Mac, and if it's what holding things up, it'll be the first thing I ditch from a Mac.

So, here's the deal: Your Mac is slow because you have near the bare minimum memory necessary for your computer. Bringing it up to at least 1.5Gb (gigabytes) should help performance a fair bit. I encourage all modern Mac users: Install at least 2Gb (that's two gigabytes) of RAM, and you'll have a modern, happy Mac. And if you can afford it, and you're going to do anything serious with it, take that sucker to 3Gb.

I have, after much observation, found that having less than 1Gb of RAM (memory) can really slow a Mac down, unless one is doing only the most simple things with it -- like, word processingwhether it's on 10.3 or 10.4. (Surfing the web is actually a more intensive task for a computer than one might think.)


#1 - If you're still using OS X 10.2 Jaguar, you seriously need to upgrade to Tiger 10.4.

#2 - You actually shouldn't have to shut your Mac down unless you are going to be away from it for a while, or unless you have done a software installation or update that requires a restart.

#3 - There are a couple of basic troubleshooting techniques for a slow Mac, but the main one is to use the Activity Monitor, to be found in the Utilities folder inside Applications:

I'd like you to bear with me through the next couple of (brief) paragraphs. It's going to sound quite geeky, but it should help us examine your problem.

When you open Activity Monitor for the first time, you'll want to do two things: Change the "Show" drop-down menu to "All Processes", and click the "% CPU" label. This will show you which applications, or processes, are taxing your computer most.

And at the bottom of the window, you'll see a bar graph. If that graph is almost all black (and your computer is sluggish), then we're looking in the wrong place. If you have a lot of green or red in there (say, more than 20%), I'd like you to call or email me what processes are listed in the window as taking up the most of the resources.

(For kicks, here's a more complete article on using Activity Monitor.)

#4 - Now, here's another, and fairly important question: Do you use a lot of different fonts? If so, try closing them and see what happens. (If you're not sure what I'm talking about, then fonts are not the issue.)

#5 - Finally, there are a couple of maintenance tasks that one can perform. I can walk you through them over the phone. I'll mention that the tool I like to use is Onyx; the version of it for your Mac can be downloaded by clicking here.

May 2, 2007

How bloggeth thou?

I need to figure out create a blog to my personal web domain. I'd like to be able to upload my thoughts/pics just as easily as you do. I would name it something like: There are several options that I've seen.

There's a gazillion ways to blog now, and honestly all of the good ones (as opposed to a MySpace blog page) are going to help you create a full-fledged weblog.

So, to go through some options:
  • I would skip iWeb unless you want to keep it simple... I mean like Forrest Gump-simple.
  • Many pro bloggers love Wordpress ...
  • ... but many also really like Six Apart's TypePad (, or their Movable Type (  if you're gonna get serious. I know a teacher who really likes TypePad for distributing information to her students.
Note that MarsEdit is blog publishing software for the Mac, intended for use with a blog service such as TypePad, Blogger, or your own server. Note, also, that MarsEdit is in transition of ownership, and I wouldn't put down money on shareware in those circumstances.

As someone who does not want to spend a lot of time maintaining a blog, I appreciate Blogger's simplicity. (It should be stated here that Blogger and Blogspot are the same service.) I really really like that I can send an email or a text message to publish to my blog.

Apr 23, 2007

Import a DVD

Is there any way to copy a DVD's contents to your computer. We were trying to copy some business videos to a folder on our computer so that they would be more easily accessible.

Two methods:

1) MacTheRipper is a fine app for doing exactly this: Put a DVD in. Create a new folder on your desktop and name it, perhaps, "DVD importing." Then open MacTheRipper, and go to File > Save To... to choose that folder. It will save the DVD information inside two folders called AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS. You can use the wonderful, free media player VLC to open that VIDEO_TS folder.

2) AND THIS IS PROBABLY THE WAY YOU WANT TO GO ... You can use HandBrake to import the DVD content (or an imported VIDEO_TS folder) straight to a QuickTime- or iPod-playable movie.

Of course, we would never ever want to use these techniques to distribute copyrighted content, would we?

Back dat s*** UP!

I use several different backup packages, depending on the job and the need. Deja Vu, SuperDuper!, Carbon Copy Cloner (though I haven't gotten scheduled backups to work in its latest Intel-ready version) are great for bootable backups, and Deja Vu also works well if the user doesn't want the backup to get in their way (or you don't want them to screw it up ;-).

Recently, I've come to absolutely adore ChronoSync for just about every other task, esp. backing up to a networked volume. ChronoSync will email you when a backup is complete; it also organizes your backup sets in the most logical, and least screen-hogging way.

Mar 18, 2007

The Keychain to Success

Having problems with keychains?

If keychain permissions are giving you fits, the first thing to do is type "keychain" into Spotlight, and open Keychain Access. When it's open, click on the Keychain Access menu next to the Apple menu, and click on "Keychain First Aid." In the appropriate blank, click the "Repair" button, and click "Start"

If any errors show up in red, click Start again, until no more errors are found. 

Now, you also probably want to keep your default keychain unlocked. And unless you're using a generic user account on a workstation, you'll want to turn on "User Names and Passwords" in Safari's AutoFill preferences.

There are other techniques for securing your information. Needless to say, once should take extra precautions when storing sensitive material on a laptop. Get ahold of to discuss the options.

Bonjour, kemosabe. Vie gates?: iChat on your private network

Everyone do this with me: Open iChat (if it ain't in your Dock, it's in your Applications folder). Click on the Window menu in iChat. If you see Rendezvous, click on that; if you see Bonjour, click on that. If you're asked to login to that network, click Login.

If everyone in your organization does this, you'll all see each other in the Rendezvous or Bonjour window. I find sending quick text messages often more civlized — and always more quet — than phone intercom. I know of one office where they change their iChat status to show when they're in the office or out to lunch, on the phone, etc. …

… Guess most people I know are fairly out to lunch most of the time, but that's another story.

By the way, you can text to my AIM account s1r4real. If I'm not online, your message will be forwarded to my phone — which is easily set up, by the way, in your AIM preferences.

Also, for folks using a server, Apple is including secure private iChat in the next version of OS X Server.

"If you invite them, they will come": iCal invitations & notifications

This is a natural question, and I hope Apple makes this procedure more obvious in the next iCal:

In a calendar that you administer, click on an event.

Look to the right of the main iCal window; if you don't see a separate information panel, like a drawer, sticking out to the right, click on the button with "i" in the circle at the bottom right of the main iCal window. There's rarely any need ever to close this Info.

Now, in the info panel, click the grey word "None" next to the black "attendees." Start typing the name of someone in your address book. When their name is filled in automatically, hit the key. Now, add your own address in there (just this time, for practice). Finally, at the bottom of the info panel, cilck the Send button.

Et voilà! You have just emailed an invitation to someone, and you (and Apple Mail and iCal) stand awaiting their reply. Look in your email, and also in the Notifications panel of iCal (there's a button bottom left of iCal, and "Show Notifications" is in the View menu.

Moving items from subscribed-to calendars

Turns out that you can copy events from one calendar to another, even if the first calendar is one you're subscribed to. (Given: You can't copy into a calendar you're not able to edit.)
This could be useful, for example, if you wanted to send invitations to people who weren't included in the first round.

Mar 14, 2007

Ejectile dysfunction: CD is stuck in the drive!

My CD/DVD burner drive won't let me insert a disk. I think it thinks there's a disk already in there but there isn't. Is there a way to get it "unlocked?"

So, is this a "slot-loading" or do you put the disc in a tray that pops out?

Reminds me of the time at Kinko's when the older lady put the CD into the 5 1/4" floppy disc drive. A Windows computer, natch, and I wish I had a picture of the look on my face. I seem to recall that those damn PCs were bolted down. I giggled a lot.

Either way, try opening iTunes and pushing the eject button at bottom right. If that doesn't work, follow these instructions:


I had a CD get stuck in my slot-loading superdrive Aluminum Powerbook, running 10.3. The CD became unresponsive and not recognized by my computer at all! Here is the fix:

Hold Control-Command-Option-Eject Button; this will shut down your computer. Turn the power on with the power button and hold Command-Option-O-F -- this will boot you into open firmware. Now type
eject cd
and hit the Return key and wait until the CD pops out. Type


and you are ready to rock!
[robg adds:
As mentioned elsewhere on the site, you can also try holding the mouse button down during boot to force the system to eject any inserted CDs.]

Feb 13, 2007

When do I unplug my laptop?

What is the right way to treat my notebook regarding recharging. It mostly lives on my desk and acts as a desktop; I take it elsewhere in the house or yard once every day or two, for maybe an hour. For the rest, it's at my desk. So the question is: can I leave it plugged in and sleeping?

So, here's the protocol:

If the laptop is fully charged — it has a green light on the Apple adapter, or it says "100% Charged" in the battery menu — AND you're done using it, close the lid and unplug it.

If it's not completely charged when you're done working, close it to put it to sleep and let it charge all the way up to green, and THEN unplug it.

The longer the laptop is plugged in while the battery is fully charged, the more stale the battery will get, and the shorter its life.

Lastly, every couple of months, one will want to run the battery down to absolute zero — the screen goes black and won't wake up, but the light on the front still glows — then plug it in and charge it all the way up in one go. This conditions the battery, sort of reminding it how much capacity it should have. One should do this to a brand new battery also, AFTER charging it all the way up the first time.

By way of example, my current PowerBook battery, now 2.5 years old, has a fine 2-to-3-hour lifespan, because I have it unplugged so much of the time.

Just so long as you call me

Would you rather I call or e-mail questions to you?

Either is fine, though my responses to emails will be slower. I can also use text messaging via mobile phone 210.367.3420, AIM chat to s1r4real
(which forwards to my Treo), Skype to jjmarcus, remote control over secure VPN, Morse code, smoke signals... ;-)

What is your billing policy regarding questions by phone or email or whatnot, i.e. when you're not on-site?

I charge per hour, pro-rated, for whatever interaction I have with clients, excepting getting-to-know-you calls or meetings, and little one-off chat messages. $60/hr for homes, non-profs, and artists; and $100/hr for businesses.

Incoming mail has stopped coming in

Wondering why I am no longer receiving mail in Apple I have checked the settings, and every other thing I can think to do. I know the account is active because I can go to webmail and get the email.
So, in the left column, next to the word Inbox, is there a circle icon with a triangle or lightning bolt inside it? If so, click that, and take the account online. Then click Get Mail. Tell me if you get any errors.
I was also having a problem with continually having to put in my password on the other accounts.

It would be worth it to open Keychain Access and see if your keychain is unlocked. One should also periodically run "Keychain First Aid" from the application menu (the one next to the Apple menu that changes its name depending on what app you're in).

Feb 3, 2007 site updates

I've finessed my About page a bit, and would love to hear your
thoughts about the language. But more appealing, perhaps, is my
updated list of software enhancements for the Mac.

My favorite spam subject line

It used to be "Bill, get bigger, firmer breasts!" but now it's "I
cartilage my putative".


Jan 30, 2007

SuperDuper errors

If SuperDuper ever throws a red "X" at you, go to the Log. See the button at the bottom called "Send to Shirt Pocket..."? 

After you do what I suggest below, you'll want to click that button, and do whatever it tells you. 

It occurs to me that there is a chance that -- don't freak -- you have data corruption. I'd bet even if you had it, it's not bad, because you have been able to transfer and backup successfully at least twice.

But if you know how to run Disk Utility from your installer discs, that would be wise. Do it on both your internal and external drives. If you have TechTool, DiskWarrior, or Drive Genius, great, run 'em just for kicks.

And if you have anything with the name "Norton" on it, please put it in the nearest garbage pail. Seriously.

Jan 26, 2007

InDesign is printing gobbledy-gook

if InDesign is printing an infinite number of pages of gibberish, try resaving the linked images from Photoshop, and update the links in the doc.

Airport Express not connecting consistently

We have been having trouble with our Airport Express. It is
working very slow (takes about 1 min. or longer to load a page).
The internet works fine when we plug it directly into the
computer. It was working fine a month ago but now it won't. I
have tried resetting it and unplugging everything. We have had
problems with this Express before (we had to unplug it fairly often
just to get our computers to connect to it).

Unfortunately, I find Airport devices to be the most finicky of Apple
products, often requiring more resets than a simple device like this
should. So, I would absolutely recommend resetting the Airport
Express back to factory defaults (pressing the reset button for about
15 seconds until the light blinks 4 times), and reconfiguring it with
Airport Setup Assistant. If you have already done that, you might try
switching cables out. If that doesn't work, and if it's under
warranty, please call Apple to get a new one. If it's out of
warranty, might as well buy a brand new, freaky-fast Airport Extreme!

Jan 24, 2007

30,000 mile checkup

Sitting at the Honda dealer, checking out my domain-registration possibilities, admitting that it's tempting to continue with GoDaddy just because of the huevos behind their Super Bowl commercials.

Meanwhile, this is pretty funny...


Jan 23, 2007

Almost finished at SAY Sí

I've been working on the lab at SAY Sí's new facility since the very beginning of January, and I feel like it's finally just about done (at least on the new Intel iMacs; the G4 eMacs have to wait until the students are done with their current video project).

Learning to work with NetRestore and Casper Composer, and Portable Home Folders, has been exhilarating, and doing it all with Apple Remote Desktop over Gigabit, bending the machines to my will in a single keystroke... well, it makes me giddy. Yes, I know I need to get out more...

My first mobile post

I'll be giddy if this works.

Re: Address Book Question

I recently realized that all my contacts in my address book are gone.  I was wondering how I should go about getting them back.  I figure I need to use the back-up hard drive for this, but don't know what to do exactly.


Exactly. As long as you haven't backed up to the external since the contacts went away, you're good. So:

1) Quit Address Book
2) in your home folder on your laptop, go to ~/Library/Application Support (where "~" is your home folder).
3) Inside there, change the name of the folder AddressBook to "AddressBook old" (no quotes)
4) Now plug in the external drive, and from your backup's Application Support folder, drag that AddressBook folder into your laptop ~/Library/Application Support.
5) Eject the external (just in case)
6) Open Address Book. Your contacts should be there.

BTW, if that drive is the LaCie I remember it to be, with USB in addition to Firewire, then with the new Airport Base Station, we can plug the drive into the Base Station and share it to your network. Instant Network Attached Storage. Sweet!