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