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Just Google

March 31, 2007

A little bit of Saturday Madness from the guys at Leth & Sex News

[tags]Google, Leth and Sex, Video, Humor[/tags]

Apple TV, Harmony Remote & Xantech Xtra Link

March 27, 2007

Apple TVI’m as much of a gadget geek as the next blogger, but even I get fed up with clutter after awhile.

The last go-round configuring my media center ended up with only the TV, speakers, and a Xantech Xtra Link sensor out in the room, and all of the componentry stashed in a closet behind.

A Logitech Harmony 880 remote replaced the box o’ remotes, and communicates with the gear in the closet via the Xtra Link (an infrared remote extender).

Naturally, when I hooked up the Apple TV, it got wired into the closet too, with an IR emitter stickied to the front of it over the IR window.

After getting the basics working, this made the next order of business adding it to the Harmony 880, which is where things began to go a bit awry…

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Apple TV Initial Impressions

March 27, 2007

Apple TVSomething bad happened yesterday — I wore out yet another keyboard. Worse, while I was at the crack store Fry’s picking up a new one, I walked past a stack of Apple TVs, and one of them followed me home.

Outside of being in the store anyway for the keyboard thing (the “colon” key failed — how the hell can a “colon” key fail? Semicolon works. Shift+anything else works. Try writing HTML or CSS without a colon key), I probably wouldn’t have been as tempted to get one right now if it hadn’t been for the high rate of very interesting hacks emerging for the Apple TV over the past few days — I’m guessing Apple has hit another one out of the park.

The unit comes boxed more or less like an iPod — fold-open box in a slip case, “Made by Apple in California”, etc.

Not a cable in sight, other than the power cord (boo).

At least the power cord doesn’t have a huge transformer brick on it (yea!).

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OS X Spotlight Slowdown

March 21, 2007

Macintosh OS XI’ve been tracking an annoying “slowdown” on my MacBook Pro for awhile now; just every now and again, the system will seem to take an inordinate amount of time to do something, and then clear back up again.

This often seemed to involve mounting or dismounting external volumes.

Looking at this in Activity Monitor, I found that the “MDS” process was taking 90%+ of the CPU, and about 1.5GB of physical memory. Digging around in Console, I also found a bunch of crash logs.

MDS is the OS X Spotlight indexing service which, much like an over-eager spaniel, decides to sniff a new volume to death whenever you try to mount it. Worse, it will occasionally pine away for a dismounted volume, chewing up CPU time and memory trying to find it.

It appears to be particularly problematic if you have a removable drive that’s a duplicate of the boot drive (such as you might have, for instance, from doing a clone backup).

My first instinct was to just disable Spotlight and its sniffer routine entirely; I only use it once in a blue moon, but I was a little reluctant to just shut it down altogether.

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OS X Online Backup (Configuration)

March 20, 2007

If you’ve made it this far, that means that you’ve successfully configured your encryption keys, connected to your backup server, and used rsync to backup some test data — congratulations!

(If you’re just joining us, you’ll probably want to look at Part 1 and Part 2 of this series before continuing.)

The next step is to configure our actual backup.

What to backup?

It’s worth taking a moment to consider what you actually want to backup. While it’s possible to backup your entire Mac, it adds somewhat to the complexity (there are files you have to exclude if you want to backup an entire running Mac), it takes a loooong time, and there may not be much point.

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OS X Online Backup (Connection & Test)

March 19, 2007

I’m assuming that you’ve gathered the materials indicated in Part 1 — specifically, that you’ve got an account set up with Talanov or a similar service, and have an FTP program that supports Secure FTP (SFTP) handy.

Our rsync transfers will be made over the Secure Shell protocol known as SSH. This insures that all of your data is transmitted in an encrypted fashion.

We could log into SSH with the username and password provided by our backup vendor (and we will while setting this up), but this would be a little annoying if we had to do it every time we backed up, so instead, we’re going to exchange encryption keys that will allow our Mac to automatically identify itself to the backup server (and vice versa) when our script is run.

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OS X Online Backup (Intro)

March 19, 2007

Online backup lets you backup your Mac to a secure remote server, using “spare bandwidth” from your broadband connection when there isn’t something else going on.

It’s a great idea, and there are really only three problems with most of the options out there for Macs — they usually exhibit some combination of being expensive, slow, or having limited capacity.

Linux server jocks, on the other hand, often take advantage of rsync, and a couple of great online storage facilities that support it — cheaply.

Rsync is a wonderful tool — it quickly compares files on both ends of a connection, and only sends the differences. This works clear down on the byte-by-byte level – if two copies of a file are different by 100 bytes, that’s all that gets sent.

Several firms specialize in selling industrial quality rsync backup cheaply. One of the best known is probably BQ Backup, who will sell you 100GB of rsync-able storage for only $20 per month (or 10GB for $5). There are competing vendors, and even those who resell BQ Backup at an even lower price.

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How OS X Updates Can Make Your Mac Unbootable

March 18, 2007

Macintosh OS XThe good folks at Unsanity have posted this fascinating little piece…

When you see the “Optimizing System Performance” phase of a software update, Mac OS X is really updating prebinding. Updating prebinding has a very, very nasty bug in it (look at _dyld_update_prebinding). If multiple processes are updating prebinding at the same time, then it is possible for a system file to be completely zero’d out. Basically, all data in the file is deleted and it is replaced with nothing. This bug is usually triggered when updating Mac OS X and every update to Mac OS X has the potential to render your system unbootable depending on if the “right” file is deleted or not. It’s triggered during the “Optimizing System Performance” phase of installing an update. This phase is actually just running update_prebinding. If you launch an application that links to libraries that are not yet prebound, there is a chance one of those files will be zero’d out as dyld automatically redoes the prebinding on that file.

I’ve been tracking this particular bug for about 18 months now. Most of the real “random” failures reported on various Mac OS X “troubleshooting” sites after a user has installed an Apple software update are actually manifestations of this bug. By real I mean not imagined problems or ones that have been there for a very long time but the user is just now noticing it and artificially connecting the cause to the recent update (it’s called Pareidolia). Yes, this nasty prebinding bug has been reported to Apple and yes, it is 100% reproducible if you want to reproduce it.

Every single time you install an update to Mac OS X whether it be an iTunes update, a QuickTime update, an update for daylight saving time, a security update, an Airport update, or an actual Mac OS X update, you can be hit by this bug. In order to prevent yourself from being smacked in the face by this bug, follow this simple rule: When “Optimize System Performance” appears during the update process do not touch your computer and definitely do not launch any applications. Just back away from your computer box as if it were a swarm of bees. Yes, it does mean that if you install the Mac OS X 10.4.9 update, you may get hit by the bug.

(There’s more, go read it all)
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GrandCentral hits the spotlight

March 15, 2007

GrandCentralTechmeme points us to a great write-up on GrandCentral by David Pogue in today’s New York Times.

I’ve been using GrandCentral for awhile now, and David’s article does a nice job of introducing “what it’s all about”

In short, GrandCentral gives you one local phone number — “for life” — and then slices and dices calls into that number to provide an amazing array of features:

  • Incoming calls can be set to ring all of your numbers simultaneously — your office line, your cell phone, your home number, etc. You can control which numbers ring on a time-of-day basis, or on a caller by caller basis.
  • When a call comes in, GrandCentral identifies the caller ID — if it can match it to an entry in your contact list, it gets the name from there, otherwise it asks the caller to give their name while it “attempts to locate you”
  • When you answer the call, GrandCentral tells you who it is, and gives you the option of taking the call, taking the call and recording it, sending the caller to voicemail, or sending it to voicemail while you listen in — in the latter case, you can pick up the call mid-message if you like, just like on your old answering machine.
  • In mid call, you can start or stop recording if you like, by pressing a key. You can also press a key to cause all of your numbers to ring again — and pick up the call where you left off, but on a different line. (Convenient for switching from your office phone to a cell phone, for instance).
  • You can assign voicemail greetings, and even “ringback tones” (the “ringing” the caller hears while the system is calling you) on a caller-by-caller or group-by-group basis, by recording a message or uploading an MP3, respectively.
  • Voicemail notices are delivered by email, and by SMS to your cell phone.
  • Calls can be screened against GrandCentrals growing list of telemarketers, and dumped to voicemail – or a phony disconnect notice. You can add your own list of annoying callers to this list as well.

All of this is driven through a very well-thought-out web front end, where you can change your settings, listen to voicemail, review your calls, edit your contact list (or import it from a variety of address books or organizer programs and services), and even place a call.

Other features allow you post recordings online or mail them, and place a “click to call” button on a web page where a user can enter their number, and GrandCentral will call you, then them.

Oh yeah — and all of these features are free. At least for now, while GrandCentral is in beta. Indications are that the basic service will remain free, with a “fully loaded” account quite inexpensive when the service officially launces..

All in all, GrandCentral is amazing, and amazingly useful — if you still don’t get how, check out this video from the NYT article.

In using it however, I’ve discovered a few things you may want to consider, before you jump in with both feet.

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Zeroes (Heroes Spoof)

March 10, 2007

NBC turning out to be the responsible party doesn’t make this any less entertaining…

On the other hand, it does give a mild bit of hope that there is a fraction of a clue still living in the creaking old broadcast TV network dinosaurs…

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