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Category: Apple

Ditch Cable?

Posted by – 11/30/07

So I’ve been working for some time now on devising a media system for my home that could potential replace cable. It’s a pretty sweet little setup. I’ll be tracking my progress here to let people know what I’ve got in my setup and any roadblocks I run into in the process.

  1. The Mac Mini This is the big one, the center of it all. I went with the Mini for several reasons:  
    1. Media Server My Macbook Pro is great, but I got mine a year ago– back before Apple upped the storage capacity in their laptops to 250 gigs. Mine has a measly 100 gigs. (Seriously? More than doubling the capacity in just a year? Wow.) And I’d like to have a place to not only store all my music and video, it would be great to be able to play them on the big screen with the great speakers.I also want to be able to sync my laptop with the media server for everything but videos (I’ll just keep the tv shows and movies on the Mini), but I’ll show you how to do that later.
    2. Backup Server This was one of my reasons for purchasing the Mini, but for now it doesn’t look like it matters. In the months before OS X Leopard was released, Apple had advertised that the new Time Machine backup application would be able to perform backups wirelessly (as long as the drive was HFS+ formatted and communicating over the network via Apple Filing Protocol). Apple yanked that feature from Time Machine shortly before launch. There’s still the possibility that the feature will come with a future update, but there are no guarantees.Here was why the Mini was crucial: there really are only two ways to meet the requirements of both HFS+ and AFP with network attached storage. There are some NAS server solutions that allow you to format the drive HFS+, and some others that allow the Apple Filing Protocol to be used, but only one that does both. Apple’s Airport Extreme. But that’s a pretty expensive router, and I already have a solid router that’s given me very little trouble. The only other option is to just share an HFS+ drive on another Mac. Hence the Mini. (Certainly too expensive if that’s all I was buying it for, but given all the uses the Mini has, I think it’s worth it.)
    3. Print Server Basically, I hated always being in the living room when I needed to print something and having to walk into my bedroom, connect the USB hub, print one page, and then eject the three harddrives that are also attached to the hub. I just connected the printer to the Mini and shared it. Bingo.
    4. TiVo Alternative Definitely the biggest reason I got the Mini. Don’t get me wrong, I love being enslaved to Comcast’s lackluster performace and more-than-impressive monthly bill. But something about the possibility of an endless supply of storage for tv show recordings, the ability to export them to iPod/iPhone format, and the ability to watch them anywhere in the world really caught my attention. Meet elgato’s line of eyetv devices. I’ve got the EyeTV 250, the predecessor to the EyeTV 250 Plus. I can receive any of the analog channels from the standard cable package. It’s a great system, but there’s still room for improvement. I’ll review it soon in a separate post. I’ll just say that I’m impressed, I hope more features will come soon, but I’m not yet ready to ditch the DVR box we rent from Comcast.
  2. EyeTV 250 The second biggest piece to the puzzle, and I’ve already mentioned it above. I won’t go into much detail, that’s for another post. Basically mine accepts analog channels. The updated EyeTV 250 Plus also accepts over-the-air HDTV (called ATSC, the HD equivalent to the classic “rabbit ears” setup). EyeTV also packages their software with the HDHomeRun, a dual-tuner that accepts both over-the-air HDTV and cable-based HDTV (called Clear QAM).
  3. Buffalo WHR-G54S I like this router because it’s both cheap (you can find it for $30-50) and potentially powerful. I flashed it with the much more powerful DD-WRT, which allows more options in the configuration. Recently Buffalo even teamed up with DD-WRT to release an officially supported, pre-flashed version of this router. There are definitely more options for the super-user. It even pings the DynDNS server to let them know you’re current WAN IP. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry. It’s definitely a nerd feature you’d just need if you wanted to watch all those TV shows anywhere with Internet access.

It seems I’m not alone. Randy over at Ditching Cable is currently involved in a very similar experiment, trying to rid himself of the over-priced, under-performance that most of the monopolistic cable companies bring to the table.

localhost not working after Time Machine restore

Posted by – 11/29/07

So I use my Mac for web development, and I just use the Apache web server that’s already present in OS X. Anyway, everything was dandy and working smoothly. My hard drive was filling up in my Macbook Pro, so I beefed it up with a 250 GB drive installed by CompUSA. (For only $29.99 by the way, and it stays under warranty. Sweet.)

Anyway, I thought it’d be a great time to test the Time Machine backup system. I had a backup to the Time Machine disk in case there were still issues with the Time Machine restores, but it seemed to restore everything perfectly. That is, until I tried to load back up some websites yesterday. Since then, I have spent probably 12 hours trying to figure out why http://localhost/ and came up in Safari as if the server were off. Well, that’s because it never started, and here’s why…

Time Machine, for whatever reason, did not restore a crucial folder that Apache needs to write its error logs. Specifically, it’s the folder /private/var/log/apache2. If you’re having this same problem, open up Console and notice the errors popping up. Apache’s trying to start up, and it halts everytime with an error that looks something like this:

11/29/07 4:00:22 PM org.apache.httpd[1257] (2)No such file or directory: httpd: could not open error log file /private/var/log/apache2/error_log.

Anyway, the fix is simple. Open up Terminal and type this:

sudo mkdir /private/var/log/apache2

You’re welcome.

The first OS X virus?

Posted by – 10/31/07

In reading about why it seems so difficult for Microsoft to develop an OS that isn’t full of security holes, I came across this. OSX.Leap.A. The very first virus on Apple’s OS X operating system? Wow. I mean, I knew, it would happen eventually. Especially as Macs are becoming more and more popular and consumer-friendly.

As far as viruses go, this one seems pretty tame. Technically, it’s not even a virus. It’s a trojan. Very low risk. I don’t even think it’s around anymore. It utilized a very specific vulnerability in iChat to distribute itself, and only on Intel-based Macs, but there were less than 50 known infections.

According to Mac360:

The two known examples of Trojans, (Leap-A and Oompa-Loompa), required the user to accept and download a compressed zip file, open it, and double click on the file inside, then type their password in order for their Macs to be compromised. This is not a “well written” trojan, but a simple matter of Social Engineering, fooling the end user with a promise of something for free.

So, 114,000 for Windows, still 0 for OS X.

Update: Here’s a new one at DMiessler. And a good explanation for the major difference between this kind of threat for OS X and viruses for Windows.

Unlisted Leopard Mail Feature!

Posted by – 10/31/07

Actually, it is listed, but Apple doesn’t really fully describe what it does.

Archive Mailbox
Create an archive of your mailbox to back up important messages or to transfer your mail to another computer.

Yeah, so you can create an archive of your mail. But Apple doesn’t use a proprietary archiving method. This actually is just a simple export to the standard mbox format. Woo!

In Tiger, the previous version of OS X, Apple switched from using the mbox format–which stores emails in one monstrous file–to a single-email-per-file system using an emlx extension so that Spotlight could search the emails individually. But this also left people wanting to switch from Tiger’s mail (or simply backup their emails) out in the cold rain. Nearly every other email system uses the mbox format, so you’d have to employ the dodgy method of converting emlx to mbox with Cosmic Soft’s aptly named emlx to mbox converter. It worked. Uh… sometimes. There were always gitches.

It’s nice to see this unannounced feature in Leopard Mail!

XAMPP on Startup with OS X

Posted by – 10/30/07

I searched and couldn’t find a method for autostarting XAMPP upon startup for Mac OS X. I’ll publish this method, and I can definitely say that it works. I can’t promise there isn’t a more efficient way. This uses AppleScript to run a shell command. Open up Script Editor from Applications > AppleScript. Insert this command:

do shell script "/Applications/xampp/xamppfiles/mampp start" user name "YourUserName" password "YourPassword" with administrator privileges

Of course, replace YourUserName with your OS X username and replace YourPassword with the respective password.

Save the script as an application (through the Save As… menu), and in System Preferences > Accounts > Login Items, include the new little application you just made. (I also chose to hide mine. It shouldn’t really matter, once the application is finished running, it quits.) It’ll start XAMPP upon startup, and of course, shutting down your computer will automatically stop the XAMPP server. You’re welcome.

If you didn’t really understand most of this little tutorial, then you probably shouldn’t be messing with XAMPP anyhow.

If anyone knows how to run a shell command at startup without going through AppleScript, please let me know. I’m sure it’s possible, I’m just not skilled enough to figure it out on my own.

Finally! Gmail with IMAP!

Posted by – 10/29/07

Just in time for Leopard. I’d been wanting to switch back to using Apple Mail because of all the coolness that’s been promised in the new version, but managing Gmail through mail.app is like a low paying part-time job. Once you read everything in mail.app, it still comes up as unread in Gmail’s web interface. Well no more. By using the IMAP protocol rather than POP, your local collection of email stays in sync with the web version. Which makes reviewing old emails and composing offline possible while staying in sync with the server.

Basically, it’s gonna make things much smoother. And here’s an unannounced bonus to Gmail with IMAP…

Goodbye GMail Loader!
For some time, folks have been cooking up ways to get their entire email archive into the Gmail web interface. Why? I don’t know, maybe for archive purposes? Maybe so we don’t have to worry about keeping copies in our old mail program? Let’s face it, if you really want to keep all your old emails, it’s much easier to have them all within the same interface so you don’t have to go hunting around between the several different email programs you used to use and the webmail you now use. It simplifies the search.

In case you didn’t know, you can literally just drag an email from your local folders to the IMAP folders inside Mail.app. It will copy that email, with sent and received dates intact, to the server as if it had always been there. It solves the timestamp issue that the GMail Loader encountered. With the GMail Loader, you can get all your old emails uploaded to Gmail’s servers, but they would show up in the interface list as if they’d just arrived (because it had… it had just arrived on the Gmail servers). When reading the email itself, it would show the actual sent date. Kind of an ugly problem.

Something else I’ve noticed. The way Gmail interacts with IMAP is strange, mostly due to the unorthodox “label” method that Google designed for Gmail instead of folders. Since messages could have more than one label applied, that translates to having the appearance of being in more than one folder inside your IMAP client (obviously I use mail.app). So when you delete a message from one of the IMAP “folders” you are really just removing the label from the message. That is, unless you’ve opted to have your IMAP client store deleted messages on the server (instead of using a local trash bin on the computer).

Apple Mail IMAP Example

This is why Google recommends you don’t select that option. It ruins the ability to remove labels from your messages because then when you delete a message, it actually deletes the message. (They’d also like me to not select ‘Store Junk Messages on Server’, but frankly, I’ve not found a bug in letting mail.app work hand-in-hand with the Spam label/folder on Gmail’s servers.)

Of course, if you’re not going to use the Gmail labeling scheme, selecting this option would make your IMAP client behave more like you’d expect. Anyway, just something I thought about, tested, and confirmed.

Finally the U.S. Gov't is Making Sense in Wireless

Posted by – 7/11/07

Carriers in Europe are mandated to accept any phone compatible with their network protocol. It makes selecting your wireless service and phone much more intuitive. Phone XYZ is the coolest with the features you want? Awesome… get it. And the wireless provider ABC has the mix of features you want in a wireless plan without extra “features” you wouldn’t want to pay for? Great! There you go!

Obviously I’m simplifying things, but it just makes more sense. Because when the wireless providers have a lock on the devices they allow on their network, they subsidize them. And they lock features out. And then they add those same features back in a new and improved clunky, proprietary format for the low, low monthly price of…!

Prime example: lately I’ve been looking at getting a new phone. It’s about that time, and now that I’m no longer in school, my schedule is far less than routine. Essentially, I just need a phone with a calendar. But I already keep my entire schedule in iCal on my Macbook Pro. So I want my phone to sync the calendar and address book (it doesn’t have to sync anything else as far as I’m concerned). Ask a Verizon wireless sales associate this, and they’ll readily reply that yes, their phones can do that. But not all. Check out this list of phones on Apple’s website to see which ones are denoted with (5) to indicate…

Apple Phone Footnotes

Why just Verizon’s version? Could that be because they lock their phones down beyond what any other carrier attempts?

So instead of working towards letting us use the awesome technological features that Motorola and LG have heavily advertised (Bluetooth isn’t only for hands-free headsets, Verizon), the U.S. wireless providers treat customers with contempt, acting like watching television on a 1.5-inch by 1.5-inch screen is what really gets my wireless heart a-thumpin’.

Hopefully this news on the Congressional debate will turn into much better news later on.


Posted by – 6/30/07

Alright, so, a little update. I went to the Apple Store here in Green Hills with my roommate Chris and a buddy, Josh. I was just gonna get a power adapter for my Macbook Pro (Turns out that even though I’d already cleared it with AppleCare online, they’d still like to look at it in-store to make sure of the problem. Take a look at it now, you ask? Sorry, the Genius Bar is closed. You can buy an adapter and return it later… Great.)

It also turns out that Josh didn’t just want to look at an iPhone, he wanted to buy one. And instead of coming with us to dinner, he was gonna wait in line for it. It looked like there were about 200-300 people in front of him. “Alright, we’re gonna go eat at Carrabba’s, and we’ll meet you at the tree.” (The tree was 10 feet ahead. It was hilarious at the time, I promise.)

Gotta give it to the folks at the Apple Store, they really know how to work a line through the store quickly. We got back an hour later and Josh was sitting with his sleek, shiny new 8G iPhone beaming with joy and activating it on iTunes. It had only taken him about 45 minutes to get through and get his iPhone. Impressive. And iPhone is especially impressive. Seriously, it is a super cool gadgetron (I figure it’s more than just a mere gadget). Everything is great about it except for the network it’s on. AT&T? Really?

We all went to a local restaurant to chill later on tonight, and on one side of the normal 4-top table the phone had full bars. On the other side, zilch. Good thing the restaurant had Wi-Fi or we wouldn’t have been able to watch YouTube videos. (Which, for the time being, aren’t very plentiful… the search function doesn’t turn up much. My guess is that iPhone is only showing videos encoded with the H.264 codec, and YouTube isn’t very far along in the process of re-encoding all the videos.)

Like I said, maybe I’d get one if it were with Verizon (even though they’re notorious for crippling all the cool features of their phones). I like everything about AT&T’s service except the network. Rollover minutes are cool. Not locking my phone down is cool. The network blows. Verizon’s network with AT&T’s everything else… that would be a great plan. I mean, or AT&T could quit having a terrible network. Then I’ll get an iPhone.

Gimme the F*ing Mic!

Posted by – 6/29/07

Today is probably the worst day that the power supply for my Macbook Pro could fail. The cost of replacing it isn’t a problem, it’s covered by the AppleCare warranty. But once I explained the problem to the tech support rep, he asked if I’d like to have a replacement shipped to me or did I just want to pick one up from a local Apple Store. “I’ll just pick one up, I really can’t have any downtime with the computer.”

“Sure, not a problem,” he tells me. “Keep in mind, sir, that today is the launch of the iPhone, so there may be a line at the Apple Store.”

Oh cwap. I completely forgot. In fact, the Nashville store is even closed right now to prep for the launch. It opens again at 6 p.m., and I’m sure it’s gonna be crazy. I guess I’ll be there, but not for an iPhone (maaaaaybe I’d get one if it were on Verizon, but still… you can’t wait a week or two to just walk in to the store and get one? Who are these people who have this kind of expendable income, yet can leave their jobs to wait in line for 5 days?). I just need to get a daggum power supply.

Anyway, online today I came across this: some loon waiting in line for an iPhone attacked a Fox News reporter as she was interviewing Newsweek tech columnist Steven Levy, one of the few folks to receive an iPhone in advance. Levy is holding one the iPhones, which are going for an insane price of up to $1200 on eBay, and the guy grabs the reporter’s mic instead of the iPhone. “Gimme the f*in’ mic, don’t f*in’ mess with me,” he says as he bounds away.

He didn’t go far though. You can imagine the amount of security surrounding an event like this. Here’s more (including a video).

Apple Store

Posted by – 5/22/06