Shameless Plug – The Buzzoutroom

What goes perfectly with the coolest computer around? How about the coolest music.

If you like chill out to ‘downbeat grooves’ then head over to The Buzzoutroom and have a listen. It’s perfect for when your passing time on your Mac. My favourites? Blackfish, Chilled CQuence, this list could go on and on.

Keeping it safe

Close your eyes.

Imagine for a moment that the unthinkable happened. Perhaps your hard disk crashed. Perhaps a thief broke in and stole all your computer gear. Perhaps (heaven forbid) the house burned down. All your photos, music, scanned documents and hard work have gone. How do you feel, and how much would you pay to get it all back?

LaCie d2 Quadra

LaCie d2 Quadra

It’s a scenario that all too often happens, and almost every day someone, somewhere will have that sinking feeling. However all that’s needed to avoid this is a little planning and not a huge amount of money. Ok, I happen to have gone to quite some lengths to make sure my data is protected, but just some of these ideas will hopefully get you thinking about what to guard against and how to do it.

Scenario #1 – Hard drive failure. Actually the easiest to guard against because all that’s needed is an external disk attached to your Mac. I have a LaCie d2 Quadra 1Tb drive sitting on my Mac Pro to which I take daily backups. It’s a little expensive because it features USB, Firewire 400/800 and eSATA connectors, but USB alone will probably suffice in most cases. If you’re a Mac Pro owner like me, then a second internal hard disk to backup your boot partition to is also a good idea and dead easy to set up.

D-Link DNS-323

D-Link DNS-323

Scenario #2 – Theft. Not so great, the thieves broke in and not only stole your Mac but they also took your external hard drive sitting on the desk next to it! How about a hard disk somewhere else in the house, like in the loft? Somewhere a thief in a hurry isn’t going to hang around and search for. I have an ethernet cable running up to the loft where I have a D-Link DNS323 NAS device to which I take weekly backups. The D-Link comes as an empty case and you just add your own hard drives. For NAS devices I favour ones that ‘natively’ share disks via SMB of AFP so that you don’t need client software. There are other makes like Synology, or you could even hang USB disks off a Mac Mini (yep, I’ve got that too!). The advantage of the new Synology enclosures over something like the D-Link is that in addition to standard SMB sharing, they also offer Apple’s AFP. I used to have an old PC running Windows 2003 Server but decided to scale this down to something more eco-friendly.

LaCie Rugged

LaCie Rugged

Scenario #3 – When I was a kid our house caught fire and you quickly realise nothing is safe in those situations. Only solution to that is ‘off site’ storage. The belt and braces approach here is a LaCie Rugged 500Gb drive. Once a month I back up all my important stuff (music, photos, etc) and then I unplug the drive and give it to a trusted friend for safe keeping. The tough construction of the ‘Rugged’ means it’ll survive the odd knock when it’s transported. I also have a free 2Gb Mozy account which I’m thinking of upgrading to the full kahuna at $4.95 a month, as it seems to work really well on the Mac.

Software – I prefer to use software that gives me a lot of control and doesn’t assume I want to store files in Super Flexible File Synchronizersome proprietary format. Time Machine gives me the ‘easy to grab back that deleted file’ solution, but for my daily and weekly backups to external disks I use Super Flexible File Synchronizer. Coming from a background as a SyncBack SE user under Windows, this is as close as it gets on the Mac and the degree of control it gives you over what to back up and how, is just amazing. I also mirror my boot drive to a second internal disk in the Mac Pro using Super Duper on a three-daily basis so that if for any reason my Mac won’t boot, I can simply boot off the spare drive without losing too much work. For the odd files that might contain sensite data, like old scanned credit card statements, I store these in encrypted .dmg files using DropDMG. (If you know the passphrase, you can open an encrypted .dmg file on any Mac without needing the software installed). That way if anyone ever get hold of my backup data the financial stuff would hopefully be safe.

DropDMG

DropDMG

To go the extra mile I back up my Apple mail once a day using Email Backup Pro (it handles both Mail.app and Entourage plus loads of others), as well as using MobileMe for my .Mac account, and I back my passwords up weekly from 1Password.

There you have it, I’m hoping I’ve got every angle covered. Ok I might seem paranoid, but the thing to remember is that your insurance can get you a new Mac, but safeguarding your data is down to you so please don’t leave it to luck… keep it safe!

The ScanSnap S300M just keeps going

Canon ScanSnap S300M 3Now that I’m getting used to the quirks of the software, life with the Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M is becoming a lot better. On the hardware side I can barely fault it as the scanner has reliably munched its way through nearly 2,000 pages of A4 documents, tiny till receipts, crumpled up carbon copies, torn invoices and pretty much anything I can feed through it. There have been only a couple of times when it has mis-fed documents and there’s usually a good reason for it. In one instance a batch of 5 sheets that had been folded together for some time decided to feed through all at once, but after mixing the pages with 5 other sheets I had to scan, the scanner worked perfectly again.

The amount of clutter I’ve cleared out of my study thanks to this little gadget is amazing, and I’ve now got into the habit of scanning most of the documents that arrive on my doorstep that I would otherwise file in some binder and forget about.

One of the things the manual does point out, that you might not think about before buying the scanner is ScanSnap Consumablesconsumables. Chapter 6 of the manual shows a table that states the ‘Pad ASSY’ should be replaced after 10,000 sheets or one year, likewise the ‘Pick Roller’ should be replaced after 100,000 sheets or one year. In my case I’m not likely to hit the threshold on number of sheets scanned, but I can see a year passing before I know it. Where then to find these consumables? A quick Google of UK websites revealed that there’s nowhere in the UK selling these parts, but fortunately there seem to be some US suppliers. To be on the safe side I think I’ll order some spares now rather than wait until the last minute. At $12.99 for the ‘Pad ASSY’ it doesn’t seem too steep, although there’s international shipping to add to that, so I may also buy some of the Fujitsu Cleaning Wipes that the manual recommends for routine cleaning, to make the shipping worthwhile.

So all in all the S300M is turning out to be one of my better computer-related purchases – now if only it were just as easy to scan all the other clutter I’ve got in the house!

Sharing external drives on a Mac

In my travels around the web I’ve seen a number of posts from people having problems sharing external hard drives on their Macs. Typically the person is saying that they have shared one or more drives using the Sharing option under System Preferences, but that they can’t see those drives from another Mac on the network. Without beating about the bush too much, the answer to how you share a Mac disk (external or otherwise) is dependant on how the disk has been formatted.

If your disk uses the Mac OS Extended or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) scheme, then you can share the disk with other Macs on the network using AFP, which is the default when you choose file sharing in the System Preferences. You would then connect to that disk from other Macs by typing in something like afp://ip.address.goes.here/Volume_Name.

SMB file sharing

SMB file sharing

However, if your disk has been formatted using FAT32 for example, then you have to share it using SMB. To do that, open System Preferences and go to the Sharing option. In the list of things you can share choose File Sharing then click on the Options button and tick the box that says Share files and folders using SMB. All that remains is to set the security you want and you’re off. You can then connect to the shared drive across the nework from another Mac or even a Windows machine using smb://ip.address.goes.here/Volume_Name.

I won’t go in to the ins and outs of which one’s better or how to set up security as that’s for you to get in to if you want to. For my part I have a Mac Mini that has two 500Gb external drives attached. One is formatted using Mac OS Extended and is shared with my Mac Pro using AFP. The other drive on the Mini is formatted using FAT32 and isn’t shared but is used simply to mirror the contents of the Mac OS Extended external drive so that should I ever need to physically connect it to a Windows machine and read the contents, I have that option (as Windows machines can’t read the Mac OS Extended file system).

Job done 😉

Entourage and Google Calendar, all sync’ed up

UPDATE 25/May/10 – Unfortunately since I wrote this article, Calgoo no longer offer the Calgoo Connect utility. I have now written a new article on how to use Spanning Sync to keep Entourage and Google in sync. You can find the new article HERE.

UPDATE 19/Oct/09 – To all the people who have upgraded to Snow Leopard, which causes Calgoo Connect to break. The problem appears to relate to a difference between the version of Java that ships with Snow Leopard and the version of Java that Calgoo Connect expects. Calgoo have not yet responded with a Snow Leopard compatible version of Connect, but there does appear to be a workaround which is to install an earlier version of Java. I will investigate this and post a ‘how to’ in a separate article (if I can make it work!)

In the meantime, there’s a very good article here that tells you how to install the Leopard version of Java if you want to give it a try.

– – – – – – –

The following is a short walkthrough I’ve made in response to a question someone raised about being able to sync Entourage with Google calendar, the idea being that if you use Entourage at work you can post a calendar entry there and then view it on gCal when you get home (and vice versa).

The short answer is ‘yes’ and all you need is Calgoo Connect (currently v2.1.3) which you can download from the Calgoo website (you’ll need to register for the download, but it’s FREE). The long and boring answer is as follows…

Ok, we’ll assume you’ve already downloaded and installed Calgoo Connect on the Mac where you’ve got Entourage installed. Now the thing to remember here is that you’ll actually be using iCal on the same Mac as a ‘conduit’ for getting Entourage and gCal to talk with each other. Doesn’t mean you need to be an iCal user, just so long as it’s in the background doing it’s thing. This is what you need to do.

  1. Open Entourage and go to Preferences. From the preferences list choose Sync Services and make sure you have the option to ‘Synchronize events and tasks with iCal and .Mac‘ ticked. This will automatically create an Entourage calendar inside iCal. You can easily test this bit by creating a calendar entry in Entourage then opening iCal and checking that your new entry appears in the Entourage calendar under iCal. (Don’t worry if you don’t have a .Mac account, that bit is ignored if you don’t have one).
  2. Next, you need to decide which of your gCal calendars you want to sync Entourage with (that’s if you have more than one gCal calendar). For the purposes of making this article clearer, I created a gCal calendar called Entourage, alongside my default calendar.
  3. Ok, launch CalGoo Connect and click on the little icon bottom left that looks like a purple and an orange arrow on top of a calendar.
  4. Chose what sort of connector you want to create, in this case it’ll be ‘Sync an Apple iCal Calendar with a Google Calendar‘.
  5. Give your new connector a name. I called mine ‘iCal <-> gCal’ but beware that special characters like ‘<‘ aren’t actually a good idea as they get mangled when Calgoo displays them back to you. (Bug?). A better name might be ‘iCal – gCal’.
  6. Now you’ll be prompted for which iCal calendar you want to sync. This is where you’ll want to specify your Entourage calendar in iCal.
  7. Then you’re asked to supply your Google Mail credentials so that Calgoo Connect can access your calendar(s) to see what’s there (and do the sync’ing).
  8. Once you’ve done that you should see a window asking you which Google calendar you want to sync with. Again in my case I chose the calendar in Google that I’d specially created for sync’ing with Entourage, but you could just as easily use your default Google calendar for example.
  9. Now you’ll get a confirmation window that summarizes what you’ve chosen. If you’re happy just click the ‘Next’ button.
  10. The last step lets you do a sync straight away or just save the connector for later use (or modify the connector).

And that is pretty much that. As you’ll see from the gallery below, I tested this out by creating a new calendar entry in Entourage which, after sync’ing using Calgoo Connect, appeared in Google calendar – and it works both ways so you can create something in gCal and it’ll sync across to Entourage. Of course you can set Calgoo Connect to sync automatically at a particular interval, e.g. every hour.

So next time you need to need to type something into Entourage and see it appear in gCal, this will do the trick. Alternatively, if the other half nags you to book a day off so you can go shopping for shoes with her, you can create a reminder for yourself in gCal at home and it’ll pop up in your Entourage calendar at work (or wherever) so that you can then plead with your boss for some time off… or not, as the case may be! 😉

The humble MX mouse

Logitech Control CentreWhat can you say about mice that hasn’t already been said before? As it happens – not much, but there’s a couple of things that spring to mind for Mac users considering an alternative to the (quite frankly dreadful) Apple Mighty Mouse. For almost a year now I’ve been using a Logitech MX Revolution mouse with Mac OS X, and if you want to see a good review of it, albeit with a Windows slant on it, the guys over at Trusted Reviews have already written a far better review than I could ever manage.

Now at first, I was connecting the mouse via Synergy running on a Windows XP machine, meaning that I had basic Mouse Configurationmouse support under OS X but couldn’t program the wheel and left/right buttons to do anything other than their default actions. This all changed when I finally ditched Windows as my primary workstation and connected the mouse directly to my Mac Pro. At that point I was able to load the Logitech Control Centre software for OS X and configure the mouse exactly how I wanted, as unlike my diNovo Edge keyboard it’s fully supported under OS X. The software works well and lets you choose from a variety of options for the various wheels and buttons you get on the MX Revolution.

Blistered mouse!

Blistered mouse!

In use the mouse is as comfortable as ever, being easily the best mouse I have used, and I have no problems getting the mouse to last a week on a single charge. I’d even go as far as saying this is the perfect mouse except for one minor niggle – durability. My MX Revolution is probably a year old and doesn’t get particularly heavy or rough use and so you’d think durability wouldn’t be a problem. However, on the right-hand side of the mouse the finish is a smooth plastic that has a rubberized coating for extra grip. On my mouse this rubberized finish is already ‘blistering’ and peeling off so I’ll probably have to replace it before long. Trouble is, the MX Revolution is so comfortable and pleasant to use that I’ll probably replace it with another one despite this flaw!

I might actually drop Logitech a line and see what they have to say about this, as I’m sure I’m not the only person who has found this. Of course I don’t have the original receipt and so I’m not looking for a refund, but if they say anything interesting I’ll let you know. Hopefully if this is a problem they’re aware of, they might have have improved the process by which they bond the rubberized finish to the plastic. Who knows? As Judge Judy would say – am I getting hung up on the minutiae in life??