Uninstalling apps – don’t rely on just using the Trashcan

AppZapper

AppZapper

Installing apps under OS X Leopard is in many cases a simple task of dragging an application in to the applications folder, and there is a school of thought that uninstalling apps is equally as simple. In a few cases that is true, but it’s an approach that can leave your hard disk littered with unwanted folders and .plist entries, and worse can cause OS X to waste time logging problems.

A while back I installed a backup program called QRecall. At the time I thought it might be usefull because it silently takes differential backups and stores them ‘in the cloud’ (outside the Mac to you & me). Nothing against QRecall but I eventually decided that it wasn’t for me and I decided to uninstall it. I dragged the application to the trash folder and thought that was that. Wrong…

A while later I happened to be looking at the console for another application and I saw masses of error messages appearing at regular intervals for QRecall. The messages seemed to relate to various startup agents so I fired up my trusty Lingon utility and went and had a look. Sure enough there were three QRecall processes that were set to start automatically when my Mac started. (Note – these items didn’t appear under the Login Items section in my user preferences). So I used Lingon to disable the three agents and thought no more of it… until I next happened to look at the console!

30/12/2008 06:44:37 [0x0-0xf00f].com.apple.finder[172] QRecall CM PlugIn cannot connect with monitor

…and this was happening every 30 seconds or so. Time to take stock and to clear this up once and for all. Turning to Google I searched for ‘QRecall uninstall’ and found a link to the QRecall Support Forum where I found a post from someone equally as hasty as me who had simply trashed the application. I followed the steps shown below to finally remove all traces of the application:

– Stop all running actions and Quit the QRecall application.
– Delete the QRecallMonitor Login Item from your account preferences (Mac OS X 10.4 only)
– Delete any files beginning with com.qrecall from the /Library/LaunchDaemons, /Library/LaunchAgents, and/or ~/Library/LaunchAgents folders.
– Restart your computer.
– Delete the /Library/Application Support/QRecall and/or the ~/Library/Application Support/QRecall folders.
– Delete all files in ~/Library/Preferences that have names beginning with com.qrecall.
– Delete the ~/Library/Preferences/QRecall folder.
– Delete the ~/Library/Contextual Menu Items/QRecall CM plugin item.
– Delete the QRecall application.

It is important to note that there is a ‘proper’ way to uninstall QRecall that should avoid these problems, and that is to hold down the Option and Shift keys and select QRecall > Quit and Uninstall, and to be fair this is all documented in the QRecall help… which I had stupidly never bothered to read!

So, the lesson I learned is that when it comes to uninstalling apps under OS X you should do the following:

  1. Check the applications ‘Help’ facility to see if there are instructions for uninstalling it, and follow them! Applications that don’t simply use drag & drop to install are more likely to fall into this category – applications that install from a ‘pkg’ file for example.
  2. If the application comes bundled with an uninstaller – use it.
  3. If in doubt, do a quick Google search for ‘(name of your application) uninstall’.
  4. If none of the above seems to apply, then use one of the generic uninstallers like the excellent AppZapper or one of the paid/free alternatives.
  5. Only as a last resort should you simply drag an application to the trash can, and remember that doing so is likely to leave at least some traces of the application behind.

While we’re on the subject of AppZapper – did you know that not only does it let you uninstall an application by dragging the application’s icon on to it’s window, it also lets you uninstall screensavers, preference panes, widgets and some plugins simply by selecting them from a drop-down list? Neat.

To hell with market share – why I like the iPhone

Contrary to what you might think, I am not an Apple ‘fanboy’ despite writing this blog about Mac-related bits. There’s plenty I don’t care for in the way Apple conducts it’s business but then that’s the nature of large corporations, they all have something to dislike about them. It’s the fact that they’re all profit-driven faceless (and often feckless) entities that I simply can’t identify with, but hell it doesn’t stop me buying their products and services.

On the backs of these lumbering corporate giants are a million and one parasites, feeding on every rumour, on every 0.1% of a market share change, predicting this, speculating that and criticizing them for the other. If you follow the news at all you can’t help but notice commentators continually spouting about RIM vs. Apple, Microsoft vs. Google, Windows vs. Linux and every other perceived battle that’s going on. Personally, I don’t care if only 30% of people planning to buy a new smartphone are now thinking about getting an iPhone, compared with 34% who want a Blackberry Storm, I mean – why should I?

My choices are usually random and are often spur of the moment. When my ageing Orange SPV C500 decided to give up the ghost I had planned to buy an HTC Touch Diamond to replace it. This had nothing to do market share, I simply though the HTC phone looked neat. Shame then that Orange UK treated me so badly after 10 years of unwarranted loyalty, or that the salesman in the Phones4U shop was so pushy. I walked into the O2 shop, played with the iPhone 3G and thought “that’s fun” and the rest is history.

Does it matter that it’s not perfect? Hell no (in fact I suspect that if ever there was a perfect product it would make lousy news, there would be nothing for people to complain about). Yes the battery life is poor, I don’t like the fact that I’m tied to O2 on an 18 month contract, I think Apple is reaming me by not giving it a user-replaceable battery, and the lack of MMS seems a bit odd. But I don’t care. I don’t care because the phone is still an ‘enabler’ – it’s more now than the lump of plastic & metal I bought back in August. I look up train times, cinema listings, the weather, entertain the kids, check locations, send the odd email, record voice notes and take the odd photo. It seems that more than other phones, the iPhone 3G ‘expands’ to do more and more things where you think “that’s just plain useful”. What’s more I don’t knock the Blackberry Storm or the HTC Touch Whatever and the people who prefer them – each to his own I say.

So that in a nutshell is that. A bit of a waffle and with Christmas just round the corner I hope you all have a wonderful time and that it brings you whatever joys you wish for.

Happy Christmas!

Pandora Radio… In the UK… On a Mac (sort of)

picture-1I was a big fan of Pandora Radio when it started out. Both before and since I have tried music recommendation systems, including the new iTunes Genius, but I never found one that seemed to hit the mark better than Pandora. There was something about the way they analyzed the music (something they referred to as the Genome project) that made their recommendations very good – certainly in my case. and in the space of a year I must have bought about 12 CDs based on new music I heard on Pandora.

In their infinite wisdom, the various record labels and authorities decided that allowing me to listen to a radio station in the States given that I live in the UK, was a somehow damaging their profits and the sad day eventually came when I got the Pandora email saying they had been obliged to block listeners from anywhere outside the US. Go figure! So I put up with it and went on my merry way, but every so often I’d see a story about Pandora and I eventually started to miss discovering new artists so I set about looking for a way to solve my problem.

picture-2
In essence the trick was to access Pandora via a service that would disguise my ‘UK’ IP address and make it appear as though I was just another user in the States. Trouble is, many of the services that do this either require some sort of monthly subscription or require you to download and install fairly invasive software. I did try a few in the latter category, including Firefox add-ons, but most didn’t work either relaibly or at all with Pandora. I eventually discovered HotSpot Shield and before long I was enjoying Pandora again.

Now HotSpot Shield falls into the category of ‘free’ installed software. You download a small client package (PC/Mac) which you install and there it sits doing absolutely nothing – until you need it, which is exactly what I wanted as I didn’t want my everyday browsing interfered with. I tried out the Mac version and it worked well enough, but given my lack of familiarity with OS X I eventually plumped for running the Windows version inside a small VMware Fusion session. So I set up a minimal Windows XP virtual machine 512Mb, single processor, and as small a hard disk as I could manage, patched it with the thousands of XP fixes you need then installed HotSpot Shield and that was it. Now every time I want to listen to Pandora I just fire up Fusion, load the little VM, load IE7 go to Pandora and I’m away. HotSpot Shield make their money by placing a small add in a frame at the top of your browser window. It’s fairly unobtrusive plus you have the option to close it anyway.

So, I’m happily listening to Pandora and discovering and buying new music again. What could be better? Maybe the record labels seeing sense and removing this daft restriction?!

iPhone app – Take A Note

Whenever I buy myself a bit of tech’ I always feel slightly guilty. After all, I obviously managed to survive before the gadget happened on the scene so why the indulgence? What’s more, if you’re going to indulge then there’s few more hedonistic gadgets around that Apple’s iPhone 3G, so anything that pushes it further into the ‘really useful’ side of my life rather than the ‘shiny shiny’ side is always welcome!

Now I know there’s people out there that hate Apple, there’s those that hate the iPhone, and there’s those that hate both, but whatever the criticisms are that people level at the iPhone (and I’d be the first to admit it’s not perfect), you have to admit that this little device is a wonderful enabler. The list of truly useful things I can do with it like:

  • Read and send email from pretty much wherever I am.
  • Find a route without asking if I happen to be lost (it’s a bloke thing!)
  • Check train timetables and even see if the train I want is running late
  • Look up viewing times at the local cinema

…goes on and on, and half the fun is discovering something new that pushes those little feelings of guilt a bit further away because you know it’ll make life just that bit easier.

Take A Note

Take A Note

Enter Readdle’s Take A Note application. Often when I’m out shopping I’ll see something and think what a nice gift it would be for someone. Or I might see an idea for the house, or perhaps something in a magazine in a waiting room, there’s no end of situations where a scatterbrain like myself wants to record a note for later use, and that’s where Take A Note gets my award for just plain useful!

In essence it lets you quickly create a note by typing on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard, drawing with your finger, speaking or using the iPhone camera. Each note can then be given a tittle and other comments, and can also be given a category for sorting. The resulting collection of notes can be viewed by type, category or searched, and even viewed on your Mac or PC via the iPhone’s WiFi connection. The interface is elegant and simple, showing you exactly what’s needed to get the job done, whether you want to create, view, edit or delete your notes and I’d challenge anyone to be unable to intuitively find their way around (well almost). The screenshots tell a much better story and you can guess what’s going on for the most part, in fact the only thing that caught me out was one aspect of the Mac/PC WiFi connectivity, which thinking back about it is actually quite logical.

In a wee bit more detail… Text notes are just that – stuff you save in a note using the iPhone keyboard. Audio notes are created by selecting New – Audio Note then pressing the record button, then the pause or stop button as necessary. For drawings you select pen or erase, choose your brush size and use your finger! Unfortunately you can only draw in one colour, but perhaps a later release will enhance that. Finally photo notes are just that, notes with photos in them that you either take with the camera or choose from your photo roll. The icing on the cake is that by touching the envelope icon at the bottom of any note, you can quickly email it as an attachment.

To view your notes on your Mac or PC you simply press the WiFi button in Take A Note and make a note of the number and port it shows you. In fact the port number will always be the same so it’s just the iPhone’s IP address you need. Then in the case of OS X, open Finder, select Connect To Server from the Go menu and type in http://nnn.nnn.nnn.nnn:8080 (where the n’s are the IP address the application tells you). Hey presto, you’re now browsing your iPhone notes which you can open in your favourite application. You can also add new notes by simply dragging them into the relevant Finder window. The gotcha? The Take A Note application must be open on your iPhone as you’re doing it. If it’s not running you’ll just get a message telling you the ‘server’ can’t be accessed. If your iPhone automatically locks, then the connection will be cut. Logical really seeing as the Take A Note software is acting as a server.

My only other minor complaint is over the voice notes recording feature. It’s simplicity itself to use, but there seems to be a lot of gain on the microphone, certainly in my case and when playing back recordings – while the voice or whatever else is recorded is clear, any silent bits (such as pauses when someone is speaking) are replaced by a loud hissing noise. Perhaps it’s my phone, who knows, however the voice notes facility is still perfectly usable.

So there you have it – £2.99 and you’ve got a really useful addition to your iPhone apps. Now that I can capture all those snippets of the world going on around me, I’ll become a master of keeping on top of my information overload. Then again, I’ll lose one more excuse for forgetting the things I need to forget.

Synology Diskstation DS108J – Jack of all trades

Wanting something to replace my large, noisy, energy guzzling Windows 2003 Server PC in the loft, and to free up my Mac Mini from a life of server servitude, my attention inevitably turned to the Synology Diskstation DS108J, given that it supports AFP, and the Synology website specifically talks about Mac compatibility rather than just adding it as a footnote as some manufacturers do.

Eco-friendly packaging

Eco-friendly packaging

This single-bay device is essentially an external disk enclosure with NAS built-in. You pop in your own hard disk (this model takes a single SATA disk, but there are IDE models and multi-bay models too) then work through some fairly quick and intuitive configuration screens and you’re done – the disk appears on your network. The range of things the Diskstation can do is almost mind boggling for a NAS device, plus there are a few features where you think “I’m really glad they thought of that”. Unfortunately it seems there’s a fly in the ointment, and a fairly large hairy one at that called AFP. But let’s start at the beginning…

For the casual home user, the DS108J looks like the ideal model with a price tag of around

What's in the box?

What's in the box?

£95+VAT. I ordered one from Novatech together with a Samsung SpinPoint 1Tb SATA drive (HD103UJ), which according to the Synology compatibility list is OK and doesn’t have any hibernation issues in this setup.  I’ve also used this same model of hard drive in various PCs and it’s always performed well. Assembling the device is simplicity itself, just slide the two halves of the enclosure apart, fit the drive then put it back together, a real no-brainer that took all of two minutes. Plug in the power and ethernet cables and you’re good to go. The manual is (supplied on disk) is good with one or two minor exceptions, and given the intuitive Diskstation Manager 2.0 software which presents a beautifully designed Ajax interface via your browser, all you really need to know is what address your Diskstation is at. There’s also a wizard to help with the initial setup so it’s incredibly easy to get this thing online. Build quality is nice and solid, although the unit has a slightly 70’s design look about it if you ask me – perhaps if they got the Apple designers to give this the once over?

Easy as (SATA) pie.

Easy as (SATA) pie!

Once I’d set up the basics, the first job was to copy around 380Gb of data on to the device as my first ‘backup’. Doing a drag & drop file copy using PathFinder, I could see that with an estimated transfer rate of just 6MB/sec over 100MB ethernet, this was going to be a slow process. Thoughtfully Synology has equipped the DS108J with three USB ports and an ‘instant USB copy’ button. All that’s needed is to connect a USB drive and press the button and the entire contents of the USB drive will be copied to the Diskstation under a (pre-configured) folder of your choice. The only gotcha is that the USB drive must be formatted using FAT for the Diskstation to recognize it for this operation. As luck would have it, I had my data on just such a drive so I plugged it in and off it went.

Copying 380Gb of data from my Freecom 500Gb USB hard drive using the wired connection took a few minutes short of a staggering 24 hours (yes, twenty four hours), which I wasn’t expecting. Armed with this I set about running some speed tests. I use Super Flexible File Synchronizer to run daily, weekly and monthly backups to various locations. One particular backup is an incremental backup of a local folder on the Mac Pro containg around 50,900 files totalling 239Gb. The software scans the target directory and then presents a list of what has changed and needs backing up, so I decided to test this step using identical sets of files on the local and target drives, and here are my results:

  1. Lacie d2Quadra 1Tb FireWire 800 – 1m 09.1s
  2. Mac Mini 1.83GHz, 2Gb attached Freecom 500Gb USB drive, AFP share via 100Mb ethernet – 2m 27.1s
  3. D-Link DNS-323 NAS, SMB share via 100Mb ethernet – 5m 10.4s
  4. Synology Diskstation DS108J & Samsung SpinPoint 1Tb, AFP share via 100Mb ethernet – 23m 29.7s!!
  5. Synology Diskstation DS108J & Samsung SpinPoint 1Tb, SMB share via 100Mb ethernet – 6m 11.8s

The closest comparison is obviously between my trusty old D-Link DNS-323 NAS box and the Diskstation from which you can see that the Synology took well over four times as long when using AFP, but only slightly longer when using SMB. Currently I’m puzzled as to why this is other than it being down to the Linux implementation of AFP, which I know from my attempts to get it working under OpenSUSE can be pretty painful. I should mention that I was running these tests with all the extra features of the DS108J like media sharing, photo sharing, FTP, etc., switched off. Switching these features on may slow the performance of the Diskstation, but hopefully not by an appreciale amount. My next task will be to investigate whether or not there is any way to improve on these figures? To be fair the Synology website does show it’s own performance figures and rates the DS108J as 2 out of 5 ‘blobs’ compared with the DS107+ which sports a faster processor and more memory but costs another £65+VAT. The figures here suggest that uploads to the DS108J take almost twice as long as for the DS107+, while for downloads the DS108J achieves around 65% of what the DS107+ can manage.

Bursting with features!

Bursting with features!

There is so much more I could write about the DS018J given it’s huge range of features, but there are plenty of reviews out there, plus the Synology website covers these features pretty well. Just look at the left-hand side of the screenshot to see what sort of things this gadget will do. One thing I did notice in the manual about printer sharing (you can connect a printer to one of the DS108J’s USB ports and access it over the network), is that this will only work for Macs when using PostScript. It’s not a feature I plan on trying given that my Canon ip4000 is already attached directly to the Mac and if I need to share it, I’ll probably do so via the Mac. Also I found that when directly connecting a USB drive to use the one-button disk copy function, it would only work using the port on the front of the unit next to the button itself, which isn’t mentioned in the manual.

I’ll have a look at the other features of this device in due course, but for now it’s a definite thumbs up – if you’re a Mac user looking for a cheap yet flexible NAS device, the the DS108J fits the bill, and gives you plenty of options to play with. Incidentally, with UPnP DMA turned on, the Diskstation appeared on my XBox 360. I haven’t tried out streaming yet, (currently I use Connect360 on the Mac and it works really well), but that’s something else to keep me busy this weekend.

iCal and Google Calendar getting snug… again

Mail, calendars and ToDo lists on the Mac seem to be becoming a hobby of mine, and thanks to the latest release of Calaboration (their spelling not mine!), there’s yet another way for Mac users to spread around some calendar goodness. Calaboration is the latest way for iCal users to view and edit one or more of their Google calendars from within iCal itself. Unfortunately Entourage is left whimpering outside in the cold in this episode (but for that there are other solutions).

Downloading and installing Calaboration is a simple affair, just go to the Google website, download it, unzip it and drag it into your Applications or Applications/Utilities folder. Something you’ll notice is that every time you run Calaboration you’ll be prompted for your Google username and password because unlike other utilities such as Google’s Gmail Notifier, Calaboration doesn’t seem to cache your credentials. Not really a problem as this is pretty much a ‘set it & forget it’ application anyway.

picture-12Once you’ve entered your details you’ll be presented with a list of your Google calandars and it’s simply a matter of ticking the ones you want to be accessible in iCal. Given that I’ve already been using Calgoo Connect to sync iCal with Google calendar I decided it was safest to create a new calendar in Google specifically for the purposes of trying this out. So I created a Google calendar called ‘Google Only’ and selected it in Calaboration as the calendar I was to access from iCal. One final step you need to do is to open Calaboration’s Preferences and tick the box that says Enable read-only calendars. It’s a way of getting round the permissions set in gCal thereby allowing you to add, edit and delete gCal entries in iCal. If you don’t tick the box then any changes made in iCal will generate an error.

Creating an event in Google calendar

When is a meeting not a meeting?

When is a meeting not a meeting?

So let’s try it out… I’ve run Calaboration and told iCal which Google calendar I want access to and now I have a Google heading in the iCal sidebar with ‘Google Only’ in it. I pop over to Google and create a new all day event in my ‘Google Only’ calendar. Going back to iCal I right-click on the ‘Google Only’ calendar heading and select Refresh and sure enough the new event is visible in iCal. So far so good. Next test is to edit the event in iCal and see what Google makes of it so I select the all day Google calendar event and decide to give it a start and finish time then save it. That goes off without a hitch but on syncing the event back to Google, it now decides that it’s a meeting invitation, putting a little question mark icon to the left of the event heading. It’s simple enough to get rid of this by opening the event in iCal and where it says ‘Are you coming‘ over on the right, just click Yes and save the event.

Creating a new gCal event in iCal
Creating a new event in iCal to go in your Google calendar is again pretty straightforward except you need select your Google calendar first in iCal’s sidebar before creating the event. This is because your Google calendar won’t show up in the pick-list of calendars when actually editing the event – that’s just the way it works. Again, once you’ve created the event in iCal and have let it sync, the event pops up in Google complete with the correct start time if you specified one. If you edit the event in iCal and change it from an all day event to one with a start time, then the quirk of it turning into a meeting invite happens again. The work around is the same as before, open the event in gCal and edit it to say you’re attending.

I tried creating, editing and deleting events in either iCal or gCal and apart from the quirk mentioned above, it all seemed to work well. If for example you add text to the Notes field in iCal, this will appear in the description field in Google. It also looks like you could add a location to the event in iCal and have it appear in Google Maps when you open it in Google calendar, although I didn’t investigate this option fully. One thing that doesn’t seem to get carried across is alarms. Despite setting a reminder in Google, or setting an alarm in iCal, that feature wouldn’t make it through to the other platform. Not a showstopper but a pain if like me you’re incredibly forgetful!

So, does Calaboration replace what Calgoo Connect does? Well no not really. You see Calaboration is a way of pulling one or more of your Google calendars through in to iCal and allowing you to edit those calendars on either platform. This means that your Google calendars appear in iCal in addition to any existing iCal calendars you might already have. So if all you have when you start is your default iCal calendar and your default Google calendar, then after setting up Calaboration you’ll still only see your default calendar in Google, but you’ll see both calendars in iCal.

Calgoo Connect on the other hand is about pairing calendars between iCal and Google, so in the same scenario you would choose to pair your default calendar on each platform meaning you have just one intergrated calendar that you can update in either location.

Which option is better? Well both are free and it’s horses for courses really, so it depends on whether you want multiple calendars or not. You might for example already use Google calendar for work and have iCal at home keeping track of your social life. If you want to keep these as two discrete calendars and to be able to see and edit your work calendar at home, then Calaboration will do that for you. If however you wanted just one combined work/social calendar that you update using either Google at work or iCal at home, then Calgoo Connect would be the way to go. Similarly, if you’re an Entourage user then Calaboration isn’t going to be much help because the Google calendars you add to iCal with it aren’t visible in Entourage – for that we need a patch from Microsoft that allows syncing of more than one calendar between Entourage and iCal. Another downside of Calaboration is that calendars it adds to iCal aren’t visible on the iPhone if you’re using MobileMe.

Now if only Apple would update iCal with some of Entourage’s features (categories in calendars, a decent ToDo List function… that syncs with the iPhone) then I’d be a happy man.