Taming the new NetNewsWire adverts box

I’m a bit of a news junkie and I waste far too much time reading RSS news feeds. It doesn’t help when there’s apps like NetNewsWire which make it all so easy. I’ve been using NetNewsWire since I got my Mac and it’s one of those apps I’d install on any new Mac (note to self – no you can’t afford that new 15″ Macbook Pro you’ve been lusting after).

Anyway, for all this time I’ve been happily using NetNewsWire with its clean, uncluttered interface and happily keeping it in sync with my iPhone and with FeedDemon on the one or two Windows machines I find myself obliged to use every so often. And then the holy grail of features comes along in NetNewsWire 3.2beta… synchronization with Google. That’s right, you can now sync NetNewsWire with Google Reader making it even easier to satisfy your news feed habit wherever you are. Unfortunately there’s a catch and that’s adverts – that’s right, in order to support the free version of NetNewsWire, you now have adverts popping up in a little window at the bottom left of your news reader.

I HATE ADVERTS! Every time I tune in to a commercial TV station I seem to get the start of a 5 minute advert break. A 30 minute TV show is actually 10 minutes of adverts, 2 minutes of credits and only 18 minutes of actual TV. And the web is becoming saturated with adverts now, there’s barely a web page you can look at now that doesn’t try and sell you something (including the very page you’re reading if WordPress has anything to do with it).

Now I know you’re going to tell me that the adverts make a lot of this free software viable, and enables a lot of great content to be free and you’re probably right, but it doesn’t stop me from running Firefox extensions like NoScript and AdBlock Plus to try and minimize the amount my eyeballs get fried with animated banners trying to sell me something I don’t want or can’t afford. Ok, enough of me ranting about the commercial world, how did I get rid of the adverts in the latest version of NetNewsWire? Simply by using LittleSnitch to block where NetNewsWire is getting its advert content from.

Picture 40

What you need to do is to deny NetNewsWire access to http://www.northmay.com, either just on Port 80 or on any port to that site. You may need to go into LittleSnitch and delete the rules for NetNewsWire to then allow LittleSnitch to recreate them by prompting you for what access NetNewsWire is allowed when you next launch it. So far this workaround has worked a treat. The advert box is still there in my reader, but thankfully it doesn’t contain anything distracting that changes every 30 seconds or so.

Look Ma, no adverts!

Look Ma, no adverts!

I was fortunate in that I picked up LittleSnitch as part of a MacUpdate Promo Bundle last December, so I got it for a great price, but it’s well worth the full price as an extra level of security and control for your Mac. If you don’t have LittleSnitch and want an alternative, then I’d highly recommend the free and opensource news reader called Vienna. I’ve been using Vienna for less than twenty four hours, however the look and feel of it is just as good as NetNewsWire, and it’s got the functionality to match – apart from the sync features that the NewsGator products have of course.

When NetNewsWire 4.0 is released in however many weeks time, I guess it’s going to be a choice of a free version with adverts or a paid version without. Whether or not the above trick will still work remains to be seen as I’m sure the NetNewsWire developers are well aware of this sort of workaround already. Will I upgrade to the next free version of NetNewsWire or end up buying an ad-free version? Maybe, maybe not. I have been trying out Vienna and apart from sync’ing it ticks all the boxes for me, and in fact anything that helps ween me off spending hours reading newsfeeds by not offering sync between multiple devices, might actually be a good thing!

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Netgear DGN2000 Disappoints

There’s a lesson to be learned here – just because something is easy to set up and works well out of the box, doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m talking about my new Netgear DGN2000 Wireless ADSL Router here. I bought it a month ago and having had no trouble setting it up and getting it working alongside my Apple Airport Extreme, I happily blogged that I’d recommend it for anyone looking for a good wireless router.

Netgear DGN2000

Netgear DGN2000

Fast forward four weeks and I take it all back! Now before I go any further it’s worth drawing an analogy – think of an ADSL router like you would a car. In this scenario, the wire that runs from your wall socket to the local exchange and beyond, and how your ISP has it set up is like the road. Now it’s a fact that cars and roads are different. A road full of potholes may still get you to where you want to go, but a rugged 4×4 may get you there while a sleek sports car won’t. Going back to the router, there are some that will deal with a less than perfect line than others, and in my case I don’t think the Netgear DGN2000, or at least the one I’ve got, is one of them.

Yesterday morning I lost my internet connection. All the lights on the router were doing what they normally do, including the one that shows I have an internet connection. Rebooting the router fixed the problem… for 60 seconds, before my internet connection dropped again. This is pretty much how it has been since, but I have learned a couple of things during this time.

Firstly, if I already have a connection to a site, then that connection persists even though any new connections to other sites will fail. So for example I can be streaming internet radio through iTunes or Snowtape and it keeps working fine, but I can’t browse to a web site. It’s almost as though DNS has died… but that leads me on to the second point. Changing anything on the router, even just clicking the ‘Apply’ button on a page without changing any settings, will restore the connection. So it’s not a DNS issue. Een just clicking on the ‘Test’ button on the Basic Settings page will re-establish my routers connection.

The tell tale signs are there in the routers own log:

Sun, 2009-07-19 08:10:25 - LCP down.
Sun, 2009-07-19 08:10:29 - Initialize LCP.
Sun, 2009-07-19 08:10:29 - LCP is allowed to come up.
Sun, 2009-07-19 08:10:33 - CHAP authentication success
Sun, 2009-07-19 08:10:58 - LCP down.
Sun, 2009-07-19 08:10:59 - Initialize LCP.
Sun, 2009-07-19 08:10:59 - LCP is allowed to come up.
Sun, 2009-07-19 08:11:03 - CHAP authentication success

As you can see, anywhere between 30-60 seconds after the connection is established, it drops. I do anything on the router and it reconnects for about 60 seconds before dropping again. Who knows, maybe the signal to noise ratio on my line has changed slightly in the last 24 hours and has pushed the router beyond some threshold making it unable to cope. Maybe in someone else’s house on a different line, this router would work perfectly? This is probably why you see so many mixed reviews of routers – indeed, if you look at the Amazon UK site you’ll see an even spread of people who say this router is great and those who say it’s rubbish.

Linksys WAG160N

Linksys WAG160N

For my part, well I work from home and a reliable connection is essential. What is really frustrating is that for the past four weeks it has worked perfectly, plus my VPN connection for work has been fine, the XBox 360 has worked fine with it, as has my Mac Mini and work laptop via their respective wireless connections. Perhaps the fault does lie with BT and the vagaries of the phone line, but I’d have a tough job proving it. Next step? Well I shall try a Linksys WAG160N router later today, and the Netgear shall go back to the supplier to be swapped for another one, and if that doesn’t work then it’s refund time.

All this leads me to conclude that getting a wireless ADSL router to work is 50% brand reliability and 50% luck, and in my case the latter just ran out with the Netgear. Let’s hope the Linksys is a ‘luckier’ router!

PS – In case you’re wondering, I have tried all the various tricks I can to keep this thing connected. That includes changing the MTU size from 1458 to either 1500 or 1400, as well as standing the router on its side to improve cooling, and even plugging the mains adapter into a different outlet, which in tech’ terms is really clutching at straws.

Quickbitz – CleanApp, Netgear DGN2000 + Airport Extreme, Camera Tip

CleanApp

CleanApp

A while back I did a little review of an uninstaller called CleanApp by Synium Software. One of its main strengths was that it goes into a lot more depth than other uninstallers because it can track what files a particular application is using. However, I spotted that this could also be a drawback in the wrong hands as it was all to easy to blast a file that was needed by other apps. Synium have now fixed this and have made a great app even better. CleanApp can now detect if a file is used by other apps and if so will ‘uncheck’ it on the list of files to delete and tag it with a little icon to show that it’s needed elsewhere. They’re definitely on to a winner with that feature.

So on to routers and my ageing D-Link G624M ‘MIMO’ wireless router was beginning to struggle. Seems every time it had to handle large numbers of connections, as one might experience with BitTorrent, the router would simply disconnect after a few minutes, and recycling the power was the only way to get it back online. I was loathed to replace it though, because it worked fine with my Mac Mini, XBox 360 and work laptop. However it started to disconnect more frequently and so I eventually plumped for a new Netgear DGN2000 Draft-N job. I have to say my fears about switching were unfounded and the Netgear works brilliantly with everything. What’s more, I also have an Airport Extreme (Dual Band) daisy-chained off the Netgear (seeing as the Airport has no way of connecting directly to my ADSL line). Once I discovered the correct setting on the Netgear, the Airport Extreme worked perfectly with it. On the Netgear you should go to the LAN Setup page and set RIP Direction to ‘Both’ and set RIP Version to ‘Rip-1’… job done.

Netgear DGN2000

Netgear DGN2000

Oh and another thing – I bought a Razer eXtremeMat mouse mat a little while back, but after only a short while I decided I didn’t like it. Now this mouse mat has two different surfaces (one for speed and one for accuracy) and is made of aluminium. However, I found that placing it under my D-Link G624M wireless router, it actually IMPROVED the signal!? (That’s as measured by Air Radar on a MacBook in the lounge, and also by the XBox 360). However, the complete opposite is true for the Netgear router. When sitting on the aluminium mouse mat the signal strength was 67%, but removing the mat boosted the signal to 78%. How weird is that?

And finally… I wrote a tip a while back about how to prevent iPhoto loading every time you plug your iPhone into your Mac, while still being able to load iPhoto for your camera. Well now there’s an even better solution. It a little freeware utility called Cameras by Flexibits. It installs as a Pref Pane and lets you easily control what happens when you plug in any device that has photos on it, and that includes card readers. I strongly recommend you check it out – I’ve ditched my little Automator Action in favour of cameras and haven’t looked back since. If you want a good review of exactly what Cameras does, then check out the MacWorld review.