Apple Wireless Keyboard – Cheap Battery Warning

(See comments at the end – could this have been the result of mixing alkaline batteries from two different manufacturers?)

It’s always good if you can learn from your own mistakes, even better if you can learn from someone else’s. Now what follows might be a little obvious, but what caught me out is just how quickly something can go bad.

I have a Mac Mini in the lounge that’s now doing sterling service running Plex Media Server 0.9.0.21. First up, if you haven’t tried Plex, then this is what your Mac Mini, a TV and your video/music/photo collection were made for! Anyway, to get back on track the majority of my interaction with the Mac Mini and Plex is via the Apple Remote Control and I rarely have to use the keyboard or mouse. The keyboard is of course the all aluminium Apple Wireless Keyboard which came with my Mac Pro, but which I replaced with a Logitech diNovo ‘Mac’ keyboard as I find it both more comfortable and functional for heavy use on the Pro. The Wireless Keyboard was however fine for the occasional use it saw with the Mac Mini.

 

Cheap battery

Cheap batteries - you get what you pay for!

 

I’d loaded it up with three Duracell Ultra AA batteries ages ago – can’t even remember when – but inevitably I finally got the on-screen warning that the batteries were low and needed replacing. I only had two spare Duracell’s so later that day I picked up some supermarket AA batteries while I was out shopping, and then popped the two Duracell batteries in, followed by a Sainsbury’s Extra Long Life Alkaline battery and thought no more of it. Just four weeks later the low battery warning popped up again, so I went to remove the batteries to check. First problem was it was very difficult to remove the end cap from the battery compartment and as I did so I saw there was corrosion on it. Then I had a devil of a job removing the batteries, having to resort to hitting the keyboard on the carpet.

Luckily after about 5 minutes of careful bashing, all three batteries were out and I discovered that while the two Duracell batteries looked fine, the Sainsbury’s battery had leaked. The top third of the inside of the battery compartment was covered in this greyish white corrosion, as was the battery itself! I then spent about an hour carefully cleaning as much of the corrosion out of the end of the battery compartment as I could using a selection of long pointy objects, an old toothbrush, a torch and a can of compressed air. Hopefully the keyboard has been saved, and needless to say the supermarket batteries are being returned and I’ll stick with good quality batteries from now on!

If you’re tempted to use cheap batteries with the Apple Wireless Keyboard, then just take care you don’t suffer the same fate I did. Had I put the supermarket battery in first before the two Duracells rather than after them, then the keyboard would probably have been history.

 

Corroded

Corroded battery compartment

 

 

Household items

Lucky I had these to hand...

 

I’m being tempted away from my Mac…

XP desktopMy step-mother has a Sony Vaio laptop that has to be about 5 or 6 years old and runs Windows XP. Her needs are simple, but she comes from a generation that really doesn’t get computers. She refers to the hourglass timer as a ‘christmas cracker’ and has no idea that Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer are entirely different animals. When I built the laptop for her I loaded it with all the necessary security software, but for someone who doesn’t have the intuition about what one should or shouldn’t do (or rather click on), then it’s a recipe for disaster (aka repeated ‘support’ calls).

Every so often I completely rebuild the laptop, but it’s only a stay of execution and it’s becoming obvious that she needs something a bit more modern, a bit more simple and a bit more robust. So I’m thinking about an iMac, a Mac Mini or perhaps even an iPad. Email, a very small amount of web browsing and online shopping, being able to look at photos and the odd brief document are all she needs and it seems that any one of these devices will serve her well. To this end I picked up an iPad for her, the thinking being that it was the one device that would do all of the above, be intuitive to use and free her up from locking herself away in a room (much to my dad’s dismay) when she needs to ‘compute’.

It’s a 32Gb WiFi model and I’ve been using it to see what it can do before offering it as her new computing partner (of course she’ll still need a PC/Mac running iTunes plus a wireless router, but that’s another story). I have to say that having had no intention of buying one myself, as I already have my Mac Pro and iPhone 3G, I am now rapidly changing my mind. Firstly, I read a lot of RSS news feeds using Vienna on the Mac. I do occasionally use Google Reader but Vienna gives me the clean interface I want and if you want a free (and ad-free) news reader for OS X then this would be my recommendation. But then there’s NewsRack on the iPad. I can laze on the sofa in the lounge and flick through my RSS feeds so easily, browsing in detail the articles I’m more interested in, or adding them to InstaPaper for later. Yes there are other news readers for the iPad, but NewsRack has a clean and intuitive interface that just seems really natural when you’re coming from an OS X (or even Windows) based reader. What’s more it does this whole Google Reader sync thing if you feel the need to read news feeds on multiple devices, plus has many other features besides.

Then there’s the mail app on the iPad. It works exactly the way you think it should and I find I can process 95% of my mail here, just resorting to the Mac where I need to do something a little more complicated. The result is that I can now go for days without using the Mac to do these routine things. There’s other things too… Weather Pro HD gives me detailed weather forecasts rather than having to use WeatherDock on the Mac. Osfoora HD on the iPad is now my preferred way of monitoring Twitter, while Nambu is my choice when on the Mac, and if I want to read a PDF I’ll generally be doing it in GoodReader on the iPad rather than in Preview on the Mac.

IMG_0013It’s not that the apps on the Mac aren’t any good, in fact they’re the best ones I’ve found in my years of Mac usage. It’s just that I don’t have to go and sit upstairs in front of the Mac to dip my toe into the computer world. What’s more, I’ll often find that when I start using the Mac just to do a quick email for example, I’ll often get sidetracked and then ‘waste’ an hour or two doing something I hadn’t intended to. With the iPad I pick it up, do the email or read the news then put it down. Having said that, the games on the iPad are pretty distracting!

Now don’t get me wrong, the Mac Pro is still great, and for content creation the iPad doesn’t come close. For starters, the WordPress app for the iPad is a bit of a lame duck if you ask me, and I’d far rather use the WordPress dashboard on the Mac to create or edit blog posts. Similarly, for photo editing and processing, long documents, spreadsheets, downloading, listening to music (even though SnowTape and Spotify can run on the iPad), and for many other more involved tasks, the Mac is still king.

So, when my step-mother takes this iPad off my hands will I be tempted to spend the money on getting one myself? Do bears sh*t in the woods?! Hell yeah…  Of course I could just recommend she gets a cheap Windows 7 laptop for her needs and keep this one, but I suspect the whole Windows support cycle thing will just start afresh, and I’m not sure my nerves could take it. Besides, if she has the iPad then there’s always AppleCare to ease my burden 😉

By the way, in case you’re interested here’s a few of my favourite iPad apps (note, clicking on links may prompt you to open iTunes):

  • WeatherPro HD – detailed weather for your location for the next seven days.
  • Pages – I’m just a sucker for being able to write stuff wherever I am, and as a Pages user on the Mac…
  • Life Browser – iPad Safari is good, but in many ways I prefer this.
  • Instapaper – great way to save web pages for later consumption.
  • NewsRack – elegant and intuitive RSS reader with all the right features.
  • Evernote – wouldn’t be without it, whatever device I’m using. (I think my brain is backed up to Evernote!).
  • DropBox & SugarSync – love ’em both and can’t decide which I prefer.
  • Osfoora HD – does all a Twitter client needs to do for me on the iPad (and lots more besides).
  • Magic Piano – I’m no impresario but this makes me sound like one!
  • GoodReader – is to PDFs what FireFox is to the web.
  • IMDb – how cool to watch a film and be able to learn more about it as you watch?
  • eyeTV – let’s me wirelessly stream recordings on the Mac to my, ahem… the iPad. It can do live TV too, but I’ve got a TV for that. (Note, you need eyeTV on your Mac for it to work).
  • tChess Pro – attractive and challenging chess game with all the features I need to remind me I’m rubbish at chess!
  • Angry Birds HD – ok you have to catapault various types of birds into pigs. Sounds daft, but it’s very entertaining and the sound effects are just lovely.
  • Words with Friends HD – sort of a multi-player (across the web) Scrabble clone. (Multi-player as in my friends can mock me with their prowess!).
  • Real Racing HD – first person racing game with incredible graphics and gameplay.
  • Hexius – a bit like Bejewelled but perhaps more challenging and complex… and with multi-player capabilities.
  • Soosiz HD – a platform game where gravity isn’t always what you’d expect. Good fun.
  • Monkey Island 2: SE – Monkey Island meets the iPad, this game is entertaining, funny and looks fantastic.
  • Osmosis for iPad – mesmerizing, challenging, addictive, relaxing, a must if you have an iPad.

IMG_0012And one final word on usability. The father of a friend of mine has Parkinson’s disease and finds it extremely difficult to interact with the world around him. Trying to show him photos on a laptop and to let him feel he has any sort of control was frustrating for him, and printed 4×6 shots were just too fiddly (let alone time consuming to create). It was great to put an iPad on his lap and to see him smile and enjoy the photos in a way in which he can be in control.

PS – Both iPad wallpapers are from VladStudio, a talented artist whom I heartily support.

Getting ADSL to your Airport Extreme

Apple is famed for it’s “it just works” technology, and for the most part that’s true. However, when it comes to the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, it’s lack of a built-in DSL modem means you have a little figuring out to do if you want to use the Airport Extreme as part of an ‘internet connected’ network.

When my Netgear DGN2000 DSL wireless router expired a short time ago I decided to replace it with a Linksys WAG120N DSL wireless router. Great little device (so far) but it’s one drawback is that unlike the Airport Express which has three Gigabit Ethernet ports (1,000Mbps), the Linksys only has Fast Ethernet ports (100Mbps). Now I do large backups every day to two Synology NAS devices and they, like my Mac Pro are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet ports. Connecting them via the Linksys alone would just create a bottleneck and slow down my data transfers ten fold! Enter the Airport Extreme – the objective is to use the Airport Extreme as the centre of my wired network, but to also have internet access at the same time. Sure, I’m lucky enough to have two ethernet ports on the Mac Pro so I could connect one to the Airport Extreme and the other to the Linksys, but that’s messy plus not all Macs have two network ports. At it’s simplest, what I wanted was this…

AE Config 00

Basic Network Configuration

The first step is to set up the Linksys DSL router as normal, so connect the Mac to it via a cable and log in to it as per the manufacturers instructions. Give the DSL router your ISP details and configure it with an IP address of 192.168.1.1 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. Next it’s a case of configuring the network settings on your Mac to talk directly to the DSL router, so enter System Preferences, choose Network and make sure that your Mac has an IP address (e.g. 192.168.1.4) on the same subnet as the DSL router, and tell it that the router it should talk to is at address 192.168.1.1. At this point you should have a simple network of your Mac and the DSL router and you should be able to surf the internet. Next I connected an ethernet cable to one of the Linksys routers four ports with the other end going to the ‘WAN” port on the Airport Extreme. Now it was a case of firing up the Airport Utility and manually configuring the Airport Extreme.

AE Config 05

Connect your Airport to your modem/router

In the Airport Utility, once it finds your Airport Extreme Base Station, highlight it and click on the Manual Setup button. Now click on the Ethernet tab at the top ans select Internet Connection. You should set Connect Using to Ethernet, and Connection Sharing to Off (Bridge Mode).

AE Config 01

Internet Connection settings

Now click on the TCP/IP button and choose to configure IPv4 Manually. Now it’s time to gve the Airport Extreme an IP address and tell it how to talk to the outside world.

Give the Airport Extreme an IP address of 192.168.1.2 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0 (same as the Linksys). For the Router entry, enter the address of the Linksys, i.e. 192.168.1.1, and for the DNS Server(s) do the same. Here you are telling the Airport Extreme that any traffic that is not for something on your home/local network (e.g. internet traffic), send it to the Linksys router.

AE Config 02

TCP/IP settings

At this point you should be able to save the settings and apply them to your Airport Extreme. The next step is to disconnect the network cable from your Mac to the DSL router, and instead connect the Mac directly to one of the ethernet ports on your Airport Extreme. Now you should find that you can still surf the web but your Mac is only connected to your Airport Extreme. You can then add devices (in my case the two NAS boxes) directly to the Airport Extreme so that they can talk to your Mac at gigabit speeds, rather than just the ‘fast’ speeds of the DSL router.

If you want to use a service like OpenDNS then there’s no reason why you can’t and it’s simply a case of adding the IP addresses of the two OpenDNS servers to your Network settings on your Mac, like so:

AE Config 03

OpenDNS settings on the Mac

I have since extended this setup with wireless and I currently have an XBox 360, a PS 3 Slim, a Nintendo Wii, a Mac Mini, an iPad WiFi and iPhone 3G, plus my Panasonic Viera TV all talking to the internet via this little network. The Linksys DSL router is currently providing the (802.11n) wireless service, but I’m looking at ways to use the Airport Extreme’s ability to provide 5Ghz wirelss to enhance this setup (i.e. avoid interference from my neighbours on the 2.4Ghz band).

More on that in another post…

QuickBitz – Windows, Minis, iDefrag & Adobe

I’m not usually one for an outpouring of comments about the way of the world, probably because the internet is already rich with folk who can express their opinions much better than I. Nevertheless, I do encounter ‘oddities’ on my computing travels, and have assembled a few quickies below for posterity.

Aperture 3 – What, no Windows version?!

I was idly browsing through PC Magazine the other day, a magazine that often covers Mac hardware and Aperture 3software. Within its pages I found a review of Apple’s latest and greatest photo offering – Aperture 3. The reviewer was very complimentary about the product, but in the final reckoning marked it down because… there is no Windows version. No Windows version of a Mac  OS X product? Shock horror. Of course the magazine often hands out five star ratings to Windows software without knocking off a point because “there’s no Mac OS X version”. Good to know that double standards are alive and well, and talking of double standards…

New ‘Mid-2010’ Mac Mini pricing in the UK

Mac mini 2010The svelte new all aluminium (that’s ‘aluminum’ for my US friends) Mac Mini can be yours for just $699 plus sales tax (on average 5%). Here in the UK that translates to a base price of £475 , which with good old Value Added Tax (VAT) at 17.5% would come to £558 . But check that price in the UK Apple Store… £649. Ouch, I hope the extra £91 is going to a good cause.

iDefrag – Great but… unneccessary?

My early 2008 Mac Pro that shipped with Leopard 10.5 has only ever been rebuilt once and that was to do a clean install of Snow Leopard 10.6. So for however long I have been messing with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of files on my four internal 1.5Tb drives. So how badly fragmented do you suppose my boot drive was when I asked iDefrag to take a look? Well the Volume Contents showed 0.2% fragmentation, and the Volume Catalogue showed 0.0% fragmentation! So then… not an awful lot for iDefrag to actually do?

iDefrag showing my boot partition

iDefrag showing my boot partition

Adobe, Apple and that whole Flash thing

I watched the Steve Jobs interview on D8 and I read various commentaries (from both sides) about Apple’s decision to exclude Flash from the supported technologies on the iPad/iPhone. You can probably see where my sentiments lie if I give you this analogy…

A large motor manufacturer in the US decides to launch a new model of car, and they choose to make it an electric car. The largest oil company in the US then publicly complains that the car manufacturer won’t support the use of their fossil fuel in this new car. They argue that fossil fuel allows car users to enjoy seeing a great many parts of the world, and that there’s a huge infrastructure supporting the use of fossil fuel, so really this is unfair. The car manufacturer on the other hand says that it’s their choice to make an electric car, and that they’re just trying to make the best car experience they can for those that want to buy it.

Well that’s my way of looking at it…  😉

Happy New Year!

Well the last three months got pretty hectic both in and out of work which didn’t leave much time for keeping Macbitz up to date. Nevertheless the Mac world moves on and there’s new Mac hardware and software that I’ve purchased and can bore you all to tears with! I will try and get around to writing up more detailed thoughts and reviews in the coming months, but here’s what I’ve been buying (or had bought for me)…

  • A new Panasonic TX-L32V10B 32″ TV. It’s full HD (1080p and 24fps), has an ethernet port in the back but more importantly has a PC socket on the back. What better than to plug my Mac Mini into it!
  • An Apple Airport Express which is daisy-chained off my Airport Extreme upstairs in the study so that I can extend the network downstairs.
  • A Sony PS3 Slim that can talk to my Mac Pro via a couple of bits of software.
  • A copy of Blue Harvest that helped me with a problem with a BMW 120d !? Yes that’s a BMW car/automobile (depending on where you live).
  • Socialite – a great client for pulling your social networks (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and other feeds together.
  • Busy Cal and Spanning Sync for lots of juicy calendar goodness. That’s seamless calendaring between the Mac, Google and my iPhone with a bit of Entourage thrown in for good measure.
  • Songbird is helping to remove some of the frustrations of iTunes. Plus BeaTunes and Song Sergeant have been doing sterling service.
  • I’m having fun with a Canon DMC FZ28 camera and a copy of PhotoShop Elements 8 for the Mac.
  • Yep is helping me organize all those paper documents I scanned using my ScanSnap S300M.
  • Some neat iPhone apps that I actually use.

There’s bound to be other stuff that I’ve forgotten for now, but will dig out and scribble about on MacBitz in the coming weeks and months. So a Happy New Year to everyone and may your ‘twenty ten’ be a good one.  PS – I didn’t even mention the rumoured Apple Tablet once…. doh, I just did!

Snow Leopard – Got the disk, but still waiting

Please wait...

Please wait...

Yes I’ve upgraded my Mac Mini to Snow Leopard, and yes I’ve done a test install of it on the Mac Pro using a spare disk, and it looks great. However, much as I’m keen to upgrade to the latest and greatest OS on my Mac Pro… I can’t.

There are a few key applications that are holding me back.

Logitech Control Centre 3.0 – having a Logitech MX Revolution mouse and a Logitech diNovo Keyboard for Mac, the LCC software is pretty much essential. The current version of LCC (version 3.0) won’t even install under Snow Leopard, and although there are some workarounds to get it installed and to get some of the functionality back, it’s not elegant. Logitech are apparently working on a Snow Leopard compatible version of LCC that should be released “any day now”.

Evernote 1.4.8 – I use Evernote all the time for creating and syncing notes between my two Macs and my Windows (work) laptop. While Evernote 1.4.8 will install and run under Snow Leopard, there are certain things that are broken. There is a Snow Leopard compatible version (1.4.9) in the works, but it’s not out yet. As I write this, Evernote 1.4.9 has appeared on MacUpdate!

VMware Fusion 2.0.5 – another of my core apps, I run my work (Windows) desktop under VMware when I’m working from home. Fusion 2.0.5 won’t even load up under Snow Leopard in 64-bit mode, so best to wait for a fix. No timescales on that one…

1Password 2.9.31 – again, this is something I use every day for storing website logins, secure notes, license details, etc. It will work under Snow Leopard with  some caveats, e.g. it only supports Safari in 32-bit mode. For proper supported S/L functionality it seems I should wait for 1Password 3.0 to make it out of beta. As a registered user I can access the latest beta 3.0 version, but given how critical the data is that I store in 1Password, I’d rather wait for the release version to be on the safe side.

Adobe Lightroom 2.4 – home for all my photos and version 2.4 is reported to have issues under Snow Leopard. Another wait…

DropBox 0.6.556 – great for syncing files between my various machines, but it seems a few bits of this version are broken under Snow Leopard. There’s a version 0.6.557 on MacUpdate but it doesn’t mention S/L compatibility. There’s an experimental build 0.7.12 available, but again, I don’t want to trust my data to something experimental.

EyeTV 3.1.2 – apparently it works but there are problems with the sound.

goSecure 1.2 – the developer hasn’t yet confirmed this is Snow Leopard compatible, although I tried it out on my Mac Mini and it seems to work OK.

MailTags 2.3 – the developer has stated that 2.3 isn’t Snow Leopard compatible and that a new version is on the way.

…and there are a few more.

Wake me up when it’s Christmas.

Entourage 3-way sync with MobileMe

3-way, easy peasy

3-way, easy peasy

So someone asked – how about doing a 3-way sync between Entourage on a Macbook Pro, Entourage on an iMac and iCal on the iPhone? Well I’ll try anything once, though in may case it’s a Mac Pro, a Mac Mini and my iPhone. Sure I’d love a new unibody Macbook Pro 17″ but I just couldn’t justify the expense… oh and I can’t afford it right now!

2-way syncing was already working between my Mac Pro and the iPhone, so it was simply a case of adding the Mac Mini to the mix. At this point I wasn’t using iCal, Entourage or MobileMe on the Mac Mini as it’s currently my ‘server’ in the loft. Still, the joys of screen sharing under OS X make this an easy thing to set up without actually having to climb into the loft, so I did the following on the Mac Mini.

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Open the MobileMe PrefPane
  3. Entered the same .mac account details I currently use on my iPhone and Mac Pro
  4. Selected ‘manual’ sync
  5. Selected just Calendar
  6. Clicked the Sync button

As this was the first time I’d synced the Mac Mini using MobileMe it popped up a warning, asking me if I wanted to merge events or replace them either on the Mac or on MobileMe. Obviously at this point I chose to ‘Replace data on computer‘ to make sure all the events I already had would be pushed on to the Mac Mini. That was it. After a couple of minutes I was looking at an exact replica of my calendar in iCal. Next I installed Office 2008 on the Mac Mini, and patched it up to the latest level (12.1.5). I then launched Entourage on the Mac Mini and in its Preferences I told it to sync via iCal. A couple more minutes and sure enough the Entourage calendar events from my picture-11Mac Pro/iPhone were showing on the Mac Mini. Having tested it works ok it would just be a case of setting the sync in MobileMe preferences to ‘automatic’.

Obviously the same limitations apply as I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, ie because you have to sync Entourage via iCal and MobileMe, you are limited to calendar features that they both understand, so ‘categories’ are out. Still, it works well enough.

I’m sure it would be pretty straightforward to add another Mac with either iCal or Entourage, or even a Windows PC running Outlook to this little arrangement (the key is in using the same MobileMe account). Trouble is, my life is complicated enough already!

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.

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 pseudoMac is alive….! Kalyway

I’ll try and keep it brief as there’s already a wealth of information out there about Kalyway, but my little experiment has worked as follows:

Hardware

  • Asus A7N8X Deluxe motherboard
  • AMD Athlon XP 4400
  • 2Gb RAM
  • 2 x Maxtor 320Gb IDE drives
  • 1 x Sony CD/DVD RW
  • nVIDIA 6600GT 256Mb PCI video card

Software

  • Kalyway 10.5.2

For the install settings I used the defaults with the following exceptions:

  • Added the Marvell and forcedeth drivers and used the first AMD patch.

My main aim for doing this was to see how another Mac would behave on the network alongside my Mac Pro. Once installed, I set the hybrid Mac up to allow file sharing and remote management and well… it just works! Next job will be to wipe the box and install OpenSUSE 11.1 (when it’s out) with Netatalk so I can create AFP shares. The advantage of this, aside from the murky area of legality with Kalyway, is that I’ll have a server that I can keep patched (I understand patching Kalyway above 10.5.2 is a good way to break it), but unlike my Windows Server I won’t need a suite of security add-ons to keep it safe.

Congratulations to the guys who produced Kalyway for a very clever piece of work.