Shirt Pocket

Tip for Seagate SATA drive owners Thursday, April 26, 2007

A little tip for those of you who might have installed Seagate SATA drives into your 3GB/s capable G5, MacPro, NAS device, or whatever.

Looks like recent Seagate drives ship with a jumper installed that limits the drive to 1.5GB/s speeds. While the jumper is documented in the User's Guide that ships with retail packs, it's specifically mentioned as something you might need to install if you have trouble with the drive. And OEM drives don't have any documentation at all.

To get 3GB/s, the jumper should not be present on the outer pins of the jumper block. So -- if you've got one of these drives, check it out: you might get that drive humming along twice as fast!

Small change, big impact Sunday, March 25, 2007

Apple can sometimes make small changes that have unexpected consequences.

Take Partition Schemes, for example.

This is the kind of thing most Mac users never think about. You buy a drive, plug it in, drive comes up, things work.

Done.

What you probably don't know is that most drives came partitioned and formatted for Windows, even when the drive is listed as "Mac Compatible", typically using Master Boot Record as the partition scheme and FAT32 as the format.

Before OSX 10.4.6 or so, this wasn't a big deal, at least for SuperDuper! Since FAT32 isn't appropriate for storing Mac files with full fidelity (and has various other issues, like file size limits, etc), we would instruct the user to erase the drive, using HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) as the format. Disk Utility wouldn't allow HFS+ volumes to be hosted on Master Boot Record partitioned drives, and so the user would need to select the drive, rather than the volume, and erase that way. No big deal.

Then, the Intel Macs came out, and with them, 10.4.6.

To help with something-or-other (probably to allow HFS+ and FAT32 volumes to be hosted on the same drive in separate partitions for Boot Camp users), Apple decided to change Disk Utility so that it allows HFS+ volumes to be hosted on Master Boot Record partitioned disks. Which I'm sure didn't seem like a big deal: in fact, it's quite convenient, and had probably been requested as a feature over the years.

All that's great, except for one thing: Macs don't support starting up from Master Boot Record volumes.

This is clearly not a big deal for most users. But, for SuperDuper! users (and, I'm sure, for those who use similar applications) it's been a big problem: drives that look like they should act as startup volumes won't, and the reason is really obscure.

Suddenly, users who used to use Disk Utility to erase a drive now have to head to the Partition tab (which doesn't even appear if you select the volume instead of the hosting drive), click Options, understand the 3 partition types, and partition their drive appropriately.

So, this one small change -- allow HFS+ volumes on Master Boot Record partitioned drives -- ends up having a pretty big impact on users with external drives. This is mostly due to its implementation (and lack of documentation).

Worse, users aren't steered to the right choice by Disk Utility. In fact, the default is to do the absolutely wrong thing for most: retain a Windows partition scheme.

This probably hasn't had much of an impact on Apple's support, but it's sure hurt here!

Apple TV - codename:tv Friday, March 23, 2007

tv is in the house -- two of them, actually -- and, well, it's good!

I'm not using it for music much -- my library is much too large for this device, and navigation of large collections, as has been said elsewhere, is quite lacking.

That said, for video material -- movies, tv shows, etc -- it works great. Playback starts quickly, even when streamed, and looks quite good. It's lacking in the audio department (it's really too bad that so much of this material, both movies and TV, encoded with Dolby Digital in full 5.1 or 7.1 surround, are reduced to ancient Dolby Surround playback, with no LFE channel, no split surrounds... much less impact), but visually things look quite reasonable.

It works great with netTunes, too, as you'd expect. As I've said many times, I run with a headless server, and it contains all my music and other content. With netTunes, it's trivial to connect to the server using a laptop while seated on the couch, and "pair" the tv with the server, change the synchronization information, purchase TV shows to be viewed -- all remotely.

I'm happy that the approach I took years ago -- truly remote controlling iTunes with its own interface -- continues to work with new versions of iTunes, and continues to prove it was the right way to go, moving forward with iTunes as iTunes itself changes.

Anyway, great stuff.

One expensive but potentially useful tip: you can use a scan converter to convert from Component input to regular Y/C (S-Video) or Composite, should you not have a component/HDMI capable TV. One example is the TV One AVT-3190 ($389). Expensive, but cheaper than replacing your TV...

Infrant Expansion Sunday, March 18, 2007

The other day, I was pushing at the limits of my existing Infrant ReadyNAS NV setup, and needed to increase its size. Normally, this would be a huge project, but with the ReadyNAS it was incredibly easy to do.

You see, the ReadyNAS uses Infrant's proprietary X-RAID. X-RAID basically RAID 6RAID 5 (see comments, below) with the ability to dynamically increase the total size of the RAID as well.

So, not only will the ReadyNAS run with a single drive faiure (and hot-rebuild the drive), it can dynamically increase the size of the RAID set as well. So, all I had to do was:

  1. Buy four drives of the appropriate size. I went from four 250GB drives with a total size of about 700GB, to four 500GB drives with a total size of about 1.6TB.

    The reason you don't get "all" the space on the drives is because redundant information is spread across each drive that allows any drive that goes "down" to be replaced and rebuilt with no data loss.

  2. With the ReadyNAS on, and in use, pull out the first of the four drives.

    Yeah. Scary. But that's what to do!

  3. Unscrew the four screws that attach the SATA drive to the tray from and attach it to the new.

  4. Slide the new drive into place.

    At this point, the ReadyNAS will automatically rebuild the data that was on the original drive on this new drive. All of this has been done with the unit on and operating.

  5. Wait for the rebuild to complete (it'll send you email when it's done).

  6. Repeat with the next drive.

Yeah. That's it. When you're done, you do need to restart the ReadyNAS to get the volume to expand, but that can be postponed until you're ready to do it... and that's the only time the unit is "down".

Pretty cool, eh?

(Yeah, I know I sound like a pitchman for Infrant, but I'm honestly not affiliated with them in any way at all. I just think it's a great product.)

Good-bye, iSight Saturday, March 17, 2007

Many of you probably know that, for some reason, iSight cameras can get into a weird state where they start causing serious errors with FireWire drives.

The symptoms usually include a bunch of I/O errors while copying to a FireWire drive: failed copies, flaky behavior, crashes. All of this goes away if you power off, disconnect the iSight, wait a while and power back up.

Sometimes, the iSight stops working with iChat (it says the camera's in use when it's not, or the light comes on, but you don't get any picture), and in it was in that second state today when I had a kernel panic.

No data was lost, I'm happy to say, but I decided that I've had enough of this. Since 10.4.9 supports USB cameras, I've switched to a Logitech QuickCam Ultra Vision. (All they need to do is add Super Deluxe Extreme Edition to the end to make it really cool!)

It's not as elegant as the original iSight (it's fixed focus, horizontal format, a bit gaudy), but it's got a nice wide angle lens, built in microphone, works with any monitor, and seems reliable. Plug the thing in, and it works.

Given that you can't buy "real" iSights any more, and based on direct experience, I give it a thumbs-up.

Sorry, iSight. I'll miss you!

Airport Disks Friday, March 16, 2007

When the new Airport Extreme Base Station came out, I was happy to see that it had some support for attached USB drives. It's a reasonable (though not perfect) way to share data in a home/SOHO situation, and I figured people would be using it to back up with SuperDuper! So -- to help out...

General Comments

A few things to point out right off the bat:

  • As you've likely seen elsewhere, the Airport Disks are not fast. Don't expect blazing speeds: wired, I've seen a maximum of about 1.5MB/s.

  • The AEBS gets very, very cranky if you get to a disk full situation. I've seen it crash more than once. Don't do that.

  • Remember that HFS+ drives are made available through AFP, and FAT32 through SMB.

    Don't format any drives you're going to use with SuperDuper! as FAT32: use HFS+ (and partition properly for the Mac processor type you're using -- GUID for Intel, Apple Partition Map for Power PC).

  • Make sure to connect a power supply to the drive.

  • As general advice, please don't cheap out when you get an external drive. Really. Get one with a real Oxford chipset, USB/FireWire if possible in case you want to attach it directly to your Mac.

  • Don't expect miracles. This is an inexpensive solution, and it behaves like one. If you want a real NAS, I suggest an Infrant ReadyNAS NV+: it's faster, redundant, recoverable. I'll have another post about the ReadyNAS soon.

  • Remember, this is a first generation ("Rev A") product. It's likely to go through teething pains. Don't rely on them as your only backup!

Using Airport Disks with SuperDuper!

You'll note that your Airport Disks don't show up in the SuperDuper! pop-ups. This is by design: we can't currently copy directly to or from a network volume due to authentication/permission/metadata issues.

Instead, you'll follow the steps in Backing up over a network in the SuperDuper! User's Guide (Help > User's Guide), and back up to a read/write sparse image stored on the Airport Disk.

We often get asked why SuperDuper! can't back up directly to a network volume. What most people don't realize is that, for security reasons, you can't directly authenticate as "root" over a network, and that means it's not possible to store files with system ownership on a network drive.

An image, on the other hand, acts as a "local drive", and can be authenticated against, even though it's stored remotely. This ensures that your files are backed up with full fidelity, including proper ownership and permissions. And since it's formatted as HFS+, it avoids various situations that can ensue trying to emulate HFS+ semantics and metadata storage on a non-HFS+ drive, while still storing in a native, non-proprietary, Mac-native format.

I'd suggest doing your first full backup directly to the USB drive, rather than over the network. This'll be a lot faster. You can then connect the drive to the base station, and re-select the image using the "Disk Image..." choice in SuperDuper!'s destination drive pop-up. (Note that although the image will be grey, you can still pick it, and ignore the "overwrite" warning. Yes, I know that UI sucks.)

That should do it: enjoy the base station!

Adding commands to netTunes Sunday, March 11, 2007

You know, it’s pretty rare that I post up here about netTunes, mostly because… well… it just works, and there’s not much to say other than “Whoa! Cool!"… which gets a bit boring.

But, every so often I’ll get a question about how it’s possible to access commands that aren’t available in the main window—for example, Store > Check for Purchases...

So, from the department of obscure features, let’s get this done!

Normally, you’d access things like this with an onscreen control or keyboard shortcut. For example, to access iTunes’ Preferences, you can press Cmd+y (an alternate for Cmd+,) and it’ll come right up. And you can add a playlist with the + button in the main window. But Check for Purchases doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut or button, and so it’s not available in netTunes.

But there’s hope! In Tiger, you can add your own keyboard shortcuts using the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane. Open that up, switch to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab and click the + button. Set the Application pop-up to iTunes, then enter the full, properly capitalized text of the menu item (in this case, Check for Purchases..., including the ...). Choose a shortcut key (like Cmd+Opt+C).

Save, then quit and restart iTunes and poof! You can now Check for Purchases in netTunes on the client!

Mini Us Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fog Creek software finally released an Intel-compatible version of FogBUGZ so—as of about 1pm today—we’ve had another Moving Day: this time from our “old” 2GHz G5 to a 1.83GHz Mac mini.

And it’s kicking the G5’s ass.

It’s really weird when a not-very-old computer is outperformed by one that can fit in its CD-ROM bay, but there you have it.

Hopefully, no one will notice any differences—except, perhaps, that everything’s a little bit faster. Enjoy!

Winter Sporting Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hopefully no one out there noticed, but—for the first time in three years—Zabeth and I managed to get away for a two week vacation at Red Mountain (in Rossland, BC).

It’s not too bad a trip, about three hours north of Spokane, WA, a straight shot after a (normally) easy flight or two. A few screw-ups this time meant various additional hops, but in the end we made it.

It’s my very favorite place to ski. It’s kind of an “old fashioned” ski hill, with four “low speed” chairs, a T-Bar and a (new) “magic carpet” lift. The base lodge is quite basic, with lockers in the bottom level, a cafeteria on the 2nd and a bar on the 3rd. Up in the “Paradise” area, there’s another small lodge/warming hut/eatery… and that’s pretty much it.

And, honestly, all that works great. The food’s good, the people are great. But what Red’s about is the skiing.

The skiing is awesome.

Red had a ton of early snow—about nine feet—and though we didn’t get much fresh snow in the two weeks the mountain was in fine form. The first few days were almost spring-like conditions on the front face, soft even early in the day. Red’s a deceptive mountain, though, where you can ski 360 degrees around the various peaks, with a ton of off-piste skiing (some of which can get quite extreme). And the backsides, even during the sunny days, stayed shaded, the snow light.

Which was a good thing, because once the temperatures dropped, the front firmed up, which made the less groomed, exposed trails much less enjoyable early in the day. So, after a few groomers, we typically headed to the various back glades, bowls and other pitches, finishing up in the sun at the end of the day.

We stayed at Greene’s Family Guest House, a great little place in Rossland run by Rick and Sue Greene (thanks for the hospitality, Rick & Sue). It’s a few minutes’ drive to Red itself, and—fortunate for me—they’ve recently installed a wireless network. So, via the Miracle of the Tubes, work from 7-9am, skiing from 9-3, work from 3-7, dinner, and work until bed (usually while we caught up with episodes of Lost we’d missed, thanks to an iPod full of episodes plugged into the TV).

Seamless, I hope, for the SuperDuper! users who needed help.

It was a great time, and quite relaxing despite having full work days every day, and I feel fortunate to have a job that lets me do what I need to do even when far from home.

My parents were also able to take Taiko for the time, and I hope he was well behaved while there. They seem to have done really well, and Z and I are really grateful that they could watch him. (Sorry that he’s still jumping!)

Got back late Friday (during a snowstorm, of course), and picked up Taiko on Saturday, who was happy to see us and is warming my feet as I type. The mail revealed that Zabeth has passed the Veterinary Boards, which is terrific news too (not that I had any doubt), and she heads back into rotations early tomorrow morning.

And so, it’s back to the grind—refreshed.

Happy New Year! Sunday, December 31, 2006

It’s hard to believe another year’s gone by, but dates rarely lie, and there it is - the 31st, soon to flip.

Rather than turn inward and reflect on events here, I’d like to turn outward and thank each and every reader; all those who took the time to send me mail - those who needed support, needed to vent, to compliment or complain; the kind people who provided comfort as we lost our dog Ketzl and who cheered the arrival of Taiko; the editors at Macworld who honored us again; the users who honor us every time they use or recommend a Shirt Pocket product; all friends, old and new.

To all of you: thank you, and a very Happy New Year to you and yours.

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