Still tweaking

When I have to rebuild my system from scratch… I’m always amazed at just how customized it really is.

It’s the little things. Where a particular application is… the aliases on the desktop.

These things you do to your computer over time and each one of them is a minor thing by itself. All of these little things add up to a computer that is very personalized and specific to you and the way you work. And they’re a pain in the ass to lose. 

The odd thing is that when you’re faced with a machine that doesn’t have these little tweaks, you’re off balance. Your machine isn’t yours, it’s an alien cyberscape that has certain recognizable features… and yet it’s not home.

Off & on this weekend I’ve spent hours re-tweaking my rebuilt OS back to being my comfortable machine. In many ways it is like putting your home back together after a disaster albeit not quite as traumatic. (Been there done that!)

I’ve also solved problems that I inadvertently caused.

Note: If you’re a Mac user with a TimeCapsule. Don’t forget to tell your anti-virus to exclude the backup drive from scanning. Yeah think about that one for a minute and you’ll go OHHHH!!

I’m planning to get some real work done today.

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Writing, practicing, and a nice dog walk that should help me work the kinks out of my joints and my new big camping pack.

Last week didn’t go at all the way it was supposed to. 

I’d planned to get a lot more of the book written, and I wanted to experiment with breaking the book into more manageable discrete chapters.

This will take some time and I’m not exactly sure if I can manipulate the file that way and still have it printable in a simple way when I publish.

I’d also planned to test flight a new pack with a short hike.

As the dogs and I have been working our way higher onto the mountain I’ve discovered some really cool places where the phone can’t ring.

I’ve thought “Gee, it would be nice to get up here with the computer, and sit on a rock just typing.” The dogs would like it and I could use the peace & quiet.

With no internet connection, no email, and no phone, I wondered how much progress I could make.

This has led to me heading higher on the mountain, because just over the next rise there always seems to be a more amazing place.

Which led me to realize if I was to get hurt, or If it rained or if one of the pups was to get hurt I really didn’t have the kind of supplies with me that I’d need, to hunker down for a storm or for the night if that became necessary.

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Sure I carry the radio so I could call for help if I was really badly hurt. But that does nothing to deal with something simple like rain, The forestry service takes a very dim view of you asking to be flown out by helicopter just because you din’t want to get wet.

I own a slick little tent which would be big enough for me & the dogs if it rained. But I had no really convenient way to carry the thing. My normal day pack just isn’t the right size to carry it, a little food and plenty of water.

This left me looking at packs and doing research on the different brands. I caught a deal on a nice Osprey pack, it  arrived last week,

I’ve managed to do some test packing and think it’s exactly what I need. I’ve also been thinking about stuff like; a disaster, or having to bug out due to fire, as well as actually using it for overnight camping.

Hey I’m nothing if I’m not a planner.

Sometime this week the plan is to pack light, but load up the new pack & take to the heights. I figure, this computer can easily run for 6 hours on a charge. A day on a rock might be a good thing for me.

I think I’m going to do the experiment about splitting the book here at my desk on the big screen before I go all mobile.

The next thing is some nice solar panels… 

Arrrrhhhhggggg!

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Two days Ago I had an event in my Computer.

I was running along nicely having a pretty normal day when out of the blue my machine started asking me for passwords to email accounts.

This made little sense because those passwords are all stored on the system and shouldn’t be required.

I entered the first password without thinking then the second one, the the third one and that’s when the event caught my attention.

I thought Whoa! Something bad is happening. So I saved my work, closed the programs I had open and told the computer to reboot.

That’s when all hell broke loose! What I got back after that reboot was a system that had been mostly reset to it’s factory defaults. 

I don’t have esoteric settings in my systems. For the most part I’m an average kind of user.

I work at being just an average user I’ve spent so much time being a “Test Jocky, Monkey, Software Quality Assurance guy” that when it comes to my home systems I just want to sit down turn the computer on and do what I’d planned to do without a lot of drama. God save me from endless updates and reboots.

That’s why I use a Mac.

99.998% of the time I fire up my Mac and don’t think anything of the fact that I’m using technology, because it’s not in my face.

Well, two days ago was the .002% of the time when I was reminded.

This machine is barely 3 months old and it’s possible it was experiencing a hardware issue. So I pulled up the console logs and saw some very weird stuff. As I was stepping through the log I realized I didn’t know enough about the way Apple does things, to really be able to tell if the errors I was seeing were do to the failure or due to normal errors (Yeah… there is such a thing as a “Normal” error).

So I called Apple. I figured that the data was toast and I was looking at minimum at a restore of my system from my backup. I had a couple of questions, the first of which was how do I send log files to Apple?

After dealing with a first line phone rep for all of about 2 minutes (Thank you BTW for realizing that I wasn’t calling with anything ordinary.) I got transferred to this really great guy whose initials are RR.

RR listened carefully to what I said and we started walking through some items. This makes sense because he couldn’t see my screen and he must get 1000 calls a day from people who’ve forgotten to plug their system in.

Within a few minutes of talking, I’ve got a log collection tool running and he’s looking at my screen. (He can’t actually click on anything or control it… that must be maddening.)

After poking around for a bit he admits he’s never seen anything like what happened to me ever.

The logs get sent to the Gurus in Apple engineering.

Then I’m pretty much ready to call it a day and restore my whole system from the backup. When RR says, “you know… that might not be a good idea.”

I think about it and don’t like at all where he’s going, because he’s absolutely right.

Since we’d pretty much ruled out a hardware problem. That means that software has to be to blame. (Hardware Engineers around the world are rejoicing… Industry inside joke.) 

If I simply restore my system from the backup, it’s likely that I’ll be resetting the conditions that created this problem in the first place.

Which leads inexorably to a complete format, & rebuild of the system. Including reinstallation of every single piece of software. Then we get to pick and choose the bits from the backup that we absolutely can’t do without. Like the data!

As much as I don’t want to… RR is right.

Best to bite the bullet, reformat the drive, reload a completely pristine copy of the OS, then reload copies of the applications and then make a backup of the computer in this new pristine state.

You’d think that given the age of the machine I’d have a pristine backup… Well you’d be wrong.

When I got this machine a few months ago, I moved all the programs from my older MacBook to this one. Then I upgraded the Operating System on the new machine, so god only knows what bits of incompatible flotsam and jetsam may have been floating around on the disk.

Approximately 20 hours of work later I have a system that is mostly like what I had before. I know that I will be stumbling over bits of unlicensed software for weeks to come.

When I stumble over one of these applications I’ll have a choice. Find the license key… or toss the software. Realistically if I haven’t used a bit of software for weeks… I probably could do without it.

I like a clean system that works. So I’ll probably be tossing these little bits of software.

I did notice while reinstalling software that there are an awful lot of applications that ask for access to my contacts list. I understand Word asking… It’s trying to make writing letters easier by linking contact data. But some of the other applications made no sense at all.  Needless to say they were denied access.

I’m kind of a fan of Apple, NO… I’m not a rabid fan boy. But I like Apples machines.

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Honestly, Apple does it right most of the time.

There are some things that they screw up on in big ways but in general they do a good job in design, implementation, and support.

If you’re thinking Apple for your next computer purchase. A word of advice…

Buy the full boat machine. Max Memory, Max hard disk, top of the line… You’ll never be sorry and the machine will probably have a usable lifespan of at least 5 years possibly more. Think about it, you and your Mac go to College and graduate with a Masters degree 6 years later. Can you say the same of Windows?

As I’ve been reading email & writing this blog, my machine has been backing up to a different TimCapsule drive. I want to keep the old backup for a few weeks in case I need to go pick something out of it that I can’t recreate or live without.

I’m back online, back to working and Hopefully this is a “One Off” event.

RR wherever you are… Thank you!

Talk about great service! RR called me several times to see how things were progressing and was always there when or if I hit a snag. He’s the consummate professional and genuinely knows his stuff. Even if I did make him a bit nervous by fiddling with the UNIX underbelly of the Mac OS.

I hope that if he reads this he’ll take what I say next, the right way. I hope I don’t have to talk with Apple again. But If I do I’m going to see if I can have a chat with RR.

Now on to the next thing… 

Bright & Shiny

I did something that I probably shouldn’t have done.

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I just got a brand new MacBook Air.

I was a bad boy and spent money that I shouldn’t have. However I have a plan… it’s probably not a good plan but it’s a plan nonetheless.

At least I didn’t go for the new MacBook Pro retina display… Drool, Drool

So this little puppy is fast I optioned it up to the max, i7 processor, 512GB solid state drive, 8GB of RAM.  Slick! and quiet unless i’ve got it doing something really intense. Then the fans kick in and it’s surprisingly noisy.

I have to hand it to Apple. Their migration assistant works like a champ. It took a while but this machine grabbed everything off my MacBook Pro (2008) version and got me a working machine with almost zero effort.

I am always impressed when software works as described without a hiccup.

My plan is to upgrade the drive in my MacBook Pro and squeeze some more life out of it. Meanwhile I’ll be  using the Air as my main machine for a while. Obviously, the machine will also be with me pretty much 24/7.

I’m pretty impressed with the speed that I’m seeing on applications opening. I’m also getting used to OSX Lion, soon to be OSX Mountain Lion. I’m thinking that I like Lion… I really wasn’t sure that I would and was wondering how I was going to downgrade it to Snow Leopard functionality, but I think there will be no need.

This little puppy is backing up to the NAS as I write this… It’s claiming 8 hours to completion I’m hoping that the backup will be done sooner than that.

I’m impressed by a number of things about this machine. First is, as I mentioned the speed. The other thing that’s interesting is the display. It’s easy for me to forget that the display is only 13″ The clarity is so nice that I’m having no problems working with it. While this is not a retina display, I think that it’s an improvement over the display technology used in my older MacBook Pro. The overall weight of the machine and that fact that it has no critical moving parts is also very attractive.

This machine is also equipped with USB 3.0 and has an SD card reader built in. The USB is of interest because many of my portable backup drives are USB 3.0 devices. The SD card slot means that I have one less thing to carry with me if I’m on a photography expedition.

I haven’t run the machine on battery yet, but plan to tomorrow. Apple claims up to 7 hours I’ll be interested to see how well they live up to that claim.

Without sounding like an Apple fan boy. I must admit that I in general like the Apple products. I like the fact that I tend to get about 4 to 6 years out of an Apple machine where with a Windows machine I’m lucky if I get 2 or 3 years of useful life. In the case of the Windows machines it’s not that the hardware fails… it’s that Windows runs slower and slower until the machine is all but unusable.

That’s whats happening with my little netbook, If the machine is in sleep mode, it typically will not wake up and be useful without doing a restart.

Between all the checks that Windows does regarding how long the machine has been asleep and if updates are available or if maintenance has been done or needs to be done.

The machine is effectively useless for 5 to 7 minutes after it’s waking up. I’m the user and I opened the machine NOT to have it do all these checks, I opened the machine because I needed to use it.

The solution is to reformat the netbook, re-install Windows, and then restore all my information. Honestly… That’s a real pain in the ass.

In contrast, my MacBook has been in use since 2008. It’s been reloaded from its backup one time. That was because I was cleaning up some files and deleted a chunk of stuff that I later realized I shouldn’t have.

If this new MacBook Air lives up to it’s lineage I expect that I’m going to be using it well into 2017.

Damn! As I wrote 2017 I thought no, that can’t be right but sure as hell, 2017 is just 5 years away.

Now ain’t that a kick in the pants!

A friend of mine has an Apple TV and…

One of the problems with iTunes, and video formats, and DLNA is that there’s not much in the way of cross platform compatibility.

Since this household is a mixed platform house. That means that we have multiple video formats, all of which play just fine on their respective computers.

The problem is that if you want to play a video that you’ve purchased on iTunes you can’t play that video directly on your 55″ DLNA enabled flat screen TV unless you have an appliance (Either Software or Hardware). Or you can root around behind your big ass tv that’s hanging so neatly on the wall and connect your computer to it then hope that you can get decent audio out of your computer to an amp or something.

I’ve done it. It’s a serious pain in the ass.

The other alternative is to reprocess all of your video files into whatever format IS playable from your DLNA enabled player. Time consuming, prone to error, and often you end up with degraded audio and video.

Here was my situation.

I have video stored on a main drive that acts as a media server. The video is shown as available to all the DLNA devices. In this case, the Xbox, the TV, and surprisingly the DVR satellite box. What’s annoying is that not all of the video will actually play on any single one of the devices. And NONE of them will play any of the video that I purchased from Apple.

So I’m playing around with my computer at a friends place and notice that he has an AppleTV thingy. Sure enough, if I can play the video in iTunes… I can direct it at the AppleTV and bang… I have video and audio. The really cool thing is that Once the link is made between my computer and the AppleTV, I can navigate the whole library from the AppleTV, I don’t have to mess with the computer other than to make sure it’s on and running iTunes.

LESS THAN 24 Hours after leaving my friends house…

I have an AppleTV connected to the TV in the bedroom. I’ll probably end up with another AppleTV in the living room connected to the big ass TV too.

As I’ve explored the AppleTV i’m impressed… I can access anything on Netflix, I can access not only my purchased Apple video on my computer, but I can also access those videos from the cloud.

AppleTV also has various networks pay per view offerings available. Which has lead to a discussion about the merits of keeping the Satellite service.

It breaks down like this.

I watch, exactly one sitcom.

Two or three adventure / drama programs from the networks

and BBC America

I’ll tune into The Simpsons but most of the other shows on Fox Sundays are… well Crap!

I watch the news, and SciFi channel. The news is always annoying, talking heads breathlessly decrying the latest atrocity or providing second by second commentary on the latest high speed car chase. (High speed?!?! Most of these morons never get above 100!)

I’ll watch the National Geographic channels, the history channel, and several of the learning type channels.

I’ll watch comedy central for SouthPark, or Futurama

I pay for Stars just so that I can watch Spartacus

I pay for HBO just so that I can watch True Blood.

So the question I find myself asking is this…

Am I getting value for the price I’m paying?

Survey SAYS!  Not really. At over 100.00 a month, it’s not really worth it to me.

Of the 300+ channels available to me I don’t watch most of them. I couldn’t care less about BET, or ION, or the Spanish language channels.

I’ve long thought that as a PAYING CONSUMER… I should be able to pick and choose those channels that I wanted. I shouldn’t have to buy a package or packages just to get the one or two channels from each package that I actually watch never tuning to ANY of the ones that I don’t.

I’m considering doing what my buddy and so many other people I know have done… I’m thinking that pulling the plug on my satellite box might be reasonable.

I was raised on TV I’m a child of the ’60s. I’ve never known a life without broadcast TV. I find myself wondering if taking complete control of what I watch and when I watch it isn’t a better option.

If I re-allocate the 1200 a year from satellite to Netflix, Hulu, BluRay, or iTunes purchases… That’s a lot of entertainment that I can suddenly afford to see, on my terms without commercials.

Of course I’ll miss the local news broadcasts… But I can get most news on the internet… Who knows I might just start reading the newspaper again….

Oh and to my friend who is the cause of all this, laughing his butt off in his office…

LAUGH WHILE YOU CAN MONKEY BOY!

Remember I’m the one who usually causes the chaos… Be careful or I’ll remind you of a certain LaserDisk purchase…