Archive for June, 2010

Mac OS/X 10.6.4 problems

Monday, June 28th, 2010

I’ve been experiencing a few problems since updating my MacBook to 10.6.4. One was a problem with Safari 5 and the other was a sudden reboot which caused some consequential problems.

Despite having Safari working for a couple of days with no problems, although I wasn’t convinced about any increase in speed, it suddenly would not start at all. Furthermore, the same problem applied with other user accounts, so it could not be a user plist file problem. I tried repairing disk permissions but this made no difference. It wasn’t intermittent — every attempt to launch Safari crashed.

I also experienced a sudden reboot of the machine. Literally, all of a sudden, there was the start up chime with no kernel panic or anything else indicating a problem.

The solution that I applied to solve the Safari problem as suggested from a user on the Apple support discussion groups was to download and reinstall the 10.6.4 combo update. The original update had been done using Software Update. This was best done overnight as the Combo Update is big and my broadband is not that fast.

After the combo update, Safari worked again.

However I also noticed that my TimeMachine disk was not mounted and would refuse to mount. It showed up in Disk Utility and a check showed a problem. However, Disk Utility would not repair the problem but give up. I do have Disk Warrior installed and it came to the rescue (as it has in the past as well). It did report that it was running slowly due to disk problems but completed its work reporting that it had found all the files; after which the disk mounted fine. However, Time Machine was not adding much to the back up. It was reporting only adding 7 files and 33 bytes to the back up rather than the many megabytes that I would expect. It appeared that Time Machine was now “out of sync” so that it thought that nothing had changed when in fact much had.

The solution to this that I found on the web was to simply reboot the machine in safe mode. Once the machine was up another normal reboot caused Time Machine to do a “deep traversal” with a pretty significant 950MB back up. Hopefully this is all working properly now, and subsequent backups have been consistent in size with what I might expect.

Somewhere, there must be a list of all the things that happen in a safe boot. I know that I have been asked to do a safe boot by Apple Care staff in the past and it certainly seems a useful thing to try in the event of difficulties but it would be nice to know all that it does. I feel another web search coming on….

A couple of pictures

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Yesterday was a variable day here in The Netherlands with some rain, wind and not particularly warm, but I took a walk in the afternoon and took a few pictures.  The following two pictures have benefited from some manipulation with Topaz filters.   At least with my point and shoot camera that only generates JPGs, the Topaz filters (used via Topaz Express in iPhoto) work in a predictable way.  I’ve had some challenges recently using Canon Raw in iPhoto with Topaz which I shall write a blog post about at some time.

The first of these two photographs was only very mildly adjusted.  I enjoyed playing around much more with the second one, although in the end went back to some not too extreme experimentation.




Two weeks with the iPad

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Well, I’ve now had two weeks with the iPad and am enjoying it.   I’m sure that I’m getting distracted by simply the pleasure in using it.  There is something very pleasurable about swiping one’s finger across the screen, the smooth rotation of the screen, the fact that photographs look just gorgeous, and that it is just so easy to look things up on the web with it rather than sitting at the laptop, or iMac.

I’ve probably spent quite a little bit of money on applications, although I’ve tried to restrict myself to things that I feel I really need to use.

iBooks is gorgeous, and the fact that as you turn the page you see the print showing from the other side is just cute.  I was pleased to find that my non-DRM protected e-pub books purchased from O’Reilly work fine on the iPad.  One simply drags them into iTunes and they get added to the iBooks bookshelf.  I have downloaded a few Project Gutenberg books, and that process is very smooth on iBooks — much easier than doing the similar process on Stanza on the iPod Touch.  I haven’t felt a need to load the iPad version of Stanza yet.

I bought the Apple Pages app because I do use Pages on my various other Apple machines, but I haven’t really tried using it for real yet.

There are already many lists of “top-ten iPad” applications around the internet, but I thought I’d note my list of applications that I’ve tried here, if only because I can come back to it later and see how many of these I am still using.

Instapaper Pro was already on my iPod Touch and so naturally went on to the iPad as well.  For those that don’t know, Instapaper is an application that can be used to collect web pages for later offline reading.  It also optimises the pages for easier reading on an iPhone, or iPod.  On the iPad it provides a very nicely formatted and easily read text pages.   Pages are sent to Instapaper via a  bookmark that can be installed on most browsers — so I can even mark pages for offline reading when I’m at work.  Many RSS readers also have support for Instapaper to enable easy marking for pages for later off-line reading.  One just has to bring up Instapaper while one has internet access and it pulls down the relevant articles.

I still have the Apple MobileMe iDisk (free) application on the iPad although it is only an iPhone/iPod Touch app and most of what I might use it for I can use GoodReader instead.

I have Evernote (free) which I probably should use more often, but I seem to have a multitude of different ways of keeping track of odd things.  On my Macs I use Yojimbo, but Evernote has the advantage of syncing with my iPod Touch and the iPad as well.

I have the Google Mobile App (free) although I mostly only use it to access Google Reader.  Obviously you can access Google Docs and a host of other Google services through it.

Simplenote (free) is slowly becoming my iPod Touch note application of choice, and I’ve loaded it on my iPad.  Again the advantage is synchronisation between devices and the web, and also with Notational Velocity on the Mac.

I don’t do much instant messaging, but have had free AIM application on the iPod Touch and also on the iPad.

I bought the SkyGazer and SkyVoyager applications for the iPodTouch some time ago when there was a promotion that made them ridiculously cheap.  I think that since then the pricing has been made more reasonable in any case.  In any case, I already hade them, and the latest updates are universal for both iPad and iPhone platforms.

Dropbox (free) was a no-brainer as I use Dropbox frequently to share documents between my various devices.  I would use MobileMe iDisk but Dropbox is so much more smooth.  Again as I already had the free App on my iPod Touch, and it is universal it was easy to also have it on the iPad.  Having said that I rarely access stuff directly from the Dropbox app.  I mostly do so via GoodReader.

I haven’t yet really found my favourite weather application for the iPad.  The free version of AccuWeather is the app I’m currently using and it seems pretty nice.   I have tried some other applications, but many are not particularly accurate when used in Europe.

I’m very impressed with the FT Mobile Edition.  I think its an excellent example of a newspaper application on the iPad and is free until the end of July.  It can be used in both an offline and an online mode, so you can get up in the morning and download the day’s edition and then read it on the iPad without having an internet connection.   The navigation was not totally obvious to me at first (the fact that tapping near the top brought up a horizontal menu for the different sections), but once you’ve got the hang of it I think it is really a good example of the way for newspaper apps.

As mentioned above,  GoodReader is a necessity.  I use it on my iPod touch for all sorts of things (including having my camera manuals available to read).  Maybe with the impending improvement of iBooks to read PDFs, it may be less necessary, but it is so easy to get content on to the iPad in GoodReader.

One of the major uses of the iPad for me is to keep up with following RSS feeds from the various news sources, technical, political, blogs etc.  I use NetNewsWire on my Mac but found the iPod version less than reliable, and was certainly reluctant to pay £5.99 for it on the iPad.  Having heard good mentions of NewsRack from various sources I tried that.  It costs only half the price of NetNewsWire (and is a universal iPhone/iPad app)  but has integration with Instapaper, Email, Twitter and a variety of other services.   At first I wasn’t sure that I particularly liked it and so I tried the free version of FeeddlerRSS.  I was quite enjoying that app, but finding it was somewhat prone to crashing, and so reverted to using NewsRack which I think is the one I’ll stick with for the moment.

Everyone should have the free Guardian Eyewitness app which showcases stunning photography associated with news stories.

I downloaded the free Kindle app, although other than downloading a couple of sample chapters to see how it feels, I haven’t actually bought anything yet.     The integration on the iBooks app is really smooth whereas the Amazon Kindle takes you out to safari.

1Password is a necessity although I must say that until the integration is better I could perhaps have survived with just having it on my iPod Touch.  I’m not sure I understand the pricing on 1Password.  The individual apps for the iPod Touch and the iPad are each less than half the price of the Pro version which is universal for both platforms, and I’m not quite certain what else is in the Pro version.

As a fan of Stephen Fry, I had to have the free  FryPaper.

I’ve been looking for a good source of financial data for some time to complement the Stocks application on my iPod Touch.  For the moment on the iPad, I’m enjoying the Bloomberg app.

I already had the free on the iPod Touch so it was natural to put it on the iPad as well.

There isn’t an iPad version of Skype yet, but the iPhone version appears to work on the iPad so that also got loaded up.

I’ve loaded a number of drawing/note taking applications although haven’t seriously used any of them, and I’m not sure how long they will merit a place on my iPad.  Adobe Ideas, Draw for iPad, and PaperDesk LT are currently on my iPad.

The MotionX GPS HD application is really impressive.  It is inexpensive, uses Google, Bing and OpenStreetMap sources for mapping and I can certainly imagine taking it with me in the car instead of a motoring atlas.  The “killer feature” for me is being to download the OpenStreetMap data for an area (or for a linear corridor along a route) so that you can use the app without an internet connection.  It doesn’t do turn by turn navigation, but as a way of carrying road atlas it is very impressive.  I’m not going to throw away my handheld Garmin GPS which I use when cycling and as a track recorder for geotagging photographs, but as a way of having access to larger maps for free (particular in those areas where OpenStreetMap has good mapping) it is brilliant.

I’ve loaded up AirVideoFree to try out AirVideo (which is not very expensive).  While I do have some ripped DVDs and some other unprotected content on my MacMini that would be good to stream to the iPad, I don’t really have enough to make it worthwhile.   Now if only Apple would do remote access to iTunes libraries wireless from the iPad, that would really be useful.

To test the speed of my iPod Touch, I use SpeedTest.  The application hasn’t been updated for the iPad, but will run on it in the 2x mode.  Its surprising how much faster the iPad is even on the same internet connection as my iPod Touch.  (I have two wireless access points, one dedicated to 11g and one dedicated to 11n, so it is probably simply the effect of the wireless implementations although as my broadband connection is only 8Mb down and 1Mb up, I’m surprised that I’m seeing any difference.

EyeTV is another application that has not yet been updated for the iPad although I gather that Elgato is working on it.  If you use an EyeTV tuner on a Mac, you probably want the EyeTV application to allow you to watch programmes on your iPodTouch (which I rarely do), or on your iPad (which is much better and a great way to catch up on recorded programmes when in bed).  This is one of the iPhone/iPod Touch apps that really looks fine doubled up on the iPad when it is playing video.

David Mitchell’s SoapBox just provides access to his short video clips that one could access through other routes but it provides a nice interface.

I couldn’t resist Smule’s Magic Piano for 59p.  Its tremendous fun and the ability to play duets with people around the world or just see what other people are doing is fascinating.

I don’t read comics but I downloaded the free Marvel application and one of the free comics on offer just to see what comics look like on the iPad.   I still can’t see me reading comics so this will disappear off my iPad once its been demonstrated to other folks.

I downloaded Mocha VNC Lite and might even pay for the full version.  I have a MacMini that I use with my television set as a TV recorder (using the above mentioned Elgato EyeTV).  I run the MacMini without a keyboard or mouse, operating it either just by the Elgato remote control, or using the Snatch remote application (which seems to have disappeared from the iTunes store, and from the web), or using Back to my Mac from my MacBook (or even really remotely on my iMac).  VNC allows me to remotely operate the MacMini from my iPad and even the free version is not too clumsy when I just want to add a scheduled recording on the EyeTV.

Finally, the WordPress app is a useful way to write blog posts from the iPad.  I’ve used the app on my iPod Touch for short posts.  I wouldn’t attempt a longer post like this with lots of links on the iPad as just getting the links in would be hard work, but more straightforward posts are no problem.

Well that is the collection of stuff that I’ve accumulated over the last two and a bit weeks.  I’ve spent around £16 on apps so far which is pretty modest by comparison with some other folks.  My usage of the iPad is settling down to reading new stories, watching programmes I’ve recorded,  keeping track of e-mail and the like, but it is convenient to do all that from the sofa or while in bed without the weight of the MacBook or the inconveniently small size of my iPod Touch.






MacBook Snow Leopard Upgrade – Three weeks on

Monday, June 14th, 2010

After posting about my experience with upgrading my MacBook to Snow Leopard, I thought I should revisit this topic three weeks later to give an update.

After the initial period immediately after the upgrade where all sorts of things seemed to be going wrong, the OS and the laptop seemed to have settled down together quite happily.  Up until a few days ago when the laptop ended up fully discharged, forcing a restart, it had been running reliably with all my usual applications.   I tend to have Safari, iChat, iTunes, Mail open and also end up editing photos in iPhoto fairly regularly.   Overall the initial problems seemed to have gone away and I’m happy with the upgrade.   I haven’t yet got around to taking advantage of new Snow Leopard features other than the ability to use more up-to-date versions of MarsEdit and Acorn.  I want to use the Automator and the improved services feature for a number of tasks, but hopefully will get around to those things soon.



Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Updated on 20th June 2010.  See additional comments at the end of this post.

As reported in this previous post, my SpeedTouch router failed.  I was using an old SiteCom router as a back up, but it wasn’t playing too well with some of the Mac features like Back To My Mac, iChat, nor with EyeTv’s remote access.  For the latter I had to insert an explicit forwarding rule, and I wasn’t convinced that Back To My Mac would work either.

I was hoping to buy a Netgear router (only because I’ve found that I can usually get them to play fairly well with Apple’s software), but the bricks-and-mortar shops here only seem to stock Linksys out of the big brands.  As I already had a Sitecom which could be pressed to work (and indeed was working) that gave me little choice.  Continue with the Sitecom or risk a Linksys router.   As I was not very happy with the Sitecom, I decided to take a risk with the cheapest ADSL modem/router in the Linksys range that I could buy.  This is a WAG120N.  This is an attractive little router with a built in ADSL modem, B/G/N wireless (but only at 2.4GHz) and a relatively new model.

It comes with a CD and a sticker over the ethernet and ADSL ports saying to load the software CD before doing anything else.   Well, as a mature Mac User I was assuming there was no point in doing that but there is indeed a Mac program on the CD as well as the documentation.  However, the moment you run this program and have put in your admin password (I run as an unprivileged user most of the time) you wonder what on earth has happened.  Without warning it creates a new “Location” set for the WAG210, disables various bits of the networking on your Mac and then starts various steps to configure the router.   Fortunately I know how to re-enable my wireless and the like, but this is really rather rude of the software and I can imagine a less capable user having real problems sorting it out.  Admittedly one is going to have to make changes to the networking to access the web interface if one does it that way, but at least it is under one’s control.

Getting the WAG120N working was no real problem, although the web interface is remarkably sparse on information.  There are no screens that enable you to find the technical performance of the ADSL connection (signal to noise ratio, etc) which are essential for any ADSL debugging.  There isn’t even, as far as I can see, an indicator of how much time the connection has been up or how much traffic has been transferred.  There is also no way of seeing through the web interface what uPnP rules have been created.

As I bought it the version of the frimware was V1.00.07 I think.  The uPnP certainly wasn’t working well as Back to my Mac was not working.  EyeTV also failed to make a connection for the My EyeTv service.  Looking on the website there is a new firmware version V1.00.12.  I downloaded this and attempted to upload it to the router but on each occasion the attempt to actually upgrade the router seemed to fail with a gibberish webpage being returned.  Looking at the Linksys forums, there are quite a lot of questions and problems with this router (and, to be fair, many of the other models).  Concerning firmware updates there were a lot of instructions about holding the reset button in for 30s and disconnecting the router to enable firmware to be updated.  None of this seemed to work and the firmware remained resolutely on the old version.  I gave up that evening.

The following day I had another go at updating the firmware and this time it all worked from the web interface as one might expect, with the upload completing and then the router automatically restarting, and coming up with the new firmware.  This seemed to solve some of the problems with uPnP and NAT traversal, and Back to My Mac now claims to work.  I still had to put in an explicit port forwarding rule for the MyEyeTv service which otherwise says that the router is incompatible.  iChat also reports an “unknown router type” and that the network “includes one or more devices that are not fully compatible with audio and video chatting”.  However iChat appears to work at least with the only contact that I chat with regularly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this only works because the connection at the other end is rather cleaner.

So, the end result is that this is really only a little better than the Sitecom and worse than the SpeedTouch being replaced, and therefore probably money that has not been well spent, but as I said this was almost the only choice that could be purchased without waiting for a mail delivery.  Of course, perhaps Linksys will upgrade the firmware again — I certainly couldn’t recommend it in the current form.

Update: 20th June 2010

Well the LInksys has now been in use for two weeks, and seems to be working satisfactorily.  I don’t do any fancy gaming that would require special treatment of ports, so that the only explicit port forwarding is for the My EyeTV service.  iChat still reports the router type as unknown, but has worked fairly reliably as has the Back to my Mac service which I used last weekend when I was remotely accessing the MacMini here from another country.

I still don’t think I would recommend this router, but it hasn’t been a disaster.

Bought an iPad

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

I succumbed to buying an iPad on the second day that they were available in the UK. We visited the Apple store in Cardiff on Saturday morning expecting at best to be able to handle one, but assuming that they might well be sold out. Internet orders in the UK for opening day were sold out within the first couple of days of the pre-ordering opening. The Apple store had plenty to handle and try and had four of the six models still in stock when we were there. I had decided to go for a 3G model on the grounds that it keeps ones options open for the future given that one doesn’t have to activate it immediately and with O2 in the UK one can buy just a day’s access which could be handy when staying overnight at a hotel with outrageous wifi charges. In fact I’m using the 3G right now at an airport where the wifi is much more expensive.

So what’s not to like? Like others have found, it is difficult to keep the screen looking clean although it’s not noticeable except when the screen is off, or rather dark. Fingerprints are all over it.

I’ve downloaded the Pages application which itself is gorgeous and fun to use but getting stuff in and out of pages is nontrivial and I’m sure this is an area of improvement that Apple will address.

I was a little surprised by how few of my iPod touch apps have an iPad version and I really don’t want to use those apps in the 2x mode or have them sitting in the middle of the screen looking like they are lost. However, apps that really only duplicate a web site are less necessary on the iPad because there is more screen space to display a website properly.

Safari feels really good on the iPad and frankly the lack of flash doesn’t bother me. I have it blocked on my laptop so I have to explicitly allow flash and I’ve noticed no problems on my iPad with the sites that I use.

Will update this post later ….

Later …

Few spelling errors slipped through on the above. This post has been written and edited on the iPad using the Wordpress application that I have also used on the iPod Touch. The extra room and bigger keyboard on the iPad makes it much easier though. I wouldn’t want to write a long piece on the iPad without a Bluetooth keyboard or the Apple keyboard dock but it is perfectly possible to type on the onscreen keyboard (particularly in landscape mode) after a bit of practice.