I’ve seen this several places now but the best summary is at Ars Technica. I’ve heard plenty of people say the naysaying was just as bad when XP was introduced. Well, it was pretty bad, but not this bad. Not “We’re trying to figure out ways to sell Windows 2000 with new computers because people just want to avoid Vista and many of the businesses with custom-built apps won’t certify them on Vista without a lot more time stomping bugs” bad.
Month: April 2008
Updates on Basic Security
Ars Technica, the source of many fine articles related to computers, just published an excellent little primer on how to keep your computer secure. It includes information for Linux and Mac users as well.
Modern Home Theaters Need Work…
I’ll admit. Some of my home stereo gear is old. As in better than fifteen years old. So?
It also makes no difference to what I’m about to discuss, which is: It is wayyyy too complicated for normal people (non-technical adults who are not gadget-geeks of some sort) to work their TV / home theater setup.
Case in point: Our widescreen gets cable piped directly in. It also gets the DVD player and VCR piped directly in, and echoes the sound out to the surround sound receiver.
So far so good. Unless I really want to listen to my iTunes library I never, ever change my stereo inputs. Turn on the TV and select the right input and *bam* there ya are. TV goodness.
But, we stumble into the first conceptual obstacle. You see, the TV remote, like many remotes supplied these days, is a universal remote. This means it’s universally useless for anything except perhaps the TV because the one critical feature you need for any other device (separate play-pause buttons, forex), are just not included on the remote surface, and the TV is complicated enough that little widdy biddy buttons require you to squint through bleary eyes.
The conceptual problem comes when Unsuspecting Normal Average Person with a Life picks up the remote, and, following your instructions turns on the TV and the stereo and cannot get it to change from the TV tuner.
Someone, recently handling the remote, must have hit the “dvd” button, and so neither the remote nor the TV care that you are mashing down the “source” button to change the input. The geeks response, knowing that the remote has multiple modes, will be to switch the remote back to TV mode.
This is NOT intuitively obvious to the normal average person. I’ll have to look at getting one of the programmable Logitech remotes because I’ve been told they actually really work – and divide up the settings by what you’re doing rather than by what device you need to control at the moment. The upshot is if you’re “watching a DVD” it controls the stereo volume via the volume buttons, sets the TV to the input designated as “DVD”, and the play controls manage the DVD player – all without you constantly switching modes.
The next common bugaboo, and one I’ll fix at my house with a little piece of RCA patch cable, is the famous “why is there no sound?” Receivers and pre-amps have many input selections. When my Onkyo was made, equalizers were common, and commonly hooked up at the in and out ports for “tape 2” (in case you actually bought two separate tape decks). For the EQ to do it’s job the receiver had to route sound back out from its selected input via the tape 2 “record/out” jacks, and listen to the tape 2 input no matter what the original source was.
Needless to say, if you don’t have an EQ or a second tape deck there are probably no cables there. The secondary consequence is that accidentally turning on “Tape 2” effectively mutes your stereo, with very little indication that it’s even in Tape 2 mode as you’ll still see the input for “Tape 1” or “Video 1”, etc.
More Signs of a Trend
For a while now it’s been obvious that the Mac and Apple have been picking up more and more mindshare and steam. Yet another example comes to light today in this article at Ars Technica, a site that was formerly very MS-centric, and has gradually shifted to a more platform agnostic atmosphere.
One quote on the second page is one that’s interesting to hear from a self-professed die-hard Windows user. It’s something I’ve long felt, and a point that many mac users had made even in less popular years about quantity vs. quality when it came to available software:
…and there’s a real sense that their developers care that they don’t suck.
Windows software has never struck me as being like that. The third-party software ecosystem for Windows is big, no doubt about that. But it’s also incredibly shoddy. Most Windows applications from both major software companies and minor ones alike are ugly, poorly-thought-out, clunky pieces of crap. While there are a few artisan developers for Windows, most Windows devs just don’t care.
If you have time, there are a lot of in-depth articles and reviews of the various OSX releases that are perhaps the most comprehensive and best-written reviews you will find anywhere in one place.
Wal-Mart needs to “get it”
I’m not typically a Wal-mart basher. Nor am I typically an Apple basher. My complaint today revolves around a problem that arises when Apple’s self-interest, combined with a small dollop of cluelessness on the part of WalMart, makes things more difficult than it should.
The background – my wife is used to using Picasa. There are several things about it that drives me nuts related to organization, etc (many of which they had since fixed), but my wife really can wrap her brain around it better than iPhoto. One of the things it did brilliantly was export for online prints. Especially to wal-mart.
Now, it’s understandable why iPhoto only prints to Apple, and the iPhoto print services (especially cards!) are top-notch. Nevertheless there are now plug-ins to easily export from iPhoto to flickr, picasa web, etc. Most of these are free, or at worst (like the free stand-alone flickr tool) play well with iPhoto by allowing drag and drop.
Now. If Wal-mart didn’t want to integrate at all with iPhoto or the Mac and play dumb just like they do for firefox, that would be fine. What bothers me is the “quickload” tool they provide is not even as functional as the “open” dialog box that’s the default in Leopard, as it does not give me direct access to my iPhoto albums and events.
Here’s what they should do. They should either create an iPhoto plugin like the guys at Google and Facebook did, or do like Flickr and create an uploader that allows you to drag pictures from iPhoto into the uploader.
I Love Time Machine
I’ve had backup means in place before Leopard came out. Specifically, a snapshot based setup using rsync and hard links on my linux box. Nonetheless, it hasn’t been half as useful as time machine – if for no other reason than the ability to do bare metal restores.
I’ve had to do them twice now.
The first time was when my laptop was dropped shortly after closing the lid while still writing out. The drive had to be replaced and restored from an external TM backup. I’m writing this on it now, as a matter of fact.
The second time was the other day – discovering my desktop hung up (which has effectively become a household media server and sandboxed surfstation for the kids). Turns out the boot drive was suffering from a string of communications errors, though the diagnostics and file repair programs said everything was fine. One trip to Staples and a few hours later and I had a restored desktop.
I’ll say it now. It isn’t perfect. Super Duper would have allowed me to have a bootable replica of the entire drive that I could have switched to and continued to work off of. It would have been just as effective for a bare metal restore if that had been needed. I’m a huge fan of super duper.
What SD doesn’t do is snapshots. Changes in files overwrite old files. Deleted files are never erased and justÂ accumulate. There is effectively no way to go back and recover the email, file, picture, or system state that existed at time x before you accidentally made the wrong change and hit “save”.
Ideally, I’d use both.
edit: cut down next-to-last paragraph to save space and clarify meaning.
Over the years I’ve delved into the Apple Interface guidelines a few times. While somewhat geeky reading, it’s also not as dry and boring as you’d expect, and lays out what is expected of a “mac-like” app. So it was nice to see a good article on exactly what the HIG was for, and why it is still relevant.
Basic Filtering for Normal People…
Earlier I posted about my “tanstaafl” related issues in getting filtering and proxy services set up.
Good news: I finally got it all to start reliably. It’s still a bit quirky about restarts for log turnovers though.
Nevertheless, I stumbled into something else incredibly useful, and after a few weeks of trying it out I will be shutting down my own filtering.
The service is called openDNS. Their purpose is to replace the sometimes flaky DNS service that comes with your ISP (Hi, Comcast!) and provide an alternate means to look up addresses on the internet. This means that every time you try to look up www.apple.com, their computer takes the web address and sends back the numerical address, much like looking up phone numbers in a phonebook by name.
The side benefit of this is that you can also specify corrections of typos, define what kind of websites you don’t want visited from your household or office, and specify what exceptions you want to allow, because they control what computer you connect to when you ask for a website.
Specifying what you want to block follows the same categories used in DansGuardian, and the logs give you a nice list of sites that have been denied. What it doesn’t do is let you know who in your network made the request, give you a weight for how strict to be within a category, or let you see what sites have been visited that were not blocked.
I can deal with those weaknesses, as it simplifies my computer setup and makes it a little more difficult for the kids to work around the restraints (I still make sure I eyeball their activity and computers on a regular basis). It hasÂ one other “plus” – the instructions. They have excellent documentation that should go a long way in helping you set up your router or computer to use their DNS servers as well as tracking changes in the IP address your ISP hands you.
Best of all, it’s “free.”
Well, not completely. They make money by sending mistyped or flat-out wrong domain names to their own search and ad results.
We’re going through several here.
First of all, I’ve moved to a new host.
Second – I’ve upgraded the blogging software at the same time. Actually this was less scary than doing the upgrade in place because I not only had a local copy of the website, but a fully functional one online I could always flip back to. The only headache was getting the old database uploaded to the new server as phpmyadmin didn’t want to handle that much data…..
Next step after another post on DNS stuff and filtering: Get my theme updated. 🙂