Tag Archives: Mac

Odds and Sods

Going Aerial

Smashing Magazine has a collection of images taken from above and links to additional collections and tips for aerial photography.

There are a couple of tutorials over at Make Magazine’s web site for kite aerial photography, and photography on a pole. Both units use a similar yoke-mounted camera assembly that is controlled by servos. In fact, if you made the yoke once, you could probably use it for both applications.

Old Dogs/New Tricks Department

Jeff Duntemann gets Ubuntu. His Contrapositive Diary has now been moved over to a WordPress platform. I miss the old single page with the spiral-bound notebook illustration.

I’ve been working with MindManager for the Mac. This is available in version 8 for Windows, and version 7 for the Mac. Version 7 works fine; while not elaborate, it is quick to learn, and strikes me as an excellent example of “less is more”. More ideas for mind mapping are on Chuck Frey’s blog and he has a useful e-Book with lots of ideas. One suggestion from the book; when showing a mind map diagram to someone, don’t call it a “mind map”. My most elaborate map to date was the proposal outline of our NIH grant application discussed a couple posts ago.

Question of the Day: “Why is there no Visio for the Mac?” Or maybe a better way of asking the question, “What is the equivalent of Visio on the Mac?

Non-Technical Question of the Day: Watching the follies surrounding the confirmation of Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary, I have to ask, what is a guy who underpaid $34,000 in income tax using Turbo-Tax and doing his own taxes in the first place? Oh, and why did this happen to get resolved shortly before his nomination to the post of treasury secretary, even though the years when he didn’t pay were back in the first part of the decade? $34,000 is still a respectable salary in my neck of the woods… how much was the guy making in gross salary to be able to owe that much and then not pay it?

Tech Friday: Small Business Network

In a recent column  Jerry Pournelle talks about problems with the Microsoft Active Directory.  

Back in 1999 I set up the Chaosmanor domain with Active Directory on two machines running Windows 2000 Server. I knew at the time that I didn’t need that complex a network, but a number of my readers did. In those days networking was hard, Active Directory was new, and many of my associates were curious about how well it would work. At worst this was another of those silly things I do so you won’t have to.

Actually, it worked pretty well. Windows Server 2000 with Active Directory had some infuriating requirements, and it really wanted everything done precisely its way, but from 1999 until this year it served me well. When Windows Server 2003 came out I was tempted to upgrade to that, but there was never any powerful reason to do so, and as time passed it seemed less attractive. I had novels to write and other work to do. I was able to try several Linux-based on-line backup systems – Mirra was one of them – and those worked just fine. Of course machines were getting better, and my old servers were getting more obsolete each year.

Now he thinks that everything he knew about networking is wrong. In particular, like many of us, his experience carried over from older versions of Windows networking, which makes things a lot more complicated than they need to be these days. You can reads more about workgroups, domains and routers and alternatives to Windows networking in the column.

At Microdesign we are reevaluating our own network, that has a core server running Windows 2003 Small Business Server; i.e. relatively unchanged for the past five years. Nothing has really changed as far as our core requirements are concerned, except there are several of us working from different offices, and on occasion when traveling. We increasingly collaborate on projects with partners who are outside our company. Our requirements parallel many small businesses and non-profits with 2-50 computer users. Here are our “legacy” requirements:

  1. Common file sharing area where multiple users/machines can access the same document
  2. Absolute trustworthy security of those files
  3. eMail and calender – available from anywhere on multiple devices
  4. Shared printing, from multiple machines to single printers.
  5. Reliable backup 

Those modest requirements suggest a file and print server based in the office, connected permanently to the internet, with printers shared off of the file server, and some kind of backup scheme (tape or additional hard drive). The network diagram which fulfills these requirements is essentially unchanged from the 1990’s.

Even with a server-centric network our advice to clients has always been to use the facilities of an internet service provider for two applications; eMail and the outward-facing (public) web server for the organization.  We (still) recommend having eMail outside the organization to provide greater reliability, ubiquitous access via the web, and industrial-strength spam control. We recommend the organization’s public web site be hosted outside the organization to provide 99.99% uptime, and to take advantage of higher bandwidth typically provided by an hosted provider. 

So, what has changed? Two things; disk storage and broadband. Broadband, or rather cheap broadband, has made it possible to reconfigure things so that the cloud  can now substitute or supplement a file server. With individual personal computers routinely having disk drives of 250 gigabytes or larger, the original justification for “server as giant hard disk” is falling away. 
Along with hardware improvements, there are now a host of inexpensive applications available on the internet that can supplement or replace software that used to require a file server. Basecamp is one example that can be used for project management and shared file storage. 

A more modern interpretation of the legacy network diagram puts the cloud at the center of the network.

So, I’m wondering whether to replace my file server. The server is no longer the be-all end-all of my network. Like Jerry, I don’t need a domain login mechanism. I barely use my printers, and those are attached directly to the local network. The small business server’s eMail, and web hosting have always been done off-site. The server does offer SharePoint, which is a capable platform for Basecamp-like project management, but Basecamp is about $12.00 per month, and it took about five minutes to set up. And, now that we have been invaded by the Macintosh monster…there are more reasons to find, (or at least evaluate) a cross-platform solution for our application needs.

MobileMe – Synchronizing Macs

I’ve been intending to sketch out my whole synchronization scheme which keeps multiple applications synched between two Macs and the rest of the world, but it is so complicated that just documenting it has made me want to rethink. In the interim, I noticed yesterday that a bunch of changes that I had put into my address book on the MacBook didn’t get synched to the iMac, and after a lengthy chat with Apple’s MobileMe tech support the answer appeared to be nothing more than logging out of MobileMe on the laptop and then logging back in.

One trick with synching with MobileMe is to strip down the applications, so that you are only trying to sync one thing at a time when troubleshooting. Right now I’ve only got the contacts synching.

If one forgot that you can actually log into your MobileMe account from a web browser, one should be reminded of that helpful suggestion, as you can check whether your sync changes reach the the “cloud”. Obviously (in hindsight) if you make a change in iCal on one machine, and do a sync, the changes should appear in the copy of your files in the cloud, before any other machine can sync and download the changes.

MacBook Hard Drive Replacement

They say bad things happen in threes. Ok…I broke my foot three weeks ago, I blew a loudspeaker on my stereo (but it was 36 years old, “The Smaller Advent”) and now a week out of warranty, my MacBook hard drive headed south, giving a forlorn “click, click, click”… I found this out on a Saturday as I attempted to syncronize some files between the MacBook and the iMac. So far the aftermath has been relatively painless.

1. I put in a call to Small Dog Electronics. Within two minutes I was talking to a knowledgeable tech support person, who immediately verified that they had a replacement drive in three sizes in stock at both of their stores.

2. Went to the South Burlington store, stood in line at their repair window (equivalent to a genius bar) and got the replacement drive. I took the opportunity to upgrade it to 320 gig, from the 250 gig drive that failed. $120.00 for the drive. I also asked if they could do the replacement on the spot, but they demurred, saying it would be a couple of days before they would be able to get to it. Having seen several explanations on how to do this myself, including a YouTube video, I had no fear.

3. Disassembled everything per instructions. Vexacious. Tiny screwsheads easily stripped. The worst are the TT8 Torx screws that hold the shield on top of the drive. Naturally, I’ve never needed a #8 Torx screwdriver in my entire life, and didn’t have one. Ran to the hardware store, they didn’t have one either except as part of a Christmas special of 40 screwdrivers packaged in a blister pack for $13.99, product of China and evidently fabricated of pressed cardboard. Never mind, it worked.

4. Fiddled with restoring the operating system. The install disks from the iMac don’t work. The MacBook Leopard install disk was an “upgrade” disk, and since I haven’t already installed the earlier version of it said it wouldn’t install Leopard, until I had installed Panther. However, in the disk installer menu there was a restore option to restore from Time Machine.

5. Booted again with the Time Machine disk attached. Went around in circles as the restore program didn’t see the new disk. I hadn’t formatted the disk, so how could it have seen it? (some things would have been second nature in Windows, oh, and by the way, a format on a Mac is called “erase”). Once I did format the disk I was able to start the restore process , and it has been merrily restoring now for about 90 minutes with another 30 or so to go. I’m excited…will my new Parallels installation with Office 2007 and Vista survive the restore? Will my eMail be there and the VPN?

So far so good… everything works; Parallels, Mac Mail, Safari, iWork, iTunes and all the bits are there. Nice.

More on Time Machine

While at the ‘Dog, I took a look at the new alumininum MacBooks, trying to justify a full replacement. Something equivalent to mine would be about $1600, I think… a little steep, considering that I’m happy as a clam with my current plastic one from November of ’07. The performance appeared to be better on the new one, of course, and it seemed substantially lighter. In short..they are nice.

Grants.gov and the SF424

Four weeks to go, and I’m assembling an SBIR “Competing Continuation” grant, an odd-ball National Institutes of Health grant opportunity which requires an SBIR Phase II as a prerequisite, and basically allows you to continue research and development for “complex” medical devices, drugs, etc, that still have a way to go before commercialization.

NIH converted to an online submission procedure about two years ago. By most accounts it was fairly buggy, and they are continuing to refine it; it looks as if they are going to base the next version on Adobe Forms. As described a few days ago, if you have either a Mac with Leopard, OS-X, or a machine with Windows Vista, the only option that runs the forms is to use a Citrix terminal application which looks like Windows 95, crashes regularly, and logs you off after 20 minutes in any case. After struggling with this for a session last Friday, I’m punting and I’ve regressed to a Windows XP machine.

Even using the “native” PureEdge viewer, things are fairly kludgy. PureEdge installs as viwer, sort of like Adobe Acrobat, within Internet Explorer. You then navigate to the web page that contains the xfd for the web form. After inputting data, you can save the data. Unfortunatly the saved data from my Citrix session won’t seem to run…I have to reenter everything that I put on Friday.
After downloading the form again the form opens.

A couple of extracts from the SF424 instructions.

  1. There are odd rules related to the ability to have more than a single Primary Investigator, with NIH, you can.
  2. A budget must be created for each budget period.

    A budget peried is considered to be one year or portion of a year if the grant period is less than a year. If you have a multi-year budget, then you must fill out one for each year. The figures will be consolidated on a read-only summary sheet.

  3. If you are working within a consortium, and will be awarding some of the funding to the consortium, they (or you, or somebody) have to prepare a subaward budget that mirrors the award budget. This uses the same form (just with a checkbox for “subaward”). In my case, since this is a three-year grant, there will be six (6) separate “budgets”…one for each year for both myself, and the consortium partner. Woof.
  4. For the first budget I created a “simulation” in Numbers (the Mac spreadsheet) on the Mac which has the same format as the budget form. I’m going to try going native on the subsequent budgets, but if the data entry gets too hairy, I expect to create a simulation for the other five budgets too. (Later….didn’t end up doing this…now that I’ve sort of memorized what the form does and how works, I was confident enough to go commando as it were.)
  5. There is a budget justification (budget narrative) section which applies to the main budget, and a separate justification which applies to the subaward.
  6. Critical:When editing an attached form, you have to reimport or reattach it! In other words, specifying a file name doesn’t specify a pointer to the physical file; the file actually gets imported into to the form file.

If you are working within a consortium, it is helpful to have the consortium budgets entered first. These are done with the form shown in the lower left-hand corner, the R&R subaward budget form, which works similarly to the main budget form. You can even create the file for this and email it to your consortium partner to fill out and and return.

Totals from the consortium budget needs to be entered into the main budget. This is also the time where you can be sure to enforce rules such as the requirement that the maximum amount a subaward can be is 50% of the total amount for an SBIR grant. I sent the subaward budget back twice for revisions for this and similar restrictions.

All this goes considerably better when accompanied by music of your choice. Shawn Colvin was helpful.

Mac Synchronicity


In a moment of weakness, and just before the great upgrade for Mac laptops in October, I bought a 24″ IMac for my home workstation and an “old” cinema display to replace the Dell display I was using in our lab for the laptop. If I had to do it all over again… I would have waited two days (!) and possibly gotten an upgraded Mac laptop Pro, and one or two of the “new” cinema displays, and just moved the laptop between the two desks. As it is, I spend a fair amount of time worrying whether the laptop and IMac are synchronized and have to buy two copies of mac applications, IWork and Parallels. The new cinema displays include an iSight camera and are designed to integrate with the new laptops. 

For syncing eMail, I use the Mac Mail client and configure the accounts as IMAP accounts on my mail server.

For syncing files, I’ve subscribed to the Mac.Me service, ($99/year) and use IDisk. This works as well as an FTP server to my own FTP site; and the .me service will also synchronize ICal and the address book. Calendar entries are put in Google Calendar, which is then synched to the two ICal applications.

It all seems a little complicated and kludgy. But the upshot is by using my mail server, and Google calendar, I can always go to the web to see my eMail and appointments. Despite the uproar when Mac.me was introduced in the summer, so far it seems to work fine for what I need. 

I also took the opportunity to buy Adobe Creative Suite. They sent CS3, and of course, they have just released CS4. I’m not able to figure whether I’ll be able to upgrade to CS4 without paying. Lots of problems here, worth another discussion.

Grants.gov = Windows Only ?

Grants.gov is the federal government’s portal for online submission of federal grant applications. The National Institutes of Health have required applicants to submit their material online for the past two years or so. It has been a fairly rocky transition process, and I had hoped this time around things would go really smoothly.

I’m beginning to feel like Andy Rooney, “Have you ever really thought about the eraser on your pencil?” But the arrangements for completing grant applications for anyone running something other than Windows XP or below (Windows 98 is supported!) are nothing less than bizarre. When downloading the PureEdge viewer for Mac, I got this message.

The IBM Workplace Forms Viewer 2.5.1 Macintosh OS Special Edition cannot be installed on your computer.

There may be good news, however; according to this FAQ, Grants.Gov is transitioning away from the PureEdge viewer (aka IBM Workplace Forms Viewer) and moving toward Adobe forms which are cross-platform. Unfortunately, is looks like the NIH form that I’m using, the SF424, is PureEdge only. This means that that the only option is to use a Citrix client/server arrangement which turns my Mac into a Citrix terminal.

This is not going well. Among the warnings that they give is that you should really only use the Citrix terminal “off peak”… from 10PM to 10 AM, you should save every 20 minutes, and you should log off if you expect to be away for 20 minutes so you can give other users a chance. But, I’ve frozen up three times already, requiring a forced shutdown, and I just lost almost an hour of work, that for some reason did not get saved even though I deliberately attempted to save in a timely manner. What I think may be happening is that the connection is freezing considerably before the twenty minute limit….and there is no indication that has happened.

Since Windows Vista isn’t supported with the PureEdge form software, probably something to do with user rights, and since the SF424 form required by NIH isn’t available as an Adobe PDF form, I may resurrect a Windows XP machine, just so I can work on these forms without the added anxiety of technical problems. Its not as if 277 pages of instructions and a dozen separate multipart forms aren’t already nerve-racking enough.

Tech Friday: Bento database – First Look

Well, although I’ve managed to not worry about a database for several months, it finally happened and I need to keep track of my “opportunity matrix”, that is, a list of grants, their deadlines and status, the responsible contact person, partners, and whether I’ve created all the necessary collateral: prospectus, project summary, grant application, etc.

Typically this would be done in Access on a Windows machine, and I’ve got Access 2007 installed in my copy of Parallels so that I could run this up pretty quickly.

But, since I want to stay native on the Mac, I poked around at an old favorite, Filemaker Pro. One thing I’ve always thought about FMP is that is relatively expensive, even in an academic edition, especially if you want to share the data using a server. But FileMaker now offers a “home” version called Bento for about $50.00, and this looks promising for my app.

I’ve downloaded the 30 day trial, and installed without fuss. Installation consists of dragging the the file to the applications folder. I started playing with one of the templates, and after ten minutes or so, I’ve ended up with the following data entry screen:

Points of Interest:

  • Bento integrates with iCal, Mail and the Address book. You can eMail from a field which is designated an email field.
  • One to many relationships are supported. For example, you can have a task list for a project, with multiple tasks displayed for a single project. Some relations are already connected; for example the tasks list from iCal can be embedded into a Bento form
  • What one would consider to be a “database” in Access, or, loosely, a “group of tables” in another database program is called a “library” in Bento.
  • What might be called a “recordset” in Access, or a “cursor” in an SQL database is called a “collection” in Bento. Collections are much like playlists in iTunes, they are a subset of records from the entire library.

You can create your own drop down list, so I’ve attempted to capture the workflow in a “status” field which currently contains the following:

Seeking Partner: Since virtually all my projects are with others, this is the first step in any application project.

Developing Project

Application Submitted

Awaiting Feedback from Funder (may be redundant with the previous step)

Under Revision

Revised Submitted

Awarded

Rejected

I was curious about the name, but I think it refers to a Japanese bento box, which are the compartmented dishes for serving Japanese food.

Here’s a review of Bento in MacWorld. They point out a couple of limitations. For one thing, there is no way to export data in anything other than a comma delimited ASCII format. 

Another limitation is that the Bento data libraries are strictly single-user data files for a single machine. Anything larger needs to go into something like Filemaker. So, is is inadvisable to think that we could run a multi-user grant flow application using Bento. That’s OK. For $50.00 we can play with Bento for awhile and work out the data that we need to keep track of. We’ll be that much farther ahead when we’re looking to move up.

Mac Conversion: A progress report and some backsliding

The Spousal Unit always wonders why I upgrade my computer and operating system as frequently as I do. The fact is I think the world has enjoyed a pretty long run with Windows XP, wasn’t it out in 2001? She doesn’t sympathize with my explanation that sometimes I just get to the point that I’m tired of solving old problems, and I would just as soon solve new ones.

I bought a Macbook back in November. I was just coming off a bad experience with Microsoft Windows Vista. Partly I needed a new laptop…my Dell Inspiron keyboard was terrible, even after two replacements. So even thought the Inspiron is as great laptop, it was essentially useless for actual work, like word-processing. It was also heavy, but considering it could be a replacement for a desktop machine, I was willing to live with the weight.

So, an update on the Macbook, and my (non)-conversion to all things Mac.
The hardware is terrific. Even thought Apple upgraded the processor speed and hard drive capacity shortly after I bought mine, both have been more than adequate. What is really nice is that the weight is about half of the Inspiron. I can keep this machine in a LL Bean Sportsman Briefcase, along with the essential accessories and a leather-bound pad for note-taking. It has an excellent and usable keyboard. It has a track pad which mimics a single-button mouse. This is still a pain for us two-button mouse users, but it something you can live with if you want to go naked, or you can buy a Microsoft two-button notebook mouse to carry in the briefcase.

The Macbook plays nicely with external non-Apple peripherals. When you aren’t traveling, you can plug it into one of those Dell 19″ monitors from Staplesand work at 1440×900 resolution. If put the notebook to sleep, and then attach the external mouse, keyboard and monitor, you can restart it with the lid closed. Not as convenient as a docking station, which might be something to try next.

I’ve got the Macbook printing to an HP OfficeJet Pro K5400 ink-jet printer. Two of these printers have been working reliably and well for the past eighteen months under what I would call light duty. The printer has a USB interface. If you need to plug this in with a USB keyboard and USB mouse, then you need an external USB hub. I note that the docking station advertises five USB connections, which is another reason to consider it. Right now I’m using $14.95 keyboard from Logitech as the external keyboard. It is a little scary to realize that this dirt-cheap keyboard is superior to that of the Dell laptop keyboard.

Having all this paraphernalia connected to the Macbook detracts considerably from its sleek and smooth look. The Macbook is considerably more attractive running alone on a battery, connected wireless to the unseen network cloud. I’ve gotten well over three hours on the battery when running wirelessly which is fine. With the wireless connection enabled, the machine will sniff out the strongest local network connection and walk you through the connection process. If you have done this once already, the connection will be automatic the next time. It works fine on the university’s VPN with the addition of the Cisco VPN client which requires manually logging on.

Mac heads rave about the Mac software and operating system. I think the OS is fine. I don’t care really for the “Finder”, but that is partly because I haven’t really transitioned comfortably from the Windows “Explorer”. But I really like that fact that the OS on the Macbook is the same as the OS on all other Macs, and that it is available in one version only. It is an operating system instead of a demanding lifestyle. Apple doesn’t try to bludgeon its competition or its customers with its operating system. Really, can you imagine the Apple OS getting the same kind of treatment and publicity that Vista has gotten in the past two years? Upgrades and patches are a fraction of what comes out for Windows every week.

As for the backsliding, well, I installed Vista using the Parallels software. I did this strictly so that I could run OneNote, the one essential Microsoft program that doesn’t seem to have a Mac equivalent. Except for the onerous secondary startup process of booting Vista within Parallels and then starting OneNote, this seems to work fine. In fact, the Macbook would really make an ideal Windows laptop.

Other Mac Software

Safari is much maligned in the blogosphere, and it has crashed several times. I installed Firefox as an antidote, but it crashed even more, so I’m sticking with Safari on the Mac side of the house at the moment. IMail doesn’t really compete with Outlook, and I’ve had trouble trying to duplicate the series of folders that I have in Outlook with rules that automatically move new messages into specific folders. The calendar and address book have separate interfaces, and I guess I prefer how Outlook integrates all these into a single (albeit bloated) application.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that I’m really attached to this notebook. It is a fine combination of price and functionality with a sleek and comfortable design. I’m not sure if I would recommend it for an office, but for an individual’s private machine it is ideal. With the addition of some inexpensive peripherals, it doubles nicely as a desktop machine as well.

ITunes and Quicktime are pigs

A host of minor irritations:
1. Why does it take almost 15 minutes for iTunes to download and install an update?
2. Why does iTunes autoamatically install Quicktime?
3. Why are there Quicktime icons installed in the systray and on the desktop even though I never want them? Why does this happen every bloody time it updates?
4. Why does iTunes automatically use up about 80% of my processor capacity when playing a tune from the hard drive, thereby practically rendering my workstation useless if I want to listen to music at the same time I’m programming?

Just asking.