Entries Tagged as 'Mac'

Dynamic IP Filtering (Black Lists)

There are a number of reasons why you might want to use a dynamic black list of IP addresses to prevent your computer from connecting to or being connect to by users on the Internet who might not have your best interests at heart…

Below are three different dynamic IP filtering solutions for various operating systems; each of them are open source, have easy to use GUIs, and use the same filter list formats (and will download those lists from a URL or load them from a file).

You can read a great deal more about each program and the concepts of IP blocking on the web pages associated with each.

Originally posted 2010-08-17 02:00:55.

The new SPAMmer in town — Apple Computer, Inc

Last week I wanted to update my Mac Pro to the newest version of OS-X, it’s free after all…

So powered up my Mac, let it apply all the updates for the software I had on it; then I went to the App Store to download OS-X Version 10.9 “Mavericks”.

When I tried to use my Apple ID to log in, the system told me that it had been deactivated; when went through the rats maze of information I ended up needing to call Apple Support.

I got through in about two minutes, which was impressive until I was connected to a person who barely could speak intelligible English (if English was her native language I’d consider her near illiterate). After what seemed like an eternity of back and forth (the human version of the electronic rats maze I’d just been subjected to), she told me that she would not be able to re-activate my account… after that I ask to speak to her supervisor.

I don’t know how long the hold was, but it was long, and long enough to put us past the operating time for support — the phone clicked (I could tell a person had answered), and I was immediately disconnected.

Great service Apple — the only other places recently I’ve found websites as poorly done and customer service as clueless is HealthCare.gov…

Since service was now closed, and I couldn’t get another call through to Apple (I did schedule a call back for the next morning; which FYI — I never got, absolutely no record of any call attempt within an hour of the scheduled time) I decided to be creative with their recovery system.

Eventually I got a reset email (perhaps Apple’s recovery system takes a few hours to send an email — I don’t know — and I really don’t care).

I gained access to my account, changed my password as required (it indicated I couldn’t change my password to my previous password — so in fact it wasn’t that I had forgotten my credentials, the account really had been deactivated).

Finally, after several hours I was able to “purchase” Mavericks from the App Store (as an aside — what happened to the cat motif ) and start the install.  I just went to sleep, it was way later that I had expected to be up.

While it really miffed me that Apple decided to deactivate my account (no one could really tell me why) and made it so difficult for me to re-activate it (and threw a horrendous web site and clueless customer service in my face) but what really pissed me off is that Apple automatically subscribed me to their f’ing mailing lists.

WTF???

I don’t want $#!+ from Apple – unless you’re giving me something to get your f’ing marketing crap I don’t want it — and I (and the laws of the State of California — where Apple is based) would classify it as SPAM.

All I can say is Wall Street isn’t the only one who’s becoming disillusioned with Apple.

Originally posted 2013-10-29 16:00:04.

gOS – Nothing but ‘Net

Strike two — another candidate falls by the way side.  Don’t worry, this isn’t baseball so I’m not feeling the pressure of striking out (just yet).

gOS is a descent Linux distribution, and it works — in fact it works nicely.

The applications that come bundles are heavily dependent on Google; and it really doesn’t follow the Mac look and feel very completely (you would have to scab on a better theme and my feeling is that way too advanced for the target audience). 

gOS is also missing most every multimedia capability that an average user would want.  That’s allegedly to avoid legal issues in many countries, but the fact of the matter is if you can’t play a DVD or most video and audio streams a person is likely to find it’s just not an acceptable OS for the general public.

If you want something fairly basic that works when you install it and doesn’t require much fussing, but you’re not interested in multimedia this might be a reasonable choice; but you’re probably better off to stick with a distribution that doesn’t carry the weight of Ubuntu (something derived directly from Debian or built from scratch).

gOS

Originally posted 2010-01-05 01:00:48.

Video Encoding

A little over a year ago one of my friends with a Mac wanted to get into re-encoding video; I knew about the tools to do it on a PC, but none of the tools really had a OS-X port at that time, so I set out on a quest to find tools that could enable a person who didn’t know much about video encoding to accomplish it.

One of the first tools I stumbled on was HandBrake; it was an Open Source project leveraging off of a number of other Open Source products intended on creating a cross platform suite of tools for video encoding that was reasonably straight forward to use and produced reasonable good results.

Well, the version I tested was a near total failure… but the project showed promise and I keep tabs on it for quite some time.

Over the past year it’s steadily improved.  In fact, I’m probably being a little hard on it, since right after I played with an early version a much improved version was available that did work, and did allow my friend to accomplish what he wanted.

Last month HandBrake released a new version — a much improved version.

With Windows, OS-X, and Linux versions you can try out HandBrake for yourself and see the results.

I did two separate tests (and for some reason I always use the same two DVD titles — Saving Private Ryan, and Lord of the Rings — the reason is that both movies have a wide range of  video type from near still images to sweeping panoramic views to everything in motion (blowing up)…

I had two separate machines (a Q9300 and a Q9400 both with 8GB of DDR2) doing the encodes, and did both normal and high profiles; one test was H.264 into a MPEG4 container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track; the other was H.264 into a MKV container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track in addition to AC3 5.1 pass-through and Dolby Surround pass-through with [soft] subtitles.

For the high profiles: Lord of the Rings took a little over three hours; Saving Private Ryan took just under two and a half hours — so don’t get in a hurry, in fact, run it over night and don’t bother the computer(s).

The high profile achieved about a 2:1 reduction in size; the normal profile achieved about a 4:1 reduction in size.  The high profile’s video was stunning, the normal profile’s video was acceptable.  The AAC audio was acceptable; the AC3 5.1 was identical to the source, and in perfect sync.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your video in a MPEG4 or MKV container verses a DVD image… it’s much easier to catalog and play, and of course it’s smaller (well, you could keep the MPEG2-TS in a MKV and it would be identically sized, but I see little reason for that).

The downside of RIPping your DVDs is that you lose the navigation stream and the extra material.  Do you care???

HandBrake will read source material in just about any format imaginable (and in almost any container as well)… you can take a look at it’s capabilities and features online.

I’ve got some VCR capture streams in DV video that I’m encoding now — trying a few of the more advanced settings in HandBrake to see how it works (well, that’s not really testing HandBrake, that’s testing the H.264 encoder).  My expectation is that once I get the settings right, it will do a fine job; but with video captures you should never expect the first try to be the best (well, I’m never that lucky).

While HandBrake is very easy to use, your ability to get really good results from it is going to partially depend on how willing you are to learn a little about video re-encoding (which will require a little reading and a little experimentation).   But that said, NO product is going to magically just do the right thing in every case…

Overall I would say that HandBrake is one of the best video encoders you’re going to find, and you cannot beat the price — FREE!

Here’s some additional notes.

For Windows 7 you will want to download the DivX trial and just install the MKV splitter (nothing else is needed) so that Windows 7 can play media in a MKV container using it’s native CODECs.

With Windows Media Play 12 and Media Center I haven’t figured out how to switch audio streams; so make sure you encode with the audio stream you want as a default as the first stream.  With Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic Home Cinema it’s easy to select the audio stream.  Also, Windows Media Player will not render AC3 pass-through streams, it will just pass them through the SPDIF/Toslink to your receiver — so you won’t get any sound if you’re trying to play it on your PC.

Don’t delete any of your source material until you are certain that you are happy with the results; and you might want to backup your source material and keep it for six months or so just to be sure (yeah — I know it’s big; but a DVD will fit on a DVD).

Handbrake

Originally posted 2009-12-17 01:00:07.

USB Hard Drive Adapters

 Everyone’s making them and they come in really handy…

 Basically they’re devices you can use to access a bare hard drive.  Most of them supports PATA and SATA 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives (though some vendors require a bunch of adapters to do it).  The APRICORN DriveWire unit is clean and simple and priced around $30 (use a price search engine) or less.

I was so happy to find these units that I purchased two of them and gave away my previous ones made by another vendor.

If you’re going to routinely swap drives on and off a computer, and don’t want to spring for an external case you might be better off with a hard drive dock also available for about $30, but they don’t support PATA (PATA is not hot swapable).

If you’re going to use these units to upgrade a computer’s hard drive, remember Acronis TrueImage is a great tool (you can find shareware and OpenSource tools as well — but TrueImage is well worth the price and has many additional features that you’ll likely find useful).


APRICORN: DriveWire – Universal Hard Drive Adapter

Originally posted 2008-12-29 12:00:32.

Thinking Inside the VirtualBox

Sun Microsystems used to be a major player in the computer world; and I guess since Java belongs to Sun they are still a a fairly major force…

There’s a number of open source or free projects that Sun sponsors:

And, of course, it’s VirtualBox that has inspired this post.

VirtualBox 2.0.4 released on 24 October 2008, and from my initial experiences with it, it’s a contender.

A fairly mature x86/x64 virtualization framework for x86/x64 platforms.  VirtualBox runs on Windows, OS-X, Linux, and of course Solaris.

What sets it apart — well it’s to my knowledge the only fairly mature cross-platform virtualization framework that’s FREE on all platforms.

In general it doesn’t require hardware virtualization support with the exception that to run a x64 guest you must be on an x64 host with hardware virtualization.

Going through the list of features and playing with it there’s really nothing I couldn’t find that it didn’t do (and in playing with it, it seemed to work well)… the one feature that VirtualBox supports that none of it’s competitors had last time I looked (and that Hyper-V is sorely missing) is SATA (AHCI – Advanced Host Controller Interface) support… that provides much more efficient emulation of disk channel connections to the guest (and thus much better performance — and if you recall from my post on Hyper-V the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have SCSI boot support or AHCI support at all is what prevents me from moving to Hyper-V).

VirtualBox does apparently support VMWare virtual disks, but not Microsoft virtual disks (both of them provide open specifications, so my only conclusion is that Sun’s anti-Microsoft bias is at play which is sad since VirtualPC, Virtual Server, and Hyper-V account for a fairly substantial segment of the market, and a growing segment).

Like any product, you really need to carefully evaluate it based on your needs, but my feeling is that certainly for Mac users this might be the choice if you don’t want to by Parallels Desktop… and for Windows desktops this looks to be a very good.

NOTES:

On Windows if you want to use this on a server host machine (ie one that doesn’t require users to control the virtual machine) VirtualBox doesn’t really provide any interface for controlling machines in this manner; however, you can launch a VirtualBox machine from the command line, so you can have your server start up VirtualBox sessions at boot… though there are no tools provided by VirtualBox for managing running instances started this way.  My recommendation is that the VirtualBox team add a tool to manage and launch instances in a server environment.

On Windows (and other OSs) the way VirtualBox handles host networking (the default is a NAT’d network through the host… which could have some performance impact) is buy using the TUN/TAP driver.  Certainly they way Microsoft handles virtualization of the network adapter is far slicker, and I found that using host networking is not as reliable as NAT; hopefully this is an area where there will be some improvement.

Lastly, I haven’t run any actual performance tests head-to-head with  Parallels, VMWare, VirtualPC, and Virtual Server… but I can tell you that guests “feel” substantially faster running under VirtualBox (I was quite impressed — and surprised).


VirtualBox

Originally posted 2008-12-08 12:00:55.

Dreamlinux – because dreams can come true

I’ll have to echo what I said in my previous posts about not looking for a Mac clone, but rather an environment that was usable by ordinary people.

Dreamlinux has potential.

There are a number of visual elements about the interface that I don’t like, and don’t think they’re additive; but the bottom line is Dreamlinux works, it’s very stable, and it has virtually every component installed ready to use right out of the “box”.

Dreamlinux has a long way to go before I would give it a resounding vote of confidence — it’s still very much Linux, and Linux and all it’s geek appeal 0ozes out at every seam…

Geeks just don’t design software or systems to be usable — they haven’t learned that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!

But like I said, Dreamlinux has potential, and it certainly warrants a thorough examination and review.

Dreamlinux

Originally posted 2010-01-07 01:00:51.

HTML5

Both Apple (in an essay by Steve Jobs) and Microsoft (from the general manager of IE) have put a stake in the ground — the future of the web is in HTML5 and Adobe Flash is nothing more than a transitional technology that had no place in the future… of course with that, Microsoft has also indicated the IE9 won’t be supported by Windows XP, so it too obviously will have no place (in their minds) in the future.

I would agree that Flash has no place in the future; of course, I felt it had no place in the past either… but the glut of mediocre web designers and the masses need for eye candy seemed to give Flash a leg up in the past, and my bet is will continue to keep it alive long into the future.

Additionally, my guess is Windows XP will do just fine — after all, you can run Operate, FireFox, Chrome, and Safari today on that platform, and all of those will likely continue to develop for and support Windows XP in the future.  All of those are far better browsers than IE is today, and I suspect that’s a pretty safe bet for tomorrow.

In fact, Chrome, Opera, and Safari all support HTML5 today (and score 100/100 in the ACID3 tests)…

Apple on HTML5

Microsoft on HTML5

Originally posted 2010-05-05 02:00:07.

Virtulization, Virtulization, Virtulization

For a decade now I’ve been a fan of virtulization (of course, that’s partially predicated on understanding what virtualization is, and how it works — and it’s limitation).

For software developers it offers a large number of practical uses… but more and more the average computer user is discovering the benefits of using virtual machines.

In Windows 7 Microsoft has built the “Windows XP” compatibility feature on top of virtualization (which means to use it you’ll need a processor that supports hardware virtualization — so many low end computers and notebooks aren’t going to have the ability to use the XP compatability feature).

While Windows 7 might make running older programs a seamless, you can (of course) install another virtualization package and still run older software.

Which virtualization package to choose???

Well, for me it’s an easy choice…

  • Windows Server 2008 on machines that have hardware virtualization – HyperV
  • Windows 7 on machines that have hardware virtualization – Virtual PC
  • All others (Windows, OS-X, Linux) – Virtual Box

Now, the disclaimers… if I were running a commercial enterprise; and I didn’t want to spend the money to buy Windows Server 2008, Microsoft does offer Windows Server 2008 – Virtual Server Edition for no cost (you really need one Windows Server 2008 in order to effectively manage it — but you can install the tools on Vista if you really don’t have it in your budget to buy a single license).

And no, I wouldn’t choose Linux OR OS-X as the platform to run a commercial virtualization infrastructure on… simply because device support for modern hardware (and modern hardware is what you’re going to base a commercial virtualization infrastructure on if you’re serious) is unparalleled PERIOD.

If you’re running Vista or Vista 64 you may decide to user Virtual PC ( a better choice would be Virtual Server 2005 R2); but Virtual Box is being actively developed, and it’s hardware reference for virtualization is much more modern (and I feel a better choice).

To make it simple… the choice comes down to Microsoft HyperV derived technology or Virtual Box.  Perhaps if I were a *nix biggot I’d put Xen in the loop, but like with so many Linux centric projects there are TOO MANY distributions, and too many splinter efforts.

One last note; keep in mind that you need a license for any operating system that you run in a virtual environment.

Originally posted 2009-08-12 01:00:34.

MoneyDance

A little over a year ago Microsoft announced the end of Microsoft Money…

In the beginning I used a program written by a friend of mine to manage my check book (he actually marketed it), it was basic, and worked reasonably well.

Then I switch to Quicken… which never worked reasonably or well… but did the job (sort of like hammering a nail with a screwdriver rather than a hammer).  Obviously from what I’ve said I never liked it and never wanted to contemplate going back — financial management is about function, not form (or in Quicken’s case, pretty pictures, graphics, and selling as much of your information to anyone who will pay anything for it they can).

One of my friends used MoneyDance, and I’d pointed him that way when he decided gnucash just wasn’t what he wanted… so at the end of last year when I decided to make a decision to move to a financial management (tracking) software that was a little more current I paid for MoneyDance… and honestly, I’ve regretted it ever since.

The program basically works, and works on OS-X, Linux, and Windows… but one of the whole reasons to use financial management software is to be able to download transactions from your financial institutions and them just basically automatically match up with what you’ve entered and be done with balancing your records with your statement in a matter of a very few minutes…

And there in is the problem.

If you just let MoneyDance import and process those imported transactions you will have the biggest mess you’ve every seen — and the more accounts you have and the more transfers between accounts you do — well, let’s just say “exponential” growth only give you an idea of how bad it gets.

But, of course, like most “commercial” pieces of software, MoneyDance recently released a new version (I’m never in a hurry to upgrade to anything — even if I’m having minor problems I like to wait and make sure there’s no major regressions).  I did, however, install the update this weekend.

All I have to say is: are you F^(#ing kidding me… how is is possible to make an almost completely broken “feature” worse???

Now the transaction matching not only seems to do a worse job, but it’s on the side now rather than the bottom, so it obscures most of the (wrong) transaction it wants to match to so you have no idea what the F^(# it’s about to screw up…

My personal feeling is that you’re better of using crayons in a drawing book to track your financial records than wasting your time or money on MoneyDance… this has to be one of the absolute worst products I’ve ever seen, and based on the “features” that actually work you can stick with Microsoft Money, a 20 year old version of Quicken, or use a free program like gnucash… or a spreadsheet, because at the end of the day all you’re going to get with MoneyDance that works well enough to trust is a simple ledger.

Needless to say at the end of the year, I won’t be using MoneyDance, and if I can figure out how to get this years financial data out of it I will delete it (of course, this years data has very little value since to really “fix” the issues I’d have to go back and manually re-key everything).

Do before you reach for your credit card; consider saving your money and trying something else.

Originally posted 2011-08-08 02:00:00.