Recently in Mac Category

Which Mac Desktop; Mini, iMac or Pro?

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This week, while trying to edit some video I took with my iPhone 4, I was reminded of how out of date my Mac Mini G4 is. To be fair, my Mini hasn't been my main computing device for a few years now, for that I've been using a Lenovo ThinkPad R61i running Fedora. I have a few nitpicky issues with Fedora and traditionally Linux distributions are not super laptop focused. But, again, to be fair running Linux on a laptop today is nowhere as painful as it was say 10 or even 5 years ago.1 In any case, the Mini for the most part has become something of an iTunes dedicated machine, providing a home for my iPhone at night as well a place to manage tunes to listen to via AirTunes.

Which brings me back to my video issue, even before the new iPhone 4 my Mac was the machine I preferred to use to manage video and photos, along with music. The new phone of course adds lots of reasons why to continue and even expand using my Mac, but, alas, the G4 just isn't up to the challenge anymore. Of course, I knew this day was coming. In fact, given that Apple is no longer supporting OS X on the PowerPC chipset, I'm kind of surprised they haven't "gone native" with iTunes by now.

So the obvious, cheap and easy solution would be to replace my Mini with the 2010 model Apple released in June, right?


It is, but I recently purged a whole lot of papers from my desk in the home office and while there are still a few boxes laying about the place, the desk actually looks inviting again.2 The problem now isn't miscellaneous papers, it's miscellaneous computers: the Mac Mini, the Lenovo ThinkPad and a Dell Optiplex 320.

It just so happens that Apple this week completed their desktop updates for 2010. So now I'm wondering if I want to move on and do a little digital consolidating as well.

As I previously stated my Mac is my media station right now, my Lenovo is my workstation and the Dell is a home server running SuSE Linux and handles fileshare/backup, website development environment and virtual machine host duties.

So the main question I find myself asking is do I go whole hog with a Mac Pro or do I go for the high-end Quad Core 27'' iMac?

Nor, am I the only one apparently asking this question. John Gruber suggests this is "a really good question" when quoting a blog post by Marco Arment.

Interesting, Gruber stops there and doesn't note that in Arment's own post he comes to the conclusion that while the Pro is priced with a " $1200 premium" over a similarly configured iMac, the Pro has a higher resell value on Craigslist and eBay. More important to me,3 the Pro provides greater flexibility, since obviously, the Pro is not a consumer focused machine with a limited upgrade path.4


In Arment's own words, "while the Mac Pro costs a lot more up front, high-performance users also get a lot more value and versatility over its lifespan, which is likely to be much longer and end much more gracefully."

Wait did I just talk myself into getting a Mac Pro? Great, now how am I going to afford the damn thing?

1 Yes, really I tried using a version Linux on a laptop over 10 years ago...

2 And not just because the chair is no longer playing host to escapees

3 I hardly ever end up trying to resell any of my old computers. I either repurpose them, whole or in parts or store them for later.

4 Again that whole reuse/repurpose thing

Images Courtesy of Apple

This is About More Developers for the Mac

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In the wake of Apple's press event announcing the latest software update to its mobile platform due out this summer, John Gruber and other suggests that, with an interesting modification to the developer agreement, Apple is trying to increase the quality of applications created for their growing family of mobile multi-touch devices.

Specifically the new agreement, which developers must accept in order to use the latest development kit, bans the use of cross-platform compilers in creating applications for the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch.

That is to develop software for the upcoming iPhone OS release a developer has one of two options; use Apple's development environment, complete with compiler and programming interfaces to develop an application specifically designed for the iPhone/iPad/iPod or target multiple platforms by building a web app that can also run in the web browser, Safari.

However, the restriction goes, you cannot develop using, for example, Adobe's pending Flash update which is designed to enable the building of an application in one environment, Flash, and in turn, recompiled for multiple, "less powerful" platforms such as the Android or Windows smartphones.

Yet, as other commentators have noted, Apple already reserves the right to review apps submitted to their iTunes store and that hasn't stopped the store from getting bogged down with lots of crappy apps.

Thus, their logic goes, Apple is really trying to lock in developers. If you want to develop for the iPhone, which everyone has, you can only use our toolkit. Oh and you have to pay us $99 to get a copy of the developer kit. Oh and the software developer kit only runs on a Mac, which only we make, so that will be another $1,000. Mahhhaaaa, we're so evil....

But one Hacker News commentator, thought_alarm, I think is on the right track noting, "Few developers have any experience with Cocoa or Objective-C."


Compared to the number of Windows developers or web developers out there, few have developed using Cocoa or Objective-C given the Mac's market share compared to other computers. Few individuals or companies have looked to develop Mac-only or Mac specific applications.

But now the iPhone and iPad are the toast of the town. Everyone wants to get in while the getting is good. Naturally, Apple wants to capitalize on this.

Now, it just so happens that Xcode, the software development kit for the iPhone, is the exact same development kit Apple provides to Mac developers. Objective-C the exact same language. Cocoa Touch, a variation of the Cocoa framework for the Mac.

All these new iPhone developers have everything they need to develop for the Mac.

Apple isn't looking to lock in these iPhone developers, instead Apple is looking to open up the number of Apple developers out in the wild, be it iPhone, iPad, iPod or Mac.

See, a few years ago, when the iPod was growing in popularity, there was a lot of talk about the "halo effect." The idea that consumers, who for whatever reason had ignored Apple and the Mac, but now wanted an iPod, would in turn take a second look at Apple when looking for their next computer purchase.

By all accounts the halo effect is real. While the PC industry has been in the dumps during the recent recession, Apple has sold record numbers of Macs.

But the Mac still doesn't command the market to demand individual developer's attention. The iPhone, however does. 

By getting developers to use only Apple's software development kit for the iPhone, Apple gets a chance to say "See how easy that was to develop for the iPhone? Now just imagine what you could do for the Mac! You already have everything you need to write a killer Mac application. Go on, we dare you!"

The only other option, developing a web application, still works overall in Apple's favor. Since the framework for Safari on the iPhone, Webkit, is the same that drives the Safari web browser on the Mac.

In other words, Apple is looking to grab the attention of developers, who for whatever reason had ignored Apple and the Mac, but now want to develop for the iPhone/iPad/iPod, and in turn might take a second look at the Mac when looking at their next software project.

Vid of the Day

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If you spent your time while watching the above "music video" trying to name all of the various software applications on that Mac instead of watching the lovely lady, you probably need to get out more.

Yes, I was playing "name that app" the first time I watched it, but I'm married....;-)

Via Thought Palace

Apple Trifecta

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Zoomshare On Your iPhone?
Apple has been quite busy since June's release of the iPhone. The latest news being that yes Virginia, there indeed is a software developer kit (SDK) to write iPhone specific applications with and it will be released to the public for third party developers in February.

Why the delay? Well Apple originally stated that no SDK would be released for AT&T's fears of network abuse from malicious software writers targeting the iPhone platform for their trojans, viruses, and worms. A legitimate concern, but a few developers didn't buy it, noting that AT&T already allows other smartphones, such as those running Palm and Windows Mobile, on its network, each of which, with their own SDKs, opens the AT&T network to possible attack.

Did Apple have a change of heart? Doubtful, from the original Apple II to the iPhone, Apple has a long enough history to know that third party software developers are important to the success of any computing platform. The delay of course was simply about priorities. Now that the iPhone is out the door, the iPod line has been updated and the latest version of Mac OS X (more on Leopard in a bit) is shipping Apple has the manpower to polish off the SDK focusing, you guessed it, on protecting "iPhone users from viruses, malware [and] privacy attacks."

What, you might be thinking, does this really have to do with Zoomshare? Well given the iPhone's "rich Internet capabilities" anyone with an iPhone can already access and/or manage a Zoomshare site on the go. Moreover, in theory, some of the more modular features, such as Zoomshare Widgets, can be used sans website.

However, even via iPhone's Safari web browser some features won't translate well, if at all. Zoomshare wasn't designed with mobile computing in mind, let alone around the iPhone's unique Multitouch abilities. With an SDK, the possibilities open up a bit more. We've already batted around a few interesting ideas here in our office.

Does this mean Zoomshare is coming soon to an iPhone near you? I really can't say. After all the SDK is still a few months off and while Apple has sold 1.4 million iPhones already the iPhone market is still in its infancy. Apple has a stated goal of selling 10 million by the end of 2008, which may or may not happen. It took Apple five and a half years to sell as many iPods. On the plus side any iPhone developed application will also work on the new iPod touch.

Only time will tell.

We Are From France
Speaking of the iPhone, it seems my guesstimate of a European sold iPhone working with an American number from an American cell phone provider other than AT&T was off by one country. If you recall I speculated that the iPhone about to go on sale in the German market via Deutsch Telekom's cell phone subsidiary might work just fine in the USA given a SIM from T-Mobile. Why? Because Deutsch Telekom's cell phone division is in fact, T-Mobile.

While it might not be that easy it seems it might not matter. See the original rumor of the European iPhone release included three cell phone providers for three specific European markets, T-Mobile in Germany, O2 in the UK and Orange in France. Yet when official word came from Apple and its European partners Orange was suspiciously missing. Only later did Apple and Orange make the partnership official, announcing iPhones in France by the end of November a few weeks after the German and UK release date.

The delay? Rumors have the profit sharing agreement between the two companies holding up the official announcement and release, but a few observers have pointed out that French law requires cell phones to be unlockable. Now, I don't know French law, let alone the specific law(s) in question. For all I know to comply with it Orange simply needs to sell one and only one unlocked iPhone to Joe Six-Pack (in France would that be Jean-Pierre Bordeaux?) and be in compliance. But it does open up the possibility of unlocked iPhones from France making their way Stateside.

But as I noted previously that iPhone, given Euro-to-Dollar conversion, oversea shipping costs and whatnot, would be a bit expense. More than even the overpriced eBay market currently prices "unlocked" iPhones at. Guess only time will tell.

Last, But Not Least, OS X
Finally, the original impetuous for today's post, the latest, greatest version of OS X goes on sale today.

While I'm not lining up at an Apple Store today, alas payday isn't until the end of the month, I will be picking up a copy for my home and work Macs in the coming week. The features I can't wait to put to use? Time Machine and Spaces.

Time Machine, while practical, just looks slick. To visually go back to a previous saved computing state and recover a lost or damaged file in a heartbeat is a must have in my book. Sure, I'm a slouch when it comes to keeping files around and given how cheap disk space is these days, it's quite easy to keep stuff around, just in case. But really backing up important files only gets my attention when I run out of local disk space and need to offload recently unused files to a secondary location. Every now and then I'll run into trouble, now I don't have to worry as much.

Of course, Time Machine still needs a secondary disk to save previous versions on, but I already have that, its just the actually doing that can be a bit more infrequent than it should be. But what I'm really hoping for is the ability to use Time Machine with an iPod in disk mode or a remote fileshare. While, I'd still want a copy that can't get lost or stolen, like one stored on my home build half-a-terabyte RAID server, I do like the idea of being able to have a mobile backup with me as I go. Hopefully both options are possible.

Initial reviews note that yes, you can backup to a remote system, but that remote system must also be running 10.5 - Leopard and the file share must be via AFP

I've blogged else where about virtual desktop setups and some of the issues with third-party options for them on OS X. Even with those problems I love virtual desktops and can't work with out them. Sure OS X has Expose among other features for dealing with desktop clutter, but for organizing application windows based on function or task, nothing in my mind beats virtual desktops. Given how common they are in other Unix-centric windowing environments, I remember impressing a friend of mine with fancy desktop transitions on a Linux workstation when I worked at Red Hat a few years ago, I'm kind of surprise its taken this long for builtin support to appear in the Mac world.

Does this mean we know of at least two new features for the next release of Windows; support for automatic backups and virtual desktops? I suppose only time will tell.

~~~ Reddit ~~~ Digg ~~~

Apple Hacking For Fun and Profit

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The Preface

I'm sure some one will read this post and comment, well that's not innovative, using an Apple II as a 'dumb' terminal to a Mac. My answer is that this solution is not meant to be original or even 'modern'. The steps outline here is about practicality - with perhaps a sense of style, long standing appreciation for Apple hardware and fun at discovering or rediscovering some useful computing setups. There are of course plenty of wild and crazy projects people have undertaken with 'out-dated' hardware, but in the end are those projects 'useful'? Setting up an Apple II as a terminal might not be useful to everyone, but what I've outlined below is an evolution of a project I've been thinking about from sometime, and the obvious usefulness in a working environment just finally caught up with me.

One other note, I've had succeeded in setting up an un-enhanced Apple IIe and an Apple IIc in the manner described below. In theory any Apple II should work, but I make no promises that the process is the same, or is even possible on all compatible Apple IIs.

The Necessity
It's a well-regarded 'fact' that electronic devices are outdated even before the packaging has been completely removed. This fact might explain why the Apple II computing platform's 30th birthday this month has come with little fanfare (or perhaps everyone is just overly stimulated waiting for the iPhone?) Yet, the Apple II family of computers can be just as useful today even if they are no longer considered 'state-of-the-art'.

The first Apple II computer, the successor to Apple's first computer, was introduced to the world in April of 1977, yet it didn't go on sale until June, hence its June 5th birthday. The platform's openness and ubiquity help carry it even in today's world of 'modern' computing platforms. For example, take a look at my current office setup, one Mac mini, one Apple IIc. If you look closely enough, you'll see that IIc is more than decoration, it is running and is in fact used everyday.

A nice, functional workspace

For those new to this blog, I work as a web developer for zoomshare. In this capacity I can have any number of different applications running at the same time. Usual suspects include Text Wrangler, Safari, Internet Explorer (versions 6 and 7 via Parallels), Firefox, Terminal, iTunes and Mail. With those applications and more, depending on what I'm working on, my screen can get pretty cluttered, pretty fast. Over the years there have been many 'solutions' to this issue, bigger screen, multi-screen or virtual screen (a.k.a. virtual desktops) setups.

Bigger screens and multi-screen setups are fancy (and in vogue these days), but on the Mac side of things you have to plunk down serious money, not something many budget conscious businesses will spend out of hand. Worst yet these options don't really solve the problem but lessen it but trying to add more 'real estate' to the computing desktop. Virtual desktops are a better solution since they skip the hardware display's limit all together. With virtual desktops any number of desktop workspaces can be created. But until Spaces in OS X 10.5 is released, its not supported by default on the Mac platform and third party apps can get a bit messy, with dialog boxes and toolbars getting 'lost' from their application's main window.

So virtual desktops is workable, but not perfect. What I need is the ability to off-load some of windows, ones that need to be visible even for a quick glance, as needed, an IRC conversation or the output of a running web process, for example. Taking a looking at the applications I depend on I see the beginnings of an idea. Terminal is an interesting application, a piece of software that's mimicking what use to be a hardware function. Why can't it be a hardware function again or at least why can't it be running on a dedicated piece of cheap, reliable hardware? Enter the Apple II platform and the nice, compact IIc.

The Hardware
While the IIc is a 'closed' system, unlike other Apple IIs it does include two built in serial ports, one for a printer and one for a modem. A compatible Super Serial Card drives both of these serial ports. The Super Serial Card, introduced in 1981, became the main stay of serial cards from Apple since it replaced the need for two individual cards for a printer and modem. Another eccentricity of the IIc is the fact that instead of a standard RS-232 port the two serial ports are 5-pin DIN connectors, which will thus require an adaptor cable from the DIN connector to the more standard, 9 pin, RS-232 connector.

5 pin DIN to RS-232

RS-232 Null Modem

Keyspan USB to RS-232

On the Mac side of things, the mini includes a collection of Firewire and USB ports. Since USB is just a glorified serial port a USB to RS-232 adaptor does the trick for the task at hand. All that remains is to connect everything, plugging in the DIN cable into the IIc's modem port the USB into a free USB port on the mini and the two RS-232 adaptor ends via a null modem, which is simply a RS-232 cable wherein the transmit and receive lines are crossed.

The Software
First step is to install the drivers on the mini for the USB-Serial adaptor. At the time I started this project, I had to go fishing on Keyspan's website for Intel compiled drivers, so if at first you don't succeed try, try again. Once the driver is installed I opened up Terminal a did the following:

$ cd /dev
$ ls tty.*

The tty.KeySerial1 and/or tty.USA19H5d1P1.1 shows I've successfully completed the first step.

If you happen to have an old copy of a telecommunication software for the Apple II that supports vt100 terminal emulation then your all set software-wise. If not, the next step is to download a copy of Virtual II for the mini, which is what I had to do.

Virtual II, by Gerard Putter, emulates an Apple ][, ][+ or //e on the Mac OS X platform. Better yet the download also includes A2V2 (a Mac program) and ADT (Apple II program) that allows for the transferring of disk images of Apple II software to and from via the newly created serial connection. Moreover, the documentation for setting up a serial connection and transferring disk images that's supplied with A2V2 is fantastic, I relied on it quite heavily while first researching and attempting this little project.

After downloading A2V2 I first needed to follow the documentation to transfer a copy of ADT, Apple Disk Transfer, software to the Apple II. It also makes a nice first test to verify the serial connection. With ADT up the next item on the agenda is to download and transfer a communication program to the IIc. I tried a number of different software titles, even purchased PROTerm 3 off of eBay, but after a bit of fits and starts with different titles, I've finally settled on Modem.MGR.

Modem.MGR is solid communications program that will run on the II+, IIe, IIc and IIgs and, obviously, supports a wide-range of hardware configurations. It supports a number of different functions, including vt100 (actually vt220) emulation and is available for DOS 3.3 and ProDOS. Best of all Modem.MGR is Freeware, so I don't have to worry about infringing on any old (but still enforceable) copyrights. All that flexibility comes at a cost given the limitations of the Apple II platform in terms of memory, which means a bit of upfront work to configure Modem.MGR for the Apple II in question.

With the disk transfer completed I had three floppies hanging around for Modem.MGR a Installation, Utilities and Work disk. The first step towards getting Modem.MGR up and running is to insert and boot up the Installation disk. When ready Modem.MGR will ask for the Work disk, what will be the main application disk, to be installed and read from. Once back to the Installation disk its time to configure the app. For the IIc this means selecting the Apple // 80 column (menu option 2) video driver and selecting the Non-smart modem (menu option 10) option for the modem. One can review the selections if needed, but really the next step is to save the configuration back onto the Work disk.

When Modem.MGR is booted and loaded from the Work disk it displays a listing of commands that can be accessed by first pressing the 'ESC' key and then pressing the letter (on the left-hand side of the colon) that corresponds to the command one wishes to enter. At any time, if I'm not sure which letter/command combo I wish to use I can simply press the 'ESC' key and Shift-? to redisplay the complete list.

The first two steps in Modem.MGR is to set the modem baud rate, i.e. the connection speed and the parity for the data connection, when to stop and verify bits sent across the connection. The connection speed, ESC-M, can be set to one's liking, up to 19200 baud. I've settled at 1200 baud, because I like the retro feel of working at that speed and, to be perfectly honest, I don't think the IIc's display can keep up with the higher speed. The parity, ESC-J, is 8+1+None.

Next stop in Modem.MGR is to startup the vt220 terminal emulation. The key combination for this is ESC-: (that's a colon if your not sure) and then 'V' for loading the vt220 terminal emulation module.

Within everything ready on the IIc side of things, its time to take a look at the mini; in theory all that needs to be done to enable the mini is to get ttys to run getty, i.e. initialize the relevant serial port and invoke the login ability at the command-line. To enable getty requires the following line in the ttys configuration file at /etc/ttys:

tty.KeySerial1 "/usr/libexec/getty std.1200" vt100 on local secure

The first line item is the USB adaptor; the second line item is the getty app location along with the terminal type and baud rate. The last set of items include additional information about the terminal, what type of emulation, if it's a local connection and if its secured such as to allow root logins from. With a reboot to reload ttys all will be golden, a login prompt will appear on the IIc and one is off to the races, happy and carefree.

Yet something seems off. I've tried this numerous times, but I always end up with the same result, nothing, nada, zilch. As far as I can tell there seems to be a low-level conflict that hangs up the connection. I assume its either getty or USB driver(s). If I try to access the connection, say using A2V2 I get a device busy error. The USB adaptor from Keyspan has a green led that flashes when data is being transmitted. When getty is running via ttys it shows a solid green light, like its thinking, but it knows not what. Worst yet if I try shutting down or restarting the mini the machine will hang, obviously waiting for the USB port to finish up so it can get on with shutting down. The only way around all of this this is a hard rest, removal or commenting out the relevant line from /etc/ttys and another hard reset.

So close and yet so far....

I kept fooling around with options for ttys, wondering that was the cause, but to no luck. Being able to transfer disk images shows that the serial connection worked, so that isn't the issue. After some more futzing, I realized that if I couldn't get the setup exactly right, the next best thing would be to approximate it. That, I could do with GNU screen. screen is quite a handy swiss army knife type computer tool. At its simplest level it's a virtual desktop for the 'old-style' command line. screen however has all kind of features, including the ability to execute commands within a screen session, detach from a session leaving the executing command running and the ability to connect to a specified ttys device. Best of all everything screen does is in the standard vt100 terminal emulation mode by default.

To get everything going I startup Terminal on the mini and make sure the terminal windows is 80x24 (the screen resolution of the IIc). screen will adapt itself to this setting when launched. At the command line prompt the next set is to run screen on the serial connection:

$ screen /dev/tty.KeySerial1 1200

Then within screen its time to execute getty. The key combo in screen is Control-A and then Shift-: (colon again) and then to type is at the colon:

exec ::: /usr/libexec/getty std.1200

The three colons tell screen how to handle standard in, out and error, to connect the I/O of the serial device to the process, making screen a bridge between the running process, getty and Modem.MGR on the IIc. One can then login via the IIc and detach and close Terminal on the mini.

The Conclusion
Success, less windows on the mini, less clutter on the desktop and yet a handy terminal (and a retro stylish one at that) is up and running.

Two Loves

Now, I have to admit, running a virtual terminal program on the mini to get another terminal manager program to commutate to a third piece of terminal emulation software, just so the IIc can act as a 'dumb' terminal is a bit awkward. But hacking together a solution around a restrictive bug can lead one down a long and winding path. However, there is an advantage to this solution that I hadn't anticipated at the time, if I need to cut and paste something from the terminal to lookup, a URL posted on IRC or an error message from a process log, I can reattach to the screen process on the mini, cut and paste the info I need into Safari, and detach to keep the desktop a little less funky. Not to shabby, if you ask me.

In some areas, such as setting up a serial connection between a Mac or even a PC, and a Apple II, there is a lot of information and programs floating around on the 'net (I've adding links as needed within this post obviously). On the other hand, setting up a dumb terminal to a Mac, or dealing with conflicting ttys connections, there seems very little. Hopefully the information posted here will be a helpful in between for anyone else looking to attempt the same. And who knows, maybe someone out there has the information I'm missing to setup a cleaner, simpler connection. Or better yet I might end up at Apple, fixing the bug myself ;-)

Update: Well I knew a few people would be interested in this little project, but it seems I've started a little mini-fad. As a couple of comments below point out. Here are just a few of the more interesting followup posts:

Apple II Forever!

sep 17 05

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With several others in key roles, I've been participating in the development of a new add on feature for Apple's instant messaging client, iChat AV. After several months of development, FlavorSofa, a service that adds the ability to charge others for your time while communicating online, is open and ready for the public at large. Check it out.

jan 07 02

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Some more video clips only, this time from Steve Jobs' keynote at the Macworld Conference & Expo.

Jobs' Intro

Overview of iPhoto

Clip of the new iMac (Clip One)

Clip of the new iMac (Clip Two)

jul 31 01

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Hmm, what a nice snapshot of my Ti PB G4 desktop.

jul 16 01

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On the lighter side of computers, ResExcellence posted my little About this Mac replacement image.

About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.


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