Macintosh

Mac OS X 10.9 Quick Tip: Terminal Command to Create a Bootable USB Install Drive

terminal_iconWhen Apple released Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks (still hate that name, but I never cared for the cats either), they changed the workaround we were using to manually build bootable thumb drives.  But as it turns out, there is now a lengthy Terminal command will literally build a bootable USB drive for you.

In its simplest form, just copy and paste this command into your Mac’s Terminal window and hit return.  You will be prompted to enter your administrator password in order to write to the USB drive.  Please keep in mind that this command will erase the USB drive that is attached to your computer if it is named USB8GB.  If you’re using a USB drive with a different name, you will need to either rename the drive or modify this command.
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ShareMouse: The Software KVM That Works

sharemouse_iconMac users looking for a software solution that allows them to share a single keyboard and mouse with multiple computers have had a likely experienced a great deal of heartache over the years.  Synergy has been around for a long time but it’s always been a bag of hurt.  It’s cross-platform but not user-friendly, let alone Mac-like.  If you can get it to work you should count yourself lucky.  But don’t worry, your luck won’t last long.  One day that setup will just stop working and then the real pain begins.  The problems with Synergy were what made me a big fan of a solution called Teleport.  At one time it was a great solution and far easier than Synergy to configure.  But then the Mac OS was updated and updated again.  And either the developers of Teleport weren’t interested in maintaining support or they just weren’t up to the challenge.  Teleport hasn’t worked properly for me in years!  Looking at the support forum and searching Google quickly proved I wasn’t the only one having trouble.

So where does that leave us?  If you’re a computer user who has more than one computer on your desk, in a perfect world, all of those machines could be controlled using a single keyboard and mouse.  For example, I have a Mac Mini with 2 monitors attached.  But I frequently need to use my MacBook Pro at the same desk.  I want to control both the Mac Mini and the MacBook Pro from the same keyboard and mouse.  And while Synergy and Teleport have either proven unreliable or outright failures, an alternative software solution called ShareMouse, thankfully, has proven an extremely viable solution.
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Roll Your Own Fusion Drive: Benchmarks

fusion_drive_iconApple’s new so-called Fusion Drive technology is interesting.  The cost of SSD drives is falling but not at a rate that consumers (or apparently Apple) would like.  To that end, Apple engineers have come up with a novel solution that is proving to be a surprisingly effective middle-ground initiative.  A Fusion Drive is comprised of two separate drive mechanisms.  The first is an SSD drive 128GB or greater.  The second drive is a conventional spinning hard drive, either 5400rpm or 7200rpm, now typically referred to as an HDD.  The HDD can be pretty much any size, currently all the way up to 3TB.

What turns these two disparate drives into a Fusion Drive is the way they’re formatted.  Apple’s Core Storage API includes the ability to effectively stripe the two drives into a single logical volume.  Think of the single volume as a hybrid: the best parts of SSD (fast, fast, fast) with the best parts of the HDD (lots of cheap space).  But what makes the Fusion Drive truly remarkable is what happens to the data on the drive automatically and invisibly once formatting is complete.  Once the SSD and the HDD have been merged into a single Fusion Drive, the Mac OS becomes responsible for distributing the data across the two separate drive mechanisms.  It does this allocation with intelligence.   The most used data files, or files that benefit most from faster access times are stored on the SSD.  Larger or lesser used files are stored on the HDD’s spinning platters.  The idea being that the files on the SSD can be accessed more quickly, having vastly superior read and write times.
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VPNGate.net: The Free VPN Project and What it Means

There was a fascinating story on TorrentFreak.com today extolling the virtues of VPNGate.net.  It’s a project brought to us by the Graduate School of University of Tsukuba, Japan.  Essentially, it offers free VPN access to anyone in need.  The goal is to subvert censorship in the digital age.  For example, Iran and China block access to YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.  But internet users in those geographic areas can bypass their nations network filters by configuring their computers to route all traffic through an internationally based Virtual Private Network, or VPN.  For example, a Chinese college student could configure his laptop to use a VPN server in Japan.  When that student’s VPN connection is properly configured, all network access will be tunneled though that VPN connection.  Any web site he visits won’t show his Chinese ISP’s IP address in the logs.  The logs will records the IP address of the VPN server in Japan.

At its most altruistic level, this is a tool of free speech.  VPNGate.net offers a range of VPN server locations based in the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, Italy, Czech Republic, and the UK.  You literally select a desired VPN end point, configure your computer, and off you go!  The project offers a wide range of VPN protocols as well.  The tried and true L2TP/IPsec is supported, as is OpenVPN, as well as SSL-VPN.  This means just about any personal computing device can use the service: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android.  The project’s web site has documentation explaining how to configure each operating system.

First and foremost, proper configuration of the VPN tunnel is absolutely critical.  And I want to draw special attention to this point since many of the people who use VPN access on a regular basis don’t consider this.  The computers VPN configuration has an option to “send all traffic over VPN connection.”  Your OS might phrase it slightly different, but this is a critical setting.  If you want to obscure your digital traffic to the greatest possible extent, this option must be engaged.  If it is not, only some traffic will route over the VPN.  The rest of the traffic will flow out through your internet connection in a traditional manner and it is neither wrapped in encryption nor routed through the the international network.
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Google Reader to Shutdown, Feedly a Real Contender

feedly_logo_iconLast nights announcement that Google Reader would be shutdown as of July 1st, 2013 was a crushing blow to some.  The web-based RSS reader app was a vital part of the daily work flow for many.  For many— though, apparently, not enough.  Google is pulling the plug.

This marks the first major public facing project Google is disbanding after investing significant time and resources over the course of several years.  Certainly some Reader users would ague that Reader’s development has been largely nonexistent for some time.  Several UI bugs were left to bother users for far too long.  All the same, the core functionality remained and allowed us all to rely on the service.  But no more.

The death of Google Reader will create a vacuum.  Though the demise of Reader was only announced last night, some are already calling it the deathblow for RSS.  Personally I think that’s sensationalistic and inaccurate   RSS has become a vital part of the web.  It’s become a core facility for the dissemination of information across the internet.   Perhaps not in a public facing fashion as the average internet user still doesn’t understand what RSS is or what it does, but it’s functionality is still critical to behind the scenes operations.  The most obvious of which is podcasting.  Right now, RSS cannot dry up entirely because podcasting is 100% reliant on it for subscription based distribution.
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Bad Apple: The iPhone No Longer Has the Advantage

It pains me, truly, but Apple has a real problem on its hands.  That problem is called Android.  Apple’s iPhone has essentially become the same 800 pound gorilla that Microsoft was in the 1990′s: it achieved critical mass and has become slow to adapt as a result.  While Google iterate quickly with every release of the Android operating system, Apple’s iPhone is now evolving slowly in comparison.  And that inability to evolve is costing Apple.

Software is only half of the what it takes to win.  Apple still has a great thing going with the iOS.  It remains the gold standard.  It’s the mobile operating system one can hand to a novice with confidence that they can find their way alone.  People who are not accustomed or comfortable with traditional computers can grok the iOS because it has a uniform user interface and controls which remain consistent from one app to the next.  This is an area where Android is, and always has been, lacking.  But every version of Android improves dramatically.  Apple needs to pay more attention to that threat.

The significant threat to Apple’s dominance, at the moment, is the hardware running the Android operating system.  Because, to put it plainly, some of the latest Android phones are down right sexy.  They have large, high quality screens and very fast, multi-core processors.  Hardware development is advancing quickly— far faster than Apple can counter.  And, for whatever reason, Apple seems strangely reluctant to make even the most obvious hardware updates to offset their deficiency.
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802.11g vs 802.11n and the iPad: What Does it Really Mean?

wireless_iconMany of us have wireless devices that we connect to wi-fi networks.  Those wi-fi networks then connect to the internet via a broadband connection of some kind.  But many people fail to realize that the speed of their wi-fi is often much slower than the speed of their internet connection.  The truth is, if you’re just tooling around the web, surfing Facebook, or updating Twitter, that speed won’t matter.  But if you’re playing games or download files, you might be missing out!

For maximum performance and reliability, a wired connection is king.  Wireless is susceptible to interference from cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, even that FBI field van sitting down the street.  It’s almost impossible to tell what might be wreaking havoc with your wireless signal at any given point.  So, if you have the option, go for a wired connection if you have the opertunity.  Especially if you’re running a server of some sort in the house.  Particularly media servers, and devices serving up high bandwidth audio or video files.  Wi-fi networks are only half duplex, meaning data is either sent or received at any given time.   Wired networks are full duplex meaning that the network line sends data while at the same time receiving it.  When it comes to network throughput there is no question, full duplex is your ultimate goal.
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Apple’s Fusion Drive, Can You Roll Your Own?

Apple’s new Fusion Drive technology sounds interesting.  If you go strictly by the name and the brief description of the technology, you might be under the impression that Apple is using those old hybrid drives that never really took off.  The ones that were a conventional spinning disc with a SSD portion built into the same drive mechanism.  It was supposed to enhance the performance of the HDD but not require the price tag of the SSD.  Nice theory, but the drives never took off.  But, good news!  Apple’s Fusion Drive is something entirely different.

Apple’s Fusion Drive is a hardware/software solution that takes 2 disparate drive mechanisms inside the Mac and merges them together at an OS level.  The SSD is used for the OS, applications, and the most frequently used data.  Data that is not speed sensitive or frequently accessed is stored on the HDD.  But the creative bit that Apple has here, the “secret sause,” is that the operating system moves this data between the drives automatically.  No user intervention required.  In fact, even though there are two separate drives in the Mac, the user only sees one logical partition.
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Which is Faster, Parallels Desktop 8 or VMware Fusion 5?

parallels_logoWith very recent updates from both VMWare and Parallels, the virtualization arms race is once again heating up on the Macintosh.  VMWare recently released VMWare Fusion 5 while Parallels just trotted out the release of Parallels Desktop 8.  Both products are fully Mountain Lion compatible (Mac OS X 10.8.x), and both support that latest from Microsoft: the still iffy Windows 8.

The support for Mountain Lion is a big deal with this update.  Both products had issues with OS X 10.8 in their prior release though each had offered patches to resolve some of the problems.  But the latest versions of both products now support Notification Center, so alert message from the VM will be tucked away in the corner of the Mac’s screen for easy reference.  Both packages offer support for Launchpad making it possible to have Windows based apps interspersed with Mac applications in the Mac Launchpad.  And both make it possible to dictate text into Windows based applications using Mountain Lion’s built-in voice dictation functionality.
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Solid State Hard Drives (SSD): You Have to See it to Believe It

I visited my local Apple retail store over the weekend and left with the crushing urge to spread the word about solid state hard drives (SSD from here on).  I went into the store to have the guys at the Genius Bar take a look at the battery on my MacBook Pro.  The battery had developed a bulge and was actually causing the back panel on my laptop to bend and twist.  The good news is that they guys at the Genius Bar took one look at the issue and promptly swapped out my battery with a brand new one at no charge.  I call that truly great customer service since my MacBook Pro was no longer under warranty.

But I digress.  While I was talking with two technicians at the Genius Bar, I mentioned that I had installed an SSD as my boot drive.  This really got their attention.  One of them politely asked if I would mind firing up the laptop so he could have a look.  Like many of us, he had read blurbs online indicating that an SSD could breath new life into an aging laptop.  Both gentlemen noted that they had each been considering the SSD option for their older MacBooks.  Obviously they both had the chance to play with the SSD powered MacBook Air’s, but they understood there was a big difference between the latest hardware and what they were running at home.
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