Happy New Year!

And so another fine year begins. We’ve got Vista around the corner and Leopard not to far off. Personally, I’m finding it hard to get excited about Vista. I’m actually not too excited about Leopard either, even though it’ll have a bigger impact on me.

What I am looking forward to is digging into some OS X Utilities and Digital Photography apps like IPhoto and Aperture. A new iMac has been added to the Quest and will surely help along the trail.

So Happy New Year. May your year be free of blue screens, kernal panics and their kin.

Stikkit

I came across Stikkit (www.stikkit.com) while listening to a bunch of podcasts over the long weekend. Unfortunately I don’t remember which one. Right now it’s in public beta and is free. They also claim they will always have a free version.

Stikkit is a very Web 2.0-ish website based around a concept similar to post it notes with a filing system. When a Stikkit note is posted the language in it is parsed. If it’s recognized as a meeting or a to-do it’s categorized as such and you’ll get the appropriate reminders. It will also maintain an address book when it recognizes and address.

Just like post it notes there aren’t any fields. It simply recognizes to-do’s, appointments, contacts and bookmarks then files them accordingly. Stikkits can also be tagged as a way to organize them.

There seems to be a lot of potential here. The last thing I need or want is another web based calendar/todo list. But this seems to be a great way to organize the clutter. I went there expecting to visit once to satisfy my curiosity but I stuck around and have started to use it to organize pieces of information and web sites I come across.

There’s a Stikkit “Bookmarklet” that creates a stikkit for the website currently being visited. I tended to use Google Notebook for this but Stikkit seems like a better solution.

I did have a problem with creating Stikkits via email. It works when I send from my GMail account but not my business account. In checking the forum I see I’m not the only one with this problem. The developers are active in the forums and do seem to be actively working to address problems.

Definitely worth checking out.

SearchMash – My New Search Tool

I’ve been using SearchMash (www.searchmash.com) for a week or so. It’s a nice clean ad-free search site. In addition to websites it returns images, blogs, Video and Wikipedia links. If you use Firefox you can add it to the search tool by selecting the dropdown in the tool and select Add SearchMash.

Google’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the site, but the terms of service make it clear it’s a Google offering. I’m not going to repeat it’s features here. Check it out, click the “Features” link on the main page.

The Mac Version of the BSOD

Well, I got the Mac version of the Windows Blue Screen of Death a little while ago. But in true Mac style it’s much better looking than the BSOD. No weird numbers or codes. A gray shadow comes over the screen and a nice message, in multiple languages, told me that the machine needs to be restarted by holding in the power button. (For those who want them, the weird number and codes can be viewed after the restart by selecting “report” when prompted.)

So what changed and what was I doing? That’s the scary part. I had powered it up just a couple hours before and hadn’t used many apps. The Firefox security update arrived shortly after power-up.. I was browsing to a site (my bank’s website, so frequently visited and not malicious). Since I was shutting down for the night not much else was running. ITunes had been running but had just been shut down and IPhoto was still running. No problem going to the site after the restart.

While I hate unexplained occurrences, better that than a problem with the Firefox update (or the OS X update from earlier in the week).

Computers, gotta love ’em.

Another Security Update – Mac OS X Security Update 2006-008

A second security update this week. This time for Mac OX X. Apple release Security Update 2006-008 which “improves security” of Quartz Composer and QuickTime for Java. The info on the update can be found at http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=61798.

It’s a small (2.7MB for PPC) download but it requires a restart.

Firefox 2 Updated

Firefox was updated on my Windows machine a little while ago. It’s version 2.0.0.1 and includes 8 security updates, five of which are listed as critical. Critical means code can be run or program’s installed with normal browsing. Here’s a list of what’s included: (http://www.mozilla.org/projects/security/known-vulnerabilities.html#firefox2.0.0.1)
The update hasn’t shown up on my Mac yet but it is for Mac and Linux in addition to Windows.

They’re Back

As previously mentioned, when Yahoo added my web hosting account to my regular Yahoo account all my e-mail aliases vanished and e-mail started bouncing. Well, today I noticed that they’re back.

But, they’re back in name only. I can see them, I can edit them, I can add them and I can delete them. But I can’t send to them. The mail bounces with a “the user does not have a yahoo.com account”. Even though I can pick an alias as a sending address from the list Yahoo gives me when I go to send the mail I get an error (“…connection problem…”) and the mail doesn’t go.

Does this indicate progress?

Carbonite – Online Backup

I’m taking a look at Carbonite Backup as my next backup solution. In short, it seems almost perfect. (Almost – because there’s no Mac client although they say one will be coming in early 2007.)

It’s the cheapest backup solution out there, $50/yr or $90 for 2 years with unlimited storage. (I just noticed today that Mozy changed their pricing structure and is now very competitive.) The software installation is quick and easy. Other software software and service vendors should take the hint. There’s a 15-day trial with no credit card needed. My only complaints are with the terms of use, which I mention at the end of this posting.

I signed up for the free trial by entering an e-mail address and picking a password. Then I downloaded the software for installation. Right away it was clear Carbonite paid attention to details. Rather than a generic “How to download” screen it saw I was using Firefox and provided screen shots showing Firefox specific info. (Just to be sure I went into IE and sure enough, IE screen shots).

The install was easy, the only option in the installer was to change the install location. Before the install began I was warned a reboot would be needed although I didn’t need one. At the end of the installation I was asked what I wanted to back up:

  • My Documents & Desktop
  • Manually select backup later
  • Just backup everything (documents and data)

The first option is the default and “strongly recommended” so I pick it. After the installation completes I’m brought to the tour page. There’s animated tours or you can read the info on a tour page,

Naturally, with unlimited storage at a flat rate there has to be limitations elsewhere. Here they are:

  • Won’t back up external or network drives, only internals
  • Doesn’t back up system files, executable and other program files. These files can be individually selected for backup. (Literally, you must select by file.)
  • During the trial period music and videos aren’t backed up
  • Files larger than 2GB aren’t backed up.

Broadband upload speeds are typically much slower than downloads so that first backup will probably take days. My upload connection is rated at 384kps. The My Documents directory on my Windows PC is a relatively small 350MB (after exclusions) and that does backup the first night without a problem.

I went to add a directory off the root of the drive and couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed to pick the directory. I move the directory to My Documents and it soon gets included in the backup. I can go up to the drive level and pick the entire drive. So far the sub-directories aren’t included but I also suspect they won’t be added until the current backup finishes or I reboot my PC which forces the backup to look for files before it starts again. For now I’m letting the backup run.

I’m now backing up about 10GB. My backup has been running about 38 hours and is 35% done. But this is based on the upload speed so our times will vary. I did some speed tests prior to starting the backup and again before resuming it after stopping it for the day. My tested speed was around 310kps. When the backup was running the utilization was around 240-260kps so it appears Carbonite uses slightly less than the available bandwidth. When I used the PC doing the backup the utilization dropped a bit. Carbonite does say it releases resources when your using the PC. I also accessed the Internet from my Mac and there was no noticeable impact, although my usage is usually on the download side of things rather than an upload that would compete with the backup.

Some Observations

  • If you have EXE’s you want to back up be sure to select them. While backing up programs isn’t recommended (usually better to re-install) there might be EXE’s you want backed up. If you get software via download it’s usually a single EXE. You may need these if they are not readily available for future downloads. You may have purchased the software or you want to be sure the specific version is available for compatibility with your data files.
  • The instructions make it sound like any directory can be selected for backing up by right-clicking on it and selecting “Back this up”. This hasn’t been my experience so far. Although it works for any file. I suspect once my entire C: drive is selected I’ll then be able to add or remove any directory.
  • Carbonite will limit restores per month ” to avoid abuse”. This seems reasonable to limit their bandwidth costs. They do say they can be contacted to lift the limit in special situations.
  • Carbonite will kp a file for 30 days after it’s deleted so it can be restored.
  • Carbonite only keeps the latest version of a file, it does not keep historical version.

My Only Complaint

My only complaints are related to the terms of use. The clause “Carbonite occasionally will provide automatic upgrades to improve your Carbonite experience, although these upgrades may not be consistent across all platform and devices. You agree to accept and to take no action to interfere with such automatic upgrades, scanning, and related services.” in the terms of use gave me pause. While I agree bandwidth is a significant cost for them and if they can optimize it’s use they should be able to update their software. It’s also software I would want the latest versions for. But these sounds a bit heavy handed. Especially when also combined with “Carbonite may change the Terms of Use at any time, without notice to you, and in its sole discretion. The modified Terms of Use will be effective immediately upon posting on our website and you agree to the new posted Terms of Use by continuing your use of the Carbonite Products.”

I guess it comes down to how much you trust the company. The terms of use seem to give them the right to make updates to your PC. And since they can change the terms of use anytime they could easily change their privacy policy or decide to collect a great deal of information.

There software and website tone seems rally user friendly so I might tend to give them a break on the terms. I’m just really annoyed at what seems to be a general trend in licenses where vendors can do anything to your PC but are responsible for nothing. The tone of the terms seems to be in direct contrast to the tone they set for their service.

There are configuration options to “Allow Carbonite to collect program quality information” and to “Upgrade Automatically”, so these can be turned off. So it appears the programmers appear to have gotten the “be nice” message but the layers didn’t.

They are probably industry standard, or at least common in the industry but that doesn’t make it right. At the very least they should send changes to the terms of use to the e-mail address for the accounts.
The Mozy terms of service state that they may or may not notify us of changes but do say they will attempt it my sending an e-mail address for the account.

FYI – I noticed Mozy recently changed their pricing and are now competitive with Carbonite. It’s now unlimited backup for $4.95 a month, one month free with a year prepaid. Mozy’s a few cents more but all else being equal I’d go with Mozy due to a terms of use that at least tries to acknowledge that they don’t own the PC that their software is on. I detect a rant coming on here so I’ll stop now. I’ll let you know how the Carbonite backup goes.

JVM Updated – No Idea Why

I have Sun’s java runtime installed on my Windows PC, specifically (from the “About” box) “Java 2 Platform Version 1.5.0”. I have it set to check for updates on the 3rd of each month (I’m not positive but I think this was the default). So for the last few days it’s been telling me that there’s an update waiting. Today I finally got around to letting it update.

First off, I can’t find any real mention of what’s being updated. Just that there’s an “update”. Well OK, other than a few websites I don’t care much about Java and if if it craters my PC it’s only a test PC, so I install it and find I now have have update 09-b3.

Even armed with the information on the version I have I can’t find any mention on Sun’s site or on java.com. Is it just me or if a vendor wants to install or update software on my PC shouldn’t they provide a link to what’s being updated and make it easy to find? Shouldn’t searching their website with the specific version number in the software return something other than “no documents found”?

After doing a Google search I finally found this reference in some forums. The release notes are for the full SDK, not just the runtime so not everything may apply. The Google search didn’t include any Sun (or java.com) links on the first page. They were all forums that included links in response to questions. The link is to the developer section of Sun’s website. So they’re informing developers but not the consumers of their software.

I guess I should just be grateful they provide the software.

Maxtor OneTouch III

While I didn’t get the Maxtor OneTouch to use as a backup drive I decided to take the included backup software for a test drive to see how it works before hooking it up to my Mac.

The Specs From The Box

  • Firewire 400, IEEE 1394, i.Link and SBP-2 compliant
  • USB 2.0 and 1.1 Compliant
  • Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later, Windows 2000 or XP
  • Included in the box: External hard drive, USB cable, 6 to 6 pin Firewire 400/1394/i.Link cable, External power, CD with backup software (Mac and Windows)
  • There’s a one year warranty

Windows Software

Following the quick start guide I pop the CD into my Windows machine. The installation wizard is started by auto run. There’s options to pick a language then a screen where I can either read the user guide or install software. An Installshield wizard is launched when I pick install. After the intro screen the license is displayed. A few confidence building nuggets from the license:

  • “In addition to the restrictions set forth above, you are expressly not permitted to Use the Software for use in conjunction with the operation of nuclear facilities, aircraft navigation, aircraft communication, aircraft flight control, aircraft air traffic control systems, weapons devices or systems, or in any devices or systems in which a malfunction (including, without limitation, software related delay or failure) would result in foreseeable risk of injury or death to the operator of the device or system, or to others.”
  • Like most vendors, there’s language in the license that says they aren’t liable if their software causes us loss.

The only option during the installation is to change the install location. After clicking “Finish” there’s a delay and another installation wizard starts for the backup software. After accepting the license and accepting the default installation location the software is installed. At the end of the install I’m told a reboot is needed (it can be postponed).

After the reboot a message is displayed telling me to connect the drive, and to refer to the quick start guide for instructions. I connect it up using a USB 2.0 connector.

After the drive is recognized I push the “OneTouch” button on the front of the drive and the backup settings screen is displayed. The first screen allows you to select what drives/directories/files you want to backup and and the second lets you set a backup schedule.

The Home screen which is shown below.
Home screen for the Onetouch software

You can change the settings for power saving, assign the OneTouch button to a different application, and assign a password.

Backup allows you to do a backup, change a backup or backup schedule and delete backup files. You can also specify how many historical copies of a file you want to keep. Backup will keep past versions of files which can be restored if needed. The default is 5 versions.

The synchronize option option is where you can specify folders to synchronize with the Maxtor drive. When files are changed it can be automatically copied to a folder on the drive. Synchronizing can be either automatic or manual. Syncing started as soon as I clicked OK.

The only problem I had was that during the initial backup configuration it allowed me to pick the Maxtor drive in the “files to backup list”. Since backing itself up to itself seemed like something that would cause problems I made the selection. Sure enough, the backup started and recursive directories where being created on the Maxtor. Since they were empty they built up quickly. I canceled the backup but the directory structure was already too deep to be deleted through Windows Explorer and attempts to do so generated an error.

The drive was formated using the NTFS file system. I didn’t check until after the Maxtor software install so I don’t know if it was delivered this way or done during the initial connection. I suspect it’s during the initial connection.

It took 27 minutes to sync (actually a copy since no files existed) 3,335 directories with 31,915 files totaling 11.1GB using the Maxtor Sync option.

Backing up the same files took considerable longer at an hour and a half. The backup files aren’t compressed but the Maxtor software does maintain historical copies of files so the difference may be due to the overhead of maintaining and organizing this information.

Then it was time to move on to my Mac.

Mac Usage

I didn’t install the Maxtor software on my Mac. I don’t intend to use it and it installs drivers. The time needed to clone my hard drive or create a sandbox was more than I wanted to spend. So I just went ahead and hooked up the drive. It could see the NTFS drive and it worked in read-only mode. So first up I formatted the drive as one Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition.

While I’m usually skeptical of benchmarking software I figured I could use one to compare the Maxtor to the other drives on my Mac and to compare it via USB and Firewire. I used a copy of XBench to benchmark the various drives on my Mac. I didn’t make any changes (except changes to the drive connections themselves) or run any software during the benchmarking. So while these numbers may be useless to compare to other systems they should provide a relative comparison for the drives. So here they are (higher numbers are better):

Crossfire 160 (Firewire): 39.70
Maxtor 300 (Firewire): 38.14
LacCie 250 (Firewire): 32.61
Mac Mini 80GB Internal: 23.23
Maxtor 300 (USB): 14.31
IPod (USB): 12.07
USB Thumbdrive: 0.71

The Maxtor 300 connected through USB seems abnormally slow. I used a port directly on the Mac mini. This could be due to my system or because of the way the benchmarking software works. Since I’m connecting via Firewire no matter what I’ll put this aside for research sometime in the future.

I’m using the Maxtor via a Firewire connection. I’ve already moved my iTunes and iPhoto libraries over to it (about 95GB). While I didn’t time the copies it was certainly acceptable. (I started the copy, left the room, and it was done when I came back).

Only time will tell how well it works, but so far I don’t have any complaints.