The OS Quest Trail Log #43: Problems & Solutions Edition

June was a slow month on the Quest but things began to pick up in July. It looks like problems that started in June now appear to be cleaned up. Along with that success I finally appear to be running the latest version of all my software both on my computers and on the web. Although Mr. Murphy did his best by releasing an WordPress update the day after I updated all my sites. But I lucked out and that was his only contribution.

Another fix that also slipped in this week was an update to the Search Unleashed plugin I use on my sites. It had broken when I upgrade to WordPress 2.8. Can’t say whether it was WP 2.8 or a recent plugin update, but it’s all better now.

After two weeks with my new Unicomp keyboard I still consider it the best keyboard ever. Well, at least among the keyboards I’ve used. Also on the positive side I proved my iMac didn’t have any hardware problems. At least I choose to view it as a positive and not that I wasted an hour of my time.

Among the updates was Firefox 3.5 (and 3.5.1). I’ve no complaints and I like it, but at least for how I use it I haven’t seen any great improvements. I probably need to explore more, but the upgrade was seamless and things continued to work as expected.

Nik Green posted a comment on my Synergy posted and suggested SynergyKM to provide a GUI interface to the setup. It adds a nice preference pane to the Mac so it can be easily configured to auto start. No need to set up any scripts. It’s only been a couple hours, but so far so good.

My Windows Home Server continues to grow it’s disk. I swapped out a 1TB drive for a 2TB drive this month so bring the total to 15TB as far as the manufacturers ratings are concerned. But between overhead and different definitions of a megabyte and formatting overhead the actual space is a tad under 14TB. Hard drive manufacturers use base ten math while OS’s use binary math. So a manufacturer’s 1,000 is an OS’s 1,024. A hard drive mfg says a kilobyte is 1,000 bytes while the OS says it’s 1,024. Not a big deal when drives were smaller but these days it adds up.

Web Site Outage

Things haven’t exactly been problem free. My site was down early this morning for some unknown reason. Haven’t come across the root cause yet. The problem was excessive swapping on the server but no clue as to the cause. The first alert was generated shortly after my backups started running. The SQL backup ran on schedule and seems to have finished before any problem. Then a job kicks off on my PC to connect to the server and backs up the files system. The time seems to coincide with the first alert (backup started about 3 minutes before) but according to the backup log there weren’t any problems and the backup finished as expected. Now this doesn’t mean it didn’t affect apache, but it hasn’t in the past and running it a few minutes ago was problem free.

I did update Ubuntu the day before and apache got some updates so maybe it’s related. But it hasn’t re-occurred so hard to tell. Maybe it’s time to reboot the server since it’s been up 96 days. Problem is, by the time I woke up and saw the problem free, top and everything else showed a healthy server.

Got to love computers. Models of consistency.

Windows & Mac Synergy

Now that my iMac problems seem to be behind me it’s time to get my desk optimized. In the past my iMac was my primary computer and the Windows PC was used for for specific tasks. My Asus monitor was setup as a dual monitor for my iMac. If I needed it I would remote desktop from my iMac to the Windows PCs. In a pinch there was a cable from my Windows 7 box to a second input port on the Asus monitor so I could hook up a keyboard and mouse and use it directly.

This time I’ve decided to give Synergy a try before returning to the old ways. Synergy is open source software which allows sharing a single keyboard/mouse across different PCs which can be on different operating systems.

I had expected to have problems setting things about, after all this was a device driver for multiple OS’s. But it couldn’t have been easier. I setup my Windows 7 machine as the Synergy server and run the client on my iMac. Right now I have to start the client manually on my Mac but once I’m comfortable with it I’ll set up the script to start it on boot.

It’s been less than a day, but so far no problems. I had been hesitant about doing this but I should have done it sooner.

iPhoto vs. Windows Live Photo Gallery

Picture of a Rolleiflex Camera

Picture of a Rolleiflex CameraI recently moved my photos from iPhoto on my iMac to Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG) on my Windows 7 PC so I figured I’d compare the two. The short version is that iPhoto is a mature application that has gone through many iterations of enhancements while WLPG is newer and less feature rich. I used iPhoto mainly as an organizing tool for any images I didn’t take – screenshots for my website, graphics for the website, pictures from others and from the web. I rarely edited those images and organization was mainly why I used iPhoto.

Organization

My main reason for moving my images out of iPhoto was to move them to a directory structure on disk that would provide some basic organization without tying me to any specific app. iPhoto can either pull your images into it’s own library and organization method when you import or it can keep the image exactly where it was when you imported. I was using the first method as that was the only option when I started and I never changed – until now. I can import the images back into iPhoto if I want and just keep them where they are. I wasn’t big on tagging since I used albums for organization.

I also maintained multiple iPhoto libraries (either hold down the option key when starting iPhoto or  doe what I did and use iPhoto Library Manager) to keep things seperated. For the way I work I prefer to have my libraries by broad topic so my searches are limited to the topic.

Tags

iPhoto tags apply across the entire library but the ability to have completely separate libraries makes tags more useful in iPhoto in my opinion.

While WLPG allows you to keep images in separate directories and even on separate drives at the highest level the directories merge. If you tag photos the tags will be shared across galleries and when you click on a tag it will return matches across all folders. If the tag matches across folders there’s no easy way to drill down into the folders. You’ll have to search through all the images that match the tag.

One benefit that WLPG has over iPhoto is a command to remove all unused tags. Doing this in iPhoto can be tedious but WLPG makes it easy.

One big advantage WLPG has over iPhoto is that tags are added as meta-data to the image itself. This means if I tag an image in WLPG and later import it into another app (or another WLPG instance) the tags will go with it.

Arrange by Date Taken

WLPG has some built in folders (searches actually) that will organize images by the date they were taken. iPhoto has no such ability unless you organize the events by day which excludes other uses of events. I used events for, well, events like Christmas, birthday party, vacation, etc… This meant I couldn’t organize photos by date.

Organization Summary

Windows Live Photo Gallery’s use of the file system without having to explicitly import the images makes it easier to get images into it. Just define a top level directory in the gallery and any image added to it or a subdirectory will appear in WLPG. With iPhoto you have to import them and then organize them into albums, even if you’re using the file system and not copying them into the library itself.

iPhoto’s ability to have distinct libraries may be an advantage to some, including myself. WLPG has one big library.

At this point I’m giving the organization advantage to WLPG because it takes little effort to get images in. I just copy them to the directory I want and they appear. In iPhoto, even if they are in the same directory I would have to import new images and add them to the appropriate albums or events. I also like that tags get added to the file meta data making me less tied to WLPG than I would be to iPhoto. So while iPhoto’s ability to have multiple libraries is an advantage, WLPG’s ease of import and organization maintenance gives it the edge.

I haven’t done a lot of testing, but I don’t see any problems using WLPG and iPhoto on the same set of images. I do have some images in both WLPG and iPhoto.

Editing

As I said, I don’t use iPhoto for a lot of editing and wouldn’t use WLPG for editing much either. I only do occasional cropping and image wide exposure adjustment. Both programs seemed to work fine. I found iPhoto a bit easier to use but that may be because I’m more used to it. Both use similar methods of using sliders to set adjustments.

Both apps allow you to easily open the photo in an external editor and save it back to the library. Both also save the original image and allow you to restore the original image at any time in the future.

I found iPhoto’s original image restore easier to use. I always want to keep the original image as the one displayed in the library. Any edits are for one time use and I immediately restore the original. WLPG requires me to exit the image edit screen and go back to the gallery and then open the image for editing again. At that point the original image can be restored. Also, WLPG doesn’t allow any mass original restore. In iPhoto I can select all images and restore the original for them all. Something I did occasionally to avoid wasting space. In WLPG the original restore is one at a time.

I don’t know if it’s a bug (I’m using Windows 7 RC1 with WLPG) or intended to work this way but when an original is restored the original backup stays in it’s backup directory, wasting space. (C:Users<user>AppDataLocalMicrosoftWindows Photo GalleryOriginal Images). This also has the side effect of keeping the “Restore Original” menu item active even after an original is restored. The restore does work tho’. There is an option to delete these originals after a configurable length of time but the default is not to never delete them.

Online Features

Both iPhoto and WLPG include online integration with the iPhoto integration being more mature. I haven’t used any of the features but iPhoto includes integration with MobileMe, Facebook and Flickr. WLPG just integrates with the online WLPG. For both apps the online features are optional.

Conclusion

Neither application strikes me as being head and shoulders above the others. Few people will have to chose between the two and they’ll probably be quit happy with whichever they use. And if one doesn’t meet your needs switching to the other probably won’t give you want you want either. For me WLPG gets the nod because there’s little time investment getting images into it and it’s easy to move the images to another app if I find something better. Neither one is so good as to keep me from looking at Picasa which I’ll be doing as soon as I get a chance.

OS Wars

The OS wars are heating up again with Windows 7 and Snow Leopard nearing release and Google announcing Chrome OS. Since this site is called The OS Quest I should probably add my own tw0 cents. Feel free to ignore me as you should every other analyst.

Google Chrome OS

Despite all the buzz and claims of vendor interest Google Chrome OS is nothing more than a press release. There’s already Google Android which has been pretty slow to get traction in the cell phone market despite some early buzz.

It’s going to be Linux based, open source and built around the chrome browser. There’s already been Netbooks with OS’s that meet the first two requirements but with Firefox instead of Chrome. (At this point there isn’t a version of the Chrome browser for Linux.) Despite this Windows XP is still the leading OS on Netbooks by a large margin. After a early Linux surge to around 30% most studies now give Windows a 90% market share.

By the time Chrome OS appears Windows 7 will be firmly entrenched on netbooks. Sure, there’s plenty of vendors looking at Chrome OS but let’s face it. It’s in their interest to look, if only to pressure Microsoft.

Competition is good so another OS choice probably won’t hurt. I just can’t get excited about a OS that hasn’t expanded beyond the press release.

Windows 7

I like Windows 7 a lot and am using it as my primary OS now (well at home at least, my day job requires Windows XP). But I’m convinced Microsoft will find a way to screw it up and they seem to be trying real hard to do just that.

The upgrade pricing for premium and professional was a step in the right direction. But they managed to screw it up by limiting the time and quantity. How do you sell out of a product that will be delivered electronically (when ordered from Microsoft) and which hasn’t actually been manufactured yet? You don’t. You impose artificial limits. Microsoft makes most of it’s money off of OEM sales through manufacturers so all these sales should be considered gravy.

They further annoyed their best users. Windows Vista Ultimate users paid a premium and Microsoft barely delivered any “Ultimate Extras”. Now there’s no special pricing for them to upgrade to Window 7 Premium. Sure, Microsoft seems to be trying to de-emphasis Ultimate, but this is a slap in the face to their customers.

There’s still a lot of unanswered questions or questions with conflicting answers about the upgrade. The information out there is more rumor than fact and will stay that way until some people get their hands on official upgrade media.

It still annoys me that Microsoft ships the exact same bits with every version, they just disable features in the lower editions. It doesn’t cost them any more to make the higher editions, the bits are on every DVD, but there are huge variations in the price between editions. I’m annoyed that if Remote Control is the only feature I want in Professional I still have to pay twice as much to get it. Of course, Microsoft Mesh ignores those version limitations and brings remote desktop to all versions, making this even more frustrating.

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard is Apple’s poke at Microsoft. A $30 upgrade targeted to improve OS performance without promoting a lot of new features. The same could be said about Windows 7, except Microsoft is charging a hell of a lot more. Sure, the business model is different with Apple selling their own computer hardware, but that doesn’t help Microsoft’s image.

Summary

I’m already on Windows 7 RC at home and I’ve ordered my upgrades along with upgrades for family PCs I support. It’s a huge improvement over XP and Vista and it’s the first Windows upgrade I’m doing on existing hardware. Usually by the time a new Windows version comes out my old hardware will collapse when I install it. Sure, my hardware is newer these days but Windows 7 ran better than Vista or even XP on the hardware.

I’ll install Snow Leopard when it’s released and it will be buggy like most of Apple’s releases these days. I’ll just hope none of those bugs bite me. It’ll get rave reviews and I’m sure I’ll like it.

Google Chrome OS, won’t be much more than a press release this year. Maybe some early builds if Google open sources it as promised latter this year. Since their will be a lot of hype around it some manufacturers will sell Chrome OS netbooks no matter what the OS is like. Whether or not the OS does well depends on how it moves from press release to bits.

WordPress 2.8.2

It figures, I just get everything up to WordPress 2.8.1 and the next day a new version gets released. WordPress 2.8.2 fixes a XSS security vulnerability. The good news is that it was quick easy to update my WordPress installations since they are all now maintained using svn. There were only 8 changed files which made the update quick. Certainly a lot easier than downloading, extracting and copying the entire installation.

The following command upgraded WordPress when it was run from the WordPress installation directory:

svn sw http://core.svn.wordpress.org/tags/2.8.2/ .

Firefox 3.5

I just updated my main machine to Firefox 3.5. No major problems, but a few speed bumps.

Google Gears told me it didn’t work with Firefox 3.5 and there wasn’t an update available. I uninstalled the current add-on and installed the latest version from gears.google.com and all was well.

I had the same problem with the Evernote clipper add-on. Firefox 3.5 said it was incompatible and no update was available. An uninstall and install of the latest version resolved the problem.

Firefox 3.5 is supposed to be faster than version 3. I’ve been running it on Windows where Firefox has always been faster than on my Mac. I can’t say it’s noticeably faster on Windows. But some of that may be because I use noscript to keep Java from running except when I want it. The improvements are probably more noticeable on sites with Java and other scripting.

WordPress Updates & Converting to SVN

 

WordPress 2.8 came out awhile ago and there was immediate talk of WordPress 2.8.1 to fix some issues. So I was in no rush to do any update despite liking to stay up to date. WordPress 2.8.1 was released so I decided to bring all my sites up to WordPress 2.8.1 and to update the theme or convert to svn as appropriate. I had tested using svn to maintain WordPress awhile back but this site and a couple had yet to be converted. It was time to convert them now that there’s a WordPress upgrade.

The steps I followed were pretty straight-forward and allowed me to update all my sites quickly with minimal outages.

  1. Validate my previous night’s backup of the databases and file system.
  2. Update plugins to make sure they work with WordPress 2.8.1
  3. Create a new directory called newsite.
  4. Use the subversion command
    svn co http://core.svn.wordpress.org/tags/2.8.1 .
    to install the latest WordPress into this subdirectory.
  5. Here’s where I departed from the WordPress.org instructions for converting a “traditional” WordPress install to svn. Instead of looking for custom files and copying them and plugins individually I used the following copy command with my old website directory as the current directory:
    cp –p –r –i –u . ../newsite
    –p says permissions should be copied
    –r will copy subdirectories (recursive)
    –i is interactive and will prompt for any file overwrites
    –u says to update only only newer or missing files will be copied. The –u should prevent overwriting any files installed via svn and the –i switch should prompt me before any are overwritten in case I’m wrong. I use the dot ‘.’ to indicate the current directory in order to get hidden files too. If I was to use ‘*’ the hidden files wouldn’t be copied. This made sure I didn’t miss any files while not overwriting any WordPress 2.8.1 files.
  6. After the copy I issued a svn update (svn up) just to make sure nothing was overwritten and nothing was.
  7. I then updated the theme files in the newsite directory if I needed to update the theme for the site.
  8. I added the following directive to my wp-config.php file (in newsite) to allow plugin updates without having to edit file.php. This is new with WordPress 2.8. See my article on enabling automatic plugin updates for more information.
    define('FS_METHOD', 'direct');
  9. When it came time to update the live site I enabled the maintenance mode plugin and issued the following two commands. The first backs up the sites directory structure and the second moves the newsite directory to the location of the live site. (My live site is in the public directory)
    mv public public-old
    mv newsite public
  10. Run the WordPress upgrade (http://www.sitename.com/wp-admin/upgrade.php) to upgrade the database.
  11. At this point I’m done except for the testing and turn off the maintenance mode plugin. The actual site outage was only a couple of minutes during steps 9 and 10.

This made it easy to update my live sites along with test and sites in development without any problems and in record time.

OS X 10.5.7 Lockup Update

As I’ve previously written about here, here and here I’ve had problem with my iMac since installing OS X 10.5.7. I’m pretty much at the point of installing everything from scratch one last time and extensively test after each and every update.

Until today when I realized the easiest way for me to reproduce the problem was to minimize iPhoto or iTunes to the dock. (These are the only two apps left on my iMac that I’m using.)  So just for the hell of it I decided to switch the minimizing from the genie effect to scale effect. (In System Preferences –> Dock –> Minimize Using)

Other changes have seemed to resolve the problem only to have it return within a day so I’m not calling it a confirmed solution yet. But I’ve been unable to reproduce the problem with scale effect set, despite what must be over a hundred attempts by now, yet when I change it back to genie effect the problem occurs within three attempts.

I’m cautiously optimistic but wouldn’t be shocked if Mr. Murphy is just teasing me. I’m trying to not think about how this can make any sense.

False Positive From Avast Antivirus for Windows Live Photo Gallery

[Update: It looks like Avast has resolved the problem. Virus defs version 090719-0 do not have the problem. Right click the Avast icon in the system tray and go to the updating menu if you need to force the update. I removed the exclusion I had below and all was well.]

I went to start Windows Live Photo Gallery a little while ago and Avast popped up a message that it was a generic trojan. I was 99% sure it was a false positive as I’d run the program earlier and the Avast virus definitions had been updated since then. But to be save I went to the Kaspersky Online Scanner and scanned the file which was reported as safe. Other files in the WLPG directory were also being flagged as trojans.

So, I had to exclude the directory from being checked in order to run the program. The way to do this is a bit hidden so here’s how:

1. Open the On-Access scanner and go to the Standard Shield and click the customize button. Then click the Advanced tab:

On-Access Scanner Screenshot AdvancedSettings

2. Then click the Add button and enter the path to exclude. You need to include a file specification so in my case it was C:Program Files (x86)Windows LivePhoto Gallery*.*.

If I start Avast and let it do a memory scan while WLPG is running it reports it as a trojan but at least I can run WLPG now. I did go through their process of reporting a false positive which hopefully others will do and it will be cleared up soon.

Apple Hardware Test

After all my problems with the OS X 10.5.7 update the next step was to run hardware diagnostics. No sense doing a third fresh install unless I knew it wasn’t a hardware problem unearthed by the upgrade.

Unknown to me, until I started checking was that every Mac comes with hardware diagnostics on the bundled DVD. This Apple support article describes which DVD the hardware diagnostics are on and how to run them. I’d also recommend you disconnect an non-Apple peripherals including hard drives, which I did.

Some things to keep in mind. Hardware diagnostics is only on the DVDs bundled with Macs, it’s not on any upgrade DVDs you may have bought. In reading the Apple support article keep in mind it refers to the version on original OS X DVDs when looking for the right DVD. In my case it was DVD one and there was also a hardware diagnostics readme on the same DVD. This readme warns that test times may be longer than estimated if you have more than 512MB of RAM. In my case the regular test was estimated at 1 to 3 minutes and took only 1 1/2 minutes on my white iMac with 3GB.

I also ran the extended test which was estimated at 5 to 10 minutes and took 12 minutes. Interestingly, during the extended test the progress bar never went past the half way mark, but it did say no problems were found and the test completed successfully.

If you purchased Apple Care for any Mac you received a copy of TechTool Deluxe. You can download an updated copy from Apple’s Support Website. You’ll have to enter the serial number of your covered Mac to get the update. Instructions for using TTD are available in the Apple Care welcome kit or on the download page after entering your serial number. TechTool Deluxe is also sold as a separate product which I believe is slightly different than the one bundled with AppleCare. I used the AppleCare version of the product.

To use TechTools Deluxe you can either create a bootable DVD or install it to the hard drive. I installed it (to the applications folder) and ran it from there. Like Apple’s hardware diagnostics no problems were found.

None of these hardware diagnostics found any problems with my hardware, so I guess it’s on to yet another fresh install. But I’ll save that for another night. I know the problem hasn’t gone away as my iMac locked up again last night while watching a video but further troubleshooting will have to wait.