Archive for the 'Hardware' Category

Dying iMac hard drive; Time Machine to the rescue

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Well I’m glad I took out the three-year AppleCare Protection Plan. Over the last few days my iMac’s hard disk started making ominous clicking sounds when powering on, resulting in a flashing folder with a “?” icon appearing on boot (which can never be a good thing). Once it warmed up a bit, the drive would kick in OK, but from a cold start it was a no-go.

As the problems were mounting up – see my green pixel issue – I decided yesterday that it was time to call Apple tech support. On the whole, the phone call went about as smoothly as I expected. The Apple support staff do sometimes seem robot-like in their troubleshooting approach, and they treat you like it’s the first time you’ve seen a computer, but they were friendly enough. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, they eventually arranged for a local Apple service centre to send someone out to look at both the hard drive and green pixel problems. On-site service – fantastic!

Sure enough, a friendly chap arrived this morning with a new hard drive under one arm and logic board under another. Unfortunately he couldn’t fit the logic board (to fix the green pixel issue) as Apple had shipped him the wrong board, but he did at least swap out the hard drive. (Slightly terrifying seeing him take the iMac apart – not for the faint-hearted. Apparently though, the newer aluminium ones are even worse, involving suction cups and god knows what else.)

Once the new drive was in and the iMac’s guts put back in their place, we got the Leopard install under way. When done, it was simply a case of choosing an option to restore from my Time Machine backup: (more…)

The Mac clones go on… and on… and on…

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Renegade Mac cloner Psystar is in the news again, with reports that Apple is finally suing their ass – and, what’s more, they want Psystar to recall all the “Open Computers” they sold, thereby reversing any pollution of the pristine Macosphere by their horrid clones. Apple argues that “as a direct and proximate result of Psystar’s infringing conduct, Apple has suffered and will continue to suffer lost sales and profits in an amount… to be proven at trial.” Good luck defending against that, boys.

But as Apple knocks Psystar down, up springs another cloner. An outfit called Open Tech – tagline: “It’s good to be open” – is flogging a range of PCs that can run any operating system under the sun, including, they claim, Mac OS X Leopard. Cunningly, they don’t preinstall Leopard – Psystar did, which no doubt was a red rag to Apple’s bull – but they certainly tell you how to.

Cloning of Apple computers is by no means a new thing. In fact, the Apple ][ was cloned way back in the 1980s. The most popular of these clones was the VTech Laser 128 (gotta love computer names in those days). Personally, though, I like the Agat best – a Russian-built clone with rugged, angular casing to endure those harsh Siberian winters. Just look at that baby!

Since that time, the Mac has frequently been cloned – legally or illegally – both through software emulation and through out-and-out hardware clones. Psystar and Open Tech are just the latest in the cloning saga.

Where’s the money?

Presumably there’s some sort of market for Mac clones, otherwise these cloners wouldn’t keep springing up. But my question is: Who buys them? Speaking as an iMac owner, I wouldn’t touch one of these with a 10-foot pole; one of the main reasons I switched from Linux to Mac was to get decent, reliable, compact, nice-looking hardware that doesn’t sound like a Hoover on heat when it’s switched on. But maybe that’s just me.

Assuming I’m a typical Mac user, that leaves Windows and Linux users (or folks who’ve never used a computer). I can sort of see how a clone would be desirable for these people – they’ve heard that Macs are nice and they’d like to try “switching”, but they don’t want to fork out for posh Apple hardware, no matter how sleek it looks. Of course, they buy one of these clones, it looks ugly, makes as much fan noise as their PC does, OS X crashes all the time, software updates don’t work, and the support is terrible. So they think this Mac thing’s overrated and rush back to Windows or Linux, never to return. What’s more, Apple loses a Mac sale in the process (and it makes most of its money from hardware).

No wonder Apple’s pissed off with these cloners. But considering how easy Macs are to clone these days, I can’t see the cloners giving up any time soon. I’d imagine Apple’s legal team is going to be very busy in the coming years. Is Apple starting to regret its move to Intel, I wonder?

Seagate FreeAgent Desktop and the iMac

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

FreeAgent Desktop external hard driveI just bought a FreeAgent Desktop 320GB external hard drive for doing backups. I generally trust Seagate drives these days; I’ve bought plenty over the years and had no problem with them, so they seemed like a safe bet. The 5-year (admittedly extremely limited) warranty helped to some extent too.

I was a little apprehensive about the orange glowing light on the unit, as I have the iMac in our bedroom and the backups run overnight. What’s more, you can’t turn it off except via the FreeAgent Pro software (which you pay extra for!). However it’s not too offensive in practice; I keep it hidden under my desk and it behaves itself.

When I first connected the drive I had to reformat it for the iMac using Disk Utility, but after that it just appeared as a USB drive in the Finder. Too easy.

The drive’s nice and quiet too. The glowing light pulsates gently when there’s disk activity, which is very sci-fi, and not as distracting as normal activity lights.

The only problem so far is that it prevents the iMac from going into a scheduled sleep. This only seems to happen on nights when it’s done a backup. The iMac’s scheduled to sleep in the middle of the night, but instead it stays on, and then at some random time in the morning it starts trying to go to sleep! Very pesky. I’m not sure what’s going on there. On the plus side, when I sleep the iMac manually in general use, the drive powers down too (and turns off its orange glowy light).

Pros and cons, then, of the FreeAgent with the iMac.


  • Cheap (but most external drives are these days)
  • Chocolate-and-amber styling’s OK, if you like that sort of thing
  • Quiet
  • Easy to install
  • Seems fast enough


  • No way to turn off the amber light (that I could find anyway)
  • Sometimes stops the iMac from sleeping
  • Comes with a separate “wall wart” power supply; powered from USB would have been nice.

iPhone: Wot no To Do list?

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

No To Do!I realise that I’m probably in the minority here, but anyway…

The one thing that piqued my interest when I heard Apple was making a phone was the possibility of syncing my iCal calendar events and To Dos with a nice, sexy, Apple-designed PDA-phone. I currently use Missing Sync to sync with my Tungsten T2 – and while both Missing Sync and the Tungsten work, they’re not the most reliable of beasts. And I’d like to have my PDA and phone in one handy gadget. I’m a big GTD fan, so being able to sync events and To Dos is pretty much essential.

Frankly, you can keep your music playback and Google Maps – all I want is a nice way to manage my events and To Dos on the move.

So I was somewhat taken aback to discover that, not only does the iPhone not sync iCal To Dos, but it doesn’t actually have a To Do feature at all! What the…?!

It gets worse. Although it will sync iCal events, it apparently dumps all events into a single calendar. Much like the bad old days with my Tungsten, before I switched from iSync to Missing Sync. Extremely lame.

Come on, Apple – you made iCal, you made the iPhone. Can you not at least get them talking properly to each other?!

All this is probably moot anyway – I live in Australia, so probably won’t get my hands on an iPhone until 2015… 😉

The iPod: does it actually suck?

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Sad iPodLuddite that I am, I’ve never owned, or even used, a digital music player, but I’m seriously thinking about getting an iPod at some point. As well as the obvious ease of integration with my Mac, they seem to be widely regarded as the best music players out there.

So I was intrigued by this recent article. Or rather, not so much the article itself, which lists three minor iPod user interface grumbles, but the torrent of comments after it, most of which are from iPod users frustrated by a whole range of hardware and interface annoyances.

Targets for users’ vitriol include:

  • No on/off button (seriously??)
  • Hard to select a song that’s in a long list
  • Freezes and lock-ups
  • Hard to jump to a specific place within a song or movie
  • No quick way to toggle repeat or shuffle modes
  • Backlight problems
  • Non-replaceable battery
  • Warranty issues
  • Screen scratches
  • Various podcast gripes
  • Weak headphone sockets

Is the iPod really that bad? Have “smug” iPod owners been storing up their anger all these years, only to vent spleen on this article, now that they’ve been given the chance? And if iPods suck this much, how come they’re the best-selling music players?

The mind boggles!

How to make your Mac look as ugly as possible

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Rugged Mac MiniIf your new Mac Mini looks just a tad too gorgeous with its sleek white curves, never fear – just contact these guys. They’ll take your Mac, along with all its peripherals, and encase them in ruggedized aircraft grade aluminium. All housings come in one timeless colour: PC beige. I particularly like the 1970’s style keyboard, not to mention the “submarine intercom system” style speakers (they’re “impervious to EMI”, dontcha know).

Go on, you know you want to. You may end up with the ugliest Mac on the block, but at least you know it’ll withstand fire, flood and asteroid impacts.

[Via Engadget]

More 3-D printers!

Friday, May 11th, 2007

An object created by the CandyFab 4000Yesterday I talked about a new, semi-affordable desktop printer that was capable of “printing” 3-D objects.

Apparently these guys aren’t the only ones messing about with 3-D printers: check out the wonderful sub-$1K CandyFab 4000! This baby creates 3-D objects out of regular household sugar, using a motor-controlled canvas flatbed, a heat gun composed of an off-the-shelf heating element and aquarium pump, and of course, bags and bags of sugar.

There’s only one thing to say really: Sweet!

[Via Engadget]

3-D printers

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

A 3-D printer making a duckThis rocks! I’ve always assumed that creating a 3-D object by “printing” it was in the realm of science fiction, but apparently boffins have been at it for years in the industrial arena. And now a company called Desktop Factory is starting to market an almost-affordable (USD $4,995) desktop version. Coming to a Mac or PC near you in the not-so-distant future! Here you can see it creating a little plastic duckie out of thin air.

I can see this being really useful for replacing spare parts that have been lost or broken. For example, one of the plastic latches on Isaac’s cot is somewhat the worse for wear. I’d love to be able to design and “print” a new one…

Wi-fi, take #2

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

WRT54GL photo. Mmm, nice.

I first toyed with (802.11b) wi-fi a few years ago, when I bought a D-Link access point and a DWL-650+ wi-fi card for my ThinkPad running Linux. Memos to self from that experience:

  1. Don’t buy D-Link wi-fi stuff ever again. It really, really sucks. Shame, because I used to trust D-Link as a brand.
  2. Beware of little plus signs at the end of model numbers. I thought I was buying a DWL-650, which used a chipset for which there were proven, stable Linux drivers. But no, the little “plus” meant that it instead used a completely different chipset – the acx100 – which (at the time) had no production-quality Linux driver. (Side memo: don’t buy any wi-fi- cards with Texas Instruments chipsets if I need Linux support. Unless TI have woken up and smelled the coffee in the meantime?)

The results of this erroneous purchase were (a) days and days of messing about trying to get sodding alpha-quality drivers loaded into my Linux kernel; (b) when I finally got it working, speeds of around 200 kbytes/sec on a good day; (c) frequent disconnects, duplicate packets and lockups; and (d) the card overheating to the point where it hurt your hand as you pulled it out.

No, that was quite enough for me, thanks very much. All that, combined with the easily-crackable WEP encryption, meant that access point and card were quickly dumped in the garage.

So naturally, I approached the idea of wi-fi on my Mac with some trepidation. However, as I’m soon getting shunted into the bedroom to make room for little Isaac, and I really couldn’t be arsed to wire up the bedroom with Cat5, my hand has been somewhat forced.


Sleep your iMac screen – instantly

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

In my continuing quest to find a way to instantly, reliably turn off the iMac screen and keep it off, I just stumbled across this little gem: Sleep Display. It’s a little utility – in application or widget form – that lets you sleep your Mac screen instantly. None of that “make it sleep in 1 minute” hassle – just open the app, and your screen instantly sleeps. Wonderful – and about bleeding time. 🙂 (Having said that, I like to lock my display first, so I’ll still probably use the “1 minute” trick – but I’m sure this app will be incredibly useful to some folks.)

Now we just need a way to keep the damn display off. I’ve abandoned the idea of running my DVD backups overnight in the bedroom – spinning up the DVD “conveniently” wakes the display – so I now have to run these during the day. Ah well.

Haven’t moved the iMac into the bedroom yet – that’ll happen in the next month once little Isaac outgrows his bassinet – so I’m not sure what else might cause the display to spontaneously wake in the middle of the night. With a bit of luck it was just the DVD. Time will tell.