Tuesday, January 30, 2007

USB-to-Serial Adapter in Parallels

As I've mentioned previously, one reason I need to run Windows is to program my Yaesu VX-5RS and FT-7800R ham radios. I don't have the patience to do it through the radios' built-in menu system, and the programming software is Windows-only. It connects via a serial port and special cables to the radios. Since my MacBook Pro does not have a serial port (it has 1 FW-800, 1 FW-400, and 2 USB 2.0 ports), I needed to use a USB-to-RS232 adapter.

I have just such an adapter in the form of a Keyspan USA-19HS. I got it for use with my iBook so I could console into routers and switches. For that I use ZTerm.

With the instructions I found over on MacOSXHints here, I was able to use the Keyspan adapter in XP running under Parallels. After following the instructions I was able to read from and write to the memory of the VX-5. I have to disconnect the FT-7800R cable from Bagend, which entails moving it out from under a pile of stuff, so I didn't get to it yet.

As a side note, the ADMS software that I have for the radios has some of the most obnoxious copy protection I've ever seen. It must be installed from the original CD. It can't be copied to, say, a network share, and then installed. Doing so gets you an error whereby it rejects the serial number. However, the the software comes on 3.5" CDs which won't work in my MBP's slot-load drive. Thankfully, I was able to install it after putting it in Bagend's DVD-RW drive, which I then shared over the network. What a massive pain in the ass. If I didn't have a network-accessible machine with a tray loading optical drive, I would've been SOL.

After getting the USB-RS232 issue squared away, I installed my Brother HL-2070N printer in XP. It works just like a normal PC. I continue to be very impressed with Parallels Desktop.

Parallels Desktop for Mac

While I would love to be completely Windows-free, there are a few Windows-only applications that I need to run on occasion. At work, diagrams are frequently sent around in MS Visio format. At home, the programming software for my Yaesu ham radios rquires Windows. So, yesterday I downloaded the demo for Parallels Desktop for Mac and loaded XP Pro onto my MacBook Pro this morning.

Dayum, this works! Really well so far, AAMOF.

Parallels even simplifies the XP installation process. Run the wizard and it configures a virtual machine with 256 MB of RAM for you. The only entries you need to make are for your name, organization (optional), and the product key. A couple of mouse clicks later the install runs and doesn't need any more user intervention.

I was able to let the XP install run inside Parallels while I did other stuff on the MBP. While XP was installing I had Firefox, Mail.app and iChat open. After the installation completed the impact on OS X's performance seemed minimal.

To get online I had to switch from the default bridged networking to shared networking. The network I'm plugged into at work does not have a DHCP server. The default DNS server that the VM is pointed to is the same as the default gateway in shared networking, but this resulted in slow browsing. From within XP I opened the network properties and manual specified a real DNS server and web browsing sped up immensely.

I installed a few programs in XP: Firefox, Google Toolbar for IE, AVG Antivirus, Crap Cleaner, Spybot Search & Destroy, and MS Visio 2003. I also installed the anti-spyware hosts file from MVPS.org.

On my Core2 Duo machine XP runs smoothly. Firefox, IE, and Visio open quickly, although I haven't yet opened any complex diagrams. I'll have to wait until later to install the Yaesu apps and configure a USB-to-RS232 adapter. I don't intend to install many Windows applications, only what I need to fill a gap for stuff that doesn't exist in OS X.

Switching between OS X and the virtual machine is as simple as moving the mouse and clicking on the appropriate window. It's much more transparent than Virtual PC was.

To access folders on my MBP's hard disk from the XP VM, I added them to the "Parallels Shared Folders" which were enabled by the install wizard.

I've used VMWare on Windows and Linux, and IMO at least for workstation use, Parallels beats it hands-down for ease of use.

If you get an Intel Mac but need the use of Windows programs, you owe it to yourself to take Parallels Desktop for a spin.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

MacBook Pro

Given the amount of time I spend using a computer I couldn't wait any longer. I was at Microcenter today and they had a sale on a number of Apple products, so I came home with a new 15.4" MacBook Pro. It's the entry level MBP, with a 2.16 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1 GB of RAM, 120 GB hard disk, SuperDrive (DVD burner) and 128 MB video card. At some point I'll double the RAM but for now it's OK.

The factory software load included demos of MS Office 2004 and Apple's iWork, full versions of iLife 06, OmniOutliner, and Comic Life. OmniOutliner looks like a pretty interesting app, one which I need to check out.

After unpacking it I used the OS X Migration Assistant to copy over my data and preferences, but decided to not copy over my apps, preferring to install them fresh. The Migration Assistant uses a Firewire connection between the new and old machines. The old machine is booted in Firewire Target mode, and the new box copies everything over. I had 23.6 GB of stuff to copy from my iBook, which took a bit less than an hour.

The hardest part of the setup was getting Rohan -- the new machine -- onto my wireless LAN. I had a brain fart and could not remember the security settings for the wireless LAN and so I had to factory default my Netgear WAP, then reconfigure it.

The other glitch I ran into was when I installed MS Office 2004 and couldn't open Entourage. It gave me an error message along the lines of "The version of Entourage cannot open this profile." After some Googling, it occurred to me to download and install the latest update for Office, which fixed the problem.

By default Apple does not install X11, so that needed to be loaded from the OS X CD 1. Other apps I installed included Firefox, ZTerm, UniTTy, TextWrangler and NeoOffice. The latter is still a bit pokey but it runs a hell of a lot faster on Rohan than my iBook.

I definitely plan to take Parallels Desktop for a spin. I'm hoping that I can setup XP under Parallels and run the programming software for my Yaesu radios. Visio is not made for Mac, unfortunately, and it's something else I'd like to be able to run.

The keyboard feels nicer than my iBook's and the increased screen resolution (1440x900 vs. 1024x768) really makes a big difference. The speakers sound pretty good, much better than the quiet, tinny speakers on the iBook. Naturally, it runs quite a bit faster than the iBook.

More as I use it.

A Quick Way to Speed Up Firefox

Ever since Firefox reached the v1.5 mark I noticed that it wasn't as snappy as it had been. Pages took longer to render and the launch time increased. After playing around with FF 2.0 a bit this week on a couple of machines, I believe the DOM Inspector extension that is installed by default is the culprit. After removing the DOM Inspector, FF is running much better. Complex pages render much faster and the browser launches in less time.

So, if you're running Firefox and it is slow, try uninstalling the DOM Inspector extension.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And now, some political ranting

I watched part of the State of the Union Speech last night. (I didn't bother with the Dem response because I don't need to raise by blood pressure even more.) Bush's comments on securing the border made me want to reach through the TV and smack him. WTF has he been doing for the last six years? Frankly, I think nothing will be done to remedy the border situation. Despite his protests, "reform" = "amnesty."

Bush's plan to extend health insurance it more big federal government involvement in matters over which it has no constitutional authority.

The field of contenders for the 2008 presidential election continues to grow. I need to learn more about Sam Brownback of Kansas. Bill Richardson of New Mexico is the first Dem in a long time which doesn't automatically induce nausea. But I am not optimistic about the country's choices for 2008. Both major parties seem to have implemented candidate selection systems which guarantee that we'll be faced in November 2008 with making the choice of the lesser of two evils.

I may just write in Chthulu.

Training this week

This week I'm fortunate to be in training. Interconnecting Cisco Network Devices, to be precise. Regular readers may recall that I took the prerequisite Introduction to CCNA course last summer. So, hopefully I'll be taking the CCNA exam sometime in the next month and a half or so.

So far the class is pretty good. We're using the CCNA Self-Study ICND book from Cisco Press, along with the Boson Netsim software, rather than having a lab setup with real equipment. This would be too expensive, as this course is being run in-house. The Netsim app has its quirks but it seems good. All the students are getting a Boson license, as well as a Transcender test prep software license, so they can install both programs on their home PC. So it's a good thing I haven't blown away XP on Bagend yet. {grin}

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ruger Mark III 22/45 Range Report

Last night I went to the range with my wife's Ruger Mark III 22/45. It has the 4.5" heavy barrel and fixed sights. I bought this for her awhile ago but hadn't shot it. She wanted to go last night but was a bit under the weather. Since the gun was already packed I decided to break it in. I'd previously cleaned out all the factory preservative gunk and lubed the piece with Ballistol.

Between Dad, my brother, and myself we put 200 rounds through it. Ammo was CCI Mini Mag solids. Not one malfunction. Accuracy was pretty good, though limited by the heavy factory trigger pull. I did notice the trigger improving after 50 rounds or so.

IMO, the Mark III may not be as nice as the Mark I or Mark II, but it isn't bad. I would prefer not having the loaded chamber indicator and the lock, but as locks go, Ruger seems to do them well. They are unobtrusive and I can't see how they'd be activated accidentally. This is one of two Rugers with internal locks that I have, the other being my 50th Anniversary Blackhawk. In the latter, you need to either remove a grip panel or drill a hole in one panel to even use the lock.

When we met my wife was completely anti-gun. She came around and this Ruger will be her house gun once she gets out and shoots it. Once she gets more comfortable we'll look at moving her up to something a bit better suited to defense, e.g., a Ruger P95 in 9mm. But for now a .22 is better than nothing. It'll be loaded with Mini Mag solids since .22 LR is a marginal defensive round and needs all the penetration it can get.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Update to The Shooters' Bar(SM)

This afternoon, I added Jake Whitmire of Orgeon to The Shooters' Bar(SM), the web's oldest list of pro-RKBA attorneys.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Apple Airport Extreme

Lost amid all the hoo-hah about the iPhone at yesterday's Apple Keynote was the introduction of a new AirPort Extreme wireless access point. It supports 802.11a/b/g/pre-n. What I find especially interesting is that you can now connect a USB hard disk driectly to the AirPort and access it over your LAN.

Previous Airport Extremes have had the ability to act as a print server for USB printes, but serving up disk space is something new. Although there's only one USB port, you can connect a USB hub so that both a printer and a disk can be attached.

This should simplify setting up centralized storage on a home network.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

UniTTY Multi-Protocol Client

This morning I ran across UniTTY, a free-as-in-beer client for SSH, SCP, SFTP, Telnet, and VNC (including built-in VNC-over-SSH tunnelling). Mutliple terminal sessions can be run inside one window, using tabs. While the support for all those protocols is itself impressive, even more so is that it's cross-platform, being written in Java. Downloads for Windows, OS X, and Linux are available.

I installed the OS X version on my iBook G4, fired it up, and SSHed to a client's mail server. My first impression is favorable. Connection preferences can be saved in bookmarks in XML files, so if those prefs files are stored on a network share or copied between machines, one should be able to access them from more than one computer. Handy.

I plan to work with it a bit more before pronouncing it as a Good Thing, but I'm already leaning in that direction.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Rough Week

It's been a rough week.

Tuesday afternoon I was sitting at my desk at work when I felt a headache coming on. After a few minutes I took some Ibuprofen, which kept it down to a dull roar. By the time I got home around 18:30 it was really bothering me, so I took something stronger. Unfortunately, it didn't do anything so I got almost no sleep Tuesday night. By 06:00 Wednesday morning I was a wreck. It was by far the worst pain I've ever had. My mom came over to take the girls to daycare while Judith took me to the ER.

The nurse and ER doctor questioned me about the symptoms and how the headache came on, and to be safe I had a CT scan done of my sinuses. It turned out to be a bad sinus infection. While there they gave me a shot of Tordol (a painkiller), plus pseudophedrine (decongestant) and Levaquin (antibiotic) pills. When we were finally done, I left with prescriptions for Levaquin, Amitex (prescription decongestant), and Tylenol 3 (i.e., Tylenol with Codeine). {stoner}Dude, I'm on drugs.{/stoner}

Thursday I had a follow up visit with my regular doctor, who gave me a referral to go see an ENT, who can check my sinuses for proper drainage. I suspect they don't drain well but I'm not sure what can be done about that without surgery. I'm going to try to get an appointment for late next week.

The really bad headache hasn't returned, no doubt due to the Tylenol 3. Unfortunately, being on it has made me sluggish and drowsy, on top of the fatigure from not being able to sleep well. Today seems noticeably better but my head is still a bit foggy.

About the only upside of this has been that I caught some interesting TV on Thursday and Friday. Thursday, The History Channel aired a couple of interesting programs on WW2 history, including one on secret Soviet aircraft of the war. Yesterday, the Discovery Channel ran a couple of episodes of "Survivorman." I've heard of the show but never watched it. It's very good, IMO. Les Stroud seems to know his stuff and explains what he's doing and risks he's encountering in a very engaging way.

Hopefully I'll be able to get out of the house on Monday. I'm feeling cooped-in already.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Saturday Range Trip

On Saturday I hit the range along with GeekWithA45 and his friend B. We went to his gun club in southern Chester County, which turned out to have a very nice range.

I shot my Marlin 336 and Mini-14GB for the first time. The Marlin shoots really well. It grouped into about 2" at 50 yards with Remington 170 grain JSPs. This is about as good as I can do at that range with an open rear sight and a bead front. I'm very happy with it and looking forward to mounting the Williams peep rear and fiber optic front sight which I ordered from Midway. UPS's site says they should be here tomorrow. {Happy dance}

The Mini-14 functions fine but something was wrong with the rear sight. I couldn't adjust it for windage more than one or two clicks. Yesterday while putzing with it I made the problem worse. {sigh} So, I'm going to order some replacement parts, rebuild the rear sight, then get it sighted it. Assuming no further difficulties I'm strongly considering using it for my primary SHTF rifle.

Aside from the Ruger and Marlin I also lugged along my Underwood M1 Carbine and Arsenal, Inc. SA-M5 AK. This was the first time shooting them since I put the M1 into a replica paratrooper stock and added a flash hider to the Arsenal. The M1 shoots much as it did before, though I did need to make some windage adjustments. Firing the AK with the flash hider is an improvement vs. the OEM muzzle brake. A 5.56 semiauto that weighs about 7 lbs. needs a brake like a boar needs tits. The flash hider does a better job of eliminating flash (duh), doesn't direct blast at the shooter, and besides, it looks cool.

Geek let me put a mag though Mjolnir, his Springfield M1A Scout Squad Rifle. (He's since removed the scope shown in the linked post.) All I can say is, "SWEEEEET!" Mjolnir is an appropriate name indeed. With the Springfield muzzle brake, recoil is almost nonexistent, yet it hits with the authority of 7.62 NATO.. It is rather loud, though. From a rather shaky rest at 50 yards, I kept almost the whole mag inside the 10 ring of an SR-1 target. IMHO, for anything other than formal target shooting, the 18" barrel of the Scout Squad is perfect. If I ever get an M1A (a distinct possibility after shooting Geek's), the Scout Squad is the one I'll buy.

Thoughts on Selecting .22 Rimfire Ammunition

Happy new year! Here's hoping that 2007 will bring you health and wealth.

My first missive of the new year is over on my Survival and Emergency Preparedness Blog. Check it out.