Sunday, March 23, 2008

iChatAV Desktop Sharing

Yesterday before heading down to Microcenter I spent a couple hours over at my parents' house showing my mother how to do various things on her Mac. E.g., how to setup rules in Mail and installing a few programs in her XP virtual machine. I also set her up with an AIM account, mainly so she could see my daughters when my folks are away on a trip.

After I got home she called me with a few more questions. I started explaining things to her when I remembered the desktop sharing feature added to iChatAV with Leopard. So, I initiated a sharing session by sending her a request, and was able to get her issue squared away in about half the time that it would otherwise take.

I've used a variety of remote control programs on Mac, Windows and Linux, including telnet, ssh, pcAnywhere, Remote Admin, and several flavors of VNC. IMHO, iChatAV's desktop sharing feature is by far the easiest remote control tool to use for someone who is calling someone else for technical support. Neither party needs to know the other's IP and it seemlessly worked through two firewalls which do NAT and SPI. On top of that, it automatically opens up a voice chat session so you don't need to keep a phone call going during the course of the support call.

If you're a Mac user and you support other Mac users frequently, or need to get remote support help frequently, this feature by itself looks like it could justify upgrading to Leopard.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

New Monitor and Keyboard for my MacBook Pro

For some time I've thought about redoing the desk in my office, where I have my XP box Bagend situated. Bagend has seen hardly any use since I bought my G4 iBook back in December 2004. I much prefer working on the Mac platform and a laptop's ability to be used anywhere in the house is very appealing. This opinion was only magnified when I bought Rohan, my MacBook Pro back in January 2007.

However, sometimes I'd like to be able to use a full sized keyboard and a larger monitor with a higher resolution. The monitor on Bagend was my old ViewSonic GS771. I've had it for at least 10 years and it's been a workhorse. I got my money's worth out of it, but decided it was finally time to get something with a larger screen that would take up less desk space than a CRT. One of my goals was to setup Rohan with the external screen, keyboard, and mouse, and use the laptop with its cover closed.

So, today at Microcenter I picked up an Acer AL2016W 20" widescreen LCD display and a Macally Icekey Mac keyboard.

Initially, I was leaning towards a 20" widescreen ViewSonic, but it was about $100 more than the Acer and I didn't really want to spend the extra money. One of my clients has a similar Acer LCD and it looks nice, so after seeing the display model I decided to give it a chance.

The Acer has DVI and VGA inputs, and comes with cables for both. It's connected to Rohan via DVI. The Mac automatically detected it and set it to the max resolution of 1680x1050. The refresh rate is 60 Hz, which I'm hoping will be OK. Text and graphics look good so far.

The Macally keyboard came with a driver CD for OS 9 and OS 10, but I don't think the driver has been updated for several years. It may not be fully compatible with Leopard. For example, the volume control and eject buttons don't seem to work. If I can't get them working soon I'll return it and get something else. I do like the feel of the keyboard. It's somewhat reminiscent of the G4 iBook keyboard, though the keys take a bit more effort to depress.

While I was at Microcenter I checked out one of the new Apple keyboards, which was connected to an iMac. I hated it. I might be able to get used to it but I think there are better options available for less money.

The mouse I'm using is the same Logitech laser wheel mouse which I had connected to Bagend. I've found that my favorite mice are low-end Logitechs which sell for about $15.

Since Rohan's cover is closed I would like to have an external webcam and mic to use with iChatAV and Skype. I had a Logitech USB webcam connected to Bagend but neither IM program is recognizing it. I'll see if there's a Mac driver available, but I doubt it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ubuntu Musings

Last week I setup an old PC (2 GHz P4 with 512 MB RAM) at the office with Kubuntu 7.10. The PC was a Cisco MCS7800 but actually made by IBM.

I've been using it for web surfing on our lab network, mainly keeping Firefox open to my iGoogle and Google Reader pages. I wanted to install Gnome on it aside from KDE and was able to do so, but for some reason the default "human" theme would not load properly, even after I manually reinstalled it.

After much dicking around I decided to reimage the box with Ubuntu 7.10. While it worked better on my hardware than Kubuntu, I still couldn't get video to work like I wanted. The PC has an ATI Rage XL video card and is connected to a ViewSonic VA702b 17" flat panel monitor. I should be able to set screen resolution to 1280x1024 but couldn't get (K)Ubuntu to go higher than 1024x768. Unfortunately, at that resolution the display looks fuzzy.

The other day I finally said to heck with it, and loaded XP Pro on the machine. It went on smoothly, although I did have to manually download and install a driver for the Broadcom NIC. XP didn't properly detect the sound card so it's not working, but that isn't a big deal.

Certainly, I'd rather have some flavor of Linux on the box but I'm not going to waste time trying to get it configured if the hardware isn't easily supported. If it was easily configurable that would be different. I've got the box secured with AVG, a firewall, a hosts file, Spybot Search & Destroy, and run Firefox instead of IE. I don't engage in unsafe Internet usage, so I'm not worried about the box getting rooted.

The productivity apps which I've installed include, PuTTY, Cygwin, Pidgin, Core FTP Lite, Foxit Reader (for PDFs) and PDF Creator.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Live Coverage of Oral Arguments in DC v. Heller

Heads up...

Tomorrow, SCOTUSblog will be providing live coverage of the oral arguments in DC v. Heller.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Modern Times

One of the first albums I bought was Modern Times, by Jefferson Starship.  I got it shortly after it came out and wore out the record well before I got out of high school (this was several years before CDs came out).  It's probably been 20 years since I last listened to it, but for some reason it came to mind a couple of weeks ago.  So, I wound up ordering it on CD from Amazon.

Modern Times rocks.  Before Jefferson Starship morphed into Starship and put out crap like "We Build This City," they were a hard rocking band.  Modern Times contains two songs which were hits in '81 - '82: Find Your Way Back and Stranger.  The videos for both songs saw heavy rotation in the early days of MTV, back when they actually played music.

Check it out if you like late '70s/early '80s rock from before the age of hair metal.

Migrating the Parents Over to the Mac

As I posted last week, my parents' PC died last week.  Gondor was a PIII/733 which I built when that chip was right at the sweet spot for price vs. performance.

The day after I used the System Rescue CD to pull their data off the box a coworker informed me that he'd snapped a couple 120 GB WD 2.5" SATA notebook drives at Best Buy for $25 each, and asked me if I wanted one.  Since my folks' MacBook came with an 80 GB disk I took him up on the offer.

I had my father pick up a USB external enclosure at Microcenter for the original disk in the MB, to be used for Time Machine backups.  (I prefer FireWire for external disks since it seems to handle sustained transfers of many small files better than USB 2.0, even though the latter has a higher peak throughput.  But the USB enclosure will suit my parents' needs and was only about $15.)

On Saturday I went over and swapped out the drives, installed Leopard on the new disk, and used the OS 10.5 installer to import all their old data and settings off the original disk.  Once I'd confirmed that the machine was up and running with the new drive, I reformatted the original disk and configured Time Machine to back up to it.  All told, it took me about three hours.

Interesting Info From Last Weekend's Gun Show

Last weekend there was a gun show in Valley Forge.  I didn't go, but a couple friends did.  What they each told me confirmed my belief that people are concerned about a Democrat victory in November, and are stocking up accordingly.

#1 told me that he saw no more than 1,500 rounds total of 7.62x39 ammunition, as used in AKs and SKSes, at the show.  #2 said that he saw exactly three AKs there (all Yugos, two underfolders and one fixed stock).

From the 80s up until a couple of years ago 7.62x39 was as common as dirt and not much more expensive that it.  Supplies have fluctuated as people become concerned that it may not be easily available.  This was especially true in the run-up to the 2006 election when gun owners were worried that the Dems would gain control of Congress.

However, AKs have been plentiful for most of the past 10 years, even during the Assault Weapons Ban.  Since the AWB sunset in 2004, the number and variety of available AKs has increased.  If there were only three at a large gun show it means that people are snapping them up in record number.  I suspect that many folks are buying more than one.  There are two main reasons why this is so:

  1. Folks are worried about a Dem president in January 2009 followed by another AWB and are counting on a grandfather clause to allow them to continue possession after a ban is enacted.
  2. With the economy in poor shape and apparently getting worse, people are worried about unrest.  An AK -- even the neutered, semiauto-only AKs we can buy in the US -- is a perfect gun for defending the homestead if the SHTF.
Either way, it's an interesting peek into how people are viewing the near future.