The joy of upgrading a MacBook harddrive

12/26/08 | by Adam | Categories: Macintosh

For the last few months, my MacBook has been running with a grand total of about two to four gigagbytes of harddrive space. As that number also has to accomodate the OSX swap file which grows over time, it simply wasn't sufficient. Besides, I was getting fed up of constantly deleting my MP3s to make space and that "Wrath Of The Lich King" expansion for World Of Warcraft required six gigabytes (!!) of space to install.

I broke down and bought myself a nice shiny new Seagate 500 GB 2.5" SATA drive for about $150. Much roomier than the rather smaller disk I'd had in there originally. Of course, buying the harddrive is only half the battle. There's rather more to it than that: installation and migration. They're not really two independent items as the process is sigificantly intertwined.

Step #1 was to create a copy of the data from the old drive onto the new. I used Drive Genius 2 to clone the OSX drive onto the new one and then opted to use its partitioning tools to create space for the Boot Camp section. I guess I didn't mention Boot Camp before. Cool concept, running Windows on a Mac. Works well. Seriously sucks when you try to do this migrate disks.

Last time I changed the hard drive in my Mac, I didn't realise that a specific disk formatting was required for Boot Camp to work. I therefore didn't make that change and then had to redo all of the work when I did. It added about a day on to the time. So, gentle reader, when prompted as to the formatting of your drive on an Intel Mac, always choose "GUID Partition Scheme". But I didn't make it this time, oh no, not me. I learn from my mistakes.

Not that this matters and the clone includes the correct setting from the previous drive. I let Drive Genius do its thing and it completed successfully.

Yay. Onto Step #2. I took apart the MacBook, removed the old drive and put in the new one. It booted fine -- after I'd spent several hours or so trying to get the new drive to fit into the bay where the little rubber slides had detached and were blocking the connection. There was also the issue with stripped screws on the battery bay edging, the Torx screws used nowhere else on the case and the drive sled that happily fit in upside down. Ah, the language.

Step #3: Ensure OSX works on the new drive. I then went to repartition only to find that the clone had a corrupted filesystem. Something do to with reuse of extents, whatever they are, and it wasn't going to fix it. No big deal. I'd just use SuperDuper instead. And this is where I started going significantly wrong. I booted off the Drive Genius CD again, recreated the partitions on the new drive, and told the Mac to now boot off the old drive, now in an external USB drive case.

It didn't boot. I don't know why, as it should have.

Back to Drive Genius to run the same tests as before, but this time on the old drive. Not surprisingly the same errors that had appeared on the new drive appeared in the old. I don't know what that says about OSX -- I never encountered any problems actually using the drive so it's either very robust or very stupid. And apparently it won't let me boot when mounted externally. A minor side note here: Drive Genius will not even try to touch a drive with an NTFS or DOS partition so it's rendered almost useless for me from this point on. The sensible thing would have been to put it back into the Mac, swapping the drives around, and go with the SuperDuper plan but I really didn't want to deal with stripped screws and the drive sled again.

So I took option #2: I found an old Firewire drive in the basement and installed Tiger on it. I would have put Leopard there but apparently I've mislaid my disks. I then made that the boot drive, installed SuperDuper on it, wiped the internal drive again using the proper Disk Utility tool that Apple supplies with OSX, and then started the copy process. Again.

Overnight it finished. I rebooted the computer so it was now using the internal drive and disconnected the other two. And it worked. And it was good. For the first time in two days, I could now read mail and browse the internet without worrying about losing data.

However, the battle wasn't over yet. Step #4 is that Boot Camp partition. I used the Boot Camp assistant to create the appropriate partition and then used WinClone to copy the original Boot Camp partition off the external disk onto the new one via an image file. It all went swimmingly well. Booting into Boot Camp went smoothly and everything there seemed to be working fine too.

Hallelujah!

This meant that just two more things needed to be tested. Parallels 4 and Fusion 2. Parallels uses the Boot Camp partition for a work build environment as I ran out of space on the Mac partition to grow its virtual disk large enough to hold a full Visual Studio install. Fusion uses it as it could run using just the Boot Camp partition without messing up the ability of Boot Camp to use it too, something I would have preferred to have done with Parallels too but that's the price of being an early adopter.

Naturally, neither worked. Parallels at first refused to run on the grounds that the drive where Boot Camp resides at had changed. When I removed and readded it, the complaint changed to being:

"Failed to configure the Boot Camp partition's hard disk. A disk configuration error has occurred. Make sure that you have read/write permissions for the disk".

I tried various things like setting the permissions, installing MacFUSE to enable the NTFS-3g driver to give full read/write permissions on NTFS drives, rebooting Boot Camp a few times, removing all of the drives in Parallels and re-adding them but all in vain.

Google came to the rescue again. The solution turned up in the Parallels support forums and was easy although completely non-intuitive:

mv "/Library/Parallels/Parallels Service.app/Contents/MacOS/BootcampConfigurator" "/Library/Parallels/Parallels Service.app/Contents/MacOS/BootcampConfigurator.old"

Do that and magically everything works again.

Over to Fusion. The error here was that it wouldn't recognise the Boot Camp partition and after I removed it, wouldn't let me add it back in again. The solution this time was to delete the entire Fusion directory in "\users\me\Library\Application Support\VMware Fusion". This forces Fusion to go through the whole process of reinitializing when it starts which allows it to re-create the Boot Camp default settings. When it does that, you have to sit through a somewhat time consuming process where it prepares the Boot Camp partition to run as a virtual machine. Alas for me, that then resulted in an ongoing complaint about Windows not having shutdown correctly. I repeatedly tried rebooting Boot Camp directly and even upgraded to a newer version of Fusion. Eventually one time the error just went away of its own accord. I'm not sure what I did (or didn't) do but I wasn't complaining.

So there you have it. It took me two days to change a hard drive in a MacBook. I somehow think that this will be the last time I change that; if the drive fails, I'll probably just go and buy another computer. It's getting on for three years old now which makes it pretty much obsolete in computer years...

 

The Guild

12/23/08 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Games

Link: http://www.watchtheguild.com/

I'm probably the last person with any Warcraft interest to have found this, but "The Guild" is a pretty funny web-based sitcom about a group of WoW players. Professionally shot and acted, it's actually entertaining. As a bonus for the geekier, it's also accurate in terms of game mechanics.

Give it a whirl: www.watchtheguild.com

 

Automatically regenerating iTunes random playlists

12/17/08 | by Adam | Categories: Music, Macintosh

As I'm slowly trying to replace the Creative Soundblaster Wireless with the Apple Airport Express, one feature that the Creative software did well was random playlist generation. iTunes has that feature too but it works in a sufficiently different way as to be frustrating.

Let me explain: on the Creative, I created a randomized playlist of 50 songs. Every time I chose the playlist, that 50 song lineup changed. On iTunes however (limit to 50 items, selected by "random") that list was static. No matter how often you selected the list, it always came up with exactly the same 50 "randomly" chosen songs. This didn't seem terribly random to me so I was annoyed and went looking for a solution.

As you can imagine, the answer was straight forward and irritatingly logical. From the solution as recommended by user snowdog99 at iLounge:

You have to include a condition that changes, something like "Last played is not in the last n days" - where n is a number of your choice. Without that, once the random songs have been selected there is no reason to change them.

And that was the sole modification. I added a further condition that the music couldn't have been played in the last day and now the list is fresh each time I use it.

"Think Different" indeed...

 

Stephen Butterfield Takes the Alpha Course

12/02/08 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Religion

You may have seen the ads for the Alpha Course floating around your town, perhaps saying "Is There More to Life Than This?", though you might wonder that if the person who climbed the mountain in that picture has that question, you might not need to ask the question for a while.

The ads typically make no mention of this, but it's an "introductory course" in Christianity, with an eye towards evangelizing it more so than, say, historical critical analysis.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if an atheist took the course?

Stephen Butterfield took the Alpha Course in the UK, and blogged the entire experience.

Full story »

 

Contested Ballots in the Minnesota Senate election

11/24/08 | by Adam | Categories: American

Link: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2008/11/19_challenged_ballots/

One of the interesting things to come out of the remarkably close election in Minnesota is how many ways it's possible to screw up a simple fill-in-the-circle ballot. Given that these ballots are pretty close to the ones used by Elections Canada (or Elections Alberta for that matter) I wouldn't mind knowing if the same issues over voter intent or spoilage occur up here -- not that Alberta elections ever tend to be close enough to require this kind of scrutiny.

(Via Kottke)

 

Ongoing "Fallout 3" Commentary

11/20/08 | by Adam | Categories: Whining, Games

Great game so far but there are two significant issues I have with it:

  • When laden down, you move slowly. In and of itself, no big deal, but it also disables the quick move between two locations on a map. This means you need to control your nice 3D character through the entire route, footstep by footstep. It takes ages.
  • Shopkeepers follow working hours. If you turn up at, say, 6:30 pm they're closed and won't serve you. This means you now have to kill an entire night waiting for them to open up again or spend lots of money in Megaton on a bed for the night. Just buy my stuff and be done already.

These design decisions may be more "realistic" but it's incredibly annoying to spend more time running and waiting than actually playing...

 

"Meh" gains dictionary recognition

11/17/08 | by Adam | Categories: Potpourri

Link: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2008/11/17/meh-dictionary.html

Sometimes new word need to be created to express a particular concept and the source is generally unimportant, so like "DOH!" the Simpsons get another credit. "Meh" fits into the same space as "Whatever" but it's shorter and -- for me at least -- lacks the Valleygirl connotation.

Good work, HarperCollins! OED, we're now looking at you.

 

Fallout 3 has landed!

10/29/08 | by Adam | Categories: Games

This means no blog updates coming for the next few weeks, unless Ritchie or Dena get bored...

 

Review: Apple Airport Express's AirTunes

10/27/08 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Music, Reviews, Macintosh, iPhone

Link: http://www.apple.com/ca/airportexpress/

Recently I picked up an Apple Airport Express which is their little doodad that acts as a 802.11n extender, USB printer host and -- most importantly to me -- an AirTunes source. One of the problems I've been chewing on for a while is how to get my home theatre to spool music from my MP3 collection without needing to turn on the projector to see what I'm doing. As the speakers there are by far the best in the house, it's the most appropriate place to listen.

Elsewhere in the house I'm using the Creative Soundblaster Wireless which sticks the display onto the remote but it's always been a little disappointing in practice; besides, it's been out of production for years so I couldn't buy another one even if I wanted to.

For a while I used WinAMP on the HTPC and just learned my way around the keyboard, but when I moved to the Microsoft BlueTooth Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000 keyboard I lost the priority settings for WinAMP; this meant that when I pressed "play" on the keyboard, the PC wouldn't start WinAMP and therefore no music. There's also some issue I've been unable to troubleshoot where if there are no active tasks on the PC, it'll go into a hibernate mode and require a power cycle to reactivate. Basically, it's no longer a workable solution.

The second option was to use a PS3 with its media streaming. In practice, it's terrible. The support for remote filesystems on the PS3 when dealing with large music collections is unusable as there's a two to three minute delay when trying to choose songs or just navigate the hierarchy. This is as true on a gigabit connection as it is on a wifi one. Beyond that, the interface is sufficiently complicated that it's impractical to do without being able to see what you're doing. Natch.

In the end, I settled on the AirPort Express. This uses an iTunes installation as its data source. I already have one up 24/7 to drive Radio Adam which means I have full access to my music collection without having to install any further server software. Check 1. The arrival of the iPhone/iTouch with the Remote application gives me the ability to pick and select what I want to listen to without firing up the projector. Check 2.

The setup was pretty simple. I plugged in the AirPort to the power socket, connected up the optical wire between it and the amp, and then plugged the gigabit network into its port. The MacBook automatically detected the AirPort when it was added to the network and brought up the configuration tool. The default settings were basically correct and the only thing that was required was to disable its wireless support. I told iTunes on the server to look for external speakers at which point it added a new menu option to the GUI. This permitted audio redirection to both the regular USB RocketFM (which is what broadcasts RadioAdam) and to the AirPort. That was it: music now played cleanly through the amp. A quick change to the display on the amp so that the MD selector now reads "iTunes" and I was done.

I used a borrowed iPhone to fiddle around with changing playlists and jumping around between songs. It worked well with the exception that sometimes there was a bit of a delay selecting playlists. I figure that's due to the old G4 Mac Mini just creaking a bit at the seams. Eventually I'll replace it with a newer Intel one but for the moment it's doing fine.

The AirPort Express isn't that cheap at $100 and it is an audio-only solution, but for my purposes it's perfect. It's small, discrete and does exactly what I needed. It has added a new item to my technology budget though: an iTouch to act as the remote control so I don't need to borrow the iPhone all the time.

 

AronRa's Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism

10/25/08 | by Nimble | Categories: Religion, Science

For a thorough treatment of the assumptions, presumptions and myths underlying creationism, you can hardly do better than to take in the scruffy-but-erudite AronRa's series on the Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism.

His expositions on transitional fossils, scientific hoaxes popular with creationists and beneficial mutations are top notch. The series is informative even if you are otherwise "in the know" on this topic.

You will also marvel at the pace and how long a sentence he can speak on a single breath. I envy the ability to roll this off the tongue (from #10 in the series):

For example, “Primates” are collectively defined as any gill-less, organic RNA/DNA protein-based, metabolic, metazoic, nucleic, diploid, bilaterally-symmetrical, endothermic, digestive, tryploblast, opisthokont, deuterostome coelemate with a spinal chord and 12 cranial nerves connecting to a limbic system in an enlarged cerebral cortex with a reduced olfactory region inside a jawed-skull with specialized teeth including canines and premolars, forward-oriented fully-enclosed optical orbits, and a single temporal fenestra, -attached to a vertebrate hind-leg dominant tetrapoidal skeleton with a sacral pelvis, clavical, and wrist & ankle bones; and having lungs, tear ducts, body-wide hair follicles, lactal mammaries, opposable thumbs, and keratinized dermis with chitinous nails on all five digits on all four extremities, in addition to an embryonic development in amniotic fluid, leading to a placental birth and highly social lifestyle.

My only complaints: a little too much in the way of Willy Wonka interludes and #13 in the series is of a lower volume than the rest.

Apart from that, highly recommended.

Favourite quote:

Demanding an “ape-man” is actually just as silly as asking to see a mammal-man, or a half-human, half-vertebrate. How about a half dachshund, half dog? It’s the same thing. One may as well insist on seeing a town half way between Los Angeles and California. Because the problem with bridging the gap between humans and apes is that there is no gap because humans ARE apes –definitely and definitively...

...So where is the proof that humans descend from apes? How about the fact that we’re still apes right now!

 

You want your money? You're going to have to pay for it

10/21/08 | by Adam | Categories: Silly

A few months ago I decided to get a new credit card due to, well, greed really. Anyway, I kept the old one for emergencies such as when I left the new one at a Houston restaurant like Pappadeaux (most excellent crab cakes by the way) shortly before flying home.

A bit after I moved to the new card, I cancelled an online order due to the vendor being unable to deliver. Since I'd paid using the original credit card, that was the one it was credited back to. As I wasn't using the card, this credit has sat on it, unused, for months. Eventually I figured I'd just use the online banking to transfer the balance to the new card. Well, you can't do that; y'know, not allowed to use one credit card to pay off another. It makes sense when it's credit (i.e. money you owe being used to pay off other money you owe) but a bit less when it's money owed to you. Still, rules are rules so I transferred the balance back to a savings account.

Today I found the $2.50 cash advance fee on the credit card. Yup. Bringing my balance on that card to $0 counts as a cash advance, and that they charge for.

All I can say is that I am stunned the financial industry can lose billions because they clearly have billing their loyal customers down pat.

 

Interesting requirements for selling used CDs

10/19/08 | by Adam | Categories: Copyright

Link: http://www.thelegality.com/archives/93

This is not a law you want to see coming north of the border:

In Florida, for example, anyone attempting to sell used CDs to a retailer must present identification and be fingerprinted, and any retailer looking to sell those same CDs must apply for a permit and submit a $10,000 bond with the Department of Agriculture and Human Services.

While the article states that online and personal sales aren't included in that rather interesting piece of legislation, it's a pretty good wedge when it comes to restricting resale of audio material.

(Via BoingBoing)

 

Wired on telecommuting

10/18/08 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Link: http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/16-10/st_essay

Wired has an interesting article on the advantages of telecommuting rather than centralized offices.

I partially agree: there are many excellent reasons to work from home. However, the article has clearly been written for a US audience and there are certain assumptions built into the article like 2500 square foot houses and $1200 commuting bills which simply aren't true up here in Calgary; well, not unless you work in a senior role for an oil company. On top of that, personal experience has been that I'm still more productive in the office than at home due to much easier access to those I work with: think outsourcing to India but just make the roundtrip a bit shorter. Beyond issues like that, you run into problems with non-centralized network infrastructure (e.g. reliance on residential internet connection and personal computers, servers still need a co-location facility with the additional difficulty of access and maintenance), a number of costs are pushed onto the worker (extra electricity consumption due higher heating during the day and usage of work machines, telephone bills that need to be reclaimed from the employer),and the somewhat significant fact that this concept still only works for white collar employees.

I do like working at home, but I prefer working at the office where I can leave my work concerns quite separate from my life when I go home in the evening. That lack of separation is something that's rarely raised in pro-telecommuting articles and it does significantly add stress levels to one's home life if it becomes the norm, rather than the periodic.

 

Yeah, that's slow

10/14/08 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Recently I had a need to access a remote machine over the internet to pull down some files. Alas, that machine was an Windows box running under Parallels on a 1.83 GHz MacBook access via VNC from a gateway machine itself accessed via Remote Desktop.

If that sounds slow, just try using it.

 

Background updating tasks

10/13/08 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Link: http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/software/0,1000001048,39419834,00.htm

ZDNet has a brief article on how a good idea can become an excessively annoying one. In this case, it's applications that run in the background in order to check to see that the version of software one has is the most recent one. On your average computer, it doesn't take long until boot time is doubled and memory is consumed by large numbers of applications that do nothing but increase the footprint. Disable them as you will, you just know they'll be back next time there's an update.

To me the answer seems simple but neither Apple nor Microsoft have done it: create a central registry program that does this. The program -- just the one -- checks through a list of programs and associated URLs looking for updated. When it finds one, the user is prompted, much as the Apple software update works right now. New installs can be added to the list and old ones removed. Make it a standard API and you're done.

So, industry standard operating system providers, why not?

 

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 ... 72