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Newsletter Issue #293

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

Every single day, more and more listeners ask me when we’re going to start Podcasting the show. The answer is that the heavy lifting is nearly done, and I hope we’ll begin before the end of July, possibly sooner if the tests continue to be successful. Once the setup process is done, you’ll be able to subscribe to The Tech Night Owl LIVE Podcasts directly from our site and from iTunes 4.9 soon thereafter. We’ll let you know when we’re ready to roll.

Meantime, we had a terrific show on July 7th. First up was Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, author of nearly 50 Mac books and a general nice guy. A new friend joined the show, Zachary Borovay, who told us about his grandfather, who was one of the inventors of the parallel port and the dot matrix printer. Then Zachary got around to talking about his own work, as a graphic artist who uses his Mac to develop projects for Broadway. Closing out this triple-header was Andy Ihnatko, who delivered an advanced look at his presentation during the Macworld Expo in Boston and also spent a few minutes talking about his favorite summer movies. You know that Andy nearly got a gig as a movie reviewer, but he didn’t want to abandon the Mac universe in the process.

For July 14th, we’ll enter “The David Biedny Zone,” and we’ll also be joined by author Kirk McElhearn. Another guest will be announced shortly.

And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, memory upgrades, network music players, software and books. More great prizes are coming this month.

If you haven’t heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives. Enjoy.

THE MAC HARDWARE REPORT: DON’T STUFF THAT DRIVE!

I’ve talked about this subject before, on and off, but it became a truly significant factor with Mac OS X, but let me take you back a few days first.

One Saturday morning, I got a frantic call from a client whose vintage Power Mac G4 stopped booting. All he got was a perpetual gray screen, so I took him through the normal steps of diagnostics, ending up with a restart with his Mac OS X CD. He ran Disk Utility installer disc, which reported directory errors that couldn’t be repaired. A couple of repeat run-throughs delivered the same result. Whoops!

Did he have a full backup? Well, he hemmed and hawed, but finally admitted that he hadn’t been terribly devoted to the process, so there were a few files that were not only missing but would take days to recreate. So I sent him on a trip to his local Fry’s Electronics, the nearest electronics store, for a copy of Alsoft’s DiskWarrior.

A few hours later, he called back, still flummoxed. “I can’t replace the directory,” he cried, and, upon questioning him, I a had an epiphany! Apparently there wasn’t enough free space on the G4’s hard drive. No, he hadn’t paid attention, but it was clear that the drive was stuffed to the gills and then some.

I didn’t want to add insult to injury so I didn’t lecture him on the need to leave a sufficient amount of free space to accommodate virtual memory space, temporary files such as print spool files, and all the rest. At least not then, because he was far more concerned with retrieving his files and getting his G4 up and running again. So I gave him a brief primer on FireWire target disk mode, which is a way to make your Mac’s internal drive appear as just another FireWire device on another Mac.

The process is strictly Mac to Mac, and not all models support the process. Rather than deliver a full list of supported computers here, I’ll refer you to Apple’s information document on the subject. Briefly, it’s pretty much anything that was introduced after July 2000.

The setup is real simple, although there are a couple of cautions I’ll deliver in a moment. First, shut down the target computer, the one that has the drive you want to mount on the host Macintosh. The host computer can be left on during all this; thank heavens for hot plugging, which is something we take for granted today.

Now connect a standard FireWire cable to both Macs. Restart your target computer, and hold down the “T” key, until you see a FireWire icon on the screen. Within a few seconds, the target Mac’s startup drive should appear on the desktop of your host computer. Now you can easily transfer data between the two computers.

When you’re finished, eject the target Mac’s drive from your host’s desktop. This is of critical importance, because if you just pull the cables or shut down the target Mac, you risk damaging files; no it doesn’t happen very often, but why take chances? After the drive is ejected, press the power button on the target Mac to shut it down. Now you can disconnect the cables.

There is another caution, and that is that you must turn off FileVault on the target Mac, if you can of course. In addition, target disk mode is generally limited to ATA drives that operate as “master” devices. And here is a tip: Under Tiger, you can also engage the target mode in System Preferences, in the Startup Disk pane. But that, too, clearly requires that you can boot that Mac, and that would not have helped this client, even if he had installed Tiger on his G4.

In the end, it worked. The client was able to remove enough files to leave nearly 10GB free space. I had him run DiskWarrior once again, but his Mac still wouldn’t boot. It required a fresh installation of Mac OS X to make it function as it did before.

Now in an era where an 80GB drive is regarded as small, filling up your hard drive is going to be difficult, unless you have a huge collection of photos, artwork and perhaps a sprawling iTunes music library. But if you have an older, space challenged Mac, this won’t be so easy. If you want to partition your drive, leaving your applications and operating system on one volume and your documents on another, be sure you give your operating system plenty of breathing space. Yes, Mac OS X may require 3GB or 4GB, but you need at least twice that much storage space to accommodate the virtual memory swap files and temporary files, such as print files or scratch files created by some applications. With Tiger, you also need space for Spotlight to store its data.

If your Mac’s drive is too small to accommodate all your stuff, maybe it’s time to consider replacing it with a larger drive, or adding an external drive for document files. With recent versions of Mac OS X, you can click on the entry for your internal drive in the Finder to see how much storage space is available. This is something you’ll want to keep tabs on, and when the figure is reduced to 5GB or less, it’s time for action. My client spent hours on a Saturday trying to get his G4 on track rather than spending quality time with his family. I do hope you don’t want to find yourself in his shoes.

THE TECH NIGHT OWL: SAY IT AND SAY IT AGAIN AND AGAIN!

Years ago, and it seems to me to have been in another lifetime, I was a radio broadcaster. I had all the standard jobs, starting as a disk jockey, but ending up in news, simply because I was able to put more than two sentences together on paper in a fairly logical fashion. During some of those gigs, they even asked me to write some advertising copy, and I soon learned the routine. Of course, I didn’t have the time to be really clever. It’s difficult when you have to knock out half a dozen spots a day and still do a full-time board shift. The latter, by the way, is a standard job description for your local DJ, even if that local DJ gets a six or seven figure salary.

One thing I learned is that if you created an ad that was particularly unique, you didn’t want to repeat it too often. You’d risk turning the listeners off, and that wouldn’t help sell the products your client was pushing. Unfortunately, a number of your largest advertisers, here in the 21st century, still haven’t grasped this simple fact.

You can probably cite more than a few examples of what I mean. Of course, if you’re not a resident of the U.S., and familiar with our TV and radio, none of this may seem familiar to you, but I’m sure you can find similar irritants.

Take, for example, that infamous collection of “Dell dude” commercials from a couple of years back, which were designed to make those PC boxes seem hip. Frankly, the spots were tolerable the first time, but after seeing the same thing a few dozen times, I began to cringe at each rebroadcast. But one of the worst offenders is GEICO, an insurance company that was originally founded to service government employees and military personnel, but now serves the general public. Now it’s true some of their commercials can be cute, at least the first few times you hear or see them, and I can understand why GEICO’s “Gecko” cartoon character may be appealing to some, although it just annoys me.

But whether it’s the “Gecko” character or some other short scene that ends up with a pitch to call for a car insurance quote, it appears the company’s ad agency hasn’t grasped the fact that if you turn off a potential customer you end up losing a sale. Sure I realize that it may cost a bundle to produce one of these spots, and perhaps the company or its agency wants to leverage the investment, but enough is enough! When I hear them, I just want to run into the next room and do something else.

Of course there are fairly convenient ways to avoid commercial clutter, at least on TV. If you have a TiVo or a similar recording device, you could just record your favorite shows in advance and skip through the commercials. That’ll show them! If I want to see a show live, I take another approach, which is to record the show, and then start the playback about 15 or 20 minutes into the program. Fortunately, the digital recording systems attached to cable and satellite networks generally allow you to simultaneously record and playback the very same program. Now I just skip through the spots–the Dish Network DVR lets you jump in 30 second increments–and don’t actually “catch up” with the live broadcast until near the very end.

Now my approach, as many of you realize, is hardly unique. I rather suspect that the advertisers realize it, too, and they have to deliver a striking image that makes you stop the commercial skipping process. Another approach is to embed ads into the device’s navigation screens, so you can “click” on it via your remote control if you’re interested in learning more about the product or service.

Whatever tact they take, I hope these companies will come to realize when enough is enough and find less annoying ways to sell their stuff. Right now, I’m not buying and if you feel as I do, that, itself, will make the message loud and clear when the company consults its quarterly financials.

THE FINAL WORD

The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
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