Cleaning Out the MacBook Attic

 In this second installment (first of the two parts is here), Alex digs into the leftovers from Migration Assistant on his MacBook Pro, finds code almost old enough to vote, and discovers his computer truly can run faster.

Last time, I discussed MacOS’s Migration Assistant, and how it will enthusiastically move all of your old software and settings. This time, I’ll show how to delete it manually; it’s worth the effort.

Your Mac’s Attic

After the (much earlier) migration, I looked at my Applications, and deleted a few. Of course, apps don’t run unless started—or not at all, if they’re incompatible. Unless they auto-start, applications (as compared to daemons) are probably not getting in your way. /Applications holds most of your apps (29 Gigs, for me), including the OS X installer app, if you haven’t thrown it in the trash. At 5 GB, this may be worth deleting, if you’re trying to trim disk usage. (I just did—I can re-download if needed.)

But I didn’t look in other folders, ones holding other, important applications and settings, including various daemons which do auto-start, silently. Complimenting the /Applications folder is /Library, the system-level repository of launch agents, launch daemons, and preference panes. Some of these are controlled by the Login Items preference pane, but others, especially ones transferred from your older computer, may start anyway, even if not listed.

I took the Application Startup list (System Preferences | Users & Groups | Login Items) on faith; surely MacOS knew about applications it had transferred? Seemingly, no; there are multiple services resident on the Mac, moved by Migration Assistant from the older Mac, which don’t show as Login Items. They simply weren’t there.

Astute readers will recall that the Windows Upgrade Adviser checks for application compatibility, including version numbers, before moving your old apps to your new computer. So too does PCMover. The MacOS Migration Assistant doesn’t appear to do that.

Leftovers and Ancient Code

As I mentioned in a previous installment, EtreSoft’s freeware EtreCheck compiles a good list of all the applications, services (“daemons”, in classic Unix parlance), and other cruft in residence. (Much of this information is also in the System Report utility, but not as nicely formatted.) EtreCheck is how I found the Valve Steam client plumbing, the remnants of LogMeIn (Replaced with TeamViewer), and other stuff.

When EtreCheck still showed at least a dozen undead roaming unfettered amongst the innocent, it was time to look in individual folders.

Closer Looks

Launch agents are started by the launchd process, from a plist script (Preference script—essentially, a shell command). You can remove agents from starting via the command-line, but deleting them is more final.

My /library/launchagents folder contained several old plist scripts, including an ancient (2008!) system-stat app, iStat. After some cleaning, my /library/launchagents folder now contains:

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There’s Avast’s startup commands, the inevitable Java updater, etc. Note the leftover Logitech preferences, from when I had a Logitech mouse attached; more about that in a moment. There’s also TeamViewer startup scripts, despite having uninstalled TeamViewer and thrown it in the trash. Since TeamViewer hooks pretty deeply into MacOS, for video and sound redirects, I’m going to delete those, too.

/library/launchDaemons contains daemons, or at least the scripts to load them:

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Again, Java version-checker, plus the Microsoft Office license-checker, more Avast, Adobe VersionCue (Loaded but never used). Yet more TeamViewer that has to go.

There’s also Google Keystone—a play on Keyhole, codename for American surveillance satellites of the 1990s and source of much of the ground imagery in past generations. Really, that’s for Google Earth, invaluable for determining microwave look angles, scouting for hikes, and looking for easter eggs.

/library/PreferencePanes holds all the “Preference Panes”, Macspeak for third-party control panels, themselves (As separate from daemon launchers or preferences). Mine looked like:

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This is after I removed the Logitech control panel (Ok, “Preference pane”) itself, a leftover from when I had a Logitech mouse. Before deletion, it ran, found no Logitech devices, appeared benign; still, since it was 2008 code, out it went.

Remove an item from System Preferences by control-clicking (Right-clicking, on a two-button mouse) then clicking “remove” on the menu. I’m sure you could also delete it from the PreferencePanes directory itself, but whatever legerdemain the Mac goes through to delete a pane seems complex, so I’d rather not take a chance.

And we’re still not quite done with the zombie-stomping. /System/Library/Extensions contains, as you might imagine, a long list of kernel extensions. EtreCheck showed many of them running on my computer, including ancient Virgin Mobile drivers (For a tethered-mode hotspot), even older Sierra Wireless drivers (Ditto), the inevitable LogMeIn drivers, old RIM/BlackBerry communications drivers, and Logitech drivers. After careful consideration, I’ve deleted these. Also present, but not running: Several dozen H-P drivers, apparently for printers, which I left alone.

As I discussed previously, preferences and programs fall into two types: Global, for all users, in /Library and /System/Library; Per-user, in the /<user>/Library folder. Unsurprisingly, I also have personal launch agents, in /Library/LaunchAgents:

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That includes Citrix GoToMeeting preferences, personal Avast anti-malware preferences (Vs. systemwide in the earlier folders), ancient Kerio MailServer (Competitor to Exchange) client-side preferences, and Valve Steam client preferences for the few games I keep on my system.

The Google contact sync agent replicates mac-side contact info to my Android phone; H-P printer preferences and personal preferences for Apple folder views finish the list. Staggeringly, no TeamViewer preferences appear here.

Testing For Speed

I then emptied the trash to truly exorcise the zombie code, then a reboot. Reboot times are still in the 3-minute range, but login is much faster.

If you check “Re-open apps when I restart” on the Mac, they appear as pictures—snapshots of what they looked like at reboot—before becoming live. The “picture to live” times, even with a dozen apps restarting, was noticeably faster (Sorry, forgot the stopwatch). Perhaps the zombie apps and daemons have been exorcised?

EtreCheck shows far fewer mysterious entries, too, as does Activity Monitor. I don’t know yet for certain, but the results are promising. Word loads faster, saves faster; Time Machine backups don’t slow the system down appreciably; no strange delays in Firefox loads.

But there’s still one major application that needed reorganizing: Apple Mail, as I’ll discuss more in the next article.

Next time: more adventures with Alex as he digs into Apple Mail.

MacBook Pro Migration Assistant

 In this first part of a two-part installment, Alex works on his MacBook Pro to cure erratic performance, hidden storage, Terminator processes and the Precambrian-era apps that cause them. He starts with a discussion of migration.

Migration Assistant: Too helpful?

While I moved to this Mac (MacBook Pro 15”, early 2011, 8 GB RAM) over a year ago, it took this long to find out just how much stuff I’d moved—some programs were from two moves earlier! This was part of my mysterious slowdowns, unresponsive performance, and general low-level annoyance, distractions from Getting Things Done.

This is, I suppose, a curse of the modern age. In previous generations, computer speed was slow enough that I’d save up context-switches, changes from one program to another, or other time-wasters, until I needed a break.

Today, systems are fast enough that we, I, rely on instantaneous swaps from Word to Firefox and back. A two-second delay for Word’s “Insert Hyperlink” feature to open, or more than five seconds for MacOS to paste from the clipboard into the Hyperlink window, pulls me right out of writing.

Even though a few seconds is trivial, when I’m on a roll, it breaks my concentration; the imprecations yelled at an unresponsive computer scare the animals; I pick up the phone to look at the latest e-mails, etc. It takes long enough to get into writing mode; I don’t need computer excuses for not being productive.

Still, I had grown used to these delays, or at least tolerated them. When they stretched into seeming minutes, longer if you include the lost ‘what-was-I-doing-anyway’ productivity, it was time to investigate further.

Short of deleting everything from the computer and starting over, how else could I speed up the Mac? Turns out, plenty—including actions I haven’t seen written up elsewhere. While hunting down old code, I learned considerably more about what’s under the covers, too.

Choosing Your Migration Adventure

How should you move from your old computer to the new? There are many ways: Wi-Fi, Time Machine backup, USB drive, FireWire drive, Ethernet.

Migrating over the wire: As Apple mentions in their notes, many current-generation MacBooks and MacBook Pros don’t come with an Ethernet port; you will need a Thunderbolt or USB 3 Ethernet adapter to upgrade over-the-wire from the older computer. Many people buy the Apple-labeled Thunderbolt Ethernet adapters, or the USB 2 adapter, for just such an occasion as migration. USB 2 tops out at 480 Mbps, far slower than Gigabit Ethernet, but plenty fast for most uses. (This MacBook Pro 15” only has USB 2, not 3.)

The new MacBook (not “Pro”, not “Air”, just MacBook) is even more minimal; its only physical connector is a single USB-C—no Thunderbolt. It even charges via this single connector. USB 3.0 is fast (Nominally, 5 Gbps), USB 3.1 (On the MacBook), double that. The MacBook appears to be a trial balloon: Will consumers buy a computer with only one port, or is more better?

Personally, I miss having three USB connectors on the 17” Mac, plus FireWire, Ethernet and a separate video out, but I’m not the target market. I find an Ethernet adapter is essential; I move far too much data to count on Wi-Fi for everything. Sure, it’s another part to lose, but Ethernet is more reliable than wireless, and usually much faster. Yes, 802.11ac Wave 2 is multi-gigabit, but that’s under ideal conditions, and when the Wi-Fi is working.

USB or Thunderbolt adapter? Thunderbolt adapters take up the Thunderbolt/Displayport connector, meaning no second monitor if you need a wired network. (Alternatively, you could use a Thunderbolt dock, but they’re fairly bulky.) There are very nice USB 3 hubs which also sport an Ethernet port; unless you want the smallest possible set of gear to carry, that might be a good choice.

The lost connector: I mentioned FireWire, but it’s quickly being phased out, appearing on none of the current MacBook models. Not a huge loss; while FireWire 800 was almost twice as fast as USB 2, it’s much slower than USB 3 or Thunderbolt. Its other use, connecting directly to camcorders, disappeared long ago, and it will be relegated to guess this connector quizzes in a few years.

Can Migration Be Too Helpful?

When I moved from my finally-dead 17” MacBook Pro, I’d used Migration Assistant, the built-in “move your stuff” program that ships with MacOS. Migration Assistant (in /Applications/Utilities).

It makes the process simple: Connect the two computers (Wi-Fi, Time Machine backup, USB drive, Ethernet), start the Migration Assistant on both, choose “to another Mac” on the source machine, then, on the target, choose the source machine. You’ll be given an opportunity to choose what to move, about which more in a second. Watch for the message “Your other Mac is ready” on the old one, click continue on the new one, and step back.

If your old computer’s dead, the standard rite of passage is to extract its hard drive, stick it in an external case, and run Migration Assistant from there. The old drive then becomes a backup, or kicks around in your desk drawer for ages. (Not that I’m guilty, but exactly why do I have 40 GB hard drives still gathering dust?)

In-place upgrades (No new computer, just a new operating system) happen as part of the MacOS upgrades; they are similarly helpful. Most of the time, they’re completely automatic and transparent, but there are important gotchas, particularly with Apple Mail, as I’ll discuss next time.

Windows Migration Assistant works well for PC-to-Mac migration, though of course it moves files and settings, not the applications themselves. Mac-to-Mac migration with plain old Migration Assistant does move programs—all programs, if you let it. If you don’t just click past it (I did), there’s a selection pane, where you can choose exactly what to move:

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Note the “Settings” checkbox and drop-down menu; this will become important in our next article.

In the next installment, Alex looks at leftovers, really old code, and the joyous discovery of a faster computer.

Wi-Fi Sharing in Windows 10–Facts or Hysteria?

With the release of Windows 10, one of the subjects of concern is the new Wi-Fi Sharing process. It looks like there has been a bit of hysteria and/or exaggeration about this issue.

The Chaos Manor Advisors discussed this a few weeks ago, when the first article about this appeared in The Register. The general consensus is that on first look, this may be a ‘bad thing’. But a lot of the hype about this seems to be just that, hype. And some misunderstanding of the whole process. It appears that one might want to ‘read past the headlines’ on this issue.

Chaos Manor Advisor Peter Glaskowsky reports on his testing of Microsoft’s Wi-Fi Sharing process in a late beta release of Windows 10.

I’ve been talking about Wi-Fi sense without the benefit of having used it, since I have only one Windows 10 machine and that one is a 2U server with no wireless in it.

But yesterday I realized that I could attach one of my USB Wi-Fi dongles. (A blinding flash of the obvious.)

This is as pure a test as I can imagine of the default Wi-Fi Sense settings, since this machine has literally never had a wireless capability before now, and Windows 10 was the first version of Windows ever installed on it.

So, the results:

When I installed the Wi-Fi adapter (a TP-Link TL-WN722N, one of the nicer ones of this type since it has a proper RP-SMA antenna connector), it became available essentially instantly. Windows 10 said nothing about installing a driver.

I went into the new-style Settings (not the old Control panel), then Network & Internet, then Wi-Fi on the left sidebar (which had not been there before), then Manage Wi-Fi settings in the main window. This sequence brings up the main Wi-Fi Sense settings dialog.

The “Connect to suggested open hotspots” option was on, allowing the machine to connect to well-known public hotspot systems like Boingo. I think this is generally fine, but I don’t know whether there is robust protection against someone setting up a bogus hotspot that appears to be part of the Boingo network. Since I don’t need it, at the conclusion of this testing, I turned it off. In the meantime, I left it alone.

The setting of primary concern to everyone is “Connect to networks shared by my contacts”, and that one was OFF by default.

Turning it ON experimentally brought up the three sharing options: Outlook contacts, Skype contacts, and Facebook friends. All three of these were OFF.

I turned on the Skype contacts option.

I then started the process to connect to my home Wi-Fi network by pulling open the network submenu in the task bar and clicking on my SSID.

This brought up the usual “Enter the network security key” field and a new one: “Share networking with my contacts.” That option was OFF even though I had turned on the share-with-contacts and Skype sharing options.

In other words, the defaults for the sharing method of primary concern in these web articles are ALL OFF. As off as off can be.

I abandoned the connection process without entering the security key, then turned off the share-with-contacts option in the Wi-Fi Sense settings and started the connection process again.
This time the connection box didn’t even have the “Share networking with my contacts” option.
I re-enabled the share-with-contacts and Skype options, and actually did go through with the connection process, including checking the sharing option.

Interestingly, the system did not give me any choice about which contacts to share it with. I went back into the Wi-Fi Sense settings… and the Manage known networks section said that my network was “Not shared.” How curious, but it saved me a few steps in the procedure I was going through, since my next thing was to share a network that had previously been connected but not shared to see what happens.

I clicked the Share button.

Even though I had already entered the network security key, it asked for the key again. This is exactly the right thing to do. This is how Windows 10 prevents a friend from sharing your security key if you personally type the security key into their device rather than, for example, reading it to them to enter manually.

I completed the sharing process and verified that it “stuck” this time.

Then I disabled the share-with-contacts option in Wi-Fi Sense, and then re-enabled it.
When I went back into “Manage known networks,” my network showed as “Not shared.”

So that’s the whole deal, I think. By default, Wi-Fi Sense operates, at least on my machine, as of today, on Build 10162, exactly as Microsoft says it does. Sharing only happens when you click a bunch of extra buttons to enable it, and stops when you deselect any of those options.
Every share-with-contacts option defaults to OFF, and it DOES protect against a Wi-Fi security key being shared by someone who doesn’t actually know it.

I hope that is the end of this matter for now, at least until we find someone reliable (that is, not a writer for The Register) who has a machine that works differently.

Or until Microsoft provides additional information on the various security aspects (how is the security key protected, how is local network access prevented, does Microsoft have a way to learn your password, does Microsoft have a way to review your Facebook contacts list, etc.).

Or until Microsoft adds what I think is the essential feature for sharing a Wi-Fi security key securely: sharing it with only one individually specified person at a time, without giving Microsoft a way to see the key.

Comments and questions welcome, of course.

The Chaos Manor Advisors discussed this issue a bit today (29 July 2015), especially after Brian Krebs wrote about this (see here). We shared that link to the article with the Advisors.

Eric said:

    So Krebs went ahead and wrote this without doing even the same brief testing Peter did weeks ago. This is how hysterias grow.

Peter added

In spite of the hysteria, I believe it is already fully opt-in.

The only, only, only thing that defaults to “on” is that the service is enabled. Every time a user adds a new Wi-Fi network, the dialog box specifically asks whether to share it with contacts or not, and which contacts to share it with from the three available options (Outlook/Facebook/Skype). All four of those questions, at least on my machine with a clean install, defaulted to OFF.

If the service itself is turned off, none of those sharing questions will be asked.

Now, if someone has turned on the service and shared a network, maybe it defaults to enable sharing the next time; I didn’t test that.

I think this business Krebs raises (and the Register raised) about how a friend could share your Wi-Fi credentials without your permission is just nonsense. That still takes a deliberate effort. If you have a friend who would do that, you need new friends.

This may be a bit of hysteria, as Peter stated. Although sharing your Wi-Fi password is generally not a good thing (especially for the paranoid?), it would appear to us that the actual risk is quite low, based on some limited testing by the Advisors.

We’d be interested in your opinion on this. You can share in the comments below. If you are inclined, you can send us more detailed information that we might use in a future post here at Chaos Manor Reviews. See this page on the submission guidelines for Chaos Manor Reviews.

Saving Space and Lessons Learned

[In the final fourth installment of this series, Alex works with his MacBook Pro as he discovers several causes of its slowness. He figures out how to save more space, and concludes with Lessons Learned.

Prior installments of this series: first, second, and third. Comments are welcomed at the end of this post. – Editor]

Space Saving

I discovered another surprising disk – filler: Unused printer drivers. I collect them, like it or not, at client sites, building temporary networks onsite, or troubleshooting balky copier/printers. While I’m not exactly counting the bytes, a gig here, a gig there, and after a while it adds up to real space.

Where do printer drivers live? In /Library/Printers — not the same as /Users/Alex/Library. Installed printer drivers are system files, used by all logins, not installed in each user’s directory. I felt stupid. Of course, there were system files, separate from my personal login, and of course they were in the system’s own directory structure, not the users’.

How much space? /Library/Printers held 7.5 Gbytes of drivers—very surprising, considering I’d only downloaded a gig or so of driver – installers over the years. (I guess they get expanded at install.) The install files themselves are in /Users/Alex/Downloads, because the user (Me) had downloaded them. It’s only after installation that they end up on /Library/Printers. (I had already deleted unwanted installers from /Users/Alex/Downloads). Saving 7.5 Gigs of space is enough to make me care, especially before I migrate to an SSD.

Final result: I cleared out another 4.5 GB of unused drivers. It’s not the disk space per se that bothers me (Disk is cheap), so much as the backup “elbow room”.

Time Machine, Apple’s excellent built – in backup software, Just Works if the backup drive isn’t too full, but my secondary backup drive is the same size as the internal drive, 500 GB. (I also have a 1 TB primary backup drive.) Time Machine is supposed to automatically erase old backups to make room for new files. However, it doesn’t always think there’s room for backup on the smaller drive; I’ve had to erase the secondary backup target (After I was sure the primary backup was good!) before a backup would finish.

So, going from 80 GB free space (about a month ago) to 120 GB (now) should make my backup experience more reliable.

What We Have Learned

Here’s some ‘lessons learned’:

Precautions: As recommended here, I made sure I had deleted unused printers (Printers, once installed, are shown in System Preferences | Printers & Scanners) first, before I went after /Library/Printers. That’s a good idea anyway: I used to keep ten or more printer drivers installed, in case I visited that client again. I realized my printer-chooser (equivalent of the drop – down choose – a – printer Windows menu) was getting slow and erratic. A few months ago, I weed-whacked out all the ones I seldom use, and selecting a printer got much faster.

Printer presets are wonderful: As long as I’m discussing printers, it’s a good time to mention MacOS printer presets, too. (If you only ever print single – sided on one printer, you can skip this paragraph.) A preset is a bundle of settings for a given printer: Say, double – sided on the long edge, black and white, with toner savings on, from tray 3. Instead of navigating four dialog boxes every time you print, save a preset (or several) for each printer, and waste a lot less paper. It also avoids the “Where does the Xerox WorkCentre 355 driver hide &$$^&$!! stapling!” mini – crisis every time you need a seldom – used feature. For complex print jobs with collation, stapling, hole – punching or folding, capturing all those settings (With careful naming) into a preset can save endless paper, click charges, and aggravation. Printer presets are discussed here, here, here and many other places. Experiment early and often before you do any volume printing; the best time to learn is not on deadline. But, in short, if you ever print anything fancy, you should know about printer presets.

Extra networks too: While I was at it, I also deleted all the network locations (System Preferences | Network, then “Location” tab at the top) I wasn’t using. These are the equivalent of Windows’ network profiles, and I had dozens, for each network I’d ever tested. While they take up little space on disk, they do seem to confuse the network Preferences pane. Like selecting a printer, changing networks took longer than it should, until I deleted those extra network locations. Most people will probably never use any but the default “Automatic”, set for DHCP, except perhaps for a second “location” with a static address for talking to a particular router. MacOS makes switching network settings very easy; I learned to appreciate this the first time I needed to switch from a WAN (direct to a microwave link) to LAN (inside the router) more than once. (I think the record was five. Yes, a second laptop would have been invaluable.)

Some apps love their versions: I also threw out a dozen older versions of GoToMeeting, which were never deleted when the application updated itself. The GoToMeeting tools blog says this is on purpose, that all attendees must run the same version for compatibility, so this isn’t just a lazy installer. Still, it’s a bit disconcerting to have a dozen different copies of an app, stretching back multiple years, that you know you’ll never use. Or sometimes just days: just in July, I got three different versions within a week! It also suggests Citrix (Owners of GTM) might delete unsupported, older, versions, but I can see where that might be a whole other headache.

Wrapping Up

In all, I deleted another 15 gig of unwanted and old files, which will make the eventual migration to a Solid – State Disk (SSD) faster, along with future backups. (Backups take longer than they should, as my backup drives are all USB, and this model MacBook Pro doesn’t have USB 3.) Partly this was to delete anything inessential from slowing me down; partly this was for working space.

That’s not just work avoidance. For good performance, “Elbow room” on the Mac is fairly important. Time Machine needs temporary space on the source (internal) drive to prepare for backups. This is in addition to .MobileBackups directory, a local Time Machine duplicate of everything not yet backed up, which also takes up room. (Time Machine does intelligently decide what should take up local snapshots, trying hard to never make your disk so full you can’t work or back it up.)

I also feel a little more in control of my own destiny on this machine. I’ve been using Macs for thirty years, but only in the last five has MacOS been my primary choice. Learning (or, with UNIX commands, revisiting) the mechanics under the hood, if only a bit, has made me more confident.

Still, there’s a lot to explore. I still have unpredictable performance, Terminator processes, and (it appears) Precambrian – era apps causing them. Oh, and several dozen copies of AppleSpell.

More next time.

[Alex will return with those explorations in the next installment – Editor]

True Exorcism Requires Deeper Incantations

[Alex continues with his tuneup of his MacBook Pro. The first installment is here, and continues with the second.

In this third installment, Alex tries to clear 4,000 viruses, finds hidden storage, and searches for OS clutter. Comments are welcomed at the end of this post. – Editor]

Last time, I thought the mysterious slow – downs of my MacBook Pro (MBP), running the latest version of MacOS (10.10.4) had been vanquished. Alas, no; the app – not – quite – hanging – but – not – responding and unkillable – app problems returned, prompting yet more investigation.

I was fairly sure I didn’t have a native MacOS virus problem; I don’t click on bad links, I don’t download doubtful software, I don’t visit sketchy parts of the Internet. Still, there are a lot of threats, as discussed here, and I was seeing glitches, like slow awaken – from – sleep, apps that suddenly didn’t respond, etc.

The Mac has some built – in protection: XProtect scans for certain malware, MacOS won’t run unsigned code without permission, and it’s UNIX under the covers so there are fewer attack surfaces. The Safari browser blocks known – bad plugins (Java and Flash have been particularly vulnerable, lately), too.

The Virus Hunt Continues

Still, it was time to resume the virus hunt, Just In Case. In its first run, Avast had scanned over 4 million files before complaining it couldn’t reach its malware engine and quitting the scan; I had put all 2,700 viruses, Trojans and other malware found in the “Virus Chest”, their name for quarantine.

Before consigning them, I checked as best I could that they were all in e – mails, bore only Windows – malicious code, and were therefore benign to the Mac. Avast’s “Infection Details” list is somewhat clunky:

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As you can see, some lines show actual infection details; on others, you must click on the right – arrow to show them. I never did see any “status” information. You can’t sort the screen report, nor expand all of the “infection details” at once.

Since then, I’ve run Avast once again. Instead of claiming to be “100%” done after two hours, it topped out at “73%” after five, and kept going, through over 4.3 million files in 50 hours, finding over 4,000 viruses while still at “73%”. (The picture is from the results of the second scan.) An annoying ‘feature’: Avast doesn’t have a “pause scan” option, so you can’t park it while you run something else. I finally stopped the second scan, as I needed to reboot.

However, when I attempted to stash this second crop in the virus chest—all e – mail viruses again, and all apparently inoffensive to Macs—Avast skipped thousands of them. I couldn’t tell just how many, as there’s no consolidated reporting.

Last time I had a virus scare, I installed Sophos. So far I’m 0 – for – 2 on Mac anti – virus I like. I’d welcome recommendations from readers.

During my perusals of the virus record, I also realized that Avast was searching the “other” user login, and there’s another tale.

Looking Under the Covers

I inherited the computer from another user. I thought he’d removed all his files before he gave it to me, but it turns out not. It was time to investigate user accounts.

User accounts are managed in the Users & Groups panel (System Preferences | Users & Groups). Sure enough, there’s a second Admin – equivalent login, named “Alex Pournelle”, different from the primary one, named “Alexander Pournelle”. I discovered that right clicking on “Alex Pournelle” (Or shift – click, if you don’t have a two – button mouse) brings up the Advanced Options tab:

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Note the dire warning: This is serious and deep voodoo, which should not be toyed with needlessly.

Viewing it, though—I was careful to click cancel when done—confirmed that PeterX (internal account name) and “Alex Pournelle” (displayed full account name and home directory) were one and the same.

Having confirmed that, I had to decide: Do I want to delete the user and everything in the account? I’d rather not; this is a second, admin – level user account which I could use to access the computer if need be. Better to delete the contents and not the user account.

User File Management

Go to Finder, open /Users. Another similarity between the Mac and Windows: Most common commands do have a keyboard equivalent, for those who prefer typing to clicking. Shift – Command – G brings up the “Go” dialog box (also available off the “Go” menu). Finder view of /Users shows the “Alex Pournelle” directory—red “X” in the lower right means it’s not viewable by me.

First, I had to give myself permission to view this directory. Under the covers, MacOS is still a UNIX variant, so I knew I could use the chown (Change Ownership) or chmod (Change Permissions) if I couldn’t do it another way. I’d rather not use such deep system oaths if I didn’t have to—memories of “rm *” deleting way, way more than I wanted to still rankle—so look for the GUI method.

The Get Info panel (Finder, click on the directory, File menu | Get Info—or just Command – I) shows most data about files and folders. It’s also where you set permissions, or in this case, add them. Sharing & Permissions, bottom of the Info panel, click on the “+”, add myself, then click on the gear drop – down menu, then “Apply to enclosed items…” Wait until all the red pluses on the subdirectories in “/Users/Alex Pournelle” disappear. I had to do this twice, before it took effect, for obscure reasons, but now I could see folders and files.

Astute Windows users will be comparing this to the “takeown” and “icacls” CLI commands, or to the Advance Security Settings tab, and you’d be right—they’re quite similar. Note: If you never use an Active Directory network in Windows, or install multiple users on a single computer, you may never see these settings, but they’re there, and they can still cause havoc.

I also discovered that Apple Finder doesn’t give accurate sizes if you don’t have permission to view a folder—after I had access to the directory, the 15 GB of storage turned out to be more like 8, much of which was in Apple Mail.

I don’t want those e – mail messages around—they don’t belong to me, anyway—so it was time to delete them. In Finder, it’s off to /Users/Alex Pournelle/Library. Gut check: Do I want to delete the Mail directory? Yep, they’re not my files. Double – check that I’m in the correct user directory. Send the folders “Mail” and “Mail Downloads” to the trash, empty the trash, another 5 GB of space available.

[Next time: Alex figures out how to save more space, and concludes with Lessons Learned. – Editor]

A New XBox for Chaos Manor

[Chaos Manor Advisor Eric Pobirs installed a new XBox One for Jerry at Chaos Manor. Here is Eric’s report – Editor]

Picked an Xbox One with Kinect and the optional Media Controller remote for Jerry and set it up at Chaos Manor today. Some stuff worked fine as expected. Other stuff, especially in areas I’d not had the opportunity to examine previously at my own home, were a bit troublesome.

Getting the 1 year subscription code entered was easy enough but Xbox.com was taken aback when I tried to claim the current Xbox 360 Games With Gold title for Jerry’s account in hopes it would eventually gain backward compatibility support on the Xbox One. (This isn’t shipping yet for most Xbox One owners but if you’re in the testing program it’s pretty slick.) The site decided it was time for Jerry to prove his identity, possibly because the account had never been used in relation to an Xbox before and I hadn’t set up the machine yet. It wanted to send Jerry a code via email and receive it back as verification but the email never arrived at the designated address. After five hours there was no sign of it.

This is no tragedy as Jerry is unlikely to ever become a big player of the Gears of War series but it might have been something to have around if the grandkids are having a prolonged visit.

Initially I set up the Xbox to take advantage of the TV integration. Unlike most such devices, the Xbox One has an HDMI In port as well as the expected HDMI Out port. Combined with the 2nd generation Kinect this allows a variety of whizzy features where the Kinect responds to voice and gesture commands and controls the TV and cable/satellite box via IR. The setup went well enough, with the equipment identified and supported automagically. The problem came when the OneGuide, the grid display for the TV schedule, failed to include the essential channels 2 – 13. I suspected there were other versions of these same channels in the Time Warner lineup but I didn’t find them quickly and it is difficult to fight force of habit, especially for accessing the traditional major broadcasters. People expect channel 2 to be CBS if that is how their TV has worked for decades.

This is possibly the answer for the missing channels, in the third entry:

http://forums.xbox.com/xbox_forums/xbox_support/xbox_one_support/f/4277/p/1631619/4232493.aspx

Until I can test the issue the Xbox will remain on the TV’s HDMI 2 input, which is a bit less convenient and loses the integration feature.

Out of the box, many of the standard hardware features of the Xbox One remain unsupported by software until the appropriate App is installed. For example, Blu-ray movie support.  The Blu-ray app is just a few dozen megabytes out of the standard 500 GB hard drive (models with 1 TB drives are now shipping for a $50 price difference) and I suspect this is due to licensing costs. The primary firmware required an immediate 2 GB update to be downloaded and installed the first time the Xbox was booted. This may seem remarkable to someone who hasn’t looked closely at game consoles since the days of ROM cartridges but nowadays these are fairly sophisticated devices with both positive and negative aspects. The expectation is that the typical location will offer a broadband connection and the value of the console is affected if this isn’t available.

The optional Media Player app is bare bones but effective for giving the user access to locally stored video, audio, and image files. USB drives and DLNA network volumes are supported. (There is a separate client app available for the far more elaborate Plex server software which far beyond a simple listing of files.) Oddly, the Media Player will not look at an optical disc for files to play. This is a bit inconvenient if you’re setup to produce BD-R discs for sharing large items and I can only suspect it is a sop to Hollywood’s demands for piracy control. Despite this, the Media player supports the MKV wrapper format popular on torrent sites for its features and lack of patent encumbrances. The previous generation of Microsoft and Sony consoles ignored the existence of MKV but they would play files they did support off a burned disc. Since flash drives and NAS boxes, both with massive capacity, are now remarkably inexpensive, I’ll take this compromise over the previous generation’s compromise.

Although it works fine with my Netgear NAS at home, I was unable to test the Xbox One media player with the D-Link NAS at Chaos Manor. It turned out that at some point the NAS had forgotten much of its configuration and no longer appeared as an accessible volume on the network, not did it present as a DLNA volume. (The D-Link is a bit elderly for a consumer/SOHO NAS and doesn’t ever mention the term DLNA in its firmware or documentation. Instead, it has a UPnP AV server feature which is the same thing in all but name.) We were able to reset the unit and restore some of the configuration but getting it to do DLNA again meant it had to scan several hundred gigabytes of files, a task at which it is glacially slow. So we ran out of time while waiting and may have to do it again before the DLNA functionality can be configured.  Since there is a need to reduce the number of PCs left running upstairs and jacking up the monthly power bill, a more substantial NAS box may be the solution to the household’s storage and backup needs, preferably one with at least four drive bays to support the greatest data integrity from the RAID.

The 500 GB internal drive can be easily filled if the user likes to keep their whole game library at the ready. Retail games ship on Blu-ray discs and can consume dozens of gigabytes. Adding additional capacity is as easy as plugging in a USB 3.0 drive and formatting. The system automatically decides where to put stuff and management is minimal.

The range of media apps is quite varied, with a great deal of free content available, along with many subscription driven options. In between there are regionally driven apps. If you get your service from one of the major cable TV MSOs, there is a good chance you can get an Xbox One app that give you access to a large library of on-demand material. I installed the Time Warner app, which also features live TV channels. This wouldn’t be of much use in the same room the cable box is found but could be of value on a household with good networking and a desire not to have a rented cable box in every bedroom. Unfortunately, the TWC app wouldn’t work. It just produced a blank screen. Pressing B or the logo button on the controller allowed one to escape but that is the best that can be said for it so far. I’ll try fiddling with it some more on my next visit. I’m sure if this were a widespread problem it would have produced more meaningful results when I attempted a search. Most likely the Chaos Manor Murphy Field at work.

Other apps I’ve installed include Netflix and Hulu, which each require their own subscription but Jerry had expressed interest. Since he is an Amazon Prime subscriber the Amazon video app should give him plenty to work with without incurring added expense. Amazon has been developing a lot of its own exclusive content to stake a claim on cord cutters’ entertainment budgets.

Another area that has been problematic thus far is also one of the leading features of the package. Having the Kinect accessory allows the Xbox One to be controlled by voice commands. This generally worked fine for me, though there is a bit of a learning curve due to the limited range of things the system understands. The upcoming ‘Windows 10’ update to the Xbox One will bring with it Cortana, so the sophistication should gain a fair bit. Meanwhile, there was a bigger problem: the Xbox couldn’t seem to understand Jerry. This may be a case of humans still having a great advantage, as everybody I’ve observed seems to understand him fine, although those are all people who’ve known him long before his two big medical issues, so maybe we have an unfair advantage. Even so, this was frustrating when sitting side by side it would ignore a command from Jerry and respond to the same command from me. Was it somehow trained to my voice from doing the setup? Maybe but I didn’t find any documentation suggesting it would become attuned to specific users.

This might help:

http://support.xbox.com/en-US/xbox-one/kinect/kinect-doesnt-respond-to-voice-commands

If these issues can be overcome, the Xbox One is a pretty powerful set of features. A bit on the pricey side if the gaming aspect doesn’t cater to your tastes but so many of the lower cost choices are painfully slow, due to CPU performance and limited RAM. The price range of the Xbox One puts it on par with an HTPC, many of which use a close relative of the AMD APU inside, but for someone looking for what the old Media Center team used to call a ‘ten foot UI’ the Xbox One is more of a turnkey solution.

A note from Jerry: I had an early Xbox but that was long age; I’m busy with Cthulhus and this has to wait a bit, but my early experiences with the XBOX have been quite good.

[Add your comments below; note that there may not be any response, but we welcome your thoughts – Editor]

Success, EtreCheck Info – But Not Done Yet

[Chaos Manor Reviews returns after another long hiatus with this series from guest columnist Alex Pournelle, who continues his father’s tradition of ‘doing things so you don’t have to’.

In this second installment (first installment here), Alex continues with his story about solving the slowdown on his MacBook Pro. The last installment left us with Alex doing a reboot. Comments are welcomed at the end of this post. – Editor]

Success!

App Store then ran normally, though it took several minutes to open the updates tab—not surprising, since I had deleted its cache and it needed to catch up on what was actually installed. Practice patience; check e-mail; read a newspaper… Voila: MacOS 10.4.4, iTunes and Camera RAW formats all needed updates. I started the 10.4.4 updater, ensured the Mac actually rebooted, and then went off to do something else for half an hour. That’s from experience: More than a few times, I was certain the updater was running, only to find out one last command box needed clicking, before the update would proceed.

While off raking the front lawn, it occurred to me that this whole dance was familiar: It was quite like fixing Windows Update on XP or 7, when no updates are ever found or Update just doesn’t run. True, Windows doesn’t store that sort of system info in the BIOS, and putting Windows Registry entries to rights (Or slaying them wholesale) isn’t quite the same as deleting plist items, but the overall process was quite similar.

Upon my return, the Mac was almost done—at least it hadn’t hung mid-update. (To their credit, Apple is pretty good at recovering from that rare occasion.) Time to make lunch, keep an eye on progress… There it is: The final reboot, followed by—a black screen.

The Reboot to Black Screen

That reminded me why I ritually disconnect the second screen on my Mac during updates. Every time I reboot after an update, the primary screen doesn’t display the list of users, as usual. (You only see this list when your Mac doesn’t auto-login to one user at startup, much like Windows.) The MacBook Pro responds (caps lock light goes on, screen is lit, sound volume chirps when adjusted), but no video. Don’t Panic. Disconnect the external monitor, and the login screen comes up just fine. For me, this only happens after a system update—not just regular restarts, which I see happens to others. It’s odd, and never happens (to me) in normal operation, just after updates.

So, now, is my computer behaving better? Yes. There are fewer odd pauses. One of the more infuriating was opening a Keychain Access dialog box, clicking on the “Show Password” box, and waiting a good two minutes for the password to come up. By stopwatch, 5 seconds now. (The jury’s still out on Microsoft Word, though—more about that when I have more data.)

I still don’t know why I have dozens of AppleSpell processes careering around my computer, irresponsibly sucking up resources and polluting Activity Monitor with dozens of instantiations. (Specifically, I have one or two copies of AppleSpell.service and four to forty of AppleSpell, which appear to be child processes.) To be fair, none appear to take an appreciable amount of CPU (0.0%, usually), and in-line spell-check seems to be working, but this is annoying. (Far more copies appear when running Google Chrome vs. Firefox or Safari, even with the latest versions.)

OS-based spell-checking (AppleSpell) is controlled in Keyboard System Preferences (Mac for “control panel”), text tab. Interestingly, turning off “spell check everywhere”, then closing the Keyboard menu doesn’t kill any of the AppleSpell processes. I’m sure that a reboot would kill them all, but I actually like the automatic spell-check; even though it’s often unhelpful, it makes me think twice whether my colloquial or neologic affectation is appropriate.

My support-site walkabout did stumble across an incredibly useful tool for capturing, in depth, what your Mac is doing. EtreSoft’s freeware EtreCheck tabulates a very complete and anonymized record of what’s started (Kernel Extensions, Launch Daemons, Internet Plug-ins, etc.), attempted to start, taking up memory, etc. It provides great hardware detail: My laptop’s battery, serial number D863155X08ZDGDLB4, has 133 cycles on it, and listed as in “normal” health. It even provides pre-populated, clickable web searches for, e.g., what “com.valvesoftware.steamclean.plist” or “com.distortedvista.istatmenusprocessserver.plist” might be. My primary backup disk was last accessed 15 days ago—time to run another Time Machine backup, once I’m sure everything else is stable.

EtreCheck

EtreCheck is the de facto standard for submitting information on your Mac to support websites, and you can’t beat the price. It gave details about what was starting up (and not starting up!) in my computer, about which more next time—data nowhere near as easy to divine from Activity Monitor or Login Items (System Preferences | Users & Groups | Current User | Login Items).

Of course, EtreCheck isn’t as friendly for knowing “What’s in this thing, anyway?”, an honor which goes to Apple Menu | About This Mac | Overview | System Report. System Report opens the System Information utility, residing in the Apps | Utilities directory. SysInfo also provides many different stats, like System Power settings, that EtreCheck doesn’t. EtreCheck is a powerful tool, now occupying a spot right next to Disk Utility in my Dock.

Wrapping Up

The system is now up-to-date, save for iTunes. I’ve left off updating iTunes to Version 12.2, which supports Apple Music. I don’t use iTunes anyway, and reports of suddenly-trashed music libraries give this little urgency for me.

Computer seems more stable now, with fewer unexplained delays or the telltale “fan on takeoff power” sound showing Chrome is chewing 140% of CPU. (Percentage of a single core, not total overall CPU, so it really can go above 100%.) I’m writing this report on the MBP, and haven’t cursed once, so that’s a good sign. I don’t know if the resume-from-sleep problem is cured, since it hasn’t been put into sleep or hibernation, but, so far, much improved.

But, Viruses?

The Avast virus scan is now into its 36th hour, with 4+ million files scanned; it’s been at “100%” complete since hour 2. Avast shows 2,700+ infections, but they’ve been racked up while scanning mail files, so I’m fairly sure they’re benign (to Mac) PC viruses. That’ll be another update.

Next time: The Virus That Wasn’t, software toys in the attic, somnambulant Macs, and archaeological app removal.

October 2014 Column, Part 3

CHAOS MANOR REVIEWS

Computing at Chaos Manor

Column 370, October, 2014

Part 3 of 3

Jerry concludes the October 2014 column  with some thoughts on Windows 10, and Winds Down with the Books of the Month and other short thoughts.

Windows 10

I have previously said that I am not greatly impressed with Windows 8. It now resides only on the Surface Pro 3; all our other machines either have Windows 7, or Windows 10 which is now available as a free trial upgrade to Windows 8. (The technology preview version will time out in April 2015.)

Windows 10 installs easily, and it is a great deal more intuitive in use than was Windows 8. I have been using it for a week or so, and it will probably be the OS for my secondary “main machine”. I’m still using Windows 7 on this column, my daybook, and email. At some point I’ll probably change but I am in no hurry. On the other hand I have no urge to restore the Windows-8-upgraded-to-10 system to Windows 7, and I find some parts preferable.

Windows 8 has been called a disaster for Microsoft. Some put it in the same category as New Coke. Coca Cola found some relief in reviving Coke Classic, but Microsoft doesn’t really have that option. Everyone eagerly awaited Windows 9, and over on my day book I asked readers to suggest ways Microsoft could get them to love Windows 9. (Note that these responses were received before the “Windows 10” name was announced.)

Here are a few typical answers.

Jerry,

You asked if anyone likes Windows 8, which it seems the general consensus rates a disaster. For myself, the answer is both yes and no. My touchscreen tablet and mouse-interfaced PC both use Windows 8. I love it on the tablet, but hate it on the PC. The tabular start screen array and the simulated page turning feature are terrific when used with touchscreen. With mouse they add nothing. The page turning function, which has the irritating tendency to flip applications whenever one drags the mouse across the screen, is downright annoying! So I adore Windows 8 in touchscreen mode, but think very dimly of it minus that. My own non-expert, somewhat ‘conspiracy theory’ take on things is Windows 8 was specifically developed for touchscreens, which the tech industry probably considers the immediate future of user interfaces. Disseminating it across the board was done both in anticipation that touchscreens will soon dominate the tech market, and to accelerate the progression by forcing users to rapidly assimilate the touchscreen methodology in all venues.

I speculated touchscreens are the immediate future of user interfaces. Their ultimate future can be glimpsed in Mary Lou Jepsen’s remarkable TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNDhu2uqfdo

Your insight on these matters would be most appreciated.

Dr. Ian Nieves

Actually, we have fairly similar views. Microsoft was so concerned about touch screens that they forgot that most users don’t have them yet, and they put too much of that and too little of more traditional mouse/keyboard utility into Windows 8.

I have been experimenting with the tech preview of Windows 10, and I think it has taken much of the sting out of Windows 8. I wouldn’t recommend the present edition of 10 for Surface systems, but it has made my desktop Windows 8 system fairly pleasant.

Dr. Pournelle,

What would make me love Windows 9 would be abandoning reliance on a touch-screen based UI development. In Win8, Microsoft has tried to emulate IOS and OSX, going to a similar interface for telephones and desktop. Apple could do this, but Microsoft cannot. The small-screen + touch concept is really antithetical to the PC usage model for the majority of people. They’ve tried to apply UI concepts for telephones and gaming machines to their base, niche product, and alienated the users of the product.

As it is, I have learned to get along with (not like) Windows 8 minus Metro. I bought a Dell all-in-one 21 desktop, without touch, for my business with Win 8 pre-installed, and as of 8.1, have made the default look-and-feel like Windows 7 standard desktop, only resorting to Metro when I must access some of the built-in management applications. I did not put on MS Office, since I do not care for the pricing model, but use Libre Office, since it meets all of my needs and has features not available in MS Office. I installed and am learning to use Quickbooks, which feels and appears like a Win 7 program from desktop.

I have an older, small ASUS Vivobook, also with Win 8.1, that I also have customized the same way. Mostly, I have do not use the touch interface, and have tried to customize it to prefer the mousepad and physical keyboard.

And with all those, my main computer is a dual-boot, traditional laptop with a 17 inch screen. Win 7 is available, but seldom used, with most of my work and entertainment done through Linux.

Like the screen keyboard, I do not like most of the features that were supposed to make Win 8 into an iPad (some of which Leo Laporte has approved) like the ability to snap an application to the entire desktop, or split the desktop into two applications — on the larger screen they are not useful, and on the Vivobook, these features are unnecessary.

It is possibly unfair (to Coke) to compare it to Windows 8, after all, New Coke was a one-time, deliberate, and successful marketing campaign. Win 8 comes after Vista, Win 98, Win 2K, Win 3, DOS 6, DOS 4, and many others not well received, and even the successful MS releases have needed many modifications: IMO Win XP and 7, DOS 5 either were faulty as introduced or fell much short on needed functionality. In connection with MS OS releases, I keep thinking of the Ian Fleming line from James Bond, something like “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, thrice is enemy action.” MS does learn, if temporarily, from their mistakes, so your suggestion for WinHEC could help. Certainly giving prior notice of their innovations has helped in the past.

MS has always had Mac envy, and has always done well when they forgot that, and really did their own thing. What would make me love Windows 9 would be a concentration on a traditional PC desktop (with touch options for touch-pad only devices), and low-cost applications.

Happy belated Birthday, and many returns.

Anxiously awaiting Mamelukes, -d

 

Thanks for the kind words. I do not believe Microsoft has any malice toward its customers. Napoleon Bonaparte once said “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” They really need someone like Chris Peters back as a VP.

What would make me love it?

  1. A newer better interface that yet at the same time doesn’t force me to learn the new interface but instead conforms to what I know (the Windows 7 interface). I’m gripping onto Win 7 for as long as I can for this very reason.
  2. Microsoft does have something with OneDrive and OneNote and the Windows phone. I have all three, but the fragile ecosphere is broken multiple ways. It was a PITA going from Skydrive to OneDrive since I was trying to link across: 1 windows phone 7.5, 2 desktops running windows 7, and a laptop running windows 7. Even worse, my Windows phone got bricked and I needed a complete reinstall by my cell carrier, resulting in a complete lack of integration. If I’m going to use the cloud I’d like a way to restore the cloud. I’ve heard that Social networking apps in Win 8 are more broken than in Windows phone 7, because Microsoft wants to be big brother.

This caused MS to lose the hearts and minds of customers. If Microsoft encouraged this 3rd party integration they could steal market share from Android and Apple. For all of the outed win phone benefits of a closed ecosystem it lacks:

  1. backup/restore to include settings, as I found out the hardware.
  2. Better privacy/OS isolation from apps. Every app wants all sort of unfettered access to MY data (address book, GPS, etc).
  3. Multiple user/profile support. I actually carry two cellphones. One for work and one for personal use. Having two phone numbers and user profiles linked to the phone would be hugely beneficial….making N profiles (thing anonymous throw away profiles to run 3rd party apps in a Jail) would be incredible.
  4. Plug ins for 3rd party privacy and encryption, such as TOR, SIM ID masking, etc…In other words, do one better than the “Blackphone”
  5. Continue the awesome camera support from Nokia F. Add better microphone/transcription support.

A better less bloated MS Office. Better disk data management/indexing. I doubt if MS would ever do this, but the ability to switch desktops and actually use third party desktops such a KDE.

-G

I remember when Office exceeded 60 megabytes. I called it “bloatware” at the time, despite pleas from friends at Microsoft, but I was mistaken: when it first came out, 300 megabyte hard drives were plummeting in price, and within a year it was hard to find a new machine with fewer than 500 mb. One thing Microsoft always did well was anticipate the effects of Moore’s Law. If it works at all, ship it. The machines will get better, and early quirks due to machine speed and memory limits will soon be forgotten. Moore’s Law essentially assured Microsoft’s victory in the Windows/OS-2 contest.

The comments on Windows 9 can be largely summed in Rod McFadden’s observation,

“If 9 becomes to 8 as 7 was to Vista, I’m not sure I’d love it, but I’d sure welcome it!”

I encourage all of you to send suggestions on what would make you love the new Windows 10.

WINDING DOWN

The book of the month is Does Santa Exist (Dutton, 2014), by my neighbor Eric Kaplan. Eric is a writer and Co-Executive Producer of The Big Bang Theory. He is also a candidate for a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley. Think about that background, and speculate what kind of book the writer of one of the most popular TV comedies might produce. Now fold in his philosophy studies, and the subject matter. The result is about what you might hope for, a serious work on ontology (what does it mean to exist?), and epistemology (how do we know anything at all?) that is very readable. Imagine Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler in a dialog on the matter of existence and understanding. Now understand that it’s a serious work. Recommended.

Another book this month was Amy Chua, World on Fire, (Anchor 2003. The subtitle is How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, and that summarizes the book quite well. Liberal democracy and market capitalism may well be the best goal to work toward, but if you don’t start with a tradition of law and order and property rights, trying to impose it can do more harm than good: particularly in ethnically divided societies which have “market dominant minorities” – think Chinese in Indonesia, and Indians in South Africa. Democracy empowers the poor majority to despoil the already resented minority, while encouraging the wealthy to defend themselves, their families, and their property. The End of History with the triumph of liberal democracy was predicted after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is a more realistic assessment of the future.

I didn’t get any computer books to review last month.

There is no game of the month, mostly because I don’t have time to do games just now. I hope to change that. I’d like to see new games…

Our experiences with the long neglected iMac and Time Machine have made us appreciate the iMac again. It’s rugged, has consumed little of my time, and goes on working without fuss. We haven’t had a backup in six years – and we haven’t needed one.

Alex is using Office 365 and he cautions “If you use Office 365 and you want to run Word on an airplane, you had better start in the terminal where you have Wi-Fi because you must log in to Office 365 before you can use it.” Logging in requires Internet access.

Those using or contemplating getting a Surface Pro 3 should see:

Surface Pro 3 Tip: Customize Surface Pen with the Surface Hub App http://winsupersite.com/surface/surface-pro-3-tip-customize-surface-pen-surface-hub-app This may be the app you’ve been waiting for.

PLEDGE REDUEX

As I write this, KUSC, the Los Angeles Classical Music Station, is holding a pledge drive. KUSC operates on the Public Radio model: it’s free to listen to, but it is listener supported, and without that support it will go away. Chaos Manor Reviews works the same way. We don’t pound you with ads, and I only annoy you with pledge drives when KUSC holds theirs.

If you have not subscribed, this would be a good time to do that. If you have subscribed but can’t remember when you last renewed – or if you remember and it was a good while ago – this would be a splendid time to renew.

Here’s how to subscribe:   PAYING FOR THIS PLACE

NEXT MONTH

The Time Machine took seven hours to do the six year backup of the iMac. Next month: more on iMac, Time Machine, iPhone, and of course the Surface Pro 3 as we continue to upgrade computing at Chaos Manor. The Airport, with its network renamed, continues to work as always. Tomorrow I intend to upgrade the iMac OS, now that we have a good backup.

We’ve got Chaos Manor into the 21st Century. Now to bring it up to date.

 

October 2014 Column, Part 2

CHAOS MANOR REVIEWS

Computing at Chaos Manor

Column 370, October, 2014

Part 2 of 3

Jerry continues the October column with with a discussion on “Precious” (Jerry’s Microsoft Surface Prod 3), Windows 8, Getting Some Work Done, and his struggles and (mostly) triumph over AutoCorrect in MS Word.

Precious, Windows 8, and Getting Some Work Done

I really like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It feels right and it’s the right size. The screen is bright and very readable. When it’s working properly it does so very well indeed. I like it enough that I’m willing to work hard at learning it.

Precious has a very steep a learning curve for me. Part of that is a problem with Windows 8, part with the latest Word. I rented Office 365 ($100 a year—you can’t buy it), and the version of Word that currently comes with that is Word 2013. Some of it is the way the tablet works: it’s quite different from the Compaq TC 1100, which I carried to several COMDEX and Consumer Electronics conventions as my only computer, and never regretted doing that. I filed a number of stories from Las Vegas with that Compaq, and I really miss it.

Of course the TC 1100 didn’t have a true touch screen, but you could do all those things with a Wacom stylus. There was an editing program – I don’t recall which, but it read and wrote .rtf documents – that I could use to hand-edit long documents, using the standard proof readers’ marks to change the text, capitalize words, and even insert new text. I edited many a column on that Compaq TC 1100 while on an airplane in an uncomfortable seat with the passenger in front of me leaning back as far as he could. I really liked that machine and I have been hoping that the Surface Pro 3 would work as well as the Compaq did.

Peter Glaskowsky has been doing some research, and he suggests that Ink Gestures https://web.archive.org/web/20060216015431/http://www.jumpingminds.com/InkGestures/index.htm
demonstrated in this video http://www.tabletpctalk.com/events/microsoft_mobile_platforms_division_partners_briefing_2006/Word_Ink_Gestures.wmv would be the editing program I used with the Compaq. I fear I don’t remember, and it is no longer for sale. I do hope that someone will come up with such a program as an app for the Surface Pro 3.

Can the Surface Be Your Only Laptop?

There are two discussions here, hardware and software.

The major hardware problem with the Surface Pro 3 is the keyboard. It’s a nice keyboard, and I may get used to it, but I probably won’t. Two finger typists won’t have any problem with it at all: the keys are large enough that you won’t miss them, even when typing in a long password, and the key labels are big enough to see.

Sloppy touch typists – that’s me – will have a different problem. The keys, while large enough, are very close together, and it’s extremely easy to hit two keys at once.

The Surface Pro is also small enough that those with poor eyesight – that’s me again along with just about everyone else my age – need to sit fairly close to the screen. The good news is that kickstand screen backrest can be set to nearly any angle, so that the table height is not critical. Given a decent table – the desk in most motel rooms will be fine – you’ll be able to grind out a good bit of text with this machine, assuming you can type with that keyboard.

The software is good. It makes use of the touch screen, and given some practice the stylus is neat. I’m used to the Wacom stylus, which is quite different from this in both buttons and feel, but it’s not that hard to get used to this one. There are two buttons on the stylus barrel. The top one right-clicks, the bottom one erases. It doesn’t take that long to make their use automatic.

The bottom line here is that you’ll want some accessories – a good port expander will be the first one, and that TrendNet USB 3.0- to-Ethernet adapter will be the second – but yes, you could go to a major conference with nothing else. You’ll know you compromised, but you can get the work done.

That’s provided you are guaranteed a table and chair.

Using a Laptop as a Laptop

What is important about the Surface Pro 3 if you’re considering it to be your only laptop is that they’ve made it so small that it’s not really a laptop at all. That is, if you put it on your lap and try to write with it, you must sit upright and keep your knees fairly close together. That gets uncomfortable fast. Moreover, the angle between the screen and the keyboard is not set by the machine: the screen needs that kickstand backrest set, or it will simply fall over. You have to let that kickstand rest on a knee.

If you do sit upright with your feet on the floor – about the only way it’s going to stay steady enough to use for much – the screen is a bit small, but that of course is a function of age and eyesight.

All in all, though, if I were caught in a conference that didn’t provide tables for the press, I’d rather have a pen and paper log book. Of course I haven’t tried Precious with OneNote and simply a stylus; I never quite had the nerve to do that with the Compaq either, but I could actually type with the Compaq on my lap more steadily than I manage with this.

The bottom line is if I ever go on the road with only the Surface, I’ll be sure to have a paper log book – but then I’m never without one, so that won’t change much.

Or will it? Peter Glaskowsky reports:

“I frequently use my Surface Pro, like all my previous Tablet PCs, as a notepad with a stylus. When I’m traveling, I usually leave the keyboard(s) behind in the hotel room and take only the tablet with me to the conference. OneNote works very well on these modern tablets, since they’re fast enough to eliminate the sluggishness that plagued the early Windows tablets.

“I’ve long since reached the point I will only write something on paper when I have no way to access OneNote. With OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service, OneNote automatically backs up its notebooks to the cloud and syncs them with all my other OneNote devices– including my Mac, my iPad, and my Samsung Slate. By comparison, a piece of paper seems unacceptably fragile.”

That’s more encouragement for relearning OneNote, and I’ll keep at it. Even with all the quirks and quibbles of the Compaq TC 1100, I found the combination of that tablet and OneNote with fast access to the Internet to be the most powerful and effective research tool I had ever experienced; and in fact I haven’t found anything yet that would top it. Once I get more familiar with Windows 8 and the new OneNote, I may not need that paper log book.

Problems Remain

One of the main irritations with the Surface Pro 3 is that when I am trying to fix a problem with Word, I invariably touch something that activates a Windows 8 feature I didn’t want. Closing that can bring out something else. Precious is fast, so very fast that a few touches can take me far away from what I was doing.

AutoCorrect in MS Word

Another problem with using Precious is more the fault of Word 2013 than of either the Surface or Windows 8. For reasons I don’t understand, Microsoft has made AutoCorrect more difficult to use. Fortunately there’s a way around that, because AutoCorrect is a very powerful tool. It can help a lot with problems caused by fat fingers and strange keyboards.

I became addicted to AutoCorrect because of one of its lesser known features. For nearly every version of Word ever sold, including Word 2013, if you misspell a word and it is marked with that squiggly little red line, you can right click the word and you will be offered one or more words to correct it to. This is how most people use the spelling check program, and it works just fine. If you’re on a writing roll you can simply ignore misspellings until you’re done, then go back and fix them. Everyone knows about this.

But if you are a sloppy typist, as I am, there’s a much more elegant solution to the problem. When you see a mistyped word and you notice it’s one you see a lot with this keyboard – such as “fro0m” for “from” because you hit both keys – you can, in Word 2003 through Word 2010, right click on the word and you will see, in addition to a choice of words, an offer to go to AutoCorrect. If you do that, you get to choose the correct spelling, after which it not only corrects this instance, but all of them in future. You’ll never see “fro0m” again unless you deliberately go back and retype it again as I just did for both instances in this paragraph.

Obviously this can be misused, but used with a spot of care it’s a lifesaver. I try to use Microsoft Comfort Curve keyboards on all my machines, but I generally can’t do that with laptops and portables, and new key layouts encourage me to make mistakes. If I notice that I make the same mistake often I can put that mistake into AutoCorrect and it won’t happen again. Of course you want to be careful and aim AutoCorrect only at mistakes with unambiguous resolutions, but given a bit of common sense in its use AutoCorrect can save you a lot of time in your writing.

AutoCorrect with Word 2013

As we’ve noted, for many people the Surface Pro 3 keyboard is quite usable, not as good as the old Compaq 1100 TC board was, but a lot better than many tablet keyboards. The keys are large and square and have a good feel. The problem for me is that there is no key separation at all. They are real keys, and actually depress with a decent feeling, but they look a lot like the “keys” you see on a touch screen. They are only separated by a thin line, so it is very easy to hit two keys at once if you type fast, which I tend to do.

I am an admittedly sloppy typist – back in the controversy over the first IBM PC keyboard an IBM executive flat out told me to learn to type if I didn’t like the IBM PC key layout – but there’s not a lot I can do about it now, and I suspect I am not alone. I keep wondering if there can’t be software that prevents double key pressing, so that if you hit two keys at once, only one will actually print. That would solve a lot of the problems. The problem is that some good typists haven’t let go of the last key before striking the next, which makes the problem very complex. I can keep hoping. After all, I don’t type that way. But see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollover_(key)

My solution to the problem of keyboards that encourage me to make frequent errors has always been AutoCorrect. When I type “gfind” the resolution is ambiguous, but “qwuick” has only one likely outcome. When I encounter a new keyboard it may take me a couple of days, but eventually I can use AutoCorrect to tame that keyboard so that I can get some work done.

I always tell new writers that the secret of becoming a successful writer is to have written enough that you no longer pay attention to what you are doing, but simply tell the story; the less you have to think about the mechanics of writing, from typing errors to grammatical complexities, the better your story will come out.

Alex tells me that’s important advice which I should repeat, so you may see it again.

Alas, Word 2013 makes taming the Surface Pro 3 keyboard much more difficult. With the default settings it can be done, but you need to be determined. With default Word 2013, when you encounter a misspelled word, right clicking on it displays a choice of words, but no access to AutoCorrect. To get to AutoCorrect, mark the word either with the pen, or your finger, or double-click it to mark it, but don’t single click it. Go up to File, and click that. You’ll see options as the last on a list of menu items. Click options, and you’ll see proofing on the menu that displays; click proofing and you will see a bunch of options for spell checking. Look them over.

While you are here, this will be as good a time as any to unselect the option not to spell check words that have numbers in them. It is selected by default, but since many of my typing errors with computer keyboards involve hitting a number which is above the letter I am reaching for, I need to deselect it, because otherwise the spelling checker won’t see “r4esources” as misspelled. Whether you do that or not you’ll see AutoCorrect enclosed in an oval, sort of a button. Click that and you’ll be at AutoCorrect and if you correctly marked the word to correct it will be in the left side of the area that lets you add to AutoCorrect options. Carefully type in what you want it changed to. Do OK and get back to your text. Your word will now be corrected, and you’ll never make that typing error again unless you really want to.

If this seems a long way around Red Robin’s barn to do something Microsoft previously made easy with a single right-click, I agree completely. I can’t think why Microsoft took the easy path to AutoCorrect out of Word 2013, but it is one more proof that Microsoft has given up having actual users of their product do pre-distribution testing. In the early days of the computer revolution, many companies used their customers as their quality control department. Most of those that did this have not survived.

Fortunately Microsoft’s revision programmers left in a better way to do AutoCorrect, but you have to discover it.

Discoveries

I’ve been writing thousands of words about high tech stuff for thirty years, and I have an astonishingly low record of flat-out errors. It’s not that I’m all that smart. For more than twenty of those years I had the BYTE editorial staff as backup, and if I got something wrong they told me. After BYTE went away I was in a quandary, but fortunately a number of friends and readers have volunteered to serve the same purpose, and I run this stuff through my advisors before publishing it.

I learn a good bit that way. In this case, I learned that Microsoft hasn’t actually eliminated the easy path to using AutoCorrect. You can make it fairly painless, but it takes determination. Thanks to Peter Glaskowsky for having the patience to teach me.

First, Word has a feature I never even thought about: the Quick Access Bar. This is a series of tiny icons, by default at the top of the Word window. It’s always there, even if you make the rest of the ribbon vanish with control-F1. The Quick Access Bar has been there for a long time, certainly since Word 2007 because I see the little icons now, and in fact I often use one of them, the little curly arrow that undoes whatever you just typed. There’s also the familiar 3.5” floppy icon that now means Save, and which I still use out of habits formed back when you saved early and often or you lost your work.

There are others, but one, which is always on the far right of the Quick Access Bar, is nearly invisible. It’s a tiny hyphen above a tiny down arrow. Mousing it tells you that it’s Customize Quick Access Bar (QAB hereafter). Click it and a confusing – at least confusing to me – menu drops down. At the bottom of that is the menu item More Commands. Clicking this shows you what looks like a large list of commands you can add to the QAB. Some of them may interest you, but in fact you ain’t seen nothing yet. Above that long list of commands is another little window that has above it a label: “Choose Commands From”; this little window lets you select a source for more commands.

Choose “All Commands”, and the list of items you can add to the QAB becomes enormous. The one we’re interested in is AutoCorrect Options, which will have associated with it a little icon that contains a lightning bolt. Click on it, look over to the right for the “Add” button, click that, and Lo! That icon will appear in the list of QAB commands it shows you have enabled.

The Windows 2013 AutoCorrect problem is now 90% solved. (It would be better if you could add it back to the right-click menu.) When you mistype a word, double click it to mark it; go up to the Quick Access Bar above the ribbon, and click the tiny lightning bolt you have just added. The AutoCorrect screen will open, your mistyped word will be in the input area, and you need only (carefully) type what you want it changed to and exit. This also works in Windows 2007, but the right click option is a bit faster.

Now that I have this technique installed, I can begin to tame the Precious keyboard to correct mistakes my fat fingers seem intent on making; and I have done enough of them that she’s already a lot easier to use.

Why Not A New Keyboard?

Many of my complaints about Surface Pro 3 seem to be centered around the keyboard. Peter Glaskowsky suggests I can get any Bluetooth enabled keyboard I like and use that. And so I can, but of course that sort of negates the whole point of a small combination tablet and laptop. Apple makes a pretty decent little Bluetooth keyboard that works quite well with the iPad, and if you packed up a briefcase of iPad, keyboard, port expander, and iPad desk stand you’d have quite a good tablet that you could use to write with, but I think I’d rather just bring a good laptop, and add a tablet to the mix. My hope is that the Surface Pro 3 will turn out to be as useful as the Compaq TC 1100, but faster and more versatile. I still haven’t given up on that.

There are several morals to this story. One is that Microsoft sometimes leaves you important options rather than taking them away, but they aren’t much good at telling you about them. When Chris Peters was VP of Development at Microsoft – his principal product was Word, then later all of Office – he frequently brought in users from Seattle offices to try his new stuff. Executive secretaries, engineering secretaries, writers, journalists – he had a fairly large team of users he could rely on. They even had an internal team of developers/testers who watched through one-way mirrors as users tried to adopt a new feature. During that period Microsoft documentation got better, as did user friendliness. All that seems gone now. I think Microsoft ought to bring Chris back to re-establish that team. Surely he’s bored with running a bowling association?

And if they can’t get Chris Peters back, they should try Peter Glaskowsky.

 Part 3 of the column will conclude with some thoughts on Windows 10, and Winding Down with the Books of the Month and other short thoughts.  It is scheduled for publication on October 30, 2014

 

October 2014 Column, Part 1

CHAOS MANOR REVIEWS

Computing at Chaos Manor

Column 370, October, 2014

Part 1 of 3


PLEDGE DRIVE

As I write this, KUSC, the Los Angeles Classical Music Station, is holding a pledge drive.  KUSC operates on the Public Radio model: it’s free to listen to, but it is listener supported, and without that support it will go away.  Chaos Manor Reviews works the same way.  We don’t pound you with ads, and I only annoy you with pledge drives when KUSC holds theirs.

If you have not subscribed, this would be a good time to do that.  If you have subscribed but can’t remember when you last renewed – or if you remember and it was a good while ago – this would be a splendid time to renew.

Here’s how to subscribe:   PAYING FOR THIS PLACE

Wi-Fi, Apple Airport Time Capsule, Tablets, and Windows 10

This month continues the story of upgrading Chaos Manor. Some systems haven’t been looked at since early 2008, when I began the hard X-ray treatments for brain cancer.  The cancer was gone by June of 2008, but recovering from radiation sickness took a bit longer.  In early 2008 I acquired a number of Mac items, including an iMac with a Apple Airport Time Capsule. They were installed. As Peter Glaskowsky once observed, with the Mac everything is either very easy or nearly impossible. They were easy and worked well. Then somewhere back then Time Capsule but not Airport got turned off. It’s back on now, as you’ll see.

Much of the column will discuss important things about Word that you probably don’t know; I know they surprised me. Mostly I use Word to create simple manuscripts of fiction and non-fiction; but my son Alex, who uses Word for very complex documents involving NASA purchases and sales, didn’t know them either, so I suspect you don’t.

We’ll also refer to a dialogue on Ontology between Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler.

Making Wi-Fi Work Properly

I have spent a month now trying to get The Precious, our sort-of-new Microsoft Surface Pro 3, set up to work in my breakfast room. In the course of that we learned a lot about Wi-Fi in old houses with lath and plaster walls and ancient electrical wiring.

The original Chaos Manor Wi-Fi network was run by a Belkin Pre-N router: that is, we set it up before the IEEE 802.11n standard was adopted, upgrading from 802.11b or g or whatever we had before that; and it was enormously better than anything we had before.  It was put in an upstairs window in my office suite, and for the first time I could sit out by the pool in the back yard and have good Wi-Fi service.  This was also the first router I owned which supported multiple antennas; we take that feature for granted now, in phones, computers and tablets, but at the time the added reliability was a revelation.

We also sort of had Wi-Fi in the TV room in the back of the house, and Good Enough Wi-Fi in the Monk’s Cell. That is a room in another part of the house, an upstairs that doesn’t connect to my office suite. It was the room of the oldest of the boys still living in the house when any of them were still here. It serves as a guest room now, but I keep a Lenovo ThinkPad with Microsoft Comfort Curve keyboard and big flat screen monitor at a writing desk I use when I want to get away from the telephone, house noises, and other distractions. The room has its own window-mounted air conditioner, and a lamp stand at the writing table – and nothing else other than some high school textbooks. No games, and the Wi-Fi service up there is good enough to use for Google but nowhere speedy enough for on-line games.

Wi-Fi was never good enough in the breakfast room, which is where I really want to use a tablet while I am reading the morning newspapers.

Over the past week we installed new Wi-Fi and Internet routers.  I’m going to let Eric Pobirs, my long-suffering associate, tell you about that adventure.

Report by Eric Pobirs

    I’m going to cut to the chase and put the solution first. The powerline bridge in Roberta’s office, which served as the connection point between the Cat5 and powerline networks in Chaos Manor, decided to go on strike. This was a Trendnet model that had been used to get the TV room at the far end of the house on the network. The one in the TV room had been replaced with a Netgear powerline Wi-Fi Extender, which is the same generation of powerline bridge with an 802.11n AP on board. Another had been installed in the dining nook off the kitchen. Because these are sold in kits with a bridge, there were two unused bridges left from the purchase. Installing one of those in place of the elderly Trendnet restored service. It is unclear as of this writing whether the Trendnet failed or just needed a reset. It should also be noted that this was the same location where a switch recently needed to be reset.

    Now, the problem is solved but the process of how I got there is another problem. Several somewhat expensive items were purchased that ultimately had no bearing on fixing the problem. It can be said that two of these items were desirable upgrades anyway, and the third added a useful bit of versatility to the Surface Pro 3; but in a situation where no upgrades were planned this would have been a costly misadventure due to inadequate troubleshooting. Some aspects would never have come up in a more, shall we say, boring household but such is the life of a tech journalist.

The problem began when Jerry found he couldn’t connect to the wireless network from the Surface Pro 3 aka the Precious. This appeared to be limited to just Precious but it became clear in testing that while other phones running iOS and Android were seeing the Starswarm-Pre-N SSID, they weren’t making a usable connection. This appeared to be a repeat of a problem in Larry Niven’s home where a room that had been connected by powerline successfully for several years would no longer allow it. Powerline networking was still functional in other parts of the house, where it was driving Wi-Fi extender modules. The same thing appeared to be happening at Chaos Manor but in two locations at once. We tested a number of conditions but it wasn’t until much later that I checked to be sure that the bridge between the network types was still working, which should have been one of the first things I examined.

 But upgrades beckoned and that siren call could not be ignored. The existing Wi-Fi had, or at least we thought, consisted of an aging Belkin Pre-N (802.11n before the spec was finalized) router in bridge/AP mode, a D-Link router whose radio may or may not have been turned off, and the two Netgear powerline Wi-Fi Extenders servicing the two downstairs areas. If powerline was no longer an option, we’d see if more up-to-date Wi-Fi equipment could be made to reach those areas. The Belkin Pre-N was positioned by the window of the large storage room upstairs, overlooking much of the downstairs area it hoped to serve. The D-Link router lived next door in the utility room with the cable modem, main switch, D-Link NAS box, and various tools and implements of destruction. The utility room is fairly noisy in the RF sense and cuts a fair amount of the signal from any radio inside, thus the rationale for having a separate AP in the other room.

     All of the radios went by the name Starswarm-Pre-N as their SSID, though their MAC addresses remained distinct, of course. It was hoped that client devices would automatically choose the AP with the strongest signal and switch as needed. This is Netgear’s advice in their manual for the powerline Wi-Fi extender. In real life, some do and some don’t. When moving around the house it could be necessary to disconnect and tell the device to rescan. Still, this meant less clutter to the device’s list of connections than having a distinct name for every AP. But this also made diagnosing the failure more complicated.

In pursuit of upgrading the network infrastructure and finding the point of failure, we picked up three items. First was the APA20 Access Point by Amped Wireless (http://www.ampedwireless.com/products/apa20.html ). This device was pretty much the only option, as everything else I found was much older and lower powered. In any case, retailers no longer bother to stock dedicated Access Points and instead favor routers with a bridge mode in their firmware. That should be adequate and in fact the APA20’s feature set makes it clear that it is a router in all but firmware. But I’ve had hassles in the past with equipment that implemented bridge modes poorly and didn’t want to have an ongoing battle between two devices that both thought they should be performing the same service to the network. The annoying aspect of this is that these days consumer APs sell in lesser numbers and are thus priced higher than the router model that are the exact same hardware and only distinguished by the firmware.

The unit is pretty loaded. Dual-band 802.11AC Phase 1. Five gigabit ports, one for connecting to the main network and four for serving local devices. (These can be given their own range of DHCP addresses and kept separate from the larger network.) USB 2.0 port for making flash or hard drives available on the network. A very good feature set but I’d trade some of it for a lower price in this usage case. One nice aspect of the AP firmware is that it will attempt to configure itself for your network automatically. This would be very handy for novices so long as they don’t mind using the pre-configured SSIDs and encryption keys. On the downside, it appears the USB storage functionality doesn’t include DLNA support, which is used by devices like Blu-ray decks and game consoles to find content like video files on a network. (A search on ‘DLNA’ at the Amped Wireless site produces several hits but none of the documents contain the term. Also, the logo for certified devices isn’t found on any of the product pages I examined.)

  Next up was the Netgear R6200 Wi-Fi Router. (http://netgear.com/home/products/networking/Wi-Fi-routers/R6200.aspx#tab-features) Another good feature set at a bit over $100. If they’d put the power specs on the outer packaging or on the web page, and if the signal power was comparable to the APA20, and if I was confident of it being well behaved in bridge mode, I might have instead have gone with two of these for a significantly lower cost. Among the notable features of the Netgear is USB 3.0 for much better throughput from the attached storage device (assuming USB 3.0 on its part) and a button on the side that switches the Wi-Fi on and off. This is handy when there is already Wi-Fi present that you don’t want to interfere with or need to diagnose a problem with multiple Wi-Fi sources in operation. Also, the USB storage is presented as a DLNA volume for devices that use that to find local content.

 The third item was a Trendnet USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter.  (http://www.trendnet.com/products/proddetail.asp?prod=315_TU3-ETG) This was for use with the Surface Pro 3 to determine if a wired connection could work when the Wi-Fi offered by the same powerline module did not. It’s also a handy item to have when traveling with a device like the Surface or an ultra-slim notebook that may lack a dedicated network port but does have USB.

I decided early on to do away with the ‘one SSID to rule them all’ approach and give everything a unique name in order to have a better idea which radio was in use at any given moment. This led to a surprise that could only happen in this house. First we put up the new AP in place of the old Belkin. It was broadcasting as Starswarm-1 for 2.4 GHz and Starswarm-1-5 for the 5 GHz band. Then the new router took over in the utility room with SSIDs Starswarm-2 and Starswarm-2-5. (It remains to do a better survey and pick the best channels for each radio.) At this point the two powerline Wifi extenders downstairs should be the only remnant of Starswarm-Pre-N but it was still not only visible upstairs but quite strong. How could this be? If the signal was that good and delivered internet access, why was it unusable in far closer proximity? And was this eating into the valuable shared RF spectrum upstairs?

    I pulled out my old Asus TF201 tablet and ran WiFi Analyzer, a handy free app from the Google Play app store. One of its features is to look at MAC addresses and tell you what company produced each signal it detects. It said Starswarm-Pre-N was coming from an Apple device. What? Why? Where?

    After some looking around I came across a box for an Apple Time Capsule, which includes 802.11b/g/n among its functions. At least now I knew what I was looking for. After some more searching I found it, on top of the old HP Windows Home Server and under an accumulation of papers. I switched it off and sure enough, Starswarm-Pre-N became a faint signal as one would expect at that range from the extenders downstairs. I then turned it back on. It wasn’t harming anything now that I knew it was there and the iMac nearby was possibly expecting to use it for a scheduled backup. It would probably be best to give it a more distinct name at some point but that was low on the agenda. Meanwhile, John Dvorak had come visiting and we were all headed out to dinner. It was while we were eating that it occurred to me that I’d never verified that the powerline bridge in Roberta’s office was working correctly.

    Changing out that module for one of the spare units I happened to have in my car resolved the problem that started all of this. The Netgear recommendation of using the same SSID across multiple APs turned out to be ill-advised in practice. Too many client devices aren’t smart enough to change connections as needed and the lack of distinct names made it more difficult to find the point of failure. Given an enterprise-class WiFi network, where the network intelligently hands off clients from one AP to another, this would have been fine but such are still far too costly for homes and most small businesses. The Ruckus gear we (LocationConnect) use for events has a device called a Zone Director to manage the network and perform load balancing between APs regardless of how smart or stupid the client devices might be. We’ll eventually see this in SOHO gear but not for a few more years.

    Now that service had been restored to the far end of the house, there were a few more things to do. Jerry had a Seagate 4 TB USB 3.0 hard drive just sitting there waiting to be put to use. I connected it to the new Netgear router and let it apply the default settings. A few minutes late a new node was on the network: a shared drive named ReadyShare with 3.6 TB of available space. Further, this volume would be visible to devices that spoke the DLNA protocol, such as the LG BP-220 Blu-ray deck in the TV room. (I favor LG for this purpose because they support a much larger range of codecs and file formats than most. TiVo DVRs can use DLNA storage but are limited to MPEG 1 and 2 video, MP3 audio, and JPEG pictures.)  I threw some video files from the flash drives in my pocket onto the volume and looked to see if they could be played in the TV room.  They weren’t to be found but the video files that had been factory installed on the Seagate drive were visible and playable.

It wasn’t until later that I remembered that DLNA is designed to support very lightweight devices that lack all but the most minimal networking functionality. As such, they depend on the host to do all of the heavy listing, even for such minor tasks as displaying a directory. This means the host device has to regularly survey itself for changes and update the data it provides to clients. In this case there hadn’t been enough time for the update cycle. The automatic update can be turned off in the firmware but the default setting is ON. I’ll check it next time I’m at Chaos Manor to be sure. I have another reason to look in the router anyway, as follows.

    I also noticed that the existing D-Link NAS box wasn’t appearing any longer. I believe this is due to it having a static address and the address range used by the new router not being set correctly. This should be quickly changed on my next visit.

Narrative Continued by Jerry Pournelle

We were working on this story and the deadlines were coming up. We knew we should update the Wi-Fi network, because everything in it was several years old.  When Eric called from the computer store about what he should get, he warned me that we hadn’t investigated all the problems and we might be buying more than we needed. I considered the deadlines and told him to get everything we might need; it was time to update anyway.  Besides, I do lots of things so you don’t have to. Now we have working Wi-Fi all over the house, and it ought to last a while.

One of our problems was that everywhere we went our devices could see the old Starswarm Pre-N network.  This was odd because we had taken every wireless router out of service; how was this ghost operating? Eventually Eric discovered that buried under magazines, forgotten for years, is an Apple Airport Time Capsule (we’ll refer to it as the “Airport” and “Time Machine”) dating from early 2008, installed at the same time that we got our first Mac systems:  the iMac, iPad, and the first of my iPhones. The Airport sits there on a stand inviting use as a temporary seat for magazines and books, and hasn’t had any attention after the day it was set up: and it has been working quite well ever since.

The Time Machine half of that box has been turned off since early 2009. That discovery sparked a general cleanup of the rat’s nest of cables that have accumulated behind the main machines here. One of Pournelle’s Laws of troubleshooting is that “It’s probably a cable.” That’s not as true now as it was when I formulated it, but it’s still a good principle: if you have a problem, before you do anything drastic check the cables. Our discovery of the inactive Time Machine has generated another story, but right now we’re waiting for it to catch up with six years of missed backups. There’s a story in that, and we’ll get to it next month.

Precisely how much work that Airport has done can’t be determined, because it was given the Starswarm Pre-N name just like all the other Wi-Fi routers, so whether one connects to it or some other router with that SSID name – a complication we have now eliminated – depended on where the device seeking Wi-Fi was when it was turned on.  Since the Airport is right here, next to my desk, it’s the first thing many Wi-Fi devices see when they wake up, so it got a lot of business, and it has always handled the load so well that we all forgot it was here.

I went looking for anything I may have written about the Airport Time Machine before, and came across this: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2008/Q1/view508.html . That was the daybook for a week in which I was getting radiation treatment for brain cancer. Further on down on that web page is stuff about getting into Macs and installing the Airport. There are also pictures associated with my brain cancer treatment, from back in the days when I couldn’t really talk.  I’d forgotten that one service my MacBook Air gave was as my “talker”: I could type in what I wanted to say and it would say it, back when I could think, sort of, but couldn’t speak intelligibly. I believe I even talked to the LASFS that way once.

What I can’t find is anything about the Airport itself, but it is the last bastion of Starswarm Pre-N Wi-Fi network.  It still has the most powerful signal here in this room.

The bottom line is that we have real Wi-Fi in all rooms of the house as well as out by the pool.  Devices already connected to something – like Starswarm Pre-N – may hang on to that connection after it’s no longer useful, but the remedy to that is turn off the connection and log in on another.  That may require me to learn more about how the ThinkPad software works, but that’s for another time.


 

Part 2 of the October column will continue with a discussion on “Precious” (Jerry’s Microsoft Surface Prod 3), Windows 8, Getting Some Work Done, and Jerry’s struggles and a partial triumph over AutoCorrect in MS Word.

Part 3 of the column will conclude with some thoughts on Windows 10, and Winding Down with the Books of the Month and other short thoughts.

Look for Part 2 starting on Oct 23, 2014. Part 3 is scheduled for October 30, 2014