In my CUPS yet again!

A few days ago, I posted a reminder about how to deal with installing the latest level of CUPS and the HPIJS drivers on a Mac.

Tonight, I discovered an important caveat when I tried to install them on Jeff’s new Mac: do not try to install the HPIJS drivers before you install GhostScript (and possibly FooMatic)!

If you do, the installer will go into an uninterruptable loop, beeping at you, and the only way out is a shutdown.

Needless to say, I discovered this the hard way.

When “It Just Works” becomes inoperative

Last Friday, I discovered that I couldn’t synch my iPod with my MacBook Pro. The iPod thought it was connected, but the Mac didn’t; oddly enough, I was able to synch my iPhone just fine.

Rebooting the iPod didn’t help, so I decided to reboot the Mac. It didn’t want to go down gracefully for some reason (it kept complaining about programs not ending), so I finally brought up a terminal window and typed “sudo shutdown -r now” to force a reboot.

That was a mistake. I got a big Do-Not-Enter sign on the screen. Repeatedly. So I booted the install DVD and ran Disk Utility to verify the drive — it had no complaints.

Back to booting the disk — this time in Verbose mode (press Apple-V right after the power switch, keep it pressed until the bong sounds). The first attempt was a complete failure; it couldn’t load mach.kernel. But I persevered (it’s not like I had a choice), and got farther — to the point that I started seeing “disk0s2: 0xe0030005 (Undefined)” errors on screen, each of which was accompanied by a long pause.

A quick visit to Google told me that the disk was failing if not already dead (which undoubtedly explained my many spinning beachballs and failures to shutdown over the past few days). So I decided to go home and see if I could rescue any data before taking the machine into the shop.

At home, I connected the system to my Mac mini and brought it up in Firewire Disk Mode (press and hold “T” right after powering on) and managed to recover most of my home directory before it was time for my appointment with a Genius at the Apple Store.

The Genius asked me what I’d done and then suggested I try a reboot while he watched, not in verbose mode. 15 minutes later, the system was up. He then suggested I:

  1. Take the machine home without rebooting
  2. Make a copy of the disk on an external drive
  3. Use Disk Utility to write zeros on the hard drive so that it would assign alternate sectors
  4. Reinstall the OS
  5. Move data back to the machine
  6. Get on with my life

He was half right.

I used SuperDuper! to clone the drive. It took three tries, extending well into Saturday night, before I was able to get a complete copy made.

Then I ran Disk Utility in “secure erase” mode to zero out the drive, reinstalled Leopard, and started the long process of moving things back from the external drive. I was suspicious of the integrity of the copy, so I didn’t move any binaries back, just my data — that meant reinstalling many programs and getting them back up to date (Microsoft Office 2004 was especially pernicious, requiring me to run the updater at least 8 times).

But by late Sunday, I was finished.

On Tuesday, though, I started seeing spinning beachballs again. By Wednesday morning, they were frequent. And a perusal of /var/log/system.log showed more “disk0s2: 0xe0030005 (Undefined)” errors. So I knew I had to have the disk replaced, which was going to be a problem, because the Genius had told me that it would take 4-7 business days, which would extend into an upcoming trip.

The machine was out of warranty, so I could have fixed it myself, but life is too short for that. And since it was the company’s machine, not mine, I really wanted to take it to an authorized servicer. But 4-7 days was unacceptable. Fortunately, there are alternatives to the Apple Store, listed right on the Apple site.

I called the closest one, ClickAway and was speaking to a tech within a few minutes. He said that they’d happily install a new drive (which they’d sell me or I could pick up at Fry’s) the same day. And they’d try to recover the data, or they could sell me a SATA case for $25 so I could do it myself (and then wipe the drive afterwards).

And they did just that. They even installed Leopard for free, saving me the trouble of doing it from the DVD. And they finished two hours earlier than they’d estimated. And the price of the whole process, including the SATA case and a larger drive than I’d originally had, was just about the same as just getting the drive swapped for an identical drive at the Apple Store.

I still had to reinstall and reupdate my software again and put my data back on. But I’ve gotten good at that.

Lessons Learned:

  • Backups are good.
  • Backups before the drive fails are better.
  • Even if all your “important” data is on multiple machines, backups are good.
  • Image backups are very good.
  • Geniuses are not always right.

I now also have a Time Capsule, which is busily backing up my Mac mini as I speak (I’ve already backed up the MBP). I wish the mini were close enough to connect it through a cable, because an over-the-air backup of 300MB takes a very long time.

And I’ve registered my copy of SuperDuper!
to make image backups easier in the future. $27.95 is cheap insurance — and I already have used the program to save my butt, so it’s even retroactive insurance (hey, it works for Warren Buffett, so why not for me?).

Fluid Twittering

On Monday, I read a posting on 43 Folders about using Fluid to create site-specific browsers. The author created a browser for I Want Sandy (a tool I plan to check out one of these days), but I thought it would be perfect for Twitter.

But since I was at work and mostly busy when I read the posting, I contented myself with posting it to del.icio.us for “later”.

That evening, though, I was on Twitter and noticed that Firefox was suffering from Spinning Beachball Syndrome — it didn’t die on me, but it spent a lot of time gazing at its own navel. Restarting it helped, but only for a short while. Then someone mentioned Flock, which I’d tried early in its life but hadn’t looked at since (I even managed to pass by their booth at Macworld, though it wasn’t intentional on my part). I didn’t really want to install Yet Another Browser, but the conversation made me think of Fluid.

I downloaded it and fired it up; less than a minute later, I had a Twitter-specific browser on my system. Since it’s Webkit-based, it doesn’t have the extensions and add-ons that I’ve laden Firefox with — and it’s fast. And since it’s an independent browser, it survives when I forget myself and close Firefox (or when it closes itself).

I just wish I could figure out how to make F5 the refresh key; instead, I have to remember to use Cmd-R. Which doesn’t work in Firefox.

Highly recommended, and the price is right: free (as in beer). That’s http://fluidapp.com — check it out!

Flow

Today was an interesting day. I started with a torture session at the JCC (my trainer calls the worst part “Fun with Foam” and promises it will get better some day). I had a call soon enough afterwards that I didn’t have time to drive to work, so I went home instead, took the call, and only then went to the office.

The afternoon started with another call, then my annual review (I live to fight another year!).

And then I got to have some fun. One of the projects I’m working on needs to gather some data from Lotus Notes calendars, and there was a group who had someone working on a tool to get that data. But they were having problems of various sorts, and they were stuck. Fortunately, one of my hobby projects for the last few years has taught me a lot about accessing Lotus Notes calendars from Python code, so I contacted the developer and offered to see if I had anything in my archives which might be helpful.

I didn’t – somehow, I’d not copied the relevant directory to my new Windows system (and this particular technique, using the COM bindings to Notes, only works on Windows). But I did have other Python/Notes code in hand, enough to remember how to start, and her Java code showed me what she was trying to do.

The next time I looked up, two hours had passed. And I had a working program (at least it worked in my environment!) to send her.

It’s been a while since I really dropped into flow on a technical project — it’s fun!

The final word on Macworld

Trying to do all of Macworld Expo in one day was probably a mistake — I didn’t have a chance to go back to interesting booths (especially those in the West Hall), and I was rather tired by the time I left But I had a hard enough time clearing one day from my calendar; two would have been impossible.

After a night’s sleep and sorting through my bag-o-crap, here’s what still clings to my memory.

I am still amazed at how much of the floor was devoted to iPod and iPhone accessories, as well as wraps and briefcases for MacBooks. If I’d wanted to personalize my iPhone or my MacBookPro, the options were endless. Ditto speakers, chargers, and FM transmitters for my iPod — and I probably could use them, but with so many choices, I decided to wait. Replacement headphones were also a Big Deal; I spent time at the Shure, Creative, and Etymotics booths, but wasn’t ready to replace my Frankenbuds yet (I’ll wait till they break).

If I used a desktop Mac as my primary machine, the MacBook Air would be the ideal travelling companion. It’s light, sexy, and functional — the Remote Disk is a cute workaround for the lack of an optical drive (but I wind up installing almost all my software via web downloads, anyway), and I like the multitouch gestures on the trackpad (it would be nice to get those through a software update on the MBP — I would think it could handle the zoom gesture, since it can already tell the difference between one and two fingers). But my primary machine is already a MacBook Pro, so the Air would be superfluous; the extra few pounds aren’t significant given my normal travels.

Bento looked interesting and I’ll probably install the demo when I have some time to play with it (December?). I also walked away with demo disks that I may actually try for The Personal Brain, VMWare Fusion, Nisus Writer, as well as a few that were handed to me which will be as handy as the AOL CDs that used to arrive in the mail.

Intuit was pushing Quicken and their other products. They were showing a demo of their Quicken replacement, due this year, which looks to be a Web 2.0 version of Quicken (in much the same way as Quicken became Web 1.0-like a few years ago). They promised a migration path from Quicken/PC to the new product. We’ll see, but frankly, I’d be happy finding somewhere else to go entirely, as long as I can give my tax accountant the data he needs.

There were lots of people selling storage solutions. I didn’t look at them very closely. I am, however, ashamed to admit that I couldn’t crack the code at the Western Digital booth without giving it some serious thought. Maybe I should get on the air sometime.

I spent some time at the Fujitsu booth ogling the ScanSnap S510M (as mentioned on 43 Folders a few weeks ago). I would have been happy to win one in their drawing, but I didn’t. I did take home a discount coupon, but I’m not really sure that turning paper into PDFs is really a step in the right direction for me; what I need is to make stuff Go Away Entirely.

I also looked at the various printer and camera vendors, but not seriously. I would like a color laser all-in-one to reduce the clutter at home, but the prices are still too high. Even mono laser all-in-ones are expensive and big.

I did buy the Goldtouch for Mac keyboard. I haven’t unboxed it yet, though — it’s for home, to replace the Apple Keyboard I bought for the Mini a while ago. That’ll go to the XO laptop so I can play with it more easily.

I’m glad I went to the show; I’ll probably do it again, schedule willing, next year, but my expectations will be more realistic. And I’ll wear socks with more padding. And maybe even take advantage of the onsite nap service so I can make it through the entire day.

More Macworld!

I’m beginning to burn out, but I think I’ve seen just about everything.

I think there are more ways to dress one’s iPod, iPhone, or MacBook here than there are ways to dress oneself at Bloomingdale’s (which I walked through on my way to lunch — I am not crazy enough to eat at Moscone itself). But I’m not terribly interested in any of them.

There are also a ton of iPod car accessories, some of which are on sale at attractive prices — but not attractive enough for me to buy without the prospect of returning if they don’t work.

Google’s got a huge booth and is giving away swag. Odd swag, like Google socks and flip-flops. I may resist.

And, as expected, there’s a ton of software (some specially priced). Lots of disk enclosures, too. And keyboards — including the Goldtouch keyboard, which I really liked once upon a time. They’ve even finally updated it to have real F11/F12 keys!

I did get to play with the MacBook Air briefly. It is incredibly light and sexy, but I still don’t think I need one. And, unlike the iPhone, I think I really mean it this time.

And I even found the IBM booth. It’s at the very back of the tiny-booth area in Moscone West, and is there to show the flag for the Mac port of Informix. Lotusphere is next week, and so if we have anything to announce (and, according to the press, we do), I’d expect it to be there. But next year, Macworld is at the very beginning of January, before Lotusphere (and, I suspect, before CES), so maybe things will be different then.

Macworld Expo interim report

I’m taking a couple of minutes from wandering the show floor – thanks to Microsoft for the blogger lounge!

The biggest thing I’ve seen so far is iPod/iPhone accessories – in fact, I invested $8 in a earbud Jack from WhatIf Widgets in hopes of being able to carry my Frankenbuds again. Cases are also a Big Deal here.

But I’ve just barely begun to prowl the main show floor; more to come.

I think my wallet is mostly safe

Maybe I’m too far from Moscone to be affected by the Reality Distortion Field, but there wasn’t much in today’s Macworld keynote which really interested me. Yes, the 1.1.3 level of iPhone software has some welcome improvements (and I’ve downloaded and installed it already), but I’m not sure I would have paid even $20 for it.

TimeCapsule is of some interest, especially if I can use it to back up the Windows box at home as well as the Macs — it’d be of even more interest if it could seamlessly and automatically do offsite backups as well.

The AppleTV and iTunes rentals leave me cold; we have more media in hand and unwatched than I can put in one shelf — I don’t need any more.

And the MacBook Air, while interesting, doesn’t meet any immediate need (though I look forward to playing with one sometime). I already have a very lightweight laptop, anyway.

I still plan to go up to Moscone tomorrow to look around on the show floor, though.

XO, XO, it’s blogging now I go

I got my XO from the One Laptop Per Child project yesterday. It is incredibly cute, but the keyboard is going to drive me crazy fairly soon. It’s too small to touch-type on for me, so I am using two fingers, a technique I thought I’d abandoned years ago.

I’m really impressed with its WiFi – it sees (and connects to) networks that my other computers don’t show at all. I need to upgrade the OS so it will automatically connect to my home network – I’ve been using an open network with a cryptic name, probably not the smartest idea for the long run.

The only real problem I’ve had with it is using Twitter; when i type into the posting box, the display lags many seconds behind. I guess it’s due to the keystroke-deriven Javascript, but that’s just a guess. I’m certainly not seeing any delay typing this posting into WordPress’s browser interface.

I can see how a box like this can make a difference in a child’s life. I’m glad I signed up; I’m not quite sure what I’m gonna do with this one in the long run, though.

Waiting for XO

I ordered an XO laptop through the Give One Get One offer (still open through the end of 2007, for those of you looking for that perfect last-minute deduction). Mine hasn’t arrived yet, but Ed Yourdon’s has, and he’s posted a “first reaction” on his blog.

I’m not at all sure what I’m going to do with the machine once I’ve played with it a bit — I knew it was, by design, slow and memory-limited, so I didn’t plan to displace any of my normal computers, but I did have some hopes that it would be a good machine to give to an older relative who “doesn’t want a computer”. But the description of the keyboard in Ed’s review makes that seem unlikely, though I’m reserving judgment until I can touch it myself.