Monday, May 28, 2012

File Syncing on PowerPC

Since file syncing is what all the kids are into these days, I thought I'd do a rundown on all the choices we PowerPC users have. It's not just Dropbox, right? There must be more...

Well, for Leopard users, yes. There's SugarSync, SpiderOak, and Wuala in addition to Dropbox (a couple of others, Minus and Mozy Stash, say they support Leopard but are Intel only). However, for Tiger users, there's only Wuala. I'll write more about Wuala and Dropbox below since I've tested them on Tiger, but since I don't have Leopard here's a quick feature breakdown of the other services:

SugarSync starts off with 5 GB free storage and has pricing plans for 30, 60, 100, 250, and 500 GB. The main difference with DropBox is you can sync any folder, no need for symlinks. It also supports music playback and public links. However, there doesn't appear to be any LAN syncing, and the consensus is that the desktop client uses more system resources.

SpiderOak is all about security as your password is stored locally on your computer. No one at SpiderOak knows it, so they haven't suffered from embarrassing security snafus like Dropbox has. They offer 2 GB free storage, plus $10 a month for each 100 GB increment thereafter. Like SugarSync, you can sync any folder, and it also lets you back up external/thumb drives.

And now for the Tiger clients:

Wuala is much like SpiderOak in that the client stores your password locally so not even Wuala employees can access your account. Security and privacy are paramount. They offer 5 GB free storage plus 20, 50, and 100 GB paid plans.

It's a testament to how the onset of "apps" have made us feel dumb by how a client with a little complexity like Wuala makes me feel, well, dumb. It's not the super simple client like Dropbox, but it offers more flexibility. You can choose any folders to either backup or sync, and the client works basically like another Finder window. It's a bit of a learning curve, but after a few minutes you get the hang of it. One downside, the web interface requires the java plugin, which if you care about security, you may want to avoid. Also, the desktop client uses a bit more system resources than Dropbox.

Finally we have Dropbox, which due to its simplicity, many users new to syncing may want to use for its... simplicity. Signup and usage are as easy as it gets. They offer 2 GB free storage, plus paid plans of 50 and 100 GB (with some bonuses for referrals). All you do is drop the files/folders you want to sync in your Dropbox folder and it takes care of the rest fairly quietly in the background. It's not as flexible as the others as to which folders you choose to sync, but they have a nice web interface. There they make it much easier to get sharing links than in Wuala. Also, a big plus is syncing over a LAN network. So if you want ease of use and performance over flexibility and security, Dropbox is your best bet.

And if you're just looking for simple online backup without syncing, Mozy has a good desktop client with regularly scheduled backups of specified files and folders. Though their new syncing client Mozy Stash is Intel only, as noted above.

One last thing, I added another link to the sidebar for My Mac Collection. There's a lot of good stuff there the last few days, so check them out!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Speed Up TenFourFox

With its rapid release schedule, TenFourFox has been in a constant arms race with website coders who are more determined than ever to make their sites slower. Except for Amazon. I'll give credit where credit's due. Amazon is the only site that recently had a revamp that didn't turn it into molasses. But just because Cameron Kaiser & company are on the case doesn't mean we have to take it sitting down. There are several things we the end user can do to speed up TenFourFox, so I thought I'd drop a list of some of my best tips:

First, install the NoScript add-on. A lot of what slows down site loading is javascript and NoScript will let you block all scripts except for those you specifically allow. This is a bit of a pain the first time you visit your regular sites and figure out what functionality to allow, but after that it makes for much smoother surfing.

You can also install Greasemonkey for scripts that unclutter and tailor a website to your needs. One Greasemonkey script I'll point out is the Neetzan Zimmerman Post Destroyer which, if you're familiar with Gawker, you'll totally understand.

There are a couple of tweaks to about:config you can make. First, set browser.tabs.animate to false to eliminate animated tabs. Second, change to false to keep the download manager from opening when you begin a download. That progress bar uses a nontrivial amount of CPU.

You may be occasionally annoyed at how animated gifs slow things down, especially in forum threads where every user insists on having one for an avatar. The quickest way to nix them is by hitting the esc key, but if you want to preemptively keep all animated gifs from looping, change image.animation_mode from normal to once (for animating through a single loop) or none (for no animation).

One of my favorite tricks is something I got clued in on while using Classilla. Classilla masks itself as a mobile device so websites default to their mobile pages which load much faster. So just find a site's mobile address and a website that was glacially slow becomes an instant loader. This is especially true for Twitter. Compare to

Finally, don't install too many add-ons if you don't need them as they can slow your startup time and take up memory. The only two add-ons I have are the above mentioned, and for ad blocking I have a UserContent.css file instead of Adblock Plus (the ad_blocking.css file embedded in is a good starting point).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Luddite iPad Review

So my dad got my mom an iPad as an anniversary gift, and given I'm the family's designated tech support it befell me to set the thing up.  So I thought I'd give you some quick first impressions/diatribes that are no doubt entirely unwarranted and represent a violation of Apple's reality distortion field and can't possibly exist in the physical universe.

First up, the hardware.  The dimensions and weight are good.  Out of the box, it feels like a good handshake.  I also love that the screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio.  Finally a small victory against the wide screen fascists.  Also, the speaker sounded surprisingly good, not awesome, but better than I expected.  And this model has the new retina display, and it's incredible.

Now that I've got you in a good mood, let's talk about the iOS.  It sucks.  Like hard.  Remember the dashboard, that new feature introduced in Tiger where you can display widgets for everything from stocks to the weather, and the world forgot about it because nobody actually used it?  Quite simply, the iOS is the revenge of the dashboard.  Widgets are now "apps," or in other words, glorified bookmarks that are dependent on information retrieved from the web and can just as easily be displayed in a web page.  Some apps contain more functionality, but not enough to earn the vaunted "Full software, not an app!" badge.

I read someone say the iOS makes you feel like a monkey and I agree.  It's so limiting, it dumbs me down about 100 IQ points.  Multitasking is difficult as each app takes up the full screen.  It's hard to make apps interact with each other because the are generally no files to manipulate.

Which brings me to the biggest problem with the iOS--no file system.  That's right, no Finder, no hierarchal folders, nada.  You're supposed to manage all your files, mp3s, videos, etc., through iTunes somehow.  To tell you the truth, I didn't even bother looking at it.  The whole idea made me want to gag.  But worse than that, there are several apps like Goodreader that have their own way of managing files, and there are yet more apps that use Dropbox syncing as a way to manage files.  With so many apps offering different ways to manage files, it's more confusing than anything and an unnecessary pain in the ass.

Speaking of syncing, the iPad requires Leopard for iTunes syncing, so no Tiger support.  Tiger users will have to find alternatives like Dropbox or VNC for networking/syncing.  I know the Kindle touch can mount on a Tiger desktop as a separate volume.  Why can't the iPad?

The one thing that took me aback was how many apps are ad supported.  When it's an app like TVGuide, it's not so disconcerting, but ads on writing apps like Simplenote and PlainText?  Are you kidding me?  When I'm trying to write?  They say you can get rid of the ads by paying for the full version, but ads on a writing app is just freaking extortion.

On the plus side, it comes with a nice calendar app, printing with an Epson wireless printer is easy with Epson iPrint, and there are useful/fun things like handwriting apps, crossword puzzles, and streaming apps, etc., so it should be useful as an addition to a computer.  But, man, keep me away from that OS.  I'm gonna hurt my knuckles banging on that screen.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Press Release From the Future


Cupertino, California--May 4, 2018--Apple® has unveiled a developer preview release of the next incarnation of their popular operating system OS X code-named "Persian Kitty."  The release comes ahead of schedule and includes a bevy of new features ported from their iOS such as lick gestures and scratch 'n sniff.

"We're beyond excited about the new features," said Apple CEO Tim Cook.  "We're putting the finishing touches on a journal app that not only looks like moldy old paper, it smells like it, too!"

The new operating system is targeted for official release in September at a retail price of $159, though its moniker at this point is still a matter of contention.  "We're not completely sold on the Persian Kitty name," added Cook, "but we're running out of cats."

As with all new releases, users of certain hardware, i.e. Macs made before 2017, will be unsupported* and must upgrade.  In addition, this release marks the end of several legacy technologies such as the Finder, menus, and preferences.  Login will be disabled without a credit card number.

Apple designs Macs, the most bestest computers in the world, along with OS X, iMWatchingYou, iForYourOwnGood, and iMustNotResist.  Apple leads the digital music revolution with its credit card swipe iPods, and continues to reinvent everything from phones to toasters to even the hair on your ass.  Also, too--iPad.

*Except for only the most condescending of security updates.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Protect Yourself

I'm a little late on this Flashback scourge infecting the internet. As recounted on the TenFourFox development blog, it's a virus that takes advantage of a weakness in java to gain access to your system. Apple has a patch for this, but unfortunately it's for Snow Leopard and up, so PowerPC users are left to the wolves. The good news is there's no evidence Flashback has been compiled to run on PowerPC computers, but that won't necessarily remain true, so in order to keep safe you need to disable the java plug-in in all your browsers. In the preferences for Camino and Safari, there's a checkbox you can uncheck, and in TenFourFox, if you have plug-ins enabled, go to the add-ons manager and click the disable button for the java plug-in. I briefly looked into removing java system-wide, but read indications that it would involve extensive surgery and that it wasn't really necessary anyway. But this is a serious threat, so it's highly recommended you disable java in your browsers (Leopard users can also open Java Preferences in the Utilities folder and disable java applets).

In other news, apparently there's a twelve percent chance all our motherboards are gonna be fried in an apocalyptic solar storm by 2020, if you believe the prognosticators. Something like this actually happened before in 1859; there's all sorts of fascinating reading on the Carrington Event. The only thing electronic in the day was the telegraph machine and there was much mayhem. Fortunately if something like that happened again, we'd have at least a few hours warning, so we can all rush and turn off our electronic devices before the storm arrives. Although I'm not sure what people are supposed to do if they have those cars where the computer system is always on. Hello, $30,000 brick. Anyway, the point of all this longwindedness is to say it's probably a good idea to back up your data not only in the cloud but on physical media, too. It doesn't take long to burn a disc and it's good to have peace of mind. And it's not only solar storms after servers. It's also hackers, and they don't wait 150 years between major events.