Sunday, December 27, 2009

When is good audio quality not enough...

When it's combined with poor mechanical quality, that's when.

A few months ago I bought a BlueAnt bluetooth headset (The Z9i model) on the recommendation of a friend who works at Radio Shack. After the purchase, I called my wife to get a quality check (she is very particular about call quality and immediately lets me know what she thinks about the sound) and she gave the BlueAnt a Thumbs Up.  Sounded good to me as well, so I used it for several months and was happy with it.

After only a few months, I learned that the mechanical design / implementation leaves a great deal to be desired and I've replaced the BlueAnt with a Motorola headset.  The problem with the BlueAnt is the mechanism they used to attach the ear loop to the headset. There's a little rubber "grommet" on the back of the headset and the end of the ear loop is inserted into that grommet. That was fine initially, but after only a few months of use, the rubber grommet expanded allowing the ear loop to rotate in the grommet so that the headset flip-flops on my ear. Not acceptable -- it feels as if the thing is going to fall off every time I lean to the side..

I tried applying a very low-tech fix: wrapping a small amount of scotch tape around the end of the ear loop.

That worked for a while, but when I had to add the second layer of tape because the grommet had expanded even more, I gave up.

Nice of BlueAnt to try new approaches, but this one sure didn't work. In spite of the great sound quality, this device gets a Thumbs Down rating.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oh, you wonder where the disk space went...

Discovered this morning that my Vista machine (business accounting) which is a very low-use machine was generating an overly large backup (55Gig)... and it just seemed to keep growing and growing...

I did some digging and found that the c:/windows/system32/config/RegBack directory was over 7Gigs of space!

Looking at the files, it's clear that some process is regularly creating backups of the registry

and they just sit there, building up over time.

I know that disk space is cheap, but that's not the only resource involved with simply letting applications use as much disk space as they want. As the size of "stuff" on the disk grows, there's also a cost in other ways.
  1. The added time to transmit this stuff over the wire for backups increases. For example, even with a Gigabyte network installed, this takes time and eventually the window available for the backup is exceeded.
  2. The added cost of keeping copies of this stuff lying around, as in backup copies. The extra 7Gigs of space expands to roughly 21Gigs of space on my rotating disk backups.
  3. The added cost of purchasing and installing ever larger disks. My backup drives are beginning to reach capacity and this wasted space is definitely contributing to that.
  4. The added cost of computing cycles - and human wait time - when I need to find a file on my system. 
I wonder if these registry backups are ever used. And I'll bet that the programmers who put this together said to themselves: "Well, it's only a few Megs and disk space is cheap, so we'll just throw these out there in case we need them..." and didn't think about the fact that, over time, these 'few Megs' could turn into a real waste.

Nice idea to back things up automatically, but a little thought to the potential impact of such an approach and some automatic cleanup would definitely make for a better solution. Kinda makes you wish for a variation of the IBM System/360 Generation Data Groups where the operating system would keep a set number of files in a group, automatically re-numbering them as new ones were added.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Great little NAS box...

The 351UNE box from NDAS is a great little network-attached hard drive. It's fast (1Gig network speed), flexible (network, USB, and eSATA connectors), and easy to setup & use. It comes in a variety of sizes, and you can even buy it from local dealers without a HDrive and add your own (I got mine at Fry's for $60.

If you get one, make sure you get the updated drivers from their website (V3.71 as of this post: and click on "NDAS DRIVER for Windows"); the older drivers do not work so well.

Even better, their technical support was astounding: I was working on a Saturday installing a couple of drives for a client and couldn't get them to work (older drivers that came with the hardware). I sent an email to tech support, fully expecting to have to wait until Monday morning for a response. Within about 20 minutes, I got phone call (!) from their sales rep.  He apologized for not being a tech, but offered to do what he could. What he did was point me to the new drivers and - voila - everything was up and running.

Now that's a terrific combination: great product and even greater support...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Apple Time Machine Gotcha [FIXED]...

Well... for whatever reason, my Mac thought that it's system disk was a Time Machine backup disk. That's because there was a folder called


in the system drive's root directory (i.e., click on your system icon in Finder, then click on the system hard drive and look for "backups/backupdb" in that folder).

I found the solution at this site -- nice to see I wasn't the only one with this kind of problem -- and deleted backups/backupdb. Now my install of Snow Leopard is working just fine.

So how come my system disk thought it was a Time Machine disk? Who knows... just one of those TechBlech mysteries.

Apple Time Machine Gotcha [Part 2]...

Well... things are now getting more interesting (as in the old curse: 'May you live in interesting times").

I got a USB HDrive from my parts box, initialized it for Mac OS X, did a brand-new, full time Machine backup to the HDrive and thought I was ready to upgrade from Leopard to Snow Leopard.  Not so fast, my Mac says. When I try to install to the HDrive in the Mac, I get the message:

Mac OS X cannot be installed on "EDP24_HD". This disk is used for Time Machine backups.

Huh? This is the system disk we're talking about -- the one internal to the Mac itself. That's never supposed to be an option for a Time Machine backup.  Maybe it's the fault of the cloning process... or something. Some research is definitely needed here.

Apple Time Machine Gotcha...

In general, I've been loving my MacBook... it's small (easy to take to client meetings), has good battery life (unlike my Dell PC laptop), and easy to use (it's a Mac... right?).  I have particularly liked the way that Time Machine works automatically and invisibly: I've used it a time or two to reach back into the past and find a file that I deleted a while back and had forgotten about but suddenly needed. This approach works better than a few simple disk backups and is like the "10-Tape Rotation" scheme I used for years when I was backing up to separate tape volumes: I always had the recent stuff plus backups extending back in time for up to 3 months.

However, I just ran into a little "gotcha" when I was upgrading to a slightly newer machine.  Mac's also have this wonderful feature of being able to easily clone your hard drive. With a utility like SuperDuper!, you can also clone your machine onto another machine (on the same network). What's even better is that there is a free version of SuperDuper! which makes a complete clone of your machine onto the new machine (the paid versions offer you lots of options such which files/folders to exclude from the clone, thereby making things run faster).. very nice!

Of course, before I cloned the machine, I did a current backup onto my Time Machine drive, setup the cloning operation, and away we went. Took over 2 hours (I've heard that if you have large files on the machine being cloned, things take waaaay longer than if you don't: I had a pair of 2Gig compressed files so what was expected to take 20-30 minutes took much longer. But this is a minor whine, as everything else worked flawlessly on the clone).

However, Time Machine believes that this cloned machine is actually a new machine, and that's not good at all. It means that the new (cloned) machine no longer recognizes my Time Machine HDrive as the current backup drive and wants to start all over with a full backup. What that also means is t hat I can no longer go back to the files that are saved on my old Time Machine backup drive -- they are essentially gone.

I wonder if anyone else has had this experience; if so, do you know how to:
  1. avoid the problem in the future or 
  2. access the old Time Machine backup "just in case"
Hopefully I won't need those old files, but you never know... that's what backups are for. Too bad Apple doesn't have an obvious/easy way to work-around this...