Category Archives: OS X

Dashboard Widgets: Some useful ‘geek’ tools

Here’s a brief look at some widgets which will be of more use to the geeks / techies.

  • Whoisdget 1.0 – WHOIS database checker – opens results in an Internet browser window. Shame it doesn’t put the results right in the Dashboard as an option.
  • QuickCommand – puts four most used UNIX shell commands on buttons. Outputs results to the widget’s window.
  • bonSearch:info 1.1 – an interface for searching information in sources such as Google, Wikipedia, Britannica, CDDB, Creative Commons. Results are opened up in a new Internet browser window. For this number of sources, it’s quicker than going to each individual site and you can hop to and fro from Dashboard with the same search term.
  • Lasso Reference If you use Lasso (I don’t) this is an online reference searcher. As per others, it’s really just a quick way of launching the website you need with the search term already plugged in. May save you some seconds.
  • Shell Watcher – monitor any shell command with customisable update period.
  • Network Stat 1.0 – displays your LAN and WAN IP addresses.

Apple’s Dashboard Widget page open for business

I mentioned in a previous post that clicking on the ‘More Widgets’ button on the dashboard screen prompts for a username and passowrd. No more. Apple’s Widget site is now open.

At time of writing there appear to be 109 widgets from various authors.

I’ve just downloaded an ‘Air Traffic Control’ widget which scans for nearby AirPort (ie 802.11) sources, and reports on their type and signal strength. It’s a breeze to install – just click on the title, it downloads a zip file which unpacks itself and automatically adds itself to the Dashboard screen. Simply click on the icon and it’s there.

Time to go hunting for some more interesting widgets.

Virus 0 – 1 iSync, and who early-adopts?

Having reinstalled Norton Antivirus 9.0, I tried booting it up last night and it still came up with an error, although it doesn’t appear to stop it from working.

iSync, on the other hand, had no problem re-syncing to my Palm PDA. I had read reports that one should synchronise the PDA to the Mac before upgrading to Tiger, otherwise the contents of the PDA can be wiped upon trying to sync for the first time under Tiger. No problem for me. I actually sync three machines to my PDA: my work PC, my G4 and my iBook, so I’m pretty synchronised!

I read a blog entry asking who really needs to upgrade to Tiger. It’s all very well stating that there are over 200 new features, but is that enough for the average user to want or need to upgrade?

It got me thinking about who is the most likely to “early adopt” Tiger:

Low-end users: those with lower-spec machines, possibly less money, and with few if any life- or business-critical data on their Mac, will probably not be in a hurry to upgrade, wanting to hold out for as long as possible before upgrading to the new system. They may not even be using 10.3 (or even X of any flavour). I was one of these once: very low-end Mac and no money.

High-end users: those with high-spec machines, probably more money (or business money), who use Macs and their applications as a critical part of their life or business: graphic designers, artists, musicians, publishers – the usual Mac fare. These too may be reluctant to early adopt, for whilst they may have the capital, they cannot afford to take the time or the risk installing a new system which may have idiosyncrasies (bugs) not yet spotted and fixed by a large user base. Whereas downtime for the hobbyist may be annoying, but acceptable, for the business/power-user, it could mean lost business and revenue.

Middle-spec users: Probably quite a diverse bunch of users – so not average – with medium- to high-end equipment and software, financially well-off, and willing to experiment and take technical risks. These are the most likely candidates for investing early in a new operating system release. There is a certain excitement in being among the first people to test new software, even if it carries a risk that things might not work quite the way they did before. They may, or may not, have backup plans if things really go wrong.

I’ll stick my neck out and say that there may be more early adopter types in the Apple Mac camp than in the Windows camp, traditionally because of the types of people more likely to use Macs, because of the ‘mentality’ of a Mac-zealot, that is oft written about, and because we expect Apple (despite some famous cock-ups) to provide good and efficient service to its users.

If there are bugs in Tiger (which there surely are) then you can bet Apple are working with early adopters on finding and fixing them.

Early adopting and anti-virus

Andy’s adventures with Mac OS 10.4 Tiger

Introduction: For what it’s worth, this section will be Andy’s ramblings on being an ‘early adopter’ of Apple’s latest Macintosh operating system. I’ve already written about the London launch, and the fun I had installing Tiger on my DVD. What next?

I don’t consider myself a power user by any means. I have a G3/800 iBook and a G4/775 desktop. The power user would consider them both candidates for ditching and upgrading, but they’re serving me well. Thankfully, Apple are still officially supporting G3s with Tiger, so long as they have FireWire port (I’m not quite sure why this is – I suspect it’s just an easy way to test how old a machine is, though I would’ve though they could use some other aspect of the machine, given that Firewire is only required for some aspects of iChat video conferencing that won’t run on a G3 or low-end G4 in any case.)

I do digital music, digital photography, web design, coding, a few games, general office stuff.


Virus Protection: Since installing Tiger, my Norton Antivirus has thrown up an error every time on startup – however it appears to continue functioning, does LiveUpdates, and I presume it is protecting my system. Dangerous…

Anyway, I’ve reinstalled the software on my G4 so I’ll find out tonight if it is behaving itself now.

Dashboard: Could be seen as a gimmick, but the widgets are quite useful as they stand, and hopefully a lot more, including ones not so geared for the US market, will become available.

Clicking on the ‘More Widgets’ button prompts for a username and password at the Apple site. Not sure if I should have that password? I’m on the lookout for new widgets. Will report them here.

The ‘cool ripple effect’ demonstrated at the launch event I suspect only works on high end Macs with above-average graphics cards. The ‘information flip’ graphic transition works well, but no ripples on my G3 or G4. Ahh well, it still looks darn cool. It is a bit sluggish when it first starts up, possibly owing to the number of Internet sites it tries to connect to in order to get the latest info.

Apple Tiger installation DVD drama

I installed Tiger on my G3 iBook with no problems at all – took about an hour all in.

The next puzzle was how to get Tiger onto my G4 desktop. It doesn’t have a DVD drive (just a CD-RW) though I have thought several times about adding one to the second drive bay.

Intial thought pattern:

  1. Install it over home ethernet network
  2. Apply for the CD media pack

Option 1 doesn’t work – I logged in to the iBook from the G4, found the DVD and double-clicked the Installer: Not allowed to run this program. Please use the original DVD. Hmm.

Option 2 Feasible, but I wanted a more immediate solution.

Tried to create a disk image of the DVD on a partition of the G4 desktop. Didn’t even bother to progress that one – highly unlikely to work.

Firewire logo
Solution: Target Disk Mode:

  1. Went to Tandy, bought a Firewire 6pin-6pin cable.
  2. Plugged in both Macs.
  3. According to the stuff I found online, you’re supposed to boot the machine with the DVD drive in Target Disk Mode (TDM), which the other machine then reads. Unfortunately, the iBook I have doesn’t seem to boot up the DVD drive so it’s not visible from the G4 desktop. Grrr.
  4. The other method is to boot the non-DVD machine in TDM. After working out why my G4 wouldn’t boot up in TDM (had the firmware password set, this has to be disabled) I booted it up, found its hard disk icon on the iBook, ran the Tiger installer from the DVD, and selected the G4 as the target for the installation.

This is the less preferred method, because the installation is supposedly tailored for the host machine (the G3 in this case) and not the target machine. However, the process worked, and I have not had any problems. Now I have Tiger on both machines, just as it should be.

Apple Tiger UK launch

Mac OS Tiger box
Here’s my brief review of the launch of Apple’s latest Mac operating system – Tiger (10.4 for those of you who prefer numbers to wild animals):

I left work at 5pm last Friday and headed for the Apple Store in Regent Street, which is thankfully only a ten-minute walk from my office. When I arrived it looked as if there was no queue – just a few people milling about… then I looked beyond the entrance to the metal railings and a long qieue.

I ended up around the corner, down a side street. I answered a few questions from puzzled passers-by. Probably not too exciting for the average tourist. There was a camera crew scanning the queue – probably for Apple promotional rather than broadcast.

At 6pm we started moving into the store; it was packed out. Lots of tables piled high with the Tiger boxes. We were all given a scratchcard, with the chance to win a PowerBook or some other equipment. I won a free iTunes download – oh well, I can dream…

In the gallery a presentation of the main features of the new OS began. We saw the dashboard, spotlight, the automator; all great new functions of 10.4 that mean “once you’ve used it, you’ll never go back to 10.3”. Several people were already installing Tiger on their laptops.

I am not sure what I was expecting from the launch – possibly a bit more ‘pazazz’ – but then maybe that’s not Apple’s style. I only stayed until about 8pm anyway, so they may have done more interesting stuff later on. In any case, I was keen to get home and install the OS.

More experiences with Tiger to come…

More on iTunes AU, CH, SE, NO, DK

Country flagsAppleInsider has found the icons for the new iTunes countries, thereby confirming iTunes is about to start in Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Not before time for those AU-ers among us. I’m seeing more and more of those white earplugs on the train to work.

It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. So far all the Australian online music stores have concentrated on selling protected WMA files. These haven’t been setting the world alight, partly of course because the files are useless for legions of iPod owners, and from observations, there are hardly any non-iPod portable music players out there in userland. And for myself, I’d refuse to buy files that won’t live beyond the (hopefully long but inevitably limited) life of my player.

Record companies must surely be waking up to it by now. They can’t copy-protect conventional CDs properly — it either breaks the Red Book standard (and thus compatibility) or it doesn’t work. Anything they try is either useless or has been hacked. So you might as well just sell MP3s. They’re no more vulnerable than CDs. And it’s better to be selling copyable songs than no songs at all.

And the reported Apple price of A$1.80 per track is competitive. A quick scout of some WMA-selling stores showed a typical price of A$1.89 per track, with top ten hits at A$0.99.

The other thing this week for Apple fans is the OS X “Tiger” release, though I’m sure they all already know that.

Unix flowers

I was digging about in the Unix system directories on MacOS X today (actually, searching for ‘joe’ which I thought I had installed, but is nowhere to be found) and stumbled upon the directory /usr/share/misc. Within this folder is the file flowers which is a listing of flowers and their meanings. I don’t know if it is actually referenced by any command; my guess is that a Berkeley programmer got bored and decided to put in an interesting, if not entirely useful in an OS environment, text file.

# Flower : Meaning
# @(#)flowers 8.1 (Berkeley) 6/8/93
# Upside down reverses the meaning.
African violet:Such worth is rare.
Apple blossom:Preference.
Bachelor's button:Celibacy.
Bay leaf:I change but in death.
Camelia:Reflected loveliness.
Chrysanthemum, other color:Slighted love.
Chrysanthemum, red:I love.
Chrysanthemum, white:Truth.
Clover:Be mine.

and so on

Over-exuberant Mac font cleaning

A couple of weeks ago I decided to give my Mac a spring clean. Though Mac OS X is pretty good at housekeeping itself, it can’t take account for all the unused software and redundant system bits-‘n’-pieces that I’ve added over the years. I decided to load up Font Book and clean out some of my dusty fonts.

At some point in the past I remember installing the same font in multiple places, which is just plain wasteful of disk space, when all that’s required is to put fonts in a publicly accessible place and ensure that all users can access them from their accounts (particularly as I am the only ‘power user’ with a couple of other accounts for my wife and for guests that rarely get used, font management shouldn’t be a big issue).

Well, I got fed up with plodding through each font family deleting the ones I didn’t want. There were a heck of a lot of duplicates, as I suspected, and I knew it would be quicker to dive into the terminal window as superuser and delete them from the command line.

Having searched for them, I found a number of /Library/Fonts folders and located the duplicates. rm‘ed them, then mv‘ed the remaining ones into one sensible place.


OK the Mac OS X loading screen appeared with the progress bar, but no descriptive text. Errm… what have I removed?

Next, the desktop pattern and white menubar appeared, with the spinning rainbow disk, and then the screen blanked out for a second, and the desktop reappeared… looped again, and again, and again…

The system had stopped responding to any input. I had stupidly removed all the fonts from the main /System/Library/Fonts folder, and now not only was all the text invisible, but the system couldn’t even boot to a point where I could blindly get to the Terminal and correct it.

Help, what now?

Booting from the Mac OS X install disk didn’t help, as all it wanted to do was to reinstall the system (logical, I guess), and I wasn’t prepared to go back point-eight versions then spend the next day downloading all the updates again.

Fortunately, my Mac is old enough that Apple hadn’t disabled the “Boot into Mac OS 9” mode, so I fired it up—having remembered both the firmware and the OS 9 passwords I’d set and promptly forgotten about—I then checked out the OS X install disk again (after realising that I couldn’t even cry for help on the Apple website as my new Net settings weren’t configured in OS 9). I was very pleased that it wasn’t simply an image file, but had the real system directories and files—I found the /System/Library/Fonts folder. Now the dilemma – can I just copy those fonts over the top of my Mac OS X volume or will it corrupt the other files?

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. I tentatively dragged and dropped the 17 fonts from the CD to Kayleigh (my OS X volume), reset the startup disk, and prayed as I restarted.

Splash screen … woo-hoo – text is appearing. Desktop … I can see the menu! Problem solved, after not a little agonising over the best thing to do.

I don’t know how many of the fonts in the root System folder are required, but a sensible guess is all of them.

Moral? Don’t mess about with anything in the System folder, even things that seem as innocuous as fonts, without a very good reason. Not being able to read text properly is one thing; causing your computer to refuse to boot up is quite another. I don’t know what the solution would have been if Mac OS 9 mode hadn’t saved the day, but it would probably have been expensive.