Things for OSX

January 17, 2008

I’ve tried several task management tools in the past (including Leopard’s new systemwide tasks system and Anxiety) but I’ve never been able to find one that really matched the way I work. Lately I’ve been using Things, and it’s come closer than anything else I’ve tried in the past. I like the way tasks are categorized by area or project, and the UI is has a very elegant, usable feel to it.

Things is currently offered as a free beta, and I’m looking forward to the 1.0 release. In my experience it’s very stable, but I still ran into a lot of minor issues I’m hoping will be ironed out by the final release.

DroboShare announced

January 14, 2008

DroboShare is an add on to the Drobo storage device; giving you the ability to access your data over a GB network connection. It’s neat, and lack of network sharing has always been a valid criticism of the Drobo compared to some of its competitors, but given the price I can’t see much of a reason not to buy an AirPort Extreme or some other USB NAS device, which should work just as well.

NetNewsWire now free

January 09, 2008

Get it here. NetNewsWire is a great RSS reader, and I probably would have bought a license back when it was shareware if I hadn’t been waiting for’s RSS support in Leopard.

Chyrp blogging engine

January 08, 2008

Chyrp blogging engine:

Chyrp is a blogging engine designed to be very lightweight while retaining functionality. It is driven by PHP and MySQL (with some AJAX thrown in), and has a pimpin’ theme and module engine; so you can personalize it however you want.

I like the philosophy behind Chyrp; it seems clean and lightweight without sacrificing a good user interface. Unfortunately the current version (I tried both the 1.0.3 and the latest from SVN) has some bugs left to work out, mainly dealing with URL redirection (“clean URLs”) and search, at least on my hosting provider. I’m definitely going to keep and eye out for future releases.

Logitech Control Center no longer installs APE

January 02, 2008

APE is a big reason why I never bothered installing LCC when I moved to Leopard. If you’re not familiar with APE, have a look at Daring Fireball and the TextMate Blog for a few reasons why you probably don’t want it installed on your system.

Anyhow, from reading the MacUpdate comments it looks like LCC 2.4 no longer installs APE. Good job on Logitech’s part for providing proper drivers for their products.

VMware Fusion Performance Tips

December 24, 2007

Since I’ve been using VMware Fusion a lot recently, I’ve started looking around for performance tips (both to get the best results from inside Fusion, and avoid slowing my MacBook Pro to a crawl when it’s running in the background). Besides buying more RAM or a faster Mac, here are a few things you can do when setting up a new VM that may not be immediately obvious:

  • Install the 64bit version of your guest operating system. See this post by a VMware software engineer for the technical reasons why. The big drawback to running 64bit Windows is lack of driver support, and since drivers are provided by VMware, it's not a huge concern in the VM world as it is with physical hardware.
  • Use SCSI rather than IDE hard disks; the VMware SCSI driver is faster. Since the Windows XP installer doesn't won't recognize SCSI disks without an additional driver, you might want to use Fusion's "easy install" option.
  • Don't use more than one CPU per guest. Emulating two CPUs will lead to horrible performance in my experience.
  • Use fast, external hard disks if possible. The goal is to reduce contention between the host operating system or other VMs, especially if you're on a notebook with a slower 5400rpm hard drive.

Thanks to Tony Arnold and various online forums for this information.

Thoughts on the Drobo

December 23, 2007

Last week the inevitable finally happened, and one of the drives in my RAID-0 array (attached to a PC I keep pretty much just for file serving) started to fail. Since I built it a few years ago the RAID has pretty much been temporary, until I could find some sort of redundant storage system I liked at a good price point. I never really reached the point where I found something I loved, but since I was forced to choose I ended up purchasing a Drobo from Newegg.

The Drobo is pretty simple. It’s a USB 2.0 storage enclosure with room for 4 SATA drives. Although the Drobo doesn’t use a traditional RAID, it’s fully protected storage. It doesn’t matter what size or type of drives you use with the Drobo either; the firmware makes the best use of whatever mixed drives you put in, and you can add or upgrade drives at any time.

I considered several options before settling on the Drobo, including the ReadyNAS NV+, G-SAFE RAID, and many types of external drives, enclosures and RAID devices (as well as building another, low power file server using Linux or Windows Server). The problem with the ReadyNAS and most other RAID enclosures was price; most of the ones I was considering cost between $600 and $1000, not including drives. Building a Linux server with used hardware would have probably been the cheapest option, but part of the goal was to reduce my power bill and have something that didn’t take up a lot of room or make a lot of noise (and although it wouldn’t take much time to setup and administer a new server, it’s also something I could do without).

At $500 the Drobo isn’t cheap, but it also comes in below the cost of most alternatives. The lack of network support was disappointing, but I’m only really using my MacBook Pro these days, and I wanted direct attached storage for bootable Time Machine support, so that wasn’t a big deal. Looking at other reviews, the only real downside to the Drobo is the performance. The Drobo is USB 2.0 only, but from what I’ve read even if it had a faster FW800 bus the firmware itself would still limit performance as it mirrors data across drives. I haven’t done any real testing, but I did try playing a movie in VLC while doing several file copies to the Drobo. There were no performance issues, which is good; most of what I’m using this for is media storage. Resuming and suspending a VMware Fusion virtual machine on the Drobo was noticeably slower than my MacBook Pro’s internal drive, but once started the VM’s performance seemed fine.

The Drobo looks nice too, unlike 90% of other external enclosures out there. Other than being a little long, it’s a small box and doesn’t take too much room on my desk. The LED indicator lights on the front panel were a little bright, but that was easily solved by taping some paper underneath the removable front panel, over the LEDs themselves (and it’s easily removable if I ever sell it or change my mind). The Drobo is also quite, it’s internal fan is variable speed and makes very little noise under normal operation.

Since I’m using the Drobo for Time Machine backups I decided to create two partitions. The Drobo will report 2TB of available space regardless of how much actual storage is available (in order to dynamically increase storage when you add additional drives), and Time Machine will happily eat away at it until it goes over the available space or there’s no room left for other files. To solve this, I just created a 256GB Time Machine partition and a second 1.75TB partition for storage. Using Disk Utility this is easy, but you do have to be careful to select the correct partition scheme. See this tech note for more information.

Mac Giving Tree

December 23, 2007

Mac Giving Tree; free OSX software from the folks behind the MacHeist promotion. No requirements, except signing up for a MacHeist forums account.

Anxiety ToDo application for Leopard

December 11, 2007

Anxiety is a new lightweight task management tool that uses the systemwide task API in Leopard. Simple to use, good looking design, and freeware; I like it.

Daniel Jalkut on crash logs & atos

December 07, 2007

Great writeup from Daniel Jalkut on examining crash logs with the atos command line tool:

Many developers seem to think that gathering useful crash logs requires shipping a symbol-laden application, but aren’t willing to do so. The fact is, you can have the best of both worlds by shipping a symbol-stripped version of your application, but keeping a symbol-laden version on-hand for the developer’s convenience. What am I getting at? Apple offers a tool called "atos", which makes it relatively easy to map an address from a symbol-stripped application to a name in a symbol-laden version of that same application. As long as the two applications were built with the same sources and using the same build options, the addresses are bound to match up. It’s just the symbols that are "stripped" from the shipping application.

Show WiFi signal information in the AirPort Menu Item

December 03, 2007

From TidBITS Networking:

Leopard includes more information about Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity of your computer than meets the eye. Mac OS X 10.5 updates the AirPort menu in the system menu bar after you select, which is a neat feature and provides more accurate results. It also shows a lock icon next to networks protected by some form of encryption. But you can extract more information by holding down the Option key while selecting the menu.

Neat trick, although it would be more useful if it showed details for all the networks in range, instead of just the connected network.

Dashboard WebClip Widget & Pandora

November 16, 2007

I’ve been a fan of Pandora Internet Radio for a few years, and one of the few things I dislike about it is that it can be annoying to keep the flash-based audio player open in your web browser. It turns out though, that this is a perfect fit for Leopard’s new WebClip Dashboard Widget. Just turn off “Only play audio in Dashboard” in the Widget’s preferences, and you have the perfect Dashboard mini-application. And I thought I’d never find a use for WebClip!