Available disk space shrinking on Mac OS X? Check your log files.

I have a Mac Book Air with 120 GB of storage built-in. I accumulate a fair amount of useless files through my normal usage, and I try to get rid of it periodically, storing the files I want to retain for the long-term elsewhere. Today I did my usual purge of videos, pictures, screenshots, documents and other assorted crap and found that my available disk space was still much less than I expected, and it was not immediately clear why. Turns out the culprits were some huge log files from the Apple Mail.app. Continue reading Available disk space shrinking on Mac OS X? Check your log files.

External USB drive won’t mount on OS X? Try safe boot.

I like to reuse old computer parts where possible. I’ve got an old 2.5″ hard drive rescued from a laptop headed for the junkyard Recyclinghof in a USB enclosure that is serving Sarah’s much more modern laptop quite well as a back up driving, using Time Machine. We’re using the same drive, but it’s partitioned into two different Time Machine volumes.

"Timemachine gallery windowsquicklook20070611". Via Wikipedia.
Timemachine gallery windowsquicklook20070611“. Via Wikipedia.

But try as I might, I could not that make that drive mount reliably on my machine. Until now.

Symptoms

I could plug in the drive into one of my USB ports and the green drive light would go on and you could hear it whir to life, but it never mounted. The System Information and Disk Utility never showed the drive. And yet it mounted quickly and painlessly on Sarah’s Macbook Air (a couple years older than mine, but running the same OS version).

Sometimes I would leave the drive connected (but not mounted!) overnight and come back to find that it had eventually mounted and the Time Machine backup had run. But usually not. I thought it might be a question of the cable, the connector pins, even something mechanical about the drive itself. One time it came to life while standing vertically, so for weeks I thought that must have something to do with it — kinks in the cable or drive inertia or something.

Solution

It’s working now, but I still don’t know what the problem was or why the fix worked. All I did was start up the machine, a late-model Macbook Air, with a safe boot, while the drive was connected via USB, after googling for similar problems. I am not aware of any other problems on this Mac, so I figured a safe boot couldn’t hurt. It’s “safe,” right?

  1. Turn your Mac off.
  2. Turn it back on, and press and hold the shift key (either one? I used the left shift key) as soon as you hear the chime.
  3. It’ll check the startup disk, and take longer to boot than normal.
  4. When you log in, not all the usual stuff that happens upon login will happen. But that’s when my drive started happily blinking away, and I saw it was mounted and ready for business.

Safe Boot

Here’s what Apple says about starting your Mac in “safe mode.” Nothing on that page really leaps out at me with a solution that indicate external drives connected via USB are handled differently, unless maybe the failure to recognize and mount the drive was caused by an unnecessary kernel extension, and disabling it via the safe boot made the drive usable again. But if that’s the case, then a subsequent normal, non-safe (um…unsafe?) boot should have caused the drive to fail to mount again. But it doesn’t. So safe boot must have fixed something else.

I kinda want to know what it did, but I’m just glad I didn’t junk this drive without giving it one more try.

External USB 3 drive unmounts on OS X Lion when the iPhone is plugged in

Sarah noticed something weird today — might be related to her recent upgrade of her iPhone 4’s OS to iOS 7-point-something. Or maybe not.

Ours looks like this.
Ours looks like this.
Our aging Mac mini is what we’re keeping around for iTunes purposes. It’s how Sarah gets her stuff (apps, podcasts, music, etc.) onto her iPhone.

The mini model we have only has an 80GB drive, so our collection of music and apps and stuff has to reside on an external drive, a 1TB USB 3 external drive we snagged in Hong Kong a couple years ago. Up until this week, that drive worked great even through a powered USB hub. We plugged it in after bringing home, migrated our iTunes music library onto it, and forgot about it.

Hers has a few more scratches.
Hers has a few more scratches.
…until it started making ominous clicky noises this week. That started the beachballing in the Finder. I thought for sure the drive must be kaputt, but after unplugging it and replugging it and running the diagnostics on it via Disk Utility, everything still seemed hunky dorey. I even ran Apple Jack to see that would help with anything. Sarah mentioned that it only made the clicky noises when her iPhone was plugged in, and that it might have been around the same time that she was applying an update to iOS7.

USB 3But this all seemed pretty strange to me. Could an iOS update really influence the mounting behavior of external USB drives? Sure enough, while the drive was making the clicky noise, I unplugged her phone and the drive mounted itself normally, ready for use.

What the heck?

I googled some for it but couldn’t find any direct hits immediately, or even anything close. I saw other people with newer computers and external drives discussing voltage differences through USB hubs and overheating problems, but nothing that seemed applicable to our situation.

But on a whim, I tried plugging the USB drive into the last remaining available USB port on the Mac mini — skipping the USB hub completely.

And it seems to have worked. iPhone and USB drive are both plugged in and working normally. Hope it stays that way.

Mac OS X Mavericks: disabling App Nap and What Happened to Disk Usage from the Activity Monitor

Apple’s OS X Mavericks (10.9) software came out recently — FOR FREE. I installed it today on our Macs young enough to hang ten with the big boys and discovered a couple quirks — and work-arounds. Continue reading Mac OS X Mavericks: disabling App Nap and What Happened to Disk Usage from the Activity Monitor

Sharing more stuff with SparkleShare

I think Dropbox is a neat idea. It makes file sharing between my several computers and optionally my friends’ computers — of course only that content which I am legally entitled to distribute — really, really easy. It mostly just works, on Linux, Mac, and Windows. Not to mention my iPod touch and Sarah’s iPhone. It’s great for keeping your stuff available in multiple places and sharing certain files with certain users, but not everyone (like from inside the dressing room when you weren’t sure which dirndl was the winner).

Dropbox needs to get paid for any significant storage capacity, however, and I’ve got a very nice virtual computer in a high-powered data center somewhere mostly sitting around idle, waiting to do some boring stuff like make this content hit your eyeballs. And even Dropbox is not immune to security flaws and breaches.

Why not leverage that extra storage and bandwidth capacity by storing stuff for safe-keeping or sharing more than what you get for free from Dropbox on your own server via SparkleShare? It’s free (beer, gratis) and free (freedom, libre) and doesn’t limit you to a certain number of users/clients/files/bytes of storage. I’ve been playing around with it for about a week, and I like what I see so far.

It’s available for several platforms:

  • Mac OS X
  • Linux
  • Android

… and iOS and Windows clients are in the works. Setting up a server on Linux was pretty easy if you are comfortable with package managers and user administration (and if you have a Linux machine running server software of any kind at your disposal, you better be). SparkleShare runs on top of Git and OpenSSH, so you need to have those packages installed and running. I’m not much of a coder, especially not in a group setting, so I had no need for Git prior to setting up SparkleShare.

The Mac client Just Works™. The Linux client was more of a challenge for me. The Ubuntu package was pretty far out of date, so I gave it a shot building from source. That was kind of an adventure, but in the end I got it running by combining some files from the 0.8 version and some from the 0.8.1 version. When it comes to compiling software, I’m mostly just fumbling around in the dark, so I’m sure it took me much longer than someone who actually has a clue.

So, what’s keeping SparkleShare from taking over the world of redundant backups and file sharing? A few things:

  1. quick setup à la Dropbox
  2. a web interface for administration (also supposedly in the works)
  3. the aforementioned Windows & iOS clients
  4. being based on Git, you need about double the storage space that your files themselves take up

That last one there confused me, since I’m not a Git user. According to Wikipedia, Git stores all the history of changes to the files being shared in every local copy. This is great if you want to look back in time at previous versions of the files, but not so great if you’re low on storage space already. SparkleShare’s programmers are looking into opening their software up to other methods of replication as well. With those, you might lose the versioning history but save on disk space.

I think it’ll really take off when it’s as easy to install on the client side as Dropbox. The only downside at the moment is that I don’t have enough friends on Mac/Linux computers with whom I regularly share files to really give it a proper field test, but it’s working great on our LAN here at the apartment. I’m using it to keep a couple hundred MB of my favorite desktop wallpaper photos in sync between a couple of Macs, and that’s working out great.

Skype 2.2 on Mac mini under Kubuntu 10.10 with USB mic

Haven’t geeked out here in a while!

This morning I put Kubuntu 10.10 onto my Mac mini’s hardware (in parallel to OS X 10.6) sort of for a lark and sort of because I like the KDE desktop so much. It went surprisingly smoothly and painlessly, despite my hodgepodge of cannibalized hardware (but hey, that’s what a Mac mini is for, right?).

I had no trouble getting all the basics to work: external hard drives readable and usable, WLAN was a snap, even got Kdropbox (though it’s not called that anymore) going quickly and painlessly.

Except for Skype. I downloaded the latest .deb package from skype.com and the audio output stuff seemed to be working just fine. But not the audio input from my USB microphone. Couldn’t figure that out. I did some googling, but mostly found references to Skype beta versions and hacked up wrappers from years ago, like version 1.2 or 1.3. Didn’t really seem appropriate anymore. There was a hint in the Skype Sound Devices options about PulseAudio and messing the with the settings outside of the Skype software.

So I kept digging in the KDE System Settings dialog. First weird thing I noticed: no obvious “Sound” or “Audio” control panels? Hmm, what about this Multimedia setting? I looked in there more than once before I realized that I need to take a look at “Phonon”.

In here I finally saw that I could adjust the preference order of my sound input devices, moving the USB microphone higher up on the list. Then Skype worked like a champ!

Keeping better track of our stuff with Delicious Library

delicious_library_shelf_screenshotEver wonder where your books and movies have mysteriously disappeared to? You’re pretty sure you’ve lent them out, but are not sure to whom, or by when you’d agreed to get them back? That has been happening to us more and more lately.

Delicious Library can help. This software is so cool, in so many nerdy ways. You get a nice graphical overview of your stuff (images and item details courtesy of various Amazon servers — ca., .com, .de, .uk, etc.). But it’s truly snazzy how the data gets into this program’s database on your Mac: manual keyboard entry, text file importation, or scanning the barcode with your computer’s webcam. How cool is that?

It also can look at your Address Book application and if you tell it to whom you’ve lent something and when it’s due back, it’ll keep track of that for you. It’ll import your iTunes music and videos into your Delicious Library for you effortlessly, if you like. You can organize your library of books, movies, video games, etc., into different “shelves” of your own definition or set up a “Smart Shelf”, which watches your library and automatically adds items to that shelf based on pre-defined criteria. For example, a Smart Shelf based on your items that are currently out on loan. You can also export some or all of your library’s shelves to text files, Excel-compatible files, or even gorgeous HTML pages for displaying on your website. For the truly geeky, you can hook up your own scripts to events in Delicious Library and automate certain tasks (apparently — I haven’t tried this yet).

Delicious Library is what every software wants to be:

  • Intuitive
  • Attractive
  • Innovative
  • Interactive
  • A pleasure to use

Two final thoughts:

  1. It’s only available for Mac OS X; sorry Windows and Linux users.
  2. Unknown, I know you’ve got our Mad Men Season 2 DVDs!

So many usernames and passwords

Where do you have to put in a username and password in your daily computer geekery? Here’s what it looks like for me.

Work stuff

my laptop running Windows • our crappy corporate email client • our crappy corporate travel provider • the software that controls the phone on my desk • lots of other programs not smart enough (or not allowed) to authenticate me based on other methods

Personal stuff

our Mac at home • our Linux desktop at home • our Linux laptop • our email provider • our bank • Skype • Paypal • Amazon.com • Amazon.de • iTunes • Twitter • dozens, if not hundreds more

I imagine your situation is similar. With the personal stuff, you really should not be using the same passwords at multiple websites. Just one site being sloppy about security and getting breached by hackers is enough for them to send email in your name and steal money or service from you — look what happened to usernames and passwords recently at Gawker Media. You probably know someone whose account got hacked with real-world financial implications — I know two people to whom this happened in 2010 (and a third who got hacked but apparently didn’t lose any money). It happens all the time.

You and I both know you this is not a safe practice. But what can you do about it? With so many usernames and passwords in your daily life, the natural inclination is to stick to just a few username/password pairs and reuse them entirely or perhaps modify them slightly. Writing down passwords and usernames onto paper might be OK at your home, I guess, but that means you need to carry that piece of paper with you out into the world if you are going to do any sort of mobile computing. Writing those usernames and passwords onto paper at the office is a terrible idea; don’t ever let your IT people know that you do it.

password safeInstead, you can use Password Safe on Windows or a compatible program like Password Gorilla on Windows / Mac / Linux — and even on your iPhone or iPod Touch via the PasswordVault app. Instead of those hundreds of username/password combinations to remember (or look up), you only have to know one password to get into your “safe.” From there, you can copy usernames and passwords with the mouse (and keyboard shortcuts) from the “safe” into whatever application is requesting your credentials. Password Safe can randomly generate passwords for you based on policies you define: minimum password length, exclusion of easily mistaken characters (like zeroes/O’s or ones/L’s), inclusion of punctuation characters, etc. Lots of cryptologically sound practices there. “But how will I ever remember those randomly-generated passwords?” you ask? Well, you won’t. You’ll have to remember the one password to get you into the “safe” and the application will remember the rest for you.

I keep my “safe” file updated on my Windows computer, and then synchronize that periodically to my Mac and Linux machines via Dropbox. From my Mac, it synchronizes into my iPod touch. This means I am carrying that piece of paper with all the sensitive info on it around with me after all, but in electronic and encrypted form: I still have to enter the password to open the “safe” on all those computers/devices in order to get a glimpse of the content.

But hey, I can remember one password pretty easily, especially if it virtually eliminates the chances of someone stealing my purchased Skype-out credits or impersonating me via a hacked Gmail account.

MarsEdit, TextWrangler, and sshfs via MacFUSE

I know it’s nerdy. Just move along if you don’t get like it.

I’m trying out a couple things at once here, and not all of them are successful.

#1 MarsEdit MarsEdit, software for blogging (through WordPress in my case, but presumably via others) without relying on a webbrowser.I like the live preview-as-you-type thing. There’s a flickr plugin or something for it too, which I might try out with this post. Seems to support tags, categories, and post status stuff (draft, published, etc.) I guess it won’t replace the WordPress front-end (Dashboard, Settings, Plugins, etc.) but it’s a comfort thing to be able to post — the main function needed for a blogger — with a nice GUI. There’s an HTML helper thing too. At first I poo-poo’d this like I do most clicky HTML editing widgets, but this one lets you define your own macros. I dig that. Seems pretty good so far, but I’m not sure I’d pay $30 for it. Oh well, the free trial (for a month) out to help me decide whether to cough up for it.

#2 I am intrigued by handy, usable text editing (coding) software that will let me edit files on my websites remotely over a secure connection (scp, ssh, sftp, stuff like that). In the Windows world, at work, I generally get this done via mapped network drives and security is not really a concern. I use UltraEdit for that (I think it cost about $50). I recently heard about TextWrangler for Mac OS X thanks to a geeky BBS I frequent that does a lot of the same stuff (at least, a lot of what I need it to do) as freeware. Bonus! Get a copy from their website and try it out on your Mac yourself.

#3 Piggy-backing off of #2, the next cooler level is to be able to edit remote files with software that thinks they’re local when they’re really not. Or being able to hook up all kinds of different filesystems to your computer which it otherwise wouldn’t natively support. That’s what FUSE is all about, and MacFUSE allows you to use sshfs — meaning your favorite text editor, whether it can already remotely edit files or not, can be tricked into thinking the content you’re writing resides locally. Sadly, I’ve not yet managed to make this work. I am using the latest MacFUSE disk image and a static binary for Leopard and am getting the following errors:


sshfs: cannot find sshnodelay.so
warning: ssh nodelay workaround disabled
user@hostname's password:
fuse: unknown option `auto_cahe'
mylocalmac:Desktop cliff$ mount_fusefs: failed to mount /Users/cliff/Desktop/the_mountpoint@/dev/fuse0: Socket is not connected

Anyone know what I’m doing wrong? You’re supposed to be able to use the sshfs static binaries with recent versions of MacFUSE, but uh….yeah, it’s not working.

English Muffins! Dampfnudeln! SketchUp!

I’m glad I’m not working this week — I might not have had the pleasure of these several experiences  In reverse chronological order:

Thanks, Wikipedia!
Thanks, Wikipedia!
  1. I stumbled upon English Muffins at Edeka this afternoon! I’ve been looking for these puppies for like five years now. Maybe they were there the whole time and I’m just not a good finder (ask Sarah), but I prefer to believe that they’re new to the market (at least around here). Stocked up this afternoon, tried ’em out this evening with a little lemon curd spread over them and…yum!
  2. Dampfnudel Uli is one of those places I’ve been walking or biking past for about five years now and haven’t ever tried — though locals have recommended it to me on occasion. It’s literally a hole in the wall around the corner from L’Osteria tucked back in one of those Altstadt streets which are almost too narrow for my bike. Besides Dampfnudeln, they specialize in kitsch*. We should have figured this out from their odd hours: 10:01 to 15:01 weekdays (and they’re closed Sundays and Mondays). Sarah and I ducked in there on a whim today for dessert after a combined meter of sausage on this, the Weihnachtsmarkt’s final day. Results: mixed.
    • The coffee was dreadful.
    • The special of the day was OK, if a little weird. It was beer-battered Apfelkücherl in a Weißwein-Vanillesoße. I’m not sure how I felt about the vanilla pudding with a white wine aftertaste.
    • The Dampfnudeln in their own non-boozy Vanillasoße (on sale every day) were excellent.

    Just goes to show: go with what you know.

  3. Google SketchUp looked neat as all get out for 3D-diagramming — especially in the training videos. I’d heard Tammy was happy with Google SketchUp for layouting their furniture in their new apartment. Unfortunately, for diagramming ours, it’s not working out at all. Of course I looked for a Linux version first. No dice there. Then I tried installing it on the Windows machine at my disposal. It appears to install OK, but quickly crashes as soon as I try to launch the application. I got it installed easily on our Mac, but it’s a real pig to use (even after watching the nifty tutorials). It’s slow and jerky and every action (adding a new polygon, erasing an existing one) invokes the pinwheel and 10-15 seconds of waiting. Yuck. I know my Mac is weak*, but c’mon.

    Has anyone managed to get it to work?