Happy 25th anniversary Macintosh!

The Macintosh was introduced to the world on 24 January 1984 (see this Daily Telegraph story) and a quarter-century later, the excitement macusers like myself feel remains as fresh as ever. These few videos might give you an inkling:


The first computer I used was an Apple II that I learnt to use in my secondary school Apple Club and explored further at the Serangoon Gardens Community Centre's Computer Club in great. After emerging from the army a couple of years later in 1987, I found the field dominated by IBMs and the DOS OS system at the National University of Singapore (NUS).  

In 1988, physicist Bernard Tan was the Dean of Science. A musician and macintosh enthusiast, he opened the student-run Computer Based Learning Centre (a room opposite LT22) – a room full of macs and a few pcs. He roped in the undergraduates running student societies for support and to help popularise the idea. So we sat down to discuss the CBLC with our friends who were setting it up, but it was mainly about the management issues of a student-run computer room – we had no inkling about the mac. It was only months later when I went visited as a user that I was electrifed. I converted a Wordstar 4 document to MS Word and  it was an almost miraculous experience, a breath of fresh air, something I even feel today!

Thanks to the 'early adopter' embrace of fisheries biologist and physiologist Khoo Hong Woo, a few machines became available at the Zoology computer room and teaching museum (now the Marine Lab). Macs were extremely expensive then, and so the many machines these places both provided (Mac 128k, Mac SEs and the Mac IIcx) were a lifeline during my undergraduate years.

Happy 25th anniversary Macintosh!

Figuring out where stuff is

My external drives accumulate lots of data over time mainly due to photos and presentations. The other culprit is my redundant backup procedure – that often leaves me with multiple copies of some folder I am reluctant to toss until I am really sure! However, the archiving habit has allowed me to pull up and use files from a decade ago fairly often – I have found a photo from an extinct field site that someone needs, updated and used an old briefing procedure for a public activity or revamped a presentation I only delivered once before. Essentially the equivalent of dusty photo albums and old journals of the pre-digital world.

With hardisk space was getting scarce, housekeeping beckoned, so I brought most of my external drives home and linked them up to a hub. The JETDRIVE – M9-DX is a 3.5″ casing which I got earlier this year from Memory World at Sim Lim Square. It handles the cheaper (and slower) IDE drives, not SATA but that’s sufficient for archiving data. What attracted me was the many ports which turned out to be critical for housekeeping. It is a Mac Mini mimic which sprouts three USB2.0 + three FW400 ports – the latter can daisy-chain even more hardisks! Hence I was able to view six (or more) externals on the MacBook Pro’s Finder during housekeeping:

Cheeetah is a 7,200rpm drive; Amblonyx, Lutra and Lutrogale are types of otters
and Buffalo is the brand. One FW and one USB2 drive were left out of the mix as their data
is untouchable for now. I never connect those in combination to avoid mistakes.

Firewire’s daisy-chain capability is lovely – you just need dual FW ports on the hardisk casing and a FW cable. These FW casings are more expensive than USB casings, with the cheapest probably going for around $100. And they are not as common. Two good shops to go to these days apepar to be SGL Marketing and Memory World in Sim Lim Square.

Of course, you must check the ports on your Mac first – you might have FW800 which is even faster or, like the new MacBooks, no firewire port at all!

I have always thought the Jetdrive hub was unable to connect both USB and FW400 simultaneously (I think it was the sales person who told me that) but happily all the disks popped up at once! How useful! With some quick cross-referencing, I was already able to free up 100GB of space for current needs. I was very careful though, and in doubt, postponed a decision. I would have hated to have hastily tossed out a critical version of some document or reduce myself to just one copy of a photo album on one drive. That’s considered a highly endangered status and never a good situation for an animal or your data to be in!

Tech Tips for the Basic Computer User (David Pogue)

Last week, I watched impatiently as a colleague used his mouse to drag his pointer to the URL window of a browser, carefully select the URL text from end to beginning, hit the delete key, then type out “www.wikipedia.com”.

I told him in future to hit “ctrl-L” and then just type “wikipedia” instead. Since I was in a hurry then, this was said with some testiness and he’ll remember.

I just realised he uses Firefox (after a similar session a couple of years ago), so I will let him know he can simply type the search term directly into the URL window itself.

This is a commonplace experience it seems, so David Pogue decided to blog some tech tips. This might be a precursor to a book some day. It has been supplemented by 2,000+ comments from readers.

Meanwhile, it’s worth forwarding to ambling users. Life at the keyboard could be much easier.

I picked up one myself: “windows-D” – I’ll remember this the next time I’m on a PC. Of course I hope that will not be in the near future!

Daily backups with Super Duper

My MacBook Pro (MBP) is backed up daily with SuperDuper! The schedule copies over only new files since the last backup. SuperDuper! makes the backup drive bootable. Thus if the MBP’s hardisk crashes, I just need to link the backup drive by firewire, bootup and carry on.

The largest contribution to new files are field trip photos and lecture presentations. So its quite important for my sanity that I don’t lose any data.

So I do respond when the alert appears at 9.30pm and link the external drive and click “copy now”.

The MBP’s onboard disk is 80GB. I usually use external 2.5″ Hitachi drives for backups and got an external 100GB drive in a robust USB2.0 Buffalo enclosure. When that got full, I got a 150GB disk in a Momobay enclosure. The shop didn’t have too many options and this had firewire400 which I still prefer to USB2.0.

Eventually there is a third back up onto the larger capacity 3.5″ drives linked to the labouring G4 Powermac in the office which has its own backup routine too.

With Mac’s Spotlight, I have been able to find what I need so far.

New Orleans evacuated in preparation for Hurricane Gustav

Right now a hurricane is heading for the US – and is picking up speed in the Gulf of Mexico after passing through Cuba. Hurricane Gustav is now a category 4 hurricane, i.e. with winds 210-249 km/hr and storm surge generally 13-18 ft above normal. At Category 5, the highest in the scale, winds are even faster and storm surges higher. The last Category 5 hurricane to make landfall was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Hurricane Katrina had weakened to Category 3 when she hit the US Gulf Coast.

New Orleans has begun mandatory evacuations – “Mayor Ray Nagin called Gustav “the mother of all storms,” and says anyone ignoring calls to leave would be on their own. Mandatory evacuations have also started in parts of southeast Texas, and are set to continue through midday across a three-county region stretching to the Louisiana state line, with the last mandatory evacuation starting at noon in Beaumont.” [CBS News].


OS X users who want to monitor the hurricane’s progress can use the WeatherBug Hurricane Watcher dashboard widget. But at this heightened state, simple googling will reveal relevant resources immediately, like the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Who tried to kill the iBook?

I heard a slight noise this morning, not uncommon with cats in the house and it didn’t sound like a warm body so I only investigated hours later. Turns out it was the 14.1″ iBook landing on its side, ouch! Since its screen was open when it fell, it now bears a crack where it impacted the magazine rack!

This refurbished iBook (thanks to Adrian Lim) has been a boon for the road and at meetings, workshop demos and talks – it’s because it has a super-duper battery life (~5 hours) which frees me from looking for a power source or screen dimming, links to wireless networks in strange places effortlessly and mirrors LCD screens perfectly without scaling problems – such a relief during demos.

The screen was flashing RGB colours before going dark after a restart so I shut the screen to let it settle down. Seems illogical but having gone through an array of battered devices, let’s call it experience. True enough, the Leopard desktop appeared hours later, yaay! It’s still useable for all the purposes I mentioned earlier. I hope the damage is contained and that the battery isn’t affected by the knock. I’ll just have to ensure the cats don’t get to it again.

I think the iBook fell when the feline culprit launched himself off the small table it was placed on. Of course when I checked on the three boys, they all looked very innocent. I guess this is something even Catnip couldn’t prevent.

FlickrBooth for immediate PhotoBooth uploads

Mr Bats likes to interrupt me at the computer – sometimes though, he’ll settle down and groom me. Then try to stick his head into my arm, or nestle in the crook of my arm to grab a nap. I tilted my mac’s screen and used PhotoBooth for these shots (out of range of my table lamp’s sphere hence the graininess). Since I installed Tristan O’Tierney’s FlickrBooth, the photos are uploaded to Flickr immediately with a sequential number.

Photos are tagged with “flickrbooth” so there is a pool of almost 150,000 photos of faces, distortions and a few cats. So a tip if you decide to use flickrbooth and tend to get creative in front of your mac – set the default viewing permissions to private. You can always change that later.

MacMeetup and Dark Knight

My honours student is in the thick of her group’s Tioman presentation preparations, so I breathed a sigh of relief. My knee is still loose from a week of scrambling up trails and rocks so I was glad to be spared the agony of joint-sucking mud.

I used the time fruitfully and hightailed it for The Dark Knight. Time well spent. Then it was on to a our second Mac Meetup Singapore for the year. Besides the pleasure of meeting old friends, each time I also learn new things or methods that is the critical missing element when you unpack a brand new mac.

Posted a short recap at the meetup blog and Flickr Uploadr took care of the photos. Now to go feed the cats.