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The Tao of I. T. Al

The Tao of I.T. Al #55

 (this surveillance footage is supplied by madbadcat who has been spying on al on behalf of the yaccuzzi)

[flv]http://digitalapplejuice.com/wp-content/uploads/flash/aikido_anim_v1.flv[/flv]

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Parallel Desktops

Switching to an ergonomic keyboard – the Microsoft Natural 4000

When I bought my Mac Pro last year I used it to replace my Windows XP system. Since I already had a great pair of Samsung 204B displays and a Logitech Mx510 Gaming Mouse that I really liked I figured I’d just keep using them. I personally couldn’t stand the Apple Mighty Mouse – I love all the buttons I get on the Logitech too much and with SteerMouse I could customize it as much as I liked.

The remaining item for input was the keyboard. My Mac Pro came with a full size aluminum keyboard and typing on it was acceptable. Since I had been using a MacBook quite a bit up to that point in time I wanted to use a Mac style keyboard, one that had the keys aligned properly for Mac users. Windows keyboards generally have the following keys along the lower left side:

 

 

 

Full size Mac keyboards on the other hand use:

 


The swapping of the the two keys between the Control and Space Bar means a lot of fumbling for different keys, especially for a heavy keyboard user like me. Since I’ve now ingrained into my hands the physical location of the keys I decided to give my old Microsoft keyboard a whirl.

Back in Black
I became addicted to Microsoft ergonomic (split) keyboards nearly 10 years ago and have owned a variety of different versions over the years. My latest one is a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. While the name is unwieldy the keyboard itself is a joy to touch type on. With a raised wrist rest and natural feeling home position for my fingers I can very easily drop my fingers to the keyboard without looking and just type away. This was not the case with the Mac’s aluminum keyboard; if I pulled away from it to grab the mouse I didn’t always drop on the right key position; the tiny indentation on the F and J keys were easily passed over.

That’s not the case with a split keyboard. Your hands have a tendency to just fall right into place because of the angle for the keyboard. The split in the middle mimics the angle your arms approach the keyboard and the keys themselves are not laid out in a straight line; they curve gently to mimic the reach of your fingers.

I dusted off the keyboard and plugged it in to one of my USB ports. The Mac Pro couldn’t figure out which keyboard it was and asked me a couple of questions but after that I was able to get it up and running quite easily. I was shocked to see how quickly I could type on it compared to the aluminum keyboard, especially when I was jumping between tasks.

The first problem I encountered was the position of the Alt/Option and Command keys. Fortunately System Preferences has a Modifier Keys dialog under the Keyboard & Mouse section for switching them around:


While this worked fine there was one other little quirk; the Microsoft Natural Keyboard doesn’t have an eject key. There are tons of extra keys on this baby but an eject button just wasn’t a requirement.

It turns out Microsoft has an OS X driver for the Natural Keyboard that seems to work well with my Mac so far. It provides some decent remapping of keys and I was able to make the dedicated calculator button serve to eject the CD tray:

Now that I have my keys mapped properly I am ripping through work like crazy and typing faster than ever. The only downside is that I have this little Windows Start key sitting there that I would like to have labeled Alt / Option–which is what it actually does–and the Alt key should be named Command. Since each key on this keyboard is custom fit they aren’t interchangeable. It appears a Bic Permanent Marker is able to cover up the incorrect name for the key. All I need now is a small Command and Option sticker to drop in there and I’ll be set.

If anyone can think of a decent solution to my key cap naming problem please let me know through the comments below.

 

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Parallel Desktops

A Fast Way to Learn MySQL

I’ve been doing development work for quite a while and up until my recent switch to Mac I had been doing that work using Microsoft technologies; on the database side I was using Microsoft SQL Server. When I started playing around with Ruby on Rails I also needed to switch out the underlying database I was using, settling in on the wildly popular MySQL.

Though there is a huge amount of information available online for MySQL I still like purchasing technical books and I cast about for a decent entry level book on the topic. What I found was Ben Forta’s MySQL Crash Course. If you are trying to learn MySQL, especially if you are new to SQL in general, this book is a must buy, especially given the price.

The presentation is consistent throughout and Ben frames most commands with Input, Output and Analysis. He demonstrates what a particular command looks like in Input, displays the results of the command in Output and then discusses the nuances of the command in Analysis. His writing style is extremely easy to understand and makes walking through the examples interesting and informative.

This book does not really cover installing MySQL in any kind of detail. Since that’s highly dependent on the version you will be using, the OS you are running it on, etc. that’s best handled by web resources or from the MySQL web site. The book very briefly covers things like backup and performance tuning but those topics are better served in other places. Finally, if you’re already a SQL expert then this book may be of limited value to you. I was quite rusty in my SQL skills so this book served more as a refresher for me and covered some of the MySQL specific nuances like full text searching.

If you have been wanting to learn more about MySQL and want a good desktop reference book that will help you master the basics quickly I recommend you grab a copy.

Got another MySQL book you like / recommend? Please drop a note in the comments.


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Parallel Desktops

RegistryScan.cc tells my Mac I have a Windows Malware infection

I was happily working along this afternoon when suddenly I received a Skype pop-up text message. I rarely use Skype for text messaging, sticking with Adium for that. It’s usually some Skype SPAM asking me to come to some lonely woman’s web page to see pictures of her. This time the message looked pretty ominous:

Obviously this is just a SPAM attempt to get someone to jump over to a web site. Kind of tough for my Mac running Leopard to get a Registry hack installed. At the bottom of the message was a link to go to the offending site:

http://www.registryscan.cc/?q=scan

Out of curiosity I decided to jump over and take a look at the page. I’m running a Mac and it was pretty clear this was targeting Windows machines. What I got was this:


Just trying to navigate away from the site presented me with this little pop-up:


What do I love about all of this? Let’s see:

  • The animation leading up to the above screen shot looks like a Windows progress dialog
  • The Windows XP style dialogs were very nicely done
  • The ScanAlert motto: Making the web Hacker Safe! (technically doesn’t that mean it’s making it safe for hackers???)
  • The line “You PC is still with spyware!” makes me think a LOLCat is responsible
  • That I’m running a Mac

Needless to say the people that pull this crap need to be removed from the Internet. Funny thing is I did a quick search and found this reference to the problem on a Microsoft discussion forum where a Windows user fell for it. There’s even a blog post from nearly a month ago from Alex Eckleberry identifying this same site and issue, yet it’s still running around today.

Anyone out there know how to stop people like this? Is there a good place to report this kind of behavior? I can see non-technical people falling hard for things like this.


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Parallel Desktops

Making the Logitech Harmony 620 remote work with a Mac

I was buying a couple of items at my local Costco yesterday and saw the Logitech Harmony 620 sitting in a display for $99. I had been wanting a decent all-in-one remote that would help me integrate my primary entertainment set up down in my basement. The equipment is a bit dated but works very well, the only problem being the plethora of remotes that I need in order to make it all work properly.

What looked interesting about this particular device was that it had a USB connector on it and would allow me to program it with my PC. This beat the old process I had to go through on a previous all-in-one remote that required a series of numeric entries into the keypad that felt like a game of Twister for my fingers.

The packaging on the 620 indicated that it supported a Mac so I made the impulse decision to buy it. Turns out I could have saved myself $10 by buying it from Amazon/Target but I didn’t feel like driving back and returning it over $10. Once I managed to extract the device from the blister pack it came in—no small feat mind you—I followed the gigantic fold out instructions and popped the included CD into my MacBook Pro.

Mistake 1: Don’t use the software that comes with it
I really wish the Logitech people would get their software act together, especially on the Mac side of the house. The software that shipped with the 620 was version 7.3.2. I detest software that requires a reboot on installation and this one required two, meaning I downright despised it. I seriously considered taking it back to Costco at that point but kept plugging through.

Once the software was installed I followed the on-screen instructions and plugged the USB cable from my MacBook Pro to the remote. The software failed to recognize that the remote was plugged in. I tried the other USB port on my Mac, tried using a different USB cable and even went through the series of incantations that usually help me cure technical problems to no avail. It simply wouldn’t recognize the device.

I ended up removing the batteries from the remote and plugged it into my Mac to see what would happen. The remote came to life, drawing power from the USB port, though the software still failed to recognize it. At least I knew the connection was good and that it was likely either defective software or a bad remote. Given Logitech’s reputation I was banking on defective software.

Mistake 2: Don’t assume the Logitech site will help you
I immediately jumped on the Logitech site to see if I could find some troubleshooting information on this. Unfortunately the Logitech site doesn’t even have the Harmony 620 listed as a product from them! This led me to conduct a more exhaustive search on the web to find out what was going on. It turns out the 620 is functionally identical to the Harmony 670, which was on the Logitech site.

I deleted the old copy of the Harmony software that I had previously installed and downloaded the latest version directly from the Logitech Support site. They have rebuilt the software quite well and it now installed without requiring a reboot and it recognized the remote right away.

The only catch in all of this was that I expected the remote to actively display that it was connected to my Mac through the USB port but it did not, or if it did it was so quick on the little remote LCD display that I missed it.

Configuring the Harmony
Once the software was installed and running it took a little while to get it properly configured with my devices. I entered in the name / model number for my TV, PVR, Receiver and DVD player and it seemed to recognize them fine. I even added in the xBox 360 and Wii that we have hooked up to everything. The 620 was able to power up the xBox but could not handle the Wii since that apparently requires a Bluetooth connection.

Once it knows your devices you can walk through a wizard interface that handles what device needs to be set to which input and what should and should not be powered on for each task. After going through the hell of getting the software to work properly with the remote this portion seemed to work great.


The Remote Hardware
Using the Harmony 620 is actually pretty nice. It’s got a very comfortable peanut shape much like the Tivo remotes I favored when that was my PVR of choice. With one exception the buttons are well placed, easy to “feel” for in a dark room and reasonably well lit after pushing the little “glow” button.

The only button that caught me a couple of times was the Stop button, which is located directly above the rewind button. It was a little too easy to hit that while jumping back and forth on my PVR, which would pull me completely out of the show I was watching and require I navigate back to it.

That little quirk aside I love that I now hit a single button and all of my inputs are properly set and I can jump between watching TV, a DVD or playing a game. One single button push on one single remote. The only thing missing is one of those little chains like they have at banks for their precious pens so that my kids won’t accidentally hide it.

I’m not much of an audio or videophile so this was more of a layman’s perspective on setting this up and making it work. I actually wrote all of this down because of the problems I experienced in getting it all to work and the fact that I didn’t find solutions in one single place on the web. If you happen to buy a Logitech Harmony 620 and have a Mac, hopefully this post will be of help to you. Logitech, please get your software act together! I love your hardware but experiences like this one make it difficult to recommend your equipment. At a minimum you should list ALL of your products on your web site.

If you happen to use/recommend a good, inexpensive universal remote please note it in the comments.

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