Archive for February, 2006

Google’s Blogger Dashbord Widget

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

Yay, my first post using Google’s new Dashboard Blogger widget! Hopefully this will work better then DashBlog, which had a tendency to lose unpublished posts.

Already it’s proving to be really cool. As I type the text area in the widget grows. I’ve also rebooted once and the widget hasn’t lost my work-in-progress. The only downside that I can see is that I don’t have any way of enabling OS X’s spell check.

Like a pack of wild search dogs…

Monday, February 27th, 2006

It all started this morning when a co-worker handed me an IC that literally boggles the mind. She told me that she had found it under who knows what and that there was only one of them, maybe a few in all the land. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory Golden Ticket? I was setting myself up for disappointment.


I quickly went and did a few googles on it (note the use of google as a verb…+10 mana points). I first looked up the logo and quickly identified it as BI Technologies. Going to their webpage I was impressed that they were ‘A leader in electronic components for over 50 years’. That, my friend, is a long time in any business. It was just unfortunate that they hadn’t updated their product catalogue in 50 years. And of course, this IC was probably made 49 years ago which left me with no choice. I called BI Technologies.

Upon getting a live human to talk to, I told her I needed information on a product. I quickly gave her the product number (RM85) and she asked me if that was all. I also gave her the other number in the right hand corner (9134) and she mentioned that was the date code. So that means the chip was made Sept 1, 1934 or 9/13/04 … whichever you think is right. Although there has been some discussion on the format of the date code around the water cooler, it doesn’t really matter because BI Technologies has no clue what this thing is. Then she referred me to BI Technologies’ website ‘to look at the pictures so I can identify it’ (thanks!) . Good enough for Scott, but I just had to dig deeper.

My fine co-worker Aniel was running parallel searches on the IC name and found a distributor in Texas that had 23 in stock. I made the call and was talking to a human within a minute. I asked if they had a spec sheet on the part they were selling. Obviously not, since when I asked if they knew what it’s function was, the man replied, “…I think it’s some sort of relay?”. I thanked him for all his hard work and hung up faster than you can say ‘Javascript error’ three times backwards.

My next plan of action is to email the following pictures to BI Technologies and see if they can identify it, tell me what its function is, or let me into Wonka’s factory, which in reality is what keeps me going these days.

-Dan

Why is Blogger so angry?

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

The transfer was complete, but Blogger was real pissed about something. Every time I tried to make a post or republish the blog I’d get this error: 001 java.net.ConnectException: Connection timed out/archive/2006_02_01_archive.html. Only one folder would end up being created, after about 10 minutes of 0% progress.

After filing a support request with both Blogger and Network Redux, the latter was able to determine it was some sort of side-effect of using our domain name, versus our static IP. This is now the second time that having a static IP has bailed us out.

Thomas Brenneke, of Network Redux believes it could have something to do with Blogger having a bad cache of our domain name. Blogger was able to create the archives folder each time, but failed on everything else. This might have something to do with the logic Blogger uses to determine base paths for automatic links, like those in the “Previous Posts” section on the main page.

Blogger hasn’t gotten back to me yet, so I’m still unsure as to what the exact cause was. For now I’m content to using the IP address with Blogger. Though it would be nice to know what happened. If they respond, I’ll be certain to update this post.

Making the Move

Saturday, February 18th, 2006

Just as the blog was starting to get some attention we decided to switch over to Network Redux for hosting.

Our server at Surpass Hosting, was constantly running slow and out of space. Add to that all the other problems we had in the past and it seemed like there was no time better then the present to make the transition.

We thought it would be safe to switch over during the night, figuring that the DNS should only take a few hours to propagate. I initiated a request with Network Redux at 7:06 PM on 2006-02-13 to transfer our data over. Around 4 AM that night the transfer was complete, after probably a whole lot of kicking and biting from the old, slow server.

When I got up that morning and saw the transfer was complete I decided to change the DNS over. Probably not the best idea, but I was still drunk off of delicious sleep. I would get into work by 9, check my e-mail, read some Slashdot, and by 10 the DNS would be good to go. WRONG. Unbeknownst to me and Network Redux, the DNS cache had an expiry of 24 hours.

Over the next few hours a bit of confusion ensues. Some things continue to point to the old site, while others point to the new one. Thankfully I paid for a static IP at Network Redux, which we were able to use while the propagation was underway.

Fortunately by the next day, and after checking to make sure we didn’t lose any e-mail, everything was back to better then normal. Our web-mail was incredibly fast and everything was moving without a hitch. That is, except for Blogger, more on that in the next post.

The lesson here is check DNS Stuff beforehand, instead of after.

Mini w/ dual monitors part deux

Monday, February 13th, 2006

Edit: A couple people have reported problems using the dualhead2go with different types of monitors. I’m looking further into the problem. Check the comments for more details.

After being dugg on our article about the dual head mac mini, there were several good questions pointed out on various sites. Most of these centered around things like DVI support, crap on my desk, software I am running, and the capabilities of the system under such a load. This post is aimed at answering those questions.

1) From zwitl at digg.com:

I dont understand these guys: they get the most limited and less upgradable of all macs (wich are known for ages to have a limited upgrade path, with various models with soldered cpus and complex to open cases). And yet, they go to extreme means to do things a slightly superior model can do out of the box. In this case, it’s completely stupid: do dual display with only one VGA output and find an expensive way to split the signal over two screens, but then
– Since the OS thinks its driving one move monitor, every popup and windows appeir in the middle of both screens.
– Signal sync is hard to acheive and produce blur, a problem you can’t have with DVI.
– Need a third party app to set the proper resolution.
– Add a lot of clutters on the desk, while having a iMac integrated into the screen driving a second monitor is a so easy and clean.

At the end, you lose the point of having a mini (small and simple) and get that ugly setup:
a white mac mini, a black microsoft mouse, two ugly grey 17″ lcd, a black microsoft mouse and a beige keyboard.

Next: add an external videocard because the mini is unable to handle that resolution?

These are valid points. The reason we bought this particular mac, and not one that might have more upgradability is simple: 1st, Scott and I just went full time with Firefall Pro 5 months ago. As part of our startup cost, we had to purchase enough computer equipment for four full time employees, plus a server. We picked up the minis at $500 a piece, plus gigantor 22″ CRT’s for a combined cost of around $800 per computer. Throw in extraneous software and peripherals and the price came to a level $900. This is $400 less than the cheapest current iMac, which would have been a 17″ monitor, and thus a drastic reduction in resolution.

Now no one is saying that we had the expectation of being able to upgrade the minis from the factory. At most, we intended to double the RAM, and maybe, just maybe, upgrade to a faster/larger HDD, be it through firewire or a replacement of the internal. And no one is saying that this particular solution to the dual screen output is completely ideal. But I will say this: it works, reliably and well. A cost comparison between this solution and using an iMac with two monitors comes out to $1170 vs. $1550, maintaining a significant margin.

With regard to the comment about the imac with a second monitor being “a so easy and clean,” I personally feel that it is much less strain on the eyes to have two monitors which are exactly the same, vs. an Imac and a second totally disparate monitor, since Apple produces nothing in terms of standalone monitors that really matches it. And upgrading to an iMack also solves none of the lack of an upgrade path problem. To solve that, you need to move up to a G5 tower, which, as you may have guessed, costs a fair amount more.

2) Wouldn’t DVI provide a cleaner output by avoiding the blurryness caused by sync difficulties?

Indeed it would. However, there is nothing on the market which provides this type of split capability via DVI. perhaps in a year or two, there will be, and that will completely nullify this solution.

3) Wow, your HCI is cluttered.

You could certainly say that, although I would say it’s just right. I have two Westinghouse 17″ LCD’s, an Apple Extended ADB keyboard, a Microsoft optical mouse, a pair of headphones, and a mini. Also pictured is an ipod 5G. This set up was completely iterative. Originally it was simply a mini and a Phillips 22″ CRT running at a breathtaking (and blinding) 1920×1440. We had also originally purchased sets of MS keyboards and mice, as they were cheap, and completely functional. The first swap was the ADB keyboard for the MS keyboard, since, as Scott said, I like “clicky” keyboards. They remind me of the Sun 386i I was weaned on. Then came the monitor upgrade. The reason I used Westinghouse as opposed to a prettier brand was because I had one sitting in a closet at home, and I like it when things match. the LCD quality on them is completely acceptable to me, as is the price / resolution, at $200 for 1280×1024. This of course, doesn’t mean you couldn’t use a more classical mac mix of hardware. This is what makes me happy.

4) Your mini’s back must be on the verge of breaking from all those pretty pixels.

Yeah, it does seem to groan more often set up like this than with a lower overall resolution. Growl really sets it off, among other things. However, it’s only the flashy chrome crap that contributes nothing overall to the user interface that takes a hit. In general use, it’s extremely responsive, as if it was running half the resolution. There were some thoughts floating around the intarweb about external video cards. The only thing I have seen on this front is the Tritton SEE2 USB to SVGA adapter which is not Apple compatible, and is in my opinion a vastly inferior solution. Perhaps if it ran on FireWire things would be different, but as it stands, this is the best solution imho.

There was also a question about running a setup like this with quad monitors. Yes, that should definitely work, using a dual output videocard, and using one dualHead2Go on head output. However, if the computer is at all upgradeable, I would strongly recommend simply using 2 dual head monitors, or four single head monitors, or some combination thereof. You’ll spend much less money, and get better speed on 3d apps and whatnot.

Questions were also asked about compatibility with other Apple products. As near as I can tell, the dualHead2Go should be compatible with any mac, provided that it has at least 32MB of VRAM. This pretty much constitutes any modern system, from the iBook or Mini on up. The output is limited to either 2048×768 or 2560×1024, which means that whatever monitors you use should be natively able to display 1024×768 or 1280×1024, but other than that, there are no limitations.

5) Isn’t this unusable for any sort of fullscreen app?

Actually, no. The dualHead2Go will automatically switch from split screen to mirror mode if the resolution is changed to 1280×1024. This means you just need to set the game or app to display at that resolution, and everything will be hunky dory, with the output mirroring on both monitors, instead of splitting across them.

6) Tell me about that wonderful thing you have on your monitor.

The background image is from 9xmedia.com. They have a small, but beautiful collection for dual screen and triple screen outputs. The translucent looking thing is the object inspector from the nightly build of Webkit, an infinitely useful tool comparable to Firefox’s DOM inspector, only in my opinion more useful, even though it’s only half complete.

The final thing people asked was about how to center the dock. The best thing I have found for this is the tinkertool. It will let you bind the dock across the bottom on the left or right side. This will keep it on one screen. I tried it that way for a couple days, but reverted to centered across the bottom and decided to simply make the dock larger to increase the readability. I have it hidden most of the time anyway, so it doesn’t effect me too much.

I think that about does it. Any further question, just let me know.

Edit: A couple people have reported problems using the dualhead2go with different types of monitors. I’m looking further into the problem. Check the comments for more details.

Dugg up?

Monday, February 13th, 2006

Thanks to the folks at 123MacMini.com for syndicating Aniel’s story and which ended up on Digg. I spoke with Charles of 123MacMini.com, who made some important recommendations such as watermarking our images and providing a copyright notice at the bottom of our page. Which I’ll probably start to implement right now.

Yay Transmit is Fixed

Friday, February 10th, 2006

Panic just released an upgrade to Transmit 3.5. Version 3.5.1 fixes an incompatibility between BBEdit and Transmit when used by a network account with a remote home folder. It also brings back the ever useful FTP path in BBEdit, as well as a number of other fixes. The most important thing about 3.5.x is it’s use of Growl.

Thanks Panic for the quick work.

Mac mini dual monitors using DualHead2Go

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006

EDIT: Further information is available in this post

When we first set up the office here in NYC, we made an early decision to go with Apple products for development. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Apple, indeed I am a recent inductee into the Apple Fan Club. However, I have noticed a few… insufficiencies with the platform, many of which have little to do with the company itself. For example, the lack of a good time management system (apologies to iBiz).

Aside from my minor grievances on the software grounds, I have been a pretty happy customer. Except for one thing. The total lack of upgradability in the Mac Mini.

Now, I’m not retarded. I understand that the target market for the mini is not expected to have a 300GB drive, or 4GB of ram in the system. Hell, they’re not expected to do one damn thing to it. I understand all this, but it still frustrates me that not only is it difficult to perform many of these upgrades, some of them are downright impossible.

Or are they?

One of the things that dissatisfied me most about using a mini day in and day out was the inability to drive dual monitors. Up until extremely recently, there was simply no way to achieve a very wide display. But then my own personal Christmas came, and I discovered the Matrox dualHead2Go. Many many posts and reviews have discussed this device since it came out. But what is it?

Simply put, this box acts as a splitter for a VGA signal. It effectively takes one VGA input, and splits each horizontal line in half, and feeds one half to one VGA output, and the other half to the (you guessed it) other VGA output. Unfortunately, according to Matrox, it’s only supported under Windows. Well, I’m happy to say that this jigger works great under OSX too.

Dual Screen Mac Mini using Matrox DualHead2Go

Required Hardware:
1x Matrox DualHead2Go
2x Monitor capable of 1024×768 or 1280×1024

For my particular setup, I went with the Westinghouse 17″ 1280×1024 monitors, since I already had one. I picked up a second one for $190 on eBay, bringing my total outlay on monitors to $390. Add in the $170 on the dualHead2Go, and the total cost for hardware comes to $560, or about $300 less than Dell’s 24inch widescreen. The total resolution on the dual screen monitor comes to 2560×1024, or 2,621,440 pixels, vs. Dell’s at 1920×1200, or 2,304,000. While it would be nice to have all that space on one monitor, those savings are significant, at about a one third discount for the dual screen, or 50% increase to merge them into one screen.

once you receive all the hardware, you simply plug it up in the (somewhat) natural way, mini to dualhead2go, out to two monitors. I added the custom resolution to the system using the SwitchResX tool, which has a free 15 day trial, and then costs $15. This process is fairly painless. You simply open up the SwitchRes control, and in the Resolutions tab hit Custom, then New. Put in 2560 for Horizontal, and 1024 for Vertical, hit Ok, and you’re good to go! Shut down your mini, then hook up the Matrox box, restart, and you should be putting along in dualscreen mode.

Caveats, Warnings, Et cetera: This system does have it’s downsides. For one, the system thinks it’s driving one big monitor, which means it’ll pop crap up in the middle of the screen, effectively splitting all dialog boxes and popups across the two monitors. Also, since the Matrox box is dealing with relatively high frequency signals, your monitors (as mine did) may have a difficult time syncing to the VGA signal. This means you may have to manually adjust the width and sync settings on your monitors. This has the additional negative that it can be extremely difficult for your monitors (particularly LCDs) to sync one pixel of incoming signal to one pixel of output, meaning that the output will be a little blurry as it averages the signal across two or more pixels of output.

However, to me these tradeoffs are more than worth it. As many already know, once you operate with dual screens, it is almost painful to go back. I’m very pleased with it.

Dual Screen Mac Mini using Matrox DualHead2Go
Dual Screen Mac Mini using Matrox DualHead2Go

EDIT: Further information is available in this post

New Web Host – Network Redux

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

It hasn’t been any secret that we’ve been experiencing ongoing difficulties with our current web host Surpass Hosting. My original decision to use them was because of how inexpensive they were and that most elements of their service were unlimited. Unfortunately unlimited is relative, especially in terms of hard drive space.

Despite firefallpro.com being relatively small, about 900MB including e-mail, the server is always full. Not only is it full but recently it’s always under a heavy load. This really makes development interesting. Running out of room causes all sorts of strange stuff to happen. It’s also difficult to pinpoint if a script is running slow on it’s own, or if the server is bogged down. On a few occasions the load has been so bad that one of our data migration scripts couldn’t complete.

Our support requests have only resulted in temporary relief and the realization of the support staff’s inability to both read and write English. The problems usually go away for a few weeks, maybe a month or two and then things start acting strange again.

After pleading with them to make some lasting changes, and watching my tickets go on hold indefinitely, I decided it was time to look around for a new host before things became critical. I started by looking at some of the hosts that provide mirroring for Sourceforge, but they were all way to expensive or had extremely handicapped packages. Aniel doesn’t like his host much, removing one more option. Randomly I decided to check out who was hosting the Adium website, which lead me to Network Redux.

I can’t even begin to say how cool these guys are. They offer free data transfer from any other cPanel based host, making switching services seamless. Their prices are very competitive, even to Surpass, and while they don’t have unlimited everything, they provide ample room, and some tough servers. Instead the broke-ass 1 processor machine at Surpass, we’re now on a quad, that has a load average of a hibernating bear. They also have a bunch of software packages running, that you don’t often find, like Sub Version.

We haven’t moved over to them yet completely, just incase there are some transitionary bugs, but I’ll keep everyone updated on how it turns out.