When I got my 14″ iBook in 2004, I made a custom case with felt and velcro that protected my computer from general scrapes and scratches. I had this case for 5 years, and used it for my MacBook, then MacBook Pro. It was not designed for the new shape of the MacBooks, so it did not fit snugly. It did the job well enough, but when I received a gift card to the local Apple Store for Christmas, I added a case to the list of purchases. After browsing the store, I saw the Incase Canvas Sleeve and picked one up.

This case protects the computer from scratches using a canvas outside and a soft fabric interior. Technically it doesn’t protect against larger drops but serves as a protective layer between the aluminum exterior of the laptop and another case. It works nicely in the computer slot of my backpack and doesn’t add too much bulk.

So far it has worked very well. My MacBook Pro — which doesn’t show fingerprints or scuff marks as easily as the earlier MacBook — has very little in the way of scratches. I have the Incase sleeve to thank for that.

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Moving web hosts is not something that most website administrators look forward to, and most of the time it is very time consuming and complex. With proper preparation, however, the transition can be smooth and your visitors will never notice the difference.

Recently I moved from Bluehost’s shared hosting plan to MediaTemple’s (gs) Grid Server. This was brought about by a second DDOS attack on my Bluehost box in a few months. The first time it happened it was annoying because I hosted some very important email with them, but this time it was seriously inconvenient because I host about 5 sites in addition to mine, and one of the companies I host for was about to start a critical press release send out before going on an important trip. Downtime was not an option, so I moved to the (gs) to have multiple redundancies as well as lots of room to grow. The (gs) is unique because it relies on dozens, and often hundreds, of servers to host websites, meaning each site has the equivalent of far more powerful dedicated hosting packages for an excellent price.

After I decided to move hosts, I made a list of things that needed to be done, so here’s what you should check before flipping the switch on your new hosting service.

Have a good ‘Net connection
You’ll be doing a lot of uploads during the switch, as files are returned to their places. If you have a local copy of your website you can skip the download process and start right away with the uploading. I mirror all my websites every night, but since I wasn’t at home at the time, I couldn’t utilize the backups. Uploading the files again took a while though, so make sure your connection is strong and free of bottlenecks.

Plan your attack
As with many other daunting tasks, be sure to plan out what you want to do beforehand. Make a list of everything that needs to be done for your users to maintain access. Extra time here thinking hard to remember everything will save headaches later on.

Keep your original hosting package
I’ve made this mistake before. When I moved to Bluehost originally, I actually cancelled my very first package prematurely, and for a few hours my site was completely inaccessible. Purchase your new hosting package, move your files, but don’t change over the DNS records until the very end. You might not get some of the money back from your original host, but you’ll save your visitors many frustrations.

Backup MySQL databases
MySQL is the cornerstone of many online applications now, and they’re easy to forget because they cannot be accessed via FTP. Be sure to log into your account control panel and download the .sql backup files of all your databases. Upload them to your new databases, and you shouldn’t need to make any changes to their content. You will need to update your configuration files for connecting to these databases before you can properly access them. This is a very important step because it can have a huge negative effect on your website when it is running again (You’ve seen those WordPress database errors before).

Check email records (or use Google Apps)
A somewhat of a hidden setting, the MX record of your domain indicates to incoming mail where you’d like it to be sent. If you host email on your own domain, you’ll just have to make sure the same username/inboxes exist on both servers. If you use Google Apps (and you probably should be), make sure the domain name record on the new hosting package is updated to reflect the Google information. This is typically done in the domain list file somewhere in your control panel.

Make the switch
This step is very easy to do, but requires a little though beforehand. If you don’t remember which service is hosting your domain name, you’ll need to use a service like Whois.net to do a Whois query. This will point you to the correct website, where you’ll then need to find the correct log in information. Once you have access, it is as simple as changing the DNS record to the new hosting.

Wait for the changes to take effect
With the DNS record changed, you’re left waiting for the change to take effect. Be sure to follow the website closely so that when the change goes through, you can find anything that might be wrong. The reason for the delay is that your DNS record is cached throughout the internet, meaning a change to one server needs some time to “propagate” through the rest of network. You might even find that some people are able to access the new site before you, which is just because of the way ISPs are connected to the web.

That covers most of the things you’ll need to remember when changing your site. I followed each of these while moving mine over, and so far have had few problems. A hosting upgrade can give you much more space to work with, and provide power for your website growth in the future.

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Late last year I was lucky enough to get a gift certificate to the Apple Store. I never really had a chance to get out to the store until a few months ago, when I picked up an Incase Canvas Sleeve for a 13″ MacBook Pro, and the Logitech V470 Bluetooth Travel Mouse. I’ve always wanted a Bluetooth mouse that I can toss into my backpack to be ready whenever and wherever I need it.

Logitech make solid peripherals for both the Mac and PC platform. My desk is littered with Logitech products like the MX400 Laser Performance mouse, the Premium USB 350 Headset and few other older mice that are still going. I had no trouble picking up a product with the Logitech badge on it, but I was a little curious as to how the bluetooth connection would affect my regular use because a friend mentioned his older model has serious lag issues.

Fortunately my V470 shows none of that. After pairing it with my MacBook Pro under OS X, it worked exactly the way a mouse should. Thanks to the laser technology inside, it even worked on surfaces that my older optical Logitech mouse had trouble tracking on. That is very important for a travel mouse, as users often find themselves operating on something other than a mouse pad. In the many weeks of use since, though, I’ve noticed that the mouse occasionally refuses to connect to my computer properly. The fix is simple, I just have to remove the pairing and reconnect them. It works well after that.

Physically the V470 is quite a small mouse with two physical buttons and a scroll wheel that includes two additional left and right buttons. This makes it easy to map functions to specific triggers. I use USBOverdrive to map the left and right scroll buttons to Back and Command+Tab, respectively. In Windows 7 Logitech provides a control panel for mapping functions, but I’ve found that the Alt+Tab combination does not work there. Instead, I just use forward and backward links. Visible in the upper photo is my MacBook Pro + V470, which fits in nicely with the aluminum aesthetic Apple has chosen for their products. The dimensions of the mouse make it just like a little smaller than a standard desktop mouse, but right along the lines of other portable laptop mice. It feels comfortable in my hand, but after a while I do need to stretch my palm out again to prevent it from cramping.

Battery wise the V470 runs on 2 AA batteries and I would estimate runs for a few days of mixed usage (active and standby). It goes into sleep mode after maybe 30 seconds of non use, and that extends the available power for a long time. I’ve replaced the batteries once so far since January, however it is not my primary mouse so I’m not sure how effective that really means it is. If you use it for a few hours a day, it will probably last a few weeks.

The Logitech V470 Bluetooth mouse is an excellent companion for road warriors who want a mouse with multiple buttons, Bluetooth connectivity and battery longevity. Having it available in your laptop bag means working at coffee shops, train stations or airports can be more efficient and comfortable.

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I generally modify my computers with new hard drives and additional RAM after purchasing them. I added RAM to my iBook and replaced the HDD in both my MacBook and MacBook Pro. I bought a 250GB Seagate drive for my MacBook back in 2008 sometime and used it inside my MacBook Pro when I bought it in December 2009. I had no problems with it during that time. I installed Boot Camp, did 200GB+ backups and it didn’t hesitate.

A few weeks ago I closed the lid on my MBP to do some other work, but when I came back to it, I got the password authentication screen and the machine stalled. I left it be for a few minutes, but clearly something was wrong after 20 minutes. Forcing a shutdown, the machine booted to the grey loading screen and no further. That told me something was definitely wrong, so I went to the MacRumors forums and posted a message about the Blank Screen of Death that has afflicted many other MBP owners. During this time I also removed the HDD from the MBP and installed it into an enclosure for use with another MacBook. When it didn’t mount, I started to get more nervous, and the obvious beeping of the drive did not help. So I admitted defeat and prepared to purchase another drive the next day, which I did.

After taking the drive into a data recovery service just for an evaluation, it turns out the drive had seized, and a repair was likely to return all my data, but at the minimum charge of $500. Since I had already rebuilt the website data I had lost and most of my applications were on my 2 week old backup, I’m going to take a pass on the repair.

This entire event has taught me a number of things that I’ll outline here.

  1. Hard drive failures are inevitable
    It really isn’t a case of if, but when. Especially in a laptop, where the fragile spinning components are tossed and turned and operated at weird angles. Be prepared.
  2. Backup regularly
    Buy an external drive, and either use Time Machine or other cloning software to create regular backups. I lost all of 1 website, most of another and a few photos from a trip. The websites I’ve since rebuilt, but if the other data had been mission critical, I could have been in big trouble.
  3. Check your backups
    I use Carbon Copy Cloner to build images of the drive and store those on my Ubuntu file server. In the process of retrieving some after replacing the drive, the image would not eject, then would not mount due to a corrupt file system. It worked out after rebooting, but was a cause for concern. Be sure to check your backups often to make sure they are updated as expected.
  4. Double check drive reliability
    I probably have more than 8 hard drives in my possession right now, and most are Western Digital. Of the drives I’ve had fail, all are of the 2.5″ variety and only 1 is WD. I believe I will be purchasing WD drives for the near future (my replacement drive is a 320GB Caviar Black). Before buying a new hard drive, especially for laptops, research reliability data for various manufacturers to see if there is more satisfaction with particular vendors.
  5. Data recovery is expensive
    My $500 is the starting price of recovery, which I received because the firm believed I was a student. Many recoveries reach far higher, due exclusively to the manner in which data is recovered. If the repair is straightforward, the cost is far lower than if it requires extensive reconstruction. If your hard drive ever dies and you need recovery, prepare the platinum card because regardless of data volume, you’ll be paying a lot.
  6. Consider drive upgrades regularly
    You have no way of knowing which drive will stop after 3 years or 8, but after this latest drive death, I will be upgrading storage every 2 years or so. Once SSDs are more cost effective, I’ll move to those (which brings their own problems) but I think the key to reliable storage is fresh media.

Data loss is no fun for anyone, but with the right safety measures in place, you can come back from the loss with minimal downtime and lost material.

My Ubuntu file server is almost complete. With multiple terabyte hard drives in place, software for sharing files among computers on the network, it provides all the services a modern home network requires. However, one of the things it is missing is PVR functionality, which MythTV provides.

MythTV is one of the premier software packages to come out of the open-source movement. It has been developed by hundreds of individuals who work in their free time to generate software that useful to an even greater number of people. Built for the Linux platform, it is very robust and feature filled. This power comes at a price, however, and MythTV is famous for being stubborn to install and maintain. Originally I wanted to write a blog post about how I installed a TV tuner card and conquered MythTV to create an amazing home server package, but instead I need help.

After adding a Hauppauge HVR-1600 to a PCI port in my mid-tower, I installed the drivers and firmware and set about installing MythTV. This has proven impossible because I cannot run the setup program. As shown by the image at the top, whenever I run mythtv-setup through an Xserver session on my MacBook Pro, no video is output and the interface becomes unbearably slow. I’ve consulted with many different forums and no one has been able to offer advice, so now I want to get help from the internet at large. Has anyone see this while installing MythTV and knows how to solve it?

Here’s my hardware setup to clarify things.

  • OS Ubuntu 9.04 CLI
  • TV Tuner Hauppauge HVR-1600
  • Network Gigabit
  • Remote terminal OS Mac OS X 10.6.4
  • Remote terminal hardware MacBook Pro 13″ Dec 2009 GeForce 9400m
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