Sunday, November 16, 2008

How to connect a network drive at startup easily

Recently I added an Ubuntu server at home so I can wirelessly store my data on a large hard drive. I configured Samba server in Ubuntu and the Mac would connect to it using Finder's "Connect to" menu.

However, once I reboot, the drive is gone, and I have to use the Finder again to connect the drive.

There is a very easy way Macs can connect a network drive at startup, just follow these steps:
  1. Mount the drive
  2. Open "Accounts" in system preferences
  3. Drag the mounted drive's icon from the desktop to the login items.
Done! It's that simple!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Windows XP home does not save network passwords

I can connect to a network drive using Windows XP home edition fine.

But I have to enter a password after each reboot.

However, there is a nifty "Remember Password" option in XP Pro.

Now where did the little checkbox go in XP home?

Apparently M$ didn't include the ability to save network passwords on Windows XP Home edition. They want me to buy XP Pro version so I can save my passwords.

And oh, the official explanation given by M$ is "XP home lacks security features for retained passwords" - therefore they chucked out the "remember password" button altogether.

Great way to build a home OS!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My iPhone dreams are shattered

Just like the majority of students, I'm poor, but I have dreams.

My latest dream was to get an iPhone.

Why I want iPhone? Because it has many features not found in other commonly available/commonly known phones. It's more like a fashion statement than a machine of need. That makes it hot for any student.

The only thing that was preventing me from buying it was a prohibitive price tag of $400. It's now been taken off, and it's down to $200, though it continues to be advertised as $199 by the respective companies in hopes that many will not feel the pinch by seeing the number start with 1 rather than 2.

But I do feel the pinch, and I have decided not to buy an iPhone despite waiting for it for a long time. Here's why:

I worked out the total yearly cost of ownership of iPhone:

Item One-time cost 1-year cost

iPhone handset 199 199
Tax 16.4175 16.4175
Minimum monthly rental 69.99 839.88
"Activation" fee 36 36
SMS 5 60

Total cost of ownership of an iPhone is $1151.30.

I'd rather invest that money in books, food, rent, and paying other bills.

I'm sorry Apple and AT&T but you have disappointed me by first showing me a glimpse of reduced cost, but eventually not doing it at all.

No iPhone for me.

Edit: I'm deviating from my usual policy of including pictures in posts, because I don't want to see an iPhone pic now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Another site that forces users into Internet Explorer, and how to bypass it

Update: After numerous customer complaints, Airtel's website now works with Safari.

I'm an Indian living in USA, and I use Airtel's calling card service to make phone calls to India. All was well until two weeks back when I ran out of my balance and wanted to fill dollars into my account as usual. I was horrified to see the message "Please use Internet Explorer" when I tried to login to their website using Safari or Firefox 3!

A quick call to their "customer care" tells me the reason:

"Sir we have performed some upgrades to our website and you can use only IE at this time".

I asked:
"There is no IE for Mac users, so does it mean Mac users can't use your service anymore?"

Answer was quick:
"I'm afraid yes sir, you will have to use Internet Explorer from some other computer to recharge your balance".

What a great business idea - the customer wants to give your company his money, but the company has an upgraded website that won't let him login!

Here's how I bypassed the IE enforcement:

1. Launch Safari on your Mac and open its preferences (command and , keys at the same time)
2. Go to the last tab of Preferences and check "Show develop menu in menu bar"
3. Click the Develop menu in the Safari menu bar, and choose Develop -> User Agent -> Internet Explorer 7.0
4. Now you can login to the Airtel website!

Note: If you keep seeing a Verisign image after logging in, check the "remember me" option when logging in, and then go back to their homepage. You'll log right in without any problem!

IE enforcers, I have pwned you!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Getting MacFUSE to work on Leopard: The twists and turns

I finally got MacFUSE working on my Leopard installation. Total time taken = a little more than one hour. I feel like I'm using Windows again :(

I grabbed the dmg of MacFUSE from Amit's page here and installed the kernel extension of MacFUSE. Rebooted.

Installed SSHFS from the same site.

When I ran from Applications folder, it seemed to accept the server address and my username, but whenever I entered my password, it kept asking me to enter password again. I checked using Little Snitch - the app was not trying to make any connection at all to my server!

I spent a good one hour trying to figure out what's wrong and here it is:

First I had to connect to that server using terminal's ssh command. When you do it for the first time, the RSA fingerprint is displayed and you type "yes" to accept it. It is then added to the list of known hosts, which is essential for to function.

But this was not as simple. Running the ssh command in Terminal gave me a "bus error".

Now go figure!

I spent another 15 minutes trying to find out what's wrong again, and here it is:

Rogue Amoeba's software "Audio Hijack Pro" contains an "extra" called "Instant Hijack". I had earlier enabled this, but this is interfering with ssh. So I disabled the Instant Hijack feature, connected to the server using terminal ssh for the first time, added server RSA fingerprint to the list of known hosts, and finally...

I can now use MacFUSE!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Birth pangs of Firefox 3

The world record that Mozilla foundation is heading towards sounds ambitious, and I am confident they will get it. Firefox is going to become the most popular browser ever, no doubt about it - it's now only a matter of time.

I downloaded Firefox 3 today for Mac, and I'm impressed with many new features. However, after using it for 4 hours, I already see a couple of areas for improvement:

1. Mac specific problems (as always): Websites created with iWeb '08 won't show the photo pages at all! However, websites created with previous versions of iWeb work well. There is a solution from an enthusiastic Apple user, but looks like Mozilla will take some time to listen.

2. 1 Billion people ignored: I'm an Indian, and want to use Firefox in my language. But that's my own selfish demand. Let's say that in another way: "If you make a Hindi language pack for Firefox, you will be able to reach 1 billion people directly". You heard it right, 1 billion - one sixth of world population.

3. Imperfect anti-phishing mechanisms: I also noticed that the anti-phishing system relies on reporting by suspecting users rather than a built-in algorithm. This has two flaws: 1. Not all phishing websites can be reported, 2. Not all can be reported in time - the reporting then just serves as a "damage control" mechanism rather than a method of prevention. I think it'd be great if Firefox can scan a link's text if it's made to look like a link, and alert the user if the link points to some other website. For example:

But it takes them to

4. In-browser PDF display: Just like the previous versions, you must download a PDF and open it with a different application - Firefox 3 cannot display PDF files inside the browser. The solution came rather quickly from Google. I haven't tested it, but it's reported to work well.

Friday, June 13, 2008

How to take a screenshot in Mac with mouse pointer included

I am making a few design instruction tutorials these days, and I was looking for a way to include the mouse pointer with my screenshots. I started off with superimposing the picture of a mouse pointer on the screenshot using a graphic editing tool using layers. However, that's not the best way.

The best way is this:

1. Start "Grab" from your "Utilities" folder in "Applications"
2. Open Grab's preferences by pressing command and , together or using the menu item.
3. Select the mouse pointer of your choice to be included when taking screenshots.
4. Use Grab to take as many screenshots as you like - your mouse pointer will always be included as long as you take shots with Grab.

Please note that if you set the preferences in Grab, but take a screenshot by pressing Command+Shift+3 or Command+Shift+4, the mouse pointer will not be included. You must take a shot with Grab itself to include the mouse pointer in your screenshots.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Complex language support in Firefox 3

Hindi is a language spoken by a little less than one billion people worldwide. One out of every six people in the world speak this language. However it is severely neglected in computing so far, despite being very scientific in grammatical structure.

In Firefox 2 for Mac, hindi language display support was entirely lacking so far, and here is what I used to see when I opened a webpage made in Hindi:

To be frank, seeing all question marks in the browser main window is not a pleasant sight. It's a big warning signal for any multilingual person, leading to abandonment of either the browser or the website.

Interestingly enough, the text in title bar of Firefox 2 for Mac displayed correctly!

Clearly, complex language support was build into Firefox, but it was not being implemented well.

Firefox 2 for windows was able to show some support - it showed the hindi glyphs and many of their combinations well, but display of "matras" (vowel symbols) was inconsistent.

However Safari rendered the entire text beautifully, both in browser window as well as title bar:

I am pleased to report that things are looking very well in the new Firefox 3 release candidate:

In fact, I couldn't tell a difference between the text rendering in Safari vs. Firefox 3.

Firefox3 for windows rendered complex text flawlessly too:

However you can see a noticeable difference in font smoothing and anti-aliasing capability of Windows which is inferior to Mac as usual.

A solid build-in Hindi support in major operating systems today will enable the vast majority of population in India to use computers for their daily use - a huge market that no one can ignore.

Firefox listened, but are others listening?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How to change your home directory in Mac OS X easily

First up, there should be no need for an average user to change their home directory for casual use. This option is only for geeks, please do not try just for the sake of trying.

1. Login as a user with administrator privileges and open System Preferences.
2. Click on "Accounts" under "System" section
3. Make sure the "lock" symbol in the bottom of System Preferences window is open. If not, click the lock, enter your password and it'll open up.

4. Ctrl+click (or right click with mouse) the username whose home directory you wish to change.
5. Click on "Advanced options..."
6. Enter a desired home directory location in the appropriate field and hit OK.

Related post on changing home directory in linux/unix can be found here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Have you tried the new "group chat" in Gmail?

Gmail now includes group chat, and few people have noticed.

To use group chat, just start a conversation like usual. To add more people to the chat, click on "options" in the existing chat window and you can then invite other people in the same chat.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Can't see animated buddy profile pics in iChat? Try this!

Sometimes your friend finds a fancy animated gif off the web, and he assigns that as his profile picture in iChat. But you can't see the animation, rather the picture remains static. Here's an easy way to see the animated version:

1. Open iChat
2. Open iChat preferences from menu (or press command and , together)
3. Go to "General" tab
4. Select the checkbox against "Animate buddy pictures".
You can now see the animation in your buddy pictures!

How to play a sound when an iChat buddy comes online

I was thinking if there is a way iChat could play a sound file of my choice when my sister comes online. I thought it'd require some scripting, so I spent an hour searching for some applescript. But eventually I was able to do this without any scripting at all. This is something built right into iChat!

Here's how:

1. Open iChat and locate your buddy that you want to set a sound for. If your buddy is offline right now, you can locate him/her in the offline group.
2. Right click on their name, and select "Show Info"
3. In the next window that comes up, choose "Alerts" tab.
4. In "Event", choose "When buddy becomes available"
5. Choose a sound
6. Set other options in the same screen to your liking. Make sure the last checkbox "Perform alerts only next time this event occurs" is not checked.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Has Yahoo made POP access free for all?

I heard one can't use Yahoo's free email with POP clients like Outlook, Thunderbird or Apple Mail without upgrading to their premium service. At least this was the case last year when I tried accessing my Yahoo emails with Apple Mail and it simply refused.

Yesterday I tried it again, and now it works.

I have not purchased any Yahoo Premium Services. This is how my "premium services" look like:

All I did was to enter my Yahoo email ID and password when I opened Apple Mail for the first time, and used the "automatic setup" option. It did everything, no need to type in pop or smtp servers.

At first, I thought some software like yahoopops might be built-into OS X, or I may have installed one inadvertently. So I tried sending a mail, and it worked like a charm!

So now I have Yahoo's premium service for free. Do you?

Monday, April 07, 2008

How to test sound in Skype

One of my friends wanted to test if his microphone is working alright with Skype, but he doesn't have anyone in his contact list as yet. He wanted to know how he can test sound. Here's how:

Simply add a user named echo123 to your address book. Then make a call to this user. This user is actually an automated sound testing service by Skype. When you make a call, a voice will greet you, and you can record your sound after a beep. After 10 seconds, the sound it recorded will play back, so you can make adjustments in your settings accordingly.

Update: Just found out this one while scouring through Skype help pages: If you're having problems with any Skype feature, and you think the "server is down" or the problem is on Skype's side rather than yours, just go to . It'll tell you if all Skype components are working alright on their server side.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

How to change iPhoto's default folder location easily

My iPhoto library is getting bigger and bigger, and it is now consuming 20GB of my 60GB Macbook hard drive. Now is a good time to relocate the photos to an external storage location in such a way that iPhoto is still able to recognize them. There are many ways to change iPhoto's default folder location, but this is the easiest:

1. Make a backup of your current iPhoto library (/Users/yourname/Pictures/iPhoto Library/)
2. Delete the original iPhoto Library folder.
3. Launch iPhoto
4. iPhoto will not be able to find it's library, so it'll present with this dialog box:

5. Using the above dialog box, click "Choose Library" and locate your alternate iPhoto Library location.

Now that was easy!