Category Archives: Mac

A Google off-guard moment…again. (April 1)

Of all the April Fool’s Day jokes I eagerly await for, it’s Google’s that makes or breaks it for me.

Google Motion (Beta) Apr 1, 2011

Google Motion (Beta) Apr 1, 2011

Ever since its first April Fools Day joke pulled off to very unsuspecting users like myself in 2000, of its “Mental Plex” page (back then, the term “‘netizen” was still so much in vogue, preceded by the clichéd “information superhighway”, and “broadband speed” at home was a dream state we all wished to have), Google’s April Fool’s Day pages were the ones that’d get women like myself, inclined to a little bit of geeky-ness, happily face-palming and getting like-minded discussants into hours-long analyses, Google easter egg lists and such, in forums and chat rooms (it was even more fun when newer members joined in).

Eleven years into this tradition with a few hits and misses — TISP‘s description was so obvious it was corny even before I clicked on the link — Google’s April 1st jokes rank among those diversions that make hours of soaking up information online delightful.

Thinking that 2011’s Google’s Motion (Beta) could be a Mac-specific feature similar to LiquidMac, a fun, novelty app that mimics the movement of liquid in a computer by its orientation (using Apple laptops’ built-in sudden motion sensor technology), I thought , falling into the Apple-user snob mode I realized I hadn’t completely shed off yet (and feeling a little sorry for it), “So, is this cross-platform?,” yet something ticked the instant curiosity pushed the button.

This time, Google caught me off-guard. And a smack on the cheek to go with it. Fun!

My favorite April Fools Day Google joke so far are:

  • Scratch and Sniff (2008) and its reference to books vis-a-vis print getting more digitized;
  • Jobs at Copernicus Center (2004) with its nice illustrations and great geek-y copy;
  • Gmail Paper (2007) and how it resounds so much with life around email;
  • Gmail Custom Time (2008), in relation to above entry;
  • the CADIE (2009) project;
  • last, but certainly not the least, Google’s life-changing Gmail announcement (in relation to (2007) and (2008); see image grab above again for details).

Finally, a shoutout to Google and YouTube’s April Fools Day continuing collaboration. In celebration of Jackie Chan’s recently wrapped up film 1911 (ironically, Jackie Chan was just the subject of a Twitter hoax two days ago), YouTube’s wayback window and logo are too good to miss, I can’t let this pass.

 

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Filed under Apple, April Fools Day, Google, Google.com, internet, internet activity, laptops, Mac, Mac Apps, online tool apps, Sudden Motion Sensor, Video, YouTube

VirusBarrier X5 (from MacHeist)

Membership to Mac-related online apps and sites adds to the unending thrill of being an Apple user, even if it means, like in my case, not  actually being as active or passionate in devoting the same amount of internet time as I used to as when I first signed up for these.

Somehow, Mac-related sites have always been kind of sleek, kind of more fun, requiring a bit more brain power than, say, Windows apps that seem designed with just end-user ‘fun’ in mind, a lot of smooth graphics and little else. This is not meant to be another of those “vs.” posts — never was a fan of that. It’s just how I see and experience it, having come from Windows since the DOS days.

Besides, I never can get into a “vs.” discussion in real life, especially if the discussants are hard core X vs. Y, “Apples vs. Oranges” kind of people.

Anyhow, great online apps and sites provide good diversions from routine and intensive brain+physical work. One such site is MacHeist. Not only are its games (called “Missions”) gems, the bundled apps they have given out so far are great.

While getting squeezed between two major activities in the past few days, I managed to respond to a November Macheist email notification because it was one the best bundles it has ever offered following the one in April ’09.

MacHeist3 (the November edition, aka nanoBundle) includes the following apps:

Except for Hordes of Orcs, I had been able to successfully download all apps as of this writing but have not installed all of them yet. I had used the early WriteRoom version previously and would be looking forward to what the latest has to offer. Meanwhile, still attempting to recover some personal time due to the two major events mentioned (and some other work in between that were not as loaded but were equally demanding of attention), I chose to install VirusBarrier X5 as a supplement to ClamXav.

By the way, I mention the thrill of being an Apple user but I can honesty say the Mac I work on is not all a smooth and easy ride. This Mac in particular is a 1st-generation MacBook Pro (ca. 2006) and its age is showing. It has, on the average, stayed on for 48 hours without shutting down. Its optical drive has been bricked by a nasty firmware update by Apple back in 2008, something, some say, Apple has hidden from the public: not a very noble move by Apple there. (NOTE: I dug up archived sites on this superdrive issue when I was looking for solutions which can be read here and here).

It’s a Mac Anti-Virus program

As the name suggests, VirusBarrier X5 is a virus scanner and anti-virus app for the Mac like ClamXav. It took about 2 hours and 15 minutes to scan the whole 80gb hard drive as it combed through 592,641-plus of combined apps and files.

VirusBarrier X5 interface design is a masculine feel, something the boys will love. It kind of reminds me of the Windows audio player app "Winamp".

The intital scan detected X97M/Yosenio.gen hidden within an Excel macro (.xla) file named “GhostWorld.xla” which, I discovered, was in the Mac. How I got this file is beyond me. Perhaps it was picked up by my USB drive after plugging it into the Windows computer at the neighborhood internet cafe a few weeks ago. (Strangely, all other GhostWorld associated files are dated “12/11/04, 5:29 pm” as revealed in Finder. It predates the Mac in which it now resides, and the installed Office applications, by two years.)

Since I had not run ClamXav after the period in which I suspect I got the Yosenio.gen file from the net cafe, there is no way for me to determine whether ClamXav could have detected or overlooked the file. I noticed that the Mac did exhibit certain unusual behaviors since that period, such as going through a soft crash or freezing up when I plugged in the USB wifi stick, etc. I did plug the USB thumb drive into my mother’s Windows laptop by mistake and, just as I had suspected, its default anti-virus scanner, McAfee, popped an alert faster than I could eject it.

Mac-ros

Ok, the point is Macs may be immune to Windows viruses but it serves as a temporary asylum in which these hibernate until such time that a device, like a USB thumb drive, is stuck into its ports, and just as quickly as a Windows malware jumps into alien environment such as OS X, that it transfers  to an empty space in the removable device waiting to be transported into another computer that it can infect or to successfully cause trouble.

On the other hand, macro viruses are cross-platform viruses and can thrive in both Windows and Mac environments. Macros are helpful application commands designed to enhance certain features of, say MS Word or Excel files. However, since macros are not executable files and are document-related (e.g. they exist within an application’s files and do not need a command to invoke its execution), they are deemed more dangerous than trojans, worms and viruses.

I am always wary about getting Windows viruses because I’d like to avoid being responsible for infecting another computer, specifically a Windows-based computer. The Windows malware may not wreak havoc on the Mac and I can just proceed to work as usual, without any worry of my files being corrupted and such, because Windows malware are programmed to sniff out specific Windows files to play hookey with. But because the Mac serves as convenient transport zone for these suspicious files — as long as they stay undisturbed in a ‘safe’ place (other than the Trash) — that it still makes me very wary of them. Having said that, if one is running Windows on a Mac, it is just as wise to install a Windows-based anti-virus program for one’s protection.

I’ve decided to keep VirusBarrier X5 inspite of my limited hard drive space. It puts an icon on the menu bar for instance access to its other features, and another icon in the dock. It is an unintrusive app that provides real-time scanning without hogging my limited resources. ClamXav, meanwhile,  can slow down my work during background scans, by the way.

I’m quite happy with VirusBarrier X5, and grateful that an excellent site like MacHeist, which has provided my license, has included this app in its bundle and have donated part of the ‘loot’ to charity in the process. I can’t wait to give the other applications a try and for the next bundle to come along.

Well done, Macheist and Intego.

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Filed under Apple, Mac, Mac Anti-Virus, Mac Apps, MacHeist, Notes to self, online tool apps

Old school greetings from Singapore

IMG_7924-kaffeepostcard2a

My mailbox in the past 5 years or so had been mainly of gallery invites and greeting cards, neighborhood flyers and some bills, or legal notices that find its way to our side of the compound which obliges me to sign forms on behalf of their intended recipients.

I’m talking of the slits on our gate facades to the street, not the free web space that has virtually all but wiped out the mailman from oblivion; the one that receives envelopes with words that match our identities.

Anyway, there were very few occasions when the mailbox springs surprises since people stopped trooping to post offices but never tired of forwarding chain upon chain of jokes, gossip and email what-have-you’s.

One late morning, in the early days of June, came two postcards from Singapore. These were, however, not in the mailbox, but were inserted in between the ornamental iron grillwork of our gate that sat just above it.

The postcards were from Kate, fellow Mac user and Mac forum member, online friend and who, like myself, is an animal lover. A kindred soul, Kate, a former PAWS volunteer, was now giving her design services to a company based in Singapore and who, she once posted online, while more than ready to jump into the OFW bandwagon, was torn about being apart from her dear Nugget.

Kate chanced upon two vintage-looking postcards in Singapore she said reminded her of me because of the coffee drawings and the word “kaffee”, my online nick, prominent on one of them.

I was more than happy to be notified by Kate about her sending me these. When they finally arrived at my doorstep, practically, I was joyous because it brightened my dreary June morning.

Handwritten mail is always special and not just because I love collecting postcards; I value what’s written on them more than anything. It was those rare days when the mailman’s knock was more than welcome.

Hey, Kate, here they are, happy among my set of special ones from family and friends. Thanks!

……………
PS. See that one on the upper left-hand corner? That’s PiCATso, from Paris 🙂

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Filed under art, cats, design, image, Mac, Plurk, postcards, Singapore

Truth in advertising

Recently, my colleague and her family tried the SkyBroadband 15-day trial promo after a disappointing experience with their PLDT DSL account in January when, it turned out, that a male CSR, on the nth call, suggested trying out an ISP-supplied username-password combination which gave them instant connection as soon as these were entered.

Only then did the male CSR mention that PLDT DSL was “resetting” passwords. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear why they did it without informing current subscribers about it. Prior to that, the standard answers from other CSRs were that the PLDT-issued HUWEI modems could have been out of service (read: old and malfunctioning and needed replacement but with additional charges) or that there could have been maintenance issues in the area.

Anyhow, my colleague’s dad suggested SkyBroadband  (the re-branded ZPDee cable internet). After all, they were Sky Cable subscribers for years. Besides, it has become a popular notion that cable internet is supposedly faster and more reliable than DSL.

skybroadband-spash2

A week and a half ago, both out of desperation and because they were told that the free 15-days SkyBroadband promo trial was within a limited time or they would have to wait for connection to be scheduled if they did not confirm in two days, they finally called to go for a trial connection.

Skeptical as I have always been with promos that promise heaven and earth – or something near that – and aware of the fact that internet in the Philippines is quirky at best depending on connection and area, I joked that they could be treated with real fast connection within the 15-day trial period only to slow down or drop after the normal subscription and billing actually started.

Some broadband experience

My colleague and I did have cable internet once some years ago at the studio we maintained at the heart of Quezon City with the old BellTel (belltel.ph) which we switched to from Sky Internet. I believe we had what was then the entry-level iCable package at a whooping 64kbps + cable channel “always on” combo which was fast, even at that time, true. That we only needed to switch the computer on and be online compared to Sky Internet’s dial-up connection was a great time saver for us. We were on a roll! The connection was fast for our PIII and Pentium IV PCs then, in fact, that trying to catch up with the latest anti-virus upgrades and patches became a futile exercise in itself.

A few months since connecting through BellTel and two logged in visits by their technicians, we were having connection problems (the cable modem, among other things) and, not even a year into the service, CSR was difficult to reach for anything technically related. Looking back, it may also have been that we were the only one in our building on BellTel (only the second on the street we were located at, according to the technicians), our internet ports too vulnerable, our hardware slowed by all sorts of attacks (a big ‘maybe’ on this one), etc., etc. which summed up the frustrating cycle of connecting-calling CSR-calling our PC technician who couldn’t trouble shoot the broadband modem and Windows settings, ad infinitum, that we decided to drop BellTel for yet another ISP (Mindgate).

It wasn’t that BellTel did not adhere to its speed claims. Our small design studio of 5 was not close to being an enterprise employed with an army of technicians nor did we own industrial-strength anti-virus programs I believe were needed to combat vulnerable Windows ports and such (we only had the boxed McAffee consumer version which was regularly updated online).

In other words, it could have been the combination of being just one of two BellTel customers in a laid-back, casual Quezon City district, far from the buzzling commercial districts of Ortigas and Makati which were really BellTel’s target + the cable internet technology too advanced for our technician (and many Windows settings controlled by the ISP’s) at the time, and our PCs not prepared to handle the bursting 64kbps speed cable internet offered, that we regrettably had to cut the fun for our peace of mind. I believe it wasn’t BellTel’s entire fault, nor can I accuse them, nearly 6 years later, of false advertising.

The Test

I was on the phone with my colleague when the SkyBroadband cable guys were over at her place to install the connection on the last week of January. It was the start of their 15-day SkyBroadband trial.

So it seemed that the switch satisfied their internet needs since, as I never much heard of complains or rants. Anyhow, she and her family use the internet for communications and research and other more “idle stuff” than torrenting, viewing videos or online games.

I was over at her place yesterday, Monday, and needed to go online, so she shared her LAN cable which we directly connected it to the office-issued 1st-gen MBP I was on. A few minutes before that, we were experiencing an excruciatingly slow internet connection on another computer.

When I confirmed that the internet connection was already the SkyBroadband package and no longer the PLDT DSL connection, I was excited to check just how fast cable internet is now, and more excited to experience SkyBroadband’s advertised cable internet speed I’d been reading on banners along the stretch of EDSA, Katipunan and Commonwealth Avenues.

So we fired up Test.my and SpeakEasy, two speed test sites on my bookmarks bar. By the way, no one else was online but the MBP on that lazy Monday afternoon.

I chose the Dual Test (upload/download) on Test.my and chose Austin on SpeakEasy before sampling the vegetarian pesto mid-afternoon snack serve us. Test.my has a post to show the average test time depending on the connection one has, e.g. 0-x seconds if on cable internet, 1-x seconds on a typical DSL, etc.

5 minutes on and half a dish of pesto done, Test.my was 25% into the first test using 97kb of data, while SpeakEasy was still trying to contact the Austin site.

Anyhow, the results below will show just how fast SkyBroadband was on the afternoon of 2 March 2009 from Test.my (Monday, 2 March 2009, 4:46 pm PHI):

To add insult to injury, it said this about the connection:

“Ouch, are you on dial-up or something? Your connection scored 0.5/5 stars…”


When I got home 5 hours later, I tested our SmartBro connection for comparison but logged on to the Linksys DHCPTable page to see how many of us were on the shared connection before doing the test. Six of us were online: 2 PC laptops, 1 Asus Eee, two IPs without ID’s, one of them my cousin’s expander, I believe, and probably another cousin’s phone, and myself or a total of 6 from different areas in the compound all connected OTA at about 9 pm. Good, I thought. At least that should give a fair reading. My location was farthest from the router and with only 2 Airport signal bars on.

The result:

Ok, the deal here is that the comparison tests between my connection and SkyBroadband earlier in the afternoon were done hours apart from 2 different locations but not more than 3 kms from each other.

I called my colleague to ask how their connection was doing at the time I was doing the test on mine, and she said that her sister, just 3 minutes or less before my call, was complaining about the slowness of the connection. By the way, they do not have a wifi router, so everyone connects directly via LAN like I did earlier at their place in the afternoon.

I read to my colleague what my test result was and how it compared to theirs in the simplest way I could, and she concluded that their dad would be most unhappy about it if he heard it. Well, who would be, right?

The stretch of EDSA and most thoroughfares in Metro Manila is awash with banners announcing all sorts of products and claims from breast augmentation to low service rates.

For many internet-dependent citizens like ourselves, the competition between ISP rates, features and add-ons is far too good to be missed. Prices are dropping like crazy.

Factors

Location is among the top factors that affect connection. For instance, I was told by a café owner on Katipunan Ave.-White Plains that SmartBro is not advisable owing to the billboard banners structures surrounding his place that gets in the line of sight of the canopy. They were advised to either install a pole higher than any of the ultra-large, storeys-high tarpaulin billboard structures or go for lined connections instead which, really, leaves them no choice but to pick among the other DSL or cable ISPs.

We, on the other hand, are perfectly OK with the three-year SmartBro connection at home. Sure there were days when the connection just fails at the moment when it was most needed, but they were few and short moments. In the three years that we’ve been on SmartBro, there were just two occasions when we totally couldn’t log on and those were because, according to the technicians, two structures were built somewhere that came in between the canopy and the base station line of sight. They needed to reposition the canopy on those occasions.

There are several other factors that affect connectivity and, while cable internet connection is supposedly fasted than DSL, cable internet bandwidth is shared by other subscribers in one’s area. (REF: DSL vs. Cable) I am not sure, though, if this information is told the prospective subscriber, if all prospective subscribers are aware of it, or if one is even aware of the number of households in one’s immediate vicinity who are on the same service provider for that matter. (In my area, it is easy to spot those on SmartBro because the canopy is visible from the rooftops. I can count two others from where I sit as I write this).

So, in the case of my colleague’s household, the promised speed of 1.5mbps (plan P999) hasn’t been experienced thus far. Will the advertised speed vs. cost be ever true? SkyBroadband, or other advertisers for that matter, may not intend to mislead but may play to the general public’s hunger for connectivity and communication giving many the raw deal.


UPDATE, 16 Mar 09, 3:47pm
Another opportunity at testing my friend’s SkyDSL connection today:
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Definitely a whole world of difference from the result above; even the upload/download SpeakEasy test was this afternoon via the Dallas, TX server:
Download Speed: 1244 kbps (155.5 KB/sec transfer rate)
Upload Speed: 452 kbps (56.5 KB/sec transfer rate)

However, I was told that this speed is not consistent and, in fact, internet connection was on and off earlier in the day.

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Filed under Broadband connection, community, DSL, internet, internet activity, Mac, Manila, Philippines, SkyBroadband, SmartBro, Technology