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Disclaimer: The entries you find in these pages are based on my individual opinions and thoughts. Some of the entries may be just plain wrong, and others harmful. Should you choose to act on, or try, anything you find on this site, you assume any and all risks associated with your actions. So there.


eCommerce at a Phone Near You

March 23, 2011

A while back I wrote about dropping our credit card processor. The fees and rules had gotten the best of me, and I decided to forgo the convenience. Online credit card handling has gotten much more expensive over the past couple of years.

Then along came Square. If you haven't heard of Square, it is a free App for your iPhone or iPad (and other smartphones) that allows you to accept credit cards anywhere you have an internet connection, including 3G or Edge. It even comes with a tiny, free, card swiper that plugs into the headset jack on your device. No more elaborate equipment required, just your phone and a 1" square reader.

Square requires that you sign up for an account, and pass a credit check. They are a real merchant account provider, and credit card processor all wrapped up in one, free App and service. They charge a very competitive 2.75% + $0.15 per transaction. Your money is deposited in 2-3 days.

To use Square, you open the App, fill in a description and amount, and swipe the customer's card. The customer can sign your screen using a finger. Receipts are emailed to you and your customer. The receipt includes a map with the GPS coordinates of where the transaction took place. You receive a follow-up email showing the exact amount that will be deposited to your account.

The coolest part? Not only can your business get this, but you can get a personal account too. So you can "Square Up" with your friends by credit card — no more excuses about not having cash.

Simultaneous to finding Square, I discovered AcceptPay, by American Express (AKA PaySimple.com). I am a huge fan of Amex, both as a customer and a vendor. If you accept credit cards online, Amex is often less expensive than Visa/Mastercard — ironic, I know, since the mainstream impression of Amex is that they charge more. Not true. Nominally, their rate is higher, but in reality, Visa/MC advertises the "Qualified" rate (as opposed to unqualified). The definition of unqualified, it turns out, is any card that has any kind of rewards or points plan — pretty much every card out there. In the case of unqualified, add as much as 1% to the rate.

AcceptPay allows you to accept payment online, against any invoice. It also allows you to create and send invoices via email. It costs $20/month if you are an Amex card holder (or $35/month for PaySimple, if not). They charge a little more than Square, but do not require that the card be present (swiped), so you can take payments over the phone. No more paper.

AcceptPay now offers an iPhone App, so you can use it at any time, and any place you have access to the internet. Two great ways to get paid, with little to no cost up-front, and reasonable rates long-term. We use both at Computer Consultants Group.

iCal Invites and Google Apps Accounts

March 11, 2011

When iCal and Google Apps finally began to support multi-calendar syncing/access, I was excited. Finally I could sync my calendars over the air with my computer, iPhone and iPad. Also, I could share/sync with my staff, and more importantly, my wife. But the bloom quickly came off the rose the first time I tried to setup a meeting and invite another user.

Confusion set in when I was not able to send invites right from iCal. I discovered that this only worked when someone was in my same domain — which seemed mostly useless, since coordinating with my staff is already far easier than with clients. More confusion set in when I realized that my staff never got an email, but the appointment just showed up in their calendar. I don't know about you, but, for me, if something just shows up in my calendar, and I didn't put it there, I will probably miss it.

There is a quick and easy work-around. Simply setup your appointment as usual, but do NOT fill-out the attendees field. When you have completed the appointment, open a new email and drag the appointment from your iCal to your email. This will attach the appointment as an ics file. Then, go back to iCal, highlight the appointment and Copy it (Edit—>Copy), go back to Mail and Paste it into the body of the email. This will paste all of the relevant info into the body of the email, so the recipient will see what it is about, without having first to add the appointment to his calendar. Next address the email and send it. The recipient will receive an email with the appointment info, and be able to click on the attachment to add it to his iCal (or other calendar, such as Outlook).

You will not get notices back regarding the status of the attendees. For me, this is not a problem. Most people don't respond to these correctly anyway, so for me the whole attendee status is useless.

As an aside, good calendar etiquette is hard to come by. If you send a calendar invitation, please do not use the recipient's name or company, as the name of the appointment. If you are arranging an appointment with Joe Smith, don't make an appointment named "Joe Smith" and then send it to him. He will end up with an appointment in his calendar titled with his own name. If I see an appointment in my calendar that is my name or my company, I'm not really sure where I'm supposed to go — since I am automatically in attendance with me at all times.

Make the name of the appointment more descriptive. So, rather than "Joe Smith," make it "Website Planning, Joe Smith and Bill Read." It is longer, but there is no ambiguity as to whom is to be in attendance. Also, you will avoid the embarrassment of the other person forgetting your name. Additionally, include contact info in the "Notes" area — BOTH your and his phone numbers, at a minimum. I usually include an address in the notes area (or the location area). Use complete addresses, including zip code — this way, if one of you has his calendar on his cellphone, the address can be used as a map-link to give directions to the location.

Migrating Old Data

February 10, 2011

Or, why we tech-geeks keep a bunch of old crap around even though our wives plead with us to dump it.

Ah, old hardware. <sarcasm>Fun Stuff</sarcasm>. You know that thing you threw away two months ago, the one you suddenly found you needed? I have a room full of stuff that would be like that — only I don't throw it away. 300 BAUD modem: got that; Newton battery charger: check; old SCSI enclosures: you bet; Mac OS 9 computers: yep. I even have an original floppy for Mac OS 1.0 — no joke, 1.0 was shipped for about 15 minutes before Finder 1.1 came out.

As an aside, if you want to be brought to tears, find an old Mac 128k (the original) and boot it up off of floppy: 10 seconds, I kid you not. Steve Jobs was said to scream at an engineer that he HAD to shave off 5 seconds from the boot time because lives were at stake. Because, with millions of reboots by millions of people per day, 5 seconds literally adds up to entire lifetimes. Oh, if only Apple cared that much about lifetimes now-a-days. Ok, I guess you could argue this to make a case that every Mac should have a solid state drive. But I digress. Back to (Ok, on to) migrating old data.

A client I hadn't heard from in OVER a decade called me the other day. He has a Mac G3, Beige, running Mac OS 8.1. He has upgraded to a new iMac with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and needs to migrate his data. Thinking I would be dealing with an old SCSI drive, I got out one of my PowerMac G4s, with SCSI, IDE and USB. I was actually getting excited about firing up an old SCSI drive and jury-rigging a way to migrate the data to 10.6.

Turns out that the Beige G3 had and IDE drive in it — a 4Gb one. So, I didn't need anything but an external case. Only, for whatever reason, the drive did NOT want to function in either one of two cases. So, we popped the drive into the G4 anyway, into one of the open IDE spots. Because the old G4 had only USB 1.1, we realized that it would take forever to migrate all of the data to an new drive via USB. Instead of using USB, we pushed the data over the network over to the new drive connected to another computer which had USB 2. Done in 14 minutes.

As my client put it, that's a year a minute (14 years worth of his data).

iPhone/iPad Text Editing Tip

February 10, 2011

If you have had an iPhone/iPad for a while, this may be obvious to you. But since I have had both since each first came out, and only recently discovered this time-saving tip, it may help someone else out there.

When you are editing text, and you would like to move the insertion point to the beginning or end of a word, tap the word (not the space between words). No need to use the magnifying glass, just tap. Tap the beginning of a word if you want to move the insertion point in front of the word. Tap the end of a word if you want to move the insertion point to the end of the word. iOS will NOT put your insertion point within the word; rather, it will put it before or after the word based on where you tap the word.

If you want to put the insertion point within the word, you must tap and hold until the magnifying glass appears, then move your insertion point where you wish.

Old-School Troubleshooting

February 10, 2011

If you have ever had to call a tech-support person, such as one of us, then you have been told to reboot your computer:

Macs: Apple Menu—>Restart
Windows: Start Menu—>Shutdown

This may seem like you are being told to click your heels, or jump though a hoop. But, trust me, the next time you need to call for help, save yourself some time and reboot your computer first. I can tell you, from more than 25 years of experience, this fixes almost half of the problems I am asked about.

In this day of very robust computer systems, rebooting seems optional. But if you are leaving your computer on most of the time (for backups, etc.), reboot it once a week. And if you are having a problem, whether it is trouble accessing the internet, not printing, or system slowness, reboot before calling for help. You might just find out that all of those little problems, that you try to ignore, go away with regular rebootings.

More Drobo Feedback

February 10, 2011


Believe it or not, this is actually going to be a POSITIVE post about Drobo. Bear with me. After my last Drobo post, if you read to the end, you will know that I think this technology is incredible, and I am really mainly disappointed in their lack of attention to customer details. I hold that same opinion, for the most part. However, I think the Drobo product is outstanding.

I have three complaints:

1) See this post regarding formatting Drobo on older Macs. Sadly, as of this date, this has not been fixed. I realize that Drobo can't go back and support every Mac -- but the 32/64 bit issue is one that should be addressed.

2) Drobo's warranty and return policy is lacking. I had a client's Drobo Pro die from a power supply failure at roughly 5 months of age. Because we had not purchased Drobo Care, our only return option was to ship the drive back, then wait for the return. The basic 1-year warranty only covers the hardware, and not shipping, etc. You get 90 days of shipping returns and premium support, but not for the remaining 9 months of warranty.

It's not that you need to buy Drobo Care to extend your warranty after the first year. I would be fine if that were the case. It is that you have to buy Drobo Care to get the SAME service during the first full year — this I object to. It changes after 90 days. Come on — give us the first year. Or, make the warranty only 90 days — I would find that more acceptable than having my warranty tarnish after 90 days.

3) Hard drives in the drive bays of a Drobo unseat too easily. I have a few clients who use pairs of Drobos as network backup. One is kept off-site, while the other is in use, and they are swapped weekly. When you pick up and move a Drobo, the drives can unseat quite easily — while seemingly still in place (ie: they all appear to be seated correctly on close inspection). This can happen even when the drive is handled with kid-glove care. I think the weight of the drives is too much for the design of the latches that hold them in place.

If this happens, when you next plug-in the Drobo, it will report one or more of the drives as missing. Firmly pushing the drive(s) back in corrects the problem — but the Drobo then needs to rebuild for many hours (as many as 40+). This is a vexing problem for one of my clients. So much so that now part of their routine is to re-seat each drive every time they have to change them out.

Now, on balance, I still love the Drobo product. There is room for improvement, but the technology is impressive. For example, despite having drives unseat, my clients have never lost data, nor had to erase and start over with a Drobo.

Now, on to my positive testimonial. For you tech people, this will be a little scary.

One of the cool things about the Drobo is that you can pop-out any drive at any time (assuming the system is working correctly, meaning that your drive status lights are all green). The Drobo will quietly go about rebuilding your data protection and you can go on using it as if nothing happened. I related this fact to client when making the recommendation to him for his backup.

My client purchased a Drobo S and five 2Tb hard drives. The Drobo and three drives arrived almost right away, while two of the drives were delayed a week. We decided to go ahead and deploy, because we had over-speced the storage needs by more than triple in order to provide room to grow. A week later, when the drives arrived, I advised my client that he could simply pop-in the new drives in the empty bays. As it turned out, the top bay of the Drobo wasn't working. Without going into detail, we carefully swaped the two new drives around to demonstrate that it was the Drobo bay, and not the drives, that was the problem. Data Robotics agreed to send out a new Drobo. It got interesting when the new Drobo arrive.

My client, taking me at my word (that you can pop-out any drive at any time), took it upon himself to pull out all four working drives from the old Drobo — without first shutting it down. HE then disconnect the old Drobo, connected the new one, put in the four drives and powered it up. It started blinking Red after it came online, but it came online and all of the data was intact. The red lights worried him, so he called me. I almost had a heart-attack when he told me what he had done. But before I completely panicked, he told me that it mounted and came up just fine. I advised him to wait a few hours to see if it would rebuild and the lights turn green. They did, so he inserted the last drive, it rebuilt itself again, and now his Drobo is fully populated and running like a well-oiled clock.

So, there you have it. This one Drobo recovered from a seemingly impossible event — losing EVERY drive. Granted, there was no data being moved to/from the drive at the time this was happening; plus, I seriously doubt that repeating this "experiment" would result in success; but, my confidence in their technology is high. Any other RAID system I know of, upon losing more than the requisite "safe" number of drives would be a total loss — or, at best, a nightmare to recover.

Life with iPad

August 19, 2010

I have been living with an iPad (WiFi only, 32Gb) since April. My thoughts and feelings about it have gone through 3 stages:

  • Slight disappointment
  • I have a laptop?
  • Old friend

When the iPad first arrived, after the initial un-boxing and first-use rush was over, a twinge of disappointment set in. It took me a while to figure it out. This thing is just a big iPhone, right? So, I already knew how to use it. There was no sense of discovery of a new thing. (Non iPhone users would have a far more exciting first few days.)

With that realization, I was relieved. After all, if you have an iPhone, who doesn't want a bigger screen? The glory of the things I could do with a larger screen seeped back in. I actively re-compared it to the iPhone, and confirmed to myself that, yes, wow, this thing is great. I could see, and READ, all of a web page at once; I could use a full-screen remote access client and control client servers on it; I could type on a big keyboard; I could see screens FULL of info. Yes, it is wonderful.

I have a Laptop?
After a few weeks I realized that I was leaving my laptop on my upstairs desk for days at a time. What used to be a fixture on my downstairs desk over the weekends, was now leaving a dust-free print on my office desk. I began to have thoughts of leaving the laptop behind when I visited client's offices. Initially I didn't have quite enough confidence in the iPad to leave behind the laptop. But, after many client visits, where the laptop never got pulled out, I began leaving it behind for quick visits.

Wow, talk about traveling light! There is a huge difference between carrying a 1.5Lb iPad in one hand, and lugging a 7Lb laptop — in a bag, plus power cord, and other misc. junk.

Old Friend

Four months out, the love affair is over, and I have settled into a comfortable and rewarding pattern with the iPad. My laptop gets to come downstairs for photos and other editing/creation efforts. Email is still better on the real keyboard, and ALL of my email and file organization is still on the laptop. The iPad (and iPhone) serves as a convenient at-hand tool for quickly clearing my email deck. I check mail on both the iPad and iPhone far more often than on the laptop. However, I allow things to build up for later processing on the laptop.

The iPad has become my de-facto tool for reading, browsing and consuming on-line content. It is perfect for Google Reader, FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter — where I spend 90% of my non-working on-line time. Ok, 90% of my on-line time — hey, I work for myself, so I can't get fired for using Facebook during working hours.

Around the house, especially the kitchen and den, the iPad has made Google an integral and helpful part of my family's routine. During a typical day I carry the iPad from room to room. The larger screen and keyboard make it the perfect tool for looking up anything. From TV schedules to recipes, wikipedia to YouTube, we have instant and useful access to information. It has become such a normal item to have around, I can hardly imagine what things were like before having it.

As for WiFi vs. WiFi+3G, I regretted not getting 3G for the first week. After that, I have not run into a situation where truly the iPhone on 3G (and now the iPhone 4) didn't easily fill the gap. This is much to the disappointment of my wife, who was to get my first iPad as soon as I upgraded. That's on hold until the next generation iPad is out. I can't imagine the joy of an iPad with a retina display!

Backup to School

August 19, 2010

So you sent your child off to college at the Citadel, College-of-Charleston, Charleston Southern, etc., with a brand-new computer. You did send them with an external hard drive for backup, right? Probably not. I know because I'm the one who gets their panicked calls after it's too late.

Do yourself and your child favor and get them a backup drive right now. Here's a great Western Digital external hard drive that can backup any laptop, and it's not too expensive. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Now that you have taken care of that, make sure they use it.

For Windows users, that drive has built-in software that will automate their backup. They just need to read the directions and make sure they plug it in — often.

For Mac users, of Macs within the past three years, they just need to plug-in the drive. The computer will automatically ask them if they wish to use the drive for backup. Confirm that, and they're good to go.

I recommend plugging-in the backup drive every time they have it at their desk in their room. I also recommend leaving it plugged in overnight — all that music and video can take its time backing-up.

Lastly, I recommend that they set their system sleep settings to leave their computer on when it is plugged in to power. This is so the computer won't go to sleep while backing up. But they should set it to turn off the display after a period of disuse, say 15 minutes. Windows users will find this setting under Control Panel Items > Power Options; Mac users find this under System Preferences > Energy Saver.

And, if the worst should happen, and their computer won't boot up, or they lose data, please call me, Bill Read at (843)722-7607, ext. 2. I may not be able to fix the computer or recover the drive, but I can assess the severity of the problem, fix it if possible, or direct them to a suitable data recovery company. The last thing they should do at this point is trust their data recovery to someone who might do more harm than good.

Macintosh Computer Technical Support and Repair, Charleston, SC

March 25, 2010

I write about a lot of things on this blog that are Macintosh related. In case you didn't know it, Macintosh support is what I and my company have done since 1995. What you need to know is that my company, Computer Consultants Group, Inc. offers support for all kinds of Macintosh (and Windows) issues, including help with new purchases, setup and installation, and troubleshooting. We support individuals, small business and even larger companies that have their own IT departments.

What are your other options in Charleston? Here you go:

The Apple Store — well, not much to say here.

L2 Technologies — these guys are an Apple Authorized repair center, plus they can fix iPods. They do all kinds of hardware repairs, and they do sales of Macs too. If you have an in-warranty repair, they are a great choice. They are in Mt. Pleasant, but have offices in Beaufort and Columbia too.

Tech Plus — a small local firm in West Ashley (Outback Stake House Shopping Center), these guys are GREAT for OUT of warranty repair. Don't get me wrong, they are also Apple Authorized for in-warranty repair, but they have always been willing to go out of their way for my clients who have out of warranty equipment.

There you have it. If you want someone to come by and help you out, we are your guys. If you want to take your stuff in, try these other guys. Our phone is (843)722-7607, email@ccgnet.com

Oh, Drobo, How You Disappoint Me

March 25, 2010


I have been hearing about Drobos for over a year now. Many pundits I trust simply rave about them. The technology sure does seem appealing: a box that can hold multiple hard drives of different capacities, and wrap them all up in a better than RAID data protection scheme.

I have two clients who had Drobo-like storage needs at about the same time. I ordered two Drobo S models for one, and a Drobo S and a Drobo Pro for the other. I loaded all of them up with the maximum number of 2Tb (terabyte) hard drives. For those who don't know, that is 5 x 2Tb = 10Tb for each Drobo S, and 8 x 2Tb = 16Tb for the Drobo Pro. Because of the way Drobos use the drives to protect your data, that means that roughly 7.5Tb of data storage is available on the Drobo S models, and 14Tb is available on the Drobo Pro.

The S/Pro pair arrived first. I immediately ran into trouble formatting the drives. I followed the Drobo instructions exactly, but upon first attempted format, the Drobo software basically told me "try again." I had three consecutive failures, and almost gave up. But, instead I rebooted the computer (can't hurt, might help, but not something that the Drobo instructions suggested), and that worked for the first drive. So, on to the second.

The second drive did the same thing. Being a bit wiser, this time I just quit the Drobo Dashboard software, and tried again. That worked. Huh. "Oh well," I thought, "picky software, but stable hardware." The rest of the install went peachy, and I gave it no more thought.

The second pair of Drobo S models arrived a few days later. This time I was prepared for the formatting failure. However, no matter what I did, I could not get either drive to format. It was infuriating. I was using the client's server this time (an Xserve G5), and repeated reboots weren't going to be cool. So, I resorted to my laptop and was able successfully to format both drives, only after a couple of failures similar to above.

Then, after I reconnected the Drobos to the server, very strange things began to happen. At first they wouldn't show up, then they would disappear. I went through so many iterations of connecting them up to this or that port — changing cables, changing the order in which they connected, changing the configuration of the other drives connected to the server — so many that I finally gave up and told the office that the server was going to be down for the rest of the day.

Then I got on the phone with Drobo support and proceeded to spend a few hours doing the same thing with them. The server had gotten to the point that it would kernel panic with one of the drives. The upshot was I was told to upgrade my server software. Crud. The upside was that it did give me an excuse to do an upgrade that I wanted, but couldn't otherwise have justified — so I was Ok with that.

After installing Mac OS X 10.5 Server, and applying all the updates, the problems with the Drobos remained. By now the office was tired of no server, so I had to stop testing on the server, and resorted to testing exclusively on my MacBook Pro. I got back on the support site with Drobo, and eventually had a call with one of the techs. I had an idea that maybe my MacBook Pro, a Core Duo (NOT a Core 2 Duo) and my server (a G5) were too old for Drobos. The tech considered that for a moment, but assured me that this was not the case. He agreed to ship out a new unit to test. Upon arrival, it failed in similar ways.

At that point I began to cast around for other solutions. First, I rebooted my MacBook in Safe Mode. To my amazement, the Drobo worked without a hitch. So, something installed on the server and my computer was at fault. The only commonality between the two was the Drobo Software itself. Nah, couldn't be, right? I mean, if that were it, surely the Drobo tech would know about it, right?

I googled "uninstall drobo software" and the top article was from a site I read every day: MacOSXHints.com. Here: Fix a Drobo issue on non-64bit-capable Intel Macs. First, I literally slapped myself in the head for not going to google right away; second I kicked myself for not thinking of this site — it is one of my go-to sites, and I know I had scanned this specific article.

I found the uninstaller in /Library/Application Support/Data Robotics/Drobo Dashboard/. I used the uninstaller, instead of mucking around with deleting specific files. Bingo — everything worked flawlessly. So, my question remains: Surely the Drobo tech should know about it, right? Apparently not.

Moral of the story: don't think that just because your support tech is sharp and seems very knowledgeable, that he knows everything. Also, be suspicious of a tech who doesn't pursue a logical course of elimination when it involves his product.

I titled this "Oh Drobo, how you disappoint me" because I am disappointed that such a potentially cool company has totally missed what seems to me to be an obvious bug. Even cursory testing on some older hardware would demonstrate this issue. I have to assume that they have had tech calls on it as well. Note the date of the article above: November 2009.

Lastly, I sure do hope Drobo acts on this knowledge and fixes the software. I hate to say it, but I doubt it — it has apparently existed since November or before. After informing the tech of what happened, I never got a response. I did close the ticket, and left a note offering to help them troubleshoot if needed. So far, crickets...