Network Utility Redux!

I remember being somewhat annoyed and disappointed when Apple decided to get rid of “Network Utility” from macOS (I think in Catalina?).

It contained a useful set of network diagnostics in a simple GUI. Thankfully there is now an almost exact replica to replace it made by the fine people at Devon Technologies.

Heard about it via 512Pixels.

Currently listening: Sarah Sommers - “Rude Girl”

Some of my Software Essentials, Part 4.

These are the malware detection and security Apps I use and recommend.

KnockKnock - This checks for anything that persistently launches across reboots, something that plenty of legit software does, but certainly is also a hallmark of malware…

Malwarebytes - Speaking of malware, this is still the best anti malware app for Mac in my opinion… They’ve slowly ratcheted up the annoyance factor over the years in terms of bugging the user to “go premium” unfortunately. On the Mac, I still don’t see the value in paying for constant scanning though, assuming you’re running one of the last two or three versions of macOS, and also don’t have a habit of installing random dodgy software from goodness-knows-where!

Little Snitch - This App is an outgoing firewall, which is to say it monitors outgoing network connections from all Apps and lets you allow or deny them, based on a set of configurable rules. I have run it on and off since 2006.

Currently listening: Dee Camù - “Liquid Drum & Bass Mix - Home Session After The Gym”

Ulanzi TC001 + Awtrix Firmware

I bought a couple of these Ulanzi TC001 Smart Pixel Clocks, and then loaded the Awtrix Firmware, as per these instructions…

The next step is to set up the Home Assistant integration, which should allow these to function as a nice little updater around the house when the garage door gets left open too long, when outside gates are opened, etc.

Currently listening: Gerry Cinnamon - “Erratic Cinematic”

Some of my Software Essentials, Part 3.

Reeder Yep, I still use an RSS Reader in 2024… Looks great, works well, syncs between Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

Tot Simple 8-page notepad that also syncs between Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Handy to have as a scratchpad to quickly capture lists and To Do items.

Collections Hey, another App that syncs between Mac, iPhone, and iPad :) This one lets you easily build custom databases… Handy for lists where you want to have the flexibility to sort by different criteria at different times.

Currently listening: Klangphonics - “Ich Brauch Mehr Bass”

Theme Change & Cables/Adapters Storage

Decided it was time for a change - I’m now using the “Hello” theme rather than the “Marfa” theme for the blog…

Also, I needed a better solution for storing all the various adapters/cables/USB drives I use most frequently. I bought 6 of the smaller IKEA Kuggis storage boxes, and labelled them using a little inkless printer called the Phomemo D30. Much better! :)

Currently listening: Vulfmon & Evangeline - “Got To Be Mine” - It’s an infectious summer groove, just what we need during the cold Melbourne winter!

WWDC 2024 / Some Random Things

Only a couple of days out from that time of year again, this WWDC looks to be all about Apple adding AI to their various OSs… Not sure how I feel about that, hopefully the rumours that it will be opt-in are accurate… Apparently iOS will gain even more customisation options. Looking forward to some other nice surprises! Follow along with Basic Apple Guy’s Bingo card! :)

So, I have a Davis Vantage Vue weather station in my back yard that wirelessly talks to a WeatherLink Live, which in turn talks to a server on the internet to keep all the historical weather data since I first set it up.

I’ve had that WeatherLink Live base station unit powered by an older Apple 5W USB power adapter that I had spare, running fine for years, then the last couple of days it had been increasingly flakey and finally gave up the ghost yesterday… I initially thought it was the unit itself - they cost around $400 AUD, so that would have been some bad news! However, I used an inline USB power tester I have, which showed the power adapter was cycling on and off… Swapped it out for another 5W adapter I had spare, back up and running, thank goodness!

Also, I recently got a Cisco SPA 303 VoIP phone which I have started playing around with… More of an update when and if I have something interesting to report.

Currently listening: Softboy7 - “Spacebreaks (Glitchbreak \ Breakcore \ DnB)"

Setting up Home Assistant at my Store.

To control a bunch of smart home actions I use and like the Flic buttons at my place, but I didn’t want to buy another of those hubs and a few more buttons for the Store. A cheaper solution, mostly using items I had already, was a Raspberry Pi and a Phoscon ConBee II USB stick. I had used those for my Zigbee devices before I upgraded at home to a Home Assistant Yellow.

I bought a couple of the IKEA Somrig shortcut buttons. They’re only $12 AUD, and they work well with Home Assistant, once you discover that turning on the “Advanced mode” option under your profile will then expose the buttons to the HomeKit integration!

I swear I’m usually a follower of the ol' K.I.S.S. principle, and I know having a whole other platform just to run a couple of buttons sounds like overkill (mostly because it is…), but I already have some other Zigbee devices I’m planning on putting in now that I have this up and running. Keeps me busy and out of trouble :)

Currently listening: luunace / sylphiette - “march 22nd is my birthday \ breakcore mix”

Some of my Software Essentials, Part 2.

This entry is more focused specifically on media conversion and playback…

MakeMKV: Technically this is a “transcoder” as it does not convert (which would then imply generational loss) but preserves the quality of the original media, this app is essential for “format shifting” shall we say…

MKVToolNix: Useful if you need to concatenate media files together, for example a longer movie that had been spilt across two discs.

HandBrake: This allows you to convert uncompressed video files to a more manageable file size - similar concept as to the difference between the file size of an uncompressed Audio CD versus a converted/compressed MP3 file of the same audio…

VLC: The app with the familiar ol' traffic cone icon plays almost any media format under the sun - before VLC existed you really needed a multitude of video apps to playback the various formats that different platforms/companies/zaibatsu preferred. It truly is the Swiss-army knife of playing back media formats!

Plex: Although their homepage these days makes it look like a streaming service, Plex offers both a local media server that can run on Mac/PC/NAS allowing you to store a collection of media files, as well as a client that runs on many platforms, including the current Apple TV, which means a nice interface to browse said media from your TV.

Currently listening: Jamie xx - “Gosh”

Some of my Software Essentials, Part 1.

1Password: I’ve been using and recommending their apps since 2010. Passwords are truly one of the great ills of the modern age, most people would probably prefer to visit the dentist than deal with ‘em, but the only safe option is to ensure they are strong and unique - a password manager makes all the difference in how easy they are to wrangle. One great feature of 1Password is “Watchtower”, which gives you a heads-up if any of the websites or services you have saved are known to have been compromised, letting you know it is a good idea to change that password.

Time Machine (Built in to macOS): It is said there are two types of people, those who back up, and those who will lose data. Back when Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard came out in 2007, one of the banner features was an automatic backup solution called Time Machine. In my opinion, this addition has made the biggest difference to whether the average person backs up. Completely non-scientific data (based on my asking people who come into my store) would suggest about 40-50% of Mac users have it enabled (although whether a backup is performed regularly is a different matter, unfortunately). No, cloud syncing of whatever flavour is not a real backup (case in point). Having the safety-net of a local second copy of your data is damn important…

Hazel: This software watch specific folders, and if the contents match certain criteria, performs selected actions… An example, I have a folder in my iCloud which Hazel on my Mac at home watches, and if a compressed file is added, it automatically decompresses it. Where this is useful is if I have a compressed file that is in a format the iPhone or iPad cannot open, I still have a way to access the contents… Another example, I have an “Auto Process” folder within my Downloads folder on my Mac, where if I drag in a Screenshot it will import a copy into Photos and then delete the original.

PasteBot: A Mac user from 1984 falls into a temporal wormhole, they are suddenly in 2024, and are sat down in front of a modern Mac. One thing you wouldn’t have to explain is how copy/paste and the clipboard work, it’s exactly the same! Whilst this is great is some ways, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a browsable history to the clipboard, or the ability to have multiple items? PasteBot does these and more… I use it at my Store with some buttons on my Stream Deck, so I can copy a series of text items from and to different apps, it makes a massive difference to efficiency.

Currently listening: BreakStation - “Gundam Hearts - a breakcore mix”

Data Recovery Fun / Archie is back!

This weekend’s mini project was recovering the contents of a 30GB 3.5-inch ATA hard drive from a customer’s Power Mac G4. The dusty and cobwebby tower looked like it’d been stored in a shed for the better part of a decade…

The first challenge was that the first couple of interfaces I tried with the drive did not seem to provide enough power. I ended up installing it temporarily inside one of my Power Mac G4 towers, and after tracking down the proper 80 pin ATA cable, it mounted and seemed a bit happier…

However there were still issues with copying files, and so the next step was to try running an old version of DiskWarrior, surprisingly without success. I next ran “Disk Doctor” (remember Norton Utilities?!) which helped to fix up some corruption with the data. Even after that, there were still some files located on bad blocks, which meant doing a standard copy in the Finder was a real pain. I then used “Synchronize! Pro” to ensure I had as complete a copy as possible.

In other news, I watched this morning the latest video put out by “The Serial Port” on YouTube. It’s titled “We brought back the internet’s first search engine”, and goes over the software archaeology of tracking down what could in fact have been the last copy of the Archie server software. Archie was a search engine which would trawl through the contents of a bunch of FTP servers, and was a mainstay of the pre-WWW Internet. I am glad they have managed to track it down, configure it, and now in fact have it running live on the current Web! Someone needs to ask them to bring back Dynix now :P

Currently listening: Orbital live at Leeds Sound City 1996

macOS Multi Installer

This weekend’s mini project was creating a drive with a range of macOS installers, this one specifically covering OS X 10.11 El Capitan through to macOS 14 Sonoma. The drive is a 250GB SATA SSD I placed into a repurposed LaCie Rugged case with a USB-C connector.

Mostly, I was following the instructions on the relevant Apple knowledge base article, but macOS Sierra is missing from that. It appears there is an issue with the newest version of the macOS Sierra installer that they have not rectified, but thankfully this genius has us sorted!

End result: All imaged and working happily… Next up, I have an older Buffalo MiniStation case with the original Thunderbolt connector, and an even older LaCie Rugged case with FireWire 800, both of which will get an appropriate range of macOS versions on them as well… I’ll be covered back to Mac OS X v10.2 :)

Currently listening: Sheer Taft - “Cascades (Hypnotone mix) 1990”

Cisco PIX 515E

Today’s mini project was playing around with a Cisco PIX 515E I bought off eBay a while back. It’s a firewall appliance, a rather old one at this stage.

As it was password protected, the first task on the list was to figure out how to reset the login password. This proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated, as it wasn’t a simple thing like a paperclip and tiny reset switch, or a motherboard jumper, or pulling an internal battery… I had already bought one of those famous Cisco light blue RJ45 to serial cables to be able to connect up to the serial console port, which I hooked up with my Versaterm. I tracked down an old Cisco webpage on the Internet Archive, which documented the password reset process, and went through setting up an TFTP server on my NUC (I used Tftpd64, which worked well). This is required as you have to transfer across a small binary file referred to as the “PIX Password Lockout Utility”, which is what actually clears the password.

I set up a temporary network using the ethernet ports on an old Linksys WRT54GL, just in case, as one webpage noted there may be issues on a Gigabit Ethernet network when the PIX 515E is running in the reset procedure mode.

So, after a bit of experimentation with commands, and the joys of figuring out which specific version of the binary file I needed, I made progress and was greeted with a lot more scrolling output, and then after another reboot, a login prompt that this time was happy with a blank password!

Interestingly, the configuration files show this to have been in use by a fairly large minerals processing company, based in Perth, with network links to offices around the world… There were a few other saved passwords in some of the other config files, but hopefully after 10 years+ they are all well and truly out of date! I’ll have to nuke those just in case though…

Currently listening: “Red Snapper - Hot Flush (Sabres of Paradise Remix)"

Time Bandits in 4K

I recently bought the new release of Time Bandits in 4K - it is such a joy to see one of my childhood favourites in such detail! To me, it’s right up there with Back to the Future and Indiana Jones :)

Currently listening: The Orb - “Slug Dub”

Random Links, etc.

Some Useful Utilities and Security Tools for the Mac:

The Eclectic Light Company


Floppy Drive Related:

For my “Mega Floppy Drive” I ordered a set of Floppy Drive Cleaning Disks which hopefully wont be too far away now.

Also, I’m concerned that the heads on the 1.2MB 5.25-inch Drive may be scratching disks, so I will have to check that carefully!

More info on Floppy Disks & Drives…

Today’s mini project: Installing Mac OS X 10.5 on a Power Mac G4 MDD - repeatedly ran into an issue, turned out to be faulty Apple RAM… Fun times…

Currently listening: Pulp - Peel Session 1981

The “Mega Floppy Drive”…

Here’s a sneak peak of something I have been working on, it is an external chassis with three floppy disk drives installed in it currently.

When I finish it off, it’ll also contain a Greaseweazle - essentially a USB adapter that allows a floppy drive to used at a lower level to read the raw flux transitions from disks - in other words, many more formats, and great for software preservation.

I’ll most likely be putting in a separate IDE to USB bridge inside so I can also use a Zip 100 drive as well.

All inside a casing originally intended for a bunch of SCSI CD-ROMs, I’m guessing it would have been for use as a CD duplicator - a drive for the CD being read, and another for burning the duplicate.

I won’t be posting next week, back the week after!

Currently listening: LTJ Bukem - “Earth Volume Two” (1997)

ADB JoyPad Project Update 2.

Unfortunately, looks like my little project has struck a road-block!

After trying to read the PIC microcontroller and failing to get something that looked like a valid copy of the contents, I looked through the Data Sheet (Direct PDF link), I noticed mention of a “Code Protection” feature that was presumably turned on in this case…

So, short of finding a way around that, or reverse engineering the contents, or sourcing a prototype unit / original dev code, etc, I don’t think I can do much more. I had planned on creating an open source project to allow people to create their own joypads based on this one, bit of a shame really…

Perhaps another model of ADB JoyPad will be easier to do that with, I will consider some options :)

Currently listening: Bailey - “Intelligent Drum & Bass (1996)"

ADB JoyPad Project Update 1.

I’ve since disassembled the JoyPad, and found that it is quite simple internally - in terms of ICs, just a single older PIC microcontroller…

I have desoldered that IC and made it socketed. I’ll next be using a “TL866 Universal Programmer” I have to hopefully read the contents of the PIC.

Currently listening: FIREWALKER - firewalker mix - [low poly atmospheric dnb mix]

DIY External Fusion Drive

I ordered a combo M.2 and HD dock last week, the Sabrent DS-UFNC.

Here’s the manual for it.

I wanted it for one of my Test Bench PC’s at my Store, but also to first try out as an external Fusion Drive.

Here is an old MacWorld article on setting up a Fusion Drive.

I had to fire up an older Mac mini running Mojave, as the process doesn’t work in macOS Big Sur onwards, and even Catalina seemed to be problematic.

Makes quite a difference to the Read/Write speeds over it as just a Hard Drive!

I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, and graphed the results (MB per second, btw):

Currently listening: LDP Breaks - Rober Vaz - “Set Liquid DnB 002”

ADB JoyPad

Had this arrive the other day, it’s a “SFX Plus” ADB JoyPad from 1997…

I have plans for it, beyond just trying it out with some games. Watch this space!

Currently listening: neuronist ♪ - “underrated breakcore/jungle dnb tracks with under 1000 total plays | MEGAMIX VOL.7”

IKEA Vindstyrka Sensor

Today I bought an IKEA Vindstyrka, which is a $59 AUD air sensor that works with Home Assistant through a Zigbee connection. It exposes the temperature, humidity, and PM 2.5 count, but not by default the TVOC measurement. Someone has gotten that to work via a Python add-on script, apparently.

It is powered via a USB-C port on the back, and being mains-powered acts as a Zigbee repeater, which is handy. It comes with a USB-A to USB-C cable, but no mains power adapter.

Overall this unit feels fairly well-built, however (annoyingly!) there’s a tiny fan inside, so won’t be replacing the Eve Room on my bedside table.

At a glance, at least 2 of the 10 or so reviews on the IKEA website mention Home Assistant - I dare say this stuff still isn’t really for normal people…

Currently listening: Pressure Drop / Tipper - “Creative Trip Hop”

Success with imaging SCSI Hard Drive.

I tried out the Zulu SCSI in initiator mode on a 40MB Connor SCSI HD from a Macintosh Classic.

After it was done (much faster than I expected, took less than a minute) it had created a file on the MicroSD called “HD00_imaged.hda”.

I was then able to drag that hard drive image into Basilisk II, it mounted and I could browse the entire contents… very nifty!

Also handy was the fact I only needed to power the hard drive, as the Zulu SCSI got its power through the SCSI bus. Currently listening: “Peverelist Old School Jungle Mixtape Volume 2”

Using SCSI emulator devices to image SCSI Drives…

Watched yesterday this recent video “Dumping the contents of SCSI devices using BlueSCSI V2 (Initiator Mode)" that was posted on “Adrian’s Digital Basement” second channel. Essentially some SCSI emulator devices can be used in a mode where they act as the host and allow you to image SCSI devices, copying the entire contents of, for example, an old hard drive on to the micro SD card. Very cool feature I was not previously aware of!

I have a Blue SCSI, but it is an older hardware revision that doesn’t support this special mode, but I also have RP2040-based ZuluSCSI, which does support “Initiator Mode”.

I made sure to initialise the micro SD card in ExFAT format, as FAT32 only supports single files ≤ 4GB (well, 4GB less one byte), and I’ve flashed the latest firmware as well.

I will be helping someone out with a bunch of 80s-era Macs at my Store soon, should make imaging multiple ancient SCSI hard drives much easier!

Currently listening: English Teacher - “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab”.

Weekend Project: Storage Speed Test on my Power Macintosh G3

I decided to test and compare a few different mass storage options in one of my favourite systems this weekend, the classic 1998 Beige G3 :)

I compared using MacBench 5.0 with the following:

• Seagate Momentus 160GB 2.5-inch IDE Hard Drive running at 5400 RPM (which I was already using)

• Transcend CompactFlash Industrial CF170 32GB (onto which I installed Mac OS 9.2.1 from CD)

• Zulu SCSI (I copied in the “Open Retro SCSI” image of Mac OS 9)

Here’s what I got, notice the big difference in the “Disk” section:

I admit my testing protocol might have been a little more rigorous - I tested each only once, and given I’ve been using the 160GB HD for a while I’m sure there is a speed penalty due to the typical cruft that accumulates in any system, but interesting results nevertheless. I think the Zulu SCSI would have performed better if I looked into tweaking the settings - I seem to recall it defaults to slower, more compatible options.

I will stick with the Seagate HD for now, but I may eventually switch over to the Industrial CF card…

Currently listening: Xnot - “Atmospheric breaks 2 🌊”

Smart Home Notes…

About four years ago, just before the COVID era began, I had become very frustrated with some issues I was experiencing with my smart home devices, primarily the dreaded “no response“ message in Apple’s Home app.

I had in my house at the time what I thought was a fairly decent set-up in terms of home networking, with desktop machines wired and a combination of an AirPort Time Capsule and two AirPort Extremes with a wired backbone running our Wi-Fi network. After a fair bit of internet research, and a false start of trying a Linksys Velop mesh system, I finally settled on the Ubiquiti UniFi range.

There is nothing like the geeky joy of falling down a technological rabbit hole, learning a bunch of new stuff, and then the result being a completely overkill solution! I put in 5 Access Points, a 24 port switch, and a controller/router that is more intended to run a small to medium business :) I also changed over our security cameras, so a single management set-up is a bonus.

All of this did indeed resolve the initial problem with Wi-Fi devices, and I have continued to refine my smart home set up. It is not completely perfect, and one niggling problem recently has been a single Zigbee temperature/humidity sensor that inconsistently stops responding, yet another of the same type that is located much further away does not! I have another of the same type on order to see if it is the specific unit that is the issue.

I have also more recently swapped out some of my Wi-Fi devices for Thread versions, and overall I am finding Thread to be fairly reliable and self-healing, as promised.

Eventually, I will switch over my smoke alarms and some door locks to smart versions, but I will have to be really satisfied with reliability due to how vital proper functionality is with both.

Lastly, another project I have just started the journey on is figuring out a way of pumping water from a rain tank into the garden, and also having that controllable/measurable via Home Assistant, which I run partially integrated with Apple Home as a testing ground for experimental projects…

Currently listening: FIREWALKER - “low poly racing mix”

Happy Birthday, Macintosh!

40 years old, but plenty of vitality still. 4 different chip architectures, but a common thread of technology with a smile.

Here is the introduction video in 1984.

Here is the page Apple had 10 years ago.

Here is the inside story of the “Think Different” campaign. A later chapter of the Macintosh story, but very important as it was the beginning of an incredible second-act for a company and platform many had written off.

Compare the original Mac 128K with the Vision Pro, and imagine what the next 40 years will bring…

Currently listening: Bob Dylan - “The Times They Are A-Changin'" - of course!