The Mac Migration

The journey of a rabid PC user into the land of OS X. This is not a blog about "why" you should switch. It is a guide for those who "have" switched.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Some KisMAC automation (using applescript)

It's ugly but it works. I am still having the problem with MACJack stopping scans if the queue overflows:
"MACJack: MACJackCard::_handleRx: packet queue overflow"
So I wrote a simple simple applescript (actually most of it is borrowed from the kisMAC svn server's examples.
It mostly works

tell application "KisMAC"
end tell
delay 360
end repeat

This is an infinte loop that will activate every five minutes. If this value is set too low then KisMAC will constantly keep focus making it impossible to use other applications. If you come up with something please let me know!

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I'm currently running Kismac 0.2a with a Proxim PCMCIA card (airport extreme is not supported in passive mode) and there are some great things and some not so great things. The install is very straight forward and if you have the right card (prism2 chipset and an orinoco on the side) you can do some really interesting things. As noted by others I am having some issues keeping scans running. Sometimes it will go for a few minutes and other times it will die in a few seconds. Dmesg is filled with this message:
MACJack: MACJackCard::_handleRx: packet queue overflow

I have to imagine that the really strong signal strength I'm getting is overwelming a buffer somewhere. So instead of flushing the buffer or maybe dropping some of the packets I think it just shuts down. I'm close to finishing my first expirement (at 1.5M packets captured :) and will look into this more when I am done.

Hopefully Kismet will port to OSX again in the near future so that we can all bask in the goodness that is wireless packet capture. Kismac and Kismet are not officially related but provide pretty similar functionality.

For more info on Kismet go and listen to creator Dragorn talk about the project. He mentions Kismac and the pros and cons and also explains why the Airport Extreme isn't going to work in passive mode anytime soon.

more painful lessons about backing up

I think firewire is the standard for Mac and because of this the USB support is a little lacking. Just a note, DO NOT try to move files to a USB drive if it is not connected directly to the USB port. This may seem obvious but I tried to move files to a USB drive on an unpowered hub and the transfer would just die. There was no warning or error. Finder tends to hang when these transfers died out and nothing short of powering down the USB drive would interrupt the hang. Also for some reason installing *anything* seems to be a bad idea during this transfer process. During the system optimization the file transfer would stall and then neither the installation nor the transfer would respond. Finder does NOT deal well with relaunching and I am unsure why it is even presented as an option. I've managed to get Finder to die but never to come back. That being said I have finally managed to get the files of my first two disk images (one with a base install and the next with X11 installed) safely moved to a backup drive.
The first image took around 14 GB and the second 15GB. I am prepping my machine for a third image now that I have a good array of applications installed and configured. The hard drive image should weigh in at roughly 18GB or 19GB. Some important considerations:
1) Move your iTunes library from the main drive somewhere else. There is no need to include all of this weight in your drive image. The same goes for photos, movies and possibly documents. I am creating a seperate backup strategy for those types of files and would rather not take up more space then is needed for the images.
I need an entire post to talk about iTunes. There are some odd behaviors and hacks that will allow easier movement of files. Everything in iTunes is controlled by an xml file so peek into it if you want some insight into where I'm going with all this. Moving my iTunes folder alone saved me 8GB of space.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Painful Lesson

Create restoration images early and often!
I learned this the hard way eight days into my Powerbook expierence. I was so caught up in the new world of OS X that I forgot it IS fallable. I'm not even sure what I did to be honest but the result was a very expensive paperweight. The system would reboot and tell me that OS X expierenced a really terrible error and would I like to send a report to Apple? Sure I would click. Then the system would sit there, endlessly doing nothing and showing me the blue swirls of the background. At least the mouse pointer would move.
I tried to recover but nothing seemed to work. Many hours of configuration were down the drain and now I had the week ahead to face. So I made the decision to start fresh and reinstalled from a formatted hard drive. The install went by quickly enough and I was left with a fresh system. After getting the essentials installed and configured (IM, email, and some basic networking applications) I decided to create a restoration image. Essentially this is just an image of my hard drive. This was a little harder then I first thought it would be. I have an 80 GB USB drive which I decided would be the "vessel" of my laptops souls. The newly installed OS and all the applications weighed in at a mere 15GB which gave me plenty of room to spare.
Some interesting things to note about this process
1) Creating a disk image from the hard drive doesn't work if you are operating on the drive!
This may seem obvious but at the time I figured some OS X magic would allow for it. And there are some third party applications which seem to solve this but I didn't have a desire to shell out any money for this. So make sure you boot from the Install DVD (Hold the C key down while booting to access the DVD drive) and after choosing your language click on Utilities (Disk Utility).
2) You may NOT mount FAT32 drives for this operation!
At least not in my expierence. I thought that my drive was suffering from bad sectors or some other ailment. Turns out that it needed to contain the HFS format (I used the Mac FS with Journaling turned on) to allow Disk Utility to mount it.
3) Make a cup of coffee or bring some reading material
The process can take a long time. I scanned the image after I created it which took an additional hour. The entire process took about two hours for the first image.
4) Early and often
I've made two images so far. One for each milestone in the configuration. The first contained all the relevent day to day apps I need to survive. The second image I made contained my X11 installation. Installing X11 and Fink took a few hours and there was a good chance I was going to mess it up. But once it was done I immediatly booted up the install DVD to capture the progress.

Now that I have created the images I'm a litle more sure of my random installs of unknown software. Just as a side note Apple seems to dislike NTFS partitions all together. OS X will mount them and even allow you to read but no writing! I'm not sure why since there are successful Linux kernels out there with NTFS write suppport but to be fair all are still experimental. If this is your first week, or even day, with your new Mac I highly suggest backing it up. Now.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

First Post

"I never thought I'd see the day" said my friend over the phone. The phone was a Microsoft PDA phone that synched to Outlook on my Dell Latitude. I am a computer professional. My entire life revolves around using computers, more specifically securing them in a networked environment, and at least half of my personal computers ran some sort of Windows software. When the time came to buy a new laptop I made the rounds on Dell, Toshiba, Sony, and IBM. In the end a Powerbook 15" landed on my doorstep. This blog is not about "why" you should switch to Mac. I don't care one way or the other if you want Solaris, Windows 2003, or Mac OS X. This blog is to help those that "have" made the choice. Migrating is not the easiest thing to do.

The first thing I found is that many of the applications which are not industry standards to not exist for Mac OS X. The big titles of course exist, Adobe, Macromedia (same thing now really), even Microsoft to a certain degree (think Office). Smaller titles generally have "mirror software" which to a degree are better then their counterparts. For the most part one will find a comfortable level of compatibility.

My first task was to get back on IM. As sad as it is to say I need to communicate via IM. It's the new IRC. While I do lurk on several IRC channels still I tend to communicate on a daily basis with people I know via AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Jabber (Google), and ICQ (I have a few friends who are hold outs). Dealing with so many protocols can be a nightmare. Even in Windows a person would literally have to run seven or eight different programs to deal with each protocol at a native level. To solve this problem I used Trillian on the Windows platform. There were occasional glitches of course as the protocol providers decided to change up their specifications. Generally these changes are not communicated to companies like Trillian ahead of time. The convience of all of these protocols under one application (Trillian even handles IRC) was enough to convince me to deal with these slight and intermittent inconviences. Upon switching to OS X I realized that Trillian didn't exist for me anymore. After googling for a few minutes I found not one but two mirror applications. I went with Fire which was supposed to have better support for certain things. Things which I can't even remember now but were important while I was clicking around on the review site I found. After 15 minutes I was up and running. Luckily IM services keep buddie lists online so I don't have to export anymore. And Fire even had encryption support! Encryption is one of the main reasons some of us still use ICQ.
There are many other aspects that need coverage on this blog of course. But I don't want to expend all my energy at once. This first post is done and I've covered the topic of IM applications. I'm sure iChat is really great but I will have to check it out on some rainy or snowy day. For now Fire does everything I need and I can spend more time figuring out the oddities of the Mac OS.