My thoughts on the Mac App Store

This post proves that this is not a newsy blog.

A few weeks ago, I upgraded my MacBook Pro to Mac OS 10.6.6. With this upgrade, came, the desktop equivalent to the App Store that’s been a large part of the success of iOS. My first impression was “this looks like Novia’s Ovi Store” — it shows a lot of applications and very little information. Looking around, it seems pretty easy to use, but I can’t see myself ever using it.

After years of installing software via `yum install $package`. I got some flak on Twitter for saying this, but the flak was crap. First, I wouldn’t expect anyone to read the man pages for a GUI app on any platform. That’s what the built-in documentation is for (and if it doesn’t exist, that’s a serious bug in the program). Secondly, I wasn’t even talking about the interface. It’s more the idea of paying for the software. Not out of greed, but out of the philosophical feelings about FLOSS.

That having been said, I think the App Store is pretty great overall. My big complaint about Mac OS X is the lack of a package management system. The ability to easily keep packages up to date is a serious strength of Linux distributions, and things like MacPorts and Fink don’t really cut it for casual users. I hope that Apple does the un-Apple thing and makes it more accessible to developers. In the meantime, it’s a great and overdue addition.

Using Mac’s nvram(8) command

I recently came across the nvram(8) command included in OS X.  nvram is used to manipulate the settings of non-volatile RAM, which persists after reboots and power off.  From what I’ve seen, there are about 50 variables that are meaningful to the system, but I haven’t found a comprehensive list so far.  So what is this command used for?  That’s a good question.

One thing you can do is set arbitrary asset tags.  If your organization uses a central asset-tagging system, you can write the asset tag to NVRAM.  You can also set contact information like your name and e-mail address. Of course, none of these options are a guarantee you’ll recover a lost or stolen system. Assuming someone even thinks to look at nvram, the variables could be changed or deleted, or the whole NVRAM could just be wiped.

I asked Twitter if anyone had uses for nvram(8) and no one seemed to.  I’ll leave it open to my readers to suggest uses for this command.

Using bookmark synchronization on Google Chrome for Linux and Mac

For a long time, I blamed the sluggish performance of the web browser on my Linux machine at home on the ancientness of the hardware.  However, when my much nicer Linux machine at work showed the same problem, I began to think maybe it was just Firefox.  I’ve been an avid Firefox user for many years, but my loyalty wavers when my browser can’t keep up with my keyboard.  Based on the advice of strangers on the Internet, I decided to give Google’s Chrome browser a try.

Chrome is still a maturing browser, but it is fast and capable.  There’s only one real drawback: bookmark synchronization.  With Firefox, I had been using Xmarks to synchronize my bookmarks, but that’s not currently available for Chrome.  In the “Early Access” builds of the Linux and Mac versions of Chrome, the bookmark sync that the Windows version has is available.  This syncs the bookmarks to your Google Docs account, which makes it rather handy.  However, synchronization is not enabled by default.  To enable it, you have to pass the –enable-sync option at launch time, which is easier said than done.  Fortunately, it’s not too terribly difficult.

Continue reading

Setting up a new Mac

As part of my new job, I got a shiny new 13″ MacBook Pro.  Even though I’m quite a Linux fanboy, I really enjoy the quality of the hardware and OS X. However, it isn’t perfect.  There are a lot of applications that I like to have available.  Since I have nothing better to talk about, I figured I’d list them here:

  • Adium — one of the best instant messenger clients I’ve ever used.  It has support for just about every major IM protocol except…
  • Skype — I don’t really use it for IM, but it’s great for audio and video calls.
  • Firefox — I prefer it to the Safari browser that ships with OS X.  It happens.  And with that comes…
  • Xmarks — a browser plug-in that syncs bookmarks.  It comes in very handy when you use multiple computers.  So does…
  • Dropbox — allows you to synchronize arbitrary files between multiple computers.  I mostly use it for configuration files (e.g. .bashrc, .screenrc)
  • VirtualBox — sometimes you actually need to use another OS to do some important task (like play Sim City)
  • DOSBox — is good for playing some of the older games that I like
  • Chicken of the VNC — I’ve played with several VNC clients for Mac, and this one is the best.
  • iTerm — hands-down better than the default
  • ZTerm — a program to make serial connections.  I used it a fair bit in my old job, I don’t anticipate needing it much in my new job.
  • Colloquy — an Internet Relay Chat client
  • VLC — a media player that will play just about anything
  • Grand Perspective — a program that shows a graphical representation of disk usage, allowing you to find the files that are chewing up all the space on your hard drive.

Accessing Taleo from Mac or Linux

Some companies (including my own employer) use a company called Taleo to manage the hiring and recruitment process.  As an applicant, I’ve not been very impressed with it, but that’s neither here nor there.  From the applicant side, you can use just about any browser to fill out the forms and submit your application.  However, if you’re a hiring manager, Taleo expects that you’ll be using the Internet Explorer browser.  If you’re on a Windows machine, that’s probably available to you.  For Mac and Linux users, it’s not an option.

So what can you do?  You can either go find a Windows machine to use, or you can try to run Internet Explorer using Wine.  Neither of those are necessarily that appealing.  Fortunately, there’s a third option, which is to use the (closed-source but free-as-in-beer) Opera browser.  Once you’ve got that installed, it’s a quick process to get Taleo workin* In Preferences, click on the “Advanced” tab and select “Content”

  • Click the “Manage Site Preferences…” button
  • Click the “Add…” button
  • Enter your Taleo site (e.g. “” or “”) in the “Site” field
  • Choose “Open all pop-ups” in the “Pop-ups” drop-down menu
  • Click the “Network tab”
  • Select “Mask as Internet Explorer” in the “Browser identification” drop-down menu (note that “Identify as Internet Explorer” will NOT work)
  • Click “OK”
  • Click “Close”
  • Click “OK”

That’s all it takes.  As a bonus, you now have the very capable, stable, and secure Opera browser installed.

I could never get the hang of Thursdays

The e-pocalypse seems to be upon us. This morning I tried to upgrade my MacBook to 10.5.8 and it’s been “booting” for the past 45 minutes or so. The evolution-exchange backend keeps failing on my Linux box so I can’t get to my e-mail (interesting side note, it also crashes Pidgin). Twitter and Facebook were down, although Facebook seems to be back now. I feel so isolated!