LaCie iamakey v2 (8 GB)

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A couple of weeks ago I noticed unexpected traffic to an older post about another LaCie product, which is much less interesting these days. Out of curiosity I figured out that some folks were using “LaCie” and “anykey” in search of the LaCie iamakey.

Well, being the computer geek that I am, I couldn’t resist ordering my own. I purchased the LaCie iamakey v2 (8 GB) from Amazon.com for about $25. From a usage standpoint it works as well as any other USB flash drive that I’ve owned before. Transfer speeds seem good. Most importantly, the key is made of metal and does fit nicely on a key ring.

I think this will be a very useful (and hopefully reliable) device to own. I’ve already used YUMI to load up several rescue disc ISOs.

Updated 06/09/2012: I’ve been carrying the drive around on my key chain since I purchased it and it continues to function as expected.

Updated 07/18/2013: The key still works despite remaining on my key chain the entire time.

Amazon.com Air Mattress Randomness

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We’re planning to have some friends stay for a night this week so we decided to order an inflatable bed. While combing through various reviews I came across this product photo:

Bad.

So very, very bad.

And then I found a product review in which the first line caught my attention. Ah, if I only I could say the same (and do so without incurring any debt to attain such a milestone):

Building a Multiboot ISO USB Drive in Windows (YUMI)

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Every now and then I’m asked to fix a computer for family or friends. Typically, the hardware is fine but the system will need to be cleaned of malware. I usually have a collection of various rescue discs at home or in my car. If it’s been a while since they were created then sometimes I need to download and burn a new set to ensure that I have the latest updates (though that’s not always as much of a problem since many of the AV/malware removal discs have built-in update capability).

The time that it takes to burn new discs isn’t much of a problem but after a while it can seem wasteful. I decided to look for a tool that would give me the ability to boot multiple ISOs from a single USB flash drive. I’ve been somewhat aware that this could be done for a while, but the last time I investigated this capability it seemed that it was much more difficult to implement.

These days it’s not difficult at all. I found a free utility called YUMI, which does exactly what I was looking for. YUMI will format a USB drive and install the necessary software. It can then be configured to include various rescue discs. Each ISO is automatically added to the boot menu on the drive, if it’s in the list of supported ISOs (unsupported ISOs can also be added manually).

This won’t work on a computer with a BIOS that doesn’t supporting from USB, though even that problem can be circumvented by using a boot floppy or CD-ROM running Plop Boot Manager (in that case you’d only need one disc that you could use to access additional ISOs on the USB drive).

I’ve tested it with a handful of rescue discs and so far it looks like it will work well.

Updated 11/21/2011: Here’s one important note if you plan to use this on a USB drive. I advise against creating multiple partitions on the drive with the intention of installing YUMI on one of the partitions. Though I’m not certain, I think installing YUMI destroyed some partition data when it updated the MBR. As a result, while the FAT32 partitions can still be used in OS X, they won’t be visible in Windows.

Updated 11/27/2011: During the Thanksgiving Day holiday I had a chance to test out several ISOs using YUMI. They worked just fine and helped in removing several different types of malware, though I had to remove at least one from within Windows using Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (unfortunately, my UBCD4Win builds haven’t worked so far).

Triggering Music from mControl

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The title of this post is more general than the actual task. Specifically, I implemented a new method to play a different song for each weekday the first time a motion sensor is triggered.

A while back I  played a song from iTunes whenever a specific event was detected in mControl (I’ve used two different methods to handle this). After I upgraded from version 2 to version 3 of mControl I held off on adding this capability back into the macros. The method for using iTunes worked fine but this time around I wanted to find something simpler to use that could be enhanced via scripting.

This time I used a free command-line utility called cmdmp3 that can play an MP3 file. In mControl I added a new item to a macro (Run Application), which executes a batch file that contains the necessary command-line parameters to play the songs. The batch file actually plays a different song for each weekday.

I’ve included the basic framework for the batch file. The code used to get the current day of the week and then run specific sections of the batch file was obtained from a forum post.

The batch file could use some refinement. For example, I had planned to place each song path in its own variable, but I had some problems getting the variables to work properly as parameters for cmdmp3. If I had worked that out then each section would simply have a song variable assigned to another variable that would serve as the parameter for cmdmp3.

Eventually I’d like to make the song selection randomized, which would considerably shorten the necessary code for the batch file by eliminating the test for the day of the week along with the related sections.

@echo off
for /f %%a in ('date /t') do set DAY=%%a
if %DAY%==Sun goto :sun
if %DAY%==Mon goto :mon
if %DAY%==Tue goto :tue
if %DAY%==Wed goto :wed
if %DAY%==Thu goto :thu
if %DAY%==Fri goto :fri
if %DAY%==Sat goto :sat

:sun
c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

:mon
c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

:tue
c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

:wed
c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

:thu
c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

:fri
c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

:sat
c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

:next

Everything after “:next” can include whatever you may want to add after the song is played. If you don’t need to add anything then you can simply leave it as it is.

Updated 11/21/2011: I seem to have run into a familiar problem – executing external programs from within mControl. The batch file itself is sound but either mControl has a bug or the other program I’m using to execute external applications isn’t working properly. It may just be a configuration issue but I’ll need to spend some time on it before I can provide a proper solution for making this work from mControl.

Migrating from Quicken 2006 for Mac to Quicken Essentials

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The Short Version: I think it’s worth $25 if you can find it at half-price. It’s not very useful for much more than basic balancing of a checking account. To import from Quicken 2006 you must install the new version and import from Quicken 2006 prior to installing Lion (or by booting into Snow Leopard). It works well enough for my needs.

I’ve enjoyed using Quicken 2006 for Mac for several years. My financial tracking needs are relatively simple though it had more than enough features. Unfortunately, Intuit chose to not provide an Intel binary for the program. While I can understand why a company wouldn’t port an older program, I don’t understand why Intuit didn’t develop a version with equivalent features that is compatible with Lion.

I debated whether or not to move to Quicken Essentials. I needed a financial program that is compatible with Lion. However, many of the reviews were very negative. In fact, the number (and weight) of the negative reviews made me very wary about buying it. Weeding through the reviews I found several individuals that stated it worked just fine if you only need to balance a checkbook.

In the end I decided to go ahead and purchase it. While I do have a couple of investment accounts and various credit accounts it wasn’t essential that I track them in Quicken (I wasn’t doing this anyway, at the time).

If you’re considering upgrading then I think I can safely state that it works just fine for tracking a checking account. If you’re interested in managing credit accounts, investment accounts, printing checks, integrating with TurboTax  and a number of other activities then this product probably isn’t something you’ll want.

There was one other thing that made the decision acceptable – I found a discount so I only had to pay $25. Unfortunately, it looks like the link to the discount is no longer good – the link now goes to a page that shows only the regular price.

Warning:If you’re interested in Quicken Essentials because you plan to upgrade to Lion then you must install Quicken Essentials and import your data before you upgrade to Lion. My father ran into this problem but was able to make it work by booting into Snow Leopard.

Superdrive Failure After Upgrading From Snow Leopard To Lion

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A few days ago my wife’s MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2010) suddenly couldn’t read CDs or DVDs. Inserting a disc results in the drive spinning up and down a few times and then ejecting the disc after a moment. We quickly realized this was the first time she had tried to use a disc since I upgraded her computer to Lion.

So far, I haven’t been able to fix the problem. I’ve tried several different suggestions, but I haven’t hit on the correct one. My assumption is that one of two problems have occurred: (1) The Snow Leopard to Lion upgrade resulted in a software problem that affects the Superdrive or (2) it’s purely a coincidence and the Superdrive has simply suffered from a hardware failure.

In the worst case, the MacBook Pro is still well within the AppleCare warranty period so we can have it repaired, if necessary. I’ll try some additional tips as I come across them before we resort to sending it off or visiting an Apple Store.

This doesn’t seem to be an uncommon problem. Quick searches turn up numerous complains from individuals using different configurations who upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion and ran into the same problem. I’m including a few related links. If I find a solution that fixes our problem I’ll add an update to this post.

Updated 11/11/2011: The fact that this problem just started after upgrading to Lion may be a coincidence. I went through some additional diagnostics this evening. The one step I did that has convinced me that this probably is a hardware failure was an attempt to boot from a CD. My assumption is that if the drive issues were caused by a software problem then it wouldn’t appear before booting into Lion.

While it’s true that my wife hadn’t tried to use the drive since we upgraded to Lion, that doesn’t exclude the possibility that the hardware failed sometime before or after the upgrade. In addition, I have noticed signs indicating that the body area where the drive is located isn’t well reinforced. On more than one occasion, and with other models with similar body designs, that when one holds the laptop in a way that puts pressure in that area that it seems to transfer into the drive itself. In my opinion it’s very possible that the drive can be damaged if one has a disc in the drive while putting any kind of pressure on that area of the frame.

It looks like we’ll need to take the MacBook Pro to an Apple Store for repair.

Updated 11/12/2011: The nearest Apple Store is a long drive from our house so we opted to call Apple support and mail the system back for repair. The initial call was painless. It didn’t take much to convince the Apple tech to enter a ticket to have the drive fixed. I updated him on what I’ve done and when I mentioned it wouldn’t boot from a CD he agreed that the drive was most likely bad. It was a good experience overall. I didn’t have to go through the troubleshooting steps again – the tech accepted my conclusions without forcing me to follow a script.

Updated 12/12/2011: The weekend after my wife submitted the support ticket she received the box to ship the laptop on Tuesday. Her laptop was repaired and back in her hands by the Thursday of the same week.

Replacing X10 Motion Sensors (MS14A) with Insteon Motion Sensors (2420M)

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The Short Version: The Insteon motion sensors cost nearly ten times more than the X10 motion sensors but they are very reliable (as long as you have the necessary APs to send the signals over a reasonable distance or through several walls).

Ever since I started using home automation devices I’ve relied on X10 motion sensors for several different tasks. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed consistent communication problems between the X10 devices and the computer. Due to the manner in which Insteon devices communicate I haven’t noticed issues with those devices. Some of the X10 light switches don’t respond from time-to-time. That’s not as big of a concern as having problems with the motion sensors.

Reluctantly (because of the cost), I ordered Insteon motion sensors to replace the X10 sensors. I paired the sensors with the PLC and then added them to the device information in mControl. Communication problems seemed non-existent. Sure, they cost considerably more than X10 sensors, but what good are X10 sensors if they don’t work as needed?

The Insteon motion sensors also have a red LED that pulses at a regular interval. However, unlike as with the X10 sensors, it’s very noticeable. Fortunately, it can be disabled, which I did with one of the sensors.

Updated 12/12/2011: Don’t forget to link your motion sensors to an AP or the controller itself.