Category Archives: Apple

DVIator + DVI Mini DisplayPort adapter = No Go

I have one of the original Apple 22″ Cinema Displays. These monitors use the Apple Display Connector (ADC), which bundles together DVI video, USB, and monitor power into a single cable. It was an interesting idea (presumably derived from/inspired by  the way NeXT cube displays worked), but since it wasn’t an industry standard, only Mac video cards had the connector, and only on desktop systems like the PowerMac G4.

If you wanted to connect an ADC monitor to systems that had DVI video output (like the PowerBook G4, and later MacBook Pro), you needed a special adapter that split the ADC into DVI, USB, and provided power. Initially, the DVIator from Dr. Bott was the only affordable solution, so I bought one. It’s served me very well over the last 7 years, and Dr. Bott even replaced mine once when it didn’t work with my aluminum PowerBook G4.

Apple has once again changed their preferred laptop display connector, and now uses the Mini DisplayPort format. MDP provides a teeny connector that can still drive 30″ monitors and the latest versions can also output audio (like HDMI).

Unfortunately, this means that unless you have a Mini DisplayPort monitor (Apple sells one), you need an adapter to connect your monitor to a MDP laptop. For those with DVI monitors, Apple sells a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter, which solves the problem. However, I found that adapter does not work with the DVIator, confirmed by this Apple Support forum post, another at MacRumors, and an email from Dr. Bott support. Based on the forum posts, apparently the Apple ADC to DVI adapter ($99!) does work with the MDP to DVI adapter, but I haven’t tested that myself yet.

So, bottom line: if you have a DVIator, an ADC display, and a computer with MDP output, you’ll need to either buy the Apple ADC to DVI adapter (in addition to the MDP to DVI adapter) or buy a new monitor. Bummer.

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Snow Leopard Server upgrade hoses Apache config

I recently upgraded an Xserve running Mac OS X Server from 10.5 (Leopard) to 10.6 (Snow Leopard). The upgrade was mostly uneventful, except for the web server configuration. We have a lot of manual changes (two instances of Plone using mod_rewrite, some local directories that are served up as is, and user directories). This is a rundown on the changes I had to make after the upgrade was complete to restore web service.

As part of the upgrade, Snow Leopard Server runs a script that reads the Apache config files and tries to bring them into compliance with the default configuration under Snow Leopard. The result of all the configuration munging (for all services) can be found in /Library/Logs/Setup.log. I found several problems with the changed Apache configuration. Kindly, the configuration munging script leaves unmodified copies of all the files it modifies with the suffix “.saved-Pre-SnowLeopard-unmodified”, so it is straightforward to diff the old configuration with the new one to see what changed.

First, mod_userdir was commented out in httpd.conf, preventing “~username” URL rewriting. Snow Leopard also adds an “mod_apple_userdir” (which supposedly improves security of this feature [PDF]), but also left that disabled. So by default, “~” URLs just stop working, with no notification beyond a bullet point in one of the supplemental PDFs. This is poor form, IMHO. I ended up re-enabling mod_userdir.

The next problem was the configuration file munger decided to remove all RewriteRule lines from each of the virtual host configurations. Obviously, this broke many things, but it was easy enough to copy each line back from the original configuration.

Even after fixing those issues, web service wasn’t working properly. I noticed that there was a “0000_any_80_.conf” configuration in the “sites” subdirectory (in addition to “0002_any_80_.conf”), which wasn’t being used in Leopard, but appeared active in Snow Leopard. I moved this config to the “sites_disabled” directory, and that made things much better. I’m not sure if this was some vestige of an upgrade from Tiger to Leopard, but it was causing problems.

Finally, the config munger added “ServerAlias *” to my first virtual host configuration (prefixed with “0000”). While this might be appropriate if this was the default host, as a virtual host it grabbed all URLs and prevented them from matching virtual hosts with later sequence numbers. Removing this line fixed the last issue (which was that all requests went to the first virtual host).

Admittedly, Apple faces a difficult proposition in performing automated server OS upgrades. Many of the OS services are based on industry standard open source packages that overwhelmingly use custom text configuration files. Advanced administrators will frequently want to edit those files by hand to install  3rd party open source packages that build on those services. But Apple also provides GUI tools to make things easier, tools that must read and write the configuration files. This leads to the desire to keep the configuration files canonicallized for easier parsing. So at the end of the day, some poor engineer has to write an upgrade script to read all these (possibly arbitrarily modified) configuration files and bring them into line with the versions that ship with the new OS version.

That said, it seems like the upgrade scripts could do a better munging job. Turning off modules is uncool, as is dropping lines from the config on the ground.

Getting audio off an iPod

I recently needed to get some audio files off of an iPod. As many people are aware, Apple has made this non-trivial without 3rd party software. Luckily, iLounge has a rather comprehensive guide to getting content off an iPod, with info for both Mac and Windows users. Wikipedia has an even more exhaustive comparison of iPod managers, for those that need it.

I ended up using the free Senuti 0.33. It worked quickly, and since I mostly wanted to look at the metadata it was fine. In the comments on the iLounge article, people mentioned iPodDisk as another slick alternative. The 2.0 beta uses MacFUSE to allow one to directly browse the music on the iPod with metadata. I only needed to do this once,  so I didn’t try iPodDisk.

PowerBook AC adapter extension cords

One of the annoyances of moving a laptop between home and work is having to plug the AC adapter into the wall outlet (which is often inconvenient to reach). You get one 6′ cable with the AC adapter and a “wall adapter” plug so it is feasible to leave the AC cable plugged in at one location and use the wall adapter at the other. But what if you need to plug in your PowerBook on the road?I found that you can use this RadioShack cable, model 61-2876 as a replacement for the Apple AC cable. It’s thinner so it’s easier to pack, and it’s quite cheap (I think I paid around $5 when I bought it at a retail store). You just plug it into the AC adapter, and it works. YMMV.One time I misplaced my Tivo’s power cable, and I found that RadioShack also made a power cable that had the right connector (I can’t remember the part number). A lot cheaper and easier to get it from RatShack than to mail order it from Tivo or someone else. 

New MacBook Pros released

As expected, Apple released the new MacBook Pros today. Mostly they have faster CPUs, can expand to 4 GB of RAM, and have LED backlights (no mercury, theoretically longer battery life).

Also as expected, Apple’s Back to School promotion started today. Buy a new Mac, get a $199 rebate on an iPod (which means you can get a free 4 GB iPod nano).

I made a spreadsheet on price comparisons (done with Google Documents). Sadly, the hosted version of WordPress (which I use for this blog) does not allow iframe tags, so I cannot embed the spreadsheet directly in this entry.

So it looks like the cheapest is the student developer deal by about $70, though that involves more hassle. However, if I choose not to get an iPod nano then the developer deal is substantially better (free nano is only for educational purchases). Also with the developer deal I can customize the MBP, upgrading to a 7200 rpm drive for $120, which is not possible through the bookstore.

I guess I’ll wait to see what next week’s WWDC has in store, since I’m not in a rush.

How to buy a cheap MacBook Pro

I’m planning to buy a new MacBook Pro sometime this year (dependent mostly on when Apple releases the next update, rumored to be very soon). It turns out there are a number of options available to students. Note that all the prices cited are for the higher end 15″ MacBook Pro, and will likely change soon (perhaps as soon as tomorrow).

The worst way is to buy it from the Apple Store, where you will pay full retail price ($2,499). The next option is to buy from one of the many resellers, but their prices are usually only slightly lower than Apple’s with extra stuff (carrying cases, extra RAM, etc).

Students can of course get educational pricing. For UHM there are actually two options: you can buy from the Apple Store for Education (link to top level page where you have to select your school and say you qualifiy for educational pricing) ($2,299), or you can buy directly through the UH Bookstore, which apparently gets even deeper discounts due to volume ($2199). If you order through the store, you can customize it with more RAM or a larger hard drive, but that’s (mostly) not possible through the bookstore (presumably because their lower prices come from higher volumes, which custom ordering would negate).

The final unconventional and cheapest way to get a MacBook Pro as a student is to buy a Apple Developer Connection Student membership ($99), which entitles you to a single discounted Apple system purchase. There are lots of caveats (you can only do it once per lifetime, you have to buy all the components [computer, monitor, etc] in one transaction, etc), but the developer store pricing is quite sweet ($1,999). Of course ADC membership includes other stuff (documentation CDs, a Tshirt, and possibly a copy of Mac OS X 10.5 aka Leopard when it comes out), which has some value. However I just noticed that AppleCare is $349 (no discount from retail) from the developer store, but $199 from the bookstore so the situation has become cloudy again. I guess it will be time for a spreadsheet when the new MacBook Pro comes out.

Last but not least, Apple usually has Back to School pricing or deals, such as a free iPod nano with purchase of a new Mac. Since I’m thinking about getting a nano, that’s another thing to consider.