Welcome to the QA Tech-Tips blog!

Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
Robert F. Kennedy

“Impossible” is only found in the dictionary of a fool.  
Old Chinese Proverb

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monetize Your Site - NOT!!

One of the many features here on Blogger.com, (my blog host), is to "monetize" my blogs.  What this means is that I can elect to add advertising to this site - and I get paid a few kopeks for every click-through on an advertisement.

And, at first blush, that sounds like a good idea.  I write a blog, it gets followers, (as this one is doing - thanks!), and I make money.

When I started this blog I gave that serious thought, after all EVERYBODY can use a little extra cash now and then, right?

My decision:  No.  I refused to allow advertisements on this site - or any of my blogs for that matter.

So, if it is such a good idea, why did I decide not to, 'eh?

First of all, this site is not about the money.  I consider this site, and the attention it has gathered, a privilege - and I believe that I have a responsibility to those who choose to follow this blog.

I have learned much, and have gone far "On The Shoulders of Giants", as it were.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn from some of the very best sources of information - both in person and on various web-sites.  And it's all been free.  Since I have been privileged to learn from the best in the business, I feel a serious obligation to pass along - also for free - what information I can share.

Second, I HATE sites that have more adds than content.  Trying to find some critically important piece of information is hard enough as it is - so why should I have to wade through a sea of advertisements several feet thick, just to find the information I need.

Third, I want to make this site the best it can be.  Sure, there are times when I am more a "wise-guy" than wise,  and there are times when I "tweak-your-beak" with some of my odd-ball humor, but that's all a part of the game.  This stuff is frustrating enough as it is, so if I can make you laugh while delivering the content you need, so much the better.

The bottom line is this:
I believe those who follow this blog are here for the Steak, not the sizzle, so I leave all the distractions out.

So shall it be written, so shall it be done!

Jim (JR)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Networking on the Cheap

As everyone knows, we're all on a budget.  Most of our money trees have withered, and getting replacements hasn't been easy.

However, we still have things to do.  Sometimes we need to set up test environments or other things - yet both personal and corporate budgets stand in our way.

Here some tricks I have found, (and use!), that help me do the networking tasks I need without breaking the bank.

  • Make your own cables:

    This may seem like one of those "DOH!" statements, but you'd be surprised at how many of us don't have the tools, or parts, to make network cables ourselves.  Sure, a box of Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable isn't cheap, and the tools to crimp the ends on aren't free either - but after you have made five or so cables, the box and tools have already paid for themselves.

    Another nice feature:  You can make the cables any size you need, shorter or longer, without being stuck with the stock sizes.  And!  If one of your store-bought cables breaks, you can fix it, good-as-new, without having to buy another one.

  • Make your own labels.  Another "Doh!", but this is not so obvious sometimes.

    What I do is take a page of Avery address labels - the three across by ten down type - and use them for wiring labels.  If I need a big label, I use the entire address label, folding it around the cable so it leaves a big tab.  Smaller labels can be made by cutting the address labels in half.

    Prior to actually attaching the label to the wire in question I label the ends using a thin sharpie, or other thin, but dark, pen.

    They are easy to see, they stay stuck in place, and they're easy to remove when you need to re-label something.

  • Use Velcro "plant tie" tape as cable ties.

    This is a thin green fabric tape that has Velcro on both sides so that the bottom of one piece sticks to the top of another.  This plant tie tape can be had at virtually ANY store with a "garden" department, like Home Depot, Lowes, WalMart, etc.  A roll of this stuff usually goes for right around $4 or $5.
  • Go to the drugstore, and buy a box of "Alcohol Prep Swabs".

    These are the little square alcohol soaked pieces the doctor uses to wipe your arm before giving you a shot.  They come pre-packaged in little foil wrappers, are soaked in alcohol, and make great little wipes for cleaning gunk off of things - like cables, keyboards, or other stuff that accumulates crud.  They are dirt-cheap and are handy as you-know-where.

    NOTE:  Do NOT use these wipes for cleaning off things like your monitor screen, your cell-phone or smart-phone, your eBook, etc., as it will fog - and ruin - the plastic covering the display.

  • Scrounge the "Referb" section of local computer stores.

    I love to lurk the "Refurbished" section on Micro Center's web-site, as they often have really outrageous deals, depending on what you need.  I have bought a number of "refurbished" computers from them, often for pennies on the dollar, and I have never been disappointed.

  • Find a computer, or amateur radio fair.

    Though they are getting increasingly scarce, they still exist.

    I have made a habit of visiting the Trenton Computer Festival for the last few years, and I have scored really expensive pieces of equipment for almost nothing.

    A couple of years ago, I scored a Dell PowerEdge 2850 rack mounted server with fancy RAID, onboard monitoring, and so on - for right around $100.  (eBay has them for several thousand apiece.)  Last year, I could have scored an even more modern HP rack mounted server for right around the same price.

  • Go "Dumpster-Diving".

    Sometimes the company you work for decides to throw out stuff they don't need anymore.  If you can get the trunk of your car between them and the dumpster, you can score really fantastic stuff for free!

    Likewise, especially in this economy, other companies go belly-up.  If you are paying attention, you might find an excellent opportunity to grab stuff that they're throwing away.

    I've picked up some great stuff that way - two 24-port 10/100 managed switches, computers, hard drives, hardware, and even a 19" wide 7' tall aluminum rack for my stuff - with shelves! - by being in the right place at the right time.

The point I am trying to make here is this:  If you are inventive and pay attention, you can build up a pretty impressive QA / Networking lab for pennies.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The "Hackintosh" Mac Clone

Here's an odd-ball one for you.

It seems everywhere you turn around, there is someone, or something, talking about the Mac.

Of course, at Mondo bucks per piece if you decide to go out and buy a Mac, buying a Mac "just for the %$#@ of it" is not a reasonable proposition.

Or, perhaps you want to do some preliminary testing on a Mac, because your product is supposed to support the Mac platform as well - yet you don't want to spend the time fussing with unfamiliar, (and expensive!), hardware just to find out that the latest Dev. release isn't worth the powder to blow it to Hell.

The solution is to build a Mac clone using a PC.

I will warn you, this is NOT a trivial undertaking.  You will have to look at the data and decide for yourself if you want to invest the time and effort required to build a Mac clone, or if you should just bite the bullet and buy the darn Mac outright.

Fair warning:
Assuming you actually go out and purchase a legitimate copy of the actual software to create a Mac Clone, creating the Mac Clone, (though not a copyright violation), is still technically a violation of Apple's EULA - which says you cannot install Apple software on anything but Apple supplied hardware.

By the same token, slipstreaming a Windows installation with the latest Service Packs is also "technically" a violation of the Windows EULA.  However everyone does that all the time - and there are even Microsoft sites that explain how to do it. . .  So this is something you will have to decide for yourself.

Also note:  I've never done this myself.  I am just passing along some interesting information that I found while on the web wandering around.  As a result, Your Mileage May Vary.  And don't forget backups before you do anything weird like this on your machine.

Now that we have that little blurb out of the way. . . .

It IS possible to build a Mac clone.  The reason is that - though the Mac software is very tightly bound to the Apple hardware, the hardware actually used is not unlike the hardware on a PC.

They use NVIDIA or ATI video hardware, just like the PC.
They use optical media drives - CD / DVD / DVD-DL / Blu-Ray - just like the PC's use.
They use Intel processors - that use architectures "just like" the PC's have.  (That is, unless you have an ancient OS-X release for the Power PC, and that doesn't count anyway.)
The sound hardware is, (often), very similar to - or exactly the same as - that used by a PC.

A USB mouse is a USB mouse is a USB mouse.  Likewise for the keyboard.  If you REALLY want to immerse yourself into the "Mac" experience, you can go out and buy "Gen-u-ine" Mac mice and keyboards that have all the special Mac keys with the four-leaf clovers on them.

So, what's the difference?

The folks at Apple maintain very tight control over the design and manufacture of their machines - ergo, the hardware environment is absolutely stable - at least as far as the operating system is concerned.

Because of this they can know exactly what to expect, and exactly what the range of variability is, when they design the software.  As opposed to the PC crowd where the O/S has to have forty-zillion drivers on hand to handle the wide variation in possible hardware configurations.

And because of THAT little factoid, Apple can absolutely guarantee that their software will install - and run - on their hardware with an absolute minimum of tweaking - if any at all.

The other side of this is that PC hardware is not tightly bound to the Apple's software - and because of this it's just not possible to wave a magic wand and turn your PC into a Mac.  There are many hoops you have to jump through to do this task - and the folks at Apple hope and believe that most everyone is too lazy to make this effort - and they will choose to just spend the bucks needed to buy the genuine article.

Now that all of this has been said, let's get down to the dirty work.

Unfortunately, I cannot give you a "blow-by-blow" detailed spec on how to do it, as everyone's PC is potentially different.  What I CAN, and will do is give you guidance along the path and provide links to web sites that get into the Gory Details.

The first thing you will need to do is assess your hardware; and the best place to start is at some of the "Hardware Compatibility Lists" out there.  The OSX-86 Project Website has a pretty impressive list.  Though it's for the 10.6.5 version, you should be able to get pretty close with the list as it is.  At Ahsantasneem's "BLOG OUT LOUD" site they have a pretty comprehensive list of hardware - listed by version - along with links to various "gotcha's" like the EFT, and DSDT file - which you will need.

I did a dogpile search on "apple hardware compatibility list" and I received a bunch of interesting "hits" on that topic.  You may want to check it out.

Once you have verified that your hardware is compatible, (and that you can get drivers for this stuff!), you can proceed to either build up a system from scratch, or begin the installation process on your existing hrdware.  A good tutorial for that process can be found on the "makeuseof" web site.  It details all the things you need to know about configuring the motherboard you have selected, including BIOS settings, hardware gotcha's, and stuff like that.  Tonymac's web site also has good information - links to useful utilities - and a few caveats that the first site missed.  Tonymac mentions that you should not install with more than four gigs of memory in place.  The first site didn't mention that, so maybe YMMV?  I dunno.

One other caveat is that the normal, "plain vanilla" PC cannot boot from a Mac installation disk because the disk formats are totally different.  Instead of using the ISO9660, (et. al.) format, they use the "HPFS" format, which a PC cannot read on startup.  The solution to that problem is to use tonymac's "'startup wedge" software application, iBoot.  You boot this application, and it allows you to insert the Mac-formatted CD/DVD and continue the boot process from there.  (This site requires registration to download stuff. . . .)

After that, following the instructions on the makeuseof web site, you actually begin the installation.

Further down, after the installation is complete, you will, almost certainly, want to make use of the program "Multibeast", (also available on tonymac's site), to do some of the internal tweaks you need to do.

There are other things you have to do - one important one is the "DSDT" file, which describes to the OS how to use the hardware you have.  Very Important!  Both of the tutorials have site links for DSDT files, and there is another great site with a good tutorial on how to find, edit, and re-compile a custom DSDT file for your specific hardware.

Update:  "C" left a very interesting reply to this article, (see below), and mentioned his own blog:

I popped on over to his site - it is excellent! - and he pulls together information and advice, both from his personal experiences and the advice from other Pillars Of Wisdom on this topic.

If you are seriously thinking of making a "Hackintosh" system, I would consider his site an absolute MUST READ on this topic. 

I have never built one of these myself, though I plan to, and I scrounged up a copy of Snow Leopard for just that reason.

One thing all the sites say, over and over and over again, is to use an entirely separate hard drive for this installation, as it needs to be formatted as an HPFS volume with a GUID partition table.  You can dedicate a specific machine to being a "Mac", or you can use a second - blank - hard drive for the Mac installation.

Once that's all done, you can worry about setting up a multi-boot environment and any other stuff you might want to play with..

It would be interesting to know how you make out, if you try this.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Are we being Soft SOPA'd?

Friends and followers,

I, normally, deliberately exclude political commentary and opinions here, as I feel that the usual crop of political Horse Hooey isn't relevant to the nature or mission of this blog.

Today, I feel compelled to make an exception to that rule.

The reason for this exception is the SOPA and PIPA acts presently making their way through Congress, as I feel that these bills represent an absolutely intolerable infringement on the very few personal liberties we still enjoy as Americans.

Both, or either one, of these bills would allow government and business leaders to arbitrarily block or limit access to a web site or domain if they claim, rightly or wrongly, that it, (allegedly), "hosts copyrighted content".

Though I also oppose on-line piracy and wanton copyright violation - the broad nature of these bills would allow various entities, (like the infamous RIAA), to shut down web sites for even the fair use of copyrighted works.

Wikipedia periodically includes copyrighted images or materials - in a much lower resolution - when used to illustrate or expand on a legitimate article.  A good example of this is the article entitled "Someday At Christmas" where a low resolution image of the album cover is used to expand upon and illustrate the article in question.  Though clearly a "fair use" under current copyright law, the RIAA and BMI could easily use that, under the provisions of the SOPA and PIP bills, to blank out all of Wikipedia.  Or close down their funding sources, which amounts to the same thing.

One of my own blog articles uses the cover of the August 30th, 2010 issue of Time Magazine in the exact same way, and for exactly the same fair-use purpose.  And my entire blog - if not all of Blogger.com - could be shut down for exactly the same reasons.

Before anyone cries "FOUL!", claiming that my fears are exaggerated and blown totally out of proportion, let me say that my opinion is not based on the rants-and-raves of those web-pundits, those bottom-feeders, who thrive and grow on muckrake journalism.

Instead, I have carefully researched both of these bills, read them in their entirety - cover to cover - thought both long and carefully about what they say, and how what they say can be used, and I have to admit being left with a chill running up and down my spine.

A chill that was only equaled by the first film of the legendary Why We Fight series of films published during WWII.  In it, the Fascist nature and policies of the German and Italian governments is laid bare for all to see.  This chill was caused by the uncanny resemblance of these two Fascist governments to the United States Government of today.  Please follow that link to a YouTube posting of that entire first film.  Watch it well, and fear.

In my own humble opinion, these bills represent Fascist Governance at it's absolute worst, and it would irretrievably damage the free flow of ideas and information that both the Internet, and this fine country of ours, is built upon.  The only thing missing, in my opinion, is a leader with a small mustache, screaming "Sieg Heil!"

This article is, very likely, the all-time record holder for the number of hyperlinks in a single article on my blog. This is deliberate. I want to illustrate, in a way that is easily readable and understandable, the reasons for my opposition to these bills.

I encourage you to follow each of the hyperlinks, view the content, and decide for yourself.

Hopefully, you will join me in opposition to these bills by using this Wikipedia link to contact your Congressmen and Senators.

Please?  The future of the Internet, and possibly even our entire country, may well depend on this.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)