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#695: Tip of the Week: Faster DNS Servers, Incorrectly Rendered TechTails, MacUpdate Software


Happy Tuesday,

I took Owen for a short walk after lunch today, and the strong wind gusts are carrying powder through zero degree air. I wore a few layers and a hat, but the poor dog didn’t make it too far before springing back to the office. At least there’s some typical winter weather after an early thaw that left the ground bare in much of the valley, and the forecast calls for a good helping of snow this week.

We have limited stock on the excellent, very small, bus-powered EzQuest Monsoon Slim 160GB FireWire Drives. These drives are not the highest capacity out there, but at a mere $59.99 they make a fine backup solution for many of us at a more-than-fair price. They’re also a very low-cost drive to use for emergencies. You can partition it to for various operating systems and troubleshooting tools like Drive Genius, Data Rescue 3, and the newly Snow Leopard-compatible TechTool Pro 5.

From all of us at Small Dog Electronics, Happy New Year!

As always, thanks for reading.


  Tip of the Week: Faster DNS Servers  

Here in the Mad River Valley of Vermont, we are fortunate to have high-speed Internet access via the local utility, Waitsfield Telecom. Much of the system was just upgraded from 1.5 Mb/sec to 6 Mb/sec, some of us can upgrade to 12MB/sec, and some new constructions can even have fiber to their home or business.

Small Dog recently installed a new fiber connection, upgrading from a creaky old T1 that handled our web traffic and internal bandwidth needs. Despite my recent upgrade to 12 Mb/sec at home, it still takes a while for web pages to “resolve,” or begin to load, after entering the address and pressing return.

The Domain Name System (DNS) has many functions, one of which is to translate alphanumeric web addresses ( into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. All internet-connected devices must have an IP address, and the IP address must be unique: no two devices on the internet have the same IP address.

All Internet Service Providers (ISPs) maintain their own DNS servers, designed for use on their network, but in many cases these servers are not especially speedy. I decided to ask Google for fast free DNS servers, and I settled on two: and Web pages now seem to resolve much faster, making web browsing a more satisfying experience.

There is a better way, though. namebench is an open-source utility from Google that seeks out the fastest DNS servers, and lets you graphically see just how much more speed you might get by switching to something faster. I gave it a try last night and did notice that pages seem to load a bit faster than before. Google also recently announced its own DNS server, and the terms and conditions say that browsing habits and history are not recorded. Give it a go!

Your DNS server settings can be changed in the Network Preference Pane under all versions of Mac OS X.

  Reader Feedback: Incorrectly Rendered TechTails  

A surprising number of readers wrote in about last week’s Tech Tails not displaying properly. Most of those who wrote had a common problem with code displaying instead of the usual format, and the cause is my use of the “squiggle” character found on the command key of your Mac and your Mail client being unable to render it, throwing off display of the whole issue.

Tech Tails should have rendered properly if you use the Mail program found in your Applications folder to read your mail, or if you use Gmail or Hotmail. However, if you use your ISP’s webmail, some versions of Microsoft Outlook Web Access, or any number of other webmail systems, it is completely possible the interface you’re using is the cause of display failure.

I want to share two features that you may have missed in the newsletters Small Dog sends. First is the links at the very top of the newsletter. It says “view in plain text or web browser.” Plain text is just that—no HTML or images. This is especially useful if you are copying and pasting text into a word processor. If you prefer the version with images, formatted text, the background, and the like—and your mail program can’t render the newsletter correctly, you can click on the “web browser” link at the very top of the newsletter. Finally, each and every issue of all Small Dog newsletters can be accessed on our website. Just visit and click on the Subscribe tab on the top of the page.

Our flagship newsletter, Kibbles and Bytes has been in continuous production since October 14, 1996!

  MacUpdate: Compendium of Cool Software  

One of my favorite things about being a Mac user is getting to enjoy all sorts of great freeware and shareware applications. There are cooking programs, network utilities, games, interface enhancements, widgets, and much more. I’m a daily reader of MacUpdate, which is a site that lists freeware, shareware and commercial updates as they are released or updated. There are as many as fifty entries each day! Here are some of my current favorites:

Chax 3.0a5 provides enhancements to iChat, including a unified contact list, growl notification, and more font control. It also adds more preferences to control auto-accepting chats and file transfers, and several other options. The feature I like most is the automatic resizing of my contact lists as my contacts go on and off-line.

BBEdit 9.3.1 is one of the most powerful text-editing tools on the Mac. I use it for web development, editing configuration files, and many other things. BBEdit has been around for since 1993, and I’ve been a loyal customer from the very beginning. It supports profiles for numerous programming languages and web languages. It has command-line tools to let users access its text editing engine from the terminal. My second-choice text editor is probably TextMate 1.5.9, which I also own.

MenuCalendarClock iCal 4.1.1 is a simple menu bar item with a quick calendar view, event list, and rapid access to iCal data. I like that I can make a quick check of upcoming consults without opening the full iCal window. There is also a version for Entourage.

Transmit 3.7 is an excellent FTP client with a great tabbed dual-pane view for easy drag and drop of files to and from servers. It supports a variety of protocols and allows you save a list of server favorites. I have my Transmit setup configured so I can double-click on remote files and have them open up directly in BBEdit, an image editor, or a CSS editor. I’ve also heard great things about a fairly new FTP client, “ForkLift 1.7.7: and many people still rely on the venerable Fetch 5.5.3, which is still meaningfully evolving after twenty years.

SuperDuper! 2.6.2 While I rely on Time Machine for daily backup, I still use SuperDuper for a second cloned backup. Its great Smart Update feature quickly updates my clone drive in a fraction of the time a full clone would take. It just copies what has changed since my last clone, and also removes files to match my system drive. I can’t use it to go back for long-deleted files, but I can boot directly from my clone backup. If you still use Mac OS 10.4, you should definitely look at SuperDuper if you won’t be upgrading to 10.5 or 10.6 with Time Machine.

I encourage you to search MacUpdate and other Mac shareware sites to see if there are cool programs you might like to try. Let us know your favorites and we’ll publish some selections in an upcoming TechTails!

  Microsoft Word 2007 Violates Copyright; Patch Issued  

Microsoft Word, part of Microsoft Office 2007 for Windows (the world’s most popular productivity software suite) contains intellectual property belonging to a small Canadian company. Microsoft was said to be forced to pull Word 2007 from the shelves on January 11, 2010, and so the company has been preparing a patch since August of this year that would bring the word processing software into compliance with copyright law.

Microsoft Word 2007 runs only under the Windows operating system, not under Mac OS X (unless you have virtualization software like Parallels, VMware, or VirtualBox installed). Users of all versions of Microsoft Office for Mac will not be affected.

The patch simply removes the copyrighted functionality, which is something very few end users ever actually use. It’s probably safe to say that very few users of the software even knew this functionality existed. Word 2007 will be unable to read custom Extensible Markup Language (XML) elements in .docx, .docm, and .xml files once patched. XML is a lot like Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the language used to create the layout of a webpage through tags that direct the position of text and graphic elements. In contrast to HTML, XML’s “design focuses on documents, it is widely used for the representation of arbitrary data structures” (wikipedia).

While Microsoft was ordered to pay $290 million to, but it’s not clear whether that will actually happen. Microsoft is pushing for further appeals at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and certainly might just wear down the smaller firm with an endless legal battle.

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