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#731: Tip of the Week: Custom Icons, Boost Your Wireless Network, Causes Of Hard Drive Failures


Happy Tuesday,

We’re enjoying our first real taste of autumn after a prolonged heat wave with high humidity and temperatures in the eighties and nineties. The Green Mountain Stage Race took over much of the area over the weekend, with hundreds of cyclists zooming through the valleys and up the mountains of the area. The cyclists were surely thankful for the mild temperatures, and it was a treat to watch them zoom by.

As summer winds down, I find myself harvesting the tail end of my garden and spending hours preserving the bounty for the cold months coming. It’s so satisfying to open a jar spicy pickles in February, or to enjoy pungent pesto in a blizzard. I’m ready for snow.

I hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Tip of the Week: Custom Icons  

iTunes 10 brings a lot of changes and innovations, some of which are understandably polarizing. Ping, the social network built into iTunes, seems to be one of the more controversial additions to the ubiquitous software installed on all of our computers. Another change is the iTunes icon itself: some love it, some find it Vista-like, and some just don’t care for it. There’s no reason to be unsatisfied with any icon—they’re all customizable, and have been since System 6 in the late 1980s.

The first step is to find an icon to replace the one you dislike. Say you want to replace the iTunes 10 icon with the iTunes 9 icon. If you’ve already installed iTunes 10, you’ll need to look to your backup for help, as iTunes 10 replaces iTunes 9 on your hard drive. Right-click on iTunes 9 and select Get Info, then click on the icon in the Get Info window on the top right. Press Command-C to copy the icon to your clipboard, then close the Info window.

Now, locate iTunes 10 (or whichever icon you want to change), and again, select Get Info. Click on the icon on the top right of that window, then press Command-V to paste the desired icon over the undesired one. Your iTunes 10 icon has been replaced with the iTunes 9 icon. Rejoice.

Apple has a comprehensive compendium of icons on their downloads site in case you become inspired to customize!

  Boost Wireless Network Strength and Speed: Quicky Jr. II  

Many of us live and work in areas with (too) many available wireless networks, or cannot get a full strength signal from our networks for whatever reason. While AirPort reception on modern desktop and portable Macs is excellent, and getting better with each generation, sometimes we just need better reception.

There are solutions that include disassembling your computer and stringing an antenna through the Express Card slot or performing other modifications, but my favorite tool for this job is the QuickerTek Quicky Jr. II.

This little antenna simply plugs into any available USB port and gives you up to three times the range than you’d get with the built-in wireless hardware. A stronger signal means faster transfer speeds, lower latency, and a more satisfying user experience—particularly if you use Time Machine to back up wirelessly, or stream uncompressed audio to an AirPort Express (like I do every day).

The AirPort signal strength menu bar item has five “bars,” and indicates signal strength logarithmically. So, if all the bars are black, you have a signal ten times more powerful than when only four bars are black. You can imagine then just how much signal strength matters for speed. Our customers report also that using the Quicky Jr II in areas congested with wireless networks helps your speeds regardless of signal strength.

Quicky comes with easy to install software, and is compatible with Mac OS X Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard. It supports 802.11 b, g, and n, and all encryption types except WPA Enterprise.

  From the Archives: Causes Of Hard Drive Failures  

An article in the Proceedings of the 5th USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technologies this month offers perhaps the most in-depth study of hard drive failures to date. Google uses hundreds of thousands of hard drives to store its data, and a sample of one hundred thousand of Google’s drives was studied for five years to determine common causes of failure. Since this very interesting article is a little dense to read in its entirety, I thought Tech Tails readers would enjoy reading some highlights.

  • Going against conventional thought, the study determined that increased temperature and/or activity had little or no correlation to failure rate. By extension, it was found that drives spinning up and spinning down most often had the highest failure rates. This means it’s best to uncheck the “Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible” box in Energy Save—at least in terms of hard drive health.
  • Some SMART (self monitoring and reporting technology) parameters are excellent indicators of impending mechanical failure. Among failed drives, a good chunk gave no warning by SMART, even though SMART-monitored parameters were to blame for failure. For this reason, SMART is most useful as a statistical predictor of failure for a population of drives rather than on individual devices. With that in mind, if your drive reports SMART errors you should at the very least immediately perform a full backup.
  • About 3% of drives failed in the first three months, 1.8% in the first 6 months, 1.7% in the first year. From there, failure rates jump to approximately 8% in the second year, 9% in the third year, fall to 6% in the fourth year, and jump back to 7% in the fifth year.

The whole article is available here.

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