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#745: Netflix, Silverlight and Cartoons, Reader Feedback, TotW: Faster DNS Servers

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

After a rainy Sunday and Monday, the Mad River Valley is once again covered in snow. Many of our dirt roads thawed with the warm rain, and now with temperatures in the twenties, the ruts thawed in place. Driving home is going to be an exercise in patience for a while.

We’re nearly finished refurbishing several hundred white MacBooks and iMacs that would make the perfect gift. They come pre-loaded with Snow Leopard and iLife ’11, so while they’re not brand spanking new, they do come with the latest and greatest operating system and digital lifestyle management software available from Apple.

For those of you holding off until the last moment to finish up shopping, check out our holiday page and shipping page to find a great gift and make sure it arrives on time.

As always, thanks for reading.

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Netflix, Silverlight and Cartoons  
   
 

Netflix offers a video streaming service that is much-loved by its members, so much so that many are canceling their traditional television service. The streaming service is generally quite reliable, but relatively new, so troubleshooting can be tricky. Last week, a customer who had just upgraded from an iBook to a MacBook was suddenly unable to watch streaming Netflix content.

After logging in to her Netflix account, the customer could view her queued content and videos she had started on the older computer, but she could not resume the programming. Some of the errors prompted her to update Silverlight, while others gave only a useless generic error code.

We downloaded and installed the newest version of Silverlight without success. My next thought was to delete Silverlight completely as the customer had just migrated from an older system. This, too, failed to bring resolution. I dug into the Application Support folder and found the Microsoft folder, inside of which was an innocuous-looking folder called Playready. On a whim I dragged this folder to the desktop and restarted the computer. This did the trick.

 
   
     
  Reader Feedback: Let it Sleep  
   
 

From Tech Tails reader Paul K.


“Hi Matt! I was reading Tech Tails and I have a solution to the problem you describe in your article ‘Let it Sleep.’ I used to be annoyed having to wait some seconds before my MacBook Pro would go to sleep until I found a preference pane called “Smart Sleep” which depending on the state of charge of a MacBook’s battery will trigger only sleep, deep sleep, or both (which is what the machine usually does: goes to sleep, but writes the content of ram onto HD, so that if the power runs out, in can be restored).

I have it set so that if my battery is more than 35% charged, closing the lid will instantly put the computer to sleep without taking the seconds to prepare deep sleep. In my case, the computer is sleeping by the time the lid touches the frame. I hope this helps you, and if you like it, maybe you can share it with other readers.

Cheers, Paul”

 
   
     
  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 (www.smalldog.com) 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: 4.2.2.1 and 4.2.2.2. 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, or with AirPort Utility if you wish to change the DNS settings at the router level.

 
   
     
  Twitter Had The Answer: Comcast DNS Was Down  
   
 

About a week ago, I was surfing the web on my iPad and tapped a link. Safari tried to load the page but stalled. I waited a minute or so and tried another site to no avail. I tried quitting Safari and re-opening it with the same result. I then tried my girlfriend’s iMac without success.

I opened up AirPort Utility on the iMac, which reported no errors; I restarted the Time Capsule anyway without success. Lastly, I unplugged my Comcast modem for a minute or two to power cycle it. No go. The Time Capsule recognized that it was connected to the Internet, the iPad and the iMac were connected to the network, but no matter what address I typed in, the web browser would just stall.

Thinking I had the answer already, I picked up my trusty iPhone and searched for Comcast in my Twitter app. Hundreds of tweets appeared from all over the country. One of my favorites was “I suppose Comcast doesn’t want me to finish my homework,” while others informed users to try using Google’s of OpenDNS’s DNS servers.

With this information I headed over to the Mac and opened up AirPort Utility. There, under the “Internet” settings, I changed the DNS address to 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.8.4, and restarted the Time Capsule. Sure enough, once the Time Capsule came back up after the restart, full connectivity was restored.

DNS servers usually operate to translate the recognizable and memorable domain names like google.com to their respective IP addresses like 173.194.35.104. The address I typed in was for Google’s DNS server. So far, their service has been reliable, even faster, and I have not switched back to Comcast’s address.

 
   
     
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