Thursday, July 21, 2011

Roar like a....

While this isn't strictly iPhone-related a lot of iPhone users are also Mac users so I figured I'd weigh in here a bit.  Plus OSX Lion looks a lot more like IOS than anything that's come before it.  Besides, it's my blog so there!

Apple released the latest version of OSX yesterday, nicknamed Lion.  It's mostly generally positive reviews on-line, though there are some detractors as there always are for things that are new and different.  I haven't upgraded yet, but plan to once I know that the applications I use are compatible.  How can I tell before taking the plunge?  I'm glad you asked.  There's a great web site which lists thousands of Mac apps and tells you the status of your favorite applications.  And if any are missing you can add them.

Summarizing the reviews would be silly and pointless but if you're thinking about upgrading (and for $30 it's not much of a financial risk.) there is a way you can test it first as I'm going to do tonight. If you're going to buy it anyway it'll cost you nothing and when you're finished you'll have an excellent backup disk. You do have a backup, right? You're using Time Machine? You're not? Oh, boy. Read on.

First, find yourself an external hard drive with at least as much capacity as you're using on your Mac. I'll be using a portable USB disk that I used to carry when I traveled for a living. Next, go to and download Carbon Copy Cloner. It's free and it will create a bootable backup of your main disk. Yes, bootable. A few years ago my beloved Macbook Pro's drive died but I ran off of this thing for a few days until I had it fixed. (Yes, Mr Do-It-Yourself had it fixed - it was under warranty.) So, create that bootable backup. It make take a while so let it run overnight.


Next, leave that drive attached and reboot your Mac while holding down the Option button. That's the one that looks like this.  The one that says "Option"


When it boots up you'll have a choice of which drive to use for the operating system.  Something like the image to the right.

Choose the external drive and let 'er rip.

Once it boots up go to the Mac App store, buy Lion and upgrade.  WAIT!  (I just wanted to see if you're paying attention).  Before you do that you should save the download file.  Technically you don't have to as once you've bought Lion you can download it again, but it's a 4GB download so why not just save it?

So, as I said, let the upgrade run.  Once it's finished and you reboot just remember the Option key trick and boot into your shiny, new Lion drive.  Test, test, test.

If you want to go back to Snow Leopard just boot back into your internal drive.  Once you're finished with your testing and have decided to do the upgrade for real I would suggest making a fresh backup on that test drive (Ha! I'm a car geek too!  Get it?  Yeah, I know: Weak).  Just in case.  That way if you want to go back you can boot Snow Leopard on the external and clone it to the internal.  You probably won't want to, but at least this way you have the option.

Another option, though one I wouldn't recommend, is booting Lion off of the external and cloning that to the internal.  Why wouldn't I recommend it?  No Snow Leopard fall-back.

And if you're not using Time Machine for backups get another drive for that.  Yes, two different backups.  CCC gives you a single point-in-time copy so it's good for when your main drive fails or for getting back a file you deleted after your last backup.  Time Machine, on the other hand, is good for restoring a file from just about any time since it (sorta - e-mail me for details if you want) makes an image of your hard drive every hour while your external drive is attached.  The first time you use it you'll think it's magic.

One more note about CCC: It can do incremental backups so every week or two you should hook up your CCC disk and update it.  That way when your internal drive dies (and it will - maybe in a week, maybe in 5 years) you won't be totally screwed, as so many of my friends and family have been over the years.  Remember the storage industry's favorite saying: Storage is cheap.  Data is priceless.

I'll be doing this testing tonight so if there are any additional notes I'll post them here.

Enjoy and feel free to comment with questions and let me know how your testing and upgrade went!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TXT, VOIP via WiFi/3G

Do you have a Google Voice number?   Do you use it?  Yeah, I know it can be a pain in the ass.  I have one that I had forwarded to my real cell phone number so that was handy but making calls from that number was never particularly easy.   Until a few weeks ago when I found Talkatone, a free app that lets you virtually graft your GV number to your iPhone.  Or your iPad.  Or your iPod Touch.

Wait, what?  Phone calls from an iPod or iPad?  Yup.  Talktaone uses only your data connection to make voice calls (aka, voice over internet protocol, or VOIP)  so if you have a data connection, especially WiFi, you can make voice calls.  Voice quality over 3G is adequate, but WiFi sounds like you're in the same room.  And as I mentioned you don't need a voice network at all.  I called a friend from her iPod the other day and blew her mind.

What's the point, you ask?  Do you date?  Do you use Craigslist? (but I repeat myself).  Do you ever wish you had a throwaway phone number you could give to that person you don't quite know if you trust yet?  GV will give you one for free in almost any city you'd like.  I managed to find a number that's exactly 1 digit off from my real cell phone number.   Nerdy? Sure. Nifty? Definitely.

Why do I have a GV number?  Oh, that's actually silly.  My wife's employer charges for long distance ("Uh, hi - it's 1990 calling.  I want my corporate policies back.") so my GV number is local while my real cell phone number isn't.  You also get more control over blocking, when the phone rings, transcribed voice mail, etc.  If you don't know about the cool features of GV what deserted island has been your home the last three years??

Anyway, Talkatone lets you use your cell phone, or other IOS device, to make calls, sent text messages, and more.  It's cool.  It's free.  Check it out.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Highly recommended new tweak

Running Angry Birds Rio
This evening I found a great new tweak for Jailbroken iPhones: Running Indicator from Ryan Petrich.  It's a very simple but very effective add-on that highlights the icons of apps that are currently running and, even better, lets you close them easily.

Look at Angry Birds Rio in the picture to the right.  The glow behind it tells you it's running and the black X in the upper left kills it on the spot.  In case you're wondering the blue dot on the lower-left comes from Backgrounder and it also tells you the app is running. I'll likely disable one or the other eventually.

Installation is a tiny bit more involved than your usual app but it's still very simple and you only have to do it once to get any of rpetrich's small apps.

Ryan has a number of other handy apps, including Activator, which no Jaibroken phone should be without.  IPad owners should all have Retina Pad, which will use the iPhone 4's higher resolution graphics for apps that don't support the higher res screen of the iPad or which charge you extra for the privilege. 

By the way, this is part of Tweakweek where different developers will have their apps highlighted.  It's a simple way to find new ways to make your IOS device friendlier, easier to use and, of course, more fun.

Share and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Backing up your jailbreak apps

The thing I get asked the most is how to update a jailbroken phone so that you don't lose the jailbreak apps, settings, configuration, layout, etc.  So my first few posts here will cover that process, starting with backing up your Jailbreak apps.

There are three different methods you can use and I'll start with the first, easiest and cheapest: a Cydia app called AptBackup that has this logo:

Note, this is not the same as AppBackup, which can only backup stock apps, not JB apps.

Go to Cydia and install AptBackup.  If you try to run it now it may bomb out so to fix it run Backgrounder (you have installed that, right?) and add an override for aptbackup and in that override turn OFF "Enable at Launch" as you can see to the right. With the most recent versions of IOS AptBackup seems to run smoothly right out of the box, er app store.

Run AptBackup.

Click "Backup" which should only take a second or two and then you're back at the AptBackup screen.  While you won't see anything what it has done is create three files in an area of your phone that gets backed up to iTunes when you sync.  (Geeks keep reading,  Others skip to the next paragraph).  Those files are:

A list of your Cydia apps:
 - /var/mobile/Library/Preferences/aptbackup_dpkg-packages.txt
Cydia repos & details:
 - /var/mobile/Library/Preferences/aptbackup_cydiasources.tgz
Your ssh configuration:
 - /var/mobile/Library/Preferences/aptbackup_openssh.tgz

Sync to iTunes.

That's it.  You now have a list, on your computer, of your Cydia apps, their configuration, the sources where you got them and some other stuff you probably don't care about.

Next, the easier, $8 way to backup your Cydia apps.

Who am I?

Who am I and why should you pay attention to anything I have to say?  Well, if you're asking that I'm not sure I have a good answer for you!  Seriously, though, hopefully you're reading this because you know me or know someone who knows me (be careful, I may become Kevin Bacon soon) or you just heard that there's some decent information here.  That last point is my why I'm writing this blog.

Several friends and family and I have iPhones, iPods and iPads of various vintages and we frequently exchange e-mail about apps, jailbreak apps, tweaks, etc and I figured this was a good way to keep everything in one place.  We're all iDevice junkies and we're always looking for new, cool stuff.  If you have suggestions let me know - I'd be happy to have more contributors here.

Now, on with the show.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Hello and welcome to where I'll expound on my favorite iPhone tweaks, hacks, apps and other fun stuff.  Much of what I write about will be for Jailbroken devices, but not everything so stay tuned, hang on and get ready to see what your auxiliary brain can really do.