How To Create A Bootable OS X Mountain Lion USB Thumb Drive

If you’ve followed our previous instructions on installing OS X Mountain Lion on your Mac, you have a backup of the Mountain Lion installer somewhere on a disk lying around. You can take this disk to any OS X computer running Lion and run the installer over there to upgrade it to Mountain Lion. If, on the other hand, you have an older Mac with a version of OS X that cannot be upgraded directly to Mountain Lion, or you want to do a clean re-install of the OS, this is the guide you should follow to create a bootable Mountain Lion USB Thumb Drive.

Search the drawers for an 8GB Thumb Drive. The Mountain Lion installer is about 5GB so anything more than that should do. Insert the key into your Mac.

Now, find the Mountain Lion installer that you copied away safely earlier. If you don’t have it, download it again from the Mac App Store’s Purchases section.

When the download completes, the installer will launch. Quit it.

Use the Finder to browse over to the Applications folder if you just downloaded the installer or the folder where you copied the previously downloaded installer.

Right click the Installer icon and select the Show Package Contents option.

Browse to the Contents/Shared Support folder.

There will be two files in this folder. We are interested in the DMG file named InstallESD.dmg.

Right-click this file and select the Open With->Disk Utility option.

This will open Disk Utility and you should be able to see your USB key as well as the InstallESD DMG file in the left side column.

Select the USB key and click on the Partition tab.

From the Partition Layout tab, select 1 Partition and then click the Options button below the partition layout graphic.

Make sure that the GUID Partition Table radio button is selected. Click Ok and hit Apply. If Disk Utility warns you about your disk being erased, click Ok and let it proceed.

Now, select and right click the InstallESD DMG file in the left column and choose the Open Disk Image option.

Select the newly mounted Mac OS X Install ESD volume and click on the Restore tab on the right side.

The Source field in the Restore tab should now be set to Mac OS X Install ESD. In the Destination field, drag and drop the partition that we earlier created on the USB Key and then press the Restore button.

This will copy the contents of the Installer image to the USB key.

You can now use this USB key as a bootable installer on any Mac.

How To Prepare Your Mac For Mountain Lion

As you all probably know by now, Mountain Lion was released yesterday. Unless, you’re one of those early adapter types, you’re probably holding out on upgrading your Mac for the weekend. In my opinion, though, the best time to upgrade to a new version of an operating system is when the first update comes out. In Mountain Lion’s case, that would be 10.8.1. The first version is when the really annoying bugs are fixed and the chances of the operating system screwing the user’s computer are really low.

If you still think you’re ready for the first version of Apple’s latest, greatest, this guide should help you prepare your Mac for the onslaught!

Backup

I cannot stress this point enough. Please make a backup of all your important documents before upgrading. While, Apple definitely tests their installation process hundreds, if not thousands, of times, this is a computer and murphy will strike when you lease expect him to. Since, I use Time Machine for backups, I always have a backup of my data with me. I still verified if all was well with the data and proceeded to the next step.

Take a backup of your data and thank me later.

Verify Disk/File System

This is a step that I’ve not seen anyone recommend but it is, in my opinion, the most important step in the whole upgrade process. Mac OS X uses the hfs file system for storing all your files. Normally, a file system is something the user should not be concerned with, but when things go wrong in the file system, the user has the most to lose. A bad sector on the hard disk or an error with the file system structures can lead to data loss and more.

Reboot your Mac and press and hold the Option key when the computer is booting up. This will bring up a menu that’ll let let you select the recovery partition to boot into. Now, select the disk utility option from the window that pops up on the screen.

When Disk Utility launches, select your hard disk volume from the column on the left and click the Repair Disk button on the right. Depending on the size of your hard disk, this process might take a little time. Use this time to find a spare USB drive or an external hard drive with atleast 5 GBs of free space. We’ll need it for the next step.

Download Mountain Lion

This one’s easy!

Reboot your computer back to Lion and start downloading Mountain Lion from the Mac App Store. It costs $19 and Apple really couldn’t have made it easier to download it. The installer is about 4.6GB so this might take a while, if you like in a Bandwidth impoverished countries of the world like I do.

When the download completes, the installer will launch automatically. Quit it (Use Command+Q since the installer doesn’t have an option to quit).

Go to the Applications folder and copy the installer (named Mountain Lion Installer) to the spare disk you found earlier. This is needed because once Mountain Lion is installed the installer is deleted and to use it again you’ll have to download the full 4.6GBs again, which may be a little painful.

Installation

That’s it! You’re all set to install Mountain Lion. The installer itself is pretty simple and doesn’t require too much user intervention. Let the installer do it’s magic.

How To Test The RAM On Your Computer

The RAM is arguably the most important part of your computer. Apart from the processor, of course, but without some kind of memory, even the process is pretty much useless. A computer, without RAM, cannot run any application that you tell it to and might as well be a dead paper weight.

If you’ve noticed unusual freezes and random operating system/application crashes on your computer, the RAM should be your first line of diagnosis. The RAM on a modern computer is composed of millions of cells that store the data for the computer to process and failure of even a single cell can cause weird errors that can be extremely difficult to diagnose.

Memtest is an open source utility that verifies the RAM installed on your computer for any defects. Since, this is an open source tool, there are versions available for practically every operating system and I’m going to use the Mac OS X version of memtest today since that is what I’m most familiar with. You should be able to use the same command line switches with the version of memtest available for your operating system.

Download MemTest For Free

Memtest is available as a free download so just download it to your computer and unzip the file. You should now have a .pkg installer that you can just double click to install memtest. This installer does nothing other than installing the memtest binary to /usr/bin.

To start testing the RAM on your computer, launch Terminal.app and execute memtest.

Sharninders-iMac:~ sharninder$ memtest all 1

The above command will make memtest run through it’s complete test suite once. In general, it is better to test at least twice, or even let it run for a few hours if you want to be completely sure. If you don’t specify any number after the “all”, memtest runs indefinitely and will have to be stopped by pressing the ctrl+c key combination manually.

If Memtest throws up an error or memtest itself freezes, you’ll know for sure that the RAM is bad. If not, well, time to start diagnosing other parts of the computer.

Memtest for PCs

If you’re not running a Mac, you can still use memtest to diagnose the RAM of your PC, though the process is a little different. For PCs, memtest is distributed as images that you can burn onto CDs or USB flash drives.

Download one of the many pre-built images and burn it to a CD or to a USB flash drive, depending on the image. Now, shutdown your computer and reboot it using the CD/USB Key that you just burned. That should start Memtest straight away. Let the diagnostics run for a while or till you’re sure that the RAM has been tested thoroughly.

Have you ever had the RAM in your computer go bad ? How did you diagnose it ?

 

How to Transfer Contacts From Android to iPhone

I recently purchased a new iPhone 4S after having used the original Nexus One for over two years. Now, like most of you who’ve changed phones more than once, I was prepared for the hard (and irritating) work of transferring my contacts from the Android to the iPhone.

In the good ‘ol days this meant either making a list of all the important contacts in one phone and then manually entering them into the second phone, or transferring contacts from the first phone to the SIM card’s internal memory and then transferring them back to the second phone. Both fairly inefficient and time consuming tasks, more so, because most of the time the SIM’s internal memory wasn’t enough to hold all the contacts one might have.

With the advent of cloud based services, though, this process has become quite easy. In this post, I’ll be teaching you how to transfer your contacts from an Android phone to an iPhone.

Android phones, by default, backup all the contacts to Gmail, so the first step to export your contacts out is to login to your Gmail account and display all the contacts stored in Gmail.

Now, select all the contacts that you want to transfer over to the iPhone. If you want to transfer all the contacts, mark the appropriate check box.

Just be wary of one possible bug, when I tried exporting my contacts list of over 300 contacts in one go, Gmail stopped responding for me. The only way I could manage to get all my contacts out of Gmail was by selecting max 60-70 in one go.

So, now the next step is to export all the contacts that you’ve selected in the vCard format since that is the format that the iPhone understands.

Click the More drop down and select Export. In the window that pops up, select “vCard format” and hit Export.

Your browser will now open a file download dialogue for you to save the contacts on your desktop. The next step is to imp or the contacts to iCloud so that the iPhone can sync them from there.

Log into your iCloud account at iCloud.com, open the Contacts application and drag and drop the vCard formatted contacts that you just exported to the iCloud Contacts application.

That’s it. Your iPhone will now automatically sync all the contacts using iCloud as the backend.

Mac: How To Encrypt An External Hard Drive In Lion

Most computer users use or carry around some kind of portable hard drive or flash disk these days. Considering how we use our computers, almost all of those portable drives tend to store an alarming amount of sensitive data. Have you ever thought what would happen if you lose the disk and the data gets into the wrong hands ?

There are a lot of software solutions available that’ll let you encrypt the data on your disks but most of them are confusing to use and just a pain really. Not, if you’re a Mac OS X user.

Mac OS X lets you encrypt and password protect the contents of any connected disk. Follow our little guide to know how.

First of all, if it wasn’t obvious, connect your disk (using USB) to your Mac and launch the Disk Utility application.

The Disk Utility application will display all the drives that OS X has recognized on your computer in the sidebar. Select the drive that you want to encrypt.

Note: To Encrypt a drive, OS X has to format it and so you will lose all the existing data on the drive. If there is any important data on the drive, copy it to another location and then copy it back later.

Now, select the Erase tab and from the Format drop down list select “Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted).

You can also select the Case-Sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted option if you want your file system to be case sensitive.

Now, click the Erase button.

Disk Utility will now ask you to enter a password that you will use to access the contents of the encrypted disk. If you can’t think of a strong and memorable password yourself, I’d definitely suggest using the Password Assistant. Click on the little key icon next to the password text box and play around with the password assistant till you find a nice password that you can remember and one that is secure.

That’s it. Now, wait for Disk Utility to finish partitioning and encrypting the disk.

When the disk is ready for use, as indicated by Disk Utility, I’d suggest that you eject it and insert it again just to check if everything works as it should. If you followed the procedure properly, Mac OS X will ask you for a password to access your disk when you insert it again.

That’s it. Enter your password and you should be able to access the contents of your disk as always. When you’re finished using the disk, make sure you eject it properly so that no one else with access to your computer can access your data.

The only problem with this method of encrypting your external hard disks is that the data on the disk can only be viewed on a Mac OS X computer. Depending on your preferences, though, that may well be a good thing!

 

Apple TV 2012

Note: I don’t own an Apple TV and the views are my own after going through Apple’s keynote and reading through the various reviews and specs on Apple’s site.

Apple announced the latest version of their “hobby” product, the Apple TV, at an event on March 7. They also announced the new iPad that I wrote about earlier. The most notable feature (only feature?) is that the new Apple TV, henceforth just called the Apple TV, does 1080p video. It had to, you see, the iPad and the iPhone are both capable of streaming 1080p video over Airplay and since Apple TV is the only device that they can stream to, the 720p limitation just didn’t make sense anymore.

So, in my opinion 1080p was a given. What a lot of people also thought was that Apple would release an actual physical HD television set. You know, the kind you hang on your living room walls.

Disappointing, I know!

I’ve already written my thoughts on why or why not Apple should release a television set but to reiterate, I think Apple did the right thing here. I don’t think Apple can solve the problem with current television sets with the resources currently available to them. I’m not saying Apple will never make a television set. All I’m saying is that with the amount of clout and resources they have, right now, they cannot make the kind of device they’d want to make.

What are the problems ?

First and foremost, television sets right now are just dumb pipes that display content brought to us by a dumb network. Apple stopped making those kind of devices long back.

None of us know the kind of device Apple would like to make, but we can make some guesses. And the new Apple TV provides plenty of clues.

New user interface design

The new (and the old, with a software update) Apple TV get a spanking new interface. The new interface looks a lot like the iOS interface we all love (or hate, depending on which way you swing). The primarily text-based interface of the old Apple TV has now been replaced by an interface that is primarily graphics and icons based. Does that mean they’re aiming for another touch screen device in the future, or do they just feel that this kind of interface just works better with a remote? Maybe, maybe not! For the moment, all I can say is that Apple loves consistency.

The new Apps

To be truthful, the Apps are not new but Apple just made them integrate a lot better with the iTunes ecosystem. What this means is that you can now subscribe (for instace) to Netflix from right within the Netflix app and would never have to go to the Netflix website again. This is my favorite feature in the Apple TV, even though I still can’t use Netflix in India, I think this is what Apple wants to do, eventually, when they get around to making a real television set.

Apple doesn’t want the user to subscribe to a cable company for their content. Apple would much rather have everyone subscribe to content in individual apps and bill them through iTunes, just like in the Netflix app. It is the future and they will eventually get there.

1080p

This was the most obvious feature and the one most people are going to use (and love) the most. ‘Nuff said!

The new Apple TV does everything that the old one did, it’s just better at those tasks. That, is a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because Apple is still interesting in innovating around the Apple TV and a bad thing, because I think it’ll still remain a hobby.

The next Apple TV

I know it’s a little too soon to talk about the next iteration but I couldn’t have ended this post without talking about the features that I’d have liked Apple to include.

Third Party Apps

This is a feature that almost everyone wants and I have a feeling that Apple will get to it, eventually. They just don’t think it’s necessary at the moment. iOS devices can mirror their screens to the Apple TV and that works but built-in apps designed specifically for the Apple TV would be so much better and will really bring out the capabilities of the platform.

DVR

This is a long shot, but I really think Apple should make a DVR device/interface that just works. The current ones, sadly, don’t and we just want something better.

In the end, I definitely think that the 2012 Apple TV is a step in the right direction but I don’t think this is the product that makes Apple finally admit that it’s not a hobby anymore. I think Apple is moving to a future where they can release a real television set and have everyone use that, but that future is some distance away, if at all.

‘The New iPad’

Apple announced the release of a new iPad yesterday. According to Apple, this new iPad is going to be the best ever.

It has the best screen of any mobile device ever. It has battery life that is equal or better to the previous iPad and it runs the 2,00,000 excellent applications already written for the iPad flawlessly.

This is the iPad that could have been called the iPad 3, iPad HD or maybe even iPad ‘insanely great’ !

Instead, Apple decided to name their new iPad, ‘iPad’ !

That’s it ! Just iPad.

I’ve read a number of articles and opinions in the last 24 hours as to why Apple has chosen to defy convention and not give the new iPad a version number. No one but Apple knows why. But, we can speculate, can’t we ?

First of all, anyone who thinks the name iPad is a bad choice. You’re wrong!

What’s in a name?

In my opinion, the dropping of the version number means that the iPad has finally come into it’s own. No, it does not mean that CEO Tim Cook has no control over the company and that Apple will not be able to maintain the momentum that is has without Steve Jobs. If anything, it means that Apple is still executing on all cylinders. It means that Apple is confident enough in itself and will continue to defy convention and create products that people will queue miles and miles to buy. Again and Again.

The iPad is now a major contributor to Apple’s bottom-line and the success of the iPad in the future will define the success of Apple. For that to happen, Apple needs to make the iPad a brand, a single entity. Like the iMac, the MacBook and not the MacBook ‘HD’ or iMac ‘Bazoonga’. The iPad like the other major products in Apple’s lineup is just the iPad. When the next iPad comes out next year, it will still be the best tablet computer on the planet and will still be called the iPad. Wether you’re buying an iPad this year or the next or the year after that, you can’t go wrong with the ‘iPad’.

Apple wants to make sure that kids don’t have to tell their parents to get an iPad 10 or an iPad 2o and not the iPad 11.5 since that one sucks ! The message is that this great product is just the iPad and it is the same iPad no matter when and where you buy it from.

No one needs to know if the iPad that you’re going to buy today is the latest one or not. It always is. And no matter which one you get, you’ll get the best tablet available.

In the end it really doesn’t matter what the new iPad is called. It still has the gorgeous retina display, amazing apps and outstanding graphics performance. It is still the best tablet computer in the market, by a long shot!

How To Make Free Ringtones For Your iPhone

As awesome as the iPhone is, it has a lot of shortcomings. Apple fans would like to claim that Apple doesn’t really play the “features” game and would rather implement a few features well than having a hundred ill conceived features like it’s rivals.

I agree with Apple’s philosophy to a certain extent but when a phone, in the 21st century, doesn’t let a user have their own songs as ring tones, it is taking that philosophy a little too far. That too, when Apple itself sells ringtones through it’s iTunes music store. Thankfully there are ways to make ringtones for your iPhone for free and you don’t have to pay Apple a cent for them. The only limitation seems to be that ringtones for the iPhone have to be approximately 40 seconds in size. I haven’t been able to figure out the exact time restriction so we’ll keep our custom ringtones to about 30 seconds in length.

We’ll be using iTunes for making ringtones so you’ll have to launch iTunes and select the song that you want to use for making your ringtone.

Select and right click the song in iTunes and select Get Info from the context menu. Hit the Options tab.

Now, enter the start and stop time for your ringtone. For example, in the screenshot above, from the song that I selected, iTunes will use the audio from the 43rd second till the 1.10 min mark to make my ringtone. Press the Ok button.

Now, right click the song again and select the Create AAC version option.

The next step is a little tricky and a lot of people do it wrong. It isn’t that difficult, though.

When iTunes has finished creating the AAC version of your song, you’ll see two copies of the same song in your iTunes library. The only difference will be that one will be the full song and the other will be the clipped version that starts and ends at the times that you gave earlier. You can identify the length of the songs with the Time column in your library.

What you need to do is select the AAC version (shorter) of the song and drag it out of your library to the desktop. When iTunes has copied the song to your desktop, delete the file from the iTunes library. This deletion step is really important otherwise iTunes will fail to recognize your new ringtone file.

The file that you’ve copied to your desktop will have an extension of .M4A. Rename the extension to .M4R.

That’s all. All you have to do, now, is to drag this file back to iTunes. iTunes will automatically place the file in the Tones section of your library. Sync your iPhone as usual using iTunes and you should be able to use your own custom ringtone. All without paying Apple a single dime of your hard earned money.

How To Convert Any Video File to Play On Your iPhone

Apple’s iPhone and iPad are considered to be really picky when it comes to the type of video formats they play. And rightfully so. The iOS family of devices, that include the iPhone, iPad and the iPod touch, support only a few video formats and refuse to play anything else. In fact, iTunes itself refuses to sync any file that it knows will not play on the iOS device.

If you download a lot of movies from the Internet, this might be a problem for you since most of those movies are stored in the Divx format to save space and bandwidth and Apple’s devices don’t support playing Divx or most other popular formats.

The only way to play such a file on an iOS device is by converting it to a supported format. We’ve written about how to convert video files earlier using the open source ffmpeg and WinFF. If you’re a geek and are comfortable using the command line, by all means use those methods. You’ll have the maximum flexibility and ffmpeg is an excellent and reliable piece of software.

If you’re not a geek and would rather have a nice GUI to handle the conversion, fret not ! I’m going to tell you about exactly the thing you need.

Handbrake

The developers of Handbrake describe it as a multi platform, multithreaded video transcoder available for Mac OS X, Linux or Windows. Which, in simple English, means that it is a video conversion utility available for the three major platforms that exist. I’m using Handbrake on my Mac OS X machine but the instructions for Windows or Linux should be similar and you will be able to follow along.

The first step is to, if it wasn’t obvious, download and install Handbrake.

When you launch Handbrake, you will be presented with a file open dialogue box. Select the file that you want to transcode (convert).

Handbrake will automatically fill in the Destination path for you but if you want to store the converted file in a different path, select that using the Browse button.

Now, there are two kinds of conversion that you can do. The first is to create a file, specifically encoded for the device you want to run it on, for example and iPod or an iPad and the second method is to create a generic file that’ll run on almost any iOS device. I’ll take you through both methods.

Create a device specific file

This is the easiest method, just select the Apple device that you want to encode the video file for from the Apple drop down in the sidebar and Handbrake will preselect the best settings for that device. Hit Start and you’re done!

Create a generic file

To convert the file to a format that can run on any iOS device, make sure the Format selected is “MP4” and video codec “H.264”.

From the Audio tab, make sure the Track and Codec are MP3 or AAC.

This really should take care of everything. Press the Start button and Handbrake will get to work immediately. Video conversion is a CPU intensive task and depending on the capabilities of your machine and the size of the file you’re converting, anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours or more. Get a cup of coffee, listen to some music and relax a little.

 

Create A Playlist Of Your Favorite Music on YouTube with Loudlee

The last couple of years have really seen the online music scene explode. While Pandora has been around for a while, now we have Rdio, Spotify, MOG and probably a million others. The difference between these newer apps and the likes of Pandora is that the newer app really make listening to music a social experience. You can create playlists, share them with your friends, listen to your friends’ favorites and so on.

YouTube, while not considered a traditional music website, has a large number of tracks available for listening uploaded either by the artists themselves or by fans. Loudlee aims to bring all the music on YouTube together and adds it’s own special social sauce to the experience.

So how does Loudleee work ?

After you sign up for an account using your Facebook credentials, you’ll be directed to a page with the artists and bands that other people on Loudlee are listening to.

Hover your mouse over any of the albums that you see, and you’ll be presented with a choice to either queue the album to your playlist or play it right away.

You can also search for songs or artists from the Search bar in the top right corner of the page and from the search results, add a complete album or individual songs to your playlist.

When you have your playlist all sorted out, just hit play on the small video player that you see and your added songs will begin streaming right off YouTube. The video is a bonus!

You can use the social buttons right above the video player to share the current song with your friends and let them in on some of the awesomeness too.

Loudlee lets you keep a track of the music you’ve already listened and also lets you take a look at your friends and followers’ stats and the music they’re listening to.

As soon as you listen to a song, the artist is added to your profile and you can get back to it from your profile page. Your friends can also look at the songs you’ve been listening to  and add them to their playlists. This is an awesome way to discover new music and I love Loudlee for implementing this feature.

Loudlee doesn’t let you save your playlists (yet) but the creators of the site say they’re working on this feature. Apart from that, a suggestion engine is also in the works and would turn Loudlee into an even better source for new music.

As you can probably tell, I’m already a big fan of Loudlee and I think you should also check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

Image courtesy: Digital Trends