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Dec 00 KoolTools Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: KoolTools

KoolTools

By Ben Baumer

Kick-Off!

Kick-Off! 1.0 is the football-shaped USB cousin of Rebound! 2.0, the remote server godsend produced by Sophisticated Circuits. Because of subtle differences between the USB and ADB communication channels, Kick-Off! requires a slightly more complicated set up than Rebound. Rebound is a simple ADB device that plugs into your computer's ADB port and allows your keyboard to plug into it, thereby intercepting signals between the two. Kick-Off! has a slightly more complicated setup. It plugs into your computer's power outlet, and has your existing power cord plug into it, while at the same time plugging its USB cable into your computer's spare USB port. Once you've got the hardware set up, just run the installer and you can say goodbye to remote server downtime...almost.

Kick-Off!'s most basic and helpful feature is the ability to restart the computer when the system crashes, but there are some qualifications that should be made. The main issue I had with Kick-Off! was not that it failed to detect crashes and restart properly, but that it did it too often, sometimes when the machine had not even crashed! Beware of applications that hog the system's processing abilities. For example, in my first test of Kick-Off!, I wanted to take the processor out for a little spin, so I started up Quake III and began blowing bots to oblivion. Although I had almost instantly forgotten about my Kick-Off! test, I was cruelly reminded when the machine abruptly rebooted exactly one minute into my game (I had set the crash detection timer to one minute)! However, when I restarted Quake and changed from full-screen mode to a window, it worked fine. Now, nobody in their right mind would ever play Quake in a window, so if you are running applications like this, Kick-Off! will not make you happy.

Still, most servers aren't running applications like Quake III, and it would be unfair of me to base my entire review upon this one aspect of Kick-Off!. In most other situations, Kick-Off! performed exactly as planned. Its reboot mechanism works well when the system does in fact crash, and can be used in conjunction with application crashes as well, which is a particularly helpful feature if you are using Kick-Off! on a remote server. Kick-Off! is able to respond to application crashes in a variety of different ways; it can restart the application, or the computer, or both, or any combination of either. I used Crash Test, I freeware application (also from Sophisticated Circuits) that causes several different types of system and application crashes, to test Kick-Off!'s effectiveness. For two types of system crashes, Kick-Off! detected the crashes admirably and restarted the computer as planned. Crash Test can also perform two types of application crashes: it can hang an application, and it can allow its application timer to expire. The latter function is designed specifically for Sophisticated Circuits' equipment, and not surprisingly, Kick-Off! was able to accurately detect this type of crash and relaunch the application. However, when I told Crash Test to "hang" itself, Kick-Off! understood this as a system crash and performed a hard restart when the system timer expired. So, while Kick-Off!'s system crash detection works quite well, its application crash detection is not quite as effective.

I recommend using Kick-Off! in place of Rebound on remote Mac servers that support USB (rather than ADB) devices. However, it is somewhat limited in its ability to correctly ascertain whether a particular application has crashed or not, and you will not find it reliable without an additional line of defense. Make sure that if you are using Kick-Off! to relaunch applications, you have adequately tested them and are sure that they support the Kick-Off! application timer. While Kick-Off! is not the savior of network administrators, it will help to reduce those 3 AM trips to the Office for server restarting.

Syslogd

If you're like me, you want to know as much as possible about what's happening with your network at all times. If you're having unidentified problems and you want to see what your switches are doing, you can be in a tough spot if you're using a Mac. In steps Syslogd, a shareware utility program written by Brian Bergstrand. The current version of Syslogd (2.1.8) allows an administrator to view all sorts of actions taking place on his/her network.

Syslogd is, of course, titled after its UNIX namesake. Accordingly, it brings you right down to the nitty-gritty computer instructions that the Mac OS historically prevented the user from seeing. However, for the network administrator interested in such matters, Syslogd serves up a hot plate of delicious, abstruse UNIX-style information. Easily downloaded at Bergstrand's web site www.classicalguitar.net/brian/apps/syslogd, the application features a quick AppleScript installer to get you started. (You will need AppleScript installed to perform some of Syslogd's convenient functions, but the actual application will run without it). Make it a point to also download Stairways' Interarchy 3.8, which provides you with some helpful tools (including a UDP Ping-er) if you get stuck using Syslogd. The Syslogd application should load and begin running on system start-up, but you'll want to run the Syslog Console application as well, at least at first. In order to get information displayed in the console window, I had to set up a CONSOLE log in the Syslogd Admin control panel, which is a piece of cake. After a Syslogd restart, you should start seeing messages zip across the console window. If you choose not to use the console application, you can still view the logs in your favorite text-editor, after running the Cycle Logs AppleScript included in the package. Presumably, you should be able to find the information you're looking for somewhere in the Syslogd logs.

Unfortunately, Syslogd 2.1.8 will not run on your old LCIII, or any other 68k machine. In addition, Syslogd is not compatible with Timbuktu, and you can expect a system crash if ever the twain shall meet. While setting up the application and getting messages to appear in the console window was not particularly intuitive (especially if Interarchy is not available), Bergstrand himself is a fantastic resource if you get into trouble.

Link Tester 2.5

Recently, I had the opportunity to evaluate Link Tester 2.5 from VSE Software on our www.mactech.com website. Link Tester is a program that crawls its way through your web site following each link in your site one-by-one (it can test web pages, images, downloadable file links, and even JavaScript links) and reporting any pages that have problems displaying or any pages that link to dead material on the World Wide Web.

The program has a rather pleasant, if minimalistic, user interface and is pretty straightforward to use. You simply install the program on your machine, enter the web address of your web site, and let Link Tester do all the work. You may tell Link Tester to check just links on pages you specify, or to follow all links on your site recursively. The default mode is to check all links on your site recursively.

As a link is broken or otherwise malfunctioning it is added to a HTML-formatted report that is presented to you at the end of the site evaluating process. This report lists all links that were checked, the broken ones, and the reason(s) for failure. There are options to save this report and you can even click on the link of the bad page just to see that indeed the link is really broke. In addition you can also click on an error message for a more detailed description of that message.

Link Tester will attempt to open multiple connections to the website being tested so that it can complete its job faster. You are allowed some control over this by being able to choose a 'Server Load' level of 5 different steps between Very High and Very Low. It is recommended that when connecting to remote servers you should always use the Very Low setting out of respect to those server operators.

MacSense CT-2? Cable Tester

For most of us, working with computer cables is about as enjoyable as being a White House intern. You have to make sense of indistinguishable strands of gray matter, often woven together in an intricate pattern of loops, tangles, and knots. In order to get at them, you are often required to move heavy furniture, or wedge yourself in unsavory places that even the vacuum cleaner has forsaken. All too often, all of your energy goes for naught when you later discover that you put a bad cable in place. For anyone who knows this frustration, the MacSense Cable Tester is for you.

The CT-2 is a simple, yet ingeniously designed device that will save you hours of troubleshooting agony. It has six main ports: two each of RJ-45 (Ethernet), RJ-11 (telephone), and MiniDin (serial). Plug each end of a cable into a port, press a button, and the CT-2 will tell you which pins or wires within the cable are responding, and how well. It can also tell you whether the connection is parallel or non-parallel. Never again will you confuse a crossover cable and a patch cable, nor will you waste time installing a cable that doesn't work, or doesn't work well. For older networks, the CT-2 has a BNC port that can accommodate a 10base2 T-connector and determine its terminator value.

There are many cable testers on the market, but the CT-2 has one essential advantage: it splits into two pieces, allowing you to test cables whose ends are no where near one another. Additionally, the CT-2 can test connections through other devices. For example, I recently used the CT-2 to debug a problem I was having installing a new Ethernet jack in the wall. Through repeated uses of the CT-2, I was able to quickly isolate the problem, which turned out to be a faulty Ethernet port in one of our hubs! At one point I had one end of the CT-2 connected to one end of a patch cable, which connected to the patch panel, which connected to Category 5 wire running through the walls to the jack that I had just installed, to which another patch cable was connected, on whose other end the remainder of the CT-2 rested. Clearly, without the CT-2 I would have been helpless.

MacSense has just released a new and improved version of the CT-2, known as the CT-210, which swaps the older serial ports for USB ports. The essential functioning of the device remains the same. If you ever have to do network troubleshooting, save yourself a lot of frustration and pick up a CT-210 cable tester from http://www.devdepot.com.

Cleaner 5

If you spend any time at all working with multimedia files, Terran Interactive's latest release of Cleaner will quickly become one of your favorite applications. Especially useful for creating streaming multimedia files, Cleaner is a powerful program that can be equally appreciated by the high-end system administrator for making streaming QuickTime or RealSystem movies, or by the enterprising college student ripping MP3s in the wake of the Napster fallout.

As you can see from the list of supported file types below, Cleaner is about as versatile as they come. In addition to merely converting these files, Cleaner gives you the ability to tack on a few bells and whistles as well, such as adding fade in/fade out to audio or movie files, or blurring/sharpening image files. Aside from out and out editing of the actual content of a file, Cleaner is a fully functional application for putting the finishing touches on any media project.

DVReadsWrites
QuickTimeReadsWrites
WAVReadsWrites
PICT, JPEG, PNG, BMPReadsWrites
TIFF, GIFReads-
RealSystem-Writes
Windows Media-Writes
Video for Windows (AVI)ReadsWrites
MPEG-1ReadsWrites
MPEG-2ReadsWrites
MPEG Layer I and II audioReadsWrites
OpenDMLReads-
Macromedia FlashReads-
MP3ReadsWrites
AIFFReads (including importing audio from CDs on Mac)Writes

One limitation that I ran into when using Cleaner occurred when I tried to burn an Audio CD of AIFF files exported from Cleaner using Adaptec Toast. The AIFF files exported by Cleaner were compressed, and Toast didn't want to burn them. I quickly found a simple work-around, however, by using SoundApp (a tiny shareware application) to convert Cleaner's AIFF files to SoundApp's AIFF files, which Toast happily accepted. (Note that SoundApp alone is not a viable solution, since it only reads WAVs, AIFFs, and Mac System Sound files.) Unfortunately, Cleaner also won't read RealAudio documents, so converting all those Grateful Dead shows you downloaded from ftp://ftp.deadshow.com/ to MP3 won't work either. I know, I know...it hurts me too.


Figure 1. Cleaner 5 eats up MP3s but can't read RealAudio.

Still, Cleaner 5's batch processing capacity makes it a must if you are working with large numbers of files, and its easy to use interface makes choosing from its myriad options surprisingly easy. One additional feature that I did not get to try out is MotoDV, which allows you to capture DV directly from your FireWire compliant video camera. Terran promotes Cleaner 5 as a "complete camera-to-web" solution, which I don't see how they can justify when you consider Cleaner's inability to actually edit the content of movies (a la Final Cut Pro or iMovie). However, its Leatherman-like abilities mean that if you haven't already, you will greatly benefit from adding Cleaner 5 to your multimedia application arsenal.

 

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