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25th May

3D printing – a new obsession

written by Mark Wheadon

I acquired a 3D printer a couple of years ago – I backed the M3D Micro on KickStarter. For me at least that was a very successful KickStarter and I learned a lot from my Micro.

Once I grew out of the micro I built a Mini Kossel from Think3DPrint3D and I’m having loads of fun with it. But the greatest satisfaction is thinking of an idea and then being able to make it real.

For example, I thought it would be cool to make a real, tangible version of the classic Victorian illusion: a goblet with a face in the negative space. A few hours (quite a few hours!) in Rhinoceros 3D and eventually I produced this. (To give you a sense of scale, it’s 120mm / 4.7″ tall.)


How cool is that?  It’s up on Etsy should anyone wish to posses their own.

27th March

Thinking of installing a solid state disk (SSD)? Go for it – I doubt you’ll regret the investment.

written by Mark Wheadon

I finally took the plunge and replaced the standard hard drive in my late 2008 MacBook Pro with a solid state disk – a 256GB Crucial M4.

What a transformation! If you’re trying to decide whether to do something similar then take a look at the video below, which shows the Mac booting up and logging in both before and after the transplant.

The machine is now much, much quicker in daily use, a little quieter, cooler, and has better battery life – what more could you ask for circa £240?


14th June

Photo Enhance video available at YouTube

written by Mark Wheadon

I’ve made a short video showing Photo Enhance Pro in action. Photo Enhance is an app for Android that I’ve been developing for the last year or so — it boosts detail in images and allows you to crop, manipulate brightness, colour balance, etc. before saving or sharing at full resolution (something most apps can’t manage).

Photo Enhance Pro is available at Google play or if you’re based in the USA then you could give the Amazon Android App Store a go.


2nd May

Ever wished you could pre-focus the camera on your Nexus One, Desire, Droid, Milestone etc? It turns out you can.

written by Mark Wheadon

Focus left-o-centre

Touch to focus?

Ever wished you could pre-focus the camera on your Android phone? It doesn’t seem to be common knowledge, but you can.


Use the Camera app as usual, but when you take the picture, place the subject in the centre of the image and press and hold the shutter release-button (on-screen on my Nexus One). A couple of seconds later the image will focus. Now recompose your picture with the subject off-centre — the picture is taken when you release the shutter-release button. Simple, once you know.

And no shutter lag

Hold the shutter-release button to focus the subject. Now get people to look your way, smile, etc. When you release the button the picture is taken almost immediately, and taking pictures of moving subjects no longer requires a highly developed sense of precognition 😉

18th January

Sample images from the Nexus One Google Phone.

written by Mark Wheadon

Google Phone photos

I thought it would be useful to post examples of photos from the new Google Phone, the HTC Nexus One. That way you can get a feel for how good the camera is.

For what it’s worth, it’s better than I expected, and in fact it’s better than I hoped for — one of the best camera-phones out there. But don’t take my word for it — take a look at the images.

What’s here

What I’ve done is present two versions for each image. The first is the bottom line so far as I’m concerned — what the image looks like after it’s been polished in Photoshop. The second image is the full, untouched image as it came from the phone.

These photos were taken on a sunny winter’s day in Whitstable, Kent, about 10 minutes from my home. All bar two of them are taken outside, in good light. Inside in poor light, the camera is really only good for the “here’s my mate, pouring beer over his head” kind of images 🙂

The photos

Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version. Each pair of thumbnails is the polished result followed by the original JPEG straight from the phone.

Lens flare (above) is bad when shooting into the sun — I suggest you shade the lens with your hand if possible.

20th June

Using a virtual machine — perhaps VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop — can result in way-too-large backups. Here’s one way to make those backups more manageable.

written by Mark Wheadon

If you’re using a product such as VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop to run another operating system on your Mac (perhaps Windows or Linux), then you may have noticed that your backups are now taking a long time. I documented one approach to solving this problem in an earlier article. Now here’s a different approach, originally suggested by Chris Ryder (thanks Chris).

First, here’s a recap of the problem. It’s written in terms of VMware Fusion but should be equally valid for other VM engines such as Parallels Desktop. If you’ve already read the previous article then you might want to skip to the meat of this article.

Large backups

When you’ve been using Fusion’s virtual machine (in my case, to run Windows), you will find that Time Machine’s backup takes longer than expected — sometimes much longer.

This is because Fusion stores its virtual machines’ disks as a bunch of large files. When you run your virtual machine using Fusion (or Parallels Desktop), the contents of the VM’s virtual disk changes, and even if you haven’t made many explicit changes to files, all sorts of small changes happen to the virtual disk’s contents.

Incremental can still be too much

Time Machine performs incremental backups. That is, it copies only files that have changed since the last backup. Unfortunately those large files that Fusion uses to store the virtual disk’s contents? They’ve probably all changed, at least a little.

backupSo, instead of your incremental being a few megabytes and taking a few tens of seconds, it’s ten gigabytes, takes ages, and rapidly fills your backup disk. (Which causes its own problems: described here.)

One solution: back up the VM in another way

One solution is to keep all your precious files in the Mac file-store, tell Time Machine to avoid backing up your virtual machine(s), and then back them up some other way. This results in the smallest backups and is useful if you don’t need sophisticated incremental backups of your virtual machines.

If this sounds like you, then I’ve shown how this can be achieved in an earlier article.

An alternative solution: use a sparse bundle

If you need proper incremental backups of your VMs, then one approach is to use a sparse bundle. This is a disk image which is stored  as a collection of small files (typically 8MB), so when Time Machine backs up the disk image, it only needs to copy the files that have changed.

This approach still isn’t perfect — when (for example) Windows does anything, it tends to scatter its writes over the disk, so incremental backups are still large, but they’re not as large as when Time Machine backs up the VM directly. Typically, your incrementals may be a few hundred megabytes with no VMs, a few gigabytes with a VM stored on a sparse bundle (for Windows. Linux may be better behaved), and a few tens of gigabytes with the same VM stored in the standard way.

Here’s how

First lets create a new disk image based on a sparse bundle and move our VM onto it. We’ll need to know how large to make the VM, so go to Documents and look in Virtual Machines. In there is one folder per virtual machine and you can find the VM’s size by clicking on the corresponding folder and hitting cmd+I:

VM size

Create the disk image

Now create the sparse bundle. The point-and-click way of doing this is to use Disk Utility, so start that up (I use spotlight to do so):


and click on New Image:

Picture disk utility

Then fill in the details. I made my sparse bundle file-system for the Windows XP VM twice as large as the space it currently occupies, to allow for future expansion — so 50GB in my case (don’t worry: it only uses as much real disk as is needed to store the actual content). Here’s all the fields you need to change:

Bundle settings

  • The Save As is the filename for the sparse bundle whereas the Volume Name is the name the disk will have when mounted — I made them the same;
  • I saved my sparse bundle in Documents->Virtual Machines;
  • Image Format needs to be sparse bundle disk image, as that’s the whole point of the exercise.

Now click on Create, and

Creating image

a few seconds later you have a sparse bundle file-system image.

Mounted bundleNow double-click that file (mine’s called VM disk.sparsebundle).

Mac OS will mount it…

and the new file system will appear on the desktop.

Move the VM into the new disk image

Next, drag the folder(s) corresponding to the VM(s) you’d like backed up by Time Machine onto the new disk. Hold down cmd as you drag and drop, so that you move the folders (rather than copying them):

Move onto diskEnsure the new disk image is mounted at login

The .sparsebundle file needs to be mounted every time you log in, so that the file-store is available. To do that, go into System Preferences->Accounts, click on your username and then on Login items. Now drag your sparsebundle file into the list of login items:

Mount at loginand that’s it.

Using your newly-homed VM(s)

To use your new VM(s), just double-click on the corresponding folder — perhaps put an alias to it on your desktop or in the dock. When you next use it you’ll get a message:

I moved it

Just click on I moved it and you’re sorted.


As with any method of backup which relies on backing up the virtual machine’s disk image using the host operating system, your backup may not be of any use if it’s made whilst the VM is running, so I suggest you make sure that Fusion/Parallels is not running when Time Machine is backing up your data. If you don’t always manage to do so then some of your backups may not be valid.


Because if you backup the files that Fusion (or Parallels) is using for a disk image, then you’re backing up what’s on disk, but not what’s in memory, in disk buffers, etc. So when you come to restore from backup, you may find that the disk image is corrupted. In the worst case scenario you won’t be able to start up the VM’s operating system successfully at all, or restore any files contained within the VM’s file-store.

By backing up when the VM isn’t running, you ensure that all data is on disk in a safe, consistent state.

16th May

Windows Vista prompts for you password every time it comes out of sleep / hibernation. If you’d rather it didn’t then here’s how to disable that behaviour.

written by Mark Wheadon

If you have a Windows Vista machine in a secure (enough 🙂 ) environment then you may not want it to prompt for a password every time it comes out of standby. With previous versions of Windows it was pretty obvious how to choose this behaviour (in XP it’s under the Advanced tab of the current power scheme in Power options for example — in fact, it’s still there in Vista but it’s buried deep).

Under Vista it’s far less obvious, but the setting is there if you know where to look for it.

First, go to Power options in the control panel. I find it easiest to do this kind of thing by bringing up the Start menu and then typing (in this case) power, and then selecting Power Options:

start-menuNext, in the Power Options window, don’t click on change plan settings as it’s somewhat buried in there nowadays. Instead, select the Require a password on wakeup link that’s lurking in the top-left of the window:

power-optionsYou will then be presented with a window which looks useful, but in fact the Don’t require a password option you’ve been looking for is greyed out — you can’t select it! This is because you first need to click on Change settings that are currently unavailable:

power-options-system-settingsThen confirm you’re happy for the change to be made:


And finally you’re in a position to select the option:

dont-require-passwordThen click on Save changes and you’re done. (I know, it shouldn’t be that hard, but c’est la vie with Vista at times.)

It’s worth repeating that you should only set this option if you’re happy that someone with no knowledge of your login details can walk up to your suspended Vista session, wake it up, and start doing stuff as you.

1st May

The new ASUS EeePC 1008HA would make one hellishly pretty hackintosh…

written by Mark Wheadon

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the new ASUS EeePC 1008HA:


Now there’s a machine that would make a pretty hackintosh. It simply has to be done, does it not?

Image courtesy of

26th April

The Open Source Community and Microsoft do have something in common after all.

written by Mark Wheadon

I was trying to figure out why firefox doesn’t sit as well on Mac OS as I’d expect — why it feels slightly alien on there (as does thunderbird), and then it occurred to me: firefox, thunderbird, et. al. are, in some ways, more akin to Windows than Mac OS.

I’ll explain (I think I’d better 🙂 ).

Mac OS is pretty complete out of the box. If you’d like to burn an ISO image onto CD, or browse that ISO image, or ssh to another host, or use VNC, or… then it’s all already there, well integrated and working from the start.

Windows isn’t like that — the basic OS lacks a lot of functionality. If you’re going to burn an ISO, or browse one then you’ll need something like Nero. If you’d like to ssh to another machine then you download putty, if you’re going to connect to another machine using VNC then you’ll need that, and so on.

What you end up with is a whole host of extra software, all pretty much working, but all pulling in slightly different directions and all clearly written by different companies with different ideas about the user interface, and differing levels of integration with the whole.

Firefox and friends are also a little like that. The basic functionality is in the application, but all the extra frills are plugins, written by many different people. Many of the plugins are a little quirky, and they all tend to pull in slightly different directions — sometimes interacting badly with each other. It works, but it’s not elegant.

Microsoft and the Open Source Community do this for very different reasons. Microsoft does it to spread their programming effort as thinly as possible (I guess they’d say as efficiently as possible), always concentrating on ‘value’, and never on quality. The Open Source Community do it out of necessity: not everyone can be hacking the central code all the time, it’s just not practical, and the plugin approach enables a huge number of people to work on additional functionality whilst keeping the project manageable.

The world would be a much poorer place without open source software, but there is a price to pay. The plugin approach that open source development engenders leads to some great software (I wouldn’t give up my Squeezeboxes for the world for example, and my squeezeserver is bristling with plugins), but those systems do sometimes feel like they’re all elbows and knees — rather awkward, and somewhat less than elegant.

19th April

Reverting to type.

written by Mark Wheadon

Head in Sand

Chatty ostrich courtesy of Nagyman, smiler courtesy of jimbowen0306 and head in sand courtesy of blakeimeson. This work is covered by the same Creative Commons Licence.