How to make your own Fusion drive

I’ve got a previous generation iMac, the first that came with a 256Gb SSD drive as an option, and I also had a 2Tb hard drive added to it, for longer term storage of things like photos, music, and movies that didn’t fit on the first drive. It has worked well since I bought it a couple summers ago, the OS and applications reside on the SSD and are lightning fast, totally worth the expense of adding SSD as an option, while archived stuff and media still work well on the larger hard drive.

The downside to this setup was that it required lots of hacks to do things like symlink home folders to the larger drive and I had to tell every app to store data in a custom location on the bigger hard drive (apps always defaulted to storage on the SSD). It was a pain to manage and when my storage needs exceeded the 256Gb+2Tb capacity, I recently bought a new iMac featuring a 3Tb Fusion drive.

Last Fall, the newest iMac debuted with a Fusion drive, based on a combination SSD/HD setup that puts most frequently used files on the SSD to speed up operations while automatically moving larger files and seldom used files to the hard drive. It “cloaks” the two disks into appearing as a single disk, making file management among your apps and OS much easier.

As I recently found out, if you have the dual SSD/HD setup in a mac, you can also create a Fusion drive, combining the two. I found loads of conflicting information about this online but wanted to write up what worked for me.

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1. This will require erasing your drives eventually, so it works best when you’re setting things up from scratch or when you’re ready to start over. Be sure to backup all your old data to external disks before proceeding. I suggest Carbon Copy Cloner to backup both existing drives in your iMac to a single external large drive.

2. Download the OS X Recovery tool and install it onto a USB key. This lets you boot to a USB thumb drive and run a minimal set of tools like disk utility and the terminal, both necessary for the operation. You must do this on the machine you intend to turn into a Fusion drive.

3. Boot up your mac with the option key held down to boot to your recovery drive. Select the orange USB drive option and it should say “Recovery Disk” on it.

4. Follow the instructions here at cnet. It starts with making new single partitions on each drive, both your SSD and your hard drive. Then you close Disk Utility and go to the menu bar to run Terminal. Do the set of commands listed at cnet. My commands to create the combined drive used disk0 and disk1s2.

5. When complete, quit Terminal and the main utilities menu will pop up again. You can double-check your work by seeing only one physical disk in the Disk Utility app, and when you’re done simply run the  “Reinstall OS X” option and let it do its thing.

Listening to podcasts piecemeal: huffduffer & Instacast

For the past few years, there’s been a site called huffduffer (started by Jeremy Keith) that lets you link to bits of audio you find online and it shows you popular items across the service. I’ve always thought of it as Instapaper or delicious for audio, but I never found myself considering it a useful tool that met any of my own audio needs.

Last year I found Instacast, an iPhone app that fully replaced my podcast listening through iTunes. It works around Apple’s previous limitations that require you to sync your phone to a computer and requring wifi to download episodes. It’s a great app and keeps you up to date on everything you love, even when you’re on 3G.

What’s weird is in the years since podcasting came out, the world has changed and there are lots of different podcasts producing infrequent content. You also hear about one-off events or shows, or single stellar episodes in an otherwise established series. I finally found a personal use for huffduffer recently as a way to collect all the single podcast episodes I want to hear without the committment of subscribing to a podcast and having to download every one of its 100s of episodes.

Take for example the Marc Maron show. He’s at 339 episodes, many of which go beyond a couple hours, and though it’s an incredible comedy interview show you’re talking a pretty significant chunk of time if you subscribe to the show. On the other hand, I’ve had friends that listen to the show say there are 4 or 5 episodes you shouldn’t miss, and I’ve been happy to listen to those but I simply don’t have the time to follow 2hrs of new content a week from the podcast forever. Another example is friends doing a guest spot on a show I’ve never heard of, it’s a great way to just pluck out that single episode and save it to huffduffer. This also works the other way. If I hear three good single episodes of a podcast chances are I’ll subscribe to the full feed.

How To

The final step in the puzzle is wiring your huffduffer feed to instacast. It’s easy, but I couldn’t find any instructions for this online so I’ll post them here. Sign up for huffduffer, use the bookmarklet to add single episodes to your account, then look for your personal podcast feed, which takes the form of:

http://huffduffer.com/{your username}/rss

Next, go to your Instacast client, hit the + button to add a new podcast, then click the link button in the upper left. Put your huffduffer podcast URL listed above and save.

That’s all there is to it, whenever you hear about an amazing episode of a podcast or someone you follow on twitter guest stars somewhere, add it to huffduffer, pop open your phone and enjoy.

Lightning Adapters in the Elevation Dock

Remember my last post where I was talking about 3D printing? After writing it, I contacted my friend Michael Buffington, who recently won a Makerbot at the XOXO conference.

I showed him a few basic lightning adapter designs on Thingaverse, which he printed, but then we realized in testing them out they all had drawbacks. The fit wasn’t perfect in any of them, one was great at holding a cord but you could push the cord out of the device when connecting it on a table top. None of them dealt with the bend of a new Apple lightning cable very well.

Buffington tweaked some things and made a new second part that holds the cable down while also forcing the hard bend. Photos of the dock with the parts mounted are here in a Flickr slideshow:


and here is video of the dock being used on my desk:

It’s just two pieces of printed plastic and a couple off-the-shelf nuts and bolts going into existing holes to put it all together. Buffington’s design is now on Thingaverse, my hope is anyone else with a Elevation dock can upgrade it to allow for iPhone 5 charging.

As always, 3D printing your own parts in real-time is totally awesome and I can’t wait until everyone has a desktop 3D printer at home.

3d Printing and the speed of progress

image from thingiverse-production.s3.amazonaws.com

This is fascinating, someone has made a 3d printed insert for the Elevation Dock to hold a new lightning cable. In August, I received a few Elevation Docks after funding it earlier this year, and I loved using it each day as my phone finally had a nice bedside charger. Since I replaced my iPhone I've missed using it and disassembled an Elevation Dock the other day to see if I could wedge one of the new iPhone cables into it. Unfortunately, the plastic trim that holds the 30-pin connector in place is too narrow to squeeze/hold the lightning adapter high enough for charging in the dock.

I was considering cutting some of the plastic and trying to get it to work but found out Mike Hellers already solved this by putting up a design on Thingaverse which you can get printed/shipped for about $10 from Shapeways.

This is great for owners of a new iPhone that backed the Elevation Dock. I'm impressed at how quickly this 3d model was conceived and printed and is now available. As I was disassembling my dock, I looked at the electronics that Casey, the designer behind the Elevation Dock created and realized it was mostly unnecessary if you could just bend/hold an existing iPhone charger cable. Casey told me at the XOXO conference he was working on a new connector for the lightning connector, but rumors are there's a chip in the cable that would make 3rd party cables impossible.

The most interesting aspect is how 3d printing disrupts things. Casey built these heavy, beautiful docks and spent months creating a circuit board to support charging that is now incompatible and likely impossible to replicate for the new connector. In some industries, I could see a company/creator going after someone making rogue parts like this printed cable holder, but I really hope in this case Casey partners with Mike and figures out a way to print/ship these to existing Elevation Dock owners. It would reduce the Elevation Dock to basically a hunk of heavy aluminum that simply holds a cable inside, but from the outside the existing dock isn't much more than that. (via jdd)

Great iOS software: Pillboxie

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I have a simple pharmaceutical regime, but a complicated schedule. Three drugs total, one needs to be taken every morning one hour before I eat, a second immediately after I eat (along wth some allergy meds and vitamins at that time). The third one is trickiest, it has to be right before I go to sleep, but only on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

I've had this schedule since November of 2009, and I did pretty well for the first two years or so. It was ok to forget once in a while for 2 out of the three drugs but a couple years in I started to lower my dosages and I started forgetting at least one a week, then more than once a week. I tried the standard alarms on my iPhone, but they were a bit too invasive (they always went off audibly, usually hours after I took the pill already) and no one likes an alarm at 10pm twice a week when you're starting to go to sleep.

Eventually I found pillboxie. I've been using it for a couple months and it works great. Every morning an hour after I normally take a pill I have it set to remind me with a silent notification on my home screen. I can check off when I remembered to take it, and take it if I forgot. Since I check my phone when I wake up and when I go to sleep, during those once or twice a week times I might forget to take a pill, my phone has a nice notification telling me to and I haven't forgotten a pill since I started using Pillboxie. It's simple and it works, and if you have medications on different timetables and you use an iPhone I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Yosemite iOS apps (yes, really)

Half Dome

Last month I had a lovely time in Yosemite with my family. I grew up in Southern California so I’ve been to Yosemite a dozen times before, but I really love going in the Winter because barely anyone is around. You can hike to many places in peace, you can get dinner at every restaurant, and you can enjoy views without having to rush along.

On a lark, the week before we went I searched the App Store for “Yosemite” just to see what came up. I downloaded half a dozen things and most weren’t much help during my trip but there were two apps worth mentioning because I found myself using them many times during our week there.

California State Parks ($0.99) Every time you’re in a California State Park, there are maps. Maps they give you when you go in, maps of shuttles, maps of parking lots, etc. This app had a free downloadable pack of Yosemite maps and I used this daily while in the park. I not only got to see myself as a nice blue dot on any of the maps, when we were pressed for time, I could locate the nearest shuttle bus stop, I could tell where to park near hiking trails, and I could tell which route was shortest to a waterfall. Totally worth the buck and way easier to carry than a stack of maps.

The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite ($6.99) There are lots of photo classes in Yosemite Valley and there are professional courses you can take to learn where to stand and when to take the best shots possible. These classes start at about $100 and go up into the thousands for a several-day outing with the pros. One pro photographer took everything he knew about shooting photos at Yosemite and put them all into this amazing app. You can tell the app when you’re in the park and what time of day it is, and it will tell you the exact places and shots you can get if you follow their tips. It’s really incredible because some of the tips involve windows of only a few days a year where something is lit up just right. I didn’t plan my vacation around this app, but when I had some time in the afternoon, I knew where the best place was to park and get out and take a shot of Half Dome seen above (on a bridge a couple hours before sunset).

That said, Verizon phone coverage was generally pretty spotty in the valley, and even my high end accomodations at the Ahwahnee came with spotty WiFi so getting online or uploading photos was dodgy at best all week. Both of the apps above worked fine offline (once you download the right map pack over WiFi).

World travel with the unlocked US Verizon iPhone 4S

I've had the Verizon iPhone 4S since it launched last Fall, and I've now taken trips to three countries to use it. I've spent extensive time in Belgium and New Zealand using local micro SIM cards to great effect, and due to a Verizon snafu I've had to use their international service in Belgium as well and I can report it indeed is grossly overpriced. I figure I would share a couple tips and do a quick review after a few weeks abroad.

Step 1: Call Verizon after 60 days and ask for an "International Unlock"

The key step before you go abroad is to make sure you own your Verizon 4S for at least two months and then call customer service to request an International Unlock (I found out about that at ZDnet). They will try to pitch you their international calling plan but refuse it or say you will consider it if the unlock doesn't pan out. 

You have to do this over the phone, the reps I talked to inside a Verizon store couldn't do the procedure. Also, make sure the person on the phone knows how to do this, because the first time I called it was the person's first attempt at ever doing it and it turned out they didn't complete the task properly, causing problems later on.

Step 2: When you get off the plane and through customs, look around the airport for SIM card kiosks

In Belgium after I got my bags and before I left the airport, there was just one little booth selling cards from BASE.be, a local mobile provider. They were fantastic, offering 500Mb of data plus 15 Euro of talk time and texting for only 15 Euro. I also set up topping up the card via SMS, so after a few phone calls and some heavy downloading on my laptop (you can tether the connection) I could simply send a text to get more credit. 

In New Zealand's Auckland international airport, there were two options, Vodafone or Telecom and I selected Vodafone since I'd heard of them before (seen them on soccer jerseys). They offered 250Mb of data plus a bunch of texting and calls for $45NZ. I used up all the bandwidth halfway through my week and topped it up again via SMS.

My local Verizon rep said the USA is the only country in the world that requires you to have an expensive phone plan with hundreds to thousands of minutes of talk time plus data plus texting. Every other country does fine with these cheap pay-as-you-go cards. I would LOVE to have the same setup I had in Belgium, where 10 Euro could last me weeks of heavy phone use instead of the $70/month plan I have with Verizon.

Step 3: Carry a paperclip and a holder to keep your old Verizon SIM in when you're not using it

I have an old SD card case (pictured above) I carry in my travel backpack with all my old micro SIMs and a paperclip. It's really easy to pop the paperclip into the side of your iPhone, slide out the tray, and drop another card in. Every card has its own unlock code and you have to be sure to remember them because they can get locked out from use if you fail on four attempts. It's also fun to feel like a character in The Wire as you can jump from SIM to cheap SIM, switching to a new number each time. Be sure to keep your original Verizon SIM for when you get back home to the US, otherwise you'll have problems.

Warning: don't use Verizon for international use

Since my first attempt at unlocking didn't work, my first use of an International SIM in Belgium didn't quite work out. I could get onto the new network, but I couldn't make calls or get any data. I eventually had to pop in my Verizon card and call Verizion to have them double check (and I also enabled an international plan in case that didn't work out). Data cost me $20.54/Mb in Belgium as I checked the Verizon.com site for a contact number, then I had to wait on hold at several dollars per minute. When they fixed my unlock, new SIMs worked fine, and in the meantime I tried out another local provider and it seemed to work too. I also had no trouble using my Verizon phone in roaming mode in Canada while at the airport, using data from Verizon's own plan.

Verizon's top international plan costs $125 for only 300Mb of data (On AT&T last summer, I used their $200 800Mb plan for two weeks in Australia without going over) and thankfully Verizon counted my international call/data time before I enabled it into my $125 option (I didn't have to pay the $20.54/Mb price). 

Bonus: crazy local numbers aren't all bad

You might want to keep your phone's local US number when abroad (especially when traveling with other Americans that want to call you easily), but I'm more of a texting person and thanks to Apple's iMessage feature, I could text any other American I knew while traveling using data instead of my SMS allocation. Getting a local number proved handy for having a way for local people to contact me without them having to use international talk time as well.

Beware of international data hogs

One last tip: in my experience and talking with friends, it seems like Google Maps is the worst culprit when it comes to data use. It is super useful for getting around, but all those map tiles quickly add up. I was lost in Sydney my first afternoon in Australia last summer and by the end of my first 24hrs, I had amazingly used up 200Mb of my 800Mb allocated for the 2 weeks. After that I took the advice of friends and moved to using OffMaps as much as I could, which uses OpenStreetMaps along with your GPS location to give you a good idea of where you are without tons of network use (you download your maps on wifi, then use them in an offline way). 

It's also a good idea to take advantage of free/cheap WiFi in cafes, hotels, and at business offices as much as possible.

Conclusion: international unlock rocks

Considering that in Belgium I got more than Verizon's top plan for the equivalent of $13, it's a no brainer: get your Verizon 4S unlocked and always go with the cheap local SIM option. It's quick and easy to get a local SIM at the airport, and pop it in. The first time I did this, I had to be on WiFi and connected to iTunes to "activate" my SIM slot, but my last trip to New Zealand didn't require that and a new SIM worked fine after popping it in.

Verizon vs. AT&T iPhones in NW Oregon

A friend asked me to review my switch after 3+ years on AT&T to Verizon with the iPhone 4s. I've been using the Verizon phone for nearly 3 months and I spent all summer sitting next to an intern using the first Verizon 4 iPhone, so I got to use them side by side before switching. Here are my thoughts after a few months of usage:

In general I always have coverage everywhere I've been in Portland and in cities beyond, more so than when I had an AT&T phone in the area. I haven't noticed the reported call sound quality increases (cell phones just generally sound like talking into a tin can and still do) but I do have to say I've never dropped a call since I left AT&T. When I would be driving on the freeway in Portland, my calls on AT&T (through bluetooth, of course) would drop about half the time. It was almost like clockwork when I'd hit the city limits of Portland that my calls would begin to drop on AT&T. That has never happened with Verizon. In nearly three months, I've never gotten a "network busy" error either, which is something that happened a couple times a month on my old AT&T phone.

The only downside I've found is that data is a bit slower. Not super slow and you get used to it really fast and forget about it, but I remember thinking web pages I always accessed on AT&T were loading on Verizon in a few more seconds than usual. I do tons of stuf online with my phone so this can be a dealbreaker for people working 100% online that require the fastest data connection, but I gave up a slight bump in speed for reliable networking. The Verizon phone always seems to have a 3G connection.

There was one other aspect aside that also made me switch and it was the increased coverage that Verizon has over everyone else. I noticed in the coverage maps that Verizon extends a mile or two into the wilderness more than AT&T and every single time I went for a mountain bike (MTB) ride in Oregon (Bend, Dallas, McMinnville, McKenzie River, Mt St Helens, Hagg Lake) my AT&T connection would disappear either in the parking lot or the trailhead. I've taken a couple MTB rides since I switched and on one ride I always had a connection whenever I stopped to check and another I had a connection about 3/4 of the stops (only in a small valley of dense forest was there no connection). This was really important to me since I broke my wrist last year — I know I'm no longer invincible and if anyone riding with me ever crashed on a MTB ride, normally we'd all be screwed and have to hike out with an injured person. Having some chance of phone service made me feel a bit safer whenever I go off road.

That's about it, increased coverage, calls never drop, but data speeds are a tad slower. The costs are about the same but I have liked switching to Verizon since the local store has a very competent staff that helped me get phones on launch day and have fixed a couple of tiny issues since I got the phones (like changing callerID, etc). The local AT&T store was mostly unhelpful in the three years I would sporadically interact with them.

How to port your AT&T iPhone number to a new Verizon iPhone quickly

I'm going to write up all the steps to move off a AT&T phone onto a new Verizon phone because I had to assemble all this info from disparate sources and figure others might save time if they knew about all the steps to do it yourself.

Before you call you will need a lot of info that might take some digging. It requires:

  1. Your AT&T account number (mine was 12 digits, all numbers)
  2. Your AT&T account secret PIN (mine was all numbers, 6 digits)
  3. The last 4 digits of either your Social Security number for a personal account or the business EIN for a business account
  4. Your new (temporary) Verizon phone number
  5. Your old AT&T number you'd like to port over.

Once you have all that written down, follow these steps. 

  • Take out your new iPhone, sync it to your iTunes, probably restore from your other phone's backup
  • call Verizon's number porting system at 866-465-5415 (probably on a home phone, with speaker phone so you can enter lots of digits)
  • Enter the old AT&T phone number, get an error, press 2 to proceed, then press 3 to replace a number with an old one, enter current temp Verizon number, then they will ask for your last four digits of your Social Security Number or EIN business number.
  • Go through the menus, eventually you will need to give the old AT&T phone number again and then your AT&T account number and your PIN on your account.
  • You will get a "port request began" success message at the end.
  • Hang up and go to verizonwireless.com/port to check the status. It should say that porting is in progress. They say this will take 3-24hrs, but I would suggest waiting about 10-15 minutes before going to the next step.
  • Start your new iPhone, dial *228 and follow the prompts to activate your new phone and it should say your new phone is activated.
  • Let your phone sit after hanging up. You will be kicked off the Verizon network and then join back on about a minute later, with your AT&T number.
  • If your phone still has the temp Verizon number, wait another 5-10min and then call *228 and activate your phone again, when it comes back onto the Verizon network, chances are your old number will be attached to it.
  • Wipe/restore your old AT&T phone and sell it to someone else

The number porting process says you will get a text message at some point when it is all complete, but that never happened for me, and if you have all this information handy and you follow these steps, you can get your number ported in about ten minutes without any need for human intervention. Good Luck!