Archive for February, 2009

Disappearing Rainforest Cafes

February 23, 2009

For years, Bridgette and I thought it would be fun to visit a Rainforest Cafe some day. The stories of animatronic animals and simulated storms sounded like a memorable experience.

When we got married in 2003, the nearest one was about 45 minutes away in congested Tysons Corner, VA. So we put it off for a few years. In 2005, we went to look up their hours and discovered they had closed that location.

Dave&Bridgette with animatronic elephant

The next closest Rainforest Cafe was about an hour away, in Towson, MD, near Baltimore. Finally, in October, 2007, for our anniversary, we got to that location. We got there soon after they opened, so it was almost empty when we were seated, and we had a great time. Every twenty minutes or so, there was a simulated storm and the animatronic animals would panic at the thunder and flashes of light.

Bridgette with a Volcano!

We ordered a towering chocolate cake called a Vocano for dessert, which featured one of the servers hustling out of the kitchen with it, lit sparklers on top, yelling, “Vollllcaaaaaaaanoooo!” It was better than the happy birthday rap you get at a lot of restaurants (to avoid paying performance royalties on the Happy Birthday song, which is still under copyright, BTW).

After lunch there, we went to the aquarium in the Baltimore Inner Harbor.

For Valentines Day, 2009, we thought we’d go back to the Towson Rainforest Cafe and the Inner Harbor. When we looked them up on the web to find out when they opened, we discovered that the Towson Rainforest Cafe had closed a month earlier. The nearest ones are now in New Jersey and Tennessee.

It seems the Rainforest Cafe may be modeled after the world’s rapidly disappearing rainforests a little too realistically.

We did, however, get to the Inner Harbor Cheesecake Factory for dessert. There was a rather long wait, but it was shorter than driving to New Jersey.

MacOS X, with Redundant Slow File Databases!

February 11, 2009

I have a couple of PowerBook G4 laptops that are now running Leopard. I keep them closed, in sleep mode, most of the time, often for days at a time, as I’m doing most of my work on faster Macs now. When I do open them up to do something, I often find that they are slowed to a crawl by a “find” process madly searching the disk and using most of the CPU power for the next hour or so. Just when I want to use the computer, it’s too busy to be usable.

What’s happening? I discovered that Leopard updates the “locate” database in its weekly cron script. For a computer that’s on most of the time, that generally happens when it’s idle and I’m not around to care if the computer is slow. If it misses that time because the computer wasn’t on, it runs the job as soon as it wakes up. Right when I want to use it.

So, in addition to Spotlight hogging up the computer, Leopard builds a redundant, Unix-style file database, too. Yes, I was involved in writing that stuff for GNU/Linux, but on Macs I almost never want to run “locate”. You’d think Apple would rewrite it as a Spotlight front-end.

On Mac laptops (excuse me, notebooks), I now edit /etc/defaults/periodic.conf and set

weekly_locate_enable=”NO”

On the slower ones, I also turn Spotlight off completely (I think), by running (with sudo) the commands I found in this tip:

launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.metadata.mds.plist
launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.metadata.mds.plist

I use EasyFind if I really need to find a file. It produces more usable results than Spotlight does, anyway.

Now my laptops have enough spare CPU time for me to use them again. Thanks, Leopard.

Macs Needing Unix Network Geekery

February 9, 2009

Several years ago, I noticed that SMB file sharing between Macs (running 10.3 Panther at that time, I think) and Windows XP was a lot slower than it should have been. Copying a file took several times as long as between two PCs on the same 100 megabit LAN. Some research turned up the fact that the MacOS X default network parameters are suboptimal, at least when talking to Windows XP. I think I found the fix here. It’s to (in Terminal, with sudo) create the fileĀ /etc/sysctl.conf and put some tweaked settings in it.

The same problem exists in Leopard. The sysctl settings to fix it are slightly different for Leopard and Gigabit networks. Here are some details about these parameters, and here are more explanations. Here is the sysctl.conf that I’m currently using (in Leopard and Snow Leopard; omit the maxsockbuf line in Lion):

net.inet.tcp.delayed_ack=0
net.inet.tcp.mssdflt=1440
kern.ipc.maxsockbuf=500000
net.inet.tcp.sendspace=250000
net.inet.tcp.recvspace=250000

I’ve also been getting errors when on a Windows XP client trying to copy files from an OS X share. Windows says it can’t read the source file. Going over to the Mac and copying the same files onto a shared folder on the PC works. Some Googling revealed that there’s a bug in the version of Samba that ships with Leopard. It doesn’t properly support extended attributes (an alternate data stream). I don’t need those anyway, so the fix is to turn off the buggy feature until it gets fixed in a future release. Here’s the diff:

--- /etc/smb.conf	2009/01/04 22:39:52	1.1
+++ /etc/smb.conf	2009/02/08 14:20:50
@@ -44,7 +44,7 @@
     display charset = UTF-8-MAC
     dos charset = 437

-    vfs objects = darwinacl,darwin_streams
+    vfs objects = darwinacl

     ; Don't become a master browser unless absolutely necessary.
     os level = 2
@@ -56,8 +56,8 @@
     use sendfile = yes

     ; The darwin_streams module gives us named streams support.
-    stream support = yes
-    ea support = yes
+    stream support = no
+    ea support = no

     ; Enable locking coherency with AFP.
     darwin_streams:brlm = yes

In Snow Leopard (10.6.6), the changes needed are as follows:

--- /etc/smb.conf	2010/01/22 00:04:17	1.4
+++ /etc/smb.conf	2010/04/20 13:14:28
@@ -44,7 +44,7 @@
     display charset = UTF-8
     dos charset = 437
 
-    vfs objects = notify_kqueue,darwinacl,darwin_streams
+    vfs objects = notify_kqueue,darwinacl
 
     ; Don't become a master browser unless absolutely necessary.
     os level = 2
@@ -58,10 +58,12 @@
     mangled names = no
     stat cache = no
     wide links = no
+    ; Preserve performance.
+    getwd cache = yes
 
     ; The darwin_streams module gives us named streams support.
-    stream support = yes
-    ea support = yes
+    stream support = no
+    ea support = no
 
     ; Enable locking coherency with AFP.
     darwin_streams:brlm = yes

Restarting the Mac is the easiest way to make these changes take effect.

The Mac lover in me is annoyed that Apple ships poor defaults for this important function. How much do they care about Windows file sharing? The Unix geek in me is glad that the free software underpinnings of OS X are configurable enough that I can fix them by editing a couple of text files!

And if you experience a delay of several seconds when connecting to a Windows file share from a Mac, e.g. using “Go->Connect to Server”, make sure to use the full name of the Windows server. On our Active Directory network at the office, when I connected using the form “smb://servername/sharename”, there was about a 6-second delay before the share mounted. When I switched to the form “smb://servername.dom.ain/sharename”, it went down to under a second to connect.


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