Saturday, August 13, 2011

Alfa antenna not recommended for Mac

I recently purchased an Alfa 1000mW 1W 802.11b/g USB Wireless WiFi Network Adapter from (also known as ASUW036H) from Amazon.  I posted a review there but it has not appeared, and I'm not sure it will, so I'm repeating the main points here.  The bottom line is that while it works, it is not easy to install and it won't work on future versions of the Mac OS.

Recently, the signal from my home wifi antenna has been inadequate for my Mac. Whether the problem is with the Mac AirPort or the Verizon modem is not clear.  With Verizon on strike, I don't think that anyone is going to come out to diagnose that side of the problem, so I bought this antenna.  It works, but installation on Mac OS 10.6 is far from easy.

For the record, there is a video on YouTube, and you can download the driver from the alfa web site (here) but I got the instructions on the CD that came with the antenna.  That was harder than you might think, since the CD was a non-standard size and would not work with the Mac CD slot (I had to use an external CD drive).  The instructions themselves involve the following steps.
1) You have to download the driver, as a rar-encrypted file, from a third-party site (here).  I had to use another computer, since the Mac's internet connection was not working properly.
2) You have to unpack the .rar file.  To do this, I downloaded WinRAR, which came with the StartNow computer virus (see previous post).
3) The package can then be installed on the Mac, but must be activated using line commands entered onto a terminal window.
4) Finally, the RealTek software has to be run.

It works.  The antenna receives enough signal that internet works fine.  This is an important point, and I'm happy for it.

But there are two more negatives.

First, I found that upon restarting, the device is not recognized.  The command
sudo kextutil -t -v /System/Library/Extensions/rtl8187l.kext
has to be repeated each time the computer is rebooted (anyone with a better solution, please comment). 

Second, this device will not work with future versions of the Mac OS.  From the alfa web site:
AWUS036H is not compatible to Mac OS 10.6.7 and later version, due to the chipset manufacture has stopped its driver update for this particular model. In countermeasure, we have verified that our AWUS036NH, AWUS036NEH, AWUS051NH, and AWUS036NHR are compatible to Mac OS 10.6.8.

To be fair, I should point out that this is as much Apple's fault as Alfa's.  There are many other antennas that don't work with the Mac.  I suppose that the best solution is to use a repeater rather than an antenna.

Labels: , ,

The strange case of StartNow malware

Yesterday, after I downloaded WinRAR (from Cnet, here), I found that I had also installed something called StartNow, a toolbar for my browsers that also changed my home page on both Chrome and Firefox.

StartNow installed immediately after WinRAR
 I did some searches and found that this has happened to others.

What is strange about this case?  A few things.  First, both CNET and WinRAR have a decent reputation. Second, the StartNow malware makes no attempt to hide. The program even has an "uninstall" option that seems to work.  I carried out standard removal of the extension/addon, changed the homepage back and removed StartNow using their own uninstall option.  Unlike other malware sites, startnow has their own web site ( and a support page that tells you how to remove their software (here).  Now that I've done so, everything seems fine (but I  do wonder if the other shoe might fall soon).  StartNow looks like a case of people who made a product that does something useful (although I still have no clue what that might be), who crossed the line into MalWare but don't realize they have done so.

Labels: ,

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Brazil: a country of the present

The July 20 cover of the Brazilian news magazine Veja.
A rough translation: "Taxes, currency exchange, the abundance of credit, oligopolies and consumer optimism combine to make Brazil one of the most expensive countries in the world."
Janet and I have been tourists in expensive places before.  Paris, and Scandanavia in 2007 (especially Iceland) come to mind.  Brazil was never like this.  Prices vary.  Electronics (which are made locally) are cheap and I bought a headset for Skype with only 10 reais (about $6.30), but we paid an amount that I am not willing to admit for a book ("War and Peace," in Portuguese. Janet says that Portuguese is much better suited for Tolstoy than English, and she can tell you why).  What mattered the most to us, as tourists, was the cost of eating out, and that was very high.  My credit card statement says that we spent $85 on dinner for two at the Canto do Peixada in Manauas and $118 at the Remanso do Peixe in Belem.  Those are great restaurants, and I recommend that you do the same if you are in those cities.  What grates is spending $40 or even $50 for what is basically cafeteria food (which we also did).

It was no surprise to read in the Economist, on my return, that Brazil is one of the most expensive countries in the world according to their big mac index, and the most expensive if one corrects for per capita GDP.  The story appeared in the July 30 issue and is here.

What might be more surprising to some is that the restaurants I mentioned were crowded.  There are lots of Brazilians with money to spend, and statistics bear this out.  Not only have tens of millions of Brazilians moved into the middle class in the last ten years, resulting in an increase of over 40% increase in that category, but the number of wealthy in Brazil has similarly grown.  Republican policies (most significantly, the Bush tax cuts) in the US have proven that trickle down does not work (it doesn't even happen; CEO pay has now almost fully recovered since the 2008 recession, but that is apparently doing nothing to stimulate the rest of the economy).  Brazil demonstrates the opposite.  Programs such as the "bolsa familia" have put money into the hands of the poor and that has resulted in a gushing upwards of living standards.
We visited Brazil during their school vacation.  The plane that I flew on traveling back to the US was full of students on their way to spend a week at Disney World.  They all had stylish clothes and cell phones and looked a lot like American high school kids on a trip to visit DC (something I see a lot, living here).  Travel within Brazil is booming and tourist sites such as the opera house in Manaus were crowded with Brazilians visiting from elsewhere in the country.
Coming back to DC, I was struck by the contrast.  I arrived as the party of Herbert Hoover was holding the US economy hostage, and all talk of economics has focused on the negative. No one here seems optimistic, and there is no talk of an overheated economy.
A school in the flooded forest of Amazonas, complete with satellite dish for internet.
The cornerstones of democracy (and, indirectly, capitalism) are education and the open exchange of ideas. When we were in Brazil, the television often featured debates about what to do about the overheated economy.  I was struck by the idea that the excessive Brazilian politeness that had always seemed to be artificial, and to slow everything down, might be truly useful.  As speakers acknowledged the value of each other's opinion before offering their own, I got the sense that they were working towards an understanding of the best way forward.  In contrast, here in the US, political debate is all acrimony.  "My way or the highway."

Brazil still has many problems, including corruption and an entrenched poverty, but perhaps the US can learn something from Brazil about democracy and the market economy.

Dawn at the equator

I recently returned from my first-ever visit to the Amazon.  One thing that I noticed right away was the abrupt rising and setting of the sun.  It goes straight up or down, quickly.  This felt, upon my arrival from summer in Maryland, where evenings are long and sunlight lingers, like the flipping of a light switch.  I have an interest in naked-eye astronomy, and one of my favorite books is Aveni's "Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico."  I have the 1980 edition.  A revised and updated version, simply "Skywatchers," was released in 2001.

To an observer on the equator, the sun appears to rise and set straight up,
but does move to the north and south through the year.

The last time I was on the equator was in 1997 or so, when I visited the Galapagos.  Being on a boat made astronomical observations difficult.  This time, I stayed with Janet in Belem, in the hotel Grão Pará.  On our second day we moved to a room on the top floor, with an outstanding view of the city.

The Belem skyline from the Hotel Grão Pará
on Av. Presidente Vargas, overlooking the Praça da República

From this vantage point, it was possible to document the movement of the sun from north to south by observing the position of sunrise on three consecutive days.

The southward movement of sunrise over three days in July.

Sunrise, July 17
Sunrise, July 18
Sunrise, July 19

I was also able, on July 19, my last day, to capture evidence that the sun rises straight up (even though it is not rising due east).

6:43 am
6:44 am
6:48 am

As it rose from behind a building, it peeked out through consecutive aligned openings. If it had been moving left to right, it would not have been seen through more than one of these.