Downgrading AirPort Extreme to 7.6.1

I made a mistake last Thursday evening: upgraded my AirPort Extreme base station’s firmware to 7.6.3. Until Sunday afternoon WAN routing stopped three times (for which I first blamed our ISP), but when WiFi is also stopped last afternoon I decided to go back to the very well behaving 7.6.1.

But, to rephrase what Mr. Scott said: downgrading is easy, finding the file – that’s hard. Apple’s respective firmware page is an insult: it contains no link to the firmware update itself. Google turned up nothing, so I decided to go after a solution myself.

Note that I’m still using AirPort Utility 5.6. I consider 6.0 a huge step backward.

AirPort Utility stores the firmware files under the ~/Library/Application Support/Apple/AirPort/Firmware folder. You have a numbered subfolder for each model. My 4th generation AirPort Extreme’s number is 114. Here I found just one file: 7.6.3.basebinary.

So I knew that I had to look for 7.6.1.basebinary and put it into that folder. I also found a file named version.xml under the Firmware folder. Opening it quickly revealed that it contains actual download links for firmware images under the firmwareUpdates key (it’s actually an array of dictionaries, with each element corresponding to a firmware file). To find your file look for a dictionary containing your product number under the productID key, 7.6.1 under the version key, and you’ll get the download link in the location key, as you can see below:

<dict>
    <key>location</key>
    <string>http://apsu.apple.com/data/114/041-3395.20120130.Ka1Br/
        7.6.1.basebinary</string>
    <key>productID</key>
    <string>114</string>
    <key>version</key>
    <string>7.6.1</string>
    <key>sourceVersion</key>
    <string>76100.4</string>
    <key>sizeInBytes</key>
    <integer>6364116</integer>
</dict>

Also note that I had to download the firmware directly attaching the ADSL modem to my Mac, as at the end routing was so hectic that I was not able to do it via the AirPort Extreme. Having downloaded the file the actual downgrade procedure was seamless: put the file in the aforementioned folder and choose “Upload Firmware…” from the “Base Station” menu in AirPort Utility 5.6.

I also noticed a strange thing: while on 7.6.3 the Upload Firmware dialog only allowed me to upload 7.6.3 and nothing else. Now that I’m back on 7.6.1, it allows me to choose between 7.5.2, 7.6, 7.6.1 and 7.6.3.

All is well since then.

Update 8/14/2013

Just installed 7.6.4. I’ll report after a week or so how it works.

Sleepless External Display on a Mac

The original frustrating issue: my other half’s 13″ retina Macbook Pro was unable to put the external display into sleep. Video signal was off, but something kept the display always on (it’s a Samsung SyncMaster 213T – which isn’t a young one, but still a very capable monitor). So I tried a crazy idea: swapped my Mini Displayport to DVI adapter with hers.

And the result was – to my biggest surprise – proper display sleep. I was curious whether it is a faulty adapter or what, so tried the non-sleeping adapter with my EIZO CG241W. The result? Proper sleep behavior again.

The only difference between the two MiniDP to DVI adapters is that mine is almost three years old, while hers is from last December. They look exactly the same, have the exact same part number, etc.

Conclusion: if you encounter display sleep issues, the culprit might be compatibility between your adapter and monitor. Try to get an older Apple adapter or try an aftermarket one.

iPad mini First Impressions

Owning a small software company that produces iOS apps has a huge benefit: I have access to all the latest and greatest devices Apple makes. Actually it is a necessity: we have to measure their cameras on our optical bench for Viewfinder. And most of them will remain here after that as a test device.

We have an iPad 4th generation for weeks, it works as expected, but nothing to write home about (except that I had to send the first one back because its display had an ugly green cast in the upper left corner).

The mini is a completely different story, though. When I got the package earlier today, I was really surprised by the weight. I knew that it’s light, just expected a heavier package. Back in the office I told Agnes: “Two words: mine and want are invalid, so don’t say them”. She looked at the device and quickly replied: “no dinner – how about these two?”

Joking aside (the ownership of the mini is still undecided, however – and we are after the dinner), here’s a quick rundown of my initial impressions.

  • This is the ideal size for me as a content consumption device. Reading books, websites, Flipboard-ing, things like these. The classic iPad is way too heavy to hold for extended periods of time and tends to punch a hole in my left palm in the position I usually hold it. I spent the last two hours reading Kindle books on it and really enjoyed the experience. Way more than on the classic iPad (retina or not). I suspect that I’ll read more books in the coming weeks than I usually do.
  • Performance is great, but even the iPad 2’s perf was OK for me. I don’t play OpenGL-heavy games on the iPad, so can’t talk about that part (XPlane 9 is fast enough).
  • The screen – well, it’s lacking. In my usual reading distance it’s pretty good, but way worse than anything retina. On the retina iPad I can read pretty small type without strain – the mini’s screen is not so easy on my eyes. I find myself zooming in more often than with the retina iPad. Actually it’s the same thing I experienced with the iPad 2. Reading Kindle books is more than OK, however.

All in all, I love the mini. For reading PDFs and anything high resolution I still reach for the retina iPad. Every other aspect of my iPad usage is a better fit for the mini. And I have some rather ambitious plans with the device…

Retina MacBook Pro – After 2 and a Half Months

The 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display is by far the best computer I had ever used, no question about it. And I had used great many – although only a handful made a deep impression (I mean a positive impression, because I came across several that made unforgettable bad impressions). These are heavy words from me. As you might have been noticed I’m really picky on everything I use (just browse the Hall of Shame section for rants about bad design and/or execution).

You can read my initial impressions about the machine here.

During the last months I had used the machine as a desktop for software development (both iOS and OS X) as well as studio work, and lugged it around the country as a field laptop to assist during my photo trips. Most of my first impressions are still valid, and I love the machine even more than I though at first. I would just like to add further observations.

Battery Life

In my initial post I wrote around 5 hours. Since then OS X 10.8.2 came out, which increased battery life substantially. Now I get something between 6 and 8+ hours, depending on the usage pattern (disabling Adobe Flash holds a great contribution to increased battery life, though).

Tethered Shooting

Working Tethered

I started working tethered for landscape shots immediately after receiving the MacBook, and the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of lugging around a computer. Before the MacBook I had tried to use the Lenovo X200s for tethered work, but was not really satisfied with it and abandoned the idea until the MacBook arrived.

I like several things about this setup.

No time required for image sorting and selection later. I just bring home the keepers. This proved to be a huge time-saver!

I can make the first cut of the final processing in the field, using the same tools I use in the studio. This fits extremely well into my creative process. The high resolution and color-accurate display helps a lot in this. It’s like holding an A4 sized print in front of me. I even stitch panoramas made with the 24mm TS-E lens to check whether everything is good about the shot.

Images are immediately backed up, as the the tethering software saves images to both the memory card in the camera and onto the computer. (Which app? – you might ask. Don’t worry I’ll devote a few posts for that subject later.)

As I wrote in my first impressions piece, the machine fits perfectly into my Lowepro Pro Trekker 400AW. Fully loaded it’s now a back-breaking experience, but if I leave home stuff I don’t need for the shoot, then the full weight is around 15kg, which is bearable. I did several 2-3 hour hikes with the setup without any effects on my back and shoulders (did I mention that the Pro Trekker is a great backpack?).

Other Good Things

The notebook-as-the-desktop was really helpful during the August storms. I routinely power down and disconnect sensitive equipment during thunderstorms, as I saw quite a few over-voltage spikes in the past. But with the MacBook I can continue working during these hours. I really like thunderstorms and they put me in a creative mood, so it’s a big plus!

Last, but not least, no more copying or syncing or Dropboxing files between my desktop and field notebook! No more forgetting to copy something in the hurry before I leave! This saves me lot of time and the peace of mind that comes from the fact that I always have everything I need with me is priceless.

What I miss?

Thunderbolt docks. Matrox’s and Belkin’s solutions are both delayed. Plugging in all those cables (all the connectors of the machine are populated) in the morning really pisses me off. I’ll be first in the line for one of those docks!