Mac 911 - Nov. 2006

Wielding power wisely

While I was away on an extended business trip, my home network—the one my wife depends on to get her work done—went kablooey. As I was far from home and largely unable to provide the tech support she so desperately needed, she called in a local expert to put things right. He not only put the network back together, but also reworked the power setup for my home office’s complex system of computers. In this month’s Tools of the Trade, I ask that you do as I say rather than as I did, and get your Mac power system in order, too.

UPS Delivers You need dependable power that protects your computers from power surges and brownouts, and keeps the juice flowing long enough for you to save your work and shut down your machines properly. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) does just that. In the bad old days, I relied on one UPS to keep multiple Macs and a load of peripherals on the job. Bad idea. The pro brought in two APC Back-UPS 1200VA UPSs ($200) and did the right thing: He connected the computers and monitors to the power ports (on the back of one UPS) that are supplied with a battery backup, so they’ll stay alive when the rest of the office goes dark. Other peripherals that need to remain alive during blackouts—external hard drives, switches, routers, and the DSL modem—also get a backup battery outlet, on the other UPS. The laser printer, which sucks enormous amounts of power when starting up and printing, is plugged into one of the power receptacles that provides surge protection but no battery power. Nonessential peripherals—the ones I can live without during a blackout, such as my iPod and PDA chargers, scanner, and PVR—also get surge protection but no backup. Although I no longer use a modem, you might. If so, take advantage of the phone-line connector on the back of your UPS: electrical spikes can travel through phone wires, too.

Take a Test Even though I was already using a UPS, I had never bothered to find out if it worked properly. Turns out that the one I had was shot from being so overloaded. Had I cut the power to it to see if its backup functions really worked, I would have discovered the problem and divided its load among a couple more UPSs.

Share the Power I’m lucky enough to have two electrical circuits in my office. The pro took advantage of this and split the UPS units and various power strips I have between those circuits. Previously, I overloaded one circuit while leaving the other twiddling its little electric thumbs. Not smart, as this creates a potential fire hazard.

Terrific tagging

Because I import music from a variety of sources, my iTunes library has become cluttered with unsorted MP3 and AAC files that lack album, track, and even artist and song-name information. Fortunately, there’s a great tool for labeling MP3 files, so you don’t have to do it all by hand: Jay Tuley’s free iEatBrainz will look for your music files’ “digital fingerprints” on the free MusicBrainz database and give you a list of possible matches. You can quickly select the right ones and import the information you need. In conjunction with Chaotic Software’s Media Rage ($30), it allowed me to label and add artwork to 450 unsorted song files in my iTunes library, in less than two and a half hours. If you’re like me and cannot imagine having your Mac on without iTunes being open, this tool is definitely a must.— Bill Urbina

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of Secrets of the iPod and iTunes and The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide (both Peachpit Press, 2006). ]

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