Thursday, November 27, 2008

Updates To Avoid

Apple has been busy in the last few weeks with updates to QuickTime, iTunes, Safari, and their old Security Update. Problems were obvious with some right away, but others took a while to discover.

Many of you did update when Software Update popped up and told you to, and things have worked correctly. You may breathe a sigh of relief.

The worst offender is the 2008-004 Security Update for Tiger (10.4). This has a bug that causes your Network pane in System Preferences to drop a dialog box that says "Your settings have been changed by another application." with an OK button. Click it and immediately it pops up again. This affects everyone running OSX 10.4.11, whether on an Intel Mac or a PPC Mac.

Fortunately, if you don't need to change your settings in this panel, your Internet connection will continue to work. You will even be able to switch between plug-in Ethernet cabling and wireless AirPort, and move your connection between other WiFi spots (your neighbor, a coffee house, work, etc.)

There is no fix. After going round and round with Apple on this recently, and being kicked upstairs to one of the people who really know what's going on, the bottom line is you have to do an Archive and Install reinstallation from your Tiger disk, and then run all the Software Updates again, EXCEPT for the offending Security Update.

Or just give up and buy Leopard 10.5, assuming your Mac has enough RAM and is fast enough to use it.

Safari - The last stable version is 3.1.2. There have been two updates, 3.2 and 3.2.1 since. Besides disabling add-on programs like PithHelmet (which blocks ads) and other input managers, the update is much more sensitive to misbehaving sites and crashes quite often. One workaround, if you have already gotten the update, is to go to the Safari menu and choose Empty Cache, then again and choose Reset Safari. Let it delete your entire history, saved passwords, icons, etc. This has been shown to help make it more stable. But if you are running 3.1.2 or older, stop there. This affects people running OSX 10.4.11 and also 10.5.5.

Leopard - I have had no trouble with the 10.5.5 update, compared to the stable 10.5.4 version that is on the store-bought DVDs currently available. (Previous store copies were 10.5.1, which replaced the notoriously buggy initial 10.5 release.) The notorious exception affects people using ProTools, the music composition suite of software. They have experienced display issues when updating to 10.5.5 and the only fix is to reinstall and then stop at 10.5.4.

QuickTime - The problematic version is 7.5.5. The previous 7.5 is pretty stable but if you have 7.3 or 7.4.5, don't update unless getting a new iPhone forces you to. Users are experiencing playback problems with the newest version on some web pages.

iTunes 8 - The latest is 8.0.2 but any version past 7.7 has introduced difficulties for some. The biggest problems have been experienced by people who store their iTunes library on a different hard drive from the startup drive. It loses track of the library data and usually requires recreating the library, which causes you to lose all of your playlists. Outside of a cool visualizer eye-candy effect, and a "genius sidebar" that takes note of what you are playing and suggests other songs you can buy from the iTunes Store, there is no advantage to iTunes 8. It's required, of course, if you have the latest iPhone.

The new MacBooks - The Defective By Design web site, an informational service opposed to DRM (Digital Rights Management, or copy protection), has listed the new MacBooks as #1 in their 35 Days Against DRM project. Read all about it at Defective By Design. It seems Apple has included a hardware chip in the new models that serves no function other than to make it impossible to play certain video formats that are deemed "the analog hole," or a format the movie and TV industry has decided you may not view.

I realize this affects very few of you, but if you want to rip video from your TV, or from a DVD, you have to go through extra hoops to make it work. It is a consumer-hostile act on Apple's part, and they should not be allowed to get away without hearing protest from their customers. This chip has not been included in any of their other models - yet.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Think about ignoring the new MacBooks

Since the announcement that new MacBooks would not have FireWire ports, there has been a firestorm of criticism on Apple's chat forums and other blog sites. Other complaints have centered around the price increase for MacBook Pros.

Loss of FireWire means no more connecting to other Macs via Target Disk mode. ALthough all Intel Macs can boot off of USB-2 external hard drives, and all the drives I have been recommending for backup purposes have both ports, I cannot recommend the new MacBook to anyone without hesitation. But for that, it would be a great machine and an appropriate replacement for the old 12" PowerBook G4. Still, if you can't imagine ever needing FireWire to link two Macs together or to hook up a digital video camera, it is a worthy product.

Migration without FireWire is still possible if you have a cloned backup to one of these multi-port drives because it can read that same drive through the USB port.

According to Ric Ford of Macintouch, the best buy right now is to get a remaindered MB Pro from Amazon or other sources, at a savings of as much as $500 over the new ones. I have that particular model myself and recommend it without reservation.

The now-cheaper white plastic MacBook ($999) Apple is selling alongside the aluminum ones has been upgraded with a SuperDrive (writes DVDs too) which actually makes it cheaper by $300. It comes with only one gig of RAM, though, so if you buy this model, which still has a FireWire port, be sure to get at least two gigs RAM at time of order.

Besides price, I don't see any problems with the new MacBook Pro models, except you must buy an extra-cost DVI adapter to use them with an external monitor you already have or any non-Apple one you may buy. They are designed specifically for the new Cinema Display, which has built-in video camera and speakers. Assume the adapters will ad $20-$30 to the total cost. The 24" Cinema Display looks hot, though, and at $900 is not too far out of competition with other manufacturers, especially if you would actually use the video camera for video chatting or podcasting.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Avoid Fake CNN spam

Slashdot and many of the other blogs (which you should scan now and then, btw) are warning people about a spam that is making the rounds called CNN Daily Top Ten. When you click the link, it takes you to a window that tells you that it needs to install a new version of the Flash player.

Naturally, that isn't Flash, it's malware. You can be certain that it is designed to infect Windows boxes, but it isn't known if it can also detect a Mac and serve malware just for us. We do know that there are some weaknesses in OSX and Safari that CAN be exploited, but not if this is one of them.

Bottom line: It's spam. Don't click it. I don't care how pretty or believable it looks. It is always out to hurt you so avoid it at all costs.

More on Epson

One person responded saying I should not tar the entire product line because their tech support is awful and their little CD print program is garbage. He says that their higher-end professional printers are still excellent.

Good news, then. This is similar to HP in the sense that their high-end laser printers do not suffer from the same horrible software that their cheap laser and inkjets do. One would think they care about ALL of their customers, but I guess not.

That CD printer program probably works fine for people who have only one printer, plugged into USB, but I would look to other publishers for CD printing software. I know one comes with Toast and there should be others.

Worse news: The Canon printer that can handle CDs is sold only to Europeans. You may not have any other choice.

Forget about Epson

Today I had a client with a new Epson all-in-one with the ability to print on CDs directly. They also have a wireless network with an AirPort Express that you can plug the printer into and print from anywhere on the network. It mostly works, but the client said the colors are not as good as her previous printer. This is bad news because Epson used to have the best color, even as their tech support went to hell.

Well, it's still in hell, at least India, and they were incapable of solving a problem with their super-simple CD/DVD printing program. It uses a non-standard print dialog box, and there is no way to change the printer! This is important, because there has to be two drivers: one for USB direct and one for wireless. Choose the wrong one and the print will fail with a "Can't find the printer" message.

It was like pulling fingernails to get the level 1 tech to even understand the problem: Everything worked correctly; it could print in all programs BUT their CD printer. After an hour battle and finally getting switched to a Level 2 tech, I still could not get satisfaction because he had no answers why the print window worked like it did. At best, we got the thing to default to wireless printing. The only choice they offered was to deinstall everything and give up on wireless printing entirely - create one print driver for USB and nothing else and maybe the CD printer would respect that.

Scanning won't work wirelessly because Epson can't write good software (like HP, even worse) yet I know it's possible because both the Canon and Brother all-in-ones do support wireless or network scanning.

I have been recommending against Epsons for a few years now, and this is just another reason to keep it up.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Another reason to avoid WD's MyBook

There are several, not the least of which is a high failure rate due to overheating. But today I discovered that you cannot make them bootable, either via FireWire or USB (Intel Macs only). This is due to an obsolete chipset.

So, stick to LaCie D2 Quadra drives, or OtherWorld Computing's drives.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Avoid Adobe Reader 9

Adobe has just released its update to Reader, and an important function has been removed: Documents that are forms with fields you can fill out can no longer be saved (SaveAs...) with the data typed in. It can print them, but it will save only the blank form. Reader 8 had no trouble with this, so do NOT install Reader 9, even if you get warnings from Adobe. It's hard to believe they would make such a stupid mistake; removing this feature must have been an intentional decision.

Keep an eye on Macintouch to stay current.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lots of action lately

Microsoft FINALLY released the converter so users of Office 2004 will be able to read the .docx and other -x documents created in Windows 2007 Office and Mac 2008 Office. Go get it here: and follow the instructions. I have not tried it myself because I already have 2008 (slow, dysfunctional turd that it is).
• • •
The notable exploit for Apple Remote Desktop has a couple of other solutions, which you can find on Otherwise just wait for Software Update to announce a new security update, then wait a couple of days in case they screw it up badly and have to replace it, then install it.
• • •
This past week I have run into two Macs with dead FireWire ports. Nothing would show when plugged into them. In both cases, I was able to fix by resetting the PMMU chip. One was a G4 tower. On the motherboard there is a little button, about 1/3 inch square, with PMMU printed just below it. Get a flashlight and carefully scan over the board. The button is not covered up by anything, unless you have an AirPort card installed, which you should slide out part way if you can't find it elsewhere. Press this button for five seconds and then close up your Mac. Reset the PRAM by hitting the power button and immediately holding down the keys P, R, Command and Option. Keep holding down for three chimes, then release and let it come up normally. If that doesn't fix the port, then it is truly dead.

The other Mac was a MacBook and it was simpler: shut down, remove the battery and power cord, press the Power button briefly, then put the battery and cord back and reset the PRAM as described above.

There was a MacBook that also had the problem and nothing fixed it, so it was off to a Mac dealer to have it fixed under AppleCare. That fix will necessitate a new motherboard, which costs twice as much as the AppleCare contract. If your Mac is less than a year old and you haven't purchased AppleCare yet, do it now. Not only will Apple help talk to you for the entire three years, you will save major bucks if anything goes wrong with the computer.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Epson troubles

Today I had to fix a recalcitrant Epson printer. It had been working for a while but then developed the dreaded "Lost contact with the printer" message. Tried reinstalling the drivers but when I went to the setup utility it did not show the newly-installed driver option.

Called Epson, with trepidation because I have been hearing that the quality of their support has been fading over the years, but had a good experience this time. Even though the tech called himself "Dave" he was obviously in India, or an Indian working somewhere else, but he was understandable. He was overly reliant on phrases like "Thank you for that information" but not impossible and we resolved the issue.

I had to completely remove all printer parts including the Epson Printers in the Library/Receipts folder, the two Epson .plist files in the Preferences folder and everything in the Epson folder in the Library/Printers folder. Then the reinstallation was successful. Still, in the Printer Setup Utility, I had to ignore the printer that showed up initially and choose More Printers, then the popup for Epson Firewire (yours may be Epson USB or Epson Ethernet) and only then did the correct driver show up and the install finish successfully. Sheesh.

The secret phone number to call them is 562-276-1300, which is not listed anywhere on their site.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Installing Leopard

Stephan writes,
I attempted to install the update for Leopard but they said I didn't have enough disc space and that I should remove some of the stuff on my start up drive.  I'm sure you know what that means, but I don't!

Yes, your disk is too full. It should never be more than 80% full and 50% is better. Too many iTunes songs or iPhoto pictures? Something is filling it up. Open the main HD window in list view, then go to View Options and check the box for Calculate All Sizes. Open up subcategories by clicking the little triangle to the left of each folder name. It will take a while but it will calculate the contents of each folder. Don't delete stuff you don't understand (like the Library) but if you find the culprit to be too many movies, pictures or iTunes, delete or archive somewhere else. Then you should be able to upgrade.

Dish Network (No Mac content)

I should start off with a comment about a problem I have been unable to find an answer to: Dish Network chopping off the left and right sides of network programming. Before two months ago, most programs were sent out by the networks and broadcast in 16x9 wide-screen format. On conventional TVs, that would result in letterboxing - black bars at the top and bottom. Those with wide-screen TVs could zoom the picture to fill their screen. When viewing a normal 4x3 picture, they could zoom out so the pic would fill top to bottom and black bars would appear on the sides. All was fine and good.

The local stations are still broadcasting this way, but Dish users with normal (not HD) tuners are finding the picture cropped, obviously so, because credits, ad bugs and the like are cut off. So far, no one at Dish has been able or willing to explain why they started doing this and when they will go back to normal. I can't even verify if it's an Oregon phenomenon or national. The satellite/cable channels do not have this problem; if sent in 16x9 we see them in 16x9.

I'd love both an answer and a verification that this is happening to people around the country, and also if it is affecting DirectTV customers as well.


Welcome to the Moonlight Mac weblog. This replaces my monthly column in ComputerChips magazine, now defunct. To read my past articles, visit the articles page on my regular site.

The appearance of this will change over time as I learn how to configure it. There will be a way to subscribe to it so you will be alerted when there are new posts. This will not affect, but may duplicate, the e-list of my clients who now get alerts and used to get my monthly column.

I will also answer Mac questions whenever possible. If you are in town and need a personal visit to get your Mac working, or just get it working better than it is now, contact me directly via email: mp at moonmac dot com.