Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My take on the new Macs

Surprise, surprise. For the "benefit" of everyone who has bought a new Mac in the last month, Apple today released new iMacs, a new version of the polycarbonate $999 MacBook, and a new mouse.

The cheaper iMac ($1199) is 21.5", with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, the same as HDTV. This means you have a pixel-by-pixel display that perfectly matches the HDTV that a video will be shown on. There are going to be a lot of videos produced as a result of this machine. Buy the $1499 model and you get Apple's fastest processor, a 1Tb drive, and higher-end graphics processor. Spend $1699 and move up to a 27" model with Apple's fastest processor and 2560 x 1440 resolution, the same as their 30" Cinema Display. The most expensive model, $1999, actually offers a less powerful processor but the most powerful graphics chips available. Professional graphics people will not be unsatisfied with either of these models, if you can believe the specifications.

All iMacs come with wireless mouse and keyboard. I think this is a bad idea for reasons I have stated before: Certain repair and maintenance operations (such as zapping the PRAM) do not work with wireless keyboards because they lose their connection to the Mac. Therefore I recommend everyone who gets one of these also buy a cheap keyboard and mouse to keep in a closet until they are needed.

Apple proved they are still committed to offering a low-priced laptop by making a major design improvement in the case. It's lighter than the old one, faster, and has a better battery that gets as much as 7 hours on a charge. Expect less if you watch YouTube videos, play DVDs or other processor-intensive activities.

Down side: Once again they have dropped the FireWire port. It has but two USB ports, an audio in-and-out port, and a mini DisplayPort for an external monitor. Call me old-fashioned, but I insist that FireWire is vastly superior to USB-2 and would not have any Mac without it. Still, since Intel Macs can boot off of a USB-2 backup drive, new owners can get by without FireWire. Just bear that in mind.

The mouse LOOKS amazing. No buttons (of course; Jobs hates buttons) but the entire surface is touch-sensitive and supports multi-finger gestures like the trackpads do, and also can track correctly on glass or solid-color surfaces, not possible with older laser mice.

If you ordered but did not yet receive a new Mac that has been replaced by these models, call and immediately cancel, or verify that your order will be changed to the new model at a matching price. Apple usually allows that, but may not extend the service to all Mac dealers not actually owned by Apple. Those older models should still be available for a while at a reduced price.

See the whole mess at Apple's site.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Brother printer setup nightmare

For the last few years I have been recommending Brother laser printers, based on the reports of owners rather than personal experience. When my Apple LW 630 became obsolete due to the end of AppleTalk in Snow Leopard, I decided to take my own advice and went to Fry's to get one.

They had two models in the 2100 series: USB-only and USB/Ethernet/Wireless. I got the wireless one for $149 (same cost as at Staples) and then set about on a nightmare of phone calls and retries with their tech support.

First the "wizard" failed. It installed the drivers, but was not able to connect to the wireless router. It worked with USB, but I found out that, unlike most every printer on the market, it did not work with USB hubs, powered or unpowered. I don't have enough ports on my MacBook Pro to permanently dedicate to a printer, and although wired Ethernet was an option, I wanted to be able to print from anywhere in the house.

Call #1 to their tech support, the only number available, led to a 19-minute wait and a series of dumb questions from the robot before I got a human. It took another ten minutes for him to determine I had to talk to the Mac specialist. He would transfer me. Was there a direct number to him? He knew of no other number to call and could not transfer me to a supervisor who did.

He switched me to that department, which resulted in a robot that told me that I had called after hours (in reality, they did not close for another half-hour) and left me no transfer or leave-message options. It just hung up. A second attempt, informing the first guy what happened when he transferred me, wound up with the same results. I gave up. Time on phone to accomplish nothing: 1:15.

The next day, after 20 minutes of robot time I got the same place and same results, with the same series of dumb robot questions. The guy transferred me but this time I got someone who at least was there and answered the phone. He had a different series of setup steps from the ones in the documentation but again the same results. No wireless connection but a dozen pages wasted every time I would reset the printer and get the desired page that told me the connection had failed. It was data on the 3rd page I needed. Was there a way to get only that page? Nope.

He told me to double-check what kind of security I had on the wireless router (WPA2) and try again. He emailed me a link to the document that outlined the same set of steps we had tried. Twice more I tried and both times I failed; it would not connect to the router.

The 3rd or 4th callback led to them kicking me upstairs to a "product specialist" who would call me back. He did not call that day. Could I be simply transferred to him? No, they had to send in my request via internal email.

He called the next morning, Thursday (I had started this process on Monday) and I told him the history and we tried again. I told him, screw it, what would happen if I just gave up and unsecured my wifi connection? Go ahead, he said. Another eight test pages later it finally worked! It was never able to store and use the network password, but it was able to successfully establish a connection to the router and has worked ever since. If I want security now I simply have to turn off the router when I am not using it.

If I had been billing myself for the time invested in this setup it would have been over $300 for a $149 printer. I will no longer be recommending this series of Brother printers without including this warning.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Installed Snow Leopard today

The installation went really easily. Took 45 minutes on my MBPro, then a longish restart. I had a couple of auto-loading apps, so first request from the system was to install Rosetta, needed for older PowerPC programs.

First good news: Eudora works fine. So does Tweetie for Mac, and AppleWorks' word-processing module. Haven't tested the others because I don't use them. A couple of utilities have lost their registration preferences so I need to re-enter the serial numbers.

Second good news: The space-saving feature is real. I had 98 gigs on disk before, now I have 88 gigs. That's what I call efficiency!

Exposé looks different now. Windows in the Dock are exposed as well as the other open ones. If I don't choose a docked window, it goes back into the dock when I click another one. Dashboard does not appear to have changed at all.

Safari didn't change because I had already installed version 4.0.3.

Software Update offered only Backup 3.1.2 as a needed update. Backup is the worst program for that purpose I have ever seen; I thought Apple dumped it when releasing TimeMachine. I suppose they keep it around for MobileMe. I have yet to meet anyone who is happy with it.

iTunes gets updated to 8.2.1. If you are a Palm Pre owner and wanted to use iTunes to sync your music with it, Apple released this update to version 8.2 for the sole purpose of preventing you from doing that. With Snow Leopard you get it, want it or not. I guess I should see if it can be downgraded. That's the only thing wrong with 8.2.1.

Quicken 2006 opens and I can change data. This was originally not supposed to work under 10.5, but it seems only the online features stopped working then. I never use those features so I never noticed. If you use them, you should probably get Quicken 2007 or later, or a competing program.

The battery seems to be lasting longer, but it's subtle.

I will post more reports when I have more information. Meanwhile, I recommend visiting Macintouch at least to keep up with reader reports on the new OS. These are just my own observations.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Macs and the Heat

You are not the only one suffering from Portland heat this week: Your Mac is too, along with your DSL/cable modem.

Many people have their Macs set up in a 2nd floor room or converted attic and believe me, it gets HOT up there. If it's too hot for you, it is too hot for your electronics.

As a temporary fix, you can aim a fan at your DSL modem to help it cool off. It does not have its own fan and relies on convection. If you have it covered up or tucked away, you can expect poor Internet performance and outright shutdowns. You can bring it back up by powering it off and then on again, but if it is hot to the touch, take steps.

I moved mine out of its niche onto a tabletop where I could aim an 8" clip-on fan at it and have had no trouble since.

I have installed on (I hope) all of my clients' MacBooks and Pros a copy of the SMC Fan Controller program that alerts you to your processor temperature (in the menubar) along with your current fan speed. If you drop that menu down you will be able to select higher speed. Do that if the temperature ever goes above 130. You will hear the fan, but it won't run down your battery more than a few percent faster and you will really need the cooling.

If you don't have it installed, go to the publisher's site and download it. Launch it, drop the menu down and set the Preferences to °F instead of C, the Default speed to 3000 or so and Higher to the maximum. Also check Load At Startup. Then click Save.

It should always load at restart.


PS: Please call me for an appointment if I have not seen you this year. Your Mac may be accumulating minor errors and other issues that could cause you grief in the future. Better now than some morning when it crashes and won't start up.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mac commercial I'd like to see

This is the commercial for Mac I would like to see Apple make:
(I can't remember the name of the guy who plays the Mac so I will just call him TWIT.)

TWIT: Hello, I'm a Mac.

HODGMAN: And I'm a Mac.

TWIT: Wait a minute, I'm the Mac!

HODGMAN: I've been learning from these ads and I decided being a Mac was better. I can run Windows whenever need to, and my life is so much easier.

TWIT: But I'm the Mac! You can't also be the Mac!

HODGMAN: I'm funny. People like me. I am a better Mac than you ever were and people think you're a twit. You're fired!

(Two security guards appear and haul off TWIT.)

HODGMAN: Now where on Earth are we going to find a PC?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beware of potential damage from Bluetooth

If you have any laptop Mac with Bluetooth connectivity, this info from Wired exposes a risk. See this article with settings for info. If you do not use any Bluetooth devices (wireless keyboards or mice, or direct links to iPhone or PDAs) be sure to turn it off in the Bluetooth menu or preference pane in System Preferences. It saves your battery drain. (So does turning off AirPort if you are on battery but not connected to a WiFi spot.)

To change the setting in your default Bluetooth settings, you must first turn it ON, then click the Advanced button, then in the drop-down menu uncheck the box "Allow Bluetooth devices to wake this computer."

From today's TidBITS:

**Bluetooth Default Setting Poses Risk to MacBooks** -- Wired.com's
  Brian X. Chen reports on a potentially dangerous default Bluetooth
  setting found on Apple notebooks. The setting enables a Bluetooth
  device to wake a machine even if its lid is closed. For a user
  packing a MacBook and Bluetooth mouse into the same satchel, this
  default could result in an overheated disaster. (Posted 2009-05-08)

TidBITS is a valuable resource and I encourage everyone to get themselves a free subscription at http://www.tidbits.com/about/list.html.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another Update, More Bugs

Here we go again. A new Security Update from Apple and the first thing I read about is that people experience startup failures after installing it.

The first test I performed with it was on a G4 running 10.4.11 that had suffered from the bug that caused the Network pane of System Preferences to display a dialog box that stated "Your network settings have been changed by another application." This was so pervasive, affecting nearly everyone who installed it, that I put a permanent Avoid on the last security update.

I had hoped that such an affected system would be repaired by installing the new update. I had hoped that Apple had so many complaints about it that they would have fixed it.

No such luck. I installed the update but the problem remained. Then I installed it on my G4 tower, which had not had the previous update. Amazingly, it did NOT introduce the Network bug. While that is a good sign, I would still wait and see because so many are reporting trouble anyway.

Most common solution when there are problems: Hold down the Shift key at startup until you get the login window with Safe Boot in red. Then put in your password and finish the startup. Then do a normal restart. Safe Boot performs a number of maintenance operations and it can help a lot.

Other updates, such as the new Java update 3 for 10.5.6 (and 8 for 10.4.11) and ones for the iWork suite, have been shown to be okay. QuickTime 7.6 seems to fix problems for people running 7.5, but it isn't really needed unless you have a new iPhone.

Always have a wired keyboard

There are certain repairs that are not possible with a wireless keyboard because they can lose contact with the Mac at exactly the time they are most needed. If you like the convenience of wireless, be sure you can put your hands on your old USB keyboard when you need it.

Zapping PRAM, or resetting the parameter RAM, is one example. To reset this chip, which can contain corrupted data, requires you to hold down the Command, Option, P and R keys simultaneously through three restarts. As long as you hold down the keys, the Mac keeps restarting. After the third one, PRAM is cleared and you can let go of the keys, and some problems are fixed, such as high speed cycling of the fans on G5 and G4 Macs. If you try it on a wireless keyboard, you get one restart and then the Mac loses contact with the keyboard and you can't do a thing with it until it rediscovers the keyboard. If your mouse is also wireless, you can't even open the Bluetooth System Preference and force it to connect with your keyboard.

If you go wireless keep your wired devices, even if you have to go buy one.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why I always advise you get AppleCare

My year-old MacBook Pro decided to have a stroke last weekend: all the ports on the right side of the computer stopped working. On Monday morning I dropped it off at the Mac Store Service Center (in the PowerMax warehouse in Lake Grove) and was told they would either fix it there or overnight it to Apple. This morning I called to find out what they did and was informed they put it on the overnight that afternoon, and said it would take 7 to 10 business days. "Sometimes it takes less, but we are required to state the 7-10 number."

At two this afternoon I came home to a message on my phone saying "Your Mac is back." I called in, "What, already?" Yep, it was, only two day turnaround including shipping it off to the Apple service center. They replaced the motherboard and the total cost was $0. As it was just barely past one year old, I would have had to pay more than the $349 cost of AppleCare for this fix. Plus, I have almost two years more coverage to go.

That's why I always recommend AppleCare, without exception, but especially for laptops.

PS: The reports of problems with QuickTime 7.6 and Leopard Update 10.5.6 have slacked off, and the update has been certified by some of the developers of high-end Mac programs, most notably ProTools, as mentioned in an earlier post. I will put these updates in mine this week to see if I also have no problems from it. I also have two kinds of backups: one drive with a cloned copy and another with a constantly-updating TimeMachine backup.

If I have problems and have to restore to a previous version I will let you all know. Otherwise, go ahead and download the updaters from Apple's site - don't just use Software Update - and run them yourselves.