Thursday, October 25, 2012

Using An Android Phone with a Mac (Updated)

I began this adventure by searching the Net to find out if there were any options for syncing an Android-based phone with my MacBook Air running Mountain Lion. I had been using iPhones since the 3g; before that I used an ordinary cell and a Palm device for my PDA information (contacts and notes were all I cared about). I was using an iPhone 4 and had to make the decision to get a 5 or go away.

I didn't really have a problem with iPhone; my argument was with AT&T. I simply got sick of handing my money over to a company who supported every political cause I opposed - they contributed money to Romney, other teaparty politicians, and contributed heavily in the fight to end net neutrality. Verizon was no better. I wanted to join Credo Mobile, a progressive, non-profit cell company that supported causes I agreed with. But they did not support the iPhone. So, after reading reviews and testing one in the store, I had them ship the Samsung Galaxy 3S. This is not the model that Apple testified in court was so functionally identical to the iPhone as to be indistinguishable; but close enough for me. After all, if Apple says so, it must be true, right?

The Galaxy Home Screen

Galaxy home screen
Picture taken with my iPhone 4. Ironic, eh?

The first thing I learned was that there are three kinds of Android users: Windows users, Linux users, and people who did not sync to a computer at all. There was a vanishingly small number of Mac users but enough of them that I found several web sites explaining how to accomplish the syncing I wanted, along with links to applications for Mac that would accomplish what I needed.

Some told me how to simply get all my contacts into Google, which would auto-sync with the Galaxy. This part was obvious since Google developed the Android OS.

Instead I settled on a free app called SyncMate, which used my local WiFi network to accomplish the link. The instructions were clear and concise. My first sync went off without a hitch. I was finally free to sell my iPhone 4 (anyone interested?), which a cell-phone reseller told me was worth around $200 because it was in perfect shape. That will pay the purchase cost of the Galaxy 3. The monthly Credo bill is a tad lower than my AT&T bill, too.

Credo even pays me back for early ending my ATT contract, too. It wasn't much; I had only a month to go but that was a nice touch.

First of all, the Galaxy is larger than the iPhone, whose body fits inside the screen dimensions of the Galaxy. Love that extra screen space. It's also bigger than the screen of the iPhone 5. It's pretty light, though, and weighs less than my iPhone 4, especially since I always kept it wrapped in a Mophie battery case. That case carries enough juice to recharge the phone completely from 18% remaining, but it adds about 50% to the overall weight. Since it's always in my bag and not a pocket, that has not been an issue. I wish Mophie made a case for the Galaxy.

Android is different, that's for sure. It's a lot less refined than iOS, but outside of a fresh learning curve, I get along pretty well with it. Adding Apps is really easy; I just point my Mac to the Google Play site, where the Android store lives. There is a huge selection there, and I was able to get most of what I had been using on the iPhone: a Twitter client (4 to choose from); an app that links to my Nissan Leaf; the FourSquare check-in program; Starbucks POS app; the Square apps (which I use to accept Visa from clients); Red Laser, which reads QR codes; 1Password and Dropbox; and Kindle. Missing so far is iBank Mobile. iBank is the Mac app that let me get away from Quicken, and there was an iPhone version that I could use to enter info that would sync with the Mac when I got home. I will lobby them to produce an Android version, but since Quicken did not have one I never grew dependent on it.

(Recent reply from iBank: Ain't gonna happen.)

I still have a lot to learn. For instance, text messages go out from the Galaxy just fine, but replies still come in to the Mac and the iPhone. The iPhone is off of the cel network now, but is still on WiFi here. An iPhone with no service is just a heavy iPod Touch. I can even make phone calls with it when I'm home by using Skype, which I will also install on the Galaxy.

Installing Ringtones

The iPhone uses a special format for ringtones: m4r. You can't convert those to MP3 in iTunes, but I was able to locate a free utility called All2mp3 that did the job with a simple drag and drop. Find it at CNet's Download page or the publisher directly. Once they are converted, you can just put them in their proper folder inside the phone.

Mounting the Galaxy 3

It doesn't just appear on the desktop. That's only on Linux or Windows. For us, there is a free app called Android File Transfer. Download it and instructions from Android's home site. Once installed, wake up your phone, type the password if you use one, and plug in the USB cable. When you do you get this Finder-like window:

Pretty self-evident from here. Just drag your desired ringtones into the proper folder and they are loaded and ready. You can also use this app to get your pictures into and out of the phone. Put anything you want to carry with you into the Camera folder, and when you take photos the phone puts them in here. It's not as automatic as iCloud's PhotoStream, but there is also a way to set up Google's Picasa service to copy your pictures into it as you take them. I have not yet done that but I will. I have been long needing to create a photo-sharing page and this will motivate me to do it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mountain Lion Loses Your Notes

Notes Synchronization Mess

It took almost 90 minutes with Apple to get a final answer to the problem of updating Notes and syncing them with your iPhone and iPad. The short answer is, you can't, directly.

Preserving Your Notes from AppleMail

To be specific, if you have been using the Notes feature of Apple, they do NOT automatically migrate to the new Notes application when you install Mountain Lion, but they do disappear entirely from Mail.

If you are still using Snow Leopard 10.6 or Lion 10.7, you have to prepare in advance to save your notes before running the Mountain Lion 10.8 upgrade. The process is:

Open TextEdit or your favorite word processor.
Open Mail and go to your Notes. Open the first note.
Select All (Command-A) and Copy.
Switch to your Word and create a new document, if you didn't already.
Paste. Then type a couple of returns at the end.
Go back to Mail and open your next note.
Repeat the process, above.
Repeat all until you have gone through all your Notes and pasted them into that Word document. Save as you go along!

(If you are still using AppleWorks, don't! It does not work in Lion or later.)

Notes on iPhone that Don't Sync

I had a bunch of notes on my phone that did not sync via iCloud, even though any new ones I created did sync. The process of rescuing those is even more convoluted, but it works and it's your only option, as I determined during my session with Apple.

On the phone, open Notes and go to the first one you want to rescue. Hold your finger down on a word until the magnifying glass icon appears under your finger. When you let go, you will have a choice between Delete, Select, and Select All. Choose Select All. Then a new popup will appear: Copy. Tap that.

At the top will be a button called Accounts. Tap that. You should see several categories:
All Notes
From My Mac
All iCloud
Notes (Mobile Me) You may not have this one.

Tap All iCloud. Click the + at the top right of the screen. A new empty note will appear and the keyboard will pop up.

Press and hold in the typing area and you will get the magnifying icon again. Paste will appear. Tap that. The entire note you Copied should appear.

Tap Done. Then tap Notes. Then tap Accounts. Then tap From My Mac and that will take you back to the rest of your notes.

Go to the second note and repeat the process. Keep doing this, note by note, until you have finished the last one.

This seems like a daunting task, but since it takes the same amount of time for each note regardless of how big each one is, it should take you about a minute each; less when you develop a rhythm.

Yes, I agree, this is one of Apple's bigger screwups. The AppleCare techs also agreed.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mountain Lion Experiences

I ran the upgrade from Lion to Mountain Lion today. It went smoothly; took less than half an hour. To prepare, I did a Repair Permissions on the drive with Disk Utility, and then ran Disk Warrior 4.4, the application I use to check and repair directories on all the Macs I service.

Sure enough, mine needed the run; the usual Volume Information Block error was found and fixed. Had I not done that first, the installation might have failed and rendered the drive inoperable. Simply put, you should always run Disk Utility before upgrading, even if only to Verify Disk. There may still be errors present, but it's better than nothing. Disk Warrior costs $99 and is a worthwhile investment for people who want to take care of their own Macs.

Upon restart, I was notified that two of my apps were not going to run in Mountain Lion: Little Snitch and Snapz Pro. Little Snitch has an update available, but Snapz Pro does not. According to the Snapz web site, some of the features work but others were disabled to prevent a kernel panic (that multi-language overlay that appears telling you must restart your computer now). I signed up for emails notifying me when the updated version would be ready.

It's nice that Mountain Lion can perform this check and disable incompatible software before it crashes your Mac.

Safari Back to its Bad Old Tricks

The problem that appeared to be repaired in Safari 6 for Lion has reappeared in Safari 6 for Mountain Lion. Right after the upgrade I went straight to my 25 "Open in Tabs" list of daily comics and there it was - the dreaded "Web pages are not responding" dialog I wrote about in my previous report.

That means that either what was fixed in Lion re-broke in Mountain Lion, or it was never fixed at all and I just didn't experience it during my brief test.

AppleMail - No Drag-Selecting

Previously I could select a range of messages in the INbox (or any other mailbox) by highlighting one message and then clicking in the white area between From and Subject and drag down. Not highlighting first would turn the cursor into an envelope, signifying that the message I had clicked on was being Moved somewhere, i.e. to a different mailbox. Also, dragging directly sideways would invoke the Move cursor.

Now the Move cursor is always invoked. If I want to select a range of items it requires a click on the first item and a Shift-click on the last, selecting the items in between. The usual Command-click on each item selects the item clicked without de-selecting the previously highlighted item. This has always worked that way, and is the same way you highlight items in the List view in a Finder window. I consider this change a loss in functionality.

I still have not found a keyboard command for "Open Next Message." Why something so simple and basic has not been implemented is beyond me.

Return of Save As...

Lion took away the SaveAs option that we have had since the beginning. Their substitution of Duplicate or Rename was confusing and less functional. Good news is that it's back. You must just hold down the Option key when clicking on the File menu to restore the command. To do it via keyboard, you hold down Command, Option and Shift keys while typing an S. That does the same thing.


At last, a simple app that you can use on your Mac to store any information you want also available on your iPhone or iPad. In the past you had to tie it to the notes in Mail, which were not reliably transferred to your iDevice and required opening Mail to access. This is a feature that existed in OS9 and before, a simple note pad under the Apple menu. Of course there were no iOS devices to sync to, but one could sync to a Palm device back then. Personally, I fixed the problem by keeping text files in Dropbox. That worked fine, but this is a more integrated solution and it is certainly welcome.


The best news is that I don't notice much difference in the general operation of my Mac at all since the update. It feels the same, runs just as fast, and Safari seems to be the same as it did in version 5.1.7 under Lion. I was really sad to see that it still isn't fixed.

There are a lot of articles and blog posts about Mountain Lion around. I would recommend you visit sites like Macintouch and MacSurfer Headline News and fill in your information with them. No need for me to reinvent their work here.

Safari 6/Mountain Lion

The problem that appeared to be repaired in Safari 6 for Lion has reappeared in Safari 6 for Mountain Lion. I just installed it and went straight to my 25 "Open in Tabs" list of daily comics and there it was - the dreaded "Web pages are not responding" dialog.

That means that either what was fixed in Lion re-broke in Mountain Lion, or it was never fixed at all and I just didn't experience it during my brief test.

Also, two of my apps died in Mountain Lion: Little Snitch and Snapz Pro. Little Snitch has an update available, but Snapz Pro does not. Some of the features work but others were disabled to prevent a kernel panic (that multi-language overlay that appears telling you must restart your computer now).

More on ML next post.

Friday, July 27, 2012

New Safari Upgrade for Lion

Along with the release of Mountain Lion is an update to Safari 6 for Lion. I have been having so much trouble with Safari 5.1.x I have been warning Snow Leopard users to stick with 5.0.5.

Well, that's still true for SnL users, but Lion required 5.1. Even after 7 updates it was still a mess, displaying this horrible dialog often:

So the first thing I did to my Lion installation (before going to Mountain Lion) was to install Safari 6. The news is great: All the things I did to make that problem occur have not resulted in a repeat. There was one new problem, however: HTML5 videos on websites like FailBlog and YouTube were off center. I traced that problem to Click2Flash, a plugin that blocks all those horrible Flash ads that infest so many web pages.

After a little Googling, I discovered that it was the now-obsolete 2.5.2 version of Click2Flash that was causing the display error. I also read that the official website for Click2Flash is obsolete; you now get updates from Apple's Plugins page under the Safari menu. The current version is 2.6.2.

To install the update, you must first open Safari's Preferences, go to Extensions, choose Click2Flash, and click Uninstall. Then you can go to the Safari Extensions item under the Safari menu (above Preferences) and locate Click2Flash and choose Install. That gives you the updated version and the mis-aligned video window is fixed.

Also great news: The new version of Safari is MUCH snappier. One of the things I do with it is load 26 tabs at the same time (my Daily Comics collection) and I would usually have to wait and endure a lot of spinning rainbows before I could start reading and closing tabs. That problem is gone. If I have to reload a tab the Not Responding problem does not occur.

Granted all this is after only an hour's use, but I have to say at this point that I am very pleased with Safari 6.

Expect a flurry of updates from me over the next few days as I test out all the updates and spend time with Mountain Lion.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mountain Lion is Out

They've been threatening it, pundits have reviewed it, I just downloaded it. First I clone my current Lion drive so I can go back if there's a disaster, then I install it on my MacBook Air and give it a runthrough. As always, I advise waiting a little while and check the Mac blogs to see how others are doing. So far, people seem to be happy although a few random incompatibilities are appearing.

I'll run it and let you know this weekend.

Here is a great detailed what-to-do from one of the Apple discussion blogs. This is the kind of thing I should write but have not gone into this much detail. Read and follow this advice when you do your own upgrade. This especially includes waiting a week before you do it!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I'm Electric!

Normally this blog is for Mac-oriented content, but it's the only blog I have and I have been wanting to write about my new Leaf. I went electric on Memorial Day weekend, and have been feeling my way around the gasless universe ever since.

It's a really attractive car, a dark red 2012 Nissan Leaf, and it drives and feels like a Lexus. Since it's bloody expensive, Nissan included all the features found in their higher-end gas models. Nicest car I have ever owned. (Owned in the figurative sense; it's leased.)

It became affordable because the Feds offer a $7500 tax credit to anyone who buys electric. However, to take advantage of that you need to be making so much money you would owe that much in income taxes in one year. I'm not even close. However, since Nissan Leasing is the official owner of the car, they take the credit themselves and cut it off of the overall purchase price. That and the trade-in value of my 2009 Cube brought the total down to where the monthly lease became affordable.

The dealer had told me about this trick several months ago when I first looked into getting one. He said that even if you plan to buy it outright, do a lease anyway, even if for only a month, and then switch over to buying out the lease. You still get the credit that way.

Home Charging

I opted for the lower-end model to save a few thousand bucks, forgoing only the 440-volt DC charging port and the free charging station for my home. I lived with 110-volt charging for the first two weeks but it takes over 12 hours to recharge an 80%-depleted battery where 240 volts can charge in 3 or 4 hours. So I shopped around and got a charger for $995 plus $240 for the electrician to put it in.

One of the places I shopped was Home Despot, where they offered a charger for $795 if I used their own contractor for the installation. While they weren't forthcoming with the exact installation cost, what they did tell me made it look like it would cost over $1000 to install it. Nice generous discount, guys.

But what is worse, and this is only an unverified statement from someone in the business of selling these chargers, is that Home Depot contracts with some of the manufacturers to have a special version of their chargers, labeled identically but made with cheaper parts and therefore more likely to die or burn out earlier than the "real" brand chargers.

So I went with a charger from Platt Electric online, and had the installation done by Bear Electric, who I had previous experience with. Going to 240 was a very wise move.

Getting Lost on my way to the Microcar Show

My normal driving habits, for both work and recreation, have almost always been less than 80 miles a day, which fit in with the range of the batteries. Only once have I come close to getting stuck: recently I went to Forest Grove for the Microcar Expo, which was pretty far but within range if I could not find a charger on site. However, the road out, Highway 8, had changed alignment and signage since the last time I drove it so I proceeded to get diverted and wound driving back from Hillsboro to Beaverton before I realized what had happened. I was not using the navigation software that came with the car, and it was cloudy so I did not feel the sun change position as I lost my sense of direction.

Have you ever gotten turned around and no matter how hard you tried, you could not convince your brain you were traveling west instead of east until you finally saw familiar landmarks? I hate that effect. Now I want a car compass. Sure, I could use the navigation system, but it's a bit of a nuisance and I am more used to just checking my Thomas Brothers map book.

Well, I finally made it to Forest Grove with just 35% charge remaining and found the McMenamin's site did not have a charging station! Fortunately, there were some other electric people there and they let me park and plug in to the 110-volt port in the field where the show cars were (and another Leaf with them) so I got enough of a reload to get home on with 24 miles to spare on the "tank."

Pictures of the micro-cars at the show are here. I have long been an enthusiast of micros, but the only ones I have ever owned are the not-so-micro 2004 Mini-Cooper and the SmartCar. There are so many fun cars at the show; I wish I had the money to pursue the hobby too (not to mention the large garage I would need as well).

Other Lessons

Watching the miles-remaining readout on the dashboard is something like watching a software installer progress monitor. You are familiar with how "45 minutes remaining" can suddenly become "17 minutes remaining" and then "Less than a minute" can take 600 seconds to complete? Starting out fresh in the morning my gauge tells me I have 101 miles range. Switch to eco-mode which cuts power to the motor by a third jumps the remaining to 111 miles. Then driving normally on flat roads for a couple of miles will show the remaining increase to 114 miles. As long as I am on flat roads, I get about 1.3 miles for each "mile" of discharge on the meter.

But let the road start climbing a hill and I lose about three miles for each mile. When I climb a real hill, like Hwy. 26 from downtown Portland to the top at Sylvan, a 3-mile climb can use up 40 miles of range. Fortunately, I get about 70% of that back when I come down that same hill, thanks to regenerative braking.

Speed and Acceleration

This car compromises nothing when I need to get moving in a hurry. Flooring it, whether in Eco or normal Drive mode, can squeal the tires. (Front-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive.) I get full torque and no shifting. I can accelerate to 75 from zero on a freeway onramp in less time than any other car I have owned, including the Mini Cooper S. I usually drive 75 or so on our 55 to 60-mph roads, but it uses more power to maintain speed than at a slower speed, or on surface streets. Start and stop driving is where the electric really shines. There is no "idle;" it is either feeding the motor or it isn't. I manage to avoid the rush-hour crowds, but when I am forced into them for some reason I never feel like the jam will drain my battery. I almost always drive in Eco mode, but I like the feel of power in normal Drive.

This is a full-size car, too, slightly longer than my Cube was and with less headroom, but a bigger rear storage area. It's actually a mid-size car so it parks anywhere I could put the Cube.

Among the built-in luxury items, the radio has a USB port where I can plug my iPod and control it from the radio screen. Strangely, the older iPod I used for years with the Smart and the Cube would not register with the Leaf radio. I had to switch to a more-recent Nano that I had sitting in a drawer. The system also pairs with my iPhone via Bluetooth, so when the phone rings in my bag I can answer it through the radio control button on the steering wheel. No more ear bud needed! I also have a 3-month free trial of XM radio but have not found any stations on it that I like. Besides, I subscribe to enough podcasts to keep me listening whenever I am driving.

Oh, did I mention quiet? It sure is. All you can hear while driving is the tire noise on the road. That's fairly loud, but normal engine noise blends with it. Take away engine noise and hear the difference. There is, of course, NO increase in noise when I punch it and am under hard acceleration.

Gasless Living

I am still getting used to the fact that I will never have to darken the archway of a gas station again. Shortly after I bought it, Oregon gas prices, which were the highest in the country, started dropping dramatically. (You're welcome.) I still have not calculated the monthly cost in electricity to run it, but the gauge tells me I am getting 4 miles per Kwh. I plug in the charger every time I get home.

I have joined the EV Owners Association in Portland, where I can talk to other Leafers and learn from their experiences. There is an unofficial Leaf forum at Already found useful answers there. For the first few weeks I was alone because I did not know anyone else who had one.

Moving Your mail; ThunderPort

If you are not on Lion but you are using a address or a address, you still need to move your account. That way, you can continue to receive your mail in any email program (, Entourage, Eudora, etc.). You don't get any of the other iCloud services, but you do keep your email address.

To get there you need to access and follow the instructions.

I could not verify the steps exactly myself because I already did the move when I went to Lion. But according to the Mac Power Users podcast, this is where you go to do it. You must do this by the end of the month to keep receiving your mail.

If you are already on Lion, all you need to do is make the update in System Preferences, iCloud. Most of you did this already as part of the Lion setup.

The Thunderport Fiasco

Remember earlier this month when Apple issued an update to the software for the Thunderbolt Port? Killed a lot of Macs, which required reinstalling Lion. Well, Apple has finally re-released the update and the problem has been fixed. There is only one reason to get it, though, and that is if you want to use your Thunderport with Apple's new adapters for FireWire and wired Ethernet. If you don't, then the update is superfluous.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this port, it's in all laptops issued since the late 2011 models, and the Mini. Older Macs have the DisplayPort which can be used only for external displays, and previous-to-2009 Macs had the mini-DVI port for that.

That port will be really useful once more devices that use it become available. So far, only a drive from LaCie and Apple's current 27" display use that port.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Danger: Avoid Thunderbolt Update 1.2

It's all over the blogs today: Apple screwed up bigtime with the software update for Macs with Thunderbolt ports. Many, if not most, people who apply this update find that their Mac crashes on startup, either into a kernel panic, or just stops at the grey screen.

If you have one of these Macs, DON'T DO IT. Just quit Software Update and wait until Apple fixes this mess.

If it's too late, you can fix things by booting into the Recovery Partition by holding down the R key after hitting the power button. Connect to your network and tell it to Reinstall Lion.

If you have a second Mac also running Lion, you can put the dead one into Target Disk Mode (restart while holding down the T key) and then plugging it into the second Mac with FireWire. Then reinstall the 10.7.4 Update. Obviously this will not work unless both Macs have a FireWire port.

If you want to read what others are writing, start with TidBits, then Google "Thunderbolt Software Update" for the rest.

If you have been maintaining a SuperDuper clone backup, you can also start from that and clone it back over the damaged internal drive. That's the best solution and why I always recommend you have both Time Machine and a clone backup.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lion 10.7.4, 3 Weeks On

I took three weeks to live with this update because I wanted to see the reports and followups from other users. My final judgement: Not bad.

The only consistent problems have happened to people running VMWare Fusion, software that lets you run Windows on Mac. VMWare's competitor is Parallels, and that has been trouble-free. So if you are using VMWare, wait for them to issue an update before you install Lion 10.7.4.

Those who have not installed Lion at all will find that the version they get from the App Store when they do upgrade will be the most current version with all updates in place. This is an improvement over the old DVD model, where you had to get a disk from the store which was almost always outdated at sale.

The Safari 5.1 problems, specifically the "Webpages not responding" issue is STILL not fixed, as of 5.1.7. Lion users are stuck with it, but Snow Leopard users should stop and stay with version 5.0.5 until this mess is cleaned up. It can be downgraded if you are running 10.6.8 and did get Safari 5.1. You can read about my experience doing it in the April 9 blog posting.

So go ahead, Lion users, get the update. Also be sure to get all Java and Security Updates. Now that we finally have Mac malware to worry about, it's important to keep up.

Last, always Repair Permissions after running Software Update. If you've forgotten how, it's in the November, 2011 Update.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Downgrading Safari in Snow Leopard

How many of you are sick and tired of the bugs and problems that afflicted Safari since the 5.1 update? I sure have. I have wanted to go back to 5.0.5, which was much more stable than the current version. Apple has updated it 5 times now at 5.1.5, and it has only partially helped.

People have told me that you can't downgrade it; Safari is so integrated into the OS that the normal method of tossing the app and installing a previous version simply doesn't work. In Lion, this is true because Lion started with 5.1. Snow Leopard, however, used to load 5.0, and the final version for 10.6.8v1.1 installed 5.0.5.

Well, I succeeded. I have a Mini running Snow Leopard and Safari 5.1.2, and I finally got it to go backwards. This is what I did:

First, you need to make invisible files and folders visible. The simplest way to do this is to download a Dashboard widget that toggles invisibility off or on. Install it and you get a tiny window that says "Hidden Files" with a single button: Show.

To go back later to hiding them, that button becomes a Hide button when invisibles are showing. There is a Terminal command that will do the same thing, but this is simpler, especially for those who are wary of messing about in Terminal.

Next, Trash Safari from the Applications folder. Then go into the Home Library and move the Safari folder to the Desktop. Then open the main Library at the top level of your hard drive. Open Application Support, Apple, then look for the shaded, formerly-invisible files titled .Safari_Leopard, .SafariArchive.tar.gz and .SafariPath. All those files, and all other invisible files (not necessarily folders) begin with a dot. That is why you can't deliberately begin filenames with a dot; that tells the Mac that it is invisible.

Trash those three files. Then restart the Mac.

At first, I thought I could simply install Safari by running the Safari 5.0.5 DMG installer. But when I tried, the installer told me that "This file requires OSX 10.6.7 or later." Well, I had 10.6.8. None of the installers would work. However, I simply reran the OSX 10.6.8 v1.1 Combo Updater, which I had originally used to update from 10.6.7, and lo, there was a shiny new copy of Safari 5.0.5 and it ran perfectly.

Strangely, all my history and bookmarks were in place! They should have still been in that folder on the Desktop but when I looked inside, I found the contents had moved into the one in Library, and the fresh, empty stock bookmark files had wound up in the one on the desktop.

I can't guarantee that would happen to you, so you want to be prepared to do it manually: Move these files into the Safari folder in your Library: Bookmarks.plist, Configurations.plist.signed, Downloads.plist, Form Values, History.plist, and History The folders and other files you can leave behind; they will update themselves as needed. But if the Installer did it for you, skip this step entirely.

To get the final 10.6.8 Combo Updater, get it from Apple. It's okay to run it on top of your existing version of 10.6.8, and if you never ran the v1.1 updater to that, you also get some important bug fixes that afflicted the original 10.6.8 update.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Software Update Has Been Busy

I should have been more on top of this, but there have been a lot of updates for 10.6 and 10.7 users. Most important are the Java and the Security updates. There have been stories all over the Web and the semi-conscious media about that Horrible New Mac Exploit. Well, the exploit is real, but Apple is on top of it. Just go to Software Update and run it and you will be protected. No need for a commercial anti-malware program. On the other hand, that exploit was around for quite a while before Apple released the patch. If you want to doubly protect yourself, I have always recommended the open-source and free Clam XAV. Easily located through Google and easy to install.

This is NOT a virus. A virus is a specific type of malware that can infect a computer by simply receiving a piece of email with the virus attached. It can launch and install itself, scan your address book and send itself to everyone in it, while pretending to be from someone else randomly picked from that list.

Viruses run only on Microsoft computers. So far, no one has successfully crafted a virus that works the same way in Linux or Mac computers. Yes, there is malware, but only on a one-off variety; meaning they can attack only one computer at a time, and usually require tricking the user into giving it the admin password. Meaning, if you did not deliberately initiate a process (like an installer), do not give it your password!

Longtime Mac users will remember the early days of Mac viruses that spread on floppies and ran under System 7 and 8. They were quashed in System 9 and nothing like them have reappeared.

Important Safari Setting

There is a setting in Safari that Apple, to this day, has set incorrectly. Open Safari Preferences, click on the first icon (General), and at the bottom UNcheck the box that says "Open "safe" files after downloading." I think they put the word Safe in quotes to be ironic. What it is really saying is, "Do you want to open and run any strange piece of crap that downloads itself without giving you any warning?" Duh, no I don't!

This isn't as bad as Chrome and Firefox, though, which do not even give you that option. There is no such checkbox. This is why I continue to use Safari as my primary browser, using the others only on sites that it can't properly handle.


Some people don't like to install Flash at all. The reason is that it is a processor hog and can cause a runaway process from a badly coded video or just a random quark hitting your RAM at the wrong time. Since Google Chrome has their own embedded Flash-like scheme, you can use it to visit those web sites that rely heavily on Flash that you want to see anyway. Examples include FAILblog, Cheezeburger Network, and Vimeo. I do use Flash and rarely have problems and when I do they are usually fixed by quitting and relaunching Safari. I also run the add-on "Click2Flash," which blocks individual flash images from a web page until you click on them to load them. I find that works pretty well, overall. Click2Flash is free; just yahoo, bing or google it. (I'm kidding; no one Yahoos anything!)

Other Updates

There are other updates offered by Software Update. iTunes has a version 10.6.1 which you should get only if you already got the 10.6.0 version. It is required only if you rent or buy 1080p HD videos from the iTunes Store, or you got one of the new iPad 2s models. Otherwise you can stick with 10.5.3 or whatever version you are using now that does not misbehave for you. There have been reports of problems with 10.6 that led to the 10.6.1 update, but that's not news to anyone. There are no other updates to avoid, except those for programs you don't own or use, like iWeb, Pages, Numbers and other iWork apps. Do get updates for iLife because that includes iPhoto even if you don't use iMovie or iDVD.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Avoid These Updates

iPhoto and iTunes

Apple just released an update to iPhoto, version 9.2.2. They also released iTunes 10.6. It looks like you should avoid them, based on reports from the Mac blogs. iTunes 10.6 is mainly to support HD movies from the iTunes Store, as well as the new iPad. These updates are available for both Snow Leopard 10.6.8 and Lion 10.7.3.

Some reports state that the installation fails, both via Software Update, as well as the version you download from Apple's site. They also cite an interaction between iTunes and iPhoto, requiring both be updated or iTunes can crash on startup.

If you followed my standard rule of waiting a week before accepting anything from Software Update, then you should be fine. Like their recent screwup with the Snow Leopard Security Update, which I wrote about last month, Apple should be updating the updaters with versions that don't cause so much trouble.

You can postpone these two indefinitely. However, any other update, such as an SMC Firmware Update for some laptops, and the Security Update should be performed.

Also, Safari now is up to 5.1.4. If you are using any version of Safari 5.1, you should run this update. If you are still on version 5.0.5, don't update it at all. I will let everyone know if Apple ever releases a version of 5.1 that is as stable as 5.0.5 is.

A Little Mac Humor

"Fans" of the Spinning Beach Ball of Death will get a needed laugh out of this short video that was taken at a recent TED talk.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Environment Corruption Causes Strange Finder Menus

Here is an interesting tale of a problem that I ran into last week. The client was running Snow Leopard 10.6.8, and some of the menus in the Finder had replaced the names of the actions (Cut, Copy, Paste, Clear, Print, etc.) with short letter strings that didn't mean anything: H13, H14, A20. There didn't seem to be any pattern or reason for it, and selecting the menu still performed the action.

Initially I had thought I could just reboot from my own Snow Leopard drive and replace their Finder with mine. Same version and all. Surprise: the Finder is not an application. You cannot "find" it to delete it.

When I created a new user account and logged out of the main one and into that, the problem was not there. That meant it was something in the user's Home folder.

First thing I did was toss the Finder preferences file in /Home/Library/Preferences ( No luck. I figured the system was corrupt so I reinstalled Snow Leopard and ran the updates. The problem remained.

After a few other tries, such as booting in Safe Mode, zapping PRAM and running Disk Warrior produced no results, I gave up and we called AppleCare.

The level-1 tech who took the call made a couple of suggestions but noted that I had already done most of what he would have had me do. He had never heard of this problem. Finally he too gave up and kicked me upstairs to a Level 2 tech. This guy had seen the problem so he had me drop the Go menu, select Go To Folder... and type in /Users/(user home folder)/.MacOSX. I did and it opened an invisible folder in the Home folder.

(New Mac users: The Home folder is the one with the little house icon in the sidebar of any Finder window. Its name is usually a lower-case version of the user's name, and holds Documents, Desktop, Library, Music, Movies, Pictures and a couple of other things. There are also a lot of normally-invisible files and folders in there.)

In that folder was a file called environment.plist. He said, "Take it to the Desktop and then Restart." I did and lo, the problem went away. What happened? "This file can get corrupted for some reason and cause the odd menu display. A new one was created on restart." This is unique to 10.6 and does not happen in Tiger, Leopard or Lion.

So there it is - even after more than 20 years fixing Macs, there can be a surprise around the corner. Now I will know what to do if I ever see this again, but that is probably unlikely, because I had never seen it before. This is what keeps the job interesting.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Snow Leopard Security Update Fix

I missed this initially. I got a call yesterday from a client who couldn't save properly in Word 2004, and my suggestions didn't work. Today, while checking the Mac blogs I read the news that Apple screwed up the Security Update 2006-001 for Snow Leopard 10.6.8, causing Rosetta to fail. That caused problems with Office 2004, Adobe CS, Quicken 2007 and others.

They fixed it yesterday. The updated installer is not yet on Apple's downloads site, but it IS available via Software Update right now.

These security updates are important, so please run Software Update now and get the fix. If there are other items in there you don't care about (like iTunes 10.5.3) then simply uncheck their boxes and start the update.

This does not affect any other versions of OSX.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Solution to Lion SuperDuper problem

I just heard back from Dave Nanian at Shirt Pocket. (On a Sunday during the Super Bowl! I love that company.)

Here is his message:
Time Machine stores its local snapshot in the .MobileBackups folder on the source drive when you're using a laptop.

Rarely, this folder is in a state that makes it uncopyable. If you get an error like this, there are four things you can do:

• Wait for the next actual Time Machine backup to occur, which will flush the folder
• Temporarily turn Time Machine off, which clears the snapshot
• Use "sudo tmutil disablelocal" to turn off local snapshots
• Create and use a copy script that ignores /.MobileBackups (which is more complex for the user, but will be the default in the next version of SuperDuper.

So that's the answer. You can ignore the second two suggestions. When the next version of SD comes out, it will be fixed for good.

BTW, none of this affects SuperDuper users in Snow Leopard or Leopard. It's a Lion-only problem.

Apropos of Lion, I determined that there is no way to downgrade Safari to version 5.0.5. Lion 10.7.0 shipped with, and requires, 5.1 or later. Now we just gotta wait for Apple to fix the mess.

10.7.3 Update Results

Lion Update

Well, I did the update to Lion 10.7.3, and I see no change in performance or features. The update included a jump to Safari 5.1.3, which did NOT fix the problem it has been having with pages not responding, and requiring a forced reload of all open pages.

Obviously Apple knew about the problem or they wouldn't have included the dialog box, which did not exist (or at least, was never invoked) in 5.0.5 and before.

Biggest fail, however, is with SuperDuper. It cannot copy a specific invisible folder called /.MobileBackups, which exists at the top level of the hard drive. It fails with a Type 8 due to error 28: No space left on device. This is actually not true; the target drive has three times as much free space as the source drive it is copying.

I sent the report to Shirt Pocket Software, publisher of SD, and maybe they will have a response next week. You who use SD, be sure to click the Send to Shirt Pocket button at the bottom of the report, which you see by choosing the Show Log item in the Window menu, any time your backup fails.

That .MobileBackups folder exists to save older versions of files like TimeMachine does, but it works when the T-M backup drive is not present. I can't blame this on 10.7.3 because it appeared when backing up the 10.7.2 Lion disk before I ran the updater.

I went through half an afternoon trying to clear out that folder, too. First, it's invisible so I have to run the widget "Hidden Files" in order to have the Finder show all invisible files and folder. Then, when I could see it, that folder had a NoEntry icon on it, which told me I could not open the folder because I didn't have enough privileges.

Root User did not help

Okay, I have to get those privileges, so I enable Root User on my Mac and log in as that. This lets me open things not available to a simple Administrator, but lo, the Hidden Files widget cannot be installed and run in Root. So off to Google I go to find the Terminal commands that will enable hidden files. That works. However, when I open the now-readable .MobileBackups folder, I see the items that are causing the problems (as well as wasting 4 gigs of drive space) but it won't let me delete them! Even as root! I am truly playing in a sandbox that Apple does not want anyone to play in.

The failure was caused by some Safari files. After banging around a bit I was finally able to make them go away and lo, the SuperDuper backup works. I return to normal user mode and run the backup so I can load the 10.7.3 update.

When all this was finished, I plugged in a larger hard drive, one big enough that I could partition it to support both Time Machine and SuperDuper backups. Set to run that night, I wake up to a SD failure again, with the same error message pointing to the same /MobileBackups folder, but with a different file in it: the 10.7.3 Combo Update!

This is where I gave up and am waiting to hear from Shirt Pocket.


I got a short answer from Shirt Pocket just now: It seems the only workaround is to turn TimeMachine OFF (in System Preferences, Time Machine) for 10 minutes before running SuperDuper. I wrote back and answered if this is something that can be fixed in the next SD update. Will post when I hear back.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

February Update

Updates for February

There has been a slew of updates from Apple in the last week or so, most notably the 10.7.3 release of Lion. The reports coming in so far are favorable: lots of bugs fixed and problems repaired. I will be installing this myself this weekend (after making a clone backup so I can revert if need be) and I will write a further update if I have any trouble myself.

You can use Software Update, but some people are reporting problems with the Delta update (which is what Software Update uses). I strongly recommend going to Apple and visiting the Downloads section and getting the full-sized Combo Update.  This update also boosts Safari to 5.1.3, and I hope this will fix the forced reloads and spinning-rainbow problems that have plagued 5.1 since its release.

I also want to see if I can successfully downgrade Safari to 5.0.5. Of all the browsers, Safari has been the most difficult to do this to, with Firefox being the easiest. Safari scatters pieces of itself all over your library and they ALL have to come out before a 5.0.5 install can succeed. If I do, I will report on the full details of how you can do it too.

There is a Security Update for Snow Leopard out as well. Due to the increasing frequency of malware apps attacking Macs these days, I recommend getting all of the updates they issue, after waiting the usual week before installing them that I recommend.

iTunes is now up to 10.5.3, which is needed for the latest iPod and iPhone 4S. I have been running it for a week now and have not noticed any changes at all. I'd say go ahead, but it isn't necessary unless you have the latest iDevice.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beware The Recent Items Menu

Been a while since I had anything to report, but this one is a doozy. I was called out to recover a lost Excel file, in which the client had entered data for three days, and then found the next morning that anything entered between 12/29 and 1/3 had vanished.

They thought they had mistakenly saved the file somewhere else, or under another name but could not find anything. To make the search even easier, there were only three Excel files on their drive. But everything was dated the 29th as the last changes made!

I entered TimeMachine and yep, every file ended at the 29th. I checked their SuperDuper backup as well, and the same thing was true. Each time, the typist had opened the file and the changes had been there, the 30th, the 31st, but on January 2nd when they came back to work, all the typing was gone.

This one beat me too. There was nothing to search for: no cache files (preserved usually only to recover from a crash) and no other temp files anywhere. Ready to throw up my hands, I went into Excel and looked under the Recent Items menu and there were two documents there, one on the cloned backup and one on the internal drive. But the path name in the menu was incomplete. The first part of the path was cut off.

Usually a path name shows where the file is, i.e.
Macintosh HD/Users/Home/Documents/Specific Folder/Name of the file.xls.
In this case, there were two looking like this:
.../Home/Documents/Specific Folder/Name of the file.xls
.../Home/Documents/Specific Folder/Name of the file.xls

There was no clue as to which was on the Macintosh HD and which was on Clone Backup. A bright, bold AHA lit up the room.

What the person had done was not go into the correct folder in Documents to open the file, but instead opened from the Recent Items menu under File in Excel. Most of us do this. But one time he accidentally chose the item on the Clone Backup drive, because the drive name did not show. That made it the more recent of the two, and put it above the one on Macintosh HD. Each further edit was done to the first item.

They did not catch the mistake on the second day because their SuperDuper backup was set to run only once a week, not daily as usual. So when it did run over the holiday, it dutifly cloned the internal drive to the external, overwriting the newer file on the backup drive with the one last opened Dec. 29th.

Of course TimeMachine was no help because it doesn't index clone-backup drives, just the internal. Hence, nothing newer than 12/29. In the 20 years I have been fixing Mac problems, this is the first time I have run into this. There was indeed no way to get the missing work back, but it gave ME fodder for this blog, and a warning to everyone: Be very careful when using the Recent Items menu. It's a lot safer to simply open the folder where your document is living and open it from there. No chance for a mistake like this to happen.

January Update: Safari 5.1.2 is a Mess

It took me a while to figure this out because its problems weren't immediately obvious. There wasn't a flood of howls on the Mac blogs, but it seems to be rather buggy in many subtle ways. Pages that used to stay logged in if I left them open in the Dock now close themselves. The Rainbow Wheel of Death is a more frequent visitor regardless of how often I empty cache or choose the Reset Safari command. 1Password does not work as well when used to log in to password-requiring sites. Normal sites seem to work properly, but sometimes the wrong page loads when I open a bunch at the same time using Open in Tabs.

As a result I am recommending that you stay at version 5.0.5 if you are there now. If you are at 5.1 or 5.1.1 and don't seem to be having trouble, stay there. Sadly, it's next to impossible to downgrade Safari to an older version because there are so many pieces of itself scattered all over your Library folders.

Tiger 10.4.11 users are not included here because the final version of Safari for you is 4.1.3. If you need to do banking or commerce, find the latest version of Firefox or Camino that will work for you. In FF, I believe that's version 5; Google Chrome does not have a Tiger version. Otherwise forget about using the more security-oriented sites.

Other Updates

No serious problems have come to light with the other updates issued by Software Update. Go ahead and get the ones listed, but you can highlight and delete ones for programs you don't have or use, such as the abandoned iWeb, or any of the iWork suite of apps that you did not actually buy. Those sitting on your drive are demos and can be deleted to free up space. Also feel free to get all MS Office updates and Adobe updates, avoiding upgrades to Reader beyond version 8 which offer you no advantages and strip out an important feature.

I Hate AppleMail

I was never a fan of Apple's mail program but was never sure how weak it was until I was forced to quit using Eudora when switching to Lion. I made the first of the year the day to start. After all, Eudora has been abandoned since 2002 and was getting very creaky under Snow Leopard. It was always an extremely powerful program, with all kinds of hidden settings and tricks it would do. Now that they are gone I really miss them.
1) You cannot edit the Subject line of incoming mail. Highlight text and hit Delete just moves the entire message to the Trash.
2) Keyboard shortcut to the next message. (In Eudora, it's command-right arrow and command left arrow to move backwards. Command up-arrow and down-arrow do the same thing.) I can't believe they left this out!
3) Edit the text of an incoming message. Suppose I want to archive a message but it's filled with a dozen paragraphs of quoted old messages. Simple button to enable in Eudora but nothing in Mail.
4) No Transfer menu. I have to close a message and drag it to an archive mailbox. There is a similar function if I right-click the message, though. I'll give it that.
5) Even with the help of AppleCare techs, I could not make it work with a POP connection to Gmail. No problem for Eudora, Mail would work with IMAP only. While it has its uses, I have never been a fan of IMAP, which will not show your messages if you disconnect from the Net. Under POP, mail is downloaded and stored on your Mac. My regular account works fine as POP.

There are a few things it does right:
A Command + or - enlarges or shrinks the message type. HTML messages filled with graphics and links display correctly. Eudora was never designed to do this. Just typing a name in the TO field will autofill if the name is in the Address Book. Eudora can also do this.