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.