Goodbye Steve

I can’t hope to match the many eloquent tributes to Steve that are appearing today, so I shall leave you to find and ponder those.

All I can say is that I never had the pleasure of knowing you Steve, but you knew me so very well in that way you knew most Mac users, and I thank you for that. It’s a sad goodbye.

Lion Upgrade Woes On A 2008 Mac Pro

The one thing that has really struck me over the past three and a half years is just how solid and reliable my early 2008 Mac Pro has been. It came installed with Leopard and when Snow Leopard came out I did a clean install of Snow Leopard without any problems. I’ve upgraded the RAM from the 2Gb it came with the 12Gb. I have upgraded the single 500Gb internal disk to two WD Caviar Black 1Tb drives and two WD Caviar Green 2Tb drives, as well as adding an NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card alongside the original NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT card. There’s also a three port PCIe USB card for good measure. Outside the box there’s a Lacie Quadra 2Tb firewire 800 drive, with a Voyager Q daisy-chained off that. USB-wise there’s a Logitech MX Revolution mouse, a Logitech diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition, a Logitech USB webcam, various iPad & iPhone docks, a Canon ip4000 printer, Fujitsu Scan Snap 300 and bringing up the rear some Logitech THX Z2300 speakers and a Magic Trackpad.

Mac Pro

2008 Mac Pro

Not bad for three and a half years of gradually enhancing my system. Snow Leopard has never flinched at all these extras, and when I fire up VMware Fusion and run three virtual Windows XP machines simultaneously, it still never skips a beat! In fact everything has been really impressive, until that is… I decided to install Lion.

Now rather than wipe out my Snow Leopard setup, I decided to install it on to a new partition so I have the choice to boot into either, thus a clean install of Lion was added to it’s own 500Gb partition. The Startup Disk feature works really well, I can boot into either Snow Leopard or Lion depending on what I want to do and the plan is (or rather was) to slowly migrate all my work across to Lion and eventually dump Snow Leopard.

First of all the pluses… Obviously booting into Lion the machine is a lot snappier presumably as there’s not two years worth of junk cluttering stuff up. Also there’s a few new features in Lion that I like although I have to say there’s nothing I couldn’t live without. However, the interwebs have been full of everyone explaining every new feature of Lion in painful detail so I won’t bother you with that here. Instead I’ll let you know what the downside has been… KERNEL PANICS.

Now I’ve heard of kernel panics, but as a Mac user I have thankfully been spared of this most troublesome problem. Now to be fair I still haven’t seen one first hand but that’s because my Mac Pro seems to panic at night. If I leave it running Lion when I go to bed, then in the morning I’ll see a message telling me that the computer has restarted because of a problem and I’m prompted to send the dump to Apple (which I do in the forlorn hope they’ll fix it). Ok there is a way around this – shut down the Mac before I go to bed, or just put it to sleep. However, choosing ‘Sleep’ from the Apple menu just causes the Mac to immediately crash and restart, so it looks like I’ll have to shut down every evening until they fix this (if they ever do). It is of course entirely possible that one of my many peripherals is causing the panic/sleep problem but I’ll have to try and figure that out by a process of elimination.

So what other problems are there?

  • Running Skitch 1.0.6 causes the mouse pointer to disappear. Perhaps a conflict between the Logitech Control Centre 3.4.0 software and Skitch and Lion somewhere?
  • When the screensaver kicks in, neither my Logitech mouse nor keyboard will prompt the Mac to  resume, I have to use the Magic Trackpad. Again a possible issue with the Logitech keyboard/mouse drivers.
  • My iPad 3G will no longer charge although it will sync. Strange thing is if I reboot into Snow Leopard then it will happily sync/charge using the same cable/USB port. Go back to Lion and it will only sync. Interestingly my iPhone 4 syncs/charges no problem using the same cable/port. I know the iPad has higher power requirements, too high in fact for some USB ports, but I’m using one of the Mac Pro’s built-in USB ports and it works fine under Snow Leopard so this must be a Lion issue.

Well that’s about it for now. I could live with the problems I guess and to be fair the panics/crashes don’t happen when I’m using Lion during the day (unless I try to manually put the Mac Pro to sleep). It does mean though that the Lion experience, and that the “it just works” mantra are a tiny bit tarnished at the moment. Maybe my only solution is to go and buy a new Mac?

If only I had the money…

Re-installing an iPhone App

I was asked a question recently about re-installing an app on an iPhone, which while relatively straightforward does include a few steps which may not be obvious. So, using our favourite TodUhr

Unchecked apps don't sync. Tick that box!

application as an example, here’s how it goes. Note that the general procedure is the same whether you’re using an iPhone 3G/3GS/4 we just need to allow for the fact that the 3G/3GS phones don’t support the application ‘switcher’.

  1. For iPhone 3G/3GS users, switch off the phone then switch it on again. This is just to make sure the app isn’t running when you try to delete it. iPhone 4 users can simply kill the app by double-tapping the Home button then finding the relevant app icon in the task list, pressing and holding the icon, then tapping the little ‘no entry/delete’ symbol top left of the icon.
  2. iPhone 4 users should then tap the Home button once to close the app switcher list.
  3. Now locate the application on your phone and press and hold the icon until it starts ‘wobbling’.
  4. Tap the little ‘x’ symbol that appears at the top left of the icon.
  5. You will see a pop-up message asking if you want to delete the app and all it’s data from your phone. Tap OK.
  6. Press the Home button once to exit the application edit mode.
  7. The next time you sync your iPhone with iTunes, the check-mark next to the application you have just deleted from the phone will also disappear. The app will still be in your iTunes library, however iTunes will assume that because you’ve deleted it from the device that you no longer want to sync it back to the device (hence why iTunes automatically un-checks it).
  8. Making sure your iPhone is connected to your Mac or PC, click on your device in iTunes then click on the Apps tab.
  9. Scroll through the list of apps to be sync’ed with your iPhone until you find the one that you deleted earlier. You should find that the little box to the left of the application name is blank.
  10. Click the box once to make sure it is ‘ticked’.
  11. Now re-sync your iPhone with iTunes and the app should be copied back to your device.

It is possible that the app may be damaged on your device, so this may help by effectively ‘re-installing’ it, and the above steps will be much the same for an iPad/iPad 2/iPod Touch depending on what version of iOS they are running.If the application file (ipa file) in iTunes itself is damaged, then you would need to delete the app from within iTunes and then re-download it. This is necessary because if you attempt to download it without deleting it first, the Buy/Free button in iTunes will simply say ‘Downloaded’ and not let you do anything else. For a paid app I am assuming you won’t get charged a second time for it, but that is something I’ll have to check.

Note that I’ve never experienced a corrupt application file first hand and I am assuming that if this did happen then iTunes or the iPhone itself would tell you there’s a problem.

PS… here’s one other thing you might try to nudge an app into installing/running if there’s a problem with the iPhone. It’s a soft reset which you can do as follows:

  1. Press and hold the Home button.
  2. Keeping the Home button pressed, press the on/off button on the top of the iPhone and keep it held.
  3. After a few seconds the ‘Slide to power off’ message will appear – KEEP BOTH BUTTONS HELD DOWN.
  4. After a few more seconds the iPhone screen will go blank and the Apple logo will appear.
  5. Release both buttons.
  6. The Apple logo will stay on screen for a while as the phone reboots. On my iPhone 3G that takes about 60 seconds.
  7. Eventually you’ll be prompted to enter your unlock code or the Home screen will appear (depending on how your phone is configured).

There’s an Apple article on the technique here.

Apple WWDC 2011 – A feature I’d like to see

Mac OSX Lion

(Image courtesy of modmyi.com)

The air is thick with rumours and predictions. What will be in Lion, iOS5 and iCloud? Everyone is having their say and it makes for interesting reading even if most of the commentators are guessing the same things. Me? I haven’t a clue! I merely read and digest the Apple news and I’m not nearly close enough to the game to figure out what’s going on. That’s why I’m wishing for a coupe of new features for Apple’s desktop OS that I almost certainly won’t see.

The first is aimed at dealing with the new upsurge in Mac malware, and something I’ve mentioned before. A toggle switch to prevent apps from being installed from anywhere other than the Mac App Store (MAS). The idea is really simple. There’s a System Preference that says ‘Only allow app installs from the Mac App Store’ which by default is set to yes. If you try to launch an app or run an mkpg with this switch set to yes, you get a message telling you you can’t run it. The message could be more explicit and warn you about the dangers of unsolicited software but the idea is to stop apps getting installed and run when you didn’t actually go looking for the app to install in the first place. For ‘power users’ who need to frequently install software to test out, or who are perhaps less likely to succumb to a phishing attack, well they can disable this setting and just carry on as before. Everyone’s happy, job done.

And while we’re at it, Safari could have the ‘open safe files’ setting disabled and given similar warnings. Now of course there are subtle variations on how this ‘Only allow app installs from the Mac App Store’ feature would work, but you get the general idea.

On to my second … well I was going to bemoan the fact that there’s no Whole Disk Encryption (WDE) in Snow Leopard, and no news of it appearing in Lion. That’s all changed! Lion will feature FileVault 2 which will support full disk encryption. No more needing PGP for Mac! Here’s the low down on the Apple website – http://www.apple.com/macosx/whats-new/features.html#filevault2

One out of two… it’s a good start.

TodUhr

The first of many?

By the way… I have recently started dabbling in the world of iOS apps. Now it’s a long time since I was a programmer (late 80’s I think) so someone else is taking care of that aspect of things, but there’s a lot more to getting your app into the iTunes App Store, some of which can get quite confusing or just frustrating. I’m aiming to write a few articles about the experience in the hope that it’ll help someone in the future, but if you want to see the fruits of our labours and the little ‘entertaining’? app we created, then pop over to iTunes and look for TodUhr or paste this link http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/toduhr/id439571992?mt=8  in to your browser. Disclosure – the app costs a few pennies or cents depending on where you live… all of which is gratefully received (after Apple takes their 30%) to help cover the $99 developers fee that is Apple’s cost of entry to it’s playground.

Mac Malware – Here’s An Idea

MacDefender (and now a few variants) has been making a name for itself recently. The first piece of Mac malware that’s managed to catch people who weren’t downloading some cracked application or other. By all accounts the victim merely needed to visit one of several websites that had been compromised with malicious code. A pop-up appears saying their computer is infected and they are prompted to download and install some bogus software that demands credit card details before supposedly removing the infection.

MacDefender

MacDefender

Now I’ve been using PCs and Macs for longer than I care to mention and while I like to think that I would never have fallen prey to this ‘scare & pay-up’ tactic, I actually know several friends and family members who would have. They are trusting people. They are people who are well aware of the prevalence of malware on the Windows platform, having typically been Windows users themselves previously. They have heard the mantra of protecting yourself by having good anti-malware software installed, so when they see the warning they think it’s entirely credible… even for a Mac user.

But there’s something else that many of these people do, or rather don’t do and that’s to frequently install 3rd party apps. I know at least 4 Mac users for whom I have installed iWork, Office for Mac or an iLife upgrade and that’s it. That’s all they use. They do email, they shop online, they write a few documents or spreadsheets, they work with photos or movies in iLife and they use iTunes and maybe download an iOS app or two. As for Mac OS X software, they don’t really have a need to step beyond the few apps that Apple gives them and they’re perfectly happy with that. Maybe once or twice I might get a call asking if I could recommend an app such as a family tree program or something, but that’s about it.

I’m pretty certain that I’m not unique. There must be thousands, perhaps millions of Mac users out there who really do have modest requirements or who don’t have the urge to experiment with different apps all the time, and it’s for those people for whom I had an idea…

A System Preference, perhaps under the Accounts preference pane, that says:

‘Only allow software installs from the Mac App Store: Yes/No’ (with the default being set to No).

So what does this do? Well the idea is that it prevents a 3rd party app from being installed and run if it hasn’t come from the Mac App Store. The App Store is curated by Apple, so it’s a trusted source of software that can be installed, and software from any other source gets stopped in it’s tracks. As for the mechanism for how it prevents 3rd party software being used, well that’s down to the clever guys. They could use certificates, some sort of file system checks, etc., I’m sure there are many ways this could be achieved. What’s more, you could even attach a timer to the ‘Yes’ option, with a slider that goes from 5 minutes to ‘indefinitely’ (with appropriate warnings for leaving it set).

By now there’s probably a few people who would be up in arms against this idea, saying it’s half way towards a walled garden for Mac users rather like iOS users, but then that’s exactly the point. It is only half way and it still gives people like me who like to tinker, the option to do so, in the full knowledge that I think I know what I’m doing. For what I suspect is a great many people, it would add that extra level of protection along the lines of – you only ever install software when you have actually gone out looking for software to install.

Now I’m sure that malware writers could get creative, and instead of popping up a warning saying your Mac is infected, they could easily craft a window that instead mimics the built-in Software Update window and says something like ‘iLife 2011-05-25 Security Update. Click here to install’. Indeed that might catch a lot more people after all, who doesn’t have iLife installed? This is where Apple gets creative in finding a way to block these, e.g. by preventing access to the ‘Install 3rd party apps’ option except by approved services (like Software Update) or via the GUI itself. What’s more, it would probably be a good idea to show this setting to any new Mac user to try and prevent a deluge of calls to Apple Care saying “Help, I can’t install something”. Perhaps a message that greets the user saying “Installation of 3rd party software is currently disabled (recommended). Do you wish to change this setting?”.

At the end of the day I’m talking about mindsets here. There are those who like to fiddle, who regularly install apps, who know how things work, etc., and they can switch the option off confident that they can probably use their wits to avoid getting infected. But then there are those who don’t really care for that sort of thing. They are perfectly fine using the apps they have, and installing software is a rare event where they usually ask a friend for help anyway. It’s this second group of people for whom prevention is probably better than cure.

Is this one of my more mad ideas? Have I got it completely wrong? Who knows. What I do know is that the one family member I have who still uses Windows, generates more “Help it’s broken” calls to me than all my Mac-using friends and family added together. Still love ’em to bits though!

PS – If you are worried about MacDefender and want to learn more, Apple has a page dedicated to it here: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4650

The Snow Leopard Pixelated (Fuzzy) Icon Bug – Possible Fix?

I wrote a post a while back about the problem I was getting with pixelated (fuzzy) icons under Snow Leopard. As soon as you start to use more than a few, the icons become fuzzy – almost like they’re enlarged versions of low-res icons. Sometimes a reboot will temporarily fix the problem, and sometimes using a utility to clear caches can also help, but it’s usually short-lived. If the Apple Support pages are anything to go by, it’s a common problem affecting quite a few people and there’s no fix in sight from Apple.

After a little research (thanks to ‘steepleton’ in the Apple Discussion Forums), I might have found a fix. It’s early days but I tried this about 5 hours ago and all my custom icons are still fine whereas normally they would have been fuzzy within 5-10 minutes of a reboot. Now before I go any further – a warning. The fix involves deleting a hidden system file that Apple probably didn’t envisage people messing with. On the plus side, OS X will recreate this file from scratch after you delete it, but it’s worth noting that while I haven’t experienced any undesirable side-effects on my Mac, your mileage may vary. So… don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉

The fix involves removing a file called thumbnails.data which is located inside a folder called com.apple.QuickLook.thumbnailcache on your Mac. Now, the path to this file seems to vary slightly because on my Mac Pro I found it in the following location:

<bootdisk>/private/var/folders/+h/+hEv5zBBEWiHP7q4dTC3WU+++TI/-caches/com.apple.QuickLook.thumbnailcache

On my Mac Mini the path was almost the same except the +h… part (shown in red) had a different name. The best way to locate the file is to use something like Find Any File. It’s an excellent utility by Thomas Tempelmann that let’s you search for files, including ones that Spotlight doesn’t index (which will be the case with thumbnails.data. Although there’s a free version, I highly recommend you get it from the new Mac App Store as it’s a great way to track down things on your Mac that Spotlight doesn’t help you with.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand… Once you’ve located the file you’ll need to navigate to it with your preferred file manager. If you’re using Finder then you’ll need to go to the View menu and turn on the setting that says ‘Show System Files’. If (like me) you use Path Finder then you go to the View menu and select ‘Show Invisible Files’. Having done that, navigate to the thumbnails.data file and copy it to a temporary folder somewhere – a temporary folder inside your Documents folder is probably a good place. Having done that, delete the original file and then empty your Trash. Next, reboot your Mac and everything should look just how it should be – custom icons and all.

I noticed that in my case, the thumbnails.data file was almost 370Mb in size before I deleted it. The new thumbnails.data file that OS X has created for me is under 35Mb and that’s after 5 hours since a reboot and with me exploring every folder I can think of to check on my custom icons. Obviously once you’re happy that everything is working ok, you can delete the copy of the old thumbnails.data file that you made.

I’m hoping that the fix continues to work, and if it does work even for a few days or weeks then I’ll be happy. I hope it works for you too, but as I mentioned above, do proceed with caution because this is an OS X system file that your fiddling with. To be doubly sure, I’d make a full backup of your Mac before trying this. Oh and one last point – when you’ve finished, it’s a good idea to turn off the ‘Show System Files’ option in Finder (or Path Finder) so that system files are once again hidden.

Good luck!

Icons Fine Again

No more fuzzy icons! (For now)

Upgrading the disk in a LaCie d2 Quadra

Following on from my post about upgrading one of the internal drives in my 2008 Mac Pro, I moved on to upgrading the disk inside my LaCie d2 Quadra external drive this morning. Once again pretty straightforward thanks to SuperDuper, my Voyager Q and a Philips screwdriver. If you’ve got one of these LaCie drives and you’d like more space for whatever reason (and the existing drive is out of warranty), then dive in because in less than ten minutes you’ll be enjoying lots more free space.

The LaCie d2 Quadra is a solid and well constructed external unit which actually makes replacing the drive inside it very easy because all the parts are machined to fit together just so. You won’t be struggling with screw holes that don’t line up or bendy bits of plastic as the case is a nicely machined piece of aluminium (or aluminum depending on your side of the Atlantic!).

1. Ok first step is to remove the four screws at the back of the unit. You’ll discover that these screws hold on both the back and front bezels as they go right the way through the case!

(Click images to enlarge)

2. Having removed the front and rear bezels, next remove the thin masking plate that covers the ports on the rear of the device. Take care to do this gently and to not bend it.

3. Turn the unit on it’s side and remove the two screws that hold the internal assembly in place.

4. Now you can slide out the whole internal assembly which is basically a mounting plate, a circuit board and the drive itself.

5. Turn the assembly over and remove the four screws that hold the drive onto the mounting plate.

6. Next you can gently slide the drive off the SATA connector. I found the best way to do this was to just rock the drive slightly from side to side while gently pulling it.

7. From here on in it’s pretty much a case of reversing the procedure starting by gently sliding the new drive on to the SATA connector then re-attaching it to the mounting plate. The screws really don’t have to be that tight as the drive barely vibrates and isn’t going anywhere once re-fitted.

New drive fitted and ready to go back in the case.

8. Slide the whole internal assembly back into the case, making sure that the two screw holes on the side of the assembly line up with their corresponding holes in the side of the case.

9. Secure the assembly inside the case using the two screws on the side.

10. Replace the masking plate over the ports at the back, again taking care not to bend it.

11. Replace the front and back bezels and secure them in place using the four long case screws.

Everything back as it was, only with more space!

That’s it, pretty straight forward eh? The procedure for cloning my existing 1.5Tb drive in the LaCie on to the new 2Tb disk was much the same as for the internal drive upgrade I just did. I popped the 2Tb drive into my Voyager Q, created a single Mac OS Extended (journalled) partition with a unique name then used SuperDuper to copy everything from the existing LaCie drive to the new one. Finally I ejected both drives, did the hardware swap, powered up the LaCie with the new drive inside and renamed the volume back to the original name (so that I don’;t have to change any backup routines, etc).

Choice of Hard Disk Drive

It’s worth noting that the LaCie d2 Quadra is a passively cooled drive enclosure, i.e. there is no fan to pull air through it. For this reason I have stuck with a Western Digital ‘Green’ SATA hard disk – the WD20EARS SATA 3Gb/s 3.5inch IntelliPower 2Tb 64Mb to be exact. I have used WD Green drives before and found them to be both very quiet and not too hot, plus they are plenty fast enough for data and backup drives like the LaCie.

Update 05/December/2012

I have been using Western Digital ‘GREEN’ drives in both my Lacie Quadra (Firewire) drive and in a number of Synology NAS devices. While they have performed well, I have had two failures out of eight drives in the past year – that’s a 25% failure rate. These have not been catastrophic failures resulting in data loss, rather drive errors found by software like Drive Genius or S.M.A.R.T. utilities. Western Digital make it very easy to return drives, they have a long warranty period and seem to be very quick at replacing drives without any argument, so I am happy to continue using WD drives. However, I am now looking at moving from their ‘GREEN’ drives to their ‘RED’ drives for storage that is external to my Mac Pro. The ‘RED’ drives are around 25% more expensive than the ‘GREEN’ drives, e.g. current price of a 2Tb RED drive on Amazon UK is £90 compared with £74 for a 2Tb GREEN drive, but the RED drives are optimised for NAS and external storage as opposed to power saving.