2012.07 History: June Q&A

Dave Weston, quizmaster; notes by Holly McEntee

Q: I’m running Leopard (OS X.5) and Safari continually crashes on me. The error message displayed blames Flash Player. What’s going on?

A: Flash Player is Adobe’s media player, similar to Apple’s media player QuickTime. Flash Player is what allows animations and videos embedded in websites to be played. HTML5, which also runs animation and video in websites, is becoming more common and is more stable than Flash Player, but at the moment Flash Player dominates the market.

The problem may be caused by a bad user preference file. That is, there may be a corrupt preference file for Flash Player that is unique to your user account on your Mac. To test this, go to your Mac’s System Preferences (under the  menu), choose “Users”, and set up a temporary guest account. (For simplicity, you can leave the password blank.) Log out of your Mac, then log in as “guest” and fire up Safari. Visit a website that uses Flash Player (like this one ). If Safari doesn’t crash or give you the error message, it’s likely that your home user account has a bad preference file. If the same problem occurs, you’ve at least identified that the problem is not user-specific but system-wide.

Here are a couple of things to try to correct the problem:
  • If you are prompted by Safari to update Flash Player (or the Flash Player plug-in), do so.
  • If updating doesn’t make the problem go away, try uninstalling Flash Player (instructions here) and then reinstalling it. (Visiting a website that has animation in it will prompt you to install Flash Player ... or follow the instructions at the Adobe website.)

Unfortunately, finding the specific preference file that is bad is a bit tricky for the casual user. Your best best is to uninstall Flash Player and reinstall it.

Q: I set up a temporary user account for my Mac in System Preferences (under the  menu) for a visitor to use. But when he started it up, we got an error message saying that some application that I don’t recognize had unexpectedly quit. Clicking “Ignore” lets my friend continue using the temporary account, but what’s this error message mean? This has been going on for the past 3-4 years.

A: Without the actual Mac it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening, but it sounds as though this application is one that’s marked as something that should start up upon logging into the temporary account ... and something is wrong with that application. (Maybe it’s a PowerPC application that no longer runs under Lion?) To check this, log in with the temporary account and write down the name of the app that unexpectedly quits. Click “Ignore” and then go into System Preferences, then “Users”, and select the temporary account. In the main part of the window click “Log-In Items” — a list of applications that your Mac will open (or attempt to open) whenever someone logs in with that account. If the app that keeps quitting appears here, click it once to highlight it and then click the boxed minus-sign that appears below the list. (It’s next to a boxed plus-sign.) This will remove the app from the log-in list, and therefore your Mac will not try to open it when someone logs in with that account.

Q: Sometimes when I reply to an e-mail in Mail, my new message quotes the text of the message I’m replying to but draws a box around it with an X in a circle at the upper left-hand corner. I only want to reply to part of the text, but scrolling over the box suggests I have to keep or delete all of it. It’s annoying! How do I make it stop?

A: This bounding box seems to be a source of frustration and mystery to many. Internet searches did not reveal the name of this “feature” of Mail, when it was introduced, or any method of disabling it, but below are a couple of suggestions to avoid the dreaded box:
  • Convert all text to “Plain Text” (the last item in the Format menu in Mail) before selecting the text you want to include in your reply.
  • With the e-mail to which you want to reply open, select the text you want to quote in your reply except for the last letter. Then hit “Reply” — and your new e-mail message will quote the text (minus the last letter, which you can type in) without the annoying box.

Q: I often will cut text out of an e-mail message I’ve sent before and use it in a new e-mail message. However, sometimes when I try to paste the cut text into my new e-mail (sometimes as stand-alone sentence or paragraph, but sometimes in the middle of a paragraph I’ve typed in the new message) the pasted text does not end up where I want it but instead in the blank line above the text I’ve newly typed. I’ve tried pasting the text first in TextEdit, then copying it from there and pasting it into the new Mail message, but the behavior persists. This does not always happen with every e-mail I try to compose this way. What’s going on?

A: The only possibility suggested was that the text being copied is in a rich-text format, and the e-mail you’re trying to paste it into is a plain-text format, or perhaps vice versa. These store formatting instructions (like boldface or new paragraph) as hidden characters, but at different places under different coding protocols like “.rtf” or “.txt”. Try to document the exact steps that occurred the next time it happens and then ask the question again.

Q: For the past two years I’ve taken my Mac to the Apple Store probably a dozen times because it will not go to sleep when I tell it to. It gets very hot to the touch, and I’m reduced to simply unplugging it. The Apple Store replaced the logic board but otherwise cannot diagnose the problem. Help!

A: If you have AppleCare on this Mac, make one more trip to the Apple Store and simply tell them you want a replacement machine. Given the service record on your Mac, it will be clear to them that you (and they) have done due diligence to fix the problem. Apple stands behind its products, and AppleCare is designed to cover exactly this situation — the rare lemon in the Apple orchard (rimshot please!). And don't feel bad about doing this, either. Apple will send your problem machine to their diagnostic labs, where they will figure out for sure what's going wrong and use that information to warn other Mac users who might have problems similar to yours, and will possibly trace the problem upstream to some supplier in need of better quality control. So you're actually doing them a favor by letting them keep your machine long enuf to perform these analyses.

Q: The other day I was running a couple of different apps on my Mac and bumped some key on the keyboard that made all of my open files and windows display in “miniature” on the screen. I could navigate to them, and when I clicked on one everything went back to normal size. What was that and how can I get it back?

A: It sounds like you accidentally triggered a feature known as Exposé, which is part of the operating system in Versions X.3 through X.6. (In X.7 — Lion — it’s now called Mission Control.) Exposé allows the user to see all open windows at once, which helps in locating a specific window when you have several windows open that are hiding behind each other. The default key to open Exposé is F3 on a desktop Mac, but you can use System Preferences to set any F-key (or combination of an F-key and a shift, option, control, or command key) to launch Exposé. To read much more about Exposé, visit its Wikipedia article.


2012.07 History: June Feature: iCloud

Presented by John Graham; notes by Richard S. Russell

Apple’s MobileMe (formerly .mac) will be dead as of June 30. You have 2 weeks to upgrade to iCloud, or you run the risk of losing e-mail or back-up files that rely on that service.

John advised that, since iCloud accounts are free, you should go out and get one if you don’t already have one.

And why would you want to do that? Well, if you only have a single piece of hardware, the main reason is so you can have off-site backup of your data. Time Machine is a terrific back-up method, but the external hard drive you’re backing up onto is probably sitting right next to the computer it’s backing up, so a fire or flood or lightning strike that took out just that corner of the room would still be devastating. Off-site backup is safer.

But the place where iCloud really shines is if you have multiple devices. By “devices”, John explained, he meant a variety of Apple hardware products: Macintoshes, iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches (but not other kinds of iPod, since those aren’t wireless capable). For example, suppose you have both a desktop iMac and a laptop MacBook. Have you ever been frustrated that your Address Book, iCal, and iTunes each had to be updated twice, once on each machine? With iCloud, that’ll no longer be necessary. The relevant data will be stored “in the cloud” (that is, somewhere out there on the internet, you don’t know exactly where, but it’s available to you 24 hours a day wherever there’s internet connectivity) and automatically downloaded to both your iMac and your MacBook. Updating either device automatically updates the other. And also any other device that uses your account.

John showed how he could delete or move an e-mail within his browser and have the change show up within seconds on his iPad. This won’t work with the POP e-mail protocol, which removes the message from the ISP’s server when it downloads it to your device. If, however, your ISP (independent service provider) uses IMAP, it will download the message to your current device and still have it available to be downloaded to any other devices you may use.

Dave Weston mentioned his frustration that iDisk did not move to iCloud along with everything else. That’s a feature that lets you store any old file you want on Apple’s hosting servers, open them from different computers, and share them with other people. John agreed that this was a sticking point for him as well. He said that Dropbox (free) is probably the best replacement for iDisk.

Some of MobileMe’s other features, such as the photo gallery and website hosting, are going away as well (which is why the Mad Mac website is being moved to Blogger, a subsidiary of Google), but there will probably eventually be a replacement for each of them. That’s of little immediate consolation, however.

Once iCloud is enabled on your device, the upper-left corner of Address Book will show an iCloud icon, which lets you go right to iCloud upon clicking. Calendar (iOS) is synched with iCal (Mac OS), and Contacts is synched with Address Book. Incidentally, the names “Address Book” and “iCal” will soon be replaced by their iPad counterparts, “Contacts” and “Calendar”, as part of Apple’s long-term strategy to merge Mac OS (desktops and laptops) with iOS (handheld devices).

Calendars can also show up on other people’s devices if they’ve authorized the calendar to be shared. This makes it convenient to plan family or group events. John showed how he could tell Siri to make an appointment for him — meaning he wouldn’t have to take his hands off the wheel or his eyes off the road if he were driving. (Siri, the iPhone’s artificial-intelligence assistant, is only available for the iPad 3, and John was using a beta version, so don’t panic if you don’t find it in the App Store.)

John said he’s constantly using his “Find My iPhone” feature to track down his iPad and iPhone. He can, if he wishes, lock or erase his iPhone from his computer. He can even play a ring tone if the phone is turned off. He could, if he wanted, completely wipe the contents of his iPhone (presumably something he’d only do if it had been stolen). Fortunately, if he’d already backed up the iPhone to his computer or to iCloud, he’d be able to restore its contents via either 3G (possibly expensive) or wi-fi (cheap).

There’s a tool called iTunes Match that lets you check your music libraries from various devices (including stuff you ripped from CDs years ago) and find out whether their counterpart tunes exist in your other libraries, then synch them up.

John opened up TextEdit and showed how, in the upper-left corner, you can choose whether to save the document locally (on the computer) or on iCloud. You get 5 GB of storage for free; iTunes purchases do not count against this limit. This feature will only be available under Mountain Lion next month.

OK, so you’re convinced that you want iCloud. How to get it?

Go to www.icloud.com in your browser. Apparently you need Mac OS 10.7.2 or later to take full advantage of it, but you can transfer over your old .mac e-mail accounts with earlier versions of the OS. To sign in, just type in your run-together name (such as “johndgraham”), and it will tack on “@me.com”. Once in, you can access e-mail or Contacts or Calendar or Find My iPhone (or, eventually, the productivity applications within iWork) at the click of an icon — or by tapping it on your touch-screen device.

You can upgrade to the next Mac OS (Mountain Lion) for only $20 later this summer. And it’ll allow you to upgrade from either Snow Leopard (10.6) or Lion (10.7). You may want to wait until then to take advantage of all the iCloud features.

In conclusion, John noted that iCloud is still in its infancy. There will be more bells and whistles attached as the years go by. Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly stated that this will be the center of Apple’s strategy for the next decade. Sooner or later, you’re gonna have to get on the train; might as well be sooner, eh?


Disproving the adage that old dogs can't learn new tricks, it seems that by virtue of typing this message that I am "blogging" - how very 21st century of me.  I might just start building a Klout score of my very own.


2012.06 Editorial: Off the Mousepad

By Holly McEntee

A quick hello this time, and apologies for the lateness of the newsletter — completely on me — there's been a couple of major demands on my time these past few weeks. One of them which was a joy was finishing Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. I have the hardcopy book rather than an e-book, and as some of you may know it's a pretty hefty tome, but it was very readable. I don't read a lot of biographies because in my experience they are often poorly written and boring. Not this one! Even as a life-time Apple devotee, I learned things about Steve Jobs the person, his history and demons, Apple, NeXT, and Pixar (especially the relationship with Disney) that I did not know before. I really liked learning more about Tim Cook and Jon Ive as they are portrayed in the book — you can read a long interview / article of Jon Ive's thoughts and feelings about design and Apple — and was somewhat surprised at how much Bill Gates contributed to Walter Isaacson's narrative. I highly recommend it, if you haven't already read it, but perhaps this is one case where the advantages of e-books outweigh (get it?) the traditional model.

This month at Mad Mac we'll be learning about iCloud, which will replace MobileMe come the end of the month. If you want to do a little homework before the meeting, here's an article about how to prepare for the end of MobileMe.

I'm also hoping we'll have some information from Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference to talk about — it will be taking place June 11-15, and updates on Mountain Lion, iOS 6, and new Macs are expected. I'm excited, and you should be too.

See you on the 13th.



2012.06 Business: Volunteers Needed!

The Mad Mac board is seeking volunteers among the Mad Mac members (and even those who aren't members) to step up and share your knowledge and familiarity on the following topics, which have been suggested as meeting presentations:
  • Reunion (geneology software for the Mac)
  • a compare-and-contrast demo of Windows 7 (on a non-Mac) vs. Parallels on the Mac vs. Bootcamp on the Mac: How close are they?
  • comparing and contrasting social media apps (MySpace, Google+, Facebook): What are the pros and cons of each?
If you have experience with the topics above and are willing to share it with your fellow Mad Mac members, please contact any board member. (Contact information is listed under the "About Us" tab.)

If you've never done a presentation in front of a group before, we'll help you get ready and will supply the barf bags. HHOK!* But seriously, you know how beginning teachers get by, don't you? All they have to do is stay a chapter ahead of the students in the textbook. You can fake that for an hour, can't you?

*ha ha, only kidding!


2012.06 Help: Prepare for Q&A

When preparing to bring questions to ask at the Mad Mac meeting, please try to remember the following:
  1. Know what operating system your Mac is running. You can find this information under "About this Mac" under the  menu in the Finder, upper left-most corner.
  2. Know what model of Mac you have. An iMac? A MacBook Pro? If your question is about a non-Mac device, what is it? An iPhone? Which generation? An iPod? What kind?
  3. Know the name of the application (program) you were using when the problem occurred, or that you have a question about.
  4. If you got an error message while using the Mac that you didn't understand, write down the exact wording of it and bring that to the meeting. This will help us diagnose the problem you were having.
  5. Try to write down exactly what you were doing when you encountered the behavior you want to ask about: every move of the mouse, every click, and what exactly happens when the problem occurs. No detail is too small!
By having as much of the above information as possible on hand, you can help us answer your question effectively and efficiently! We might even get the answer correct!


2012.06 History: May Feature: A Brief Introduction to Databases

Presented by Richard S. Russell, summarized by Holly McEntee

Richard began his presentation by explaining that in his retirement he spends a lot of time building, modifying, and maintaining databases for many nonprofit groups and small business. He then defined several terms, distinguishing a "database" (a collection of related information) from a "database manager" (a program or system that renders information accessible, such as for querying and reporting). FileMaker Pro, Richard's preferred app, is a database manager. He went on to explain that database managers generally come in three types: standalone, network, and enterprise. An example of a standalone database manager is Bento, a single-user version of FileMaker Pro. FileMaker Pro itself is a network database manager, because it can be shared across a network of computers or devices (the mobile version of FileMaker Pro is called FileMaker Go — cute, eh?). Enterprise database managers are the most complex — perhaps the best-known enterprise database manager is Oracle. These involve managing multiple back-end and front-end databases and user interfaces to access and use data stored in gigantic centralized mainframe computers.

Richard then explained the difference between flat-file and relational databases. An Excel spreadsheet used for non-accounting purposes is a flat-file database; the public library's catalog MadCat is a relational database in which data (individual fields or entire tables) are linked in multiple ways. These relationships can be one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, or many-to-many, and are established between data fields when a database is designed and built. Lastly, Richard went over common restraints and attributes that can be set for a data field, such as only allowing integers to be entered, not allowing duplicate entries, or never allowing a field to be empty (blank). Data stored in a flat-file database is limited to very simple searches. In general, the more data a database contains, the slower the searches and sorts go.

With all that under the audience's belt, Richard used the remaining time demonstrating these concepts with a basic relational database of colors that he built in FileMaker Pro. He noted that it was a simple database with a single table and four data types, and showed how different queries to the database produced different datasets as a result of the attributes he had assigned the data types. Mad Mac hopes to offer a follow-up to this presentation with one that goes into more detail on specific data types and database structural design. As Richard noted at the end of the evening, designing a relational database takes much careful thought right from the start — even something as simple as a "name" field can become complicated when you take into account the need for a unique field each for first name, middle name, last name, nickname, maiden name, married name....

Richard is willing to send a copy of his initial presentation to you in the form of an RTF document, readable by almost any word processor, if you ask him at RichardSRussell@tds.net.


2012.06 Article: IDVD Like Hypercard? A Tale of Frustration

By Woodson Gannaway

(Editor's note: Woodson is an occasional contributor to Mad Mac News and lives and teaches in China.)

News of the demise of the DVD (as burned from my Apple anyway) must not have reached a large majority of the world's population, and it is the most direct way for me to publish my video material and be assured that my friends can enjoy it.

So I shot two hours of 1920 x 1080 HD video of some excellent ping-pong practice sessions and prepared it to give away. Or maybe I should say prepared it as best I could, for somehow Apple hasn't made it easy or straightforward for me to do that now. A couple of years ago and from Standard Definition video it was no problem doing the same thing. Now something has changed.

My good camera shoots good HD video. Was it 2006 we got iMovie HD and the assurance that the HD age was here? Well the pieces didn't come into place and I'm still having to burn HD on DVDs as standard PAL 16:9 format stuff. Windows doesn't do mp4s (the native format of the camera) without extra stuff and my friends gave me a blank look when I asked them about it. So it was a DVD.

Except that, this won't work and you can't do that, and so on and so on. No I'm not going to spend more $$$, shouldn't have to. Yes I'm going to drop the movies directly into iDVD, shouldn't have to use iMovie necessarily and when I tried to it only made things worse. IDVD won't let you make a menu choice that plays all the movies sequentially.

So I used the "Combine" feature on the video camera which reduced the 27 clips to four. The camera itself has some limitations, this one probably related to the SSD card format choice. However much I would have liked to have one movie, four is a big improvement over twenty-seven.

Encoding the video showed me (via Activity Monitor) that it tops out at about 130% on my two cores. JES Deinterlacer will use 185% and sometimes more. Just how much would it bother Apple to improve the iDVD code a little to take advantage of the multiple cores more efficiently? Everybody doesn't live in that small subset of the so-called First World where broadband internet access can be presumed to have supplanted any need for DVDs.

IDVD does allow me to put a tad under 2 hours video on a single-layer DVD when I use the professional-quality encoding choice. Don't know how much under, I burned 116 minutes my first try.


2012.06 Article: Resetting PRAM and Repairing Disk Permissions

By Holly McEntee

PRAM stands for "Parameter Random Access Memory" and is pronounced "pea-ram". PRAM is a type of memory found in Macintosh computers that stores system settings. These settings include display settings (like screen resolution and color depth), the time-zone setting, speaker volume, and the startup volume choice. The system settings that are stored in the computer's PRAM differ from Mac to Mac, but the purpose of the memory remains the same. When something goes wrong, a technician may ask if you've reset the PRAM, because resetting the defaults is like throwing a large net over small problems to make sure the problem isn't a simple issue before delving into the internals of the unit.

Resetting defaults is not a sure-fire cure-all. However, it is free and an easy way of possibly fixing the issue (ranking right up there with repairing disk permissions). So, it is definitely worth a shot.

How to reset the PRAM:
  1. Shut down the computer.
  2. Locate the following four keys on the keyboard: Command (⌘), Option, P, and R. You will need to hold these keys down simultaneously in Step 4.
  3. Turn on the computer.
  4. Press and hold the Command-Option-P-R keys. You must press this key combination before the gray screen appears.
  5. Hold the keys down until the computer restarts and you hear the startup sound for the second time.
  6. Release the keys.
If you choose to reset your PRAM, you may need to set your display, time zone, startup volume, and other affected settings using System Preferences (accessible under the  menu). Some firmware updates may reset your PRAM as part of their installation process, which will means you will have to reset the affected settings after the installation.

Many programs you install on your Macintosh in OS X are package files (.pkg), each of which contains a file or files with the extension .bom (standing for, quaintly, bill of materials). This little .bom file contains a list of permissions, "rules" that control your ability to view or make changes to the contents of the file. Occasionally in OS X some key file ownership and permissions get changed for whatever reason by applications and more frequently, program installers. When ownership and permissions get changed, things just don't work as they should. The symptoms might be programs quitting unexpectedly, preferences not being remembered, programs not launching, etc.

If you notice these types of problems, one very easy diagnostic procedure you can perform is to Repair Disk Permissions. (Plus it makes you sound smart to say off-handedly to the guy at the Genius Bar "Oh, sure, I repaired the disk permissions, but it didn't seem to help" ... especially if you can combine this with the previous article and add nonchalantly "I even reset the PRAM.").

Repair Disk Permissions is a Mac OS X utility, which is part of the Apple Disk Utility program. It corrects the ownership and permissions according to Apple specifications. Frequently, this corrects many system and program errors. To Repair Disk Permissions, follow these steps:
  1. Open the Disk Utility program found in the Applications > Utilities folder on your hard drive.
  2. Click on the "First Aid" tab in the window that opens.
  3. In the list to the left, click once on the icon/name of your hard drive to select it as the disk whose permissions need repairing.
  4. Click on the button labeled "Repair Disk Permissions". (Why not "Verify Disk Permissions"? Because "Repair" verifies them anyway, then goes ahead and fixes them.)
  5. The repair process begins, and may take several minutes. This is normal. (Do not be intimidated by a progress bar indicating you have hours left to go. It's lying.)
  6. After the repair is done you will see a long (or short) list of files that were repaired. You need not study this or write it down. If you want to print it to a PDF and save it for future reference, do so.
  7. Quit Disk Utility.
You may not notice any immediate or obvious changes or improvement, but then again you might. Repairing Disk Permission is less necessary with systems since OS X 10.5, but it won't hurt. If you install a lot of programs (especially through Software Update) it's generally recommended you run Repair Disk Permissions every other month or so in the name of good general maintenance.

(Editor's note: See diagrams of the process.)


2012.06 Article: Hands-On with Five Antivirus Apps for the Mac

By Jacqui Cheng (Excerpt only; read full story here.)

(Editor's note: The full article was recommended by fellow Mad Mac members, and it goes into great detail with images on each of the apps mentioned below. I have not used any of the mentioned products, and Mad Mac in no way endorses any of them.)

So Mac invulnerability to malware is a myth. And although such a blunt statement may be a blow to the ego of some Mac users, it remains true. Security researchers from all walks have long argued that it was only a matter of time before the Mac became popular enough that virus, malware, and spyware makers would come calling. Overconfidence precedes carelessness, especially when it comes to technology.

Is it time to begin installing antivirus software on our Macs? We leave that up to you to decide for yourself, but given the spike in questions we've been receiving about which antivirus software is the best, we thought we'd take a look at a handful of the most well-known apps out there for Mac users:
  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus for Mac ($39.95 per year)
  • Intego VirusBarrier X6 ($49.95 per year)
  • F-Secure Antivirus for Mac ($39.99 per year)
  • Sophos Antivirus for Mac Home Edition (Free)
  • Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac (Free)

We're not arguing that Mac users have to install antivirus software if they want to avoid the zombie malware apocalypse. Infection numbers — even for Flashback — are still relatively low when compared against the global number of Mac users. However, we also don't think it's wise to pretend that OS X is completely immune to attacks. It's not — we know it, you (hopefully) know it, and security researchers know it. Even if you feel comfortable navigating the scary old Internet yourself, you may want to consider setting up your less-experienced friends and family members who just can't help themselves when it comes to playing Java games online or opening random e-mail attachments from foreign countries.