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.

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