Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Conquering the "beach ball of death" - Part 2

This will be a multi part post. Rather than post one huge gigantic tip, trying to cover all the reasons, tips, and solutions at once, I thought I would break this into a multi-part tip, and cover each reason/solution a bit more in depth. This will be a 3-4 part series, and when its finished, you should have a plethora of information that will assist you in reducing your "Beach Ball of Death". Check back every couple of days for the next installment of this series.

Part 2 - System Maintenance

This series of posts is intended to give the information you need to reduce and attempt to minimize the dreaded "Beach ball of death". In part one we touched on the need to have ample RAM for your machine. In general I recommend a minimum of 1GB of RAM for the light user ( Email, web, occasional text document ) and 4GB minimum for graphic artists and video/sound editors. You should determine what your level of usage is and increase your RAM accordingly . Obviously some laptops cannot reach the 4GB minimum. If your doing professional graphic arts or professional video/sound editing then you probably should be using a tower G5 or Mac Pro anyway.

In this installment we are going to touch base on System Maintenance. Something alot of people forget about. I have met many users that just think the computer should operate perfectly all the time. If it doesnt, somethings got to be wrong with the hardware, or they got a lemon. Alot of these issues can be attributed to corrupt data, preferences or permissions due to lack of system maintenance.

Just like your car needs a tune up and oil change on occasion to keep it running in tip top condition, so does your computer. Failure to perform these basic maintenance operations, your computer can slow to crawl, freeze up and even go so far as to fail to boot normally. Simple, regularly performed maintenance can keep your machine running its best.

Many users and technicians have their favorite tools, or own techniques for performing this maintenance. I am going to give you some tools to help you perform your own general maintenance.

The first basic operation would defiantly be Disc Utility., Repair Permissions. Every file and folder on your hard drive has permissions associated with it, that tell the system who can read, write, modify, open, execute and otherwise manipulate the file/folder in question. Sometimes these permissions can get out of whack and need to be repaired. Corrupt and incorrect permissions can lead to excessive beachballing, inability to open certain files or save to folders and more. Fortunately Apple has provided us a way of correcting system and other Apple program permissions. The application "Disc Utility" is typically located in your Applications/Utilities folder (Unless someone moved it) and can also be found on your OS or system restore CD/DVD's (More on that in the next part of this series - Checking Your Hardware) This is the first thing you should run when experiencing excessive beachballing.

When you launch Disc Utility you should see a screen similar to the following:

Highlight your hard drive on the left pane and click the "Repair Permissions" button. Disc Utility will then scan your drive, and repair permissions as needed. Its that easy. The process can take anywhere from a minute or two, up to 15-25 minutes for very large drives or drives with severe permission problems.

There are several programs on the market that perform this function and more. One of my favorites is Onyx. Onyx is widely known and been on the market for a number of years. Best thing about Onyx is its free! One of the problems with Onyx however, is the fact that it can be quite confusing to a general user, and misuse of its other tools can actually lead to problems. If you follow these directions, and do not dabble in the other functions of Onyx, you can successfully utilize it to assist in reducing the dreaded beachball. Onyx can be downloaded here --> LINK - Make sure you download the correct version for your system.

One of the first things Onyx does is check your drive itself. It will perform a startup test on the drive before it lets you use its functions. No good can come of running Onyx on a damaged drive. This drive check can take some time and may appear to be frozen. Dont be fooled however. Let the check run and eventually it will finish. I have seen the check take 5 minutes of more on some drives. If the drive checks out, the next thing you should see is an authentication box. Onyx requires administrator rights in order to perform its functions. You cannot run Onyx under a standard user. The user must be an administrator of the system in order to work. Simply type in the password and off you go.

On the navigation bar you will see a number of icons. The one we want is "Automation". If your in the Automation tab, your window should look similar to this:

As you can see, Onyx too repairs permissions but also many others. If you look at the screenshot provided, it displays the services I recommend running for dealing with the beachball problem. Repair Permissions, Execute Maintenance Scripts, User Cache and Temporary Items at the bare minimum. When your ready just click the "Execute" button and let Onyx do its thing.

This should help you with some general maintenance functions that you can perform to keep your Mac happy and beachball free (or at the very least reduce it to a manageable level) Check back in a couple days for part 3 of this series - Checking your Hardware.

Friday, June 13, 2008

News Update - More .mac/.mobileme mail issues

UPDATE - Apparently the .mac/.mobileme email issue dont stop at missing emails. Another recent post to the Apple forum details a number of users experiencing a sending issue now too! Posters are describing recieveing a "Cannot send using the server smtp.mac" when attempting to send email using .mac/.mobile me accounts. Some have even reported as experiencing the issue for the last 8-10 days. What is most troubling about this thread, are the reports of users already having posted this issue, only to have those threads disappear from the forum. Is Apple trying to bury a bigger problem by removing threads?

If you are effected by this sending issue, there may be a easy fix for you. Check the following webpage and locate the SMTP settings for your ISP (If yours is not listed, you can try a Google search from the right hand menu for your ISP name and SMTP settings. Or check with your ISP's website, or technical support department.) Change the SMTP settings in your prefered email program to this SMTP server. Your emails will go out and still appear to have come from your .Mac account.

SMTP Server list

Lets hope these issues get fixed soon!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Conquering the "Beach Ball of Death" - Part 1

This will be a multi part post. Rather than post one huge gigantic tip, trying to cover all the reasons, tips, and solutions at once, I thought I would break this into a multi-part tip, and cover each reason/solution a bit more in depth. This will be a 3-4 part series, and when its finished, you should have a plethora of information that will assist you in reducing your "Beach Ball of Death". Check back every couple of days for the next installment of this series.

Part 1

Recently I have been assisting quite a few people that have complained about the "spinning rainbow", "marble of doom", "Pinwheel" and any other name you want to give it. Apple officially refers to it as the "spinning wait cursor", but in most of the tech circles I frequent, it has been nicknamed the "beach ball of death". I have spent enough time recently answering the same questions, I thought I should make a post and save my fingers from typing it out yet another time.

Some people experience it when surfing the internet. Others when trying to switch or launch applications. There are a myriad of experiences that users have with the beach ball of death, but most can be solved with just a few fixes

Lets start with RAM .....

Some new users tend to confuse the difference between RAM and Disc space. They look at their hard drive and say "Ive got 20gb of memory, isnt that enough?" RAM memory and hard drive space are different beasts, and I have a little analogy I like to tell these people.

Your Hard Drive is like the cabinets in your kitchen. The more cabinet space you have, the more ingredients ( Items, applications, documents ) you can store.

Your RAM is like your kitchen counters. The more counter space (RAM) you have, the more ingredients you can use at once.

One of the major reasons I find, for users experiencing the beach ball of death, is that they are trying to use too many ingredients for the counter space they have. Recently I had two clients call me about having too many beachballs after upgrading to Leopard. A quick look shows that they are running Leopard, Safari, Microsoft Word, Apple Mail and any other number of applications on 512mb of RAM. (Note-Leopard system requirements lists a minimum of 512mb ram to install and run.) Lack of RAM can be attributed to most of their beach balling.

If you are trying to run Leopard 10.5 on only 512MB of RAM, you should probably look into increasing it. Typically I recommend even the lightest of users run with a minimum of 1GB of RAM now days. Increasing that depending on use. ( I recommend to my graphic artists that they run a minimum of 4GB RAM for example.)

Whats your RAM? Click the apple in the upper left hand corner and choose "About this Mac" Are you running under 1GB? What do you do with the computer? Do you run multiple applications at once? Watching alot of video? Increase your RAM depending on the usage of your computer.

RAM installation is very easy, even for laptops. First thing you need to determine is what kind of RAM your machine uses. Ram that will fit/work in your G4 powerbook is not the same type thats going to fit in your iMac, eMac or G5. One way of determining your RAM is to use the program - MacTracker

Download a copy of MacTracker, install and launch. A browser window will open, listing just about every Apple product ever made. Find your model then double click to open an info window for that model. Click the Memory tab and you will see the type of RAM and maximum for your model.

An even easier way, is the banner below. Simply use Crucial's Memory Advisor tool. I recommend Crucial for Macintosh memory. They are known to work with Macintosh, have good quality chips and stand behind their product with a lifetime warranty. Should your RAM chip fail at any time, just contact Crucial and arrange a replacement.

Crucial Memory Selector

Now on to the installation. As I said, its very simple to install RAM chips in your Mac. One of the best places for instruction is Apple itself. Just surf on over to the Apple support page and perform a search for your model computer. Laptop users can also find instruction at complete with step by step instructions and high quality pictures to follow. If all else fails, do a google search for your model and RAM installation.

Check back for the next part in this series - system maintenance.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

.Mac snafu - vanishing email, probable .mobileme transition bug

Are you using .Mac email. Are you missing any emails? Are you sure? How do you know?

Well a growing number of people are complaining to Apple that they are, and they only found out because someone complained about not responding to a previous email. The missing emails were at first thought to be a problem with .Mac and Gmail senders, but as the posts grew, it has become apparent that the issue spans many well known corporate domains.

So far Apple customer service reps have no fix for the problem, and some callers are being denied tier 2 support and being told its an intermittent issue. The posts started on June 6th, but the issue seems to have started before that date for some. Some have even said they were told that the missing emails would be in their webmail, and only desktop .mac was effected. This too is posted to be inaccurate. Even others have been told that the missing emails are probably gone for good, lost the the web abyss.

Have you been affected? Many have run their own tests, sending bulk numbered emails to their .mac accounts from other email accounts. Many have reported not receiving them all. Missing 1,2 or 3 out of 10. Are you effected? I suggest you run your own tests and see. If you are, you can find more details here: Apple Discussions Forum - Missing .Mac Mail Thread

Looks like they havent worked out all the .mobileme bugs yet. If you are missing email, you may want to report the problem to Apple Care at 1-800-275-2273.

Monday, June 9, 2008

New 3G iPhone 2.0 released

WWDC (World Wide Developer Conference) was the stage today, as Apple unveiled its new iPhone 2.0. Touted as "Twice as fast, half the price" by Apple, it is in fact smaller and faster. Using 3G technology, the high speed connection is up to 2.8 times faster than its predecessor. Priced at 199 for the 8gb model (200 less than the original!) and $299 for a 16gb model, shipping July 11th from the Apple Store.

See original story at Electronista by clicking here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

How to test your internet connection?

Internet Speed Testing

These sites are used to test your internet connection. Have a fast computer, but its slow on the internet? Do you have a cable modem or DSL line and want to see if its the connection or your computer? Armed with the information from these next few sites, you will be able to tell if its the connection or not and be well prepared if you need to call your service provider for technical support, or your friendly neighborhood Macintosh technician :-)

The first site in this category is Speedtest DOT net. Speedtest is is the first test I usually run. Its layout is pretty simple and self explanatory.

When it loads you will see a map of the US, with small green triangles placed around in various locations. These are the Speedtest servers. You will want to click the yellow triangle. Its the one Speedtest has detected as being closest to your city. One click and the test is off and running. This site will display your upload and download speeds, your ping (Time to the server and back) and your IP address. Write these numbers down. In general, cable modem and DSL speeds should be a small number. ( Smaller the better, mine is currently 26ms ) Whereas the bigger the better is the rule for upload and download speeds. I currently subscribe to the highest and fastest tier my cable company provides. My current upload is 13520kbs (13MB per sec) and upload of 1631kbs (1.6 MB per sec). Slowest cable modem connections should still be in the 4MB range for downloads and uploads of 500kbs at least.

Next site in this list is Speakeasy - speedtest. This is very similar to Speedtest in that your going to be testing the same measurements (Upload, Download and Ping) however, its is more of a visual test. Let me explain.

When you click on the server you want to test from, using the menu in the middle of the page, the test will start. As the test runs you will see a little ball travel along a line, depicting the progress of the tests. This ball movement is whats important and what we want to watch. Does the ball travel this line smoothly, or does it jump, jerk and pause as it travels the line? A smooth transition is what we want to see. If the ball is jerky, jumpy or pauses alot then thats an indication of heavy packet loss. Not a good thing. Packet loss can be indicitive of many things, from a faulty network interface on the computer to a bad ethernet cable, or even a failing componet on the network like a router, switch or cable modem. It may also be a problem on the service providers network. If you see indications of possible packet loss on this test, then you should definatly check out the next site.

The last site in this category is Test My VOIP. VOIP stands for Voice over IP. It is related to the process of using your internet connection for making phone calls. Its used in things like Vonage Phone Service and Skype

Test My VOIP is the perfect tool for measuring that packet loss I was talking about. When the page loads, choose the the server closest to you. For the US visitors the best server will be San Jose.

NOTE - Before the test will actually run, you should get a popup about a certificate. Click the trust button. I have used this site for years and its always been the same. You can trust their certificate.

The test takes about 15-20 seconds to run. Once it is done, you will then be presented the results. below is a screenshot of my results just now. For cable modems and DSL lines, your results should be rated at 3-3.5 or higher.

Next you want to click the "Detailed Results" button. The next screen thats going to load will get down to the nitty gritty numbers of those tests. With beautifull graphs and test result numbers we will want to write down. You will be able to see the results of both tests run. One from you to the server, and one from the server back. On both of these tests. The results we want to notate are the packet loss percentage and the type of packet loss (Burst or Random)

With this information in hand, you will be well armed when you call your service provider or Macintosh technician for assistance.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Must have App! Flip4Mac

As I build this blog, I plan on showing you ways to enjoy your Mac more. One of the must have applications to further your Mac enjoyment is Flip4Mac. What does Flip4Mac do you say? Well let me fill you in on this tiny gem.

Simply put, Flip4Mac allows you to play Windows Media Files (.wma and .wmv files) directly in Quicktime! Best of all ITS FREE!

Ever get an email from a PC person with a .wmv file attached and your unable to view it? Want to see what that funny clip is that your friend sent you? Ever click on a link and have Quicktime launch, only to tell you that it cant handle that type of file? Flip4Mac might just be your savior.

First thing you need to do is surf on over to the download site here

If you meet the minimum requirements (Mac OS 10.3.9 or later) click the free download link. Installation is simple and completed with just a couple clicks. No restart needed.

Its that easy! You can immediately start enjoying those .wmv files you've been missing. Happy Viewing!

Fun Time! Mac Friendly Online Poker

Have you become interested in the newest craze, only to find that most online poker sites do not support the Macintosh platform? Perhaps your a switcher like my parents, and attempt to use Parallels to play on the PC sites, only to find that route clunky and confusing sometimes? Mayby you just want to see what this online poker craze is all about? Or do you think your good enough to play in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and want to win a seat to the Main Event?

Well thanks to Full Tilt Poker, you too can play using your Mac! Play for free or try your luck at the real money tables!

Check out the link on the right and join in on the fun. If you want to play with me, just look for "Khama" on the Texas Hold em Tables, and see if you can take me down! :-) See you at the tables!

10.5.3 Bug Alert! This is why I tell my clients to hold off on running updates !!...

According to the Mozilla Group and MacNN, There is a serious bug in Mac OS 10.5.3 Leopard that can cause crashes, lockups and more! More examples of why I tell my clients not to apply updates as soon as they are released. ( With the exception of Security Updates! ) I inform my clients to hold off installing any upgrades for a week or two at least. Let someone else be the guinea pig and find the problems, and there are bound to be some with any upgrade. After a week or two, if no major bugs are found that will effect you, then go ahead and install the update(s). Security Updates should be installed immediately however.

Heres some details on the bug in Mac OS 10.5.3 .....

"A variety of Mozilla-based applications are triggering serious errors following Apple's Mac OS X 10.5.3 update, scattered reports indicate. Users are indicating that programs such as Firefox, Camino, Songbird and others are now spawning crashes and lock-ups, "zombie" processes, and an inability to shut down a Mac without using the power button. Mozilla is currently tracking the issue, but as of press time has not assigned a priority to the item, nor an estimated time for a solution.

The problem does not appear to be limited to Mozilla software however, as more general shutdown problems are currently being discussed on Apple's support forums. In most or all cases it appears that users are left staring at the "loop," the same loading symbol that appears when first loading Mac OS X.

A number of homemspun fixes have been suggested, including the removal of things like Qmaster services, or anti-virus login items. Less dramatic options may include fixing permissions on the boot drive, or removing USB and FireWire devices one-by-one."

Reposted from MacNN

SO..... If you use Firefox or any other Mozilla product, I suggest holding off on Mac OS 10.5.3 update for a while! Keep checking here for an update to this issue!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Welcome to Macs Tech Notes

Mac's Tech Notes blog is dedicated to everything Mac and then some. I am going to be posting tips, pics, instructions, recommendations, reviews and more! Basically anything I find interesting or think will help you with your computing experience. I hope you enjoy my ramblings, are entertained by my musings and come away learning a thing or two you didn't know. If you enjoy my blog, please spread the word!