Troubleshooting

Frustrations, Oh the Frustrations!

My computing life since Yosemite arrived has been a HEADACHE!

Did you notice that I did not say “since I installed Yosemite?”

My problems cannot be blamed on Yosemite. Instead, I will blame myself, some bad luck, and some unsafe downloading and some bad timing!

If I were to write about the whole thing, I suspect you would read a page or two and loose interest. So instead I’ll tackle a problem or two at a time.

We’ll begin today by talking about critical software. My critical software probably won’t be your critical software. But, if you have software that you depend on, make sure—double sure, it will work in the new operating system software.

For me, and for Dr. Mac Consulting, our critical software is Mac Helpmate. If you are our client, you probably have Mac Helpmate installed on your computer. It is the application that allows us to see and control your computer. While we can also use screen sharing via Apple’s Messages application, it can be difficult to set up, especially with novice users.

Since there was a public beta of Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite, I signed up and gave it a try, but not a great try since I do not have a recent Mac that is not in critical use. I did install the beta on a flash drive—and I ran it (slowly) several times. I did download Mac Helpmate — and it seemed to run.

However, after upgrading to Yosemite, I found out it just would NOT run. We’ve been working with Dean Shavit for over ten years. Mac Helpmate had been bullet-proof software — it just worked. We occasionally had server issues, but those can be expected, especially in the late afternoon and evening hours when everyone is using Netflix to clog up the web.

Dean’s company is very small. When there are only a few people who do the programming, it is reasonable that it can take a week for new software to be completed. However, that week was one of frustration!

I have a large SSD card in my MacBook Pro. It is possible to make a partition on a working hard drive and it is possible to run Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks on one partition while running Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite on the other. It is not possible to run either one when the SSD drive gets flaky.

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why. I don’t even want to know how, but I have some advice for you. If your drive is reporting block count errors in Disk Utility, even if those errors can be fixed, there is a problem! It is time to back up the drive and prepare for a day (or more) of working on your Mac—not fun work, just hours and hours of backing up, formatting, installing, configuring, downloading, updating and re-copying.

I did it. I survived. It wasn’t pretty. Mac Helpmate is working—and working beautifully. I am back to helping clients. I’m happy!

If you have not upgraded to Yosemite, make sure your hard drive or SSD drive is in good condition. Make sure your critical software will work. Then download Yosemite. The interface is a bit different than Mavericks, but it will quickly grown on you! If you need help, we at
Dr. Mac Consulting are around and ready to help!

—Pat
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Taming the Fonts List

One of my favorite things about the Mac is the way it handles fonts. I find the “Show Fonts” menu item that is almost always under the Format menu in each application to be invaluable.

show_fonts

At least it was working until I did some graphic projects on my Silhouette Cameo. Somehow there were a lot of weird fonts showing up in my Favorites List--ones that certainly aren’t my favorites:

favorites

I will admit I had used them--but they were cluttering up my nice, clean Favorites list--the one I expect to use when I work on the Dr. Mac Consulting Newsletter. Although I could easily figure out how to add a favorite…

add_favorites

…getting them out of that list was not so easy! I did some logical deduction. If I want to remove something from the dock, I just drag it out. Yes, just grab the fonts you don’t want in the list and drag them out! My list was clean!

cleaned Favorits

That worked, but let’s do this even better! If I click the + sign in the lower left corner, I can make a new collection, name it whatever I want and then add fonts to that collection.

dr_mac

That’s not quite how it works. I can get a list of fonts and it will include the faces like bold and italic--but I don’t get that nice list like the Favorites List.

All is not lost! In many Apple applications there is a menu item under the application’s name called Provide_______Feedback. It is not available in all apps, but take a look around and you will find one.

provide_feedback

Just make sure it includes the feature you want to complain about.

feedback_form

Does it work? I have never gotten a direct answer back from Apple, but I have noticed that some things that I reported have changed! I have a friend who is a Product Manager at Apple. He says that at each meeting for their product, a stack of feedback forms is waiting for him. He distributes them to his team. His team is expected to respond to Apple in some way for each feedback form. So, yes someone reads them and someone is tasked with deciding if the issue needs to be fixed. It’s really heartening when you see your request in a future Apple update.

--Pat

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Taming PDF file sizes

Many posts on MacMousecalls are due to client questions on the Bob LeVitus Consulting web site. I answer them here because I think many of our readers will find them interesting. This recent message from Kevin is one such topic. He wrote:

Writing pdf files from word (file - print - pdf) results in pdf files 10x size of the original word document? This seems to have started since installing a Kodak Hero 3.2 printer. My system - 'new' Mac desk top machine. Office for Mac 2011. Having searched the net big pdf files seem to be a common problem. I don't get the same problem on PC. Help!

The first issue is Office for Mac 2011. Although I own it, I have never installed it on my computers. It’s here in case I get a call to fix a problem that I cannot fix unless I am using Microsoft Office.

This seems to be an issue that is not tied directly to Office. Instead it is one of how to use features that Apple built into Mac OS X. One of the nicest Mac features is the ability to turn any document that can be printed into a PDF. I use this feature all the time! It helps me to keep from printing out reams of paper that would be difficult to search and difficult to store.

When I buy something online, I make a PDF file and store it in a receipts folder in my Dropbox. When I find a technical article I want to save, I make a PDF file and place in my Technical Support folder. When I need to share a document with a friend, I often make it a PDF file so that they can read it even if they don’t user the same word processor as me.

While PDF files that I make from web sites are usually small in size, the ones I make with a word processor such as Microsoft Word or Pages can be quite large, especially if they include photos or graphics.

Using Pages, I added three photos to a blank page. Then I used the Export command found under the File menu to make some tests.

Pages_export pages_pdf

I also made a PDF using the Print function.

Pages_print

The resulting files are interesting. Using the Export command and Good in the dialog box produced a file that was only 116 KB. Using Best or making a PDF through the print dialog box resulted in a file that was 7.6 MB.

pdf_file_sizes

It is difficult to show you the quality of the images in each of the PDFs. The smallest file was “flat” and a little grainy. It would have worked to show someone the photos, but they were certainly not good enough to print.

Many programs such as Microsoft Word do not have an Export to PDF command. The only way to easily make a PDF is using the Print dialog option. If the images in the document are large, the PDF will be large. However, the Mac OS doesn’t leave you hanging. It is still possible to reduce the size of the file, but you will need to use Apple’s Preview application to make the changes.

Preview is a free application from Apple that is installed when you install the operating system. You can find it in the Applications folder. I suggest dragging it to the Dock so that it is easy to find and work with.

preview

Open your file, either through the File > Open menu or by dragging the document over the Preview icon in your dock. Go to the File > Export command in Preview.

preview_export

In the File > Export dialog box there is a Reduce File Size option.

preview_quartz

Let’s take a look at the file sizes again. Using the Export > Reduce File Size option produced the smallest file.

pdf_file_sizes2

It’s time to learn more about the Quartz Filter. One of my favorite places to look up such things is Wikipedia. Click
here to view the article. Essentially the article says Quartz is a pair of OS X technologies that send instructions to the Mac OS X graphics engine.

While those tiny PDF files will sometimes work, they can really mess up graphic files. Doing a bit more research, I located
an article that offers some help. It includes a link to some additional Quartz filters that you can download and install to give your more options in the Quartz Filter dialog box.

preview_export2

Installing the filters was a bit scary. Normally, you do not directly add things to the Library of Mac OS X. Things are added by installers and your are asked to fill in your computer password. In this case, I needed to add the Filters file. I got a dialog box similar to this one.

add_to_library

Clicking Authenticate allowed me to enter my password and move the folder. I did it because I knew what I was installing and I had checked to see if the files were okay. However, if I am not anticipating such a dialog box, I click Cancel and do some investigating. Such a dialog box should make you stop to learn why something is trying to modify your Library!

If you encounter something unexpected or strange and you need some help we are available. We offer trouble-shooting, technical support and training over at Bob LeVitus Consulting. Tutoring costs only $60.00 per hour. We have special software that allows us to see your computer and we can work on the things you want to learn. Give us a call at 408 627-7577. Or send an email to urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.

--Pat

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Viruses -- Are Macs being attacked?

Have you read the Google News headlines? I have a specialized section in my Google News feed that presents me with several Mac stories every time I open Safari on my Macintosh. I see the story because I have set news.google.com as my homepage. But why has it appeared every day for the past week?

apple_attack

Today is February 26. The story is dated February 19! Let’s check the next headline:

apple_attack2

Even this story is almost a week old.

So what is going on?

There are several bad file types that can theoretically attack your computer. They are usually describe as:

Virus - a computer program that can replicate itself[1] and spread from one computer to another. The term "virus" is also commonly, but erroneously, used to refer to other types of malware, including but not limited to adware and spyware programs that do not have a reproductive ability.
Malware - short for malicious (or malevolent) software, is software used or created by attackers to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. It can appear in the form of code, scripts, active content, and other software. 'Malware' is a general term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software.
Trojan - a non-self-replicating type of malware which appears to perform a desirable function but instead facilitates unauthorized access to the user's computer system. Trojans do not attempt to inject themselves into other files like a computer virus. Trojan horses may steal information, or harm their host computer systems. Trojans may use drive-by downloads or install via online games or internet-driven applications in order to reach target computers.

These definitions came from Wikipedia. The links lead to full articles there.

We’re Mac users. We don’t get bad stuff!

Let’s examine that statement. For a long time, Apple products seemed to be immune to the bad stuff. Some people ascribe it to Apple’s excellent security measures. Others say it was because Apple was so unimportant. There are elements of truth in both of those statements. While I could write many pages on that subject, I would prefer to refer you to an
article that Rich Mogull wrote for TidBITS. Rich is an expert’s expert on Mac security. He is someone that I pay serious attention to.

Back to last week.

The attack on Mac computers was discovered at Apple. It was determined that this was the
same malware attack that had been detected at Twitter and at Facebook. Last Friday Microsoft said that they too had been attacked.

Let’s take a look at Apple’s response to this problem. First, one of the features of Mac OS X Mountain Lion is Gatekeeper. Click
this link to learn more about it. They released a software update Java for OS X 2013-001 for all users of Lion and Mountain Lion. They also released an update for Mac OS X 10.6. These updates turned off Java in the Safari browser.

Unfortunately, at this time is not only foolhardy, it is also just plain dangerous to run web applications that require Java.

Back to antivirus software.

If you read
Rich Mogull’s article you saw that he does not recommend antivirus software except in very rare circumstances. He points out that things such as last week’s malware must be out in the wild for days, even weeks before antivirus software is updated to protect you against them. So, they provide the user with a false sense of security.

They often slow other programs down and may run in the background for hours at a time using Mac resources that could be better deployed elsewhere. Furthermore, the majority of the malware that they do find does not affect your Mac and, in fact, won’t affect Windows users with up-to-date system software. And, most antivirus software finds many files that are almost certainly not malicious malware. One example is Troj/Unsc-A. Google it and you will find that out of the dozens of Windows anti-virus programs
only three determined that Troj/Unsc-A might be bad. And even among those it was given a neutral rating.

So once again, I have determined that it is not time for me to buy and run antivirus software. I am still not recommending it to my Mac using friends and family, but as always, I will keep my Windows antivirus software that I use in Parallels up-to-date and I will still not download files, check email or surf the web on the Windows side when I am using it.

It’s always nice to have my own expert, Bob LeVitus weight in, here is his response:

Bob says, “I couldn’t have said it better myself. I may have to run antivirus software on my Macs someday, but that day is yet to come.”
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Choosing a backup drive – a word of warning

If you read MacMousecalls or the Dr. Mac Consulting Newsletter, you have read many posts and articles about the necessity of backing up your computer.

There are many software solutions and hard drives that can be used for backing up your files, photos and data. Many of our long-time readers (and often long-time Mac users) prefer to make bootable backups of their data. This means they use an application like Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) or SuperDuper to make an exact duplicate of their hard drive.

If (when) you need to use the backup made by Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper, it is often necessary to use the backup hard drive to boot your computer.

The cheapest form of drive to use for backups is a USB drive--and if you have a MacBook, it is probably the ONLY way you can connect an external drive.

Now, here comes the rub! Even though all Intel Macintoshes are able to be booted from a USB drive, not all brands of drives can be used to boot a Macintosh. In particular, Western Digital hard drives are a problem.

On their own web page, Western Digital notes that they do “not provide technical support for booting your computer using an external hard drive.” They use the language “should be bootable,” but they make no guarantees.

While this might not be a problem, it COULD be one.

Because of this issue, noted on the Western Digital web page, I would have difficulty recommending a Western Digital hard drive. I would NOT recommend them for use with Carbon Copy Cloner, SuperDuper or any other program that makes a bootable backup drive for your Mac.

While I use SuperDuper to make a bootable backup of my Macs, it is not my primary backup system. I am a strong proponent of Time Machine, Apple’s backup software that is a part of Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard and Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard. It does not make a bootable backup, but I can always use the System DVD that came with my computer or the Leopard or Snow Leopard DVD to boot my computer and then I can restore my computer using the backup files on my Time Machine drive.

The most valuable feature of Time Machine is that I can restore individual files, photos, addresses, emails and more and I can go back “in time” to restore a file I have changed or perhaps discarded if I need the earlier version or missing file.

Backing up is the single, most important thing a computer user should do. Loosing all of your files and photos is heart-breaking and recovering them from a failed drive is very expensive when it is even possible.

--Pat
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Solving iPad, iPhone, iPod and problems

People are often surprised when their iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad develops a problem. We get quite a few calls for help in fixing these issues.

The first thing I ask is when the person last restarted the device. Just like any other computer, problems are often solved by simply restarting the it.

To restart your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, press the Power button for several seconds. Wait for it to turn off completely and then press the Power button for several seconds to turn it back on. Notice that I said “a few seconds.” It takes more than a quick push. On my iPhone 4, it takes 3 seconds, counted one elephant, two elephants, three elephants.



That solves many problems. Try a quick restart if your device is acting up.

Some problems are a bit bigger. They require a new copy of the iPhone software (the operating system) to resolve the problem. That is called a Restore. Connect your iPhone to your computer. Select the iPhone in the rightmost column of the iTunes application window. Then select the Summary tab in the main window.



You will see the Restore button in the middle portion of the main window. Clicking the button may bring up this dialog box:




In general, I usually let iTunes complete this backup. It can take a minute or two.

Once the backup is completed, you will see this box:



This is the one to think about. In order to restore the iPhone, iTunes must erase EVERYTHING that is on the device. Putting things back in place can take a bit, possibly several hours. This is NOT the procedure to perform when you need to be at a meeting, with your phone, in 10 minutes! It is not such a bad job if you can let it take place when you won’t be needing your iPhone for a while. I tend to restore iPhones and iPads at bedtime!

Let’s focus on the small print:



At the end of the restore, you will have two options. The first is to use the backup file that iTunes made to restore everything to your iPhone. Although it can take a while, it is pretty painless. HOWEVER, if the problem is not the iPhone software itself, but a problem in one of your data or settings file, restoring the iPhone from a backup will NOT solve your problem!

I have had several instances when erasing the iPhone or iPad and restoring it from the backup did not fix the issue. It was only solved when I set up the device as if it were brand new.

If you want to try restoring from the backup, click that button and sit back.

If you decide to do the complete replacement, you will loose all your preferences, game scores, and data. While this can be disconcerting. Many games such as WeRule, WeFarm and MyTown store your data on their server. You device only stores the login and password. Other games such as Solitaire City store all of your data on your device, so setting up again will mean that your high scores disappear.

In the case of things Evernote or DropBox, your data is stored on their server, so you will need to log in to retrieve it. If you are using applications such as Bento, be sure to sync your device with your computer before you do a restore.

If you have decided to leave your old data behind, then click “Set up as a new” iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.



Sometimes if seems as though iTunes takes off on a run! To prevent that, scroll down in the main iPhone window until you see this area:



Click the box to manually manage music and video, then go to each of the tabs across the top of the iPhone window and make your selections.




Use the Apply button at the lower left corner of the iPhone window to begin the process of moving things back to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.


If you are having a problem with your device and you want Apple to replace it, they will ask you if you have done a software restore and if you have set it up as a new device. If that does not solve the issue and if it is truly a problem, Apple will generally replace the unit if it is in the initial warranty period or if you have purchased AppleCare.

If these directions still seem intimidating, we can give you a hand. This kind of help qualifies as a tutorial. While our rate for troubleshooting at Dr. Mac Consulting is $120.00 per hour, tutoring costs $60.00 per hour. We specialize in hand-holding and we explain exactly what is happening as we work. Most important, we are extremely patient! Give us a call at 408 627-7577 or send us a message at urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.


--Pat

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Magic Trackpad troubles

I have had a love-hate relationship with the mouse since the day I first used the PowerBook 100. It was my first Mac--and one that I won from Apple Computer. Before that, I had an Apple IIc and an Apple IIgs. Although I loved the mouse on the Apple IIgs, I was bothered by having to remove a hand from the keyboard every time I used the mouse.

The trackball on the PowerBook 100 was just so much more efficient! I moved to desktop Macs until I bought the first white iBook. I tried lots of different trackballs with my desktop Macs, but it was not the trackball, but its placement that made me a real fan of the PowerBook 100. I have used an Apple laptop computer as my primary computer since the white iBook. I have always had a desktop computer too, but I found that I do most of my work on the laptops. I think the placement of the mousing device below the keyboard is the reason why I favor laptops.

The buzz about an Apple Trackpad for desktop computers this summer really caught my interest. I have used the Mighty Mouse, the Mighty Mouse with the track ball, and purchased the Magic Mouse soon after it was released. But, I still missed my Trackpad!

When the Magic Trackpad was announced last week, I made a quick trip to the Apple Store. The greeter had no idea what I was talking about when I arrived at the store and asked where to find it. Another employee had read the press release, but said the store would not be receiving their shipments for a few days.

I went back to the Apple Store to pick up the Magic Trackpad on Thursday, came home, installed the necessary updates to my iMac and I was ready to begin a new computing adventure.

It was not a good day. That new Magic Trackpad had a mind of its own--and it certainly was NOT magical! I hated it! How could a similar device on my MacBook Pro be so great while this contraption was a real dud?

When things aren’t working the way you expect, go find the Preferences window. In this case, the preferences for the Trackpad are located in System Preferences.

A look at the Trackpad System Preferences showed me the problem. While the iMac preferences looked like this:



The preferences for my MacBook Pro looked like this:



I had disabled all the One Finger actions on my MacBook Pro. It turns out that I do not like Tap to Click! As soon as I had the Magic Trackpad configured to match the settings on my laptop, I was a happy camper!

I had calls from two of our clients at Bob LeVitus Consulting over the weekend. Both had bought Magic Trackpads and both had shoved them back into the box, ready for a return to the Apple Store.

Whenever things aren’t working as you expect them to, check the preferences.

I like the Magic Trackpad better than a mouse, and even better than the Apple Magic Mouse--but still not as much as I like the keyboard and trackpad combination on my MacBook Pro. I wonder if I could persuade Steve Jobs to make an integrated keyboard and trackpad that mimic a laptop. That would probably be perfect!

However, for now I have the Magic Trackpad aligned with the end of my wireless keyboard and I have the Magic Mouse sitting above my keyboard, at the ready, in case I have a sudden urge to grab a mouse!



--Pat

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Should I defragment my hard drive?

I received an email from a client this morning with that question. It’s good one for writing this blog entry. First, here is a little background. James purchased his first Macintosh a couple of years ago. He is a long-time and very experienced Windows user.

The question of defragmenting hard drives also comes from long-time Mac users who recently made the switch to Mac OS X.

In the case of Windows computers and Macintoshes running Mac OS 9 and earlier, over time, hard drives slow down when the user tries to open, save or copy large files. On those computers, files are stored around the hub of the drive in the order in which they were saved.

The directory file on the hard drive keeps track of where files are stored and it keeps track of free space.

When a file is edited, the new version is saved to a different area of the hard drive. The directory is updated, and the space where the old file was stored is marked as free space.

When the user saves a file to the hard drive, the directory looks for the first space large enough to fit the new file and uses that space. If there is extra space from the old file, that area is left empty.

Over time, as files are written and rewritten and as files are deleted, there are more and more little chunks that are too small for new files to be written into. Then the OS for the computer begins dividing large files into smaller chunks or fragments to be able to store them. The directory then has to remember where the fragments are stored and it has to pull them together when the file is opened or copied.

There are utility programs that can be used to clean up this file mess. They are called disk optimizers or disk defragmenters. They re-write the files stored on the hard drive to put files of the same type together. In the process they eliminate the free space so that there is room for new large files. They also put files that are stored in fragments back together.

In Mac OS X, files are arranged in bands around the drive, depending on their function. In between the bands, there is free space for future files of the same type. Defragmenting utilities tend to pack all the files, regardless of their type, tightly around the hub.

Mac OS X is written so that it uses some of its free time to keep your hard drive organized. When your computer is on but asleep, Mac OS X is working in the background to defragment and rearrange the files to keep your hard drive running at its best.

An optimizing or defragmenting program will rearrange the files according to what its programmer thinks is “right.” When you quit the program, Mac OS X will take over again and rearrange the files the way the engineers at Apple determined was “right.” This is not good!

There are some drives situations in which it is you want to use a defragmented drive. If you are trying to capture audio and video files for serious editing in programs like FinalCut or Logic, it is best to use an empty drive as a working drive for capture and editing. Because there are no other files, these large files will not be fragmented as they are written.

After you are finished editing the file, you move it to a regular hard drive for storage and the working drive is erased the drive with Apple's Disk Utility before new files are added and processed.

It is also helpful to have an empty drive for Photoshop to use for the temporary files it produces as you edit images. If Photoshop is working correctly, the temporary files are deleted when you quit. If the temporary files are not discarded properly, erasing the hard drive where the temporary files are store can speed up Photoshop.

Apple has an area on its web site called Support. It stores articles about questions like this one. This article is a little old--but things have not changed. If you would like further information, read:

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1375

There are lots to things to know about Mac OS X. While there are lots of articles and resources available, some of us do better with hands-on learning. If you would like a bit more help, consider booking a tutorial session with me at Dr. Mac Consulting. The cost is $60 per hour and we will cover just what you want to learn. Give us a call at 408 627-7577 or send us a message at urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.

--Pat
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Is your Internet connection down? Part 2

Did you read Part 1?

There can be lots of other problems with Internet connections besides those listed in Part 1. While that article dealt with problems that affect both wired and wireless connections, today we will focus on wireless problems.

Years ago when I bought my first Apple AirPort, no one else around me had a wireless Internet connection. My PC neighbors were amazed that I was able to be on the Internet without having a cable connected. Some of them eventually bought wireless set-ups of their own and they were stunned by the difficulties in setting up their new routers while my AirPort made the task so easy.

After a time things began to get ugly. Instead of being able to “see” one wireless network, I had several to choose from in my AirPort menu item. Soon I began having problems with drops in my AirPort signal strength and sometimes I could not even “see” my own network! Click here to read more...
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Is your Internet connection down? Part 1

You know the drill.

You launch Safari and all you see is a spinning beach ball. Or you’ve been away from your computer and then you come back to go to a web page. All that you get is a spinning beach ball.

So what is going on?

Why can’t you get that web page?

Did your computer mess up--again? Click here to read more...
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