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Friday, July 18, 2014

Two Mysterious Mac Problems Solved

Two Mysterious Mac Problems Solved

When things don't work properly on a Mac we usually think it's either a software bug, a problem with preferences, a software interaction the user isn't aware of, or maybe user error. Thanks to Apple's excellent quality control we rarely suspect a hardware issue, but sometimes the hardware is the problem. Here are two real-life examples I ran into in the last couple of weeks.

Mysterious Mac Problem #1

The user called me and said that he couldn't click on anything. The mouse pointer moved but clicking had no effect. This was on an iMac that I'd set up only a week before (and of course I had used the mouse to set it up, so I knew that the mouse had worked). Restarting didn't help, and neither did signing in as another user. Changing batteries on the mouse (which was wireless) also didn't help. Very mysterious.

Having given all of the easy suggestions over the phone, and having none of them work, I went to the site to see it in person. Indeed, I could not click on anything either. I noticed that the Mac's original Magic Mouse was not being used, as a more sophisticated
Logitech mouse was favored by the iMac's user. I disconnected everything but power, then connected my own little portable USB mouse-- and that didn't work either. Now I was really stumped.

Then I had an idea. "Where is the original Apple mouse that came with this machine?" I asked. The user pointed to a small bin, full of cables, CDs, and assorted Mac-related stuff. I dug in and found the mouse... and what do you know, its power switch was in the "On" position. The weight of the other stuff in the bin had been pressing down on the mouse. With the bin within Bluetooth range of the iMac the original mouse's click was being sent continually, and since a click was already being registered there was no way the machine would respond to a second click (from either the fancy Logitech mouse or from my simple USB model). I solved the problem by turning off the original Apple mouse. Everything worked fine after that. And no, I do not know why I had the idea of looking for the original mouse. It was just one of those things.

Mysterious Mac Problem #2

The user (my own Dad!) sent me an an email every couple of weeks telling me that his iMac wouldn't sleep. Or, rather, that the iMac would sleep, and then wake up on its own. This went on for months and I could not find an answer, though I suspected that some USB device was malfunctioning and sending signals to the Mac and woke it up. I more or less gave up on solving this one since I was doing the work remotely and couldn't do any process-of-elimination-by-disconnecting-various-USB-things testing. Yes, I could have had Dad do it, but it's hard to do with older eyes and I didn't want to chance not getting things put back together properly. So we let this problem ride.

Then a new problem arose: whenever Dad typed the letter "L" (upper or lower case) it came out with a series of plus signs after it. So, the word "Lollipop" would look like this: "L+++ol+++l++ipop." This went on for a few days before I knew about it because Dad was careful to go back and delete the plus signs before sending me emails. (Dad also got good at avoiding words with the letter "L" in them.)

For this problem I suspected the keyboard. We were able to demonstrate that the keyboard itself was the problem by using the Keyboard Viewer app (see System Preferences/Language & Text/Input Sources and check the box next to "Keyboard and Character Viewer." Also check the box that says "Show Input menu in menu bar."). Every time Dad used the keyboard to type an "L" I could see the "+" also being pressed. But when we CLICKED on the "L" in the Keyboard Viewer app, the only key that showed it was being pressed was "L."

So now we were almost sure it was the keyboard. Dad got a new one (the Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad) and it solved the unwanted "+" problem. Turns out, it also solved the iMac wouldn't sleep problem. I believe that keys were shorting out on Dad's original keyboard, either typing the wrong keys when the right keys were pressed, or simply typing by themselves.

(I don't see a lot of keyboards go bad like Dad's did. However, Dad smokes cigarettes at his computer, and the smoke gets into things like keyboards and gums things up. I hear it also does bad things to your lungs, and they can't be replaced with a quick trip to the Apple Store.)

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

2014 World Cup Soccer Calendar for Mac, iPhone, and iPad

2014 World Cup Soccer Calendar for Mac, iPhone, and iPad

The World Cup is fast approaching. Wouldn't it be nice to have the World Cup schedule on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad? Or maybe all three? Turns out it's just a couple of clicks away.

This website (
worldcupbrazilcalendar.com) has just what you need: an iCal calendar subscription with every game, for every group, and the Round of 16 too. The great thing about it being a subscription is it will be updated as the games are played, so in a few weeks "Winner of Group C vs Runner-Up of Group D" (which is what the calendar says today) will be replaced by "Greece vs England" or whoever it turns out to be. The game times are shown in your local time, not in Brazil-time (four hours ahead of us on the West Coast), and not in ESPN's default Eastern Time.

(Here's a nice clock showing you
the time in Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, and Austin. Amazing what can be done with a web page these days.)

If you do it right, you'll subscribe to the calendar on one device, and like magic the calendar will appear on all of your other devices too. The key is to choose the "iCloud" option when you initially subscribe. On a Mac "doing it right" will look like this.

worldcupcalendar

The website has good instructions but you probably won't need them. Go check it out.

(They also have a Google Calendars version for those who don't use iCloud. Your PC and Android "friends" aren't left out here.)

UPDATE: the server at worldcupbrazilcalendar.com has been down-up-down the last couple of days. I hope they get it fixed. As an alternative-- and maybe it's even a better alternative-- try this excellent FREE iPhone and iPad app.

worldcup2014app
It's called USA- World Cup 2014 and you can get it by tapping the app's icon (or by clicking here or by going to the App Store and searching for it-- but why bother, I've done all the work already). It has the schedule, it has the results, it has the standings-- it has it all. My only suggestion is to NOT choose the option to add the schedule to your iPhone's (or iPad's) calendar, as it does not create its own calendar. Instead, it add the game schedule to your default calendar on the iPhone and that makes things a little messy. Better to put them in their own calendar, so you can easily toggle their visibility.

UPDATE NUMBER TWO: the calendar from worldcupbrazilcalendar.com seems to be abandoned. It doesn't update. But here's one that does:

http://icalshare.com/calendars/6675

This calendar already shows that Friday's 1 PM Pacific time game is Brazil and Colombia. I don't know what happened to the calendar from
worldcupbrazilcalendar.com but this icalshare.com one is the one you want. The directions are the same as above-- use the iCloud option.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

The Easy Way to Fix CAPITALIZATION ERRORS

The Easy Way to Fix CAPITALIZATION ERRORS

Ever type something in ALL CAPS by mistake? Most people delete it, turn off the Caps Lock, and type the whole thing again. But, as I showed one of my customers last week, you can fix this sort of mistake in a couple of clicks.

Click the image below to watch my video tutorial.
Easy Way to Fix CAPITALIZATION ERRORS

Thanks to Patti D for asking "Why didn't you tell me this a long time ago?"

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Get Faster Internet Just by Asking

Get Faster Internet Just by Asking

I get my internet service through Time Warner Cable. I think the speed originally was 5 Mbps. Somewhere along the line I upgraded to Time Warner's "Turbo" internet and got it up to 20 Mbps. I thought that was pretty fast. (I test the speed at www.speedtest.net. Avoid clicking the links that install MacKeeper.)

A few weeks ago I set up a new
Time Capsule for one of my customers. When I ran the speed test at his place he got 100 Mbps. Holy cow-- 100! I couldn't believe it. I didn't even know it was possible. But once I knew it was possible, I wanted it. So I called Time Warner.

The conversation went something like this:

C Boyce: "Hi, I hear you can deliver 100 Mbps internet these days. How much is that going to cost me? All I need is internet and phone-- no TV."
Time Warner Cable: "Let's see... $123. That's $10 less than you're paying now and it would be 100 Mbps."

CB: "What am I getting now?"
TWC: "You're getting 20 Mbps internet and two phone lines."

(One phone line was for the fax, which we are officially turning off as of right NOW. You can take the fax number out of your address book.)

CB: "I thought I had the best internet speeds that Time Warner offered."
TWC: "You did have the best internet speeds-- when you started the service. But now we do 100 Mbps."

CB: "So wait a second. You updated the speeds, so all of the new people get the good stuff, but no one told ME about it? That's an outrage! But listen, I don't really need 100 Mbps. How much for 50?"
TW: "We don't offer 50 any more. Now we offer 100. And I can do it for $100.97 per month for the first 12 months."

I took them up on the offer. The new modem came in a box three days later, and though it was NOT as smooth a set-up as it should have been, one phone call to Time Warner got things up and running. Check out these before-and-afters:

Before the upgrade

speedtest_before-02a
speedtest_before-01a

Decent speed, and fairly steady (see the graph above).

After the upgrade

speedtest_after-02a
speedtest_after-01a

Great speed, and also fairly steady. No, I don't know where the other 18.94 Mbps went.

If I were you I would call up my internet service provider and see whether they can give you better speeds for the same money (or less). Can't hurt.

One thing I learned: a fast internet service (100 Mbps) can be throttled by the networking equipment in your office. For me, it was an old Airport that slowed things down. I was getting something like 30 Mbps when that old Airport was turned on. When I unplugged it the speed went to 81 Mbps. If you do upgrade your internet service be prepared to make some changes in your network as your internet service may outpace it.

BONUS: The pros call 10 Mbps (megabits per second) Ethernet "10Base-T." 100Base-T is 100 megabits per second. 1000 megabits per second is referred to as "Gigabit." Used to be that even 10Base-T was much faster than the internet service coming into the house, so 10Base-T was more than good enough for the wired network. If you're installing new networking equipment think ahead a little and install cabling, routers, and switches that are better than you need today. It doesn't cost much more and you'll be repaid down the road.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Macworld/iWorld 2014 Wrap-Up

mwiw-logo-header

Macworld/iWorld 2014 Wrap-Up

I'm back from Macworld/iWorld, having spent three days searching for the newest and grooviest Mac, iPhone, and iPad stuff. Although Apple remained a no-show, I am happy to say that Macworld/iWorld appears to have found its post-Apple stride. The crowds were fairly large, the exhibition floor was full of interesting stuff, and almost everyone was enthusiastic and happy to be there. Here's what I found particularly noteworthy.

Note: if you'd like to listen to my Macworld/iWorld report with Doran Barons and Ric Allen on the Digital Village radio program, here's the link to that.

perfect365logo
Perfect 365, an iPhone/iPad app, can improve anyone's portrait. Take the picture, let Perfect365 figure out where the eyes, nose, and mouth are, and then start making things better. One tap takes away circles under your eyes, smooths your skin, whitens your teeth, slims your face-- in short, it makes your picture look like the person you know you are, not the person your lying mirror says you are. Check out the Before-and-After below (and click the picture to see a larger version). It's really rather amazing. And yes, this was done on an iPhone, with ONE tap.

before_and_after_small

Perfect365, free (with in-app purchases)



refurbmelogocropped
Refurb.Me is a website that helps you purchase in-demand refurbished items from Apple's store. Yes, you could go to Apple's website to see if the item you want is available or not, but RefurbMe.com will do it for you-- for free. You set the criteria-- which items, which options, which price-- and Refurb.Me watches Apple's site for you, and sends you notifications when your items come up. Visit Refurb.Me, watch their introductory video, and learn all about it. I know I'll be using Refurb.Me next time I'm looking to buy a refurbished machine from Apple and I think you should do it too. (Refurb.Me gets paid by Apple for referring customers to Apple's online refurbished items store-- that's how it works. Thus, there's no charge to you for this service.)



EverWebLogo
Speaking of websites, EverWeb (formerly EasyWeb) makes creating and publishing a website easy as pie. For $99.95 you get the EverWeb software and a year of web hosting. If you've arranged hosting with someone else you can buy the software for $79.95 and use it with them. EverWeb's software reminds me of Apple's now-defunct iWeb, only better, which means it's easy and fun to use (and comes with lots of templates so you don't have to start from scratch). If you've wanted to make a website but were overwhelmed by choosing software and a web host, EverWeb is for you. One-stop shopping.

(If you're thinking that "easy-to-use" means that EverWeb can't make a fancy site, think again! EverWeb lets you add a bunch of nifty features to your sites, including:
  • Menus
  • Google Maps
  • Image Sliders
  • YouTube videos
  • Facebook "Like" buttons
and a lot more.) Download the software and give it a try-- for free.



diving_into_iOS_app_development
Diving Into iOS 7, by Kevin J. McNeish, is Book 1 of the iOS App Development for Non-Programmers series. It's really, really good. In fact, it's so good that I've ordered Book 2 and Book 3.

Book 1 teaches you
everything you need to know in order to use Apple's Xcode to make a prototype of an iPhone app. (I've been trying to learn iPhone app programming for a long time, taking online classes from Stanford that were way over my head, and reading books that assumed I already knew a lot about programming using Xcode, and the results were a big fat nothing. Two days into McNeish's book has given me a giant boost of confidence, teaching me how to make a working prototype of an iPhone app the very first day.)

If you've ever thought "I'd like to make an iPhone app, but it looks kinda hard" this is the book (and series) for you. Even if you end up hiring someone else to do the actual programming you'll have a greater understanding of how it all works after reading this book. Book 1 is $16.99 (list) for the paperback, with Books 2 and 3 listing for $24.99 and $29.99 respectively. Kindle versions are available for about $5 less than the paperback versions. Here's the
link to Amazon, which discounts the books by about 10%.



Other interesting things, which might have gotten top billing here had they been available at the show instead of "real soon now":
petcube
The PetCube is a webcam, microphone, speaker, and laser pointer, all in a little cube. Put it in your house and play with your pet over the internet, using your iPhone. $199.



flir
FLIR One is an infrared camera attachment for the iPhone. Wondering where your house is short on insulation? Want to see wildlife (or bad guys) in the dark? Want to be like the CSI people, locating fluid stains that can't be seen by eye? A thermal camera's the thing for you, but until now they've been too expensive for most of us. Not anymore. FLIR is making a thermal camera that connects to the iPhone and they're going to sell it for $349.



lumolift
Lumo Lift is a small wearable device that reminds you to stand up straight by gently vibrating when you slouch. An iPhone app tracks your slouchiness. It also tracks how many steps you take and how many calories you burn. The app keeps track of your slouching whether you have the Lumo Lift set to vibrate or not. In a way, you're paying $99 to be nagged.



Next year's Macworld/iWorld is scheduled for March 12th, 13th, and 14th. If you plan ahead you can get in for free, and it's a great excuse for spending a couple of days in San Francisco. Think about going. It really is fun.

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