Archive for April 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Opening Preference Panes

Rainer Brockerhoff presents a way to open panes in System Preferences that’s more robust than just asking Mac OS X to open the .prefPane file.


Murky is Jens Alfke’s graphical client for the Mercurial version control system.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Microsoft Office 2010 Preview

Steven Frank:

This is impenetrable. It’s UI salad. I realize this is not (yet) shipping software, but my god. If you sat me down in front of this, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea where to begin.

Update (2009-04-30):


So in short, if Steven Frank wants to call the Ribbon “UI salad”, it is fine by me since I’ve found its use in its original habitat a very desirable and nutritious salad.

Steven Frank:

Part of the reason my reaction was so negative was that, in my mind, I was trying to walk through a phone conversation with a hypothetical family member who was struggling with that window.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Time Capsule Is Doomed to Suck

Louis Gerbarg (via John Gruber):

If there was some way to make this solution work it would also mean there is a way to make it safe to randomly unplug hard drives. Trust me, if Apple knew how to do that it would be done, and the OS would not chastise you for doing something stupid when you unplug your USB pendrive without telling it first. Since they haven't figured out how to let you safely unplug USB drives unannounced it seems like a bad idea to base a backup solution on what is in essence a wireless USB cable that is phasing in and out of existence.

I have not been able to get a Time Capsule backup to last much more than a month (even with 10.5.6) before becoming corrupt, even when backing up over Ethernet. So I think there must be other problems besides the disconnection ones that Gerbarg mentions. Time Machine seems to work well over FireWire and USB, however.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Comic Sans

Emily Steel:

Mr. Connare says he first realized that the tide had turned against Comic Sans in January 2003, while studying for his master’s degree in type design at the University of Reading in Berkshire, England. He got an email from Mr. Combs asking for permission to use his photo for stickers, T-shirts and coffee mugs to promote “typography awareness” for the movement to ban Comic Sans that he and his wife had founded. Busy and distracted, Mr. Connare said OK.

I don’t really understand the big deal with Comic Sans. If you’re going to hate a font, hate Arial.

My MacBook Pro Fan Problem

I’ve been using Apple products since the mid-80s, and only very rarely have they needed repair. The Intel-based Macs, unfortunately, have been different. I bought an iMac Core Duo as soon as it became available in order to develop universal binary versions of my products. I did not buy AppleCare because, to that point, I had never needed it, and because I intended to replace the iMac with a notebook or tower when they became available. The iMac worked great for a little more than a year. Then, the warranty having expired, one day it would no longer turn on.

My first MacBook Pro, a 17-inch Core 2 Duo model, had a defective logic board so that after the first full day of use it wouldn’t turn on. Apple quickly repaired this, but I soon discovered that the hard drive was defective. I sent it in again, and Apple returned it without touching the hard drive. In the third mail-in repair, Apple replaced the hard drive, and it’s been working ever since.

My second MacBook Pro, a 15-inch unibody model, doesn’t work properly with external displays. There’s a problem using the Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter. I sent the computer to Apple, who determined that the hardware was working correctly and promised a fix via software update that—about six months after the unibody MacBook Pros were introduced—has yet to be released.

After about two months, the MacBook Pro developed a fan problem, which judging from Apple’s discussion boards is rather common. The fan under the keyboard made a rattling/clicking noise. It was constant but most pronounced at low RPMs when there was less other fan noise to drown it out.

On March 27, I sent the computer to Apple to have them fix it.

On April 2, I received it back from Apple. The fan had been fixed, but Apple’s repair crew had added a large scratch to the front of the case, near the Apple logo. Happy just to have my Mac back, I considered not doing anything. I didn’t really want to do another one-week repair for a cosmetic issue.

On April 3, I decided that (a) the scratch might hurt the resale value, and (b) I wanted Apple to know that it was their fault, so that if any other hardware problems developed they would fix the case at the same time. So I called Apple again. They confirmed from their repair center records that the case had been pristine when they had received the computer for the fan repair. They took responsibility and were very apologetic, saying they wanted my (still essentially brand-new) MacBook Pro to be in perfect condition. They would provide “white glove service” and get it fixed quickly. So I decided to do another mail-in repair.

On April 6, I sent the computer back to Apple.

On April 9, the repair status Web site said that the repair was “On hold - Need information.” I called Apple and, after 10 minutes on hold, was told that they were waiting on a “requote”; they would call later in the day with more information. A few hours later, I received a call saying that (contrary to their previous admission) Apple had not damaged the case. So I could pay $1,200 to have them fix it or else have them ship it back unrepaired.

I made a new call to Apple and eventually got to speak with a supervisor who said that Apple would honor their original promise to repair the MacBook Pro at no charge.

On April 10, the supervisor called to say that he estimated that the computer would be shipped back to me on April 13 or 14.

On April 15, the supervisor e-mailed me:

They are having some issues at the moment in getting the computer to pass testing. They have not sent it back yet and are working to get it up to manufacturing standards.

On April 16, FedEx delivered the computer. The entire outside of the case, as well as the palm rest, was grimy, although this was easy to clean. There was also a pinhole dent next to the speaker grille, which I’m choosing to ignore.

The repair notes showed that Apple had replaced the LCD, the bottom case, and the frame. They had also replaced (and, thus, erased) the hard drive, which I had not used, having immediately replaced it with a 500 GB one when I bought the computer. I have no idea how so many components failed. Everything had seemed normal while the computer was in my possession. Of course, I had taken good care of it. Due to the short ownership period, and the fact that it was out of my possession for almost a month of that time, I had never even travelled with it.

In any case, the computer now passes Apple Hardware Test, and everything seems to be working properly, except for the external display.

Here are some random notes about the repair process:

  1. Despite the above problems, I still prefer mail-in repairs to using my local (non-Apple) store. If you have a non-notebook Mac, Apple will not do mail-in repairs, even if the computer is covered by warranty or AppleCare.
  2. Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky, but Macs don’t seem to be as reliable as they once were. AppleCare is probably a good investment.
  3. Of course, I still recommend having a backup and a backup computer. You don’t know how long the repair will take.
  4. It’s fantastic that the unibody notebooks (and the plastic MacBooks) make it so easy to swap hard drives. This allows you to (a) not send your data to Apple, and (b) stick the drive into a BlacX or Voyager in order to keep using it as your boot drive. However, I doubt Apple will repair a Mac that doesn’t have a hard drive, so make sure that you have another drive to swap in.
  5. If you use Time Machine, it will see the backup computer as a separate Mac, even if you’re booting from the same hard drive. Thus, unless your backup drive has lots of free space, you’ll need a second backup drive to continue making Time Machine backups.
  6. Some applications require reauthorization when you switch Macs, even if you’re booting from the same hard drive. For me, these where: iTunes (which threatened to delete all the apps from my iPhone), Script Debugger, QuickBooks, and Aperture. OmniFocus does not need reauthorization, but it sees the backup Mac as a separate computer for syncing purposes. Going into the preferences and removing unused sync clients can really improve the syncing speed.
  7. Each time I switched back to the unibody MacBook Pro, Energy Saver had forgotten to use the “Higher performance” graphics setting.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Almost Perfect

W. E. Pete Peterson’s Almost Perfect: How a Bunch of Regular Guys Built WordPerfect Corporation is now available online in HTML and PDF formats.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Floppy Insertion Detection in Windows 95

Raymond Chen has an interesting story about why Microsoft decided not to add floppy disk insertion detection to Windows 95:

The floppy drive hardware specification left one aspect of the drive behavior unspecified, and studying the schematics for various floppy drive units revealed that about half of the floppy drive vendors chose to implement it one way, and half the other way.

The reasons given for why Windows didn’t do this are not convincing for me. Microsoft didn’t want to make the user insert a floppy to check which kind of drive was present. Nor did they want to test the drive without a floppy inserted, because that would make users “freak out.” In a follow-up, he writes:

Nobody wants floppy drives to spin up as soon as a disk is inserted.

Really? You probably inserted the disk so you could use it, so it would be useful to have a window pop up showing its contents. And Chen seems more worried about having auto-detection not work in the rare case where the user has replaced his floppy drive (and the new drive is of the other type) than in the common case of making auto-detection work for most users. I find the whole thing bizarre:

It’d all just be a lot of work for a feature nobody wants. And then you’d all be posting, “I can’t believe Microsoft wasted all this effort on floppy insertion detection when they should have fixed insert favorite bug here.

I thought the poor floppy handling was one of the things that annoyed people about Windows, but maybe that’s just because I was used to computers that didn’t have this problem.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ATPM 15.04

The April issue of ATPM is out:

Slow-Opening Terminal Windows

/usr/libexec/path_helper, which Mac OS X runs every time a login shell is created, is really slow. (In particular, I think the slowness is in [[ "$NEWPATH" = *(*:)${p}*(:*) ]].) My Terminal windows were taking about four seconds to open. By removing the files in /etc/paths.d and putting their contents directly into my $PATH in .bash_profile, Terminal windows now load instantly.