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#642: Repair of the Week, Browser Launch Failures and More Videos


Happy Tuesday,

In the middle of the second major snowstorm in as many days, Don, Grace, Tony and I went snowmobiling on Sunday. At least eighteen inches of snow were groomed and packed down on the trails the night before, and there were already six inches of fresh powder on top by the time we actually made it into the woods. Off the packed trail, the snow was waist-high.

Don, Grace, and I are new to this snowmobiling thing, but after eight miles or so of Tony coaching, we began getting the hang of it. It was still very much early in the season, with a loosely packed, relatively thin base. We found ourselves getting stuck on water bars going up steep hills, and enjoying the fast straightaways. I learned that I’ll need a balaclava so my chin doesn’t freeze solid, and also that I’ll need to put together an emergency kit should I ever break down again. I knew something was wrong as I slowed, coasting up a gentle hill with the engine screaming. I came to a stop assuming I’d lost the drive belt or the clutch, and lamented the fact that I didn’t bring tools. We tried towing it out, but with the soft base and daytime waning, we left my sled off the side of the trail.

Of course, even if I brought a giant tool chest, I wouldn’t know where to start. I see the whole incident as motivation to learn how the thing works. After learning the ins and outs of computer repair, learning to fix something big will be a nice change of pace!

Happy holidays from all of us at Small Dog Electronics.


  Repair of the Week  

Last Friday I was presented a unibody MacBook Pro with limited function of the new glass trackpad. Some gestures would work, but others wouldn’t. The first step in most any repair is to reset the SMC/PMU and PRAM, and then run Software Update, but these had no effect – even the trackpad firmware update didn’t help.

Knowing that the user on the machine was created by Migration Assistant, and that many problems like this are actually software based, I decided to create a new admin user on the machine. Turns out the trackpad worked fine under the clean user! Had the trackpad refused to work in the new user, I’d suspect hardware to be responsible; since the trackpad worked fine in the new user, I had to figure out what piece of the operating system was causing the failure.

First stop was the Preferences folder in the customer’s home folder. Looking through each and every one of the files, none jumped out at me as being possibly responsible for the behavior. After a bit of head scratching, I remembered that there are many invisible files on a Mac’s hard drive. These are files that begin with a period, like .GlobalPreferences.plist. But how to see these files if they’re invisible?

Well, the easiest way is through Terminal. To see a complete list of all files in a folder, type ls -a. The output for ~/Library/Preferences would show you several files near the top whose names begin with a period. In fact, .GlobalPreferences.plist was to blame here. I deleted it through the terminal using the rm command, restarted the computer, and all was well.

  When A Defect Is Really Damage  

One of the more difficult lines to walk as a technician is the line between manufacturing defects and user-created defects. It’s not unusual for a customer to come in with a malfunctioning machine that they believe has a warranty covered defect only to find out that the problem was actually created by physical damage or misuse. Sometimes these are very cut-and-dry cases, like a cracked LCD (glass does not spontaneously crack), but occasionally it just takes a tiny crumb to cause a big problem.

We received a fairly new end-of-life MacBook Pro in for return last week because it was not latching correctly when the display was closed. Upon initial inspection, the MacBook Pro looked to be in perfect condition; clean, shiny, not a scratch. The problem was that the latch assembly in the bottom case wasn’t retracting so when the display was shut the latches on the display had nothing to latch onto, so the computer couldn’t close. While this might look like a defect in the latch, experience told me there was probably something stuck in it. Sure enough, after removing the top case I found a very small piece of black plastic had wedged itself between the clutch assembly and the bottom case. I video-taped this endeavor so you can see just what I mean:

Fixing a MacBook Pro Latch, Part 1
Fixing a MacBook Pro Latch, Part 2

Speaking of videos, what are you interested in seeing? While I can’t promise all ideas would be doable, I’d love to know your thoughts!

  Browser Launch Failures  

While I spend less time in the tech rooms now than I used to, I do pick up a handful of repairs now and again to keep the queue as short as possible for our customers. One particularly interesting machine worked perfectly in every way, except that no web browser would launch and stay open for more than a minute or two. The customer keeps up on technology news and is among the first to download new products, especially web browsers.

I tried launching Safari, Firefox, Opera, Camino, and Flock. None would stay open for more than a minute or two. When each quit unexpectedly, it offered the option of sending an error report to Apple. I clicked that button to look at the error logs, and found the common thread immediately: the Adobe Flash plugin. It made perfect sense, as each installed browser used this common resource—even across users!

Turns out this is another problem caused by Migration Assistant. Migration Assistant is a brilliant feature of Mac OS X, but sometimes problems do arise when data being transferred is out of date and incompatible with the most modern software on new computers. If you find yourself in a situation where an application quits unexpectedly, be sure to take a look at the logs. Even we do not understand everything they keep track of, but there are often clues buried in there. If you see one thing come up over and over again, odds are something is amiss. Often, you can copy and paste directly from the log into Google and come up with solutions!

  A Note on DHL  

As you may have heard, DHL is shutting down domestic shipping operations at the end of January. While you can still ship a package out of the country (or into the country) via DHL, you cannot send one from one point in the United States to another.

AppleCare used DHL almost exclusively for service parts. Our relationship with them was strained at times, as we often did not receive deliveries and the driver would often neglect to pick up machines destined for Apple repair facilities in Memphis or Houston.

Today, Waitsfield did not receive any shipments. DHL asked me to provide tracking numbers of our own shipments so they could send a driver!

Apple is completing the transition to FedEx in the coming week or so, and the delays should disappear when the switchover is complete. We apologize for any delays in your repair process as a result of shipment delays.

  Special Buy: 3G Blue iPod nano 8GB, $129.99  

The perfect gift for those who still want an iPod! The 3G models are generally $10 less than the current 4G models, and the Blue ones are $20 less at $129.99!

The 3G model has been very popular with many of our customers. It has virtually all of the same features (can play music, photos and videos), and the square-ish shape has been touted as “more comfortable and easier to hold” than the tall rectangular 4G version.

See for yourself! There are two different specials with that model that you can access on the following product page (plus, check below for the featured special):

Click here to view or buy the 8GB Blue iPod 3G.

  SPECIALS | 12/23/2008 - 12/30/08  
   iPod nano 8GB Blue (3G), Save $20 Plus FREE Shipping!
   MacBook 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, 160 GB drive, White, FREE Case, FREE Shipping!
   Canon Pixma MP190 Multifunction Photo Printer
   iPod classic 160GB Black, FREE Napa Leather Case, Free Shipping!
   Contour Flick Slider case for iPhone 3G Version (Black), Free FM Transmitter
   Apple 24in LED Cinema Display, Save $20 PLUS Free Shipping!