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#655: Repair of the Week, Keeping Up with Mac News, Readers' Request, Character Tips


Happy Tuesday,

Jon is on vacation this week, and I’ve been spending more time than usual in the tech room. It’s nice to spend time diagnosing and turning screws, and also speaking to so many of you on the phone.

I had a chance to work on one of the latest Mac Minis this afternoon, and it’s nice to the Mini with so much new life breathed into it. With its dedicated graphics processor, faster RAM, larger hard drives, more USB ports, and better serviceability, it’s a tremendous bargain at $599. I’m happy it wasn’t dropped from the product range.

I also switched my workstation from a 15” MacBook Pro to a 17” MacBook Pro with the high-resolution screen. So far I am really enjoying the extra screen real estate; while at work it’s connected to a 23” Cinema Display and it’s almost an entirely new experience with so much room to work with. I am finding that the 17” laptop is a bit too large for my lap, and for my laptop bags, but that’s a compromise I’m willing to make. I’ll write a more in-depth review next week.

Thanks for reading, and keep in touch


  High Resolution Icons: Readers' Request  

I think the most common question I’m asked by Tech Tails readers is “How do you get those giant, high-resolution icons next to your articles?”.

It’s easy! Select the icon in question in the Finder, then select Get Info from the file menu. On the top-left of the Info window is a picture of the icon. Click it once, then select Copy from the Edit menu. Next, open Preview from your Applications folder, and then select New from the File menu.

In the new window will be the icon in several different sizes ranging from huge to tiny. Next, select Save As from the File Menu, name the file, and append it with .icns. This is the file extension for icons. You can also use jpg, tiff, png–whatever you prefer. I cringe every time I see a blurry, pixellated icon because it’s so easy to harvest the big version!

  Keeping Up with Mac News  

As a consultant, it is essential that I stay up-to-date with Mac news and information. There are a variety of sites that I can recommend for this purpose. For general news, I read the articles version of MacNN. This gives me paragraph teasers, and optionally full articles, of Mac-related news items, major software releases, and other industry news:

Personally, I love to find cool new programs, and I always stay up-to-date with all the software I own. I read software update sites the way some people go thrifting or scour record stores for the rarest cuts. I’m always impressed and amazed at how much great software there is for the Mac, and how many new releases and updates there are every single day.

Many of my favorite programs are free or cheap little programs that are too small to ever show up on a store shelf or a product catalog. When you check out these sites, just take a moment to see how many items per day are listed. My favorite software sites:

There is even one server site from Apple, built for use on the iPhone or iPod touch:

Next time, I’ll provide a rundown of some of my favorite freeware and shareware apps!

  Repair of the Week: MacBook Sleep LED  

A first-generation MacBook came in the other day because the sleep indicator light wasn’t working. This is actually a tricky one to diagnose because so many components are involved in making that little light work. The light itself is powered by the SATA cable, which also powers both the hard drive and shuttles data to and from the hard drive. The SATA cable ends with a socket that the hard drive plugs into, and that socket has a tiny connector for the flex cable that powers the sleep light.

Of course, the sleep light isn’t available as an individual part. That’d be too easy. Instead, it is part of the bottom case, and swapping the bottom case requires complete disassembly of the MacBook.

On a hunch, I swapped out the SATA cable, and plugged in the sleep light. No go. I then swapped in a known good logic board, which also didn’t help. Thinking the LED itself was most likely not the cause, I grudgingly ordered and installed a bottom case. That didn’t work, either.

By then, it was 6:30 at night and I was ready to go home and make some dinner. As is often the case, I think about work at home and realized that I skipped the all-important test: I never booted the machine off a known-good MacOS X installation, such as the computer’s restore disk. No, that didn’t work, either.

I took the machine apart again and double-checked my work. I re-seated the connection from LED to SATA socket, put the machine to sleep, and let out a sigh of relief that the light was working again. Since I’d replaced so many parts in diagnosis, it’s hard to know which component was actually to blame. I’m willing to bet it was the connection all along.

  Tip of the Week: Get in Character  

Ever wonder where those pesky specials characters that aren’t written on your keyboard (e.g. ¢, ©, ®, ™) are when you’re writing? They’re all listed in Character Palette—part of OS X.

Easy access can be found either as a part of your other Apple Apps (such as Mail, TextEdit, Stickies, etc.) or in the International panel of System Preferences. (System Preferences > International > Input Menu)

If you find that you use these symbols a fair amount and would like to see them quickly, check the Character Palette checkbox and “Show input menu in menu bar.” The latter will display a little flag icon in the top righthand corner of your menu bar (how patriotic!).

Another tip for finding some symbols that you use more than others is to remember the keyboard shortcuts. Here’s a cheatsheet for my most popular ones:

  • Accent Acute (´): Option-E
  • Bullet (•): Option-8
  • Cent (¢): Option-4
  • Copyright (©): Option-G
  • Degree (˚): Option-K or Option-0 (anyone know which is actually “officially” correct?)
  • Registered (®): Option-R
  • Trade Mark (™): Option-2

And, for Mac users, one we’ve mentioned before and use a lot of:

  • Apple symbol (): Shift-Option-K

Note that fonts may handle characters differently!

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