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#671: Sleepy Software, Repair of the Week, Surge Protection, EpikOne Seminar


Happy Tuesday,

It’s vacation season, and many of us at Small Dog are away recharging our batteries. We encourage our employees to vacation, and generous amounts of paid time off are a cornerstone of the benefits offered to every one of us. Carl Grasso, intrepid Service Writer at our South Burlington facility, is in Florida right now so you can find me this week at the window answering questions, checking in repairs, and offering advice to those in need.

Carl was also just promoted to a full-time technician position, and we know he’s going to excel in this role as much as he did at the window. Taking his spot is Mikhael Cohen, a key member of the retail sales team. Swing by some time and say hello!

Enjoy this issue, and keep in touch.


  Sleepy Software  

I had an interesting repair on my desk this week; a MacBook Pro that froze the second time it was put to sleep after a restart. While sleep issues aren’t terribly uncommon, this specific type of sleep issue was rather unusual. The customer had already spoken with Apple about the issue and they walked her through some basic troubleshooting including making a new user account for testing purposes. I immediately found in testing that the issue was reproducible even at the login window, which implies that it’s unrelated to the individual user accounts.

My first troubleshooting step was to reset the SMC, which controls power functions such as sleep, power on, shutting down and battery regulation. When that had no effect, I boot to an external hard drive and lo and behold, the machine slept and woke numerous times without issue. The conclusion there is that it was a software issue and most likely not hardware-related. Still, knowing that hardware problems such as faulty RAM or a failing hard drive can cause software corruption, I went ahead and ran the rest of Apple’s diagnostics and a surface scan of the drive before beginning work on the machine; everything else passed with flying colors.

Knowing that the issue occurs at the login window helped me choose the next most logical course of action; an Archive and Install. An Archive and Install preserves network and user settings, but reinstalls the operating system. It’s a great way to resolve system-related issues without losing personal files. After the Archive and Install the machine slept and woke successfully. I thought, “That was easy!” until I ran software updates and the problem came right back. Ugh!

I mentioned that the Archive and Install preserves network and user settings. Since the issue occurred when booted to the login window that implies that it’s a system issue. While the Archive and Install reinstalls the system, network settings are also accessed at the login window so I suspected the corruption might have something to do with the network settings. For my next trick, I ran another Archive and Install without preserving network and user settings. While this may sound scary, the user information is still saved in the Previous Systems folder, it’s just not put back into the user folder when the install is finished.

After the second Archive and Install I created a fresh user account and verified that, once again, the sleep issue was resolved. I then ran all software updates, and the sleep issue stayed resolved (hooray!). The final step was to restore the user account and reimport third party applications. I used the root user to move the user accounts from the Previous Systems Folder to the Users folder and then re-linked the accounts in System Preferences. Finally, I moved the third party applications from the Applications folder in the Previous Systems Folder. I should note that using this process does not guarantee that the third party apps will work; some apps install other components in the System and Library folders so after an Archive and Install some third party applications need to be reinstalled.

The end result? The Macbook Pro sleeps, wakes, and all of the customer’s data was preserved. The one big remaining question is, what caused the software corruption? This is the most frustrating question to try to answer because, as with licks to a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know!

  Repair of the Week: First-Generation Mac Pro  

The Mac Pro has always been a beast of a computer, and even the first-generation examples remain so. Their reliability is second to none amongst the Apple product line, but with some approaching three years old we are beginning to see more failures. This week’s repair is on an 8-core 3.0 GHz unit outfitted with a Fibre Channel card normally connected to an Xserve RAID, 16GB of RAM, a super high-end Kona video card, and four 2TB hard drives set up in RAID 5.

Needless to say, this is a computer our customer desperately needed back up and running as fast as possible.

Because he bought AppleCare and the computer from Small Dog, he enjoyed a free loaner computer during the repair. But because we need the entire machine—fibre channel card, RAM, and all the hard drives—to properly diagnose, he had to make do with a more-or-less stock Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro came in for random kernel panics during time machine backups of the startup partition to a FireWire 800 LaCie external drive. First step was to swap the the RAM with known-good chips, and the kernel panics persisted. We then booted the computer from an external drive with a known-good operating system, and the kernel panics persisted. Then, the internal drives were unplugged and the machine booted again off the external drive. No luck.

Component isolation is where you strip a computer down to its minimal configuration and unplug every nonessential component; then plug them back in one-by-one until the problem reappears. When it does, you can be fairly certain the component just reinstalled is the culprit. In its minimal state and not showing symptoms, the optical drives were plugged in one by one with no luck. It can only be called good luck that the second component swapped in, the Bluetooth card, brought the kernel panics back. Swapping in a good one fixed the problem.

This was an easy one, but some of the harder Mac Pro diagnoses can take a very long time and are often a combination of software and hardware. More common failures are of hard drives, processors, logic boards, RAM, and RAM riser cards. Logic boards and processors are very expensive, so this customer was very lucky!

  The Importance of Surge Protection and Insurance  

Saturday saw more severe thunderstorms, and each storm brings a surge of power-related repairs into the shop. Instead of the oh-so-2001 modem replacements, we’re seeing more and more failed AirPort base stations and Time Capsules.

My own base station was fried, in addition to my television, cordless phone, DSL modem, and much of the home theatre, despite everything being on good quality surge protectors. (I’m not saying you shouldn’t have surge protection, because I have neighbors who’ve had damage in the past where I haven’t.)

This type of damage is not covered by AppleCare, or any manufacturer’s warranty for that matter. Do yourself a favor and get everything on a good quality surge protector and make sure your insurance covers this type of event. I am a fan of Fellowes 8 Outlets Surge Suppressor, though you can view everything we offer here. (click on either “Surge Suppression” or “Batteries & UPS Backups” to view what you need!)

I’m still waiting to hear back about my claim, but I’m sure everything will be resolved one way or another.

  Explore Google's Many Mac-Friendly Apps  

Google has many excellent, free applications and services for Mac. I rely on many of them literally almost every single day I use my Mac, both at home and at work. Some of the apps are desktop-based (you download and install them on your Mac’s hard drive), while others are browser based (you run them via a web browser while connected to the web).

From Google’s Mac page, you can download Google Toolbar for Firefox, Picasa for Mac, Google Earth, SketchUp, Picasa Web Albums Uploader, Notifier for the Mac, AdWords Editor, and the Google Quick Search Box. Visit Google’s Mac page by clicking here. Note that the Google search bar at the top the page limits results to Mac Sites—which can be useful when looking for Mac-specific information.

A notable absence is Google’s new Chrome web browser. Chrome is currently only available for Windows, though a Mac version should be out this autumn.

Through a web browser, Mac users have access to nearly all of Google’s free web services, which include Gmail, Google Calendar, Reader, Sites, iGoogle, Blogger, Google Talk, Finance, Book Search, Groups, Knol, Video, Search History, Google Analytics, AdWords, and many more titles. Click here to see these.

Google has a Mac-centric blog which often features interesting Mac-related news, tools, and ideas. Click here to see this.

Click here for a link to Google Mobile, which features software and services for mobile phones, including the iPhone and iPod touch.

  Google Analytics, AdWords, Optimizer Boot Camp in Burlington, VT!  

Our friends at EpikOne are about to host their third annual Seminar for Success Summit (formerly OM Boot Camp) in Burlington, Vermont from August 11 to August 14.

The Seminar for Success Summit includes four days of in-depth training on Google’s online marketing suite of tools (Analytics, AdWords, Optimizer and more) from Google experts. This is a great chance to “Ask the Experts” and learn from Google Analytics Authorized Consultants. The final day is a thought leadership event, where participants harvest strategic insights. At night, participants experience the best Vermont has to offer while socializing with peers.

I’m going to attend August 11 to August 14 Seminar for Success Summit, and I can’t wait. Rather than stuffy panels and boring workshops, EpikOne Seminars feature practical, specific action items that can be implemented immediately.

Whether you’re just getting started using Google Analytics or a seasoned veteran ready to take your website performance to the next level, the EpikOne Seminars For Success will help you make the most out of your online efforts.

Request information by clicking here!

Or, go ahead and register online by clicking here.

Get 25% off any day(s) or full summit by typing “smalldog” into the online discount field when registering!

EpikOne was selected as one of only five original Google Analytics Authorized Consultants (GAAC’s). EpikOne has since expanded its relationship with Google and is also a Google Enterprise Professional, Website Optimizer Authorized Consultant and AdWords Qualified Company. As a team, EpikOne has successfully propelled client accounts ranging from start-up status to multi-million dollar international conglomerates.

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