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#679: Flash Security Notice, Back Up That Phone, Repair of the Week, Quick Snow Leopard Tips

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

Around this time of year, Art’s iChat status message reminds us that the days are getting shorter, and that he can’t wait for snow. For the first month or so he displayed it, I didn’t really mind because the days didn’t really seem that much shorter.

I realized last night at 7:30 that the days really are getting shorter, and I’ll have to do more outside after work while I still can! I’m not quite ready for snow, but once the corn harvest is over I’m sure it won’t come soon enough. With some spots in Vermont seeing night time temperatures in the thirties, it won’t be too long until the first frost. I hope you had a great summer and long weekend.

Each Tech Tails for a while will feature some of my favorite features and enhancements in Snow Leopard. If you’ve found anything you really love about Snow Leopard, let me know and I’ll publish them next week!

As always, enjoy this issue keep in touch.

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Potential Security Vulnerability In Flash  
   
 

If you’ve upgraded to Snow Leopard, please note this important message from Adobe:

The initial release of Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) includes an earlier version of Adobe Flash Player than what is available from Adobe.com. We recommend all users update to the latest, most secure version of Flash Player (10.0.32.18) — which supports Snow Leopard and is available for download from http://www.adobe.com/go/getflashplayer.

The earlier version of Flash Player included with Snow Leopard contains several security vulnerabilities. These are patched in the more recent version of Flash Player, released by Adobe on July 30th.

Macworld Magazine notes that Flash Player is an attractive target for hackers, since millions upon millions of computers worldwide have it installed.

All Mac users should make sure their version of Flash is current. This is most important for Snow Leopard users, since their version is almost certainly out of date and thus, vulnerable. Click here to download the latest Flash player.

 
   
     
  Is Your iPhone *Really* Backed Up?  
   
 

Chances are, if you have your iTunes preferences set up to sync automatically with your iPhone/iPod touch, you might think it’s doing a full backup beforehand every time. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, this may not be the case.

The Incident
As usual, I learned this the hard way earlier this week. My main computer was being attended to by our awesome Service Department, and so I had a temporary machine with an older clone of my data on it. I made the bad decision to plug in my iPhone to get a photo off of it (thinking I’d transfer the photo to my MacBook Pro later), and it—gasp—synced automatically, leaving me with no current data (and a piddly iTunes music library).

When I got my main MBP back, I figured I’d plug my iPhone in and restore from my most recent backup (the last time I synced was about a week ago, so at worst, I’d only lose a couple days of data entry, right?). However, when I plugged in, I found that the most recent backup iTunes had was August 5th. August 5th?? Sure, that was only about a month old, but how was it not doing a full backup all of those times I plugged it in after August 5th?


Found in iTunes > Preferences > Devices.

My first thought was that I should just go back to the temporary machine, plug my iPhone in, and restore from the backup it must have made on that fateful day before I synced it in the first place. I took a look, and unsurprisingly, there was no recent full backup there either—only one from March (the last backup I made before the settings were cloned to that machine).

Dude, Where’s My Backup?
Apparently, the backup process is tricky and somewhat convoluted. When researching the ins and outs of an iPhone backup/restore, all the results I came across were about a year old, in that people were complaining about the fact that iTunes/iPhone OS 2.0 backed up every time, causing syncs to be slower. Apple has obviously since upgraded the OS to 3.0, where the backup speed has been much improved, but at what cost?

It seems that the automated full backup is not in effect in 3.0, and essentially it will just sync your apps, music and info (Contacts, Calendars, Notes, Mail, etc.). That’s all well and good, but I already have my contacts, calendars et al. stored elsewhere (and often, thanks to a regular Time Machine backup on my MBP). Plus, I could always redownload any apps I’ve lost, even though that may be a pain. What I care about the most is the stored application data.

The stored app data is a part of the iTunes backup file itself; however, the actual data files are buried in Users > [Your User] > Library > Application Support > MobileSync > Backup. These files make no discernible sense to most people (read: anyone who isn’t a coder or developer), so I didn’t find them to be very useful. They’re already being backed up by my Time Machine preferences, anyway, since my entire User folder is included. (Also unfortunate: I didn’t have a more recent Time Machine backup than August 5th to even try, and my machine was in service in the first place due to complications from an almost-full hard drive. Take note, kids: that’s bad, too.)

If you want to understand more about those files and the backup/restore process, Erica Sadun has written an informative article over at Ars Technica about how to better manage your iPhone apps.

A particular part of the article stuck out to me, though:
“Be aware that there is, at this time, no way to re-insert your data back into applications after you delete and restore it. You can recover the data for other uses, like looking at it from your desktop or archiving it, but Apple does not offer a restore data feature for applications that have been removed and later replaced.”

So, What Now?
What’s the moral in all this? The backup settings in iTunes are not as sophisticated or customizable as a Time Machine backup (or similar backup program), so it’s up to you to do it. Even though many people seemed to complain that automatic backups were slow or annoying (at least with 2.0 software), I can attest to the fact that it’s a bummer to lose your data, and they are well worth it.

Here are some tips to ensure you’ll never be without a backup when you need it:

  • If you have more than one computer, sync your device with just one; to be extra cautious, you can turn off automatic iPhone/iPod touch syncing on the other machines by disabling it in iTunes’ preferences. See screenshot above.
  • Ensure a full backup on your device by right-clicking on it in iTunes and selecting Back Up. See image at top right.

View Apple’s Support document about backing up, updating, and restoring iPhone/iPod touch here.

I have all my backup processes in place now, as I hope not to have a repeat. I’m on the hunt for more information on how I can automate my iPhone backups in the future, because I know that’s the only sure-fire way to keep everything I need safely protected. I’ll write my findings in a future article.

Have any thoughts or comments about this article or your own backup/restoring experiences? Email me (click on my name at the beginning of the article), or leave a comment here!

 
   
     
  Repair of the Week: Surprising Benefit of Replacing a Hard Drive  
   
 

While most machines that come through our shop are pretty straight-forward to diagnose and repair, there is always room for surprises. We had one such surprise last week with a MacBook Pro that was brought in for two distinct reasons: the hard drive wasn’t recognized and the machine would not boot from CD. While that might sound like a hard drive and optical drive replacement, the technician who diagnosed the issue dug a little deeper.

He did verify that the machine would not boot from CD, and he ordered an optical drive for it. He also verified that the hard drive was not recognized, however, when he pulled the drive out of the machine it mounted just fine in a sled attached to another computer. He could clearly see the volume structure, which passed verification in Disk Utility, and he didn’t notice any unusual sounds from the drive. This led to the conclusion that the issue was the SATA bus on the logic board, and a logic board was ordered for the machine.

The next day, I replaced the optical drive and the hard drive. I attempted to boot to a DVD. The optical drive injected the DVD with no problems and I could hear it spinning in the drive. However, the disk was not recognized in the EFI boot manager. Crap. At this point I’m thinking it could be a faulty optical drive cable or a defective replacement logic board or optical drive. My next step was to attempt to netboot the machine; no dice here either. The netboot server was also not recognized in the boot manager and the boot manager froze twice while looking for devices.

Ok, so now I have a machine that won’t boot to disk and won’t netboot, so at this point I’m thinking it really is a bad replacement logic board. However, I’ve seen this symptom before so there was one more thing to try.

I pulled out the hard drive. The machine boot to DVD, no problem, it also netboot without a hitch. I repeated my co-workers test of plugging the drive into an external sled, sure enough it did mount and displayed the volume, but when I attempted to boot to the drive the tester machine that I was using shut down. Eureka! The issue all along was the hard drive. While it was able to perform some functions just fine, as a boot device it was hanging the SATA bus.

The first volume the EFI boot manager looks for is the internal hard drive, and since this internal hard drive was causing the bus to hang the boot manager wasn’t able to get past it to find the optical drive or the netboot server. Replacing the hard drive resolved all of the issues and we were able to transfer the customer’s data to the new drive successfully!

 
   
     
  Quick Snow Leopard Tips  
   
 

While Snow Leopard doesn’t bring any revolutionary “visible” features, there are dozens of little improvements to the interface. Here are four of my favorites so far.

  1. The AirPort menu now lists not only the available networks, but the signal strength of each. With this at-a-glance view, it’s clear which network is best to hop on. It also shows whether or not a network is secured with the use of a small lock icon next to the signal strength, which is carried over from earlier version of OS X. The signal strength indicator is a nice touch, especially for city dwellers.

  2. If a disk is in use by an application (say iTunes is playing music from your Time Capsule), Mac OS X will tell you which application is using the device if you try to eject it. Previously, it would report simply that the disk is in use, but now by reporting exactly which application is using it it is more efficient to safely eject.

  3. On the theme of ejecting, optical disks seem to eject about ten times faster now. The delay between pressing the eject button and the media actually coming out of the slot has been nearly eliminated.

  4. While iChat is largely unchanged, us iChat users can video conference with Windows AIM users with webcams. Some of my friends aren’t perfect and still prefer Windows, so this is a welcome addition.

What’ve you found so far in Snow Leopard?

 
   
     
  6GB of RAM In Your "Old-Style" MacBook/MacBook Pro  
   
 

Now and again, Apple’s technical specifications state a maximum amount of RAM that’s not actually correct. It was the case with the iMac G4, and believe it or not, it’s the case with some MacBooks and MacBook Pros. Any 2.2GHz or faster MacBook Pro (except the 2.33GHz models), and any MacBook made in November 2007 or sooner, actually supports 6GB of RAM, not 4GB! Like all our RAM, the 4GB PC5300 chips carry a lifetime warranty and are guaranteed Mac-compatible.

You can tell the speed of your Mac by selecting About This Mac from the Apple menu on the upper-left corner of your screen. If your MacBook Pro is at 2.2GHz or faster, it will accommodate the upgrade, but it’s a bit tougher to tell if your MacBook qualifies. Your MacBook’s serial number is the best way to know for sure whether it can hold 6GB.

Your serial number is very deliberately constructed. The first two characters tell you where the machine was manufactured, the third tells you the year in which it was manufactured, and the fourth and fifth characters tell you the week it was made. Let’s take a hypothetical serial number and dissect it—say, W88231FMYK0. W8 indicates that the machine was made in the Shanghai, China facility. The second 8 indicates the year of manufacture (2008). And the fourth and fifth characters show the week it was made. So, we know from this serial number that the MacBook was made in Shanghai in the 23rd week of 2008.

How does this relate to RAM in your MacBook? Well, MacBooks manufactured in the 48th week or later in 2007 qualify for the 6GB RAM upgrade. When you look at your serial number, you can ignore the first two characters, as it really doesn’t matter where your machine was made. But make sure the third character is 7 followed by 48 or higher. Any MacBook made in 2008 qualifies for the upgrade.

I know your next question already: What about requiring matched pairs of RAM for fastest performance? Well, I’ve never really believed that the average user can tell a difference between a machine with matched pairs and one without. There are several studies out there confirming that the infinitesimal speed loss from not interleaving is more than offset by the availability of more physical memory. Any time you can avoid the use of virtual memory, you’re going to see a big speed boost.

You’ll be excited to know that the unibody laptops all support 6 or even 8GB as well!

It’s a bit complicated I know, but our sales team is trained to know whether your machine qualifies. Swing by one of our stores or give a ring and we can help.

 
   
     
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