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#707: MobileMe Sync Issues, A Missing Dock, Apple Excitement and Steam for Mac

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

The Mad River lives up to its name and floods the valley every few years, right to the top of meandering terraces carved over the centuries by floods just like this. It was certainly not a hundred-year-flood, but the field outside the warehouse was completely underwater and the pond consumed. The warehouse is at a smart elevation, as another twelve feet of water would be needed to become a real problem.

Owen, of course, ran straight for the churning muddy water, filled with whole trees and other detritus. I’m thankful he listened to my call, turned around, and came into the office.

Tomorrow afternoon starting at 4:45 will be the second episode of Tech Tails TV. You can tweet your tech dilemma or question to @hellosmalldog, post on our Facebook page, or send a message to our AIM account, TechTailsTV. Of course, you can just send me or send Rebecca a message and we’ll do our best to answer your questions on the air.

 
   
     
  MobileMe Sync Issues  
   
 

I am a die-hard MobileMe fan. I use MobileMe to wirelessly sync my contacts, calendars, mail and more among three computers and my iPhone. In general, MobileMe syncing is phenomenal. Unfortunately, it’s not flawless.

The first thing to do when troubleshooting a MobileMe issue is to identify which device (i.e. Computer or iPhone) is having the issue. The best way to do this is to first check your MobileMe Cloud by logging in to www.me.com. If none of your data is on there then syncing is not working from any of your devices. If your data is on there, see if you can figure out which device is having the sync issue by adding a new calendar item or contact to your devices and then force a sync.

On an iPhone, the syncing will be automatic. On your computer, you can force-sync by going to the Sync icon in your menu bar (it looks like two arrows chasing each other) and select “Sync Now.” Then, reload the MobileMe Cloud website and see which device successfully synced the data and which device did not.

In general, most MobileMe sync issues can be resolved by simply toggling synchronization on and off. For example, if my contacts aren’t syncing to my phone I’d go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > My MobileMe account and toggle the “Calendar” switch off and back on again. If the issue was that my phone was syncing fine but the data wasn’t getting to my computer, I’d go to System Preferences > MobileMe > Sync and uncheck “Synchronize with MobileMe” and then tell it to sync again.

Sometimes, resetting MobileMe syncing does not resolve the issue, and then you need to dig a little deeper. First off, make sure it’s not user error. Check syncing preferences on both your iPhone and your computer and make sure they’re set appropriately. Next, make sure you’re looking at the right screen on your iPhone.

For example, if you think your contacts are not syncing with your iPhone, be sure you are viewing the “All Contacts” screen. If you think your calendar is not syncing to your iPhone be sure you’re viewing “All Calendars” and not just an individual calendar on your iPhone.

The issue that I ran into today while helping a client was a “data integrity error” that he received when attempting to sync his calendar from MobileMe to his computer. In this situation, I had to reset his sync preferences. First, I backed up his calendar in iCal. Next I reset the sync preferences by disabling MobileMe syncing in System Preferences. Then I opened iSync and ‘Reset Sync History’ in preferences. I then re-enabled syncing and, when prompted, I told MobileMe to replace all data on the computer. So far so good!

It should be noted that there are different ways to reset syncing depending on what version of the operating system you use. The above scenario was in 10.5.8. Apple has three great articles on how to resolve MobileMe sync issues:

MobileMe: Troubleshooting iPhone or iPod touch sync issues
Mac OS X v10.5, v10.6: Resetting the SyncServices folder
Sync Services: Advanced troubleshooting for contact and calendar syncing

Check those articles out if you need further help. Happy syncing!

 
   
     
  A Missing Dock and Lesson in Basic Troubleshooting  
   
 

My young niece called me last night for help, as friends and family often do, with her grandmother’s MacBook. The Dock and Dock preferences were suddenly inaccessible. While she could navigate through the Finder and launch applications, she could not enjoy the convenience of the dock. She’s not a Mac user, and was in a panic thinking she’d ruined Grandma’s computer.

Troubleshooting began by shutting down the computer and safe-booting it by holding the shift key immediately after the startup chime. Safe booting will disable any third party or extraneous Apple kernel extensions (kexts), and will disable automatic login. It’ll also do a file system consistency check equal to the “repair disk” function of Disk Utility if booted off your computer’s restore disks. Of course, the computer belonging to Grandma, she did not know the password. Another normal restart revealed that Grandma had automatic login enabled, so we were free to navigate and troubleshoot.

First step was to check to see if the restart fixed the issue (it didn’t). I then directed her to Activity Monitor, where I asked her to show All Processes from the Show pull-down menu. Filtering by the %CPU field revealed nothing unusual, so I asked to quit Activity Monitor and navigate to ~/Library/Preferences and delete com.apple.dock.plist. This revealed another problem: she was unable to modify anything in this folder.

I checked the folder’s permissions, and they were set properly. The only option I had was to use Terminal to delete the file. My niece deftly navigated to the upper-right corner of the screen to type Terminal into Spotlight. With terminal open, I had her type the following (if you ever need to do this, substitute your user’s name for “nana”).

rm /Users/nana/Library/Preferences/com.apple.dock.plist

and then

killall Dock

This removed the preferences for the Dock, and then restarted the Dock process. The Dock popped right up at the bottom of the screen, with all the icons from before.

I can’t say what corrupted those specific files, and it’s rarely the case that I can. The theory behind this step is to remove an application’s or processes property list (plist, or preference) file so it can be regenerated. If something is not behaving as it should, this is often the troubleshooting step that resolves problems.

 
   
     
  Apple Excitement and Steam for Mac  
   
 

As an Apple fan, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as I am now. If I could roll the clock ahead to April right now then I would, and woe be it to anyone who tried to stop me. Why am I so excited? Well, two things really.

First, obviously, is the iPad. Somehow in the last week I have gone from staunch iPad skeptic to literally “in a froth” to get my hands on one (thanks Penny Arcade for the excellent descriptor of my frenzied state). I’ll be the first to admit that as it was presented it is a fairly unassuming device. It doesn’t really do anything that you can’t do with an iPhone and a MacBook, and falls awkwardly somewhere between. But oh, the promise! The sheer potential of such a device is astounding. My intent is to purchase one as a statement, if nothing else. A statement to developers that I need them to develop great apps for it. But enough about the iPad.

What really has me excited for April is the announcement that Valve, creators of Half Life, Portal, and Left for Dead, is bringing its Steam delivery service and Source Engine to the Mac platform. If you’re a Mac gamer, or wish you were, then this is amazing news. It’s no secret that our platform of choice is routinely ignored by game developers.

Apple themselves have also ignored us by refusing to offer us more powerful graphics options (yes, I really do need 1GB of VRAM). Blizzard has really been the sole supporter of Macs in the game realm, steadily releasing their Mac versions simultaneously with their Windows counterparts – in some cases on the same disks. Valve’s Mac support should encourage other companies to follow suit.

It’s already panning out like I expected. Razer already announced they will fully support MacOS X with their line of gamer-centric peripherals (I’m a huge fan of their mice). My guess is that we’ll soon see larger publishers like Electronic Arts (EA) and Ubisoft hire Mac-savvy programmers to help build native versions of their games, rather than the bogged down ports we receive now.

Even if other developers don’t immediately jump on board, I can’t express in words how excited I am to be able to download my already large library of Source games without first rebooting into Windows. When Portal 2 is released this holiday season, I’ll finally be able to consider myself a Mac gamer instead of a gamer who likes Macs.

 
   
     
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