view in plain text or web browser  
Tech Tails | Apple news straight from the Tech Room | | 800-511-MACS
#726: Archive Utility: What Is It?, RotW: MacBook Pro Video Distortion, Hybrid Hard Drives


Happy Tuesday,

At long last, the beginning of the end of the gulf oil spill is at hand. It is an extremely unsettling and sad fiasco to watch unfold, and the long-term effects are yet to be seen. With some fisheries reopening, many consumers remain skeptical that the seafood is safe to eat—myself included. It’s so tragic that the region’s food culture, so intimately tied to the strength of communities, families, traditions, and the economy, is in such a fragile state. So many humans feel detached from our ecosystem, and this wake-up call puts into focus how everything is interconnected.

Customers sometimes email me and our support team asking why liquid damage to a single component in their computers can cause problems in other components. Because every component in a computer is directly connected, exposure of one component to liquid can wreak havoc with other components. Just like the oil and dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico damage plankton and other creatures in the food chain, a drop of water on your inverter board could fry your display. No unquestionably beneficial dispersants or consequence-free beneficial bacteria exist to repair the corrosion.

Just because we cannot instantly defeat society’s dependence on petroleum does not mean you cannot prevent liquid damage to your computer. Just put your drink on the floor. Party in the dorm room? Put the computer away. Cold air conditioned office with humid weather outside? Put the computer in a case and let them both slowly come to temperature when you leave work. Consider a keyboard cover with the knowledge that it’s not a perfect solution.

In no way do I intend to compare the devastation of any oil spill to that of a fried computer. But, let’s be careful, and take well-calculated risks in all we do. The oil spill might not be directly crippling for you, but the financial and data loss implications of a fried computer certainly could be—wherever you happen to be.

As always, keep in touch.


  Archive Utility: What Is It?  

A long-time Small Dog customer asked me about an item that fleetingly appeared in his dock. It was a generic-looking green icon with a zipper on it called Archive Utility, and when he used Spotlight to search for it, it was nowhere to be found.

Many of the items you download and receive in your email are compressed files. File compression is nothing new, and is exactly what you think it is: when you compress a file, you make it smaller. This reduces bandwidth loads and expenses on the server side, and can help you save disk space on your computer. However, compressed files cannot be directly accessed; they must first be decompressed.

Back in the days of twenty megabyte hard drives (my LC II had a 20 megabyte drive in the early nineties), file compression seemed more relevant for conservation of hard disk space. These days, it’s more often used to shrink email attachments and other downloads. Mac OS X always included a built-in compressor and decompressor. By right-clicking on any file or folder in the Finder and selecting “Compress” from the contextual (pop-down) menu, your Mac will create an archive in zip format.

When you open a compressed file, Mac OS X launches an application called Archive Utility. Its sole purpose is to compress and decompress files. It’s located in /System/Library/CoreServices, and Spotlight doesn’t search there. If you poke around the /System/Library and /Library areas of your hard drive, there’s plenty to learn if you Google intelligently and use extreme caution when moving or deleting anything. Actually—don’t move or delete anything. Just explore and learn!

  Repair of the Week: MacBook Pro Video Distortion  

This week’s repair is a first-generation unibody MacBook Pro that showed intermittent signs of video distortion in one user account but not in others. Our customer is a graphic designer, so we set her up with a free loaner computer while her Mac was in for repair. (Did you know that Small Dog offers free loaners to customers who buy their computer and AppleCare from us?)

Usually in this situation, where a machine exhibits misbehavior under one user but not the other, software corruption is to blame. This case is different, though, because the first generation MacBook Pros have two graphics cards on their main logic boards. One is more powerful than the other, and you can opt to use one or both to either save battery life or increase performance. This is done in the Energy Saver preference pane in System Preferences.

Our customer had one account for herself, which had the higher performance option selected. The more powerful graphics card had failed, causing the video distortion; when she logged out for her daughter to use the machine under her own account, with the better battery life option selected, there were no signs of trouble. So, we ordered up a main logic board (all Apple laptops have the graphics processor(s) soldered to the logic board), and the trouble went away. It’s not too often that the tried and true method of software/hardware isolation fails us, but a thorough knowledge of the product in question is what saved the day.

  Hybrid Hard Drives Are Here!  

A few months ago, in Tech Tails #716, I wrote about Seagate’s new hybrid hard drives that bridge the gap between a full-on solid state drive (SSD) and a standard platter-based hard drive. These high-capacity hybrid drives are just becoming available, and we have them on our site here.

These drives feature a very large cache that learns which files require the most frequent access and moves them into the solid state cache portion of the drive. It does this independently of the operating system, so no special drivers are required to take full advantage of the technology. Seagate reports that the drives are 100% faster than a conventional 2.5-inch laptop drive running at 5400 RPM, and 80% faster than a conventional 2.5-inch drive running at 7200 RPM.

For those of you not quite ready to upgrade your Intel-based Apple laptop to the latest and greatest, installing one of these drives and upgrading your RAM will be a very cost-effective (and very effective) upgrade to hold you over until you’re ready for the full-on upgrade.

The best part of this new product is the price. While it is higher than its conventional counterpart, it is still orders of magnitude lower than the prices we thought acceptable only a few years ago. The 7200 RPM 2.5-inch laptop hybrid drive is only $154.99. If you have a unibody machine, installing it is easy; if not, though, please exercise caution or simply bring it to your closest authorized service provider for assistance.

Tech Tails readers can save $15 by buying clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletters.

  FEATURED SPECIAL | 08/03/10 - 08/09/10  

Did you know that Apple computers are the most popular choice on campus this year, with a majority of students saying they’d prefer to use a Mac at school? We would wager that it is due to their top-rated reliability and no PC viruses.

While parents get Macs for students so they can focus on learning rather than troubleshooting computer problems, students want Macs because they are powerful, easy to use, and let’s face it—cool.

Summer is running out, so we’ve made it easy to do all your Mac to School technology shopping in one stop. Buy any Mac together with AppleCare and get a free $50 or $100 gift card. Use the free gift card immediately, or save it for later—it never expires!

Click here to read our 2010 Mac to School offers and suggestions. And don’t forget, buy any Mac with AppleCare and get a free $50 or $100 gift card to Small Dog Electronics, good to use any way you like!

  TT SPECIALS | 7/27/2010 - 8/3/2010  
   500GB 2.5in SATA Hard Drive 7200 RPM Hybrid - Save $15 and FREE Shipping!
   iMac 27in 2.8GHz Quad-Core i5 4GB/1TB, FREE $100 Gift Card, iWork, AppleCare!
   iPod touch 32GB, AppleCare, FREE Maxx AM/ FM Clock Radio with iPod Dock!
   MacBook 2.1GHz 4GB (upgraded from 1GB), 120GB, Combo Drive, Free Sleeve!
   Apple 24in LED Cinema Display, Free 3-year AppleCare Plan, Flat $4.99 Shipping!
   MacBook Pro 15in 2.53GHz 4GB/250GB/Antiglare, FREE iWork!
   CinemaView 24-inch Mini DisplayPort LCD Monitor with Free Shipping!