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#743: Simple Solutions to Complex Problems, KISS: Remember Your Resets, iOS 4.2: App Performance Issues?


Happy Tuesday,

I’m writing this week from our Manchester, NH store in the Mall of New Hampshire. It is our first holiday season in the mall, and we were delighted by the turnout by new and repeat customers in each of our locations. While our one-day-only specials were valid only on the day after Thanksgiving, there are special holiday deals available through the end of the year.

Much of Vermont saw heavy snowfall on Saturday; driving home from the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York, I ran into some very heavy squalls and some very interesting soft hail. I’d never seen such easily-collapsible, lightweight, fluffy-yet-somewhat hard snowballs coming from the sky. Some of this soft hail remains on my lawn in Moretown, and I hope to see some other new types of precipitation before too long.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Complex Problems Often Have Simple Solutions  

A long time ago while working for Radio Shack, a co-worker gave me a series of motivational tapes by Joel Weldon. One of the more important passages began with “Elephants don’t bite”—the big things usually aren’t what get you. Typically it’s the gnats, the horse flies, the bees, the mosquitoes—tiny as they are, they can be quite annoying. The little, seemingly insignificant things can cause more problems than one would think. Over my first few weeks as a tech here at Small Dog, I have learned that you can never overlook or discount the little things.

Sure, that sounds great, but how does that help someone who is trying to troubleshoot a computer with a nagging problem? One way is to take your large problem (it doesn’t boot and I have homework to do!) and break it down into a series of smaller, simpler possibilities.

We all laugh when we read the tech support horror stories about the guy who spent two hours troubleshooting a computer only to find that it wasn’t plugged in, hence the reason that obvious question is always asked first when you call for help. Techs I have worked with over the years absolutely hate it when I suggest obvious solutions, but I do it because sometimes the answer is so obvious we skipped over it because it was so simple. We get so used to dealing with difficult problems with complex solutions that we forget to try the quick fixes first. Before cracking the case to test a suspected faulty power supply, check the easy (small) things such as plugging something else into the wall outlet or the power strip to make sure that works. Power strips are designed to fail before the equipment plugged into it, so it is entirely possible that a brownout could have taken it right out. It’s a quick and cheap fix if that’s what happened, so it makes sense to try it first.

Another example from an incident that happened this week in Manchester: you have a MacBook that won’t recognize the hard disk. Disk Utility will not mount it, and may not even see it at all. The assumption? Dead hard drive. So you pull it out and replace it, fire up the OS X Install DVD, and the drive isn’t recognized. Pull the new drive out, plug it into an external connector and it works. Okay, maybe the drive is flaky, so try another drive…and the same thing happens. Given this, what’s the next thing to replace? The logic board? Costly, and time consuming. By now, perhaps some have already screamed out the answer: a bad connector cable. A seemingly minor thing that is often overlooked because, well, it’s just a cable, so what could go wrong with it?

Take care of the small things, and the big ones often take care of themselves.

  Keeping it Simple: Remember Your Resets  

With so many Macs in everyday use at Small Dog, we’re bound to run into hardware failures from time to time. We also follow our own advice and ensure that every company-owned computer is covered by AppleCare. Last week, I returned from my lunch break and clicked my Magic Mouse to wake my laptop, but nothing happened. Knowing the batteries in the mouse were low, I grabbed some new batteries and tried again.

After an attempt to re-pair the mouse failed, I asked Jon to try pairing the mouse with his iMac. When that failed, I went ahead and ordered a new Magic Mouse with my laptop’s AppleCare coverage, and dusted off my old wireless Mighty Mouse to continue working through the afternoon.

FedEx showed up early the next day with my new mouse, which I unpacked and tried to pair with my laptop. It wouldn’t pair. So, I tried the new mouse on Jon’s computer. No luck. Turns out that Jon’s iMac had a failed Bluetooth card, because the new mouse paired just fine with a laptop in our Waitsfield showroom. But, so did the old mouse.

I restarted my laptop, and reset the PRAM for good measure; no luck. By now you’ve probably guessed from the title of this article: all I needed to do was reset the System Management Controller (SMC).

  iOS 4.2 Causing App Performance Issues for Some  

In the wake of iOS 4.2’s release, we began to receive phone calls from concerned users claiming their go-to iPad apps had ceased to function upon updating. After inquiring about which apps were problematic, it was discovered that nearly 100% were from 3rd party developers. Unfortunately, this issue is a somewhat re-occurring one, which often presents itself when Apple issues an iOS update.

As Apple develops a new version of iOS, they typically test it thoroughly with their own hardware. However, testing and development usually center around Apple’s line-up of 1st party apps. Periodically during the development cycle, Apple seeds current versions of the software to registered 3rd party developers—similar to the process with Mac OS X updates. It is therefore the individual developer’s responsibility to ensure their app functions properly with the new software prior to its release.

Occasionally developers, especially those of smaller independent apps, fail to bring their software up to date in time to meet Apple’s release. While this is becoming a much less frequent occurrence, it still happens from time to time as developers encounter unforeseen bugs or obstacles in the update process. From personal experience, I can attest that every app I’ve launched since installing iOS 4.2 has run without a hitch. However, with the sheer multitude of apps available, there is simply no way to account for them all. While developers typically expedite updates to fix broken apps, all updates must be approved by Apple, which can hang up the process.

iOS 4.2 is a revolutionary upgrade for all iOS devices, and an exponential leap for the iPad. While it contains many more hits than misses, don’t be alarmed if you encounter a few app abnormalities here and there. Chances are, the developer is hard at work with an update, or may have even already submitted one to Apple. Of course, you could temporarily hold off on the update to guarantee smooth performance, but why would you want to miss out on all of those great new features?

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