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#747: Protect your MagSafe Adapter, Apple Updates iPhoto to 9.1.1, RotW: Kernel Panics


Happy Tuesday,

While much of the northeast digging out from record-breaking snowfall, and a few Small Dog employees stuck at airports around the region, here in central Vermont we didn’t see much snow at all. In fact, at our Waitsfield, VT headquarters, we might have three new inches on the ground.

A few weeks ago Don announced a contest to the company. Whoever guessed the correct day of the first foot of snowfall in a 24-hour period in Waitsfield would win a pair of round trip plane tickets to anywhere in the United States. I went to bed Sunday thinking about where I’d head with a good friend. Alas, that didn’t pan out, but I really should get back to planning that trip, even if airfare isn’t free.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Properly Protect your MagSafe Adapter  

One of the most common things we see in our shop is MagSafe power adapters with damaged wire insulation and/or fraying where the thin cord meets the power brick or where the cord meets the actual MagSafe tip. While many consider this the result of a design flaw (coupled with the fact that Apple does offer free replacement in some situations), the simple fact is that these conditions are completely avoidable.

It is my opinion that Apple’s offer to replace these damaged cords is more a customer service measure than a reaction to any design or build quality issue. I have three 85 watt adapters from the original MacBook Pro; they are the larger variety, about four years old, and in fine condition. The logical solution is to not let there be tension at the two crucial points of the cord.

Most commonly, fraying at the power brick end is the result of wrapping the thin cord too tightly when the adapter isn’t in use. Wrap it more loosely, and wrap it such that the cord remains perpendicular to the power brick. This eliminates the strain. The same principle applies for the MagSafe tip end: keep it perpendicular to the computer to eliminate strain, but also never pull on the cord to remove the plug from the power port.

Replacement adapters are $79.99.

  Apple Updates iPhoto to 9.1.1  

On Tuesday, Apple released iPhoto 9.1.1, which contained a series of bug fixes and a slew of minor enhancements for the company’s popular photo application.

Following the launch of iLife ’11 earlier in the Fall, many early adopters griped over the seemingly reduced email functionality introduced in the software. Though email themes were one of the main features highlighted during the iPhoto portion of the ‘Back to the Mac’ keynote, the latest iteration of Apple’s longstanding application omitted support for third-party email clients—which seemed, to some, a step backwards.

Thankfully with version 9.1.1, Apple has responded to user feedback and enabled support for third-party clients in addition to several other improvements. While tuning up the email portion of the application, Apple has also included several new themes as well as the ability to easily resize photos within email.

While other changes are fairly minor, they are listed as follows in the support document accompanying the software update.

  • Adds a preference allowing photos to be emailed using an external email application
  • Adds “Classic” and “Journal” themes to email.
  • Photos attached to an email can now be sized to Small, Medium or Large
  • Improves reliability when upgrading a library from an earlier version of iPhoto
  • iPhoto now correctly preserves the sort order of Events after upgrading a library
  • Event titles displayed in headers can now be edited in Photos view
  • Addresses a problem that could cause duplicate photos to be added to a MobileMe album
  • Scrolling overlay now correctly displays ratings when photos are sorted by rating
  • Photos are now sorted correctly when a rating is changed and photos are sorted by rating
  • Fixes a problem that could cause text formatting controls to become inaccessible when editing a calendar

Apple recommends the update for all users of iPhoto ’11 and has made it available both on their download page and through Software Update.

Please note this update requires Mac OS X 10.6.3 or later, weighs in at 62.09 MB, and requires a copy of the iLife ’11 software suite. Per usual, we recommend running a Time Machine backup prior to installing any updates. If iPhoto ’11 has taught us anything so far, it’s that you can never be too careful with your data.

  Repair of the Week: Kernel Panics  

If you’ve ever seen your screen turn gray and display a message saying you need to restart your computer (in several languages), you’ve seen a kernel panic. These can be caused by software or hardware malfunctions, and it’s usually easy to figure out what type of malfunction by simply booting your computer off a known good installation of Mac OS X on an external drive.

In our tech rooms, we actually boot computers over the network using NetBoot. If the kernel panics persist while booted over the network or a known good external drive, you have yourself a hardware problem.

This case is a 17-inch MacBook Pro (with silver keys) that displayed the kernel panic screen while booted off the network. The first troubleshooting step is almost always to swap out the RAM. This time, RAM was not the culprit. Apple’s service manuals suggest running their diagnostic software at this point, but it did not come up with any defects.

If you’ve ever used Apple Hardware Test on a computer that doesn’t boot up, then you understand how underpowered and inaccurate these tools can be. What’s available to service providers is only slightly more powerful than Apple Hardware Test, but generally is equally unhelpful.

Kernel panics are tough to pin down, so the best approach is always to strip a machine down to a minimal configuration inside, and add parts back one by one. If the problem persists with the minimal configuration, it’s time to order a logic board. In this case, I added back the hard drive, optical drive, and AirPort card before the problem resurfaced. A known good AirPort card resolved the issue, and the customer was back in business in less than twenty four hours.

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