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#782: iPod Troubleshooting, RotW: First-Generation Mac Pro, Magnify on the Fly


Happy Tuesday,

We’re recovering from the epic rains and flooding from Irene. I spent yesterday shoveling muck from neighbors’ houses and generally cleaning up in Moretown Village, which was under as much as eight feet of water Sunday night. The entire state took a big hit, and just as expected, communities are coming together to clean and rebuild.

The scene Sunday night was just incredible. Down by the Mad River, propane tanks hissed loudly as they barreled downstream and the smell of gas was overwhelming. One homeowner used his canoe to rescue a motorist who foolishly tried to drive through rushing water. Paddling back to shore, he watched his porch separate from his home and violently snap apart as it went with the current.

The last flood of this magnitude was in 1927. Here’s hoping it’s at least another 84 years until the next one.

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


  Tip of the Week: iPod Troubleshooting  

While many of us have switched from iPod to iPhone, or even given up either for iPad, it certainly seems that most of us still have working iPods. Every iPod’s day comes eventually, but in a wide variety of cases, it is possible to revive a seemingly dead iPod with one of five simple steps.

Apple calls them the Five Rs.

Hard drive-based iPods like iPod Classic have a telltale failure that’s easily diagnosed by simply pressing your ear to the back of the iPod. If you hear clicking or grinding that repeats at regular intervals, odds are the hard drive inside the iPod has failed.

While only a tiny percentage of these devices actually fail in their first years of existence, some do. Because hard drives are like record players, it’s not surprising that shaking an iPod over the course of a year will cause hard drive failure.

The Five Rs mentioned above will not fix a broken hard drive, nor a cracked screen, nor dents on the corner of your iPod. But you have nothing to lose by trying the troubleshooting steps when your iPod isn’t working properly.

  Repair of the Week: First-Generation Mac Pro  

The Mac Pro has always been a beast of a computer, and even the first-generation examples remain so. Their reliability is second to none amongst the Apple product line, but with some approaching three years old, we are beginning to see more failures. This week’s repair is on an 8-core 3.0 GHz unit outfitted with a Fibre Channel card normally connected to an Xserve RAID, 16GB of RAM, a super high-end Kona video card and four 2TB hard drives set up in RAID 5.

Needless to say, this is a computer our customer desperately needed back up and running as quickly as possible.

Because he bought AppleCare and the computer from Small Dog, he enjoyed a free loaner computer during the repair. But because we need the entire machine—fibre channel card, RAM and all the hard drives—to properly diagnose, he had to make do with a more-or-less stock Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro came in for random kernel panics during Time Machine backups of the startup partition to a FireWire 800 LaCie external drive. The first step was to swap the the RAM with known-good chips, and the kernel panics persisted. We then booted the computer from an external drive with a known-good operating system, and the kernel panics persisted. Then, we unplugged the internal drives and booted the machine again off the external drive. No luck.

Component isolation is where you strip a computer down to its minimal configuration, unplug every nonessential component and then plug them back in one by one until the problem reappears. When it does, you can be fairly certain the component just reinstalled is the culprit. In its minimal state and not showing symptoms, we plugged the optical drives in one by one with no luck. It can only be called good luck that the second component swapped in, the Bluetooth card, brought the kernel panics back. Swapping in a good one fixed the problem.

This was an easy one, but some of the harder Mac Pro diagnoses can take a very long time and are often a combination of software and hardware. More common failures are of hard drives, processors, logic boards, RAM and RAM riser cards. Logic boards and processors are very expensive, so this customer was very lucky!

  From the Archives: Magnify on the Fly  

One of the things that makes the Mac OS intuitive is Apple’s use of universal symbols. Apple also extends these symbols to most of their software titles, creating a cohesive environment. The most common examples are Apple’s use of the ‘+’ and ‘-’ symbols for adding and deleting, the magnifying glass icon for searching and the gear icon for changes or additional options.

While the use of these universal symbols adds to the usability of the OS, they are sometimes overlooked. The symbol that I find is most commonly overlooked is the magnification slider found in Finder and iPhoto. Just yesterday a customer emailed support with a screenshot of iPhoto. It appeared that he was looking at single large image, and he was writing because he couldn’t get himself into “thumbnail view” despite having clicked on ‘Photos.’

I immediately looked at the lower right of the screenshot and saw that his magnification slider was slid all the way to the right, which is the highest magnification. He was in thumbnail view; his thumbnails had just been blown up to the full window size. By dragging the slider back towards the left, he was able to view the pictures in a more traditional thumbnail size.

This slider can come in pretty handy, though! Not only is it nice to temporarily blow thumbnails up to a more viewable size, or scale them down to a mini-size if you have a ton of photos and want to scroll through them quickly, you can also easily use the magnification slider in Finder when viewing a Finder window in icon view.

Try it out! Open a new Finder window by clicking on the smiling blue Mac face in your dock (or, if you love menus, you can go to the Finder and to File > New Finder Window). Now navigate to a folder with many documents or pictures in it; it’s much more fun with pictures! Get yourself into icon view by selecting the icon that looks like four squares on the top left of the Finder window. You should now see the slider on the bottom right; you can play around by dragging the slider to the left and right and watch your icons grow and shrink.

Being able to resize photos and documents on the fly makes it even easier to find the item you want quickly. If you’re rocking Leopard or Snow Leopard, check out the Quick Look feature (select a document or picture in Finder and press the space bar), which helps fine-tune the process even further. Play around with it and have fun!

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