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.
Many of us live and work in areas with many available wireless networks, or cannot get a full strength signal from our networks for whatever reason. While AirPort reception on modern desktop and portable Macs is excellent, and getting better with each generation, sometimes we just need better reception.
There are solutions that include disassembling your computer and stringing an antenna through the Express Card slot or performing other modifications, but my favorite tool for this job is the “QuickerTek Quicky Jr. II.”:http://www.smalldog.com/product/74259/quickertek-quicky-jr-ii
This little antenna simply plugs into any available USB port and gives you up to three times the range than you’d get with the built-in wireless hardware. A stronger signal means faster transfer speeds, lower latency, and a more satisfying user experience–particularly if you use Time Machine to back up wirelessly, or stream uncompressed audio to an AirPort Express (like I do every day).
The AirPort signal strength menu bar item has five “bars,” and indicates signal strength logarithmically. So, if all the bars are black, you have a signal ten times more powerful than when only four bars are black. You can imagine then just how much signal strength matters for speed. Our customers report also that using the Quicky Jr II in areas congested with wireless networks helps your speeds regardless of signal strength.
Quicky comes with easy to install software, and is compatible with Mac OS X Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard. It supports 802.11 b, g, and n, and all encryption types except WPA Enterprise.
This week I was having issues with my little Mimobot 2GB “flash drive”:http://www.smalldog.com/category/x/x/x/Storage_and_Backup|Flash_Drives. I had a some documents saved on my flash drive (not totaling more than about 62MB worth of space); however, my flash drive was telling me I only had 775MB free, which wasn’t possible.
I had deleted some documents off of the flash drive–and had emptied my trash–so I knew I deleted everything! I was trying to load about 20 songs onto it, but they would just not load. Getting frustrated, as I needed iTunes to jam out to at work, I decided to pull up Disk Utility (found under Applications > Utilities Folder).
I decided I would just erase the drive and start fresh, as I had everything saved on my personal machine. I selected my little flash drive “2.0 GB Mimobot Media” on the left hand side, and then clicked the “Partition” tab.
From there, I selected “1 Partition” under the “Volume Scheme” (I chose to partition it because sometimes I use my flash drive to show customers on PCs how they can transfer things from their Mac–it’s formated in MS-DOS (FAT) which is read by both the PC and the Mac). Then I hit “Apply”; it took about 35 seconds and my drive was erased. All of a sudden I had 2.1GB! I went ahead and reformatted all my flash drives and got all my gigs back!
Personally, I will do a flash drive “clean up” about once every three months just to make sure I am getting the maximum space possible.
While there are plenty of viable search engines out there like Yahoo, Dogpile, and even Microsoft’s new Bing, we all know, love, and constantly use Google. There’s more to Google than simple search of the whole Internet. Here are a few ways to Google like a pro.
Exact phrase search is possible by wrapping your search terms in quotations marks. For example, “small dog electronics” vs. small dog electronics will bring up slightly different results, particularly if you use the Google News or Images service.
You can exclude words from a search by using a hyphen (-). Form your search for Lance Armstrong articles that don’t talk about doping by typing “Lance Armstrong” -doping.
You can get the definition of a word by typing define:obscure.
To show search results within a certain numerical range, you want to type your search terms followed by the range. For example, Michael Jackson 1970…1980.
Many of you recently asked if there’s an easy way to search Small Dog’s “Newsletter archives”:http://www.smalldog.com/newsletters. Yes, and this applies to any website. Simply browse to the site you wish to search, type your search terms into Google followed by site:blog.smalldog.com/techtails (or, the site you wish to search). For example, consulting site:blog.smalldog.com/techtails will yield all the articles discussing our consulting offerings.
If you read something fascinating and wonder who else links to the page you’re on, type link:twitter.com/hellosmalldog
Finally, you can do unit conversion right in Google. For example, 23 miles to km, 56 USD to Yen, 1 yard to meters.
There are plenty of other power-user features of Google, which you can find by Googling!
Every so often I call for an all-hands meeting of the Small Dog service department, and tomorrow morning we’re all gathering in our Waitsfield headquarters for a few hours of discussion on policy, pricing, bundles, best practices, product offerings, and how we can service you more quickly and efficiently.
After all, we wouldn’t be here if you didn’t entrust us to do the best job as fast and completely as possible. One thing we’re unveiling, as hinted in “previous issues of Tech Tails”:http://blog.smalldog.com/techtails is a glass and screen replacement service for aluminum unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros. These items are listed in the “parts section”:http://www.smalldog.com/category/x/x/x/Parts of our website, and you’ll find that glass and screen repairs are up to half the cost of Apple’s asking price for physical damage repairs.
Just send an email to “email@example.com,”:mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org call us at 800-511-6227 to arrange for a repair or order the parts alone for self-installation (at your own risk!).
As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.