Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Brother HL-6180DW - personal experience, AirPrint, and Printopia incompatibility/obsolescence.

I used an Apple LaserWriter Select 360 for about twenty years. When I could no longer buy a cartridge for it I got five years from a Brother MFC-7820N, then three years from a Brother 2140, and lately 3 months from a Brother HL 2270DW.

I'm not sure, but I think I might be seeing a bit of occult inflation.

The Wirecutter-recommended Brother HL 2270DW didn't actually malfunction, it simply turned out to be extraordinarily expensive to operate. We got about 600 print pages out of a $50 "2,600" page Brother toner cartridge. Seems Brother has brought the ink jet business model to the formerly respectable laser writer.

So I handed that printer off to some friends who really only need occasional printing, and I went looking for a respectable alternative. I'd like to say I bought something that wasn't Brother, but making marks on paper is a dying industry. The competition is no better, and at least Brother printer drivers seem relatively Mac friendly.

I ended up buying the HL-6180DW (today's dynamic Amazon price is $254, I paid $230 a week ago). it comes with a 3,000 page cartridge (no fake starter cartridge) and you can buy a 12,000 page TN780 cartridge for about $106. The drum is good for about 30,000 pages (at which point it will cease working whether you like it or note), so we might get five years out of this one.

Compared to the compact 2270 the 6180DW is less than an inch wider, but its at least 4" taller. It just fits the space I had for it. It's reasonably quiet and of course it prints quite adequately. I didn't try to enable the WiFi [4], it has an ethernet connection to my Airport Extreme so it's a networked ethernet printer. Our laptops find it because, after all, it's on the network (no print server needed). [3]

I like to keep my printer installations simple, so after downloading all the manuals [5] but not the latest drivers [1] I switched to my Admin account [2] and added the printer through Mountain Lion's interface. That worked well, but, unlike the 2270 DW, the print queue didn't provide a link to the printers web admin GUI.

So I had to find the printers IP address to get the web GUI. From the LCD panel, choose machine info, then print network settings [8]. That gave me the IP, paste into Chrome or Safari to get the Admin GUI.

There's no default pw, you can set one if you like. I don't know how to do a password reset, so be careful not to lose it. [9]

From that GUI note two key settings under Print:

  • Toner Save: turn ON. Seems to print fine with Toner Save on and we know Brother makes its money from toner sales.
  • Continue Mode: This controls what happens when your printer hits Brother's 20% remaining (600 pages in this case) mark. I believe the default means the printer will stop printing. I set it to "Auto". 

This all went relatively well, but then I discovered Printopia wasn't letting me select my new printer! Exasperating, since my #1 son loves printing from his iPhone. There were no error messages, but the new printer didn't appear. 

All was not lost however, as I discovered that AirPrint "just worked" [7]. Since the printer was on my mixed wired/wifi network, and since it supports AirPrint, my iOS devices saw it. No need to mess with printer's complex wifi settings [4]. So I removed Printopia, it was no longer needed. (I suspect it doesn't manage AirPrint devices, would have been nice to have shown a message of some kind.)

I didn't make too many other changes. I disabled NETBIOS (why not?), and clicking around I turned off TCP/IP for wireless. Don't do that! There's a UI glitch/bug, this turns off all TCP/IP support. I had to use the LCD panel network reset to get access back.

- fn -

[1] There's a firmware update but I didn't check to see if it was needed. I did need to download the 10.5 drivers for our old G5 iMac, that worked quite well.

[2] This may be a quirk of my Mountain Lion install, or simply a bug, but if I try to do the install/download from a non-admin account it fails even after authentication. I bet this is a 10.8.3 bug. 

[3] TCP/IP still feels magical to me. 

[4] If you do want WiFi don't even look at the insanely complex Quick Start Guide. Go to the web GUI (above) and find Wireless Personal, then change Communication Mode to Infrastructure and figure it out from there. I didn't try!

[5] Elsewhere I found the very esoteric Brother Laser Printer Technical Reference Guide.

[6] There may be an LCD control for this but I didn't see it. 

[7] A sadly rare event with Apple 2013. It turns out AirPrint is a misnomer, it should really be called iOSNetworkPrint.

[8] If you install Brother's driver software, the Print Queue window includes a status icon. Open that, and if you click twice on the icon for the printer Safari opens with the correct IP address. Yes, that's obscure.

[9] After I setup a password the next time I returned there was a Login field at screen top. There's no username, just enter the pw you defined in this field to get accdess to admin screens. I don't know how one would reset a lost passwords -- so be careful!

Update 10/27/13: AirPrint and toner spill

Looking at Amazon reviews I see this printer has a reputation for toner spillage. I ran the starter cartridge to the end and it did leak a small amount, so this might be a real problem and not just a counterfeit cartridge problem.

iOS devices can't see the AirPrint printer when the device is asleep. So to add the Brother as an AirPrint device first make it active. I don't know if it will waken in response to an AirPrint request.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is Brother running a scam with its HL-2270DW printer and TN-450 toner cartridge?

I think with the HL-2270DW  and its TN-450 toner cartridge Brother has figured out how to apply the ink-jet business model to the previously cost effective laser printer. The printer may be cheap, but the toner isn't. At our current use this $150 printer will cost us about $450 a year to operate. Using its default settings it's a good printer for very occasional use, but a poor printer for regular use. Wirecutter's recommendation is undeserved.

I'll describe our experience, two workarounds you need to know about, and why you should consider a different printer.

Our experience is that in printing 1,459 pages we have completely consumed the 150-200 page "starter cartridge" that comes with the printer and almost two "2,600 page" ($45) TN-450 cartridges. We're getting about 600 pages out of the "ISO/IEC 19752" 2,600 page cartridge.

Screen Shot 2013 05 21 at 7 01 16 PM

This is quite different from our previous MFC-7820N and 2140 printers. At first I thought Amazon had shipped a defective or counterfeit cartridge, but I had almost exactly the same results from a different supplier. Both packages had Brother's standard hologram; I don't think they were counterfeit. This printer simply uses a lot of toner when printing text pages with images, and Brother charges a lot for its matched cartridges.

Ah, but who uses a b&w laser printer to print images? It's a kid thing in our house. It means we're running into this problem a lot sooner than most, but if you found this page via Google you may be seeing a lesser version of it.

Did Brother design this printer and cartridge to consumer large amounts of toner, or was it a happy accident? I don't know, but it doesn't matter. If you're using this printer for anything more than the occasional letter you need to read the manual [1] and turn Toner Save on.

toner save on

With Toner Save on, and Replace Toner Continue, toner consumption starts to resemble other low end printers. The print quality is lighter but tolerable.

 Replace toner continuous

Really though, if you do anything but the most occasional printing, you shouldn't buy this printer. The 1,500 pages we've printed (I just printed another) mean we're already at 12% of the 10,541 page drum life. We'll be finished with this printer in about 16 months. What a waste!

So, if I were to do it all over again, what would I buy? I'd love to say I'd get something from HP or Samsung or anything else, but the truth is the home printer business is dying. Brother was always the best of the lot, and even though this printer is a bit of a scam the competition looks even worse. Sadly, I'd probably buy another Brother, but one made for heavier use.

The Brother I recommend is HL-6180DW ($230); its TN-780 is "12,000" pages ($105, so half the page cost of the TN-450 even if this Brother also burns toner) and the drum life is 30,000 pages. It also ships with a standard "3,000 page" cartridge instead of a 200 page "starter" cartridge. Over the cost of a year, for even moderate users, the HL-6180DW is better and cheaper than the HL-2270DW. Buy that one instead. [2]

- fn - 

[1] If you don't want to read the manual or install Brother apps, the quickest way to the web interface is print preferences, open queue, choose settings, click on Show Printer Webpage:

Screen Shot 2013 05 21 at 7 01 32 PM 

[2] Brother has an HL-5450DN that ships with a 3,000 page cartridge, has a 30,000 page drum, and costs $150. I was insane to listen to Wirecutter and buy the HL-2270DW. I hope I've learned my lesson.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Configuring OS X and iOS for elders: Simplifying email, remove the Reminder items from Snow Leopard Mail

My mother first started using a Mac about six years ago, and an iPad 3 years ago. I wrote posts on how I configured both (I need to update some links to documents lost when Apple set fire to iWeb) [5]:

Her limited vision and ambulation mean she doesn't get that much use out of her devices these days, but she is quite proud of them. She particularly enjoys having her iPad on a prominent chair side stand. [4]

The one thing she most likes is to read email. She can't reply any more, but she likes to see it. The use of an ancient desktop [4] CRT running in 800x600 combined with the largest available font sizes means she can slowly digest whatever I send her.

The catch is there are too many sidebar items in Mail on iOS and on OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). It's too easy for her click on the wrong "box" and get lost in Drafts or Sent mail. There's an easy for fix for that, but I missed it for some time.

Since she gets her email via IMAP from her Google account [1] all I had to do was use the Labels Setting in Gmail configure to disable IMAP access for everything except the Inbox. That greatly simplified her iOS and OS X (Snow Leopard) Mail sidebars. (See below for a caveat on OS X Mail restarts.)

I was still left with a "Reminders" item in Snow Leopard I searched around for tips on how to remove that -- and found lots of frustration and some red herrings but no answers. Alas, this was an Apple usability Fail. Go to iCal (!) and in the sidebar look for "EMAIL INBOX", uncheck "Mail To Do". Restart Mail and it's gone. [Uh Oh: See Update!)

One Snow Leopard caveat to note: Between the IMAP changes and the MobileMe removal I found I needed to restart Mail 1-2 times and OS X once to get all the changes established.

In iBook the Athelas font scales to much larger font sizes than some of the others.

As long as I'm on this topic, I'll pass on a few semi-related tips from some long delayed Snow Leopard/MobileMe maintenance [3]

  • Sign out of MobileMe then restart. I think that's needed to clean out residual MobileMe settings [2].
  • Set iOS Contacts back to old-fashioned (cable or wifi) iTunes sync - need to keep her SL desktop and iPad in sync.
  • Enable the old Google Contacts to OS X Address Book sync. This is triggered whenever the iPad syncs by cable or Wifi and, with her tiny Address Book, it seems to work and manage conflicts pretty well. I'd be wary of trying this with a real world Address/Contact collection.
- fn -

[1] (She doesn't interact with Gmail directly, though I do that remotely as needed.)

[2] Apple's decision to exile Snow Leopard users when they discontinued MobileMe was a nice gift to Google.

[3] I make the trip to the old country q3months, and computer maintenance isn't at the top of the list. This trip I got more done than usual.

[4] If I were setting her up today she wouldn't have a desktop of course. I must note though that in some way she prefers the desktop. The iPad is heavy and awkward for her; she needs something half the weight but the iPad 7 display is too wee.

[5] A lot of the things I've done to simplify her Mac/iOS use also work well for very young children and special needs users

Update 5/13/13: Ok, that Damned Reminders To Do thing is some kind of bug.  It returned mysteriously. I wonder if it's somehow related to the end of MobileMe. There are about seven "ghost" tasks that show up without any attributes, and somehow display in Maill regardless of the iCal Mail setting. Resetting old SL iSync and disabling it didn't help. After a bunch of manipulations I got some message about 'server versions' not matching local versions. I might have gotten somewhere by deleting everything in Library/Calendars -- which is only feasible because she doesn't use Calendars.  Alas, I had to leave before confirming this bug is truly squashed.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Parental Controls after OS X 10.8.2: EXC_CRASH and changes to https handling

The kids don't often use my Mountain Lion machines, so I only learned recently that Apple made some significant changes to Parental Controls with the 10.8.2 update. I don't rememberer seeing any documentation at the time and there's nothing in the release notes.

I found out about the changes when I opened the Parental Control Preference Pane on my main Mac. It crashed. I rebooted, it still crashed, and crashed ...

The crash message looked like this one one from last year (I'm on 10.8.3):

Mountain Lion Parental Control time...: Apple Support Communities

Process: System Preferences [2658]
Path: /Applications/System Preferences
Version: 12.0 (12.0)
Build Info: SystemPrefsApp-232000000000000~22
Code Type: X86-64 (Native)
Parent Process: launchd [488]
User ID: 502

Crashed Thread: 0 Dispatch queue:

Exception Type: EXC_CRASH (Code Signature Invalid)
Exception Codes: 0x0000000000000000, 0x0000000000000000

Application Specific Information: v.400 (Kindersicherung)
objc[2658]: GC: forcing GC OFF because OBJC_DISABLE_GC is set

I was able get around the crash by turning off parental controls for the affected user from the the User Preference Pane. Then I could open and close the Parental Controls Preference Pane; after that I could reenable PCs for the affected account.

I assume the my old preferences were not compatible with the 10.8.2+ version of Parental Controls, and Apple's code didn't handle this very well. Old bug, not fixed. Disappointing, but there's a workaround.

Which leads to the obvious question -- what the heck did Apple change in 10.8.2 Parental Controls? For sure they didn't fix any of the longstanding defects -- like an execrable UI for log review.

The answer is in a 12 page Apple Discussion Thread, pointing to a mislabeled Apple KB article (it says it's 10.6, but it was revised June 2012 and the change came with 10.8.2). Apple changed how they handle https sites when "Try to limit access to adult websites automatically" is selected in Parental Controls.

You see, Apple's Parental Control infrastructure has never worked with SSL encrypted (https) sites [1]. So they have to decide what to do when someone tries to access an https site. Since the https site is effectively invisible, Apple can either decide to trust it completely or distrust it completely. Prior to 10.8.2 Apple's "automatic" limits erred on the side of universal trust. After 10.8.2 they err on the side of universal distrust (which has always been the "Allow access to only these websites" behavior).

So this isn't a bug introduced with 10.8.2, it's Apple being a bit more honest about how crappy OS X Parental Controls always have been. I wonder if the change was made to avoid litigation, or if the transition to all SSL net access made it impossible to keep the old pretense.

In theory an admin user an approve all the https access requests that come up when a user tries to reach one of those sites, but in practice that doesn't scale.

Bottom line: Parental Controls was born lousy, but with 10.8.2 Apple is at least being honest about how bad it really is. [2]

[1] See  OS X Parental Controls: The https bug and our family Google Apps services back in 2010. I think this is related to my employers ability to block dropbox, but inability to block Google Drive without also blocking Google Search.

[2] Parental Controls are no better on iOS by the way -- thanks to the webkit back door. (Bob Tedeschi wrote about this back in 2012.)

Wednesday, May 08, 2013 - A replacement - with a flaw since fixed

I have about 2,200 Contacts, and if they could speak they'd all complain about iOS The bizarre Groups implementation, the limited search options, the crummy search result display ...


So I've been looking for an alternative. Most of the App Store alternatives failed the smell test, but Clark pointed me to a relatively good one - It looked good enough that I bought it.
My initial impression was pretty good. Search results show the company name. You can search on names, company names and phone numbers. You can edit group relationships (!). There's a smart-tag and geolocation function and you can create new tags. Seems fast.

Then I tried searching on my wife and didn't get any hits.

This test explains the problem:
Contact: John Paul Jones
Search in on John Jones: 1
Search in on John Jones: 0
Search in for John Pau: 1
The sound you here is my head repeatedly hitting the wall.

Instead of what's called 'starts with word search' the authors of implemented phrase search. This means that you need to include the middle name if your Contact has one.

I'm sure they had some reason for this, but it wasn't the right choice. If were to implement 'starts with word search' they'd be a 4-5 star app. As it is I'm tempted to rate them 2 stars, but that's frustration speaking. I'll give 'em 3 for now. I might use it to clean up Group relationships, but it doesn't replace

Darn it.

Update 6/11/13: They've fixed the search problem. Confusingly they call the new search 'phrase search', but it's starts with word search. The middle name problem is gone. Performance is a bit sluggish on my i5, probably why this feature is only for newer devices. Still, it's a great improvement.