Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why the low end MacBook Pro is the best family computer

First of all, the best family computer is still a Mac. ChromeBooks will be a good option when prices fall below $180 for reasonable build quality, but they’re not there yet.

So which Mac?

Until today I’d have said a Mac Mini or a 13” MacBook Air. The combination of bundled display, internal hard drive, and difficult repair rules out the iMac, and most of the MacBook Pro lineup is too expensive for a family machine.

Today though timely advice [1] persuaded me that the education market legacy non-retina 13” MD101LL MacBook Pro is the right choice. It’s inexpensive by Mac standards ($1,185 and no tax via Amazon), it’s the only Mac notebook with a DVD player, and it comes with plenty of storage (500GB hard drive). Best of all, but the pathetic standards of the modern Mac, it’s relatively serviceable.

Which is why geek parents like this 2012 era MacBook. Buy it cheap and when the warranty expires a year later, put in 4GB RAM and a 500GB/1TB SSD. Now you’ve got a performance machine with a seven year lifespan. [2]

Yeah, the non-Retina MB Pro is, you know, non-Retina. But that makes it faster and the battery lasts longer. Sure it’s heavier than the new generation, but it’s a family device. You’re not globetrotting with it. And a DVD is still a handy thing to have. Best of all it’s an old design — all of the manufacturing glitches have been fixed by now.

It’s the best family computer. Too bad it’s going to disappear soon … 

- fn - 

[1] Advice sought because of a humiliating blunder that I just figured out as I was writing this post. Excuse me while I bang my head against the table.

It began when our family computer, a 2006 Core 2 Duo MacBook, stopped charging. At first the power adapter glowed green and powered the computer, but a day or so later the adapter light went out entirely. An SMC reset didn’t help. Since the power adapter was a shiny 8 month old modern L-connector Apple Store replacement I was sure the old logic board had died. Hence my inquiry.

I ran to the U of MN Apple store to get a new machine, but, of course, I brought my adapter along to check it worked. And there they told me that it was a 45W adapter! Wow, amazing it worked at all! How could that Apple Genius have given me the wrong adapter! What an idiot! (wait for it)

So I gave ‘em my 45W adapter to throw out and went home. Later, when writing this blog, I confirmed the MacBook needs a 60W adapter, whereas my MacBook Air uses a 45W adapter (wait for it) which … come to think of it … looks a lot … like the one … I just bought …

Yeah. Somehow we’d switched adapters. The 60W is fine for the Air (though unnecessarily bulky) 

Although you should always use the proper wattage adapter for your Apple notebook, you can use an adapter of a higher wattage without issue.

But the 45W failed the MacBook. I’m surprised it worked at all. The whole mess was a series an Einstellung effect cognitive blunders. I assumed I had the right adapter, I assumed it had to be the logic board …

Sigh. Now I have to take my new 60W adapter back to the Apple Store and exchange it for a new 45W adapter …

- fn -

[1] Scotch tape over chipping top case plastic, congenitally crummy hinges but with one huge, killer feature — it’s serviceable. Anyone can easily upgrade RAM or replace the hard drive. And so it delivered great value. Apple has forgotten what made it loved…

[2] Extra credit feature: The University of Minnesota Apple Store will add memory at time of purchase (non-soldered!). They’ll even do the SSD update. Now that our beloved First Tech is gone, I’ll be relying on them more …

See also

Friday, April 18, 2014

Google is closing little used Google Apps accounts

For a few years Google offered a free version of Google Apps, and even after that was discontinued you could get a free Apps service with a new Dreamhost domain (I think that’s been discontinued). It was a great deal; I ended up with a dozen or so. One of them has provided all of our family email and calendars since 2007; even after Google ended the new signups they let freeloaders like us hang around.

Recently though I’ve received notices from Google warning that they will close unused Google Apps accounts. So if you have some Google Apps you’d like to keep, be sure they are setup with a valid forwarding address [1] and periodically log in and send an email.

In one case I did authenticate, but I still received a second notice of pending termination. I hope that’s just a glitch.

[1] In some cases an Apps account is also associated with a companion Domain, so if the Apps account is lost the domain control may be lost too. Check.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

iOS 7.1 movies (video) sync from iCloud but not iTunes - a bug and a fix

The afternoon that we were leaving for holiday I discovered that I couldn’t use iTunes to sync a movie (or a video Podcast) to my daughter’s iPhone 4S. [1] Sync was normal for all other devices but on her iPhone we got stuck at the agonizing “Waiting for changes to be applied” prompt [3]. If I waited 15 minutes or so the sync “completed” without an error message, but no movies were transferred. When I inspected the iPhone contents from iTunes I saw ghostly outlines of the movies I was trying to transfer.

I could download our movies from iCloud directly to the phone, but that’s fairly slow. iTunes sync is faster. Our flight was delayed long enough for me to try many  things including

  • sync of non-DRMd home video (didn’t work)
  • turn off all sync for movies then sync then remove media then try one movie
  • Parental Controls toggle including age range check
  • restarts of iOS and OS X
  • PhoneView inspection of the file system (iOS CloudAssets directory was empty post iOS 7.1 fix for the Other Data cache bug.)
  • Sign out and sign in to App Store from iOS and OS X iTunes.
  • Looked for anything in related to iTunes (nothing)
  • Backing up, wiping (“restore” to default) iPhone, then restoring it 
I gave up and made do with iCloud download, but @gaelicwizard suggested
Could try initiating a sync with a different computer and letting it overwrite the link with this one. Then, back again. That would clear any caches...

That worked. The key here is that when you sync an iOS device to a different iTunes instance you lose all of your media, but you don’t lose anything else. You don’t lose Apps or App data or iCloud data, etc [2]. If you’re old enough to remember the iPod you can see that when the iTunes is treating the iPhone as though it were an iPod. I did this:

  1. Backup iPhone on Primary iTunes. (iTunesP)
  2. Switched to the admin account on my Mac and launched iTunes there (iTunesA). 
  3. Selected a single short movie to sync (and nothing else). iTunes warned me all media (but only media) would be wiped from my iPhone. (Note difference from the usual “restore” and “restore from backup” behavior.)
  4. The movie synched normally.
  5. Switched back to iTunesP. Did same thing, again iTunes warned me all media would be removed. The moved synched normally.
  6. Turned on sync for Music, TV, Photo, etc. iTunes remembered all of the prior settings so this went quickly.
I suspect this is a new 7.1 bug possibly related to the fix for the Other Data cache bug. Apple clearly wants to end media synchronization from the desktop, so we can expect more bugs like this in the future. 
Three thoughts on items that might be related to this bug…
  • We downloaded the (great) movie Frozen from iCloud to our Apple TV very early in its release cycle. There was odd behavior when I later downloaded a copy to iTunes; the new download had a slightly different file size and iTunes seemed to think they were different movies. I can’t remember how I fixed that … (probably deleted and redownloaded)
  • Since wiping the phone and restoring from backup didn’t fix the problem, it’s likely related to something that’s backed up.
  • Even after I synchronized the iPhone with my admin account iTunes instance, I still saw the ghostly outlines of the movies I’d been unable to sync previously. 

 - fn - 

[1] This was a week ago, and I can’t recall if TV shows were behaving normally. I think they were, which is extra weird so maybe I’m remembering incorrectly.

[2] Pre-iCloud days I used to sync Calendar/Contacts for my wife on one iTunes account, and media on a different iTunes account.  In the iPod era Apple was worried about using iPods to share media between iTunes instances — something that seems quaint now. Today’s DRM infrastructure is much more robust.

[3] A common indicator of a sync problem. It’s so annoying that error details don’t appear in Console logs.