Blog for Stephanie Bryant, a writer with too many hobbies and not enough time.

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My MacBook Pro is a lemon

I’ve replaced the DVD drive, the battery, and the operating system. On Wednesday, in the midst of Las Vegas’ freak storm, my hard drive started to click like a ticking bomb. Except, ironically, the clicking meant the bomb had gone off.

The hard drive is toast and the computer is at Apple being replaced. Worse, I knew this was going to happen– I’ve been having unexplained hard drive problems for about a year, but at no time when I took it in for the DVD drive or the battery problems did Apple’s geniuses do anything substantive to fix it (even though I said at the time “and I have a current backup.”) I’m not really blaming them, though– I should have done the hard drive replacement months ago. I was waiting until I’d finished the layout on the comic book and had sent it to the printer. I hate having these kinds of tech interruptions and changes in the middle of a production project.

My backup is 12 days old, but almost everything except sent mail is either on a server somewhere, or replaceable. The loss of my screenplay might be a blow, though– I thought I’d been backing it up every day I worked on it, but it turns out that’s not the case.

Anyway, on the one hand, this culminates months of frustration with my computer. On the other hand, it may also inaugurate further frustration, as, after all, this might not even solve the problems, either.

Mac: iTunes can’t copy photos from iPhoto

As long-time readers of this blog know, I have a troubled relationship with my Mac, the way some people have a troubled teenager. I love it deeply and tenderly, but sometimes it misbehaves and I just don’t know what to do with it.

The most recent frustration had to do with my iPod. You see, some time ago, I restored my iPod because I kept having this problem where it would flash the “Do not disconnect” screen, but wouldn’t actually sync. I kept having to do a soft reset to get it to start back up again. It usually synced fine the first time, but the second time would require the reset.

I’d like to state right here and now that this blog post does not talk about how to fix that problem. And, in fact, restoring the iPod did not fix the problem. The problem is a minor annoyance and doubtless wears out my iPod faster than normal use. The geniuses at the Apple Genius Bar wanted to fix that problem when I brought in my laptop and described a completely different issue, which is why I even bothered trying to fix it in the first place.

Moving right along, then. After I restored the iPod, I had problems synching it. Most things worked all right, including all my purchased music. But my photos wouldn’t sync. The error I got was that I did not have sufficient permissions to sync. What? I’m the administrator– if i don’t have permission, prompt me for my password, for crying out loud!

Anyway, I dug around. This time, the discussion group over at Apple’s Support website was no help. I saw a lot of iTunes problems and syncing problems, and I saw a couple of people who had the same problem, but no solution for it. Some of the indicators showed that it was related to my iPhoto Library being stored on an external hard drive.

In an unrelated forum post over on the macosx.com forums (having to do with a similar error in iPhoto), I found some advice that people reported as working for a permissions problem in iPhoto. I decided to give it a try in fixing the similar iTunes/iPod permissions problem.

  1. Go to the iPhoto Library on the external hard drive and select File->Get Info. Wait a minute and see how much hard drive space that folder requires.
  2. Clear off enough room on the local hard drive so that you can move the entire folder from the external drive to your internal startup drive.
  3. Drag and drop the entire iPhoto Library from the external hard drive onto your local drive. I put mine inside the /home/username/Pictures folder, where it is when you first get your Mac.
  4. At some point in the copying process, you will be prompted for your administrator password. Enter it and press OK.
  5. Press and hold the Option key while you click the icon to launch iPhoto. You’ll be prompted to find an iPhoto library. Click Choose Library and navigate to the iPhoto Library folder in your local hard drive.
  6. Click OK to open it.
  7. Open iTunes and sync your iPod.

You can now move the entire iPhoto Library folder back to the external hard drive and re-open it (holding down the Option key). The permissions will be fixed and you can continue to sync your iPod even though the library is stored on the external hard drive.

Mac: Fixing blank user interfaces in Java window

Note: This post is a bit long because I like telling stories about stuff. If you just want to skip down to the solution, scroll to the end. This article is another one of my “how I fixed a problem with my Mac” articles. Unofficial tech support, I suppose, and largely because the Apple Support Discussion Boards aren’t searchable through Google. Let me tell you (again): if you have a problem with your Mac, Google is not the Search engine to use for fixing Mac problems. Go to Apple.com and click through to the Support area’s Discussion boards. Use the search engine there to find the solution to your problem!

A little while ago, I downloaded a trial application called Steelray Project Viewer, a nifty cross-platform application for opening and searching through Microsoft Project files. This is an important piece of software to me, since many project managers use MS Project, and since many project managers also have some sort of role in telling me what to do.

I would download the software and run the installer program on my Mac. I now have an Intel-based MacBook Pro, so I know my system is current, even if it doesn’t always, ahem, work.

The installation program would run without user interface elements. I couldn’t see any buttons or radio buttons until I actually clicked on them. Anyone in usability design (or for that matter, any software user) can understand how frustrating and Bad this might be. When I actually had the software running, the Open File screen would open, and I’d select a .mpp file. I can’t remember what happened at that point, but it essentially didn’t work.

Steelray UI Example

About five days into my evaluation, Steelray support emailed to ask how it was going. They’re big on the pre-sales support, let me tell ya. I emailed back with “the installer didn’t work, the program didn’t work… I guess you could say it’s not going too well.” They apologized and tried to walk me through fixing the problem, even opening a support ticket, but I went out of town, and then the trial period timed out (and yes, when trying to enter a license key into the software, the window was again blank).

I was ready to give up, but this really is considered one of the best solutions for viewing MS Project files if you don’t have or want MS Project. I installed the Windows version with a new trial license, just to see if it would work. It worked fine in Windows (where it appears to be native), but not in Mac.

However, something the support rep said when we were first troubleshooting kept coming back to me. “Do you have Java 5 installed?” Hell if I know. Java on the Mac is a real piece of work. It’s supported natively, but then there’s a J2SE kit you can get, or a developer kit or…. who the hell knows. And Java isn’t always backwards-compatible. The Sun/Java documentation is too complex to decide which version of Java one has, versus which one you need. The Apple documentation is needlessly simplistic– “you have Java 1.4.2– it comes with your Mac!” with no explanation of how to find it and make sure it’s working.

I found in my Applications/Utilities folder a “Java” folder with “J2E 5.” Huh– maybe I do have Java 5 after all. OK. I found the Java Preferences application. I launched it.

Java Preferences UI Error

Window with no UI elements. Hmmm…. this looks familiar.

Well, you all know what I do when I find something that I can consistently identify as a problem on my Mac, right? Off to the Mac boards! There, I searched for “Java blank window” and found many entries, most of them having nothing to do with Java. But then, finally, I found this gem.

So, to troubleshoot this problem, if you’re having a blank window (usually with clickable user interface elements) in Steelray or any other Java application:
1. In your Applications/Utilities folder, open the Java folder.
2. Launch Java Preferences.
3. If the window’s blank, close the application (cmd-Q, or the menu bar should work.)
4. Still in the Applications/Utilities folder, launch Terminal. You should get a window with a command prompt.
5. Type the following:

cd Library/Preferences
ls .GlobalPreferences.plist
You should get a list of one item, “.GlobalPreferences.plist”

6. Now rename the file so Java can’t find it. Type:

mv .GlobalPreferences.plist .GlobalPreferences.plist.old

7. Relaunch Java Preferences. The window should not be blank.

If the window is blank, you can rename the .GlobalPreferences.plist.old back to .GlobalPreferences.plist. You’ll be back where you started, sure, but at least you won’t lose whatever important stuff is on that corrupted file.

This resolved my issue, and I hope it fixes yours, too!

Update (6/11/07): After I did this, I discovered that I could no longer press the TAB key to navigate between form fields in web pages, or between buttons in dialogue boxes. It turns out, this is an accessibility option called Full Keyboard Access (it’s in the System Preferences under “Keyboard and Mouse”), which I needed to enable using a keyboard combination. The combination is Control+F7 to toggle this on or off (on the laptop keyboard, it’s function+ctrl+F7).

Update (6/15/07): Fixed the typo in the instructions, and added a screen shot for the User Interface issues.

Remote Buddy: Nifty!

With my MacBook Pro, I got an Apple Remote. I didn’t order it separately– it came with it, but it’s very handy to have, because I do a lot of presentations and public speaking gigs, and having a remote is good to have. Unfortunately, Front Row, the Apple software that talks to the remote, doesn’t include any support for PowerPoint– it can run the controls for iTunes, iPhoto, and DVD Player, but is fairly limited. Yes, I realize that Apple makes their own presentation program, Keynote, but I work in the real world, where everyone uses PowerPoint.

So, what to do?

Enter Remote Buddy. About fifteen seconds after installing it, I realized it was what I needed. It is easy to use. You just click the Menu button to open the programs you need to control. There are more control options as well, not just for PowerPoint, but any program. You can use it to remotely work your web browser.

In addition to being a boon for people like me who wanted some kind of remote control for their Mac, I have to think that this program is a godsend to Mac users with mobility disabilities, and anyone with carpal tunnel/mouse issues.

Buying a license was about $13 US (it’s 10 Euros). Much love. This is not unlike finding the script that warns me when I’m sending an email without an attachment– such a simple thing, yet so important for looking more professional.

MacBook has arrived

The new MacBook Pro arrived this morning. I immediately tried to restore everything I used to have on Trinity…. and failed. Badly. Tip: Don’t restore from a backup from a corrupted system. I’m now doing a complete wipe/restore, and will be a little more judicious in adding back all my stuff.

In unrelated news, the new laptop’s name is Mariposa, because it’s a pretty name, and means “Butterfly” in Spanish. A butterfly flits around and is very mobile– just as Mariposa will need to be. Also, a butterfly has two symmetrical sides, and Mariposa will need to be very dual-purpose, running both Windows and Mac programs. Finally, there is a bit of a nod to the MSN butterfly, though not much of one. 😉

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