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CHRIS'S UNPREDICTABLE and OCCASIONAL Newsletter for MAC USERS # 63, 10/15/03
Contents Copyright 2003 by Christopher Plummer

OBLIGATORY ADVERTISEMENT... Ready to get rid of the mess and make your little network 'wireless'? Want to share your Internet connection? Convert your LPs and cassettes to CDs, set up an MP3 jukebox with an old Mac, or pick out a new one? I can do this for you, or show you how. Read the details in the SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION section at the bottom. Or email me now: < chris AT Unpredictablemac dot com> Enjoy the newsletter! :-)

This Issue
OCCASIONALLY we get down to business and fun - so let's get back to fascinating Mac trivia, insightful comments, and personal commentary of questionable merit. This issue is a special UNPREDICTABLE TANTALIZE, TITILLATE, AND TEASE EDITION. I'm going to present you with a bunch of issues, problems, tips, and so on, and NO SOLUTIONS!! Well, maybe a few. Don't worry, I KNOW THE ANSWERS. If you'd like to solve one of these puzzles yourself, send me an email and be famous, at least with Mac Users in Central Western New Jersey. All will be revealed in the next issue!! :-)

GEEK SPEAK REVIEW - Panther, Stuff, Unstuff, .sea
UPDATES - (X) OSX 10.2.8, StuffIt Deluxe 8.1
NEWS - New PowerBooks
WEIRD NEWS - The Incredible Shrinking MacWorld Expo NYC
UNPREDICTABLE READER FEEDBACK - Leon Buys his Mac But..., Elisa's iBook is Unwell..
Know The Difference - (9, X) Confusing Button Conventions
2nd Annual Jonathan Ive Bad Design Award (the "Jivey") - And the winner is?
Trouble Shooting - Hard Time for Hard Drives (part 3)
Special Bonus Keyboard Commands - (X) Stump the Stars- Sticky Keys Stay Stuck

Geek Speak Alert:
Panther, Stuff, Unstuff, .sea

Geek Speak Review
Panther - Yet another 'cat' operating system upgrade from Apple. This one is also called Oh Ess Ten 10.3. It follows Jaguar out of the zoo on October 24, 2003.

Stuff - In terminology dating to the Macozoic era, when you apply file compression technology to a file or group of files, you "stuff" them. The term gained popularity from an early, and still the most used, compression utility, Aladdin Software's "StuffIt". When all we had were tiny 10MB hard drives and 800k floppies, file compression could help a lot! Nowadays most people use file compression to reduce file sizes for transmission over email or the Internet. Stuffed files usually end with a .sit extension. The StuffIt program handles a bunch of other compression formats as well, including the .sea, .zip (from the DOS/Windows world), and .tar (from Unix). Because of their change in format, and sometimes because of their file extension, stuffed files are not readable by their originating application until they are 'unstuffed'.

Unstuff - To expand a compressed file, returning it to its original readable format. This requires some kind of a utility program such as StuffIt. The folks at Aladdin provide free "unstuffing" software, but to do the stuffing part, you need to pay.

.sea - In the days before total StuffIt dominance, .sea compressed files were very popular. The format was developed by one of the Mac Shareware pioneers (Bill Goodman?) and was popular because it created Self Extracting Archives. That is, the file was able to extract itself without the aid of another utility. Just double-click it! Pretty neat, huh?

(X) Panther Unleashed October 24th - Order yours now. $120. Look for 'events' at your local Apple Store.


(X) iCal 1.5.1 - "Improved speed and ease" and required if you use iSync. You need to upgrade iCal to 1.5.1 and iSync to 1.2 at the same time. Use Software Update.

(X) iSync 1.2.1 - More phones and new Address Book picture support for a couple of phones.

(X) Mac OS X Update 10.2.8 - Apple posted this update, and then pulled it because of some problems reported by users. It's BA-A-ACK. Improved reliability, security, compatibility with the newest Macs. Use Software Update.

(X) Stuffit Deluxe 8.1 - Aladdin has finally implemented 'ArchiveViaRename' (AVR) in Oh Ess Ten. Did you use this in NINE? Rename a file and give it a .sit or .sea extension, and the file is immediately "stuffed". Rename a file that already has a .sit, .sea, or .zip (for that matter), and the file is immediately "unstuffed". Very cool and missing from X UNTIL NOW. But in 8.0 there was a slight bug, fixed in 8.1.

Check for more updates at <>.

New PowerBooks!! - In news close to my heart, Apple has revamped the entire PowerBook line. If you can live without the DVD-burning SuperDrive in the 12" model, the bargains start at $1599 (let's call it $1600). They've all gained the swinging hinge of the iBook, faster clock speed (up to 1.33 GHz in the 17"), the capacity for more RAM (up to 2 GB in the 15" and 17" - Hooray!), and USB 2.0. The 15" with the SuperDrive is still a hefty $2600. But think! If you have an old 15" G4 PowerBook worth say $1200, and you pay $350 for an Applecare service contract, buy a DVD burner for $450, and a Blue Tooth adapter for $50, you're almost there and you still don't have FireWire 800, AirPort Extreme, an 80GB drive, the ability to get 2 GB of RAM, nor the NIFTY glow in the dark backlit keyboard! But "Chris", you ask, "Didn't Apple update the iMac recently?" Uh, yea, a little bit, USB 2.0. More of this more of that. It's a great machine. I just don't know why anyone would buy one when they can get an eMac for $799. "What about the iBook?" You persist. I love the iBook. But it's only got a G3 processor. Only a G3. Remember that. Apple also introduced a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse. The keyboard, okay, but the mouse? It has ONE button and no scroll wheel. Steve Jobs is just going to have to get over this one button thing. NOBODY should have a mouse without a scroll wheel. It may be time for another JIVE Design Award. One button mouse. SHEESH. Thus spake Unpredictable.


More News: <>

Weird News
WHATEVER HAPPENED to the MacWorld Creative Pro Conference formerly known as "MacWorld Expo"?? There's a mystery. It was a non-event. So I never even bothered to report on it. And Apple and IDG are still battling over next year's MacExpo, which IDG says is going to be in Boston, and which Apple says it won't attend. Blah blah. I don't want to go to Boston. I LIVED there. That's the last you'll hear about it from me until next year.

UNPREDICTABLE MAC Web Site Commercialization Coming - In a move to capture income from what is otherwise a "labor of love", "Chris" has plans to commercialize his newsletter archive and Mac information web site. Responding from somewhere in Beautiful Western Central New Jersey, Chris claimed, "I try to keep the site up to date. But the only way for my readers to really GET CURRENT is to subscribe to the (still) free newsletter." The Unpredictable Web Site will soon sport a "commercial" page and other badges and such. "Does anybody besides Amazon actually make money on a web site? I don't know. But I'm going to find out! If you can 'click through' my site to make some of your purchases, it will help me keep writing. Thanks!"
< chris AT Unpredictablemac dot com>

Unpredictable Reader Feedback
Welcome! Joining us as new subscribers are Brant, who gets to use the iApps in schools, and Russ, a software developer and Linux techie with (yet another) 17" Powerbook.

Leon, student, and new subscriber (profiled in our last issue) made his decision and purchased a PowerBook Titanium 15". Way to go Leon! Leon writes, "When I originally opened the computer from the box and turned it on, there was a bright spot on the left side of the display about the size of a quarter. I have sent my computer to Apple 3 times since August to replace the display. <snip> There are some smears that run across the screen, they could be from oil from the keyboard, I really don't know." What is going to happen with Leon? Will he give up and by a DULL? Will Apple DO THE RIGHT THING??? You'll have to read Unpredictable #64 to find out!!

Long time subscriber Elisa sent numerous emails about trouble with her iBook. She was getting Kernel Errors at startup. These ugly errors in X are usually software related, but can also be the result of faulty or 'non-standard' memory. Elisa had 256 Mb RAM, which Apple considers "enough". My first response was to bump the memory up as far as possible. I finally suggested she take it to the Apple Store in Edison, which she did. Did Apple DO THE RIGHT THING??? Join us next issue for the answer to this and other questions!

Know The Difference (9,X)
A few comments on the differences between the OS X and NINE interfaces--

Saving Changes in Dialogs

Most applications in OS X have given up on asking the user if she wants to save changes in a dialog. You make a change, then you look for the [Save] button, right? No. Just close the dialog. OS X often ASSUMES that everything is saved, so the user never has to even worry. Right? Sorry, not exactly. Just when you think they've eliminated the option to "Save" and you close the dialog, THEN you MIGHT get another dialog asking if you want to save your changes. Okay. We've all learned the other way, we've used it for years and years, but if they want to do it that way, fine.

Confusing Button Conventions
The Importance of Understanding Buttons.

Our first button is what I call "the Doorbell Button". At the bottom of the Safari Download window, there is a [Clear] button. This is obviously a 'springy' button, like a doorbell. It gets clicked once, initiates some activity and springs back. This is exactly how it works and it makes sense. Click [Clear], it turns blue for an instant, clears the download history, and it turns back to grey.

In the case of the Address Book [Edit] button, this is the software equivalent of an on/off pushbutton. Click it once, ON. Click it again, OFF. And it works that way. Click [Edit], the button turns blue, the card goes into Edit mode and you can make changes. Click it again, the button returns to grey, the card exits Edit mode, and presumably your changes are saved (without the user ever being notified of that fact). This is pretty basic. In fact, I think it is TOO BASIC.

Dear Friends at Apple,

The problem with the button metaphor in in your brushed metal interface is that a REAL on/off button provides 1) tactile feedback - I can FEEL the click, 2) Auditory feedback - I can HEAR the click, and 3) usually NO visual feedback. It might light up, but I don't see it change color! So it's hard for a brain to understand what is happening; it has no clear reference. Which is why a software interface is not EXACTLY the same as real hardware. You can add a click I'm sure, but the best thing would be to make the button SAY WHAT IT DOES. Change the name of the button from [Edit] to [Save] or to [Close]. I'd like to say I thought of this, but no, this is something that software interface engineers figured out a LONG time ago. This is such a fundamental and proven concept that users have come to expect it for the past twenty years, and I can't believe I have to write a case for it!! I know that Aqua has changed things a bit and dialogs now "close" without ever seeing a "Save" button and such (which I still think is counter-intuitive and unfriendly) but nevertheless...

It is REALLY not providing enough feedback to the user when she clicks on the [Edit] button in Address Book to change something in a card, and the [Edit] button only changes color. C'mon, really, is that enough for your average user to know that they are in "Edit mode"? It ought to change so the button says "Save" in addition to changing color. And it's not even consistent! You can edit the "Note" field in an Address Book card ANY TIME, no matter what color the [Edit] button is. This is software. If you adhere strictly to emulating real hardware with your (ug) brushed metal interface, then you are placing some serious limits on the flexibility that is software.

The original Macintosh interface, and the many refinements that it gained over eighteen years, were geared around the concept that the interface should be simple to grasp, easy to use, and require little training. This was a great concept. Can we stick with it in OSX please?

And That's The Difference.

2nd Annual Jonathan Ive ("Jive") Design Award
This year our award for BAD DESIGN in an Apple Product goes to the "Brushed Metal" Interface which has taken over nearly all of Apple's Software products and most of their hardware. Form is supposed to follow function in our book, and preferrably in our iBook and PowerBook. But anyone who has used ANY PowerBook prior to the Titanium G4, knows that the keyboard and trackpad functionality have suffered dramatically since the introduction of METAL. Ditto with the 'soft' buttons of the formerly Aqua interface (see "Know the Difference, above). Oh yea, we win on the COOL FACTOR, but how much time could we save if our fingers didn't stick to the edges of the keys? If the cursor didn't jump every time we try to 'click' with our thumb? If "intuitive ease of use" was still the Prime Directive at Apple? We fear it is only a matter of time before AppleWorks, the eMac, the Flat-Panel iMac, and the lovely white iBook fall into the Bauhaus Design Cave at Apple only to emerge as slavishly linear silver objects.

Trouble Shooting
Hard Times for Hard Drives (Part 3)
Yet another heart wrenching tale of hard drive disaster!!

Hard on the heels of my last Hard Times for Hard Drives, and after a series of non-computer personal disasters I'll recount some day, I began to notice that I wasn't getting any backups of my G4 Powerbook, my MAIN MACHINE. Retrospect choked every time I tried to create a backup to my portable external firewire drive. It had been about two months since a good backup (I KNOW!! THAT'S A LONG TIME!!). In one moment of clarity I had used a shareware program called "Carbon Copy Cloner" to make a duplicate image of the two volumes on my PB. It was definitely time to get to the bottom of my Retrospect problem.

After completely re-installing Retrospect, down to the point of wiping out all my Preferences and prior backup scripts, I ran a manual backup and noted that well before the backup completed, my external drive seemed to "hang" and then hang up Oh Ess Ten. I figured I had a problem with the external drive. Time for a format. I ran disk utility, told it to format the drive, and shortly thereafter, the external drive was NOT RECOGNIZED at all. Oh well, I'm sure it was abused, banged around, and it was just for BACKUPS anyway. Perhaps that was the problem; the drive had been bad all along.

In an ultra-responsible effort to be good to my internal drive, I ran Techtool Pro on it. It told me there were some problems and did I want to make a backup first before "committing" to the changes it said it could make to fix the drive. I bailed. I figured I'd be safe and NOT make the changes until I could get a good backup to my other external drive at home. But for some reason I still don't understand, IT WAS ALREADY TOO LATE.

To cut to the chase, my efforts resulted in the INTERNAL hard drive failing. GONZO. No bootable internal drive. Not only that, it made horrible clicking and grinding noises. I could boot from CD but I could not access the drive!! Doesn't that seem kind of WEIRD? What could I do!! I was having a BAD afternoon!! After some unsuccessful fiddling, I called 'Drive Savers'. Do you know how much it costs to save the data from a 'crashed' hard drive? They guessed between $1200 and $2400!! And they said, "DON'T TOUCH THAT DRIVE. Once it starts making noises, you are destroying data every time you try to use it!" Holy Cow! Did I send them enough money to buy a NEW PowerBook just to retrieve my valuable data? Did I lose my data? Or did I go to Our Friends at Apple and hope that they would DO THE RIGHT THING? (To be continued......)

Occasional Favorite Web Site
Need RAM? This Mac-oriented site tracks RAM prices. Figure out just what kind of RAM you need and get the best price.

Special Bonus Keyboard Commands
(X) Stump the Stars!! Sticky Keys Stay Stuck!
Lately, every time I use [Caps Lock], my keyboard stays in UPPERCASE. Pressing [Caps Lock] doesn't toggle me out of UPPER. I have to press the [Shift] key, to get back to Lowercase. Weird. This was the way MANUAL TYPEWRITERS worked - or so I've heard. Is it my [Shift] key that is stuck? It happens on BOTH my external keyboards and the internal PowerBook keyboard, so it can't be a hardware problem, can it? Has one of my little utilities gone berserk? What is your guess? This will remain an unsolved mystery until the next UNPREDICTABLE issue.



** CHRIS'S UNPREDICTABLE and OCCASIONAL Newsletter for Mac Users **
Oriented towards, but not exclusively for, Mac Users in Beautiful Western Central New Jersey. Published Whenever - About Whatever!

Non-profit, non-commercial publications may reprint articles if full credit is given. (Please provide UNPREDICTABLE with a copy.) Others please contact the editor. Accuracy of articles is UNPREDICTABLE and not guaranteed. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies.

SEND requests and feedback to < chris AT Unpredictablemac dot com>.

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Shameless Self-Promotion
Ready to get rid of the mess and make your little network 'wireless'? Want to share your Internet connection? Convert your LPs and cassettes to CDs, set up an MP3 jukebox with an old Mac, help you pick out a new one? I can do this for you, or show you how to do all kinds of cool things with iApps. Big projects or little jobs. Maybe you'd just like to know that you have someone knowledgeable to call for support and encouragement when you finally go to OH ESS TEN? I've worked with computer novices, small businesses, and large corporations. I'd prefer not to do WINDOWS, but I've got more experience with MS operating systems than many PC consultants! I'm IBM Certified in Domino Development and Administration. I can teach you how to share files with PC users, use common fonts and printers, connect to their networks, and send them email with attachments that they can read. And I can write and edit. Reasonable rates, 20 years experience, satisfaction guaranteed.
Email: < chris AT Unpredictablemac dot com>.

Thanks for Stopping By!



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All contents copyright 2000-2008 by Christopher Plummer, ZebraTale LLC, except where noted. Accuracy of articles is UNPREDICTABLE and not guaranteed. Unpredictable was published from 2001 to 2008. Although updated occasionally, this is a historical archive - expect dead links. Caveat lector.
Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TFSB :-)