Archive for the ‘tech’ Category

back in mac

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Sorry for the long hiatus – firstly I was away on vacation for a couple of weeks (one week in London for my brother’s wedding, the second in Victoria, BC on the beautiful west coast of Canada) and also we’ve had some technical hitches at home. My HP notebook wouldn’t start up – if I pressed the power button the power light would come on but nothing else would happen at all. Fortunately it’s still covered by warranty, so it’s away being repaired. Fortunately also I had backed up all my stuff just a couple of days before it died, so all my photos etc should be OK.

Then we noticed that Emma’s iBook (now four and a half years old) was acting up. Loads of applications would try to start up but then just fail before they could do anything, for example Safari or Firefox browsers. I did some research (mostly knowing about the innards of PCs) and found that it could be due to corrupted .plist files, which are kind of like preference files for applications. The info I read said that if you’re getting weird application behavior it’s best to delete that application’s .plist file, as the app will then create a new “clean” file when it starts next. So I went to my /user/library/preferences folder and deleted all the*.plist files (actually I put them into a backup folder – the point being that I moved them out of the preferences folder). When I started Safari, a new browser window came up, which was progress, and it said it was downloading information but rather than displaying a page it would just crash. Another clue was that some applications (like TextEdit) would start up OK but then crash when I tried to open a file. Clearly something else was up too.

When Safari crashed it gave the option to view the crash report, so I clicked that button and had a look. It was mostly a lot of strange looking info but one phrase seemed to show up several times:
/System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Frameworks/ATS.framework/Support/ATSServer: FOExceptionMainHandler caught a fatal exception

On searching around it seemed that ATSServer manages Apple Type Services – the font management on the screen. It looked like in this post there could be a problem with the font caches, but I couldn’t find any of the cache files he referenced. Other sites suggested that there could be an issue with the mac’s system fonts. Two clues which pointed towards this was that Microsoft apps (like Word) ran just fine, and would display different fonts OK, but the crashing behavior happened under both Emma’s and my logons. It seemed that there are common system fonts, which all users of the computer use, and also account-local fonts, which the Microsoft apps were using. So a problem with the system fonts.

Fortunately I still have the OS X (operating system) install CD, so I used that to do a reinstall – not wiping everything, but preserving all our account settings. I didn’t want to have to do something as drastic as a complete hard drive wipe and reinstall. But that didn’t fix the problem. So I looked on the OS X CD for the fonts folder – found it and fortunately the fonts were easy to copy onto my desktop. I went to the system fonts folder /system/library/fonts and found that the names of the fonts there matched the ones on the install disk. Just copying over the font files didn’t work, however, as some files were in use. So I had to re-create the fonts folder and get rid of the old (bad) one. This involved changing some folder permissions: I selected the /system/library folder, did CTRL+click, chose Get Info and changed the owner of the folder to be me, so I had read and write access. Then I changed the name of the old fonts folder to be FontsOld. Then I created a new folder called Fonts, and copied in all the fonts from the install disk. Finally I use the Get Info dialog to set the owner of the /system/library folder back to system (the original value). A quick reboot, and we had a result – the applications all started cleanly and fonts are displaying just fine.

It’s a bit of a mystery to me why these font files would become corrupted, but I’m fairly pleased with myself that I managed to work all this out! It could be that there was a more elegant solution – if you know of one please leave a comment, and if you come across this post because you’re having the same issue, let me know if this helps. I probably won’t be able to help if it doesn’t resolve your problem, because this stretched the limits of my Mac skills.

how to lose a sale

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

We’ve had a fantastic Denon home theater box for a few years now – the sound quality and everything else is just great, and it has a nice interface to the iPod. The problem with an all-in-one system is that if/when one component breaks down, the whole thing could be rendered useless. So last week the DVD drive seemed to stop working – it wouldn’t read anything, and even the cleaning disc wouldn’t work. Fortunately new DVD players are really cheap these days, and because the Denon has so many spare inputs I shopped around for a cheap but good player. The bonus is that newer DVD models are upconverting, meaning that while standard DVD quality is not high-definition, the player alters the signal to make it appear to be almost high-def.

I got a good deal on a Phillips player from Circuit City – bought online and went to the store to pickup. A nice service so far. At the store they said that I would get 10% off accessories, and seeing as I need an extra HDMI cable I thought I’d take a look. Unfortunately that’s where their customer service started to fall down.

I asked a sales guy where their cables were, and he immediately started to say “So is your TV 720 or 1080?” – basically trying to get me with somewhat technical jargon. If you follow the link above you’ll see the whole picture about HDMI – it’s a standard to carry a digital signal from one device to another – and because it’s digital the signal is all or nothing. If you’re buying analog cables, the cable quality is important – interference can cause distortion of signal – but for digital it makes no difference whatsoever. Circuit City had a variety of HDMI cables, including the Monster brand, whose cables were well over $100. The cable I got to hook up our HD TiVo to the TV was about $7 online, and it works fine – as I said a digital signal is either going to work or it is not.

I told the sales guy I just wanted the cheapest cable they had. He said “they’re over there, but they are only $5 less, so these ones here, it’s going to be better quality”. Not so, I said – it’s a digital signal, so I just need cheap. He kept on about signal quality – he either had no idea himself or he thought he could patronize me into paying loads more than I need to, so end result: poor customer service, and no sale.

tech kid

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

I’m very happy that Toby and Dara got me an excellent iPod speaker system for Christmas, which means that I can listen to music in the kitchen, or indeed anywhere else because it has a built in rechargeable battery.

While I was making Christmas dinner last night I had music on, and Toby came through to hang out and listen. One of the songs he particularly enjoyed and wanted to hear again. I don’t think he’s ever used the control dial on an iPod before, but within 5 seconds he had worked out how to replay the song. Kids today…

mobile post

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Emma and I finally got new phones this week. We upgraded from old basic nokia handsets to very nice blackberry pearl phones and so far I am very impressed. This is my first ‘smart’ phone and it is excellent to have such good integration with my calendar and gmail. In fact the post you are reading now is being typed on the phone – how exciting for you I’m sure only 7 years after mobile blogging was invented.

windows xp registry permissions fix

Monday, August 20th, 2007

I have been getting a really annoying problem on my home machine, trying to install the latest patch to iTunes. The install seemed to go fine, until Windows XP was installing the QuickTime specific files, at which point I would get error

Could not open key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ Software\ Classes\ QuickTimePlayerLib.QuickTimePlayerApp\ CLSID. Verify that you have sufficient access to that key, or contact your support personnel

at which point the install rolled back, and failed.

Being my own support personnel I spent considerable time running regedit to look at this registry key. Even though I was logged in as an administrator, I could see a whole list of QuickTime keys, but when I clicked on any of them I get an “error while opening key” message.

I tried all the usual steps suggested on the Google to find a way around this but nothing. Nothing on Windows support forums either. A lot of them suggested changing permissions on the key. To do this, you would right click on the key and select Permissions… then add users and the permission levels, but when I clicked OK, I got an “access is denied” message.

Then, tonight, success!

Here’s the fix, buried at the bottom of this forum:

1. Download and install subinacl, which is a Microsoft command-line tool that enables administrators to obtain and update security information about files, registry keys, and services.

2. Create a file named reset.cmd in C:\Program Files\Windows Resource Kits\Tools folder.

3. Edit the reset.cmd file with the following content.

subinacl /subkeyreg HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE /grant=administrators=f
subinacl /subkeyreg HKEY_CURRENT_USER /grant=administrators=f
subinacl /subkeyreg HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT /grant=administrators=f
subinacl /subdirectories %SystemDrive% /grant=administrators=f

subinacl /subkeyreg HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE /grant=systems=f
subinacl /subkeyreg HKEY_CURRENT_USER /grant=system=f
subinacl /subkeyreg HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT /grant=system=f
subinacl /subdirectories %SystemDrive% /grant=system=f

4. Back up your Windows registry (just in case)

5. Enter into CMD prompt (click Start, Run…, enter “cmd” and click OK).

6. Enter the following commands one at a time and click Enter.

cd "C:\Program Files\Windows Resource Kits\Tools"

The tool took a few minutes to run – I tried not to freak out about all the text zooming by. Once the utility had completed, I went back to regedit and saw that the QuickTime keys which had had no information now had key values and permissions. I re-ran the iTunes installer, and everything worked smoothly.

You’re welcome.


Friday, August 17th, 2007

Today is the 30th 25th anniversary of the compact disc. Fun facts about CDs:

  1. The first CD released was The Visitors by Abba
  2. Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits was a big popularizer of the CD
  3. The first CD I heard was a Greatest Hits compilation by Supertramp at my friend’s house – I was amazed at the new technology.
  4. One of my favorite pedantically pluralized abbreviations is “CDs-ROM”, which my friend Robin coined a few years ago.

geek tip – reduce excel file sizes

Monday, August 13th, 2007

I’ve been working with an expenses spreadsheet for a little while, and was rather alarmed at how big the file was getting. There are 7 columns and 56 rows on one workbook, and a 14×10 pivot table on a second workbook. With this small amount of data, the file was reaching 2Mb, which totally didn’t make sense.

The savvy readers will have realized that using a pivot table is the cause – I found a top tip which suggested I do the following:

Right click on the pivot table, and choose the PivotTable Wizard.
Click Options…
Clear the Save data with table layout
Click OK, then Finish
Save the file

Now my file is a much more reasonable 25K.

firefox activex fix

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Ages ago I did a quick post on the fix for the Firefox ActiveX error and how to resolve it. For a few months I’ve noticed people finding the entry through a web search, but just in the last day two kind souls have added thank you comments. It’s quite gratifying to know that I’ve helped make the world happier in a very small way.

Right now I’m in Chicago’s O’Hare airport waiting for my flight home. This has been a good week workwise but I just can’t wait to get home.

tech issues

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

A couple of tech issues today. Firstly I got the notification about an update for Firefox which went very smoothly, but seemed to cause the indispensable adblock add-on to lose all the filtering preferences it had stored, resulting in me having to look at web ads. Aagh!

Secondly it seems that the Sunrocket phone service Emma and I have been using has gone out of business. This is a big pain – we’ll have to look for something else, possibly Vonage, and kind of annoying to hear about second-hand. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to make or receive calls so you will have to use our mobile numbers for a few days till we get restarted. Also it seems that Vonage are doing a special deal for people moving from Sunrocket, and with their calling plan it’s free to the UK, so that might work out quite nicely. We’ll see.

tivo gets even better

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

Like pretty much anyone who has TiVo, we love TiVo. Because we have it we actually watch less TV, but more of what we want – more focused and less just browsing around aimlessly. TiVo has been facing competition from sattelite and cable providers, who often now provide their own DVRs, so as a result, TiVo have been adding more bells and whistles, and I couldn’t be happier.

I already knew that they have a feature now called Amazon Unbox on TiVo, where you can order movies from Amazon which are then downloaded to your TiVo box. Near DVD quality – we’ve done this a couple of times and it’s definitely a neat feature.

Last night it got even better – we saw that our box had downloaded new software for the new swivel search functionality, and right away we were impressed. Basically it means that you can call up a program you’ve been watching, find out who is in it (including directors, producers and writers) and then find out what else they have done, either what’s coming up on regular TV, or what you can download from Amazon. So for example we had just finished watching Galaxy Quest, and from that realized that one of the producers also was a producer of Chicken Run (we got there by seeing someone who was in Hook – did you know that one of the producers of that was Dodi Fayed?) which is going to be on next week. From that, we found someone who is in Chariots of Fire, which I haven’t seen in ages, and is on next week. So great and interesting way to find stuff.

Well played, TiVo, well played.