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Open Thread Weekend: We answer tech questions, too

The open thread closes at midnight PDT (UTC -0700). Be sure to get your questions in before then!

Although we at The Apple Blog like to hand down our knowledge and opinions on all things AAPL (sometimes a little too self-righteously, sure, but aren’t bloggers supposed to be snarky and provocative?), the real reason we’re here is to serve cool readers like you. Yep, you! Whether through the articles we write, or by answering the questions you post in open threads, our purpose as TAB bloggers is to offer you assistance and insight into the Apple world and the Cult of Mac.

Is there some technical topic about OS X that has been bugging you for a while? Prof. MacLovin is here to help! Whether it’s configuring launchd(8) services or getting that issue resolved with your blinking AirPort Extreme status light, run it by me. Having problems getting your favorite GNU software to compile? I’ve been there and done that: I feel your pain, and I will ease it. If you accidentally break down your software RAID-1 device in Disk Utility, though, you’re out of luck. I’ve been there and felt that pain, too, and there’s nothing that can be done.

So have it: What’s on your mind? Anything that you’ve been trying to accomplish with your Mac that you can’t quite figure out? We’ll work through it together. Answers to your questions are just a comment away.

46 Responses to “Open Thread Weekend: We answer tech questions, too”

  1. Hi,

    I’m having the same problems as Shawn, although I’m not sure it’s exclusive to Safari. I’ve been getting apparently random freezes for a few weeks now, and I have to force shutdown and restart. Any answers you find for Shawn would be of great help to me so if poss, post them here or email me.


    btw, I have a G5 2ghz imac with 1.5gb ram


  2. thanks bill

    i have a macbook 2.0 core2duo. thanks for the link to soundsource. that will cut down on the time it takes to switch the input (as long as i remember to do it).

    i’m not using a usb mic when i record. it’s just a 1/8th jack coming from the sound board into the line in jack of the macbook. and i haven’t found a way for sound to revert to the built in mic when i unplug it.

    the coughing sounds only occur when i forget to switch it from “built in” to “line in”. thus the sound guy there in the booth is picked up much more than the speaker at the front of the auditorium.

    i haven’t tried audio hijack (the non-pro version is free but if not registered (paid for) then it adds noise to the sound after 10 min). but you’d think there was a way to change the sound settings your suggesting from within garageband. i’m just not ‘sound savvy’ enough to know what settings to change. if you know, i’d love to learn. oh and also sometimes there’s a buzz in our recordings even during the silence. i know the buzz is in there because of our sound system, but is there a way to take the buzz out in garageband after it’s recorded??

    once again thanks for your help!

  3. Lisa Maxfield

    I run Parallels on my Macbook Pro. When I installed Parallels I apparently neglected to dedicate one of the usb ports to the windows platform. Is there a way to do that now without reinstalling Parallels?

  4. @ Stuart

    I run BootCamp with Windows VIsta on my Macbook 2.16 GHz; 2 GB RAM and it works beautifully other than the few problems I have with Windows on it’s own. Just holding option when starting up lets me choose whether I want Mac or Windows and if I’m in Mac already I have a script that lets me restart in Windows.

    As for gaming, I haven’t tried much yet. Mostly because I’m on a laptop and rarely sitting at a desk with a mouse. My experience with BootCamp tells me that there would be no problem though.

    I can’t swear by Parallels. Those have been a bit excessive for me but my dad uses them (with the same kind of Mac only a little slower [2.0 GHz]) and he loves them.

  5. @ Stuart — Welcome to The Apple Blog! You’re right in thinking that gaming is the “last great frontier” that Macs have to overcome with respect to Windows. I’m not a gamer, personally, so I can’t answer your question, but I do know that running games inside virtualization software such as Parallels can be tricky. As for Boot Camp, I can’t say: I’m not a Boot Camp user, either, but I swear by Parallels.

    Edit: In general, the biggest issue with Windows-based games on Mac is with DirectX 9. Since you’re asking primarily about older games, this probably isn’t an issue, but as I said, I’m not a gamer.

    If anyone reading this thread is interested in helping Stuart, though, please feel free to respond.

  6. @ Shawn — Glad you’re getting in on the fun! :) By randomly freezing, do you mean that it’s completely freezing and you have to kill it, or does it temporarily freeze and then come back momentarily? If it’s the first case, I’ll have to have some more information (and probably best to take it offline since it could get involved), but in the second, my hunch is that the system is growing the swapfile.

    For a 2GHz proc on 10.4.10, 1 GB isn’t a ginormous amount of memory. On my MBP, I’ve got 2 GB of memory and 836 MB of it is currently free, but my virtual memory size is still sitting at a hefty 16 GB. Even the smallest of the small processes — ipfwloggerd, for example, has 92 KB in real memory, but 26.61 MB in virtual memory. Wow!

    The solution, at least for the second case, is to make sure that your system has a large enough swapfile to begin with so it doesn’t have to keep adding to it all the time, and when it does add to it, to make sure that it adds a big chunk instead of a tiny one.

    Because tweaking the swapfile is something that should be left alone unless you actually need to do it, I’m going to pause at this point and ask you, which type of “freeze” is it — temporary or permanent?

  7. I do not own a Mac, but have been drawn to your website recently. Many of my friends own Macs, but as of yet, I cannot justify buying one. I agree with you on the DRM issues as well as basic hardware issues, both actual Macbooks, G4’s, Ipods, whatever.

    But as I tell people, when I can get a Mac to do exactly everything a Windows based machine can do and do it just as well, as well as being up to date with technology, I will more than happily “make the switch” so I can have the best of both worlds.

    So here is my first concern or question. Boot camp. I do not know anyone who uses it, but I’m curious just how well it works. Specifically, video games.

    I’m not sure what you have on hand, but I’d be more than willing to lend a copy of Starcraft, Baldur’s Gate, Dungeon Siege 2, and…oh, Half -Life 2, to see if they run just as well on a Mac.

    I’d probably buy a Macbook or Macbook Pro, so graphic heavy games don’t really matter much to me, but it’s those older titles that I’m concerned about.

    So…how well would they run?

  8. I’m so glad you’ve made this offer!

    I have an iMac 20″, 2Ghz, 1 GB memory, 10.4.10. For the longest time, Safari has been freezing randomly. I’ve done everything I can think of to stop this, but nothing has worked! (Repairing permissions, cleaning logs, trashing preferences, removing plug-ins). Just in the last week, I’ve noticed some general slow-down in the overall system. What’s the best solution to this very odd crisis?

  9. @ abelara — It’s possible, yes. It depends a bit on which Mac you use: the MacBook Pro I use, for instance, will automatically switch back to built-in mic when I unplug my USB headset, but many of the older systems won’t.

    Also, Rogue Amoeba makes some good software for simplifying audio tasks. SoundSource is one of their apps for managing your input and output devices, and it’s free. It takes the work out of the Sound preference pane and put it into a menu item that you can select very easily.

    Another, one that I use and find quite helpful, is Audio Hijack. With it, you can capture your sound on a per application basis, so you can grab the sound from QTPro, Garage Band, or whatever you use for your podcasts, and record input from only that one application. [Note that I linked to Audio Hijack Pro, but Audio Hijack (no information page) accomplishes this task without the extra bells and whistles that Audio Hijack Pro provides.] The older version of Audio Hijack Pro is available for free download, but it’s no longer supported by Rogue Amoeba; look for the link on the right of that page under “Legacy.”

    A tip on issues with recording quality, too: If you run your input through the built-in Audio Unit graphic equalizer (available in any app that supports AUs), you should be able to enhance the speaker in the back and suppress the coughing up close. Other AUs (limiters, high passes, etc.) may also help with that.

  10. i’ve been looking for a way to have my mac automatically update my system input sound preferences depending on whether there is a “line in” plugged in or not.
    i normally record our church’s sermons for podcast. in these cases there is a “line in” coming from the sound booth. but then later there are times i want to make a quick movie with QT Pro to post to my blog. i get all the way through it and then realize that there isn’t any sound because i’ve forgotten to change the sound preferences in the Sound preference pane to use the internal mic.
    i think this should be possible since mac os x can adjust the output sound accordingly if you’re using headphones or the built in speakers
    is there a way to do this? or at least an applescript that i can evoke with quicksilver? that will at least save me a few mouse clicks, i don’t know what will help me to remember to switch it before i start recording
    oh yeah, and then there are times i forget to change it back to “line in” for the sermon. it’s a real bummer, because the sound is very faint from the back of the sanctuary trying to pick up the speaker’s voice. (oh and then the occasional cough from the guy running the soundboard.)
    thanks in advance for any help

  11. @ Ralpho — It’s not a problem unique to AppleWorks (I don’t use it), but I notice it when pasting URLs from Firefox into Mail, for instance. What’s actually happening is that it is pasting in the original style: the original style of the text you are copying, not the style of the document you’re pasting into.

    Some applications (AppleWorks may be one) allow you to “paste and match style.” Instead of a simple ⌘V, try using ⇧⌥⌘V (Shift-Option-Command-V) instead. I’ve confirmed that this works in Mail.

  12. @ Jon — I’m not aware of anything personally, but someone else may be able to recommend something. In the hour (or more) that I tried to script it with Script Editor, I was going the route of UI scripting, but eventually found it to be more effort than I could spend. I’ll share with you, though, where I left it. I was having problems with getting it to understand that key code 125 is down-arrow and 126 is up-arrow:

    tell application "System Preferences"
    set current pane to pane id ""
    reveal "keyboardTab_ModifierKeys"
    end tell
    tell application "System Events"
    tell application process "System Preferences"
    tell tab group 1 of window "Keyboard & Mouse"
    click button 2
    end tell
    keystroke tab & tab
    -- Set Option to Command
    key code {125, 125}
    keystroke return & tab
    -- Set Command to Option
    key code {126, 126}
    click button "OK" of sheet 1 of window "Keyboard & Mouse"
    end tell
    end tell

  13. I would love to have the answer to this problem: Most of the time, when I cut and paste text in AppleWorks documents, it pastes in a different font (usually helvetica) and smaller point size. How can I make sure it pastes in the original font and point size?

  14. @bill

    Is there an option/plugin/something for Script Editor to record mouse movements/clicks? I know there’s the Keyboard and Mouse Recorder program which would possibly work, but I was hoping for something more integrated. For some reason the System Preferences panel doesn’t seem to be “recordable” with Script Editor.

    Thanks, Jon

  15. One thing that has been bugging me ever since I became a (very happy) switcher is a keyboard shortcut that I used extensively in IE (Alt-D) which jumped your cusor to the Address field. Try as I might, I cannot find an equivalent shortcut in Safari. Simple I know, but I really miss it.

  16. @ Jon — I’ve used DoubleCommand with Parallels, but not extensively, and definitely not with an external keyboard in the mix. There could be an issue, I suppose. To fix your issue is going to require one of four things: a kernel extension (kext), an input manager (which, I’ve heard rumor of, are going to die in Leopard), an AppleScript, or manual intervention.

    Unfortunately I can’t think of anything else, but if someone else can, please feel free to offer Jon some assistance.

  17. @ Dave — For the most part these apps are safe if they’re done properly and only when needed. I’ve used Cocktail in the past, but my personal preference is OnyX, which I use regularly for cache cleaning and tweaking some of my personal preferences. You’ve definitely hit on something here, and instead of answering your question in the Open Thread Weekend, I’d like to turn it into a full article.

  18. @ Nick —

    Getting rid of the hard drive icon on your desktop is easy. Click once on your desktop, then click ⌘-, (Command-Comma) to open the preferences. In the General tab, under the section “Show these items on the Desktop”, uncheck the box for “Hard disks”. Note that external drives, however, usually don’t disappear until you uncheck “CDs, DVDs, and iPods”.

    Scrolling in Mail: Try the Space Bar. Or, if you’re on a MacBook/MacBook Pro, you can enable two-finger scrolling in the System Preferences Keyboard & Mouse pane. Go to the Trackpad tab, then select “Use two fingers to scroll”.

    I’m not quite sure I understand your dual-monitor issue, but it sounds like when you disconnect your external monitor, you lose your cursor? Is it on your laptop display before you disconnect? It could be that when it disconnects, it’s off in Lala Land and doesn’t know how to find its way home. Try bringing it back onto your laptop screen before disconnecting. Apple’s official policy, though, is that you always disconnect with the laptop and external monitor powered off or in sleep state. Also, are you using video mirroring or are you extending your desktop?

    iCal, Address Book, and Mail: Generally they work well together with a little bit of nudging. It’s easy enough to drag an address card or calendar appointment into Mail, for instance, to create an attachment to send to another person. Provided that person is using compatible software (iCal and Address Book use idustry standards such as vCard and ICS), they will be able to open the attachments. Using contacts in Mail is also tightly integrated: Just start typing the name in the To or Cc field, and it’s there. The same is true with iCal: If you enter a new appointment and it’s a meeting with another person in your Address Book, you can type that name(s) into the Attendees field when you create the appointment — iCal will automatically generate the calendar appointment and attach it to an email, then trigger Mail to send it for you.

    Going in other directions is a bit more difficult sometimes, and a bit more beyond the scope of this comment. Take a look at the excellent blog Hawk Wings, which provides many tips on working with just these apps.

  19. @bill

    Hey, thanks!

    My external keyboard is some kind of generic windows kbd (I’m not at work now, so I can’t check). I tried DoubleCommand but a kernel extension seemed overkill for this simple task, and I also experienced some system instability after installing it (quite possibly unrelated, but I removed it just to be on the safe side). Perhaps DoubleCommand doesn’t play nice with Parallels which I also use heavily.

  20. @Maciej — I’m not a user of Active Directory, so the information I’m giving you should be checked with someone who is.

    Setting it up in OS X isn’t difficult, though. Apple’s online help gives quite a bit of assistance in accomplishing this.

    In the Utilities folder of your Applications folder, you’ll find an application called Directory Access. When you launch that, if the lock appears locked, you’ll need to unlock it to make changes. Then, in the Services tab, highlight Active Directory and click “Configure…” From there, you’ll need to consult with your Active Directory expert for the appropriate settings. But this is where you can make the changes needed to get OS X talking to Active Directory.

    Make sure the checkbox next to Active Directory is checked, then click Apply. For more assistance on that, this article may provide some assistance, or you may need to consult with someone more experienced such as an OS X server administrator.

  21. @ jon — I’ve been working for an hour or so on an AppleScript to automate that for you, but UI scripting is ugly and a big hack that is just vicious.

    When I’ve used my external Microsoft keyboard with my old PowerBook in the past, the Microsoft Desktop software did a very good job switching between the two automatically. I’m not normally a fan of Microsoft products, but when something works well, I praise it. In theory, there’s nothing technically preventing you from installing it on your system, even if you’re using a Logitech or other brand of keyboard. You may not have the same results I’ve had, though.

    You might also check into the (brilliant and venerable) free preference pane called DoubleCommand; with it, you can at least get the same keyboard functionality, even if it’s not what the keys on the keyboard you’re using at the time happen to say they are. I’ve used it for quite a while to turn my Enter key into a second Option key.

    Other than installing the third-party driver (either Microsoft or Logitech or some other keyboard software), the only other way I can think of to automate the process is through UI scripting.

    What type of keyboard are you using?

  22. you know what would be really nice? if you could explain what programs like cocktail and mainmenu and tiger cache cleaner are doing to your system (and why one should or should not do it) when it comes to ds_store files, kernel cache, user vs system cache and so on…a lot of folks download these apps, dump their caches, do a slow reboot and then wonder why they’re seeing permissions and other things change…

    OR a whole thing on “things you can delete if just you are using your machine and never make it remotely accessible” (all that crap in system/library for networking that means nada…)

  23. I would love to tweak behavior of my laptop so that I can make it look like what I want.

    For instance, how do I get rid of the HD icon on my desktop? I don’t need it.

    How can I scroll down the message that is highlighted in Mail, in order to read without jumping to the next one. No matter how much I select the body, somehow it does what it wants.

    How can I make the switch back to the laptop screen when unplugging the Mini-DVI plug and losing my cursor, having to replug and unplug to make the cursor come back?

    Is there a way to drag an email into iCal, or an iCal event into Address Book and vice versa? Meaning can I take one of the bundled Apple program’s event and make into an entry in another bundled program?

    Anyway, just little things like that. Thanks,


  24. Is there a way to automatically switch the keyboard settings when you plug in an external USB keyboard. I’m stuck using a windows kbd at work and I have to manually switch the command and option keys every time I plug/unplug the external kbd.