New power supplies sometimes don’t work with old MacBooks

August 11, 2010

Recently I had to buy a new power supply for my 2008 MacBook. Because having three adapters isn’t enough, when you forget to bring any of them with you on a business trip.

So I ran into the Apple store in San Francisco and grabbed a new 60 watt adapter – the one with the “L” style MagSafe connector, versus the older “T” style connectors I’ve got on my other three adapters.

Raced back to the client. Plugged it in – and it didn’t work. Spent 20 minutes cleaning my connector, trying different outlets, etc. No luck.

Headed back to the Apple store, and verified the following:

  • My new adapter works with three different MacBooks on display.
  • None of the 60 watt power adapters with “L” style connectors being used for display Macs worked with my MacBook, but all of the 60 watt adapters with older “T” style connectors did work.
  • The 85 watt power adapter at the Genius Bar did work with my MacBook.
  • The new 85 watt power adapter that Mitch @ the Bar set me up with didn’t work with my MacBook.
  • The older 60 watt power adapter Mitch extracted from the store’s repair supply stock did work.

After all of the above, I got in touch with a friend who works as a Genius at the Manhattan store. Turns out she’d just had to deal with a similar issue, and the root of the problem is that the System Management Controller (SMC) needs to be reset for some older MacBooks to work properly with new power adapters.

Apple has information about how to reset the SMC, and on that page it lists one of the reasons why you need to do this as “The battery does not appear to be charging properly”.

I’m hoping Apple updates the info found on both this page and their Troubleshooting MagSafe adapters page, to make it easier to find in the future for other users. Before Apple Stores run out of these older “T” style power adapters.

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When optional fields aren’t actually optional

July 5, 2010

I signed up for Virgin Mobile today, as the answer to my “I’m on the road, and I’m tired of trying to find wifi hotspots”.

Previously I’d had a Sierra Wireless AirCard (595U) with Sprint, and it worked great, but I couldn’t justify $60/month for the occasionally trip to the Bay area.

But Virgin Mobile with its pay-as-you-go plan seems perfect. I can spend $10 for a 10-day plan with enough data (100MB) for my email and light web surfing needs. So I bought the modem, and went to sign up. Which brought me to this page on their web site:

This is the error screen you get when you don’t fill in the address fields. Which aren’t marked as being required.

But after using their Broadband2Go app, I can see that having a polished UI experience isn’t high on their priority list. I’m just hoping the Sprint-provided service works as well as with my old WiMax setup.


Apple Passive-Aggressive Login

January 25, 2010

I logged into the Apple site recently, to make a Genius Bar appointment.

There seems to be some new information required, where they want the secret question/answer pair that now seems to be part of every company’s registration system. But after my login I got this interesting message:

Looks like a case of the right hand and the left hand not being in sync.


Three suggestions for the Mac Finder’s Force Quit command

December 24, 2009

Unfortunately I have to use this several times a week – mostly for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, but occasionally a few other equally troubled apps.

So in the process, I’ve found a few irritations that could easily be fixed:

  1. Display the list of apps in two groups – at the top, the apps that aren’t responding (usually just one). So then I never see the list displayed without the offending app clearly at the top. When you’re running a lot of apps, the list often winds up being displayed such that the hung app isn’t visible.
  2. When I force-quit a non-responding app, don’t ask for confirmation. It’s not responding, that’s why I’m explicitly asking you to make it go away.
  3. And in the same vein, when I’ve force quit a non-responding app, don’t display a scary dialog telling me that an app unexpectedly quit, and whether I want to report the problem to Apple.

IndirecTV

January 4, 2009

We decided to upgrade our TV options, while punting on Netflix, as we found ourselves more interested in nature shows and football than movies.

After painfully working through the various packages from Comcast, Dish and DirecTV, I went with DirectTV. Slightly better price and a bit better selection of shows we wanted, plus a $10/mo rebate offer.

What a mistake. We should have stuck with Comcast.

All of these services have problems, but we jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

  • The installation was painful. I had to crawl around under the house, and up in the attic, to help the installer figure out how to tap into our existing cable setup and replace several connectors. This had all worked fine with Comcast, but caused problems for DirecTV.
  • For the first month, every 30 minutes or so we’d get a message on the screen about having to download new software. If you weren’t fast enough with the remote, the firmware upgrade would start, and you’d be stuck staring at a status bar instead of seeing the game-winning field goal.
  • Since the beginning we’ve had problems with the screen randomly freezing. Audio would continue, but eventually the entire system would lock up. Only solution is to reset it and wait for the “Acquiring satellites” process to complete. Again, while missing something really interesting that we were paying to not see.
  • And the clincher is that I realized our bill didn’t show the $10 monthly discount. Looking through the paperwork, I found the “apply for your monthly bill credit” slip with instructions. But you had to do this within 60 days of activation, and we were over the limit.

Just for grins, I asked about cancellation. For only $336, we could bail on what my wife calls IndirecTV.

In an attempt to salvage the situation, I’ve requested another visit by the installer to see if they can fix the problem (all of the self-help steps failed), and I’m writing to their corporate office to ask for a more reasonable rebate policy. If you’re in the same situation, their address is:

DirecTV
PO Box 6550
Greenwood Village, CO 80155-6550

— Ken

PS – I thought I’d found a kindred soul in Om Malik, but his “And Now InDirecTV” blog post was about their kludgy video on demand service.


Skype warns against bad hair days

October 4, 2008

I was in Japan for a friend’s wedding, and finally was motivated enough to sign up for SkypeOut service. At 2ยข/minute, it made being on hold with Travelocity a bit less painful.

During the sign-up process for SkypeOut, I an unusual icon at the bottom of the page:

So I guess this is the international icon for a “Bad Hair Day” emergency, and you’re not allowed to use SkypeOut to contact a professional stylist.


The case of the curious power drain

October 4, 2008

I took my MacBook to the Nevada City 4th of July parade, to save some spots at Wisdom Cafe. This is your classic small-town event, with fire engines, jazzercisers and The German American Friendship Club in full lederhosen.

After about an hour of work, my battery life was down to less than an hour, instead of the 3-4 hours I was expecting. Hmm, maybe my battery is dying. But I can hear a faint humming noise, which means the hard disk is spinning continuously. And I had trouble putting my Mac to sleep before I left for the parade.

I fired up Activity Monitor, and saw that something called “ditto” was using up 95% of my CPU. Firing up the Terminal, I executed “ps auxwww | grep ditto” and got:

kenkrugler 15193  98.2  0.0    75624   1024   ??  Rs   Tue02PM 3942:21.74 /usr/bin/ditto -xk - /Users/kenkrugler/Desktop/.BAHO26HV

Executing “man ditto” in the Terminal tells me it’s used to “copy directory hierarchies, create and extract archives”. What’s odd is that it’s been running for 3942 minutes, or almost 3 days.

Then I remembered that a few days ago, I’d renamed a .jar file to .zip and tried to expand it, to show somebody the structure of a jar file. But the Archive Utility hung, or rather it refused to finish or quit. So I had to force-quit it.

Which apparently left the underlying “ditto” process running, and what looks like a fully expanded version of the .zip file in a hidden “.BAHO26HV” directory on my desktop. I restarted my Mac, deleted the directory, and everything returned to normal (less 3 hours of battery).