A New Mac

I’m beginning to look for a replacement for my 4 year old iMac. The current specs of my iMac suit me fine, 8 GB of RAM, 256MB video card (I don’t game), Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I haven’t really run into any issues with the tasks I need to perform… Until recently.

I have been experiencing quite a few issues with kernel panics that seem to be caused by the video card (according to the console and crash reports). They will either freeze the computer or restart it. They happen at random times. Sometimes the screen will freeze on the screensaver (with very few apps running). Other times they happen just browsing the web (in Safari).

Back in June I was had some issues with the video card and luckily the iMac was still under Apple Care and they replaced the video card and the logic board. I thought that would solve all my problems, and for a while it did. Now I experience panics and freezes on a daily basis. I even did a fresh install of Mountain Lion, just to be sure it wasn’t due to something I installed and also because I haven’t done a fresh install since I got the machine. I may take the machine to the Apple Store for diagnosis, but I doubt they will find anything (they didn’t “find” anything the last time either, but wound up replacing the two components that were likely causing the issue). The Apple Hardware Test did not find anything wrong, but obviously, something is. The problem is, if I do need to replace the parts, the cost will be close to half the cost of buying a new machine with no guarantee that it will fix the issue. Then I will be out of that money and back where I started.

So that’s where my dilemma comes. Do I buy a new Mac (and no, buying a PC is not an option. I adore OSX and love the apps I use on it and do not want Windows 8) and if so, what model?

I currently use my iMac for web browsing, Photoshop work, web development and, most importantly, as my media server. I have Plex Media Server running and stream all my media to my Roku. I would really like a Retina MacBook Pro, but I would not want that running at all times in order to stream media to my Roku (and what’s the purpose of a MacBook if it has to stay on my desk connected to several external hard drives?). So, in all honesty, I have 3 options, a Mac Mini, an iMac or a Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro has not been update in forever and is really expensive. Not to mention, it is overkill for my needs. I’m not processing raw image files or doing a ton of video encoding. I don’t need server-grade (and outdated) Xeon processors. I don’t want to go with another iMac because of Apple’s move toward soldering the RAM directly to the logic board. I also don’t want to be stuck where I am now with my current iMac. That being said, any Mac I choose will face the same issues that all new Macs have with user-swappable parts (besides the Mac Pro, which I’ve pretty much ruled out at this point).

So that leaves the Mac Mini. I can upgrade the RAM on it, but that’s it. Everything else has to be done by Apple or an Apple certified repair shop. Also, the Mac Mini has integrated graphics and not a dedicated video card. I don’t do much (any) gaming, but it does worry me that I may need that extra power. I’m not sure how well the transcoding that Plex does or graphic intensive applications (Photoshop) will work on it. I imagine they will run fine, but I really need more information on that.

The Mac Mini is definitely the cheapest alternative. Building one online (without upgrading the RAM through Apple) will run about $1500. Not bad, but how will the machine handle in 3 or 4 years? Will I need a better machine by then (I like to keep my machines running as long as possible, in fact, I’m typing this on a 5 year old white MacBook that is also on its last leg, but with the iPad, I rarely use it)? Will it start to die on me like my iMac is? If I get the Mac Mini I will upgrade the RAM to 16GB, probably from Crucial, but the integrated graphics gives me some pause.

I feel that Apple’s tight control over their products and slow update cycles is hindering me here. I really wish they had a computer for people like me that were more tech-geek friendly. An iMac that users could open and swap parts would be ideal, but that is not Apple’s style, unfortunately. A cheaper Mac Pro would work too, if it were cheaper and not reliant on server-grade hardware. I don’t think I can wait to whatever mystery product Tim Cook hinted at for Mac Pro users in 2013, especially since I can’t go on using the iMac with it freezing every day.

So what do I do? I’m not sure.

The Never Ending Saga of iTunes Launching Itself

Two years ago I reported how iTunes would launch itself on my iMac. After tons of research trying to find the cause, I think I found it.

To recap what was happening, iTunes would launch by itself and (about half the time) start playing music. I thought there was an issue with the Logitech mouse I was using at the time (because any time I would touch the wireless dongle on the back USB port, iTunes would launch), but that didn’t seem to be the case because plugging in the normal Mighty Mouse did not solve the issue.

I continued to troubleshoot and do my normal testing and found that touching any of the plugged in devices to any of the USB ports could trigger it. If I shut down the computer and changes which ports the different devices plugged into, the problem would go away temporarily. Eventually, iTunes would launch by itself again. One of the most ominious times iTunes launched by itself was one Halloween while I was not at home. I came home to find Slither, a song about vampires by KC rapper Tech N9ne playing. Weird, huh?

For the past 6-9 months the problem went away so I assumed an Apple update fixed the issue at some point. Then, I installed Mountain Lion and after a few weeks the problem presented itself again. This time, I noticed that the problem only reoccured when I was troubleshooting another issue in which I was constantly moving my Mac to access the USB ports in the back. I started searching again. That’s when I found this thread on a Mac forum.

This problem is related to the microswitch located at the very bottom inside the speaker jack. Whenever you get this problem, make sure your speaker cable is fully inserted into the speaker jack. Even the slightest depress on the microswitch can create interference, causing itunes to start and random songs to start playing.

This made sense when I thought back on all the times the problem arose. Every time I would move my Mac to access the USB ports, I would move it in a way in which the speaker plug could have come lose from the jack, even if just a little bit. The tug on the speaker cord as I moved my jack made sense because the cable was taught enough to create the disconnect. After placing my Mac back where it should be and making sure the plug was in firm, I haven’t had the issue reappear. It looks like I have finally found the cause. Hopefully the countless other users experiencing this issue can use this information to help them rid themselves of this annoying problem.

Unified Folders in Thunderbird

When I decided to leave Google Apps for Rackspace Email for a couple of my domains, I switched from a webmail user to an IMAP user. I set up the new email accounts in Outlook and within hours decided to remove them. Because Outlook pretty much sucks I decided to use Thunderbird as my IMAP client at work. There was one thing that wasn’t working correctly, one of the things I liked most about Thunderbird, unified folders.

I love that you can have a unified inbox but for some reason my copy of Thunderbird was only showing me the contents of one inbox. After a quick Google search I was able to find the solution. If you are experiencing the same issue, simply follow these instructions.

1. Launch Thunderbird and right click on your unified inbox folder and click properties.

2. Click on Choose for which folders Thunderbird should search for the unified inbox.

3. Select which IMAP folders should be included in the unified folder. In this case, I’m going to choose all Inbox folders.

4. Click OK to save the choices, then OK to exit out of the folder properties. Your unified inbox should now be working (you may need to restart Thunderbird to see the changes).

Of course, this can be done with any folder that you want to make unified (unified sent folders or draft folders, for example), you would just need to select the IMAP folders you want to include the same way as we did the Inboxes.

Leaving Google Apps

I love Gmail. I think it is the best webmail interface out of any of the major providers. This is why, along with great spam protection, I decided to set Google Apps for domains up on some of my domains. After several years using Google Apps with some of my domains, I think it’s time to call it quits.

Google Apps has grown by leaps and bounds and they really consider themselves an alternative for Microsoft’s offerings. I think they may be growing faster than they can handle though. I’ve been having several issues on multiple Apps accounts and because it’s Google, there is no help to be found. Sure you can search their help center but that just gives you a bunch of people complaining about the same issues. You have no way of knowing if and when Google is going to fix an issue. Some of the major issues that have literally made some accounts unusable are:

  • Permanent redirects when logging in. On one account I put in user credentials and the browser redirects over and over until the browser realizes it will never end and stops trying. This issue goes back a couple months with no one finding a solution that works. This makes logging into the control panel or the mailbox completely impossible. The only way to get email on this account is via IMAP.
  • Unable to edit groups. On a domain where I am actually able to log in I can’t edit groups. I click on the group name and I’m redirected to a Google 404 page. Again, I found people having this issue dating back to the beginning of summer. No fix.
  • Unable to delete groups. Another group issue comes when I go to delete a group. I select the group and click delete. The page refreshes and it tells me group is deleted. But it isn’t. It is still listed in my account.

So, I think with these errors it is time to leave Google. I need to go someplace where things work reliably and when/if they don’t I can actually contact a support person for an answer and a fix. You may be asking why I don’t use the email service that comes with my hosting. Well, it’s shared hosting and anyone on a shared hosting account knows that they have issues with major ISPs blocking shared hosting IPs, plus spam checking is subpar, so I need to find an alternative provider.

Today I started a 14 day trial of Rackspace Email on one of my domains. Their webmail looks good, but I probably won’t use it that much. Since Google enabled IMAP all my domain email has been accessed via IMAP most of the time so it’s likely that will be the same at Rackspace. Some things they also have which makes the move easier are excellent spam and virus protection as well as superior support. We shall see how it works out.

Edit: Despite being told in the comments that I needed to upgrade to premium for these issues to be looked at, they are now miraculously fixed. One of the many Google employees that have visited the site today must have had a hand in it because I highly doubt that these issues just happened to fix themselves today. To the Google employee that helped me out, a sincere thank you.

Edit #2: Setting up a Google Apps account for a friend and I decided to download and install Opera. It had never been used to log into any Google accounts or services. It had completely empty cache and cookies. I set up the account then tried to log in and got the permanent redirect. This was on a brand new instance of Google apps. Something is wrong with their system and no one seems to know how to fix it and Google doesn’t care.

Set a Sleep Timer for Pandora on Your iPhone or iPod Touch

One of the things I’ve often wanted in some of my music apps is the ability to put them to sleep using the built in sleep timer. I’ve been waiting for Apple to release a public API to harness the timer in the Clock app. It appears they have, just not many developers know about it or use it. One of the best music apps, Pandora, does. From their FAQ:

How do I put Pandora to sleep after a certain interval of time?

To do this, exit Pandora and enter the native iPhone “Clock” app. Touch the “Timer” option in the lower left corner. Set the amount of time you want Pandora to play, then set the “When Timer Ends” option to “Sleep iPod” and touch the green “Start” button. Choose the desired Pandora station and leave it playing. Pandora will shut off when the specified interval is up.

I tested some other apps to see if they harnessed this API as well and it appears they don’t. Last.fm will shut off when the timer is done but then it will start right back up. Same thing with the Sirius XM app. The AOL Radio app hasn’t been updated in forever so I didn’t even try that one (which is a shame, it is a good app). I’m not sure why more developers aren’t using this. Do they even know about it? It should be noted that I tried searching for the API in the docs and could not find it but this was the first time I’ve ever even looked at the docs so I wasn’t sure what I was looking for.

iTunes Launches Itself

Over the past year or so I’ve had issues where iTunes would launch (and even play) by itself. I could never figure out exactly what was causing it nor could I find any type of solution. I did find that whenever I would touch the receiver for my wireless Logitech mouse iTunes would launch. That made me believe that the issue was with the Logitech mouse interfering with the Mac. That especially seemed like the case when I removed the Logitech and replaced it with the Magic Mouse and didn’t experience the issue again… until recently.

iTunes started launching by itself all over again over the past couple weeks. Knowing that it had something to do with the USB ports I found a quick fix to the issue. If I would shut down the Mac and unplug all the USB devices and plug them into different ports everything would work fine. Then today I saw this article. It seems that there is an update coming out that might fix the issue. The article talks about one known issue involving USB devices not operating properly after waking from sleep on machines with VMware’s virtualization products installed. This might be the very fix I will need. I have VMware Fusion installed to run Windows. I know the problem happened on Halloween last year (which was creepy, especially since the song playing when I got home that night was a song about vampires) and I didn’t buy VM Ware until November 11th so it still might not be the cause, but I do remember downloading a trial of VM Ware beforehand so that still might be the root cause. Let’s hope it is and it gets fixed.

How I use Twitter

After reading Owen’s post about Twitter Influence there was a brief discussion in the Habari IRC channel about who people follow and why. One part of the conversation was about celebrities. One person in the convo didn’t follow any celebrities. Owen follows just one. I, however, follow 50+. That got me thinking about why I follow these people and how I’m actually using Twitter.

First off, I want to point out that I am not a TMZ, Perez Hilton, US Weekly, People celebrity stalker. In fact, if you look at the celebrities I follow you would find a bunch of names that rarely, if ever, appear in that type of celebrity drivel. The celebrities I follow are people from TV show, music, and movies that I really enjoy. Their updates are usually really good and provide me with entertainment. Denis Leary always has great one-liners. Rob Lowe embraces his fans and frequently talks about his role on The West Wing. Nathan Fillion and Colin Ferguson are just regular guys that tweet just like anyone else. Roger Ebert provides thoughtful political and film essays. Louis CK posts clips from his very funny show and tour dates for his stand up.

The thing is, I get quality tweets from most of these people. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t follow them. Sure there might be a few on there that don’t update, but for the most part they all do and I enjoy most of their tweets. It’s gotten to a point where I enjoy their tweets more than most of the other non St. Louis people I follow. Twitter has evolved from a place where I can see what other people are currently doing to a place where I can get info on my favorite TV shows, movies, musicians, and actors. I still enjoy seeing what my fellow St. Louisans are doing, but that’s about it. I used to enjoy reading what other people were up to or things they found interesting, but that has definitely changed, and I can probably pinpoint two reasons why that has changed.

The first reason is I started following too many people. I follow a lot of people but the people I follow, I follow for a reason. This has disadvantages though. The people I tend to follow update more frequently. Follow a lot of heavy users and statuses begin to fly by one right after another. Even though I find what they have to say interesting, I can only read so many tweets before they are lost forever in a never-ending stream of unreadable text. After a while of not being able to catch up, these updates become noise and provide nothing meaningful. The second thing is what I’m going to refer to as static. These are tweets that interfere with an otherwise good signal and will often contribute to the first issue. These tweets can be anything from a Four Square check in or a re-tweet to get into a contest for an Apple product (which I swear no one ever wins). Then you have paid tweets. That one bugs me the most. With celebrities and other high profile users, it’s easier to get high quality content without a lot of noise. You know if there is an update it’s not going to be a Four Square check in, a RT for a contest, or what song they are currently listening to. It’s going to be something that I find meaningful.

So, have you changed the way you use Twitter over the years? Do you still find it as valuable as before? Do you use it to make personal connections or more broad connections for your interests?