• Newsletter Issue #473

    December 21st, 2008


    Regular readers will note that my recent columns about the future of Macworld Expo — or lack thereof — have received responses from the top of the food chain, in this case Expo manager Paul Kent.

    Now I’ve known Paul for a number of years. He has appeared on The Tech Night Owl LIVE from time to time over the years, and we’ve forged a friendly association. So I was quite pleased that he selected this site to post his most extended comments on the matter since Apple decided to pull out of the San Francisco conference.

    Once the returns are in from the 2009 Expo, you’ll be hearing from Paul and IDG’s plans for events in 2010 and beyond.

    Meantime, we devoted a large portion of this week’s episode to Apple’s announcement and also to the surprising decision that Steve Jobs would not deliver the final keynote. Featured guests for this episode included Special Correspondent David Biedny and TidBITS editor/publisher Adam Engst. Both, as you might expect, were skeptical about the Expo’s future, as am I.

    I hope it will be otherwise, for I have always enjoyed the Expos I’ve attended, and, frankly, it was a wonderful place to meet up with many of the people with whom I’ve dealt strictly by email and instant messaging over the years.

    In addition, following the release of Mac OS 10.5.6, security guru Rich Mogull was on hand to report on the 21 security fixes in this update and how they impact the safety of the Mac platform.

    On The Paracast this week, we present an exclusive! Movie producer James Fox returns to discuss the proposed sequel or reimagining of his great UFO documentary, “Out of the Blue.” Learn what led him to continue his journey to refine and perfect this pace-setting work.

    Coming December 28: Gene and David don their Consumer Protection hats and expose a notorious faker in the UFO field. They’ll be joined in this worthy effort by investigator Frank Warren, who has done his own research into the questionable exploits of the offender in question.


    As I’ve reported over the years, I’ve never had a Mac OS X update come back to bite me. On the other hand, I can tell you that one friend, a client named Don, encountered an installation glitch when I ran the 10.5.6 update on his brand new MacBook.

    Normally, running Software Update on new Apple hardware is a trivial matter. Even if the computer was built but a few weeks before it was shipped to you, you can expect that there will be a slew of updates awaiting download and installation. So just add that to your expected installation experience.

    In this particular case, Apple’s Installer app hung on the “Configuring installation” prompt. It turns out this issue appears if the file download process was somehow aborted before it finished. For some reason, Installer launches anyway which is, of course, incorrect behavior. The update should actually resume — or attempt to resume — on the next attempt.

    Apple’s published solution is simple. Go to your /Library/Updates folder, and delete the contents. That removes the fragmented file, so you can simply launch Software Update and let it do its thing all over again. Usually it succeeds. Indeed, this partial download glitch is evidently fixed in 10.5.6, but first you have to get there.

    A certain Mac update site that never met an Apple issue — or alleged Apple issue — that it couldn’t misrepresent or complicate, has other ideas. They tell you to go to Apple’s support site, grab the sprawling Combo update and do it from scratch. They also add a few voodoo steps, such as starting your Mac in Safe Mode, repairing disk permissions and other acts that are only required in extreme cases.

    Their advice will actually work, mind you. It’s not necessarily wrong. But Apple’s suggestion is more efficient, particularly for folks who are bandwidth-challenged and for whom humongous updates take an awful long time to retrieve.

    In addition, there is yet another legacy Leopard problem, involving IMAP email, which I encountered recently during our migration to a new Web server. Why it should suddenly appear, when things worked properly until then, may be a matter of the configuration of the email server software itself, and how it interacts with Apple Mail.

    Regardless, the major symptom was downright annoying. Suddenly, multiple Inboxes appeared in Mail and in my other email clients. I delete them, and they returned, insect-like, to plague me yet again.

    Understand that this particular issue is strictly cosmetic. It doesn’t hurt your email, nor does it actually increase the size of your mailboxes. But it can look perfectly awful, particularly in an iPhone, where screen real estate is at a premium.

    When it first occurred, however, I didn’t realize it was an essentially benign bug. I thought it was a mail corruption issue, and my admin appeared to agree with me. But before putting him to the task of rebuilding our large mailboxes, I opted to check with Parallels, publisher of the Plesk Panel, which is used to manage our server.

    Once they actually saw the symptoms in action, they responded with a few links to online discussions, including Apple’s own support forums. After trying some of the home remedies, I finally traced the issue to a glitch or corruption of some sort in Mail’s preference file. That, too, may have been fixed in 10.5.6, but the affected preference files aren’t altered.

    Now as I’ve told you in the past, I use IMAP, because this particular protocol stores your email on the server, and allows all of your clients (computers and smartphones for example) to keep the email in sync. There are minor setup issues. You need to map certain default mailboxes, such as Junk (or Spam), Sent and Trash to the IMAP equivalents on the server. In Mail, you want to employ the Use This Mailbox For function in the Mailbox menu to properly map the email boxes.

    In addition, if you want your Sent messages to be kept safe on your server and in sync, you’ll want to open the Mailbox Behaviors preference screen in Mail for each of your accounts and click the appropriate checkboxes.

    This little bit of housekeeping delivers wondrous rewards, for now your email will stay intact and up to date even when you buy a brand new Mac. If course, you want to make sure that your mail server is backed up. That depends on your ISP or Web host, of course, unless you have control of your own server as we do, and you can schedule your own backups.

    In any case, my final solution to the curse of the multiplying Inboxes involved two steps.

    First, I quit Mail, went to my Web server and physically deleted the bogus mailboxes.

    The second step was to delete Mail’s own preference files and the /Library/Mail folders on my MacBook Pro and Mac Pro. This meant starting from scratch, but it took maybe 10 minutes to recreate all the accounts and settings.

    The solution, after three days of testing, has been thoroughly successful. Email just works without spawning extra mailboxes. Now I suppose I could have gone into the preference file and hacked the errant data, and there are online posts as to just what to look for. But I opted to start clean and green.

    However, this may be reason for someone to produce a user-friendly Mailbox Cleanup application (assuming there isn’t one out there already) designed to address issues such as this. It would also be nice if the 10.5.6 update repaired the damage all by itself, but maybe that’s just asking a little too much of Apple. And, yes, that last comment was absolutely facetious.


    Although my cable TV, Internet and telephone bundle from Cox Communications is somewhat cheaper than buying separates and ordering satellite TV, there is one downside. Both DirecTV and Dish Network claim to offer a lot more choices when it comes to high definition channels.

    The main reason for that is bandwidth. Cable TV systems have to update their networks to allow for different methods to transmit TV signals to you so they can carry more stations. What’s more, with the U.S.’s digital TV conversion coming early next year, precious analog bandwidth will be freed up and will allow your local cable provider to deliver more HD.

    Of course, you have to hope they aren’t going to compress the signals to a fare-thee-well, so everything is filled with noise and digital artifacts. Well, Cox seems pretty decent about that. When viewed on a quality flat panel set, pictures are quite sharp, and seldom exhibit nasty digital encoding artifacts.

    Anyway, they did their network update in my neighborhood this fall. Without fanfare, or any announcement whatever on their site, the number of high definition stations one day increased from just over 30 to 44, including the Sci Fi Channel.

    Indeed, as I excitedly looked over the channel menu, I saw that only a mere handful of my favorites remained strictly in the standard definition mode. With the promise of close to 100 HD stations by early in 2009, Cox has some ground to cover, and I have to remain optimistic that the remaining favorites will make the transition. I know most of them are available on satellite even now.

    You might ask why I never took the satellite route. While, I had Dish Network once upon a time, but I wasn’t enamored of their service, and I had to have two dishes to get the full package. More to the point, their lineup, for some reason, didn’t include a handful of the local independent stations in various cities. It seems their local offerings are sometimes token at best, usually confined to the major networks.

    Worse, advertising can be deceptive. Even though Dish is touting up to 100 HD stations in its advertising for its new TurboHD service, the all-inclusive Gold package numbers less than 50, plus the locals.

    In contrast, DirecTV is claiming up to 130 HD stations, but many are regional, so you will tend to get far less in any particular locale. In my case, I found only a handful of offerings in HD that I didn’t already have, and I expect Cox will, if they keep their promise, offer most of them early next year.

    Besides, I pay less with my current package, and there’s no guarantee that I’ll get any better picture quality from a competitor.

    On the other hand, if you’re planning an HD conversion, don’t just check the prices, although that might be the most important factor these days. Instead, list the HD stations you want and which service offers them, or plans to in the near future. Regardless of what decision you make, don’t fall for the claims that cable is necessarily cheaper than satellite or vice versa. Don’t just believe that one or the other will give you more of the stations you really want to watch.

    Check everything out for yourself. Often you’ll find things are less than claimed, but you should be able to find the package that best suits your needs. And don’t be afraid to switch if another provider offers you a better deal. But that assumes that you have some sort of competition in your neighborhood, and that, alas, isn’t always the case. 


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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