Archive for the 'Hardware' Category

Why can’t you turn off the iMac screen?

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

Why is there no way to turn off the screen on an iMac? I mean, properly turn it off?

It’s not something I thought about when I was thinking about buying an iMac – I just assumed it would have such a basic feature. For something that’s generally well designed and usable, this omission sticks out like a sore thumb.

I’m sure lots of people have their own reasons for turning off their computer screens. Here’s mine.

I run 3 types of nightly backups on my Mac (I’m paranoid). One does a rotating backup to DVD. One does an rsync backup to my wife’s iMac. And one does an rsync backup of our server in the UK (in case it ever goes tits-up).

And in a few months’ time, my iMac will be in the bedroom (I’m being turfed out of the office so we can turn it into a nursery for our upcoming wee nipper). So you can see why having the screen off might be a good idea. IN THE BEDROOM.

Here are the solutions I’ve heard from various people:

  • Just put the iMac to sleep. Er, then how are the backups supposed to work?
  • Turn the brightness all the way down. You’d think that’d work, wouldn’t you? But oh no – unlike Mac laptops, where zero brightness really does turn off the backlight, an iMac’s idea of “zero brightness” is “ever-so-slightly darker than maximum brightness”. Useless.
  • Set the display to sleep in 1 minute. There are even scripts available to do this for you (and reset the sleep time back to normal afterwards).

Setting the display to sleep is not a bad approach, apart from two fundamental problems. Firstly, I don’t want the screen to turn off in 1 minute – I want it to turn off now.

Secondly – and more seriously – it’s not reliable. What I mean is, the screen spontaneously and randomly turns itself on. This seems to happen when certain specific activities occur during the backup process – spinning up the DVD seems to do it, as does network activity. (I’m still trying to pin down exactly what triggers set it off.)

As you might imagine, having a gorgeously brilliant white screen is wonderful when you’re working on it during the day. It’s not so nice when it turns itself on at 3AM in your bedroom.

So that’s the current situation. Apart from cracking open the iMac and installing a manual switch for the backlight, the best I can hope for it probably to put a towel over the thing at night. Ridiculous for such an otherwise well-designed machine. If you’re thinking about buying an iMac, and you want it doing stuff with the screen off overnight, I suggest you heed this warning. Memo to Apple: Fix this. Now.

If anyone has a decent solution, please tell me. I would absolutely love to hear it.

Found a way to sleep the display instantly. 🙂

Reinventing the phone

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

iPhoneBold words indeed! This iPhone does look rather spiffy though. Nice to see Apple have really taken their time with this one and thought about the mobile phone from the ground up, rather than just chucking out a phone with an iPod strapped on.

I don’t tend to use my current mobile much, but I’d still buy one of these, because here, finally, is a mobile device that does everything I want to do in one box, and more importantly, appears to do a decent job of it:

  • Music and video player
  • PDA functionality (with decent Mac syncing no doubt)
  • Proper mobile internet and email
  • Oh, and it can make phone calls. Which is nice.

Apple seem to have really thought this through, and delivered the best of all worlds. Even the phone part seems better than a regular phone. And the screen looks gorgeous for watching videos on. Good effort. Wonderful that it runs OS X (or a variant thereof) too. Presumably third-party developers will be able to write apps for it?

The only omission (to my mind) is a camera on the screen side of the phone, which would enable video conferencing (mobile iChat?). Maybe they’ll chuck one in later. And the idea of scrolling through a list by dragging with your finger doesn’t seem that innovative to me (though obviously I haven’t actually seen it in action). The “finger gestures” idea is great though (pinch to zoom, etc).

It’s not cheap either – you just know $499 US (for the 4GB model) is going to translate into GBP 499 and probably well over AUD $1000 when it finally hits the UK and Aus – and that’s with a 2-year contract (which I’m not remotely interested in).

This is a highly competitive market Apple’s entering into, and many other smartphones offer similar functionality. The question is, will customers value ease-of-use and a decent UI over price? If the iPod is anything to go by then the answer is yes – however the iPod had a lot less serious competition when it was launched.

Looks like Cisco may have a thing or two to say about the name, too. Should be interesting…

Slow Mac

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Is it just me, or is a 20″ iMac 2GHz Intel Core Duo with 2GB RAM not as fast as you’d expect it to be?

I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s generally faster than my 800MHz Pentium III running Linux was. But I’m still spending a lot of time hanging around waiting for it to do stuff. For example:

Safari sometimes sits there for 30-60 seconds with a spinning beach-ball when I try to switch tabs (often after the Mac’s recently woken from sleep, but sometimes for no apparent reason at all).

Spotlight is shockingly slow sometimes – it can sit there for over a minute. Quicker to just find the file manually!

Waking from sleep is a good exercise in patience. The display appears more or less straight away, but it’s a good 20 seconds before you can actually log in, and then another 20 seconds before you can click something in the Dock.

I know NeoOffice isn’t renowned as a speed demon, but the thing’s actually slower than OpenOffice was on my Linux box (if that’s possible)! The thing takes about a minute to start, and sometimes I’m waiting for at least a minute between clicking the close button and a document actually closing. WTF?

OfficeTime and IE5 (I know, I know – I’m a web developer…) are slow as molasses, but then they are running under Rosetta, so I’ll let them off. (C’mon OfficeTime, let’s have this Universal version you’ve been promising for the last 6 months!)

Where’s all this super-duper 2GHz processor power going?! I know I’m a bit of a “power user” and tend to have 10-15 apps open at once, and often run Parallels with a 256MB virtual XP machine, but I mean, 2GHz and 2GB RAM shouldn’t be this slow, should it?


Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

Unlike the recent WWDC which left me somewhat underwhelmed, I must say I’m pretty excited by Steve’s recent announcements. In particular:

iPod Gapless Playback

This might be what finally persuades me to buy an iPod. Even my old linux player could do gapless playback – it always amazes me that iTunes or iPod can’t do this. If it can do it in iTunes as well now, then I’ll be very happy 🙂

Cheaper iPod

Never a bad thing! Time to start saving my pennies… 🙂

Tiny iPod Shuffle

Not that I’d probably buy a Shuffle, but look at it – it’s sooo cute!

640×480 TV Shows on iTunes

I almost bought a season of “Lost” on iTunes the other month as it’s cheaper than the DVDs, but the 320×240 res put me off. No excuse now! 🙂

Movies on iTunes

If they pull this one off and get a lot more movies on-board, and also get pay-per-view sorted (and bring it to iTunes Australia!), then I’m sold.

We don’t have a TV so we watch all our DVDs on the iMac in the living room. Currently, living in Australia, and thanks to the iMac’s non-region-free DVD drive, I can only watch my UK Region 2 DVDs on the iMac, which means I can’t buy or rent Aussie Region 4 discs (which sucks!). As nearly all our DVDs are Region 2 then we just buy new DVDs off However this is expensive and also means we can’t rent DVDs. If we can buy cheap movies, or rent them, off iTunes then that will conveniently bypass this stupid region crap once and for all! Yay!

Things I personally wasn’t so taken with:

Downloading existing album cover art via iTunes

I don’t particularly want Apple knowing about my entire music collection for marketing purposes, so I won’t be sending all my track listings to get the cover art, thank you very much. Besides I’ve already grabbed or scanned the cover art for most of my collection.


Meh, I already use it. Still, it’s nice to have it integrated into iTunes.


It’s a great idea and essential for the whole Apple end-to-end experience, but of course useless for me as we don’t have a TV and watch stuff on the Mac anyway. 🙂

It’s good to see that Apple are still innovating – makes me cheered to have bought into their platform at any rate!

Not So Mighty Mouse

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

My Mac’s Mighty Mouse has packed up after 3 months of use. The scroll ball will no longer scroll “down” (it moves but has no effect) and every now and again the mouse pointer jumps all over the place. Back to Apple for you, Mr Mouse! I hope it has a 3-year warranty like the Mac…

Now I no longer feel that the Microsoft mouse I bought a month before my Mac was a wasted purchase! I’ve switched to it and, after getting used to it, I think I actually prefer it to the Mighty Mouse (despite the lack of left-right scrolling, which I hardly ever used anyway). And it has better acceleration than the Mighty Mouse too. 🙂

UPDATE 25 Aug: Woah! Turns out all I needed to do was clean the ball. Thought I’d search for “mighty mouse won’t scroll down” before calling Apple and found this helpful page. Tried cleaning the ball – now it scrolls down! 🙂 It wasn’t even particularly dirty (or at least didn’t look it). Very strange. Looks like Mighty Mouse is really a bit “sensitive” on the inside! 😉

Memory woes

Monday, August 7th, 2006

Still loving my iMac – easily the nicest computer I’ve used since my trusty old Atari ST. 🙂

Parallels is a bit of a RAM hog though, resulting in many minutes of staring at spinning beach balls when switching to Safari and so on. So I decided to order a couple of 1GB RAM sticks – one for my Mac and one for my wife’s (did I mention she’s switched to a Mac too after seeing my Mac’s lovely screen!).

RAM arrived today – hurrah! But I can’t get it to work. Boo! One stick results in the Mac’s power LED flashing brightly in a quite alarming way; the other stick causes the Mac’s power LED to stay on, but with a black screen – doesn’t get further than that.

And yes, I’ve checked the type of RAM (RamBo 1GB PC2-5300 DDR2-667) and pushed the modules in hard until my fingers hurt (which is what you’re supposed to do apparently).

Called the supplier and I’m waiting for their resident tech to call. Pretty annoying and quite surprising – what are the odds of both RAM sticks being faulty? And with different results too?!

Hrmph. Maybe I should have paid the extra for the Kingston RAM after all…

Squeaking Noise: Fixed!!!

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

Well after being nearly driven mad by this infuriating squeaking noise for a couple of weeks, I finally fixed it. 🙂

Did I fix it by reinstalling the OS? No…

Did I fix it by upgrading the OS? No…

Did I find out it was some obscure software problem? No…

Did I send it back to Apple? Did I hell – no way I’m losing my primary workstation for 2 weeks just so they can replace a CPU fan.

Here’s how to fix it in 1 easy step (warning/disclaimer – this is not recommended, it may break your mac, invalidate your warranty or cause the sky to cave in, etc etc):

Rap the back of the Mac with your knuckles, about 3 or 4 inches above the USB ports.

That’s it! No cunning solution or workaround, just good old-fashioned physical violence. I got so annoyed by the squeak that I just gave it a whack one day as a last-ditch attempt, and the squeak stopped instantly. Came back a couple of hours later (but much quieter) – hit it again, stopped instantly. Came back once more a day later (very quiet) – hit it again, stopped instantly. It’s gone from squeaking every hour or so to not a single tiny squeak for two whole weeks (and counting).

Bliss 🙂

I guess that whack must have reseated the fan onto its spindle or something.

Now I like my Mac again…

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

Friday, June 30th, 2006

So, just over a month into my iMac Core Duo experience, the first (and hopefully the last) hardware issue rears its head.

In the last couple of days I’ve noticed a strange chirping sound in my office occasionally. At first I thought it was birds in the tree outside my window, but then it happened at night. Eventually I narrowed it down to a sound coming out of my Mac.

It’s exactly the same as this sound. Odd that it’s in a completely different type of Mac, but it is definitely that sound. So it sounds like it might be an issue with one of the zillions of fans inside the iMac. It’s only intermittent and varies in volume quite a bit – I’d say I notice it about 1 in every 5 minutes. (It’s just started again as I’m typing this. Ooh, and now it’s gone again already.)

It’s annoying, but I’m not sure if it’s “call AppleCare only for them to tell me to reinstall OS X and then eventually have to send it away for two weeks” annoying. So I’ll probably try and live with it for now. It may be coincidence, but it seems like it might have started since I updated to 10.4.7 on Wednesday. So maybe a future OS update will fix it. (Hey, I can dream can’t I?!)

The ironies here – or perhaps the hidden lessons – are:

  1. If I hadn’t bothered to track down the source I’d have probably just assumed it was some nice birdie outside and would have quite enjoyed the chirping, as opposed to finding it annoying.
  2. For all I know my old rusty Linux box could have had the same chirping problem, but the rest of the PC was so loud I’d never have noticed!

Have you had any similar noise problems with your Mac or PC? How did you solve it (apart from wearing headphones and turning the music up loud!)?

Front Row – Great In Theory

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

One of the first things I tried to do on my new iMac was, of course, play a DVD with Front Row and that nifty little Apple Remote. It’s a wonderful idea, being able to use the Mac as a media centre, and indeed was one of the main reasons I bought the iMac.

So I clicked the remote’s Menu button and the desktop was whisked away into the background while the Front Row interface whirled into view. It’s quite a cool effect.

You get options for Music, Photos, DVD and Videos. I selected the DVD option and it asked me to put in a DVD. I fed it a Lord of the Rings DVD and eventually the DVD menu appeared. This is where the trouble started. The arrow buttons on the remote couldn’t control the menu, although the up and down buttons did change the volume. It was as if Front Row didn’t recognise that it was in the DVD menu.

I tried it a few times, but no joy. So I backed out of Front Row and fired up the regular Apple DVD player software instead. That worked fine. I tried installing the couple of hundred MB of requested software updates (including a Front Row update), but the menu problem in Front Row remained. After hunting around on Google I managed to track down the Front Row 1.2.2 update. Downloaded – installed – problem fixed. 🙂 Not sure why this wasn’t in the main software updates list though.

Other issues I’ve had with Front Row include:

  • trying to use it while ripping a CD in iTunes (forget it unless you like watching the display freeze for minutes on end!), and
  • an intermittent problem where it just won’t start, no matter how much I try to coax it into life with the Apple Remote. I think this might happen if you put a DVD in first so that the regular DVD player starts up, which then prevents Front Row from starting. Generally a reboot sorts it out.

Overall though, Front Row is a great addition to the Mac in my opinion, and the Apple Remote makes watching DVDs in bed that much easier! You can even send the Mac to sleep by holding down the play button on the remote, which is a nice touch. They just need to iron out a few bugs (and maybe make the music playback options a bit more flexible), and it’ll be perfect. Hell, it’s already better than having to muck about with hard drive and video card settings just to play DVDs on my Linux box!

First Impressions

Monday, May 29th, 2006

This is what happened in my first few hours of Mac ownership…

Unpacking it was of course very exciting, and I was impressed with the way the whole thing is packaged. It feels like you’ve bought a high quality piece of gear the moment you open the box.

I was surprised at how small the Apple Remote is. Good job it attaches magnetically to the side of the iMac or I might lose it! They could have made the keyboard cable a bit longer though. I have one of those desks with a keyboard tray which means the cable has to go over the top of the desk to the Mac, rather than behind the desk and back round. It’s not too bad in practice though.

Problem #1 was pretty funny – I couldn’t work out how to turn it on! So much for the Mac being a paragon of ease-of-use. After 5 minutes of looking round the side and back, and pressing random keys on the keyboard (I’d heard you could power on Macs this way), I eventually had to give in and read the manual. I don’t know how I missed that power button at the back!