Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 - Ups and Downs of being an Apple User

In addition to spending too much time and too much money on-line I have another vice. I support West Ham United Football Club. If you're a UK reader you're probably already sympathising (or empathising) - for my readers who don't understand the reference, let me explain briefly. West Ham are an old established club who usually play in the top flight of English football but sometimes find themselves in the second rung. They have produced some of the country's best players over the years, but generally can't afford to keep them. They either play exquisite football or they hump it and hope. Their fans are amongst the most loyal in the world but regularly have to endure pain and disappointment when things go pear shaped.

Why am I telling you all this? Because, sometimes, being an Apple user, I get exactly the same feeling as I do when the football results come out and West Ham have either under performed or achieved the seemingly impossible.

Each year I get a few of those moments and this year has been no exception. The "ooooh" moments included getting the iPad mini; converting the MacBook Air into a fully fledged workstation with the Belkin Thunderbolt Dock; and being able to run dual displays under Mavericks with no additional software.

The "aarrgh" moments have been the incompatibilities thrown up with every new release of Mail; the failure of Mavericks to work with DisplayLink and USB external monitors; and the way that the Apple owned TrueSuite software bricked my upgraded Mavericks machines.

The difference between being an Apple user and a West Ham fan comes about by the fact that as a football fan, there is nothing I can do about my team's performance, but as an Apple user, I have access to an awesome support network of millions of similar minded people. I get to harness their creativity in the software they build and the solutions they architect, and I get to provide my own input, through these posts and through Twitter and other forums and networks.

Not only is that reassuring, but it is a fantastic feeling to be a part of that community.

Happy New all the Crazy Ones!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Mavericks Woes - Tracking Down the TrueSuite Culprit

Doggone - it's happened again! I was working on the MacBook Air yesterday morning and I had to restart the computer after installing an update but the machine went straight into its infinite reboot mode. I didn't even bother messing about this time - I just went ahead and restored from the previous Time Machine backup taken about 30 minutes previously.

Actually, that's not quite true. I did unplug everything except the mains cable - a step that I had previously neglected to perform when the problem first occurred. But that didn't make any difference.

However, I do think I may have found the culprit...Only time will prove the hypothesis correct, but it seems that the TrueSuite fingerprint recognition software may be responsible for the bad behaviour. Which is really rather ironic, since Apple bought Authentec - the original developers - about a year ago. [For more info about TrueSuite and fingerprint recognition on the Mac, I wrote about it in this post in July 2013]

I had come across some horror stories on the web about Mavericks not playing well with TrueSuite - that may be a bit of an understatement - users were reporting that they couldn't actually logon after installing Mavericks without uninstalling TrueSuite first - regardless of whether a fingerprint scanner was physically present. The general consensus has been to remove TrueSuite before even attempting to install Mavericks.

Whilst I never suffered the problem of being unable to login following a power-up, I did find that I couldn't log out and log back in without a full restart. So, yesterday morning, as I was doing some general housekeeping, I decided to remove TrueSuite using the appropriate uninstall programme. And the next thing I knew was that the machine would no longer reboot.

While I was restoring the system I started doing some more investigation along these lines and lo and behold, many users were reporting that if you tried to uninstall TrueSuite on a 10.9.x Mac it would not reboot and a restore would be required. In fact the safest thing to do was to restore to a Mountain Lion version, uninstall TrueSuite and THEN upgrade to Mavericks. Now you tell me!! After I've bricked two machines, one of them twice!

In fact, Apple have now published a work around for the problem which doesn't involve removing TrueSuite from a Mavericks machine. All that's required is to disable "Fingerprint Log On" from within TrueSuite. [December 12, 2013]

In summary:

  • if you have TrueSuite installed and haven't yet upgraded to Mavericks, uninstall TrueSuite now, as this is the safest thing to do
  • if you've already installed Mavericks, do not attempt to uninstall TrueSuite but disable the "Fingerprint Log On" option in the settings
  • make sure you have a recent backup of your system whatever else you do
Other functionality within TrueSuite may or may not be working as expected under Mavericks, I've not had time to investigate properly yet. Don't take anything for granted though, and sadly don't expect your existing fingerprint scanner to work on a Mac through newer releases of OS X.

If you've suffered this or similar problems with TrueSuite under Mavericks, please let me know - there seems to be a lot of folk in the same predicament and it would be good to let Apple know that TrueSuite users are suffering and back it up with hard evidence.

Finally, as we head into the last full week before Christmas, my current Number 1 favourite game for the iPad is The Room Two. It's just as beautiful and evocative as its predecessor and great for casual gamers and puzzle solvers like me. And it's a snip at £2.99!

Happy Christmas everyone, and see you in the New Year!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Mavericks Woes - A Real Conundrum

Two weekends ago I had to return back to Apple Harvest HQ from my girlfriend's house to sort a few things out and to pick up some forgotten bits and pieces.

On the Sunday morning I booted up the MacBook Air for the first time since I'd arrived since I'd been using the iMac exclusively over the course of the weekend. Well, I tried to boot it up but it wasn't having any of it. The Apple logo would appear, then the start-up chime would sound and the spinning gear wheel would start, all as normal. Then the screen would flicker and the gear wheel would change appearance slightly before stopping completely. The screen would then flicker again, changing colour slightly, the wheel would spin a bit more and so on. But it wouldn't boot.

I tried rebooting in safe mode and although the safe mode progress bar would appear the result was the same. Boot failure. For the next hour, I tried every trick in the book. I cleared the PRAM, SMC, ran the internal diagnostics (no issues!), reinstalled Mavericks through booting up in recovery mode but nothing worked. The disk utility checks also indicated that the flash drive was OK. I had been thinking the worst - that this was a major hardware failure and was likely to be very expensive (although the MBA is still covered by Apple Care until next July) - but if the logic board had failed, or the video was knackered, then I wouldn't have been able to run any of the utilities or reinstall the OS.

I had a Time Machine backup from the previous Thursday so I decided to restore this as a last resort. It worked, and I've not had any problems since.

This last weekend I went back to HQ again to check on things. I've been remotely connected to the iMac via Slink but noticed that one or two updates had failed, so I decided to reboot the machine and try again. And guess what...Yes, exactly the same scenario as with the MBA. Complete boot failure under every attempt. The only difference on this occasion was that under the dual screen set-up, the extended display flickered rather than the main iMac display.

In this instance I was unable to fix the iMac - for some reason, Time Machine has not been backing up to the 3Tb Time Capsule for the last month so my most recent backup available was pre-Mavericks. However, I did clone the disk as a precaution should I lose the connection to the iMac from Mel's house. Sadly I didn't have it with me this weekend, and I also ran out of time, so I'm hoping that a clean install of Mavericks and a restore of the cloned disk will end up getting me the right result, namely a fully restored iMac.

How extraordinary that two different machines, with completely different configurations should fail in exactly the same way within a fortnight of each other. Coincidence? I doubt it, but I'm stumped as to the root cause. I can only guess that some installation or update of something has caused it - but it's now impossible to narrow it down. I've not seen the message boards or forums awash with this specific problem, although I have seen some similar instances, but no pain free solutions or root causes.

So, until I get home next week, there's nothing I can do except sit and wait, and hope that my proposed fix will work - note to self...remember to take the clone disk home and not write over it in the meantime!!!!!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Dear Apple Santa...

It's only three and a bit weeks until Christmas, and I have been very good this year. I've written lots of Apple Harvest posts and increased the number of people viewing the blog. I've supported lots of independent developers by buying their software, and lots of hardware manufacturers by buying their shiny kit.

So here's what I'd like you to do for Christmas:

  • Fix the Displaylink problems that have caused so many people with USB monitors so much trouble when they upgraded to Mavericks. This won't help me, because I've given up and bought a new 24" monitor and donated the USB monitor to my girlfriend to use at home with her Wintel work laptop
  • Fix iTunes match so that play counts work. I know this is an old one, but for goodness sake, it's been going on for far too long
  • Find a way to turn off the worthless warnings on iOS devices when using non-Apple Lightning connectors. So far, all the non-Apple cables and adaptors I've bought work just fine - as do all the non-supported devices
  • Stop fiddling about with Mail, especially when you make Mail add-ins stop working
  • Update the Apple Thunderbolt display and bring it into the 21st century with some USB 3.0 ports (oh, and drop the price to something resembling a monitor rather than an iMac!)
  • Let me change the volume of the start-up tone on my MacBook Air or even mute it completely
You see, I'm not greedy. Most of these things won't take much effort but they'd bring pleasure to thousands of Mac users, including me.

So thank you and Merry Christmas in advance, Apple Santa! Ho, ho, ho!