Mid-2012 MacBook Air 13″ – fixing one form of “Black Screen of Death”

Various online forums are abuzz with MacBook Airs of 2012 and 2013 flavours suffering the “Black Screen of Death” – apparently the machine, mid-use, decides to either shutdown completely, or just shut its display off.  It’s the latter case I’m most interested in here, since a colleague just presented me her Mid-2012 128GB 1.8GHz 4GB-RAM model.  It’s still exactly as it was when it came out of the box.

The problem

The machine shutdown mid-use, and subsequently would only boot as far as turning on the display backlight.

The (apparent) solution

The PRAM (Parameter RAM) reset – hold down ALT, CMD, P and R keys together immediately after pressing the power button.  While the keys are held down, the machine will reboot with a “Clang”.  I usually hold the key-combo down until the clang has happened three times, releasing the keys on the third.  This may be a superstition as one cycle might be enough, but from my bad old days doing the same trick on older G4-based iMacs this is a habit that still hasn’t been shifted.

The result

The MacBook Air immediately booted as normal, and within a few seconds I was greeted with the usual File Vault 2 login screen, and the machine has behaved impeccably since then.

Further preventative maintenance

Apparently the machine had missed a few software update cycles, so I installed everything available, including a Thunderbolt firmware update and the recently-released 10.8.5 update.

Mobile phones, support and contracts… (Submitted by email)

It’s been interesting seeing how the mobile phone market has progressed in a few years. Ten years ago, I’d have walked into a store, picked a handset that did what I needed it to do, and live with it as-is for the next two years or however long the contract runs for. Then wash, rinse, repeat, adding new features to the ‘necessaries’ list in the meantime to inform each new purchase. If a phone didn’t do what it should, software updates were out of the question – just check it thoroughly in the first week and if required, swap it out for a phone that does work under an exchange policy. My Nokia 6310i worked for years without updates, and was even supported by much newer OS’s for Bluetooth sync and data connectivity.

Then the smartphone came along, and specifically the iPhone and Android platforms. There are hundreds more features in these things. And that’s great. I love my iPhone and find it very hard to imaging life without one. I’d function, but with more hassle in some ways, especially with regard to navigation and planning journeys on public transport. Email and SMS have become staples of information exchange on the move in ways I didn’t even think possible, let alone useful.

The downsides with this mass proliferation of features and functionality seem to be:

1) useability – it takes longer to learn to use and harness all the new potential features that come as standard. Doing these steps, and optimising them for everyday smoothness is beginning to become as big a time drain as not using them at all. iOS6 has so many new additional features over, say, iOS4 that I’ll never realistically find time to try everything to see if and how it fits with my life and needs.

2) lock-in – there was a time for me in the late 1990’s that I came to know about standards such as POP3 and IMAP email systems and how to deploy them. I think LDAP or something like it was also available. These seemed to be worldwide standards – anything that could follow the protocol could essentially work with anything else designed to the same protocol, regardless of the software or service provider. Fast-forward some 10 or more years, and we now have a number of somewhat proprietary systems for the same functionality, branded by say Google and Gmail, or Apple and its iCloud services. Taking email as an example, IMAP functionality is claimed but doesn’t quite work as IMAP standards intended. Gmail IMAP basically works but needs a bit of tweaking to get it right. On the other hand, I’ve yet to get a bog-standard IMAP client to even authenticate to iCloud’s servers, let alone talk to them. So if I’m to exploit the additional features offered by either platform, I’m forced to use more modern, more expensive hardware for features that really are trivially easy in terms of processing power and network bandwidth, if only the providers would just stick to established standards. This isn’t strictly limited to mobile phone platforms, but it’s an important limitation that in part defines the solution deployed on my desktops and laptops.

3) software updates – all these extra functions and solutions, whether built into the device operating systems themselves or bolted on as third-party applications, require regular updates to fix bugs or security holes. This seems to be an increasing need lately, since the devices, operating systems and data protocols involved seem to be too complicated for developers to get right first time – a problem that is human in origin (nobody is perfect, right?) and will likely never be fixed while needs (perceived or otherwise) and functionality continue to grow.

My big question coming out of all this is: do I really *need* all this new technology to survive in this modern age?

If the answer is thought to be “yes”, can I live with the time and patience required to get the best of it?

I’m getting to the point where the madness has to stop – beyond retaining existing functionality, the answer to both questions is trending towards ‘no’. I’m a technology geek. By no means an expert: but this small voice feels that something needs doing to make things still-easier on these fronts if we are to see this explosion in technological functionality actually translate into useful productivity. Anyone care to add any thoughts on this?

Burning Data DVD/CD from Mac OS X “Lion” (10.7.x), for use on non-apple devices

Slight alarm bells ringing here.  It’s been a while since I last had to burn optical media for anything other than DVD-video mastering, so it’s not an issue I’m likely to have come across since the early days of Mac OS X “Leopard” (10.5.x).

This afternoon I happily burned a DVD using Apple Finder as usual, and it all went fine, verifying as usual. Since the target is a mixture of users on Windows and Mac OS X, I asked a Windows-using colleague to check the burned DVD worked on her machine.  Epic Fail.  Came up with the usual dialogue box asking how to open the contents, and Explorer showed the disc as having nothing in the root directory.

When I took the disc back and mounted it on the Mac, I checked in Disk Utility and sure enough, the mounted drive is in the native HFS+ format for Macs. Totally useless on PC’s.  I’m sure Mac OS X used to burn Hybrid media suitable for use on either Mac or PC, but this seems to have changed somewhere in the last few years.

Googling the problem online doesn’t bring up obvious answers, so I had to do a little more digging.  One possible solution was found here in the Apple discussion forums, which I’m now trying for myself.

Burn (Freeware utility) for Mac OS, on Sourceforge


So – I’ve told it to create a disk image suitable for PC’s (as shown in the dropdown menu above), and I’ll mount it in the Finder before burning to DVD to see what format the image actually has:


Good sign – the Finder sees ISO 9660 (Joliet).  Now I just need to burn the image to disk, which I’m doing from inside the Burn app rather than asking Disk Utility to burn an ISO.  I’ll test that later.

So while I wait for the disk to burn. I’ll add to these notes that I need to check the disc on a Windows box, to check that the file names remain intact.  For some uses this might not matter, but for the application I have in mind (sending multitrack audio projects to multiple users for training purposes), the file and directory names to remain intact for Reaper (or any other audio sequencer) to find them again without having have the user point it to them.

As I write this I also realise that the burning process, despite being set to run at 8x (the fastest the drive supports) and the data-set and transfer rate remain the same as in Disk Utility, seems to be taking about twice as long as Disk Utility.

The final result:


Also looking promising – let’s test it on a Windows box and see what it looks like!

UPDATE:  Fail. Comes up as blank DVD in Windows.  

Looks like the only option left in the time available is to transfer the content via USB key and burn the disk on Windows.

Anyone else have any better solutions that don’t involve spending money or reverting to the command-line?

Hewlett Packard Laserjet 1015, Airport, Bonjour and Windows 7

As per the title, I had an unhappy half-an-hour trying to get this little bundle of joy working together this evening.  Turns out that the following process works rather well…

  • Install Apple Bonjour Print Services for Windows
  • Plug the printer into the Windows machine directly over USB, or manually get Windows to update its hardware drivers list.
  • Once the driver has been successfully been downloaded and installed for use over USB, the driver is now available for the Bonjour wizard to use.
  • Plug the printer back into the Airport Express/Extreme that’ll be sharing it.
  • Run the Bonjour Print Wizard and follow on-screen prompts.
Logical in a way, but a pain to figure out.

WordPress for iOS 2.7 Now Available (via WordPress for iOS)

Just a quickie to say that I’ve been assured by the devteam that this app really is an answer to the reliability and speed issues I reported on my iPhone 4, which should make posting on the move somewhat more bearable. I’m very much looking forward to trying this out to see if it holds to its promise.

WordPress for iOS 2.7 Now Available After three months of development, WordPress for iOS 2.7 is now available in the App Store. This version fixes over 100 bugs, which means better performance and fewer crashes. Reliability Updates The main focus of this release is to improve the app’s performance and reliability. The app has been moved to Core Data, which is a much improved way of managing information locally on the device. Also, the methods used to communicate over XML-RPC have b … Read More

Why I switched to Mac…

I had forgotten just how bad Windows XP used to be, until a colleague started struggling yesterday with a modem that had mysteriously stopped working.  The transcript below covers about 2 hours of “online chat” with Zoom, who in fairness I think ought to be given a medal for trying so hard as they did.  As of right now, the modem is sitting in a drawer waiting to be put to emergency deployment on someone’s Mac when an ADSL or WiFi connection goes down.

Eddie L.: Hi, my name is Eddie L.. How may I help you?
Chris Ferguson: Hi there.  Windows XP (bless it) has decided it can’t find our modem.  We’ve tried restarting the machine without the modem, then restarted it again, then plugged the modem back in and Windows now sees the device.  But, two things now happen:
Chris Ferguson: 1)  The phone/modem devices control panel tells me the modem is on COM4.  We try to dial with it, only to be told that Windows cannot communicate with the modem on COM4.  This port does not appear in Device Manager/Hardware.
Chris Ferguson: 2)  Windows occasionally prompts that the USB device we’ve plugged in is not recognised.  It helpfully says to click on the notice for help, where it then merrily tells me which devices are unrecognised (by listing them as unrecognised, duh) but then makes no further attempt to “help”.
Chris Ferguson: the modem itself is fine, as is the phone line we connected it to.  I know this because I tried the modem on my Mac and dialled out to an ISP with no issues.
Chris Ferguson: Thoughts?
Eddie L.: click on Start > Control Panel > System > Hardware tab > Device Manager. click on the + next to modems and do you see USB Modem? If so does it have a yellow question mark or exclamation point?
Chris Ferguson: Nothing found there, last I looked.  Will check again now…
Eddie L.: ok. how about “other devices” do you see that listed?
Chris Ferguson: …trying to find it now, but System Properties has crashed, so I can’t get to the Device Manager to check.  Tried to query the modem from its diagnostics page (via Control Panel) but windows said it couldn’t connect to the modem.
Chris Ferguson: let’s see if I can get to the Device Manager any other way…
Chris Ferguson: Nope.  System Properties window has crashed and I can’t see which process to kill to get control back again.  A system restart will take a few minutes.
Chris Ferguson: Okay – managed to get control of the window again.  The modem is detected as “USB Modem”.
Chris Ferguson: That helps?
Chris Ferguson: Anything else you’d like to know?
Eddie L.: is there any exclamation point or question mark next to it?
Chris Ferguson: No
Eddie L.: double click on it and go into the Diagnostic and try querying the modem
Chris Ferguson: okay – will do that and be right back..
Chris Ferguson: Right.  “The modem failed to respond.  Make sure it is properly connected and turned on.  If it is an internal modem or is connected, verify that the interrupt for the port is properly set.”
Chris Ferguson: Next?
Eddie L.: ok. Have you tried uninstalling and reinstalling the drivers?
Chris Ferguson: No – happy to do that now though if you think that’ll fix it?
Eddie L.: yea lets try that. Since it is having problems being recognized maybe the drivers are corrupted.
Chris Ferguson: Another reason I want nothing to do with Windows…
Chris Ferguson: Okay, will go do that and report back.
Eddie L.: okay
Chris Ferguson: machine locked up hard. restarted, will try again.
Eddie L.: ok
Chris Ferguson: Right.  Uninstalled the driver.  Plugged modem in, device was recognised but software could not be found.  So I started up the Setup.exe with the drivers downloaded from your website this morning.  It found the modem, installed drivers.  Then came up with a screen saying “USB MODEM”  and “FAILED”, saying to press OK to install Netwaiting or some such.  The window closed on clicking “OK”, and the machine now refuses to see the modem anywhere in device manager.
Chris Ferguson: While I typed that message, the machine spotted the USB device and couldn’t find drivers.  And so the loop continues.
Eddie L.: So you do not see Modems or Other devices in the device manager list?
Chris Ferguson: Nope.
Eddie L.: Reboot the PC one more time
Chris Ferguson: Rebooting now.  Then what?
Eddie L.: then go into the device manager and see if the modem is listed
Chris Ferguson: Listed, with exclamation mark.  Windows came up with the Found New Hardware Wizard as soon as I was able to see the desktop.
Chris Ferguson: Next?
Eddie L.: is it now listed in the device manager?
Chris Ferguson: Yes, it’s listed with an exclamation mark.
Eddie L.: double click on it and select drivers then update driver
Eddie L.: select No not at this time and click on next. The select the automatically and click on next
Chris Ferguson: “No not at this time” is not an option.  I can either install automatically or from a specific location.
Eddie L.: automatically
Chris Ferguson: “Cannot install this hardware”.
Chris Ferguson: Should I “finish” or try installing from a specific location? (I have the downloaded drivers unpacked on the desktop, so could try pointing Windows at that, given that the included Setup.exe fails)
Chris Ferguson: Uh… you still there?  What do I do now?
Chris Ferguson: Hello?
Eddie L.: please hold for a moment
Eddie L.: ok. Lets do the update driver again and manually point it to the INF file
Chris Ferguson: Right.  I’m on it.
Eddie L.: but point it to the drivers that you have downloaded
Chris Ferguson: I can’t get the update wizard to look at the specific folder.  It threw up an error saying it couldn’t find a better driver, then when I cleared the error it went ahead and installed the driver from C:\Windows\System.  And then threw up an “Error 10 – device cannot start”.
Chris Ferguson: Now what?
Eddie L.: hold for a moment
Eddie L.: To be honest I don’t know what is going on. Were there any new updates, or installation done before the modem stopped responding
Chris Ferguson: None that we know of.
Eddie L.: okay.
Eddie L.: how long has this unit worked for?
Chris Ferguson: About two years
Eddie L.: Have you tried connecting it to another USB port on the computer?
Chris Ferguson: Yes.  Same results.  Same madness
Eddie L.: can I have the serial number of the modem please
Chris Ferguson: Didn’t that come with the chat login details?
Eddie L.: no. All we are able to see is first, last name, and email
Chris Ferguson: So what was the point of submitting the other “compulsory information”?  Anyways – serial is 2947-56540F-0423
Eddie L.: we are limited on our PCs. I think the other information are only viewable by supervisors or the admin.
Eddie L.: To be honest I don’t know what is going on.

That last line pretty much says it all.  This kind of thing was happening to me on a pretty-much monthly basis back in the days when I ran two Windows machines networked together at home.  I used to keep three PCI modems and three Ethernet cards, and I’d rotate them around the machines every time one of them mysteriously stopped working.

Ah, the memories…


Meanwhile Eddie L, whoever you are, if we ever meet in person I’ll buy you a beer.  You were awesome.

iPhone 4 upgrade – first impressions

Sarah needed a replacement iPhone after hers suffered an embarrassing accident. Apple have just released a new iPhone, and I wanted it. A perfect combination!

I stood in a queue for about an hour at my local O2 store to get the new device, a 16Gb version as I’m frankly too cheap to pay another £100 for functionality i won’t miss except for the ‘luxury’ of having my entire iTunes library with me on the move in a very compressed format. I can do better with a laptop with or without remote access to my home network. I don’t *need* to carry my whole iPhoto library around to show people when I’m on the move, and I have about 1GB in the way of apps, so I’m not exactly hurting for space. 16Gb is a significant enough step forward from the 8Gb 3G to still feel ‘new’ and exciting.

First impressions were good. The glass front and rear, and ultra-then bezel make the device look and feel much smarter than the previous (admittedly very good-looking) models. It’s perhaps a little too thin to hold for any length of time as-is, the glass getting very slippery in warm sweaty hands in London’s current heatwave.

Activation of the new SIM took a couple of hours, during which time the old phone with it’s old SIM carried on working as normal. Turning the old phone off once I was home and not needing to be contactable seemed to hurry the process on a little.

The new phone was activated at the store, but needed settings copying from the old unit to the new. This was a case of using iTunes to back up the old phone, and for good measure i told iTunes to transfer purchases (apps, music etc) to my mac. I then plugged in the new unit and when prompted i told iTunes to restore from the backup.  Everything transferred smoothly, including text messages and contacts, along with the custom home screen folders and layouts. The only thing missing was passwords for MobileMe, wifi and App Store/iTunes purchases. No big deal.

Having moved from the older device (itself running iOS 4) things didn’t seem that different at first. It’s subtle things that add up to make a huge difference, such as:

  • Increased screen resolution. Text rendering is simply stunning, on this screen that now seems to have double the pixel dimensions of the old. This means that graphics in older apps designed for the older iPhones scale evenly and are just as crisp as originally designed. Nice touch – no scaling artefacts to get in the way of clarity or legibility.
  • Speed. This thing is quick. Facebook, Messages and many other apps were quite laggy on the 3G whenever communicating over the mobile or wifi data connections. Not so on the iPhone 4. Updates happen near instantly. Apps load quickly and are ready to use soon after.
  • Keyboard. No change in layout or concept from the old phone, but much more responsive and more accurate as a result. Still not as quick as a real laptop or desktop unit, but it comes remarkably close considering one tends to type on small devices with two thumbs.  The autocompletion/autocorrect functions are much quicker too, meaning they don’t get in the way like they tended to on the 3G.
  • Web browsing. Much quicker and smoother. Multiple pages in Safari now stay in memory (thanks in part to both more hardware RAM allowing multitasking) during switching and can even load in the background. As an example, I was able to load up the BBC News page in one ‘window’ while reading content from TNT Audio in another. When I’d finished checking TNT and switched back to the first window, the News page was loaded and ready for me to read or interact with, just like on the desktop.
  • Multitasking. Not quite what it says, in that only some functions can do this, usually data access and audio access. For example, LastFM is currently playing audio from the WiFi connection in the background while I type this in the ‘Notes’ application, and I can switch back to LastFM near-instantly without it having to log back in again.  If Skype can ever do this kind of thing, i could stand to be a lot more contactable and still remain productive on the move.
  • Productivity. The increased CPU and RAM capability makes the new device a much more productive place to work. The increased screen resolution combines with the speed of task switching and processing to make a remarkably crisp environment to do real work, including email with the built-in IMAP client and the third-party QuickOffice app. I can even forward email attachments to a Quickoffice address to edit them on the iPhone, before saving them either to the phone or to another remote server to get them back to the outside world.
  • Battery life. Just awesome. Perhaps I’d been getting used to a faulty unit, but with iOS 4 installed I’d been lucky to get 2 or 3 hours’ use from the 3G before the battery flaked out on me. Standby was still measured in days though, so I guess it wasn’t all bad. However, I’ve been hammering away at the iPhone 4 pretty much all day now and I’m still 65% full, having clocked up what the iPhone informs me as being 2h38m of usage time. That’s better than pretty much any laptop I’ve owned so far, and seems comparable to the claimed battery life of the iPad.
  • Audio quality. For headphone output in particular (that’s what I care about most!) the playback quality of audio and video is better than the 3G. My Shure in-ear headphones can tend to sound quite tinny if not driven by a unit with good headroom, and their revealing nature tends to show up any digital grain or quantisation in the volume control implementation. Neither has been an issue with this new phone, so that’s making me very happy.
  • Reception issues. Contrary to what I’ve seen reported in the media about signal drops when using or holding the phone left-handed, I’ve not been able to recreate the issue myself on this handset. That said, I’m not a south-paw so I might not have the particular ‘knack’ required.

So all in all this is a great product and at a pretty reasonable price given the user experience I’ve had. I cannot reliably compare this to competing products because I’ve not used any of them. All i know is that it does all I ever wanted to much more smoothly than before, but with a much better quality screen and with more useful features than I had imagined when I first tested the new iPhone in the store alongside my old one.

Meanwhile, Sarah has my old 3G restored with everything she knew from her original iPhone and she couldn’t be happier.

Perhaps I’ll do another ‘long term’ review in a few months to let you know how well the device stands up over the longer term.

’til next time,