Figuring Stuff Out

Archive for the ‘troubleshooting’ Category

Zoho?

Posted by Mike on May 25, 2007

This past semester I took part in a professional practicum placement as part of my information studies program. My role was to analyze the knowledge sharing practises at the organization and to figure out ways that they could make better use of the IT apps they were using, and perhaps suggest some other apps that might help as well. One of the things I noticed while I doing the research was that collaboration on projects was a major feature of the work that the organization did and it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile for them to look into an online office suite.

Zoho is just such a suite and it offers a fantastic range of products that pretty well replace every single application you can think of in a typical office scenario. They have stripped away some features, as compared to desktop products, but most of those features are seldom used in a typical scenario. On top of those apps Zoho offers some web products, like a Wiki, that can integrate things (for a more complete description of Zoho see here).

In an effort to demonstrate the potential of this approach to the organization I was working for I decided that I would write my report in Zoho writer and then integrate it, along with a number of demonstrations, into a Zoho Wiki. The experience with the word processor portion of Zoho (Writer) was very pleasant, it laid things out very well, and that’s really all you want from a word processor. The only gripe I had with Writer was that when spell checking its periodic auto-save feature would wipe out all of the underlined words so it was a race against the clock until I had to restart the spell checker (eventually I just downloaded it to Word and spell-checked it there, which is definite stroke against). To be fair though, Zoho seems to know about the problem and have indicated on their boards that they are fixing it. Where I really ran into troubles though, was with Zoho’s Wiki.

I’ve fooled around with hosted Wiki software before and I realize that if you are going to set it up yourself you need to have a minimal level of understanding of HTML (even in a WYSIWYG environment). Luckily I am not entirely clueless when it comes to computers, and I even know a little bit about coding – although a hacker I am not. Still, working with the Zoho Wiki software was a huge pain.

First off, the GUI is not at all intuitive. I can recognize most of the buttons on a word processor toolbar and I can even figure out most of the buttons on a web-publisWhere’s the rest?hing toolbar but a little bit of help would be appreciated, perhaps a test explanation when you hover your mouse over the button (or even a screen-shot with an explanatioSite Mapn in the help section). For the most part I wasn’t really set back by this issue, I can tell that a button with ‘<>’ is going to allow me to view code but it seems like as this program is geared towards non-experts some explanation would be a good idea.

Second, there are some strange default settings. As a library student, and fan of taxonomy construction, my first inclination was to set up a home page and then a series of sub-pages dealing with various subjects or divisions in the organization. I used the GUI tool to do this (add sub-page) and continued to do so for all subsequent pages. If you look at the right pane on the screen-shot to the right, you will notice that the middle bubble holds a link to main page, but that’s it. If you look at the screen shot to the left, you will see the site map shows that all of the pages are related to each other (I used the add sub-page feature).  I’m sure there is a fix for this issue, worst case I could go into the HTML for that section and fix it, but this should be basic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very impressed with Zoho on the whole. It’s great software and they’ve got a huge range of apps that are designed to work well together, but these little things that make it tough for non-technical people to get the full experience are a big issue.

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Posted in application, troubleshooting | Leave a Comment »

Picking Apples

Posted by Mike on February 24, 2007

Man, I think coming up with clever titles (at least ones that I think are clever) is going to be the hardest part of maintaining this blog. This post is going to be a wrap up on the experimenting I did with getting Nancy’s MacBook running smoothly. I didn’t get to try all of the tips in the articles I linked to below (a lot of them really didn’t have much to do with Nancy’s problem, and the others involved paid products).

The first thing I did was clear Limewire off of her system, I’m not sure about the Mac version but it’s a system hog on Windows and there are torrent programs that have way better selections with far less bloat.old mac versus PC ad This led to an interesting quandary for me as I had never removed a program from a Mac before. I spent a good 15 minutes rooting around looking for the uninstall program and told Nancy that just dropping the program in the trash bin was not going to do it. After giving up and searching around on the Internet for a bit I discovered that, for the most part, Nancy was right. It seems to be the case that programs can be effectively erased by simply dropping them into the trash can. A quick spotlight search after doing so revealed that some related files were still hanging around in various places though, so I dropped them into the can as well. Perhaps you more advanced Mac users can tell me if I missed something, but if getting rid of programs is that simple colour me impressed.

Next up I tried the command line trick for forcing the computer to do the file system maintenance that Nancy normally misses when her computer is off at night (the instructions are here under the heading Save Disk Space. This involved a little bit of work in the terminal, but it was dead simple so even the most computer phobic of you should have no problem with it. There are instructions on the page for getting to your terminal and if you just type the command that they give you word for word everything should be fine (this article also mentioned that keeping the install file that you originally download will generally give you a proper uninstall program, I think that would make me feel more confident so I would recommend you put them all into a folder). Finally I went into the disk utility and had it repair the permissions (instructions can also be found at the above link).

Well that’s all I got done. Some of you have provided some really interesting thoughts on the matter already though. A few of you mentioned sad sad tales of logic boards and hard drives going toast. Perhaps Nancy I will try to convince her to take her baby into a Mac service store to get it checked out soon (she’s in study mode for a research methods exam right now, so I doubt she’ll be making the trip before Monday afternoon). There was also a very interesting point made about the relative ease of reformatting a hard drive in OS X with the ‘archive and install‘ feature, think we’ll still make a backup on separate media of all the things she’s especially partial to, but it might not be a bad solution if she still has trouble.

I’m not sure if Nancy has noticed any improvement or not (I keep meaning to ask and then forget) so perhaps she can let us know in a comment, if anyone else thinks I missed something obvious and/or major, I probably did, please feel free to let me know about it.

Update – There have been two pieces of software recommended in the comments section that both sound really good to me.  The first by Dan K was Monolingual which lets you clear off all of the many languages that OS X supports which will save you a lot of space with no noticable loss.  The other is Anacron recommended by MJ which runs drive system maintenence sweeps automactically (thereby allowing you to avoid the command line stuff I described).  These both seem like programs worth trying.  I’ll have a new post up about my current ‘big’ project in the next day or so…

Posted in command line, Mac, Operating Systems, troubleshooting | 4 Comments »

Biting the Apple

Posted by Mike on February 20, 2007

Well here it is, my first project. It’s kind of a mini-one, and it’s not actually for me (ack! more evidence that I might actually make a good librarian) but my friend Nancy (hmm, perhaps my claims to altruism were premature, although she will read this which will probably negate the negation of my altruism..) has been complaining that her Intel Macbook has been acting up as late. I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a Mac user, I’ve played around with the Imac at my school a bit, and I remember playing with a Mac one of my aunts had in the mid 90’s, but expert I am not.

I’ll give a brief description of Nancy’s troubles now, so that you all know what I’m getting myself into. The main symptom she has identified is that her Mac refuses to fully shut-down. It doesn’t happen all of the time, but it’s enough to be frustrating and we all know that the ‘hard-shutdown’ is not factory recommended. On top of this, she’s been noticing that things seem to have gotten sluggish in general with her new(ish) toy.

If you’ll allow me an aside, and let’s face it you have no choice in the matter, this strikes me as interesting when one takes into account the claims of OS X’s inherent superiority to Windows. Let’s be clear here, I’m not a Microsoft fan, XP has an enormous number of problems, requires all sorts of maintenance, is much more vulnerable to attack (although I think its market dominance makes it a much more worthwhile target), and is no where near as pretty as OS X (I’ve not used Vista at all so I can’t comment on it). It seems to me though that one of the reasons a lot of people buy Macs is because of the impression that they are easier to use and maintain than PC’s (think about the latest Mac commercial campaign if you don’t believe me). The fact of the matter is that all computers need maintenance, even the all mighty Mac, if they are going to run efficiently, just like they all need security to do so safely. That’s it, I’ve probably peeved off any random Mac Fanboys who happen to drop by this post (I’m pretty sure the Mac people I know are all reasonable enough to not tie any of their sense of self-worth to the brand of computer that they use), so I’ll put off more rambling on the Mac for another post.

With this in mind, I took to the mean streets of the Internet to see what tips and tricks there might be. As a side note, I’m still not sure how I’m going to present the various resources I want to present on this blog. For today I will do it in one long list with comments beside each, let me know what you think of this approach in the comments (I like comments)

First up is a series of three articles about maintaining the general health of your Mac. They seem pretty useful (I’ll do another post after I’ve actually tried these things), if a bit dated. A number of the suggestions rely on fairly expensive -from the point of view of a student anyway – pieces of software, which is a minus. Still, it was written for OS X and I’ll try all the freeware solutions and general stuff. In an interesting pre-note, I came across a link to a study published by Google people on failure in trends in hard-drives, in which they (and let’s face it, if they know about anything it’s hard-drives) basically poo-pooed one of the recommendations made in these articles. It seems that SMART (self monitoring facility) is really not a great indication of when a drive will fail (still it’s probably better than nothing and it’s free so I’ll probably wind up slapping it on Nancy’s system anyway).

This is not a tutorial so much as a recommendation for a little piece of software that, much like power toys for Windows, makes it easier to play with the settings on your Mac. Sadly, the link in the actual article is outdated and leads to nothing, but a quick Google search revealed that the product is still available free here (I have no idea if it’s Open Source, I doubt it but free as in beer is pretty sweet too). There’s not much I can say about these links in advance, but I’ll give me impressions about the tool in the follow up post that I’ve already promised (I actually caught the typo in this sentence, but I like that it makes me sound like a pirate so I’m leaving it in).

This next article is another short blurb that focuses on protecting users from potentially malicious widgets that they could unknowingly put on their dashboard. I’m not sure if Nancy has installed any widgets, but I’ll probably set it up because it will let me play with the automator app on the Mac and I like to play with things.

One more article from the Macobserver site. This one includes a bunch of short tips to pep up OS X (or keep it peppy). It sounds like Nancy already stuffed her book full of RAM, but some of the other recommendations look like they might be worth a shot.

In light of the last posting I made it seems only appropriate that I should take advantage of OS X’s having been build from UNIX to go into the command line and try some scripts that have been recommended on the above sites. These four articles represent a primer on interacting with the Console in OS X and, since I will be playing with someone else’s computer, I think it’s probably a good idea that I take a fairly close look at what’s included here (I promise I won’t do anything nuts Nancy).

This is set up like a FAQ but it has a section on OS X troubleshooting that looks like it might be useful (and will give me more stuff to do in the Command line, I’ll be careful).

This is yet another guide to fixing up the disk in OS X, I like to have lots of sources though (I guess that’s what comes from years and years of essay writing).

Sometimes bulletin boards have useful things to say (I’ve been learning this more and more while working on my Linux box) and this is a conversation about someone who sounds as though they are having a similar problem to Nancy. A couple kind souls have left comments that might help (although I am hoping that a disk format will not be neccesary).

Finally I have an interesting article that came up while I was Googleing Nancy’s problem. It seems that there was a bug in the MacBooks that was causing them to randomly shut down, Apple has released a patch so it will be worthwhile to ensure that she (along with you other Mac folks) have gotten this thing onto your computer, I would imagine it was automatically downloaded and installed but it’s always worth checking.

OK, that is the list as it stands. I’ll do some follow up after the fact. If any of you Mac experts have any tips, tricks, or warnings before I delve in I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Oh yeah, I guess seeing as this is the first post I’m making to an actual audience I should say welcome.

Posted in command line, Mac, open source, Operating Systems, troubleshooting | 3 Comments »