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iMac internal microphone problems – another solution

I’ve replaced the hard disk in numerous iMacs over the years. It’s a fairly straight-forward repair, although not for everyone. But, in 2-3 cases recently, I would replace the disk, re-install the Mac OS X, restore all user data from the old disk (or a Time Machine backup), and return the computer to the user only to have them call me back in the following days, saying “The microphone doesn’t work.”

I would think to myself, “Oh, I must have missed a cable when I was mucking about inside” and I’d tell the client the same. But, time and time again, that wasn’t it.

Google to the rescue. I found many people with the same problem. And many “this worked for me” replies. Some people said, “Hit it like the Fonz.” Others suggested resetting the PRAM. I tried every suggestion I could find, but to no end. I did learn that people couldn’t be heard on Skype when speaking with a normal voice, but if they spoke REALLY LOUDLY, the other party could barely hear what was being said.

Now, I was really anxious, nervous and worried about the work I had done. Had I done something that broke the microphone? Was the design of the iMac such that merely opening the case could damage the microphone?

I realized at one point that the LED flashlight that I would use to prop up the screen from the case had a magnet on the bottom. Did that come into contact with the microphone and damage it?

I tried and tried and tried to find a solution, but could find none. So, I had to give back the computer with no working microphone and apologise profusely and promise to keep looking.

This happened last year. And again this year. And then with an iMac that a client let me keep since they had moved to a MacBook Pro. I was getting to the point that I was nervous whenever someone called me with an iMac problem, just in case I had to replace the disk.

Well, it happened again. But, this time, I was paying attention. Before doing any work, I turned it on, using my own boot disk, logged in and verified that the internal microphone did work. Check.

I went through the repair: turn it off, unplug everything, carefully disassemble the iMac, replace the hard disk, re-assemble, boot (“standard Apple chime” – yay!), install Mac OS X (while waiting, I put little labels with the client’s name on the old disk and on the top of the iMac), log-in, test the webcam and microphone, and ….no sound. Same damn result.

But…. I was so careful! I painstakingly went over every step. Took it apart again. Confirmed that the cables that I touched/detached were 1) not related to the microphone and 2) reattached. I look closer at the webcam/microphone assembly. Found out they were separate. I removed the webcam assembly and saw the microphone attached behind it. A little round metal piece firmly secured to the top and with two thin wires snaking around and behind other bigger devices in the iMac case. In other words, in order to damage this, you’d really have to make an effort. Which left me really dumbfounded.

I’m not sure why I did it, but I looked up the original (“Welcome to your new iMac”) documentation that Apple included with the iMac I was working on. I found it out there somewhere. The manual pointed very specifically to the various devices: iSight camera, iSight camera “On Air” indicator, ambient light sensor were behind the front panel. The microphone was on the top. Not facing the user, but facing up like the audio version of a Hollywood Klieg light. So, I looked there, to see what I could see.

I saw the little label that I had affixed there to identify whose computer it was, but…. I had put it dead center. Right on top of the microphone. I let out a barbaric yawp and wondered if it could really be this simple. Surely, a little piece of tape would not block the microphone so completely and utterly….would it?

Yes, it did.

I removed the label, turned on the computer, and the microphone was perfect. I did the same on my iMac and its microphone works great, too. Still waiting to hear back from the two clients I had left hanging. But, I’m sure that’s all it is.

If you are dealing with a similar problem with the microphone, please check to make sure that there is no tape, sticky-note, or anything else on the top of the iMac case blocking the microphone. You should be able to easily see where the microphone is.

 

Windows 8, Wireless Networking, Livebox (France)

Yesterday, I got a call from someone who had purchased a new Samsung laptop with Windows 8. They were having trouble connecting wirelessly to their Livebox (Orange, France) even though all other devices in the house (Mac and Windows laptops, Apple TV, several smartphones, etc.) were connected.

First, for those who don’t know or remember, the Livebox has a security feature for wireless clients. You are required to push a button on the Livebox prior to connecting with a new device. When you do, the wireless LED will blink for about 60-120 seconds, providing a limited time to connect. While it’s flashing, you can connect a new device.

It seems however, that this was not the problem, and so I was called in to troubleshoot. I was certain that I’d be able to connect them quickly. When I got there, I used my own (Apple) laptop and a cable. Success. Then, I tried to connect wirelessly – no luck, until I realized that the password printed on the Livebox was not the correct one. Once I used the correct password, which I found from the Livebox configuration page (http://192.168.1.1), connecting was immediate.

OK, so time to trouble shoot this new operating system. I was able to see the network, provide the password while the LED was blinking, but it would either not connect at all or report only a “Limited” network connection. The times that it didn’t connect, there was nothing to do but try again. I disabled/re-enabled the Wireless device. I looked at (but didn’t change any) of the devices properties.

Finally, one time when I was able to “connect” in a “Limited” fashion, I was able to right-click and get the properties of the connection. And there was the answer.

Windows 8 and the Livebox tried to negotiate a connection and agreed on WPA2-Personal and AES encryption. In my experience, I’ve usually seen/used WPA-Personal and TKIP. I selected those settings, saved and tried again. Success!

Summary

1. Push the Wireless button on the Livebox before connecting a new device wirelessly.

2. Connect to the Livebox using the correct password.

3. If connection is listed as “Limited,” right-click the connection and view the Properties.

4. Change the Properties to list: WPA-Personal and TKIP.

5. Apply, Save and try again.

6. Reboot and verify still connect, for good measure.

Toshiba Satellite M50-187 Reinstall: How could such a simple procedure be so difficult?

As you may have gathered, I repair computers for a living, among other things.

In this pursuit, with Windows computers, I frequently end up re-installing Windows fresh, meaning I back up the user’s data, erase the hard disk, install Windows, drivers and applications. Then I restore the user’s data. It’s a pretty standard thing and I’ve gotten quite adept at it.

For the most part, manufacturers are quite helpful by having all the drivers for a particular model easily locatable and downloadable. My Google search history is littered with searches like “lenovo thinkpad driver download” “dell inspiron 1540 driver download” and so on.

Naturally, yesterday after re-installing Windows XP on this Toshiba, I googled “toshiba satellite m50-187 driver download” and that’s when my troubles began. I’ve tried so many things at this point, that it’s hard to recall the exact steps, but i’ll try.

Toshiba Switzerland Driver Download pageI did get to the product page for the correct laptop, but only several hours later did I see the link to “Driver Downloads” over to the right in a neutral color. Meanwhile, I did see the horizontal menu option that said “Support & Downloads,” so I hovered over that and saw “Driver Downloads” and I got the following page.

Since this is a laptop, when I saw “Notebook” I selected it and then chose Product Family (“Satellite”), then Product Series (“M Series”), but then the only option was “Satellite M840” and I have the M50. Argh! (I found out much later that instead of picking “Notebook” I should have chosen “Archive” presumably because I’m supposed to know the life cycle of Toshiba’s products and realize that it’s no longer a notebook, but it’s now an archived product. <sigh>)

I clicked on the Support & Downloads option above and with three levels of filtering (“Satellite”, “Satellite M50”, “Satellite M50-187”) had the page I needed with the list of drivers. Yay!

No wireless driver!I downloaded them all and installed them one after the other, as I do all the time. Except…. There is no wireless card driver. There is a Wireless LAN Client Manager, but it’s hard to manage a device that’s not installed and working. I did try downloading this and installing it, but actually it made things worse: Windows User Fast Switching was disabled, it couldn’t be uninstalled, etc.

So, I dug into my bag of tricks and visited pcidatabase.com. I plugged in the Vendor and Device ID found in Device Manager, and found it was the Intel Pro/Wireless 2200bg device. I went to the Intel Driver Update Utility Wireless page, asked to have my device auto-identified and guess what? It couldn’t. No information whatsoever.

So, I tried to download it manually. I tried downloading from the Intel site, from other Toshiba sites, from cnet.download.com. Eventually, I did manage to download the driver I needed. Or I thought I needed. And when I installed it, things looked good. The yellow question mark in the Device Manager disappeared, but I still couldn’t use it. Disabled. Failed. Grrrrr.

Finally, I confirmed that I had uninstalled all the drivers that I had previously tried and uninstalled this last driver as well. I rebooted, installed, saw the good indications that things were going right and rebooted. Wonderfully, it worked.

No thanks to Toshiba. No thanks to Intel.

But, come on, I do this for a living and had such a headache, can you imagine someone trying to do it themselves?!?

 

 

What to do if your install disks don’t work

I had a client call me the other day. He had purchased a new desktop and was trying to install Microsoft Office onto it using his original Microsoft media. But, for some reason, it kept getting stuck on one particular file.

He tried cleaning the DVD. He tried copying the files to the computer. Nothing worked. So, he called me, asking “What can I do?”

Here’s what I do. I download a copy of the software from the many torrent sites around.

Yes, many people use torrents to illegally download music, movies and software, but this doesn’t fall into the illegal category. The client has a legal Product Key and a copy of the software; it’s just scratched or damaged in some way and can’t be used to install.

The software that can be found all over the internet for download is not illegal. It’s a backup, if you will. Downloaded software becomes illegal if you use a stolen Product Key or something is done to get around the product key requirement. But, if you use your legal and purchased Product Key, everything is fine.

Problem Solved. Case Closed.

iBank 3 Review: on Mac OS X Lion (10.7.x) and iPhone

Some time ago, I purchased iBank to keep track of my finances. During the Eighties, Nineties and Naughties, I used, recommended, and even sold Quicken, but I forget why I decided to change this time around.

In any case, I was able to keep track of my finances both on my MacBook Pro and also on my iPhone. Any transactions entered on one would be automagically sync’d to the other either via MobileMe or directly when on the same WiFi network. Great stuff.

But, the iPhone version has some noticeable bugs and problems. To this day, and I’ve tried it on iPhone 2G, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3Gs and now iPhone 4S, I cannot enter a Deposit directly. I have to select “POS” or “Withdrawal” or something with a negative number, then I can decide that it’s a Deposit. If I select “Deposit” first, it simply won’t let me enter anything. Weird.

Furthermore, it seems to me that I should select the Payee first…based on previously entered transactions, the program should know that BP is a POS transaction, category is Auto:Fuel, etc. Or if payee is Client, then it should be a Deposit, category Salary, etc.

Then, there’s the program on the Mac.

I wish you could drag and drop transactions from one account to another. Sometimes, I’m  entering 5 or 10 transactions, some are Cash and others are Debit Card. If I mistakenly enter a transaction in Cash, but it should be in the other account, I can’t drag and drop it into the correct account.

While typing this, I discovered that I can copy and paste the transaction, which is already something. However, when I do so, I have to go search for the transaction; the window does not scroll automatically to the new transaction. In fact, there seems to be a lot of unnecessary scrolling in the program.

Another thing I wish they’d fix is with dates. When I press up/down arrow on the date, I want it to be intelligent….Pressing “up” when it says 01 march 2012 should take me to 29 Feb, not 31 march. The date should be treated as one item, not three separate data pieces.

But, here’s the reason I am writing this post: iBank 3 on Mac OS X 10.7.x (Lion). For me, it was crashing all the time when I quit the program. It would freeze for about 10 seconds and then I’d get the crash message: Ignore, Reopen, etc.

I found out the problem. And the fix.

There is an issue with the “Sync devices on launch and quit” option. Turn it on – crash. Turn it off – smooth sailing.

Dell Recovery Partition Shortcut not working

Another recovery partition problem.

This time, I got a client’s Dell computer. No problem. Back up all data, press Control-F11 during boot up and we’re good to go. Right? Wrong!

The shortcut key was not working. I tried several variations and timing and so on, but to no avail. Argh. I contacted the client and they didn’t have any CDs to use. Argh argh.

Back to Google. And, again I struck pay dirt.

I don’t know who Dan Goodell is, but he put together the Inside the Dell PC Restore Partition page and it’s great. Basically, what I did was burn his DSRFix to a CD, booted from the CD, used PTEDIT.EXE to change some partition information, rebooted the CD, changed to C: (which is now the recovery partition) and manually started the Norton Ghost recovery process.

Pure gold!

Thanks, Dan!

Acer Recovery Partition is Password Protected

I recently picked up an Acer laptop from a client which required restoring the system to factory default. I was able to start the recovery process via the Alt-F10 shortcut, but when I selected “System Recovery,” I was prompted for a password. It was a second-hand computer, so the client didn’t know the password, indeed didn’t know there was a password to be remembered. I let the client know and thought about how to proceed.

Naturally, I googled it.

After pawing through the detritus on many sites, I found a gem. Here is discussed that the hidden recovery partition has a file with the recovery password saved in cleartext. According to Strolch, the name of the file is AIMDRS.DAT.

I thought, it couldn’t be this ‘simple’, but indeed it was. I again mounted the disk on a separate computer, mounted the hidden partition using Partition Find and Mount, and there was AIMDRS.DAT. I looked at the file which had only two lines, one of which was the cleartext password!!!!

Put the disk back in the system, boot to Recovery Partition, when prompted for password-  voilà! Password worked like a charm. A short time later, computer was ready to go.

Love it, love it, love it.

 

Connecting Windows to Mac via a local network

One of the jobs I do frequently is rebuild Windows computers. This entails backing up the user’s data, wiping the hard disk and re-installing Windows and applications and then restoring the user’s data.

Because of the many, varied reasons why it might come to this, I have learned that the simplest way to back up the data is to physically remove the hard disk, attach it to another computer with lots of disk space and just copy it over. When the laptop is again working, I transfer the data back via the local network.

Easy. Been doing that for ages. Until one day, things didn’t work as planned with Windows 7 and I think also with Windows Vista. I couldn’t connect to the Mac where the data was saved. I’d enter the IP address, enter my login name/password combination and….. fail.

It turns out my default Computer Name on the Windows side was causing the problem. When finishing the Windows install, one screen asks for a Computer Name and suggests things like “Upstairs office”. I always use the client’s last name and a numeric suffix, like “Smith-01”.

That works great with Windows XP, but with Vista/7, that “-” breaks the whole thing!

I changed it to “Smith01” and voilà! Everything is cool.

<sigh>

Transfer Outlook to Mac (iCal, Address Book)

A recent client bought a new MacBook Pro. She asked my help in moving her data from her old Acer to the new Mac. Simple enough, right? Ummm, yeah.

I was able to move her documents, music, photos, etc. with no problem. But, she used Microsoft Outlook. While my every fiber wanted to run screaming, I had to contain it and assure the client, “Yeah, I can do that.”

Straight to Google and I found many, many things to try. Exporting from Outlook is awful because the file formats it exports to are …. well, useless, really. There were suggestions to import Outlook into Mozilla Thunderbird, but that did nothing for the calendars, plus it didn’t seem to work 100% with the contacts. Not sure why, but I didn’t spend much time worrying about it. I tried using Windows Mail (Vista) and Windows Live Mail. That also didn’t work for me.

Then I remembered something I had read about a week or two ago: MobileMe for Windows. I started to think about it but was worried about using my MobileMe account information and mixing my data with the client’s data. But, then…..

Remember the scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch finally understands Christmas? I had a similar dawning, without stealing any trees.

iTunes and iPhone.

I picked up my spare iPhone 2G, plugged it into the old Acer. Launched iTunes and told it to sync Contacts, Calendars, Mail, Bookmarks, and Notes.

When it was done, I moved over to my MacBook Pro, used an account I created specifically for the client, attached the iPhone and did a Merge. Voilà!

Done.

I love it. The best way to export data from Microsoft Outlook is by using Apple’s iTunes with an Apple iPhone/iPod. Sweet.

Sharing USB printer with Time Capsule on Macs and PCs

I was at a client today who has both Macs and Windows PCs. She has an Apple Time Capsule to back up her iMac and wanted to share her USB printer with it, too. Piece of cake.

  1. Connect USB printer to Mac and install it with the correct drivers.
  2. Connect the printer to the Time Capsule and configure it with Airport Utility.
  3. Download and install Apple’s Bonjour for Windows on each PC.
  4. Install the drivers on the PC (which might require plugging the printer in directly).
  5. Use Bonjour to discover the Time Capsule-shared USB printer for each PC.

Voilà!

The client also asked about using the Time Machine with Windows computers. Wouldn’t that be cool if they came out with a Windows version? Yeah, it would be cool.