Mac 911

A sage once said, "Give a man a peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwich, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man that such a combination is quite tasty and digestible, and you feed him for a lifetime." Because I believe in the importance of seeing the forest and the trees, I've decided to fashion a column with answers more transcendental than specific -- an Über- Mac 911 , if you will. With that in mind, we'll discuss the broad issues of USB, preference file corruption, and multiple POP e mail accounts.

USB Woes

Dennis, a Mac 911 Forum visitor, writes that when he inserts a Zip disk into the drive attached to his Belkin powered four port USB hub -- which, in turn, is tethered to his G4 Cube -- his Mac locks up. He adds that his arsenal of USB devices includes a color printer, a scanner, the Cube's speakers, and the Apple Pro Keyboard.

"Whuh oh!" those of you familiar with the Cube interrupt, "This set up will never work, because the Cube has just two USB ports and Apple recommends that the Pro Keyboard and speakers each use one of them. A hub will never fly in such a configuration!"

Fortunately, despite Apple's suggestion to the contrary, if you have a USB hub that provides enough juice -- and the Belkin device is such a hub -- you can plug it into one of the Cube's USB ports and then attach the Apple Pro Keyboard to it, with no ill effects. But if your hub is underpowered, the keyboard won't work properly in this configuration. And one of the few ways to find out if your hub is underpowered -- short of using a voltage meter -- is to plug your Cube's keyboard into the hub and see if it fails.

While this piece of information is undoubtedly a healing balm to Dennis's troubled soul, it doesn't explain why his Cube locks up upon insertion of a Zip disk. To understand why this happens, you must disregard what you may have heard and accept that USB ain't the trouble free standard it's cracked up to be. I know, I know USB has been touted as the heady solution that will end SCSI voodoo forever . . . no longer must you worry about which device is plugged in where . . . USB is plug and play done right. . . .

Horse pucky.

A chain of USB devices can be just as finicky as a SCSI chain. This finickiness, however, is generally caused by not-quite-right USB drivers -- supplied either by Apple or by a maker of USB peripherals. Given this fact, the first step to troubleshooting a problem such as Dennis's is to download and install the latest drivers for each USB device. I'd suggest the Zip drivers in Iomega's IomegaWare package, which can be downloaded here: www.iomega.com/software/featured/iomegawaremac.html.

Should updated drivers fail to do the trick, try unplugging USB peripherals. It's not uncommon for a Zip drive to freeze a Mac when a USB Zip drive and a printer are both attached to the Mac at start-up. If you find this to be the source of the conflict, you can generally work around it by unplugging one device before booting the Mac and then plugging that device back in once the Mac is up and running. An ugly solution, granted, but until rock-solid USB drivers come to the Mac, we're going to have to put up with this kind of inconvenience.

A Preference for Corruption

Another no-last-name forum guest, Ann, fears that her Mac is haunted. The choices for changing her monitor resolution have vanished -- where once resolutions of 800 by 600 and 1,024 by 768 pixels appeared, only 640 by 480 remains.

Unless Ann's monitor is leaching a sulfurous yellow ectoplasm, there's little chance her system is haunted. Likelier is that the Monitors Preferences file (System Folder: Preferences: Monitor Preferences) is corrupt. To repair this problem, move the file to another location (don't trash it yet, in case something goes wrong and you want to return it to its original stomping grounds) and restart your Mac. A new Monitors Preferences file will be created and your resolution choices should return. If everything seems to be ticking along all right with the new preference file in place, feel free to trash the old one.

Because this particular column is devoted to metasolutions, I'll say a few words about preference file corruption. It's a simple fact of computing that preference files occasionally go bad, causing odd behavior.

Therefore, if you notice that something has gone inexplicably wrong where all was once right as rain, evicting a preference file or two isn't a bad idea. For example, I repaired my misbehaving AppleCD Audio Player by removing the AppleCD Audio Player Prefs and AppleCD Player Preferences files. And when my Mac was generally misbehaving and disk repair utilities couldn't effect a solution, I tossed the Finder Preferences file and restarted the Mac, and everything was hunky-dory.

Mail Call

Jeff Z, who is one of the most helpful folks found on the Mac 911 Forum, asks if there's a simple way to connect to a friend's Internet service provider, log on to that friend's e-mail account, and download this very same friend's e-mail messages. Jeff assures me his intentions are pure -- he'd perform this service only because his friend's Mac is in the shop and she has no other way to retrieve important correspondence.

Helpful though you are, Jeff, you must take a broader view. While you can configure the Remote Access control panel to dial into your friend's ISP, it's unnecessary. Just log on to your own ISP and flit from one POP account to another, as a hummingbird from flower to flower. To do so, in your e-mail client create a new account that contains your friend's settings and download her mail. Here's how it works in Microsoft Outlook Express (OE):

Accounting Trick: To check a friend's e-mail, create a new account in Outlook Express.

Select Accounts from OE's Tools menu. Click on the New button, make sure POP is selected in the Account Type pop up menu, and click on OK. Create a name for the account and fill in your friend's user information (see "Accounting Trick"). That information will include her user name, password, the name of her ISP's POP server (mail.babybell.com, for example), and the name of the SMTP server. When you next log on to your ISP, just select this account and pick up your friend's mail. Note, however, that when you download her mail, it will go into your in-box unless you've created a filter to divert it to its own folder. (If you don't know how to do this, drop a message in the Mac 911 Forum and I'll explain all.)

Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN offers Mac tips and tricks each business day via Macworld Daily Tips and iTips. Visit http://lists.macworld.com to subscribe.

Share tips and discuss Mac problems with other Mac users in the Mac 911 Forum ( www.macworld.com/subject/mac911 ). Also send tips by e mail to mac911@macworld.com. We pay $50 for tips selected for publication in Macworld . All published submissions become the sole property of Macworld .

Shareware and freeware mentioned in Mac 911 are available from ZDNet's Macdownload.com ( www.macdownload.com ).

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
Shop Tech Products at Amazon