Saturday, February 19, 2011

When YouTube videos go BLACK:
The Adobe Shockwave Player Mess

Two recent changes in the Internet world have conspired to create a problem for Mac users attempting to play YouTube videos. The problem: You attempt to play a YouTube video but all you get is a black, inert rectangle. It's dead. Nothing happens.

Rather than pull your hair out, reinstall everything or think your Mac is broken, here is what's going on:

I) Adobe just recently caught up with the real world, nearly 6 (SIX) years LATE, and started providing a 64-bit version of their Shockwave Player. Gee thanks Adobe. About time, don't you think?

The problem is that you must have Safari running in the same mode as the version of Shockwave Player you have installed. Therefore:
A) If you install the 32-bit version of the Shockwave Player plug-in, you must run Safari in 32-bit mode. You can do this in Safari's Get Info box.


B) If you install the 64-bit version of the Shockwave Player plug-in, you must run Safari in 64-bit mode. Be sure to check if this is the case in Safari's Get Info box by verifying that you are NOT running Safari in 32-bit mode.
II) The other half of the problem is that Google forgot to tell anyone that they are now offering videos on YouTube in .SWF format. This is the Shockwave format, NOT the Flash format .FLV. Therefore the videos play using the Shockwave Player plug-in, NOT the Flash Player plug-in.

Once you match up your bit versions of Safari and Shockwave Player, you'll find your YouTube functionality is fine. Adobe warn about this incompatibility problem in one direction, but not the other. Google don't warn you at all. (No wonder both companies have legions of anti-fans).

Also keep in mind that Adobe is in the midst of a flood of security flaws being discovered in their software. This problem is particularly critical with the Shockwave Player, Flash Player, Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat because the file formats they play are universal on the Internet. This means that it is CRITICAL to keep up with the entirely IRREGULAR releases of security updates from Adobe. Totally ignore Adobe's idiotic quarterly 'In-Band' schedule for releasing updates. Scheduling security updates is for fools. (I'm talking to you too Microsoft!)

Here is where to keep track of Adobe's latest security holes and updates:

Adobe Security Bulletins and Advisories

Adobe Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) Blog

You can pick which version of Shockwave Player you would like to download and install (32 or 64-bit) HERE.

I regularly rake Adobe over the coals at my Mac-Security blog.

You can read about 32-bit mode versus 64-bit mode at

And yes kids, all of the above indicates that we are still in The Stone Age of Computing.



Friday, February 11, 2011

Adventures In MacPorts:
Installing MPlayer 1.0rc4 and
Myst Online: URU Live Again

MacPorts is only for advanced Mac users. Even advanced users will find MacPorts diabolical at times. My experience today was a very frustrating adventure. Its goal: To install the new MacPort of MPlayer version 1.0rc4.

I've been playing with MacPorts for a few years and am pleased to see the list of available ports continually growing. They have afforded me some terrific UNIX functionality that does not ship with Mac OS X. But learning about what MacPorts are, how to install them and how to use them is difficult. The learning curve is steep, the documentation is minimal, the help you'll find online is flaky and MacPorts itself can be imperfect and daunting. I am loathe to tell the tale of my adventure today because it will cause many to run away screaming with fear! But MPlayer is a big deal program and someone has got to publish on the net how to install it in spite of MacPorts HELL! So let me be your guide:


A couple months back I installed the very latest version of MacPorts. To access the ports listing and install them I use a clunky but useful free program called Porticus. There is a paid shareware alternative, but it has fallen into disrepair and is too expensive. The one thing wrong with Porticus is that you have to force it to "Reload Ports" after every installation. It pretends to do so by itself but FAILs. This sort of annoyance is entirely typical at the hacker level of users. But I got used to forcing Porticus reloads and otherwise enjoy it.


Knowing the new version of MPlayer was available, I checked Porticus and joyfully found it available as a MacPort. However, it had a couple prerequisite installations. When this occurs, the ports you don't yet have installed are listed in red. Therefore, I set about installing them. Unfortunately, the first of these ports was impossible to install! It consistently FAILed with errors that said what was at the source site was an HTML file and that the MD5 check didn't match. Therefore, I looked around in the MacPorts directory and what I discovered blew my mind. Someone had tossed in a bizarro HTML file that essentially said the equivalent of "Sorry sonny! You can't get there for here!" Check this out:
[html stuff...]
This space is managed by You have attempted to access a URL that either never existed or is no longer active. Please check the source of your link and/or contact the maintainer of the link to have them update their records.
[html stuff...]
This note was included at part of the MacPorts installation and the note was WRONG. Because this stupid note was tossed it there, I could not install the prerequisite port and therefore could not install MPlayer! There was no way around it!

Except I am used to developers and hackers being a PITA. I went looking for what I wanted on the net anyway and sought out a way to install it in spite of the MacPorts bungle. And I succeeded. And yes kids, garbage like this proves that we remain in The Stone Age Of Computing. (0_o)

The impossible-to-install port file was libmad-0.15.1b.tar.gz. I Googled it. I found it. Here it is:

MAD (MPEG Audio Decoder)

Despite the dumbass note stuck in MacPorts, the file is at SourceForge, is downloadable and is installable, dammit!

After downloading the file, I tried a couple ways to install it myself. First I used the Terminal, using the instructions in the included ReadMe. Then I tried the same thing using the X11 CLI. But I was a dope to bother with it because the installation was put into the wrong location, not into MacPorts where I wanted it. Therefore, I went looking around. At first I thought I'd have to post a ticket to the MacPorts group about the problem. I went over to the MacPorts Guide and checked the tickets section. There I read about the Problem Hotlist page and checked it out. Skimming down the page I found this section:
Fetch failures

If fetch failed for a port, you can still get the distfile from anywhere else. For example, the  main MacPorts distfiles mirror contains most ports' distfiles, or maybe the homepage of the software lists alternative download locations for source tarballs. Just download the distfile and save it to ${prefix}/var/macports/distfiles//. Make sure you get a file with exactly the same name (watch out for .tar.gz and .tar.bz2!) If a port clean --all has been done the distfile directory will have been removed. The directory for each port is created at the beginning of the fetch phase.

Note: Checksum failures after a fetch are typically a separate issue. See the FAQ.
Yeah well, I knew that libmad was NOT at the MacPorts distfiles location on the Internet. Beats me why. However, I was pleased to see that I could bypass the idiotic note about libmad and replace it with the actual file. After searching for the correct directory, which is NOT clear from the documentation quoted above, this is where I successfully put it:


Having trashed the moronic (am I out of derisive adjectives yet?) MacPorts note, I replaced it with the libmad-0.15.1b.tar.gz file.

I then went back into Porticus and successfully performed the installation of libmad. That then allowed me to successfully install MPlayer. I then verified that MPlayer was there and started in reading the man page. Consider me happy-smiley-shiny and ready to play with MPlayer. :-)

Nightmare much? I run into ridiculous chaos like this regularly. It is part of hacker level work on any computer platform. Code developers are brilliant. My lame skills only let me bludgeon through code writing. But much as I envy great coders, they are not necessarily good at other organization skills. To succeed as a hacker level user you have to be patient and tenacious at overcoming other-people organizational deficits. You have to learn to out-think the software and the developer.

Myst Online: URU

I had a similar nightmare last month getting the Myst Online: URU Live Again MacPort installed and running on my Mac.

As an early Myst adopter, I have been a fan of the sequels ever since. Cyan create my kind of games. Sadly Cyan succumbed to the biznizz anti-ethic of focusing on money rather than the customer experience as the bottom line. This is consistently how great companies become derelict. (Apple have been a success, even in hard times, by keeping the customer as priority #1). This lead Cyan to focus only on the Windows PC market for their final project in the Myst series, the online game entitled URU. Considering that the original Myst was developed using Apple's Hypercard, this was a huge slap in the face of Mac users! Eventually a barely working Mac version was offered. Then URU rolled over and died. Thankfully, a transition was created to make URU a free public game. A new server was found and so URU lives again.

Thank kind people for providing a way to play URU online via MacPorts. There are two options for installing and running URU, one using WINE and another using Cider. I was unfamiliar with Cider, which is a Windows gaming engine for Macs from Transgaming. You can read about Cider HERE and HERE.

I installed the WINE version but totally FAILed to get it running. Yes kids, WINE is another one of those flaky, annoying, tweeks required, poorly documented hacker level technologies. If you pay for it via CrossOver, it can work very nicely. But installing WINE via MacPorts and getting it to work can be very infuriating. I ended up deleting the URU WINE installation by hand.

Then I installed the Cider version. URU now works beautifully! Then, since URU takes up over 3 GB of disk space, I used symbolic links (NOT aliases!) to move the whole thing over to an external USB drive with total success. Since I am running on a MacBook 2GHz, I don't have the best of graphics hardware. In particular, the roving 3D wire-frame characters, most of whom are real players, resolve poorly. But everything else in the game is incredibly beautiful and fun to use. I'm enthralled. If you're into the Myst series, I highly recommend the Cider URU MacPort.

. . .

If you found this article useful, I'm pleased. If it made your hair stand on end, I'm not surprised. There is a temperament one has to develop in order to deal with today's level of hacked together software. If you can't get there, then don't worry about it. Instead stick with the more user-friendly software, of which there is plenty. Some day The Stone Age Of Computing will transition into something much more humane, or so we hope.


Friday, February 4, 2011

When Apple Support FAILS:
How To Calm An IRATE
Part 2

Going back a few weeks and a few articles, I discovered that there is no way to actually talk to anyone at the Apple iTunes Store. Therefore, if your email pleas for help go unresolved, you're left out in the cold. But there are further steps to take if your are willing to spend the time, money and patience to pursue them.

Apple has always had an excellent Customer Support department. It's a toll call. There's a firewall of operators you have to get through, but if you stick to your guns you can make it through and talk to someone nice, sane and incredibly helpful. Here is the protocol:

1) Go to the site, go to the bottom of the page and click on 'Contact Us'.

2) Skip everything else and look in the upper right area of the "Apple - How to Contact Us" page where you will find the "Corporate Address" including the corporate office PHONE NUMBER. (Today Apple Corporate's number is 408-996-1010).

3) Deal with the fees and make the toll call...

4) When an operator answers, say only one thing: "Customer Support Please!" That's all. Do not ask for 'tech support'. Do not chat with the operator. Do not tell the operator about your situation. Never mention 'iTunes'. As soon as the operators hear 'iTunes' they blurt out a rant that there is "NO PHONE SUPPORT FOR THE iTUNES STORE!" I had one particularly nasty operator hang up on me when I attempted to talk reason with her. Don't bother! They're pre-programmed. You only only only ask for "Customer Support Please!"

5) You will then be connected in short order (or you should be!) to a kind, friendly, helpful and compassionate human being. I love these folks. Explain in detail your situation. Explain why this is important to you. As ever, be entirely honest and patient. Their job is to help you and to resolve all Apple customer problems.

Note: The call may take a lot of time. When I spoke to Customer Support they had a difficult time themselves getting anyone at the iTunes Store to talk to directly. If the call drags on longer than you'd like, simply ask that Customer Support call you back when they have solved the problem. Also ask them for their direct number. They will give you their toll-free direct number. They will call you back. They have never let me down.

In my situation, Apple were eventually able to talk to a human being at the iTunes Store. Sadly, that person blundered the situation yet-again(!), and I had to call back my Customer Support representative for further assistance. I get the impression that the iTunes Store has been contracted out to a bunch of minimum wage kids. IOW: pray for patience.

Once it was evident that the Level 1 kids at the iTunes Store were incapable of resolving my simple problem, one of their Supervisors contacted me via eMail and we sorted it out right away, the way it should have been solved in the first place. The Supervisor was intelligent and thoughtful. Problem solved, case closed. I was delighted.

Remaining Question: Why-oh-why was it so excruciatingly hard to interact with anyone competent at the iTunes Store? It took me 2.5 WEEKS to solve my very simple problem.

Sad to say, Apple does NOT run the iTunes Store like they run the rest of the company. "ALL SALES ARE FINAL" and "THE ONLY SUPPORT IS EMAIL SUPPORT" are IMHO rude and ridiculous walls put in the way to prevent what is typically the best-in-class Apple customer experience. BOTH of these impediments must be removed or competent Level 1 people must be provided. Polite and friendly dimwits are not acceptable.


When you interact with the iTunes Store, you are NOT dealing with the Apple you know and love. You're dealing with a polite but deranged organization that damages Apple's reputation by way of blatant user-hostility. The Level 1 kids there could not have been more polite! How nice. But they also could not have been more obtuse and difficult. That I had to go all the way up to Corporate Headquarters to have a very simple problem solved was, let's be serious, completely INSANE.

I know the argument that Apple make very little money via the iTunes Store and I expect that is correct. But professional businesses don't let polite but incompetent minimum wage kids loose on their customers. The state of iTunes Store support is horrific. I wish you a far better experience than I had.

How To Remove Gigabytes
Of Unwanted Fat

Mac OS X 10.5 & 10.6 brought with them a new feature called the 'sleepimage' file. You can find it here:


You can get there in the Finder by using the Go menu: Go to Folder: Then type in the above path.

Inside this folder is all your vm or Virtual Memory. It includes all your 'swapfile's, which you should at this point leave be, and your 'sleepimage' file. The sleepimage is as large as the amount of RAM you have installed on your Mac. In my case, using my MacBook, it is 3 Gigabytes in size. What if I could removed that file 'forever' and have 3 GB more of freed space on my boot volume? For app addicts like me, that means a lot more room and a lot lower chance of banging my free space for virtual memory to zero, which in turn forces a reboot to free up the VM, which is annoying.

Before I tell you how to perform the undocumented tricks, let's find out what the sleepimage file is for, because you might well want to keep it! I'm quoting here from Apple's online PDF manual "Mac OS X, Security Configuration For Version 10.5 Leopard, Second Edition."
When your computer goes into hibernation, it writes the content of RAM to the /var/vm/sleepimage file. The sleepimage file contains the contents of RAM unencrypted, similar to a swap file.
The document then goes on to tell you how to turn on "Use secure virtual memory" in order to encrypt what is saved into the sleepimage file. And that's all Apple says about the sleepimage file.

Thanks to information provided by Jeremy King over at the MacRumors Forums (Apple Hardware : Notebooks : MacBook Pro : Sleep Image???) I learned one way to empty the sleepimage file by turning off Hibernation Mode. It requires using the CLI via the Terminal. If you are not yet well versed at using the Terminal, please do your homework first. I'm not going to explain the meaning of these commands.

Hibernation Mode Settings:

sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0

sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 3

Always Use
sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 1

If you disable Hibernation Mode then reboot, you should find that your sleepimage file is empty.

But there is another method that may be helpful for the CLI averse, which includes me. You must follow my method exactly or die. I've never had trouble with it, ever. However, I've heard hearsay reports that someone or other did something sort of like this and blew their system, resulting in the inability to boot into Mac OS X. This sounds like BS to me. But never underestimate the 'wetware' factor. Having said that, I provide no guarantee of anything at all if you follow my method. Just know that it works perfectly for my purposes. Here goes!

1) Go into the Finder Preferences, under the Finder menu, and check ON "Show all filename extensions". You may have already done this. I have it on all the time.

2) Open TextEdit and create at new document.

3) Save the document file with the name 'sleepimage'. I like to save to my Desktop. Note that TextEdit will put an extension, such as ".rtf", on the end of the file.

4) Go to this saved file and REMOVE the .Extension from the end of the file name. For example, ".rtf"

5) Verify in the resulting finder box that you do indeed want to "Remove" the file extension.

6) Go into the 'vm' folder using the path I provided above.

7) Click on the 'sleepimage' file inside the vm folder and send it to the Trash. You will have to provide both your Administrator ID and Password in the resulting Finder window in order to do this.

8) Drag into the vm folder your 'sleepimage' text file. You will again have to 'Authenticate' this action by providing your Administrator ID and Password.

9) Click once on your new 'sleepimage' file and Get Info for it, IOW Command-i.

10) Check ON 'Locked' in the sleepimage Get Info window. The purpose here is to prevent Mac OS X from changing or removing this file. You are the boss-of-it.

11) Empty the Trash to remove the obese old 'sleepimage' file.

You're done.

Instantly you have back ALL the disk space that was eaten up by the sleepimage file. And it won't come back. Well, probably not. There are always the random ghosts, cosmic rays, or karmic fates that make computing strange at times. I have had the sleepimage return from the dead on one occasion and I have no idea why. I put my MacBook to sleep one night and it woke up with a live sleepimage file back again. Thus the term 'Ghost in the machine'. So I killed it off  again, replaced the sleepimage file, and was back in business.


I'm a quirky gizmologist who enjoys breaking things, playing with them, then putting the back together again. I'm a trained hacker and geek. If you are not, then I'd suggest taking the more logical approach,  using the CLI method for turning OFF Hibernation Mode in order to clear your sleepimage file. It's short and simple and follows proper protocols. My method is a hack. If you want to play around and are confident you know what you are doing, try my hack for fun.

Share and Enjoy,

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why Adobe Flash Is Naughty
and Requires Spanking

There is a phrase among We-The-Technos that has been coming up in conversation a lot more often lately. That phrase is "TechTardiness". For Mac users, TechTard inspired anti-Apple hate is nothing new. By design or by error, the Macintosh platform has consistently been misrepresented in the press for decades, thus the extended phrase "TechTard Journalists". Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal used to be among them. But like so many others, he got a Mac, tried it and found that it really is superior to the alternatives. I'm always pleased and full of praise when any of us cures our ignorance and moves beyond a regrettable  past.

Recent among opportunities to cure ignorance is coming to terms with Adobe Flash. Despite a shocking amount of published data regarding Flash's incredibly poor performance and its blatant dangers on the Mac platform, TechTardiness remains in full force. This past week there was an amazing addition to the chorus of ignorance from Patrick Lo, the Chairman and CEO of Netgear. His bizarro, crude and insightless comments are covered here:

Patrick's obtuse slamming of Steve Jobs , (who is currently out ill from Apple, how brave of Patrick), includes this gem:
What's the reason for him to trash Flash? There's no reason other than ego.
For everyone's benefit, here is a list of reasons why Mac users trash Flash:

1) Adobe Flash eats the Mac's CPU alive.

2) Adobe Flash inexplicably continues to chew on the Mac's CPU after each Flash file has stopped playing.

3) The more open Flash files, running or not, the more the Mac's CPU is devoured.

4) Adobe Flash bombs Mac web browsers, particularly Apple's Safari browser, due to memory leaks.

5) Adobe Flash is the most dangerously insecure software for Mac. This is according to top Macintosh security experts such as Dr. Charlie Miller. (The #2 and #3 insecure software for Mac are Apple's QuickTime and Adobe's PDF format).

6) Adobe maintains an unrealistic quarterly 'band' system for providing Flash Player security updates. Every month during this summer, extending into October of 2010, a new 'out-of-band' security patch was required for Flash Player.


All of the above Flash problems are verifiable by anyone with Google and the willingness to do their homework.

There are reasons why Flash blocking add-ons are extremely popular for Mac web browsers.

The next time someone denies or ignores all of the above, just laugh at them. There's FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt); And then there's DOS (Denial, Obfuscation and Stupidity). Neither are good for your health.

And Further More

For smirkers who like to brag that their PDA/Smartphone can play Flash, don't forget to tell everyone the following:

A) How well does Flash play on your gadget?
B) How well does its battery survive playing Flash?

The answer at this point in time is: Poorly.

I personally am open to Adobe repairing all these problems and making Flash a friendly member of the computer community. However, Adobe has consistently been in denial mode, despite a mountain of easily verifiable evidence to the contrary. IMHO Adobe is strangling their own baby. That bodes poorly for Flash's future. I wish it were not so.