"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris

Weak Wireless Signal on MacBook Pro

Posted: November 20th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , | No Comments »

My MacBook Pro is lovely, but even Macs have problems. Yes, it’s true. Recently I was traveling in England and stayed at a lovely B & B in Edinburgh (The Sandaig which I highly recommend!). There was free wi-fi, always a bonus, but unfortunately I could rarely seem to get on it for more than a few seconds before it booted me off. My partner’s laptop, a MacBook, seemed to connect just fine with rapid connection speeds even with only two bars of signal. This situation was highly frustrating – as we’re both excessive Internet users, so only having one active laptop was a pain. I mean, what were we going to do instead? Visit Edinburgh’s beautiful sights? Pah.

The solution turned out to be a non-solution, but rather a clarification of how MacBook Pros work. It turns out from a bit of research that the beautiful aluminium case that surrounds the MacBook Pro forms a Faraday cage – which is relatively impervious to radio waves such as wireless internet connections. Ah. Apple’s solution to this was to leave a ‘hole’ in this cage, where the laptop is not made of aluminium, and that is the rubbery looking strip you see just underneath the laptop screen. That strip is your wireless antenna.

Now compared to a normal MacBook, which can pick up un-impeded signal from all directions, this means your new MacBook Pro not only has a very small area through which to receive signals, it is also highly directional. Ah hah. So now you have the following options to improve your wireless reception when you have a weak signal:

  1. Plug in your MacBook Pro: When you have a power supply connected the wireless power ramps up and you’ll see a huge improvement in reception. Unfortunately you can’t seem to configure this manually when you don’t have a power supply to hand, so I guess it sucks battery super fast.
  2. Point your MacBook Pro in different directions: Use your laptop like a divining rod to find the direction of strongest signal. Given the small window available this can yield good enough results but it is a pain to move around.
  3. Move closer to the wireless source so you get a stronger signal. Obviously not the most useful solution but sometimes the only one. In my case moving outside of our room, past a solid brick wall, gave four bars of signal and perfect internet.

Come on Apple – next generation of MacBook Pros admit your short fallings and add a nice external connector for an antenna or similar. I’m sure your legions of product eco-system partners will jump on the opportunity to create many beautiful and functional designs, something this time you omitted to do.

MacBook Pain: Won’t Boot, Very Hot – Fixed

Posted: July 28th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , | No Comments »

This morning I had a mild heart attack as my new MacBook Pro decided not to come back up from sleep mode. It had been sitting on my desk all night, plugged into the power having being put to sleep. I opened it and heard the fans whirring away, but nothing happened on screen. After a few minutes I held down the power key to re-boot it – on starting back up though I just had the grey apple logo and spinning wheel, but no visible progress!

I rebooted the machine a few times, and once it got through to the login screen, but in the background the ‘OS X Booting’ dialog box stayed on the screen. So I rebooted again, thinking that would clear it down – but then it wouldn’t come back up at all. Great.

I restarted the machine in verbose mode (press Command + V on startup) and watched the output, all good until a SATA disk drive error (something about block 0 missing) came up repeatedly on screen. OK. So a hard drive problem, my worst nightmare. This time I rebooted into single user mode (Command + S) and ran fsck – ‘File System Check’ – it turns out that most of my hard drive settings were out by a few blocks at all levels, and some parts were completely missing. Ug.

Luckily fsck repaired the drive successfully, and after entering reboot at the command line the machine came back up without apparent problems. Phew. I then backed up my recent files to DVD just in case and had a coffee.

Of course now I want to know what caused this. A few posts online indicate similar problems – my machine was super hot, even though it was off and recharging – had that upset the hard drive? In which case it’s something that could easily happen again. Or is this something to do with installing MacFuse recently so I could try and write to my PC shared NTFS drives? A lot of the posts with the same problem had been running Parallels, a Windows exection package. If anyone has any ideas please let me know!