Greg Pak: FilmHelp: Computers/Websites

Upgrading to Mac OS 10.7 Lion – What It Broke and How I Fixed It

By Greg Pak
As a user of Apple’s soon-to-be-discontinued MobileMe service, I’ve gotten a number of emails over the last few months encouraging me to upgrade to Mac OS 10.7 (Lion) and switch to iCloud, the service that’s replacing MobileMe. Yesterday I finally bit the bullet.
Unfortunately, the upgrade process broke two of my most-used programs and gobbled up several hours of troubleshooting time. In hopes of helping others avoid the same problems, here’s what I learned:
How to prevent Lion from eating Final Draft
If you are a Final Draft user, DEACTIVATE your computer’s Final Draft program before upgrading to Lion. (Go to the “Help” menu and select “Deactivate”). Your Final Draft license gives you the right to activate two computers to use the program; when you deactivate online in this way, the Final Draft servers keep track and will let you reactivate after you upgrade. If you do NOT deactivate, the upgrade to Lion will wipe out your computer’s record of Final Draft activation and you’ll have to call the Final Draft service number and type through multiple menus to reactivate manually. (That’s what I just finished doing.)
Also, before you upgrade to Lion, go to and download the free 8.0.3 upgrade. Previous versions of Final Draft are not compatible with Lion; you’ll need this version to run the program.
Lion may kill your email by changing your SpamSieve filter
After I upgraded to Lion, my Mail program apparently would not receive any emails. At first I thought it was just my address. But it was all of my email addresses. I eventually figured out that the Lion upgrade had reset the SpamSieve filter to move ALL incoming emails to the Spam folder. I rescued the missing emails from the Spam folder and disabled the filter.
Mail may not recognize your email password
I’m now receiving mail on my desktop and iPhone, but not on my laptop. For some reason, my laptop’s Mail program constantly gives me the error message that my password is incorrect. I’ve changed the password — no dice. I still haven’t figured this one out. I’m considering deleting my account in that installation of Mail and recreating it, but that seems a bit extreme. If you have any ideas, feel free to ping me on Twitter.
UPDATE: Just solved the last problem! After some searching, I found this thread that suggested changing “Authentication” under the “Advanced” tab for the account from “Password” to “Apple Token.” Success!

The eMate Hinge Fix: Yeah, I actually did it, and here’s what I learned

Another hypertechnical FilmHelp article by Greg Pak
In an article last month singing the praises of the 1997 Apple eMate as an outstanding low-tech writing machine, I noted that one of the big flaws of the eMate is its infamous hinge problem, which can result in a spring popping loose and puncturing the monitor cable.
I’m happy to report that I finally broke out my Torx screwdrivers and soldering iron and followed the excellent instructions at,, and (warning: pdf) to fix my machine’s hinges.
It’s a pretty involved operation, and I highly recommend reading through the instructions and assembling all necessary tools and supplies before starting it. A few pointers:

  • The hinges are much smaller than the closeup photos in the guides might lead you to believe. I didn’t measure them, but if you’re planning to do the washer fix, you should have a few very small washers on hand to experiment with. The washer I ended up using was just 7/16 of an inch wide.
  • Have all the necessary supplies on hand, assuming you’ll go all the way through with the hinge fix. I opened up the machine thinking I’d just check the hinges. But when I saw that one of the springs on the hinge near the monitor cable had begun to shorten, I realized I needed to go through with the whole operation. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the recommended grease on hand, so I ended up just using a few drops of 3-In-One oil. I’m guessing that’s an acceptable substitute at least for the short term, but if the lid seems to stiffen over the next few years, I may have to open the machine up again and grease the hinges properly with the right stuff.
  • When reassembling the machine, make sure the volume and dimmer tabs from the front case are lined up with the sliders on the motherboard. I forgot about this step and had to reopen the machine (which required another round of soldering).
  • I freaked myself out a bit when the machine wouldn’t start up after the whole operation. But when I pressed the reset button on the back of the unit, it came back to life. I think the blank screen’s a reaction to all power being cut off from the machine during the repair process.
  • It’s a good idea to have some strong epoxy ready before undertaking the repair. When I opened up my eMate, one of the small plastic posts on the inside of the machine that serves as the base of one of the battery cover screws cracked. The top of the post fell off and I had to glue it back on during the reassembly. That makes me think it’s also a good idea not to over-tighten the screws to the battery compartment to avoid stressing those posts too much.
  • Make sure you have enough time to complete the project before starting. It’ll probably take at least two hours — and probably longer, if you’re taking proper care and it’s your first time opening the machine.

The eMate vs Dana vs Neo showdown!

In search of the perfect retro writing machine

A FilmHelp article by Greg Pak

Back in 2001 when my main laptop was a 6.1 pound G3 “Pismo” Powerbook with 90 minutes of battery life, I found out about the Alphasmart Dana, a two pound writing machine with a full-sized keyboard that ran on the Palm operating system, could sync with my main computer, and would operate for 25 hours on a single charge. After getting a Dana as a gift, I used it to keep a journal of the “Robot Stories” distribution process and to write some of my early comic book scripts for Marvel while on the road. I loved being able to carry it around in a backpack or satchel without feeling the weight at all. I liked being able to use it on the subway without the same level of anxiety I’d have pulling out a $3000 laptop. I loved the instant on/off nature of the machine. And I dug the way a simple interface combined with incredibly long battery life and supreme portability encouraged me to write whenever I had the chance or inspiration.

I put my Dana on the shelf and forgot about it for a while after I got my first iBook. The lightness of the iBook (and its fresh, long lasting battery) addressed some of the Pismo drawbacks that had pushed me towards the Dana. But while clearing my office of old electronics last month, I pulled the Dana down from the shelf and began using it again.

I had so much fun typing on the Dana that I found myself thinking about how it could be improved. A better screen, a stronger backlight. A different form factor that would make it easier to write while lounging on a couch or in bed. And lo and behold, while poking around various Macintosh websites, I stumbled across the Apple eMate, a four pound portable computer sold to educational markets in 1997 and 1998 that bore some surprising similarities to the Dana.

Both the Dana and the eMate were designed with the educational market in mind. Both are solid state computers with no moving parts and incredibly sturdy plastic bodies. Both run on software originally designed for pocket organizers and feature a stylus rather than a mouse. Both have black and white screens with green backlights. Both use their own barebones but functional word processors that can export and import rtf files. Both turn on instantly and automatically save everything that you type. And both run for days on a full charge.

The main difference is form. The Dana is the more stripped down machine — with a full sized keyboard and a wide but short, non-adjustable screen. The eMate has a laptop-style screen that shows about twice the number of lines that a Dana does. The eMate’s only four pounds, but the Dana’s just two.

After staring hungrily at eBay listings for a couple of weeks, I finally pulled the trigger on a used eMate — paying ten bucks for the machine and another twenty for shipping. And then I picked up a used Alphasmart Neo, an even more stripped down writing machine with a similar form factor to the Dana but without the Palm operating system and the non-writing oriented software.

So here, at long last, is a point-by-point showdown between the eMate, the Dana and the Neo to determine which computer is indeed the perfect writing machine.

Continue reading The eMate vs Dana vs Neo showdown!

FilmHelp: Dead battery in Alphasmart Dana crashes entire unit

Another hypertechnical FilmHelp article from Greg Pak
I recently acquired a used Alphasmart Dana (original AA series, 8 mb memory) that wouldn’t start up. Since these machines are all solid state and are built for abuse, I highly suspected that the problem was just a dead battery. But when I plugged the Dana in via USB or via an AC adaptor, the machine still wouldn’t start up. The closest I got was the Palm logo briefly flickering across the screen, even when I tried both soft and hard resetting the unit.
Finally I removed the battery and inserted a charged battery from my working Dana. And the new Dana started up immediately! I was able to reset the unit, and from that point on it was able to work with either the AC adapter or with three AA batteries.
But when I reinserted the dead battery (in hopes of charging it), the machine froze again and wouldn’t start up — even when plugged into the wall. It required a hard resetting to function properly again.
My final test was to try the dead battery out on my working Dana. The result was the same — the Dana froze up and had to be hard reset to function again.
Conclusion? A dead battery can cause an Alphasmart Dana to crash. Recovery may require a hard resetting, which wipes out any added data, returning the machine to its factory presets.

Replacing the internal battery on a Macbook Air

Another hyper-technical FilmHelp article by Greg Pak
I recently replaced the battery on a first generation Macbook Air (1.8 GHz). The Macbook Air battery isn’t considered “user replaceable” by Apple — it’s locked inside the enclosure, held in place by nine screws. Apple charges $129 to replace the battery. But I wasn’t thrilled about wiping the drive (for security reasons) and giving up the computer to be serviced. Instead, I bought a new replacement battery for $70 on ebay and followed the incredibly helpful instructions at to open the case with a tiny Phillips head screwdriver and replace the battery.
I started the project with some trepidation because I’d generally seen laptop batteries peter out bit by bit — I’d never had a battery suddenly cease to hold a charge the way this one died. So I had my fingers crossed that this wasn’t part of a bigger problem involving the logic board. But since the computer works perfectly post-op, it’s pretty clear I just had a dud battery.
Since I couldn’t find an exact description of the symptoms I was seeing online, I’m posting what I experienced in hopes that it helps others.

  1. The battery suddenly stopped charging. The computer would work as long as it was plugged in, but the LED on the magsafe charger would stay green rather than turn to the amber charging color and the battery monitor would report that the battery was empty and wasn’t charging. This might have been shortly after the battery was totally drained. The battery had 227 cycles on it. I followed the instructions at to reset the SMC. And I reset PRAM for good measure. Neither procedure helped.
  2. In OS 10.5.8, under the “Power” tab in the system profiler, the battery showed up but was tagged with “Check Battery.” When I restarted using a Snow Leopard (OS 10.6.1) installation on an external USB drive, the battery icon in the menu gave the message “Replace Battery.”
  3. If the power cable was disconnected after shutting down, upon restart, the computer would give me an alert that time and date were incorrect. On other computers, that would be an indication that the internal PRAM battery was dead. But now that I have a working battery in the laptop, there’s no problem with losing date and time settings. I’m deducing that the Macbook Air has no internal PRAM battery — so if the laptop battery is totally drained, the settings that the PRAM battery would normally maintain are lost.

  4. Several times after the computer died because the the AC adapter was unplugged, it made a long “bong” sound upon restart. Not the normal startup chime, but a long, more alarm-like bong. That’s generally a sound associated with memory failure. But the computer started up normally after making the bong and the System Profile showed all memory intact. I ran the Apple Hardware Test, which also showed no problems with the memory.

Replacing the battery fixed everything.

  1. A completely dead battery in a Macbook Air apparently causes Date & Time settings to be lost — presumably because the computer has no separate PRAM battery.
  2. A Macbook Air battery might indeed just conk out suddenly rather than gradually lose its ability to recharge over time.
  3. Still no idea where that long “bong” sound came from.

Snow Leopard doesn’t allow writing to Zip disk

Another hyper-technical FilmHelp computer post from Greg Pak
While undertaking the mind-blowingly nerdy task of updating a 1995-era PowerBook 190 from OS 7.5.2 to 7.5.3, I discovered that my Mac Pro (running OS 10.6.1) would read a Zip disk in an external USB Zip drive — but it would not write new data to that same disk.
After doing some poking around, I found this helpful post that explained that Snow Leopard has disabled the ability to write to HFS-formatted disks — which was the standard when this Powerbook was produced.
In practical terms, that means to get files from my Mac Pro onto the PowerBook 190, I had to transfer them to a G4 desktop via a USB drive. Then I transferred them from the G4 to a Zip disk. And then transfer from the Zip disk to the Powerbook 190. Whew!

Snow Leopard Finder crashing bug identified — related to Fetch 4.0.2

A FilmHelp article by Greg Pak
After upgrading to Mac OS 10.6, a.k.a. Snow Leopard, the latest Apple operating system, I’ve had a series of Finder crash/reboots when opening folders of older material I’d transferred from Firewire backup drives. I eventually realized that every folder that was crashing contained files from Fetch 4.0.2 — the “Fetch Prefs,” “Fetch Cache,” and “Fetch Shortcuts” files. I suspect there’s something about the way these image files are built that causes the crash (maybe related to the problem cited in this post). I rebooted the computer in 10.5.8 (which has no trouble opening the folders) and moved the Fetch files into subfolders. Since then I’ve had no problems opening the main folders in 10.6.

Transferring a project from a G3 to a Mac Pro and from FCP 3 to FCP 7

A FilmHelp article by Greg Pak
I recently bought my first new desktop in eight years and upgraded to Final Cut Pro 7 to edit my new short film “Mister Green.” I’ll be posting much more about “Mister Green” soon. But for now, here’s a painfully detailed report on the trials and travails of transferring a much older film project to the new workstation. Here’s hoping it helps someone out there avoid my mistakes.
Transferring the Media
The older project had files scattered across multiple drives on an old blue and white G3 desktop. Unfortunately, out of the box, the G3 and my new 2.66 GHz Pro Mac don’t communicate particularly well. The new Mac only has Firewire 800 ports; the old Mac only has Firewire 400 ports. A cheap adapter would let me plug Firewire 400 devices into the new Mac. But my dream of transferring directly from the old computer to the new computer using Target Disk Mode didn’t work out — the blue and white G3s apparently don’t work as target computers. Although, strangely enough, two of the drives on the B&W did show up when I connected it via Firewire to the new computer. (Your guess is a good as mine!) But for the bulk of the media, I had to transfer the data onto Firewire drives, then transfer it again from the Firewire drives to the new Mac.
Even that relatively straightforward process became a bit complicated when I discovered that my newest Firewire drives wouldn’t open on the old Mac — they’d been formatted to be bootable with Intel Macs, which means they don’t show up on old Macs running less than OS 10.4. So I used some older Firewire drives, which were a bit touchy and crashed once or twice.

Continue reading Transferring a project from a G3 to a Mac Pro and from FCP 3 to FCP 7

MT-Blacklist to fight comment spam

By Greg Pak
If you create a blog with open comments, you’ll soon discover that scumbags like to post spam in the comment sections of blogs. So what to do? If you’re using MovableType, you can check and ban the IP addresses through which the spammers are accessing the internet. But that’s pretty ineffective, as spammers tend to use a variety of IP addresses. You can use a plug in which creates an image with a code which anyone posting a comment must reproduce in a form field. But spammers have actually started manually filling in those forms — or they’ve cracked the code to automate the process.
The solution?
I’m very happily using MT-Blacklist, through which you can build a blacklist of website addresses which you cull from spam posts. When you hit “De-Spam,” the software automatically deletes any message which contains the blacklisted URLs. And new comments featuring any blacklisted address can’t be posted. This hits the jerks where they hurt — if they can’t post a link, there’s no point in their posting at all.
If you end up using MT-Blacklist, feel free to get started with the blacklist I’ve built for use with this site. I’d recommend using a smaller list like this rather than the giant list you can download through That list may be pretty comprehensive, but its enormous size seems to bog the software up a bit.
For my email, I’ve started using SpamFire from MatterForm. It’s Mac OS X compatible and is working nicely so far.

Deleting preference gets Internet Connect working again in OS X

By Greg Pak
While traveling this week, my 12″ G4 PowerBook decided to stop letting me get online through dialup. My airport card was working fine, but the Internet Connect program through which I get online via dialup using Earthlink would quit during startup. I’m using OS 10.2.3 and have had precious few serious problems thus far, so I was a bit flummoxed. I restarted several times, which didn’t do the trick. I reinstalled Earthlink, which didn’t do the trick. I installed AOL (horror of horrors), which didn’t do the trick.
In the end, I stumbled across the answer — I found the preferences files for Internet Connect and deleted them. They live in the Users > Username > Library > Preferences >
After deleting the program, I was able to start up Internet Connect properly. I had to then update Earthlink all over again, but I’m now able to get online again via dialup.