Urania

A blog named for the muse of Astronomy containing musings by an astronomer

Snow Leopard for this Astronomer

Posted on September 16, 2009 by admin

I recently updated my laptop, an old Core Duo MacBook Pro, to Snow Leopard to test out the new OS. There have been a lot of little annoyances and a lot of little benefits to the move.

Some of the improvements I have noticed:

  • Snow Leopard is noticeably faster! I had thought it might just be fan-boy talk, but this operating system is in fact noticably faster at launching applications and the like. It is especially nice to no longer see the beachball every few minutes in the Finder. In fact, I don’t think I have seen that dreaded rainbow beachball int he Finder since upgrading!
  • Cisco VPN is built in! Like the iPod Touch, Cisco VPN networking is now built-in, so all I had to do was configure it as one of my network interfaces. Thank you Apple! If you previously had it installed, you can uninstall Cisco’s crappy little VPN client using the command:sudo /usr/local/bin/vpn_uninstall
  • QuickLook works in the Open/Save Dialog Boxes: Just as in the Finder, you can now hit the spacebar with a file selected in an Open/Save dialog box and you get a previous of the file’s contents. Sweet. QuickLook was probably the most useful feature I use everyday in Leopard, so I am glad to see it available in Open/Save dialog boxes as well.
  • I can see Hidden Files in the Open/Save Dialog Boxes: Credit this to MacOS X Hints, but in the Open-Save Dialog box, if I hit ‘Command-Shift-.’ (that’s a period), you can see the hidden files in a given directory. If you use your mac in a region where commas are normally used to as a decimal separate, you have to use the comma from the numerical keypad instead of the period. Very useful for people who edit .tcshrc or .bashrc files regularly.

Some of the annoyances I have been ironing out during the last week:

  • X11 now knows more about user environment: I use tsch as my shell environment. Apparently X11 on Snow Leopard loads the ~/.tcshrc file to set the system enviroment! I had a bug in the file that prevented X11 from launching. I was able to figure out it was local to my account by creating a test user account and launching X11 without a hitch. I was able to find the bad library path and fix it in the ~/.tcshrc and now my X11 works fine.
  • Battery Issues with Snow Leopard: I had issues with the battery under Snow Leopard. The battery life that was being reported was half what it had been before the upgrade. This seemed very odd to me, but the system profiler app insisted that after 183 charge cycles I had only 1949 mAh of power. So to ‘recalibrate’ I started up the computer after it went to sleep due to ‘low power’. It ran for another hour, reporting 0% battery the entire time. It then did a hard shutdown. I left it off and unplugged overnight, I then charged it full. It still reported only 1949 mAh total charge. I called Apple’s tech support which elevated the report to engineering. Then, after ‘safe booting’ the machine (see notes below), and booting back into my normal setup, I discovered the battery level was being reported as 4300 mAh, as it should be. Now, as of this morning, the problem is back again and System Profiler insists the battery has only 2870 mAh of maximum charge and it requires service. Not sure what the problem was, but a lot of people have been having similar problems with this particular battery and snow leopard.
    [Followup (added Oct. 23, 2009): Apple replaced the battery and the problem went away.  It is possible that the number of people reporting the problem is just indicative of a small percentage of users whose bad batteries were not obvious to them before Snow Leopard.]
  • Ethernet Issues with Snow Leopard: I had major issues with the ethernet connection dropping after a few minutes. Actually, it isn’t a full lost connection, I can still see computers on my subnet, and Skype seems to work, but a large percentage of websites fail to load and mail doesn’t work for off-campus mail servers. Quite a few other people were reporting similar problems on the Apple Discussion boards, but most of them resolved the problem by doing one of the following:
    1. Sometimes corrupt settings persist from a previous setup. Removing all the files in /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/ and rebooting will purge all the system settings related to networking. You will also lose settings related to other things, such as Energy Saver settings, but it can help when you can’t isolate the issue. I tried this, it didn’t work in my case
    2. The other solution many people hit on was to create a new “Location” in the Network control panel. If you have a corrupt preference setting in your Location, creating a new one lets you start from scratch. Again, this didn’t work for me.

    After going through all this, I talked to an Apple product specialist and they hit on the idea to try bringing up the computer in ‘Safe Mode‘ by rebooting ahdn holding the shift key during the boot. Safe mode turns off the launching of all non-system deamons and agents as well as turning off the launching of all the programs you might launch at login via your Accounts preference pane “Login Items”. Lo and behold, after doing this, my ethernet connection appears to have been stable! What I did was

    1. I removed Adobe VersionCue CS3 from my launch items in the Accounts preference pane. Adobe noted it was incompatible with Snow Leopard anyway.
    2. I disabled the following launch items by moving them to my Desktop and then rebooting
      /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.adobe.versioncueCS3.plist
      /Library/LaunchAgents/at.obdev.LittleSnitchNetworkMonitor.plist
      /Library/LaunchAgents/at.obdev.LittleSnitchUIAgent.plist

    Having now brought the computer back up through a normal boot, the ethernet connection has remained stable. The fact that my battery issue seems to have been resolved almost simultaneously makes me think these apps were responsible. [Followup (added Oct. 23, 2009): I narrowed down the problem to an apparent incompatibility between Snow Leopard and the version of BIND my campus is using as a DNS server.  And it may be specific to my machine.  Not sure.  Switching to using OpenDNS as my DNS resolver made the issue go away for me.  My server, a Mac Pro, which I have upgraded to Snow Leopard, has exhibited no such weirdness.]

  • MacPorts Rebuild: I traditionally rebuild my MacPorts installation from scratch with a new OS installation. There were no major issues, but I took the opportunity to upgrade to the latest MacPorts and to try to rebuild with only the bare minimum of ports that I was using.
  • Many Mail Plugins Fail: Most mail plugins use ‘unapproved’ APIs and most of the Mail Plugins I used failed for Snow Leopard’s Mail.app. Furthermore, it looks like Apple has changed things so now every minor revision in the OS will require Mail plugin writers to explicitly approve the plugin for that version of Mail.app. This means in the future every minor revision in Snow Leopard will likely shut down Mail plugins until they get updated.
  • Force 32-bit compilation for IRAF in Snow Leopard: Doug Mink has discovered that compiling IRAF packages in Snow Leopard presented errors until he forced 32-bit compilation (I am assuming he was on a 64-bit machine). I am quoting his suggestions (sent to me via email) below:It turns out that Snow Leopard defaults to 64-bits and you need to add the -m32 flag to hlib$fc.csh and hlib$mkpkg.inc just like you have to for 64-bit Linux:

    In fc.csh (Juan’s Note: in Scisoft OSX, this is /Applications/scisoft/all/Packages/iraf/iraf/unix/hlib/fc.csh) after this:

    # Scan the argument list and concatenate all arguments.
    set args = ""
    while ("$1" != "")
    set args = "$args $1"
    shift
    end

    add this:
    if ($MACH == "macintel") then
    print ("MACINTEL: -m32 flag set")
    set args = "$args -m32"
    endif

    and in mkpkg.inc (Juan’s Note: In Scisoft OSX, this is /Applications/scisoft/all/Packages/iraf/iraf/unix/hlib/mkpkg.inc for each IRAF package you want to recompile) :
    $else $ifeq (MACH, macintel) then
    $set    XFLAGS          = "-c -w -m32"  # default XC compile flags
    $set    XVFLAGS         = "-c -w"       # VOPS XC compile flags
    $set    LFLAGS          = "-Nz -m32"    # default XC link flags

That is my Snow Leopard report for now. More from the trenches and after I upgrade SciSoft OSX.

2 to “Snow Leopard for this Astronomer”

  1. Kartik Sheth says:
    I have a problem with my Snow Leopard installation I think. I can't get it to go to tcsh. I have tried chsh and it has the shell set to /bin/tcsh. I also checked it using the secret accounts advanced options - and there too it is set correctly. But when I open a new window, it always comes out in bash. Any suggestions on how to make it come up with tcsh? Thanks -Kartik
  2. admin says:
    Hi Kartik. I am not sure what the problem is as I have my tcsh set without issue in Snow Leopard. However, I did upgrade from Leopard with these settings, so maybe this is a new Snow Leopard problem.

    Your comment implies you did you make sure (either using chsh from the command line or the advanced Account settings available by control-clicking your account name in the Accounts preference pane) to point to /bin/tcsh and yet the setting seems to be getting lost.

    I did find an article online about changing default shells in Snow Leopard on the Unofficial Apple Weblog (TAUW). The author also reported that the settings seemed to be getting lost, but they were trying to change the settings via a default shell in the terminal.app program. Their solution was to use chshor the advanced Account settings trick, so at this stage, I am out of suggestions.

    It does occur to me that you may want to check and be sure your Terminal.app is not set to open to bash, instead of the "Default login shell" by checking the Preferences under the Terminal.app.


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