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Ask TUAW: Firewall settings, Snow Leopard faxing, MacBook battery life, and more

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about firewall settings, SSDs, MacBook battery life, faxing in Snow Leopard, and much more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Leave your questions for next week in the comments section at the end of this post. When asking a question, please include which machine you're using and what version of Mac OS X is installed on it (we'll assume you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify), or if it's an iPhone-related question, which iPhone version and OS version you have.

Benjamin asks

I've just upgraded my 2006 MacBook Pro to Snow Leopard, and I'm unimpressed. When I log in, it always asks if I want to allow incoming connections for EyeConnect, and the same again when I start Vuze. The way the new Exposé scales all windows to the same size is awful, too. How can I make the Firewall remember my decisions, and is it possible to revert to the original Exposé?

You're not the only one who likes the old Exposé behavior, but I'm afraid I'm not aware of any way to switch back. However, on your second question I can provide some help. Go to the Firewall tab of the Security Preference Pane. Assuming the Firewall is on, click on the Advanced button. This will take you to a sheet where you can manually add applications as well as select the firewall's behavior for them.


Sean asks

I'm looking to get an SSD to go alongside the hard drive in my late 2008 unibody Macbook Pro (I'll be using the Optibay and replacing my optical drive). I want it to hold my operating systems (osx 10.6/win7, bootcamp is really important) and games while the existing hard drive will hold everything else. I'm looking for something under $200 (or maaaybe just a little bit above, only if it's real worth it) and have noticed that with that price point I'll probably be getting a 64gb drive. There are so many different drives and I've heard so many horror/success stories that I don't know which drive to pick. Any suggestions?

Most of the buzz I've picked up is that the Intel X25 is the gold-standard at the moment; however, it remains a pricey choice. Accordingly, you might want to have a look at the Kingston SSDNow series. You can get a 64GB Kingston in the $150 range. Check out this roundup at Laptop Magazine and this Ask Engadget for lots of discussion and suggestions.


Nikoooo asks

I have bought a MacBook Pro 17 inches unibody in July last year. It's, so far, the best Mac I ever owned. Unfortunately, the battery does last as much as I would have liked. According to Apple, the battery should last 8 hours. Surely this is an exaggerated value... and I would be fine with, say, 5 hours or so. But my battery does not last more than 3 hours, with minimum screen brightness and wifi on. Is there any software that could help me monitor my battery consumption? Are there some specific settings, that I am missing, that would help me get the infamous Apple's 8 hours?

Power usage is always a tricky thing, but I do have some suggestions. For one, go into your Energy Preference Pane and choose the "Better battery life" option under Graphics. This will cause your MacBook to use integrated graphics rather than the discrete graphics chip (and thus trade 3D performance for battery life). Frankly, though, 3 hours sounds low, so you should probably be looking for any background processes or applications that may be sucking down processor cycles. Have a look at the Activity Monitor and sort by % CPU to see if there's anything suspicious.

There is an application that might be of some help: Sleep Monitor 2 (€20). It will give you some idea of when your battery is being drained the fastest (though it won't actually tell you what's doing it). Nonetheless, it might be helpful in narrowing down what might have been going on at periods of highest power usage. Finally, you might also want to have a look at coconutBattery which will report on the condition of your battery itself.


stef asks

I am a student in high school and in some classes we have to draw little diagrams for our notes, mainly in chemistry, and i was wondering if there was a plugin/add-on/program that i could use to temporarily convert my trackpad into a 1:1 simple diagram drawer to insert simple line drawings into notes. i know i could use a number of simple drawing programs but i would rather not have to hold down the trackpad while trying to draw. I am using a 13" mbp running snow leopard.

We recently covered something that might do the trick for you. Inklet ($24.95) turns your trackpad into a mini graphics tablet. For maximum precision you'll also want to get the accompanying stylus.


Heimbachae asks

A friend of mine recently bought a Mac mini (2.26GHz) and she is having a problem hooking it up to her HDTV. It's hooked up currently by mini dvi to hdmi and her max output is 1080i. When she clicks that it enlarges it too far so that she can't see her Menu bar when it's on 1080i, but when it's on 720p there is a black box around and it doesn't fill the entire screen. Is there any way to get this to fill her screen without distorting the image?

This should not be a problem; in fact, the Display Preferences should even have some TV specific options including an Overscan mode that you can try (look in the Options tab of the Displays Preference Pane). Frankly, though, you should not have to use Overscan on a modern HDTV. So if the HDTV is actually a 1080p panel and you're using the 1920x1080 resolution my guess is that the problem may be on the TV side. Make sure the TV is in "just scan" (or similar) mode; you should be able to toggle between different video modes on the TV itself, so try going through them to see if that helps.


DMoney asks

I'm running Snow Leopard on a black MacBook. Is it possible to send faxes from Snow Leopard? Free would be nice, but I'm willing to pay for the software.

Now that Apple has discontinued the USB Modem for Mac (although you may still be able to find it online, and USR sells a similar device), your best bet may be to send faxes from Snow Leopard via a multifunction printer/scanner that includes faxing (as described in this Apple Support Doc). However, this is limited to certain devices and if you don't already have one of those it probably won't do you much good. My recommendation would probably be to use an Internet fax service that allows you to upload a PDF to a Web site and have it sent to a fax machine. There are a variety of such services out there, but I can't really offer any first-hand experience.


betaboy78 asks

Is there an app for the Mac that will let me connect to my iMac over the internet and sync my iPhone while it is connected to my MacBook Pro? I know this may seem weird, but on more than one occasion, I have been traveling and my iPhone has crashed and had to be restored, or swapped out, and I had to wait to get home (sometimes a week or more later) to restore it. If I could just hook my iPhone up to my MacBook Pro, yet sync over the net to my iMac, life would be great.

I don't believe what you describe is possible. However, I do have some suggestions for the next time this happens. You could go ahead and reset your iPhone and sync it to your MacBook. Of course, this won't help that much if your MacBook doesn't contain the information that you want to sync. For contacts and calendar information you could have your MacBook and iMac sync over the Internet either with MobileMe ($99/year) or for free with Google. Unfortunately, your media and apps won't be as easy. You could keep some media and apps on your MacBook (with iTunes Home Sharing, for instance) and, by the way, apps can be re-downloaded from the App Store for free. Once you get back home you can just then restore to the iMac. This is not an ideal solution, perhaps, but it should be enough to keep you going for the duration of the trip.



Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about firewall settings, SSDs, MacBook...