Self Help: Web Site Issues

This article is part of a series on how to solve basic computer issues yourself.

Today’s article will help you with problems you may encounter on the web. A common problem is that some web site is misbehaving. Maybe you can’t logon, or maybe some feature or page of the site isn’t working properly.

In this scenario, you are probably thinking: I can’t believe that those idiots at major-fortune-500-company have a bug like this on their web site! If it’s this bad for everyone, no one can buy or use their product.

You’re probably right that if this problem was affecting everyone, it would already be fixed. So, there is probably something you can change on your computer to fix it.

After each step below, try accessing the problem site again, looking for any change or improvement.

Solution Steps

  • Keep Calm – computer problems don’t respond well to anger or curse words, but they can seldom resist an icy cool analysis.
  • Make sure you are visiting the correct site. Are you at goggle.com or giggle.com? Does the correct site name end in .com, .org, or something else?
  • Make sure your internet is working for other sites. Are you able to browse to other major web sites? Try Apple.com, for example.
  • Make sure your web browser is updated to the latest version:
    • Chrome: select Chrome/About Google Chrome
    • Safari: open the App Store and click Updates
    • Firefox: select Firefox/About Firefox
  • Open the affected site in a Private Browsing Window/ Incognito Window. This will disable extensions and ignore web history and fixes many issues:
    • Chrome: select File/New Incognito Window
    • Safari: select File/New Private Window
    • Firefox: select File/New Private Window
  • Clear your browsing history and cache. Sometimes outdated cache information breaks a site’s functionality. Note: This will log you out of all web sites, and you will have to re-login to all your favorite sites.
    • Chrome: select Chrome/Clear Browsing Data. Select All Time.
    • Safari: select Safari/Preferences. Click Privacy. Click Manage Website Data. You can choose to Remove All, or remove just the data for the affected site.
    • Firefox: select Firefox/Preferences. Click Privacy & Security. Scroll down to Cookies and Site Data. Click Clear Data.
  • Check your ad blockers and similar browser extensions. For example, if you have Ad Block+ installed, you may want to exempt your problem site to prevent accidental blockage of site features. You can try temporarily turning off extensions to troubleshoot. To see a list of your installed extensions:
    • In Chrome: visit chrome://extensions/
    • In Safari: select Safari/Preferences and click Extensions
    • In Firefox: select Tools/Add-ons and Themes
  • Resize or reorient your browser window. Maybe a button or other control you need is off-screen.
    • Try entering full-screen mode on the Mac (green button in window header).
    • Try a different screen resolution. System Preferences/Display
    • If you are on a mobile device, turn it sideways
    • If you are using the mobile version of the site, try requesting the desktop version, or vice versa (using a site-specific menu).
  • Try quitting and restarting your browser.
  • Try restarting your entire computer or device.

The steps above will solve a surprising number of strange web issues. Let us know what worked for you.

Read the Friendly Manual

Your Apple device didn’t come with a manual in the box, but they are available for free, and they are very nice.

Apple publishes manuals for all their hardware and software and makes them available in the Books App. The Books App is included on every Macintosh, iPad and iPhone.

Books Icon

There are very nice manuals for every model of Macintosh, iPhone and iPad, as well as Apple Watch, Home Pod and Apple TV.

There are users guides for iOS, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

Of course, there are many other books in the store about these subjects, by many different publishers, and most of them are not free.

Once you’ve opened the Books App, to find the free, Apple-published items, look for the Apple User Guides link on the right hand side of the Books App, under Quick Links. The guides are usually named either User Guide or Essentials, for example, iMac Essentials, or iPhone User Guide.

In the Quick Links Section of the Books App, Click Apple User Guides

You will definitely learn something from these. Amaze your friends and family with your expertise — Read the Manual!

iPhone Pricing 2021

Here is an overview of iPhone prices. These are the prices from Apple’s on-line store in June, 2021. There are 13 different models available as new and refurbished. Apple’s refurbished products are excellent, and usually can’t be distinguished from new.

All prices are subject to change, and availability of any specific model on the refurb store, especially, can change from day to day.

At this writing, there were 13 different iPhone models ranging from a refurbished $339 iPhone 8, up to a brand new iPhone 12 Pro Max, with 512 GB at $1399.

In the chart, the blue bars indicate the price of the base model and the green bars the price of the same model with the maximum amount of storage. There is often an intermediate model between those two.

Apple has probably never had so many different models of iPhone available simultaneously before. Choice is good.

Chart of iPhone Prices

March Meeting Notes

In our March virtual meeting, we talked about Continuity Camera and on-line user guides for Apple devices.

With Continuity Camera, you can use your iPhone to scan documents directly into apps on your Macintosh. It is particularly useful in Mail, Notes and Preview. If you scan paper documents into Notes in this way, they become searchable in the Notes app.

The answers to many questions about your device are contained in the user guide for your particular device, e.g. iPhone, iMac, or iPad. Apple has the user’s guides online. Apple doesn’t keep the user’s guides for older versions handy, so if you are planning to keep a device into vintage or obsolete status, download the applicable user guide before it goes out of date.

I will give you some links, but they are likely to go out of date. The consistent way to find the user’s guides is:

  1. Open https://support.apple.com/
  2. Click on your device at the top
  3. Scroll down. Near the bottom of the page, you will see something similar to this. Click on the User Guide link.

iPhone User Guide

iMac User Guides

MacBook Air User Guides

iPad User Guide

Digitizing Video Tapes on Mac

Here in the 21st century, I thought I was done dealing with analog video, but a relative showed up with a box of video tapes asking if I can get them digitized.

I figured I could, since I had done it before, and still had a VCR and other hardware.

Years ago, I bought an analog to digital video adapter called ezCap Video Grabber*. It was some cheap Chinese thing, about $13, I think. It required its own special software which was crappy, but it worked. However, the software no longer works in MacOS Catalina, and maybe it didn’t work in Mojave, either, and it hasn’t ever been updated.

Shopping for a replacement digital-to-analog A/V converter for Macintosh lead to a wilderness of high prices, bad reviews and Windows-only products.

“Amazon’s Choice” is the Elgato Video Capture, which is way more expensive than what I bought years ago. I had a bad experience with Elgato previously. I had their TV tuner hardware and software. The software was horribly buggy, and they never could fix it. They eventually abandoned the product and their customers. I still have no desire to buy from them again. The Elgato Video Capture has good reviews, works with the Mac, but is expensive.

Other Mac-focused products either had bad reviews or high prices and included hardware or software that I didn’t need.

I finally found something that works for me. I found this LEOP USB 2.0 Audio/Video Converter, which wasn’t advertised for Mac, but it had good reviews for Windows and one of the reviews mentioned it working on a Mac, so I took a chance. It was only $15.99. [Edit: Nov 24, 2020: Unfortunately I can no longer recommend this product. After a few days, it stopped recording S-Video connections in color and dropped back to monochrome. This problem has been reported by other reviewers on Amazon. I returned it using Amazon’s return policy.]

You’ll need an S-Video cable for best results if your video player has S-video. You probably already have the RCA cables for audio. The converter came with a USB A extension cord, which is good because it solves the problem of not having physically enough space to plug in the adapter itself.

This converter worked right out of the box with the Mac. It shows up as a camera and microphone in Quick Time Player, with no special software required. This is what I expect from a video device in recent decades. I just want to plug it in, and it works. It came with a Mini CD with Windows 10 software, which I did not need. (Who uses CDs anymore, much less Mini CDs?)

Selecting the AV TO USB2.0 device in Quick Time Player
MacOS System Report showing AV TO USB2.0 attached to USB.

Once you have digitized a tape with QuickTime Player, you can use iMovie, or whatever Mac video software you have to manipulate it. I used HandBrake convert it to MP4 to save space.

I also wanted to burn video to DVDs. (I know, DVDs are rapidly becoming obsolete. They are for my tech-challenged family.) The DVD-burning software I had used in the past has disappeared due to software rot. Apple’s iDVD isn’t a thing anymore, and the version of Toast I had doesn’t work anymore either. I ended up buying Toast DVD on the Mac App store. It was $19.99. There were some “free” or cheaper DVD burners, but I had more confidence in this one from Corel. It is working fine for me. It seems to be adequate for home movie DVDs.

* It turns out that ezCap was kind of a generic brand name used by many different Chinese video converters, some better than others.

Virtual Zoom Meeting Oct 20, 2020

MacMAD will hold a virtual presentation meeting on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, at 7:00 PM. This is our usual Tuesday night meeting date.

Eric Emerick will present on recent system changes and announcement from Apple.

The meeting will be via Zoom. You can participate via your iPhone, iPad or Macintosh.

We will send out an email to all members before the meeting with a link and Meeting ID you will need to join the meeting.

If you haven’t used Zoom before, it is a popular video conferencing App and platform. It would be best if you downloaded, installed, and tested the app before meeting time.

To get started, visit https://zoom.us/download#client_4meeting

Zoom is popular because it is easy to use. They have good instruction videos on the Zoom web site.

However, If you need help getting Zoom set up on your device, please contact me well in advance (days) of the meeting and I will help you get started.

For help, email madboard@macmad.org

or, call Jamie Cox
321-432-0878 (leave a voice message)

Or, you can download the free book, Take Control of Zoom Essentials.

https://www.takecontrolbooks.com/zoom-essentials/

Lessons Learned

I use an external drive with my Mac to supplement the internal storage. I have been using the external drive primarily to store my Photos Library and iTunes Library, but I have a lot of other files there also. (Here’s an article about putting your Photos Library on an external drive.)

I bought a new 1TB External SSD to replace the mechanical 1TB drive I had been using. I figured this would be a nice speed-up, and more in line with what my Mac is capable of.

SSD next to 3.5 inch External drive
The SSD is Small

From the photos on-line when I ordered the SSD, I expected it to be larger — about the size of a regular 3.5″ external drive. It is much smaller. It’s about the size of a stack of four or five credit cards. This would be a great thing for travel.

I knew that I should format a new SSD with the newer APFS format for use with MacOS (currently 10.15 Catalina). So, after reading up on that, I fired up Disk Utility, selected APFS, and hit Format. I immediately realized my mistake. I was formatting my original external drive with my data on it, not the new one! It only took a few seconds to lose everything on that drive.

Lesson Learned: Make Very Sure Which Drive You are Formatting!

The good news is that I had a backup. (You have backups, right?)

Lesson Learned Previously: Always Have Backups

After initially trying to restore from backup using Carbon Copy Cloner, I ended up just copying the files to the new SSD using the Finder. But I didn’t have enough space on the drive and deleting big files and folders didn’t seem to make any difference in the amount of free space. I finally found that Carbon Copy Cloner had created some invisible space hogs on that drive called Snapshots.

Lesson Learned: If Deleting Files Doesn’t Increase Free Space, Look for Snapshots

Snapshots can also be created by Time Machine.

Lesson Learned: CCC Creates Snapshots which you can remove from within CCC.

Once I got rid of the snapshots, I was able to restore everything to the new drive easily.

Now I wanted to make some changes to help prevent similar accidents in the future. I give my drives unique descriptive names. I also wanted to give my hard drives unique icons. Any external drive I attach normally shows up with the same generic icon. If they all look alike, it makes mistakes like formatting the wrong drive more likely. I used icons that physically resemble the drives they represent, but you can use pictures of your cat, or whatever images you like.

I found this article explaining how to change the icon of drives. I ended up finding a lot of nice icons at Deviant Art. Often, the icons or images you find online are not in the correct format for MacOS. I used Image2Icon to convert them. You can find it on the Mac App Store, but I already had it via SetApp.

Since subscribing to SetApp, I always look in there first for any unique Apps I need. I usually find something that does what I want.

So, now my drives have unique icons like this:

Icons

Lesson Learned: You can and should give your external drives unique icons.

Besides external hard drives, you can also assign special icons to thumb drives or camera cards. Again, that seems very helpful in keeping them straight in your mind.

However, I have found that the procedure of pasting a new icon onto the icon of my hard drives does not work for some drives.

I found that for some drives, you can paste the icon file, but for other types of drives, you must copy and paste an actual image. If pasting the icon file doesn’t work, you can open the icon image using preview, make a selection, copy that, and paste that into the icon in the drives “Get Info” window. That seems to work.

I’m still finding that I can’t change the icon of partitions on an APFS partitioned drive. If anyone knows how to do this, please leave a comment. Thanks.