Saturday, September 21, 2013

Why I Finally Bought an Ipad 3 With a Verizon Modem

We have a summer home on Puget Sound that is on the very edge of cell phone services.  When we first bought the house, I was pretty happy with Comcast.  They sent two servicemen out there who replaced the cable going to my house.  I had basic TV service and internet, it worked fine, and the rates were reasonable.

However, after the first year, Comcast started charging me more and more for TV and internet service.  I get basic TV service at my usual home in California for about $25 per month (it's just basic) and internet from either AT&T DSL or Comcast for a very low $15 per month.  It's been a great situation; I just switch internet providers every year to keep getting such a low rate for my internet. 

Comcast in Washington State got worse and worse.  Not only did they want to charge me more and more, but they got harder and harder to deal with.  If you did not have a landline phone or cell phone (my cell phones would not work at the house) then it was an absolute nightmare trying to call Comcast to discuss service, set up an appointment, etc.  If you happened to enter the wrong phone number when calling Comcast, you'd get a representative who would modify and discuss the wrong account -- thus messing up my account in California rather than starting service in WA state.  

One time, I tried to return a cable box at the local Comcast office in WA state about a week before I was going to leave.  I was in the area, and I wanted to return the box and get errands like this done before all the days it would take to pack before leaving.  To my amazement, the Comcast agent said "No, you can't return the box now!"  She told me that if I returned the box, then I was paying for a service that I was not able to receive, and Comcast could not allow that.  Are you kidding me?!  I very patiently explained the situation -- that this was my vacation home.  She relented and actually let me return the box.  Guess what -- the next day Comcast cancelled my service and later sent me a bill for the box, stating that I had not returned it!  I guess she was not as good as she promised. 

So, despite the fact that I can get TV and internet service from Comcast at my WA state house for about $55, I really, really don't want to have to call them to start service up again.  I discovered, after much research, that Verizon would work well at our house.  We had been with AT&T, and I have tried a Sprint network data modem (through Virgin Mobile and Datajack), and neither of these networks works at our house (Sprint-based data modems work intermittently and slowly).  Verizon, however, works just fine.  I bought a USB data modem, hooked it up to a Cradlepoint router, and voila! I had great 3G internet supplied by Verizon this summer.  However, it cost $60 per month.  I have a problem paying that much when I have internet at my CA house for $15 per month.

I've therefore been researching various cell phone data providers, to try to get internet access using a USB data modem or wifi hotspot.  There are a lot of choices, all of them relatively expensive if you need more than a little data.  After a month in our WA state house using a USB data modem, I found that with my normal email and web surfing (no Netflix streaming videos or downloading large files), I use about 2 Gb of data per month.  The rates from various providers for this amount of data per month are as follows (and for me, none of them except Verizon will work):

Virgin Mobile (Sprint Network): 2Gb of data for $35 per month
Datajack (Sprint Network): 200Mb of data for $10 per month; $40 for 2Gb
FreedomPop (Sprint 4G Network):
using their Bolt stick USB modem: only 4G, first 500Mb free
using their Overdrive Pro wifi hotspot: allows use of Sprint 3G network also, first 500Mb free, $3.99 charge each month for that "free 500Mb")

AT&T prepaid data using a USB data modem: seems to offer ONLY a 5Gb per month plan at $50
AT&T prepaid tablet plan: $20 for 1Gb of data for a month; $30 for 2Gb

Verizon prepaid data for a USB modem or hotspot: $60 for 3Gb for one month, no 2Gb option
Verizon prepaid tablet plan: $14.99 for 250 Mb of data for a month; $30 for 3Gb; no 1G or 2Gb options

Clearly, getting a tablet that is able to use Verizon's data network is a good deal.  Verizon has the best network in the US, so even in my WA state house, I can get a clear cellular data signal.  If that tablet allows tethering, so that I can send emails and do most of my work using my laptop, then that would be ideal.  The iPad 3 offers all these features.  

I had an iPad 2 with a Verizon modem.  However, the iPad 3 with a Verizon modem allows the iPad to share Verizon data when the iPad serves as a wifi hotspot.  I prefer to do most of my work, especially writing emails and doing office work, using my MacBook Pro laptop.  The iPad 3 will hopefully let me do this.  I just bought an iPad 3.  Anyone want a used iPad 2 with Verizon modem in great shape?  Let me know.

I have been keeping an eye on other tablets by manufacturers other than Apple.  Almost none of these manufacturers and tablets come with data modems -- they are almost all wifi-only models.  There are a very few tablets that come with cellular modems for AT&T or Verizon.  For instance, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, 7-inch model, is normally sold in the US only with wifi capability.  I see this at Amazon for $169 for a 7" model today.  I can see a GSM-enabled Galaxy Tab 2 at Amazon, which is an international model.  This costs $269, about $100 more.   These have great reviews.  I wonder if the Verizon model will allow hotspot tethering without having to jailbreak it. 

Solving a Printer Problem When Updating Mac to Lion or Mountain Lion

I recently replaced my old, good, but huge Mac Pro tower, which weighs 50 pounds, with a Mac Mini (i7 processor running at 2.6 Ghz) that is faster and does just about everything I need.  The Mac Mini weighs about 2 pounds.  I have been pretty impressed with the Mac Mini. 

I ran into a problem when trying to print to my Canon MF4370dn laser printer.  All my other Macs, running OS 10.6.8 (Snow Leopard) can print to this networked printer just fine.  My Mac Mini steadfastly refused to print to the printer.  I did a lot of research on forums to find the solution. 

Here's the solution that worked for me in case you run into this problem.  Farther down in this post, I discuss other things that I tried that did not work, but might work for other folks with printer problems. 

I fixed the problem by doing a "reset the printer system"!  Thanks to the poster who wrote:

I then tried Apple.  What seemed to do the trick was to reset the printing system. (For others in the same boat, here is info on how to do this: )

Mac OS X: How to reset the printing system

This article explains how to reset the printing system in Mac OS X.

Mac OS X includes a Reset Printing System troubleshooting function that you might want to use after you try all other printing troubleshooting steps for Mac OS X 10.6 or later, or Mac OS X 10.5.8 or earlier.

What does Reset Printing System do?

  • Deletes all queues and jobs.
  • Resets all printer settings to their default by deleting configuration files.
  • Performs a permissions check on the /tmp directory.
Any printers, scanners, or fax modems that previously appeared in System Preferences will need to be added again after resetting the printing system.

Resetting the printing system in OS X Lion

To use the Reset Printing System function in Lion, follow these steps:
  1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Choose Print & Scan from the View menu.
  3. Hold down the Option key while clicking the "-" (Remove printer) button. If no printers are currently added, hold down the Control key while clicking in the box that appears above the "+" (Add printer) button, then choose Reset printing system… from the contextual menu.

Here's a description of the problem that I had:

I have a Canon MF4370dn printer.  It is connected to my network via Ethernet, and it works fine with all my older Macs, all running 10.4.11 to 10.6.8. 

I have a new Mac Mini running 10.8.4.  I can't print to this Canon printer.  I've downloaded the new drivers, removed the old drivers, and done just about all the things suggested in other posts.  I am stuck at this message:

"printed output may be incorrect because the printer information has not been acquired
Start Printer Utility to get the printer information"

I will click the Printer Information button, and get the error message:

May not have been able to get the printer information.
If the contents in the [Printer Information] dialog differs from the actual printer configuration, check that the printer is functioning correctly, then try again to get the printer information.

The printer works fine if I print to it using another Mac.  I can't get past this error message in my Mac Mini running OS 10.8.4. 

The Printer Information window does pop up showing a picture of the printer. 
It says:

Canon MF4360-4390 UFRII LT (US)

Communication Method Unidirectional
Duplex United Available. 

I can hit OK on that window, which takes me back to the previous window, but I can't "Save Settings" on that window (which has the printer Information button on it). 

Here's my printer information:

Canon MF4360-4390(0B:8F:A7):

  Status:    Idle
  Print Server:    Local
  Driver Version:    2.0
  Default:    Yes
  Shared:    No
  URI:    dnssd://Canon%20MF4360-4390(0B%3A8F%3AA7)._printer._tcp.local.
  PPD:    Canon MF4360-4390 UFRII LT (UK)
  PPD File Version:    2.0
  PostScript Version:    (3010.000) 550
(3010.000) 651
  CUPS Version:    1.6.2 (cups-327.6)
  Scanning support:    No
  Printer Commands:    AutoConfigure Clean PrintSelfTestPage
  CUPS filters:
  Path:    /Library/Printers/Canon/UFR2/Cores/cupstomcdufr2/Contents/MacOS/cupstomcdufr2
  Permissions:    rwxr-xr-x
  Version:    2.43
  Path:    /Library/Printers/Canon/UFR2/Cores/commandfilefilter
  Permissions:    rwxr-xr-x
  Fax support:    No
  Printer utility:    /Library/Printers/Canon/UFR2/Utilities/Canon UFRII Printer
  Printer utility version:    2.43
  Sandbox compliant:    Yes

 Here are the various solutions that were suggested on forums and which I tried:

1.  From remove the old printer drivers and install the latest printer drivers:

So you need to get your setup using the latest versions available for both. The first step is to remove the Canon printers from your Print & Scan pane. Then you need to open Finder and navigate to HD > Library > Printers > Canon and trash the UFR2 folder. Then navigate to HD > Library > LaunchAgents and trash the file "".

With that completed, you need to stop the UFR2 Backgrounder service and you do this via Activity Monitor. With the monitor open, scroll through UFR II Backgrounder and then press the Quit Process button and then press Force Quit when the next window appears and exit Activity Monitor.

With this service stopped it would be ideal if you can empty the Trash before installing the v2.43 driver again.

Now install the v2.43 driver and add your printer and then check the System Information screen again. It should show 2.43 in both sections where mine shows 2.41. If it does, then try to print and see if this stops the message from appearing.

2.  The above did not work for me. 
The very great user PAHU on Apple's forums has several posts on printer problems.  He wrote this:
It sounds like an application or other process is stopping the UFRII Backgrounder process from opening. To check, open the Console application (Applications > Utilities) and with the All Messages selected, click in the Filter box and enter UFR. This should change the view so that only entries with UFR are listed and you should now see if the UFRII Backgrounder is attempting to open and hopefully what is stopping it from doing so.

So I checked my Console and saw this message repeating every minute:
9/20/13 11:29:43.855 AM[284]: ( Throttling respawn: Will start in 10 seconds

Some process or activity was preventing the Canon  UFRII Backgrounder from running. 

Doing the printer reset as described above finally got the printer to work. 

Updating My Mac Pro Tower to a Newer, Faster Mac -- Some Issues

I recently replaced my old, good, but huge Mac Pro tower, which weighs 50 pounds, with a Mac Mini (i7 processor running at 2.6 Ghz) that is faster and does just about everything I need.  The Mac Mini weighs about 2 pounds.  I have been pretty impressed with the Mac Mini.  It has USB 3.0 ports, so I have new USB 3.0 hard drives running off it, and the drive speeds are fast.  Even newer Mac Pros still don't offer USB 3.0; and I wish my 2011 MacBook Pro had USB 3.0 ports.  I even have two 24" Asus monitors running off my Mac Mini, with no problem at all.  I use my MacBook Pro for most of my usual office and email work; I use the Mac Mini (and used to use my Mac Pro tower) for other tasks that require lots of hard drives attached, such as editing videos and still images. 

The one big problem with the newer Macs  and all newer Macs will not run Rosetta, which is an invisible software emulation package that allowed me to run older Power-PC-based software that I used with my older Macs (all running Snow Leopard).  The software that runs on my older machines, but which will not run on my newer Macs, includes Final Cut Pro 7 (the last great version of FCP before the widely-disparaged FCP X), Microsoft Office X, Quicken 2006, the batch-renaming utility R-Name, among others. 

The old Mac Pro is still a great machine (and I am keeping one of them; I had two) because it can run OS10.6 Snow Leopard, which is the last OS that runs older Power-PC-based applications.  These machines can also run the newer OS’s such as 10.7 and 10.8, Mountain Lion and Lion.   These machines will become increasingly valuable as folks with older software that work on Rosetta machines (such as Final Cut Pro 7) will need machines that run Snow Leopard.   They are indestructible, heavy duty, professional machines that just keep on chugging along.   They are loaded with all kinds of connectivity that you need such as front and back Firewire 400 and 800 ports, several USB 2.0 ports, and the list goes on. 

Again, a new machine will ONLY run the OS that it comes with and higher versions, none of which will run older Power-PC based applications -– about the only way to run older applications on these machines is to buy Parallels and a copy of the very hard-to-find Snow Leopard Sever – which is bit of a pain to use, since Parallels Tools won’t work (transferring files is therefore a hassle).  It seems possible to install the standard Snow Leopard operating system on Parallels, but that seems very difficult, something only real techies should try to do. 

I am a fan of Canon multi-function printers, and Epson printers for photography

A friend recently asked me:

> Hey M*********** (he's an old friend and only insults me),
> Know anything about cheap all-in-one printers?  My dad has an epson
> workforce which has died but always sucked.  And outrageous ink
> consumption coupled with high ink cartridge prices.  A SCAM! 

I love Epson printers for my photography.  I bought my first one in 1994, the Epson Stylus Color.  This was an amazing printer for the time.  Along with a Mac, I could, for the first time, actually print color photographs that looked good on a printer rather than in the darkroom.  My other Epson printers included the large-format Stylus Color 3000, Stylus Photo 2200, and what I have been using for the past few years, a large-format Stylus Pro 3800.   That's 20 years of using Epson printers for my photographic prints, nearly as long as I have been a photographer.  

For my office, however, I am a fan of Canon Pixma all-in-one printers.  Here's what I wrote back to my pal: 

I love my Canon Pixma all-in-ones.  I have a Pixma 830 and 860, both more than a couple of years ago.  I never use them for printing, however.  They serve as scanners (both have ADFs) and fax machines.  One in Olympia, one here at Crocker.  I use a Canon laser printer to print.

I also buy inks from third parties, which is much less expensive.  The third-party inks give the same quality as far as I can tell.  But I rarely, rarely print from inkjet printers except for my photographs.

This looks very similar to what I have now:
Canon PIXMA MX892 Wireless Color Photo Printer with Scanner, Copier and Fax 

and here's an example of a less-expensive source for inks for this printer: 
Canon PGI225 & CLI226 Compatible Set of 12 Ink Cartridges: 4 Pigment Black PGI225, 2 each of CLI226 B/C/M/Y

Keep in mind that this printer is made for photographers -- printers for offices are likely less expensive, with less expensive inks.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Beware If You Ship Packages Overseas Using USPS Priority Mail

I have been using the US Postal Service's package shipping service for the past few years, and they are generally great.  You can ship items that are 13 ounces and below via First Class Mail, which gives great rates and even provides tracking (tracking, as far as I can tell, is available only if you use Ebay or Paypal to create the First Class postage label).  Anything over 14 oz must go as a Priority Mail package.  You can ship very small items in a Priority Mail Small Flat Rate box; I've shipped internal hard drives this way within the US and have had no problems.   I've found that if you order Regional Rate A boxes from, you can use these boxes for your packages and they give great rates, while fitting most items that I ship out. 

The best things about shipping via USPS Priority Mail is that the post office will send someone out to pick up the package at no additional charge, or you can leave the package in your mailbox for your regular mail courier to pick up.  Also, unlike Fedex and to a lesser extent UPS, you won't get an estimate of shipping charges on the web, then get dinged repeatedly for things like excess fuel surcharges, residential delivery, rural delivery surcharges, signature confirmations.  If you send a 1 lb item in a Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box to a friend in rural San Diego, it will cost $5.50 or so.  That same package might be quoted on the Fedex site as $8, but the many various charges could bring the actual final cost to $18 or more!  As someone who is in business, I need to be sure that a package gets to a destination with proper tracking information, and just as importantly, I need to be sure that the estimated costs of shipping that package match the actual cost.  I am amazed that Fedex continues to get away with quoting one price on their website and then charging more when the package is delivered. 

Anyway, if you ship overseas, beware of using the Priority Mail Small Flat Rate box.  I attach a couple of screen grabs from the USPS website.  I shipped a hard drive to Germany and assumed that the Priority Mail Small Flat Rate box would give me tracking information.  Surprise!  It turns out that Priority Mail provides tracking information and insurance EXCEPT for Small Flat Rate boxes and Flat Rate Envelopes.  You aren't told of this on the USPS website unless you search for it. If you are not aware of this technicality, you will prepare a label at, pay for that label, and assume that the package is insured and tracked -- as all Priority Mail packages were in the past.  Very quietly and without any notice, USPS changed the rules, so suddenly you are no longer provided tracking information for Small Flat Rate boxes and envelopes.  It turns out that you are also not provided tracking information for other types of boxes that the USPS deems "small" such as the International Large Video Flat Rate box or the International DVD Flat Rate boxes. 

Here are the choices you will see if using to ship a package internationally.  Note that all of the choices below and including "Small Flat Rate Box" do NOT provide tracking to the destination and do NOT provide insurance for your package! 
I learned this the hard way.  The buyer in Germany evidently knew that USPS does not provide tracking all the way to Germany.  I could only provide proof that I delivered the package.  He insisted that he did not get the package (I am fairly sure that he got it).  I had to refund his money, and the postal service refused to refund me for the postage of $25 or the cost of the hard drive. 

If you use to ship a package internationally, be sure that the page above, giving you the choice of buying insurance, comes up.  Otherwise, if you do not specifically choose and purchase insurance, your buyer can claim that he never received the package, and you will be out the cost of postage and the item -- usps will NOT even refund your postage!
I only ship internationally now using a service like UPS International, and yes, Fedex International.  Both of these international shippers do provide tracking of packages all the way to the destination.  I like UPS's international shipping services in particular, as they seldom surprise you with overcharges. 

Here's the fine print that states that tracking information is not available for International Small Flat Rate Priced Boxes or International Flat Rate Evelopes.  Note that other "smallish" flat rate boxes also won't provide tracking or insurance.  Buyer Beware!