Does Apple Care About Mac?

The first computer I ever used was an IBM 286. It ran the DOS command line, and I was in awe of that thing. A couple years later, I used my first Mac SE, and ever since I was hooked — I loved Apple’s operating systems.

It’s been a wild year for Mac users lately. A new MacBook Pro had been imminent since spring. Meanwhile the Mac Pro and Mac Mini have languished for over 1,000 days and 760 days respectively. Mac users were ravenous for some new hardware — my 5 year old MacBook Air was in desperate need of an upgrade — and the lack of Mac news lately had created a fever-storm of anticipation.

A new MacBook Pro was eventually introduced in October, and was met with harsh criticism over ports and price — while simultaneously getting rave reviews and flying off the shelves. This is a familiar pattern. Remember the original MacBook Air? It started at $1,799!

But at that event came a new blow dealt to Mac users: Apple is no longer making displays. The beautiful 5K Apple displays we had been dreaming of for those surely coming-soon Mac Pros and the brand new MacBook Pros would in fact be an ugly, cheap-looking, plastic PC monitor.

Okay, fine. We’ll buy our displays from LG. What’s the big deal? Well, Apple displays were always beautifully designed and perfectly integrated with other Apple hardware. In a world filled with cheap and ugly plastic, Apple displays were sleek, elegant, minimal, and reliable. They felt premium. Even more importantly, they were covered with AppleCare warranties. They eliminated a third-party vendor when troubleshooting graphics and displays issues. And they perfectly matched the aesthetic of the Apple hardware they were connecting to. A sad option to lose.

A few weeks later, Sal Soghoian announced that he was leaving Apple because his position, Manager of Automation Technologies, was being eliminated. Uh oh. Does that mean development of AppleScript, Automator, and all of the other automation systems in macOS will stop? Craig Federighi says that isn’t the case.

Then, we found out that Apple is no longer going to be making routers. I’ve used an Apple Airport since they looked like flying saucers, and I love them. I remember when I first switched from a Cisco router. Constant reboots and random performance issues were a way of life, until I used my first Airport. I’ve used one ever since, and I’ve had to reboot them maybe once a year on average. Again, it also eliminated a very important third-party vendor when troubleshooting networking issues, they were covered with AppleCare, and matched Apple’s design aesthetic. Another sad day.

 

Tim Cook doesn’t care about the Mac. He doesn’t even use one – the Mac is dead.

 

That’s a loaded statement. It’s heavy. It’s depressing. But is it true? We can’t know what Tim Cook really thinks about the Mac. Every now and then he gets on stage and tells us how important the Mac is to Apple. And Apple has a great track record of telling the truth. I’m inclined to believe what they say (and almost always, they under promise and over deliver).

But words, even from the mouth of someone with a track record of honesty, are still just words. Actions are more important. And the recent events in the Mac world seem to indicate that trouble may be ahead. What does it all mean?

And… why do I care so much? I’ve built a life, career, and hobbies with Macs. I’ve invested thousands of hours learning professional applications to get powerful results from these computers. I’ve built a company selling business software on the Mac platform.

I’ve tried Windows. It’s better than it was. But it still isn’t good. The thought of the Mac slowly dying (and thereby the apps I love, and a market of customers to buy my software), means I will have to change everything. Everything over to Microsoft or Google. Two companies I do not like, for very strong reasons. If the Mac is dying, I’ll have to re-invest everything. Money for hardware, and time to get acclimated with something new and nowhere near as powerful or efficient. Not to mention my entire software development business.

That’s why this stuff keeps me up at night. And I don’t think I’m alone. The Mac has an extremely loyal (and vocal) fan base who have engrained their lives with Apple. Some can switch to something else much easier than others, but for many of us who’ve been on this ride since the ship was all but sunk, it’s going to be painful.

So then, what is going on, anyway? Is it just house-cleaning for the fiscal new year? Are things happening behind the scenes that we don’t know about? Could they be really great things for Mac Pros, Mac Minis, great new features and healthy automation functions in macOS? Of course these are all possible, likely even.

But here’s what worries me most. Tim Cook is an operations guy, and an exceptionally bright individual. Steve Jobs handpicked him for a reason. And right now, Apple’s income from the Mac, compared to iOS devices, looks like a rounding error. Even services revenue eclipsed Mac revenue in 2016. (Is that because the Mac isn’t as popular, or is it because people don’t want to buy out-dated hardware? That’s a very good question.)

So if the Mac is responsible for such little revenue for such a huge company, shouldn’t Tim, a smart operations guy, decide to focus on where income is growing and dominating? Absolutely. However, the Mac is so deeply entrenched in the history of Apple, with such a fiercely loyal fanbase, that doing so seems absurd. And I think Tim knows this. I have to believe that he knows this.

I’m typing this now on a new MacBook Pro 15″ with the new Touch Bar. Using this computer reassures me that Apple remains committed to the Mac, at least for now. This computer is beautiful in every way. The Touch Bar is well done, and supported in dozens of apps already. The integration is perfect, and it’s clear that Apple has been working on this for a long time.

I love the screen. I love the slim and dense design. I love the space grey finish. I love the loud, low distortion speakers. I even love the keyboard. It took about a day to get used to (and yes it’s louder and clickier than I expected, which is fine by me). It’s had a few small niggles, but overall I’m very happy with it.

A company doesn’t release a product like this if they don’t care about the product line. It would have been easy to add a retina display to a MacBook Air, bump the speed in the MacBook Pros a little, and call it a day. That would have made a lot of people happy. But that’s not what they did.

I still remain optimistic that Apple does care very much about the Mac. The lack of updates across the lineup is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for someone who’s been using Macs as a Pro User™ — software development, audio recording and engineering, video editing, graphic design — since Apple was doomed and everyone laughed at me when I told them, “Just wait. You’ll see!”

I’m still heavily invested in the Apple platform and ecosystem, and I have no desire to leave. It’s painful to see parts of the Mac ecosystem that I’ve loved for years get axed. But does Apple know something we don’t? Of course they do! Are wonderful new products coming to replace Apple displays and AirPort routers? I hope so. But even if not, I’d settle for a solid lineup of great Macs, as nice as this new MacBook Pro. That would go a long way towards restoring the faith for millions of other Mac users — ranging from casual consumers all the way up to professionals who require true workstation computers.

Hey Apple, I’ve got some homework for you.

 

These are the things I will be watching for very closely in 2017-2018 (in no particular order). If all or most of these things do not happen, then it may be time to actually worry about the longevity of a healthy Mac lineup.

  • Update the iMac
  • Update or replace the Mac Mini or Mac Pro, preferably both — or — provide a viable replacement
  • Release a desktop Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar
  • Release timely speed bump upgrades to all Mac products across the lineup
  • No more depressing news of a key Mac engineer or product being cut

If Apple can deliver on a few things in that list, I think it will really help reassure that the Mac really is important to Apple. Right now, we’re in a weird place where the future of the Mac feels uncertain. And for me personally, that’s a scary place to be. I am so insanely passionate about the Mac. I LOVE THESE COMPUTERS. Seeing them decline from true neglect would be heartbreaking. However, I don’t think we need to start thinking about abandoning ship.

Only time will tell, and I am patient. I understand it’s not always so black and white. I know Intel’s roadblocks are part of the problem. I know Apple’s product lineup is more complicated and numerous than it’s ever been before. (Is that a good thing? That’s another topic entirely.) But I’m begging you Apple — remember your core users, the ones that love you and your products, and have for a long time. Don’t forget your Mac users!

Original iMac vs. iPhone 6S

Recently, Apple made a cool page comparing the original iMac to the new 5K iMac. The difference is, of course, stunning. We’ve come a long way since ’98.

I have fond memories of that iMac. Up until then I had been using a Performa 6320CD (120MHz! SNAPPY), preceded by the wonderful LC II. That iMac was so fast! The colors were so vibrant! Getting online was so easy!

I spent countless hours on that thing, messing with AppleScript, REALbasic and CodeWarrior (remember when you had to use third party development environments to make Mac software?), and playing Nanosaur. Even the graphing calculator was awesome. That computer was a joy to use, and it deserved every bit of success it garnered.

Fast-forward seventeen years, and I’m typing this on an iMac 5K (which I absolutely love). But the computer I use most frequently throughout the day, as so many others are finding, is the iPhone in my pocket. I thought it would be interesting to compare the original G3 iMac, the pinnacle of state-of-the-art in 1998, with the pocket computer so many of us cary around, frequently use, and take for granted every single day.

Weight

Weighing in at over 38 pounds, the iMac G3 was not portable in any way. However, at the time, I remember being impressed with how little it weighed, and how easy it was to move around, thanks to that handle.

vs.

The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus weigh 4.55 ounces and 6.07 ounces respectively. To put that into perspective:

You could put around 100 iPhones 6S Plus into a box and it would just barely weight the same as one iMac. Or 130 iPhones 6S!

Display

The G3 iMac had a 15″ screen with a maximum resolution of 1024 x 768. That’s a little more than 85 pixels per inch.

vs.

The iPhone 6S has a 4.7″ screen with a resolution of 1334 x 750, and the iPhone 6S Plus has a 5.5″ screen with 1920 x 1080. They sport 326 and 401 pixels per inch respectively.

The iPhone packs way more pixel density (3.8 times and 4.75 times more), a much wider color gamut, and is far brighter.

CPU, Memory, Storage

The G3 iMac had a 233MHz G3 processor, 32MB of RAM standard (128MB officially supported), and 4GB storage standard (up to 128GB supported).

vs.

The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus use Apple’s A9 SOC, which clocks in right around 1.85GHz. They come with 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage standard (up to 128GB).

The chart below shows the iMac’s maximum specs vs. the iPhone 6S maximum specs. It’s interesting to note that the max CPU and max RAM of the iMac vs. the iPhone show huge gains, while the maximum storage is actually identical: 128GB. This goes to show how important utilizing the cloud has become to offset some of the requirements of local storage.

Spec ChartApps & Utility

I have no way of knowing exactly how many applications existed for Mac OS System 8 and System 9, but suffice to say there are a ton more apps available on iOS now than System 8 and System 9 ever had. I mean a staggering amount more. The de-facto argument against Apple in the 90’s was “there’s no software available for Macintosh”. I remember, I was there. Developing software for Macintosh. And it was a small brotherhood.

So much more than just the number of apps, is the growing functionality of apps. Thanks to the evolution of the internet, I now use my computer (i.e. iPhone) to keep in touch with news, my friends and family, countless blogs, podcasts, other various online groups and social media, in a constantly-updating swirling mishmash of information, available at my fingertips, 24/7.

I used to sit down at the G3 iMac and think, “what can I play with today?” I would seek out interesting software, read Mac magazines for the latest tips and tricks, and do a lot utilitarian tasks. But if there was no new interesting app, nothing new to customize or tweak today, then the computer was shut down. Until next time. Now, reaching into my pocket is a habit. If I need to look something up, want to jot down a note, connect with someone, or just let myself be consumed by limitless streams of information, I have instant access to all of it and more. That is remarkable.

Putting It Together

Let’s take a minute to absorb this. Seventeen years ago, the iMac came out, starting at $1,299. It was gorgeous. Fast. Modern. Ready for the new internet age. And by all accounts, it was a phenomenal marriage of hardware and software. Today, the iPhone in your pocket is much cheaper and vastly superior in every way. What will we be comparing the iPhone to seventeen years from now? These are exciting times to be alive!

iOS 7 Weather App is Always Wrong

Has anyone else noticed that the iOS 7 weather app is always inaccurate regarding the temperature? Mine is off by over 20 degrees routinely.

I did some poking around online, and couldn’t find very much information on this. Maybe I’m the only one seeing this problem.

For example, right now it is 51 degrees and sunny outside (as reported by Dark Sky and my Nest thermostat), yet the stock Weather app says it’s foggy and 28. It seems like the weather is always a couple of hours behind.

I know Yahoo is being sourced for this weather, but couldn’t find any info on Yahoo’s website about weather. They just link to The Weather Channel and other weather websites.

I’ve found no way to manually refresh the weather in the stock Weather app. I really hope this gets fixed soon, either by Apple going with someone else to provide weather, or Yahoo getting this issue fixed. It is very annoying.

If anyone has any insight into this, let me know!

My Pro Mac Setup [NOT Mac Pro]

I recently read an interesting article about how some experts use their Macs. Here is the article: http://www.macworld.com/article/2055458/how-mac-experts-set-up-their-desktops.html

I figured I would chime in, because I really love how I have things setup, and maybe others would benefit from some of my practices.

General Background

I use a 2012 13” MacBook Air, which is almost always plugged into a 27” Thunderbolt Display. Sometimes I will open the MacBook Air and utilize the 13” screen as a secondary work space, but I rarely need to do that as 27” provides plenty of screen real estate. In the past I had two 24” monitors, one set up vertically for coding. I’ve found that the 27” Thunderbolt Display provides me with almost as much flexibility and space as my previous setup.

My dock is in the left hand upper position, tucked just under the Apple menu. It is always visible, but shrunk to about the smallest size possible. I keep no application shortcuts in the Dock. If an icon appears in my Dock, it is open. Essentially I use the Dock simply as an application switcher. I also have my Applications folder and Downloads folder at the bottom of the dock. I can quickly see a grid of my applications by clicking on the Applications folder, which makes launching apps easy. Even easier, I launch my apps almost 100% of the time with Alfred. This way I can simply hit Option+Space, type the app I want, and I’m there. This to me is much more convenient than having a dozen or more icons cluttering my Dock.

I rarely use full screen apps. I do use Spaces for several things:

1. I use one space for my software development. This way I can have my notes, my ticketing system, my development IDE, and any related folders and graphics open on one space.

2. I use a dedicated space for use when screen sharing with clients, so I can have a clean view with no added distractions.

3. I use a dedicated space for audio editing, which allows me to have my DAW application, note pads for lyrics and mixing notes, and then plugin settings windows and other parameter windows at easy reach.

Software Development

When I am writing software, I generally have a couple of note pads open on the right of my screen, while my IDE takes up about 75% of the rest of the screen, top to bottom, all the way to the left. This allows me to see a lot of code all at once, manipulate the GUI design environment, and have my notes at a glance to keep me on task.

If I have to reply to emails, or reference an email, I have the Mail app open to the right of my IDE, above my note pads.

Audio Recording and Editing

I pretty much mimic my software development layout for this. DAW on the left, top to bottom, stretched out about 75-80% of the screen. Lyric and mixing notepads are open on the right. When I am messing with plugins, EQs and other settings, I will open the MacBook Air and have those windows open on the 13” screen sitting to the right of my Thunderbolt Display.

Graphic Design

I generally use most of the screen for graphic design. Even when working on smaller images, I like to have the window be large, so I can zoom in for detailed pixel-level edits. I rarely need notes or other windows open, so I leave a small space to the right for toolbars and parameter windows.

Video Editing

I keep my video editing environment open on the left, top to bottom of the screen. I keep folders of media and note pads open on the right.

As you can see, I typically follow the same general pattern for most of my use case scenarios. Meat of the task on the left of my screen, taking the entire height of the screen top to bottom, with notepads and supporting windows stacked off to the right.

Apps Regularly In Use

xCode

Xojo

TextExpander

Dropbox

AudioSwitcher

iStat Menus

TimeNet

Master of My Domain

Transmit

Terminal

Photoshop

Soulver

Alfred

My Own Ticketing System/Business Tracker

Time Sink

Pixelmator

GarageBand

TextEdit

Mail

iTunes

Safari

iMovie

iPhoto

GarageBand 10 Transition Report (Spoiler: It is very disappointing)

Apple released GarageBand 10 on Tuesday. The new interface is very nice, and I was thrilled to see it get the update it’s been needing. I was so excited with the announcement that I literally jumped up and down with joy.

I’ve been using GarageBand for over 9 years, since version 1.0 came out. I’ve used it to produce thousands of professional tracks, and three full length albums. GarageBand has always struck a great balance of ease-of-use and professional features that allow you to create truly pro audio.

I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with the new GarageBand 10, but it does seem that many of the pro features have been dumbed down or removed all together. This was very disappointing to me. However, the more I look around, the more it seems that I’m finding some of these old features again — they are just in a different area of the program. Many are still missing altogether.

I do think the GarageBand 10 update is nice, but it definitely feels like a 1.0 product, and I really hope Apple releases an update soon to bring back certain features and fix some very annoying bugs.

Pro Features in GarageBand 6 vs. GarageBand 10

The big thing that makes GarageBand so great is its support for 3rd party plugins. GarageBand 10 still supports Audio Unit plugins, however there are some caveats and compatibility issues. We will get to that in a moment.

Another great feature of GarageBand is the ability to create and fine-tune a software instrument using one of the many sound generation modules. For example, in GarageBand 6 you could make a new software track, pick the sound generation module, and then fine tune it. Here I am adding a new synth track to my project in GarageBand 6:

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And here I am editing the parameters of that synth module:

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This allowed advanced granular tuning to get exactly the sound you were looking for (within reason).

In GarageBand 10, it appears we no longer have this option. We can load presets, and change a few of the same parameters using the Smart Controls panel, but we cannot change the sound module, and it appears we are missing some of the settings we used to be able to adjust.

All we can do in GarageBand 10 is select a preset from the Library:

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We can no longer choose whether we want an analog, digital, swirl, sync, or other sound module. If there is a way to do this, I haven’t figured it out yet. This is the first disappointing thing in the new GarageBand 10. No advanced editing of software instruments.

Custom instruments you’ve made in previous versions of GarageBand (by dragging samples to the onscreen keyboard) no longer seem to load in GarageBand 10. This is a HUGE bummer, as I’ve made quite a few custom sample/dub instruments. When trying to select them, I get this error message:

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Another huge drawback of the new GarageBand 10 is any old projects you try to open will not retain their plugin settings. Let me clarify. Here is a project I loaded from GarageBand 6 into GarageBand 10. This project employs heavy use of plugins. When opening and playing the project, the plugins are clearly loaded, and the song sounds the same as it did in GarageBand 6. HOWEVER, when I try to view/edit/disable the plugins, they simply do not show up:

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You can clearly see the Smart Controls show that this track is using the TH2 guitar plugin. However, nothing shows up in the Audio Units section — I cannot see the plugin on the track, I can’t disable it, and I can’t make changes to the plugin settings. This is a huge huge backwards compatibility issue and is probably my biggest gripe with the new version, other than the fact that many plugins do not seem to load. Making changes to the Smart Control knobs does nothing to change the sound of my track. Not very smart…

The other big gripe I have with the new version is that it kills compatible with tons of plugins. In fact out of 20 or so plugins I personally use, only 5 seem to be working on GarageBand 10:

TH2

FM8

EZDrummer

Nectar

FreeG

The following plugins do not work:

Ozone 3 and Ozone 4 (confirmed with Izotope, they have no plans to fix this or release an update, which is very lousy of them)

CamelSpace and CamelPhat confirmed not working. They’ve responded and say they are working on a fix. That is good news at least.

Guitar Rig 2, 3 and 4. I have not heard back from them yet on whether they will be updating their plugins to work or not. I will update this post when I hear.

TubeTech and TubeDelay plugins do not work on GarageBand 10. No reply from them either.

iDrum

FETCompressor

SpringReverb

Tonelux

Other Missing Features & Annoyances

Podcasting features seem to be completely gone. I’ve never used them myself, but I know many folks used GarageBand to produce podcasts, and these missing features are a big bummer for them as well.

I cannot seem to find the Ducking feature in GarageBand 10.

Fine tune editing of the other amps is gone (Bass Amp, for example).

When selecting a software instrument, everything is now split up into New GarageBand, Logic, Legacy, plus each and every jam pack. This makes quickly sampling and selecting a drum kit, for example, a nightmare process! I have to scroll left and right and left and right and move back and forth over and over again just to find the kit I want! There is also no way to only show user created sound instruments like there was in GarageBand 6. This is a mess!

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All in all I am very disappointed in this update!

I was so extremely excited to see the refreshed interface and new drummer features, along with other new features and improvements. I was jumping up and down and couldn’t wait to download. Now, I find myself incredibly let down by this “update”. Yes the UI is new and pretty. And that’s about it. To recap:

• Cannot open old GarageBand projects that used any plugins at all

• Cannot edit our software instruments

• 75% or more of old plugins simply refuse to load

• It is a nightmare to find the software instrument you want, because they are all split up and doubled into dozens of folders that make no logical organizational sense.

• Can’t use your custom software instruments/sampler instruments

There is probably a lot more that has been removed or dumbed down, but because of these huge limitations out of the gate, I can’t even really use the software at all. I will continue to use GarageBand 6, and hope that point release updates to GarageBand 10 will fix these issues. I really hope this isn’t becoming the normal for Apple going forward — dumbing down their software to a point where it’s almost unusable, and incompatible with its own previous versions.

I will update this post if I learn any more.

iOS 7 Thoughts

I’ve been using iOS 7 for a little while now. Here are some random observations.

Good Stuff:

  • I love how the timer now appears on the lock screen. I hated having to unlock my phone and switch to the timer app to check a timer, especially when I’m cooking.
  • If you snooze your alarm, the countdown to when the alarm goes off again is also now shown on the lock screen. Pretty nice.
  • You can finally Mark All messages in Mail with one tap. Useful when you have 345954839 unread messages that you’d like to mark as Read.
  • The new smart mailboxes in Mail are great too. You can have an Unread mailbox, or a mailbox that shows all messages with attachments.
  • The typography continues to impress me every time I unlock my phone. Beautiful text is everywhere, and really shines on the retina displays.
  • The Weather app is strikingly beautiful. The animations are tasteful and accurate, and seeing weather for all of your saved locations at once is a wonderful touch.
  • You can see timestamps for every message in the Messages app (finally!). Swipe left on the screen and hold to see all timestamps. I think this is a great touch, as I really don’t need those timestamps cluttering up the interface all the time, but those few times I do need to know, the information is easily accessible.

Bad Stuff:

  • I really really dislike how Safari does not show the full URL or the page title of the website you’re visiting. What if you miss-tap a link? With iOS 6 you knew right away and could click back. With iOS 7, there’s no indication. It gets worse if you’re unsure of what exactly is loading – is it a large PDF file? A PHP script? I find it absurd that they took BOTH the full URL and the page title out of Safari. This really needs to be an option!!
  • When I’m AirPlaying stuff from my iPhone to Apple TV, going to the Photos app to look at pictures hijacks the Apple TV. When I tap a photo to view it, my video stops, and the still picture comes up on my Apple TV. No, I am not using AirPlay mirroring. This is a very strange bug (or maybe it’s a feature, but I don’t like it).
  • The Calendar app is a little weird. I don’t like how you can’t tap a day in the month view and see all appointments. You have to scroll down a vertical timeline to see everything, even if you only have two events (one in the morning, one at night for example).
  • Tapping the unified URL/search bar in Safari no longer places the cursor at the end of the field. I used this all the time to add words to my Google searches in iOS 6.
  • Making the above matter even worse, the text selection lasso is very wonky now. Selecting text has become much harder since iOS 6. This needs to be fixed ASAP.
  • Some animations are too slow, and starting to wear on me. App and folder transitions, locking and unlocking the phone, and the icons cascading onto the home screen are my main gripes. Cut these animation lengths in half, please!!
  • I don’t like how the volume/silence HUD is completely opaque and obscures the screen. It was much better when this was transparent. Why did they make this change?

I will continue to add observations as more come to mind. Overall, I’m extremely pleased with iOS 7. Remember when Aqua was first revealed in OS X 10.0? This is much like that. Striking, hugely contrasted differences over iOS 6, sometimes a bit over the top (remember the pinstripes?) iOS 7 is essentially a 1.0 update. I’m incredibly excited to see how it evolves over the next few years. I think it has a whole lot of potential.

Mac OS X 10.8.5 is breaking my Mediasonic ProBox! (With Solution)

There is a bug in 10.8.5 that causes drives to spin-down or eject completely when the display goes to sleep. Even worse, the drives routinely will not properly wake up, requiring a full system reboot or at the very least, ejecting all external disks and remounting them.

To be clear, I have my Mac set to never sleep, and have the “Spin Down Drives” option disabled. For a couple of weeks, I was coming into my office, waking up my Mac’s display, and finding that Time Machine failed, and all four of my drives were reporting -50 errors when trying to write anything to the drive.

At first I thought my enclosure was going bad, or one of my drives. After some research, I found that many people are experiencing this issue with 10.8.5, and my issue did seem to start right after updating as well.

The temporary solution is set display sleep to Never. I just kick the brightness down when I walk away. Was having these hard drive issues constantly, but now haven’t had any problems in over 24 hours.

Apple is working on a supplemental 10.8.5 update to fix this issue and others with HDMI, Bluetooth and some other stuff. I’m looking forward to the update, but am just glad to have a solution in the meantime.