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Ask Dave
by Dave Hamilton

He from whom all Mac knowledge flows...

Blessed System Folders & MP3 Quality
March 31st, 2000

Donkeys really aren't the best of pets, but they sure can make a lot of noise. That's why I choose... oh... wait... that's not what we're here to talk about, is it? Right... ok... well, let's see, then... Mac questions. OK. Today we'll talk about modifying your System File, MP3 sound quality, and some more information on those weird-looking menus in older applications! If you have a question of your own, feel free to e-mail directly to me or ask away in the Ask Dave Forums. For now, read on!

In the April issue of MacAddict, I tried one of the five classic hacks where you can make new cursors. As directed, I made a copy of the System file to edit. I edited all of the frames for the wristwatch cursor. At the end of the instructions for the hack, it said to replace the original System file with the edited one and restart my computer. I left my altered copy in the System Folder and I put the original on my desktop. I restarted my computer only to find a folder icon on the gray startup screen with the Mac OS head flashing with a question mark after it. My computer won't start up. Is there a way I can fix it?

Yes, sir, there is, but you'll need a bootable Mac OS system CD to solve it. A few things may have happened here. First you need to check to see if the System Folder is still "blessed". It's entirely possible that, when you moved the System file out of the System Folder, the machine "forgot" which folder to boot from. The Mac designates one folder per disk (if applicable) as a "boot" folder. You can tell which folder this is by the special Mac OS icon that appears on the folder itself (with older versions of the system software it appears as a little Mac Plus icon). If the System Folder doesn't have that icon, it's not going to use that folder to boot. In order to "bless" a folder, two things need to happen: you need to have valid "System" and "Finder" files in that folder, and then you need to open and close that folder in the Finder. Doing this should reset things and put the special icon back, indicating the folder is blessed and ready to boot. Once you've done this, restart your machine and see if it boots properly.

If that doesn't work, it's possible, of course, that you somehow damaged your System file with the updates you made. If this is the case, then you just need to boot with the System CD, replace your System file with the old one and, as above, "bless" the System Folder before rebooting. You also may want to check the "Startup Disk" control panel to ensure that it's trying to boot from the right drive.

Kristoffer Kjølberg writes, "I have downloaded some MP3s from various places on the Internet, their sizes varying from 200 Kb to 8 MB, and they all have rather poor quality. I know the quality depends on sampling rate, but most of these files are compressed at 128 kbits/s and 44.1 kHz. I thought MP3s were supposed to be much like a CD, but if this is as good as it gets, I don't see what the record industry is worrying about. Is it my hardware that isn't good enough? That would be the day, because I enjoy the raw power of a 350 MHz G4/192 MB RAM. Could it be the software, then? I have tried playing back the tracks in both QuickTime Player and QDesign MVP, but they sound the same in both applications -terrible! Is it anything else that might affect the quality of the playback, or is this really all there is to MP3?"

Well, Kristoffer, I'm pretty picky about my music quality (being a musician myself), and I have had great experience with most MP3s that I've downloaded and enjoyed. That said, there are some, of course, that just sound awful. However, I imagine you've sampled enough to make sure that you're not just experiencing the results of a poorly encoded file. Assuming that, we need to look at your players. I haven't had the best of luck using the QuickTime Player... it just leaves a lot to be desired in terms of sound quality. I have had decent success with SoundApp and, of course, SoundJam MP. SoundApp is fine, and it certainly sounds good, but SoundJam MP takes the cake. In addition to the multi-band EQ included in SoundJam, be sure to experiment with the Realizer plug-in that's available for it. Realizer lets you really tweak the sound to your liking, and adds some "magic" slider knobs that really make it easy to tune things just the way you want.

The other problem, of course, could be your choice of speakers. Be sure that you're comparing "Apples to Apples" here and aren't looking for a sound that your speakers can deliver. By testing the MP3 players against CD's, you'll know what's available with your current setup and can work to achieve that with the options available in these other MP3 players.

If any of you have other players in mind, head on over to the Ask Dave Forums and let everyone know what you use!

Menu Colors Fixed!

In last week's column I mentioned that Martin O'Donnell was having problems with older applications that didn't interact quite right with the Appearance Manager (see "Ask Dave: Missing Finder Menus & Networking Help"). Specifically, Martin was having instances with older applications where he would see strange highlighting and colors in Menus on his machine. I received a few e-mails with possible solutions here, and it appears as though some 3rd party software may be available that solves this problem. According to Pat Taylor:

"There is a 'fix' for this 'interface blemish' but it involves adding extensions to your System Folder. One option is Aaron Light which may or may not work on newer versions of MacOS 8.x or 9 or ... if overkill is more your taste ... Kaleidoscope is pretty up-to-date. Run it with a Platinum Scheme and it should work! Either extension will eliminate the problem with the menu bars and make all applications Appearance Manager compliant."

Check those two programs out if you're experiencing this problem, and let us know what you find!

That's it for this week, folks. As always, feel free to e-mail me your questions to [email protected], or post away in the Ask Dave Forums and talk to everyone about these and other issues.

P.S. Have a Nice Day.

is President and CEO of The Mac Observer, Inc. He has worked in the computer industry as a consultant, trainer, network engineer, webmaster, and a programmer for most of the last 10 years. During that time he has worked on the Mac, all the various Windows flavors, Be, a few brands of Unix, and it is rumored he once saw an OS/2 machine in action. Before that he ran some of the earliest Bulletin Board systems, but most of the charges have since been dropped, and not even the FBI requests that he check in more than twice a year.

Ask Dave is here to answer all the Mac questions you have. Networking, system conflicts, hardware, you ask it, he can answer it. He is the person from whom all Mac knowledge flows....

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