iSync, 1980’s Style Help Desk 10

Many people use Apple’s iSync every day. I am not one of them. I thought it was pretty cool when it came out. Finally, I could sync all my personal data between my work and home Macs, Palm handheld, and iPod! For me, it just didn’t work as advertised, especially between the Palm and Mac. Some phone numbers and email addresses were duplicated, some disappeared! Even with my iPod, iSync was telling me changes were made on the iPod and would overwrite what was on my Mac! I followed every piece of advice I could find from Apple and other sources, but I just couldn’t tolerate data loss. It took me a couple days to get everything back in order. Most of my calendar was in triplicate. My contacts had tons of duplicate and missing phone numbers and email addresses. I had to reconfigure Palm Desktop to the way it was originally. It was a mess. I haven’t tried it again since.

Before iSync, I simply synced my Palm and iBook with Palm Desktop. Since I brought my work iBook home with me every day, I had no need for an up to date Address Book on my home iMac and I didn’t care if that stuff was on my iPod. That all changed when the iBook was replaced with a Power Mac G4. Now I needed my contacts at home. I had to figure out some simple steps to make sure I was able to do what iSync was not. After some research, I came up with what has been an excellent iSync substitute for me: the Finder, with a little help from Palm Desktop.

My work Power Mac G4, my home PowerBook G4, my Palm Tungsten C, and my iPod all hold the same contact and calendar data with no lost or altered data. My master source for all this info is the Power Mac G4. Address Book holds my contacts, as does Palm Desktop along with my calendar and memos. This system necessitates one mildly annoying step. All my contact info has to be entered or edited manually both in Address Book and Palm Desktop. Getting the contacts, calendar, and memos to the Palm simply involves syncing with Palm Desktop.

The iPod gets my contacts directly from Address Book. I command click the contact groups on the left side of the Address Book window, drag them onto the iPod icon, and the Finder creates a vCard file which the iPod’s Contacts application reads perfectly. I then open the iPod, move the vCard file into the Contacts folder, open the Contacts folder, and delete the old vCard file. For the calendar I simply export the data from Palm Desktop (this works in iCal, too) as a vCal file to the iPod’s Calendars folder, overwriting the old one by giving it the same name. I handle the iPod Notes and Palm Memos in a similar fashion to how I handle the contacts between Address Book and Palm Desktop, making the changes both in Palm Desktop and on the iPod. iPod Notes is a freeware application from Apimac that will edit the notes directly on the iPod (or anywhere you choose to create a Notes folder) and can sync to your dotmac iDisk.

I bring home my contacts and Safari bookmarks from the Power Mac to the PowerBook using a USB flash drive. Address Book stores it’s data in the folder /Users/yourusername/Library/Application Support/AddressBook. Simply copy this folder from one Mac to the same location on another, replacing the existing folder, and both Macs have the exact same Address Book data. Same thing with Safari. Go to /Users/yourusername/Library/Safari and copy the Bookmarks.plist file from one Mac to another, replacing the existing file, and both Macs will have the same Safari bookmarks.

Except for the double editing, I think this is faster than iSync. Sync, click, drag, export, done. Not being able to set up one master data source in iSync is probably why it’s never worked for me. Doing it by hand has given me the control I don’t get with iSync. I’ll probably try syncing again someday, using The Missing Sync from MarkSpace, but for now if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Help Desk #9 Follow-Up: iBook, 2001-2007, R.I.P.

Hi Tom
Just a note of thanks. Got the FireWire case, took out the iBook hard disk, put it in and BINGO!
I got it all download to my iMac.

Very much appreciated all your help. Take care and I hope your mom is doing better, your 6 year old is relaxed, and that the IRS owes you lots of money.

Jerry in Ash, Kent, UK

Glad it all worked out in the end. Enjoy your new iMac! I got lunch money back from the IRS. Oh well…


Movie Madness

Hi. I have one question. I am a new Mac user so I am not very familiar with it yet. My problem is I downloaded some video files with extension mpg and QuickTime can’t open them. I tried to find file converters to convert mpg to mov or wma but I couldn’t. What should I do to get these video files to play?

I hope you have a fix for my problem.

Marko in Croatia

The problem is that there are many different audio and video codecs for mpg files. There are 2 good ways to handle this. You can use the VLC media player application, or you can install the Perian QuickTime plugin. Both VLC and Perian support the most common codecs that aren’t included with QuickTime. You can download VLC at Perian can be found at If you also install Flip4Mac for playing Windows Media files from you should be able to play any non-DRM protected audio or video file.

Hope this helps!


iPhoto Movie Madness

I have a Nikon CoolPix 5MP digital camera. I am learning how to take some pretty good pics, but I still haven’t figured out how to download video clips I take from camera to iPhoto or iMovie. How can I do this? I am running Mac OS X 10.4.9 Tiger, and I’m using iPhoto 2.

Andrew in Laguna Niguel, California, USA

You’ll need to upgrade to import video clips. Video support was introduced in iPhoto 5. Clips will be imported along with the photos. iPhoto 6 is part of iLife ’06, and it’s not a downloadable update. iLife ’06 retails for $79. As for alternatives, you should be able to copy the files off your SD card using a USB card reader and open them in QuickTime Player.



Narcoleptic MacBook

Hey Tom,
My MacBook has recently exhibited strange behavior. When the battery gets low, say within 30 or 40 minutes of indicated time left, the machine simply shuts off cold, without going to sleep and without a warning message.

Up until about two weeks ago, it would do the usual thing of warning me I was on standby power or whatever, and then go to sleep. I used to let that happen all the time, good for the battery and all. So what’s the deal?

I did look up the procedure for resetting the power manager and performed it. It was absurdly simple, even though Apple recommends this as a “last resort” only. All you do is take the battery out and hold the power button down for a count of five or so. It didn’t help at all. Any ideas? Thanks.

John in Taos, New Mexico, USA

It sounds like it is probably the battery. There are some sudden shutdown issues with the original model MacBook, but I don’t think that’s it since it’s consistent with the battery level. I’d suggest contacting either Baillio’s or the Apple Store in Albuquerque. I’m sure one of them will order a battery in advance for you. As an Apple Specialist, Baillio’s would be my first choice. Also, make sure you are totally up to date with your software updates. The sudden shutdown issue can be prevented in many cases by installing the MacBook EFI and SMC firmware updates.

Tom has been a service technician with First Tech Computer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of the most highly regarded Apple Specialist dealers in the US, since 1994. Previous to that, Tom was the systems manager and a graphic designer for a small marketing firm from 1990 to 1992, then worked in technical and product support with Mirror Technologies and Envisio for 2 years.

Send your questions to He will personally reply to each message when received and select letters will be included in the Help Desk column.


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