Ask TUAW: Clocks, screen guards, MacBook hard drive replacement, NFS automount, and more

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we have questions about replacing a MacBook hard drive, refreshing a NFS mount, getting a simple clock on screen, improving iCal's note handling, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Leave your questions for next week in the comments section at the end of this post. When asking a question, please include which machine you're using and what version of Mac OS X is installed on it (we'll assume you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify), or if it's an iPhone-related question, which iPhone version and OS version you have.

Felix asks

I'm a iMac user in search for a USB hub and a FireWire hub with a Mac-like design. Sure there are several of them (especially USB hubs) that have a Macish look but then theres the thing about performance. Some years ago I bought a USB2.0 hub just to find that some of the ports feel much slower than others and that sometimes my iPod (now my iPhone) just don't get recharged at all when connected to the hub. So my question is, what do you think are the most Mac-like looking and well performing USB and FireWire hubs available?

Here are a couple of combo hubs you might be interested in from Belkin and IOGEAR. The Belkin hub does not feature its own power supply (apparently it draws more current from the FireWire port), whereas the IOGEAR does have an independent power supply, so if you're concerned about power you might want to go in that direction. In general if you want particularly "Macish" hubs, I'd recommend searching for ones made for the Mac mini (there are quite a few out there).

Derek asks

I recently replaced the LCD in my aged Powerbook 15" 1.33 (A1095). When it arrived on my doorstep there was a plastic film applied on the face to protect it during shipping. I've always had a problem with the LCD on this Powerbook (and my old G3 Wallstreet, for that matter) touching the keyboard when the lid is shut, thusly leaving permanent marks on the face of the display. So, I left the film on the replacement LCD, and it has worked very well to protect the new screen. However, it's starting to peel and bubble on one edge and I'd like to replace it. Does anyone make screen protectors such as the variety of stick-on protectors for iPod Touch/iPhones in sizes for laptop screens? I have considered hitting the local megamart and just getting several to piece together, but I think the seams would be more annoying than the bubbling.

There are several different film screen protectors available, such as this Crystal Screen Guard at Amazon. The biggest problem is finding one that will exactly fit your PowerBook, since most everything sold today is made for the MacBook Pro line. I think that the PowerBook actually had a 15.2" screen, rather than the 15.4" screen on the MacBook Pro. So I'm guessing you'd have to trim down a MacBook Pro Screen Guard to fit your PowerBook.

SMartenup asks

I would like to find a way to save all of my open programs / documents, and then restore to that same set of programs & documents. Is there any way to do this?

OS X does have a feature called Safe Sleep, which is much like the hibernation features on other operating systems. When invoked it saves the state of your Mac to the hard drive and then actually shuts the computer off. When you restart the machine, it will be restored to the state that was saved. There's a handy Preference Pane app called SmartSleep that will allow you to invoke Safe Sleep automatically.

I get the sense, however, that what you want is something analogous to session saving a web browser's tabs, but for all your open documents. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of anything that does quite what you want.

ooglek asks

I have a 250GB SimpleTech SimpleShare NAS. I've had it for about 3 years, and it works well enough. Now on Snow Leopard both my 2008 Mac Pro and my 2006 Macbook Pro can access the NAS via NFS Automount setup in the Disk Utility (new for Snow Leopard). My problem is that when I take my laptop out of my home office, when I come back, I have no way to "refresh" or reconnect to the NFS mount. I'm not sure if it is hung (used to have to kill nfsd in Leopard), awaiting some user action or just not set up right.

I don't have much experience with NFS mounts, but if I'm understanding the problem correctly you need to flush the cache with the sudo automount -vc command. That should cause it to essentially "refresh." Check out this thread over at Apple Discussions.

vulgo asks

I am a long time Mac user and as far as I can think back I was using Microsofts Entourage as a calendar and before that Outlook for Mac. Since I got my iPhone 2 years ago I always wanted to migrate to iCal to use that as my main calendar application because of synching reasons. Unfortunately iCal is in my opinion a bad solution. It sure does allow notes in the notes field but there is no way to work properly with lots of text in the notes field like you can easily do in Entourage. You cannot just drag the corner of the window and make it bigger to get a good overview about what you write or copy/paste there. The column is and stays just too small. Do you have any idea for a good solution to make iCal fulfill the task of a proper note field without moving to another software?

I know you asked for a solution that involves iCal, but I don't really think there is one. I completely agree with you that the iCal notes interface is terrible, but I'm not aware of any way to make it work better. However, if you are willing to drop a little coin, you should check out BusyCal ($49), which offers iCal / MobileMe / iPhone compatibility and superior better features, including a much more robust notes field (especially in List View).

David asks

I desperately need a bigger drive for my MacBook. Everyone says it's pretty easy to replace, I just need to buy a 2.5" SATA drive. But I'm so afraid of buying the wrong drive that I can't make a purchase. Here's why: Some folks have strongly recommend not using a drive that is larger than 250GB, and/or faster then SATA 150, 5400RPM. And most of the drives available out there are at least 320GB and often SATA 300 and 7200RPM. Am I being too conservative in my desire to stick to the recommended guidelines? Should I just stop worrying and buy a bigger/faster drive? If I understand the articles, I could/should be safe with a bigger drive as long as I don't use more than 250GB of the drive? I'm nervous enough about replacing my drive so any advice you have would be much appreciated.

Frankly, I don't really understand why anybody would tell you that you have to be limited to 250GB. I am aware of no reason whatsoever that you would need to limit yourself to a drive that small. You should be able to install any 9mm thick 2.5" SATA drive you like, including SATA 2 (SATA 300) / 7200 RPM drives. One thing to consider is that faster 7200 RPM drives will be more power hungry, thus potentially reducing your battery life and increasing heat (your MacBook likely shipped with a 4200 RPM drive, so a 5400 RPM drive might be a good compromise). If you're particularly paranoid you could get a Mac-specific upgrade kit, like those from MCE Tech or OWC, but you don't really need to do that. One nice thing about some of these kits is that they include an external enclosure allowing you to continue to use the old drive as an external hard drive.

No matter which drive you end up with, it's a good idea to get an external enclosure, or at least a USB to SATA adapter (like this one). That way, as soon as you get it you can use Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! ($27.95) to clone your existing drive to the new drive. Then install the new drive into the computer and you should be able to start right back up where you left off without reinstalling anything. Good luck!

Update: I had confused the default MacBook Air 4200 RPM hard drive with the MacBook's. Clarified that HD thickness can matter (9mm vs. 12mm: you want a 9mm drive).

Brent asks

I am running dual monitors with my macbook and I don't need a menu bar on both, but I would like a clock running on the second screen. What is the best thing I could use?

There are a gajillion little clock apps available for OS X. Check out this search at MacUpdate for a sense of what's out there. You'll probably have to churn through a few of them until you find one that fits your style. If you want a place to start, check out SimpleFloatingClock.

David asks

For the upcoming iPad my wife and I are planning on sharing one. Our question is about the email. Is there a way to switch users so to our email is not available to the other. I don't see any way of doing that on the iphone, but we don't share them.

Obviously we don't know for sure yet, but everything so far indicates that the iPad will function more or less like the iPhone. That being the case, just as the iPhone doesn't support multiple users, I consider it extremely unlikely that the iPad will either.