Success, EtreCheck Info – But Not Done Yet

[Chaos Manor Reviews returns after another long hiatus with this series from guest columnist Alex Pournelle, who continues his father’s tradition of ‘doing things so you don’t have to’.

In this second installment (first installment here), Alex continues with his story about solving the slowdown on his MacBook Pro. The last installment left us with Alex doing a reboot. Comments are welcomed at the end of this post. – Editor]

Success!

App Store then ran normally, though it took several minutes to open the updates tab—not surprising, since I had deleted its cache and it needed to catch up on what was actually installed. Practice patience; check e-mail; read a newspaper… Voila: MacOS 10.4.4, iTunes and Camera RAW formats all needed updates. I started the 10.4.4 updater, ensured the Mac actually rebooted, and then went off to do something else for half an hour. That’s from experience: More than a few times, I was certain the updater was running, only to find out one last command box needed clicking, before the update would proceed.

While off raking the front lawn, it occurred to me that this whole dance was familiar: It was quite like fixing Windows Update on XP or 7, when no updates are ever found or Update just doesn’t run. True, Windows doesn’t store that sort of system info in the BIOS, and putting Windows Registry entries to rights (Or slaying them wholesale) isn’t quite the same as deleting plist items, but the overall process was quite similar.

Upon my return, the Mac was almost done—at least it hadn’t hung mid-update. (To their credit, Apple is pretty good at recovering from that rare occasion.) Time to make lunch, keep an eye on progress… There it is: The final reboot, followed by—a black screen.

The Reboot to Black Screen

That reminded me why I ritually disconnect the second screen on my Mac during updates. Every time I reboot after an update, the primary screen doesn’t display the list of users, as usual. (You only see this list when your Mac doesn’t auto-login to one user at startup, much like Windows.) The MacBook Pro responds (caps lock light goes on, screen is lit, sound volume chirps when adjusted), but no video. Don’t Panic. Disconnect the external monitor, and the login screen comes up just fine. For me, this only happens after a system update—not just regular restarts, which I see happens to others. It’s odd, and never happens (to me) in normal operation, just after updates.

So, now, is my computer behaving better? Yes. There are fewer odd pauses. One of the more infuriating was opening a Keychain Access dialog box, clicking on the “Show Password” box, and waiting a good two minutes for the password to come up. By stopwatch, 5 seconds now. (The jury’s still out on Microsoft Word, though—more about that when I have more data.)

I still don’t know why I have dozens of AppleSpell processes careering around my computer, irresponsibly sucking up resources and polluting Activity Monitor with dozens of instantiations. (Specifically, I have one or two copies of AppleSpell.service and four to forty of AppleSpell, which appear to be child processes.) To be fair, none appear to take an appreciable amount of CPU (0.0%, usually), and in-line spell-check seems to be working, but this is annoying. (Far more copies appear when running Google Chrome vs. Firefox or Safari, even with the latest versions.)

OS-based spell-checking (AppleSpell) is controlled in Keyboard System Preferences (Mac for “control panel”), text tab. Interestingly, turning off “spell check everywhere”, then closing the Keyboard menu doesn’t kill any of the AppleSpell processes. I’m sure that a reboot would kill them all, but I actually like the automatic spell-check; even though it’s often unhelpful, it makes me think twice whether my colloquial or neologic affectation is appropriate.

My support-site walkabout did stumble across an incredibly useful tool for capturing, in depth, what your Mac is doing. EtreSoft’s freeware EtreCheck tabulates a very complete and anonymized record of what’s started (Kernel Extensions, Launch Daemons, Internet Plug-ins, etc.), attempted to start, taking up memory, etc. It provides great hardware detail: My laptop’s battery, serial number D863155X08ZDGDLB4, has 133 cycles on it, and listed as in “normal” health. It even provides pre-populated, clickable web searches for, e.g., what “com.valvesoftware.steamclean.plist” or “com.distortedvista.istatmenusprocessserver.plist” might be. My primary backup disk was last accessed 15 days ago—time to run another Time Machine backup, once I’m sure everything else is stable.

EtreCheck

EtreCheck is the de facto standard for submitting information on your Mac to support websites, and you can’t beat the price. It gave details about what was starting up (and not starting up!) in my computer, about which more next time—data nowhere near as easy to divine from Activity Monitor or Login Items (System Preferences | Users & Groups | Current User | Login Items).

Of course, EtreCheck isn’t as friendly for knowing “What’s in this thing, anyway?”, an honor which goes to Apple Menu | About This Mac | Overview | System Report. System Report opens the System Information utility, residing in the Apps | Utilities directory. SysInfo also provides many different stats, like System Power settings, that EtreCheck doesn’t. EtreCheck is a powerful tool, now occupying a spot right next to Disk Utility in my Dock.

Wrapping Up

The system is now up-to-date, save for iTunes. I’ve left off updating iTunes to Version 12.2, which supports Apple Music. I don’t use iTunes anyway, and reports of suddenly-trashed music libraries give this little urgency for me.

Computer seems more stable now, with fewer unexplained delays or the telltale “fan on takeoff power” sound showing Chrome is chewing 140% of CPU. (Percentage of a single core, not total overall CPU, so it really can go above 100%.) I’m writing this report on the MBP, and haven’t cursed once, so that’s a good sign. I don’t know if the resume-from-sleep problem is cured, since it hasn’t been put into sleep or hibernation, but, so far, much improved.

But, Viruses?

The Avast virus scan is now into its 36th hour, with 4+ million files scanned; it’s been at “100%” complete since hour 2. Avast shows 2,700+ infections, but they’ve been racked up while scanning mail files, so I’m fairly sure they’re benign (to Mac) PC viruses. That’ll be another update.

Next time: The Virus That Wasn’t, software toys in the attic, somnambulant Macs, and archaeological app removal.