Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

MacFixIt Answers is a weekly feature in which we answer questions e-mailed in by our readers. We welcome alternative approaches and views from readers and encourage you to post your own suggestions in the comments.

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which we answer questions e-mailed in by our readers.

This week people wrote in with questions on text highlight color turning gray, memory running low on a Macbook system, an optical drive no longer reading some discs, and iTunes unable to locate original song files. We continually answer e-mail questions, and though we present answers here, we welcome alternative approaches and views from readers and encourage you to post your suggestions in the comments.

Question: Text highlight color turning gray
MacFixIt reader Emory asks:

When I use the spell-checker, the words are highlighted by a gray rectangle. This small gray rectangle is light enough it's sometimes difficult to pick out from a sea of small text. Is there a way to change the highlight color on spell-check to something more noticeable? I couldn't find anything under Preferences, so I presume this fix would involve the Terminal.

The problem here is not anything to do with a setting, but rather that the window containing the highlighted text is in the background. Anytime a window is backgrounded in OS X its user-input controls are stripped of color and replaced with a gray tone. This not only affects buttons and other window elements, but highlights as well. You can see it in Safari by selecting text on a Web page and then bringing another window forward. In your situation if you click on the main window containing your text then the highlight will become colorized, but as long as the spell check window is in the forefront then the text of interest and other windows will be set to gray tones.

Unfortunately this is an unmodifiable aspect of the window management in OS X, and in Snow Leopard the spelling service window is a full window that becomes active over others, resulting in this problem. Apple changed this in Lion so the spelling window is a floating window (a special window type like the Finder's "Inspector" or "View options" window) which allows the main window to remain active, but in older versions of OS X this is not the case.

Question: Memory running low on a Macbook system
MacFixIt reader Miriam asks:

The memory of my Macbook, running OS 10.6.8 [with 2GB RAM], is constantly running out, so that I have to keep logging in/out to regain function, even when I have little going on. I can visually observe the available memory shrinking on Activity Monitor but can't figure out the cause.

I have been keeping Activity Monitor open and can't figure it out. It's the system things, i.e. the antivirus and the "kernel task," that seems to be expanding incrementally, even when there are no active processes."

There are a couple of issues here. For one the 2GB RAM is close to the minimum recommended amount for computing these days. I generally recommend people install 4GB for most situations, 8GB if they are doing heavy computing, and only keep 2GB if they usually are only opening a few programs at once. The second possibility is that your antivirus tool may have a memory leak or similar bug in it, which could be ample reason for it to take up a lot of memory. Some antivirus and security tools use kernel extensions, which if improperly coded can result in kernel slowdowns or larger than normal RAM usage by the kernel.

Try checking for an update to the program, which may contain fixes to such bugs. You can also try setting it to not run "on demand" or in any similar fashion where it may be regularly checking files, as this is generally not needed and can weigh down a system that has limited resources.

Question: Optical drive no longer reading some discs
MacFixIt reader Tom asks:

My mid-2009 15" MBP can read and boot from the Snow Leopard install disk. It reads commercial music CDs and some music DVDs I've burned. It reads some but not all movies. It won't read two Office install disks (one I've used in the drive before and the other brand new Office 2011 or several TurboTax disks that I've tried. It takes several minutes to load the install disks and then displays them as blank, untitled disks. It will load blank media as blank media. It won't load a disk cleaner. I've tried every trick with no results. Anyone else ever report anything like this?

When optical drives start malfunctioning then many times only some media will work. Unfortunately there is little you can do to remedy the situation, and usually a drive replacement is required to fix the problem. Over time the laser diodes, optics, and mechanical components in the drives can start acting up, which prevents some discs from being read.

Apple does use high quality components; however, optical drives are just notorious for these problems and failures do happen. These days people use external hard drives and thumb drives for much of data transfer, but when DVD and CD burning was a massive practice it was not uncommon for optical drives to regularly stop working, in so much as people gauged how many burn hours specific drives had on average before they needed replacing (generally around 50,000, but often less depending on use).

Question: iTunes unable to locate original song files
MacFixIt reader verdehorn asks:

When synching my iPod Touch to iTunes I noticed when it's done, every time now, there are songs in my library that for some crazy reason are getting dropped! The song name is still listed but when I click on it there's a msg "Unable to locate original file." I've lost hundreds of songs now, many of which I can't replace since I loaded them before moving and didn't keep the original cd's. It's to the point now where I hesitate to synch because I don't want to keep losing music! Please, what can be done to correct this?

This may be a problem with how you have your iTunes library organized. iTunes has the option to keep music organized by its own hierarchy of folders, or it can keep the music files wherever you have them in your own organization. With the second option, the music can end up being scattered around your drive in whatever locations you originally had the files, which can increase the probability of iTunes losing track of them, even if it's as simple as you moving the files to a new location.

Try searching your hard drive for the files using Spotlight, to see if they're somewhere on your system. Additionally, you can set iTunes to organize your music for you in its preferences (in the Advanced section), but after doing this be sure the default location for the music is set (also in the Advanced section), and then consolidate the music in this location by selecting all the files in your library (in iTunes press Command-A to do this) and then right-clicking them and selecting "Consolidate Files."

Questions? Comments? Have a fix? Post them below or e-mail us!
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