Mac Lab Report

Sometimes You Feel Like a Dolt, Sometimes You Don't

- 2004.07.19

I recently started work on a book requiring many scans and photos, SO I went to Staples and shelled out a few bucks for the following items:

  • USB Canon scanner (Canoscan), which is about 1/4 the size and twice as fast as my old Umax SCSI scanner that finally died
  • SanDisk multiple-format digital camera card reader
  • Belkin USB hub, since I'm on a PowerBook and one port is dedicated to an external keyboard and mouse (my trackpad's dead, and I don't have time to get it repaired right now).

So as far as a review goes, let's just go down the list:

Canoscan scanner: This set me back less than $50 - that's 1/8 as much as I spent on the old Umax scanner lo these many years ago. Installed smooth, works great. Fast, simple interface. Programmable buttons for various autolaunching functions, such as copying or faxing, on the front. Scan quality is excellent. This is the lowest end machine I could find, and it was Mac compatible off the shelf and works great as far as I'm concerned.

SanDisk card reader: This also works as advertised. It treats MMC cards like USB key-drives, so they just automount on the desktop. iPhoto recognized it and imported the pictures smoothly - no problems there. Simple to operate, card only goes in one way, and when my wife goes into digital photography, it'll read 8 different formats. No problems there.

Belkin 4 port USB hub: There's only one problem. When I plugged the USB devices into the hub, nothing happened. Winky lights came on, but the scanner didn't respond, nor did the card reader's light didn't come on.

Well, that's fairly obvious. It's a powered hub (I knew enough that if I was going to be plugging all these powered devices in at once, I'd better supply power outside the laptop's power supply). Obviously the thing's not plugged in.

I checked the plugs. Everything was plugged in.

It must be the power strip. Checked that - no problem there.

The hub isn't supposed to require a driver - neither is the card reader, for that matter - but you never know. I checked with the card reader's website, which suggested plugging it in bypassing the hub, which I did, and it worked.

Now I knew that the problem was with the hub, not the reader. The same was true of the scanner. It works on the laptop, not on the hub.

Maybe it's a USB 2.0 hub? All my stuff is 1.1. But USB 2.0 is supposed to be backwards compatible. That can't be it.

Could the hub be defective? Maybe, but I usually think it's something I'm doing wrong before I resort to the hardware excuse.

I go to the reader website. OS 9 drivers exist. It makes no sense to try this, but when the logical stuff fails, try the illogical. I install the OS 9 drivers, even though I'm in OS X. Maybe it runs in classic or something. Zip.

Yah, I hear what you're saying. Why not just unplug stuff and plug it back in?

I don't like mysteries. When something doesn't work, there's a reason. Even though I could work around it, what could it be? Maybe it's a symptom of something more fundamental.

I go through a little grump-fest complaining to myself that this stuff is supposed to be easy, for cryin' out loud. It's a Mac, and you're supposed to be able to just plug it in. Maybe I'll have to get myself worked up enough to bang out an article for Dan about it.

Next I tried System Information. All the devices are recognized on the USB bus list. Even when plugged into the hub where they don't work. It had to be a power problem.

I unplugged the power supply and checked the specs. Right voltage. Right polarity. It's the supply that came with it, I'm pretty sure. (You should just see my storeroom/office.) Get a voltmeter. Power is coming through the jack. Everything is kosher.

It must be a hardware problem. Where's the dang receipt?

One more try: Go to Belkin's website. Hubs don't need drivers. They don't. But maybe there's something in the FAQ.

I found Belkin's support page well organized. There's Mac-specific help, too. Maybe the hub's power only works on PCs or some stupid thing like that.

USB is supposed to be universal, no matter the platform, but you never know. Belkin's site confirmed there's no driver for the hub (duh!) and I read through the FAQ. "Device does not respond - try unplugging hub, plug hub in, then device." Nada.

Try plugging hub into other USB port on machine. Nope.

Try updating USB drivers for devices plugged in hub. Already done.

Then I ran across this little gem in Belkin's FAQ: What's the switch on the side for?

What's the switch for?

There's a switch?!?

Yup. It's on the side. It's not visible from the top, and it's a small transparent slide switch.

It's marked Bus Power or Self Powered. Guess which setting it was on.

It's been a looooong time since I couldn't get something to work because I didn't know I had to turn it on first.

This is a public service message from your friendly Mac Web columnist: "Always turn on the device before cussing."

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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