MacPro and MacBook Pro Gone in 60 Seconds

March 4, 2013

I’m standing in the Apple Store in WestQuay, Southampton for the third straight hour, awaiting the emergency repair of my MacBook Pro. A month ago my studio mainstay, my Mac Pro Tower of Power, turned out to be susceptible to overheating which ultimately destroyed both the Video card and logic board.

The machine is, I believe, still somewhere in Reading. I’ve been firmly told to stop nagging to have it back.

My MacBook Pro (2008, 2.6, 17″) has been my lifeline for work. Yesterday it died. The ‘high failure rate’ video card (NVIDIA 8600M GT) went into meltdown. This is, of course, integrated with the logic board… so a new logic board for the laptop as well as the tower. I’m not letting this one out of my sight, so I have demanded an on-site repair while-I-wait. And wait. And wait.

Meanwhile, I’m typing this up in-store on a Mac Mini, and I must say, it’s diabolically fast.I may have to buy one… Also worth mentioning that the chaps at the Apple Store have been enormously helpful and polite. Good job.


Apple lets you down when you least expect it

January 29, 2013

So, big meeting tomorrow. Writing up the final meeting notes on my Mac Pro (only five years old and branded an ‘antique’ by Apple… OK… enough now… let it go….) and there’s a screen flicker. A weird one. And then… nothing. Screens go off but computer still runs.

So a quick restart – and… nothing.

A little background: A few months ago my (antique) extremely expensive Mac Pro started powering off immediately and with no notice. Long story short, after much scrabbling around I discovered that it was overheating. A free life-saviing utility called Fan Control saved the day(s). But it was clear than something was wrong – why overheat in the first place?

I further discovered that the thermal paste literally baked off the main ‘Northbridge Chip’ – a fairly essential piece of hardware, apparently, resulting in big trouble. So basically, my graphics card was being slow-baked. Today, just when I least needed it, the final oven timer went off, the graphics card was finally cooked – and we were done.

Dead card.

Oh, and Apple doesn’t supply compatible graphics cards to legacy, antique-buying, penny-pinching, I-don’t-buy-new-hardware-every-year suckers like me. I’d have to get a new computer… that they’ll stop supporting in another four years time.

So new £300 graphics card in – but the overheating was still shutting the machine down, so it’s either £655 plus VAT for a new logic board, or trust it to my very helpful computer guy to ‘gut’ (his words) the Mac, re-heat-sync and re-thermal-paste the chips. Which might not work. Then it’s £655 plus VAT for a new logic board and probably (when that fails) another few grand for a new Mac in a few months time.

Who says Apple are in trouble?

Green Marine Video Showreel for Boot Düsseldorf 2013

January 20, 2013

They don’t come much more accomplished and steeped in racing yacht building heritage than Hamble based Green Marine. This is a simple showreel (created by Tinstar) of some of their recent achievements, launches, builds and general awesomeness.

[No Audio]

Contemporary Furniture by COCCO – the new creation

January 19, 2013

Long-standing client and friend of Tinstar Design is The Contract Chair Company, which (operating out of a custom-build Hammersmith showroom) has been supplying restaurant furniture as well as furnishings for hotels, cafés, conference centres, airports and healthcare institutions since 1998 – just one year less than Tinstar’s foundation. That almost makes us twins.

The time had come to expand their stylish outfit by offering contemporary furniture to interior designers and private individuals for home and home office use. Thus was born COCCO Home Furniture, a website developed primarily with usability in mind – we wanted to make it as easy and intuitive as possible for the visitor to find their way around – and hopefully buy. Sure enough, within the first few hours of launch, COCCO had sold some unique Turi Turi Coffee Tables.

Contemporary Furniture

NMS Formmail Spam Blocker

November 20, 2012

Having replaced all our client forms with the more secure NMS Formmail, there are ongoing issues with ‘spambots’. We’ve all experienced their relentless irritation. Some feckless idiot wastes their life creating programs to trawl the internet for HTML forms. It then fills them in with whatever worthless junk it’s peddling and moves onto the next.

In this respect, success online is a double-edged sword. The more successful your website is, the more of these scripts track you down; and the more spam you get in your in-box.

There are a couple of ways to stop spam like this. One is to use the usability-killer ‘captcha’ graphics. This is the unreadable graphic we find at the end of forms that we have to spend a few seconds of our lives attempting to translate. We then have to do it again because we got it wrong the first time.

Enter solution 2. This works with NMS Formmail – the more secure perl script that the London Perl Mongers developed from the highly insecure Formmail created by the teenager Matt Wright in 1997. This simple solution combines a single CSS entry with a little customised script added to the script.

In brief, all that needs to be done is to add an additional text input field to your form. Give it a name and class of something like ‘Surname’ (or anything that is not already being used by your form). Create a .Surname {} CSS class and set visibility to ‘none’. Then add the following code to the # USER CUSTOMISATION SECTION of the script:

# --------------------------
# Place any custom code here

use CGI;
sub spam {
my $q = new CGI;
my $spamcheck = $q->param('Surname') || '';
if ($spamcheck ne '') {
print "Location:\n\n";

Then comment out (#) the ‘use CGI;’ line:

# use CGI;
use POSIX qw(locale_h strftime);
use CGI::NMS::Charset;

Now if a spambot completes the form (including the one invisible to humans) then they are sent to – or anywhere you want to send them. Anywhere, in fact, other than your submission script. Humans, on the other hand, will not complete the additional field because they can’t see it – and will successfully submit the form. Result.

This information was discovered on the following website (where a more comprehensive explanation can be found):

which, in turn, got the supporting code from:

Web Developer Job Vacancy

November 12, 2012

Tinstar Design is seeking a talented, creative web developer to take over the back-end website development work of the various content management systems, e-commerce projects and WordPress websites that make up the bulk of our workflow. The position is full-time and in-house, based in Lymington Hampshire.


  • Knowledge of PHP5 and object oriented programming
  • Excellent knowledge of MySQL
  • Knowledge of HTML(5) and CSS(3) and Javascript
  • An expert knowledge of WordPress and other content management systems
  • Experience with Magento and other e-commerce systems
  • Experience with APIs like Facebook Open Graph and Twitter would be an advantage
  • Strong problem solving skills
  • A good sense of humour
  • A great eye for design
  • SEO experience would also be valuable


Please visit Tinstar for details

Google announces a new Link Disavow Tool

October 18, 2012

Google’s Matt Cutts announced the launch of a new Google Link Disavow Tool yesterday which has been much anticipated in the SEO industry. For those websites that have plummeted in the Google rankings as a result of lots of low quality, spammy in-bound links, this could be the alternative to having to build an entirely new website.

The problem with Google is that is keeps moving the goalposts in its pursuit of of the ‘perfect’ user experience. It used to be possible to fool the search engine into thinking that your website was the best thing since sliced bread just by adding a stack of hidden keywords to the bottom of your web page. Those days are long gone.

The next big thing was link building. Get as many links from other websites to your website as possible. The theory has long been that if Google sees lots of links on other websites that point to yours, then  your website must be worthwhile and should be raised up in the rankings. This theory has generated a mass market for link builders; some good (white hat) and many bad (black hat).

It has reached the point where there are so many poor quality ‘toxic’ websites out there that getting a link from them can now actually damage your website rankings; and this is more common than you might suppose.

The problem for these sites is that once they’ve been penalised by Google, there’s no coming back from it. This is because it’s nigh on impossible to get bad quality links removed from blacklisted, poor quality websites. Bing brought a ‘disavow’ tool into play first, meaning that a list of toxic links can be submitted to the search engine so that they can remove them from their determination of how your website should be ranked.

The news that the Google has brought this party to town is potentially huge – depending on how they act on it.

Is it a trap?

And then of course there’s always the possibility that Google have created this tool in order to entrap black hat SEOs via their Webmaster Tools account. If someone submits a bunch of bad links they they (presumably) have been responsible for, Google will then know (by looking at the list of websites in the account) what other websites to consider for a penalty.

It reminds me of a story I heard about the entrapment of a group of graffiti artists. An advert was put in the paper inviting local graffiti artists to meet up in order to demonstrate their artwork. Lots of people arrived and they were all encouraged to sketch their ‘tags’ to demonstrate their style. In doing this they confirmed their identity and thus the source of all the graffiti in the neighbourhood. They were arrested and charged.

I like to think that Google wouldn’t be this devious…

PDF2DTP Review for InDesign and Quark Plugins

October 4, 2012

For those designers amongst you who (like me) have wrestled once too often with unwieldy PDF files in an attempt to extract text and images in order to recreate long since vanished source file layouts… there is finally light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

The chaps at Markzware and only been and gone and done it – they’ve finally developed a plugin for InDesign as well as Quark that can efficiently and amazingly accurately convert a PDF file to an actual laid out document.
Convert PDF to InDesign

In true Markzware tradition, the plugin has been named as an acronym – this time, PDF2DTP – no prizes for guessing how they came up with that one. Once installed, a new Markzware menu will appear in InDesign (or Quark XPress if that’s your particular brand of coffee) and enable you to import a PDF file.

This won’t place the PDF into an InDesign/Quark document – it’s much cleverer than that. It’ll create an InDesign/Quark file, extract and save all the images (which are automatically linked to your new document) and place everything exactly where it belongs. Layout problems solved.

This should save designers a lot of time when recreating PDF layouts, and by extension billable hours will be reduced which should make clients very happy!

We’ve put a new PDF2DTP review together on our training website for those who would like a more in-depth examination of the process and results. There are three articles – the PDF2DTP Review introduction, one called Convert PDF to InDesign and one called Convert PDF to Quark.

How to make a child DIV the same height as its parent DIV

September 21, 2012

This one is strictly for designer geeks! Every time I come across this problem I have to scour the internet to find an answer. Having found it once again, I am now inserting it into my blog to ensure that I don’t lose it again!

If you want to make a child DIV box appear to be 100% of the height of its parent (without having to fill it with content), here is the CSS code that will achieve the desired result:

.parent {
overflow: hidden;
position: relative;

.child {
height: 100%;
position: absolute;


Mac Pro overheats just at the wrong time…

September 10, 2012

August. Always the hottest and busiest month of the year. For us, all the boat shows are approaching, so many of our marine clients come up trumps with lots of lovely design work for us.

Just the moment when you don’t want your primary workhorse computer to start displaying death throes.

I wrote this post as a reply to a similarly distressed designer on the Apple forums, but I though that others might have had the same experience – so I’ve put it here as well in the hope it might help. My machine is behaving itself now, by the way…

Original query:

Unexplained (Mac Pro) Powering Down

Symptoms: I have been experiencing random shutdowns / power-downs where the machine will simply turn off instantly and then restart 10 seconds later. this has happened about 15 times over the last month.

I had this exact problem which I managed to resolve the problem using two software utilities.

I’d be working away and (usually around mid-afternoon) my Mac Pro would unexpectedly just turn itself off as if there was a power-cut. Then it would restart itself and be OK for a while.

My first thought was that it might be related to the graphics card; it has eaten one before and the problem seemed to be worse when more than one monitor was attached. I called a local computer guy who has helped me with the Mac Pro before – and he suggested that it might be the power supply at fault. The problem here is that you could start throwing money at replacing parts, whilst not really knowing whether or not it’s going to fix the issue.

The other thing it was suggested that it might be was that it was overheating. This seemed to be a reasonable theory, as the studio is warm and the power-downs seem to occur late in the day.

So the first thing I did was a search on Google for Mac Pro temperatures. The first utility I found was Hardware Monitor (shareware).

This shows the current temperature of every component that has a sensor in the computer. The hottest thing in my list was the Northbridge Heat Sink which was getting up to 88°C (190°F). A small amount of research made it clear that this was a bad thing… if the heat sink was this hot, how hot must the chip have been? The Northbridge Chip ships with a thermal paste applied. Over time, this can literally ‘bake’ off, resulting in hotter operating temperatures. If it gets too hot, the computer powers off.

This also explains why the internal fans weren’t kicking in sooner – they’re set at a lower idling RPM which eventually just isn’t enough to prevent the overheating.

Enter utilty 2 – Fan Control (freeware).

Once installed, this utility is accessed via the System Preference pane.

I downloaded and installed this (while the Northbridge Heat Sink temperature was topping 88°C again) and the fans instantly kicked in – in a big way. They brought the sink temperature down to about 45 / 50°C. I set the minimum fan RPM to 1000 and the upper and lower thresholds to between 40°C and 70°C.

By this time I was down to one small monitor, and after a couple of days of no problems, I put my 30″ cinema display and additional 19″ monitor back on – and waited. That was 10 days ago and the problem has vanished – and as far as I’m concerned, solved.