macOS: SystemUIServer eating your CPU? Check your Ethernet connection!

Recently, the SystemUIServer process on my MBP running macOS Sierra has started “eating” a lot of CPU, slowing down the whole machine, even making the clock in the top menu bar stop working properly. It usually started using one-digit percentages of the available CPU power, then growing to 10%, 15%, 20%, up to well above 60%, sometimes even 80% and more! It wasn’t a steady growth – it sometimes shrank again, just to grow even further.

The only apparent remedy was to kill the SystemUIServer process (e.g. using the Activity Monitor) from time to time (i.e. every 30 minutes -> there are also scripts to automatically restart SystemUIServer). Its CPU usage then reset to a low one-digit number.

Taking a closer look at the process in the Activity Monitor, I then noticed that the number of (used) ports (so-called “Mach ports“) by the process were steadily growing, once SystemUIServer was started. This was weird, pointing to some kind of leakage. Typically, for a CPU load of around 50%, more than 5000 Mach ports were used.

By coincidence, I then noticed that, unlike expected, my MBP wasn’t actually using Ethernet, but only WiFi. Further investigation then hinted that the according Gigabit Ethernet port on my HP 1810 switch was apparently malfunctioning (or even dead): In the macOS Network Preferences, the Thunderbolt-Ethernet connection was constantly shown as red/disconnected, although the OS was apparently trying to establish a connection again and again (and failed). First, I even suspected a problem with the Thunderbolt-Gigabit-Ethernet adapter itself (it wasn’t the problem here, the adapter seemed to work fine with another Mac and connection).

The solution to this problem thus was:

  • Connect the Ethernet cable to another, working Ethernet port: Now the SystemUIServer process consumes less than 0.1% CPU again and roughly 400 ports only, both with and without additional WiFi.
    Note that both the problem and this solution are reproducible.

Lessons learned:

  • Sometimes, very unexpected, seemingly unrelated and “small” problems can have big (negative) effects.
  • Sometimes you need a bit of luck to find the cause of a problem (a web search didn’t bring up the above hint, rather suggested updating or removing faulty apps, buggy extensions and menu widgets. I thus already tried removing or updating some of the suspected apps, extensions and widgets.)
  • Ports of HP 1810 switches can actually break/fail! Remember the saying: “I got 99 problems, but a switch ain’t one!” – well, in this case, the faulty switch was actually part of the problem and even the initial trigger of the problem! Also remember that HP offers a lifelong warranty on its (good ol’) 1810 switches.
  • Extra points for you, further research: The fact that the SystemUIServer allocates more and more Mach ports if there’s a malfunctioning Ethernet port (i.e. faulty Ethernet connection or faulty handling of a faulty Ethernet connection by the Thunderbolt-Gigabit-Ethernet adapter) is hinting that this might be an attack vector for a (new?) DoS attack. Perhaps not an easily exploitable one (on the Ethernet or MAC layer, even), but it’s nonetheless something that should actually be handled gracefully by SystemUIServer, not leading to more and more CPU and system resources being consumed.
    If you have time to research this further, let me know about your findings!

Using multiple Skype accounts on macOS

With the recent changes in Skype, the “traditional” method of running several Skype instances using different system users doesn’t work anymore (as the the new authentication dialog strangely doesn’t get the focus anymore).

So, in order to use several Skype accounts on macOS (formerly known as Mac OS X), do the following:

  1. Open the Script Editor (in the ‘Utilities’ folder in the ‘Applications’ folder)
  2. Create a new script with the following content:
    do shell script "open -na /Applications/Skype.app/Contents/MacOS/Skype --args -DataPath '/Users/your_system_user/Library/Application Support/Skype_any_identifier'"

    Replace your_system_user by your regular macOS user account (see ‘whoami’ in Terminal)
    Replace _any_identifier by the according Skype account name, e.g. _myskypename (doesn’t really matter what, just don’t use an empty string)
    Please mind the double quotes and single quotes (important!)

  3. Save the script as an application: File.. Save.., choose “Application” as file format, give it a name and store it e.g. in your home directory or in the Applications folder

Repeat these steps for any of your Skype accounts, giving each Skype account a different Skype_any_identifier. You can then start the according Skype instances by double clicking on the according app.

Explanation:

The above script starts a new instance of Skype (which would otherwise be prevented), using the -n argument. Each instance of Skype gets its own directory to store the according account data, using the -DataPath argument.

Karabiner: Use PC-style Home/End keys on Mac OS X

Karabiner allows to customize almost any aspect of the keymap on Mac OS X in a convenient way:

Karabiner – A powerful and stable keyboard customizer for OS X. (formerly known as KeyRemap4MacBook)

For example, you can make the “Home” and “End” keys behave like on a PC. Regarding these two keys, I find the PC style behaviour more intuitive, e.g. using shift-home and shift-end to select text, rather than using the tricky three-finger-combinations shift-cmd-left_cursor and shift-cmd-right_cursor in Mac OS X.

Here’s how to configure this in Karabiner:

karabiner_use_pc_style_home_and_end_keys

 

Further, I decided to lower the “Key Repeat Delay Until Repeat” to 100 ms and the “Key Repeat” to 23 ms for quicker navigation and repetitive typing.

Of course, there are many other useful tweaks to explore.

Mac OS X tools: FinderPath and HyperDock

On hacker news (i.e the better alternative interface http://hckrnews.com), I stumbled over two nice helper apps for Mac OS X:

FinderPath (free) shows the full path in the title bar of a Finder window upon double-clicking it. Like that, the full path can be selected and copied to the clipboard or one can simply edit the path and hereby easily navigate through the filesystem trees. It’s quite a time saver!

HyperDock (9.95 USD) displays thumbnail screenshots of all windows of the running apps in the Dock when hovering over them, making it easier and quicker to switch to other windows or to close them (the latter being a feature still missing in Mission Control). It also supports several other cool features, like Window Snapping.

Wi-Fi troubles with a B&W Zeppelin Air and AirPort Extreme/AirPort Time Capsule?

Recently, my B&W Zeppelin Air speakers have started to show a weird problem: I managed to stream music via AirPlay to them, but they would only play the music for a few seconds, then stop for a seemingly random amount of time, then play the music for a second or so again, then stop again, and so on. A lengthy stuttering, so to say.

Turns out, the reason for these troubles was that I set the AirPort Time Capsule’s main SSID wireless security to “WPA2 Personal” and the guest SSID’s wireless security to “WPA/WPA2 Personal”. Now I’ve set them both to “WPA/WPA2 Personal” and the Zeppelin Air works great again! Streaming also works fine if both “networks” are set to “WPA2 Personal” (which is a somewhat safer setting than WPA/WPA2 mixed mode, some old Wi-Fi cards might not work anymore, however).

I can’t quite explain this, based on the observed symptoms (one would expect things to either work or not work, but not half-way). It seems the AirPort Extreme/Time Capsule has troubles using different wireless security protocols for the main network and the guest network. This might also partly explain the generally shaky Wi-Fi connectivity I’ve experienced since upgrading my Macs to Yosemite – the random Wi-Fi connectivity drops even kept occurring in 10.10.2. I’ll keep an eye on it.

 

How to repair a Logitech Laser Mouse G9x/G9 with a shorted cable

Recently, my beloved Logitech Laser Mouse G9x showed signs of a broken, i.e. shorted cable. This is a well-known problem with these mice – I had a Laser Mouse G9 before and it suffered from the same problem, and the forums are full of similar reports. It’s also well-known however, that the G9/G9x is one of the best and most wanted fingertip grip mice apart from its cabling weakness (and if you use a mouse for 14+ hours daily or if you’re a pro gamer, you won’t ever want to use any other grip (video)).

Unfortunately, Logitech doesn’t produce the G9/G9x model anymore – though they probably could have easily fixed this weakness in the next revision and even improved some other aspects, like reducing the mouse’s weight. One thus has to find a dealer that still has some G9/G9x mice on stock (and accept a high “connoisseur’s” price, these mice usually sell for around 250 USD – mind fakes!) or go with a not quite equivalent, but similar Alienware TactX mouse (which is based on the G9/G9x and produced by Logitech). Alternatively, one can try soldering and fixing the shorted cable or order a spare cable from China, which are both better options than throwing away an otherwise still working mouse.

I decided to order a replacement cable including mouse feet at LittleWStore through Aliexpress for roughly 15 USD including shipping (it arrived within 2 weeks, earlier than the 4 to 5 weeks I expected to wait).

Unsurprisingly, there’s already a nice and informative YouTube video showing how to disassemble a Logitech Laser Mouse G9x, replace the cable and even how to repair a shorted cable (thanks to MrLiquidArrogance for the video – otherwise, I would have had to upload a video myself):

This allows me to only emphasize those points that deserve special attention:

  • Be aware that this repair requires advanced manual skill due to the somewhat unfortunate cabling inside the mouse and the not very maintenance-friendly attachment of the flex flat cable.
  • I’d strongly recommend ordering new replacement mouse feet as it’s almost impossible to remove the feet without tearing them, particularly if you’ve used the mouse for some years already. To remove the remaining glue, I used ethanol, but something hydrophobic (e.g. straight-run gasoline) might actually work better [Warning: Disconnect your mouse before doing this!].
  • I used my Victorinox CyberTool 34’s (video) phillips screwdrivers and it worked fine, but if you have thinner screwdrivers at hand, use those, as some of the smaller screws are a bit difficult to reach.
  • The most tricky thing to reassemble, in my view, is the mouse cable inside the mouse, which is laid out and bent in quite an odd (and scary) way. It’s also the reason why most of the G9x/G9 suffer from a shorted cable sooner or later. You have to bend and route the bundled wires in a way that they neither cover the hole for the screw in the bottom shell, nor the according plastic nut in the upper shell. This puts a lot of stress on the inner mouse cable and requires quite some manual force.
  • Other not so easy things:
    • Detaching the flex flat cable/ribbon (for the LEDs in the upper shell) without popping off the little latch (using a flathead screwdriver works though)
    • Putting the rubber grommet in place again (you need to apply quite some force and the grommet doesn’t really fit very well anyway)

For now, I’ve just quickly replaced the whole cable with a new one, but I will try fixing the old, damaged cable with my new Ersa i-CON1 digital solder station when I find time for it.

What I particularly like about the Logitech Laser Mouse G9x:

  • Its perfect geometry for finger tip grip users
  • Good quality of plastics, springs, buttons, wheel, laser sensor
  • Moderate weight (extra weights removed) as compared to the Mad Catz R.A.T. 7 (extra weights removed) – it’s still quite heavy though compared to other mice, this could be improved (if you intend to lift your mouse often, this is the wrong mouse)
  • Removable shells
  • “Hyper-fast scrolling” (this almost seems like a USP of Logitech – I like this feature a lot!)
  • Good, stable drivers
  • Has well-placed back and forward buttons with clearly defined clicking points
  • It’s a wired mouse, there’s thus no need to replace batteries, no risk of running out of battery in the worst possible moment, no added weight, no lag.

Alternatives might be:

Mad Catz R.A.T. 7:

– heavier

– no hyper-fast scrolling (I really miss that)

– less ergonomic forward and backward buttons

– terrible, totally unusable Mad Catz drivers (works well on Mac OS X though using the SteerMouse driver version 4.2.3 and newer – I tested a beta version of it – thanks, Yoshi!)

+ super customizable and adjustable geometry

+ handy precision-aim button (can also be programmed to show Mission Control or the desktop, for example)

+ handy horizontal thumb scroll wheel

Mad Catz R.A.T. 5:

If you can do with fewer or without customization options, the R.A.T. 5 or 3 will likely suit your needs as a fingertip grip user more as they’re lighter and smaller.

If you don’t care about (supposedly) durable, high-quality material, some of the other Mad Catz mice might be good alternatives too (e.g. the hard-plastic mice are generally lighter than those incorporating steel and/or aluminium)

Mad Catz R.A.T. Prox

This pro gamer mouse looks very exciting and promising for fingertip grip users – it looks like the perfect mouse to have, also for non-gamers with that grip. I really hope Mad Catz will dramatically improve their drivers though, as terribly bad drivers is currently their biggest weakness.

Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0

Many people, particularly gamers, still like this mouse a lot, despite its age. It has a nice geometry and is light-weight (best for palm grips, but suitable for fingertip grip users with big hands too). I once had and used this mouse too (also its predecessor) and liked it a lot. The sensor is quite outdated (but liked by some gamers for its 400 dpi resolution) and used to prematurely die from one day to another. Nonetheless it was the last good mouse produced under the Microsoft brand.

Luckily, you can still find the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 on Amazon.

[Edit 20150201: Fixed some typos, clarified some things, added a warning]