Sunday, November 27, 2011

November Update

News & Such

Beware of a phishy Xmas e-card making the rounds of emails, ostensibly from If you open the web link, it tells you need a FLV plug-in to see the video. Wait a moment and you may get a message that an applet is requesting access to your computer.

Don't even click the link. I have all the Safari blocks turned on, and LittleSnitch to prevent outgoing messages that would otherwise be invisible. My spam filter identified it; yours should too, but don't be taken in. No idea what it does, but it can't be good.

Mac Power Users podcast

I have been listening to this regular podcast for a couple of years now. It is created in the form of a friendly conversation about various Mac subjects, with guests discussing their own personal workflows and favorite tricks. Links to topics mentioned on the show are at their site. The show isn't for people who are already power users, although we can all learn new stuff from it; it is designed to help you become a power user. Go to the site to hear past episodes, read hints and tips, and to subscribe to it through iTunes. No charge; it comes out weekly. Past issues are downloadable through iTunes. This is a good one; you'll be glad you did.


Get 'em while they're hot - all have been out over a week and none have been shown to cause serious damage. Software Updates to Security, Java, iTunes, Safari, RAW Camera compatibility and many application-specific updates, including new drivers for your printer.

These printer updates are here because most major manufacturers have handed over the update process to Apple so they can feed through Software Update. This has not proved troublesome, except where the companies have been sluggish about posting downloadable files for people who need to reinstall their printer drivers on a freshly initialized drive.

How To Repair Permissions

As always, before and after running Software Update you should run DiskUtility and have it Repair Permissions and Verify Disk. For those who have forgotten, this is the procedure.

1) Open your Utilities folder, inside the Applications folder.
2) Locate Disk Utility. Double-click to launch.
3) When the program loads, the main part of the window will tell you to select a disk or volume from the list on the left.
4) Choose Macintosh HD (unless you have renamed your drive something else).
5) Notice the main part of the window change. You are now in the Disk First Aid part of the program. At the bottom you will see four buttons. On the left, Verify Disk Permissions and Repair Disk Permissions.

Depending on the version of the MacOS you are running the wording may be slightly different. At the bottom right will be Verify Disk, and Repair Disk, which will be greyed out. (Under Tiger, both Verify and Repair are greyed out.)

6) Click Verify Disk. When it finishes, it should say "The disk appears to be OK." Then click Repair Disk Permissions. Forget about the Verify button above it. This could take between 2 and 10 minutes. You will see a very inaccurate progress monitor and time-remaining estimate on the right.
7) When it finishes the progress monitor will go away and you can quit the program.

In the past I have had people stop at certain versions of their OS because of trouble with the update. My wait-a-week rule has been a good thing because the last update of Snow Leopard, 10.6.8, was one of those that broke things. Within a week Apple had updated it to 10.6.8 v1.1 and released a new updater. They also released a 1.1 update to fix things for those who had installed the troublesome version of 10.6.8. If you are still at 10.6.7, there is no compelling reason to run 10.6.8 as it did little to change things.

Lion is at 10.7.2 and it is still growing. Because 10.7 was such a radical change, it brought radical issues to many users, even though most people went through it okay. I believe anyone running Lion should make sure they are at the latest version.

Tiger and Leopard are stopped at 10.4.11 and 10.5.8, respectively. There are no known plans for further point updates to those versions, especially Tiger, which is now officially abandoned. Apple's rule is to support two system versions behind the current one, which is why you can use the latest Safari and iTunes with Leopard and Snow Leopard.

(PowerPC Macs, G4 and G5, end their lives at Leopard 10.5.8 and can go no further.) The reason to keep these older Macs around is to run software that does not run on newer Macs. A lot more people (including me) are doing just that.

AOL Desktop Glitch

Not many people are still using the AOL Desktop program any more, but there are still some. I ran across a bug in the application I have not been able to fix. I would love to hear from other people using it who experience the same problem.

Normally the Return and the Enter keys do the same thing: Issue a new paragraph command or click a highlighted window button. When typing in a word editor, whether email, Word, TextEdit or anything else, neither key should do anything but end a paragraph. However, in AOL's email composer, hitting the Enter key issues a Send command! If you accidentally brush that key, easy to do when typing, your mail is gone. This is a major bug and should be something you can enable or disable in a preference. I've asked on an AOL forum page about this, and all I found was a three-year-old post from someone asking how to re-enable that feature of the Enter key! It seems in the previous version of AOL Desktop they took that out and this user was unhappy.

I think it's a bug, a design error, a mistake. Hitting Enter should never just send off a message, without at least giving you an "Are you sure..." dropdown dialog that would let you cancel the send.

There are no support personnel at AOL any more, either for live chat or telephone talk. It's understandable since they had to make the service free to even stay alive at all. But it would sure be nice to have SOMEONE at the company who can receive and respond to issues.

But I can understand why there isn't. Recently the tech news announced that top executives were leaving AOL-owned companies in droves (well, small ones, anyway) and I can understand why. I've seen "The Walking Dead"; it's probably not a safe place to be right now.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October Update

Lots of things have happened since my last update. Time to catch you all up. This is for users of Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and Lion.

Hard drive prices to soar

A recent typhoon in Thailand destroyed four hard drive plants. This has already raised prices by $20 or $30; by the end of the year they may simply be hard to find at all. If you are thinking of getting a backup drive or upgrading your internal drive, I recommend you hop on this NOW.


It’s almost over. Apple supports two systems into the past, and now that Lion is established, that means Leopard is all that will receive updates from Apple. This doesn’t mean you have to leave Tiger if everything still works for you, but it does mean that some web sites will not work with the newest possible version of Safari (4.1.2). If yours is older than that, it is okay to update Safari now. The .2 version fixes all the bugs and screwups that were introduced in version 4.1. But you will still be excluded from some of the latest places. You can still run Chrome or Firefox, though. Other updates you should get, if they are offered, are Security and Java updates.

G-Macs with the PowerPC chip can move a little closer into the present with an officially hacked version of Firefox called TenFourFox. Google it, and download the version designed for your chip (G4, G5).

You can’t sync the new iPhone or iPad because iTunes needs to be the latest version (10.5) to sync to the Mac. Minimum requirement is Leopard 10.5.8. However, the iPhone 4S can work without linking to a Mac at all and just stand alone. Its version of Mail can access your ISP directly, has its own Safari and can buy from the iTunes App Store. It can back itself up through iCloud. You have to maintain your address book within the phone. When you do upgrade your MacOS or get a new one, you can then sync things up.


Still supported with current updates to Safari 5. The current version is 5.1, which is for 10.5, 10.6 and 10.7. You can use the latest version of Firefox and Chrome as well. Be sure to get the latest security updates, and it’s also okay to get the current version of QuickTime and iTunes. At the moment, if you are on 10.5.8 there are no problematic updates out there. Leopard is the end of the line for G-Macs.

Snow Leopard 10.6

Just a few printer updates plus iTunes 10.5. The current version is 10.6.8, which is a version updated two weeks after the first one came out, to fix some bugs in that release. This is why I always say to wait a week or two before installing updates. I had not had any problems myself, but the blogs were full of complaints, later resolved by the 10.6.8 v1.1 update. Now that is included in the normal 10.6.8 update. Check with Software Update and see if there is a Supplemental Update; if so, get it.


Current version is 10.7.2. If you are running Lion you need this update. Lion was the most troublesome upgrade we have seen in some time. It’s been working pretty well for me, but I don’t really push my Mac very hard. The MacFixIt blog is full of comments and complaints, and reports of icon placement bugs that were fixed in the update, others claiming still weird.

Safari 5.1 had a text-rendering problem that has been fixed in the 5.1.1 update. Otherwise the new Safari has been fine. You must update 1Password to work with it, however.

I am still searching for alternatives to the apps I lost in the move to Lion. At MacCamp earlier, two classes focused on Lion and one on alternatives to Quicken. I will be very happy to leave the Intuit company behind for good, because they have always been hostile to Mac users and put less effort into their products. One pro-Mac company is IGG Software, publishers of iBank, which is Mac-only and also makes a version for iOS. I will be reporting on how well it works after I have tried it out for a while. It comes with a free trial period so you don’t have to buy it until you know it works for you. It can import Quicken files directly from the exported .qif format, supported in Quicken 2007 or earlier. Quicken Stripped to Worthlessness, aka Quicken Essentials, doesn’t even do this kind of export so avoid it at all costs, even if it is Lion compatible.


Speaking of 1Password, although it has a complex learning curve, I recommend it as the solution to the multiple-password problem so many Mackers have. You create a simple but difficult-to-guess passphrase and it creates almost-uncrackable passwords for all your web sites. It saves them in a format that you can look up whenever you need to see them, but it does the login for you whenever you go to a password-requiring site. You can also store your bank info in it, and your personal form data so when you find a site where you want to fill in your name, address, phone and other info, it will do it for you in one click. Used in tandem with the free Dropbox to archive and protect your 1Password data file, you can eliminate all worry about losing passwords again.

I like to keep a human-readable text file stored in its Secure Notes section so I can just open the program and read the info whenever I need to say my credit card info on the phone, or otherwise use a password in a non-Web browser context. Dropbox can also copy that file to your iPhone or iPad, and there is a version of 1Password for the phone as well.


Some people report failure to install this update to their phone or pad. My iPhone 4 had no problems with the update, and I like the new features it brings. I’m in no hurry to get the 4S, although it would be fun to play with the Siri feature. One thing I like a lot about the update is the fact that the camera shutter can now be triggered by pressing on the sound-up button on the side, making the phone work more like a real camera. Very convenient. Auto-correct is still a good source of mirth and frustration, which makes really bizarre and incorrect assumptions about what you want to type. I turned mine off immediately in Settings.

To experience some of the fun others have had, visit the Auto-cowrecks section of FailBlog.


Part of Lion 10.7.2 and iOS5, this replacement for MobileMe automatically stores desired files on Apple’s servers (what marketers call “the cloud”) and syncs contacts and bookmarks, among other things, between your Mac and your iOS device. Although I am using it now, I have not really experienced it because I have not had to recover any files from it. It is nice to have my Apple Address Book info always updated in my iphone without having to wait for a manual sync through iTunes. There is talk of bringing iCloud to Snow Leopard through a 10.6.9 update, but that has not happened yet. MobileMe will go dark next June, so if you are using it, start planning your migration away from it now. iWeb has been discontinued, and any photos or other web pages you have created on MobileMe should be moved over to Flickr or some other photo-hosting service.

Byword; Mac Power Users

This post was composed in a new $9.99 word-processing program designed for writers who are sick of Microsoft Word and find OpenOffice too complex for just plain old writing. Another, more expensive, program called Scrivner has a lot of fans too. Byword supports the Markdown format of coding pages, which is a much simpler way to create coding for blogs, or html for your web site. Markdown is a world of its own and I must learn more about it, which I am starting to do with this app. Once the page is composed, it can be exported to the Clipboard in HTML, ready to be pasted into your blog-site composition window.

I learned about this on the podcast MacPowerUsers, which you can subscribe to through iTunes. It’s not just for power users; it’s to help all Mac users become power users. I recommend everyone subscribe to this and listen. Each episode discusses a specific topic - the last one was about a writer's workflow and his favorite writing applications. There is always something to be learned in the discussion-format program; you will want to keep a pen handy. The show notes, with links, are on the site, where you can play any episode of the show.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

SuperDuper Super Oops

This is a case of SuperDuper out of control. I was investigating problems with a MacPro that had too much stuff on the hard drive. I launched Grand Perspective, a great app that gives a colored graphical representation of what files are on the drive and how big they are.

I noticed a large section filled with files that started with the path name of the backup drive. Now, normally Grand Perspective only shows the drive you ask it to inspect. I should not have been seeing what I was seeing. Tracing the path, it seemed that it started in the Volumes folder, an invisible folder on all OSX drives.

I made it visible using the widget "Hidden Files" and opened it up. This folder normally contains only aliases to drives plugged into the Mac, including the internal drive(s).

There was no alias for the backup drive. Instead there was a folder with the name of that drive and a second folder named the same but with a 1 at the end.

Switching over to SuperDuper and looking at the Schedule window I found five separate schedules, 15 minutes apart, two of which were in red. The backup was failing every time and I could not select the proper backup drive in its main window.

Somehow two of the schedules had pointed themselves into this Volumes folder and was dutifully backing up the internal drive onto itself in this invisible folder. The real folder had replaced the alias that should have been in Volumes and almost 400 gigs of files had filled it up.

Okay, delete. The first thing I discovered is you can't just delete from the Volumes folder. I would get a -8002 error if I even tried moving it to the Trash. Not knowing the technique to delete things in Terminal, I decided to enable Root and logged in as that. But the folder was invisible again. I tried installing the Hidden Files widget but it would fail to install! This was getting rather frustrating.

Okay, maybe it will work if I restart from my repair drive and log THAT into root and maybe it would let me install the widget there. I normally have Show Hidden Files always enabled when running from that drive so I thought, what the hell, I will try to delete those folders from here.

Surprise. It let me Trash those folders and then option-Empty Trash worked! I deleted both folders, one at a time, after ensuring that there was a successful TimeMachine backup in case my doing this destroyed the rest of the data on his drive. Not only did he have one, but Time Machine does not make copies of those invisible folders so I could have restored without also restoring the problem.

It takes a while to delete 385,000 files, even on a Pro. But when done, I ran Disk Warrior on the Pro's drive, which said it was okay. I restarted and not only did it boot just fine, with the almost 400 gigs of free space restored, but the Volumes folder now had a proper alias of the backup drive right where it belonged.

I created a new SuperDuper schedule and ran the backup and it went perfectly, with no failures.

The lesson for the reader here is that SuperDuper has a glitch that can get you in trouble.

Normally, when you set up the program, you click the Schedule button (after first defining the backup you want as a Smart Backup, not an Erase and Copy) and the window appears, followed immediately by a drop-down window that lets you pick the days and the time for the backup to run. This is how it should work, but the problem is after you create a schedule, the next time you click that button you get the same drop-down. What you must do there is click Cancel, then highlight the schedule script in the window and click Edit to make changes. If you just choose settings in the drop-down, it creates a second (third, fourth and so on) schedule, fifteen minutes later than the last (if you don't specify the time).

These extra schedules caused the problem, two of them having decided to install themselves in the Volumes folder. Then the schedules interfered with each other and the whole thing failed. So be careful when editing your schedule! It is okay to have multiple schedules, especially if you have a second drive with original material on it and you want SuperDuper to clone that drive to another backup drive (or second partition on your main backup drive).

There is a detailed PDF under SuperDuper's Help menu that tells you how to do all this and explains all the features, with pictures and descriptions. But how many users Read That Fine Manual?

Hint: I didn't read it either. I learned through trial and error.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lion Part 3, Updates, iTunes Story

10.7.1 is out

If you are one of the few who upgraded to Lion 10.7, Apple just issued the first, much-needed, update. It consists of the usual round of bug fixes and no visible changes. I installed it immediately, did the usual repair-permissions thing, and am using it now.

It hasn't been made any more compatible with PPC applications, and it never will. So I must continue using my dual MBAir/MacMini system so I can keep using Quicken, Eudora, Word 2008 and all the other stuff that Lion won't run.

Lion Experiences, Part 3

But living with 10.7 for almost a month now has gotten me used to the new features. Last week's PMUG meeting taught me more about the system than three weeks of dinking around did, and I find I like it more. The new backwards scrolling feels more natural now and it's harder to switch back. I am also enjoying the new Mission Control feature that replaced Spaces, and the full-screen feature that I am using with Screen Sharing. In fact, Screen Sharing works so well now I could probably reduce using my KVM switch to move between systems. I still get bitten by forgetting to eject the USB drive before hitting the switch, which has the same result as unplugging without ejecting. I just wish the USB part of the KVM switch worked. It was the last hole in the system.

Setting the Shared Screen to the Mini while running under Lion gives me the best of both worlds. It feels just like I am running Eudora in Lion. Yes, I understand that Eudora is a shambling zombie, shedding limbs as it stumbles around the abandoned city seeking brains, but I have not found a program I like more. Price of being old, I guess.

I Now Take Plastic

Got an iPhone? Run a small business? If you never contracted with Visa/MC to take plastic before due to hassle and expense, there is a real alternative with Square. Visit the iTunes Store and hunt down the Square app. You download a small program to the phone, then go to their web site to register an account and tell them which bank they should transfer your money to, and then they mail you a little "square" device that plugs into the earphone jack on your phone. Open the app, plug in the Square, and you are ready to swipe a card. Its security is as good as any credit card system (faint praise, I know) but their service charge is half that of a normal Visa system. Fill out the customer's email address and the dollar amount and the transfer is immediate. An email receipt is sent to the customer, and after a couple of days, the amount, minus 2.5%, is transferred to your bank.

So if you ever want to charge my service call, remind me if I don't mention it.

Snow Leopard Update

As you may remember, I put the 10.6.8 update on the Don't Bother list. It didn't offer any advantages and did introduce serious bugs for a few people; enough to keep the Mac blogs hopping for weeks.

Someone at Apple was paying attention, because last week they issued an update to the update, 10.6.8 v1.1, which reportedly fixed a lot of the problems. So states the experience of people writing in. Me, I don't know because I stayed at 10.6.7 and will continue to do so.

In releasing the update, Apple also repaired the downloadable Combo Update without changing the name. If you were to go to Apple/Downloads and get it, the new version contains the fixes and Software Update would not offer the 1.1 updater after you installed it. About This Mac would still say 10.6.8.

If you ever do decide to go Lion, you can use 10.6.6 or later to get it from the App Store. When you do, the Lion installer will take you directly to 10.7.1. It couldn't hurt you to wait for 10.7.2, which is now being seeded to developers to test their own programs against. See it by September.

Leopard Updates

There are still updates issued for Leopard 10.5. The final version is 10.5.8 and that is required for the latest iTunes and a few other things, but if you don't need that and are using 10.5.7, stay put until you leave Leopard for good. There are security updates being issued and they are important now that there is actual Mac malware around. Do get those.

iTunes 10.4

It works. No bugs. I am pleasantly surprised. Usually the dot-zero version of any upgrade is problematic. Every Mac I have run it on has demonstrated normal behavior. Good job, iTunes team.

Speaking of iTunes

Most people use the Migration Assistant to move their data from an old Mac to a new one. Sometimes, when that isn't possible or desirable, I manually move the appropriate files, preferences, picture and movie files. That usually works out fine, but there is a problem with iTunes that has not been fixed since the first time I experienced it, three or four years ago.

iTunes is the only application that makes non-standard use of the green button. All other apps will toggle between full size and previous size whenever you click it. iTunes, however, switches between mini-player and normal window. The only way to change the size is to grab the lower right corner and manually resize it. But what do you do if the window is too big for the screen and you can't reach that corner because it's below the bottom? Nothing. You're stuck. This happens if you copy the iTunes Folder from Music on a big screen to a small one, like a MacBook. The program thinks it's still on the big screen and the bottom is down below the bottom, in unreachable-land.

The first time it happened, when I realized what it was doing, I went back to the older Mac, opened iTunes, and shrunk the window so it would fit the smaller screen. Then re-copied the whole folder over again. Well, that takes gigs and I thought there had to be a better way.

So I called Apple and although they had other reports of this problem on file, they had never issued a fix that their support people could tell you to do. Sure, you could throw out everything but your iTunes Music folder and then re-import, but you'd lose all your playlists. So Apple escalated me to a level-2 tech and they couldn't fix it either. They sure tried; tossing out and similar files, zapping the PRAM, Safe Booting, all for naught.

While waiting on hold I went back to the old Mac and did the window resize, and then copied everything in the iTunes folder except the actual music files, brought that over to replace the squirrely ones and then just put the music in its place. I launched iTunes, and presto, the new size was remembered and it fit the screen. So the answer was somewhere in that folder. I hoped it wasn't the iTunes Music Library.xml file because I thought that is where the playlists are stored. It turned out to be the iTunes Library.itl file because it was the only other one that seemed to have no other use.

This is important to know because maybe the old Mac no longer runs, although the drive, or a clone backup, is accessible so going back and resizing the window is impossible. I went home to my Mac and tried simply removing that file to see if that is all it would take. Nope, the bad news is the playlists, as well as the entire library index, are stored in that file and not in the iTunes Music Library.xml file as I had thought. Removing that one and not the other makes no apparent change to the iTunes window.

So the bottom line is everything important is stored in that .itl file. Remove it and the window opens to the default size for your screen, but your playlists are gone and the library is empty. Your only option at that point is to choose Add To Library... from the File menu and choose your iTunes Music folder so it can re-index all the music, apps and videos you have in there. Playlists are gone for good.

This is a rare bug because most people rely either on the Migration Assistant or physically copying files from their backup drive. Also, most people seldom move from a big screen to a smaller one. Another fix would be plugging in an external display that's big enough to show the large iTunes window and then resizing it. This bug also reappears if you have the window sized to fit your big display and then unplug it to view the laptop screen alone.

Every other window resizes itself when you do that, or resizes if you press the green button. Apple could fix this by moving the window-size information to the .plist file in Preferences. I hope they do that in the next update. If you know anyone on the iTunes development team, please forward this story to them.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lion Experiences, part 2

While I like some of the features, I do not like the changes to Spaces. It is now too easy to accidentally invoke a screen shift while difficult to drag items from one to another. I also find it increasingly obvious that this is not really ready for prime time and one should wait for 10.7.1, at the earliest. I am seriously thinking about blowing off Lion and returning to SNL myself. I discovered that now that I can no longer use Eudora, I really hate AppleMail.

Recently I had my first repair call for a Lion installation gone bad. Recovery from this is much worse than I imagined. First the warning:


Even a TimeMachine backup is not sufficient because full recovery from them is very difficult. You want to be able to boot off of your backup drive and clone it all back, killing Lion completely.

This client had broken all the rules. He left his startup items in place (System Preferences, Accounts, Login Items) instead of deleting them all. Each restart automatically launched incompatible apps, causing crashes. He did not do a Repair Disk and Repair Permissions with Disk Utility first.

He did this on his production Mac Pro, without a clone backup. All of this made his Mac's Murphy chip glow hot with excitement. If he had the clone, the chip might have let his installation succeed, but due to the other factors he would still have had problems. Without a clone it is impossible to return to Snow Leopard without erasing the drive before installation, and since TimeMachine had already run, all he could have recovered were his documents.

Lion installs an emergency recovery partition on your drive that contains a copy of Disk Utility and a minimal system. You access this by holding down the Option key at startup and choosing it from the icons that immediately appear. At the moment that is the ONLY repair program available; DiskWarrior will need an upgrade to work on a Lion system.

Oh, the icing on the turd: his drive was 98% full. You should never let a startup drive go beyond 80% because the rest of the space is needed by virtual memory for swapfiles, printing for temporary spool files, caches and the like. I was able to get him down to 92% full, which helped, and set him about clearing off the rest of the space hogs to an external drive. Then I had him go buy another drive for SuperDuper and get that running. I believe, but am not certain, that SuperDuper's latest version is compatible. (2.6.2 is not.)

Disaster story

Speaking of that Murphy chip, another client has suffered hard drive failure on a production iMac with NO backups. This is not repairable due to actual disk damage. I am able to rescue files with DiskWarrior, but that particular iMac does not use industry-standard drives (special heat sensor built onto the drive) so I could NOT keep the old one for later recovery (which I had started to do using DiskWarrior). To fix under warranty Apple wants the dead drive back immediately as an exchange or they want $340 cash for the new one. They give only 48 hours slack for the old drive to be returned. Mac shops do not keep extras of this drive in stock. Oh, and she had deadlines to meet. Those deadlines are now dead.

Most of you already know this and are doing it now, but for those of you who are not, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Would you feel badly if your Mac woke up dead and you lost every document on it, including your email, web bookmarks, Documents folder, iTunes music, etc.? Some people only use their Macs for Web browsing and email and keep the email on the server (Gmail, for instance) so they could lose their data without worry.

Do you use your Mac for production? Could you do without it for a week? With a clone backup you can boot from the clone and finish critical work before taking your Mac in for repair, or move it to a 2nd Mac, if you have one. That 2nd Mac would need to be able to boot from the same drive, impossible if your main Mac is Intel and the other one is PPC. You might have problems launching applications from the clone on the 2nd Mac if the registration is tied to the machine (Adobe is the killer here).

Do you have a lot of documents you do not want to lose, but can do without your Mac while it's being repaired? A TimeMachine backup is sufficient for you. A daily clone is much more convenient because a TimeMachine backup will still require you to reinstall your applications. If you have CS5 purchased as an upgrade from an earlier CS version, you will need the older disk, or at least the serial number, to install the upgrade. Can you find it?

The answer for all Mac user except the extremely casual user cited above is this: Go buy an external drive now. If you want to combine TM and Clone on the same drive, it should be a terabyte, partitioned into two volumes. Check your internal drive now - how much data is on it? Highlight it with a click and type Command-I. It will tell you the capacity of the disk, how much data is on it now, and space remaining. If you have a 500Gb or 1Tb internal drive but less than 100Gb full, a 500 will do you. The clone volume can be 200Gb with the other one serving TimeMachine, which does not delete older versions of documents and needs more space. Powered drives are usually 1Tb and are cheaper than unpowered portable 500 drives, but if you have a laptop and want to take your backup with you, the portable is better. Be aware that both could be stolen! Better to leave the backup drive at home or have ANOTHER cloned backup stored elsewhere. Hardcore paranoids rotate backup clones each week, keeping one in a safety deposit box.

It's your data. DriveSavers charges $1500 and up to recover a dead drive. How lucky do you feel?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Experience with Lion, part 1

Getting Ready for Lion

My original intention was to just forget about Lion for a few months, letting others do Apple's field testing for them. Then I realized I should go ahead and do it because I need to learn as much as possible, in preparation for those clients who will need help with it. But to give it a go, I had to do a lot of preparation.

A Twin System

The recommended way is to make a clone backup of your Snow Leopard (SNL) system so if things fall apart, one can just boot from the clone and copy it all back, wiping Lion off the map. This is always good, and I always run a clone (SuperDuper) backup in addition to my TimeMachine backup.

Since so many of my necessary programs die under Lion I decided I need to have a 10.6 system always around, which is easy to switch over to. Programs I lose under Lion include Eudora, AppleWorks, Word 2004 and Quicken 2006 (and 2007). The only Quicken that runs under Lion is Quicken Stripped Of Any Usefulness, aka "Quicken Essentials." Intuit doesn't care; they are in the business of helping Microsoft sell as many computers as possible and they couldn't care less about their Mac clients.

I already have a keyboard, mouse and 24" Asus display. I also have a MacMini that serves the TV set. So I bought an IOGear KVM switch (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) that supported DVI plugs, which both Macs do, with an adapter. Price: $99. So off to Frys I go.

This one also has sound ports, so I can, with a single button press, switch screens, sound output and USB devices. That's the idea, anyway. Setting it up I learned that while the video and sound switches flawlessly, the USB would not switch. I called the company to find out why, and the tech, who didn't really seem to know much, told me that their device did not support USB hubs, powered or otherwise, contrary to the page in the manual which shows how to set it up. He even tried to convince me that the mouse had to go in the mouse-marked port and the keyboard in the KB port.

With a lot of trial and error I finally managed to plug the keyboard in and get that switching, and then got the mouse to work plugged into the keyboard. Since the Air has only two USB ports I did not want to use them both to feed the KVM switch because I could get the hub to work by manually switching the plug between the two Macs when I wanted to print something or run the backup drives.

So I almost got what I want and it works well enough to use. That is good because KVM switches that have DVI are uncommon; most of them are VGA, which costs a quarter of what the DVI one cost. Projectors, the most common market use for KVMs are perfectly happy with VGA output since they are not capable of high resolution images.

Downloading Lion

It was the first day, so there was no other way but to buy and download it from the App Store. It took almost 10 hours because my house is located in 2001 where the best DSL signal I can get is 1.5 Mbps. One mile north and I am in 2011 with 20Mbps. I could, of course, hand over 33% of my soul to Concast and get a good signal from them, but I'd rather have my eyes sucked out by lampreys. (Using Concast's TV costs another 33% of your soul, with the final third going for their phone service. You are allowed to keep 1% of your soul for other purposes.)

Anywhilst, late that evening I had the Lion installer on the drive of my MacBook Air, so I quit everything and started it up. I violated several of the rules I and other techs insist on, just to see what would happen. I did not remove my startup items from Account Preferences, and did not repair permissions first. I had already run Disk Warrior so I knew the Air's "disk" was okay. Installation took just 20 minutes.

By the way, Apple claims that you need 10.6.8 in order to get Lion from the App Store. That is not true. You can do it with 10.6.6 or 10.6.7. All that is necessary is that you be able to access the App Store, which was introduced with the 10.6.6 update. People on Leopard 10.5 will not be able to get Lion until Apple makes it available on a Flash drive, rumored to be out in August some time.

Using Lion

I was pleased to learn that a lot of my most important utilities (Dropbox, SMC FanControl, Little Snitch, You Control) worked fine. I did have to give up Remember, which popped up reminder messages when configured to. The one that comes with iCal does not work as well.

The other issue I had trouble with was actually on the SNL Mini. I could not get screen or file sharing to work, even though both Macs were on the Internet and all the IP addresses were correct. I called AppleCare, and after an escalation to a network specialist, we found the problem was actually incorrect preferences in Network. There were two AirPorts, one of which had an Ethernet icon. She had me clear them all away and create new ones, one for Ethernet connection and one for AirPort.

That fixed it. Screen sharing works perfectly now.

For those of you who have never used it, screen sharing allows me to display the screen from one Mac on another, and operate it remotely. (I wish that worked well enough over the internet that I could use it with my clients!) But since I now have a laptop that will not run the primary programs I have on the Mini, Screen Sharing means I don't have to go to the desk and run the Mini to enter something in Quicken or read/write mail in Eudora. This was the last barrier to using Lion full time.

I can always use Safari to access my email when on the Air, which is what I do anyway when I am away from my Mac but have access to another one.

The differences in how Lion works compared to SNL are pretty interesting. Scrolling with fingers on the trackpad or using the arrows (or the Magic Mouse) are backwards. Instead of dragging in the direction you want the scroll bar to go, you instead drag in the direction you want the page to move. It's more intuitive once you get used to it. Scroll bars disappear when not being used. Check your own use of scroll bars: When you want to move up screen the text is actually moving downward as you drag upward. Bet you never even thought of it as being backwards before.

Windows that always have a scroll bar, like your Documents folder, work the same way when you drag the bar, but to drag downwards with two-finger dragging on the Pad, it moves the opposite way. It's difficult to visualize and describe, even when I have one hand on the Mini's slider and the other on the Air's. Get used to using the arrows on the keyboard more; in Safari and reading email, among other things, they make it much easier.

Sites you should visit to learn more about Lion, including reader reports include the Lion section of Macintouch; the App Compatibility Table; the Lion FAQ on Macintouch; and MacUpdate, State of the Apps. Want more? Google is your friend.

New Macs

Along with the release of Lion, Apple shipped two new Macs: an upgraded Air with the i5 and i7 chip that is in the rest of the MacBook/iMac line (almost twice as fast as the Core 2 Duo at the same clock speed) and a new Mini. Both have the ThunderPort that can drive an external display (not including Apple's current model) and various external storages devices which will begin to show up in the stores soon. The new Air, with the biggest SSD and most RAM appears to be $100 cheaper than the last model.

If you have an older Mini now and you have the software that you need to use upgraded to Lion compatibility, this looks like a great buy. It does not have an optical drive, like the Air, so you will need an external USB drive for that. Apple's is $79 and works only with the Air and the new Mini. The Mini can have either a 500 (standard) or 750Gb hard drive, or the 256G SSD that the Air uses and is unbelievably fast. The base model is $599 but has only 2Gb RAM, so you would want to expand that, at least. It will take up to 8Gb. (4Gb add $100; 8Gb add $300.) Visit the Apple Store online and have fun with their configurator so you can see just what your unit would cost with all the add-ons you desire.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Danger - Back up your iCal

This just in: a client reported that when she cancelled her MobileMe account, which synchronizes and backs up your calendars to the "cloud," all of her calendar files ON HER MAC were also deleted. Apple has been non-responsive.

A TimeMachine backup would let you recover them, but this little screwup on Apple's part could cost you YEARS of your appointment history if you don't have such a backup. It's not known if this affects all versions of iCal, but it certainly affected her Snow Leopard (10.6) version.

It also wouldn't hurt if you went to the File menu in iCal and chose Export, Calendar Archive and saved that in Documents periodically.

Nobody expected this until it happened.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fix for MB Air freezing problems

The latest MacBook Air, which I have, has developed problems with iTunes making the Mac freeze up after the 10.6.7 update. My update went fine for a few days, but then I also developed the problem.

Fortunately, Apple is on top of this, with a supplemental update.

I am about to install this but it will take a few days to know if it worked as promised. Posters to Macintouch have stated that it fixed their problem.

This affects ONLY Air users running 10.6.7. No word of problems with the newest generation of MacBook Pro models.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

10.6.7; Firefox 4


10.6.7 is out

I no sooner send out my first mailing this month and an hour later Apple releases the 10.6.7 update.

As always, wait a week before getting this, to give Apple a chance to discover some horrible mistake and replace it with a fixed version. If I experience or read about any problems with it, I will report, but if I say nothing after a week you can go ahead and get it.

Here's the direct link for the Combo update but be aware that it's 1.06 Gb in size. Just downloading it made my MacBook Air feel heavier.


After studying the reports from others who installed the 10.6.7 update, it seems the only people who were reporting problems were those who had the same Mac I have: the fastest MacBookAir. They were getting freezes upon opening iTunes 10.2.1.

I made a SuperDuper clone backup first, then turned off the backup drive so I would have a way to return everything to the way it was. This is why clone backups are good to have in addition to Time Machine backups.

Then I repaired permissions and Verified Disk with Disk Utility.

Then I restarted, holding down the Shift key until I got Safe Boot in the login window. This was advised by other bloggers, although I have seldom done it before myself.

Finally I applied the Combo update, which I had downloaded from Apple (also recommended). After it finished and restarted, I repaired permissions again.

I took a breath and launched iTunes and plugged in my phone. No freezing; no problems.

Owners of the new laptops released earlier this month cannot use the Combo Update. You will have to use Software Update to go to 10.6.7. Same precautions apply.

If you don't have a backup drive, you might want to skip the update until you can get one. If you have Time Machine only, you can still use that should you have to restore your 10.6.6 system; it's just more of a nuisance.

Firefox 4

Now officially released, here is a page of reports on how people are responding to Firefox 4.0 and how to get it.

It doesn't say on the FF page, but this requires you be running 10.5 or 10.6 on an Intel Mac. The reader reports also discuss how to keep both 3.1.6 and 4 going together so you can switch back and forth, but you will need a separate Profile for each. Info on how to do that is at Note: if this seems very complicated, you are correct. I may decide not to bother and just delete FF3.

Firefox 4 for PowerPC

There is a 3rd-party build of FF4 for older Macs called TenFourFox. You can get it and read all about it here. This is not by the Mozilla people, but is a good way to keep a modern browser (for banking, commerce, etc.) on older Macs.

Google Chrome 10

I did all this reading and downloading on the newly-released Google Chrome version 10. This is faster and smoother than Chrome 9 was. Intel Mac users might want to get this as well. It never hurts to have various browsers to switch to in case your primary one (in my case Safari) has any trouble with a particular site. To get it, just go to Google and there will be a Get Chrome link.

1Password Review

This is a review of a password-management program that I wrote for the April issue of PMUG Mouse Tracks. If you hate dealing with passwords as much as I do, you will want to learn and use this program.



by Michael Pearce

I got hooked on this program after the publisher presented at PMUG last year. It finally motivated me to quit using the strategy of using the same password for all junk sites, and a more complex one for banking and commerce.

Everyone does this. Nobody likes to deal with passwords, and most people forget to write down their important ones, letting the web browser store and fill them for you. This is why so many get hacked; and figuring out what you use for one web site lets the maliciously-minded explore other sites with the same one. Each site stores another piece of your identity so it can be possible to discover your home address, phone number, mother's maiden name, first pet's name, work place and everything else needed to attack your bank's site, or crack your Amazon or iTunes account.

1Password eliminates this problem entirely by generating, filling and storing a different complex password for every web site you subscribe to. You need only create and memorize a single passphrase to access the application and it does the rest. For this, the most secure route is to create an pass-sentence of 3 or 4 words, no spaces, with the first letter of each capitalized. No dictionary attack is going to figure that out.

The program will not only store all your website logins, but it will also store your credit card info and fill it out for you on any web form. It has a Secure Notes section where you can write out all that information in English so you can look it up directly whenever you need to. Notes can also store all your serial numbers in case you need to reinstall an application and re-enter your number. All this is encrypted so no one, even if they steal your laptop or break into your house, can get into the 1Password database without your secret passphrase.

If you have an iPhone you can also get a version for it, and coupled with the Dropbox application, store a copy of your database on the phone and on the Dropbox web site.

I have never needed to access that remotely stored info, and don't use the phone for web very often, but many do and they will find this added security very handy. The only difficult part will be using the iPhone's pathetic keyboard screen for typing your passphrase. You might be able to use Smile Software's TextExpander to do that for you, but that could increase your risk a tad.

The Strong Password Generator, an option in the 1P button in your web browser, is simplicity itself. Pick the number of desired characters and the complexity and it creates one for you, saves it under the name you choose along with your login name for the desired web site. Afterwards, when you go to the site's login window, just click the button and choose Fill and Submit Login and it does the work for you. When the browser asks you if you want to save the info for you, click Never for This Site and it won't ask again.

After you have finished creating new passwords for all your logins, go into the browser preferences (Safari: Autofill) then click Usernames and Passwords' Edit button. Click Remove All and you are done. If you then uncheck the box next to Usernames and Passwords it will stop asking, even when you visit new sites for the first time.

This button is added to your Safari window. A similar one is added to Firefox.

This menu appears with appropriate items for the web page you want to log into.

First thing you see when you start 1Password.

One of the options when open: This is where your login information for all your websites is stored. You can update this at will, or when on the site (for instance, when you change your password.)

This window generates a new password that is random and virtually uncrackable. You have several options that can be imposed on it, depending on site requirements.

Mac magazines

(March 21)

Now reading the April issues of Mac Life and Macworld. I highly recommend that new users, who may not think these are for them, start reading both. There is more useful information in each issue than I can teach in multiple sessions, and it's clearly written for everyone; not just hardcore Mac geeks like me.

If you want to start somewhere, get the Macworld and read "100 Things Every Mac User Should Know." This is the best collection of hints, tips and how-tos I have seen in some time. Every one is useful, and I guarantee that all of you will find at least ten in the list that will make your Mac experience better.

MacLife explores the world of Google Apps and how useful they can be, and not just because they can save you the $149 you'd spend on Microsoft Office. Also reviewed: battery pack cases for iPhones. I have been using the Mophie pack since I first got my 3GS and I never have to worry about running out of power. There are brands here I was not aware of.

Included is an article on how to make a Mac-based home theater. I have done this myself and the article is spot on. Sure, the AppleTV is cheaper, but a MacMini and your HDTV are a match made for each other.

Photographer? Macworld discusses how the MacBook Air is the perfect tool for that photographer on the go.

Some of these articles can be read on the magazines' respective web sites, but there is nothing like a nicely-formatted dead-tree version you can keep handy for easy referral. Start getting the Mac magazines; you will thank me later.

New MacBook Pros released

(24 Feb)

Happy Birthday, Steve Jobs: in celebration Apple has revised all 3 models of MacBook Pro. Read all about them at Apple's site.

The 13" was advanced the most: It now has the Intel Core i5 instead of the earlier Core2Duo, like the rest of the line. Still $1199, you get that processor, 4Gb RAM, 320Gb internal HD and the Intel HD Graphics 3000 card.

Spend $300 more and move up to the 2.7 GHz i7 processor and a 500Gb drive. Then it gets interesting:

Go to the store's Configuration page and you can start boosting it up. Add $200 for 8Gb RAM. Add $100 more for a 750Gb hard drive. Take a deep breath and realize, that's 3/4 Terabyte in a laptop! Or, if you really want speed, use a Solid State Drive like the Air does and replace the stock HD with 128Gb SSD for $200, 256Gb for $600, or go nuts with a half-terabyte SSD drive for $1,200 more. That'll take it to $1799 with the HD or $2899 with the SSD.

You can do all this with the 15" and 17" models as well, for proportionately more.

This means, of course, that unsold stock of previous models will drop a tad. The 13" model would be perfect for most people if you add in a non-Apple large display for under $200. Mine is a 24" Asus.

If you like very light and not as quick for under $2 grand, I did it with the current MacBook Air.

Time to polish up the ol' credit card. If you like paying even higher interest, you can finance through the Apple Store, but if you pay if off in 12 months, there is no interest charge. They do it through the Barclay Bank Visa.

While it's so new there is no real support for it yet, the Thunderbolt port, which serves as the Mini DisplayPort, can also connect to high speed RAID drive systems and transfer data faster than any other format.

This looks like why Apple has been ignoring USB 3.0 and has not been talking about FireWire 1600, the logical next step beyond 800.

In order to use it with an external display, one would have to be designed to plug both devices into a single port, and that does not yet exist.

While a fully maxed-out 15" model with 512Gb SSD and 8Gb RAM would push the price near $4 grand, it would substitute for any model iMac and any MacPro, as long as you didn't need the Pro's expansion slots.

Read more about Thunderbolt here.

Nice as it is, I feel no motivation to trade in my newly-acquired MacBook Air. If I wanted to, I could make HDTV movies on it using one of the USB-based video cameras. But if I were a pro filmmaker the new laptops might be on my shopping list.

Friday, January 21, 2011

(Jan. 7) 10.6.6 Installed

Today I installed the latest Snow Leopard update so I could access the new Mac Apps Store (located under the Apple menu). I "bought" the free Twitter for Mac program and the installation went flawlessly.

I am going to stick with YoruFukurou as my primary Twitter client, but I do like the new Tweetie 2.0 (which is what Twitter is) because it lets me create several unsent tweets at once, work on them and then fire them off all in a row. Otherwise it is an overly stripped-down program, without even the option of larger fonts.

When you install 10.6.6, be absolutely sure to run Disk Utility and repair permissions both before and afterwards. It found hundreds of items to update. Also click Verify Disk when finished. Mine came out fine. As always, download the Combo Update instead of relying on the smaller and simpler updater from 10.6.5 that Software Update provides. You will find it here.

If you'd rather I do it I have it with me so let me know.

The App Store is actually a separate application from the iTunes Store, although you log in with your iTunes username and password. It's been reported widely that the security of the store has been cracked already and there will be pirate versions of Mac apps available elsewhere on the Net, some of which may contain malware. The applications on the store itself should remain clean, though.

I am also happy to report that the conflict between Flip4Mac (Windows Media player) and iTunes 10.1 has been fixed with updates to both. Current iTunes is 10.1.1 and Flip4Mac is