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Keeping Your Email Under Control

Full disclosure – this is an updated version of a five year-old post. It’s evergreen and bears repeating. Enjoy!

Does this look familiar?

Recently, while working at a client site, I was checking my email while waiting for something to install on the client’s Mac. I casually deleted a couple of unread messages – Groupon and Macy*s – without reading and was asked “how can you delete an email without reading it??!?”

There’s an easy answer (for me, anyway); it’s all about the subject line and the sender. The Groupon offer wasn’t interesting to me, so goodbye. Plus, I can easily go to its site to see ALL of the offers, and I wasn’t planning on shopping at Macy*s this week. So, BOOM – off they go into Deleted Items.

I’ve seen too many people with 10,000+ UNREAD messages in their inboxes – bad news! Not only does a loaded email box make things run more slowly, it takes up valuable hard drive space and can cause the mail program to bonk, sometimes resulting in the loss of many of those messages.

How many of these messages do you REALLY need to save?

All through my years of working in the industry, whether it’s in a corporate IT environment, a tech writing job or just freelance, I’ve gotten pretty slick at keeping my inbox empty, or at least at a manageable level. I’ve come up with a few easy-to-implement tricks to keep things from spiraling out of control. Yes, it does take some work on your part – but spending a couple of minutes a day keeping things tidy is preferable to paying a professional beaucoup bucks to reconstruct your email.

Another reason to pare down – some mail providers have a limit on how much space you’re allocated. Exceed that quota and your email will be out of commission for awhile.

In no particular order, here is a six-pack of tips to avoid being a digital hoarder:

#1) Establish a second email address for retail subscriptions, as well as other mailing lists.

Give Amazon and other retailers your secondary email address.

Adding a second (or third) email account to handle mailing lists is a stellar idea, particularly now that we’re all using iPads and iPods to get our mail. This serves two purposes – it keeps our “real” inboxes free of non-essential messages, and because most of these mails are timely, it’s easy to delete them in bulk once their expiration date has passed. I can’t begin to tell you how many users still hold onto J. Crew messages announcing a sale that expires in October 2011.

#2) Unsubscribe from all mailing lists and newsletters that aren’t important to you. (Except mine!)

Just be honest – if you don’t read an email soon after you receive it, it’s probably irrelevant anyway. And question if it’s even pertinent to your situation – if you’re on the Hilton Properties list because you stayed at one of its hotels recently, does any news from them have any bearing on what you’re doing now?

Campaigning costs a lot of money!

This goes double for political mailing lists. Sign up for one, and your name is sold to others, and mitosis takes over. And they’re all begging for a handout!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t bother trying to unsubscribe to “junk” emails that ask you to unsubscribe. These are trolling mails, trying to trick you into confirming your email address is valid. Simply delete them and move on.

#3) Configure your email client to “Quote The Text Of The Original Message”

Having all of the previous email messages referenced in the current correspondence is another way to keep your inbox pared down. That way you need to save only the most recent message to have access to the entire string. In 99.9% of situations this is fine; however, in cases that require lawyers, documentation and court dates, you should save EVERY message! (In a dedicated folder, as described below.)

#4) Create separate folders for completed tasks.

An empty inbox is a happy inbox.

If you need to save old email messages, store them in newly created folders to help clear out your inbox. Not only does this help keep your inbox neat and clean, it also helps your overall organization. Create as many of these folders as you need; you can organize them by sender, project or date.

#5) Create a “Pending Issues” subfolder to store messages that require action on your part. (Or simply “flag” those messages.)

The “Pending Issues” folder isn’t simply a storage bin to bulk offload messages from your inbox – think of it as a “to do” list for your action items. But make it a point to revisit those emails on a regular basis.

#6) Be at peace with the fact that you’re NEVER going to read those old emails.

Keep calm….

Human nature is funny – there are some things in life that everybody believes they possess; personal style, a sense of humor, good driving skills and excellent taste in music. (My psychology degree hard at work!) Add one more – the belief that they’re someday going to read those old emails. It’s not going to happen. (Just like that pile of magazines and newspapers you’re saving.) And the sooner people come to that realization that it’s OK to let them go, the better off mankind will be.

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To iCloud or not to iCloud

Apple’s cloud-based storage service is iCloud, and it is not shy about reminding you every 3.5 seconds to log in. Apple certainly isn’t alone in the arena – Google Drive and Dropbox are its biggest-name competitors in the space, and there are tons of lower-tier companies wanting to store your data.

But let’s take a step backwards – what exactly is “cloud storage?”

According to SearchStorage.com (the Funk & Wagnalls of all things storage), cloud storage is “a service model in which data is maintained, managed, backed up remotely and made available to users over a network (typically the Internet).” In non-tech talk, that means your stuff is on somebody else’s computer, somewhere else in the world and it’s accessible to you as long as you’re connected to the internet. (And assuming the hosting company doesn’t go under.) If you screw up and delete something, you can get it back (in most instances). Most providers offer a bit for free (typically 5GB), using more will cost you.

To start, all of these cloud-based storage services not only store your files but synchronize them among your various devices. So, the most up-to-date versions of your documents are available no matter what device you’re using. But what are the pros and cons of using iCloud for your files as opposed to one of the other services?

One big pro (or is a con?), iCloud isn’t just about your files. It also allows you to keep your contacts, calendars, notes, passwords and Safari bookmarks synced between your devices. (Photos too, but that’s a subject for next month’s blog.) Which is good for people like me, who need to keep current versions of these things (mostly contacts, calendars and notes) synced between my MacBook, iMac and iPhone. (My iPad has a funky battery issue, but that’s my cross to bear.)

But back to the file thing. Apple goads you into enabling it when you set up a new Mac, but where the files end up is what confuses users. The two areas it syncs are the Desktop and the Documents folder, both of which are located in your Home folder. Users who turn it off suddenly find themselves unable to access their valuable documents – Apple stores them in folders titled “iCloud Drive (Archive)” in your Home folder. Good luck finding those on your own.

So is this a good solution? Here are the pros and cons of Apple’s iCloud file storage:

Pros:

  • Free
  • Easy to enable
  • Instantaneous syncing
  • All file types are supported

Cons:

  • If you disable it, files are moved to a hard-to-locate folder
  • If your data exceeds 5GB, then you have to either offload some data from the two locations (desktop and Documents folder) or pay for more storage
  • Not good for team collaboration
  • If you use Outlook 2011 as your mail client, you definitely will exceed the 5GB threshold for a free account
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Knowing When It’s Time To Move On

Time for the gold watch? Or time to whip out the gold card?

You’ve seen the warning signs – the spinning beach ball, the bouncing icons in the dock, the agonizing eternity it takes to boot up. Yup, all the signs of an aging computer.

But is it time to kick it to the curb and whip out the credit card at Best Buy or The Apple Store? Or would a little time and effort fight off father time and give your Mac a few more golden years with you?

At the risk of sounding like a bad motivational poster, for every problem, there’s a solution. Usually. So here is a list of common issues and what you can do to remedy them.

Problem: Spinning Beach Ball

Apple calls it “Spinning Wait Cursor” – we call it the “Beach Ball of Doom.”

Issue: According to Apple, it’s “when an application cannot handle all of the events it receives.” Translation – there’s too much going on at once.

Solution: You may have to force quit any non-responding applications in order to get out of the immediate crisis.

To force quit:

  • Click on the finder icon in the dock. That’s the one at the far left (if dock is on the bottom) or at the top (if your dock is on the left or right).
  • Click on the Apple icon (top left corner of screen) and pull down to FORCE QUIT.
  • Highlight any non-responding application in the list and click on the FORCE QUIT button in the lower right corner of the window.
Select the application you want to force quit; then pull the trigger.

Problem: Taking forever to open applications, start up, etc.

Issue: Some of your settings may be FUBAR and need to be cleared up.

Solution: Try “zapping the PRAM,” which is this:

  • Shut down your Mac.
  • Restart and IMMEDIATELY hold down the following keys: P R Option Command all at once.
  • Keep holding the keys down until the startup chime sounds three times. Release as soon as you hear the third startup chime.

This is sort of an exorcism for your Mac – it casts out evil spirts and such.

* Hot tip: Take a look at the keys and see how to position your fingers BEFORE trying to restart. Time waits for no man, and if you delay here, you’ll have to start the entire startup process over. Practice makes perfect.

Problem: You’re out of hard drive space

Run, don’t walk when you see this warning!

Issue: You probably have some junk files that need to be trashed.

Solution: First, empty the trash. Then check the following folders for files no longer needed:

  • Downloads: This folder will contain installers, receipts and other stuff you’ve downloaded throughout the years. Any installers – out they go. The other stuff, you’ll have to sift through. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Documents: Same deal. You’ve saved a lot in Documents, so again, be prepared to look before you trash anything willy-nilly. Also – if you’re NOT using a Microsoft mail client (Entourage or Outlook), you can open the MICROSOFT USER DATA folder (in Documents) and get rid of any mail “identities.”
  • Pictures: If you have an old ALREADY CONVERTED iPhoto Library, you can trash that.

* Important safety tip: Don’t toss ANYTHING out if you don’t have a current backup!

Still nothing? Maybe it’s time to call in a pro to see if anything else can be done. There are a few non-user friendly things that can be done – RAM upgrades, swapping out the old hard drive for a slick, faster SSD or simply knowing which files in the LIBRARY are able to be safely deleted. Any technical pro with an ounce of integrity will tell you if shoveling more time and money into a dying computer is a bad idea.

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Organizing Your Pictures Using Photos Part II

Last month, I covered some basics in organizing your pictures using Photos on your Mac. This month, I’ll dig deeper into some of the most commonly-asked questions.

So – we covered ALBUMS, EVENTS and KEYWORDS last month. There are a couple of more ways to help with your massive collection of digital pictures – some which people think are great, while others think they’re a total invasion of privacy. These are PEOPLE and PLACES.

Want to read more how Apple learns more about you? Click here.

Apple allows you to “tag” faces in its Photos application. A good idea? It depends on how you feel about having a tech company being able to analyze your face. Where does this go? Part of a database that tracks your movements? Connected with kiosks in malls that that monitor your movements and shopping habits?

Whatever. Bottom line – you can tag a face in your Photos library, and that Apple, in its infinite wisdom, has the tech ability to scan your pictures and create a “People album” of familiar faces when enough photos are found. But personally, I know who is who in my Photos library, so I don’t need to go through that bother and help fill a tech giant’s servers.

Places is another way to sort, in a no less intrusive manner, your pictures. Unlike People, Places is configured on your iPhone (or iPad) to “drop a pin” on where you’ve taken the picture. Sounds like a good idea – but can result in a compromise of your privacy if you’re not careful, revealing exactly where and when it was taken.

That said, in order to disable (or enable it, if you dare), you need to configure it on your iPhone. Tap on SETTINGS > PRIVACY> LOCATION SERVICES > CAMERA and make sure it’s on Never. (Or WHEN USING THE APP if you want to use that feature.) Like I said, some people love this feature, and some loathe it. Have at it.

BONUS TIP!

Another neat trick: To find out which of your pictures is NOT contained in an album within your Photos library, do this:

Pull down on the EDIT menu and select NEW SMART ALBUM

Name the smart album ORPHAN PICS (or whatever you want)

Under “Match The Following Conditions,” configure the pulldowns as ALBUM > IS NOT >  ANY. Click OK.

Now, you’ll see a “smart album” named “Orphan Pics.” This is a group of photos that are not associated with any of your albums. Here, you can pull them into any album you choose (or no album at all, if that’s what you want.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Organizing Your Pictures Using Photos Part I

Once Apple forced us to ditch iPhoto and migrate to Photos, many users have been living in a state of confusion.

The first reaction to Photos – that it is a dumbed-down version of iPhoto.

Fair enough. Although there are a few iPhoto users out there, fighting technology until they can’t, most of us are stuck with having to use Photos (unless we look further afield and find a suitable third-party solution, which there isn’t a clear winner).

So – we’re stuck (for now, anyway) with Photos. But how do we maximize the features and organize things so they make sense?

First of all, let me clear up the most oft-asked question I’m asked about Photos: What is the difference between ALBUMS and EVENTS?

  • EVENTS are a group pictures you import off your camera or iPhone at one time. Old school analogy: You go on vacation, you take pictures and have them developed. When you get the envelope of pictures from your trip, those pictures make up your EVENT.
  • ALBUMS are a collection of photos you create yourself from your entire Photos library. Old school analogy: Your album is a book and your Photos library is a shoebox full of pictures. You put whatever pictures you want in your book, in any order. That collection of photos you have chosen to be in your book are your ALBUM.

Personally, I don’t care about EVENTS. I’m a date guy, so I like being organized by keeping my photos in chronological order. Also, I have multiple Photos libraries; one is my current library, one spans from 2000-2017, one is from scanned pictures from the previous century and the other contains scans of tickets from events I’ve attended.

Using KEYWORDS

Keywords are words that help you identify photos. If you to add a keyword to a group of photos (and note, they don’t have to be contiguous), perform the following:

  • In PHOTOS, under the VIEW menu, select METADATA and confirm that KEYWORDS is enabled (you’ll see the checkmark – see below).
  • In your Photos library, highlight (by dragging on a group or clicking single pictures) the pictures you want to assign keyword to.
  • Once the pictures are selected (indicated by a highlighted band around them), type Command-I (I as in Info), or right-click (Control key and click) and select GET INFO.
  • Enter your keyword in the KEYWORD field (see below).

Quick tip: Using the Command key (to left of spacebar) will allow you to select non-contiguous pictures.

Part II coming next month. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

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What is YOUR browser of choice?

Safari, Firefox or Google Chrome? Sounds pretty personal, doesn’t it?

After asking somebody what web browser they use, the next thing I usually hear is “which one is the best?” Or, “which one do YOU use?” Ah, you gotta love having a loaded question answered with a larger caliber loaded question.

Like many seemingly similar yet quite different choices in life (Coke or Pepsi, Mets or Yankees, Mary Ann or Ginger, etc.), the choice between browsers is a very personal one. Yet, people are often passionate about one of them for some particular reason. Or sometimes one is used as a matter of convenience. Sometimes even apathy plays a role, especially when users don’t realize that they have a choice in which one they use.

The Big Three – Chrome, Safari & Firefox

Although there are tech differences beneath the hood, all of the members of “The Big Three” are fairly similar. Google (of course) has the biggest share, somewhere around 2/3rds of the market, trailed by Safari (14%), Internet Explorer & Edge (though those are Windows-only products). Firefox and Opera have somewhere around 10% between the two. No stats are available for the anonymous Tor Browser, which allows users to surf stealthily.

Google Chrome

Pros:

  • Rarely is there any issue about getting on to secure sites.
  • Designed to work well (a little TOO well) with Google Docs.

Cons:

  • You can be sure they’re analyzing (and then selling) your data.
  • Allows add-ons (not always good ones) to be installed willy-nilly.

Safari

Pros:

  • Comes preinstalled on your Mac – nothing to download!
  • Updates are either through the App Store (pre-Mojave) or via Software Update in System Preferences (Mojave and beyond).

Cons:

  • Some secure sites don’t play nicely with Safari.
  • Using Safari on non-Mac OS/iOS devices is trouble.

Firefox

Pros:

  • Tends to be the fastest-performing of them all.
  • Is the most secure of all the browsers.

Cons:

  • Can be a memory hog and slow down your Mac, especially if you’re using an older model.
  • Updates are released about every 3.5 days, requiring restarting it.

The “others:”

Way down on the food chain, there are some obscure browsers that some swear by. (And others swear at.) These include Opera, Tor and UC Browser. Opera is built on the Chromium platform, which means nothing to 99.9999% of the world. Tor differentiates itself by running on the Tor Network, which maintains user anonymity. And then there’s UC Browser, a product of the Chinese company Alibaba Group, is the third most popular browser worldwide. Except for an iOS version, it’s of no interest to Mac users. And yes, you can forget about Internet Explorer (for the Mac, anyway) and Netscape Navigator. May they rest in peace.

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Upgrading your older Mac: Adding more RAM and/or a solid state drive

Solid state drives (SSDs) are have no moving parts and are faster than traditional hard drives.

Here we go again – a question I am asked on a weekly basis – “Is it worth it to upgrade the RAM and internal hard drive in my old computer?”

My answer? It depends.

One issue is the age of the hardware. Some older Macs (I’m not going to get into tech specs and all that geekspeak here) simply are unable to run newer versions of the Mac OS (Mojave, High Sierra and Sierra), which can cause issues, such as not being able to support a browser that is secure enough to access certain sites – financial institutions, for example.

In the “good old days,” Apple was stingy when it came to RAM.

But if you have cleared that hurdle, you have the issue of your RAM and hard drive. Today, Apple has made it (for the most part) impossible to upgrade these items, so when you DO buy new, make sure you get what think you might need for the future.

Back in the day (probably pre-2012), Apple was notoriously Scrooge-like when it came to the amount RAM in your computer when you bought off the rack. But no harm, no foul, it was inexpensive (and simple) enough to buy from a third-party, and so for a few bucks and a few minutes of your time, you were all set. So, if an infusion of RAM might solve your issues, go for it. It’s dirt cheap these days (gone are the rumors of shortages) and it’s easy to install. Just go on YouTube or consult an expert. And that would be me.

The issue of replacing your standard hard disk drive (HDD) with a solid-state drive (SSD) will no doubt speed things up in your computing life. HDDs have moving parts (an arm that reads a spinning platter), as opposed to SSDs, which have no moving parts. BUT – there are a few things that you have consider before ripping out your old school HDD and popping in an SSD. These are:

  • Cost. HDDs are dirt cheap in the big scheme of things, and SSD prices are going down. But in 2018, you’re not going to get the same capacity for the same price.
  • Capacity vs cost. Today, a 1TB 2.5” internal HDD is just south of $50; plan on paying about three times that for a same capacity SSD. So, chances are that you will be less capacity when you upgrade. But then again, that gives you a chance to archive (or trash) unused data.
  • Future plans. Are you planning on buying a new computer in the next six to twelve months? Then maybe don’t bother upgrading. But if you plan on sticking it out and fighting the inevitable until you can’t, then you might want to lay down the old credit card and go for new.
  • More costs. Replacing the hard drive in a MacBook Pro is pretty simple; an iMac, not so much. Which means you’re going to have to pay somebody to perform the operation. Plus, you’ll have to buy an additional mounting bracket, which is under $20.
  • Yet more costs. Finally, unless you can figure it out yourself, you’re going to need somebody to install the Mac OS on the new SSD and migrate your data over. And if you plan on performing a “clean installation,” i.e., not dragging old garbage system files over (recommended), then that’s even more professional time you have to pay for.

Bottom line: I use the old car and replacing the transmission analogy here; at what point is it better to forget the idea of putting money into the old as opposed to spending on the new? (Saying “throwing good money after bad” is an inexcusable cliché!) You’re going to have to do your cost analysis homework!

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Updating to Mojave OS X.14 – A Good Idea?

Apple has never been shy about informing you that there’s a new OS available for installation. Problem is, there is no gatekeeper that will let you know that you could easily get caught up into a tangled mess if you decide to do it on the day it’s released.

Now, most of us are smart enough to let somebody (like me) run interference and clear the way so nobody gets stuck with a big (or even small) problem. But once things have settled down, is it a good idea to upgrade to Mojave after all?

First things first: Let’s look at the requirements.

In most cases, unless your computer is from 2013 onward, forget about it. It requires a minimum of 2GB RAM, but nobody should have less than 4GB, and I recommend at least 8GB for any kind of work. Also, on standard hard drives, Mojave has been known to slow things down to a crawl.

Then there’s the little matter of software compatibility: Things I’ve noticed that haven’t worked well (or at all) with Mojave are some major software packages. These include:

  • Microsoft Office 2008
  • Adobe CS3 (CS5 works but is buggy)
  • QuickBooks (as of today, there is no patch for Mojave compatibility)
  • Aperture (Apple finally got its way and killed it!)
  • Final Cut Pro & Logic Studio (Same answer)

And according to MacWorld UK, Microsoft Office 2011 also has issues, although I’ve haven’t noticed them.

Annoying Apple trick – once you DO upgrade, most applications you launch will give you a warning about “not being optimized for your Mac.” Click OK and move on with your life.

That’s all. A minor inconvenience.

Another annoying Apple trick – it seems that if you up you update your iPhone to the latest iOS, you MAY be forced to upgrade your Mac to Mojave in order to successfully sync your iPhone (or iPad). Beware!

Bottom line: Upgrade only after you’ve done your homework and are certain your computer is up for the task. If you have any doubts, then hold off. No shame in that.

 

 

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Your Security Checklist…

A secure Wi-Fi network is a happyWi-Fi network.

Digital security is a big deal these days. Whether it’s the Russians meddling with your data, scammers lying to you in an attempt to share your screen or the kid next door illegally downloading current movies using your Wi-Fi, there are all sorts of threats out there. No solution is foolproof, but by using common sense and my checklist, you can eliminate the majority of threats that can compromise your data.

To help make your Mac use more secure, here a few tips that can help:

  • Keep current with Mac OS software updates – especially security updates.
  • Create a strong password on your wireless network.
  • Maintain a secure admin password on your Mac.
  • Disable all sharing preferences, especially if you use your Mac in public places.
  • Don’t log on to secure sites (especially financial, etc.) on public Wi-Fi.
  • Disable guest user access.
  • Require a password to wake from sleep (not necessary in the home unless you want to keep others from using your computer.)
  • Enable “Find My Mac” (if you’re a laptop user.)
  • Download MalwareBytes.
  • Turn on the firewall on your Mac.
  • Encrypt the data in your home folder.

And obviously, NEVER allow somebody you don’t know gain access to your computer! Anybody you don’t know should NEVER tell you that something is wrong with your Mac!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Untangle Your Browser From the Grips of Facebook

Have you noticed that once you join Facebook, suddenly every other site you visit knows who you are? You surf onto CNN, and not only does the site know you, it tells you which articles your Facebook friends are reading.

Scary, isn’t it?

Welcome to the world of Web personalization, a place where Web marketers know your name. (And your surfing habits, browsing history and more.) Click the “Like” button on any non-Facebook page and suddenly Facebook turns into Big Brother and knows more about you (and your preferences) than just what’s on your profile. And then you see an ad on Facebook, and your first thought is “I was just thinking of something like that!” Really, it’s because you just were LOOKING for something like that online. Truth be told – Facebook is only one of many culprits that compromises your online privacy.

So exactly how do you keep every site from being linked to Facebook? There are a few different ways to keep other sites from accessing your Facebook profile, some more complex than others.

The easiest way is to use a dedicated browser for your Facebook purposes only. Even if you regularly use Safari and Firefox, you still have other browser options, namely Google Chrome and Opera, so it’s possible to keep your Facebook activity restricted to one browser. Cnet.com has a link to all of these browsers (and more) here.

There are more involved ways to disable the social plugins that Facebook integrates with your browser, including this great piece on ThoughtPick. For a more world-weary view, check out LifeHacker’s take on the situation.

Bottom line: Web privacy and tracking is a huge deal on both sides of the fence – both for marketers and privacy advocates, and neither faction has any intention of going away anytime soon.

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