The Only Monthly Mac Blog That Matters…

The Working-From-Home Blues

OK, like it or not, you’re working from home these days. Not your fault, and maybe not your first choice of things to happen in 2020, but welcome to the new normal. For a while, anyway. (When the ball dropped in Times Square on midnight last New Year’s Eve, did you REALLY think that 2020 was going to be a cakewalk?)

There are plenty of articles out there about how exactly to structure your day when working at home – and I’m sure I’ve written a few of those over the years, as I’m a veteran in that war. Things like determining work hours, boundaries for others living in the house, your use of your work area outside of business hours and all that happy stuff. The thing you may be having an issue with – any problems you may be having with your computer.

Some home workers were able to bring their work computers home; others, not so lucky. Even if you were one of the lucky ones to make it through with your computer under your arm, you still may be missing some vital resources that you took for granted back at the office. These include, but not limited to printers, connected servers, bagel Fridays and an IT professional to help you solve your problems.

Sure, at first glance, working from home looks a lot more fun than the office. You can have your pets running around, you don’t have to endure annoying co-workers and the dress code is non-existent. And all the stuff you need is there –  you can easily connect to your home printer, have access to your company’s file server (we do live in the age of cloud-based computing) and even your bagel Friday, although that may mean a DIY project, or a giving a bribe to one of your kids. (That is assuming you’re really going to eat a carb.)

But after you’re all settled in, you discover that one resource is conspicuously absent – your IT department. You know who they are – the people who keep things moving along behind the scenes. And although a lot of tech types DO travel to different worksites (myself included), it’s probably not such a good idea to be darting in and out of other people’s houses in these uncertain times.

So – how do you get the computer support you desperately need?

TeamViewer is my screen sharing package of choice.

The good news – there ARE a host of software packages that support professionals can use to share your screen. These are easy-to-use programs that allow your helpdesk to solve problems remotely. There’s a bunch of then out there, under names like Team Viewer, GoToMeeting, LogMeIn and many others.

The bad news? Some of these are used by unscrupulous individuals to share your screen and scam you – or worse, steal your identity. NEVER share your screen with somebody you don’t know!

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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?

It’s all fun and games until you start being tracked!

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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What Is Apple TV?

Meet the Apple TV.

Apple TV is a digital streaming media device, a piece of hardware that is about the size of a hockey puck. It allows streaming media to be played on your television set. (Note that last November, Apple introduced a service named Apple TV+, so similar to Roku, Apple TV is a device as well as a content provider.)

But today I’m talking about the hardware device. It’s simple in concept: You connect it to your television with an HTML cable, connect it to your network (usually Wi-Fi, but it can be connected wired via an Ethernet cable) and you can start watching a series of channels. Similar to the iPhone and iPad, you can download apps from Apple’s App Store.

But do the apps cost money? And where does the streaming content come from? Is it free or do you pay for it? And how do you get to watch what you want? Great questions, all.

Let’s start at the beginning; You need an internet connection to get one of these to work. In lower Fairfield County, Connecticut, we have Optimum. Other areas have Comcast. Some areas (not here) can opt for Verizon Fios.

Apple TV is a DEVICE that allows your television to receive streaming video (or audio) content. Similar devices include Roku, Amazon Fire Stick and Google Chromecast. (There are a few other also-rans, but these are the big three.) Although they have their differences, they pretty much all work the same; they connect to your television using an HDMI cable and you configure them to connect to your network. (And they each have another remote to contend with.)

They all have their pros and cos, but basically, they all work similarly. You click on one of the apps on the screen, and there you go. For example, if you want to watch Netflix, you click on the Netflix app, sign in (requires an account, of course), and 30 seconds later you’re watching “Cocaine Island.”

Now, some of the content is free (YouTube, Red Bull TV, Bloomberg Business), but most of it requires some kind of subscription (Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go). You can also sign into your Apple iTunes account and rent movies and TV shows as well.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this than I have time for here – so let’s go to the video tape!

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Has Your Web Browser Been Hijacked?

You don’t want to see this…

When you launch your web browser – Safari, Firefox or Google Chrome, do you notice a strange homepage? Does your homepage look like a cheap Google knockoff instead of the real deal? (See above) Or perhaps your searches go to Yahoo instead of Google?

If the answer to any of the above is “yes,” then chances are you’ve been hijacked. Or at least your web browser has.

Now, that may sound worse than it really is. This doesn’t mean that somebody has tunneled their way into your computer; most likely it was installed inadvertently. In almost every case, it happens when a warning comes up that your Adobe Flash Player is out of date. So you download the Adobe Flash software, and then things go wrong very quickly. So you need to know two things – how to avoid installing these problematic programs from your computer; and how to remedy the situation in case you’re reading this after the horse was stolen.

So how do you deal with this mess?

First of all, run Malwarebytes. If you don’t have it in your Applications folders, you can download the free version at www.malwarebytes.com. Scan your hard drive – check to see if there is any funny stuff (e.g. malware) on your computer.

Next, open your browser. Each browser uses “extensions” – these are where the bad stuff usually can be found and expunged.

a preference pane – this is where you can configure a lot of your settings. Here’s where you will find them:

Google Chrome: Click on the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of the page, and select MORE TOOLS > EXTENSIONS.

Firefox: Pull down on the FIREFOX menu and select PREFERENCES. At the bottom left of the page, click on EXTENSIONS.

Safari: Pull down on the SAFARI menu and select PREFERENCES. (Don’t select EXTENSIONS!)  Click on EXTENSIONS in the Preferences pane.

Now what? You should remove (delete, uninstall, get rid of) ALL extensions! Even ones that seem legit and helpful, like shopping and maps. THESE are the ones that cause grief!

And while we’re in Preferences,  you’ll want to reset your home page and search engine.

A couple more things: A nasty recent development in Google Chrome allows administrators to “manage” your browser. Lately, malware has been unleashed that “manages” your browser and is hard to remove. In order to eradicate this threat, take a look at below video. If that looks like too much for you to handle, call in a pro to keep your Mac squeaky clean, at least on the inside.

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Learning To Love The “New” Quicken

The Iconic Quicken Icon

Quicken, a personal finance management software created by Intuit, is the most common personal financial package in use, bar none. For many years, throughout all the various flavors, it has retained pretty much the same user interface. Of course, it has chucked in a few bells and whistles along the way but has kept a similar look and feel despite new versions and updates.

Of course, all good things eventually come to an end; the final version of “Quicken Classic” was released to be compatible with Mac OS X.7 (Lion) in 2011. A few years later, the “New Quicken” was launched – with a totally different interface. Longtime users were outraged at the difference, and a backlash ensued.

But some hung onto the original software – and an upgrade for Intel-based Macs allowed users to keep their old software going. But, with the change to Mac OS.15 (Catalina), it’s all over for those holdouts. No longer will legacy versions of Quicken run.

The Legacy Quicken Icon

OK, two things about Quicken: First of all, nothing is certain in life except death, taxes and Mac OS updates, so the “legacy” version (the one with the yellow/orange icon) will no longer run on any Mac OS post-Mojave (OS X.14). If you’re using it and the familiar interface, you will have to freeze your Mac in time and no longer participate in any future OS updates.

Now, if you’ve bitten the bullet and have upgraded to the “new” Quicken (the one with the red and white icon), you don’t necessarily have to worry about post-Mojave compatibility, so you can breathe easy, at least for now.

But what you DO have to concern yourself with, is the inability to sync your bank account to your Quicken file, if you opt not to pay the annual subscription fee*. Intuit, following the lead of Adobe and Microsoft, have opted to make an important part of its service a yearly subscription. The good news? You can still use your Quicken without it – but you’ll have to do a little more work yourself. Me, I like to balance my accounts manually – letting it happen automatically makes me become complacent, and I might miss some transactions.

* Intuit is constantly offering “deals” to subscribe, so don’t pay bust-out retail!

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The Art of Handling Updates

Now or later?

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is “I don’t know what to update!”

If you own a Mac, it’s a pretty simple process (at least in theory). Updates for the Apple OS (operating system) are supplied by Apple. Similarly, updates for other software generally come from the manufacturer of that package. Ergo, an update for Microsoft Office comes from Microsoft, Photoshop from Adobe, Norton updates come from Symantec, etc.

Except for printers, as Apple now handles most of those updates as part of its OS updates through the App Store. Oh, and speaking of The App Store, apps bought through there have their updates supplied by Apple, even though most are third-party apps…

OK, so it’s not quite as easy as it should be. And furthermore, how do you tell which update prompts are legit and which ones are scams? Read on!

OK, updates (for the most part) fall under one of the following categories:

  • Mac OS
  • Apps from The App Store
  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Adobe (Flash Player & Reader)
  • Firefox
  • Google Chrome
  • Intuit (Quicken & QuickBooks)
  • Norton Utilities
  • Other stuff*

*There is CAD and design software, high-end camera and imaging programs as well as other specialized software packages, each of which has its own upgrades. If you’re using any software that falls under that category, you can check with the developer about upgrades.

This is by no means a complete list, but it does cover most of the upgrades that average users would encounter.

How to check for updates:

Mac OS Updates and Apps purchased through The App Store: Pull down on the apple (upper left corner of the screen and select APP STORE

Microsoft Office: Pull down on HELP menu and select CHECK FOR UPDATES (Works with recent versions; versions before 2011 are no longer supported by Microsoft and no new updates are issued)

Adobe Flash Player: Open SYSTEM PREFERENCES (found in APPLICATIONS) and select FLASH PLAYER> UPDATES and click the CHECK NOW button

Adobe Reader: Pull down on HELP menu and select CHECK FOR UPDATES

Firefox: Pull down on the FIREFOX menu and select ABOUT FIREFOX (updates, if required, will be downloaded automatically) – click on RESTART FIREFOX TO UPDATE

Google Chrome: Pull down on the CHROME menu and select ABOUT GOOGLE CHROME – enable SET UP AUTOMATIC UPDATES FOR ALL USERS (a one-time process)

Quicken/QuickBooks:  Pull down on the QUICKEN (or QUICKBOOKS) menu and select CHECK FOR UPDATES

Norton: Pull down on the NORTON icon in menu (located to the left of the menu clock)

Avoid scams: Never click a link from an email or (especially) a web browser pop-up alerting you to upgrade any software. Anything that requires an upgrade can be performed from directly within the application!

Bottom line: You have to employ an “a la carte” approach to keep the software and operating system on your computer up to date – there is no “one process updates all” option available. In most instances, you do not need to apply an update the minute it’s available (although Flash Player is starting to claim it’s “out of date” when it’s only one revision old!), but it’s a good idea to check your software once in a while.

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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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