The Only Monthly Mac Blog That Matters…

The Hidden Costs of Buying a New Computer

The buck doesn’t stop here.

OK, so you just spend some righteous bucks on a new computer. Expensive, but worth it! And it works far better than your eight year-old computer, right? Of course, it does! I’ve never met anybody who replaced an old computer with a new one and regretted their decision.

But – after paying what it costs isn’t the end of the story as far as whipping out your credit card. There are more costs? What else do I have to buy? How much more do I have to spend? The money you paid to Apple isn’t the end of the story. There almost always ARE additional costs when replacing an older computer.

And what are these costs?

Adapters: Apple laptops haven’t had a standard USB port for years, and the recent desktop models (iMac and Mac mini) have gone the same way, with only a USB-C port. Which is fine, but if you need to use an old-school USB drive or other item, you’ll need to spend a little more on an adapter.

Software: Gone are the days where you could install Microsoft Office or even an old version of Adobe Creative Suite on your Mac. Today’s computer won’t run these legacy programs, and if you want Office or Adobe CS on your Mac, you have to subscribe to them. Plus, a lot of older software isn’t compatible with the new hardware and operating systems.

Setup: Getting your data from there to here is another cost. Even if you’re able to get an appointment to The Apple Store, they’re now charging to do a data migration. (You shouldn’t use Apple’s Migration Assistant to bring your info to your new computer, but that’s a topic for another day.) That said – unless you know what you’re doing when it comes to getting your new Mac up and running with all the files and functionality of your old computer (but working faster!), you’ll have to hire somebody who knows their way around the Mac.

Bottom line: The fiscal pain doesn’t end the moment you pay for your new computer. There will be more money to pay going forward. Plan accordingly.

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Consolidating ALL of Your Pictures In One Library (Or Not)

The icon for Apple’s Photos app.

Keeping your pictures organized on your computer isn’t a task for the faint of heart. Years of upgrading computers, the switch from digital cameras to iPhones and a change of Apple photo software (iPhoto to Photos) can certainly make a mess of things.

So now, you may have multiple “libraries” of pictures, legacy iPhoto libraries that may (or may not) have been imported to your current Photos library. Not to mention photos that have the incorrect date due to the time/date not configured on the digital camera at the time. Plus, those crazy old family photos that were scanned. And the photos that were emailed to you. And sent via text. And are my Google Photos still available?

OK, first things first. Apple’s picture storage software is called Photos, which superseded its previous product, iPhoto. Both iPhoto and Photos work as an album – meaning all the pictures are into one big file. And when I say big, I’m not kidding, these things can easily exceed 200 GB. Yup. So, a Photos library is one big file.

Now, you may have multiple Photos libraries as seen the illustration here. There is no right or wrong; some people like dividing their photos into eras. (I do, so it must be normal!) I do that so things don’t get too bloated. I don’t fully trust the Apple people with a huge Photos library, so I keep mine small. And back them up regularly.

BUT – if you want to combine multiple libraries into one huge one, do this:

Pick one library (the biggest one is your best bet) to be the “master” Photos library. Then, open one of the smaller ones.

What you see when there’s multiple Photos libraries.
  • Click on “Library” in the left-hand column.
  • Select all the photos in your library by pulling down the EDIT menu and selecting “Select All.”
  • Pull down the FILE menu and select “Export.”
  • Select a destination for the exported photos. (Usually, a new folder on the desktop is your best bet.)

Allow the exporting process to finish. If there are thousands of pictures, it could take hours.

Once it’s over, open the “master” Photos library and do the reverse: Pull down the EDIT menu and select “Import.” Navigate to the folder on your desktop and import those pictures. Note that there might be duplicate pictures in the two libraries; opt to “skip” those.

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A Few Ways To Help Rid Your Mac From the Dreaded Spinning Beachball of Doom

Happy Summer! But this isn’t the kind of beach ball you want to see…

Now that summer is rapidly approaching, the only beach ball any of us wants to see is at the beach, and certainly not on our computer screen. But for most of us, this is a common occurrence unfortunately.

What causes the spinning beach ball on the Mac?

According to MacWorld, it’s because your Mac’s hardware can’t handle the software task at hand. Which makes sense, but is annoying when it’s a simple task, something mundane like launching Google Chrome. Short of throwing your computer out the window, is there anything you can do? Is it avoidable? Something you can easily remedy?

Here are some tips to help keep the beach ball out of your Mac:

Zap the PRAM: Kind of like an exorcism for your Mac, it’s a simple process. Restart your Mac, and THE SECOND it beings to boot up, hold down the following four keys: P, R, Command and Option.

You’ll need to be prepared, because things move quickly. If you use your right hand, put your pinky on the P, your index finger on the R and your thumb on the Command and Option (which are to the right of the space bar). Let the startup chime sound three or four times.

Note: Some wireless keyboards have trouble with this. Use your charging cord to connect it to your Mac if you can, otherwise try with a wired keyboard.

Clear the Cache: This one not only helps with speed, but also can help solve a nearly-full hard drive. In FINDER, pull down the GO menu while holding down the OPTION key and select LIBRARY.

The Library folder is full of stuff that helps your computer work but is also the repository for a lot of garbage too. Once the Library folder is open, look for a folder called CACHES. Open CACHES and select all of the items inside and drag them into Trash. (You may need your computer’s admin password to proceed.) Empty the trash and restart your computer.

(Important) note: Don’t trash the CACHES folder itself; simply the contents within.

Run Disk First Aid: Open your UTILITIES folder (inside APPLICATIONS) and find DISK UTILITY. Launch DISK UTILITY and select your hard drive from the list on the left. (It’s usually the top one.) Click on First Aid on the menu bar and confirm you with to run First Aid. This can knock off some permissions problems. If you’re able to boot your Mac from an external (or recovery) drive, that will do a more thorough job.

Note: Confirm you click on First Aid and NOT Erase. That is the recipe for a horrible day.

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FileVault: Worth It or Too Much Trouble?

If you’re losing sleep over the fact that your files and user data on your Mac aren’t particularly secure, perhaps it’s time to enable FileVault on your Mac.

What’s FileVault you ask? Well, FileVault is Mac’s built-in disk encryption feature, and when enabled, it password protects all your data. It’s been part of Mac OS X since shortly after the beginning. And what does it do? Without getting into too much geekspeak, it makes your data unreadable to anybody who doesn’t have the password to access it. In short, it secures your data from those who have no business sticking their noses into it.

Like any other functionality on the computer, there are a strong set of pros and cons for users to consider before enabling it. How do you enable it? And what are these pros and cons?

PROS:

  • Easy to enable – doesn’t take a tech genius to set up.
  • Encrypts all your data – keeps your information private if your computer falls into the wrong hands.
  • You can store your recovery key in iCloud if you want.

CONS:

  • If you lose your password, you’re hosed; even I can’t help you there!
  • Can slow things to a crawl when encrypting.
  • One thing that can make it less secure: You can store your recovery key in iCloud if you want.

So it’s six of one, half a dozen of another. It’s easy enough to do if you have the time and you’re conceited enough to think your private data is worth anything to anybody anyway, but I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes if you forget the password. Plus, I’ve seen some pretty nasty stuff happen to people who DIDN’T forget their password. Me, I’ll pass, but I have more tech common sense than most!

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Your Startup Disk Is Almost Full! You Better NOT Wait!

There once was a time, way back when, that space on your hard drive seemed infinite. In those days, 500 photos and 250 songs were considered a lot, and nobody had tens of thousands of unread emails and life was good. Installing software on your computer warned you how much space it would take in megabytes, not gigabytes.

And even though hard drives have dropped in price in the last several years, computers (of all makes and models) these days are coming with smaller internal storage, for a few reasons. One is that the standard “hard drive” with spinning platters and moving parts (with the occasional grinding noise as well) are pretty much a dead issue. Instead, solid state storage is the way to go. Of course, these drives are more expensive on a price-per-gigabyte basis, so smaller is the trend.

Then, of course, a lot of the media we consume is streaming, meaning it’s nothing we have to store on hard drives. Movies and music take up a lot of space, as do pictures and other stuff. But that aside, sometimes you CAN run out of internal storage. No shame with that, of course, but knowing how to properly fix that situation for either a “quick fix” (to get you through a work deadline) as well as a “permanent fix” (to prevent this issue from coming back anytime soon) will pay dividends, as least when it comes to the time you would spend trying to figure this mess out.

Places to look for space hogs:

The Trash

Located on the right (or bottom) of your dock, this is where a lot of no longer necessary files reside. You’re put your stuff in the trash, but now you have to EMPTY it. In Finder, pull down the FINDER menu and select EMPTY TRASH.

Downloads Folder

Located inside your home folder. This is where your downloads end up. In there are probably a lot of Adobe Flash Player installers, Zoom installers and other assorted stuff that you no longer need. Note that photos and files you download from the internet (bank statements, for example) wind up here. Pull all the unneeded files into the trash.

Pictures Folder

Also located inside of your home folder. A typical large, no longer relevant file is an iPhoto Library that has ALREADY BEEN MIGRATED into Photos. This can be a huge file – but before trashing it, confirm it has already been migrated into Apple’s replacement for iPhoto, which is the cleverly-named Photos. Again, trash it if you want to get rid of it.

MobileSync

Located in the Application Support folder, which is inside Library folder, which is inside of home folder (though it could be hidden). This is the folder where your iPhone or iPad backups reside (if you elect to back them up to your computer instead of iCloud), so there may be multiple folders inside there. One problem – these folders don’t identify the name of the device that is backed up (they have names like 00008030-000924CE0A00802E), so you’ll have to go with the “date modified” to find out if they’re relevant folders. If you do delete a current iPhone backup, don’t worry, next time you connect your iPhone, the folder will repopulate.

NOTE: If your Library folder is hidden, you can still access it. In Finder, pull down on the GO menu while holding down the OPTION key, and you’ll be able to see the Library folder in the menu.

Microsoft User Data

Located inside the Documents folder, which is inside of your home folder. For users (or ex-users) of Microsoft Office 2008 and Office 2011, this is where your mail database (actually all the mail files) were located. If you’ve graduated to Office 365, then you can trash the entire folder. However, if you’re still using Office 2011,  you can trash the Office 2008 folder. If you’re still using Office 2008, well, you shouldn’t be, but if you are, that isn’t your biggest problem.

Unused Applications

Look inside your Applications folder and see if there are any packages you no longer use. Apple won’t let you toss any of its applications (Safari, for example), but any third-party stuff can chucked. Also trash anything that has a slash through it, as that’s stuff that is no longer compatible with your operating system.

There are also other files that can be expunged, like everything in the Caches folder which is inside of the Library folder but venturing in there is where angels fear to tread. One false move and you can be in the middle of an inconvenient tech disaster.

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OS Upgrades: Should You Do It or Hold Off?

One subject I’m often asked about (and I am constantly asked about stuff – I was called DURING the recent Super Bowl as well as on Christmas Day last year, but that’s another story!) is about OS (operating system) updates.

System Preferences: Software Update pane. Or Software Update pain?

It would seem logical that the latest and greatest is the way to go. In theory, yes, but there are all sorts of conditions that go along with it. For example, a software package you’re using might not be compatible with the latest version of the OS (or worse, not work at all), so you’ll be forced to buy an upgrade of your software package. But if that software is Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Suite, then you’ll be subscribing to them just to keep working, as there is no more “buying” these software packages, only renting them.

OK, first of all, understand there are TWO different types of OS upgrades: There are VERSION upgrades – where you go from one version (OS X Catalina to OS 11 Big Sur). These are major upgrades, and you have to download the installer from the App Store.

Then there are the INCREMENTAL upgrades: These are the “fixes” that Apple offers in between the versions of the software. These are usually minor security tweaks, but sometimes they’re larger.

So how do you handle OS upgrades?

Go ahead and accept the incremental upgrades, they’re not likely to change anything in a major way. In fact, if you want to have them download and install automatically, go into SYSTEM PREFERENCES > SOFTWARE UPDATE and enable AUTOMATICALLY KEEP MY MAC UP TO DATE. That will free you up from having to sweat out the smaller updates.

As far as installing version updates goes, it’s best to hold off for a while, especially if you’re running any third-party software. There’s nothing worse than having to pay for a new version of your software because the old version isn’t compatible with the new OS. Or worse, having to “back down” your Mac to its previous OS. A totally time-consuming (read; expensive) process that nobody wants to do.

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Are You (or your Mac, actually) Suffering From A Full Hard Drive?

There once was a time, way back when, that space on your hard drive seemed infinite. In those days, 500 photos and 250 songs were considered a lot, and nobody had tens of thousands of unread emails (see my Quick Tip below for more on that subject) and all was good. Installing software on your computer warned you how much space it would take in megabytes, not gigabytes.

And even though hard drives have dropped in price faster than the recent Twitter freefall, computers (of all makes and models) these days are coming with smaller internal storage, for a few reasons. One is that the standard “hard drive” with spinning platters and moving parts (with the occasional grinding noise as well) are pretty much a dead issue. Instead, solid state storage is the way to go. Of course, these drives are more expensive on a price-per-gigabyte basis, so smaller is the trend.

Then, of course, a lot of the media we consume is streaming, meaning it’s nothing we have to store on hard drives. Movies and music take up a lot of space, as do pictures and other stuff. But that aside, sometimes you CAN run out of internal storage. No shame with that, of course, but knowing how to properly fix that situation for either a “quick fix” (to get you through a work deadline) as well as a “permanent fix” (to prevent this issue from coming back anytime soon) will pay dividends, as least when it comes to the time you would spend trying to figure this mess out.

Places to look for space hogs:

The Trash

Located on the right (or bottom) of your dock, this is where a lot of no longer necessary files reside. You’re put your stuff in the trash, but now you have to EMPTY it. In Finder, pull down the FINDER menu and select EMPTY TRASH.

Downloads Folder

Located inside your home folder. This is where your downloads end up. In there are probably a lot of Adobe Flash Player installers, Zoom installers and other assorted stuff that you no longer need. Note that photos and files you download from the internet (bank statements, for example) wind up here. Pull all the unneeded files into the trash.

Pictures Folder

Also located inside of your home folder. A typical large, no longer relevant file is an iPhoto Library that has ALREADY BEEN MIGRATED into Photos. This can be a huge file – but before trashing it, confirm it has already been migrated into Apple’s replacement for iPhoto, which is the cleverly-named Photos. Again, trash it if you want to get rid of it.

MobileSync

Located in the Application Support folder, which is inside Library folder, which is inside of home folder (though it could be hidden). This is the folder where your iPhone or iPad backups reside (if you elect to back them up to your computer instead of iCloud), so there may be multiple folders inside there. One problem – these folders don’t identify the name of the device that is backed up (they have names like 00008030-000924CE0A00802E), so you’ll have to go with the “date modified” to find out if they’re relevant folders. If you do delete a current iPhone backup, don’t worry, next time you connect your iPhone, the folder will repopulate.

NOTE: If your Library folder is hidden, you can still access it. In Finder, pull down on the GO menu while holding down the OPTION key, and you’ll be able to see the Library folder in the menu.

Microsoft User Data

Located inside the Documents folder, which is inside of your home folder. For users (or ex-users) of Microsoft Office 2008 and Office 2011, this is where your mail database (actually all the mail files) were located. If you’ve graduated to Office 365, then you can trash the entire folder. However, if you’re still using Office 2011,  you can trash the Office 2008 folder. If you’re still using Office 2008, well, you shouldn’t be, but if you are, that isn’t your biggest problem.

Unused Applications

Look inside your Applications folder and see if there are any packages you no longer use. Apple won’t let you toss any of its applications (Safari, for example), but any third-party stuff can chucked. Also trash anything that has a slash through it, as that’s stuff that is no longer compatible with your operating system.

There are also other files that can be expunged, like everything in the Caches folder which is inside of the Library folder but venturing in there is where angels fear to tread. One false move and you can be in the middle of an inconvenient tech disaster.

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Your Tech Resolutions for 2021

2020 was, for most of us, a lousy year, to say the least. The year of the mask, of social distancing and cancel culture. It was a hunker-down kind of year, not one for proactive activity.

January 1, 2021. TGIF!

But time marches on and all of that is SO 2020 – and there ARE some things you should do in 2021 that can improve your tech life. (Seriously, do you REALLY want more of this stuff next year?) All things that can boost your productivity, save you money and give yourself some more joy.

OK, a few resolutions for 2021!

Back Up Your Data!

This device can save your bacon in case of a hard drive crash.

A no-brainer. Every Mac has built-in backup software called Time Machine. An external USB hard drive is cheap – under $60 at Amazon, Staples or Best Buy. If your hard drive bonks, you’ll be glad you have a backup.

Upgrade Your Wi-Fi Network!

Mesh is the way to go in 2021 – and beyond.

Mesh is the way to go. Apple AirPort routers were great, but that ship has sailed. And the free router that your internet provider supplied you? Lousy. Mesh isn’t dirt cheap but can be set up quickly. It’s a “set and forget” type of deal.

Confirm Your iCloud Settings

iCloud is also known as your “Apple ID.”

iCloud is a service that Apple provides, and there is a free tier and a paid tier. The only difference is the amount of storage you’re allocated. But no matter if you’re paying or not, you can still sync your contacts, calendars and even your pictures if you choose, so they’re the same on all your devices.

Clean Out Your Email

Would your life end if you lost any email more than two years old? Doubtful. Highly doubtful.

Most users have too many messages in their email accounts. Now, I know that some of it is important, but any retail or political messages more than a week old are worthless. (A lot of the current ones are also garbage, but that’s an entirely different issue.) Plus – anything more than two weeks old and are unread should be trashed. And empty your email’s deleted folder too!  

Get Rid of Unused Applications

Trash it!

Look in your APPLICATIONS folder – if you see anything with a slash through it, it’s no longer supported. Either update it or trash it. Toss any older versions of software you’re using – Adobe and Microsoft Office are two notorious offenders here. And any “MacCleaner” or “CleanMyMac” type of stuff should be expunged. Immediately.

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What The New Apple Products Mean To You

On November 10th, Apple gave its THIRD product announcement in the past two month. Looks like Apple wants you to want its new technology.

Updates were given to the Apple Watch, the iPad, two new iPhones (12 and 12 Pro) and most importantly, a new of Macs. What’s notable about this new breed of animal is that, for the first time in a dozen or so years, Apple computers are going to sport a new processor, the in-house developed M1.

So, without getting too geek speak about all of this, the new computers are touted to be superior to anything out there. Of course, Apple conducted (with great fanfare) another “event” to present this new technology to the world. To see an edited version of event, click here. If you’re brave (or bored) and want to see the entire 48-minute presentation, click here.

As far as software goes, all of the native Mac applications going to be compatible. As far as other popular packages go – namely Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite – new versions are in development. So, if you’re looking to buy one of these new Macs, confirm that any software packages you plan on using are going to be compatible with the new hardware and the Big Sur operating system. Otherwise, you’ll have a great new computer that won’t be able to run your vital software.

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And You’re Not Backing Up Your Data Why?

Another month, another hard drive crash…

Sometimes, it’s physical damage.

Once again, a non-functioning computer – a crashed (or damaged) hard drive, and worst of all – no backup! No Time Machine backup, no iCloud backup, no Carbonite backup, nothing. And at the worst possible moment, a week before a huge project.

What does this mean for the user?

Well, it means that he or she has to scramble to try piecemeal the data together from here, there and everywhere. From sent attachments. Asking others to return documents that were sent to them. From photos and videos on the iPhone. Sounds like a stressful pain in the neck to me. The worst part – this entire mess could’ve been avoided.

Now, the hard drive crash was probably unavoidable (although there are sometimes red flags, but let’s give the client the benefit of the doubt). First of all – understand that for the most part, the most valuable stuff on your computer is YOUR DATA. The other stuff – system files, applications and such are all easily (or semi-easily) replaceable, but if your hard drive contains the only copy of your data, you’re living in a powder keg, giving off sparks.

Here’s what could’ve saved the day:

$59 buys you peace of mind.

Time Machine Backup: Time Machine is software built into the Mac OS. It’s a simple setup – set and forget – and as long as you keep your external hard drive plugged into your Mac (and you haven’t ignored any “external hard drive is full” warnings), you’ll have a recent backup of all of your files.

Pro: Not only do you get a backup of your data, you can go back in time and access older versions of documents as well.

Con: If you don’t connect your external drive (or ignore any warnings), it’s analogous to realizing you forgot to lock your doors after a break in.

Bottom Line: No matter what other option you choose, this one is non-negotiable.

It’s free!

iCloud Drive: iCloud Drive backs up the data on your Desktop and in your Documents folder – provided that you enabled it. And don’t’ have an adverse reaction to storing your data online. You get 5GB free, after that threshold, you have to pay.

Pro: It’s an easy “set and forget” method of ensuring your data is backed up.

Con: It has its storage limits and if you forget your iCloud password, it’s a hassle to recover your files.

Bottom Line: A quick and dirty backup for your most important data but be careful of overloading your quota.

Dropbox is the most popular file hosting service.

File Hosting Services: Namely Google Drive and Dropbox. These are like Coke and Pepsi, the same basic thing with slight differences, but overall serve the same purpose. Amazon Prime members also have free storage offered to them as well. Storing your documents in the dedicated folder is a great way to safeguard your work. Similar to iCloud Drive, there is a free tier and a paid tier. But Google gives you 15 GB of free storage space!

Pro: Once you’re set up and remember to save to the dedicated folder, your work is backed up on the cloud.

Con: A measly 5 GB of storage from Dropbox is all you get with the free plan. After that, plan on paying for more storage.

Bottom Line: A good second-tier option to consider if you’re not confused by it all.

Mozy is only one option.

Online Backup Service: The big players are Carbonite Mozy and Backblaze, but there are many others. There’s no free ride here – it’s all pay to play. You have to sign up for the service and configure it on your computer. And check once in awhile to confirm it’s working properly.

Pro: Works in the background, so once you’re finished the initial setup, you’re good to go.

Con: Pricey, plus somewhat cumbersome interface. And huge files take time to recover. Like that 185 GB Photos library.

Bottom Line: Personally, I wouldn’t bother with this type of service. But I know I’ve got my bases covered with Time Machine and iCloud backups.

Truer words were never spoken…
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