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Another blog post, another Mac OS update.

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Do you really want to talk to your Mac?

In late September, Apple introduced Mac OS X.12, (Sierra) as a free upgrade, available (as usual) in the App Store. While there are some features that will have Apple fanboys and fangirls excited (Siri on the Mac, the ability to login to your computer via your Apple Watch), most of the action takes place behind the scenes. In other words, functional, but not all that exciting.

There have been a few small glitches with OS X.12. One is an incompatibility issue with Microsoft Office 2008. If you’re planning to upgrade to Sierra, then it’s time to move on from Office 2008, a software package that’s approaching its ninth birthday. Another is a strange pixilation of the print window in some programs (Adobe Acrobat, for example), but that appears to be only an aesthetic issue, not a functional one. And I’m reading of nightmares when mixing Sierra and QuickBooks, so if you’re a QB user, don’t even think of upgrading until you receive the “all clear.”

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Think before blindly syncing your files to the cloud!

But the biggest issue I have discovered with updating to Sierra is during the configuration process, post restart, after the software has been downloaded and installed. There is an option to enable Siri (see graphic above), but the next one that comes along – to move all your documents into iCloud Drive – is troubling. That’s because you potentially will be forced into upgrading (e.g. paying Apple for more storage capacity). Worse, your data will have been forcibly migrated into “your” iCloud Drive (which means it’s also stored on Apple’s servers somewhere out there).

iCloud Drive’s tagline is “All your files. On all your devices.” Which is fine and dandy – but that’s exactly what Google Drive, Dropbox and others do just as well. Doing something as rash as moving all your files out of their familiar homes and into the cloud is something you need to put a lot of thought into – not just go willy-nilly with the defaults of an OS update and hope for the best. Understanding exactly how iCloud Drive works and exactly why you would want to take such a large step with your valuable data are things best thought out beforehand.

It’s like deciding who to vote for after the curtain closes behind you in the voting booth. Not the best way to handle an important decision.

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Zen and the Art of Email Maintenance

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Last month, 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; the Groupon wasn’t interesting to me, 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 my 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.

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 big bucks to reconstruct your email.

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.

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. 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?

#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.

If you need to save archive 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.

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.

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

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. Add one more – the belief that they’re someday going to read those old emails. It’s not going to happen. And the sooner they come to that realization, the better off mankind will be.

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Keeping Current With Updates

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It seems that we’re constantly being hammered with updates. And not just from Apple, but from Adobe, Mozilla and Microsoft, among others. Many others. I get a lot of calls from clients, citing concern about applying updates. In most cases, notifications for updates on the Mac platform are legitimate, but there are instances where scammers send out official-looking email notices that request that you update your software.

One thing is certain; you will want to verify that the update request is bona fide and not a scam. The best way to stay protected from a scam that is to instigate all updates yourself. So don’t count on an email to be legit – learn how to perform updates on your own and learn to ignore the fake requests, similar to the way you dismiss the bogus FedEx delivery notifications and Nigerian money transfer scams.

The bottom line: NEVER rely on an email notification (or phone call) to inform you of an update. In addition, performing an update indicated by a pop-up window on a Website is also a bad idea, but you have to be able to differentiate between a Web pop-up and a legitimate notification from Apple. What you SHOULD do is be proactive and take a few minutes from time to time to initiate all the updates on your computer yourself.

To see a list of the most common updates you should perform, visit my update resource page here.

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In The News: Heartbleed Bug

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This month, the Heartbleed bug is all over the news. In short, it’s a security flaw that leaves a large percentage of the world’s Internet servers susceptible to hackers. While in theory it doesn’t pose any risks with the data on your personal computer, it still is a major concern because it potentially leaves a large number of user names and passwords exposed to the bad guys.

While these user names and passwords might be on sites where a stolen identity may be on the “no harm no foul” side of the ledger (www.sobe.com, for example), these same user name/password combinations MAY be the same on sites (such as online banking) where you certainly don’t want any unauthorized access.

While companies out there in cyberspace are scrambling to get these security holes patched up, you can help yourself by changing your passwords to most (if not all) of the sites you visit. That can be a tedious process, and although there are apps that can help automate things, it’s best to do it only AFTER you’ve checked if the site has been upgraded to eliminate the security breach. A good resource to check if a site has been repaired its Qualys SSL Labs.

Another great resource for is an e-book titled “12 Quick Tips for Creating, Recording & Remembering Your Computer Names & Passwords” written by yours truly. It’s available from Amazon. You can read it on the iPad if you have the Kindle App installed. It’s also available from Apple’s iBooks Store. If you don’t already have it, you can download the iBooks app from Apple’s App Store for free.

 

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Apple Mail – Friend or Foe?

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Just when everything seems to be working well, you get the dreaded SMTP error and your outgoing email remains stuck in the Outbox. Yet you’re able to seamlessly receive email messages. So what’s the deal with that?

That’s because, for some reason (and Apple will never admit there is a problem with its software), its Mail program has trouble with outgoing mail. Yes, even though it worked fine an hour ago and you haven’t tinkered with the settings, you’ll still get an error message when attempting to send email. The message usually reads “Cannot send message using the service mail.optonline.net” or something similar.

Does this happen to you? And do you know what to do when you get this message? It seems it’s a flaw in Apple’s Mail program. Users with Optimum as their ISP (Internet Service Provider) tend to have this issue, but it’s not limited to Cablevision users; other email providers fall prey to this glitch.

I’ve found that the best way to quickly fix this issue is to delete the outgoing mail server and then reinstate it. This is accomplished by performing the following:

  • Launch Mail
  • Select PREFERENCES from under the MAIL menu in the upper left corner of the screen
  • Click ACCOUNTS icon on the top of the Preferences window
  • Highlight your mail account in the left-hand column
  • Pull down on the OUTGOING MAIL SERVER (SMTP) dropdown menu and select EDIT SMTP SERVER LIST…
  • Select the mail.optonline.net server (or whatever outgoing mail server is causing you grief) and click the MINUS (-) button in the lower left corner of the server window
  • Once the server has been expunged, click on the PLUS (+) button, located to the right of the MINUS (-) button
  • Click on the ACCOUNT INFORMATION tab, and in both the DESCRIPTION and SERVER NAME fields, enter the following: mail.optonline.net
  • Click on the ADVANCED tab and select USE DEFAULT PORTS (25, 465, 587)
  • In the AUTHENTICATION dropdown menu, select PASSWORD and enter your user name (your Optimum email address WITHOUT the @optonline.net suffix) in the USER NAME field and your Optimum email password in the PASSWORD field

If you’re using an outgoing (SMTP) server that isn’t Optonline, then you should consider making print screen of the information (Command-Shift-4) for your records. And please record your password! If you need help with your passwords, I suggest an extremely helpful e-book, 12 Quick Tips for Creating, Recording & Remembering Your Computer Names & Passwords, available at Amazon as well as Apple’s iBooks Store.

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Beware of Scams – Online and Offline!

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We’re all aware of online scams – we all have received the Nigerian Prince email letter (the 21st century version of the Spanish Prisoner scam) and the various other fraud emails that concern banking, Facebook and eBay/PayPal, among others. But this past month alone TWO clients asked me about strange things that happened to them. One received an email and the other was actually a phone call.

One was simply an email offering to fix a “damaged” file on the computer (specifically the email database). This type of thing is similar to an email from “your bank” asking you to reset your password – a notification that can simply be ignored (and deleted). But the second incident was something far more insidious.

It was a phone call (Caller ID: WIRELESS CALLER, 1-646-612-3444) from somebody claiming to be a tech support agent with connection to Microsoft (which they are not). They will tell you that your computer is infected with a virus and they want to be able to access your computer remotely. Once they’re in, all your personal data, passwords and anything else are fair game for them.

The lesson here – do NOT trust ANYBODY to gain access to your computer unless it’s a service call YOU initiated. Furthermore, ignore all unsolicited technical advice, including online messages that inform you that you can “clean up your Mac” by downloading a program, how you have a virus or any other technical problems. The takeaway from all of this: If you get a notification out of the blue about your computer, don’t engage them! There will always be someone out there trying to scam unsuspecting users, but the more you know, the less likely you’ll be hit with identity theft and serious issues.

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Getting A New Mac? Delete Your Data From Your Old One!

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It seems that we’re buying new computers at a faster clip these days than we were a few years ago (at least in this corner of the nation). I’ve noticed that today the average user keeps his or her Mac for a little over three years.  I’m convinced that the reason for this trend of replacing a computer more often is due to increasingly sophisticated requirements for websites and online content – just note how often Adobe Flash Player requires updating. (I’ll be writing about these changes in a future blog post.)

But since we’re replacing our computers at a faster clip, this means we’re also getting rid of computers more often as well. For some, this means giving the old one to the kids or another family member or maybe keeping it around as a backup. In this instance, it’s not always necessary to reformat the hard drive to delete your data; but if the computer is going anywhere outside of your house, it means you have to be cognizant about what happens to the personal information on your old computer.

Short of physically removing your hard drive (a difficult task in most models), the best way to “zero out” the data is to reinitialize the hard drive using the original installation media.

OS X.7 and earlier Macs: Boot while holding down the “C” key.

OS X.8 and later Macs: Boot while holding the Command-R keys.

In both instances, you’ll be given the opportunity to reinstall the operating system. You’ll want to launch DISK UTILITY from the “Utilities” menu and erase the hard drive before proceeding.

A couple of things:

Confirm that you have copied all the data off your old Mac before erasing the hard drive.

  • If you’re selling/donating/giving away your old Mac, include the original OS media if possible.
  • If you need help preparing your old Mac for donation or sale on eBay or CraigsList and aren’t sure how to expunge your data, call your computer professional before giving it away!
  • If you’re really paranoid about some super hacker with advanced data recovery skills gleaning your information off of your formatted hard drive, then physically remove the drive from the computer before parting with it.

Yes, there’s a little more to this than I have space for here. The bottom line – don’t allow a computer containing your personal data to be out of your control. We’re all extremely aware of the consequences of identity theft.

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Keeping Files Organized On Your Desktop

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Are you a digital hoarder? Or are you just extremely unorganized?

You’re hardly alone. Most of us have no idea how to keep things nice and neat on our desktops – mostly we have a random jumble of files, folders and other digital debris. Yet there is a way to keep things neat, or at least not be embarrassed when somebody glances at your screen. Plus, if your desktop is weighted down with tons of files, it can slow your computer down to a crawl!

So what’s the best way to keep your desktop organized?

 Step 1: Use a method that works for you

There is no “one size fits all” solution to desktop organization. Rather than be locked into an organizational philosophy that goes against the grain, design a folder hierarchy that works the way your brain does. That may involve separating work from personal, entertainment from admin, etc. But name (and organize) your folders in a way that is intuitive to you.

 Step 2: Use the folders Apple provides

Inside your home folder, there are a number of folders that are designed for easy access. These folders are placed in your home folder by default and are a great place to start organizing files. It’s extremely simple – you keep your photos in the Pictures folder, your music in the Music folder, etc.  But beyond that, it gets a little more complex.

 Step 3 Create your own folders

Folders can hold an infinite number of files and other folders. So don’t be afraid to put folders within folders within folders, just like the nesting Russian dolls. Create a few folders – and break down the top level to the lowest common denominator. For example, the folders that sit on the desktop could be named:

  • Admin
  • Family
  • Finances
  • Pending Issues
  • Work

Those five folders cover a lot of ground. For example, Family could have subfolders such as Children and School. Pending Issues could hold vacation plans, submitted health claims and current home projects. Same goes for the others – plan on populating those folders with the files (and folders) that best fit within. Good luck and have a great holiday season and an organized New Year!

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Your iPhone: Understanding and Managing iCloud Storage

icloudfull2Recently, three clients, hectored by Apple to buy more “storage for their iPhones,” paid for it, thinking it would increase the capacity on the phone itself.  Sorry to say, this warning has nothing to do with the iPhone’s hardware and everything to do with paying for online storage to back up your iOS device.  As far as priorities are concerned, online storage for your iPhone (or iPad) can be filed under “Nice to have, but surely not necessary.”

Not that Apple is being dishonest – it is just cleaning house and winding down the practice of tons of free storage given to MobileMe subscribers who migrated over to iCloud.  All iCloud subscribers get a complimentary 5GB of storage; nice, but hardly enough space for even the smallest collection of apps, photos and music, considering iPhones are available in sizes up to 64GB, and who knows what amped up capacities Apple has in its pipeline.

Of course, if you’re willing to crack open your wallet, additional online storage is available. As of late 2013, Apple has the following price points in place:

  • 10GB additional (15GB total): $20/year
  • 20GB additional (25GB total): $40/year
  • 50GB additional (55GB total): $100/year

Since many of us have 64GB iPhones, that’s a $100/year expense if you want a full backup of our phone. Certainly that’s not a lot of money, but these little sums add up. Yet there is a way to avoid paying for cloud storage, and that’s by using your Mac to back up your iPhone. Besides the cost advantage, it’s also a quicker process to restore the phone from your computer as opposed to restoring from the cloud.

This is accomplished by plugging your USB sync cable into your computer instead of a standard charger. Launch iTunes and highlight your iPhone in the left sidebar and select “This computer” in the Backups pane of the iTunes window. If you crave immediate gratification, simply click on the “Back Up Now” button, which starts the process. Note that your iPhone will be backed up on your computer; and the computer will be backed up to your external drive or Time Capsule.

Understand there is more to this story – part of this service includes Documents In The Cloud – which is online storage of iWork documents (Pages, Numbers and Keynote). However, I haven’t seen a mass exodus from Microsoft Office to iWork, and haven’t fielded many inquiries about iWork cloud storage.

Some helpful links from Apple:

iCloud Support: Documents in the Cloud

iCloud: Managing Your iCloud Storage

 

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Working With Microsoft Entourage

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Microsoft Entourage (introduced 2000, discontinued 2010) is Microsoft’s email client and is included in its Office for Mac software suite. Despite being “out of print” for three years this month, it’s still the go-to email program of many Mac users. Although it’s a superior product to Apple’s Mail application, using Entourage has a number of issues that give users trouble, although they’re not all deal breakers.

Here are the drawbacks of using Microsoft Entourage:

•  Having to rebuild your database: Entourage stores all its data in a database file (buried deep within your Documents folder) and it grows larger and larger as more and more messages are received and sent. When the Entourage Database file grows to several gigabytes, it crashes and requires a rebuild. Unfortunately, deleting messages along the way doesn’t reduce its size – only rebuilding will shrink the file. (Actually, it creates a new, smaller database file.)

The biggest problem is that the program is unusable while the database rebuilds, and the larger the database file, the longer the rebuild process takes. A rebuild that lasts eight hours is not unusual. And although the Microsoft’s software people did a great job, the success rate for rebuilds are around 80%. To learn how to rebuild your Entourage database, click here. For the 20% of failed rebuilds, there is hope: sometimes third-party products such as EntourAid can save the day, but generally there are no guarantees.

•  Entourage requires a separate address book: Apple got one thing right – its address book (named Contacts) is used for multiple Apple applications, including Mail, Messages (formerly iChat), FaceTime and of course it serves as the “address book” for iPhones and iPads. Not the case with Microsoft. Entourage requires its own proprietary contact list. There are options for syncing the two – but the two parties don’t always play nicely, and the results often include duplicated entries or cards with the fields not mapped properly. On the bright side, the address book in Entourage is far superior to Apple’s Contacts.

• Entourage has an expiration date: If history serves as an indicator, in the not-too-distant future, Microsoft will discontinue support for it, or more likely before that happens, it will not be compatible with a future Mac OS upgrade. Once this happens, you have a few choices: Stick with Microsoft (and all the issues that dog Entourage) by upgrading to Outlook (the email client in Office 2011, the current release as of this writing), give up fighting the good fight and go with Apple or go radical with Mozilla Thunderbird or some other B-list player.

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