Troubleshooting

Frustrations, Oh the Frustrations!

My computing life since Yosemite arrived has been a HEADACHE!

Did you notice that I did not say “since I installed Yosemite?”

My problems cannot be blamed on Yosemite. Instead, I will blame myself, some bad luck, and some unsafe downloading and some bad timing!

If I were to write about the whole thing, I suspect you would read a page or two and loose interest. So instead I’ll tackle a problem or two at a time.

We’ll begin today by talking about critical software. My critical software probably won’t be your critical software. But, if you have software that you depend on, make sure—double sure, it will work in the new operating system software.

For me, and for Dr. Mac Consulting, our critical software is Mac Helpmate. If you are our client, you probably have Mac Helpmate installed on your computer. It is the application that allows us to see and control your computer. While we can also use screen sharing via Apple’s Messages application, it can be difficult to set up, especially with novice users.

Since there was a public beta of Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite, I signed up and gave it a try, but not a great try since I do not have a recent Mac that is not in critical use. I did install the beta on a flash drive—and I ran it (slowly) several times. I did download Mac Helpmate — and it seemed to run.

However, after upgrading to Yosemite, I found out it just would NOT run. We’ve been working with Dean Shavit for over ten years. Mac Helpmate had been bullet-proof software — it just worked. We occasionally had server issues, but those can be expected, especially in the late afternoon and evening hours when everyone is using Netflix to clog up the web.

Dean’s company is very small. When there are only a few people who do the programming, it is reasonable that it can take a week for new software to be completed. However, that week was one of frustration!

I have a large SSD card in my MacBook Pro. It is possible to make a partition on a working hard drive and it is possible to run Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks on one partition while running Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite on the other. It is not possible to run either one when the SSD drive gets flaky.

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why. I don’t even want to know how, but I have some advice for you. If your drive is reporting block count errors in Disk Utility, even if those errors can be fixed, there is a problem! It is time to back up the drive and prepare for a day (or more) of working on your Mac—not fun work, just hours and hours of backing up, formatting, installing, configuring, downloading, updating and re-copying.

I did it. I survived. It wasn’t pretty. Mac Helpmate is working—and working beautifully. I am back to helping clients. I’m happy!

If you have not upgraded to Yosemite, make sure your hard drive or SSD drive is in good condition. Make sure your critical software will work. Then download Yosemite. The interface is a bit different than Mavericks, but it will quickly grown on you! If you need help, we at
Dr. Mac Consulting are around and ready to help!

—Pat
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Dealing with Adobe Flash Player

I woke up to the news of yet another Adobe Flash Player security concern. The article is on the Mac Observer web site.

So, just what is Flash? According to
Adobe:

Adobe Flash Player is the standard for delivering high-impact, rich Web content. Designs, animation, and application user interfaces are deployed immediately across all browsers and platforms, attracting and engaging users with a rich Web experience

According to
Wikipedia:

Adobe Flash (formerly called "Macromedia Flash") is a multimedia and software platform used for authoring of vector graphics, animation, games and rich Internet applications (RIAs) that can be viewed, played and executed in Adobe Flash Player. Flash is frequently used to add streamed video or audio players, advertisement and interactive multimedia content to web pages, although usage of Flash on websites is declining.

Steve Jobs had
very strong feelings about Flash and refused to incorporate it into iOS, the operating system for Apple’s iPhones and iPads.

Flash works on Macintosh computers, but in my experience, it is more of a curse that a feature. In fact, it is usually to blame for many of my computer headaches. I decided to strictly control it several years ago and I could not be happier! The problem with Flash is that it just doesn’t know when to stop! Flash is an Internet browser extension. If it is used on a web site, Flash Player starts up and it does not turn itself off until you quit the browser (think Safari, Firefox, Chrome etc.) While it runs in the background it continues to demand RAM from your computer and it slows down the processor, making your computer run slower--and slower--and slower. Soon you begin to see spinning beach balls each time you try to click a link or even use a different application.

There are ways to limit the effects of Flash on your computer. I use
ClickToFlash, a Safari Browser Extension. It prevents Flash content from loading automatically. When I encounter Flash content, I see this:

no_flash

If I click the Flash button the content for the clicked box shows. When I leave the webpage, ClickToFlash turns the Flash player off. It doesn’t turn on again until I click another Flash box.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 9.36.10 AM

When you go to the
web page for ClickToFlash, there are download links for both ClickToFlash and the ClickToPlugin. Today we are only going to deal with ClickToFlash. When you click the link, this is downloaded to your Download folder:

clicktoflash

Double click on it and this will appear:

clicktoflash_install

Click the Install button and a web page will appear where you can choose just what the ClickToPlugin will do:

safari_extension

In general, you can ignore this for the moment. An easier way to learn about ClickToFlash is to go back to the webpage. If you want to get it back, the easiest way is to open Safari Preferences.

safari_preferences

Make sure you have selected Extension at the top and ClickToFlash in the left column. Click the link to Marc Hovis to get back to his web page for explanations and instructions. You will make any changes by clicking on “Click this checkbox to access the settings.

safari_extensions

In general, the defaults work well, but if you want to tune it more finely, there are lots of choices.

In tomorrow’s article, we’ll look at just how to install Flash updates. You would think it would be easy, but through experience, I know that about 75% of our clients don’t manage to install all those Adobe Flash Player updates!

--Pat
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Viruses -- Are Macs being attacked?

Have you read the Google News headlines? I have a specialized section in my Google News feed that presents me with several Mac stories every time I open Safari on my Macintosh. I see the story because I have set news.google.com as my homepage. But why has it appeared every day for the past week?

apple_attack

Today is February 26. The story is dated February 19! Let’s check the next headline:

apple_attack2

Even this story is almost a week old.

So what is going on?

There are several bad file types that can theoretically attack your computer. They are usually describe as:

Virus - a computer program that can replicate itself[1] and spread from one computer to another. The term "virus" is also commonly, but erroneously, used to refer to other types of malware, including but not limited to adware and spyware programs that do not have a reproductive ability.
Malware - short for malicious (or malevolent) software, is software used or created by attackers to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. It can appear in the form of code, scripts, active content, and other software. 'Malware' is a general term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software.
Trojan - a non-self-replicating type of malware which appears to perform a desirable function but instead facilitates unauthorized access to the user's computer system. Trojans do not attempt to inject themselves into other files like a computer virus. Trojan horses may steal information, or harm their host computer systems. Trojans may use drive-by downloads or install via online games or internet-driven applications in order to reach target computers.

These definitions came from Wikipedia. The links lead to full articles there.

We’re Mac users. We don’t get bad stuff!

Let’s examine that statement. For a long time, Apple products seemed to be immune to the bad stuff. Some people ascribe it to Apple’s excellent security measures. Others say it was because Apple was so unimportant. There are elements of truth in both of those statements. While I could write many pages on that subject, I would prefer to refer you to an
article that Rich Mogull wrote for TidBITS. Rich is an expert’s expert on Mac security. He is someone that I pay serious attention to.

Back to last week.

The attack on Mac computers was discovered at Apple. It was determined that this was the
same malware attack that had been detected at Twitter and at Facebook. Last Friday Microsoft said that they too had been attacked.

Let’s take a look at Apple’s response to this problem. First, one of the features of Mac OS X Mountain Lion is Gatekeeper. Click
this link to learn more about it. They released a software update Java for OS X 2013-001 for all users of Lion and Mountain Lion. They also released an update for Mac OS X 10.6. These updates turned off Java in the Safari browser.

Unfortunately, at this time is not only foolhardy, it is also just plain dangerous to run web applications that require Java.

Back to antivirus software.

If you read
Rich Mogull’s article you saw that he does not recommend antivirus software except in very rare circumstances. He points out that things such as last week’s malware must be out in the wild for days, even weeks before antivirus software is updated to protect you against them. So, they provide the user with a false sense of security.

They often slow other programs down and may run in the background for hours at a time using Mac resources that could be better deployed elsewhere. Furthermore, the majority of the malware that they do find does not affect your Mac and, in fact, won’t affect Windows users with up-to-date system software. And, most antivirus software finds many files that are almost certainly not malicious malware. One example is Troj/Unsc-A. Google it and you will find that out of the dozens of Windows anti-virus programs
only three determined that Troj/Unsc-A might be bad. And even among those it was given a neutral rating.

So once again, I have determined that it is not time for me to buy and run antivirus software. I am still not recommending it to my Mac using friends and family, but as always, I will keep my Windows antivirus software that I use in Parallels up-to-date and I will still not download files, check email or surf the web on the Windows side when I am using it.

It’s always nice to have my own expert, Bob LeVitus weight in, here is his response:

Bob says, “I couldn’t have said it better myself. I may have to run antivirus software on my Macs someday, but that day is yet to come.”
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WD-40…Who knew!

There are several things we can’t seem to do without around our home. Our arsenal of things we can’t do without includes things like duct tape, PAM cooking spray, Shout carpet cleaner and…WD-40.

This topic came up because I ran into
this photo that my sister commented about on Facebook. I Googled WD-40 and found a great PDF file about 2000 uses for it on their Web site. You can check it out here. This made me wonder if there were places where I shouldn’t use WD-40. A little more Googling led me to this site.

When I attended the Macworld | iWorld Expo a few weeks ago I found that MacKeeper was one of the sponsors of the event. That set off alarms for me.

There are plenty of cleaning products for your Mac these days. Ads for them seem to pop up everywhere! Some of them are serious threats. Remember MacDefender? It is a Trojan horse.

While MacKeeper gets some good reviews, it is hard to find a Mac professional who has it or any similar product installed on their computer. Google it and you will find lots of users with horror stories. Zeobit, the developer of MacKeeper assures us that the bad press is courtesy of one of its competitors.

I have my own experiences with it on client’s machines. I am not impressed with its effects on their computers, much less the way Zeobit attempts to get it installed on your computer. If you go to their Web site, there are several big download buttons. No where does it tell you what it does or how much it costs. You must dig pretty deep to find the answer. There are several price plans and all offer some version of live support. That is were the trouble really starts. I have gotten a number of calls from clients who were told to do things that they recognized as being dangerous for their computers. Zeobit wants to sell you an extended service plan. They do not tell you who the service techs are or how much training they have had. They also don’t offer any guarantees. One client ended up with some real problems after he installed the program. When he called their geek he was asked to purchase an additional annual plan that cost hundreds of dollars. After he paid it and spent many hours with the tech, his problems got worse and worse. He finally called me and we spent even more hours cleaning up the mess that the software and the geek had made! The ironic part is that before he installed the software, his computer was working very well. The client bought the software because it looked like it could do so many things--things that he really didn’t need to do to his computer at all!

Do I use products like MacKeeper?

Absolutely not! And I don’t use them on any of the family computers that I support. Macs are NOT Windows machines. We do not have registry errors and all those other problems that you hear about. In fact, modern Macs, left to do their own maintenance are usually VERY stable.

So, how do you keep your Mac happy?

  • Keep the desktop reasonably clean.
  • Don’t overfill your hard drive.
  • Make sure you have enough RAM. Today you cannot buy a Mac that has less than 8 GB of RAM.
  • Don’t use the software CD that came with your printer. Instead, use “Print and Scan” in the System Preferences to let your computer tell you what it needs.
  • Run the latest version of the Mac OS that your computer is capable of running.
  • Keep up with OS and software updates.
  • Avoid the temptation to constantly tinker with and tweak the OS. Also avoid software that modifies the operating system
  • Don’t turn you computer off at night, but let it sleep so that it can run its background maintenance tasks.
  • Remember, if you are having a problem, the first thing to do is to RESTART YOUR COMPUTER.
  • Buy AppleCare from Apple when you buy new devices.
  • Plug your computer into a good UPS to keep your power steady and clean.

And remember we are here to lend you a hand if you run into problems that are not covered by AppleCare!

Back to MacKeeper

It is a well-known fact that some bloggers get free hardware and software in exchange for reviews. It can be difficult to write a critical review when someone has been nice enough to give you something for free! A less well-known fact is that some companies actually pay for reviews.

I have not tried to make this blog pay for itself. While I occasionally receive free products at Macworld | iWorld, I have never been given software for the express purpose of writing a review. I do occasional reviews for User Group magazines, but I do not write for any sites that pay their writers. I have friends who have been offered money for writing reviews. I have read their reviews for products that I like and I know that my review would be just as positive. However I always feel squeamish when I read their positive review of a product that I find lacking.

In the case of MacKeeper, there are a number of very positive reviews of their product. Interestingly, if the writer allows feedback, most of those reviews contain negative comments regarding both MacKeeper and of the review itself. I have looked through many reviews and there are two sites that I think might be worthwhile for you to read. The
first is from The MacFeed. Sadly, that site closed its doors in the middle of 2012. They are missed. However, they have kept their previous work online. The second is from Thomas’ Tech Corner. His blog is primarily focused on Mac security, so the anti-virus portion of MacKeeper is of the most interest to him. If you read either of these sites, be sure to read the comments as well.

There will always be lots of software that supposedly cleans something on your Mac to make it run better or faster. They even sell some of it in the Apple App Store. But do you really need it or is it an effort to give you something to do with your computer besides create neat stuff and connect with people?

The older, long time Apple users among us grew up having to tweak things to keep their computer going. Apple began changing that when it introduced Mac OS X. We are now at 10.8. Apple has had lots of time to get it “right” and they have accomplished it! Gone are the days filled with frantic phone calls because someone’s Mac won’t work. While we get a few of those calls, most are remedied with a quick reminder to restart your Mac before giving us a call.

If you hear about a fix-it-all product, be a bit wary. Google it and read lots of reviews and the comments made by other readers. Make sure it really does what you need and expect it to do.

--Pat
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Clean up your desktop…

There are some things that just make sense, even if they are not easy! Keeping bedrooms and the playroom picked up when my children were young was a constant battle. Today, I battle my desk, my sewing table and my computer desktop.

desktop

Flat spaces draw stuff. Although my computer desktop is vertical, it makes a great place to store the things I am working on. There are always pictures for the next blog post, URLS that I want to reference when working with a client or writing and several folders generated by software to keep saved calls and audio notes nearby.

Storing things on the desktop can seriously slow a computer down. While a dozen files won’t have much of an impact, a hundred or even thousands can lead to spinning beach balls!

Just before the holidays I received a message from Pat. He was having all sorts of computer issues and beach balls. Although Pat lives in Ireland, we can use our software to take a look at a client’s computer screen. Imagine my amazement when I saw not tens, not hundreds but almost 4 thousand items piled on Pat’s desktop!

I opened a Finder window, pointed it to the desktop and got to work. The first thing I needed was a new folder. I named it Pat’s Stuff. I put a space before “Pat” so that the folder would be first if I sorted the files by name. I arranged the two windows so that I could easily move files to the new folder.

FinderScreenSnapz001

I began dragging the files and folders to the empty folder. When I dragged the files over, we got a spinning beach ball and it took several minutes before we could see the folders moved to their new location. With each set of files that were moved, the process shortened. When we had only the new Pat’s Stuff folder and the Hard Drive icon on the desktop, the computer was very speedy. The spinning beach ball disappeared!

Unfortunately, cleaning the desktop by shoving everything into a new folder is only a temporary solution. In fact the clutter is still there, but the computer is not having to deal with all of those icons.

Think of each file on the desktop as a separate window because, in fact, the Macintosh OS treats each one that way. It’s no different in Windows. Files stored on the desktop need to be redrawn and kept track of, just as if there were that many open windows.

So how do you deal with all those files? I give frequent presentations and so I often need to clean up the clutter. My solution has been to make that new folder and begin it with a date. Then I drag all the files from my desktop into that folder. If I am not careful, I end up with this, folders inside of folders, but the files still need to be put away!

nested_folders

I was at the Macworld | iWorld Expo last week. I attended a session given by Chris Breen of Macworld Magazine. He suggested an Automator workflow that aids in desktop cleanup, but that is a little complicated for this blog entry. Perhaps I will tackle that later.

Today, while surfing the web, I ran into an interesting application called Unclutter. When it is installed, it adds a tiny jeans pocket to the menu bar at the top of the screen. Click it and you see this menu:

Unclutter

If you pull down to “Open Panel, you see this:

FinderScreenSnapz001

Drag files up to the icon in the menu bar and this happens. Notice the panel opened and you can see the files being placed there:

unclutter_working

It’s very easy to drag files in and out of the window--and they are not being stored on the desktop. If you need a file, just click on the icon, drag down to “Open Panel” and then drag the files to a new location--even back to the desktop.

There are a few more features. The black panel is the last thing you copied to the clipboard and the yellow panel is a place to write quick notes. You can also get the window to open by using the scroll gesture. Take the cursor to the icon in the menu bar. Place two fingers on the trackpad or mouse and pull down. Unclutter will open.

I have not used Unclutter long enough to know if it will solve my cluttered desktop, but I am willing to give it a try!

Unclutter is available in the App Store. It is on sale for $1.99 through February 7. After that it will cost $2.99.

App Store

I keep talking about helping people. That’s because I am a consultant. I work with Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus. We offer trouble-shooting, technical support and training over at Bob LeVitus Consulting. Tutoring costs only $60.00 per hour. We have special software that allows us to see your computer and we can work on the things you want to learn. Give us a call at 408 627-7577. Or send an email to urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.

--Pat
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Computer running hot?

It has been about a week since I upgraded my 17” MacBook Pro to Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. While some of the Finder changes have taken a bit of time to become accustomed to, I am enjoying Lion.

However, my computer has not enjoyed it completely. I noticed that it has been running about 50 degrees warmer than usual. Normally, the CPU temperature had been about 115 degrees. That had climbed to around 155. My first thought was perhaps I had a run away application, but my checks of Activity Monitor did not show any abnormal activity.

activity_monitor

I did some research on the Internet and I noted a few other people are having this problem. While some users were suggesting increasing the fan speed, particularly on older computers, my computer is barely a year old.

It is time for some real troubleshooting. There are many things that can be done to identify and fix a computer problem. One of my favorite ones is to see if the problem exists when a new or test user account is added. This is accomplished in Apple menu > System Preferences > System > Users & Groups.

users_groups

To use this tool, you must first unlock it. Notice the lock in the bottom left corner. When you click it, you will be asked for an administrator password. Set up a new user and be sure to allow this user to administer the computer.

Then go to the Apple menu and choose Log Out. At the next screen you will need to choose your test user and enter the password. The computer will do a partial restart. When it is running, see if your computer is still misbehaving.

In this case, nothing had changed, but I learned several things. First, I now know the problem is not being caused by a login item or a process running in the background. I have not ruled out a problem with the System software. I also have not ruled out a hardware problem.

There are several other things that I want to try before taking in any drastic measures. First I will reset the System Management Controller or SMC. Instructions can be found here. The following are items that are controlled by the SMC:

  • Responding to presses of the power button
  • Responding to display lid opening and closing on portable Macs
  • Battery management
  • Thermal management
  • The SMS (Sudden Motion Sensor)
  • Ambient light sensing
  • Keyboard backlighting
  • Status Indicator Light (SIL) management
  • Battery status indicator lights
  • Selecting an external (instead of internal) video source for some iMac displays
Unfortunately, the reset did not solve my problem.

The next thing I tried was to zap the PRAM. This is a bit of Apple “magic.” All sort of things are stored in Parameter Random Access Memory . They include:
  • Status of AppleTalk
  • Serial Port Configuration and Port definition
  • Alarm clock setting
  • Application font
  • Serial printer location
  • Autokey rate
  • Autokey delay
  • Speaker volume
  • Attention (beep) sound
  • Double-click time
  • Caret blink time (insertion point rate)
  • Mouse scaling (mouse speed)
  • Startup disk
  • Menu blink count
  • Monitor depth
  • 32-bit addressing
  • Virtual memory
  • RAM disk
  • Disk cache
You can find full instructions here.

Things are a bit better. My computer is not back to its normal 115 degrees, but at 135 degrees, it is running quite a bit cooler. I plan to keep an eye on it and seriously consider doing a “nuke and pave.” This is a time-consuming process. I will begin by making a clone of my hard drive to an external drive. Then I will need to make a rescue disk for Lion since Apple will not begin selling USB stick drives for this process for at least a month. After erasing my hard drive, I will install the operating system and do more testing. If the problem persists, it will be time to take my computer to the Apple Store for diagnosis by one of the Geniuses.

When the problem has been resolved I will then install all of my software from disk images, downloads and CDs. This is a long process and it will probably take me several days to get everything back to “normal.” While I don’t plan on using my Time Machine backup as a part of the restore process, I will be transferring my documents, music, pictures etc. back to my computer since data files usually are not a part of software problems.

Wish me luck! Maybe my computer will magically fix itself overnight!

-- Pat

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Adding images to iPhoto with Safari

My “day job” is running an Apple consulting business with Bob LeVitus. We get lots of people who send us an email with a question. While many the those questions are too complex to answer without suggesting a consulting or tutoring session, others are easy enough to answer in this forum. Some even lead to “teachable moments.

Max K. asked a question that lead to this blog post:

In the past I could right click a photo on Safari (email) and download it to Iphoto. Now I get an error message that “iPhoto cannot communicate with Safari". Is there a fix for this?

This issue first appeared almost a year ago. I suspect it is a bug that got introduced in an update to either Safari or iPhoto. If you have seen this problem, have you reported the bug?

In every application produced by Apple there is an item in the application’s menu that provides a way to give feedback or report bugs to Apple.



Clicking these items will take you to a web page that asks question such as which computer you are using, which version of the operating system etc. I went to a session presented by an Apple Product Manager recently. He explained that he receives reports related to the products he is responsible for and he then assigns Apple engineers to investigate the problem. While the fix is not always immediately implemented, Apple tries to resolve as many issues as possible in the next product update.

However, just reporting the problem does not provide a work-around until the issue is fixed. Let’s see if we can find one.

The problem looks like this. I found an image on the Apple Web site that I would like to save. If I hold down the Control key on the keyboard while I click and hold on the image I will get this pop-up menu:



If I select “Add image to iPhoto Library, I see this message:



It’s exactly what Max reported!

However, if iPhoto is already open, the image is imported into iPhoto:



AlthougH I have not fully solved Max’s problem, I have found a workaround. It looks like I have found a bug in Safari and I took a few minutes to report it. Hopefully, Apple will have it fixed in the next version of Safari. I do know if more of us who report bugs, there greater chance that the Apple engineers will look for a solution to the problem.

When you find issues, please report them, but then do a little troubleshooting too. Perhaps you will find a workaround that will help you out!

When you have problems that aren’t so easy to solve, don’t forget about us at Dr. Mac Consulting. We offer training, troubleshooting and technical support. We have special software that allows us to see and control your computer. Troubleshooting costs $30 for 15 minutes or $60 for 30 minutes. We can fix most problems in 15 to 30 minutes. Our tutoring sessions are $60 per hour. We can show you how to use new features of your computer or software. Give us a call at 408 627-7577, or visit our web site or send us a message at urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.

--Pat
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Security Checkup - Safari and Preview, Part 2

In the previous post I was talking about Safari’s security.

While I know that some of you are probably thinking that it is time to move to Firefox or Google Chrome, similar issues exist in those browsers and it could take far longer for those companies to fix the issue than it takes Apple.

So, how do you make Safari more secure? The first step is to open Safari’s Preferences:



You will then see this window. Note that the General pane is chosen:



It is very important to make sure that there is NOT an x in “Open “safe” files… at the bottom of the window. If you do not know where files that you have downloaded are stored, notice that they are probably being sent to the Downloads folder. That folder is a part of your Home folder:



Open that folder. Is it full of old files, ones that you didn’t even know you had? If it is, put away the things you want to save and clean out unneeded files by putting them in the trash and emptying it. Make a commitment to keep the downloads folder empty so that you will recognize files that you did not intend to download.

If files that are out-of-sight never get dealt with, then change your download folder to be your desktop and then remember that a cluttered desktop slows your computer down and makes it inefficient.

There is a whole pane in Safari Preferences devoted to security:



While your ultimate choices are up to you, I do want to know when Safari thinks I am entering a fraudulent web site. I haven't had it steer me wrong yet!

As for my location, that one is hard. I appreciate getting information about things around us when I do a search, but sometimes, I would rather be a bit more private, so the check here changes occasionally.

I am not bothered by Java and JavaScript, but I really dislike pop-up windows, so my checks don’t change here very often. As for cookies, if I didn’t go directly to your Web site, I don’t want your cookies!

The last one is particularly important to me. Sometimes the lack of security on a form on a secure Web site is an oversight on the part of the programmer, but if it is not a site I am very familiar with, this warning will cause me to take my business elsewhere. The non-secure form raises the issue of hacked sites. I may be too cautious, but I would rather be safe than sorry!

There is a lot to think about in computer security! If you need a hand, one of the services we offer at Dr. Mac Consulting is tutoring and issues like this make great learning opportunities. Tutorials cost only $60.00 per hour. We use special software to see your computer and we can show you secure your computer and lots more! Give us a call at Bob LeVitus Consulting. We can discuss your needs and help you formulate a plan that will give you the best “bang for your buck.” You can reach us by telephone at 408 627-7577. Or send an email to urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.

--Pat
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Security Checkup - Safari and Preview, Part 1

As Macintosh users, malware, spyware and viruses are not things that we worry about every day. In fact we can become pretty lackadaisical in our security habits and sometimes even Apple seems to help us out.

Macintosh computers are shipped with a setting in Safari that should probably be changed. They are set so that “safe” files will open automatically. However, some of these “safe” files are not so safe.

“Safe” files include movies, pictures, sounds, PDF and text documents, and disk images and other archives.

While I will agree that on the Mac movies, pictures, sounds, and text documents are almost always “safe,” the other three are not nearly as “safe.” Let’s consider the others.

When your Mac was shipped, the default viewer for PDF documents was set to be Apple’s own Preview application. It is safe, but the other popular software to view PDF files, Adobe Reader, is not. There are lots of web sites that have links to and recommend Adobe Reader. Most of those sites are written by Windows users and for PC’s, there are few free Windows applications that can handle PDF chores.

On your Macintosh, Preview is a faster, better and safer application choice. If your computer is set to use Preview to view PDFs, the icon will look like this:




or this:



These are the “good” icons.

If your computer is set up to use Adobe Reader, it will look like this:



This is the “bad” icon. If your computer is set to use Adobe Reader, pdf icons will look like this. Unfortunately, there are a number of vulnerability issues associated with it. Even with frequent updates, Adobe Reader is still a problem.

Here is the way have Apple’s Preview open PDF files.

First, find a PDF file on your computer. To find such a file, open a new Finder window:



In that window, type .pdf in the search area and click the buttons for “This Mac” and “File Name.”



Click on a PDF file to select it.



The press Command - I on the keyboard or go to File > Get Info in the Finder.



You will then see a window similar to this. Notice the tiny “disclosure triangles” beside each item. If the “Open with” area is not displayed, click that tiny triangle to view the information.



Choose Preview. It could be at the top of the list, or it could be further down in the body of the list.



Now, press the “Change All…” button to make this choice the default.



From now on (or until sneaky Adobe Reader convinces you select it again) PDF files will open in Safari.

As for Disk Images, Wikipedia defines them this way:

A disk image is a single file or storage device containing the complete contents and structure representing a data storage medium or device, such as a hard drive, tape drives, floppy disk, CD/DVD/BD and key drive, although an image of an optical disc may be referred to as an optical disc image. A disk image is usually created by creating a complete sector-by-sector copy of the source medium and thereby perfectly replicating the structure and contents of a storage device.


So, put simply, a disk image looks like this.



When it is opened, it will look similar this on your desktop:



It will look like this in the Finder Sidebar:



Archived or Zipped files look similar to these:



Both Disk Image Files and archived files could be malicious. The vast majority are quite safe, but if you do not recognize the file or your cannot remember where it came from, it is safest to put the file in your trash can and empty it!

We are certainly not finished here, but this post is long enough. Stay Tuned for Security Checkup - Safari and Preview, Part 2. I am working on it NOW!

--Pat
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Choosing a backup drive – a word of warning

If you read MacMousecalls or the Dr. Mac Consulting Newsletter, you have read many posts and articles about the necessity of backing up your computer.

There are many software solutions and hard drives that can be used for backing up your files, photos and data. Many of our long-time readers (and often long-time Mac users) prefer to make bootable backups of their data. This means they use an application like Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) or SuperDuper to make an exact duplicate of their hard drive.

If (when) you need to use the backup made by Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper, it is often necessary to use the backup hard drive to boot your computer.

The cheapest form of drive to use for backups is a USB drive--and if you have a MacBook, it is probably the ONLY way you can connect an external drive.

Now, here comes the rub! Even though all Intel Macintoshes are able to be booted from a USB drive, not all brands of drives can be used to boot a Macintosh. In particular, Western Digital hard drives are a problem.

On their own web page, Western Digital notes that they do “not provide technical support for booting your computer using an external hard drive.” They use the language “should be bootable,” but they make no guarantees.

While this might not be a problem, it COULD be one.

Because of this issue, noted on the Western Digital web page, I would have difficulty recommending a Western Digital hard drive. I would NOT recommend them for use with Carbon Copy Cloner, SuperDuper or any other program that makes a bootable backup drive for your Mac.

While I use SuperDuper to make a bootable backup of my Macs, it is not my primary backup system. I am a strong proponent of Time Machine, Apple’s backup software that is a part of Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard and Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard. It does not make a bootable backup, but I can always use the System DVD that came with my computer or the Leopard or Snow Leopard DVD to boot my computer and then I can restore my computer using the backup files on my Time Machine drive.

The most valuable feature of Time Machine is that I can restore individual files, photos, addresses, emails and more and I can go back “in time” to restore a file I have changed or perhaps discarded if I need the earlier version or missing file.

Backing up is the single, most important thing a computer user should do. Loosing all of your files and photos is heart-breaking and recovering them from a failed drive is very expensive when it is even possible.

--Pat
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Solving iPad, iPhone, iPod and problems

People are often surprised when their iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad develops a problem. We get quite a few calls for help in fixing these issues.

The first thing I ask is when the person last restarted the device. Just like any other computer, problems are often solved by simply restarting the it.

To restart your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, press the Power button for several seconds. Wait for it to turn off completely and then press the Power button for several seconds to turn it back on. Notice that I said “a few seconds.” It takes more than a quick push. On my iPhone 4, it takes 3 seconds, counted one elephant, two elephants, three elephants.



That solves many problems. Try a quick restart if your device is acting up.

Some problems are a bit bigger. They require a new copy of the iPhone software (the operating system) to resolve the problem. That is called a Restore. Connect your iPhone to your computer. Select the iPhone in the rightmost column of the iTunes application window. Then select the Summary tab in the main window.



You will see the Restore button in the middle portion of the main window. Clicking the button may bring up this dialog box:




In general, I usually let iTunes complete this backup. It can take a minute or two.

Once the backup is completed, you will see this box:



This is the one to think about. In order to restore the iPhone, iTunes must erase EVERYTHING that is on the device. Putting things back in place can take a bit, possibly several hours. This is NOT the procedure to perform when you need to be at a meeting, with your phone, in 10 minutes! It is not such a bad job if you can let it take place when you won’t be needing your iPhone for a while. I tend to restore iPhones and iPads at bedtime!

Let’s focus on the small print:



At the end of the restore, you will have two options. The first is to use the backup file that iTunes made to restore everything to your iPhone. Although it can take a while, it is pretty painless. HOWEVER, if the problem is not the iPhone software itself, but a problem in one of your data or settings file, restoring the iPhone from a backup will NOT solve your problem!

I have had several instances when erasing the iPhone or iPad and restoring it from the backup did not fix the issue. It was only solved when I set up the device as if it were brand new.

If you want to try restoring from the backup, click that button and sit back.

If you decide to do the complete replacement, you will loose all your preferences, game scores, and data. While this can be disconcerting. Many games such as WeRule, WeFarm and MyTown store your data on their server. You device only stores the login and password. Other games such as Solitaire City store all of your data on your device, so setting up again will mean that your high scores disappear.

In the case of things Evernote or DropBox, your data is stored on their server, so you will need to log in to retrieve it. If you are using applications such as Bento, be sure to sync your device with your computer before you do a restore.

If you have decided to leave your old data behind, then click “Set up as a new” iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.



Sometimes if seems as though iTunes takes off on a run! To prevent that, scroll down in the main iPhone window until you see this area:



Click the box to manually manage music and video, then go to each of the tabs across the top of the iPhone window and make your selections.




Use the Apply button at the lower left corner of the iPhone window to begin the process of moving things back to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.


If you are having a problem with your device and you want Apple to replace it, they will ask you if you have done a software restore and if you have set it up as a new device. If that does not solve the issue and if it is truly a problem, Apple will generally replace the unit if it is in the initial warranty period or if you have purchased AppleCare.

If these directions still seem intimidating, we can give you a hand. This kind of help qualifies as a tutorial. While our rate for troubleshooting at Dr. Mac Consulting is $120.00 per hour, tutoring costs $60.00 per hour. We specialize in hand-holding and we explain exactly what is happening as we work. Most important, we are extremely patient! Give us a call at 408 627-7577 or send us a message at urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.


--Pat

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Magic Trackpad troubles

I have had a love-hate relationship with the mouse since the day I first used the PowerBook 100. It was my first Mac--and one that I won from Apple Computer. Before that, I had an Apple IIc and an Apple IIgs. Although I loved the mouse on the Apple IIgs, I was bothered by having to remove a hand from the keyboard every time I used the mouse.

The trackball on the PowerBook 100 was just so much more efficient! I moved to desktop Macs until I bought the first white iBook. I tried lots of different trackballs with my desktop Macs, but it was not the trackball, but its placement that made me a real fan of the PowerBook 100. I have used an Apple laptop computer as my primary computer since the white iBook. I have always had a desktop computer too, but I found that I do most of my work on the laptops. I think the placement of the mousing device below the keyboard is the reason why I favor laptops.

The buzz about an Apple Trackpad for desktop computers this summer really caught my interest. I have used the Mighty Mouse, the Mighty Mouse with the track ball, and purchased the Magic Mouse soon after it was released. But, I still missed my Trackpad!

When the Magic Trackpad was announced last week, I made a quick trip to the Apple Store. The greeter had no idea what I was talking about when I arrived at the store and asked where to find it. Another employee had read the press release, but said the store would not be receiving their shipments for a few days.

I went back to the Apple Store to pick up the Magic Trackpad on Thursday, came home, installed the necessary updates to my iMac and I was ready to begin a new computing adventure.

It was not a good day. That new Magic Trackpad had a mind of its own--and it certainly was NOT magical! I hated it! How could a similar device on my MacBook Pro be so great while this contraption was a real dud?

When things aren’t working the way you expect, go find the Preferences window. In this case, the preferences for the Trackpad are located in System Preferences.

A look at the Trackpad System Preferences showed me the problem. While the iMac preferences looked like this:



The preferences for my MacBook Pro looked like this:



I had disabled all the One Finger actions on my MacBook Pro. It turns out that I do not like Tap to Click! As soon as I had the Magic Trackpad configured to match the settings on my laptop, I was a happy camper!

I had calls from two of our clients at Bob LeVitus Consulting over the weekend. Both had bought Magic Trackpads and both had shoved them back into the box, ready for a return to the Apple Store.

Whenever things aren’t working as you expect them to, check the preferences.

I like the Magic Trackpad better than a mouse, and even better than the Apple Magic Mouse--but still not as much as I like the keyboard and trackpad combination on my MacBook Pro. I wonder if I could persuade Steve Jobs to make an integrated keyboard and trackpad that mimic a laptop. That would probably be perfect!

However, for now I have the Magic Trackpad aligned with the end of my wireless keyboard and I have the Magic Mouse sitting above my keyboard, at the ready, in case I have a sudden urge to grab a mouse!



--Pat

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Should I defragment my hard drive?

I received an email from a client this morning with that question. It’s good one for writing this blog entry. First, here is a little background. James purchased his first Macintosh a couple of years ago. He is a long-time and very experienced Windows user.

The question of defragmenting hard drives also comes from long-time Mac users who recently made the switch to Mac OS X.

In the case of Windows computers and Macintoshes running Mac OS 9 and earlier, over time, hard drives slow down when the user tries to open, save or copy large files. On those computers, files are stored around the hub of the drive in the order in which they were saved.

The directory file on the hard drive keeps track of where files are stored and it keeps track of free space.

When a file is edited, the new version is saved to a different area of the hard drive. The directory is updated, and the space where the old file was stored is marked as free space.

When the user saves a file to the hard drive, the directory looks for the first space large enough to fit the new file and uses that space. If there is extra space from the old file, that area is left empty.

Over time, as files are written and rewritten and as files are deleted, there are more and more little chunks that are too small for new files to be written into. Then the OS for the computer begins dividing large files into smaller chunks or fragments to be able to store them. The directory then has to remember where the fragments are stored and it has to pull them together when the file is opened or copied.

There are utility programs that can be used to clean up this file mess. They are called disk optimizers or disk defragmenters. They re-write the files stored on the hard drive to put files of the same type together. In the process they eliminate the free space so that there is room for new large files. They also put files that are stored in fragments back together.

In Mac OS X, files are arranged in bands around the drive, depending on their function. In between the bands, there is free space for future files of the same type. Defragmenting utilities tend to pack all the files, regardless of their type, tightly around the hub.

Mac OS X is written so that it uses some of its free time to keep your hard drive organized. When your computer is on but asleep, Mac OS X is working in the background to defragment and rearrange the files to keep your hard drive running at its best.

An optimizing or defragmenting program will rearrange the files according to what its programmer thinks is “right.” When you quit the program, Mac OS X will take over again and rearrange the files the way the engineers at Apple determined was “right.” This is not good!

There are some drives situations in which it is you want to use a defragmented drive. If you are trying to capture audio and video files for serious editing in programs like FinalCut or Logic, it is best to use an empty drive as a working drive for capture and editing. Because there are no other files, these large files will not be fragmented as they are written.

After you are finished editing the file, you move it to a regular hard drive for storage and the working drive is erased the drive with Apple's Disk Utility before new files are added and processed.

It is also helpful to have an empty drive for Photoshop to use for the temporary files it produces as you edit images. If Photoshop is working correctly, the temporary files are deleted when you quit. If the temporary files are not discarded properly, erasing the hard drive where the temporary files are store can speed up Photoshop.

Apple has an area on its web site called Support. It stores articles about questions like this one. This article is a little old--but things have not changed. If you would like further information, read:

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1375

There are lots to things to know about Mac OS X. While there are lots of articles and resources available, some of us do better with hands-on learning. If you would like a bit more help, consider booking a tutorial session with me at Dr. Mac Consulting. The cost is $60 per hour and we will cover just what you want to learn. Give us a call at 408 627-7577 or send us a message at urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.

--Pat
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Is your Internet connection down? Part 2

Did you read Part 1?

There can be lots of other problems with Internet connections besides those listed in Part 1. While that article dealt with problems that affect both wired and wireless connections, today we will focus on wireless problems.

Years ago when I bought my first Apple AirPort, no one else around me had a wireless Internet connection. My PC neighbors were amazed that I was able to be on the Internet without having a cable connected. Some of them eventually bought wireless set-ups of their own and they were stunned by the difficulties in setting up their new routers while my AirPort made the task so easy.

After a time things began to get ugly. Instead of being able to “see” one wireless network, I had several to choose from in my AirPort menu item. Soon I began having problems with drops in my AirPort signal strength and sometimes I could not even “see” my own network! Click here to read more...
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Is your Internet connection down? Part 1

You know the drill.

You launch Safari and all you see is a spinning beach ball. Or you’ve been away from your computer and then you come back to go to a web page. All that you get is a spinning beach ball.

So what is going on?

Why can’t you get that web page?

Did your computer mess up--again? Click here to read more...
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Is Your Mac Slow? - Old Programs?

While there are many things that can cause your Mac to run slowly, this blog entry is aimed at users who have migrated from earlier Macs.

At Bob LeVitus Consulting, we work with many customers. More than a few have been using Macintosh computers for many years. They may have owned four or even more earlier Macs. When they purchase a new computer, they use the Migration Assistant that appears as a part of the set-up process to move their older files and applications to their new computer. Click here to read more...
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When is it time to reformat a hard drive?

I was listening to a recent episode of a friend’s podcast earlier this morning. He was discussing Macworld and his experiences there. Unfortunately he had a bit of trouble with his hard drive. I still have not finished listening to the podcast, but I just had to stop to write this blog post. Click here to read more...
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What do you keep under your MacBook?

Recently I have taken part in several online discussions about MacBooks and MacBook Pros and just what to set them on.

In each discussion, various objects and surfaces have been suggested as the perfect thing to keep under a portable computer. Notice I did not call them laptops. These days Apple and most other manufacturers call them portables. They get to hot to comfortably rest them on your lap!

There were lots of suggestions for different articles to place under the computer. One gentleman suggested placing the computer directly on a wooden desk and rationalized that the desktop would act as a heat sink. Another woman said she uses her MacBook sleeve, made out of wetsuit material, to protect her legs from the heat. Another person said they use a thick coffee table book. All of these suggestions are BAD ones!…
Click here to read more...
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Computer Troubles or Power Problems?

Just what is the problem? You’d think Apple Inc. could make a program for the Mac without any bugs! What are those coders up to! Yeah, yeah, yeah – its all Apple’s fault!

Now, wait just a darn minute! Are you sure some of the blame isn’t yours?

I have been getting lots of calls about Macs not working as they should. These are the same kinds of problems that I saw at about the same time last year – and the year before – and the year before.

I am hearing about Time Machine backups that fail, computers that are having hard drive catalog errors, and programs that suddenly quit. When I run Disk Utility First Aid on the drives, I am seeing lots of errors. I haven’t seen this many hard drive errors since early last fall. In fact, I have even had trouble with my own computers.
Click here to read more...
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Rethinking Periodic Maintenance.

There are lot of good sources of Mac information and there are some people who you come to trust and respect. The crew over at Macworld produce an outstanding web site and magazine and Dan Frakes, who joined the staff in recent years, is one of the people I regard as a true Mac expert.

The July issue of Macworld magazine has a series of very good troubleshooting articles. Much of the content has also been made available on the web site. Dan Frake’s article, Five Mac maintenance myths has brought quite a few comments. In reading them, I was compelled to add my own. This is what I wrote: Click here to read more...
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Does your computer do strange things?

One of the listservs that I read each day is the MacRogues On-Line Mac User Group and OS X DISCUSSION LIST. I while occasionally provide an answer, I am often frustrated that the all-text listserv format does not make it easy to "show" someone how to fix a problem. The topic that caused me to want to "show" the answer this time is the problem of screen flashing on Macs.

The message writer said "The screen will freeze before flashing a solid blue and then return to normal." Several people responded, most suggesting a hardware problem. Click here to read more...
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Know when to fold 'em!

Running a consulting business with my friend, Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus, can lead to a few strange nights! Since I live in the eastern time zone, our friends in the Pacific time zone are just getting to their personal computers about the time that I am getting ready for bed! Of course, since our Skype telephone number has a 408 area code, it can really confuse everyone!

The truth is that I may head up the stairs around 10 in the evening, but that does not mean that I put away my computer till a few hours later. I just love the convenience of a MacBook Pro, a good wireless network and Skype! I do some of my best reading and writing curled up in my bed. Of course, my husband is totally tied to paper, but who needs to hold paper to read and write these days! Click here to read more...
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Fragmentation - Do I need to De-frag my Mac?

There is nothing that causes more debate in a roomful of Macintosh geeks that the topic of hard drive defragmentation!

The most interesting part is that you can almost divide the room into the anti-defragging group vs. the "you must defrag" group based on the color of their hair!

Now just wait a minute--before you begin thinking age discrimination, you need to know that not all of us gray-haired people people are in the defrag camp, it is just that there are way too many of us there. Click here to read more...
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What is this SUID thing?

We get questions – lots and lots of questions over at Bob LeVitus Consulting. While many people really need help (and that's why we exist), there are some questions for which the answer is so simple, that I put up an entry here on my MacMousecalls blog.

In the case of SUID warnings, just what they are and how to fix them would require a LOOOONNNNGGGG explanation, but Apple Inc. provides an easy answer in its Technical Information Library article #306935 – just ignore them!
Click here to read more...
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