Buy a used or refurbished Mac

Time to update the buying guide for 2019. And even if Apple does release the rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro in October, all of the following will still apply for now.

I’m fine with someone buying a used computer as long as the service they go through has buyer protection (e.g. eBay). But refurbished machines from Apple or OWC, especially ones covered by warranty, are a superb option

Base specs for any Mac

Getting less than this is wasting money and, worse, productivity:

  • At least 16 GB RAM (memory)
  • Absolutely get Flash Storage (a.k.a. solid-state drive or SSD), and not a SATA drive or “Fusion” Drive
  • At least 512 GB Flash Storage, though I prefer 1 TB for most folks
  • Make sure it is covered by the AppleCare warranty if it is younger than three years old

Laptop models

MacBook Pros with Retina screens from 2014 or 2015 are great. And the MacBook Air from 2018 is also great. Do not buy a MacBook Air older than 2018 unless you get some kind of great deal on it ($400 or less) and it has at least 8 GB of memory. 

Do not buy any laptops made in 2016 or 2017, and I generally recommend against 2018 MacBook Pros, because the keyboard is controversial-bordering-on-tragic, and the Touch Bar is kind of gimmicky, and they are generally overpriced. But if you need one and you have the jack, a 2018 MBP is basically fine.

Do not buy any year of the 12-inch MacBook, unless you have very specific needs for lightness and don’t require a great deal of power.

Desktop models

Any iMac with a Retina screen is fantastic. If you’re a professional who works with images, get an iMac made since 2016 because the color gamut of the monitor is wider.

The 2018 Mac mini is one of the coolest Mac models ever.

If you’re a professional who needs an iMac Pro or the soon to be released Mac Pro, you know who you are and you probably aren’t reading this section.

New iPad

I am thinking of buying a new iPad or gently used one. My current phone is a 64GB model and I’ve barely used half of the storage, so I think a 64GB iPad would do it. But I don’t know about cellular. What are your thoughts?

I love my new iPad Air (and the new iPadOS!), and while I might enjoy a Pro that much more, I know my personal productivity wouldn’t benefit that much from the extra performance. The new iPad minis are also super sleek and totable.

I have found that, because of better cameras that inspire more photography, and more available media to enjoy, it’s really a good idea for most people to spring for at least 128GB. That said, if your usage has not grown like that, perhaps you’d do fine with 64GB. If you at all suspect your needs might increase, get the bigger size.

Since the phones got personal hotspots, I no longer keep a cellular account for my iPad. If you’re that mobile and need the Internet always on at a moment’s notice, get the cellular, otherwise skip it.

And I’m alllll about buying refurbished devices as long as they are under warranty!

Get better battery life from your Mac

Got a MacBook Pro 13-inch 2018 2.7 MHz i7 with 16 gigabytes of ram. The battery dies crazy fast running programs like Ableton and Logic. Like in less than an hour.

I wish that were surprising, but activity like audio production is going to drain any computer’s battery a lot faster than typical use does. Also, as the Mac will scale down the performance of its processor when it’s on battery, you will find it to be a lesser experience in other ways as well.

With all that said, if you have to or just really want to do that work without being jacked into power, you’ll want to take steps to optimize the pull on your battery. Here are some good tips for that.

The suggestion of restarting is crucial. And in the special case of a focused production session, I uncheck the box to “reopen windows when logging back in,” so that I start with a very fresh system that has less stuff churning in the background. Then I only open up the apps I absolutely need to run to do that particular work.

I’ll also highlight turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Web browsing and email consume more juice than you’d think, so avoid even opening those apps at all if you can do that stuff on your phone or tablet.

Try that and let me know if you still run into issues. It’s not impossible, but real real unlikely your battery is bad, and we’d need to try these other things first before we hollered at Apple.

Maps needs WiFi?

Why does Maps on my iMac need WiFi? I’m plugged in to the router with Ethernet.


It seems goofy, right? Here’s the scoop: Your internet connection doesn’t give away your exact location. (Your ISP knows your address and could reveal it to the po-po, but it’s not public info.) So Apple uses wifi to triangulate the position of your computer based on the location of wifi networks that the Mac can detect.

They did the same thing on the iPhone before it had real GPS.

The new plague: Extortion emails

I really prefer writing about fun things, but I want to address this to a) allay your fears, but b) make you worried if you still use the same password for all your online accounts.

Here’s the latest scam. You get an email like this:

From: Jerky von Intertroll
To: You
Subject: I know your password
I’m aware that is your password.
You don’t know me and you’re thinking why you received this e mail, right? Well, I actually placed a malware on the porn website and guess what, you visited this web site to have fun (you know what I mean)…Send me money via BitCoin or I will lock your computer and release your browsing history to the world…

I have heard from a handful of people who have received these emails. The illustrious Brian Krebs and others have written well about the scam, but here’s the nut of it:

It’s a new plague and is almost totally bogus. “Almost” because if they’ve included a password that you know you still use, you need to take some actions.

With all of the information breaches in the last few years, many of the passwords that we — like, all the users of the Internet — have used on various websites have been leaked. As long as you are diligent about using good passwords, and different ones on every site, you can ignore these messages.

So let’s say this message reveals a password that you have indeed used at some point. If you see it and think, “Oh, I still use that one all over the place,” then that’s a good prompt to go around and set up new passwords wherever pertinent.

If any of y’all don’t already use a password manager, please allow me to introduce you to one. It can provide instant relief for any concern a message like this might engender.


How much iCloud storage do I need?

How do I figure out how much iCloud storage I need?

Nearly everyone with an iPhone or iPad should be using some features of iCloud, and the sine qua non of those features should be iCloud Backup. You can back up your iOS device to to your Mac via iTunes, but that means you have to remember to do so. iCloud Backup is automatic, so please: just do it.

Another feature of iCloud that too many people overlook is iCloud Photo Library. Turn it on, and all your photos—in their full-resolution glory—will be synchronized between and available on all of your devices, including your Mac. It’s the best thing going.

With all that stuff on the service, most people will need more than the 5 GB (gigabytes) of storage that Apple includes with every free iCloud account. The tiers are: 50 GB for $0.99/month, 200 GB for $2.99/month, and 2 TB (terabytes) for $9.99/month.

The amount of iCloud storage you need is a combo of:

  1. Size of your photo library (often the biggest component)
  2. Storage used on your iPhone and iPad.

For #1, from Apple: On the Mac, open Photos and choose Photos > Preferences > General. Click the Show in Finder button to go to your Photos Library. After Finder opens, select your Photos Library, then choose File > Get Info. The number you want is “x GB on disk.”

For #2: On each device, go to Settings > General > Storage. Add the number of GB used to your total for iCloud. Apple’s article.

Add ’em up, then pay for the appropriate tier, and revel in knowing your data is safe and synced!

How should I upgrade to Mojave?

I have been reading about Mojave and was wondering which of the two ways to upgrade would be best: clean (wipe the computer and start over), or just drop it in the computer and go…

I’m real glad you asked! Almost always, I recommend simply upgrading your existing insulation. Apple’s upgrades have historically run pretty clean, and typically do some nice housekeeping in the process. The only conditions that make me go for a full erase-and-reinstall are a) someone is moving to a new computer and has a burning desire for a fresh start, or b) something is real obviously messed up and no other troubleshooting has been successful.

But there is an implied question here, namely, should you upgrade to Mojave yet?

Short answer: It would probably be fine to do so, but I’m still going to recommend that you hold off for a couple of months.

For iPhones and iPads, the big upgrades usually go smoothly, but on the Mac, unless you really need or want the new features and don’t mind some quirkiness as Apple squashes bugs, it’s best to wait a couple/few months for the new OS to reach its x.2 or x.3 update.

Mojave has been working fine for me, and there are no reports of big problems. I think it’s one of the nicest upgrades to the Mac in recent years, specifically because Apple gave Finder some long-overdue love. The new screenshot features that mirror what iOS got last year are also really helpful.

But as this article demonstrates, some folks have encountered minor issues. They have quick enough fixes, but if you count on your Mac to run smoothly without having to engage someone like me, might as well wait a bit!

Guess I’ve been consistent; this guidance dates back a while: 2007, 2011, 2013


Comparing Password Managers

I’d like your opinion on Dashlane, the app that Google is pushing. I held off doing anything about 1Password when we were waiting to see about the releasing of iCloud Keychain… and I never tried the free LastPass.

I always enjoy introducing people to password management. It’s an increasingly popular and necessary tool, but the whole idea of passwords is so fraught with anxiety and uncertainty that many folks have trepidation about starting to use one of the available solutions. But when they do open up to it, it relieves the headache of remembering logins and keeps their stuff secure. Just start feeding your stuff data into the app, and it starts working for you

I keep not just logins in my password manager, but also things like frequent flyer numbers, credit cards, bank accounts, my family’s social security numbers and drivers’ licenses, and other tidbits I wouldn’t want readily visible in my notes or address book (y’all know who you are). Because I know that whatever I stuff in there will be easy to get to and easy to change as needed, I no longer feel any friction or hesitation about receiving an updated credit card or being forced to change a login; I know I’ll just plug it in once on any of my gadgets, and it will be immediately available on all my others


As you say, Dashlane, LastPass, and 1Password are still the top contenders. As password management is so crucial to getting smoothly through a 21st-century day, I encourage anyone to jump on board with whatever service they feel suits them.

I admit to a bias, but 1Password is still my go-to for many reasons. They have thought of little details like keyboard navigation, lots of different categories, and overall integration with the Mac and iPhone operating systems. It’s pretty, clean, and smooth, and I love it. I open the app at least a couple of times a day, and I’m using it constantly even barely thinking about it via the autofill extensions.

LastPass works fine, and they have some nice enterprise-level features. I really appreciate that their free tier now syncs between devices. I have had frustrations with the interface, mostly along the lines of, “Wait, I gotta go alllll the way up there to click on that and then I gotta click on this other thing? I can’t just do this with my arrow keys and hit return?” (I’m extraordinarily lazy.)

And it’s not just me: a client recently mentioned that LastPass made an update to their browser extension that made it less convenient to use, so we installed the Mac app for him, and it refused to honor the system setting for default browser, i.e, it kept opening links in Safari even though all her other Mac apps use Chrome.

A pal o’ mine is a big fan of Dashlane. If you compare it against the other options, and prefer it, there is no reason not to use it.

Dashlane is a bit cleaner and smoother than LP, but to me they are on a par: both do the fundamentals fine, but I don’t much cleverness behind their design.

DL and LP both have one big thing that 1P does not, and that’s automatic password changing. I like that a lot, not enough for me to switch, but certainly as a boon for anyone.

1Password’s family and business plans are well-priced and sync smooth like buttah. Consider doing the family plan and getting your kids in on the action, so you can share crucial information that can be important to have on hand in emergencies.

You’ll be glad you signed up!

[Update Nov 2018: I published this a while back. iCloud Keychain is now a standard and reliable component of iOS and macOS. But it is not designed to replace these other solutions, and in fact in iOS 12, Apple has allowed third-party password managers to integrate with the keyboard, a game-changingly fantastic improvement to all of our security.]


I got to write this to a client today:

Good afternoon. In response to your server’s alert that one of its storage volumes was filling up, I dialed in to take a look.

I used a utility that tells us what’s consuming space.

It looks like the folder called “Crap” takes up the most room. Are the contents of the Crap folder indeed crappy? Can we get that crap off the server, or should it remain, crapping up the rest of your crap?

Let me know. It would be real easy to get a cheap hard drive and put all your crap on it.

How much should I fiddle with the privacy settings on iOS?

O’Grady is a legit writer, and his tips here are not specifically wrong. But I personally have less worry about this stuff, mostly because I think anyone who actually wants to track my location that bad can follow my car around.

This article by Jason O’Grady has some reasonable recommendations.

O’Grady is a legit writer, and his tips here are not specifically wrong. But I personally have less worry about this stuff, mostly because I think anyone who actually wants to track my location that bad can follow my car around.

Also, there are so many other things that companies know about us. Every time we charge our credit card, we reveal our location.

I don’t know how someone would cause me harm just from having the information. But I do know that I benefit from my phone being able to use my location to give me more relevant data and get me through my day.

So, while one can certainly switch these switches, and feel a little more private, I think it’s important to take privacy concerns in context, and recognize where each of us are, and are not, truly vulnerable.