What a blast!
Room planning, in a browser!
Do I need to maintain my Mac?
What do you think about “Clean My Mac” from http://www.macpaw.com/?
It seems like an impressive app that could do a little too much in the wrong hands. I’m on a laptop and could use a little cleaning up and like the idea of dumping excessive language files and PPC binaries. Would love to hear your thoughts.
In answering, I’m going first to name, but not spend time defining, the various tasks involved in maintaining Mac OS X. Then I’ll discuss the software that I use to perform those tasks.
Oh yeah: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE backup your entire hard drive before doing any of this. Heck, even before you read this article.
Before anything else, it’s important to know that, since Panther and even more since Tiger, Mac OS X does most of its essential maintenance in the background. It runs the daily, weekly, and monthly Unix maintenance scripts on a more fluid schedule, remembering to do them even if your Mac was asleep when they were officially scheduled. Also, ye olde venerable “disk defragmentation,” familiar to many 90’s-era Mac and PC users, is somewhat automated but mostly much less necessary, for reasons Apple spells out in this kBase doc.
One task that used to be more commonly recommended to fix lots of issues with OS X is “Repairing Disk Permissions.” I used to use Disk Utility to run this when someone said their Mac was running slow (and they had clearly adequate RAM and processor), but because developers have had time to become savvy about OS X’s file-permissions scheme, the task is less likely to do or fix anything. Still, I usually turn it on as an option when I run the software that I’ll describe below.
Also in Disk Utility one will find “Repair Disk,” which since Tiger can be run while a machine is booted — all other activities are halted — to tell you if the volume data on your startup disk is screwed up.
Finally, a step that still seems relevant to keeping a Mac running smoothly is deleting cache files, specifically the Font, Kernel, and Application Caches. I have found lots of miscellaneous, weird problems — from apps crashing to fonts not rendering — resolved by a cache zapping. Also, since the dawn of the World Wide Web, web browsers have occasionally needed their caches cleaned. Safari features Empty Cache as a menu item in its “application menu,” i.e. the menu to the immediate right of the Apple, which in Safari is called “Safari.”
This is a more nebulous topic, since different people need different things on their hard drives. Also, as drive capacity has increased, now to way more than most of our clients need, many drives wear out with plenty of unused space. But of course, the idea of removing unneeded 0s and 1s from your storage is always appealing. It’s gratifying to let slough away PPC binaries, the OS 9 System Folder, Previous Systems, obviated applications, additional language support and fonts, yadda yadda yadda.
Maintenance and Cleanup Apps
Several programs have appeared over the years to automate these maintenance tasks and more. The crucial thing to know about these applications is that they are only graphical interfaces (GUIs) to the very simple Unix commands that make the tasks happen. I learned back in 10.1 to type:
sudo periodic daily weekly monthlydiskutil repairPermissions(note the capital “P”), andfsck -yf
(that last from single-user mode, accessed by booting while holding down Command-S).
Those commands accomplish much of the aforementioned tasks, and do it without installing, much less buying, anything. The apps save one from having to remember this stuff, but as the tasks are rarely required, paying $15 for an app seems kind of weird. That said, many apps will let you run a full-featured trial.
(An aside: I wonder if some Mac developers could benefit from the iPhone App Store model and start looking at $1-$3 tags for certain smaller desktop apps; would sales go up?)
A search for “maintenance” at MacUpdate.com yields the most established titles. Of these, I actively used Cocktail for a while, but since the free Maintenance and Onyx from Titanium Software came about, I have seen no reason to use any other tools. Maintenance is the simplest thing going: one window with a few checkboxes; turn on the ones you want and hit go. Onyx takes the hood off a lot of system services and features, and lets you run the same tasks as Maintenance to boot. They will both wisely ask to run “Verify Disk” before they do anything else. That takes a few minutes, but it’s well spent.
This is a good point to mention that, if Disk Utility’s Verify or Repair functions find something that they cannot fix, you will need to pick up an application such as Disk Warrior or TechTool Pro. These are each pricey but rock solid, and they repair the dramatic damage or corruption of your volume information that can cause data loss.
To bring your Mac to a space- and performance-saving English-only state, I’ve always liked Monolingual. A MacOSXHints user posted an Automator script for 10.4 that strips the languages and also PowerPC code from applications, but I want to examine it before I use it in 10.6. Here’s another, also older, article and another app for removing PPC from Universal Binaries.
Regarding CleanMyMac specifically, I haven’t used it, and with a 200MB cleanup limit on the trial, I have little need to put $15 toward that. (I’m not knocking the developer’s price, just… well, see above.) Monolingual should do the language diet for you, and to maintain stability, I would greatly encourage you to download Intel-only versions of your apps. Remember, too, that Snow Leopard is itself Intel-only, so the Apple apps are not Universal.
You will backup before running these apps, right?
Look up any stored password, and then some
We need to connect a PC laptop to our wireless router. The computer can find the network, but I don’t know the password. Where should I look?
Your Mac does a very cool thing with passwords: It stores them in a single file called the “keychain,” which is locked with the password that you use to log into your Mac.
Here’s that paragraph in slightly more geeky terms: The keychain is locked with military-grade encryption, typically with the password assigned to your user account. Each user gets their own keychain, and the default keychain name is “login,” though you can rename it or create multiple keychains. Whenever you see a checkbox option for “Remember password in keychain,” or when Safari asks whether you want it to remember a particular password, that login will get stored in the keychain. (If Safari never presents you with that option, go to Safari > Preferences > AutoFill, and turn on “User names and passwords.”)
You can find passwords in your keychain using the Keychain Access utility, which you can find, along with everything else on your Mac, through Spotlight, or by going to Macintosh HD/Applications/Utilities.
Here’s a good tutorial with screenshots on using Keychain Access. And here are Apple’s instructions:
To display your passwords in Keychain Access:
- Open Keychain Access, located in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder.
- Select a keychain.
- Click Passwords in the category list.
- Use the Passwords category disclosure triangle to reveal the types of passwords, and then choose a password type.
- Double-click a keychain item.
- Select the “Show password” checkbox.
- Enter your keychain password.
- To display your password, click Allow. [Editor’s note: don’t choose Always Allow, or Keychain Access will always diplay that password without entering your master password.]
It’s worth mentioning here that sometimes we encounter problems with the keychain, usually having some application keep asking for the password. This post on the Apple Discussion boards runs through some techniques to address those issues, but the first step is to go to the Keychain Access menu (top left, up by the Apple), and click on Keychain First Aid. Enter your keychain password, and click Repair. If it finds any errors, click Repair one more time. If the errors are intractable, refer to the post on Apple Discussions.
For Your Eyes Only
Now, one feature of Keychain Access that’s frequently overlooked is Secure Notes. Too often, we’ll run into someone who has put private information someplace way too public, say the address book, or in Stickies. I try not to let abject horror that I’m feeling show on my face, but I pretty quickly move into a discussion of how to protect your computer and phone from unwanted eyes — turning off automatic login, and setting a passcode lock on the iPhone, at the very least.
Of course, I prefer to keep such data digitally, and passcode-protected, rather than have someone scrawl their passwords on a piece of paper. That’s where Secure Notes comes in. Apple’s instructions:
- Open Keychain Access, located in /Applications/Utilities.
- Click Show Keychains if the Keychains list is not open, then select the keychain you want to use (if your keychain is locked, click the lock icon then enter your keychain password to unlock it).
- Choose File > New Secure Note Item.
- Type a name for the note that will help you remember what it is.
- Type the information you want to preserve in the Note box, or paste text you’ve copied or cut from another document.
- Click Add.
Is there another way?
You bet. I recently started using the awesome app 1Password — $39.95 from Agile Web Solutions — and I’m thoroughly impressed with it. These are the distinctions Agile makes between their program and the Mac keychain scheme:
- Store and provide easy access to more than one account for any website.
- Correctly handle financial websites which often disable storing passwords in Safari’s AutoFill.
- Integrate with multiple browsers, including Safari, Fluid, Firefox, DEVONagent, OmniWeb, NetNewsWire, Flock, Netscape Navigator, and Camino.
- Eliminate the need to synchronize your data between browsers.
- Support multiple identities, such as personal and business identities. You can even create fake identities for websites you do not trust.
- Fill credit card information with one click.
- Import information from a multitude of sources.
- Integrate a strong password generator directly into the browser for quick and painless generation of super strong passwords.
- Sync your information to the iPhone/iPod touch, as well as Palm devices.
That iPhone sync is great, because I use a different password for almost every service, so in the unlikely event someone tried to torture my passwords out of me, they’ll never get them all. Bwaaa-ha-ha-[cough-cough]!
The sync with Firefox is also stellar. I kinda like that Firefox has its own password-storage system, just because it maintains their cross-platform paradigm, but I definitely do not like that they don’t have it protected with a master password by default, unless you turn it on: Firefox > Preferences > Security > “Use a master password”:
1Password installs useful plug-ins all over the place. You get a button in the Firefox toolbar, several menu items in Safari’s Edit menu and Firefox’s View menu, and a contextual menu item in Safari and Firefox (and others, I’m sure). I just entered my credit cards as “Wallet Items,” so my browsers can fill in that info quickly without my dragging leather outta my pocket. (Did that come out wrong?)
Check out this short video for more info.
One more option: I’ve heard a lot of good things about LastPass, which does many of the same things as 1Password, and it’s free, although there is a Premium version. The only thing about LastPass that makes me a little nervous is that it synchronizes your data via the LastPass web site. Now, I sync my 1Password database via Dropbox, but I use different passwords for Dropbox and 1Password, so if someone hacks my Dropbox account (heaven forfend!), they won’t be able to get at my other passwords. As we’ve seen, no site is forever secure, and I want to be at least doubly sure my password database is tight.
Bookmarklets for your fun and convenience
I’ve come late to the game of public — or “social” — bookmarking using Delicious, but it’s so freaking useful. Instead of adding a bookmark to Safari or Firefox, I post it to Delicious, where I can tag it with multiple categories, and share it. A friend and I are planning a trip, so as I collect relevant pages, I can save them on Delicious, tag ’em with “triptowherever”, and then me and my pal can always go to http://delicious.com/jjmarcus/triptowherever to see what each other has found.
(I should mention that I do use some fantastic Safari extensions such as SafariStand and Inquisitor; find a full list at PimpMySafari. But I digress…)
In this post, I’m going to forego writing instructions for creating bookmarklets, but I will list the ones I have found useful so far. PimpMySafari has a long list of these, too.
Here are mine (the links contain the code):
- Spreeder.com: Speed-read with spreeder
- Evernote.com: Clip to Evernote
- Post images from Flickr to Facebook (iPhoto ’09 makes this less necessary).
- Bookmark on Delicious.
- RemembertheMilk.com: Add to Remember the Milk
I put them all in a folder in my Bookmarks Bar, for quick access.
San Antonio realtors can switch to Mac
I meant to put this out sooner:
The San Antonio Board of Realtors contracted an MLS developer to allow agents and other members to use Firefox and mobile browsers, such as that of the iPhone, to browse real estate listings. This is a huge deal for this market, and potentially for our business.
End User: Music, Stat!
Published in San Antonio Current, August 1, 2007
Once again, the government wants to kill our good time. Last week, the House Government Reform Committee called peer-to-peer file-sharing software such as LimeWire a “national security threat.” LimeWire and the Gnutella network it uses are a popular means to share music and video — often copyrighted — across the internet. Chairman Henry Waxman and his peers warned Mark Gorton, CEO of LimeWire, that his software could turn a computer into a weapon.
The Committee’s concern stemmed more from an accidental misuse of the software than from any deliberate leaking of sensitive material. LimeWire would be a pretty dumb tool for terrorists, but it is also a really dumb thing to install on a computer that contains classified information. Of course, there are a gajillion other ways to get files across the ’net. The mere act of connecting Microsoft Windows to the internet can compromise your digital stuff. Why wasn’t Bill Gates in this hearing?
While the recording industry does not seem to be directly involved with this particular attack on LimeWire, the RIAA has made 2007 its banner year to prevent you from actually hearing the music it records. It has threatened internet radio [“Dead Air,” July 11-17] and sued college students for sharing music. So this seems a fitting time to list some more above-board, even legitimate, ways to get great tunes for free.
First I’ll list some “streamed music” services. Streaming typically means that you can listen in one direction only — forward — and that you don’t get to store the music unless you use a parlor trick (easily learned) to record the audio your computer is receiving. I love turning people on to Pandora. This site asks you to create a “radio station” by entering an artist or song. Pandora then uses its database of “music genomes” to construct a list of songs related to your original selection. Pandora is one of the most high-profile services imperilled by the crackdown on internet radio.
Wolfgang’s Vault is a crazy good time. Bill Sagan discovered and bought the collection of concert recordings and memorabilia of late legendary rock promoter Bill Graham, and Sagan’s company has spent a considerable amount of time and resources documenting all of those recordings and posting them online for your listening pleasure.
Real.com offers Rhapsody, a neat subscription that lets you choose from millions of tracks, store and share your choices. You can pay for “unlimited” access. I know many people who dig Rhapsody, though I found the site more clunky than others, and it crashed two of my browsers and wouldn’t work with the third.
Now comes the double-plus fun. Without installing any security-menacing software, you can find MP3s from all over the internet, yours to keep. Google can track down music files. You can look up the tricky syntax for the searches (Google “how to find mp3 with Google”), or use a site like http://www.b3ta.cr3ation.co.uk to do the geek-work for you.
Somewhat newer to the scene are music or MP3 blogs, where fans discuss music and post listenable and viewable files. Sites such as Hype Machine (hypem.com) and Elbo.ws scour, track, categorize, and sort the content of these blogs.
But here’s the magic: Whenever you do a search in Hype Machine, a link to a “feed” is generated for you. You can ask iTunes (or another music app) to subscribe to that feed. Click “Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast …” and iTunes will start downloading the top song result from your search. Then you can ask it to grab more. A constantly refreshing set of songs from your artist is downloaded daily (or hourly, weekly, etc.), ready to be synced to your iPod (or another portable music device).
Hype Machine was the recent discovery that made me get up and do a little dance. (No, I didn’t post said dance on YouTube. And by the way, if anyone says “cat playing piano” to me again, I’m gonna drink Drano.) They let you play your search results in their own little window, but the ability to find and keep a track you like is just golden. And it’s just the kind of gold that the music industry wants to deny us, even though it ultimately attracts ears and purses to their product. So take a cue from Janis, and get it while you can.
End User: The Littlest App
Published in San Antonio Current, June 20, 2007
I wanted to like MySpace. But it’s atrocious: ugly, clunky, ad-ridden, the polar opposite of Google. And like so many atrocities, it’s hugely popular. I got nothing from MySpace, however, except spam from pretend women, and as all the tech podcasters I listen to have shunned MySpace and emigrated to Facebook or Virb, I thought I’d give the former a try.
One of Facebook’s features is to scan your address book and look for email addresses of existing Facebook users. Also, searching in Facebook is more efficient, and within two weeks, I got howdy-do’s from three different high school classmates, all of whom I’m glad to hear from.
Turns out that one of my old ’mates, John Lilly (not the late Day of the Dolphin guy), is now COO of Mozilla, the non-profit org that manages development of Firefox, the free, open-source web browser that currently enjoys about 15% browser market share in the U.S. (“Mozilla” was the codename of Netscape Navigator, the first popularly available web browser.)
If you own a Windows computer, and you still use Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, your fly is open and waiting for some nasty digi-bug to crawl into your PC’s trousers and have its way with you. Plus, you’re missing out on blocked web ads and saved browser sessions. (If you rock a Mac, you’re safe on the ’Net, but you should check out Firefox, or Camino, a browser made for the Mac on top of the Firefox engine.)
Coincidentally, my reconnecting with John came at a fun time for browser buffs. First of all, Firefox 3 is on the horizon, with some lovely features such as private browsing. Next, this last Monday, June 13, Apple Computer made a couple of piquing announcements: It has released for Windows a beta version of Safari, the web browser that comes with every Mac; and the iPhone (June 29, y’all!) will run a full version of Safari, supporting Web 2.0.
I hear ya: What the @#$% is Web 2.0? To oversimplify, it’s the movement to make the web less boring than it used to be. You know how, on Netflix, you can put your mouse over a film’s name, and a little balloon pops up with plot and director info? Or if you go to http://www.apple.com, there’s a search blank at top right that now drops down search results as you type. That’s all Web 2.0. Google Documents and Spreadsheets are pure Web 2.0. Which means that, if Apple’s promises are fulfilled, then boom, the iPhone has word processing… IF you have an internet connection. And you will, and it will cost you.
The latest versions of Windows and Mac OS X also have mini apps, called “widgets” or “gadgets,” depending on who you ask. Many of these are created with the same kind of code that makes Web 2.0 tick, and I sniff that Apple intends to make these insta-apps playable on the iPhone.
In his presentation, Apple CEO Steve Jobs presented his vision for the web’s future, in which Internet Explorer and Safari will dominate to the exclusion of all other browsers. So I couldn’t resist asking John Lilly what Mozilla’s thoughts were on Apple’s news. He first got me a very diplomatic statement from Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla’s vice president of engineering: “Mozilla’s mission is to promote an open, interoperable and participatory Internet. We encourage Apple to put their weight behind open standards and the open Web to help ensure all browser users, regardless of operating system or browser, can enjoy the best possible Web experience.”
I suspected that somewhat stronger feelings ran through the Ethernet at Mozilla HQ. John confirmed this with a post on his blog: “There are a couple of problems [with Apple’s view]. The first is that this isn’t really how the world is. The second is that, irrespective of Firefox, this isn’t how the world should be. A world of tight control from a few companies … destroys participation, it destroys engagement, it destroys self-determination. And, ultimately, it wrecks the quality of the end-user experience, too. Remember when you had to get your phone from AT&T? Good times.”
Yes, I remember that, and I also remember the browser wars between Netscape and IE, when you’d find the words “This site best viewed by Internet Explorer.” To paraphrase Bill the Cat, pppphptpt! I found a thing I wrote about the browser wars back when I didn’t get paid to do so, on a proto-blog in 1998: “Computers connected to the internet will not be truly functional until they all speak the same language.”
I tried Apple’s new Safari, and am pleased that it works better on sites with which Safari used to have problems, sites that until now I have needed Firefox to view. So now I have more choice, and that’s fine. If Apple is simply encouraging development for cool little apps on the iPhone, I like that, too. But if the goal is control, I’m gonna start using Firefox more.
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