5 mistakes made by professionals using Macs

Saturday February 11, 2017

Feature head image

I have a sideline providing Mac support and it’s astonishing how I see the same sins committed by professionals who use Macs (typically those working in the design, webdev or media industries). I thought I’d list a few here, together with their solutions.

Disk death
Typical quote:
“I’ve had the iMac for six years and never had a problem but now my Mac won’t boot.”
Analysis of the problem:
From my experience, nobody in the world realises that hard disks die. In fact, of all the components in a computer, the hard disk is almost certainly going to be the first to bring the show to a halt. I’m talking here about traditional rotational hard disks, used in iMacs, Mac Pros and older MacBook Pro models created before the switch to solid-state storage. It’s very difficult to say how long a traditional hard disk will remain good for but the backup company Backblaze, that uses a incredible number of hard disks, points out that if you bought 10 disks, two of them will probably have died after four years. By the six year point, five will probably be dead. That’s a 50/50 chance of losing your data on a six-year old Mac that uses a traditional hard disk. Because Macs are used for much longer than other types of computers – I have clients happily still using iMacs from the last decade — disk failure is often a hidden menace they just don’t see coming. Countless times I’ve turned-up at a client’s premises on a completely unrelated matter to find their Mac’s hard disk clicking away, seconds away from death, at which point they explain in passing that, yeah, they’ve had a few problems accessing their files…
Advice:
If you really care about your data and uptime, get your Mac’s hard disk replaced every three years. This sounds like a radical proposal but, really, it isn’t. Remember that even if you have a backup you will still lose valuable work time having to restore that backup if the disk fails — not to mention the time spent getting your system shipshape so it’s ready for work (fitting a new hard disk, personalising the OS and your apps etc). What about solid state disks? Well, the signs are that these have longer lives than traditional hard disks – but there will come a time when they fail too.

No backup!
Typical quote:
“I’ve been meaning to sort out some kind of backup for a while…”
… or …
“I bought an external hard disk for backup but the last time I did one was five months ago.”
Analysis of the problem:
That Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign file you’re working on for a client has an actual monetary value corresponding to the fee you’re going to get paid. If it disappears because of a disk fault or human error, that income also disappears. Why the hell are you taking chances like this by having just one copy of that file?
Advice:
Get either an external hard disk, start a backup regime, and leave the hard disk attached to your computer at all times OR get some network attached storage. Learn how to use Time Machine. It’s really, really easy – so easy that there’s genuinely no excuse not to use it. At the very least install Dropbox and sync your files to it – although using Dropbox in this way isn’t foolproof.

Saving to network shares
Typical quote:
“I’m so tired of Photoshop crashing when I’m saving files!”
Analysis of the problem:
There are two issues here. The first is that Adobe has never supported working directly off a network share, and there have been some terrifying bugs that have made it doubly stupid to do so (e.g. files simply disappearing). Adobe advises you to copy the file to your Mac’s hard disk, work on it, and then copy it back. If you want to collaborate with others then that’s what Creative Cloud is for. The second issue is that the SMB networking software within macOS (formerly OS X) has never been great, and Apple tweaks it radically seemingly with every new release of macOS/OS X. SMB is used to communicate with Windows servers/NAS devices.
Advice:
Don’t work off network shares. As for crappy file sharing, try using AFP instead — Apple’s older and slower yet more reliable file sharing technology. To do this you’ll need to ensure the server supports AFP (many NAS devices do, although you might have to turn it on in the NAS configuration panel). There’s an issue with AFP being depreciated by Apple and it might be removed entirely from macOS in a future release — but right now it’s still there.

Working over Wi-Fi
Typical quote:
“File transfers to our server are so slow — and sometimes they just fail half way through.”
Analysis of the problem:
Wi-Fi has good points and bad points in equal measure. For browsing on your iPhone in a café it’s terrific. For watching Netflix at home it’s OK. But for transferring a 100GB photographic asset in a work environment…? It’s just not good enough for that and will reward you with pain — especially if your office is one where the Wi-Fi signal doesn’t work well and if there are many other computing devices chewing up the Wi-Fi bandwidth. Note: even the hyped-up 802.11ac Wi-Fi isn’t good enough. You’ll never reach those advertised top speeds in real life. Nowhere near.
Advice:
Use wired networking, which is to say Cat6 Ethernet cables going into a gigabit switch, to which your NAS or server also connects directly. Compared to Wi-Fi the data transfer speeds will be mind-blowing. Yes, newer portable Macs will need Ethernet dongles but that’s just the way things are now. Spend the $20-$30 getting one. You won’t believe the difference.

Installing crapware
Typical quote:
“My Mac’s been really slow recently. A few months ago I installed a few apps to try and speed things up but if anything it’s made things worse.”
Analysis of the problem:
No app will genuinely speed-up your Mac. Apps making that kind of promise are a modern form of snake oil, collecting a fistful of dollars each time from the gullible and desperate. The number of Macs I see with the familiar and dreaded MacKeeper logo in the menu bar is astonishing, although “RAM cleaners” are also popular (tip: you can’t clean RAM). For what it’s worth, while it might help things run more smoothly, a tune-up by a professional isn’t going to turn things around either — and you can judge the honesty of a Mac support guy by whether they point that out.
Advice:
Around 90% of slow Macs I see require a RAM upgrade (usually they have 2GB or 4GB and I upgrade them to 8 or 16GB). Additionally, recent releases of macOS/OS X have been made with solid state disks (SSDs) in mind, and really fly once the Mac has one fitted. Sometimes the operating system or apps are so broken that they’re slowing down the Mac, and a tune-up will help — but these situations are vanishingly rare. Incidentally, here’s how to completely remove MacKeeper.

Update: There’s one I forgot to include here and it’s a weird one: Macs with the wrong screen resolution set. This is evidenced as black borders at the left and right, and everything on-screen looking blurry and just wrong. I’ve seen this on iMacs and MacBook Pros, and in theory it should be impossible because of the strong hardware and software tie of the Mac and macOS. But still it somehow happens, and people work with their Macs for years with this happening, without realising! The solution is, of course, to open System Preferences, click the Displays icon, then the Displays tab, and select either Default For Display – if it’s listed – or the top-most resolution setting in the list.


,

Leave a comment...

---

Can't login to public Wi-FI? Here's a fix

Thursday January 26, 2017

Feature head image

A lot of public Wi-Fi services use a pop-up login window, where after connecting you enter your credentials (or pay for access). You might find your Mac (or iPhone/iPad) is able to make a connection to the Wi-Fi but for some reason the login window doesn’t appear. The result is that you’re essentially not online – webpages will show as being unavailable.

The solution is simple – once connected to the public Wi-Fi service, just visit the following page:

You might want to bookmark this link so it’s always available. If you click it now while already connected to a working network connection all you’ll see is the word “Success”. However, if the Mac or iOS device isn’t able to reach the page – and it won’t if you aren’t logged in properly to the public Wi-Fi service – then it should cause the Wi-Fi login pop-up window to appear.


,

Leave a comment...

---

How to stop the Mac's mouse being annoying

Wednesday January 25, 2017

Feature head image

This might rank as one of the most boring posts ever made here at Mac Kung Fu — but here’s how to wrangle that Mac mouse so it behaves like you want it to!

Can I make the mouse cursor bigger?
Yes! open System Preferences, click the Accessibility icon, select the Display icon at the left and then drag the Cursor Size slider until the cursor reaches a size you’re happy with.

How do I stop the mouse cursor growing when I shake it?
This is a feature supposed to help you locate the mouse cursor if you lose it, but it can become annoying. Turning it off is somewhat counter-intuitive – open System Preferences, click the Accessibility icon, select the Display icon at the left, and then remove the check in the box that reads Shake Mouse Pointer To Locate.

How do I hide the mouse cursor when watching movies?
The mouse cursor will eventually disappear of its own accord but hitting the Esc key will make it disappear until the mouse/trackpad is used again. This works everywhere in macOS, such as when you’re reading web pages.

Can I replace the mouse cursor with some other design, such as a white cursor?
Yes! Well, maybe. Mousecape hasn’t been updated for three years but seems to work OK on macOS Sierra. You can download it here. To create your own mouse themes, open the app and click File > New Cape, and then Capes > Edit Cape. In the window that appears, click the plus icon at the bottom left, then click the new Unknown entry in the list. Windows mouse cursor themes work pretty well – for example, here’s a link to a white cursor theme – just drag the .cur or .ani file within it onto the 1x, 2x, 3x and 4x windows in Mousecape’s interface. You’ll need to add busy cursors too, and much more – just select each from the Type dropdown list, and drag the relevant cursor .cur or .ani files to the window. Close the editing window when done, opt to save your work, and then click Capes > Apply Cape to see the new cursor in action.

My cat likes to sit on the trackpad. Can I turn off the mouse temporarily?
See this older post.

How do I right-click?
If your Mac has a Trackpad, open System Preferences, click the Trackpad icon, then ensure the Point & Click tab is selected. Then choose from the Secondary Click dropdown – “Click With Two Fingers” performs a right-click if you click the Trackpad with two fingers rather than one, while you can also choose from the dropdown list to click in the bottom left or right corner to emulate a right-click. Holding down the Ctrl key while clicking normally will also emulate a right-click, no matter what setting you choose. If you’re using a Magic Mouse, again open System Preferences, click the Mouse icon, ensure Point & Click is selected and ensure there’s a check in the Secondary Click box.

Can I middle-click?
Middle-clicking isn’t inherently supported in macOS with one exception: opening links within Safari in a background tab. However, this useful post over at How To Geek explains how you can add middle-clicking using the Middleclick app.

Main feature illustration


,

Leave a comment...

---

How to reset an app to "just installed" default state

Tuesday January 24, 2017

Feature head image

Sometimes Mac apps go a little crazy and no longer work properly. Even uninstalling and then reinstalling them might not fix the issue. Here’s how to fix such apps, quickly and easily – essentially, by nuking their settings.

We’re using a app called App Fixer, which is free for home use (although you can make a donation if you wish). And using the app is really very easy. Ensure the problematic app is not open, then run App Fixer. Close its registration box by clicking the usual close button at the top left of the window, then click the magnifying glass icon beneath the Choose heading and select the problematic app from the Applications list via the file browser window. App Fixer will then show in a list the vital preferences files that contain your settings data, and clicking the wrench icon beneath the Fix heading will remove them.

Note that if the app requires a registration code you might have to enter that afresh when the app starts again for the first time after using App Fixer, so ensure you have access to this before starting.

Main feature illustration


,

Leave a comment...

---

◀︎ Older /
Recently on MKF