How to get working an old Mac you've received

7 March 2017, 10:27

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Somebody is either given a dirty old Mac, or buys one from a thrift store, and they have absolutely no information about it. It might be bootable. Sometimes the disk has been wiped, or all you see is a scary boot time icon. In most cases the urge is to start again with a clean installation of the operating system. Complicating the situation is that this new Mac owner has little experience of them. A vital fact is that Macs just don’t work like Windows PCs when it comes to installing the OS.

Does this sound familiar? Then read on.

Using Internet Recovery
Most Macs since around 2010 have featured Internet Recovery and this is the most direct route to getting a fresh installation of the operating system on the computer. There’s also something called Recovery Mode, but if the disk has been wiped then this might not be present, so I advise Internet Recovery. Notably, Internet Recovery will install the version of the OS X/macOS that the computer came with when first purchased, and often this is optimised for that machine (and you can always upgrade later). It’s also one of the only ways to actually install that particular operating system version because Apple typically only makes available the latest versions for upgrade purposes.

Obviously, for Internet Recovery to work you’ll need to be within range of a standard internet-connected Wi-Fi signal, and also know the Wi-Fi password. Apple lists all the computers that are compatible with Internet Recovery but, of course, you might not know the make and model of your Mac, so this could be moot. Just give a try and see what happens.

To boot into Internet Recovery mode, boot the computer and, before the Apple logo appears or you hear the chime, hold down the Cmd+Option+R keys (in some countries this will be Cmd+Alt+R).

If you see the following padlock image on the boot-time screen…

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… then I’m sorry but it’s game over at this point because this means Mac has a firmware password. If you don’t know this password then you can’t do much apart from boot the computer to its existing operating system. You might try creating a bootable USB stick to install an operating system while the computer’s booted-up, but that’s outside the scope of this article.

Note that, to my knowledge, it’s impossible to crack a Mac’s firmware password. That doesn’t stop many scammers saying they can, however, so be careful should you google this issue.

UPDATE: It transpires there might be a way of resetting the firmware password on Macs manufactured before 2009. It involves disassembly of the computer, however.

If you don’t see the firmware password request then you should find yourself prompted to join a Wi-Fi network, and following this the operating system recovery partition will be downloaded. This might take a while.

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Formatting the disk
After this you should see a menu offering various options, including installing OS X/macOS, but don’t jump into that just yet! Instead, click to start the Disk Utility app. Once that’s up and running, select the main partition on the left of the Disk Utility window – the one that’s slightly indented from the header showing the name of the disk drive – and click the Erase button. You’ll then be prompted to give the new partition you’re creating a name, and ensure you select “Mac OS X Extended (Journaled)” from the dropdown list beneath. If there’s a third drop down menu beneath this ensure you select “GUID Partition Table” (or “GUID Partition Map”) and not MBR, as you might with Windows or Linux.

Once your new partition is created, close Disk Utility (click Disk Utility > Quit) and this will return you to the previous menu. Select to install Mac OS X/macOS. At this point you might be prompted for an Apple ID and password. If you have an existing one that you use, such as one used on your iPhone or iPad, then use that rather than creating a fresh one. This is important because not all Apple IDs are equal and those already in use – and that have already downloaded apps, for example – have superpowers that are useful here. However, if you don’t have an Apple ID then you’ll need to sign-up for one.

Installation from this point should be straightforward. If you run into any issues, post them below ensuring you complete the email address field too, and I’ll attempt to get to back to you.

Installing Windows or Linux
You might be tempted to forgo the OS X/macOS experience and just install Windows or Linux. After all, a modern Intel Mac is just a PC in other clothing… right? Surely you can just jam in a bootable Windows/Linux USB stick? Sadly, no. You might be able to boot from the USB stick (hold down Option/Alt at boot to see the boot-time menu), but the EFI boot ROM in a Mac is different compared to a PC, and you can’t simply install Windows or Linux without first using the Boot Camp utility, which is built-in to OS X/macOS. This means you’ll need to have a working OS X/macOS installation.

Really old Macs
If you end-up with a really old Mac – like the fruit-colored iMacs or clamshell iBooks – then Internet Recovery won’t work. The best bet for these computers is to source the original installation CDs/DVDs, which you might be able to do via eBay. Alternatively, you might find in one of the many online Mac communities that somebody will create disks for you. There’s a lot of excellent resources out there if you do end-up with a vintage Mac, and they can be surprisingly usable.


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The ONE thing that makes boring YouTube videos bearable

5 March 2017, 07:37

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I’m not sure if I’m a fan of YouTube or not but I end-up at the site a lot in my daily life while researching. For example, I was asked to buy a new MacBook for a client and he needed to know if it could handle a certain demanding app. Never having used that model, the only way to find out was to view a user review on YouTube where they demonstrated that particular app running on that particular model.

The trouble is that many YouTube videos are interminably badly made. The individual making them litters his/her speech with “um” and “erm”, never quite getting to the point, or spends five minutes with the camera focused on their hands while they go off on a tangent discussing their own personal experiences. While you can skim read a web page, it’s hard to skim through a YouTube video via the playback scrubber because it’s easy to miss something important.

A few months ago I spotted the one thing that can make watching these videos possible: the speed control. You might not even know it exists: once the video is playing, click the cog icon on the playback controls, then click the Speed menu entry. Then make a selection from the list. The only limitation is your verbal comprehension rate – 1.25 and 1.5x playback speeds are bearable for me, but 2x playback is just a bit too fast and I can’t keep up. You ears might be different. Remember to set the speed back to “Normal” when you’ve finished because otherwise YouTube will continue playing videos at this rate.

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The other useful trick I’ve found for watching long YouTube videos is one I’ve already written about here on Mac Kung Fu – if you use the Safari browser you can make YouTube switch to picture-in-picture, so you can keep the movie playing in a corner of the desktop while you do other things.


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How to use AFP to connect to a NAS on macOS Sierra

5 March 2017, 05:04

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Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) is a decades-old network file sharing technology invented by Apple and used on the Mac range of computers. In modern releases of macOS/OS X it’s officially deprecated in favour of the newer SMB file sharing, which is the same technology used by Microsoft Windows to share files across a network. However, while macOS defaults to SMB and will choose it automatically should you try to connect to a NAS or server, AFP is still there and can still be used. Often it’s preferable to using SMB because it can be more stable, especially when accessing things like network attached storage (NAS) devices.

Connecting to something like a NAS via AFP is complicated because, as mentioned, OS X defaults to SMB. Therefore, if you click the NAS’s entry under the Shared heading of Finder, you’ll automatically connect via SMB.

Connecting via AFP involves a little trickery. Here are the steps required. We assume throughout that you’re connecting to a NAS, but these steps should work equally well if connecting to another computer, or to a server of some kind.

Finding the NAS address
First, we’ll need to discover the NAS’s IP address on the network.

  1. Head over to the homepage of the old app Bonjour Browser, and download it.

  2. Once the app is up and running, look for the Apple File Sharing heading, and click the small triangle to the left to unfold the entries there.

  3. You should see an entry for your NAS, identified by its network name. Make a note of the IP address, which will be a series of numbers separated by periods (full stops) – something like 192.168.1.81, or perhaps 10.0.1.45. Ignore the numbers after the colon.

  4. You can now close Bonjour Browser and delete it if you wish because we won’t need it in future.

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Connecting to the NAS via AFP
Now we have the IP address, we can use Finder to connect.

  1. Open Finder, then click the Go menu entry, and Connect To Server.

  2. In the dialog box type afp://, followed immediately by the IP address you discovered earlier. For example, I typed the following:
    afp://192.168.1.81

  3. In the dialog box click Registered User, then type your NAS username and password when prompted. Don’t forget to put a check in the box so the password is added to the keychain, so you don’t need type it in future.

  4. Choose the folder you want to open.

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If you want to find any of the network folders once you’re connected, just browse to the /Volumes folder – open Finder, tap Shift+Cmd+G, and type /Volumes. Then click Go.

Creating a permanent desktop link
Should you create aliases to any files on the NAS then the NAS will be automatically connected to (if it isn’t already connected) when you double-click that alias in future. To create an alias, drag the file from the NAS and onto your desktop or a Finder window while holding down Option (Alt) and Command keys together.

To create a desktop shortcut that automatically connects to the NAS and then shows its files for browsing, try this trick:

  1. Open Finder, then click the Go menu entry, and Connect To Server.
  2. Type the address, as stated above – for example, afp://192.168.1.81 in my example.
  3. Highlight this text and then click and drag it to the desktop.
  4. You’ll now have a desktop shortcut of an @ sign. Double-clicking this will connect to the NAS.

How long is AFP likely to stick around if it’s already been deprecated? AFP is required for correct functioning of Time Machine over the network (that is, to a Time Capsule) and I suspect this is why it hasn’t already been removed from macOS. AFP still sees some bug fixes in subsequent releases of OS X/macOS although Apple’s engineers stop short of new feature additions. Therefore I suspect AFP will stick around until Time Machine is removed from macOS – and that might happen in the coming years if Apple moves to a cloud-based backup system, the framework of which we can already see within macOS Sierra in the form of Store In iCloud, the feature that puts unused files within iCloud Drive if storage space becomes tight. That said, I don’t recommend any of my clients upgrade to macOS Sierra because of its incomplete/buggy PDF implementation, and the days of professionals upgrading on day one of a new OS X/macOS release – of even upgrading at all – have perhaps passed.


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Flashlight button greyed out? Here's the fix

4 March 2017, 04:10

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Recently I needed to use the flashlight on my iPhone, so swiped-up the Notification Center and saw that the flashlight icon was greyed out. Tapping it did nothing. Puzzling, to say the least. But it transpired the cure was pretty simple.

Just double-click the Home button to open the task manager, find the Camera app, and quit it by sliding it upwards and off the screen. If this doesn’t fix the issue then quit all open apps (yeah, this might take a minute or two).

The issue is caused by an app keeping “open” the camera component of the iPhone, even though the app itself has been backgrounded while you do other things. Because the camera component might require the flash, which is the same LED as the flashlight, Apple doesn’t allow the flashlight to be used while the camera is in use.


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