Posts Tagged ‘maintenance’

timemachine-newDoing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is said to be the definition of insanity. Well, you can call me insane.  But don’t lock me away just yet.

I bought a new external Thunderbolt drive (TB) for backing up my MacBook Air (MBA), since the one i was using for Time Machine was saying it was full all the time, and was around 6 years old.  A backup is only good if it actually works, and as we all know, hard drives fail so to ensure I didn’t lose any data I decided to replace it.  After all, according to Apple’s own knowledge base, it’s a simple procedure to copy the old backup to a new one.

Yeah, i beg to differ.

After waiting approx. 2 hours for the copy command to calculate all the files in the “Backups.backupdb”, then another couple of hours for the actual copying to occur, I got an “Error code 8062“.  Which is a lovely generic error, that really doesn’t help me to figure out what the actual problem was.  It mentioned a few of the files were not compatible “Newer version of iWork needed” which confounded me a tad, since I don’t use iWork except for Pages on my iPad and iPhone.  There was about 50 files I had to cancel on and then the backup hung.  I went back and started again, reformatting the drive, changing the permissions and all, just like the Knowledge base article described.  To no avail.  I Even tried to copy the files within the backupdb (database) individually but something happens when you do that. It is as if the linking of files is disabled and each folder inside the larger db becomes massive. Folders were 139gb each. After 4 folders I had already copied more info that the total db size was listed at in the first place.

It was about this time I had to decide if I really wanted to waste more time trying to continue from the existing backup, or just start anew.  Eventually  I realized I didn’t have to get rid of the old Time Machine backup, it can stay right where it is for a while until I’m comfortable enough with the new backup to feel secure nothing will be lost, or nothing will need to be restored.  When that is?  Who knows.  That is the beauty of Time Machine and OS X, you can use more than one drive or location to backup to.  So, throwing caution to the wind (okay not really, since existing old backup is still accessible – just going for dramatic effect here), I connected the clean TB drive and let it do its initial backup, all nice and new and empty.  A few hours later I had a current backup.  Sure I couldn’t go back more than a few hours to retrieve anything, but its a start, and like I said I did still have the old backup if worse came to worst.
Gotta love the speed of the Thunderbolt drive. I plugged in my backup when I got to the office and it had 1.4 gig to update. Took less time than it took to type this paragraph I swear.   I was using a FireWire drive previously, with a TB adapter since the MBA no longer sported a FW connection, but the real deal TB is Soooooooo much zippier in its native form.
We’ll call this one a win, and a lesson learned.  Now, can someone help me out of this straight jacket…

…that is the question

The most common computer question I get after “Does this seem like a virus to you?” is “Should I replace my computer or not?
This may be a rambling reply, so get comfy, in the end there is an answer.

In this society where we tend to always want the latest best new thing, we often forget that we don’t always need to replace, sometimes an upgrade of key components can breathe new life into a computer.  Replacing the hard drive for instance.  If you have the option, then an SSD can make your computer run that much faster.  Especially when paired with bumping up the ram.  Max it out if possible.  If you are running a current Operating System (OS) then you shouldn’t have any software limitations to how much you can access and use.  Check with the technical specs for your specific computer and it will tell you what the max RAM is.  In the case of an Apple computer, check with Mactracker to confirm.  ( Sometimes the Apple maximum is not the real maximum the device will support.

I mentioned “current OS”.  That is because older versions of Windows had maximum accessible ram caps, but that was changed with vista and Win7 and if you are not running one of those, then that is a good indication it may be time to check and see if your current PC is even capable of running a newer OS.  The latest Mac operating system has minimum system requirements to run smoothly and quickly and won’t install on older hardware, same with Windows.  You can check easily if your system will allow you to upgrade to the latest OS, which if it can’t then yes, it may be time to upgrade or replace.  For Mac, again, Mactracker is a great tool, as is the Apple website under support, in the Technical Specs for the OS you are thinking about.  Mountain Lion for instance is here…  Similarly with Win7 you can check here… The Microsoft site above will also allow you to check your PCs compatibility from the site if you allow it.

Bare in mind, these are the MINIMUM requirements.  Some things may work, but slowly, so take it with a grain of salt.  If you are close to the low-end of what is required, tweaking the graphics will help to speed things up a little.  By that I mean turning off the fancy visual effects such as the “genie effect” in Mac OS dock, or disable Aero effects in Win7.

If you are already running a current version, or in some case, current enough, then another thing to do is keep it clean – both the hardware and the software. By clean I mean getting the dust and crumbs out of it as well as by removing unneeded software/apps/programs/files.  A full hard drive takes longer to access files and also causes havoc with programs looking for temporary space.  Any OS will try to allocate a chunk of space from your hard drive for file swapping and temp storage while you work, and some programs require more than other depending upon their undo files, etc.  It surprising how a little spring cleaning can help speed up your computer.  Getting back to the dust issue, a good rule of thumb for desktop computers is to open the case once a year and carefully blow out the innards with canned compressed air.  I typically do this with a vacuum running next to it to catch all the dust before letting it back into the house/office.

If you are having the hard drive replaced or adding extra ram to speed things up, the shop/person doing it for you will typically physically clean out the inside of the computer.  Ask them to check the operation of the system fans and power supply fan while in there too.  A system not properly being cooled will also have troubles and can cause slow downs or in severe cases, system failure, shutdowns or damage.

If you’ve tried speeding up what you have, have updated it as much as you can and still aren’t happy with the speeds, then at least you have a good clean system as a spare, or a hand-me-down, or better yet maybe a hand-me-up.  Once you’ve got your new computer and transferred all your files/data/programs, why not give your old one to your parents or grandparents, odds are it is better than they already have and they will appreciate the gesture of finally paying them back for all the things they gave you growing up.  It may be better than giving it to your kids, who if they are like mine, want the newest toys on the market anyway.  Also, it is nice you are familiar with the system, so that way when they ask you questions about how it works, you’ll be able to help them out easily.  One last perk is you are keeping it out of the landfill, and giving it a little extra life, which always feels good to me when I’m justifying buying the latest and greatest for myself.

Use the tech-shuffle to your advantage, there is usually someone who will be thankful for your hand-me-down/up devices.


p.s. –  for all your Shakespeare nuts, yes I know the image of the hand holding the skull doesn’t go with the “to be or not to be” scene in Hamlet, but I’m taking artistic license, Horatio.

With the release of the first over-the-air (OTA) Apple iOS update, I’m sure the typical reaction for most iPad/ iPhone/iPod users was to click the update now button and watch as what was once only possible by connecting your iOS device to a computer, occur as if by magic without wires.  I know for me it was anyway.  But did you remember to back up your device first?

Personally, I backup my iPhone every few days – either to the iCloud or to my Mac, typically alternating between the two so I have a backup that is fairly current in each location.  If you are wondering “how do you do that?”  or “why would you want to do that?“, the answer is to the first question is with a combination of iTunes and the iOS on your device already, and as for the second question, that is because as much as we’d like to think they’ve caught all the potential problems before releasing the software update to the masses, the truth is sometimes things go wrong and when they do you will want to roll back the clock to before you clicked that oh so tempting Download & install button.

Backing up.  A quick step-by-step:

First off, i’m assuming you’ve already set up your iCloud.  If not you’ll need to do that first.  If you have already, then read on MacDuff.*

The following is for the iPhone, but any iDevice is basically the same.  If you go to your Settings on your iPhone you will see the General tab, right after which is the new iCloud tab. Burrowing down into the iCloud tab you have the option to turn on what you want to store in the cloud, plus at the bottom the ability to make your iDevice Back Up Now.

open Settings/ iCloud

…then Storage & Backup

here’s where you want to be

I like to force it to back up once in a while, even though it is set to do it automatically.  Click on the Back Up Now and wait while it completes.  It should only take a few minutes.  Once you’ve done that, you may also want to connect your iPhone/iPad to your computer and open iTunes if it doesn’t automatically.

it conveniently tells you when the last iCloud backup was

you can see it was also backed up locally

You’ll want to make sure you’ve checked off the box for “Back up to this computer” and then sync your device.  If you are curious about where the backup is or how big it is or when it was last done, you can go into the advanced settings and see them listed in there.  Typically there will be a couple, unless there has been an iOS update then the only one there will be the most current one which includes the update.

now you can click it

…and wait patiently

Once you are certain you have created your backups, now its safe to click that Download and Install button in the iOS Software Update tab.

You’ll need to be connected to Wi-Fi to download it, possibly due to the size of the update.  It remains to be seen if in the future smaller patches may be able to be done over your cell phone service much the way some App updates need Wi-Fi and others can be done over cellular. (I haven’t tried turning on a personal hotspot with my iPhone and updating the other iDevices that way, but that may be a sneaky way to get around the need for Wi-Fi.)

If all goes well, a few minutes for the download and then a few minutes for the updates to be applied and installed during a restart and you should then be presented with your home screen again, still with all your apps open as before the update as if nothing changed.  If not, for some reason it fails or has problems, at least you’ve got your backups, right?

For me the download went easy, but during the restart process something went screwy and my iPhone 4 turned off.  I had to restart my phone by pushing the power button and it automatically went into install mode again and finished the update.  Aside from a few minor networking issues (I used Airplane Mode to turn off all networks/connections and then turned Airplane Mode off again to reinitialize everything which fixed that problem) it seemed to work pretty smooth.

Even with the minor glitch, it is still much better than the old way of downloading a 600+ mb update which replaced the entire OS on the device.  Especially if you had a couple of iDevices in your house, this new way will save on your data usage and your install time, and hopefully encourage more people to keep their devices updated instead of having to schedule down-time to do it.  Just remember to back up first,  you can never be too safe.  In fact , I’ve never heard anyone complain they had too many backups or were too prepared, well maybe those of us that remember Y2K, but that’s about it.


* the phrase “Read on Macduff” is actually a commonly used bastardization of a quote from Macbeth, act V, scene viii, and is actually “…I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, And damn’d be him that first cries, “Hold, enough!

You may have heard of MacKeeper, but have no idea what it does, or how it works, or if it’s right for you.  I’ll try to answer all that and also fill you in on a great way to use portions of it without shelling out the bucks if you are on a tight budget.

Most people have tons of programs on their Macs that are constantly being updated, and while some of them let you know when you start them up if they have updates available, not all do.  This is the reason other apps like MacKeeper have come into being. We all need an easy way to check and see what programs have updates available without having to open every program in our applications folder.

I used to use a dashboard widget but found the results to be more incorrect than anything.  Mostly to do with application names it seems.  It would report back available update for programs where there were none, and it got rather annoying.  So far from my limited usage of MacKeeper this has not been as much of a problem.  But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

3,700% installed? hmmm, that seems a little off.

MacKeeper is a program whose intention is to help keep your Mac clean, up to date and problem free.  For more info check out their website  It’s a small download and simple install, only taking up about 17.3 meg of space.  The scanning however can take a little while longer – full scan on my MBP took about 20 mins.

It’s touted as being a fully functional download, which I suppose is correct as long as you don’t include actually fixing any problems as part of the functionality.  I had the program installed and running and getting test results before any mention of needing to pay for the program to actually do any cleaning or housekeeping.  When I went to fix a couple of errors automatically, thats when I was taken to the website and shown the cost of the program.  I toyed with buying it to see the full results of the automatic cleaning and the full functionality but I’m always looking for cheap or even Free ways to get things done for those people who are on a tight budget, so I decided to see if the info reported back could be used without buying the app.   Short answer: Yes.  Longer answer:  Read on.

(edit: as I was about to post this entry, I checked the MacKeeper webpage and see that they are now stating it is a fully functioning 15 day trial, although my install tells me my trial is up without me ever getting a chance to use any of the features)

scanning in progress

results have easy to see sizes for each problem

programs in need of updating. maybe.

there is a lot of power packed in there

If you are wondering if the app is worth the money, that’s been dealt with numerous times by numerous people (as a matter of fact as I was writing this post i saw MacLife posted a story about the app) and I’m not going to regurgitate their comments, my take on this app is how can someone with a few problems fix it for themselves without shelling out the big bucks because lets face it, sometimes the easiest solution is not financially viable. (students read that as more beer money remaining in your pocket)

One thing to note.  As mentioned earlier, some of what it reports as outdated is incorrect.  I had this same problem with version tracker.  It used to drive me nuts so I stopped using it.  It would appear to be just par for the course with this type of program, for instance, with MacKeeper  I’m told Skype is outdated.  Not so.  Ran Skype, checked for updates, and was told I have the most current.  Same thing happened with a few other apps, so take the results with a grain of salt, sometimes the updates are just available Betas.

Little things like “Cache Cleaning” are easy for you to do yourself with freeware programs you may already have, or even restarting your Mac will clean out a lot of that clutter.

Languages” is one area I’m a little hesitant to start messing with so do so at your own peril.  I used another app a few years back to “localize” my install and it ended up screwing up a few of my programs and had to restore a number of files from my Time Machine backup.

Logs” are another great way to clean up some space fairly easily since the app reports back the locations of all of them for you if you want to hunt and delete on your own.

Duplicate Finder” is another great list that may be helpful to you, but again, use it with a grain of salt.  Not all of the duplicates found are necessarily ones you want to delete.  Email attachments show up as duplicates for instance, and for me blowing them away out of folders would mean I’d have a bugger of a time finding them again buried in those emails if I needed them.  Like most of the components in MacKeeper – this is a very powerful and should be used carefully.  Which is why I’m always hesitant to let apps do any quick cleaning themselves.

I’ve only touched on a couple of the features of this program, as you can see from the screenshot above, there are many parts to this app that allow the average user to control and view all sorts of information.  As always, be prepared before you start tweaking anything and ensure you have a fully functioning backup of everything.

As to whether you should buy the full-blown app, I’d say if you are having any issues beyond the updating of software then it might be a good way to consolidate all your maintenance into one place.  You can do much of the same fixing and tweaking using other freeware programs (search “cache cleaner for mac” in google for instance and see how many free programs there are) or by doing them manually by yourself using the tools already installed on your Mac, but sometimes it is easier to get help and save yourself the headaches.  Especially when it comes to antivirus on a Mac.  If you are one of those people who doesn’t check embedded web links before proceeding to them, or sometimes opens zip files without first checking to see who or where they are from, then you probably need an antivirus program (there are even free antivirus programs out there for Mac OS X if you feel so inclined).

Sometimes just seeing what all the clutter and mess is, is enough and you can deal with it yourself .  Other times you need some help cleaning it out.  If the latter is true, then MacKeeper could be your virtual housekeeper, just be careful not to give it the keys to the house without watching over what it’s doing or you could find your silverware missing.


Routine, noun, 1. A prescribed, detailed course of action to be followed regularly; a standard procedure.  2.habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure.

Basically, doing something the same way each time until it becomes second nature.  Routine is putting my iPhone, keys and wallet always in the same place so I don’t have to think about where they are the next time they are needed.  That may be fine for some things, but its also the same reason people get into car accidents or get hurt in other ways because they are not paying attention.   Routine and complacency can contribute to many mistakes and accidents.

So why then would you want to get into a routine when it comes to maintaining your tech?

We all do it.  We get into the habit of relying on certain things to protect us or do things for us without ever giving it a second thought afterwards.  When it comes to computers, one way to mix things up a little is to use an online virus scanner, just as an additional check of your current antivirus protection.   One I like to use is Panda Security’s ActiveScan.   Its free which is important since you may or may not already be paying for your current AV protection. (check it out here) The free version may not get rid of your viruses if it finds any, but at least it will alert you to a problem that you can then rectify using other software.

Another thing to do is to verify your backups. Its great that you are doing backups (you are aren’t you?) but have you ever stopped to check if they are actually working? The easy way is to restore a few random files. That won’t prove everything is backed up, but odds are a few randoms restores should at least prove some of your info is backed up correctly. Especially if you change the files you restore when you check each month, which is the frequency I would recommend performing this check.

While on that subject, have you ever stopped to check your SMART status of your backup drive? (SMART stands for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) If it is an internal drive, it is easy enough to check its status, but if it is external aka a USB or Firewire drive, then it gets a bit trickier.   The reason for this is that the info may not pass correctly thru the drive adapter or cable.  Getting back to the internal drive.   With Mac I use a free program called SmartReporter that just runs all the time and checks the SMART status, reporting in a graphical manner if there is a problem, and will even email me if a problem arises.

SMART Status on Win7 PC - it is buried in their pretty deep

In Win7 you can see it yourself by opening the Computer Management utility and browsing down thru to System Tools/Performance/Reports/System/System Diagnostics and you will see your PC and probably more info about it than you ever wanted to know. But in that big long list is Basic System Checks which has Disk Checks inside it. (refer to the screensnip) Finally – there is the info about your drive. It passed so all is good.

You can and should check the integrity of your drives once in a while too.  In your Windows PC you will see the info in Computer Management, under Storage/Disk Management, you can right-click on the drive in question and in the Properties under the tools header is Error-Checking.  This can’t be done while the disk is being used, but you can click start and schedule it for the next time you restart if you are trying to check your primary partition, otherwise it will just run in the background and report any problems.

On a Mac open up Disk Utility and run Verify Disk on the drive in question. (You can also see the SMART status of any internal drives here too)

Another application that should be used more

Don’t forget to keep on top of updates too.  Not only are they there to address bugs, but more often security holes, and sometimes they even help to speed up your computer. Speed is a good thing.  I’ve yet to hear someone say that their computer was too fast, could it be slowed down?

One last little piece of “housekeeping“. Dust.  Its a bad thing but it happens to everyone.  Any time you have air movement you will have dust, (unless you are working in a clean room that is) and inside your computer are fans to help keep it cool, but they also bring in lots of dust with the air they push thru your system.  This dust collects on every surface inside your computer, not just the fans and intakes but also the components.  Shutting off the computer, disconnecting from power and opening the case and carefully using canned compressed air to blow all the crap out is a good way to help with this.  It may not be for the average user or the feint of heart, especially if it is your laptop you are trying to open and clean, so you can always take your PC in to your neighbourhood PC repair shop and ask them to do it for you.  Heat is a bad thing when it comes to electronics, and dust creates an insulating layer that keeps the heat in instead of letting it dissipate the way it was intended, so yearly cleaning is a good idea.

Many people don’t want to think about maintenance of their computers, and thats fine, but remember there are a lot of moving parts inside those boxes that you are relying on each and every day.  You wouldn’t just drive your car into the ground without ever doing periodic maintenance would you?

Drives fail. Files get lost or overwritten. Basically, bad things happen, but with a little forethought and preparation you can minimize the problems and maybe not spend all your time and effort trying to fix the issues when they eventually occur.

The old adage of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure definitely applies to technology.