iMac speed improvements

I’ve been annoyed at the laggardly behaviour of our iMac, currently running El Capitan, 10.11.6 . We’ve had the old girl for a few years now and I was sure that successive OS X upgrades had left some crud clogging it up – somewhere!

Even though I had cleaned up the Login Items for each user in System Preferences, I suspected there were other App “helpers” still running.

(Follow along if you want to try this at home).

Make sure you have a good backup.

Start up in Safe Mode (Hold <Shift> throughout startup).

Open a Finder window and go to Macintosh HD/Library/Launch Agents

In my case, I found these files:


com.adobe.ARMDCHelper.<a very long hex number>.plist

The first 2 related to Adobe Air and the Adobe Auto Updater. I thought I had deleted Adobe Air a long time ago but on further investigation I found it was still there! So I deleted it. I also deleted Adobe Acrobat reader because I no longer use it. I then deleted the .plist files. Of course, if you find similar files and you use Adobe Air or other Adobe products, you won’t want to delete them. Obviously your requirements will differ from mine.

The third file was more “interesting”. This is an auto update Daemon which Google uses to check for updates to products you have installed. In my case, the Chrome browser and NIK plug-ins. I decided to find out how often it “phones home”.

In Terminal, type:

defaults read and press <Return>

It spits out a lot of stuff about the Apps it checks, etc., ending with:

checkInterval = 18000;

Hmm. That’s every 5 hours. Overkill, I thought. So I changed the interval to once a week:

defaults write checkInterval 604800 <Return>

Of course, you could delete the daemon completely but I decided against that.

Lastly, I deleted the caches in Macintosh HD/Library/Caches, that’s  <File -> Select All> then <File -> Move to Trash>. I then did the same for each user in Macintosh HD/Users/<user name>/Library/Caches. This will remove any old, broken or corrupt caches which might be causing a problem. It is safe to delete the caches as OS X will create new ones the next time the user logs in.

Finally, I restarted the Mac (still in Safe Mode) and emptied each user’s Trash. Once that was completed, I restarted the Mac normally.







Restoring files hidden in the Library folder (OS X)

When I set up my new MacBook Pro I chose not to use Migration Assistant. This meant that I had to do a fresh install of my non-Apple Applications. Not a problem, except for games such as Call of Duty 4 and Bioshock. For these it would be nice to have the data from when I’d played the games before. As for the joystick manager, the thought of having to map all those controller buttons again – Nooo!

But, you may be thinking, he has a backup of the old Mac. Right? Well yes, I have, but this is where an idiosyncrasy of the Mac OS can cause difficulties. Most games store their game saves, preferences, etc. in each user’s Library folder in a folder called Application Support . In recent versions of OS X the ~/Library folder has been deliberately hidden from casual view ‘for the user’s protection’. So although you can view the Library folder in a Finder window, when you look inside the Time Machine backup it is still not visible. So a simple click/drag of the required files isn’t an option, neither is it possible to navigate to the Library folder using the Time Machine UI.

Luckily you can use Terminal commands to get at the files and copy them. So I thought I’d write up the process for you (because I care). Command text in red.  Continue reading “Restoring files hidden in the Library folder (OS X)”

GSAK Update

So the other day I got myself a new MacBook Pro. I chose not to use Migration Assistant this time around, so I could install everything from scratch and avoid the build-up of cruft from previous upgrades getting onto my new notebook.

One job was installing GSAK. The Wine install went like a dream and I was able to import the database from the old installation easily using the Restore command.

GSAK gave me a prompt that a new version was available as an update so I thought “what the heck?” and clicked the update link. I was expecting it to freeze as I was running in Wine, not a native MS Windows platform but to my surprise it simply ran the installer and, lo! I had upgraded to 8.7. Happy with that.

New Mac

My MacBook Air (Mid 2012) was getting a bit long in the tooth. Leastways, that’s my excuse. So earlier this week I caved in and bought one of these:

MacBook Pro in a box

In the past when I’ve bought a new Mac, I’ve used Migration Assistant as part of the setup process. This time I decided to start from scratch and set it up “as new”, installing applications and configuring settings such as email “longhand”.  It has taken a bit longer but the MBP is now exactly how I want it and it isn’t bogged down with the inevitable residual cruft you get from previous upgrades (which it would have if I’d migrated from a backup of the MBA).

First impressions: Design, like it. Smaller than my MBA. Keyboard is very different, I expected that from trying it out at the Apple Store. Display – Retina – is a huge improvement over my MBA. The Touch Bar looks to be useful, although I am still mostly using the keyboard shortcuts I’ve built into my memory over the years. I’ll let you know more as I use it. One thing I am missing is the MagSafe connector for the power cable, I really think that’s a retrograde step.


Next step: installing GSAK. !

Caching in Cambridgeshire

In part two of our Cambridgeshire geocaching road trip our main targets were the Digital Electronics caches (set by the same geocacher as The Cambridge Positioning System which I wrote about earlier). These caches come as a pair, firstly the Theory part and then the Practical. You need to solve the Theory puzzle first, then visit the cache to collect some equipment you will need to find the Practical one.

So, Bob solved the theory puzzle easily but I found it much harder. Actually, I only solved it once Bob had given me a lesson in digital circuit design. Did I mention his electronics engineering background? My brane hurts!Anyway, after a long session with paper circuit diagrams and coloured pens I finally obtained the coordinates.


“My Brane hurts!”

Last Wednesday we drove up to the location of the first cache. Once off the main roads, we found ourselves driving down narrower and narrower lanes until we finally found ourselves on a quiet, dead straight, lane.

Freelander on a byway

Eventually the tarmac petered out and we found ourselves on a byway which, as it turned out, was the only drivable one we found all day, but I digress.

At GZ we soon located the cache. The cache was originally set up with 4 electronics kits for geocachers to borrow and we knew of one cacher who had a kit in his possession; we were relieved to find there was still one in there, I think we’d have been a bit upset if the box had been empty! Back into the Freelander and park in a nice quiet spot to conduct the circuit construction. I say ‘quiet spot’ but it was anything but. We were passed by a steady stream of dog walkers and horse riders. One of the horses was reluctant to pass us; her rider told us her horse was a bit spooked by our vehicle as “there isn’t usually a car parked there”.

Assembling the circuit

We assembled the circuit (well Bob did, I just passed him bits of wire and generally acted as electronics engineer’s mate). We powered it up and…

Bugger! Not the display we expected! Was the kit a “dud”? There had been some logs suggesting one of the kits didn’t work. Of course we’re made of sterner stuff and we weren’t giving up just yet! There then followed a session of pin straightening, wire wiggling and similar activities. Still nothing. We had a brew. Rechecked our wiring. Ah Ha! Made a small change. Bingo! Once we had it working we were able to obtain a set of coordinates. That wasn’t quite the end of it of course, we had to visit that location, obtain some more info and input that into our circuit-a-ma-bob to obtain the final coords.

While we were looking for the intermediate location a couple of farming types drove up in a muddy 4×4 to enquire what we were doing. When we said “geocaching” they didn’t seem surprised and became more friendly; “I’ve seen lots of things in the vees of trees round here” said one. Friendly muggles! Anyway, back in the car and off to the final and an excellent find of an ammo can. Of course, we then had to return to the Theory cache and put the electronics kit back for the next cacher, which we did.

These have been two of the best geocaches I’ve done to date, partly because of the work involved in solving the puzzles and partly in recognition of the amount of effort which has gone in to designing and constructing the caches. One of those occasions where awarding a favourite point doesn’t seem enough.

After our success, we found a further couple of caches along what used to be a Roman road. One end of this was apparently a byway, so we had a gander to see whether we could drive it. Unfortunately the County Council had slapped a bunch of TROs along most of it and the only part we could drive had a 2 metre width restriction. It looked a bit narrow, so I edged the nose of the Freelander into the gap while Bob spotted for me. It looked very tight and after a short discussion we abandoned the idea, parked up and walked along the byway to the nearby cache. I’ve since checked the Freelander’s spec sheet. Turns out the width with mirrors retracted is 2005mm. No wonder it wouldn’t fit!

roman road

After that it was off to the next major location on our hit list, near Saffron Walden: the Harry Potter series. This comprises 7 caches and, although I’d found 3 of them back in July 2013 whilst staying at Audley End, I still had 4 to find and Bob needed all of them. After a break for lunch we set off, starting with the ones I hadn’t yet found. This is a series of puzzles with a Harry Potter theme. I had no problem with the puzzles (ours being a family of Potter fans), also the caches themselves follow the HP theme, which is a nice touch; hence we found (amongst others), a rat from the prison at Azkaban, a dragon from the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a horcrux locket:

horcrux locket

and Tom Riddle’s diary – which doubled as one of the log books:

tom riddles diary

It was good to see my moniker there from 2013.

log book entry

Eventually, a lovely sunset reminded us it was time to head for home…


Plus, after logging our finds, we had a nice “H for Harry” shape on the map, made from smileys.

Harry potter smiley map

So ended another brilliant day’s geocaching in Cambridgeshire! Just 10 finds, currently that’s a good day’s tally for me but this day was most definitely not about the numbers.



GSAK. On a Mac.

You may recall back in 2012 I wrote about running Windoze on my Mac, mainly in order to try running GSAK without the pain of a Windoze PC. I tried Crossover. I tried a VM (Oracle’s VirtualBox). I was unimpressed. The idea of using GSAK died, as I was really, really, not prepared to use Windoze.


Recent conversations with my geocaching buddy, Bob, made me want to give GSAK another try, but how?

Turns out there has been some progress with Wine. Via the GSAK forum I found a very good guide on the subject, so I decided it was worth a try. Some of the detail (around versions) have changed but the basic steps are still the same. To begin with, I installed the beta version of Wine 1.8 (works with El Cap) but when I tried creating the GSAK App it crashed repeatedly, so I installed the latest “stable” release (1.6.1) instead. That worked perfectly.

So here’s proof (if you need it) of GSAK working on my MacBook Air:

GSKA screen shot

The key issue last time I tried running GSAK was that it wouldn’t connect to my Geocaching account. This time, a key step in the process involved installing GSAK on a Windows machine first, exporting a backup of the GSAK database and settings, and restoring these to the Wine version. That done (and my ancient Dell laptop returned to its rightful place in my tech museum), GSAK worked! I am able to connect to my geocaching data on, retrieve cache details, run PQs, etc.

The only function which seems to be missing from my Wine-bottled GSAK so far, seems to be the cache page in split view. I think this issue is linked to GSAK’s historical reliance on IE but I need to do some research on this. Nevertheless, clicking on a cache’s row launches the cache details in a new browser window (in Safari, my default). GSAK “sees” my Garmin GPS when I connect it to my MacBook via USB, so I can download GPX files to the device.

Early days, then, but from what I’ve seen so far it does look promising.


One binned, one recycled

Yep, the old seagate drive is kaput. Having removed it from the enclosure I had an idea. After a bit of a rummage I dug out a spare 2.5″ drive I had left over from a MacBook drive upgrade. Both that and the dud drive had the same SATA interface so I thought, why not?

10 minutes later I had a perfectly serviceable network drive ready to go. It’s nowhere near as big as the old one, either in capacity or physical dimensions, but it will come in handy as a shared drive for odd storage jobs.

Now all I have to do is take the dud one apart before it goes to the Council tip for recycling.

Moar Drive Trouble

Today I noticed that the external hard drive connected to my router was making strange noises so I powered it off. When I powered it up again it sounded like this. Oh dear.

I think this is even more terminal than the last time this drive failed with the seagate 7200.11 error, the fix for which I explained in this post. Nevertheless, I will connect it directly to my Mac just to see whether I can identify the problem, although I doubt it’s worth salvaging. I am pretty sure it is time to give this recalcitrant drive the old heave ho.





So, the other day I deleted an App from my iPhone in an attempt to fix a bug, with the idea that I would re-install the App thus fixing the bug. I then had a bit of mild panic because I couldn’t find the App in the App Store to download. Fortunately I remembered that the iPhone ‘hides’ purchased Apps so when I looked there, there it was. Phew. Unfortunately re-installing it didn’t fix the bug but that’s a different story.

The point is, whilst I was panicking, I thought I could always restore the iPhone from the iTunes backup on my Mac. Then I remembered how old that backup was. So today I backed up my iPhone and iPad to my Mac. While I was there I backed up some other key data on the iOS devices keeping those backups independent from the catch-all iTunes one.

A word about iOS backups: although you can backup your iOS device to iCloud (and it’s great that it does this automatically if you leave your device on, locked & connected to a power source), it doesn’t  backup everything (e.g. Apps!). It’s certainly worth doing a periodic iTunes backup as well.

Hint: turn on Encryption before hitting that ‘Back Up Now’ button, that way it will save all your logon credentials, saving you loads of time if/when you come to do a restore.


One more thing. Don’t forget to backup your Mac’s HDD (using Time Machine or similar).