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.AAM.Updater-1.0.plist

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

com.google.keystone.agent.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 com.google.Keystone.Agent 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 com.google.Keystone.Agent 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)”

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.

Anyway…

Next step: installing GSAK. !

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.

Anyway…

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 GC.com, 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.

 

Backups

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.

itbup

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

Passwords, and when, Oh when, will they kill off Flash?

I saw this on the Ars website recently.

Good security practice

Of course, it’s not as simple as that, so it’s worth reading the article from whence it came.

Then there is Flash. Steve Jobs hated it but not because he hated Adobe. Flash was a power hungry plug-in which didn’t sit at all well with his plans for iPad (etc.). Of course, things have moved on a bit since then. Java and Flash have shown themselves to be, um, susceptible to hacking, malware, trojans, etc..

Java (JRE) has largely disappeared from our browsers and it is mainly enterprise applications which still rely on its continued availability (my daughter’s employer’s internet-accessed HR system for one).

Many websites still use Flash but they don’t need to.There is HTML5. Even YouTube doesn’t rely on it any more. So I think it is time for Flash to die. I’ll leave you to make up your own minds.

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

IT Crowd - Roy

Yosemite has been playing nicely on my MacBook Air so I decided it was time to upgrade the iMac.

After doing all the usual safety procedures and testing the backups it was time to upgrade. The iMac has had a few OS X upgrades since I bought it – it came with 10.6 Snow Leopard – and I did consider doing a clean install. However the “normal” upgrade route has had good reports so I opted for that.

The upgrade proceeded smoothly to begin with and I left it to get on with it, however when I returned some time later it seemed to have stuck on the last install screen at 50% complete. I left it for about half an hour and nothing had changed so I did what any highly trained Mac technician would do.

I powered it off and on again.

That did the trick and the iMac booted happily. I had been pretty sure it had got stuck at the reboot stage of the process so turning it off and on again forced the reboot it should have done by itself. Just to be on the safe side I then restarted it up in Safe (or Single User) Mode (Cmd + S) and ran /sbin/fsck -fy. Next, I booted from the Recovery Partition (Cmd + R) and used Disk Utility to repair permissions on the iMac’s startup disk.

Since then it has been fine and I’m now in the process of reorganising my data files to take advantage of iCloud Drive.

Yosemite

When Yosemite first dropped I wasn’t in the mood to be one of the “early adopters”. Normally with a new OS I’d be straight in there but I put off updating from Mavericks and I think I did the right thing. Apparently there were lots of minor problems reported on the discussion forums, not least a problem with dropped WiFi connections. Anyway, I decided I’d wait for a point release and then of course I had my eye problem…

Now that Apple have released a further point release (OS X 10.10.2) which purported amongst other things to fix the WiFi issue I thought I’d update my MacBook Air for starters. Opinion is divided between those who simply update from whatever their existing OS was and those who insist that a clean install followed by a restore of their backed-up data is the only surefire way to a reliable system. I thought I would risk the former and use my backup plan to do a clean install and restore if necessary.

I followed my usual backup method – which is really about ensuring I have a good backup in case of a SNAFU – prior to starting the update. In other words:

  1. Backup to external disk using Time Machine
  2. Create a bootable clone of the entire Macintosh HD partition on an external disk (I use Superduper!).
  3. Test the clone by booting from it and testing the basic functions of OS X.
  4. Verifying the Macintosh HD disk.

No. 4 gave me a couple of disk errors. Nothing serious. Nevertheless I booted the Mac in safe mode (that’s booting it while holding down the CMD and S keys) and running fsck to check and repair the disk:

/sbin/fsck – fy

It found some minor file allocation errors and then returned the message “Macintosh HD appears to be OK” (which is always a good sign). I rebooted it as normal and downloaded the Yosemite installer from the Apple App store.

It pays to have a Plan B, which in my case would be to restore everything to its last Mavericks configuration – I have a backup for that! – but it’s very useful to have a stand-alone copy of the OS X installer on a USB drive. If you have that, you can boot from it and run diagnostics or repairs from there and/or install the OS from scratch if need be. A useful spin-off is that if you have several Macs to update to the new OS, having a copy of the installer on a portable disk saves having to download the large installer image onto each Mac.

Starting with Mavericks, Apple have made it easy to create a bootable copy of the installer. There are other ways of doing it but I think using Apple’s “createinstallmedia” utility is fine. Here’s the method:

  1. When you download the OS X Installer app, it places it in the Applications folder. This method assumes you’ve left it there. (Don’t forget, if you run the installer and update the Mac, the installer app gets deleted from the Applications folder afterwards, so you need to create the USB copy first).
  2. Using Disk Utility, format an 8GB USB drive and give it the label “Untitled”. Leave it connected to a USB port on your Mac.
  3. Open a Terminal window and enter this command:

    sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ Yosemite.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/Untitled –applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ Yosemite.app –nointeraction

  4. Let it run (takes a while!) and you will be left with a bootable USB disk containing the installer.
  5. To start your Mac from the USB drive, start the Mac whilst holding the Option (alt) key down. Once the Mac starts it will display the list of available bootable drives, select the USB drive from that list.

So, having tested my backups, downloaded the OS X update and created my USB installer, I was ready to undertake the update.

The Yosemite update was very straightforward (as Apple intended) and my Mac was soon up and running. I’ve left iCloud Drive off for the moment until I’m happy that everything is working as it should.

Moving Time Machine files – Deja Vu

Having got myself a new external hard drive I decided to move my MacBook Air’s Time Machine backup from the old disk (which was full) to the new one. It was at this point that I remembered that I’d done this before and, what’s more, I’d written a post about it. Anyway, that was over 18 months ago so I thought I’d try Apple’s official method again. Ha Ha. Last time Apple’s method didn’t work, maybe it’s been fixed…

Apple’s official method goes like this:

  1. In Disk Utility, partition your new HDD as “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” with a GUID partition
  2. Open the File Info window and make sure that “Ignore ownership on this volume” at the bottom of the “Sharing & Permissions” section is not checked.
  3. Turn Time Machine off
  4. Using Finder, copy the file “Backups.backupdb” from the old disk volume to the new one.

So I did this and, after an hour or so of happy copying, it failed. More accurately, it failed on specific files which it claimed could not be copied. To be honest I wasn’t surprised, given previous experience, so this attempt was made more as an experiment than with any expectation that it would work. Thing is, why does Apple continue to push this method when it has a reputation for not working? (You can look at the Apple Discussion Forums)

Last time I copied my Time Machine files, I used Carbon Copy Cloner to do a block-by-block copy but this time, I thought, Apple’s Disk Utility could provide the solution.

First off, I used Disk Utility to perform a repair of the old backup disk, to ensure that any file corruptions or permission errors were resolved prior to copying, as this could have been a reason for the Apple method failing. I did a Partition-level repair then a File-level repair. Interestingly, neither of these found anything to repair which sort of squashed that little theory. Ah well, on to the important bit. After formatting the new volume as per Apple’s instruction (above) I was all set. Here’s the method:

  • In System Preferences, turn Time Machine off
  • Connect both the old and new HDDs
  • Open Disk Utility
  • Select the original backup disk from the list in the left column and click the “Restore” Tab.
  • Drag the original backup disk volume (i.e. the one to be copied) to the “Source” field.
  • Drag the new backup disk volume to the “Destination” field.

 

  • Click the “Restore” Button.
  • The copy will take some time to complete. Once it has finished, the name of the destination volume will have changed to be the same as that of the original. This could be a bit confusing so eject the original volume.
  • You could change the name of the new volume but there is a risk (call that bitter experience!) that Time Machine will see this as a different disk and instead of carrying on as before, start a fresh backup and discard the backup history you were trying to retain in the first place. My preference was to simply eject the original volume before resuming Time Machine. After all, if the copy has been successful, the old one will no longer be required and after a decent period of mourning (just to be on the safe side) the old disk can be repurposed.
  • Back in System Preferences, turn Time Machine on. Enter Time Machine and check that you can browse the backup history. Do a sample file restore to check everything is working as it should. If that checks out, let it perform a backup cycle, afterwards checking that the backup history can still be accessed and restored from.

And that’s it. I won’t pretend this is a quick procedure. For some people it won’t even be necessary. You’ll need to consider whether you really need to keep a long range of backups stretching back a year or more. You could always keep the original disk somewhere safe for a while and allow Time Machine to start afresh with the new disk.

Lastly, if you do try either of the above methods, you do so at your own risk. What worked for me might not work for someone else. Before you undertake any file management activities make sure you have a robust backup of any important data.