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Archive for November, 2015

by Tom Nelson

Question: When I turn my Mac on, it displays a flashing question mark for several seconds before booting. Is this anything I should worry about?

startupdisk

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Answer: The flashing question mark is your Mac’s way of telling you that it’s having trouble finding a bootable operating system.

While the question mark is flashing, your Mac is checking all available disks for an operating system it can use. If it finds one, your Mac will finish booting.

You can shorten this search process by selecting a startup disk in System Preferences.

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by Tom Nelson

For a change, the Mac refurb store remains well stocked this week, with a wide selection of Macs to choose from. This includes a base level Mac mini and a 12-core Mac Pro, which cover both the price and performance extremes available in the refurb store.

Neither of our example Macs actually made our deals list; the mini suffers from low performance and the Mac Pro from a value standpoint.

2015macbookair

Image courtesy of Apple

Deals of the Week

Our deals this week include a current generation MacBook Air at a nice low price point. The MacBook Air is only equipped with a 128 GB flash drive, but as a Mac used just for its extreme portability, it’s actually a good buy.

Our second deal may be a bit more costly, but it wraps a great deal of technology and performance into a stunning desktop that can meet just about anyone’s needs. This deal is for a 27-inch Retina iMac with a Quad-Core i7 processor and very fast internal storage in the form of a 512 GB flash drive.

Read more on About: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

Jettison, from the folks at St. Clair Software, is one of those very handy utilities that should have been part of OS X. Jettison eliminates the need to manually eject connected drives or SD cards when putting your Mac to sleep.

Jettison

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Although Jettison may find its most frequent use with those of us who use portable Macs, it works just fine with desktop Macs as well.

Read more on About: Macs.

 

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by Tom Nelson & Mary F. O’Connor

It’s easy to set up playlists in iTunes, although it can be time consuming, particularly if you have a large library of songs (and who doesn’t?).

SmartPlayListiTunes

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

You can use the handy Smart Playlist feature to make iTunes do most of the work for you. Don’t let the word complex scare you. In just a few minutes, with just a few clicks, you can create Smart Playlists based on one or two criteria, a long list of criteria, or anything in-between.

For example, you can create a Smart Playlist that gathers all of the tracks by one of your favorite artists, all of the tracks by that artist to which you’ve assigned a 5-star rating, and all of the tracks by that artist in a particular genre, such as Rock.

Read more on About: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

Question: I’m a Windows user who recently made the change to Apple and the Macintosh. I’m used to routinely defragmenting my hard drive in order to ensure top performance by my computer. I don’t see any way to defragment my Mac’s hard drive. Do I need to be concerned about this?

DriveGeniusDefrag

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Answer: Apple supplies a handy application for working with hard drives called Disk Utility.

If you open up Disk Utility, you’ll notice that it doesn’t include a tool for defragmenting your hard drive. The reason for this perceived oversight is that a Mac running any version of OS X later than 10.2 does not need to be defragmented. OS X has its own built-in safeguards that prevent files from becoming fragmented in the first place.

  • OS X’s HFS+ file system tries not to use recently freed file space on a disk. Instead, it looks for larger free areas already present on the drive, thereby avoiding fragmenting files just to fit them into available space.
  • OS X dynamically gathers groups of small files and combines them into larger areas on your disk automatically. The process of writing the files to a new larger location defragments all of the files in the group.
  • OS X implements Hot File Adaptive Clustering, which monitors frequently-accessed files that do not get changed (read only), and then moves these often-accessed files to a special hot zone on the hard drive. In the process of moving these files, OS X defragments them, and then stores them in the area of the hard drive that has the fastest access.
  • When you open a file, OS X checks to see if it is highly fragmented (more than 8 fragments). If it is, OS X will automatically defragment the file.

The result of all these safeguards is that OSX rarely, if ever, needs to have its disk space defragmented. The only real exception to this is when your hard drive has less than 10 percent free space.

Read more on About: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

GarageBand is a handy application for creating, editing, and just plain having fun with music. GarageBand works well with MIDI instruments, but if you don’t have a MIDI keyboard, you can turn your Mac keyboard into a virtual musical instrument.

MusicalTyping

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

  • Launch GarageBand, located in the /Applications folder.
  • In the upper left corner of the window, click the New Project icon.
  • Click the Empty Project icon in the central window, and then click the Choose button at the bottom right.
  • In the pop-up window, select Software Instrument, and click the Create button.
  • In the list on the left side of the page, click an instrument. For this example, we chose Piano.
  • Click GarageBand’s Window menu, and select Show Musical Typing.

The Musical Typing window will open, showing the Mac keys that correspond to musical keys.

The Musical Typing window will also display key assignments for Pitchbend, Modulation, Sustain, Octave, and Velocity.

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by Tom Nelson

It’s nice to see at least one Mac mini in stock in the refurb store this week. It’s a bit on the high end for a mini, but it does come with 1 TB of flash-based storage. The other news is there’s a nice supply of iMacs in the store, with plenty of models to choose from, including Retina-equipped models.

MacBookPro2013crop

Image courtesy of Apple

Deal of the Week

Our deals this week start with a MacBook Pro with a 512 GB SSD and 16 GB of RAM. It’s nicely priced, and with that configuration, it should be able to power you through just about any work you need to do, in the field, at school, or at home.

Our next two deals are for 27-inch iMacs with Retina displays. The first is a 2015 model with the standard Quad-Core i5 and 256 GB SSD. Our second deal is a 2014 model equipped with the more powerful Quad-Core i7 processor. Either would be a good choice for anyone looking for a Retina-based iMac.

Read more on About: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

The release of OS X El Capitan marked the dumbing down of Disk Utility into a barely usable version of its former self. Gone from Disk Utility are many features long taken for granted, including support for creating and managing RAID-based storage systems.

SoftRAIDLite

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

With the removal of Disk Utility features, I expected utility app developers to step in and provide some of the missing features. That’s exactly what happened with SoftRAID, a popular app for creating software-based RAID arrays for OS X.

The folks at SoftRAID have taken their well-respected SoftRAID 5 app and pared it down to the basics needed to replace the lost RAID support in Disk Utility. Along with the new Lite version of SoftRAID came a corresponding reduction in price, making it an economical choice for those who need the basic RAID support that Apple no longer supplies.

Read more on About: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

One of the first things you may notice about your new big-screen HDTV is that it has more connections for video than your old TV ever dreamed about. It probably has two or three HDMI connections, maybe a DVI connector, a VGA connector, and at least one component video connection. And those are just the connections most commonly used for high definition.

It’s a shame to let all those connections go to waste.

2014MacMini

Image courtesy of Apple

Your Mac just happens to be sitting nearby; why not hook it up to your new HDTV? It’s actually a pretty easy task. A few lucky souls won’t even need an adapter; for the rest of us, at least one adapter will be necessary.

Read more on About: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

Question: I recently started using FileVault to encrypt my user account on my Mac. I’ve noticed that since turning on FileVault, Time Machine no longer seems to be running any of its backups.

Can Time Machine be used to back up FileVault-protected user accounts?

PasswordEncryptedTimeMachine

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Answer: The quick answer is yes, but the more detailed answer is it depends on which version of FileVault you’re using.

No matter which version of FileVault you’re using, you can use Time Machine to back up your data, it’s just that the Time Machine backup process for FileVault 1 is a bit complicated, and has some security issues.

If you have the option, I recommend upgrading to FileVault 2, which requires OS X Lion or later.

Read more on About: Macs.

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