Mac Tips for Techs: Activity Monitor -the Task Manager for a Mac

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Before my Mac completely ticked me off, and I broke up with Apple, I was dealt a blow had been frustrating and ongoing (more on that in later blog posts). I had not been able to get my machine to turn off the digital optical out; my speakers were unusable on my MacBook Pro.

Because of this, and after a ton of Google research, I had been trying various troubleshooting techniques. One of them was to stop the CoreAudio service.

On a PC this is simple: you open Task Manager, you browse the running processes, and you kill them. However, how do you stop processes from running on a Mac? You can use a great utility called Activity Monitor, which is a built-in tool on the Mac that can be found by typing Activity Monitor into your spotlight.

ActivityMonitorFrom here, this should look pretty similar to Task Manager. You have your processes listed, and you can sort the list in a variety of ways. You can also select individual processes and click the X in the upper left-hand corner to kill the process.

You can also search the processes via how they affect memory, energy, disk, or the network, in addition to the default of CPU. This is crucial if you are troubleshooting certain issues with your Mac — such as whether you are low on RAM, or maybe the Mac’s battery life is dying too quickly (check the energy tab).

This is a great tool for troubleshooting a Mac, and should be included in any technician’s toolkit.

 

Dear Mac Users, sorry for your loss…. move on.

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Lately I have been writing a lot of blog posts for my love of all things Apple, and for the most part I am still very much in love with Apple products. However, this week has been hell for me with my Mac mini at work. I feel the need to vent here.

As I have mentioned before in blog posts (found here and here), you might want to think twice about installing Yosemite. But the allure of having the latest OS for my Mac was getting to me, so over the past several weeks, I had been trying to install Yosemite on my Mac… with discouraging results.

When downloading and installing Yosemite, I would consistently receive the following error:

YosemiteInstallErrorI did extensive research to find out what was going on. I even downloaded the Yosemite installation on a separate Mac on a separate network, and still, when trying to install on my Mac mini at work, I received the error.

I even tried creating a bootable Yosemite USB drive (found here), but no luck! What gives?!

After much research, I thought the answer was that I was using an Apple account to download the package that was not associated with a previously purchased OS. I had heard grumblings that you cannot install Yosemite unless you have a previous OS on your Apple account (which I didn’t necessarily believe), however, I figured, “Why not?” So I signed in with my personal Apple account. I have a purchased OS on the account, I tried the update, and that’s when everything went dark.

This might as well have been what happened to my Mac-Mini...

This may as well have been what happened to my Mac-Mini…

My Mac gave me the Apple-equivalent of the blue screen of death:

BSOD

I tried restarting the Mac and found that not only could I not finish Yosemite, but I couldn’t boot into Mavericks, either! Oh no! What will happen to all of my sweet cat photos that I use as wallpapers? (No, I did not back up this Mac beforehand.)

This is one of my favorites; Starcraft Kitteh...

This is one of my favorites; Starcraft Kitteh. (Source: http://catsinspacesuits.tumblr.com/)

I ended up booting into the recovery utilities (Apple+R) and trying to repair the disk via Disk Utility. Sadly, it would not repair the disk. To be honest, I have been in this situation before, and I have NEVER seen Disk Utility actually repair the OS, so I didn’t have high hopes.

I also tried testing the hardware on the Mac by holding down the D-key upon startup. I received an error stating that it could not connect to Apple to perform the tests (this is an Internet-based test). I had nothing left to do but to go back to Mavericks with a new installation.

I installed Mavericks and decided, “Now that I have a fresh, completely new version of a Mac OSX, maybe I can update to Yosemite now?”

NOPE.

NOPE.

No matter what I did, I could not update to Yosemite. Fine. If Yosemite didn’t want me, I didn’t want it. I would stay with Mavericks and enjoy my Apple life.

Upon deciding to install the rest of my applications, I was greeted with another Mac BSOD! And again, like last time, I could not boot to Mavericks! Argh!

At this point, I was done with Apple. I was ready to become a Microsoft lifer and swear off Apples forever. However, I powered through, installed Mavericks one more time, and installed all of my applications.

At this point, though, I am cowering in fear of my Mac mini. I feel like, any wrong turn, and I will receive the ill-fated BSOD. I am scared of my Mac right now, and that isn’t the way to be. As a technician, you can’t be scared of the system you are working on. Being an IT engineer, you need the confidence that you can fix anything. That is the best way to succeed in this ever-challenging business, so, with that, I need to learn more about Macs. I need to learn how to read the kernel panic commands I am receiving, and I need to take charge and show the Mac who is boss!

I figure in the coming weeks I will tackle this head-on and try to beat it. But for right now I am a wounded duck, cowering in the weeds, hoping the hunter doesn’t find me.

I expect that my love of all things Apple will come rushing back when I make a breakthrough. Then, you can expect more Mac posts from me. But not at the present moment. Right now, Apple and I are having a little spat.

 

Security on a Mac: Setting Passwords & Locking your Screen

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I use a Mac and a PC at my job, and one thing we fall victim to, if we do not lock our computer when we walk away, is we end up coming back to a desktop wallpaper of David Hasselhoff.

Knight Rider

You could wind up with this on your screen. Or worse.

So we are always told to lock our PCs. Fortunately, this is easy to do. You simply press the Windows key + L and it locks your machine (The Windows key is the key between ctrl and alt, that has the Windows flag on it).

But I also needed to find a way to lock my Mac — which isn’t as easy as the nice, two-key combo Microsoft has laid out for us.

You can lock a Mac through key combinations. In newer Macs, you can click control + shift + the power button, and you will see your screen go black, and if you tap any key on the keyboard, it will wake up the screen, and you can see that your Mac is locked.

However, in my case, I can’t even reach my power button, so this just won’t work. What I do (and I consider this the best and easiest way to lock a Mac) is to lock by using Keychain Access.

Keychain Access is the equivalent of Windows Credential Manager, in that it saves passwords that you frequently use on the Mac. In order to use Keychain Access for locking your Mac, you will, of course, need to set a password on your Mac (otherwise what’s the point in locking, if users can hit ‘return’ and go right into your Mac).

To set a password on a Mac, click on the Apple logo in the upper left-hand corner of the Mac, and go to System Preferences. From there you will see a location called Users & Groups.

Preferences

Inside Users & Groups, you will see your account listed. You might have to click on the lock, down in the lower left-hand corner, to make changes (if you do, it will require a password, and if you have none set, you can simply click OK). Once you have the ability to edit your account, click on it. You will see the location, next to your photo, that states Reset Password. This is where you will enter your password.

You can then click the lock to prevent further changes and move on to Keychain Access.

When you launch Keychain Access, you won’t need to do anything in the window that pops up, only in the Preferences for Keychain Access. To access Preferences, click on the words “Keychain Access” in the upper left-hand corner, and go to Preferences…

In Preferences, under the General tab, put a check mark where it states: Show keychain status in menu bar

Keychain

This adds an unlocked lock in the menu bar in the upper right hand corner of your Mac. If you now click on that icon, you have an option to ‘Lock Screen’.

Lock

It’s as simple as that!

 

What You Might Want to Think About Before Installing Yosemite

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Apples-OS-X-Yosemite

Yosemite, the new Mac OS that replaced Mavericks this year, was released to much fanfare. And for the most part it has been a very solid operating system. You can install this OS for free from Apple’s AppStore (for anyone running Snow Leopard or later), so what’s not to love?

For me, I was very excited about Yosemite, and even wrote a blog post about its release. However, after a few months, I have decided not to install Yosemite for a few reasons (and by the way, these reasons should be taken into consideration, even if you have a Windows PC and are thinking about upgrading your OS).

  1. The biggest reason for me is the functionality of applications. Many applications I use have not been written to work for Yosemite at the moment — and if you have critical applications, you should NOT go to a new OS until you have tested all of your applications.
  2. Bugs. Every OS starts off with a few bugs, and while they quickly figure out the kinks, I am not interested in going through the motions until these are worked out. I would prefer to give the OS a few months to let others work through those until I am on-board.

There are a few other reasons, such as you own an old Mac that might not be able to handle Yosemite, or you don’t know your Apple ID username or password, but the two reasons above are the biggest reasons I have chosen not to move to Yosemite… yet.

I suppose a third reason could be that I am lazy. Because there are options, so I could move forward…, but I have yet to act on them.

When you decide to move to a new OS, you MUST make a backup of your machine. There are many instances where the OS installation will go bad, leaving you with a corrupt OS. If you don’t have a backup of your system, you are stuck. I also ensure I have a backup to which I can restore my old OS, in case something goes wrong (such as Yosemite not being able to open my apps).

You actually have a built in tool for handling backups, called Time Machine. Taking a backup with Time Machine is easy. Launch Time Machine from Spotlight in the upper right hand corner, and point to the backup disk you would like to take the backup to. I do this manually and connect an external drive to my Mac in order to take a proper backup.

tm_sys_prefs Once you have a successful backup, you can actually restore your OS, using that backup. To do that, you need to boot into the OS X Recovery system. When booting your Mac, hold down command+R until the Apple logo appears.

One of the options should be ‘Restore from Time Machine Backup. You can then choose that, and the location of the backup you just took, and restore your system. It is as simple as that.

Doing this should give you the peace of mind that if you need to go back to Mavericks, you have the ability to do so. You also have some other options out there for creating backups and restores, and I discussed one of these options in another blog recently as well. Carbon Copy Cloner gives you a great user interface and easy-to-use tools for doing the exact same thing as Apple’s Time Machine.

With options such as these, you don’t have an excuse not to try out Yosemite (unless you are lazy, like me). :) I will get around to it eventually, and when I do, I promise to write a full review! In the meantime, remember: if you need help either backing up or restoring your systems for your business, we are always here for you, 24/7, at Everon: 888-244-1748.

Mac Tips for Techs: NetSpot

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A while ago at Everon I had to troubleshoot a pretty complex wireless system, set up by Cisco. I had to call Cisco to discuss their setup, and I was fortunate enough to get a technician who was so passionate about his job, he decided that once the issue was resolved, he would like to give me a 1-2 hour lesson on wireless technology, regardless of the Cisco brand. For the 1-2 hours he spoke to me on the phone, I feverishly tried to write down notes on every single thing he said. I wish I’d had a record of the call we had together, as I would go in and make better notes. It was one of the best lessons I have ever received.

Technicians who work on certain brands, whether it is HP, Dell, Cisco, whatever… in my experience they all seem to be reading off of a sheet and don’t really care if you understand what they are discussing, as you blindly follow their instructions. And, for the most part, I do blindly follow their instructions. (Because how can I argue about the results? Its their equipment!) But occasionally you will find that one technician who is so passionate about his (or her) field of expertise, that he would like you to experience it as he does. I was so fortunate to have this experience come to life a few months back. (In all honesty, I think that is the way some of our engineers operate here, at Everon, as well. We don’t have rigid scripts, we get a call, and we work on it based on our own, personal knowledge, the knowledge of our peers around us, and various tools, so every interaction can be different and exciting. If you are excited to learn what we are doing, we are equally as excited to teach you!)

Anyways, that is my tangent on technicians, now back to wireless technology….

Out of everything the Cisco engineer showed me, one thing he said needs to be done before you purchase any wireless equipment is a wireless site survey. I had never thought of that previously, but it makes sense. How do you know what you need? How much ground do you need to cover? What type of signal strength can you get by with? All of these questions can be answered by a professional who does site surveys for a living. However, if you were interested in doing one yourself, or even if you needed to troubleshoot your existing wireless, what tools do you have at your disposal? It isn’t like you can actually see wireless to be able to troubleshoot, so what can you use to help you understand wireless? (There are many different products for Windows machines, none of which I will get into here, as this article is for the Mac engineer who is in need of troubleshooting wireless.) I encounter instances like this all the time, where I am sent out to a client’s location, and I have to troubleshoot much more than a simple Mac. Sometimes I will need to troubleshoot their environment and, for wireless environments, I find the best tool for anyone with a Mac is NetSpot.

NetSpot can be downloaded here for free: http://www.netspotapp.com/netspotpro.html

NetSpotThe Pro version is for commercial use. The free version can only be used on you and your friends’ home networks. My advice would be if you are going to begin doing site surveys, spend the $149.00 and get the Pro version. The Pro version also includes unlimited data points in every zone (the free version allows 50), flexible grouping of various items in the survey such as APs, SSIDs, channel, vendor, etc (free only allows grouping via SSID), and much more.

However, if you are learning how to do wireless site surveys, the free version is great. It gives you a ton of information on your wireless network, such as the SSID, band (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz), security (WEP, WPA, etc), vendor, mode (b/g/n), level (signal to noise), signal percentage, the noise in DBm, and much more. It updates in real time, and doesn’t take up much battery life on your Mac. Using this app is a great first step into reviewing a network, as it will easily allow you to see any issues without the need to jump into the AP or wireless router.

Check out this tool, and if you would like to discuss it further, any of our engineers at Everon would love to talk wireless! Call us at 888-244-1748.