West Hill House B&B

Category Archives: Mac Computer Blog

I recommend Mountain Lion!

July 29, 2012 by Peter MacLaren

Mountain Lion

Mac users should head to the App Store in your desktop Dock App Store iconand get Mountain Lion. It is absoutely worth the nominal price of $19.95. And as the look and feel and basics are unchanged, it is an easy update to handle.

I (Peter) have now updated 3 Macs and have had no issues.  Some neat things to note:

  • Overall Finder is quite a bit slicker. Actions result in almost instant results, eliminating some of the lag that I have seen in recent OS releases.
  • The new Safari 6.0 is great. (It is also available on Lion if you don’t want to update your OS yet). A great step forward is the adoption of the single address and search field that has been one of Chrome’s unique strengths till now.  While password storage is still based on Keychain the integrated preference pane is much easier to use. In my testing it also much faster than prior version and certainly equals Chrome.  So it is time to move back from Chrome to Safari I think!
  • The notification feature is neat and quite customizable.
  • I am REALLY enjoying experimenting with dictation! You do need to speak clearly but the accuracy is excellent if you do.
  • Software updating for the OS and apps in the Apple Store now works much like the iPad and iPhone–a much easier process.
  • Plus you will find tweaks and improvements across all the built-in apps.
  • Apple Store for Consultants

You will need a relatively recent Mac to make the leap up the Mountain, but I think it is fair to say that if you are running older hardware it is time to upgrade to take advantage of the speed and built-in storage of the more recent Macs.

Apple Store for ConsultantsIf you have a nice LCD monitor already the Mac mini is a great choice, and I really love the Macbook Air–as I have blogged about before–if you need a laptop.  See the links on the right for more info. The new Macbook Retina is a brilliant piece of engineering, but it is likely to be over the top for most users for now.

If you need more help don’t forget that I am a Mac Consultant.  My rates are very competitive and advice is free for guests at the West Hill House breakfast table!

Getting ready for Mountain Lion

June 27, 2012 by Peter MacLaren

Mountain Lion

OS X Mountain Lion

OS X Lion

OS X Lion

For my birthday this July it looks like I (along with all other Mac users) will be getting a herd of Mountain Lions–seems particularly appropriate for me given that I am a Leo!

To get ready for what should be an easy $19.99 update from Lion to Mountain Lion via the App Store, it is important that you have your existing Lion well groomed. Unfortunately many people’s Macs are not as svelte as they should be if they updated to Lion from a prior OS – e.g. Leopard or Snow Leopard.  I know this from personal experience.

Unfortunately Apple no longer provides a “clean install” option for a new OS, and for reasons that no-one has really been able to figure out, updating a legacy OS to Lion WITHOUT doing a clean install can sometimes result in a Mac that is not the king of the jungle in terms of speed.

The answer is in fact to do a clean install.  It’s a bit time consuming but not complicated.  The one catch is that you do need to have a second Lion capable Mac or borrow one – the process is non-destructive to the second Mac as long as there is enough disk space to temporarily host your User folder and all its contents.

Step Zero is to ENSURE you have a full back-up, e.g. with Time Machine, of the Mac you need to update–or streamline if Lion was perviously installed, and of the surrogate Mac.  You should not need to use these back-ups for the following process, but things can go wrong so you should always have a contingency plan. (In any event if you are not backing up your Mac(s), now is the time to start.  Hard drives fail – it’s not an “if”, it’s a “when”.)

Step One is to use Migration Assistant  (in your Utilities folder) on both Macs to migrate the User you are wanting to keep from the Mac to be streamlined to the temporary surrogate mother  (so to speak!).  (Make sure the User name is not already in use on this Mac.) You can do this over a wired or wireless network so provided both Macs are connected to your home network no extra connections are needed. Be sure to migrate Applications and Settings as well as the User. As noted above there needs to be enough disk space to temporarily host your User folder and all its contents. Migration Assistant will tell you if there is not enough space; there is no danger of damaging files on the surrogate Mac as long as User names are not duplicated.

Step Two is to make a Lion install DVD-R or a bootable Flash Drive.  This is a little tricky, but instructions are available here.

Step Three is to boot your to-be-streamlined Mac with the new DVD by starting it with the “C” key held down or with the Flash Drive.  Then use the Utilities menu to erase/re-format the hard drive.  This is why you need Step Zero – just in case things go wrong. Erasing a hard drive is not for the faint of heart, but it is the key to making the install “clean”!

Step Four is to use the installer to bring the Lion’s roar to your Mac. When you go through the set-up be sure to create what will be a temporary Admin user name that is NOT the name of the user that you will be migrating back.

Then repeat Step One in reverse.  You can then delete the temporary Admin user if you wish, and after you have checked that everything is working ok you should delete the User that was temporarily created on the surrogate Mac – this is done in the Users & Groups Systems Preferences panel.

Now your Mac should be fully svelte once again and ready “to climb the Mountain”!

One caveat – if you have licensed third party s/w like Microsoft Office you will be prompted to enter the license info again when you first use it. You may also have to tweak some settings like printers etc., but mostly your settings and preferences, as well as all your files, will be preserved.

If you need more guidance, chat with me when you visit West Hill House.

Mac Malware guidance

May 21, 2012 by Peter MacLaren

Update:  Apple has now addressed this problem with a software update.  Be sure to run “Software Update” from the Apple Menu and install all the available updates.  No further action will be required, unless you were infected; in that case follow the advice below to change your password.  Original blog follows…

“Mac Malware” is almost an oxymoron as the virus related issues that have plagued Windows users for years have been almost unknown on the Mac.

Given the minimal problems to date, many Mac users will have been concerned about the recent news of an estimated half million or so Macs possibly infected by “Flashback”, a drive-by-download attack that requires absolutely no input by users in order to install itself–apparently all you have to do is accidentally visit a malicious website. The code exploits a vulnerability in your Java runtime, an optional part of the OS that most people will have on their Macs.

However there is no need to panic: it’s easy to check if you have the problem, it’s easy to resolve if you have, and if you install the latest software updates from Apple (as you always should) the vulnerability is eliminated.

An excellent article on PCMag.com provides details.  The first step is is to download an app to check if you are infected. If not, as will be the case for almost everyone, make sure you run ‘Software Update” from your Apple menu and you are all set.

If you do find you have a problem, the article recommends the free  Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition app to eliminate it.  A prudent tip is then to immediately change your Mac password in System Preferences/User & Groups.

Bottom line – this current problem is not a cause for panic and to run out to buy and install anti-virus software. However it is prudent to check your Mac as noted above and keep your Mac software up to date.

Another relevant tip is to ensure your Mac is password protected.  Do not leave your password blank or configure your Mac for auto-login – both of these approaches are just asking for trouble.  And don’t forget to back-up – with TimeMachine built in there is no excuse not to!

If you have questions or concerns about your Mac, feel free to discuss them with Peter on your next visit to West Hill House.


You don’t have to be Dr Who to have a Time Machine!

March 25, 2012 by Peter MacLaren

While I haven’t written a Mac blog for some time, here is an important “public service message” to help you avoid one of the potential calamities of the digital age…

As followers of this blog and guests at West Hill House know, Peter is a.k.a. Mr Mac, a member of the Apple Consultants Network and certified Apple Desktop Specialist. This role is very much a sideline but I do help a number of nearby customers from time to to time.

A recent service call has led to this blog. A customer with a failing hard drive and NO back-up.  I was called in “just-to-late” as it happened and as I was attempting to pull critical data from the drive it died. A data recovery specialist firm was able to find a way to recover the data in this case, but the operation was too expensive for my customer to take advantage of this remedy. So the fallback, after I replaced the drive, is for the customer to manually reinstall apps, buy replacements for ones where the source files have been lost, recreate the files that can be recreated, and live without those that can’t be.  And overall a very time consuming process.

All of this could have been avoided by using a feature built into every recent version of the Mac OS – Time Machine. Time Machine automatically does a continuous back-up of your Mac to an external hard drive.  It allows you to recover just one file that you have accidentally deleted or overwritten, or recover your entire Mac after an internal hard drive failure.  Given the incredibly low price these days of external hard drives, a Time Machine back-up is something EVERY Mac user should have.

An associated great product sold by Apple is the Time Capsule, an external hard drive that is also a WiFi hub, and it combines to allow a wireless Time Machine back-up – sounds like something out of H.G. Wells! With this arrangement, which is extremely easy to set up, your MacBooks will be seamlessly backed up whenever you are in range of your network.

There are two important axioms to remember in this age when all the data in your life depends on the health of your hard drive:

  • Your hard drive WILL fail – it is just a matter of when, not if. Back it up!
  • To paraphrase Forrest Gump “power surges happen”, and they can often be fatal.  Your computer should be protected by a good surge protector, or even better a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply – not the courier!)

So follow these simple rules to help your data live long and help you prosper!  If you want more insights like this, chat to me on your next visit to West Hill House.

OSX Lion 10.7.1 Update – caution still warranted

August 17, 2011 by Peter MacLaren

Well the OSX 10.7.1 update is available now, and it purports to have addressed the WiFi issues, among a few other items.  It’s a very small update in terms of size.

OS X Lion

OS X Lion

I have made the update on two desktop machines, an iMac and MacMini, and tested WiFi.  It was quite a struggle to get the iMac to connect, but eventually it did, after resetting the Airport as well. Perhaps the problem was with cached files – hard to tell.  The MacMini initially refused but on a second attempt connected to another Airport – one that had not been reset.

I have not yet updated the MacBook Air again to Lion. I want a bit more experience with the update first. There is no Ethernet fallback connection mode on the “Air”, and given that we use it around the B&B it constantly has to reconnect to one of our 7 different bases – something that should be seamless, but maybe not….

OSX 10.7.2. is already in beta testing and it seems targeted to a much broader range of fixes and some additional functionality. Overall I recommend continuing to wait before taking the plunge.

OS-X Lion Screen Saver – WOW!

July 29, 2011 by Peter MacLaren

OS-X Lion Screen Saver Preference Panel

OS-X Lion Screen Saver Preference Panel

Here’a a new Lion feature I just discovered.  It’s a real WOW for a desktop machine.

As you probably know you can select as your Screen Saver an animated tiling of the album covers of your iTunes library.  You can see the screen saver System Preference panel here – you select “iTunes Artwork”.

Well in Lion the album covers are LIVE in the screen saver.  So you can use the screen saver as your iTunes control without having to password out of the screen saver.

Try it – you’ll probably be as amazed as I just was!  This is yet another feature where an IOS neat trick has migrated to the desktop – as you probably know you can also control your “iPOD” app on your iPhone without unlocking it. (And in IOS 5 you’ll be able to do the same with your iPhone camera – i.e. take a photo without unlocking.)

Mac OS X Lion and WiFi – beware

July 27, 2011 by Peter MacLaren

OS X Lion

OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion really rocks. But if you depend on WiFi (e.g. you have a MacBook Air) BEWARE!

Lion has a bug imbedded in its fur somewhere that makes WiFi problematic.  It will appear you have a connection, but you may not be able to access the Internet. There are many ways to temporarily resolve the problem (switching off WiFi and re-enabling sometimes works), but there is no overall work-around.

So if you have not already taken the plunge, we highly recommend NOT to upgrade till OS X 10.7.1 comes out, which hopefully will resolve the issue. Note there is no easy way to downgrade your OS back to Snow Leopard once Lion is installed.

(The problem does not impact Ethernet connections.)

In Praise of iPhone – and AT&T’s Microcell

February 24, 2011 by Peter MacLaren

So yes, we know West Hill House is close to last in the world to buy a smartphone, but now that we have an iPhone we do need to talk about it!



As followers of this blog know I (Peter) am a Mac consultant and I have been following the iPhone with interest ever since its first incarnation. So I thought I knew all about it. But let me share that having one is quite different from just knowing about one. The elegance and richness of the user interface has to be used to be fully appreciated.

And the apps! Facebook is a totally different – and better – experience than on a computer. Email becomes so easy. Another app that has totally impressed me is Google News – a beautifully formatted news headline service that can be customized in terms of content like the more familiar my.yahoo service. And I also found a great Alarm Clock app that has completely replaced my clock radio. I could go on.

AT&T Microcell

AT&T Microcell

What the rest of the world may not have as much knowledge or experience of is the AT&T Microcell introduced last April. This is a box about the size of an external hard drive that plugs into your LAN and gives you your own cell-site in your house. So now you have close to perfect coverage in your home. You need to buy the box, but there is no monthly fee to have one. You configure it to allow up to 10 phones you designate to use it (yours and those of family members for example), and each phone uses the minutes from its own account plan when you make the calls. But wait, there’s more!

The REALLY neat thing about the Microcell is the optional monthly package that lets you make UNLIMITED calls from your own cell-site (and from anyone else’s Microcell that you are registered on). Suddenly you can use your iPhone (or any other 3G phone in fact) as your home phone without worrying about the minutes you are using. The monthly fee is less than a land-line phone, and LD is all included. Wow! And if you sign up for this monthly package when you buy the Microcell you get a huge rebate on the unit itself – I believe this is a time limited offer however. Amazing!

The new thin MacBook Air

October 29, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

MacBook Air

The thin MacBook Air

So having got your interest in my last Mac blog in Google Chrome, and ditching your G4 laptop for an Intel machine, what should you buy?

The new MacBook Air may be the answer. This is one sweet machine, and now at a comparable price to the regular MacBooks. The key is evaluating your needs.

It’s easy to dismiss the “Air” due to its lack of a DVD drive, but when you are traveling how often do you really need this functionality? And when you are at home base there are two good options for external approaches – the modest cost for a separate drive or the use of a drive on another Mac (or even PC) on your home office network.

So if you take the DVD drive off the table, what’s not to like? The “Air” is about half the weight of its comparable MacBook, it is surprisingly fast due to its Flash drive, and it has DRAMATIC battery life. 7 hours for the 3lb (1.5kg) 13inch laptop – wow!

If you have been thinking about an iPad but are not sure you are ready for a soft keyboard or the restrictions of the iPhone OS, the “Air” is what you have been waiting for. The 11inch model is about the same size as an iPad, only slightly heavier, and with almost the same battery life.

Head down to your nearest Apple store, and just pick one of these up, both literally and figuratively! You’ll be amazed. Or even better let me show you one first by coming to stay at West Hill House. You won’t be disappointed in either decision!

Chrome is back in Vogue

October 11, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

The Browser Wars have a new entrant, and it’s definitely worth trying. (At least on a Mac – can’t comment on that other OS that some people still use!).Google Chrome

Google has done it again – Google Chrome in my view is currently the best browser out there. Better than Firefox, better than Safari.

It’s fast – amazingly so. Some benchmarks have been published that show it being a little slower than Safari 5, but in real life web browsing it is MUCH faster.

A neat feature is that you can search and navigate from the same box. The search box will accept a normal URL, but it will also search your history, your bookmarks and do a Google search all at the same time providing a continuously updating list of matching pages as you type.

And it has neat little touches – for example if you open a new tab from an existing one the tab shows up immediately to right of the existing tab – not at the far right as in Safari. An unexpected benefit: when you close the new tab you immediately get shown the prior tab. Really handy for quickly checking a link without losing your train of thought.

And it incorporates most of the neat features that the latest versions of Safari and Firefox have got us all used to. Plus those extensions

Check it out! Note it requires an Intel Mac – if you were waiting a for a good reason to ditch your old G4 or G5, this is it!

Email desiderata

September 15, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

DesiderataThere are few things more important these days to your interaction with the rest of the world than your email address. This blog offers some advice on your CHOICE of address.

Interestingly this topic spans the divide between our interest as innkeepers and Peter’s interest as a Mac computer consultant. As innkeepers we interact with over 99% of our guests by email at some point in our relationship with them, which gives us some perspective on how email is used. So on to the advice…

You use email on your personal computer (hopefully a Mac but we know there are still some PC users out there!) where you are in control. So why let someone else choose and control your email address? Strangely many people do. The fact is that you have no control of the permanence of your address if it is provided by your ISP (Internet Service Provider), or if you use an address from your current employer for personal email.

What happens when another ISP offers you a better deal and you switch, or you move home and have to change ISPs? Or, as often happens, your ISP or company changes name as a result of an acquisition? Or you change employers? Your email address changes and you are one of the Internet’s “lost”. You then have to scramble to tell all your friends and associates your new email address, and just hope they update their address books. By a rough estimate about half of our guests face this risk judging by the email address they have on file with us.

There IS a better way. Choose an email address that is independent of your ISP and employer. This address can stay with you for life and it has no relationship to where you live or work.

There are numerous choices and most are free. The best known are @hotmail from Microsoft and @gmail from Google. Also many groups offer permanent addresses – for example Peter has had an @ieee address since he started using email and Susan has always used an @mac address. Both of us have used email while living in several different countries and using services provided by numerous ISPs, and never have had to change the address our friends and family use to reach us.

When you change ISPs you can simply forward YOUR permanent email address to the address your current ISP has provided – use them as a delivery mechanism, NOT an address. (Make sure your email client is set to use your permanent address as the “reply to” address.) While you can access your email from any browser when you are traveling, you are not constrained to the limitations of browser based access when you are at your own computer; you can usually directly access your email provided by e.g. hotmail and gmail using your favorite email client.

One other piece of related advice: using your company email address for personal matters – like reservations at West Hill House – can be a problem in addition to lack of permanency. Your employer is unlikely to sanction this use of their resource, they almost certainly are monitoring and logging your email, and some do block email that is electronically determined to be personal. If you need to access personal email from your office, using hotmail, gmail or most other similar addresses will give you full access from your browser, keep you in control, protect your privacy – and maybe your job!

And if you do change email addresses, please let us know!

Mac Application & File Launcher plus “Snippets”

June 28, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

Xmenu application and file launcher

Xmenu application and file launcher

You still miss the old Apple Menu from the pre OS X days? Me too! Well there’s good news – there is something even better now available…

For a number of years I used Fruit Menu which worked well, but it initially had problems with OS X 10.6 so I went looking for something else. And discovered XMenu.

This program brings back the old-style Apple Menu to Mac OS X. It is separate from the OS X Apple Menu. It also sits in the menu bar and it is a complete hierarchal application launcher and direct file launcher: you customize it exactly as you want it to work, and it is REALLY easy to set up and use.

In addition “Snippets”, its companion menu, allows you to save text clippings, Internet locations etc. that can be easily accessed and inserted into the current application. Great for “boiler plate” text, and for userIDs for those awkward websites that don’t follow standards so you can’t use the default ID “memory” built into Safari and Firefox.

And more.

The price? FREE. Download XMenu from this page and enjoy.