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#649: Storing and Deleting Data, Passwords and Repair of the Week

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

While we it made through all of January without the customary thaw, last weekend saw strong winds and temperatures in the mid- to upper-forties here in the Mad River Valley. I wore flip flops, shorts, and a tee shirt to Mehuron’s, our local independent grocer, where I was met not only with confused looks but with others dressed the very same way. When you get used to below zero temperatures, a forty degree wind feels positively tropical.

That was nice and all, but conditions at the local ski areas Mad River Glen and Sugarbush suffered somewhat. The VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) snowmobile trail on the valley floor is riddled with bare spots and scarred by the last machines to pass before the re-freeze. We’re expecting another few days of warm weather and a significant winter weather event sometime next week.

Thanks for reading and, as always, keep in touch!

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  If You Don't Know What It Is, Don't Delete It  
   
 

These are magic words to live by when it comes to cleaning up your computer’s hard drive. As things tend to come in waves, the past week has brought me a slew of clients who began getting the dreaded “Your startup disk is almost full” error and so they started chucking files and folders that they thought they didn’t need anymore. The problem arose when the files they deleted were files that the system relied on for basic functions. Two of them were left with machines that didn’t fully boot anymore and others had varying degrees of software corruption.

Apple suggests leaving 10-20% of the hard drive free for maximum disk operation. When a disk starts to get too full it will begin to overwrite files which causes software corruption. The key to a healthy drive is simple; keep it clean and organized. With the introduction of OSX, we were gifted with User folders. Each user on the computer has his or her own folder within the Users folder of the main hard drive. Within the User folder one will find a series of folders: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Library, Movies, Music, Pictures, Public and Sites. Ideally, one would only put personal files within one of the folders in his/her user account. This makes clean-up a breeze!

If you’re running out of space, check out your Desktop, Documents, Movies, Music and Pictures folders and see if there are old files that you could either delete or move to an external hard drive or disk. If you happen to regularly have an external hard drive plugged into your computer you might even consider hosting your iTunes library on the external drive to free up some space.

Here’s what you don’t want to do. Never delete files from System or Library folders unless you’re 100% sure what they are. It’s also important to be careful when deleting applications. For example, I’ve had quite a few clients over the years who have deleted their entire Utilities folder from within Applications because they “never use it”. Then when they ran into issues they didn’t have the tools to identify their problems or even identify the specs of their computer (thanks to deleting System Profiler) so others could help them with their problems. This brings me back to the title of the article: if you don’t know what it is, don’t delete it!

Are you still itching to delete a few things that you don’t know what they are, but you kind-of-sort-of remember that a friend-of-a-friend installed it years ago? Stop and ask for help. While this may sound like a plea from a suicide-hotline, I’m quite serious. Apple Discussions is your friend!

 
   
     
  Easily and Securely Store Passwords  
   
 

All versions of Mac OS X have a system called Keychain to store passwords. You can open up the Keychain Access program from your Utilities folder to see just what’s being stored, and to manually maintain the database. One particularly useful feature in Keychain Access is the ability to look up forgotten passwords.

It is the Keychain system that remembers the passwords used by iChat, Mail, and many network services. Until recently, when I needed to retrieve a forgotten password, I would locate the item in Keychain Access, double-click it, click the Show Password button, enter my password, and copy the password from there. You can save a few steps by just control-clicking (or right clicking) on the item and selecting “Copy Password to Clipboard.” Just enter your computer’s password, and paste the password where it needs to go.

Keychain Access is also a great place to store secure notes. They function pretty much like the Stickies so many of us know and love, but these are password-protected.

 
   
     
  Repair of the Week  
   
 

I updated the Waitsfield showroom Macs to 10.5.6 yesterday, and for some reason three of them decided it’d be best to go into an infinite restart loop instead of, oh, booting right up after the updates. It was bizarre that this exact problem occurred on three machines.

Because the problem occurred after running software updates, and on three machines, I knew this was a straightforward software problem that would likely be resolved with a simple archive and install from a Leopard installation disk. I inserted a standard Leopard install disk and expected the new Unibody MacBook Pro to boot right up. Instead, even while booting from the install disk the same infinite restart loop happened. I tried again, no luck.

I moved on to the Mac Pro, and the Leopard disk booted it right up. The Archive and Install fixed the problem. Same with the other victim, a MacBook Air. After this, I thought perhaps there was an actual hardware failure with the unibody MacBook Pro. I removed its hard drive, put it back together, and attempted to boot from the Leopard disk. No luck!

At this point, I was getting frustrated by this simple issue. I went to lunch, and pulling back into the parking lot it struck me: the Leopard disk contained 10.5.4, and the Unibody MacBook Pro requires 10.5.5 or later. Duh.

I found its system restore disk, the one that comes in the box, booted it right up and went ahead with the Archive and Install. A half hour later, it was back on display.

 
   
     
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