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#784: TotW: Don't Forget Your Master Password, Mac mini SSD Upgrades, How to Eject a Disk When Your Computer Won't Boot, Easy Hard Drive Failure Prevention


Happy Tuesday,

With another week of flood recovery behind us, the piles of debris are much less common. Much remains to be done, though, to get back to normal. Huge expanses of roads remain washed out where rivers carved new paths, buildings remain moist and mold-prone, inundated crops must be plowed under and many bridges remain out of service. With many town offices and records destroyed, Small Dog has been delivering temporary technology solutions to help keep things moving.

It’s always nice to hear from Tech Tails readers when an article helps them directly. Last summer, Owen was skunked several times. After I wrote about it in a newsletter introduction, dozens of you responded with remedies that had helped you in the past. The most common suggestion worked best: baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Owen made it all the way to September this year without a skunking: last night on our before-bed walk, he was sprayed from a distance, leaving him coated evenly from head to tail. It’s a good thing I keep several bottles of peroxide on hand, and I’m thankful both to provide help to readers and to receive tips and tricks as well.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Tip of the Week: Don't Forget Your Master Password  

FileVault is an encryption technology first included in Mac OS 10.4 that’s useful for anyone whose computer contains sensitive information. It can prevent unauthorized access to the items in your home folder by encrypting the entire folder with a current government-approved standard called Advanced Encryption Standard with 128-bit keys (AES-128).

When you first turn on FileVault from System Preferences, you’ll also create a master password for the computer that will allow you to reset your regular login password if you ever forget it. While FileVault is an excellent and functional way to protect your files, if you ever forget your master password and your regular login password, your files are gone. Forever.

A customer came in this morning asking for her password to be reset. When I realized she used FileVault, I called her to ask for the master password. She didn’t know it. This case was a double-whammy because I also discovered that her hard drive was failing when the computer took about 5 minutes to arrive at the login window. The drive was still working well enough that I was confident the data could be recovered, but since FileVault was enabled, there was no point.

So, here’s this week’s tip: do not, under any circumstances, forget that master password.

  Mac mini Solid State Drive Upgrades  

I’m very glad to announce a great new offer here in the Small Dog Service department. It is an opportunity for a tremendous upgrade to the newly released Mac minis: the addition of a second hard drive. This can be any 2.5” SATA hard drive.

This upgrade can either serve as an enormous addition in storage space or, if you prefer, a great increase in performance. Adding a solid state hard drive into your Mac mini and making it the startup disk will give you an unimaginable increase in speed. Just like the hard drives in the current generation of MacBook Airs, solid state hard drives have a very high read/write speed (many times that of a standard spinning hard drive), which varies by brand/model.

By adding a solid state drive to your Mac mini and making it your startup disk, you have increased your computer’s performance without sacrificing space, as you still have the original hard drive installed, which can serve as a storage space for your files, such as iTunes library, iPhoto library, etc.

We now also offer a great selection of Kingston SSDs. With the purchase of a new 2011 Mac mini, SSD of your choice and necessary installation hardware ($49.99), we’ll do the installation for FREE. This includes the SSD install and installation of the OS on the SSD to create the boot volume.

  How to Eject a Disk When Your Computer Won't Boot  

If you’ve ever called Small Dog or Apple for technical support because your Mac wouldn’t boot, odds are it was suggested that you attempt a reinstallation of your operating system from the disks that came with your computer. The problem here is that if the reinstallation fails for whatever reason, there is no apparent way to eject the disk if the computer doesn’t start up.

A huge percentage of computers entering our service facilities have disks “stuck” in the drive when they’re checked in. To eject a disk, simply press and hold your mouse or trackpad button immediately after powering on your machine. Once the disk ejects, you can let go of the mouse or trackpad button and then press and hold the power button for about ten seconds to force your computer to turn off.

Alas, this tip works only with a wired mouse. No bluetooth or similar wireless mouse will work, unfortunately. If you have a wired keyboard but wireless mouse, there is another way: use the boot manager.

The boot manager is a screen summoned by pressing and hold the Option key on your keyboard immediately after pressing the power button. After a few moments, a screen will come up showing you the available startup disks. Once this screen appears, wait about ten seconds and then press the eject key on your keyboard to eject the disk.

Your mileage may vary on this one. Note that a drive that makes the usual ejecting noises but fails to eject a disk will require removal of the drive itself to save the disk. Failure to eject and inability to eject are two completely separate issues!

  Easy Hard Drive Failure Prevention  

It’s true that laptop hard drives tend to fail before desktop hard drives (unless your desktop computer uses a laptop hard drive, as is the case with the Mac mini). This is simply because laptops tend to be moved around much more than desktops.

I see customers close their laptops to make them sleep—which is fine—but they often then pick up the computer immediately and begin walking with it. The problem with this is that modern laptops take the contents of memory and write it to the hard drive. This is what makes “safe sleep” possible, and it can take up to a minute.

A hard drive is like a record player. There are platters inside that spin anywhere from 4,200 revolutions per minute to 15,000 revolutions per minute. If you’ve ever bumped into your record player or otherwise jarred it while it was playing music, you know that it doesn’t sound very good and can damage your stylus or the vinyl. The same holds true in hard drives.

Perhaps the easiest and most effective thing you can do to protect your laptop hard drive is to wait after closing the lid. When the sleep light begins “breathing,” your computer is truly asleep. If the light is solid or off entirely, your hard drive is still spinning. Take a deep breath and wait until the hard drive spins down; your data will thank you, and so will your wallet.

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