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#824: Birthday Calendar, Home (Network) Improvement, 10 Tips for Mac Slowdowns


Hello readers,

Well, we can put the question to bed—the Retina display has moved from the iPad to the notebook line with the introduction of the new MacBook Pro last week. I really don’t get too exicted about product releases, though; the last time I started drooling was when I saw an iPad for the first time. I was an instant and enthusiastic believer. (I still am.) I can go for days at a time without opening my notebook!

Today, for instance, I am snuggling my daughter who managed to break her leg on a slip-n-slide this weekend, and not only is my iPad providing occasional entertainment, I am writing this without bothering or moving her at all.

Anyway, back on track…we can’t wait to see the Retina display on the MacBook Pro. You can have a full-resolution 1080p video running in a window on your desktop and still have enough room to work on other stuff around it. Incredible. I will be waiting to see if they put this on an iMac…that would be another instant gotta-have-it moment for me. See you next week.


  Birthday Calendar  

Have you ever forgotten a friend’s birthday? Apple has you in mind. Since 10.4 Tiger, Apple has included a Birthday calendar option in iCal that allows you to subscribe to the birthdays of contacts in your Address Book. Follow these instructions if you want to enable this feature.

First, open iCal. Click Cal in the menu bar and click Preferences. Under the General toolbar item, click the check mark that specifies Show Birthdays calendar. The birthdays calendar should appear in the left-hand calendar sidebar. Next, you’ll need to enter some addresses in Address Book. First, open Address Book. Click Address Book in the menu bar and click Preferences.

Under the Template toolbar item, click the Add Field drop-down menu and click Birthday. Close the Preferences window and select a contact in your Address Book. Then, click Edit. You will see a Birthday field which you can populate with your contact’s birthday! As iCal is subscribed to your Address Book’s contact’s birthdays, if you update your Address Book, iCal will be subsequently updated as well.

If you want a more automated way of entering birthdays and you have a Facebook account, you could try Cobook, an app available in the Mac App Store that can sync information between Facebook and your Address Book. Of course, any time you’re modifying your Address Book, make a backup by choosing File, Export, Address Book Archive so that you can restore your contacts if Cobook’s behavior is undesirable.

Once you’re done, sync your Address Book with iCloud, Google, Yahoo, or iTunes and your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch will reflect all the hard work you’ve done on your more mobile devices.

  Home (Network) Improvement  

Summer is (un)officially here and with that, home improvement season has begun too. Do you want to upgrade your home network? Do you want better performance out of LAN? Is your wireless letting you down? While wireless networks’ improved speed, reliability and reduced cost are their ultimate selling point, they still cannot compare in many cases in performance with a wired network.

There are a few things to consider when designing a wired network for your home. There are several different network cable classes with distinct purposes. In a home network capacity, you’ll most likely choose a Category 5e or Category 6 cable. These cables are for high performance networking; they support both can support 1000BASE-T (gigabit) ethernet. The 4 twisted pair unshielded cables are usually 24 to 26 gauge for Cat-5 and 22 to 24 gauge for Cat 6.

Things to consider when building your network are the infrastructure type, Vertical Wiring and Structured Networking. Are you going to pay for a high performance backbone to connect segments of the network from floor to floor? When connecting the smaller LANs, will there be local routing at each level or will there be multiple runs from one main router or switch at your Bridge to the WAN?

When physically building the network, you should also think about sources of interference that the cables route by. Electrical motors, central vacuums and air conditioners may cause interference with your wired network. Can you route the cable in a manner that will reduce their effect on your network? Other physical considerations may include: How hard do you have to pull the cable? What type of bends and curves will there be? The basic guidelines say that a pull force of 25lbs should not be exceeded. When routing your Category 5 and 6 cable around a bend, the radius of the curve should never be less than 4x the diameter of the cable. If your Cat 6 cable is 3/8” in diameter, the radius of the curve should be greater than 1.5”; a 90 degree corner with a radius of 1.5” would be a segment length of 1.77” (safely 2”).

Cable installation is always cheaper when done the first time too. Will you need added capacity in the future? How many more connections might you need to add? How much extra cable should you use? What is the distance of your longest cable segment?

Building a high performance network is as much about the components as the physical wiring itself. If you install high quality cables but use mediocre or slow routers and switches, you won’t see the performance benefit you anticipated.

  VT eWaste Recycling Event: June 30 (and FREE!)  

June is here, and your overstuffed garages and basements will thank you when you decide to recycle your old electronics at one of our two eWaste Recycling Events.

If you’re in or around the Rutland, VT area (new location this year!), come out to Rutland High School on Saturday, June 30 from 9-3pm. Check out our event page on Facebook here.

More details are available on our website as well:

  From the Archives: 10 Tips for Mac Slowdowns  

With a new operating system on the horizon, we’re thinking about ways to optimize your computer. We’ll have more details pertaining to Lion and Mountain Lion (coming in July) soon, but here’s a list of things that are always good to keep in mind when trying to speed up your system.

Originally featured in Tech Tails #689, by Ed Shepard. Note that references may not reflect current specifications or conditions.

A friend recently sent me an email, questioning why his MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM was “getting slower and slower, with an increasing frequency of the appearance of the SRWOD (spinny rainbow wheel of death).” This is something I occasionally hear about, but haven’t experienced (except for Safari randomly bogging down for several seconds).

Unfortunately, mysterious computer slowdowns can be difficult to diagnose. Overstuffed system cache, old temp files, corrupted preferences, a hard drive in the early stages of failure, and faulty RAM are always candidates for causing this problem. Here are some suggestions to resolve system slowdowns.

Also, please make sure you have a solid backup of your Macs important data before proceeding. I’ll say it again: make sure your Mac is backed up properly before proceeding.

1. Any Mac will slow down when its hard drive is almost full, regardless of processor speed. Simply moving some of your data (especially media files like movies, video podcasts, etc) to an external drive can greatly improve a Mac’s responsiveness.

Read how to reclaim hard drive space in an old Kibbles article by clicking here.

2. Clear your Mac’s desktop. The OS has to draw each of those icons as separate windows, so when you have dozens of files littered on the desktop the system is taxed. Clearing the Macs desktop is proven to improve system performance.

3. Make sure your computer is up to date with all the latest software and firmware updates from Apple. This can go a long way to improving system performance. To check this, click the Apple in the top left corner of the screen and select “Software Update…”

4. Simply running a free maintenance program can often help bring a sluggish and flakey machine back to speed. These programs force the Mac’s regular Unix maintenance scripts; normally these run daily, weekly, and monthly early in the morning. Click here for further reading on this.

I use a program called Onyx to run these scripts. You can get it for Tiger (10.4) and Leopard (10.5). It’s effective and easy to use. It starts by checking the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive, so you can determine if the drive is failing. This step takes several minutes. After that Onyx can flush system cache, etc.

One catch about Onyx is that it has several options that most people shouldn’t use, such as the option for erasing bookmarks and internet browsing history. I do like and recommend Onyx, though—get it for free from the developer by clicking here. You can also download Onyx directly from Apple’s site by clicking here.

5. Check the health of your hard drive. I depend on Onyx to verify the S.M.A.R.T. status of my Mac’s hard drive. Immediately back up your computer if you think there’s a real issue with the drive. Then consider using a dedicated drive diagnostic/repair tool such as Disk Warrior. If the drive is having issues and you’re going to replace it, consider using a 7200RPM model. A faster hard drive will result in a (slightly) faster Mac.

6. Check the health of your Mac’s RAM. There are several ways to test the health of your Mac’s RAM. I use Rember, which is a free program that is a front-end GUI to a basic Unix ‘memtest’ command. You can read more about testing RAM by clicking here.

7. Deal with mutant applications. Ok, so maybe the word “mutant” is unfair. However, it’s always a good idea to delete applications that you don’t use. I use AppCleaner to do this.

Also, many apps install helper programs that run by default whenever you startup your Mac. This typically happens in the background, without the user having to confirm anything. Often these aren’t needed and can hog system resources without having anything to show for it. To disable startup items you don’t use, navigate to System Preferences > Accounts > Login items and uncheck the list.

Finally, any active, running application uses system resources including CPU cycles, RAM and disk activity, even when it is in the background and you’re not using it. Some programs leak memory when they are running, which makes them gobble RAM over time.

8. Use Activity Monitor and iStat Pro to analyze which system processes and applications are hogging system resources. You can download the iStat Pro widget by clicking here. Activity Monitor is found in the Utilities Folder which is nested in the Applications folder in OS X.

9. If you have an Intel Mac, use Xslimmer to trim away the legacy PowerPC code from Universal binary applications. Read more by clicking here.

10. Programs that automatically perform syncing, indexing, and backup operations on your Mac can occasionally slow it down. They can sometimes cause minor drags that slow the system for a couple of seconds at a time.

If none of these helps, the problem will likely be more time-consuming to resolve. At Small Dog, our techs run a battery of tests with several software and hardware tools to seek out and fix strange system slowdowns. Hopefully the above suggestions will keep you from having to send in your machine!

Editor’s note: Check out this cheeky website to log your time spent waiting for the “Spinning Beach Ball of Death!”

  TT SPECIAL: MacBook Pro Goes Disco  

We’re not talking about Saturday Night Fever; we are talking disco as in ‘discontinued.’

These computers, however, are still in style and with quad-core i7 processors, they have still got the power to rock the dance floor multitask and run the pro applications you need.

Save $250 off the original pricing with these deals!

   TT: MacBook Pro 15 inch (2011) + AppleCare | Save $250!
   TT: MacBook Pro 15 inch w/ 750GB Hard Drive (2011) | Save $250!
  TT SPECIAL: QuickerTek USB Transceivers | Save $20!  

Are you a little too far from your Wi-Fi transmitter? Does your signal cut in and out? Are you trying to steal borrow a signal from a neighbor?

The QuickerTek nNano and Quicky3 can help you get the boost you need. Now $20 off!

This deal is good only while supplies last, so get them while you still can.

   TT: QuickerTek Quicky3 USB Wi-Fi Transceiver | Save $20!
   TT: QuickerTek nNano USB Wi-Fi Transceiver | Save $20!