Book Review: Troubleshooting Your Mac

By Joe Kissell, Joe On Tech

troubleshooting-your-macJoe is back with an update to an earlier version of his book published by Take Control in 2012. This latest book by Joe Kissell in his Joe On Tech series is a welcome upgrade to a very useful book.

According to Joe, Troubleshooting Your Mac is not just an update, but a major new edition and reflects many changes that have happened in the past three years. These include the operating systems that have been released since 2012 (Mavericks, Yosemite, and El Capitan) as well as changes in third-party software used for making backups and identifying problems.

Most of us don’t like to think about something happening to our high quality, well engineered, and “perfect” Macs. Well, guess what – our Macs are definitely good computers with good software, but they are not perfect. And neither are we as users. Sooner or later something is going to go wrong – it may be a hardware or software failure, or, (surprise) it may be operator error. In either case you will welcome having a book like Troubleshooting Your Mac close at hand to help you recover from your problem. It is always a good idea to have a copy of the book on another device (iPad, iPhone, Kindle, etc.) so that you can refer to it when your main computer is the one with the hiccups.

Troubleshooting Your Mac covers all the normal diagnostic techniques use to get your Mac running again. It also adds six new topics in the “Solve Common Problems” section that deal with start-up problems, fan control, iCloud syncing, Continuity failures, and battery problems.

As with the other books in this new series, Joe has a knack for expressing difficult ideas simply and clearly. This is particularly important when you may be in a state of near-panic thinking that you have lost that novel that you have been writing for the past three months, or the photos of your new baby. Some of the best advice is right in the book’s Introduction:

Repeat after me: Everything is going to be all right. Now take a deep breath and try again, this time with feeling! Everything is going to be all right. I want you to believe that. Even if you’re feeling panicked right now because your Mac is doing something wonky and you’re facing a deadline, I want you to set aside your anxiety for a moment.

Almost every Mac problem you may encounter has a solution. True, some solutions are more elusive, more time-consuming, or more expensive than others, but still: don’t worry.

Joe makes it clear that this book is not intended as a guide for every possible problem that you might have, but rather a set of troubleshooting techniques and instructions for solving the most common problems. His focus is on helping you solve your problem, not train you to be an expert in the arcane workings of the hardware and software. He wants to help us become our own tech support persons.

The book starts with sections that help you prevent problems, prepare for emergencies, and learn troubleshooting basics. These are good things to know even if everything is running smoothly. Then, when your Mac develops problems, you can dive into the section to help you solve the most common ones. Finally, when all else fails, the Troubleshooting Novel Problems section may bail you out.

I’m still working my way through this book, but based on past personal experience with the first edition saving my bacon on several occasions, I’m glad to have this as part of my “toolkit.”

You may think that “reboot your computer” is a cliche used by help desk staff to avoid work, but it is really one of the first steps to take when you have a problem. After you have forced an offending app to quit, try restarting your computer (advice from Chapter 3). This simple step can often be the answer. Another tip from this chapter is to always have a second user account with administrative privileges. If logging in as a second user fixes the problem, then it is easier to isolate the problem to something that has changed or become corrupted in the primary account.

The book ends with some excellent advice no matter where you go to get help. When your Mac has a problem don’t panic, but ask yourself these questions: (1) Has anything changed recently? (2) What did you do last? (3) Did you get any error messages? (4) What does help say? (5) Is anything else wrong with your Mac? (6) Is the problem reproducible? Be sure and write the answers down, along with the basic information about your configuration (OS version, memory, model, etc.). Then, if you can’t find the answer in Troubleshooting Your Mac, you will be better prepared when asking a friend or a tech support person for help. But with a little luck and some careful reading, you just might become your own tech support guru!

This 128-page book is available now for $9.99 (ebook) or $14.99 (paperback) from the Joe on Tech website.

Reviewed by Phil Davis

Review: Maintaining Your Mac, a Book by Joe Kissell

By Phil Davis

Joe Kissell has published the second book in his new JoeOnTech Guides series – Maintaining Your Mac. You probably will recognize Joe as the author of a number of the Take Control series of books on a variety of Mac topics.

This book covers things that you can do to keep your Mac in good running order and reduce the potential for problems. This book is an update of a previous version published by Take Control Books in 2012. We have seen a lot of changes in the past three years and this version has major updates to every chapter and adds several new topics. It also dispells a few myths.

Some of the new topics are:

  • Test Your Hardware using Apple Diagnostics
  • Use a Surge Protector or UPS
  • Update Weak Passwords
  • Consider a Maintenance Utility
  • Empty Your Inbox

These topics join the list of simple maintenance tasks that, if performed, can help avoid costly system failures and trips to your Apple Service center. Most of the tips in the book are good common sense and are easy to do. But they won’t “do themselves” — they require action by you as the computer owner!

Be aware that this is not a troubleshooting guide. It is more of a suggested set of maintenance habits that can help avoid problems, somewhat like regular brushing and flossing can avoid unnecessary trips to the dentist.

Joe will be updating his troubleshooting guide at a later date.

Although this version of the book is for people using OS X 10.9 Mavericks or later, most of the information will apply to earlier versions of OS X. After OS X 10.11 El Capitan is released in October any necessary revisions or updates will be made available on the JoeOnTech website.

Maintaining Your Mac starts by listing a few things you should do before proceeding with your maintenance tasks, such as doing a bit of housecleaning of old files and activating your backup strategy (you do have one don’t you?).

You will learn about things to do daily, weekly, monthly, and once a year. You will also learn about things that you can skip. Many of these have been recommended by experts in the past, but are no longer needed. You may find a few surprises here – I know that I did.

Here are a few of the recommendations:

  • Daily: Update your versioned backups, check software updates, empty your inbox.
  • Weekly: Clean up your desktop, empty your downloads folder, update your bootable duplicate, install app store software updates, check for third-party updates, restart your Mac, check your spam mailbox.
  • Monthly: Empty your trash, use Disk Utility repair disk function, test your backups, clear certain caches, clean your screen, clean your mouse or trackpad, exercise your notebook’s battery, check for ebook updates.
  • Yearly: De-dust your Mac, clean your keyboard, make archival backups, remove unneeded files, check your UPS battery.

While typing this list of recommendations I immediately found at least five tasks that I have neglected and need to take care of soon. How many tasks have you spotted in the list?

In the chapter Maintenance Tasks to Skip the tip that got my attention was that the Repair Permissions feature is not really necessary as a maintenance task. It may be useful when troubleshooting a problem, but running it routinely as a precaution is unnecessary. In fact the Repair Permissions feature has been removed in the El Capitan version of Disk Utility.

In the chapter Consider a Maintenance Utility (or Two) Joe recommends two apps that can help with some of your maintenance routines – CleanMyMac and Onyx. He also cautions against using MacKeeper and lists his reasoning.

If you are like me you probably know about, or at least have read about, many of the tips included in the book. Things like keeping your software updated to close security loopholes, getting rid of unnecessary files and programs (called “cruft”), emptying the trash regularly, and making regular backups. But, if you are like me, you get caught up in your daily life and find it easy to forget to keep up with these recommended actions. Don’t you hate it when life gets in the way!

Since I have read this book I feel inspired to get back to doing the things I know I should. Maybe I will be better at this than with keeping my New Year resolutions! One can always dream.

Bottom Line: I recommend adding Maintaining Your Mac to your library. You can download a free, one-page PDF handout that outlines the main points and key tips in this book. But to get the most value, buy a copy of the book from JoeOnTech. You can see a video of an interview that Joe did recently with Chuck Joiner of MacVoices that where you can hear Joe talk about the book.

Review: Backing Up Your Mac, a Book by Joe Kissell

By Phil Davis

Joe Kissell (from Take Control Of Books fame) has published a new book about backups that has some excellent advice for us all. This is the first in a new series called Joe on Tech Guides. His second book in this series Maintaining Your Mac will be reviewed at a later time.

If you have never had your hard drive die, spilled coffee on your laptop, inadvertently erased your family photos, had lightning strike your house, had your computer stolen, or endured any number of other unexpected tragedies, then don’t bother reading this book. And don’t bother backing up your Mac. On the other hand, even though none of these may have happened to you so far, what are the odds that they might happen in the future. Are you that much of a a gambler?

After all most of us don’t wait until we die to buy life insurance. What would be the point. Maybe we should start thinking about Mac Backups as life insurance for our data.

Here is what Joe has to say about his book.

In my new book, “Backing up Your Mac: A Joe On Tech Guide,” I lay out a backup strategy that aims to be, shall we say, highly bullet-resistant. There are no guarantees when it comes to computers, and as Robert Heinlein once said, “It is impossible to make anything foolproof, because fools are so ingenious.” That qualification aside, the system I use personally and explain in my book offers Mac users a simple way to achieve peace of mind. As I often say, even if a meteorite destroyed my house and all my equipment (while I wasn’t at home, obviously), I have 100 percent confidence that I would lose absolutely no important data. (Nuclear war, a zombie apocalypse, or an asteroid strike might be too much, but then I’d have bigger things to worry about anyway.)

As I talk to people about my book, I frequently hear responses along the lines of, “Well, here’s what I do to back up my Mac. What do you think of my system?” More often than not, I don’t say what I think, which is “Wow, that is one of the stupidest strategies I’ve ever heard of.”

In the book Joe lists 11 Backup Strategies that we should avoid.

  1. Having no backups at all. Doing nothing is the worst way to approach backups. You will lose data at some point.
  2. Depending on data recovery apps or services. These are very expensive and not always successful.
  3. Wishful thinking. If you don’t save your work often, even the best backup scheme is worthless.
  4. Doing manual backups. Something is better than nothing, but in my experience, the day you forget to back up something manually (or run out of time) is the day you lose data.
  5. Using only Time Machine.
  6. Using only clones for backup.
  7. Having no offsite backups.
  8. Having only online backups.
  9. Relying solely on Dropbox (or similar services).
  10. Assuming Web apps don’t need backups.
  11. Thinking of RAID as a backup.

You can read more about what Joe has to say on TidBITS.. Don’t forget to read the comments at the end where readers provide a number of anecdotes that reinforce the need for backups.

Joe lays out a three-part backup strategy which is consistent with what I recommend and personally use. The strategy employs three different techniques which collectively provide nearly foolproof protection for your data. The rationale for this strategy is clear and compelling and Joe discusses the pros and cons of various options so that you have the information available to make your own decisions.

  1. Versioned Backups using Time Machine. Versioned backups provide multiple copies of each file so that you have both the latest version and numerous previous versions. This makes it easy to recover an older version of a file that you erased. These types of errors, usually caused by the computer operator (that means you), are probably the most common that you will encounter.
  2. Bootable Backups. Bootable backups are complete clones of your internal drive and, as the name suggests can be used to boot and run your computer in case of a failure. The backup is stored on an external hard drive and updated regularly. Trust me — if your hard drive fails, you will be exceedingly happy that you have a bootable backup.
  3. Offsite Copies.There are a variety of ways to achieve these and Joe’s book gives you a clear description of the options. Offsite copies are crucial in case of more catastrophic events such as fire, theft, flooding, lightning, and other things which can destroy both your computer and your local backups.

I would add one more component to the mix – test your backups. No matter how carefully you configure things you might get in a situation where you think backups are being made, but in reality they aren’t. This can result is extreme frustration, particularly when you were feeling so self-righteous about your backup strategy.

There are many good articles about backing up your Mac but I find this book to be one of the more complete treatments of the subject. It not only makes the case for “why backup” but it gives easily understood options for “how to backup.” And the book gives good coverage of the rapidly changing world of iCloud and other cloud solutions, the demise of optical storage, the rise of solid state drives, and other changes in the technological landscape.

Finally, the book advises you to periodically review your backup strategy to reflect changes in your system and advances in technology. I know that for most of us the topic of backups is boring. But so is life and health insurance until you really need it. Make sure that you are adequately covered – you won’t regret it.

Pick up a copy of Backing Up Your Mac: A Joe On Tech Guide and learn how to make the process a little less painful.

Bottom line: Highly recommended.

How do I add an additional Gmail account?

These instructions will show you how to add a second gmail account to your existing one. You might want a new one to separate personal mail from business mail, or to use for a club or hobby. There are no restrictions on how many accounts you can have.

The simple way is to go directly to the gmail account creation page (https://accounts.google.com/SignUp) and fill out the form provided by Google. If you choose this method, do not click the sign in button at the top. This will just take you to your existing account.

Another way is to use your existing account to either (1) create a new account, or (2) login to any of your other accounts. The process is not hard, but requires clicking through several screens to get to the end result.

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