blog home about our NYC Mac support site

Mesh WiFi, and using Eero as a wireless to wired bridge

Mesh WiFi has been a tremendous development for easily spreading WiFi around a larger home or office. It’s self-configuring repeating–you just drop your additional units in and the system figures out what to do.

We’ve tried a few, and they mostly do what they’re supposed to, including Linksys Velop, Netgear Orbi, Google WiFi, and Plume.

But the one we like best is Eero (which recently was acquired by Amazon, for better or worse). It’s elegant, it’s simple, it’s flexible, and it works. One of the things I like most about it is that it can support any combination of wireless and wired units, and is just as happy to operate in either router or bridge mode in all configurations.

Various products each have their strengths and weaknesses. Google WiFi doesn’t let you use bridge mode with a multi-unit mesh setup; Netgear Orbi prefers a “star” configuration with it at the center; Linksys Velop seems solid but its app lacks easy configuration (and you can never change the email address you use to manage the account); Plume has an ongoing subscription requirement, and its smaller units (Pods, rather than SuperPods) don’t have that much range–you’re supposed to put one in each room.

But Eero pretty much just gets it done. It doesn’t have the robust monitoring that Google WiFi does, and it doesn’t have the “adaptive” smarts that Plume has, but it’s a snap to set up using a mobile app, and it solidly provides wireless throughout your home, especially if you opt for the full size Eero units, rather than the smaller Eero Beacon units.

One thing that’s nice about Eero (and perhaps others) is that you can easily use it as a no-configuration wireless-to-wired bridge. I recently set up a client’s home office, and the room he was in did not have wired Ethernet. He needed it, though, for a VPN hardware product and VoIP phone. All of the Eeros in his house were connected by wire, so I just took an unused one, added it to the network as a wireless unit, and his VPN and phone instantly got use of its Ethernet ports, no muss, no fuss.

Mesh WiFi can do a lot for you.

Related Posts

Use a Time Capsule without attaching it to a router

 

Rant: Why is Apple still selling snail-snow iMacs with hard drives in them?

Apple’s a premium brand, and they make almost uniformly excellent products. If you buy something Apple, even if you a minimum configuration, you have the confidence that you’re not getting crap.

Unless you buy an iMac that has a hard drive or Fusion drive–which is the standard option for most of them. To avoid getting one, you usually need to customize the order during check out to instead get a solid state drive. Every other model of Mac has a solid state drive included as the only option. But not the iMac.

Hard drives are about four times cheaper and many times slower than solid state drives for the capacity you get, and I have nothing inherently against them. The problem is that recent Apple operating systems, and especially Mojave (with its requirement for the new APFS file system), are made to work well on SSD’s, without regard for whether they perform well on HD’s.

And they don’t perform well. They perform terribly. Pinwheel city. Even on a brand new Mac. (Apple’s bizarre insistence on using even slower 5400 RPM drives in their 21.5″ models, rather than 7200 RPM model, only compounds the problem.)

Fusion drives are supposed to be a compromise, in which the operating system, applications, and frequent files are stored on a small SSD, while everything else is stored on a much larger HD. Unfortunately, in 2015 Apple, with almost no disclosure anywhere, reduced the SSD size of the SSD model to the point that not even Applications will fit entirely on it, if you have a few large ones. It’s hardly better than a regular hard drive. The 2 TB and 3 TB models have a larger SSD, but if you’ve got the budget for an all SSD model, that’s what I’d overwhelmingly recommend at this point.

So, what is Apple doing? I get that they want to be able to sell a computer with 1-3 TB of storage for a reasonable price. But they’re damaging the brand. I don’t know if the people who make these decisions realize what a dog that machine is, but it’s dreadful. They need to stop selling it in that configuration. I suspect they finally will within a year, when the iMac gets a major refresh, but that would be about four years too late.

You can check what you’ve got in Apple Menu, About This Mac, Storage, and if it says you have a SATA or Fusion drive rather than an SSD, then you’ve got a hard drive. And if you have a 1 TB Fusion drive, that’s hardly better than a hard drive alone.

If you do have a 2012 or later iMac with a hard drive, your options are to buy a new Mac with all SSD storage, or invest in a Samsung T5 external SSD, and use Carbon Copy Cloner or Time Machine Restore to copy everything to it.

I hope Apple stops selling this inferior configuration of machine–it’s like a Ferrari with no tires.

Related Posts

So What Is a Retina Display?

How long do hard drives last? And what does that mean for the life of your Mac?

 

Why You Need a Password Manager

NY Times password manager article

The New York Times has an article this week entitled Why You Need a Password Manager. Yes, You.

Andrew Cunningham, the author of the article and a lead editor at Wirecutter, only recently started using a password manager and he makes a strong case for why it’s imperative that you do the same. He walks you through what it’s good at, how it works, and how to create and store a master password.

He writes,

But even though I should know better, up until a few months ago I was still reusing the same dozen or so passwords across all of my everything (though at least I had turned on two-factor authentication where I could). It’s just too difficult to come up with (and remember) unique, strong passwords for dozens of sites. That’s why, after much cajoling from co-workers, I started using a password manager — and it’s why you should be using one, too. Aside from using two-factor authentication and keeping your operating system and Web browser up-to-date, it’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself online.

His preferred password manager is 1Password (which we recommend as well).

If you haven’t switched to a password manager yet, we hope he can help convince you why it’s necessary!

Related Posts:

1Password is a good password manager if you’re anxious about hacking

1Password: The Solution to Having Five Thousand Different Website Passwords

Where did Microsoft hide Outlook’s category filters?

As far as I’m concerned, one of the single best reasons to use Microsoft Outlook with Exchange mail hosting is the concept of categories.

It doesn’t seem like rocket science, so I don’t know why other mail systems don’t have anything equivalent. Outlook just allows any contact (or anything else) to be tagged with an arbitrary number of categories of your making, like “Customer – West Coast” or “Holiday List 2018” or “Friends & Family” or what have you.

Then, you just click in the left sidebar which category, or categories, you want to see, and your contact list is automatically filtered. Nifty, amirite?

Well, Microsoft doesn’t seem to have thought so, because, starting in Outlook for Mac 16.20 (December 2018), they removed the category filters. For the love of all things right and true, why? You can still categorize contacts, but, as far as I can tell, you can’t quickly generate a list of the contacts in the categories you want, other than by doing an Advanced Find and searching for them.

If having categories in the left sidebar is part of your workflow, there’s a workaround, at least for a little while. Go to Microsoft’s “Office 2016 update history”, [https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/officeupdates/release-notes-office-2016-mac] and download the latest version of Outlook (at the time of this writing, 16.16.8). The 16.16.x line of releases continues to receive security updates, but not feature changes. You can have Outlook 16.16.x without needing to install older versions of the other Office apps by downloading just the Outlook installer, rather than the whole suite.

If you have Microsoft AutoUpdate set to update automatically, you’ll want to set it to the middle setting, so it notifies you about updates, rather than just installing them. You can update the other Office apps when it prompts you; just always uncheck Outlook.

If you want to make sure you always have the latest security updates for Outlook, you can manually return to the Outlook 2016 history page and download the latest version of 16.16.x.

What to do if you can’t change your Google Chrome search engine on a Mac

After a Mac has been intruded upon with some rogue or unwanted software, what usually happens is that web browsers are taken over. Usually, running MalwareBytes and performing follow-up steps will fix this situation (see our previous post).
But if you use Google Chrome, you may still have trouble. Particularly insidious adware will prevent you from changing the default search engine back to Google, even after the software itself has been removed. Sometimes it will appear to have changed, but nothing actually happens. Here’s how to resolve that.
First, quit Chrome if it is running. Then Open Terminal.
type:
defaults read com.google.Chrome
What will be output is a list of “keys” followed by a list of “values”. You need to remove the keys which are making Chrome misbehave.
In particular, you want to get rid of any dubious-looking URL — if it’s not obvious what it is, you don’t want it. Each URL will have a corresponding key to its left, which here I’ll call UnwantedKeyName.
For each key with a corresponding questionable URL, type:
defaults delete com.google.Chrome UnwantedKeyName
When you’re done, once again type:
defaults read com.google.Chrome
What remains should all be fine — that is, there are no keys that contain unknown URL’s.
At this point, you may Quit Terminal, and re-open Chrome. Go to Preferences, and change your search engine to Google, which should now be unlocked.

What to do after running MalwareBytes on your Mac

malwarebytes-logo

If you’ve ever seen your search engine in Chrome, Safari or Firefox mysteriously redirected to a strange, non-Google search engine, or seen pop-up ads warning that your Mac may be infected, or that advertise dubious services, you’re probably a victim of adware or malware on your Mac.

The most common way of getting this junk are fake notices saying your Flash player is out of date — if you see one, please disregard it. If you really need Flash, use Chrome, which has it built in.

MalwareBytes has for years (dating from its origins as AdwareMedic) been the most effective tool for getting rid of the most common kind of Mac adware and malware. It’s free to perform manual scans for malicious software; you can subscribe for automatic protection.

However, like all malware protection software, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t always find absolutely everything, and even when it does remove garbage software from your computer, it sometimes doesn’t perform final steps required tor return things to fully normal, and prevent you from potentially being reinfected.

So, once you’ve performed a scan with MalwareBytes, and it removes whatever it finds (or gives you a clean bill of health, rightly or wrongly), you need to take a few more steps.

  1. If MalwareBytes finds anything, restart your Mac, whether or not you are instructed to. After restart, reopen MalwareBytes (if necessary), and Clear the Quarantine.
  2. Go to the Apple Menu, and choose System Preferences. See if there is an item called Profiles — if it’s there at all, usually it is in the fourth row. If it’s not there, great. If it is there, go into it, and remove any profiles that you can’t account for or, are unsure of the purpose for. Normally, you would not have any profiles unless your computer was set up by a corporate IT department, or have installed personal VPN software. Close System Preferences.
  3. Go to the Apple Menu, and choose System Preferences (again). Go to General (top left). Make sure that default web browser is set to whatever you prefer.
  4. In each browser (Safari, plus Chrome and/or Firefox if you have them installed), go to Extensions. In Safari, this is under Safari->Preferences->Extensions. In Chrome, it is under Window -> Extensions. In Firefox, it is under Tools->Add-Ons->Extensions. Remove any extensions you can’t account for or are unsure of the purpose of.
  5. In each browser, check that the default search engine is Google (or DuckDuckGo, if you are concerned about privacy and can live with inferior web searches). In Safari, this is under Safari->Preferences->Search. In Chrome, go to Chrome->Preferences->Search Engine — but if it won’t let you change it, read our next post for what to do. In Firefox, go to Firefox->Preferences->Search. Sometimes, the search engine says to something innocuous like “Default” or “Default Browser” or “Search” — these are rogue, and you should change them. It should always be Google (or DuckDuckGo).
  6. In each browser, open a new window. Check that the home page is what you want it to be. If you don’t recognize whatever is there, change it to a site you prefer, or to google.com if you can’t think of anything. In Safari, you can set it under Safari->Preferences->General (default is https://www.apple.com/startpage/). In Chrome, go to Chrome->Preferences->On Startup (default is “Open the New Tab Page”). On Firefox, go to Firefox->Preferences->General (default is “Mozilla Firefox Start Page”, which you can get by clicking “Restore to Default”).

At this point, your Mac should be fully back in action, and all of your browsers should behave normally.

Synchronize your Downloads folder with iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive Desktop and Documents sync has been a game changer in terms of Mac users having the same stuff on all computers. Dropbox is probably more reliable and flexible, but it requires that you have a workflow of saving stuff into your Dropbox folder, and some Mac users just don’t want to do that; they want to put stuff in the Desktop and Documents folders that come on the computer, and call it a day.

iCloud Drive Desktop and Documents (which I’ll just call iCDD) takes care of that for them. And then, when they buy a new computer, rather than restore from a Time Machine backup (which is what I’d still recommend), they can just sign into their iCloud account and have access to all of their stuff, much like on their iPhone.

But what about the Downloads folder? Apple makes clear they expect what’s in your Downloads folder to be temporary, to be moved to elsewhere, or deleted. But that’s not how I roll, and many other people don’t either. Stuff accumulates there and I might want it regardless of what computer I actually downloaded it on.

If you want a synchronized Downloads folder, do this:

  • Open iCloud Drive
  • Make a Downloads folder in it
  • Put that Downloads folder in your sidebar (it will look like a regular folder, rather than a circle with a downward pointing arrow)
  • Move everything in your existing Downloads folder to the new Downloads folder
  • Remove the old (circular) Downloads folder from your sidebar by dragging it out, or by unchecking it under Finder -> Preferences -> Sidebar
  • Open Terminal, and type:
    sudo rm ~/Downloads; ln -s ~/Library/Mobile\ Documents/com~apple~CloudDocs/Downloads/ ~/Downloads
  • Enter your computer password (which you won’t see as you type)

If you’re not comfortable using Terminal, instead set each of your browsers, in their Preferences, to use your new Downloads folder instead of the one in your Home folder.

Repeat the above on each of your computers.

Cheaper Alternative to Apple AirPods?

The JBuds Air wireless earbuds from JLab Audio only cost $49! so if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to Apple’s AirPods, take a look at these.

They also fit differently than Apple’s AirPods, and come with silicone ear tips in different sizes, so if the AirPods don’t fit in your ear, these may be worth checking out for that reason.

The biggest downside, as per reviews, is that phone calls are only in the right earbud, not both.

Wired’s review of the JBuds Air earbuds rates them a 7 out of 10, and says, “They’re not perfect, but they’re one of the smartest ways to spend $50 on headphones.”

The 9 to 5 Toys review of the JBuds Air says, “If you’re on the fence of purchasing Apple’s AirPods, why not give the JBuds Air a shot?”

Headphone Review gives the JBuds Air a score of 8.4 out of 10 and says, “At $50 it’s hard to expect the JLab JBuds Air to sound great–but in reality, they don’t sound bad at all.”

Cool Apple Wall Charger Accessories

We just found out about a company called Ten One Design that’s making very cool Apple accessories. The two here are specifically for your Apple charging cables.

Stella, pictured above, says it’s a better charging cable for a few reasons. Its woven surface is better than what comes out of the box with a new Mac because it’s more flexible and less prone to breaking. And the plug itself lights up when you put it next to an outlet, so you can plug in more easily! It costs $35 from Ten One Design’s website.

Blockhead, image above, puts your duckhead plug on the side of the brick instead of straight off the back, so it is flatter against the wall and has less of a tendency to fall out. (This one can be used with any of your Apple bricks — iPad, iPhone, or Mac.) Cost is $20.

Or you can buy both Stella and Blockhead for $50.

We haven’t tried these ourselves, so do your due diligence — and let us know if you buy them and like them!

How to migrate from your old Mac to a 12-inch MacBook

Apple’s 12-inch MacBook is svelte and weights only 2 pounds. It also presents some challenges when migrating your data directly from another Mac.

All other Mac models since 2011 have Thunderbolt capability, meaning you can attach a Thunderbolt cable between the two computers, put the older computer into Target Disk Mode, and then use Migration Assistant on the new computer, which will see the old computer’s drive and copy from it.

The 12-inch MacBook has the same USB-C port found on current MacBook Pros and iMacs, but unlike those models, the port doesn’t offer Thunderbolt, so the method I just described doesn’t work. But there are still a couple of ways to do it. Make sure your 12-inch MacBook is fully charged before you start, since it won’t have wall power during the transfer.

 

Short version:

Via a hard drive: You can use migration assistant with a Time Machine USB external drive (or Time Capsule) as a source. You could also use Carbon Copy Cloner on your old Mac to copy its contents to a a USB external drive, and use that as a source for Migration Assistant.

Computer-to-computer: If you get a USB-C to male USB-A cable, and the old Mac is a 2012 model or later (meaning it has USB 3.0), you can go the other way. Erase the 12-inch MacBook’s drive; in that article, see the section “If you need to erase your startup disk,” about halfway down, and, for format, select APFS if the old Mac has High Sierra or later, or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) if not. Then put the new MacBook into Target Disk Mode, and use Carbon Copy Cloner on the old Mac to copy its entire drive, including the operating system, to the new MacBook. If the old Mac doesn’t have a current enough operating system to boot the new MacBook, you can start the 12-inch MacBook via Internet Recovery (command-option-R during startup), and reinstall macOS, which will upgrade the copied operating system. In the end, you’ll have gone computer-to-computer, despite the 12-inch MacBook not offering Thunderbolt connections.

 

Long, step-by-step version:

In any of the scenarios below, you’re going to want your new 12-inch MacBook to be fully charged, because you can’t have it plugged into the wall while you’re transferring. I’m also assuming the new MacBook has a drive that’s large enough to hold everything that was on your old Mac.

One option is to use an external drive that has a copy of your computer. If you have existing Time Machine backup on a hard drive, make the backup current by choosing “Back Up Now” from the Time Machine (backwards clock icon) menu at the top of your screen, eject the drive when it’s done, and then attach it to the new MacBook, using a USB-C to USB-A adapter. Or, if you have a Time Capsule, that’ll work too; just follow the same process to make it current (but don’t disconnect it) Either way, Migration Assistant will present your backup as a source to migrate from; if you’re doing Time Capsule over Wi-Fi, be prepared for it to take long time.

If you don’t have a Time Machine backup, or you don’t want to wait for a Time Capsule, you can get a hard drive and copy your whole computer using Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner (or, for much faster speed, use an external solid state drive like the Samsung T5).

But there’s also a way to go computer-to-computer, provided the original Mac is a 2012 model or later, meaning it has USB 3.0 ports. The general concept is that, rather than use Migration Assistant, you’re going to erase the new Mac’s drive, and copy the entirety of your old Mac, by using the 12-inch MacBook’s USB Disk Mode. You’ll end up with a clone, with the same operating system as the old Mac, on the new MacBook, and then you can upgrade it to the current operating system if you wish to, or if it’s necessary. Here’s the process:

  • You’re going to need a USB 3.0 or 3.1 USB-C to USB-A cable. Unlike the adapters Apple sells that have a female USB-A connector, this cable needs to have a male USB-A connector on one end.
  • Check the operating system on your older Mac by choosing About This Mac from the Apple menu. Then check the minimum operating system required on the MacBook, by visiting EveryMac.com). Ideally, the original computer has an operating system that is newer than the minimum. (So, for example, current MacBooks have a minimum operating system of 10.12.5, which means that your original computer should be on 10.12.6.)
  • If your Mac has an older operating system that won’t run on the MacBook, that’s OK, but when you copy over your system, you’ll need to immediately reinstall its operating system before you can use the 12-inch MacBook, as I’ll explain. Alternatively, you can update or upgrade the operating system on your old computer before you copy, but, as always, make sure you have a backup first.
  • Start up the 12-inch MacBook in internet recovery mode by holding down command-option-R immediately after you press the power button. If you don’t see a spinning globe, restart the computer, holding down the keys. If it takes, you’ll see the globe, and after a little while be asked to choose your Wi-Fi network. Do that, and then wait for the Recovery Disk to load. (We’re about to erase the internal drive, and I’ve had better luck using a High Sierra recovery disk to properly erase a disk that has the APFS file system on it.)
  • Once it loads and you get to the Recovery menu, open Disk Utility. Go to the View menu at the top of the screen and choose “Show All Devices”.
  • Click on the Apple SSD in the upper left of the window. On the right side, click the Erase button. Name it “Macintosh HD” if you feel like being traditional, or anything else you like.
  • Make sure Partition Scheme is “GUID Partition Map”.
  • For Format, If your old Mac has High Sierra on it, choose “APFS”. If the old Mac has Sierra or earlier, choose “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)”.
  • Click Erase. If you get an error, which is entirely possible due to bugs in Apple’s Disk Utility, just click the Erase button again, until it works. If it continues to bug you, click on “Macintosh HD,” then click Unmount, then try again.
  • Quit Disk Utility. Restart the computer, holding down the T key this time. If it takes, you’ll immediately see a large USB (trident) logo on your screen, rather than an Apple or anything else. If you don’t see this, you may need to force off the computer by holding down the power button for ten seconds, and try again.
  • Connect the USB-C to USB-A cable between the two computers. You’ll see your newly erased drive appear as a drive on your old Mac.
  • Run Carbon Copy Cloner on your old Mac to copy your old drive to your new drive. If you are copying a system that is new enough to run on the new machine, then elect to create a Recovery Partition when it asks. If you’re copying a system that’s too old, then decline.

When it’s all done, eject the 12-inch MacBook’s drive from the desktop on your old Mac, and turn off the MacBook by holding down the power button, and disconnect the cable.

If your old Mac had an operating system that is new enough to run on the 12-inch MacBook, you can now just turn on the MacBook, exactly as you would have on your old Mac. and you’ll be in business. If you want to update or upgrade it to the latest and greatest, you can do so from the Mac App Store, as usual.

You’ll probably need to sign in to and/or reactivate various services and software, such as iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft Office, and cloud backup like CrashPlan or BackBlaze.

Sign up to get our blog posts by email

Sign up for our monthly email newsletter

Meta