Friday, August 26, 2011

Messing with the Macs

One of the things on my "to-do" list before heading out of town is to get our two Macs in good shape.  That meant updating to the new Lion operating system, updating all our software, making sure the hardware is in good shape, and taking a few security precautions.  I am not a computer junkie - to me, they're a means to an end, not an end in themselves.  But just like cars, they need a bit of attention from time to time, and right now, it's time.

The first thing I did was to put a new backup drive on Janis's iMac.  Hers had died a while back and I'd been meaning to get around to replacing it but it never percolated to the top of the list.  I did a bit of research to find a good Mac-compatible drive, along with a place to buy one, and wound up getting a 1TB Western Digital "MyBook for Mac" on sale at our local Best Buy.  Plugged it in, turned it on, and it's working like a champ.  I've got a rugged little portable external hard drive for my MacBook that works just fine, so now both of our computers are safely backed up.

The next thing was to update to the new Lion operating system.  Now, Microsoft's handling of new OS's pretty much drove me out of the Windows community three years ago.  I got tired of getting buggy installations that crashed, acted weird, and needed new drivers or patches or whatever to run my old software and accessories.  It often took a lot of fiddling over a week or two before a new "update" would work correctly, and there were several times that I deleted the update in disgust and went back to the old system.  Apple's updates have all worked as advertised.  Install it, turn it on, and you're good to go.

This time, Lion is only available as a download.  And it's a 4GB download, which is a huge file, even on a DSL line.  We're talking maybe four hours.  So I started the download just before going to bed.  Next morning (yes, still with a bit of trepidation), I hit the "install" button.  After a few interactive screens, it started installing itself, and an hour later was done.  And it worked just fine.  I've noticed, though, that everything was a lot slower at first - a lot of waiting, watching the "spinning wheel of death" the first time a program was fired up, and so on.  After a few days, things get better.  Still, both of our computers feel like they're struggling with a lot more code than before, and normal operations are taking a bit longer.

As for new features, well, there are a lot, but we haven't used them much.  I gotta learn more of what they're about before I can take advantage of them.

One new feature that looks promising is FaceTime.  This is Apple's video chat feature from the iPhone and iPad.  The reason it looks promising is that it is designed to use a small bandwidth.  We already have Apple's iChat feature on our Macs, as well as Skype, which works on all kinds of computers, but both of those require a pretty good chunk of bandwidth.  When I was in Iraq, iChat never worked and Skype could be spotty.  I'm hoping that FaceTime will be more reliable when I head off to Afghanistan.

While doing all this computer tweaking, I also wanted to do something about security.  Macs have a reputation as being safer than PC's.  That's not really true - Macs are as vulnerable to intrusion as PC's, it's just that there are so many more PC's, the bad guys spend much more effort targeting them and leaving Macs alone.  But since I'm heading to A'stan, and we already know that bad guys target good guys in places like that, I wanted to be a bit better prepared.  After a bit of research, I discovered that there's a pretty capable malware protector called Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac.  Not only is it capable, but it's free.  I installed it and it did, indeed, find a bit of malware on my MacBook.  Found it and cleaned it up.  Janis's iMac was fine, though.

I also found a neat little app called Ghostery.  It sits in Safari and tells me who's tracking my visit to any given page.  Not only that, but it lets you determine which ones to block and which ones to allow.  For example, if I go to the CNN home page, there are six sites tracking me.  Four are for companies that provide or track advertising and two are for Facebook links.  I'm blocking all the advertising tracking and allowing the social media links.  Originally, I blocked everything, but then found that some sites, like Facebook, were acting screwy.  So I reset it.  Ghostery is a free application and available for PC's as well as Macs, so you can put it on your own web browser.

So now our computers are in pretty good shape.  I just need to learn more about what these new features are in Lion.  Maybe there's something really cool ...

1 comment:

lorraine said...

Thank you for the information. You are quite bold to head out to Afghanistan. It is impressive that you are so willing to accept high risk to make a difference in the lives of these poor afflicted people. My travel across Afghanistan was in the early '70's before the USSR invasion but it was still an impoverished land. The people were wonderful and generous in spite of it all. God be with you and keep you always safe. lorraine