Monday, July 22, 2013

Clean Install of Mac OS X Mountain Lion: What to bring with you

I just did a clean install of Mountain Lion. To my surprise, it turned out mostly OK! (Pro Tip: save yourself the trouble and use Lion DiskMaker, which also works with Mountain Lion.)

It's been documented in plenty of places on how to do it, but the question arises once you've done it: what if there are some settings I want BACK? Like... once I download an app, I want all the same settings back since it's one of those old-fashioned apps that doesn't sync with the cloud... (and even if it does sync, there's still settings and stuff you need.)

Well, you're in luck!

All you need to do is copy the following folders to somewhere safe (external hard drive, for example):
  • ~/ (that's your home folder)
  • ~/Library/Application Support
  • ~/Library/Keychains
  • ~/Library/PreferencePanes
  • ~/Library/Preferences
The tilde (~) represents your Home folder. To get to the ~/Library folder, just open a finder window and issue Command-Shift-G on your keyboard. Then, paste in ~/Library/ and copy those four folders to a safe location.

Once your clean install is complete, I'd recommend re-downloading apps from either the Mac App Store or the app's web site. From there, copy the app's folder in ~/Library/Application Support over to to your Mac's hard drive (same location of ~/Library/Application Support) and then open the app. In most cases, you'll be looking at your app just as you left it last time before the clean install.

Let's walk through an example, assuming you've already saved those folders mentioned above to an external hard drive.
  1. Download ABCApp from
  2. Install it. (Typically just dragging the icon into the /Applications folder
  3. Copy the old ~/Library/Application Support/ABCApp from your external hard drive to its new home on your Mac's hard drive at ~/Library/Application Support/ABCApp
  4. Launch ABCApp
In most cases, you'll be looking at the app just as you'd left it. There are some cases where apps store things in other folders like ~/Library/Preferences (usually .plist files that the app uses) so it might be wise to check both the Application Support and Preferences folders before launching the app.

As part of the clean install process, I also found it helpful to take screenshots of the following, before I blew everything away so I can remember all the awesome shit I use that makes computing wonderful:
  • Dock
  • Applications folder
  • System Preferences screen (some apps I use are actually preference panes)

Hope that helps!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pandora (or Spotify or other audio) won't play on iPhone 5 through Bluetooth

If you're expecting audio to come out of your Bluetooth headset (or other Bluetooth  pparatus) and it isn't, the simple fix right now would be to turn Airplane Mode on, then off again. This will "reboot" the wireless services, if you will, and once you re-establish the Bluetooth connection, all will be well.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Block Any Pop-Up From Any Site (Like

Sometimes pop-up blockers just don't work. Here's how to prevent any web site from issuing a pop-up window directly in your face. Instructions here are for Chrome, but you can probably do this to any modern web browser. At least, one can dream.

  1. Go to Preferences
  2. Go to Under the Hood > Privacy > Content Settings...
    1. Alternatively, just search for "pop-up" in the Preferences search box
  3. Scroll to Pop-ups, then click Manage Exceptions...
    1. Of course, make sure the "Do not allow..." radio button is activated
  4. Add a new hostname pattern similar to this: [*.] and select Deny from the dropdown. Example: [*.]
Again, most of the time, pop-up blockers work... but sometimes they don't. This tip was documented here so that in the rare case you get some dastardly site like that slips past the iron curtain, at least you've got a big fly swatter waiting for that pop-up window that hopefully you'll never see after making this change.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Soluto: Easy Tech Support for Mom and Dad

Techcrunch had a great article about how to provide tech support to your loved ones (or those who you like enough to provide support). The solution is from a company called Soluto, and they bill themselves as the Anti-Frustration Software company.

Soluto started out as a downloadable app for Joe User, but eventually they figured out that Joe User just wants their stuff to work, not figure out yet another tool that will tweak their computer. So what Soluto did was pretty genius: they decided to make their solution web-based, and market it to IT professionals (the founder calls them "techie people") like me.

Now, instead of my mom having to install the software herself and make decisions about what to turn off or on, and what to do about the web browser toolbars, etc., it is me who makes those decisions, remotely. All with little to no end-user interaction.

This means I can monitor and push software updates (hello, all you lonely Windows XP Security updates!), as well as reset her default browser to Chrome and search provider to Google should she get hijacked somehow. I know, a rare thing, right? Essential computer specs are there, too, like used/free space on hard drives, CPU, how much RAM, what motherboard and graphics cards... all the essentials. Other things you can do: with the click of a button, install cool apps like Skype, Dropbox, OpenOffice, Google Talk, Evernote and more. You can see when apps are non-responsive and/or crash.

To make boot time faster, Soluto lays out all the programs that start up at boot time, and arrange them in order of time it takes to fire up. From there, you can drill down to the ones that are safe to remove, the ones that are potentially removable, and ones that are required. The desktop version of the app told you how many seconds you've saved off the boot time, but this new web-based beta does not do that as of this writing.

You also have access to the end-user's computer protection including turning the firewall on and off and managing the virus scanning side of things in addition to Windows Updates.

Does this replace being there? Almost. You can't, for example, troubleshoot printing or driver problems or anything complicated like that yet... but remember, this is in beta and there's a lot more in the works as they listen to techies like me give them feedback. For the really tough problems (printer/scanner not working, some kind of thing (virus/malware) causing incredible slowness) or the infamous "I can't find my file" scenario, LogMeIn and a good Skype connection is always as good as being there. If LogMeIn's too complicated, they just launched a service called Join Me, which is desktop sharing in two clicks.

So the days of helping family with tech support tasks just got a little bit easier. For the really advanced stuff, there's LogMeIn/Join Me. For the rest of the small stuff like pushing upgrades and common things like setting the homepage or default web browser or basic maintenance tasks and monitoring the frustration level of the people you support, Soluto provides a great solution.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Windshield Chip Repair Experience

Recently, I was filling up at my local ARCO gas station on 16th and W Streets in downtown Sacramento when I saw those pesky windshield chip repair guys doing work on some poor innocent victim's windshield. I wondered just how much she was being taken for a ride, so I walked over to the two gentlemen performing the work and asked them exactly how they can repair cracks right on the spot.

One gentleman in a yellow jacket, we'll call him Mr. K from University Auto Glass, explained to me how they inject the resin into the chip or crack, and then ultraviolet light finishes it off to form the permanent seal so it cannot spread any further. I asked how much it cost for the repair, and he quickly responded: $40 for up to three chips/cracks. He was then quick to ask if I had any chips or cracks (I did) and then we were swiftly off to begin his sales pitch.

After reviewing my windshield and my insurance card, he determined that my deductible was high enough that it didn't make sense to file a claim with my insurance company to get it repaired/replaced--I could buy two or three windshields for the price of my deductible. And so, given the choice of a $40 repair (warrantied for as long as I own the vehicle) or the chance of it spreading and forcing me to replace the windshield--not only for safety's sake but to comply with California law--I decided that he got me. I was in.

The process
He takes a razor to the pit/crack to get as much loose junk out of the tiny crevice as he can. Once that's done, he attaches some kind of apparatus to the window via suction cup. This apparatus delivers the resin to the damaged area, which the technician then hardens with an ultraviolet light. He scrapes off the extra resin with his razor, making it level with the glass, then shows me how there are no black marks (those are air gaps) which cause cracks to spread. The whole thing took perhaps 15 minutes start to finish. Pretty painless. Of course, as any good sales guy would, he professed that this was one of the best repairs he's ever seen and he was sure pretty proud of his work. I had no idea, looked like there was a lot less of a crack, to be sure, but I was expecting it to be completely invisible. What remained was a tiny dot, which is largely absent from my vision as I drive down the road.

So in that short time, his partner had helped the lady whose car had sparked my interest, they had helped me, and were scouting every car in the gas station for potential customers, which of course they found with ease.

Why I did it
Costs and benefits, for one. $40 repair vs $100+ windshield. The repair is guaranteed for as long as I own the vehicle. In fact, they stand behind their guarantee such that if I ever need a windshield replacement, they'll credit me the $40 if I buy my replacement windshield from them. But more so, I did it because of Mr. K, who was extremely up-front, transparent and forthcoming about the product/company... and because it just made sense to prevent the crack from spreading. They've really got you right where they want you--a captive audience that has to wait for gas to finish pumping, and trying to solve a problem that may become a bigger problem unless you--wait for it--act now.

The conversation
While talking with Mr. K about his job and other random stuff, I learned the following:
  • They use a Square device to process credit card payments right on the spot. (I've had my own Square for quite some time, and it was really cool to see it being used to run a business. Seeing this more and more.)
  • The product is $40, and $25 of that $40 goes to him as commission. In places like the Bay Area, where people have more disposable income, he remarked  that the same job would cost drivers anywhere from $80 to $120. Not sure if his commission increases in kind, but I'm sure it does to some extent.
  • Speaking of cost, the gas station I was at charges the auto glass company $1,500 per month for exclusive rights to that corner, according to Mr. K. Wow! By my calculations, when you minus out commissions these two guys would have to do 100 windshields per month just to pay the rent. That's a lot of windshields! They did at least three in the short span of time I was there at the station, so I suppose it's entirely possible... hence their hustle to find dinged-up windows. That, by the way, equates to about a $2,500/mo gross income for Mr. K, or about $30,000 per year. After taxes, that's about $1,750/mo or $21,000/year. Not bad for fixing windows.
  • To maintain that corner, the sales/install guys must hustle but also remember who the gas station's repeat customers are, and not to piss people off--especially those who say they do not want the service, because "you get any complaints, and you're gone."
After it was all said and done, I zipped my card with him, the Square processed it on his iPhone (not company-issued, unfortunately), an emailed receipt hit my inbox 5 minutes later, and I wished him good luck on the rest of what was as very chilly night. With a go-get-em grin, he remarked, "There's no luck in sales!" as he put a hop in his step toward his next customer. I took a few notes for this blog post, then drove toward the gas station's exit. As I departed, he waved at me and I waved at him, as if we were friends, as he stood there signing papers with his next customer of the night.

Business is good, apparently, but only if you're good at sales. And this guy was, from start to finish. The conversation was good during the repair, and he noticed me drive out and gave me a friendly wave on the way out.

So next time, I think I won't look at these hustlers the same way I used to--like car salesman waiting for their next mark. They're solving a problem that could lead to a larger one, it's convenient, and the value is right. (Except if you live in locales where the disposable income is higher... yikes!) In Sacramento, he's on the corner of 16th & W hustling every day... so go check him out if you're in the area and want to get that pesky crack fixed up so it doesn't spread and become a bigger problem than just an eyesore.