CrashPlan and Burn: Trust No One

Backing up your computer to the cloud is easy with a subscription to Backblaze, CrashPlan, Carbonite or another service. What happens when one of those services stops? For one thing, it’s a good time to stop and take stock of your backup strategy. Are you putting too much trust in it?

A violation of trust is how some Crashplan subscribers have described how they feel. Code42, the developer of CrashPlan, said it’s exiting the consumer backup market in favor of business backup instead.

Code42 is offering a transition timeline, and consumers can convert to the business plan if it makes sense. It’s certain to be a bonanza for CrashPlan’s competitors. (Disclaimer: I’m a former Backblaze employee and a user of their product. Backblaze is a competing service to CrashPlan.)

Backing up your files to the cloud is a practical and reasonable backup strategy. But it shouldn’t be your only backup strategy. One backup is the same as none at all. Backup redundancy assures you that no matter what happens to your devices or your backup services, your data is safe somewhere.

My work at Backblaze included frequent references to the 3-2-1 Backup Strategy. It’s a good starting point. I have some additional ideas I’d like to share here, but here’s the executive summary. Keep your data in three places.

The three places:

  1. the live copy.
  2. One or more local backups.
  3. An offsite backup.

The Live Copy: Don’t Tempt Fate

For too many of us, the live copy – the copy resident on your work computer or device – is the only copy in existence. We should all know that live data isn’t safe: You can mess it up, and that’s by far the biggest reason why you’ll need to recover it later. But things can go wrong – computers, even Apple computers, and devices – stop working unexpectedly.

I used to work in a computer store, and I’ve supported users through several different careers, and I constantly, constantly hear “I’ve never had a problem with my computer before” as an excuse for why they didn’t back up. That’s no excuse. We all know computers can be backed up – we just don’t do it because we perceive it as difficult, expensive, or, when you’re honest with yourself, just drudgery you don’t want to be hassled with.

But you’re playing with fire. It’s not a question of if you’ll lose data, it’s a question of when. So if you’re not backing up, get started. Here’s how:

One or More Local Backups Made Easy

Mac users have a reasonably reliable and inexpensive way to get started with home backups. It’s called Time Machine, and it’s built right into the operating system. Hook up an external hard drive with enough room to back your hard drive and Time Machine will do so automatically, backing you up with hourly snapshots for 24 hours, maintaining daily backups for the past month, and keeping weekly backups until the backup disk gets full.

This way you can quickly restore files and folders you’ve deleted or changed. What’s more, you can restore versions of docs you’ve overwritten or modified. Saved changes to your novel manuscript that you can’t undo? Open up Time Machine and recover the version from three hours ago, before you hit the bottle of Buffalo Trace.

The best part about a Time Machine backup is that if the external drive is big enough, you can back up more than one Mac to it with no problem. The same Time Machine disk I use for my MacBook Pro is also my Mac mini backup drive.

If your budget allows for more than one external hard drive, you can actually rotate your Time Machine backups too. Rotate them by days of the week or figure out some other frequency that works for you. Time Machine will keep each backup up to date. If something happens to one backup drive, you still have a complete backup on the other. Replace the bad backup drive, and you’ll be good as new.

Some folks opt for network-based backups. Apple’s defunct Time Capsule was an excellent way to do this. Network Attached Storage vendors like Synology and QNAP offer directions to make their devices work a network-based Time Machine backup. Check with your product’s vendor for more info.

I’d be remiss not to mention cloning software as another option for local backups. Cloning apps create mirror-image backup copies of your Mac’s hard drive, producing a bootable system that can be up in minutes. Need to keep your Mac running no matter what? Cloning is a good idea. I currently use Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper, for whatever that’s worth.

An Offsite Backup: Who Do I Trust?

Trust No One.

Look, not to go all Fox Mulder here, but Crashplan’s consumer product pullout demonstrates an important principle: You can’t trust anyone when it comes to the safety of your data.

That’s why your first defense against data loss should be the local backup. Preferably multiple copies, but that amount of redundancy may not be for everyone. But don’t trust yourself. Find an offsite service that you trust to store your data. Use them as a secondary line of defense.

Storing your valuable data in the cloud is an excellent backup practice. Just don’t make it your only one.



How to use Night Shift on the Mac

Apple on Monday released macOS 10.12.4, the latest version of its Sierra operating system. Among the new features is Night Shift, the same screen-dimming technology that Apple has had in iOS for a while. They’ve buried the feature, though, so it can be a bit tough to find. Here’s how, and what it does.

Night shift

Night Shift adjusts the color of your Mac’s display after sunset. According to some research, exposure to the bright blue light of computer displays in the evening can affect your ability to sleep. Night Shift mode – first introduced in iOS 9.3 – changes display colors to warmer tones with less blue. In the morning the Mac returns to its normal settings. If you’re working with graphics, art, photography, video or other content where color fidelity is of paramount importance, Night Shift is probably not the best thing to use. But for the rest of us, Night Shift can give your eyes – and your circadian rhythm – a bit of a break.

Night Shift is similar in concept to the third-party application f.lux. F.lux is still available if you’d prefer to use it or are not ready to upgrade yet to macOS 10.12.4.

How To Use Night Shift On The Mac

  1. Click on the  menu.
  2. Click on System Preferences…
  3. Click on Displays
  4. Click on the Night Shift tab to change settings.

You can schedule Night Shift according to a custom schedule, determining what time to turn it on and off. You can also override the setting to turn it on until the next day. You can also adjust the intensity of the color shift.

Apple notes that this won’t affect the color balance of connected televisions or projectors – so Night Shift, at least for now, will only affect directly connected monitors.

It’s also worth noting that Night Shift imposes specific system requirements. Apple has outlined them in a tech note posted to its website.

No more Mac battery life estimator? Fix it with this handy app

Apple this week released macOS 10.12.2 and with it, has made a change that impacts laptop users. The battery status menu bar item no longer displays an estimate of time remaining, only the percentage of remaining charge. There’s no way to reactivate it that I’m aware of, but there is a third-party tool that fills the gap. It’s called iStat Menus, and it’s from Bjango.

Istat battery gauge

In reporting the omission, several Mac news sites have repeated the same basic idea: Apple pulled the estimation function from the battery status menu item because predicting the future is hard. Modern Mac laptops dynamically reallocate power to different subsystems as needed, so the estimate gauge was guessing, and doing a poor job. Sounds to me like Apple spin, provided “on background” – a PR euphemism which here means “you can use this information, but you can’t quote me.”

What will happen with that estimation in the future is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think it’ll be coming back. Apple’s been under increasing scrutiny about battery life estimates in macOS since the release of the new MacBook Pro. Users report wildly different actual battery life runtimes compared to estimations, which has led some of them to believe the new Macs are faulty. I don’t think that’s the only reason Apple made the change in 10.12.2, but I’m sure it contributed.

Istat battery details

Anyway, back to iStat Menus. I love this app. iStat Menus provides you with more information than just battery life. iStat Menus lets you keep an eye on CPU and network usage, memory usage, tracks just about every sensor built into your Mac (including disk and fan speed, internal temperature), time and world clocks with detailed information like sun azimuth, altitude, and light map, and more. It’s also extensively customizable, so you can detail as much or as little information as you want.

Istat cpu gauge

iStat Menus is available for download as a 14-day free trial and costs $18 to register ($25 for a “family pack” so you can install it on multiple Macs). The developer supports the app very well and regularly updates it with new features, fixes and tweaks. Well worth the money, in my opinion. I install it on each new Mac I purchase.

How to open a Mac app from an unidentified developer

The Mac’s default preferences stop you from opening applications from unidentified developers. Apple does this to keep the Mac safe from malware – software that can harm your computer and jeopardize security. Still, it’s possible to download software from an unidentified developer that’s totally legitimate. Here are instructions for what to do if you have such an app you’d like to use.

Let me just emphasize at the outset that these security restrictions are in place for a reason. Malware is a huge problem on all computers, including the Mac. Fortunately there’s a way to open individual apps without changing the Mac’s default security settings. This way you can keep your Mac safe and run the apps you need.

In this example, I’m opening an application called Tweeten. It’s a desktop Twitter client app based on TweetDeck. For whatever reason, its developers don’t have a signed digital certificate from Apple. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I’m not terribly worried about it, since I know Tweeten is a legitimate app. But the first time I try to open it when I download it, I see this error message:

“‘Tweeten’ can’t be opened because because it is fromm an unidentified developer.

“Your security preferences allow installation of only apps from the App Store and identified developers.”

Cant be opened

Your only option is to click on OK button, which won’t open the app. So how do you do it?

The trick is to hold down the Control key on the keyboard. Click the app icon. Then choose Open from the shortcut menu.

Open context menu

The Mac will ask if you’re sure you want to open the app. Click on the Open button to continue.

Open exception

The Mac will save the information about that app as an exception to your security settings. That way, when you double-click on it next time, it’ll open just like any other app.

You can also modify your Mac’s security settings to open apps from any developer by opening the Security & Privacy system preference. I strongly caution you not to do this, however. Apple’s set up the system the way it works for a reason – to protect you. The method I’ve described above lets you set up exceptions to the rule, but keeps security intact otherwise.

Hey Apple, stop dragging your feet on the iCal spam problem

Over the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend, my social media feed lit up with complaints from other Apple users about iCloud-related calendar spam. Here’s the thing: This isn’t a new problem. In fact, it’s been happening for months. So why hasn’t Apple said anything, and more importantly, why hasn’t it fixed it?

Some background:

Apple’s recent operating systems all support “data detectors” which can scan and identify calendar invitations in your email and Messages. They’re actually quite clever. If your friend asks you to lunch a week from next Tuesday or your boss sends an email asking you to a planning meeting on Wednesday at 2PM, data detectors are smart enough to understand and can attempt to populate your calendar with the appropriate info. Under ideal circumstances, this is a frictionless system that just makes it easier for you to get work done instead of having to fire up apps to make sure you get everything written down.

Here’s the problem: this same mechanism enables spammers to hit you up with ads for fake sunglasses, boots and other gear. They send these ads to your iCloud email address as calendar invitations. Your Apple device doesn’t discriminate between these invitations and legitimate ones from friends and coworkers.

Calendar spam

What’s worse, there isn’t a built-in mechanism to delete these invitations without responding to them. You can ignore them, but they’ll hang out on your calendar indefinitely. If you accept or decline the invitation, the spammer receives an email response. That lets them know your email address is live, which makes it likely you’ll get spammed again in the future.

The correct action, according to reports from various Apple–related blog sites, is to create a new calendar, drag the invitation to the new calendar then delete that calendar. That deletes the instance of the invitation without responding back to the spammer.

Delete spam

To help prevent the problem from happening again, you can also sign into, open your Calendar, then change the advanced setting “Receive event invitations as” from “in-app notifications” to “email to.” Invites will appear as email, which you can delete like you do with other incoming spam.

Icloud cal change

This multi-step process is awkward, nonintuitive, and difficult for people who know what they’re doing. The vast majority of iCloud account users don’t have the faintest idea what to do. It is, quite frankly, an astonishingly stupid, inelegant workaround for what appears to be a glaring security hole in Apple’s data detection scheme.

If this were a new behavior that just popped up over the weekend, I would be willing to grant Apple a pass on this. But it isn’t. I’ve seen the problem pop up occasionally on a relative’s iCloud account since the summer. Reports of this have been going on for months and Apple has done absolutely nothing to fix the problem. They are certainly aware of it, and have been for a very long time.

To date, Apple still has not acknowledged the problem officially to any website nor have they posted anything to their own knowledge base. There’s plenty of chatter on Apple’s discussion boards, but those are user–led discussions. We should hold Apple’s feet to the fire to make sure a more permanent and effective solution is put in place as soon as possible because this is unacceptable.

Add a Touch Bar to your old Mac with this free app

The Touch Bar is the tentpole feature of Apple’s newest MacBook Pro models. But it’s a hardware feature, which means it’s something those of us who aren’t going to buy a new computer will have to live without. Until now.

Red Sweater software, maker of MarsEdit and other fine apps for the Mac, has released Touché, an app that simulates the Touch Bar on the screen of any Mac capable of running macOS 10.12 “Sierra.”


The Touch Bar is a touch-sensitive display built into the keyboard on the new MacBook Pro. It replaces the “Function Key” row found on other MacBook models. Because it’s a display, it can be infinitely reconfigured with different buttons and interfaces.

Apple has published tools to help developers support the Touch Bar in their apps.

As you can see in the screenshot, the Touch Bar gives you access to features and functions you’d otherwise have to find using key combinations or clicking on menus. But it’s a lot more than that. Because the Touch Bar is a display, developers can make the interface whatever they want.

Developers working on Touch Bar-enabled apps have access to a Touch Bar simulator. As a development tool, that simulator isn’t something that people who aren’t developing Mac apps have easy access to. So Daniel Jalkut at Red Sweater took the next logical step, releasing Touché (which he’s done on the Red Sweater website). It’s a free app.

Apps that already support the Touch Bar API treat Touché just like a real Touch Bar. So you’ll see the same things in Touché that you’d see on the Touch Bar of a new MacBook Pro. It’s a pretty cool hack. You can make the Touché window go away any time you want if you find that the floating Touch Bar palette is a distraction or blocks your ability to see other stuff on your screen.

Anxious to get started with Touché? One caveat: Touché requires a specific build of macOS 10.12.1 “Sierra” (16B2657, if you’re keeping track). If you’re running an earlier 10.12.1 build, you’ll need to manually download and install this newer build, which is available directly from Apple’s website. There’s a link on the Touché Help page on Red Sweater’s site.

If you’ve never heard of Red Sweater and you’re nervous about downloading software from a site you don’t know, I’ll vouch for them. In fact, this very post was composed using another one of their fine products, MarsEdit, which I am very happy to endorse.

The new MacBook Pro isn’t for you. Shut up already.

There are a lot of perfectly cogent, reasonable criticisms of Apple’s MacBook Pro announcement last week. This is not one of them.


Few are more well-thought out than Chuq Von Rospach’s “How Apple Could Have Avoided Much of the Controversy.” I won’t recap it here, but I encourage you to check it out if you’d haven’t already.

I haven’t had a chance to play with the new systems yet. They weren’t available for demo at the Apple Store when I dropped by yesterday to get my phone fixed and I don’t have one on order, as my “daily drivers” consist of recent-model MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro models, so I likely won’t be getting a new Mac for some time.

Instead, I’d like to direct my comments to the self-appointed arbiters of the Apple zeitgeist. You know the ones: With each successive release of software and hardware from Apple, the ones who have increasingly become more shrill and strident about their displeasure with the company and their intention to leave the platform: Shut up.

Buy something else, if you’re going to. But you know as well as I do that you probably won’t. Because you’ve invested years developing and mastering a workflow. And you’re not about to go and recreate that on another platform simply because this particular hardware doesn’t meet your needs, you special freakin’ snowflake.

And hey, if you are, if this is your line in the sand, good on you. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

The rest of us have real work to do.

Muscle Memory and Force Touch

Muscle memory is a funny thing. It can both get in the way of and help to create a good user experience.

I’m using a new MacBook Pro that has a Force Touch trackpad. It’s my first experience with such a device and I adapted to it without too much of a problem.

IMG 1410

I spend a lot of my time on the computer writing, so my favorite Force Touch gesture is to press on a word I want to check the definition of. I do it dozens of times a day in some cases.

I also use an older Apple Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad — the original, not the larger, considerably more expensive Force Touch-equipped model. They rest on a makeshift standing desk in my office. That desk is not something I use all the time, but I use it frequently enough that I find myself switching back and forth between the built-in keyboard and trackpad and my desk keyboard and trackpad.

A few moments of reorientation and I’m typing away happily, not looking down at all – keeping my eyes on the screen as I type these works. Then I’ll type something I’m not sure about, and I’ll select it and then press.

And watch as nothing happens.

About the same time I get frustrated that what I’m expecting to happen isn’t happening, I remember why. It’s because there’s no Force Touch on the Magic Trackpad.

It reminds me of what happened when I got my iPhone 5S. The 5S was the first iPhone equipped with a TouchID sensor. Within hours of using it, I went to unlock my third-generation iPad by resting my thumb on the Home button, then wondered why nothing was happening. Muscle memory had already set in.

Muscle memory is aided by frictionless interface design, and that’s really what Apple’s hoping to achieve with Force Touch on the trackpad and 3D Touch on the iPhone.

The case for a water resistant MacBook

Apple on Friday released the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2. All three of the devices sport new water resistance and water proofing features that should cut down the number of trips many of us have to take to Apple Stores to get our gear fixed and replaced. Water damage to sensitive electronic devices is an endemic problem, as anyone who’s worked at an Apple Store or service provider can tell you. I think Apple has a real market opportunity to offer a MacBook that can put up with the occasional spill.


I would love to see Apple make the same treatment to the MacBook line, because water damage to Macs is a major issue as well. In my almost three years working at a computer retailer, I saw computers that had been damaged by water almost every time I worked. Plumbing problems, spilled drinks, or full immersion in bodies of water were all real things that happened. I even remember one that was saturated in vomit from a night of heavy drinking.

I’ve been able to avoid the problem myself, thought it has happened to family members, and it cost hundreds of dollars to repair. If you’re lucky, all you’ll have to do is pay for a new top case for your MacBook, or maybe a new power board. Any way you slice it, it’s never cheap to fix water damage. What’s more, Apple’s AppleCare coverage, which I swear by when buying Mac laptops, especially, does not cover accidental damage. You’re on your own when that happens.

We’re not talking about taking the computer into the bathtub (although, in fairness, I had a retail store customer ask me if that was safe once). We’re talking about spill damage caused by the errant tipped coffee mug or the occasional misadventure with a cool beverage.

Right now water resistant laptops are very much a niche market. Panasonic makes the ToughBook and there are a few others whose makers say they’re water-resistant. They are for the most part ugly and inelegant machines, and all of them are running Windows.

So far it looks like the public is responding really well to the water-resistance of the new iPhone 7. Let’s hope it gives Apple an incentive to produce a Mac laptop that might sport the same sort of resilience to the environment.