Speeding up your Mac

My parents have a 21” iMac from 2015.  It was getting sluggish with an ever-increasing number of beachballs.  Ideally they didn’t want to buy another one and given their requirements they didn’t need to.  But the machine was becoming frustrating to use.  As their tech person (it’s their return on putting me through university) I looked at various options.  The obvious one was to install an SSD into their machine.  That version of their Mac uses a laptop drive which is limited to a mere 5,400 RPM.  Add a few years of wear and tear on that mechanism and no wonder it’s starting to be slow.

They asked at their local repair store (nearest Apple store is 80km distant) the cost of installing an SSD.  It came out at $250 but that would mean replacing the existing disk which would reduce their overall storage space.  So I decided on an alternative.  Since we live in different states I needed to test out the process first before I accessed their machine.  I have a 27” Mac – and I thought it was also getting a bit slow.  I write iOS apps and the fusion drive didn’t seem to help that much when compiling in Xcode.  Opening storyboards ground everything to a halt.  Opening Excel could take 15+ bounces in the dock.  It was simply unacceptable.

So I did the following simple process.

The Mac disk disk is 1TB so I headed to Officeworks and picked up a Samsung T5 1TB portable SSD.  That came to $296.  It is powered via a USB port so I plugged it in to the iMac, opened Disk Utility and reformatted it as an APFS volume.  I then opened Carbon Copy Cloner.  

This simply clones one disk to another.  I’ve used it for years to automatically clone my iMac disk to an external drive every night.  When my internal disk died a few years ago it meant I lost nothing more than a couple of hours work - and could continue using the machine.  If it saves you once it has paid for itself many times over.  Even if you never need to recover a disk the cost is worth the peace of mind.

I closed all applications then cloned the internal disk to the SSD drive.  That took a few hours.  When it was done we start getting to the fun bit.  I rebooted the iMac and as soon as the boot chime sounded held down the option key on the keyboard.  That causes the Mac to bring up a simple display asking which disk it should boot from.  A tap of the cursor key and it starts from the SSD.  A lot quicker than from the internal disk.

Once logged in go to the System Preferences, select the Startup Disk item, click on the padlock if necessary, then select the SSD and set it as the boot disk.  If you then restart it should always boot immediately from that disk.

Once that was done I created a new scheduled task in Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the SSD to an external drive every night.  As someone who has worked in IT for over three decades I’m aware that there are only two types of data storage: those which have failed and those which are going to fail.  Hence make automated backups at all times.

Once that had run through I reformatted the internal disk and now use it for my iTunes library.  My Xcode compiles now run far quicker as does almost everything else.  For cost reasons I don’t see Apple making SSD the only disk storage so this is the most cost-effective way I’ve found to improve the performance and lifespan of an older machine.

It means you lose one USB port as the SSD always has to be plugged in.  However, it has the added benefit that if I need to work elsewhere I can simply take the disk, plug it into another iMac, and boot off my SSD.  And in the rare event the SSD does fail I can simply boot off the external disk I clone it to every night and continue working until I get another SSD and clone that external disk back to that.

I did the same process for my parent’s machine (and they could get away with only needing a 500GB SSD).  They think it now runs quicker than when they first bought it.  They’ll get at least another 5 years use from it – all for a bit of simple work and about 12% of what it would have cost for a new machine.

Send documents to Kindle

Out of all the devices available for reading I find the Kindle Paperwhite the best.  It’s a good size to carry and the non-reflective screen means it can be read in broad sunlight.  The iPad has many benefits but the way it reflects bright light means it’s not really good for long sessions of reading.

The Kindle is excellent if you are getting content from Amazon but sometimes you want to use it so you can read things from other sources.  Sometimes it’s a really long article from the web, an email or other document you wish to keep on the Kindle, or a PDF that contains what you want.  In all cases you should convert them to a PDF as save them to you local storage on your computer.

Then we need to get a piece of software called ‘Send to Kindle’.  Unsurprisingly this is obtained from Amazon.  Download the relevant item for your needs at www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle.  For this article it will use the desktop Mac version.  I find it easiest to drag the application into the Dock so that it’s easily accessible.

001

 

Open the application to see the main screen.

002

 

Select the ‘Options’ button at the top-right and set the following values:

003

Then select the ‘Registration’ item from the menu on the left and add your Amazon account details.  That completes the setup.

 

To add a document select a PDF in the Finder and drag it on to the ‘Send to Kindle’ item.  That will bring up this dialog box (obviously with different names unless you’ve hacked my Amazon account).
004

 

Note that it will convert it to Kindle format as it sends.  The less formatting in the PDF the better the conversion will be.  In most cases the resulting output is quite good.  Hit the ‘Send’ button then check your Kindle and the document will have been delivered to it.

Download your data from Facebook

Sometimes you may want a copy of all of the data you have added into Facebook.  This will include all the posts you have made as well as the photos and videos you uploaded.  Below is the easy way of getting a copy of that data.

Step 1:

Open your Facebook account in a desktop web browser.  Click on the down arrow in the top-right and select the ‘Settings’ menu item.

fb1

Step 2:

This will take you to the general account settings.  At the bottom of the panel listing your basic details will be a links that states ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’.  Click on it.

 

fb2

Step 3:

This will display the download panel.  Click  on the ‘Start My Archive’ button.

fb3

Step 4:

You’ll be asked to re-enter your Facebook password.  Do so then click on the ‘Submit’ button.

fb4

Step 5:

A notification will appear.  How long it will take to generate your data will depend on how prolific a poster you have been.  If it takes longer than five minutes then you probably need to get out more.  Click on the ‘Start My Archive’ button.

fb5

Step 6:

You’ll get another notification about the email address to which the link from which you can download your data has been sent.

fb6

 

Step 7:

A short while later (ninety seconds in my case) an email will turn up.  Click on the link at the bottom of it and download a ZIP file containing all of your data.

fb7

Home-brewed Guinness

My dad has been making home-brewed beer for a number of years.  He’s quite good at now*.  In a lot of cases people tend to prefer his lagers over the commercially available brews.  That no doubt has a lot to do with the fact that he is not only the maker but also the barman and drinking company.  And he’s good at all three roles.

He makes a stout which is about the closest to a Guinness you can make in a kitchen.  My Irish friend Paul spent a week sampling it and afterwards asked how to make his own.  This is how.

I won’t go into the whole process of home brewing as there’s lots of information around on how to do that.  This is only for the additional steps to make this particular brew.

There are five constituent parts to making the brew:

  • The powder base
  • The beer concentrate
  • Liquid malt
  • Liquorice extract
  • Yeast

 

Step 1:

Mangrove Jack'sTake the powder base – Mangrove Jack’s is a good choice.  The Irish Stout No. 74 as shown in the picture.  Put the 1 kilogram of powder in 3 litres of water and bring to the boil.  Leave boiling for 1 minute then stand for 20 mins.

[fruitful_sep]Step 2:

Sterilise the barrel that will be used for brewing with boiling water.  This will remove any contaminants that may be present.

[fruitful_sep]Step 3:

IMG_0815IMG_0816

Pour the water from the barrel into two smaller bowls.  Place the beer concentrate and liquid malt into them.  The heat from the water will help soften them up.

[fruitful_sep]Step 4:

IMG_0820Take 10ml of liquorice extract and put it into the barrel.  This adds a slightly heavier flavour to the final brew.

 

[fruitful_sep]Step 5:

IMG_0817Pour a kettle’s worth of boiling water into the barrel and then add the liquid malt.  If it looks like dirty dishwater then you’re on the right track.

 

[fruitful_sep]Step 6:

Open the can of beer concentrate and add it to the barrel.  Add in a litre or so of cold water and stir.

IMG_0822

If you’re in a hot climate then add a block of ice into the barrel.  What’s added in the next step will heat it up again but the ice will ensure the yeast (added later) doesn’t get killed from excessive heat.  Since yeast is a live organism it can’t take too much heat otherwise it will die and sour the taste.

[fruitful_sep]Step 7:

Strain the by-now-cooled powder base (from step 1) into the barrel and top it up to a total of 15 litres with cold water.  Most beers recommend you go to 20 litres but here we limit it to 15 litres to help approach the thicker Guinness-like consistency.

IMG_0818 IMG_0823 IMG_0824

[fruitful_sep]Step 8:

After throwing away the residue from the boiled powder base (it makes a good garden fertiliser) add the packet of yeast to the barrel.

IMG_0825 IMG_0826

[fruitful_sep]Step 9:

IMG_0827Put the lid on to the barrel and insert the airlock.  Add water into the airlock.  This will permit the barrel to remain sealed while allowing the gas produced from fermentation to escape.

 

[fruitful_sep]Step 10:

IMG_0828The most difficult phase.  Leave it for 4-5 days to bubble away and try to ignore its siren call.  Buy a density-checking widget (that’s the technical term) from the local home-brew store and see what values it gives.  If it produces the same density result two days in a row then has finished fermenting and you can get on with bottling it.

[fruitful_sep]Step 11:

Best served with enjoyable company.

IMG_0057

 

[fruitful_sep]* apparently in the early days – 40+ years ago – quite a few of his ‘interesting’ attempts were surreptitiously tipped by guests into a nearby pot plant when he wasn’t looking.