30 Years of the Macintosh


Happy birthday, Mac.

Use Folder Actions to Archive Files to a Network Drive–For Free!

There’s a difference between backing up and archiving.

Say you’ve got a MacBook and an external storage drive, and you’ve set Time Machine to back the MacBook up to the drive. (Give yourself a pat on the back because that is a very important thing!)  What Time Machine is now doing is copying every file that’s on your MacBook onto the drive, so that if your MacBook explodes one day you can have access to the exact contents it had before it went boom.

When you update files on your MacBook, Time Machine backs up the new versions.  It doesn’t delete the older versions, so it’s possible to “go back in time” to restore files you’ve mistakenly deleted, or saved over, or ruined in some way. That’s the feature that gives Time Machine its name, and it works great–up to a point.

You see, once that external drive becomes full, Time Machine will start deleting old files.  Don’t panic, it will warn you first.  And it will start deleting old versions of files that change all the time.  Files that you have on your MacBook that sit around for years and never change will be safe–so long as you don’t delete them from your MacBook.

That’s how backup solutions work.

But say you have files that you don’t want to carry around on your MacBook all the time; you want to store them on your external storage drive.  Old photos, perhaps, or tax records.  Things that you need to keep, but you don’t necessarily want to keep with you, especially with today’s fast-but-not-especially-large solid state drives.

That’s where an archiving solution comes in.  What that will do is take the files from your MacBook and store them on your network drive, like a squirrel stuffing acorns into a tree.  Unlike a backup solution, an archiving solution doesn’t care if you delete the original files from your MacBook; it expects you to.

(However, because an archived file is only stored in one place–the archive–you shouldn’t consider it to be backed up.  If your archive drive fails and the file isn’t on your MacBook anymore, it’s gone.  I use a Drobo for that purpose, which is reasonably secure against hard drive failure.)

Now, how are you going to get your files archived?  You could simply drag them onto the external drive yourself, using the Finder–but let’s be realistic.  Are you going to make the effort to do that yourself, manually, every single time?  You probably aren’t.  Also, the entire point of computers is to do repetitive manual tasks for people.

There’s software you can buy that will handle archiving for you. Econ Technologies’ ChronoSync will maintain an archive for you–and backups too, for that matter.  There are other good titles as well.  I do not know of any that are free.

However, it is possible to instruct your MacBook to take every file you place into Folder A on your Mac and automatically copy it into Folder B on your external storage drive, all the time, for absolutely no charge.  It’s built right into Mountain Lion!

It’s done with what’s called Folder Actions.  Folder Actions, as the name suggests, are automatic actions that you can attach to a folder.  In this case, you’re going to create an action that says “Hey Mac, when a new file shows up in this folder, copy it to that folder over there.”

To start, launch the application called Automator.  It’s in your Applications folder, where all your programs should be (please stop leaving them on the Desktop) and it has an icon that looks like EVE from Wall•E holding a pipe.

AutomatorWhen Automator launches, in typical Apple fashion it will open a screen asking you to choose a type for your new document.  Automator is quite a powerful tool that can do a lot of repetitive computery things that you don’t feel like doing yourself.  There’s an irony to it, though: to a large extent, people who have a strong level of computer skill are used to doing repetitive actions and don’t use Automator, and people with a low level of skill don’t realize Automator is there and just put up with doing tiresome actions over and over.  It’s a real shame!

But you can explore Automator another time.  For right now, double-click Folder Action on the bottom left, because that’s what we want to create.

folderactionsNow Automator shows you a rather dizzying selection of options. It’s an unfortunate truism that software that is powerful and versatile is invariably also complicated.  Ignore everything except the “Folder Action receives files and folders added to:” dropdown. What it’s asking is “which of your folders do you want to attach this Action to?”  Choose “Other…” from the dropdown list, and then navigate to the folder on your Mac where you want to put the files you want to be archived.  It can be anywhere.  You can choose your entire Documents folder if you like, or you can create a new folder for that purpose (helpfully, there’s a button to do that right here). This is your Folder A.

copyfinderitemsOnce you’ve done that, scroll through the second column.  These are possible Actions you can do; there sure are a lot of them! You can see from here how powerful Automator is.  The one you’re looking for is called “Copy Finder Items.”  Select it, and drag it over onto the large grey area that says “Drag actions or files here to build your workflow.”  Easy!

destinationThere’s another dropdown menu. This one is asking “where do you want me to copy these files to?”  When you click it, it will suggest some commonly used locations on your Mac, but you don’t want any of those places; you want to copy them to your external drive.  Make sure that drive is plugged in, if it’s the sort of drive that needs to be plugged in, and choose Other.  Then navigate to the spot on your external drive where you want to archive the files (again, you can create a new folder right here if you need to) and click Choose.  This is your Folder B.

You may be wondering if you can use the same drive that you’re already using for Time Machine.  You certainly can!  Time Machine doesn’t mind if you use its drive for other things too.  The only thing is, you’ll need to leave enough space for Time Machine to keep at least one copy of each file on your Mac. A good rule of thumb is to leave space on the drive that is equal to the size of your hard drive: if your Mac has a 250 GB hard drive, leave 250 GB on the Time Machine drive.  Time Machine won’t use all 250 GB of space–unless your Mac’s drive becomes totally completely filled up.  Then it will!  And at that point you’ll have enough problems without having to worry about losing bits of your backup.

replaceexistingfilesThere!  Now you have a Folder Action that tells your Mac “listen, when you find new files here in Folder A, copy them over to Folder B on my drive.”  Notice the checkbox to the right of the dropdown.  That checkbox is asking you “what if there’s a file with that name already in Folder B? Do you want me to get rid of it and replace it with the new one?”

The answer to that question is up to you.  You might want to keep older versions of the files so that you can check back and see what changes you’ve made over time.  If that’s the case, leave the checkbox unchecked.  On the other hand, if you only want to keep the newest version of the file in the archive, check the box.

Beneath the Dropbox there’s a button called Options. Inside the options there’s a checkbox that can have the Mac pop up a message for you to click on every time it does its thing. You can check it if you like, but honestly that sort of thing kind of takes us away from the point of this exercise; to have the Mac swiftly and efficiently take care of boring tasks for you.  If you have to click an OK button every time it does it, it becomes boring again, doesn’t it?

SaveNow we’re done with this! Click the Close button on the very top left of the window. The Mac will ask you if you’d like to save the new Folder Action.  Yes, of course you would; give it a nice descriptive name and click Save.

Then Quit Automator.  You’ve closed the window, but it’s still running.


There!  You’re done!

folderactionssetupWant to see it?  Go to whatever folder on your Mac that you set as Folder A, the folder that the Mac is watching for files.  Right-click on it and choose Folder Actions Setup… there at the bottom.

A new window will open, but first it will show you a list of preset Actions that you might want to attach to this folder.  But of course you don’t want to do that–you already did!  So click Cancel.

folderactionssetup2Now you’ll see a more helpful window.  On the left it will display all the folders on your Mac that have Folder Actions attached to them.  In your case it’s probably just the one we just did.  If you select it, on the right it will display the Action you just created.

If you wish, you can uncheck the box to stop the Action from running.  Helpful, if you need to suspend it for a while!  You wouldn’t want to delete it and have to recreate it all over.

(Pro tip: you can use this to apply the same action to other folders on your Mac–you can have lots of folders on your Mac that all squirrel files to the same place on your external drive.)

You may have noticed that the Folder Action hasn’t copied over all the files that were already in that folder.  It doesn’t do that, no; it only watches for new files.  If you want existing files to go over, you can either copy them over to the drive yourself, or you could drag them somewhere else on the Mac and then back into your Folder A.  Both options are a little bit lame but at least you’ll only have to do it once.

Once everything’s over in the target folder, Folder B on your external drive, you can freely delete files from Folder A.  They will remain unharmed over on Folder B.  Any new files you put in Folder A will be copied over to Folder B.

The real drawback, though, happens when you open one of the files that’s already your Folder A, change it, and then save. You would think that the Mac would copy the new version over.  Unfortunately, no: it’s only watching for new files.  If you change a file that’s already there, that’s not a new file, and the Mac will ignore it.  You can work around that by taking your file out of Folder A and putting it somewhere else (your Desktop, for example), updating it while it’s there, and then putting it back into Folder A when you’re done.  Replacing the file will trigger the Folder Action; the Mac doesn’t know or care if the file was there earlier.

Lock Out Before You Walk Out | Secure Your Mac With A Keystroke

I hope you already know all about setting a password on your Mac.  After all, it asked you to create one on the first day you set it up!

You also probably know about setting your Mac to require a password when it’s woken up from sleep or when its screen saver is active.  It’s here under Security & Privacy in System Preferences.


This locks your Mac when you walk away from it, as soon as the screen saver comes up — but how long will that take?  Five minutes? An hour?  If someone sat at your computer while you were gone, all they would have to do to be able to keep using it… would be to keep using it.  That’s no good!

You can certainly trigger your screen saver and manually lock your Mac when you walk away by using Hot Corners, but Hot Corners is, well, a little touchy.


Hot Corners triggers an action when you move your mouse to a corner of the screen — but it can tend to trigger when you’re actually just trying to look at your Notifications, or open your Trash.  It can be annoying for many users, myself included!

Fortunately, there’s a hidden key command for locking your computer: hold down Control, then Shift, then the Eject key.  Note you’re pushing Control, not Command; using Control for anything is very unusual in the Mac OS and you’re probably not used to it.

You’ll notice that this key combination doesn’t bring up your screen saver; the screen just becomes black.  However, just as it would if your screen saver had activated, your Mac will require a password to be woken back up after the time you set in the Security & Privacy has gone by: if you set that dropdown to only need a password after the screensaver has been running for an hour, the black screen will also wait for an hour before needing a password.  For that reason, I recommend that you set that dropdown to “immediately,” or “after 5 seconds.”

Once that’s all set, you can now lock your computer the instant you leave you desk, and you don’t ever need to see your screen saver again!

iOS 6.1 Update

It’s been a while since the last update to our iOS devices, and today’s update brings us… not much of anything, actually.

Today’s update provides LTE support for more carriers; not applicable to us Canadians. And, in theory, according to Apple, “iTunes Match subscribers can now download individual songs from iCloud.”  I’ve been using iTunes Match for over a year now, and I can assure you I was always able to download and listen to individual songs on my iPhone from the Match service.  It would have been astonishing if we could not, so I am not sure what Apple’s talking about here.

More information about the update is available at Apple Support here.  If you’re already on iOS 6 on your device, you can download this update directly to your iPhone or iPad (just make sure you’re on wifi first)–otherwise, you’ll have to download it with iTunes.

I did, and nothing’s broken so far: seems pretty safe!

The Difference Between Your Account Passwords

I’ve encountered some confusion lately about “Apple accounts”–users aren’t sure what their Mac wants when it asks for a password, and sometimes they have multiple passwords written down and just start entering them until one works.

Which is a way to go, I suppose! But let’s remove as much confusion from your Mac experience as we can.

Your “admin password” refers your user account on your Mac. That password is used to log in to your Mac, if you have automatic login turned off. It’s also used when you’re installing software or changing System Preferences.

Its purpose is to maintain security on your computer in case it’s lost or stolen or your nephews are messing with it. If people were connecting to your Mac through a network, the admin password is in charge of that as well. The admin password only resides on your Mac–Apple (the company) doesn’t know it.

The other password is what’s called your Apple ID. Apple (the company) uses your Apple ID to identify you primarily when you’re buying things from them; software from the Apple App Store, music from iTunes, computers from store.apple.ca, etc. Software updates also come through the App Store so even though you’re not paying for them, Apple still uses the Apple ID to verify who you are and if you should have them.

(And then once they’re downloaded, your Mac might ask for your admin password to make sure it’s okay to install them.)

So how do you know the difference? When it’s asking for a password the window should specify either “admin password” or “Apple ID”. Usually it will fill the username in for you; if it’s your name (or some short form of it) the Mac wants your admin password; if it’s your email address, Apple wants your Apple ID.

Or, to really summarize, your admin password is what your Mac wants to know and your Apple ID is what Apple wants to know.


If it makes things easier, you could set your admin password and your Apple ID to be the same thing. As a rule of thumb, using the same password in multiple places is a bad idea, for the simple reason that if someone broke into one of your things they would then be able to break into more of your things–the same reason that the key to your house doesn’t also start your car.

That being said, though, I believe that a comfortable user experience is the core of all things Mac, so go ahead and make those two the same.

In your System Preferences (available from the Apple logo menu at the top left of your screen) click Users and Groups–

And then click Change Password.

You’re going to need to know your old admin password in order to make a new one–first to unlock the padlock at the bottom left to make changes, and then a second time when the Mac brings up the fields to enter your new admin password into.


North Glenmore Dog Park

North Glenmore Dog Park

You know you’re living in the Okanagan when the grass is green in mid-November.  And when even the view of the dump is scenic and beautiful.

iOS 6.0.1: A Half Dozen Of The Other


iOS 6.0.1 was released this morning, mostly it’s bug fixes for the iPhone 5. So, if you had a 4 or 4S and were waiting to upgrade until all the bugs shook out, now’s the time! If you have a 5 you had no choice, of course, it came with iOS 6 on it. No reason not to update now.

The most noticeable change is the switch that prevents iTunes Match from using (and possibly using up) your cellular data as you play music from Apple’s iCloud server is now just one switch. That’s nice. Leave it On if you have a decently large data plan; turn it Off if you don’t and you only want to listen to music when you’re in Wi-Fi.



In my travels fixing Macintoshes around Peachland, I never expected to be playing chicken with cows!

Being from Calgary originally, I’m certainly no stranger to our hoofed friends, but it’s not often I found myself sharing a roadway with them.  Just part of the charm of the Interior!

A Good Article About Internet Security

It’s written from the perspective of a geeky kid to his older parents.  The screenshots are of browsers running on Windows, but all the information holds just as true for Mac users.


How To Set Up iChat On Your Mac

How To Set Up iChat On Your Mac

Need help in a hurry? You may not realize, but your Mac already comes with state-of-the-art remote-access support software! You can find it in your Applications folder, and it’s called iChat.

To set up iChat, you are going to need an account.  Luckily, Apple offers every Mac user a free @me.com e-mail address as part of iCloud. To create yours, follow these instructions. Or, if you have a @mac.com e-mail address from the old days of .Mac, or a @gmail.com, those will work too!

The first time you launch iChat (remember, it’s in your Applications folder) you’ll see this message, explaining all of the things iChat does. We’re primarily interested in screen sharing, but click Continue once you’re finished reading:

Here’s the first screen that’s actually useful.  Select me.com in the Account Type drop down menu, and then fill in your e-mail address (except for the @me.com part, they’ve filled that in for you) and the password you just created.

Or, if you want to use something besides @me.com, select that from the menu instead.

Here’s your iChat buddies list.  Naturally, you don’t have any friends yet.  But we can fix that.

Click the + sign at the lower left corner and choose Add Buddy… from the menu that appears.

Now, add my information into the fields, as shown.  Click Add when you’re finished.

There, that’s done it!  Now I’ll receive your request.  Once I authorize you, you’ll be able to ask me questions directly.  If necessary, you’ll be able to grant me permission to share your screen and quickly take a look at whatever problems you might be having.


And don’t worry, I won’t be able to take over your computer without your permission.