Posts Tagged ‘MacOSX/Apple’

State of the Mac early 2019

I landed in London sometime in January 2019, and made an appointment at the Regent Street Apple Store the same morning for that afternoon at 1pm. This is apparently a very rare thing, because Apple Store appointments are usually full up weeks in advance.

The reason was simple: my 2016 15” retina MacBook Pro was starting to wobble at the base and the battery indicator did say it was time for a service. This battery for what it is worth has only done under 200 cycles, so it did seem odd. The wobbling suggested that the battery possibly had expanded, and this was also affecting my use of of some keys — notably the left shift key, and on the right side the ? Key (it would many times skip giving me ? But instead give me /).

I arrived for my Apple Store appointment a little early and was told that I could only check in at 12:50pm. Fair enough, I would just wait it out at the store. The Genius Bar was packed full. I was finally told to take a seat upon checking in and a genius would be with me shortly.

I met a friendly genius, who told me that it is likely the battery expanded and they would have to change the whole top cover as this was all integrated, meaning I would also get a new keyboard. Then he said that I would need to typically leave it there for up to 7 days, but since I was travelling all around, they would try to do it within 24 hours. 

As luck would have it, they did not have the parts available in store, and then checked stock to see that Covent Garden had 2 units. Upon calling, they would take 2 weeks (yes, a whole 14 days) to fix it. This was unacceptable. The genius wrote up a report about how they were willing to do it at Regent Street and how this was odd that Covent Garden would not in a timely fashion; he also encouraged me to get this fixed ASAP as it was not a good idea to continue using said laptop. This is great news to hear when travelling, clearly.

So it is clear: Apple laptops are still not made for Enterprise use. Fast forward a couple of weeks later and I order a Mac Mini to my home in Malaysia. I figure it is a computer I have wanted to get for sometime and I would use a desktop for the one week or so that I would be in town.

I make a Time Machine backup of my MacBook Pro, and restore it to my 12” MacBook (2016) that I have not sold from a previous engagement. The restore takes many hours, and when it is finally done, the one thing that I consider quite important — Mail — is not fully migrated. All the local folders are not converting, and maybe this is a Mojave bug (I was coming from High Sierra). So I am thankful to start exporting Mail in the MBOX format. In addition, Chrome seemed to be missing all the plugins that I had installed, so this was further manual work.

This leads me to believe that when I do setup the Mac Mini and also when the MacBook Pro comes back from a service, I will set it up fresh (or hopefully, the MacBook Pro just needs an update, and the data remains intact; this is apparently true according to the genius — nowadays Apple does not even ask for your password any longer). After all, I do have iCloud sync turned on (so Keychain is synced), Dropbox seems to be doing more work than expected, and passwords are managed in 1Password. I’ll have to sync my Mail manually, which seems like some bandwidth will be used, but that seems fine. But maybe I won’t be needing all the applications that I have. And what about my home directory? (The Linux advantage is just moving your home directory; I am uncertain if this is true with macOS as I have always relied on Time Machine).

Today I visited the service centre. I’m told that it would be there possibly for the 7 day period, so I may be able to get it back next Saturday. If this were my only Mac, I would be out of commission for a whole work week. If I had purchased a Dell or a Lenovo, I would have all this fixed by the next business day. Alas, I am still “locked into” macOS.

Initial Mojave thoughts? Kind of silly that when I fire up Terminal I can’t even do a ls in ~/Library/Mail unless I give Terminal all disk access. What a mess, all this lockdown is, if you ask me. 

I’ll hope to have a positive update later this week. The Mac Mini I ordered only comes with 8GB of RAM, since the Apple uplift for 2 16GB sticks (32GB of RAM) would have added RM2,640. I asked the Apple Service Centre how much it would cost, and they too said about RM2,000 since they have to order it from Apple (at first they said it could not even be upgraded!). I’ll go the after-market route, where each stick is only RM490, so getting it all for RM980 seems like a better choice. I’m going to guess that the Mac Mini 2018 model isn’t selling all too well in Malaysia, judging by many saying they haven’t upgraded it yet…

Upgrade notes on macOS Sierra

I’m notorious for not updating OS X (macOS) too quickly, preferring to wait months on end for Apple to iron out bugs. I just hope that in 2017 they don’t make a major release and something sensible, i.e. that fixes usability and makes the OS much more stable.

However when you buy a new Mac, you’re more or less forced into the new OS. I did pickup a MacBook Pro 15″ with the new TouchBar, and at some stage I’ll talk about my usage (its been about 3 months of daily usage).

One thing that has annoyed me about the new macOS Sierra is that I don’t get to use GPGTools – it will not work on macOS Sierra. There is now however a beta you could try to ensure you’re signing and encrypting email just as well.

Another thing that I hit almost immediately? Some of my SSH hosts just stopped working. I’ve seen various sites talk about how ssh-agent does not automatically load pass phrases to keychain during startup to Upgrading to macOS Sierra will break your SSH keys and lock you out of your own servers.

My ~/.ssh/config now has:

Host *

UseKeychain yes

AddKeysToAgent yes

to fix things.

Everything else more or less works. I did Time Machine restore. I’m not too happy that they removed the Time Remaining from the Battery icon, and I’m not getting the battery life that I expect, but maybe when the new Mac Mini’s come out, I’ll do another Time Machine restore to that, and a clean install to the MacBook Pro.

Cleaning up the Mac, backup edition

A while back, I realised that com.apple.bird was getting too large and it was easy to purge it. I had to do this again.

The app I use to see where my space is going is OmniDiskSweeper. Its free, and I highly recommend it.

I use Arq to handle backups (in addition to Backblaze, and CrashPlan), and today I noticed that ~/Library/Arq/ had a huge (32.7GB) Cache.noindex. Apparently it is safe to delete, so that’s what I have done.

I also notice a large /Library/Backblaze.bzpkg – 8.1GB – and apparently you can’t delete it. The penalty you pay for keeping offsite backups?

Anyway, I suddenly have a lot more free space. Its annoying that I’ll have to keep track of all this from time to time, as one has to occasionally perform some housekeeping of one’s Mac.

com.apple.bird getting large?

I was wondering why my disk space was reducing pretty quickly on my Mac, and it turns out my ~/Library/Caches/com.apple.bird/ directory was 92GB in size! Inspecting some of the larger files, I notice that it has a WhatsApp header, which suggests that these are my WhatsApp iCloud backups.

There obviously seems to be some kind of bug as I have files, one per day, from sometime in April. They all start around 800MB and grow to 2GB in size. Each.

It seems like there are other files there too, and I wasn’t sure if deleting it would just make sense. The solution? System Preferences -> iCloud then toggle iCloud Drive off. There is a warning about how it will delete all iCloud documents from your Mac. Its all good considering this is supposed to be saved in the cloud right? Restart it, and voila, you see the directory go down to 0 bytes.

Something up with the bird daemon? I don’t know if brctl would help in any way, so I’m happy there’s an easier way to recover lost space.

OmniFocus Clip-o-Tron

I use OmniFocus and Apple Mail quite religiously. Sure there’s the wonders of GMail, but I’m an offline email kind of guy. What is not immediately obvious is how one can make a task from an email message in OmniFocus.

You want the OmniFocus Clip-o-Tron. I only recently just discovered it, and its one of those things you wonder why The Omni Group did not just install by default. It makes so much sense. It helps with GTD, after all, isn’t Mail the app where a lot of people spend their times and lives in?

Makes me wonder what else I’ve been missing out from using. This alongside MsgFiler are great tools to improve your Mail productivity.

Apple laptops not made for enterprise use

Like my recent upgrade to 10.8, I was forced to upgrade to 10.9 because my 13” MacBook Air succumbed to an odd logic board error involving a heat sensor going kaput. Turns out that kernel_task would go up to 300%, ensuring that the load averages on my machine would be in excess of 40-60s. The only fix seems to be swapping logic boards, and that usually takes 2-3 weeks. Too long to live without a laptop.

For reference, the Apple Hardware Test revealed: 4SNS/1/C0000008: THSP—124.

So I had to order a new laptop, and chose the 11” MacBook Air. I was always conflicted between the 11” & 13”, and left the world of MacBook Pro’s for a 13” due to the same resolution. I travel a lot, so I think smaller is better now, and got the 11” – max specs. So far, I have no complaints. When home its docked to a much larger monitor. On the road, it seems just fine. In a span of a couple of years, I’ve gone from 15” -> 13” -> 11”. I can’t complain.

Apple hardware is just not made for enterprise use. Next day on-site warranties from Dell are amazing (I’ve experienced it plenty of times), but they just don’t exist in the world of Apple even with AppleCare. 

I’ve been locked into some software (I know, silly me but there are things I depend on in my workflow) which makes it hard to switch away from OSX. If I ran Linux, I know I could have bought another machine within a day, but because Apple is all-integrated, I had to order another MacBook Air (who would want a MacBook Air with an i5 processor, small storage (128-256GB) and 4GB of RAM?). I mean if Apple plans to integrate everything, sell top-end machines – picking stuff up retail is important in my opinion.

It took me 5 working days to get my custom-built Mac delivered. That’s just too long to be using hardware you’re not familiar with (I actually did a lot of “work” with a Chromebook – also known as answering a lot of email, but nothing more productive than that).

The upgrade from 10.8 to 10.9 was surprisingly easy with Time Machine again. The only problem was Mail was misbehaving (caching folders), so I had to upgrade to 10.9.2, and just wait it out. I’m not happy with Mail, but its about the only desktop client that handles multiple IMAP accounts and works in an offline fashion.

I read recently an article by David Sobotta about how he moved away from the Mac, and to me it felt like this was my path too. It is not going to happen anytime soon, but I’ve set aside 2 years to get things done. I want to live more in the browser, I want to be able to make use of OfflineStorage, and I want to be rid of depending on just one piece of hardware. It is likely that even after a move to the cloud I will buy Apple hardware, it just won’t mean I’m “locked in” to the wonderful application ecosystem that it has.

If anyone says the 11” MacBook Air is not good enough, I can attest that its got a small screen but in many of my use cases I have it docked to a 24” or 27” monitor, so for coding, comparative studies, etc, I find that to be a great environment. But walking to a cafe or working in a cramped airplane seat? You can’t beat the 11” Air (11.6” if you look closely).


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