Tag Archives: Apple

How to start Mac OS X Yosemite in Safe Mode

Hold down SHIFT during normal boot, until the loading bar appears. It will take longer than usual to start the system. Some services are not available.

Safe Mode will clear several caches and verify the startup disks.

From the command line, or on remote systems, boot into Safe Mode using this:

When you want to boot into “normal” mode again, change the startup parameters to nothing:

Very handy article from the Apple Knowledge Base:

How to install Java SE 6 Runtime on Mac OS X Yosemite

When you’re trying to open any of the Adobe CS5 or CS6 applications in Yosemite, you’ve likely encountered a friendly message such as this:

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This happens because CS5 and CS6 applications were relying on Java 6, and the current version at the time of writing is Java 8. I’m not an expert on Java, but I can only assume that things have changed and backward compatibility wasn’t high on ORACLE’s priority list.

Lucky for us, we can have both Java 6 and Java 8 installed at the same time, the latter is an option offer by Apple.

When you click the More Info button you’ll be taken to an Apple Support site which allows you to download it from the following link:

Apple’s Support Site has a habit of returning empty white pages lately. If this happens to you, try to find this page in Google and click that super tiny green arrow next to the word “support”. This will bring up a dropdown menu from which you can select Cached. I remember in the good old days this option was more prominent, and it will take you to a link similar to this one:

If that also doesn’t work, try a snapshot from the wonderful Wayback Machine:

Download the installer and double-click the .dmg file, then follow the installation instructions.

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As soon as the installer has finished you’ll be able to open your favourite Adobe CS5 and CS6 apps again. No restart required.

How to change the screen resolution on Remote Macs

It’s easy to remote control your Mac, no matter if it’s hosted in a data centre far away, or if it sits in your bookshelf across the room. But when you do, you’ll notice that the screen resolution is often not what you’d expect on the monitor you control your Mac from.

This is a bit of a puzzle at first, because quite clearly the integrated graphics card can power various resolutions – including your 27″ Thunderbolt Display or your 1080p television set. Yet by default, OS X only volunteers very limited choices like the following:

Screen Rez

As a result, you’ll see a small inset picture surrounded by a whole lot of nothing on your local display.

So what can we do, if we don’t want to live with this?


Solution 1: Cheap and Nasty

One cheap and rather inconvenient way is to quickly connect the Mac in question to the display you’d like to view it on, wait until the resolution switches, and then quickly unplug that display again. The current screen resolution stays intact, so quickly remote into it and all will be fine.

Until you reboot the machine. Which sooner or later you’ll have to do.

You also need bring your Mac into physical proximity to your display, which is not only inconvenient but not always possible.

Sadly this approach doesn’t work on Laptops, as they will switch back to the integrated screen’s resolution the moment you unplug the display again. Thankfully there is a better way:


Solution 2: A Convenient Preference Pane

Install a small utility for $20 called SwitchResX by Stéphane Madrau. You can test it free for 10 days, and I think it’s worth the money (I’m not being paid to write this by the way).

SwitchResX will create a Preference Pane (under System Preferences – SwitchResX) which will let you set any resolution you like, no matter what display is or isn’t attached.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 11.28.15

Here’s how it works

Say I wanted to remote into my 13″ MacBook Pro. By default the screen sharing would come back with a resolution of 1280×800 pixels. But my Thunderbolt Display has a resolution of 2560×1440 – and I’d like to see my MacBook remotely as if it appears when the display is attached directly.

Once installed, head over to

  • System Preferences
  • double-click SwitchResX
  • select your Display (Color LCD in my case, it’s the last item in the left hand pane)
  • select Current Resolutions and see if you find anything that matches your remote display
  • or select Custom Resolutions and create your own

Save your values and you may be prompted for a reboot. When your Mac comes back, remote in again and see your new resolution in all its glory.

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SwitchResX can do a lot more: for example, you can change your display resolution depending on which app you’re running. This comes in handy for certain graphic programmes, some of which look great in full screen mode – but sometimes the writing and tools becomes so small that you wish you could just change your screen to a lower resolution and give your eyes a rest.

Or think of screencasts and presentations which must match a certain resolution. The possibilities are endless!


Small Caveat

I’ve noticed one small snag in regards to remote connections which is what I’m using this tool for. The new resolution you set remains active even if you break your remote connection. That’s expected behaviour, and of course great if you remote in again at a later time.

But if you physically attach a different display which cannot cope with your custom resolution, all you’ll see is a blank screen. A laptop’s internal display for example doesn’t quite respond to anything higher than its default resolution.

As a quick workaround you can simply remote back into the machine and change the resolution back to something your display can understand. But if you forget, or if you no longer have remote access to the machine, this could become rather awkward.

Should this situation bite you, restart your Mac in Safe Mode (hold SHIFT during boot) which will start up in a default low resolution. Next head over to System Preferences – SwitchResX – select your display and click “Restore Factory Settings”.

The procedure is explained on the SwitchResX homepage too (in the FAQ section).

How to enable the root user in Mac OS X (Mavericks and Yosemite)

root is the most powerful user in Linux and UNIX systems, from which OS X is derived. The root user can read, write and delete every file on the system and – when placed in the wrong hands – destroy the entire system in a flash. Even power users on a Mac have very little reason to use root – which is why it’s disabled by default.

To enable it, head over to System Preferences – Users and Groups and select Login Options at the bottom left. If any of the following options are greyed out, simply click that little lock icon (and type in your computer password):

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.07.04 PM

Now select Network Account Server – Join… and another scary window appears. Thankfully we won’t have to worry about what it says:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.13.10 PM

All we’re interested in is the standard menu bar at the top of the screen: select Edit – Enable Root User and hike it out of here. If ever you want to disable root, select Edit – Disable Root User (or change its password). Speaking of which, you’ll have to give the root user a password when prompted. Remember it.

Now click the little Apple Icon at the top left and log yourself out.

When your computer comes back you’ll be able to login as root, using the password you’ve specified. OS X will now start as if you’ve never setup your computer.

Remember to disable the root user again for your own safety when you no longer need it.

How to reduce the Progress Bar in Yosemite

A new “improvement” in Yosemite is the progress bar that comes up when you start your machine. What you Mac does under the hood hasn’t really changed from Mavericks, but the progress bar implies that a long running operating is happening the background.

It can look grey with a black background, or dark grey with a lighter grey background, depending on your hardware. It’s been familiar to us before only when firmware updates were applied, but now we get it even when the computer starts normally. It looks like this:

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If this seemingly takes a long time, there may be an issue with your hard disk permissions. Upon start those errors are acknowledged under the hood, but they are not rectified. Here’s how we can do that:

  • open Disk Utility (Applications – Utilities)
  • select your main hard disk from the sidebar (something like MacintoshHD)
  • select Verify Disk Permissions

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This can take a moment and will flag up any problems there may be.

Note that this is not related to your disk having a problem though: this is purely checking if the system folders have the correct read/write permissions. To check the integrity of your disk, choose Verify Disk instead (which in turn does not flag and file/folder permission issues).

The Yosemite installer is prone to screw up permissions from an older installation, so if you find any errors, click on Repair Disk Permissions.

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When everything is repaired, your Mac should start up a bit faster, and that pesky progress bar should show up for a shorter period of time. Note that it will always show up and never quite go away though.

Here’s a list of trouble I found with my system. I had a vanilla Mountain Lion system which I’ve upgraded to Yosemite 10.10.2:

My Mac still takes forever to boot. What gives?

I once selected an external hard disk to boot from (under System Preferences – Startup Disk). Sometime later I removed that disk and my Mac took 2 minutes to boot. It was looking for that missing disk and eventually gave up, booting into my internal hard disk.

It took me a while to figure that one out 😉

How to test the RAM in your Mac

Every Mac has an integrated hardware test called – not surprisingly – Apple Hardware Test. When you get a new device, or if you’ve recently upgraded your memory, it’s worth checking if everything is working as expected. Otherwise you may encounter weirdo bugs sometimes down the line.

To start the test, simply shutdown your Mac, then reboot it, holding down the D key.

First you’ll see a cute little retro icon, followed by a blue screen with three tabs, much like this one:


On the Hardware Tests Tab you may only find one button and a tick box (as in my case), but different models may feature different tests. Either press that button to start the test, or check that tick box for a more extended test. This takes a little longer but will write test values to each memory location several times – the single test only does it once.

Depending on the amount of RAM you have installed this can take between 30mins and 2 hours. At the end of the test you’ll either get the “all clear” or an error message – in which case there’s something wrong with your RAM.


How to launch Mac Apps on your External Display by default

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Even on the best computers there are some things you only do every once in a blue moon – at which point you’ve forgotten what you did last time to make it work. Setting up a second display with your MacBook is such a case. Here’s what worked for me when I installed my Thunderbolt Display last year. We’ve just added another one in our office – here’s to doing it again in the future.

When you plug that beautiful 27″ puppy into your MacBook Pro or Air it works without any trouble: the dock is at the bottom of both displays, and even the menu bar seems to follow you onto whichever monitor you click. Magic!

Apps however remember which monitor they were launched on last, and if you’ve never had a second display attached to your system then most of them will default to that little laptop screen instead of your new desktop centre piece. This is not an issue if you simply close the lid on your laptop because your graphics card only sees a single display.

If you do use both displays though, there is a way to tell your Mac which one to launch an app on by default. And here’s how to do that:

Continue reading How to launch Mac Apps on your External Display by default

Rehearse your Yosemite Upgrade before you go live

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Updating to the latest version of OS X is tempting – but there’s always a risk that some of your older apps may stop working. If only there was a way to “rehearse” the update process on a dummy system.

I’m happy to tell you that there is, and it’s neither as expensive as a brand new computer, nor as time consuming as recreating your entire system from a time machine backup. In this article I’ll show you how.

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • 1x external USB drive, bootable (Seagate Backup Plus, WD My Passport, any of those – USB 3 preferred)
  • 1x copy of Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper (don’t judge them by their name)
  • 1x fresh pot of coffee
  • patience and 1-2hrs of uninterrupted time


The Principle

Copying your entire hard drive and isolating every file takes a long time – especially if you don’t have USB 3 (like me). Transferring 500GB or more will take over 24 hours, perhaps longer. No can do.

Enter SuperDuper! It’s a utility with which you can do something even better. I got hold of a copy a few years ago when I replaced my internal MacBook Pro hard disk with an SSD. The free version does a complete clone, but it also has a feature called Sandbox which you can access when you buy the full version.

Sandbox does not copy all files over to an external drive. Instead, it copies user and system files and leaves the rest untouched. It still creates a bootable volume, so all mission critical data is isolated (including Mac apps like Safari, Mail, iMovie, etc). But all your other 3rd party apps, as well as your Documents and Desktop are shared and remain untouched.

When I say shared I mean that after you’ve finished creating the Sandbox on an external drive (or even an internal partition) you’ll be able to choose which system you boot into and access all your data either way.

This is done cleverly by creating symbolic links to your internal drive for everything that the external drive would need to access. It’s like shortcuts in Windows.


Creating the Sandbox Drive

Grab your external drive, plug it in and erase it using Disk Utility (Applications – Utilities – Disk Utility). Make sure your partition is Mac Extended Journaled flavour (not NTFS or anything else).

Next, download a copy of SuperDuper from Shirt Pocket. You need to buy the full version to get access to the Sandbox feature. However, if you’re strapped for cash and have a lot of time on your hands, you can still perform a full clone instead – that’s part of the free version. It just takes a little longer.

Start SuperDuper and you’re presented with a dialogue similar to this:

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 15.48.58

Under Copy select your current (internal) drive. In the other dropdown select your target (external) drive. You’ll see several options in the third drop down which reads “Sandbox – shared users and applications” in my screenshot. Select this option.

Other options include a full backup, as well as Sandbox – shared users. The latter copies all your 3rd party apps so will take more time, and it’s not necessary for our exercise here. Hit Copy Now and grab a coffee – this could take some time.

SuperDuper will go ahead and erase your volume and will tell you when it’s finished.


Booting into the Sandbox

With your external drive still attached, head over to System Preferences – Startup Disk. Select your external drive here. Hit Restart and your Mac will boot into the external Sandbox. This will take a little longer than usual, simply because the read speed from an external volume is much slower than an internal SATA drive – especially if you’re used to an SSD or Fusion Drive.


Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 15.53.40


Once restarted you may not notice any other differences. Dropbox didn’t want to work for me, but other than that my system looked exactly like I had left it. With one big and important difference of course: under Applications I can now see many of my app icons with a small arrow in the bottom left corner:


Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 11.13.52


That arrow indicates a symbolic link (shown here on Parallels Desktop, Poedit and Sculptris). If I were to launch one of those they would be started from their original location, i.e. my internal hard disk. Other apps like Safari and Photo Booth don’t have an arrow – those are started from my external drive because they’re classed as “system apps” and have been copied over.

If an upgrade like Yosemite comes along it will overwrite all those system apps and other system files – but only on the external drive. If this messes anything up then all I have to do is head over to System Preferences and boot into my internal drive again – still untouched, still running Mavericks and still working fine.

Now you can “test upgrade” to Mavericks on the external drive and see if all is working. Take your time and test everything thoroughly. I found that the older drivers for my Wacom Bamboo 1st Generation are no longer working – my Intros 4 however has a different driver and is still working fine (contrary to what I thought at first when I made the video).


Upgrading the Sandbox to Yosemite

There are probably better guides out there that tell you exactly how you upgrade, so I’ll just give you a few pointers:

  • open App Store
  • head over to Updates (or click that massive Yosemite mountain on the front page)
  • download the installer
  • wait

Once the 5+GB have downloaded (straight into Applications – Install OS X Yosemite.app) you may want to copy this file to a safe place. This will save you a second download when you decide to install Yosemite for real. This installer will be removed automatically when Yosemite has finished – so now’s your chance to grab it.

And one final tip: you may need to install Java for OS X in case some of your apps don’t start under Yosemite. If that happens OS X will show you a little dialogue box and direct you to the following link when you click More Options: http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1572


Done with Yosemite?

If you want to go back to your previous system, simply head over to System Preferences – Startup Disk again and select your internal drive, then restart. No matter if your sandbox is still plugged in or not, you’ll be back on Mavericks with no system changes.


Updating the internal drive (when you’re ready)

If you’re happy that your system will survive the update, go ahead and update via the installer, or download the installer again from the App Store. This will take some time (again).

If you’re impatient, you’ll be pleased to hear that SuperDuper also offers to copy changes from the Sandbox back to the internal drive. It will tell you all about this in the documentation, under the section “Maintaining a Sandbox”. It’s worth the read.

What are the credentials to your AirPort Time Capsule

AIrPort Time Capsule

There is something I keep forgetting time and time again: the credentials to my AirPort Time Capsule. It serves as my router, Time Machine Backup disk and even as shared storage for internal use, thanks to an attached USB drive.

All our Macs connect to both drives automatically and without fail – but every once in a while we want to access something on the shared drive, either via Windows or another app like GoodReader. And every time I forget what those credentials are – particularly the user name.

Because there just isn’t a dialogue to set it up.

The password is fairly obvious because it’s something you’ve added when you set the device up. Chances are you can remember it. You can even reset it by pressing the reset button at the back of the device for one second – but not longer, or it’ll reset to factory settings). AirPort Utility will help guide you through this.

But the user name? What is it? Something generic maybe? The name of the attached drive? Steve Job’s daughter?

Turns out there isn’t one. Put anything you like. Seriously. I know it’s weird, and it’s just not how a computer brain works. The user name can’t just be arbitrary – but on Time Capsule it is. So use any user name you like.

It doesn’t matter what as long as you put something into that field. Your uncle’s boyfriend’s pet name, or the day of the week. Anything. Just for heaven’s sake don’t leave it blank or the universe as we know it will seize to exist in a moment’s notice.

But I guess nobody tells you this in the shiny brochure.

And in case I forget how to connect those drives in Windows, here’s a quick reminder for completion:


Connecting to the Time Capsule drives (Windows)

Technically you can connect to the Time Capsule drives via two protocols: Samba and AFP. The latter however is only used on Apple computers. So with Windows and Linux, Samba it is.

In Windows we can map a network drive by heading over to the

  • Windows Explorer
  • find My Computer (Windows 7)
  • or This PC (Windows 8.1)
  • select Map Network drive at the top of the window

This will bring up a dialogue that shows a drive letter drop down and asks for a server path:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 20.27.51

The browse option won’t find your Time Capsule – instead find the IP address on your network (usually it’s, but AirPort Utility will verify this for you in the “LAN IP” field). Add it into the path/folder field like this:



Two backslashes, followed by your IP address, followed by your drive name. If you don’t specify a drive name the operation will fail. If your drive name has spaces (like “Shared Data”) then just write them out – no need to escape them. CapItaLisAtiON is important here though.

Hit finish and your drive should be accessible.

To find your drive names, consult your friend the AirPort Utility. GoodReader on iOS will find those names automatically – but Windows does not.

And that’s that: another puzzle solved. There is no user name when accessing a Time Capsule drive.

How to display wired clients on an Apple AirPort Time Capsule

Version 6.x of Apple’s AirPort Utility displays all your wireless client’s IP addresses, but it doesn’t show you wired devices. The old version 5.6 did, but without a hack it no longer runs on Mountain Lion.

There is however a simple way to display all clients using the command line tool arp. Open up a Terminal Window (Applications – Utilities – Terminal) and type the following:

It’s not pretty, but it gives you a good idea of what’s attached, and which IP addresses to try. You can also compare your wireless devices to this list and see which one is the “odd one out”.

To display your wireless device IPs, open AirPort Utility, then option-double-click onto your AirPort model/icon and a window opens up. Each device has “friendly name” and a small triangle that will display its IP and MAC address:

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