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Computer Fixes

The ethics of modern web ad-blocking

I’m also blocking most ads and analytics trackers, mainly for security and major site performance issues. You want me to turn those on again? Respect people’s privacy and security.

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Computer Fixes

Fixing OS X Yosemite wireless printer & scanner driver

Last night I attempted to go through my desk inbox and scan any new documents I had waiting. But Yosemite (OS X 10.10.x) was not recognizing my Epson Workforce 545 wireless all-in-one as a scanner. I could print to it, but not scan. Additionally, in the printer section of System Preferences, there was no Scan tab shown.

I initially looked at Epson’s drivers page for the WorkForce 545, but the page basically said download all drivers from Apple Software Update, which Yosemite helpfully does for you anyways. Although I did verify that Epson’s scan utility worked, which lead me to think it was something up with OS X itself. After some research, I found a video on YouTube that describes how to fix the problem.

Apparently if OS X is using the AirPrint driver for your printer, it doesn’t include the scanner driver. By switching to the real printer driver, not AirPrint, the problem is solved.

Here is a screenshot of when I go to add a printer and the “Use” drop-down shows the AirPrint driver as selected by default:

Before (AirPrint)

Here is a screenshot of me switching to the actual Epson Workforce 545 driver.

After (Epson driver)

And now my scanner software sees the scanner, where before it didn’t:

Scanner software

This should work with any all-in-one printer/scanner device, not just an Epson one.

Categories
Computer Fixes

Hazel is the ultimate automated file management tool

For years I have struggled on maintaining PDF copies of various important documents (bills, statements, paperwork, etc.). I would occasionally have a day of organizing, but I was wildly inconsistent with how I named my files and folders. It was incredibly frustrating when I needed to find a particular file and had to search multiple folders & naming schemes to track it down.

Yesterday I began trying out a utility I had heard about over the past few years: Hazel. Created by Noodlesoft, it is the ultimate automated file management tool. I am blown away by what I can do now in a totally automated and consistent manner. In 24 hours it has supercharged my file organizing and archiving.

For example, if I wanted to download and save PDF copies of my paycheck, in the past I would do this:

  1. Login to the payroll site.
  2. Click on the link for the latest paycheck to view its PDF.
  3. Download the PDF (which is placed automatically in my Downloads folder by Safari)
  4. Navigate to the Downloads folder
  5. Open the file
  6. Find the pay date on the file
  7. Rename the file in yyyy-mm-dd – Paycheck (Chris).pdf format
  8. Move file to whatever my Paychecks folder I happened to find first.

Now with Hazel, I just do the following:

  1. Go to my payroll site.
  2. Click on the link for the latest paycheck to view its PDF.
  3. Download the PDF (which is placed automatically in my Downloads folder by Safari)

Then, without intervention, Hazel does its magic by monitoring the downloads folder and matching files with all of the following criteria in seconds:

  • The file name (my payroll site is very consistent with its file name format)
  • Whether my name or my wife’s name are in the contents of the file.
  • Searches the contents of the PDF for the word “Regular” so I know this a normal paycheck vs. something else (like a bonus).
  • Automagically figures out the pay check date by searching for the third date in mm/dd/yyyy format listed in the file. Thanks MacSparky for the tip on how to do this!
  • Renames the file to yyyy-mm-dd – Paycheck (Chris).pdf, using that pay check date from the step above.
  • Sets various tags (Paycheck, the current year (again, based off of that pay check date), etc)
  • Moves to a dedicated paychecks folder

Suddenly I have a huge automation win! I cut out at least 5 manual steps from this process, saving as many as 5 minutes per paycheck and now have the following:

  • My file names are all in a consistent, predictable format.
  • My files are all tagged properly.
  • My files are all in the correct folder.
  • My files are all dated properly.
  • My files are now very easy to search for thanks to the file name and the tags.

Now multiply this across the many different documents you download in today’s world and you can see how tens of minutes a week or even a couple of hours per month can be saved using Hazel.  Toss in some of this magic for documents you scan and suddenly this is a gigantic time & frustration saver. Not to mention the enormous frustration that is now gone of finding the right folder and file name format. It doesn’t seem like much, but it can add up quickly. Quickly enough I’m buying a license today.

Categories
Computer Fixes

Bringing back life with a SSD

For the past year or so, I would go out of my way not to use my home Macbook Pro (mid-2010 13″). It was just too slow. Minutes to boot up, especially from hibernation, made it a bear to use. Apps were slow to load, switching user profiles was a joke, and using the critical apps such as iPhoto was a joke.

Part of the problem I think is I had gotten used to SSD speeds from my work laptop, which made the Macbook feel that much slower. When the hard drive on my Macbook Pro begun showing signs of dying, I took upon the opportunity to upgrade to a SSD (Samsung 840 EVO 500GB to be exact, combined with a fresh OS install (Mavericks).

I cannot believe the performance difference. It is night and day. Boots fast, apps open/close fast, even use data heavy apps like iTunes and iPhoto is no trouble. I even have hard drive encryption with FileVault 2 enabled and it doesn’t seem to have been affected much if at all.

I now think I can easily get another couple of years out of this laptop, which for a $300 upgrade is not bad at all. And now, I want to use my home computer again. I suspect there will be an uptick in genealogy research, using computer heavy projects, etc.

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Computer Fixes

When in doubt, backup!

I considered myself to be a very secure geek, who follows recommended practices for keeping my data safe and secure. That is until I read this harrowing account of Mat Honan’s entire digital life being erased and taken over in a matter of minutes.

The scary part about this event is that while there was steps that Mat could have done to protect his data (backups!), there is literally nothing he could do regarding Amazon and Apple’s account recovery policies being so weak that it took trivial detective work to take over his accounts.

In this case, the scariest part of this for Mat was the loss of data due to not having proper backups. He could get his Gmail, Twitter, etc. accounts back, but has to cross his fingers that data recovery can be done on his laptop for the priceless photos and other data that weren’t properly backed up.

Backups are the one thing that everyone regrets not having when disaster strikes. The reason everyone regrets not setting up backups is that historically, backups are a pain in the ass, especially if you use a laptop. Luckily the days of going to your backup drive and pulling out the backup tape have long since passed and there are options that are literally set and forget:

  • Local Backups – In my case, I have a Time Capsule that does this for me hourly and most importantly, without me having to initiate any action other than my laptop being on and in my house.
  • Remote Backups – I use the cloud for this. Backblaze is awesome, cheap, and a extremely easy to use. I’m even contemplating using my own Private Key so no one can get to my data unless you have this key.
  • Offsite Backup – This is one that I admit is still on my to-do list. I probably will get some big 3.5″ hard drives, do a massive backup, and store the drives offsite in a safe deposit box or at a relative’s house. Then maybe once a quarter refresh the backup.

These simple measures will ensure that as long as one of my three backup options are safe, my data is in turn safe and recoverable.

Categories
Computer Fixes

iTunes keeps triggering 'allow incoming connections' dialog from OS X firewall

Ran into an interesting bug with Mac OS X’s Firewall. Every time I launched iTunes, I would be prompted by the firewall whether I wanted to allow incoming connections. Every single time I launched iTunes.

Luckily, there is an easy fix according to this Apple support forum post:

Doing so has worked perfectly well for me. However, there may be a specific sequence of actions that will work. Mine was:

1) Wait for the dialogue to appear, then deny access. Quit the application in question.

2) Open System Preferences>Security>Firewall, and remove the application in question from the list entirely.

3) Wait for the dialogue to appear again, then grant access. This should be the last time you see the dialogue.

Problem so far has been resolved!

Categories
Computer Fixes personal Work

Updates

A few updates since I last wrote a couple of months ago:

  • Been extremely busy at work.
  • Site is now running on Dreamhost again (but of course still using DynDNS Custom for DNS) after about a year and a half on my own server. This site should be much faster now and have fewer quirks. I have learned that maintaining an web server is a lot tougher than it looks. Time to leave the server and backend stuff to the experts. I will stick with what I know now, which is running WordPress and configuring my own DNS.
  • Reloading my server so it can be a test instance of BIND for me.
Categories
Computer Fixes

Disabling zoom with scrollwheel on Mac OS X

Ever since I have switched to using spaces on my Mac, I have had a maddening intermittent problem that I couldn’t figure out a solution to. Occasionally when I switched spaces using control-arrow on the keyboard, my screen would zoom in and I couldn’t figure out why.

Turns out, I apparently sometimes move to fast on the keyboard while at the same time, not moving fast enough! That sounds confusing, but let me explain. I would switch a space with control-arrow, lift up on the arrow key, but manage to sometimes to keep the control key press long enough for me to use my  mouse’s scrollwheel.

For the longest time, I couldn’t connect all of these dots, but I finally found the preference to turn off the control-scroll zoom feature. Open up your Mac’s System Preferences and click on Mouse. You will see an option  for the zoom on scroll feature at the bottom of the window. Just uncheck it and you are all set!

Mouse preferences screen on Mac OS X