How to Clean Up Your Mac

How to Clean Up Your Mac It is always a nice feeling when you have a clean, fast running computer. Over time it get’s filled up with ‘stuff’ that clog it up and slow it down. Let’s go over a few simple things you can do to keep that Mac of yours running strong.

Some of these steps can be performed manually by you through things that are already built into your Mac; other steps will require an app of some kind be used. A couple of the apps that I use personally for cleaning my Mac are CleanMyMac and Gemini. These are not the only apps in this realm that can be utilized, but I’ve had good experience with the two of these.

Clean Up Hard Drive

Clean Up Hard Drive

Cleaning your hard drive is one of the best and easiest ways to help your Mac. I recommend removing apps that you don’t use and delete old files that you no longer need. You can open your Applications folder by pressing Command+Shift+A. You can easily drag and drop apps that you don’t use to the trash from here. Be careful not to remove anything important though!

CleanMyMac is a great app for cleaning things up. It can scan through your system and remove things like cache files, logs, widgets, language packs, hidden trashes, and the odd large file. It can also help you uninstall and clean up apps that you no longer use. You can even sort apps by how large they are to see how much space they are taking up. It is very handy and does a great job of cleaning things up. I highly recommend it. It can be used in conjunction with the Gemini app I mentioned above. Gemini finds duplicate files on your system and can remove them if you want it to.

Manage Startup Items

Manage Startup Items

Adjusting the items that are allowed to open when you turn your Mac on can make a huge difference with performance. The less your computer has to do when it turns on, the quicker it will come up. To adjust Login Items, open the System Preferences from the Apple Menu, and then click on Users & Groups. Find your user in the list and click it. Then, click Login Items in the top right. You will be presented with a list of all of the apps that are set to open when you log into your computer. You can go through the list and remove the ones that you don’t need to have open.

Update Computer

Update Computer

There are two kinds of updates you an do to your Mac; OS updates, and hardware updates. We’ll start by talking about OS updates.

OS Updates

Making sure your Mac is up-to-date with the latest version of OS X is important. It contains security updates that are important for you to have to stay safe on the internet, as well as performance improvements, and other bug fixes. You can check whether or not you are up to date by going to the Apple menu and clicking on About This Mac. When the dialogue comes up, you will be shown what version of OS X you are using. You can click the Software Update button to have your Mac check to see if a newer version of OS X is available.

Hardware Updates

There are two hardware updates that you can make to your Mac that can make it feel like an entirely new machine. You can upgrade the RAM and upgrade the hard drive to a solid-state hard drive.

Your computer uses RAM (Random Access Memory) as a ‘quick access’ area. When you open an app, it’s data is read from the hard drive and copied over to your computer’s RAM. RAM is much faster than your hard drive so your computer likes to put things into RAM so it can reach them more quickly. When you don’t have enough RAM your computer can’t keep as much available for quick access, so some things get dumped out as new things come up. When you have more RAM your computer can store more things for quick access, improving the speed of your Mac.

Upgrading your standard hard drive to a solid-state hard drive can make a huge performance increase to your Mac. A solid-state hard drive is much faster than a standard hard drive. It acts more like RAM than the mechanical type hard drives that computers have used for so long. These can get a little bit expensive if you want to get a larger sized drive, but the price can be well worth it.

Conclusion

Keeping your Mac clean means keeping it happy. It isn’t hard to do, especially with an app like CleanMyMac, because it will remind you monthly that it is time to perform a cleanup. It is something everyone should take a few minute each month to do.

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How to Free Up Space After a Windows 10 Upgrade

How to Free Up Space After a Windows 10 Upgrade Windows 10 is quite a bit leaner than Windows 7 and Windows 8, but if you upgraded to Windows 10, the files from your previous version of Windows are likely still sitting on your hard drive taking up space. If you plan on keeping Windows 10, then you can delete those files, and I will show you how.

Windows has come with the Disk Cleanup Utility since Windows 98. It has been updated over time and lets you clean up quite a bit of junk from your system. It will clean up things like Temporary Internet files (applies only to Internet Explorer and Edge), Temporary Windows files, Downloaded program files, Recycle Bin, Remove unused applications or option Windows components, Setup log files, Offline web pages (applies to Internet Explorer and Edge), and more. In Windows 10, it will also let you remove

Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup

Start by click on your Start Button in the bottom-left corner. After your Start Menu comes up start typing Disk Cleanup. You should see the Disk Cleanup desktop app at the top under Best match. Click the app to open it. It may take a minute to open because it will scan your computer to look for items to clean up. Pick the Primary (C:) drive and click OK if it asks.

Disk Cleanup

When the app comes up, you will see a list of boxes that you can check. Each one of these items is something that you can clean up on your system. We need to go a step further and click the Clean up system files button at the bottom. It will rescan your system after you click the button. In this window locate the Previous Windows installation(s) box and check it if it isn’t checked already. After you’ve checked the box, click OK at the bottom. It will take some time to clean this up because it is usually quite large.

Conclusion

Using Disk Cleanup is very simple. I recommend doing a disk cleanup every three months or so. You won’t need to clean the system files like we did this time around, though. Just check the boxes on the initial Disk Cleanup window that comes up and click OK.

Things don’t accumulate too quickly, but if you are using a computer with a smaller solid state hard drive, every gigabyte counts.

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How to Clean up the Bloatware in Windows 10

How to Clean up the Bloat in Windows 10 Windows 10 comes packed with a lot of bloatware right out of the box. I’ve got some useful tips that will get your system cleaned up and make it less cluttered.

It took me a long time to decide to make the jump from Windows 7 to Windows 10. I’m glad I skipped Windows 8, though. Windows 10 is great. It is fast, pretty, and takes less storage space on your computer as compared to Windows 7 and Windows 8. I recommend upgrading to anyone. It uses your computer’s resources in a better way so that you will see a boost in performance, even on a little bit older computer.

The Bloat

The problem with Windows 10 is that it comes with a bunch of preinstalled apps that are either annoying or are something that most people will never use. Why keep them around if you aren’t going to use them? Let’s get rid of them along with the other annoying things that it comes with.

Remove Preinstalled Apps

Windows 10 App Manager

I found a handy little app for uninstalling the apps that come built into Windows 10 called Windows 10 App Manager. The app is free. What is great about this app is that it is very easy to use and if you accidentally remove an app that you use it will let you reinstall it.

To download, go to the Windows 10 App Manager page and click the blue Download File button near the bottom.

I uninstalled everything except for: Calculator, Solitaire, and Store. Some of you might want to keep the Photos app for managing your photo library.

Remove Feedback

Periodically, Windows 10 will pop up a message asking for your feedback. It is annoying and needs to go away. Winaero has a script that you can download to remove this Feedback Popup and keep it from coming back called Uninstall Feedback.

You can download the script by going to the Download page and clicking on the Download Uninstall Windows Feedback for Windows 10 located just above the orange Donate button.

Extract the files to your computer, ignore the install_wim_tweaks.exe file. Right click on the Uninstall Feedback.cmd file and click Run as administrator. It will pop up a black box and run through a couple of things until it says it is done and that you need to reboot your computer. Reboot and the annoying Feedback Popup is gone. You can delete the files you extracted at this point.

Remove OneDrive

I don’t use OneDrive personally, but it comes all packaged up and built-in to Windows 10. If I can’t uninstall it, at least I can hide it. Microsoft has a support article on how to Turn off or uninstall OneDrive. The article is straightforward and easy to follow.

Remove Watermark

Some versions of Windows 10 will display a watermark in the bottom right corner near the clock. The Education version of Windows 10 is one of them. Winaero again comes to the rescue with an app called Universal Watermark Disabler. The app is free.

You can download the app by going to the Download page and clicking on the Download Universal Watermark Disabler located just above the orange Donate button.

Extract the Zip archive to your computer. Open the uwd.exe file. Give it permission to run and then click the Install button when it pops up. It will install and then it will log you out of your account to apply the changes, so make sure you save your stuff and close anything important before installing.

Wrapup

These are a few of the tricks I’ve found to get rid of some of the annoyances of Windows 10. It still isn’t perfect, but it sure is a quick breath of fresh air.

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4 Easy Ways to Turn Your House into a Smart Home

4 Easy Ways to Turn Your House into a Smart Home I’ve turned my house into a Smart Home, and it’s awesome. It isn’t very hard or expensive to do. You can make some very basic changes to your home to make it smart and the amount of convenience that comes from these changes, I think, is great.

There are more complicated things you can do to make your home smart, like building a home security and surveillance system, or integrating smart devices with a service like IFTTT or Stringify, but we are going to talk about the simple things that will give you the most bang for your buck in my opinion. I do have to say that integrating your smart devices with IFTTT or Stringify is when the real power of the Smart Home starts to come together. I will discuss why these services are awesome towards the end of the post.

1. Smart Thermostat

Getting a smart thermostat was the first Smart Home device that I purchased. I bought a Nest Learning Thermostat about 2 years ago and it was a great decision. They run between $200-$250 depending on what generation you get, but I would recommend getting the latest 3rd generation device. This is probably the most advanced smart thermostat on the market. It has also been out long enough to have a lot of the bugs and quirks worked out.

Why I Love the Nest

Nest Learning Thermostat Let me start by saying I love this thing. It was easy to install and came with all of the tools needed to get it running. The Nest can learn your schedule and your comfort level and automatically adjust its schedule. It will automatically set itself to Away if it detects that no one is home. It will run the furnace and cooler less and run the fan more to circulate air through your home so it can distribute the air more evenly. It can be set to heat or cool your home before you get home from work, so your home is the way you like it when you get there. It will let you know when you are green by keeping your temperature at an optimal and energy efficient level.

One of my favorite things is if I wake up in the middle of the night, and it is too hot or too cool, I can just grab my phone off my nightstand and open up the app to make a quick adjustment without getting out of bed or turning on lights, etc. I can also adjust things remotely; let’s say if the kids are being watched by a babysitter.

The Nest has a motion sensor on it, and that is how it detects when someone is home or away. Using a service like IFTTT, you can take advantage of this motion sensor. My Nest will notify me that someone is at home with its motion sensor by sending a notification through IFTTT to my phone.

There are other Smart Thermostats, but I don’t think any of them compare to the Nest in terms of ease of use and list of features. It is a very solid device.

2. Smart Lights & Switches

WeMo Light Switch There are a lot of devices that fit into this category, but I think the easiest ones to use are Belkin WeMo Light Switches. These were my next foray into making my home smart. They run about $50 each. These are fairly easy to install and setup. A note of caution here with the install, you will need to turn the breaker in your house off for the part of your house that you will be installing this switch in. You will replace your current wall switch with the smart WeMo Switch. The manual was very easy to follow and will walk you through all of the steps to getting it installed properly.

I have three WeMo Switches that manage my outside lights. I have one for the can lights that span the front of my house, another for the driveway lights, and another for the Christmas lights. In the WeMo App I have the lights set up to turn on automatically at sunset. This adjusts on it’s own depending on the time of year. I have the can lights set to turn off at 11:00 pm and the driveway lights turn off at sunrise since I like having light on our vehicles at night.

Again, there are other Smart Switches, but the WeMo switches just work and are very solid. I have had no problems with them at all.

3. Smart Garage Door

WeMo Maker Here is where I deviate slightly from the typical Smart Garage Door Opener. I built my own using a WeMo Maker. It was very easy to set up and cheaper to do than buying an outright garage door opener replacement at the time. These cost about $80, The WeMo Maker is a remote switch for anything. Anything that has a button that you press to perform an action, the Maker can replace it or work in tandem with it and become a remote control button for that device. The WeMo Maker also allows you to connect a sensor to it, in the garage door case I connected a magnetic sensor that would tell me whether the garage door was open or closed.

What is great about having a smart garage door is that I can open or close it from anywhere. If I need to let someone into our house I can tell them to text me when they get there and I can open the door with the WeMo app on my phone. I can get notifications every time the door is opened or closed during the day. I can also get notified if the door is left open after a certain time, so the door doesn’t get left open all night. This has saved my buns a couple of times.

There are other options out there now for making your garage door smart without having to replace the whole mechanism. These options didn’t exist when I put this together so I can’t vouch for them, but I can say that I love my setup. Plus it integrates with my other WeMo switches inside the WeMo App, so all of my things can be controlled from one place. I like to keep things simple.

4. Smart Sprinklers

Orbit B-Hyve

I have wanted to do Smart Sprinklers for a while now; I just haven’t found the right product. All of the Smart Sprinkler systems that I’ve seen were $200+, and I just couldn’t justify the price and then along comes the Orbit B-Hyve at $99. This is the product I have been looking for. Although my yard requires nine stations, so I will have to go with the twelve station model that is $119. It is a new product, but I have a high opinion of Orbit. I built my yard’s sprinkler system on my own using their products, and I like them.

It does not currently have an API, which means it doesn’t integrate with IFTTT, but I am sure it is coming. The reason this is important is because with IFTTT I could build a rule that would turn the sprinklers off if it was going to rain.

IFTTT and Stringify

IFTTT (If This Then That) and Stringify are apps that will let you combine different smart devices to perform certain actions at certain times or if certain criteria are met. As I mentioned before with my driveway lights, IFTTT looks at what time sunset is and turns my driveway lights on. You can achieve this same thing with the WeMo app itself, but I like that there is more customization with IFTTT.

One thing that I have set up in IFTTT is that if my Nest senses the temperature in my great room is too high, it will attempt to run the fan to cool things off. The reason I set this up is that in the winter my wife likes to turn on the gas fireplace, which makes the great room warm (the room where the Nest is located), but leaves the rest of the house cold. This helps distribute the heat from the gas fireplace into the rest of the house.

IFTTT isn’t just for smart things or making your home smart. It connects to all kinds of apps like Facebook, Instagram, Google Drive; there are thousands of apps and services connected to IFTTT that you can take advantage of. I highly recommend checking it out.

My Smart Home Wants

Security Camera System

I have some wants that I’d like to add to my Smart Home in the not too distant future. I have a security system that I built using Foscam FI9810W IP Cameras and iSpy. The system works great, but I would like to increase the video quality and make it easier for my wife to use. I am looking at upgrading using Ubiquiti’s UniFi IP Cameras. It has a nice video storage device and a nice App for easy management and remote access.

Smart Vents

Smart vents are something I want in my home as soon as possible. I have been keeping an eye on the Keen Home Smart Vent. These things are amazing. What they are is a smart replacement for each vent in your home. A temperature can be set for the room in the house where the vent is located. The vent will open and close itself to regulate the temperature of the room as well as talk to the thermostat to tell it to switch on or off when the temperature is met. This turns each room in your home into its own regulated temperature zone. This has been something that was very difficult and expensive to do in the past. The Keen Home Smart Vent looks like it still has some bugs to get out of its system, and it doesn’t look like it can talk to a Nest yet. As soon as it starts looking better, I think I’ll give it a try.

Conclusion

Making your house a Smart Home doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. It can be, but you don’t have to go crazy to get it started.

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5 Ways to Keep Your Personal Photos & Videos Safe

5 Ways to Keep Your Personal Photos & Videos Safe Keeping your personal photo and video library safe is important. No one wants to go through the horror of losing many years worth of digital photos and videos if you lose or break your phone or something happens to your computer. Why risk losing all of those precious memories and moments? I have some great solutions you can use to make sure your photo and video library is safe.

First Things First

You need to make a backup of your photos and videos, now. It is fine that you have one copy of your photo and video library on your computer, but you should have one somewhere else as well. Don’t put this off because you will regret it when it’s too late. You should try to have them in two places at all times. There are different ways you can do this, and we will discuss it here.

The amount of space you will need to create a backup of your library will range greatly. This all depends on the number of photos and video that you take. Some of these solutions might not work for you because of the size of your library, but for most people these options should be fine.

1. External Hard Drive Backup

One relatively cheap way to back up your photo library is to get an external hard drive. A 1TB (terabyte) hard drive costs less than $100, and you will not be sad you spent so little on such a simple solution. I recommend keeping the hard drive in a safe place after you’ve backed up your photos. I don’t suggest leaving it plugged into your computer all the time.

Here are a couple of portable external USB hard drives that I recommend:

All of the above portable hard drives come with great ratings. I have a couple of the Toshiba drives that I use personally, and I have never had a single problem with them.

2. Online Backup

Backblaze Online backup might sound scary because it puts your stuff online, but with Backblaze your stuff is secure. What Backblaze does is, once installed on your computer, it will continuously backup your computer to the Backblaze cloud, this includes your photo and video library. It is quite cheap at only $5/month per computer, and even less if pay for a year upfront. Storage is unlimited. Yes, you heard that right, unlimited backup storage for only $5/month.

When you start your initial backup you are asked to create a Private Encryption Key that will encrypt your backup, so not even Backblaze can see your files. Keep this encryption key somewhere very safe. If you ever lose it, you will not be able to get into your Backblaze backup, ever. Period.

If you ever have an instance where you need to restore your files, there are multiple methods for getting your files back from Backblaze. You can log into their web interface to download individual files or folders for free. You can have them send you a USB Flash Drive (up to 128GB) filled with your files for $99. You can also have them send you a USB Hard Drive (up to 4TB) full of your files for $189.

Backblaze is a service that I use personally, and I highly recommend it. It gives me peace of mind knowing that my photo and video library is not only backed up at my home but that it is also backed up in a Backblaze data center that is nowhere near my home, just in case something happened there.

Some great online backup solutions are:

  • Backblaze offers unlimited backup for $50/year.
  • Carbonite offers unlimited backup for $59.99/year.
  • Mozy offers 50GB of backup for $5.99/month, or 125GB for $9.99/month.
  • Crashplan offers unlimited backup for $5.99/month or $59.99/year.

3. Online Storage

Dropbox Online storage is similar to online backup in that your data is in the cloud, but when I talk about online storage, I mean services like Dropbox, Box.com, Google Drive, iCloud, and OneDrive. Online storage is a great option for backing up your photo and video library, but the pricing can be a bit higher compared to something like Backblaze.

Dropbox is a great service that makes it easy to not only sync files between different devices, but also as a way to store your photo and video library and keep it safe. Dropbox costs $9/month or $99/year for 1TB of space. You can sign up for Dropbox for free and get 2GB of space to try it out. I use Dropbox personally, and I pay for the 1TB plan.

What I like about Online Storage is that it allows me to access my photos and videos from all of my devices. I can go to Dropbox’s web interface to get a file. I can install Dropbox’s desktop app to get it on my desktop or laptop. I can also install the app on my phone or tablet to get to my files as well. Dropbox provides me with a lot of additional benefits over just using it as a place to backup my photos and videos.

Some great online storage solutions are:

  • Dropbox offers 5GB of space for free, and then $9.99/month for 1TB or $99/year for 1TB.
  • Box offers 5GB of space for free, and then $10/month for 100GB.
  • Google Drive gives you 15GB for free if you have a Google account. 100GB is $1.99/month and 1TB is $9.99/month.
  • Apple iCloud gives you 5GB for free and is set up for anyone that has an Apple ID. 50GB is $0.99/month, 200GB is $2.99/month, and 1TB is $9.99/month.
  • Microsoft OneDrive gives you 5GB free to start. 50GB is $1.99/month, 1TB is $6.99/month and Office 365 is included.

All of the pricing is current as of the publishing date of this post.

4. Burn CD, DVD or Blu-ray

You can burn your photos and videos to disk. This is cheap and easy to do, but I do have some concerns about the future of using this method. There are a couple of things to consider when selecting this method of backup:

  • Some computer manufacturers have begun to move away from including DVD and Blu-ray drives in their computers.
  • The lifespan of a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray has been predicted to be anywhere from 20-100 years.
  • They can get scratched and become unreadable.

If you plan on creating a backup using one of these, and then tucking it away somewhere safe like a safe deposit box or something, then you will probably be fine. I would suggest keeping it somewhere that it won’t be moved around a lot.

5. Physical Copies

Last, but not least, you can print your photos. There is something special about a good, old fashion, physical photo. The current cost is about $0.20/photo.

Additional Option For Video

If you have the time on your hands and are a bit more savvy, you can upload your videos to a service like YouTube or Vimeo. You can set your video to be private, so it isn’t out there for the world, or not.

My Personal Solution

The solution I use is a combination of a few of the things above. Let me walk you through it.

First, I have a Drobo 4-Bay Gen 3 that has about 6TB of storage in it. It is a sort of backup in itself because it has four large hard drives in it that combine for more storage. I can have multiple hard drives in my Drobo fail and still be safe, but I do not solely rely on this.

The Drobo is attached to a home server that lives in my basement. All of my photos and videos are on this Drobo storage drive. This server, in turn, has Backblaze running on it constantly keeping it backed up to the cloud. My Dropbox is also connected to this server, and I use it to send photos to this server.

My Photo & Video Backup Process

I import photos from my iPhone onto my laptop. My laptop dumps the photos into my Dropbox and uploads them to the Dropbox cloud. Dropbox on my home server syncs with my laptop and downloads the photos and then places them on my Drobo storage. Backblaze sees the new photos and backs them up to the Backblaze cloud.

In my process, I also organize my photos into folders based on year, month, and day using an app called Hazel. This makes it easy for my family to access and view the photos.

The AppleTVs in my home are set to display the photos that end up in my photo library, so all of the TVs in our home end up being digital frames if they sit for long enough. Everyone that comes to visit seems to enjoy going through all of our memories and laughing at how goofy we all are.

Something to Consider

The backup options I’ve discussed here don’t have to apply to your photos and videos only. You can do the same thing with your personal documents. In a future post, I’ll discuss how you can go paperless and stop being a paper hoarder!

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