October 2019: Configuring macOS Catalina 10.15

The October 15, 2019 meeting of Strait Macintosh User Group focused on macOS Catalina 10.15. The meeting was held at the Sequim Library, 630 N. Sequim Ave., Sequim, WA. Notes by Secretary Kathleen Charters.

Business Meeting

Meeting called to order at 7 p.m. by President Sabrina Davis. Sabrina welcomed three new visitors. Treasurer Annalis Schutzmann reported the treasury stood at $386.75. In response to a question, Annalis said dues are $24 for 12 months, per family.

The November meeting will be November 19, and the December meeting will be December 17, both at the Sequim Public Library.

Before the meeting started, Vice President Lawrence Charters explained the confusion over the email meeting announcement. Sabrina asked him to repeat the story…

Wave Broadband and Google Mail in conflict

Wave Broadband, the leading Internet Service Provider (ISP) on the Olympic Peninsula, had a surplus of problems in October. Lawrence has a Fingbox which, among other things, performs network security functions, and also checks for Internet slowdowns and outages. In the first two weeks, his Fingbox recorded six complete outages of an hour or more, and dozens of slowdowns and mini-outages.

One of these outages occurred late Friday, October 12, just as he sent off a message to the 293 addresses in the Strait Mac mailing list. This one message did make it to Wave Broadband, where it was expanded into 293 messages — which were held for four hours. When they were eventually delivered to Google (the straitmac.vicepresident account is on Google Mail), Google generated a bunch of cryptic error messages and bounced them back because they were suspiciously delayed. Google Mail only allows 500 messages in a 24 hour period, and the 293 outgoing messages and 293 incoming messages effectively shut down the account for a day.

Unaware of the problem, Lawrence was surprised to get a message from Sabrina on Monday, October 14, asking about the meeting. Lawrence did some research, found out about the 500 messages a day limit, and decided to send out a second message — just as Wave had a six-hour outage. The 293 outgoing messages and 293 bounces again shut down the account.

On Tuesday, October 15 (the day of the meeting), Lawrence sent out a message from his personal (not SMUG) account, and that one, thankfully, did reach everyone.

This story prompted a number of questions about Internet connectivity on the Olympic Peninsula, none of which have particularly encouraging answers. Except: do not have your only mail account on Wave, or Olypen, or any other local ISP (Internet Service Provider).

And now for the presentation —

Securely installing macOS Catalina

Security professionals recommend the following steps to securely install an operating system:

  • Do a full backup of your system.
  • Erase your hard drive — completely.
  • Do a “clean install” of your operating system (i.e., do a full install by downloading macOS Catalina directly from Apple, without any remains of a previous operating system, data, preferences, or anything else).
  • Do a “clean install” of all your applications.
  • Restore your data from your backup.

Except in government and corporate environments, hardly anyone ever does this. It is a lot of work.

macOS Catalina for Real People

Most living, breathing people should do this. It is less work. It is also less secure, but not that much less.

Preparation

Before anything else, run Disk Utility (you can find it in Applications > Utilities) and use First Aid to check the health of your hard drive. If your hard drive displays any problems, correct them before upgrading.

Press the First Aid button to check the health of your drive. You should get in the habit of doing this regularly, but especially before a major upgrade of the operating system.
Press the First Aid button to check the health of your drive. You should get in the habit of doing this regularly, but especially before a major upgrade of the operating system.

What does First Aid check? For one computer called Portacray, it checked a whole bunch of things. An “exit code” of 0 (zero) means everything was normal:

Started file system verification on disk1s5 Portacray
Verifying file system
Volume could not be unmounted
Using live mode
Performing fsck_apfs -n -l -x /dev/rdisk1s5
Checking the container superblock
Checking the EFI jumpstart record
Checking the space manager
Checking the space manager free queue trees
Checking the object map
Checking volume
Checking the APFS volume superblock
The volume Portacray was formatted by diskmanagemen (1412.0.28.171.1) and last modified by apfs_kext (1412.11.7)
Checking the object map
Checking the snapshot metadata tree
Checking the snapshot metadata
Checking snapshot 1 of 2 (com.apple.TimeMachine.2019-10-19-074436.local)
Checking snapshot 2 of 2 (com.apple.TimeMachine.2019-10-27-120314.local)
Checking the extent ref tree
Checking the fsroot tree
Verifying allocated space
The volume /dev/rdisk1s5 appears to be OK
File system check exit code is 0
Restoring the original state found as mounted
Finished file system verification on disk1s5 Portacray

After confirming the disk drive is in good shape:

  • Do a full backup of your computer. The easiest, cheapest, most thorough way to do this is through Time Machine. It comes with your Mac, it is easy to use, and as long as you don’t futz with it, it does an excellent job.
  • Make sure your computer is compatible with Catalina: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT210222 (But do this after the backup, since you should do a backup even if you aren’t upgrading.)
  • Update or remove all applications that are not 64-bit.
    • It doesn’t hurt to leave them as-is, but since they won’t work with Catalina, you might as well clear them out.
    • Got to Apple menu > About This Mac > System Report
    • Scroll down to Software > Applications
    • [Wait for the list to build then] Go to the extreme right column, 64-Bit (Intel) and sort the list by clicking on the heading. Update or remove anything important listed as “No.”
    • A good way to remove applications, plus their preference files: Appcleaner from FreeMacSoft. It is free.
    • If using the System Report is too much trouble (and it is awkward), an alternative: go to St. Clair Software, https://www.stclairsoft.com/Go64/ and download Go64. It produces a nice, annotated report, and yes, it is free.
Go64 report showing non-64 bit applications.
Go64 report showing non-64 bit applications. Worth noting: the Apple applications will be taken care of automagically by Apple. Most of the flagged Adobe applications are old, obsolete utilities. Adobe has a bad habit of not cleaning up after itself when updates are installed, and some of these leftovers are a decade old or more.
  • Empty the Trash.
  • Clean out everything from your Downloads folder.
  • Empty the cache from your browsers. All of them (Safari, Firefox, Chrome, whatever).
  • Clean up everything from your Desktop.
  • Update any existing applications that need updates.

Upgrading to Catalina is relatively simple

  • Make sure your computer is plugged into power, your Internet connection is solid, and the weather isn’t going to futz with power or Internet access.
  • Download macOS Catalina directly from Apple. Under Mojave, you would do this through System Preferences > Software Update.
  • Once downloaded, it should take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to install Catalina, answer all the startup questions, and log in again.

After you are finished and log in, you may see a curiously named folder on your desktop, Relocated Items.

Following a MacOS Catalina installation, you may notice a folder on your desktop called Relocated Items. In this screenshot, "Portacray" is the name of the computer's hard drive, complete with a custom icon. That's irrelevant to the Relocated Items, but some have asked if it has any special meaning. Nope; it is just a nerd joke.
Following a MacOS Catalina installation, you may notice a folder on your desktop called Relocated Items. In this screenshot, “Portacray” is the name of the computer’s hard drive, complete with a custom icon. That’s irrelevant to the Relocated Items, but some have asked if it has any special meaning. Nope; it is just a nerd joke.

This folder is really an alias (a pointer) to information that used to be in your System folder (operating system directory), but is not allowed under Catalina. In years past, developers (Adobe, Microsoft, zillions of small developers you don’t remember, and even Apple) stuck things in the System folder, but under Catalina’s vastly expanded security, this stuff is no longer allowed there. Nothing in the folder is active or useful; Apple stuck it there in case you recognize something, and want to ask the program’s developer for an update, or advice on what to do with it. Or (most likely), you find it is no longer useful, and you just toss it.

The folder, if it is produced, has a PDF file that (sorta) explains why it exists:

During the last macOS upgrade or file migration, some of your files couldn’t be moved to their new locations. This folder contains these files.

Configuration files

These configuration files were modified or customized by you, by another user, or by an app. The modifications are incompatible with the recent macOS upgrade. The modified files are in the Configuration folder, organized in subfolders named for their original locations.

To restore any of the custom configurations, compare your modifications with the configuration changes made during the macOS upgrade and combine them when possible.

You can delete the alias from your desktop; it doesn’t need to be there, and deleting it doesn’t delete anything else.

Securing macOS Catalina

This isn’t very difficult, but the process requires quite a few screenshots and has been moved to a stand-alone page. Most of the material applies to previous versions of macOS, too, though the screenshots used are from Catalina. Click the link below:

Securely configuring MacOS Catalina

Questions and Answers

Q: You mentioned you use 1Password for storing passwords. Does that mean I can get rid of Keychain?

A: 1Password is a commercial password manager for Macs, iPhones, and iPads. It has a much more user-friendly interface than Keychain Manager, or the Keychain Access management utility (located in Applications > Utilities). No, you can’t get rid of Keychain; it is the part of the Mac and iPhone and iPad operating systems that handles passwords. 1Password is essentially an easier to use editor for Keychain than Keychain Access.

Q: When you tell your browser to automatically log into a website, is that safe?

A: If the website is not something that handles your identity or reputation, or financial records, sure. But if a site deals with your reputation (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) or finances (IRS, Social Security, credit unions, banks, credit card companies, etc.), no, you don’t want your browser to automatically log in. Anyone sitting down at your computer, or anyone who steals your computer, could automatically log into any of those websites.

Q: If upgrading to Catalina is a hassle, why should I?

A: It isn’t that much of a hassle. If you have a bunch of out-of-date applications that can’t be upgraded, it means they are already security threats to your machine. Current and future software vendors will not support anything except 64-bit applications, and not upgrading won’t really do you any good.

For a variety of technical reasons, 64-bit applications are genuinely more secure, as well as faster. They will also take up less space on your hard drive, since the software companies will no longer have to wedge both 32-bit code and 64-bit code into their applications.

Q: Is Avast antivirus software good for scanning for malware?

A: Yes, but keep in mind that the way it works, it is scanning for malware constantly, even though your Mac may have never run into a piece of malware. Government agencies, teachers, accountants, lawyers, and certain other professionals should use an always-on malware scanner, but I prefer on-demand malware scanning. The one I use is called Bitdefender, available through Apple’s App Store, and it runs only when I tell it to run. I have a calendar entry to tell me to run it once a month.

Lawrence also showed the hidden, zippered pocket that he has in his polo shirt for holding his iPhone. The shirt was made by ScotteVest, which has a wide range of vests, coats, sweaters, shirts, skirts, shorts, etc., with “invisible” pockets for holding electronics. Lawrence explained that when he goes to the airport, he puts everything he wants into various pockets of a ScotteVest vest (watch, keys, wallet, passport, earphones, etc.) and, when he gets to the TSA screening area, takes the vest off and puts it in a bin. Then he picks it up on the other side of X-ray. Some of the men’s and women’s coats and vests have pockets large enough to hold a 10″ iPad.

November meeting: files

The November 19, 2019 meeting will have as the topic: organizing files. Apple tries hard to make organizing files easy, but life doesn’t necessarily easily separate things into Documents, Downloads, Movies, Music, Pictures, etc.

Other topics for future meetings mentioned were: Introduction to Google Drive (Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Forms, Google Maps, Google Sites, Google Photos, Google Keep, etc.), iPadOS (and integration with macOS), health care devices and apps, WordPress, and support alpacas. (It is possible that support alpacas don’t exist, and only Lawrence seems interested, and they probably have nothing to do with Macs or iPhones or iPads.)

One thought on “October 2019: Configuring macOS Catalina 10.15

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s