Notes by Kathleen Charters
The March 2021 focused on two essential but overlooked utilities on the Mac, TextEdit and Preview. But before we got to that, we had —
Q: Why do I get an error message that my drive is disconnected when it is still connected?
A: I’m guessing you have a USB drive that you bought from Costco or off Amazon or Best Buy or something. These drives are great as Time Machine backup drives, but they are not top-of-the-line drives; they usually have a one-year warranty rather than a multi-year warranty, and were not burned-in at the factory to make sure they work properly. Essentially, the consumer does the manufacturer’s quality control: if the drive works, great! If it doesn’t, they’ll replace it.
These drives are not designed to be left on all the time. If the computer goes to sleep, the drive goes to sleep, without any hardware or software support to wake it up again when the computer wakes up. From the computer’s point of view, the drive was disconnected, and your Mac puts up a scary message. This isn’t really a problem if the drive is used as a Time Machine backup drive.
In contrast, I have three RAIDS with a total of 12 drives in them. These are “enterprise” drives, designed to be left on all the time, and they come with five-year warranties. They are mounted in cases designed for the purpose, and the cases tell the drive when the computer goes to sleep, and when it wakes up.
Q: If Time Machine backs up everything, continuously, won’t the backup drive fill up quickly?
A: Time Machine backs up every hour, and while it does back up everything, it does a “differential” backup, backing up things that are changed or new. When you do the first Time Machine backup, it takes a long time, because everything is new, but after that, only new or changed files are added, and backups are quite quick.
Q: Should I have Time Machine backup to two different drives and alternate them?
A: That sounds like you are trying to do an archive rather than a backup. A backup is just that: a backup of everything, including things you forgot to backup. An archive is a snapshot of everything that is then removed from proximity to the computer and stored somewhere else. The whole point of an archive is to have something stored elsewhere — a relative’s house, a bank safe deposit box — so that if something happens, you will have a copy of whatever was stored on the archive.
A backup drive should be connected to your computer at all times. An archive should be disconnected and stored apart from your computer.
It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of having backups or archives. A recent poll asked 18-to-30-year-olds which would be more traumatic: getting dumped by a significant other or losing their phone? Most people said: losing their phone. The phone has contacts for everyone they care about, it has photos of vacations and momentous events, it has apps for banking and dating and games to play in boring meetings. One of my relatives lost a phone, and with it, all their photos of their children. They’d never backed them up, and suddenly, they were gone.
A backup is to rescue you from an unanticipated event, such as a hard drive crash or, if you have a laptop, the theft or loss of your laptop. An archive is a place where you store 13 years of photos of your children.
Do not put your Time Machine backup and your archive on the same drive. Not only should these be on separate media, but ideally the media should be kept in different locations. I, for example, save my Time Machine backups to a drive on an Apple Time Capsule, but I save archives on bare hard drives I insert into a “drive toaster,” such as the NewerTech Voyager drive dock.
Q: Do you need to “refresh” your drives to prevent them from freezing up?
A: Older drives from a decade or more ago had “stiction” problems caused by the lubricant in the drives, but that really isn’t an issue today. What is a problem is changing formats. For example, the original Macintosh image format was PICT, which cannot be used by modern Macs. You need to find a utility (there are several) to convert older PICT images into modern JPEG images. Similarly, older drives were formatted using HFS; Apple’s current drive format is APFS. There will come a day when future Macs probably will not be able to read HFS-formatted drives.
An extreme example: the 1890 census of the United States was stored on Hollerith cards, the precursor to computer cards. Various codes were punched on the cards, which could then be tabulated on mechanical tabulators. In later years, when computers had been invented, there was a problem: how do you get this old, paper-card data into a modern computer? Special card readers were developed, and special programs developed, to read in and reformat the data on the cards so they could be stored in modern computer databases.
Q: Why would you convert PICT images to JPEG? Why not TIFF?
A: TIFF files are much larger. If your iPhone took photos and stored them in TIFF, you’d run out of storage much faster. JPEG was specifically developed specifically for photographs. TIFF was developed by Aldus Corporation (later purchased by Adobe) for storing images scanned by image scanners, for use in desktop publishing.
Q: What do you think of BackBlaze?
A: Backblaze is an excellent service. For a monthly subscription fee, Backblaze will continuously back up your computer to their cloud service. The backup process is encrypted, as is the backup itself. Since the cloud service is not in your home or office, it also is essentially an offsite archive, too. When we [Kathleen and Lawrence] moved cross-country, we first backed up our data to Backblaze, so that even if our computers didn’t survive the move, our data would still be available.
President Sabrina Davis asked if there were any new people; no one indicated they were new.
Sabrina asked members, who haven’t paid their annual membership dues, to please send in dues to Treasurer Annalis Schutzmann. The address is on the Contact page.
Vice President Lawrence Charters purged 185 inactive contacts from the club database (out of over 400 contacts). Most of those purged were “inherited” from older club records, and consisted of individuals who have not attended meetings since October 2018. Purging the list will help with notifications to the group, as Google tends to limit accounts to no more than 300 messages a day as an anti-spam measure.
For the March meeting, Vice President Lawrence Charters demonstrated Preview and TextEdit on an Apple Silicon-based Mac mini. Preview and TextEdit have been on every Mac since Mac OS X was introduced, and date back to even before then, as they were developed for the NeXT computer. (NeXT was purchased by Apple and the NeXT operating system is the foundation of macOS). Since these are utilities that everyone already has, it is worth knowing what they can do.
To start, Lawrence used Preview to scan something on a printer. The printer – an inexpensive Hewlett-Packard all-in-one printer with scanner, fax, and printer – has a flatbed scanner built into the top of the printer. Lawrence made a point of never installing the software supplied by Hewlett-Packard. Instead, the printer was “installed” by using the macOS System Preferences “Printers&Scanners” pane to “see” the printer on the network, and configure drivers for the printer using settings already bundled with macOS Big Sur.
When Preview was launched, it requested a file to open. The request was canceled. Lawrence then went to Preview’s File menu, selected Import from Scanner, selected the printer (scanner), and scanned an old photograph, taken by his grandmother, of the original Tacoma Narrows bridge during construction.
When used to scan things, Preview is quite flexible. It can scan in color or black and white, can save the scanned image as a TIFF, JPEG, JPEG 2000 [don’t use this], PNG, or PDF. If the scanner supports it, you can select the resolution of the scan, and the size of the scanned object. If the scanner has a document feeder, you can scan multiple items and combine them in a single document, or save them as separate files. You can draw a selection box around what you want scanned. A preview of the scan shows up in Preview, which is perfectly fine for a program called Preview.
Why not use the printing and scanning software that comes with the printer (or scanner)? With rare exceptions, whatever ships with the printer is immediately out of date, and the manufacturers are not inclined to update the software. Manufacturers make their money selling printers and scanners, not in updating the software for them. Some scanners, such as the Fujitsu document scanners, do have special features worth using, but for most users, Preview provides what users need, and Apple updates Preview (and the print drivers) on a regular basis.
Once scanned, Preview has a range of tools to edit and enhance the scanned image. Preview allows you to crop the image, rotate the image, add labels to the image, adjust color and contrast, add text, and a number of other functions. Is it equivalent to Adobe’s Photoshop? No. But it comes with your Mac, and Photoshop users rarely do things that can’t be done with Preview.
Preview is also handy for converting images between formats. Load an image, and you can export it as: TIFF, PNG, PDF, OpenEXR (used for high end motion picture purposes), JPEG-2000 (don’t use), JPEG, and HEIC. HEIC was developed by Apple, and is short for High Efficiency Image File Format. HEIC files take up only half as much room as JPEG images, with better image fidelity, but — and this is an important but — if you send an HEIC image to a Windows user or a user with an older Mac, they probably won’t be able to see it.
In addition to image conversion, another good use for Preview is cropping and shrinking images that you send via email. Most users don’t really want a 20 MB image file to show up unexpectedly in email. Using Preview, you can reduce it down to under a megabyte — or less. Just open the image, go to the Tools menu, select Adjust Size, reduce the height and width to less than a thousand pixels, and then email the image.
Another absolutely vital use for Preview: rotating images. It can rotate photographs, and also PDFs, which comes in handy far more often than you might imagine.
Q: Where do you find Preview?
A: Preview is in your Applications folder. Just list everything alphabetically, and it is easy to find. It is highly recommended that you put it in your Dock for easy access.
Q: Do you need to use Preview if you have Photos?
A: Photos has much more extensive image editing tools, but it is also more complicated. When you launch it, it also opens up a database of all your photos, which may be more distraction than help. For simple tasks, Preview is more than adequate, and fast.
Q: Isn’t Photos somewhat limited?
A: When Photos came out, I didn’t pay much attention to it; I was using Aperture, which was Apple’s high-end photo management and editing program. But Apple abandoned Aperture, and at the same time expanded what Photos can do. Photos has the ability, among other things, to convert Aperture databases to Photos databases. As a result, I no longer use Aperture. (Aperture is also 32-bit, and won’t work on any Mac operating system after Mojave, macOS 10.14.
Q: Do you use Photos?
A: Not much. I tend to use Adobe Lightroom, which costs money, mostly because I have well over 100,000 photos.
Q: What about Adobe Photoshop Elements?
A: Haven’t used Photoshop Elements in possibly 20 years. But it does support 85-90% of the functions that most people use in Photoshop. It lacks the sophisticated image management of Apple’s Photos.
Q: Do you use a photo editor on your iPhone?
A: Not really. If I do, it is to make small cartoons, and I use a program from an Australian company called Comic Life 3. Most of my “serious” editing I do on my Mac using Adobe Lightroom. Or photoshop.
For more information on management of images (which is beyond the scope of the meeting), check out these two books:
[Photos may be the subject of a future meeting, since it is on every Mac, iPhone and iPad.]
For the next often-overlooked utility, we looked at TextEdit. Available on every Mac since macOS was introduced in 2001 (and earlier on NeXT), TextEdit is a surprisingly powerful and versatile text editor. A “text editor” differs from a “word processor” in that a word processor can do almost anything when it comes to writing: you can change margins, page sizes, fonts, writing in multiple languages, add images and photos, and — pretty much anything. But a text editor is good for: text.
Since programming code is text-based, TextEdit started out life as a code editor. But not that many people write programs. On the other hand, almost everyone needs to read text at some point, and if you click on a text document on your Mac, such as the “Read Me” files included with almost every program or system update, macOS will launch TextEdit. You’ve probably used TextEdit thousands of times, and not noticed.
TextEdit, like Preview, is located in your Applications folder. You can drag it down to your Dock for ease of access.
If you launch TextEdit, it will open up a prompt to open a file. Cancel that, and you can create a new, text document. Once upon a time, TextEdit documents had to be fairly simple, but today you can go to the Format menu and select Make Rich Text, and TextEdit will put up a menu bar that allows you to change fonts, margins, tabs, and a host of other things that look a lot like a word processor.
When you save a TextEdit file, you are given a choice of formats, and it is here that you begin to see TextEdit’s power as a text Swiss Army knife: it can open and save a wide variety of formats.
Because it is included in every copy of macOS, TextEdit is a powerful, worthwhile tool. You can use it to open up Word documents, even if you don’t own Microsoft Word. You can use it to write programming code, or create a web page.
A separate menu option also allows you to export a document as a PDF file. TextEdit doesn’t read PDFs, however; for that, use Preview, as mentioned above.
Because TextEdit is a text editor and not a word processor, don’t expect to be able to do fancy text formatting. When you open a Word document in TextEdit, the formatting may often look quite strange.
Like many other programs on the Mac, TextEdit allows your Mac to turn the text in your document into speech. Open a document, go to the Edit menu, scroll down to Speech, and select Start Speaking. You use the same menu item to stop speaking.
A brief aside
While the presentation was on Preview and TextEdit, speech is an important capability on the Mac. The very first Mac, during its introduction in 1984, spoke to the assembled reporters. Speech synthesis has advanced tremendously since that time (think of what you can do with Siri, on your Mac or iPhone or iPad or HomePod), but it is still overlooked as a tool.
If you are busy and want to read something, but your hands are busy doing something else, having TextEdit (or Apple Mail, or Safari, or almost any Apple program) speak whatever is showing on the screen can come in handy. You can change the default voice by going to System Preferences > Accessibility > Spoken Content and select a different voice from the menu, or even download additional voices to meet your needs. You can also change the speaking rate, have your Mac speak announcements, or a number of other options.
This is a demo of the speech capabilities shown at the meeting. Because Lawrence couldn’t figure out how to send the synthesized voice over Zoom, meeting participants couldn’t hear it at the time:
This video not only has the Mac speak a short page of text in a Scottish accent, it also tells you how the video was created.
You can also use the Mac’s Accessibility settings for zooming windows (enlarging or shrinking what is on the screen), and for dictation. Almost every Apple program that accepts text will also take dictation.
Back to TextEdit
While not demonstrated at the meeting, TextEdit can also import things from your iPhone or iPad, including images and scanned text.
Q: What is the equivalent of TextEdit on an iPhone or iPad?
A: There is no direct equivalent, though I use Notes for writing text. Notes has the added capability of automatically syncing Notes to iCloud, making them easy to pull up on your Mac.
Q: Can’t you do many of these things with Pages?
A: Pages comes with your Mac, which is nice (it used to cost money). And it is certainly more feature-rich, since it is a full-blown word processor, and it also comes on versions for your iPhone or iPad. But Pages documents can’t be read by anything except Pages, and the very flexibility of Pages makes it more complex to learn and use, and it takes longer to launch. TextEdit documents can be read by almost anything.
When asked what to do next month, there were a number of suggestions:
- Ways to have more advanced security on your Mac, such as two-factor authentication, different passwords for every purpose, password managers, etc.
- A tour of the various System Preferences and what you can and should do with them.
- Setting up a home network and showing how to get different devices to work together.
- Demonstrate screen sharing.
- Demonstrate how to use a VPN. (Lawrence isn’t keen on that, as setting up a Virtual Private Network is the antithesis of broadcasting your computer screen over Zoom).
The consensus was we would talk about some more advanced security measures that you can take with your Mac, on April 20.