11 Dumb Things Almost Everyone Does With Their Mac but Won’t Admit.

Nobody’s perfect, although we’d like to think we are. We’d also like to think that we treat our Macs better than anyone else. Chalk it up to ignorance, stubbornness of just being uninformed, here are eleven dumb things we’re all guilty of doing to our Macs at one point or another and why we shouldn’t.

1. Going for the Uptime Record:

There’s no reason your uptime should ever exceed more than a few days. You’re Not saving electricity by sleeping, you’re allowing memory leaks to grow, processes to get out of hand and other mysterious gremlins to run around causing the most freakish of problems to happen. Of all the seriously bizarre OS X problem’s I’ve had to fix, they’ve all happened to Macs whose owners never shut them down.

2. Every application on the dock is active and running:

OS X running slow? Spending lots of quality time with the beach ball? Take a look at your memory usage. Many times apps are still using resources even when you’re finished with them. If you look at your dock and see a little dot underneath almost every icon, that means those applications are running. Close them properly by quitting them from the menu bar (Command-Q). That will free up RAM for the programs you’re actually using and OS X won’t have to run into virtual memory which will seriously slow you down.

3. Multiple windows with multiple tabs stored in Safari and Firefox:

Reading a few webpages and want to save them for later browsing? Use bookmarks, not 30 tabs. I’ve seen certain people’s browsers suck down tons of memory, take about 5 minutes to start up and bring their decently spec’d machines to a crawl because they’ve got about 6 or 7 Firefox (or Safari) windows open with about 15-20 tabs in each.

4. Giving their hard drive a good shake, rattle and roll:

The most valuable part of your laptop is the data stored on the hard drive. Interestingly enough, the most fragile part of your laptop is also the hard drive. It doesn’t take much force for files to begin corrupting and the damage is cumulative. Think of it like “Death by a thousand paper cuts”.

When the machine is on, keep it upright and use caution when moving it around. The platters are moving objects with the read-head riding a millionth of an inch above them. That’s so close that a speck of dust is like a brick wall. It doesn’t take much to damage them over time.

5. Spring cleaning in the Applications, Utilities, Library and System folders:

You may think you don’t need anything in the “Core Services” folder, or applications like Disk Utility, Terminal and System Profiler until your Mac seizes up after you deleted them. Sure, OS X doesn’t let you delete them unless you have administrator rights but 99.9% of people who own their own machines also administrate them.

The best thing to do is to delete only something you’ve installed by using the uninstaller, if available. If you don’t know what an application is and are unsure if you need it, look it up on the internet and make sure you’ll be OK.

6. Multiple GB of data rotting in the trash:

Many people I know are guilty of this one. It seems to do no harm and you often just forget to empty the trash. After a while, it grows until there’s a few gigs sitting in there. Free up space of your computer by emptying that trash can at least weekly. If you’re using FileVault, remember that when you empty the trash, the freed up space doesn’t get put back until you log out of your account or shut down / restart the machine.

7 Running the battery into the dirt.

I think we’re all guilty of this one. It’s actually more stressful for the battery to consistently go to near full discharge (less than 25%) than it is to let it go to 50-60% and charge it back up again. If you do plan on going a long while without power, make sure your battery is fully charged up and dim your display to save power. Another sure-fire way to quickly kill your battery is to expose it to high temperatures, like when it’s locked up inside the trunk on a hot summer day.

8. Unknowingly Broadcasting their iTunes and iPhoto library.

iTunes and iPhoto library sharing has it’s place and some people choose to let friends and co-workers see their photos and listen to their music. However, what many people don’t know is that unless their library share is password protected (see the next paragraph), everyone on your local network can tap in and view/listen. It could be anyone in your school, on your floor, in your hotel, at the coffee shop, airport, library, anywhere.

9. Having a password a 6th grader could crack.

This one is meant to scare you and I hope it does. There are three ways to crack your password. With a Brute Force attack, a Dictionary Attack, and Social Engineering.

Brute Force attacks try every combination of letters and numbers. With today’s computing power, a 6 letter password can be broken by one of these in a few minutes. Give your password at least 10-12 characters. Use letters, numbers, capitals and a special character (!, @, #, $, etc)

Think no one would suspect the word “globetrotter” as your password? Think again. A Dictionary Attack has all the words in many different languages along with common standbys like “letmein” and “password1″ It runs through this dictionary until it gets in. Some of the better ones will add a number at the end so “soccer5″ isn’t safe either.

Social Engineering is probably the easiest way even a 6th grader could crack your password. Dog names, Child’s names, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Your favorite sport or team aren’t hard to guess if the person knows a little about you.

Think it can’t happen to you? Last summer when Sarah Palin’s email account was hacked, want to know how it was done?

“(T)he Palin hack didn’t require any real skill. Instead, the hacker simply reset Palin’s password using her birthdate, ZIP code and information about where she met her spouse — the security question on her Yahoo account, which was answered (Wasilla High) by a simple Google search.” – Wired.com

10. Storing their passwords in Safari / Firefox without knowing them.

Another password related blunder we’ve all done is to set Firefox or Safari to remember passwords for us and then conveniently forget them. What would happen if your hard drive died and you didn’t have a backup. What about if you had to use a different computer for a day or two? If you didn’t know your passwords, you’d be screwed. Store them in an encrypted file, use the Keychain’s secure notes or use a utility like 1password. Just don’t use a post-it note attached to your laptop.

11. Not doing backups regularly.

Your data is the most valuable part of your computer. What would you do if it were to all unexpectedly disappear one day?

Time machine makes backups easy, painless and is simple to do. You don’t even need to keep your backup drive constantly attached, just once a week is good unless you really need to do more. If you don’t like Time Machine, or other software based backup, there’s online solutions like Mozy and Carbonite.

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3 Comments

  1. Paul says:

    In regards to the battery, you should run it to the ground at least once a month to maintain the capacity of the battery. ie. Despite what many claim, lithium ion batteries *do* have memory. Just not as bad as the old Ni-Cad batteries.

    Check out Apple’s support article for instructions on how to do this:

    http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1490

    Also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping your Mac up and running. Yes, periodically reboot (I usually do this after a software update), but one of the biggest advantages of a Mac over a PC is that sleep actually works! And works well. There has been many times where I’ve kept the computer running for a month without rebooting without any issues at all.

    The one application that I do find that you have to quit and restart on occasion are web browsers. (side rant: Can *anyone* make a browser that doesn’t leak memory all over the place?? There’s this huge race for the fastest web browser when I’d rather have one that doesn’t gobble memory!) Occasionally restarting Mail also helps if you have a lot of emails. Otherwise, there is little reason to reboot.

  2. Paul says:

    I forgot to mention, there was a recent article that said that longer passwords aren’t actually more secure. 6 characters is sufficient to deter hackers (and no, they take longer than a “few minutes” to crack by brute force). By that point, they just go with social engineering instead of brute force attacks.

    Check out:

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/07/strong_web_pass.html

  3. David Balogh says:

    @Paul – Interesting article on the password length, however the key to it is having a “three strikes” rule to keep out the automated attacks. But that won’t do you any good if you downloaded/sniffed the hash and ran it through an offline cracker. Or used a botnet to weasel around the 3 strikes policy.

    I definitely agree that social engineering is a much easier way for someone to get your password, you don’t even need to be a “hacker” to do it.