Quick way to speed up a slow Mac Mini (2014)

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I was pondering how best to improve my Mac Mini (2014) speed without spending too much. Here are the options I had looked into:

  • Replace the HDD with a SSD  (best overall)
    • Pro: likely the fastest based on the SSD transfer rate.
    • Cons: cheapest 256 SSD is still at $60.00 CAD; need special TRX6 screwdriver; open up the Mini and put it back again.
  • Add a PCIe SSD with an adapter.
    • Pro: easier than installing a 2.5″ SSD drive.
    • Cons: extra cost for the adapter, about $20 CAD.
  • Boot with an external SSD drive (best option).
    • Pro: easiest way with value for money; no need to mess with opening the Mac Mini.
    • Cons: cost around $80 CAD with a 256GB SSD and a new caddy.
  • Boot with a USB 3.0 flash drive. 
    • Pro: cheaper to get a flash drive 128Gb $30 CAD 150mb/s transfer rate; small and light weight.
    • Con: not as fast as a SSD drive.

Instead of investing a lot of money to test if an external drive is a viable option, I bought a 32 Gb ScanDisk flashdrive for $12 CAD, and it works well. The boot process is definitely faster: 1min37sec before, after 37sec.

Steps to create an operational external SSD drive with MacOS Catalina:

    • MUST – format the new drive using Disk Utility. The drive has to be in GUID Partition Map’s scheme and extended (journalized). 
  • Download OS Catalina from Apple store.Before doing so, turn off “automatic update” in Settings. Otherwise, you will get an error and not about to download the Installer. * plug in your time machine either.
  • Once the Installer is downloaded, open it and follow process to install the OS onto the external drive.
  • To pick the drive to boot, after the boot up ring, press and hold “alt” or “hold” key. The HDD and the SSD will show, pick SSD to boot. And you will have a new installation of the OS.
  • To transfer settings use Migration Assistant. Computer settings is an option for the transfer. You can also transfer the entire disk by selecting your preference.
  • Another option to avoid all the hassle, you can make a clone of your HDD for the external drive. When you are ready to swap out the HDD, the drive will be ready.

Have fun.

Echo Dot is a Bluetooth speaker

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So I was looking to get a portable blue speaker; I want my iPad to connect to the speaker do that I can get to the music library on my Mac Mini’s iTunes. I am old school, not in or into the Cloud.

I first looked at a Bluetooth transmitter and receiver. I can hook it up to my HiFi system and use iPad Bluetooth. But then it will be a single purpose gadget and not very portable.

Then I looked at portable Bluetooth speakers. They are probably the best solution for my purpose. As I was trying to decide which one to buy, it became more difficult as some had additional benefits on SD card slot, USB connection, FM radio and even alarm clock.

echoSo I put my decision on hold: analysis paralysis.

Suddenly a thought bubble appeared. Let’s check if Amazon Echo Dot can be used as a Bluetooth speaker. Load and behold, it can. First I tested on my PC, it worked. 

  • open Alexa app where you have it, in Devices, click +ADD to search for your device.
  • connect, change speaker in system to ECHO DOT-XNP.

Use same steps for your iPad. BAM! it’s connected. In fact, an easier method is to tell Alexa to connect Phone, then Echo will search and connect with no fuzz.

Although it doesn’t solve the portability problem, I save some money and it is one fewer thing to chuck in the future.


Non-flagship phones are good phones…

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LG Stylus 3 M400N   http://lg.com.hk_en

Most people are excited about a new flagship launch, Samsung S8, Apple iPhone 7, …for me a bang-for-the-buck accountant I get excited with budget phones that are true value for money. The allure of “trendy” eludes me because my pocket is not deep, and I don’t live in a sea of debts.


Redmi Note 3

I bought the Redmi Note 3 in 2016 for a meager HK$1,499 (US$ 200), and I have been liking it since. I am getting an exceptional good product that have features and hardwares comparable to a flagship’s. I have finger sensor on the phone, which is a delight to use. It can be programmed to recognize both left and right fingers. It is a snappy phone, with true 1080p display. The only problem I have is the LTE bandwidth frequency which is not compatible with FIDO in Canada. (A great site to check for compatibility https://www.frequencycheck.com/countries.) Honestly, this is more than a technical nuance: 4G vs 4G Lte.

Although I am satisfy with the Redmi, I also like new gadgets. One day I was web-browsing and I saw the new LG Stylus 3 selling at a special price HK$1,698. After doing a specs check, I concluded that I needed to have this phone. The main reason is for the stylus, it is more convenient if you use handwriting inputs for Asian languages: Chinese, Japanese, etc. Sure, you can do that without, but with the stylus it is more accurate.

Of course, being a phone of a certain niche and at the lower-end compares to the new flagship LG G6, I will have to sacrifice some features: 720p display and only one option of a 16GB internal SD. So how I’d give up a 1080p & 32 GB Redmi?

In a small screen 1080p and 720p is hardly noticeable. True, the colors are more saturated with a 1080p or 2K screen, but human eyes will adapt quickly.  An inadequate 16GB storage should make it a laughing stalk in 2017, but not if you read the fine print that it supports an external SD card up to 2T (in theory of course, 256GB SD card is the max so far.) One caveat, I notice some apps can not load onto the SD card, that it may be a problem down the road, since there doesn’t seem to be storage management tools available to solve the problem. Simply say, I can’t load too many apps on the phone. It’s fine with me.

If you are looking for a new Android phone with a snappy Octo-CPU, a stylus to make notes or input Japanese Hiragana and Katakana, and Android Nougat,  this is a good option. Unless, you want to wait for the flagship Samsung Note 8 coming out this year.

Nasty Ransomware!! I surrender.

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My friend got a locked screen and a notice from “Microsoft Tech” asking to call a 1-800 number so that they could fix the problem…

Embed from Getty Images

Long story short, he was attacked by a ransomware, and the asking price to unlock was $200 cdn. The biggest mistake was that he gave the “Tech” permission to remotely access his computer. Microsoft should know and obviously do that – I would say – more than 80% of people using WinOS are not savvy and au courant of all the XXXwares that could attack their PCs: ransomwares, malwares, viruses, worms, trojans,… The worst of it all his system was “protected” by Norton, but it didn’t catch it…at all.

So I got a call to see if I could savage the carnage. When I got there, I was happy to see that the OS was still “functional”, but lurking behind the system and unbeknownst to me traps were set already, so I started with what I normally would do: a full scan with Norton. The second defence was to upload and install Malwarebytes and started cleaning adwares, and malwares, … And Success! So I thought.

A moment of blissfulness quickly descended into Dante’s Inferno literally: HELL. As common practice it is imperative to run Malwarebytes and Norton again in Safe Mode to totally eradicate any remnants of these nasties; however, with Win 8 and 10, you cannot boot into Safe Mode directly by pressing F8 key anymore. What?!! Instead WIN10 – in my case -required that I went through Startup Settings to get to Safe Mode boot. Of course some gremlins had disable the selection of Safe Mode  (I was sure the developer(s) of the ransomeware see through my defensive logic). So I shut down the computer and pressed On/Off Key to do a full reboot. Wrong again. I triggered more gremlins and additional levels of Dante’s Hell. At this point after rebooting in to WinOS it asked for a password, a syskey’s password to be specific (all those private key and public key that could make your head spins.) Sadly at this stage the computer was completely hijacked. I was reluctant to give up, so I did a quick search on Google- eureka- I cracked syskey’s problem, I was able to log-in to the OS again. Now I must be able to go into Safe Mode. Damn you!!!

As their last assault, they used an old school boot-time virus to control the computer entirely: blue screen of errors. In my time, it was called MBR virus; this current one affected the BCD to the same effect. In that era, I had to boot with a “FLOPPY” with an antivirus app loaded, F-Prot, to kill the MBR virus, but I had no idea how it worked now. with the BCD error. Nevertheless, I kept trying and searching for solutions. Although I was able to get into the Command Mode in C:/ prompt, none of the things I tried work. The only option left was to do a full reinstall. HaHa, you wish! The ransomware was so virile that I couldn’t complete a full re-install. Of course, it didn’t allow me to re-install using the recovery partition either.

The very very last thing I did was to install Ubuntu (a Linux OS), hoping I could check, at least, the disk with Linux OS running: Nope! It basically shut out any sort of installation to the hard drive.

After 8 hours struggling with this thing, it was time to surrender. My final thought, never get yourself in a pickle like my friend’s. Be vigilant, be skeptical, be aware!

P.S. my friend took his laptop to a local computer store and had it repaired; now it’s good as new. Thankfully he has made backups.

Booted Boot Camp: WIN10 on Mac

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Although Apple has provided Boot Camp for those who likes to have Windows OS on their system, it is still a daunting task because of its complicated installation process. There are disk partition, dual boot, switching between OS, …Even being a tech-savvy guy, I don’t  want to create two systems on the same machine: be there, done it with Linux on WinsXX.

When I had had my Classic Mac eons ago, I bought and used Parallel Desktop, but it was painful to wait and watch. Obviously, my Classic just didn’t pass muster because of inadequate CPU and memory for the demands of. I ended up buying an used IBM desktop for my self study course.

In 2017, in order to run WinsXX OS on Mac, the choices are Parallel Desktop, VMWare, Boot Camp and Virtual Box. The decision was easy for me, I pick that one that is simple and free: Oracle’s Virtual Box. I had mine setup in last than 30 minutes, and it’s running great. I set it up so that I can run the defunct Microsoft Money 2004 on my Mac, and give my laptop to my mom. After I bought the Mac Mini(2014), my Win10 laptop has become redundant.

But before you start, here are the caveats you should take note:

  1. need and authenticated product key, and the version of Windows OS you want to install. Microsoft offers free ISO (disk image) for Win10.
  2. I used a USB memory stick to store the  Win10’s ISO, but you can try loading directly from Mac’s Desktop, if you save the file there, when you set up the Virtual Box.
  3. Make sure you read Virtual Box manual provided by Oracle, especially if you are a novice.
  4. If your CD/DVD drive doesn’t work, liken mine, you will need to create an ISO for the program disk, and mount it for installation. (You can create a Mac’s  .cdr image and convert it to ISO, Mac will do it for you when you change the extension)
  5. Pay attention to the settings for the VBox, it may get complicated.
  6. VBox manager will set a network-like connection, so you can use files directly from the Mac. Drag and Drop is possible to, but I haven’t tried it.

I am surprised that the Vbox running Win10 is actually fast, even though I only allocated 2MB of RAM for my virtual machine. Everything seems to run perfectly as if you have a separate computer; I connected to my network printer with no hassle.

This setup is probably more suited for light use. If running memory demanding software, Boot Camp may be a better choice.

Kobo Mini WiFi problem after Reboot…solution

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I have been having problems with my Kobo Mini, specifically the WiFi connection. Although It connected after several trials, it never bound and became a [Known Network]…In other words, every time I connected to the internet, I had to scan the SSID, and enter password; that was a pain in the a**.

After many trials and errors, including rebooting, and factory reset, I finally got it to work again. Once I show you, you will say,”Is that all?” Yes, it is.

The problem was with Kobo sign-in.

To correct problem, go to Settings/Accounts/Kobo-Sign Out. It will bring you to the screen saying Do you want to setup WiFi? Say yes, and follow steps, which are the same if you were to setup Kobo Mini the first time.

After main menu shows up, go back to settings and sign in to Kobo account again. Voilà!

I am guessing the data file was corrupted or unreadable after the update; hence, it creates a conflict between the connection and Kobo account.

I spent two days trying to figure this out, so now you don’t have to.


P.S. It doesn’t like [Invisible SSID]!

The Price is Right: Kobo Arc 32 GB $98

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Finally I found an Android tablet that was less than $100. I already have an iPad2, so I don’t want to spend a lot to get one and test the OS to see whether Apple’s iPad should really claim supreme.

I saw a demo unit at Staples that sold for $99, touched it, swiped it, and I was ready to buy if they had a new unit. They didn’t. I went Google it to read more about its specs, and Walmart came up because of web analytics. I went to the site and bought one.

arcAt $98 before taxes, this buy will be a no-brainer for someone in market for a budget introductory tablet. The least expensive one on the market with a decent made is Lenovo A-1000 8GB  7″, $114 at Costco. Samsung Galaxy Tab3 7″ is $167, and the nicer 8″ is $227, last checked at Costco too. I believe they all run Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, Kobo uses 4.1.

The reasons I bought this were:

1. my iPad costed over $500, now at $399 retail, it is still an expensive gadget to lug around in my gym bag and use it while I am out. The Kobo, now, I can use it anywhere I want (Starbucks has the best Wifi connection, Tims’ never works for me), and best of all, no one will ever snatch it. Besides, iPad2 is just a tad too big to whip it out on the subway.

2. to use it to learn coding for an Android app. If you didn’t know. Android core system is Linux, and its apps are written in Java. Apple’s is running Xcode built on Steve Jobs’s NexT system, Mac OS and iPad app share some of the same codes. Microsoft’s Surface is just an extension of its Windows OS, developed in Visual Studio.

3. to see whether the divided is really about the features of two OSes, or something else?!

4. At $98, it’s a bargain, and an eReader no less . A MP3 player probably costs more.

[Android 1: Apple 0]

Directory:So I have been using my Kobo Arc for one week now, and have started with my app development lessons. The device connected by USB easily to my laptop, except you will need to turn on USB debugging in {}Developper options under Settings before it will show as a device on your laptop. On the laptop, you will need to manually install the driver, i.e., don’t follow the “suggested driver” in Windows. Once installed, you will be able to view all the folders in your tablet. If you have used Linux before, the organization will be familar to you. If not, try imaging a DOS system. I think this is part of the freedom people have been condemning Apple, and praising Android, cause there is no way to get to the source directory in iPad’s. In other words, any photos or pdfs you saved, you need an app to export them.

[Android 2: Apple 1]

“Home”UserInterface(UI): In my other posts I had been saying Android wasn’t as elegant as iOS,which I still hold to my opinion. Standardized icons for app make it easier for beginner to learn and use them quickly. In other words, variations are better for an intermediate to advance user. For the simple reason, they have the core knowledge of how things seem different but the same at the end. For example, holding down an icon in both systems mean you can do something with the icon, with iOS, they start to wiggle and an small “x” appears on each of the icon’s right side, it signals the available action of deleting an app that you don’t want anymore: one choice. With Android, no wiggle, but a garbage can will appear at the bottom of screen in the middle of an rectangler bar; it means you can put that app there and it will disappear from the home screen(s). Here is the different, iOS actually deletes the app, and if you have had stored it in iCloud, you can upload and install it again. So what happens to the one with Android? you can still find it in the main Menu(the circle with 9 evenly spaced dots).  To truly delete an app, you need to do it in Settings/app …uninstall.

The second choice, depending on the device, is that you can pin webpages or folders onto your home page(s) for easy access, i.e., non-app dependent. This is more a desktop OS methodology, open file and choose an app, instead of the other way around: open app and search file. The former gives you choices of apps, the latter restricts you. In other words, no app to play .flv on your tablet, too bad. That was and still is the uproars that iOS still doesn’t play videos that require Flash. Add fuel to fire, you cannot install the mac flashplayer file onto an iPad, cause there is no way to get to the root system files (of course, jailbreak it. Do you want to?) .

[Android 2: Apple 2]

Apps: There might have been a disparity when I was holding proudly my Google phone (HTC Dream), in regards to app selections, but the fight has narrow likens PS3 and XBOX games. Most popular apps are now bi-platform. However, I have to say, iOS apps run smoother than Android’s. So far, Android’s have been crashing more often on my KOBO Arc, but it could be a hardware issue. Hence, standardization has another advantage: Apple has full control of its QA. I need not to say more, we all have experienced Windows hardware conflicts. Linux is no exception. Once again, Android tablets use different types of screen and touch methods, so I find mine is not as responsive as my iPad.

[Android 2: Apple 3]

OS: Android OS is hardware dependent.To me it is a bit old school. This is no different from an analog watch to a digital one, none of them are compatible or upgradeable, but they satisfy their objective to tell time. And if you are trendy, chuck the old, buy a new. That’s a waste of resources. The life-cycle of an Apple product is about 5-10 years. I told in another post, I still am using my 2006 80GB iPod classic, and it connects to the most current version of iTunes. On the other hand, a few apps I tried to download for my Arc returned saying incompatible, which mean 4.2 must be the lowest denominator in the Android world. Luckily, most of the popular apps still run on 4.1. Those don’t likely have a desktop web version, so I use a web browser instead, e.g., CNET app.

At the end of the day, which one to use is really based on the level of knowledge you have with computer. In other words, the more you know, Android will be better, cause you like to tingle with things. For the curious youngster and the older seniors, an iPad will be better for them, cause you really don’t want them to delete or reformat the drive by accident.

For me, $98 is like another pair of sneakers. I have no problem putting it in my gym bag.


Netbook: Win7. It works.

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Three or four years back, there was such a thing called netbook. Inexpensive, smaller and lighter, with slower processor that meant to be used by students and light users. Since then iPad and tablets have put nails in its coffin.

However, what to do if you still have one and worse than anything else, it is running on defuncted WinXP (Microsoft no longer supports it).

Finally, I took the courage and upgraded my Gateway LT31 with Win7. Now I feel like having a brand new netbook.

Why did I postpone or wait? Because Microsoft’s Win7 upgrade readiness application told me that if I were to do it, there could have been missing drivers, blah, blah, blah. I remember checking Gateway’s site before, it wasn’t promising that they provided them(I must have overlooked).

The process was surprising straight-forward: put in the upgrade disc, boot from it, and follow the instructions. It will collapse your old Windows files to a folder called Windows.old, where you can get to files that you might have saved in different users’ folders. So your documents are saved after the upgrade, just that you need to know where to look for them: Find Users and Documents.

After all the steps was finished, the system ran exceptionally fast! Then I loaded all the most current drivers from Gateway, including flashing BIOS. Followed that were the software: Malewaresbytes, Microsoft Essential, CCleaner, Avast, and MS Office suite. It slowed things down for sure, but still with respectable respond. I also turned off Aero theme and put it in Classic to save on CPU power.

When the announcement came out that Microsoft no longer supported WinXP in 2013, I did venture back to Ubuntu. Version 12 was an improvement and quite user-friendly, but I ran into display driver problem, and gave up on finding a solution. So I still don’t get Linux as an OS; it will never have popular appeal, sorry. I am talking about trying to like it since Corel Linux in 1998.

Lesson learned: Microsoft just wants you to buy new machine! Resist…your older machine is likely still useable even with newer OS. Win7 is probably the best MS OS out there now.


CPU Hog: Windows XP svchost -k netsvcs

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The last two days, my XP netbook came to almost a halt after five minutes of usage. As usual, I went right to Task Manager to see what was causing the problem. I discovered one of the svchost processes was using 99% of the CPU power. Out of frustration I deleted it, which gave about a 2 minutes relief and I could use Chrome for a short while, and it came back again. I was worry my system was hacked! (Don’t we always?)

After some research, I downloaded Process Explorer, which gives more information about the processes being run. I checked the one svchost (bundled up dll processes) that was causing the problem, and it had at least 10 processes running, which freaked me out as likely hack attack. I ran Malwarebytes and MS Essential, and luckily no viruses or malwares were detected.

After more research, bingo! Apparently, there was a problem for some XP machines with the latest updates. The halt was Windows trying to figure out which updates to apply, which meant looking through your entire system for clues.

Finally, the solution was getting the proper (IE # and OS version) patch and download and install it. Google MS13-097. This will reset all the updates to where they should be, so that you can continue to use Windows Automatic Updates.

Honestly, this is not something for a novice, cause most likely they don’t even know where to start. Although XP is no longer supported starting Jan1, 2014, Microsoft should not ignore its users like this. I read there are still 37% XP users of the entire MS OS ecosystem.


Apple Cares!

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Despite all the writings of disappointment in Apple’s latest offerings: iPad Air, Mini Retina, OS Maverick, …, Apple is still one of the most organized, consumer oriented company. WHY? Check out this link: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1353#. A link that shows a chronological display of all the iPods that existed and exist. I found mine, a fifth generation 2006 release with 80GB, and I paid good money for it, $600 in 2006. The incredible thing is that a seven years old portable music player that allows for current software updates, and still plays my library with no hitches whatsover. That I call a good return on investment. In comparison, my Sony’s Net MD Walkman Mz-N510, obviously is no longer supported, but I did manage to locate an old software driver in Sony’s esupport page. I paid $500 for it, and used it for a year: Bad investment, so is my little ZEN plus from Creative. No battery replacement option.

Here is my point, a good product is a good product, period. I have an iPad2, and am very happy with it. I tried out the iPad Air, and it’s true, not breath-takingly spectacular in any sense to me, but for the ones who have never owned one, it is pretty amusing! And I bet that’s Apple strategy, attract new, or convert, one at a time! there is no rush to amass market share increment in one shot, besides, they don’t need to.

I think this is an important lesson for the other hardware producing companies to take notice. Your gadget derivatives are chasing away your customers! Google is probably the exception so far with its Nexus line. The others, too many names, too many models, total confusion.

So why is Apple winning: stylish, simple lines, and values. The most important of it all, they seem to care about the products they sold that I own. Yes, at a premium, and perhaps the differential is that intangible value you pay for.


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