How can you help another computer user from a distance? I am going to show you a super easy way to help another Mac user using software that came with your computer.
Sometimes we get questions about computer problems from friends and family. It would be so easy if we were in the same room and could see and interact with their screen. But if they are far away, or in 2020, staying isolated because of Coronavirus, how do you help them?
If you and the other person both have Macs, and you can send and receive messages using the Messages app, then the answer is just a click away.
To connect to your friend’s computer, we are going to use the Messages App (formerly known as iMessage). This application comes with every Macintosh. It isn’t obvious, but the humble Messages app has a superpower. It can remote control a computer screen.
It might be good to first verify that you can send and receive messages to and from the remote computer. You must be connecting to your friend via their email address, which should be associated with their Apple ID.
If you see the blue text bubble(s) when messaging your friend, the next steps should go smoothly. If you see green text bubbles, or can’t send and receive messages at all, see the Difficulties section below.
To begin screen sharing, make sure that the correct friend’s conversation is highlighted in the Messages window. Then, select Ask to Share Screen from Messages’ Buddies menu.
This will cause a message to appear in the upper right of your friend’s screen asking them to allow screen sharing:
When they click Accept, they will get one more message:
For troubleshooting with a trusted friend, it is usually easier if the recipient allows you to control their screen as well as observe it. Control is the default.
Once they click Accept, screen sharing will begin.
Either party can end screen sharing. Remember that if the computer restarts, or if you quit the Messages app, screen sharing will end and need to be restarted.
I have successfully talked some very inexperienced computer users through this process on the phone. They only have to be able to see when they receive a text message, and then click Accept twice. After that, you will be able to help them.
You’ll probably be talking to your friend on the phone to get this started. When screen sharing starts, it also starts an on-line voice conversation. You should be prepared to end the phone call when this happens to prevent echo, feedback and confusion. You will still be able to speak to each other via the computer (if both computers have microphones and speakers — most do).
If this is not working as expected, check the following:
Both computers must be running MacOS
Both computers must be connected to the Internet
Both parties must have an Apple ID
Check that the email addresses being used for communication are listed in System Preferences/Apple ID under Name, Phone, Email in the Reachable at section. If not, they can be added there.
If you are reading this, you probably know why you want to run SpinRite. SpinRite is a hard drive recovery utility intended to run stand-alone on Windows machines. There is really nothing comparable to it for the Macintosh, especially in its ability to recover data from corrupted hard drives.
The other instructions I found on the web for SpinRite on the Mac were variously outdated, contained bad links or were overly complicated. I had to hunt around multiple web sites to find bits and pieces of the instructions. Here is my attempt to write a coherent single set of instructions for SpinRite on the Mac.
I don’t want you to go through this process with false expectations. There are some limitations to SpinRite and to running it on the Mac.
SpinRite 6.0 is glacially slow on today’s large hard drives. A full scan on level 2 of a 1 TB drive with no bad sectors took 35 hours and 46 minutes. If the drive has bad sectors, or you use level 4, it will take much longer.
SpinRite 6.0 can’t handle drives larger than 2 TB at all.
SpinRite hasn’t been updated by its author since 2004. Steve Gibson says he plans to release updated versions 6.1 (much faster and supports larger drives) and 7 (with support for the Mac), but it could be a while.
SpinRite can operate on internal and external drives, including USB drives. The S.M.A.R.T. aware features of SpinRite will not work in the virtual machine environment we will use on the Mac. However, this does not prevent SpinRite from recovering bad sectors, or refreshing marginal ones.
The good news is that you can continue to use your Mac while SpinRite, in a virtual machine, works on a hard drive. This is better than the usual situation where a physical Windows machine is dedicated to running SpinRite for the duration. However, you must not try to use SpinRite on your system boot drive (or any mounted drive). If you need to use it on your internal boot drive, you will either have to boot from another drive or connect your Mac to another Mac in target disk mode and run SpinRite from the other Mac.
This is an advanced topic. I assume if you are planning to run SpinRite that you are somewhat familiar with running DOS-based programs, such as SpinRite, and that you are willing to use the Mac’s Terminal command line.
You must perform these steps from an administrator account, or one with sudo access (usually only admin accounts). (At least from step 4 on.)
Use caution with connecting physical and virtual drives! Make sure that you are connecting the correct drives to your virtual machine, and that you are running SpinRite on the drive you intend. If you connect a RAW drive to a virtual machine while it is mounted by MacOS, you risk utter destruction of data on that drive. (Although VirtualBox seemingly tries to prevent you from doing this.)
Here is the executive summary of what you are going to do:
Get FreeDOS (sort of a MS-DOS replacement)
Install FreeDOS into VirtualBox
Install SpinRite into VirtualBox
Connect your problem drive to Virtual Box, so SpinRite can work on it
0. Get SpinRite – Buy and download SpinRite from grc.com if you don’t already have it.
Download the latest version for OS X (currently 5.2.22)
Create a new machine for DOS
Accept the defaults (32 MB RAM, 500 MB expandable virtual hard disk)
In Settings/System/Processor for the new machine, set the Execution Cap slider to about 45%. This keeps the virtual machine from spinning up your fans and running down your battery.
2. Get FreeDOS – Download and install FreeDOS from freedos.org. (It’s free)
Select the CDROM “standard” installer distribution. You’ll get a file something like FD12CD.iso.
The current version 1.2 is acceptable. You are going to install FreeDOS into the VirtualBox virtual machine you created above.
3. Install FreeDOS into Virtual Box
In Virtual Box, Click on your FreeDOS machine. Select Settings/Storage. Click on the empty optical drive icon. To mount your FreeDOS image click on the CD icon on the far right, and choose it using Choose Virtual Optical Disk File
Select the FreeDOS ISO image (FD12CD.iso).
You are now going to boot your virtual machine for the first time to install FreeDOS onto your virtual hard drive. It will help to understand some features of the Virtual Box user interface. You will need to click in the virtual machine window to allow you to type into it. When you do that, the virtual machine will “capture” your mouse and keyboard. To release the mouse and keyboard, to do anything else on your Mac, you can press the left âŒ˜ (command) key.
There is a bug between VirtualBox and FreeDOS that will cause the virtual machine to crash with a messy string of Invalid Opcode messages if you simply follow the prompts. There is a workaround, and here it is.
Select your virtual DOS machine in Virtual Box. Press Start. The virtual machine window will appear, and it should boot into the FreeDOS installer screen. There is a countdown running (50 seconds) which you need to stop. Click in the virtual machine window and press the TAB key. That will stop the timer. You are now editing the Install to harddisk menu option. Add the word raw (lower case) after the command line. Press return.
You should now be in the installer at the preferred language prompt. Proceed.
When asked if you want to partition Drive C:, select Yes. And also select Yes – Please reboot now. Once again, intercept the countdown with a tab and add raw to the command line.
You will be back to the installer preferred language prompt. Proceed. This time you will be asked if you want to format C:. Say Yes. Then choose your keyboard format (perhaps different from your preferred language).
At the prompt What FreeDOS packages do you want to install?, Choose Base packages only. This is sufficient for SpinRite.
Naturally, you will choose Yes – Please install FreeDOS 1.2.
When the install is complete, you will be asked if you want to reboot. Don’t do it yet. Wait until step 4b, below.
4. Install SpinRite Into VirtualBox
4a. You will Create a CD image with spinrite.exe on it. This will be used to get SpinRite.exe into the Virtual machine. When SpinRite runs, it can create an ISO containing itself. If you already have a SpinRite ISO created by SpinRite on a Windows machine you may use that and skip the rest of this step (skip to 4b).
Create a folder named “spinrite” in your Downloads folder. Put spinrite.exe into that folder.
Open a Terminal window. Enter this command into the terminal:
(Enter the command all on one line.) This will create a file on your desktop named image.iso containing spinrite.exe . This image is of a type acceptable to Virtual Box. If you create an image with Disk Utility instead, it will not work.
4b. In VirtualBox Manager, select your DOS machine, and pick Settings/Storage. Again, using the optical disk icon on the far right, choose the image.iso file we created on your desktop in step 4a, above. Click OK to save settings.
Now, back in the virtual machine, select Yes-Please reboot now and press enter. You don’t need to intercept the boot process anymore. Wait for the machine to boot into FreeDOS and the C:\> prompt.
The SpinRite “CD” should now be mounted as drive D:. Type the DOS command:
copy d:\spinrite.exe c:\spinrite.exe
This will copy Spinrite to your virtual C: drive. At this point, you now have a virtual machine with a virtual hard drive containing SpinRite, and you no longer need the image.iso image. You may remove that from the virtual drive if you like.
5. Connect the Problem Drive to VirtualBox and SpinRite
In the terminal, create a shell script as follows:
cat > srscript.sh
Then, copy the script below, and paste it into the terminal.
# This script creates a virtual disk image connected to a physical disk for connection to VirtualBox
read -p "Enter Disk name, e.g. disk8: " SpinRiteDisk
# make sure disk is unmounted
/usr/sbin/diskutil unmountDisk /dev/$SpinRiteDisk
sudo vboxmanage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename "$HOME/Desktop/VirtualRaw$SpinRiteDisk.vmdk" -rawdisk /dev/$SpinRiteDisk
sudo chmod 777 "$HOME/Desktop/VirtualRaw$SpinRiteDisk.vmdk"
sudo chmod 777 /dev/$SpinRiteDisk
/usr/sbin/diskutil unmountDisk /dev/$SpinRiteDisk
echo "Look on Desktop for raw disk file"
Now make your script executable with:
chmod +x srscript.sh
Make sure the drive to be tested is connected and powered on. You need to figure out what the device ID associated with the drive under test is. It will be of the form “diskX”, for example, it might be “disk5”. You can find this in Disk Utility, in the lower right corner.
If you see a suffix, e.g., disk5s1, ignore the suffix. This is the disk name you will need in the next step.
While you are in Disk Utility, go ahead and unmount all partitions on the drive to be tested, if any are mounted.
In the terminal, run the script:
Because the script contains sudo commands, you will be prompted for a password. Enter your Mac signon password. As mentioned above, this will only work for admin accounts, or accounts for which the user has been added to the file /etc/sudoers . When prompted, enter the device ID (disk name), e.g. disk5 . A vmdk file icon will appear on your desktop named appropriately.
In VirtualBox, go to the storage settings for your virtual machine.
Click the hard-drive-plus icon to add a new hard drive to the virtual IDE controller. At the prompt, select Choose Existing Disk, and then select the VirtualRawdiskx file you created on your desktop earlier.
If the FreeDOS CD is still mounted in your virtual machine, as shown above, remove it from the virtual drive so that your machine boots from your virtual hard drive. If you click on the .iso, the remove option then appears if you click the optical disk icon in the far right of the dialog box.
Very likely, at this point, your target disk may have remounted itself. Eject/Unmount it before proceeding. VirtualBox will complain about being unable to access the VirtualDrive if partitions on the physical drive are still in use. Eject it using DiskUtility or the Finder.
In VirtualBox, start your virtual machine. It should boot up to the FreeDOS command prompt.
Issue the DOS command:
You are now running SpinRite on a Mac! As promised earlier, SpinRite will have no access to S.M.A.R.T. data in this scenario.
When SpinRite is done (much, much later), you should restore the correct disk permissions. Leaving the raw disk permissions with world access is a security risk.
In the terminal you can restore them with, for example:
sudo chmod 640 /dev/disk5
If disk5 was your target disk. Check that the permissions are correct with
ls -l /dev/disk*
The raw disk files should all have the same permissions:
I hope these instructions were helpful for you. Thanks for reading.
Extended installation Instructions for FreeDOS are here:
I have been given the opportunity to review Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery Software. The Stellar Data Recovery Home page claims the software will perform safe and accurate recovery of lost documents, photos, music files, or videos that have been accidentally or intentionally deleted from Mac computer. While I did not review all the claims made by Stellar Data Recovery I did test the ability to recover deleted files.
I deleted some photo, Word, music and PDF files from my iMac and three days later tried to recover them. I was skeptical, so prior to deleting the files I copied them to a flash drive to insure they would not be lost. I ran the software, selected the appropriate drive and to my surprise all the deleted files were recovered and retained the original names.
The software comes with an online User Manual. Although the software is slightly expensive the cost is offset by the ability to recover priceless photos or documents.
Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery Software is a good product and does what it claims.
I set out recently to find a shared iOS shopping list App to replace my family’s paper grocery shopping list. I had some pretty simple requirements:
Easy-to-use sharing between family members using different iCloud accounts
Ability to review the list in the store and mark items off
Ability to review and revive completed items (We’ve got milk this time, but we’ll need it again soon)
I spent some time in the App store looking at reviews and didn’t see anything I wanted to buy. Some otherwise useful apps had a bad reputation for crashing. Others were just too complex. Some needed a subscription and a sign-on for sharing to work. It’s just creepy that the vendor would be watching everything on your shopping list.
Eventually I found it. An app that was already on my phone that met all my requirements and didn’t need any additional sign-ups, plus you can use Siri to add items to the list by voice.
The app is: Reminders — the humble Apple Reminders app that comes with iOS.
When the new version of Numbers for the Mac came out some features were dropped. Most of them have not been added back in. Reviews of the apps have been definitely mixed. Numbers only gets a 3-star rating on the App store (both versions).
Two-and-a-half to three stars is a pretty terrible rating, especially for an Apple app. As you can see, the ratings are very mixed with most reviewers giving either one star or five-star ratings. The ratings for the iOS version are very similar.
The one-star reviews are mostly from people upset about advanced features removed from the previous version. The five-star reviews tend to be from people who have come to the application fresh, with no special expectations.
Numbers includes hundreds of distinct features. The chart below highlights just a few of my favorite features as compared with Microsoft Excel.
Documents, Sheets and Tables
Numbers documents can have multiple sheets. Each sheet can have multiple tables. When you create a new Numbers document, it has one sheet with one table on that sheet.
If you have used Excel, having multiple sheets should be familiar. The main difference is that the sheets appear at the top of the window instead of at the bottom.
The concept of having multiple tables on a single sheet may be new to users of older spreadsheet programs. It is a very nice feature, which allows you to separate groups of data or formulas which are of different types instead of lumping them all into the same grid of rows and columns. You can arrange the tables on the page however you like.
Numbers uses a consistent set of formatting controls very similar to those in the Pages word processor we discussed last month. These are presented in a pane on the right hand side of the window. These controls look simple, but all together, they have a lot of power. In addition to the pre-defined Table and Text styles, you can create and save your own preferred styles.
Type an equals sign to enter formula editing mode for a cell. Color coding appears showing the source cells used in your formula. This makes it easier to understand if your formula is correct or to see the source of errors.
When you copy or fill a formula into additional cells, Numbers automatically adjusts cell references relative to the current cell. If you want to override that to select an absolute row, absolute column, or absolute cell, you can use the Preserve Row/Preserve Column options.
Importing Files From Excel
A common task in Numbers would be to open an Excel document created by someone else. This can work fairly well, but is not completely painless.
This imported okay, and the amortization calculations agreed, but the date formulas were not imported correctly and would have to be re-done in numbers.
One of our members asked how Numbers was at handling large files imported from Excel. To test this I created a large spreadsheet in Excel with 40,000 rows and about 14 columns. The file size in Excel was 3.7 Megabytes. Numbers opened it without complaint, but it took about 30 seconds. When saved as a native Numbers document, its size increased to 6.3 Mbytes, but the native document opened in Numbers in about five seconds.
Although I didn’t get any warnings in Numbers, I did get one “Not enough memory” message in Excel while cutting, pasting and filling to create the document. Excel handled it gracefully without crashing.
iOS Numbers App
The Numbers app on iOS is deliberately very similar to the version for Macintosh.
FYI, Excel also has an iOS app which is free in the App store. It looks like this:
The Excel app is apparently read-only until you register for and log in to a Microsoft Office 365 account.
If you want a spreadsheet program to perform the usual tasks of calculation, sorting and organizing, and you don’t have much prior experience with spreadsheets, you will find Numbers a very useful application. It’s especially easy to learn because of consistent controls across Mac and iOS versions and consistency with Pages and Keynote.
If you know what a pivot table is, or have a lot of spreadsheets already in Excel format, you may be dissatisfied with the limitations of Numbers.