Miscellaneous Ramblings

Degunking Your Mac, Tiger Edition

Charles Moore - 2006.04.24 - Tip Jar

Joli Bellew's Degunking Your Mac is a modestly priced book that really can help you get more out of your Mac and iPod, and there is nothing else quite like it in Macintosh books.

The Tiger Edition has grown by 129 pages from the 1st edition's 267 pages to 396, and none of the new content is padding. OS X 10.4 "Tiger" includes more than 200 new features, and several of them - notably the Dashboard, Spotlight, Smart Folders, and the Automator - merit detailed coverage. Degunking Your Mac provides good, concise instruction and tips on using these Tiger technologies.

The scope of the book has also been expanded to cover Degunking Your iPod, a topic that was not addressed at all in the original edition. If you're an iPod owner, the information in this chapter alone could be worth the book's price, which remains at $24.99.

The downside for low-enders is that the chapter on Optimizing OS 9 has been dropped from the Tiger Edition, which has just a three-page overview on using Classic Mode. If you're an OS 9 holdout, it might be worth your while getting a first edition of the book.

more pagesOf the material carried over, much of it has been enhanced, updated, and expanded. Besides the new Degunking Your iPod chapter, there are new chapters on the Degunking the Dashboard; Degunking iChat, VoiceOver, and QuickTime 7; and using the Automator.

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. Those reading this review may not be familiar with the first edition of Degunking Your Mac, so let's take a look at the basic concept of computer degunking.

Life could be described as an exercise in imposing order on chaos with varying degrees of success. Computer stewardship is a microcosm of this. More succinctly, it's an ongoing battle against gunk.

Gunk is life's inevitable clutter, be it mental, material, or digital. Around your home, it is characterized by things like rain gutters getting clogged with debris; the garage, basement, attic, and back porch filling up with assorted junk; broken tools and appliances; slow drains; leaky faucets; and chimneys that need sweeping.

In your mind, gunk is the distractions, digressions, and ennui that often result in your putting off cleaning the gutters or addressing other needful exigencies.

Degunking Your MacYour Mac gets gunked up, too. Obsolete or unwanted files clutter up your directories; you upgrade software and forget to uninstall or trash the previous version(s), your email archives fill up with spam that you don't get around to deleting - or just obsolete and no longer relevant messages. You put off running Repair Permissions and cron maintenance scripts, or perhaps you don't even know these routines exist.

Paraglyph Press President and publisher Keith Weiskamp comments: "A lot of Mac users didn't believe us when we first said that Macs accumulated gunk like any other computer. But the huge success of Degunking Your Mac showed us that even with a rock-solid operating system such as Tiger, Mac computer users can still benefit from some basic, no-nonsense, degunking advice. Joli has once again written a top-notch book that clears up the mysteries of Tiger and helps all readers maximize the power that's been built into this incredible OS."

The effect of gunk is that your Mac's performance will suffer and the chaos will sabotage your efficiency and productivity. Programs and processes will run slower and slower, and you will waste more and more valuable time looking for files that you know are there but can't find in the clutter.

The purpose of the book is to get you up to speed on gunk-tackling as quickly and painlessly as possible. The author, Joli Ballew, is a community college software teacher and graphic artist who has written several computer books.

While Degunking Your Mac is a comprehensive and thorough tutorial in its titular topic, in the real world, people may only have a limited amount of time to devote to computer degunking. Consequently, the book's chapter content is sensibly preceded by a capsule "Degunking with Time Limitations" section including formulae for 10-minute, 30-minute, one-hour, three-hour, and half-day degunking projects as well as catch-as-catch-can spare moment degunking. These will get you started. There is also a 12-step degunking program that shows you how to get your Mac operating at optimum speed in 12 easy steps.

Interspersed throughout the main text you will find many "Gunkbuster's Notebook" sidebars with extra detail and tips on topics like cleaning up digital camera gunk, finding and deleting duplicate files, cleaning up after downloads and decompression, using the Shared Folder as a gunkbuster, using Spotlight as a supplementary Help option, watching out for malicious third-party widgets, and so forth.

...email has become one of the biggest gunk magnets on planet....

While I doubt that many nonprofessional Mac users will take Ms. Bellew's advice about using FTP in lieu of email attachments, I hope that her suggestion to use plain text rather than formatted or HTML email will find receptive ears. As she notes, email has become one of the biggest gunk magnets on planet, and things like gratuitous attachments and text formatting are a big part of the problem.

Degunking Your Mac is a very useful resource that shows you how to keep your computer reasonably organized and clutter-free.

Over the years I've developed my own degunking protocols and routines that work pretty well for me, but I know a lot of folks who just don't bother. It's amazing that some people's Macs run at all, let alone continue providing tolerably good service despite being cumbered with vast accretions of gunk. The fact that the Mac is such a solid, robust platform combined with the general lack of having to deal with the endless virus/malware onslaught that besieges PC-users allows Mac folks to get away with slovenly computer-keeping habits.

There are degrees of gunk-tolerance, and what for one user would be a demoralizing mess of gunkiness might just another's comfortable chaos. My Desktop is an example. I typically will have somewhere between 100 to 200 icons scattered about in what would appear to the casual observer to be no particular order. However, I pretty much know where everything is, and I find that keeping work in progress out where I can see it is preferable to rooting around the through folders or using Spotlight. Once a project is completed and no longer current, it does get shunted to archive folders, for which I keep aliases on the Desktop for quick and convenient access.

On the other hand, I am fairly obsessive about trashing transiently outdated or obsolete stuff, routinely throwing unwanted gunk away, weeding email boxes regularly, and upgrading programs systematically and deleting older versions. I keep my working files organized in a few key folders and try to run a system maintenance utility at least every two weeks or so. This regimen works pretty well, but it's the result of more than a dozen years conditioning, trial and error, and habit.

My point is that you should degunk regularly, but you need to find a comfort zone that works practically for you. This book can help you do that.

It also bears emphasizing that degunking goes far beyond just getting rid of unwanted clutter and chaos; it includes system maintenance, keeping your system and applications updated, and data backups, all of which are addressed at some length in Degunking Your Mac.

Here's a concise chapter overview:

Chapter 1, Is My Mac Really Gunked Up?, is an introductory overview of the book's content, including a discussion of what gunk his, what the experts know, understanding how your Mac gets gunked up, and preparing you for degunking.

Chapter 2, Degunking Your Mac, gets down to business with a systematic degunking strategy, that includes organizational techniques for files and folders, cleaning the Desktop and Finder windows (or in my case not), organizing email, disabling unnecessary components, upgrading software (and hardware), backups, maintenance, and more.

Chapter 3, is called Getting Rid of Files That Shouldn't Be There, starting with your Home folder and its subfolders. The next order of business is to clean up your Desktop. Despite appearances, this is actually something I do several times a day. If I didn't, things would quickly get out of hand.

Ms. Ballew suggests throwing away software installer files, which is fine as long as you are sure you will never want to reinstall the program. My practice is to keep installers for current versions of all programs I use, as well as system version upgrades. It takes up a lot of hard drive space, but I'm on a dialup Internet connection with no local access to broadband, so there is a lot of online time invested in installer downloads. I keep the installer files on a separate hard drive partition from my operating system.

Chapter 3 also covers cleaning up other folders, managing the Shared folder, the hard disk window, the user's toolbar, deleting obsolete user accounts, tracking down elusive temporary files, and managing aliases.

Chapter 4 is about Uninstalling Programs You Don't Need (and Tweaking Those You Do). This sounds pretty straightforward and commonsensical, but it's amazing how quickly old versions of programs that have been installed or updated accumulate in the Applications folder. Also covered is deleting preferences files from deleted programs. The second part of the chapter is concerned with tuning the programs you want to keep by optimizing performance settings, view settings, and getting the most out of the Classic, Carbon, and Cocoa environments in OS X.

Chapter 5, Organizing Your Remaining Files and Folders, is about organizing and personalizing the Home folder, the Desktop, Documents, Photos, Music, Movies folders and so forth, using the Mac OS Labels feature as an organizing tool, compressing and archiving, using the search bar and Find to find stray files, and another discussion about hard drive defragmenting.

In Chapter 6, we Clean Up the Dock, Finder, and Menu Bar, removing superfluous icons and adding useful ones, tailoring the various Dock appearance and behavior features to your taste, cleaning up and personalizing Finder windows, and managing Menu Extras.

Chapter 7, Degunking The Dashboard, is new to the Tiger Edition, and covers removing Dashboard and Widget Bar gunk, positioning widgets efficiently, and setting Dashboard preferences, as well as tips on personalizing your Dashboard widgets and locating and installing useful third-party widgets.

Chapter 8, Degunking iChat, VoiceOver, and QuickTime 7, addresses degunking these three Tiger technologies.

Fonts and Font Gunk get a chapter all their own - Chapter 9, which is a tutorial on font management, including use of the Font Book application, disabling fonts, and moving fonts from OS 9.

Chapter 10, Degunking Your iPod, is my favorite of the completely new chapters in Degunking Your Mac, Tiger Edition. A large proportion of Mac users these days have iPods, and its inclusion is very welcome and appropriate in the context of the degunking. In this chapter Ms. Bellew, an iPod fan, explains how to keep your iPod in sync with your Mac manually so you have full content control; organize your iPod with playlists, use your iPod as a PDA, connect your iPod to a TV, home theater system, or your car stereo, and use your iPod as a backup hard drive, a USB flash drive, or a Mac FireWire disk. There's also a sidebar on iPod troubleshooting, specific tips on using iPod photo, and using the Copy To Play command to degunk shuffled playlists.

Chapter 11, Preventing Spam Gunk, covers preemptive countermeasures against email gunk accumulation, its primary suggestion being to set up at least three different email addresses: primary, backup, and disposable, plus tips on "safe emailing" to avoid as much as possible getting on spammers' mailing lists. These techniques do work. I have email accounts that I've used daily for years to communicate with only a few select associates and family, and they never get any spam.

There is also a section on making good use of OS X Mail's junk email filtering features as well as using third-party spam-filtering utilities.

Chapter 12 continues on with instructions and tips on Cleaning Up E-mail Gunk, such as reorganizing your address book, managing email folders, dealing with attachments, plus suggestions for efficient and considerate emailing.

Chapter 13, Optimizing Your Hard Drive, tells you how to degunk the startup process, fixing problem software, repairing bad memory, enhancing hard disk performance, and other ways to tweak your system.

Chapter 14, Staying Organized and Up-to-Date, covers software updates, configuring the Mac OS Energy Saver, plug-ins, using the System Profiler, configuring Exposé a in Panther, creating a Desktop printer, and getting a .mac account.

Chapter 15, The Best Hardware for Mac Degunking, shows how and why to add more memory, adding backup devices, using CD and DVD burners, adding a second monitor, upgrading USB, physically cleaning hardware like keyboards, mice, monitors, and the computer's external case. There is also a section on deciding when it makes sense to purchase a new computer and how to transfer your files and settings when you do.

Chapter 16, Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools, explains how to check the file system for errors, deleting Library caches, running Disk Utility, zapping the PRAM, and there are a few notes on third-party maintenance applications.

Chapter 17 is about Improving Security - things like securing the login process, hiding the restart and shut down buttons, creating screen saver passwords, using OS X's built-in firewall and Secure Empty Trash features, creating visitor accounts, using antivirus software, configuring Safari for security, and using File Vault.

Chapter 18, Backing Up Precious Files, discusses various backup techniques, and some of the better-known backup programs, backing up to CDs and other backup devices, and storing backups.

Chapter 19, Using Automator, explains what Automator is, using the Automator to your best advantage, downloading new Automator actions, and discovering the uses for Automator.

Finally, there are an appendix, Troubleshooting Your Mac with Degunking Techniques, and a nine-page index.

For its target readership, which is novice to intermediate Mac users, Degunking Your Mac contains a wealth of useful and helpful information on computer chaos management and maintaining optimum performance. If you're a Mac veteran, there's a lot here that you're probably already up to speed on, but check out those chapters on the iPod and the new Tiger features.

both editionsI really like the book's 40s/50s retro-themed cover design, and I think the winsome model in the cover photo is even more fetching than the lass that graced the first edition's cover (it could be the same girl in a different shot).

Ironically, the book's internal page design could use some degunking of its own. There are way too many font styles and sizes, and the layout is busy and more than a bit crowded, which makes the book less of a pleasure to use than it might have been.

Also, classic iMac cartoon mascot's use throughout the book is a bit out of date in a work that is based on degunking OS X 10.4. How about a Mac mini?

But don't let these minor aesthetic criticisms deter you from checking out Degunking Your Mac if the topics sound like stuff you need to know more about. There is nothing else quite like it on the Mac bookshelf.

Degunking Your Mac, Tiger Edition
Joli Ballew
Publisher: Paraglyph Press
July 2005
ISBN: 1-933097-05-1
350 pages, $24.99 US, $36.99 CA

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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