Two things I learnt about the Recovery Partition in OS X

I’ve spent the past three days figuring out why I could not see the Recovery Partition in the list of startup disks when booting up my MacBook Air with OS X Mavericks. Silly me, I made a rookie mistake! Let me tell you what I’ve learnt.

The Recovery Partition

This restore partition is automatically created by OS X Lion, Mountain Lion and Mavericks when installing any of these operating systems.

It is mainly used to:

  • Reinstall the operating system in case of problems with the main partition
  • Access Disk Utility in case you need to troubleshoot the system partition where you’ve installed OS X
  • Setup a Firmware Password

For a complete list of features and a starting point for other discussions, check this Apple KB.

Option key at startup time

When you press the Option key at boot up time, you can choose the disk/partition to boot from.

This comes handy when you want to boot from an external hard-drive. A typical scenario for doing so might be because you want to test a new version of OS X.

My mistake was to believe that the Recovery Partition of my MacBook Air was visible in this screen. That is wrong, the Recovery Partition of your internal system disk is invisible from OS X. This can be easily verified in Disk Utility too.

Command + R at startup time

This is the only way to access the Recovery Partition of your system hard disk.

Remember to try this option at least once, to make sure you can access this partition in case of problems.

Also, when you’re in there it’s a good idea to set a Firmware Password. When you do that, reinstalling OS X on your Mac cannot be done without unlocking the firmware.

The most useful and often neglected advantage of having set up a Firmware Password is that if anyone steals your Mac they will not be able to re-install OS X. The smarter thief will try to replace the existing hard-drive with another one that has OS X preinstalled. Even in that case the firmware of your Mac will detect the new hard-drive and prompt you to enter the Firmware Password before booting from that drive. In essence, your Mac becomes a brick, totally unsellable on the black market.

A word of warning: Never forget that password, because only Apple can unlock a Mac protected in that way, and only after providing a valid invoice.

Dropbox revamps storage plans and adds features to its Pro service

Today Dropbox announced these new features to its Pro service:

  • Passwords for shared links create an additional layer of security so only people with the password can access your link.
  • Expirations for shared links safeguard your sensitive files by letting you set how long your links stay up.
  • View-only permissions for shared folders let you pick whether recipients can edit or just view files within your shared folder.
  • Remote wipe lets you delete your Dropbox files from a lost or stolen device while keeping them safely backed up in Dropbox.

This announcement comes together with the simplification of storage plans. For USD 9.99 a month or USD 99.00 a year, all Pro users can now avail of 1TB of storage. 

The feature set is worth the upgrade, but the storage plan is still expensive for whoever needs less than 1TB of storage.

Obviously Dropbox has the metrics that show that only a handful of users are going to store 1TB of storage, hence this announcement masked as a price drop. A quick poll with my friends and colleagues has shown that all of them store way below 100GB of data in Dropbox. All these people will continue to pay USD 99.00.

On the Wall-Huggers Samsung commercial


TUAW has posted the best criticism to the Wall-Huggers Samsung commercial:

So, let me get this straight. If I put my amazing Galaxy S5 into ultra power saving mode, I’ll see everything in grayscale, I’ll only be able to run a few apps, mobile data will be turned off when the screen is off, and WiFi and Bluetooth are totally disabled.

Basically ultra power saving mode in the Samsung S5 makes the smartphone a doorstopper or something similar.

You can only run the text messages, phone,  calculator, Google+, ChatON, Memo, Voice Recorder and Clock apps. In addition you can browse the web with Samsung’s own web browser.

How useful can a smartphone be with this app selection? I’m thinking of the few times I ran out of juice on my iPhone and the use case to have a power saving mode, and can’t find it.

TUAW ends the article with:

Gee, I can attach an external battery pack to my iPhone and don’t have to pop the cheap plastic back of my phone to do it…


A UX designer reviews Mailbox for Mac

I am not a Mailbox user, and don’t plan to be one, but you should read this Mailbox review because it was written by a professional working in UX (i.e. User Experience):

Email is universal, multi-platform and omnipresent. Finding a workaround for the problems and shortcomings of email is a nice design exercise. Actually fixing it is the real challenge.

The analysis on how the Mailbox team might have finally solved the difficult task of designing a better email application is a fascinating read for a UX noob like me.

Android user tests an iPhone 5s for a month

Finally a well documented, and informed long article from an Android user about the iPhone 5s and iOS 7 in general:

At the end of the day, the iPhone 5s has aged quite well. While the hardware quality is a cut above, it’s more than just a matter of pure hardware. It’s clear to me that the user experience wouldn’t be nearly as good without Apple’s strong control over software. TouchID is quite possibly the best example of this, as there’s no need to wait for an official API to support fingerprint authentication for App Store purchases or other similar situations. While I felt a bit constrained by the limits in the operating system, the integration and overall quality of the experience outweighed these disadvantages. I’m not quite sure if either is better at this point, as while I definitely enjoy the amount of low-level information and customization available on Android, iOS has a much more polished and highly integrated experience.

Being a geek, I love some banter with Android users, it’s fun and can be a good intellectual excercise. At the end of the day it all comes down to what you as user value most. 

I like paying Apple for making tough decisions about design so that I don’t have to. The moment I take out of the box a new Apple device I can be productive in minutes, rather than spending my time customizing it. 

Easter Egg hidden in Pages for Mac

The new Pages application for OS X contains an Easter Egg as reported by OS X Daily:

Every Mac which has the Pages app for OS X installed includes a little Easter Egg that few know about; a famous Steve Jobs speech, tucked away in a little unassuming folder. Technically, it’s two different Steve Jobs speeches, the famous text from the Crazy Ones Think Different campaign, and arguably the even more famous 2005 Steve Jobs commencement speech from Stanford University.

I like to think that in the Cupertino campus there is an unnamed engineer — drawn to Apple thanks to Steve Jobs’ charisma — that wanted to say Thank You in this way.

The Chicago typeface


It was the typeface Chicago that spelled out “Welcome to Macintosh,” ushering us into a new age of personal computing. But it was also a new age for digital type. Here was a typeface created explicitly for the Macintosh, part of designer Susan Kare’s strategy to customize everything from the characters to the icons — that happy computer, the wristwatch, an actual trashcan — to make it feel more human and less machine.

Most of us couldn’t quite put our finger on what made these letters so different. But the secret was in the spaces between the letters. Chicago was one of the first proportional fonts, which meant that instead of each character straining to fill up pixels in a specified rectangle, the letters were allowed to take up as much or little space as they needed. 

For someone grown up using a Commodore 64 (with a fixed 40 character screen width) and a Commodore 8032 (80 characters per line), seeing proportional fonts was a revelation that I will never forget. 

The Chicago font remains one of my favourite fonts ever, and seeing it gives me bittersweet feelings. Incidentally, the Mac doesn’t have the Chicago font installed by default anymore, but you can download it from here.

Edit: I’ve replaced the link to download the Chicago font from this to this as Font Book was giving me an error when importing the font downloaded from the original website. 

How I solved the problem of the MacBook Air/Pro stuck at password login after sleep

This thing occurred to me 5-6 times in two weeks. I would wake my MacBook Air from sleep, type my login password, press enter and nothing happened. 

The Mac just stayed there, with the pointer still usable, no spinning wheel, but with the Cancel/Guest buttons and password field greyed out. It looked as if OS X was stuck in an infinite loop while validating the password.

The only way out of this situation was to turn off the computer. 

The solution that I’ve found is very simple:

  1. Turn off the computer
  2. Turn it on and log into your account. Chances are you are not going to have problems here. 
  3. Change your user account password from System Preferences
  4. Turn off the Mac
  5. Boot the Mac, and log into your account with your new password
  6. Optional: Change the password to the old one
2014 08 22 system preferenes

After following these steps I haven’t had a single problem. For your information, I applied this solution three weeks ago and my MacBook Air hasn’t frozen on the login screen since then. 

DuckDuckGo: Privacy vs. Relevancy

One of the new functionalities of OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 is the possibility to choose DuckDuckGo as Safari’s default search engine. 

I’ve been testing DuckDuckGo for a few weeks now with good results. Google’s ability to show the most relevant results to you is unbeatable, but that comes at a price. Privacy on the other hand is DuckDuckGo strength, as the TOC clearly states that the company doesn’t collect personal data. 

At the end of the day, it all comes down to results quality vs. privacy. What do you choose and why?

In case you’re curious about DuckDuckGo, this is a good review

Writing after brain surgery

Steve Wildstrom writing for Techpinions:

Back last spring, after surgery for removal of a brain tumor, I thought I’d be back after a couple months of recovery. The process, however, turned out to be much slower and more complex than I expected to the point where I am still the victim of a number of problems.

This is a touching post, from someone who’s been close to the end. Never give up, never surrender. You’ve got to do what it takes to win.

Good luck Steve, I’m with you.