Update: Amazon’s Fire TV

Three years ago I wrote a post about watching local content on Amazon’s Fire TV via Plex. At that time, we watched content via Mac minis connected to LED TVs. The main problem with this approach was the accessibility to online services such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. You had to wrangle a keyboard and mouse from the couch, and that was just cumbersome (and not kid-friendly).

I expressed my desire in that post for Amazon to release a stick version of their Fire TV, similar to Roku’s Streaming Stick. I had tried out Roku’s stick, and didn’t like it much. Well, they did eventually release a Fire TV Stick, but I opted to purchase the full boxes instead.

Since that post, we have converted to watching content via Fire TVs connected to those same LED TVs. We still have those Mac minis connected (although they mainly serve their purpose as Plex Media Servers and OTA DVRs). These Fire TV boxes are great, and fairly stable. We mainly watch Plex content on them, but they are also an easy way to consume Amazon’s video and music library, while also providing easy access to YouTube (a service I thoroughly enjoy watching vlogs [and the occasional fail compilation] on).

Since purchasing those Fire TVs, we delve even deeper into the Amazon ecosystem and purchased Fire tablets for the boys. I was hesitant to adopt the Android platform (being so firmly in the iOS camp), but it works great for the boys (who also have their own iOS devices to keep them grounded in truth). Don’t get me wrong, I will always be loyal to iOS, and I would never buy an Android phone. But for cheap tablets, these things are great.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Wrangle pesky “newer version” errors in Illustrator

From time to time I receive an AI or EPS file from a client that just won’t open – either at all, or not cleanly. The reason given is usually of the “newer version” nature. The error is typically…

There is an easy solution – given you are running a Mac. There is a neat little application that I use a lot – Preview – which most of us pass off as Apple’s free PDF reader. But it can do so much more.

The solution to this “newer version” issue is to open the AI or EPS file in Preview. To do this, right-click (or control-click) on the offending file and choose “Open With > Preview.” This will work for virtually all EPS files, and most AI files that were saved with PDF compatibility. The file is opened in a new untitled Preview window. Go to “File > Save As…” and save it as a PDF file and close the Preview window. Now, right-click (or control-click) on your new PDF file and choose “Open With > Illustrator.”

Your resulting file will typically be locked together in a clipping mask, but this can easily be released and then fully edited or manipulated.

While you are in Preview, look at its other cool features, such as…

  • Combining multiple PDFs into a single file
  • Saving PDF files in other graphics formats, such as JPG, TIF, etc.
  • Encrypting existing PDF files with password protection
  • Decreasing PDF file sizes by reducing image quality
  • And so much more…

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Watch your local content on Amazon Fire TV

A few days ago Amazon released their offering in the streaming box arena (what is sometimes referred to as a set-top box). It’s called Fire TV, and it’s creating quite the buzz.

Fire TV

The competition is fierce in this area, with solutions from Apple, Roku and Google already established as the go-to guys. At $99, the price matches Apple TV and Roku 3, and to be honest we really can’t compare it to Google’s Chromecast at $35. Not a cost comparison, but the lack of Chromecast’s features.

But to me, the game changer here is Fire TV’s support for existing Android apps (from Amazon), and most importantly, Plex, which is supported right out of the gate. Apple TV has no officially supported Plex client, and Roku’s UI gives me a splitting headache. The Plex client for Fire TV is Plex for Android, and it’s already been around for a while, and the UI is excellent. Not Plex Home Theater excellent, mind you, but better than Roku.


For a while, Roku has been the easiest (and cheapest) way to get Plex on your TV. I purchased Rokus for my father and father-in-law, which allows them to see the content I share with them via Plex. I still prefer to run Mac minis on my TVs, but I am seriously considering this Fire TV as a future Plex client when my minis can’t cut it anymore (seeing as how they are pushing 5 years old).

The majority of 1-2 star reviews for Fire TV complain that you cannot access your local media (via DLNA or otherwise). I would imagine that the vast majority of Fire TV users are obtaining their content from providers like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, etc. But, for those individuals that have local content, Plex is the answer. All it requires is that you install Plex Media Server (free) on your supported Mac, Windows, or NAS device, and purchase the Plex for Android app for the Fire TV. Once you setup Plex Media Server with all of your media, it presents itself beautifully on the Fire TV Plex for Android app.

Now, if I can gripe for just a moment here.

I recently tried out the Roku Streaming Stick. It’s a great little device, but again, the interface is horrible. Netflix looks pretty good on it, but that’s about it. Amazon Instant Video and Plex channels share the same common look and feel. It’s difficult to browse content, and it’s plainly not fun to use.

The positive, however, is that it’s a stick. It plugs right into your HDMI port, with the power being drawn from the TV’s USB port. If your TV doesn’t have a USB port, you can plug it into a regular power outlet with the included adapter. I would love to see a similar solution from Amazon. I’m all about less clutter. If I can have a TV hanging on the wall with no devices dangling from it, or power cords junking up my living room, I’m a happy camper. I’d be fine with giving up ethernet, optical audio and USB if I could have a Fire TV stick.

All this being said, I’m going to hold off a bit longer to see what Apple’s answer will be. If they release an Apple TV stick that supports iOS apps (including Plex), with a remote and game control via iOS devices… that… that would be awesome.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

A, B, G, N, AC… now I know my wifi terms…

I heard Downton Abbey was good.

Okay, I know it’s good. My wife and I are addicted. Heck, my parents got into it and tore through an entire series in a few days. And before I leave the topic of Downton, I find it strange that they call their seasons series. I’m not sure if this is a UK thing, but it really confuses the heck out of me. What happens when the show ends? You can’t call it the Series Finale… they’ve already had three of those. So what would it be called? Also, if they continue on with these Christmas Specials (which really aren’t Christmas Specials at all, but in fact extremely important episodes illustrating continuity), I think I just might lose it.

Anyways… why even bring it up. Oh yeah…

We watch Downton Abbey in glorious 1080p HD quality. The show files themselves reside on a Mac Mini upstairs, running Plex Media Server. We mostly consume the shows downstairs via a Mac Mini running Plex Media Center, which is connected to a Sony LCD TV capable of 1080p. The troublesome connection in this setup is transferring data between the two Mac Minis. Neither are physically connected to each other, nor are they on wired networks. They are both dependent upon a wireless connection.

At the center of our home network is a Netgear 802.11g/n router capable of simultaneous dual bands, with speeds of up to 900Mbps. Each Mac Mini is capable of communicating over both bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz) in B, G or N. In addition to these Minis, we have various other devices throughout the house that consume media wirelessly (laptops, iPod touches, etc.)

Recently the 5GHz radio in my dual band router decided to die. Luckily, the 2.4GHz band kept on running. The router was only four months old, so luckily it was covered under warranty (which unfortunately was not an easy process).

The problem with this dead radio was that the Mac Minis transmitted data over the 5GHz band. In my setup, the 5GHz band provided the fastest possible speeds, and allowed streaming of 1080p content. Now that the 5GHz band was gone, we began experiencing constant stuttering and buffering – since the 2.4GHz band was not providing the necessary bandwidth.

There are many reasons for this, some of which are listed here.

  • Neighbor congestion
    The area around my house has no less than 10 wifi signals operating on the 2.4GHz band. This band only has three unique channels (1, 6 and 11). I was operating on channel 6, but the neighboring channels 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 were causing interference – which results is lower transmission speeds and shorter broadcast distances.
  • Legacy devices not capable of 450Mbps
    A 2.4GHz wireless network is only as fast as the slowest client connected. So, if you have a 802.11b device connected to your network, your speeds cannot exceed 11Mbps (the maximum throughput for 802.11b devices).
  • Improper placement of router
    Something as simple as changing the placement of the router can affect its broadcast capability. Move it away from metal objects, or other electrical devices which may deflect inbound and outbound traffic.
  • Interference from other electrical devices
    Similar to neighboring wifi networks, interference from household appliances can wreak havoc on your 2.4GHz wifi network. Microwaves transmit on this frequency to heat your food. Some cordless telephones use this frequency, and don’t forget about that baby monitor.

The 5GHz band is still susceptible to interference. Weather stations and some military branches use the 5GHz band, and for this reason wifi routers are limited to the amount of power they can transmit. The 5GHz band has more channels than 2.4GHz’s 11 bands, and none of them overlap. The lower bands are limited in their power output, while the higher bands can transmit at a higher wattage. So, in short, it’s best to use a higher channel to achieve maximum speeds and distance. As time progresses, and 5GHz devices become cheaper, they will be more broadly installed and more susceptible to neighboring interference. The newer 802.11ac standard, which promises 1Gbps throughput, should be fully embraced by 2015. This new standard uses the 5GHz band – only adding to the congestion.

Overall, using the 5GHz band doubles my transmission rate over 2.4GHz. If you don’t have a dual band router – yet use a myriad of devices all communicating on different standards – I suggest investing in a dual band router. Setup each band with it’s own SSID, and make sure 5GHz capable devices are using the 5GHz SSID, and slower legacy devices are using the 2.4GHz SSID.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Achieve best results from iMovie to iDVD

My main concern with iMovie ’08 several years ago was the complete removal of easily creating a DVD from within iMovie (via iDVD). Certainly this was addressed via the followup ’09 release of iMovie, but an issue still remained, and still remains today. iMovie uses single-field processing. This means that every other horizontal line of the video is thrown out, which reduces the sharpness of the footage. This quality loss is exaggerated when attempting to export to DVD, which is interlaced video.

I won’t go into the difference here between interlaced and progressive. I’ll assume that by now you’ve heard this 1000 times, with all the 480i, 720p, 1080i, 1080p jargon.

The simple fact is that the loss of that dropped second field really causes problems with DVD, which is 480i. Throw in an upscaling DVD player that exports at 1080p, and you’ll have a hot mess.

Luckily, there is a way to achieve the best results you can. Certainly the best way is to use a version of iMovie prior to iMovie ’08, such as iMovie 6 HD. Unfortunately, this really limits your editing abilities afforded by using a newer version of iMovie.

So, assuming that you’ll be using the newest version of iMovie and iDVD, the method of importing and editing your video remains the same. The quality retention (at least the best it can be), is handled when the video is complete, and being exported to iDVD. You’d think that using the Share > iDVD menu item would give you the best possible quality. This isn’t so. The trick is using Share > Export using QuickTime…

Once the dialog appears, choose Export: Movie to QuickTime Movie and click on Options…

Make sure both Video and Sound are checked. Then click on Video Settings.

For Compressions Type, choose Apple Intermediate Codec, Frame Rate: Current, Data Rate: Automatic. Under Compressor, choose Other, check Interlaced, Top Field First. Click OK.

Next, click on Video Size. Choose Dimensions: 1280×720 HD. Make sure Deinterlace Source Video is unchecked. Click OK.

Next, click on Sound Settings. Make the settings match what is shown below. The sound settings here do not affect the quality of the video. You can adjust these as needed. Click OK.

Name your video file and click save. A special note here is that this will create a very large file: a rate of about 20GB per hour. Remembering that iDVD will need hard drive space that is double the final size of the DVD, you’ll need to make sure you have the resources.

The resulting video quality won’t be 1080p HD quality, but it certainly will look a lot better than using the Share > iDVD method. Your video and titling will appear with much less jaggedness. Certainly not super-crisp, but much better than the progressive version that iMovie would otherwise export.

Apple would like us to believe that physical media like DVDs are dead, but there still is a need for it.

While we’re covering iMovie and iDVD: I almost always provide an HD digital copy on the DVD-ROM portion of the DVD. This allows the recipient to have an ultimate quality version for their local media library, smartphone, iPad, or other digital device. I export using an MP4 container and the H.264 codec to provide maximum compatibility.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Update: No subscription TV service

A little over a year ago I wrote a post detailing my one year anniversary into an experiment testing having no subscription television service. With it now being two years with no TV service, I thought I would provide an update and let you know how it’s going.

The good news is that I still do not subscribe to any television service. That means no cable, no satellite, nothing. The only exception is Netflix, which at $8 a month, I am happy to have. Some might argue that Netflix is a subscription service, but I think we can all agree that it certainly does not compete with cable or satellite (and is a tenth the cost of what I used to pay).

To date, I have saved $1,920 (not counting the increase in fees that Dish Network would certainly have imposed). This easily has paid for the substantial initial investment in hardware (mainly new Mac Minis and various other peripherals). We still use Plex, eyeTV, Hulu Desktop and a few other apps. We do most of our viewing in Plex, although my wife would argue that I spend a lot of time in eyeTV watching COPS episodes which have recorded overnight. I’m sorry, it’s a guilty pleasure.

Plex continues to become more and more stable. It’s install base is growing by leaps and bounds, given that it’s now available on iOS, Roku, Google TV, LG, and various other media devices. I love that I can start a show on my iPod, pause, and pickup right where I left off in the home theater. Additionally, with the fairly new myPlex service, you can easily access all of your movies and TV shows remotely with no effort at all. You just sign into myPlex, and all of your media stored at home is available.

Certainly Netflix’s catalog is lacking… their loss of Starz Play’s 1000 titles didn’t help. In our house, Netflix is great for the kids. It’s jam-packed with child-friendly programming. Now and then you might run across something suitable for adults, but for the most part my instant queue (and recommendations) makes me feel like I am in preschool. Amazon’s Instant Video service is becoming a solid competitor to Netflix, but seeing as how they provide no 10-foot user interface for Mac (you must access the titles via a browser), I’ll stay with Netflix (which plays via Apple remote in Plex).

I’m not saying this setup is for everybody, but to me, it’s been a success.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Create a custom Facebook Business Page Tab for the new Timeline layout

Facebook recently announced that Facebook Pages for Businesses will be receiving the same new Timeline layout that personal accounts have had for some time now. I know, I know, most of you are getting sick and tired of the constant changes over at Facebook, but I think this new layout is awesome.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been trying to figure out how to add a custom Page Tab in this new layout. Page Tabs are those rectangular thumbs below your cover photo (which include a tab for Photos and Likes by default). Any apps you have installed would also be presented here.

I could easily create the Page (the actual page that shows the content), but getting the actual Tab to show up on my Facebook Business Page wasn’t so easy…

In this post, we’ll be discussing how to create a Page Tab to display custom content inside of Facebook. In other words, create a website page within Facebook that is associated with your Business Page. This is useful if you want to post a coupon, promotion, or other content that doesn’t fit elsewhere on your Facebook Business Page.

The Page Content
Before you do anything, you need to create the actual content to display within the Facebook page. I won’t go into specifics with this, since this is outside the scope of Facebook (and this post). In general, you need to create an HTML page, using any technology you prefer, such as HTML, CSS, PHP, JS, etc. My only suggestion is keeping the content no wider than 790px. It’s also best not to have the content very tall. If you do, those ugly iFrame scroll bars will likely appear. Once you have your content developed, it needs to be available online. If you need help developing the content, and/or adding it to Facebook, please contact us.

For the purpose of this tutorial, let’s assume your content is created and available at http://www.example.com/facebook/index.html.

The Facebook App
Don’t go running off now! Yes, we are going to create a Facebook App, but only for the purpose of creating the Page Tab. You don’t need to be a developer, or know anything beyond what you already have in your noggin. Go to https://developers.facebook.com/apps and click on Create New App.

Enter a name for your App. This isn’t really important, since you are going to be the only one that sees it. Also, namespace is not needed since we are just creating this app for a Page Tab. Click Continue, and complete the CAPTCHA security check.

On the Basic Settings page for your newly create app, no further information is needed under Basic Info, so click on the Page Tab selection at the bottom.

For Page Tab Name, enter the name you would like to appear below the button on your Facebook Page.

For Page Tab URL, enter the URL where the content exists on your server. Our example above was http://www.example.com/facebook/index.html.

For Secure Page Tab URL, enter the SSL URL where the same content exists on your server. This would be a URL that starts with https://. For example, https://www.example.com/facebook/index.html

You can leave Page Tab Edit URL blank, choose Wide (810px) for the Page Tab Width and click Save Changes.

Now, the part that was nearly impossible to figure out. I’m not sure why Facebook doesn’t provide a way to install the app to your page from within the app’s settings page. Maybe this is a glitch that will be cleared up soon. While you are still on your app’s basic settings page, make a note of your App ID and Page Tab URL (which in our example is http://www.example.com/facebook/index.html). Open a new browser window and go to:


Make sure to replace ENTER_APP_ID and ENTER_PAGE_TAB_URL with your variables. Hit enter, and then choose the page you wish to install your new App to.

Now, go back to your Facebook Business Page. You will now see the new Page Tab button, and the name you chose below it. As of right now, it shows the default Facebook App icon. To change this, click on the triangle to the right of your page tabs, then hover over the new tab and click the pencil to pull up the options. Click Edit Settings. When the new window appears, click on Custom Tab Image and follow the steps.

Test your new Page by clicking on the Page Tab. The content you have posted to your server will now be displayed within Facebook.

This is a simple implementation of a Facebook Page Tab. Page Tabs can be enhanced to perform many advanced functions. The most popular is a like-gate, where you hide content, such as coupons or promo codes, from visitors until they Like your page. Hopefully a future blog post will cover this, but for the time being, I think getting this far using the new Timeline layout for Facebook Business Pages is a huge accomplishment.

To see an example of a working like-gate experience, head on over to our current promotion on Facebook (promotion has expired). This is using the same method we just outlined, with the added like-gate code (wherein we hide the entry form from the visitor until they like our page). While you’re there, like us so you can be entered to win a Professional Logo Design Package, valued at over $350!

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Spam, we hardly knew ye

You’d think that having such a dominant online presence, I would be much more susceptible to spam. The truth is, I hardly ever see it. You’re probably sitting there wondering what the heck I am talking about. Everybody gets spam, right? We’re always clogged up with viruses, avoiding overseas scams, and constantly shuffling through our junk folder to find that one good email accidently flagged as naughty.

Not me.

First off, we use Macs here, running one flavor of Mac OS X or another. We’re insane about our backup techniques, and never download anything from the internet unless it’s from a reputable source. So, let’s throw the fear of viruses right out the window.

I came across this solution when I was trying to solve a problem with iOS not having a junk mail feature. I had never used the Junk Mail feature in Mac Mail, my preferred email client, and preferred to let everything accumulate in my inbox. This was fine at first, but when the spam really started to flow, I needed a solution. That solution couldn’t be based on Mac Mail’s junk mail feature, because I never wanted the spam to be downloaded in the first place. This meant that it had to be taken care of at the server level.

We use Google Apps for our email and other online needs, but for the purposes of this post, Gmail functions exactly the same way. We need to setup a filter within Gmail that stops the spam from ever getting sent to our inbox.

If you don’t have Gmail (or Google Apps) I highly suggest you get it, and forward all your mail there. It’s up 99.9% of the time, and dang easy to setup and use.

Let’s set this up.

After you’ve logged into Gmail, go to Settings and click on the Filters tab. Click ‘Create a new filter.’ In the resulting window, enter “is:spam” (without the quotes) in the ‘Has the words’ field and click on ‘Create filter with this search.”

A dialog will pop up warning you that using “is:” will never match incoming mail, but I can assure you, it does. Click ‘OK’.

On the next window, check the following:

  • Skip the Inbox (Archive It)
  • Mark as read
  • Delete it
  • Never send it to Spam
  • Never mark it as important

This will put all mail that Google considers spam into the Trash folder. It will appear as already read (so you won’t have any unread flags). This is also good because Trash is automatically deleted in 30 days, so you never have to go in and manage your junk mail. It also gives you a 30 day window to find any messages inappropriately flagged as spam. I can tell you, however, that for me, not once has a legitimate message been flagged as spam by Google. All my junk goes directly to the trash and I never see it.

Now, just to get a similar setup with my local Letter Carrier. Maybe she can put it right in the recycle so I don’t have to touch it.

So, there you have it, a great solution for spam management that’s easy and effective.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Make and receive calls with an iPod touch

I’ve been part of the growing mass that has dropped their landline in favor of a mobile-only phone connection. I’ve been, officially, without a landline for six years. The seven years prior to that a landline was primarily used for fax and dial-up.

I’m hardly ever on my cell phone. I much prefer communicating via email. It provides all information I need in a readable form, that I can organize, and easily access if needed. There are times, however, when a phone call is required, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced those overage charges that can really cut into your profits.

So how do I alleviate my mobile overage problem? I make outbound calls on my iPod touch via a wifi connection. I’ve been doing this for a while, but have really been pushing it lately since my cell phone use has dramatically increased.

Here is what you’ll need to use your iPod touch as a phone:

Google Voice
Before Google acquired this technology it was called GrandCentral. I had a GrandCental account, and was part of the invited group to move over to Google. In the beginnings of Google Voice you had to be invited to participate. Fortunately my invite came via the acquisition process.

To get a Google Voice account you will need a Google Account. For most, this means having a Gmail account, but you can have a Google Account and not use the Gmail service. I will say, however, that to fully utilize your iPod touch as a phone, you will need a Gmail account and Google Account. The reason is that we need to access Google chat, which is part of Gmail. I won’t go into the specifics here, as it seems fairly straight forward, but make sure you have both a Google Account (using the @gmail.com address) and a Gmail account.

When you first setup a Google Voice account you are asked to choose a phone number. You specify a city or area code, then they provide a list to choose from. Choose your number and setup your account.

Install Talkatone from the App Store. When you launch the Talkatone app the first time, you will be prompted to enter your Gmail email address and password. Make sure to use the Gmail account you used to setup Google Voice. Talkatone doesn’t require a special account. Instead it uses your Google Account to connect to Google services.

Login to your Google Voice account, go to Voice settings (access them via the little gear in the top right of the browser window). On the ‘Phones’ tab, check the box next to Google chat. Make sure to log out of all Google services, including Voice and Gmail.

Now, go to www.gmail.com and login using the Google Account/Gmail account you used to signup for Google Voice. Find your contact list and click on the Call Phone action at the lower left section of the page. Make one call with the phone widget in GMail to your regular phone number. This step allows Talkatone to access the service, telling both Talkatone and Google that you’ve successfully setup Google Voice.

Finally, make sure to sign out of all Google services, including Voice, Gmail, and GTalk. If you don’t, calls made to your new Google Voice number will be forwarded to Gmail/GTalk and your iPod touch will not ring.

Come back to the Talkatone app and tap the ‘I did make a call from GMail web chat’. That way Talkatone will know that you successfully setup Google services.

You can now make and receive calls via Talkatone on your iPod Touch. Use the keypad to dial numbers direct, or use your Contact list. Get comfortable with Talkatone and visit the Settings tab. Make preferential selections for Notifications and Sounds.

And to clarify, you must have Talkatone open in order to receive calls. It’s not important that it be active, only that it be open and in suspended mode (aka multitasking). You can quietly keep it open while you use other apps on the device. When a call comes in, you will be notified (if you’ve setup your notifications as such).

I’d also like to say that while Talkatone supports SMS via Google Voice, I much prefer the Google Voice app for my texting. This didn’t use to be the case, but since Google Voice added landscape support, I’m sold on their app.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Back that thing up!

My sister recently contacted me with an issue she was having with her Early 2008 iMac. More likely than not, an issue you experience with a Mac is software-based. For my sister, however, her problem seemed very odd to me. She could use the computer for about 15 minutes, after which it would suddenly freeze, presenting a spinning beach ball.

At first, I tried using Disk Utility to verify the volume. Each check would say that the drive appeared to be okay. So, I assumed that something was wrong with the OS, given that it did take a long time to boot, and at times would present the dreaded folder with a question mark (an indication that a suitable system could not be found).

Next, I dropped in a Snow Leopard upgrade (since her iMac was running Leopard). I attempted to upgrade the OS, but it would constantly fail with 38 minutes left. And, not surprisingly, after about 15 minutes of use. Having no luck with a fresh OS install, I moved on to salvaging data. Now, mind you, my sister has no backup method whatsoever. All of her data, and most importantly, photos, all the way back from 2005 was no where but on that internal 250GB drive.

Target Disk Mode
Target Disk Mode is a method by which you can turn (almost) any Mac with a Firewire port into an external hard drive. To get the iMac into this mode, I connected the iMac to another Mac via Firewire. Next, I started up the iMac holding down the T key. Once you see the Firewire icon hovering on the screen, you are in Target Disk Mode, and the drive’s icon will mount on the desktop of your secondary Mac as a Firewire drive. This normally works great when all you have is a damaged system folder.

Unfortunately, this iMac’s problem wasn’t so easy a fix. I tried to salvage data for days, constantly hitting the 15 minute mark. This would cause the iMac to freeze and my secondary Mac (a Mac Pro) to seize as well. I had successfully retrieved all of the music, apps, books, personal documents, and all photos from 2005-2009. I couldn’t, regardless of my exhausted efforts, get any photos from 2010-2011.

The tear down
Now, I knew that something had to be physically wrong with the drive. I used an online guide and disassembled the iMac enough to get to the internal SATA drive. I pulled the old drive, and dropped in a new Seagate Barracuda SATA 500GB drive. I booted from the Snow Leopard DVD, installed the OS in a matter of minutes, and the computer was running like new!

The final recovery
Having two empty SATA trays in my Mac Pro, I installed the iMac’s SATA drive, started up, and the drive mounted on my desktop, but again, after 15 minutes, my entire computer would freeze. Only a hard reboot would bring it back up. I tried to grab those remaining photos from 2010-2011, but still, no luck. I shut down, pulled the drive out, and noticed that it was literally burning hot. I couldn’t even handle it. Now I knew for sure that something was wrong. After a little online guidance, I tried a last ditch effort. I dropped the SATA drive in a freezer bag and into a deep freezer for about 20 minutes. I pulled out the drive, installed it into my Mac Pro, rebooted, and it mounted right on the desktop. The drive performed as though it was brand new! Quickly I grabbed the remaining photos and copied them to my Mac Pro.

I connected the iMac and Mac Pro via Firewire Target Disk Mode and copied all of the salvaged data (100% of it) back to the iMac. Finally, up and running again. My sister had her computer back the next day. Her husband said the computer was like “night and day”.

My recommendation to her (and her husband) was to invest in an external drive for backup, utilizing Snow Leopard’s Time Machine feature. This is one of the methods I use, and it has certainly saved me more than a handful of times. I personally keep all of my data, up-to-date, in three separate locations. Two internal drives, and an external drive that is stored in a fireproof safe.

So, please be good people and backup. You’ll thank yourself some day.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.