How to buy a used Mac

A client asked what the best approach would be to buying a few used iMacs for her family for Christmas, to which I replied:

I would not use eBay at all, I would go to Kijiji and Craigslist. That way you can actually go and see the computer before buying it. Yes, you probably will pay a bit more for it.. but it will be less headaches in the end!

As for which models to buy, go download the Mactracker app for iPhone or Mac, and use it to look up and compare with what is for sale. The models you want to avoid are ones that do not meet the requirements for running Lion:

Don’t worry if the iMac you are looking at does not already have 10.6 or 10.7 on it, just look at the CPU speed and RAM, the OS itself you can update later since you already own copies.

Once you find a likely iMac, ask the seller for the serial number. If they are unable or unwilling to provide it, move on.. once you have it, put it into this page:

Which will return the warranty and service details on the iMac, and this page:

Which will return the specs on the iMac. Oh, I also ask the sellers about pets and smokers.. since my kids have allergies, and I can’t stand the smoke smell. My biases, it’s up to you to ask in advance, or decide when you get on site. Once you have those details you can decide if it’s worth looking into further. I’m assuming you’re going to read all about how to avoid scams, so I will not go into any of those details.

Next step? You’ve contacted the seller, have brought a friend along, and are meeting the seller and looking at the iMac. Ignore the iMac for a minute and look around, that will tell you a lot more than looking at the iMac itself. Once you are back at the iMac, boot it up and make sure it is the same one you were told about, basically check under “About this Mac” for the serial number, CPU and RAM details. If you have a usb key you can check each USB port to make sure it works, and if you have a DVD you can make sure the drive works. That’s about it.

Once you have it back at home use your handy OS X 10.6 install DVD and erase the hard drive and reinstall the OS from scratch. Unless you have a 10.7 installer.. at which point you should use that instead!

Have fun, and feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions!

p.s. RAM is cheap and easy to upgrade on an iMac, so you might take that into consideration as well, low RAM in the iMac might be a benefit as you can get a good deal for it and then add RAM yourself. Not sure what kind of RAM you need, and what the costs are? Take a look at for details.

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On Steve Jobs dieing…

I think Apple said it best, in their Think Different campaign:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore.

They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

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Wish list for iPhoto: Make Faces Smarter!

Ever used iPhoto and thought to yourself “I wish it did…”, well I just installed the new iLife ’11, which includes iPhoto 9.

I decided to play around with Faces, and update a few photos… not exactly the quickest process! Anyhow, I found a tip to speed things up: make a smart folder which shows “Face is unnamed”. Now you can go in and name faces, and once you do it jumps to the next photo. You can use tab to goto the next name field in a photo (or shift-tab to go backwards) put the name in, hit enter and it will goto the next photo. I have also been deleting face fields where I do not want to deal with identifying people.

So what is my wish? Simple: if the photo is dated before the birth date of a person in your Address book, then do not show that name.

Yes I could type it in manually, but don’t show it as an autofill option. It would make filling names in so much easier for me.

Ok, ok. I’m biased, both of my kids names start with a J!

I’m guessing the opposite would be useful as well, for someone who has passed away. Mind you Address Book does not have a field for that!

Have you found any tricks to make using Faces easier?

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Controlling iTunes from the command line

I had a little fun the other day, making a script that would pause iTunes, from the command line. In the end I made ones to pause, play, and go forward a track.

All of them use a slightly modified version of a line of Applescript:

tell application “iTunes” to play

You can also tell it “to next track, to pause, to stop, to previous track”, which all work as expected.

To get it to work on the command line you’ll need to turn it into a script, which is a plain text file with some command line options in it. To get Applescript to work on the command line we need to use osascript, with the “-e” option.

Here’s what you should have in your file:

osascript -e “Tell application “iTunes” to pause”

Note the the quotes and slashes? You need to wrap the Applescript command in quotes, and since you have quotes in the middle of it, you need to escape them using the slashes so the whole applescript is parsed.

Next step is to save the script to somewhere useful. In my case I have set my command line environment to check for scripts in ~/bin/ , so I saved it there as ‘pause’. After that you will need to make it an executable, so pop into the terminal and do “chmod +x ~/path-to-your-file/pause”, at which point you run it.

Go play something in iTunes, and then go over to the Terminal and type “pause” and hit enter. If your script is in your environment path then iTunes just paused…

Here are the other scripts I used, just to make your life easier 😉

osascript -e “Tell application “iTunes” to play”

osascript -e “Tell application “iTunes” to next track”

Feedback is appreciated!

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Mac Classes coming up: Introduction to Mac

Tom and I are offering starting another set of classes this month: our “Intro to Mac” class on Tuesday the 22nd, and on the Tuesday after that we are doing part 2, and the last part on October 6th.

This class covers the physical computer itself, a guided tour of the Mac interface, the Desktop, Menus, key System Preferences, the Finder, using CDs, DVDs, & USB keys, and a brief discussion about organizing and finding files. The second night we will be introducing Safari along with some useful plugins, iChat, Skype, discussing online safety, Preview, Address Book, and Time Machine. And on the third night, the Dashboard and its many widgets, managing your email with, organizing your life with iCal, using iTunes to play music and videos, a quick introduction to the iLife and iWork suites of programs, and trouble-shooting.

Interested? To register and reserve a space, you can either call me at 613-262-4705 or email

More details on the dates: September 22, 29 and October 6th (Tuesdays), from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM. Price: $180, location: the Routhier Community Center.

Details of our other classes can be found on Darner Media page for the classes.

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Bringing up your Mac’s Color Picker anywhere!

I was wandering through Smoking Apples earlier today, and ran across their article: Deconstructing the Mac OS X Color Picker. Now, honestly, I do not use it very often.. but it is a very useful tool to keep track of a few favorite colors, and an easy way to pickup new colors from something else on your screen.

They also mention a few plugins, one of which I am going to grab ASAP: a hexadecimal color picker, which you can use to get color values for use in your web pages.

Last, and not least, is the super simple way to open the picker from anywhere! Make a new script in your Script Editor and type in ‘choose color’ and save the script as an application. When you run it up comes the color picker! Feeling too lazy to open Script Editor? The folks at Smoking Apples made the script and put a nice icon on it already. It’s in their article.

Thanks guys!

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Archiving selected emails to a single file.

I needed to gather about 50 emails into a single file so I could sift through them and pull out a variety of information. Going through them one at a time in Mail was going to take longer than I wanted, or was willing to do at once, so I decided to save them to a single file so I could do it later.

It turns out to be very simple: you select the relevant emails, in my case the result of a search, and do a “Save As..”. At this point you have a choice of how to save them, and I chose the default “Rich text Format”. I ended up with one file with all 58 emails in it.

Now I can open it in TextEdit and delete the parts I don’t want.

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How to run the same application more than once!

I spotted this trick on An easy way to run multiple instances of any program

Apple’s Developer Resources has a copy of the man page for open and explains it like this:

-n  Open a new instance of the application(s) even if one is already running.

So what can you do with it, and why?

I had no real use for it until this morning when I wanted to test the CPU load on Safari of a web site, without having to close all my windows and their tabs. So I fired up the terminal and did;

open -n /Applications/

… and then there were two Safari icons in my Dock!

The MacOSXHints article warns that there is some danger having multiple copies of an application open, as they will all be trying to read/write to shared files like preferences.

Let me know if you have any cool uses for it!

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