Best Practices for Mac Owners

Settling into a well thought out routine when setting up and using your new Mac is a laudable goal.  Making sure you have a reliable and safe plan for the care and maintenance of your system is a must for all computer users regardless of what you use the computer for.  Where should you start?  Read on!
Backing up your data
When asked, most people will admit that the information stored on their computer is important.  The level of importance can vary from system to system and from user to user.  Family photos, school work and business documents are all, without a doubt, worthy of being backed up.
Fortunately, Apple has built their acclaimed “Time Machine” backup software into the MacOS operating system!  Simply connecting a blank external hard drive up to your Mac will trigger the OS to ask you if you wish to use it as a Time Machine backup destination.  If you approve it will then automatically back your system up onto the external drive.  Once complete you can disconnect the drive and store it away somewhere secure (like a safe, a closet, etc).  In the future, attaching the backup drive will trigger an “incremental backup” where only the items that have NOT been backed up will be added to the external drive.  This ensures that those future backups will be much faster than the original FULL backup.
I’d recommend that users consider also having a SECOND backup drive which should be primarily kept offsite.  Skeptics would be quick to suggest that this is overkill, but please keep in mind these points when deciding for yourself:
1) in a break-in, thieves will often take ALL technology products they can find, INCLUDING external backup drives!
2) hard drives usually fail during periods of prolonged and intense use (such as during a backup restoration)!  You could find yourself relying on a single backup drive that may or may not fail when it is needed most!
3) a fire or other natural disaster is likely to destroy the original AND the backup drive if they are both located in the same place.
A layered backup approach involving multiple drives and offsite storage locations is highly recommended for most users!
Choosing passwords that makes sense
Everyone uses passwords in our modern world.  It is safe to say that most users have passwords to 10 or more accounts/services.  It is also likely that most users use common passwords across many sites.  This is a very bad practice!  Data breaches are becoming a very common occurrence meaning your passwords could be more easily revealed by hackers!  Fortunately, there are a few things you might do to make your passwords more secure:
use unique passwords, one for each site!  Doing this will drastically cut down on the chance that one successful hack could allow hackers access to your entire online world.  Use a notebook or password tracker to keep a  record of your different username/password combinations.
2) Avoid using simple passwords!  The list below represents 2018’s most commonly used passwords.  If you see yours on this list then you already know what you need to change!
a) 123456
b) password
c) 123456789
d) 12345678
e) 12345
f) 111111
g) 1234567
h) sunshine
i) qwerty  *(really)?
j) iloveyou
3) When choosing a password use upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols as well as a password of sufficient length to make it more difficult for a hacker to crack it.  String a few words together with numbers and symbols for the best passwords.
If we look at the password checking website: https://howsecureismypassword.net we can plug in different sample passwords to check how long it would take for them to be “cracked” by a decently powerful computer.
“elephant” – cracked INSTANTLY!
“elephant5” – defeated in 42 minutes
“Elephant5%” – could be cracked in 6 years
“Elephantlikeshay*9” – a hugely long 7 QUADRILLION YEARS!
“OldetimemAc4me-1984steve” – a staggering 1 OCTILLION YEARS (or written out it is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years)!
Test your current passwords on the site above and see how secure you really are.  It might seem like overkill but we should all be taking the time to revamp our online passwords before our digital world comes crashing down around our heads!
Setting up a Wi-Fi Network
Most of us are accustomed to entering Wi-Fi passwords into our devices when we join wireless networks.  There are a few practices you should be following when initially creating a Wi-Fi network that can ensure security for you and your family.
Choosing a decent password (as detailed above) is key, but choosing the right type of encryption is just as important:
Unencrypted: as indicated this is a wide open network with little or no restriction on usage.  Sometimes these are seen in public settings that offer free Wi-Fi but they are fundamentally unsafe and should be avoided in a home or business setting for obvious reasons!
WEP encryption (Wired Equivalent Privacy): an early Wi-Fi encryption protocol that relies on short passwords to encrypt traffic and regulate access to the network.  Recently, hackers have been able to devise methods of determining the WEP password in use on a network by monitoring a sufficient amount of data traffic flowing on it.  The busier the network, the quicker it can be hacked.  Most router manufacturers have moved away from WEP as it is no longer considered secure in light of these vulnerabilities.
WPA/WPA2/WPA3: this more robust set of security standards was developed in response to the shortcomings of the WEP protocol.  These encryption systems are considered the state-of the art for Wi-Fi communication and should be chosen when deploying your home or office wireless network.
In addition to passwords and security settings users should keep in mind the LOCATION of their Wi-Fi router.  Most routers will cover a “home-sized” space, but if a base station is poorly placed it can affect reception in more distant locations of the house.  Wi-Fi uses radio signals to communicate back and forth with computers and other devices.  Much like a portable radio, poor reception can be caused by distance issues, obstruction from large structures like metal beams, furnaces or air ducts and even interference from other electric devices like cordless phones, microwave ovens and fluorescent lighting.
Our recommendation is to try to find an Apple Airport Extreme (or Time Capsule for built-in backup capabilities).  These have been recently discontinued by Apple but they can still be found at many Apple Authorized Resellers.  You’ll find the Apple-branded Wi-Fi routers provide great security in an easy-to deploy package.
Cleaning your Mac
One of the most common questions I hear from friends and family is “How should I clean my Mac”?  For most purposes, I recommend a “lightly damp (NOT WET) warm microfibre cloth for wiping and cleaning with another DRY microfibre cloth to immediately follow the damp cloth and finish the cleaning task with a dry wipe-up of the surfaces you are working on.  This is what I use for displays, keyboards and other accessible surfaces.
Some people swear by using a harsher cleaner like “Windex” or “Mr. Clean” to remove stubborn greasy fingerprint stains, etc.  You have to be very careful when using this type of cleaner as chemicals are NOT recommended for computer cleaning.  Liquids that contain “grit” can damage sensitive and delicate surfaces like an LCD display.  In addition, if you feel you must use one of these chemicals then be sure to spay your CLOTH and not the Mac with the cleaner before applying.  Practice on an older or less important device before subjecting your expensive computer to harsh chemicals for greater safety.
If you notice some dust clogging up the intakes of your Mac you can use some “moisture free, low residue” compressed air to blow out the build up.  Use common sense and protect your eyes!  For a cleaner result I’d suggest doing this outside or on a workbench in your garage (otherwise all of that internal dust will fly out of the Mac and into your home)!
Sleep or Power off?
There is an age-old question that has puzzled Mac users for many years.  Should I put my computer to sleep or shut it down when it is not in use?  There are many “experts” that have weighed in on this topic over the years, and there is evidence to support either methodology!  Our best advice (and what I do with my own personal computer) is to put your Mac to sleep if you will be using it later in the day or even the following day.  If you’re going to be away for the weekend or if you are heading out on a vacation then I’d recommend you power the computer OFF.  We’ve found this method strikes a good balance between convenience and common sense!  Hopefully, you agree, but we understand if you have another idea on the subject!
Hopefully, these best practices will help keep your Mac running smoothly and safely!  Please drop us a line or comment if you have any follow up questions and we’ll do our best to respond here.