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Dear GetMeGeeky: Mac Advice for Non-Geeks

The following post is from Lauren Rothlisberger of Get Me Geeky:

Today I am going to grab a few notes from my mail bag and answer some of the most common questions I get. I hope one or two might help you out as well! These examples are all excepts from my latest guide, “A Non-Geek’s Field Guide to Mac Computers”:

Sick Mac

Dear GetMeGeeky,
I think my Mac is sick, she just seems a little sluggish, she doesn’t show the same zip or perk she has in the past. I am not sure what is going on, I think I need to run a few tests, but I don’t want to take her into a shop just yet…
Ill in Illinois

Dear Ill in Illinois,
It does sound like something is has your Mac a bit down in the dumps. We can learn a lot about the “health” of our computer just by checking out a few vital signs. For that we need the Activity Monitor.

Go to: Finder > Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor
The activity monitor is a handy tool. It may seem a little too geeky at first glance, but knowing what information it holds can help you diagnose a minor computer issue quickly. Have you ever gone to the doctor and been hooked up to a monitor? Depending on the type of monitor, the doc can see your heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and so much more. The activity monitor is no different. It shows you how everything is functioning on the inside of your computer.

As you can see there are five buttons along the bottom of the Monitor, CPU, System Memory, Disk Activity, Disk Usage, and Network. The main window shows you the processes that are running and requiring some of your computer’s brain use. If you notice that your computer seems to be running slow or getting hung up easily, take a look at the percent of the CPU that the application is using. If it is a particularly high number you might see if that application is running something that is unnecessary.

For example, I have seen a Mail Client running that is processing at 40-50%. It turned out that it was constantly pulling in thousands and thousands of emails from the server. Going into the email settings and limiting it to only pull the last 1000 emails completely fixed the problem. Just think of the Activity Monitor as one of your in-home diagnostic tools. Just like many people would rather avoid a trip to the doctor, this can keep your computer health bills down.

Spinning Rainbow Wheel

Dear GetMeGeeky,
I love my Mac, but there is one thing that drives me absolutely MAD! Sometimes I will just be chugging along working on my computer and then all of the sudden this spinning rainbow colored wheel takes over! I can’t do anything, it is like my Mac is hypnotized by this wheel.
In a Trance in Indiana

Dear In a Trance,
This wheel has been known to cause keyboard banging, computer cursing kind of anger. But it turns out three little keys on the keyboard will solve your problem. Basically that little wheel appears when one of your applications has come to a complete standstill. Your computer responds by stopping everything else to focus on that issue.

So how do you fix it? You may be searching for CONTROL ALT DELETE , but on a Mac it is called FORCE QUIT. To FORCE QUIT press COMMAND OPTION ESC. This will bring up the FORCE QUIT application. You will see a list of applications. If there is one that is causing an issue it will be listed in RED and say “not responding” next to it. That is typically the application you want to force quit.

Screen Zooms Out to a Bunch of Icons

Dear GetMeGeeky
A couple times a day I will be working when all of the sudden while using my trackpad the whole screen zooms out and I am looking at a bunch of icons and some thumbnail screens at the top. I don’t understand why this happens and I really don’t get the point of this!
Confused in Colorado

Dear Confused,
It sounds like you are launching Mission Control without even realizing it. Read a little more about Mission Control and you may find this frustration to be helpful after awhile!

If you have used Macs for a while, you may be familiar with the Spaces and Expose tools, now replaced by Mission Control. This is the tool that allows you to maneuver around your Mac. To access Mission Control, press F3. This gives you a bird’s eye view of your open windows, just as if you took apart a photo album and laid it out on the coffee table. If you want to get a closer look at the application simply roll your mouse over until you see the blue highlight line and then press the space bar. Mission Control is where you also control Desktops. At the top you can see the Desktops that are open. To open another one; move your mouse to the upper right-hand corner, to close it hover over the Desktop and look for the X mark. If you want to open an Application in full screen mode (look for the arrows in upper right-hand corner), it will automatically open a new desktop. You can swipe between desktops by simultaneously dragging 3 fingers left or right across the Trackpad.

Go to FINDER , then APPLICATIONS, and open SYSTEM PREFERENCES. Reviewing the Mission Control system preferences will allow you to understand and become familiar with its capabilities. Under System Preferences you can make many adjustments to Mission Control. You can set what Keystrokes cause certain Mission Control actions. These are very handy and I recommend you learn at least a couple of them. In addition, you can set hot corners that activate Mission Control when your mouse goes into that corner.

Tip: You can drag 3 fingers vertically from bottom to top of your Trackpad to bring up Mission Control.

If you found these tips helpful check out my ebook “A Non-Geeks Field Guide to a Mac Computer” for fun easy solutions just like this.

What other questions do you have for GetMeGeeky? Leave them in the comments!

Lauren Rothlisberger blogs and consults over at Get Me Geeky. As a military wife, mom of three girls and one new baby boy, she loves focusing on technology and productivity and finding new ways to simplify her life. She recently started putting together MacMinis, which are easy to follow videos for Mac users, and also wrote an ebook, Evernote for Moms.