Mac mini: Happiness, Disaster, Relief

Mac mini pictureThis weekend Steve and I traveled to see his parents to upgrade his mom from a white MacBook to a brand shiny new Mac mini. I love working with Merlee because she’s so clever and quick. She has her own way of doing things like any of us but she really listens to me before deciding whether she’s going to take my advice. As you know, I’ve been trying to convince both of them to use a password manager for ages, but they haven’t budged on that. I even converted myself to 1Password partly so that I could be able to give them good support on it if I ever talked them into it. Their main concern is the cloud, so having a tool that can live only locally was why 1Password was the right tool for them.

Anywho, converting her old Mac to her new one was delightfully easy. First I verified that her Time Machine backup had run recently, and luckily it had. I had run the Macm mini through its paces when I had it at home to be sure it was in working order, so I launched the Admin account I had created, and then launched Migration Assistant. Took me actually doing a Google search to figure out where it was hidden – I’m used to seeing it pop up automatically, but I was able to launch it from Applications/Utilities. One of the options was to migrate user data and applications from a Time Machine backup. I chose that and we went off to entertain ourselves elsewhere while her 162GB transferred to her new 1TB Fusion drive.

When it was done, she had her user account just as she’d had it before, including her rotating desktop background. I saw a fair number of question marks in her dock, so that whole migrating of applications appears to be somewhat overstated. I knew Microsoft Office would be the hardest thing and the most important thing to get running. Luckily she still had the download .dmg for Office and she had a lovely folder with the serial number she’d been issued when we bought her Office 2011 a short time ago. We ran the installer and it came back with “server not responding.” My heart sank. I had set aside 24 hours to get her going but to know that half of that would probably be taken up fighting with Microsoft really made me sad. Good news though, Steve’s dad Ken had accidentally knocked the router over earlier and without realizing it, I think he bumped a button on the top of it that actually puts the router in standby mode. Now WHY would that button even EXIST??? A simple tap of the button and we were back on the Internets and we were able to register Office.

I tried to unregister Office on her own computer hoping to forestall any future problems, but it’s SOOOO complicated, and it was working fine on the new computer, that I abandoned THAT whole path and moved along. It was fun watching her open her Excel and Word files and giggle with joy at how fast the new machine was. I did have to clean her dock up a bit at that point though and get rid of things like Outlook and MSN Messenger (didn’t they discontinue that?) which had rudely installed themselves.

I opened up Mail and we entered her gmail account username and password. Her mail came flooding in, including new email since we’d started working. Remember this step because it comes back into play later.

Now that her real productivity was all set, we went to play with iPhoto. Opening iPhoto in the past was a measure of a woman’s patience. It took FOREVER to do anything with iPhoto on that poor old machine, really sucked the joy out of playing with photos. She again squealed with delight at the speed when we opened iPhoto on the new machine. I suggested we play around with the Share options so we’d be sure she can use Facebook and Email to share her photos. And that’s when things went horribly wrong.

For some reason iPhoto has an independent connection to email, it doesn’t pick up your Mail preferences, which makes zero sense to me. All of the sharing options were greyed out. We configured iPhoto with her gmail username and password, but sending a photo failed. I raced back to that darn router to see if the lights were off again, but it was fine and other surfing was fine. We went into sharing again, and again the options were greyed out, even the Mail option that we’d configured. I did some more of the Googles and found people saying that quitting and restarting iPhoto would fix us right up and it did. Back into sharing and now we have all of the options, and Mail is ready to send over Gmail but it wouldn’t send.

I’m trying to remember just when and where things got so much worse, but either in iPhoto or maybe it was back in mail, we suddenly got the message that her password for gmail was wrong. Now this was very curious, because as I mentioned earlier, we configured her account and it worked over in We went to in Safari and her try to log in there, but it said her username or password was incorrect. This whole time she’s been referring to a secret piece of paper she had with her passwords and we’re looking right at the password printed out, so there should be no confusion. Baffled, Steve and I could only think of one option and that was to reset her password. I pushed the button and it announced that it had sent the recovery email address to her OTHER account, over on

I should interject here that a year ago or so I configured her email to forward over to her gmail account so that she’d get IMAP instead of POP so she’d be able to read and respond to emails on both her iPad and Mac without problems. This means she hasn’t logged directly into her address in ages. So now we have to get into that address to recover her Gmail account…and she tells us she has no idea what the password is. Let me let that one rest for a moment with you. We have now locked her out of ALL of her email.

I started thinking though, maybe, just maybe, her email as logged into her old Mac to gmail would still receive the email but no matter how hard we pushed that Fetch Mail icon, nothing came in.

Merlee understood the gravity of what had just happened and just sat there mournfully in her chair feeling very guilty for not knowing the password. I explained gently that this is exactly why password managers are out there – because as HUMANS we’re not good at this. It’s not that Merlee is bad at it, WE are bad at it.

1password logoBut then Steve got an idea. That Cox email address was created so long ago, maybe just maybe she and Ken had chosen the same password. We got Ken’s password, and went to webmail for…and got in! And right there waiting for us was the password reset from Google! To say that there was a collective sigh of relief does not do justice to how the three of us felt. I looked at Merlee and said, “when we get this fixed, we are buying 1Password and you are starting to use it TODAY.” And she happily agreed.

It was high time for cocktails by this time, so as we sipped a glass of wine on the back patio to celebrate our near death experience, we brought up Bart’s beta of his xkpasswd service and after setting a few parameters, I asked her to look at the 3 passwords it suggested, and she looked at one of them and said, “I can remember THAT!” We went to dinner and when we got home we went back upstairs, bought 1Password and entered a half dozen of her passwords in and had her practice saying her new master password over and over again until we were sure she could do it.

If there’s ever a story to tell about why to use a password manager, I think this story of success captured from the jaws of ultimate disaster really tells the tale.

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