How to remove pentalobe screws from a Macbook

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Evil engineering… one of the Pentalobe screws on my Macbook Air that drove me nearly nuts before I could extract it.

Summary: run a sharp blade or pin around the edge of each pentalobe screw a few times before trying to remove them, using a Pentalobe screwdriver. 

So you’re battling with pentalobe screws that won’t come out? I recently wanted to do a battery upgrade on my much-loved 2014 Macbook Air. However, though Apple seems to understand that averting climate change demands switching from fossil fuel energy sources to renewable energy, they appear to be lagging in their understanding of “repairability” as a vital component of our urgently-needed circular economy. I could be rude about this, but they’ll never notice.

So, to frustrate would-be repairers, they use non-standard pentalobe screws on many of their devices. Pentalobe screws can be an absolute f*&%ing b—— to remove, particularly if they have become stuck several years after manufacture.

Anyway, encouraged by an inflated quote from a repair shop for doing the battery swap, I battled to find useful suggestions for removing them on the Internet, and eventually came up with my own: run a sharp blade or pin around the edge of each pentalobe screw a few times before trying to remove them. This serves, I conjecture, to break the ‘weld’ of gunk that insinuates itself into a screw thread after a few years of normal device use.

I hope this will help a few of you avoid some of the pain I went through before figuring this out!

Note: this is about how to remove screws that frustrate even when you have the proper tools… if you don’t have a Pentalobe screwdriver, you’ll have to look elsewhere for ideas, but I strongly suggest first locating the proper tools.

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How to use as little cellular data as possible when tethering to your cellphone

Quick summary: Install the Opera browser and the TripMode applet. In Opera, enable ad-blocking and data compression, and disable images.

Note: I am a Mac user, but both Opera and TripMode are also available for Windows.

As someone who spends a lot of time working in coffee shops (mostly writing and editing), I prefer to spend as little time as I can worrying about my data connection. Occasionally, one happens on a decent open wifi connection, but all too often, coffee shop wifi is insecure (never do your banking over public wifi), slow, and unreliable, and demands signing up for services that spam you in exchange for just a few minutes or megabytes of access.

But the alternative — using cellular data — often seems too expensive. Or is it? I’ve recently found a combination of software and configuration options that allows me to radically reduce my cellular data usage, which means I can tether more often without anxiety. Hopefully, this configuration will work for you too.

Dangers of tethering

The problem with tethering is that unless you’re very careful and well-versed in the ways of your operating system, all kinds of things can happen in the background to trash your data balance without you even realising it’s happening. Your Mac, if it’s like mine, will try to download App Store and Google software updates, synchronise Contacts (small problem) and Photos (big problem): all without ever asking you. Some apps download huge updates the moment you launch them. Skype lurks in the background helping along other people’s calls without you knowing (that’s just how Skype does its thing).

Then there are the hazards of using a so-called modern web browser when it’s on default settings: web pages are now festooned with flash ads, embedded videos that infuriatingly auto-start, huge images… A single web page can now blow a substantial portion of your data cap. And as data speeds get faster, you can also blow your bundle or cap ever faster.

Configuring your Mac for the lowest possible cellular data use

So here are the steps I took to get my tethering data usage under control. I hope they work for you too.

  1. Install the Opera browser, and configure it as follows:
    • Opera comes with built-in ad-blocking and data compression options, so open your preferences and enable them(read about Opera Turbo). It’s also extremely light on energy consumption, with Battery Saver enabled, so will help you get the most out of your notebook’s battery. Opera is now based on the same software core as Google’s Chrome browser, but it’s lighter on energy use.
    • Within Opera, also disable auto-image downloading: “Preferences”: “Websites”: Select “Do not show any images”. From here onwards, you’ll only see the text of the web pages you visit, but mostly, if you’re actually working and not mucking around, this is all you need (so the bonus here is this configuration helps avoid distractions).
    • Install the ‘Images ON/OFF’ Opera add-on, so you can opt in to downloading images on a particular page if you really need them.
  2. Install TripMode. It’s an elegant little menu bar app built by some Swiss guys that activates automatically when you tether, alerts you whenever one of your apps or system services tries to phone home, and tells you how much data it’s using. You can either then let that app do its thing, or ban it permanently from connecting when you’re tethering. TripMode is well worth the $8 it will cost you. It’s not quite perfect – the developers need to do a little fine-tuning, but it’s already well the investment.

Now, by way of example, when I’m tethering, I allow only Opera, Telegram, Messages, Contacts and Calendar to connect. And Opera is set up to run very lean indeed.

I suspect this may be the leanest possible configuration that will still allow you to get stuff done, on the absolute minimum of data. My experience is that I can now spend several hours emailing, messaging, and referring to the occasional web page – and still use no more than 20 or 30 MB of data.

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Opera settings for stopping images loading

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Blocking ads in Opera, and what TripMode looks like in operation

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Misleading claims from 1 Life

I recently received an SMS ad from the South African life insurance company 1 Life, offering, “Get R10m of life cover from as little as R120 a month WITHOUT medical exam.” But after applying for this cover, I was offered just R2m of cover at a cost of over R1000/month. Needless to say, I consider that the original ad was extremely misleading. I laid a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority, and I am happy to say that the complaint has been upheld – 1 Life has been found to be in contravention of the ASA code of conduct. See the full ruling here (pdf).

For me, it’s pretty clear that a company that cannot be trusted to advertise with honesty and accuracy probably also cannot be trusted to pay out when a claim is made. Kudos to the ASA for their quick and efficient ruling.

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Being cheated by Afrihost ISP

My partner is a customer of the South African internet service provider Afrihost. When she signed up with them several months back, she opted for a 4 mbps line. Recently, she expressed frustration that their line speeds are so slow. I checked the line speed through the ADSL speed test – it was just 1 mbps. We queried this with Afrihost – and they confirmed that the line is indeed running slow, blaming it on the line provider Telkom. This means that for several months, we have been paying for a service we have not been receiving. We requested a refund for the balance between what we’ve received and what we’ve paid for. They (“NicholasT”) refused point blank.

I strongly suggest that if you’re using an Internet Service Provider in South Africa that you check that you’re getting what you’re paying for, and that you avoid Afrihost.

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Resolving problems with Airport Express (first generation)

I have a first generation Airport Express which has been unreliable for years, frequently dropping connections or failing to play despite being connected (green light on) to the network. I recently purchased a new ADSL-wifi router (D-Link 2740U) in the hope that it would resolve various other network reliability problems that have arisen with my 10-year-old Netgear DG340 ADSL router. It was extremely frustrating then, to discover that although the new router had indeed made for a more stable network connection, my Airport Express continued to drop out.

I have, however, found a fix – limiting the wifi netork to 802.11B+G bands only, and excluding 802.11N, a setting which is found on the router.

(Perhaps if my ADSL connection were faster and my home bigger, this would limit my download speeds and network range, but since my broadband connection is only 1.72 mbit/s, and the 802.11G standard allows speeds up to 54 mbit/s, that is not a problem for me.)

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 12.56.05 PM

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WD passport drive not visible or mounting

If you’re having problems with a WD Passport external hard drive for Mac failing to mount, or not being recognised or not being visible in Finder, it may be that you’re simply using too long a USB cable. The drive only functions properly when it is used with a short USB cable. I have had persistent problems with my WD passport drive, problems which have now been resolved by switching to a short 6-inch (12 centimetre) USB cable.

If you have had such problems, you may need to repair the volumes on your WD Passport drive using Disk Utility on the Mac. Highlight the external drive, select the First Aid tab, then click the Repair Disk option.

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Airport Express not connecting to wifi network

I have an old 2004 Airport Express (802.11g I assume, not that the bastards ever label them clearly). I’ve been using it happily for remote sound for years, and was even happier when Apple finally made it possible for Airplay to work with apps other than iTunes in Mavericks (and now Yosemite) – so that at last I can watch video with hi-fi sound. (In VLC, go to Windows/Track Sychronisation, and set audio track sync at -2 seconds for perfectly sync’d sound).

Two days ago, I made the mistake of changing my wifi network password… and the Airport Express stopped talking to my network of course. Because Apple (why, oh why, oh why) has stopped supporting older APEs in Airport Utility, changing the settings on an Airport Express was a nightmare that started with trying to find ways of running old versions of the utility on Yosemite and ended with me dragging my ancient iBook (running Snow Leopard) out of a dark cupboard, downloading Airport Utility 5.6.1 – and then battling to reset the APE. Each time I did this (factory reset, holding in reset button, plugging in and waiting 10 seconds), the settings would take effect, but the new restored APE. would not then connect to my network.

To cut a long story short, I eventually sorted this out by changing the settings not on the APE, but on my router, where I switched the wifi settings to channel 1, 802.11g (it’s an old router), and WPA2-PSK encryption (previously I’d had WPA1+WPA2 selected).

Now everything is working perfectly again – my beloved Airport Express is de-bricked.

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