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Showing posts from 2010

Passwords - 10 Tips for Developing a Personal Strategy

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Passwords. PINs. Security Codes.

It seems like every place we go online someone is asking us to either validate who we are with a password protected account or asking us to create an account so that we can access something. We are inundated with so many requests for account names and passwords it can become easy to be lazy about the passwords we choose and who we give them to.

As the Gawker Media hack showed us, poor password discipline can lead to a compromise of your personal data security. I’ve compiled a list of tips that can help you become a lot more secure in your online travels.

Tip 1: Don’t Use The Same Password Everywhere
If you use the same password in multiple locations you are going to run the risk of that password being exposed. All it takes is one poorly secured system or an unscrupulous web site operator to collect your email address and password. At a minimum have different passwords for your primary computer login, email account and any financial systems you access (bank…

Window Controls: Mac OS vs Windows

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As I observe casual users working with a Mac (my wife falls into that category) I often see them doing something that is very Windows like: trying to close an application by clicking the close button in the top of the window title. My wife also says she hates the Maximize window button because it doesn’t maximize the window like it did in Windows.

On a Mac the series of buttons in the top left corner of a window are called the Title Bar Buttons. Much like the window controls found in virtually every version of Windows, these allow the user to perform actions on the window they are attached to. In Mac OS they appear as a series of traffic lights in the top left of the window, in Windows on the top right of the window:
This is probably the one area that most people struggle with, and the underlying design philosophy is both subtle and complex, mostly because the buttons feel like they should work the same way in Mac OS and Windows but have some different behaviors.

They are named nearly th…

Setting up a new Mac for a college student

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When my daughter shipped off to Virginia Tech in 2007 we bought her a shiny new MacBook, an ethernet cable and a license for Microsoft Office. Back then I was still a Windows guy so I figured she would need MS Office—that's all I had ever used and that was the same for her. Other than a passing interest in the device I let her set it up for herself. Being a newly minted adult and excited about leaving the nest, she wanted to handle it all herself anyway.
Not being a techie, she installed Office and depended on the core Tiger version of OSX to get through school, which worked fine for her. In the 3+ years she's been off at school I think I've gotten maybe one or two "technical support" calls from her. Lots of calls for extra money so we knew the phones worked, just not a lot of technical issues.
When my middle child—a son starting at James Madison University—needed a MacBook for school I was determined to set it up for him before he took off, giving him some additio…

Trying to lose 30lbs with diet, exercise and an iPhone

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By the beginning of 2009 I realized that something needed to be done. We had just returned from a fantastic trip to Jamaica with the entire family, staying at an all-inclusive resort. All-inclusive is code for “eat and drink everything in sight”, and I heartily did just that.

As I reviewed the pictures taken during the trip I was shocked to see how much weight I’d put on over the years. At 45 years old my steady diet of junk food and extremely half-hearted attempts at exercise had converted my body into an awkward pear shape. A professional career of driving a computer everyday meant ready access to snacks and little natural exercise other than pounding away on a keyboard. My fingers were as lean and nimble as ever but that’s where the good news ended.

The stats weren’t pretty: at 5’11” I weighed in at 206lbs, solidly into the overweight category. I wasn’t sleeping well because I snored loudly and suffered from mild nighttime apnea; after lunch I nearly always needed (though didn’t get)…

Safari 5 Reader - a feature with a direct impact

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On a day where the news from Apple focused on the iPhone 4 and new iOS features, the update to Safari 5 was almost an afterthought, so much so that the press release went out a couple of hours before the product itself was even available. Even the first iteration of the Safari page was improperly formatted.
There are a number of updates that went in to Safari 5, not the least of which is improved HTML 5 support. Though performance is reportedly better I have been unable to detect any improvement; benchmarking would be required to see it. The big user oriented feature that's been added is Reader, a view of certain web pages that eliminates all distractions (ads and visual distractions) that draw away from the material you want to read.
When viewing a web page that Safari determines contains an article, a Reader "button" appears in Safari's address bar:


Clicking that will present the web page in a simple, large scale Times font. Images embedded in the article are often in…

An open letter from a cyclist to 99% of drivers

The news always seems to be carrying some story about a cyclist and a driver getting into a fight or of a cyclist being struck by a car while they are riding. When these stories are discussed in the comments section of a news site tempers flare and heated arguments about sharing the road break out. The pattern is so consistent that you can predict it pretty accurately:Cyclists hate drivers that don't give them enough room on the roadDrivers hate cyclists that use roads they didn't pay forCyclists hate drivers that don't pay attentionDrivers hate cyclists that see stop signs and traffic lights as optionalCyclists hate drivers that think bikes can't be lawfully ridden on the roadDrivers hate cyclists that slow traffic The number of arguments leveled at one another is the ultimate fodder for Interweb trolls but the consistent pattern I see is the hatred part. As a vehicle driver and dedicated cyclist I'd like to take a slightly different approach to this:

Dear 99% of Dr…

Restore from backup - bringing a Mac back with Time Capsule

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My brother called and told me my mom was in the hospital. At 80 her health has been declining pretty rapidly so I immediately booked a flight to California, planning to spend a week there to help my brother with both her and my father. Needless to say I had a lot on my mind as I rushed to the airport in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning last week.
Back at home my wife's MacBook sat at her desk, left on overnight like she often did so that when she woke up in the morning a quick shake of the mouse would brighten the screen and allow her to check e-mail. From what I can tell in the hourly backup logs, at roughly the same time my aircraft lifted off the runway the 120GB hard disk in her MacBook crashed.
When I checked in with my wife that night to update her on my mom's status, she told me that her MacBook was dead.
Me: "Dead?" Allison: "It's just got a gray screen. I've tried restarting it and that's all that comes up."
Of course, this has to happen w…

The Accidental iPad and How I Use It

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When Steve Jobs announced the iPad a few months ago I didn't think "Wow, I gotta have me one of those...". Though I was intrigued by the form factor and slightly motivated by Steve Jobs' demonstration of the device, it didn't scream out at me as something I needed. I was actually more amused with all the criticism surrounding the choice of iPad as the name for the device.
I yawned and went on with my life.
Nearly a month ago I walked in to our local Apple store with my family. We weren't looking for anything in particular, just letting my kids fawn over the Mac hardware as we thought about buying a MacBook for my son before he heads off to college. I asked one of the Apple store employees if they had an iPad I could take a look at. He handed me an 8 x 6 inch card with a picture of one on it. The device was far thinner and lighter than I expected.
He then asked if I would like to reserve one.
Me: "No thanks" Apple Employee: "There's no commitment…

Macs and Failing Hard Disks - an early detection tool

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The other day I was sitting at my desk when I started to hear a faint clicking sound. I pushed the noise out of my mind for a while and continued to work on the task at hand. Before long the clicking started to get louder and louder; it was clearly a consistent mechanical noise and was coming from under my desk, right where my Mac Pro is parked.
I popped my head down there and sure enough, it sounded like one of my 4 hard drives was starting to go. Usually if you hear a clicking sound coming from a hard drive its demise is imminent. I blasted out a quick note about this on Twitter and my friend Ast recommended that I try running SMART Utility to see where the problem was.
SMART Utility for Mac scans the internal hardware diagnostics of a hard drive to quickly determine its health. Using the data collected on the hard drive itself as well as a custom algorithm it can help predict when a hard drive is starting to have problems and may need to be replaced. It's like an early warning sy…

Switching to Mac - Two Years Later

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It's now the two year mark for my switch from Windows to Mac. Over the last two years I've gone from a Windows developer exploring the Mac as a compliment to my Windows and Linux machines to a full time Mac user that spends the vast majority of my time in OS X.
I didn't wake up one day and say "Wow, I hate Windows. I'm going to switch to Mac". I bought a little white MacBook, put it on the desk next to my primary Windows machine and started playing with it. Though technically underpowered compared to the dual screen, custom built PC I spent all of my time on, I found myself constantly reaching over to the MacBook to use it. The environment was fresh and new to me and I began to really enjoy the user interface consistency that OS X and the vast majority of Mac applications shared.
For such a small device the performance was excellent too; though it was the least expensive of the MacBook line of computers it didn't feel like a compromised machine. Applicatio…

Using Mac Preview for a quick slideshow - fail

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I generally like to put up blog posts that talk about cool things I've discovered on my Mac, or problems I've overcome and how I did that. This time it's about a pet peeve I have with my Mac: quickly viewing a group of images. I believe there is a tiny change Apple can make that would have a huge impact on usability, especially for non-technical users.
Preview is a very cool part of OS X. Small and light, I can load lots of different files and off I go, scanning through them quickly. As a technical person I appreciate the way it works when viewing a group of files; I select them, pop-up the context menu (Right Click for me) and select Open. Preview loads them up and off I go. I can happily navigate through the selection or throw together a quick slideshow from the Preview menu.
Where this breaks down is for the non-tech user. My wife was looking through a large collection of images this morning on a shared drive that I have. She navigates to Force (my Mac Pro), selects a sha…