The Christmas Entitlement

As I write this I’m enjoying a coffee made from the lovely coffee beans grinded in the awesome bean grinder both of which were Christmas presents from my parents, I got lots of other awesome gifts too but most importantly I got to spend time with my family and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the greatest gift mankind will ever know.

Would I have liked a Pegasus R12 Thunderbolt powered RAID array or a new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, well of course I would, but does that mean I’m entitled to get them from my parents, keeping in mind I’m now 29 – no it most certainly does not.

I hope you share my stance on this, gifts at Christmas are a privilege and something our family and friends do out of love and kindness, they are not a right and today it saddens my heart to see people acting like their live is over because they didn’t get the iPhone 5, the new iPad, the car or the pony (unless it’s Pinkie Pie of course) that they demanded from their parents. Or, if they did get such a great gift they’re complaining that it’s not the right colour or they got an iPhone instead of a Galaxy SIII (their parents obviously love them to protect them such craptacular phones).

If you can stomach it and promise not to start replying to every single one of these horrible and ungrateful people on Twitter, believe me it took restraint for me to not do the same, then have a look at some prime examples of an entitlement culture:

http://storify.com/_will/spoiled/

Of course, working in support for a software developer we see a lot of the same attitude, people who want everything we develop for free with no paid upgrades… just saying :-)

About Passwords & Security

As you may know LinkedIn had a security breach that leaked a lot of their users’ passwords, eHarmony have also had a breach, the latter doesn’t even use proper security precautions such as HTTPS (SSL).

What this means is that if you’re using the same password on different sites then you could end up with a LOT of your personal data stolen. It is not OK to use the same password on more than one site, if you think it is then you should not be using a computer of any description and I’m not sorry to say that I really mean that.

Why do I say this, what’s wrong with using the same password, surely that’s good to help you remember your passwords, right? No, we’re in an age of technology where sites like eHarmony, LinkedIn and even a lot of major banks are not doing enough to protect your data, particularly your passwords and other login information.

So, if you use the same password for say your e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn and online banking then what happens if someone gets into any of those accounts and gains your password? BOOM! You’ve had your Facebook account messed with, setup on some crazy blind-date and worse of all had your money stolen, oh and ‘you’ probably e-mailed your boss to tell them how much you hate them.

Don’t believe me, look at this wonderful comic from xkcd:

XKCD Password Reuse

As many of you know I work for AgileBits, the makers of 1Password, so my day to day job is all about helping people use really strong and unique passwords. My colleague Kelly Guimont (yes, that Kelly, the awesome panel member we have on IMP) wrote a great post on our blog about today’s breach and how 1Password can help you.

This isn’t a sales pitch for 1Password, well maybe a little bit, but you should all be using unique passwords, it’s so important and with tools like 1Password it’s really not that hard. The idea behind 1Password is that you can have crazy passwords like D,nrJkCQ8wQbBaE2kvTsZ>TrM?NY:x without having to remember them.

How’s that possible I hear you ask, well 1Password is a secure encrypted vault you on your system, your an of course sync it via Dropbox, which you unlock with a master password that you can remember. Because 1Password isn’t a web based service there’s not the same danger of someone being able to get that password, it’s not stored in a way that someone could read it even if they got into your system or Dropbox account.

So for example, using my friend Bart’s xkpasswd generator you could have a master password like Double Face 63 that you can remember but that would be very hard for someone to guess or a computer to crack, that would unlock 1Password and using our browser extensions you can easily login to Facebook with a crazy password that you never need to know.

My key message here is that we all need to be aware of the threats online today, avoid doing silly things when online, for example:

  • Don’t click links in e-mails that you don’t know the source of, or aren’t expecting to find, they can be ‘phishing’ exploits that try to trick you to give your real details, for example your banking login, at a fake site.
  • Don’t download files from a site you don’t trust, if something starts downloading that you don’t expect, stop it and check what’s happening.
  • Don’t forward chain e-mails, reply to ‘You must reply to keep your insert social network here account active’ messages or follow other obvious scams. Sorry folks, but no Nigerian price is giving you money, no matter how nice his e-mail reads.

One of the biggest things is to make sure your computer is up-to-date, that means for Mac users you should be running the latest version of either Snow Leopard or Lion, using Leopard or Tiger is totally unacceptable as they are not being patched. For Windows, you really should be on the latest version of Windows 7, Vista is unstable and XP is just too old.

I’m also going to say avoid using any version of Internet Explorer because of it’s horrible security reputation, if you’re on a PC use Chrome or Firefox, on a Mac you can use Safari, Chrome or Firefox all of which are faster, more secure and nicer to use than IE.

Make sure you have anti-virus software installed, on Windows use Microsoft Security Essentials which is free and doesn’t slow down your system like other tools (Norton for example) do, you do not (despite what PC World / BestBuy tell you) need to buy anti-virus.

On the Mac I recommend ClamXAV, OS X isn’t as vulnerable as Windows, there are a lot less active malware and virus threats out there, but no system is safe, not even Linux, so installing ClamXAV will keep you safe.

I think that covers it, feel free to ask me any questions either on Facebook or via Twitter about anything you’ve read and I’ll be glad to answer, you can also e-mail me via me@stuhelm.com and I’ll get back to you ASAP.]

Backup: Essential, not Optional

Today’s post is all about something that I consider to be an essential part of computing life: backing up your data.

It’s important, it’s not optional and it will save your butt one day. Just a few hours ago I dealt with someone who hasn’t backed up anything since 2006 and has now lost all their data because of this. If you don’t want to be that person, keep reading…

Let’s just take a minor detour to discuss what I mean by data here, obviously there’s all the documents that you’ll create but more than that there’s your digital photos (I hazard a guess that this is the number one thing people want to get back when a drive crashes) as well as your music, videos and most important of all your TextExpander snippets and 1Password database!

There’s a great slogan that I was reminded of today by my friend and colleague Jeff Goldberg, though he reminds me that he by no means invented this slogan:

There are two kinds of computer users. Those who have had a catastrophic disk failure and those who will.

Hard drives fail, they’re mostly mechanical devices and so they have a limited lifespan, so if you don’t want to lose all of that data, how do you keep your data safe in the event of a hard drive crash (as stated above they happen, it’s not a myth) or your computer being stolen or destroyed? Here’s how…

External Hard Drives

The most common, and I’d say most essential, part of a good backup strategy is to backup your data onto drives outside of your computer. Inexpensive USB drives are perfect for this, you don’t need to splash out on more expensive Firewire or Thunderbolt based drives since you won’t be using these for day-to-day storage, they’re your backups.

If you’re going for a portable drive a bus-powered drive is a good option, you really don’t want to have to power the drive if you’re using it with a laptop.

Obviously most of you know I’m a Mac user, so that’s where I’m going to start. The good news is that Apple have made this really easy for Mac users with Time Machine which is included for free with every Mac. Time Machine is probably the simplest and easiest way to backup your data, you pretty much just turn it on and point it at the drive you want it to backup to.

Actually, here’s the deal, if you aren’t making any backups at all right now, stop reading this post, get an external drive and plug it in to your Mac and set it up, you can build a more elaborate backup solution later if you want to. Once setup, Time Machine will then backup everything on your drive to start with and then subsequently backs up the data that’s changed on your system once an hour and then keeps hourly backups for 24 hours, then daily backups for the current month and then weekly backups for previous months.

Another option you may want to consider is Apple’s Time Capsule which is a great combination of fantastic wireless router with a 2 or 3 TB drive that can be used to backup multiple Macs over both wired and wireless networks, it’s especially handy if your main Mac is a MacBook Air / MacBook Pro.

As well as Time Machine, you could use cloning tools such as Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! both of which have free versions as well as paid options with more features.

I use both methods to make sure I have all my data, particularly I make a bootable clone of my iMac’s SSD boot-drive so if all goes wrong I can boot into a working OS X system.

If you’re a Windows user then there’s a backup tool built-in to Windows 7 as well, it’s by no means as elegant as Time Machine is, but it is certainly better than having no backup solution at all and just as I suggested you do this right away with Time Machine for the Mac, the same should be true for you Windows folks, go and grab a drive and set it up… go on, I’ll wait.

Upon doing some research I also found Genie Timeline for Windows which seems to be the closest thing to Time Machine available for Windows users, and seems reasonably priced at £29.95. The nice thing about Genie Timeline is that it also supports Windows XP too, for those of you stuck in 2001, and looks to have a very nice interface.

Backup to the Cloud

Having local backups is a great start, and you should do this before you start setting anything else up, but what happens if something happens whereby your computer and the backup drives both ‘go down’ in one fowl swoop, like a house fire or a break in.

Well, that’s where backing up to a cloud service helps, think of it as having another backup drive that’s being kept at a friends house for you, in fact many people will make regular clones of their backup drives and physically take them to another location, the beauty of using a cloud service is that you don’t have to take the drives to them, you use the magic of the internet to get those bits and bytes to their servers.

I’m going to start with a service that I truly love, Dropbox. I’ve been a die-hard Dropbox user for a number of years and I would be lost without it now. Dropbox in itself is not a backup solution, but it does allow you to very easily store your important documents etc in the cloud and easily access them on multiple computers, smartphones and tablets.

They offer a 2gb account at no cost at all, and if you use this link then we’ll both get extra space for free in our accounts, you can get your own affiliate link when you sign up too and at the moment you can earn up to 16gb of extra space for free.

I tend to use Dropbox to store files that I need access to everywhere and files that I want to have an extra copy of, Dropbox is also great for sharing files and folders across multiple Dropbox users.

Next is the cloud backup service I personally use and recommend for everything on my system, BackBlaze. The way BackBlaze works is that you pay a monthly fee for each computer you want to backup to their service, it’s just $5 a month with no contract or $3.96 a month for 2 years ($95 total) and similarly $4.17 a month for 1 year ($50 total) and there’s no storage limits here, so you can backup your entire system to their service.

The limiting factor with BackBlaze is going to be your internet connection and its speed, backing up to the cloud is going to use your upload bandwidth which is usually much, much lower than your download speed. For example, my Virgin Media connection has a download speed of 30 megabits/sec whereas the upload speed is only 3 megabits/sec. This means that your initial backup may take some time, but once that’s done things should be much quicker as you’re only backing up changes to the BackBlaze servers.

You can control how much of your bandwidth BackBlaze uses and even tell it to only backup once a day, though if you have the bandwidth to spare leaving this running continuously is the best option.

BackBlaze is available for both Mac and Windows and I have had no issues at all with their service so far, I also love the fact that their Mac app is native, it’s not some kludge of Java or even worse Adobe Air tech, it sits nicely as a preference pain in System Preferences ready for you to access.

I think that covers pretty much everything, at the end of the day I hope you’ve learned how important backup is and that this post has given you some ideas on what options are available to you.

If you’re thinking to yourself ‘Oh but I don’t have the time to set all this up’ then let me put this thought to you, your time is valuable, as is your data, surely it would take you longer to rebuild your documents etc should you ever lose everything and didn’t have a backup in place.

The Foul Taste of Ambrosia

As many of you will probably know I’ve been rather upset at Ambrosia Software of late for what I regard to be a complete lack of respect for their paying customers. I was one of their biggest advocates, I bought WireTap Studio, WireTap Anywhere and Soundboard all because they were fantastic apps, and in the case of Soundboard it still is a great app.

But then Lion came along, during the developer previews I became aware that both WireTap Studio and Anywhere just didn’t work, they couldn’t capture application specific audio, which meant I couldn’t record or stream IMP Live from Lion. Of course I understood that I was using a developer preview of an unreleased OS, so I wasn’t angry at all, and reached out to them on Twitter. Their response was fairly reasonable along the lines of

We plan to have something in place by the time Lion is released

I was delighted, they seemed responsive and on top of things but that was nothing more than false hope. Lion arrived, I upgraded because, well I like to be on the latest release, and still no update on either app. I left it a week or so, as I still had a Snow Leopard partition I could use for IMP recording, but still no update and their site came up with a pathetic excuse blaming Apple and Lion’s sandboxing. OK, I’d buy that if it wasn’t for the fact that Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro, NiceCast and AirFoil were updated to work with Lion and can hijack specific application audio.

I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt for a bit longer, again because I still had my Snow Leopard partition on my MacBook Pro. Then, when I got my new 27” iMac, which I’ve already fallen in love with I faced a decision about what I wanted to, I really didn’t want to install Snow Leopard onto this new system. So, I went to their forums to see if there were any updates and I was horrified by the response there, to quote from their last forum post on the matter:

We are not putting the resources into a fix that we know will only last a couple months.

I’m sorry, but I paid $129 for this app, and that’s their attitude to their customers? Now, you all know I do customer support for the great folks at AgileBits who make 1Password, and we’ve had a lot of changes over the last few months, because of changes in Lion, Safari 5.1 and Firefox 6+, but I genuinely hope we’ve done a better job of conveying our passion to help our customers than these guys have.

So, today, with the help of some friends such as Victor Cajiao and Bart Busschots, I got everything up and running with Audio Hijack Pro and a few manual wiring setups because of my great audio interface and unless Ambrosia come out with a really big apology and great update then I’m never going back.

Sorry for the rant, but I had to get this off my chest.

Mac App Store Slow? Try This…

Nothing sucks more than when an app on the Mac is slow and is giving you the ‘spinning pizza of death’ beachballs (is there an actual name for these?), it sucks even more when it’s one of Apple’s own apps.

I was having issues with the Mac App Store being incredibly slow, giving lots of beachballs and generally being unpleasant to use. At first I thought this was a Lion bug, but after tweeting a plea for some help my friend John F. Braun came to the rescue.

Here’s how to fix things:

  • Quit the Mac App Store with Command + Option + Q
  • Open Keychain Access from Applications > Utilities
  • Go to Keychain Access > Preferences > Certificates
  • Set ‘Certificate Revocation List (CRL)’ to ‘Off’
  • Quit Keychain Access
  • Relaunch the Mac App Store and you should be set

Here’s a screenshot of what the Preferences > Certificate window should look like.

Hope that helps, thanks again to John for the tip.

The State of Play

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything really meaningful to Tumblr, and I can only humbly beg your forgiveness for this amazing omission on my part. I’ll try and explain why I’ve been so busy and as such haven’t found the time to post ‘real content’ here.

First of all, this is now my main presence on the web, so much as my main web site. Tumblr provides such a great experience and great tools on the desktop and mobile platforms for blogging, either their own stuff or third party apps to create and manage content. Also, if I’m honest, I got sick of managing a WordPress install :-)

* New Job *

It’s not really new anymore, but since February of this year I’ve been working as a contractor for the fantastic Agile Web Solutions, the makers of 1Password, Knox and AllBookmarks, as part of their customer care team. It came about purely by luck really, I was hanging out in the Nosillacast chat room one Sunday night with the fantastic crowd that meets there to hear Allison Sheridan’s ever so slight Mac biassed techno-ranting and Gita was there (at the time I had no idea she worked for Agile) and asked how my job hunt was going, and I told the honest truth “not great” so a few minutes later she private messages me and told me about the role with Agile, I jumped at the chance and about a week or so later I was contacted by Dave Teare, Agile’s co-founder, and offered the position.

Here’s what really makes this job great, I get paid a very reasonable amount which means I can pay off my debts and still have plenty of money to live and do the things I love, they also cover a lot of my expenses and this really helps out. I also get to work from home, which means some of you may have received 1Password support e-mail replies while I’ve been in my PJs rocking out to some tunes while typing away :-) I really love what I do, working with our amazing developers and the rest of the team and of course our users, and being able to help with so many different things. Honestly, I’m so thankful to God for this amazing opportunity, and I want to thank all my friends who stuck with me while I wa out of work.

* Podcasting Frenzy *

IMP (International Mac Podcast) has seen some fantastic growth, and we passed our 100th episode a few months back, as of the time of writing we just recorded episode 126 with a truly fantastic panel. I think what’s been really great is to see the download numbers jump, but more than that to have some of the fairly big names in Mac podcasting, including Ken Ray, Victor Cajiao, Allison Sheridan, Katie Floyd and the amazing Jeff Gamet, join our humble little show for the occasional episode. 

Please do follow us on Twitter for show times and come join the live show when you can, we’ve got a live audio stream and chat room, and you can even listen through the ‘IMP Live’ app for the iPhone / iPod Touch.

* Make Mine a Mocha *

As some of you know, myself and one of my closest friends, Jason C Martin, started ‘New Media Geekz’ about a year ago to develop iOS and Mac OS X apps as well as do some general web stuff, and it was a fantastic adventure and we built a great team. We even got an iPad app into the App Store for the iPad launch day, which was a fantastic project which myself and Jason worked on, we called it ‘dPad’ and it’s a iPad drum machine, we’re really happy with how it turned out but we’ve got some great plans for the next version.

About a month or so ago, I think, I was contacted by my friend Ollie who owns TwentyFathoms about the idea of our two teams merging to help resource each other and to provide me with an actual UK team! That deal went ahead, and I am very proud to say that myself and Ollie have become great friends after several meetups and phone / Skype / Facetime calls to discuss things and get what we’re calling ‘Mocha Labs’ up and running.

It’s an exciting future and we’ve got some great projects lined up, I’ll have more details about them as they develop, but I think you’ll love what we have to offer.

* To be continued *

I think that sums up what’s happened in my life recently, again a huge thank you to all my friends and family who’ve really supported me and helped me out, you guys all rock!

- Stu

The iPad Flash Controversy : Wake Up & Smell the Cocoa

It’s just over 24 hours since Apple announced their new product, the iPad, their answer to the needs and wants that the netbook market are trying, and failing, to provide for.

I’m in love with the device already, and if I can find the funds I will be buying the 32gb WiFi model. I really believe Apple have hit the nail on the head here, it’s the right size for sitting on the sofa, or the train, or at the airport, or even in class and doing email, , browsing the web, playing games, connecting with social media, making notes, even giving presentations from the iPad version of iWork Keynote.

Now to the point that’s driving me crazy, a lot of commenters have made the observation that Apple has decided not to support Adobe’s Flash on the iPad, just as they haven’t with the iPhone or iPod Touch. These same commenters, and sadly a lot of the mainstream media too, are citing that Flash is an important part of the web experience, highlighting things such as Facebook games as an example of things the iPhone OS can’t do.

Want to know what I have to say about Flash? Really? I hate it, while I agree it was born out of a legitimate need to add interactivity and multimedia playback to the web, that was a long time ago in terms of how the Web has developed, now we have the emergence of HTML 5, AJAX, CSS and more web technologies than you can shake a fairly large stick at, I don’t see a place for Flash in the modern use of the Web, even less so on Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch and certainly the iPad.

Apple really have given developers a rich SDK to enable amazingly powerful games and applications to be built for these devices without the need for Adobe’s resource intensive, security flawed and often gosh-darn-ugly platform to be involved.

So my comment to the commenters is simple, wake up and smell the Cocoa!