Tips and Tricks

10 Ways to secure the Apple iPhone

The Center for Internet Security (CIS) is well -known for developing security benchmarks for operating systems, applications, network devices, and now the Apple iPhone. I’ve read the iPhone benchmark and felt that TechRepublic’s 10 Things format would be the perfect way for me to pass along some of their advice. The complete document can be found at the CIS benchmark portal.

So let’s make sure your iPhone is secure.

10 Affordable Gadgets for Father's Day

That time of year is almost here. That’s right: it’s almost Father’s Day, and the time to has come to show your appreciation for Dad.

Why not get him a gizmo he’ll really like?

Whether your Dad is a technocratic BlackBerry power user who can out-text a teenager with glee — or is a curmudgeonly fellow whose latest tech upgrade was touch-tone dialing and who thinks Ubuntu is an ancient African tribe (almost!) — this year brings a fantastic crop of goods that are sure to put a smile across Pop’s face.

Easy Ways to Speed Up Your Mac

Most of us have, at one point or another, found ourselves staring at the spinning beachball of death and wished our Mac was just that little bit more powerful.

Whether it's simply speed or the fact your music, video and photo collections have now whittled what you thought was a massive hard drive down to just 1GB or so, what felt fast and roomy when you bought it has become tired and claustrophobic.

So is it time to buy a new Mac? Not necessarily. Although new is always nice, it's expensive and there are several things you can do to speed up your Mac and free up space on its hard drive that will cost very little or nothing!

Howto: Hack a Nike+iPod to make a Wireless Car Key

Nathan Seidle has rigged his car so that his Nike+iPod pedometer unlocks the doors wirelessly as he walks up to it.

“I hate keys,” he writes. “I am on a mission to dispose of them all.”

Seidle already uses keypads and wireless RFID cards to get into his home and office — the last key in his pocket is for his car.

So Seidle took a Nike+iPod sensor — the pedometer/transmitter that normally goes into your running shoe — and rigged up a simple proximity sensor inside the car to detect when it approaches. The Nike+iPod sensor is constantly transmitting a unique ID, which the car uses to identify Seidle and unlock the doors. He keeps the Nike+iPod in his pocket.

Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 8.2

Yesterday Apple released iTunes 8.2, an update required to bring compatibility with the upcoming iPhone and iPod touch 3.0 software update, which is expected to be announced next week at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

Apple’s release notes indicate that “iTunes 8.2 now supports iPhone or iPod touch with the iPhone 3.0 Software Update. iTunes 8.2 also includes many accessibility improvements and bug fixes.”

While Apple is well-known for publishing very sparse release notes for iTunes and iPod/iPhone updates, in this case it does appear that the new features in iTunes 8.2 are limited primarily to providing integration with some of the features in the upcoming iPhone 3.0. As usual, we dig in a bit deeper and take a more detailed look at what has and what hasn’t changed in iTunes 8.2.

Gmail Power Tools

Five years ago, using Web mail meant putting up with flashing banner ads, spam, miniscule inboxes, and embarrassing addresses like ninjapirate73 [at] hotmail [dot] com.

Gmail changed all that. Google’s free Web-based e-mail service offers a so-good-you-forget-it’s-there spam filter, multi-gigabytes of storage, custom addresses, and more, all for free. That’s why two years ago I moved all my personal and business e-mail to Gmail. If you use multiple computers and handheld devices (as I do), it just makes sense to have all your messages, contacts, filters, and folders in one place, where they are available from any Internet-connected device.

At first, I used desktop clients such as Mail and Thunderbird to check and manage my Gmail account. But pretty soon I switched to Gmail’s Web interface, and I’ve never looked back. One big reason: an impressive collection of power tools that make me more productive. Here are a few of my favorites.

Apple Portables: Calibrating your Battery for best Performance

You can calibrate your iBook, PowerBook, MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro computer's lithium ion battery for best performance.

The battery has an internal microprocessor that provides an estimate of the amount of energy in the battery as it charges and discharges. The battery needs to be recalibrated from time to time to keep the onscreen battery time and percent display accurate and to keep the battery operating at maximum efficiency. You should perform this procedure when you first use your computer and then every few months after that. If you normally leave your Apple portable computer connected to AC power and very rarely use it on battery power you may want to perform this process once a month. The website www.apple.com/batteries has more helpful information regarding batteries and offers an iCal calendar to remind you to calibrate your battery.

Is Your Internet Connection Down? Part 1

You know the drill.

You launch Safari and all you see is a spinning beach ball. Or you’ve been away from your computer and then you come back to go to a web page. All that you get is a spinning beach ball.

So what is going on? Why can’t you get that web page? Did your computer mess up--again?

Now, hold on just a minute! Your computer is probably not at fault. And, more than likely it is not the fault of your AirPort (if you have one). In fact it is probably the fault of your electric company or ISP. However, call your ISP and they want you to start making changes. Don’t!

If you were on the Internet a few minutes ago (or yesterday), the same settings on your computer will probably get you back on the Internet tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with your settings! You have just hit a slight snag, and diagnosing the problem and fixing it are best left up to the tools and utilities hidden away in your computer.

7 Apps to improve the iPhone’s Camera & Photos

The iPhone’s 2-megapixel camera takes some all-right photos, but honestly, there’s a lot of room for improvement. A future model with a higher-resolution camera seems like a no-brainer (rumors point to 3.2-megapixel hardware), but for now, there are some excellent applications for getting the most out of the current iPhone cameras and the photos they produce.

The applications I’ve been playing with either function as capture application replacements (for the in-built Camera app), or post processing applications to make your existing photos — whether from the iPhone camera, or loaded from a computer — pop just a little more.

While most of the apps can function as Camera replacements, only some of them are designed specifically to produce better images as they are snapped. We’ll focus on these first.

Digital Sentry watches Your Computer's Activities

Digital Sentry is an aptly named program that monitors your computer for any of a number of events. When it detects one of those events, it then takes whatever action (or series of actions) you’ve defined for that event (Digital Sentry calls a defined set of actions a monitor). What sort of events can Digital Sentry detect? A surprisingly wide variety, including the passage of a set amount of time, an application being launched or activated, a mouse button or scroll wheel being moved, a change in power source or screen resolution, a volume being mounted or unmounted, and a user password being entered incorrectly.

Once you’ve chosen an event to monitor, the next step is to define the action or actions to be taken when the event occurs. There are 16 actions to choose from that cover the expected (run a shell script, open a file or program, put the computer to sleep) to the unexpected (display a fake security alert, speak some text, take a Web cam picture, send a text message). Each action will have some associated configuration options, such as the text to speak, the amount of time to delay, which file to open, volume level, etc.

69 really Useful OS X Timesavers

Apple has always put the user first when it comes to designing operating systems, building environments that help you in your everyday computing life rather than making you work around their limitations.

One result of this has been that Mac OS X has grown to become a highly capable and multi-layered entity, with many tools and features hidden just below the surface, which can make your everyday Mac use quicker and easier.

There are also a number of third-party applications that can help you to save time when performing any number of tasks.

Protecting Yourself from "Vishing" Attacks

You might have heard about online "phishing" scams designed to steal money from unsuspecting Web users, but now criminals are using another type of scam called "vishing" to commit the same crimes.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission filed lawsuits against two telemarketing firms in Florida and a company claiming to sell extended automobile warranties for violating the Do Not Call registry and fraud for selling bogus warranties for between $2,000 and $3,000 a pop. Since 2007, the companies supposedly made 1 billion calls and generated more than $10 billion.

These companies likely used spoofed caller ID numbers to hide their identities from consumers and law enforcement authorities.

The case is the latest example in what is known as vishing attacks, which use the phone network to swindle people out of money. To help readers understand what these scams are, how they work and how they can protect themselves. CNET News has put together this FAQ.

Don't Panic: Liquid Damage, and What to Do about It

We've all had an "oh poopie" moment involving liquids: Time slows down, you watch as the glass tips over, its contents cascading (beautifully, in another context perhaps) over the rim and onto the table. The rivulets of beverage roll in a miniscule tidal wave across the surface, over the edge, and drip to the floor. All in the span of a few seconds.

The worst part is when there's a computer between the cup and the table. That's when an oops becomes a crisis.

What's the best thing to do when there's a spill on your laptop? Keep calm and carry on.

Watching Hulu (and much More) on Your Apple TV

With all of the attention I've given to the iPhone in recent months, I'd almost forgotten about Apple TV.

More specifically, one of my chronic complaints about the iPhone is how Apple keeps it so closed that you can't access its operating system files or even mount the iPhone as an external drive on your Mac — without jailbreaking the iPhone.

Within days of Apple TV's March 2007 release, Web sites were already reporting successful use of the device's USB port. Probably the most widely-reported hacks came from AwkwardTV. They figured out a way to boot the Apple TV from an external USB drive, eliminating the need to crack open the box in order to hack the device.

At the time, I took a look at this and other hacks. I eventually passed on trying any of them. Maybe my risk tolerance is too low, but they seemed too much of a hassle, too likely to have something go wrong, and of too little practical benefit to be worth the bother. And that's where I left things. As I said, when the iPhone came out a few months later, I forgot about hacking the Apple TV altogether. Until very recently.

How-To: Burning Disk Images

One of the many benefits of Mac OS X is the built-in support for a variety of disk image formats, including ISO, IMG, CDR, and the popular DMG. Disk images are exceptionally useful for storing small sets of files, such as packaging applications for distribution. The convenience of disk images is that when you open them, they mount like you've just inserted a CD or DVD, instead of being just a file or folder on the disk, or unzipping contents to another location as is the case with compressed archives. As such, you can have a library of music, program installers, and personal information all arranged in disk images, and you have an option to encrypt them.

Using Disk Utility, you can easily burn disk images to media that supports them. The following procedure will do it.

7 Surprising uses for the iPhone’s Camera

These days, a 2-megapixel camera may not seem like much. But add Web access, a pocket-size Mac, and third-party apps to the mix, and presto! That humble camera is now a personal assistant and digital artist in one. Here are just a few of the ways you can extend your camera.

How to share Full-Quality Photos via iPhoto

A TidBITS reader recently asked why sending a photo via email using the "Actual Size (Full Quality)" option in iPhoto resulted in a photo whose file size was significantly smaller than the file size of the photo within iPhoto. After all, he hadn't chosen one of the options that explicitly reduces the pixel dimensions of the photo. He also noticed that the photo went from 300 dots per inch (dpi) to 72 dpi.

I double-checked with Apple to make sure this behavior was intentional, and it is. Here's the scoop. "Actual Size (Full Quality)" is a bit of a misnomer. The photo that iPhoto sends to your email program will have the same pixel dimensions as the original, so "Actual Size" is correct, but it will not be the same quality.

That's because iPhoto always compresses photos sent via email to reduce the file size, since many email services set limits on how large a particular message can be, and photo files are becoming increasingly big. This is not a bad move on Apple's part, just one that's not sufficiently explained in iPhoto's interface.

The practical upshot of all this is that if you want to send someone a full-quality photo without any additional compression being applied to it, don't use the Share > Email command (or the Email button in the toolbar, if you have that showing).

Instead, try one of these methods of getting a full-quality photo out of iPhoto for sharing with a friend.

Be wary of APC Battery Backups for Intel Macs running Leopard

Even the briefest of power failures can cause your Mac to shut off. At a minimum, this means time wasted while you wait for your Mac to restart. Worse, you lose any unsaved work. Even worse—especially if you don’t have a separate surge protector—there is a small risk that your Mac may get damaged when the power returns.

To prevent all of these hassles, consider investing in an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). Also referred to as a battery backup, these devices keep power going to your computer after a power failure. This gives you the critical time needed to save files and gracefully shut down the Mac while you wait for power to be restored.

One of the best-known makers of battery backups is American Power Conversion (APC). However, if you own an Intel Mac and are using a recent version of Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), you may want to look elsewhere for a UPS. APC devices are likely to give you grief.

8 Awesome Safari Plugins to enhance Your Browsing Experience

The Mac browsing space is dominated by Safari and Firefox (although in our web stats Safari definitely edges out the fox by a huge margin). Safari, used by those who appreciate elegance in their web browser (and browsing experience), while Firefox remains the favourite among ‘power users’, and for good reason.

I’m not here to preach the merits of either, as it’s your choice which one you want to use. This post is about Safari, and my favourite plugins to go along with it. I don’t use an ad blocker or enhancement tool like Saft, so I’ve asked Phil to fill in for those areas. Sure we could have listed 50 plugins for Safari, but these are the ones we actually use on a day to day basis. All the plugins are compatible with the Safari 4 beta.

Achieving Email Bliss with IMAP, Gmail, and Apple Mail

For the past few months, I've been unusually happy with my overall email situation. I won't say it's perfect, but it's way better than it had been in the past - much better even than when I was running my own mail server on my own Xserve, a setup that I would have thought offered me the ultimate in flexibility and power.

The ingredients I now rely on - Google's Gmail (via Google Apps Standard Edition, which lets me use my own domain name), IMAP, and Apple Mail - provide the sweet spot that best suits my needs. However, as I discovered through a considerable amount of trial and error, the recipe needed to combine all these ingredients into an edible dish was anything but obvious. For those who have had less-than-satisfactory experiences with their email providers and software (especially Gmail and Apple Mail, respectively), I'd like to share how I achieved my personal state of email satisfaction.

Beware Facebook Phishing Attack!

I don't much use Facebook, so Facebook messages (which appear in my email) are the main thing that prompts me to log in. However, a message this morning, from someone I knew in high school but haven't otherwise spoken to in 25 years, was a bit different than the norm. The message merely said, "Look at this!" and gave a link to "fbstarter.com".

I was suspicious already, since it seemed a bit unlikely that this person would have sent me a message, and the message itself was inexplicable. But, I'm on a Mac, and I have good backups, so I decided to visit the URL. It displayed what looked like a normal Facebook login page, but Firefox hadn't pre-filled my login credentials, and the domain was indeed fbstarter.com, which was just strange. Warning bells were going off in my head, so I immediately closed the page.

A quick Google search later, and I discovered that Facebook is being used to send phishing attacks.

6 Quick Fixes You should never Skip

You can count on it: the time will come when something goes wrong with your Mac—something you don’t know how to fix yourself. That’s when you’ll likely consider a trip to your local Apple Store. There, at the Genius Bar, you’ll find Apple-trained experts ready to help for free with whatever ails your Mac.

But that doesn’t mean you should run to the Genius Bar at the slightest hint of trouble. The Genius Bar is the metaphorical equivalent of an ER: it works best when you save it for real emergencies, not for the computer equivalent of a skinned knee. And given a choice, wouldn’t you rather fix a problem yourself than hassle with driving to an Apple Store—assuming there’s even one within driving distance of where you live?

One thing every good genius knows is that sometimes what looks like a complete computer meltdown actually has a simple fix. Here are a few tried-and-true remedies you shouldn’t forget in the rush to try more-complicated troubleshooting techniques.

8 Reasons Your Next Computer should be a Mac

Contrary to Microsoft marketing honcho David Webster's snarky recent assertion, Macs aren't "washed with unicorn tears" -- at least as far as I know. However, lots of extremely rational reasons exist to choose a Mac running OS X over a Windows PC. Macs can leave you happier and more productive than you would have been if you'd bought a Windows system, and feeling you got good value for your money even though a Mac is never the cheapest option.

I'm no hidebound advocate for the supremacy of Macs in every instance -- the last two computers I've bought have both been Windows laptops, and I cheerfully and sincerely wrote an article called Eight Reasons Your Next Computer Should be a PC to accompany this one. But when friends toss the eternal "PC or Mac?" question my way, these are the points I bring up in favor of the Mac. They're listed rough order of their positive impact on your everyday computing experience as I see it.

10 Tips to Extend Your iPod’s Battery Life

Listening to music on the go is an important aspect for anybody with a commute longer than 20 minutes, and you just can’t beat listening to a podcast while in queue at the supermarket. But what do you do when the battery runs out? Failure is not an option, so here are 10 useful tips that are guaranteed to extend your iPod battery.

The Best iPhone Music Apps

One of your iPhone's greatest talents is its ability to double as an excellent iPod, but its musical aptitude doesn't end there. Addicted to radio? The App Store has several programs that connect your iPhone with your favorite Web radio services, or with a rockin' terrestrial radio station—even if it's in Seattle and you're in Miami. There are apps that let you stream your computer's music library to your phone and share tunes with friends. And if you'd rather make your own music, there are apps that use your iPhone's touch screen and accelerometer to turn it into a musical instrument. And if you're just looking for entertainment, there are programs that do nothing more than make music fun.

If you're a music lover who wants to do more with your iPhone than press Play, check out these great apps.

How to recycle your Mac

When your Mac is no longer the shiny new kid on the block, there’s no shortage of ways to extend its useful life. An old Mac can work as a recipe-storage library, for instance, and that antique iBook can be a backup drive.

But when you’ve run out of ways to reuse or repurpose your old Mac, what’s the best way to recycle it? Here are a variety of solutions—from low-effort to time-intensive—that’ll keep your conscience and your closet clear.

15 Easy Fixes for Mac Security Risks

One of the commonly touted advantages to using a Mac is that it's more secure and less prone to malware than a PC running Windows. It's easy to see where this attitude comes from: The prevalence of viruses and network attacks against Windows machines is greater by several orders of magnitude.

In fact, a recent Trojan horse virus hidden in a pirated copy of iWork '09 that circulated on peer-to-peer file-sharing sites was big news because it was the first Macintosh virus to be widely circulated on the Internet (though there have been a handful of proof-of-concept malware iterations over the past few years). But the much lower rate of malware and network attacks isn't proof that the Mac is immune to such things.

The truth is that Apple Inc. does provide a pretty safe platform. The company leverages a number of advanced technologies to keep users and their data safe from harm. But no system is perfect, and there are a number of security holes -- many of them easily closed -- that are common on Mac OS X systems. Here are 15 ways to fix the most frequently exploited security risks and protect your Mac.

Essential Tips to get the Best from iTunes

Apple has gradually turned iTunes into the hub for managing and playing all the music and movies on your Mac and mobile devices, whilst continually adding support for new devices and services like the Apple TV, movie rentals and much more.

Whether it's converting movies to watch on your iPod while out and about, building party playlists, getting album art online, buying music, renting films or backing up iPhones, there's an awful lot under the surface.

Most importantly, many of the tips and tricks we're going to show you will save you time, and maybe even reveal a few things you didn't know you could do. So read on to become an iTunes and iPod expert.

17 Reasons Why Your Mac Runs Slower than it Should

Day by day, bit by bit your Mac has got slower and slower. You don’t really notice because it has happened so gradually.

Until one day you have a chance to use another machine, that’s when you realize what your beloved Mac has become, as slow as an asthmatic ant carrying some heavy shopping.

Well all is not lost, while this list is unlikely to make you mac into a speed demon overnight, one of the following suggestions may just help.

Five Tips for Reading Mac Security Stories

Some days it seems the entire world is waiting with bated breath for the eventual fall from grace of the long-vaunted Macintosh security. From industry publications to the mainstream press, even the slightest Mac security hiccup spurs an onslaught of articles, debates, and even the occasional cable news headline. Some stories declare us invulnerable to attacks, while others give the impression that by the time you jump up from your armchair and rush to your Mac, it will already be infected and funneling your life's savings and family photos to Nigerian spammers. For us Mac users it can be difficult to discern the lines between truth, hype, and outright fantasy.

As someone who spends most of his time reading, writing, and speaking about security, there are five things I tend to look for in Mac security news to cut to the heart of the story. After all the hype in recent days over the "Mac botnet," I thought it was time to share some of my skeptical tricks.