Saturday, January 27, 2007

Too Good to Keep Secret — Sofa Control

If you use your Intel Mac as a presentation tool, or if you'd like to control iTunes or other applications from afar, check out Sofa Control.

All Macs include an Apple remote control intended for use with Front Row, the media tool for controlling iTunes and DVD Player remotely. Sofa Control extends that capability to many other applications on your Macintosh. It can be used to run PowerPoint slide shows with the sophistication of highlighting text on screen and switching between full screen and various zoom modes. Sofa Control controls audio content volume as well when needed.

Although it's currently in beta, version 2.0 appears stable and functional with several applications. PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Earth, iPhoto, Safari, and other applications are supported. Sofa Control is now part of my necessary arsenal of Mac utilities.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Apple Posts New AirPort Security Patch

For Intel Macs using AirPort for computer network connections, Apple released a new security patch. Reportedly, Intel Macs can be thrown off the network by malicious use of the network. The latest update available from the Apple Menu, Software Update fixes the issue.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

QuickTime Security Flaw Fixed

Apple offered up a bug fix for QuickTime in both Tiger and Panther flavors. The modification fixes a serious security flaw in QuickTime. The updater can be downloaded and installed from the Apple Menu, Software Update selection.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Apple Quietly Upgrades AirPort Extreme to Pre-N

Without fanfare or even a whisper from Steve Jobs at Macworld Expo last week, Apple did release a revised AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi network base station.

Shipping in February, the new Wi-Fi device exhibits several new features including so-called "Pre-N" wireless networking standards and support for a network-accessible USB hard drive. The latter is very welcome to serve as a backup drive appropriate for the SOHO (small office, home office). The new AirPort continues to offer USB print server support as well.

See my previous posting regarding "Pre-N" networking, but suffice it to say that the new standard is caught in standards squabbling until at least early next year, 2008. The hardware in current models of Mac support "Pre-N," but not in fact. AirPort software does not yet support this standard. The real news is in the network file sharing and storage capabilities.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Word in Passing on Passwords

Known for gushing forth, I'll cut to the chase on the crucial matter of passwords.

A recent study of 34,000 MySpace account passwords elucidated patterns in password construction. The good news is now we know how not to build a password.

About fifty percent of the passwords in this study have either seven or eight characters, and typically employ a pronounceable root with a suffix numeral or two. The bad news is that most roots are found in an English dictionary and the suffix is frequently no more than the numeral one.

The most common password found in the study—hold on to your seat—is password1. Yes, you read right. Other common passwords included: abc123, myspace1, password, blink182, qwerty1, fuckyou, 123abc, baseball1, football1, 123456, soccer, monkey1, liverpool1, princess1, jordan23, slipknot1, superman1, iloveyou1, and monkey. Aside from learning that some of our charming offspring are using an expletive for a password, we can quickly observe a pattern that hackers surely already know.

Speaking of hackers, they don't sit in front of a web browser pounding out password guesses on a keyboard while trying to crack a Hotmail account. If that were so, then even the password 123456 might not seem problematic. What they do is fashion computer programs that automatically pluck words from a digital dictionary, paste the numeral 1 on the end, then plop it in the password field of a web login page at the rate of thousands of attempts—per second (although some sites refuse any login after a series of failed attempts). This can be done while the hacker goes to lunch, letting the computer do the grunt work. When he returns with a Krispy Kreme and a Jolt Cola in hand, he has a bite and a swig of our password goodies, too.

One very real client lost a very real Hotmail account because this person used only their first name as the password. Apparently hacked by spammers, the client's account (replete with irreplaceable address book entries) was used to send spam (very common purpose) until Hotmail noticed the errant use and shut down the account for good.

She was lucky. Other hackers want juicier stuff that can result in identity theft.

The take-home lesson for today is that passwords matter, and bad passwords make for very real risks of bad people gaining access to your private online accounts.

What can you do to thwart password hijacking? Random combinations of letters and characters are outside clever hacking tools that make crafty guesses, but we don't use them because we can't remember them. A few simple steps are thought to reduce the risk of password theft while permitting us use of memorable passwords:

Forthwith is a sample password constructed on the rules above: dicti@#)onary

I hesitated to provide an example. Please, please do not use this hypothetical password—as your own password!

For the time being, we can now be slightly ahead of the clever hackers by being slightly more clever than they. For now. Alas, as in all predator-prey relationships whether biological or cybernetic, one cannot rest for long. I cannot, and do not, under any circumstances offer any guarantees of password safety.

Pass the word around.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

2007: An iPhone Odyssey

A baker's dozen of new AppleTV's tended by duly doting Apple demo staff are mostly ignored by conventioneers at Macworld Expo. Nearby, a single iPhone is on display.

Beneath a dark, adder-bitten Apple. Encased in glass. Heavily guarded. "Don't touch the pedestal!" a gruff guard exhorts. Like a captivating organic fluorescence, spinning inexorably, slowly, at a tempo worthy of an ethereal presence, glowing intermittently, a circle of surrounding humanoids inch closer, jostling slightly as each loses their own worldly bearings—eyes transfixed. The Mac faithful are crowding around the obelisk of devotion, as if scaled down from a Kubrick production. 2007: An iPhone Odyssey.

(photos copyright, FixMacs 2007)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Cupertino Calling" with iPhone at Macworld Expo

It's an iPod? It's a cell phone? It's an Internet device? All of the above features are crammed into the Apple iPhone announced today at Macworld Expo. A mobile multifunction device without the tiny plastic buttons: the iPhone uses an innovative touchscreen interface. Shipping in June--yes, June--sorry. I can't wait until June, either.

Apple also demonstrated the new Apple TV (formerly known as iTV). Shipping February.

More news to come from Macworld Expo.

(Bad photo of the iPhone on display, under plexiglass, at Macworld Expo, San Francisco. Yes, even this bad photo is copyright, FixMacs 2007)

Monday, January 08, 2007

FixMacs at Macworld Expo Booth S-946

Come visit me this week during Macworld Expo at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco Tuesday through Friday. I will be working at the GeeThree booth S-946 in the South Hall.

Check out the handy GeeThree iMovie editing tools and feel welcome to chat about the multitude of other products offered at the trade show. A few free passes are still available, but getting them out into your hands will be a challenge.

Macworld Expo San Frnacisco is the most important Apple trade show of the year. Steve Jobs typically announces new products and services during the keynote speech, set for tomorrow morning. Check back here at the FixMacs Appleblog for news direct from the floor of the show.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Mac Mavens March to Macworld Music

Macworld Expo starts next week as pre-conference rumors languish. This has been a season of dulcet, sleepy rumors. Steve Jobs is expected to tout Leopard, Mac OS 10.5, the up-coming operating system upgrade. Much remains to be disclosed about features and functions of the future OS. Data backup built into Leopard is one among many anticipated enhancements.

On the list of prospective rumored new hardware: iPods (yes, again! comprising about forty percent of Apple's gross income, by some estimates), quad-core Intel chips for the Mac Pro and MacBooks, iTV (sketchily revealed last fall), iPhone (mythical Mac smartphone with iTunes capability; rumors reaching urban legend status), and an iLife suite update.

The real sleeper of the show may be with expanded Hollywood movie downloads paired to an iTV sporting substantial storage capacity. Apple needs the equivalent of an NAS (network attached storage) for data backup (DotMac obsolescence set in long ago) and serving up a platter of iTunes and movies via Front Row. Apple must do this; it's not a cute option like iPod video. If iTV metamorphoses into just the right box of goodies, Apple will unveil the conspicuous missing piece of the digital hub Jobs promised us years ago. The technology has ripened sufficiently during the past year. The time and technology is right.

I still have a few free passes to the exhibit halls at Macworld Expo. Like a kid in a candy store, the exhibits are always entertaining, and you're apt to find a bargain or two while perusing the Mac wares. My clients are invited to contact me for a free pass, though time to mail them is rapidly waning.

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