Zephyrus of the Anemoi

.the ramblings of a radman.

Category: Random Acts of Technology (page 1 of 3)

How to protect your iCloud account and Apple devices from hackers both real and imagined

Last week, a news story at Motherboard revealed that a group of hackers claimed to have gained access to nearly 600 million iCloud accounts. Apple has responded to the report saying that there is no breach of their servers, rather the attackers appear to have used the rather large password cache obtained from the massive Yahoo breaches of the last two years. It is likely that the hackers used other data sources to line up those passwords with Apple IDs belonging to the same people. While this means that you may not be at risk if your iCloud account was using a unique password, to be safe, you should probably change your password and enable two-factor authentication.

Why is this security measure important? Well, aside from attackers having access to potentially private information stored in your account, iCloud contains a security measure that allows you to remotely erase your iPhones, iPads, and Macs if they are ever lost or stolen. This feature is called Find My iPhone (or iPad or Mac). If your account has been compromised, and Find My iPhone is enabled on any of your stuff, then your devices can be wiped remotely, against your will. This is what the hackers have reportedly claimed to do if Apple does not pay their ransom by April 7th.

News flash: Apple will not pay the ransom.

So, for your protection, I suggest following these steps to allow you to keep your accounts and devices safe. Because no one wants lose all the pictures of their food they’ve taken for the last 10 years. I stole these instructions from Apple’s own support pages, so if you feel like you need more details on these, check out the original links by clicking on the links below.

Change your Apple ID password
  1. Sign in to your Apple ID account page.
  2. In the Security section, click Change Password.
  3. Enter your current password, then enter a new password and confirm the new password.
  4. Click Change Password.
  5. Sign in with your new Apple ID password to access Apple features and services.
Turn on two-factor authentication for your Apple ID

Two-factor authentication is currently available to iCloud users with at least one device that’s using iOS 9 or OS X El Capitan or later. Learn more.

You can follow the steps below to turn on two-factor authentication.

On your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iOS 9 or later:

  1. Go to Settings > iCloud > tap your Apple ID.
  2. Tap Password & Security.
  3. Tap Turn on Two-Factor Authentication.

On your Mac with OS X El Capitan or later:

  1. Go to Apple () menu > System Preferences > iCloud > Account Details.
  2. Click Security.
  3. Click Turn on Two-Factor Authentication.

If you already use two-step verification, turn it off, then turn on two-factor authentication.

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204915

 

That’s it. Hopefully, everything will work smoothly and you can move on with your life, stress-free. If not, give Apple a call and they can help you ensure that Two-Factor Authentication is enabled, as well as confirming that the only devices confirmed with your account are those you own and trust.

There are, like, a crapton of iOS sales right now

Like, so many that I don’t even have the strength to write a paragraph about each of them. I’m just going to link to them here. You should find the ones you’re interested in and check them out. Or just buy them all. That works, too. Whatever. They’re all on sale, possibly through Christmas, but you should probably buy today, just to be safe.

Infinity Blade – $0.99

Infinity Blade II – $0.99

Infinity Blade III – $0.99

Waking Mars – $0.99

Transistor – $2.99

Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition – $2.99

Prune – $2.99

Attack the Light – Steven Universe Light RPGFREE!

Space Age: A Cosmic Adventure – $0.99

868-HACK – $2.99

Banner Saga – $4.99

Tales From Deep Space – $1.99

Til Morning’s Light – $1.99

Lost Within – $1.99

The Martian: Official Game – $0.99

Hitman Bundle (Hitman GO & Hitman: Sniper) – $0.99

 

Also, pretty much every Tin Man Games gamebook is on sale, so if you’re a fan of Gamebook Adventures or Fighting Fantasy, you will probably find something to love here.

September 16, 2015 – Tool-assisted poetry

i will never forget july,
and all the little emptiness it creates
for her love was mine
and all the world was bright


The above poem was written using Creative Writer, an iPhone app that replaces the keyboard with a list of words that are suggested based on context (kind of like iOS’s QuickType feature on steroids). Be sure and check it out.

Silence, Facebook!

Or, wait… Is it “Silence Facebook”? Are they silencing Facebook or telling Facebook to–what? They’re here? Oh! They’re here!

Hello, reader!

Did you recently update to the latest version of Facebook on your fancy, schmancy iPhone only to discover that it plays annoying bleeps and bloops every time you do anything?
Well, talk about a first-world problem! There are kids starving in… somewhere. I forget where kids are starving these days. When I was a kid it was either India or China. But I’m pretty sure they’re starving elsewhere, too. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, you want your $800 pocket computer to just SHUT UP when you’re busy trying to see if the girl you had a crush on in high school is finally single so you can finally get up the courage to—oh, come on, who are you kidding? You’re not asking her out. You’re pathetic. But, hey. You still don’t need to broadcast to the room that you’re Facebooking when you’re supposed to be paying attention in the HR meeting that is only happening because you (once again) made inappropriate comments to the receptionist.

Dick.

Anyway, here’s how you turn it off. And since I know you barely read, I put the instructions in picture form. And made it all one picture, because I know how hard it is for you to click or tap on more than one without getting bored.

IMG_7761

Fountain City Sazerac

Fountain City Sazerac

Studio Neat released Highball, their latest iPhone app, today. It’s a cocktail app with an emphasis on sharing. As a result, recipes are designed around beautiful cards: visual recipes that are easy to parse and can be imported into the Highball app to save the recipe and even edit it to fit your own tastes.

To get a feel for the app, I went ahead and made my own Sazerac recipe, with a Kansas City twist. And yes, I know that KC is technically the City of Fountains. However, this recipe name rolls off the tongue much better.

Be sure to check out Highball – free on the App Store.

Amazon Echo first impressions

When Amazon first announced the Echo and the accompanying promotional video, I was torn. The aspirational concept at work was great. A precursor to Jarvis, the digital butler from the Iron Man movies. Tony Stark’s AI-powered smart house is what I think the dreams of virtual assistants like Siri and Cortana hope to one day realize. However, we’re not there yet, and the cost of adding “intelligence” and automation to one’s home is far more than a middle class family can reasonably expect to afford. But, that doesn’t mean that certain aspects of this  ambitious future can’t be achieved today. Voice recognition has come a long way, and virtual assistants are getting more capable every day.

Enter Amazon Echo. By now, nearly everyone in America has access to some sort of smartphone or tablet that includes a virtual assistant. Whether it’s Siri, Cortana, or Google Now, users can simply speak or type a natural language request and receive desired results. Even devices that don’t come with a virtual assistant built-in can almost always install apps that provide some, if not all, of the same features. But, when your hands are otherwise occupied, getting your phone out to do some menial task can be aggravating. And while, yes, iPhones and Android devices are capable of listening for a “wake word” to trigger voice actions without pressing a button, the results are often hit or miss (and, at least on the iPhone, require it to be plugged in and charging).

When the Echo arrived, I was struck by how much smaller the box was than I expected. It had been some time since I watched the reveal video and had forgotten just how compact the device is. But I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the packaging. Amazon has really impressed me with their Apple-esque attention to packaging detail. When I purchased my Amazon Fire TV Stick, I noticed the same attention to detail for beautiful packaging. While I still think Apple does a better job of not wasting any space in their package design, I had to admit that unboxing the Echo was a very delightful process: something that has long-been Apple’s forte (almost exclusively so).

In Space, No One Can Hear Your Echo

The Echo box bears a striking resemblance to the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The first thing I noticed, of course, when I set the box on the table and prepared to open it was how much it resembled the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey: a comparison that places no small amount of pressure on the contained device to assist its users in their technology-assisted evolution. I carefully removed the outer shell and laid the box flat to get a look at the subtly embossed product logo on the box.

Is the Amazon logo smirking at me?

Every picture from here on out will pale in comparison to the first. Like an echo.

And then I opened it up and was actually pleasantly surprised by what I found inside. The Echo was placed gently into a curved cradle that protruded from both the front and back (or top and bottom, depending on your preferred spacial orientation) of the box. Where many tech companies would have been content to just place the Echo in a recessed space, Amazon went the extra step to ensure that the front of the Echo was protected during transit. At this point, I took one last photo of the box and then proceeded to the fun times.

And I thought it smelled bad on the outside

A place for everything and everything in its place.

The instructions in the box were incredibly simple and easy to follow, though they omit the ability to setup your Echo using a web browser on your Mac or PC, a feature worth noting for anyone wishing to use an Echo without one. I simply plugged the power outlet into the wall and then into the Echo, fired up the Echo app (which I had already downloaded on my phone as soon as it became available), and the app walked me through the setup process. The only part that wasn’t seamless was when I was required to connect my phone to the Wi-Fi network the Echo created to create the initial sync before telling the Echo to which wireless network it should connect. I have been spoiled by the use of Bluetooth to quickly pair and set up Apple TVs with your iPhone. But, this seems to be the most effective method for the setup of a device that needs to work with several different platforms, especially since the Bluetooth features of the Echo appear to be limited to streaming audio from a smartphone, tablet, or computer to the Echo’s speaker.

And then, just like that, the Echo was ready to use. The app walked me through several example queries and commands to get me comfortable with the device and then I was off and running. My children were enamored with her, though perhaps the most adorable moment was when my daughter tried to activate her by calling her Siri, rather than Alexa. A few more taps inside the app itself and I had paired my iHeartRadio account and set off a stream from a local radio station via TuneIn. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed to discover that there is not currently support for Audible content (though I have been informed by Amazon support that they are working hard to bring more audio sources to the Echo). My son has recently become quite persistent in his requests to listen to the Star Wars radio drama and I must admit that I would love the ability to stream them to the Echo while I’m working in the kitchen. Fortunately, a workaround exists: simply redirect the audio from your iPhone or other smart device to the Echo via Bluetooth. However, I have not yet had the opportunity to test it and see if Echo can remotely pause audio playing from a third-party device.

As with Siri, much of the fun of the Echo comes from trying to get her to respond in entertaining ways. For example, my son asked her to “Set phasers to kill,” to which she replied “That’s a feature for a later version!” The Echo also includes a voice training feature, which I’ve not yet tried. I am hoping that it can be used to improve understanding of my children, as they’ve not yet learned to articulate. However, she already does a remarkable job of recognizing my requests. In fact, the only issue I’ve had so far with the Echo is that I don’t know what else to do with it. It makes for an excellent Bluetooth speaker and Internet radio device. But, I hope for so much more.

One exciting feature of the Echo that I’m hoping gets better over time and with usage is the Flash Briefing. This particular feature is one of the key things I want from a digital assistant: the ability to quickly get brief news snippets, the weather, and other info about my upcoming day while I’m getting ready in the morning. Unfortunately, I was so tired this morning, I completely forgot to ask Alexa to give me one. I suppose I’ll just have to do it tomorrow. There are several other 1.0 features that I’m hoping to see get better in 1.1, 1.2, or even 2.0. For example, the Echo has the ability to set an alarm for you. However, there are no options for configuring alarm repetition (I would love to have an alarm that goes off every weekday, but not at all on weekends).

Part of me hopes that Amazon decides to go all out with the Echo and eventually allow you to sync it with an iCloud or Google calendar so that you can be notified of upcoming appointments, find out what the roads are like on the way to the movies or date night (currently, it can only give you information on your daily commute), or even schedule events for you. While Amazon may have their own ecosystem that they want you to use, it’s clear that the Fire Phone is never going to be popular enough for features like that to exist as an Amazon exclusive. But if the Echo can outdo Siri and Google Now in convenience and tie into their respective ecosystems slightly, they might be able to carve out a nice niche in the home before the battle for the smart home truly heats up.

This is not a coffee mug

The top of the Echo has a ring that adjusts volume, and has just the right amount of heft to feel awesome.

Until then, I’m happy with my Echo. As Amazon adds features, I hope to discover that I like it enough to have several in my home in different places for different purposes. I also look forward to the day when I can rename my Echo to Jarvis, give it a male voice with a stuffy, British accent, and ask it it power up my Mark IV armor. A man can dream, can he not?

Stop looking at me, swan!

If you squint just right, the top of it almost looks like a face.

Fun with Word Lens

A buddy of mine pointed out today that Word Lens integration had finally come to Google Translate, making it as easy as pointing your iPhone (or Android, if you swing that way) at a sign or other textual object and see it immediately translated to another language. While I had played with Word Lens in the past, I was excited to see what their time at Google had wrought.

One of the first things I found in my office was a Netgear ProSafe box with big, bold lettering on the side.

This was the result:

Netgear-Two-Up

I mean, seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. Full-size images available by clicking the thumbnails below.

Netgear-Two-UpNetgear-Prime

Netgear-on-Word-Lens

 

Bonjour, Yosemite, and you!

For several months now, I’ve been watching my Apple TV have an identity crisis whenever I see its name advertised across the network via Bonjour. I named my Apple TV Durendal (because all of my devices are named after weapons and because Marathon is awesome). It used to only happen every now and then. I’d go to AirPlay to my Apple TV and I’d be greeted with a “Durendal (2)” in my available devices list. I’d change the name to something else and back and it would fix. But a few days later, we’d be right back where we started. It was an issue that didn’t bother me much, so I didn’t worry about it. There’s only one Apple TV on my network and the name is unimportant, so long as it works.

But then today, Glamdring (my MacBook Pro and Gandalf’s hand-and-a-half sword of legend), started having a similar issue. Glamdring is less regularly accessed over the network, but having it always showing up with the wrong name in my Shared items in the Finder set off my OCD something fierce. Worse, changing the name in the Sharing preference pane only fixed it for a few seconds. Soon, it would increment right back up to “Glamdring (2)”. So I set out to find a solution.

It only took a second to find one. Toggling Bonjour off and back on is reported to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, partway through the beta release cycle, Apple changed the way this worked. All the instructions I found gave command line instructions to unload and reload the mDNSResponder LaunchDaemon. Unfortunately, the necessary .plist went missing during Yosemite beta’s development. Thankfully, Matt Burgess made a comment over at coderwall.com that revealed the new Terminal commands necessary to fix this (which has since been resolved, thanks to this tip). Since I can’t link directly to the comment, I’ve included it here for quick access.

sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.discoveryd.plist
sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.discoveryd.plist

Run these one after the other in Terminal and then change the name of your computer to its correct name. The problem should be resolved.

Since Glamdring was now resolved, I moved on to Durendal (which had climbed all the way up to “Durendal (102)” since I last fixed it). That one was easier, though less permanent. I simply went into the Settings app on the Apple TV and changed the name to one of the suggested default names the Apple TV provides. Then I went back to Custom… and put Durendal back into the field. So far, so good, but we’ll see what happens the next time the network cuts out unexpectedly or I have to force the Apple TV to restart.

Mavericks Browser Showdown: Safari 7 vs. Firefox 24 vs. Chrome 30

A new version of OS X has been released into the wild and, with it, a new version of Safari. I’ve had the luxury of playing with Mavericks during the beta and so I had been using Safari 7 off and on for a while. While I had already grown accustomed to a few of the new features (Shared Links and automatically stopping plug-ins to save power were the most noticeable), I wasn’t using it on my daily driver. So when it was released to the rest of the world, I finally got to see first-hand how much faster the computer felt due to the improvements in resource management.

I suffer from tab-creep in my web browsers. I have never implemented a proper system for taking sites I want to remember but don’t need right away and filing them away somewhere with an easy system for retrieving them. I used to bookmark everything and categorize it later. I’ve also tried dumping everything into Pocket, but it still mostly goes unused. So, as a result, I leave lots of tabs open in my browser until I get fed up and do something about the ones that are left open.

(Incidentally, if anyone out there has a suggestion on a service for filing, tagging, and searching sites I want to remember that is easily accessible from Mac and iOS devices, let me know.)

The first thing I noticed in Mavericks is how much faster Safari behaved with lots of tabs open. Many times I would have to quit Safari while I performed certain key tasks and then reopen it a few moments later when I was finished. This was even more aggravating due to the Internet at work running at glacial speeds during the majority of the day, as I often would have to buffer any videos I wanted to check out in the background in order to watch them later. Suddenly, however, I could leave Safari open and suffer no ill effects in other tasks. After reading up on how much more efficient Mavericks handles resources, I was excited, to say the least.

Throughout the last 5 years or so, several tech websites have performed “browser shootouts” on both Macs and PCs to break down the strengths and weaknesses of each web browser and declare one the victor over all. While Firefox and Chrome are updated semi-regularly, Safari only sees major improvements a few times a year. Generally, a new major release is refined over the course of the year, but adds very little in the way of new features, only bug fixes and optimization. One of the few times to truly see how the browsers compare to one another is to test them shortly after Safari’s major update, so I took it upon myself to do so.

What follows is a very simple test that is by no means exhaustive. But, it gives a good example of Mavericks’ impressive performance gains and what we can expect to see from Chrome and Firefox should they adopt the appropriate APIs to improve their resource management in Mavericks.

The Test

To compare the performance of each browser, I wanted something that was simple and fairly easy to replicate across each browser. So, I exported my bookmarks from Safari and imported them into Chrome and Firefox. Then, one at a time, I launched the browser and opened several bookmark folders into tabs. Once finished, I had 91 tabs open in the browser, four of which were YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, and Netflix.

These final four tabs were where the real magic was going to happen. I started playing videos in each of the sites, and left Netflix as the front-most tab. Then, I jumped over to Activity Monitor to observe the results.

The first thing I noticed, in both Firefox and Chrome was how quickly the computer became taxed. The fan on the computer ramped up to full speed as it attempted to dispel the heat from my MacBook Pro. In Safari, however, the fan never sped up. I even performed the Safari test twice, once before the others and again at the end to ensure that the computer had been properly warmed up. The MBP kept its cool throughout Safari’s test both times.

I took screenshots of Activity Monitor and used a calculator to add up the percentage of CPU use and GBs consumed in RAM.

The Results

Here is what I discovered (all numbers are approximations):

  • Firefox used 262.6% CPU and 3.37 GB of RAM
  • Chrome performed a mite better using only 234.3% CPU and 3.17 GB of RAM
  • Safari blew them all away with only 85.7% CPU and 2.06 GB of RAM
  • Safari came in a very respectable first place with 120.6% CPU and 2.21 GB of RAM

(Shortly before publishing this, I realized that several instances of two processes that were owned by OS X but managed by Safari weren’t being counted in my initial results: com.apple.audio.ComponentHelper and com.apple.audio.SandboxHelper. Both appeared several times, but were only recognized as Safari processes when viewed hierarchically in Activity Monitor. I have included the correct results above.)

For Firefox, verification was easy. Since Firefox is the only one of the browsers tested that doesn’t separate each tab into its own set of processes, I could just add up the numbers for the Firefox app, and the two plugins being used: Flash and Silverlight.

Chrome and Safari were a bit more frustrating, as they break up tabs into multiple processes, rather than lumping them together. In fact, the first two times I ran this test for Safari, I missed some processes, as mentioned above. I might have missed some for Chrome, as well, but since the goal of this test was to see how Mavericks’ new APIs benefit resource management, I didn’t bother checking to see if Firefox actually managed to outperform Chrome. Once I had added up all the numbers for Chrome and Safari, it became evident that the new features in Mavericks were a huge benefit. It will be interesting to see if Chrome or Firefox see significant performance gains in future versions, as well.

Have you noticed any apps that perform drastically better in OS X Mavericks? Let me know in the comments.

Apple’s pending point-of-sale revolution

This morning, while I was getting gas, I noticed that the price had dropped since the day before. Sweet! I thought. Free dollar! Okay, I didn’t exactly think that, but it sounded cooler than, Huh. Nice.

Anyway, as I was sitting there waiting for the inexorably slow pump to fill my car, I started thinking about services like GasBuddy. If you’ve not heard of GasBuddy, it’s a website and corresponding mobile app that lets you search for the lowest price in gas near your location before filling up. It’s pretty handy, especially on road trips since it can help you determine which cities are the best to stop for gas before moving on, saving you money on the trip and ensuring you don’t run out of gas before you reach the next waypoint.

The problem with GasBuddy is that it requires a real-life human being to observe the price, check the GasBuddy app or website to determine if it has changed, and then update it. It’s a less-than-ideal situation that requires someone to be passionate about the app to make sure it’s up-to-date. Whomever you are out there updating this database for me, I thank you.

However, Apple could change all that very, very soon. With Touch ID on the iPhone 5s, Apple is positioning itself to become the ideal point-of-sale for businesses. Using Bluetooth 4.0 LE, your iPhone could automatically pair with the payment system at the pump, prompt you to provide authentication with your fingerprint, then bill your card on file in iTunes, all without ever taking your wallet out of your pocket or purse. But this can go even a step further. Imagine that when I pay at the pump, Apple takes information like the location of the store and the price-per-gallon and automatically updates an online database, allowing iOS users to quickly find the cheapest gas in their area and know that it’s almost certainly going to be accurate. Going a step further, Apple could also find out how quickly customers get in and out of the pump area, so you know how busy the station is. Your morning commute might be less frustrating if you can find the fastest gas station, assuming you don’t mind paying a little extra for your gas.

Now let’s go out even further. Retailers supporting iPhones for payment would likely send itemized receipts to customers through Apple’s payment system. This gives Apple information on the prices of every product you purchase, which could again be dumped into a searchable database, allowing you to find the best price on any item you wanted to buy. Got some grocery shopping to do? Make your grocery list and let Apple tell you which store is going to cost you the least. Or hell, it could even split up the list between multiple stores and tell you if it would be cheaper to drive to each one (based on current gas prices in your area) and how long it will take. With Apple’s mapping service, your iPhone could even tell you if you’re likely to hit traffic and to recommend the best time of day to make your shopping excursion (maybe even give you an alert if a sudden rush of customers hits a specific store, letting you know that maybe you should just wait until tomorrow).

A lot of people are terrified of sharing this kind of data, and in many cases you should be. Something like this should be dependent on anonymized information, preventing any purchase data from being tied to an individual user (except in the case of itemized, digital receipts, which should be opt-in only). But imagine the possibilities.’

I don’t expect to see this come this year in iOS 7, but I believe with iBeacons and Touch ID, Apple is laying the groundwork. We’ll see a few retailers try to implement their own systems with these existing tools while Apple continues to look for the best way to take the whole pie in one swoop. I’ll be very keenly interested in what will be possible when Touch ID has trickled down to the “free” iPhone.

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