Basic Data Security and You 0

[Editor’s note: Sorry for the hiatus on my blogs recently. I’ve gotten swamped by work, and ran out of pre-written posts just before the holidays here in the US. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that I’m posting this particular column =) ]

When you go online and post, blog, tweet, DM, etc.; you place information about yourself out there in the Internet. Granted, that’s the whole point to Social Networking, but many of us have seemingly forgotten that the Internet is an open community, not a private telephone line.

So, here’s a few “rules of the road” to follow to help keep yourself safe;

1 – Know what you’re clicking on. These days, it is unbelievably common to see posts that contain links to websites. The vast majority of these are perfectly safe, but some are actually phishing or attack sites that can make your life miserable very quickly. The good news is that many Twitter, Facebook, and other Social Media tools will allow you to preview a link before you click on it. In fact, many now allow you to auto-expand the URL of a short-link (like a or jmp link) so you can see the URL of the actual destination site. Just hover over the link to see where it leads to. If you don’t know what the destination site is, if it doesn’t apply to the tweet or post, or if you have no idea why you’d be getting that message to begin with – then don’t click.

2 – People can be impersonated. Feel like you want to share something personal in a DM to that person who’s been making conversation with you? Think twice. While the majority of people online are who they say they are (though some of us use pen names of course), there are folks who are scam artists who will try to get you to give up personal information, money, secrets, etc. Don’t be fooled, make sure you know who the person really is first.

3 – People can also be hacked. Twitter and Facebook and many other Social Networks are constantly trying to improve security and help folks not get hacked, but it still happens with alarming regularity. Not following some of theses rules is a sure way to make it happen, but sometimes it’s just a really good hacker finding a way to get into someone’s account that they shouldn’t have access to. When you get an odd DM (“Hey, what are you doing in this video”) or something seems amiss, it very well could be someone else pretending to be a friend you know. DM back and confirm that it’s really them BEFORE you give up any information or click on any links.

4 – Don’t post it if it isn’t public (no, not even in a DM). I’ve said this one before and I’ll keep saying it until everyone gets it. If you wouldn’t shout it out at the top of your lungs while standing in the middle of Times Square in New York; if you wouldn’t want your boss and your grandmother to both read it; then do not post it. Anything you put online – even if it seems to be in a private message or DM – can, and eventually will, become public. Save yourself a lot of embarrassment now and avoid posting anything you don’t want the world to see.

5 – Be careful what services you use. Many socially-integrated services can gain information from your profiles and timelines. The majority clearly spell out what they’re going to be seeing and using, but you still need to be careful. Every time you authorize an application, carefully read the authorization page to be sure you know EXACTLY what it will have access to, and what it will do with that access. If the app doesn’t have a web page explaining what rights it needs on your Twitter or Facebook accounts, and more importantly WHY it needs those rights; don’t use that app. Vote with your wallet and find a different app that is up-front about what it needs access to and why.

6 – De-authorize any apps you no longer use. Companies get bought out, are acquired, or merged, or otherwise change their ownership. Companies also change their policies and procedures over time. If you’re no longer using a particular socially-integrated app, then go to the settings pages of your various Social Networks and de-authorize or remove that app. This way, if the owner of that app changes companies or policies, you can be sure that they no longer have access to your data.

7 – Use all security features. Many people don’t know that Google and Facebook both offer forms of two-factor authentication. Once turned on, you cannot log into your Google account or load Facebook in a new browser or on a new device without putting in a pin that Google/Facebook sends as an SMS text to your phone. Using features like this (or similar features on other networks) can help secure your account even further, with a minimum of extra work for you day-to-day. Take advantage of them whenever they’re available!

Stay sane, stay safe, and remember that it’s a wild worldwide web out there.

Wither Microsoft Part I – Why you may want it. 0

[Editor’s notes:
First, sorry for the hiatus in my postings. I’ve been swamped with work, and ran out of pre-written posts just before the holidays here in the US. But, now that I’m back on track, you can expect a return to regular, weekly posts from here on out.

Secondly, the title of today’s column has nothing to do with Microsoft losing marketing share. Those of us who are fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus will quickly see I’m using the conjunction form of wither, meaning “where to or wherever to” instead of the more common meaning.]

While many of us in the Apple community may wish to believe that we can totally live without any Microsoft products, there are simply too many reasons why you might find you need them. This is especially true if you use your Mac for work, or a combination of work and home life. This first article of three will discuss the reasons you might want to include Microsoft technologies into your Mac life.

Those of us who use our Macs for corporate stuff often find that the business world is an inhospitable place. If you are lucky enough to work for either a company that mostly uses Macs, or one that has an IT group that uses and supports Macs; count your blessings. Most enterprises do not rely primarily on Apple technology and – aside from a few cases where iPad apps are officially sanctioned – don’t want anything to do with them. This makes actually using your Mac and native Mac apps to access company resources a challenge at best, and a nightmare at worst.

Using some of the Microsoft tools (both on OS X and in Windows on your Mac – more on that later) can make life easier for those of us who have to talk to corporate data systems regularly. Systems like Office 2011 can give you native Outlook, Word and Excel features, though generally with a feature set and file formats that are a few years old. However, even with these legacy formats, the native experience can be much easier to deal with when working on company documents and files that were built with the Office applications on Windows machines originally. Granted, Pages and other Apple apps can do these things, but may (and probably will) have formatting and function frustrations along the way.

Also keep in mind that if a native Microsoft app like Outlook 2011 is having problems, the corporate IT staff will have far less of a hard time troubleshooting it. These apps typically use the same connection systems and functions as their Windows counterparts, so especially if the problem is server-side, you’ll end up not taking the blame for something that isn’t your Mac’s problem in the first place.

There are some very non-technical reasons to use Microsoft apps or a Windows VM as well. These days, most companies have a very strict policy when it comes to data and security and information ownership. If a system holds company data, the company owns it, no exceptions. In these cases, even though you *could* use to connect to your company’s Exchange Server, you probably don’t want to. Keeping your work email independent from your personal email means not having to worry about which account you’re sending from, what signatures are being used, and who owns the content of a particular email database. I find this method invaluable – all my work email is in Outlook, my other email is in – no confusion and no mistakes.

Of course, the biggest reason you might want to consider using Microsoft apps on OS X is if you recently converted to Mac. I know that Outlook 2011 isn’t the same as Outlook 2010 or 2013, not by a long shot. However, it is much closer to its Windows counterpart than combined with Address Book and iCal. If your entire user experience has been based on Windows versions of MS Office up until this point, then using the Office for Mac applications is going to make for a much easier transition.

Next week, we’ll talk about why you may NOT want to use Microsoft software on your Mac, and then we’ll finish up in the third column describing ways you can use Microsoft tools, either on your Mac in OS X or segregated into a VM or Boot Camp partition to keep them on their own.

A day for thanks 0

Today, here in the USA, we take a day to remember all the good things in our lives. We give thanks – each in our own ways – for whatever gifts we’ve been given in this world. We also eat alarming amounts of food and then collapse in the living room to watch TV; which is apparently the evolution of the original meal shared by some of the first European settlers to the North American shores.

I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to all my readers on and Thanks for being part of my blogging, and for sharing your feedback and help over the years. I’m still writing, and the blogs get better and better over time thanks to your input.

Never underestimate the power of communication. Digital, verbal, and all the other types that our out there change our lives – usually for the better. Communication can bring the world together, topple dictators, end wars. It can also discover new technology, cure diseases, and keep friends and family close no matter the distances between them.

Simply writing thoughts down on physical or digital paper transforms words into permanent things. Conversation – when shared between two or more people – alters our very lives.

So today, I’m thankful that we live in an age with nearly unlimited communication. We can share information, break down physical and language barriers, and trade ideas with anyone, any time, in any place on the planet and beyond.

Thanks again for inviting me into your browser each week. From everyone here at, may you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Third party keyboards 0

Any Mac user tends to get very used to the standard keyboard layout that you get with the included aluminum dealie you get with your new iMac or can buy with a Pro or Mini. While it does work for a lot of people, I found the layout to be a bit too compressed over time. The lack of a number-pad and dedicated home, insert, delete, and other keys become quite annoying to boot. So, I went on the lookout for other keyboards I could use instead, and ran into a problem.

I prefer ergonomic keyboards, but the few available specifically for Mac were outrageously overpriced. Now, I chose that word purposely. I’m not against shelling out a reasonable amount of money for an expensive, but great, keyboard that doesn’t forget the fact that I’m going to be banging away on it for hours every day. This means that I’ll probably have to replace the thing about once per year as I wear the text off the keytops and possibly jam one or more of them over time. Asking me to pay well over two hundred bucks for any keyboard – no matter how ergonomically designed – is just price gouging.

This left me with two choices, a non-ergonomic Mac-specific keyboard, or an ergonomic wonder that’s not designed for OSX, but rather built for Windows or even Linux. I tried out both, and they have their plusses and minuses.

First, the ergonomic boards for non-OSX machines. I looked through about a dozen choices available on major shopping sites and in stores, and settled on the Microsoft Natural Keyboard, as I had been very happy with it when I was still on a Windows desktop, and the vendor (Microsoft) claims Mac compatibility. While they were not lying, there were some problems to be found in this approach. First, there’s no dedicated Command key (⌘). When you plug in or connect any new keyboard that isn’t made by Apple, OSX first asks you to identify which keys are to the left of the Z key and spacebar, and then figures out what your layout looks like. This maps the Command function to the key immediately to the left and right of the spacebar. Typically this means the Windows key gets remapped to Command, leaving Alt (Option on Mac keyboards) and Control unchanged. You can alter all these mappings in your keyboard options if that doesn’t work for you, but the defaults are pretty workable.

All in all, it was an acceptable and workable solution, but there were definitely problems with long-term use of a non-Mac-focused keyboard. First, there’s no native media keys. This may sound like a fiddly little thing, but when you get used to instant media and volume controls, and suddenly have none, it’s annoying as all get-up. Microsoft has their Intellitype software package that can make the media keys on their keyboards work for iTunes, but not for any third party applications. As a regular user of Muse and Musicality, it got even more annoying to hit pause, and find it left the Muse application playing and started playing iTunes on top of it. The same goes with the loss of one-click access to Spaces and the Dashboard, which I use quite often for a variety of reasons and apps. Once again here, Microsoft’s software can compensate for some of these keys, but not all of them (though, see below for a way to overcome the Spaces issue).

Next, I went looking for a non-ergonomic keyboard built for Mac. There’s are honestly not a lot of choices out there. Logitech has a couple, but most manufacturers either make Windows keyboards or generics. After quite a search, I found that Das makes a couple of them. They are most definitely not cheap, but they are about half the price of some of the competition and are very highly respected by the tech community. For those who’ve never heard of them, Das makes keyboards that have the distinctive key-click and overall layout found on older IBM keyboards from the dawn of the modern computing era. The tactile feedback of the key clicks and spacing of the keys makes them very finger-friendly for those of us who type a lot and want to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome; the theory being that the click causes your fingers to ease up on the pressure and not slam into the hard stop at the bottom of the key.

The Professional for Mac was the one I went with myself. The Mac-specific key layout and full media key support was exactly what I was looking for, and I have indeed found that typing stress is reduced when using the clicky keys. It also helps that they keyboard is wired – which is a major thing for me. I find no reason to use a wireless keyboard, as the travel distance of the keyboard on my desk is so small that any cord can easily accommodate me. So I don’t want to have to swap out batteries every week when the keyboard isn’t mobile in the first place on my desk.

This isn’t to say that they keyboard is without fault. There’s still no Dashboard or Spaces keys, but I can use Control + Right and Left arrow keys to flip between Spaces, including the Dashboard. The keyboard itself is also incredibly noisy, and can be heard when I’m on my telephone handset or headset as I clack away taking notes on the call.

I suppose, unless you’re ok with the native keyboard that came with your system from Apple, there will always be some trade-offs. The choice is between ergonomics at the cost of full hotkey functions; hotkeys but no ergonomic layout; or spending a ton of cash on a keyboard that isn’t really any better than the lower-cost alternatives in terms of build quality.

Experiment, ask for recommendations online and from friends, and if at all possible; try out a few in a store before you buy. See which combination of look, feel and functions you think will work best on your desktop. Remember, you’re going to be typing on this thing – a lot – for quite a while, so it’s best to find one that works for you instead of the other way around.

Metadata can be a pain 0

We deal with metadata every day of our lives – often without ever realizing that we’re doing it. Metadata is simply the file attributes, geo-location tags and other items that get stuck to other data; like files and emails. For example, whenever you send an email, there is a ton of metadata that is invisible to you unless you tell your email client you want to see it. In the background, your client and the email servers that handle the mail along its route tag bits of information to the email package. Things like where it originated, what servers it is relayed through, if it has been tagged as spam or suspect, etc. Normally, metadata is harmless and in many cases even necessary. Sometimes, it becomes a major problem.

The problem was illustrated earlier this week when Oprah Winfrey tweeted that she loved her new Microsoft Surface tablet. Granted, the tweet itself wasn’t all that shocking or special; but the metadata exposed that the tweet wasn’t all it appeared to be on the … well.. surface.

In essence, the metadata stuck onto the tweet by the Twitter software Oprah used to generate the message let everyone know she had actually sent the tweet from an iPad. So the further notation that she’d bought twelve more to give as gifts was undermined by the fact that she wasn’t using one herself, and the claim of it being one of her famous “#FavoriteThings” was somewhat hollow.

In this case, the metadata was embarrassing, but (with the exception of the marketing implications for Microsoft) not harmful. In some cases, however, metadata can be far more problematic. For example, in addition to tagging tweets with the client you are using, your twitter software most likely sends along your physical location co-ordinates as well. This feature can be turned off in the client and on the twitter website, though many people forget to do so or acknowledge and allow it without realizing they’re doing it. This means that you can say you “just arrived at work” and your tweet might betray that you’re actually across town. It also means that anyone who views your tweets can track where you are and where you’ve been. Certainly not good news for those who value their privacy.

Twitter isn’t alone in having metadata that can be more problematic than most realize. Nearly all Social Media tools have geo-location available, and will tag your posts with that data unless you tell them to do otherwise. Email encodes the route that the email took between sender and receiver, along with time and date at each hop across the Internet. This can become a legal issue if you’re claiming that an email was sent on a certain date, but the metadata (in this case the header information) shows that it wasn’t. Cameras will tag photos with anything from the settings used to take the photo (commonly called EXIF data), to the date and time of the snapshot, and even location if your camera has a GPS feature. Even mobile devices can be problematic, as the carrier can track where you’re logging in from at any time. Even when the phone or mobile device’s GPS is disabled, carriers can get an approximate fix on your location by figuring out which cell towers you are transmitting to and from.

Now, this is not to say that metadata is a bad thing in and of itself. EXIF data is extremely helpful in photo editing, and phone GPS/geo-location systems can help save your life if you are in an accident or have an emergency situation. Foursquare uses metadata to identify where you are in the world, and the whole purpose of that app is to let people know where you are. Knowing what tweets, posts, and emails are replies and forwards/RT’s is extremely useful, and it’s all held in tags. Metadata also helps track spam, organize files on your hard drive, and control the spread of malware. It really is a neutral technology that can be used for good or bad purposes, depending on the situation.

Be aware that metadata exists, and question what metadata is being attached to tweets, files and anything else you do in the digital world. Turn off geo-location anywhere and for any app you don’t want reporting on your whereabouts; and ensure that your cameras, mobile devices and other gear aren’t storing (or broadcasting) data you don’t want them to tag to your photos, posts and files.

Metadata isn’t a bad thing, but it can be used for unwanted purposes. Know about it, control it, and try not to tweet about a particular tablet from a competitor’s platform.

What is the big deal with Scott Forstall leaving Apple? 0

Late last week, Apple announced that Scott Forstall was leaving the company. Many newbies to Mac, iDevices, and Apple in general may not know what the big deal is. Well, here’s the story:

Scott Forstall was an integral part of the design team for many Apple products. Not all of his decisions, however, were well received by the general public. They were also not well received by other bigwigs at Apple either, which led to the current situation.

Forstall was a huge proponent of a design theory called skeuomorphism, which is – in short – application of physical-world textures to digital vision. Basically things like the leather texture and stitching on things like the iPad calendar and some of the icons (like Find My Friends) on other iDevices are a great example of this design philosophy. Textures and “look and feel” points from real-world objects (desk calendars and leather covers) are applied to purely non-physical concepts (digital calendars and icons). For some folks, the merging of the real-world and the digital world makes software more humanized and easier to relate to. For others, the “window dressing” takes up valuable screen real-estate and doesn’t offer any true benefit.

Until recently, most people had seen and used desk calendars and blank notebooks with physical covers to write things in at least at some point in their lives on a daily basis. Today, there is an entire generation who’s gone mostly paperless, and may not even relate to the skeuomorphic attributes of these software platforms at all. Yeah, they look nice, but they don’t add anything to the software for those folks and detract from the overall surface area that can be used for more important information.

Johnny Ive and most of the other Apple designers wanted to move in the direction of cleaner lines, with digital-focused interfaces that were recognizable both to people who worked on pen-and-paper objects and software. When the tipping point came, Ive’s group outnumbered Forstall’s group, and he was out the door.

Things also went south because Forstall was in command of the high-profile failures of Apple Maps and other mis-steps in iOS 6. The very public failure of those apps, combined with a power loss in his design philosophy meant his days with Apple were numbered.

So what does this mean for the average Apple gear user? Not a whole lot, overall, but many little things will change. Software on the Mac and iDevices will start to lose the little real-world texture touches we’ve seen over the years. That process started back with Leopard, but will become even more prevalent now. Lines will be cleaner, sharper, and more digital – with more useable screen space taken up by information and data, instead of leather and cloth textures.

Scott Forstall will be missed. Some of those skeuomorphic touches were quite beautiful, but in the end, cleaner lines and less window dressing will make devices more useable and functional. No one can debate that this is a good thing for Apple gear users.

Be careful not to post Personal Info, no matter how much you want to. 0

It’s Election Day here in the USA, and lots of folks are upset about lots of issues. Many have decided they will spout off by posting photos of themselves voting, or protesting, or just generally upset about things. Sometimes, that’s good, other times, it is VERY bad.

Don’t post photos about your Voter ID opinions – especially if that opinion photo includes your ID.

It should go without saying, but posting photos of your ID is a truly bad idea. Never post photos of your passport, your driver’s license or any other identification documents. They can be used to glean information about you that you would probably rather not let people have.

Feel free to write about your experience. Blog about it, check in on Foursquare from your polling place, but don’t post photos of your ID. Ever.

Don’t post photos of your ballot.

Not only does it defeat the premise of a secret ballot if you go and post it online, but in several states (like New York) it’s actually illegal. Specifically, posting photos of a “ballot that has been prepared for voting” is a no-no in many places around the US.

Discuss the candidates, give your opinion, even tweet who you voted for if you really want to; but don’t photograph your ballot.

Do not take photos in your polling place.

While it may not be illegal to do so (though it may very well be in your city), it’s a very bad idea to take pictures while you are around or in your polling place. The reason is simple, there are about 100 other people in the room besides you, and many would not want their photo taken. Unless you get permission from everyone in the room (unlikely) and get it in writing (nearly impossible), you should not be taking photos.

Again, check in at your polling place (without a photo) and take pictures outside of the “No Electioneering” posted signs. That should be far enough away that it’s public space and outside the realm of personal voting space.

Play it smart today. Go and vote, exercise your rights and responsibilities every year and elect those who will represent you. Just don’t share photos of it on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Use your words instead, they are just as powerful and much less likely to get your identity stolen or get you in trouble with the law – at least until you vote someone in who will change them.

No matter how you dress them up, bugs are still bugs. 0

Fried bugs

The iPhone5 has not escaped some rather major bugs on launch, and as much as Apple has tried to sugar coat – or outright ignore them – in some cases, they’re still pretty major bugs. Due Disclosure, I upgraded to the iPhone 5 and like it a lot, but I’m still going to talk about the problems it has – and how to work around them.

First, Maps: Let’s get that one out of the way up front. It’s been blogged to death, so I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that Apple truly screwed up on this one. You should not be trusting Apple’s Maps App to figure out where you are, or how to get where you’re going.

Workaround: Many other map apps are available on the App Store. I use Motion-X GPS Drive for turn-by-turn navigation, mostly because it does walking directions just as easily as driving directions. I also can recommend Maps+ with the (US)$2.99 in-app upgrade. This gives you access to Google Maps until Google finally releases their own native app for iDevices. You could also just wait a bit for Apple to update their own Maps App, but there’s no street date for that yet.

Exchange Calendars: Moving on, there’s a pretty massive issue with Microsoft Exchange Calendars. If you decline an invitation you get via your Microsoft Exchange account, there is a chance that everyone invited to that meeting will get a cancellation notice. Strangely – possibly bordering on bizarrely – this isn’t a new issue, and has existed since iOS 4 in one form or another. Short story, if the calendar event gets saved on both the iDevice and the Exchange Server, and then you decline, a software glitch lets the iPhone make believe you are the meeting organizer and process the decline as a cancellation of the whole meeting.

Workaround: None yet. Believe it or not, this isn’t only Apple’s problem, as the software glitch that allows it to happen stems from a problem with Microsoft Exchange not rejecting a set of instructions that it is supposed to reject, even though the iPhone sends them anyway. Microsoft claims the instructions are not allowed for mobile email clients and shouldn’t be sent, Apple claims that since the instructions are invalid, they should be rejected by the server. The fight won’t end soon, but a software update on either the Server or the iDevices may hit in a few months to fix it until the next version of iOS does it again. In the meantime, don’t delete or decline invitations from your iPhone or iPad, instead wait until you are on a desktop or Outlook Web Access client to send the decline. Handy-to-know hint: You can reply to a message containing an invite to say you will be declining it later.

Battery Life: Those of us coming from the iPhone 4 will be shocked when looking at the battery life (or lack thereof) on the iPhone 5. Those on the 4s will probably have gotten used to four to six hour battery life, but the 4 could go eight to twelve hours of moderate use before dying out (or 3-4 hour talk time as opposed to 5-6 hour talk time on the 4). After a couple of weeks using the 5 the same way I used to use the 4, I can definitely say that the battery life is drastically shorter. There’s a few reasons for this. First is the fact that the phone got slimmer and lighter, and a lot of any phone’s weight and size is battery space. Secondly, the processors and components of any new phone will be more power hungry than the slower ones of the previous versions. So if the size of the phone limits the battery tech to only growing by a factor of 2 from the previous version, and the power consumption goes up by a factor of 4 – well, the math isn’t good.

Workaround: There are a few things you can do to extend battery life, but still use your iPhone as an iPhone and not a ridiculously expensive iPod. Turn off LTE in settings. You’ll still get basic 4G speed, which is more than good enough for most web applications, but it will use far less juice to communicate. Secondly, keep in mind that you get better battery life when you have three or four bars of service than when service is poor (yes, even with WiFi connected). In short, this is due to the phone working to transmit the same amount of data over less bandwidth and also a continual hunt for a better signal going on behind the scenes. Granted, you have very little control over signal strength, but if your home or work is in a poor service area, just keep in mind that you’ll need to charge much more often. Finally, nearly any rechargeable USB power pack, combined with a Lightning cable or 30-pin cable plus Lightning adapter, can charge you up when you’re out and about.

Scratches and cable shortages. These are not specifically bugs, as they have nothing to do with software, but they’re weighing heavily on the minds of iPhone 5 owners.

Scratches to the screen and case are pretty common for any mobile phone. They get shoved in pockets and put down on any number of various surfaces. With the back cover of the iPhone 5, however, the scratches are even more likely, and some users have reported finding scratches on phones even before they take it out of the box.

Workaround: First, carefully examine any piece of electronics you buy as soon as you open the box. Return anything that arrives in less-than-perfect condition. To keep it looking new, use a skin or case. I’d recommend that even if you didn’t have a scratch-prone device, as you’re shelling out big bucks for this hunk of tech, and should spend a few more bucks to properly protect it. Gelaskins makes hundreds of differently-designed skins for all kinds of gizmos, including the iPhone 5. As a blogger/writer, my personal favorite is the Underworld design. Also, a thin shield-type case is a good idea, I go with the Caze brand cases, as they’re thin, light and strong. For those who want more protection, there are dozens of other types of skins/shells that can withstand quite a lot of abuse. Couple this skin/shell with a high-quality screen protector (available from just about any tech retailer) and you’re set against having your new toy scuffed up five minutes after you get it.

Lack of cables: Apple chose to change the charge/sync port designed from the long-suffering 30-pin design to the new Lightning port. This isn’t a totally bad idea, as Lightning is indeed much faster and takes up a lot less space in the phone itself. The problem is that every dock/device/cable you used before to connect your iPhone to something is now useless. There is another very real added problem here, namely the fact that Apple is running short of cables and connectors, itself. You see, the cables require some very tiny electronics to be incorporated into them during production, and the components are in short supply. Most ship times for the Lightning Cable and 30-pin to Lightning Adapter are at least 1-2 weeks out, and the phone only comes with one Lightning Cable. Lose the cable? Oh well, you can’t charge your phone anymore.

Workaround: Get in line now to purchase a couple of extra cables and adapters from Apple’s online store. Guard the one you have with your life for the two weeks it’ll take to get the replacements in your hands. Eventually, 3rd-party manufacturers will start cranking out cables, docks, devices, etc. with Lightning connectors, but that hasn’t started happening yet. Of course, if you’re in the European Union, or know someone who is/will be, you can buy a micro USB to Lightning adapter from Apple over there, making life a lot easier.

Hang in there, folks, Most things will get better in time. The bugs will get fixed with software updates (hopefully soon). The shortages of components for cables and lack of 3rd-party options will be resolved. The scratches are going to be here for a long time, but that’s a problem you can fix today with less than (US)$30.00 worth of protective gear.

Automate Your Secure Social (and other) Surfing 0

As most readers are no-doubt aware, I’m amped up on security issues in general, and data transmission specifically. I always keep an eye out for tools that can let people become more secure online with as little effort as possible, as if it’s difficult, most folks will ignore it.

Most readers also already know that Facebook, Twitter, and many other Social Media Sites and Networks have the ability to allow you to perform all communications between your browser and those sites via secured HTTP connections (https). The problem has always been that you have to change your settings from the defaults (and make sure they stay changed) or else manually change URL’s to be https:// instead of http:// each and every time. Otherwise, you go to the non-encrypted, non-protected version of the site by default. Some sites even have different URL’s for secure surfing (like Google’s domains) – taking the problem a step beyond just remembering to type https:// first.

Added to the manual steps, some sites only encrypt certain components of their sites, with other elements like images and videos remaining unencrypted by default. This opens up holes in the overall security of communication, and is unfortunately difficult to avoid. Your browser might ignore the issue completely, or worse yet it may spit back a “mixed content” message that causes more confusion than it helps with security. With browsers changing what secure URL’s versus mixed-content and insecure URL’s look like in the address bar (a padlock today, a green background tomorrow, who knows what next week…), making sure you’re secure is harder than ever.

I have, however, stumbled across a tool that can make it easy – and most importantly automatic – to always use HTTPS whenever it’s known to be available. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released updated versions of HTTPS Everywhere – a browser plug-in (add-on, extension, etc.) that does just that.

Available only for Firefox and Chrome right now, but expanding to other browsers in future, this add-on has a list of sites known to support HTTPS (like Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, most banks, shops and other platforms) – and automatically forces your browser to connect via HTTPS and *only* HTTPS when you surf those sites. This eliminates the potential to get unencrypted data on encrypted pages, and removes the need to remember to go to the secured site each and every time you browse. In addition, the tool automatically changes your URL’s to the more secure version of some very popular sites – such as directing you to instead of just the HTTPS version of the regular site.

The EFF, in the documentation and FAQ’s, clearly states that the tool can see what domain you are going to. It does not, however, track this information or report it back to the EFF themselves. Since anyone could see the domains you’re headed to if they get on the same network as you and sniff traffic (like from a coffee-shop WiFi hotspot), the tool doesn’t pose any additional risk than most of us already deal with in Social Media, and does limit a great deal of risk that’s out there otherwise.

Nothing is foolproof, and the whitelist of sites that HTTPS Everywhere uses is not all-encompassing. You still need to check and make sure that you’re on secure versions of your Social Networks and Sites. However, the tool makes it much easier to find out which networks support the secure communications systems and makes finding the higher-security versions of those sites happen without guesswork. Also keep in mind that some sites may not be properly formatted to work entirely over HTTPS, resulting in pages that render incorrectly or not at all. Luckily, the add-in provides a button that you can use to turn it off when necessary – and it should be used only when you’re sure you don’t need to be using HTTPS.

The EFF has made the tool and corresponding tool-kits available under the GNU licensing platform, so that other coders can extend it as time goes by. It’s also free to use for Firefox and Chrome, though you do have to follow the instructions on the site to install it properly. This means that you can start protecting yourself now, and that developers can continue to work on the project even if the EFF should decide they no longer wish to support it.

While nothing replaces common sense and care when using Social Media and other sites on the web, this tool is a good step in your overall security process. Take it slow, know where you’re surfing to and surfing from, and always confirm that you have reached the secured site you thought you were headed for.

Also, as always, keep in mind that even secure communication doesn’t protect you from posting updates that become public knowledge. Once you post, tweet, or blog something, it’s out there for everyone to see – HTTPS or not.

Should you get the new iPhone? 0

Ah yes, another year, a new iPhone to buy. That’s pretty much become the mantra of Cupertino, but doesn’t answer the question of if you *should* buy it or not. I’ll offer my advice here.

Note: I have pre-ordered an iPhone 5 using the same logic I’m spelling out below.

First, what are you using now. If you’re on an Android, Blackberry, Symbian, Widows Phone or feature phone and want to move to the iPhone, then it makes sense to go with the latest model. Another great choice, however, would be to go to the iPhone 4S, as it will cost you much less and still runs the latest version of the iOS software and nearly all apps that are out there.

Verdict: Yes go for the 5, but if you’re looking to save money and don’t mind the smaller screen, go for the 4S instead.

Already own an iPhone? OK, then the question is “which one have you got now?”

3GS or earlier: It’s time to upgrade. These phones will soon be unable – or are already unable – to use iOS releases as they come out, which means you’re missing security and functionality updates. The 5 is the logical choice for you.

4: Definitely time to upgrade. While the iPhone 4 (which I have myself) is a great phone, it shows it’s age when running iOS 6. Apps can be sluggish, switching between them can be a frustrating lag-fest, etc.

4S: Wait. Unless you specifically need the bigger screen, there’s not a ton of benefit to going to the 5 just yet. The 4S has Siri, great battery life, works great with iOS 6 and is still 100% supported by Apple. So the better bet would be to hold the 4S for another year and then jump to the iPhone 6 (or whatever they call it).

Verdict: iPhone 4 or earlier, time to upgrade. iPhone 4S, hold off unless you need the bigger screen.

What’s new in the iPhone 5 is well documented on many other sites, so I won’t go into details on that now. What’s important is to really look at how you use your phone, what apps you need to run, and if you’re ready to swap out all of your sync/charge cables just yet. If you are on an earlier model (before the 4S), or if you need the bigger screen, then the 5 makes sense. Otherwise, opt for the 4S if you’re making the switch and want to save cash – it’ll still be useable and stable for at least another year or so. Go with the 5 if you can afford it and want to make the switch to a phone you’ll use for the next two to three years.