Category Archives: Apple

When Chrome Crashes – Aw, Snap! Screenshot

Just thought I’d share this – I had a tab get stuck in Google Chrome recently, and when it crashed, this is the error message it displayed:

Aw, Snap, indeed! Hilarious. It’s reminiscent of the infamous “Sad Mac” face from Old World Macintosh computers.

As well as the dreaded “Sad iPod” face that you hope to never see:

Somehow, this touch of humor makes me care a little less that my browser just crashed and burned! 🙂

iPhone 3G

iPhone 3G
iPhone 3G

I just upgraded from a Motorola Razor and bought an iPhone G3. You’ve probably seen your friends playing with their phones, and wow, it is really that cool. I never sucked it up to buy an iPod, so I enjoy the ability to have some music, a calendar, a camera, and a phone all in one little device. Some cynics may quickly point out that it isn’t a good iPod, or the phone sucks, or whatever; they are missing the point. This is an all-in-one thing. That can opener and cork screw on your Swiss Army Knife suck, but THEY WORK. The iPhone is the Swiss Army Knife of technology.

The only “problem” I’ve had so far is that when I bought the phone, it was activated within minutes. My Razor went dead before I had left the store, so I ran home as quickly as I could so I could hook up my phone to my computer. You setup your phone by launching iTunes (weird, I know). It only took a couple clicks and the thing was working. Some co-workers have had trouble with the sensors on the phone and have had to get the phone replaced. I’m wary, but unworried.

When you get an iPhone G3, you can surf the web all day without paying any extra money because you are tapping into the “public” G3 network… sometimes slow, but are you kidding? It’s frickin’ great. I took the subway home today and a gentleman asked me which stop he needed to get off at, and poof, I hit up Safari and Google maps and I told him exactly which bus to take and when he’d arrive within a couple minutes.

I have to stick it to the man and say “AT&T you suck”… seriously… they are getting enough of my money each month between DSL, landline, and a mobile plan. Some places, I could pay rent for less than what I pay AT&T each month. Da–yam!

You can now purchase an iPhone at any Apple Store, AT&T Store, or Best Buy.

Secure Memory on Mac OS X

Nothing cheeses me off more than lazy Mac OS X users who don’t lift a finger to secure their OS. Yeah, Macs are currently not the most common target for hacks and viruses (viri?), but that hardly means that they’re invulnerable.

You can read more about some OS X security stuff, but here’s the quickie way to turn on your secure virtual memory:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Double-click the Security icon from within the Personal section.
  3. Press on the padlock to enable changes.
  4. Supply a username and permission possessing administrator rights.
  5. Check the box for Use Secure Virtual Memory.

Even if this makes no sense to you, you should do it. If you don’t, talented hackers can read your swap files and gain access to all kinds of sensitive information… verily, they could read ANYTHING that gets stored in memory. Passwords, your web site logins, your porn…

A swap file is simply a temporary file that’s used while you edit a file. If you’ve ever used the OS X terminal, you may have edited files using one of the command line editors, like vi. You may have noticed that when you edit some_document.txt, there will be a file created some_document.txt.swp while you are editing the file… that file persists until you’re all done editing the file and you’ve closed the editor. Virtual memory works similarly… it writes the contents of the RAM to a temporary file. Enabling “Secure” virtual memory encrypts this temporary file while it’s on disk… so even if someone has access to your disk, they won’t be able to see the contents of your memory.

Basic OS X Hardening

apple-logo.jpgBasic computer setup and security compiled for Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther), 10.4 (Tiger), and 10.5 (Leopard)

I spend a lot of time with computers… it’s my job. Most of the time, people worry about patching up their Windows machines — and for good reason! Similar to our (slightly dated) Windows Security Guide, the purpose of this page here is to list the steps for securing a Mac OS X computer, including commands for lab managers and network admins who have to manage a large number of these computers. In the last week, there have been 3 security exploits / viruses for OS X. No OS is completely secure! So it begins…

4 simple things you can do to protect your computer

1. For everyday use, run as a limited user!

I don’t care if you rigged an election, aggressively invaded a foreign country, or slept with an intern — you simply don’t need to run as the Admin of your computer, no matter what OS you use! If you just bought your Apple computer, don’t let their glitzy setup fool you! It’ll ask for your name and and password, but this is to setup the Admin account, and it should be treated accordingly. After you’ve set up the Admin account, you can always go back to System Preferences and add a standard account for everyday use.

Trust me. You don’t want the computer booting automatically into an account with full Admin privileges. If nothing else, it’s far, far easier to find and backup all your files if you’re running as a limited user; all your files will all be in your home directory. If you’re Admin… who knows where you could have stashed them… good luck finding them all. What if you already set up your account, and whoops! It’s an admin account? What do you do? In Mac OS X, changing this is really easy. I appreciate the ease of it because this same thing is a holy pain in the arse on Windows.

I’m assuming you’ve got one account on your computer and it’s an admin account. Go to the Apple Menu → System Preferences, and open up the Accounts panel. Click the (+) to add an account, and check the box to let that user “Administer this computer.” You are temporarily creating a second admin account. Be sure you give it a good password and that you remember it! It’s the ultimate in rookie computing to forget your admin password.

Now, log out. Don’t just do a fast user switch. Log out completely, then log into the new admin account you just created. Go back to System Preferences → Accounts, and find your original user. Uncheck the box for that account that allows it to administer the computer. Poof. You’ve now changed your regular account into a limited user account and you’ve created a new admin account that you’ll hardly ever use. That’s the point: only use the admin account when you absolutely need to.

2. Turn ON your Firewall!

It’s under System Preferences → Sharing. Microsoft got ridiculed for shipping Windows with this turned off, and Apple should be next in line for a kick to the groin. If you need to open a port for some service, that’s always possible later, but TURN IT ON AND LEAVE IT ON.

3. Turn ON Automatic updates!

If you are the only person using your computer, and you are its administrator, you should turn this feature on by going to the Apple Menu, System Prefs, and find the Software Update panel. Check the box so this runs, preferably DAILY, if your internet connection can handle it.

4. Turn OFF “Open ‘Safe’ Files After Downloading”

The most recent security hole (as of this writing) exploits the fact that many people leave this checked. Go to the Safari menu → Preferences, and on the General tab, uncheck this box. That will prevent any nasty code from auto-executing.

This particular hole is not so much a problem if you are running as a limited user because the malicious code executes with the privileges of the current logged-in user. A limited user can’t do that much damage, but your computer can be completely hosed if you were dumb enough to be logged in as an admin.

Oh, and one more thing – Block Pop-ups in Safari! Again, why the @#$& this isn’t turned on by default, I don’t know, but there’s no reason to let those maggot-sucking, pop-up-producing advertisers ruin your browsing.

Review of Safari 3 for Windows

safari_windows_screenshot.png

So Apple went on its second major foray into the world of Microsoft with its release of Safari for Windows (the first being iTunes). I’m not necessarily a connoisseur of browsers when I’m at work just trying to get things done, but right off the bat I noticed the slick implementation of Apple’s signature Aqua-style graphics. Apple didn’t settle for Microsoft’s standard clunky window buttons, and they even put in their own window scroller and check-boxes, so in my opinion, browsing the web on Windows never looked so good. In fact, in my work-crazed stupor, Apple’s faithful rendition of the Mac version of Safari easily lulled me into a blissful fantasy-world where I was working from home on my Mac… that mirage only lasted so long, though, because Windows keeps stealing my focus, its Desktop search feature can’t find its own ass with both hands, un-closed pop-ups from any application gum up the *entire* desktop (instead of just the parent application), and my soundcard driver went on the lam again. Oh, Windows, if I could kick you in the nuts… but I digress.

Safari 3 seems to work fine on the web sites I’ve been hitting for the past couple days. For example, the new Yahoo mail is not officially supported, but it seems to be fully functional with Safari 3. Likewise, I was able to run my WordPress control panel without any major issues.With most Ajax-heavy sites, basic functionality is usually there for any browser, but things around the fringes may start breaking, so I’m not terribly surprised that Safari 3 has had some trouble here… in CSS and Ajax is where the browser-specific demons lie.On another Ajax site, I did notice some broken functionality when using Safari 3, so you know those demons are out there to haunt web developers, which brings me to the crux of this review: now I have ANOTHER browser to test when coding (and IE was already a huge pain in the ass).

Safari MOSTLY follows the same rendering as Firefox, with some quirky caveats… the biggest is probably Safari’s stricter interpretation of Javascript: Safari does not tolerate the use of reserved words as Javascript variable names. Firefox does. Safari’s implementation is probably more correct (just ask any coder), but the reality is that some Javascript won’t execute in Safari. I’ve read some of the documents about how the Gecko engine should behave when handling floated elements as they come into contact with cleared items, and I became convinced that BOTH Safari and Firefox were rendering incorrectly according to w3c standards (I’ll leave IE out of that discussion entirely… except you Steve Ballmer… my shoes… need to meet your nuts). At least Safari 3 finally correctly handles the label tags for forms.The preferences are tucked away under the Edit menu. It’s a bit traumatizing not to have an application menu if you’re coming from the Mac version, but that’s more sensible than Microsoft’s ridiculous time-sucking habit of having menu items for “Customize…” and “Options…” Really…can anyone remember which is which?

Myths Debunked

  • Contrary to some inflammatory posts, the RSS reader CAN BE CONFIGURED. It is nearly identical to the Mac version, which is nice if you’re someone like me who doesn’t take the time to tweak out a separate feed reader.
  • Some other reviews of Safari 3 for Windows have reported it crashing or having really slow load times when visiting certain web sites (e.g. Microsoft.com), but I have yet to experience any of this… I mean, Windows already has a fairly high amount of background noise in this area – Firefox and IE crash on a pretty regular basis, so if this type of thing happens in Safari, I would tend to point my suspicions at the operating system. I mean, seriously… my XP machine can’t even crash without crashing. Sudo kill -9 anyone?

It’s no surprise that Apple is taking some serious flak regarding Safari’s “superior” rendering times. They gotta expect that the first thing any tech-head is going to do is to try and replicate the boastful test results, and of course some of the results are going to be proven “questionable” or dead-wrong. But hey, if you want the scientific details of how it actually performs, talk to the developers and scientists – don’t be thumping the copy of the latest ad. Check out Wired.com for some independent testing.

The only real difference I’ve noticed at a functional level is that Safari’s security seems to be tighter than IE or Firefox. We have an https page at work for an internal CRUD web app. Safari would not load it because we were using our own SSL certificate. I know our implementation of the cert is wrong, but we just hadn’t gotten around to fixing it because IE and Firefox only complained; Safari flat out refused. I guess that’s the correct thing to do, but it’s a pain.

I have to object to how Apple “distributed” Safari 3 in a decidedly “Microsoft” fashion… they bundled it on to the latest iTunes release, which has generated some warranted criticism from the CEO of Mozilla (Jobs… do you need a kick too?). But hey, we’re in the Bush-Cheney era, so go ahead and push the limits and take your chances with the law – the courts might slap your wrists in a couple years if they ever get around to it.

apple_safari_update.png

What would make me melt is if Safari got a plugin like Firebug. That little guy has saved my life as a web developer too many times to count.

Nicest Features:

— Clean Aqua style interface faithfully rendered on Windows.

— Much faster performance. I have no scientific data here, and I refuse to drink the Firefox Kool-Aid. I think IE is a pitiful attempt at a browser from a company with the resources that Microsoft has, but it’s actually Firefox that’s the biggest memory hog on my system (sorry lil’ Fire-dudes). When Firefox attempts to cache the state of every single page, my XP machine slows to a crawl, even with 2gb of memory. Safari has behaved nicely for the past 2 days with just as many tabs open, so they must be doing something better than Firefox.

Biggest Gripes:

People have flamed Safari for not having tabs enabled by default…

but maybe this was corrected, because when I installed, the tabs were enabled. Firefox didn’t have them enabled by default either for while, but it’s been a while since I’ve installed it.

Safari gives you no search box choices beyond Google and Yahoo. Hey, Apple faithfully recreated this too! Oh wait… on the Mac version you ONLY get Google… WTF? Anyhow, there are a couple ways to hack Safari’s Google search limitation on OS X (including a search-box plug-in), so presumably someone will crack this nut for Windows too. Makes you wonder what kind of weird marketing agreements are in place for the software to have that arbitrary restriction.

Editing pages in WordPress, an Ajax CMS, worked, but it had a few surprises. Safari took the liberty of injecting some formatting code into my post:

<span class=”Apple-style-span” style=”font-family: arial; font-size: 12px; line-height: 15px”>

I *hate* stuff like that. This reminds me of the little Paper-Clip guy in Microsoft Office (may he too get kicked in the groin). I don’t mind that type of functionality so long as it’s off by default.

Conclusion:

Safari 3 is not an amazing piece of software, but it may offer the home-sick Mac folks some solace. At best it’s a working browser with features comparable to Firefox for the average user; at worst it’s yet another browser for developers to consider while designing cross-platform web pages. Meh… whatever.

Why I Love Apple

macbook_white.jpgI bought a white Macbook mere hours after they were first released. It’s a beautiful machine, and I have enjoyed every moment with it so far. Some of its common uses include: giving presentations to my classes (with Keynote), computer-based music notation, recording musicians, and writing essays (lots of them!). Heck, I even use the built-in camera to record my conducting lessons (via iMovie)!

However, my machine has not been without flaw. Since it’s a revision “A” product, I’ve experienced some of the bugs that have plagued the first generation Macbooks. First of all, my Macbook “mooed,” but a firmware update took care of that.

Second of all, the shell around the touchpad (the “palm-rests”) became discolored, but I probably should have washed my dirty paws a little better before using the machine. 🙂

Third, my Macbook developed a distracting “screen flicker” problem. I thought I could live with it for a while, but the flickering increased in severity, sometime blacking out the screen for seconds at a time. I had enough.

About two weeks before my complementary one-year warranty expired, I purchased the Applecare extended warranty. Once classes ended, I zipped over to the Kansas City Apple Store and showed the flickering problem to the local techs. “No problem,” the “genius” told me, “I’ve seen this before. We’ll send it to Apple to replace the display inverter.” This was at 12:30 PM on a Tuesday.

The next morning, my doorbell rang at 10 AM. Upon opening the door, I was greeted a smiling young delivery driver who had a package for me. I thought it was only some books that I had ordered, so imagine my surprise when I opened the package and found… my Macbook!

In less than 24 hours my Macbook had traveled to an Apple repair facility in Tennessee, had some parts replaced, and then sent straight to my doorstep.

That’s not all. When I first lifted the Macbook’s lid, my first thought was, “This is NOT my laptop!” The discolored areas where my dirty paws had rested were now immaculately white.

I checked the serial number, and to my surprise, it WAS the same laptop. Intrigued, I read the paperwork that Apple prepared for me. They did A LOT more than just fix the screen flicker.

  • As expected, they replaced the parts required to stop the flickering display.
  • They “identified an issue with my hard drive” and replaced it with a new one.
  • They “identified an issue with my battery” and replaced it with a new one.
  • They noticed the discoloration by the touchpad and replaced that part of the shell for me!

All of this was completed within 24 hours, and none of it cost me an extra penny! All I can say is thank goodness for Applecare.

Apple, you are a model of efficiency, and for going the extra mile to replace those additional parts, you have earned my wholehearted support and recommendation.

And that, my friends, is why I love Apple.