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.

Content Management Systems (CMS)

If you’ve been around the web block a few times and know a thing or two about putting up a web site, you’ve probably heard something about Content Management Systems (CMS). They can be real time-savers, and the basic premise is this: you forgo all the hand coding that you’ve been doing to keep your site going and you plug into the “already-invented-wheel” to get rolling.

CMS’s usually require a database (often MySQL) and a server side scripting language (often PHP). It’s a powerful combo: you can create templates that control how the content looks then add all the content you want. The templates go beyond the style sheets, they incorporate the html used by the pages that reference the CSS, and they can also include things like Javascript for controlling menus or fixed footers. Usually the templates rely on a placeholder that indicates where the content should be added.

There are a LOT of CMS’s out there, and it seems like every corporate code-monkey gets pegged to code a new CMS for in-house work at some point or another. http://opensourcecms.com/ provides a nice way to try out different CMS’s to get a feel for what they’re like. The site is a bit awkwardly laid-out, but you can get a long list of CMS’s on the left by opening the “portal” items under the “CMS Demo Menu” section.

One long weekend, I tried out a number of these… my choice? MODx — it’s free and it made a lot of sense to me. Still in beta, not a huge user base, but easy to work with (IMHO). But don’t take my word for it… you should evaluate what you need to do with your CMS. If it’s a quick and dirty blog you need, WordPress is hard to beat.

One big contender that costs about $100 is Expression Engine — it comes highly rated from people I work with who are in the know.

Here’s a list of the ones that have gotten the most air-play in my line of work (coding):

  1. Drupal — often recommended for people building “static” type sites with lots of fixed pages. Has a pretty good user base, but again, I disliked the boxy layout approach and the whacko documentation
  2. Joomla — made by most of the same people who made Mambo. Boxy layouts and weird vocabulary.
  3. MODx — My personal favorite. Nice AJAX back-end and easy compartmentalization between front-end and back-end contributions. It’s really easy to take an existing static site and drop in CMS functionality using MODx. It’s also bloody simple to add your own custom PHP scripts. MODx is a leader when it comes to an SEO friendly site.
  4. WordPress — quick and dirty, great for blogs, huge user base… but no so good if you have specific needs and the template system isn’t the easiest and adding custom PHP scripts can be painful

Here’s an intro video I made about MODx:

MyBloop.com – Unlimited Storage and Bandwidth (Online Storage Series)

Now and then an online storage provider comes along and offers features so unrealistic (for free) that one wonders how on earth that company will survive. Nine times out of ten, they do not, and their domain names soon join the endless wasteland of spam parking.

Along comes MyBloop, a free online service that offers supposedly unlimited file storage. According to their FAQ, there are absolutely no limits on storage, bandwidth, or the number of files you can store. Eat your heart out, XDrive.

Let’s take a look at some of MyBloop’s features:

  • Unlimited Storage
  • File upload limit – one gigabyte
  • Multiple file uploading and downloading
  • Nothing required to install
  • File organization – create your own folder hierarchy
  • Ability to delete, rename, and mark files as private
  • Ability to stream certain file types (MP3, FLV, WMA, WMV)
  • File sharing, searching, social networking, and more!
  • All for FREE

Uploading

MyBloop currently offers two ways to upload files – either through their web-based interface or via their open-source Blooploader utility. Uploaded files are limited to one gigabyte, though supposedly this limit will be removed if you purchase one of their upcoming Pro accounts.

I’ve stuck to the Flash interface, which is really slick.

Even within the web interface, you can queue multiple files for upload. You can also select to send each file to a specified directory.

All uploaded files are shared publicly by default. However, you may opt to make a file private either upon upload or at any other point by editing its attributes from within the file manager. Note: I found that I was only able to change sharing attributes through their older HTML interface. Since the MyBloop team is still developing features, perhaps this is an issue they will address soon. Or maybe I just missed something! 🙂

Downloading

MyBloop also aims to be one of the premiere sources for finding shared content on the Web. To that extent, they have implemented searching and social networking within the site. You don’t even have to be a member of MyBloop to search their stockpile of amassed content. Try it now: go to the MyBloop homepage and search for whatever you like. Downloading, streaming, and linking are all encouraged, even for non-members. Which brings me to my next point….

Not ALL file types are allowed for direct download (by other users). At present, music files can only be streamed, not downloaded (for legal reasons). Still, the MyBloop Player is pretty capable, including playback controls, shuffle, repeat, and volume manipulation. It even handles playlists. Here I am listening to some streaming Mozart:

Just for the record, I’ll quietly observe that lesser-known audio formats (such as OGG) are not recognized as music, and are thus available for direct download.

MyBloop aims to be a one-stop shop for all your file hosting and sharing needs. I must say, they do a pretty fine job. Since I started using their service, I’ve begun to rely on them more and more. I only hope that they withstand the test of time.

Considering that they’ve been around since 2005 (BETA), and had their initial release in 2007, I’d say they’re off to a good start. The future is still uncertain, and no one knows what features will be added (or removed) by the upcoming Pro accounts.

Interested in more about MyBloop? Check out this video. It should tell you everything you need to know in 5 minutes.

Good luck, and happy uploading!

Note: MyBloop is currently only available in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. More countries should be granted access soon.

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Install Windows Media Player 11 on XP without WGA Headaches

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational uses only. In no way do we condone software piracy. Readers should contact Microsoft if legitimately-licensed OEM software does not properly validate.

I have a legitimate copy of Windows XP (honestly!). However, I refuse to allow any tentacle of Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) to touch my machine. I’ve read far too many horror stories of WGA falsely identifying installations of Windows as invalid, and honestly, I just don’t want to deal with the potential hassle.

If you wish to install WMP 11 on your Windows XP machine, there’s an easy way to do it without requiring WGA validation. Let’s go.

This tutorial works with either WMP 9 or version 10 as a starting base.

Step 1 – Download and Install

First of all, there’s no need to download version 11 from Microsoft’s web site. All you have to do is launch your existing version of WMP (9 or 10), go to the Tools menu, and Check for Updates.

WMP will launch an update window, download a small 1 MB file, then begin downloading WMP 11.

While the file that is downloading comes with a WGA utility, fear not. We’ll bypass it when the time comes. Just sit back and wait while WMP downloads and installs.

When it finishes, it may give you a notification that the installation failed. Don’t worry. It likely installed anyway.

Step Two – Disable WGA

The next step is very important. Before you launch the new version of WMP, you must first rename the WGA tool.

  • Browse to C:\Program Files\Windows Media Player
  • Find the file called LegitLibM.dll
  • Rename it. Something like LegitLib.dll works well.

Step Three – Launch WMP 11

Alright folks, it’s time to fail WGA validation! I’m not kidding. Launch the new version of Windows Media Player and prepare to validate.

Click the Validate button, and GASP! You just failed validation! Oh no!

Again, have no fear. WGA is broken. Just click the Finish button and continue to set up your new version of WMP.

Congratulations! You now have WMP 11 installed, all without the potential headaches of dealing with WGA. Of course, there’s no guarantee that this method will always work. Microsoft may issue an update that re-activates the WGA tool, or they may change the installation procedure. For now, this method works just fine.

Please let me know if the comments if this method no longer works.

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Easily Find a Forgotten Password in Firefox, Opera, or Google Chrome

Do you occasionally forget your passwords? Sure you do, unless you use the exact same login information for every website (terrible idea!). Most browsers today feature the ability to remember passwords, and while we try to remember all of them, sometimes we need a little help.This tutorial will show you how to find saved passwords in Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome.

Firefox 3

Go to the Tools menu → then choose Options from the drop-down list. Select the Security tab → then click the Saved Passwords button.

To see your passwords, just click the Show Passwords button. That’s it! Note: In the screenshot above, I blanked the Usernames for security reasons.

Opera

Finding passwords in the Opera browser is slightly more complicated, but not impossible. Passwords in Opera are handled by the excellent Wand utility, but navigating to the Tools menu → Advanced → Wand Passwords only yields information about the sites, not the passwords themselves.

Fear not. Viewing the passwords only takes an extra step. We need to add a Power Button to Opera. Browse to this page on the Opera Wiki and click the Read Wand button. Click OK to install the button, which will show up in the Appearance menu under Buttons → My buttons.

Drag the Read Wand button wherever you like in the Opera panels. I stuck mine next to the Home button.

Now, visit a site that has a saved password. Use the Wand to fill in the login information (as usual), but click the Stop button (or just press Esc) immediately. All you have to do now is simply press the Read Wand button to display the password. Voila!

Google Chrome

In the new Google Chrome browser (see review), viewing passwords is easy. Just click the Wrench icon to the right of the address bar → then choose Options from the drop-down list. Select the Minor Tweaks tab → then click Show saved passwords.

As with Firefox, just click Show Password in order to see the password for the selected site.

A quick note about security: while having your browser remember your passwords can be convenient, it is not the most secure way to store login information, as anyone who sits at your computer can potentially have access to ALL your stored passwords.

If you rely upon your browser to store this information, PLEASE be sure to password-protect your operating system login. Also consider setting a screensaver password so that no one can sit at your computer while it’s unattended and access your information.

I should also mention that Firefox has the ability to set a Master password (Tools → Options → Security) that adds another layer of security to your stored information. It certainly doesn’t hurt to use it.

Personally, instead of having my browser store my information, I rely upon the open-source KeePass password manager. In a word, KeePass rules, and I have an upcoming article on using KeePass to manage your login life.

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Google Chrome Browser – Get the Java Plug-in Working

As it stands now, Google Chrome is a pretty nice browser (see my review), but the Java plug-in doesn’t currently work. However, there’s an easy fix.

Google Chrome requires Java 6, update 10, which is currently in Beta. Please see this page in the Chrome Help Center.

If you want, you can also skip straight to the appropriate download on the Java site.

Once installed, you should have access to all the Java games and utilities that your heart desires!

Hope this helps someone.