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Archive for September, 2006

How To Prepare For A Stolen Mac

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Recently, a good friend of mine had his home broken into by a thief. They came in thru a side window, stole both of his Macs (left both of the PC’s), stole his external hard drive and a couple camcorders. Luckily, none of his family was hurt or threatened as they weren’t home. He has taken all the necessary steps with the local police and they’re still hoping for some results.

I’m surprised at how much this has weighed on my mind.

The first thing I have felt is sorrow for him. The Macs stolen had a high money value, but a much higher sentimental value. He had plenty of scanned photos, digital photos, home videos, email archives, etc that are not replaceable. He had them all on the external drive, but that was stolen too.

Secondly, I’ve been wondering if I’d be ready for something like that. My friend lives in a safe neighborhood. He is smart, careful and organized. Having this happen to him has reminded me that, cliché or not, this really can happen to anyone.

I’ve started to compile a list of things to consider in preparing for a situation like this if it happened to me. I thought I’d list it here for others.

I won’t be focused so much on things like “be sure your doors and windows are locked” and “be sure your housing perimeter is well lit.” These things are specific to taking care of your Mac and it’s contents.

  1. Have A Hard Copy Of Your Serial Number – Your serial number will be on your receipt. Be sure that it is in a safe place. If you only have a digital copy (in an email), print off a copy and keep it somewhere safe. If your Mac is stolen, you’ll want to be sure to give this to the police. It will help them in identifying your stolen property. Also, pawn shops are required to report serial numbers to the local police so they can be cross checked with the reports of theft.
  2. Have A Good Backup Of Your Machine – Most people back up in case of data loss, but it’s important to back up in case of data theft as well. Be sure your external hard drive isn’t permanently sitting next to your machine. If you want it always connected, put it in a locked drawer and drill a hole for the power and transfer cable to be fished out.I back up my machines every Friday. As soon as I’m done, I return the external hard drive to the safe in my closet. That keeps it safe from theft and from fire.

    At Macminicolo.net, we have some customers who use a colocated mini just to back up their machine each night. If every they have to replace their home Mac, they can download everything from the hosted mini.

  3. Look Into Tracking Software – The chances of you getting your machine back are small, but every little bit helps. Consider programs like iAlertU (free) which may scare off a thief. Or programs like Undercover that will track your machine as it connects to the internet. If you have a built in camera, it will take pictures of the person to be sent. If it never connects to the internet, the program “will simulate a hardware failure by gradually making the screen darker until it becomes unusable.”Sure, these programs can be erased with a new install of the OS, but every little bit helps. The chances are high that the thief won’t know how to do that. Also, they probably weren’t able to steal your restore disks.
  4. Use A Cable Lock – All Apple laptops come with a Kensington Security Slot. These slots make it easy to tether your machine to your desk. Applelocks.com offers inexpensive cable for all kinds of Macs. Both key locks and combination locks are available.
  5. Report The Stolen Mac To Apple – Call Apple and report that the Mac has been stolen by giving them the serial. They won’t actively track the Mac, but if anyone comes in to have the machine looked at for repair, the records will indicate that it has been stolen.
  6. Get Insurance On Your Machine – Be sure that your Renter’s or Homeowners’s insurance covers your computers. Since this has happened to my friend, my wife and I added computer insurance to our coverage. Our computers, cameras and TV’s are covered up to $30k and it only added $18/ month to our insurance. That is very, very reasonable.
  7. Encrypt The Sensitive Data That You Store – If you have banking records, birth certificates and other scanned documents that are sensitive, be sure you keep them in an encrypted disk image. Programs like FreeDMG (free) make this easy to do. Just make a folder of all the files, drop it on there and add an encryption. You can still open it whenever you need something, but a thief wouldn’t be able to do it easily. Send a copy of that image to a family member for safe keeping as well.
  8. Get Familiar With ebay and CraigslistCraigslist and ebay have made it really easy to sell your old junk. It also makes it easy to sell stolen goods. Be sure you are familiar with using these sites. When your machine is stolen, be sure to monitor them for your stolen Mac. ebay will allow you to search the listings that are near your home.
  9. Add Your Contact Info To Your Login Window – When your machine starts up, be sure that your contact info is there on the login screen. This is easy and fast to do following the steps in this hint. If the thief never starts up the machine and just sells it off to someone, they’ll start it up and see your “This machine belongs to…” info.
  10. Turn Off Automatic Login – It is so convenient to have your machine automatically log into your account, but it’s not safe. Be sure it is set to require your password each time. That way, the thief may have your machine, but not your info. (Again, I’m aware that passwords can be changed with the restore disk, but hopefully they didn’t get that too.)

Conclusion

All of these steps are so easy to do, but they may prove to be really important. Please take the time to do them…or at least some of them.

Any other tips to offer?

(Please digg this article.)

How To Use The ExpressCard/34 In Your MacBook Pro

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I recently purchased a MacBook Pro, and I like it a lot. It was a bit slow with the included 512MB of RAM, but I purchased 2GB thru the OWC deal and now it is great in every way. Well…almost every way. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to use the new ExpressCard/34 slot. I used to keep a CF reader in my Powerbook, but that’s not possible with this size since the card is actually wider than the slot itself. I wondered about the options.

So far, I have found only four cards that were ExpressCard/34 and compatible with Mac OS X. I will list those below. If you know of more, please let me know or leave a link in the comments. I’d like to make this a full list of ExpressCard/34 possibilities:

  • 2-Port NitroAV FireWire800/1394b Professional Interface Adapter – This card will let you add 2 FireWire 800 ports to your MacBook Pro. With the FireWire 800 protocol you can get transfer rates of 100, 200, 400, and 800 Mbps.
  • exp 8 in 1 – This card is compliant with the ExpressCard USB 2.0 standard and supports SD, MMC, RSMMC, MMCplus, MMCmobile, M.S., M.S. PRO, and xD cards.
  • ExpressCard 5 in 1 Card Reader – Supporting HS (480 Mbps) and FS (12 Mbps) transfers, this will read Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Secure Digital, Multi Media and xD-Picture cards.
  • SeriTek/2SM2-E – This seems to be a very powerful card that performs well in reviews. It extends SATA’s astounding performance beyond the desktop by supporting two 3.5″ SATA hard disk drives. This provides 1.5Gbps and 3.0Gbps data transfer rates; compatible with SATA-I/1.5Gbps or SATA-II/3.0Gbps hard disk drives. Wow.
  • eSATA 34 – The eSATA 34 module provides a 2.5Gbps ExpressCard/34 interface on the host side and dual, fully compliant SATA II 3Gbps ports on the device side. Currently its only for Windows, but as of July 7th (according
    to their website) they have beta drivers for intel Macs.
  • TVBook Pro -TVBook Pro is a TV card specifically designed for Apple’s MacBook Pro. Enjoy live digital TV on your MacBook Pro, record to your hard drive, edit your favourite shows and burn them onto DVDs.
  • eFilm ExpressCard/34 CompactFlash Adaptor -IThe ExpressCard 34 enables the fastest data transfer from a CompactFlash memory card to the new Apple MacBook Pro and PC laptops with an ExpressCard slot. It works in both the 54 mm and 34 mm ExpressCard slots and can transfer your data up to 20 MB per second.
  • Gigabit Ethernet 34mm ExpressCard – The PEG34m is a 10/100/1000M Ethernet ExpressCard, which is specifically designed to plug into a MacBook Pro (or other Windows desktop or laptop) equipped with an ExpressCard 34mm slot. The PEG34m provides throughput and connectivity at gigabit speeds up to 1000 Mbps (1Gbps) raw bandwidth, that is 100 times faster than the original Ethernet, yet is compatible with existing Ethernets.
  • Flash Memory Drives – With this card you can add a flash hard drive to your machine. Currently, it goes up to 8 GB.

Note: Novatel has announced the XV620 and XS620 cards for EV-DO, but they have not yet been released. They will work with Verizon and Sprint, respectively. Get the latest on this here.

So, what did I miss? What adapters are you waiting for?

Helping iTunes Get More Movies

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Today on Reuters, I read this:

Chief Executive Robert Iger said on Tuesday the company sold 125,000 movie downloads worth $1 million in revenue through Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes online music store during the offering’s first week.

Announcements like this are key to getting more movies in the iTunes Media Store.

Remember when the TV shows were first introduced, there were only a few there. But, as Apple announced how many have been sold, the other networks were becoming impressed. Also, shows like NBC’s The Office had a very large boost in it’s popularity thanks to being one of the first shows available in iTunes. This also got the attention of other networks.

We know the story from here. All the other networks wanted a piece of the pie and the TV Shows came pouring in. Now we have choice.

And here we are in the beginning again. We only have 75 movies in the store. Disney is the only studio to throw their hand in. Others are waiting for good news.

What’s the point of this post? I’m encouraging you to kick in. If you have a spare ten bucks, take a look at the available movies and see if there is one that interests you. If nothing else, it is interesting to see the process. I picked up Annapolis and pre-ordered Pirates 2. Both great movies.

I really believe that if everyone does their part now, the numbers will be impressive when announced and the other studios will be forced to listen. That means more movie choices for us.

(Can you digg it?)

Three Things I Like About Apple Retail Stores

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I’m a few days late with this post, but things happen in the real world that you just can’t avoid.

In my last post I offered my three complaints about Apple Retail Stores. I had a few people disagree in the comments, quite a few more disagree in emails, but I also received some comments, emails and a blog post that were in agreement.

As I mentioned in that post, I also intended to say what I liked about the stores.

1) There are some really spectacular employees at Apple stores. As I said before, I’m always sure to hit up different Apple stores while I’m traveling and usually I can find an employee that gets it. They are certainly not the majority, but they are around. They are fun to chat with, they don’t go thru the programmed lines, they’re fun to trade tips with, and they are just cool folks. I commend them for dealing with iPod questions all day. (” My iPod is broken. I want another one right now.” “Um, no. You just have the hold button on.”) I feel bad that they are badgered with rumor questions. (Don’t worry guys, we know you’re in the dark like the rest of us when it comes to Apple announcements.)

When I’m travelling to these stores, I’ll usually give them a FreeMacWare business card to keep in touch. Most of the time they use and recommend FreeMacWare to their customers. That’s always cool and helps remind me that we’re providing a useful service to Mac users.

2) The setup and presentation of the products are top notch. It helps that they are good looking machines, but even more that they are completely functional. I love that I can bring a friend in there while we’re at the mall and show them a complete and functioning Mac. Open iPhoto and there are pictures in there to play with. iTunes lets you browse thru songs. Mail has accounts set up for example. Safari is completely functioning and free to use. iPods have songs, album art, and headphones. That’s all incredible.

When you compare this to CompUSA or Best Buy, there is no comparison. I always smile when a customer walks up to a machine in one of these stores and shakes the mouse to disable the screensaver. Usually there is a screen asking for an employee password. If you’re “lucky” enough to get to the desktop, you’ll see that nothing works. There is no internet connection. If you start up some apps you’ll be asked for passwords or registrations. There will be advertisements and warnings popping up. I guess you can start up Solitaire. There is always Solitaire.

I’m not sure how Apple keeps the machines so nice. (Besides the fact that it is really just the Mac OS X/iLife experience.) My guess is that there is an XServe in the back somewhere firing up NetBoot and restoring the images every night.

3) This is frivolous, but I think that Apple Stores always smell good. Is it just me, or do the stores smell like the fruit apple? I really wouldn’t be surprised if they are well scented on purpose. Everything about Apple pushes that experiences are what they’re selling. No reason that they shouldn’t touch on all the senses.

And you’d be lying if you told me you didn’t take a big whiff every time you open up a new Mac for the first time.

Conclusion:

Overall, I really think that the Apple Stores are a great idea. It’s nice to send potential customers there and know they’ll be able to get what they need.

My Three Complaints About Apple Retail Stores

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Overall, I enjoy the Apple Store experience. In fact, tomorrow I’ll give the three things I like about Apple Retail Stores. But these are the three things that could use some improvement.

And this certainly isn’t a knock on all Apple Retail employees. I enjoy current friendships with many Apple Retail employees across the country. Whenever I travel, I’m always sure to visit the local Apple store, snap a photo and chat with the workers. I’m up to 24 photos in front of different locations.

To avoid complete negativity, I’ve tried to be helpful with these complaints by offering suggestions.

1) Apple Stores usually have folks that really know their stuff. But, it seems like those who know the least are put on phone answering duty. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to call and explain to the person what they should ask for in the inventory room. Take this recent conversation.

“Hi, I’m calling to see if you have any copies of OS X Server. This is for an Intel machine so it’d have to be version 10.4.7.” I informed.

“Sure, we have Tiger here. They are ready for all Macs.”, she answered.

“Great, do you have the ten client license in stock?” I returned.

To which she replied, ” We have the single license and the family pack which can go on three machines.”

“I think you’re talking about the Mac OS X Client version.” I countered, “I’m looking for OS X Server. I’d like the ten client version.”

“Oh, the XServes? We don’t carry those in retail stores. You’ll have to order it online.”

The conversation went on, but you get the point. This is not a one time thing. There’s just so many Mac users out there that love Apple’s products and know them inside and out. I know quite a few that have been trying to work at an Apple store for quite some time. I just don’t understand why the show floors aren’t covered with knowledgeable staff.

2) There seems to be an inability to personalize the message. Just like in number one, there are some folks that do a good job at this. But, the majority of Apple workers are too programmed. They think everyone is a switcher. They assume all customers need the basics taught. It seems it’s a consistent “talking down.” There are too many pre-planned questions and answers. Especially answers.

The most effective way to sell is to:

  • First, build a relationship with a customer. Find out their current knowledge state, their needs, and the concerns. This is also the chance to build a frienship and common trust. Instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?” ask them “What brings you in today?” or “Can I show you our best selling products?”
  • Second, present them a message personalized for them. Once you know what they’re in for, show them the product or the application that can meet their exact needs.
  • Last, Ask if there is anything not clear then ask them if they’d like to purchase. If they say no, find out their concerns.

If the products were presented like that, it’d be much more enjoyable for the customer.

Also, the after sale questions about Applecare and the free printer would be much more effective. The way they are asked now are more of a nuisance than a helpful offer.

Apple Retail, give me 30 minutes with all new Apple employees. It’ll help. I promise.

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3) Location is hard for residents. It seems that the majority of Apple Stores are in great retail locations, but they often cater to visitors and tourists. That is certainly the case here in Las Vegas.

Our only location is right on Las Vegas Boulevard. The parking is busy and it’s out of the way for anyone who lives here in Las Vegas.

There is a rumored second location being built at the Town Square mall. This is also on Las Vegas Blvd about 5 miles South of the current Apple Store location.

These are good locations that will always be full of customers. But unbeknownst to most of the country and certainly to Apple Retail Scouts, there are 2 million Las Vegas residents. Of those residents, 1.9 million rarely go down to the Strip at all. There are high scale shopping centers on the West and East end of the valley. It’d be convenient for us not to have to travel to the busy strip each time.

I think this location concern will take care of itself as more and more Apple Stores open up. Once the tourist places are taken care of, perhaps the Apple Stores will make their way out to the common folk.

Conclusion:

Like I wrote earlier. For the most part, the Apple Retail Stores are enjoyable places. I’ll tell you why in my post tomorrow.

Anything that irks you about the Apple Retail Stores?

Mac Server Series: Setting up PHP and MySQL

This week on Mac Server Series I explain how to install PHP and MySQL on your Mac. PHP is one of the most popular programming languages for web development, and MySQL is a popular open source database application. FreeMacBlog.com and all the FreeMac* sites are powered by PHP and MySQL running on a Mac mini.

Learning PHP and MySQL is a great way to learn web application development, and installing them is easy.

Watch here: How to setup PHP and MySQL on your Mac

Show Notes:

  • Download PHP from Entropy.ch.
  • Download MySQL from MySQL.com.
  • If you just want to try them out, download MAMP (for testing and development only, not production.)
  • Learn PHP with the PHP.net tutorial