Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

Internet Security 101

Here’s a quick overview of things you can do to make your computer safer. No computer on the Internet can be 100% safe, but following these basic guidelines will protect you from the majority of threats.

1. Buy a Mac — I’ll start with this one to avoid obvious jokes in the comments. Macs aren’t immune to security threats but most viruses are written for the PC, so Mac users are still safer, on average, than Windows users.

2. Get the latest Windows updates — Most Windows machines have these enabled by default, but it’s still worth a check. Check your Start Menu for an icon called “Windows Update” and make sure they’re set to automatically download and install updates as they come in. For example, I set my machine to check for updates and install them every morning at 3 a.m. Don’t worry about Optional updates, just let your system install everything that’s recommended.

If you haven’t done this before, you may have a long wait, as your system downloads all the big security updates and Service Packs. Don’t worry about it. Just let it run. It’s not hurting your system and it’s not uploading your email to Microsoft.

The bad guys are out there every day scanning for people who still have unpatched operating systems. Enabling Windows Updates is the first thing you should do to protect yourself, and surfing the web with an unpatched OS is the quickest way to get in trouble.

Those “Zombie computer” victims you hear about on the news? Most of those are people who didn’t update their operating systems.

If you haven’t let your computer get updates from Microsoft since you took it out of the box, you’re asking for trouble.

3. Get an antivirus program — Again, Windows is a lot better at this than it used to be. Windows Firewall is enabled by default and Windows Defender will protect users against the most common threats. But there are a dozen free and easy ways to upgrade your protection. Norton and McAfee still make good products but they tend to be expensive, invasive and complicated. There are some great free alternatives available now, and one of the best actually comes from Microsoft.

After 20 years of dubious efforts, Microsoft has finally aquired an antivirus solution that’s ready for prime time. Microsoft Security Essentials is simple, free and surprisingly effective. It runs quickly and doesn’t “take over your system” like Norton and McAfee.

Don’t get hung up on which antivirus program is the “best.” Each company has its own strengths and weaknesses and the title of “best” changes every few months. Just remember that something is better than nothing, and don’t try to run with more than one antivirus solution active at a time. If you try to install a new antivirus program before you uninstall the old one they’ll go to war with each other and screw up your system worse than an actual attack.

4. Stay out of bad neighborhoods — Internet security is a lot like real life security. If you want to stay out of trouble, don’t hang out with criminals and don’t walk around in bad neighborhoods after dark. Most Internet security measures are common sense. If you’re worried about keeping your computer safe, don’t go to porn sites and don’t download pirated software.

Illegal software has to be “cracked” to get past the copy protection and many of these cracks contain trojans and spyware. Media files are generally safer than executable programs, but some media files are “containers” that may try to install extra stuff or direct you to questionable web sites.

If you’re worried about security, play it safe. Buy your games and movies from reputable sites and don’t be seduced by the lure of free stuff. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

5. Stop forwarding junk emails — This is a touchy subject but it’s time for some tough love. You know that VIRUS WARNING you just got in the mail? It’s probably a hoax. Don’t forward it to your kids. Just make sure you’ve updated your antivirus software and trust it to do its job. If you’re worried about it, go to Snopes.com and type some keywords from the email into their Search box. Nine times out of 10 Snopes will have an update that will explain what’s really going on.

I encourage everyone on the Net to bookmark and read Snopes.com. Sadly, 9 out of 10 forwards you see are lies. Virus warnings, patriotic speeches, political rumors — most of it is misleading, misattributed or simply made up out of whole cloth.

And frankly, mass forwarding email is kind of rude. Your friends and your kids are too polite to tell you, but most of us are overwhelmed by email and don’t appreciate having our work interrupted by another quote from Chicken Soup for the Soul. Consider moving that stuff to your Facebook Wall, where your audience can control when and how they see it.

Most of us have our email forwarding to mobile devices these days and we can’t tell the difference between an urgent message and a frivilous one.

6. Change the way you share links — If you’re worried about security and email spam, count to 10 and think carefully before you give your email address to anyone. Any time you click “Email this” and use a form to send someone a link, you’re giving that site permission to send you (and the recipient) advertising.

Even if the site is reputable and promises not to give your address to a 3rd party, the site itself can still send you advertising and make deals with “partners” that may not be so careful with your address.

Best to avoid that risk entirely and learn to cut and paste web addresses into email. Just go to the web site you want to share and right click on the address. Select “Copy” from the right-click menu and paste the address on Facebook or onto a fresh email.

It takes a bit longer, but you’re not giving away your email address, or anybody else’s, to someone who may abuse it.

For people who like to forward news stories, Facebook has a new feature that can simplify the process. All the major news sites now have Recommend buttons. This provides a great compromise for people who want to share news with friends without spamming their inboxes.

Putting links on your Facebook page is a great way to share stuff without forcing it on people. And using the Recommend button keeps the interruption to a minimum. But make sure you only do this on reputable news sites. Bad guys are already finding ways to hijack the Facebook buttons.

7. Manage your junk mail — Clients have gotten a lot better about containing spam lately, but it’s still a problem. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook, consider setting your Junk Email protection to “High.” You can find “Junk Email Options” in the Actions menu.

Be sure to keep an eye on your Junk Email folder for a few weeks after that. You may have to fish some people out and add them to your Safe Senders list, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

If you’re using Yahoo or MSN consider switching to Gmail. Gmail’s spam filter is the best on the market right now and Yahoo just isn’t cutting it anymore. I’ve had a Yahoo account for years, but recently I’ve seen a lot of dangerous stuff get through.

8. Protect your banking information — Never go to your banking site by clicking on a link in an email. Ever. I have never had a Paypal or a Chase bank account but I get emails every day pretending to be from Paypal and Chase asking me to log in and “verify my account.”

No matter how official the email looks, don’t click on these links. Instead, type the address of your bank directly into the browser or make a bookmark to it. A good email client can help protect you from these “phishing” links but smart attacks can always slip through.

As I said, most Internet security is common sense. I’ve been all over the Net, on all kinds of sites in the presence of all kinds of threats and I haven’t had a virus in 20 years.

Just keep your PC updated, run some basic antivirus software and stay out of bad neighborhoods. That should protect you from the worst of it.

If you’ve got your own security tips, or if you thought of something I missed, please share it in the comments.

Update: And before I forget, let me make sure and plug Glass Houses with Bert Knabe, who blogs about security for the A-J. Bert keeps up with the latest trends and talks about current security threats. I particularly like this recent one, “Is social media safe for work?

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 5, 2010 at 10:52

Christmas is coming; don't buy your geek the wrong gift

It’s almost Christmas and you haven’t done any shopping yet.

You know what to buy for your parents, your siblings and all the little kids, but what do you buy for the geek of the house?

Your first concern is obviously price. The more you’re willing to spend, the easier your decision will be. The world is full of expensive geek toys. If you’re willing to devote some cash to the project, you can get your geek a game console. If they already have one, they probably want the other one. If you’re stuck trying to figure out what game system or software titles your teenager (or console-friendly adult) wants, just ask them.

Or, if you’re a purist, committed to the idea of a Christmas surprise, call their best friend on the phone and ask which games they want to play together that they currently can’t.

This is an important step that many people forget when buying gifts. It’s easy to make a mistake here. Parents and spouses who are not tech-savvy can end up with wasted money and hurt feelings if they buy their geeks the wrong hardware. Making the choice between Xbox and Nintendo, Wii or PS3, or PC and Mac is a big deal.

Some parents think all computers are created equal, but when you commit to a brand, you’re locking your kids into a specific platform, and if it’s not the same system that their friends have, you’ll end up wasting time and money on a gift that will never be used.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

November 25, 2009 at 15:33

Posted in Apple, Columns, Games

iTunes for books?

appletablet500Remember a couple months ago when I wished someone would create iTunes for books?

Looks like the iTunes interface for books may be…iTunes.

Gizmodo suggests that Apple is in talks with publishers McGraw Hill and Oberlin Press about possibly selling textbooks through iTunes.

So what’s the missing ingredient that will make this strategy work? The Apple tablet — a magnificent collection of vaporware promises right now — could bring us a true multimedia reading experience.

Imagine a textbook that includes audio, video, animation and live updated text. Imagine 30,000 Tech students liberated from their backpacks.

Imagine a new kind of magazine, designed specifically for a touch screen.

Done right (high resolution text will be key) a tablet computer could become an ubiquitous multimedia delivery platform. We might even end up with 21st century video phones.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 2, 2009 at 15:30

Posted in Apple

iTunes 9 offers exciting new ways to browse, and ignore, your music

Apple has just released iTunes 9.0 and it’s definitely worth the upgrade.

The focus seems to be on ease of use this time – improvements designed to make it easier for users to share music, manage iPhone applications and choose which songs should be transferred to their iPods.

The new Home Sharing feature makes it easier to share libraries between computers. The application manager lets you arrange Home screens from your desktop and the sync functions now allow you to transfer music based on artist and genre without having to make explicit playlists for each one.

There’s also a host of small interface improvements that make iTunes seem brighter, faster and easier to use. Of all the fancy features included in this release, I’m embarrassed to say I got the most use out of the new column browser. It’s the same browser iTunes has always had, but now you can display it vertically to the left of your music.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

September 11, 2009 at 14:03

Posted in Apple, Columns

Power users rejoice as Apple, Microsoft release leaner, faster systems

windows-7-box-artLeft to their own devices, developers will inevitably focus on things that don’t matter to end users. Filling your office desktop with moving widgets and transparent windows may look cool, but it doesn’t necessarily improve the experience for the average user.

The past 20 years of software development have been all about adding more functionality to the desktop – more features, prettier interfaces and dubious “enhancements” that eat up memory and hard drive space while adding little to the user experience.

Consider the applications that you use every day. Has writing a letter really changed that much since they released Microsoft Word 95?

What percentage of Windows users are using Active Desktop widgets today? What percentage of users even know what they are?

Windows Vista is a perfect example of this principle in action – a bloated, restrictive operating system – bogged down by graphical eye candy and features that most people don’t need.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

September 4, 2009 at 17:08

Posted in Apple, Columns, Microsoft

Dear Steve Jobs…

With the new 3.0 software, iPhone users can sign up for a feature called “Find my iPhone!

This way if your phone gets lost (or stolen) you can plot its location on a map or disable it remotely.

Stay tuned for my next column, titled, “Better late than never, jackass!

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 17, 2009 at 14:39

Posted in Apple, Humor

New iTunes is smarter than it looks

My favorite picture of Steve Jobs.I’m not an Apple fanboy, OK?

Sure, I have posters and brochures and newsletters and stuff, but that’s all part of my job. Kind of.

It’s not like I sit around watching Apple keynote speeches, penning love letters to Steve Jobs. OK, once. But I was young and cover flow was new.

And maybe sometimes I look at his picture to help me sleep. It’s not creepy until you buy a frame for it.

Steve (I call him Steve) released a new version of iTunes on Wednesday unleashing a host of new features. And by “host,” I mean two.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

September 11, 2008 at 22:15

Posted in Apple

iPhones are great until they get stolen

Probably the closest this blog will ever come to breaking news.

I was robbed about an hour ago. Forgot to lock my door back after a guest left this afternoon, so this kid walked right in and woke me up while he was taking the iPhone off my nightstand.

He crouched down beside my bed and froze when he saw me move. I actually touched his head before he took off running. He had the presence of mind to take my USB cord and my microphone adapter and discard the headphones as he took off.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

August 10, 2008 at 06:45

Posted in Apple

You love your iPhone, but can you love it too much?

My iPhone will only accept movies made by Wes Anderson.

This sounds like the setup for a joke, but it’s the literal truth. I had a dozen movies ready for transfer when my darling arrived last week. I gave it 12; it accepted three. I wanted to upload four gigs of scifi action, quirky coming of age drama and obscure British comedy, but iPhone decided that these movies were not good enough and refused to accept them.

My iPhone is demanding and high-maintenance, but this probably my fault for giving it a girl’s name. I named her Pandora, not after the music service, but after the Greek equivalent of Eve — the woman who opened a box of trouble and released evil into the world.

And if you don’t think of iPhone as the mythical root of all evil, you probably don’t know what I use it for.

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Written by Michael B. Duff

July 31, 2008 at 14:07

Posted in Apple, Columns

Fake blogger revealed!

Fake celebrity blogs are a time-honored net.tradition, as old and irreverent as the Internet itself.

Now one of the most famous fake bloggers has been revealed, not as a new-media posterboy, but as an old-media veteran with a secret wild side.

The writer of the infamous “Fake Steve” blog is Dan Lyons, a technology editor at Forbes.

For years, Dan has been pretending to write in the voice of Steve Jobs, poking fun at the arrogance, the attitude, and the Boomer pretensions of Apple's famous founder.

Tech-savvy readers can easily kill an afternoon catching up with Fake Steve. My recent favorite is this entry about Rupert Murdoch's bid for the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile I just want you to know how excited all of us in Silicon Valley are to see you guys finally getting to experience first-hand the “creative destruction” that you're always celebrating in your own pages. Especially all of you guys who have delighted in tormenting Apple over our accounting practices. We'll be sending you each a special little gift — a black necktie. Marc Benioff is sending miniature coffins filled with breath mints.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 7, 2007 at 13:04

Posted in Apple, Journalism