Mac mini: Happiness, Disaster, Relief

Mac mini pictureThis weekend Steve and I traveled to see his parents to upgrade his mom from a white MacBook to a brand shiny new Mac mini. I love working with Merlee because she’s so clever and quick. She has her own way of doing things like any of us but she really listens to me before deciding whether she’s going to take my advice. As you know, I’ve been trying to convince both of them to use a password manager for ages, but they haven’t budged on that. I even converted myself to 1Password partly so that I could be able to give them good support on it if I ever talked them into it. Their main concern is the cloud, so having a tool that can live only locally was why 1Password was the right tool for them.

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Sometimes, All You Have to Do is Ask

dollar symbol with arrow pointing downDo you have a recurring bill going on that just seems like it’s more than it should be? I would encourage you to call the company and simply ask them to lower the price. You would think that this wouldn’t work but I can swear that it does. Sometimes you do have to play a little bit of chicken with the companies but it’s amazing how often it works.

Years ago Time Warner sent us a notice saying that they were increasing our rate by something like $30 a month. I called them on the phone and simply said, “No, you’re not.” I explained to the woman that answered that it would be expedient if she simply moved me up to her manager right away. When the manager got on line I politely explained that I had options (Verizon FiOS was available to me). She took a look at my account, asked me what was important to me in my TV and Internet service. In about 5 minutes, not only were we not paying $30 more per month, we were paying $15 LESS per month. All I did was ask.

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Tie Something To It First

Ethernet coming out of the cover plate for the vacuum with two happy drabsAs many of you know, my dad was my hero. He was a mechanical engineer, and I tagged after him in the garage, the shop and outside, pretty much anywhere he would let me follow. One my earliest memories is sitting on a very tall stool in his shop and toppling right over to the ground. I don’t think I suffered any ill effects from that! I also remember when I was hospitalized as a child and my dad brought me a small screwdriver as a present. I was delighted. Later, he bought me my first toolbox and we had many happy hours in the shop together.

When I was in college (to become a mechanical engineer myself) someone broke the antenna off of my 1976 Honda Civic. I went to the local hardware store and found a replacement for it. Antennas in those days for you kids who don’t remember them, were telescoping metal rods with a long wire that ran down the front (A) pillar between the windshield and the right passenger window. Installation of my new antenna looked trivial. I removed the two screws holding the mounting plate of the broken one, crawled under the dash and unplugged the connector to the radio. Then I simply pulled on the wire from above until it was completely removed from the pillar.

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Choosing the Right Mac Mini

top view of old and new Mac MinisI’ve mentioned a few times that Steve and I have an aging Mac Mini connected to our family room entertainment center. It’s a 2009 Mac Mini with a screaming Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 2 whole GB of RAM. I have to admit that we haven’t used it too much over the years, but I was never sure whether it was because it was severely underpowered or because using a real computer connected to a TV is painful.

I bought this Mac Mini to replace the awful first generation AppleTV that I sold to Jonathan Cost for $50 so very long ago. I had tried to hack the AppleTV into submission when I realized I was wishing it was a real computer. The 2009 Mac Mini doesn’t have an HDMI port, so I had to buy a dongle that took the USB audio out and the Display Port out from the Mac and converted it to HDMI, which allowed us to connect into our A/V Receiver via HDMI. We got the Apple Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad and we were in business.

The big problem with this setup is that the OS X text is wee tiny on the 50″ TV so we have to be pretty desperate to watch content that can ONLY come from a Mac to use this setup. With a current AppleTV, a Roku and a Chromecast, we really have little reason to have the Mac Mini any more.
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How to Export LastPass Vault and Import to 1Password

LastPass logo with arrow pointing to 1Password logoA while back I published a post about how to get your LastPass data out of your vault and move it over to 1Password. The process is a little bit weird to follow so I created a tutorial on it and published it today. You can find it at the link in the shownotes or look under Mac or Security tutorials in the left sidebar.

I hesitated to publish this when I created it more than a month ago because Pat Putnam discovered a problem that neither of us can solve. Using the web browser plugin from LastPass, you tell it to export a CSV file. It’s supposed to open a save dialog box, but for some people (including Pat) instead it splats your passwords onto the web browser window. I’ve been unable to find a pattern to why this happens to some people on some browsers, and I even enlisted John F Braun of the Mac Geek Gab to help me noodle it out but he was unable to solve it either.

I decided that for those of you for whom this works I should publish it, and hopefully someone reading this will write to me and say, “hey dummy, all you have to do is…”

Play Flash on the iPad Using the Puffin Browser

Looks like a Puffin bird - red beak, black and white and puffyOn Monday night my daughter Lindsay called me with an emergency. She and her husband Nolan were out at a restaurant and had planned to do their Fantasy Basketball draft on ESPN using their iPads and iPhones. When they went to the ESPN website on their iOS devices, they were faced with a Flash interface. I don’t know if you’re into Fantasy sports, but my kids take it VERY seriously, and when it’s draft time, it’s intense.

When Lindsay called me, I told her that I remembered that there was at least one browser for iOS that would allow you to surf sites with Flash. From what I could remember, these browsers render the Flash in the cloud and then deliver it to your iOS device without Flash. I did a quick search in the app store and found the Puffin browser.

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Command-C Lets You Copy and Paste Between iOS and OSX

Command-C logo artworkAs you know I’m good buddies with the SMR podcast guys, Robb, Rod and Chris. Their communication tool of choice is WhatsApp, mostly because it works on Android, Windows Phone and iOS so there’s never a compatibility problem. It’s fine for a chat client, supports text, audio, video, and photos. There’s one huge problem with it though, you can’t use it from the desktop, not even from a web interface. If I’m sitting at my Mac with a perfectly good keyboard in front of me, it drives me bonkers to have to type on the iPhone.

On occasion, I’ve gotten into such heated discussions with them that I’ve dusted off my Bluetooth keyboard and connected it to my iPhone but that’s kind of a pain too.

Today I got an email from a user group talking about how long the line was to buy an iPhone 6+ at the Manhattan Beach Apple store. He said it was about a hundred feet long and he had to wait 2 hours to get a phone. That’s pretty crazy – 41 days after launch and there’s still giant lines! Anyway, this is just the kind of long form text I wanted to send to the boys but there it was locked away on my Mac and I wanted it on my iPhone. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could copy from my Mac and paste into my iPhone or vice versa?

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Unprotected WiFi Fun

Cloak VPN logoAndy sent in a link to a really interesting article over on medium.com about exactly how easy it is to be hacked if you’re using open wifi networks. Mauritius Martijn takes a trip to a random cafe in Amsterdam with Wouter Slotboom who uses a small black device to spoof the wifi network in the cafe. Bart has been warning us for years about his but reading exactly what this guy was able to do is pretty chilling.

One of the things that makes it so easy is that our devices will automatically connect to a network which we’ve already connected to in the past. So imagine you’ve been to a Starbucks and connected to the wifi network called Google Starbucks, his device can tell you’ve been attached to that network in the past. All he has to do is create a hotspot called Google Starbucks and your device will auto-connect to that network. Once your device connects to his network, he has access to all of the traffic you send – user names, passwords, everything. You are owned. Continue reading “Unprotected WiFi Fun”

Capturing Imagery of a Partial Solar Eclipse

This week there was a partial solar eclipse around 2 in the afternoon in Los Angeles. Steve suggested a play date up to the hills in Palos Verdes where we’d have a nice view of the city and the Santa Monica Bay, he could take video, I could take photos, and we could maybe play with his DJI Phantom Quadcopter with the GoPro camera attached.

Steve's cardboard duct tape and electrical tape filterWhen Steve and I went on the Mac Mania Cruise in Australia, we were lucky enough to see a total eclipse of the sun. Steve bought me a very nice solar filter for my DSLR, but too late before the trip he realized that if he wanted to take video, he too would need a filter for his video camera. We had been issued official paper solar sunglasses for viewing the eclipse on the cruise, so he cut one in half, used a stiff paper program guide he found on the ship, borrowed some duct tape from our good friend Wally, and fashioned up a filter of his own to fit over his Canon HFS100 camcorder.

He’s great at keeping track of things (ok, maybe not his wallet and keys) so he actually still had his goofy filter. The duct tape when we were on the cruise 2 years ago was starting to get weird, but by now it was really starting to fall apart, so he dressed it up with a fresh coat of black electrical tape and he was ready to go.
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A Little Rocky Trying to Use ApplePay for the First Time

touched showing on Passbook with a credit cardLike so many others I had to go out right away and try ApplePay on the iPhone 6 on day one. I knew I’d have to put in my credit cards first, so I opened up the languishing Passbook app and tried to scan in my credit card. The little box kept bouncing in and out but never recognized the card. That’s when I realized that I probably had to upgrade to iOS 8.1, right? Duh.

After the upgrade to 8.1, I immediately saw the change in Passbook, you get a new option on top to add a credit card rather than another kind of card. Unfortunately they sucked all the fun out of adding the card by offering to let me use the card already on file with Apple. Of course that’s the one I wanted. I decided to try my backup credit card. I have to have a backup because Citibank is ALWAYS claiming I’ve had unusual spending and blocking my card, like if I buy something from Apple they stop my card. Seriously.

Anyway I tried my second Citibank Mastercard, and it didn’t work, got a popup suggesting I call the bank. Oh well.

So now it’s time to go on the hunt for somewhere to spend my money via ApplePay. As luck would have it, my son Kyle and I were driving around on Tuesday and so I convinced him to stop by Walgreens because they take ApplePay. Unfortunately he thought I meant CVS (who don’t take ApplePay), so he missed the turn to Walgreens and he was hungry so he wouldn’t go back. I should have made him go to MacDonalds because they take ApplePay, but he wanted El Pollo Loco who don’t. I missed day one. He told me to quit my whining, I’d be going to Starbucks the next morning anyway and I could use it there.
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