Alex Kaloostian

Apple Certified Master Trainer | Systems Integrator | Video Editor | Motion Graphics Artist


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Using iTunes without a credit card – redux!

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about a little trick to set up iTunes without a credit card. For some reason, it became one of my most popular posts, and still gets hits. But Apple has made a lot of improvements to the iTunes store since then, and now there are many more ways to do it. Continue reading

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Streaming media around your house

This past spring, I guest blogged at Funkyspacemonkey.com, and never linked to it here! I wrote a semi-in-depth article about converting media, sorting it in iTunes, and streaming music & video around your house with Airport and iPads. Here it is.

Part 1: Music, audio formats, metadata & lyrics

Part 2: Video, Handbrake, batch processing & Subler

Part 3: Home Sharing, AirPlay & streaming music

Part 4: AppleTV, Remote app & streaming video


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Come on, back up yo stuff!

In the past 2 weeks, I’ve heard of no fewer than four friends or friends-of-friends having their data lost by a drive crash, reformat or theft. In most of these cases, they were artists or creatives, freelancers, and their careers, their very livelihoods are now at risk. I’m not here to pile more pain on them or say I told you so. But I DO want to call them out as a warning to the rest of you.

Please, PLEASE back your stuff up! Its 2012, there are no more excuses. Hard drives are stupid cheap and the software is practically idiot proof now. Here’s how to back up your iPhone, iPad and Mac. Continue reading


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How do I use Find My iPhone and Find My Friends?

A lot of people have probably heard the news stories about criminals caught red-handed with stolen iPads and iPhones. Here’s one, and here’s another. But it amazes me that so many people still aren’t using it, and don’t know how. It’s really easy, and if more people use it, maybe criminals will start realizing its a bad idea to try stealing iDevices.

 

Its really easy to set up, but you’ll need an iCloud account. At this point a lot of people roll their eyes, but iCloud is good, really! Its not like Apple’s previous attempts at an online service. Many of you may say you have no need for another mail account, calendar syncing, file syncing, you use Exchange, or DropBox. Thats fine- iCloud is free. Even if you only use it for  Find My iPhone and nothing else, it’s still worth it, I think.

So if you haven’t already, go to icloud.com and set up an account. Okay, now, moving on.

Click on the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad, then the iCloud setting, and log in. Once you’re logged in, turn on whatever services you want, or not, but make sure you turn on Find My iPhone.

  

That’s it! Now, lets see how to track your device if it gets lost. To do this on another iDevice, download the free Find My iPhone app, or on any Mac or PC desktop, go to icloud.com and log in. Log in with your iCloud account, and it will show you all of your registered devices on a map.

  

You can also display a message on screen (reward if found!), play a sound, even if your phone is on silent, and you can even remote lock or wipe, like Bluetooth devices. If your device can’t be found, it will keep trying indefinitely, and send you an email when it IS found.

Starting with Lion, Macs can be tracked now, as well. Just log into the iCloud system preference, and turn on Find My Mac. You can track, lock, and wipe, same as your iDevice.

Some people have told me they use Find My iPhone to track their kids or spouses, whether with their consent or not. Obviously, Find My iPhone could present privacy issues, but if you’re worried about being tracked, don’t give people your iCloud password!. Or set up your kids under your iCloud account, so they can’t turn it off. “You can have an iPhone for your birthday, but only if you allow us to keep tabs on you.”

What if you WANT to be tracked, but you don’t want to give out your account? What if you’re meeting up with someone for dinner and you don’t know where they are? Check out the Find My Friends app, also free. This is more like an opt-in version of Find My iPhone, where you can invite friends and they can allow themselves to be tracked by you, permanently, or they can turn it off later. You can even set up events that will auto-expire.

  


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Setting up an iTunes account without a credit card

**Update!** Hey you, did you come here from Google or another search engine? This article is a bit out of date. Go read the new & improved story.

Are you thinking of setting up a Mac or an iPad for a child, but you’re worried about your credit card getting maxed out with Farmville charges and Angry Birds sequels? Well, just don’t input an AppleID… ohh yeah, you HAVE to to run your apps. Well, sign up for an iTunes store account without a credit card, shouldn’t that be easy? Let’s see what happens if we go through the iTunes music store, or the web, or any of the other myriad ways Apple gives us for creating an AppleID…

Okay, so far, so good. Now, I’ll just enter a username and password, answer some security questions, and…

Hmm, I HAVE to click Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover of PayPal. Last I checked, those are ALL payment methods, right? So why can’t I just skip this or click none? Turns out, you can! You just have to know a trick.

The Trick!

Okay, so there is ONE way to create an iTunes account without adding payment info. Skip the web, skip the music store, skip Apple’s web site. On your Mac or PC, launch iTunes, click the App Store link at the top, and find a free app. Any app will do. I’m a fan of PBS Kids Video, my son loves it.

Okay, so try to download a free app. It will require you to log in. Click the Create AppleID button, fill out an email account and password* and answer some security questions. And when you get to the last page, here’s what you’ll see:

Now we’re talking! Click none, and you’re good to go. You now have an Apple Store ID with no payment attached. You can download and run all the free apps you want, but if you want to buy a paid app, you can but a gift card, enter the code, and you’ll be limited to that credit. No chance of your kid going off the rails and building the greatest collection of Pokemon, or whatever kids do these days. Grumble grumble, get off my lawn.

*So what should you use for an email account? Well, you could go over to Yahoo or Gmail or Hotm*snicker* sorry, I thought I could get through that. You COULD go over to Yahoo or Gmail and set up another account for your child, but then things are going to get crazy. Here’s a cool trick you can do with Gmail: Gmail lets you create as many aliases as you want, just add a plus after your existing address.

This is a great way to set up filters, spam traps, and accounts for your kids, among other things. My address is alex.kaloostian@gmail.com (oh come on, like you couldn’t have guessed that). If I want to sign up for a company’s email list but I think they’re sketchy and might sell my identity, I can set up, for example, alex.kaloostian+nedslivebait@gmail.com and any email to that address will go to my main address.

So, just set up an address for your kid that goes to your main address. One less account and password to remember and you’ll receive anything they would have received. Oh, and don’t bother; that bait shop address isn’t real. And sorry if this post got a little long and pithy, I’ve been watching an Aaron Sorkin show while I type this.


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Remove Items From the Dock in Mountain Lion

Apple made a tiny change to the way the Dock works in Mountain Lion that’s causing a lot of aggravation. YES, you can still remove shortcuts from the dock (as long as they’re not currently running). You just have to drag the item a little farther away than before –a couple of inches– and wait one second for the “poof” icon to appear. Now you can let go of your mouse and the item will be removed. As always, items in the dock are just shortcuts, the original still lives somewhere on your system.


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Three easy ways to safeguard your Mac

A lot of people are under the misconception that Macs are “safe”. It’s true, out of the box Macs are pretty safe from hackers over a network- guest access, remote management, remote login and file sharing are all OFF by default. But the exact opposite is true if someone has physical access to your Mac.

Apple tech is getting bigger and bigger in corporate America, and that’s great, but first and foremost, the Mac is still a personal computer. (See what I did there? PC? Heh). And first and foremost they are designed to be easy to use, NOT safe. Just off the top of my head< I can think of numerous ways I could break into your Mac without needing your password, your name, your pet’s name, or your lucky number:

  • Hold down T, boot in target disk mode, connect another Mac and steal your files or wipe your drive
  • Hold down command-S, boot in single user mode, steal your files or reset your password
  • Hold down command-R, boot in rescue mode, reset your password
  • Remove your hard drive, plug it into mine, steal your files or wipe your drive

And that’s without thinking hard. Or being an admin. Think about it, if your grandmother has a Mac, and you come over for Thanksgiving dinner, you shouldn’t have to be an NSA agent to help her out, right? Apple gives you security measures to protect you from all of the above, but you have to turn them on yourself.

Here are the three simple things you can do to protect your Mac:

  • Firmware Password
  • FileVault
  • Find My Mac

You don’t necessarily need all three, but they will help a lot.

Firmware Password

How do I set it?

Easy. On a Mac running Lion or Mountain Lion, hold down Command-R when you boot up, to boot to your rescue partition. Click the Utilities menu at the top of the screen and choose Firmware Password, and choose one. On Leopard or Snow Leopard, insert the DVD that came with your Mac and hold down C to boot to it. Then set it the same way. Done!

What does it protect against?

Setting a firmware password is kinda like setting a bios password… kinda. Setting a firmware password will prevent someone from booting your Mac in one of the diagnostic or non-standard modes. That means no single-user mode, no safe mode, no target disk mode, no rescue mode, and no dual-booting to another OS. Unless you have the password, of course.

What could still be done to me?

Without an admin password or the firmware password, I could still remove your drive with a screwdriver, plug it into another Mac, and steal your files or erase them. But that’s about all.

How do I bypass it?

If your Mac is more than a couple years old, the firmware password can be wiped by resetting the SMU, if your motherboard has a button to allow it, or another common method is removing the RAM, booting, waiting for it to crash obviously, then replacing the RAM and booting again. Voila, the firmware password is gone. So maybe put a lock on your Mac or hide your screwdrivers. On newer Macs, about 2 years old, there is no backdoor around the firmware password. You have to bring it to Apple if you forget it.

FileVault

How do I set it?

AS an admin, open the Security & Privacy system preference, click the FileVault tab and turn on FileVault. Enter a password for all the users you want to be allowed to boot your Mac. You’ll be given a recovery key in case you forget your password. Save this recovery key! Your Mac will reboot and begin to encrypt itself. This could take a long time; fortunately, you can still use your Mac while you wait.

What does it protect against?

FileVault will encrypt your whole disk with strong AES encryption. No matter how someone accesses your drive- target disk mode for example, or even removing the drive and connecting it to another Mac, they won’t be able to access your files in any way, without your password. In addition, FileVault makes it a lot harder for someone unauthorized to reset your password- only the recovery key can be used to reset your password now.

What could still be done to me?

I could still boot in rescue mode or single-user mode and erase your drive. But a firmware password will prevent that.

How do I bypass it?

If you forget your password, you can use the recovery key to reset it. But you can’t reset your keychain password, so all your stored passwords will be lost forever. If you are worried about losing the recovery key, you can elect to store it with Apple when you turn on FileVault. Apple will record three security questions on your behalf. You can call Apple, talk to an automated system and recover your recovery key, then reset your password. If you didn’t save the key with Apple and you forget it, its gone forever, and so are your files!

Find My Mac

How do I set it?

This feature used to be only for people who paid $100 a year for the mediocre MobileMe, but now iCloud is FREE so there’s no reason not to turn it on! First sign up for an AppleID if you are one of the few who doesn’t already have one. You can do that in the iTunes store, the App store, or at appleid.com. Then sign up for an iCloud account at icloud.com. You can sign up for an iCloud email address at this time if you want it, or just tie it to your existing account. I signed up with my Gmail account because who needs more email addresses to keep track of?

Now open the iCloud system preference on your Mac. Sign in, and turn on Find My Mac. You can also tap the General Settings on your iPhone or iPad and sign in as well. Its called Find My Mac but it’s really Find My Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

What does it do?

It tracks your Mac if you lose it. You can log into iCloud.com from any Mac, PC or Mobile device, or use the Find My iPhone app on any iOS device. I know, I know, it’s called Find My Mac on the Mac and Find My iPhone on the iPhone, but its all one thing. Log in with your iCloud name and password and Bing! All your devices will show up on a map. Now you can track down your device, or call the cops. You can make it beep, and display a message, like “reward if found, please contact”. You can also remotely lock or wipe the device from here. If your Mac isn’t online at the moment, you’ll get an email the instant it comes online.

Here’s a cool success story. And there are many more on the internet. Did I mention ITS FREE? Why haven’t you already turned it on?

How do I bypass it?

You can always log into the device as an admin and turn it off. But the only way for a thief to bypass it is to never go online, and wipe the machine immediately. Which they won’t be able to do if you get the jump on them and lock it. It’s a firmware lock, so to the best of my knowledge, even replacing the hard drive won’t unlock it. They will have to take it to an Apple store, and Apple will hopefully check with the cops to see if you reported it stolen. Which you did, right?

Good luck. Stay vigilant. And use protection out there!


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Command Line Basics 6: time savers

I was planning on mentioning these tricks in a later post, but my good friend Hank made me see that this is the perfect time. Today I’ve got one problem, and three shortcuts for you.

Problem: spaces.

Ever notice that email addresses and web sites never have spaces in them? Spaces are a problem in Unix. Let’s say you had a folder called “Important stuff” and you wanted to look inside. You’d probably try typing

Lion-Apps:~ fmcadmin$ ls Important stuff

But you’d get an error:

Lion-Apps:~ fmcadmin$ ls Important stuff
ls: Important: No such file or directory
ls: stuff: No such file or directory

See what happened? It thought that Important and stuff were two different folders, and you wanted to look inside each. This is why “old schoolers” never use spaces in file and folder names. But all is not lost, it’s actually easy to deal with spaces in two different ways: just use quotes, or a black slash.

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