Oct 132011
 

I would assume that most people out there realized that iOS 5 was released yesterday (Wednesday, October 13).  There are plenty of guides out there outlining the new hotness that comes with the update.  We have a couple referenced over in our forum.

What is your most favorite features so far?  I have really taken a liking to the new notification features.  It is pretty slick.  Now, I can see all of them that I missed or accidentally skipped as I unlocked my phone out of habit before reading the notification.

Find My Friends looks interesting, but I have not played with it yet.  Plus, my wife and I use 4square, so I am not sure it offers much more than that.

Jul 022011
 

The infosec world was a buzz (or a tweeting) this morning with news that the popular file service dropbox has changed their legalese. The key paragraph that is now getting attention is as follows:

We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files). By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services. You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission.

Many professionals have now deleted their accounts.  We will see how the general public reacts to this change in terms of service.  Personally, I never used the service and certainly never will on those terms.

For those of you who need to store data “in the cloud” (in other words, on the Internet), there are some alternatives out there.  Here is a google+ post: https://plus.google.com/u/0/115846783938665223975/posts/LnxqCCTtjVV.  And here is an older article before this issue: http://techpp.com/2010/07/05/dropbox-alternatives-sync-files-online/.

Keep in mind, this is occurring shortly after dropbox had a serious authentication issue which essentially removed any passwords from all accounts for four hours.  There was evidence that that was exploited while the vulnerability existed.

Jun 252011
 

If you have been living under a rock and had not heard the news yet, TF2 is now free to play.  You can download it at the TF2 website for both Macintosh and Windows.

The free to play will now be supported by microtransactions within the steam store.  You will be able to purchase new weapons and items.  Valve also claims that they will continue to offer free items as well.

Valve also seems to be taking a pragmatic approach to supporting the community:

“It’s a belief of ours that in multiplayer games it’s generally true that the more people playing the game, the higher value the game has for each individual customer.

“The more players, the more available servers in your area, the wider variety of other players you’ll find, the greater the opportunity for new experiences, and so on.”

This would be bucking the trend of AAA titles coming out at $50-$60 range and support disappearing.  It also seems to be a lesson that some companies *cough* Epic *cough* could relearn.

According to Steam, I only have 2.8 hours played in TF2.  Unfortunately, the Orange Box came out at the same time as CoD4.  CoD4 got a bit more playing time.  However, if more people pick up on TF2, I could certainly see myself devoting more time to it.

Jun 132011
 
lock

With the news of both Codemasters and Epic Games recently being hacked, this again serves as a sobering reminder: don’t reuse your passwords.  These include forums and other services both of these companies provide along side their games.  So if you ever raged about the latest UT or GoW game on Epic’s forums, or linked any accounts to Codemasters in games like Dirt, you could be affected.  When these types of security breaches happen, many times your email address and password can be exposed, and in the event you use this same login combo elsewhere, other unrelated accounts can be compromised too.  Using a password manager like Lastpass, 1Password, Keepass, Roboform, Mitto or any other of your choosing can help you generate and keep track of your unique passwords.  The obvious advantage is, if a particular site or service is hacked and/or login details are exposed, that password can’t be used elsewhere (say your bank account or email account).

I am personally a fan of LastPass, and while storing all of your passwords in a centrally located spot has its own risks (online or offline), there are ways you can mitigate the risk — and of course, pretty much anything is better than using your birthday or pet’s name as your password everywhere.  I should have a detailed review of LastPass along with some other easy tips on securing your own data this week.  While it’s easy to rage at the Sony’s of the world, we also have to take some personal responsibility to securing our own information.

UPDATE:  And now Bethesda reports a similar hack attempt was made on them last week.  The overall point stands, especially since there appears to be assault on game company sites.  Spend some time and update your passwords with uniques.

 Posted by at 8:24 am
Jun 082011
 
icloud-what

The amount of rumors and speculation about what kind of iTunes cloud service Apple would make available was massive and started to rival new iPhone rumors.  Now that it’s been announced, there’s still a bit of confusion as to what iTunes in the Cloud is, what iTunes Match is, why it costs $25 a year and why would you want to buy it.  Let’s see if we can clear that up a little based on what we know today.

“iTunes in the Cloud” works today, see how to enable it here.  This allows you to do a few things.  One, it lets you go through all your previous iTunes purchases and re-download them on up to 10 devices, no additional charge.  For clarification sake, when Apple says “devices,” this means computers too — the idea behind iCloud is that a PC or Mac is just another “device” in the mix.  Secondly, if enabled, when you buy new music on *any* device or computer, it will automatically put that new music on *all* of your devices.  A simple concept that “just works.”  Third, and probably obvious although easy to overlook, is your iTunes purchases are automatically backed up in iCloud, so there is no risk of losing music files due to hard drive or device failure. Again, totally free, works today, even with purchases made years ago.  To re-download previous purchases on an iOS device, fire up the iTunes app and look for “Purchases” icon.  To do it on a desktop, start up iTunes (10.3 and up) on Mac or PC and again go to the “Purchases” section.

What happens to all the music you didn’t get from iTunes, say music ripped from CDs or purchased from Amazon or elsewhere?  This is where “iTunes Match” comes in.  iTunes Match will scan your library, find all the matches in the iTunes store for your existing music and make them available in iCloud.  This then allows you to download any of it to all of your devices, and automatically “upgrades” your music to the “iTunes Plus” version of 256 Kbps AAC — just like if you had bought it from iTunes in the first place.  In the event there is no match, it will have to upload the actual files from your library, which is the only time any uploading will happen.  The added side benefit is that your music collection, regardless of how it was attained or what sound quality it is, is now completely backed up in iCloud at high(er) quality.  Apple reminds us with over 18 million songs in the iTunes store, they like the odds of having most of your music available to be “matched.”  This provides a significant advantage over Amazon or Google’s solutions since you don’t have to upload your whole library, and also represents why Apple had to negotiate and pay out to the big music companies to offer this service.  That’s where the $25 a year price tag comes in.  The price is a flat fee, regardless of how much music you have.  They say whether you have 5,000 songs or 20,000 songs, it’s $25.  Also note, your music doesn’t count against the 5GB file space for iCloud  (while we’re at it, pictures, apps and books don’t count either).

Should you sign up for iTunes Match when it comes out this fall?  That will depend on your situation.  If you have one device and/or most of your purchases came from iTunes anyway, I don’t see it being worth the cost.  However, if you have many devices and a lot of songs from Amazon or CDs, it could be convenient to be able to grab any song from your iTunes in the Cloud library to put on any device on a whim.   Got a new iPhone?  Use iCloud on the device to load any music you want at will.  Setting up a new PC or Mac?  Same idea, your music library is available without have to transfer it to a thumb drive or external hard drive.  Lastly, let’s not forget the backup aspect of your entire music library is also worth considering.  Unlimited space for backing every piece of music you own?  Not a bad deal at $25 a year if you have a huge library, the price is low enough for many and with no restriction on size or amount of songs, the service compares well to similar solutions.

A few things to consider:

1) At this point, it doesn’t look like there is any streaming going on with your music, it seems to be a straight download of a music file.  While the initial offering of iCloud is solid, it’s probably safe to assume that Apple will only look to enhance it over time, so streaming and additional features may come in future revisions.  Some Apple patents circulating through various news sites have all but confirmed this.

2) To get to your music in iCloud, you have to use iTunes, there doesn’t appear to be any web app or third party application support available.  iTunes on the PC, Mac and iOS devices looks to be the only gateway to your music.  That could change over time, but I wouldn’t count on that.  Music from iTunes Match is DRM free (as indicated by a slide during Jobs’ presentation) so once downloaded, you’ll be able to use those files as you see fit.

3) It’s unclear if Apple will let you upload your non-iTunes music without paying for iTunes Match, basically using iCloud as a big “hard drive in the sky” as Jobs put it.

The good news is, iTunes Match for your non-iTunes purchases is the only part of iCloud that has any price tag on it, and if you’re happy with your current setup in terms of syncing, backing up and moving around music files obtained elsewhere, then this premium service is completely avoidable.

More details are available here:
http://www.apple.com/icloud/features/

Jun 072011
 
icloud

Apple’s WWDC keynote yesterday was so chock full of information, it’s taken some time to process what’s new and coming for both the Mac and for iOS devices.  One of the biggest pieces was the iCloud stuff, which parts have been made available starting yesterday.

iCloud auto syncing for apps, iTunes purchases and Books are available now if you want to sync items to/from multiple iOS devices.  Of course, if you only own an iPhone, there isn’t much to see here (see update below), although each of the store apps (iTunes, iBooks, App Store) now has a “Purchased” section, allowing you to review everything you’ve purchased and re-download it at no additional charge.  This already worked somewhat with the iBooks and App Store, although it was a little unclear if you would be double charged or not, and is new for the iTunes music store.  Now it’s in its own section, lets you re-download anything on any of your devices and you’ll never be double billed for the same content.

For those with more than one iOS device, here’s how to setup iCloud syncing today:

Go into your settings app on each of your iOS devices and go to the Store option.  Here you can turn on auto downloading of new items of purchases made on other devices (including free stuff).  There’s also an option to control whether this only happens on wifi or force it to happen on cellular data too.  So what exactly does this do for you?  Say you have an iPhone and an iPad.  You turn on auto downloading on your iPad.  You buy a new song on your iPhone, and it will automatically download to your iPad next time your iPad hits a wifi spot — no effort needed on your part (or does it over cellular if you turned that on.)  Same goes for books, and apps.  You may want to consider leaving the app auto download option off if you’re the type who likes to try out many free apps (an app hoarder) because you could end up cluttering your iPad (or iPhone) with lots of apps you may not want on both devices.  Books and music make better sense in most cases.  Also remember that iBooks syncs things like bookmarks, notes and your current page between devices too.

Why is this great?  It cuts out the step of having to resync the device you made your purchases on back to iTunes on your Mac or PC, then having to manually sync your other device(s) to iTunes just to get the new content.  Painful.  Now it’s automagic — the way it should be.

Of course, I’m looking forward to the additional iCloud components (photos, docs, iTunes Match) coming in the fall with iOS 5, but this will get you started today.  You can see more about iCloud here.

UPDATE:

Figures that right after I wrote this article, Apple released iTunes version 10.3 for Mac and PC, which enables the same three options above on the desktop.  So now, purchases will auto download to your iTunes library as well, without have to sync via cable.  Also added in 10.3 is the iBook store, previously only brows-able on iOS devices.

Note that “iTunes in the Cloud” is currently only available in the US due to licensing restrictions.

You can download the latest iTunes version via Apple software update or manually here.

Jun 032011
 
ninite_icon

Small sample of Ninite available programsI had discovered, then forgotten about and then recently re-discovered an awesome Windows utility called “Ninite.”   Ninite is a great program that automatically downloads and installs (and updates!) some of the most common Windows programs you’ll use.  The list of programs it will handle for you is impressive, and is constantly growing by requests.  Web browsers like Chrome and Firefox are on there, CD burning utils, free antivirus options, image editors like the Gimp and Paint.net, developer tools and so much more. Check out the full list on the Ninite website.  You choose the programs you want by checking them off, then it will download a custom installer that works on autopilot.  Keep in mind the screenshot to the right is just a small subset of all the programs it supports.

 

So why is it so awesome?  It’s not just a simple mass-installer.  It makes a few smart decisions for you.  First off, it automatically says no to toolbars and other crapware some programs try to bundle.  Second, it chooses the appropriate version of a program for you Ninite installer/updaterbased on if you are running a 64bit or 32bit OS where applicable.  Lastly, it will update all the update existing programs to their newest version.  So not only is it great for setting up a new PC, but it’s great for mass updating those programs, something that’s not easy to do manually.  Save your custom installer file and re-run it when you want it to check for updates, or create a new installer to maybe add some more apps and it will automatically check any old ones for updates.  Yes, it even updates those programs installed without Ninite.  The only downside, as far as I can see is that it doesn’t let you choose a custom install location, it puts all the applications in their default locations.  For most people that won’t be an issue, but something to note for those who like to install stuff in odd locations.

If all this sounds great to you, check it out at ninite.com.  Windows is the main platform, although they have a beta Linux version but sadly, no Mac version.  Also available is a “Pro” version for enterprise management.

May 042011
 
Apple-logo

Apple made good on its promise to address the location tracking concerns of its users last week, as we discussed here.  This update claims only to do those things.

This update contains changes to the iOS crowd-sourced location database cache including

  • Reduces the size of the cache
  • No longer backs the cache up to iTunes
  • Deletes the cache entirely when Location Services is turned off

The update is available for all devices that can run iOS 4.

Hook up to iTunes and hit the update button.

Apr 272011
 
Apple-logo

Apple today posted a Q&A piece on their website, outlining exactly what location information the iPhone stores and how it is used.  The short version is that the iPhone maintains a cache of wifi hotspots and cell towers in the area to help better assist apps that use location services.   This allows your phone to find your location much faster than if it used GPS alone.   So even though the tracking is no where near as invasive and sinister as many media outlets have incorrectly reported, Apple will be making some changes in an update in the near future.  They will no longer store a backup of this cached data on your computer and fix the supposed bug that when you turn off location services, the location data cache will be permanently deleted.

Highlights:

Why is my iPhone logging my location?
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.

Can Apple locate me based on my geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
No. This data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple cannot identify the source of this data.

Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.

Full Official Press Release here.

Apr 152011
 
Camera+logo

Camera+ has been one of the top paid apps on the App Store for quite some time, briefly surpassing even the current flavor of Angry Birds.  Why, you may ask, would you want to actually buy a camera app when the iPhone has a perfectly functional app built in?  Well, the default app is pretty bare-bones, and at $0.99 currently, Camera+ makes a great argument to replace the default app or other free apps as your go-to camera option.

Unlocking the exposureThe camera interface has a lot of the features you have come to expect.  Tap to focus, a digital zoom slider, a flash control option for iPhone4 and the ability to flip to the front camera.  There is one addition to the flash options that is missing from Apple’s default.  Camera+ adds a “fill” option, which lets the flash work as an continuous fill light.
Another great feature added in the default picture taking mode is an ability to unlock the auto white balance.  To do this, you tap to focus and then use a second finger to unlock the white balance and then choose a different point in the frame to adjust the exposure.  This is great when shooting something that is in a shadow or in some other uneven lighting.  To also aid in better photo taking, your can turn on and off a grid overlay to help line up and straighten your shots better.

Don’t like the “Normal” picture taking mode?  There are 3 more modes to change to.  A “Stabilization” mode, which only snaps the photo when it senses your hand is the most stable, which is great to reduce blurry photos.  There is a timer mode, which is configurable from 5, 15, and 30seconds.  Lastly, there is a burst mode, which you just hold down the camera button and it will take pictures in rapid succession.

The Camera+ LightboxWhile all these added features are great, where Camera+ really shines is after you take your pictures.  By default, all your pictures are stored in the app’s “Lightbox.”  What this means is that your photos don’t clutter up your camera roll and gives you a chance to review and edit them before saving them to your camera roll and/or sharing them via social media.  If you’re like me, you snap a lot of photos, many of them not really worth keeping, easily creating an unruly mess in your camera roll if you’re not diligent in cleaning it out.  The lightbox avoids all this.  If you’d still rather save every snapped photo to your camera roll you can easily disable the lightbox.

Within the app’s lightbox, there are many powerful editing options available.  Camera+ touts the newly added “Clarify” option which seems to perform a bit of an auto brightness and auto levels function to your photos.  Most of the time it gets it right and results in brighter, more vibrant pictures removing washed out over exposures and adding more detail to shadow areas.  There are plenty of other adjustment modes which mainly alter the lighting in the photo to better match the conditions the photo was taken in.

Camera+ effectsOther editing features include “FX” which can give your photos different looks similar to those in Instagram or Hipstamatic.  Somehow, making photos look like they were taken 30 years ago on a crappy camera became popular, and Camera+ supports all sorts of similar effects, along with some unique ones like “toy camera” and “so emo.”  It’s worth noting that there is an extra “I love analog” FX pack that is an in-app purchase (also $0.99), but the base app includes so many effects, it’s hard to recommend spending anything additional unless you really, really want more old-school filters.  To round out the editing there are tools to rotate and crop your photos in addition to a selection of borders that can be added.  The good thing about all the photo editing tools is that you can import photos from your photo library into the app, so it doesn’t just work on photos taken within Camera+.  You can pull any photo from your existing camera roll or any other photos synced to your phone and edit it in Camera+.

Once your photos are looking the way you want them, Camera+ has a decent amount of sharing options.  You’re covered with direct sharing to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and email.  When sharing to Twitter, instead of using a service like Twitpic, Camera+ uses their own, url-shortened, socially optimized site: http://campl.us.  Comments can be posted, and the image details are displayed to let viewers know the settings used for the picture — all very similar to Instagram.  You can check out a sample image shared through Camera+ here.

For the magical price of $0.99, it’s hard not to recommend Camera+.  The amount of functionality this app has over the boring default camera app is easily worth that price.

Check out Camera+ in the App Store