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The Small Dog Apple Blog

Published: Tue, 23 Jan 2018 19:15:27 GMT


Meltdown and Spectre, lots of Intel

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 20:00:01 GMT

If you pay any attention to technology news, you’ve probably already heard of the recently discovered Meltdown and Spectre exploits that are reported to effect a majority of computer systems currently in operation, regardless of their operating system. Since the vulnerability is at it’s core, hardware-based, users of Macs, PC’s and some mobile devices are all at risk equally. The hardware in question are processors by Intel, AMD and ARM and the issue could be exploited in 3 ways known as Variants 1 and 2 (identified as Spectre) and Variant 3 (identified as Meltdown). The way the Spectre exploit works is by taking advantage of the way your computer processor’s architecture is wired to execute code. In a very basic way, the processor’s job is to make a series of decisions very quickly and pass along the results of those decisions. To speed things up, most modern processors use a technique known as “branch prediction” to guess what the next decision it’s going to have to make is. This “speculative execution” greatly improves the speed of a processor as it can always stay a few steps ahead of the game. It’s not always correct in it’s predictions, but that doesn’t matter because the speed at which it does these predictions allows it to perform many, many of these per second. In very simple terms, it’s all of these incorrect predictions that allow your sensitive data to be potentially revealed. When these bits of data are trashed, for just a moment, the state of your processor can be analyzed by some malicious agents and backtrack it’s way to what bits of data were used to arrive at it’s incorrect prediction. It can then exploit this method by making your processor arrive at incorrect predictions on purpose by injecting data far outside the bounds of what it expects and, in turn, grabbing more of your sensitive data with each execution. Patches to guard against this involve an extra step every time your computer executes these kind of instructions, double checking to see if the data it’s executing lies within the bounds of what’s expected as well as separating the code and predictions into separate areas of memory. Different processor models have slightly different architectures and the exploits work in slightly different ways across them, however this is generally how things work. Meltdown is much more clear-cut exploit. To run efficiently, data being run through different parts of your computer processor is stored in a cache as it’s passed between sections of your processor. Meltdown reads this cache and can take the information contained in it and send it off in another direction to be utilized for nefarious purposes. The fix for this involves splitting the address space for this shared memory so that the data is never complete and would appear as gibberish if it were captured, the downside to this fix is that it involves making your computer do twice the work for the same amount of processing. Fortunately, this type of shared memory space only occurs in an impactful way during specific I/O events such as disk-reads or network communication and has little effect on computationally-heavy computing such as video-editing or gaming. New chipsets and operating-systems should be affected very minimally by any patches to eliminate these exploits, however older systems and certain cloud and virtualization computing systems could take a pretty big performance hit as they rely heavily on I/O to operate. It’s not often that we see such a vulnerability so widespread and so tricky to fix. It’s something that has been baked into the core architecture of so many of our computer systems in slightly different ways and yet it exists almost universally between manufacturers. It’s like suddenly discovering that bare lightbulbs can steal your credit card number. Sure you can just say “use a lampshade” but lightbulbs come in different sizes and styles even though they all work pretty much the same way and even if you design a lampshade for every bare lightbulb out there, there will b[...]

Keep Your Passwords Safe!

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 14:53:21 GMT


I’m never one for encouraging or promoting New Year’s resolutions unless it’s something practical and attainable. Ok, and something that you know you can follow through with! We talk a lot about data security in terms of backups here at Small Dog Electronics, but we do not talk a lot about password security. Passwords can feel like the bane of our existence some days! We need passwords for just about everything we want to do on the internet, we need them for gaming, online purchases, our banking and more. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen users keeping their usernames and passwords written directly on their computers, sticky notes taped to the underside of their computer, a file right on their desktop called “passwords” and more. I think I’ve probably seen every possible WRONG way you can store your usernames and passwords. I get it, it’s frustrating to forget this information and even worse when it’s a login you have to change every 3-4 months.

To make dealing with passwords a little easier and more secure, using password management software can be crucial in organization and security. We use a service at Small Dog called 1Password, There is also another service called LastPass. that works just as well. Your keychain through your iCloud account can also be used, but, if you need to securely share information with others using one of these other services can be a better solution. We like 1Password and with the frequent need to update passwords and usernames on different sites, it’s extremely functional to ensure that we don’t get locked out of accounts.

I am sure that some of you have seen Safari suggest a random and impossible to remember password suggestion when you need to reset a password, another reason for secure password storage. As crooks and scammers get smarter, we have to get smarter about our passwords. We might prefer to use a near to your heart password combination that you know you won’t forget, but those are often the most easily hacked.

With password management software you will still need to remember a few key passwords and usernames. Afterall, you do have to use a secure password to get into your password filing system. When you are creating passwords, always try and use a combination of numbers, letters and even characters when the sites permit it. Random and longer passwords are always recommended. You might try what I call the sentence trick when creating a new password. This is where you could have a favorite movie line or excerpt from a poem and use that as the base for your password. For example “Now is the time for more fun!” This could turn into a password “N1tt4mf!” I took the first letter of each word and changed some letters for numbers with a special character at the end.

Just as important as tips for what to do to keep your passwords secure is what NOT to do! Always enable two-step verification whenever possible. It’s a bit frustrating at times but is one tip you won’t regret for account security. When using two-step authentication and password management systems keep in mind you can still be vulnerable. You will want to avoid common habits like using the same password on multiple sites. One major benefit of password management software is it remembers your account information, so it eliminates the urge to use common passwords across multiple sites. Once you have filed your account information, discard those old sticky notes! You do not want to keep those lying around anymore.

Now, get organizing and start off 2018 a little more secure than you were!

Flashing folder after installing High Sierra or an update?

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 17:09:46 GMT


So, you’ve just updated to the newest version of High Sierra. Perhaps you moved up to High Sierra from an earlier operating system to take advantage of the newest features and security patches. After installation, instead of your familiar desktop photo or login screen, you’re greeted with a flashing folder and there is seemingly nothing you can do about it. Enter recovery mode!

Recovery mode is a tool that’s been available to the Mac user since the introduction of OS X Lion (10.7) it’s essentially a separate partition created on install. 10.7 was the first Mac OS to eliminate physical install disks, this new partition provides access to the tools that were only previously located on recovery disks. Those tools include “Disk Utility”, used to create/erase/modify internal or external hard drives and their subsequent partitions (portions of space created on the drive for use) “Restore From Time Machine Backup” which allows you to restore your machine to a previous state that you would have stored on an external hard drive using Mac’s built-in backup software. Lastly, the most helpful tool when it comes to reinstalling an operating system that may have gotten corrupt or damaged during install “Reinstall macOS”.

To get to recovery mode, you start with the machine fully powered off. Press the power button as if turning the machine on as normal and immediately press and hold both the “command” key and “R”. Hold those keys until you either see the Apple logo or a spinning globe. If you see the Apple logo it is booting into its recovery partition, if you see the spinning globe it may ask for your WiFi password as it’s starting from an internet based recovery program.

Now, back to the main topic. You’ve suddenly been greeted with a flashing folder, so we want to get into recovery mode first (CMD+R) once at the utility screen you’ll want to choose “Reinstall macOS.” Follow the prompts. When it asks where you want to install you simply choose your main drive (typically listed as Macintosh HD unless you’ve otherwise changed it) and that should be it, just let the machine do its thing and reinstall the operating system.

If after the reinstall you’re still greeted with the flashing folder, it is a signal of a deeper lying issue and may require service. If that’s the case, bring it on by one of our stores and our talented technicians can see what they can do to bring your machine back to life!

Stay Away From Windex!

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 19:58:09 GMT


All iPhones pick up fingerprints, and it’s all too easy to get your iPhone dirty with ink, lotion, makeup, dirt, food, and oil. If you’re faced with an iPhone that needs cleaning, resist the urge to spray it with window cleaner, rubbing alcohol, or ammonia, or, even worse, to scrub it with baking soda or Borax. That’s because all iPhones have oleophobic—oil repellent—coatings on their glass surfaces that make it easy to wipe off fingerprints. You don’t want to remove that coating any faster than it will wear off normally, and cleaning products will strip it quickly. Instead, Apple recommends a soft, lint-free cloth such as you would use for glasses or camera lenses. By the way, even though the iPhone 7 and later have some level of dust and water resistance, it’s important to avoid getting moisture in the openings—most of the time, a lens cloth should be all you need.

Let's Face It

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 19:49:34 GMT

I have had my new iPhone X for a couple weeks now and it is magical in so many ways. Being an old codger, it is truly future shock to be holding such a powerful device in my hand and one that instantly recognizes my face, too! There have been a lot of stories out about Face ID and my first-hand experience is that it just works. It is transparent and I lift up my iPhone and it is unlocked. Contrary, to JoJo’s report a few weeks ago, it is not just black people that it has trouble recognizing in the dark, I have to enter my passcode on occasion when I lean over in bed to see what stupid notification I got at 2AM. What You Need to Know About Face ID Apple’s new iPhone X does away with the Home button, which has been a fixture since the original iPhone and has long served as the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. To replace Touch ID, Apple developed a new facial recognition technology called Face ID. With Face ID, the iPhone X scans your face to authenticate you instead of using your fingerprint. It is truly amazing technology! Apple even invested in the company making the scanning lasers that make Face ID work this week. How does Face ID work? Freaking Magic. Well, almost. As science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Face ID is cutting-edge technology that uses Apple’s TrueDepth camera system to project over 30,000 invisible dots onto your face. Then it illuminates your face with infrared light and takes an infrared image. Finally, it translates that image into facial recognition data that are encrypted and stored within the iPhone’s Secure Enclave (the data never leaves your iPhone). Face ID updates its mathematical representation of your face overtime to keep up with how your appearance changes. How secure is Face ID? Extremely. Apple claims that Touch ID’s false positive rate—the number of people who would have to try logging in to your iPhone before someone would succeed randomly—is 1 in 50,000. In contrast, Apple says that Face ID’s false positive rate is 1 in 1,000,000. It can’t be fooled by a picture or a simple mask, although a high-enough quality 3D reproduction of your face might get past it, just as a sufficiently good cast of your fingerprint could fool Touch ID. However, Face ID has trouble distinguishing between identical twins and siblings who have nearly identical features. So if you have an evil twin or even a nice twin with a sick sense of humor, stick to a Touch ID-based iPhone or your passcode! The probability of an incorrect match is also higher with children under 13, since their facial features haven’t become sufficiently distinct yet. By default, Face ID works only when you look at the iPhone X—it can’t be unlocked by your face when you’re sleeping or in my case when I am staring at my Mac’s display with the iPhone on my desk. How fast is Face ID? Not quite as fast as Touch ID in current iPhones, but fast enough that you likely won’t notice. When you pick up your iPhone X so you can look at it, Face ID will, in most cases, have already recognized you. This quick recognition is possible in part because the iPhone X can start scanning early, thanks to iOS’s Raise to Wake feature and a new Tap to Wake feature that automatically wakes the iPhone X when you touch the screen. What if Face ID doesn’t work? First off, things like wearing a hat, scarf, or glasses won’t confuse Face ID, nor will growing or shaving a beard. Thanks to that infrared camera, it even works in complete darkness, sorta. It does seem to have more trouble working with black people in the dark or maybe even darker skinned people. However, Face ID does fail occasionally. One reason for a Face ID failure is holding the iPhone X too close to your face—this is easy to do accidently if you’re nearsighted and not wearing your glasses. (Some sunglasses prevent Face ID from seein[...]

Show Me The Cash!

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 19:26:22 GMT

My granddaughter Khadija is away at college at Boston University and from time to time she will hit her gramps up for some bucks. I am happy to help, because as I tell Grace, what exactly do I work for if not to help out my granddaughter! But that’s not the story, when Khadija asked me for $20 I asked her how to send it to her and she uses Venmo. That’s what I did but then I told her Apple Cash is coming out and the next time I am only sending by Apple Cash! With the latest release of iOS11.2 for your iPhone and iPad, Apple has activated Apple Cash which is a really easy way to send money to friends and family. It is basically an App for Messages and it works really well. But even better you can just ask Siri. I just said “hey Siri, pay Grace a dollar” and just like that I virtually took a dollar out of one pocket and put it in another. You can connect Apple Pay Cash to a credit or a debit card but if you use a credit card you will be dinged the 3% fee. Use your debit card and there is no fee! But let’s review how to set up and use Apple Pay Cash. Step one is that you have to be sure to upgrade your iPhone or your iPad to the latest iOS – iOS 11.2. To do that, simply go to Settings—->General—->Software Update and check to see if you are current. You do have two-factor authentication turned on, right? You need that for so many features that just about everyone should have it active. If not go to settings—>iCloud—>Password & Security—->Two Factor Authentication and follow the instructions there. Okay, so you have iOS 11.2 and Two Factor Authentication, what now? Now open the Wallet app. At the top you will see a brand spanking new Apple Pay Cash card. Click on that and hit continue to activate your Apple Pay Cash card. This card is really important. This is where you will receive any money that others send to you. It will be stored in your Apple Pay Cash card and can be easily used to send cash to someone else, to pay for goods or services using Apple Pay or you can transfer it to your bank account. Once your digital Apple Pay Cash card is set up, you will be asked to pair a credit or debit card to the new service. I put in one of each but a debit card makes the most sense since you do not get charged the 3% fee. If you put in more than one you will be asked each time to choose which card you want to use, which is another step. Once you have added a card and agreed to the terms and conditions you will be asked to verify the card by entering in a code that will be sent to you automatically. Now, you can add some cash to your Apple Pay Cash card if you wish. That makes sending money a couple clicks easier but it is not necessary. If you click on the “i” button on the Apple Pay Cash card screen you will get your information screen which will tell you your balances, have buttons for adding money or transferring it to your bank, etc. It also has a tab to review your transactions. To send money to a friend you can simply ask Siri in the Messages app, open the App drawer and choose the Apple Pay icon. Remember that both parties must have iOS 11.2 installed for person to person payments to work. So, that means no sending bucks to Android users. When you tap on that icon you will get a pop-up to ask you how much you want to send. Your friend will receive a pop-up to accept. Once you verify the transaction using your fingerprint or in the case of the iPhone X it is super easy – just look at your iPhone and bingo! you have sent the cash. Your friend has instant access to the cash in their Apple Pay Cash card which they can use for Apple Pay or to send on to someone else. If you want to transfer the money to your bank account you tap on Transfer to Bank and then add your bank account’s routing number and account number. These transfer req[...]

The Magic Of The Trackpad

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 19:51:50 GMT

No doubt at some point in your digital past, you’ve been prompted to provide an ‘e-signature’ on a document. Something these prompts may bring you to a third-party or proprietary website and ask you to click and drag your signature into the specified field. When all is said and done, the hastily jotted scribble may not even be semi-legible. Frustrating.

However, for Magic Trackpad users, there is a shimmering beacon of light to put this madness to an end!

Did you know in the Preview application, in the ‘Tools’ drop-down menu, in the ‘Annotate’ section, there is a submenu titled ‘Signature’. This is every document signers dream menu, the promised land! In the ‘Signature’ submenu, you’re prompted with the option to create a signature. Following the steps brings a window that looks a bit like the Trackpad into view. From here you can click “Create a Signature”, and following this, your Trackpad is now ready to receive your signature with your fingers acting like a pen.

It takes a few tries to master the general ergonomics and flow, but once you’re satisfied with the end-result, click ‘Done’, and now you’re free to move your freshly made and finally legible signature across the document within the Preview app. Sayonara, chicken scratch.

High Sierra and iOS 11

Tue, 26 Sep 2017 20:30:03 GMT

The release dates are here for some major updates to Mac OS, iOS 11 and watchOS 4. I have been playing with these throughout the beta period, and I think you’re going to like the new features and changes! What’s New in macOS 10.13 High Sierra and Its Main Apps Although Apple’s eye-catching Desktop image of the High Sierra mountains makes it easy to confirm that your Mac is running High Sierra, the most noteworthy new features are invisible! These changes are aimed at improving your Mac’s performance. But, don’t worry — you’ll find plenty to do in Apple’s apps, and we’ll share our favorite features below. Apple’s invisible, under-the-hood changes modernize the Mac. The new APFS file system significantly improves how data is stored on your disk. It replaces the HFS+ file system, which dates from the previous century. You’ll notice the switch to APFS when you look up the size of a selected folder or duplicate a large file because the operation should run much more quickly. APFS also provides better FileVault encryption and reduces the chance of file corruption. Also new is HEVC, a new video compression standard that will let videos stream better and take up less space on your drive, and HEIF, an image format that boasts significantly better compression to keep photos from overwhelming your drive. HEVC and HEIF have other advantages too, but they’re so embedded into High Sierra (and iOS 11) that all you’ll notice is more space. When you drag images and videos out of Photos, they’ll come out in familiar formats suitable for sharing. Photos 3 In Photos, it’s now easier to browse your photos from the always-on sidebar on the left side of the window. Photo editing is also more streamlined, with the Edit screen now separated into three tabs: Adjust, Filters, and Crop. You can now edit Live Photos! Look at the bottom of the Adjust tab for controls for picking any frame as the static “key” frame, trimming the video, and applying special effects. The most interesting effect blurs the Live Photo by turning the 3-second mini-movie into a single long exposure. Those who are into tweaking photos by hand should check out the new Curves and Selective Color options on the Adjust tab. Or, if you’d prefer that your Mac do the heavy lifting, try the new filters on the Filters tab. Our favorite new feature is more of a fix—when you train Photos to match faces with names, that training will now sync through iCloud Photo Library to your other Apple devices. About time! Finally, for serious photographers, Apple has at long last brought back round-trip editing of a photo in an external app, like Pixelmator or Photoshop. Safari 11 A new Websites tab in Safari’s preferences lets you specify Web sites that should always open in Safari’s clutter-reducing Reader View. This lets you block some ads and auto-play videos, set the zoom level on a per-site basis, and more. We like to tweak these options for the current Web page by choosing Safari > Settings for This Website to open a popover with the necessary controls. And in the “Thank you, Apple!” category, Safari now offers Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP), which limits advertisers’ cross-site tracking of where you’ve been online. We applaud Apple’s continued commitment to privacy protection. Notes 4.5 Notes now offers a capable Table feature and a handy File > Pin Note command that puts the selected note at the top of its list rather than listing it by order last edited. Neither feature is earth shattering, but we’re enjoying both already. Mail 11 Behind the scenes, Mail gets a welcome change you probably won’t notice: according to Apple, message storage now takes 35% less space. More obvious is how Mail revamped its behavior in full-screen view. Instead of the message-composition area overlapping most o[...]

Apple Pencil

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:47:43 GMT


I am by no means an artist nor someone who has drawn anything beyond your standard High School art class. However something drew my attention the Apple Pencil, call it intrigue or even memorization of the new slick addition to the Apple line up I could not keep from considering why it was so endearing. Whatever the calling was I finally made up my mind and purchased one of these compelling little stylus, and boy oh boy was I impressed. I had little experience playing with the abilities of the Apple Pencil outside of the store. I have discovered a new found obsession with sketching.

For anyone who has ever drawn with your standard paper and pencil, (as well if you are as nit picky as I am) you will quickly find by erasing multiple strokes several times you quickly create this indent on the paper, an indent that will never go away. This is infuriating! As with any drawing tablet this frustration is elevated when using a computer to render your work allowing easy (Command – Z) undo functionality. There are some intense differences when comparing drawing tablets vs paper and pencil, and many artists strongly dislike the separation between the two. Again, I am no artist and do not claim to have a strong history with any of the options discussed. However I must express my complete and wonderful surprise that was using the Apple Pencil. The fluidity, precision and pencil likeness was unmatched by any expectations I had. Whether it be lightly sketching out the initial point of reference lines or deeply highlighting the final details it feels as though I am sketching on a piece of paper just underneath the glass of my iPad Pro.

Without spending all day going into details and further examples, I’ll wrap this up with a final thought. The Apple Pencil is not just for Artists, or people in the field of artistry. If you are someone who draws, sketches, paints or even prefers written notes, the Apple Pencil can be another tool added to the arsenal. Even if you are like me, someone who has never tackled anything artistic but has a nagging urge to create, I highly encourage swinging down to Small Dog and testing out the Apple Pencil. We have one at the counter anyone can test out on one of our iPad demo models and see for yourself what makes it such a unique and diverse product.

AC Rectification

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 19:42:44 GMT

It’s back to usual this week for my article, because I thought of a good topic. I’ve talked many times about AC power and how and why we use it, but many things don’t use AC power. In fact, they can’t. These are things we use every single day. Virtually all digital electronics cannot use AC power directly. It needs to be converted into DC power. Remember that AC means the current is alternating and DC means the current is flowing in one constant direction. Any time you convert electricity from one type to another, or one voltage to another, there will be losses. Nothing is free. Every time you change something about electricity, you have to pay a tax. The goal in electronics design is to minimize those losses. AC to DC conversion is one of the simplest and most efficient conversions we do on a regular basis. DC to AC conversion is also possible (accomplished by inverters). Most of these processes are on the order of 95% efficient or greater. So how do we convert AC to DC? First off, the process of converting AC to DC is called rectifying. Devices that accomplish this task are often called rectifiers. A very common rectifier design is called a bridge rectifier. To understand how they work, we have to recall that AC is a wave. Sometimes it’s voltage value will be positive, other times it will be negative. This doesn’t work for DC since the voltage has to always be positive or always be negative. Rectifiers take the negative voltage swing of the wave and flip it up top so that it’s positive. Now instead of a sine waveform, the output of the circuit will look like mountains. The voltage will always be positive, but it will still vary considerably, from the peak (approximately 170 volts on grid-level 120VAC) to zero and then back up again. How is the voltage rectified? In a bridge rectifier a ring of diodes is used. Recall that a diode only allows current to flow through it in one direction. By arranging the diodes in a ring we can create a “draw off” point for the current where the voltage will always be positive. Instead of being allowed to “pull” the current backwards during the negative voltage swing, the diodes redirect it back to the output point. Of course, this only means that the negative voltages get flipped up, creating the mountain-like waveform I mentioned earlier. This is not good for DC power, so how do we fix it? There are many ways to minimize this issue, but it can’t be fixed perfectly. One way is to use capacitors to buffer the output voltage. Instead of sinking when the mountains go back down to zero, the capacitors prop the voltage up during that period, until the next mountain peak arrives. Depending on the load, this could mean large capacitors to hold the load long enough. Remember also though that AC has a frequency on the order of 50-60Hz. This means there will be around 120 of those mountain peaks every single second, so the capacitors don’t need to hold for too long. The other issue we have to contend with is how to reduce the voltage from anywhere between 120-240VAC to something DC electronics might expect, like 5VDC. For AC to anything, this is actually very easy; we use transformers. A transformer has two sets of wire windings, a primary winding and a secondary winding. The primary winding contains the input current, usually fluctuating AC. This fluctuating current induces a magnetic field that also fluctuates in a metal core that extends from the primary winding to the secondary winding. The changing magnetic field in the core induces a new current in the secondary winding. The induced current will necessarily be greater than the input current if the windings are configured to reduce voltage. The overall power has to remain the same. So if the input were 120VAC at [...]