Nov 13

Making the most of your keyboard


I have this friend in England and he just purchased a house for £345,000 which in Spain would have cost him a whopping €441,161. This is quite an accomplishment because he has a very mundane job, you see he is the guy who goes around putting the © symbol on everything before it leaves the factory.

Now that, as the opening to an article, isn’t very interesting. But what is more interesting is how I produced all the little symbols like © or  £  and that one that is now the universal symbol for bankruptcy: €

The answer is the Character Viewer menu that, back in the 90’s, was a very prominent utility but these days has been reduced to a check box in System Preferences and, as a consequence, is often missed.

Using this menu can make your missives a lot more interesting and its uses go far beyond currency. You can, for example, produce a bullet point list for the perfect weekend activity:

• Hammer

• Glue

• Rope

• Android Phone


So how is it done?

1. Click on the Apple menu and choose System Preferences.

2. Click on Keyboard

3. Click on the Keyboard ab and check Show Input menu in menu bar

NOTE: You might also notice that you can add all kinds of other keyboards from other countries allowing you to type in that languages particular style. These have special symbols as well.

4. Close System Preferences


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At this point a small symbol appears in your menu bar.

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Click on this and you can choose to click on Character View and this allows you to cherry pick any symbol from any category to illustrate your point. Just find what you want and double click on it.

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For example: my star sign is: ♌︎

You can also choose Keyboard viewer.

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While this is visible any key you press is highlighted and by using this you can learn the key combination necessary to produce the Ω symbol ( Option+z) rather than picking it from a list. Handy, if you are in a hurry.

Either way, this neat little menu can transform even the worst opening to an article into something a little more interesting.


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Nov 12

New iOS Malware. Be aware but don’t be concerned

app_store_iconUPDATE 18TH NOV, 2014: The individuals behind the Wirelurker malware were arrested and the rough App Store closed down by Chinese aithorities.

My brief for this website has always been to wade through all the websites, filter out the rubbish and give you what is – admittedly in my opinion – the important (and factual) remains.

This latest round of scary headlines from the popular press fits this description very well.

In the last few days there have been two iOS (iPhone and iPad operating systems) threats identified in the popular press with headlines such as:

More malware warnings for Apple: Firm claims exploit used to create WireLurker app could lead to rogue iOS apps that steal user data


Apple iOS bug makes devices vulnerable to attack – experts

So what are the real facts? Should you be concerned?

For starters this is not a bug. Both these exploits (and I will get into what they are in a minute) rely on the user doing the wrong thing. In the same way that leaving your door wide open when you go to bed is not a manufacturing defect with your front door, these exploits are not a defeat of iOS.

The first “threat” that was a “bug” in the system is so laughable it is hard not to just dismiss it but here goes…..

The threat is called “WireLurker” and it can infect your iOS device if, wait for it, you download apps from a rogue Chinese Appstore. Yes, you read that correctly!

On every iOS device there is the Appstore icon (see icon at the top of the page). This is, and always has been, your window to all the Apps and updates for your iPhone or iPad. People who jail break their phones (remove the Apple security) are able to go to other App stores that do not have the same level of control as Apple’s Appstore and so they can be downloading literally all kinds of infected software onto their iPhone or iPad – something Android users have been enjoying for many years.

Now while it is true that, for reasons I don’t understand, iPhones in China that have NOT been jailed broken can still access these rogue stores, it is still worth remembering that this is NOT APPLE’S APP STORE.

So the way to avoid WireLurker is:


Here is what it might look like on your phone.


The only other interesting thing about Wirelurker is that if someone plugs a phone that has accessed this rogue Chinese store into your Mac it can infect the iOS apps on your Mac. This in turn can infect your iPhone when you plug it in. A remote possibility and one that might see us refuse to allow strangers to charge their iPhone via our Macs USB port in the future.

The next Malware sensation is called Masque Attack.

This one works by someone sending an sms to your phone with a link saying something like “Hey, here is the latest version of Flappy Birds” and you click on it. It will take you to a webpage that encourages you to “Update” or “Download” and instead of getting Flappy Birds  it downloads a fake version of Gmail or Mail and hence forth reads all your emails and steals your personal information.

So, just like Masque before it, this Malware relies on the user not using official channels, namely the AppStore.

If you remember these golden rules you have nothing to fear and these Malware threats are a non-event.






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Nov 02

Alternatives to google

Rat-on-Bin-bag-640x461It is the pits when you are forced to admit that while the guy on the corner is the rudest barista you have ever known in your life….he makes the best coffee in town! In a similar way most people don’t really like using google because they sift through everything you do – a bit like a rat in a wheelie bin really – but they do offer the best search results.

Yosemite’s new version of Safari offers you a number of alternatives to google and so I thought I’d try them out.

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The most often talked about google alternative seems to be DuckDuckGo and so this was my first choice and it didn’t take long to realise that as a search engine it sucks!

The interface is clean enough and the results, such as they are, come quickly but even with region turned on it didn’t find what I needed. In all the tests I searched for macservices (obviously) and using DuckDuckGo all I got were American sites.

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I got a similar response using Microsoft’s mighty search engine Bing but this wasn’t a surprise because they have never been very good.

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The Yahoo search engine did much better but they are a bit like google so while I got what I was looking for my privacy was still being hung out to dry.

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Sadly with google, just like the rude barista, I got the goods but at a price.

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Happily there is an alternative but unfortunately it isn’t baked into Safari’s preferences the same way these other search engines are. But if you are prepared to go to install a little add-on to Safari you can have your google cake and eat it too.

The site is called StartPage and it performs the google search for you, gives you the right answers, but hides your identity.

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Now, I am off to find a friendly tea house and I might use StartPage to find it for me.

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Nov 02

Some neat things you can do with Yosemite

bad makeup

Despite Yosemite’s horrible icons (that I have changed by the way) it is a very good OS. A lot of what hits you straight away is mostly cosmetic, including those gag worthy icons, but behind the badly applied makeup lies some really cool features.

Using your Mac as a hands free phone

So picture this. You are sitting at your iMac and your iPhone is somewhere else in the house. In your purse, your jacket pocket, on the arm of the sofa when suddenly you need to call the smartest guy you know. In the olden days (2013) you would have been required to get up, find your phone and make the call. But with Yosemite you just need to open your Contacts application and find the genius in question (or use Spotlight) and click on the Audio button.

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Sadly this is a mock up, I don’t actually know Stephen Fry and more’s the pity.

Anyway, your Mac looks for your iPhone and makes the call.

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Sending large emails

Most mail hosts (Bigpond, Optus, iiNet) have a limit on the size of the attachment you can send via email. The rule of thumb is usually anything over 5MB is a bit risky and might not send or reach its destination. But with Yosemite you can now send very large attachments using  the Mail Drop feature.

1. Open Mail

2. Click on the Mail menu and choose Preferences

3. Click on Accounts.

4. Choose your account and click on the Advanced tab.

5. Activate Send large attachments with Mail Drop

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And voila, you’ll notice that this email now has an attachment of over 200MB and it will be sent safely and securely via an encrypted halfway house in the form of a data storage facility.

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Clearly your Browser history

I don’t know why you’d need to do this and I am not going to ask but you can now clear your browser history with a certain level of precision. In the past if you wanted to erase browser history it took not only the last few entries but everything else with it as well. Now, for example, you might be shopping for a gift and you don’t want your significant other to know you’ve been snooping through Peter of Kensington’s website. In safari you can now click on the History menu, choose Clear History and Web Data and choose to remove the last hour only.

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There are many more little hints and tips worth looking at but these are my current favourites. If I come up with anymore I will expand this article, so keep watching ;-)


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Oct 27

The Re-birth of my 2010 iMac


In the months that lead up to the Yosemite launch I decided that when the update finally arrived it would be time to upgrade my hard disk and then perform a clean install.

I have had my mac since 2010 and when it shipped it had Snow Leopard installed. Since then I have upgraded in the time honoured tradition of waiting hours and hours and hours for it to download, install the update (hoping nothing goes wrong) and then deal with all the software issues. Which I must admit, over the years, have been few and far between. But while this approach is convenient it does come- after a while – with a performance hit.

The alternative that follows is time consuming and a little pricey but- as you will see- is well worth it.

My iMac is four years old and while in human years it’s not ready for school, in computer terms it’s practically retirement age. As I’ve said in the past computers age like dogs. So it’s safe to say it’s getting on but it still has a decent i7 processor, 16GB of ram and plenty of storage in the form of a 1TB hard disk.

My upgrade started with the purchase of a 1TB solid state drive (SSD) that is – and there really isn’t any other way of putting this – ridiculously expensive at $699.00 (the drive I removed is worth about $170. Let’s hope my wife never reads this post!)

I prepared to install the drive but just before I did I performed a real world test. I turned off the mac and booted it up and discovered something my jangled nerves already suspected- that it took 1 min 35 seconds to boot and 4 mins and 51 seconds after that to launch Safari. Yes it’s true what they say….. a mechanics car is always the last to get serviced.

Taking out the drive was easy and once the new one was installed I installed a fresh copy of Yosemite. As expected, once the install was over, it asked me if I wanted to migrate any data which I did from my old hard disk that was, by now, waiting patiently in a caddy. It seemed blissfully unaware that it’s days were numbered.


Once done I had to install several updates and take care of some software titles that needed replacing under the new OS but then it was done and ready for use.
My first task – of course- was to run the same boot test as before and I was delighted to find that the boot process took 10 seconds and Safari launched in 40 seconds!!!

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Now my 4 year old mac is running like a new one and has the latest operating system. This is the perfect opportunity to have a good look at Yosemite itself.

You might recall I don’t like the icons and must admit, after two days nothing has changed. Beyond that the interface remains familiar and bristling with features.

It’s true that while my Mac is now fast it is still 4 years old so none of the handoff features work chiefly because I don’t have the required version 4 of Bluetooth. But I can use sms relay (meaning I can now send and receive texts on my Mac from anyone- not just those using iMessage) and I can receive phone calls on my Mac and use it like a speaker phone.

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Spotlight has been expanded to include detailed information when you do a search.

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Mail has also had a face lift with very handy ‘markup features’ so you can edit or annotate files right inside Mail or add a signature to a PDF before sending the email.

There is now iCloud Drive that keeps all your Pages, Numbers, Keynote documents in sync between your mac and your iOS device or your Windows PC. Plus, for the first time (and long over due) you can now store any kind of file in iCloud Drive so it’s more akin to Dropbox or One Drive.

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You don’t have to install an SSD into your computer to get the most out of Yosemite – but it helps and if you think you’d like to go down that track drop us a line (remembering that a 500GB drive would be half the cost but just as fast)
Alone the new interface will squeeze more speed out of your Mac (provided you have more than 4GB of ram in my opinion) and unlike Windows 8 you won’t be spending all your time trying to figure out where anything is or how it works. Instead it will be like a room that has been renovated by one of those house shows on TV. You will instantly know how to get into the house and you’ll recognise the living-room…. you just might not be fully sold on the choice of fabric covering your favourite lounge chair.

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