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#764: Tracking Your Every Move, Don't Stack Laptops, 64-bit!, Terminal Tricks


Happy Tuesday,

It was a driving kind of weekend as I headed south to Dutchess County, New York and the northwest corner of Connecticut to spend time with family for the holiday weekend. Leaving home in wet slush and sleet, it was reassuring to see the road conditions improve around Hancock, especially since my summer tires were fitted last week. Patches of snow dotted the landscape until Rutland, but the grass just got greener as I headed farther south. Blooming crocus and forsythia are one thing, but I still long for green grass and the smell of lilac outside my bedroom window. Soon enough…

With the warm air and gentle breeze yesterday, I had my office windows wide open, and went home for lunch to let the fresh air in. We’ve always offered a spring cleaning service for your computers, but this time of year the name is especially apt. For $69.99 we will ensure your computer is running in tip-top shape, make sure all components are functioning as they should, perform maintenance on your hard drive, and clean thoroughly inside an out. It’s a good deal for a little peace of mind as we enter another cycle of the seasons.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  iPhone and iPad Track Your Every Move  

You may have recently read something about your iPhone or iPad tracking and storing information about your location, wherein that data would be saved—unencrypted—on any machine you’ve used to connect. It’s true, and after syncing my phone to my work machine machine, and using iPhoneTracker, I can see everywhere I have been in the past year: my trip to Cape Cod (1 month ago), Connecticut (11 months ago), Boston (3 months ago), and many others show up with perfect clarity.

I would show a screenshot of this, but after having my identity stolen, I prefer to have my personal information kept personal. Odds are you do, too.

As a test, I deleted my backups (not recommended), and encrypted my iPhone backup. This made my location information a little more private, and stopped iPhoneTracker from seeing my location. To encrypt your iPhone backup, plug your iPhone in to your computer, open iTunes, and select your iPhone under Devices in the left pane of iTunes. In the right pane, there are some check boxes at the bottom of the page, the very last check box is “Encrypt iPhone backup”; check this box, and enter a password. Your iPhone backups will become encrypted, and your location data will be much less accessible.

I do not know what this information is used for, but most likely it’s for advertising purposes; it is seriously doubtful Apple is using this information maliciously. That said, this information is clearly visible without having an encrypted iPhone backup, and other applications or malware could easily view and exploit this data.

For now, I suggest encrypting your iPhone backup and not backing up to anyone’s machine that you do not trust to ensure your location data does not fall into the wrong hands.

  Don't Stack Laptops  

One of our corporate clients came to us last spring with a MacBook Pro having sleep issues. Specifically, it would go to sleep as soon as it powered on and then not wake up. The machine performed normally for us and passed all diagnostic evaluations. We talked with the client and sent the machine back with the status of “Could not duplicate,” meaning we could not get the symptom to recur.

We did not hear anything further about that machine. A couple of months later, another machine from them with the same symptoms came in. Then, a couple more soon after that. Only in one case did we actually replace anything—one of the machines had a defective battery. We were at a loss to explain why they were having this issue with so many machines. Granted, they do buy a lot of machines, but we had never seen this issue in any machines except for theirs!

Finally, we decided to ship one to Apple to see what they thought, and it returned with a new logic board. After that, every time one of these sleepy machines came in from our client, we sent it off to Apple for a new logic board. This was a workaround and brought a kind of resolution, but still didn’t get to the root of the problem. Then, a couple of weeks ago, one of our consultants, David, was on-site with the client installing some RAM and they started talking about the issue. There were stacks of machines being configured for deployment to employees and the client pointed out an affected one to David.

David picked it up only to discover once again that the machine was fine. After a moment, he placed it back on top of the stack of machines and… it went to sleep and would not wake up. After a little more experimenting, they confirmed that if stacked, the machine on top would not wake from sleep. In retrospect, it was obvious why: the sleep switch is in the body of the laptop and is actuated by a magnet in the display. The magnet is strong enough so that in some cases, the magnet in the machine below would cause the machine on top to sleep. They would send the machines to us and of course, they would work perfectly.

Upon his return to the store, David did some research and found a tech article on Apple’s service provider website that was only a few days old; it described the exact issue he had just seen. David solved a long-standing mystery, the client has modified their procedures, and hopefully, we will not see another instance of this issue!

  What Does 64-bit Mean to Me?  

When Apple introduced the Power Mac G5 in 2003, it was touted as “The world’s first 64-bit personal computer.” This was due to its IBM PowerPC G5 processor’s 64-bit architecture, which enabled the Power Mac G5 to break through the 4GB barrier and support up to 8GB of RAM. 64-bit hardware has been around since 2003, and Mac OS X has been consistently updated to support more and more levels of 64-bit operation.

While 10.4 only supported 64-bit command-line tools and 10.5 added support for 64-bit GUI applications, 10.6 introduced a 64-bit kernel along with 64-bit built-in applications (such as Finder, Mail, Safari, and iCal). Back in 2003, Apple’s hardware was more capable than its software could operate.

With 64-bit technology, today’s Snow Leopard operating system software can support up┬áto 16TB of RAM, 200 times the 64GB that can be installed in the highest end current Mac Pro. You may be asking, “Why would anyone ever need 16TB or RAM?” One of the benefits of 64-bit is the ability for an individual application to access more than the 2GB memory limit that 32-bit operating systems impose (2GB for the kernel, 2GB for applications).

What this means is that more and more of an application’s data can be stored in super-fast RAM. These are performance gains that any user can appreciate. Lion, Apple’s next operating system, is said to adopt 64-bit to the extent that some Intel machines from 2006 using the Core Solo or Core Duo (as opposed to Core 2 Duo) will not be supported because of their 32-bit architecture.

While some 5 year old machines might not be able to run software yet to be released, the lack of support is a small price to pay for the overall performance increases that Apple’s 64-bit implementation will bring.

  Terminal Tricks  

Are you a command line junky? Or just a command line aficionado that would like to spiff up your terminal windows? If so, wonderful—you, my friend, should most definitely read on. In Mac OS X, the Terminal application provides the user with a multitude of customizable items.

To start, in Terminal Preferences, under the Settings tab, you have several preconfigured window settings from the classic “Pro” theme to “Red Sands” to the colorful “Grass” theme. Within each of these themes is the ability to customize several things such as Window and login Shell. Or, you can create your own theme.

For instance, you can change not only the color of your Terminal window text and cursor but also its opacity. This may seem like a minute adjustment that only affects the aesthetics of your interface, but these can come in very handy. For example, a semi-translucent window will allow you to see behind it, which is helpful if you want to ping an address you can’t remember and can’t copy.

You can also save window groups in different colors, sizes or different locations on the screen. This is a handy feature if you tend to run several commands simultaneously, usually in conjunction with each other. It’s very helpful if you want to use dscl to query a users network account info and then ping the users host server in another window. This is a common network account troubleshooting tactic, useful for resolving network home folder issues.

Here’s another primarily aesthetic adjustment for the more advanced Terminal user. (Note: If you are not entirely comfortable with the command line, I suggest that you not attempt this.) Your default command prompt displays the name of your computer followed by your user name. This command prompt can be edited as well. To do this you will first want to create your profile (.profile from the Terminal window) with your favorite text editor. I prefer vi, but you can use pico, nano or any other if you prefer.

Please note that the creation of the .profile file is designed to retain your settings for the next session. If you enter any of these commands as is they will invoke the same response, but will not be retained once you close the window. So if you would like to play around with the settings without keeping them permanently, just enter them directly from the command prompt.

Now enter in the following command

export PS1=” “

This is the basic command that tells the Terminal what to show before the command prompt. What you would like to see for you customization can be added between the quotes. Aside from whatever unique word or phrase such as “Hello World” you can add in special characters that will invoke the following responses.

\d — Current date
\t — Current time
\h — Host name
\# — Command number
\u — User name
\W — Current working directory (e.g.: Desktop/)
\w — Current working directory, full path (e.g.: /Users/Smalldog/Desktop)

For example, if I typed in

export PS1=“Hello World! \w \u :”

Logged in as smalldog with my Desktop folder as my working directory, my command prompt would appear as follows:

Hello World! ~/Desktop smalldog :

There are many more customizations that can be done, but for now I will leave you with the Hello World! prompt. Happy modding.

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