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#793: DNS, House Fire vs. iMac, Sharing Your iTunes Library, TotW: Train Siri

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

It was a beautiful weekend with gentle, typical-of-autumn chilly breezes and clear skies following some pretty schizophrenic snow and rain on Friday. I made my way over Moretown Mountain to Northfield for Cabot Hosiery’s annual sock sale, often called the eighth wonder of the world, for another year’s worth of socks.

It’s an amazing scene with cars bearing license plates from all over the place. For two weekends every year, the factory is open to the public, and thousands upon thousands of people turn out. Cabot Hosiery has several sock brands, including Darn Tough, which supplies socks to the military. It’s great to know that such high-quality items are still produced in this country, and only a few miles from home. If you’re in the area, it’s worth checking out next weekend!

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

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  DNS: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly  
   
 

You may have heard the term DNS used at one point or another but might not have know what it was. DNS stands for Domain Name Service, and it is the reason why you can surf the Web so easily.

Every device that connects to a network has some sort of address associated with it so that it can be found by other devices. Most networks now use TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) to talk to each other. Older networks, such as Netware, used a different form of addressing (IPX, for example), but for the most part that’s all been replaced by IP addresses. An IP address is a series of four numbers, such as 192.168.1.1. Any device that connects to the Internet, be it a corporate email server or your iPhone, has an IP address. It isn’t always obvious, and in most cases you don’t have to know or care what that number is, but it’s there.

Every Web or mail server also has an IP address. In order to access it, you have to know the IP address to connect to that server. Think of an IP address like a phone number. If you want to call your mother, you have to dial her number. You probably remember it, since you call her all the time (you do, don’t you?). Now call your aunt. Your grandmother. Your friend from college. Your boss at work. The woman in accounting who needs to know how much your business lunch cost yesterday. The DMV to find out why your new license wasn’t sent yet. The local video game store to see if your copy of Skyrim has arrived. The pizza place down the street. That’s a lot of phone numbers to remember. Fortunately, most phones have address books or speed dial buttons that can be programmed with names and numbers. You don’t have to remember the phone number, but rather you just look up the name in your contacts and press “Call.” If you don’t know the number, you can look it up by name on the Web or, if you’re really old school, the phone book.

The Internet works in much the same way. When you need to connect to a webpage such as Google, you enter the site’s name in your browser. The site’s name “www.google.com” is sent to your router, which looks in its contact list to see if it knows where Google is. If your router has an IP address for the site, it sends your Web browser to Google. If not, it asks the next server in the chain (such as the one at your Internet Service Provider). Google is a popular site, so most likely the request has to go no further, but if it’s a less commonly used site, the request may bounce a few more times before an IP address is found. This process is called Domain Name Resolution—a DNS server is taking the domain name, such as google.com or apple.com, and matching it up with an IP address. Computers don’t speak in names; those are just there for our convenience. Computers speak in numbers, so if it can’t find a matching IP address for the name you entered, you get an error message back that the site could not be found.

This all works behind the scenes, and it’s usually so quick that you’re not even aware that it’s happening. Because it’s so transparent, you also would not be aware if somehow these requests were being misdirected. This past week I did a repair on a Windows system that had been infected with a fake antivirus program. Like other malware of this ilk, it claimed to have found a virus on the system, and the only way to clean it is to install this new antivirus program. Once the program is installed, it presents the user with a list of problems and says pay up if you want it all removed. This is how typical “scareware” works in order to get your credit card number, but this particular one went a step or two further. It made changes to the way normal Domain Name Resolution works on the computer, preventing connection to certain servers. I tried to go to a website to download a removal program, but I kept getting an error message that the site could not be found. Other sites seemed to work fine. The person who wrote the fake antivirus program didn’t want anyone to remove it, so he designed the malware to block websites like Sophos, McAfee, Norton, etc. Once I realized what was going on, I set the DNS information back to what it should be, which allowed me to download the software I needed to remove the little bugger.

The system I worked on was running Windows, which is easier to infect with malware such as this than a Mac is. It IS possible to infect a Mac with such garbage but not in the traditional way. Hackers are not targeting the operating system, but rather they are targeting the person using it by putting up scary messages to convince you to install their program. Watch where you click, and if a webpage says you’re infected by something, back out of that page, do not install anything it offers and go somewhere else. Legitimate antivirus software can detect the fake stuff, so keep it up to date and pay attention to it if it warns you of a dangerous website.

Did you know that the techs at our Manchester location also repair Windows PCs? If you’re getting strange messages or crashes, or if you suspect some sort of infection, bring it over to our store in the Mall of New Hampshire for a quick clean-up!

 
   
     
  House Fire vs. iMac  
   
 

A 24-inch iMac was recently dropped off at the service department because it would not power on. This problem arose after the system sat through a house fire. At first glance, we figured there was not much hope for it, as it was completely charred from top to bottom. The plastic housing on the rear of the system had been badly damaged, with melted plastic around the intake and outtake vents. However, the vents remained unobstructed.

After a quick SMC reset, the system powered on and started up just fine. I’ve since run our suite of diagnostics and stress-tested the iMac with no unfavorable results.

How much more resilient can a computer be? I can’t say, but surviving a house fire definitely tops the list—though the smoke smell can be quite sickening.

 
   
     
  Sharing Your iTunes Library  
   
 

If you own more than one computer, having two separate iTunes libraries can become frustrating and confusing. Luckily, iTunes has the ability to share your library over your home network.

My home setup consists of a Mac mini and a MacBook Pro. When I purchased my MacBook Pro, I was not interested in managing two separate iTunes libraries. I decided that I would keep all my music on my Mac mini and also sync any iTunes-compatible devices to it. I made this decision because the Mac mini has more of a central feel, being a desktop system. It also has much more storage space, as my MacBook Pro has a smaller-capacity solid-state drive in it.

The best part about sharing my iTunes library is that anyone with iTunes on their computer or an iOS device connected to my home network is able to enjoy it. My roommates can access my library from their computers any time my Mac mini is powered on and iTunes is open.

To share your own iTunes library, just follow these few simple steps: With iTunes open, click on iTunes in the menu bar at the top of your screen. Select Preferences and click on the Sharing tab of the Preferences window. You should see a checkbox for “Share my library on my local network.” After checking this box, you can fine tune what exactly it is that you would like to share (i.e. music, movies, etc.). You also have the option to password protect your library.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you can test it out by accessing iTunes on another system on your network. You should now see your shared library under the Shared section of the iTunes sidebar. Click on it and you now have access to all your music!

 
   
     
  Tip of the Week: Train Your Address Book (+ Siri)  
   
 

Address Book is an extremely simple app, and I often wonder if Apple will keep updating it with new features (namely, cross-reference for entries and better logic for entries that share similar data), especially now that so many devices rely heavily on it and its contents.

In Address Book, you can customize the fields in the data template to include an extensive amount of data for each entry, which is helpful if someone has multiple email addresses, a birthday you want to remember, an associated website and more. Just go to Address Book > Preferences… > Template to personalize what your default entry includes.

The bonus? Adding certain fields will not only be beneficial for your memory but for Siri’s as well. If you have an iPhone 4S and have had trouble getting Siri to “learn” names, here are a few tips on what to add in Address Book.

Phonetic Names
OK, so this one’s a little personal. My name is not the easiest to pronounce correctly, but let’s face it, it’s not the hardest either, given that my first name and last name have just two syllables each. So how hard is it for Siri? Two-hours-of-training-and-it-still-wasn’t-right kind of hard.

Understandably, my husband wanted Siri to reference me without question when he asked her to call, text or email me. But Siri was having a lot of trouble, and for a brief few minutes, I considered changing my name to “Tali Hilt” to make it easier for everyone.

Enter the Phonetic Name field. Once he added a phonetic spelling of my name (say it with me: “Callie Hill-kah”), she got a little closer to getting it right the first time. However, he wanted to be 100% sure Siri wouldn’t inadvertently call/text/harass the several others in his Address Book who Siri was convinced were his wife, so he took it a little further.

Related Names
By adding my relationship to him in the Related Names field, there can be only one “wife,” and thus, less confusion. (Note to Kody Brown: you may want to skip this step.)

However, for this reference to work, he would always have to refer to me as his wife, rather than use my name. Not hard, but still kind of annoying.

Nickname
This last field ensures that there are now three ways to refer to me in his Address Book, lest Siri still not believe that we’re in a lasting relationship. (I try not to take it personally.)

My husband entered a nickname for me that she found more desirable to use/understand, so we can now rest assured that when he wants to get in touch with me, his humble assistant will oblige the first time!

 
   
     
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