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How To: Set a Long Passcode on an iOS Device

On the most recent episode of The Committed Podcast, we were discussing security and iPhones, and one of my co-hosts, Ian Schray, mentioned not using a four-digit passcode, that it’s too insecure to use such a simple passcode. I realized after the recording that a lot of people may not know how to set up a longer passcode. Hence, this how-to.

First, why would you want to use a long passcode? If you have a device that offers Touch ID, you’ll use your fingerprint most of the time, and only need to type a passcode when you restart the device, or when Touch ID doesn’t work. The latter only happens when my hands are sweaty; Touch ID has always been very reliable for me, though I know many people who have problems with it.

Your four-digit passcode isn’t very strong, and someone could try a bunch of combinations, unless you have activated a setting (in Settings > Passcode Lock) to erase the device after ten failed passcode attempts. So you might want something more robust.

To set a long passcode, open the Settings app, tap Touch ID & Passcode, and then enter your passcode. Scroll down to where you see a toggle for Simple Passcode, and turn this off.

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Enter your passcode to approve this change, then you’ll see a screen allowing you to enter a passcode. Unlike the standard screen, which only displays numbers, this one shows a full keyboard, and you can choose a passcode with letters, numbers, and even symbols and punctuation.

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Type the new passcode, and then tap Next; type it again to confirm, and you’ll have a long passcode. Now, whenever you access your device with a passcode, you won’t be limited to just a number pad; you’ll have a full keyboard, and can enter your passcode.

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You can still use Touch ID, but whenever you do need to enter a passcode, it will be more secure.

Wearable Review: Fitbit Charge Activity Tracker

I’ve been using the Fitbit One fitness tracker for about two years. It’s easy to use, since it clips on your belt and you can forget about it. But I like the idea of the fitness tracker, and have tried several others, such as the Nike+ Fuelband, and the the Fitbit Flex and Jawbone Up 24. I found that all of these trackers – with the exception of the Fitbit One, were inaccurate, and many were uncomfortable.

314xSphvUfL.jpgFitbit has released a new fitness tracker, the $130 or £99 Fitbit Charge. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This device is similar to the Fitbit Flex, but with a larger OLED display that can show the time, steps taken, distance travelled and more. Unlike the Flex, however, the Charge is very accurate. When I tried the Flex for a few days, I found its numbers diverged widely from those of the Fitbit One, especially when walking on a treadmill, or when driving in a car; it counted about 100 steps during a 15-minute drive, for example. A waist-worn tracker is probably the most reliable in counting steps, and the One is a good benchmark. Fitbit seems to have greatly improved the accuracy here, making the Charge seem much more accurate than its predecessor, and than the Jawbone Up 24, which was also very inaccurate.

2014-12-11 09.53.05.pngThe Fitbit Charge records your steps, floors you climb (using an altimeter; 10 ft = 1 floor), your “active minutes,” and your sleep. Using steps, it gives you a rough idea of the distance you’ve travelled. It also calculates the number of calories you have burned, based on your activity; you can log food as well, to determine how much you’ve eaten, and set a goal of burning more calories than you consume each day. You can record your weight, either by entering it manually, or by syncing with Fitbit’s Aria scale. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) (I use one of these, and it’s easy to use, and syncs to your Fitbit account over Wi-Fi.)

You can also record walks or runs, using the Fitbit iOS app. This records your distance, splits by mile or kilometer, and, using the iPhone’s GPS, even saves a map tracking your route. You initiate a recording by using the Track Exercise section of the iOS app, and choose Walk, Run or Hike. You can also start this by pressing and holding the button on the side of the Charge for a few seconds.

Fitbit’s iOS app is the best of the fitness apps I’ve seen, as compared to those of Nike, Jawbone and Withings. It can display lots of information, and lets you set goals. When you reach your goal – which can be steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, floors climbed or a calorie deficit – the Charge vibrates to tell you. And the Fitbit website has a graphical dashboard that shows all of your data.

Fitbit web

All this can seem a bit finicky; you may not want to view all of this data, and you can choose what to display, and in what order, in the Fitbit app. There are also a number of customization options for the device itself, which you can set from the app:

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You can see above that there is a tap gesture; this lets you choose what displays when you tap twice on the device. I found this very hard to get right. I initially wanted to double-tap the way I double-click a mouse, but that didn’t work; I had to tap very hard to get the device to display. I eventually found that you need to double-tap fairly slowly to get it to work, and I’ve gotten used to it, but figuring that out wasn’t easy, and the Fitbit website offers no help on this matter. (I just tried it again, as I was writing this article, and it took four tries to get it right; Fitbit needs to fix this.)

While much of the data the Charge records and displays is useful, I’m not convinced that the sleep data tells me much. Unlike previous Fitbit models, where you had to manually engage a sleep mode, this one detects when you go to sleep by the fact that you’re not moving. And the sleep data it offers is sketchy at best. Since it’s based on your movement, you may be awake and not sleeping while the device thinks you are asleep.

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The Charge also offers two useful features, but that could be better implemented. It has a vibrator that can alert you to incoming calls, and the display shows caller ID. This is great, except it only vibrates once. If you miss that vibration, and don’t hear your phone (mine is generally set to silent), it ends up being useless. It should continue vibrating until you’ve picked up the call. You can also set “silent alarms,” which vibrate – and continue – at times you set in the Fitbit iOS app. It takes too many steps to get to the alarm settings, and it would be more useful if you could set them more easily. You can set repeating alarms, which is good if you get up every morning at the same time, but they can only repeat daily. So if you want to set an alarm for every day of the week, you need to set five alarms. And not forget to turn it off on holidays or when you’re on vacation.

As for the device itself, it’s comfortable, having a soft plastic strap that is thin enough that it doesn’t get in the way when I’m typing, as the Jawbone Up 24 or Nike+ Fuelband did. It comes in two sizes; I have big bones, and the large model just barely fits. You need to leave a finger’s thickness between the band and your wrist to be able to attach the device by pressing its stainless steel clasp against the underside of the wristband, and I can just barely squeeze my finger under it. I would have liked a slightly larger model, which would be a bit looser. The Fitbit website only says there are two sizes, but the product manual says there is also an extra large size, and I’ve contacted Fitbit to find out how one can purchase that model, and if I can exchange mine. (I bought it from Amazon, so I know I can return it.) If you’re hesitant about the sizes – small is 5.5″ – 6.7″, and large is 6.3″ – 7.9″ – opt for one that’s larger than your wrist, and if you have a large wrist, contact Fitbit. (If I get more information about the extra large size, I’ll add it here.)

Fitbit has another version of this coming out in a couple of months, the Fitbit Charge HR. This will cost a bit more, and will have a heart rate sensor, to record your heartbeat continuously. I don’t really need this. And the Fitbit Surge, which will be larger, more like a Pebble watch, will also include GPS; again, not a feature I need, since my iPhone can handle that.

One note about syncing the device. There are two ways to sync: using the iOS (or Android) app, or using a dongle, provided with the device, which you connect to your computer. The former works fine; the latter hasn’t worked for me, even with the Fitbit One, for some time. Several months ago, it stopped working, and Fitbit sent me a new dongle; that worked for a while, then stopped. I have been unable to get the desktop software to sync the Charge, even though I re-installed the software. It seems to think that the Charge I have is a different one than the one linked to my account (which I’ve synced using my iPhone), and fails. I find that the desktop software is problematic, at one point, causing high CPU usage, and Fitbit support is not too helpful regarding these issues.

While I haven’t had it long, I like the Fitbit Charge. I actually find it useful to be able to check the time on my wrist; I haven’t had anything that allowed me to do that for a long time, but I’m finding that I do use it as a watch. The device is comfortable, and it’s easy to forget that I’m wearing it. It’s not the most attractive of devices, but it looks much better than, say, the massive Nike+ Fuelband, or the oddly-shaped Jawbone Up 24. And it’s as accurate as the Fitbit One. I think this one is a keeper.

Insecure Keyboard Entry

If you do type sensitive passwords into Terminal or Screen Sharing, what should you do to limit your exposure? Terminal in particular makes it easy to enable the same secure keyboard entry mode that standard password fields employ, but to leave it active the entire time you are in Terminal. To activate this, just choose Terminal -> Secure Keyboard Entry. I have confirmed that when this option is checked, my tool is not able to see the typing of passwords.

Daniel Jalkut explores secure keyboard entry mode in Terminal. If you use Terminal, and type passwords, you should read this.

via Insecure Keyboard Entry | Bitsplitting.org.

How To: Move Your iTunes Library to an External Hard Drive

If your iTunes library is getting big, and filling up your computer’s hard drive, it’s a good idea to move it to an external drive. However, you need to be aware that you don’t move all of your iTunes library files; this can make iTunes confused. Here’s how you move your iTunes media files to an external drive.

Have a look inside your iTunes folder; it’s in the Music folder in your home folder (the one with the house icon and your user name). You’ll see the following files:

ITunes folder

You’ll also have an iTunes Media folder; you don’t see one in the screenshot above, taken from my iMac, because mine is on an external drive. Don’t move this iTunes folder; the library files should remain in your home folder, or iTunes can have problems.

So, to start the process, back up your iTunes folder, just in case anything goes wrong. When you’ve done that, in iTunes, choose iTunes > Preferences, and then click Advanced. Check Keep iTunes Media folder organized; this copies all of your media files to the iTunes Media folder. They may all be there, but it’s possible that some are in other locations. This ensures that none of your files get lost.

Itunes prefs

Next, in those same Advanced preference, click the Change button next to iTunes Media Folder location. Choose the location for the new folder. Click New Folder, and name this folder iTunes Media. Click OK to close the preferences window.

Choose File > Library > Organize Library, and, in the window that displays, check Consolidate Files, and then click OK. iTunes will now copy all you files. Get a cup of tea or coffee; if you’re doing this because you’re running out of space, you’ll have a lot to copy, and it will take a while.

When this is finished, quit and relaunch iTunes, and check the Advanced preferences to ensure that iTunes is looking in the correct location. You can now delete the iTunes Media folder on your startup volume. I’d recommend holding on to the backup for a while, just in case some of your files didn’t get copied correctly during the process of organizing and consolidating your library; I’ve seen this happen.

You’ll now have lots more free space on your start volume.

iTunes Tip: Add or Edit Information in the Comments Field in iTunes 12

iTunes 12 features a new Info window, which displays when you select one or more tracks and press Command-I. In this window, you can edit tags, such as album, artist, composer, etc. There is one tag, however, where you’re limited in how you can edit it: the Comments tag.

Comments1

In this file, I wanted to add some info to the Comments field; I wanted to add the names of the musicians in the band. In the above screenshot, I’ve selected that field (and you can see that there’s a bug in the way the window displays when the filed is selected, cutting off the text below it).

I got the file with the comments included. In iTunes 12, I can’t edit those comments, I can’t add anything to the field, I can only delete them. But, there’s a way to do this. Instead of pressing Command-I, press and hold the Option key, then right click and choose Get Info. You’ll see the old style Info window.

Comments2

Here, I was able to add info, and edit it. One note: to add a return character in that field – to create a blank line – press Option-Return.

Why Apple’s Two-Step Authentication Can Be Dangerous

Apple offers two-step authentication for iCloud accounts, but their version of this process is quite rigid, and is downlight dangerous. Owen Williams writes about this in an article for The Next Web, showing how he was nearly locked out of his account.

His account was locked for “security reasons;” in other words, someone tried to get into his account, and presumably made too many login attempts, and the account was automatically locked. No problem; just use the recovery key that he got when setting up two-step authentication… But, as Williams says, “How could I be foolish enough to misplace my Apple ID recovery key?”

And there’s the big problem with the way Apple implements two-step authentication.

Two-step authentication combines the need for a password and a code that is sent to you on a device you own. So, when logging into your account from a new device (you don’t do this every time you log in), you’ll get an SMS sent to your phone with a code. You need to have more than one device, in case you lose one of them. For example, if you lose your phone, you need to be able to log in on a computer, and add a new phone as a trusted device. (Hmmm, what does happen if you lose both your computer and phone…?)

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In Apple’s case, there is a recovery key, which you can use if you no longer have any trusted devices; this code is also needed if your account gets locked for any reason.

So the real problem is ensuring that you save the recovery key. Apple recommends that you print it out, and keep it in “a safe place,” and that you do not save it on your computer. (Though saving it in an app such as 1Password would be fine.) If you do this, you’ll have no problems. But if you don’t, then you could get locked out of your account; Apple makes this very clear.

So, Apple’s two-step authentication is dangerous, but if you follow the instructions to the letter, you won’t have anything to worry about. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never set it up, because while the risk of losing access to the account is minimal, it exists. If my house were to burn down, and I lost both physical and digital access to the recovery key, then I’d lose access to a lot of my stuff. If you use this two-step authentication, make sure to have a copy of that key somewhere safe, and make sure to remember, say ten years from now, where you put it, in case you need it then.

CD Review: Re-issues of Four Brian Eno Albums from the 1990s

Brian Eno has long been a musical chameleon, since his early days in Roxy Music, through his creation of ambient music, with compositions such as Discreet Music and Music for Airports, and through his “song” albums of the 1970s, such as Another Green World and Before and After Science. Over the years, he has created music for installations, soundtracks, and the ubiquitous “Microsoft Sound,” which was the start-up sound for Windows 95 and later. As each decade has passed, Eno has explored new types of music, constantly changing and defying expectations.

Throughout his career, he has pushed the boundaries of music, both as composer and as producer, working with David Bowie (“Heroes” and others), U2 (The Unforgettable Fire, etc.), Coldplay (Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends), and many others. The 1990s were, for Eno, a period when he produced much more than he recorded. Nevertheless, this decade saw the release of four Brian Eno albums, all very different, which cover the range of his musical creation. All Saints Records has just released expanded editions of these albums, full of extra content.

NervenetI remember when I first heard the 1992 Nerve Net. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I had found the CD in a used record store, back in the pre-internet days when you couldn’t find this type of music easily. I had no awareness of what Eno had been recording since the last records of his I had bought in the early 1980s. Nerve Net is a kick in the head, an aggressive collection of electronic music that begins with the catchy, reverbed beat of Fractal Zoom, and continues through 12 songs that redefine electronic music. There are synthesizers, of course, but these are harsh, metallic, industrial sounds, all bearing, nevertheless, the marks of Eno’s layering and textures. The searing guitar of Robert Fripp comes to the forefront on Wire Shock, and Pierre in Mist features a quirky, jazzy sound that Eno would later use on The Drop. The best track on the album is Web (Lascaux Mix), a dark, droning ambient work with Fripp’s guitar sounding like a demon trying to break out of a rhythmic prison.

At the time, this wasn’t an easy album to listen to. I probably spun it a few times, then put it aside for a decade. But over the years, I’ve listened to it more and more, appreciating how far ahead of its time Nerve Net was; many of the sounds on this album are now common in electronic music.

The bonus disc with Nerve Net is the 1991 album My Squelchy Life, which, after being completed, and after promotional copies circulated, was withdrawn and never released until now. Some of the songs have appeared on various other collections or recordings, such as Eno’s Vocal Box Set, Shutov Assembly, and even Another Day on Earth (Under). It’s a mixture between Eno’s more accessible side and the dark sounds of Nerve Net, and it’s delightful to hear it. (Though it has been widely bootlegged, and isn’t hard to find.)

ShutovThe 1992 The Shutov Assembly (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is the alter ego of Nerve Net. Where the latter is dark and metallic, The Shutov Assembly is liquid, smooth and atmospheric, recalling the sounds of Music for Airports or Discreet Music. The lush synthesizers play slow music, that puts you in a different state of mind than Nerve Net. Recorded between 1985 and 1990, this is a collection of works of the same style that were written to accompany installations. As All Saints Records’ description of the album states:

“Reissue of Brian Eno’s 1992 album dedicated to Russian artist and friend Sergei Shutov, and a continuation of the atmospheric ambient work found on records such as On Land and Thursday Afternoon. Eno had discovered that Shutov often painted to his music but was unable to obtain many of his records in then-communist Russia. He resolved to collate a tape of previously unreleased material (recorded between 1985 and 1990) to give to Shutov and upon listening himself discovered a previously unnoticed thread that ran through the pieces, creating an unintentional full length work. Each piece is named after and derived from one of Eno’s audio-visual installations. “

Notable on this album is the 16-minute Ikebukoro, which reminds me of the music from the Myst game. It sounds very much like Discreet Music, in the way that small phrases repeat, but it has a spooky undertone that makes it very moving. Eno said about this album, “”it’s the association with danger that I didn’t use to like, and it’s exactly that, what I do like now …. The Shutov Assembly is sort of the out-of-town version of it, the outside-the-city-limits version of danger”

The bonus disc with The Shutov Assembly features seven tracks that don’t really have the same feel as the original disc; many of them sound more like the types of music Eno would explore on The Drop, and pieces like Storm and Rendition are much more in the vein of Nerve Net. Nevertheless, this disc has 34 minutes of great music and is worth owning.

NeroliThe 1993 Neroli (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a 58-minute ambient piece, much in the style of Discreet Music. Titled “Neroli: Thinking Music, Part IV,” this piece features essentially a keyboard playing a series of single melodies, in the Phrygian mode, with just single, soft, rubbery notes echoing for a long time. Short melodic phrases are repeated in a number of variations, then it’s over. As Eno described this album, the music is designed “to reward attention, but not (be) so strict as to demand it.” It’s a beautiful, soft piece of music, with no rough edges; light years away from the 1992 Nerve Net.

This new release comes with a bonus disc, the 61-minute New Space Music. Where Neroli is sparse and tentative, New Space Music is a long drone work, with waves of sound, and slow, gradual melodic change. It’s never quiet; there are no spaces between the notes, as there are in Neroli. It sounds more like Discreet Music with the volume turned up (though, ideally, one should listen to it at a low volume).

DropThe 1997 The Drop (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) has long been one of my favorite Eno albums. It is made up of mostly short pieces, only a few more than three minutes long. After a couple of slow, introductory pieces (Slip, Dip and But If), which sound more like his standard ambient music, the record shifts to a quirky, rhythmic sound that is maintained throughout most of the album. The Drop is a fun record. It sounds strange at first, but then it sounds normal. If you’re used to listening to Brian Eno’s music, you won’t be surprised by this direction.

In an interview with the BBC, Eno said:

“The Drop is the name of the record and Drop is the name of the new type of music invented and explored on this record. It’s as if you had explained jazz to someone from a distant planet without ever playing them any examples of it and they tried to do some on the basis of your rather scant explanation. It’s quite melodic, actually, this record. There are lots of melodies on it, although they move in an angular and slightly irrational fashion, so they are very long and rambling. They remind me a little bit of heat-seeking missiles; they keep changing direction, trying find out where they are going. They don’t have a very strong focus to them. I like this; I like the vagueness to them.”

The highlight, for me, is the final piece on the album, Iced World, one of my favorite Eno works. It’s a subtly rhythmic piece of atmospheric music with a sinewy piano solo playing over a background of drum machines and sonic textures that has a perfect chill-out sound. Two competing rhythms keep the piece moving: a fast, bright sound, like wood blocks and cymbals, and a slower bass sound, somewhat like a heartbeat. A shorter version of this piece is on the Eno/Wobble album Spinner, from 1995; it’s the final, “hidden” track which comes in after a bit of silence following Left Where it Fell. On the original release of The Drop, Iced World ran over 32 minutes; curiously, on the reissue, the track is just under 19 minutes. Comparing the two versions, it seems as though the shorter version is exactly the same as the longer version, and just fades out earlier. So if you like this track, and you have the original version of the album, hold on to it for the long version of Iced World.

The tracks on the bonus disc that comes with The Drop are a strange mixture. Never Stomp sounds like it could be on Nerve Net; System Piano is a slightly different version of Rayonism, from The Drop; Luxor Night Car sounds a lot it would have fit on the Brian Eno and John Cale album Wrong Way Up; Cold is a short version of Iced World; and Little Slicer is a version of Out/Out. The final bonus track is the 19-minute Targa, which is a sort of segue of several different types of music. There’s a mellow soundscape at the beginning, with wind blowing in the background and a synthesized trumpet; it then shifts to a bleeping melody over droning synths; then to a section with slightly chromatic melodies; then to a drone-and-bass drum section; then back to more bleeping, and more drone. This isn’t a good description, but it’s a hard piece to pin down, because it has no character; it’s more of a medley. And it’s musically unrelated to another bonus track, Targa Summer, which is more of a soundscape with a slow 4/4 rhythm, and some a cappella singing.

Taken individually, each of these albums presents a very different aspect of Brian Eno’s music, but when you hear the four of them together, you get a much better idea of what there is in common between very different types of music. The only common thread is Eno himself, and these four albums show how much of a musical polymath he is.

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