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iOS & Mac how-tos

How I got my old A1088 Airport Express plug to work on Mountain Lion

I have a really old A1088 Airport Express plug, which I believe is one of the first. The latest version of the Airport Utility for Mountain Lion doesn’t work with the A1088, and requires you to install version 5.6 from Apple. I’ve had this version installed since Lion so when I updated to Mountain Lion it was already on my system, but I’ve read that installing it fresh onto ML is problematic.

This article is not about that installation issue, but if you’re having problems with this step I’ve read that this post by Frank Tisellano will solve those problems for you with an Automator script that will extract the utility onto your ML system with the minimum of fuss.

My issue was coaxing the Airport Express back onto my network after I had to get a new router recently. It was much trickier than I’d expected, but then I’ve always found the AE plugs a little bit flakey so perhaps I was expecting it after all, and just hoping it would be easier.

The flashing amber light of mystery

What I had was a blinking amber light and no idea what it meant. Turns out it means there are error messages waiting to be reviewed, and the only way you can review them is to get the Admin page for the plug up in Airport Utility 5.6.

Problem: I couldn’t get Airport Utility 5.6 to see the plug.

Solution: Hard reset the plug.

This is achieved by unplugging it and pushing down on the tiny grey button visible underneath the plug where all the sockets are, using the tip of a pen or paperclip. While still holding that down, plug it back in, and keep that button held down until the AE plug flashes a light at you. I’ve read it should be amber and flash rapidly, but mine was green and flashed more slowly.

Release the button and the AE plug should restart in due course, and eventually become visible in Airport Utility 5.6. It shows a yellow dot on the Summary screen and clicking that reveals any errors. I had two: it couldn’t detect an ethernet cable, and it was running on Default Settings which needed to be changed. I ignored the first as I intended to run on a wireless network, not cabled.

The problem I encountered was this: no matter how many times I reset or hard-reset the plug and entered all the correct information (that I wanted to use it for AirTunes; a custom name for the plug, and a password; and my existing wifi network and password) and Airport Utility updated the device and let it restart, it would not be able to connect to my network and would become inaccessible via the Utility again, requiring another reset. I got really familiar with that flashing amber light.

At least one of the next two steps will probably fix it

In the end, I got it all working after having made two changes at once to the settings I was entering; I know, I know, you’re only supposed to change one thing at a time when troubleshooting, but I was getting bored and lazy at this point.

1) I made absolutely certain the plug was on the correct channel when attempting to connect to my wifi…

2) … and I changed my password mode from WPA+/WPA2 to just WPA2. This required also changing the password settings on the router to match, but having read that some people isolated a WEP issue with the same model of AE, I thought it might be worth a shot.

I only caught the channel issue by accident when I reviewed the Summary page for the AE before confirming the update, and it’s a sneaky one. The plug had stored all the correct details except for the channel. I hadn’t seen an option to change the channel anywhere in either the automatic nor manual setup pages for getting the plug onto my own wifi network, so I dug around in the other options.

In the settings for extending an existing wireless network (as opposed to just joining that network) there is an option to change the channel. I set it to the correct channel then switched the setup mode back to ‘Join a wifi network’ – the option to change the channel disappeared but switching back to the Summary page revealed that the channel change had stuck even though I was set to ‘join’ and not ‘extend’ my network.

And this time when the device restarted it flashed amber for a few seconds and then switched to a much more pleasing solid green. Success!

tl;dr

So in summary, if you’re having these issues with an A1088 Airport Express plug (or a similarly decrepit model) and Airport Utility 5.6:

  • first check the channel it’s searching on
  • and then check the password type (just in case that does make a difference)
  1. first check the channel it’s searching on
  2. and then check the password type (just in case that does make a difference)

A couple of people have got in touch to say it worked for them, so maybe it will for you too. Good luck, and thanks for stopping by!

Update: I first wrote this post in late 2012 – it’s now summer 2013 and my Airport Express is still going strong, even surviving a full house move and new network setup!

Categories
iOS & Mac how-tos

How to backup your Mac

Most computer-minded people will have read all about Mat Honan’s ‘educational’ experience being hacked last week. He posted the full story over at Wired and it’s a must-read whether you’ve got your own backup strategies or not.

If you’re up to speed you’ll know there were a couple of key stages in the process where he could have either thwarted the hack or insured himself against the tragic loss of photos, and you can do these today:

  • turn on two-step authentication on your Gmail account
  • make backups of your data

There’s a few other tips that can make you that bit more secure online which we’ll come to shortly.

Of course, unless you’ve already been touched by the God of Hard Drives Dying Inexplicably (in which case you’ve already seen the errors of your ways and are just looking for new and geekier ways to protect yourself) it’s possible yet another post like this won’t make you take the potential for disaster any more seriously, despite a spate of them cropping up all over the web this week like babies nine months after a power cut.

Your password’s tight; your computer’s only a year old; if you were a movie character the last we’d see of you would be “I’m just going to go wander into the woods at night all alone, I’ll be right back…”

Okay, if you say so! -> INSERT BIG SMILEY FACE OF IMPENDING DOOM HERE <- For the rest of us, let's get stuck in.

Two-step authentication of your Google login

If you have a Google account (for Gmail, Reader, etc) and haven’t turned this on yet, it’s dead easy so do it today.

Now whenever you log in to Google in the browser you will need to enter both your password and a six digit code that Google sends via SMS, and you can choose to permanently trust that computer if it’s your own.

Android, Blackberry and iPhone users can download the Google Authenticator app (available from the iOS App Store here) so that even when you’re unable to receive a text message you can still generate a code. And just in case you lose your phone you can print off a set of one-use codes to keep in your wallet.

If you connect to your Gmail or Google Reader account with third party apps like Apple Mail, Reeder or NetNewsWire, there’s no opportunity to enter this numerical authentication code. Instead, you’ll need to generate new application-specific passwords at Google, and then replace your regular password with the new ones in those apps. This way if you lose your phone, say, allowing a thief to read your email without a login from the mail app, you can cancel specific passwords and remotely lock out compromised apps.

Next, backups!

Backing up is easy

It is incredibly simple to start backing up, despite how dumb you may think you are with computers. There are two principle ways of going about it:

  • local backup (in your house), using an external hard drive
  • off-site backup (not in your house), either using secure online storage or keeping an external hard drive at someone else’s house or your workplace for example.

Yes, you’re going to have to spend some money but neither a backup drive nor a backup service are expensive enough to make it worth the risk of losing everything forever. If you can afford a computer, especially a Mac, you can afford to backup.

If you’re still sitting there thinking, “But I haven’t needed one before and my computer is fine”, trust me when I tell you: hard drives can fail at any time with no warning, even if you bought it yesterday. One morning in 2007 my Powerbook started grinding like a coffee machine; by that afternoon it was unbootable and I had no backups; years and years of photos, all gone; many tears were shed. In the end I managed to recover an incredible 97% of my photos back using Data Rescue but not having a backup is inconceivable now.

Backup case study: me

I backup to a few places just to be sure:

  • Local backups with SuperDuper!: every night my iMac and the external drives I use for media and archived photos are automatically backed up to another external drive using SuperDuper!, a $28 third party app that can create bootable clones of your Mac on an automatic schedule. That means if my computer dies I can connect the backup to my laptop and boot from it (hold down Alt when you power up until you get asked which drive to boot from), essentially putting me back in front of my main machine straight away.
  • Off-site backups with Backblaze: this is the cloud service I chose; others are available (such as Carbonite, and Arq) but BackBlaze works for me. Unlimited storage for one computer and as many connected drives as you have will cost you – wait for it – just $50 a year. That’s £32; you have no excuse! After the initial background backup of your selected data, all subsequent backups will happen throughout the day whenever you change or add data to your system. You turn it on in Settings and then you forget about it until you need to re-download lost data from their site or have them send it to you on a drive (for a fee).
  • Sync across machines with Dropbox: although Dropbox offers a basic service for free, I pay for a 100GB account which stores my entire Documents folder, my iPhoto library, all my website data, whatever I’m working on (such as a recent photoshoot or iMovie project) and anything else I want to sync automatically to my Macbook from my iMac and vice versa. I don’t rely on it like a backup service, but it’s yet another copy of some of my most important data with practically no effort on my part.

This combination gives me instant access to my files via the local backup if a drive fails, and online access to my files should the local backup fail or be lost at the same time.

Time Machine

For Mac users, one service may be notable by it’s absence in the list above: Apple’s own Time Machine, which comes with all new Macs and has been built into OS X since Snow Leopard. Time Machine is a breeze – you plug in a drive, flip a switch in Settings, and you’re done.

It works differently to SuperDuper! in that it copies all your data, including changes and additions, in the background while you’re working. It also keeps older copies of your data rather than overwriting it with new versions, just in case you need to ‘roll back time’ and dig out an earlier version, hence the name.

For this reason if you’re going to use it you should buy a drive with a higher capacity than your computer, so that it has space to store as many older versions as possible. Once it runs out of that space it starts deleting the oldest versions to make room.

The only reason I don’t use Time Machine is because you can’t boot from a TM backup or attach it to another computer and work with the files it contains from the drive; you can only use it to copy data back onto a Mac. That’s no good for me because if my iMac goes down I don’t want to have to wait to get a new one before copying everything back; I want to plug my Macbook Pro in, boot from the backup of my recently perished computer and be back in action immediately.

But that’s me and my quirks. If you’ve got a Mac with Time Machine built in and you don’t have any other backup system, buy a drive today and get going.

What external drives should you get?

A lot of my digital stuff is irreplaceable original creations (photos, movies, music, writing, that sort of thing) and much of that is also work related, so I wanted the best drives I could afford. I used a cheap Western Digital MyBook for a while but didn’t like the plasticky build quality or the occasional errors I was getting, so I asked some professionals what they used and was recommended Lacie Quadra drives. They are not cheap, but they are built like tanks and I trust them.

I now have three under my desk – two are used for archived data I don’t want to keep on the iMac itself and the third is partitioned to hold backups of the other two and the iMac. You can buy some at Amazon USA, and Amazon UK.

As a creative professional I know I should be looking at larger capacity RAID-type backup systems but at the moment I don’t have the volume of work or data that necessitates the dive into that seething quagmire of options; I’m kind of grateful for that!

Other best practices for online security

With two-step Google authentication and a backup system in place you’re in much better shape, but you can always do more:

  • use different passwords for everything and use an app like 1Password to remember them (available on the Mac App Store, and the iOS App Store); other such apps are available but 1Password is the one I use and I highly recommend it.
  • for goodness sake, do not use ‘1234’ or ‘password’ or ‘opensesame’ or your date of birth or your surname or anything else that easy to guess or research for any of your passwords, ever. Seriously consider getting 1Password to remember harder, unique passwords
  • if you use Facebook, they also have a two-step authentication process you can activate
  • don’t use a publicly visible or guessable email address to send ‘password recovery’ mails for your main account. Instead, create a secret account with a hard-to-guess name and use that as the recovery address for your email and as many other sites as you can – if your main account is compromised you don’t want passwords to be reset on all the other services you use
  • don’t link accounts together using a common login – hackers were able to access both Mat’s and Gizmodo’s Twitter because Mat had linked his own Twitter login to the Gizmodo Twitter login when he worked there. Once his own account was accessed, Gizmodo’s was too.
  • you’ve probably given your Twitter and Facebook logins to a lot of apps and sites over the years. Use the Twitter and Facebook security pages to review them and cut off any you don’t use any more
  • set up a passcode on your iPhone, and use Restrictions (under Settings – General) to lock down Location, Accounts and Find My Friends, using a different passcode to the one you set to unlock the phone itself. This way even if someone gets past the Unlock code they won’t be able to change any of your location-tracking settings; they can just turn the phone off or go into Airplane mode of course but until Apple requires a passcode for that too there’s nothing you can do about that.

Useful links collected

That’s everything I can suggest for now. You probably, hopefully, won’t ever be hacked, but a small amount of time and money spent today will be worth it in spades for the peace of mind alone.

Here’s all the relevant links from above:

Google Two Step Authentication – ensures it’s really you logging in to Google

Google Authenticator for iPhone – for when you don’t have network coverage (Android and Blackberry versions also available)

Backblaze – effortless, unlimited cloud backup for your computer and drives (for Mac and PC)

SuperDuper! – set up scheduled, bootable backups for your Mac

Dropbox – sync your most important files online (for Mac, PC and Linux)

Time Machine – learn about Apple’s backup application built right in to OS X.

Data Rescue 3 – incredible software that can recover almost any data, even from unbootable hard drives (for Mac and PC; incidentally the best $99 I ever spent back in 2007)

1Password – generate and store complex passwords and other sensitive data, available on the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store

Lacie Quadra Drives – sturdy, reliable external hard drives, available on Amazon UK, and Amazon USA (cheaper alternatives will do fine for most people)

NB: some of the above links are via affiliate schemes that earn me a few pennies per paid transaction or in the case of Dropbox some extra capacity per sign-up; however, I personally use everything I’ve linked to on a daily basis and I highly recommend each regardless of any such rewards, and you can take that to the bank.

(whatever that means. That’s good, right?)

Categories
Featured iOS & Mac how-tos iOS & Mac reviews

How to put two photos side by side in Instagram

instagram collages with DipticWhenever I need to make a photo collage on my iPhone, or put two screenshots side by side for a blog post, I use Diptic (99¢). It’s easy to use with plenty of options and sends your creations to pretty much anywhere you can think of, including, of course, Instagram.

It’s Universal too, and works great on the iPad, or Diptic for Mac (99¢) is also available if you’d prefer to make collages from the comfort of your laptop or desktop Mac.

Check Diptic out on the App Store, or read on for my quick review of how the app works.

Getting started with Diptic

To start making collages, launch Diptic and pick a layout. All the layouts that come with the app produce a square collage, as befits something destined for Instagram, but the range of photo frame shapes and sizes that fit within that square is wide enough to meet most needs, starting simple and getting as fancy as stars in circles – you can even start dragging the frames around to make new shapes that fit your photos.

The frames themselves can be tweaked all sorts of ways, including roundness of corners, colour and thickness, or using a texture. Want your frames to sport a classy zebra-skin effect? No problemo…

instagram-collage-montage-Diptic-1

What if you want a rectangular montage, comprising two square photos side by side for example? Well, then you’d have to purchase an upgrade to unlock an aspect ratio control.

There’s a variety of in-app purchases in Diptic: new sets of layouts, new textures for the frames, and the aspect ratio control. All these are 99¢/69p and none are essential so it’s fair enough, but if you really want to use Diptic for anything aside from Instagram I recommend getting the aspect control as it’s really useful – I used it to put the two screenshots above together as one image.

Adding and editing images

Adding photos to your collage is as easy as shooting them for each frame, or choosing from your Photo Albums, Facebook or Flickr. Once in place there’s a handful of editing options (brightness, contrast, saturation and tint) and a whole range of filters that can be applied to individual snaps, useful if you used the camera in-app to fill a frame. Any blank frames you want to keep can be filled with a colour if you like.

instagram-collage-montage-diptic-2

There’s also some limited options to add text to your photos, offering a variety of fairly standard fonts, outline and drop-shadow effects, rotation and background. It definitely does the job, although if you’re looking for funkier fonts and more options for adding text to iPhone photos take a look at an app called Over (read my review of Over here).

When you’re finished you can save and upload your collage right from the app, to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr or Twitter; or export to any compatible apps you have installed. Recent updates have even added the ability to order a postcard and mail it anywhere in the world using Sincerely.com.

diptic-instagram-collage-montage

Plus, it’s Universal so you get the iPad version thrown in. There’s me using it to throw together something a little different with a couple of photos from my day job as a TV camera operator.

In conclusion

Diptic is by far the most popular option for creating photo collages on your iPhone or iPad, with good reason. I keep it installed because of the easy-to-use interface and the flexibility of creating non-square collages, which are good for so many more places than just Instagram. And don’t forget to give the Mac version of Diptic a try too!

app-store-downloadmac-app-store-download
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ExcludeTop7 iOS & Mac how-tos

Adventures in Apple TV streaming: switching from XBMC to Firecore’s ATV Flash

I’ve got an AppleTV 2. I like bouncing video from my iPad 1 to the telly via AirPlay but other than that it’s largely useless because I don’t buy video from iTunes and I don’t convert the video I do own to the format that iTunes and all dependant Apple devices recognise, because life’s too short. Instead, I jailbroke the box when I got it and installed XBMC. This worked really well until I upgraded to Lion which broke streaming due to Apple changing how Lion handled SMB sharing.

After much hair-pulling and XBMC-forum-surfing I found workarounds and posted about them (here and here). I stuck with using Playback to get my media available on the network, but I missed the lack of cover-art and metadata (which Playback doesn’t support). And then eventually my XBMC install became quite unusable after something, somewhere, stopped it from reliably connecting to anything at all. After all the jiggery pokery trying to get streaming working again I had no idea what I’d done and I gave up.

I switched back to streaming to my Xbox 360 via Playback even though: the 360 sounds like a jet engine taking off; it drinks electricity like water on a hot day; and it doesn’t show metadata or cover-art (whether you’re using Playback or not). It just streams the video, but that’s all I wanted at this point.

Enough!

Yesterday I had the house to myself and I decided to start over.

According to the AppleTV menus I was running OS 4.1.1, a comparatively archaic version. You may have noticed that for some reason Apple’s naming conventions for their iDevice versions of iOS and their ATV versions of iOS do not match, although for a brief time around iOS 4.3 they came in sync. I found a great post on Firecore’s forum that explained it. The current version of that post is reproduced below for ease of reference:

Firecore forum post explaining iOS naming conventions for ATV2 vs iDevices

It turns out that the ATV2 OS version 4.3 is the most recent version that supports untethered jail breaking, and that version also adds Airplay support for many 3rd party apps, not just Apple’s (try it with AirVideo from your iPad – just awesome). There is currently a tethered jailbreak for 4.4 (which is the equivalent of iOS 5.0.1 for iDevices) but trust me, you’d be better sticking to untethered if you value a quiet life.

UPDATE: When I performed the jailbreak only the 4.3 version supported untethered, but the latest Seas0npass includes an untethered jailbreak for 4.4. The major differences are AirPlay Mirroring from the iPad 2 but seeing as I only have an iPad 1 I am sticking with my 4.3 jailbreak for now.

I downloaded Seas0nPass from Firecore’s website, performed the jailbreak to 4.3 and all went well. I reinstalled XBMC Version 11 (Eden) which adds greater stability and also a new, easy-to-do streaming solution called AFP that supposedly works well with Lion. Well, it didn’t work out for me.

Although XBMC showed me an AFP connection to my networked computers, and although I’d turned AFP on and set up the folders I wanted to share, XBMC wasn’t seeing any shares. I appreciate it’s a work in progress and that maybe I missed something, but after trying all the other usual methods and coming up with a whole bunch of not-much just like last time (some folders shared, others didn’t, don’t know why, can’t be bothered to work it out any more), I decided that XBMC is still far too flakey to get stressed over and started looking at Firecore’s ATV Flash solution.

(For clarity – my Playback shares still worked but it doesn’t send any metadata like cover-art and that’s the main reason I like XBMC; ATV Flash does use metadata, so it won my favour.)

It’s a $30 bit of software that gets installed onto the ATV at the click of a button (unlike XBMC which requires installing either it or NitoTV via the Terminal, which can be a bit fiddly). The main difference between it and XBMC is that ATV Flash sets up shop in the AppleTV’s existing dashboard, maintaining the Apple-y feel; interactions all use the existing Apple UI. It’s pretty cool.

I’d had a look at ATV Flash before, when it was in beta, and had been suspicious of paying for software that does something that XBMC does with greater customisability for free. However, I was at the end of my tether with the implications of ‘free’ for now, and Firecore promised that setting up shared media would be as simple as making sure File Sharing was turned on in my Mac’s settings.

It worked seamlessly.

I appreciate there are people complaining in their forums that it doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that, glitches with streaming, etc, but the same is true throughout computing – some people’s setups will play nice and others won’t. My experience so far has been flawless, touch wood. We streamed a movie over wifi from my iMac to the ATV and it was smooth and uninterrupted (the movie itself, Insidious, was fun but kinda stoopid). It has a couple of areas I’d like to see improved, such as the ability to scrape for movie metadata based on a folder name rather than a media-file (because all my movies reside in their own named folder within a Movies folder) but apparently features like that are coming, and updates do seem to be quite regular.

So: it didn’t crash, it was ridiculously easy to add my computer’s shared folders, and it all feels like it’s part of the same Apple experience.

You do have to buy before you try, but they have a 15-day money back guarantee. I can’t tell you how well that works because I won’t be needing it. For $30, I’ve hopefully found my final ATV2 streaming solution.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to comment on anything I’m @myglasseye on Twitter.

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How-Tos iOS & Mac how-tos

How to replace new Instagram with an older version

UPDATE 3: September 3rd, 2015 – well, two years later and out of nowhere this post is suddenly tremendously popular again for some reason! Has Instagram been updated again? Does everyone hate it for some reason? What I’ve learned is: get over it. They won’t change it back, you probably can’t roll back any more (see below for how most of the old methods don’t work), and you’ll probably forget you were even upset about it after you’ve posted a few more pics of your lunch or your cat 🙂

UPDATE 2: September 30th, 2013 – as noted by Sergio Alejandro in the comments this downgrading trick, which used to work, doesn’t seem to work any more as Instagram are actively preventing their users from using older versions of the app, probably for compatibility reasons:

“This no longer works. I logging in after downgrading and it told me that the version I was using was an outdated version of IG, and that I’ve have to upgrade in the app store.”

Personally, I don’t really see the need to downgrade anyway. I originally wrote this way back when Instagram released version 2.0 and completely ruined all the filters. As far as I can tell (I hardly ever use Instagram these days so correct me if I’m wrong!) the iOS 7 update is just a cosmetic change and Instagram still works the same, it just looks different.

If that’s so, my advice is relax! Stop wasting energy hating something that doesn’t really matter – you’ll get over it – and spend that energy making nice photos to share instead!

UPDATE 1: September 27th, 2013 – I’m seeing a lot of visitors to this post now that Instagram has updated for iOS 7 – hello everyone!. The techniques used to roll back Instagram versions described in this post and in the comments below refer to much older versions. The principles should still be the same but I can’t guarantee it’ll work any more – good luck!


ORIGINAL POST: I recently wrote about the Instagram 2.0 update (over here), which added lots of headline features but at the expense of the lifeblood of the app; it’s filters. They seem to have changed the entire processing method and now all the filters seem like subtle variations of one another, with none of the character that made them so distinctive.

I mentioned in passing that I’d removed my copy of Instagram 2.0 as it was so awful and replaced it the earlier version from my iTunes. I’ve noticed a lot of visitors coming to the article via a Google search for that exact process so I thought I’d make it a little easier to find.

How to do it

You need to have the old version of Instagram.ipa on your computer already. This might be a problem if you downloaded the updated app via iTunes on your computer, or you downloaded the update on your phone and have since synced with your computer. Look through your iTunes media folder and if it’s not there, try the trash.

Once you have the old version of Instagram.ipa, place it in the correct folder in your iTunes hierarchy, along with all your other apps. Then delete the current, updated version of the app from your iPhone right now. Don’t worry, you won’t lose anything except your Instagram login settings which you enter when you re-install the app. All your photos are on their server and in your Photos app.

Now connect your iPhone to your computer and sync over that old version of Instagram.

Once complete should have the previous version of Instagram – or at least the version that was on your phone last time you synced with iTunes. Happy old-school Instagramming!

Back up

At this point we want to future-proof ourselves. Head to your iTunes Media folder, find the Apps folder and locate Instagram. It will be called something like ‘Instagram x.x.x.ipa’ (where x.x.x is the version number). Create a folder on your Desktop (or anywhere you like) called App Backups (or anything you like), then hold down the Alt key and drag the Instagram app into that folder. You should see a green + sign to indicate you’re copying the app, not moving it.

The idea is that if you now accidentally overwrite the original app in your iTunes folder you can replace it with your backed-up copy and re-sync.

UPDATE

Melissa posts in the comments that it even if you updated in iTunes or already synced, all may not be lost:

It’s also possible to roll back to version 1 even if you *have* updated the app in your library…

On a Mac at least. iTunes will throw the old version into your Trash folder. Just retrieve it from that folder (I just copied it to my Documents folder), delete the new Instagram from iTunes, and drag and drop the old version into iTunes to add to your library. Then sync! Works a treat 🙂

That’s going to be very good news for some of you, I reckon!