Parenting

I Just Did Something Really Stupid

This is probably one of the longest posts I have ever written, but it is also one of the most important. Please take a few minutes to read it...it could save you from losing all of your data.

So I just did something a few days ago that made me feel really stupid, so naturally I need to tell the world about my stupidity. I've been sick for a week now with a really nasty case of the flu that I caught while attending CES in Las Vegas. A few night ago I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and my daughter asked me to come over to the computer. She needed me to type in the administrator password so she could install a program on the Mac. Normally this would set off my "spidey sense", but between still being sick, being in the middle of cooking dinner and because in this case I knew exactly what my daughter was doing...I typed in the admin password so she could install the program. Except when I did this a program called "Mac Purifier" was installed on my Mac and started scanning my computer. I literally ripped the power cord out of the wall and just left the computer where it was in its unpowered state so I could go back to my half-cooked dinner before it burned.

So what happened? My daughter is really into Minecraft (and I mean REALLY into Minecraft). She wanted to install a mod to Minecraft and that required that she first install a program called "Forge" to help with that process. Her and I had been talking about what she was doing for a while now and that was why I really didn't think twice about approving the install. She went to official website for Forge and attempted to download Forge. This is where everything went wrong. From what I can tell, instead of downloading Forge she clicked on one of the ads on the Forge website (an ad made to look like an install button) and that ad downloaded the installation package for Mac Purifier. So I instead of installing Forge like we both thought, I gave my Mac permission to install a piece of (shit...ok I'll be nice and call it malware). Mac Purifier is actually designed to do something good and that is it scans your Mac and notifies you about anything that shouldn't be there like viruses or malware (ironic isn't it). The reason I call Mac Purifier malware is because in order for Mac Purifier to do anything useful you are prompted to purchase the "full" version of the program. So it is essentially a useless shell of a program designed to scare you into buying the full version. Mac Purifier is one of those programs that has also been bundled with "free" software you can download on not so trustworthy websites out there as a way to pump money out of unsuspecting people. Because of this I had no idea whether the version of Mac Purifier that was just installed on my Mac had any other kind of malware embedded in it or if was just truly the useless money sucking program that it was designed to be. I had no choice but to wipe my Mac (nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure).

There are two reasons I am writing this post:

  • To stress the importance of having computer backups
  • To wage war against online ads

The Importance of Computer Backups

The only reason this really stupid thing I did didn't cost me a ton of time (and possibly all my data) is because I have a rock solid backup strategy for ALL of my data. Instead of having to go into my Mac and performing extensive surgery to remove the malicious program I just installed (seriously, take a look at this article and read how much is involved with manually removing this crap), it took me less than 5 minutes of my time to completely nuke my entire computer and re-install everything to exactly how it was before Mac Purifier was installed (it took overnight for all the data to be restored but only took 5 minutes of my time to enact). The reason I was able to do this so easily is because one of the backup methods I use clones the entire hard drive of my Mac (I use a program called Carbon Copy Cloner but there are others like it for both Mac and PC). So all I had to do was plug my Mac back into power and boot off of my cloned backup drive and run a restore from my cloned drive over to the hard drive of my Mac). This essentially put my Mac back into the exact configuration it was in when I last performed a clone of my hard drive (in this case it happened to be the night before).

So what do I recommend for computer backups? You need a minimum of two backups of all of your data and one of those backups absolutely must be an offsite backup. If all of your backups are either attached to your computer or reside in the same location then theft or fire could still destroy all of your data. So here is what I do:

  • Backup method 1 is Time Machine. I have an Apple Time Capsule router that has a hard drive built into it so every Mac in my house is continuously and wirelessly backed up with Time Machine.
  • Backup method 2 is my offsite backup. Instead of using Time Machine for this backup (which I could do) I use Carbon Copy Cloner and clone the entire computer's hard drive to a portable USB hard drive. I take that hard drive into work and leave it there. Every 2-weeks I have a reminder to take that hard drive home and perform a new clone of my computer hard drives, but I make sure that drive never stays in the house any more than overnight.

If you have a Mac, backup is incredibly simple, free, and built right into the computer's operating system. Just go out and buy an external hard drive that has at least twice the capacity of the hard drive you are trying to backup, plug it onto your Mac and turn on Time Machine. That is your on-site backup. You can get a 2nd external hard drive and so the same thing except take that drive offsite (either take it to work or store it at the house of a family member or friend). The other option for offsite backup is to pay for a cloud backup service like Backblaze or Crashplan. For just a few bucks a months and the flip of a software switch you will ensure you will never lose a piece of your data. I've used both of these services before and they are both excellent. I don't use either now because our house is located in a place we like to call "the place the internet goes to die"...we don't get fast reliable internet data so pushing a lot of data through our home internet just isn't feasible. What ever you decide to do just make sure you take the 2 method approach I describe above. Don't let the voice in the back of your head tell you that this is too expensive. The "stupid thing I just did" could have just as easily installed a piece of software that encrypted my entire hard drive and held it for ransom until I paid the developer an enormous sum of money to give me the key (yes, this type of thing really does happen). A simple virus could also just as easily wipe out your entire computer. How much is it worth to you to secure you data to make sure you don't lose everything? Can you really compare that value to the cost of a few external hard drives or a few bucks a month for a cloud backup service? I think not.

I'm Done With Online Ads

This stupid thing I did was the last straw, there will be no more website ads in my house. The Forge website is a site that gets a lot of traffic from kids, but the ads on that site are designed to prey on those kids...posing as buttons to install Forge but instead installing something entirely different (something that makes that company money at the expense of the kids and their parents). The ads on this site are targeting kids. There is a special level of hell for people that prey on kids and online predators are no exception (yes, I am classifying online advertisers a child predators). If you stalk and take advantage of a child you are a predator (granted there are various levels of severity when you classify it this way).

So I'm no longer going to tolerate online ads. I have installed ad blocking software on all of my home Macs and iOS devices. I chose to go with 1Blocker because it has both a Mac and an iOS version and the preferences and setting can be synched, but there are a lot of other options out there both free (like Ghostery) and not so free (like Roadblock for Mac and Roadblock for iOS, free to download but requires In-App-Purchase to fully unlock). Look, I understand that online ads are the way most website afford to be in existence. Heck, I write for one of those websites (GeekDad.com, and ads are part of what pays our bills) and I totally understand that not all ads are evil. We actually spend quite a bit of time behind the scenes debating just how many and what types of ads to allow on the GeekDad site because we don't want to just drown our readers with ads (after all that is not why they come to the site, they come for our content). But most websites don't spend that kind of time making sure the ads they serve don't abuse the people that visit their site. So this latest abuse by advertisers was the last straw...I'm just nuking all ads in my house going forward. If you are a website I visit often and you haven't abused me with the ads you serve up then you will be whitelisted by my ad blocking software. If you want to have nightmares I suggest you install one of these ad blocking programs on your computer and pay attention to just how many trackers and pieces of code are kicked off on each website you visit...it is absolutely terrifying.

 I pulled this report using 1Blocker. You read that right, CNN.com has 29 ads and 23 trackers just from the home page. Sleep tight...

I pulled this report using 1Blocker. You read that right, CNN.com has 29 ads and 23 trackers just from the home page. Sleep tight...

Summary

I just did something incredibly stupid, something that could have destroyed all of the data on my computer and I am relatively tech savy (I do write for two tech blogs after all). If I can do something this stupid then people that don't follow and keep up with tech like I do are even more vulnerable. That is what truly scared me when I did this. I thought I was immune, but in reality we all just one bad move away from inflicting some serious harm on our computers. Luckily I had already been protecting myself with a rock solid backup strategy and now I'm taking one additional step by eliminating online ads. You will notice that my blog here at 1Wayswim doesn't have any ads and it never will. Readers have the options to drop me a few bucks via my donate page and I've been toying with the idea of setting up a Patreon account for 1Wayswim, but rest assured I will never serve up ads on this website. I can't stand advertising..never have. I guess I view advertising as a theft of my time and attention and I like to know what something costs up front. I also put my money where my mouth is and pay for several online news sources and support small content providers via their Patreon pages and will continue to do so. Like I said, I will whitelist website that don't abuse me with the ads they serve up but that will be an exception to the rule that must be earned. After what happened a few days ago I decided to skip right over the whole "waging war on online ads" and ended the war before it even began by just nuking them from orbit to begin with. I suggest you all consider doing the same, but when you do, just make sure you either whitelist the "good guys" or find another way to toss them a few bucks on a regular basis. Otherwise, we will all be stuck with a bunch of garbage out there on the internet (and its bad enough now as it is).

Sometimes A Bank Will Actually Pay You

I've seen these kinds of incentives before, but this one is particularly good and has a lot of other interesting benefits so I thought I would share. Wells Fargo is running a promotion right now that gives new customers $250 for signing up for a new checking account. There are a few caveats (of course) but most people should be able to meet the minimum requirement to qualify for the $250 (which is deposited into your checking account within 60 days of opening the account). The account you have to open to qualify either requires you to have a paycheck deposited in the account or has a minimum number of purchases per month, otherwise there in a monthly fee for the account. Again, most people will have no problem qualifying for the no monthly fee but please pay attention to this when considering it.

There are several reasons I wanted to share this. One is that Wells Fargo is one of the few big banks out there that offer a free checking account and debit card for teenagers. We specifically setup and account with Wells Fargo several years ago so we could get our teenage daughter a debit card and will be doing the same for our son soon. The other reason I wanted to share this is that the Wells Fargo VISA Signature credit card has a free benefit included with it. If you pay your cell phone bill with your Wells Fargo credit card then any cell phones on your plan are covered by an insurance plan. This insurance plan essentially will pay for a full replacement of your phone if it damaged (minus a small deductible). This paid for one replacement of my wife's iPhone last year, so we have already benefited greatly from it.

Switching banks is never fun I would never recommend doing it unless you absolutely have to. That being said, if are looking to move anyway or looking for a way to get your teenager a debit card then you might give this Wells Fargo promotion a look...

Secure Your Family With 1Password Families

The start of 2017 is the perfect opportunity to up your family’s game with respect to password security. 1Password makes strong password management even easier with their new service called 1Password Families.

Read the entire post over at GeekDad.com...

Technology Tips for a Cruise

This past week I took my family on our very first cruise. It was a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise (I decided not to mess around and went for a nice long cruise on one of the largest cruise ships...The Oasis of the Seas). Having lived in Florida for just over 15 years now I'm not sure what took us so long to go on a cruise, but we finally did. Rather than drone on about how much fun the crusie was (which I could certainly do), I will talk about a few tips for how to deal with any technology you bring along with you on the trip.

Cell Phones

Unless you want to buy some kind of international data package for your cell phone or opt to pay a daily wifi fee for internet service aboard the ship, your cell smart phone is nothing more than a camera and an ebook reader. You will want to turn off your cellular data on your phone AND put it into airplane mode. The reason you do both is that you don't want your phone searching for cell location data while you are out on the ship or at various ports. It really serves no function other than to drain your battery. I guess in some cases it may be able to use cell tower information and GPS to tag your photos with location data but that's about it. I didn't really care about location data so I just opted to turn it all off.

AirDrop

Apple's AirDrop sharing functionality came in really handy on the cruise as a way to forvarious people in our family to take photos on thier iOS device and then immediately share the photos with others in the our family without wifi or cell data usage. AirDrop uses Bluetooth to wirelessly send data between iOS devices and other iOS devices or Macs and it works flawlessly. If you haven't used AirDrop before and you are going on a cruise with others, read up on AirDrop and make sure you know how to use it before your trip. It's quite simple, but surprisiningly my Dad had never used it before and I had to show him how it worked.

Taking Photos and Videos

If you plan to use your smartphone to take photos and videos make sure you have enough free space on your device to store all those photos and videos. My sister has an older 16 Gb capacity iPhone and very early into the cruise her iPhone stopped taking photos. So I had to help her clear out some space on her device. It doesnt' take much to fill up your smartphone with photos and videos, especially on a week-long cruise.

Movies and TV Shows

It depends on what kind of person you are on vacation, but some people like to have a little down time and just watch some videos on thier devices. Think ahead and download any movies or TV shows you think you may want to watch while on the cruise. Unless you opt to pay for an unlimited wifi package on board you will need to have them already downloaded to your device. And even if you do opt for wifi, unless your cruise ship has really fast wifi streaming video over that wifi may not be all that feasible. I didn't spend much time watching videos on my iPad Pro, but I did watch a few. Sometimes you are in for the night but not quite ready for bed so having a few videos to choose from was really nice.

Books

Books are a great way to take a little time for yourself on a cruise and get some reading done. Even if you are one of those families that books up most of your days with activities and excursions, there are still times when you are up before everyone else and waiting to go to breakfast or just sitting by the pool sipping a drink while your kids are in the pool bleeding off some of their extra energy. So I loaded up on books for the cruise. I opted to take 2 physical books, 2 magazines and 2 or 3 e-books. I think it is a good idea to take both physical books and e-books because some locations are better for one type of book over the other. If you are sitting outside by the pool reading on a highly reflective iPhone or iPad screen might not work all that well so a physical book is best. But if you are taking an excursion off to a beach and not taking much with you and plan to spend a good chunk of the day sipping drinks in the shade on a beach then having an e-book works really well (especially when your e-reader is your iPhone 7 Plus you took with you to take pictures with). A variety of book types and formats work really well. You can never take too many books because if you happen to burn through them then you may be out of luck getting more of what you want to read.

Take a Break From Technology

As much as I like my technology I was also looking forward to taking a break from it. My iPhone and my iPad were pretty much only used to take photos and read on this cruise. I am one of those people that is guilty about checking their email way too many times a day (in fact one of the books I read on the cruise was called "Unsubscribe" and was about how to minimize email distractions in your life...stay tuned for a book review post soon) and getting sucked into reading too much online news and social networking posts. So being disconnected for a week was a much needed break for me. For some people this would seem like a punishment, but on a cruise it really isn't. There is so much to do. Even my 14-year-old PS4 playing son didn't really do any gaming of any kind all week. He pretty much stayed away from technology. He would occasionally watch a video on his iPhone that he had downloaded before the cruise or watch some TV, so for a kid that is normally always plugged into an electronic device that was a HUGE step.

Headphones

A good set of noise isolating or on the ear headphones is really nice for a cruise. Don't get me wrong, most of the time you want to be social not be isolated from everyone else via headphones. But there are times when you want to sit out on deck but get away from the sounds on the deck. Headphones are a must.

Keeping Track of Everyone

We now live in a world where everyone seems to be online and connected 24-hours a day. So when you get on a cruise and can no longer text or call people you are looking for it can be quite a shock. So we opted to solve this problem with an analog solution. Our family was spread out between 3 different state rooms and we had a magnetic dry erase board on each of the doors of our rooms. Anytime we went somewhere we would write on the board what time we left and where we were going. This worked really well. It was a big ship and trying to coordinate activities between 7 people over a week long cruise without cell phones would have been near impossible. Some families used Walkie Talkies, but I wasn't sure that was going to be all that great of a solution. The dry erase boards worked out perfectly for us.

Sharing Photos

When you get home from the cruise everyone is going to want to share the photos they took. Apple has an easy way to do this, by using the iCloud photo sharing feature built into the Photos app within the iOS and macOS operating systems. Read Apple's directions for how to setup a shared photo album with all of your family members so they can each share the photos they took with everyone else in the family. You can even share photos with people who don't have an iOS device or a Mac.

What To Do When Your iPhone is Stolen

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My son's iPhone was stolen this week at school. This was the first time I had to personally deal with an iOS device theft and there are a few really important things to consider in those first few minutes and hours after the device is stolen. Here are the things you need to do:

  1. Login to "Find My iPhone" from either an iOS device (even a kind stranger's device is ok, they just need the "Find My iPhone app-just make sure you logout of the app when you are done) or even just a web browser ("Find My iPhone" is a web app available when you login to your iCloud account from any web browser)
  2. Track the location of the stolen device using "Find My iPhone" and take a screen shot of the current or last known location
  3. This is the most important step...either turn on "Lost Mode" or select the "Erase iPhone" option. More on which one to choose in a bit.

My son's iPhone was stolen from his locker during gym class at school. We suspect the thief saw his locker combination and stole it while he was in gym class. He will be using a lock with a physical key and will be wearing the key around his neck during gym from now on. In our case my son's iPhone was setup with a passcode and had TouchID, so we knew that the contents of the iPhone were secure. But that wasn't the only concern. You can get a lot of information from the iPhone just from lock screen and by asking Siri even when the iPhone is locked. iMore has a really good article about the options for locking down your lock screen and Siri to limit the data a would be thief could get from your locked iPhone. In our case we didn't lock down these options as tightly as we could. That is a trade you make. It is really handy to be able to get to Siri and see text messages from your lock screen, but it also gives the thief that same access.

My wife and I were in Las Vegas when my son's iPhone was stolen. My son immediately emailed me using another device to tell me his iPhone had been stolen so I could track the device and lock it down (I taught him well). So while I was having breakfast at the Mirage I was able to very quickly go to the "Find My iPhone" app on my iPhone and take a screen shot of the iPhone's last location. It was in the driveway of a house not too far from my son's High School. Within a few minutes and before I could do anything else the thief had turned off the iPhone. My next step was to put the iPhone into "Lost Mode." Lost Mode disables Siri and all the lock screen notifications and it will display a message on the lock screen of your choosing. In my case I wrote a message saying that this iPhone has been stolen from X High School and is activation locked. Please return the phone to X High School front office. I then contacted the school and gave them the last know address of the device and they were going to look into what student lived at that address and take it from there. I did not call the police, but this is also an option especially if you absolutely know the current location of the device. Do not under any circumstances go to that location yourself to try and retrieve your lost device. No device is worth risking your personal safety for.

Lost Mode vs Erasing the iPhone

This is probably the most important decision you will need to make...whether to put the iPhone into lost mode or to just erase the device. If you erase the iPhone you will lose all ability to track the device, so you will probably never see your iPhone again. However, if you have not secured your device with a passcode or you think the person who stole your device may have your passcode then you really should immediately erase the device. Lost mode is the better option if you have properly secured your device with a passcode or password because you will still be able to track the device. Whether you decide to put the iPhone into lost mode or erase it, do not under any circumstances remove the iPhone from your iCloud account. When you sign into iCloud on an iPhone it "activation locks" the device. This means that the iPhone can't be erased by a thief and used by anyone else unless they are able to enter in your iCloud/Apple ID and password. The only thing the thief can do with the iPhone now is sell it for parts (or use it as a paperweight). So just leave that iPhone attached to your iCloud account from here on out. It might be a good idea to rename the device to something like "My Stolen iPhone" so you won't accidentally remove it from your account the next time you upgrade your iPhone.

Closing Thoughts

As I write this my son's iPhone is still lost. The iPhone has not been turned back on, but as soon as it is (if it ever is) it will be put into lost mode and I will be notified with its location. There is another option I should mention. You can contact your cell carrier and report the iPhone as lost. This will disable the account to prevent calls, texts and data use but it will also prevent the phone from using the cell network which will make the iPhone much harder to track if it is ever turned on again. So if your iPhone is properly secured with a pass lock it might be a good idea to leave it attached to your cell carrier for a few days...at least until you replace the device with another phone. You may also want to go in and change any of your account passwords that use your lockscreen notifications (things like iCloud for iMessages and maybe Twitter and FaceBook). If the thief was able to gain access to even a single email account they could potentially gain access to these accounts. For example, if you don't use a strong password on your Twitter account (something that someone might easily guess with having a bit of personal information...like access to your lock screen) then I would change the password to those account immediately. Apple also has a support article that has a lot of good information about how to deal with a stolen device.

Good luck...

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