Go Beyond External Hard Drives with Network-Attached Storage

If you’ve filled up your external hard drives or become frustrated by their limitations, it’s time to look into a network-attached storage (NAS) device. What’s a NAS? It’s an intelligent storage device that can accept one or more hard drives or SSDs and connects to your network via Ethernet.

NAS Benefits

A NAS is a good choice for anyone who needs access to lots of storage, but small businesses will particularly appreciate the benefits of a NAS. They include:

  • More storage: Most NAS devices provide multiple drive bays, so you can pop in a few large hard drives or even attach expansion units for a vast amount of available storage.
  • Expandable storage: A NAS is perfect if you anticipate your storage needs growing over time. You could start with 3 TB drives today and swap them out for 6 TB drives in a year or two.
  • Data protection: Drives fail, but some NAS devices can ensure that you don’t lose data if that happens by combining multiple drives into RAID arrays.
  • Network backups: Because a NAS is always available on your network and provides lots of storage, it can work well for on-site backups.
  • Laptop access: It’s fussy for mobile users to attach external hard drives to laptop Macs. An always-available NAS eliminates that annoyance.
  • Remote access and cloud storage: You can usually configure your NAS so it’s available over the Internet from outside your network. That means it can work like a private version of Dropbox that’s entirely within your control and has no monthly fees.
  • Streaming media: Home users with massive movie libraries can take advantage of NAS features that make it easy to stream video to computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones.

NAS Features

Quite a few manufacturers make NAS devices, including WD, QNAP, Drobo, and my personal favorite: Synology. Prices vary widely depending on the feature set. Things to consider include: We are a Synology Authorized Partner and can help you with all of your Network Attached Storage needs from the basic to the most complex.

  • Number of drive bays: The most important decision to make when choosing a NAS is the number of drive bays. It may be tempting to start with a less-expensive two-bay model, but particularly if you want to use RAID to protect your data, that limits your storage significantly.
  • RAID support: RAID works well for preventing data loss if a drive dies. RAID 1 constantly mirrors the data from one drive to another so if one fails, all the data is on the other. RAID 5 uses data striping techniques with at least three drives to preserve data even if one drive fails. Proprietary technologies may be more flexible in terms of the number and size of the required drives. Synology’s RAID Calculator is helpful for figuring out how much space you get with different collections of drives.
  • Ethernet speed and ports: Most NAS devices have Gigabit Ethernet, but you can pay more to get 10 Gigabit Ethernet. That’s helpful only if you have an iMac Pro or a Thunderbolt 3 adapter. Also, some NAS devices have a feature called link aggregation that uses multiple Ethernet ports and an LACP-enabled Ethernet switch to balance traffic across ports for higher performance in multi-user setups.
  • Hardware encryption: For additional security, some NAS devices offer hardware encryption. It requires more CPU power but ensures that a stolen NAS won’t reveal your data.
  • Hardware transcoding: Those who host media libraries on a NAS may find this feature useful. It automatically converts high-resolution video files to versions that are optimized for the destination—there’s no reason to send 4K video to a 1080p TV.
  • CPU and RAM: Since a NAS is a full-fledged computer, it has a CPU and needs RAM to accomplish its tasks. If all you’re doing is serving files, the CPU doesn’t matter much, but for hardware encryption and transcoding, a faster CPU will be helpful. Similarly, those functions, or support for lots of users, may benefit from more RAM, so look for a NAS whose RAM is expandable.
  • Physical factors: Since a NAS runs all the time, pay attention to how much power it draws and how much noise it makes. In general, the less of each, the better.

Use NAS-specific Drives

One final piece of advice. It’s tempting to use old drives you have around, but doing so may be problematic for a few reasons:

  • Combining drives of different capacities can result in unusable disk space in some RAID configurations.
  • The likelihood of failure is higher with older drives, and even if a RAID prevents data loss, dealing with a dead drive is still stressful.
  • NAS-specific drives, as opposed to garden-variety drives, sport features designed to minimize data corruption, minimize vibration, and adjust rotation speeds for longer life.

Instead, look for NAS-specific drives, such as those in the WD Red and Seagate IronWolf lines.

Honestly, while a NAS is a great investment and effective addition to your technical infrastructure, picking the right one is a complex decision. If you need help, get in touch with us to see what we recommend for your specific situation.

(Featured image by Alex Cheung on Unsplash)

How To Make a Video of Anything on Your iPhone or iPad Screen

Screen-Recording-iOS

You know how to use the Camera app on your iPhone or iPad to take a video, but did you know that you can also record a video of what happens on the screen of your device? That’s useful if you’re trying to explain the steps of some technical process to a friend or show a tech support rep what’s going wrong in an app or Web site. You could also use a screen recording to copy a video from Facebook, for instance, that you want to send to a social media–averse friend.

First, to get set up, go to Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls and tap the green + button next to Screen Recording to add it to the list of controls that appear in Control Center. Drag it in the list to rearrange where its round Record button will show up in Control Center. Here’s a screen recording showing those steps:

Making your first screen recording is simple. Follow these steps:

  1. Open Control Center. (Swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen, or, if you’re using an iPhone X or later, or an iPad running iOS 12, swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen.)
  2. Press deeply on the Screen Recording button to open a menu. If you want to record your voice via the microphone as well, tap the Microphone button to turn it on.
  3. Tap Start Recording, and then wait for the 3-second countdown.
  4. Perform the actions that you want to be recorded.
  5. To stop the recording, either enter Control Center again and tap the red Record button or tap the red status icon at the upper left of the screen and tap Stop. A notification appears, telling you that your screen recording was saved to Photos.

In fact, if you want to keep your options for the destination app and microphone at their current settings, making a screen recording is even easier:

  1. Open Control Center.
  2. Tap the Record button instead of pressing deeply.
  3. Perform your actions.
  4. Stop the recording via Control Center or the red status bar.

Told you it was simple. But we bet you have questions, so let’s provide some answers.

Where did my screen recording go?

As the notification informs you, screen recordings end up in the Photos app, just like any other photo or video. You’ll see them both in the Photos view and in Albums > Media Types > Videos.

What are Messenger and Skype doing in the screenshot earlier?

Instead of recording your screen to a video file, you can instead broadcast it to a Facebook Messenger or Skype chat. That might be useful for a quick show-and-tell while having a conversation.

Can I edit the screen recording?

Yes, although the Photos app limits you to trimming frames from the start and end of the video (which actually creates a new video with your selection rather than editing the original). For more significant editing, tap the ••• button in the Photos edit interface and send the video to iMovie.

Is there any way to show my taps and drags in the screen recording?

Yes, but it’s not easy. There’s a trick that relies on iOS’s Accessibility features, but it’s way too clumsy and leaves the Assistive Touch button on the screen the entire time. A better approach would be to use a dedicated app like ScreenFlow (which is what we used above) to insert circles where your fingers touch down, but that’s worthwhile only for videos where you need higher production values.

For the most part, though, the point of screen recordings is not to make the perfect movie—it’s to create and share a video of something that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to convey.

(Featured image by Lisa Fotios from Pexels)

Use Spotlight to Convert Units, Track Flights, Find Movies, and More!

Spotlight

Most Mac users probably think of searching on the Mac in relation to finding files on their drives. That may be the most common use of Apple’s Spotlight search technology, but over the years, Apple has continually enhanced Spotlight’s capabilities, turning it into a veritable Swiss Army Knife that you can invoke with a quick press of Command-Space bar or a click on the magnifying glass at the right side of the menu bar.

Here are a few of our favorite uses for Spotlight that you may not have been aware of.

Launch Apps and Open System Preference Panes

We recommend putting apps you use all the time in the Dock for quick access, but what about apps you need only occasionally? You can always root around in the Applications folder for them, but for quicker access, invoke Spotlight and type the first few characters of the app’s name (Spotlight will guess at what you want; if it’s wrong, keep typing). Then double-click the app in the results list or if it’s already selected, press Return. It’s a great way to bring up Activity Monitor to see what’s happening when your Mac feels slow. This trick also works wonders for opening panes in System Preferences.

For apps and preference panes whose names have multiple words, you can also try typing the first letter of each word, like ug to find and open the Users & Groups pane of System Preferences.

Convert Units and Currency

Need to figure out what 72º F is in Celsius? Or precisely how many quarts are in a 2-liter bottle? Spotlight can do all sorts of conversions for you. Just start typing your starting number, like 72, and then follow it with something that indicates your starting unit, such as “F” or “degrees.” Spotlight displays the conversion instantly, so you can tell if you’ve guessed wrong about the unit (K is degrees Kelvin, so you’d use km to figure out how many miles in a 24-kilometer race).

Particularly useful is Spotlight’s capability to do real-time currency conversions, since exchange rates fluctuate. It can’t do every currency on the planet, so you’re on your own if you need to check on Burundi francs, but you’ll find all the major currencies. The trick is knowing their abbreviations: the British pound is abbreviated GBP, the Canadian dollar is CAD, the Japanese yen is JPY, and so on. To convert from US dollars into another currency add the phrase “in GBP” or the like after the dollar amount.

Perform Calculations

We’ve come a long way from thinking that calculator watches are the height of geek chic, but a calculator is still handy now and then. When you want to perform a simple calculation for which a spreadsheet would be overkill, you could use Spotlight to launch the Calculator app, but it’s faster to type your calculation into Spotlight itself. It even supports parentheses for specifying an order of operations. The screenshot is just for illustration; we mostly use this feature to add up a series of numbers.

Look Up Words

Can’t remember the difference between “affect” and “effect”? macOS’s Dictionary app has all the help you need, but as with Calculator, Spotlight is a fast substitute. Type the word and click the entry under Definition to see the dictionary entry over on the side. If you want to look for synonyms in the thesaurus or explore other aspects of the word, press Return to open the word in the Dictionary app.

Track Airline Flights

Need to pick your relatives up at the airport? Rather than hoping that their flight will be on time, check to see if it is, with Spotlight. You can usually type the airline name and flight number, but it’s safest if you know the airline’s two-letter code, like DL for Delta, UA for United Airlines, and so on.

Find Movie Info and Show Times

Spotlight can even prove useful at the end of the day when you’re trying to figure out if a particular movie is playing at the local cineplex. Enter the title of a current movie and click its entry in the results under Movies to see all sorts of details, including its Rotten Tomatoes rating, when and where it’s playing, and if you can instead get it on iTunes.

Stocks, Sports Scores, and Weather

Wait, there’s more! Type a ticker symbol, like AAPL, into Spotlight to see the stock’s current price and activity for the day. Enter the name of a professional sports team to see the score of the team’s latest game (assuming they’re in season) and upcoming schedule. And type “weather” and a city name to check the climate conditions for that location and get an extended forecast.

Customize Spotlight

You’ve probably noticed all sorts of other odd items in the results list. That’s because there’s no telling what old email messages or documents might also contain your search term. But you can trim the results somewhat by turning certain items off. To do this, open System Preferences > Spotlight and deselect any categories that aren’t helpful.

If you never knew or have forgotten how useful Spotlight can be, give it a try!

(Featured image by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash)

Some May Like It Hot… But Your Technology Prefers to Stay Cool

Keep-tech-cool

When summer brings sunny days and rising temperatures, you may have ditched your business suit for shorts or skirts to stay comfortable, but your technological gear can’t do the same. And keeping your tech cool is about more than comfort—as temperatures rise, performance can suffer, charging may get slower or stop, various components might be disabled, and devices can become unreliable from the heat.

How Hot Is Too Hot?

You might be surprised by the recommended operating temperatures for Apple gear—whether you’re talking about an iPhone X or a MacBook Pro, the company recommends staying under 95° F (35° C).

Such temperatures happen regularly throughout the summer. Even in cooler climes, the temperature in a parked car in the sunshine can easily hit 130º F (54º C) in an hour and rise higher as time passes. And no, cracking the windows a couple of inches won’t make a significant difference. We hope you’re already thinking about that with regard to children and pets, but as you can see, tech gear should also be protected. Apple says its products shouldn’t even be stored—turned off—at temperatures over 113º F (45º C).

It’s not just cars you have to think about. Temperatures in homes and offices without air conditioning can also rise higher than electronics would prefer, and that’s especially true for computers that stay on most of the time and aren’t located in well-ventilated areas.

What’s the Danger?

First off, remember that all electronic devices produce their own heat on top of the ambient heat in the environment, so the temperature inside a device can be much, much hotter than outside. The CPU in an iMac can hit 212º F (100º C) under heavy loads.

Temperatures higher than what components are designed for can have the following effects:

  • Chips of all types can behave unpredictably as increased thermal noise (electrons vibrating more) causes a higher bit error rate. Because electrical resistance increases with heat, timing errors can also occur.
  • Lithium-ion batteries discharge well in high temperatures, but the increased rate of chemical reactions within the battery will result in a shorter overall lifespan.
  • As devices heat and cool, the uneven thermal expansion of different materials can cause microscopic cracks that can lead to a variety of failures over time.

Some heat-related problems are temporary, so when the device or component cools down, it will resume working correctly. But others, particularly drops in battery life—are irreversible and particularly worth avoiding.

When a Mac gets too hot, it will spin up its fans in an attempt to keep its internal components cool. If your Mac’s fans are ever running at full tilt, first quit apps you aren’t using, particularly those that might be CPU-intensive and thus creating a lot of heat. If that doesn’t make a difference, restart it to make sure the problem isn’t some rogue process. If the fans come back on at full speed quickly, shut it down and let it cool off for a bit. In the worst case, an overheated Mac will start acting unpredictably or crash.

iOS devices don’t have fans, so they employ other coping mechanisms. If your iPhone or iPad gets too hot, the device will alert you.

Apple says you might notice some of the following behaviors:

  • Charging, including wireless charging, slows or stops.
  • The display dims or goes black.
  • Cellular radios enter a low-power state. The signal might weaken during this time.
  • The camera flash is temporarily disabled.
  • Performance slows with graphics-intensive apps or features.

If you’re using Maps on an overheating iPhone for GPS navigation in the car, it may show a “Temperature: iPhone needs to cool down.” screen instead of the map. You’ll still get audible turn-by-turn directions, and the screen will wake up to guide you through turns,

How to Keep Your Tech Cool

For the most part, keeping Apple devices cool just requires common sense, since you’d do the same things for yourself.

  • As Apple’s specifications recommend, avoid using devices when the temperature is over 95º F (35º C). If you can’t avoid it entirely, keep usage to a minimum.
  • Don’t leave devices in cars parked in the sun for long periods of time. If it happens accidentally, let the device cool before using it.
  • Provide good ventilation so air can cool the device. Don’t block ventilation ports in the back of desktop Macs, and don’t use Mac laptops in bed, propped on a pillow, or under the covers. It can be worth vacuuming dust out of ventilation ports every so often.
  • Never put anything on the keyboard of an open Mac laptop.
  • Avoid stacking things on top of a Mac mini.
  • Monitor the temperature of server closets. If they get too hot, keep the door open, add a fan, or run the air conditioning.

Luckily, the temperatures that cause problems for Apple hardware aren’t terribly comfortable for people either, so if you’re way too hot, that’s a good sign your gear is as well.

(Featured image by Alfonso Escalante from Pexels)

Only Buy Quality Cables to Avoid Possible Device Damage or Even Fires

Apple’s prices for Lightning, USB-C, and Thunderbolt 3 cables often seem high—$19 for a USB-C to Lightning cable or $29 if you want a 2-meter version? Unfortunately, when it comes to cables, you often get what you pay for. Happily, other reputable hardware manufacturers like Moshi make quality cables and often charge less than Apple. Moshi even offers a two-year no questions asked warranty on all of their products. We will even exchange a Moshi item purchased elsewhere their warranty is so comprehensive.

Stay away from the bargain basement prices from no-name Chinese manufacturers, and if you see a supposedly genuine Apple cable selling for a too-good-to-be-true price, consider the possibility that it’s counterfeit. Apple has even created a detailed page that explains how to identify counterfeit or uncertified Lightning accessories. Here at iStore we only sell Apple OEM and Apple Certified Lightning and USB-C cables, accessories and adapters, so you can rest assured that you are buying the highest quality cables for your devices.

Moshi-Integra-Lightning

The problem with cheap cables is not just that they might break or wear out sooner, but that many modern cables carry power as well as data. When there’s sufficient juice flowing down those tiny wires, a short-circuit can fry hardware or in the worst cases, generate sparks, smoke, or even fire. Don’t misunderstand—fires aren’t likely, but over the years, there have been numerous headlines about fires caused by charging iPhones and Android smartphones. In fact, Target just recalled 90,000 Lightning to USB cables after 14 reports of the cables smoking, sparking, and igniting.

When it comes to damaging hardware, USB-C was a problem early on but is less so now, thanks to the efforts of Google engineer Benson Leung in 2015 and 2016. After a bad USB-C cable fried his Chromebook, he embarked on a one-man crusade to identify which USB-C cables were good and which were bad. He has moved on from that now, but in part due to his efforts, Amazon started prohibiting listings of USB-C cables and adapters that weren’t compliant with the USB-C specs. You might still run across bad cables that Amazon hasn’t yet identified, or dodgy cables sold through other retailers, but the danger is lower than it used to be, particularly with cables from name brands.

Lightning cables are incredibly common these days—you can buy them in gas stations and drugstores—and as with USB-C cables, you’ll do best if you stick with cables from brand name companies. You’ll pay more, but do you really trust electronics sold next to Twinkies and Slim Jims? It might be worth buying one in a pinch, but don’t rely on it.

Of course, even the best cables will fray and fail if you mistreat them. Follow this advice to ensure a long life for even heavily used cables:

  • Don’t create sharp bends in the cable, especially near the connector. Sharp bends can eventually break the insulation and reveal the wires inside.
  • When unplugging your device, pull from the plug instead of further down on the cord. That avoids stress near the connector.
  • When coiling your cables, avoid wrapping them tightly around something that’s not round. A tight wrap can cause kinks that will degrade the wires inside.
  • Don’t put heavy objects on cables, or sandwich them between a desk and the wall. Anything that compresses the cable can cause damage.
  • iPhones may be fairly water resistant these days, but try to keep both the Lighting port and the cable’s pins clean and away from liquids because crud or a droplet could cause a short circuit. USB-C cables are less susceptible to such problems because of their metal jackets, but it’s still worth being careful.
  • If a cable’s insulation ever breaks so you can see the wires inside, wrap it with electrical tape right away, and replace it as soon as you can.

In the end, the advice is pretty simple. Spend a little more on quality products from reputable manufacturers so you don’t have to worry about your $1000 iPhone XS being damaged by a $3 counterfeit Lightning cable.

(Featured image by Matthias Zomer from Pexels)

5 Reasons Why You Should Be Using a Password Manager

Password Manager

We often recommend using a password manager like 1Password or LastPass, but we’ve gotten a few questions asking why we’re so adamant about this. Lots of people think that all they need to do to keep their online accounts secure is create a single password with some numbers, often switching a lowercase L with a 1 and a capital E with a 3. And that’s for accounts people care about—for those that they don’t see as important, they’re likely to use a simple password like their child’s or pet’s name. Plus, most people don’t think they have much to protect or that they would be targeted by hackers, so they reuse the same password across multiple sites.

Guess what? Such an approach is extremely dangerous on today’s Internet. First off, no one is explicitly targeted. The bad guys get passwords by stealing them by the millions from Web sites with lax security. Then they use sophisticated hardware that can try over 350 billion passwords per second to decrypt as many of the stolen passwords as possible. All passwords under 13 characters can be cracked easily by such hardware.

Next, imagine you have a password on a shopping site whose passwords are stolen. The attackers can log in to that site, change your shipping address, and order items with your stored credit card. But they won’t stop there. They’ll use automated software to try that username and password combination on lots of other high-profile sites: Google, Apple, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, many banks, and so on. If they can get in anywhere, they’ll take over the account and exploit it in any way they can, which could involve stealing money, ordering goods, or using it to reset passwords and lock you out of other accounts. It can get ugly fast.

Use a password manager to generate, store, and enter strong passwords, one for each site, and you’ll never have any of these problems. A sufficiently strong password (16 characters minimum, but we recommend 20 when possible) will withstand cracking efforts for centuries, and if you have a different password for every site, even one password being compromised won’t expose any of your other accounts to abuse.

Here then are five reasons for using a password manager:

  1. Generate strong passwords: A password should be random, or it should be a long collection of words (think 30+ characters). Password managers can generate such passwords for you, so it’s easy to make a new one for each Web site.
  2. Store passwords securely: If you’re going to put all your eggs in one basket, you want that basket to be well protected. Password managers employ their own strong encryption and various other techniques to ensure that your passwords are safe.
  3. Enter passwords for you: No one can remember and type long, random passwords, but having a password manager enter the password for you is even easier than typing a weak password. Log in faster than ever before!
  4. Audit existing accounts: Password managers learn the credentials you use for existing accounts, and they can tell you which passwords are weak and which have been reused.
  5. Access passwords on all your devices: It’s even harder to type passwords on an iPhone or iPad, but good password managers have apps for mobile devices that sync with your password archive so all your passwords are available whenever you need them.

There are many different password managers, but for most people, there are three main choices. If you use only Safari on the Mac and in iOS, Apple’s built-in iCloud Keychain feature may be sufficient.

If you’re mostly an Apple user but also need support for Windows and Android, or if you want to share some passwords with family members or your workgroup, 1Password is the best choice. It costs $3 per month for an individual or $5 per month for a family, with team and business accounts as well. 1Password also offers add-ons for non-Apple browsers like Chrome and Firefox.

And if 1Password is too expensive, or if you’re platform agnostic, LastPass offers a solid set of features for free. Additional features and password sharing cost $3 per month for individuals and $4 per month for families, and again, team and enterprise accounts are available.

If you need help choosing among these three or setting them up, particularly in the context of a small business, get in touch with us. And if you’d like us to write more about each of these options, just drop us a note and we’ll see what we can do.

(Featured image by CMDR Shane on Unsplash)