How to Create 3D Text in Adobe Illustrator

Have you ever needed to create 3D text, but didn’t want to use the built-in 3D Illustrator effect tool to do it? It can be done very easily.




3D Text create with a few steps in Adobe IllustratorHave you ever needed to create some basic 3D text to give your design a sense of depth, but didn’t want to use the built-in 3D Illustrator effect tool to do it?  3D text is actually very easy to create with a little knowledge of Illustrator’s Object Blend tool.

Just follow the steps below and your text will be popping off the screen or page in no time!

All instructions below are written from the perspective of someone using Adobe Illustrator CS5 on an Apple computer. You may need to adapt these steps slightly to fit the operating system and version of Adobe Illustrator you are using. 

Step 1 – Open a new, blank Illustrator document.

Step 2 – Type some text using the font of your choice and color it black.  Scale it up so that you can see and work with it easily.  I recommend a font that is bold in order to make the 3D effect more pronounced.  I used the Phosphate typeface in my examples.

Step 3 – Select the text and outline it using “Create Outlines” under the “Type” menu option.

Step 4 – After the text has been outlined, copy (⌘-C) and Paste in Front (⌘-F).

Step 5 – Take the text you just pasted and move it up and to the left of the original text.  The distance is up to you.  I prefer to have the two text objects overlapped.




Step 6 – Select the top text object and copy (⌘-C) it.  We’ll use this later, so don’t clear or overwrite your clipboard.

Step 7 – Select both outlined text objects.

Noun Project
Like this post? Check out some of our work at The Noun Project.

Step 8 – Go to the “Object” menu option and choose “Blend” and then “Blend Options”.

Step 9 – In the “Blend Options” window that appears, choose “Specified Steps” under “Spacing” section and enter “25” in the empty field next to it and click the “OK” button.  This is the number of transition objects that Illustrator will create between the two text objects.Blend Options window in Adobe Illustrator

Step 10 – Go back to to the “Object” menu option and choose “Blend” and then choose “Make”.

Step 11 – Use the Paste in Front (⌘-F) again to place a the copy of the 2nd text object that you copied in Step 6.

Step 12 – Change the color of the text you just pasted white with a black stroke.

You should now have some 3D text!

Click below to view a video which shows the basic steps needed to perform the technique described above.




How to Change the Sidebar Font Size in Mac OS X Mail

UPDATE: The instructions below also work for Mac OS X versions 10.8 (“Mountain Lion”), 10.9 (“Mavericks”) and 10.10 (“Yosemite”).

Don’t like the default size of the font used in the left sidebar of Apple’s Mail application that comes installed as part of Mac OS X?  Me neither.  If you’re like me, you’ve looked high and low through the assorted Apple Mail preferences to be rid of that obnoxiously large font, but to no avail.

Don’t worry, it can be changed. The option to do it, however, is not in a very intuitive place.

Here’s how it can be done.Lion System Preferences - General

System PreferencesStep 1 – In the Finder, open the System Preferences application.  This is the application with the icon with the gears on it.  It can be found in your Dock, your Application folder or in the new Lion Launchpad.

Step 2 – Once you have the System Preferences open, click on the General preferences icon found at the far left of the topmost row of icons.

Step 3  – In the General preferences settings window, find the “Sidebar icon size” label (placement varies depending upon the release of Mac OS X you are using).  There should be a pull-down menu located just to the right it.

Step 4 – Select one of the 3 choices found in that pull-down menu: Small, Medium or Large.

Changing this setting will not only alter the size of the font in the Finder sidebar (as one would expect based upon behaviors from prior versions of the Mac OS), but now it will also change the font and icon sizes in the Lion Mail client sidebar.

Voilà! Problem solved!  Not very intuitive, but that’s how it works.  I hope this helps!

How to Turn off a Macintosh Display with a Keyboard Shortcut

iTunes, App Store, iBookstore, and Mac App Store


Have you ever wanted to shut off your integrated Macintosh display (i.e. iMac, MacBook) without putting the computer to sleep? You would think that this handy and easy keyboard short-cut would be more well known to Apple OSX users, but it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge.

Here’s how you do it.  Just press the following 3 keys together at the same time:

Ctrl-Shift-Eject

If done correctly, the monitor should go dark but the computer itself will remain awake.


Mac Pro - Built for Creativity on an Epic Scale

For those of you that missed the procedure, here it is again in slow motion:

(the Control key)  + (the Shift key) + ⏏ (the Eject key)

If you enjoyed this quick Mac Tip and want to learn more cool keyboard shortcuts, check out this link over at danrodney.com for an impressively large lists of other handy Apple Macintosh keyboard shortcuts.

How to Create a Broken Glass Effect in Adobe Illustrator




broken text effect in adobe illustrator
click for larger view

** After reading this article, be sure to check out of video tutorial below! **

Have you ever wanted to create a design where text or some other object had a shattered effect like the appearance of broken glass? Have you ever wondered how it was done? Wonder no more! With a few simple steps, you can recreate this effect yourself in Adobe Illustrator quickly and easily.

(All screenshots are video shown here are from an Apple Macintosh computer running Illustrator CS5.)

Let’s get started:

STEP 1 – Open a new Adobe Illustrator document. This is done by clicking on “File” in the application menu bar and choosing the “New” option in the menu (or just use the keyboard shortcut ⌘N). The settings for the New Document are not important for this example. Choose the settings that you prefer and Click “Ok”.

STEP 2 – Choose your favorite bold font and, using the Type tool, type the word “BROKEN” in your document. Make the font fairly large so that you can easily work with it in the upcoming steps.




STEP 3 – Select your text with the Illustrator Selection Tool (the tool in the upper left of the Tools palette that looks like a black pointer arrow) and convert it to vector art by choosing the “Create Outlines” option found in the menu bar under “Type”.

STEP 4 – Using the Line Segment Tool, create a series of assorted line segment over top of your outline text. These lines will be the “cracks” in your shattered text.

STEP 5 – Open the “Pathfinder” palette found under the “Window” menu bar option.

STEP 6 – Use the Selection Tool to select all of the outlined text AND the line segments created in Step 4.

illustrator pathfinder divide toolSTEP 7 – In the Pathfinder palette, click the “Divide” button found in the “Pathfinders” section of the palette. It is the leftmost button in that row of options.

STEP 8 – Once done, “Ungroup” the artwork by choosing the “Ungroup” option found in the choices available in the “Object” menu bar.

STEP 9 – In order to start separating the pieces of “glass” you’ve just created by dividing your outlined text, you need to be able to see what you’re doing. In the menu bar, select “View” and then “Outline” to see your art in outlined form.

STEP 10 – Using the Selection Tool, click and drag the assorted “pieces” out of place from their original location in order to achieve the desired “shatter” effect. You may want to switch back and forth from “Outline” view to “Preview” in order to see the results.

Congratulations! You’ve just create your first shattered glass text effect in Adobe Illustrator! Now play with your design to give it greatest degree of visual appeal using color and other effects!

Tips & Warnings

  • This technique takes practice. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
  • Once you’ve gained some mastery of this technique, try it on different objects.
  • For an added design twist, try the “Roughen” option on your line segments before you divide your shattered object. “Roughen” is found in the menu bar under “Effect” –>”Stylize”.




How to Use Spotlight to Clear Space on Your Mac Hard Drive

a bloated hard driveIs the hard drive on your Apple Macintosh computer nearly full? Can’t seem to figure out where all that hard drive space went? With these easy steps, you can quickly use Apple’s handy Spotlight search feature to find and eliminate large, unwanted files and recover that lost hard drive space!

STEP 1 – Start in the Right Place
In the Apple Mac OS X Finder, open a new window by choosing the “File” option in the Apple menu bar and select “New Finder Window” from the list of choices. You can also do this by using the ­⌘N (Command and N) keyboard shortcut. Once the window is open, navigate to your user folder on the hard drive and open it.

spotlight search of user folderSTEP 2 – Set Up Your Search
Type the ­⌘F (Command and F) keystroke to initiate a Spotlight search. In the pull-down menu that appears under the word “Search:”, select the “Other…” option if an option for “Size” is not in the list. If it is already there, skip to Step 4.

STEP 3 – Add “Size” To Your Search Options
Once you’ve selected “Other…”, a box will appear with a list of additional Spotlight search attributes. Scroll down to the “Size” option and click its checkbox in the “In Menu” column. If the attribute list is not alphabetized by name, click on the “Attributes” column heading.

STEP 4 – Define the Scope of the Your Search
Choose “Size” from the search pull-down menu. Once selected, define the size of the files you’d like to find by entering the necessary information in the 3 areas found to the right of the “Size” option. For example, you could select “is greater than”, “50”, and “MB”, respectively, if you wanted to fid files that are greater than 50 megabytes. This will cause Spotlight to search for any file in your user folder that is 50 megs in size or greater. If that is not what you want to do, simply change the value of parameters to suit your needs.

STEP 5 – Dump the Clutter
Once Spotlight has displayed the list of qualifying files, carefully review them and decide which ones you no longer need. Drag any unwanted files to the Trash icon. After reviewing the contents of the Trash folder one last time (one can never be too careful about what you throw away), empty the Trash.

Congratulations! You have just recovered some valuable Apple computer hard drive space and you didn’t pay a dime!


Hot New Apple PCs 300x250

Tips & Warnings

  • Want to keep cleaning? Remove any applications you no longer use or need. Using a program like AppZapper or AppDelete will help to remove all files associated with the unwanted application, including their preference files.
  • Want to keep this search? Click the “Save” button found in the upper right hand corner of the Finder window to save it as a “Smart Folder” on your hard drive. There’s even an option to save it to the Finder window sidebar.
  • Never removed any files that you can’t identify! Accidentally deleting vital system or software application files could make your Apple Macintosh experience a miserable one. When in doubt, leave it alone!

How to Create a Strong Password Using Mac OS X


padlock icon by Sebastien DurelA strong password is one of the best ways of ensuring that your computers, online accounts, or wireless networks are kept safe from unauthorized access. Unfortunately, too many computer users routinely use simple passwords that are easy to crack simply because they do not know how to create a strong password.  Strong password generators are available online, but Apple computer users don’t need to use them.  The Mac OS X operating system already has a built-in strong password generator that is robust and easy to use.  This article will show you how to access this not-so-well-known Mac OS X functionality.

For the sake of example, let’s say you want to create a strong password for a new online banking account.

Apple System Preferences Application Icon

STEP 1 – While on your Mac, launch the Apple System Preferences application.  This can be done by double clicking the System Preferences application found in the Applications folder OR just click on the Apple menu icon () found in the upper left portion of your screen and then choosing the “System Preferences” option.  In both cases, the System Preferences application will launch and its window will appear on the screen.

STEP 2 – In the System Preferences window click on the “Users & Groups” option (formerly “Accounts” in older Mac OS versions) found in the System Preferences window. This section is the area where you can add/delete system users, alter user access settings, update passwords and – as we’ll soon see – take advantage of the Mac OS X strong password generator.

change password

STEP 3 – While in the  “Users & Groups” window, look for the button labeled “Change Password” and click it.  This will generate a slide-down windoe asking if you want to change your password or use your iCloud login.  For the purpose of this article, choose “Change Password”.  Clikcing that button will bring up another window where you can enter your old password, your new password, verify the new password and also type in a password hint (should you forgot it and need a little help remembering it later on).  Most importantly, there will also be a button to the right of the “New Password” field with an icon that looks like a key.  Click that button.

STEP 4 – Clicking the button mentioned above will produce a new, small floating window labeled “Password Assistant”.  Within that window you will see a see:

  • A pull-down menu to select the password’s Type
  • A field/pull-down menu which contains the Assistant’s password Suggestion
  • A slider bar to allow you to set the password’s Length (quantity of characters to use in the password)
  • A graphical password Quality meter to help you to visualize the strength of your password
  • A section displaying Tips to follow for creating a strong and effective password

Images of this window with each of the password type options are show below.

manual password generator memorable password generatorletters and numbers password generator numbers only password generatorrandom password generator fips-181 compliant password generator

An explanation of each password type follows:

  • Manual – This option allows you to enter your own password by hand and the Password Assistant will rate its strength using the Quality meter.  If the meter is colored red, the Password Assistant is letting you know that your password is poor.  If it is green, the strength of your password is improving.  The more the meter is color green, the better the password.  Unless you know how to create a strong password, this is not a recommended option.
  • Memorable – This will generate a fairly secure password consisting of an assortment of numbers, letters and symbols in a configuration that is fairly easier to remember.  This is one of the better password options.
  • Letters & Numbers – This option will create a password consisting of only numbers and mixed case letters.  This option will create a better-than-average password, but I still would not recommend its use.
  • Numbers Only – This option will create a password consisting of only numbers.  I would not recommend this option at all.
  • Random –  Creates a password using a combination of numbers, symbols and mixed case letters.  I highly recommend using this type of password.
  • FIPS-181 compliant – Creates a relatively weak password consisting of only lowercase letters.  I do not recommend this option either.


STEP 5 – Once you have decided on the type of password you want, choose a password length.  Most security experts would recommend that any password be – at minimum – 6 characters long.  The longer the password, the more secure it will be.  Choose 8 to 10 characters as a starting point.

STEP 6 – Once you are satisfied with the type, length and quality of your newly created password, highlight the password suggestion with your cursor and copy it (⌘-C).  Then feel free to paste it (⌘-V) this new password into the password fields found in the online enrollment form for your new online banking account.

Congratulations!  You’ve created and used your first secure password.  Repeat these steps for every computer you access, all the online sites you have joined and each wireless network that you create. You will rest a easier knowing that your passwords are far better than the majority of passwords used in the online world today.

Tips & Warnings

  • A strong password is at least 6 characters long.  Longer passwords are far better.
  • When creating passwords, always use a combination of numbers and symbols, as well as mixed case letters.
  • Try not to use the same password for everything.  Ideally, you should use a unique password for each account, computer or network you manage (though admittedly this can be highly difficult to manage).  The upside is that if one of your passwords is cracked, the rest of your systems or accounts are not at risk.
  • Change your passwords occasionally.  Once every 6 months is a reasonable interval.  Many businesses require their employees to do this even more frequently.
  • Be sure to remember your passwords!  And, if you write them down, keep your passwords in a safe place.
  • Having a hard time remembering all your passwords?  Be sure to take advantage of the Mac OS X Keychain Access application (found in your Mac’s Applications/Utilities folder) OR try using third party password management software like Agilebits’ 1Password, which is available for computers running Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows, as well as mobile devices running Apple’s iOS (like the iPhone or iPad) or Android.  I highly recommend this application, especially for its security as well as its integration with Dropbox, which will allow you to sync your password securely across devices.  Very handy!
  • DEFINITION:  Strong Password – “A password that is difficult to detect by both humans and computer programs, effectively protecting data from unauthorized access. A strong password consists of at least six characters (and the more characters, the stronger the password) that are a combination of letters, numbers and symbols (@, #, $, %, etc.) if allowed. Passwords are typically case-sensitive, so a strong password contains letters in both uppercase and lowercase. Strong passwords also do not contain words that can be found in a dictionary or parts of the user’s own name.” (This definition was taken from webopedia.com)

For other information about passwords and computer protection, see also:

The Apple Magic Mouse – First Impressions & Review

At the end of October Apple made another big splash and announced the new Apple Magic Mouse. As with most Apple product announcements, the internet world was abuzz with excitement.  I have to admit that I succumbed to the hype and decided to buy one. I’m glad I did. This is one cool device.

All Just Hocus Pocus?
Apple Magic Mouse You may be asking yourself, what makes the Apple Magic Mouse magical?  At first glance, one might be tempted to say “not much”. Wireless optical mice have been around for years and while the idea of having an untethered mouse may seem a bit astonishing, it is certainly not new. Additionally, the concept of “no visible buttons” has been a part of the Apple Mighty Mouse (now re-named as the “Apple Mouse”) for a while too. Even the updated laser tracking mechanism, which is very responsive on a variety of surfaces, isn’t necessarily the “ooh, ahh” feature of this device either.

Prepare To Be Amazed
What makes this device very unique, however,  is how you interact with it. Apple has eliminated buttons and scroll balls in exchange for Multi-Touch™ – the same interactive touch technology made famous by their best-selling iPhone® and the iPod touch®.  Almost like a detached laptop trackpad, nearly the entire surface of this mouse is touch sensitive.  If you have ever picked up an iPhone and slid your finger across the screen to flip thru a photo library, you know just how cool and natural this technology can be.  This mouse works like that.  Want to scroll thru a document or web page? Just slide your finger up or Magic Mouse System Preferencesdown the surface of the mouse and, lo and behold, the page scrolls.  Want to click on a link?  Just press your finger down on the left side of the mouse surface.  (Are you a lefty?  Just re-configure the mouse using your Mac’s System Preferences and you can click on the right.)  Want to make it behave like a 2 button mouse?  There’s an app setting for that.  You can also configure it to recognize a two fingered left or right swipes (a.k.a. gestures) to navigate back and forth between pages in a browser or a PDF document.  Quite nifty.

Not All Smoke and Mirrors

Finally, like most other Apple products, this mouse looks great and is well-made.  The touch surface is a completely smooth and is made of a highly reflective curved white plastic.  The only item visible on the surface is the Apple logo (of course).  The base is made of aluminum, which gives the mouse some heft and a feeling of sturdiness.  Also attached to the bottom are two rails that lift the mouse slightly off the desktop and allows it to glide across the surface. These rails also surround and protect the on/off switch as well as the battery access panel (2 AA batteries are required).

Final Impressions

Overall, I am very happy with my purchase.  This mouse looks good, feels good in your hand and responds very well to all movement, clicks and gestures.  As a long-time user of the Mighty Mouse, I do miss the ability to program the trackball/button to activate the Application Switcher in Mac OS X.  I needed a day to adjust to the flatter shape and behavior of the new Magic Mouse, but the rest of the family (young and sold) began working with it immediately. I predict that this mouse will very successful for Apple and will generate a myriad of copy-cat devices.  I would recommend this mouse to any Mac owner that is looking to upgrade to a wireless mouse.

Summary

Pros Cons
Very responsive. Takes a little while to get used to the surface shape.
Great Bluetooth range (Apple claims 33 feet!). No way (as of today) to activate Expose or the Application Switcher like the Mighty Mouse.
You gain a USB port on your Mac if you’re switching from a wired mouse Somewhat pricey ($69).

starsOverall Rating:  4.25 out of 5 stars

The Apple Magic Mouse can be purchased from Best Buy,Amazon, MacMall and, of course, the Apple Store. For more product information, check out the Apple Magic Mouse product page at Apple.com.


UPDATE 1: After one month of use, I had to change the batteries in the mouse for the first time today. I would have hoped that they would lasted longer than this. I’ll be disappointed if this battery consumption trend continues.

UPDATE 2: There are a couple of things I want to mention and clarify in this update: My prior criticism of the Magic Mouse battery life may have been in error. I based that opinion on the batteries that were included with the device. Ever since I’ve replaced those batteries with a fresh set, I’ve found that the battery life of my Magic Mouse is much improved.
I also noted in my original review that I was a little disappointed to lose some of the functionality found in the wired Mighty/Apple Mouse (Expose, App Switcher, etc.). I am happy to report that I stumbled across a great little third party application called MagicPrefs that adds all those functions back and more. If nothing else, this application proves that Apple continue to build upon the functionality of the Magic Mouse with a software upgrade. If you’re a Magic Mouse owner and you wish to be able to program your mouse to do all the Apple intended it to do and more, check this one out!

The owners of this site were not compensated in any way by Apple for this review.

5 Reasons Homeschoolers Should Switch to The Apple Macintosh

As a homeschooling parent, I truly believe that purchasing a Mac for your home is an exercise in good stewardship and families in the homeschooling community should seriously consider making the switch.

If you watch any amount of television or browse sites on the internet, you’ve no doubt seen the Apple advertisements featuring Justin Long as “Mac” and John Hodgman as “PC”.  In these playful ads, the (overly?) confident “Mac” takes humorous potshots at PC’s weaknesses as an operating system.  These commercials usually elicit cheers from the Mac fans and plant small seeds of doubt in the minds of Windows users.  As funny as these commcericals may be, are they accurate?  Are Macs better and more reliable than PCs running Windows?  And, if so, should I buy one?

I believe the answer to both questions is Yes.  As a homeschooling parent, I truly believe that purchasing a Mac for your home is an exercise in good stewardship and families in the homeschooling community should seriously consider making the switch.  I submit for your consideration the following reasons:

Reason #1 – An Apple Macintosh will save you time & frustration

Time is one our most precious resources and as homeschooling parents we need our time freed to optimize our children’s education.  Plus, we need no undue stress in ours lives (who does, really?). If you’re a Windows user, think about how much time and effort you’ve expended while fighting with your Windows PC over crashed applications, lost or corrupted files, OS freezes and the constant (and disruptive) need for system and antivirus updates.   And let’s not forget the time spent on long support calls.  Is it all worth it?

The fact of the matter is that Macs are more stable, freeze less and are generally trouble free.  In addition, the Apple system software update cycle is relatively infrequent.  In our home, our iMac is on all of the time and it is consistently (ab)used by the kids (ages 2 to 9) as well as the adults (ages withheld).  In spite of this constant activity, there have been times when that iMac has not been restarted for a long as a month.  Can you say that of your Windows PC?

Reason #2 – Macs are more secure than PCs

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, identity theft is a very real threat in today’s world.  What could be more important than keeping your personal and financial electronic data safe and private?  Having a secure computer is one great way to start.  The operating system on Apple computers, Mac OS X, is built upon a solid, proven and secure UNIX core. It comes with a built-in firewall designed to protect your machine from outside intruders.  And, as an additional layer of protection, Mac OS X has another optional feature called FileVault, which will encrypt your entire user folder.  So, even if someone could get on to your machine, they’d not be able to read your data anyway.  Is this sounding good?  There’s more…

Viruses on a Mac are virtually non-existent. That is not to say that there won’t ever be any, but it does not seem to be a worry at this time.  I personally don’t use any anti-virus protection on my Mac, which is one less set of hassles and expenses to worry about.

Reason #3 – Macs can run Windows

Yes, if you need to do so, you can also run Windows on your Intel Mac.  This means that if you decided to switch to a Mac, all of the Windows software packages you’ve purchased over time will not have to be re-purchased (assuming you still need them – see below).  You can install Windows onto your Mac’s hard drive and start your Mac into the operating system of your choice – Mac OS X or Windows (XP, Vista and, coming soon, Windows 7).  All of this can be accomplished using a free Apple application called Boot Camp.  Also, if you’ve rather not restart your computer just to use Windows, you always run Windows side by side with the Mac OS in a “virtual” environment using software programs like Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion (not free).  The is also a free solution called VirtualBox from Sun Microsystems.  Virtualization is very cool stuff.

Reason #4 – Macs will make you more productive

Imagine how efficient you’d be if you were unencumbered by all of the distractions and headaches that accompany a Windows PC experience.  Now envision what it would be like to to actually use your computer for its designed purpose rather than struggling to get it to work.  Yes, dear reader, this can actually happen.   Based upon my years of experience, I am convinced that an Apple Macintosh is more reliable computing tool than a Windows PC and using one will make you a more productive person.

Reason #5 – Macs are economical

While the price point of a Mac may be higher than a comparably equipped Windows PC, you should know that included in the price of each Mac are a number of free Apple applications that cover 95% (if not all) of your general computing needs.  And these applications are no slouches either.  The features found in these programs could go toe to toe with many applications you might otherwise pay for.

Here’s a list of just a few of the free Apple software applications that homeschooling users might need:

  • Address Book – A great program for storing all of your personal and business contacts.  This application integrates into Apple’s Mail application (see below) is even more helpful when coupled with Apple’s MobileMe service (not free).
  • iCal – Apple’s own calendaring application.  Great for keeping track of your homeschool and household schedules.  Also integrates into the MobileMe service.
  • DVD Player – A very nice application to have on your computer if you’re using DVD coursework as part of your homeschool efforts.  One nice feature of this application its ability to “remember” where you left off when viewing a DVD and it gives you the option to resume at that point, even if you ejected the DVD days ago.
  • Mail – A solid, easy to use email client that doesn’t cost you a dime.  Macworld recently gave this one “4 out of 5 mice“.  In Apple’s new “Snow Leopard” release, this program (as well as iCal and Address Bok) integrate seamlessly with a Microsoft Exchange server.
  • Font Book – An incredibly convenient font management program.
  • Safari – Where would a blog denizen be without a great browser?  Apple calls Safari the world’s fastest browser and I have to agree.  This application launches quickly,  renders pages fast and has a great history search feature.
  • iChat – Apple’s own chat client that supports the AIM, GoogleTalk, MobileMe and Jabber protocols.   Also features the ability to conduct multiparty audio and high-quality video chat, as well as screen sharing.  My wife and I use this feature all the time.
  • Time Machine – One of Apple newest additions to the operating system, this application will automatically back up your system to an external drive.  Very easy to use and it takes the hassle out of backing up your data.  Just set it and forget it, as they say.
  • Preview – Apple’s answer to the Adobe Reader program.  This program displays PDFs very quickly and can also open other graphic files.  The most recent version includes the ability to manipulate those images to a limited degree.
  • iLife – Apple’s own “digital life” software suite that consists of 5 very powerful applications:
    • iPhoto – Great photo management and sharing.
    • iMovie – Make your own movies easily from your digital footage.
    • iDVD – Create professional quality DVDs, complete with menu screen and chapter divisions.
    • GarageBand – Make great music quickly and easily.
    • iWeb – Create your own high quality web sites to host on your own domain or on Apple’s servers using Mobile Me.

I’ve only just scratched the surface with this list.  Perhaps in a future post I will go into greater detail with some of these applications and others that I haven’t mentioned (iWork being one of them).  In the meantime, I highly recommend that you take the time to learn more about Mac OS X and the applications listed above, as well as the many others I didn’t mention.

But What About the Price?

Yes, it is true that you can always find a PC for less money than a Mac.  I won’t argue with you there.  But I  believe you get what you pay for.  Low cost generally means low quality.  So, even if you obtain a dirt-cheap PC, you still have to contend with the issues mentioned above:  a problematic operating system, the chance of getting very poor support, viruses and the risk of a machine that may die far sooner than you’d like.

This whole discussion boils down to this:  would you rather spend a little more money and get a stable computer with a superior operating operating, or would you rather get a cheaper computer that may be fraught with issues that may continue to frustrate you and interrupt your life?

For our family, the choice was easy.  Many of our friends agree.  We’d would rather spend a little more money for the assurance that we will be able to confidently use our computer rather than fight with it.  I think each of you want the same for yourselves.  I encourage my readers to give the Apple Macintosh serious consideration.  I think you’ll ultimately be very pleased and impressed.

UPDATE: The results of a survey conducted by RBC Capital Markets and ChangeWave Research revealed, among other things, that “81% of those who recently bought an Apple product in the past 90 days were “very satisfied,” while only 58% Dell Inc. buyers and 55% Hewlett-Packard Co. buyers said the same.” So now we have a 6th reason to buy an Apple Macintosh:  greater user satisfaction.

Hackers, Identity Theft and your Homeschool Family

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. What steps have you taken to protect your family? Here are some quick tips to help homeschool families protect themselves from identity theft.

I grant that this is not necessarily a “homeschool” topic, but I was astounded to read this recent CNN article and felt compelled to spread the word and, where possible, share some helpful tips with those who may need them.

For those of you that have not read the article yet, eleven people were indicted recently in what is being called the largest hacking case on record.  The perpetrators allegedly stole 40 million credit card numbers from nine major U.S. retailers, including some well-known names like Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx, BJ’s Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Barnes & Noble and Sports Authority (I’d hate to be working in their public relations departments).  They accomplished this by using “sniffers” which allowed them to grab credit and debit card account numbers and PIN codes, which they used to encode the magnetic stripes on their own blank cards.  Of course, these sinister folks then used those “new” cards to withdraw funds at various ATMS.  According to the CNN report, they were able to withdraw “tens of thousands of dollars at a time”.

Incredible! And a bit scary.

Incidents like these should make you wonder just how protected you are from this kind of electronic crime.  The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.   What steps have you taken to protect your family from identity theft?

While we cannot prove it, my wife and I strongly suspect that we were victims of these thieves.  A few months ago, I was checking my bank account online and noticed that $500 had mysteriously been withdrawn from an ATM located miles from where we live and in an area of town I rarely visit.   According to my online transaction history, my wife’s debit card was used to make this withdrawal.  So, after making sure that neither of us had actually made that withdrawal, I called the bank to voice our concern.  Our bank was very quick about returning the funds (less than a week) and they replaced the compromised debit card nearly as fast (go Wamu!).  As you can imagine, we’ve been very vigilant since.  

We now make regular use of Washington Mutual’s the Chase bank account text alert feature to notify us via email of all but the smallest changes in our banking accounts.   Yes, it can be annoying to receive frequent emails like this, but the trade off is that we can keep close tabs on our account activity and act quickly if there is an issue requiring our attention.  Thankfully, there has not been a repeat incident.

We’ve also recently given LifeLock Identity Theft Services a try.  In a nutshell, LifeLock is a service that promises to request “fraud alerts” on your behalf with each of the 3 credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax).  Once a fraud alert is in place, you must to be contacted and authorize the opening of a line of credit. The thought is that this prevents anyone from stealing your credit identity to open a line of credit in your name.    They do this (and more) for about $10 per month per person (children can also be covered for a lesser rate).  Rather than detailing all the features and benefits of their services, I recommend that your investigate LifeLock’s features & benefits for yourself.  I think it is worth the time to do so.

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Now, you may ask yourself, “Can I do all of the things that LifeLock does myself?”  Good question! Yes, I think you can.

LifeLock compares their services to an oil change:  you can perform the necessary steps yourself, but do you really want to go through the hassle when there are companies that provide services that will do it for you quickly and (relatively) inexpensively?

The homeschool community is a self-reliant and frugal bunch, so my guess is that many families with limited budgets may want to take the time to protect their family on their own and save a few dollars, but they just may not know where to start.

So, below is my quick list of a few things you can do and some sites you can visit to begin protecting yourself from identity theft:

  • Monitor all your financial accounts regularly.  If routinely logging into each of your financial institution’s sites sounds like a bit of a pain, a free site like Mint.com may help you to keep track of all of your accounts in on place.
  • Keep all your financial records organized and keep copies of your credit cards in a safe and secure place.
  • Shred, burn or eat any financial records or receipts you don’t need to keep anymore.
  • Never give out your SSN or other personal info unnecessarily online or on the phone.
  • Don’t fall for email and online phishing attempts.  And if you don’t know what phishing is…
  • Get informed.  Check out the  Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Site and the Identity Theft Resource Center and bring yourself up to speed.
  • Guard your PC with all necessary software protection.  Or, buy an Apple Macintosh.  (For more info, check out my other post “5 Reasons Homeschoolers Should Switch to Macs“.)
  • Until thieves develop telepathic abilities, the safest place to keep your passwords and PINs is in your head.  If your memory isn’t what it used to be, keep them in hidden in locked safes or in encrypted computer files.  Whatever you do, don’t leave them out for all to see.
  • Be smart about where you keep and leave your credit and debit cards.
  • Be mindful of where you use your cards. If a payment terminal looks like it has been tampered with, DO NOT USE IT.
  • Use cash more often.
  • Research and consider using Wikipedia – two-factor authentication for your online accounts, where available.
  • Request a “fraud alert”* with each of the credit bureaus (get a copy of your credit report while you’re at it).  Here’s how to contact the credit bureaus:

Equifax  or call Equifax  at 1-800-525-6285

Experian or call Experian at 1-800-422-4879

TransUnion or call TransUnion at 1-800-916-8800

The sad reality of our lives today is that identity theft can and may happen to you some day.  I pray that it does not.  However, with a little knowledge and a few preventative steps, you’ll be far better off than the many who fall victim to this form of crime each year.

I hope this post was helpful.  I recognize that it is far from comprehensive. You should always do more homework on your own, especially when it comes to something as important as this.

As always, please comment with any suggestions, tips or stories that you may have.  I wish you and your families well.

*Note:  You must “renew” your fraud alert with each bureau every 90 days.  LifeLock commits this for you for the duration of your service agreement with them.