Q&A: Mountain Lion’s notifications

Kirk McElhearn Senior Contributor, Macworld

Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn (@mcelhearn) writes The Ask the iTunes Guy column and writes about Macs, music and more on his blog Kirkville. He's also the author of Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ.
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Mountain Lion helps you stay on top of things, and notifications are its chief tool for doing this. A notification can alert you to impending Calendar events and reminders, as well as new email, Facebook, and Twitter messages. Sometimes the alerts require you to click a button to dismiss them. But other types of alerts appear for just a moment, as small, subtle messages at the top right of your screen, and then disappear.

The Notifications feature is a core part of Mountain Lion. If you’ve been using an iOS device for a while, you’ve seen notifications there: banners that pop up on your lock screen to display alerts for calendar events or to let you know you've received text messages. Still, notifications in OS X involve issues that bear some explanation. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

Q: What can notifications notify me about?

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When password security questions aren't secure

Joe Kissell Senior Contributor, Macworld

Joe Kissell is a senior editor of TidBits and the author of numerous ebooks in the Take Control series.
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When you select a password, you might choose to store it in a password manager, write it down, or commit it to memory (see “How to remember passwords” for some advice). Sometimes, however, things go wrong: You find yourself without access to your password manager, you lose the paper on which you recorded your passwords, or you forget a password you thought you memorized. Or maybe someone tries to break into one of your accounts, and after a few unsuccessful attempts at entering your password, the site locks out further access until you can confirm your identity.

In all those cases, online services need a secondary way of granting you access to your account or your data when you don’t have (or can’t use) your password. Sometimes—especially in lower-security situations such as access to an online publication or discussion forum—the provider lets you click a link that results in your existing password, a new password, or password-reset instructions being sent to the email address you have on file. When those simple mechanisms are considered too insecure, the site may ask you to respond to verification questions for which you’ve previously provided the answers.

Unfortunately, password-reset messages and verification questions come with their own problems and risks. You can reduce your chances of being hacked—or being unable to respond correctly to one of these questions—by following a few simple tips.

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How to remember passwords (and which ones you should)

Joe Kissell Senior Contributor, Macworld

Joe Kissell is a senior editor of TidBits and the author of numerous ebooks in the Take Control series.
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At the risk of repeating myself (see “What you don’t know about passwords might hurt you”), the best way to ensure that you never forget your passwords is to offload the task of remembering to a password manager such as 1Password (; $40). For most passwords, most people, and most of the time, that’s the only trick you’ll need. However, no matter what tools you use, you’ll have to memorize at least a few passwords. Because those are among your most important, you don’t want to trade security for memorability. Here are a few tips that can help you make sure your brain doesn’t betray you.

Determine which passwords you must memorize

I have no idea what 99 percent of my passwords are. Honestly, none whatsoever. They’re long strings of random computer-generated characters, and I’ve never even glanced at most of them. When I need to use them, I let my password manager fill them in for me or, if that won’t work for some reason, I copy and paste them. After all, it’s no harder for an app to enter a 14-character random password than for me to type in the word baseball, so I figure I have nothing to lose by going the crazy-secure route.

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What you don’t know about passwords might hurt you

Joe Kissell Senior Contributor, Macworld

Joe Kissell is a senior editor of TidBits and the author of numerous ebooks in the Take Control series.
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I don’t mean to alarm you, but—well, actually I do. Your password strategy, if you have one at all, might be seriously out of date. In recent months, several well-publicized attacks on major online services exposed users’ passwords. For example, in June 2012, more than six million LinkedIn passwords were stolen and posted online. Just over a month later, over 450,000 Yahoo passwords were leaked. Apart from the direct damage that can come from having one’s password made public, these security breaches revealed that vast numbers of people follow dangerous password practices that can result in far worse problems.

If you haven’t examined your approach to making and using passwords recently, now is a good time to rethink your assumptions. Here are a few important facts about passwords you may not have realized—and what they mean for you.

Password reuse is a major danger

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Security tips for Mac travelers

Glenn Fleishman Senior Contributor, Macworld Follow me on Google+

Glenn Fleishman is the owner and editor of The Magazine, a fortnightly periodical of stories for curious people with a technical bent. He is a regular contributor to the Economist and a senior contributor to Macworld.
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When you hit the road, it’s easy to get paranoid—especially if you’re carrying thousands of dollars’ worth of technology with you. You can alleviate some of your worries by taking security measures to protect yourself against someone running off with your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook.

Use common sense 

If you’re not used to toting a machine outside your usual rounds, don’t forget these precautions.

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How to maximize battery life when you travel

Admit it: Your carry-on bag is stuffed with digital gear that you can’t bear to leave at home.  Your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook will keep you entertained while en route, and it’ll make a great navigation, research, and photo tool when you reach your destination. But keeping these devices charged when you’re constantly on the go or stuck in the air can be a challenge. Luckily, you can do a few things  to extend battery life and conserve power.

Invest in a battery case

A battery case for your iPhone extends the phone's battery life and keeps it safe from occasional drops and bumps. Most battery cases come with dock-connector plugs designed to pair up with the iPhone’s 30-pin (iPhone 4S and older) or Lightning (iPhone 5) connector port, which they use to deliver the juice to your iPhone. The only downside is that you can't use any dock-cradle accessories without removing the iPhone from the case.

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How to restore your data from the cloud

Joe Kissell Senior Contributor, Macworld

Joe Kissell is a senior editor of TidBits and the author of numerous ebooks in the Take Control series.
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Online backups are a useful component of a well-balanced backup strategy. Whether you rely primarily on cloud storage for backups (see “Backup Basics”) or use the cloud to supplement local backups such as bootable duplicates (see “Bulletproof Backups”), it’s crucial to understand how you will go about restoring your data after disaster strikes.

Disaster is the operative word here. If you merely need to restore a few individual files or folders, usually that’s simple enough—typically you use either the backup client software installed on your Mac or the backup provider’s website to specify which versions of which files you want, click a button or two, and wait for the files to download. No big deal.

But what if your entire hard disk dies and needs replacing, or your Mac is stolen and you have to start over with a new one? Such situations require a different strategy, because your online backups almost certainly don’t include every single file on your Mac; and in any case, even with a fast broadband connection, you may be looking at days or weeks to restore whatever data you keep in the cloud.

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