Ikea ÄPPLARÖ 3 Seater Garden Sofa Hack

My girlfriend and I spent some time recently looking for some garden furniture. After what felt like months of searching, we eventually found what we wanted in Ikea. Note that they sell this on the website with beige or dark coloured cushions, but we found the nice mid-grey cushion below by going in-store. 

ÄPPLARÖ / HÅLLÖ 3-seat sofa
ÄPPLARÖ / HÅLLÖ 3-seat sofa

It’s a modular system that lets you configure the number of seats, add corner sections etc. We chose to just get two corner pieces and a middle piece to create a sofa. With the cushions on it looks great, but there was a thought niggling me when I started putting it together. They only actually make one corner section, which you can spin round and use for both ends. the problem with this can be seen below.

ÄPPLARÖ built the normal way
ÄPPLARÖ built the normal way

If you don’t see it right away I’m very jealous of you. But the way there are two seats with slats facing east / west and then one facing north / south just really hurts my eyes. Sure you can’t see it with the cushions on, but I’m going to be seeing this a lot with just the bare wood showing. [insert joke about the British weather]

Luckily I noticed this problem before I built the last section and realised that by removing 12 screws, I could swap the two sections underneath, and keep the whole thing looking nice & uniform.

ÄPPLARÖ built the hacked way
ÄPPLARÖ built the hacked way

I was honestly a little surprised that there was no mention of this anywhere, and maybe most people would just live with it the way it came. But if you’re like me and need things to be just right luckily there is a simple answer in this case.

Just swap over the two pieces of wood circled below. Make sure you get them facing out the correct way to allow the arm / backrest to screw in correctly.

ÄPPLARÖ parts to swap
ÄPPLARÖ parts to swap

Suppose I’d better add that you do all this stuff at your own risk etc, and this probably will void any warranty you might have. Basically it’s not my fault if you balls it up!

Dropbox Time Machine

It just occurred to me that working from a dropbox sync’d folder has a couple of hidden benefits that I’d not really considered before. When I’m working on something between work and home, I often stick it on my dropbox and work from there. This means I have the newest files waiting for me when I get home. What I hadn’t considered is how this whole thing gets backed up. (Don’t trust the cloud to keep backups for you!)

Enter Time Machine

At work I have a Time Capsule which is always backing up my laptop. By default this means it is making backups of my dropbox folder. I can do all the fancy document revision stuff exactly like I can with any other folder on my Mac, and this is where the fun begins. At home, I run another Time Machine drive to backup my iMac. By default this is also making backups of my dropbox folder. Do you see where this is going?

Multiple offsite backups.  That’s where! All the files in my dropbox end up in five places: Dropbox, MacBook Pro at work, iMac at home, Time Machine at home, and Time Capsule at work. Now that’s a cool way to backup. (See the graphic)

Dropbox Time Machine
Dropbox Time Machine

There is something important that needs to be noted here. I’m not storing anything crucial like customer data on dropbox, just design files and draft blog posts etc. If I was, I would secure and encrypt my home iMac and backups too. (I do anyway. Paranoid much!) This is fine, but it’s important to make sure you know of any potential holes that could leak company data.

It’s probably worth mentioning that I work for a small company. You’re unlikely to be allowed to dropbox your corporate company data around the globe for obvious reasons.

Although I’m using a Mac here, this could be tweaked a bit to work in Windows too. You just need a scheduled backup service at each end.

Platonic Male Handholding: It’s Your Right

Platonic Male Handholding
Platonic Male Handholding

In other parts of the world, it is not unusual to see two friends taking a stroll, hand in hand. In Vietnam for example, two young guys could be walking around a lake, holding hands, and talking about Manchester United. Nobody bats an eye. Nobody cares. And why should they.

When I was at primary school, it would be perfectly normal to walk down the long corridor to the library holding the hand of my best mate. It was nice. It didn’t hurt anyone.

But now if I decided to walk through town holding hands with my best mate, I don’t think I could get very far before jeers and jibes started flying my way. I’m not talking about snogging a guy in public. Just holding hands.

It’s got out of hand (pun intended). That’s why I’m starting a campaign to bring back platonic male handholding. Share the poster around, and spread the word.

Jack of All Trades

Jack Of All TradesThere is an old saying, “Jack of all trades. Master of none.” It is often said in a derogatory way, but I actually see it as a necessary and positive part of working in a small team. Everyone has to get stuck in and pull their weight. This can mean branching out into unfamiliar territory, but you retain control, and get to learn something new along the way. Variation keeps things interesting and as a result you feel less like a cog in a machine and can directly see the fruits of your labour.

One of the best parts of my job is when I can speak to a client at an initial phone call, and then see the job right through to the end from start to finish, instead of passing it from department to department. This would be impossible in a large organisation so we should celebrate being the multi skilled workers we are. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to service.

It does mean there’s little chance to sit back and relax, because there is always some office admin to do, or a PC to fix, but it really makes the day go faster.

iPhone Passcode Weakness

iPhone slide to unlock
iPhone slide to unlock

Whilst researching for a new iPhone data recovery service I found some surprising weaknesses in the default iPhone passcode system. Although nothing new, I’d never really considered the implications in much detail before.

It is common knowledge that iPhones are a valuable target for thieves. The phones are worth hundreds on the black market, but have you considered how much more valuable your data could be to criminals?

There are e-mail accounts, social media accounts and phone numbers, all of which add up to your online identity. If somebody had access to it all then at the very least they could work their way through your address book attempting to rip off your friends and family. Other more elaborate scams would also be possible.

Lots of people use a passcode to prevent unauthorised use of their iPhone. The problem is that the simple 4 digit passcode which Apple offers by default is really only worthwhile to stop friends and family using your phone. Anyone more determined to access your data can download software which can figure out the iPhone passcode within minutes.

I had heard about this, but didn’t expect it to be quite so easy. I tested it out on my own iPhone and within 2-3 minutes my passcode was displayed on the screen.

I won’t go into any great detail about how to do it. It’s all there online, but fortunately there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from this sort of attack.

The first thing is to turn off the “Simple Passcode” option under Settings > General.

Then you should use a longer passcode. Every extra digit adds thousands or millions more potential codes that would need to be tried, similar to the Exponential Wheat and Chessboard Problem.

  • 4 digits (0-9) – 0000 = 10,000 possibilities
  • 6 digits (0-9) – 000000 = 1,000,000 possibilities (9,900% Increase)
  • 8 digits (0-9) – 00000000 = 100,000,000 possibilities (999,900% Increase)

To really make things difficult for a would-be hacker you should use an alphanumeric code, mixing numbers and letters.

  • 4 character (A-Z, a-z, 0-9) – AAAA – 14,776,336 possibilities (147,663% Increase)
  • 6 character (A-Z, a-z, 0-9) – AAAAAA – 56,800,235,584 possibilities (568,000,000% Increase)
  • 8 character (A-Z, a-z, 0-9) – AAAAAAAA – 218,340,105,584,896 possibilities* (2,183,000,000,000% Increase)
    *11 times the number of red blood cells in the human body apparently

There is no way somebody could reasonably attempt all 218 trillion possible passwords, so they would use what’s known as a dictionary attack. A dictionary attack uses a modified dictionary of known words, so instead of trying all potential codes, they only try likely passcodes. Make sure your password is not a dictionary word to get the most benefit from your passcode. Add in some punctuation and then you’ve really got a decent code.

Dispatches: Watching The Detectives – Solution

Like anyone else watching Dispatches on Channel 4 tonight, I was absolutely shocked at the ease in which anyone can get hold of my personal and private information. Information such as National Insurance Number, bank account details, itemised phone bills, medical history; details which I would struggle to get access to myself.

I won’t rehash what was covered in the show, as it makes quite shocking viewing, and I wouldn’t do it justice. You should watch it for yourself. What I will offer is a solution.

The Fix

It’s simple really, and should only cost a few pennies to implement:

Send me an e-mail alert whenever my personal data is accessed on a private database. Simple.

An example: I’m on the phone to the bank. As they pull up my info, my phone will ping to let me know my data’s been accessed. If however I’m sat in Starbucks sipping coffee and my phone goes off, I can instantly see who has requested which info, and make my own mind up if I need to look into it.

Here’s some pseudo code for it:

if data requested -> send e-mail alert with date & time of access, recipient of data & details of the data requested

This wouldn’t need to change any current workflow or database access rights, and would simply ping away in the background whenever personal details are requested. I’m sure there would be loads of new job vacancies created, when those getting backhanders for handing out our private data are kicked out or jailed for misconduct.

We could even go one step further, where requests for information would be held back until you give it the all clear, but I can see how that could be more troublesome to legitimate users.

As long as there are databases full of our personal information, there will be people trying to access that information for profit. If we bring that out into the open, then nobody can lose. The data is still accessible when required, but nobody can access it without being tracked and accountable.