Monthly Archives: March 2008

Top 5 reasons why “The customer is Always Right” is wrong

Written by positivesharing

The customer is always right?

When the customer isn’t right – for your business

One woman who frequently flew on Southwest, was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.

She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.

Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s [Kelleher, CEO of Southwest] desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’

In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.'”

The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London in 1909, and is typically used by businesses to:

  1. Convince customers that they will get good service at this company
  2. Convince employees to give customers good service

Fortunately more and more businesses are abandoning this maxim – ironically because it leads to bad customer service.

Here are the top five reasons why “The customer is always right” is wrong.

1: It makes employees unhappy

Gordon Bethune is a brash Texan (as is Herb Kelleher, coincidentally) who is best known for turning Continental Airlines around “From Worst to First,” a story told in his book of the same title from 1998. He wanted to make sure that both customers and employees liked the way Continental treated them, so he made it very clear that the maxim “the customer is always right” didn’t hold sway at Continental.

In conflicts between employees and unruly customers he would consistently side with his people. Here’s how he puts it:

When we run into customers that we can’t reel back in, our loyalty is with our employees. They have to put up with this stuff every day. Just because you buy a ticket does not give you the right to abuse our employees . . .

We run more than 3 million people through our books every month. One or two of those people are going to be unreasonable, demanding jerks. When it’s a choice between supporting your employees, who work with you every day and make your product what it is, or some irate jerk who demands a free ticket to Paris because you ran out of peanuts, whose side are you going to be on?

You can’t treat your employees like serfs. You have to value them . . . If they think that you won’t support them when a customer is out of line, even the smallest problem can cause resentment.

So Bethune trusts his people over unreasonable customers. What I like about this attitude is that it balances employees and customers, where the “always right” maxim squarely favors the customer – which is not a good idea, because, as Bethune says, it causes resentment among employees.

Of course there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving lousy customer service. But trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive.

2: It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage

Using the slogan “The customer is always right” abusive customers can demand just about anything – they’re right by definition, aren’t they? This makes the employees’ job that much harder, when trying to rein them in.

Also, it means that abusive people get better treatment and conditions than nice people. That always seemed wrong to me, and it makes much more sense to be nice to the nice customers to keep them coming back.

3: Some customers are bad for business

Most businesses think that “the more customers the better”. But some customers are quite simply bad for business.

Danish IT service provider ServiceGruppen proudly tell this story:

One of our service technicians arrived at a customer’s site for a maintenance task, and to his great shock was treated very rudely by the customer.

When he’d finished the task and returned to the office, he told management about his experience. They promptly cancelled the customer’s contract.

Just like Kelleher dismissed the irate lady who kept complaining (but somehow also kept flying on Southwest), ServiceGruppen fired a bad customer. Note that it was not even a matter of a financial calculation – not a question of whether either company would make or lose money on that customer in the long run. It was a simple matter of respect and dignity and of treating their employees right.

4: It results in worse customer service

Rosenbluth International, a corporate travel agency, took it even further. CEO Hal Rosenbluth wrote an excellent book about their approach called Put The Customer Second – Put your people first and watch’em kick butt.

Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first. Put employees first, and they will be happy at work. Employees who are happy at work give better customer service because:

  • They care more about other people, including customers
  • They have more energy
  • They are happy, meaning they are more fun to talk to and interact with
  • They are more motivated

On the other hand, when the company and management consistently side with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message that:

  • Employees are not valued
  • That treating employees fairly is not important
  • That employees have no right to respect from customers
  • That employees have to put up with everything from customers

When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service. At that point, real good service is almost impossible – the best customers can hope for is fake good service. You know the kind I mean: corteous on the surface only.

5: Some customers are just plain wrong

Herb Kelleher agrees, as this passage From Nuts! the excellent book about Southwest Airlines shows:

Herb Kelleher […] makes it clear that his employees come first – even if it means dismissing customers. But aren’t customers always right? “No, they are not,” Kelleher snaps. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.'”

If you still think that the customer is always right, read this story from Bethune’s book “From Worst to First”:

A Continental flight attendant once was offended by a passenger’s child wearing a hat with Nazi and KKK emblems on it. It was pretty offensive stuff, so the attendant went to the kid’s father and asked him to put away the hat. “No,” the guy said. “My kid can wear what he wants, and I don’t care who likes it.”

The flight attendant went into the cockpit and got the first officer, who explained to the passenger the FAA regulation that makes it a crime to interfere with the duties of a crew member. The hat was causing other passengers and the crew discomfort, and that interfered with the flight attendant’s duties. The guy better put away the hat.

He did, but he didn’t like it. He wrote many nasty letters. We made every effort to explain our policy and the federal air regulations, but he wasn’t hearing it. He even showed up in our executive suite to discuss the matter with me. I let him sit out there. I didn’t want to see him and I didn’t want to listen to him. He bought a ticket on our airplane, and that means we’ll take him where he wants to go. But if he’s going to be rude and offensive, he’s welcome to fly another airline.

The fact is that some customers are just plain wrong, that businesses are better of without them, and that managers siding with unreasonable customers over employees is a very bad idea, that results in worse customer service.

So put your people first. And watch them put the customers first.

The 10 Products Only Douchebags Buy

Written by Jason Arango

There are some things that scream out “I’m a huge douchebag!” in a way that makes you stop, take in what you’ve just witnessed, and then give a silent nod of confirmation that “yes, that is one giant douchebag.” These are ten items so intrinsically douchey they could take even the most dignified gentleman and make him look like a raging jackass.

10) Axe Body Spray
Perhaps the douchiest of all the body sprays, Axe’s scent alone wouldn’t be enough to push it into the top 10, but coupled with a marketing campaign specifically tailored to douche bags, it squeezes its way in. Spray this on your body and women will drop what they’re doing and flock to you. Watch the commercial and buy this product, and intelligent people will assume you’re an a-hole.

9) Spray on Tan
If you’re a white male you just have to accept the fact that you’re going to be pasty white for about eight months of the year and alternate between sunburned and tan for the other four. But, assuming you refuse to bend to god’s will, you can always spray your tan on like it’s time to cheer Syracuse to a national title. Once you start looking like C Thomas Howell in Soul Man it’s pretty much a bronze beacon to the rest of the world that you are one steaming pile of douche.

8) Watches with an Enormous Face
If you’re going to wear a watch, there’s a simple bell-curve of functionality versus size that needs to be adhered to. After a certain point your watch becomes so large it ceases to be merely a functional time telling device and transforms into a giant gaudy douchometer that’s constantly pinging “hot.” Unless you’re Dick Tracy or Randy Jackson, you probably just look like a little kid that stole his dad’s watch in a desperate attempt to impress all his friends.

7) Puka Shell Necklaces
Although only the first link in the popped collar/white hat trifecta, the puka shell necklace is still a strong stand alone sign of douchiness. Unless you’re a Hawaii native there’s really no way to justify adding this little piece of island flair to your classy khaki and pink polo shirt ensemble.

6) Calvin Peeing on Anything
This co-opted image from the beloved comic strip offers a creative way to voice an opinion on issues ranging from brand superiority all the way to environmental consciousness. Unfortunately, just because Calvin is peeing on global warming doesn’t mean it’ll magically reduce the emissions on your beat up Jeep Cherokee.

5) Barbed Wire Tattoos
Maybe there was a time when a barbed wire tattoo really meant something; a golden era of manliness where getting one was an initiation into a tough-guy society and everyone sat around talking about chest hair, motor oil, and mixed martial arts. Sadly, if there ever was a time like that, it’s long passed, and now a barbed wire tattoo is nothing more than a razor sharp reminder to the rest of the world that you are a douche bag.

4) A Set of Balls for Your Truck
The trailer hitch doppelganger of a pissing Calvin sticker, “Your Nutz” are the ideal vehicle accessory for any guy who decides a V8 Hemi is still a little too subtle. Giving your truck its own set of balls makes a bold statement about the type of life you lead. It says “I’m not afraid to let it all hang out.” It says “I’ve got stones” and “Convention be damned, I do what I want.” But most importantly, it tells everyone else on the road to watch out for the asshole in the pickup that spent twenty-five bucks on a fake pair of balls.

3) Female Body Inspector T-Shirts
It’s an acronym for guys who are only vaguely aware of what an acronym is. Although one of the douchier t-shirts around, you could really expand the FBI shirt to encompass any “I’m on spring break” type slogan, including “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila…floor” and all paraphernalia with the shocker on it.

2) Bluetooth Headsets
While the technology is useful, the application pretty much consists of causing public disruptions and walking around leaving a verbal fart trail of self-importance in your wake. The one caveat to this might be the surprisingly large percentage of Bluetooth users that look like they’re dirt poor and yet are sporting a shiny new headset to field the incoming calls on their cellphone that’s been “temporarily disconnected.” Either way though, the only distinction would be giant uppercase yuppie Douche Bag or broke-ass lowercase d-bag.

1) I Heart My Penis Merchandise
There are some things that should be accepted as basic fact, and one of them is that most guys love their penis. That being said, there’s really no reason to go out of your way to advertise this to the rest of the world. Unless you’re the type of guy that’s tired of waiting two whole seconds for people to decipher the double entendre on your Big Johnson t-shirt, you might want to just keep quiet about your affinity for your own genitalia. Pins, magnets, and even air-fresheners sharing your founding member status in a fan club of one is only tipping people off that they’re dealing with a Grade-A douche bag.

101 Five-Minute Fixes to Incrementally Improve Your Web Site

Written by Inside CRM

These quick tweaks will help you keep visitors engaged.

A webmaster’s work is never done. What may have worked a few years ago when could be outdated today, so it’s important to constantly improve your Web site. However, a massive overhaul is just too much work to undertake at one time. Instead, tackle these quick fixes over time, and you’ll be able to improve your Web site with minimal pain.


Content, specifically text, is perhaps your site’s most important asset. Make sure that it’s up to snuff by following these improvements.

  1. Tell readers why they should perform a task. If your site is full of passive suggestions, toughen it up. People are trained to follow a request, as long as you give them a good reason to do it.
  2. Make the most highly trafficked pages easier to scan. If your current site consists of large blocks of text, break it up so that it’s easier for the average Internet user to read.
  3. Convey a sense of trust. If you’re experiencing skepticism, offer social proof like testimonials or risk-mitigating offers like a free trial.
  4. Stress benefits. Ensure that your copy always shows users exactly how your site will benefit them.
  5. Make headlines meaningful. Be sure to change any vague or cutesy headlines to something more up-front and meaningful.
  6. Repeat yourself. Check over your copy to make sure that you’re really driving the point home by making it in a number of ways.
  7. Tell visitors what to do. Revise your site to ensure that people know exactly what the next step is. If you want a visitor to click a link, tell them
  8. Keep the reader engaged. Make sure that your current content gives visitors a reason to keep reading throughout the entire piece; otherwise, you need to spice things up a bit.
  9. Stay consistent. Check your copy for consistency, or else your site may be seen as unstable or flighty.
  10. Stay simple. Simplify your message simply to avoid confusing visitors, while at the same time improving conversion rates.
  11. Structure content persuasively. Restructure your content so that it’s more focused, specific and credible.
  12. Offer social proof. Seek out testimonials and case studies to show just how effective your services are.
  13. Keep offers simple. If you’re offering lots of different options, pare them down.
  14. Make an offer that visitors can’t refuse. Check out your site to make sure that you’re giving your visitors a reason to pick your company out of an overcrowded field.
  15. Avoid making hollow promises. Check out your guarantee, and ensure that you’re backing it up with something of substance, like a money-back guarantee.
  16. Keep each block of text to a single topic. Make sure that your text isn’t too overwhelming with many different thoughts in one place.
  17. Offer comparisons. Make it easier for your reader to understand and relate to your business by offering metaphors, similes and analogies.
  18. Be concise. Make sure that your copy is only as long as it needs to be to get your point across reasonably.
  19. Go with what works. Study other copywriters to adopt the words and methods that have worked for them. Customize these words and phrases until they become your own.


If your site isn’t usable, visitors will not stick around. Take these small steps, and you’ll have a more user-friendly site that’s ripe for conversions.

  1. Add a short “about” page. Put a real person behind your site by allowing your visitors to learn a bit about you.
  2. Make navigation consistent. Make sure that your site’s navigation is on the same place on each page so that visitors don’t get confused.
  3. Make text links clear. Be sure that your links are descriptive enough so that visitors know exactly where they’re going.
  4. Use underlined link text. Get rid of your fancy link navigation. Visitors expect to click underlined links. If you dislike underlines, use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to employ a different method of highlighting, like a different text color or font.
  5. Never ask for more information than you need. If you’re currently asking for excessive information, rethink your data-mining tendencies. When you get greedy for data, you’ll turn off some visitors.
  6. Always have text links. Although your JavaScript menu might look great, some browsers and users have JavaScript disabled.
  7. Have a text-based site map. With a text-based site map, lost visitors can find their way, and you’ll make it easy for search engine spiders to find your pages.
  8. Link the site logo to the home page. Visitors will expect your logo to link to the home page, so make it easy for them to find it.
  9. Add a search box. Are your current visitors lost? Make it easy for them to find exactly what they’re looking for with an internal search box.
  10. Use plenty of contrast. If text seems to melt into the background, change things up and make your text easy to read by using colors that highly contrast one another.
  11. Customize the error page. If you have a standard set of error pages, you need to step things up. The error page should not only reflect your site’s design but also provide useful links that will get your visitor back on track.
  12. Ask for feedback. Create a contact form that makes it easy for customers to speak with you about your site.
  13. Test the site on real users. Ask regular people to navigate your site to find usability problems.
  14. Create specific landing pages. If you want to sell, make sure that you have landing pages for specific campaigns and that each of those pages has a purpose.
  15. Add more internal links. If you’d like to get more traffic to your income-producing pages, add some internal links to your most highly trafficked pages.

Search Engine Optimization

Follow these tips if you’d like to see an improvement on your search-engine rankings.

  1. Replace underscores with hyphens. In search-engine results, words separated by underscores will run together, while hypens will create a space between each word.
  2. Implement 301s to consolidate page rank. If your site lives on both non-“www” and “www” domains, redirect one to the other in order to consolidate.
  3. Add a dynamic meta description. Make sure that your meta description makes sense so that your excerpt in search-engine results is more appealing.
  4. Use heading tags. Let search engines know what’s important by highlighting titles and more in header tags.
  5. Update content often. Give search engines a reason to keep coming back with fresh content.
  6. Ensure that your host is up to snuff. Make sure that your host is providing maximum uptime so that your site is visible at all times.
  7. Create a robots text file. Make life easy for crawlers by creating a file just for them.
  8. Make sure that your domain is brandable. If your name isn’t easy to say or remember, you need to find something that is.
  9. Build link popularity. Actively seek out relevant, inbound links to your site to build trust and profile with search engines.
  10. Turn off music. No one wants music to greet them every time they click a link, so turn off the music – or at least offer an easy option for disabling it.
  11. Give pages real names. For example, if your page is about red widgets, its filename should be, or at least include, the words “red” and “widgets.”
  12. Take off the black hat. If you’ve used tactics like keyword stuffing, remove them from your site. They may be working now, but in the long run, they’ll only hurt.
  13. Open up the drop-down menus. Let your user see all of the navigation options available, or you’ll confuse them.
  14. Ditch registration. Don’t turn off users by forcing them to register to access content.
  15. Ditch frames. Frames are horrible for search-engine optimization and design in general. Just stay away from them.
  16. Fix broken links. Don’t send search engines and users down dead ends. Clean up links for better search-engine optimization and usability.
  17. Avoid resizing the user’s window. Let the user be in control of their browser, or your site will lose credibility.


If your site isn’t accessible, you could be making things frustrating or even impossible for visitors with disabilities. Take these steps to make your site more inclusive.

  1. Create accessible forms. Make sure that your forms can be filled out by all visitors.
  2. Specify spacer images as empty. Make sure that nonvisual browsers know to ignore your spacer images by noting them as empty.
  3. Set captions on tables. This will ensure that your captions render correctly even in visual browsers.
  4. Modify color. Ensure that pages are readable by using appropriate colors.
  5. Summarize tables. Add a summary of tables so that visitors with screen readers will understand what they’re all about.
  6. Provide real lists. Use list tags to ensure that lists render correctly for disabled browsers.
  7. Remove text from images. Using image text will make it difficult for those using screen readers to read text.
  8. Offer an alternative to JavaScript links. Many browsers for the disabled don’t support JavaScript, so make it easy for them to have access to “real” links.
  9. Identify the language. Screen readers need to know how to pronounce words, so let them know what language your site’s content is in.
  10. Add titles to links. Ensure that links are descriptive enough for visitors by adding link titles.
  11. Create accessible tables. Make sure that tables are accessible to all by using scope, header and ID attributes.
  12. Allow text resizing. Make it easy for readers to resize text if necessary.
  13. Supplement navigational aids. Offer additional navigational aids to help visitors who use text-only browsers.
  14. Define keyboard shortcuts. Set up keyboard shortcuts so that disabled users can navigate your site with ease.
  15. Provide alternate text for images. Alternate text will let disabled visitors know what images represent.
  16. Set a document type. Let readers know what sort of programming language your site uses so that content can be displayed correctly.
  17. Present content first. Make sure that text-only browswers aren’t being presented with your navigation before main content.
  18. Set horizontal rules. Instead of just using an image to break up your pages, use horizontal-rule tags and CSS to display them properly for disabled users.
  19. Accessible pop-up windows. If your site uses pop-up windows, make sure that they’re accessible.
  20. Create meaningful page titles. Make sure that your site’s page names make sense for their content.


Spruce up your site’s appearance using these design fixes.

  1. Place important information “above the fold.” Move your most important content high on the page so you can be sure that visitors will see it.
  2. Keep background colors and images at a minimum. Backgrounds are often less than visually appealing and can make your site load slowly.
  3. Reduce choices. Avoid overwhelming your visitor with lots of different options.
  4. Design small. Cut your Web pages down to 50KB or less so that they load quickly for anyone.
  5. Nix banners. Abandon banners for a more effective design element, or they’ll be ignored.
  6. Stay consistent. Check to make sure that colors and design are in the same general scheme so that visitors know they’re still on your site.
  7. Validate design in alternative browsers. See how your design renders in browsers like Safari, Opera and Firefox to make sure that it looks right no matter who is viewing it.
  8. Minimize columns. Reduce columns to avoid distracting the reader with excessive visual choices.
  9. Lose the splash page. No one wants to sit through a fancy Flash introduction. Replace it with a helpful home page instead.
  10. Create a tagline. Stand out with a striking tagline that will draw visitors in.
  11. Ditch frames. If your site uses frames, you need to move on to another method, like CSS or SSI (Server-Side Includes).
  12. Make sure that text outnumbers HTML. Provide good content with text rather than HTML.
  13. Slow down the technology. Although you may have state-of-the-art computers, many of your visitors don’t. Get rid of memory-hogging technologies like JavaScript.
  14. Remove link cloaks. Make sure that your visitor knows exactly where they’re going, or you’ll lose credibility.
  15. Limit each page to one topic. Give each page a singular purpose to avoid confusing visitors.
  16. Ditch crazy fonts. If you’re using a ransom-note font, it’s time to switch to something simpler. Chances are, your visitors’ browsers are rendering it as Times New Roman anyway.
  17. Reduce your graphics. Graphics not only slow pages down, but they also steal attention away from what’s important: content.
  18. Add functional links to the footer. Make it easy for visitors to find contact information or your privacy policy just by scrolling down.
  19. Standardize link colors. Make sure that users know which links they’ve visited and which they haven’t.
  20. Update information. Put on a fresh coat of paint with a new header, logo or other design element.
  21. Convert PDF files to HTML. Make browsing flow a little smoother by converting PDF files to a format that’s more easily readable in a browser.


Keep your site safe and protect your content using these improvements.

  1. Update the privacy policy. Ensure that your site’s privacy policy fully discloses everything it should.
  2. Revise “deep” links. Update links so that they point to the home page of a site rather than a specific page, or make sure that you’re attributing them correctly.
  3. Legitimize images. If you’re using images that you don’t legally own, it’s time to update them with your own images or those that you’ve purchased.
  4. Pay taxes. If you’re making money from your site, it’s a business and is taxed as such. Take care of your taxes or you could end up in hot water with Uncle Sam.
  5. Protect content. Keep your content safe from thieves by copyrighting it and taking steps to shield it from unscrupulous eyes.
  6. Form a legal entity. Get liability protection by forming an LLC (limited liability company) or other formal legal entity.
  7. Register a trademark. If you own your domain name but not a related trademark, a trademarked entity with the same name could take it from you, so be sure to register it before someone else does.
  8. Store a Web site cache. Keep a copy of your site handy in case of copyright disputes or loss.
  9. Revise the email campaign. Make sure that your email campaign complies with the CAN-SPAM Act.

The 10 Legal Commandments of Photography*

Written by photojojo

handcuffed photographer

Say you’re out for a photographic stroll, taking pictures of that cool old power plant on the edge of town. Suddenly seventy security guards swarm you and demand you hand over your camera.

“What is this,” you ask yourself, “a Michael Moore movie?”

You’re sure you haven’t done anything wrong, but you don’t know whose side the law is on. Fret no more- we’ve got a list of things you can and can’t do, and it’s a lot more permissive than you might think.

Now grab your camera back from that Rent-A-Cop and let’s hit the books.

Photography and The Law: Know Your Rights

*Charlton Heston not included

p.s. Thanks to everybody who entered our “Monday Stinks!” contest! Congratulations to Notorious D.A.V., Warren Photography, evaded, mommaozzy 84, biancaprime, berdandy, spade, AnasBananas, trenity00, andreskrey, determinedforce01, ladibug, killbyte, Nellofcourse and Mia!

Before we get started here, we have to point out that even though we’re smart and awesome and devastatingly attractive, we’re not lawyers. None of this should be construed as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, get in touch with a lawyer. Much of this information was gleaned from attorney Bert P. Krages‘ website, so we’ll go ahead and recommend him.

The Ten Legal Commandments of Photography

I. Anyone in a public place can take pictures of anything they want. Public places include parks, sidewalks, malls, etc. Malls? Yeah. Even though it’s technically private property, being open to the public makes it public space.

II. If you are on public property, you can take pictures of private property. If a building, for example, is visible from the sidewalk, it’s fair game.

III. If you are on private property and are asked not to take pictures, you are obligated to honor that request. This includes posted signs.

IV. Sensitive government buildings (military bases, nuclear facilities) can prohibit photography if it is deemed a threat to national security.

V. People can be photographed if they are in public (without their consent) unless they have secluded themselves and can expect a reasonable degree of privacy. Kids swimming in a fountain? Okay. Somebody entering their PIN at the ATM? Not okay.

VI. The following can almost always be photographed from public places, despite popular opinion:

  • accident & fire scenes, criminal activities
  • bridges & other infrastructure, transportation facilities (i.e. airports)
  • industrial facilities, Superfund sites
  • public utilities, residential & commercial buildings
  • children, celebrities, law enforcement officers
  • UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Chuck Norris

VII. Although “security” is often given as the reason somebody doesn’t want you to take photos, it’s rarely valid. Taking a photo of a publicly visible subject does not constitute terrorism, nor does it infringe on a company’s trade secrets.

VIII. If you are challenged, you do not have to explain why you are taking pictures, nor to you have to disclose your identity (except in some cases when questioned by a law enforcement officer.)

IX. Private parties have very limited rights to detain you against your will, and can be subject to legal action if they harass you.

X. If someone tries to confiscate your camera and/or film, you don’t have to give it to them. If they take it by force or threaten you, they can be liable for things like theft and coercion. Even law enforcement officers need a court order.

What To Do If You’re Confronted

  • Be respectful and polite. Use good judgement and don’t escalate the situation.
  • If the person becomes combative or difficult, think about calling the police.
  • Threats, detention, and taking your camera are all grounds for legal or civil actions on your part. Be sure to get the person’s name, employer, and what legal grounds they claim for their actions.
  • If you don’t want to involve the authorities, go above the person’s head to their supervisor or their company’s public relations department.
  • Call your local TV and radio stations and see if they want to do a story about your civil liberties.
  • Put the story on the web yourself if need be.

More Resources

20+ Excellent Resources for High-Res Desktop Wallpapers

Written by reencoded


If you have to stare at something for 8 or more hours a day, why not make it something interesting? Sure there are tons of places to find wallpaper on the web … but a lot of them are hard to navigate and highly disorganized. pided into five helpful categories, with introductory descriptions and sample screenshots, here are over twenty of the best collections, communities and other resources on the web for finding excellent desktop wallpaper.
User-Submitted Wallpaper Communities:


InterFaceLift has a really useful system for cross-tagging wallpapers by size, category and type. You can browse their selection by most viewed, highest rated, date posted as well as by monitor size and aspect ratio as well as double and even triple-monitor. All in all this is one of the best and most user-friendly wallpaper databases out there.


SocWall is another community dedicated specifically to “social wallpapering” – users sharing wallpaper by category and voting on one another’s submissions. Because it is a free-for-all submission-wise there is a wide (and somewhat weird) variety of content. However, it is highly searchable and organized relatively well by fairly detailed categories.


Flickr has almost 25,000 wallpaper uploads by Flickr users. Of course any collection like this is bound to be hard to sort through and filled with good and bad but it’s still worth bookmarking. You can also search Flick using this handy wallpaper search engine.


Wikipedia is a place we all know to look for various kinds of information … but wallpaper? Indeed, there is an ever-changing collection of featured desktop wallpapers contributed to the Wikipedia Commons.


DeviantArt isn’t dedicated to wallpaper per say but many of the works of art featured on the site would make (and have made) amazing wallpaper depending upon the restrictions set upon a particular piece within the community.


WebShots is yet another user-submitted image site stocked mainly with photographs but also the occasional Photoshopped or otherwise digitally created image.

Photographic and Conventionally Pleasing Wallpapers:


SocksOff‘s collection of wallpapers is primarily photographic or at least pseudo-photorealistic, full of rich colors that are in many cases absolutely stunning. Looking at these one could imagine finding a wallpaper for virtually any kind or color of computer that would blend perfectly with other elements on your screen as well.


Mike Swanson has collected a lot of his close-up-photograph wallpapers into one convenient location on his blog. The typical subject matter is floral or otherwise natural with a smattering of found objects thrown into the mix, usual shot from a few feet away.


Gran-Angular has some nice but somewhat generic photographic wallpapers. These are certainly nicer than standard stock images and higher resolution though overall they aren’t too far off the beaten path. Worth taking a look at for less-adventurous wallpaper-seekers out for something simple and nice.


Wallpaper Stock has some fairly atypical categories including “sexy” and “Christian” though is overall fairly tame and largely limited to photographic wallpaper of a relatively normal variety. Still, it is an interestingly eclectic mix with unusual organization.

Fantastic and Creatively Abstract Wallpapers:


Fantasy Art Design has a collection of wallpaper that would make Salvador Dali proud. The subjects range considerably but are typically surrealistic landscapes that place with light, color and physics with crisp and compelling details all around.


Vlad Studios deals mainly in simple but abstract wallpapers with a clear and focused theme or set of cartoonish and playful elements. These range from hearts and rainbows to somewhat more serious subjects but are largely light-hearted in nature.


Veer puts a decidedly retro twist on the art of desktop wallpaper. A lot of them are abstract and/or text-based and more hip and crisp than other wallpapers. The designs are conveniently available in various sizes, including ones suitable to the iPhone.


Pixel Girl Presents has wallpaper of virtually all kinds, submitted by users then approved by administrators, but the overall tone of the content is whimsical, fantastic and alternative rather than photorealistic, hence its inclusion in this category.

Mixed Wallpaper Collections and Designs:


Riccardo Iaconelli‘s blog features last year’s fifteen winners of the Oxygen wallpaper design contest. Because the designers are all different the results are, of course, quite varied. Some are abstract while others are nature-themed and all are quite nice.


E-Wallpapers hasn’t been updated for some time but was once an active blog dedicated to interesting wallpaper. Still, even their older archives contain some wallpapers you may discover is still a beautiful and artistic today as when they were created.


Crestock has not one but two collections of nifty wallpapers, the first with 13 and the second with 17. These are a mixed back of photography and abstractia.

Specialty and Specific Niche Wallpapers:


Dual Screen Wallpapers features, as the name suggests, wallpaper specifically designed to be suited to wider and split screens. In some cases this means there is a natural break in the pattern somewhere toward the middle. These wallpapers are pided up into various categories including space, vehicles and abstract – something for everyone.


Zuneo has a great series of FireFox wallpapers. The theme is pretty limiting but if you love FireFox they are well worth checking out and range from simple to quite elegant and intricate. Want even more? DesktopNexus has another set.

Other Awesome Wallpaper Collections:

Smashing Magazine also composed a collection of wallpaper resources a while back and pided into five categories: typography, art, technology, photography and abstract themes. “Among other things we review calendar wallpapers, minimalistic wallpapers, wallpapers-illustrations and themes for Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and Google-fans.” But wait there’s more: here is another list from SmashingMagazine. Also, here’s an alphabetized list from Wallpaper Review to even more sites.

Top 5 Games You’re Better at Drunk

Written by Jenn Frank

An Only Slightly Less Stupid Way to Spend St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day has a lot going for it (funny hats, shamrocks, elves), but mostly it’s a holiday set aside so that people, Irish or not, can get hammered. And although we’d never disparage getting stupid on green-tinted beer and passing out in an alley, staying indoors with friends, liquor, and a Sixaxis seems a hell of a lot more responsible for once. Sure, there are those games that require a meticulous and steady hand, tremendous attention to detail, and the discipline of a surgeon. And then there are those games that — you swear! You swear up and down, on all that is holy — you are just a little better at when blitzed. No, we aren’t telling you to drink irresponsibly, least of all before undertaking a major task like driving or phoning someone you met the other night. But maybe science is telling you that downing a fifth could improve your final score.

5. Breakout – Atari 2600
Breakout - Atari 2600
For some, the average Atari 2600 game loses its luster within the first 15 seconds. And while 2600 graphics are, to the sober mind, dated and blocky, to the sloshing brain the graphics are alive, immediate, and contemporary. I know for a fact that you can play Breakout boozily, because I’ve witnessed it. Once, I walked out of my living room just as a friend hit the reset switch on my 2600. When I walked back in, there he was, sitting on the floor with his eyes kind of misty, the paddle control in front of him. He’d beaten Breakout. “I’m a genius!” he told me. Breakout is a very twitchy game that requires fine, precise movements and astute snap decision-making. In that regard it’s practically a sobriety test. Of course alcohol hadn’t improved my friend’s hand-eye coordination (but don’t tell him that). However, he was in the Zone, in that Zen mindset where patterns and trajectories begin to make a strange cosmic sense. Also, a PBR had temporarily turned my friend into a struttin’ cock of the walk, which surely helped his game. If you don’t have Breakout at hand (and if you aren’t yet in your 30s, I can’t fault you), challenge your friends to Arkanoid. If you’re feeling really competitive, do Pong.
4. Rez HD – 360
Rez - Dreamcast, PS2
Perhaps games like Breakout benefit from alcohol consumption because they do rely on visual abstraction. Modern shoot-em-ups like Rez also seem to benefit from beer buzz: The half-awake, primal brain focuses on nothing in particular, and yet, as if automagically, you manage to rack up a phenomenal score. “Have you ever experienced shooter Zen?” Scott Sharkey once asked. “It’s that trancelike state you slip into, where your mind merges with the game and no matter what it throws at you, you’re going to survive because you’re freaking Superman.” Mike Bracken of GameCritics elaborates: “To become a true shmup master, one must enter a Zen-like state wherein the gamer becomes one with the controller and his onscreen avatar.” Now they call trance music “trance” for a reason, and Rez is one of the few games that inexplicably combines lightning-fast action with vegetativeness (which is a real word; I checked). We’re not telling you to booze yourself into Buddha — but if you’re of age, gellin’ like Magellan can make Rez even more engaging and rhythmic. Just ask Mizuguchi. If you hate electronica music, we recommend Geometry Wars.
3. Guitar Hero – PS2, 360, Wii, Mac
Guitar Hero - PS2, 360, Wii, Mac
With “beatmatching” rhythm games and alcohol, there’s a dramatic bell curve. You’re invincible after a beer, but after one too many, you’re so kicked out of the band. The reason you can play games after a whiskey is actually the same reason you don’t drive after a whiskey: Slightly impaired judgment means you’re more confident, more daring. Your score in Guitar Hero may markedly improve after a drink if only because, for instance, you wouldn’t ordinarily attempt that really difficult solo. There’s a fine line between taking risks and getting stupid, though, and it generally coincides with getting your toy guitar taken away. Waning, boozy attention spans might tire of Guitar Hero’s music catalog; in that case, we recommend Audiosurf as a viable alternative.
2. WarioWare: Smooth Moves – Wii
WarioWare: Smooth Moves - Wii
With alcohol, it’s easy to coerce your friends into doing things they would never ordinarily do. Turn that negative into a positive! Nothing feels quite so right as finding four of the burliest, manliest dudes you can, moving the Hummel figurines out of arm’s reach, and bringing out the Wii Remotes. In an event like this, many partygoers prefer WarioWare: Smooth Moves. Your friends will look silly playing any movement game, irrespective of whether it stars Wario, but WarioWare includes a lot more hopping, ducking, and flapping than tennis does. And if booze is good for anything it’s making you unafraid to look like an ass. Don’t forget the camcorder! In a pinch, you could make your friends play Wii Sports, but if coordination becomes a problem, why not bring out SingStar or Karaoke Revolution instead?

1. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – DS
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - DS
So, you’re drinking alone. No, no, don’t explain. I am loath to admit I completed Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with, literally, one eye open. And while you might not think booze and detective work go together (although, come to think of it, there is a certain Sam Spade appeal there), the truth is, point-and-click adventure puzzles seem to go down a little easier with a glass of wine. Especially when they’re mysterious. But why is that? Alcohol doesn’t necessarily improve your acuity or powers of deduction — not by any stretch! — but it does make you more brash, more determined. With point-and-click adventures, in which the only real adversary is your own sense of frustration, brash tenacity is a virtue worth rewarding. If courtroom battles aren’t your thing, settle into your easy chair with a pipe and a decanter and check out Professor Layton and the Curious Village to see how the juice affects your holmesian intellect. Next week: Top Ten Games You’re Better at While on Coke. Or not.

10 things you don’t know about the Milky Way Galaxy

Written by bad astronomy

So you’ve lived here all your life – in fact, everyone has – but what do you really know about the Milky Way galaxy? Sure, you know it’s a spiral, and it’s 100,000 light years across. And of course, BABloggees are smarter, more well-read, and better looking than the average population, but be honest: do you know all ten of these things? Really?


So let’s see if these really are Ten Things You Don’t Know About the Milky Way Galaxy.

1) It’s a barred spiral.

Illustration of the Milky Way's barYou might know that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, perhaps the most beautiful galaxy type. You’ve seen ’em: majestic arms sweeping out from a central hub or bulge of glowing stars. That’s us. But a lot of spirals have a weird feature: a rectangular block of stars at the center instead of a sphere, and the arms radiate away from the ends of the block. Astronomers call this block a bar, and, you guessed it: we have one.

Is fact, ours is pretty big. At 27,000 light years end-to-end, it’s beefier than most bars. Of course, space is a rough neighborhood. Who wouldn’t want a huge bar located right downtown?

By the way, the image above is not a photograph, it’s a drawing- there’s no way to get outside the galaxy and take a picture like this looking back. It would be a loooong walk home! Click the picture to embiggen and get more details (which is true for all the pictures in this post).

2) There’s a supermassive black hole at its heart.

At the very center of the Galaxy, right at its very core, lies a monster: a supermassive black hole.

We know it’s there due to the effect of its gravity. Stars very near the center – some only a few dozen billion kilometers out – orbit the center at fantastic speeds. They scream around their orbits at thousands of kilometers per second, and their phenomenal speed betrays the mass of the object to which they’re enthralled. Applying some fairly basic math, it’s possible to determine that the mass needed to accelerate the stars to those speeds must tip the cosmic scales at four million times the mass of the Sun! Yet in the images, nothing can be seen. So what can be as massive as 4,000,000 Suns and yet not emit any light?

Right. A black hole.

Even though it’s huge, bear in mind that the Galaxy itself is something like 200 billion solar masses strong, so in reality the black hole at the center is only a tiny fraction of the total mass of the Galaxy. And we’re in no danger of plunging into it: after all, it’s 250,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers away.

It’s thought now that a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy forms along with the galaxy itself, and in facts winds blown outward as material falls in affects the formation of stars in the galaxy. So black holes may be dangerous, but it’s entirely possible the Sun’s eventual birth – and the Earth’s along with it – may have been lent a hand by the four million solar mass killer so far away.

3) It’s a cannibal.

Galaxies are big, and have lots of mass. If another, smaller galaxy passes too close by, the bigger galaxy can rip it to shreds and ingest its stars and gas.

Illustration of the Milky Way tearing apart the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxyThe Milky Way is pretty, but it’s savage, too. It’s currently eating several other galaxies. They’ve been ripped into long, curving arcs of stars that orbit the center of the Milky Way. Eventually they’ll merge completely with us, and we’ll be a slightly larger galaxy. Ironically though, the galaxies add their mass to ours, making it more likely we’ll feed again. Eating only makes galaxies hungrier.

4) We live in a nice neighborhood…

The Milky Way is not alone in space. We’re part of a small group of nearby galaxies called – get ready to be shocked – the Local Group. We’re the heaviest guy on the block, and the Andromeda galaxy is maybe a bit less massive, though it’s actually spread out more. The Triangulum galaxy is also a spiral, but not terribly big, and there are other assorted galaxies dotted here and there in the Group. All together, there are something like three dozen galaxies in the Local Group, with most being dinky dwarf galaxies that are incredibly faint and difficult to detect.

5) … and we’re in the suburbs.

The Local Group is small and cozy, and everyone makes sure their lawns are mowed and houses painted nicely. That’s because if you take the long view, we live in the suburbs. The big city in this picture is the Virgo Cluster, a huge collection of about 2000 galaxies, many of which are as large or larger than the Milky Way. It’s the nearest big cluster; the center of it is about 60 million light years away. We appear to be gravitationally bound to it; in other words, we’re a part of it, just far-flung. The total mass of the cluster may be as high as a quadrillion times the mass of the Sun.

6) You can only see 0.000003% percent of it.

When you got out on a dark night, you can see thousands of stars. But the Milky Way has two hundred billion stars in it. You’re only seeing a tiny tiny fraction of the number of stars tooling around the galaxy. In fact, with only a handful of exceptions, the most distant stars you can readily see are 1000 light years away. Worse, most stars are so faint that they are invisible much closer than that; the Sun is too dim to see from farther than about 60 light years away… and the Sun is pretty bright compared to most stars. So the little bubble of stars we can see around us is just a drop in the ocean of the Milky Way.

7) 90% of it is invisible.

When you look at the motions of the stars in our galaxy, you can apply some math and physics and determine how much mass the galaxy has (more mass means more gravity, which means stars will move faster under its influence). You can also count up the number of stars in the galaxy and figure out how much mass they have. Problem is, the two numbers don’t match: stars (and other visible things like gas and dust) make up only 10% of the mass of the galaxy. Where’s the other 90%?

Image of the Bullet Cluster, the first direct evidence of Dark MatterWhatever it is, it has mass, but doesn’t glow. So we call it Dark Matter, for lack of a better term (and it’s actually pretty accurate). We know it’s not black holes, dead stars, ejected planets, cold gas – those have all been searched for, and marked off the list – and the candidates that remain get pretty weird (like WIMPs). But we know it’s real, and we know it’s out there. We just don’t know what it is. Smart people are trying to figure that out, and given the findings in recent years, I bet we’re less than a decade from their success.

8) Spiral arms are an illusion.

Well, they’re not an illusion per se, but the number of stars in the spiral arms of our galaxy isn’t really very different than the number between the arms! The arms are like cosmic traffic jams, regions where the local density is enhanced. Like a traffic jam on a highway, cars enter and leave the jam, but the jam itself stays. The arms have stars entering and leaving, but the arms themselves persist (that’s why they don’t wind up like twine on a spindle).

Just like on highways, too, there are fender benders. Giant gas clouds can collide in the arms, which makes them collapse and form stars. The vast majority of these stars are faint, low mass, and very long-lived, so they eventually wander out of the arms. But some rare stars are very massive, hot, and bright, and they illuminate the surrounding gas. These stars don’t live very long, and they die (bang!) before they can move out of the arms. Since the gas clouds in the arms light up this way, it makes the spiral arms more obvious.

We see the arms because the light is better there, not because that’s where all the stars are.

9) It’s seriously warped.

The Milky Way is a flat disk roughly 100,000 light years across and a few thousand light years thick (depending on how you measure it). It has the same proportion as a stack of four DVDs, if that helps.

Have you ever left a DVD out in the Sun? It can warp as it heats up, getting twisted (old vinyl LPs used to be very prone to this). The Milky Way has a similar warp!

Image of the Andromeda galaxy with the middle blocked so you can see the warpThe disk is bent, warped, probably due to the gravitational influence of a pair of orbiting satellite galaxies. One side of the disk is bent up, if you will, and the other down. In a sense, it’s like a ripple in the plane of the Milky Way. It’s not hard to spot in other galaxies; grab an image of the Andromeda galaxy and take a look. At first it’s hard to see, but if you cover the inner part you’ll suddenly notice the disk is flared up on the left and down on the right. Andromeda has satellite galaxies too, and they warp its disk just like our satellite galaxies warp ours.

As far as I can tell, the warp doesn’t really affect us at all. It’s just a cool thing you may not know about the Milky Way. Hey, that would make a good blog entry!

10) We’re going to get to know the Andromeda galaxy a lot better.

Speaking of Andromeda, have you ever seen it in the sky? It’s visible to the naked eye on a clear, dark, moonless night (check your local listings). It’s faint, but big; it’s four or more degrees across, eight times the apparent size of the Moon on the sky.

If that doesn’t seem too big, then give it, oh, say, two billion years. Then you’ll have a much better view.

The Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way are approaching each other, two cosmic steam engines chugging down the tracks at each other at 200 kilometers per second. Remember when I said big galaxies eat small ones? Well, when two big galaxies smack into each other, you get real fireworks. Stars don’t physically collide; they’re way too small on this scale. But gas clouds can, and like I said before, when they do they form stars. So you get a burst of star formation, lighting up the two galaxies.

Hubble image of The Antennae, two colliding galaxiesIn the meantime, the mutual gravity of the two galaxies draw out long tendrils from the other, making weird, delicate arcs and filaments of stars and gas. It’s beautiful, really, but it indicates violence on an epic scale.

Eventually (it takes a few billion years), the two galaxies will merge, and will become, what, Milkomeda? Andromeway? Well, whatever, they form a giant elliptical galaxy when they finally settle down. In fact, the Sun will still be around when this happens; it won’t have yet become a red giant. Will our descendants witness the biggest collision in the history of the galaxy?

That’s cool to think about. Incidentally, I talk about this event a whole lot more, and in a lot more detail, in my upcoming book Death from the Skies! In case you forgot about that.

Until then, these Ten Things should keep you occupied. And of course, I only wanted to list ten things so I could give this post the cool title. But if there’s something you find surprising about the Milky Way, leave a comment! I don’t want to hog all the fun.

Top 10 Most Depressing Quotes from Orwell’s 1984

Written by Alternative Reel



“Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress toward more pain.”



“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any inpidual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live-did live, from habit that became instinct-in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”



“From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:

#07 – HOLLOW


“Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”



“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”



“We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instance of death we cannot permit any deviation . . . we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.”



“The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering-a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons-a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting-three hundred million people all with the same face.”



“A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”



“We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent there will be no need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always-do not forget this Winston-always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever.”

#01 – VICTORY **Spoiler Alert!**

“He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

Get Back to Your Mac Without Paying for It

Written by lifehacker

When Leopard was released, one of the most enticing new features was Back to My Mac, a tool that made it possible to access your home computer remotely-including remote control of your desktop and access to your files-no matter where you are. The catch: It requires a $100 yearly subscription to the lackluster .Mac service. Right now I’m working from my laptop in Austin, and I’ve got the same full access to my home PC in Los Angeles as Back to My Mac offers, but I didn’t spend a dime on .Mac to get it. That’s because all of the tools you need to roll your own Back to My Mac are already built into Leopard for free out of the box-you just need to know how to access them.

NOTE: This week I’m focusing on gaining full access remotely using a Mac, but the same tools, which I’ll highlight in another post, exist for Windows users.

The Results

Before I step you through all of the work involved, it seems prudent to give you a slightly better idea of the end result. Once you’ve completed the setup I’m detailing below, you’ll be able to remotely control your home computer like you’re sitting directly in front of it (if you’re familiar with VNC, that’s all it is), access any of the files on your computer’s hard drive just like you would if you were on the same network (or sitting at that computer), and pretty much anything else (provided it’s not too graphic-intensive). The main draw is this: When you’re done, you should be able to do virtually anything remotely that you could do sitting in front of that computer.

Set Up Faux Back to My Mac Features on Your Home Mac

To get started setting up your faux Back to My Mac, you need to fire up Leopard’s saucy new Sharing preference pane from the System Preferences. From here, we’ll enable remote screen sharing and set up an FTP server that will allow us to remotely access files on the computer.

Enable Screen Sharing: To enable Screen Sharing, which is probably the marquee feature of Back to My Mac for most users, just click the checkbox next to Screen Sharing in the Sharing prefpane. You could stop there, but I prefer to set up access for “Only these users,” and set it to my user account. This means that when you’re accessing your screen remotely, you’ll log in with the same username and password that you use to log in to your computer.

ftp-enable.pngSet Up FTP Access: First, tick the checkbox next to File Sharing. By default this just enables simple file sharing on your home network, so you’ve got a few more steps to enable the FTP that we’ll be using in our faux Back to My Mac setup. Next, hit the Options button, tick the checkbox next to Share Files and Folders using FTP, and then hit Done. (As you can see, there’s a small warning under the FTP option alerting you that your FTP logins and file transfers are not secure. You still need a password to access the files, but the transfer of the files themselves is not encrypted.)

set-shared-folders.pngWhen you return to the Sharing pane, you’ll notice that you’re able to choose which folders are shared. You can set it to share the root of your hard drive if you want to share everything on your computer, or you can just go through and choose a few important folders you want to make sure you’ve got access to. Again, you can choose which users are able to access your files, as well as what kind of access each user-type has (read and write, read only, and write only). Choose whichever makes more sense for what you want.

With that, you’ve completed most of the setup on the computer you want to access. But before this faux Back to My Mac is ready for primetime, there are a few more steps you’ll probably want to take.

Enable Access from Outside Your Network

If you connect your computer to the internet through a router (which most likely you do), you need to do a couple of things to enable easy access to your setup from outside your home network. The VNC (screen sharing) and FTP (file sharing) portions of our setup both work by accessing certain ports on your home computer. This means you need to set up port forwarding on your router so that whenever you need to access your computer from outside your home network, your router knows which computer to send the requests to. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry-it’s really not that difficult.

We’ve covered port forwarding several times before, so I won’t go into detail on how to tackle port forwarding. Instead, I’ll just focus on what ports you need to forward. For Screen Sharing, the default port if 5900, and for FTP, the port is 21.

NOTE: If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend setting up a static local IP address for the computer you want access to. Routers assign IP addresses to the computers on your local network, and when these addresses expire, there’s a chance your computer may be assigned a different IP address-which would break your port forwarding.

Finally, to really ease the access to your faux Back to My Mac setup, you should do yourself another huge favor and assign a domain name to your external IP address. Doing so will allow you to access your setup through an easy-to-remember domain of your choosing like rather than remembering a series numbers like 76.123.456.789.

Using Your Faux Back to My Mac

screen-share2.pngSo now that you’ve done all the legwork, how do you make use of it all? If you’ve followed all of the setup, screen sharing and file access is simple.

Access Screen Sharing: Let’s assume, in true Back to My Mac fashion, you’re working on your Mac laptop away from the desktop Mac you want to access. To connect to your Mac, you need to find the Screen Sharing app on your laptop (this is the very same Screen Sharing app that Back to my Mac uses when it does remote screen sharing). It’s not installed in the Applications directory, so you should head to /System/Library/CoreServices (where it’s located by default) and copy Screen into your Applications folder for easier access.

connect-shared.pngWhen it’s time to access your home PC, run the app, then enter the address of your home computer (either the external IP address or the domain you set up above). After a second, Screen Sharing should display an exact replication of your home desktop, and you can use programs or check an email on your home computer just like you would if you were sitting in front of it.

NOTE: If you want to add a bit more functionality to the Screen Sharing app, like an advanced toolbar that isn’t available by default, here’s how.

UPDATE: As on reader pointed out below, you can also launch the Screen Sharing app directly from Finder by opening Finder’s “Connect to Server” dialog (Go -> Connect to Server, or Cmd-K) and entering vnc:// [or whatever your domain is]).

ftp-authenticate.pngAccess Your Files: To access any of the files on your home computer, you’ve got a couple of options. If you’re really interested in using Finder so that you’re really rolling with true Back to My Mac style, you can; just open Finder, click on Go -> Connect to Server, enter in the address of the FTP server you set up above (for example,, and then enter your login information. It even handles Quick Preview on those remote files.

cyberduck.pngIn reality, Finder isn’t the best way to connect to and browse your filesystem over FTP. You’re better off using an FTP client like the very popular freeware Cyberduck. Just give it the address you set up, your username and password, and you’re there.

It’s all the accessibility of Back to My Mac with none of the cost. Plus, after you’ve put in the legwork setting it up, it’s super-simple to connect to remotely connect to your home computer.

UPDATE: Several readers have offered excellent alternatives and suggestions to significantly beef up this setup. Here’s the rundown:

  • If you’d prefer to use AFP Iwhich is enabled by default) instead of FTP, you can do so. You just need to forward port 548, and then when you connect to your server, you’ll want to change your address to something like afp:// Thanks waffffffle!
  • If you plan on accessing your computer on a public network, you should seriously consider setting tunneling your traffic through SSH. Reader asmus.vierck gives a little insight on how.
  • The much easier solution for securing your connections and setting up your faux Back to My Mac, as It_Figures points out, is to create a virtual private network with Hamachi. I (and at least one of my co-editors) have had trouble with Hamachi on Leopard, so I didn’t take this route, but if Hamachi is working for you, it’s an excellent option.

Keep in mind that this set up doesn’t do absolutely everything that Back to My Mac does (namely, this simple setup doesn’t have the advanced encryption options and clearly isn’t a zero configuration setup), but the idea here is that after taking a few simple steps, you can enable most of the best features of Back to My Mac. To one-up Back to My Mac, you may even want to set up Wake-on-LAN with your Mac so that your computer only turns on when you need to use it, saving money and energy.

If you roll your own version of Back to My Mac, let’s hear how you did it in the comments.

Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who refuses to pay for anything he can’t get for free. His special feature Hack Attack appears every