External USB 3 drive unmounts on OS X Lion when the iPhone is plugged in

Sarah noticed something weird today — might be related to her recent upgrade of her iPhone 4’s OS to iOS 7-point-something. Or maybe not.

Ours looks like this.
Ours looks like this.
Our aging Mac mini is what we’re keeping around for iTunes purposes. It’s how Sarah gets her stuff (apps, podcasts, music, etc.) onto her iPhone.

The mini model we have only has an 80GB drive, so our collection of music and apps and stuff has to reside on an external drive, a 1TB USB 3 external drive we snagged in Hong Kong a couple years ago. Up until this week, that drive worked great even through a powered USB hub. We plugged it in after bringing home, migrated our iTunes music library onto it, and forgot about it.

Hers has a few more scratches.
Hers has a few more scratches.
…until it started making ominous clicky noises this week. That started the beachballing in the Finder. I thought for sure the drive must be kaputt, but after unplugging it and replugging it and running the diagnostics on it via Disk Utility, everything still seemed hunky dorey. I even ran Apple Jack to see that would help with anything. Sarah mentioned that it only made the clicky noises when her iPhone was plugged in, and that it might have been around the same time that she was applying an update to iOS7.

USB 3But this all seemed pretty strange to me. Could an iOS update really influence the mounting behavior of external USB drives? Sure enough, while the drive was making the clicky noise, I unplugged her phone and the drive mounted itself normally, ready for use.

What the heck?

I googled some for it but couldn’t find any direct hits immediately, or even anything close. I saw other people with newer computers and external drives discussing voltage differences through USB hubs and overheating problems, but nothing that seemed applicable to our situation.

But on a whim, I tried plugging the USB drive into the last remaining available USB port on the Mac mini — skipping the USB hub completely.

And it seems to have worked. iPhone and USB drive are both plugged in and working normally. Hope it stays that way.

So many usernames and passwords

Where do you have to put in a username and password in your daily computer geekery? Here’s what it looks like for me.

Work stuff

my laptop running Windows • our crappy corporate email client • our crappy corporate travel provider • the software that controls the phone on my desk • lots of other programs not smart enough (or not allowed) to authenticate me based on other methods

Personal stuff

our Mac at home • our Linux desktop at home • our Linux laptop • our email provider • our bank • Skype • Paypal • Amazon.com • Amazon.de • iTunes • Twitter • dozens, if not hundreds more

I imagine your situation is similar. With the personal stuff, you really should not be using the same passwords at multiple websites. Just one site being sloppy about security and getting breached by hackers is enough for them to send email in your name and steal money or service from you — look what happened to usernames and passwords recently at Gawker Media. You probably know someone whose account got hacked with real-world financial implications — I know two people to whom this happened in 2010 (and a third who got hacked but apparently didn’t lose any money). It happens all the time.

You and I both know you this is not a safe practice. But what can you do about it? With so many usernames and passwords in your daily life, the natural inclination is to stick to just a few username/password pairs and reuse them entirely or perhaps modify them slightly. Writing down passwords and usernames onto paper might be OK at your home, I guess, but that means you need to carry that piece of paper with you out into the world if you are going to do any sort of mobile computing. Writing those usernames and passwords onto paper at the office is a terrible idea; don’t ever let your IT people know that you do it.

password safeInstead, you can use Password Safe on Windows or a compatible program like Password Gorilla on Windows / Mac / Linux — and even on your iPhone or iPod Touch via the PasswordVault app. Instead of those hundreds of username/password combinations to remember (or look up), you only have to know one password to get into your “safe.” From there, you can copy usernames and passwords with the mouse (and keyboard shortcuts) from the “safe” into whatever application is requesting your credentials. Password Safe can randomly generate passwords for you based on policies you define: minimum password length, exclusion of easily mistaken characters (like zeroes/O’s or ones/L’s), inclusion of punctuation characters, etc. Lots of cryptologically sound practices there. “But how will I ever remember those randomly-generated passwords?” you ask? Well, you won’t. You’ll have to remember the one password to get you into the “safe” and the application will remember the rest for you.

I keep my “safe” file updated on my Windows computer, and then synchronize that periodically to my Mac and Linux machines via Dropbox. From my Mac, it synchronizes into my iPod touch. This means I am carrying that piece of paper with all the sensitive info on it around with me after all, but in electronic and encrypted form: I still have to enter the password to open the “safe” on all those computers/devices in order to get a glimpse of the content.

But hey, I can remember one password pretty easily, especially if it virtually eliminates the chances of someone stealing my purchased Skype-out credits or impersonating me via a hacked Gmail account.