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Tuesday
Feb232016

Tim Cook is My Hero!

* Islamic fanatics shoot up 14 innocent civilians in San Bernardino

* Cops kill all the Islamic fanatics

* FBI seizes a (now decomposing) Islamic fanatic’s iPhone

* FBI is hapless to determine the contents of Islamic fanatic’s encrypted iPhone

* FBI petitions Apple to provide “back door” into Islamic fanatic’s encrypted iPhone

* Tim Cook tells FBI “No, thank you.” & publishes a letter to customers explaining why.

* I (platonically) fall in love with Tim Cook.

This is obviously an oversimplification, but I think it pretty much covers the high points. I’ve (platonically) fallen for Tim Cook because of the extremely brave stance he’s taken in defense of Apple’s customers’ right to communicate without fear of Big Brother sticking its nose into our private lives. Sentiments of those who take a view contrary to Mr. Cook’s are the same ones that gave us the “Patriot Act” and the NSA’s warrant-less collection of every phone call made by everyone in America. As a side, could there possibly be a more Orwellian name for a piece of legislation than “Patriot Act”? I can’t think of anything less patriotic than my government eaves-dropping on private communications or detaining (jailing) people without due process. I believe in doing everything possible to ensure our country’s security up to but NOT including using the Constitution for a doormat. Even if laws like this are written with the best of intentions (they almost always are), the consequences of granting bureaucrats that sort of wide-ranging power inevitably leads to abuse. It’s hard to deny law enforcement the tools they say they need when your country was recently attacked by Islamic fanatics.  It’s also very tempting to write onerous legislation when you envision it applying to those same Islamic fanatics and forgetting said legislation applies to everyone. It’s also tempting to write legislation intended for use by benevolent law enforcement officials and forget that benevolence is not universal. The result is multiple agencies spending billions of taxpayer dollars on immense communications interception, analysis and archiving facilities, many of which overlap or are outright redundant. Hence, whistleblowers like Edward Snowden are all that stand between law-abiding citizens and power-hungry bureaucrats. While I am absolutely convinced 99% of law enforcement personnel are honest and well-intentioned, the remaining 1% who may stretch the law and/or blatantly abuse their positions still number in the thousands. Maybe the tens of thousands. All of our country’s telecommunications companies have been pressured or otherwise co-opted into turning over the phone records of every customer.

But it seems even all that is not enough to satisfy our government’s thirst for power.

When Apple released iOS 8 it introduced complete end-to-end encryption. The contents of iPhones became unreachable for everyone without a password, even Apple. Android followed suit shortly thereafter. I remember the shrieks of terror from the law enforcement community. Those shrieks fell mostly on deaf ears. It was a time when the world was shocked and infuriated by the revelations of Edward Snowden. A large portion of Americans were feeling like the NSA had just been caught peeking through their bathroom window, so as much as the law enforcement community hated the virtually un-crackable encryption of smartphones, they realized the political climate at the time wasn’t conducive to fighting it. That all changed when the bodies piled up in San Bernardino. The FBI now believes it has a valid reason and a sympathetic political climate to make an assault on our right to privacy. Look at it like this. Say this Islamic fanatic's iPhone is a doorlock. The maker of the doorlock is Apple. The FBI is having no luck picking the doorlock. So now the FBI is going to the manufacturer of the doorlock asking them to change the way they make every doorlock to include a master key, then give the master key to them.

Tim Cook is the only person standing in their way. May God bless him for that.

Monday
Feb222016

Why Doesn’t Anybody Backup Their Computer?

At the risk of being repetitive, I’ll remind you guys that I’ve been in the IT business for over 30 years. In that time, I’ve been called at least a hundred times by people whose computer crashed or is in some sort of un-bootable condition. The first question I ask is, “Do you have a recent backup?” With only one exception in all that time, the answer has been, “No.”

This bewilders me. For the life of me I can’t understand why, when backing up is so easy and inexpensive. This is especially true for Mac owners. Apple has included Time Machine with OS X for ten years. Like everything Apple makes, Time Machine is the simplest and most user-friendly backup system imaginable. If you bought a Mac, you spent at least $700 ($499 Mac Mini, $200 for cheap monitor, mouse & keyboard). Why wouldn’t you spend another $60 for a USB drive to keep your data safe in case the worst happens. It’s not like it takes a big effort to set it up. You simply plug the drive into one of your Mac’s USB ports and when OS X pops up a dialog asking if you’d like to use the drive for Time Machine you click “Yes”. That’s it! Admittedly, a Time Machine backup isn’t the most flexible or robust, but it’s light years ahead of “nuthin”.  Even the knuckleheads in Redmond finally caught on. Windows has included free backup software since Vista. It’s not the easiest to setup and use, but hey, it’s Microsoft. At least the price is right.

Most external hard drives you buy these days comes with some home-grown backup software right on the disk, yet people still refuse to use it. Things have gotten a little better with the proliferation of cloud services offered by dozens of companies. At least people who keep things on Dropbox or Google Drive for sharing or convenience don’t lose those files when their hard drive eats itself. And make no mistake. ALL hard drives eat themselves eventually. The jury is still out, but it’s looking like the same goes for SSDs. I owned a 256 GB Crucial SSD that simply quit working after 14 months. No errors. No warning. Just POOF! The good news: I was using it as a Time Machine disk. The only thing I lost was my backup and I quickly replaced it.

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Sunday
Feb142016

UNIX: The Operating System Running (Virtually) Everything

Yep. You heard me right. Unix, not Windows powers today’s servers, portable devices and more desktops than ever.

But, MacTexan, what about all those bizillions of Windows computers? Like everybody has one of those, right?

Well, yes, but slowly but surely those desktops are becoming more and more irrelevant. Read the title again please. It speaks about the OS that’s running everything, not the OS used to access everything.

But, but, MacTexan, if UNIX is running everything, why haven’t I heard about it?

You hear about it every day, but it is rarely referred to by the name “UNIX”. You know it by the names OS X, iOS, Android, Ubuntu, Chrome OS and a host of others. Yes, all these operating systems are based on some variant of UNIX. By way of (very oversimplified) explanation, all these OSs start with a UNIX kernel and add a GUI (Graphical User Interface) on top. These GUIs are what we’ve come to recognize as the various, above-mentioned operating systems.

Add to all these the hundreds of thousands of anonymous servers that power companies like Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, Wikipedia and EBAY, to name a few. Virtually every one run some flavor of Linux (a UNIX variant developed by Linus Torvalds released in 1991) running a software stack called LAMP. LAMP is an acronym for Linux, Apache web server, MySQL database and Perl or PHP development platform.

Why do so many companies run LAMP servers, MacTexan?

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Wednesday
Jan272016

OS X Server? Why the Hell Not?

I’ve spent the last fifteen years as an IT professional. I was an IT manager for a Fortune 500 company for nine years and an independent consultant for the past six. I’ve spent too many late nights up to my ass in Windows, Novell and Linux server problems of every flavor to ever want a server in my home to care for, right? Well, no.

You see, that was my attitude a year ago. I still had a very bad taste in my mouth resulting from some bad experiences dealing with mission-critical servers while under pressure to make things right for a couple hundred users whose files, email, profiles, etc. all resided on said boxes. If the servers weren’t working properly, no one was working properly. I just got a shudder thinking about it.

Now, the word “server” has an entirely different connotation. Yes, I’m now working from home and the only users I have to deal with are my wife and daughter, so why would I need a server? It really comes down to only one thing, convenience. When I thought about it, I realized my home probably needs a robust network as much as most small businesses I deal with. In our household there are 3 Macs, 2 Windows and 1 Linux computer, 3 iPhones, 2 iPads, an iPod Touch and a Nexus 7 Android tablet. Out of 13 devices, 9 of them are made by Apple.

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Wednesday
Jan062016

Cord-cutting is Difficult

My beautiful wife and I recently retired and bought a wonderful home in Sedona, AZ. We plan to move there this summer, but in the meantime we’ve been going back and forth as much as possible. There’s lots of decisions to be made as we plan our move. Which furniture do we pay to move and what do we buy new? Which cars do we keep? Do we really need a Jeep to take advantage of the hundreds of miles of trails surrounding our new home? Do we move our DirecTV subscription or try cable-cutting?

The first trip to our new home was all about getting things set up. Power, natural gas, water, sewer, garbage pick-up and the like. There was no doubt about needing an Internet connection, so I studied the options and talked to existing customers about their service experience. I settled on the local cable company, Suddenlink. They offered the fastest and most affordable service. I purchased their small business package with 100 Mb down and 20 Mb up service for ~$60/month. I just happen to be a Suddenlink customer at our current residence and I was pleased that our new home connection is over three times faster for the same money. I arranged for them to install our new service the second day after we arrived. Everything went smoothly. I chose the high-speed Internet-only option for now since we’ll only be there one week per month until we move. I took along one of my 3rd generation TVs and hooked it up to a 27” monitor so we’d at least have something to watch while we’re there in the interim.

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