Technology

Sorry, Apple People, You’re Just Not That Popular

I know, you think I’m less than smart, but let me assure you, I have some idea what I’m talking about. I began as a wildly satisfied Apple ][+ user many decades ago. While others bought “inferior” computers that hit the market, from PET, Commodore, Atari and TRS-80…well, Atari was the bomb for gaming….I was forging ahead. I moved to the Mac line with a 512K, then an SE, a Mac II, then a IIcx. I learned how to make a computer work for humans because of Apple.

However, here’s the reality. Macs aren’t that popular. I support this by playing into the meme that Macs don’t get viruses, ergo, they are superior platforms. Nope, you have that wrong, but there is the genius of not only Apple, but the evangelized Apple faithful that have somehow missed the point of their lack of bad programmings disrupting their lives at the worst moment, as PC users have come to know and still not love.

Here’s the truth staring you in the face, Apple fanatics: You’re not popular with the people who create viruses, and therefore, you don’t get them. It’s not that your computer is in this uber operating system world, impenetrable by mere mortals out to steal credit card and bank account numbers. I know, in just about every single movie where the earth is saved from alines of environmental disaster, Apples are prominently displayed and used in the crucial scenes. I also know some of you believe that to be the real case.

What’s really up is this: The MacOS is built on top of UNIX, which is very secure, but the face that, depending on the link, the Apple market is about 10-12% and therefore, the effort to infect them is not worth the ROI, on one analysis point. Take the next step: How many Macs are used to manage and handle credit card databases, and large customer files? Pretty much none. Besides taking quite a bit of effort to learn the system inside and out, even if they could find ways in through security flaws, they would most likely find intellectual property, but not something they could make money on, like entire user profiles of banking/financial services, a key set of data for identity theft.

Consider, from a business owner’s view point: If you could set up to serve 87-90% of the market for the same effort to serve 10-13%, with the return per customer the same, which direction would you head? There will be a minnow out there (thank you, Scott Weber!) who gets this answer wrong and insists loudly they are correct, but you all know the right answer to remain viable in the market. That’s why you’re also not infected. Far more ROI in spending your energy developing and working the PC market and the associated Windows based server farms. Not to mention, Apple made a run at the server world and built a very cool piece of technology, but like Beta tape, the public went for the lesser versions in the PC based systems using LINUX and Windows.

That all being said, there are those, because the Apple market share is growing no doubt, who are taking up the challenge to infect the Apple Faithful. You’ve been spared due to not being attractive (I’m not talking the aesthetics of the device design, but the ugly fact that Apples aren’t used to conduct serious financial business). That’s my tough love for you. Some are coming after you and the good news is you can now enjoy virus and malware protection as we PC users do.

Now let me, after turning your meme upside down, drop it on (your) its head: If the MacOS doesn’t get viruses, as some smuggly post to Facebook, why, pray tell, would giant anti-virus companies have software on the market to provide anti-virus for the MacOS that doens’t get viruses? Oh, yeah, it would be a very silly and costly idea to serve a market that has no need, right? Software costs money and then, as any product has to return some what of a profit, or it will be dropped from the company offerings for failing to add to the bottom line.

Check this Dogpile search out: Looks like Symantec, ESET, Norton and Webroot, Avast, AVG just to name a few “small” companies trying to sell something “real” Mac users don’t need.

I’m hoping this dose of reality spurs the Apple faithful to break down and admit they have been a tool in the greater Mac propaganda machine, but then get online and download an appropriate software package to protect themselves. Speaking as a complete PC/Windows user for all my own (too) many computers, it’s a pain to get them, I have two layers of anti-malware/virus on all my systems, just to practice as much safe computing as possible. I encourage you Mac types to do the same. I see the helplessness in people’s eyes all the time, when they have contracted such an infection. Trust me, you don’t want to feel that way, let alone missing your working hours while I or your Mac tech (who should have already advised you to get software – if they haven’t, send them this link so they can be better providers for their customer base) conduct the technical exorcism rites.

If you need help in getting protected, contact me and let’s get you into the real world you actually live in.

Virtual Reality (VR) Coming to Your Life Sonner than You Think!

Virtual Reality, or “VR” for short, is coming on fast. I’ve been engaged in watching it for many years, and in the format of head mounted displays “HMDs,” I first experienced one about 1996, where the world around me was filled with flying dragons and you had to spot and shoot them before they got to you. Cartoonish by today’s standards, but I got the experience of wearing it and considering the usefulness and applications to come.

In March, Facebook bought a successful Kickstarter project, Oculus Rift for $2B. The foundation of VR has been the simulation and gaming industry, with applications in the engineering the medical field.

So why is Facebook interested in a gaming device? From Dice:

“In the longer term, Facebook could attempt to build a virtual reality, one in which users interact with each others’ avatars amidst a digital landscape, rather than via a newsfeed or postings. In theory, that sort of simulacrum presents some prime opportunities for advertising: imagine all the digital billboards and wall-ads that Facebook could sprinkle around a virtual city.”

Think Star Trek Holodeck, minus the tactile input of feel. Now consider the applications that may flow from that, when a very capable HMD is in the sub $300 range.

Here’s the conditions to look forward to: If you think it’s rude now for a group of people in one place to all be nose first in their smartphones, get ready to walk into Starbucks and see 5-6 people at the bigger common table, laptops open and on, and they all are interacting in a virtual world, while sitting next to each other.

There will be exciting uses, like going up the Eiffel Tower with friends, when you all aren’t in the same place, and certainly can’t afford the time or have the money to go there…or NASCAR races, or hiking trails in the Grand Canyon.

As with any technology, there will be appropriate and effective uses, and then someone will turn it into an obsession and amplify the angst we have over being present and not being there when we are physically with others right next to us.

You heard it here. It’s going to be part of our worlds. It’s been driven by the gaming community and then other industries will piggy back on what solutions were put in place. As a side note: The graphics card market, that is an essential piece of the puzzle, also matured as a demand from the gaming community, to get closer to virtual environments being very lifelike in look and experience. Expect the business world the pick up the banner and apply it to meetings, or distance learning, or project construction reports, with this being a path to further develop augmented reality, too.

Malware and Virus attacks get more “life-like”

I spent a few hours pulling a serious malware infection, actually a set of 8 different ones, off a client’s main system yesterday. He contracted the mess at 5:40 PM last Monday.

My contention os these attacks are getting more “life-like” is based on the manner in which he identified the moment of problems: He has a major customer and he ships mountains of product to them via UPS. On Monday afternoon (consider what else was going on in the Post-Christmas days and UPS), he received and email indicating an updated delivery status for his UPS shipment. His comment was it appeared to look very much like others he had received via the major customer, so he clicked on it. He said it didn’t have fancy graphics, but it certainly was a detailed looking email, not a one liner with a link.

It also reminds me of the 1-3 emails I get a day into one of my other blogging emails that obviously some scraper picked up off that site. They tend to be advertisements, but they are mixed in with emails that are my accounts at (fill in the banking institution) suspended, blocked, etc. Some of them actually are all dressed up with HTML graphics layouts, too. I stay away, but then I deal with this daily. For others, like my client, when one comes that makes sense to their work flow/life/personal business/social networking, there is a likelihood they will allow the malware in, and their firewalls may not stop it.

For the user: You have to be wary of things that look kinda true , but something still tells you it’s not kosher and look closer before clicking.

Be careful out there and practice safe computing!

For you techs, looking how to get rid of this:

Anyhow, it really embedded itself within his system, flagged as a Win32 password stealer by Microsoft Security Essentials. The good news, in early Tuesday, I convinced him to take the rest of the year off and reward himself for a great year, and I’d be over Thursday morning (since the malware would allow a network connection for a few moments, then cut it off, so a remote session was out of the question.

I used MalwareBytes, Microsoft Security Essentials, Kaspersky TDSS Root Killer and old school digging through the entire registry, after seeing the names in the user appdata roaming and local files under nonsense random lettering named .exe files and folders.

I called this one a “repeater,” as MSE would identify it, clean it, then it would fire itself back up about 30 seconds later. I would see 8 different start up program listings named BitNefender 2016, turn them off, and they would be back, activated in the next reboot. Interestingly enough, searching for that name in the registry never found anything, even after several tries.

It was the searching for the keys and values in the registry and manually deleting them) that, in combination of the MSE and MalWareBytes scans that finally got things working normally, including restoring a constant network connection.

LapLink – 30 years and still creating great products!

And they have a laptop giveaway promotion to celebrate!

I first used LapLink itself (it was their only product back then) in late in 1992. I had a Mac IIcx, and a soon to be 3 co-worker had spent a year creating a document d integrated graphics for the previous year. They had done the work on a Mac II using MacWrite and when the hard copy was shown to their boss, he said “put it WordPrefect and send it out to everyone!”

It was an amazing document, with the flow charts right with the descriptions (I know, old news now)…but they didn’t know what they were going to do. They sat down with a person in their company, with a Masters in Computer Science and were told they couldn’t convert the file….it was incompatible.

Thay next solicited the advice of an organization who were the local experts for small computer use (who actually turned out their newsletters using a Mac, and were once more told “incompatible.

As they told of their journey to find a way to save three man years of effort, I asked them to bring in the 3.5″ floppy the next morning early.

We arrived as planned. I had brought my Mac iicx in. 13″ monitor and all, and plugged in the floppy. In the left column, I selected “MacWrite” in the right column, I selected “WordPerfect.’ Clicked the start/continue button and we sat there for 20 minutes discussing the upcoming reorganization. The floppy popped out and I handed it to them, saying “here you are, but remember, it’s incompatible (with a smile)!” Just to check, I told them, go try it in my 386 (with Windows 3.1 and WordPrefect.

They did and they gasped when it all came up on the screen as they scrolled through page after page after page of they work, all properly formatted….They looked in astonshiment and said “how did you do that?” I told them I couldn’t have, the experts said it couldn’t be done,

Most recently I moved my entire software setup from one system to my new build using PCMover. Worked like a charm! Considering the hundreds of programs I use/have tested/keep around for a rainy day in my industry, the 8 hour investment (I let it work over night as I slept!) was well worth the cost of the software. Only a few serial numbers had to be reentered.

LapLink: They solve real world problems, now for 30 years!

SSDS: A blessing, a curse and a cautionary approach

Just built another systems up, with a Samsung 840 240GB SSD. While I’m used to spending the next few hours wandering by the bench, clicking restarts, get updates, etc (some of you know the drill well), it was strikingly different last night.

I pieced a small form factor Dell Optiplex together (and saw issues with cable routing and screw heads and fan blades – another post worth making) and fired it up with the install disk inserted.

About 1.5 hours alter, I had gone from Win7/SP1 to all updates loaded (more than 103), and application software loaded (Office, Reader, Flash, and security). Usually I get most of the way there and then it’s a few more overnight hours and a few more reboots first thing in the morning.

I’m getting jealous of these systems, as they go from off to Desktop in about 15 seconds…

Oh, an high speed cable connection (about 39M download) didn’t hurt either, but I’ve used it for builds before, too.

As I was being dazzled at the rapid completion of progress bars, I reflected on a comment from a shop owner here I occasionally drop in on regarding his experience as an early adopter.

Kirk mentioned he had gotten and SSD about a year ago. It was great, but one day it was dead…as in really, really dead. Think about it: While disk errors send shivers up our spines, unless we hear that horrible grinding, and/or screeching noise, we techs have a degree of comfort that the data is not really gone, just accessible as a non-boot drive, and all is mostly right in the world.

An SSD? It’s common failure mode is DEAD! no connecting via a USB adapter (which is ever present with me, like a credit card, when I leave the house), as it’s DEAD!

Blessing: FAST!

Curse: Dead usually really means dead.

Cautionary approach: Back up, back up, and back up. And did I mention backup? Expensive? Not near as much as a data recovery specialist…and I haven’t even done my homework to see if that’s a function out there yet (I suspect it is, and I also suspect it’s costly).

How to resolve the risk? RAID 1. Bite the cost bullet and get two, if you’re going to get one…and than have a “conventional” drive the same size you can clone to, or a partition on a larger drive you can image to….Couple that with an offsite cloud service to ensure a redundant, real time data set is stored for a rainy day SSD drive failure.

Those who know this know I don’t need to say anything else on the topic. In many ways, it’s current common sense, even for conventional, mechanical drives, but it’s one now where a safety net for data recovery from the local failed drive isn’t really there anymore.

UPDATE 3/8/13: As I stated about, the end of life of an SSD drive is way closer than we’re used to when it begins to let you know it’s about to fail, as discussed in this article at MakeUseOf: Can Data Be Recovered From A Failed SSD?

Friday Freebies: Comodo IceDragon

For a while now, I bave been using the FireFox based Comodo IceDragon for my browswer. I have long since left Internet Explorer behind, only using it when it was the only option for some things such as updates from Microsoft, and have long been a fan of FireFox from the folks at Mozilla.

Long before the added functionality of plugins arrived in the IE world, I had many, many useful plugins operating in FireFox.

Then I came across IceDragon about a year ago on the Comodo site Free Products page. I had been using their Dragon browser for a bit, which is based on Google Chome, and had built it up for some replacement functionality in the plugin world, but I wanted a FireFox version and they read my mind. So here I am.

Advantages of the IceDragon browser of “straight stick” Firefox:

1 – On the right end of the website address bar, where is a stylized blue “W.” That button is a tool the, when clicked, scans the currently selected webpage for infections. Think of it like a virus scanner, not for your comp[uter, but the site are looking at.


Click images for larger version

Why is this important these days? Beacuse the bad guys are hacking into and infecting legitmate websites. The result is you get intrusions into your computer, not by clicking the obviously hacking into freinds Yahoo email account sending out spam viruses, but without your inattention to detail for a mere moment.

2 – The browser has beefed up security checks, and will stop and ask you if you really want to go to a webpage that has indications of being a malicious site, or, in the case a site’s shopping cart that had their security layer (the SSL function, that ensures your credit card info is encrypted before it leaves your end of the transaction to purchase on the net) expire, which then makes passing your info a risky thing.

I have seen it also ask me if I wanted to continue, because the web address had more than some acceptable numbe or dedirect command (meaning the webiste keeps forwarding you to anothe domain/server for the content, but in this case, the redirects continued to bounce my request to other places). IN this case, it is a site I go to regulalry, and is a big name, but obvioulsy the bad guys use mulitlpe redirects to cover thier tracks in an effort to hide what they are up to, and IceDragon saw a similar pattern and asked me. I tried it in the current version of FireFox, out of curiousity, and it took me right to the sight. Good real time comaparison.

But, they you have your Friday Freebie courtesy of The Computer Whisperer!

Time to rethink the dpi for your main web and mobile site images

Just bumped across a review on the new iPads and two sentences caught my eye. The reviewer mentioned surfing to Zillow, the site that lists houses for sale. He commented on how the pictures looked all pixelated.

That’s important, and it’s also a sesimic change in the digital world of our websites and images on the mobile devices viewed by our clients. In “the good old days,” the way to keep your web pages loading fast, and not bust through your storage and bandwidth limits of your hosting provider, the best bet was to “downsize” the images to be 100dpi (dots per inch) down to no less than 72dpi.

In a world where the masses of display devices could not get above 75dpi, it was a great way to help yourself in the ways mentioned above. If you had been loading those 5 mega pixel pictures from your digital camera, and then wondered why your web pages took so very, very long to display, and you figured it out, you know what I’m talking about.

So….what’s the point? The new Retina displays for the iPad3 and iPhone 5 devices leapt forward to now display 286dpi. Your 100dpi pictures, all slim and trim electronically images UP TO NOW now look all pixelated.

Time to consider just how smooth and life like you need your site images need to be for the growing market of Apple product users.

If you don’t consider this an issue, and think you can just leave those users behind, you need to understand much of what is before you in the non-Apple/Mac world came to be as a result of everyone trying to copycat the innovations coming out of Apple. USB came from Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), which also gave us back all sorts of things attached outside the computer (like Macs were n the early days), after the PC people were trying to put everything inside the box. Windows…bless Bill Gates and his merry band of workers, was a twinkle in Bill’s eye because Steve and Steve (and realistically, Mike) put out a ground breaking new interface to the computer, and once seen, Microsoft then began to work on it.

Displays, the actual hardware, now will begin to see an evolution very soon, as the consumer market will begin to want it, but without the price tag, and the electronic manufacturers will position their products to meet the demand, and therefore, your site better be up to speed in the near future.

If those old images aren’t on file, in their original, high quality format, consider replacing them, or reworking the sites to remove them from their digital surrounding.

Next: No more low resolution setting on your cameras. Get the high quality version (at the minimum to allow you to extract a nice 300dpi version), and store them for the future.

Update 11/10/12: Google and Samsung are now using 300dpi (or “ppi” pixels per inch) displays on their new tablets. One more “call to action” to get into all your website graphics and consider “upgrading” the dpi of not only your photos, but any artwork/logo you scaled down for fast loading web pages! End of update, now returning to your original text.

The quick thinkers, who rely on high quality impression for their business would be well advised to make a review of their sites a top priority in the near term.

Words to the wise…prepare for the shifts in technology, or at least, in this case, start paddling now to catch the wave.

Do you have a strong password? Do you use it a lot?

Here’s the reality of our digital lives: We have lots of online accounts and they need passwords. Many people use ones that are easy for them to remember, and tend to use sometimes only one.

How does that affect you? Well, think about this: Once “they” get the one, then you’re life can be laid wide open to those interested in digging further. Since it’s not uncommon for sign ins to be your email address….someone (or a programmed crawling robot) could just travel the known email universe and common places like FaceBook and give it a whirl with your email and a common, made once, used always password of yours.

That’s bad enough, if you are in this category, but even if not, there is now an article that brings to light the technology that allows gamers to get really life like graphics, and for scientists to explore climatology, cancer, and signal from space, is also being exploited by hackers.

I invite you to take this introduction, and read as much of the ARS Technica “Why passwords have never been weaker—and crackers have never been stronger” and read it until you are sufficiently convinced you need to take action to protect yourself by putting some effort into your password selections.

Yes, this will take some mental energy, and changes to your daily digital operations, but….I’m sure you wouldn’t want to wake up to a screen full of mail, indicating your email has been exploited and your bank accounts have been emptied, etc, etc, etc.

Please help protect yourself!

Windows 8 Adventures: You are now leaving the Mac Zone….or are you?

You can download and install a 90 day trial of Windows 8 (the “RTM” version).

My recommendation? Do this is you have a spare, reasonably new computer around. Do not do this to a working system! You can…but when the 90 days are up, you have to either go back and reinstall Windows XP/Vista/7 all over again, or buy Windows 8 and….reinstall Windows 8 from scratch.

If you do put it on a system with Windows 7 (or the earlier beta test versions of Windows 8), it will bring your data and programs forward, as an install option, but that’s where it ends…at the 90 days from the install date day, hence my recommendation for not putting it on a working system.

Windows 8 somewhat leaves the windowed world brought to us, actually by Xerox, but functionally by Apple in the form of the MacOS with the graphical user interface and the “pointing device.”

In this way, it looks different, so you could think that Microsoft really has broken away from Apples “look and feel” and actually been innovative. Nope…for those who have used and iPad/iPod/iPhone…Microsoft really has only made their version of that interface: Not as colorful, and instead of “apps,” we now have “tiles,” meaning lots of rectangles.

So, at the end of the day, Microsoft is merely following the crowd into the tablet interface world, and like Apple, moving that small, closely held (to the person, I mean physically) touch interface look and fell back to the desktops. In the MacOS world, the trend is to incorporate more and more of the iOS features to their iMacs already. Again, Microsoft just following the crowd.

I saw a comment in Twitter yesterday regarding people complaining about the changes for the user’s view in Windows 8, and it was something like “This isn’t 1995 anymore!” Granted, it isn’t, but actually, they would have been more correct to use the date of 1984, but I digress.

I spent some time in the “tile” of Internet Explorer in Windows 8, which takes you to IE10 (the latest version for Windows 7 is IE9) and it is different. I have come to appreciate tabs in my browsers, first finding them in FireFox years ago, meaning I can have many things open and know where they are. In IE10, you have to move your cursor to the top of the screen and right click to get thumbnails of the open tabs, meaning not even a hint of what’s available is constantly displayed, as you do lengthy searches and reading on topics. You have to now keep going up and looking. Yes, the tabs are just like a set of file folders neatly arranged from the dead tree days, but…guess what? It’s a fast system.

I’ll keep working around on my 90 day trial and provide commentary, hopefully providing a smooth transition to the Windows 8 world, without you having to do so much homework.

For now, unless you have lots of time on your hands to poke around and figure out all those new buttons/features and other changes, stick with what you have. Right now, there won’t be too many people you can ask for help if you get lost/can’t find what you need, so my recommendation is don’t go there yet.