Friday, February 29, 2008

Chimes of Freedom Flashing

All done without the aid of computers...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buckley: Exit Icon of the Right

Reflecting upon the life, and especially the times, of the recently-departed William F. Buckley Jr., take a trip back to the galvanizing election year of 1968. In this YouTube video clip, Buckley faces off with Gore Vidal in presidential-election-year punditry.

Flying High

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

UPS - Uninterruptible Power Supply

This will be brief, belying the importance of the subject. Perhaps I can return to this entry---later--someday---with more nuanced reportage.

1) What is it?
2) What does it do?
3) Do you need one?

1) The colloquial term for this device is "Battery Backup." That's good enough for me. It's a box containing a battery and sporting several standard electrical outlets, a USB port (desirable) and typically two ports for Ethernet cables.

2) The device provides two or three services. A) the internal battery provides instantaneous power to a computer system when the building electrical power fails. B) the outlets provide electrical surge protection in the event of a power surge. C) the circuitry tells an attached computer to shutdown gracefully.

3) Maybe yes, maybe no. The factors influencing such a decision include: a) how often does the power go down as a blackout, or go fluctuating into a brownout (voltage drop) at your home office? Secondly, how important is your data? These are judgment calls, with users on both extremes, of not needing a UPS ever, and those who should not work without one.

Calculating the UPS "size" or output is beyond the scope of this note. I've had new clients carry the concept that a UPS will run their home office for eight hours on battery backup! No. The intended purpose of a home office UPS is to provide 10 to 20 minutes of battery power to tide one over during a "brief" outage, not to run your entire office for a day. Definitely not for running a laser printer on battery power! Take note. The home office UPS devices are for gracefully exiting from a power emergency, thus preventing data loss caused by a suddenly crashing computer. That's all; nothing more; and yet it's hard to convey that this means a lot.

Power go, OUT! Computer go, BOOM! Data go, POOF!
You call me. I express no sympathy. Sorry. YCINMC Your Crisis, Is Not My Crisis; call your therapist.....PLEASE NOTE: I am not a computer nanny. The purpose of technology consulting is not to pick up the shattered pieces of your failed DATA SYSTEM. That is the job of a "computer repairman" ---of which I am not (although I can often be seen fixing computers). My job is to work with you intelligently anticipating the real world of OOPS!

When you do experience a cosmic OOPS!, I will be there for you, because we worked intelligently to anticipate the inevitable. If you use a computer, I can guarantee that sometime, someday, somewhere, when least expected, you will (not maybe) experience a FAILED DATA SYSTEM. How do I know this, so cock-sure? Am I only trying to sell you more junk that you don't need? ---I have lost data. My son has lost data. My clients have lost data. I get calls (which I usually turn away) from frantic people who lost data, and all the statistical research on the subject says so.

&&& One tip I can offer now is that if you are using an NAS (see The Box is Coming, The Box is Coming!) you should have one of these, Period. Even if you don't have "frequent" power outages. An NAS is a full-time network file server. If your power goes out only once, while you own an NAS, you could conceivably lose all your data---forever. This is indeed "unlikely," but just as you wouldn't think of not having fire insurance on your home office, you would do well to have power-failure insurance, also. All it takes is one bad day down at the local PG&E substation, or some mylar balloons (from that innocent birthday party?) landing on a utility pole in your neighborhood, with your power lines on it, to make your face grow pale.

Are you only intent on getting me to throw even more money at my computer system? When do you not need a UPS?

-- If you have data backed-up on external, disconnected drives. and you don't mind losing some data (since the last backup) and you don't mind a few hours, or days, of down-time while your computer system is rebuilt--you don't "need" a UPS. With data stored on external drives that are not connected full-time to your computer system, that is a reasonably safe scenario. Discussing data backup itself, is beyond the scope of this article and can be found in the FixMacs AppleBlog archives.

Collecting data is unimaginably easy. Losing it forever is even easier.

Taxi to the Academy Awards

Taxi to the Dark Side received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature film for 2007.

The Discovery Channel bought this film. After purchasing the film, the Discovery Channel then told the filmmaker, Alex Gibney, that the film would not be shown anytime during the next year. HBO purchased the film recently from the Discovery Channel. Presumably, the film will air on HBO in September--maybe.

Taxi to the Dark Side is currently showing in film theaters.

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Put the Fever in Your iPod

WOW... get an ear load of Dengue Fever, the psychedelic Cambodian surf music rockers from L.A.

Chhom Nimol, the lead vocalist is not to be missed. I don't know what the heck she is saying, and I really don't give a damn. Groove it.

This is one, amazing, fusion World Music band. Say no more, say no more. Listen. Experience.

Dengue Fever takes its pop roots from the darkly legendary Ros Sereysothea (1946 - 1978?), dubbed the "Golden Voice of the Royal Capital" by the once-King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. She most likely was a victim of the infamous Killing Fields of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge.

As you listen to Dengue Fever, the music bleeds back, through eerily anachronistic psychedelia re-inventing a blend of lost innocence and chaos reflecting well the Sixties--not only in Cambodia, but in the U.S., and thus it's fitting that the band is an amalgam of both cultures. The beaches of Cambodia have been melded with Santa Monica, California, in a manner I had never dreamed possible. I pause. Stunned, Reflective of the loss of my high school buddy, Doug in Vietnam, in 1969, and how I agonized. Fumbling youth; inchoate comprehension of a massive disjunct between the lies my teachers told me, the lies on the glowing livingroom cyclops, and the massive cultural self-deception of innocence in the world. We are not a country that defends democracy. The U.S. is just another empire, in a long history of empires trailing back 10,000 years--just another tyranny though this one comes with a legion of lawyers and PR staff.

There are no words for the intense feelings of childhood lapsing into the disillusionment. The sweet lies from avuncular Cronkite. The U.S. propaganda hammering away--Vietnam,--the distant twang of the Ventures guitar, somewhere near the sterile concrete L.A. stripmall street that laid to rest my brother's broken dreams, in a broken family home that pretended so hard to exist.

We are left only with Chhom Nimol's ethereal, impossible voice reverberating with pathos to the beat.

...the great tragedy is that the lies, the self-deception continues. As a nation, we are killers. We are tyrants. We are brutes. We are global thieves on a global scale. The reality eludes us as corporate CNN rakes in massive profits, and Exxon/Mobil prepares to suck the oil out of the Iraqi desert.

All empires fail, and the American Empire will, too, in its own time, fail. The somnolence of the American people has been disturbed.

The refrain: We are left only with Chhom Nimol's ethereal, impossible voice reverberating with pathos to the beat. Dancing through a dream darkly, of Pol Pot, and Bobby Kennedy, and Brian Wilson, and Napalm---getting with the ineluctable beat.

Apple MacBooks and MacBook Pro's Get Upgrade

Wow, Apple actually ships a computer with sufficient memory for basic use! What a concept. Why? Because Apple likes you? No. The price of RAM has sunk like a rock recently.

Most new MacBook and MacBook Pro models ship with 2 GB of memory (RAM), larger hard drives, and faster processors.

The new MacBook Pro's also have improved graphics and a new "Multi-Touch" trackpad.

These upgraded Apple laptops are available immediately.

Nota Bene: The prices of RAM have plummeted recently. If you're running OS X now is the time to upgrade RAM. I recommend a minimum of 2 GB's.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

DSL on the Cheap

Know someone still on dial-up Internet? I don't, but you may.

AT&T has a DSL Internet special for $10 per month. The rate applies to new Internet accounts only for basic DSL (not a barn-burner) and comes with several conditions. Read the fine print

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Single Most Important Computer Asset


Few of us learn how to use a computer through formal classroom instruction. The unsystematic learning path for most users takes a route through personal trial-and-error, and learning informally from others (or as is all too often the case, not learning from others because you're there in your home office with no opportunity to ask anyone "How do you do fill-in-the-blank?"). The first method entails clicking away at things on a computer screen as we explore the habitat of the operating system and applications. The second entails asking others directly how to do this or that.

The most productive return on the investment for most computer users is the purchase of a good guidebook to the operating system and applications. I will limit my comments to the former.

There is much to be said for heuristic learning. Users should not be fearful of the operating system as long as they remain in the "user space" of the Finder. What does this mean? A digression first.

The single most difficult challenge in my work is to communicate to clients the crucial importance of understanding the zeitgeist of the operating system: what are the concepts How does it work in practical terms? Most users know how to use a Web browser to surf the Web, and to use an e-mail application to send, receive, and store e-mail. Knowing that the operating system is much like another application, and that it is central to all computer use, is a key concept to master. Serendipitously exploring the Finder is fun, but inefficient. What is the Finder?

To this day, I continue to meet new clients who don't know what the Dock is, although it's staring us all in the face at start-up. To this day, I continue to meet new users who never heard of the contextual menu feature of Mac OS, although this feature first appeared in the Mac OS ten years ago---ten years ago!

The single most valuable investment in your computer system is to learn the basic concepts of the Finder, Files, Applications, File Sharing, Command+Tab, Contextual Menus, RAM vs. Hard Drive, the Dock, the Menu Bar, Spotlight, WiFi (aka AirPort), and how to use a mouse. Yes, how to use a mouse. Then on to the special keys, Command (Apple), Option, Control and Function keys.....

Networks. Every home office that has more than one computer sharing the Internet connection has a computer network. What is a network, and why should you care?

For those converts from the PC side of life (and some long-time Mac users, also) know that closing the application window does not quit the application. What is an application? How do you know which applications are open, and which are not? How do you find applications? Know the Go Menu. Launching, Quitting, Opening, Saving and where to save documents. Documents and how docs are not Applications. Where do documents go when you save them, and how do you control where documents are saved?

Are your files backed up, and what is a backup, and how does a backup differ from an archive, and should you care? If your computer hard drive crashes (see earlier posting), trust me, you will suddenly care.

When you do call me in, if you know this stuff, our time together will be vastly more productive.

There is no such thing as a stupid question, goes the aphorism. I urge everyone, even if you've been using a Mac for ten years and think you know how to use a Mac, to buy The Little Mac Book, for example. Read it. Learn. Enjoy.

Discover the Mac Operating System. Learn what you can do with it, and how hidden features (and some features in our faces) may allow you to do things more wisely, and more efficiently.

It takes great courage to know that you don't know. Most home office clients are shockingly isolated from the fast-moving world of computer technology, and often don't understand the very basic concepts of computing. That's where I swing in.

If you run a business from your home office, or small office, the most valuable return on investment is the purchase of a Mac OS guidebook and a few hours of your own time. This is the most forceful impression I carry with me as I travel about from home office, to home office.

I am here to answer many of your questions about the Mac OS and networking. I don't expect you to know what I know, or else you would put me out of business, but if you know some basics, our conversations will be vastly more valuable to you.

My goal is to bring the advantages of modern computer and network technology to your home office in a concrete manner that enhances your enjoyment, and productivity. The first step in that direction is to spend $15 or $20 on a Mac guidebook. Money wisely spent.

A personal computer operating system is a vast, imaginary landscape. The truth be told, it's only colored dots on a screen, but the power of the human mind is the power of arranging meaningful cognitive "spaces" in the virtual universe found waiting in your Mac. Flying by the seat of our pants into the Lost Horizon of computing can be fun--and I do it regularly--but like all flying, a good time will be had by all when we know how to take off, cruise, and land safely back home.

So, be nice to yourself. Invest in the most important computer asset you own--you.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pema Chodron

The home office has appetizing carrots dangling:

Exit from the madness of commuting
Flexible schedule

What consumes my thoughts are the dark side of the home office. Conundrums seem to arise out of one central reality. Isolation.

Psychological Isolation
Technological Isolation,
...and paradoxically, also division; separating the archetypal modern intersecting realms of home and work. Hunter-gatherer, pastoral, and agrarian cultures reside in a different zeitgeist. I might stay to the safe side of the road by addressing solely technology. I will begin elsewhere, because as T. S. Eliot suggested, the human mythical journey is as rounded, and as grounded, as a dirt geographic journey.

Pema Chodron offers intriguing thoughts from the perspective of one who has devoted many years to introspection and quiet observation. These are the hallmarks of science, and I would label her a scientist of the human experience. Meditation is observation.

To be still with the noisy phenomenological human condition is a challenging, yet rewarding, clarifying action. Where sitting quietly, doing nothing, transforms into palpable kinetic energy.

For another generation, in a different time, in a different place, everything would be different, or would it?

While staring out into the glowing illusion of computer-screen-pixel-liquid-crystal cyberspace, I stare inward from the glowing illusion of cultural self-space.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Box Is Coming, The Box Is Coming!

This box is coming to your home office. Just get used to it. Now. Later. It's coming.

Family Photos
iTunes Music
Camcorder Movies
Home Office Work Files
Small Office File Server

Where will you store these files? For now, you may be getting away with storage on your internal Mac hard drives.

Does the term Terabyte mean anything to you? If not, soon it will be just another part of your everyday home office lexicon. Hard drives in Macs are now measured in gigabytes. 1000 gigabytes is one terabyte. Bytes, Kilobytes, Megabytes, Gigabytes, Terabytes. Yee shall know them.

For home office data storage that is creeping up beyond the limits of internal hard drives, I recommend a Network Attached Storage device (NAS) from Netgear, the ReadyNAS.

Curious? Contact me to quell your curiosity.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Beachball of Oblivion

This is one beachball you don't want on your Mac beach.

When your mouse cursor transforms into the spinning beachball of death, several potetial causes may be at work, one of which the user controls. The rest are beyond the beyond.

What is it? We've all seen it. Regrettably, computers shipped from the factory do not have enough memory (RAM) to function efficiently. When the CPU, central processing unit, is starved for memory, the Mac operating system throws up its hands, and throws up a spinning multicolored icon reminiscent of better times on the beach. This is one beach where your Mac is stalled in the deep sands of computer time gasping for breath.

Other times, the SBBOD may reflect a hung application. If the ball spins endlessly, the application has crashed. Force quit from the Apple Menu is required to recover.

Avoiding the SBBOD caused by memory shortage is easily done. I recommend that Macs running Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) or Leopard (10.5) have 1.5 GB to 2.0 GB of memory--minimum. If you are a graphic artist working with Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, your Mac should have 4 GB or more memory for such processor-intensive work.

To run a Mac with less memory really is penny wise and pound foolish.

I resent it as much as the next person. When I buy a new Mac, the very first thing I do is buy more memory. Yes, it's a scam, but this isn't new in the world of computing. Hard drives do not contain the advertised file capacity, printers never print as fast, and there isn't a WiFi access point on the planet that lives up to the data transfer marketing hype. Deceptive advertising is the American way, and so it is with computers sold new starving for memory.

Now you know how to send this beachball packing.

A major part of my work is as an iconoclast, destroying computer myths in the face of shinning, happy clients. Finding a compasionate path to breech the myriad illusions is a continual challenge.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Sound of One Mac Tapping

A computer operating system is the foundation of the "tools of the trade" of home office professionals.

Much as a metaphorical Swiss Army knife of computing life, the operating system and applications provide the customized production tools in each user's bag-o-tricks.

The operating system provides access to the two basic functional parts of the computing experience: applications and files.

Accessing these two components has gotten easier over the years with successive evolutionary iterations of the Mac OS. Rarely does one need to drill down into the hard drive icon. If you're clicking away on the Hard Drive icon, through window after window of successively deeper directories, you might think again.

Simplified, applications can be accessed from the Dock or the Go menu. The Dock has been a familar sight for many years, but the Go menu is often lost and forgotten. No need to dig for applications in the hard drive. The Go menu takes you directly to all applications installed on the Mac.

As for file access, this chore is greatly facilitated by the Documents folder icon in the Dock. Click and hold. Watch the contents of the Documents folder, unfold before you in fan-shape or a classic linear alphabetical list. Can't find a file? Spotlight it in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Get to know effortless hierarchical navigation through the new Leopard Documents Dock icon, and avail yourself of the powerflu search capabilities of Spotlight.

On a tangential note, for switchers, PC Magazine has outlined reasons for making the switch from the PC to the Mac now. Leopard on the new Intel Macs, is effectively two computers in one box....but that's enough for today.

The Mac has home office professionals coming and going. Learn to go lightly in your Mac.

The sound of one Mac tapping is a thing of beauty.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mac Books, Not MacBooks

Books, in some form, will remain valuable learning and entertainment resources forever.
A few books I find useful for Mac users include:

The classic, The Little Mac Book by Robin Williams (no, not the funny guy, but the talented writer). Get it. Surely this is the best intro to the Mac published on paper, and now in Leopard flavor. Learn about crucial fundamentals of the Mac to improve productivity. A computer is a tool. Discover the various Swiss Army knife components of the latest Mac system--Leopard. It's a can opener, it's a saw, it's tweezers...

Then, there is Running Your Small Business on a Mac by Doug Hanley. Shipping in March, I can't attest to the value of this book, but knowing the quality of work put out by publisher Peachpit Press in Berkeley, it's worth a careful look.

Lean and mean Leopard-style, I'm of the mind to grab a diminuative, jam-packed paperback reference, Mac OS X Leopard Pocket Guide by Chuck Toporek. This book is another classic--don't even think of living without it.

For switchers, David Pogue brings us, Switching to the Mac, Leopard Edition. Time to make the jump from the PC to the Mac, eased by Boot Camp with graceful instructions from this venerable author. Shipping imminently.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mac Client Spotlight: Kilili Community Development

The modest home-office setting lacks the powerful appearances of San Francisco's Market Street mega-corporations.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Sandra Mardigian, in a Bay Area home office, manages the nonprofit Kilili Self-help Project. Her work to reduce poverty in Africa is run on a Macintosh.

The home office can be a place of austere isolation, but Sandra uses the Internet to reach out far beyond such modest physical confines, and further still, beyond the Bay Area.

Big things can happen in quiet, small places.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cable Internet in Bay Area Gets Boost

Beginning today, Comcast is offering more than double the speed for premium Internet service. Boosting the bandwidth to 16 mbps download and 2 mbps upload provides enhanced service, up from the 6 mbps service.

Not all Bay Area neighborhoods have this service, and not everyone will find it necessary.

Busy small offices will benefit immediately. Graphic artists, movie editors, and other home-office professionls working daily with large media files will find the service indispensible. Multiple-user online gaming enthusiasts will also take the bite.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

FixMacs Now Offers Remote Mac Service

In an effort to offer more timely service for clients, and to reduce my traveling, I am now offering some Macintosh computer services remotely.

New online methods of accessing remote computers permits me to log in to distant Macintosh computers for some maintenance, installations, and software upgrades. Tell your friends in South Africa and Costa Rica. You've got a vacation home in the Sierra Nevada, Baja, or Telluride? I can now perform many services not only for home-office Macs, but also for the far-flung locations. New remote services include installation of AirPort WiFi networks.

If you would like to learn more about this new service, contact me at your convenience.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Identity Theft: Failed Hard Drive Door to Your Data

I found a few entertaining hard-drive-failure videos at YouTube. Some videos show the drives out of the computer and with the platters exposed. Do not try to open a computer hard drive at home, folks!

Healthy, functioning hard drive.

Failed Drives: G4 HD Whine

Click of Doom

When I replace or upgrade drives, I instruct clients to take a hammer to the drive sufficiently to destroy the internal platters which still retain your data. Sometimes I get blank stares in return, but I'm not joking.

Identity thieves have the capability of recovering data from "failed" drives. To prevent identity theft from a discarded hard drive, physically destroy it yourself.

..or send it to a commercial drive-shredding service.

...and now for some

Post-Industrial Play.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Network Printing - Two Macs, One Printer

The hidden beauty of a home office computer network is sharing a single printer between multiple Macs, (and PCs, too).

A computer network is much more than sharing a single Internet connection. For home office professionals without experience on a larger business or educational network, sharing files and a printer on a home network can be a conceptual challenge.

If you can share the Internet, you can also share files and a printer. Computer networks are designed for sharing multiple types of computing resources — not just the Net connection.

To share a printer requires either a network-ready printer or a print server. Many modern printers designed for the home office are network-ready. Before purchasing, check for this feature as you shop, or consult with me.

Standard USB printers that are not network-ready can also be used on a network. An inexpensive print server is required. All recent Apple AirPorts have a built-in print server. Connect the USB cable for the printer to the AirPort, then setup the driver. If you're using a Linksys or other network switch, a simple print server can be purchased. This print server can be either wired, or wireless. The latter allows the shared printer to be situated in any room in your home office. Do you have a downstairs home office but want a shared printer upstairs? No problem. Can do with wireless print servers.

Your home office network shares many features with larger networks found in schools and traditional business sites. Internet sharing, data storage sharing, file sharing, and shared printing are at your disposal on modern home office networks.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Store Passwords in Your Wallet

I've mentioned Wallet to clients in person, and posted on this previously, but it bears mention again.

Many of us have sensitive passwords used for online banking, shopping, and other purposes. Storing a file on your Mac desktop titled, Passwords, is discouraged.

With Spotlight, storing passwords, regardless of how craftily one names a file with passwords, anywhere on your Mac may be discovered in a matter of seconds. Isn't Spotlight wonderful?

To securely store online banking passwords, credit card billing information, and other sensitive information, I recommend Wallet. For $15, Wallet stores passwords in a highly-encrypted data file that is not easily pried open if your Mac is stolen or otherwise meets prying eyes. Peace of mind comes cheaply sometimes.

The data on your Mac is safe, as long as your Mac is safe. Computers are stolen every day, and wandering eyes abound.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

MacBook Air: Lightweight for Lightweight Use

Apple's new MacBook Air has garnered much praise for styling, small size, and lack of heft. That's a boon to mobile computing—but a bust for students.

I recommend the MacBook "Standard" over the Air model for students for the following reasons:
The MacBook standard has 2 USB ports and 1 FireWire; 2.0 GHz processor; CD burner/DVD drive; 120 or 160 GB hard drive; 1 Ethernet port built in; and costs about $1100.

Beyond the coolness factor, the sole advantage of the MacBook Air is the weight at 3 pounds. The MacBook standard is two pounds heavier.

In my view of the world. students will be disappointed with the lack of hard-nosed practicality in the Air, and we don't yet know how rugged it is. The Air is probably best used by professionals who want to shed two pounds while needing little more than Web, e-mail, and light usage of word processing and spreadsheets.

To students, the MacBook Air is a prime opportunity to learn a valuable lesson about marketing. The Air is the Nike of the laptop world, only missing the Michael Jordon endorsement. Think, high price for a great deal of hot air. The name is apporpirate. Slick marketing.

The MacBook Air has a narrow useful niche. If you must lose two pounds, don't need substantial file storage, don't need Ethernet, don't have any FireWire devices (e.g., camera or backup drive), and don't mind a slow processor, the Air is for you.

Computing Lite: Shiny, airy thing that is less fulfilling; more dough.

Friday, February 01, 2008

What No Home Office Could Do Without

Enter Batter Blaster!

Busy day? Rushing off on your commute to the home office down the hall? No time to eat; big morning meeting with your Mac?

Batter Blaster solves the age-old question, "Where does breakfast fit in?"

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