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Raspberry Pi 3: Now a Legitimate Desktop Computer for $200!

The latest hardware offering from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the Raspberry Pi version 3 crosses a major threshold. This new device is now a real computer capable of running a real, modern desktop operating system. I immediately pre-ordered one when I saw the specs: 1.2 GHz quad-core ARM processor, 1 GB RAM, built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, HDMI, 10/100 Ethernet and four USB ports.

When it arrived yesterday I tore my office and then a few other nooks apart looking for a Micro-SD card to burn a boot image onto. No luck. Unbelievable. I had to go the the Family Dollar store at 21:30 to buy the only card within 10 miles of my rural-suburban home at that time of day. Still, I got a couple SanDisk 8 GB cards for $10 each. It seems in today's world of portable electronics; Micro-SD cards are harder to hold onto than AA batteries. Armed with fresh media, I downloaded three or four operating systems of varying purpose and architecture.

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Why Can’t Apple Make a Keyboard Like this?

Logitech's K811 "Easy Switch" KeyboardHere’s the deal. I have a shortlist of musts for a keyboard: 

  • Bluetooth (I mean, wires? Really?)
  • iOS & OS X compatibility
  • Sturdy (well-made)
  • Backlit

Bluetooth is a must for two reasons: 1) Wireless means less desktop clutter and adds freedom of movement and 2) Bluetooth built-in to all modern Macs and iOS devices means NO DONGLE to occupy a USB port and ultimately lose.  Also, I want a keyboard that works well with OS X and iOS. The more iOS-specific keys the better, but a keyboard “Home Button” is an absolute must. I know, COMMAND + H is the same as pressing the iPad’s Home button, but having a dedicated key is much handier and there’s no key combos to remember. A sturdy, well-made keyboard goes without saying. I’ve wasted too much money on “bargain” keyboards with lots of great features only to abandon it because the keys were mushy and/or the whole keyboard was flimsy. I also really like a keyboard with a backlight. All too often I find myself in a dark setting and I’m not a good enough touch-typist to be anywhere near accurate without an occasional glance down to get my bearings. When using a keyboard that isn’t backlit, I sometimes find myself holding my keyboard up to the screen to see where things are.

Apple’s wireless keyboard only checks 2 ½ of the four boxes.

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This Mac Guy LOVES Microsoft!... (Office)

I think the last time I said something nice about Microsoft was when Windows NT 3.1 was released in 1993. Well, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but I think it’s fairly safe to say I haven’t sent many flowers Redmond’s way any time recently. Today, however, I’m reminded of that famous Macworld presentation Steve Jobs made shortly after his triumphant return to Apple in 1997. You know the one. Jobs was on stage in the foreground with the giant video call to Bill Gates behind him. In retrospect, the chorus of boos from the Mac faithful was pretty embarrassing. After all, (and unbeknownst to the crowd in attendance), Mr. Gates had just pumped $150 million into the quite nearly financially ruined Apple. Anyway, Jobs retorted the Mac crowd by schooling them to forget the idea that in order for Apple to win, Microsoft had to lose. The battle for the desktop, if indeed there ever was one, had been settled for years. With hundreds of millions of installations and a 95+ percent market share worldwide, Windows had become the undeniable ruler of the desktop operating system domain. What Mr. Jobs so pointedly told Macheads that day is that there’s room in the tech world for everybody to do great things. I just wanted to remind you MacTexans about that before my next declaration.

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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.


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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