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1  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: I'm ready to join the HTPC (home theater pc) revolution - what to get? on: July 23, 2015, 09:37:19 PM
Earlier this year, I replaced a desktop PC that I had been using as an HTPC with this Zotac ZBOX-BI320-U-W2. I paid under $200 at the time.  It comes with a licensed copy of 64-bit Windows 8.1 preloaded on a 64GB SSD.  It has 2GB of RAM installed and supports up to 16GB, but the since the installed memory is on a single DIMM with one slot free, you can upgrade to 6GB very cheaply just by adding a 4GB laptop DIMM. The pre-installed SSD is an mSATA card, leaving the internal SATA slot free, so you can install a 2.5" HDD or SSD for additional internal storage. 

I'm very pleased with the unit.  It's tiny, completely silent and worked right out of the box without any hassles. Even installing additional RAM and an HDD was easy enough for a complete novice. It feels much snappier than the nominally much more powerful Core-2 Duo system it replaced.  While it may not be up to multitasking multiple browsers and desktop applications, it has no problem running any kind of multimedia, including streaming HD-video.  The integrated HDMI port supports 5.1 surround sound nicely through my receiver, which is actually more important to me than video, and with 4 USB 3.0 ports plus Gigabit Ethernet, it can connect to anything I want.

In the past, I've tended to recycle older systems for multimedia purposes, but this has been so much easier that I doubt I'll ever do that again.
2  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Patch your Flash! Version (July 08, 2015) on: July 18, 2015, 01:05:52 PM
Or if you don't want to abide by Adobe's goofy insistence on trying to bundle McAfee software and want to be able to install Adobe Flash while not connected to the internet, go here:
Actually it's McAfee if you go to the Adobe site with Firefox or IE. If you go there with Opera it tries to install Chrome and make it your default browser.  I don't use Chrome, so I don't know what they try to stick you with if you do.

The link above gives you the current full distribution version, but that can be quickly out of date as new vulnerabilities are found and patched - almost daily, it seems, so you need to download it again each time there is a patch.

What you get from the regular Flash update page is actually a stub that goes to Adobe, downloads the latest installer and launches it.  There are stub versions available, with and without crapware, for the various combinations of plug-in types: Netscape (Firefox and other Mozilla derivatives), Chromium (Chrome, Opera, etc.) and ActiveX (IE) and OS versions.  The stub deletes itself after launching the installer, forcing you to download it again each time you update, giving Adobe another chance to trick you.  The stubs only change for major version changes, not for each security patch/update.

What I do to keep Flash updated is to keep a set of the no-crapware stubs locally. When I hear of a new security patch, I just copy the appropriate stubs to the software install folder on each system I want to update and run them. That automatically installs the latest updates without my having to go back to Adobe's site to select anything. I find this easier and less error-prone than downloading a full new version each time.


3  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: PayPal about to claim rights in all IP sold/licensed using PayPal for payments on: July 13, 2015, 03:53:06 PM
PayPal has retreated on robocalls.

If you have a PayPal account, you should have received an email with the following BS clarification:

We value our relationship with you and work hard to communicate clearly. Recently, however, we did not live up to our own standards.

Earlier this year, we sent you an email about updates that we planned to make to our User Agreement on July 1, 2015. The User Agreement is a document we share to help you understand your relationship with PayPal and the obligations we both have.

Unfortunately, some of the language in this update caused confusion and concern with some of our customers about how we may contact you.

To clear up any confusion, we have modified the terms of Section 1.10 of our User Agreement. The new language is intended to make it clear that PayPal primarily uses autodialed or prerecorded calls and texts to:

  •     Help detect, investigate and protect our customers from fraud
  •     Provide notices to our customers regarding their accounts or account activity
  •     Collect a debt owed to us

In addition, the new Section 1.10(a) and 1.10(b) makes it clear that:

  •     We will not use autodialed or prerecorded calls or texts to contact our customers for marketing purposes without prior express written consent.
  •     Customers can continue to enjoy our products and services without needing to consent to receive autodialed or prerecorded calls or texts.
  •     We respect our customers' communications preferences and recognize that their consent is required for certain autodialed and prerecorded calls and texts. Customers may revoke consent to receive these communications by contacting PayPal customer support and informing us of their preferences.

4  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Partitioning or Not w. single HDD? on: July 09, 2015, 01:52:24 PM
But a good partition scheme can make a difference in safety and recoverability from disaster.

I fail to see how. In all the years I've been doing this stuff, I've seen machines eaten up with all sorts of failures and maladies. But I've never once ran into a situation where extra partitions would have made a difference. Either the drive is still spinning, or there are valid backups available ... Or the drive stopped dead, the backups don't exist, and the party in question is quite royally screwed.
15-20 years ago, when a hard disk over 80GB was considered huge, my working computer tended to be a tower with 2-3 drives, and I would back up my system disk by imaging the whole drive.

My working computer for the past dozen years has been a small form factor machine with a single much larger drive, currently 2TB.  It is partitioned because I can backup a full image of a 100GB system partition to another partition on the same disk in less than 30 minutes, whereas imaging a 2TB drive, or even a 500GB drive would take many times longer and require an external device.

This means I always have a recent full image backup of my system partition.  It also means I never have to reinstall the OS, since I can simply restore from an image, and since the images are reasonably small (<20GB), I can keep a number of them.

I don't recall the last time I had to replace a system disk because of drive failure.  Probably not since MS-DOS 5.  On the other hand, there have been plenty of times that the easiest way to recover from a software installation gone awry, a possible virus, or just a bad Windows update, has been to restore the last good image of the system partition.

5  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Partitioning or Not w. single HDD? on: July 08, 2015, 10:07:53 AM
Modern hard drives, particularly large ones, have pretty sophisticated caching and data management built into their firmware, so partitioning won’t usually have a huge impact on performance. But a good partition scheme can make a difference in safety and recoverability from disaster.

I used to do a lot of work on tight deadlines, so I always operated with the idea that if my system went down, I could pick up and finish what I was working on before anything else.

On desktop systems, I partition the HDD into 3 logical drives as follows:

C: is for critical files, including the OS, installed software and important files, including current work files, email and financial data, which I also keep duplicated on my laptop. This is about 100-120GB under Windows 7. Windows Recovery is turned off, but the drive is imaged at least once a month.

D: is for most other data, including multimedia, reference materials and VMs.

E: is for extended data storage, which includes software installation files, CD/DVD images and backup images of the system drive.  This is omitted on laptops.

Actually, I now use an SSD for C, so the HDD is just partitioned into D and E. When C was on the hard disk, I defragmented it often, but that is no longer necessary. I don’t image or defragment D or E, but I do keep their contents duplicated on external drives.
6  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: The end of the hard disk on: July 07, 2015, 09:38:41 AM
Yesterday, Samsung introduced 2 new 2T SSDs with MSRPs of $800 and $1,000.

That's about 10 times the current price of a 2TB laptop drive, but these SSD's are in a 7mm form factor, meaning that they will fit in slim laptops, unlike 2TB HDDs, which are all 9.5mm or greater.  Furthermore, they have 5 and 10 year warranties and are rated at 150TB and 300TB writes respectively, which works out to about 80GB of writes every 24 hours for the rated life of the drive.  No laptop drive has more than a 3 year warranty and most have only 1 year.

250GB SSDs are currently selling for under $80 and 500GB SSDs under $175 at retail, and are both faster and more resilient than rotating memory, so it's clear that you won't see HDDs in portable computers much longer.
7  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Be prepared against ransomware viruses.. on: June 27, 2015, 11:12:54 AM
I wonder if there's a really simple way to save all your files in an unusual fashion that the computer can read quite easily normally, but then the malware virus can't find them properly and tanks.
Cryptoware cannot encrypt everything since that would simply disable the victim's computer. Instead, it targets specific file types that are associated with documents, media and other data.

All the cryptoware I am aware of uses file extensions to determine the files it will encrypt, which means there is in fact a simple way to protect most data:

Use 7-Zip, RAR, or some such program to create an encrypted archive of the files you want to protect, then change the extension to something not likely to be targeted.   Cryptoware will not target .exe or .dll files since that might disable the system, but something like .cryptic is likely to be just as good.  The archive should be in some format like rar or 7z that provides good security and is less likely than zip to be identifiable by a header scan, if the bad guys get a little more ambitious about identifying data.

8  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Be prepared against ransomware viruses.. on: June 27, 2015, 10:50:00 AM
There is some frequently updated information on the Microsoft Malware Protection Center about ransomware, including which types are currently most active and recommendations about dealing with certain specific ones.

Some of the older ransomware can be defeated, although most of the newer ones cannot. Nonetheless, before panicking, you should try to find out as much as possible about exactly what you are dealing with and follow up on any information you can get about it.

9  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: The end of the hard disk on: June 26, 2015, 10:45:50 AM
I will be shocked if these predictions come true.  That is, if SSD's have capacities like 8TB or 16TB in 2016, I will be very shocked.  I'm talking at a reasonable cost, even enterprise cost.  anywhere under $1000 will be shocking to me.  Second, I will also be shocked if enterprise level applications will forego getting SSD's to replace mechanical drives by 2016.  For example, if cloud storage providers start using SSD's like that, I will be very surprised.

Not saying it's not possible, just that a jump like that so soon would be crazy.  Have we just been sitting on the technology all this time?

To be honest, I also find that time line unrealistic -- tech writers have a habit of making overly optimistic predictions -- but even if it takes a few years more, the writing is on the wall for the HDD, except as an inexpensive  long-term storage device.

Intel is the major supplier of PCIe board SSDs to major data center users, and their most recent prediction is that they will have 10TB enterprise class SSD boards available by 2018.

Intel already sells 1.2TB PCIe boards for under $1,000 in bulk. 2TB boards now cost several times as much, but that should change quickly as other vendors start to compete in that space.  SanDisk has announced that they will be selling an external 2TB SSD in a portable HDD form factor to the consumer market for under $1,000 this year.

A variety of new flash memory technologies are poised to drive the price/capacity ratio down dramatically.  What is holding them up is the ability to manufacture them reliably in large quantities, but a lot of really big players (Intel/Micron, SanDisk, Samsung, Toshiba) are competing fiercely to get there first.
10  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: The end of the hard disk on: June 24, 2015, 12:34:29 PM
Around 1000USD a pop you have now decently sized hard disks that work according to SSD principles, but instead of using SATA, they use the PCI-Express lanes of your motherboard. If you think SSD's (or SSD's in RAID) are fast...these puppies run 4 to 5 times faster than SSD drives (at their top speed) in most usage scenarios. If you want really fast servers that have no problems shifting mountains of data around, SSD's are already old hat.

Sorry to disillusion you, but the devices you are talking about are SSDs, not hard disks.  The difference is that the flash memory and controller are mounted directly to a PCIe card rather than enclosed in a SATA case to allow swapping with HDDs.

Actual hard disks are limited to a 6GB/s transfer rate because that is the fastest you can pull data off of a rotating memory device.  That is why the SATA-III interface tops out at 6GB/s.  Flash memory does not have the same limitations and by mounting it directly on a PCIe card, you avoid the bottleneck of the SATA interface.

11  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: The End of my Macbook Pro Experiment on: June 23, 2015, 03:14:06 PM
The thing that really peeved me looking at them was the fact that they were all "new technology", i.e. SSD.  And I just don't trust an SSD as my only HDD, and the fact that you wouldn't get enough space... I want a minimum of 500GB, which in SSD is exorbitantly expensive.

As I noted here yesterday, SSD capacities are growing and prices are dropping rapidly, leading some analysts to predict the demise of the HDD altogether within a few years.

As of today, you can get a 500GB SSD from Samsung or Crucial for about $175, and Samsung gives you a 5 year warranty. That's still several times the cost of a 500GB HDD, but no manufacturer will give more than a 3 year warranty on any HDD and most won't give more than 1 year. That tells you everything you need to know about the reliability of the current generation of SSDs.  And of course, in a laptop, an SSD has the advantage of being impervious to shocks and magnetic fields.

12  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / The end of the hard disk on: June 22, 2015, 05:57:31 PM
According to Information Week, the end of 2015 will see SSDs with greater capacity than any hard disks currently available and SSDs are expected to be cost competitive with hard disks by the end of 2016.

Even if these projections are a little optimistic, particularly with respect to the consumer market, it seems clear that the hard disk will soon be going the way of the floppy disk.

It won't be missed.
13  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Webassembly: Big four to develop binary format for the web on: June 20, 2015, 07:00:26 AM
So... they're reinventing Java?

You don't see Oracle (or IBM) in that "Big four" list, do you?

WebAssembly is explicitly not tied to a single language, which makes it conceptually more like .NET than Java.  Note also that it uses pre- rather than JIT compilation.  Google has already done that in Android with ARC replacing Dalvik beginning with Lollipop.  I'd guess that WebAssembly is also designed for sandboxing, meant to live in the browser rather than the  server while avoiding the security vulnerabilities that plague current browser-based runtime engines.

This sounds a lot like an attempt to move the heavy lifting away from the big iron and onto the user's system, which makes sense, given the folk who are behind it.

14  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: LastPass alternatives? (including premium LP) on: June 16, 2015, 11:19:29 AM
I personally don't use an online password system, but if I did, LastPass is actually the one I would use. At least they were smart enough to see relatively quickly that their security had been breached and the methods they use to encrypt user data seem as strong as anyone else out there.

Anything connected to the Internet is going to be vulnerable to hacking.  Someone capable of hacking into Kasperksy Labs internal network clearly has the knowhow to hack into just about anyone else's network too.  Kaspersky believes that only a state actor (think NSA or their equivalents in China, Russia or Israel) could have mounted the attack on them, but once you have a proof of concept, it won't take long to trickle down to clever hackers in private practice.

I keep my passwords locally in an encrypted database (eWallet), along with a lot of other private information I need to look up from time to time.  But I also distinguish between types of passwords needed for different sites.  I use the same passwords for a lot of sites of similar nature where I have nothing to lose if it is discovered - think subscriptions, forums, etc.  They are easy for me to remember but long enough to challenge the weekend hacker. For anything that might involve money, I use separate and more secure passwords.  The important thing is to make them long, not to use weird combinations that you can't reproduce or enter by hand.

An online password manager provides a certain amount of convenience, and probably enough security for most casual use.  I just don't think I would trust one with anything really critical.
15  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: LastPass hacked on: June 16, 2015, 10:07:16 AM
That linked statement says something different than your blurb, IMO.

Do I need to change my master password right now? LastPass user accounts are locked down. You can only access your account from a trusted IP address or device – otherwise, verification is requested. We are confident that you are safe on your LastPass account regardless. If you’ve used a weak, dictionary-based master password (eg: robert1, mustang, 123456799, password1!), or if you used your master password as the password for other websites you need to update it.

we have found no evidence that encrypted user vault data was taken, nor that LastPass user accounts were accessed.

Both of those directly contradict what's in your blurb.  At least... unless I'm missing something?

What they say was accessed:
The investigation has shown, however, that LastPass account email addresses, password reminders, server per user salts, and authentication hashes were compromised.

In my book, that qualifies as personal information.  Whether or not it is enough to crack your passwords, it can be a serious problem for many users who may not be as sophisticated as you are.  

And your first quote from the LP notice contains language explicitly telling anyone who has a weak master password or has used their master password on other sites needs to change it.

Note also that LP does not say that no passwords were compromised, only that they have not found evidence of that and that they think their encryption methods are strong enough to prevent that from happening.  Of course, they also thought their security was strong enough to prevent a breach in the first place.

16  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: 2014-2015: Best tablet specs for ebook reading on: June 15, 2015, 07:00:54 PM
That hp pro slate looks pretty neat.
Unfortunately, the 12.3" HP Pro tablet has only 1600x1200 resolution, which means that text is going to look pretty jagged on screen.

Interestingly, the 7.9" version has 2048x1536 resolution, which is the same as the iPad Mini.  The small version has the same pen and OCR  software as the big tablet, in addition to much higher resolution, but it is too small to work well as a writing pad.

I just don't get what the folk at HP are thinking.
17  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / LastPass hacked on: June 15, 2015, 06:11:53 PM
LastPass has issued a Security Notice saying that they have been hacked resulting in account owners personal information being compromised.

They claim that no password data was breached, but recommend that all users change their master password ASAP.

18  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: PayPal about to claim rights in all IP sold/licensed using PayPal for payments on: June 12, 2015, 11:57:37 AM
Since 2013. the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) has forbidden auto dialed calls to US cell phones without prior express written consent.  Implicit consent and prior business relationships are explicitly disallowed as exemptions.  The fines for noncompliance are steep.

The FCC has already announced that it is looking into the matter, as is the New York State Attorney General.

Unless PayPal is planning to liquidate or move to Russia, I really can't understand what they, or their lawyers, think they are going to accomplish.
19  Other Software / Found Deals and Discounts / Re: Syncovery at 50% off - BDJ on: June 11, 2015, 06:08:10 AM
Syncovery Pro is 50% off ($29.95) again at BDJ today - June 11 2015.
20  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: 2014-2015: Best tablet specs for ebook reading on: June 08, 2015, 07:51:34 PM
A 10.1 diagonal screen is approximately 5.5 by 8.5 for the side dimensions.

To approximate a letter size page, you need a 13.3 diagonal, which gives you approximately 8.2 by 10.5 for the sides, assuming a standard aspect ratio.

For ebook reading, including PDF, you really don't need more than 10.1, as long as the resolution is at least full HD (1920x1080). Higher resolution is better, of course.   For a 13.3 tablet to be used mostly as a reader, I'd really look for 2K (2560x1440).  Unfortunately, high resolution translates to high price.

21  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: facebook tracing on: April 24, 2015, 07:53:53 AM
please understand it's not the location I live and I typed in fb when I opened the account, that got revealed, it's my actual location at the time of the conversation!

Your Internet connection provides geolocation information whenever you are online.

This is the case even if you turn off location services in your browser or mobile device (if you even have that choice), because all service providers capture this information and sell it to data brokers and online services.  If you connect through a mobile phone, your precise location is captured, at least in the US, because all mobile phones are required to provide GPS coordinates for emergency services and law enforcement.

Facebook makes your location available to advertisers to "enhance the customer experience" by informing you of sellers near you. 
22  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: USB 3.0 problems with Windows; general discussion on: April 22, 2015, 08:32:16 PM
In my experience, problems with USB 3.0 have come from the controller on the computer, or more specifically the drivers for the host controller.  It's worth seeing if newer drivers are available for the chipset on your host controller.

eSATA is very stable, but it will not work with drives >2TB on older computers that do not have BIOS support for large drives, whereas USB 3.0 (with a reasonably recent driver) will.

I have successfully used a U3eSATA USB to eSATA converter to attach a 3GB drive in an eSATA enclosure through a USB 3.0 port to an older computer that would not recognize it when connected directly to the computer's eSATA port.
23  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Simpler tax forms? Intuit says NO! on: April 16, 2015, 06:03:10 PM
Yesterday was Tax Day for those of us who live and work in the USA – the day by which you need to file your income tax return with the IRS.  If you wonder why the process is so complicated, don’t blame the agency, which would actually like to make it easier for most taxpayers (and itself).  It seems that the main roadblock to simplifying the way taxes are filed is a massive lobbying effort by Intuit, the makers of TurboTax software, which has spent over $13 million dollars over the past 5 years lobbying against reform.
24  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: pound symbol on: April 16, 2015, 05:28:52 PM
I keep a cheat sheet of symbols and foreign characters that I frequently need in a text file.  When I need one of those characters,  I copy from that sheet and paste into whatever I am writing.

You can also use the Windows Character Map program, which includes the GBP character (£) and most anything else you are likely to need on any Western keyboard.  Character Map used to be in the Accessories group in the Start Menu, but disappeared in Windows 7.  However, it is still included with Windows and you can call it up by typing "Character Map" (without the quotes) in the Start Menu search box.  It's a little clunky, but it works.

25  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: So, what pdf reader app is your fav? on: April 12, 2015, 11:12:02 PM
SumatraPDF is a great file viewer and the fact that it supports so many formats makes it a great tool to keep on hand, particularly as a portable viewer.  That said, it is too bare-bones to be my regular pdf viewer. A major problem for me is print support - pages cannot be resized or fitted to paper size. It also has no editing support and does not support forms at all, making it unusable in many situations.

Adobe Reader is now ridiculously bloated and larded with "features" that attempt to get you to buy additional online services from Adobe. I gave up on it after Version 9.5.  For several years, I have used PDF Xchange Pro, but the free version is probably adequate for most people.  It's not noticeably slower than SumatraPDF and actually performs better with very large and complex documents, in my experience.
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