Monday, November 30, 2009

The Big Storage Lie

What's This About?

Long story, but I just bought a new 1.5 Terabyte drive for my server.   Once it was formatted, how big does it say in Windows?  1.32 TB.  So, what happened to 180 Gigabytes of space?

In fact, this phenomenon is rampant now throughout the computer industry.  And remember, everything is a computer - from your cell phone (no matter how simple it is, it is still a computer with its own Operating System, CPU, and memory) to media players (MP3, video, etc.), to USB jump drives, to flash memory sticks (SD, MicroSD, CompactFlash, Sony Media Stick, etc.), car stereos, GPS devices, and to, of course, hard  drives.

I traced this discrepancy down once, to a white paper by James Wiebe, in which he explains exactly why we have this discrepancy.  It basically boils down to the fact that the hard drive / memory manufacturers use a different standard to compute the size, than the standard that computers use to report the size.  What!?!?  That's right.  Somewhere, someone decided they would redefine what has been in place some 60 years, and arbitrarily say that a 1 GB hard drive means 1,000 MB, which by the way each mean 1,000 KB, each of which is 1,000 Bytes.  You may know that electronic computers since their inception have used a binary  system to compute storage size instead of a decimal system, therefore using powers of 2, 1KB is 1,024 Bytes, 1 MB is 1,024 KB, and 1 GB is 1,024 MB, and so on.

Somehow, all of the manufacturers started following suit - probably as storage capacities became so large they figured no one would care.  So, basically we are all being cheated!  That's right, I paid $105.95 for 1.5 TB, but I only got 1.32 TB.  They stole 180 Gigabytes from me - by the way, my roommate in college had a 5 Megabyte hard drive, so that would be, oh, some almost 37,000 hard drives from college they stole from me!  Or would it be only 36,000 because you multiply by 1000 instead of 1024?  Oh, to heck with it!

A Call To Action

Sometime in 2003, some of the hard drive manufacturers were sued, successfully, on this point.  However, in a settlement, it turns out the end result is this stupid statement on the bottom of my Seagate box:

When referring to hard drive capactity, one gigabyte, or GB, equals one billion bytes and one terabyte, or TB, equals one thousand billion bytes.  Your computer's operating system may use a different standard of measurement and report a lower capacity.  In addition, some of the listed capacity is used for formatting and other functions and will not be available for data storage.

Hooey!  Horse hockey!  Is anyone else mad as hell about this?  First of all, your computer's operating system may use a different standard???  There is not a single operating system in the world that doe NOT use a different standard - the original power-of-2 standard.  All flavors of UNIX, Windows, Mac, you name it.  Second of all, I mean really, what would it be like if the US gas stations started listing prices in Liters, without labeling it as Liters?  That's right, now it's $2.59.  Times 3.8 liters per gallon, oh, but we didn't tell
you.  If you wonder why your gas fillup now costs you $120 instead of $35, it's just because some cars made for the US market may report a different capacity!  Yeah, that's exactly what they said on the bottom of my Seagate box.

I say enough of this lie - if it is 1.3 TB capacity, call it that.  Fine, I'll pay the $105.95 (did I multiply by 1,000 or 1,024???).  But call it like it is - don't lie and say it is 1.5 TB, because it isn't.

We tried the legal route - it's either way too limited (suing a company or several companies), or just forget about the mountain to climb (getting Congress to pass a law - besides, do you really want Congress passing a law regulating technology?).

Contact your manufacturers and complain.  Have them spend the time to explain it to you - hopefully as well as James Wiebe did (did you follow the IBM/Hitachi computation?).  If they find they are spending so much time answering complaints, and explaining, maybe that will hit thim in their profitability, and they will begin listing the TRUE capacity.

That's my 2 cents worth.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What’s this Mac thing all about?

Computers have become a huge part of our lives.  Especially mine.  The first time I laid eyes on my parents’ TRS-80 Model II at 8 years old, I was hooked.  Over the years, I have done a lot with computers - and managed to avoid mainframes (except for one excruciating class in college).  I have worked on machines from the Commodore 64, Apple II, Atari 800, all the way through half a dozen implementations of UNIX (including the Microsoft Xenix - remember that one?).

At times, as I am sure you can relate, it has been a love-hate relationship.  The Commodore Amiga, way ahead of its time, was burdened with a company who wasn’t very interested in marketing it against the PC and Macintosh (that was at the same time as the PC with DOS 4 and 5, Windows 3.0/3.1, Mac 512, Mac SE, Mac II).  Later sold to Gateway, the Amiga became a set-top-box environment used for cable boxes.  PC’s and Windows - well, I think we all know why we hate them.  The biggest gripes I had about the Mac, was that it didn’t let tinkerers into the inner workings very easily - no command line interface, the GUI (that’s Graphical User Interface) was too simplified, and the darned thing crashed a lot with that annoying bomb.

So, I began my career selling PCs and Macs, then transitioned into a job programming on a UNIX environment.  I kept up with UNIX for 10 years, doing lots of work on various environments.  When Apple announced that their operating system, Mac OS, was transitioning after OS 9 to UNIX-based OS X (X for UNIX, X for 10...), I was pretty piqued.  However, by then I was deeply immersed in the Windows world.

For those of us who were around when Windows ME came out, we remember what a fiasco that was.  That version (somewhere between Windows 98 and Windows 2000) was so overly bug-ridden, we thought for sure Microsoft had learned their lesson.  And so it seemed - Windows 2000 was very stable: the first version I could leave running for more than a couple of days without rebooting.  (My 1989 Commodore Amiga 2000, I would leave running without rebooting for weeks, by the way.)  Windows XP came out, and I was wary of upgrading - until I was issued a new laptop from work with XP on it, and I was again impressed.

Then what happened?  Vista came out.  Mac OS X came into its own.  Ahh, Vista - Windows ME all over again.  All the big promises Microsoft made about stability, new environments to help us avoid all the problems with older Windows (DLL Hell, to name one).  The biggest cheese - the “security”.  I loved the Mac ads - “Asking the user to Cancel or Allow isn’t security - it is simply annoying.  I either have to allow every time, or if I allow all, then I drop the new security altogether.”

Fast forward.  It is now toward the end of 2009, and as promised when Vista came out, I did not buy another PC.  An opportunity came up, and I ordered a Macbook Pro.


Let me say it again.  Wow.  After using this thing for a month, I have realized that the Macintosh is how I’ve always thought computers should run.  UNIX to its core, but a nice, friendly interface.  That is the power.

But what about software?  Think about it.  Think really hard.  What is it you need to do on a computer?  Web?  E-mail?  Address books?  Word processing?   Spreadsheets, presentations, convert to PDF, print, transfer files.  Oh, what about video editing, photo management?  You know, every time I tried to hook my Windows machine up to my Comcast cable box to record the video, it gave me a blue screen and rebooted.

Well, the Mac comes with all that!  Comes with it - the Office document suite, from Apple, is $40 if you buy it bundled with the machine.  Or you could get Microsoft Office for the Mac for 4 times the price, but I’ve had it with Microsoft stuff.  I mean, the Mac is just so - elegant.  But really, that’s not fair.  It comes with a ton more.  Garage band lets you arrange music, take lessons for instruments (comes free for guitar and piano), and more.  iPhoto lets you manage photos - and really well.  FrontRow gives you special multimedia watching capability.  iCal is a calendar integrated with the operating system, and all applications.  The address book is part of the Mac, not just some afterthought (oh, it’s in the e-mail package, or if you buy Office you get Outlook).  No, it’s at the core of everything.  And iTunes comes built into the Mac, and it works flawlessly - fast, integrated into the keyboard - and it doesn’t crash like Windows Media Player.

Let’s talk about the touchpad.  Laptops come with a touchpad, but the Windows ones are pretty basic.  Move the mouse around, tap to click.  Woo hoo.  Oh, now you can slide certain regions in the margins to scroll the screen.  Useful - but a pain in the hand.

The touchpad on the Macbook I instantly took to!  First there’s scrolling.  Put down 2 fingers and move around.  No confinement to the rightmost 1/8 inch if you can get your fat finger to touch it right!  Just drag 2 fingers, and it scrolls.  Effortless.  And, the buttons are not simply a tap - the whole touchpad is a button.  Just push down, and you can feel it click.  Simple, tactile response.

The Mac has Exposée - no, I don’t mean something the newspaper does.  I mean this is a sweet feature of the Mac. By swiping 4 fingers up or down, or pressing the function key, all of my open windows fly out from behind each other, and I can see and click on any one of them to locate the window I want.  Waaay too useful - now I hate using Windows!

But, something I had on the Amiga and UNIX CDE was workspaces.  You can divide your screen up into workspaces.  Each workspace takes up the full screen, but you can put windows in it, and switch between workspaces, so you don’t get too cluttered.  The Mac takes that to the next level.  By pressing F8, all my workspaces fly out, and I can see, interact with, drag windows between, and click on a workspace to switch to it.

If that weren’t enough - I’ll throw a few other facts out.  First, the Mac doesn’t dog.  My “brand new” Dell Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM often gets into fits where the system freezes while it writes big files to the hard drive.  I have to reboot it often (Windows XP of course), and every so often a blue screen.  Second, I don’t need antivirus, antispyware, firewall - from 2 or 3 different vendors just to protect myself.  There are currently no known viruses for Mac OS X.  Third, there’s the software that comes with the Mac.  I mean, just comes with it.  Video editing, audio editing, multimedia, movie watching, music, and more.  Fourth, this computer is a programmer’s paradise.  XCode, the free package from Apple for writing software for the Mac and iPhone and other platforms, blows away Microsoft Visual Studio.  Fifth, if you really, really want to, you can run Windows.  Of course, you need to buy it and install it.

So, the biggest 2 things I have noticed about the Mac are, 1) the Mac really lives up to the advertisements, and 2) it exceeds what they say in the ads.  How often nowadays do you get a product, and are happier with it months after the purchase?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Sometimes it is a difficult thing to imagine, since technology and gadgets are such an integral component in our lives, but there are (believe it or not) actually times where technology is a hindrance, bother, annoyance, or downright dangerous.  That last remark may seem a poignant reference to texting whilst operating machinery, but it extends beyond that.

So, what is a Tech Geek like me doing talking about de-teching?  Once years ago, someone put it to me like this: if you have to choose between a critical after-hours work involvement, and a critical family involvement, think about this.  When you are lying on your death bed, will you regret missing work, or will you regret missing that family event?  That helps me put things in perspective.

There are times when cell phones, PDA's, computers, even telephones are inappropriate.  This is different for each person, but there is also an aspect of considering the feelings of others.  A friend posted on her Facebook yesterday what I thought was a really nice survey of what types of coworkers people found annoying - and I really thought about the "Tappers" - people who sit in meetings in which the are supposed to be participating, but are tapping on their Blackberries/iPhones/etc.

So, am I to preach what you should and should not do?  That is not my intent.  What I want to do with this article, is to trigger that little-used "thought" app that you downloaded when you were a kid, but haven't used much in relation to technology.  Ignore the article if you wish!  I cannot advise you on when you should or should not use your cell phone (heck, nowadays the law will tell you that!), but I can share with you some of the tools I use to help me choose.

Why De-Tech?

Since the dawn of time, mankind has become a tool maker.  We use our smarts and the stuff around us to develop technology that gives us an edge, makes tasks easier to accomplish, and even entertains.  From stone knives to the iPhone, we have a plethora of stuff available to us every day.  However, overuse or over-reliance on a tool, or tools beyond the ones God gave us (brains & hands), can foster a disconnect between our lives (soul if you will) and our experience of our lives.

For example, if you want to tell someone something, modern technology gives us an unbelievable number of ways to do it.  We can text them, we can e-mail them, we can call them, send a letter, heck we may even be able to video conference.  However, have you ever heard the phrase "there is no substitute for face-to-face?"

E-mails and text messages (and in a way phone calls) cannot convey nuances of inflection, facial expressions, and body language that communicate syntax that is just as important as the spoken words themselves.  If you rely mainly on these forms of communication, you may find that the quality of your relationships has dimished to the point of simple message/reply, or have statements misinterpreted and have things blow up out of proportion to what was intended.

If you are watching your daughter's playoff basketball game against the rival team, and it is a close game, but you are in the middle of texting or talking on the phone, what is your experience and the quality of connectedness between you and your daughter?

I think what is missing in the technology, is a cultural context in which to determine when and if we should use that technology.  In fact, exactly because of this line of thinking, this is why at home we do a lot of food preparations and food processing manually - with the kids when they want to help out.  Pickles, drinks, beef and chicken stocks, tomato sauces, growing and harvesting our own foods - these all give us a connectedness to each other, and to God's creations - oh, and by the way, they are healty.

How to De-Tech?

So, how do we do it?  I mean, we have all these neat stuff because, well, they are neat.  They are useful, and make our lives easier in many ways.  However, as with any tool, there are certain things these tools do well, and other things that other tools are better at.  For example, a screwdriver is great at turning a screw.  Not so great at hammering a nail, or at pulling a nail.  You could do it, but a claw hammer is better.

The first tool I use to help determine if I should use a gadget or not, is Stop And Think.

  • Is the tool the best way to communicate what I want to communicate?  For example, e-mail and text messages have one big shortcoming.  They are prone to misunderstandings.  So, is the message I am sending simple enough to be clearly communicated in this way, or if it is complex or perhaps emotionally charged, a phone call or face-to-face would be better.
  • Is the use of the tool disturbing to others?  If I am a Tapper, then it obviously is.  My family can attest, since I have had an MP3 player, I am prone to walking around with earbuds in my ears - even if the sound is off, people are not sure whether or not I am able to hear them.
Sometimes, it's not so easy to Stop And Think.

The next tool, is the Deathbed question.  Will I regret using the tool / missing out on other things, or will I regret not gaining the functionality the gadget gives me?

Also, I have another tool called Do I Really Need To?  This one I sometimes use to justify my use of a gadget.  For example, if I am on vacation, but the sales guys really need to tap my knowledge for an hour to close a big deal - heck, in this economy we have to do whatever it takes, so I will leave my cell phone on, check my e-mail, respond to the call from work.

Finally, there is an I Need A Break tool.  Sometimes, I need a break from it all!  Turn off the TV, get away from the computer, no MP3 - just hang out on the porch in the folding chair with a beer in my hand.  Hey, you're allowed - and you deserve it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Computer Security for the Home User

At work, where you have a "full-time" paid employee handling your computers, they have the luxury of  time and knowledge to set up a secure environment.  However, those of us at home either don't know enough about security, or don't have the time to research and figure out what to do.  Or, perhaps we most likely don't even know we have a problem.

So, what is meant by security?  Many different things - some of which are products we install, some of which are behaviors which we exhibit.  I think at a gut level we all "know" that we need to be careful with our computers.  However, it is often not at the forefront of our thoughts - until it is too late.  The computer is crashed, or perhaps someone steals your identity and runs up charges in your name.  All of these happen way too often.

Why would you need to secure your computer?  Well, think about what is on it.  If any one of these apply to you, you need to do something to protect yourself - or become a victim.

  • E-mail with personal information, like address, phone number, user names, maybe even passwords
  • Contacts in your e-mail
  • Financial documents, like Quicken or QuickBooks accounting files, or tax calculations, bank account info
  • Passwords and logins
  • Medical information
  • Personal information you don't what just anyone finding out
The good news is, some of this is just "common sense".  My mother always used to say, "If it sounds too good to be true, it isn't."  This is a good rule of thumb.  Let's look at all of the ways in which we use computers, and the different ways in which they are vulnerable to attack - and what we can do to protect ourselves.

In this article, I discuss:

1. Viruses, Spyware and Malware

Malware is simply a generic term for little software programs that do bad things (mal=bad), and comes in 2 major forms.  Computer Viruses are similar to real viruses.  A computer virus is a program that installs itself (or gets installed) on your computer, and does one of two things.  It copies itself, perhaps to other areas in your computer, or to other computers via your e-mail  contacts or your network.  It also does somehthing malicious.  Where do they come from?   There are thousands of people out there who make these for fun, just to cause people trouble.  Some are tinkering around teens and pre-teens, learning computer programming by playing.   Some are criminals looking to make money.  And some are idealogues, thinking they can fight the Western infidel capitalists by attacking their computer systems.  What kinds of bad things can they do?  They can do simple things like slow down your computer, pesky things like make your mouse not work, or really nasty things like crashing your hard drive and wiping out data.  Typically, they do it sneaky so you can't detect it until too late.

Spyware is software that, while perhaps not as intentionally damaging as a virus, is perhaps just as bad.  Typically it does not "reproduce" and spread itself like a virus.  It is so-called "spyware" because it is usually installed along with something else, like that cool little utility you downloaded because it did something you need.  But then, it "spies" on you, either hijacking something on your computer (like your web browser, forcing it to display advertisements from somewhere), or perhaps even trying to find personal information to help criminals make money off you.  A lot of "spyware" comes bundled with other software, and is simply undesirable because it slows down your computer or makes it do annoying things.

Note that for Macintosh users, there are currently no known malware for Mac OS X.  However, it probably would be courteous for you to get some protection software, to at least scan the files and e-mails you send to those less-fortunate PC/Windows users you communicate with!!

So, how can you protect yourselves?  There are several free and paid software packages that help.  But, keep in mind that no one package is the end-all be-all solution.  It is better to have several tools in your shed.  Understand some VERY IMPORTANT facts:

  1. These software packages have to keep up with the new stuff that comes out, so
    you may need to configure them to
    automatically download updates every day.  Every day is recommended.
  2. Each software package has a different way of fixing the problems, some may be more effective than others with various malware.  So you should have several of these.

  • McAfee Virusscan ( is offered free to Comcast subscribers, and works OK.  However, it sometimes may be just as bad as some malware, as it may slow your system down.  It typically protects from viruses pretty well, but not so great at spyware.
  • Norton Antivirus ( is similar to McAfee - same advice.  If you have access to either, at least have that installed!
  • Avira Antivirus ( is a free antivirus software that gets good reviews, however the free version displays ads constantly - can be annoying.

The above 3 packages both offer a scanning solution that looks through your system periodically, and cleans viruses, as well as a real-time protection that identifies files and e-mails that are bad as soon as you get them, and prevents them from getting to your system.

  • Malwarebytes ( has a great (and free) software that removes malware, and especially spyware.
  • Spybot Search & Destroy ( is also free, and not only removes spyware, but also has a real-time protection that helps prevent spyware infection by checking and preventing the kinds of bad things spyware does to your system.
These are the software I use on a daily basis on all of my PC's.  For my Mac, I have iAntivirus, which does tend to slow down the Mac, so I don't keep it running - only when I want it to check certain things I send out to PC users.

2.  E-Mails and E-Mail Contact Lists

Some e-mails are just annoying - either because you get bombarded with meaningless ones, or because they are scammers trying to take your money, or perhaps because they lead you to viruses or other malware.  Remember:  IF IT IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT IS NOT TRUE.  Messages from some diplomat in Africa who will pay you $250,000 to move his $4 million into another account - yes, you guessed it - a scam.  Believe it or not, a lot of elderly people fall for this scam, according to MSNBC and the FBI.

But, beware!!!  These scammers are getting very clever.  We had one hit our company recently, where they sent a message supposedly from our e-mail administrator, saying that the system would be upgraded over the weekend, and to click a link to verify your password information.  IF YOU EVER GET AN E-MAIL THAT ASKS YOU TO VERIFY A PASSWORD, THAT YOU DID NOT SOLICIT, IGNORE IT, OR AT LEAST CONTACT THE ORGANIZATION.  For example, if you forget your password on a web site and click the "forgot password" link, then you should expect to get an e-mail from them.  Otherwise, especially if it looks like it is from a bank, you should contact the company immediately.  Banks and other financial institutions do NOT conduct account information over e-mails - they do it by mail, or by phone.

So, getting the software I recommend above, or other similar software that provides real-time protection from viruses and spyware, is essential to protecting yourself from the occasional e-mail that you fall victim to.  An EXCELLENT resource for many e-mails you may receive claiming to warn you about some dire emergency or terrible luck that will befall you if you don't
forward "this e-mail to everyone you know", is's Urban Legends division
( pays people to research these, and expose them as bogus hoaxes or authentic notices.  You can type in the subject line into the search, or some key words in the e-mail.

TRUST ME, BEFORE you forward an e-mail you got telling people to be careful not to use your cell phone while the charger is plugged in because it will catch on fire (or some other such warning, like Microsoft will track all the e-mails you forward), look it up on's Urban Legends and see if it is true before you look like the fool for passing it on.

3.  Web Sites and Web Surfing / Browsing

There are many web sites out there that trick you in various ways.  "Phishing" is so-called because they fish for you by giving you bait - if you mistype in a popular web site, like a banking web site, they set up one that looks "just like" the one you thought you were logging into, until you already have entered your personal information.  If you have been stung by this, immediately call the organization you were "phished" from (like your bank) and let them know, they can take measures to protect you.  Meanwhile, to prevent this, you should activate the "Phishing Filter" in your browser.  Internet Explorer ( has such security, so does Firefox (see  That should handle most of the browsers out there - the other relatively popular ones being Safari, Opera, and Google Chrome.  However, I would say to stick with the top 2 - Firefox being the more secure and faster one, the better choice (and they have it on
the Mac).

Another popular trick is to get you to click on a link to a web site, which then either gets personal information from you, or downloads malware to your machine.  Just be very careful what you
download and install - if you have the real-time protection installed (Spybot and McAfee/Norton), you will be better off but not still 100% protected.

Finally, popup windows have been a nagging hazzard for many years - there are still no really good preventative measures for these, as web developers always find ways around these, but beware of popup windows.

4.  Network Security at Home

Now, here is an area most people ignore or are unaware of.  One really easy way for people to hack into your system and get personal information, is to hack into your  network.  You don't have to be a computer guru to take some simple precautions.

Do you have a wireless network at home?  If so, then you have what is called a Wireless Router (or WiFi Router).  This is a box (maybe with an with antenna sticking out) and blinking lights connected to your cable modem, DSL router, or other Internet connection.  Pretty much all Wireless Routers have some administration built in, and they come from the factory with default settings like a default address and default login and password.  If you have never followed the instructions that came with your router, and changed your administration password, then it will take hackers about 2 seconds to hack into your network and have whatever they want.  At the very least, follow your router's instructions for setting up the password.  Typically, you connect to your router with a wire, and go to the router's address, which is usually, and log in usually with a blank login and "admin" as the password, or "admin" as the login and no password.

If you lost your router's manual, you can simplay go to Google, and search your router's make and model (for example, my router says "Cisco" on it, and on the bottom of the unit is the model number).

Do that at least!  Another thing you can do that will add a double-layer of protection, is to enable secure access (which of course is not enabled by default).  This will lock down the communication between your router and its wireless "clients" (laptops, your Wii, your cell phone, whatever other device uses your WiFi).  You create a password, and then use that password to connect your devices to the WiFi.  If you don't have the password, you can't get in, and it takes a lot more effort to hack in and get your password - probably too much effort so any hacker will simply give up.

Follow the instructions in the manual to turn on Wireless Encryption - WEP is the recommended protocol to use (there are others, like WPA, and more).  Use WEP, and you get to enter any password you choose.

Hopefully you learned something new, and these simple measures will
help to keep your computing safe.  Good luck, and feel free to
comment below.