Saturday, August 27, 2011

Apple, I Expected Better

Well, my second HP laptop died in two years. The one before that did the same. So, I decided it was time to exit the windows world (at least partly) and buy my first Mac. I ordered my 27" iMac on Aug 5th, the day after my birthday, because that was the start of South Carolina's three day sales tax holiday. On the 16th of August, via Federal Express, my new machine arrived. I haven't been more excited over new hardware in years. I set up (which amounted to nothing more than unpacking it and plugging it in) and powered it up. Nothing. Oh, not quite nothing. I did get a screen and a half of desperate error messages the first two times I tried and after that I got a white screen with Apples little beach ball spinning round and round forever. Recognizing a critical problem, I called Apple support. This was the only good part of the experience. Although the first tech I spoke to could not diagnose the problem, after 10 minutes or so he passed me on to second level support. This tech had me do a few more diagnostic tricks then told me a critical part of the operating system was damaged or missing. He then instructed me in setting up a download of the entire operating system (OS/X Lion). We both hung up and about 3 and a half hours later the 4GB download was finished and installed and I was up and running.


OK, so now I was up and running. As a learning exercise in this new (for me) Mac world, I decided to make an iMovie of the picture and video clips I had taken on my iPhone at the 2011 Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Galax Virginia a few days earlier. I then intended to burn a movie DVD and give it to my Cousin, who had also attended the festivities. Working a bit here and a bit there I started to learn my way around the new operating system and iMovie and finally got to where I thought I had a worthwhile movie to share. Soooo..... in iMovie, I clicked on Share, then clicked on iDVD which I understood was the software that would burn my new movie on DVD. iDVD was one of the standard pieces of software included in iLife, a package that came standard on my machine. SUPRISE!! Apple decided, with NO NOTICE to stop distributing iDVD with iLife. It's still in the menu on iPhoto but no longer included in iLife. As far as I'm concerned this is just plain FRAUD. How can they change what is included in a package without changing the name of the package or at least giving some notice. I have called Apple and left a message with the tech who helped me on the first problem and have sent them a complaint through their web comment system. Let's see what happens.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Computer Safety Class + Video Skype Chats May Include Ads

Hi All -
First, for those who were in our computer safety class at the Socastee Library yesterday and for anyone else who might be interested, here is the link I promised you to an online version of my slides:

Computer safety presentation

Second item: As you may already know, Microsoft is in the process of buying Skype. We have used video chat on Skype for a long time to stay in touch with family and friends around the country and the world. According to Bloomberg Business Week (May 16-22, 2011), "plans have been put in place to flank Skype video chats with advertisements". My prediction is that, since Microsoft already owns voice recognition software that works quite well, we can expect that in the future the Skype software running on our computers will listen to our conversations and use what it hears to choose the ads that begin to show on the border of your Skype window. You heard it here first!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Removing Personal Information Before Donating or Gifting Your PC

Several friends have recently told me they want to donate or gift an old PC but want to be sure they have removed personal data before doing so. Most of them realize that if they somehow remove ALL data from their hard drive the machine is totally unusable until someone reinstalls some version of an operating system. Many folks have no idea how to do this and don't remember, years after purchase, where they put the CDs with the operating system on them or if they ever got those CDs when they bought the machine. Here is a typical question on the topic that I just received in an email from a good friend who wants to donate his old machine to a charity:


If I reformat my C drive on my old computer I assume that everything is lost including the operating system. That means someone needs to reload my Windows XP, right?? Is there any freeware.... that allows one to “shred a file” so that it can’t be easily read? Also, if I decide to format, can/should I use the “quick format” option?"

Rather than answer in a one-on-one email I thought I'd share the information in this blog post.

General Source of Info on Tech Topics

There is a techie, Leo Notenboom, who keeps a website and blog called Ask Leo ( ) where he takes computer related tech questions and answers them for the layman. I read him and refer many people to him and have never read a bad piece of advice from him. Go to that link and in the search box provided enter the words "erase hard drive give away" (without the quotes). The article I want you to read will be the first one listed. it's title is "How Should I Erase My Hard Drive Before I Give it Away?". Note that the title of the first article does not have the word "comments" after it. This means it was written by Leo, not by one of his readers who left a comment. I trust the articles written by Leo. As for comments by others, you're on your own.

In the article, Leo recommends two approaches, one for the paranoid (drill holes in the hard drive) and one for the not-so-paranoid (reformat the hard drive PROPERLY) and goes on to explain what he means by properly. He then goes on to point out that

1. drilling holes is the ultimate solution but leaves the computer unusable
2. reformatting isn't a great solution for the paranoid individual because at some expense data might still be recoverable

so how does the paranoid individual remove data more effectively than multiple unconditional reformats while not physically destroying the hard drive? One good approach is with a free software tool called "Darik's Boot and Nuke" which you can download at Note - this is for the power user, not the novice. You will need to know how to burn the downloaded file to a CD (for help see and how to change the boot sequence of your machine so it will try to boot from the CD drive before it tries to boot from the hard drive (for help see

If you are less paranoid and want to leave your operating system on the disk as is but just want to effectively delete your own personal files, you might just drag and drop them into the trash and then empty the trash but you probably already realize that this just removes the entry for the file from the hard drives file index (the directory) leaving the file itself untouched. To actually destroy the file itself you might consider the free program known as Eraser which you can find at For example, if all the files you want to erase are in "My Documents" you're in good shape.

I hope this helps. Please leave comments here if you have questions and/or you use any of these suggestions.

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An Effective and Free Tool for Wiping Your Hard Drive

Darik's "Boot and Nuke" is a free

Monday, January 31, 2011

An End to Passwords

It can't come too soon for me! I've been dreaming up / approving / disapproving / cursing at new password schemes since the 1970's when the company I worked for (a property/casualty insurance giant) formed a new department under me called "I/T Staff Services" that included, for the first time, computer security. Until then there were no passwords and our user IDs were our last names. My newly appointed security chief recommended to me that we create user IDs that could indicate what variety of user you were (making it possible to attach your user ID to certain rights and privileges) and that we make passwords mandatory, with standardized composition, and have them expire every six months.

Over the years I've watched password standards get more and more complex. No longer the creator of standards, like most of humanity I am on the receiving end. Each day one or more of my many online accounts informs me that my password has to be longer, more complex, and attached to a series of security questions and actions. All this to create a password that, in a year or so, can be broken by a 12 year old kid using free software on his/her game playing computer.

FINALLY the solution may be in sight! Biometrics, a set of technologies aimed at identifying humans based on their unique physiological and/or behavioral attributes has been long on promise and short on delivery for many years with the exception of expensive military installations and phony television scripts. At last a major player, Apple, may be poised to bring this "ease of use" technology to the masses. Check out the article in Computerworld here.