Paperless re-visited (part two)

So, in my last blog post, I re-defined the paperless problem as really being about ubiquitous capture. Paper isn’t going away and neither is data. In fact data expands to fill any available storage space, but that’s another story.

 

So what we are really looking for is a “capture anywhere” system. And if it works on our smartphone, computer, web, tablet and everything else we use, then it’s a winner. Assuming it works properly.

 

There are a few contenders in this space; Paperless (yep, someone took that term and made an app), Evernote and DevonThink to name a few. I did my homework and gave in to Evernote. It’s the most cross platform and best supported app for my money.

 

More and more as I get older, I have lost all patience for bad technology. If something doesn’t work first time, overtime as advertised, I drop it. Life is too short for crappy technology or software. Although the Gods know, there’s a lot of crappy tech out there. For this reason I chose Evernote. It isn’t crappy. When it comes to ubiquitous capture Evernote is your app. You can capture from tablets and smartphones (Apple or Android), computers (Windows and Mac), email, the web, cameras, Post-it Notes, Moleskine notebooks and just about anywhere else data is generated.

 

It runs on Windows, Android, IOS (iPhone/iPad) and Mac as well as in any web browser. So there is no excuse not to capture whatever you need when you see it. My computer parts photos all go in and become searchable.

 

Evernote lets you snap a photo of just about anything and store it as a note. If it’s a picture, it gets OCR’d and turned into searchable text. If it’s a PDF and it doesn’t have a text layer, it gets one added. Even hand written notes can be scanned or photographed and become searchable. You can search for that wine label from just the photo you took. The web site back-end adds searchable text for you. At this point I need to tell you that you can’t export or copy/paste the text, it exists to help you search, not for you to read.

 

The same searchable text conversion happens on any notes you write with Penultimate. This is a tablet app that lets you write with a stylus. For those with Windows tablets who can actually write on a screen with a stylus, this is a nice iPad app to check out. Evernote acquired them and hence the app syncs to Evernote now. Frankly, I got the top of the range stylus but I still can’t write worth a damn.

 

As well as all these methods to get your data into Evernote, you can clip web pages, URLs, cut and paste and email to Evernote. There are a number of mechanisms for arranging and sorting your data. Notes, Notebooks, tags, saved searches and stacks, to name a few. I will go into those further in another blog article.

 

Now the magic is that the whole of your data gets synchronised across all your devices including the web site. And that this sync actually works. This is the promise vs deliver problem, and Evernote was the only one I tried that actually did this bit right.

 

The mobile Evernote lets you snap any document by using your camera as a scanner. There are special options for scanning Post-it notes and Moleskine paper notebooks. These options do things like recognise the Post-it note colour and automatically categorise the note accordingly. There are stickers included with the Evernote compatible Moleskine notebooks that let you tag your notes. So snapping a picture of the written note with a sticker attached, enters it to Evernote and adds a tag you decided. Of course the camera can be used on anything, not just these ones i have mentioned. Did I mention wine bottles? I have a notebook called “Things I buy” in which I keep snaps of the products I buy regularly. So when it comes to which of the 4 different but so similar filter plates for our fish tank…I just look it up.

 

Your free Evernote account will be enough to get started and learn what it can do for you. But if you want to use it seriously, you will need the Premium option which costs a small amount of money. For that you get more data storage, usage and the full OCR facilities. I found this a very good Freemium option. Free to try and use in a small way and once you pay, the full options light up. If you buy the right Moleskine notebooks, you will get 3 months of Premium Evernote included. You can add this to an existing account or start a new one with the credit supplied.

 

There’s the whole C-L-O-U-D debate. Should you trust some random web site with all your data? I made that assessment for myself and decided that if I used a decent password and the two-step verification option, then I had enough security with Evernote to satisfy my paranoia. But if you had classified data, you might want to do a bit more research than I did. But I figured Evernote is big enough and public enough that if they were not doing security right, they would have been hacked by now.

 

Evernote is very easy to learn. It passed the “grumpy John” test. There’s a great book by Brett Kelly called “Evernote Essentials” that will explain it all in easy to digest chapters. Although the free videos on the web site are probably enough to get going if you have absolutely no clue at all what I have been saying.

Paperless re-visited (part one)

A lot of stuff (or "data" as it likes to be known) comes into your life on a daily basis. Some of this is on paper, such as bills, letters, receipts, documents and the likes. Data is generated when you write things down on paper or key it into a computer. There’s just a stream of data in a modern life. Not to mention email, and it's better not to mention email, frankly. Nothing you can do will turn off the stream. The best you can do is try to keep your head above water so you can breathe.

 

People have been dreaming of a paperless life as long as there have been computers. It’s a myth. There is no way to avoid paper as such. And certainly no way to avoid data. Even a hippie in a Yoga camp is going to get bills and have to fill in forms. So what we need is a re-evaluation of the term “paperless”, because that one just doesn’t seem true.

 

I propose you think of it as a Digital Filing System. If you look into big business and Government, they have Records Management Systems like Recfind, Trim and Objective to name a few common ones. These are filing systems for corporate data. Once you get as big as a Government department, you can’t just file your Word documents on the F: drive and hope people that need them will stumble across them. Even nested folders and Google Search for Desktop isn’t going to be enough. Big data needs better systems. Hence the Records Management industry was born.

 

So if we have these systems at work, why don’t we have something similar at home? Well because they cost a bomb for one thing. And they are only useful inside the corporate network, while you are sitting at your desk. A modern life generates data wherever you go. And your filing system needs to be there too and keep up with you. Why else are we carrying around smart phones and tablets and laptops and whatever?

 

Then there’s the whole GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. This is a system proposed by David Allen that suggests you capture, clarify, organise, reflect and engage all your data. It’s a very good system and has rapidly replaced older Time Management systems to become the go-to for busy people and creatives alike. One of the main tenants of GTD is to have a Universal Inbox; one place to put everything. One place to look for all your stuff. One place to go to organise and process. This is another way to say Ubiquitous Capture. Gathering data anywhere you are.

 

Of course a scanner helps a lot. It turns paper into digital data. You can get desktop document scanners, multi-function devices (copier, fax, scanner, printer) and lots of other types of scanners. There are portable ones and you can use your smart phone camera as a scanner too.

 

Then there’s the data that is easily grabbed in a photo. For example if you are enjoying a nice wine, photograph the label and you’ll remember which one it was, assuming it’s good enough for you to forget the name of. On the non-alcoholic side, I photograph the serial number stickers on every computer I work on and all the parts I use. This gives me an easy record of which parts got used and what they were. You’d be surprised at how often this information becomes a bargaining chip when it comes time to pay the bill for my services. And photos have GPS data on them so I even know where I was as well as the date and time.

 

A lot of people write the most important things on a humble post-it note. Those brightly coloured things are so convenient but easy to lose. More then one customer has lost the cryptic password I invented for them because the glue gave up on the Post-it note.

 

There are still some people who write with an actual pen on paper. Handwriting is slow to die. Although the way I write, you would hope it would hurry up. I have recently embarked on a project to improve my penmanship, I started a course called Write Now. It seems that we do in fact learn most of what we need in life by grade 5, and my grade 5 writing was not so crash hot.

 

When we meet people who want to pass data to us, it is sometimes written on a whiteboard. I think the Labor party had one of those once. But I digress. The problem is that once written in dry erase pen, your data is not very user friendly to take home. Dragging a whiteboard on the bus doesn’t work for me. But some bright spark invented the printing whiteboard, although I’ve never worked anywhere rich enough to afford one. But hey, if you snap a photo of the board with your iPhone, there’s another source of data.

 

See where I am heading with this rant? Data comes in from many sources, in many formats. The world does not exist in PDF.

 

So I have defined the problem of “paperless” a bit better for you. It’s really a problem of ubiquitous capture.

How do you protect a Windows PC

A friend of mine asked me this question the other day. His daughter's laptop had become infected with a ransomware trojan. For those who don't know, that's a virus that puts up a scary warning message saying you have been caught accessing porn and the FBI are going to prosecute you and send you to jail, but you can avoid all that fuss by paying a fine now, in untraceable currency. And the message wont go away, and you can't use the PC until you remove this virus. Paying the money is pointless, you only encourage the criminals who did this to you to try again. Regrettably, this form of virus is very common in many varieties. Sometimes they claim to be the Australian Federal Police, sometimes it's some bull crap made up Internet International Police Unit... You get the idea. Sometimes they encrypt your hard drive and demand money for the password, often they don't even have the password. They just try anything to get money out of you.

Now my friend's daughter didn't do anything wrong to get this virus. Zero blame. These viruses are everywhere. You can even pick one up by visiting highly respected web sites like the New York Times. Once the virus was removed, the next logical question was "How do we prevent this happening again?". And that, Dear Reader is what this post is about. I'm not even going to mention that other brand, this post is all about Windows.

1. Use a modern version of Windows. WTF? Windows 7 is clearly a better version of Windows than anything that has come before it. If you are still on Vista or Windows XP, you are asking for trouble. Anything older (eg Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows 98 - just turn the computer off now and walk away slowly, do not look back. There is a big scary monster in your room and you need to leave immediately!!!) The official date when Microsoft will no longer even mention XP is less than a year away. XP is a 10 year old piece of software. Much as I love it dearly, it's time to put it to bed. XP does not belong on the modern Internet, it's ill equipped to deal with modern viruses. Stop using it. Windows 8 has not been the success Microsoft hoped for (see, that wasn't negative was it?) and is still too new for mainstream use, although I hear it's very good on tablets. Avoid for now. 

2. Keep Windows updated. The simple fact is new bugs are discovered in Windows all the time. Microsoft has a very good mechanism for fixing these bugs and you need to stay up to date. There is nothing more embarrassing than being caught by a bug that Microsoft fixed years ago. You want to be caught by a new, fresh bug, not some old stale bug!

3. Update or remove add-on software. Every piece of software on your computer has the potential to allow a virus in. Even software you never use has this potential. Just being installed is enough to compromise your PC. The IT industry harps on about JAVA as a classic example. Hardly anyone in the whole world needs JAVA on their PC, yet millions are compromised by JAVA bugs every day! If you don't absolutely need it, remove it. For add-ons that you do use - like Adobe Reader or Flash - keep them up to date. The latest Adobe Reader has auto-update so if you have version 11 (that's the one after Adobe Reader X) you are probably up to date. If you have an older version - you are a sitting duck. Second to JAVA, Adobe Reader is the next biggest target out there and Flash is number 3.

4. Anti-virus software. OMG, what a world of hurt. I suggest the free Microsoft one. It's as good as anything. Ok so the die hard anti-virus experts will argue that product X is better or product Y is better. The fact is the "best" varies on a daily basis. And on what test you use. If you catch a day where product Y has been fully updated and product X is just about to release their next version, then yes Y is better than X. But a day later the tables are turned. Bottom line - NONE of them are very effective in the real world where you live. But you absolutely have to have one of them and Microsoft is consistently very good. They have a vested interest in keeping Windows reputation out of the gutter so Microsoft does make a very competent product and it's free. Paid ones with more bells and whistles do not do (IMHO) any better at actually keeping you safe.

5. Moderate your behaviour. Regrettably the least secure part of your whole computer is the "problem between keyboard and chair" which would be you. Yes, computers do get infected by worms that require no action on your part. But most likely the infection comes from a pop-up you clicked on or a bad web site you visited. If you do porn or pirated content - you are asking for trouble. "Private Browsing" mode does not stop viruses. "Free" offers are paid for by someone. Often that someone is an organised crime syndicate using viruses. (fake Russian accent on) "All your porn is free, just let me put virus on PC for you"

6. Filtered Internet. Never thought I would say this. I am so totally opposed to the former policy of the former Prime Minister and his Great Firewall of Australia. Censorship sucks big time. But in this day and age, the viruses are everywhere. The bad guys are highly motivated, well funded and have the best technology. Avoiding at least the sites we know are bad is the first step. Open DNS can help you with their free service. Basically instead of using your ISP to provide DNS (the essential name lookup service that powers the Internet) you use Open DNS. They filter out known bad sites so your computer can no longer go to those bad web sites. The premium service allows some parental control. Visit [Open DNS](www.opendns.org, "Open DNS web site") for details.


7. Backup your data or use cloud based storage. Keep your data (photos, music, documents and anything else you value) in more than one place. Using cloud services like Dropbox, Carbonite, CrashPlan and the likes is a great start. Make sure that nothing on your laptop that you value exists **only** on your laptop. Then you can regard the (contents of) the laptop as disposable. At the first sign of a virus, wipe the laptop and start again. If your data is backed up you will lose nothing, except the virus. Most laptops come with a "recovery disk" which will erase the hard disk and put everything back the way it was the day you bought the laptop. If you don't have a recovery disk, you can sometimes make one or you can buy one at low cost. If none of those options are available, make your own using Norton Ghost.

8. Scan your PC from outside not inside. While Windows is running, a virus can be present and Windows has no way to see it. Imagine the guy at the pub who has had 30 beers. Can he decide if he is ok to drive or not? No he can't! Can his mate next to him who is sober decide for him? Yes he can. How does this work for your PC? You get an anti-virus product that comes with a boot disk. You boot off that disk so your Windows is not running. Then you use that disk to scan your PC. Several good products like this exist. Microsoft Safety Scanner is a free one. You download it, make a boot disk and then restart your PC, booting off the boot disk, not your hard drive. BART, BitDefender, Dr Web, heck even Norton or Kaspersky do similar products, although they cost money.

9. Ask the Internet. Before you download the latest free movie viewer, bit torrent client, free phone over the Internet chat roulette must have program, stop and think. Check out the reputation of this program. Only once you are sure it's safe should you download it.

10. Online web scanners suck. Save your time and money. Free online virus scanners rarely find anything. See number 8.

11. Don't ask an IT expert. We are all psycho. The IT industry is the only one that can sell you a broken product and charge you to fix it. If a Russian with a great leather coat asked you to pay glass insurance on your shop window, in cash, every Friday - well you get the hint. But Mr Kaspersky or Mr Norton asks you to cough up $99 per year to keep your PC safe and we believe him? Don't get me wrong, those products do have value. But it's an arms race and the bad guys are way out in front. Accept you will get infected and plan for it.

 

There we have it. A prime number of positive things you can do to protect a Windows PC. This post passes the modern blogger's template for success! Yipee!

Getting listed with Google

In my REIT talk I mention that to get listed higher up in Google search results (when someone searches for you) you need to have lots of new, relevant content. One of the things Google uses to rank your web site is the relevance of the text on your site. If you are a real estate agent, for example, they expect to see text about real estate. Articles about selling, market conditions, building approvals, sales figures, new listings, and even stuff going on in your area like new developments, community events etc.

The same is true of any web site. To get listed higher up in Google search results, you need a good steady stream of new, relevant content. You need a news section or blog and you need to post regularly. The more frequently you post new material, the more often Google will check your site. If you let the site go stale, Google will notice and come back less often. If you start posting more articles, once Google notices, it will come back more quickly.


My understanding is that Google checks every web page on the Internet about once every 3 months. This is the maximum time it takes to get noticed. Once you are noticed, Google keeps checking for a while to see how often things change. The more often, the more quickly Google will come back again. The less often you post, the less often Google needs to come back and re-read your site.


Thus is the thinking of robots.


I just proved this to myself. I hadn't posted in a while and noticed from my web server stats that Google hadn't been visiting me. I started posting daily articles and bingo! Google is back every day.


The black, dodgy, art that is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is full of charlatans. There are snake oil salesmen and other unsavoury characters. But every now and again you find a nugget of pure gold. This is hopefully one of those. Just remember to keep your web content relevant to what you do. If you're in real estate, don't start posting articles on alpaca husbandry, it won't win you any Google friends. Trust me, I tried that one. Yes, we used to keep alpacas. They are lovely animals and great pets. They just don't buy you any street cred as an IT professional.


Now, your homework is to go to the Google homepage and click on the "Advertising" link at the bottom of the page. There's a whole world of interesting information in there about how Google works, how ads work and how to make it happen for you. Yes, Google would like you to spend money, but they are happy to teach you all about SEO and the likes for free. Even if you never intend to spend a cent on ads, read the articles, they are good advice.

Backup Strategy

Why does anyone need a backup strategy? Maybe a big business, but not me at home? Oh yeah, feller you do! *Everyone* needs a backup strategy, most especially those that think they don't need one!


Backup is not just a one product solution. Just buying an external USB drive is not enough. Just having Symantec BackupExec is not enough. You need to actually have a little think about how and why you are backing up.


And for those of you who are not backing up your data - fracking listen up dudes, this is for you.

#3-2-1

For most normal people, and by that I mean home users, small business and the likes, the Professional Photographer's 3-2-1 strategy is perfect.

3 copies. No data that you value should exist in only one place. Too many things can happen to that sole copy and then you have nothing. In 30 years of doing IT daily, I might have seen one or two people crying over lost data. No damn it, I've seen dozens and its never a pretty sight. Oh yes, we downloaded the photos of our kids onto the laptop. (full stop) Where else did you put them? Oh, nowhere, the laptop was the only place. Fracking Hell, you mean a $50 laptop hard disk with an expected life of 3 years was the only thing you trusted your irreplaceable photos to? I want to scream "you idiot!" but I know this is only because you weren't taught any better. Your digital education failed the crap out of you.

You **must** make more than one copy of anything you care about. 3 copies is the ideal number. Just trust me on this.

2 different types of media. Having a CD copy of your CD data is not a backup. If the CD stops working, chances are the second CD will stop for the same reason. Or maybe the CD gets outdated, like that will never happen. Just ask the ZIP disk or the Bernoulli box or the Stringy floppy or the 5.25" floppy disk - you don't see many of them around here now do you?

Media gets outdated. Things fail for a reason. If you couldn't read the CD because it was badly burned by a faulty CD drive, the second and third CDs you made on the same drive will be just as useless. If a big magnet wiped one disk, the others in the same drawer probably suffered the same fate. Get the idea? We need at least two different types of media - a CD and a hard disk, a USB stick and a DVD. Spread the risk.

1 copy **must** be off site. Houses do burn down. Thieves do rob places. Frack happens. If one copy of your valuable data is in another place, chances are it might survive. Make a second USB disk copy and store it at Mum's house.


So I rant about 3-2-1 a lot. Its a simple idea with great benefits. But how do you do this practically?


#Mac
Internal hard disk on your Mac.

Time Machine backup to external USB disk or Time Machine. Software to do this is built in to the Mac. Easy.

Carbonite off site backup.


#Windows
Internal hard disk on your PC.

External USB drive. You can get something like Backup Assist to help do this automatically for you. Or you can diarise to copy your new files once a day.

Carbonite off site backup.

#Summary


Now for those who don't like Carbonite, there's CrashPlan or similar. I don't like the Telstra Bigpond Backup as its expensive and owned by Telstra. Similarly those offered by cheap ISP's are probably equally as cheap. Like heart surgery, the cheapest backup isn't the best. You need to know that if you ever need to use it, your off site backup will work, otherwise it is a waste of money and a miserable failure. You need your data encrypted before it leaves your computer and then securely stored in such a way that you and only you have the password to decrypt it. And that if anyone ever gets that data, they can not use it because the encryption is perfect. At less than $100 per year, Carbonite is my choice. And no, they don't pay me. I wish they did.


There are other off site solutions you can home brew using Amazon storage and products like Jungle Disk. All you geeks - go for it. But why are you reading my blog if you're a geek? You know its highly inaccurate and grossly over simplified? This is for normal people, its a how to, not a scientific or journalistic masterpiece.

Being too quick to shoot the Lion

What is it with the world these days, Apple releases a new version of their operating system and the world goes nuts? Heck I remember when Windows 95 was released, there were people sleeping overnight in the queue at Harvey Norman. Ah, those were the days.

I installed Mac OS X 10.7 ("Lion") on the first day it came out. I wasn't going to, then I just caved in and went for it. Installing any new operating system on Day One is risky. You always wait for everyone else to get the bugs out before you switch. I think I forgot that. Oops.

There are plenty of glowing reviews of Lion out there. Every skilled journalist worth the ink is writing them. Feel free to read Macworld and the likes for the technical stuff. Here's my experience.

The download is huge. Something like 1.5Gb, but frankly now I have real broadband, I just didn't notice. If you are on wireless or limited download, this will be an issue for you. And no, you can't buy Lion in the shops or on CD or anything else, you have to download it.

Installation is easier than you can possibly imagine. You just go to the Mac App store, click on Lion and hit "buy", $32 Aussies later it starts downloading. Then you get a pop-up and the actual installation part begins. Go have dinner, this bit takes about 30-45 minutes. You are not required, you did your bit already.

On first boot up, everything has changed. The login page is grey instead of blue,prettier, but grey. The photos are round instead of square and I'm sure there are other visual differences, but heck, I just want to log in and see if all my stuff is there or not.

Next comes a video lesson on scrolling with the mouse. I'm sorry, are we saying I don't know how to drive a mouse? Excuse me? But wait! I can't drive a mouse. I scroll down and the text goes the wrong way! What the photon? Oh, this is the new "natural scrolling" - hate it. 10 seconds later, I'm in System Preferences, Mouse and "bull crap scrolling" is turned off.

The first time I open iTunes, it does some conversion and all my stuff is where I expect. Looks prettier and I think slightly faster/smoother. Main thing is it works. Podcast downloading works, my Internet is fine, I'm happy.

Safari is good, but there is no right click to get 1Password. Oh crap, how do I log into my blog? A quick trip out to 1Password, an upgrade and push the Safari plug-in again, nothing. Google to the rescue and Oh crap, Agile haven't down that bit yet. Yep, there is no right-click. Not happy John. Yes, I can still click on the 1P icon on the menu and it fills my passwords, but that isn't how I roll.

The biggest shock is that my "server" is not showing up on the desktop or in the Finder side bar. It is saying "wrong password" but several attempts with the right password, still nothing. Crap! Again Google and the answer is bad, really bad. Apple has upgraded the NFS (Network File System) and I need my NAS people to upgrade the firmware to keep up. And 3.2 of Synology is in Beta still so no NAS. Luckily I can still fudge my way to my files with SMB (Finder, Go, Goto Server, SMB://SERVER )

Most show-stopping was my Cisco vpn no longer worked. I absolutely have to have this to connect to work. If I don't fill in my time sheet, I don't get paid. As I don't get a company laptop (I prefer my Mac) I need that vpn and I need it now. This was the one app I forgot to check for Lion compatibility. I can't believe I did that, so stupid. The bigger bummer is that Cisco keep their software behind a login and I don't have a password. No corporate contract with Cisco, no software. One desperate email to a friend later and he politely reminds me that a Mac can do Cisco out of the box, no software required. Duh! (Makes Homer Simpson noise) Sure enough the networking section under System Preferences has Cisco as an option and scant minutes later I am vpn'ing without Cisco, thank you Andrew. There is a little trick and I'll blog the how-to shortly. See This article. during the meanwhilst.

My last gripe is that no one told me the mouse will no longer wake up the Mac when it has fallen asleep. You have to hit a key on the keyboard. This is like the scrolling thing, a muscle memory I just do without even thinking. When I walk in to the office, I wiggle the mouse as I sit down and the Mac wakes up, but alas no longer.

People bruise Apple for being the dictator, making you do things their way or the highway. And I suppose you could get that impression. I'm not out for a conspiracy theory with every thought about every Apple product. I've got plenty of conspiracy theories in my life (don't get me started about Kennedy or the Moon landing) so I just choose to believe that Apple doesn't really care what I think and so they are not really out to get me. They just want it to be better and if a few of us don't like that, sorry, we can put it back to the old way if we must. I could be wrong.

Bottom line, Apple clearly has done a lot of work on making the Mac easier to use. They have made it faster (yes folks, this is an upgrade so it runs faster on the same hardware. They have made it prettier. In short it is better.

Should you upgrade yet? No. My advice is for you to wait a few weeks. I had done my homework (to as much extent as I could) and then I foolishly jumped early, I still don't know why. It could have been ugly, my Mac could have stopped doing stuff I actually need it to do on a daily basis. I could have been stuck with a dud. I do not suggest you take this gamble today. But you are going to love it when you do.

Don McAllister had a great screencast on preparing for Lion. Beyond the obvious precaution of doing a backup, he went into great depth about what to expect and what to check for. That prepared me and maybe that was the reason I popped my cork a bit early. It pays to have friends.

Talking of friends, I had an email from Carbonite (my online backup) that went like this;

"Dear Carbonite Mac user,

We noticed that you’re using the new Mac OS X Lion (10.7). At this time, Carbonite is not yet compatible with Lion. Any files previously backed up by Carbonite that have not been modified since switching to the new operating system will remain safely in your backup. However, it is likely that any files you’ve created or modified since upgrading to Lion may not be backed up. We expect to release an update to our software in the next few weeks that will address the issue and automatically back up the files you’ve created or changed since upgrading to Lion. This update will occur automatically and we will notify you when it happens.

In the meantime, we recommend that you use an alternate form of backup (such as a USB drive or external hard drive) for any files you’ve created or modified since upgrading to Lion.

We value you as a customer and regret this inconvenience. In appreciation of your patience as we work towards making Carbonite fully compatible with Lion, we will automatically add a free month to your subscription.

Please visit our Mac OS X Lion FAQ page for more information about using Carbonite with Lion.

Sincerely,


The Carbonite Team"

Now there's good customer service for you. Someone else breaks their system, they fess up straight away, warn me of the danger, tell me what they are doing about it and give me a gift. 11/10 Carbonite!

Always best to finish on a good note, so I will.

Welcome, Hello World, What the Photon happened to John's blog?

Welcome to John's new blog. If you read the articles below, you'll find out what the photon happened. Basically I changed everything. Shark mentality, keep moving or die. The podcast is off the air for a short time, until I get it together and come up with something better. I'm learning as I go, sorry. The archive articles will show up gradually over the next little while. I'm reviewing what I keep and what I drop. The net result should also be an improvement. Your suggestions welcome.

Hosting?

Yes, the demise of iWeb is official see here. I have 12 months to make other arrangments.

Several things have cropped up with my proposed move to Squarespace. In fact I was going to link that first sentence to the previous article until I realised I didn't know how to do that yet and had to learn.

Hosting with MobileMe has made podcast publishing a one-button affair. Once the podcast is finished in GarageBand, I just hit "publish" and it sends the episode to my iweb site and updates the RSS automatically. I do nothing more than one click. But once you get away from the Apple ecosystem, there is all the background stuff to do manually. More work. Yurgh. Is this what real bloggers do?

Then there's the hosting. Squarespace has unlimited storage but individual files must be less than 20Mb. They are clearly in the web publishing not content delivery business. Most of my podcast episodes are 70Mb or more. If I do video, the files are much larger again. The Squarespace help pages suggest hosting them on Libsyn or similar. I'm fine to host my video on Youtube or (preferably) Vimeo, but where do I put the audio? This exercise is starting to get expensive.

Libsyn seems out. At $5 for the classic plan, I would get only 50Mb of new podcasts per months, that's less than one. The $15 plan has 250Mb but that seems a bit steep.

Podbean is slightly better at $4.95 for 150Mb per month which is roughly two episodes.

Any way I jump, it is very clear I need Feedburner to hide where the actual podcast files are saved from my audience. This is invaluable if you have to move the files for any reason. Basically, iTunes points to Feedburner and feedburner points to the files. So changing hosts doesn't affect iTunes, it still sees the same thing.

My domain registration at GoDaddy includes hosting, 10Gb and unlimited bandwidth, so I think I'm using that for now. Given the SquareSpace plan was a little more than I anticipated, I think free hosting is in order.

Squarespace?

Steve Jobs indicated that iWeb will probably go away or at least lose hosting on iCloud when it replaces MobileMe. The pundits say this is a minor inconvenience as hardly anyone hosts on MobileMe. Bugger, I'm in the minority.
For all its bad press, MobileMe and iWeb are so incredibly easy to use and integrated with my Mac that I love them. But it looks like I need to find another blogging platform.
Leo and Co are always ranting about Squarespace and from everything I can see, it is the premiere web hosting platform out there. Sure Wordpress and Blogger feature highly, but Squarespace seems to aspire to be better. Every now and then you hear of a Wordpress exploit or some bug or the bloody thing goes down. I'm just not into that. I have no time at all for technology that does not work first time, every time.
So the issues I now face are;
Learn Squarespace.
Decide if I should start again or try to keep my current web site/blog articles and move them across. I think the answer is moot - I have to keep my best stuff and take the opportunity to dump the crud.
Re-design site for better usability;
  •   Search
  •   Comments
  •   Links
  •   Photos
  •   Tagging
  •   Related articles
Separate out the "core" message stuff (computer usability for normal people) from the more personal human interest stuff. (Since we don't own alpacas anymore that might be a time to drop that stuff?)
And if this is starting to sound more like a "think out loud" project plan than a blog article, you might be right. The in's and out's of getting my articles out of iWeb are immense. It has no export. I knew this going in but I never thought I'd need an export. Curiously enough Blogger and Wordpress don't have export either from what I can see. Squarespace does. I think this is good.
I think I'll have to go through every article I ever wrote and decide if it is still valid and if so export it. Yurgh!
Next issue is Markdown. Well opportunity I suppose. If I export the articles I need a format to export them into. I could just grab the text and bung it in Word or something hideous like that. But I would lose the formatting and links. And be reliant on Word saving valid HTML which isn't a place I want to be. I could export to HTML but who can read raw HTML? That's a job for web browsers not humans. No, I want a WYSIWYG format. Enter Markdown, a human readable text format that also converts easily to HTML or anything else. Yep geeky, but allegedly intuitive. Do I have the brainspace to take on a new language?
While I've been writing this article, I've been researching Squarespace. Google is your friend. The phrase "squarespace sucks" doesn't yield anything too nasty. The worst complaint I could find was years old and about SEO. The snake oil salesmen think Wordpress is more SEO friendly. Whoopee do. Certainly no service complaints, no outages that lasted days and no one demanding their money back. So far so good.
Ok, so I think I'm decided. Yeah, bugger it, let's go for it. Any nay sayers should speak now or forever hold your typing fingers.
Suggestions welcome.

Just install it already!

In my REIT talk, I rabbit on about the need for good anti virus on Windows. In my over enthusiastic rant, it is possible I forget the basics, that is “how do you do this?”. 

 

I found this great article on LifeHacker that walks you through the HOW of installing anti-virus. Video and all using Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) which I also recommend.

 

MSE is for Macs too. Yes, if you run Parallels (or VMWare or Boot Camp) and have Windows on your Mac, you need MSE installed on the Windows bit too. Just because its running on a Mac doesn’t mean Windows is safe.

 

And talking of the Mac, there IS a Mac virus at long last. I’m almost excited. We finally got a real one. In case you haven’t heard, Mac Defender is a virus dressed up as an anti-virus. In other words, it tries to trick you by calling itself an anti-malware tool in the hopes you will install it. So if you get offered ANY anti-anything for your Mac, just say no thanks. You don't need it and it may be a fake anyway. What you do need is the latest updates from Apple.

Soy free bread

After all my anti-hippie ranting about kids with allergies, the gentle Goddess saw fit to send me a son with soy and nut allergies. Perhaps She thought I needed a little perspective?

 

Soy allergy is a hard one, the bloody stuff is in everything. Even stuff that doesn’t need it seems to score soy just to add a little protein. Foods that aren’t even supposed to be a source of protein get soy added to boost their protein.

 

Buying bread with no soy is hard, really hard. There are one or two sometimes in the supermarket, but you have to read all the labels and it drives me crazy. So I decided we would make our own. The old bread maker works a treat if you feed it a decent bread mix. Bugger, they ALL have soy. Its in the bread improver. Blood pressure rising again.

 

You can buy soy-free bread maker mix but the freight is $60 and the mix is something like $20 a bag. Not viable.

After a lot of experimenting, here’s my recipe.

Add the following in this order to the bread maker;

300g water

500g plain flour

10g white castor sugar

10g iodised table salt

15g Tandaco dry yeast (2 sachets)

1 x crushed kids vitamin C tablet

(we have Cenovis 150mg chewable)

Cook on small, basic bread setting.

I put the bowl on the scales and reset it after each ingredient. Its very quick to prep that way.

 

The bread is like good white bread. Crusty, light and Connor loves it. The loaf will store for a few days in a paper bag out of the sun. Don’t put it in plastic or it sweats.

Internet Explorer and why you must avoid it.

I'm a crusader against Microsoft Internet Explorer.

It is the most flawed, broken, dangerous piece of crap that Microsoft ever built. I do not say this lightly. I've written many articles on the subject and they are reproduced below.

The top cop at the NSW Cyber Crimes Task Force put it best in a public lecture where he said the two things Australians can do to protect themselves on the Internet are; 1. don't click on links in email and 2. don't use Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer (IE) is the web browser that comes with Windows and is the way most newbies view the Internet. But it is NOT the best, safest or only way to surf.

Most web pages contain more than just text. To help your web browser display them (as the designer intended) the web site downloads program code to your PC. This is normal.

With IE, this program code is called Active-X and it is like getting Hitler’s brain transplanted into your head, the evil is inside you and has full control. Java is like reading a book on bomb making, you can choose to follow the instructions, or you can think better of it and ignore them.

There’s lots of other glaring security problems with IE. And Microsoft’s approach to security is to ask the user - “To view this web site you need to install this Active-X component, click here to install” well of course everyone clicks here because you wouldn’t have gone to the web site if you didn’t want to view it! How are you supposed to know if the Active-X is safe or malicious?

So stop using IE and check out Firefox (or Opera or Safari or Chrome). Your surfing will be safer and you will find they work better too! Of course, you will find the odd web site that insists on IE, and if that’s your bank or someone you trust, IE will always be there, because you can’t remove it from Windows.

The first thing you can do to make yourself a whole lot safer on the Internet is to stop using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). You know that blue E icon? Stop using it. There are other web browsers you can use and all of them are better.

The Microsoft browser is built in to Windows and for a lot of people that’s all they use. This must change and in fact it has changed. IE has dropped to less than half of all Internet users. Most people have got the message and are using those other browsers. Firefox is the popular choice.

The mainstream press reported yet another bug in IE recently. And rightly so. This most recent one was a bad one. Visit one wrong web page and Bingo! Your computer is taken over and infected with malware.

IE continues to have major security flaws. All these years later and the bad guys are still finding new ones. Over and over again.

In my humble opinion, the whole stupid design sucks badly. In short, the plug-ins (add-ons) for IE are Windows programs. And Windows programs can do anything – wipe your disk, change your settings – anything. And then Microsoft had this horrible after thought – how do we stop them? We opened the gate and after the bad guys had been pouring in for 10 years, then Microsoft decided to do something about it. It’s like allowing anyone to graft anything directly onto your brain – no questions asked.

In contrast, the other browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari to name a few) don’t work that way. They will accept a wish list (from a web site) and decide if the instructions make sense before following them.

At this point, all the programmers reading will be screaming at me. Yep I know that is a massive over simplification to say the least. But I’m trying to boil this down so everyone can get the extremely important message that IE stinks. Go with me here folks.

Understand that if you surf the Internet with Microsoft Internet Explorer, you ARE way more likely to get infected.

Best news? The other browsers are free and easy to use. And I have found them ALL to be better to use. Go change now if you haven’t done so already.

Just in case you didn’t get the memo - Microsoft Internet Explorer is my pick for the most crap security risk of all time. And if you needed another reason to abandon it forever - try this.

Apple’s web browser, Safari, is getting an upgrade. The current version 3 is pretty darn good and runs rings around IE, well doughnuts really. Now Apple has version 4 out as a public Beta (test drive).

In the world of Apple, an UPgrade generally offers more features, more speed and is better than the previous version. Safari does not disappoint. It is around 4 times faster than before and even then it was still the fastest browser out there for my money.

Yep, pages come up faster, look shiny and generally work better. And the cover flow view shows all your recent sites on one screen in a way that has to be seen to be believed.

Yep, I like it.

For Windows or Mac. Free. www.apple.com

Microsoft has released Internet Explorer version 8. And you might like to know if my opinion has changed or if this version is better, safe to use or gets the tick of approval.

It doesn’t.

Another fundamentally broken insecure piece of garbage from Microsoft. In all fairness it does have some nice new features and it is more secure than the previous versions. It still is no way as secure as any of the other browser you should be using.

I won’t bore you with a deep technical discussion.

Just use Firefox.

Buy Online?

I received some good feedback on my article "Buy Local". It was pleasing to know people actual read my stuff. Although you know I write this because I need to write it, not because I need people to read it, if that makes sense?

So I had another brilliant experience buying online that I wanted to share. I've bought a few things from Streetwise in the past. They keep the fabulous Rain Design M-Stand for example. And lots of Mac goodies, cables and the likes. A few Facebook friends suggested other places that were slightly cheaper, but I keep going back to Streetwise. In short they deliver.

Just the other day I got an automated email from the author of some software I use informing me of an upgrade. As this particular program is a DVD that you have to boot, they offered a replacement DVD for $24 as a minor upgrade. Call your retailer. Well bugger if I can remember where I bought this one in the first place. But Streetwise was listed as a reseller so I tried their web site. No upgrade, just full product. Bugger it, I'll email them.

A few short hours later (on the weekend) I get a reply pointing me to a free download of the upgraded product. No money, nothing in it for them, just here you go. So I thanked them in a reply. They just cemented my repeat business.

So that's the sort of online reseller you need to find. Ones that care. Ones that offer customer service even though they hide behind a web site. And there are plenty of them.

We bought our last camera from Digital Camera Warehouse and they were great. I love the Apple online store. And Dell has it all down pat. There's Amazon or Fishpond, heck even Dymocks online is good, although I won't go back to the Hobart store ever again. But that's another story.

And I'd have to be desperate to pay $99 for cable from Harvey Norman when I can have it delivered to my door for $49. My USB hub, cables, memory sticks and just about everything else came from a mix of good locals (like NybbleIT) and online.

There are of course plenty of bad online experiences. E-Bay is so variable. Find a good seller with a good deal and you're in clover. But there are bad ones and the recourse to E-Bay isn't as good as you think. My wonderful wife, Queen E-Bay, has been caught a few times and she's an expert, I'm an E-Bay novice.

There's Grays Online. The Aussie E-Bay for tech stuff. Again, hot and cold. I know a self confessed Grays addict. He has suits, wine and more than one Dell PC, all discount, all as advertised courtesy of Grays.

So in this age of social media, you need to get savvy before you spend. Research, recommendation and above all common sense. Excuse me, I have to order my socks online, the local shop is out of them!

Buy Local?

The tale of two retailers.

In Hobart at the intersection of Elizabeth and Melville streets on diagonally opposite corners are two retailers almost as opposed diametrically as they are geometrically.

One is Ken Self Cycles possibly the best bike shop in Hobart, the other is McCann Bros, certainly the largest music shop in the same turf. Both hold fascination for me.

Now if you venture in to Ken Self Cycles you will find a small, crowded shop lined with bicycle Heaven, staff who seem to know what they are talking about and most importantly prices that are not an insult. This retailer gets that there IS an Internet and customers CAN shop around. By staying competitive and still offering service they stay in business. I recently bought a mounting case for the iPhone there at exactly the same price as I could get it online. My grips, tights (lycra fetish) and the few other minor things I've bought all priced sensibly so as not to scare me off.

Across the intersection the story is quite different. The McCann Bros adhere to the same school of retail as my former boss of a hundred years ago, Captain Beaky. (aka Nigel of Sandy Bay HiFi) This guy never sold anything at a loss. If he paid $500 for an amp, it was priced at $1000 and it stayed on the shelf until someone was prepared to pay that. So years later, out of warranty, out of fashion and worthless, he packed that amp up and moved it to his house when he went broke and closed the doors. And now he wants $1100 for it on Ebay (gotta cover the Ebay costs!) and he'll never get that.

So I've lusted after several items at McCann Bros, but the massive premium price has meant I bought these items online or in Melbourne. $200 extra on a $200 item is NOT freight, it's rip-off. Refusal to bargain, see reason and accept cold hard currency is not going to get you the sale, boys.

I'm Ok at maths. I can add freight costs to an advertised price and figure out my total spend. Further to that I can understand that local stock, service and shop front is worth something to me. Less and less as the Internet provides most of the information and my need for a knowledgable salesperson diminishes. But there is a value on that too.

In the old days there were two main methods to sell things at inflated prices. We practiced them both at the HiFi shop. The easy way was FUD - Fear, Uncertainly and Doubt. In those days the enemy (that would be the competition to you) was The Green Guide. A supplement in The Age newspaper actually printed on green paper. It held a few scant articles on HiFi (and later computers) but mostly it was ads from Melbourne shops for lust worthy items. Typically the ads were mostly columns of prices, there were rarely any photos or details. This was a market place for buyers, not a recommendation engine.

So how did we sell the same item in Sandy Bay for more cash? Considerably more cash in fact. We played on the unknown. "Oh who's going to do the warranty?" "How do you know it will actually turn up?" "Often they substitute for cheaper products" and so on. Lots of FUD sown in the minds of the buyer rude enough to compare our prices to those of this green rag.

I said there was another method. This was slightly harder. This was actual selling skills. Provide customer service, concentrate on the total package. Provide good advice, demonstrations, installation, after sales service and never mention the competition. Sell your product. An ancient art, now long gone I confess, but an art never the less.

Regrettably, McCann Bros don't use either technique and so have yet to acquire a single dollar from me.

Firesheep

There’s a lot of buzz about Firesheep, heck it even made The Mercury. So high time I covered it.

Basically this is a consumer hacking tool that anyone can use. One click and it lets you into someone else’s Facebook page! You start it up, it shows you a list of all the Facebook users near you (even has their photos) and you click on anyone to hijack them - easy.

The technique is not new. What is new is that it is a simple plug-in for Firefox and anyone who can click a mouse can use it with no special skill or knowledge.

What Firesheep does is to intercept the non-secure cookies that Facebook (and Twitter, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Myspace, Flickr and many more) use and then hijack the session. This lets you into the web site logged in as the other person. Its as if they walked away from their computer without locking it and you sat down. Anything they are logged into, you are in too!

Now, it doesn’t tell you their password, so you can’t go changing it to lock the victim out. But you can change their privacy settings, post embarrassing photos, articles and the likes. Or just snoop.

And remember this isn’t just Facebook, it is a lot of web sites.

What’s the catch? You do need to be on the same network and on a hub not a switch. But any open (or WEP) wifi meets this criteria. Many home networks have hubs and some older business networks. The IT people may even have installed a hub just to monitor network traffic.

What’s not vulnerable? Switched networks and WPA encrypted networks. These isolate each user’s traffic by design so the non-encoded cookies don’t pass by every user like they do on a hub network.

Bottom line, if you are on open wifi at a coffee shop, airport etc, you CAN be snooped on very easily. It is not just hackers anymore, the general public can do this too. If you have wifi in your home or business, you absolutely need to read up on wifi security and understand the basics. You've been given a chainsaw and it is vital you read the instruction manual before attempting to use it or you might get hurt.

Why is it a Firefox plug-in? No, its not a security flaw in Firefox that is being exploited here, its really bad design in web sites like Facebook. They are the ones sending your confidential data around with no encryption. Firefox provides a cross platform (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android) way of distributing this hacking tool. It could have been written in Java or any other language, the author just wrote it in Firefox. Like I said upfront, this is nothing new. Just re-packaged for the masses to use.

Expect chaos.

Since writing this, Facebook now allows you to keep your connection secure (https://facebook.com) but I notice that some FB apps and web pages switch you back to non-secure. FB hasn't quite got it right. You should select "Browse Facebook on a secure connection" under my account, settings, account security.

Blew my diet

I went and blew my Microsoft Diet really badly. Not just a nibble or even a snack, a whole bloody suite of new Microsoft.

I installed Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac. Bugger!

Ok, first impressions, the install was quick and easy, it didn’t ask any embarrassing questions until the end. I didn’t even have to enter the product key until later, although it does phone home to Microsoft to check the key. They’ve been doing that on Windows for years. You can’t cheat anymore, one copy, one Mac.

It was huge, over 1.3Gb of software and then the first patch download was 365Mb, that’s a heck of a lot. And it left the old version in place. I had to browse to my Applications folder and delete Office 2008.

It also broke my Microsoft Remote Desktop application, but a simple re-install of that fixed it again. Luckily I kept the download of RDP in my DropBox for easy access.

Next impression is speed. Way, way, way faster than Office 2004 and noticeably faster than Office 2008. Of course 2004 was a bit of a dud anyway.

The new icons look good, more stylish than before, Microsoft is starting to get look and feel. Also the programs themselves are better looking. Not too far removed from my beloved Office 2003 but still updated with new menus and the new ribbon interface.

Things seem easy to find. Word works. I think I’m happy.

Bottom line: recommended upgrade

Network attached storage (NAS)

Review - Synology DS411j Network Attached Storage (NAS)

The problem with data is that it expands to fill all available space. With all the documents, presentations, videos, movies, TV shows, porn etc you need a big hard drive to save it all.

In the past I made do with several 1Tb drives in USB caddies attached to various computers around the house. So the photos were in \katrena\shared\photos and the TV was in \jsmini\shared\TV and the backups were on the Time Capsule and the blah was on the bling and yada yada. A mess!

I've been on the hunt for a storage solution for some time. At work we play with EMC and squillions of terabytes of space but the cost is a little out of my home budget. One of our team does have a second hand EMC in his garage but he's a (single) looney and "she who must be obeyed" wouldn't stand for that.

My first choice would have been a Drobo. Leo, Cali, Alex and the rest of the TWITs are of course big fans of Drobo. The attraction is that you can add drives of any size at any time and it just figures it all out somehow. Very Mac-like. But in Tasmanian dollars the Drobo is more than $500 before you start buying drives. Ergh.

The friendly and helpful staff at NybbleIT (151a Liverpool St, Hobart) introduced me to the Synology range. In the past I've been highly disappointed with consumer NAS products. I had a Netgear I loathed and a D-Link that sucked badly. The Iomega range isn't too bad but the price is disgraceful at around $2500!!! So I didn't hold much hope for this one I have to say.

Surprisingly the Synology is well made for the money, all steel with nylon slides. I got the DS411j which holds 4 drives. You do have to power it down to add or change them, but what it lacks in 24x7 availability it makes up for in features.

Yes, this is a box that holds up to 4 SATA drives and has a network port. Once configured the drives can be "glued together" to make one (or more) bigger drives that you can see on your network. It does not need any computers to make it go, it is all self contained. So you can place it anywhere you have power and a network cable. I think I'll move ours into the shed just in case the house burns down.

You do need to use drives of the same size. Luckily all of mine are 1Tb so I added 3 of them and set it up as RAID 5, meaning everything is spread across all 3 drives with double up so if one drive dies, my data does not. This gave me about 2Tb of space to use. (3 x 1Tb less 1Tb for backup = 2Tb)

The server side is easy to set up with a simple web browser interface. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux and a bunch of other stuff I'll never use. It streams really well and the TV shows play back smoothly across the network even while other stuff is going on. The Beyonwiz sees it as a network server, the PC sees it as a Windows server and the Macs see it as a Mac server. Its easier to use than it is to describe, trust me.

Security is easy to set up, you can do individual users so the kids and the porn are isolated.

Over the next few weeks I moved all of our data off the mish-mash of drives scattered across our home and consolidated it on the Synology. That freed up another 1Tb drive which I added to the RAID 5 today. With no loss of data, it expanded the RAID and we now have 3Tb of space.

Yes, there are options to expand an existing RAID without destroying the data. You can add hot spare drives and upgrade the RAID level to provide safety in case of a disk failure.

The next move will be difficult as I'll have to back it all up somewhere and add 2 or 4Tb drives, but I figure that day is along way off for now. There are two USB ports on the back and I suspect you can add external drives there if you had to.

So I would recommend the DS411j. If you are an avid downloader and need more space, you could look at the larger models that hold more than 4 drives. But for the average home, this one is great value. With SATA drives so cheap now, its easy to populate it with big drives.

Tasmania's great journey?

They talk about “great journeys” usually to do with trains such as The Gant. The journey to Strahan may not sound so interesting, but let me tell you it was quite an adventure.

With Katrena already there, I took the bus to save bringing two cars back.

The 50 seater set off from Brisbane Street at 8:30am and the first thing I noticed was there was no toilet on board. Given that it was a 7 hour trip, this freaked me slightly. The second thing I noticed was that there were a total of 6 people, 7 if you count the driver.

So I had prepared nicely for this trip. I had my netbook, iPhone, book, headphones, newspaper, magazine, sandwiches, drinks and even a bit of cake.

The third thing I noticed was the dirty great sign on the bus that said “Absolutely no eating or drinking on the coach”. It was even in large print, Bugger! So I set up the iPhone and settled back to watch last season’s Spooks so I was all ready for the new season starting on Saturday night.

Here in lies the first problem, motion sickness. This isn’t something I’ve ever really had before. My incredible wife gets it just thinking about a twisty road, me I’ve never had it until now and boy did I get it.

Lesson one, you can’t watch video in a moving vehicle, especially one with industrial suspension.

I tried the paper - worse. Back to audio. I’m a huge fan of podcasts, so I dialled up MacBreak Weekly, even that was no good, I couldn’t concentrate. Thank The Goddess for The ChillCast, that settled me nicely.

The coach steamed on past New Norfolk and eventually came to Ouse for a stop. The driver hadn’t said anything, not a peep, so we had no idea of the planned stops. He did announce that we’d be here for 15 minutes so we all piled off the coach and into the local public toilets. A few brave souls ventured into the greasy take away across the road but I had my sandwiches.

Off again and from Ouse to Derwent Bridge the road just gets more bends, hairpins and can’t bloody figure out if it wants to go up, down or roller coaster all over the show.

We stopped at Derwent Bridge and our driver announced a bus change and then vanished. So we unloaded and waited to be told what to do. 3 of our fellow travellers walked away, we assume they were off to the The Overland Track, they had serious backpacks.

The facilities were good but not knowing how long we had, we rushed it, then sat in the sun and waited. Our second driver turned up but not before the first bus had loaded up and left. By this time I had discovered that my travelling companions were an actor (from Spam-a-lot no less) and a Danish backpacker on a working holiday. Both were in their 20’s and destined for 6 months of work in Strahan.

So we loaded onto a 20 seater with trailer and under advisement all sat on the right (driver’s) side, allegedly the trip is easier over there. Something about not seeing over the bloody long drop. Strangely it wasn’t the heights I feared, it was the bends.

Those bends into Queenstown are supposed to number 99, I wasn’t counting but I’m not going to disagree. The only thing I noticed was the vegetation is returning. The mining must have stopped or slowed down. I had prepared our Danish friend for a treat - moonscape hills, and there weren’t any.

We did pass the houses that sold for $3000 and landed safely in a back street. This driver was much more talkative and had kindly stopped a few times for photos and scenic viewing. He announced a 1.5 hour layover and kindly offered to lock our bags in the big bus.

So there we were, strangers in a strange town. The 20 somethings had no clue, poor dears, so I boldly suggested a counter meal and a beer. They followed enthusiastically. I should say Queenstown is one of only two places I’ve ever been refused service. (The other was the casino and I’d had way too many so who could blame them?) My previous experience was in the 80’s during the Franklin Dam debate and I did have a beard. Anyway, decades later I am pleased to say the service was friendly and forthcoming. The beer good and the steak legendary. I’m not sure how they get a whole cow on the plate, but they do.

So fed and watered, we still had time to spare. The locals have this pass time that involves putting coins in a machine, pressing some illuminated buttons and watching flashing lights and rolling symbols. It took me a while to discover that these were in fact poker machines. Now I don’t know what Andrew Wilke is all steamed up about, I mean I put a single dollar coin in, pressed the buttons (with no clue what I was doing at all) and it gave me 5 dollar coins back again. My compadres did the same. What’s the problem?

So we get back on a 50 seater and I’m thinking what a waste with only 3 of us, then we head off into the back of Queenstown and pull up at the local high school. 39 teenagers join us for the trip home. (Actually I think it was their bus and we were joining them, but don’t tell anyone.)

I remember the road into Strahan. I remember it badly, or is that I remember it as a bad road? I do remember camping in a siding (again with the 80’s) and having a good time, but there was rum involved.

Now I’ve seen a few really excellent drivers in my lifetime. And I don’t mean racing car drivers, I mean ordinary people who just have the gift. The guy on Tanna who took me to the volcano, a Russian hire car driver in Sydney and several others. This bus driver counts among them. On a road made entirely of bends that most drivers fear to face, this gentleman not only made the road seem smooth, he passed three other busses and kept 39 teenagers in check.

Arriving safely in Strahan, I said adieu to the actor and followed the Dane to my hotel where I would be a guest and he was to cook my pizzas.

Is it one of Australia’s great journeys? Dunno, but it is one of Tassie’s!

New Mac

One of the scary things about owning a Mac is that you get attached to them. You can see this in the number of older Macs out there. People don’t toss them out nearly as quickly. Even the packaging is so pretty it's hard to toss out the box your Mac arrives in.

So 3 years into my MacBook Pro, I’m starting to feel unfaithful. I’m having thoughts about a younger model. I’m lusting after a solid state hard drive and a unibody enclosure. In short it’s time for a new Mac.

My tip for buying a Mac is to use Apple’s online store. Having school age children, I recommend the Education store. The prices are better, I saved about $1000.

So I configured up the Mac of my dreams. Basically the fastest 15” I could make. Then I hit the button. Following her progress online, I can tell you she has been built, boxed and left the factory. Last seen at Shanghai International Airport looking for a ride to Australia no doubt.

Technical specs don’t mean as much (or at least they are less popular in the Mac universe). But what did I order?

2.88Ghz Core i7 Obviously the faster the better. This new Intel chip has a few kinks though. It can provide more cores (processors) or reduce the cores and overclock (speed up) to optimise, depending on what’s running.

NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M with 512 MB Again, the faster the better. This sucker has 48 cores of its own and cranks at 182 gigaflops, which means nothing except the main processor (above) is only 108 gigaflops. So graphics wise, it should honk.

8Gb RAM More is better.

512Gb solid state hard drive (SSD) This is where I am hoping for magic. Traditional hard drives use spinning platters, floating heads, electromagnetic servos and heaps of other moving parts. The density of data is staggering and the error correction works overtime just to get you back what you wrote to the disk. SSDs use non-volatile memory chips and contain no moving parts. In real world applications, they are supposed to be about twice as fast.

Samsung released this video to show you just how flipping fast SSD really is.

15” high resolution anti-glare screen I’m not a fan of glossy screens. They look good showing movies but quickly gather finger prints, dust and look cheap and tacky. Call me old fashioned, but I like the non-glare variety.

3 year Apple care warranty Having spent the dollars, you expect the laptop to last 3 years, so get a 3 year warranty!

So the new Mac arrived early. A case of Apple under-promising and over-delivering. It was quite awkward really, I wasn’t ready. So this is also an article about changing to a new Mac.

As you know, I‘ve had my old Mac for 3 years. I have customised it, added all the programs I need, got plenty of precious files and pretty much have it just the way I like it. Sp how do you get the new one to do all that and feel as comfortable? Easy.

I had purchased a Firewire cable, but I noticed that Ethernet was an option (for transferring) and given that both machines have Gigabit Ethernet (1000Mb/s) and firewire is only 800Mb/s, why not try that? Faster is better.

So what you do is fire up your new Mac, answer the basics like Language, country and name, then you get asked if you are transferring from an old Mac, so I said “yes” and then you get a list of cable options (USB, Firewire, or Ethernet) and I followed my nose. The program asked me to plug in my old Mac, boot it and run the install DVD that came with the new Mac. I obeyed.

Next you get asked what you want to bring across and I picked everything. After a few seconds, the verdict was this process would take 4 hours (I did have 250Gb worth after all) and away it went. I went off to bed.

Next morning nearly everything was perfect. The Migration Assistant had reported that it couldn’t do my Parallels Windows virtual machine (Windows on my Mac) so I copied that manually (dragged it from old Mac to new Mac, big deal, not sure why it couldn’t do it).

The big thing is that the Migration tool moves everything, not just your files, but the programs too. You do not need to install all of your programs on your new Mac. You absolutely can NOT do that on Windows!

Then time to power down the old Mac and start using new Mac.

First observations were that the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse were not paired. These are serial number specific so they were added as new devices, easy. Testing every program I own, I found that my Cisco VPN client (remote access to work and customers) didn’t start. A simple re-install fixed that and kept all my settings. (Not sure why that one stuffed up)

Off to work and I found my work keyboard needed the re-pair treatment too. But everything else just worked. Kick Apple as much as you like, but the upgrade to new Mac feature works perfectly from my experience. (This is the 3rd time I have used it personally)

3 days later, I haven’t found anything to complain about. My new Mac works just like my old one and all my programs, files and settings are exactly as I had them.

Seven months later, I'm still delighted. Oh yeah, there's this newer Mac with even more power and Thunderbolt and this and that. But the (now) old Mac is fine. The biggest thing I notice is running Windows (yes, I do have to do that for work) is so much faster. XP boots in seconds. All the Mac apps run so fast I can't complain.

It would seem the SSD is worth every penny. I'm now recommending SSD over spinning drives regardless of laptop brand. The savings in battery and performance are worth the cost in price.