Fate Plays IT…

Things have been a little bit dead around here. Mostly because Fin and I have been hugely distracted from other activities. My main PC was knocked out by a thunderstorm a few months back. Not long after, Fin’s mom lost her computer as well.

Apparently, 2014 wasn’t a good year for the SuburbanReject family’s electronics.

Hardware

Fin and I discussed things, and decided on building a new PC.

Parts Picture

 

At this point, I’ve FINALLY finished building / rebuilding / installing / reinstalling and tweaking the system. This was the first PC build I’ve done in a long while. I stopped using custom built PCs roughly 4 years ago, when I decided I had better things to do with my time. Not sure why, but my nerd took over again and I wanted to tweak and customize. For the nerds out there, PCPartsPicker is a fairly cool site that does a good job with organizing a build and finding good prices. I easily saved $200-300 off the retail costs of all these parts over the course of the build through a combination of careful shopping and using that site. I’ve posted the gory details / nerd porn over in a review and write-up at the same site.

Software, Software, Software

Given the death and rebuild of two computers, it seemed like a good team to evaluate software choices and find new / better solutions based on my previous tried and true solutions.

Backup Solutions

CrashPlan

I played with multiple different backup software solutions. Previously, my go-to has always been a simple clonezilla image of the post-install computer, and then attempting to burn regular DVD backups.

Loosing my last PC, I discovered that:

  • I don’t make backups nearly as often as I thought
  • Backups are worthless if you lose them

Currently, somewhere within 3 different family houses, there is a DVD binder with years worth of pictures and digital archives. This DVD binder is missing. I’ve been working through multiple old hard drives, saving off backups, and looking for new/old files and trying to restore my previous archive of my digital life.

At the same time, I’ve bought-in to the idea of backing up to the cloud. After looking at multiple vendors, I’ve landed on CrashPlan. It’s got a couple cool things going for it: cloud storage at a decent price and the ability to backup to personal cloud / other computers. The only real gripe I have is that they don’t really give a good method for whole-PC backup / restore. For that, I’ll keep using Clonezilla and burning to BlueRay BDR.

Anti-Virus

With Windows 8.1, I’ve been a little bit irritated at Microsoft’s Security Essentials package. Not to mention, there’s a lot of knowledgeable people advising against using just that. While I’m generally careful with browsing, I do leave a bit open to the internet (for remote access), and like the idea of at least a basic antivirus program.

After some experimentation and playing with trial software, I landed on BitDefender. There software gets good reviews for detecting malware and the system load is minimal compare to major free  antivirus programs.

I purchased the solution from Herman Street and saved a bit of cash. Transaction was smooth / easy.

Data Recovery

I’m not sure what sad circumstances caused it, but I’ve never seen a data drive quiet as toasted as I received from Fin’s Mom. At first, it appeared to be a lost cause. While physically fine, I’ve not seen the data on a drive so well and truly shredded before. After creating a mirror, I ran the volume through multiple data recovery tools, both free and commercial. Usually, testdisk can work some serious magic.

In the end, after trying multiple system recovery tools, including: Recover My Files, Restorer Ultimate, Recuva, and others I can’t remember, I found *one* just *one* that didn’t resort to raw signature based recovery: Stellar Phoenix.

Stellar’s software works for data recovery. While the UI looks like it’s designed by a two year old, the option selection sucks, and the whole thing feels *clunky*, it managed to process and restore gigs of lost family photos, tax records, and more. And that’s *without* going to the effort of raw data recover where you sort through endless files named Image0001.jpg, Image0002.jpg, many of which are browser thumbnails or mis-matched data.

So, if you have managed to toast a drive without killing the hardware, give it a shot.

Back to your regularly scheduled program…

I don’t make any promises on posting while Fin and I are working an extra job, but… at least I’ve got our computer situation sorted out this week. Next week? Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed nothing new dies.

 

 

 

Big Brother is watching…..and waiting for you to invite him into your home.

So here is your horrifying thought for today:  Your own government could very quickly have a video and audio surveillance device readily accessible in your house.  But that isn't the scariest part.  You ready for it?  YOU will be the one PAYING to put it there, by your own choice.

 

Don't believe me?  Let's consider some things that have been happening recently: 

 

1. The NSA's massive Utah Data mining center – A 1 million square foot facility, capable of storing yottabytes of data, gleaned from every type of communication device we use.  Also consider the fact that every piece of communication passes through a wire at some point, even your cell phone, so literally EVERYTHING is accessible at some junction point. Even if you encrypt your transmission with the highest level of encryption available today, that doesn't matter in the long run.  If they can't crack it now, they will store it and crack it when they have the ability to in the near future.


2. PRISM – Since 2007 (but more realistically since the Patriot act was first passed in 2001), the NSA has been using your own internet providers, popular sites, and makers of the worlds most used devices to provide direct access of all their products and services to the government.  Since the news broke recently, all the companies on the list of PRISM partners have come out stating, in some form or another, that they are not giving direct or backdoor access to the government, and that they are only responding to court orders as required by law.  I call bullshit, for a couple basic reasons:

A. We've already been lied to, and then when they were caught in the lie, they tried to assure us that it wasn't as bad as we are making it out to be, specifically with federal wiretapping.  We were all told that it was ONLY calls originating from foreign countries or placed to foreign countries, and that the surveillance was extremely limited in nature.  Fast forward to this week, and we find out that was complete bullshit, and that they have been monitoring ALL calls, including ones that are ENTIRELY domestic, for years.  Verizon has been handing over data for years already:  "While the order itself does not include either the contents of messages or the personal information of the subscriber of any particular cell number, its collection would allow the NSA to build easily a comprehensive picture of who any individual contacted, how and when, and possibly from where, retrospectively."  This program has been going on since as far back as October of 2001, in some form or another. 

B. All the companies on the PRISM list don't want a mass exodus from their services.  Why wouldn't they lie, to retain users?  And furthermore, even if they aren't just lying to retain users, it doesn't matter, as they are under a federal gag order from FISA anyway, so even if the wanted to talk about it, the can't!

 

3.  The Ace in the Hole:  The Xbox One – A few things on this to get started;  To operate, the device must call home once every 24 hours (NOTE: this is to be able to play games.  MS has stated that you will not need to connect to watch live TV or DVD's. Who cares, I can already do that without an Xbox).  The Kinect MUST be connected for the system to operate.  Unless you unplug the entire thing, the Xbox One is always on in a low power state.

 

So let's put all this nifty information together into one cohesive thought:  The NSA is building a massive data retention center using, at least in part, the information it is gathering from it's partners listed in the PRISM project.  The very first company to sign on to the PRISM project was Microsoft.  The NSA data center will be completed in October, roughly around the same time that the new Xbox One will be hitting stores.  Do you honestly believe that if they are already tapping your phone, email, web searches, Facebook, and all your other internet communications, that the NSA won't want to get their greedy little claws where they couldn't go before?  Inside your house, directly into your living room?  Into the Xbox One and Kinect, that can record a live video and audio stream?  Talk about fleshing out the whole picture….

 

And the best part is…you are going to pay THEM for the privilege.

One Reason Why Computers Suck

Fate’s theory on computers: there is no consumer computing device which actually works.

Everything you see at BestBuy, the lines of laptops from HP and Apple – all of them – are broken in some fundamental way. I don’t care how awesome your home PC is, give me five or ten minutes with it, and I’ll figure out something you “should” be able to do that causes it to spit up all over itself. Funny enough, there are a good number of people out there actually paid to do that. That certain talent, is the reason why I’m involved with the computing industry, and simultaneously also, technology incompatible.
Now, in my profession, I see a lot of computer equipment, and generally deal with it on a far more detailed level than most people. Floating in my head are a great number of random facts about how various pieces of computer hardware work. What amazes me though, is that when it comes right down to it, computers don’t.
If you’re reading this blog, you’ll likely know the difference between Hardware and Software. Driver software makes the hardware tick. An outsider might expect that driver software would be developed alongside with the hardware directly – when the hardware is done, so is the driver software. Looking at the problem in detail though, it’s obvious you’ve got something of a chicken and an egg here – how do you develop software for non-existent hardware? I’ll spare the gritty details of how that works, and jump straight to the results.
And that result, is generally with either you – the consumer – or the OEM (big box PC makers like HP and Apple.) On a modern Windows PC, you’ve probably noticed “Windows Update”, asking on a regular basis if you’d like to ruin…er…. update parts of the software on your computer. Depending on your level of technical sophistication / bravery / stupidity / intelligence, you may have chosen to install / ignore / install randomly these updates. For today, we’ll focus on the Driver updates.
Now, let’s say I’m an up and coming competitor to ATI and nVidia, and have developed the new wizz-bang awesome 3d video card which has 10 spanking new features, including the ability to render photorealistic boobies realtime. Gamers the world over drool (understandably) over this new piece of computing excellence. The announcement is made, and the new Wank-O-Matic 5000 video card hits shelves. Immediately, my competitors begin discussing how their next version of video card will render even better photorealistic boobies realtime in their next generation of cards. That, however, doesn’t stop Gamers from lining up overnight to purchase the Wank-O-Matic 5000.
On buying it however, they take it home, and discover that only 8 of the ten new features work well, and the other 2 don’t work well at all. Sad and dismayed, gamers announce it’s a good video card, but the major selling point is overrated. Not to be stopped, I now promise every gamer – but wait, it’ll be fixed in an update! As time goes on, the major issues with the new creation are fixed, and at long last, the Wank-O-Matic 5000 does everything as advertised. The only thing is, noone is using it anymore, it’s now been obseleted by the Wank-O-Matic 6000, and the new up and coming Wanktastic 8G.
Which brings me to the heart of the matter – all of the computer hardware in existence today, is not fully utilized. Indeed, any computer purchased within the last year or so will have a shiney new 64 bit chip in it – being used to run a 32 bit operating system. And, this isn’t something created recently. The first 32 bit processor was introduced in 1985. It wasn’t, however, until 10 years later, that consumers could take full advantage of that.
I know it’s difficult, but, at some point, I just have to start to wonder. The personal computing industry is now over 30 years old. At what point do we stop saying “computers are new” and start expecting everything to work as advertised when we buy it? When do we begin expecting hardware vendors to not simply say “fix it later” when the product can’t even be used anymore from being so out of date?
Thinking about it, the answer is obvious to me: people are happy with mediocre. Computers crash, things occasionally just don’t work. Part of me hopes, one day that will change – people will begin to expect that this sort of technology shouldn’t crash or be difficult to use. Another part of me though, I must admit, is happy we techies can half-ass solutions. Cause really, as long as it’s good enough, it works right?