• lifestyle

    Memorial Day

    On this Memorial Day 2021, let us set aside politics and be thankful for those women and men who service in the United States Armed Forces and, really, all those who protect the citizens of our country. Especially keep in mind those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to protect our way of life.

    Thank you.

  • cause analysis,  information technology,  lifestyle

    The CDC’s COVID-19 Test Design Failure as a Lesson for IT Pros

    David Willman, writing for the Washington Post on December 26, 2020, in an article titled: The CDC’s failed race against covid-19: A threat underestimated and a test overcomplicated:

    “We at the CDC also have the ability to do that today, but we are working on a more specific diagnostic,” Messonnier said, indicating that the agency was seeking a more sophisticated test.

    “We had a conversation with [Stephen Lindstrom] and [Julie M. Villanueva] and asked, specifically: ‘Lots of members are asking if we can drop N3 and just keep N1 and N2,’ ” recalled Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious diseases for the professional association, based in Silver Spring, Md.

    “And their response at that point was: ‘FDA isn’t going to go for that.’ Both of them were like, it’s a non-starter.’’

    Government officials later told The Post that the FDA would have considered proposals to remove N3.

    Some CDC scientists also were questioning among themselves the need for N3.

    “Why are we trying so hard? . . . We know there’s a problem with it,” one of them recalled asking.

    Instead of dropping N3, the CDC set about trying to manufacture a new batch of reagents in hopes of eradicating possible contamination that had caused the false positives.

    What I find most interesting about this article is CDC’s insistence on keeping the N3 test as part of the testing protocol to see if a patient is COVID-19 positive or not. As I kept reading the article, I was thinking about my own blind spots and biases when working on complicated information technology solutions. Can IT’s insistence to have a complex solution, such as a PowerShell script, C# code, or a SQL stored procedure, cause a CDC-style 46 day delay in testing when a more streamlined WHO-style solution is readily available? Can technologists, like the scientists in Willman’s article, get caught up in the “we are going to solve this” tide? When we get swept up in a fast moving production issue, do we have the wherewithal to take a step back and decided that “good enough” is indeed good enough to solve the issue? Or do we take extra time to take a deep dive into the issue to develop an overly complex solution?

    As information technology professionals, we all need evaluate our unique production environments. What tools are available to us? How much time is available to diagnose the problem and identify a most probable cause? How much time will it take to test and evaluate the performance of the fix? Often times, there is no one size fits all solution. The key takeaway from this article for IT professionals is to be mindful the problem we are trying to solve and to balance “good enough” verses “perfection” when developing technology solutions.

  • lifestyle

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    This year’s Thanksgiving will be different from any other that we have had in the past. During this difficult period, it is important to take a few moments to remember what is really important and to be thankful for what we have.

    Thank you to everyone who reads my blog. I appreciate it.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Stay safe. Wear a mask. Together, we will get through this!

    -Alan

  • apple,  lifestyle

    The Underdogs – WFH

    I had to laugh when I watched Apple’s new promotional video ‘Working-From-Home Thing’ featuring the likable Underdogs office team.

    Apple’s Underdogs – Working from home

    You see, I needed a distraction from the shenanigans on social media, on cable news, and in newspapers. Apple’s satirical commercial highlights both the challenges we are all facing while trying to work at home while showcasing their products that help make collaborative work easier. With a run time of over six minutes, the video does feel a little long when compared to 2019’s Underdogs commercial. The scene where one of the Underdogs needs to talk to an IT person hits a little too close to home.

    If you want to see what Apple products can do in action, enjoy Apple’s video production values, or simply just relate to trying to work from home when you are used to working in an office, you should watch this short.

  • lifestyle

    Happy Independence Day

    This Independence Day is like none other in our lifetimes. We face a global pandemic. Police are killing unarmed African Americans in plain view of video cameras without fear of punishment. There is food and financial insecurity for the most vulnerable people living in this country while corporations are putting up record breaking profits. Our government is grid locked with “Us” vs “Them” tribalism. And, there a self-absorbed white supremacist who is more interested in dividing us than uniting us in the White House of this once great nation. I am embarrassed by what we have allowed America to become.

    I hope and pray to God that one day We the People will have the courage to return to values such as truth, service, and cooperation.

    So, on this Fourth of July, I recall the sacrifices made by all the men and women who founded this country and, in the words, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

  • facebook,  lifestyle,  twitter

    Facebook Cannot Fix Itself

    Catching up on my backlog of Time Magazine (yes, the print edition), here’s Roger McNamee, writing at Time.com:

    Trump has long argued–without evidence–that Internet platforms are biased against conservative voices. In reality, conservative voices have thrived on these platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have consistently allowed conservatives to violate their terms of service. Twitter recently fact-checked two of Trump’s tweets that contained falsehoods, the first time it had done so, which appeared to trigger the Executive Order. Twitter subsequently issued a warning on a Trump tweet for endangering public safety. These actions were long overdue efforts to treat the President’s posts the same as any other user’s. At the same time, Facebook refused to take action with identical posts on its platform.

    This should serve as a warning to companies who try to cozy up governments and politicians. Everything is fine until it is not. Section 230 has allowed large social media and tech companies to wash their hands of the hateful, untruthful, and hurtful content they allow users to post. It’s time to start holding social media and tech companies to the same higher standard as newspapers and other traditional news outlets.

    The benefits of Internet platforms are evident to everyone with access to a computer or smartphone. But like the chemicals industry in the 1950s, Internet giants are exceptionally profitable because they do not pay any cost for the harm they cause. Where industrial companies dumped toxic chemicals in fresh water, Internet platforms pollute society with toxic content. The Internet is central to our way of life, but we have to find a way to get the benefits with fewer harms.

    I think that progressive politicians are finally waking up to the fact that smartphones and reliable high-speed Internet connections are not nice to haves. They are essential to modern life. As the 70 and over crowd retire from politics, or are voted out of office, a new wave of politicians who understand how technology works come into office. The question I have is will they work for the people or align with large corporations, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, to get easy money.

    Thanks to the fight-or-flight instinct wired into each of us, some forms of content force us to pay attention as a matter of self-preservation. Targeted harassment, disinformation and conspiracy theories are particularly engaging, so the algorithms of Internet platforms amplify them. Harmful content crowds out facts and expertise.

    I agree with McNamee on this point. Anyone who disagrees only need to take an honest look the information that is being posted on social media sites about COVID-19 and the mask vs. no mask debate. As a resident of Connecticut, I take issue with Alex Jones’ outright lies out the Newtown school shooting.

    Algorithms need not fill our feeds with targeted and dehumanizing disinformation and conspiracy theories. They do now because amplifying emotionally dangerous content is a choice made to maximize profits. “Optimizing for engagement” undermines democracy and public health. It increases political polarization and fosters hostility to expertise and facts. It undermines journalism, not just by taking advertising dollars from the media but also by forcing news into an environment that discourages critical thinking–and by putting junk news, disinformation and harmful content on an equal footing with credible news sources.

    I really dislike the algorithmic ordering of posts in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn feeds. It was one of the reasons why I chose to delete my Facebook account and try to avoid using Twitter on the web in favor of Tweetbot. The only way to fix this problem is to begin holding social media and large tech companies accountable for the information that is posted to their services by way of a federal law.

    While I am not a fan of Roger McNamee due to his poor influence over Palm, Inc. by way of his investment firm, Elevation Partners, I do agree with him that self-regulation of Facebook and social media companies just does not work and must change.

  • apple,  business,  dell,  ipad pro,  ipados,  lifestyle

    The iPad Pro as a “Real” Computer

    Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.

    The iPad Pro is a real computer. You might be thinking “Yeah, duh!” right now. Let me explain.

    I was recently working in my office – my corporate office for my job-y job, not my fun-with-computers home office – and I was using my company issued Dell Latitude laptop. I needed to jump on a conference call, so I undocked my laptop, opened the lid, and moved closer to the window for better lighting. I also wanted to charge my work-issued 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I decided to try to charge my iPad Pro from the USB-C cable from my Dell WD19TB USB-C/Thunderbolt dock.

    As expected, my iPad started charging immediately. What I wasn’t expecting was a few seconds after that, iPadOS 13.4 “attached” to the dock and started mirroring the screen, accepting input from my Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as connecting to the network.

    iPadOS 13.4’s wireless mouse and system-wide pointer support worked with my Logitech Unifying Receiver connected K750 keyboard and M510 mouse just as smoothly as it does on the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard or a Magic Trackpad 2. I am also using a Dell 32-inch 4k UltraSharp U3219Q monitor, which displayed the video output from the iPad crisply. With an Ethernet connection, I was able to use Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Mobile client to connect to Windows 10 and Windows Server machines. Files was able to connect to my frequently used SMB server, and I was able to use multiple FileMaker applications hosted on FileMaker servers with FileMaker Go.

    There are a few things that I found a little disorienting while using my iPad Pro in place of my Windows laptop. I am confident they will become second nature quickly, but I think that they are worth mentioning in case you, dear reader, want to try your own iPad Pro at work experience.

    First, the iPad Pro will go to sleep a lot faster than Windows will put my laptop to sleep. I am apprehensive leaving my iPad constantly connected to power for multiple hours after 100% charge was reached. Second was getting the K750 keyboard to wake up and work with the iPad was occasionally problematic. The M510 mouse never had an issue. As a security feature, the contents of password fields are not mirrored to the external monitor. I kept clicking into the password field thinking I missed the target for the cursor until I realized what was going on. Finally, I discovered that while the iPad saw the USB powered speaks that are connected to the dock, I was not able to play audio of audio of any kind from the iPad through the dock speakers. I will have to keep playing with the speakers to figure out what’s going on.

    Overall, I had an enjoyable afternoon working on my iPad Pro in place of my Windows 10 laptop. There are few specific tasks that I probably could have done on the iPad, but muscle memory makes those technical IT tasks quicker for me in Windows. Enabling hardware support for USB-C docks and accessories is not a glamorous headline grabbing iPadOS feature, but I’m glad it is there.

  • apple,  lifestyle,  macintosh,  newton,  vintage

    These Old Macs

    One of the things that I have been doing to keep myself busy during the craziness that is the COVID-19 pandemic (please keep wearing your face coverings in public) is to refurbish some of the old Macintosh computers in my collection.

    In particular, I am working on a PowerMac G4 Quicksilver (2001) restoration and a PowerBook G3 (1998) repair. Neither machine is working right now, which is understandable since they are 19 and 22 years old, respectively. Rather than talk about each repair project, I figure it would be more helpful to share some of the resources that I have found online to help others repair and overhaul their vintage and obsolete status Macs.

    Repair Information and Manuals

    When many Mac enthusiasts think of repair guides and tear down instructions, we think of iFixit.com. They offer a great service for sure and I have ordered my share of repair kits from them. But they are not the only game in town.

    If you are looking to repair or restore an old PowerBook, you will want to take a look at PowerbookMedic.com. They have repair guides and reasonably priced spare parts to get your old MacBook back in top condition. They also offer some parts and repair services for the iMac and Mac mini.

    Another great site is AppleRepairManuals.com [http://www.applerepairmanuals.com/index.php#tools]. They have a wealth of information in the form of Apple service guides as well as other helpful tips that you will need while servicing your new and old Mac, iPod, Newton, or Lisa.

    Finding Spare Parts for Your TLC Project

    Once you have found the part number for the component that needs replacing, sure, you can use eBay. Many of my component searches start there. But there are other online retail options that specialize in vintage hardware. Depending on the Mac, Other World Computing (OWC) might have the part. I recently purchased an inexpensive PRAM battery from them for the G4. OWC also has a neat IDE/ATA to SATA adapter and SSD conversion kits. Once I have the G4 booting again, I plan to replace an old spinning hard disk with a 120GB SATA SSD. That should give that old boy a nice little speed bump.

    One of my new favorite sites for spare parts is UsedMac.com. Need a replacement IDE drive for your Mac, a floppy drive for your PowerBook, or an external Jaz drive? No problem. I just recently ordered a 6GB 2.5″ IDE notebook drive from them. It was super cheap.

    The Newton

    I came to the Newton late in its life. Like weeks before Steve Jobs came back to Apple and killed it late. I am still intrigued by the Newton and how cool it looks. Old Newtons and eMate portables can still be found on eBay. But sometimes you need that special part. For all things Newton, you will want to check out these great resources.

    Newton Research offers a modern version of the Newton Connection Utilities that will run on modern versions of Mac OS. I was able to connect my Newton MessagePad 2100 to my Macbook Pro 2016 with Mojave.

    Chuma.org has a good write up for how to get Ethernet working on your MessagePad.

    Don’t forget UGreen’s USB 2.0 Type A to RS232 DB9 serial cable. This UGreen cable has a built-in FTDI serial converter so you won’t need a driver on the Mac / Windows PC side to get your Newton to connect and sync.

    Software

    Restoring hardware is only half of the equation. Once you have restored your computer, you may need to download and OS for it. Let’s face it, 1.4MB floppies, in my collection at least, aren’t holding up well. CDs are holding up much better. Regardless if you are the victim of bit rot, scratched discs, or may not be the most organized person in the world, the Internet has you covered.

    MacintoshRepository.org has a wide selection of Apple system software for the Mac, Apple //, and the Lisa. WinWorld’s library of Apple-related software is rather extensive with disk images for System Software 0-6, Mac OS and Mac OS X. You can also download A/UX and NeXTStep.