Monday, June 4, 2018

Marrying Within One's Species

Once upon a time, I needed a 30" monitor. I say "needed" because my second work portable, a MacBook Pro with an early Display Port, didn't play well with my original 30" monitor which required the notoriously flaky Apple Display Port to Dual DVI adapter. And I definitely wasn't in the mood to fight my monitor whenever the pager went off at 3:07 AM.  It's sort of an odd (but honest) definition of need.

For those keeping score, this means I would have two 30" monitors. Many households would consider one 30" monitor excessive, especially since I also had a 24" loaner monitor from work. Thus, Spousal Approval Factor (SAF) was not a trivial consideration.

However, I married within my species. We were not even dating yet when when I asked to use Katherine's initials for kew.com, and, like a true MIT geek, she thought it was cool.  Likewise, she was cool with the monitor, especially since she knew about my on-call duties.

(Apple later replaced the adapter free of charge, which tells you what they thought of the original revision. But this was months afterwards.)

It's nice to be understood as the years go by. But even with an inventory that includes eight Raspberry Pi computers, five networked stereos, four Macs, three Wifi access points and a nearly fully 24 port network switch in the pantry, I still try to have good manners. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan once said.

Which brings us to this weekend. A Raspberry Pi 2 provided network management at the Kitten Farm Pacific Northwest, and yesterday during routine updates it decided to scramble the SD card it used as its disk. This was not good, but not fatal -- there's a reason I backup each Raspberry Pi's configuration and other critical data nightly.

I twiddled the router to take on additional duties and get the house back on the Internet, and then I had to decide what do to about the dead machine:
  • Try fixing the current disk or 
  • Bring a new (faster) machine online. 
I chose the later, and got things squared away enough by the evening to put the new machine online.

So, the replacement was online but still sitting on my desk, and I physically looked at the  beast. The old unit had a dark opaque case which gave it low visibility; the new one was ... different. It dawned on me that the style conscious among us may feel a clear box with glowing LEDs and the general appearance of the incubator for a baby Terminator does not belong on the living room entertainment center. So I asked.

The Terminator Incubator


Katherine's reply: "That's fine. Entertainment Centers are often the geekiest part of a house. And anyone who walks into this house should know what to expect."

I definitely married within my species.



p.s. She has bought me three smaller monitors for various purposes since I got the 30" monitor.  Is that love or what?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Reading from The Book of Internet Security

Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) is a type (subset) of multi-factor authentication. It is a method of confirming a user's claimed identity by utilizing a combination of two different factors: 1) something they know, and 2) something they have.
-- Wikipedia
I have two factor authentication set up via Google Authenticator (Microsoft Authenticator works the same way) for:
  • Amazon
  • BitBucket
  • Facebook
  • GitHub
  • Google
  • LastPass
  • TunnelBroker.net
  • Microsoft, and
  • The Raspberry Pi downstairs sitting by my home Internet router.
I've also got two factor set via text message/email for Vanguard, Twitter, and others. These methods are not as secure as Google/Microsoft Authenticator (your phone number and/or email can be hijacked), but it's better than thinking no one will try to hack an account.

Actually, you or I personally won't be hacked, unless you ticked off the Russians or the Chinese -- our accounts are just a entry on a list, and someone is hacking the entire list. Your accounts are or will be a malware statistic. Mine won't, because I've got two factor on them.

So go through all your supported accounts (all, even the ones you never use) and put two factor on them today. Don't know where to start? Try here. As to when do it, the best answer is yesterday. So do it now.

p.s. Some of the sites I listed also support YubiKey -- it's also secure, and I use that when possible. But the point is, I do something for two factor whenever possible.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Things I Do For Love (or, How Not to Spend Your Day)

grumble . . .

Ten years ago this spring, I ordered a monster Mac Pro:
  • Eight 3.2 Ghz processor cores, 
  • 8G of memory, 
  • Dual video cards (to drive up to 4 30" monitors)
  • 30" HP Monitor
  • Two 500 GB drives
  • Two Ethernet ports
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
The PC tower-sized case was all aluminum, and the beast weighed ~ 42 pounds. The primary internal upgrades to it over the years has been two SSD drives (160GB and 500GB) and a USB 3 card. Thus configured, it can compete with far more recent machines; it is worthy of its name "xena, the Warrior system".

It can even boot Windows 10 Pro 64-bit (the 160GB SSD was dedicated to that.)

Last spring, I switched to a new iMac for non-performance related reasons:
  • Parity with Katherine's Mac (replaced at the same time),
  • Lower power consumption, 
  • Support for newer MacOS operating systems. 
xena retired to the library, where I would wake it up every few weeks or months to update its software. When it has been awake, I have slowly purged various software and data off it (we *really* don't need a third copy of the ~8900 track music library or extra copies of various disk hogging virtual machines). The reduced space requirement meant I could move Windows 10 over to the 500GB SSD and use the 160GB SSD elsewhere, such as on one our proliferating Raspberry Pi systems.

Alas, I forgot I would be dealing with Microsoft licensing.

I had played Mr. Potato Head with xena when it moved and replaced the monitor, USB hubs, keyboard, & mouse, and pulled the 160 GB SSD drive. Internally, it was still the original internal configuration except for the missing SSD. But when I reinstalled Windows 10 on a second partition of the 500GB drive, Windows announced it could not be customized until it was activated, and it could not be activated because it wasn't the same system. It suggested that "please visit the Microsoft Store ...".

I
didn't think Theseus's paradox applied, but I'm not Microsoft.

So I plugged in most of the external peripherals I had on xena when it in was my office, reinstalled the SSD drive, and rebooted. Windows Pro 10 then said that it was installed on top of a previous version that had never been activated, and "please visit the Microsoft Store ...".

The primary factors that kept the xena from being thrown out the nearest window were a) that window does not open and b) the xena is not a petite machine.

I did the smart thing and went out to dinner.

Then I reinstalled again. First I put on Windows 7 64-bit, then activated it, and then upgraded to Windows 10 Pro. I then signed into my Hotmail (Microsoft account).

Voila!
I'm not quite what I did different, but Windows 10 Pro is happily fully functional. Now if I only knew what secret sauce I applied this time ...

. . . grumble 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What's this new-fangled Web?

Facebook is "celebrating 25 years of connecting people", in other words the creation of the World Wide Web.  While true, the statement irks me.

Numerous applications preceded the web to connect people across various international networks:
  • ARPANet mail dates from the 1970's; Clarkson had it by the mid-1980's.
  • Usenet connected people 12 years earlier than the web, in 1979.
  • BitNET RELAY sprang to life 7 years earlier, in 1985.
  • IRC rolled out three years earlier, 1988
For that matter, kew.com was registered before the web existed.

And there's the small matter of an email I received before I even set up kew.com:

Header lines of the first email I ever received from +Katherine Derbyshire,
(in response to a mundane Usenet post I had made; click for a larger version).
Who needs the web?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Second Verse (almost) the Same as the First

This is not exactly a news flash, but worthy of note ...

After 10 and half years, our BRG 2006 MINI Cooper S with 93,000 miles on it is officially no more. One need not be sad; it has a new life that you can get hints on if you head over to the PS MINI group on Facebook.

As you can see below, we have not strayed far in replacing it -- once again we ordered a rag top MINI Cooper S with a manual transmission, and we checked almost all the boxes.

Our 2006 MINI Next to its 2016 Replacement
Our 2006 MINI Cooper S next to its 2016 Replacement
(click for  a better view)
What happened ... back in May we set out one evening in the 2006 MINI for a Mariners game, and a hundred yard out of the driveway, most of the idiot lights on dash lit up and the car stalled. It restarted, so we retreated to the garage and switched to the Audi for the ballgame. The following day I gently took the MINI into the dealer to get it fixed.

Once it was fixed, Katherine and I sat down and had The Talk about how maintenance costs (and irritation) were going keep climbing, balanced against the cost of a new MINI and how people talk about the 2006 MINI being best year of them. And so we looked around, didn't come up with anything else we wanted (the current Miata came close, but we like that a MINI Cooper S is taller), and ended up ordering a new MINI Cooper S to get it configured as we wanted. +Katherine Derbyshire picked the color; I had gotten to pick the British Racing Green last time.

The new MINI hit our shores about July 17, and it was at Seattle MINI a fast four days later. We got organized and picked up the car that Saturday afternoon. Katherine posted a FOR SALE notice on the PS MINI FB group, got an immediate reply, and the 2006 MINI's new owner was happily driving it away a few minutes after we snapped this picture on July 24th.

Today, its permanent registration arrived, so we'll get our "We Love Our Pets" vanity plates on it by the weekend.

Here's to another ten years of top down motoring ...



Friday, March 4, 2016

Hello Old Friend

Back at Christmas 2012, I asked for and received a new keyboard based on an old PC favorite, customized for a Mac OS X environment. Sadly, it turned out to be neither a true Mac keyboard nor a true PC keyboard, and that made it quirky in some ways that were hard to work around. It's also almost as big and loud as the classic IBM Model units, which are not their strong suits.

So after couple of years I tried a different direction, this time ordering a compact keyboard from WASD Keyboards, which used Cherry MX Blue switches. Favored by some gamers, Cherry MX switches of all flavors are tough and have good feedback. At the same time, they are lighter and quieter than the classic IBM keyboards, and the compact versions (sans numeric keypad) are quite bit smaller. Mine (with the help of some keyboard mapping software) has been excellent.

I had my last employer buy a duplicate for the office, and when I departed I bequeathed it to an officemate who was interested in Cherry MX-based keyboards. Now that I'm starting a new position, I'll need a new one at the office; for now, I'll take my personal one in when I start I Monday.

This in turn led me to haul one of my originals out of the closet for temporary duty:

My 1996 IBM Model M keyboard, in active service to type this post.
I didn't realize how far I've moved away from that design in the past few years. It's still got its great feedback, but after years of other brands, I feel a bit of a shock to see the huge footprint, arch fingers to the height of the keys, push down that extra bit to get the keys to activate, and hear the unmuffled buckling spring action rattle the windows.

Retro computing. I haz it.