30 years of joy, pain, friendships, frustrations, and wonder

As others are marking the 30th anniversary of the Apple Macintosh Computer, I thought I would put my spin on this occasion. In 1984, the Mac was an under powered revolutionary device. It was the beginning of the trend of taking the power of a computer away from the "priests" who controlled access to large room sized computers and returned this power to the people. This started a creative revolution that continues today. Having access to this power back then was intoxicating.

Growing up, we did not have computers. The first computer I saw (from a distance) was as a Sophomore in High School. Only the "advanced" math students were allowed to approach this machine. During the summer of my junior year I worked for my family business. The young women worked at the punch card machines, and I would take their output and use a sorter that would magically put the cards in order and detect rejects, which were returned for retyping. Once the cards were sorted, the stacks were collected and brought to a collating machine, which somehow ran this giant IBM computer, which printed out the output from the cards for further processing. The programs were hand wired on to wire boards that held the program instructions. These were placed inside the machine before running the collator. It was a very noisy place! In one announcement, Apple changed the world by practically eliminating all those jobs and devices.

Having this personal power was also quite confusing to many people. In 1977, this gave 13 year old Jonathan Rotenberg an idea that led to the formation of the Boston Computer Society. The goal was to "Demystify" personal computers. I was one of the founding members, and was quite active in the BCS. I had bought an Osborne 2 "sewing machine portable". It confused me so, but the BCS Osborne group helped me understand how to harness this power. Wordstar and Visi-Calc were awesome.

I discovered the world of Bulletin Boards and played Dungeons and Dragons while connected to a computer in California. I would go to BBS meet-ups all over New England. This is where I met Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun Mac Geek Gab.
This is before the World Wide Web and the Internet existed.

The BCS hosted Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who introduced the Mac to the east coast of the United States. I was there, standing off stage on the left wing. The BCS immediately started the BCS Mac User Group. This group grew so fast there was no room at the BCS main office, so the Mac Group moved to their own office/clubhouse in Somerville. MA.

BCS Mac published a monthly magazine sized newsletter. One of the writers was a young Andy Ihnatko, who became famous by penning an April Fools article about Mac being recalled due to their stuffing catching fire (my recollection). After BCS Mac meetings, we would invited the guest speaker(s) to dinner. During one of these dinners both Macworld Magazine and Mac User magazine competed with each other to persuade Andy to write for them, and he hasn't looked back.

Macworld Expo ran 2 shows a year. The west coast expo was in San Francisco in January, and the east coast expo was held in Boston during August, and later in New York City. My biggest thrill from the Boston Expo was sitting 10 feet from Bill Atkinson while he demo'ed Hypercard for the first time to the show attendees. While the expo conducted lots of business during show hours, most of the wheeling and dealing happened after show hours at the many vendor and user group parties. Keeping track of what was happening where was a tough task, taken up by MacWeek's Robert Hess. He unfortunately passed away in 1996 and the list, now called The Hess Memorial Macworld Party List. It is now maintained by Ilene Hoffman. It is the best place to find out what is happening after hours at the now once a year Macworld|iWorld show. The Expo was also a place for all the user groups to get together in the User Group Lounge where I had some nice long discussions with lots of people, including the revered elder user group pundit and now eminent podcaster, Chuck Joiner MacVoices, the Talk of the Mac Community. So many memories and stories that I don't have room for here.

Technology kept us all on our toes. The internet grew with Gopher, something called the World Wide Web, FTP servers, Chatting servers, and other services. I was Chairman of the BCS On Line Service Committee during this time. Since we were tech savy, America On Line asked BCS to host on line chats covering various topics, and gave free access to those who volunteered. AOL was formed out of AppleLink Personal Edition. As the internet grew, there was less reliance on user groups to keep users up to date. This led to the eventual demise of the Boston Computer Society. It was a sad day when that happened. I had made so many life long friends and acquaintances from this group. The rise of Twitter, Google, Email, RSS feeds now keep me in the community, and Podcasts specific to the Mac are a joy to listen to, and keep me learning. The iPhone and iPad are truly wondrous devices. We have come a long way in 30 years.

Thanks Apple for liberating us all.

Archiving Files

The personal computer has been around for quite a while, but only in the last decade or so has it become so integrated into our lives that we are now totally dependent on it. In this time, we have gathered more and more digital data. This is starting to cause a real dilemma. While our ability to store all this data locally has increased, do we need to store all of it on our main data drive? While it might be nice to have, do we need 10 years (or more) of files or should we be archiving older files to an off line storage solution, where it is available if we need it.? Moving this data will make the programs that access them much faster, and will place less burden on the computer, which has to track the location of all these files.

The question is, how and where to store these archives?  and for how long? What is archivable and what files should be deleted from storage? In what format do you store the archived files? All questions that are really tough to answer. I have no answer now, but I hope to address some of these in future blog posts, so stay tuned!


the Trouble with EMail

I have seen a huge increase of e-mail problems with my clients. It seems many of the major e-mail providers (Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Google and AOL for example) have all had problems. Plus, the e-mail reading programs have also had trouble, forgetting user passwords and having other connection problems. It also seems the spammers have taken over email, making it a real bother to get important messages from the load of junk. We have become so dependent on these programs, when they break it causes lots of worry. Spam filters can help with the spam, but are not perfect. When people only had one device (usually a desktop computer) to get email, using a provider that offered a POP (Post Office Protocol) account was ok. but today, we have iPhones, iPads, laptop and desktop computers. POP mail is not designed to work with multiple devices.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol ) protocol is designed for multiple device emails. IMAP is more expensive for providers to offer, because the email is stored on the providers computers. With POP, was soon as you login, the unread email is downloaded to the device you login with, so syncing is difficult. However, there is no excuse for providers to not offer IMAP email, and for users to not use IMAP. Until a replacement for email is found IMAP email with good spam filtering and a system of filing and archiving the email is the way to go.

Am email inbox is not the place to store email. You need a system to file the important email, and to archive the old email. Having an in box with over 1,000 unread emails will strain your computer and your computer network to the breaking point. Having a filing system with more than 10,000 emails is dangerous. I see this all the time. Users with email like this are living on the edge of disaster. Email more than a year old that is not referenced often, should be archived and kept in a searchable database, keeping your email program footprint small and quick to find your important email.

Privacy Exceptions

I have been an advocate of multiple backups of your personal data and the need for secure passwords to secure this private data (and private data can be anything from bank account access to website access ). I still believe a unique secure password for each site that needs a password is necessary. Much of this information is now stored in the cloud somewhere that requires passwords to access. I am also a strong advocate of disaster pre planning. How is this related?  

We should ALL have a well thought out “pre-plan” for natural AND personal disasters. Included in this pre-plan should be the designation of someone you trust to have access to all your personal electronic data (they would have to know all your passwords to do this). This includes designating someone to  be responsible for paying your bills and spend your hard earned money if you are unable to do so. In order to make this legal, I would suggest getting the language approved by your Attorney. These plans should include stuff like designating someone to have a power of attorney, for your affairs,  any medical wishes on treatment (like do not resuscitate orders) and other forms a good attorney could suggest. PLEASE do this NOW while you are healthy. 

the World Wide Web

20 years ago, on April 30, 1993, a service called the World Wide Web was opened to the public for no cost. Sir Tim Berners-Lee was the person behind this at  the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). They are trying to bring back the very first web site. The early goal of the web was to make hypertext of all the worlds knowledge. 

At the time, I was "into" bulletin boards. Little did I know how this "Web" would almost destroy BBS's. Today, this web thing is everywhere. While there is a long way to go to put the worlds knowledge on the web, a significant chunk of important information is easily available. Its like having a library and encyclopedia at your beck and call (as long as your web connection is stable, but thats a post for another day).

the Problem with Passwords

Remembering passwords is a big problem today. It seems the single password system is increasingly under attack by “hackers”. The fact that many users use a single, easy to remember but insecure password for all their log-ins makes their personal information very insecure. Many places are now trying a different system, called “two factor” authentication, which is a lot more secure, but still not fool proof. Soon, still another system will be used, biometrics. We humans have unique fingerprints, and unique “eye” prints. These can be used to identify you and only you.  The sooner this technology can be used, the better. Until then, having secure unique passwords, at least for sensitive personal information, it vital if you want your private information to be safe. And the increase in technological capacity has changed the definition of what a secure unique password is. it used to be if you had a password of 12 characters, you were reasonably safe, because it would take years to “break” the password. It now takes days to “break” a 12 character password. The bad guys are winning :( so you now need a password of at least 18 characters (and they should be random letters of both lower and upper case, with numbers and punctuation marks mixed in). The problem is, a password like this is impossible to remember. Writing it down and taping it to the monitor or bottom of the keyboard is as secure as not having a password. What is the solution? If the security of your personal information is important to you, buy one of the many good password managers (I like 1Password) available. With a password manager, you only have to know one unique password to unlock and access your log-in information. One other, very important data point. You should give this unique password to a relative or someone you trust, or put it in a secure place where it can be retrieved in case of a personal emergency. But, please don’t use an easy to guess password, and don’t use the same password for all your logins. Its just not safe.

Steps to do After backing up

Having a backup is NOT enough. hHow do you know the backed up files are valid? No backup software and no hardware are without bugs. What you need to do is test your backup by restoring a few important files after the backup is done. This does not take much time and will

let you know the backup has worked.

Computer and iDevice backup

I know I have written about this before, as have others. AND last week was Global Backup Day. So, I am asking you to do personal outreach, even though YOU backup. PLEASE. ask at least 2 friends if they backup their computers, phones and tablets. If they do GREAT, if not assist them in doing a backup or refer them to someone who can assist them. We have lots of irreplaceable files on our digital devices. Loosing these files CAN happen, but if these files are backed up they can be restored. Without a backup, the loss of these files can cause a lot of unneeded suffering. THERE IS NO EXCUSE NOT TO BACKUP ALL YOUR ELECTRONIC DEVICES. And to borrow from another national campaign, Friends don't let friends go without backups.

Camera Roll is not a place for photo storage.

If you own an i device, please sync it at least monthly and place your pictures on another storage device, like iTunes on a computer. The camera roll is only meant as a temporary place to store your pictures. IF you value your photos you will remove them from the camera roll after syncing them. Otherwise you are at a high risk of loosing them.

Misuse of system information

I like curious customers who want to learn more about how the computer works BUT A little knowledge in an inexperienced users mind can be MORE dangerous than misinformation. Entries in logs and configuration files, and access to out of date books can cause misunderstanding and great distress, especially if this information conflicts with the years of experience and knowledge of their computer person/consultant. This type of client is a real challenge and needs to be taught where to get current up to date information on the problems they seem to think they have, and of course they need to have their trust in their computer person/consultant reenforced. It is a challenge and frustrating at the same time.

Please Empty your trash/recycle bin

The trash/recycle bin is NOT a place to store important files. Neither is the desktop, but thats a topic for another blog post.  The trash/recycle bin is a place where you put files you want to delete from your computer, just like a regular trash bucket is a place where you throw paper and other material you no longer need.  and just like a real trash bucket, it needs to be emptied on a regular basis.  IF you do regular backups, you will not loose anything important. Having an empty trash/recycle bin will also help you computer run faster.  I had a client a few weeks ago that had 3.5 GB (yup GIGAbytes) of files in their trash.  Their comment after I got their permission to check and empty the trash: "Wow, its like the computer  is NEW again". So, please empty the trash/recycle bin at least daily.

Backup your Computer, PLEASE

Everyone who is not currently backing up their computers, PLEASE Do SO. You keep personal addresses, email, photos, financial info and other important information on your computer. What would happen if you lost this stuff? With a recent backup, it would just cost some time. Without a backup, at least 700 US Dollars or more (if the info can be saved), a LOT of aggravation and stress, and days if not weeks to recreate what was lost, IF you could recreate it at all. If you have any questions of how and where to do backups, ask away.