Archive for the ‘computers’ Category

I get a lot of email. A LOT. Between work and personal emails it is a wonder I find time to do anything other than answer or deal with emails.  All I know is, that on those days when something goes wrong with our email server, there is a lot more work getting done, although the urge to keep checking to see if it is back up and running does cause some stress.

Part of the curse that is email, is dealing with spam and junk emails. If you set your filter too strict you end up missing important emails, and if you don’t use any filtering you end up with so much crap to deal with you will be pulling your hair out.  Of late I’ve noticed an increased amount of utter crap coming in again.  Not sure why, seems to be a cyclical thing every few months, and I have to laugh at the horrific spelling and grammatical errors in the emails and wonder if they ever catch anyone in their webs with these?  Below is a perfect example of what i mean…

greencard

The nice thing is that the spelling and grammar mistakes usually make it easier to spot the spam. (‘appliance’ used when they meant ‘application’ for instance)

Another dead giveaway is the “actual” email address that the email is coming from or directing you to reply to (dontreply@perfectinput.org in the example).  More often than not, you will see a link that when you hover over it you can see the address which rarely matches the supposed subject (witoptions in this case does, but if you google it it doesn’t exist as a company and is fishy enough not to clink the link) and takes you to some ad website that will get you stuck in an endless loop of trying to close popups and pop-unders.  A good idea is to use a domain lookup site like “Whois” and check the domain name to see if it is even valid.  If it’s a real site, there will be info on it.  That doesn’t mean it is a valid website or email, just a better chance that it might be legit.

When spotting spam in the wild, there are tons of common phrases to look for.  Offering pills is big one of late, and I’m sure we’ve all seen at least one from some President of some foreign country offering to send us money if we give our banking info.  Many make vague statements about you and your previous involvement with their company, or offering you something for nothing.  Typically I find it best to toss any suspicious emails without even opening them just by previewing the subject line.  It used to be you could create a list of words to block, but even that is getting tougher since many bots or people substitute other letters or characters for some letters in words to sneak thru.  A bracket ‘(‘ for a capital ‘C’ for instance, or using the number ‘0’ for the letter ‘o’.

Remember, no bank is going to contact you via email and request info, or confirmation of any interactions you’ve had with them, so anything you get from any bank it is best to assume is fraudulent and follow-up with your bank directly.  I’ve even forwarded a few emails to my bank so they are aware and can warn others.

The old adage, “when in doubt throw it out” is never more on point than when dealing with email nowadays.  Thankfully the scammers and spammers are attacking in bulk and hoping they get one response out of the thousands they send out, and as such their attacks are easily spotted with a little vigilance.  Keep your eyes open and be careful what you click on or reply to.

“He is most free from danger, who, even when safe, is on his guard”. (Publilius Syrus)

-barkerp

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IMG_0376Well, we knew it was coming, although not for long due to Bell’s incompetence and the shitty way they are handling this “discontinuation of service”.  I was going to title this post “Bell, you suck“, but that title has been used way too often. (even in some variations by me, see here, and here.)

We’ve had the Portable internet or Unplugged service for quite some time now.  They’ve renamed it a few times over the years since Rogers bought up the Inukshuk internet service as part of the Microcell buy out, which ended up becoming a joint venture with Bell back in 2005.  It has never been great as far as speeds go, but at least it was available.  That is, up until now.  About a month back I found out purely by accident that the service was being discontinued at the end of March.  The story behind the shutting down seems different depending who you talk to, but in the end, it wasn’t making enough money is probably the real reason despite all the talk of the CRTC wanting that particular bandwidth back, or that the equipment was dated and in need of replacement, major repair, etc.

It seems this particular internet service has been in the process of being discontinued for some time now, depending upon your area.  I think the intention was to cancel the service once a reasonable replacement was in place.  Sadly, for those like me, that still hasn’t happened.  We are one of the lucky few not included in the government promises to bring high-speed to rural communities, seems we are too close to the city, and yet not far enough away to get coverage from the rural providers.

The worst part of the whole ordeal is the fact Bell really dropped the ball repeatedly in letting its customers know.  I found out while talking to a Bell tech about my slow internet, that the service was actually being discontinued.  I immediately got in touch with Bell internet customer service, and was informed that letters had been sent out to let people know, but strangely many people did not receive them.  WTF?  I was informed again later during another phone call that yes, in fact letters had been sent out a couple of times because there was an issue the first time.  But still, again, many people never got informed.  In this day and age how is it possible to screw up sending a letter to customers?  They would never miss making sure you get your bill, so why not just add it in there.

I got in touch with all the major players, Bell and Rogers, and long list of ISPs that I had never heard of or had little knowledge of.  Xplornet, Execulink, ISP Canada, Teksavvy, Canada Online, Falcon Internet, Allcore, and Terago to name just a few.  None of which could get a signal to my house, with the exception of Terago and they are just way too expensive to be considered a residential provider.  Wind mobile is available, but at a data cap of 10 gig per month, after which they throttle the speed down to 256kbs it is not a viable solution for a household internet service.  Especially one with teenagers that enjoy instagram, youtube, Facebook and netflix way too much.  10 gig would last about a weekend.

As it stands, we are awaiting our new turbo hub modem from Bell to start up our overpriced and data limited mobile internet service, since it is the only service anyone is offering that can reach my house.  I can physically see the city limits from my property, close enough I can read the population sign, but not close enough that any landline services have been upgraded in my area.  So for now, we are struggling by with our cell phones, trying to limit our data usage, and will be sitting in coffee shops and burger joints to do our updating of apps and OSes until such time that the powers that be finally bring real high-speed internet to ALL of the rural customers, and not just some.

barkerp

timemachine-newDoing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is said to be the definition of insanity. Well, you can call me insane.  But don’t lock me away just yet.

I bought a new external Thunderbolt drive (TB) for backing up my MacBook Air (MBA), since the one i was using for Time Machine was saying it was full all the time, and was around 6 years old.  A backup is only good if it actually works, and as we all know, hard drives fail so to ensure I didn’t lose any data I decided to replace it.  After all, according to Apple’s own knowledge base, it’s a simple procedure to copy the old backup to a new one.

Yeah, i beg to differ.

After waiting approx. 2 hours for the copy command to calculate all the files in the “Backups.backupdb”, then another couple of hours for the actual copying to occur, I got an “Error code 8062“.  Which is a lovely generic error, that really doesn’t help me to figure out what the actual problem was.  It mentioned a few of the files were not compatible “Newer version of iWork needed” which confounded me a tad, since I don’t use iWork except for Pages on my iPad and iPhone.  There was about 50 files I had to cancel on and then the backup hung.  I went back and started again, reformatting the drive, changing the permissions and all, just like the Knowledge base article described.  To no avail.  I Even tried to copy the files within the backupdb (database) individually but something happens when you do that. It is as if the linking of files is disabled and each folder inside the larger db becomes massive. Folders were 139gb each. After 4 folders I had already copied more info that the total db size was listed at in the first place.

It was about this time I had to decide if I really wanted to waste more time trying to continue from the existing backup, or just start anew.  Eventually  I realized I didn’t have to get rid of the old Time Machine backup, it can stay right where it is for a while until I’m comfortable enough with the new backup to feel secure nothing will be lost, or nothing will need to be restored.  When that is?  Who knows.  That is the beauty of Time Machine and OS X, you can use more than one drive or location to backup to.  So, throwing caution to the wind (okay not really, since existing old backup is still accessible – just going for dramatic effect here), I connected the clean TB drive and let it do its initial backup, all nice and new and empty.  A few hours later I had a current backup.  Sure I couldn’t go back more than a few hours to retrieve anything, but its a start, and like I said I did still have the old backup if worse came to worst.
Gotta love the speed of the Thunderbolt drive. I plugged in my backup when I got to the office and it had 1.4 gig to update. Took less time than it took to type this paragraph I swear.   I was using a FireWire drive previously, with a TB adapter since the MBA no longer sported a FW connection, but the real deal TB is Soooooooo much zippier in its native form.
We’ll call this one a win, and a lesson learned.  Now, can someone help me out of this straight jacket…
barkerp

“Necessity is the mother of invention”. This phrase rang true for me, or in this case the mother of investigation, when I finally got frustrated enough with time being wasted dealing with an all too common problem of late.  It is AutoCad related so if you have no interest in, or use for AutoCad I won’t be offended if you just skip over this post.

First off, what are AEC Objects and why are they such a problem?  AEC objects are custom objects used in some flavours of AutoCAD to represent items like doors, windows, walls, etc.  When these drawing files are opened in other versions of AutoCAD that don’t use AEC objects these objects are called proxy objects.  Usually a warning box is displayed letting you know of this when you open the dwg file.  The problem is sometimes these proxy objects need to be edited or changed, and the only way to do that is to explode them, which creates its own set of problems.  Typically parts of the proxy disappear.  For instance a wall may have windows and doors embedded in it until you explode it and they disappear and the wall fills in the area the window or door was.  Not good when you don’t notice, or have to redraw them by hand.

This is the problem we were having.  Entities disappearing when we exploded the proxy objects.  We used to be able to save to an earlier version of AutoCad and the objects would be automatically converted to entities but that process no longer worked in the current versions of AutoCad.  As I said, necessity, and frustration caused me to spend a little time investigating since I figured there must be a better way.  Low and behold, enter the EXPORTTOAUTOCAD and AECTOACAD commands. (yeah i know, “enter” – bad pun)

The EXPORTTOAUTOCAD and AECTOACAD commands create a new drawing file and explode all the proxy AEC objects into editable AutoCAD objects.  The information stored within the AEC objects is lost in the new file, but the former AEC objects can now be easily modified and manipulated.

aectoacad
The commands have a number of options you will need to pay attention to:

1.  Filename: This is the name of the new file you are creating.  It’s best to use the Prefix or Suffix options to create a unique filename and avoid overwriting your original file.
2.  Prefix:  Added to the beginning of the filename, the default is “ACAD-” which helps differentiate from the original file.
3.  Suffix:  Appended to the end of the filename, the default is “no suffix” which is what i use.
4.  Format:  File format for the new file. Options are r14, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013. – typically just select whatever version of Acad you are running.
5.  Bind:  If the Bind setting is set to Yes, Xrefs are bound to the drawing. Blocks, layers,styles etc. are merged into the new file. If set to No, the links to the Xref are retained.
6.  bind Type:  There are two options when the Bind option is set to Yes: Bind and Insert. When Bind Type is set to Bind the Xref name is added to the beginning of block, layer and style names, when Insert is used, the names of blocks, layers and styles are merged into the new drawing.

Hit enter and wait for a few moments (depending upon size of file, number of AEC objects and speed of computer) and presto, all done and ready to be edited and cleaned up as you see fit.

Hopefully this will help some of you who struggle with this issue as we do, or more precisely – did.  It is a definite time-saver, especially with some architects we deal with, and in a business where time is money, saving any time at all is a good thing.  Especially in this world were deadlines have gone from weeks to complete a project, to mere days.  I think it’s a conspiracy by the coffee makers to keep us so busy we have to drink more in order to do our jobs, but that may just be the caffeine talking.

barkerp

wiresWith more and more laptops and tablets becoming the mode we stay connected, the Ethernet cable is slowly becoming a thing of the past, especially with a recently reported 7 percent of north american consumers already dependent solely on smartphones for Internet access.  It easy to see the writing is on the wall for wired connectivity.  Add to that the slow shift from land-line telephones to cellphones, and you can see the winds of change blowing.

Those same winds are also helping to encourage workers to use their own devices at work.  The whole Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement is gaining momentum in the workplace and companies for the most part are encouraging it, seeing it as a free way to get new tech in the hands of the workers for no cost to themselves, or at least, very little cost.  That however, may be more dangerous than the corporate bean-counters are aware of.  IT needs to be aware of the situation and figure out how to best provide fast, secure, reliable wireless network access while remaining cost-effective.

Some interesting stats:  Wireless usage in the corporate environment is around 25%, and expected to be near 35% within 18 months.  Roughly half of all employees are using their own devices for business purposes, and the vast majority of those employees are using more than one device.

What this means is that right now about half of the people using their own devices are also footing the bill for their data consumption while at work, rather than connecting to the office network, but this is bound to change.  Employees will want the ability to use the corporate network, but IT will want to control the info and access to ensure security.  And rightly so.  On both parts.

Encouraging employees to work from outside the office can mean that employees are more readily accessible even during non-working hours which is a win-win for management when done with BYOD.  Wireless LAN can be a great way to encourage employees to work from anywhere within the office, and even from outside the office if a secure connection to the corporate network can be established, but it needs to be secure and monitored and limited.

The change is coming, make sure you and your company network is ready for it.  Wireless connectivity is soon to be a must have in any office, and VPN is not far behind.  Security is the most important part of the puzzle but hot on its heels so to speak is the need for a fast connection without bandwidth limits, and IT needs to spend the money now to prepare and get it in place ahead of the need rather than trying to retroactively address the situation.

It seems fitting to end with a quote from the man who pioneered electronic communication as we know it today, Alexander Graham Bell,… “before anything else, preparation is the key to success“.

-barkerp