April 13, 2017 – MAD Man, VPN’s, Internet Security, Free Software and TRAINS!

A Message from the Common Table

I’m glad, I’m mad and I’m MAD. Tech news in the last week or so has piqued my emotions on severa technology items.

First, I’m glad. I bring you the tech news that just was reported this week. The US House passed a bill that could bring Doppler weather radar to Charlotte. Notice I said could, not will. The House lawmakers unanimously — (WHAT! Republicans and Democrats agreeing on anything?- At the same time?) — passed the “Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act”. This bill will require the U.S. Commerce Department to conduct a study and develop a solution to a radar gap in the Charlotte area. The closest Doppler radar is in Greer, SC. No other large metropolitan areas have a Doppler system so far away. We need this system to detect and provide a better warning for severe weather than we have today. This bill goes now to the White House for signing. Glad, Glad and Glad.

Second, I’m mad. Microsoft is playing hardball. Microsoft will no longer support older Windows (7 and 8) on newer processors. First some statistics from a trusted source (trust me!). Of all computer users: 24.6% are using Windows 7, 17.3% are using Windows 10, 3.7% are using Win 8.x and the rest are using all the other OS’s. Windows 7 will keep getting updates until Jan. 14, 2020 and Windows 8.1 will get updates until Jan. 10, 2023. That is the good news for the old OS’s. The bad news is if you want to run these older OS’s on a seven-generation Intel Kaby Lake or an AMD Ryzen Bristol Ridge CPU, your end-of-support date was last week. Yes, I said last week. Why am I mad? Well how about freedom of choice, what if you want to use a brand new computer to run the old OS that you are comfortable with (not Win8), why not? Mad and Mad.

Third, I’m MAD! Our current Executive administration has replaced the FCC Commission. The new Congress is poised to roll back the previous FCC privacy protections. This could seriously compromise our online lives. The protections in place now require internet service providers to keep consumer data secure and obtain permission from the consumer before mining and selling the data. The previous FCC had put in place many consumer protections in the “net neutrality” rules. I will not go into extreme detail, but we consumers are about to be SOLD OUT to corporate interests. Thank you to our state’s Senators that accepted only a few 10’s of thousands of dollars from the telecommunication and cable companies to sell us out. We now have, in most states, the right to privacy in a public bathroom or shower, but we will soon have NO privacy at all on the internet. MAD, MAD and MAD! I had already warned most folk I know about the loss of “net neutrality” as it applies to internet data throughput on networks, such as data throttling and data censorship. After writing that last sentence, I’m MAD again.

I apologize for the last “I’m MAD”, well maybe not. Do we as a technology club need to have a dialogue about this stuff? Please tell me your thoughts.

I look forward to seeing all of you this week, April 13, 2017 at the BBB. Look for where the BBB is in this newsletter or online at www.pc3.org. We still have dinner before the meeting, so bring a bag dinner or your favorite take out and come at 5:30 PM. Our meeting starts at 6:30 PM.

I promise not to be mad at any of you. ; )

Galen Bolin

President PCCC


Follow-up topics

VPNs

Apparently, our discussion of VPNs was particularly timely. (Notes are at http://pc3.org/news/programnotes/170209_ProgNotes.pdf.)

As Galen noted around “the Common Table”, ISPs now have permission to watch everything you do online. This means your browsing, email, and streaming apps, among others. While browsing is increasingly HTTPS, the latter two may be wide open to reading every word.

Worse, ISPs may require us to install a backdoor allowing them to see even our HTTPS activity. The only way to protect against that (hopefully) will be to install a full-system VPN. It is unclear whether a browser-based VPN like Opera’s or the dark web of TOR would protect against the backdoor.

I predict the appearance of high-end routers with a built-in VPN in hardware that can’t be circumvented by any backdoor. And they will certainly come with a monthly subscription. That is if they don’t outlaw backdoor-free technology.

Information may “want to be free;” but safe access to it will come with a tab.

Living without paid software

In March I said I was going to try to exist without putting paid software – particularly Microsoft Office – on my newly rebuilt laptop; so, instead of installing Microsoft Office on it, I used LibreOffice. When we were demonstrating at the March meeting, we found that unusually large (700K rows x 121 columns) worksheets could have difficulty opening and retaining cell formatting. Also, within a week I found a document that LibreOffice succeeded in mangling.

Another corrupted item was my resume which, admittedly, started out in Word 97 – or maybe even, Word 4 – in the last century. Since then the document’s been revised and redesigned many times without going back to scratch. The worst failure was a 4th-level subhead that had been formatted in a non-standard font*. When I brought the document into LibreWriter, it apparently couldn’t figure out what to do with that missing style. Worse than just substituting the font, it also corrupted the following style’s weight and size.

If you are not an office suite power user, hopefully, you will never see these types of failures.

* “Non-standard fonts”
Do you share documents in a non-homogeneous environment? If your friends, colleagues, or readers may be using a variety of devices and versions of their operating systems and apps; your beautifully and creatively formatted .docx, .pptx, or even .html design may not appear as you intended.

You could find that fonts and sizes are substituted; layouts rearranged; pagination modified; non-text elements moved or not even displayed; images resized or uncropped, or multiple other corruptions of your effort. If you lived for a decade or more in a Windows XP / Microsoft Office 2003 environment, you may not appreciate the complex computing mix of the current landscape.

For tips on how to mitigate problems sharing information in the modern environment, look for an expanded version of this article; available online April 30: http://TechnologyInterpreter.info. (The old stuff there is still mostly good – read or share my blog anytime.)


Time waste … or exuberant diligence?

So, you think you know your personal computer pretty well. I think some people do an awful lot more than most of us when they get into a particular area of interest; model trains for instance. Imagine the thousands (possibly 10’s of thousands) of man hours that went into making all of the activity work. Dozens of trains travel on the kilometers of track at realistic speeds and hundreds of cars and trucks drive on dozens of miles of roadway. The lights change as the sun sets and then rises again. Airliners land and takeoff day and night at the airport while ships arrive and depart the seaport.

There is a group in Hamburg, Germany that may put a lot of computer users to shame. The group created a miniature world of 900 trains, 12,000 train cars or wagons and numerous automobiles, trucks, ships and planes. For comic relief, there are strong-armed women, traveling animals, and many other odd features.

Click http://windowssecrets.com/wacky-web-week/maybe-a-bit-too-much-miniature-craftsmanship/ and enjoy the ride.

Maybe a bit too much miniature craftsmanship?

Contributed by Paul I. Reiss, PCCC