kdmurray.blog

Thoughts and opinions of a technology enthusiast.

30 Podcasts You Should Be Listening To (part 3)

flickr-abletoven-rss-headphonesIn part 1 and part 2 of this series I highlighted the first block of 30 podcasts I listen to very regularly. I have listened to many of these since they began (often retroactively) and very much enjoy them. There are a lot of tech shows in here with a mix of science, food, history and popular culture mixed in for good measure.

Today I bring you the final round of podcasts. I highly recommend you check out any of these great shows and subscribe to them if you’re interested.

Mac OS Ken

This show is my day starter. Ken Ray brings together a concise short 10-20 minute podcast with a dose of “Apple news and news related to Apple news.” Every weekday he rounds up the latest in news and information surrounding Apple.

Many shows touch on the technical side of Apple either in a little or in a big way. Few of them touch on the financial side of Apple with any regularity and even less consistency. Mac OS Ken on the other hand follows a number of prominent Apple watchers and uses that group to compare and contrast the various Wall Street views of the Cupertino company.

The show has been going 5 days a week pretty near every week since January 2006. The show is very well produced, professionally hosted and a great example of how to deliver a great podcast. I wish I could get a show like this about a great many other topics.

Mac Power Users

Hosted by Katie Floyd and David Sparks the Mac Power Users podcast is a great way to learn more about the tips and techniques that other Mac enthusiasts use to get the most out of their Macs.

The duo varies their format between topical deep-dives and “workflow” episodes which focus on how a given member of the Mac-wielding community gets the most out of his or her Mac setup. These workflow shows provide some great insight into just how varied the Mac experience can be, while at the same time demonstrating that the reason most people love their Macs is that they “just work.” Occasionally the guest will be someone like Brett Terpstra who makes a habit (and a living) out of making the Mac do things Apple may never have intended.

The show is loosely affiliated with the 5by5 network and does have space on their site, but the show format is consistent with it’s pre-5by5 format and doesn’t have some of the other tendencies of 5by5 shows like the strange episode titles. If you want to learn about getting more out of your Mac, this is the place.

The Memory Palace

Hosted by Nate DiMeo and a member of the MaximumFun podcast network, The Memory Palace tells the stories of places and people from history, often american history, and these are almost always very interesting little factoids.

These stories delve into the stories behind the stories that you may already know. As an illustrative example, I point to the case of the bomber that crashed into the side of the Empire State Building. That episode told the story from the perspective of one of the women who worked a few floors above the impact site. She and her office-mates were trapped, scared and didn’t know if they would make it home that night. One of them did and DiMeo was able to capture her story.

Though it isn’t produced often, it is produced very well and it’s another show I look forward to.

Mission Log

Hosts Ken Ray and John Champion are on a mission. To review every episode of Star Trek, from every series, and discuss the messages, morals and meanings therein. This is a crazy undertaking but it’s a very fun podcast.

I very much enjoyed their exploration of TOS, a series which I was not very familiar with prior to the series. Being able to explore the characters behind the scenes also proved very entertaining. John Champion’s companion blog series “Discovered Documents” which he posts in conjunction with most episodes of Mission Log provide a fascinating look at what goes in to making television work.

If you’re a star trek fan you owe it to yourself to check this show out. Each of the very well produced episodes runs about an hour.

The Nosillacast

Hosted at podfeet.com, it’s a technology geek podcast with an ever so slight Macintosh bias. This is the signature description that host Allison Sheridan provides for her show. Lots of product and app reviews that focus on “the problem to be solved “make this a go-to source for me each week, and the rotating cast of interviewees on the back-half of the show provide some very interesting deep-dives into everything from learning the Bash shell, to photography.

Allison also focuses quite regularly on accessibility in computing, usually from an Apple perspective. Her quest to constantly seek out better technology and tools to help those with vision or other physical challenges is inspiring. She is also an advocate of accessibility on the software side regularly encouraging developers to think about a wider audience for their products and getting them to make use of the tools provided to make their apps accessible.

Each very well produced episode of the Nosillacast runs about 60-75 minutes. The show is often recorded on Sundays as a live recording. Fun to check out!

Radiolab

Radiolab is a radio show produced out of WNYC in New York. It’s also a podcast. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich supported by a cast of producers and journalists bring stories that explore very diverse topics and often take unexpected directions.

Unlike some similar shows like 99% Invisible or The Memory Palace, RadioLab’s shows try to get you to think deeply about your preconceptions of a given topic. They will also push your comfort zone on occasion. One example of this is the exploration of how the Adoption laws in some US states can cause unintended consequences for the children involved. My opinion flip-flopped a couple times during this episode and by the end I couldn’t take a side.

Professionally produced the show sounds fantastic. The episodes range from full-length episodes about an hour each down to Radiolab Shorts which are generally 15-30 minutes.

RunAs Radio

This show is decidedly outside the realm of FOSS; usually. Hosted by Richard Campbell, RunAs Radio is a podcast directed at IT pros, those who spend the majority of their time worrying about things like federated security, 5-9’s uptime, and how to effectively replicate an active directory server. The show focuses primarily on the Microsoft tech stack, which I deal with at work, but goes deep into lots of very technical topics.

Campbell also co-hosts a more developer focused show called .NET Rocks with Carl Franklin. This is also geared mostly toward the Microsoft development stack, but occasionally features panel discussions and geek-out episodes where the topic could be anything from self-driving cars to alternative energy.

RunAs Radio is part of the PWOP network and shows usually run about 30 minutes.

Security Now

Hosted by Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson and a member of the TWiT network, Security Now provides a no-nonsense soup-to-nuts view of current security news interspersed with deep dives on the technologies we use every day to help protect our security and privacy.

Gibson’s career as an Assembly programmer and software consultant has left him with a very deep knowledge of the low-level internals of today’s modern computers. Diving back through the archives of this show will provide a great deal of knowledge about how computers work (from the registers up) and how the Internet works (from the copper up).

The content is great, the production is excellent, and the episodes typically run 90-minutes to 2 hours.

Spark

Hosted by Nora Young and produced out of the offices of the CBC in Toronto Spark looks at the world of technology and the Internet and how it impacts us little ol’ humans and our societies.

There are occasionally segments which push the show in directions which might be considered politically-leaning — many of the net-neutrality discussions come to mind — but for the most part the focus is on the technology and how people use it. This is definitely about exploring how people and technology interact.

Produced from a Canadian perspective the weekly show runs about an hour and gives a Canadian perspective on the technological issues that affect society and culture.

StarTalk Radio

Dr. Neil DeGrasse-Tyson hosts StarTalk Radio a show dedicated to all things space (and occasionally other sciences.) This is a fun and entertaining approach to science topics and is often co-hosted by Chuck Nice or or another comic to provide a foil for Dr. Tyson.

This show is targeted at a more mainstream audience than something like Astronomy Cast. The topics explored are a bit less pop-quiz and a bit more pop-culture. This definitely makes the show more accessible to the masses and doesn’t presume any knowledge whatsoever.

If you are enjoying the new Cosmos series hosted by Tyson, check out StarTalk Radio. Episodes typically run about 45 minutes.

30 Podcasts You Should Be Listening To (part 2)

flickr-abletoven-rss-headphonesIn part 1 of this series I highlighted the first block of 30 podcasts I listen to very regularly. I have listened to many of these since they began (often retroactively) and very much enjoy them. There are a lot of tech shows in here with a mix of science, food, history and popular culture mixed in for good measure.

Today I bring you round 2 of the podcasts. I highly recommend you check out any of these great shows and subscribe to them if you’re interested.

Get-It-Done Guy

Officially titled “Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More” this show is a member of the Quick and Dirty Tips network. Host Stever Robbins touches on productivity tips with real-world applications that you can use to help you get organized, stay organized and get stuff done.

Part of what makes this show so listenable is wit, sarcasm and comedy used just frequently enough to help keep the show entertaining without devolving into nonsense. I enjoy following the exploits of Bernice, Europa and Melvin at Green Growing Things and Stever’s own personal stories about pursuing musical theatre.

Shows are typically delivered weekly and range from 5-10 minutes.

Girl on Guy

Comic and actor Aisha Tyler hosts this show where she interviews people from the entertainment industry. Most of the guests are involved as actors or writers in comedy, others are a bit further afield. The interviews are usually quite personal focusing on stories from and background of the guest. Some recent guests include Ryan Stiles and John Cho.

This is, as you’ve probably noticed, not the kind of show I listen to most of the time. I have a ton of computers/technology/programming/self-improvement type shows in my feeds. In a lot of ways though Girl on Guy fits in to the self-improvement category. Hearing stories about how other people have faced and won (or failed) in the face of adversity can be very illuminating.

Aisha, and her production crew if she has one, do a great job of putting the shows together. The audio quality is excellent. Girl on guy episodes typically run about 90 minutes.

Going Linux

Larry Bushey and Bill Smith bring a look at Linux from the perspective of people looking to make the switch from an alternative OS. The show comes in three flavours, a topic, listener feedback and “Computer America” episodes which showcase Larry’s monthly appearance on a radio program in the US where he is their Linux expert.

Larry has been doing the show for a number of years and Bill is his most recent co-host. Some of the back catalogue tended to take a rather anti-Windows rather than pro-Linux stance some of the time, but this has mostly gone away over the past year or so. If you’re new to Linux I highly recommend you check this out.

Audio quality is pretty good for the most part and episodes range from about 20 minutes for the feedback shows to about 90 minutes for Computer America.

Grammar Girl

Like other shows from the Quick and Dirty Tips network, this one has a very long title: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Each week host Mignon Fogarty brings a language tip or the solution to a common language problem.

This was the first show from the QDT network that I subscribed to, and really probably one of the first 10-15 podcasts I ever listened to. I have really enjoyed the show for several years and it has helped refine my writing quite a bit.

As with the rest of the network, audio quality is very good and episodes of Grammar Girl are generally in the 5-10 minute range.

Hacker Public Radio

Hacker Public Radio (HPR) is a show developed by and for the Linux/Open-Source/Hacker community. Taking the more fundamental definition of hackers as hobbyists rather than the more sensationalized view of hackers as evil computer geniuses, the show provides a platform for anyone to contribute a show about any topic they may feel is of interest to the hacker community at large.

The community produces five shows a week, every week. Episode number 1500 is scheduled to come out on Friday, May 2nd.

That said the community is always looking for more content. If you’ve ever contemplated podcasting, this is an excellent venue to test it out without having any long-term commitments. Make an episode. If you want help check out the show notes for this episode and get in touch with me, or ping me on twitter @kdmurray.

Hanselminutes

Hanselminutes is a show hosted by and aimed at people working in the software industry. Unlike the hosts of other developer shows, Scott Hanselman takes about 30-60 minutes each week to talk to the people in Software and explore things beyond the code and in some cases beyond technology. This is a great show for anyone in software who wants to expand beyond the role of a code monkey.

Some of my favourite episodes have focused on the most non-technical aspects of working in the technology industry including talks on community, relationships and the environment surrounding tech conferences. I’ve also really enjoyed the semi-regular “Hanselminutea” episodes with frequent guest Richard Campbell.

As of this writing the most recent episodes are: “Teaching my daugter to code with hopscotch”, “The Go programming Language”, “BitCoin Explained”, “Creating the Plex Software Ecosystem” and “I’m a Blind Software Technician”. Hanselminutes is a member of the PWOP podcast network.

A History Of Alexander / Hannibal

Two separate podcasts by Jamie Redfern which offer a deep dive into the life and times of two of the ancient world’s most capable military commanders. Broken up over the course of dozens of episodes these shows provided me with a great deal of knowledge and entertainment about a subject I really enjoy.

The Alexander show has actually been released twice. The first run was Redfern’s first attempt at podcasting. While it was great content, some of the audio issues in early episodes made listening a bit challenging. The “Remastered” edition of Alexander has solved all of those problems.

The Hannibal show was produced later and did not have these same issues. It also has a great deal of fantastic historical content.

Most episodes run about 30 minutes, and both shows have completed their runs.

The History of Rome

Host Mike Duncan is passionate about History. His deep love for the subject shows in his five year run (2007-2012) of the History of Rome. From the early origins of the Roman kingdoms to the fall of the Western empire, Duncan provides a fantastic and very well researched look into a crucial time in history.

This was the first history podcast I really enjoyed. I had tried a few others before this, but had found them either too dry and boring, or too poorly produced to hold my interest. THoR does not have either of these problems. Episodes are also nice and compact with most weighing in at about 25 minutes.

I was also very Duncan has a new show that started in the fall of 2013 (Revolutions) that I haven’t begun listening to yet. It is queued up on my phone for my next trip and I’m excited to start a new historical adventure.

IRL Talk

Irreverent is the best word to describe this show. Hosted by Jason Seifer and Faith Korpi IRL Talk provides a nerd’s-eye view to things happening in the world of technology and the Internet. It’s silly, yet informative, and helps balance out my somewhat tech heavy podcast lineup.

The best part about this show, without a doubt, is the chemistry between the hosts. Each knows how to push the other’s buttons (granted Jason does most of the pushing) and each has areas of expertise that have just enough common ground to hold the show together. Faith has tons of knowledge of movies and is involved in more artistic endeavours like dance. Jason’s primary weapons are making people feel uncomfortable, and his utter mastery of the long troll.

IRL Talk provides about an hour of excellently produced content with each episode.

Knightcast

I’ve known Knightwise for several years and really enjoy his platform-agnostic take on issues, and learning how to make technology work for you, instead of the other way around. This is definitely one of the shows I look forward to.

This is practical advice. Stuff you can put to use in every day situations, and for the most part stuff you will want to put to use as soon as the show ends. Every now and then Knightwise will include a “storytime” episode which is essentially an audiobook format of one of his blog posts.

Audio quality is usually pretty good (unless he records from his car) and episodes usually run about 60 minutes or so.

Image Credit: abletoven on Flickr.

30 Podcasts You Should Be Listening To (part 1)

flickr-abletoven-rss-headphonesI recently put together a show for Hacker Public Radio. Seeing as I had done all this writing, I decided I might as well put together a couple of blog posts.

These are 30 podcasts I listen to very regularly. I have listened to many of these since they began (often retroactively) and very much enjoy them. There are a lot of tech shows in here with a mix of science, food, history and popular culture mixed in for good measure.

Because most people have attention spans only slightly longer than your average gnat, I’ve decided to break this up into three separate blog posts, each highlighting 10 different shows.

99% Invisible

Storytelling is the focus of Roman Mars’ podcast 99% Invisible. This show tells the stories behind the design of things you may have never noticed before, or things about which you didn’t give a second thought.

Mixing interesting and compelling stories with brilliantly produced audio this is one of the shows I look forward to every single week. 99% Invisible is a member of the newly founded Radiotopia network. If you like stories or have any interest in design I recommend you check this one out.

99% Invisible has also put on a couple of very successful Kickstarter campaigns the past couple of seasons in an effort to generate some funding to further support and expand the show. I have donated both times and will undoubtedly back it again when they come around again for next year.

Accidental Tech Podcast

When three developers try to make a car show but end up talking more about technology than cars, you get an accidental tech podcast. Hosted by Marco Arment, John Siracusa and Casey Liss the trio provide an Apple and Developer centered discussion each week about various goings on in the tech world.

The show quality is quite good (if a bit long-winded at times.) Episodes run about 90 mins to 2 hours.

All three hosts are developers so there are often developer or programmer topics (or at least topics discussed from that slant.) They are also all Apple fans, so the majority of the hardware and software discussed is Apple/Mac/iOS related.

The Alton Browncast

TV Personality Alton Brown has a podcast. Being a big fan of the Good Eats series I had to check this out. Each week features an interview with someone in the food or food-entertainment world and it gives an interesting behind-the-scenes look at this world that I typically have no insight into.

It’s also nice to get some items in my feed that don’t have anything to do with tech or computing. I don’t have a lot of them, but this is definitely a good choice.

Usually pretty well produced, the episodes run about an hour and is a member of the Nerdist podcast network.

Astronomy Cast

Astronomy Cast is a fantastic podcast that takes a look at one specific space-related topic each episode and tries to delve into just enough detail to make you think. Hosted by Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela Gay Astronomy Cast is an excellent primer for those who are interested in learning more about space, the cosmos and the underlying science and physics that makes it all work.

I first stumbled across this show from some links to IYA activities back in 2009 and it has been a mainstay ever since. The episodes are kept pretty short (under 30 minutes) and pack a lot of information into a nice bite-sized science snack.

Astronomy Cast is also closely affiliated with CosmoQuest the group behind the very successful 365 Days of Astronomy podcast and other citizen science initiatives.

Back to Work

Nominally a show about productivity and communication, Back to Work is hosted by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin and is a member of the 5by5 network. Each episode is as much a chance for Dan and Merlin to have a chat as it is about productivity. Recent episodes have included the blight of buzzwords, bad customer service, nostalgia and sleep.

There are a lot of running bits and gags that date back to the early days of the show. Often referenced is the venerable “episode 7″ (which is quite good).

The show is produced similarly to many of the 5by5 shows with very good audio quality and a very conversational feel. Like other 5by5 shows the episode titles rarely describe the episode, which can be annoying, but leaves you listening for where the joke occurs during the show.

Click

The BBC World Service produces a number of fantastic shows. One that I like, which is tech focused, is Click. Hosted by Gareth Mitchell and Bill Thompson Click tries to offer a fairly global perspective on new technology often taking advantage of BBC field offices to provide insights from Asian or African correspondents.

Similar in many ways to Spark (which we’ll see in a few days) Click focuses on more than the hardware and software, but how the technology actually interacts with and impacts the society and culture of the people who use it.

As you can expect the audio quality and production values are excellent given it’s radio heritage. Episodes typically run about 30 minutes.

The Domestic CEO

The Domestic CEO’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Manage Your Home. It’s a mouthful. Like many shows on the Quick and Dirty Tips network it takes almost as long to say the title as listen to the episode. Each week this show covers tips for managing the day-to-day things in your home.

There is a lot of good information not only for people who are just starting out in their own place for the first time, but even for those of us who have been managing our own places for years. There’s always something new.

I have put a large number of these tips to use in my own place and have learned ways to better clean and organize my home as well as save some money along the way. Episodes generally run 5-10 minutes.

FLOSS Weekly

Host Randal Schwartz is at the helm this podcast on the TWiT network delving into the world of Free Libre and Open Source Software. Each episode provides a deep dive into an open source project or technology hosted by Schwartz and a number of rotating co-hosts.

Episodes of FLOSS weekly generally run about one hour.

From Python Import Podcast

If you want to learn about the ins and outs of the Python community this is one way to get your fix. Though it’s rather sporadic in its releases and the audio quality is only average, the information into the background and back-rooms of the Python community has been excellent.

The current lineup of hosts includes: David Noyes, Mike Pirnat, Ben Smith and David Stanek. Shows vary as much in length as in release schedule, recent episodes (3 in the past 12 months) have been 1-2 hours.

Geologic Podcast

This has nothing to do with geology, though that’s what I was looking for when I subscribed back in 2007. Host George Hrab talks about skepticism and rationality interspersed with personal stories and a series of recurring bits or segments. In some ways it’s like an audio blog, but it’s a lot of fun particularly if you enjoy the subject matter. There are occasional appearances by guests (Geo’s Mom reads Jay-Z lyrics) but for the most part all of the voices and segments are put together by Hrab.

This show actually led me to explore the skepticism movement in more detail and let me to several of the other shows on this list which you’ll see in a few days.

With his background in music and experience with audio the show sounds great and is very well produced. Episodes of the Geologic Podcast typically run about an hour.

Image Credit: abletoven on Flickr.

Enable Intelligent Tabbing in OS X

466364263_4cdd5f95aa_mI can’t believe that after 14 years Apple still defaults Mac OS X to the most ridiculous tabbing option I’ve ever seen.

By default, OS X only allows you to tab between text box and list fields in forms. This includes applications and web sites. If you tab through a page you will only land on the text boxes. Check boxes, radio buttons, links and any other control in the system will not be hit. This means that you’ll need to pull out your mouse to click on these controls. Insane.

To fix this insanity and make your Mac behave like a normal computer:

  • Open System Preferences
  • Click on Keyboard
  • Click on the Shortcuts tab
  • At the bottom of the dialog, select (with your mouse) All Controls

Keyboard Screen

(It’s worth noting that Apple built a special keyboard shortcut in to fix this setting because they broke it in the first place. Ctrl-F7 will toggle this setting.)

Image Credit: mrwynd on Flickr

Let It Go – Putting XP Out to Pasture

keep_calm_and_let_it_go_by_lordani0512-d6yfjy3On April 8th, 2014, Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP. After that date if you are still running Windows XP you will no longer receive security patches or other updates for Windows on your computer.

What does this mean?

If you still have a computer running XP it means that it will start to become less safe to browse the web and open email attachments on Windows XP than it is on Windows 7 or just about any other operating system. Your computer will continue to work, but in essence you’re now driving your computer without wearing your seatbelt. You might be fine, but you have an ever-increasing chance of catastrophe.

Why is Microsoft doing this to us?

One of the implicit contracts we make as users of technology is that it will need to be upgraded at some point. Windows XP is old. In software terms, it’s ancient. Microsoft has supported Windows XP for 12 years (that’s 56.4 in Internet years. As a point of comparison Apple launched it’s first version of OS X about 5 months before Windows XP was released. Apple is typically quite cryptic about their security policies but as a rule of thumb only supports an OS up to two versions back from the current one. That means that since the release of OS X 10.9 in October 2013 the following releases of the Mac Operating system are no longer supported:

With the exception of “Cheetah” all of these releases are newer than Windows XP and all of them are no longer supported by Apple.

What can I do?

Buy a new computer.

It may sound trite, but the simple fact is that for about twice the cost of a Windows upgrade you can get a brand new computer which in all likelihood will outperform whatever you’re using today. (If this isn’t the case for you, chances are you don’t have XP.)

Buying a new machine is hands down the best way to get yourself off of the Swiss cheese that is the XP security scene and into something else. Buy a Windows 8 tablet/laptop. Buy a Mac. Buy a Linux computer. Something. ANYTHING!

No. I’m stubborn.

If you can’t or simply don’t want to upgrade there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. They won’t be as good as running a modern operating system, but they’ll help.

Stop Running as an Administrator

You can stop about 90% of hacks in their tracks by running as what Windows calls a “Limited User.” While this is a bit less convenient for most people since it will prevent you from installing software or changing core system settings, it will protect you from the majority of attacks because it prevents you from installing software or changing core system settings. See what I did there? Yes. You are your own greatest threat. Follow these instructions from the Microsoft Knowledge Base to create a limited user account for your system.

Don’t Use Internet Explorer

Don’t. Simple. Download something else:

Use Firewalls

Windows XP has a built-in software firewall as of Service Pack 2 (released in August 2004). Make sure you have enabled the firewall. No exceptions. Also make sure you have a router on your network between you and the Internet. The vast majority of home routers (and home gateways) offer a hardware firewall which stops uninvited guests (hackers) from getting in to your computer.

Do I have a router?

On Windows XP use the following steps to find out if you’re running a hardware firewall. (It’s not 100% conclusive, but this check will give you the right answer in the overwhelming majority of cases.)

  1. Point your web browser to http://icanhazip.com/
  2. Make a note of the IP address.
  3. Click on Start -> Run
  4. Type cmd and press Enter
  5. In the resulting command prompt window type ipconfig and press Enter
  6. Look at the text on the screen, if the line “IP Address” matches what you have in step 2, get a new router.

Connection-specific DNS Suffix . : workgroup
IP Address. . . . . . . . . . . . : 192.168.1.106
Subnet Mask . . . . . . . . . . . : 255.255.255.0
Default Gateway . . . . . . . . . : 192.168.1.254

Bottom Line

Your computer is not going to explode and melt through your desk like so much digital napalm on April 9th. You are however taking your digital life in your hands every time you use the Internet by continuing to run Windows XP.

It’s time. Let it go.

Image credit: lordani0512 on DeviantArt.

Backup Your Crap

Backup your crap. Seriously.

If you have any data on your computer (or your phone for that matter) which exists in no other place, you need to back it up. Don’t tell me you don’t have time. You do. You could have done it instead of watching Seinfeld reruns on Netflix last night, but we all know how that ended.

I won’t even get in to the details of how to do a good backup right now. For now, let’s just worry about giving you the ability to have a second copy of your data in case your computer dies.

What is your data worth to you? How many hours would it take you to re-rip your CD collection? How hard would it be to track down all your old income tax data? How priceless are the pictures of your kids?! My guess is that you’d value each of those at well over the $85 it would cost you to buy an external drive and back up your stuff.

Don’t tell me it’s too hard. It’s not.

How to Backup Data

  1. Buy an external hard drive
  2. Plug it in to your computer
  3. Copy everything in your home folder to the drive
  4. On Windows
    1. Start -> Click on your name in the top-right of the start menu
    2. Press Ctrl-A
    3. Drag all of the selected items to the new drive in the left sidebar
  5. On Mac
    1. Once the drive is plugged in you’ll be prompted to set it up for Time Machine, click “Use as Backup Disk”
  6. Once it’s done eject the disk (on your Mac) and unplug the drive
  7. Move the drive to somewhere else in your house.

This is far from a good backup strategy. I’ll get into that in a couple of days. In the meantime, if you don’t have a backup get one. Now. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Backup your crap.

Ctrl-Alt-Delete – Rebooting Me

I sit here staring at a blank screen, a blinking cursor, and I wonder what I’m going to write about. There are a great many topics to choose from over the last year. Technical topics, personal topics, gadget topics, relationship topics, job topics the list seems almost endless. In a way that’s been part of the challenge for me getting content to post. Every time I come up with what seems like a good topic idea, I come up with 10 more that seem more important, or better in some way. Ultimately, if I’m going to write, I need to write; I need to put the fingers to the keyboard and make the clackety noise.

Reboot?

I’ve been lazy. There’s no other way to look at it. I’ve been afforded the ability to have a significant amount of control over a large portion of my free time and when I look back over the past few months I’m not satisfied with how that time was spent. What scared me into this realization is that I had let this sense of laziness become second nature. It had become my default mode of operation in many facets of my life, not just the blog. I had begun making excuses for not doing, instead of finding reasons for doing. Projecting my course out over the next 12-18 months scared me, and as much as I don’t like to be motivated by fear, I didn’t relish the prospect of where things were headed.

The Plan

I’ll be honest. I don’t really have one yet. I’ve started to make some progress over the last week or so, but it is something that will take continual effort in the coming weeks and months to not allow myself to slip back into those old bad habits. I’ve restarted (for the fourth or fifth time) David Allen’s Getting Things Done to help get myself get a handle on the multitude of work, home and technical tasks that I have going on around me. I’ve found elements of the system to be helpful in the past, and I’m hoping to (re-)implement a few more things this time around.

I’m going to commit to myself that I’ll get at least one blog post done each week for the next month. Making it part of my regular routine will help keep me organized, and develop habits of doing rather than of excusing… at least that’s the idea.

My Journey to Linux & OSS for Hacker Public Radio

I recently recorded and submitted my first podcast for Hacker Public Radio, which is something I’ve been planning to do for several months. I figured I might as well dump the transcript to the blog as well for those who don’t subscribe to HPR and/or are allergic to audio. Telling the tale of how you came to be an active user of Linux or open source software has become the de facto first show topic, so here’s my story.

Early Years

The first computer I ever owned was purchased second-hand from a local company who had recently upgraded their systems. It was a second-generation Intel Pentium system with precious few system resources. But it was mine… all mine. I played with it for a few months trying out different configurations, different software packages and of course different operating systems. I pretty well tried every OS I was familiar with – Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows 98SE, Windows 2000 Server, Windows NT…

Anyways, after a few months of running it in its default configuration I became curious about Linux. I had seen the distro CDs attached to magazines and the back covers of “Linux for Dummies” books. I picked up a copy of Red Had Linux for Dummies and began my triumphant march into the world of open-source software.

Well, maybe it wasn’t so triumphant after all.

I was able to get the system to install but I had trouble getting it to recognize anything more than the most basic hardware. After a couple of hours I had a working system, with no network card, no sound card and no webcam. I poked around for a while but before the night was over, I was back into Windows and my Red Hat partition just sat there taking up space for a few months.

I tried off and on over the next year or so to get Linux working the way I wanted it. Red Hat 7 had drivers for my NIC and once I got online I was able to get my sound card working (no thanks to a half dozen people telling me to RTFM but not telling me where to find the m). Ultimately though, I didn’t find that Linux was going to suit my needs. As much as I enjoy a project I didn’t feel like I wanted to spend all my time just trying to get things working.

It would be years before I made another serious dive into the Linux world.

The Interim

While Linux wasn’t for me, at first, my interest in open-source software had been piqued. I soon discovered that there was a great deal of free software available for Windows as well. Sometimes you hear the long rants of people who try to insinuate that if you buy a computer with a proprietary OS, you’re also then stuck paying for your expensive proprietary software as well. as most of us know, that really isn’t the case. Whether it was the days of shareware and freeware available from all sorts of places during the 90s, or the days of open-source software in the 2000s, there has pretty well always been a way to get free or very low cost applications for nearly every platform.

A quick aside: when I say “free” throughout this podcast, I’m only speaking monetarily. I’m not going to make the distinction today between “free as in beer” and “free as in freedom”. It’s a complex issue that I just don’t have the time (or the patience) to get into today.

I began to really enjoy playing with various kinds of open-source software. Some of these are things that most of us are familiar with, the Firefox browser for one. Other applications that I picked up during this period are things that I continue to use to this day on the various platforms I interact with on a daily basis like Audacity. There are even a couple of open source apps that are only for Windows like Notepad++. There are even large corporations making light versions of their software available for those who can’t afford or can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on a large commercial software package. Microsoft has been offering an express edition of its Visual Studio software development tool since 2005. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the commercial product it’s a very serviceable IDE for students and hobbyists.

As my usage of the Internet grew and grew through the 2000s I began to vary the technologies I use even more. I signed up for a web hosting account in 2005 with a company that provided me shell access to my shared hosting server. The server, running on CentOS, allowed me direct command-line control over some aspects of my hosting service. This became the first time I was able to use a linux machine effectively.

The Slider

Not long after this initial exposure to a practical Linux implementation that I could make use of and really enjoy, it was time for a new computer. I decided that it was time to move myself to an OS that had a nice terminal interface that I could use just like the one on my shared web server. One based on a foundation of a free UNIX based OS. I speak, of course, of the Mac. Despite my recent positive experiences with a server-side Linux implementation I wasn’t prepared to hand over my desktop to a Linux system.

I was, however, prepared to start offering Linux a role on the server-side of my computing life. I was in need of a file server, and a LAMP server to use for testing/playing so I decided to re-stage my old Windows desktop as a server running Ubuntu “Feisty.” In truth, this was probably more of a “test” server than a “production” server. By that I mean that I never really did entrust any of my data to it, and other than holding backups of data from the Mac and Windows machines in my home, this machine did little else. It did however set very important ground work that would be added to down the road.

As I mentioned in the introduction, I’m a software developer in my day job. My primary experience with software development is on Microsoft’s .NET platform. I’ve written code in several other languages over the years, PHP, Python, C and Java, but I work primarily with .NET in my day job so it was easy for me to turn that direction when I wanted to begin working on more software projects in my spare time. Since it’s easiest to work with that platform on Windows, I decided it was time for me to get a second computer, a desktop machine running Windows 7 that I could use for building applications.

Due to the age of my Mac, this became a second “primary” machine. I would use the two of them interchangeably and would need to move data between them fairly regularly. I had tried using the older Linux PC to handle this task, but at this point the machine was nearly a decade old and was starting to experience hardware issues, and the old 80GB IDE hard drives were getting a bit long in the tooth for me to have much faith in them. For the first year I ran the Windows desktop with some file shares open that I used when I needed to share data between the Mac and PC. As the year wore on, I found that I was doing less and less development work on the Windows box, and more and more web-based work from my Mac on the CentOS web-host. It was time for another shift.

This began my great Linux experiment. I had become very familiar with Ubuntu in virtual machines over the past few years. Listening to shows like the Going Linux podcast I kept hearing all sorts of good things about peoples’ experiences with Linux as a desktop OS. Having done my stint with a Mac I figured it was time to take another shot at using Linux on the desktop since things had undoubtedly improved during the intervening decade and my initial problems with RedHat would no longer be an issue. For the most part, that was exactly right.

I had initially planned the project to be three months long, but as I detailed in the extensive blog post I wrote at the time there were just too many issues for me to cope with. Not all of these were technical. To be fair some were the result of a major shift between platforms. But ultimately I decided that a Linux machine just was not a good fit for me as a primary desktop machine and the experiment was cut short after only three weeks. While it was very clear that you could do anything on a Linux system that you could do on a pre-installed commercial OS like Windows or OS X, many of these tasks required more investigation, adjustment, tweaking, learning, failing, re-doing, frustration and most importantly time than I was willing to commit. That may not be consistent with the hacker ethos but it was simply the way I felt at the time.

What I didn’t do was switch that machine back to Windows. I learned something very important about how I use computers. I needed a server. A good one. Something reliable, with a wide variety of software packages that could do the specific things I wanted. And I wanted something that could run with a minimum of overhead leaving all of the system’s resources for the services and applications that it hosted. For me, Linux is almost purely a server OS.

I’ve now been running a Linux server in my home full time since the conclusion of the experiment in 2010. The original server hardware has been donated to a family member and I recently did a server build (my first in nearly a decade) to assemble it’s replacement. It performs a number of services and tasks which keep things running smoothly and provide me with peace of mind as I carry out my day-to-day activities in the digital world. I may take the time to detail these in a future HPR episode. I have also changed hosting providers and now have a dedicated VM running Debian to host the various websites that I’m involved with… but that’s another show.

I remain confident that the day will come when a Linux distribution will truly challenge for a spot among mainstream desktop PC operating systems. Until then I couldn’t be happier with the performance of Linux as a server OS.

Python on OSX

I’ve just installed Python 3.3 on my MacBook Pro running OS X 10.8. By default, this version of OS X comes with Python 2.7. I would like my system to use the newly installed Python 3.3 as the default. The challenge is, that every time I type “python” from the command line I get Python 2.7.

I was able to trace the problem to Python 3.3 not having an executable (or an alias) called “python”. The executable is actually called “python3.3″ with an alias of simply “python3″. To get around this problem, I edited my ~/.bash_profile file to add an alias for python:

alias python=python3

Now when I type “python” (or a script invokes python) from the command line, it’s running the version I want.

I found the answer to my conundrum in this post on Stack Overflow.

Short Order Code #006 :: Proof of Concept vs. Prototyping

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Short Order Code album artContent originally published December 22, 2009 for the Short Order Code podcast.

In today’s show I wanted to touch on the concepts of “proof-of-concept” and “prototyping”. These two methodologies for attacking a software project are closely related in many ways, but differ completely in how they can be practically applied to a software development effort.

I’ll highlight a new project I’m working on and how that project inspired me to bring this topic today. I realized something that most people already know… or at least they think they do.

This was the final podcast for Short Order Code. It only lived on a few months, but I enjoyed making it. Ultimately audio was not the format best-suited for my software topics. Shortly after this I became a dad and priorities changed.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series. Perhaps one day I’ll take to the mic again.