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What the Cloud?

My work includes quite a lot of explaining about how cloud backup can be configured and updated and how much it should be trusted, among other questions related to redundant server-based data storage. I want to make one thing crystal clear: There is nothing inherently different between the way servers operate and the way your machines operate at home, beyond layers of redundancy, variant OS, and complexity of filesystem organization.

The truth is, at least under the average data storage and bandwidth use of a household, a custom-designed personal server is often perfect for daily needs and once it’s set up it can be just as reliable in so many ways. One perk is that you don’t pay a monthly or annual fee (beyond upgrading / replacing hardware, updating the OS and paying for internet service) and you are able to directly manage and configure all hardware and software without as much restriction and dependence on the IT staff of a cloud-based storage company.

Some folks are intimidated by the concept of setting up a server in their own home, but remember that we are here to help! Some NAS (Network Attached Storage) drives we’re currently selling include the Drobo 5N, the Seagate 8TB NAS. If you’re serious about having a long-term solution and willing to make the investment in a server rack, we could help you design a system of 1U servers that could theoretically rival the performance of many cloud-storage solutions, especially if your internet connection is strong enough. Plus, you’d be able to share access with trusted individuals in the same manner that iCloud or Google Drive allows you to.

I’m not saying that services like iCloud or Amazon Cloud Drive or Dropbox or Carbonite or Google Drive are at all inferior to a home-based server. In many ways they outperform and can withstand far more catastrophic failure than many local alternatives. It’s a bit like apples and oranges – understanding that they each have their place, and neither will ever be fully secure or indestructible. Redundancy is key, but so is security and organization. These may be unreachable goals at their farthest theoretical extent, but we must do what we can to adapt to the entropy and loopholes of the universe and attempt to keep data both safe and accessible while keeping our tech as intuitive as possible.

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Lions and Tigers and Bears and Digital and Analog, Oh My!

From time to time in Kibbles articles I’ve written, I’ve talked about the differences between digital and analog circuits, but it’s almost always in passing and tertiary to something else. I decided this week that it was worth doing a whole article about it. Some of this will probably be a bit of a refresher, but that’s ok. We have to start somewhere.

People generally seem to understand that computers, smart phones, smart watches, even calculators…all that stuff is digital. We commonly refer to those things as digital, but we don’t often explicitly describe what makes them digital. First of all, the word “digital” isn’t what I would’ve chosen if I was choosing to name that class of circuits. We call them digital because they function entirely based on binary digits (0 and 1). This is fine, but if given the chance, I would’ve called them “discrete” circuits because this is more generic and more descriptive of the actual architecture itself. When I studied computer science in college, we actually had special math classes we had to take, totally separate from the mathematics department. These classes were called “discrete mathematics” and they revolve entirely around the specific types of mathematics relevant in so-called “digital” circuits and the higher level “computers” they make up. This includes things like boolean algebra (easy), graph theory (harder, but interesting and useful), set theory and combinatorics among many others. Discrete mathematics eventually prepared you for things like computational theory. By far the hardest thing I had to learn in those later classes was linear algebra. The one common thread in all of these classes though is that the units were discrete. There were no gradations, fractions, derivatives or integrations that you’d find in almost any other math class.

The reason for the difference is the fundamental difference between digital and analog. Digital circuits can by definition only operate discretely. They are completely blind to anything that occurs within their discrete ranges. This doesn’t mean that digital circuits themselves can’t do analog tasks, or do things involving real numbers, but their operation does not use these things.

Analog circuits on the other hand exist over an entire domain. Analog circuitry can be described by conventional mathematics (primarily algebra and calculus). Much like digital circuits are not ideal at perfectly replicating analog systems, analog systems are poor at functioning in discrete terms. A single digital circuit can be configured to calculate any number of different things and can even be reprogrammed for new tasks. Analog circuits can also “calculate” things, but they do so in a very different, specialized and limited way. I remember asking this question when I took an electrical engineering class. Why create some complex circuit that effectively calculates the integral of some signal when a digital circuit could be programmed to do the same thing? The answer is that digital circuits have a lot of overhead and take time to calculate something (due to clock cycles). The time they take is totally dependent on the efficiency and accuracy of the programming. An analog circuit doing the same thing would be accurate every single time and would do so at the speed of electricity (the speed of light). It would also be simpler in construction.

An example of an analog circuit that’s performing a function would be an amplifier. The amplifier’s job is to take an input signal and boost its amplitude. A digital circuit could be programmed to do this, but to do so at virtual instantaneous speed and accuracy would be a tall order. The analog circuit would also be able to follow the input signal exactly at every single infinite point on its waveform. A digital circuit, because it’s discrete and slave to a clock, would miss all the pieces of the input signal that occur in between its clock ticks.

People don’t often contrast analog and digital circuits this way, but I find it to be very accurate: digital circuits are flexible and generic, analog circuits are simple, fast and specialized. Different situations call for different circuits, which is why decades into the digital age, analog circuits are still incredibly useful. However, as digital electronics become faster, cheaper and more robust, they become able to approximate the specialized analog circuit performance at more and more acceptable levels. You can already see this happening in some applications. In 1971 you could buy a Dodge Challenger with a 6.98L Hemi V8. A powerful and complex engine in its day, it would have relied completely on analog electronics to run, to the extent it even used electronics at all. A carburetor doesn’t need a computer to help it mix fuel and air. Starting in 2011 the same car was available with a 6.4L HEMI V8. This engine uses computer-controlled fuel injection as well as a fleet of sensors measuring everything at every level of operation. The sensor data is fed to a computer that can adjust inputs to the engine allowing it to run cleaner and produce more power. Without the computer, the engine would barely run at all. The computer is actually able to work fast enough to deal with all of the inputs and create an accurate output in a timely fashion.

Hopefully this was an interesting dedicated look at the differences between digital and analog circuits. If you have any suggestions for topics, or questions that you’d like to hear me answer about electronics, electricity or its applications, send me an email!

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iPhones Panorama Mode

I’m lucky enough to be in Key West this week work on some improvements at our store here. The temperatures are a bit cool for Key West this week, but at least I wasn’t around for the blizzard that hit Vermont earlier in the week.

While I’ve been down in Key West I’ve been mixing up work and play, and have been taking advantage once again of some amazing features on my iPhone. I continue to be amazed with the quality of photos I can take with this phone. As I’ve been using my phones camera feature more than usual over the last month with my travels I thought now is a great time to talk about panorama mode in the iPhone. This feature has been around for several generations of phones so it’s not new, but until you try to fit in a photo of a breathtaking sunset or try to capture in a photo of just how vast the water around you is you probably haven’t needed to capture on camera more than what’s just directly in front of you.

Since iOS 6 phones have been able to use panorama, so I’ll start with a few tips. First you’ll want to hold your iPhone in portrait orientation. Open the Camera app and swipe left three times on the viewfinder to switch to panoramic mode. This is same process you use to switch from photo to portrait. You’ll want to start with the left side of the image in the view finder, hit the round start button (same button you hit to take a photo) and move the iPhone smoothly and slowly continuously to the right to capture the scene. If you move your hands too fast you will get a blurred image, alternatively if you happen to bounce your hand or wiggle your hands too much you will also get a distorted image. If you move up and down too much during the shot you will get black jagged lines in the image. Sometimes it takes a few attempts to get the image right, so hang in there!

Here are a few tips. Your iPhone will stop taking the panorama automatically when the arrow reaches the end of the line, but you can stop taking the panorama photo at any time before then. So if you don’t want an unsightly tree or the group of people taking photos next to you in your shot you can easily cut them out.

While we generally think of panoramas as wide vistas, you can also use the iPhone’s panorama mode to capture vertical panoramas as well like a large tree, skyscrapers and more. You can take the photo the same way you did with the phone in portrait mode, the only difference is that you simply hold the phone horizontally.

Panorama mode works by combining a lot of separate photos into a single image. You can take advantage of that fact by creating some interesting effects:

You can have someone appear in both the left and right sides of a panorama. After you have panned past the person on the left side, have them run around behind you and have them jump to the right side of the scene! If your in the passenger sear of a car, try capturing a panorama of an interesting screen by taking advantage of the cars motion… the photos come out pretty cool!

Not every panorama photo comes out the way you might envision, sometimes that’s the fun and frustration of photos! I’ve gotten some pretty silly photos just from accidentally jostling my phone unexpectedly or having someone or something suddenly jump into a photo.

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Managing Your Apple ID

Too many times when I am helping customers I get a blank stare when I ask for their Apple ID. Some quickly look through scraps of paper while others just start guessing. You Apple ID is the personal account you use to access Apple services like the App Store, iTunes Store, iCloud, iMessage, the Apple Online Store, FaceTime, and more. It includes the email address and password you use to sign in, as well as all the contact, payment, and security details that you’ll use across Apple services. So, yes it is important and you should remember it.

Setting up an Apple ID

Okay, so you are new to the Mac and want to take advantage of all that iCloud stuff, FaceTime and buy stuff at the App store. You need to set up your Apple ID. Before you run off to create a new Apple ID, consider whether it might be better to continue using one you already have. Remember that you might not be able to move data or purchases from an old Apple ID to a new one.

If you aren’t sure if you already have an Apple ID, Apple can help you find it. If your email address has changed, you can change the address you use for your current Apple ID to continue using it.

You can create your Apple ID when you set up a new device or sign in to iTunes or iCloud for the first time. You can also go to the Apple ID site (https://appleid.apple.com/account#!&page=create) and select Create Your Apple ID.

Here’s what you need:

  • A valid email address to use as your Apple ID username.
  • A strong password.
  • Your date of birth.
  • Three security questions and answers to verify your identity and a rescue email address. You can also use this information to reset your password.

It really doesn’t work well to have multiple Apple IDs and they cannot be combined after the fact so be careful to only set up one that you will use for a long time.

Managing your Apple ID

Things change. You may have to change your email address, you may want to change your password or payment method. You can do all this at the Apple ID Account page (https://appleid.apple.com/#!&page=signin). Here you can:

  • Update your Apple ID email address to make sure it’s an address that you use frequently.
  • Change your password to help maintain the security of your account.
  • Manage your payment information to keep your payment method or billing address up to date.
  • Add additional email addresses to help people find and communicate with you on Apple services like FaceTime, iMessage, Game Center, and Find My Friends.
  • See and manage the devices that you’re signed in to with your Apple ID.

Setting up an Apple ID without a Credit Card

If you already have an Apple ID and want to remove your payment method it is easy. You can choose to remove the payment method for your existing Apple ID after you have signed in to the iTunes Store, App Store, or iBooks Store. You won’t be asked for a payment method again until you make a purchase.

If you are just setting up an Apple ID you can do so without a payment method. On a iPhone, iPad or iPod touch follow these steps:

  • Open the App Store app, iTunes Store app, or iBooks app.
  • Choose any free app, song, video, or book.
  • Tap iOS Get button next to the item, then tap again to get it.
  • When you’re asked to sign in with an Apple ID, tap Create New Apple ID.
  • Follow the onscreen instructions. When you’re asked for payment information, choose None.
  • After you enter your information, you’re asked to verify your Apple ID by email. You must verify your Apple ID before you can begin using it.

It is a little bit different if you are setting it up on your Mac.

  • Open iTunes, then go to the iTunes Store.
  • Scroll down and find the country or region flag in the lower-right corner of the window. If it’s not the flag of the country or region where you live, click it and choose your country or region.
  • From the menu in the upper-left corner, choose Music,TV Shows,bApps, or Books.
  • Download a free song, TV episode, app, or book. To find free items, look under Quick Links on the right side of the iTunes Store window for any link that includes the word “free.” When you find a free item, click Get beneath its icon.
  • When you’re asked to sign in with an Apple ID, click Create Apple ID.
  • Follow the onscreen instructions. When you’re asked for payment information, choose None as the payment type.
  • After you enter your information, you’re asked to verify your Apple ID by email. You must verify your Apple ID before you can begin using it.

Protecting your Apple ID

  • Make a strong password, use uppercase and lowercase, numbers and letters and not your dog’s name
  • Reset your security questions to make sure they’re easy for you to remember but hard for others to guess.
  • Add a rescue email address. If you forget your password or the answers to your security questions, your rescue email address will help you regain access to your account.
  • If you haven’t already, set up two-step verification or two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security to your account.

Sharing your Apple ID

DON’T.

Your Apple ID should not be shared with anyone else. It provides access to personal information including contacts, photos, device backups, and more. Sharing your Apple ID with someone else means you are giving them access to all your personal content and may lead to confusion over who actually owns the account. To share iTunes & App Store purchases, photos, a calendar, and more with someone else, try Family Sharing, iCloud Photo Sharing, or other easy-to-use sharing features.

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Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist, whom the U.S. Congress later called “the first lady of civil rights”, and “the mother of the freedom movement”.

Rosa Parks is one of my heroes that grace my wall by my desk in Vermont. I have this photo signed by Rosa in a place of honor. What a brave, strong and persistent woman!

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks, age 42, refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Her action was not the first of its kind. Irene Morgan in 1946, and Sarah Louise Keys in 1955, had won rulings before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Interstate Commerce Commission, respectively, in the area of interstate bus travel.

Nine months before Parks refused to give up her seat, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to move from her seat on the same bus system. In New York City, in 1854, Lizzie Jennings engaged in similar activity, leading to the desegregation of the horsecars and horse-drawn omnibuses of that city. But unlike these previous individual actions of civil disobedience, Parks’ action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Parks’ act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr., helping to launch him to national prominence in the civil rights movement.

At the time of her action, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for workers’ rights and racial equality. Nonetheless, she took her action as a private citizen “tired of giving in”. Although widely honored in later years for her action, she suffered for it, losing her job as a seamstress in a local department store.

Eventually, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she found similar work. From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers. After retirement from this position, she wrote an autobiography and lived a largely private life in Detroit. In her final years she suffered from dementia and became embroiled in a lawsuit filed on her behalf against American hip-hop duo OutKast.

Parks eventually received many honors ranging from the 1979 Spingarn Medal to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Her death in 2005 was a major story in the United States’ leading newspapers. She was granted the posthumous honor of lying in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.

On February 4, 2013, the U.S. Postal Service issued a special Rosa Parks Forever stamp on what would have been the late civil rights icon’s 100th birthday.

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