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Octavia Butler was an acclaimed science fiction author who, among other honors, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards multiple times. Born in Pasadena, CA she started writing sci-fi at age 10. An outspoken critic of racism and a feminist, Ocatvia Butler was a prolific writer with award winning books such as Kindred, Xenogenesis, Bloodchild, and hundreds of others.

Her female heroes were fascinating and her social criticism was detailed and relevant. She envisioned a true multiracial future.

She met science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany at a Screenwriter’s Guild of America workshop and soon after sold her first story Child Finder. She was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArther Fellowship in 1995. She once described herself:

Who am I? I am a forty-seven-year-old writer who can remember being a ten-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer. I am also comfortably asocial—a hermit…. a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.

Octavia Butler passed away in 2006, but I have long admired her and enjoyed her visions of the future! If you haven’t had the pleasure of her work, why not try it?

Most Mac users know if they want to know what’s “under the hood” of their Mac, they could boot into the OS, click on the Apple logo, and click “about this Mac”.

But, did you know you could go into Terminal, and type in “hostinfo” and hit enter?

The command host is usually used for DNS lookup and info but you can use it to find out which kernel version you’re running, how many processors you have, the amount of physical memory and the number of Mach tasks. Mach tasks are a variant of the load average, number of threads using.

The syntax looks like this
hostinfo

That’s it, there are no further options as it is a simple command. We Techs use it a lot when performing RAM upgrades and when we don’t want to wait for the Mac to boot all the way into the MacOS to see if the RAM modules are recognized.

Shut down the Mac completely, and wait a couple seconds. Then, hold down the Command and S keys simultaneously while pressing the power button to start up the Mac. You’ll hear the chime, and then a black screen will appear. Shortly thereafter, a bunch of scary white text will show up. This is single-user mode.

Here you simply type “hostinfo” and you’ll see something like this:

Mach kernel version:
Darwin Kernel Version 16.7.0: Thu Jun 15 17:36:27 PDT 2017; 
root:xnu-3789.70.16~2/RELEASE_X86_64
Kernel configured for up to 8 processors.
4 processors are physically available.
8 processors are logically available.
Processor type: x86_64h (Intel x86-64h Haswell)
Processors active: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Primary memory available: 128.00 gigabytes
Default processor set: 377 tasks, 2201 threads, 8 processors
Load average: 1.95, Mach factor: 6.04

This outlines the following information about your machine:

  • Mach kernel version: basically the version of the version of Darwin or the open-source Unix that your OSX is based on.
  • How many actual processor cores you have, in this case we see 4 processor cores as it’s an Intel i7 processor. In this chip, each core can run 2 threads so we get…
  • 8 processors logically available – 4×2=8
  • The identifier of the actual main processor chip you have installed.
  • An enumeration of each processor that’s active and available 0 through 7
  • The amount of RAM available in your machine
  • What your processor is busy doing at that moment in terms of tasks and threads
  • Load average, or how busy your machine has been over the last minute. Higher numbers mean more activity.
  • Mach factor, which is a variant of the load, but divided by the number of logical processors. The closer to 0, the more load the processor is experiencing. So in my example, an 8-core processor doing nothing should show pretty close to 8, whereas if it was running full speed rendering video or something, you’d see a much lower number.

When you’re finished exploring this info, simply restart you computer by typing:

reboot

This info is the tip of the iceberg of the information you can coax out of your machine from the command line but it’s a good way to get your feet wet to explore what’s possible.

If you pay any attention to technology news, you’ve probably already heard of the recently discovered Meltdown and Spectre exploits that are reported to effect a majority of computer systems currently in operation, regardless of their operating system. Since the vulnerability is at it’s core, hardware-based, users of Macs, PC’s and some mobile devices are all at risk equally. The hardware in question are processors by Intel, AMD and ARM and the issue could be exploited in 3 ways known as Variants 1 and 2 (identified as Spectre) and Variant 3 (identified as Meltdown).

The way the Spectre exploit works is by taking advantage of the way your computer processor’s architecture is wired to execute code. In a very basic way, the processor’s job is to make a series of decisions very quickly and pass along the results of those decisions. To speed things up, most modern processors use a technique known as “branch prediction” to guess what the next decision it’s going to have to make is. This “speculative execution” greatly improves the speed of a processor as it can always stay a few steps ahead of the game. It’s not always correct in it’s predictions, but that doesn’t matter because the speed at which it does these predictions allows it to perform many, many of these per second.

In very simple terms, it’s all of these incorrect predictions that allow your sensitive data to be potentially revealed. When these bits of data are trashed, for just a moment, the state of your processor can be analyzed by some malicious agents and backtrack it’s way to what bits of data were used to arrive at it’s incorrect prediction. It can then exploit this method by making your processor arrive at incorrect predictions on purpose by injecting data far outside the bounds of what it expects and, in turn, grabbing more of your sensitive data with each execution.

Patches to guard against this involve an extra step every time your computer executes these kind of instructions, double checking to see if the data it’s executing lies within the bounds of what’s expected as well as separating the code and predictions into separate areas of memory. Different processor models have slightly different architectures and the exploits work in slightly different ways across them, however this is generally how things work.

Meltdown is much more clear-cut exploit. To run efficiently, data being run through different parts of your computer processor is stored in a cache as it’s passed between sections of your processor. Meltdown reads this cache and can take the information contained in it and send it off in another direction to be utilized for nefarious purposes. The fix for this involves splitting the address space for this shared memory so that the data is never complete and would appear as gibberish if it were captured, the downside to this fix is that it involves making your computer do twice the work for the same amount of processing. Fortunately, this type of shared memory space only occurs in an impactful way during specific I/O events such as disk-reads or network communication and has little effect on computationally-heavy computing such as video-editing or gaming.

New chipsets and operating-systems should be affected very minimally by any patches to eliminate these exploits, however older systems and certain cloud and virtualization computing systems could take a pretty big performance hit as they rely heavily on I/O to operate.

It’s not often that we see such a vulnerability so widespread and so tricky to fix. It’s something that has been baked into the core architecture of so many of our computer systems in slightly different ways and yet it exists almost universally between manufacturers. It’s like suddenly discovering that bare lightbulbs can steal your credit card number. Sure you can just say “use a lampshade” but lightbulbs come in different sizes and styles even though they all work pretty much the same way and even if you design a lampshade for every bare lightbulb out there, there will be slightly less light when fitted with a lampshade.

I’m never one for encouraging or promoting New Year’s resolutions unless it’s something practical and attainable. Ok, and something that you know you can follow through with! We talk a lot about data security in terms of backups here at Small Dog Electronics, but we do not talk a lot about password security. Passwords can feel like the bane of our existence some days! We need passwords for just about everything we want to do on the internet, we need them for gaming, online purchases, our banking and more. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen users keeping their usernames and passwords written directly on their computers, sticky notes taped to the underside of their computer, a file right on their desktop called “passwords” and more. I think I’ve probably seen every possible WRONG way you can store your usernames and passwords. I get it, it’s frustrating to forget this information and even worse when it’s a login you have to change every 3-4 months.

To make dealing with passwords a little easier and more secure, using password management software can be crucial in organization and security. We use a service at Small Dog called 1Password, There is also another service called LastPass. that works just as well. Your keychain through your iCloud account can also be used, but, if you need to securely share information with others using one of these other services can be a better solution. We like 1Password and with the frequent need to update passwords and usernames on different sites, it’s extremely functional to ensure that we don’t get locked out of accounts.

I am sure that some of you have seen Safari suggest a random and impossible to remember password suggestion when you need to reset a password, another reason for secure password storage. As crooks and scammers get smarter, we have to get smarter about our passwords. We might prefer to use a near to your heart password combination that you know you won’t forget, but those are often the most easily hacked.

With password management software you will still need to remember a few key passwords and usernames. Afterall, you do have to use a secure password to get into your password filing system. When you are creating passwords, always try and use a combination of numbers, letters and even characters when the sites permit it. Random and longer passwords are always recommended. You might try what I call the sentence trick when creating a new password. This is where you could have a favorite movie line or excerpt from a poem and use that as the base for your password. For example “Now is the time for more fun!” This could turn into a password “N1tt4mf!” I took the first letter of each word and changed some letters for numbers with a special character at the end.

Just as important as tips for what to do to keep your passwords secure is what NOT to do! Always enable two-step verification whenever possible. It’s a bit frustrating at times but is one tip you won’t regret for account security. When using two-step authentication and password management systems keep in mind you can still be vulnerable. You will want to avoid common habits like using the same password on multiple sites. One major benefit of password management software is it remembers your account information, so it eliminates the urge to use common passwords across multiple sites. Once you have filed your account information, discard those old sticky notes! You do not want to keep those lying around anymore.

Now, get organizing and start off 2018 a little more secure than you were!

So, you’ve just updated to the newest version of High Sierra. Perhaps you moved up to High Sierra from an earlier operating system to take advantage of the newest features and security patches. After installation, instead of your familiar desktop photo or login screen, you’re greeted with a flashing folder and there is seemingly nothing you can do about it. Enter recovery mode!

Recovery mode is a tool that’s been available to the Mac user since the introduction of OS X Lion (10.7) it’s essentially a separate partition created on install. 10.7 was the first Mac OS to eliminate physical install disks, this new partition provides access to the tools that were only previously located on recovery disks. Those tools include “Disk Utility”, used to create/erase/modify internal or external hard drives and their subsequent partitions (portions of space created on the drive for use) “Restore From Time Machine Backup” which allows you to restore your machine to a previous state that you would have stored on an external hard drive using Mac’s built-in backup software. Lastly, the most helpful tool when it comes to reinstalling an operating system that may have gotten corrupt or damaged during install “Reinstall macOS”.

To get to recovery mode, you start with the machine fully powered off. Press the power button as if turning the machine on as normal and immediately press and hold both the “command” key and “R”. Hold those keys until you either see the Apple logo or a spinning globe. If you see the Apple logo it is booting into its recovery partition, if you see the spinning globe it may ask for your WiFi password as it’s starting from an internet based recovery program.

Now, back to the main topic. You’ve suddenly been greeted with a flashing folder, so we want to get into recovery mode first (CMD+R) once at the utility screen you’ll want to choose “Reinstall macOS.” Follow the prompts. When it asks where you want to install you simply choose your main drive (typically listed as Macintosh HD unless you’ve otherwise changed it) and that should be it, just let the machine do its thing and reinstall the operating system.

If after the reinstall you’re still greeted with the flashing folder, it is a signal of a deeper lying issue and may require service. If that’s the case, bring it on by one of our stores and our talented technicians can see what they can do to bring your machine back to life!

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