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#951: Star Trek; Keyboard Layouts; FileVault; Backup Options


Hello Fellow Technophiles,

For some reason there seems to be an abundance of Star Trek fans in the tech world. As you can see in the picture to the left, I am one of these. I am even fine with being called a Trekkie even though some fans, for reasons that I don’t understand, feel this is a pejorative term and prefer the term Trekker.

If you look closely at my picture, you will see one of the most iconic photos of all time. This is an Apple “Think Different” poster featuring Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon less than two months after the last episode of Star Trek aired on NBC. While this is a great photo, it has been upstaged as far as I am concerned. This picture taken last year is of Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti aboard the International Space Station wearing a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine era Starfleet uniform. As each tenant of the ISS gets a limited amount of personal items to bring aboard, it is a testament to her commitment to Star Trek that she chose to bring this up.

Star Trek’s influence also allegedly reaches into Apple’s design team. There are those that believe that the iPad was in part inspired by the PADD device used by Starfleet personnel. While there are some similarities here, I believe that the Star Trek technology that most closely resembles Apple technology is the voice of the ship’s computer; Apple’s analogue to this is Siri.

Siri’s functionality increases all the time and will be a full-featured personal assistant probably sooner than we think. As this becomes the case, along with the other voice-activated assistants out there, we will probably find that we type less and speak more. What will become of the written word in this scenario? Will literacy drop as we become accustomed to transmitting our thoughts primarily verbally? Will Ben’s article below on keyboard layouts still be relevant? Only time will tell.


  Keyboard Layouts  

Most people have never given much thought to how the keys on their keyboard are arranged. However, in the tech community there has been much debate about what arrangement is the most optimal to use. The standard keyboard layout is called QWERTY, after the first six letters to appear on the top left. The layout was designed in the 1870s for use in typewriters, and remains in use on an overwhelming majority of keyboards today.

Some people have argued that QWERTY is an inefficient layout. Since QWERTY was originally created for typewriters, the keys are optimized for them. However, typewriters work differently from computers. Typewriters have physical mechanisms to print each letter onto the paper. If certain keys are typed too quickly after each other, the mechanisms can collide and cause a jam. The QWERTY layout was designed to prevent this as much as possible, by placing keys that are commonly typed together far away from each other. This helps to prevent jams in typewriters, but can be inefficient for typing on a computer, where key jams are not a possibility.

The leading rival to QWERTY is the Dvorak layout, patented in 1936 by Dr. August Dvorak. The Dvorak layout was designed to eliminate the inefficiencies that plagued QWERTY. Dvorak was scientifically designed to enable faster typing, reduce errors, and reduce strain-related injuries. There have been studies confirming these claims, but many of these studies were administered by Dvorak and his associates. There were also some flaws discovered in the methodologies of the studies. Some non-biased studies have been inconclusive for various reasons, but most seem to at least agree that Dvorak is significantly easier to learn to type with than QWERTY.

At this point, the main obstacle to adoption of a non-standard keyboard layout is the fact virtually all typists are already used to the QWERTY layout. Once again, tradition prevails over innovation.


FileVault is a built-in tool for encrypting data on a Macintosh computer. It was introduced in OS X 10.3 and was revised to FileVault 2 in 10.7. The original FileVault encrypted just the users’ home directories whereas FileVault 2 encrypts the entire startup disk. I generally only encourage customers to use Filevault 2 if the person knows exactly what Filevault 2 does, how it works, and if they have sensitive data on their machine.

When Filevault 2 is enabled on a Macintosh, the user is prompted to create a master password for the computer. If the password for that user is lost or forgotten, that master password can be used to decrypt your files instead. This is where things can get tricky because it is possible for your Filevault 2 password to be different from your user login password. This can then cause an issue where you try to reset your user password, and are then prompted for a Filevault password which you have since forgotten. Apple has done a great job at encrypting the startup disk and as far as I know cannot be reset without the password or recovery key.

So in short, if you see the FileVault setup screen when updating or installing OS X (pictured above) think twice about leaving these boxes checked (they are now selected by default on Yosemite 10.10 and higher). I am simply suggesting that you read about FileVault 2 and only enable it if you feel you need it. And if you enable it, keep you Master Password and/or recovery key in a safe place, preferably two safe places, and definitely NOT on the computer itself. Remember, with Filevault 2 off, your Macintosh is still password protected, just not encrypted, and this is a sufficient level of security for many users.

  iCloud vs. Time Machine  

One of the most common questions I receive as a Mac technician is: “Should I back up my data using Time Machine with an external hard drive, or using iCloud?” The answer is not a simple one. Both methods have different advantages and disadvantages.

When you back up your data using Time Machine, you are copying it from your computer to an external storage device that you own. Often, this device is located in the same physical location as the computer itself. If the device is a hard drive, it has the potential to randomly fail or become damaged by a fall or an impact. When you store your data into your iCloud account, you are sending your data away to be stored on a server in one of Appleā€™s data centers, hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Deciding on a backup strategy is similar to deciding on where to store your money. Using iCloud is like storing your money in a bank account, and using an external hard drive is like storing your money under your mattress. If your money is in a bank account, it is guaranteed to be safe no matter what happens to you or your home. If your home is destroyed by a fire or a natural disaster, your money will remain in the bank account. However, if the bank fails or goes out of business, which has happened before (pretend the FDIC does not exist for this analogy), your money will be lost. If your money is stored under your mattress, you are guaranteed to keep your money no matter what happens at the bank or anywhere else. However, if your home is destroyed, the money will be lost.

The matter can be further complicated by issues like the fact that iCloud does not automatically back up all of the data on your computer, and is therefore not a true backup solution. If you use iCloud Photo Library, your pictures are automatically backed up, but everything else needs to be manually stored in the iCloud Drive folder on your Mac, so if you forget to save a document there, it is not backed up. Also, with only 5GB of free storage, this can fill very quickly and you will likely need to pay a monthly fee for additional storage. Finally, if you forget your iCloud password, and are unable to reset it at, you can lose access to your data.

Keep in mind, the more important your data is, the more backups you should keep of it. Using iCloud and Time Machine together is even better than using either one.

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