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#966: Temperature Extremes; Internet Privacy; Kernel Panics


Hello Fellow Technophiles,

I’ve got my sunglasses ready, the flights are booked, the car is rented, and I am already daydreaming about sand and surf. By this time on Saturday I will have left the icy north and will be in the Sunshine State: Florida. As many of you know, we have a retail location in Key West but I will be a little ways up the coast on Sanibel Island. Per our Key West retail manager Joe, there is a speedboat service from Fort Myers right to Key West, but I think I will try to keep my vacation a pure vacation and make my way to Key West another time.

On a winter vacation a few years ago, my furnace went out on a day where it was twenty degrees below zero here in Vermont. Fortunately, my family was feeding my cat and discovered this before things got too bad. The cat, thanks to his extra pounds, was just fine and the only pipe that froze was a water line inside my washing machine. This time I will be better connected thanks to my Nest thermostat. Not only will I be able to check the temperature of the house anytime, I will also be able to turn the heat up from the airport (or even from the airplane if I buy the on-board wifi) so that I will return to a nice and warm house. After a week in Florida, I am guessing this will mean I need to turn it up to 80.

Thanks for reading!


  What Happened To My Privacy?  

As a computer technician, I speak with people every day who are concerned about the privacy of their information. Most people are aware that when they use popular websites, their activity is tracked to some extent, but few people fully appreciate the scope of what occurs.

Google Maps has a feature that can display live traffic information. I regularly use this feature when taking trips, and it is astonishingly accurate, often down to a few feet. The reason it can be so accurate is that it uses location data from all smartphones that use Google services with location tracking enabled. This data is used to calculate the traffic speed on every street at all times, which is then compared to the average recorded speed to create the traffic map.

In order for this feature to work, smartphones that have Google services enabled send their location to Google at regular intervals. This data is not only used for traffic maps and other similar features, but is also stored by Google. Google also makes your location history visible to you, so you can view it at any time and compare where Google thinks you have been to where you actually were. You will probably find that it is very accurate!

Every time you make a Google search, it is also logged. By analyzing their vast numbers of stored searches, Google is able to do things like make the suggested searches more helpful for everyone, tailor them for what they think individual users are more likely to search for, or target advertising content to them. You can view your complete Google search history here.

You may have noticed that both of these links have “delete my history” options somewhere on the page. Deleting the history will prevent you from seeing it if you visit that page again, but it is generally accepted that Google does not ever delete user data from their backend, only mark it as hidden so the user can no longer see it.

You may be starting to get a clearer picture of how much of your personal information is no longer private, but it may go much deeper than that. In the last few years, unconfirmed reports have surfaced on the Internet of Google potentially analyzing all input that is received by smartphone microphones that they have background access to. For instance, someone who normally has no interest in sports and has never searched for sports-related terms will watch a football game for the first time and start to see Google advertisements related to football a few hours later. If these reports are accurate, the implications are very serious. The idea that a text transcript of all of the conversations that my smartphone has ever been present for is sitting on a Google server somewhere is horrifying.

I have been singling out Google because they have been relatively open about what kinds of data they store, but in the tech community it is accepted that virtually every such organization engages in these types of practices to some degree, without even mentioning what the NSA and the other three-letter agencies do.

You may be wondering how you can prevent these types of information about you from being stored. The unfortunate answer is that realistically, you can’t. You can resolve to never use a computer or phone again and only buy things in cash, but if you are subscribed to an email newsletter about tech concepts, that is probably not an appealing idea. Even if you were to do it, it would not completely protect you from data about you being stored. You may say something that is picked up by the microphone on someone else’s smartphone, and transmitted to who knows where. Your face will probably appear on security camera footage somewhere, and then potentially stored in a database where it is processed by ever-improving facial recognition algorithms.

The closest thing to being completely isolated from all of this is to live completely off the grid, in a home that you constructed yourself, eating food that you grow or hunt yourself, and never returning to a civilized area. However, this probably would not be a very fulfilling or enjoyable life. And at any rate, if you look hard enough, you will still be able to see a Google Earth satellite passing overhead.

  What To Do When Your Mac is Frozen  

It’s probably happened to you at least once and it’s worse than the spinning beach ball. It’s the scary black screen with multiple languages alerting you to restart your computer. I’ve seen it countless times on customer machines over the years and once or twice on my own computers. Most users come in with concern and fear on their faces; what just happened to their computer?

This black screen is often referred to as a kernel panic and I like to describe it as the computers equivalent to your car’s check engine light. It’s a very generic error that can means something has gone horribly wrong or your computer just simply needs to restart. Generally the only way to know if your kernel panic was the result of a serious problem is running diagnostics, typically performed by a technician. I once experienced this with a 15in MacBook Pro of mine. I was sitting in my living room looking up something on the internet and BAM kernel panic. I was stuck with a machine that was completely unresponsive, locked up and displayed a scary black screen. My computer had never before indicated any kind of performance issues and was working perfectly fine until it locked up on me without warning.

If you should find yourself in the unlucky position of having your Mac lock up on you due to a kernel panic you will need to restart your computer. How you might ask? When your computer is locked up and unresponsive to your keyboard, mouse, trackpad, etc the only way to restart your computer is to hold down the power button for about five seconds. This will force your computer to turn off and it will shut down. I would suggest letting your computer sit for about thirty seconds and then turn the computer back on again. With the new Touch Bar MacBook Pros you will need to press down on the blank touch ID button until you feel and hear a click.

It’s never advisable to shutdown and restart your computer by just holding down on the power button and you should only do this in situations where you have no other choice. Forcing your computer to shut down by holding the power button can cause corruption and loss of data among other things. However, when your Mac is frozen there is no other option. In many cases this lock up is a one time deal, as was the case with my MacBook Pro. The machine only ever locked up the one time. Like your cars check engine like, the kernel panic can be caused by any number of benign issues from a bad memory chip to a logic board issue. Certainly it’s recommended that if your machine locks up again you should have it looked it, but more than likely it’s just an isolated event.

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