Ransomware Warning

WannaCry Ransomware Terrorizing Networks//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Europe, Russia and the United States are being hit by a new ransomware attack. Apparently, so far, only hitting Windows PCs. Got the following notice from Wordfence security:

This is a public service announcement from Wordfence. The following attack campaign is widespread and is having a global impact. We are sending this broadcast to our WordPress subscribers to ensure they are able to keep their Windows workstations secure.

The Petya Ransomware has gone global this morning and security analysts are scrambling to understand the full scope of the threat and to add detection capability to their products. A few minutes ago, we published a blog post which includes what we know so far and what you can do to protect yourself, along with a a video demonstration of the ransomware and additional information sources that are being updated in real-time as this attack campaign unfolds.

We also include the growing list of some of the companies and organizations that have already been affected by this attack campaign. We recommend you share this information to help the broader online community stay safe.

You can find full details on our blog...

The bottom line is that we should all remain diligent in keeping our computer and mobile systems secure. Do not open attachments in email, download strange software or go to questionable websites. Keep back-ups of all your data and applications in a secure cloud server and non-network, external storage. Malware can impact across all platforms including MacOS, iOS, Android and Linux, though Windows users are usually the most targeted.

Photo by Insane Visions on Flickr

 

Advertisements
Posted in Computers, News, Security, Windows | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Excited for the Mac Again

iMac Spring 2017

For the first time in years, the Macintosh has got me excited again. Apple’s latest iterations of the long running iMac may motivate me to finally buy a new computer sometime this year or next. The iMac has been sitting fairly dormant since its last update in late 2015.

Gotta love the specs of the new 2017 iMacs introduced at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 5. There are three distinct models: 21 inch iMac with standard LED backlit display; 21 inch iMac with 4K Retina display and the 27 inch iMac with 5K Retina display. Prices for the low end model start at $1099, $1299 for the 4K model and $1799 for the 5k 27 inch model. Custom configurations will certainly boost the price.

What I like about the iMacs is that they have a lot of ports for connecting a number of devices. This include standard 1/8 inch analog headphone jack, 4 USB 3 ports, 2 USB C “Thunderbolt 3” ports,  gigabit ethernet port and SDXC card slot. Nice. The new iMacs now come with Intel’s 7th generation “Kaby Lake” processors which can run at speeds up to 4.5 ghz. They also get a “fusion drive” as standard equipment. SSD drives remain an option. The iMacs also have built-in wifi and bluetooth.

All of the new iMacs are available for sale now at the Apple Store and online site.

That all said, it is likely that when I buy a new Mac it probably will be an iMac. I have long been yearning for a desktop Mac after spending many years on my aging MacBook Pros and Chromebook. My ideal iMac will have an internal SSD drive, the maximum amount of RAM possible, retina display and perhaps a second display using one of those thunderbolt ports. I already have wired ethernet so that will be a nice hookup for the iMac.

Announced at the WWDC was a new high end iMac called the iMac Pro. Starting at $4999 retail, this new iMac is aimed at high end workstation, business, scientific and creative users. The new iMac Pro will be available in December 2017. It will be Apple’s flagship Mac for at least a year until a new Mac Pro desktop model is announced sometime in 2018.

WWDC also saw the announcement of refreshed MacBook Pro and MacBook laptops, new iPad Pros, new wireless keyboards, operating systems (Mac OS “High Sierra”; iOS 11, Watch OS4), and the Siri based HomePod speaker system.

The June 2017 conference was hailed as one of the best in recent months given all of the hardware and software updates announced.

Photo: Apple’s new iMacs courtesy of Apple, Inc.

Posted in Apple, Commentary, iMac, iOS, iPad, Mac OSX, MacBook Pro | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 10 Apple Products I Did Not Get in 2016

iMac-21

My enthusiasm for Apple products waned in 2016. The reasons vary. Lack of money, disappointment over product changes, compatibility issues with older hardware, non-removable batteries, and more. So instead of lusting over Apple-ware, I have mostly stood on the sidelines often asking myself “why”.

My lack of enthusiasm for Apple products can also be reflected in how little I have posted to this blog in the past year. Here is a list of Apple products that I passed on buying in 2016.

  1. Apple iPhone 7: The news that the newest iPhone did not come with a traditional headphone jack was a huge turn off for many consumers. Why did Apple remove the headphone jack? “Courage” says CEO Tim Cook. Bah! It is just another way for Apple to force change and push people into buying their expensive, proprietary Apple Air Pods or whatever headphones they sell that only work with this crippled phone. Throw in a non-replaceable battery, and you got a major “no sale” from me. Needing a new cell phone this year, I opted for a Samsung Galaxy J7 with removable battery, expandable memory, Android and a lower price which beats Apple by a long, long mile.
  2. Apple Air Pods: This is the proprietary headphone for the Apple iPhone 7. Just came out this year and so far works newer iPhones, iPod Touch 6 and some iPads. It is expensive @ $159 each. Battery issues are being reported on them. Sorry. No Sale.
  3. Apple Watch: Besides being expensive, to get the full benefit out of this device you also have to have an iPhone. Who needs a smart watch when there are smart phones? Plus if I want a wrist watch there are plenty of traditional and cheaper alternatives out there.
  4. Apple iTunes 12: It came pre-installed on my upgrade to OSX 10.10 and frankly I avoid using it on my 13 inch MacBook Pro because of the many issues I read about this, most significantly the ones surrounding the subscription based Apple Music and the DRMing of music you have in your iTunes library. Not risking my 22,000 song collection on this.
  5. Apple Music: Really? $10 a month? For streaming music without commercials? Sounds good but really it’s not. The service messes up your music library with DRM and there are tons of other, better streaming music alternatives out there including many free options.
  6. Apple TV: It may be nice to have one, but like anything else that streams, there are other, less costly options out there. Plus I don’t have a TV so this is currently useless for me.
  7. Apple iPad (all models): The concept of the iPad is a very good one. I often wonder if I need one as many of the functions the iPad can do are already duplicated across several other devices. The iPad may be best suited for book and magazine reading, web browsing, casual gaming, plus viewing photos and videos while in bed. So far not compelling enough for me to want to get one.
  8. Apple iPod / iPod Touch: Believe it or not, Apple still makes iPods. I think they are great little music / audio devices. I own 7 of them. My latest include a 160GB iPod Classic from 2014 and an iPod Touch that I bought in 2010. Six of the 7 work perfectly fine when connected to an AC power source. That’s the rub. These devices work marvelously well and have lasting durability except for one major thing: Built in Battery. Ugh! Except for the iPod Classic, my older iPods which include an iPod Nano, iPod Mini, iPod Photo and 2 iPod Shuffles barely hold a charge with their non-removable, built in batteries beyond a maximum of 20 to 30 minutes. It would have been better if there was a way to replace the batteries to keep these devices running as intended, which is portability for on the go audio consumption. Will I buy an iPod in the future? Not likely.
  9. MacBook Pro / MacBook Air / MacBook: These are the three current laptop computers in Apple’s line-up. With the introduction of the 2016 MacBook Pro models, my enthusiasm for this line has significantly waned. I hate it that Apple took away several ports over the years with these Macs. No DVD/CD RW drive, no ethernet port, no firewire, no thunderbolt, no HDMI, and now no standard USB ports and no SD card slot in the latest MacBook Pro. Plus the price went up? Ding dong. No sale. Sorry. I think a high end Chromebook which is cheaper than most Mac laptops may be in my future.
  10. Lastly the Apple iMac. This is one of the few Apple products that I may seriously consider when I have to buy a new Mac. The current model which was introduced in 2015 have large, beautiful screens, and some of the traditional ports I expect to find on a Mac including ethernet, USB, Thunderbolt, SD card slot and headphone jack. Sadly the newest iMacs lack a built in optical drive. Sad. I still like the Mac OS experience enough to still consider an iMac as a future purchase. An alternative may also be the Apple Mac Mini which is still in the line-up. I would not be buying the high end Mac Pro “rubbish can” computer which is extremely expensive and geared toward power users such as video movie producers.

There you have it — my 2016 list of Apple products that were not urgent enough for me to buy. Maybe things will be better in 2017.

Posted in Apple, Apple TV, Chromebook, Commentary, iMac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, iTunes, Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Watch | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Converting Your Analog Cassettes to Digital

Cassette Tapes

Convert your old cassette tapes to digital audio files.

I recently went through my collection of old audio cassettes. I found that besides a lot of mixed music tapes, I also had a small cache of personal tapes that are audio records of life’s past events. On one of the tapes were two songs that were sung by my recently deceased Mom and her sister. That was enough for me to consider saving my tapes to a digital file format.

The hard fact about cassette tapes is that in the long run they won’t last forever. Over time the magnetic particles that hold the audio will flake off the thin plastic backing that travels through the shell of the cassette. They wear out after many plays and are prone to breakage. It is also inconvenient and risky to share your cassettes with other people when you have the only copy of your mother singing or something similar.

Before anything catastrophic happens to your cassettes consider converting them to digital audio files. Archiving your old cassettes to a digital format such as MP3 is not very hard.

You need the following to accomplish this task.

  1. Cassette deck or player with output capabilities such as line out jacks on home stereo units or at the very least, a stereo headphone jack on a portable player.
  2. A stereo patch cord that you route from your cassette player to your Mac. While not all computers have them, the 2009 MacBook Pro that I use has an auxiliary input port, which is nice. If you don’t have one, some models will allow the headphone port to also be used as an auxiliary input. If neither is an option one can get an analog to USB dongle such as Griffin Technnology’s iMic to act as a go between with the cassette player and the Mac.
  3. Software: There are probably several software titles that will allow you to “record” your analog program and convert them in your Mac to a digital file. Just remember you are doing this in real time. If the tape lasts 45 minutes per side, it will take you 45 minutes to digitize the analog signal from the cassette to the Mac. The application program I use for recording is Rouge Amoeba’s Audio Hijack (and the earlier Audio Hijack Pro) and Twisted Wave for audio editing.

A digital camera, scanner and/or image editing software while not required is helpful for the creation and editing of your digital audio file’s icon. Having a set of headphones or an external speaker is a good idea for live monitoring and later playback of your audio program.

Without getting overly complicated, here are the steps to follow when converting your analog cassette tape to a digital file.

RECORDING WITH AUDIO HIJACK PRO (also applies to the newer Audio Hijack 3x.). The $50 program is highly recommended if you are doing a lot of audio recording on your Mac.

  1. Load tape into cassette deck or portable player.
  2. Connect a stereo patch cord from the line out or headphone jack to the input port of your Mac (or the iMic device mentioned above).
  3. Launch your recording application on the Mac (Audio Hijack Pro for this discussion).
  4. At this point you want to press the “Hijack” button on Audio Hijack Pro. This tells the Mac that an incoming audio source is being fed to the software.
  5. Press play on your cassette deck and let the program run for a few minutes. Do this to test the sound level of the incoming signal to your Mac. Adjust the volume level on your cassette player (if possible). Set the recording level in Audio Hijack Pro for the incoming signal. Be sure that the incoming audio is not going into the red zone and getting clipped.
  6. Once you get your levels set, rewind the tape to the beginning of the program.
  7. With the “Hijack” button still activated, press the “Record” button and then press play on your cassette deck. The tape will start playing and the computer will record the incoming audio.
  8. Once the cassette program is done stop the tape.
  9. Press the “Record” and “Hijack” buttons again to stop recording on the Mac. Audio Hijack Pro will automatically save the file under a generic name to your music folder. You can check to see if the newly created digital file was satisfactorily recorded by going to the “recording bin” section of Audio Hijack Pro and playing the file back from within the app.

Now it is time to either record the other side of the tape or editing the program you now have. If you want to have both sides of the tape recorded to one audio file, skip step 9 above and while the software is still recording, turn the tape over and play the other side. There will be a blank space in your recording for the time you have stopped the tape and turned it over. The blank space can be cut out during the editing process.

TwistedWave

TwistedWave for Mac OSX is a very good audio editing application.

EDITING WITH TWISTED WAVE: Twisted Wave for the Macintosh is $79. There is a version for iOS @ $10 and an online, web based version that requires a subscription. The scope of this article is limited to the Mac version.

Once audio recording is done you will have an audio file taken from the cassette that is now in a digital format that is ready for listening to on your computer or most portable devices. However if you want the audio file to sound and  “look” professional you may need to do some editing. Here is what you can do and how to do it.

  1. First thing is to make a back-up copy of your new audio file. Save it to the cloud or another hard drive. This is because you are going to work on it in Twisted Wave. In case you do something wrong you can go back and retrieve a copy from your back-up.
  2. Launch Twisted Wave and load the audio file into the application through it’s open file command or just dragging and dropping the audio file onto the program’s icon.
  3. Twisted Wave’s pane includes 4 major sections. A tool bar at the top, an overview window of your audio’s waveform file, a larger more detailed editing window of your waveform below that, and stereo level meters to the right hand side.
  4. You will do most of your editing work in the main window which can show compressed or magnified views of your audio waveform. Note that softer sections of your waveform will have a shorter blue pattern whereas louder sections will show a taller wave both above and below the level, flat line. Areas of no sound will show no wave at all.
  5. Within this window you can cut out unwanted sounds and silent sections, create fade ins and fade outs, and even cut and paste the audio to rearrange them in a different order. You can also bring in audio from another file and paste it into the one you are working on. If you recorded one large audio file and want to break it up into smaller sections you can cut or copy selected sections of your file and create a new audio program just for that segment. A good example is if you recorded an entire cassette tape album of music and wanted to break each track into its own digital file. Twisted Wave will allow you to do that.
  6. Also from the Twisted Wave app, you can modify and edit your audio file’s “meta data“. To do that with the Mac application just hit up on the round “!”icon in the upper right corner. A pop up information window will display the file’s attributes such as track title, artist, album title, genre, track number and a place to include a photo for use as the track’s icon. All of the attributes can be edited. This is where having a camera or a scanned image file comes in handy. If you have image editing software you can edit your image file so that it creates at least a 400 X 400 pixel square image. If for example, the audio recording is of yourself speaking or singing, you can take a selfie, edit it in an image editing application and paste it into your Twisted Wave information window. After your audio file is saved, the image will become that file’s standard icon and will show up on your Mac, iPhone and other portable player just like the music files you bought from Apple or Amazon.com.

Nice huh?

The instructions for TwistedWave are online.

Be sure to save your audio file after you complete the editing process. Giving the file a meaningful name like “Mom’s Song” or whatever is recommended over the generic, numerical name Audio Hijack Pro assigns to files.

The above processes can be applied to the recording of any analog audio source including vinyl records, TV audio, radio, and live recording. Audio Hijack will also record sound from websites and other digital sources.

Now that I have Mom’s songs preserved and converted to digital, I can share them online at a variety of venues including SoundCloud, YouTube (with digital video conversion), Facebook and more.

Digitizing your old audio tapes is highly recommended if you want to keep and share those memories.

Posted in Applications, MacBook Pro, Music, Technology, Tips | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Into the Lens

This article is ported over from my Friday 5 Answers blog, in which participants answer weekly questions posted to the Friday 5 blog. Since this week’s topic dealt with cameras, photography, technology and Apple devices, it is also being posted here.

_______________

“Hello, and welcome to this week’s Friday 5!  Please copy these questions to your webspace.  Answer the questions there; then leave a comment below so we’ll all know where to check out your responses.

Please don’t forget to link us from your website!

If Janelle answers these, I have a feeling you’ll want to see her responses as a reminder of how old you are!  And Mel, who inspired the theme, could probably write ten pages in response to each question!”

1. What was your first camera like?

The first camera I had was part of a Sears’ Superspy Attache Case that I got for Christmas in 1967. The camera was built into the attache case. It had a plastic fixed focus lens, used one of the case’s folding latches as a viewfinder and took 127 roll film. I think I shot about 2 rolls with the thing. The pictures were about as good as what you can get from a plastic Holga camera today.

Moving into the 1970s I had a Kodak X-35 Instamatic camera that took 126 cartridge film. My first 35mm camera was a black Yashica MG1 rangefinder. It died about 25 years ago. My first SLR camera was a used Minolta SRT-101 which I got for $70 in 1978. I have that camera today and it still works.

My first digital camera was a Sony Cybershot P50 point and shoot that cost me $400 in 2001. I bought it from Comp USA.

Minolta SRT101//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

My Minolta SRT101 shown with an old school 70-210mm zoom lens.

2. What kinds of accessories have you purchased for a camera?

Oh boy… yes, this could be ten pages long. Do you want a book or an abridged list? I think I will go with a short list.

Stuff I bought for film cameras: Tripod, lenses (wide, normal, zoom, telephoto), motor drive, auto winder, trip cable, PC cord, external camera flashes of all types, camera bags, batteries, recharger, lens tissue, cleaning brushes, film, film, film, and still more film, and more camera bodies. When I had access to a darkroom I bought film developers, print developers, and photographic paper. I also bought negative holders and sleeves to keep those things organized. Oh yeah, binders, photo albums and picture frames.

By 1992 I had to upgrade my computer from a Mac Plus to a Mac IIsi so that I could look at my scanned photos in color on the computer… and of course I had to buy a scanner to scan in all of those old and current prints (at the time) I was getting.

I used to have tons of floppy discs just to back-up those scanned images and to also share them… In the bad old days of 56 baud or less modems, it was a pain to share images online… so you’d use floppies, and later SyQuest discs and Zip discs to send your pictures to friends, relatives, clients and service bureaus.

I haven’t even gone into digital yet. And you know what I’ll stop here except to say that if you get seriously into photography as either a hobbyist / enthusiast or professional, it is more than likely you will get the following disease: Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). Make sure you have space in your home for all of the stuff!

3. When did you last shoot photos on film, and how many rolls of unshot film do you have in your house?

Um… let me think… about 2 weeks ago. I finished off a roll that was in my Canon AE-1 Program camera. This turned out to be my last Kodak black and white CN400 film. This type of film can be processed with C41 chemistry, the same stuff that is used for common color print film. When you don’t have access to a darkroom, C41 color development is cheaper than going the Kodak Tri-X route because the one place I take my film for processing does that by hand and costs more. They still use a machine to do C41.

As for rolls of unshot film… I think I have one roll of 620 film in a box somewhere, another roll of Seattle FilmWorks 35mm film in its cannister. I also have the following cameras loaded with rolls in progress: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash (620 color); Minolta Autocord TLR (120 TriX); Swimways plastic camera (35mm color); Minolta XD11 (35mm TriX) and Minolta X700 (35mm Fujicolor).

Through most of my SLR film days, I’ve been solid in the more affordable Minolta camp than with the leaders Canon or Nikon.

By the way you can still get films at many camera places online or if you live in a city, at stores specializing in film. My place to go online is the Film Photography Project store (they have a goofy but informative podcast). Locally (in Honolulu) I go to Rainbow Photo & Video or to Treehouse.

4. Digital photography has all kinds of advantages over film photography, but what’s better about shooting on film and having to get it developed and printed?

That is a hard one to answer… certainly there is something about film that is “magical”, and I guess more so when I used to have access to a darkroom and spent many hours developing film and making prints. It was like magic to see the image you shot being projected down in the print enlarger, editing it, then pulling out the paper and making the exposure for a few seconds. The process of putting the blank piece of photographic paper into the tray developer (usually D76) and watching the image slowly but surely become visible to your eyes. Then of course quickly moving it to the stop bath and then fixer before some idiot walked into the darkroom and turned on the regular light!

Developing the actual film in the darkroom was more anxiety vs. intrigue since nearly everything had to be done in total darkness vs. being able to use a red safelight during the printing phase.

The “thrill of the hunt” or better said, the process of developing and converting the image you shot into a beautiful print was / is most appealing of going to film.

It is not the same when you send your film out for processing and printing, though the anticipation of wondering what will come back and actually turn out is always intriguing…. and often costly!

Today of course you have the option to simply scan your film, look at the results and then decide if you want to print anything.

5. How do you manage your digital photos?

Short answer: With difficulty.

Long answer: 

1. Take photo(s) with camera.
2. Remove memory card.
3. Save directly to designated, external hard drive in appropriate folder.
4. The folders are arranged by year – month – day/date/subject of the photo or series.
5. Back up to another hard drive or media.
6. Back up also to Google Photos (since mid 2015).
7. I used to back up to DVD or CD but don’t anymore.
8. I make sure at least one backup hard drive is stored away from my home (at sister’s place and/or bank safe deposit box).

I also use Flickr and Facebook to back up selected, low level megapixel photos for public display.

My way of saving and backing up photos is to simply use the Mac’s finder interface. This means when I insert the memory card into the reader, I just drag copies of the image files from the memory card to the designated folder on the hard drive.

I do not use any photo management app (such as Apple’s iPhoto or Photos now) as my primary source of storage. I don’t like the large files these apps create. Plus I refuse to use the newer Apple Photos because the darn thing is aimed more at saving your photos to the costly Apple iCloud service which I don’t use. I prefer Google Photos since it is free. I also have Google Drive to save a copies of some high quality (over 16 megapixels each) images to.

For photo editing I continue to use iPhoto (with Mac OSX 10.6.8, yes I love “Snow Leopard“). I also use Adobe Photoshop Elements, Pixelmator and Fotor for special effects and collages.

Mobile Digital: I also have an older iPod Touch that I back up through Apple’s Image Capture software. The app allows me to store those iPod Touch images to designated folders like I do with my regular cameras and computer.

I also have an Android cell device that allows me to go straight to the Apple finder with a USB connection and drag photo images to designated folders on the hard drive. The Android device is running the Gingerbread version of the OS. I don’t know how it works on the newer systems such as Lollipop and Marshmellow.

Scanned Film and Prints: For these the process is the same as digital after the images go into the computer.

Mac OSX folders Organize_Photos_2

I prefer to store photos of one image each into designated folders vs. having an app like iPhoto keeping them all in a huge, single file bundle or worst, defaulting like Apple Photos to the expensive iCloud service that I don’t use. Key is to have back-ups stored offsite cheaply and easily. An external hard drive stored off-campus is one answer and so is the free to use Google Photos online.

Posted in Apple, Applications, Commentary, Google, Photography, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,