Do Not Email Pictures

This is a big enough problem that I like to repeat it from time to time … but this time, I’d like to use a road/traffic metaphor to explain why YOU SHOULD NOT SEND PICTURES OR VIDEOS VIA EMAIL.

In this road/traffic metaphor for explaining email:

1KB- 10KB = “cyclist” = short email
10KB- 500KB = “car” = regular email, possibly with a small document attached
500KB- 5000KB = “truck” = large email, possibly with one high-res picture attached
5000KB-29000KB = “truck hauling a full-sized house” = huge email, with multiple high-res pictures or a low-res video or slide-show

Road/traffic metaphor for explaining email issues:

  • Regular emails range in size from less than 1KB (cyclists) to hundreds of KB (cars).
  • Regular emails with a document or picture attached can be hundreds of KB (cars) to a few MB (trucks).
  • Now we get to those emails with HUGE attachments: videos and collections of high-res pictures. They can range in size from 5MB to 29MB … several times larger than “trucks”, so let’s refer to them as “trucking a full-sized house down the road”. I think you can imagine how much traffic disruption that can cause.
  • Note: The reason huge emails aren’t larger than 29MB is that they simply won’t fit down the “road” … currently email servers won’t let an email through that is 30MB or larger.
  • Any given email needs to pass through multiple email servers, and their size maximums can vary.
  • So we have many people driving full-sized houses through our streets, not knowing how large their vehicle is, clogging traffic, and not knowing if they’re even going to fit through the next tunnel. (!)
  • On top of that, each vehicle (email) self-duplicates … so there’s a copy left in the sender’s storage yard, and there’s a copy that gets parked in each receiver’s storage yard … clogging up storage yards all over the world. (!!)
  • And on top of that, there is more “junk mail” traffic than “legitimate mail” traffic on the roads. (!!!)

Does this illustrate my point?

So, PLEASE … be conscious of the size of emails you are sending, be considerate of all the congestion you are causing by sending large emails, and spend the time to learn how to send large files WITHOUT attaching them to emails. That will be the topic of my next blog.

The Right to Repair

The “Right to Repair” movement is picking up steam, and rightly so. It is a business precept that should be the norm, rather than the exception, and it is a big factor in reducing our waste stream.

There are a few ways to reduce our waste stream: you can buy less frequently, buy smaller, buy recyclable/biodegradable, or buy repairable.

It can be difficult to buy less frequently when technology is changing ever faster. The best we can do is make the most out of each purchase, buying quality and maintaining what we have.

Computers are getting smaller, so why not embrace that trend and buy the smallest devices that perform their given functions? Smaller products = less material to create and less material to have to dispose.

Products made from recyclable materials, or that are made of recyclable materials, just makes sense. (Technology isn’t typically made from biodegradable materials … but maybe someday they will be.)

Buying something that is repairable is the focus of this article. I won’t single out a particular fruit-branded line of products, because there are so many products that are simply not repairable by the purchaser. The main focus of the industry has always been to build things that are inexpensive to mass produce, that are “pretty”, and that have the appearance of being “well built”. Little thought or effort has been put into making things repairable. Besides, if things were repairable, people wouldn’t need to buy as many things, thus reducing sales volume. And, if specialized tools or skills are needed for the repairs, that’s just another revenue stream for the producers of these things. Please think twice before supporting these suppliers.

There are a few companies that are showing us that the right to repair is paramount. Things should be repairable and upgradeable. Repairable things can still be inexpensive to mass produce, be pretty, and be well built.

I want to mention a few companies that have embraced the right-to-repair movement. Aptera will be producing vehicles before the end of 2022 that will not only be repairable, but will be the most efficient motorized vehicles ever mass produced. Framework has been producing repairable/upgradeable laptops since Aug2021. Pine64 has been producing repairable/upgradeable phones, tablets, smartwatches, and other products for the past few years. These companies make sure the components of their products are exchangeable, upgradeable, or repairable … offering to help you, or your designated repair-person, perform those repairs.

Isn’t that the way things should be?

What is your Techno Patience Quotient?

I’ll admit, I just made up the term, but I think it is worth consideration. Are you the type of person who clicks many times when you don’t get an immediate response? (Let’s call this is a TPQ of 1.) Or will you wait hours before deciding the computer desktop isn’t coming back? (Let’s call this a TPQ of 10.) What are the benefits, or costs, of high, or low, TPQ? Can “being informed” avoid the problems of high or low TPQ?

First, what are the costs of a low TPQ? For the person, it can be anxiety and anger, which can result in anguish and high blood pressure. For the equipment, it can be increased demands right when it is working its hardest, but it can also result in damaged equipment from being overworked, or from the operator lashing out at it.

“What can the computer possibly be doing that is taking so long?” Well, it may be inefficient software running on old or overtaxed hardware … or the computer may be doing incredibly complex calculations based on data that is being retrieved from overseas servers on lines shared with your neighbours.

Being informed can really help those with a low TPQ. (But, believe me, it is still no panacea.)

It is good to know the relative speed of your computer (5 aspects), your local network (1 aspect), and your Internet connection (3 aspects) … so let’s look at these speed aspects.

Your computer speed can be broken down into its 5 resources: CPU (central processing unit), GPU (graphics processing unit), RAM (short-term storage), HDD (long term storage), LAN (local area network). All of these metrics are now viewable in Windows Task Manager under the Performance tab, and most of them can be monitored on other operating systems. Your LAN speed is typically measured by just one number in Mbps (≤100Mbps is OK, >100Mbps is better). Your Internet speed is often broken down into 3 numbers: ping time in milliseconds (10-20 ms is good), download speed in Mbps (10-1000 Mbps is good), upload speed, also in Mbps (0.5-15 Mbps is good). These LAN/Internet speeds can be checked using https://speedtest.net or similar. When things slow down, it’s good to monitor these aspects of your system that can affect the overall speed.

Having a high TPQ is generally a good thing, but your time is definitely worth something (if not money). Ignoring abnormally-long delays from your technology wastes your time, and doesn’t address the issues causing the delays.

Like anything, taking an informed and balanced approach is the best. Knowing the relative speed of your technology, and the nature of what you are asking of it, helps to identify what a reasonable response time is. If that response time is suddenly high, that can point to an issue that may have cropped up. Identified issues can usually be resolved.

Passwords: WTF

Each of us now, has a long list of online accounts to keep track of, and for that reason, passwords have become the bane of our existence. Previously, I wrote on how to create unique passwords so you can potentially keep them in your head. That doesn’t work for everyone, so this article is about how to store them safely and accurately.

As a computer technician and a business owner, I get tripped up every day, not just with my own passwords and my company’s passwords, but also with many of my clients’ passwords. Nothing can ruin the efficiency of a day more than a forgotten password. That’s why I say this about passwords: WTF = Write Them Fastidiously.

You can write them in a notebook, or keep them in an app, but if they’re stored in a document that is accessible online, I recommend you either encrypt the document or, even better (and simpler), use a purpose-built app that encrypts them for you. Some great password managers that do this include Google, DropBox, RoboForm, LastPass, 1Password, and Keeper.

For each account that you have, you should record 4 things: Title, URL (web address), Username, Password. You can optionally record 5 more things: Entry date, Description, Recovery email address, Recovery SMS, and Recovery questions and answers. If you’re doing this on paper, write legibly and leave room for when you change your password, or simply cross out the entire line and write a new one. Don’t keep multiple entries for the same account!

In case the fields mentioned above aren’t clear, here is an example and some details:

  • Title: Google (can be the same as the URL)
  • URL: gmail.com or xxx.google.com
    (Note 1: This is the web address you go to to use or manage this account)
    (Note 2: The prefixes http://, https://, and www are not 100% necessary)
  • Username: MyHandle or myname@gmail.com
    (keep in mind that Username may or may not be an email address)
  • Password: mygr8Passwd! (case sensitive)
  • Entry date: 15Jan2022 (this is only important if you must change a password on a schedule, but it’s also handy in case you have duplicate entries for the same account)
  • Description: For Gmail email and other Google products (not always clear from the Title)
  • Recovery email: myname@somewhereelse.com (an email where you can receive reset notices)
    (sometimes same as Username, sometimes must be different than Username)
  • Recovery SMS: 250-123-4567 (a phone on which you can receive recovery codes)
  • Recovery Q&A: My Maternal Grandmother’s shoe size = 12 (there are sometimes multiple Recovery Q&As for one account)

And please, don’t just write them down … Write Them Fastidiously!

What is an Solid State Drive?

Computers need at least two kinds of memory storage: volatile storage and non-volatile (NV) storage. Both are measured in bytes … but more commonly in kilobytes (one thousand bytes), megabytes (one million bytes), or gigabytes (one billion bytes). Volatile memory is typically called RAM (Random Access Memory). It is volatile because its contents are lost when the power is turned off. Non-volatile memory storage keeps its contents, even when the power is off.

Before getting more technical, I’d like to share the metaphor I like to use for these two kinds of memory. Volatile memory (RAM) is like the top of a desk … a “working space” for the files you are currently working on. Alternatively, non-volatile memory is like a filing cabinet … a space for your files when you aren’t working on them (i.e. when the computer is off). During normal operation, files come out of the filing cabinet, onto the desktop to work on them, and back into the filing cabinet for long term storage.

Examples of NV memory are your system’s main RAM, your CPU’s cache RAM, and your GPU’s (graphic processor’s) onboard memory.

An example of non-volatile storage is a hard drive (HDD): a set of spinning disks that store data using magnetism. These have served us well since the 1950s, but in 1991 we started seeing a new kind of NV storage called a Solid State Drive (SSD). Solid state drives store data using non-volatile RAM … NAND flash storage made up of floating gate transistors. They are much faster at reading and writing data than spinning magnetic hard disks, and there are no moving parts to wear out or get bumped. They are very dependable and offer a very long lifetime by allowing you to rewrite them millions of times before they reach their end of life.

HDDs and SSDs can be used on the same computer; we typically store the frequently-used data on the SSD, and the rest on the HDD. Hybrid HDD/SSD drives (called SSHD) exist, but they didn’t quite leverage “the best of SSD with the best of HDD” like we had hoped, so they have fallen out of favour.

SSDs are more expensive than HDDs, per unit of storage … but well worth the upgrade to get a read/write speed increase of about ten times. If a computer has a fast-enough processor to justify the upgrade, migrating a computer to SSD is a very good option to speed things up.

Fix It Permanently

I was recently asked to “fix something permanently”. The most polite response I could muster at the time was “I got a sliver again yesterday”. A bit snarky, I guess. Another response that came to mind was “there are permanent fixes, but you’re not going to like any of them”. Too snarky? I thought so.

Technology is complicated. Technology is ever-changing. The only way to avoid the issues altogether is to avoid technology altogether.

I can’t begin to describe the complexity of a single personal computer. There are literally billions of components and millions of lines of code. Subsystem upon subsystem upon subsystem. Knock a bit out somewhere (called a Single Event Upset, ref: The World is Hostile to Computers), and the whole thing can come tumbling down. I’m amazed that computers work at all.

So we do our best, selecting the most stable hardware and software, maintaining that hardware and software, and preparing for issues by having backups and backup plans.

The thing that I was asked to “fix permanently” was a Windows backup over a network to a network drive. (Note: Complexity can be measured in bits, where 1 bit equals 2 combinations, 2 bits equals 4 combinations, etc.) That situation involved a third-party backup software (22M bytes = 200M bits), running on Windows 10 (3500M bytes = 33B bits), running on an Intel processor (roughly 2B transistors = 2B bits), over a network (wired and wireless) with a dozen other devices, and connecting to a NAS (another 200M bits running on a 2B bit operating system, running on 1B transistors). With the combination of all those bits (because they all have to work together), the number of combinations is more than the number of potential slivers on Earth (5×10^45, or 5 followed by 45 zeros vs the number of potentials slivers on earth = 3×10^12 trees x the number of slivers in a tree = 3×10^12 = 9×10^24, or 9 followed by 24 zeros). The network backup worked for 3 years before a problem appeared.

[In the preceding paragraph, M = million and B = billion.)

Of course I could fix my sliver problem permanently, but I don’t like any of my options. I can live with getting slivers.

The Linux Alternative

With Windows 11 coming out this fall, some people will take the opportunity to consider making the switch to Linux. This article explores Linux and the other alternatives.

Windows has served us well for 36 years. It has been, and still is, the most globally-accepted platform for everything from creating documents, spreadsheets, and websites, to accounting and gaming. There are other platforms–like Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Chrome OS–but none has nearly as much market share as Windows (currently at 87.56%).

Windows has been great for the sheer size of its “catalog”: the list of Windows-compatible software. It has also been great for its “backwards compatibility”: the fact you can still run some 30-year old software on the latest Windows. But there are some things that are pushing users away from Windows. Update glitches still trip us up too frequently. Infections happen, although less frequently. Keeping your computer running efficiently (without bogging down) can be difficult. Changes to the user interface, especially with new versions of Windows, can confuse users.

Mac OS is an alternative that started at about the same time as Windows, although it has never reached 10% market share. Some say it is easier to use, while others find it highly restrictive.

The “mobile” operating systems–like iOS, Android, and Chrome OS–are becoming more prevalent and functional. Some of these operating systems can be run on, and take the place of, “desktop” operating systems.

The “odd one out” is Linux. It is the basis for all the platforms (with the exception of Windows and MacOS prior to OSX) so it, too, has been around for a long time. Linux is open-source, so can be downloaded and installed for free. There are many popular “distros” available, including Mint, Ubuntu, Pop!_OS, and Manjaro.

The advantages of running Linux are that it is free, runs on a wide range of hardware, and supports many of the functions we all want and need: browsing, streaming, emailing, creating documents and spreadsheets, and even gaming* (*see “Linux Gaming” by Teky’s own, Craig Shields). Linux is very stable, very secure, very easy to install, and has a familiar look. Unless your goal is gaming, it can run well on older hardware, making use of what would otherwise be discarded Windows/Mac hardware.

So, rather than upgrading to Windows 11 on your current laptop or desktop, consider loading it with Linux.

Linux Gaming

Gaming for Linux has come a long way in the last 10 years, thanks to the continuing efforts of the open source community. No longer just the realm of hardcore Linux tinkerers, with little, or even no work, most games will be able to run on a Linux PC, as long as it meets the hardware requirements.

Lutris (www.lutris.net) was first released in 2013, and is continually being updated by the community. It is an open-source game manager that uses a Windows compatibility layer called Wine in order to run Windows based games under Linux. While most games will run OK under Wine, using Lutris will allow each Wine session for each game, to be customized for that game. No matter who you purchased the game from, download or physical copy, Lutris will allow you to install and play, providing someone in the community has made a compatible installer. If one is not available, you can try the default configuration, and should still get decent performance.

In 2018, Valve, the creators of the Steam gaming platform, took the code for Wine, and modified it to become new software called Proton. Proton (www.protondb.com) became the Windows interface layer for games running on Linux via the Steam games manager. It offers a much smoother experience than default Wine, or Lutris, however it will only support games that have been purchased through Steam*. As of now, approximately 76% of their top 1000 games are supported through Proton.

In late 2021, Valve will be releasing the SteamDeck, a PC-based handheld games console to compete with the likes of the Nintendo Switch. Running on a custom AMD processor, with SteamOS (Valve’s customised Linux for gaming) their plan, is that anything available on the Steam platform, will be playable on the Deck. Should this prove to be half as popular as the Switch, then we can expect to see more and more games developers supporting Linux.

So far, neither GOG, Ubisoft, Epic, or Blizzard offer their game managers for Linux, so using them through Lutris is an unfortunate workaround until they do.

*Note: For those who are familiar with manually modding games, getting non-Steam games working through Steam/Proton rather than Wine/Lutris is about the same level of complexity. Doable, but not for those who are afraid to tinker.

Windows 11

I have to admit that I’m one of those people who was unwittingly spreading the rumour that “Windows 10 is the last operating system”. Apparently that was not an official statement from Microsoft because their official statement in Jul2021 was that Windows 11 will be released later this year.

Pricing for Windows 11 is not yet available, but, just like the upgrade from Windows 7 and 8, the upgrade to 11 will be free for those with existing licenses.

If you are looking forward to getting this on your computer, don’t get your hopes up; the most contentious aspect of Windows 11 is its lofty set of requirements. As it stands, in order to upgrade to it, your computer must at least have 2 cores at 1 GHz, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB free storage, TPM (Trusted Point Module) 2.0, and your CPU must be in the list of supported models (7th Gen Intel, Xeon, some Atom/Celeron, Ryzen 2nd Gen). Basically, your computer must have been made since Aug2017. (Ref. https://www.windowscentral.com/official-windows-11-requirements-have-arrived-here-are-compatible-qualcomm-amd-and-intel-cpus). We’re hoping these requirements will be loosened before its release in Oct2021.

The best news is that, if an app runs in Windows 10, it will also run in Windows 11.

Here are the biggest changes in this most recent Windows iteration:

  • Icons and windows get a refreshed look; widgets have made a comeback
  • Start button only works from bottom bar; and by default it is in the center
  • Removed some of the useless stuff: tiles, tablet mode, Internet Explorer
  • Added some new useless stuff: Teams, snap layouts, virtual desktops
  • And (I’m not sure why, but) you will be able to run Android apps

(I’m simply being thrifty with my words when I call features “useless”. They’re not useless features, they’re just features that will be used by a very small percentage of Windows users.)

As always, there are no “must have” features in the next Windows release. The biggest reason to switch to it will be the impending retirement of Windows 10 in Oct2025.

10 Web Search Tips

The Internet is full of both good and bad information. Good web search practices can help you to find the best information. Before sharing these 10 web search tips, I’d like to review a few terms. A web browser is a program or app on your device that displays web pages from websites; examples are Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari. A search engine is a website or service you use to search for a particular website, web page, or search string on a web page; examples are Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo. And a search string is a word, or group of words, for which you are searching.

Most web search tips (not just these ones) apply to all web browsers and all search engines.

Tip #1. If you know the address (URL) of the website or webpage, don’t search for it, type it directly into the address bar of your browser; it can save a step. E.g. mars.nasa.gov.

Tip #2. You typically don’t have to prefix a website address with http://, https://, or www.

Tip #3. You can type a search string into the address bar of your browser, or bring up the search engine page in your browser and type it in there. You can adjust your default search engine in your browser settings.

Tip #4. You can be very specific in your search by grouping words (using hyphens or double quotes) or excluding words (prefixing with a hyphen). E.g. mars-rover “perseverance rover” -dogs.

Tip #5. You can search within a website for a search string by using the “site:” prefix. E.g. site:mars.nasa.gov “Ingenuity”.

Tip #6. With Google Search, you can narrow your search results by type, by clicking on one of the listed types: I.e. Images, Videos, Maps, News, Shopping, Books, Flights, Finance.

Tip #7. With Google Search, you can narrow or sort your search results by date, by clicking on Tools and filtering/sorting with the available drop-downs.

Tip #8. You can search by image by going to images.google.com, clicking on the camera icon, and pointing to or uploading an image. E.g. find shoes like the ones in the picture.

Tip #9. Google Chrome is the most popular browser (about 65% market share) and Google Search is the most popular search engine (about 86% market share), but not everyone likes/uses Google because they record your searches. If this is a concern for you, DuckDuckGo doesn’t record your searches.

Tip #10. If you find yourself browsing to, or searching for, a particular website frequently, set it as a favourite/bookmark to save a step and to avoid clicking on an unwanted search result.