James Watt’s guide to buying a PC this holiday season

Looking to buy yourself or loved one a new computer for the 2013 holiday season, but not sure what to buy or how much to spend? I’ve written the following guide to help answer these questions. Being in the IT industry, I come in contact with thousands of computers each year that vary greatly in style and price. I learn toward certain brands, such as HP and Intel, because of my experience in the field. This post isn’t to argue about which brands are better; it’s to give recommendations and answer the most frequently asked questions I receive during the holiday season.

While this article will cover systems for most people, I won’t be making any recommendations for Apple computers. This is because I have very limited knowledge of Apple systems and wouldn’t feel comfortable making a recommendation. Secondly, I won’t be making recommendations for gaming rigs. You should never buy pre-built gaming rigs, they are junk and overpriced. If you are going to get a gaming rig, you will need to piece one together and build it yourself. If you know enough to build your own computer, you probably don’t need me to make a recommendation for you.

If you want a gaming system, but have never built your own computer, you should look into the $399 Playstation 4. It much cheaper than the most inexpensive gaming rigs. I do not recommend the Xbox One because it is $100 more than the Playstation 4, you cannot upgrade your own hard drive, and it plays most games at 720p. The Playstation 4 on the other hand plays games at full 1080p. (I am unbiased on this, I was an Xbox 360 gamer during the last generation. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s newest console is mediocre at best. 720p is not “next gen.”)

Should you get a desktop, laptop, tablet, or All-In-One? This is really a question you will have to answer for yourself. Desktops are the most bang for your buck: you will get more storage space and computing power for a lower cost than in any of the other devices. If you are already planning to keep your new system on the same desk 24/7, I highly suggest going with a desktop computer. Alternatively, All-In-Ones are great if you are looking for a sleek desk computer with touchscreen capabilities. I suggest getting a mouse with your All-In-One to use in conjunction with the touch screen. Laptops, while less powerful than desktops, have more processing power than tablets. If you don’t plan on doing anything computation heavy, such as Photoshop, then you could go with either a laptop or a tablet. Finally, tablets aren’t recommended for people who plan on writing a lot, even though some of them come with a rubber fold out keyboard. In my opinion, even with the fold out rubber keyboard, they just aren’t as efficient as a desktop or laptop when it comes to writing more than a few lines at a time.

Software recommendations: I know that some of you will not read to the bottom of this article as you will probably go directly to the recommendation for the type of computer you want. While I still have your attention, it’s important to tell you about software bundles. When you buy Microsoft Office at the time you buy your computer, you save more than $100 than if you buy it later. If you are going to need Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, etc. make sure to purchase it with your computer and not after the fact! If you want to be able to access Word, Excel and Powerpoint files for free, please check out Open Office, LibreOffice or Google Docs. These apps work great for home use, but I don’t recommend them for business use. Finally, do not purchase antivirus software with your computer! Use the very free and very good Microsoft Security Essentials.

hp-prodesk-600-resized-100041132-origDesktop recommendations: When looking for a desktop computer, there’s a few things you should check. First, unless you already know that you like Windows 8, you should be looking for a Windows 7 system. I would purchase a computer with at least 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i5 processor or better. Also make sure it has a DVD burner, you’d be surprised how many computers do not come with optical drives anymore.

I have two recommendations in this category. The first is the small form factor HP ProDesk 600 G1. It’s listed on HP’s website for $799 with the specs I explained above. You can find other versions of this computer with better/worse specs, so feel free to browse. Just make sure to not go below the minimums listed in the paragraph above. I also suggest searching for systems on Newegg and TigerDirect to see if you can get a better deal. Do not buy computers from Best Buy. I don’t know if they still do it, but it use to be that all computers purchased through Best Buy only came with a Geek Squad warranty, not a manufacturer warranty.

HP-ProDesk-600-G1-Microtower-PC-APJ_400x400My second recommendation is virtually the same computer, but in a regular form factor (pictured on right.) Unfortunately, none of the tower units do come with 8GB of RAM, so it’s recommended that you purchase and install another 4GB stick of RAM. If you order your computer directly through HP, they can add this to your order and even install it for you. This system + RAM upgrade will cost you $834. While a bit more expensive than the small form factor, this tower will be large enough to accommodate a graphics card if you decide to get dual monitors or play games later.

While we are on desktop computers, I want to make some recommendations for displays. You have one of two options: get an actual computer monitor or get a television. Both computers above come with DisplayPort video outputs, which means you can purchase DisplayPort adapters to convert the output to HDMI if you are using a television. If you are going to get a monitor, simply find any monitor in the price range you like on HP’s website, no adapter required. If you are going with a television, I suggest getting either a Samsung or Sony television as they both work great with computer output. Don’t forget your DisplayPort to HDMI cable. I do recommend getting your display at a brick-and-mortar store, such as Best Buy, because most online retailers won’t let you return a display with dead pixels unless there’s at least 6 dead pixels. I don’t know about you, but if there is even 1 dead pixel in my brand new display, I’m taking it back.

HP-ProBook-4740s_Front_OpenLaptop recommendations: Just like with desktops, when looking for a laptop, there’s a few things you should check. First, unless you already know that you like Windows 8, you should be looking for a Windows 7 system. I would purchase a laptop with at least a 14″ screen, 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i5 processor or better. I personally don’t like the 17″ systems as they are too heavy to carry around. I always go with either a 14″ or 15″ when purchasing for myself.

I setup and configure ProBook and EliteBook laptops a couple times per month and never have issues with them. It should come as no surprise that I highly recommend them both. The difference between them is primarily the look and durability, the EliteBook is all aluminum while the ProBook has some plastic components. Both are great systems.

b6031005_HP-Elitebook-8460pIf you’re able to snag a laptop with a Solid State Disk drive in it (abbreviated SSD) as opposed to a traditional hard disk drive (HDD,) definitely do so. SSD drives, while usually smaller than the 500GB I suggested earlier, are much faster and more durable than traditional HDDs. Laptop HDDs have a propensity to crash because you are moving the laptop, so going with an SSD helps prevent most crashes. This is because SSDs have no moving parts, while HDDs are a mechanical device that do have moving parts. Finally, if you do get an SSD, get at least a 120GB drive (240GB is even better, but obviously more expensive.)

c03981881All-in-one recommendation: When looking for an All-In-One, there’s some stuff unique to this type of system that you should check. Unlike with my laptop and desktop recommendations, you should get Windows 8.1 with your All-In-One. This is because the All-In-One’s have touchscreens and Windows 8.1 is a great touchscreen operating system. I would purchase a system with at least a 20″ screen, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i3 processor or better. Always get a keyboard and mouse with the system as you will not want to use the touch interface for everything you do. Be aware that not all of the All-In-One systems come with an optical drive, so make sure that it has one if you need it.

Take a look through this list of All-In-Ones and make your decision. 23″ screen is obviously recommended over the 20″, but you will have to find what works inside of your budget. Make sure the one you pick says “Touchscreen” on the icon and meets the minimum requirements in the paragraph above. I think the 23-f460xt is the best deal right now at $699.99. Consider getting 2.1 speakers as the built in speakers aren’t any better than the speakers in most laptops.

surface-pro-2-in-purple-640x353Tablet recommendations: The Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are both excellent tablets and come in a wide variety of colors. The primary difference between the regular Surface and the Pro is that the Pro can run regular Windows apps as well as apps from the app store. The regular Surface can only run apps from the app store, meaning that some programs you already have on your laptop or desktop probably won’t work on it.

If you are going to get a regular Surface 2, I suggest the 64GB version for $549. However, if you need to be able to run regular Windows applications and want a little more power under the hood, you’re going to want to look at the Surface 2 Pro starting at $899. If you plan on storing a lot of film, television and music on your tablet, you should really consider upgrading to the 128GB or 256GB versions. Don’t even look at the 512GB version unless you are rich and want to flush money down the toilet because it’s really overpriced.

I hope this helps! Happy holidays!!!!

The above recommendations are the extent of what I’ll be suggesting this holiday season. I realize you may see deals that aren’t listed here, but due to the sheer amount of requests I get about this, I won’t be able to individually review and respond to those questions. The only systems I really feel confident putting my recommendation behind are the ones already listed on this page. Thank you for understanding this and happy shopping!

Why I’m closing my 16 year old Verizon Wireless account

My family became Verizon Wireless subscribers in the late 90s when my grandfather purchased his first cellphone. As people in the family got on the cellphone train, he usually added them to his account. Around 2003, my grandfather provided me with a phone as long as I paid him monthly, which was fairly easy even on teenager wages. Over time, most people in the family got their own plans and went on their way; there wasn’t family share plans or any real reason to keep the lines together back then. Around 2006, I switched to my first smartphone, a blackberry. This created a new $30/mo unlimited data fee. Still, overall, it seemed as though I had better coverage than my friends who did not have Verizon and I found that the prices were comparable with everywhere else at the time.

In 2007, my grandfather passed away. Instead of creating a new account, I took his death certificate to Verizon and had the account transferred completely into my name. I was the sole individual on the account at this point. I added my girlfriend at the time and we both got new smart phones: whatever the newest Blackberry was. Now at this point, Verizon still wasn’t offering unlimited talk and text, but other carriers were. Happy with the coverage of Verizon and not wanting to change gears, I decided to wait for Verizon to adjust their pricing policy to become competitive again. It took nearly 2 years for Verizon to finally offer unlimited talk and text, but I still think I was right to wait it out.

Now, I don’t remember the dates of every phone I’ve purchased, but since switching to smartphones, I’ve had four blackberries, two iPhones and seven androids. The iPhones went to the ex-wife, who made sure to keep her brand new iPhone during our split in 2011, while leaving me with the line and contract. Fortunately, I was able to recycle her line and use it for one of my technicians on a 3G blackberry phone laying around my office. That same year, I purchased a Motorola Xoom tablet and added it to my account as well.

I met Jess that summer and she was using T-Mobile. Her reception was terrible and her bill structure wasn’t too great. By this point, there were family share plans and it made sense to bring her into my plan. By the following spring, the technician with the blackberry was no longer with my firm and I had to find something else to do with the line for 8 months. My girlfriend’s son, Joey, needed a phone. I gave him a one or two year old android phone and kept the line open. Since early 2012, I’ve had 4 total lines: 3 phones, 1 tablet. My monthly bill with Verizon is around $250.

I’m not dissatisfied with the price structure. I even willingly got rid of our unlimited data so that we could do family share data (it’s cheaper over 4 or more lines than paying $30/mo on every device.) But over the last couple years, I have noticed that Verizon has painted themselves into a corner. Verizon’s mobile network technology is proprietary and therefore restricts what devices you can and cannot use, while AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile use an open standard. While this was not an issue before, it has become my biggest issue over the last few years.

Verizon branded cellphones come stock with around 5gb of bloatware depending on your phone. Stuff like NFL network and Verizon maps. There’s no way to easily remove these apps, although by rooting your phone, you can “freeze” them. This unfortunately will break the phone next time it gets an automatic software update. I’ve long since stopped trying to do things like that because I can’t afford to be troubleshooting my phone during the middle of the work day.

Jess phone disassembled

Jess phone disassembled

As someone who is always on the bleeding edge of technology, I can’t stand two year phone contracts. I end up buying one or two phones out of contract every two years because I like the latest and greatest phones. Jess, on the other hand, doesn’t really care about getting a new phone every month. In September, her phone got a little wet in a rain storm. She’s only half way through her contract. Water fried the audio jack on the phone, making it impossible to hear anything during a call as the phone was detecting a phantom headset. I called Verizon and asked them how much this one year old phone would cost now and they told me it would be over $600. Again, for a phone that came out over a year ago. You can buy a whole quad-core computer for under $600! This price, while ridiculous, is similar to prices I had paid in the past for out of contract phone upgrades. Fortunately, I was able to fix her phone by disassembling it and detaching the audio jack from the mainboard. I bought her a $50 pair of Motorola bluetooth headphones and she has been good ever since.

Speculating, I imagine the phone prices to be high for a number of reasons. 1). They force you into a contract as the average middle class person cannot afford to drop $600 on a phone. 2). They force you to use insurance, which makes you feel safe, but really just robs you blind. Here’s how the insurance costs work: Even if we only go back to my first smartphone in 2006, the cost for insurance has always been $10/phone/mo. In 2007, I went up to two lines. In 2011, I went to four lines. That’s $10((8*12)+(7*12)+(2*12)+(2*12)) which will equal $2,280.00 at the end of 2013. That’s how much I would have paid to Verizon for “insurance” since my first smartphone between all of my lines. To add insult to injury, they charge you something like $50 or $100 to actually use your insurance. What most people don’t know is that if your phone is defective for reasons other than being smashed or water damage, Verizon is responsible to replace your phone free of charge. Most people who end up paying that $50 insurance replacement fee do so in their ignorance of what their contract actually says.

Phones do not need to cost this much. Take the brand new Google Nexus 5. It’s $349. There’s a $399 version with double the storage capacity. This phone is on the upper end of mobile devices, featuring 2GB of RAM, a quad-core processor and a dedicated graphics card. Of course, it can’t work on Verizon’s network because Verizon’s proprietary hardware isn’t in this phone.  I’m speculating here, but I don’t think Verizon would ever allow a phone like this on their network as the whole thing completely ruins their business structure. If they did, it would most likely be $600+ and full of Verizon bloatware apps.

It seems at least once every year there is some awesome phone I want that is never going to be available on Verizon. This year, I really wanted an HTC One. While it was available on other carriers as early as March, it wasn’t available on Verizon until August 22.

There was once a time when you wanted to be Verizon so that everyone was in your network, but now that everyone has moved to unlimited talk and text, that isn’t even a concern. But is there really a replacement for Verizon when it comes to coverage?

Everybody knows that Verizon has the best service coverage, right? I started thinking about this and realized three of every four customers’ offices I work at have bad Verizon wireless coverage. I am constantly going outside, holding my phone as high as possible to try and talk to clients any time I’m on Babcock Blvd in Ross, anywhere in New Kensington, Mosside Blvd in Monroeville, Deer Lakes Park, West Mifflin, Glassport, the list goes on. Either my customer base just happens to correlate with Verizon dead zones or Verizon’s coverage isn’t as great as they say it is. Why did I chant the Verizon mantra that they have the best coverage then? Am I a victim of marketing?

After doing some research, Sprint and T-Mobile are right out. They don’t offer substantial coverage in the Greater Pittsburgh Area and certainly not any 4G coverage. AT&T on the other hand have good 4G coverage around my county and from everyone I have talked with, there are very few dead zones. Here’s some of the written responses I’ve received from friends and colleagues:

“I drive about 35K miles a year. From Erie to Huntington WV and Burnham PA to Hagerstown MD. I can count on one hand where I lose coverage. Rural Ridge local here, a spot between St Marys and Emporium, between Homer City and Indiana, near Luke MD and near Bradford.”

“I usually don’t have problems anywhere around the Pittsburgh area. I’ll have to think about what areas I lose service, I can’t recall any specific areas.”

“I switched pretty recently, so I guess you should take this with a grain of salt, but I am much happier with AT&T at this point than I was with Verizon.  Also, I have 4G.  I haven’t noticed many dead spots – here are a few:

1). On Mt Washington, turning off of Grandview Ave onto Shaffer [going towards the West End/51]– I’d make it about half way down the hill before I’d lose people.  [I used to drive this everyday and it never failed.]
2). I’ve also noticed spotty reception on Camp Horn Rd between Animal Friends and Rt. 65.  Sometimes my music app on my phone will freeze up and sometimes I’ll break up – but not really completely lose reception.

Other than that, I’ve been good.”

In conclusion, Verizon is charging far too much for phones. Their restrictive, proprietary network means many great phones won’t ever be available. Their coverage isn’t superior anymore. They are always behind the curve when it comes to price reductions for customers. I can no longer find a single reason to stick with Verizon. Come February, when my Verizon contract ends, I will be terminating my 16 year old Verizon Wireless account and switching to AT&T.

Could Verizon keep my business? Sure, slash the cost of new “out of contract” phones to below $400 and stop filling your devices with bloatware. Once I switch to AT&T, there’s very little chance I’ll ever switch back.

Internet Caching (My Theoretical Memory Hypothesis)

According to Cisco, in February of 2013, the average total speed of all Internet traffic was 167 terabytes/sec. Some quick math[1] will tell us that the total amount of global Internet traffic was 13.76 exabytes per day. We can presume this number has increased slightly over the last few months, but should be close enough for our purposes today.

In principle, a 64-bit microprocessor can address 16 exabytes of memory. Fortunately for our scenario here, the average price of RAM in 2013 was only $5.5/gb. Another basic math equation[2] and we can figure out that for the low price of $94,489,280,512 (around the total GDP of Morocco) we can purchase 16 exabytes of memory, capable of caching 1 day 3 hours 54 minutes of all Internet traffic. Taking into account increased bandwidth usage since February, I still feel confident that we could cache an entire day’s worth of Internet on 16 exabytes of RAM.

What’s more amazing: the amount of Internet traffic we use in a single day or the fact that a 64-bit microprocessor could theoretically address all of it?

[1] 167 terabytes * 60 * 60 * 24 = 13.76 exabytes
[2] (1024)³ gigabytes * 16 * $5.5 = $94,489,280,512

Norm Macdonald is wrong; Breaking Bad ending not a dream

Norm Macdonald recently proposed a theory on his Twitter feed that the last episode of Breaking Bad is a dream that Walter’s brain concocts in its last dying moments. According to Norm, Walter White dies in his car at the beginning of the episode when the police are approaching him. As he “dies,” suddenly the police disappear, a key falls from the sun visor – all too perfect to be true. Music starts playing that represents he’s no longer alive and now in a semi-conscious delusional state of mind. The rest of the episode goes off without a hitch, Walt successfully evades police in Mike-like fashion despite being made by his neighbor who would have given a full description to the police/FBI/DEA. He manages to build an auto-turret and parks his car just right so that it would kill everyone inside, an extremely lucky and improbable scenario when you really think about it. Norm thinks that it’s all too good to be true, therefore, it must be a dream bouncing around the mind of a dying man as his last synapses are firing.

While I can appreciate Norm’s interpretation of this show, I do not subscribe to his ending. All forms of art, including Breaking Bad, will always have more than one correct interpretation. Over the years, I have read some of the greatest fan theories, some of them making sense and others just being hilarious (Gilligan was actually the devil in Gillian’s Island, R2D2 and Chewbacca were actually the real heroes in Star Wars, the Rugrats didn’t exist and were a figment of Angelica’s imagination, etc.) Whether the original writers intended for these other interpretations or if they are purely coincidental is for the fans to decide, but in the case with Breaking Bad, I do not think Vince Gilligan intended for the ending to be a dream. All being said, I think it is more likely that they had way too much to accomplish in such a short time that they couldn’t fit a longer ending. I’m sure if they had 2 or 3 more episodes, they could have thrown a few wrenches into the storyline to make it more believable.

There is also the problem of the flash forward in Season 5 Episode 1. In the flash forward, Walt looks disheveled and is missing his watch.  After Season 5 episode 8, the show goes on a year long hiatus because the writers wanted to get the ending right. The suspense wasn’t just to screw with the audience; Vince wanted it to be perfect. Having already done a flash forward in the first episode, they couldn’t completely abandon their original ending, but I personally believe that the ending we are presented with is much different than where they thought they were going when they filmed the flash forward. (Hopefully one day that original storyline leaks as I would love to read it.) In other words, the closer that Vince and the writers got to the end, the more he had to accomplish without breaking continuity. During “Talking Bad,” when asked about why Walt took off his watch in the final episode, Gilligan simply explains that it was for continuity reasons because Walt didn’t have the watch in the Season 5 Episode 1 flash forward. But one has to wonder, what was the original storyline that lead to Walt not having a watch? Or was it a genuine mistake? Finally, the ending with the auto-turret built from an M60 seems a bit forced… they had already purchased the gun in the flash forward and now had to use it. Had that gun not been purchased, I believe Walt would have built a bomb as he had multiple times before in the series. Either way, you can see how difficult it must have been as writers of the show to rewrite the ending while still utilizing the material from the flash forward.

This, to me, is the real explanation why everything went perfectly in the final episode. Gilligan wanted to give closure to his fans and the only way to do it was to wrap up all of these loose storylines. Had things gone wrong, there wouldn’t have been time to reconcile every storyline. There is also the fact that Walt is not a psychic, there’s no way he would have known the details to many of the things he witnessed during the last episode. To name a couple, even if he somehow figured out that Jesse was actually a prisoner, he would not have known the exact means by which he was being held prisoner (chains on wrists and ankles.) He wouldn’t have known the exact markings of Jesse’s tortured face. He wouldn’t have known about the awkward “relationship” between Todd and Lydia.

If we start to believe that just since this last episode was a bit unbelievable and all too perfect, what is stopping us from concluding that during the pilot episode when Walter falls at the car wash, he goes into a coma and actually dreams the entire series? When he dies in Season 5 Episode 16, the hospital finally pulled his plug. I mean think about it, a teacher turned meth kingpin who successfully defeated every other drug lord in the Southwest and amasses 80 million dollars? And it’s only the ending that you’re having trouble believing?

To end this on a happy note, I just want to thank Vince Gilligan, the writers and the cast for making such an amazing show. As a fan, I truly appreciate the series ending and am so glad that it didn’t end like The Sopranos.

Update: Someone sent me this link from BuzzFeed with an archive of Norm Macdonald’s theory for those who don’t want to sort through his Twitter feed.

Update 2: If you want to badger Norm Macdonald about his theory, I made a link for you:

Badger Norm

9/11 – 12 years later

The moment that sticks out in my mind more than anything on this day 12 years ago was actually in the afternoon, after the attack: two or three military aircraft scrambled across the sky as I was walking up the steps to my house sometime after 2:30pm. There wasn’t a sonic boom, but they were hauling ass.

Living in Pittsburgh and not yet having been to New York City, I felt removed from the situation (although still very afraid of what was happening.) The jets overhead brought it home, we were under attack. Despite all of this, the sight and sound of American aircraft above gave me reassurance and comfort in what was undoubtedly the most troubling event I’ve ever lived through.

(Many years later, I learned that the military did grid patterns over the entire country with jets to ensure that all civilian aircraft had landed. The jets I saw were most likely part of that.)

The Day Ceasar marched across the Rubicon and overthrew Washington

I’m about to put this out there for general consumption and possible ridicule. It’s pretty much my entire worldview. I could be wrong, but I’ve thought long about this and the more time that goes by, the more I feel I’m onto the truth. This is probably the most important thing I will ever write in my lifetime. I hope to one day expand it with more sources and evidence, but for now, this is the premise of my hypothesis.

During every election for as long as I’ve been alive, the issues that are mostly discussed are social issues and government hand outs. Gay marriage, abortion, medicare, and social security to name a few. Actual lawmaking is not really discussed, and the laws that are made each year and put upon our society really come about without any say from the public.

At first this led me to the hypothesis that social issues are paraded about to distract the public from the real lawmaking issues that SHOULD be on the platform each election. This allows the Democrats and Republicans almost complete immunity for their real agendas (whatever they may be that year) since everyone knows where they already stand on abortion, gay marriage, etc etc.

But then I watched a video of President Eisenhower giving his farewell address. Eisenhower, as you probably know, was a five star general during WW2 who successfully invaded France and Germany from the Western front. He became President of the United States in 1953 and served until 1961. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address what had happened in our nation and how the balance of power had shifted.

In every great empire, there are two governments. The first, and most obvious, is the civilian government. The legislature, executives and judiciary make up this. Then, there is the military government, often less considered in first world nations like ours. We don’t actively see our military nor do we actively fear our military like citizens of some third world African nations do. Rightfully so, our military will most likely never take active measures against (passive) American civilians.

Before I can finish explaining Eisenhower, I need to take us back to the Roman Empire. I often look to the past to help decipher what’s happening; history often repeats itself. On January 10, 49 BC, Caesar led his military across the Rubicon and into Rome. The war waged on for four years, but in the end, the military was triumphant at overthrowing the civilian government. Caesar was made Dictator. I won’t go through all of the details, but I highly recommend reading about the events leading up to and during this civil war.

Eisenhower belonged to both governments. As a five star general, he was head of the military government (and I will continue to refer to the military as the “military government” throughout the rest of this article.) As President of the United States, he was head of the civilian government. He had a unique vantage point to see things unfolding that the public didn’t understand. In his hands, the military was a benevolent force, but he realized that may not always be the case. At this point, both governments touched, and one was bound to consume the other.

His farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961 warned us against something he referred to as the, “Military Industrial Complex.” This was his way of describing the economical and political machine that had come about in our nation – the second government. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties of democratic process. We should take nothing for granted, only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

But since 1961, through distractions such as television, Internet, pop culture, and radio, the citizenry has become less and less alert and knowledgeable. Today, elections are decided on the things we discussed earlier (like abortion) and not on the real issues at hand. The balance of power HAS shifted.

Kennedy, the successor to Eisenhower, was probably the last true President of the United States in the sense that the civilian government was still in charge. Kennedy came to office in 1961, and by 1963, there was 16,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam.

On October 11, 1963, Kennedy had issued Presidential Directive NSAM 263 to withdraw troops from Vietnam, against the wishes of the military government. On November 22, 1963, 42 days later, he was assassinated. On this day, Ceasar marched across the Rubicon and overthrew Washington.

Kennedy’s Vice President, LBJ was fully prepared to expand the war in Vietnam. On November 26, 1963, just four days after Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson reversed Kennedy’s Presidential Directive and issued his own, NSAM 273, which expanded the war. The military had successfully killed our President and took control of our government in such a way that the public never even knew it happened.

And they love the perpetuation of conspiracies like New World Order and other ideologies that trick you into think there’s some small group of bankers or shadow government running the world. People who promote this nonsense, such as Alex Jones are most likely funded indirectly by the Military Industrial Complex, allowing our true government to hide in plain sight: The Pentagon. It’s for the same reason they created stories of aliens to hide their secret military aircraft. “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” – Adolf Hitler

So, keep voting for your leaders on social policy and government handouts, because I imagine the way it happens is this: Day 1 in office, our President is told everything I’ve told you and more. He is told that he can do as he wishes domestically, but not to get in the way of the military in any way, shape or form. He is told not to mess with the people who protect him, as they ensure the safety of him and his entire family. This grooming may even happen before they win the election, ensuring that whoever wins is willing to play ball.

But go ahead, blame Obama for Syria and Libya. Blame Bush for Afghanistan and Iraq. Blame Clinton for Bosnia and Kosovo. Blame Bush, Sr for Panama, Iraq, and Somalia. Blame Reagan for Beirut and Grenada. But don’t for a second accept the fact that our leaders really have no choice but to sell these wars to the public.

Microsoft Update KB2859537 prevents PC from booting if Rootkit is present

I spent my Saturday evening working on probably the most convoluted computer problem I’ve ever seen.

This computer was infected with a rootkit virus that went undetected for who knows how long, no thanks to Symantec Endpoint Protection. I didn’t realize that at first though because there wasn’t any obvious signs of infection, and like I just mentioned, Symantec wasn’t throwing any alerts.

Microsoft released a security update on Tuesday, KB2859537, that prevents a rogue application from hijacking the kernel via a particular exploit. Automatic updates installed it among 11 other updates Wednesday night. When staff came in Thursday, the computer was stuck at the “Starting Windows” screen.

I started by attempting to fix the issue as if it was a problem with Microsoft Windows Update. I used every utility imaginable to clear/reset/fix Windows Update. I also reset the BIOS, screwed with the IRQs, sat through a system file check and hard drive check (which takes over an hour.) I even did a full hardware diagnostic to make sure the memory, CPU, etc wasn’t failing. Also removed unnecessary applications as well as Symantec to make sure nothing was interfering.

I eventually narrowed the problem to a specific update by installing 1 update at a time, rebooting, next update, repeat.

After identifying which update caused the computer to not load, I searched the web to see if others had the same problem. That’s when it happened: there was a dialog popping up in the bottom left of IE to install the latest Media Player. I had seen this dialog once before when I was on a Microsoft site today, and it looked official, so I didn’t think much of it. But now it was popping up on a non-Microsoft forum.

I immediately downloaded TDSSKiller and removed two rootkits that it found (Rootkit.Win32.BackBoot.gen and Rootkit.Boot.Cidox.b.) Rebooted, installed and updated mbam. Rebooted into safe mode, ran mbam full scan. It found 2 results (both Tojan.Vundo variants.) Rebooted and the IE popup was gone, but I ran ComboFix just to be safe. It found a few malicious files and folders (FunWebProducts, DownloadHelper to name a couple.) Then, I reset IE to make sure there wasn’t any lingering Add-ons.

Next, I installed the August malicious software removal tool. After a reboot, I re-attempted to install security update KB2859537. This time, instead of locking up, the computer booted normally. Yay! Praise be to the computer gods.

What was happening: KB2859537 corrected an exploit that a rootkit virus was using to hijack the computer. Because the exploit was fixed after installing the update, upon the next reboot, the rootkit is now blocked from functioning. This causes the entire computer to lock up and even BSOD in some cases. By removing the rootkit virus, I was able to install the security update without the computer locking up.

I wish I could say that was fun. Hope this saves someone else some time.

Update: If your computer is already locked up from the update, use your Windows disc to launch Startup Repair. During the repair, it will ask if it can use System Restore. Proceed through the menus and it will restore the computer to before the update was installed. I had a better success rate of doing this with the Windows disc than with F8 as the Rootkit corrupted the system restore utility.

Source/proof: By request, I’ve gathered all of the logs from the computer and made them available to the public here.

A Pot o’ Gold at the End o’ the Neutron Beam

The following article was written by a guest blogger, Ken Boyer.

As we approach St. Patrick’s Day, we find ourselves beset by imagery of diminutive leprechauns dancing about pots of gold located at the end of rainbows. Of course, such visions are the part and parcel of overactive or alcohol-fueled imaginations, unless one of small stature decides to dress in green and dance a jig about a pot filled with approximately $427,000 worth of gold coinage (and, yes, someone at the Columbus Dispatch recently calculated that, if you filled a pot with 271.36 ounces of gold, that would be the current street value). And, yet, there is something seductive about the allure of a pot of pure gold that goes even beyond the market value. Its power motivated medieval alchemists to pursue the legendary philosopher’s stone, reputed to bestow upon its owner the power to convert base metals, such as common lead, into gold. Yet, our modern knowledge of chemistry informs us that such aspirations are fruitless. Or, are they?

It turns out that, technically, it is possible to convert a relatively common element (not lead, but mercury) into gold, and to do it in the comfort and convenience of your basement. All it takes is a home-built fusion reactor. You read that correctly: in basements across our great land, there are people, some as young as teenagers, who have not been able to resist the urge to build their very own nuclear fusion reactors. Granted, the primary goal of these devices is the generation of cheap, ultra-efficient power, and so far, any net power gain — i.e., power emitted from the device being greater than the power put into the device — has eluded the intrepid researchers.

In a day when many hobbies have been supplanted by television, video games, and Facebook, as well as overtime and travel related to work, it’s nice to know that some of our neighbors are still busy pursuing hobbies. While scrapbooking has a large following, and many engage in the fun of flying and racing ever-evolving radio-controlled airplanes, helicopters, boats, and cars, there are some out there who take things just a few steps further. I’ve met people who build their own stereos using vacuum tubes, who work on their cars’ automatic transmissions, and who make their own Ukrainian Easter Eggs. But, these are still pedestrian hobbies compared to the pursuits of adventurous souls who cannot resist the urge to tinker with vacuum pumps, Geiger counters, and power supplies that present a whopping 45,000 volts or more of electricity.

A bit o' radiation will ne'er hurt ye...

A bit o’ radiation will ne’er hurt ye…

I know what you’re thinking. Can these things malfunction, leaving a radiation-polluted crater where your lovely neighborhood once stood? What if that unkempt, secretive fellow a few doors down is busy with very high voltages, heavy water, and who knows what else? Aside from the high voltage risk and possible exposure to dangerous radiation, these reactors are quite safe. In fact, this hobby has been spurred forward in the same way as many other more esoteric hobbies: through the Internet. The same crowdsourcing that inspires people as they trace their family trees has helped these bold hobbyists figure out how to shield the reactor to protect those nearby from hazardous x-ray emissions, for instance. Additional, and perhaps more useful, by-products from these reactors are high-energy neutrons.

Now, why would you particularly want a source of high-energy neutrons in one’s basement? Well, such little gems can be harnessed for the purpose of achieving the alchemist’s dream: making gold from mercury! It’s quite simple: “Using fast neutrons, the mercury isotope Hg-198, which is contained to 9.97% in natural mercury, can be converted by splitting off a neutron and becoming Hg-197, which then disintegrates to stable gold.” OK, that might be a little complicated, but it seems like all one needs to do is scrape together some of that Hg-198, put it into a suitable container (the kind of pot that is depicted as full of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow might be the most picturesque), turn on the power, and let the deuterium gas flow. Voila! Out comes the gold… though it seems that, even with gold going at close to $1600/ounce, there’s hardly any profit to be made using this approach. But, wouldn’t it be fun to tell your friends that you’re turning mercury into gold in your basement fusion reactor over a pint of green beer on St. Paddy’s Day?

Maybe there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after all.

Google Glass Will Not Publish Your Social Security Number

Like many, I plan on purchasing Google Glass the moment it becomes available. I have a feeling the novelty will only last a couple months, but I still want to experience augmented reality. Then, it will probably end up with my Xoom… on a shelf, collecting dust. But, that’s only because I live a pretty boring life, unlike the people in the video below.

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The Suppression of Vertical Videos

There seems to be a consensus among the “Internet Elite” that all vertical videos are rubbish and should be stricken from the Earth. It has become Internet culture groupthink to vehemently disapprove of these videos. Does the average member of the herd even understand why they are to disapprove of vertical videos? Or, do they just repeat and reinforce the same culture conformity banter they’ve seen elsewhere?

The reason vertical videos were originally frowned upon was that they do not display correctly on YouTube. This was a legitimate argument back then. There is an argument now that our eyes are horizontal so these videos do not “immerse” the viewer into what is happening, which is a great argument for keeping cinema horizontal, but has nothing to do with cellphone recorded snippets.

A large portion of crazy videos that go viral are recorded vertically. When you’re standing in public, recording something vertically helps conceal your actions. Plus, a landscape shot of the scene doesn’t add any additional information. “Here’s a video of some guy going nuts. I know how important viral video quality is to the Internet, so I recorded it horizontally. Yeah, that means I cut off half his body, but look at that pavement and grass I got in the background!”

Besides being inconspicuous and providing a better aspect ratio in certain situations, vertical videos will continue to remain popular simply because more people own phones than ever before. People who are “unplugged” from Internet culture will continue to record however they want.

As I said before, the original reason for disliking vertical videos was problems with playback. Let’s also keep in mind that most people are not watching phone-recorded, widescreen YouTube videos in full screen. It should become immediately clear who is to blame for vertical videos: YouTube! Not the person who created the vertical video!

In other words, YouTube doesn’t correctly display vertical video content. Instead of Internet culture blaming the shortcomings of YouTube and asking them to fix their website, the slippery slope fallacy is made that vertical videos will destroy cinematography. However, other websites, like Facebook, have corrected the issue, proving that it’s a limitation thta can be overcome.

properly displayed

[Read more...]

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