Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Parsons’ Rant pulled in around 500 hits yesterday. This was the biggest day yet. There were only three posts yesterday and I’m trying to decide if it was:

  1. The insightful reporting of the three  versions (four if you count Enterprise) of Windows 8
  2. The intrepid journalism of the final installment to the Linux series
  3. Henri – The French Cat

For some reason, I think that it was #3.


For those of you who have an interest in Feline Angst, have a look at Henri, the French Cat.

This post concludes my short series on Linux as a possible post-XP use for your PC. OK, so you’re convinced that you want to give Linux a try. What next? You could, of course, download a copy of  Ubuntu or some other distribution, burn an installation CD, wipe your hard drive and start over fresh.

The problem with starting with an empty hard drive where your XP (or Vista) installation used to be is that you lose everything to do with Windows: all your software, all your data, everything. Most of us like a phased-in transition where we have a foot in both worlds – at least for a little while.

There are three possibilities here:

  1. Install Linux – in this case Ubuntu – within windows. Once you do that, you’ll get a menu every time you boot your machine asking if you want to start up Windows or Ubuntu.
  2. Install Ubuntu in a virtual machine so that you can run Windows and Linux side – by – side at the same time. There are a number of free virtual machine programmes that will handle all of this. Just keep in mind that your PC does need to have enough horse-power to carry this off.
  3. Finally, you can try what I did which is to buy a second hard drive, install Linux on that drive and make adjust your BIOS so that it goes to the Linux drive first when you boot. Linux is smart enough to realize that there is a Windows installation on the same physical machine and will present you with the boot menu mentioned above. This way, you can use Linux or Windows on the same machine. Once you’re done with Windows and comfortable with Linux, you can wipe the Windows hard drive and use it as additional space for your machine.

The first 2 are explained in an article from PCWeek. If you’re still a bit leery about switching from Windows to Linux, you can burn what is known as a “Live CD” and boot your machine from the CD rather than your hard drive. You get to test drive Linux but you will lose any applications you install as well as any files you create. You can get around this last bit by saving your data to a flash drive. This approach is also described in the PCWorld article.

Finally, there is the problem with your MS Word & Excel files. There are some very good office suites for Linux such as OpenOffice and Libre Office that will read and create documents that are compatible with the Windows analogues.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this very brief introduction to Linux and that you will at least consider it as an option when Windows XP goes the way of all operating systems.


Ready or not, Windows 8 is coming – most likely in October of this year. With Windows 7, users had a lengthy list of choices: Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home, Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, and the Enterprise versions of Windows 7. With Windows 8, there’s going to be only two choices for the average Joe: Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. No confusing charts of versions & features. No paying extra for a version you really don’t need EXCEPT for one or two features that this particular one has.

Windows 8 is going to fit the bill for most home & business users. Windows 8 Pro will have features that really only apply to higher end businesses and institutions.

There are two other versions of Windows 8 but you really don’t have to worry about them. The first, Windows 8 RT is designed for use on computers, tablets and smart phone using the ARM processor. (The ARM processor uses RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing. If you want to know more about RISC, drop me a line.) RT will come – in most cases – pre-installed on tablets, smart phones, etc. The other edition is Windows 8 Enterprise which is intended for the big boys to use.

There’s only one feature in Windows 8 Pro that interests me and that is the ability for the machine to act as a host for Remote Desktop. There are, of course, other ways to connect to your desktop remotely – like LogMeIn – but I’m a fan of Remote Desktop. I’ve used it extensively over the past few years and it’s just cleaner and easier to use than other products.

Finally, I’m going to recommend that the average user wait a while before moving to Windows 8 unless you have no other choice like you’re getting a new PC and it only comes with 8. Windows 8 is a radical new design as far as the user interface goes and it is probably best to wait until there are a few add-ons that will make 8 feel like home.


Yesterday, I discussed what you can do with your perfectly good PC after Windows XP goes away. Today, I’m going to rant a bit about why you may want to give Linux a try. Keep in mind that I’m no “Fanboy” of any particular hardware or operating system. If it works for you, then it’s probably just what you need.

If you have an older PC, then Linux maybe just what you need. One reason why we keep having to buy new PCs is because the next release of Windows outstrips the capabilities of your hardware. Even though Vista came out (Hey! It wasn’t bad  after the 1st service pack was released.) was released to the entire world on January 30, 2007 – my 55th birthday – and Windows 7 was released in July of 2009, thousands upon thousands of XP users stayed right where they were because XP worked for them and they didn’t have to buy a new PC.

Linux has less stringent hard ware requirements. If your machine could run XP, it will most likely be faster under a Linux distribution like Ubuntu whose requirements are basically:

  • A 1 Gigahertz processor (Pentium 4 or better)
  • 1 Gigabytes of RAM (memory)
  • 15 Gigabytes of hard drive space (I have a 12 Gigabyte hard drive on my shelf that came from a client. It is considered to be an antique.)

In fact, Linux will quite well (read faster) on a machine with somewhat less than the above requirements. Indeed, the distribution called Puppy Linux only requires 256 megabytes of RAM.
Now before I go further, let me explain just what a Linux “distribution” is. To quote Wikipaedia,

A Linux distribution is a member of the family of Unix-like operating systems built on top of the Linux kernel. Such distributions (often called distros for short) are operating systems including a large collection of software applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, media players, and database applications. These operating systems consist of the Linux kernel and, usually, a set of libraries and utilities from the GNU Project, with graphics support from the X Window System. Distributions optimized for size may not contain X and tend to use more compact alternatives to the GNU utilities . . . There are currently over six hundred Linux distributions. Over three hundred of those are in active development, constantly being revised and improved.

The thought of 300 active distributions of Linux is simply mind-boggling. So which one should you use? I am going to recommend Ubuntu. Of course there are other distros that are just as good and have their own legions of fans but I am trying to keep things simple for you. Once you get your feet wet with Ubuntu, you may wish to try additional distros to see whats out there.

Most Linux distributions are F-R-E-E. Free. There are some specialised ones with specialised  software written to fulfill some need but most of the ones we are concerned with are free and the company or organisation behind it charges for things like support services. In addition, most of the software for distros is free as well. Hey, you can’t beat that!

Many of the common software applications that you use on a daily basis have a version for Linux or at least an analogous application in the Linux world. If you are seriously attached to a Windows application like Quicken, you can still run it on your Linux system via a software application called WINE.

So, before your eyes glaze over, I’m going to give you a couple of links and let you go. (My goal is to explain the basics and give you a taste of what Linux can do for you). These links are all related to Ubuntu.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Mark Twain

Statistics can be used or massaged to prove or justify just about anything. If you doubt that, simply take a look at any political ad on TV nowadays.

I keep an eye on the site statistics – more to see if anyone is actually reading any of this – and I have noticed 3 considerable spikes in my traffic. Each of those spikes came immediately after posting something about MACs with the largest spike coming in the wake of my “Welcome to the real world” post . This has led me to the conclusion that there is a significant interest – at least among my “audience” – in MACs or at least my posts about them.

My MAC posts have been on things that simply fell into my lap, so to speak. I’m basically a Windows man who is also interested in Linux. Have nothing against MACs. Just never worked for a company that used them. To me, MACs are a tool just like anything else.

So the question becomes “Should I focus on MACs more?” I’ve always wanted to build a Hackentosh so this might be my golden opportunity. And, coming from 37 years of experience with all kinds of computers, I can probably give a more even assessment than some “Fanboy”. To help me figure all this out, I’ve got a short survey below.

Do you own a MAC?[show_poll “Yes” “No”]
Should Howard start blogging about MACs more often?[show_poll “Yes” “No”]
Should Howard build a “Hackentosh”?[show_poll “Yes” “No”]

Business seems to be booming in the world of Macintosh infections. You might remember my post last week about the Flashback Trojan.
Well, a variant of this nastiness has been spotted in the wild.

This particular variant exploits MS Word for OS X and hops on your Mac machine by riding along on a Word document you download from the web. It will quietly sit there – unnoticed – and activates when you open that same Word document. Just another reason for buying some security software for your Mac.

For more details, see the article on ZDNet.

OK. I’m going to get the important bit out of the way first. If you’re running Windows XP – any version – on your work or home PC(s), you have until April 9th, 2014 to move to a new operating system because XP is going away. Oh, it will still work on April 10th, 2014 but Microsoft will end it’s support of XP on the 9th. That means that there will be no more patches, no more security updates, etc. If one of the baddies out in cyberspace – and they are legion – decides to release some virus/malware/scam directed specifically at Windows XP on April 10th, Microsoft is going to say “Too bad. You should have moved to Windows 7 or 8 before now.” In other words, you are going to be S.O.L. and I’m not talking about “Standards Of Learning” here.

The trouble here is that there are plenty of PCs/Laptops that are still working just fine – whether at home or in the office – but lack the horsepower to run Windows 7. Some of those machines cost a fair chunk of change back in the day and people don’t want to get rid of them while they still work and work well.

One theoretical solution would be for Microsoft to release XP to the world of Open Source software. In other words, XP would be supported by the enthusiasts and organisations that like working on old software and operating systems. Mark Gibbs from PCWorld makes this case but comes to the same conclusion as I did: There’s not a bloody chance that Microsoft would ever do something like this.

So, in one sense, you’re back where you started with a good PC & an unsupported operating system. There is, however, a more practical, existing solution in the Open Source community: LINUX. This operating system has been around since 1991 and has lower disk and memory requirements than Windows and has breathed new life into many a PC. What’s more, you can still run those legacy Windows applications under Linux and best of all it’s Free!!!

Tomorrow, I’ll rant a bit more about Linux.

For all of you MAC users out there, Apple has released a tool  to remove known versions of Flashback malware. The original story was posted here on April 11.

Infections have dropped to around 270,000 compared to a high of approximately 600,000 last week.

Read all about this release on ZDNet.

by Sophie Rhodes

If my adolescent psychology course at NC Wesleyan taught me anything, it’s there is a whole range of emotional, appreciative, and comprehensional levels to be found in that awkward state known as adolescence.  Sophie Rhodes’ Deep Waters is more oriented to the lower part of the age range; 13 to 15 years of age.  Finally, the target audience is decidedly female.

All that being said, Deep Waters is a sweet story and an enjoyable read – even for adults. In most mer-fiction you have one of several possibilities:

  • The girl is a mermaid
  • The girl is one but doesn’t know it
  • The girl is turned into one
  • The girl wants to be one
  • The girl is part mermaid on her mother’s side
  • Etc.

You get the idea.

This book is notable in that is one of a relative few where the person of aquatic origin is male. In this case, a boy named Raymos – a member of the Lemoso, living at the bottom of Lake Michigan. Julia  is the 15-year old, home schooled daughter of Helen and James Cork who founded a wind-farm company. Julia does have Lemoso roots which serves as a plot complicator.

Most of the action takes place around, in, and under Lake Michigan and Julia & Ramos meet on its shore. The main conflict deals with the fate of energy development in Lake Michigan where Breazy energy has a wind-farm on its surface and ExCo Oil & Gas who wants to explore and drill on the lake bottom.

This book has a strong environmental message. While some (adult) reviewers have declared that message to be overbearing, it seems to be just about right for engaging the target audience.

When reading Young Adult (YA) fiction, this reviewer is always on the look-out for “teachable moments”. The environmental theme aside, the target audience is introduced to the law of unintended consequences. The Lemoso have always had a ban on interacting with humans and those who choose to consort with surface-dwellers are expelled. These refugees  have moved on shore, mated with humans and their offspring carry the genes for some of the Lemoso’s powers. As a result, the Lemoso are threatened indirectly by humans with those powers.

The book is remarkably free of all but a few typos; something that seems to be rare in modern electronic publishing. Deep Waters is a good read and easily deserves a high rating. It is indicated that Sophie Rhodes intends to make The Lemoso Legends at least a two book series and it will be interesting to see how the overall story and character arcs develop.

My Rating:

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