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Can Macs Get Malware?

Macs are relatively free of spyware, malware and malicious trojans, so they say. "They" are those who know better than I how computers become infected. And truth to tell, until now I’ve had no hint of infection and I’ve used a Mac for several years.

That changed recently when this blog got an unwelcome visitor. Fortunately, I was aware of the intruder almost as quickly as it appeared and removed it in a matter of minutes. But it was pure luck.

The visitor appears to be malware that attached a corporate logo and link to the opening page of Perspectives along with the Share This plugin logo. The logos redirected users to an online Japanese electronic store.

I disabled a suspect blog plugin and ran software to remove malware. I followed this with commands to remove infected files I found on the Internet from a reliable Mac magazine . I’m a rank amateur at using terminal commands but the instructions were clear and graphically illustrated. The symptoms matched and instructions to remove it worked, to my relief. I checked for unusual files in WordPress, based on other descriptions provided on the web.

Even after this I was unsure of my efforts and went to the Mac store and a local Mac dealer and asked about malware removal and protection. While staff at both places were courteous and helpful, neither was familiar with malware on a Mac because, they said, it’s so unusual.

The folks at Mac Authority took the time to look at my files, however, and agreed they look as they’re supposed to.

A couple of Mac blogs comment that as Macs increase market share they’re becoming bigger targets for viruses and malware. I can’t confirm that, but I can confirm that it’s a strange feeling to discover someone’s gotten into your computer and is using it for their purposes. It’s the same as someone violating your privacy. And, in fact, that’s what malware, spyware and viruses do. Hackers break into your space, and some are more damaging than others.

Windows users are familiar with viruses and other malicious intruders and know they must be on guard. As a Mac user, I’ve been less cautious but that changed today. I’m less trusting and better protected.

HP Mini Review

I’ve been working with the HP Mini 1000 Netbook for about a month. I chose it for its keyboard. HP says the Mini’s keyboard is 92% the size of a full size keyboard. It’s laid out edge-to-edge, similar to 12" Mac laptops. This allow for larger keys than other netbooks, and it’s a decided advantage for comfort and function. I used it during a board meeting and took notes during a visit to Southwest Airlines general offices and found it a good choice. I got nearly three hours of battery life before re-charging.

The HP Mini has been priced slightly higher than other netbooks but Costco recently sold it online at a competitive price and street prices seem to be edging downward.

It weighs in at 2.3 lbs and easily slipped into a carry-on bag. Thankfully, it won’t cause back strain. I travel frequently and weight makes a difference.

In most other features , the mini is competitive with other netbooks but it has a few limitations. It has a single switchable jack for mic or earphone use and two USB ports. Dell has three USB ports and jacks for both audio and mic. And HP also expects you to buy a proprietary SD card for an external drive. A standard media card would probably have been sufficient. The Mini comes with a webcam. It runs on the same Intel Atom processor others use. This processor is adequate but you can over-task it and you’ll have wait for it to catch up, and eventually it does.

Mouse keys are located on the left and right of the touchpad and I found it easy to adjust to this arrangement. The left side of the touchpad moves the cursor while the right side scrolls the screen. I’m used to Mac touchpads that allow me to use one finger to move the cursor and two to scroll. The transition here is easy enough, yet it’s not quite the same. Sensitivity, however, is a moving target. I’m still experimenting with touchpad sensitivity and cursor speed.

The netbook came with Windows XP but after a couple of weeks I downloaded HP’s Mi Linux operating system. If you buy it configured on the netbook, this edition is approximately thirty dollars less than the XP version. HP recommends the XP version but in my opinion Linux is more intuitive and functional, especially if you’re used to the Mac OS. The HP Linux adaptation, however, disables the command line function of the Ubuntu Linux operating system which I find frustrating.

However, after using it for a week, I’ll keep the Ubuntu system even with HP’s limits. It’s closer to the Mac OS, but far from equivalent to it. I like the desktop which includes easy access to email, favorite web pages, videos, music and a file browser. The open source software performs remarkably well. I’ve synced my bookmarks on Firefox , and Thunderbird email works as well as any off-the-shelf program, in fact, better than some that cost a pretty penny. Open Office is more than adequate for word processing. I haven’t tried the spreadsheet or presentation software.

I plugged in a new Minos Flipcam to see how it would work with the HP and the media player downloaded and played the Flipcam video without a hitch. However, the HP doesn’t want to download the Flipcam’s editing software which is written for Windows and Mac. I also discovered it won’t play TokBox video online. When I tried it set off a loud screech that brought staff running into my office. That’s a humbling experience in a technology company.

Netbooks won’t replace full-featured laptops. They’re made to read email and access the Internet. They’re mostly plastic, inexpensive and, therefore, replaceable if stolen, lost or dropped. I like the HP, but after using it for a few days while traveling, I returned to a full-size MacBook Pro with a smoothly operating glass touchpad and it felt like a cool drink on a hot day. I realized how constricting the small screen is, and how it requires to you attend to it more intensely. A netbook is a useful, functional utility. A MacBook is a wholly different experience.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet, That is the Question

The discussion in the board meeting about the usefulness of Twitter was like a ping pong ball–it’s useful, it’s a time waster. Back and forth it went. But it was a moving feast of discussion, not merely a predictable debate with no resolution.

It’s clear most of us don’t want to know when someone just stepped out of the shower. But we are interested in ideas, links and helpful suggestions about myriad subjects. In fact, some are using Twitter for this purpose and are creating "knowledge communities." Others haven’t found it worthwhile and have let their Twitter accounts go idle.

In an article a few weeks ago NY Times technology writer David Pogue wrote about an experiment in which he posted a question on Twitter (How do you cure hiccups?) as he spoke to a trade group. He received his first response in 15 seconds and they continued for several minutes. The primitive experiment was an illustration of an instantly available knowledge community.

In our meeting we used Twitter to capture short, key points we thought worth flagging for later discussion and expanded consideration. Subjects can be identified with a hashtag # and title. For example, #title can be accessed at search.twitter.com and all the posts related to the #title will display. Already, however, some Twitter users are complaining that overuse is making the search tool less useful.

The blog Wardman Wire discusses a the use of Twitter as a virtual meeting tool.

We also used Facebook to share ideas and capture points for later processing and discussion. Everyone had a netbook or laptop and could participate. A website for our Commission has been created for online communication about the issues, strategies and key communication concerns identified at the meeting.

It’s too early to know if this style will prevail and how valuable it will be in the long run. Most likely, it will serve a purpose under specific circumstances and be less useful in others. But the introduction of social media to the conversation about how to reach out to new people was fruitful and will be informed by this experience regardless.

More tomorrow.

New Media. Who Uses What? Why? And How?

As the young panelists addressing our board meeting discussed how they use new media it became instantly apparent that generational differences in media usage are like chasms in the Arizona desert. Some in our group had never heard of Twitter. Others use it frequently. Some are on Facebook, others not.

On one hand, the panelists, including our own young adult board members, said they are moving away from Facebook because their elders had discovered it. They related how they use text messaging for personal contact and hinted that it is a way to avoid some of the discomfort of communicating face-to-face. And they emphasized how the technology is both as natural as breathing and also a background function enabling them to fulfill a real need for meaningful, authentic relationships. Technology shouldn’t get in the way of relationships and should be used to enhance them, they said.

One young woman indicated her primary community involved face-to-face contact and she uses text messaging and other tools to enhance personal interaction.

On the other hand, in a small group discussion later, a very perceptive young adult member of our board told the group she uses Facebook for more meaningful relationships with friends around the world, and these relationships contrast with her day-to-day casual relationships with people at work, in classes and elsewhere.

Her meaningful community–the people she goes to when she has important questions–are those with whom she’s shared important life experiences, and they live in Africa, Europe and across the U.S. They are her primary community.

Another member of the board from another generation has a similar community. Having been imprisoned by an authoritarian regime in the past, he has renewed his relationship with two men with whom he was held captive. They live in different countries and meet up on Facebook. No one can understand the meaning of their experience and its influence of their lives quite so authentically as the three, he said.

Social networking tools are replacing some qualities of face-to-face community while also enhancing face-to-face community. We are experiencing new forms of community and seeing the decline of old forms of community, perhaps even seeking, as one SMU professor said, the loss of skill to relate to each other face-to-face.

These tools make possible community in real time and on-demand, as intimate or as distant as you want it to be. They must be used carefully, with sophistication and concern for privacy. And young people need to consider how online images and comments might affect them in the future.

These tools can be abused and be terribly harmful, or utilized in a way that makes life more understandable and even compassionate.

More tomorrow.

Twittering, Network TV and Newspapers

As the dean of the school of journalism at Southern Methodist University spoke to our governing board in a classroom on campus about the state of journalism, the announcement was made that the Rocky Mountain News was shutting down. We also talked about the decline of network television, and in another session about the value of Twitter and social networking, and when we continued our meeting on Saturday morning, the NY Times carried stories about Twitter , audience erosion in network television and, of course, the Rocky Mountain News .

It was a mind-bending experience. As we talked about “new media” and how it is changing business models, culture and our relationships to each other, it was happening around and to us. We were not merely studying it, we were experiencing it and, therefore, living it. We were twittering each other as we met and social networking as we put up digital photos and video of the meeting; sharing knowledge in person and flagging issues and questions online for discussion later.

I will hazard a guess here. My hunch is this was the most contemporaneous and relevant meeting of the General Commission on Communication of The United Methodist Church since its formation in the 1950’s, and also the most transparent.

The Commission is the governing board of the church’s communications agency. It met at SMU and heard from faculty in journalism, business and theology. We spent an afternoon with senior communications executives at the general offices of Southwest Airlines talking about corporate uses of new media. And we heard from a panel of students majoring in communications, marketing and journalism about how they use new media.

Our attention and the coverage wasn’t coincidental, of course. All who use media, which means most of us in the U.S., are affected by these changes. And for all kinds of reasons we use different media in different ways for different purposes. That became clear as we discussed several of these heavy-duty questions in depth.

I’m going to put some of this discussion into posts the next few days and I invite your reactions.

A Netbook Conundrum

I ordered an HP netbook online. It was heavily discounted and I like this model for its keyboard. I received an email confirmation followed by a UPS tracking number. The netbook was picked up in Shanghai. It’s in Anchorage as I write this.

Am I the only person who wonders how a company can make money on these dirt cheap machines with the overhead costs incurred?  Various manufacturers are selling netbooks for as little as $250. Even with economies of scale, it’s difficult for me to understand how a manufacturer can make the journey from Shanghai to the southern U.S. profitable.

Wordle my Blog

WordleI discovered Wordle, an online program that analyzes the words on a site and creates a cloud. Just for fun I ran Wordle on the Perspectives site and got this word cloud. Scroll over and click the image at left for an enlargement.

I don’t think it represents the whole site, just those words available from the first page of the blog. So it doesn’t create a representative cloud, at least the way I ran the program.

But it’s an interesting and instructive visual of the frequency of subjects and their descriptive phrases that reveals emphasis.

Blogging Platforms

I’m changing blogging platforms.

I’ve been swamped with work lately and have not blogged as frequently as in the past. And I’m looking into changing blogging platforms and that’s taken time. It’s a major change. I’m loooking at WordPress primarily because it’s accessible, has many plugins and looks like it will transfer my iBlog files.

There’s a lot to write about, of course, so I’ll get back to more regular postings as I get the background work completed in making this changeover.

Email to IM

A recent report by IDC, an advisory and
market intelligence company for information technology, instant messaging is
making headway with businesses and individuals, causing some to suggest it will
replace email.

A recent report by IDC, an advisory and market intelligence company for information technology, says instant messaging is making headway with businesses and individuals, causing some to suggest it will replace email.

I talked to the CEO of a virtual company recently about her belief that email is dead. It is being replaced by instant messaging, she says. Her own company already relies on instant messaging for its four key management executives, each of whom works in a different city.

Her experience is that instant messages reveal more about the senders than email, making it easier to communicate more effectively. She also says IM is already well established among youth. No longer a technology needing introduction, it’s a fact of life.

It’s also a fact of life in many parts of the world. In Asia, Africa, Scandinavia and most of Europe, it’s also the preferred mode of communication. The figures are staggering. IDC says 28 million business users send 1 billion instant messages daily.

It’s not the number of users that take your breath, it’s the number of messages. Where this takes us is, of course, also interesting. Each new form of communication technology changes us in ways we don’t anticipate. The people I talk with who rely on IM say it’s a great tool. They are mostly personal users, not business types. They tell me IM is just another way to communicate. It has become an integral part of their personal relationships. If you’re using IM, I’d be interested to hear how you use it and how it’s affected your life.

Tiger is GRRReat!

If you’re a Mac fan, Tiger, the new
operating system, is great.

I don’t know how many Mac users read this blog. But I think a few of you have not moved to the dark side. I loaded Tiger on two of our three Macs and there’s no turning back.

A few relatively minor utilities haven’t been updated yet, so they won’t work. One was a screen grab that I like but it’s not irreplaceable. The built-in screen grab works well enough for me. It’s a little less convenient, but that’s not a big deal.

An overlooked new utility that has caused me to mutter “thank you’s” under my breath is an automated network diagnostics tool. I travel a lot. I often have to futz around with wireless settings to get on the Internet and it’s a minor frustration when I’ve set something in the background that prevents the powerbook from connecting. I always forget those settings.

This happened again last night. But, after Tiger. A pleasant screen advised me I’m not on the Internet and asked me if I needed help. Of course.

So, I follow the next step and the next and before you know it, I’m on the Internet. I look at the settings and realize I could have done that. Of course, it would have taken ten minutes or more, I would have re-set something I didn’t need to change, used un-theological language and maybe gotten on-line before the new day arrived.

So, I’m pleased. Even more, I rested because I went to bed earlier and was in a better mood for sleep. I like Tiger.

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