Companies can track what diseases you look up online

Well, this is terrifying. From Vice:

Tim Libert, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, has discovered that the vast majority of health sites, from the for-profit WebMD.com to the government-run CDC.gov, are loaded with tracking elements that are sending records of your health inquiries to the likes of web giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and data brokers like Experian and Acxiom.

From there, it becomes relatively easy for the companies receiving the requests, many of which are collecting other kinds of data (in cookies, say) about your browsing as well, to identify you and your illness. That URL, or URI, which very clearly contains the disease being searched for, is broadcast to Google, Twitter, and Facebook, along with your computer’s IP address and other identifying information.

It seems like every day I see a new article showcasing what little privacy we really have.

Ripping DVDs and Blu-rays

Jason Snell at Six Colors wrote up a great article on how he rips DVDs and Blu-rays.

This article came at the perfect time as I’ve been contemplating getting an external Blu-ray drive for my Mac Mini. Currently, I’ve been ripping some DVDs (using Handbrake) as I’ve been converting my gigantic collection to files that I can play back on my TV via Plex and my Roku. It takes about 20-30 minutes to rip a DVD on my Mini and the fans blow like crazy almost the entire time. That has been one of my biggest concerns with getting a Blu-ray drive. My concerns seem to be valid after reading this from Snell’s article:

Video files take a long time to encode. Even on my 5K iMac, this three-hour HD baseball game will take more than two hours to encode. Be patient, or let your encodes run overnight.

Now, I’m not ripping three-hour baseball games, but I do have some movies that go on three hours, or even longer. If my fans blow like crazy for 10-15 of the 30 minutes of a DVD rip, I can’t imaging what will happen if I try to rip a Blu-ray and encode the video for a couple of hours 1. Should I even bother or should I just re-purchase (or otherwise acquire) those movies in a stream-able format? I’ll have to browse around and see if there are Mini owners that are ripping Blu-rays without long term negative consequences to their Minis.


  1. Or longer as Snell was doing it on his new, suped up Retina iMac and I have a 2012 Mac Mini

The ’90s Tech Industry is Back

The Verge has an interesting article, Facebook is the new AOL, that discusses how the tech industry of the 1990s is back.

The 90s were a decade of excess and mistakes and excessive mistakes. The rollicking good times of the 90s ended with the dot-com collapse of the early 2000s, the memories of which continue to shape the industry today.

So it’s worth noting that the broad outlines of tech in 2015 look surprisingly like the late 90s. The major players are set up the same, the fights are the same, and the mistakes will almost certainly be the same…

2015 will be defined by the Revenge of 90s Internet: media and tech giants flirting with each other, dominant players throwing their weight around, and portals, portals everywhere.

The article does a good job of comparing the major tech giants today with the ones of yesteryear. Facebook as AOL. Apple as Sony, Qualcomm as Intel and Google as Microsoft. The two that really hit the nail on the head for me are Apple as Sony and Google as Microsoft. That being said, some of these comparisons may just be skin deep. I think companies like Apple and Facebook are in much better positions than there predecessors. Perhaps that’s the point of the article. The companies of the ’90s could do no wrong and no one saw the downfall that would be not far off.

Stopping Data at the Border

Another article in the never-ending war against net neutrality and the fight against privacy.

The ITC recently gave itself the power to rule on data as it crosses US borders, as a result of a complex 3D printing case. If the ruling holds, it could have huge implications for the way data moves across the global web, and give the MPAA the site-blocking powers it’s been grasping at for years…

If you shipped in a boatload of Expendables DVDs, the ITC would have no problem stopping it at the border — so why not an ISO file? The technical mechanisms for blocking that file in transit would end up looking a lot like site-blocking, and the memo goes on to explain why targeting consumer-facing ISPs would be their best strategy in the wake of a favorable ruling by the Federal Circuit. It’s still unclear whether copyright would fall under the same rules (the current ruling may only apply to patents), but if it does, it would be Hollywood’s best legal channel for blocking sites in transit, supporting the same ISP-based blocking regime that was proposed by SOPA.

Giving the MPAA power to block sites because of the content on the sites is a slippery slope, one that should make everyone uncomfortable.

Dropzone 3

dropzoneOne of my favorite Mac apps over the years has been Dropzone. It’s a simple app that sits in your menu bar and allows you to perform a variety of actions with ease. It was recently updated to version 3 which brought a lot of new features.

Some of the coolest new features include more actions, the organize your actions how you see fit, and Drop Bar. Drop Bar allows you to drop files to the Drop Bar and then drag them to use in other apps/folders. It is a great way to move files around the Finder without having multiple Finder windows or tabs open, something that comes in very handy if you’re using a Mac with little screen real estate.

I was sold right away on the new version of the app. That being said, I was a bit disappointed when I installed it and saw my most commonly used actions, Install App, was no longer available. What Install App did was allow you to drag a zip or DMG file to Dropzone and it would install mount the DMG, move the app to Applications, unmount the DMG and delete the zip or DMG file. It tools a multi step process and shrunk it down to one step. So, why was this action missing? Sandboxing. Apple’s sandboxing will not allow you to run scripts like the Install App, for security reasons.

This is where Aptonic, the makers of Dropzone, really come through. They realize that these other scripts are huge parts of a user’s workflow and have allowed you to download the non-sanboxed version (meaning, a non App Store version of the app) and install these scripts. All you need to do is purchase the App Store version (or simply buy the version from their store) and run it once. You can then open the non-sanboxed version and it automatically imports your settings from the App Store version and recognizes that you have purchased the app. It was a seamless transition away from the App Store version and now I have my Install App action back.

I can’t recommend this app highly enough. If you’re looking for an app that will make your life easier, I strongly suggest you try it out.

A New Mac

I’m beginning to look for a replacement for my 4 year old iMac. The current specs of my iMac suit me fine, 8 GB of RAM, 256MB video card (I don’t game), Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I haven’t really run into any issues with the tasks I need to perform… Until recently.

I have been experiencing quite a few issues with kernel panics that seem to be caused by the video card (according to the console and crash reports). They will either freeze the computer or restart it. They happen at random times. Sometimes the screen will freeze on the screensaver (with very few apps running). Other times they happen just browsing the web (in Safari).

Back in June I was had some issues with the video card and luckily the iMac was still under Apple Care and they replaced the video card and the logic board. I thought that would solve all my problems, and for a while it did. Now I experience panics and freezes on a daily basis. I even did a fresh install of Mountain Lion, just to be sure it wasn’t due to something I installed and also because I haven’t done a fresh install since I got the machine. I may take the machine to the Apple Store for diagnosis, but I doubt they will find anything (they didn’t “find” anything the last time either, but wound up replacing the two components that were likely causing the issue). The Apple Hardware Test did not find anything wrong, but obviously, something is. The problem is, if I do need to replace the parts, the cost will be close to half the cost of buying a new machine with no guarantee that it will fix the issue. Then I will be out of that money and back where I started.

So that’s where my dilemma comes. Do I buy a new Mac (and no, buying a PC is not an option. I adore OSX and love the apps I use on it and do not want Windows 8) and if so, what model?

I currently use my iMac for web browsing, Photoshop work, web development and, most importantly, as my media server. I have Plex Media Server running and stream all my media to my Roku. I would really like a Retina MacBook Pro, but I would not want that running at all times in order to stream media to my Roku (and what’s the purpose of a MacBook if it has to stay on my desk connected to several external hard drives?). So, in all honesty, I have 3 options, a Mac Mini, an iMac or a Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro has not been update in forever and is really expensive. Not to mention, it is overkill for my needs. I’m not processing raw image files or doing a ton of video encoding. I don’t need server-grade (and outdated) Xeon processors. I don’t want to go with another iMac because of Apple’s move toward soldering the RAM directly to the logic board. I also don’t want to be stuck where I am now with my current iMac. That being said, any Mac I choose will face the same issues that all new Macs have with user-swappable parts (besides the Mac Pro, which I’ve pretty much ruled out at this point).

So that leaves the Mac Mini. I can upgrade the RAM on it, but that’s it. Everything else has to be done by Apple or an Apple certified repair shop. Also, the Mac Mini has integrated graphics and not a dedicated video card. I don’t do much (any) gaming, but it does worry me that I may need that extra power. I’m not sure how well the transcoding that Plex does or graphic intensive applications (Photoshop) will work on it. I imagine they will run fine, but I really need more information on that.

The Mac Mini is definitely the cheapest alternative. Building one online (without upgrading the RAM through Apple) will run about $1500. Not bad, but how will the machine handle in 3 or 4 years? Will I need a better machine by then (I like to keep my machines running as long as possible, in fact, I’m typing this on a 5 year old white MacBook that is also on its last leg, but with the iPad, I rarely use it)? Will it start to die on me like my iMac is? If I get the Mac Mini I will upgrade the RAM to 16GB, probably from Crucial, but the integrated graphics gives me some pause.

I feel that Apple’s tight control over their products and slow update cycles is hindering me here. I really wish they had a computer for people like me that were more tech-geek friendly. An iMac that users could open and swap parts would be ideal, but that is not Apple’s style, unfortunately. A cheaper Mac Pro would work too, if it were cheaper and not reliant on server-grade hardware. I don’t think I can wait to whatever mystery product Tim Cook hinted at for Mac Pro users in 2013, especially since I can’t go on using the iMac with it freezing every day.

So what do I do? I’m not sure.

The Never Ending Saga of iTunes Launching Itself

Two years ago I reported how iTunes would launch itself on my iMac. After tons of research trying to find the cause, I think I found it.

To recap what was happening, iTunes would launch by itself and (about half the time) start playing music. I thought there was an issue with the Logitech mouse I was using at the time (because any time I would touch the wireless dongle on the back USB port, iTunes would launch), but that didn’t seem to be the case because plugging in the normal Mighty Mouse did not solve the issue.

I continued to troubleshoot and do my normal testing and found that touching any of the plugged in devices to any of the USB ports could trigger it. If I shut down the computer and changes which ports the different devices plugged into, the problem would go away temporarily. Eventually, iTunes would launch by itself again. One of the most ominious times iTunes launched by itself was one Halloween while I was not at home. I came home to find Slither, a song about vampires by KC rapper Tech N9ne playing. Weird, huh?

For the past 6-9 months the problem went away so I assumed an Apple update fixed the issue at some point. Then, I installed Mountain Lion and after a few weeks the problem presented itself again. This time, I noticed that the problem only reoccured when I was troubleshooting another issue in which I was constantly moving my Mac to access the USB ports in the back. I started searching again. That’s when I found this thread on a Mac forum.

This problem is related to the microswitch located at the very bottom inside the speaker jack. Whenever you get this problem, make sure your speaker cable is fully inserted into the speaker jack. Even the slightest depress on the microswitch can create interference, causing itunes to start and random songs to start playing.

This made sense when I thought back on all the times the problem arose. Every time I would move my Mac to access the USB ports, I would move it in a way in which the speaker plug could have come lose from the jack, even if just a little bit. The tug on the speaker cord as I moved my jack made sense because the cable was taught enough to create the disconnect. After placing my Mac back where it should be and making sure the plug was in firm, I haven’t had the issue reappear. It looks like I have finally found the cause. Hopefully the countless other users experiencing this issue can use this information to help them rid themselves of this annoying problem.