To be human is to adapt, whether we like it or not.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Over the long weekend I had an experience usually elusive to the working mother: going to the movies! We opted for Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” a documentary about Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France and the spectacular cave drawings discovered there in 1994. This being Herzog, he uses the cave drawings as a mere jumping off place for exploring deeper issues, such as what it means to be human and the history (and possible future) of our planet.

At one point in the film he asks the chief archeologist “What is humanness?”. The gist of the answer was our ability to adapt to the world. Which struck a chord with my technological frame of reference.

Anyone using a computer has to deal with a ridiculous rate of  technological change, and thus must constantly adapt to new systems, programs, etc. The RATE of change is faster now than ever before, so the humans of this third millennium are truly testing the limits of our inherent adaptability.

In Chauvet Cave there is one panel with two drawings side by side. By carbon-dating the drawings they discovered that those two drawings were done 5,000 years apart. Five THOUSAND years apart. In 32,000 BP the drawing technology of choice was a burnt stick. Flash forward 5,000 years and the technology was… a burnt stick.

What luxury to have such a slow rate of change! How relaxed the cave people must have been! No need to stress about if a better version of charcoal will come out two days after you bought yours! Yes, early humans were masters at adapting, but they sure took their time about it.

Flash forward 30,000 years, and our technologies change rapidly and continuously, at an ever-increasing rate. We’re able to keep up, because we’re human. Do we like having to adapt and change? Definitely not. But are we still really good at it? Yes!

As much as we all hate change, it’s where we really shine as a species and we should celebrate that in ourselves. Technology doesn’t separate us from our ancient ancestors, it connects us, through our special gift of adaptability. Every time we learn a new operating system, or get a new phone, we are calling back through the eons to the first people who pulled sticks from the fire and walked, in the flickering light, toward the cave walls.

– Asha Kinney

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MacProtector? Not Exactly…

We’ve seen a couple of cases this week of malware infections on a Mac. Along with instructions on getting rid of it, we’ve got some antivirus software to help you avoid this and future infections.

It would appear that the era of not worrying about malware infections on Mac’s is coming to an end. The current threat is called “MacProtector,” a variant on “MacDefender”.

The Current Threat
The purpose of MacProtector is to get your credit card information. To that end, it starts by giving dire warnings about a system infection, and may direct your browser to porn sites. The warnings will give you an option to install a fake antivirus program, which is where your credit card information comes in.

Removal Instructions
If you believe you have contracted MacProtector, follow the removal instructions at http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4650 , or call the IT Help Desk at x5418.

Prevention Options
Apple will be releasing an automatic update that will prevent this particular infection from installing itself, but we encourage you to install virus protection software on your computer. You can download a free Sophos antivirus program at http://www.sophos.com/en-us/products/free-tools/sophos-antivirus-for-mac-home-edition.aspx ; licensing restrictions prevent IT from distributing it on our computers, but you may install a copy on your machine. There are other antivirus solutions available, though we haven’t tested them out; Apple has a site with links at http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/networking_security/ .

Working from Home? VPN Can Help

VPN allows you to access Hampshire servers from off campus that are not normally available from off campus. If you’re planning to use it, you should install and test it before you need it.

What is VPN?
VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network.” It’s an extension of a private network that allows access from other networks. In practical terms, it will allow you access to Hampshire’s private network resources from off campus.

Do you Need VPN?
You do need VPN to access the following services from off campus:
newmisserver and other Hampshire servers
On-campus printers
Web UI interface to Ellucian (Datatel)
You do not need VPN to access the following services from off campus:
Hampshire email
Intranet
TheHub
Moodle course websites
RedDot CMS
Drupal CMS
Wordpress blogs and sites
Hampedia

Where to Find the Instructions
You don’t need any special software to setup VPN from a Macintosh or Windows computer, but you do need instructions. Because these instructions include a password, we keep them in a private part of the network on the Hampshire Intranet. Instructions can be found on the VPN Instructions page on the Intranet (login required).

Installation and Testing
Follow the instructions provided to set up VPN. Once you’ve done this, it’s important to test that it’s working before you actually need to use VPN from home. Unfortunately, to test the full functionality you have to be off campus.
If you find that your connection isn’t working, pull out those instructions you saved earlier, and walk through the process again, either editing your previous set-up or deleting it and starting from scratch.

Buying a Computer with your Hampshire Discount

The past couple of weeks we’ve given you some information to help with choosing the right computer to meet your needs. Here’s the last little bit of info and instructions to use your Hampshire discount.

So far we’ve talked about memory and disk storage (see https://intranet.hampshire.edu/viewDetails.php?messageNumber=37915 and https://intranet.hampshire.edu/viewDetails.php?messageNumber=38040 if you missed those). Today we’ll briefly go over the CPU & GPU, and give you pointers to use your Hampshire discount.

The CPU
CPU stands for “Central Processing Unit,” and it is the “brains” of a computer. Traditionally, the standard measure of the quality of a CPU was based on its “clock rate,” with a higher number indicating a faster CPU. It used to be measured in megahertz (MHz), but these days we measure in gigahertz (GHz) (1 GHz = 1,000 MHz. Typical clock rates today are between 1.4 GHz and 3.0 GHz.

These days, though, clock speed is only a tiny piece of the picture. It doesn’t translate when you look across CPU product lines, let alone comparing processors from different vendors.

So what can you do? If you’re buying a PC it may have either an Intel or AMD CPU, two different manufactures of somewhat similar CPU’s. If you want to compare their speed, the best thing to do is to Google the two models for comparison benchmarks.

If you’re buying an Apple, you can pretty much figure that higher price equals higher performance, although if you’re buying a MacBook Air you’re paying more for a lighter but slower computer.

The GPU
“GPU” stands for Graphics Processing Unit, the part of the computer that’s responsible for manipulating graphical data for display on the screen. Some computers have “integrated” or “on board” GPU’s, which indicate that they’re a permanent part of the computer’s architecture, and others are completely separate components. Usually, a separate GPU is more powerful than an integrated GPU. The MacBook Pro higher-end models have both types of GPU; the computer uses the integrated one when possible, thereby minimizing power consumption, but the separate GPU is used when required for more sophisticated graphics operations.

You don’t need to worry about what GPU a computer has unless you’re planning to use the computer for graphically intensive gaming or video editing. Any computer you buy today will come equipped to run basic applications (Office, Adobe apps, etc.), as well as many computer games. If you need to run more graphically sophisticated applications, do a little research on the requirements; applications usually have minimum and recommended configurations to guide you.

Using your Hampshire Discount
Hampshire faculty and staff have access to discounts on computers, software, and peripherals. This includes Dell, Apple, Microsoft Office, and Adobe products. There are also discounts on Verizon and AT&T Wireless service, and a whole array of peripherals and netbooks through Gov Connection.

To get started, go to http://www.hampshire.edu/buycomputer/.

Beginner Mode: Get used to it!

Quote from Kevin Kelly’s Techno Life Skills :

“You will be a newbie forever. Get good at the beginner mode, learning new programs, asking dumb questions, making stupid mistakes, soliticting help, and helping others with what you learn (the best way to learn yourself).”

In this day and age we’ll always be beginners at something. For many of us that’s a hard place to be. For others, it’s what makes life interesting.

Learning how to learn: THE most important 21st century skill!

Thanks to John Gunther for showing me the quote!

-Asha


Memory and Disk Space

Last week we gave some background on understanding the terms of measurement that are used to describe memory and storage in computers. Now we tackle the practical application: how much do you need?

Before we can discuss how much memory and storage you need, it will help to define the difference between memory and disk space.

Computer memory , often referred to as “RAM”*, is memory that the computer uses for temporary storage. Items in RAM are “forgotten” as soon as you shut down the computer. RAM is very quick for the computer to access, and it’s used to hold basic computer instructions (the “Operating System” or “OS”, such as Windows or OS X), running computer programs (Microsoft Word or Firefox, for instance), and data that you are working with (documents you are editing, for example).

Having sufficient memory to efficiently run the programs you need is important. When computers don’t have appropriate RAM for tasks the operating system has to use hard disk storage to swap information out and in. This scheme is called “virtual memory,” and the act of swapping is called “paging;” it is used to some extent by all modern operating systems. However, when the amount of RAM is insufficient for the task at hand, the paging becomes excessive (called “thrashing”), and you’ll notice significant delays in operations as well as continuous reading from and writing to the disk.

Hard drive storage is used for permanent storage. Hard drives hold the saved copies of your documents, the static copies of computer programs, as well as the static copies of your computer’s operating system. Hard drives are much slower for the computer to read from and write to than is RAM.

How much RAM do you need?

OK, so let’s talk numbers. Any recommendations for RAM are a snapshot in time, and what we recommend today won’t hold in a year or two. Today, though, we suggest :
2 GB (gigabytes) of RAM for computers that are used for basic word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing, and video watching. This is the standard amount of memory we equip our Hampshire computers with.

If you are doing video editing, significant graphics processing, or high-end gaming, you should consider 4 GB of RAM.

What size hard drive should you buy?
Getting a hard drive of sufficient size is important when buying a computer. On the other hand, we’ve noticed that when a drive is much larger than necessary, people have a tendency to keep way more data than they need, and the disk quickly becomes disorganized.

Specific recommendations for today’s computer purchases are:
250 GB of hard disk space should be sufficient for large numbers of text files, average photo and music files..

320 GB or hard disk space would be great for the above, as well as for having a sizable second operating system (dual boot Mac) running on your computer.

500GB is appropriate for dual-boot Macs and very large stores of graphics or video files.

Don’t forget a backup drive!
When you buy your computer, also budget an external drive that is at least twice the size of your computer’s hard drive. This will allow you to backup your computer drive, and hopefully avoid the loss of any data. It’s a relatively small investment (in the range of $100), and well worth the expense.

Next time we’ll talk about the other mysterious parts of your computer, the CPU and graphics processor, as well as how to use Hampshire’s educational discount to purchase a computer for yourself.

*RAM is an acronym for Random Access Memory, which is a bit of an outdated term. In the old days, before hard disks or even floppy disks were invented, long-term computer storage was on magnetic tapes. Tape storage was sequential –you had to roll through the entire tape if you wanted to read from or write to the end of the tape. Hard drives are technically random access devices (the computer can “jump” to whatever space it wants to read/write, non-sequentially), but they are never referred to as RAM; there are other characteristics (especially the relatively low speed of data transfer) that set hard drives apart from computer memory.