How many Tasmanians does it take to eat the planet Jupiter?

Outback mum becomes YouTube hi-tech maven

In my role as part-time techno nerd and Linux aficionado, I’ve struggled through numerous how-to videos made by lonely guys living in their parents’ basement, cussing up a storm at Microsoft while extolling the preternatural benefits of Water Rat Linux (or whatever distro with a development team of one has lately come down the pike).

Yes, saving the world through Linux how-to videos can be a lonely and thankless occupation — but meet hi-tech whiz kid Philip Adams and his “sinsible” (yet vivacious) mum Diana:

Philip and Diana Adams

Together they’ve become stars of a YouTube channel called OSFirstTimer where mum Diana tries out (and sometimes intentionally destroys) a variety of computer operating systems, goaded on by son Philip, who alternatively guides her, assigns her reasonable tasks, leads her into evil ways, and lands them both in full giggle loop territory.

I stumbled on their antics quite accidentally, being genuinely interested in Remix OS (a.k.a. Android for desktops), and charmed to find their exploration begins with Diana feeding gigantic white parrots on a balcony by the seashore:

The patriarch of the family, Ben, is occasionally roped in, as is little sister Jasmine (or “Jazzy”); but for the most part it’s Philip and Diana who attract viewers with their great chemistry and offbeat approach to matters hi-tech.

Last month I posted a two-part series on “Art and Hermeneutics” which gave me the opportunity to study the works of Hans-Georg Gadamer and learn about the subject from folk already conversant. I therein had occasion to reference musical duets between Stu Goldberg and L. Subramaniam, and between Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and L. Shankar. These duets are dialogical in nature — a word which crops up often in hermeneutics. Dialogue with others can unleash a certain power, beauty, and joy. This is one high falootin’ explanation for why OSFirstTimer videos are so much more engaging than those made by lonely guys in basements. The interplay between Philip and Diana results in a “fusion of horizons,” making the dull subject of computer operating systems seem vibrant and alive.

One of the more intelligent, knowledgeable, and well-spoken YouTube Linux gurus, Joe “Bootsy” Collins (a true Southern gentleman and Linux Mint booster), points out that some purveyors of Linux how-to’s are foul-mouthed and reinforce the notion of tech as a “boys’ club” with high barriers to entry for women. The peripatetic English Bob, however sociable, doesn’t do much to dispel this image with his wallpapers featuring muscle cars or scantily clad Asian women. But OSFirstTimer balances the scales somewhat. The main star is clearly Diana, who’s eminently practical about what works and doesn’t work for her, asserts her preferences with oomph, and is not afraid to choose a pink, flowery wallpaper if the mood strikes her. To their credit, neither Philip nor Diana spend their time vaping or f-bombing (another dig at English Bob).

I’ve quoted Gadamer as saying “If you decide to make the effort to read, when you read you will not deconstruct, but you would learn to construct.” Good advice, but every thesis cries out for its antithesis. Particularly in the world of tech (which some people take so seriously), deconstructionism has its place. Tech companies even offer “bounties” to end users who find creative ways of destroying their products and services. Figuring out how to destroy something can be a good way of learning how to build it better and stronger, an approach also useful when fashioning bear-proof trash bins or squirrel-proof bird feeders:


Fortunately or unfortunately, no one has yet fashioned a Diana-proof OS.

The Internet has proved a mixed blessing — certainly not the Utopia envisioned by early adopters. We’ve become reliant on technology, but there are a thousand-and-one things about operating systems and Net life which are annoying or degrading, so I especially enjoy Philip and Diana’s sojourns into creative destruction, and their live encounters with tech support scammers. Without ever mentioning Turing, they re-enact the Turing Test — or perhaps an old TV commercial starring Ella Fitzgerald:

Is it live or is it Memorex? Surely a meme for our times. Philip is a genius at installing operating systems as virtual machines, so when he and Diana go online, trolling for ways to catch a virus or schmooze with scammers, what ultimately gets destroyed is a virtual install running in VMware, not the real underlying operating system. Still, there’s always the risk that a powerful virus or skilled hacker could get past the virtual machine and attack the host OS. IOW, “Kids, don’t try this at home!”

While OSFirstTimer spends a fair amount of time just fooling around, much can be learned about Net life from creative play, as when Diana falls in love with the BonziBuddy adware, and Philip has to explain that such is vehemently hated in polite Internet society:

Equal opportunity destroyers, Philip and Diana don’t just go after Windows, but also Mac and Linux. In the course of their antics, viewers learn the valuable lesson that searching for free movies is one of the easiest ways to encounter malware and fake antivirus:

While giddy with amusement is their typical state, they become positively hysterical when interacting with “Andrew The Expert,” whom they encounter after getting a fake antivirus warning from visiting a movie site. Is Andrew a real person or a bot? The Turing Test (or Voight-Kampff Test) has not been so rigorously applied since Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, later made into the film Blade Runner by Ridley Scott.

Questions of sentience and legitimacy are never quite put to rest in the OSFirstTimer video, so let me address these issues with a couple of links:

“Ongoing MacKeeper fraud”
http://www.thesafemac.com/ongoing-mackeeper-fraud/

“PUP Friday: MacKeeper”
https://blog.malwarebytes.com/puppum/2016/08/pup-friday-mackeeper/

It could be that Philip and Diana encountered a human-assisted bot. The bot interacts with their Mac OS and spits out some canned responses, but when it’s stumped by their questions, a real person situated in Kiev (and always named Andrew) may chime in now and then.

Feigning concern about her privacy, Diana eventually agrees to give her “real” e-mail of fairypop@prettymail.net, which sends her and Philip into paroxysms of laughter. We’re helplessly carried along as they gradually morph the tech session into a computer dating scenario. The “bot” explains that dating is out of the question because it’s currently warming a seat in Ukraine.

This is probably the most insane of the OSFirstTimer vids, but definitely one of my favourites, doubling as a non-prescription antidepressant.

So next time tech is getting you down, hop on over to the OSFirstTimer channel  to see if an outback mum can claw her way through an outlandish OS or unsuspecting tech support scammer. She may succeed or fail, but she’ll definitely entertain you, and you might even learn something.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Microsoft Security Patch For Windows XP

If you’re still using XP, get this Microsoft security patch to help protect against ransomware attacks. Also consider trying Linux. Plus more tips for Windows XP users.

There are many reasons why some people still use Windows XP, the best being that they can’t afford to upgrade their hardware and software to Windows 7. Or maybe they have tons of stuff on their Windows XP machine, and everything “just works.” They don’t want to go through the hassle of moving to another platform. (There is no simple upgrade from XP to Windows 7. It’s really more of a migration which also involves a learning curve.)

If you can’t or won’t give up your old Windows XP, you need to be EXTREMELY CAREFUL about using it on the Internet, since Microsoft no longer supports XP with security patches. EXCEPT…

The recent outbreak of ransomware attacks has caused Microsoft to issue a (rare) security patch for Windows XP. Get it from the Microsoft site here:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=55245

This patch is for Windows XP SP3. Almost anyone running Windows XP should be running it with the SP3 update. If you’re not sure, this article on Lifewire.com may help you identify which Windows version/service pack you have:

https://www.lifewire.com/what-windows-service-pack-is-installed-2626084

If you have Windows XP with the SP3 update, it should look something like this:

Windows XP with the SP3 update

If you don’t have the SP3 update, install that first, BEFORE installing the anti-ransomware security patch.

Microsoft Information about the SP3 Update
https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc507836.aspx

For crass commercial reasons, Microsoft seems to have removed download links for the SP3 update. (They want you to buy a newer version of Windows.) If you need the SP3 update, it’s probably safe to download from MajorGeeks here:

http://www.majorgeeks.com/files/details/microsoft_windows_xp_service_pack_3.html

Switching to Linux

If you’re stuck with Windows XP because you can’t afford a newer computer that will run Windows 7, another option is to switch to Linux. There is a learning curve, but Linux is a lot safer to use on the Internet than Windows, for the simple reason that most malware targets Windows operating systems and has little or no effect on Linux.

There are different flavours of Linux, called Linux “distros.” Many of them are more resource-efficient than Windows, so you might find your old Windows XP machine will really fly if you switch to Linux. Some free Linux distros which I can recommend for older machines include:

There’s also a hybrid solution for people who’ve made a major investment in hardware and software that runs on Windows XP but not Windows 7, such as older versions of commercial multimedia software, old scanners or audio/video cards with no Windows 7 drivers, etc. The solution is to use Windows XP for multimedia production, but keep it off the Internet. Install Linux on a bootable thumb drive, and use Linux for your Internet browsing activities. In Linux, you can use familiar applications like the Firefox web browser and Adobe Flash Player to play streaming video. There are also lightweight Linux music players like Audacious, DeaDBeeF, Radio Tray, and Streamtuner2. This is all free software, though most projects will welcome contributions.

More Tips for Windows XP Users

Back up all your personal files regularly to an external drive. Don’t leave the external drive connected to your computer or network. This way, if disaster strikes, you’ll still have all your important personal files available from the external drive. This is good advice for all computer users, but especially for Windows XP users concerned about possible ransomware attacks.

Firefox is my favourite browser to use on Windows XP. Unfortunately, Mozilla will be ending support for Windows XP. I recommend downloading Firefox 52 ESR (extended support release) hereabouts:

https://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/firefox/releases/52.0esr/win32/en-US/Firefox%20Setup%2052.0esr.exe

The above is the link for Firefox 52.0 ESR for Windows XP 32-bit, US English. If you need a slightly different version, check here:

https://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/firefox/releases/52.0esr/

Conclusions

If you’re stuck using Windows XP, be sure and download the latest security patch, as well as keeping your anti-virus software up-to-date. Remember to back up your personal files regularly, and also consider installing Firefox 52 ESR, which is the last version compatible with Windows XP. Try out Linux, for a safer Internet experience and more efficient computing. Nine out of ten penguinistas agree: Linux is geekolicious!

Peppermint OS 7 (Linux) with customizations. Can easily be installed on an 8 GB thumb drive. Will run comfortably on an old Pentium 4 single-core computer with 1 GB of ram. Apps shown on left panel include Firefox, Google Chrome*, VLC media player, Audacious music player, Geeqie image viewer, Libre Office Writer, Calculator, and KeePassX password manager. *For a Pentium 4 single-core computer, install 32-bit version of Peppermint OS. If you need Google Chrome, install version 48, which is the last 32-bit version before Google discontinued 32-bit support.

Here’s a download link for Google Chrome 48, 32-bit, Linux, for 32-bit versions of Peppermint OS, Linux Lite, Linux Mint, etc.:

http://www.slimjetbrowser.com/chrome/lnx/chrome32_48.0.2564.109.deb

If you’re thinking of becoming a penguinista, but miss the Windows look (BSOD?), you can always install this hybrid wallpaper:

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