Book Review of “Avenger”

“Avenger” was published in 2015 and was written by Chris Allen. This is Mr. Allen’s fourth book and his third in the “Alex Morgan Interpol Spy” series.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through I would categorize this novel as ‘R’ as there are instances of Violence, Mature Situations and Mature Language. This Thriller novel is set mostly in contemporary Hong Kong and Belize. The primary character is Alex Morgan, former British paratrooper and now with a clandestine branch of Interpol.

I have not read the first two novels in the series, but this novel stands well on its own. Morgan is just finishing up an operation in Africa, when he is rerouted to Hong Kong to help fellow Interpol agents. The clandestine operation gets busted and Morgan is thrust into a battle to survive. Morgan continues the investigation of these human traffickers after they are tracked to Belize. Morgan travels to Belize and before long is in the thick of things once again.

This is a very ‘James Bond’ like Thriller novel. I enjoyed the 6 hours I spent with the novel, but it did not keep me on the edge of my seat. The plot was OK and the characters were about what you expect from this type of story. I give this novel a 3.5 (rounded up to 4) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (

iOS – Pocket Drive

I came across Pocket Drive a short time ago. What is Pocket Drive? This iOS Free (with in-App purchases) App provides a easy wireless (WiFi) connection between your iOS device and your PC or Mac. It has been developed by SIS Software out of Trzin, Slovenia.

Install the App on your iOS device and launch it. Open the Finder on a nearby Mac and you will see your iDevice listed under the Shared drives. Click on the iDevice name in the Finder window and a screen will pop up on your iDevice asking if you want to allow or reject the connection. Tapping Yes will then open the shared drive created with Pocket Drive on your Mac.

iOS - Pocket Drive3 iOS - Pocket Drive4 iOS - Pocket Drive5Now files can be dragged and dropped between the Finder window and your iDevice. Files dropped into the Finder window can then be opened with an App on the iDevice. This allows you to drag and drop mp3 files to listen to, or movies to watch from your computer to your iDevice. Pocket Drive supports a wide range of file types: .pages, .keynote, .numbers, .doc/.docx, .xls/.xlsx, .ppt/.pptx, .rtf, .html, .htm, .pdf, .txt, .jpg/.jpeg, .png, .bmp, .gif, .tif, .ico, .xbm, .mov, .m4v, .mp4, .mp3,  and .zip.

iOS - Pocket Drive1 iOS - Pocket Drive2Simple storage/transfer capability is little different from what you can get for free with Dropbox. What is different is that you can walk up to any PC or Mac with your iDevice and get connected. This gives you the freedom you would otherwise need a USB Thumb Drive for.

Having Pocket Drive installed on your iDevice will give your the functionality of a USB Thumb Drive, but will eliminate the physical connection. I installed Pocket Drive on my iPad Air2 and was rewarded with 256MB of space (though the web site for the product indicated that you get 512MB of free space). The amount of storage available is only limited by the free memory on your iDevice and how much storage you have paid for through a one-time in-App purchases:

  • 4GB $1.99
  • 16GB $2.99
  • 23GB $3.99
  • Unlimited $4.99

All-in-all I think that this will prove to be a useful App, and most likely I will purchase the expanded memory option at some point. It means that any time I have my iPhone or iPad with me, I effectively have a storage device with me as well.


  • Free to try with 256MB of space
  • No configuration needed
  • No setup on the PC or Mac


  • To get any practical use out of the App a one-time in-App purchase will be needed to increase the amount of available space
  • Not too practical on 16GB iPhone

See my other iOS articles

Tuneup Your OS X Mac – Hardware Upgrades

I have written other articles about how you can “Tuneup” your Mac to make it run a little more efficiently. This article will focus on the ultimate “Tuneup” for your Mac – upgrading the memory and boot disk (the disk that you are running OS X from).

Now, I have to preface this article by saying that not all Macs can be upgraded. Some, particularly the latest Macs, have soldered-in components that do not allow for upgrades. To find out if your Mac can be upgraded you can look up your particular Mac model at the OWC web site, or visit this page strictly targeting memory upgrades.

The Problem

I started out the Tuneup series saying that my Mac Mini has seemed to be running slow. I have applied the many tweaks I have outlined in the other articles of the series, but I finally made the decision to make the ultimate upgrade – expanding the system memory and replacing the boot drive with an SSD.

My Mac Mini originally had 4GB of RAM, which worked OK as long as I did not have too many Apps open. I have also needed to do something about my original 500GB disk drive. As I mentioned in the first article of this series “Tuneup Your OS X Mac – Part 1“, maintaining a minimum of %10 free space on the boot drive is desired for optimum performance. This has required that I repeatedly remove files to get the free space I needed. The disk is also at the low end of the performance scale, running only at 5400 rpms. As I discussed in my “Mac OS X – Adding an External Disk Drive” article, the faster the disk access time, the faster the system performs. A disk running at 5400 rpms does not have fast access.

Upgrading the Memory

I ordered 8GB of memory from OWC and, following the provided instructions, quickly opened up my Mac, removed the old memory DIMMs and replaced them with the new 8GB DIMMs. I closed up my Mac and rebooted it. Rebooting took a fraction longer, most likely for the additional time required for POST to run with twice the memory.

Operation after the upgrade was remarkably faster. All applications seemed snappier, and the system did not slow down once I had a dozen or so tabs open in Safari. I was also able to open more Apps simultaneously without the system slowing down. I ran with my system like that for most of a week and felt very satisfied that adding RAM made a huge improvement.

Adding the SSD Hardware

This past Saturday I undertook the task of opening up my Mac Mini and adding a second disk, a 60GB SSD I had purchased from OWC. The first thing I did was to run Time Machine to make sure that I had
an up-to-date backup of my system.

The process of installing the SSD was a little more complicated than simply upgrading the memory, as the Mac Mini had to be disassembled down to the primary components. The printed instructions that accompanied the SSD from OWC provided detailed, step-by-step directions with pictures of each step. Disassembly, installation and reassembly took a little over an hour.

I did find that the Airport Antenna did not fit back into place as it should due to the SATA control cable from the SSD preventing the original disk drive from seating fully into place (a topic I plan to follow up on with OWC Support), but the components were all held into place and the bottom cover easily went back onto the Mac Mini.

Configuring the System for Two Drives

I rebooted, and the new drive showed up. I then used Disk Utilities (Go >> Utilities >> Disk Utility) to format (Mac OS Extended (Journaled)) the new drive. I first tried to manually drag and drop all but the ‘User‘ folder from the old disk to the SSD to make it bootable. The files appeared to all copy over, but the system failed to boot from the SSD.

I fixed the issue by downloading the App Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) and configuring it to copy all but the ‘User‘ folder over to the SSD. CCC was smart enough to check what was already in place and just copy over those files that were missing. In my case, this was about 3.87GB of additional files. When that was done I tried booting from the SSD again and it went smoothly. On my desktop I saw two disks, the new SSD boot drive ‘Mac OS X‘ and the old disk ‘Macintosh HD‘.

Tuneup Your OS X Mac - Hardware UpgradesNow that I had the SSD configured as the boot drive, I configured my user account (Apple >> System Preferences >> Users & Groups >> unlocked the panel so I could make changes >> Control-clicked on my account >> Advanced Options) to use the old disk for my user ‘Home‘ directory. I clicked on the ‘Choose’ button for the ‘Home directory’ field and then picked the ‘Home’ directory for my user from the folders on the original disk.

Rebooting, my account had all of the information from the old disk in the ‘Home’ directory. All worked well, but as I continued to use my system I found that some of the normal folders listed in the Finder window were pointing to the empty ‘Home’ directory on the SSD instead of the ‘Home’ directory on the old disk like I wanted.

To remedy this I used a little “Unix magic” learned from my 20 years of Unix/Linux System Administration work and resorted to a Command Line Interface (CLI) fix. I opened a terminal (Go >> Utilities >> Terminal) and entered the following command:

/Volumes/Mac OS X/Users/jpurvis

The ‘pwd‘ command displays the path to the current working directory, in this case the ‘Home’ folder for my user account. Unfortunately, that path is for the newly created folder on the SSD that I just installed. My user data was on the old drive. I didn’t want to have to fix the problem in detail, so I replaced the ”Users‘ folder on the SSD with a symbolic link to the ‘Users‘ folder on the old drive. In the terminal window I entered the following commands:

cd .. /..
sudo mv Users Users.bak
sudo ln -s /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/Users  Users
sudo chgrp wheel Users
ls -l Users
lrwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel  27 Feb 23 16:42 Users -> /Volumes/Macintosh HD/Users

What did these CLI commands do? The ‘cd ../..‘ moves up two levels in the directory structure to the ‘/Volumes/Mac OS X‘ folder. Then the ‘sudo mv Users Users.bak‘ temporarily invokes root or superuser privileges to rename the folder ‘Users‘ on the SSD to ‘Users.bak‘. I used the command ‘sudo ln -s /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/Users  Users‘, again with root privileges, to create a symbolic link to ‘/Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/Users‘ on the old disk. This done there is now what looks like a directory ‘Users‘ on the SSD, but in reality any references to it are redirected to the ‘User‘ directory on the old drive. With ‘sudo chgrp wheel Users’ I updated the ‘group’ ownership of the folder to ‘wheel’ to match that of the original ‘Users‘ folder. The ls -l Users‘ simply confirms that the link is in place with the correct ownership.

I should note that every time you use ‘sudo‘ you will be prompted to enter the user password. This command lets a normal user run a command as the root user. This feature is built into OS X to allow users to perform various administrative tasks. BE CAREFUL running commands as the root user!!!! You can easily render the system inoperable if you do not know what you are doing. 

I rebooted and now with the symbolic link in place, everything worked as it should.


I think that the results were spectacular. Everything worked much
faster. Apps take a fraction of the time to start up.

I had run a very simple measurement prior to the upgrade to give me some measurement of improvement. I manually measured the time it took the system to boot up and present the login screen. This isn’t a very deep test, but it gives a quantitative indicator of what the upgrade to an SSD provides. I ran that test after the new memory was installed and after the SSD had been installed. The results are shown below.

Configuration Time to boot
Original system, 4GB RAM, 5400 rpm 500GB boot
76 sec.
System upgraded to 8GB RAM, 5400 rpm 500GB
boot disk
84 sec.
System upgraded to 8GB RAM and SSD boot disk 24 sec.


The 60GB SSD, now my boot drive, has almost 24GB (about %40) of
free space. This should provide the free space needed for efficient operation and keep me from having to repeatedly prune large files. Once I remove all but the ‘Users‘ folder from the old drive, I will gain about 35GB of free disk space. That will leave me with the system and applications on a small, fast dedicated drive, and a separate internal data drive for my user files.

One Post-Upgrade Issue

I went to run a Time Machine backup a day or so after I had completed adding the SSD, only to find that it kept failing. A little investigation revealed that Time Machine gets confused when an existing single drive is split into separate boot and data drives. I reformatted the external 750GB drive I use for Time Machine backups and ran a fresh backup. The new full backup ran properly and took over 8 hours to complete (in great part due to the USB 2.0 controller on my Mac Mini and having to make the initial backup of 456GB of files), but now Time Machine backs up both internal drives.


The bottom line is you should upgrade your memory to at least 8GB if your system can take it. Likewise, replace your boot drive with an SSD. These upgrades cost below $200 and will extend the useful life of your Mac for years.

See my other Mac OS X articles

Book Review of “The Lost and the Blind”

“The Lost and the Blind” was published in 2015 (April) and was written by Decian Burke. This is Mr. Burke’s fifth novel.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through I would categorize this novel as ‘PG’ as there are a few instances of Violence and Mature Language. This Thriller is set in contemporary Ireland. The primary character is Tom Noone who is a writer.

Noone is approached by the American-Irish billionaire Shay Govern to ghost write a biography about a little known Irish author of spy thrillers. Quickly he is drawn into something more than just a ghost writing gig. There is a hidden story of a possible war crime carried out by Germans in the early days of World War II.

As he keeps digging, more information comes to light as to what really happened in 1940, then a man he has interviewed with first hand information on the incident is found dead. Noone is confronted by Garda Detective Sergeant Alison Kee, and he becomes a person of interest in the death.

But Noone thinks this is more than a simple accident. From what he has been told, and because of missing documents from his home office, he fears that there are intelligence professionals, rather than common criminals involved.

While I enjoyed the 6 or so hours I spent with the novel, it is not an edge-of-your-seat page-turner. I did like the characters that were developed, and I can see the main characters of Noone and Kee appearing in a sequel. I thought the plot was good. Certainly it did not end as I had expected. I give this novel a 4 out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (

Book Review of “Into the Maelstrom”

“Into the Maelstrom” was published in 2015 (February) and was written by David Drake ( and John Lambshead. David Drake has authored or co-authored more than 30 novels and John Lambshead has authored or co-authored another half dozen or so. This is the second book of their “Citizen” series.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through I would categorize this novel as ‘R’ as there are instances of Mature Language and Violence. This Military Science Fiction novel is set in a far future. Humanity has spread through the stars.

This story is of the Cutter Stream colonies, far removed from the Home Worlds. It parallels in a great degree the history of the Americas and England, and the resulting revolution. The society detailed in the novel is one that is much like the British of the 19th century.

As the Stream colonies think about independence. Allen Allenson is appointed Captain General of the fledgling military. The story details the trials and tribulations of his command as he tries to organize an army and confront the Home Worlds professional army.

There are a few descriptions of direct combat, but most of the story is from the commanders point of view. More a trial of logistics, politics and strategy. I have read several of Drake’s other novels and he is a writer that I enjoy. This book did not disappoint that expectation. I have not yet read the first book of the series, but that did not impede my enjoyment of this one in the least. I give this novel a 4.5 (rounded up to a 5) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (

Mac OS X – Carbon Copy Cloner

There are many Apps available to make backups of your Mac files, but one, if not THE best is Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) from Bombich Software. This product has been around a long time in the Mac universe, having been introduced in January 2002. This product is not free (it costs $39.99), but a 30-day free trial copy is available from their web site. So why
would you want this App when you have Time Machine?

The biggest reason is that you can create a fully bootable backup of your current boot drive. CCC has a simple user interface that is easy to master. Clicking on the Advanced Settings button will offer more granular control for the experienced user. Backups can be scheduled to occur at times of your choice, and backup only those
directories you choose.

Mac OS X - Carbon Copy ClonerOnce installed you can open CCC, then select the folder or drive to be backed up from the drop-down menu. Then you select the destination. A window to the left of the user interface provides a list of what is to be backed up. This list can be edited to customize the backup.


  • Creates fully bootable drive
  • Backups can be scheduled
  • Backups are customizable
  • 30-day trial


  • $39.99 price

I recently added an SSD to my Mac Mini and used CCC to clone my existing drive to the new drive. It was quick and once it was completed, I was able to reboot from the new SSD. I highly recommend this product!

See my other Mac OS X articles

USA, Alaska, Skagway – Sugar Moma’s

My wife and I took an Alaska cruise during August of 2013. One of
the stops our ship made was Skagway, Alaska. Skagway is a small town with a population of under 1000, though that doubles during the tourist season. We wondered around the town, then took the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad from Skagway to Fraser, British Columbia. We then rode bicycles about 15 miles and 2800 vertical feet back down to Skagway. It was a great ride and fortunately almost all down hill.

USA, Alaska, Skagway - Sugar Moma'sWe celebrated our ride by visiting a local Skagway bakery, Sugar Moma’s (382 5th Ave, Skagway, AK 99840). It is relatively small, but the cupcakes tasted great after our brisk ride. We tried to be good and shared a Pumpkin Spice cupcake. If you ever get a chance to visit Skagway, you will want to stop by Sugar Moma’s for a tasty

See my other Food articles

Security – Passwords

Security and data privacy are becoming increasingly important issues for everyone. Regrettably, one of the biggest security holes is the easiest to fix: poor passwords. We all have multiple applications needing passwords, and the use of passwords looks to be the most common authentication method for the foreseeable future. What can you do to be more secure?

Passwords not to use

First, do not use weak passwords. Users with weak passwords continue to be the single biggest security issue. Users simply rely too often on default passwords or choose to use passwords that are too

Things to avoid

  • Do not reuse passwords, passwords should be unique for each
    App and web site.
  • Do not share your passwords with anyone
  • Do not write your passwords down

Security application and service provider SplashData once again
released its annual list of the 25 most common passwords found on the Internet. This list was compiled from more than 3.3 million passwords stolen during 2014, then publicly posted. Based on their study, many people are still using weak and easily guessable passwords. The worst passwords of 2014 are:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345
  4. 12345678
  5. qwerty
  6. 123456789
  7. 1234
  8. baseball
  9. dragon
  10. football
  11. 1234567
  12. monkey
  13. letmein
  14. abc123
  15. 111111
  16. mustang
  17. access
  18. shadow
  19. master
  20. michael
  21. superman
  22. 696969
  23. 123123
  24. batman
  25. trustno1

Those are not the only common passwords that SplashData found. Common names such as “michael,” “jennifer,” “thomas,” “jordan,” “hunter,” “michelle,” “charlie,” “andrew,” and “daniel” are all in the top 50. Also in the top 100 are swear words and phrases, hobbies, famous athletes, car brands, and film names.

Strong passwords

Unbreakable passwords may seem to be beyond reach, but they are
easily possible. Regardless, all security experts agree that ‘strong’ passwords should always be used. So what is a ‘strong’ password?

A strong password is one that contains enough separate information
to form a barrier to any hacker or the software they are using to break into your account. A ‘strong’ password will:

  • be at least eight characters in length, 12 or more is
  • at least one uppercase character
  • at least one lowercase character
  • at least one digit
  • at least one one symbol (if allowed, such as !@#$%)
  • avoid dictionary words, even with substitutions, i.e. speed =
  • avoid repeated characters
  • no keyboard patterns or swipes

Brute force password cracking programs can use standard dictionaries to try and find a password, even with character substitutions. These programs simply take a list of common passwords and try them one by one until they find the one that works. When that fails, they go fall back to systematically creating every possible password and trying it. The more possible passwords there are, the longer the brute force attack will take to find the password. The best passwords are those made up of random characters, and the longer the better.

So how does that ‘strong’ password make a difference? Lets say you need a 6 character password.

  • If you only use the digits 0-9, then there are only 1×106
    possible combinations.
  • If you add the lower case letters, then that changes to
    36x36x36x36x36 = 366 = 2.17 x 10possible combinations.
  • Using digits, lowercase and uppercase that changes to 62= 5.68 x 1010
  • Adding symbols (20 to 30 are possible), then that goes to 82= 3.04 x 1011  at the low end

Now see what happens it you increase the entropy (see Password
) of the password by increasing the length (using only uppercase, lowercase and digit characters)

  • extended to 8 characters then the number of possible
    combinations goes to 628 = 2.18 x 1014
  • extended to 12 characters then the number of possible
    combinations goes to 6212 = 3.22 x 1021
  • extended to 16 characters then the number of possible
    combinations goes to 6216 = 4.76 x 1028

To give those numbers some perspective

  • The human body is estimated to have 34 Trillion cells 34 x 1012 [1]
  • The average hacker can brute force a 10 character password in a week, a 15 character password will take 1.49 centuries [2]

Generating strong passwords

If you are trying to set up a strong password that you are going to try and remember, then one option is using a ‘pass phrase’. You would want to pick a phrase you know you will not forget (or which you can easily look up if you do). Such a phrase might be the first line of a song or poem that you know by heart.

For instance you could use the first line of the Star Spangled Banner – “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light”. From this you can pull the first letter of each word – oscysbtdel – to give yourself 10 characters. To add entropy, made a few characters uppercase, and substitute some digits – oscySbtd3l. This isn’t as good as a truly random password, but it is much, much better than using the name of your significant other or favorite pet.

Most password managers (see below) have a provision for generating strong passwords for you. If you are using Safari on your Mac with Keychain enabled, you will be given the option to let Keychain generate a strong password for you and store it when you are setting up a web account.

There are also many different strong password generators available
on the web. One I have used is the password generator page available from Web hosting provider Hostgator. Passwords from 8 to 40 characters in length can be generated, with or without special

Password managers

The problem with most passwords is not with technology, but with the limitations of human learning and memory. Unfortunately, most people are simply lazy and ease of use is inversely related to security. Even with the security of their data or computer at risk, most people seem to take the simple way out choosing simple passwords and/or using the same password for all of their logins. An easy way to make using strong passwords easier is with a password manager.

In simple terms, a password manager is an application that stores the user’s encrypted passwords. Some password managers store the data locally, while others use cloud storage. Passwords can be copied from the application and pasted as needed into other applications or web sites. Some password managers have browser plugins that allow them to work closely with the browser to auto-fill login screens with passwords and IDs. Some password managers also have sister Apps that work on iOS, Android or Windows systems allowing all of your passwords to be available on every platform you use.

Some of the most common password managers are:

Keep in mind that not all password managers equally protect their
data. The paper “The Emperor’s New Password Manager: Security Analysis of Web-based Password Managers” presented at the 23rd USENIX Security Symposium in August of 2014 reviewed five popular password managers and found some level of fault with all.

I find that Keychain meets my needs because all of my devices are Apple. If I had an Android phone or tablet, I would want to choose one of the other password managers. like KeePass or LastPass listed above.



    See my other Cyber Security and Mac OS X articles

Novella Review of “Sholpan”

“Sholpan” was published in 2011 and was written by Joe Vasicek ( Mr. Vasicek has published 18 books, this publication is “book 0” in his “Gaia Nova” series.

I was notified through that this novella was available for free on Amazon. I would categorize this novella as ‘R’ as there are instances of Violence and Mature Situations. This Young Adult Science Fiction novella is set in a far future. The primary character is 17 year old Stella McCoy.

The Hameji, human conquerors, invade Stella’s planet. The Hameji are brutal, often destroying entire worlds. They take prisoners making them slave labor. In the case of Stella, she is chosen to be added to the harem of one of the high ranking Hameji warlords. This brief story is how Stella deals with the warlord and comes to terms with her situation.

There is a lot of implications in the book, but no graphic details. The character of Stella goes through a process of adapting to her inevitable situation. I think that there is a lot of room left for the development of the Stella character. I give this novel a 3 out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (

Book Review of “The Job”

“The Job” was published in 2014 and was written by Janet Evanovich ( Ms. Ivanovich has authored or co-authored more than 60 novels. This is the third in her “Fox and O’Hara” series.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through I would categorize this novel as ‘PG’ as there are minor instances of Violence. This Thriller novel is set in contemporary times in different locations around the world. The primary character is Kate O’Hara, former Navy commando and now an FBI agent.

Kate caught Nick Fox earlier in the book series. Nick is a con-man and thief wanted around the world for a number of high profile thefts. The FBI turned him, offering him freedom in exchange for helping them catch other high profile criminals. Kate has been assigned as his handler.

A number of thefts around the world seem to point to Nick as the prime suspect. Kate and her FBI superiors do not believe it was Nick. Kate and Nick set out to find out who is framing him. They find a former colleague of Nick’s making a strange call to him for help.

This leads to a bigger operation to catch a much higher profile criminal. They set up an elaborate sting and try to trap the criminal using his own greed.

At first I thought that this would be a mystery, but it turns out to definitely be a Thriller. I had not read the previous two books in the series, so I did find myself a little ‘out-of-the-loop’ as prior events were referred to more than once. This was not a major impediment though and this books stands on it’s own pretty well.

There is quite a bit of Romantic friction between Nick and Kate, though nothing ever comes of it in this story. This was an interesting 4.5 hour read, though I think that it is a little unpolished. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is. It sort of reminds be of a B grade movie with a good plot. You like it, but know it could be better. I give this novel a 3 out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (