Apple stole my music? What?

Over the years there have been a number of complaints regarding how Apple protects the services it sells through iTunes and now through Apple Music. I too have run afoul of their surprising requirements to move purchased music or even stored music (that is stored in and by iTunes) from one computer to another. Now I see posts from folks claiming that Apple Music deleted or stole their music.

So, I read a couple of the complaints, then dialed up and read their take on the complaints, and then I looked at the website and their description of what Apple Music does and how it does it.

Let us start at the end of this story and Apple Music. This is a service aimed at providing a convenient solution to the problems people like myself have had with iTunes; it will gather up all of your music into your icloud account using their “match” system to identify which songs you have pruchased and / or added (perhaps from CD’s or other music downloads) and convert them to a single format. Any of your devices, once logged in to your account, then have full access to play back or download for off-line playback any of that content. Sounds wonderful, right?

What could possibly go wrong? Well, for most folks, nothing; however, if you happen to favor a particular version of a given song, there is no way (yet) to guarantee that Apple Music will store that version. Thus far there have been some issues with Apple Music picking what it deems to be a superior version (newer, recorded at higher sampling rate, etc.) and storing that version for you instead of your favorite version. I suspect that versions already stored in Apple Music’s master store are favored in this situation over other versions. A second issue appears to be the result of a combination of settings in your local copy of iTunes combined with the efforts that iTunes in conjunction with Apple Music to remove duplicates, unlicensed media, replace damaged copies, etc. The result is that some “song files” may be moved to your recycle bin. The combination of these attempts to improve your iTunes stored music seems to have really upset some folks.

It seems to me (and, I believe, Snopes’ report on this issue agrees) that much of the problem is the result of misunderstandings on the part of many users. Apple’s website has a pretty clear description of what Apple Music will do when you choose to use the service (assuming the user chooses to read that description before agreeing to the terms of the service); combine that with a little common sense, and I think most folks will see that Apple Music behaves as described. If you don’t want “that” done to your devices, and stored music, don’t agree to use the service and don’t use the service. It should not affect your choice that the service is free for 3 months; if it, in its normal operations, is likely to mess up your music, don’t start it. This appears to be where most people get caught; they want to try it even though it looks like it does some stuff they don’t need or don’t want and, sure enough, a mess results.

In a far more general sense, I caution users considering any service that automatically helps organize, store, or backup, anything you do with electronic equipment to make certain you understand what that service will do. If you don’t understand, find out or get help understanding BEFORE you turn “it” loose on your devices.

Similarly, if someone calls you and tells you there is something wrong with your computer and they will fix it for you, think twice and maybe ask yourself a couple questions: How did they know my computer has issues and how did they get my phone number? Who are these people and why should I trust them? Odds are extremely high that someone calling you “out of the blue” and offering to fix your computer are scamming you and will make a mess of your computer while taking your money. As always, the private data on your computer is valuable to you; protect it by backing it up and storing the backup safely and don’t invite scammers to “help” you.

Trends in Malware make backups more important

Ransomware is a new trend in malware. It comes in various forms; but, surviving it or recovering from it usually requires a backup. The best defense is prevention and a bit of basic knowledge on the part of the user. No, Microsoft will not call you under any circumstances; The FBI will not hack into your computer to tell you your machine is doing questionable things, and any time some weird popup tells you that you have viruses or malware on your computer, you do and it includes that popup.  Prevention amounts to keeping your anti-virus up to date and running regular scans combined with keeping your anti-malware similarly up to date and running regular (weekly preferred) scans. If you are using Windows Defender (windows 10) or Security Essentials with Defender (windows 7 and 8) you have the basic tools installed, just keep them up to date. Other vendors (McAfee, Norton, TrendMicro, etc.) have appropriate suites that will similarly protect you (Sophos and Vipre have suites for large businesses that are quite impressive in scope and protection level but usually cost prohibitive for home users).

Even so, any of us can make the fateful mis-click or have the bad luck of going to a hacked website that starts up the infection. If it slips past your anti-virus you could be in a situation where a reboot will correct the issue (lucky you) or where restoring all of your data from backups is necessary, or even restoring the machine to factory fresh state and then restoring all data from backups. My best advice is to call someone experienced before you mess with it; but, if you feel up to the challenge, update all anti-virus & malware products, scan completely, verify that the bug(s) are gone and restore lost data (or all data) from backups.

If I seem like a broken record about backups, that is fine with me; backups are that important. You should have many, starting with previous versions (windows 10), synched with a cloud service, AND detachable hard drive / thumb drive, etc. The detachable part is important because some of the current malware or ransomware will mess up your cloud files also or you’re synched files if the synch is to some place that is available when you get infected. Therefore, if it is important, have a copy on removed media!

As a last note, remember you can’t inherit from a non existent dead relative or win an African lottery that you didn’t enter; delete emails suggesting you have with extreme prejudice and do not open any attachments or visit their websites. I guarantee that bad things will happen if you follow the links or open the attachments.

Hard Drive Reliability

Hard Drives: What we are learning from data centers.
In a recently published study of Microsoft data centers, it was revealed that 89% of component failures are hard drive failures; in an environment where the hard drives represent less than 30% of the components, I take this to be very significant. The study went on to identify the type of failure and concludes that high relative humidity, not heat is the biggest killer. The humidity being in excess of 60% seems to more than double the rate of failure versus less than 60%. Combine this with a few other reports regarding home computers where smokey environments and environments with airborne small particles (kitchens, manufacturing, etc.) double the failure rate over relatively clean dry environments and a picture begins to emerge. The modern hard drive with a sealed chamber for the spinning disk and read / write heads is fairly safe from environmental impact on the disk surfaces; but, the exposed electronics still suffer from a range of issues depending on the environment. Whether it be corrosion or debris build up, doesn’t seem to matter; failures occur in a wide range of exposures to the circuit boards commonly built on the bottom of the drive.

Now hard drive failure is the one thing we, as users, cannot afford; it means data loss, picture loss, document loss, boot failure, all the bad things. CPU failure, video adapter failure, even motherboard failure are all minor inconveniences by comparison to hard drive failure. So, how long should I expect my hard drive to last? Standard hard drives are very reliable for 3 years; enterprise hard drives for 5 years; Solid State Drives (SSD’s) 6 years. These are not equivalent numbers; The 3 and 5 years for spinning hard drives is just that, they age whether they are being used or not. The 6 years for SSD’s is power on years; they appear to not age when not in use.

Now please take note, the tests that lead me to these conclusions took place in data centers, numbers for home computers might be slightly different. I have a machine with a 10 year old drive that still works but I have seen plenty of dead 2 year old drives too; a lot depends on what kind of life the computer has; good care leads to longer life, cleanliness leads to longer life.

Now that I have a web page, what is next?

•    Create a catchy front page that loads quickly, holds people’s attention and delivers important information to my target audience
•    Build additional pages, linked to that front page, that present any and all detailed information I want my target audience to have available.
•    Find out how people looking for my services or products look for those services and get a link to my web page included (Chamber of commerce website, Google entry, yahoo entry, facebook page, etc.).
•    Look for associations dealing with or recommending the services I provide and share links with them (you may have to join) and ask them to promote my business and my website.
•    Update my website.  Make sure the website has new content weekly or monthly.  Keep all information on the site current.  This keeps you high on the search engines’ lists.
•    Consider some advertising campaigns and register with the search engines.
•    Take control of your page listings with the various search engines or get them to create a listing if they don’t already have one for you.  Create a facebook page for your business; use their advertising mechanisms and link to your web page.

How do I get a web page?

I will try to describe this in as common of language as possible (my wife tells me I get way too technical). Let me start with what makes up a web page. A web page is preferably comprised of a “name”, the “page(s)”, and a “place” to put it where others can visit it.

The name (or URL) is a shortcut that replaces the numeric address because names are easier than network addresses  (compare with ). The name is something you (as the owner of a website) register your ownership of with an international licensed registrar. For example, my initials are JBB3, so I went to and registered for a little less than $20/ year. Now I have a name; its url might be but the modern browsers only need to find my web page. The other stuff has a purpose but very few users understand it , use it, or need it.

The page(s) are the content that we want others to see so they will buy our services, find our business, call us, or whatever our purpose for this website serves. It may contain photographs, videos, pretty graphics, or just plain typed text (other stuff too, but lets stay simple); think of it as an electronic brochure. There are many ways to create this (these) pages but I want to focus on using WordPress because it simplifies this description. At the beginning I just gather together a bunch of stuff that would make up my brochure.

A place to put the web page. This, I am calling web hosting; it is rented space on the internet. You can rent this from a company that has physical computers (servers) in a server farm somewhere in the world; or you can rent it from a friendly consultant who is there to simplify your experience for a fee. If you are technically up to it, go direct and you have full control of all aspects; if you are not up on all the technical stuff, find a consultant. This rental of space can have a variety of fees but it can all boil down to $5 to $50 / month. What most web page owners need will run about $8 / month from a number of suppliers.

Final steps can include a lot of things but lets focus on necessities. Your web host will supply you with a pair of addresses; these are given to the registrar (the people you paid to register your name); next your web host will setup any services you require (remember WordPress). There may be as much as a 48 hour delay (usually less then 2 hours) before the next step. Your web host will supply you with either a “panel” access address, name and password or perhaps an FTP access address, name and password; but, in this case we will get the address, name, and password for a WordPress control panel. Now we are ready to create and move our web page in; that is, put it where others can come visit, where search engines can scan it and recommend our page to the public and so forth.  Using the menus on the wordpress panel, I create a new page and now I place the photos and stuff I gathered up earlier onto the page; once it looks nice, I hit publish and a very basic web page is born.