Operating System

Streaming Media Players — The Final Blow To Cable


When was the last time that you turned on your television? For many of you, the answer is probably quite some time ago. Cable is dying, and most of us are switching to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime to satisfy our TV needs. Many of us are finding that our TVs have become obsolete in favor of our laptops. Those few who connect their computer to their TV in order to watch shows still have to deal with HDMI cables, and clunky controls.

Lucky for us however, the era of Streaming Media Players has begun. These players are devices that you can hook up to your TV which allow you to stream content from various online websites (and in some cases even directly from your computer/phone).


There are four main competitors in the Streaming Media Player market: Amazon Fire TV, Roku Box, Apple TV, and the Chromecast. The first two have a high powered “Box” version in addition to a lower powered “stick” version. Chromecast only comes in stick form, and Apple TV only comes in box form.


Amazon Fire TV:

The Amazon fire TV costs $100 for the full box version, and $35 for the stick version. The box is more powerful and comes with an improved remote. Both of these devices will stream Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and hundreds of other websites and apps. It has a search feature that will search through all the apps that you have, however it will always prioritize Amazon services over those of other providers. In addition, one major downside of the Amazon Fire service is that it does not support any kind of screen mirroring (when the device directly replicates your computer screen on the TV) except from the Amazon Fire Tablet or phone. Nevertheless, for $35 you can buy the stick which comes with a remote and turn your TV into a smart TV.

Roku Box:

The Roku Box is the most powerful streaming player on the market. At $90 for the box, and $40 for the stick this device brings the most apps and services to the consumer. It allows you to use all of the major streaming services and also allows for screen mirroring for the widest range of devices.


Apple TV:

The Apple TV which is $66 comes only in full Box form. It arguably looks more sleek than it’s competitors, and seamlessly integrates into an Apple environment. To those who already have a slew of apple devices (especially a Macbook) and who use iTunes frequently for media, the Apple TV is a great choice. It has slightly less functionality than the two listed above. It does not connect to Amazon Prime Instant Video, and can only mirror Macbook screens. Regardless, it is still an excellent player.



The final major competitor in the streaming media player market is the Chromecast. It is manufactured by Google and ships for $35. The Chromecast has evolved far beyond its original form. Whereas it originally shipped with only youtube and Netflix, the Chromecast now supports the same slew of apps and services that the other players support (with the notable exception of Amazon Prime). The area where this device shines however is screen mirroring. Through an extension, the Chromecast is able to project any Google Chrome tab onto the TV. This can even be used to circumvent some of the app limitations that are present (for instance one can use the screen mirroring service to watch Amazon Prime though their Chrome tab). One major downside of this device is its lack of remote. It is controlled entirely though your phone or computer, forcing you to type your passcode in any time you want to pause or rewind what you are watching.


Stick Vs Box?

Should you get the stick forms of these devices or the full box form? This is personal preference. The boxes are more expensive and are significantly faster. However, many of them do not have a significant advantage in features over the stick forms of the device. For people on a budget, sticks are the best option. The boxes have a distinct advantage in the form of an Ethernet port, which the sticks do not have, and which provides a more steady connection for your entertainment.



NONE of these devices will function on the eduroam or UMASS networks. The boxes can be connected to the Ethernet ports in North Apartments, which is the only residential area on campus. So for now, unfortunately, if you live on campus and not in North Apartments, none of these sticks will work for you.

Operating System

The Year 2038 Problem


Many of us have either heard of or remember the “Y2k” bug, a software issue in the 1990’s where certain systems were likely to break on January 1, 2000 when date and times would need to rollover to a year ending in 00. Many programmers and software engineers worked on resolving this issue as the nineties drew to a close, and were able to fix most bugs early on to avoid any catastrophes so that our computers and machines could live happily ever after.

Yet another technical quirk which poses a threat to older systems looms on the horizon – 03:14:07 UTC, January 19, 2038.

What is the Year 2038 Problem?

It all starts with how 32-bit UNIX systems keep track of time. These types of systems essentially keep track of time by counting how many seconds have passed since January 1, 1970, often referred to as “the epoch”. When a computer figures out what the time/day/year is, it is storing a single number which represents how long ago January 1, 1970 was in seconds.

Why January 19, 2038?

Consider this method of timekeeping to be like a pitch counter.


To a computer, January 1, 1970 is “0000” like in this picture. Now, as an example, let’s say that you use your pitch counter to keep track of what month it is, so after thirteen months have passed you’d look at your counter and see “0013”. After one hundred and sixty two months, you see “0162” and so on.

Now, say you keep using your counter for months and months and months, and eventually you’ll reach a point where 9999 months have passed. But when you click your counter to go to month 10,000 you end up back at “0000”.

Why is the computer running out of digits?

There is one piece missing from the pitch counter analogy, and that is negative numbers, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

32-bit UNIX systems store this time variable in a 32-bit signed integer. This looks like a big string of ones and zeroes which is 32 characters long, e.g. “01001011011101011001011010001100”.

This is a certain number of seconds represented in binary. In binary, you can represent (2^n) – 1 numbers where “n” is the number of digits you have. So a binary number three digits long could represent up to (2^3) – 1, which is seven.

Because the number a computer uses to keep track of time is 32 bits, or “digits” long, it would be able to represent (2^32) – 1 seconds since 1970. However, because it is “signed” the first digit is basically used as a plus or minus symbol to designate whether it’s a negative or positive number. So it can actually represent any number from “positive (2^31) – 1″ down to “negative (2^31) – 1″.

This means the biggest number of seconds it can hold with a 32 bit signed integer is (2^31) – 1 seconds, which as a whole number is 2,147,483,647 seconds.

What, then, is “January 1, 1970” plus “2,147,483,647 seconds”?

Exactly 03:14:07, January 19, 2038.

Why can’t we just add more digits?

Like a pitch counter, the number of digits it is able to hold is constrained by how it’s built physically. The CPU and operating system aren’t designed to be able to handle a further date than January 19, 2038.

Newer systems use 64 bits for keeping track of data, which is quite larger than what you can represent with 32 bits. But many systems still using these 32 bit time stamps will encounter problems when 2038 rolls around if they haven’t been switched over to newer systems or upgraded.

Why would anyone still be using these systems 23 years from now?

There are tons of programs and systems which are decades old at this point and are still in use today, and technical bugs so far into the future often weren’t a concern when these programs were originally developed. But now any system which relies on a 32-bit UNIX time stamp such as a database, file system, factory machinery or even file formats will need to be switched over to a 2038 compliant system within the next twenty three years.

That can seem a long way off with plenty of preparation time, especially in a field like technology where everything is constantly evolving, but for a government or company which doesn’t have the funds to rebuild the code used in all the public transit systems or in a hard to access location like a satellite or in a thirty year old database, it will probably be a while before the pressure is on to switch over everything still in use to something new.



Operating System

RAID: Its Uses and Benefits

RAID, an acronym for redundant array of inexpensive disks, essentially outlines a way to organize data such that it can be accessed efficiently and reliably. There are various ways in which the data can be organized and various numbers of disks needed depending on which option you choose. There are six basic types of RAID configurations, and a few variations on those. The most common of the following arrays are RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 5.

  • RAID 0 (2+ Drives needed): Data is striped across the drives. This type of configuration generally used to increase performance. Drives of different sizes can be used, however the larger drives will be limited to the size of the smallest drive. One downside to RAID 0 is that if one drive fails, then all the data on all the drives is lost. On the other hand this offers good read and write times and no storage is lost for parity data.
  • RAID 1 (2+ Drives needed): In RAID 1 the data is mirrored on the drives. This means that the number of copies of the data is equivalent to the number of drives in the array. The write time for the array is limited to the slowest drive, however read time may be increased. Since the data is duplicated if one of the drives fail the data is still preserved. Read and write times are similar to that of a single drive.
  • RAID 2 (3+ Drives needed): Raid 2 introduces error correction. At least two of the drives are used to store data (striped at the byte level) and the rest are used to store error correction code for each byte stripe. This type of array is rarely used.
  • RAID 3 (3+ Drives needed): In this configuration data is striped at the bit level, as in RAID 2, however the error correction used in RAID 3 is stored in something called a parity bit. The parity bit is added to the data stored and is checked when the data is accessed to make sure it is correct. As with RAID 2, RAID 3 is not commonly used.
  • RAID 4 (3+ Drives needed): RAID 4 is essentially the same as RAID 3 except that the data is striped in blocks, not bytes.
  • RAID 5 (3+ Drives needed): In this array every disk used to store both data (which is striped in blocks) and the parity blocks. The image below shows how the parity blocks are distributed across the four disks. If a single disk fails, the data can be rebuilt from the distributed parity information.Data can be read very quickly from this array, although write times can suffer because of the need to write the parity data.
  • RAID 6 (4+ Drives needed): RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5, except that each parity block is duplicated. Each disk therefore contains two parity blocks along with its data, as opposed to one.

When talking about data striping, there are two ways of segmenting it. With byte striping, the first byte is stored on one drive, the second on the next and so on, looping back to the first drive if needed. The same process occurs in block striping, except the size of each block is bigger (size determined when the array is setup).

Common variations of RAID setups include RAID 0+1, RAID 1+0 and RAID 5+0 which allow for the combination of advantages from different RAID setups.

  • RAID 0+1 takes the striped data and duplicates it on another set of disks. This requires at least four disks: two for the striped data and two for the mirror of that striped data. If drives in one mirrored set fail, that can be rebuilt from the other set, but if they fail in both, then array is lost.
  • RAID 1+0 creates a stripes set of mirrored disks. Again, this requires at least 4 disks: The first two disks are set up in RAID 1 (mirrored) and the second two disks are set up in RAID 1 (mirrored), however the two different sets of disks hold different stripes of data.
  • RAID 5+0 requires at least 6 drives. The RAID 0 level stripes data across different sets of disks (at least two sets) and each set of disks contains at least 3 disks set up in RAID 5 with the distributed parity blocks.

A common misconception is that RAID arrays can be thought of as a substitution for backups. While in some cases data can be rebuilt from a single failed drive, this is not always the case. RAID setups were designed for increased accessibility of data. If a power surge toasts the computer or the motherboard malfunctions all data can be lost. RAID setups also don’t protect against user data deletion (accidentally deleting a file). The primary advantage in choosing a RAID setup is getting better performance out of drives and improved protection against single drive failure.

Mac OSX Operating System Windows

How to set Up Boot Camp

While at UMass, you might come across a point where you will need to use specialized software that can only be used on a Windows PC. This is fine if you have a Windows computer, however this leaves people who own a Mac at a clear disadvantage. So what do you do if you have a Mac computer? A commonly used solution to this situation is BootCamp Assistant. BootCamp Assistant is a built in function in the Mac operating system that allows Mac users to install Windows alongside their OSX operating system. This program can either be found by searching “bootcamp” in spotlight, or by going to the application folder in finder, where BootCamp can be found in the utilities folder.

How it works:

BootCamp works by sectioning off an certain amount of used space in your hard-drive in order to make a full installation of Windows. This process is limited by the specs of your computer and the operating system version. Below you can find the minimal requirements needed to run BootCamp. Also you can find a list of BootCamp versions needed to install the specific windows operating system that you need.

**Side note: Before you start installing Windows on your computer, you need to make sure that you computer is up to date using Software Update. Also use the chart on this page to download updates for your Boot Camp. This update is based on the model of your computer, and some models are limited to their updates because of their specs. It may also be necessary to upgrade you computer to the latest version of OSX.

Media is not Included:

A common misconception about BootCamp is that it provides a windows operating system to install. This is not true. BootCamp will provide drivers and updates for your Windows operating system, however it will not provide the media to install the Windows operating system. It must be provided by the user. This can either be done by purchasing the product online or through Microsoft.

However if you are are either faculty, staff, or student at UMass there are some options that may be available to you for a discounted version of Windows operating system.

If you are Faculty or Student either teaching or taking a course within STEM Departments, then you are entitled to a free download of Microsoft operating systems using Microsoft Dreamspark. More information about Dreamspark and STEM qualitfications can be found here.

If you are Faculty and Staff, there is a alternative way of purchasing Microsoft products at a discounts by using the university Microsoft Campus Agreement. Information about the Microsoft Campus agreement can be found here.

Finally there is the Microsoft Through Gov Connection, which is open to all student, faculty and staff, and allows you to easily purchase copies of Microsoft products. It often gives discounts to many of the products. Click here for more information.

Running BootCamp:

Please use the youtube video below for a step by step tutorial for using BootCamp Assistant for installing Windows 7 or 8 on your Mac Device.

If you have any trouble or questions, try the links in the troubleshoot question for some answers to some frequently asked questions.


Boot Camp Versions needed to run Windows

  • Windows Vista: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate, Service Pack 1 or later (Boot Camp 3)
  • Windows 7: Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate (Boot Camp 4 or 5.1)
  • Windows 8: Windows 8 or 8.1, Windows 8 or 8.1 Pro (Boot Camp 5.1 only)

System Requirements:

To install Microsoft Windows using Boot Camp, you need the following:

  • An Internet connection
  • An administrator account in OS X to use Boot Camp Assistant
  • The keyboard and mouse or trackpad that came with your Mac (If they aren’t available, use a USB keyboard and mouse)
  • A minimum of 2 GB of RAM, 30 GB of free disk space are recommended if you are installing Windows for the first time, or 40 GB of free disk space if you are upgrading from a previous version of Windows
  • An authentic Microsoft Windows full install disc or ISO file
  • A built-in optical drive, or a compatible external optical drive is required if you are using an install disc
  • 8 GB USB storage device, or external drive formatted as MS-DOS (FAT) to install the downloaded drivers


Frequently Asked Questions:

Windows 7 Frequently Asked Questions:

Windows 8 Frequently Asked Questions: