Archive for PEBKAC

It’s all about keyboard feel

For the touch-typists among us, there is a little raised section on the F and J keys, so you’ll always know where your home row is. (Those of us who never learned to type that way and still worked up a modicum of speed, well, we pay no attention to it.) But that’s only two keys. What if you could distinguish every key by feel? If this is your desire, Michael Roopenian has something for you: wood-grained key tops, sliced from actual wood, with a distinct grain pattern on each key.

Okay, maybe not for you. This is available only for Apple wired keyboards with the integral keypad, and for two different Apple wireless keyboards. And I suspect it’s probably cumbersome to install. But you get a whole new set of tactile sensations, and the distinction of clicking away on a genuine, if quotidian, objet d’art.

(Via Pergelator.)

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Traveling country breacher

The Oklahoman has been moving this week, to their new downtown digs in the old Century Center. This unexpected email notification almost certainly has nothing whatever to do with the move:

Dear Subscriber,

We have detected an unauthorized attempt to extract logins and passwords from our digital registration system. While we can’t confirm that your email and password were compromised, no access to your financial information occurred nor did this create an exposure for The Oklahoman systems. However, if you use this combination of email and password for other sites, we recommend you update your password on these sites to avoid any potential risks. If you used your Facebook credentials to login to Oklahoman.com, we can assure you that your Facebook information has not been compromised.

Which is better, I must admit, than getting a notice that my credentials had been compromised. And no, I don’t use that particular password anywhere else.

Addendum: This statement also appears on page 2A of the Thursday edition.

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And the singer sang her song

Nu metal, perhaps?

Earth and the stillness broken by reply
Through the night tide I lie down in the sky
Beyond the waves wipe out the joyous light
And dancing in the power of the night
Want things to go before it is too late
Night tide I lie here in this world of hate
Away like the mist of the desolate
I’ll show you all the world is full of hate

Not the beginning or the end: that section came out of the middle. And I can see someone screaming this into a microphone, maybe, though whether I want to hear someone screaming this into a microphone is another matter entirely.

Anyway, the poet apparently did not intend this to be a song:

We’ve seen (and heard) worse, believe me.

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Convenience for all, like it or not

The IBM Model M keyboard on my desk has been on said desk more or less continuously — there was a brief period when I took it out of service because I thought I’d ruined it, only to discover that it was stronger than my stupidity — since my very first “PC Clone” in 1991, a wondrous little XT-compatible box running off an NEC V30 CPU at a startling 10 MHz. In the two dozen years since then, I’ve never once considered moving to a wireless keyboard, and apparently it’s just as well that I haven’t:

If you use a wireless keyboard you may be broadcasting everything you type to hackers — from passwords to credit cards numbers and private emails — as a researcher shows how a homemade bugging device can be made for just £6.

The creator of the listening device — who has also built a predatory drone which chases and hacks into other drones — has posted a list of components, instructions and source code online to allow anyone to make their own.

Samy Kamkar built the “KeySweeper” after discovering that Microsoft’s wireless keyboards sent keystrokes to PCs in a way that could be easily intercepted.

The tiny device cost just a few pounds to create and looks exactly like a USB charger that is shipped with any number of phones and other devices.

Ah, the charms of obsolete hardware — and, I suppose, software, since I didn’t actually move to Windows 7 until right before Microsoft took XP out behind the woodshed and shot it, and Windows 10 is now imminent.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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Waiting for .gresham

The .click top-level domain is perfectly legitimate and open to all:

The reason .CLICK is such an attractive choice for a TLD is because it encompasses a highly used Internet buzzword, increasing memorability and functionality. But, because “click” also has a multitude of positive meanings, from getting along, to fitting together, is [sic] also works to create positive associations. This TLD is an open registry, meaning any individual, group, or business may register a .CLICK domain, making this extension choice flexible, memorable, unique, and marketable.

I have yet to see an actual .click site, though links to several of them have already shown up in my spam trap, substantially diminishing my “positive associations.”

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Just Gopher it

There was an awful lot of Internet to be had before the World Wide Web, which dates to the early Nineties. But using it wasn’t the slightest bit intuitive, since everything needed either a properly configured terminal, a gateway from some online service, or a dedicated client. (That said, you can still get Gopher plugins for some Web browsers.)

One could argue that today’s wild and woolly Web is a step down from those halcyon days, and such an argument might begin this way:

The Internet has proven itself to be a place where any idiot can post anything he wants (I mean, look at this blog), and some other idiot will find it and agree with him. I long for a day that may never have existed in the first place, where the Internet was simply a repository of scholarly information about legitimate subjects. I look at the purity and innocence and wonderment with which my son has discovered it, and I remember my first internet searches in the library of Dublin Scioto High School in 1995. It was like finding the world’s greatest microfiche catalog.

Of course, in 1995, the Web had started to catch on, um, world-wide, a process that wasn’t even slightly accelerated by the opening of this site the following year. And, well, there were other factors:

Of course, being that I was seventeen years old in that library in 1995, my first web search ever was for “Pamela Anderson.” I then waited approximately ten minutes for a picture of her in that legendary red Baywatch bikini to load on my screen. It was a glorious day.

I may as well admit that I snagged a few pictures — GIF, of course, — from the barely raunchy Go Graphics forum on CompuServe, almost a decade earlier.

Which, in the end, proves that just having access to an encyclopedia won’t make anybody smarter. Teenaged boys will still look at pictures of girls in bikinis (or less). Old maids will still take pictures of cats. Twentysomethings living in their parents’ basements will still find ways to play RPGs. The Internet has just allowed us to be who we already were on a much grander scale. It hasn’t changed us. It’s magnified us.

Sometimes I think it’s engulfed us.

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Is this a trick question?

It’s certainly baffled this guy:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: If I hold three digits up, how many are not pointed up with all my digits? This is a security question for fishtanktv.com and I cant answer

For what it’s worth, I’m holding up one digit.

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Some kind of magic

Charles Pergiel sent this over from a Chromebook forum, and the truth of it hurts just a little:

I remember my early days with computers, asking a question of the developers of a fairly large (for 1980) piece of IBM mainframe software, and their response was “*We don’t know*.” At the time, I found this unbelievable — *you guys wrote it; why don’t you know how it works!?*”

Things have gotten more complicated by orders of magnitude since then, and sometimes the only reasonable answer is “We don’t know.”

I was working on an IBM mainframe in those days, and I can assure you that this wasn’t at all a unique situation: a lot of legacy stuff outlived its original developer, and subsequent developers opted, quite reasonably, to leave well enough alone.

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Meanwhile at your state healthcare exchange

Dave Schuler, who’s been working on exactly this sort of stuff of late, makes an unexpected disclosure:

There is apparently a known way to build a state healthcare insurance exchange website that flops: do it yourself. That’s what Oregon did. All of the states’ healthcare insurance exchanges that worked the best were apparently built by the technical wing of the same accounting company.

What could possibly be more unexpected than that? This:

[A] plurality of the states’ exchanges were built using WordPress.

Note that he’s not saying that the exchange sites that worked the best were the ones built on WordPress.

I pulled up one state at random: Rhode Island. Sure looks like WP, though they have a cloud-based backend.

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A new lease on life

Microsoft Office 97, says Wikipedia, was born on 19 November 1996. Will it ever die? Redmond says it already has. Users, not so much:

We celebrated my dad’s 79th birthday Sunday.

Recently, his computer began acting flaky and my brother found him a new laptop to use. We just needed to find Microsoft Office for him to finish the transition.

New Office 2013 licensing is, of course, a pain in the epiglottis. What to do?

Fortunately, he saves stuff. Like the Office 97 CD and brick of a manual from back in the 20th century. And it loaded fine.

The road goes ever on. (And so, apparently, does Clippy.)

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Importuning the Googlebot

Sent to the help desk in just this side of despair:

Why is help chat unavailable? How do I turn off the blinking (that’s a euphemism) touchpad? How do I correct spelling errors? Nevermind, a mouse will fix that. Why isn’t touchpad in the dictionary? But that is all incidental to main issue. Why aren’t local files automatically uploaded to the net? And did you really download all of my documents from the net to my Chromebook? By the way I plugged the charger into an adapter and plugged that into the wall and I was rewarded with a big fat spark. I suspect the charger is toast, but I am loath to try it in case something worse happens. BA is a big city, but I am afraid finding a replacement charger is liable to take all my available time and cash. P.S. I was going to say chromebook isn’t in the dictionary, but it was only the lower case ‘C’ that was clamoring for attention. And why do I think adaptor should be spelled with an ‘O’?

BA, incidentally, denotes Buenos Aires, not Broken Arrow.

The result:

Update: A Google-bot called me back immediately after I sent my message, only to tell me that my wait time would be 30 minutes. Are you kidding me? I am going to hang on hold for half an hour waiting to talk to someone about something simple? Well, thanks but no. I will figure this out on my own.

This is the new standard for customer service: get on it right away, and then cough up the answer at about the time you probably would have gotten to it anyway.

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Upgrading Detroit

The last time we checked in on Detroit’s computer system, we were snorting at the demand for $800k in Bitcoin by some hackish types who’d hoisted a city database; Detroit clearly didn’t have $800k to spare, in Bitcoin or any other currency you can name, but they didn’t need the database anyway, so they blithely blew off the extortionists.

This welcome bit of redundancy notwithstanding, we can’t really say that Detroit’s in good shape, computing-wise. Chief Information Officer Beth Niblock certainly won’t:

More than 80 percent of the city’s 5,500 computers are more than five years old, and 85 percent are equipped with Windows XP, an operating system that “by virtue of its age, is far from top of the line,” she wrote. Microsoft doesn’t even support XP anymore, and the city has been using a version of Microsoft Office that’s a decade old.

On top of that, the city has “serious” problems with the “resilience of its network,” she wrote, saying Detroit’s deficient network connections don’t allow employees to complete basic daily functions, such as accessing email. Employees can’t sync daily calendars to their smartphones.

I’m guessing it’s Office 2003 deployed to those Detroit computers, and support was pulled for that version about the same time support was pulled for XP.

Still, this isn’t the worst tech failure in Hockeytown, not by a long shot:

Chuck Moore, a consultant for the city, described one fire station’s Rube Goldberg machine in September during testimony in Detroit’s bankruptcy trial: When an emergency alert comes in, a fax machine is triggered. This shoots out a piece of paper, which knocks over a soda can full of change, notifying those at the station of the situation. At another station, a fax comes in and bumps a door hinge, which pulls a wire and rings a doorbell.

On the upside, they’re at least getting some use out of those fax machines, which are probably older than Windows XP.

(Via Hit Coffee.)

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Two steps below the script kiddie

Is there a good reason why this guy shouldn’t be taken out behind the woodshed and put out of his misery?

Yahoo Answers screenshot: So I am pinging an IP Address but it seems like the site won't crash

Get this:

I am pinging a website to crash it, not a big website. But a small one. I opened 4 CMD windows using a batch file then sent a ping request like this: ping [IP ADDRESS] -t -l 65500

It is sending and responding. It has been 15 minutes and it seems to me like the site has not crashed yet. It is working fine with the same speed. The time ranges between 64ms and 167ms, and it is very random. Do I have to wait longer, can someone teach me another way to crash this website (my friends website). How long will it take, Help! Lol!

A ping constitutes a whole 32 bytes; it’s going to take a whole lot more than 2,620,000 pings (8.3 MB) to bring down his soon-to-be-ex-friend’s website.

I suggest we dig up his IP address and turn it over to the North Koreans.

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Axe it anything

Sometimes it’s not always obvious where Apple should be going with a product line. And this is where the user base stands tall:

Of course, as an Apple accessory, it won’t be cheap, but so what else is new?

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Not one viewer more

For some time now, “Gangnam Style” by PSY has been the most-viewed video on all of YouTube. Now lesser-viewed videos — which is all of them — tend to run into difficulty after 301 views:

After a video reaches a certain number of views … YouTube tells the database to freeze the view count until YouTube can manually verify the correct count to protect against botting attempts — using automated computer processes to artificially inflate the number of views. YouTube view counts are initially tracked by servers near the end user. By looking at reports from these individual servers, YouTube engineers can detect suspicious patterns in the data.

“At some point the decision was made that we need to draw a line between what is innocuous and the database can handle and all of a sudden serious business … The proportion was calculated to be at about 300.”

So why 301? Blame it on one YouTube programmer’s errant less-than-or-equal-to sign. The code tells the database to keep counting views up to and including the time when the count is equal to 300, allowing one final view to get counted before it freezes.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s PSY:

We never thought a video would be watched in numbers greater than a 32-bit integer (=2,147,483,647 views), but that was before we met PSY. “Gangnam Style” has been viewed so many times we had to upgrade to a 64-bit integer (9,223,372,036,854,775,808)!

Incidentally, since YouTube made this announcement (Monday), there have been six million more views.

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Stuck in the sticks

From the “There must be something someone can do about this” files:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: ISP is charging a ridiculous amount for my internet what can I do?

My dad is paying $45/mo for 1 Mbps… Tier 2 speed is 2 Mbps at $49.99, tier 3 is 3 Mbps at 59.99, tier 5 is 5 Mbps at $135, and tier 6 is 6 Mbps at ******* $190.00!!!! I live in a rural area and this is pretty much the only ISP around. Is there anything I could do other than having to move or switch to satellite? Because this is so unfair, there should be laws against this. This is a monopoly so they have no reason to upgrade their infrastructure.

If there exists anywhere on earth an ISP that is undercharging, we’d certainly like to know about it.

In the meantime, if it’s truly a ridiculous amount, the least we can do is to ridicule it. (Fairness, of course, is not a factor, as it usually isn’t.)

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Broke into the wrong database, didn’t you?

This isn’t technically funny, yet the laughs will not subside:

Hackers seized a database from the City of Detroit earlier this year before unsuccessfully demanding $800,000 in Bitcoin.

The failed extortion attempt back in April was disclosed by Detroit mayor Mike Duggan at the North American International Cyber Summit conference on Monday.

The stolen database wasn’t needed by the cash-strapped city so the ransom was never paid, according to local reports.

I mean, really. Extorting money from Detroit, of all places? You’d have better luck trying to sell snow shovels in San Diego.

(Via @SwiftOnSecurity. Of course.)

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All about that guilt reflex

At least twice a day something like this comes up:

Yahoo Answers screenshot:<br />
Will my parents come to know about my net history from the MTS internet bill?

Oh, you poor, porn-obsessed adolescent!

Actually, they’ll probably figure it out the moment you come down with a malware infection from chasing down stuff you thought was “free.”

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Techlet

Those of us who routinely outsource computer maintenance to younger folks will probably not be too surprised at this:

A boy from Coventry has become the youngest computer specialist in the world.

Ayan Qureshi is now a Microsoft Certified Professional after passing the tech giant’s exam when he was just five years old.

Ayan, now six, whose father is an IT consultant, has set up his own computer network at home.

He told the BBC he found the exam difficult but enjoyable, and hopes to set up a UK-based tech hub one day.

The Fark blurb for this: Five year old boy passes exam to become Microsoft Certified Professional in spite of being younger than most Microsoft bugs. And, I might add, way younger than this one.

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Damn right they is

Screenshot from the Oklahoman: Personal info breaches is a concern, many say

From this morning’s Oklahoman, page 3C. I couldn’t find the story on NewsOK for some reason, but since it’s an AP wire story, it’s all over the place. Try here.

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Bring your own leopard

In today’s episode of Security Theatre, we present the Password Rules from the Child Support division of the Texas Attorney General’s office:

  1. The password must be exactly 8 characters long.
  2. It must contain at least one letter, one number, and one special character.
  3. The only special characters allowed are: @ # $
  4. A special character must not be located in the first or last position.
  5. Two of the same characters sitting next to each other are considered to be a “set.” No “sets” are allowed.
  6. Avoid using names, such as your name, user ID, or the name of your company or employer.
  7. Other words that cannot be used are Texas, child, and the months of the year.
  8. A new password cannot be too similar to the previous password.
    1. Example: previous password – abc#1234, acceptable new password – acb$1243
    2. Characters in the first, second, and third positions cannot be identical. (abc*****)
    3. Characters in the second, third, and fourth positions cannot be identical. (*bc#****)
    4. Characters in the sixth, seventh, and eighth positions cannot be identical. (*****234)
  9. A password can be changed voluntarily (no Help Desk assistance needed) once in a 15-day period. If needed, the Help Desk can reset the password at any time.
  10. The previous 8 passwords cannot be reused.

Sheesh. Just hand them a DNA sample and let them figure it out on their own. They think they’re pretty damn smart in Austin anyway.

(From @RooneyMcNibNug via @SwiftOnSecurity. Title adapted from H2G2.)

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Keep stirring

Nobody sells software anymore. What is sold is “solutions,” amalgams of the stuff you wanted and the stuff they surrounded it with, neither of which works worth a damn after combining. A recent example:

[S]tuff needs to be simple and just work. Unfortunately, no one seems to be willing or able to design a system that works with default browser settings. In particular, everyone wants to design their software to require popups. I have no idea why. But time after time I put a system out for a subset of my employees to test and I immediately get 19 people calling me back saying that it does not work, they can’t get in, etc. The typical problem is that most of this software seems to require that the browser’s popup blocker be turned off. Why in the world would you design software for a feature that 99% of browsers today have turned off by default? And worse, that require users to change a setting that only exists deep in setup menus most users don’t even know exist. I am pretty capable and it took me some poking around to find the popup options in Chrome.

Not that you can complain about it, of course:

I had a long talk today with my onboarding company trying to explain why getting rid of an hour of HR time with their software at the cost of an extra hour of IT support time for each new employee trying to access the system does not save me any freaking money.

Went right over their heads, I’d wager.

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Fresh Apple bugs

I have spoken before of the Randomator, a Smart Playlist I worked up on the work box’s iTunes install, which shuffles through 10 percent of the available tracks that haven’t been played in a while, and after playing a track, replaces it with the next one in the chronological list. (Right now, songs from the third week of August are being inserted into the rotation.)

If this sounds OCD, consider that I’ve inserted manual sort codes into the lot of them, so that the Jacksons, for instance, sort out Alan, Bull Moose, Chuck, Deon, Freddie, J. J., Janet, Joe, Michael, Stonewall, and Wanda, to appear in exactly that order. Unfortunately for my neurosis, iTunes 12.0.1 occasionally ignores the sort code when it adds a fresh track to the Randomator. It’s still there — Get Info reveals it under the correct tab — but at least once a day the code is disregarded, which is how I found Lisa Loeb right under Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam instead of under Hank Locklin. I’ve run this playlist through at least five full versions of iTunes; this is the first time it’s done this to me.

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The need for feigned speed

If you’ve never believed computer benchmarks in your life, well, there were very good reasons not to:

Intel has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit that claims the company “manipulated” benchmark scores in the early 2000s to make its new Pentium 4 chip seem faster than AMD’s Athlon. Intel will pay affected consumers $15 if they purchased a Pentium 4 system between November 20, 2000 and June 30, 2002. Affected systems include all systems with a Pentium 4 CPU purchased between November 20, 2000 and December 31, 2001 — and all systems with a first-gen Willamette P4 or all P4s clocked below 2GHz, between January and June 2002. The exception is Illinois — if you live in Illinois and bought a P4, too bad for you.

Is this the same AMD that invented the “Performance Rating” that they hoped you believed was the chip speed? My work box used to be a Sempron 2800+, which despite that number ambled along at a mere 2.0 GHz.

I did own a P4 for many years, though it was not purchased during the time frame involved, and it involved a slightly faster CPU — not the Willamette, but the subsequent Northwood. (I am now running an AMD chipset instead. Go figure.)

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Sitting in his Nowhere Land

The other day (like you should care), they bought a house that wasn’t there:

A funny thing happened yesterday: Our house ceased to exist. In fact, our entire street.

On Google Maps, I mean. Put in our address and … nothing. Clancy was trying to map out her route to work, and this complicated that greatly.

It could be worse. Imagine this:

  • House catches fire.
  • Alarm system dials 911.
  • 911 dispatch computer records the address.
  • Address is automatically looked up on Google Maps.
  • Google Maps can’t find it.
  • Emergency call is blown off, and house burns down.

And you wouldn’t have a case against Google, because how would you know the 911 crew were even using it?

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The POODLE bites

In fact, the POODLE chews it, and the little bastard needs to be put out of its misery.

(Title from the late Frank Zappa.)

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It Fappened just that way

Francis W. Porretto gets in the final word — well, it ought to be final — on that celebrity-nude-photo business:

The “she ought to have known better” crap is exactly that: crap. The companies that promote the use of their “cloud” services are forever telling us about the depth and power of their security measures. Is a very young professional actress, highly unlikely to have been schooled in the technologies and their vulnerabilities, supposed to be more aware of the risks than the average non-technical American? If the same thing were to happen to any of her detractors, would they enjoy the degree of opprobrium that they’ve heaped upon Jennifer Lawrence? Would they feel their naivety had earned it?

And the cloud doesn’t care what its proponents say about it, either:

Besides, there are non-technical issues to be dealt with:

Let’s not neglect the other aspect of the matter: that Lawrence photographed herself in the nude so her boyfriend would have a sensuous reminder of her when the two of them were far from one another. There are “conservatives” reproaching her for that, too. Apparently that Lawrence would permit someone — someone other than themselves, that is — to see her in all her unclothed glory grates unbearably across their neo-Grundyish sensibilities.

This is approximately where someone comes in and completes the circle by saying “But she should have considered the risks involved.” Well, yeah. But life itself is a prolonged exercise in risk management. If you haven’t noticed this by now, you’re either 8 years old or you’ve been appointed to a high government post.

And the little dweebs who spent their data allotments for the month begging for download links for these pictures? Morally indistinguishable from the little dweebs who spent their data allotments for the month pirating software.

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Time for another Unfortunate Juxtaposition

The ad placement to the right evokes a single sentiment: “Gee, ya think?”

(Via SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Who put the bömp?

Opening statistic: Iceland has only 320,000 people, about as many as Corpus Christi, Texas. That number makes this more believable:

[T]wo random Icelanders have about as much in common as second cousins, once removed, according to Dr. Kári Stefansson, CEO and co-founder of deCODE Genetics. That might sound like a lot, but accounting for the vast possibilities for genetic recombination in each generation, it really isn’t.

A consequence of this genetic similarity:

A collaborative venture between deCODE and software engineer Friðrik Skúlason, the Íslendingabók site developed as a corollary to deCODE’s genealogical research. “The reason why we have been able to lead the world in genetic research,” Kári Stefansson says, “is because we understand the structure of Iceland’s population so well.” DeCODE has an advantage over “the big guys in human genetics” because the organisation has intimate understanding of Icelandic genealogy, he says. “Our history is mapped in our DNA.”

DeCODE has attracted no small amount of international press over the years, but it is unlikely that its student app competition would have created such fervour now were it not for one of the novelty features of the winning ÍslendingaApp: the Sifjaspellspillir or “Incest Spoiler” alarm which alerts a user if the person she plans on going home with is a near relation. Using the app’s “new bömp technology,” users can tap their phones together and see how closely they are related. If the alarm has been activated — it’s turned off in default settings — it will either erupt with a discouraging siren, or issue a gleeful “No relation: go for it!” message, while a Barry White-esque voice urges you on with a subtle “Oh, Yeeeaaah.”

There are parts of the US, I am told, where an application of this sort might be useful.

(Via TYWKIWDBI.)

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This is not a viral marketing campaign

It’s called the Sincerity Machine, which is off-putting enough: who, pray tell, seems less sincere than the person who loudly proclaims his sincerity? And there doesn’t seem to be a touch of irony in this production:

Still, it’s a one-off: the chap is not trying to sell you this contraption, and he deserves credit for that.

(Via mental_floss.)

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