Archive for PEBKAC

Flow gauge?

One of the more exasperating aspects of the Internet of Things is that nobody is seriously asking “Why this Thing?” And maybe you can justify this, but I can’t, and neither can Gadgette:

Don’t get us wrong, we’ve nothing against menstrual cups — lots of women find them useful and planet-friendly — but why on earth would you want to link that to the internet?

Are you hoping for stats like “so far this year, you’ve bled enough to recreate the Huey Lewis scene in American Psycho“? Or perhaps you’d like to gamify your menses: “Kate shed 10ml more than you this month! Up your game, girlfriend.”

We’re kidding, of course, but that’s actually not far off what the Looncup is offering.

Perhaps I’m not the one to pass judgment on this contraption. So I’ll continue to quote the woman who wrote that piece:

Does this mean we’re going to get a notification in the middle of a meeting saying “Your cup runneth over”? Is the colour represented on a Pantone chart of vermilion hues? “Last month you were Pepperoni but this month you’re a bit more Lobster”? What happens if the app gets hacked and someone puts our periods on PasteBin?!?

I’m guessing this is intended as a marker, so something like the fridge that emails you to tell you you’re out of eggs will seem normal by comparison. (Now beer, that I can understand.)

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Totally unintellectual property

As are most such laws these days, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is designed to give the Really Stupid an advantage in a court of law, to the extent we have courts of law anymore.

What do I mean by “Really Stupid”? Here’s a blatant — yet not particularly unusual — example:

In an attempt to make it harder for people to find pirated copies of its movies, Paramount Pictures has tried to remove several uTorrent forum posts from Google’s search results. However, it turns out that none of the threads that were called out as unlawful actually link to copyright infringing material.

Just mentioning a word that’s in the title is apparently enough to upset Paramount’s little digital militia:

[A] user pointed out that he was “clueless” about something. This apparently rang alarm bells at Paramount’s content protection company who assumed that this person was referring to a pirated copy [of] the film Clueless.

Google’s response? According to TorrentFreak, they whitelisted the entire uTorrent domain. Apparently there’s only so much stupidity Google is willing to tolerate.

(Via Consumerist.)

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I got to let them know

Should they stay or should they go? This is pretty much exactly the way they put it in their email:

We can take a hint. We hate unwanted email almost as much as we hate feeling needy or neglected. Bothering you is the last thing we want. If you’d still like to receive emails from us, just let us know by clicking below. If not, no hard feelings, but please be honest and tell us so we can move on.

The ball is in your court: If you do not select either of these options, we’ll be forced to part ways and clear you off our subscriber list.

Passive-aggressive much?

I decided to opt in, just this once. (Tease, tease, tease.)

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Going for maximum meta

And the snake takes another yummy bite of tail:

Who didn’t see this coming? (Besides me, I mean.)


Too good a tool

Bad news in the mailbox from the Fortress of Bezosity:

The Amazon MP3 Downloader is no longer available as of today. We’re sorry for any inconvenience!

As an alternative, you can download your music directly through your web browser. To help make this easier, we’ve completely redesigned web browser downloading. It now gives you the option to download albums and multiple tracks at the same time using .ZIP files. ZIP is a file format that compresses content for quicker transfer.

If .ZIP files save any transfer time, it’s because they move several files under a single filename; actual compression of an .mp3 music file, already compressed to begin with, is next to nil. The last musical .ZIP file I acquired, Go Home Productions’ Sleazy Egyptian EP, managed to get 9-percent compression on a couple of tracks, which is amazingly high.

The real bummer, for me anyway, is that the Downloader was smart enough to find one’s iTunes directory and install the files on the fly, even while they were being tossed into the Amazon MP3 folder.

Oh, yes, this trick is still doable — with the Amazon Music app. I suppose I’ll have to see if this works on the desktop, because it definitely won’t work on my Dumbphone.


No extra screws in the package

What’s the opposite of a pimp? Let’s see:

A Japanese-based company Softbank, which has created Pepper the robot, has forced customers to sign a document forbidding its owners from using the humanoid for sexual purposes, as well as creating sexy apps.

To tell you the truth, she doesn’t do a thing for me:

“Pepper is a social robot able to converse with you, recognize and react to your emotions, move and live autonomously,” the developer’s website states.

Well, some of your emotions, I suppose. The phrase “I am not programmed to respond in this area” comes immediately to mind.

Pepper is now available for use at home, though people have found that communication is really her only asset, as her domestic skills, such as cleaning or cooking are severely lacking.

Who’s buying this humanoid?

Currently Pepper is available for purchase for Japanese residents only and they must be older than 20.

And they must have the yen equivalent of $2,000 US, and perhaps an indulgence from the Space Pope.

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Lookin’ out my backdoor

Cisco is attempting to deal with something called SYNful Knock:

SYNful Knock is a type of persistent malware that allows an attacker to gain control of an affected device and compromise its integrity with a modified Cisco IOS software image. It was described by Mandiant as having different modules enabled via the HTTP protocol and triggered by crafted TCP packets sent to the device.

Security type Blind Seeker opines:

There are really only two host-based artifacts that can give away the implant; the modification of the TLB (Translation Lookaside Buffer) attributes from Read-only to Read/Write, and the fact that the actors will ascertain what features of the IOS are not being used to determine what functionality to remove in order to fit their backdoor into the IOS image, without affecting the size of the image. Your network admins aren’t ever going to care about the memory attributes of the TLB, and unless there is a sudden need to change their entire network, those unused features that were deleted to make room for the backdoor aren’t gonna be missed either. Even assuming that the network admin notices that a particular feature isn’t working on a router, they’re more likely to go “Huh, that’s weird..” and engage Cisco technical support and/or just nuke and re-image the router than they would be to say ZOMG NATION-STATE BACKDOOR.

This is consistent with standard network-admin practice:

Networking gear exists in a realm of if it ain’t broken, save the running config, back it up somewhere, and NEVER TOUCH THIS AGAIN.

Exactly so.

(Via @SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Hardware issues

“Shopping, sex, and shopping for sex,” said Penn Jillette once upon a time, “propel all new technology.” Today, gender-swapping is cumbersome and expensive; tomorrow, maybe not so much. In the meantime, there’s always Adobe Photoshop.


Block that ad!

Blocking of online ads, says TechCrunch, is on the rise:

There are now 198 million global active users of ad blocking software, up 41 percent from 12 months ago, according to a recent report by PageFair and Adobe. The report also estimates that ad blocking will cost publishers $22 billion in revenue this year.

Some caveats: PageFair isn’t an objective industry observer, since its business revolves around helping publishers circumvent these blockers. Also, the impact on mobile may be reduced as more content is distributed on apps and social networks. Lastly, there have been arguments that ad blocking won’t hurt publishers as badly as you might think, because the ad business has always been “lossy,” with lots of wasted money, whether you’re talking about TV or print.

See, for instance, department-store magnate John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

There are sites for which I gladly turn off the blocker. Equestria Daily is one; I shut it down on Fark for a while, but found that some of their sneakier ad-placement suppliers had found ways to crash my browser with horribly designed garbage.

And there are sites for which I will probably never turn it off, such as, on the basis that I give their parent company somewhere upwards of $200 a year and should be exempt from that crap for that reason alone.

Besides, there are people in desperate need of an object lesson here:

Harry Kargman, the founder and CEO of mobile ad company Kargo, agreed that in many cases, online ads have created “a bad consumer experience — from an annoyance perspective, a privacy perspective, a usability perspective.” At the same time, he said that as the industry works to solve these problems, it also needs to convince people that when you use an ad blocker, “That’s stealing. It’s no different than ripping music. It’s no different than pirating movies.”

Horse doodles. You want an analogy that fits? It’s pushing the next station on the car radio the moment you hear that douchebag from [much-hated auto dealership].

(Via Daily Pundit.)

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A price far above rubies (3)

I have never quite trusted a printer’s estimate of how much ink is left before you have to spend more money, and apparently my suspicions are well-founded:

You should know this:

[T]he Epson 9900 is a professional grade printer that costs thousands of dollars. Each 700 ml ink cartridge can cost nearly $100, and a full set runs well over $1,000. As a popular fine art printing company, Bellevue has had 4 of the 9900 printers.

Then again, it could be worse. Before I destroyed it in a fit of pique it got to the end of its abbreviated lifecycle, I had a DeskJet which used the HP 56 cartridge, which ran $1.84 per milliliter, versus 14 cents for these Epsons.

(Via Fark.)

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3D with an option for four

Gadgette has started an interview series called “Kickass ladies of VR,” and the first subject turns out to be someone whose name I recognized: Emily Eifler of Oculus. A couple of paragraphs:

What inspired you to join the VR industry?

My friend Vi [Hart]. We had both been making online video and she wanted to figure out how to do it without the limitation of tiny rectangles. She asked if I could help, and I said “Yes, of course!” I had never done it before but I figured it out. I guess that’s my special skill. I can figure out almost anything with enough work.

A skill I’d consider invaluable, especially if I had it.

And this was probably inevitable:

Have you had any difficulties along the way with being a woman in VR?

You mean besides the death threats and doxxing and gender-based trolling online and getting groped at 99% male conferences and guys trying to turn meet-ups into meat-ups and the constant underlying grind of not being taken seriously because of the way I look? Nah, it’s been unicorns belching rainbows the whole way.

There are times when I think 90 percent of us are giving the other 10 percent a bad name.


This would certainly put me off

Against the Current lead singer Chrissy Costanza reports in from Taipei:

One does not, after all, see this sort of apparatus in Poughkeepsie rest rooms.

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A merman it’s your turn to be

Not exactly a cast of thousands, I surmise:

In the Jimi Hendrix Case only you, Detective Jimi Hendrix can solve the mysterious murder of Jimi Hendrix, with a crazy cast of characters from Officer Jimi Hendrix, to secretary Jimi Hendrix, to fishmonger Jimi Hendrix there to help and hinder you on your way. In case you hadn’t guessed, in The Jimi Hendrix Case, everyone is Jimi Hendrix.

Wait, what?

The Jimi Hendrix Case is a new short point-and-click adventure game made for the latest Monthly Adventure Game jam, the prompt for which, funnily enough, was Hendrix. And one of the rules was that the game must relate to fish in some way. I won’t go into detail but let me just say that I truly admire the way the creators of the game, Benjamin Penney and K. Williams, took these rules to heart.

Screenshots and a download link here.


Bits of you everywhere

I was taken aback by this, not so much from its origins, but from its implications:

My online life has already gone on for 30 years, and if I have any secrets left — but never mind, let’s not go there.


Wholly rolly

After spending more than two decades (yes!) on this here IBM Model M, I figure I’d have trouble getting used to banging on a tablet’s touchscreen. Fortunately, there are alternatives, and this one sounds strangely interesting:

The [LG] “Rolly Keyboard” folds up across four rows into an easily transportable stick and, unlike flexible foldable keyboards, is made from solid durable polycarbonate and ABS plastics, making it feel more tactile when used. Unrolled, it reveals two arms at either end to support a smartphone or tablet, and it’s only a little smaller than a standard keyboard; each high contrast key is 17mm, only one mm smaller than regular desktop keys, which should make it very easy to type on. The keyboard is Bluetooth 3.0 enabled, powered by a single AAA battery, which should be enough to power it for around 3 months. Conveniently, auto-pairing is enabled so that you can get to work as soon as you unroll it, and it can toggle between two different Bluetooth-connected devices at a time.

At least, that’s what the reviewers have seen. Those of us out here in Retailville get to wait a little while longer:

LG plan to unveil the keyboard at IFA Electronics event in Berlin next week, alongside their new G Pad II tablet. At the moment no cost has been revealed, but it seems that the “Rolly” will go on sale in the U.S. in September, before a wider release at the end of the year.

Of course, I’m failing to add in the cost of an actual tablet, inasmuch as I don’t own one as yet.


Surely it’s done by now

I mean — shouldn’t it be?

Machines get faster, but files get bigger, and it still takes forever to transfer them. The database that runs this very Web site took nearly 80 minutes to back up on Sunday evening.

Should anyone be curious, cc32e47.exe is the installation file for Netscape Communicator, which includes the Navigator browser (version 4), a newsgroup reader, AOL Instant Messenger, and various other artifacts of a long-departed civilization.

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Your Web form blows goats

Rather a lot of Web forms blow goats, and not necessarily healthy goats either, but this one seems particularly likely to abuse your kid:

This morning I logged into my account to “set my Privacy Choices.” I thought they were already set, but they sent me a letter saying their site is changing in new and exciting ways to make my life EASIER. So I logged in to check on my PRIVACY CHOICES.

First mistake right off the bat. No commercial Web site has ever changed in new and exciting ways to make anyone’s life easier. It’s always (1) change our back end for the sheer hell of it or (2) find more efficient ways to monetize our customers’ personal data or (3) both 1 and 2.

Still, she waded through the quagmire, and finally left this advice for the morassholes:

Your PRIVACY CHOICES pages — all of them, in the entire form — are chock full o’ FAIL. I’d attach screen caps but you don’t allow it. So I’ll try to explain in the 400 characters you allow here.

The helpful “error” message I got when I tried to enter my email address in the form? WTF? It’s the same email address I use to log into the “secure” area of the site and I bet you knew that. It’s the same email the bank uses to send me “Your Statement is Available Now” emails. So this is a huge coincidence, I’m sure, that the Privacy Choices page threw red errors on my email address, but then suddenly ignored them as I continued filling in the form. Testing me, were you? Most people give up at the red messages but I’m an asshole. Shit, it says I only have a few more characters left to tell you what’s wrong with the Privacy Choices pages on the site. I am feeling the stress now. I will just note that your “open a new account” page and your “make a payment” page are working fine as always. Just not the “Privacy Choices” section. Nothing there works. Such a strange coincidence. Like, what are the odds?

A reminder from Consumerist, as though you needed it:

[M]ost privacy policies are terrible. They do not guarantee you privacy; they just outline and detail the ways in which you do not have any.

Which might explain why they don’t give a damn whether you can respond to them or not.

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Here we go loop-de-loop

Ouroboros to the white courtesy phone, please:

Europe”s “Right to be forgotten” laws have come to an apex of dumb: The UK’s Information Commissioner’s office has ordered [pdf] Google to remove links to stories about Google removing links to stories. My brain hurts.

If it’s an endless loop, does it truly have an apex?

And apparently “endless” is the operative word:

“The commission does not dispute that journalistic content relating to decisions to delist search results may be newsworthy and in the public interest,” Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith wrote in a statement, acknowledging that the IC was asking that Google block access to legitimate journalism. Smith continued: “However, that interest can be adequately and properly met without a search made on the basis of the complainant’s name providing links to articles which reveal information about the complainant’s spent conviction.”

Smith fails to mention how the IC will handle purging news stories about the news stories about purging the news stories about purging news stories, or how it will handle purging news stories about purging news stories about the news stories about purging the news stories.

Barbra Streisand was not available for comment.

(Via Greg McVerry.)

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The noncorporeal girl of my dreams

Something I said four years ago:

Given Siri’s lack of physical form — all those apps look alike to me — I’ll almost certainly impute wholly-unwarranted characteristics to her, such as a sense of humor.

And maybe, it seems, a trace of actual wisdom:

Bless you, autocorrect.


We deprecate your punctuation

For the last twenty years or so, I’ve been rendering the em-dash (and the occasional en-dash) with — mostly because I could never remember how to spell the damned entities. (And typical usage around here has spaces around the dash, which is neither technically nor typographically correct.)

WordPress, as of version 4.3, has decided that I will no longer get away with —. It’s converting that string on the fly to —, which is a correct em-dash in Unicode, and it displays the way I want it to display. Only thing is: now I wonder what else WP is doing behind the scenes.

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Somewhere around the back end

One of my more faithful WordPress plugins is WP-Ban by Lester Chan, which allows me to block any IPv4 address — IPv6 isn’t covered yet — or any range thereof. It’s not 100% reliable, but it’s kept about 800,000 unworthy types out of this site over the past several years.

Then WP 4.3 arrived yesterday, and the plugin broke with the ever-popular Fatal Error string. I watched it happen, took the obvious action — rename the plugin directory so WordPress can’t find it — and went out to see if anyone else was having this same issue. They were. Almost identically, in fact. So I’m assuming this problem isn’t due to the weird configuration over here.

This is the first time I’ve seen anything of Chan’s actually break, so I have no idea how quickly he responds to issues like this, but I am hopeful.

Update: Well, looky here. A new version of WP-Ban already.


Up one point nine

Marcel has survived the arrival of Windows 10:

The upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 went okay. It took a minute or two to go though “custom” settings and select more sensible options than “express” offers. The only thing so far is the mouse pointer often goes into its “working” blue-circle state, and it’s even more pesky and intrusive than 8.1; just now it was bugging me about logging onto their X-box scheme so I could play solitaire.

Then again, this isn’t his only hardware:

On my other machine I have Lubuntu, which has been trouble-free.

Hmmm. I wonder if that would work on Toshi, my ancient XP laptop.

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Discouragingly stationary

The bank with which I do the vast majority of my business — not one of the big chains, but big enough — has been serving up a perfectly legible online-banking interface for the last five years, which fit nicely onto my screens. It apparently did not fit nicely onto people’s phones, though, so they’ve unveiled a new interface aimed directly at those who swipe rather than those who mouse around.

Well, no, I didn’t like it much. On the upside, it’s not so different from what American Express is showing me these days, so at least I didn’t have much of a learning curve, and I suppose eventually I’ll end up with a smartphone, or at least a not-quite-so-dumb phone. I’m not going to try it on my current phone; it will probably work, but carrier charges for Web access on an account with no data plan border on the absurd.

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It’s those damn one-percenters again

Paranoia, as Mr. Stills used to say, strikes deep:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Since there are still millions of people world wide still using windows XP have they not been left high and dry?

And guess who did the leaving?

by the likes of Facebook, microsft outlook and many others, just because they are not able to afford the most up to-date machines to surf the web securly, and will it soon be only the wealthy and large corperations that will be able to so, and is that the plan for speeding up the net by reducing the traffic

Obviously our questioner doesn’t read anybody else’s questions, because the place is just jam-packed full of doofi who got their brand-new and presumably up-to-date machines loaded up with malware in the first 48 hours. “Securly?” Ha.

For what it’s worth, in the desktop/laptop market, XP still commands about a 12-percent share, though several years back it was estimated that 25 to 35 percent of XP installations were pirated.


Option F

Have you ever wanted to scream at the insipid robovoice that’s not even coming close to solving the problem you called about? Well, you don’t need to raise your voice, necessarily, but you might want to try coarsening your language a bit:

Some years ago I called the Dell 800 number to get some help with my computer. After going through various Q&As to establish that I needed technical assistance, the automated voice asked me to name the type of computer I was asking about. “Vostro 220,” I said. Pause. “I’m sorry, I don’t recognize that name. Please tell me what computer you are asking about.” “Vostro 220,” I repeated, enunciating slowly and clearly. Same response. After about four iterations of this I said, “It’s a fucking Vostro 220, for fuck’s sake.” Pause. “OK, it seems you need to speak to an operator. Please wait while I transfer you.”

You probably don’t want to go off this way on an actual person unless said person is behaving robotically, as though deviating from the script would result in instant derezzing.

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Blue screen of Duh

This error message might be even less useful than it looks:

Something happened screen from Windows 10

Said author Katherine Hayton upon witnessing this phenomenon:

Way to waste my time Windows 10. I don’t mean providing me with unenlightening messages that look like they might have started life as a program placeholder to come back to later (or not as it turned out), I just Googled the answer to that conundrum and was done with it.

No, the bit that took the time was finding the hashtag on Twitter and reading the random nonsense that this particularly existential explanation had spawned.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Lou Reed was there first.

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It could be terse

Alternatively, “we put the suck in succinct:”

Then again, how much exposition do you need for a link to a cat video?

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Bare naked text

When offered a choice, I always opt for plain-text email over HTML, “the way God and RFC 822 intended.” Most people choose otherwise. I contend that they chose poorly, and I am not alone in this belief:

So we decided to experiment with varying degrees of HTML-richness — plain HTML templates, snazzy and sleek HTML templates, beautiful headers, different sized and positioned images, various call-to-action buttons, and even GIFs — to see which would have the best result.

In every single A/B test, the simpler-designed email won. The emails with fewer HTML elements won with statistical significance.

To take this a step further:

HTML emails decreased open rates. What was interesting, however, was that not only were HTML emails receiving lower open rates than their plain-text counterparts, the more HTML-rich an email was, the lower its open rate.

Some of this may be due to mail filters. SquirrelMail, as implemented at my domain, blocks images it deems possibly unsafe, in which case your beautiful design looks like a game of Tetris that ended in a system freeze.

But regardless of the reason, it’s better without all those damn graphics. Trust me. Or God and that RFC.

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Custom for days

Somebody on Quora, presumably for I-want-it-too reasons, wanted to know which WordPress theme was using, so I took a look out there and quickly decided that this had to be a custom job: it didn’t look quite like any of the canned themes I’ve seen.

Still, duty calleth, so I fetched the View Source screen, and this came back to me:

First few lines of

Then followed the names and locations of the three actual developers. And yes, this is a custom theme, which is indeed called “Lemon Soda.”


Playing to a captive audience

Well, it makes marketing sense, anyway:

Too bad you can’t do the update from the BSOD. (Or can you?)

(Via SwiftOnSecurity.)