Archive for PEBKAC


Semi-nastygram received from Yahoo! this week:

We’ve noticed that you have not changed your password or adopted Yahoo Account Key since we sent you our first email about this issue. We strongly recommend that you promptly change your Yahoo password and adopt alternate means of account verification, as appropriate. For example, please consider using Yahoo Account Key, a simple authentication tool that eliminates the need to use a password altogether.

I’ve noticed that now and then, but mostly now, it’s impossible to fill in their damned input boxes because some laggard tracking component of theirs isn’t keeping up. But they are scolding me.

This seems like a good time to drop my Flickr Pro account.

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This shall not pass

From the This Can’t Possibly Be A Coincidence files:

The blocked site in question belongs to the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, a nonprofit that advocates for tenants. I wonder if this page linking to them is now going to be blocked.

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Just Dropped in

After several years of schlepping around thumb drives to move files from the home box to the work box or vice versa, I have installed Dropbox, which simplifies the matter considerably. So far, it’s worked admirably, though there’s still a distrust of The Cloud lurking in the back of my mind.

(And with good reason, I might add: over the weekend at the iTunes Store, I bought the BT album usually referred to as __, expecting that I’d be able to pick it up on the work box Monday morning. And indeed, the 25 tracks were queued for download, but in eight hours not one of those tracks was completed. If I can’t complete the task tomorrow, I’m just going to load my home copy into Dropbox. No, I don’t sync.)

If you’ve had experience, fair or foul, with Dropbox, or with Microsoft’s OneDrive (on the work box already), I’m wanting to hear from you.

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Cash-based solutions

When I ditched Windows XP in favor of 7, I ran into a couple of software issues, and the solutions turned out to be essentially identical: present plastic. Herewith, the original problems, and how they were subsequently solved.

Problem: Adobe Photoshop Essentials, though this is my fault: I can’t find the original installation DVD.

Solution: I eventually found the install disk, but it would not, you know, install. By 2014, Adobe apparently reasoned, I should be using a version newer than version 4. A reader offered me a legit copy of a newer edition, which was greatly appreciated; however, the ultimate solution came from Woot, which yesterday was offering the Photoshop/Premiere Elements bundle, version 13, for $49.99 (plus the de rigueur $5 shipping charge). This is slightly less than half what I paid for version 4 at CompUSA back in the Pleistocene era. Clearly I haven’t installed this yet, but I have no reason to think it won’t work.

Problem: Nero Burning ROM, which flatly refused my reinstall: “This serial number has expired.” This was a version-7 install; they’re up to something like 12 now. And I never could deal with the increasing bloat.

Solution: Apparently the Germans never throw away an email address. With Nero 17 on the way, they sent me a note to the effect that they were willing to cut a deal for a downloadable version of version 16, for $29.95. (Full package price is, and always has been, around $75.) The interface is much simplified, for which I am grateful.


When your appliances know too much

Eventually, everything in the doggone house will be electrified and given additional functionality, whether you want it or not:

Although I admit I do sort of like that non-television television set.

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From the spammer’s toolbox

This curious item landed in my spam trap:

Great news everybody!

New updated XRumer 12 recognize and break Google Captcha again, during automatic registering and posting.

The author suggests that you Google for the program, perhaps being reticent to provide an actual link.

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It’s third party

And you’ll cry if they want you to:

On September 13, owners of HP OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro and OfficeJet Pro X began contacting third-party ink vendors by the thousand, reporting that their HP printers no longer accepted third-party ink.

The last HP printer firmware update was pushed in March 2016, and it appears that with that update (or possibly an earlier one), HP had set a time-bomb ticking in its customers’ printers counting down to the date when they’d begin refusing to follow their owners’ orders.

HP says that the March update’s purpose was “to protect HP’s innovations and intellectual property.”

Because what can possibly be more innovative than preventing others from making accessories for your equipment?

This, incidentally, is why I don’t want computer-industry types building cars. God only knows what they’ll do to keep third-party gas out of the tank.

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II much II have expected

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this:

[Thursday], software developer John Brooks released what is clearly a work of pure love: the first update to an operating system for the Apple II computer family since 1993. ProDOS 2.4, released on the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Apple II GS, brings the enhanced operating system to even older Apple II systems, including the original Apple II and II+.

Which is pretty remarkable, considering the Apple II and II+ don’t even support lower-case characters.

Bloat, as you might expect, is nonexistent:

You can test-drive ProDOS 2.4 in a Web-based emulator set up by computer historian Jason Scott on the Internet Archive. The release includes Bitsy Bye, a menu-driven program launcher that allows for navigation through files on multiple floppy (or hacked USB) drives. Bitsy Bye is an example of highly efficient code: it runs in less than 1 kilobyte of RAM. There’s also a boot utility that is under 400 bytes — taking up a single block of storage on a disk.

All the things you expect of an early-Nineties operating system are on hand:

[T]he ProDOS 2.4 “floppy” includes a collection of utilities, including a MiniBas tiny BASIC interpreter, disk imaging programs to move files from physical floppies to USB and other disk storage, file utilities, and the “Unshrink” expander for uncompressing files archived with Shrinkit (helpful for using Apple II archives scattered about the Internet). All of this fits onto a single 140k 5.25-inch disk image.

Ah, those were the days.

(Via Jeff Faria.)

Update, 19 September: Fark headline: “Still compatible with Leather Goddesses of Phobos”.


A surprisingly risky business

Peter “Bayou Renaissance Man” Green Grant, like me, put in some time in operations on an IBM System/370, but there’s something he remembers that I seem to have forgotten:

I recall banks of gas cylinders outside the computer room, designed to release fire-suppressing fumes into the data center whenever necessary. However, none of us ever considered the noise of the gas being released as a potential hazard to disk drives. The system was more likely to kill us! One of my not-so-fond memories of that computer room was when we had a fire security inspection. The inspector turned to the Operations Manager and asked whether he had replacement operators lined up and ready to go after a fire. Puzzled, the Ops Manager replied that he hadn’t — why did he ask? The inspector then pointed out that the “gas masks” provided for the operators were to prevent smoke inhalation only. They had no oxygen cylinder to provide fresh air — but the halon gas that the fire suppression system would inject would absorb all the oxygen in the air. The operators would be asphyxiated before they could get out.

Which, if nothing else, shows you how highly ops personnel are regarded, compared to everyone else in the department.

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It’s not your book

Saturday night turned to Sunday morning, and sleep would not come, so I decided to read. I’d set the tablet screen for minimum blue light, and after the usual interminable bootup delay, I punched up a Kindle book.

And was met with this:

Invalid Item — This item is protected with DRM and cannot be read on your Fire. Please remove the item from your device and download it again or purchase a copy from the Kindle Store.

About two-thirds of my purchases were thus afflicted. I am currently theorizing that when all these things were moved off main storage and onto my 64 GB microSD card, Amazon’s clumsy DRM temporarily lost track of them. It was no particular trick to redownload the titles, but it was definitely annoying.

And it wasn’t the first time I’d had to fight with Amazon’s copyright cops, either. A friend sent me a novel he’d written in .epub format, and the tablet would not deign to display it unless I sneaked it in through a third-party file manager.

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Quick slowed

Bill Quick explains why you haven’t been able to get to Daily Pundit these days:

I initiated the transfer of the Daily Pundit domain to the new host as registrar on 8/27. I was told at the time that it would take “up to seven days” for the transfer to complete, at which point the domain’s DNS data would be pointed at the correct site, that data would propagate over the internet (DNS data is basically directions on how to find a site/IP#/whatever).

Well, the 7th day has dawned, and the transfer is still “pending.”

I hope we’ll see some action today, although when I inquired about it a couple of days ago, a tech said, “Sometimes it takes a little longer.” Which sent shivers down my spine.

I’ve done this twice, with two different domains, and neither time did it take more than three days. Then again, different hosts were involved.

In the meantime:

Anyhow, if you want to just look at Daily Pundit in its new home, go to this link:

You’ll see a few things right away: The site is there, it looks weird, and nothing on it works because every time you click on something it tells you that the site cannot be reached.

Still, this can’t last forever — can it?

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Have you seen this Wizard’s?

I admit to having shopped at this place a time or two, twenty-some-odd years ago:

At least the keyboard looked substantial.

(From the collection of Rob O’Hara.)


Pop down

Few things in life are as exasperating as the pop-up window that suddenly engulfs the entire screen. Those who endure this on laptops or desktops will presumably have to continue, but if you’re suffering with this on a mobile, Google might actually have your back:

Although the majority of pages now have text and content on the page that is readable without zooming, we’ve recently seen many examples where these pages show intrusive interstitials to users. While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.

Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.

Which is probably more direct than the solution I thought of: a browser plugin that sends really horrible SQL-type codes to the goddamn mailing list to which they insist I must subscribe.

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I’m all about that baseball

While I was hospitalized, I rediscovered an old friend: baseball. In the period between the time they take the dinner dish away and the time they bring the nightly pain meds, baseball did a wonderful job of filling up the time I would otherwise use bewailing my fate and wishing I was dead.

Unfortunately for me, I managed to be in bed during the All-Star break, so there were a couple of rough nights to be faced. When I finally got out of there, I stayed with it, going back to the ancestral home of baseball: AM radio. No trick to pick up the local Triple-A club, the Oklahoma City Dodgers: they have a deal with one of the smaller stations. Getting the parent club is trickier: they have a nominal local affiliate, but not all the games get through the endless web of tedious talk shows.

When I discovered Sunday that the Pittsburgh Pirates/Los Angeles Dodgers game would not be carried here, I took action. I cranked up the tablet, which doesn’t get enough work, and installed Major League Baseball’s At Bat app, which gives me all the audio I can stand for twenty bucks a year. About halfway through the first inning, I had everything in place and running.

Standard MLB blackout rules apply to the Rangers, the Astros and the Cardinals, though not to the Royals.

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Piped in

This story has persisted literally for decades:

There have long been rumors that Microsoft copied CP/M to create MS-DOS for the IBM PC. Consultant Bob Zeidman in 2012 used forensic software tools to analyze the code for IEEE Spectrum and found no evidence of copying, as he reported in “Did Bill Gates Steal the Heart of DOS?” Since he did that analysis, Microsoft donated previously unavailable source code for MS-DOS to the Computer History Museum. (Zeidman did his original analysis using QDOS.). And the museum also located and released a more complete version of the CP/M source code. Zeidman reran his analysis and presented the results 6 August at the Vintage Computer Festival West.

The conclusion? Still no sign of copying of source code. And no evidence to support a long-running rumor that there is a secret command in MS-DOS that can be called to print out a copyright notice in Gary Kildall’s name.

Which is not to say that the two operating systems are completely and utterly dissimilar:

However, Zeidman did find that at least 22 system calls, the commands used to request an action, like sending text to a printer or reading from a hard disk, had the same function number and function. That, he says, might have meant that Kildall “might have had a copyright claim for the system calls that it could have litigated against Microsoft. On the other hand, there is a good chance Microsoft could have beaten such litigation by claiming it was a ‘fair use’.”

And there’s a prize for proving him wrong:

[Zeidman’s] putting up $200,000 in prize money, $100,000 for anyone who can use “accepted forensic techniques” to prove the copying, and another $100,000 for anyone who can find that secret Kildall copyright function.

If you ask me, there’s something sort of heartwarming about sustained interest in DOS after however many versions of Windows.

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We will control the environmental

We told you you didn’t want your thermostat hooked up to the Internet:

One day, your thermostat will get hacked by some cybercriminal hundreds of miles away who will lock it with malware and demand a ransom to get it back to normal, leaving you literally in the cold until you pay up a few hundred dollars.

For example:

Pay 1 Bitcoin to get control back

This was not an actual attack, but a proof of concept:

Andrew Tierney and Ken Munro, the two security researchers who created the ransomware, actually have no ill intention. They just wanted to make a point: some Internet of Things devices fail to take simple security precautions, leaving users in danger.

“We don’t have any control over our devices, and don’t really know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” Tierney told Motherboard. “And if they start doing something you don’t understand, you don’t really have a way of dealing with it.”

They expect the manufacturer to implement a fix shortly.

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The bad guys score again

This time they went for your iPhone:

This isn’t a new phenomenon, exactly, but it’s an exasperating one.

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Compatibility ho!

Yes, of course, let’s do this:

And why not make 802.11 work with something that existed two decades before 802.11 itself?


Farging text editors

A couple of weeks back, I complained that Chromebooks didn’t have any. Further research from elsewhere:

Today I am using a Chromebook and I have a couple of really feeble editors loaded: Text and Caret. Neither one can do a proper search and/or replace. Text doesn’t even offer replace. Caret’s search and replace function only works on regular characters, it can’t find line-feeds or tabs which makes it absolutely useless, absolutely useless I tell you.

So I’m looking around and I’m not finding much, mostly a bunch of articles about the ‘top 5 moronic editors for Chrome!’ and the ilk, but I do find one cool thing: a bit of html code that will turn an empty tab on your browser into a text editor. It will look like nothing happened, but click on the empty page and you get a cursor. Start typing.

Now they tell me.

What I wound up with was EditPad.

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There’s always another obstacle

In this case:

Sometimes, that thin wire is all you have.


Google eats the soul

And it chews at least 32 times per bite:

I sold my soul to GoogleDocs in exchange for autosave every fifteen seconds. But I sinned against Google or something, and Chrome decided it was no longer going to open for me. Uninstalled and reinstalled, checked for viruses, nothing. So I downloaded Firefox, which is … fine. Except that it will not allow me to copy/paste in GoogleDocs with my mouse. I tried the common fixes that pop up online, making sure “dom.event.clipboardevents.enabled” is set to “true” and trying to modify “user.js,” which I don’t seem to have (or at least it’s not where anyone says it should be and Windows refuses to find it for me.) Past those, everything I see seems to throw up their hands and says to use keyboard shortcuts, which is unacceptable to me because I am 32 years old, damnit, and I’m not going to change how I do things.

So there.


Perhaps a four-door

Says Google Groups:

Hi Charles G Hill, added you to the Sudan Brand 13 group.

Well, if you say so.


Screw you, pay us

It was just a matter of time, right?

First instance of ransomware showing up on campus. Ugh. Someone clicked on an attachment to an e-mail that was apparently claiming “here’s the invoice you asked for” and boom. I guess I better be extra careful (though I almost never open attachments, and only then if it’s something I KNOW I need and if it’s clearly sent by someone I know). Maybe time to send all the vital stuff I’ve not backed up yet to the campus cloud.

I tend to feel like penal colonies should be re-established for folks who commit cybercrimes (and people who do stuff like install skimmers on credit card readers). No, they wouldn’t have to be hellish pits, just places people could not leave and that would prevent them from having access to whatever technology they used to commit their crimes. Surely there are a few islands full of time-share properties people are looking to unload? There could be periodic air-drops of food and whatnot so the people stay alive, just, they have NO internet or cell phone access whatsoever.

Ransomware seems especially bad; Computer Services indicated this one was 128-bit encryption so hard for a white-hat hacker to fix it and of course it fundamentally “bricks” your computer. And if you pay the ransom, you’re just encouraging the goons to do it again. (And who knows where that money goes; it could even buy blocks of C4 for would-be terrorists, for all we know.)

But … but … they mean well, don’t they?


Technical difficulties

It is extremely difficult to run this place off a Chromebook; no respectable FTP clients, and Google of course thinks it knows what you want in a keyboard. (They don’t.) I had major problems with the next Vent, because CHROME DOESN’T HAVE A GODDAMN TEXT EDITOR and HALF THEIR APPS ARE FUCKING AD-DISTRIBUTION DEVICES. It will be very short, and mostly video.


Technical-ish difficulties

Yet another gambit in the ad-blocking war: pass it off as a technical issue.

Which is, of course, your fault:

Rendering Error which is actually a whine about ad blockers

Somewhere out there, I’m starting to think, is an Expedia-like compendium of bad ideas, specifically for those who want the rest of us to go on guilt trips.

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It doesn’t tear me apart

So I was just sitting around, minding my own business, when this fell into my lap: a good old-fashioned fugue based on Adele’s “Hello.”

“I’ll be Bach,” she didn’t say.

(Via Classic FM.)

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You can’t spell “toilet” without “to let”

They say it’s purely voluntary, and maybe it is, for now. But I suspect this is the future of apartment hunting, like it or not:

The personal data you share with Facebook and other social platforms is a treasure trove of information that can, according to one UK startup, prove whether or not you would be a good tenant.

Score Assured wants to take the data you share privately and publicly with social media and sell it to individuals, employers, and landlords. Tenant Assured, the first tool in the company’s potential suite of data mining-and-selling resources, will connect with your social accounts and give landlords a report based on your data.

The company says it uses machine learning software to predict what your data means—from your personality to “financial stress.” It also rates the “risk” you would be as a tenant. Cofounder Steve Thornhill declined to tell me how exactly the company pulls private data from Facebook, claiming it was part of the company’s intellectual property.

Piece of cake. They went up to the Zuckerborg and said “Can we have a custom API? Here’s a whole bunch of sterling.”

In order to scrape your data and assess your worthiness, you have to give the company full access to your social accounts, from news feed posts to messages to tweets to employment data. You can pick which accounts you permit to be scraped, but if a landlord is asking for it and you’re desperately trying to find a new place to live, then you’re probably going to succumb to their requests, no matter how invasive.

“Users can feel reassured that this is not an invasion of privacy but always done with their explicit consent,” Thornhill said in an email. “We are empowering tenants to make a choice as to whether they would like to use their social media information to support their application for a rental property that they have got their eyes on.”

Another reason to justify why I’ve pretty much thrown the book open on everything I do: I figure I’m probably no worse off than anyone else, and data jackals aren’t getting paid for my life history.

(Via @SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Some days life is like that

And this is definitely one of them. (You’ll need to look at each graphic separately.)

(Via Chris Lawrence.)


Not your space anymore

Myspace — remember Myspace? — has had a major data breach:

“Shortly before the Memorial Day weekend, we became aware that stolen Myspace user login data was being made available in an online hacker forum,” the site wrote in a blog post. The breach occurred on June 11, 2013, and affects a portion of accounts created on the old Myspace platform.

Myspace did not reveal how many accounts were affected, but LeakedSource, a search engine for leaked records, which claims to have obtained a copy of the stolen information, said the data set includes 360,213,024 records. Each record may contain an email address, username, one password, and in some cases a second password; no financial information was involved.

I have received the following notification from Myspace (note it’s no longer BiCapitalized) HQ:

Email addresses, Myspace usernames, and Myspace passwords for the affected Myspace accounts created prior to June 11, 2013 on the old Myspace platform are at risk. As you know, Myspace does not collect, use or store any credit card information or user financial information of any kind. No user financial information was therefore involved in this incident; the only information exposed was users’ email address and Myspace username and password.

In order to protect our users, we have invalidated all user passwords for the affected accounts created prior to June 11, 2013 on the old Myspace platform. These users returning to Myspace will be prompted to authenticate their account and to reset their password.

As a test, I duly attempted to log back in, and was so prompted. Password has now been reset.

The LeakedSource page on this breach lists the top 50 passwords, some of which were used by literally thousands of people. I’m pretty sure no one else was using mine.

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On the off-chance that it might help

Microsoft has issued a paper on Password Guidance, and therein, these are considered the best practices:

  1. Maintain an 8-character minimum length requirement (and longer is not necessarily better).
  2. Eliminate character-composition requirements.
  3. Eliminate mandatory periodic password resets for user accounts.
  4. Ban common passwords, to keep the most vulnerable passwords out of your system.
  5. Educate your users not to re-use their password for non-work-related purposes.
  6. Enforce registration for multi-factor authentication.
  7. Enable risk based multi-factor authentication challenges.

I, for one, would not miss character-composition requirements: adding digits and shifted characters to the alphabet raises the number of available characters from 26 to about 72, meaning your average brute-force password guesser is going to take somewhere between two and three times as long to nail down your password. In the current state of the art, this delay is trivial.

Two-step — maybe three-step — authentication will eventually become the norm.

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