Archive for PEBKAC

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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LaserJetsam

This is the next step beyond the infamous PC LOAD LETTER:

I think I’m in love.

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Perhaps they’re drugged

The old online prescription refill at Target was clunky in the extreme, but it worked most of the time. And then they decided to outsource it, to an operation called PDX, Inc. It’s still clunky, but now it doesn’t work at all: since it didn’t read any existing cookies, it defaulted to filling my order at a store in Pennsylvania — except that it refused to fill my order because it didn’t like any of the prescription numbers I keyed in. Twice.

What’s more, it has a CAPTCHA.

Whatever the opposite of “I wish them well” may be, that’s what I wish.

Addendum: I whined on Twitter about this, prompting Target HQ to ask me for an email report.

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Downtime a-comin’

The surfer dudes who host my sites have advised that said sites will be down for at least part of Sunday evening:

We’re continuing our roll-out of Ubuntu 12.04 Precise to an additional 150 web servers this Sunday, October 12th. As we’d like to get all of our customers over to this new OS, we will be upgrading 2 batches per week. While the total estimated maintenance is 5 hours, we expect actual downtime due to the upgrade to be around 45 minutes. A large part of the maintenance window will be spent testing all of the servers post-upgrade to ensure everything is in order.

And it is indeed a new OS for them: far back as I can remember — and I’ve been there almost 13 years — they’ve been running some flavor of Debian.

Of course, the major thrill with any such announcement is the list of actual machine names to be upgraded, which includes such august designations as “augusta,” “coweta,” “king-william,” “snowstorm” and “tricia-mcmillan.”

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A site old enough to vote

Still like that old-time Robert Dole? Jonathan Blake advises that the Dole/Kemp 1996 campaign Web site is still up in more or less its original format, maintained by political-history site 4President.org.

I must tell you, it looks every one of its eighteen years. (Like I should talk, right?) Still, it’s no Space Jam, as Bob Dole would tell you if you were talking to Bob Dole.

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Whatever it is, it’s here

News Item: As expected, Microsoft launched a new version of Windows on Tuesday two years after the troubled release of its last operating system, Windows 8. But instead of introducing the expected name, “Windows 9,” Microsoft announced it will jump to “Windows 10.”

Top Ten designations considered by Microsoft before settling on “10”:

  1. 8.2
  2. 9000
  3. Post-Millennium
  4. Seven Classic
  5. XPdited
  6. 666
  7. 640K
  8. 20-20
  9. 9X
  10. OS XI

This seems to be the actual explanation for “10.” (As always, thanks to @SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Beyond here lies nothing

A fairly neutral definition from Wikipedia:

A site map (or sitemap) is a list of pages of a web site accessible to crawlers or users. It can be either a document in any form used as a planning tool for Web design, or a Web page that lists the pages on a Web site, typically organized in hierarchical fashion.

Sometimes they’re complicated. (I’d hate to sit down and draw one for this place.) The consumer-information site MainStreet.com, however, seems to have boiled it down to the basics:

Sitemap for Mainstreet.com

“That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” said John Keats, while not looking at this.

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Eyes glued to the screen

Until such time as someone develops a portable eye-glue dissolver — and someone (else) develops a way of deploying it without being obtrusive — this may be the answer:

I was driving across a college campus this week just as the night school students were getting out of long evening classes (during which they presumably had been abstaining from texting). I had to slow my car down to walking speed to avoid accidents because the majority of pedestrians were drifting about heads down with their eyes on their glowing screens held at waist level.

Here’s an idea for a Silicon Valley start-up: an app that will freeze your smartphone screen with “LOOK UP” if you are about to get hit by a car.

Yes, it’s come to this.

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64-bit ambition, two-bit laziness

Evidently this chap was hoping to be told that there would be no math:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Which computer major doesn't have Maths in it and makes a lot of money?

Five will get you ten that a year from now he’s doing WordPress installs for cheap.

Note: The original title of this was “The blind fashion designer says hi,” but as I was doing the draft save it occurred to me that, well, what if there is a blind fashion designer? And of course there is.

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Easier than getting it to print

First you need to know this:

“Canon Pixma wireless printers have a web interface that shows information about the printer, for example the ink levels, which allows for test pages to be printed and for the firmware to be checked for updates.”

I have something like that on one of my printers, come to think of it.

Michael Jordon, Context Information Security analyst, having pointed out the interface, then pointed out what was wrong with it:

[T]he interface doesn’t need any sort of authentication to access. Off the bat the worst anyone could do would be print off hundreds of test pages and use up all of the printer’s ink. Jordon found you could do much more, though. The interface lets you trigger the printer to update its firmware. It also lets you change where the printer looks for the firmware update.

In theory, you could create a custom firmware that spies on everything that printer prints, it can even be used as a gateway into the network it’s tied into.

To show off what he’d learned Jordon opted for something far more deadly: “I decided to get Doom running on the printer.”

Which he did. [MP4 video, no audio, 28 seconds.]

Canon is working on a fix for both current and future models.

(Via Fark.)

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Always running out of room

Bill Quick tosses this one at us:

Was there even a terabyte of storage in the entire world when you first got into computing? Not when I did, but that was in 1965. According to Wikipedia, when I bought my first PC in 1986, there was about three exabytes in digital storage.

There’s a terabyte (about 75 percent empty) in the home box right now, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot. Then again, I started fooling around with these contraptions with the Commodore 64, which stored 170k on a single-sided floppy. Call it six to a megabyte; then you have six million to the terabyte.

An exabyte is one million TB, and to make sure I remembered that correctly I slid over to Wikipedia, where I found probably the same page WTQ did, in which I found the following tidbit:

The content of Library of Congress is commonly estimated to hold 10 terabytes of data in all printed material. Recent estimates of the size including audio, video, and digital materials is from 3 petabytes to 20 petabytes. Therefore, one exabyte could hold a hundred thousand times the printed material, or 500 to 3,000 times all content of the Library of Congress.

Or your backup copy of Windows 10.

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Somewhat lacking in dash

Attack with Numbers has a subtle little piece called “The laws of shitty dashboards,” the second of which is “If it’s called ‘Dashboard,’ it’s probably shitty.”

Of course, they’re talking software dashboards, but the principle could be extended further:

Take car dashboards for example. They use vast amount of real estate to display information that is useless 99% of the time. How often do you need to know the RPM on an automatic car? Can’t you just take that stupid dial out and put something useful instead?

Then again, if you don’t have that information in the remaining 1% of the time, you’re hosed. And I look at the RPM all the time, if only to see what sort of shift points I’m using. And there’s this, for instance: the car is fully warmed up when, and only when, 70 rpm can be had below 2500 rpm, useful information of the sort you can’t count on from today’s typically wonky temperature gauges.

On the other hand, I’m definitely down with this:

They also employ UX techniques that dates from a time where the only UI component you can use was a light bulb. If that red thing is critical, can’t you tell me right away what it means?

One wants to know, after all, what the engine is doing, not what it just quit doing.

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The new automotive priorities

The big thing at General Motors this fall, apparently, is in-car Wi-Fi. A two-page Buick ad in the new InStyle (October) contains this image:

In the back seat of a Buick Regal

The young lady, resplendent in orange, is obviously making best use of her time in the back seat. (Of course it’s the back seat: you don’t want drivers doing this, the curve of the roofline gives it away, and anyway this is the view from outside the car.) Apart from telling you that you can get a mobile hotspot, though, this ad tucks in a couple of additional messages that aren’t spelled out:

  • The average age of Buick buyers has actually been declining, from recently deceased to somewhere in the fifties, but there’s really no percentage to marketing to us old codgers, set in our ways, so let’s show someone about half that age.
  • Fear of cramped back seats haunts us all, or at least those of us who occasionally might find occasion to carry someone in the back seat, so the fact that Miss Tablet can actually cross her legs back there is reassuring, though I’m not sure how close her head is to the ceiling.

This latter point is seldom made by automakers; I can remember only once in recent years when it was blatant, and even then it was only a tweet.

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Too much legacy

@SwiftOnSecurity posted a screencap of this last night, then took it down within minutes for reasons unknown, but not before I’d gotten a screencap of my own, and I eventually turned up the source on reddit:

I tried to take care of a customer that has manufacturing equipment that required MSDOS on a 386. There’s no way it will run on anything newer because it was built with timing loops that expect a (33?)Mhz processor and the cards require an ISA bus.

It won’t run on a VM or on anything newer and I was unable to find hardware to run it and finally gave up and recommended they contact the original engineer for specs (custom built controllers, steppers, etc) and get ready for a rebuild and rewrite.

They never called back and I assume they’ll just run it until it dies, then close the doors.

I can’t help but think there’s someone out there with a twenty-year-old Packard Bell clunker who thinks he’ll get $100 for it in a yard sale.

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The bogeyman from Fort Meade

The Z Man suggests that NSA’s espionage prowess might be the stuff of fantasy and nothing more:

The government buys all of its technology from the private sector. There are things done for the government by private contractors that are not for anyone else, but the government does not have special magic. Further, the government is not getting the best and brightest. There’s way too much money to be made in the private sector for the government to get the best and brightest. The Snowden affair shows you how sloppy this stuff is, even at the highest level.

More important, the volume of data involved is so large there’s simply no way to sort through it in a meaningful way. There are 150 billion e-mails sent every day. That’s 55 trillion e-mails a year. Searching that volume of records for useful data is simply impractical. Throw in the 100 trillion or so phone calls and probably the same number of texts and the volume of data is well beyond what could be useful. That’s why they don’t try, but they’re fine letting people think it. The Feds are relying on the CSI effect to convince the world they can read your mind.

What is this CSI effect?

The CSI effect … is any of several ways in which the exaggerated portrayal of forensic science on crime television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation influences public perception. The term most often refers to the belief that jurors have come to demand more forensic evidence in criminal trials, thereby raising the effective standard of proof for prosecutors. While this belief is widely held among American legal professionals, some studies have suggested that crime shows are unlikely to cause such an effect, although frequent CSI viewers may place a lower value on circumstantial evidence. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent throughout society, people may also develop higher expectations for the capabilities of forensic technology.

Ever try to defuzz a fuzzy picture the way they do on TV? Not happening, folks. And even if it were, you wouldn’t get a 1000-pixel-wide pastel-colored box on screen that says “Completed.”

Then again, NSA could just be stockpiling all this crap in anticipation of the time when they can do something useful with it.

And, per the dreamiest security person on earth:

Obviously, the most immediate need is for more realistic TV procedurals.

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One tiny tan line

“Who will buy our watches?” asks Apple. A bunch of naked people in the UK, perhaps:

A leading British naturist, speaking on behalf of millions of unclad Britons, has welcomed the announcement of the Apple Watch and claimed the nude folk of Albion will soon be happily strapping it on.

Andrew Welch, spokesman for British Naturism (BN) and Young British Naturism (YBN), said his birthday-suited compatriots would happily don wearable technology, even if they weren’t wearing anything else.

Of course, I approve of this sort of wardrobe. But I admit I didn’t think of this angle:

[T]he primary attraction is not — as some have theorised — the fact that nudists have nowhere to carry their phones or other internet devices, but rather the fact that i- or e-Watches in general do not have built-in cameras.

Although there remains a catch:

[T]he iWatch offers the ability to control an iPhone camera remotely, meaning that nudists’ naked bits could still be targeted by pervy Apple users.

(Via Nudiarist2.)

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No need for speed

Sure, we’d love to sell you a really high-speed, really high-priced Internet service, but only we can judge what is truly fast:

AT&T and Verizon have asked the Federal Communications Commission not to change its definition of broadband from 4Mbps to 10Mbps, saying many Internet users get by just fine at the lower speeds.

“Given the pace at which the industry is investing in advanced capabilities, there is no present need to redefine ‘advanced’ capabilities,” AT&T wrote in a filing made public Friday after the FCC’s comment deadline (see FCC proceeding 14-126). “Consumer behavior strongly reinforces the conclusion that a 10Mbps service exceeds what many Americans need today to enable basic, high-quality transmissions,” AT&T wrote later in its filing. Verizon made similar arguments.

Since American broadband is very much like American health care — pretty damned expensive for what you get — it’s no surprise that the guys who collect the tolls would like to keep their sweet little racket going.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler even suggested in a speech last week that 10Mbps is too low. “A 25Mbps connection is fast becoming ‘table stakes’ in 21st century communications,” he said. At 25Mbps, three-quarters of Americans have, at best, one choice of providers. At 10Mbps, 8.4 percent of Americans have no access, and another 30.3 percent have access from only one provider.

If the definition is kept at 4Mbps, statistics on broadband deployment and competition look a lot better, putting less pressure on telcos to upgrade infrastructure. AT&T and Verizon prefer to keep it that way.

Then again, even Nancy Pelosi, who did as much as anyone in history to fark up American healthcare, is at least coming around on broadband, insisting on the broadest possible definition of net neutrality:

Pelosi wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Monday that Internet service providers should be reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act — a step toward stronger regulations that would allow the FCC to more easily prohibit attempts by ISPs to charge other businesses for smoother, faster access to consumers.

“I oppose special Internet fast lanes,” wrote Pelosi. “I believe the FCC should follow the court’s guidance and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II.”

Hang on to your routers, folks. This could get nasty.

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From the baud old days

If thine broadband be broader than mine, then do say it:

But there are a lot of those old steam-powered modems still in service.

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Sweeter than fiction

While following up on something tweeted by @SwiftOnSecurity, I stumbled across this statement posted by the person behind the account:

Taylor Swift’s image in large parts of popular culture is as the foolish, prolific romantic — that her experiences are her own fault and she’s somehow quick to complain about it. Unfortunately, playing off this is the easiest way to appeal to a wide audience and promote the account. Taylor Swift is a public figure open to parody but it’s something I don’t feel is particularly fair to her or the picture of women in general. I’ll continue to use light traces of this reputation, but it’s not something I particularly embrace.

Second, the account is written from the perspective of its subject living both her life and that of a legitimate professional in Information Technology/Information Security. The position and treatment of women in this sector is a common discussion point and open to criticism. Emphasis on femininity being a distraction or primary theme is something that doesn’t fit in this climate. First and foremost she is a professional, but one with a public image to play off and make references to. This keeps the character a good place to air my own musing on information security.

There is precedent for this: see, for instance, Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics. The peculiar genius of @SwiftOnSecurity is that those two perspectives intertwine so effectively, the reader is somehow able to contemplate the coming (well, they are) InfoWars while presented with the image of a singer who used to have more twang, didn’t she? A perfect example: “Just because I’m vulnerable doesn’t mean I’m exploitable.”

And here are some of the best Swifties, posterized for your viewing pleasure.

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I never quite get tired of these

Of course, the people responsible for the signs are definitely sick of this sort of thing:

Electronic sign needs reboot

This sign is in Spring Valley, Nevada, an unincorporated area (with almost 200,000 people) west of the Las Vegas Strip.

(Via Rebecca Black, who owns a Mac.)

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It is, after all, legal

Microsoft delivers lots of hotfixes — there are, after all, lots of things that need to be fixed — but you might think they’d back away from a scenario like this:

  • You have the uTorrent client (or other high speed file transfer applications) installed on a computer that’s running one of the following operating systems [list in original];
  • You use an RNDIS USB device which implements the Remote Network Driver Interface Specification (RNDIS) 6.0 driver version.

When you download uTorrent content through the RNDIS 6.0 connection in this scenario, you receive Stop error 0xD1.

Some of us may react reflexively: “Ewww, torrents!” Redmond, not so much: they’ve issued a hotfix for the Microsoft RNDIS driver, although they caution that you shouldn’t install it unless you’re having that specific problem.

(For those of you who wondered why I was following @SwiftOnSecurity, it’s for stuff like this.)

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Persistence of intrusion

If you look at anything anywhere on the Web, sooner or later you’ll see an ad for it — and sometimes much, much later:

I fervently wish that the advertising bots would realize that, once I’ve made an online purchase, I’m done. You can quit sending me info about wristwatches, I bought one. Don’t show me any other mattresses, I bought one (ask me how it was shipped, dayum I didn’t know you could do that). I bought a set of ATV tires, it’ll take years to wear them out, so leave me alone. I could continue, but I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re not really benefiting anyone by the deluge, so far as I see.

Then again, if the ad purveyors could actually know that you’d closed the deal, it’s also possible that certain individuals of dubious integrity also could know that, and could theoretically turn that knowledge to their advantage — though it’s probably more likely that their less technically-oriented peers would just break into the house.

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Digital squatters

The ultimate word on that “digital natives” crap, from Lynn:

I keep reading this stuff about how today’s kids, teens, and twenty-somethings are “digital natives” — that they have never known a world in which there were no computers or cell phones and therefore they are almost like a different species from us older folk who just don’t quite “get” all this new technology. The truth is that in all age groups there are both technophiles and technophobes, just as in every generation there are people who can work on cars and people to whom anything mechanical is mysterious and confusing.

People my age who grew up watching Star Trek have been waiting for these gadgets for over half our lives. I wanted a smart phone years before the things even existed. The smartest and most ambitious did not wait. They made it all happen. Digital natives? My generation created this digital world we live in now. What does that make us?

All else being equal, the person who gets credit for something these days is the person who, in the judgment of the individual writing the article about it, most resembles the individual writing the article about it. Who would have though there could be such a thing as shared narcissism?

I’ve never seen anyone my age who couldn’t learn this stuff, given time and a little bit of effort, and that remains true even as my age spirals out of sight. We may be mere digital immigrants, but I’m betting we take our citizenship more seriously, if only because we never took it for granted.

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Today’s security tip

How to handle a certain delicate situation with one’s phone, explained by Jack Baruth:

Two years ago, I had the USB port on my Motorola Droid4 fail. That meant that once the battery died, I wouldn’t be able to use the phone at all, and since the battery in the Droid4 is installed with screws and a very delicate connector, I wouldn’t be able to easily change the battery for a charged one. The problem with this is that I didn’t know the USB port had failed until the phone died.

I had a $50 insurance plan that I could use to get a replacement phone. The problem was that I had a bunch of photos that a female friend had sent me on that phone. I’d been keeping them for reasons of sentimentality/laziness. Sending the phone into the insurance provider would hand over a dozen nude photos of a woman who had a professional image to protect. And since she was in my contacts, they’d have her name and contact information.

I sat down and thought about it for a while. Then I went out to my front porch and hit the phone with a Craftsman hammer until it was in little pieces. Then I went out and bought another phone.

Well done, sir. In the unlikely event that someone sends me such a photo, I will keep this available for reference.

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Non-returnable, non-disposable

This never, ever happened with a 59-cent GE SoftWhite 60-watt:

Fortunately, I still have a couple of dozen of those ancient devices.

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Officiously speaking

I was not fond of OpenOffice 4, and have rolled back to 3.4.1, which had never given me any grief. Will Truman has temporarily thrown in with the LibreOffice partisans. However, he doesn’t share my antipathy for the dominant office suite:

For the most part, I don’t miss Microsoft Office. The problem is … Google.

Google’s Android apps … don’t read ODF files. There is a third-party app that can read them capably, one that can edit them clumsily, and one that can edit documents but not spreadsheets. It’s all harder than with regular MS Office docs, however, where there are multiple apps that can edit them well.

If Google were to offer support within Drive, that would be remarkably convenient. Not just for my phone, where I wouldn’t be doing anything non-major, but for the desktop as well. Their refusal to support ODF files is maddening.

This is almost, but not quite, as weird as Ford’s original SYNC system, developed with Microsoft, which worked better with iPods than it did with Zunes.

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Marginally refillable

You’d think that in this putative era of Medical Marvels we could do better than this:

Got a letter from Walgreens, a form letter out of a computer, but an actual printed-on-paper, delivered-by-snail-mail letter the other day. It’s telling me that one of my prescriptions has expired, and the doctor hasn’t stepped up and authorized any more. All this requesting and authorizing is done with fax machines, so if the doc is going to authorize more drugs for me, he’s going to need the fax number. Well, where is it? It’s not in the letter, it’s not on their website, so I call, fight with the robo-cop answering machine, wade through an armload of protocol with the operator and finally get the fax number. Call the doctor’s office and they tell me they don’t need the fax number, all this prescription s*** is handled electronically now.

I am particularly concerned because I’m at a place about one step in back of this: everything going in and coming out on my behalf is fax, even if it’s that weird-looking electronic fax that’s sent as TIFF files or something, and I have about ten prescriptions to deal with every month.

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Over made over

It’s no accident that the optical storage medium with the shortest lifespan is the CD-Rewritable. What can we learn from this?

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To be a Rick, and not to roll

I sense a disturbance in the Humor Force:

YouTube has restricted access to a seven-year-old video upload that spawned the still-popular RickRoll meme, in which people trick others into watching [Rick] Astley shimmy in his cheesy “Never Gonna Give You Up” clip.

Simply titled “RickRoll’D,” the video was uploaded by YouTube user cotter548 and has amassed nearly 71 million views. It has been blocked by YouTube in several countries, including the United States.

The video-sharing giant did not immediately respond to request for comment on the takedown, which happened once before, albeit briefly, in 2012.

I have to believe this is a temporary measure, and that Rick has not in fact deserted us.

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