Archive for PEBKAC

A warm byte or two

I have every confidence this scheme will work:

A Dutch energy company is joining forces with a tech startup to harness computing power to heat homes.

Eneco said Tuesday it is installing “e-Radiators” — computer servers that generate heat while crunching numbers — in five homes across the Netherlands in a trial to see if their warmth could be a viable alternative for traditional radiators.

The technology is the brainchild of a company called Nerdalize, whose founders say they developed the idea after huddling near a laptop to keep warm after their home’s thermostat broke.

“Nerdalize”? Okay, if you insist.

But I don’t see how this can fail. My particular IT job puts me right next to the server tower, in a room which is deliberately not connected to the office heating system. With temperatures in the single digits Fahrenheit, the typical temperature in the shop is 67° F. (Of course, there is massive A/C for the warmer periods.)

And the proponents see it as a win/win:

Eneco and Nerdalize say the idea cuts costs for companies using the servers as they no longer need to pay for housing computers in data centers and will provide free warmth for Eneco’s customers as Nerdalize pays the energy bill for the e-Radiator.

You know, we should have patented the damned idea.

(Via Costa Tsiokos.)

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How far we have descended

And in a mere fifty years, yet:

(Via @SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Digital detox

“Perhaps they’re drugged,” I complained last fall:

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 … now it doesn’t work at all.

So I reverted to punching in the orders over the phone, which was tedious, but which worked.

Tuesday night I was clearing out the browser history when I saw the old, extremely long link to the old Target facility. On an impulse, I hit it.

And it brought up the old, familiar screen, just like before. I duly keyed in half a dozen, the max, and got all the proper responses.

I haven’t actually picked up the stuff yet — that comes later today, or maybe tomorrow — but if they’ve actually gone back to the previous system, that newfangled sumbitch they tried to foist off on us must have been even worse than I thought it was, and I thought it sucked pond water, and last year’s pond water at that.

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You can’t spell “die” without IE

I really can’t blame Microsoft for going this route:

While Microsoft has dropped hints that the Internet Explorer brand is going away, the software maker has now confirmed that it will use a new name for its upcoming browser successor, codenamed Project Spartan. Speaking at Microsoft Convergence [Monday], Microsoft’s marketing chief Chris Capossela revealed that the company is currently working on a new name and brand. “We’re now researching what the new brand, or the new name, for our browser should be in Windows 10,” said Capossela. “We’ll continue to have Internet Explorer, but we’ll also have a new browser … codenamed Project Spartan. We have to name the thing.”

Being no fan of Google’s competing product, I’m just hoping it has no face like Chrome.

However, I don’t expect IE to go gently into that good night; Microsoft still hasn’t been able to kill off Windows XP.

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Shadier than ever

Five years ago, I was telling you this:

Now we have ShadyURL, which says: “Don’t just shorten your URL, make it suspicious and frightening.”

As often happens, this service fell into disuse and was abandoned. It has now been revived through the kindness of @snipeyhead:

What’s more, it’s been substantially improved:

So if you need, for whatever reason, to give someone a scary-looking URL like http://www.5z8.info/inject_worm_m2p9wg_stalin, this is your first choice.

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Creaking track

Yoast, producers of commerce-oriented WordPress products, have issued their first three WP themes, none of which have sliders — because sliders suck:

Seriously, whatever makes people think that having stuff move on your website is ever a good idea is still beyond me. You can create awesome collages through which people can browse at will. The pictures won’t be forced onto them (if they even notice them in the first place), they’ll just notice the ones they like. And trust me, that will sell better.

This is, perhaps surprisingly, especially true for photoblogs:

Ok, so you’re a photographer. You should be allowed to use a slider, right? Wrong. People tend to act as if there’s no other way to show their images anymore but by sliders. This just isn’t true. If you couldn’t have a slider and you’re a photographer, would you just give up having a website altogether? Of course not, you would look for other options, such as the revolutionary idea of showing static pictures. If you want moving pictures, you should change careers and become a filmmaker.

That said, about 2-3 percent of recent questions on Programing & Design at Yahoo! Answers have to do with the implementation of sliders, usually in terms of how the questioner didn’t get them to work. This is approximately equal to the percentage of recent questions on Cars & Transportation asking about installing 20-, 22-, or even 24-inch wheels on workaday sedans, and the response is much the same: “You may like the looks of it, but believe it or not, nobody else will.”

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Thirty years of DNS

And here’s where it began:

Disclosure: I did not acquire my first domain until 1999. (Now we are six.)

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Beyond documentation

A story in the form of a comment:

I don’t doubt that in the least.

(With thanks to @SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Playing the erase card

Front page of this morning’s New York Post:

Polls taken after her presser yesterday indicate that a lot of people believe her story — a lot of people in the media, anyway.

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The hard place is over there

Taking care of a WordPress operation is a two-pronged affair, inasmuch as the files are stored in two wholly separate locations: the Web server itself contains the WP core files and the design elements, while the actual posts are kept in a database elsewhere.

I download all the graphics and such to my home box before posting, so I already have copies of them in case of Dire Emergency. I hardly ever see the database, though, so a plugin copies it out on a regular basis, gzips the copy, and emails it to me.

Or anyway, it used to email it to me. The database is now so large that the gzipped copy is up to 20 megabytes, just at the point where the mail server balks: “Too big, pal.” For now, I’m fetching it via SFTP, but I’m thinking I ought to be considering other options.

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You’re never supposed to hear this

“Tom’s Diner,” the a cappella song by Suzanne Vega, was used for testing the original MP3 encoding system. Says Dr. Karlheinz Brandenburg, whose idea it was:

I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm … somewhere down the corridor, a radio was playing “Tom’s Diner.” I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice.

Brandenburg persisted. But in 2009, he reported:

I was finishing my PhD thesis, and then I was reading some hi-fi magazine and found that they had used this song to test loudspeakers. I said “OK, let’s test what this song does to my sound system, to mp3″. And the result was, at bit rates where everything else sounded quite nice, Suzanne Vega’s voice sounded horrible.

Now MP3 is a lossy compression scheme: to obtain the file-size shrinkage desired, the algorithm throws away some of the original sound, parts you presumably would not hear anyway.

So what happens if you invert the circuit, throw away the sections you’d ordinarily keep and retain the parts that would normally be thrown away? This happens. It’s fascinating — and it will make you wonder just how much you’re giving up by buying the download instead of the CD (or, heaven help us, the vinyl).

(Via Jesse Emspak.)

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DeAOLocated

I still have an AOL address, and Apple sent this to it:

Our records indicate that you have been using your AOL Username to sign in to the iTunes Store, App Store, or iBooks Store.

After March 30, 2015, AOL will no longer support your ability to sign in to the iTunes Store, App Store, or iBooks Store. In order to continue using store features, including the ability to access your previously purchased content, you must transition from signing in with your AOL Username to signing in with an Apple ID.

To make this transition, simply sign in once more with your AOL Username to iTunes on your Mac or PC. You will automatically be taken through a few short steps to complete the process.

Well, yeah, I did do that, a decade or so ago. Bought a couple of dozen tracks before getting a proper Apple ID.

And I have no idea if I transitioned correctly; it took me to the usual Apple account screen, where I filled in everything that wasn’t already filled in but didn’t actually change anything on the account.

To learn more about this transition, visit support.apple.com/kb/HT204268.

Well, not much more.

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Contempt for one’s users

It’s hard, I believe, to work up more contempt than this:

Lenovo is selling computers that come preinstalled with adware that hijacks encrypted Web sessions and may make users vulnerable to HTTPS man-in-the-middle attacks that are trivial for attackers to carry out, security researchers said.

The critical threat is present on Lenovo PCs that have adware from a company called Superfish installed. As unsavory as many people find software that injects ads into Web pages, there’s something much more nefarious about the Superfish package. It installs a self-signed root HTTPS certificate that can intercept encrypted traffic for every website a user visits. When a user visits an HTTPS site, the site certificate is signed and controlled by Superfish and falsely represents itself as the official website certificate.

But that’s merely heinous and reprehensible. From there, it gets worse:

Even worse, the private encryption key accompanying the Superfish-signed Transport Layer Security certificate appears to be the same for every Lenovo machine. Attackers may be able to use the key to certify imposter HTTPS websites that masquerade as Bank of America, Google, or any other secure destination on the Internet. Under such a scenario, PCs that have the Superfish root certificate installed will fail to flag the sites as forgeries — a failure that completely undermines the reason HTTPS protections exist in the first place.

So Lenovo bows its head, quietly admits to not having thought this through, and regrets its actions, right? Wrong:

The company this morning issued an oddly tone-deaf statement addressing the controversy with equal parts innocence and chutzpah. The Superfish software, Lenovo says, was “to help customers potentially discover interesting products while shopping” — apparently by throwing up related ads while visiting encrypted retail sites, which would otherwise be invisible to the adware.

This might sound like garden-variety horse manure, but Lenovo doubles down with the claim that this purported consumer benefit was the primary reason for installing Superfish on its laptops. It wasn’t — as cynics might suspect — about the cash at all! Well, not much, anyway.

“The relationship with Superfish is not financially significant,” the statement says. “Our goal was to enhance the experience for users. We recognize that the software did not meet that goal and have acted quickly and decisively.”

“Throwing up related ads.” The users I know would throw up a hell of a lot more than that if you inflict crapware — excuse me, “potentially unwanted programs,” as the antivirus guys say — upon them. The idea that someone might actually want that crap is so utterly improbable that one almost suspects it came from Washington.

Meanwhile:

A sprint over there with a Dell produces “Untrusted Connection,” exactly as it should.

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iWheels

Yours truly, mid-2006:

[B]y now everybody knows the joke about how if Microsoft built cars, they would run only on MS-GAS, and they would crash twice a day for no apparent reason.

(We will not discuss Bill Gates’ desire to reinvent the toilet.)

Now, all of a sudden, everyone is talking Apple as carmaker, presumably as rival to Google, and this is the new joke:

Windows vs. Apple cars

At least you can replace the battery on the Windowsmobile.

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Always be careful where you stick it

You never know when something like this may pop up:

I have no idea what the words outside the dialog box mean, but I suspect a Blue Screen of Death is either imminent or present.

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This much, and no more

What the hell kind of deal is this?

I live in a town where there is a “cap” on Internet users. The limit was reached about 6 yrs ago and unless someone cancels there’s you can’t get it. There’s a long list of people waiting, hundreds, so I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get it. Some of my neighbors have it and have agreed to split the bill and share it. There is about 200ft of thick pine trees between all houses. What are my options here? Dish Internet is a joke so please don’t recommend that. I know sharing the Internet is frowned upon but it’s 2015 and the Internet service providers are dragging their feet.

Yeah, well, that’s what ISPs do.

Still, you have to figure that whoever negotiated this franchise deal for the municipality had to have been way out of his depth — or that the ISP is substantially less competent than average. Or maybe both.

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Fifty strings of text

I am legendarily impatient with my own fiction, which always seems to need emergency rewrites, but I can’t much argue with this premise either:

Amid the Fifty Shades of Grey movie hooplah maybe you’ve found yourself grumbling, “I could’ve written that book.” Sure, maybe, but it’s not just you — there’s a text generator out there right now that does a pretty damn near perfect impersonation of the series.

This is the generator. How does it work so freaking well? The programmer explains:

Fifty Shades is especially good for the reasons it seems to be loathed: like most romance, it’s predictable and repetitive, especially the love scenes, and it has a lot of literary quirks that convey authenticity. For example, Ana’s tendency to say “Holy shit!” and “Jeez,” Christian’s grey eyes, and Ana’s “inner goddess.”

You could definitely portray another small scene like this — say Cinderella with her sisters — but nothing larger. The reason my code is able to generate fairly believable text is that it’s so limited in scope. I was able to hand-tune the adjectives and phrases until it felt just right. That’s not possible at scale.

On the upside, if literary quirks really do convey authenticity, I might be able to pass off some of my stuff as memoir.

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Folks, we got a live one

I just wonder if he’s ever seen Pete’s Dragon:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: How to intercept texts

If your immediate response is “Say what?” be assured that he “knows” what he’s talking about:

I’ve seen it in movies and I know it’s a real thing. I Really want to know how to intercept texts. I know you can download stuff online for it but I have a chrome book so I cant. My do have Linux though so does anyone know how to intercept texts from an iPhone. Please make it step by step

Emphasis added, though really it was hardly necessary.

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Version 19.8.41

If you were already somewhat miffed by the blithe assumption by Samsung that you’d keep your mouth shut in front of their Smart TVs, miffage is now intensified:

After Samsung calmed us all down, users of smart TV app Plex noticed a Pepsi commercial playing in the middle of content streamed from their own media server within the house. Plex simplifies using your home computer as a media server for smart TVs, streaming devices, tablets, phones, and game consoles. It is not supposed to inject ads in the middle of the program you’re enjoying. Yet that’s what users report happening: Pepsi ads pop up during shows streamed to their sets using Plex.

A spokesperson for Plex told GigaOm that they weren’t adding ads to users’ video streams. Users reported Pepsi ads interjected in other programs while playing programs directly on the TV from their computer, so the app wasn’t serving up the ads. This was caused by the TV, and only users of Samsung smart TVs have reported it.

Q. E. Farking D.

Temperature of hell when you buy a Samsung Smart TV:

  1. 32 °F
  2. 0 °F
  3. -40 °F
  4. 0 °K

Surely no good can come of schemes like this, even if you like Pepsi.

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Version 19.8.4

An excerpt from the Samsung Smart TV privacy policy:

Excerpt from Samsung Smart TV instructions

An excerpt from a popular novel:

Excerpt from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

There’s a lot to be said for “dumb” hardware.

(Compiled by Parker Higgins.)

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Welcome to karma

It was all I could do to keep from spewing BWAHAHAHAHAHAH! all over the answer box:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Downloaded the golf club off of piratebay.sx and it was a codex if thats any help but when i open the game it opens the steam store?

Thieves complaining about the merchandise they stole. Sheesh.

As we say in CL: CALL CURLIB/GALL *MITIGATE=NO.

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Romantic illusions made simple

Yours truly, from November 2013:

It is said that you will be perceived as much more desirable if you are perceived as taken. I’ve never noticed any such thing, but then it’s been rather a long time — about half a lifetime — since I’ve been taken.

At the time, there was the announcement of an app that would create that perception. That app is now a reality:

Invisible Girlfriend and Invisible Boyfriend offer one way of dealing with this situation. The apps promise to “give you real-world and social proof that you’re in a relationship — even if you’re not — so you can get back to living life on your own terms.” Plainly put, these apps, created by Matthew Homann and Kyle Tabor, help you lie about being in a relationship by providing believable social proof of significant others in the form of crowdsourced selfies, text messages, voice mails and even written notes.

If you’re already horrified, this may not change your mind:

Having an imaginary relationship can be a lot easier than explaining why you’re not in a real one. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to explain to bosses and friends why I’m not bringing a date to weddings, parties, company picnics and holiday events.

It’s not like I don’t want to find true love. But I have stuff to do. I like my freedom. I want to be in charge of the TV. My dog is usually first priority. And well, dating is a lot of work. I’m cool with being single. But after a while, it gets tiring to tell your mom that grandkids won’t be happening soon or ask your well-meaning friends to stop setting you up on blind dates with their newly divorced pals or friends who clearly just want a casual bed buddy. Sometimes white lies make everyone involved a little happier than the truth does.

There is a survey on that page — “Would you ever date an imaginary girlfriend/boyfriend?” — and as of last night, only 6 percent of respondents said they would. Then again, this is 5 percent higher than it was in the first hour after that report was published. (Disclosure: I follow author Bonnie Burton — @bonniegrrl — on Twitter, and she tweeted it the moment it went up.) Seventy-five percent said No, and I’m pretty sure at least some of them really mean it.

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All about that search

Yesterday, I was looking up something in Alaska, and before I ever got to the second A, this is what was thrown up on screen:

Screenshot from Google Instant Preview

Remind me to have a word with one of their staff Trainors.

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Not the best approach

Obviously I’m not the only person who gets spam. I usually don’t reply to it, though:

Then again, her initial reaction was less kindly:

Stabbiness is not an uncommon reaction to particularly noxious spammage.

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If you see this person, block him

He’s the one asking questions like this:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Why is Twitter saying this?

And by “this,” he means this:

I literally just went to log in my Twitter account. When I logged in it said:

“Something is technically wrong.

Thanks for noticing — we’re going to fix it up and have things back to normal soon.”

Why is it saying that?

Because something was technically wrong.

I guess he was afraid to take it, um, literally.

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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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