Archive for PEBKAC

We compel your click

I spotted this ad on Fimfiction Saturday night. This isn’t exactly a replica of the site’s new-direct-message indicator, but I’m thinking it’s close enough to lure in the unwary:

Ad for MailViewer

And Saturday night being what Saturday night usually is, unwariness was probably rampant.

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Orkut out

Google has decreed that Orkut, a ten-year-old social network created by one of its staffers, must die:

Ten years ago, Orkut was Google’s first foray into social networking. Built as a “20 percent” project, Orkut communities started conversations, and forged connections, that had never existed before. Orkut helped shape life online before people really knew what “social networking” was.

Over the past decade, YouTube, Blogger and Google+ have taken off, with communities springing up in every corner of the world. Because the growth of these communities has outpaced Orkut’s growth, we’ve decided to bid Orkut farewell (or, tchau). We’ll be focusing our energy and resources on making these other social platforms as amazing as possible for everyone who uses them.

Orkut is in fact a week and a half older than Facebook.

It’s “tchau,” of course, because nearly half of Orkut’s users were Brazilian; in 2008, in recognition of this fact, Google moved management of Orkut to its Brazilian outpost in Belo Horizonte. I suspect that this is why about 15 percent of the spam I get is in Portuguese.

Incidentally, Orkut was named after its founder: Orkut Büyükkökten, a Google software engineer and product manager, who came up with the idea during his 20% time, another Google concept on its deathbed.

Orkut is no longer accepting new memberships, and the service will be closed at the end of September, though Google says the community archives will be preserved online.

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Less of a Hoot

I’ve looked into HootSuite once or twice, to the extent that Google’s ad tentacles managed to shovel promotions for it into my Web surfing for several weeks, but I never quite bought the premise, or the package. And after hearing Mack Collier’s story, it’s just as well:

Now normally I hate these “give us a tweet and we’ll give you this” offers, but I do use and like HootSuite, and I have been curious about trying out HootSuite Pro, so I decided to send the tweet. And as promised, I immediately received my email telling me how to get my 60 days of HootSuitePro for free.

Whereupon they told him: it would be added onto his existing HootSuite Pro account — you know, the one he didn’t have yet.

Mack Collier says:

I see this sort of stunt all the time, and it doesn’t build brand loyalty, it builds brand distrust.

And it motivates customers to write about how they were shafted by the deal, which in turn builds brand distrust among non-customers.

Subsequently, HootSuite’s Offer Manager came on to explain what was supposed to be happening, and admitted that maybe the wording wasn’t ideal. All new users of HootSuite, he said, were routinely offered a thirty-day trial; this promotion was intended merely to double the length of the offer.

If there’s a lesson in this, it’s perhaps that firms with mad tech skillz are not equally adept at presenting their products — and that a “What does this mean?” note, sent to the correct person (if you can find the correct person), goes a long way toward avoiding misunderstandings.

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Conceal of disapproval

Upon putting the new Windows 7 box into service, I announced that several pieces of software from the XP days would not run, including Adobe Photoshop Elements — “though this is my fault: I can’t find the original installation DVD.”

It’s no longer my fault. I finally found the original installation DVD; but it won’t install on a W7 box. (This is Home Premium, not the Professional version, so I don’t have the option of running it in a virtual XP machine.) Thanks, Adobe.

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Beware of geeks bearing GIFs

Why, they might not actually be GIFs at all:

Twitter started supporting animated GIFs. But there’s a catch! What Twitter ends up showing you isn’t actually a GIF at all. EVERYBODY PAAANIIIIIIC.

Note: don’t actually panic. This isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary.

As noticed by the folks over at Embedly, the “GIFs” that end up in your Twitter feed aren’t actually GIFs at all. They’re technically not even really image files in a strict sense — they’re more like video files without sound. They’re MP4s, embedded with the HTML5 video tag. Even if you upload a GIF, it’s converted into an MP4.

And why is this good? Embedly explains:

GIFs are terrible at compression… A GIF is literally a sequence of independent images squeezed into the same file. An mp4 video can take advantage of all kinds of fancy compression techniques like keyframes and forward-predictive frames.

If most of your users are on mobile, this is a huge win. Even desktop users will notice better performance on a page with many GIFs.

(Via this Adam Gurri tweet.)

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Oy

There exists an app called Yo. What does it do, exactly?

Yo is the hottest new app that will leave you scratching your head. The entire premise of the app is to send other users a single word: Yo.

Yo currently has over 50,000 active users, after launching as a joke on April Fools’ Day. Users have sent over 4 million Yo’s to each other. Without ever having officially launched, co-founder and CEO Or Arbel managed to secure $1.2 million in funding from a list of unnamed investors, except for co-founder, angel, and Mobli CEO Moshe Hogeg, who participated in the round.

If you think you need this like the hole in the head you just scratched, well, the idea here is not so much the Yo, but the context of the Yo:

You’re at a bar with your best friend and a love interest. Both put a hand on your shoulder when they talk to you. From the outside, it all looks the same. But there’s a big difference between the comfortable touch of a close friend and the explorative graze of someone you may very well have sex with soon.

The next morning, your friend and your crush send you the exact same text. It says simply “Hey.” From your old pal, “hey” just means hey. But from your sexy friend, “hey” can mean anything from “last night was fun” to “I’m still thinking about you this morning.”

As with anything, a “Yo” can just be a yo. But you’ll feel a very real difference between a “Yo” you get in the morning from a friend and a “Yo” you get at 2 a.m. from a friend with benefits. Trust me.

Last night after I’d drafted this, I got a one-word spam, and that one word was “hey.” I have no idea what it means.

If we have to have a single syllable that’s fraught with meaning, I nominate a better one: “Dude.”

(Via this Nancy Friedman tweet. It should be noted here that the Knights Who Say “Ni” were not consulted.)

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Testing Turing’s test

Chatbots have been around forever, or at least since the birth of ELIZA back in the 1960s, and we all know how that worked out:

ELIZA’s key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word “MOTHER” with “TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY”). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as “intelligent”. Thus the key technique here — which characterises a program as a chatbot rather than as a serious natural language processing system — is the production of responses that are sufficiently vague and non-specific that they can be understood as “intelligent” in a wide range of conversational contexts. The emphasis is typically on vagueness and unclarity, rather than any conveying of genuine information.

There are, of course, examples that don’t actually involve software. For instance:

Think of the way the average politician responds to the average reporter’s question about a scandal in which he or she is involved. The responses are in the form of regular human speech, but they are pre-scripted and designed to carry the form of human speech without fulfilling its function, i.e., explain why campaign contributions got spent at a strip joint. They are instead designed to divert attention from the scandal in the same way that a chatbot is designed to fool people that it is a real live incredibly attractive member of the opposite sex who wants to interact with you and lives just a few miles away.

Some people disparage lower-level members of the current administration as “Obamabots.” This is, however, exactly those members’ designated function; operatives have had this function in administrations nearly as long as there have been administrations.

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This needs to happen

I suppose it’s redundant if your editor stores, or at least references, an actual date for each line, but if not, this is the way to go:

How about an editor that color codes the age of particular lines of source code? You have a piece of source that has been around for a while, either it’s under development or it needs some changes. Wouldn’t be nice if the older lines, lines of code that have proven themselves to be useful and correct were given a dark gray background, newer lines could be given a white background, and lines that have been changed umpteen zillion times a red background?

“Piece of source,” at least in some shops I could name, is usually shortened to “POS,” as in “Who the hell added that extra loop into this POS?”

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Circular dialog

Somebody somewhere understands this. Not me.

Wonder what happens if you just press the X?

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Everything you always wanted to know about security

Regular reader and tech whiz Teresa Hummel has begun a small project called “Itty Bitty Security Podcast,” dedicated to the proposition that there’s something you can do to improve your position vis-à-vis the black-hatted guys out there on the Net. Three episodes — sensibly, numbered 0, 1 and 2 — are out there now, and listening to all of them will take a whole 16 minutes. It took me a little longer, but I was swooning at her voice, crisply Midwestern — yes, she lives in New England, but she didn’t always — and, to me anyway, awfully persuasive.

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Space program

Something from the spring of ’06, which I’d pretty much forgotten about:

Seagate is readying a 750 GB external hard drive that connects via FireWire or USB and ships with backup software for both Windows and Mac.

There remains approximately 750 GB of space on my current internal drive, also by Seagate, capacity 1000 GB, seventy bucks at Newegg when it’s not on sale. (Right now, it’s on sale.) That eight-year-old bruiser? $559.

Then again, I’m old enough to remember this, and I’m hardly alone:

Radio Shack hard-drive ad from the 1980s

I ripped half a dozen songs — not full CDs, just individual tracks — to MP3s yesterday. I’d have to have two of those Radio Shack drives to store them.

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Now with extra P

Support for PHP 5.2 by The PHP Group ended in January 2011. Despite that:

Starting June 24th, we will be upgrading domains on shared hosting running PHP 5.2* to our recommended version of PHP 5.4.

This is what you get if you’re still running 5.2:

Time to upgrade

Before you ask: of the six domains I own, three were running 5.4, two were running 5.3, and one doesn’t use it at all because it’s all static pages.

And actually, 5.5 has been out for a year already, which I guess is like five Internet years.

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The OS that wouldn’t die

Officially, with the exception of one zero-day attack deemed too important to blow off, Microsoft will not give you any more updates to Windows XP.

Unless, of course, you can persuade them that it’s something else entirely:

As reported by Wayne Williams at Betanews and confirmed by us, a simple registry hack to a Windows XP system tricks Windows Update into providing updates for it.

Williams says that the hack … makes the system look like Windows Embedded POSReady 2009 which will continue to receive updates until April 9, 2019.

Caution: this seems to work only on 32-bit versions of XP, and Microsoft, of course, disavows any responsibility for the results.

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Possibly a legitimate question

I mean, it’s not always obvious:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: How do i know if my computer is connected to the internet?

But then I read this:

is there a site I should go to that will tell me i’m online? i want to check the emails.

Remember Netscape Online Help? Fat lot of good it did you if you weren’t online.

I’d spent some time last weekend thinking up gag domains along the lines of willieverownanissanskyline.com, which upon being accessed would present a single word: “NO.” Now I’m wondering if maybe I shouldn’t put up a “YES” page for, say, amionlineatthisverymoment.com.

Or I could just point that guy to this.

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Try our new Boondocks app

Can you really call it “wilderness” if there’s Wi-Fi?

I know it’s a losing battle, but I’m against WiFi in the wilderness. When Parks Canada announced plans to make wireless internet available in up to 150 national parks over the next three years, I was bummed out. I’m not terribly outdoorsy — I only like camping when the sun is stupidly hot and the kybo isn’t too gross — and most days I consider social media an informative good time. But just once in a while, I’d like to be thrilled by the all-encompassing serenity of drifting over a majestic lake using only the power of my own puny biceps. The instant I upload a shot of a mother moose and her calf, I’ll be checking my e-mail, setting up meetings, and spoiling the mood.

Yes, I know: some people want to keep in touch, and just think of the possibilities for rescue! Still, forty-odd years after I learned the implications of the word “bivouac,” I’m inclined to keep the inside inside, and the outside as far outside as possible.

(Via this Susan Wright-Boucher tweet.)

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The cupboard is bare-ish

Generally, one expects some sort of video from Rebecca Black on Friday. What we got was this:

Autocorrect messed up “TIME,” I assume, though it could simply be that she’s a giant sleepy blob of doom.

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Meanwhile, down in the basement

I figure that’s where she’s got to be:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Is it fair for my parents to monitor my internet usage when i am 25?

The obvious solution evidently has not occurred to her.

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Restricted for thee, but not for me

Yet another doofus from the Unclear on the Concept legions:

Yahoo Answers screenshot:

Oh, and he means it:

I’ve found several stories I wanted to read on Pastebin, unfortunately the users made their accounts private and I can’t read the damn stories!

I could care less about the users’ accounts, I just want to read their works. How can I do that?

What’ll you bet that “Anthro Fan #1″ isn’t his real name?

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Idle threat

Perhaps you’ve encountered this box before:

Fake Facebook warning

This one, however, was a fake, and I knew that before I knew the links were going to some wiseguy using a French address, based on the following observations:

  • It was sent to a mailbox not associated with Facebook;
  • Subject line was “Your messages will be deleted soon beggar”.

So, my fake-French fake-friend: Bitez-moi.

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It’s a subject on which I get chatty

And I’m obviously not the only one:

Somewhere in the dark recesses of my file server are mountains of old AIM chat logs, sitting next to old BBS logs and some ICQ ones. I was meticulous in my record-keeping. Countless early conversations with Eva, for example, are meticulously recorded. As is the heartbreak that followed. I don’t expect to ever read them, but they’re there for posterity.

I wasn’t quite so meticulous, but there were some things I just wanted to save. (And I hope I remember to delete them at the last possible moment.)

AIM, when you think about it, proved to be yet another example of AOL underachievement:

With 20/20 hindsight, it’s really kind of surprising that AOL didn’t figure out how to make AIM work for them financially. It was a social network waiting to happen. One that, in my view, could have been strong enough to withstand MySpace and later Facebook had it been remotely well done. They had the userbase, which it turns out is worth quite a lot. There was, as the article says, some critical underinvestment because it didn’t turn around and make money right away for one of the few companies at the time that was used to making money.

On the other hand, AOL still has 2.4 million paying customers, most of whom are using a dialup.

(Source of the title.)

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Goose given the opportunity to stew

Once again, a gander is o’er-ladled with the appropriate sauce:

Lots of people are angry about FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Internet “fast lane” proposal that would let Internet service providers charge Web services for priority access to consumers. But one Web hosting service called NeoCities isn’t just writing letters to the FCC. Instead, the company found the FCC’s internal IP address range and throttled all connections to 28.8Kbps speeds.

“Since the FCC seems to have no problem with this idea, I’ve (through correspondence) gotten access to the FCC’s internal IP block, and throttled all connections from the FCC to 28.8kbps modem speeds on the Neocities.org front site, and I’m not removing it until the FCC pays us for the bandwidth they’ve been wasting instead of doing their jobs protecting us from the ‘keep America’s internet slow and expensive forever’ lobby,” NeoCities creator Kyle Drake wrote yesterday.

You know what would be hilarious? Wheeler or one of his minions caught using a proxy.

“Greatest thing ever,” says Dave “Iowahawk” Burge.

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Codes revealed

I’ve never been a playwright, and probably never should aspire to be one, but I definitely relate to this:

I started using computers in 1984 at the computer lab at my college when I realized that I could actually use them as a way to write, save and edit the plays I was writing without having to actually re-type all 120 pages every time I made a change to bit of dialogue. For me this was nirvana. What you should know, though, is that I never took a course or had anyone actually teach me how to use those computers. I just walked in to the lab, asked for an account, sat down at one of the terminals, and sorted out that if I used a few commands like Center and Bold and JustifyLEFT I could format the entire document to print on the dot-matrix printer to look exactly the way I wanted it to look and if I remembered to actually SAVE everything, I could then go back and just edit the small bits that needed to be changed. For a playwright in 1984 who was writing lots of plays this was, well, revolutionary.

Of course, once you get in the habit of taking care of business at this level, something like this happens thirty years later:

I had no idea, none at all, that text actually wraps and formats for you. No clue. In my world, it has always been my responsibility to create a line break, a paragraph break, a page break, to justify things, to format the entire page of text on every single page of the Internet (no matter where I am, mind you) to look exactly the way I want it to appear before I hit publish. Do you know, really know, how freeing it is to just let the words flow and not to have to think at all about format?

I shook up a WordPress guru rather badly the other day when I said that no, I’d never used the WP Media Library for any of the three-thousand-odd graphics on this site: I size and resize manually, upload via SFTP, and code it in the HTML — not the visual — editor. The nature of Twitter is such that I couldn’t see her facial expression, but I imagine that it would have been the same one she would have given me had I told her that my lawn maintenance is performed by goats.

Note: It occurs to me, now that I think about it, that my lawn maintenance might be better if it were performed by goats.

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Imitation Chrome

Says Mozilla of Firefox 29:

We reimagined and redesigned Firefox to reflect how you use the Web today and we are excited to introduce many features including an elegant and fun design, new menu, customization mode and an enhanced Firefox Sync service powered by Firefox Accounts.

Says Tatyana of Firefox 29:

The whole interface now looks awful: tabs are not just slim slots, but take double vertical space in on my laptop screen; things I previously had in the top menu are now hidden under “open menu-3-horisontal-lines” button, instead icons I DON’T need now take up prominent real estate. In short, the screen now looks just like a hateful Chrome browser. Hey, Mozilla! There was a reason we chose to be your customers instead of Google Chrome’s!

“Oh, boy, a whole new interface!” said no one ever.

Another customer for Pale Moon? We shall see.

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Strange hardware bleg

Yeah, I know: I have strange hardware. Work with me, wouldja please?

I have this little card reader bolted into the front panel of the desktop. It has no trouble reading SD cards at bootup. But once the system is running, you can shove as many cards into it as you can find slots for, and it won’t read a one of them.

I haven’t figured out whether this is a hardware issue or a Windows 7 issue; chatter on the interwebs seems to blame both equally.

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The editing dead

Weirdly, a “You have a new message” banner popped up for me — just me — on a Wikipedia page last night, and apparently my current IP address, which I’ve had since, oh, Thursday, caused some grief eight years ago:

This IP address has been blocked because it is believed to be an open proxy or zombie computer. To prevent abuse, editing from these proxies is currently prohibited. For more information about open proxies and what you can do, please see the WikiProject on open proxies.

The message was dated 30 May 2006. I got this IP on 1 May 2014.

There is a process, sort of, by which I could request that this IP be unblocked, but I figure by the time it could be acted upon, I’d have a whole new IP. (The ISP seems to swap them out every four to eight days.)

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And now your mom can read your Facebook wall

Something called “firstSTREET” — their slogan is “For Boomers and Beyond” — occupied the back cover of Parade yesterday with a pitch for something called the WOW! Computer, and being almost beyond booming myself, I figure I’d check its papers, though of course I hate the name.

Most of the higher-tech stuff in the WOW! is built into the 21.5-inch touchscreen with 1920 x 1080 resolution. The CPU is a modest Intel Celeron 1037U dual-core on the decidedly meh Ivy Bridge microarchitecture with graphics processor, running at 1.8 GHz. You get 2 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500 GB SATA II drive. Operating system is a modified Linux to which, they say, you can’t add anything:

The WOW! Computer is designed as a family or personal computer. We pre-install a broad set of popular and necessary applications including Email, Web Browsing, Photos, Video Phone, Games, Music & Video Playing and a Digital Picture Frame Screensaver. Better still, we include free software updates for life at no extra cost. Our goal is to provide a truly easy, hassle-free computer that is simple to use and maintain. That goal simply isn’t possible if we allow thousands of different applications to be installed as with standard computers.

This can legitimately be viewed as an advantage, depending on your parents’ nerd skills and/or tendency to click on strange links. (After all, malware has to install itself, and it’s not getting anywhere on a Linux box that forbids running installs.)

Downside: $1079, plus $10 a month for “VIP Support,” plus whatever high-speed Internet service happens to be available. (No dial-ups.)

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Stall that install

A legitimately interesting question, actually posed by a spammer (probably inadvertently, I think), as retrieved from my Akismet trench:

Now first ask yourself, if you were trying to sell an antivirus program and you wanted people to try out your software, would you make the trial version poorly so it didn’t work very well.

Don’t they do that already?

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It’s the same old story

Last October, Roger, having observed the signs of Imminent Death in his wife’s computer, ordered a new one, though for some reason he didn’t open it until March. And when he did, he may have wished he hadn’t:

I turn it on, and the first thing I say is: “Where the heck is the Start button?” I had to Read The (Online) Manual to figure out where it was, and that Windows 8 was installed on my computer. (A few days after I turned on the machine, someone told me, “Whatever you do, DON’T download Windows 8.”)

But then, of course, it was too late. And it gets better, for some definition of “better” that doesn’t actually imply improvement:

Anyway, I figure out, kinda, how this thing is supposed to work. I go to the Office suite button. It asks me if I want to buy the product. I have to BUY the product separately? Suffice it to say, it took another week before I could FINALLY use the contraption correctly. This involved, among other things having someone uninstall one of the security products I installed, because it actually made the computer LESS secure. Product A thought Product B was taking care of the bugs, so neither one actually worked.

I expect stories of this sort to continue for all eternity at least for another year.

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We gotta keep searchin’, searchin’

Although this may be overkill:

Screen shot from Pale Moon browser from www.google.com

If the next question is “Over what period of time?” I admit I don’t know — which, I suppose, makes things worse.

(Thank you, Del Shannon, for the title.)

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WordPress ahead

During the Pistons game last night, WordPress 3.9 arrived. (You may remember that 3.8.3 appeared a mere two days before that.) This version is named for the incredible Jimmy Smith, who was taking a walk on the wild side a decade before Lou Reed. I’m not entirely sure I’ve seen all the trickery from 3.8, or even 3.7, yet, but this is promised by Smith:

The updated visual editor has improved speed, accessibility, and mobile support. You can paste into the visual editor from your word processor without wasting time to clean up messy styling. (Yeah, we’re talking about you, Microsoft Word.)

I just felt a pang of whatever it is I feel a pang of whenever I have to contemplate anything in Microsoft Word.

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