Archive for PEBKAC

Chopping down the shade tree

Your average automaker would much rather you visit the dealer for your service needs instead of doing it yourself. (Said automaker is kind of a skinflint when reimbursing the dealer for warranty work, but that’s another issue.) Imagine their delight if they could force the issue:

Automakers are supporting provisions in copyright law that could prohibit home mechanics and car enthusiasts from repairing and modifying their own vehicles.

In comments filed with a federal agency that will determine whether tinkering with a car constitutes a copyright violation, OEMs and their main lobbying organization say cars have become too complex and dangerous for consumers and third parties to handle.

Allowing them to continue to fix their cars has become “legally problematic,” according to a written statement from the Auto Alliance, the main lobbying arm of automakers.

The dispute arises from a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that no one thought could apply to vehicles when it was signed into law in 1998. But now, in an era where cars are rolling computing platforms, the U.S. Copyright Office is examining whether provisions of the law that protect intellectual property should prohibit people from modifying and tuning their cars.

Of course. Everyone thought the DMCA was all about people pirating movies and such — until all sorts of unrelated oxen were subjected to governmental gore. The one thing you can always be sure of with intellectual property: the word that matters is not “intellectual.”

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The map has a mind of its own

You never had this problem with Rand McNally:

I ran into this problem this morning. There was [a] plane crash in Hiroshima, so I wanted to take a look at the airport. I pull up Google Maps, zoom way out, pan across to Japan and zoom in until Hiroshima appears. Now I ask for “airport”. It shows me several, but not the Hiroshima airport. Make a more specific request and it takes me back to Oregon. Fuss with it and eventually I get the Hiroshima airport. Okay, what about all those other airports in this region? What happened to them? Cannot get Google to show them to me for love or money. Stupid Google.

The Bloomberg report of the crash, as relayed by the Vancouver Sun:

An Asiana Airlines plane crash landed short of the runway amid rains at Hiroshima Airport in Japan, injuring 27 passengers in its first accident since a crash landing in San Francisco almost two years ago.

The plane flew so low that the tail section of the Airbus Group NV A320 hit landing system devices placed 330 metres from the end of the runway, Noritoshi Goda, an official at the transport ministry’s aviation bureau, said by phone. The plane then veered off the runway, causing the landing gear to collapse and leaving both wings and the left engine damaged, the transport ministry said.

The plane was carrying 73 passengers plus a crew of eight.

A Bing search of this sort defaults to “Airports near Hiroshima”; Microsoft apparently gets its Japanese maps from Japanese map publisher Zenrin, and actual English map legends are not the highest priority.

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Screw those desktops

Google wants everything to be ultra-readable on mobiles, especially their mobiles, so they’re going to slant their search results accordingly:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

They started making noises like this back in November, so it’s not like this is suddenly being sprung upon us, but I figure I’m already jumping through enough hoops for them, so do not look for sudden design changes around here — for at least a year, anyway.

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There’s always another version

Bill Cosby once quoted his old football coach: “You just keep running that play ’til you get it right.” Apparently this philosophy holds sway at Microsoft:

A related genius of Microsoft is its ability to just keep producing new versions of software until a product actually takes root, a process that describes practically every product that Microsoft has ever succeeded with. DOS had some versions that were total flops. The first actually usable version of Windows was 3.1. Before Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel there were Multi-Tool Word and Multiplan. The list goes on.

I think it was Winston Churchill who said that success consists in failing repeatedly without losing heart. If any company embodies that, it must be Microsoft.

I might also add that Multiplan was one of vanishingly few Microsoft products that somehow got ported to the Commodore 64.

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Short of a half-measure

Do we have enough mosquito netting to keep the bears away? A Quora user asks:

I am powering a bank’s website using WordPress. What security measures should I take?

At this point, your best bet might to have Montresor brick up the entrance to your house.

(Via Popehat.)

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Rotary at heart

My own reasoning is not exactly the same as Roger’s, but neither one of us is a candidate for one of those mediumfalutin’ smartphones:

I embrace technology, but technology does not always embrace me. There was a period when we would have our work computers were swapped out after so many months, and mine would always be a couple months earlier than others.

Mine is usually the last to be updated, mostly because I habitually tend to resist the tyranny of the new. I think technology is basically indifferent to my existence, and had I the choice, I would return the compliment.

This is more serious:

I don’t want to be one of those people whose attention is buried in the device, oblivious to the surroundings. I see that a LOT on the bus each day.

I wonder how many of them actually miss their stop. (And I suspect that most of the people who text while driving are using smartphones, if only because squeezing out text on a flipper is even more incredibly tedious than doing so with something that has a simulacrum of a keyboard.)

And there’s this:

I am very wary of geolocation. I don’t want to be omnipresent in the world, or hacked, or sent ads telling me what stores are nearby that I “want” to go to. Frankly, being able to pay for something on a smartphone is a disincentive.

I figure I give away too much location information already, without having to carry a device to do it for me.

Add to this the fact that any data plan at all would at least double my monthly wireless expense, a point also made by Roger, and I figure I can survive with this little flipbox for a couple more years.

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No moving parts

The surfer dudes who host this site have started moving to solid-state drives in a big way. Per their monthly newsletter:

We were excited to announce this March that all new customers signing up for our traditional shared hosting will now be placed onto solid state hard drives. Our testing showed that SSDs provide a ~200% increase in data access speeds over traditional hard drives in an identical DreamHost shared hosting environment! Early feedback has been great, and we’re super pumped about this!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that such goodies will be automagically bestowed on us old customers:

If you’re currently a shared hosting customer and would like to see the incredible performance boost for yourself, just contact our support team and request that your account be moved to our SSD platform!

The move won’t be immediate — we’re taking our time to ensure we balance loads carefully and treat your data with the utmost respect! We treat your data like a classy lady! Or a refined gentleman! Or also just a “person” who is “cool”. Whatever you think is fancy, that is what we’re getting at. Your data is a genderless, fancy thing to us. Be cool.

Well, it may be genderless, but it’s binary.

And anyway, I got moved to a faster, if still magnetic, machine in January, so I don’t plan to pester them. Yet.

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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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