Archive for PEBKAC

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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Since it’s Tuesday and all

Hey, Windows Update, do you think you’re up to this kind of dialogue?

Then again, why am I asking you?

(Retweeted in my general direction by Annemarie Dooling.)

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No, he did it

The Verizon/Netflix dustup continues with fingers pointing in both directions. Are there any semi-disinterested third parties who could comment? Why, yes, there are:

David Young, Vice President, Verizon Regulatory Affairs recently published a blog post suggesting that Netflix themselves are responsible for the streaming slowdowns Netflix’s customers have been seeing. But his attempt at deception has backfired. He has clearly admitted that Verizon is deliberately constraining capacity from network providers like Level 3 who were chosen by Netflix to deliver video content requested by Verizon’s own paying broadband consumers.

His explanation for Netflix’s on-screen congestion messages contains a nice little diagram. The diagram shows a lovely uncongested Verizon network, conveniently color-coded in green. It shows a network that has lots of unused capacity at the most busy time of the day. Think about that for a moment: Lots of unused capacity. So point number one is that Verizon has freely admitted that [it] has the ability to deliver lots of Netflix streams to broadband customers requesting them, at no extra cost. But, for some reason, Verizon has decided that it prefers not to deliver these streams, even though its subscribers have paid it to do so.

Take, for example, the connection in Los Angeles:

All of the Verizon FiOS customers in Southern California likely get some of their content through this interconnection location. It is in a single building. And boils down to a router Level 3 owns, a router Verizon owns and four 10Gbps Ethernet ports on each router. A small cable runs between each of those ports to connect them together.

Verizon has confirmed that everything between that router in their network and their subscribers is uncongested — in fact has plenty of capacity sitting there waiting to be used. Above, I confirmed exactly the same thing for the Level 3 network. So in fact, we could fix this congestion in about five minutes simply by connecting up more 10Gbps ports on those routers. Simple. Something we’ve been asking Verizon to do for many, many months, and something other providers regularly do in similar circumstances. But Verizon has refused. So Verizon, not Level 3 or Netflix, causes the congestion. Why is that? Maybe they can’t afford a new port card because they’ve run out — even though these cards are very cheap, just a few thousand dollars for each 10 Gbps card which could support 5,000 streams or more. If that’s the case, we’ll buy one for them. Maybe they can’t afford the small piece of cable between our two ports. If that’s the case, we’ll provide it. Heck, we’ll even install it.

I subscribe to neither Verizon services nor to Netflix, but this issue is of interest to me because my Web services provider is in Los Angeles, and they have to hand off to a third-party provider like Level 3 — though not Level 3 itself, specifically, according to the last tracert I ran — before my local ISP can pick it up.

(Via SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Backup on the front line

We in the Brotherhood of Bytes — which, despite its name, contains a fair number of sisters — hold this truth to be self-evident:

Businesses are predicated on dividing work into little bitty pieces, each of which are simple and obvious.

Working with computers requires a higher level of abstract thinking. This is something most businessmen do not understand and do not know how to handle.

Some actually seem to resent it. (We don’t have this problem at 42nd and Treadmill, largely because we tend to lack the tendency to remind people of our indispensability.)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that any of us have any business running a business, either.

Computer geeks that keep the virtual gears turning smoothly have no such visible value. If things are working smoothly, well, we must not need the computer geeks.

I think the key is to manufacture a crisis every so often and then make a big show of having to work extremely hard to put things right.

I’ve never had to manufacture a crisis. And truth be told, I’d just as soon make it look easy, and give the users the sense of “Aw, crap, how come I can’t learn that?”

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Days of yore.dat

Prodigy iconI was there, and by “there” I mean “here, at this desk, logged in,” when Prodigy Classic was put out of its misery just after 11:59 pm on the first of November, 1999. Of course, I’d warned about that several months earlier:

The real disappointment, at least to me, comes not with the announcement of the termination of the service — it had been expected for some time — but with the management’s willingness to blame everything on Y2k. It is no doubt true that Prodigy’s proprietary technologies are not fixable for Y2k; however, Y2k is just the tip of the iceberg. The core of the Prodigy software is ten years old. By the standards of the Net, it’s Fred Flintstone stuff.

We have now discovered that Y2k was, at best, a convenient excuse:

After that shutdown, loyal Prodigy customers, who had hung on to the bitter end, were suspicious about the stated reasons for the closing. And they were mad. Fifteen years later, we can now confirm that their suspicions were correct: “As far as I know, Prodigy Classic being shut down was not influenced by Y2K issues,” recalls [Michael] Doino, the Prodigy employee who actually pulled the plug on the service in 1999.

Where is that enormous amount of data, anyway? Much of it has probably evaporated; the way P* assembled pages, using cached bits from here and there, makes it darn near impossible to trace. And yet:

Fifteen years later, a Prodigy enthusiast named Jim Carpenter has found an ingenious way to bring some of that data back from the dead. With a little bit of Python code and some old Prodigy software at hand, Carpenter, working alone, recently managed to partially reverse-engineer the Prodigy client and eke out some Prodigy content that was formerly thought to have been lost forever.

The ultimate goal of all this? “Some day,” Carpenter says, “I’d like to create something to emulate the Prodigy backend and serve up requested objects to the client.”

I was in my usual chat room when the last goodbye came; I’ve kept about 16k of that room’s final chatter. (Hey, it’s only 15 years old; I have email older than that.)

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What is this

CAPTCHA: icant even

(Via Rebecca Black.)

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Expert timing

I remember both ends of this equation entirely too well:

I asked him if he remembered a particular Commodore 64 file, about fourteen seconds of the Carl Douglas dance classic “Kung Fu Fighting,” which used every single one of the 38911 bytes set aside for BASIC programs plus several K more. Of course he had, and he directed me toward this loop:

Now the C64’s SID chip was capable of more than the usual electronics bloops and bleeps — it was just this side of a full-fledged synth — but I had never imagined that it could do that. Now we have music files that use more disk space than used to be available on hard drives.

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And sitteth at the left hand of .GOP

This passes for Republican strategy, or strategery, these days:

The Republican Party has come into the Internet age, just barely, or is at least cynically attempting to acknowledge the existence of the Internet by allowing young people to pour money into the RNC’s coffers one $20.16 domain name at a time (yes, $20.16). Or they’re just screwing with everyone and distracting the wider Interwebs by challenging them to find every last domain name on the RNC’s .GOP block list (for the record, porn.GOP was not available, even though all we were going to do with it is put up a black screen and make some awkward shuffling noises).

Does this mean we can expect to see Republicans In Domain Name Only? [Answer: yes.]

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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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