Archive for PEBKAC

XP in three-quarter time

There are still defenders of Windows XP out there, and on behalf of those intrepid souls, we are happy to bring you this:

Of course, if you’d rather we went all the way back to Windows 95



You have to wonder how this nitwit got into this predicament in the first place: Is there a way to still comment and use YouTube if you’ve been banned from being able to own an email account permanently by court order?

Let’s call him halfway home: he can go to YouTube and look at any non-restricted video. But he cannot comment, or see restricted items, because he’d have to login with a Google account, and Google doesn’t sign up users without an email address.

And inevitably, I have to wonder what sort of grievous offense is most appropriately punishable by barring all access to email. It’s a swell idea: being an asshat on social media requires first that you apply for an account, which will require an email address. (We assume that the ban applies to all the guy’s existing accounts as well as any new ones he might want to create.) And there is an upside: no one can spam him.

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Live from the Googleplex

At least once a day, someone wanders forlornly through Quora asking how he can keep Google from spying on him. Now and then, I am sufficiently moved to report “You can’t.” And this is why you can’t:

Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill took on a “monumental challenge,” according to the latest from Forbes, of not merely giving up Google’s many services, but actively blocking all communication with every single one of Google’s services on all her devices.

In other words, Hill didn’t just stop using Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, Waze, etc., she got “the help of a Motorola engineer who designed a custom VPN (virtual private network) that restricted all of her devices — laptops, phones, smart speakers, everything — from talking to Google servers.”

The result? It pretty much broke her access to the internet.

Within a matter of hours, non-Google applications she was using phoned home to the Googleplex fifteen thousand times. And you think you can do better? See you on that uncharted desert isle.

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Timed release

I had this desktop custom built about four years ago; it runs Windows 7 Home Premium, and how it differs from every other version of Windows 7, I couldn’t tell you.

I can, however, tell you this: about every fourth Tuesday, Microsoft serves up a plateful of updates and then pesters me until I restart. If I let it do its thing, the “Logging off” screen appears, and the little percentage indicator comes on. It gets to 30, always 30, and then shuts down. One power-up self-test later, you get the cute little Win7 light show, and the numbers start again at, yes, 30. I figure this is purely arbitrary, but I may never know for sure, especially since Microsoft says it will quit supporting Win7 after the first of the year. I have already downloaded a Windows 10 install and paid for a license. (Please don’t ask me which version.)

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An order to go

China blocking Web sites? Not new. China seizing phones to install Apps from Hell? That’s new:

Foreigners crossing certain Chinese borders into the Xinjiang region, where authorities are conducting a massive campaign of surveillance and oppression against the local Muslim population, are being forced to install a piece of malware on their phones that gives all of their text messages as well as other pieces of data to the authorities, a collaboration by Motherboard, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the German public broadcaster NDR has found.

The Android malware, which is installed by a border guard when they physically seize the phone, also scans the tourist or traveller’s device for a specific set of files, according to multiple expert analyses of the software. The files authorities are looking for include Islamic extremist content, but also innocuous Islamic material, academic books on Islam by leading researchers, and even music from a Japanese metal band.

Should we assume that this doesn’t work on iOS?

As usual with Communist regimes, the locals get it worse:

In no way is the downloading of tourists’ text messages and other mobile phone data comparable to the treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang, who live under the constant gaze of facial recognition systems, CCTV, and physical searches. Last week, VICE News published an undercover documentary detailing some of the human rights abuses and surveillance against the Uighur population. But the malware news shows that the Chinese government’s aggressive style of policing and surveillance in the Xinjiang region has extended to foreigners, too.

Google Play, your usual source for Android apps, has nothing to do with this one:

Once installed on an Android phone, by “side-loading” its installation and requesting certain permissions rather than downloading it from the Google Play Store, BXAQ collects all of the phone’s calendar entries, phone contacts, call logs, and text messages and uploads them to a server, according to expert analysis. The malware also scans the phone to see which apps are installed, and extracts the subject’s usernames for some installed apps. (Update: after the publication of this piece, multiple antivirus firms updated their products to flag the app as malware.)

Like the Chinese care if you flag their app.

(Via Joseph Cox.)

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Nearing the Edge

As gall goes, this is at least partly mitigated:

I wonder if I still have a copy of Netscape around here.

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Of historical interest, anyway

This cute little darb is the IBM 5100 Portable Computer, unleashed on the world in 1975, six years before the machine normally called the IBM PC. The base version, with 16 KB of actual RAM, could be had for about $10,000; fortified with a whole 64 KB, it was about twice as much. I have to admit, I’m pretty impressed with that QIC tape backup.

IBM Model 5100 computer

What’s it worth today? Ask this guy: How to go on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter on a 1977 IBM-5100?

I don’t think I have the heart to tell him. After all, it’s a ten-grand (or more) machine.

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Because we said so

How Big Tech became Big Brother:

In all probability, they will exhaust themselves trying to stamp out dissent, which means things will get much worse. Apple, for example, is now censoring speech within chat programs like Telegram. Microsoft is promising to moderate speech over Skype. The people behind these efforts are driven by hatred and self-loathing, so they lie awake at night thinking about this stuff.

The trouble is, it is expensive. The latest YouTube banning probably cost the company $10 million dollars to organize. It’s pretty clear they invested a lot of manpower in reviewing specific videos. The return on that investment was mostly bad press and greater awareness by regulators that there is a problem. That’s a lesson from the old days too. No matter how right they were to regulate users, the forum moderators were always looked upon unfavorably. They were the prison guards of the system.

That last bit is probably key. A decade ago, Apple was a cool brand run by an equally cool genius who liked wearing black turtlenecks. Now it is seen as a Chinese electronics company run by an angry homosexual. Similarly, YouTube used to be a place where young people could express themselves. Now it’s where old Jewish women yell at young people for using naughty language. With every censorship effort, the reputation of the oligopolies declines. Silicon Valley is now the universal villain.

That’s the thing about hatred and self-loathing: it replicates in several directions at once. The catch, of course, is that they can never loathe themselves as much as the rest of us loathe them.

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This LAN is your LAN

Don’t ask Wi, try their Fi:

Possible wireless-connection names

(From Bits and Pieces via Miss Cellania.)

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And it just sits there mutely

One problem with relying on a digital assistant occurs when the digits don’t add up anymore:

An afternoon storm caused a power outage. The outage corresponded to a very loud pop from the next room, the room where all the Internet hardware is located. When the power came back on, the Internet didn’t.

Now, losing Internet for a bit isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s even softened a good bit when the phone still can connect, so I wasn’t completely cut off. But, home Internet is more of a big deal now that I’ve added some smart devices around the house.

“Hey Google, turn on the air conditioner.”

“OK Google, turn off the kitchen light.”

“Hey Google, what’s the weather?”

That doesn’t sound like much, but when you get used to it, it’s kinda jarring when it’s gone. And Google was gone.

One could argue, I suppose, that avoiding such devices in the first place neatly averts the possibility of suddenly having to do without them, but there’s a practical limit to how far the clock can be turned back without propelling oneself into the Preceding Century, or even farther. (Blessed be the name of Willis Carrier.)

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Renewing the world’s oldest profession

I’m reasonably certain no one is actually surprised by this:

Apps like Facebook and Tinder are fuelling the “soaring industry” of online prostitution and sexual exploitation, according to a worldwide study published by a French anti-prostitution group on Tuesday.

Prostitution has moved “from the street to the Internet,” where pimps recruit young girls via Snapchat and Instagram before prostituting them in apartments rented on Airbnb, said anti-prostitution group Fondation Scelles.

“Here’s the DUH! statement: every time technology improves, one of the first beneficiaries is nookie. Always.” — Kim du Toit, last week.

“Shopping, sex, and shopping for sex propel all new technology.” — Penn Jillette, early 1990s.

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Very hard not to laugh

I mean, the silly twit brought it on himself: I gave facebook a fake phone number, now I can’t log in?

It’s probably obvious, but here’s the way he tells it:

I was tired of the nag message, so I gave them a fake number. Now they want me to give them a code they sent to a phone that does not exist. I reported this to them twice, no response.

Telling lies is always more work than telling the truth: if you’d given them an actual working number none of this would have happened.

“But I didn’t —” Doesn’t matter now, does it? Now try to start a new account and see how fast Facebook crushes you like a bug.

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I’d rather have bots

Last time I was ranting about the abomination unto the Lord that is Google’s reCaptcha, I stayed within the bounds of Generally Speaking. Today we get a bit more specific.

And my major target is Yahoo!, which set up reCaptcha on several of its subsections, including Answers. It’s implemented badly: Google’s demand for a place for its mischief resulted in an unbordered box to that effect, stuck more or less in the middle of the page, whether or not there’s actual text there.

Bad implementation of worse software

It won’t hurt to experiment, I reasoned, and so I blew the dust off a copy of Internet Explorer 11 and went back to the same page. No tomfoolery.

And then I attempted to answer a question, and got hit with the dreaded nine-square Select All The Pictures With [Whatever] challenge.

“God damn you,” I said in approximately the same voice that Charlton Heston brought out after seeing the half-buried Statue of Liberty. I’ve answered 17,564 questions for these yobs, and this is how I am repaid. Unless they clean up their act in a big farking hurry, that’s the last one ever. And I hope they choke on billions of bots, which are undoubtedly even now being tweaked to get past this ill-conceived obstacle.


Yagity yak

Those of us who were around at the dawn, or at least the mid-morning, of UHF television already know this: What is the actual purpose of using directional yagi antenna?

Someone who knows explained:

Directional antennas have “gain” along their main lobe. You’ll get a stronger signal in the desired direction, and better signal rejection, off-axis.

The questioner was evidently disappointed:

so it doesn’t provide any free internet

[insert Picardian facepalm here]

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Downtime to come

Thia is supposed to happen today:

On May 29th, between 4:00pm and 10:00pm PST, we will be performing a few upgrades on your shared MySQL server, [name redacted].

We expect the process to take up to 30 minutes total, and once this has completed, your MySQL server will be running Ubuntu Bionic and MySQL 5.7.

You may notice that your MySQL databases are unreachable for brief periods, or your website may behave unexpectedly while we complete the upgrade. This is normal, and your sites and databases will be back online as soon as the upgrade is complete!

Having watched these guys at work for the last 17 years or so, I’m figuring on 15-20 minutes of Wacky Misbehavior.

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Nice backend there

Being the analytical soul that he is, Francis W. Porretto points to a plausible enhancement to today’s rather rudimentary teledildonics:

I predict the emergence of a new industry: the sex worker behind the sexbot. Such positions could be extremely remunerative, though obviously they would demand a certain kind of personality … and the ability to multiplex conversations (and shopping trips) among many [customers] simultaneously, as a one worker per sexbot ratio would be cost-prohibitive. The preferred applicant would be sexually knowledgeable although not necessarily deeply or widely experienced, would possess a convincing female personality, and would be just as incapable as a typical young woman of saying exactly what she means.

Hm. It seems the personality behind the sexbot would have to be a young woman (or a really weird guy). Well, at least she wouldn’t have to do the “icky part,” which, after all, is the reason sexbots have been developed. So young women of America: get into training! As there will surely be intense competition for these new, demanding, but probably highly lucrative positions, prepare yourselves early for your place in this new and challenging field. Among the spinoff benefits, that way you won’t need to maintain your figure or develop expertise at any other positions. That part, we can confidently leave to the engineers.

First thought: Would these, um, assistants have to work in a so-called “clean room”?

Second thought: How hard would it be to implement a system of, um, hot-swappable appendages and such? I have to figure that some customers will have wilder imaginations than others.

Side thought: In my pony story The way she used to be, there’s a scene in which it’s revealed, far outside canon of course, that changelings, being the world-class shape-shifters that they are, might make a living on the seamier side of Equestrian cities by assuming exactly the appearance the customer might desire. (Our protagonist is no angel, but he gives the idea a hard pass.)

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Policy announcement

A few of you have heard this before:

Not even @SwiftOnSecurity can change my mind, and normally I follow Tay around like a lost puppy.

And Google apparently did this deliberately:

The problem has arrived since a few days ago. Up to now Google worked perfectly well on Pale Moon with NoScript, with no problems, for years. Now this is happening on both Pale Moon and the latest Firefox, but NOT on Chrome!

I would like to know if this is a problem of Pale Moon having lately changed the user-agent string, or whether Google have modified their search-screen to penalize everybody except Chrome.

And just to exacerbate matters, you can’t Inspect Element and then select Block: it just reappears farther down the list.

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Because I said I was

When the question is easy, you may assume the questioner is dumb: How to post transparent images on WordPress?

The complaint:

I am a graphic designer and I make templates that can be uploaded, when I post the images on WordPress it seems to add a white background, when the images are saved from the site they are no longer transparent.. what can I do to maintain the transparency of these images when posting to WordPress

If this guy is a “graphic designer,” I’m a farking gymnast. WordPress doesn’t have any effect on transparent backgrounds. So I’m going to guess that he was told, or that he read somewhere, to “optimize” the images, and a JPEG is likely to be smaller than a PNG — and JPEG doesn’t support transparency.

A kindly chap pointed out:

How exactly are you posting these images? Uploading PNGs to the Media Library will keep the files as-is; I’ve never had WP add any kind of background.

Neither has anyone else, not nobody, not nohow.


Business undone

If I spend long periods of time on the toilet, there’s something wrong with me. And this isn’t it:

So here it goes I’ve been looking for answers and cant find any please professional answers only.. so I was in the bathroom and I decided to try and look at porn while on the toilet. But once I reached the site it said it was blocked and didnt let me go through… I then realized I was connected to the company wifi as I stated above it doesnt require any credentials to log in it just comes up with a page that says you have to agree to there terms and hit accept and your in… my worry is would the IT administrator be able to track it back to me like literally track it back to me and say hey you did this. Once I went to the page it said blocked and wouldnt let me view it but my concern is would the IT guy be able to see someone tried to visit porn and then literally track it back to me say through my IP adress or my MAC adress I posted this on another site and got different answers I’m looking for something solid and definite. Here are some details I used a Samsung galaxy s9 and my phone name is just galaxy s9 it doesnt say my name or anything I never was able to access the site it was blocked but I’m wondering if they could pinpoint it to me or would this be hard to do would they need a court order and things of that nature to actually go through the process of getting to me… please help I’m worried I’m gonna lose my job thanks a ton for real and professional answers

The really hilarious aspect of this, you’ll note, is that the silly fool is looking for “professional answers” when his problem is that he was trying to watch porn from the corporate restroom. The one true “professional answer,” of course, is “You’re fired.”

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If you’re going to San Francisco

Be sure to wear — aw, heck, it doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there, because the Board of Supervisors doesn’t want to know what you look like:

Legislators in San Francisco have voted to ban the use of facial recognition, the first US city to do so.

The emerging technology will not be allowed to be used by local agencies, such as the city’s transport authority, or law enforcement.

Additionally, any plans to buy any kind of new surveillance technology must now be approved by city administrators.

Opponents of the measure said it will put people’s safety at risk and hinder efforts to fight crime.

Those in favour of the move said the technology as it exists today is unreliable, and represented an unnecessary infringement on people’s privacy and liberty.

In particular, opponents argued the systems are error prone, particularly when dealing with women or people with darker skin.

I concur with that “error-prone” judgment, but the idea that San Francisco sees itself as a guardian of privacy and liberty is utterly hilarious: you want privacy in the Holy City, you live behind a gate, or you take a dump on the sidewalk. None other need apply.


Don’t quote me

Is this guy unemployed, or what? How do I make my twitter not pop up in google search results of my name?

Justification offered:

I want it to be there if people know my first and last name and want to search me but not have random things I’ve said over the last nine years pop up in a google search.

Gormless dweeb. I disavow nothing I’ve said on Twitter in ten years, random or not.

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Subtitle wave

Another one of those SEO charlatans hits the spam bucket with a pitch of surpassing dubiousness:

How would you like to Upload A SINGLE Video And RANK for 100 LANGUAGES !!!


ONLY 25% of the searches made online are in ENGLISH! And yet everybody focuses on trying to rank in ENGLISH!

YouTube is the 2nd BIGGEST website in the world … And still you focus all your efforts trying to rank and get traffic ONLY from Google!


With Over 3 Billion Searches A Month … All the visitors that you will ever need ARE ALREADY ON YOUTUBE!

3 billion searches a month. 5% are not in English … Do the math … 2.2 billion searches each month in foreign languages!

Are you getting an idea on how much money you are leaving on the TABLE?

Almost everyone I know would rather read something than watch an incomprehensible video. But you can’t go thinking like that; why, it might affect your income somehow.

Every last one of these 21st-century phrenologists needs to be busted for illicit vending of reptile-based lubricants.


Space saved

In this morning’s Oklahoman, page A6:

Lesson Six: Chinese-Korean fusion

I think this is the only time I’ve ever seen a URL shortener pressed into print use. (This is where it goes.)


One step beyond the fidget spinner

The pitch:

PowerSchool is the leading #EdTech provider serving more than 45 million students in over 70 countries.

An observation from an actual teacher of my acquaintance:

Parents of students under 16: Take the damn PowerSchool app off your kids’ phones. All they do is wait for the next notification to hit their phone or watch once a grade is posted. Instant gratification for either less and less effort, or your kid is going through massive anxiety 24/7. I just entered a grade of 93. Kid dropped to a 96. Got an email from an upset kid within five seconds.

Sorry. It’s annoying as hell how the technology is clearly correlating with less effort or higher anxiety levels. Some kids even say “as long as I’m not flunking it’s all good.” Or, “OMG OMG I dropped from an A+ to an A!! I’m having palpitations!!”

It’s probably a good thing we didn’t have stuff like that when I was a schoolboy.

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The search science is settled

I mean, who’s gonna argue with Google?

Suggestions for Politicians With

Certainly not I.

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Quixote dot whatever

If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you — well, certainly once, anyway. You don’t have to believe me, of course, but then you find yourself mired in puzzles like this:

Will this wordpress theme allow me to make money?

This is the theme in question. And this is what he did with it.

This is really getting to me, and I really don’t want to continue writing on this theme unless I know I can make money in the future.

I want to start posting so bad, but I don’t want it to go to waste. Has anyone else made any type of money with this type of theme? Do you think I should switch to a different theme now before I really start pushing out articles?

Someone told him what I would have told him — the theme doesn’t mean squat — but it’s at the top of his worries:

I understand that quality content and SEO is the biggest part of it. That’s why I dont mention it in my question, because that’s not what I am worried about…

Just wait until he figures out that “quality content” and search-engine optimization are mutually contradictory. Ask the guy who’s been doing this sort of thing for more than two decades:

Any professed SEO expert is going to tell you that you need this, a heap of that, several of those, and just a pinch of spice for Google to rank you. Well, Google isn’t going to rank you: they’re wise to all these schemes, and once they find out you’ve been spinning articles — copying stuff you find, sending it through some sort of verbal Cuisinart to make it look less like a copy, and then claiming it for your own — they’re going to bury you nine hundred pages down, where you belong. If it’s important to you to get on Google’s front page, send them a check. It’s legal, it doesn’t require you to steal anything from anyone, and it’s amazingly effective. “But I shouldn’t have to do that,” you cry. Yes, you should. There has never been a free lunch, and you’re not going to get one in blogdom.

But Mr Moody here isn’t about to give Google any money. He’s still evidently pissed at having to put out $59 for a copy of this theme.

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Pronounced “jay-peg”

The picture you saw in the previous post was hoovered up from one of Gerard Van der Leun’s omnibus posts. In that capacity, it occupied something like 56,349 bytes, fairly modest for a JPEG these days. It was also a hair too wide for this format, so I trimmed it back to 480 x 584, which came to 44,386 bytes. Looked okay, but maybe too much white space. A little off the sides, a slight bit of resizing, and the final version was 480 x 577 — and somehow, still, 44,386 bytes.

Now nothing in the JPEG spec says that a smaller version has to occupy less disk space; but nothing prepares you for the smaller version that occupies exactly the same disk space.


This would never work for me

Or for most people, I suspect:

Doesn’t mean they can’t get even dumber, though.

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As the customers are blown off

I have never had a whole lot of use for TurboTax, although it must be disclosed up front that 40-odd years ago, I was a seasonal worker at present-day archrival H&R Block. But I never quite suspected Intuit, publisher of TurboTax, of pulling a stunt at this level:

This week, we reported on how TurboTax uses deceptive design and misleading advertising to trick lower-income Americans into paying to file their taxes, even though they are eligible to do it for free.

There’s a new wrinkle: It turns out, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, is deliberately hiding the truly free edition — TurboTax Free File — from Google Search.

Intuit has done that by adding code on its site telling Google and other search engines not to list TurboTax Free File in search results.

Does this require some arcane knowledge of coding? Ha. Also, ha:

The code in question, which can be found in a file called robots.txt or in an HTML tag, has to be actively added to a site, as Intuit has done. It is typically used on pages that designers want to hide from the open internet, such as those that are for internal use only. Without that code, Google and other search engines default to adding a site to their search results.

My own robots.txt file, should you be interested, blocks indexing of graphics and WordPress components, but nothing else.

There are, of course, ominous political rumblings:

Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement that he plans to raise Intuit’s misleading marketing with the IRS. “Intuit’s tactics to reduce access to the Free File program and confuse taxpayers are outrageous,” he said.

As if tax returns themselves aren’t confusing enough already.

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Buy this man a beer

Any beer he wants. Several of them, in fact:

So I’m in the process of transitioning computers, which means I have to again set my Web browser to stop bothering me when every last Web site wants to send me notifications.

This is a simple config change, but I did a quick Web search to ensure I set the correct preference name to false.

Which search led him to r/Firefox on Reddit, which then threw up the very “Allow notifications” box he, and I, find objectionable.

Not everyone, of course, uses Firefox. I am a convert to the Pale Moon browser, a fork from Mozilla from right before the time when feeping creaturism entirely devoured Firefox.

And it works there, too. From about:config:

Note to self: It’s dom.webnotifications.enabled.

Do the Boolean toggle, and buy a beer for Noggle.

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