Category Archives: Technical

The definition of Secure and Insecure

When I walked up to these public terminals  a few minutes ago, the couple next to me helpfully offered the advice “that one is broken”. A few quick keystrokes later I discovered that the problem was the touchscreen interface was registering false touches. Probably the result of previous abuse.

While I was amusing myself with the interface, attempting to see if it was hackable in the context of my rudimentary knowledge, the couple next to me got up and left, having completed their search. These are pay terminals. They require a credit card to access. This was the second thing I learned. I also learned that the people who set these terminals up were pretty good at their job. Physical plugs all behind lock and key, drives and ports in another part of the building. Hardware essentially out of reach without damaging the wiring.

The software is a version of Windows 7. Most of the known bypasses from within the OS (known by me) are locked off, and you can only get to the Windows interface by paying in advance or convincing the system you have paid. This knowledge I gained by accessing the broken system that the couple had paid for previously. Paid for and then couldn’t use and paid for a second system.

Some people apparently just pay for things without ever even asking why; a willingness to be defrauded that I’ve never understood. This couple had paid twice for information their phones could have given them for free. They had also walked away from the area leaving their information available on two different public terminals. Accessible to any nefarious person who wandered by. I did them a favor and logged them off both systems. I’m apparently not as big an asshole as I thought.

Hey Google! Blogger Interface Needs a Patch!

For the last few weeks I’ve been getting spam comments from Blogger. Yes, that’s right. Blogger is spamming me with comments, if sources for the spam are to be believed. The problem is a little more involved than that.

Not only is the self-identified user Blogger spamming me, but the landing page for marking comments from blogger as spam still references the old blogger developers blog that hasn’t been updated since 2013!

Now, I understand. I rejected Google’s G+ comments interface. I post to G+ for blog promotional purposes (as limited as that is, I’ve seen the metrics) and I got tired of seeing my own posts listed as comments on the blog articles. It makes you feel lonely and pathetic when you are the only one posting comments to your blog. Yes, maybe that is because I am lonely and pathetic, but I don’t need reminders from my blog interface to realize this potential fact. So I moved back to the native blogger comments.

If they want me to use G+ as the only commenting form, perhaps they should fix the G+ interface to import old blogger comments properly; as in, not showing the obvious HTML code inline with the comment text. Give me the option of not showing my own posts to G+ as comments on articles. Something. Anything.

But please Google. Please. I’m begging here. Clean up the old Blogger interface? Make links go places that are still in use? Keep clearly proprietary user names reserved for Blogger and Google not to mention Alphabet, the new parent company and all the other companies that Google now Alphabet owns. At the very least, can you kill the spammers account? The fake Blogger? Please? 

What is Technology Doing to Us?


Waking Up With Sam Harris #71 – What is Technology Doing to Us? (with Tristan Harris)

At 1:05:30 in the episode Tristan Harris concludes with what am I being steered to do?

Through much of this episode I was marvelling at the gloom and doom being harped about endlessly. So we wake up to doughnuts by the bedside that we are required to resist every morning? Was there a bigger point to be made here? It may not be a pleasant way to live, but that’s what happens everywhere you go that involves buying anything, and that is how we go about our lives in the modern world, trading time for money and trading money for things. Maybe we should design different systems for people to live in if that reality is too depressing for most people.

Podcast notation backdated to the blog.

Those Halcyon Days of the Rolodex

Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station on Facebook is a frequent read of mine. I have moved his notifications to view first in the Facebook interface. Why? Because he makes me laugh, and I need a good laugh these days. Today was no exception,

Once upon a time an address book was a simple list of names and phone numbers that you scribbled onto little squares of cardboard and put in a little indexed box and kept by the phone — which was a big black plastic box with a dial and a handset, attached to the wall via wires, and heavy enough to bludgeon somebody to death with.

Back then, how many people did you really need to call? A few dozen maybe. Relatives. Friends. Anybody else was listed in the phone book.

My mom still has such a box full of cards next to her phone in the dining room. I knock it over nearly every time I’m there. Damned cards, why do you still have this mess? I ask as I’m picking them up off the floor. Why?

See, with the invention of computers, an address book became something you laboriously copied from those little cardboard rectangles into electronic storage. In fact some of the earliest programs for home computers (remember when we called them “home” computers?) were address books and contact lists. Periodically something would happen, a crash, an upgrade, something, and you’d have to retype the whole damned list into a different machine. So you hung onto that little box of cardboard rectangles, the ultimate backup.

The image at right is representative of what was my first smartphone. A device which was available long before Saint Jobs invented the iPhone. It had a music player before there was a iPod, too. I graduated from the Handspring Visor in the center to the Treo on the left, also available before the iPhone. Cheaper, too.

I haven’t used a Rolodex (the little squares of paper) ever in my life. Other people kept Rolodexes which I transferred once to my daily planner (5 ring. Transplantable address pages) and once more to my Handspring (Palm) device. Every transfer after that has been electronic. To quote Egon “print is dead”.

I have not ever attempted to recreate my list of contacts because (and this is important) I never wrote anything down that I didn’t have to and I never kept things I wrote out of embarrassment at my poor handwriting (more on that here) consequently my address book exists in a few digital places and pretty much no where else and the sad part is I can’t think of anyone’s number aside from The Wife, the city emergency number and information number.

Or maybe it isn’t sad. There are a whole host of things that people remember for no good reason other than their lives require them to remember them. The Wife is my link to sanity and the rest of the world, so her number I really do need to know. Everyone else is findable through lookup or the eight or so social platforms that I would utilize if I wanted to talk to someone. I would use them because who calls anybody anymore? I don’t even talk to people I pay bills to unless I absolutely have to. The phone is as dead as print is, for all intents and purposes.

However, I may have run across the problem Jim is talking about. Android creates a phone-only contact that is your contact information, and it will delete your contact of the same name from the gmail interface. It will do this pretty consistently no matter how many times you create that card. I know this because I used to beam my contact information to others with Palm devices, which meant I had to keep a digital card of my information to beam. If there had been more Palm users this may have been more useful back then, but it is the reason I still have a card of my information today. Or had until Android removed it from my contacts list when I moved to Android and identified the phone user as the same name on the card. Android is probably trying to be helpful and is only helping discover more colorful cursing in the process.

(blog entry back dated to correspond to the time the photo was taken and posted on Facebook)

Rooting Android

The Wife‘s phone is dying. She’s insisted she didn’t need a smartphone for decades, but now she wants one.  One problem; we’re dead broke.  We had to steal from Peter to pay Paul this month in the first place, large phone expenditures aren’t in the works for us.  If you want a phone that works well with today’s apps, you seem to need a new phone.

There are actually multiple problems here. We found a service called Ting.com awhile back, a service that saves us serious amounts of cash on cellphones. Ting.com makes them cheaper per line than standard wired service if you don’t spend hours on the phone every day. There is only one problem with this service; you have to provide your own hardware.

Luckily there is a service for that, too; several of them, in fact.  I like Glyde.com, I bought my current HTC device from them. My first foray into this strange world of buying used phones, I bought a different device, only to discover that the memory constraints on the phone were so limited I couldn’t update the phone to the current software. Couldn’t unlock the bootloader (whatever that was) much less root it. I picked HTC the second time out because HTC allows you to unlock the bootloader right on their website. Gave the first phone to my son. His first cell phone. That he leaves everywhere except in his pocket. Perfect phone for him.

Bootloaders. Rooting. It was a whole new language that I had resigned myself to learning, so I began exploring exactly how to even talk about what I wanted to do to the device, trying to figure out what the verb rooting really meant outside of swine behavior.  I apparently needed a new rom to flash after this rooting thing; and I was certain I wanted to avoid bricking the phone, because that sounded bad.  I mean, you can’t call with a brick, even the rocks know that.

I quickly discovered that it’s a minefield out there. Even if you find the right boards, half the links don’t work. Even if you find links that work, most of them lead to shady back-alley websites that I wouldn’t want to visit without protection; much less disable security on my phone and engage in behavior that my phone warns me I shouldn’t do even with people I know.

I’m under time pressure here.  The Wife wants an iPhone. The cheapest one is twice what I could pay for a comparable android device. She’s listened to me whine about this HTC device for months now, I’ve convinced her that you can’t fix old phones to do the things we want them to do, and I haven’t even gotten to the point of trying to modify my phone. It is time for me to bite the bullet. Now or never.

About 12 hours ago, I jumped in with both feet. I got my token from HTC, Unlocked the bootloader. Rebooted. Yep, there goes all those old text messages.  Glad I didn’t want to save those. Well, it doesn’t seem like I did anything else.  Head scratcher.  I scrounge around for old links.  Hey, what’s this? I can just download one program from xdadevelopers and it’ll root my phone? Well, getting superuser status on the phone is the next step (what rooting means. SU, superuser. Known to those of us who Linux. Yeah, I knew that) so that’s probably the right thing.  Xda’s users seem to be some of the more knowledgeable types out there, so I’ll bite.

Works like a charm. Now what?  Can I delete apps? No. All that damn garbage like Sports & Racing apps still clogging up the system. I really, really don’t want to go find a rom (image) to flash (load) while under time pressure.  That is the kind of thing you do to phones you’re not counting on using for a bit, altering all the interfaces and playing around trying to break the software.  I just want a program.  An app.  Something that will delete crap I want gone, move crap that I want somewhere else so that the 500 megs of phone memory stays as open as I can get it. Back to the Google. Wait, there’s a root uninstaller? Really? On the Google store, even? Nice.

Bye bye Tweeter. Sports you are out of here. Racing, go drive somewhere else. All you old pre-installs for Twitter, Facebook, etc.  All of you are now uninstalled. I’m going pro with this app. Hey, I can move stuff to the card with this puppy.  This is what I’m talking about! Where was this power months ago? I feel like a programmer, which is a dangerous delusion for me.

I’ve been tweaking, deleting, and tweaking again for the last 12 hours. Convinced The Wife that we could save a few dollars on a second HTC device, and I can make it do what she wants it to do (fingers crossed now) so the time pressure is off.  Now I’ll have a play phone for a few days at least. Time to find an alternate rom I want to play with.  And backup.  I need to find a rom builder.  Back to the Google.


I received a brand new  Nexus 5 for my birthday, and that has kept me beautifully distracted since I got it. I can finally play some of the games I’ve been wanting to play and install several apps that just were too big for the HTC Evo Shift. My heartfelt thanks to the friends and family who made the gift possible.  It really was the only thing I wanted, one of the few things I can use while essentially bedridden for days at a time.

Gaming’s Potential Contribution to the World

People ask me all the time “Why do you spend so much time playing that game” Warcraft is but the latest in a long line of game obsessions of mine (been working on that post for awhile now. That one and a religion one and a citizenship one and a disability one…) This is the first explanation of why that ever rang true to me. It’s also an explanation of what gaming might be able to do for the world.

Treadmilling Computer Time

I, like most people, have never been one to exercise. Large sums of money have been spent in studies attempting to find out why this is true. Wasted is more the word for it. I don’t know why “we’re all lazy” isn’t a good enough answer.

The trick, it seems, is to make exercise part of established daily routines. I’ve installed a monitor over my treadmill where I’ve made myself watch all the DVD’s I’ve purchased of late. That has helped significantly in motivating me to get on the treadmill.

Still, I seem to spend a lot of time sitting in front of the keyboard, gaming, typing, etc. This thought reminded me of the stories I had read a few years back (here’s one) about offices installing treadmills at desks and workstations, and the positive response they had gotten from this effort.

When I googled treadmill desk, I got way more information than I needed (although this is new. Nice construction) I already had a treadmill, I just wanted some way to get a keyboard/mouse into the hand reach area during normal walking.

Most of the ideas I’d run across, and most of the ones that I had myself involved some rather detailed construction. So I wandered around Home Depot for a few hours trying to visualize the various materials at hand being used to support the devices I had in mind, on the treadmill I already owned.

I finally hit upon using a closet shelf, inverted to give it a lip at the back so that it could hold the keyboard at the right angle for relaxed hand positioning. I just couldn’t imagine how I was going to connect it to the treadmill in a way that wouldn’t work loose over time.

Then The Wife said “how about using zip ties?”

I knew I married her for a reason.

Here’s a few pictures of the resulting contraption. It works, that’s the important part. I’m not straining my wrists, that’s the next most important point. I’ll have to work out permanent attachment later. Maybe. I’m beginning to think break away connectors might be a good idea in case of a fall. We’ll see.

Game Distribution Systems; Steamrolled

Ran across an interesting article today Saving Progress: Impulse Buyer in which the author offers praise for Valve and their Steam game delivery system; and it’s ability to effortlessly deliver games to your desktop.

I’ll give the author points for identifying the reason that Valve promotes Steam, to the exclusion of all other methods of game installation. But he fails to unambiguously state what that reason is.

Profit Margin.

I’m a capitalist, I have no problem with profit. What I have a problem with is the continuing saga of limiting the usefulness of a product, even crippling same, for the explicit purposes of increasing profit margins; even when these actions limit the value of the product to the customer. DRM can come in many forms, and relying on Valve and Steam to continue to authorize a program’s use every time you start it will eventually end in your paying for the same game over and over again as their profit margin demands it.

Make no mistake about it, Steam is DRM. If you do not have an active online presence when installing the game from disc (those of us who continue the arcane practice of actually going to brick and mortar stores for our software) you will not be allowed to install, at all. No where on the packaging for The Orange Box or Half Life is this fact revealed, and good luck returning already opened software for a refund. That doesn’t happen, either.

Luckily (or maybe unluckily) we have high speed internet service, and so The Son was able to install his favorite programs and play them ad nauseum. Or he would be able to if Steam didn’t present me with a regular series of challenges based on arcane hardware limitations and failed upgrade problems.

After a few months of being Steamrolled, I’m declaring a moritorium on Steam controlled games in this household. I’ve had enough of re-installing and re-configuring, and then re-re-installing and re-re-configuring Valve games to last me for the rest of my life. The children keep asking me when I’m going to play Half-Life 2 (because, like Doom 3, they watched me play Half Life from the safety of the couch, where the monsters can’t get them. They want to continue the entertainment of watching dad scream in terror when the monsters start eating the back of his head) and my answer is a solid “never”. Never going to play it, because the frustation of making Steam work with Half-Life and the other Valve programs leaves little room for the entertainment that you are supposed to get from gaming. Never mind that I don’t want to get attached to a program that Valve could de-authorise whenever they please, for whatever reason they see fit.

I have a dream. I just want to be able to install a game, and then never have to worry about licensing again. If I were pirating…

[Copying without paying for software. Not really pirating. Pirating involves theft of value by force. Like taking your money and not giving you software that works, for example. Theft of my money is just as much piracy as continued use of a program you have not licensed properly]

…software, it would be that simple. I wouldn’t have to answer to the authors of the program when it came to methods of installation, numbers of installs, or online status when installing. That is what these games developers have to compete with when it comes to rolling out new software. The software may or may not work on my system, I may not get the bug patches, but the price (free) is right for that kind of risk. And I won’t have to listen to children beg me for the advertised games they don’t own, conveniently available through Steam.

No, Valve has found their version of an MMO (and World Of Warcraft, Blizzard’s premiere MMO, is experiencing astronomical profits) and they are milking it for all it’s worth. I just don’t have any need to be treated as a revenue source for game companies that really aren’t doing too bad after all.

The interesting part of the article was the information on other game companies intentions to compete with Steam for customers. Well, they might have one sitting right here.

Impulse claims to be much more open, in keeping with Stardock’s continuing policy of being DRM-free and rewarding the legitimate customer. Recent furores over invasive and overly protective piracy prevention tools has divided the industry, with some favoring the maximum effort possible to stop piracy, while the rest advocating a free system which does not punish the consumer. Stardock, being at the forefront of this movement, consistently promise to never restrict their customers in the name of reducing piracy. By distributing their games online via the same methods as those who steal games, Stardock is banking on the loyalty of their customers and the attractiveness of their product to survive. So far, it is working.

read more | digg story

It sounds good. But it only runs in Windows, a platform that I’ve vowed to abandon, for pretty much the same reasons I don’t approve of Steam. Too many hoops to jump through, too many limitations on what I can do, too much money for what I’m actually getting.

How about a cutting edge gaming system that is platform neutral, like Mozilla? No, I’m not happy about the state of gaming these days, and I don’t see much hope on the horizon. Still, it’s good that there are companies out there that realize treating customers like criminals is not the way to ingender loyalty amongst the endusers. Now lets see if they go the distance.

Attn: Yahoo! This Is True is not Spam

I just added the True A Day widget to the sidebar of the blog. If you like This Is True, and just happen to have a Yahoo address, too bad. Yahoo has blocked This Is True from your mailbox.

Yahoo! extends its idiot streak by blocking some 20,000+ subscribers of one of the oldest, and best run email newsletters on the net. Why? Because instead of hitting the unsubscribe button like any self-respecting web user would do, they hit the ‘this is spam’ button. This affects publishers and subscribers, so don’t think it’s not about you.

read more | digg story

Makes me glad I stopped relying on Yahoo webmail years ago. Otherwise I’d have to spend serious quality time agitating them to reverse their judgment.

Microsoft Responds to Yahoo! Announcement

I don’t know about you, but I think this statement:

It is unfortunate that Yahoo! has not embraced our full and fair proposal to combine our companies. Based on conversations with stakeholders of both companies, we are confident that moving forward promptly to consummate a transaction is in the best interests of all parties.

read more | digg story

Should be read with a Darth Vader respirator wheeze in the background.

“I find your lack of faith most disturbing.”

I maintain several lists on Yahoo!groups as well as a Yahoo! mail and IM address. If Microsoft successfully takes over Yahoo!, I will be ending my use of all Yahoo! services.

I refuse to be bullied by the monopolist from Redmond.