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spending the morning troubleshooting windows XP blue screen of death in the year of our Lord 2017 AD

Crypto and You

3 min read

So you want to learn more about the encryption debate.1 Well, take a knee, gang, its .

Flash back 10 years ago. No one gave a shit about cybersecurity unless you were in China or a ghostwritten Tom Clancy novel. Then, as people started using networked services in more places, the information leaks began. It was still not an issue for the government (particularly, law enforcement), because useful data was just as accessible to them as it was to nefarious agents, like hackers or Facebook.

In 2013, the Snowden leaks began to paint a picture of just how much our own security agencies relied on cybersecurity weakness in their day-to-day operations. Snowden had trouble finding a journalist who could figure out how to use PGP to read his heavily encrypted messages to disseminate this information.

The leaked information made Silicon Valley companies very angry. So they began to encrypt transmissions between their data centers, as well as building it into their email, messaging, and mobile operating systems.

Now, encryption is just lots of math. Ever watch a movie about code breakers in WWII? Encryption. The only difference now is that common computers can do a lot more math in a short amount of time. But before this point, it was never viewed as particularly important to consumer software.

Think of it this way. In the same way that a gun is an offensive weapon, encryption is a defensive weapon. It protects your information from prying eyes, whomever that may be.

So now law enforcement has a problem. This technology is widely available, even to enemies of the state. Their proposed solution is to break it. Or to put it in their words, make it work for some and not for others. Kind of like how if you point a gun at something or someone you like, it will not fire. Because it only works in certain situations.

This is obviously a farce. As the old argument goes, if we outlaw guns, only law breakers will have guns. Since enemies of the state are not likely to stop using encrypted communication if it is outlawed, the only people without it will be law-abiding citizens. Effectively the exact opposite of the stated goal.

Remember this when some idiot presidential candidate2 tries to tell you how encryption is bad because terrorists are bad. The only benefit of outlawing encryption is to spy on you.


  1. I know there is a new John Oliver monologue about this. I haven't seen it. I hope he makes some of these points better than me.

  2.  

    via GIPHY

     

Mashable: I drove the streets of Las Vegas in a self-driving Audi

1 min read

Always nice to see your employer in the news for being at the forefront of a new technology.

http://mashable.com/2015/01/05/las-vegas-self-driving-audi/

Bullet Journaling

2 min read

Flip-flopping yet again, I found another organization method to try out called the Bullet Journal. This one is decidedly analog, and the only major commitment is carrying around a notebook.

The idea is to record everything as a bullet point. Tasks get checkboxes, events get circles, and everything is gets a standard bullet. It seems simple enough, but there are some benefits over digital.

  • The act of writing something down makes you more likely to remember it.
  • It forces you to be constantly reviewing1 your notes, which keeps them fresh in your mind.
  • It keeps you mindful about what you record. I still type faster than I write, so I am not going to take the time to record something in the journal that will have little value.
  • You have to stick with it. With the digital services, I could jump back and forth between them while testing them out. I am in this Bullet Journal thing until I run out of pages in my notebook, which could take several months.

So far it is working well. I did need to upgrade to a larger notebook; I thought the 3.5 x 5.5 inch one would do, but it is hard to fit everything in. is already suited for this, with its own notebooks and OCR capability, so my technology geek cred is still relatively intact I think. (And I fist tried it with Workflowy, which worked briefly but became a little unwieldy). If you are a habitual note taker, I recommend giving this method a shot.


  1. No matter how many times I yelled "CONTROL F CHECKBOX" at my Moleskine, it would not highlight unfinished tasks for me. 

Year In Review 2013

4 min read

It's the end of the year, a time for reflecting and summation. It is a totally arbitrary time, probably adopted from some pagans, just like most of the holidays on the Gregorian calendar. But the year had to end sometime, and that time is now1. Time for the quality of weather to plummet, and for the amount of listicles published to soar. I now have a blog, and so by the transitive property I must now make listicles, like so2:

BEST PICTURES I TOOK THIS YEAR, AS JUDGED BY ME

Two of them are screencaps. I don't take a lot of pictures.

[gallery type="rectangular" ids="1516,1510,1505,1501,1497,1496,1500,1499,1492,1491,1484,1477,1476,1466,1468"]
AWESOME SONGS THAT MAY NOT HAVE COME OUT THIS YEAR BUT I LISTENED TO A LOT ANYWAY

COOL ARTICLES I READ, PROBABLY THIS YEAR

On Smarm (Gawker)

What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.

Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer?

The Period is Pissed (The New Republic)

The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”

How to Win Any Bourbon Argument (Esquire)

You've gone and done it. You've expressed a preference for a bourbon within earshot of another person. Little did you realize that arguing about bourbon is now our sixth most popular sport, behind arguing about "grape vs. grain" vodkas, parenting strategies, craft beers, workout regimens, and college football.

Get Ready to Lose Your Job (TechCrunch)

Kurzweil claims that whenever technology hits a limit, “a paradigm shift (i.e., a fundamental change in the approach) occurs, which enables exponential growth to continue.” That’s not much more than a convenient article of faith. As Peter Thiel points out, “technological progress has fallen short in many domains. Consider the most literal instance of non-acceleration: We are no longer moving faster. The centuries-long acceleration of travel speeds … reversed with the decommissioning of the Concorde in 2003.”

The Pixar Theory (John Negroni)

This post expounds the theory that all Pixar movies (from Toy Story to Monsters University) exist in the same timeline and are all connected, which is simultaneously crazy and awesome (crawesome).

Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman answer your questions on how to "engage in romantic love" (A.V. Club)

(There is a phrase repeated through several answers that I will not include here. Rated PG-13)

2013 LIST OF BEST BEST-OF LISTS ... 2013

BEST CONDIMENTS TO PUT ON SANDWICHES OR WHAT HAVE YOU

  1. BARBECUE SAUCE
  2. NOTHING

BEST AMOUNT OF ITEMS TO PUT IN A LIST

  1. 3
  2. 5
  3. 2
  4. 0
  5. 34

PLACES I VISITED THIS YEAR THAT ARE ALSO BEST I GUESS

  • Cancun
  • San Francisco
  • Destin
  • Long Island (the good parts)

All in all, a good year. See you for the next one.


  1. Because nothing happens between December 22 and January.
  2. Try to watch this and not say "Scooby Doo Monster Game" in your best Sean Connery voice. You can't.

The Year of the Blog (specifically, mine)

5 min read

My new year’s resolution for 2013 has been to write. Just, in general, write when you can. I enjoy experimenting with technology and software, so I thought a would do the trick. It has gone through several iterations, but this is where it has ended up.1

was the major internet trend in the early- to mid-2000s, which is why seemingly no one does it anymore and all the cool people broadcast their thoughts on their social network of choice. But there are several advantages to it that people forget about in the age of the like and the tweet. Blogging creates your own personal space on the web, free from advertisers devising new ways to use your own data to push their product more effectively. If done correctly, you own the content you put out, and you can learn a lot of about web hosting and internet protocols if you so choose. I was only just starting, so I tried going the free route to see what I could find.

Pressing & Tumbling

I started out with a wordpress.com blog. It had everything I needed to start , so I did. The community at wordpress.com is centered on writing, which was good encouragement. But once I started to get the hang of it, it seemed like there was a lot that the free account would not let me do. The open source Wordpress is a powerful tool, and their free site gives you just enough of a taste to know you can do more. I still was not ready to fork over any money, so I packed up for the other major free ‘blogging’ tool on the web today, Tumblr.

I had started a Tumblr account a while ago, but hadn’t used it much. I came back to compare features with my new Wordpress blog, and there was a lot to like. The site is very stylish and minimalist, which is kind of the opposite of Wordpress (unless you put a lot of work into it). It is easy to find a lot of interesting people on Tumblr, and the mobile app is great (better than Wordpress at the time). The combination was enough to keep me there for most of the year.

Ghosting

In late October, an episode of one of my must-listen podcasts focused on blogging (In Beta #70), and it convinced me to try to build my own blog. I finally had a feel for the writing part, and I wanted to make a place of my own that didn’t end in ‘dot something dot com.’ The one that sounded the most interesting, Ghost, had just launched to the public. I registered my domain, hacked around in my router settings, and started hosting it from my own laptop. This was obviously not an ideal situation, but I still wanted to experiment before venturing into the confusing world of web hosting services.

The experience was enlightening. Ghost will soon be a great blogging platform, but for the technical layperson it is not there yet. I enjoy the minimalist approach, and they are still adding features, but there are bugs. I was not able to even upload a picture, a simple task on another framework. I could not nail down whether it was a bug in the code or a bug in my makeshift server settings. My laptop was also hosting my Plex server and kept getting kicked off the network in favor of my NAS, so I finally gave in and found a cheap webhost. Ghost is too resource intensive for shared hosting, so back to Wordpress I went.

Tools and Takeaways

One of the major lessons I learned from all this is that formatting a post is much easier in Markdown. The native editor in Ghost offers Markdown support (which I miss), but the others have not added this (or have done it poorly). So, for the most part I composed posts with outside tools. Draft has been my tool of choice, and I have been using it since its release. It supports Multimarkdown (footnotes and tables and such), and it also allows professionals to review your work for a small fee. Draft moved to a freemium model, and has started to really push for users to subscribe. Although the writing features are invaluable I don’t feel like I write enough to justify paying (is this a recurring theme?). Because of this, I have tried out some other writing tools recently. Editorially and Dillinger are two good ones that I have found, but the best so far feature-wise is StackEdit.

What else did I learn?

  • Writing can be very therapeutic. A blog is a good place for venting frustration or righteous nerd anger.
  • I am apparently a cheapskate. I guess I did not know what I was doing, so going the free route made sense, but it did not hit me just how far I went to avoid spending money until writing this post.
  • Open source is the way to go. The wide open nature of the web would not be nearly as wide if it were built on proprietary tools. You can almost always find an open source, (nearly-)free version of whatever tool you need.

photo: paolovalde (via Flickr)


  1. In fact you are reading the fruit of my labors now!

The trouble with mobile

4 min read

I am stuck in the second half of my 2 year phone contract. The first half is when the phone is all new and shiny and the manufacturer keeps it up to date with current software. The second half is when all those benefits fade and you are still on the hook for another year. For whatever reason the a one year contract tier is now a thing of the past. Locked down or contract-free are the only options left.

On top of that, my contract is with Big V (for “Voldemort”, but worse). Verizon has built a great network, but it is horrible for tech enthusiasts (I have no experience with AT&T, which is probably just as awful, but in different ways). I don’t have a landline (and who could afford one with the price of a smartphone plan?), so sticking with solid service seems to make sense. But I also don’t make many calls, so my gigantic cell phone plan is mainly for data. That’s not so bad, because it is unlimited. At least, until Verizon caps my data when I renew my contract.

Other random VZW problems:
- Can’t use their phones anywhere outside the US without paying out the nose. This is a Sprint problem too, because neither use GSM technology, but I’m not sure that Sprint requires you to hack THEIR OWN global phones to get them to work correctly
- They instated this fee two weeks before my last official upgrade (mostly just personal bitterness there)
- They don’t fight for users’ privacy rights. Even Comcast and AT&T pretend like they care.

Clearly, they are an easy target for user ire. Rightfully so, because of how much of my time and my income is spent on them and their phones. But this brings up another major problem. Demanding the highest quality devices from the company with the highest quality wireless service should not be the leap in logic that the market is making it out to be. New flagship phones are coming to VZW late or not at all, and I believe the reason is the Galaxy Nexus Saga.

In October 2011, Google unveiled Android 4.0 and its flagship device, the Galaxy Nexus, exclusive to Verizon in the US. Presumed to be the ideal phone on the ideal carrier, it would receive timely updates from Google because it ran stock Android (the specific reason I bought it!) while running on the fast VZW LTE network. But then the phone was delayed for a month while Verizon disallowed Google from putting its own Wallet software on the phone. After release, each new Android iteration would update international and unlocked GNex units, leaving VZW customers months behind. The phone is finally up to date as of March, over a year after its release. I have heard it called the Fallacy Nexus (by nerds), and I am inclined to agree.

The problem with mobile computing is this carrier influence. Even five years ago, the hardware and software used for personal computing was controlled by (surprise!!) the hardware and software companies selling the computers. Now that most personal computing is done on phones, the phone companies have changed that dynamic. They push the innovators into conservative design decisions, market only the devices that kowtow to their demands, and preach “pay no attention to the duopoly in the corner.” Until they function like a (mostly) dumb pipe like cable internet, this is the way the world will be.

via Tumblr http://craigpilcher.tumblr.com/post/52243082687

photo: Scott Ableman via Compfight

Digital Rights Management

3 min read

Since the advent of broadband internet, and even a bit before, “piracy” has been a problem. I use quotes because there is probably a better term that evokes illicit copying rather than Captain Hook. It is one of those problems that is supposed to get the same reaction from anyone. Asking a congressman to justify almost anything they do yields the response “because ______.” Only one of the following reasons is acceptable to fill in that blank:

  •  Terrorists
  •  The children
  •  Piracy

Why is our defense budget so high? Because terrorists. Why do we need to take away all the guns/arm all the teachers? Because the children. Why can’t we unlock our cell phones? Because Nazis… I mean, because piracy.

No one is learning how wrong-headed that is right now more than EA. They bought and resurrected one of the most beloved and storied game franchises of all time, Sim City. It released this week, and was purported to be fantastic. The majority of the people who bought it, though, apparently would not know. EA designed this game to require a constant connection to their servers, even though it is essentially a single player experience. They claim it is for a social aspect, so people can share cities or something, but let’s be honest: it is for piracy. EA wants your $50-60, and wants to make damn sure that you can’t play if you didn’t pay. (Also hilarious: they are not offering refunds.)

In an ironic twist, many who did pay still can’t play. EA has been working on adding servers all week to support demand, to no avail. Rather than updating the game to remove the requirement of connectivity, they have decided to save their precious game-breaking DRM by disabling the actual game features that require the internet, like leaderboards. Kotaku has billed this fiasco “Sim City Disaster Watch.” Polygon, who initally gave the game a review score of 9.5/10, has lowered its score to a 4. I can’t say it better than Chris Kluwe:

 

The other end of the spectrum is Game of Thrones (or it is a different spectrum, not sure). HBO could care less that it is the most pirated TV show for a couple years running, because it gets people talking about Game of Thrones. However, in their case, it is more about necessity than stealing. They offer no other avenues of purchase besides subscribing to their network (on top of a cable subscription, in the age of cable cutting).

Really, there has to be some middle ground here somewhere. A way for a company to take my money in exchange for a good product. Capitalism, maybe?

via Tumblr http://craigpilcher.tumblr.com/post/44865233867

...then what are the lists for?

2 min read

Tweetdeck AndroidTwitter dug itself into a deeper hole with its power users last night when it axed the non-web versions of Tweetdeck. It is somehow both totally uncalled for and long overdue. Twitter purchased Tweetdeck in mid-2011, when it was easily the best mobile Twitter client and arguably the best Facebook client at the time as well. As the picture illustrates, Twitter updated Tweetdeck only once, to remove its native picture sharing service, and it has languished in the Google Play Store ever since. In that time, Twitter has moved to a newer, locked-down API and has a new official app on most platforms. However, Tweetdeck arguably still has a better interface, as well as far more features.

I cannot make sense of this. I don't think I would be mad if they integrated Tweetdeck's columns into the default app's interface, because it would greatly improve tracking conversations. Twitter has list functionality, but on mobile they are buried so far down they are practically useless. And why did Twitter sit on this app for a year and a half if they were just going to shut it down? They could have updated it, or just removed Facebook from it if that was the issue. Pushing an inferior version of your own product just to get people to look at ads is not the way to win the tech crowd.

Anyway, they already pushed me over to app.net, where I am hoping that someone will resurrect the Tweetdeck client in spirit.

Facebook Break

3 min read

I finally uninstalled the Facebook app on my phone about two weeks ago, mostly because it sucks. I checked back a few nights ago via the browser, and I had not missed much of anything (except an old friend getting engaged - congrats!). The next logical step is to stop sharing things on Facebook. For the better part of a year, I have prided myself on doing my sharing almost exclusively through third-party avenues (because I want control over my data, and I am a social network hipster), and the only step left is to stop.

Why do I go back, even to share? Because everyone else is there. Facebook has been around for eons in Internet Time. In the beginning, it functioned more like an actual "face book", which people did not update daily. However, it was still people you actually knew and wanted to keep up with. Those roots continue to reinforce themselves over time as you build a digital archive of yourself, but what is left is a gargantuan filter bubble. It is much harder to break out of a filter bubble of people you know IRL, which Facebook knows. That is why the point of the site was lost somewhere between the immediate, actual, meaningful connections and "Your friends like Diet Coke, you should too!" (Of course, this could all change in a week.)

The laundry list of things Facebook actually does is pretty impressive until you consider that several other places offer the same service, usually better. General status updates work very well on Twitter; if it is longer than 140 characters, get a blog. Dropbox, Flickr, and Picasa all offer picture storage and sharing, with the added bonus of export. Instant messaging can be done with GTalk, iMessage, or the mother of all internet communique: email. Link sharing and other content curation are Tumblr's forte. Foursquare has check-ins locked down. Personal moments meant to be shared with only close friends and family can be set up easily in Path or Google+. In fact, G+ does pretty much all of this, and shares it more intuitively than Facebook.

Lifehacker beat me to it, but the way Facebook has adapted their advertising is annoying, albeit nefariously intuitive. Ads themselves are not all that bad. The service has to make money somehow. Google is basically an advertising company, but aside from the search results page it is generally unobtrusive, and the service is good enough that it warrants forgiveness. Almost all the services mentioned are ad-supported, and the alternative to that is paying your own way with something like App.net.

So, for those visiting from my Facebook link, welcome to my page. You may see it pop up occasionally on my FB feed in the future, but independence has to start somewhere. One last cleanup of various outdated likes and other personal details, and I will be on my way. This is a break, not a full-on deletion (because how else will I occasionally use Spotify?). And if they change and improve somehow, I will gladly eat these words.

How to Share Online

2 min read

I keep wrestling with when and how to leave Facebook (and actually have a long draft in progress for when I finally do). But where does one go now? What are the other options?

Well, Twitter was my first thought. But I have almost always used third-party clients to access Twitter, and they have been dicks about that lately. In fact, the developers of my favorite Twitter clients (Falcon Pro and Carbon for Android) held a G+ hangout just yesterday to discuss the token limit situation. I hardly ever tweet from the desktop, but even that is better with third-party apps like Tweetbot (I'm not counting Tweetdeck, which was awesome until Twitter bought it and then totally neglected the Android client).

Google+ is another possible outlet. It manages to have all the features of Facebook (and does a few of them better) without the squicky feeling that they will always step on my privacy. That is an implicit issue with Google, but that has always been their modus operandi: fantastic services in exchange for advertisement. However, Google+ also feels like an endpoint. It is a place where items I share can end up, but I can't take them and move them elsewhere, like Wordpress.  Twitter and FB suffer from this as well (I haven't investigated Tumblr as much, but I fear the same).

But then yesterday's App.net news came, and it is starting to sound better and better. Smaller community, great global stream, built-in storage, developer friendly, and user-first. It hits all the right buttons. I may have to give this a try.

There will come a time when we all host our own data and are able to share it however we choose. Until then, I will continue being a social network hipster.

Driving (and) Innovation

3 min read

I am getting sick of driving. I have to commute for an hour at the beginning and end of each work day. That means, if you don't live on the eastern seaboard or in a major metropolis, a lot of time behind the wheel. I realize there are ways to avoid this. Carpooling is always an option, or I could move or switch jobs. But, because I am lazy and introverted, I tried to imagine other ways to get to work, like public transportation. Northern Indiana is not quite a bastion of public anything, which makes this strictly imaginary. But why is this still imaginary?

Countries in Europe and Asia benefit greatly from high speed rail. According to the NYT (via Gawker), "in many countries with good public transportation, driving is a pleasure rather than a necessity." The cynic in me thinks it hasn't caught on here because of our automotive industry (which there is plenty of in north central Indiana). How can they sell cars if there are other viable transport options? Competition should force these car companies to produce better cars, in theory. Of course, it also means change, which is scary.

I was a little bewildered to find out that the idea had been proposed and soundly rejected. This rejection was probably for all the wrong reasons, but I don't want to try to sort out the politics of it. California has recently decided to fund its own high speed rail, after several rejections of its own. So it is catching on somewhere, but it is not catching on fast enough, for all the wrong reasons (as mentioned above).

Monopolies, from the automobile in America (it's a stretch, but not much) down to local cable companies, have a horrible effect on innovation. From a consumer standpoint, they are like an economic cancer to the development of new ideas. However, from a business standpoint (which is pretty much its own religion in this country), profit is your endgame. Building a monopoly should bring on a zen-like state of enlightenment. It is a place where the goals of capitalism fall out of sync with those of the common person, and having the free market try to overthrow a monopoly is a task of Herculean proportions.

The inspiration for this line of thought was this Verge piece about wireless carriers. I didn't want to write another post about phones, but it makes a fantastic point. Apple completely reinvented the concept of a phone, and it still was not enough to disrupt the amount of sway US carriers have over device manufacturers.  This would be like, instead of purchasing an SUV to drive on steep mountain roads, the road saying it only accepts Jeep™ vehicles.

In the meantime, I will keep paying exorbitant prices for fuel, and keep passing the SUVs with a single passenger on my 2-lane-highway commute, and think about moving to California.

Privacy

2 min read

The amount of people that do not (or even choose not to) understand modern technology and the internet is bewildering. I see it day to day at work (my company thinks it is a "tech" company! Cute) and from the people elected to make laws. I remember a TA in a software engineering course tell us about an internship he had in which he automated all his work in the first couple days using a few Python scripts. This gave him a free summer to goof around. Menial tasks can generally be avoided these days.

I guess that is why CISPA bothers me. It seems like a step in the right direction from SOPA, but that step mostly benefits the intermediaries handling user information, not end users themselves. Internet communication is (generally) free speech, and expecting to know who can see your data seems reasonable enough. But the people writing the laws do not see this perspective; they see terrorists and scofflaws (always wanted to use that term) that must be stopped at all costs, and the internet as a readily governable entity. If you can't obtain a warrant for that information, then why do you need it?

The bottom line is just understanding what you are getting into when you are sharing data online. Microsoft keeps calling out Google for this, and the only reason it gains any traction is from the personification of Google reading your email. Putting any rational thought into that renders it absurd (how many people would they have to hire to read every Gmail account?). Part of the reason I started this blog, besides having a place for longform thoughts, is that I don't really trust Facebook with my data that much to begin with. Ever since they went public, they have seemed a little desperate about finding new ways to monetize my data. I would like to use that data to interact with people instead of with more computers. And if I would like it to be private, it should be private.