Purveyor of fine tripe since 1999
Saturday, April 4, 2015
SpaceX PicturesSpaceX is a is a relatively new rocket company, founded in 2002 and carrying payloads into space since 2009. They've been competing successfully with Boeing, Lockheed, Ariane, and Russia. The SpaceX launch vehicles have been privately developed from the ground up, and do not rely on cold war missile technology.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently announced that their launch and space photos would be freely available to the public, and put them on Flickr. However, the Creative Commons license on Flickr had some restrictions on commercial use. After some back and forth, Flickr and Creative Commons added a Public Domain license, and SpaceX now has their photos on Flickr under the public domain. Just like this Junkmail, you can copy the heck out of them!
Air TravelAirless travel, too. Barry Wilmore, Alexander Samokutyaev, Elena Serova flew into Kazakhstan a few weeks ago. They came from space. They were on the Space Station almost six months.
Adware, Malware, Viruses, and TrojansThe definitions are of these terms nebulous, ill-defined, and changing, so I'll skip that part. They all refer to software inadvertently installed on your computer that does things you don't want it to.
You can acquire malware from a browser, email, or, occasionally, directly from the source:
Actually, these are the websites of a couple of my toddlers. They're probably clean. But what about gmail? A few days ago an Egyptian company called MCS Holdings issued some invalid electronic security certificates that allowed people to set up fake web sites for several Google domains. This, in turn, allows people to intercept traffic meant for the Google sites and grab usernames, passwords, and other information.
Google responded by removing the Chinese certificate authority (who MCS used to get the bogus certificates) from its list of trusted certificate issuers in Chrome and other Google products. Firefox will be following suit when version 37 is released. This is actually a pretty big deal, because a lot of banks e-commerce sites will not be accessible by their customers.
You can also get malware by installing an application.
When you get an new application for your computer, you might pay money for it. If it's a free application such as Photo Mud or Chrome, it might be just fine. Or, instead of the user, you might be the product.
Many free applications track your usage and sell the data to marketers. That's how they make their money to fund product development (or, more often, product acquisition). This usually isn't such a big deal, because the marketing companies promise never to sell or release any personally identifiable data to third parties.
Sometimes the applications serve advertisements. This is distracting, and can bog down your internet connection. If you want to kill the ads from an application that does this, you can cut it off from the internet using the Windows Firewall (or another firewall, if you prefer).
Sometimes a legitimate application has adware or malware included in its installation file. It can be originally packaged that way, but often a download site will repackage the installation to include malware with the legitimate installation. It may be possible, but not obvious, how to opt out of these additional "free tools".
They do this to make money on your clicks. The majority of malware installed this way is used to get you to click on a link and go to a web site. The target site may legit, it may be a "click farm", or it may be a less friendly site that uses a Windows (or iOS or Android) vulnerability to add your computer to its botnet.
Once in a while, a computer manufacturer is kind enough to install malware for you at no additional charge.
These uninvited guests to your computer can be difficult to remove. Here's a process for Windows:
1. Press the Windows key and enter "Uninstall a Program", sort by installation date, and uninstall the ones you don't like that were installed the same time as your application. This will usually do the job, but not always.
1a. (You can skip this step if you want. It's a good shortcut if you're familiar with the Windows Task Manager and processes.) Press Ctrl-Shift-Esc and look at processes. Get rid of the bad ones. You can Google any questionable processes.
2. Adware frequently uses browser add-ons and extensions. To uninstall these, you can go to Settings, Extensions (Chrome), or Tools, Add-Ons, Extensions (Firefox) and get rid of what you don't like. You can just disable them if you're not sure. Google has recently banned about 200 adware Chrome extensions that they considered to be ill-behaved.
3. You can scan your computer with MalwareBytes (the free version) to get rid of any leftover malware. Malwarebytes occasionally gets a false positive, so just Quarantine (instead of deleting) the offending files until you're sure.
4. If nothing else works, you can use Combofix. I've never had it fail. It has a lot of warnings about making backups before you start, and requires some system restarts, but I've never had it kill a computer. It will get rid of persistent viruses, too, with the possible exception of some of the NSA's jewels. Reformatting the hard drive won't even remove these, unless you do a low-level format.
In the 1980's, before the Internet and Windows, we used to sell PC hardware. Once we got in a batch of hard drives infected with a variant of the Jerusalem Virus. It took a while to figure out where that was coming from! They required a low-level format, although that was not such a big deal at the time.
Occasionally you read about a site that has been "compromised", with their user names and other information stolen. You might wonder how many people have your email address or user information from these occurences. I might, too.
Luckily, we can go to haveibeenpwned.com to find out. They collect "harvested" illicit data, and you can their site search the database for your information. It will even tell you which sites you information was taken from, if any.
If you're on the list, you might need to change a password.
Formula EThe Tesla P85D is a fast electric car. It can go 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. That's fast!
Tesla now has a charging station at Arby's in Limon, Colorado. I saw this one night and couldn't figure out what it was for a while.
You can now race electric cars, in the Formula E series.
They're quiet! Check the video at the bottom of this link.
The batteries in Formula E cars are restricted in size and power. The cars are allowed to use significantly higher power in qualifying runs.
The batteries currently last only half the race. The race car standards make it impractical to change batteries, and charging a batter that big in a few seconds is not really practical (yet). Since it takes two batteries to finish the race, each driver changes cars in the middle of the race. That seems a little strange.
There's an electric car entered in this year's Pike's Peak race, too:
I think electric cars are pretty cool. I might have to get one when they go farther and charge faster.
April Fool?After years of NSA hacking and eavesdropping across the globe, the U.S. has threatened anybody else who does the same. On April Fool's Day.
Don't worry. The NSA is going on the offensive.
It's actually a little more serious that I'm letting on. According to the new rules, Wikileaks may be considered a terrorist organization because they published information on the TPP trade agreement.
The U.S. Government has kept the trade agreement secret during negotiations for "reasons of national security." Even so, the government calls the TPP a transparent and open agreement. In fact, it will infringe on free internet and should not be implemented, in my opinion.
Guardian’s publication of contractors’ involvement in NSA hacking could also define the news organization as a terrorist organization, subject to NSA hacking, water boarding, and free flights under the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.
Software UpdatesMost people agree that it's a good idea to keep Windows or other operating systems up to date. Some applications should also be regularly updated, such as web browsers. Other applications provide updates in order to facilitate user data collection and advertising. These are not so important to update.
Many applications try to do automatic updates, whether you want them to or not. Some give you the option during installation, but others sneak it in, mentioning only in the EULA. I do not like this. If I want an application to update itself on my computer, I'll tell it when and how to do it.
It slows my computer down significantly when a bunch of applications are trying to update at once, particularly whenever I have a slow internet connection. I regularly disable the auto update features of most of my PC software. I say regularly, because some applications reverse my option settings and begin their auto-updates without my permission, a behavior I consider highly rude.
On March 13 German minor-league pro basketball team ran into a problem with Windows updates (and probable some others) slowing their computer's boot time. It took almost 2 hours to finish the updates. This computer happened to be the laptop that handled the scoreboard. This happened to be just before a game. The game was delayed 25 minutes. The opponents protested, resulting in the home team being demoted into a lower division of the minor leagues.
You can check which applications run automatically on your Windows computer by running msconfig (hit the Windows key and enter msconfig), and look at the startup tab. On mine, I have disabled automatic updaters from Adobe, Apple, Installshield, iTunes, Quicktime, and Spotify, among others. Some auto updaters are also activated in the Windows Task Scheduler. Others, such as Adobe Acrobat Updater, run as services and are a little harder to figure out.
Cell Phone EncryptionThe FBI wants you to encrypt your cell phone, except when the encryption is secure. The FBI web site recommends that consumers encrypt and password protect cell phones.
Well, I'm exaggerating a bit. They used to recommend that. The FBI recently announced the end of civilization as we know it if Apple and Google don't provide a "back door" that the government can use to access encrypted cell phones. The FBI unsurprisingly referred to the traditional three evils commonly used to generate public outrage and drum up support for the next infringement of personal freedom: child pornography, drug dealers, and terrorists. (I could go for it if they'd promise to get rid of spammers and patent trolls.)
The FBI has also, mysteriously, removed that part of their web site recommending consumer encryption of cell phones. Maybe the FBI boss doesn't realize that things on the web are generally available forever. He should read up on the Streisand effect.
The FBI boss also must not realize that if there is a backdoor in any security system, it will inevitably be used by the same people the security is there to block in the first place. Any back door is a security breach waiting to happen.
The former head of Homeland Security had never used email. Apparently the present FBI director has similar technical experience and acumen.
Drones"Drone" is a stupid name, in my opinion, unless you're referring to male social insects. It's a name for an unmanned aerial vehicle, including remote-control and autonomous airplanes, helicopters, quadcopters, and other aircraft sans humans.
That includes things like the large Global Hawk, Predator, Reaper, and other military unmanned aircraft, ...
...as well as small quadcopters and airplanes:
The small "drones" or UAVs differ from regular RC models in that they are autonomous. You can program them and tell them where to go before the flight. And they're cheap! A few hundred dollars...
... or a thousand or five for a top-of-the-line "aerial imaging platform":
However, if you work for federal security agencies such as the FBI (the FBI's primary function is no longer law enforcement), you might spend $2.1 million on a couple dozen non-functional UAVs. But if you ignore the fact that they don't work, it's only 100 times more than the market rate.
A few weeks ago I competed in a triathlon in Florida. I saw a quadcopter flying around. Here's the video. It's impressive. A few years ago this would have required a helicopter and been cost prohibitive for an amateur triathlon like this.
Before long, someone will figure out that they can put a small pistol on one of these and shoot into a crowd. The press and government over-reaction will be mind-blowing. We should enjoy the UAVs while we can.
Making MoneyWith modern technology, it is possible to print your own money. High quality counterfeit dollars have been in wide circulation since 1990. The U.S. and other countries have been changing currency to stay ahead of the counterfeiting technology, with plastic strips, magnetic ink, and 3D visualizations. The $100 bills issued in 2013 are pretty hard to duplicate.
If I decide to get into the counterfeiting business, where will I sell my fake money? On the internet, of course! Internet crime forums ("darknet" forums) that market stolen credit cards, botnets, and malware kits have recently seen a lot of activity in counterfeit money.
In fact, counterfeit money was even advertised on Reddit for a little while. The guy advertising didn't last long.
A 27-year-old guy from Texas named Ryan was arrested a few days ago in Uganda for counterfeiting millions of U.S. dollars. Apparently, the U.S. government isn't worried about getting custody of Ryan. They're happy to see him enjoy the hospitality of a Ugandan prison, and will prosecute him when and if he's released. It's an interesting story.
Ryan was identified using facial recognition against his Texas driver's license. Only a few years ago, facial recognition technology didn't work well enough to be practical, and I was known to poo-poo its use. Technology marches on!
A guy from Florida named Jose faked his death in 2013, but was arrested on March 21. When you apply for a passport, your photo gets run through a database of photos to make sure you're who you claim to be. Jose, going by the name Ernest, had applied for a passport and the computer matched the new passport photo to his original face.
Speaking of money, the Secret Service interrogation of Steve Wozniak is pretty funny. It took place sometime around 2000.
Newegg and PatentsI do a considerable amount of whining and complaining about patent trolls. Newegg does more than complain. I should give them more of my business.
Computer ProgramsA computer program is a set of logical instructions for a computer to execute, or run. Software is a name for computer programs, as opposed to hardware, which is the name for the chips, wires, circuit boards, and other parts of a computer that you can touch.
System software refers to programs that manage a computer system, and application software refer to programs that end-users use to do end-user work. Application software has been shortened over the years to "applications" or just "apps".
Now there are telephones with more computing power than mainframe computers of the 1970s. They also run computer programs. Application software on a phone or tablet is now called an app. Application software on a desktop or laptop computer is now called an application.
Of course, there are lots of variations on these ill-defined terms and they'll probably change in the future. It makes it hard for software developers to explain what they're selling, and hard for users to understand what they're buying.
Microsoft has gone a little off the deep end of the software naming precipice, at least when Mr. Balmer was in charge (until February 2014).
Microsoft decreed that, with Windows 8, their modern applications than run on pads and phones would hereafter be referred to as Metro. When that style was not appreciated by the masses, they decided to rename it rather than fix it. So Metro became Windows-8 Style. When they realized Windows 8 was getting a less than warm reception, they changed the name of their applications from Window-8 Style to Modern. And then to Windows Store. And then to Universal.
Under the new Microsoft boss, Mr. Nadella, Windows software for desktops and laptops is called Windows desktop applications, while tablet and phone software is called Windows apps. These names are recognizable and make a sense, so you can expect them to change soon.
Microsoft under Balmer seemed intent on doing what Balmer wanted, regardless of customer wants, needs, and expectations. This could be why Microsoft has such a small piece of the phone and tablet market. Windows still runs on about 90% of all desktops and laptops, although there has been some decline in their market share.
Microsoft has recently been making inroads in the tablet market with the new Surface tablets. They've improved a lot over the past year.
Turing AwardThere have been several recent books and a few movies about Alan Turing, the guy who led the team that broke the German Enigma encryption in World War II. He's pretty popular at the moment.
The Associate for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. Despite "Machinery" in the name, the ACM is actually more involved in software and computer science than in hardware and computer engineering.
The ACM began offering the Turing Award in 1966 for outstanding achievements in Computer Science. With Google's financial assistance, this year the cash prize of the Turing Award went up from $250,000 to $1,000,000. The award went to Michael Stonebreaker for his work in database systems.
Pictures of Today!There are plenty of photos and videos on the internet that are better than these, but these are here because a few people like them. Mostly, my mom. But she's important.
As usual, you're free to copy these for anything you want. Except for the music I pirated on one of the videos. While it was recorded in 1966, and as a sound recording doesn't fall under federal copyright protection, you will have to deal with the ghost of George Szell if you abuse his performance.
Lots of NZ photos: http://xpda.com/nz2015/
More Colorado photos at http://xpda.com/co30/ and http://xpda.com/co31/
More photos from Katahdin: http://xpda.com/katahdin2015/
I drove home by way of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Lotsa photos from the drive home:
Unrelated video on Mount Baldy, November 23, 2012: