Technology: Category Archive

Posts about technology in all its forms

2014 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous (and the Funny)

I missed this in 2013, and this is not a 3-post series as usual. Instead of writing a lot about each topic, I'll give a short reason I categorized it where I did. Please make no assumptions or conclusions about what I don't say; the fact that people are so apt to do that should probably make the “Bad” list, but not this year. Since this is a single post, we'll lead with…

The Good

  • No Terrorism at World Stage Events - 2014 saw the Winter Olympics in Russia and the World Cup in Brazil. Neither were marred by terrorism.
  • 16 Out of 20 Ain't Bad - Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood did not want to provide coverage for 4 of the 20 forms of “birth control” mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as they work post-conception (an “abortofacient”). The Supreme Court agreed, in a rare victory for religious freedom.
  • Plummeting Oil Prices - In spite of the current administration's best efforts, our economy overcame them. The “Drill, Baby, Drill” crowd was vindicated, as an explosion in US oil production caused prices to drop substantially. Fracking has enabled this boom while preserving the environment, and the drop in prices has hit hostile-to-us oil-based economies hard. It's a big win-win that progressives still can't thoroughly grasp.
  • Republicans Win Control of Congress - This is a qualified “good” entry, assuming that they'll govern as they ran. Hey, there's a first time for everything, right?
  • Tennessee Football Rises - Playing an SEC schedule and non-gimme out-of-conference games with the youngest team in FBS is a recipe for a 3-9 season; the Vols made it 6-6 (and, since this is written after their bowl, 7-6) and have great momentum for 2015.

The Bad

  • The Deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner - Neither the Brown nor Garner families had loved ones with them this Christmas that they had last Christmas. There may be speculation as to the incidents surrounding their deaths (and neither are going to trial, so we'll likely never fully know), but even the public knowing every little detail of what happened will not bring these young men back to their families.
  • Colorado Going to Pot - The first year's experiment with legalized marijuana has not gone well. Assurances that children will not be able to easily get it have evaporated, and nearly all the tax money it's generated has gone to enforcement. Their governor caught some heat for saying that the citizens acted foolishly, but the facts certainly indicate he was correct in his assessment.
  • Ebola - 2014 was the year Ebola came to America. While there were some ridiculous things with how it was handled, the bad was limited, with some who contracted the disease surviving, and a new set of medical protocols helping to protect those who care for people.
  • ISIS - Nearly 10 years after being freed, Iraq fell back into enslavement thanks to a group coming in to make a hostile takeover, combined with an army that was not willing to fight for what it had won. Islamic law marches on, while Christians die, in a place where thousands of Americans gave their lives to win freedom.
  • Russian Aggression Versus Ukraine - Russia invaded and took over part of another sovereign nation. They do not appear to be done yet.

The Ridiculous

  • The Handling of the Death of Michael Brown / The Reaction to the Brown Grand Jury Verdict / The Reaction to the Garner Grand Jury Verdict - Ferguson and Missouri police handled the initial aftermath of Brown's shooting about as poorly as you could. The riots once the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson were unnecessary and unhelpful (and unwanted by Michael Brown's family), and the “Hands Up Don't Shoot” gesture would have been impactful had it been based in verified fact (which it was not). This was also the case where “unarmed teen” is supposed to imply harmless, peaceful, law-abiding child, but video showed a certain store owner who would dispute that characterization. Once the Garner verdict came out, there were die-ins all across the country, proving nothing, but inconveniencing people who had nothing to do with anything surrounding the case. Two dead New York policemen and one in Florida, at last reports, still hadn't brought Michael Brown or Eric Garner back to their families. (If I have a chance, there will be much more on this in my MLK post.)

    p.s. ALL lives matter.

  • Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Missing E-mails - Under oath, and subpoena from Congress, IRS chief Lois Lerner claimed to have lost her e-mail. This was after other e-mails came out that pretty much confirmed their deliberate targeting of conservative groups leading up to the 2012 election. While those e-mails were “found” toward the end of the year, this Watergate-esque dodge was pathetic. IT does not work that way, and if it does, those people need to be fired.

  • Computer Security - This was a bad year for computer security. “HeartBleed,” “Shell Shock,” and “Poodle” were names given to long-existing exploits that were discovered in the software that runs much of the Internet. Target fessed up about how large their breach was, and Home Depot let a lot of customer information get away as well. Finally, targeted attacks released iCloud data from celebrities, while an (internal? North Korean? We don't know yet…) attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment released salaries, movies, even e-mails among leaders and actors. (Maybe we should sic the Guardians of Peace on the IRS!) Hopefully some good will come of this; if nothing else, it will make people think about security before they trust a “cloud” service with their information.

  • Kaci Hickox - Kaci is a nurse who was exposed to Ebola. She defied quarantine, though, and created a lot of concern. While she ultimately was not found to have the disease, her foolish, selfish actions stirred up a lot of concern in her community. As a medical professional, she should have known better. But, of course, if she had, then her name wouldn't be on some random guy's blog in a year-in-review post, would it?

The Funny

Continuing his tradition which he didn't miss last year, Dave Barry has his take on the year's events.

Here's to 2015 - let's hope it's a good one!

CNN Is Racist and Dumb

Sounds harsh, but what else am I to make of this picture?

A screen capture from CNN's home page, showing a person in a hoodie hunched over a keyboard, with the caption “5 scary new hacks” First off, the dumb part. Why would a computer hacker, hacking computers across a network, need to obscure his face? (In CNN's defense, they're not the only ones to use dumb pictures to caption hacking.) Companies like CNN have smart technology people writing for them, as well as freelancers and others. Why does this type of image persist? Look at Kevin Mitnick, Dan Kaminsky, Meredith L. Patterson, or Shawn Fanning (creator of Napster, but branded by non-tech people as a hacker, or worse). Do any of those look like “hackers” to you? This metaphor makes people more likely to not believe it when they actually see a hacker.

And second - a hoodie? Are you serious, CNN? Weren't you lecturing us a scant two weeks ago on how people in hoodies were perfectly fine? They were as pure as the wind-driven snow, representing everything that is right with the country, and people who thought otherwise were terrible racists? How do we know this guy isn't just updating Facebook on a public computer before he makes his way home from the convenience store? But, no - you definitely have him portrayed as the bad guy in this image. You are convicted by your own words; shame on you, CNN. I'll be waiting for your apology (but I won't be holding my breath).

2010 Year in Review: The Good

This post begins (and ends) my look back at 2010 called “2010 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” If you've been reading them as I posted them, this is the end; if you're new, just keep scrolling, and all three posts are there in order. What follows is a non-exhaustive list of the things I considered good in 2010.


Toward the end of October, a Firefox plugin called Firesheep was released. This plugin illustrated a gaping security flaw in the way a large number of sites handle trusted communications. While the media reaction was negative, with accusations of this being a hacker tool, I think it's a good thing. Firesheep didn't create the problem, but it did illustrate, in vivid detail, how easily non-secure web traffic can be intercepted and impersonated. With the explosion of Facebook (which does login securely, then switches back to insecure, and has not changed as of this writing) over this past year, the time was right to remind people that there are serious flaws that need to be addressed.

I should note, for those unfamiliar with this whole scenario, this only affected open, unencrypted Wi-Fi points; if you're connected to a secured wireless network or a switched wired network, the plugin wouldn't be able to see your traffic. In response to the plugin, many sites have begun enforcing or offering an always-encrypted (https) connection to their sites. Also, note that WEP-secured networks are now able to be broken in less than a minute - WPA or WPA2 is what you want to use to secure your wireless network.

Forest Home

I don't know if Forest Home Christian Camp in Forest Falls, CA was better-than-ever in 2010, as 2010 was the year I became acquainted with it; however, I can state unequivocally that 2010 was a great year to attend Forest Home's family camp! We checked in on a Sunday and checked out on a Saturday, and were blessed from the time we got there until the time we left. Worship, eating, hiking, exploring, a night-time zip line - and that was just the first 36 hours. They have a lake (fed from melting snow - refreshing!), several hiking trails, swimming pool with diving boards, mini-golf course, as well as a game/lounge area with pool and ping-pong tables. If you're looking for activities, they've got it.

But what made the week there such an amazing week was the quiet times. There was singing and teaching in the morning with the director, Kent Kraning, and singing and teaching in the evening, let our week by Dr. Erik Thoennes of Biola University. Other than those times (where all age groups had their own programs), there were hikes before breakfast, family devotion times after breakfast, free time in the afternoons between lunch and dinner, and time after the evening sessions where you could reflect on what you'd heard. One of their core values is solitude - getting away from the noise so that you can hear God speak. I presented a laundry list of activities, but through the campground, there were benches and seats where you could just stop, sit, think, and pray. It's amazing how clearly God can speak when you unplug for a week and listen. I pray that 2010 is only the beginning of many years of family camp at Forest Home.

Personal Fitness

2009 was the year I got my head right, and 2010 was the year my body followed. The scale said I was 17 pounds lighter at the start of 2011 than I was at the start of 2010, and I can tell that I'm in the best shape of my adult life (possibly excluding the month or so immediately after basic training). The big change in 2010 was the way I view food - food is fuel, not fun. We used to celebrate everything with food as a central focus - birthdays, holidays, date nights, even fitness achievements. I have actually celebrated passing a fitness test by going to Outback Steakhouse for an order of Aussie Cheese Fries. How ironic and self-defeating is that? The quantity of food that I now eat is less than half of what I used to eat, and I'm still consuming enough calories that I have the energy to exercise. Of course, I'm not perfect - occasionally I will have more than I know I should, but it's still nowhere near the huge amount of food I used to eat.


NASCAR in 2009 was a two-horse race between Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano) and Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). 2010 saw the resurgence of Richard Childress Racing (Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer) and Roush Fenway Racing (Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, and Greg Biffle), and steady improvements in Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray). That's a lot of driver names, and while some of them weren't title-competitive this year, the teams are becoming more and more balanced. Every year brings new rules to which teams must adjust, so 2011 is still up in the air; however, the parity that existed in 2010 is a good thing for the sport, and makes for good races for its fans.

2010 Year in Review: The Bad

This is the middle post of my three-post “Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” The linked words in that title will take you to the other two posts. Here are the things that I considered bad in 2010.


Wikileaks began as a whistleblower website, where people could release information about injustices. In 2010, they made a leap into classified government documents. Purportedly stolen by PFC Bradley Manning, these documents were not only embarrassing for some government agencies, the information contained in those documents identified informants and other non-public allies in the War or Terror. While the creator of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is currently in custody (due to some somewhat-questionable sex crime charges), there is little legal enforceability on a citizen of another country disclosing secrets of another. Several US companies have severed ties with the site, and kudos to them for that; however, I believe that the net result of this will be bad.


What I've identified as the most ridiculous quote of 2010 (“We have to pass the bill to find out what's in it”) was spoken in reference to this bill. Going by the formal name of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (colloquially known as “Obamacare”), this bill enacted many reforms to our health care system, most notably in the area of insurance coverage. The bill mandates that all people purchase and retain health care insurance (a provision already rule unconstitutional), stipulates that insurers must cover preexisting conditions and may not drop insured people for certain conditions, and provides for the creation of a public co-op. There may be more, but at 1,300+ pages, who knows?

We are already seeing the unintended consequences of this legislation. Insurance rates are going up, with many companies raising rates 25% or more. This shouldn't catch anyone by surprise; what is called “insurance” in the bill is more like a membership. Insurance is a bet against bad things happening, which is the entire reason preexisting conditions aren't covered. Where's the bet when you know the outcome? Insurance rates are not designed for this type of use. (Conspiracy theorists could speculate that those who passed the law knew this. They really wanted public control, but the people didn't want it - instead, they passed a bill that will bankrupt the insurance companies. Then, who rides in to save the day? Liberal government!)

Insurance is but one of the problems with this bill; there are many others where the unintended consequences outweigh the intended benefits. Hopefully, the 112th Congress can undo this monstrosity before most of its provisions become effective. Until then, though, this remains on the bad list.

The FCC Implements Net Neutrality

“Net neutrality” is the concept that network service providers (ISPs, cell carriers, etc.) must treat all network traffic equally. This means that they cannot favor certain types of packets (ex. their own video streaming) while slowing down other packets (ex. competitors' video streaming, voice over IP). While, on the surface, this sound good, it fails to take into account bandwidth considerations, and the consequences of that bandwidth being used up. A TV signal can be broadcast through the air, and whether one TV or a million TVs receive the signal, the signal is the same; however, the same signal received over the Internet must be duplicated once for each end point receiving it - it is a request-response network. It's not as cut-and-dried of an issue as some of its more ardent supporters would like to paint it.

Congress has failed to implement net neutrality legislation, and courts have ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has no jurisdiction to implement it on its own. That didn't stop the intrepid FCC, which issued net neutrality guidelines near the end of the year. Hopefully 2011 will find these regulations to be unenforceable; as it stands now, though, these regulations are bad, and have the potential to slow innovation around the network.

Inbox Zero with Gmail

Here a while back, I had tried to get to Inbox Zero, and succeeded for a while. However, things happen, and with multiple inboxes, Inbox Zero was a memory. While I've been at the hospital with Michelle, while she rests, I've used tools provided as part of Gmail to integrate my personal and two business e-mail accounts, as well as my Gmail account, which I started using a few months ago as my primary e-mail address.

Before we dig in, let's talk about Inbox Zero. It's basically Getting Things Done applied to e-mail. In GTD, you collect everything that's on your mind (which an e-mail inbox does by default). Once you have all these loose ends collected, you “process” them - you either deal with it (if 2 minutes or less will do it), defer it (which can involve prioritizing), or delegate it. E-mail “processing” is different from what we usually do when we sit down to an inbox with 400 message, 285 unread, looking for subject lines with things to which we can respond in the short time we have. Processing's goal is an empty inbox; to look at every thing and make some decision with it. This brings clarity, because a good bit of the noise will be quieted. Then, when you have time to “do” e-mail, you start with your highest priority, and work your way down. (Of course, there's a little more to it - I just summarized an entire book in a few sentences.)

Here's a screenshot, to prove that I got there. :) It also illustrates how Gmail can help you get there and stay there - labels, conversations, filters, and search.

A screenshot showing an empty Gmail inbox

The first is labels. Within Gmail, messages can have one or more labels; in fact, “Inbox” is a label as well. This allows messages to be identified with the topics addressed, as well as a priority. “1 | Pending”, “2 | Follow-Up”, and “Scouting” are labels in the image above. There is an experimental feature (that seems to work well) that shows or hides the labels in that list based on whether there are any unread conversations in that label. Labels are displayed in alphabetical order, so starting the priority labels with a number sends them to the top of the list. With an e-mail folder (or a file folder), you can't file something in more than one place at a time. However, with labels, you can have a single message labeled with several labels; in fact, one of the messages in “1 | Pending” is also the unread message in “Scouting”. Using read/unread as a status is a help, too; of course I've read the e-mail, but by marking it as new after I had applied the labels to it, it increments the number beside the label in the list (and makes the label show). I can then “archive” it (remove it from the inbox), and I have a reminder of what I need to do.

The second is conversations. Gmail groups all e-mail communications into conversations, and sent and received messages are stored together. This means that you don't have to go plowing through your “Sent” folder to find the message; assuming you labeled it, the entire back-and-forth e-mail exchange is right there in that label's list of messages. It works great for mailing lists, personal e-mails, etc. The only thing I haven't found it working well for is Facebook e-mail notifications; it groups them by subject line, so all the “this-person commented on your status” messages get grouped, and they're not in the order that they are on Facebook. However, that hasn't really bothered me too much.

The third is filters. This is where Gmail would earn its price, if it weren't free. Filters are run against messages as they are received. The most common options I've used in filters is “Skip the Inbox” and “Apply this label” - using those two options, you can make a filter that automatically delivers e-mails to your labels, without you even having to take action to process them! All my daily/weekly e-mails and newsletters are now delivered to “3 | To Review” - the only time I see them is when I say “OK, now I have time to check up on news” and click on the label. I've also created filters for all the ads I've started getting for the sites where I bought that one thing some time ago, and now I get all their ads; I decided against completely deleting them (in case I'm looking to buy something and want to see these e-mail specials), but it's easy to click a label, click “select all”, then click “Delete”. Additionally, if I find myself dealing with the same type of e-mail more than once, I take the do-it-in-two-minutes-or-less route and create a filter for that message; instead of working to get one e-mail done, it's work that will enable future e-mails to be done more quickly.

The fourth is search. How many times have you wanted to “Google” within your e-mail? In Gmail, messages can have any number of labels (or none at all), can be read or unread, starred, etc. In fact, archived with no label is the equivalent of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. However, with their search (you can see the box near the top of the screen shot), you can search all of your messages, including archived message, very quickly. You can also use it to search for e-mails from or to a specific contact. Knowing that search is there can help relieve you of the stress of making sure you apply lots of labels; you can find what you need, when you need it. Want to keep an e-mail? Archive it. You'll never see it until it comes up in a search result and you think “Man, I'm glad I saved that!” Also, searches return conversations, so you have your results in their context.

As a side note, you can also see that, even with one of my accounts that collects zipped database archives every day, I'm only using 4% of my allotted space (near the bottom of the screen shot). This is all my processed e-mail from the past three years, complete with messages I've kept for historical reasons.

The one thing I have yet to do is connect my BlackBerry with this account (Gmail supports IMAP), but that's only because I can't remember my login from a year ago. :) And, because of the Facebook issue I mentioned earlier, I have Facebook e-mails still going in the inbox; once I do connect this account, it will let the BB Facebook app use its integration with the BB inbox. However, these messages are labeled automatically so that I can search that label, then delete my search results.

So, there it is - from chaos with 4 different inboxes to a unified, automatically-filtered organization system in less than two days. The filter and label system are a system I can trust to tell me what the next thing is that I need to do. I even found a feature request for one of my websites while I was processing the imported e-mail, and got it implemented in about 10 minutes. Now I'm ready to GTD!

Paying for Facebook: A Lesson in Economics

This is the first time my blog and Facebook accounts have crossed. If you're not a member of Facebook, you may not know exactly what I'm talking about. However, you know my enjoyment of economic discussions, and this is a good learning opportunity.

Recently, several of my Facebook friends joined a group called “We Will Not Pay for Facebook.” They're not alone - this group boasts over 4.4 million members. The group had articles referring to the profit that the current owner is making on the site, and various purchase offers. Then there was this…

Because of Facebook's huge popularity Mark Zuckerberg is getting a lot of offers from people wanting to buy Facebook. People Who WILL turn it into a paysite.

The assumption here is that if anyone buys the service, they will change it to a pay site. This is FUD*, and to illustrate this, we'll look at Facebook compared to another site, Classmates.

What makes Facebook valuable is its large (and exponentially growing) user base. Facebook can charge advertisers a premium for ads placed there, and if they make it paid-per-view, they make even more money, because they get lots of eyes on them. There are people who, like me, pay for very few websites (the only one I'm currently paying to use is Geocaching), and were Facebook a pay site, would not have signed up it. With this high user base, and high business value, comes the innovation - while few people I know like the new “stream” home page, there are things that Facebook can do that few other sites can match.

Contrast this with Classmates - this site has been up longer than Facebook, does pretty much the same thing as Facebook, yet is nowhere near as hot a commodity or as valuable a business as Facebook. Why is this? The fee model. Classmates requires a fee for an account (or at least they did when I looked at them, which hasn't been recently).

If someone bought Facebook and changed it to a fee model, it would kill the business value of the site. Sure, you'd have people who got addicted to the free stuff and would pay to maintain their addiction, but you'd have other people (myself included) who would simply let the account go. I have other ways of doing pretty much anything that site can do. It's nice to have it all in one place, but it's not worth $3.95/mo to me. All this would severely stifle the growth of the site, thereby reducing its business value.

If this happened, there would then be demand - demand for another free bring-it-all-together social networking site. The entire science of economics is defined as the study of the allocation of scarce resources. Demand causes resources to be allocated - whether it was “iShare,” or “Friends and Family,” or “Facepedia,” some other site would sprout up that would provide the services that Facebook used to provide.

That being said - I don't see Facebook going to a fee model, whether it changes hands or not. It just doesn't make economic sense. And, if the owners decide to go that route, it still won't be a big deal, as something else will rise up to replace it. Don't believe the FUD. :)

* Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt - rumors of impending doom not based in fact

How NOT to Use PowerPoint

Anyone who has sat through PowerPoint presentations can identify with this guy. This should be required viewing for all people who create these presentations, especially security briefings… (I haven't laughed this hard in a long time!)

(Hat Tip - Morgan Freeberg of House of Eratosthenes)