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Dec. 5th, 2014

You Tried This Already

In October of last year, a “Chinese domain name service” contacted me to tell me that there was someone trying to register the domain of this blog- goeskaboominsanejournal to their company and telling me that in order to protect my “brand image” I would need to reigster the name myself. Guess what email I got again this morning? Yep. Same exact content as before, from the same exact guy with the same exact email address. Seriously? They must think I'm dumb as a rock. Well, I guess I can't blame them since the first time I got the email I fell for it and actually responded to it like it was legitimate.

Jim from the Shanghai Branch Office- like I said before, I don't wish you any ill will, but I'm not going to fall for this fraud. Everyone who's ever studied the Internet knows that in general you cannot register a domain name in a country that is not the one they live in, especially for personal use. You're not going to convince me otherwise. Fool me once and all that.

Sep. 5th, 2014

Hackergate


Since I seem to be unable to keep myself from getting into controversial topics lately... have a post on the leaked photos.

Currently, I'm taking a class on tort law, and yesterday our entire class period was dedicated to discussing this scandal. For those of you who must live under a rock, since it's been everywhere, some celebrities got their iCloud accounts hacked and their nude photographs leaked. Apparently, this is a Really Big Fucking Deal, because Jennifer Lawrence's naked photographs ended up on The Fappening. So now the FBI is involved (and really, they don't have anything better to do, like catch terrorists?) and there's talk of prosecuting everyone who downloaded the photos with sexual assault. I honestly don't think that's going to fly, unless someone downloaded the photos of the underaged girls who were included in the data breach, because the professor says that would fall under possession of child pornography. That said, she also said it would be likely for the underaged girls to be charged with creation and dissemination of child pornography, so maybe, maybe not. We'll just have to wait and see.

But because everyone has been freaking the fuck out about this, some even potentially bigger issues have gone completely unreported. Well, not completely. Back from my days in the IT world, I already knew about a website called Data Breach Today which chronicles important things that have been hacked. Have you heard about the Home Depot credit card information breach? Unless you read IT news or follow the business pages, probably not, because everyone's been lamenting the photographs. Did you know about the HealthCare.gov hack? Again, probably not, because while everyone has been hooting and hollering about Jennifer Lawrence's nudes, theyv'e ignored other things.

Hacking is bad, guys, don't do it, and don't go download stolen photographs. But I will be honest- I am more concerned with the credit card thefts than I am with the photo leaks.

Sorry if this post doesn't make a lot of sense... I've been having an allergy attack for the past few days and I can barely see straight. I took some medicine that's made me really loopy and it's kind of hard to type logically.

Apr. 10th, 2014

Temporary Lockdown

IJ may have been compromised by the “heartbleed” leak, so the Lawn is going temporarily offline until things have been resolved and I am certain that the data breach is no longer a threat. It may be nothing, but because of the severirty of the breach the Lawn will not be updated again until I can be sure that it's safe to do so.

Even though I am saying this, please do not panic. Amazon and the major credit card companies are okay, as are most banks. It is just that some websites may be threatened, and this is one of them. If you want to check on a specific site, use this link.

If you do need to contact me send me an email, like usual.

Dec. 30th, 2013

Simple Grammar Error or Actively Malicious?

So, one of the most important contributors to open-source computer science has been harassed to hell and back, causing him to drop out of the projects he was working on. His crime? Not realizing that in English, you can use a singular “they” as a pronoun and have it be grammatically correct. He did not think that changing a use of “he” to “they” in his code documentation was a big enough deal to make a fuss out of, and as a result, it set off this shitstorm.

Now, I might not be in CS anymore, but I can tell you one thing: if the documentation to some software said “he” instead of “he or she” or “they,” I most likely wouldn't even notice it, because if I'm reading documentation, I care more about what it is I'm reading than social justice linguistic issues. It's also worth noting that the guy who wrote the documentation does not have English as his first language. In many languages, it is impossible to use a non-gendered pronoun in singular, because it doesn't exist. In others, it is possible, but your writing would be incredibly confusing. In English, it is possible to use “they,” but it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that someone who is ESL wouldn't know that.

Even some people who do speak English as a first language don't know that. I got into trouble in a university-level English course because I used “he” as a generic pronoun. Well, I was taught in elementary school that using “he or she” is clunky, and “they” as singluar is grammatically incorrect. Now, I do use “they” in most of my writing, but it took a little time to get used to it. And English is my first language (well, for all intents and purposes it is). I do not have to try to overcome my first language's grammatical rules for this sort of thing, although I do when I speak Japanese or Spanish.

Unfortunately, this is not going to help the impression of women in technology. All it's going to do is waste time, energy, and piss off people who are actually doing something useful. It also reflects poorly. So you found a minor grammar error that could be construed as sexist, or, more likely, was the effect of someone who's first language isn't English, or even who was taught that singular “they” is grammatically incorrect. Simple logic dictates that the error was more likely unintentional rather than malicious, and the response of “why should I have to go back through all of my documentation to change one minor thing?” was more likely confused frustration than any actual malice. Now, did the guy handle it well? Absolutely not- he probably should have just changed the word without making a fuss. But I can understand why he did. As a woman, my first thought about the whole thing was "who cares about a damn pronoun in software documentation? I don't!" The reaction, on the other hand, was completely over the top and uncalled for.

Both sides come off badly here, but one comes off worse than the other. One side comes off as vicious and petty, while the other comes off as simply stubborn and kind of confused as to where all the vitriol came from.

Nov. 23rd, 2013

And We're Back

Yeah, I know the blog wasn't accessible for a few days. Squeaky, the admin of IJ, was transferring all the data to new, more robust servers and it took a while. With the amount of data on the IJ servers, it's pretty incredible that he was able to get it back up so fast- usually server transfers of this size either take four or five days, or it goes faster but something goes wrong and the “new, more robust” servers are anything but. Server maintenance can be a bitch, but Squeaky seemed to get the site through alright. I don't seem to have mysteriously dropped any posts, and with the exception of three user icons which I don't use really anyway, the Lawn seems to have come through alright.

Cheers, Squeaky!

Oct. 29th, 2013

In the past week, not only have my life plans basically evaporated, leaving me confused and irritated, I've now become the target of a scammer. I'm posting this here partially to shame the duckfucker, and also to help people avoid falling for the same situation. Apparently it's fairly common, and I actually made the mistake of responding to the first email. I thought it was legitimate at first, and then I started to think it was kind of suspicious and did some research. Here are the emails I received in their entirety:

Dear Manager,

(If you are not the person who is in charge of this, please forward this to your CEO,Thanks)

This email is from China domain name registration center, which mainly deal with the domain name registration in China and Asia. We received an application from Huahong Ltd on July 8, 2013. They want to register " goeskaboominsanejournal " as their internet keyword and China/Asia/Hongkong (CN/ASIA/HK) domain names. But after checking it, we find this name conflicts with your company. In order to deal with this matter better, so we send you email and confirm whether this company is your distributor or business partner in China or not?

Best Regards,

Jim
General Manager
Shanghai Office (Head Office)
[Address and phone numbers redacted]


I responded as though it was legitimate, thanking the guy for letting me know and saying that I am not a business, this is a personal blog, and that I do not have any business contacts in China. I thought that was the end of it, and then three days ago I got another email, this time from a different person: Jiang Zhifa.

Dear Sirs,

Our company based in chinese office, our company has submitted the " goeskaboomsanejournal " as CN(.cn/.com.cn/.net.cn/.org.cn) domain name and Internet Keyword, we are waiting for Mr. Jim's approval. We think this name is very important for our products in Chinese market. Even though Mr. Jim advises us to change another name, we will persist in this name.


Best regards

Jiang zhifa


By this point I had figured out it was a scam, and I did not respond to the email. I had read online that a few days after getting this email, I would be getting another email from the first guy, telling me that these people would be attempting to go ahead and register the domain name they had originally planned on using- my domain name, and that they would send me pricing information so that I could register it before they did.

In case you don't know, if you are not a company or individual based in China, you cannot register the .cn domain. That is for Chinese nationals only, not foreigners. That's how you know this is a scam- you can pay all the money you want but you will not be allowed to register with a .cn domain name if you're not Chinese. The exception to this is for big multinational corporations with Chinese customers (example: Microsoft). As I am not Microsoft, it's impossible for me to get a .cn domain name.

Sure enough, this morning I woke up to check my email, and here's what was there.

Dear [my name redacted],

Based on your company having no relationship with them, we have suggested they should choose another name to avoid this conflict but they insist on this name as CN domain names (.cn/.com.cn/.net.cn/.org.cn) and internet keyword on the internet. In our opinion, maybe they do the similar business as your company and register it to promote his company.
According to the domain name registration principle: The domain names and internet keyword which applied based on the international principle are opened to companies as well as individuals. Any companies or individuals have rights to register any domain name and internet keyword which are unregistered. Because your company haven't registered this name as CN domains and internet keyword on the internet, anyone can obtain them by registration. However, in order to avoid this conflict, the trademark or original name owner has priority to make this registration in our audit period. If your company is the original owner of this name and want to register these CN domain names (.cn/.com.cn/.net.cn/.org.cn) and internet keyword to prevent anybody from using them, please inform us. We can send an application form and the price list to you and help you register these within dispute period.

Kind regards
Jim


Jim, if you're reading this, I wish you no ill will, but I will not respond to any further emails. Go try to scam people somewhere else, since I'm not falling for it.

Aug. 30th, 2013

Mutually Assured Destruction

So, apparently Califorina's been having a problem with exes posting “revenge porn” online of the person who dumped them, and is considering making it illegal. Revenge porn, for those of you who don't know, is the practice of releasing nude photographs/sex tapes/the like of the former partner after the relationship goes south.

My take? Obviously you shouldn't be posting private videos and photographs of people without their permission. I think it's a pretty clear-cut invasion of privacy, especially when identifying information accompanies the photos (name, address, phone number, employer, bank account information, stuff like that). It is especially bad when the subject of the photo or the video is underage. In that case, the distributor should be prosecuted for creation/distribution of child pornography. In most cases, though, that already happens- at least it does where I live. It seems like every week there's another story in the news about some dumbass teenagers who decided to put their girlfriend's nude photos on the Internet and then they get arrested.

But I wonder, about the adults involved in this. Weren't they ever taught that you never let anyone do something to you that they're not willing to have you do to them? I thought that was pretty much common sense. But then again, common sense seems to be anything but common these days. It's the idea of “mutually assured destruction.” There's a reason countries don't send nuclear weapons flying at countries that also have nukes. It's the idea of “you nuke us, we nuke you back.” Mutually assured destruction. If your partner wants to take nude photographs of you, then you should only agree if they let you take photos of them first. If they end up posting them on the Internet? Then you post the ones you have on the Internet too. I guarantee the problem with disappear within six months.

Aug. 19th, 2013

GODDAMN UNIVERSITY

I swear to god, if I ever meet the jackass who decided it would be a brilliant idea to force an upgrade of the university's email system, and then put a fucking idiot in charge, I'm going to punch them in the face. Thanks to this fucker I can no longer access my email account, and I am getting error messages in fucking Hebrew. I cannot read Hebrew, and Google Translate seems to kind of suck and translating that language, because all i'm getting is a bunch of whaargarble when I try to translate it.

They always do this- they contract out the IT work to the lowest bidder, we end up with some moron bangning on a keyboard, and then the system becomes entirely unusable for a month or so. I've sent emails to the help desk, but considering they're the morons that fucked it up in the first place my hopes are not high that they'll be able to fix it. This is especially irritating because that email address is linked to my financial accounts. If I cannot access that email address, I am not getting information from my credit card company or Paypal.

FUCK. Just once I would appreciate it if the university could actually do something competent for a change.

Apr. 15th, 2013

Regarding Today's Attack

By now everyone is probably aware of the bombing that happened in Boston earlier today. It is critically important that if you are in Boston that you stay inside and do not congregate anywhere in large groups. The government is reporting that this is a terrorist attack, and large groups of people make good targets for the terrorists. It is also important that if you live in or near any major cities, and not just American ones, that you be extra careful over the next few days. I know London is already stepping up police presence in case something happens there.

But even more than that, I have two more things I want to say. If you live in Boston, their communications networks are experiencing periodic outages due to the high volume of people trying to use the cell phone bandwidth. I normally would not suggest this, but because it is an emergency and there are many people who are still waiting to hear from their friends and family that they are alright, consider unlocking your Wi-Fi so that people may be able to use it. If you are not comfortable doing that, and I can understand your feelings, at least tell the password to anyone who asks. You can change it or set it back up later, but right now I highly doubt that anyone in Boston is going to be going around war driving at the moment, you're probably okay to drop the WEP key. And in this case it could help people get in touch with their friends and family.

Secondly, while the government that is reporting that this is a terrorist attack, it is incredibly important that no one jumps to conclusions, and/or starts to panic. To use a very cliché phrase, if you panic, the terrorists win. That's what they want- they want to scare the shit out of people. By carrying out these attacks, the people they kill are not actually their primary target- they want to incite panic, although they don't give a fuck about anyone they kill in the process. Several news outlets have prematurely reported that there is a Saudi Arabian man in custody with connection to the attacks- this is false. There was a Saudi Arabian man who the Boston police and the FBI were questioning... because he said he'd seen something. He was not a suspect. Please do not jump to conclusions regarding the ethnicity, race, and motives of the attackers. I have already seen a lot of people pinning the blame on groups like Al-Qaeda. From what I heard on the radio, it is unlikely that Al-Qaeda is behind this, because they usually immediately release statements after any attacks they carry out. It is also important to note that this day has some significance for Americans. Today is Tax Day, when all Americans are required to file their income tax returns with the government, and is historically a day when extremists attack. It is also an important day in Boston, for reasons other than the marathon- it is a municipal holiday called Patriot Day, commemorating the American Revolution. Today also happens to be the birthday of the late Kim Il-Sung, former dictator of North Korea. Tomorrow, April 16, is the sixth anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting. In four days, it will be the 20th anniversary of the Waco, Texas siege, and the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. Of course, today could also have just been an arbitrary date chosen by the terrorists with no significance whatsoever. We don't even know if this was done by domestic terrorists, or foreign ones.

There are a lot of crazy people out there in the world. Whatever happens, whoever or whatever group is revealed to be behind the attack today, it is important that no one give into fear, because the terrorists win.

Apr. 5th, 2013

More Donglegate: Wait, where did the atheists come from?

Not too long ago I discussed the recent blow-up over at the Python programming language conference, where a woman named Adria Richards set off a shitstorm that dragged a whole lot of ugly- on both sides of the debate- to the forefront. At the time that I wrote that article, I hadn't entirely made up my mind on the controversy. Since then, I've read a lot of coverage of the incident and I think I've finally come to a position I can support. Adria Richards did not deserve the threats she received after the incident gained attention. That much is, I hope, obvious. However, the fact that she received threats and attacks on her personal character do not retroactively erase that she sort of did ignite the explosives, so to speak. I think it can be argued that her intentions were not entirely pure when she sent that tweet in an attempt to publicly shame the jokers. If she was truly upset by the joke, she could have done a number of things, including turning around and actually engaging the guys like an adult (you know, “using your words,” that thing you learned in kindergarten). If she truly felt that there was a threat to her well-being in a conference hall with 500 people around, she could have privately contacted the organizers of the convention and had them deal with it. There was no need to incite the mob with torches and pitchforks. That doesn't mean that she deserved what followed, but I also do not believe that she was entirely blameless in the whole debacle. Her share of the blame was miniscule compared to the trolls- I want to stress that, because some of the commentary on this will say that if you think she wasn't an entirely blameless, spotless little angel you are excusing the backlash. I am not excusing the backlash. She should not have gotten the backlash. But she was still wrong. Less wrong, quite a bit less wrong, than the trolls. But still not "right," if you will.

Anyway, this article today isn't really about my own personal thoughts. It's more about the fact that now the atheist blogosphere is getting involved in the controversy. Despite the fact that there was absolutely nothing in this incident that could be in any way connected to religion/lack of religion.

Wait, what?

Why are atheists getting involved in a tech sector controversy? How does this have anything to do with atheism as a movement?

But that's exactly what I've discovered has happened.

I first discovered this last night when I was actually searching for something entirely different. I was looking for information on yet another potential Grinch Watch post (seriously, people, it is not even summer yet! Calm down!), when I stumbled across this article, on an atheist blogging website. At first, I was extremely confused, but not too terribly concerned. Of course there's no law saying that if you're an atheist you can only ever blog about atheism. But in the content of that article, as well as within the comments, I realized something- there are certain factions of the atheist movement that... really don't have a whole hell of a lot to do with atheism anymore. I discussed it earlier this year when I stumbled across a not-so-atheist atheist forum called Atheism+.

My question is: why? I'm a secular person myself. Why does the atheist/skeptic/secular community, that ostensibly has no ties to the tech sector, need to get involved with these internal issues? I mean, I understand why- it's interesting and can lead to discussions. But why are people who are supposedly rational suddenly drawing lines in the sand over these sorts of things? I can understand the interest, but for the life of me, I cannot understand why it suddenly is a matter of life and death for the atheist community to take sides in this controversy. I was especially disheartened to read the commentary at Pharyngula, a blog I used to read, if you'll pardon the pun, religiously back during my angry questioning skeptic high school days. By the way, due to the fact that my nemesis lurks around there, I will not be linking to the Pharyngula post. It is, however, linked to from the SkepticInk post if you are curious. PZ Myers gets one thing right- there was no cause for the threats, racist attacks, DDoS-ing... but how in Longcat's glorious name does this have anything to do with atheism, and why is a prominent atheist blogger getting involved anyway?

Overall, the whole situation has left me extremely angry as a woman in the technology industry, in several ways, and utterly baffled by the peanut gallery of commentary this topic has brought out.

Oh, by the way, comments are disabled here again. I still don't want to host any more sub-fights of this particular battle. Nothing personal, just a plea for my own sanity. It's gotten to the point where the word "dongle" no longer has any meaning for me. It's like when you say the word "word" over and over again. Word word word word word word word wur-duh werd... it doesn't look like anything anymore and it no longer has any meaning.

This is all I'm going to write on the topic, as well. The whole thing depresses me.

Apr. 1st, 2013

Public Service Announcement

If, while you're reading this blog, there appear to be random links showing up on random words within the body of the text, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF THE INTERNET, DO NOT CLICK ON THEM. If you are not sure what is a legitimate link (since I do include links in some of my posts), hover your mouse over it and see if it pops up with anything. If it pops up with an advertisment, don't click it. If there's no advertisment and it seems to be a link to a news website or a fic, odds are I put it there. If you have questions leave me a comment, I'll respond ASAP as to whether or not it's an actual link.

There has been a malware attack on a whole bunch of websites, and the sites targeted range from the big names (Wordpress) to random little Etsy shops. Apparently InsaneJournal was one of them.While the malware in question, at least as far as I can tell, is more annoying than damaging, it can act as a “gateway” for worse malware to attack your system. In fact, if the hyperlinks are showing up at all, you may be infected already without even doing anything (Internet Explorer and Safari seem to be extremely vulnerable to this).

However, don't panic- there's an easy way to fix the problem. Avast Antivirus has created a browser cleaning tool that removes toolbars and browser-based malware. It works very well, I've already used it on my mother's computer and at work. You can download it here (and yes, that's a legitimate link).

I apologise for any inconvenience this has caused any of my readers. Believe me, I was pretty pissed when I found out about it myself. The Lawn is not, and never will be, malware-friendly.

Mar. 23rd, 2013

You're Not Helping

I wasn't going to blog about this.

I seriously wasn't. The topic of PyCon and Adria Richards doxxing two guys for laughing about the word “dongle” in public has been covered to death and saying anything about it is like poking a dragon in the eye- it won't end well. I know that by writing this I may have left myself somewhat vulnerable to loonies on either side of the debate. I wasn't going to cover this.

And then, it made Yahoo News, the lowest common denominator of the Internet.

A few of my readers like to come here to hear me talk about political stuff (although why, I've no idea, I'm not all that smart, to be honest). Some others like to hear me talk about computery stuff. Because this is the collision of computery and political stuff, well... it seems like it would be perfect for this blog.

For those of you who don't know what happened, last Sunday, an incident went down at PyCon, the official convention for the Python programming language. Two guys in the audience made a joke about big dongles (dongles are things you plug into the USB port on the computer- and yes, they are rather unfortunately named), and a comment about forking code. Forking code, although it sounds like an innuendo (“I'd fork HIS code!”) is actually a legitimate programming term- it refers to taking existing code and modifying it to fit a different project.

The woman sitting in front of them, Adria Richards, turned around, took a picture of the guys, sent it over Twitter with the comment that they were making obnoxious sexist comments. Then the Internet exploded.

Because I'm still trying to parse exactly what happened and the potential consequences this situation set off, I'm not going to make a final judgment one way or another yet. I am somewhat uncomfortable with the way that Ms. Richards handled this, because it has the potential to cause problems for women in IT fields. What kind of company wants to hire someone that they're afraid will end up costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits and lost revenue? But at the same time, no one should be obligated to put up with actual harassment... I just don't think two guys going “huehuehue... dongles!” is harassment. Dongle is funny word. I think everyone in the IT field has made a dongle joke at least once in their careers. Even people who aren't in IT who come across dongles generally think they're funny. The first time my mother ever got a Bluetooth enabled phone, my dad was trying to explain to her how it worked, and told her that if she wanted to transfer the data from the computer to the phone or vice-versa, she'd have to use the connectivity dongle because the computer didn't have a built-in Bluetooth connectivity. She responded the “CONNECTIVITY WHAT?!”

In the grand scheme of things, dongle jokes are harmless, and Richards overreacted.

But at the same time, no one should be getting threats.

I just really don't know here. I'm inclined to oppose what she did, but the way the Internet blew up isn't exactly a good thing, either.

I think the important thing to learn from this is that you shouldn't stick your nose into other people's business. Especially when it has nothing to do with you. Also, if you get a dad with three little kids laid off, the Internet is going to come after you with cacti and pitchforks.

I might write more on this eventually. I'm still just trying to process.

For context, here's some artcles from both sides of the issue, both from Forbes Magazine.

Quora aggreeing that she overreacted and opened herself up to legal issues

DeAnna Zandt disagreeing, saying thatshe did the right thing.

Also, comments are closed for this. It's nothing personal, I just don't feel like hosting yet another branch of this battle.

Jan. 12th, 2013

IMPORTANT: Fraud Alert

Yesterday, I heard about something that disturbed me a great deal, and because of the sensitive nature of this... issue, I cannot actually name-drop the “organization” responsible- they are running a targeted harassment campaign against anyone who dares to speak against them and are threatening legal action if you so much as annoy them. Considering I don't want to spend a bunch of time fighting off hordes of angry nutjobs and don't have enough money for a lawyer, I am going to keep this as informative as possible whilst still being vauge enough to maintain plausible deniability. If you think that you may have been targeted by this “organization,” please seek help. If you have been suckered in, get out while you still can, and possibly contact a lawyer. I cannot stress the seriousness of this enough- you have been scammed out of your money, you are being taken advantage of, and you may be involved in some illegal business dealings that could lead to you being prosecuted under various US laws, and possibly various UK laws. You could be damaging your reputation and your future career prospects.

There is an... uh, “company,” and I use the term in the loosest sense possible, that has been going around blogging websites like tumblr, Livejournal, and Blogspot attempting to recruit IT professionals to help them create a video game. They are funding this thing entirely through donated money, scamming many well-meaning people who want to help create this game. Never mind that they are shooting for a 3D RPG, on the level of Skyrim or something similar, and that their donation goal is laughably low for a game of that level. None of the people in charge of this project know anything about what they are doing, and I think on some level, they realize that- that's why they are contacting people who actually do have know-how and asking them for help.

They do this by appealing to their target's sense of fairness and social justice- this game is supposedly going to include groups traditionally left out of game design. A lot of people hear about this, go “oh, that's cool! I hope it goes through, and I hope it works! Maybe I'll donate!” There's nothing wrong with that, but that's also where things get hairy.

The group is apparently run by a virulently racist asshole who has done similar things in the past, claiming to be involved with work directed towards helping some marginalized group or another. They capitalize on the goodwill of people who want to help out their fellow human beings, collect large sums of money, then buggers off with said money. It is a scam, and a right nasty one at that. They take advantage of people's altruism only to screw them over, making things even more complicated for the group they screwed over in the future. No one wants to donate to a cause that has burned them before, so why would they want to do it again?

Not only is this group running a scam, but they fully intend to capitalize on the donated time of the professionals and students they are asking for help- they are, after all, allegedly making a video game. The individual that approached me with this information indicated that this organization intends to make its “volunteers” sign a contract for their work. By signing this contract, you are essentially indenturing yourself to these people for “as long as it takes to make the game.” While my informant was not sure whether or not this contract would be legally binding or not, it is best to err on the side of caution. If the contract does turn out to be a valid, legally binding contract, you may have just screwed yourself over- you agreed to work for free, and to not find other work, for any different company, until the game is completed. If there is no game, well... it doesn't take a genius to figure out the problems that could cause.

Once again, while I do not know the exact veracity of these claims, what I saw was enough to give me serious pause. If you think you may have signed something like this, please seek help from a contract lawyer or contact the Department of Labor (or whatever you have in your country- like I said, I do not know whether or not this would violate laws outside of the United States but I wouldn't be surprised if it would).

This link is to the Employment Development Department of California. While it is only valid for California residents, it is a good starting place for figuring out what to do next. Your state probably has something similar.

This link is to Crimestoppers in the UK, where you can report a fraud if you are in the United Kingdom. Again, I am not sure if this would have applied to anyone outside of the United States, but it does not hurt to check on it.

All in all, I just want everyone to stay safe.

Jan. 7th, 2013

The IT Worker In Me Is Wincing

My father travels a lot for business, and he racks up a lot of frequent flier miles. My mother absolutely hates traveling, so we never really go anywhere. Every year, the frequent flier miles expire, and the user is given a chance to redeem them for things that are not plane tickets, like magazine subscriptions. My mom got a subscription to one of those women's magazines, with stuff like “how to improve your sex life in ten easy steps” and “how to tell if your man is cheating.”

Anyway, today I was waiting for my ramen noodles to cook, and I started flipping through the magazine since it was just sitting there on the counter next to the stove. I eventually came upon the “how to tell if he's cheating on you” article, and one of the suggestions was, “if he won't give you his computer password, it's a sign that he's cheating.”

Do people actually think this? How stupid can you be? YOU NEVER GIVE ANYONE YOUR GODDAMN PASSWORD. Because, even if you would trust that other person with your life, it's not a good idea to give out your password. The only person you can ever really trust with that sort of information is you- you yourself. YOU know you're not going to do anything stupid, like input your bank password over an unsecured connection, but you don't know if that other person will. YOU might be able to tell a phishing scam when you see it, but that other person might not, and the next thing you know, you just bought a yacht for some dude in Zimbabwe and a Ferrari for some guy in Ukraine.

I really hope that most people would be smart enough not to believe this, but after nearly twenty-one years of life, I've seen too much evidence to the contrary. People- I don't care if your significant other says they read in Bored Housewife Weekly that you should give them your passwords, don't do it. And your significant other not giving you their password does not mean they're cheating on you. It means they're being smart and not putting themselves at risk for identity theft.

This is common sense stuff! But as we all know, common sense is so rare it's a superpower.

Oct. 1st, 2012

VHS Deterioration

The interesting thing about DVDs is that once you make a copy of one, you can make copies of the copies ad infinitum with only minor quality deterioration, so minor that unless you know what exactly to look for you wouldn't notice it. Now, this also takes into account that you are using high-quality blank DVDs, minimizing the potential compression that would need to take place to burn the DVD, and that your DVD burned and DVD player were performing in top condition. But, the point is that under the right circumstances there is none, or minimal deterioration of video quality across the generations on DVDs.

This is not the case with VCRs. It's been a while since I tried to watch a VHS tape- there still is a VCR in my basement, but it only works about 35% of the time, and that's if you whack it with something, swear at it, and make a sacrifice to the VCR God. But this video is really fascinating- this is what happens if you make a copy of a VHS tape, then make a copy of the copy, then make a copy of the copy of the copy, etc- the quality deteriorates very quickly until you end up with something completely unrecognizable from the original video. It's also a very catchy song that will get stuck in your head, so you might want to watch it with the sound off.




Apr. 26th, 2012

The Absolute Moron's Guide to Search Engines

Quick, let's do a little thought exercise- When, say, Google returns a list of businesses in the area after you search for, say, “takeout,” how do those results get there? Did some drone at Google put them there, painstakingly searching through the vast void of the Internet just to find your local Chipotle? Of course not, that's ridiculous. That would take ages, and it's not efficent. For IT companies, time is money, and the longer it takes for the user to get their search results back, the more money they lose.

Search engines use specialized programs called web crawlers, or spiders, to trawl through the Series of Tubes looking for keywords and content, based on the search criteria that the user inputs. So if the user isn't really sure what they're looking for, or how to optimize their search, they might not get the exact results they want. Another drawback to the search engine is that it can't read your mind, nor can it read the mind of the website creators. If you want to search for “ice cream” to find a really good ice cream shop, most of the time it wll work. But let's pretend there's a really good ice cream store called Snowflake, just to make this explanation simple. This is the text of Snowflake's website:

Welcome to Snowflake, home of the world's best frozen treats! These milky, creamy confections are a delight to adults and kids alike. Stop by our location in Springfield, USA today and try some!
Tel: 123-456-7890

Notice that the body text of the web site does not include the exact words “ice cream,” although a reasonable person could probably figure out that is what the site was talking about. But a web crawler isn't a person, it's a computer program, and computer programs can't do everything that a person can (duh). However, just because the body content of the website doesn't contain the words “ice cream” doesn't mean that it's not included in the code of the site at all.

Huh?

Let me explain: the HTML language and it's offspring, XML and XHTML, contain something called “meta tags.” These tags do not appear anywhere on the website at all, but they are very important. These tags are specifically for indexing by search engines. So theoretically, our fictional ice cream shop would be able to never type the words “ice cream” on their website at all, but put the words in their meta tag and still be able to be indexed by Google or whatever.

Here's an example of meta tag code, which goes in the <head> portion of your website. The meta tag codes are in purple.

<head>
<title>Snowflake Frozen Confectionery</title>
<meta name="description" content="Springfield, USA's best frozen milk confections">
<meta name="keywords" content="Snowflake, frozen confections, milk, freeze, sweets, confectionery, Springfield, treats, Snowflake shop">
</head>


Notice that in the above code, I never actually put the words “ice cream” in there. This, coupled with the lack of those same words in the actual, user-visible content of the page, means that a web crawler would not pick up on this site for a search for ice cream.

Now, the web developers for Snowflake Frozen Confections would be really dumb if they didn't do this, and if they're that incompetent, I kind of doubt that Snowflake Frozen Confections would be in business much longer. But again, this is for demonstration purposes.

What prompted me to write this? In a few days, I've seen about nine different articles bitching about how Siri doesn't find the exact things the phone's owner wants when they want it, and a lot of these issues could be resolved if people actually knew how the technology they're bitching about actually worked.

Feb. 20th, 2012

Sticker Shock

Earlier last week I learned that I would need a copy of Adobe Creative Suite 5: Master Collection for my major. There was just no way around it- it was impossible to complete my homework with the pirated version I had, and it wasn’t going to be possible for me to drive all the way out to the university’s satellite campus to use the specialty lab every time I needed to do my homework until I graduated, so I decided to bite the bullet and go buy it. I knew it was going to be expensive (I remember from my time working tech support at the high school that my supervisor bitched about having to buy another school license to put the software on the new computers for the business lab because it was going to be so expensive). But I was not prepared for the OMGWTFBBQ! THAT’S FUCKING EXPENSIVE! reaction I got upon accessing the website. THIRTY-FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS. $3500. That was… pretty much my entire salary last year. That is like 75% of the cost of one semester of university. Holy mother of god, how was I supposed to pay for that? I might as well just keep using the downloaded stuff that only sort of works, since at least I won’t be out an entire year’s worth of pay!

And then I learned that I was eligible for the student/educator discount. So I checked that out. $900. Which is still a hardship, but at least it’s more like two month’s worth of pay rather than an entire year’s. Of course, at this point in time I don’t have $900 just lying around, so I went to speak to my parents about getting a loan from them so I could buy it. Instead, they worked out a deal. If I paid $300 of it, they would pay the rest as a birthday present.

I am so grateful to my parents right now, for helping me with this. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it without their help, and $300 is definitely more doable than $900 (or $3500!). But I do have one thing to say to the Adobe corporation: seriously, guys? Even Microsoft doesn’t charge that much for their products! What you lot are charging right now is practically usury, and since so many students and teachers use your product, dude- we’re not exactly rolling in the dough. My dad isn’t Bill Gates. I’M not Bill Gates. I can’t dig around my couch cushions and find a thousand dollars in change. While the price may be understandable for corporations, think about the poor students and freelance workers, who don’t have a big corporation paying for their stuff!

This has been an edition of Kaboom Rants About Expensive Stuff.

Oct. 6th, 2011

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

As everyone's probably heard by now, Steve Jobs passed away yesterday from pancreatic cancer. To be quite honest, it's come as a huge shock for me. I'd known he was sick, but I hadn't known exactly how bad it was. It probably didn't help that I was at work yesterday when I found out via text message. Text message is never a good way to find out anything, especially more serious stuff.

I feel kind of strange that I feel so depressed about this. I've never met Steve Jobs. But he and Bill Gates have been my heroes since I was three years old. I never knew the man personally, but I looked up to him, being able to build a successful company out of nothing. He truly did live the dream, creating a successful company and becoming one of the richest people in the world without being born into the wealth. And while for actual computing I prefer to use Windows or Linux, I have an iPod that I like very much. In fact, I don't think I know anyone who doesn't have an iPod of some kind. That's how ubiquitous these things are, and how much he was able to revolutionize the market for portable electronics, as well as computers.

Resquiat in Pace, Steve Jobs.
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Sep. 30th, 2011

Kaboom's Adventures in PC Modding, part 1

For about ten years, there's been an old computer in my basement that no one ever uses. For a very long time, it only had Windows 95 on it, and no one really ever bothered to turn it on, because, uh, Windows 95? Come on!

Recently, however, there've been a few changes made to it. The ancient hard drive was swapped out for a newer (well, relatively, anyway) hard drive that definitely was a lot bigger. The motherboard was replaced with a (again, still relatively) newer model, one that can support the newest version of Windows, albeit not very well. Anyway, over the past few months it's gone from being almost two decade out of date to maybe four or five years out of date.

And now it's mine. Apparently my dad was sick of it, and decided to give it to me to upgrade and do what I want with it. So, I'm trying my hand at case modding, as well as just generally upgrading it (because even with the pseudo-upgrades, it is still pretty useless). Now, I don't even have a dremel, much less know how to use one, and I can't be assed to go get one (or learn how to use it), so for this first project I'm just painting the case and messing with the LEDs. Yeah, it's not very exciting compared to what some people do- I'm not turning my PC into a fish tank, even though that would be badass- but it's a start. Modding is a very expensive hobby, and especially considering that I'm going to have to completely replace just about everything, I can't afford to get too fancy with the case, especially not with the holidays coming up. And this is still just my first time- I don't want to screw up too badly and end up tossing several paychecks down the drain.

Well, anyway, this project isn't very far along yet, the only thing I've done is paint the plastic bits of the case, and trust me, it doesn't look like much. About the only thing I can say for it this time is that it's not this dingy sort of beige anymore. It's going to look much nicer when I'm done, anyway, even if I haven't been able to replace the hardware yet. It might still run like crap, at least for a while, but at least it won't look like it's twenty years out of date.

Apr. 22nd, 2011

Thanks a lot, professor.

So, I have a very technologically illiterate professor, who occasionally uploads files embedded with viruses to the Blackboard site. It had gotten so bad that no one was downloading anything, even though it was hurting grades, until he got his computer cleaned out. It seems he hasn't learned his lesson, as I got a very nasty worm this afternoon from an email he sent. I spoke to some other people in the class, it's infected their machines too. I took care of it without too much trouble, but still, it was very annoying. There's nothing I like more than having to deal with idiots who send me computer viruses, even if they are professors.

It's especially bad, because I thought I may have inadvertently infected the computers of the people I was supposed to be working with for my Spanish class, because I sent them a PowerPoint file through the email. And since email is how I got the virus in the first place, I'm worried I could have accidentally passed it on.

The problem is solved now, but still, it's incredibly irritating. You'd think someone with a PhD would know to install antivirus software on their computer, or at the very lease know not to download everything that they come across on the Internet. Just because the popup ad says that there's free stuff doesn't actually mean that there's free stuff! It's like the creeper in the van dangling an candy bar in front of you and saying "There's more where that came from if you just get in my van!" Hint: there's not actually any candy in that van.

Argh. One more week and I'm getting the hell out of here.

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