Follow the Geeks

In 2015 I made a trip up to Pentaluma, California to visit the brick TWiT House. The proprietor of this establishment was featured in a chapter of the book, Follow the Geeks by Lyndsey Gilpin and Jason Hiner. I just finished reading this book and enjoyed the stories about people that I have listened to as guests of the TWiT network. If you are a fan of this network then I can recommend the book. Most of the stories were about people I knew from TWiT network. The star of the book is the profile of the amazing Maya Penn. Anyone interested in diversity and women in STEM should read her chapter 10 profile.

Visiting the TWiT brick house was a treat. You get a front row seat to a live production studio. I got to see the recording of MacBreak Weekly and Security Now shows. Leo Laporte took some time between shows for a meet and greet with a photo op.

 

iPhone Call Blocking & Identification

Apple has added a new category of application to its AppStore that allows the user to block incoming calls. The first one of these that I tried was called Nomorobo, as in “no more robodialers”. It worked pretty well. They have an existing online web site where you can pay for a subscription or you could pay for the subscription right in the app. I let my subscription lapse because of a general Internet service subscription fatigue and not for any fault in the product. After a few months I stumbled onto a new crop of these apps that didn’t charge a monthly fee. I know they are not free. They must be mining the caller ID data and find value there. Since I rarely use my phone, it seems like a fair trade. I downloaded a couple new trials, Hiya and Mr. Number. So far I’ve only tried Hiya. Now AT&T has a new app they call Call Protect that features the Hiya logo but does not appear in the Settings app.

Using these apps is really simple. You download one from the App Store. Then navigate to “iPhone Call Blocking & Identification” setting under “Phone”. Turn on the apps that you want to allow to see all your incoming calls. Yahoo! and LinkedIn (Microsoft) are also listed but no way I’m letting them have any more access to my personal data. If AT&T and Hiya are in bed together I figure they already have my call history.

When the phone rings, the app is supposed to look it up in their database to see if it is spam. With Nomorobo, the spam call would just be rejected and go straight to voicemail. With Hiya, the phone still rings but with a message like “Scam or Fraud” or “Telemarketer” along with a little warning icon. Not all the messages are bad. I received a call from my Alumni Association’s call center. The ones that are really nasty are now spoofing the caller ID to match first 6 digits of your phone number. This is supposed to trick you into thinking the call is from a neighbor. In these cases Nomorobo wisely does not block them but displays a warning that the caller ID might be forged.

Of the two that I have tried, Nomorobo’s solution is more elegant because the phone never rings. There is the potential of a false positive but hopefully that caller will leave a message. I don’t think I had a true false positives. My Alumni Association call center originally queried as Telemarketing which is accurate. The more specific label was updated later. This is a community fed system so early reports could have been unnecessarily harsh. I’m glad to see come curation corrected the assessment.

I plan to stay with Hiya and recommend it to those who want this service but may be a bit subscription sensitive at this time. Hiya also has a lookup function. Inside the application is an Identify button. You can type in a number or use the contents of your clipboard. It will give you reverse lookup with name and city, along with community reports of spamming, if any.

The ultimate solution is to change the phone system such that individual subscribers cannot forge caller ID. Seems like a pretty basic principal. If you’re going to call me, you had better properly identify yourself. This would require some reworking of the phone network which was never designed to be secure. My assumption is that this will never get legally mandated because politicians are such big spammers. I’m hoping that apps like these put a small dent in the universe.

iPod Incompatible with Subaru

I’m not a fan of radio whether it be commercial radio on its endless loop of commercial and same 20 songs, or satellite radio that harasses owners of new cars to subscribe. In the car, I prefer to listen to my own music, podcasts or audio books. For the last 20 years the best way to do that has been an iPod plugged directly into my car. Initially it was my iPod Mini which served me well and even survived being hacked and upgraded. That iPod was replaced by an iPod Nano. When the iPod Touch it the market I thought it would be the perfect melding of iPod and Wi-Fi updated content. Unfortunately the iPod Touch was not designed to handle heat. Left in the car the display would go black with a heat warning. The sent me back to the iPod Nano.

The key advantage of a hard wired iPod over say BlueTooth connected device is that it would immediately start playing with the engine start. If I were listening to spoken word content, it would pick up right were I left off. The iPod Nano never complained about the heat. And since it was not my phone, I did not need to plug it in or remember to unplug it when I got to my destination.

Along comes CarPlay. Finally a car audio experience close to what I want. I say close because there are two major issues with the current implementation from my point of view. The first issue is the lack of Waze navigation support. Whether that is caused by Apple or Google, I don’t care. I just know that It’s the best GPS app on the market and I want to be able to use it in my car with CarPlay. The second issue is the delay between startup of the car and when the iPhone gets connected. I understand why the 10 minutes of silence has become such a popular song on iTunes. Anything to not to have to listen to babble of the radio while CarPlay connects. Personally I tune to a blank spot in the dial as I would prefer to hear static than radio. I look forward to when my XM trial ends so that I can use that for dead air. I made the mistake of not opting out when I bought my new car. Now they’ve got me. I’m being targeted with email and mail to get me to sign up for pay radio.

While I’m happy with my car and AirPlay, I wanted to use my old iPod Nano for an upcoming road trip. I pulled it out of storage and charged it up. I plugged it into my car and it immediately caused the iPod to reboot. When the screen came back the iPod was in recovery mode. I brought it back in the house and plugged it into iTunes to be restored factory fresh. I repeated the experiment with the same results. A quick google found that I was not alone. My fancy infotainment system does not work with iPod Nano (6th Generation). I am curious about the 7th generation with the Lightning connector. Maybe it will work.

T-Shirt Archive

Hexley DarwinOS Mascot

It occurred to me that I have a lot of old t-shirts. Most are not fit to wear anymore. I thought I would create a photographic archive of these old t-shirts. This will be a long project. I plan to just add the pictures to this posting and display them in random order.

No. These t-shirts are not for sale. I will try to note the date and copyright of all artwork when available.

CarPlay Test Drive

I rented a car this week and got a new Chevy Malibu with Apple CarPlay support. I always travel with a kit of connectors and charges so that I can plug into most rental cars unless they have a stupid proprietary connector (Nissan, Kia). I was pleasantly surprised that when I plugged in the Lightning cable, the screen immediately changed to show me apps and options on my Phone. The interface was easy to use. It gave me voice control and access to music, podcasts, audiobooks, and directions. After years of frustration with my personal car, now I have to decide if it is worth replacing my crappy Kia navigation system or just wait until I buy a new car.

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The Continuing Saga of Slow DSL

I recently worked to attempt to separate my AT&T accounts so that I could clearly see what I am spending for Internet access. Its harder than it should be. I still have not been successful but at least it is not as hard as unentangling from my Yahoo! email account a couple years ago. While reviewing my account I noticed my upload speed which was originally quoted at 1MB appeared on the web page as only 768. And a few minutes later on another overview page of the exact same account it showed my upload speed as 512 kbps.

att_768

att_512

There’s a big difference between 1Mbps and 512kbps. Some might even call it half as slow. I ran my own speed tests using Bandwidthplace.net and have consistently gotten similar results over the years. I’m consistently getting about 3Mbps up and 512kbps down. If you read AT&T’s web site “Speed Tiers” and “Understanding Internet speeds” pages, you’ll see that I’m getting what I am paying for. Put another way, AT&T is delivering the service level that they are promising.

bandwidth_chart
bandwidth_data

So, why am I unhappy as a customer? My neighborhood has had DSL service for several years. We only got it at a time when U-verse had not really solidified into a product. When I first got my DSL service it even came bundled with DISH network. My neighbor one street over has U-verse because between the time that we got service and they got service, the standard had changed. We’ve been patient but it’s time to upgrade the service folks.

I joke that it is faster for me to drive 15 minutes to the nearest Starbucks, upload my pictures, and drive home. It’s not actually a joke. A single Canon Camera RAW file is about 30 MB. On my service that takes 8 minutes to upload given a best case scenario. If I go on a photo walk and take a few pictures then I could be looking at days for them
to all upload. If I want to upload a single video it can take all night.

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AT&T like their competition tout their download speeds and gloss over their upload speeds. If you do anything creative, upload matters.

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Google Account Created Using My Email Address

Late last night I received a flurry of email messages from Google welcoming me and asking me to verify my email address. The problem was that I did not create this Google account using my email address and the messages were in Portuguese. In addition to the Google account welcome messages I also received welcome messages from YouTube on the same address. Needless to say, I did not click on the confirmation links in the email messages.

welcome to google

So I checked with Google’s web site to see what my options are. I could either reset the password or I could request that the account be deleted. In order to do the latter I would need to reset the password. I proceeded to go to Google’s account recovery page. I was asked for an alternate email address in case they needed to contact me which I provided. I was then asked for a previous password and the phone number on the account. I did not have these pieces of data because I did not create the account.

So it’s a good thing that someone cannot take over your account just because they have access to your email address. The problem is that the account has full privileges without confirming that relationship in the first place. I’m stuck.

I called Google Apps for Work paid support number since I am a paying user. The customer service rep was as helpful as could be but his support guidelines blocked him from helping with free Google accounts. He kindly walked me through all the support options for account recovery with no success. There are no options for actually getting support or escalating such an issue. The support forums are full of other people having the same problem with their Yahoo email addresses. The support rep seemed to think that if the account were not yet verified that it would automatically be deleted but could not specifically tell me what that time interval was. I am unable to create an account using my email address because one already exists.

At this point I am out of luck. Google does not have any method of resolving this issue.

createnewaccount

VLA: Very Large Array

One of my favorite photo-walks was in May, 2011 to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array near Socorro, New Mexico. I was working in Albuquerque and decided to head out there before the visitor center closed so I could get pictures at sunset. It’s a pretty long drive out of town out into the desert. Once you pass Socorro, you still have nearly another hour drive to get there. I stopped in the small town of Magdalena (population 938) for dinner. The VLA is in a bowl of mountains. Signs tell you to turn off all devices with radios in them. Forget about cell coverage or Wi-Fi. The VLA is a collection of 27 satellite dishes on railroad tracks in a giant “Y” on the desert floor. Each dish is 82 feet in diameter. They move these 230 ton dishes with a pair of train tracks so they can reconfigure the array or bring a dish in for repair. The individual dishes can move to track deep space objects or can be moved in unison to create a virtual dish 22 miles in diameter.

The dishes were featured in movies like Contact2010: The Year We Make Contact, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Terminator Salvation, and Independence Day.  The visitor center is interesting to give you the history of the Array and information about it siblings around the world. I did see some wildlife there: a rabbit and some deer. I took a few hundred pictures. I took some with a tripod and some were handheld. I used a polarizing filter to play with the contrast between the sky and the the dish. It was a challenge to get the pictures to show the detail on the outside of the dishes without bleaching out the inside of the dish or making it too dark. The sky was nearly a perfect clear blue that you can see in some pictures but is washed out in others.

As the sun went down and I got kicked out of the Visitors Center, I scrambled to find a place to get a picture of a dish backlit by the sunset. I managed to get a few pictures that I’m proud of that I used for a while as my wallpaper on my iPad and iPhone. The pictures below are nearly direct from the camera. The images have been scaled but not re-touched or tone-mapped. I shot straight to JPEG format. The camera was my Canon EOS Rebel T1i.

 

Dealing with Phishing Attacks

Within a few minutes I received three messages of attempts to access my Apple ID and Facebook accounts.

 

[box type=”shadow”]appleid The first notification was from Apple. Someone had tried to log into my Apple ID enough times that the account had been locked out. Unfortunately this happens all too frequently to me. Their system automatically locks the account in response to what is effectively a denial of service attack. I have to go through their iforgot system to unlock my account. I’ve had it happen to me several times in the same day. At some point Apple decides that I need to reset my password because of the repeated unlock activity. Ironic it is because of my strong password that the attacker have not gotten in. My password is a string of randomly generated gibberish that I don’t even know thanks to LastPass. It’s kind of ridiculous that Apple locks me out of my phone and then requires me to prove my identity by sending a code to the same phone. Come on Apple. If my phone is trusted then why is it being locked out?[/box]

 

[box type=”shadow”]applescam The second attack came in the form of an email from Apple Corporation address to an iCloud.com that is not my primary Apple ID (clue #1) from an address that is not Apple (clue #2), with a greeting of “Dear Apple Customer” (clue #3), and with hyperlinks going to a Russian web site (clue #4). The thing is, how many people take the time to scrutinize their email like this? It looks legit. It’s asking for my password. Ok. Right? The lesson here is that if you get a message like that, don’t click on the link. Go to the web site directly if you think you actually need to change the password. Using LastPass would have protected you from the phishing site by not entering in your password in the fake site.[/box]

 

[box type=”shadow”]facebookscam The final message came legitimately from Facebook caused by someone trying to log into Facebook as me. In this case the email had something that Apple should take note. There was a link to disavow the password reset request that was actually going to Facebook.com. Even then it made me nervous because Facebook allow and their entire business model is based on user-generated content. So just because it’s on Facebook.com does not prove that it is legit. Unless someone has the username of “login”, I’m pretty sure that it is legit – but only pretty sure.[/box]

LastPass Now in AppStore

Stop trying to remembers your passwords. Just get Lastpass. Install it on your phone and computer. Pay the annual fee ($12). Done. Let Lastpass generate and remember crazy safe passwords for you. Have a unique safe password for every site. Store secure notes as well. Get it. They have made it even easier now for Mac users by putting it in the app store. Its free to download and try. It will put a plugin in your web browser and take care of your credentials. Flip to your phone and you have a secure web browser built right into the app. [button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lastpass/id926036361?mt=12″ type=”icon” color=”red” newwindow=”yes”]Get LastPass in AppStore[/button]

Interstellar

The new movie Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey and directed by Christopher Nolan is destined to become a science fiction classic like 2001 but I don’t think it will be appreciated in our time. At three hours long I think some audiences will have a hard time staying engaged. The cast and story may make it a contender for the Oscars even without commercial success.

The story starts in the near future. The only hope for humanity is to go off into space and look for a new home. The buzz about the movie talked a great deal about how they used the latest quantum science theories in the visuals. I tried to follow what I could. I’m assuming that they got the quantum mechanics right but I think the Newtonian physics and relativity science was flawed. At one point our characters fly to a planet, park in orbit and descend to the surface. Somehow on the descent to the planet time would pass more quickly. What? I guess I need to see it again to understand it. I really wanted to like this movie but the basic physics flaws really ruined it for me. It tries to be as good as Contact but what we get is an art film.

The movie was beautiful. The story and characters were interesting. The music was a bit distracting but in the end will prove as timeless as Holst. Towards the end of the move Nolan was definitely aping Kubrick. The robots in the movie a just weird but they do grow on you a bit. There’s a scene about half way through the movie where we see a robot reconfigure itself so that it can carry a person and move quickly. That was interesting.

I did enjoy seeing this movie in 70mm. As part of the release of this film Nolan gave priority to theaters that agreed to show the movie on film over digital projection. This comes on the same week that Taylor Swift is shunning Spotify so maybe its just retro fashionable like the mix tape from Guardians of the Galaxy.

I recommend this movie for sci-fi fans especially if they are a fan of 2001. If your theater is showing it in IMAX or 70mm then so much the better. For most everyone else, I’m sure there’s some other way you can spend three hours and twenty bucks. I recommend The Right Stuff.

interstellar_poster

iPhone 6 Plus is Not an iPad

I’ve been using my iPhone 6 Plus for a month now. I thought it was time to gather my thoughts about my experience with the new, larger phone. Prior to getting the new phone I was carrying an iPhone 5s and an iPad Mini (2nd Generation with Wifi). Prior to the announcements I was considering getting a new iPad Mini with a cellular connection. Adding a cell modem to the iPad would have increased its utility in cases when Wifi is not available without having to resort to personal hotspot. I was also looking for more storage than the 32GB I had. When the iPhone 6 Plus was announce I thought it could replace both my phone and my iPad.

Almost…

The reality is that the new iPhone has both failed to meet my expectations and exceeded them. When the 3rd Generation iPad Mini came out I did not see a need to replace what I had. The main feature of the new iPad is Touch ID. I’ve mostly stopped carrying the iPad on a daily basis. That choice was made easier because the iPhone is so capable.

It’s not a perfect replacement. The main reason for this is that when software developers write their apps they can target a particular platform. They can make an iPhone app or an iPad app or they can create a fat app that runs on both. So even though the iPhone has a much larger screen, you cannot run iPad apps. The original iPad’s screen resolution was 1,024×768. The new iPhone 6 Plus has a screen resolution of 1920×1080.

When I started writing there were many notable apps that were only available on the iPad. This list is shrinking. Today, Microsoft released Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for the iPhone. Last week FlipBoard was released. I’m hoping that Diet Coda and my local newspaper are not far behind.

Even though the apps are coming to the iPhone to take advantage of the extra real estate, it’s not a perfect transition. Developers do not seem to be taking advantage of the horizontal layout. I use my phone in a cradle in my car or setting on my desk with its kickstand. One of my favor apps is called Morning. While this app can be used in either mode on the iPad, it only works in portrait mode on the phone.

In summary the new larger size is making the phone extremely useful as a personal computing device. I’ve been on a couple trips and not missed my iPad or laptop. The nice part is the not having to pack all the extra cables and charges.

WWDC Memories: Shazam 2008

WWDC 2014 starts in about a week. I’m sure that by this time next week there will be a line around Moscone West waiting to get in to hear what new offerings Apple has for their community. I was lucky enough to have been in that line over a dozen times going back to the late 90’s when the event was held in San Jose. The event has a fairly traditional and predictable schedule for the week with some changes over the years to accommodate Jerry Seinfeld and Star Trek Voyager, for example. The usual Wednesday night festivities usually include an event called Stump the Experts. I have a particular memory from one year that still reverberates in my memory.

The basic premise is of Stump the Experts is that the audience gets to ask a panel of “experts” trivial questions from any point in Apple’s history. These questions typically center around specific minutia about software and hardware from the last 40 years. The audience regularly find the most obscure reference imaginable, ask their question, only to find that the engineer responsible for that bug or feature is actually sitting on stage. This event really changed in the early 2000s when Internet access became available during the show. Winners get their choice of a collection of arcane software or a coveted t-shirt. I have such a t-shirt in my collection but that is another story. The event usually starts on time but people tend to get there early to grab a good seat. While the crowd is gathering there is music playing overhead. This will come into play later. People in the know try to take note of what music is playing.

In 2008 the iPhone madness was just over a year old. That year’s conference promised iOS 2.0 which would allow developers to for the first time write and sell their own software. All we long we had been learning about how to take our ideas and put them on to the tiny screen. After a few question-answer volleys one developer stepped up to the microphone with his question.

Huxham: “What’s your question?”
Developer: “I’d like to guess the songs played at the beginning.”
Huxham: “Which one?”
Developer: “Uh, all of them.”

The audience murmured in geek awe as the developer proceeded to list, in order, all the songs that had played before the event. According to Wikipedia, he got all but one correct. For me this was the event that really showed the power of this little device in your hand. The developer had used it like a Star Trek Tricorder to collect and analyze sensor data and then look up that data using a remote computing service. Today this kind of functionality was still in its infancy.

The usual question about songs played before the event was answered by a gentleman who used audio recognition software running on an iPhone to correctly identify all but one of the songs using technology from Landmark Digital Services. Another song was identified by another attendee using Shazam music ID software (a licensee of Landmark Digital Services) on an S60v3 phone.

Wikipedia

In 2008, WWDC 2008 took place from June 9 to 13 at Moscone West, San Francisco. Apple reported that, for the first time, the conference had sold out. There were three tracks for developers, iPhone, Mac, and IT. Announcements at the keynote included the App Store for iPhone and iPod Touch, the stable version of the iPhone SDK, a subsidized 3G version of the iPhone for Worldwide markets,version 2.0 of iPhone OS, Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6), and the replacement/rebranding of .Mac as MobileMe. For the bash held June 12, the band Barenaked Ladies played at the Yerba Buena Gardens.

Wikipedia

Shazam for iPhone 2.0 debuted on 10 July 2008, with the launch of Apple’s App Store. The free app simplified the service by enabling the user to launch iTunes and buy the song directly if the user was on a Wi-Fi connection (at the time, iTunes did not allow music downloads over 3G). It was also possible to launch the iPhone YouTube app, if a video was available.

Wikipedia