The 13 Technology entries below appear with the most recent entries first. To see them displayed in the order they were written, please click here.

 November 05, 2009
Very Useful Wizards and Templates....

Many moons ago, I worked for a well known software company based in Redmond, WA where I was a software designer, creating feature specifications for their flagship office productivity suite.

At one point during my days at the aforementioned software company, I was responsible for coming up with a list of new "Wizards and Templates" that would enable users to easily create various kinds of documents. I recently stumbled upon my brainstorming list of wizards and templates that I'd generated, just to get the ball rolling.

Wouldn't it be cool if, when you started up your favorite office productivity suite, you had the ability to start creating the following with just a click of the mouse?

  • Marriage Certificates
  • Parking Tickets
  • Moving Violation Tickets
  • Search Warrants
  • Jury Duty Notices
  • Divorce Decrees
  • Green Cards
  • Drivers Licenses
  • Passports
  • Liquor Licenses
  • Police Credentials
  • Ivy League Diplomas
  • Dollar Bills
And, lastly, these two would be available in the US versions only:
  • Gun Dealer License
  • Permit to Carry a Concealed Weapon

I seem to recall that, in the end, the patent application would have taken too long, so we settled for photo albums and the like, instead.

What wizards and templates do *you* think would be fun for your office productivity suite?

Posted by at 05:32 PM in the following Department(s): Humor , Technology , Tidbits II | Comments (1)
 September 25, 2009
They Just Don't Make Them Like They Used To....

Sorry I've been away from the blog for so long. I've been dealing with the daily grind. You know how it goes.

While I've been otherwise occupied, some goobers decided to smash a 1959 Chevy Bel Air into a 2009 Chevy Malibu in order to make a point:

They just don't make 'em like they used to.

Some of y'all who knew me back when may recall that I used to drive a classic car -- that my first car was, in fact, older than I. There were a lot of things to love about that car. From time to time, I even fantasize about the notion of picking up another such car, fixing her up, and making that my driving-around-town vehicle.

But, no, that's a foolish notion, and nostalgia for the things I'm fond of gives way to the sad reality that there's a reason they don't make 'em like they used to. And, that's usually a good thing.

Here's a link to the article: IIHS crashes modern Malibu into '59 Bel Air.

I recommend reading the article. But, since you're here now anyway, check out the video:

[sigh]

Posted by at 01:35 AM in the following Department(s): Technology , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 May 20, 2009
Holy Spam Attack, Batman!

Well, *this* has never happened to me before...

I am currently unable to download my personal e-mail because my e-mail client is unable to handle having over 91,000 pieces to download. This is the most amazing spam e-mail attack I've ever seen.

Am using tools in my web-to-mail portal to try to deal with this, but I'd much rather be doing productive work today. Ugh.

Posted by at 08:50 AM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (0)
 February 16, 2009
Facebook Insecurity

This past weekend, I attended what I like to call a "writers conference." (It was RadCon -- an event more properly called a "science fiction convention," but I went there as a writer, so let me cling to my euphemisms, okay?)

During a lull in the conference, I should have been working on red-lining the page proofs I'd received for Swordplay, which contains a short story of mine ("Last Man Standing"). Instead, I decided to create an account on Facebook, as I'd alluded to earlier.

Once on Facebook, I found a near and dear friend of mine who had posted to her "Notes" section a response to a couple of questionnaires that seem to be making the rounds. "Twenty-Five Random Things About You" and "The Name Game", where you answer questions based upon factoids about yourself.

These seem like really fun games to play, and I want to play. I want old friends of mine to have a chance to catch up with some of the tidbits I've collected in my life over the years. I want my old friends to find me. I intend to find a way to share what I can with them.

BUT.

So many of these fun little games can pose a security risk. I don't mean like, "Oh, Betty Sue from first grade might find out that I've converted to Pastafarianism and now will use that information against me to spoil my relationships with our mutual friends from first grade who have since become religious fundamentalists." Rather, I mean, "Oh, I mentioned the name of my first pet, and that's the security question on my credit card accounts."

I've written a bit more extensively on the topic of "breaking and entering" into your identity using this kind of information. Please take a look at my previous blog post on the subject. But, let me repeat part of it here:

If someone wants to get at your online identity, your weakest link (and therefore your greatest vulnerability) is probably your security question.

Many online data warehouses will, if you "forgot your password", simply e-mail your password or a password-reset link to your e-mail address. As long as you have reasonably good control over your e-mail address, that's fine. But many online data warehouses will, instead, ask a security question (possibly even one that you have picked). Upon successfully answering the question, *anyone* can be given complete access to *your* online identity.

This is particularly problematic for AOL and the major blog networks, where the user ID is already public. If Johnny Badguy wants to hijack your blog on BlogJournal, and he knows (isn't it always a 'he'?) that your blog belongs to "Victim-American", then he already knows the login ID to use. When asked the security question, well... all he has to do is look it up on the web, no?

It's like this: Johnny Badguy types in your login ID and clicks on "I forgot my password." He is then asked, "What year did you graduate college?" He then searches your blog (or elsewhere on the internet, as appropriate) for any references to your age, deduces what year you probably graduated, and then he's in. "What's your mother's maiden name?" He looks for any references you may have made to your grandparents. "Where were you born?" Again, not usually all that hard to find the clues necessary to come up with the answer.

I've been meaning for some time now to post an essay about an old car I owned, but I know I used that as a security question/answer for something, and until I track down what it was, I'm reticent to share that online....

So, yeah. One of these days, I'll probably join y'all in the "Twenty-Five Random Facts About Me" game. But I strongly encourage you to make sure you are not sharing any information that you have used as the answer to a security question on any of your bank, credit, or online accounts.

By the way... will you be my friend?

Posted by at 11:32 PM in the following Department(s): Technology , Tidbits | Comments (3)
 November 17, 2008
A Very Important Question

For all my peeps out there on the Innernets, please give me your thoughts on this most important question.

Facebook: yes or no? Discuss.

Posted by at 03:08 PM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (2)
 September 15, 2008
Supah... Geeenius

I have an iTunes question for y'all.

I have just recently upgraded my copy of iTunes to version 8, which includes a new feature called "Genius Sidebar." The idea is that iTunes will compare the contents of your music library with the contents of other iTunes users' music library to assemble a recommended playlist on the basis of what you got and how other people who have what you got group their music. This new feature will also make recommendations as to new music you might like on the basis of what you have and what ratings you've given.

In order to offer this wonderful new feature, iTunes must send the list of your music library's contents to iTunes central, where all the crunching can be done in order to put together these recommendations and playlists.

I'm tempted to try this technology. However...

I used to work in radio, so I have a *ton* of CDs in my collection which had been given to me as promotional spiffs. (Record companies send several copies of each CD to radio stations, in the hopes that the djs will take one for themselves to listen to in the car, become attached to, and then become more likely to play their particular artists, etc.) My collection is so large, I can't imagine that it wouldn't set off red flags as me being a collector of dubious legality. (I'm legit! I'm legit! But who wants to have to prove it? Just like I pay my taxes every year, but have no desire to be audited by the IRS... I just don't want to have to deal with the RIAA under any circumstances, even with me being legal.)

The "more info" page regarding the Genius Sidebar says that your music library information is sent to Apple "anonymously". So, here's my question for all y'all who are more technically aware than I am: can I trust that by allowing Apple to know my iTunes music library's contents that this information won't someday be used to make me a "person of interest" to the RIAA -- the scariest organization in the United States after the IRS and Homeland Security?

For the time being, I have the Genius Sidebar turned off. I don't know how smart it would be to consult a Genius if that genius is really a spook working for those evil minions at the RIAA.

Posted by at 03:45 PM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (2)
 September 10, 2008
The Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider went live in Europe today. It has caused a great many technophobes to worry that it would destroy the entire planet by creating mini-black holes that would then crush the world.

If you're interested in a brief summary of the concern that some of these protesters have put forth, you can read one at Skeptoid.com (which is a great site and podcast, by the way).

Anyway, to address the concerns of these individuals, a website has been set up to monitor the status of the LHC with regard to the destruction of our planet. You can find it here: http://www.hasthelhcdestroyedtheearth.com/.

Thanks to Luke McGuff for the tip. Oh, and Luke reminds us to "Hit refresh for up-to-the-second updates."

[Update!!!

Here's a webcam that shows how things are going at the LHC: http://www.cyriak.co.uk/lhc/lhc-webcams.html.]

Posted by at 11:25 AM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (1)
 January 28, 2007
Breaking and Entering

During those years that I was forced to attend middle school and high school, I chanced to hang out with a bunch of kids who were much smarter than me (er, smarter than I?) who introduced me to, among other things, the world of computers. I'll always recall fondly how one of my teachers had talked about how it was impossible to break the password scheme of our UNIX system at school, which promptly led a schoolmate and me to break the password scheme before we left for home that day, leaving a note to that effect in that teacher's .login file. (Last I checked, that schoolmate of mine became a sys admin for the computer network at SUNY Buffalo, or something like that.)

Other friends introduced me to the ins and outs of breaking software copy protection, and one even had the audacity to (gasp!) open up his computer and show me how to mess around with the hardware. These friends, likewise, went on to do great (legal) work in software engineering. At least one has already repaired to a life of semi-retirement following a cash-out before the dot com bust a few years ago.

In college, I likewise hung out with smarter-than-me friends (smarter-than-I friends?) who shared lock-picking techniques and showed me what's behind those "authorized personnel only" doors in the basements of those hallowed halls. One of these friends is now living under an assumed name in California, having married a school teacher and raising a kid without the benefits of early retirement.

As a personal hobby, I've also enjoyed studying how magic tricks and other acts of misdirection are performed. The principles are very similar to electronic and physical lock picking.

I'm such a square that I very rarely employ any of these tricks that I've learned over the years -- heck, I even pay for the songs I download -- but I'm always fascinated to learn how such tricks are done.

One of the foremost principles of computer password breaking, lock picking, and magic is these: whenever you can identify it, go for the weakest link in the chain. This sounds like common sense, but we are so easily trained to think of things and see things in a given way that we often never even consciously realize that there's an entire forest of possibility surrounding the trees we're focused on. We lock our convertibles while leaving the rooftops down. Go figure.

Pay attention. I'm actually going to say something that matters:

If you have an AOL account, a blog, or if you use Paypal or online banking, your password is pretty secure, right? Sure, it is. I'm not even being facetious. You know not to use "password" or "12345678" as your password, right? But a person who wants to break into your electronic identity doesn't necessarily have to go for your password. Why jimmy the locks if the convertible top is down?

If someone wants to get at your online identity, your weakest link (and therefore your greatest vulnerability) is probably your security question.

Many online data warehouses will, if you "forgot your password", simply e-mail your password or a password-reset link to your e-mail address. As long as you have reasonably good control over your e-mail address, that's fine. But many online data warehouses will, instead, ask a security question (possibly even one that you have picked). Upon successfully answering the question, *anyone* can be given complete access to *your* online identity.

This is particularly problematic for AOL and the major blog networks, where the user ID is already public. If Johnny Badguy wants to hijack your blog on BlogJournal, and he knows (isn't it always a 'he'?) that your blog belongs to "Victim-American", then he already knows the login ID to use. When asked the security question, well... all he has to do is look it up on the web, no?

It's like this: Johnny Badguy types in your login ID and clicks on "I forgot my password." He is then asked, "What year did you graduate college?" He then searches your blog (or elsewhere on the internet, as appropriate) for any references to your age, deduces what year you probably graduated, and then he's in. "What's your mother's maiden name?" He looks for any references you may have made to your grandparents. "Where were you born?" Again, not usually all that hard to find the clues necessary to come up with the answer.

I've been meaning for some time now to post an essay about an old car I owned, but I know I used that as a security question/answer for something, and until I track down what it was, I'm reticent to share that info online!

What's worse is if you're now under threat or potential threat by someone who knows you well. As I mentioned in a previous essay, friends of mine are getting divorced and it occurred to me: their soon-to-be-ex-spouses know the correct answers to all of those security questions! It's not enough for you to change your password! Your future Ex can still get in!

How do you close this gaping hole in your security blanket?

Make the answers to your security question something that is not obviously the correct answer. For example, "What city were you born in?" Your new answer could be, "42". Heck, you could make "42" the answer to "What's your mother's maiden name" and every other security question, as well. Unless, of course, it's generally known that you're a fan of Douglas Adams, in which case: choose something else.

My answer to every question is, of course, "That's what she said!"

I'm reticent to post this kind of information on a public forum, for fear of giving Johnny Badguy an idea that hasn't already occurred to him. But in addition to my above-mentioned friends who may be at risk, I've also recently had a good friend have his blog hijacked (I don't know if Johnny Badguy used the same technique in that case), and another colleague have her well-known-online-service screen name stolen (and this is exactly the technique that was used).

So, there. You've been warned. Update the answer to your security questions to something like, "Allan is the best."

[That's what she said!]

Posted by at 02:51 AM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (2)
 March 02, 2006
6,961,896

Yes, they will, indeed, grant a patent to just about any self-styled inventor. Even me.

The funny thing is, nobody ever told me that this thing was granted. I knew when it had been applied for (I'd helped draft and edit the non-legaleese part of the application, and later I received an attractive little cube to commemorate its being filed), but not that it had been granted. I found it as an incidentally while looking for something else.

Well, then. I guess now I should go search the Nobel Prize website, just in case....

Posted by at 03:01 PM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (1)
 July 07, 2004
A Brief History of Time

I've been going through some very old piles of paper in my office. I found this on a note I'd written a few years ago:

A Really Brief History of Time

7000 BC -- Time is invented, but it runs backwards.

1 BC -- Running out of time, developers reengineer it to go the other way.


Posted by at 05:46 PM in the following Department(s): Humor , Technology , Tidbits | Comments (1)
 November 04, 2003
Pricey Paperweights

I've been having a rough month or so, technology-wise. My iBook went wonky on me while I was on a trip to Cleveland, and I just barely managed to make a backup of my essential files using the built-in CD burner before the computer became totally unusable. The computer is now at the shop being repaired.

I bought a large capacity external hard drive (120GB) for archiving purposes, and it was dead on arrival, so I returned it.

My cheapy little Epson inkjet printer has pretty much sucked since day one, and it finally reached the point where it would just shut itself off when halfway through printing a single page, so that went back to the factory for a replacement under warrantee.

So I'm currently managing my e-mail using a web interface until I get back my main machine. Because my main machine is a Mac, and the other machine I have at home is a PC, I can't access my e-mail archives until I get back my main machine, which is making it difficult for me to follow up on threads from last week, blah, blah, blah.

The point is, I seem to be temporarily in this little Bermuda Triangle zone of healthy electronics, which is a weird place for me to be given that I've lived in high tech ever since my grammar school days. Think of it like being an accomplished chef who, for some inexplicable reason, finds himself burning everything he cooks for a week or two. It can shake up your world view.

While all this is happening, Paulette thought it might be a good idea to clean out the garage, and there, lo and behold, we have an old PowerMac 7200 in storage. There's nothing wrong with the unit. It works (or at least, it worked the last time we used it, but I don't dare plug it in right now with my current Reverse-Midas Touch), it just happens to also be old and obsolete.

Rather than have it take up space in our garage, I figured we might be able to sell it. Who knows, maybe we could get a few hundred bucks or something for it.

Looked on eBay, where things always sell for more than their worth, and found dozens of Mac 7200s for sale. Many of them were posted with a requested starting bid of $9.95 and a "Buy It Now" option of something like $20.

Twenty dollars!

Oh, and nobody is bidding on them! Not one had a bid.

So what we appear to have here is a big ol' paperweight. Since it would appear that we're not likely to get much money from it on the open market, Paulette and I have decided that we'll be happy to give it away for free to a good home.

If we can't find a good home for it within the next few weeks, it'll find a home at the local PC Recycling Center.

Anybody out there want a PowerMac 7200? Drop me a line and let me know if you're interested.

--Allan

Posted by at 09:24 AM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (3)
 April 14, 2002
One of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse

So, how do you correctly spell "apocalypse" anyway? I don't have time to look it up.

Regardless, a friend of mine has identified one of the four Horsemen of the Apopsicle. It's me. Buying a Wintel machine for the first time in my life.

That's right. April 13th, 2002 is a day that will go down in infamy. I bought a computer with a -- gasp -- Pentium chip inside.

And that ain't all the changes happening around here...

Posted by at 06:35 PM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (0)
 November 17, 2001
D-S-L! D-S-L!

Friends, Romans, and Countrypersons,

The saga isn't over yet, but the DSL line is finally up and running, at least. We don't have a router (it's arriving tomorrow, hopefully), so we can only have one computer on the internet at a time, for now. Nonetheless, this is most excellent.

We have finally gotten with this new-fangled 90's technology. :-)

For those of you who don't know what the heck I'm talking about: DSL is a means of connecting to the internet via your existing phone line that lets you still use your phone line as a phone line. In other words, you can surf the web on your computer at the same time as you make a phone call or send a fax. I've heard some people say that cable modems are better at accomplishing this goal, but you have to have cable, and we don't happen to subscribe (nor are we likely to in the near future).

It requires lots of equipment and lots of time for the goobers at the phone company to all get together to make it happen. But, it's happened (for the most part), and now we're just waiting for the last of the equipment.

For those of you who *do* know what DSL is all about: sorry to bore you like that.

Anyway, I installed the DSL software onto an old machine that we use as our data server. It's a machine I haven't used in a long time, and it has a conventional monitor (I've grown accustomed to my PowerBook's flat screen) and is running an older OS, etc., etc. The fonts look different, and the color registration is different, as well.

So, I now see my site a little differently. Instead of a muted cream (creme?) colored background, this site now appears to have an icky yellow. Ewww. Perhaps I should put a sticker on the site that proclaims "Best viewed from a portable computer's flat screen". (My computers at my two most recent employers were also portables, so I haven't seen the site from a conventional monitor in a long time.)

Let's see. Other fun things about DSL: it's much faster than a modem connection. And yet, when I check my hotmail account, it still takes a minute or so for every page to load. LAME.

Much, much else to report... which, of course, is why I've been too busy to post lately. Don't you just love irony?

Truly, I'll post more soon.

--me

Posted by at 02:06 AM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (0)

Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
Click here to send me mail.

The author. January, 2010.
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