Category Archives: Computers and Internet

Stupid Computer Trix


We figured it was time to let Mason Baveux out as he’s been taking courses again.  This time he’s been taking computer courses and is now, to quote him, “A friggin’ expert!”  Mason?

 

Thanks for lettin me take up some bandwidth there Davey as I’se been takin courses again, this time on the ‘puters and how to run em.  Now, you be askin, “Mason, you’re no computer lad like Davey is, as you’re dumber than a bag of deer bait on the best day of your life?” 

To which I say, in yer arse.  I may have been born yesterday, but it was early and I stayed up late readin, so kiss me pink puckered arsehole.  I fixed Maureen’s puter down at the sheltered workshop, so I know a thing or two and figgerd out the rest.  OK Davey helped too.

Here’s what I learned.  Puters are dumber than we are, but somedays we’re even dumber.  Take Maureen’s puter.  It wouldn’t run worth shit and she couldn’t get to her games, so’s she says take a gander at it for me.  I did and I tell you sweet baby Jesus there was more popups on’er than Tuesday afternoon at the toaster pastry factory.  There was popups to fix this, tune than, clean up the other thing, then some on porn that I hadn’t seen, 100,000 smiley icons and a webpage from the FBI demanding Maureen send money or they’d arrest her for diddling little kids.  You know what that told me?  Maureen is dumb and she fell for the oldest trick in the ‘puter book. 

Sees us folks aren’t too sure about puters, so we figgure we’re in over our head and someone else should be able to help us out.  Along comes a helpful webpage that says just that “Yer puter’s slow, arsehole, I’ll fix’er for you, fer free!” 

As soon as you say “effin’ aye, set’er up lad” they start downloadin all this bogus crap that is as much help as a foam rubber crutch.  It don’t do nothin, but on top of that, it ‘helps’ you by redirectin all your clicks to some other jeezly website when all you want to do is check the numbers on the Lottery.  Then along with all that helpin comes even more popups offerin you free this, or free that, or help with your even slower puter.

Here’s what you do and I’ll grab a page outta the Nancy Regan Songbook.  Just say no.  Actually, just say ‘eff off’  Don’t click on nothin you didn’t start.  There’s nobody on the Interwebs that wants to help you for real, for free.  There’s always something else draggin along behind’er like a cling-on shit that won’t go away.  Just say eff No!

That means no smiley face cursors what are animated to wink at ya, free recipes, special healin tarot crystal frigabouts or things what promise to make your puter faster.  They don’t friggin work worth shit. 

You want to make your puter faster?  Put more friggin RAM in’er.  That’s safe and cheap and real, not some jagoff from Assholistan what really wants to put some virus on your puter so he can capture all your bankin info and read your email, especially the ones from your cousin the retard with the plate in her head whose been hearin voices in the walls since 1981.

I’s gonna give you a link here what you can click on, safely like:  Ready?  http://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/malware-removal.aspx

Thats what you call the Official, Genuine, Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool.  Them folks in Redmond are on the ball and this here tool will take out just about all the bullshit you’ve downloaded what is slowin down your puter.  Don’t be downloadin it from somebody else with the same name, as this one is right from the factory floor, by the lads what made your puter software in the first place, so’s you know they got vending machines all around there where you can get yourself a clue for less than a buck. 

Run that there tool and sit back to wait.  If your puter is like Maureen’s, it’ll take the better part of four or five hours to clean things up.  I did that and holy mother of Jesus she found about 65 pieces of arseholery installed on Maureen’s puter.  No wonder it was buggered worse than George Michaels at the Vaseline factory!

The other one what got Maureen’s sister Millicent was those friggin jagoffs what called her up out of the blue sayin she had a dangerous virus and they was from Microsoft Support so they’s could help her.  I called up Microsoft and they don’t do that. 

Got that folks?  Microsoft isn’t gonna call you up if you got a virus.  It’s a scam from Arseholistan what are callin up everyone, and I mean everyone tellin them they got a virus and all kinds of errors and stuff on their puters that they can fix.  All you gotta do is let them put their little software shit on your puter and all the errors go away.  Along with all your bankin logins and anything else you got what is worth anything. 

What I told Millicent and Maureen was to treat your puter like it was the front door of the house.  If some turd tapper shows up, rings the bell and says I’m here to help you with your exploding hot water heater and that carbon monoxide in your furnace along with the filthy ducts, and poisoned tap water from the copper pipes and that other dangerous stuff, what would you do? 

I know Maureen would offer to kick their arses so hard they’d be shittin out their eyeballs for October and November.  Millicent would invite them in and talk about her friggin cats until they’re heads exploded and their bladders burst from all that herbal tea she was feeding them. 

Got that?  Your puter’s like the front door of the house.  Anyone you don’t know, start with “eff off” and follow it up with, “and get the hell off my front stoop before I take this last half a can of Easy-Off Professional Strength oven cleaner to your face like that fuckwit last week whose still in the hospital and will be blowin snot out his mouth until the next Federal Election or his reconstructive surgery, which ever comes first!”

You could do what Davey does when he gets those calls.  He says he has only Macs and they don’t know what to say.  His missus sometimes plays along for a bit, then asks them all saucy like, “What are you wearin’ honey?  Do you like boys or do you like girls?”  They always hang up when that starts as it ain’t in their script.

The other thing ya gotta watch out for is some of the legitimate softwares out there, sometimes offers you a free this or a free that if you agree to download it.  Make sure to read a bit and if there’s something to unclick, then do that.  Like Java, its always offerin me to get McAfee for the antivirus and Google for the searchin, with their special offer.  Eff that!  I know where to get my Goggle on.  And I already got anti-virus from Microsoft, so I don’t need another one on top of the one I got.

That Microsoft “Security Essentials” is plenty good and it updates automatic like every time I’m on the Interwebs, so I knows I’m protected pretty damn fine.  You can get that here, with this link I’m gonna give you right now  http://windows.microsoft.com/en-CA/windows/security-essentials-download  Now, that’s right from the factory, so’s it’s clean and safe and works.  Plus, the best part of it?  She’s free.  Run that and that one I told you about before and your puter’ll be cleaner than my insides after that oscopy surgery I had in the spring.

That’s all I got.  Oh and Maureen’s all happy.  She can get to her games and her lottery pages and her puter runs just fine now.

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Blackberry Checks Out


We so wanted Research In Motion (RIM) to do well.  It is a Canadian success story that changed the path of “cellphones” forever, with the whole keypad thing that mere mortals could use, until Apple, Google and Microsoft ate BlackBerry for lunch

For those of us who remember the earliest days of the ‘cellphone’ like the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X brick, the sheer freedom of making a cellular phone call was of itself, amazing.  Real Estate agents, of course, flocked to the new technology, liberating many of them from the “car phone” that wasn’t much more evolved that a CB Radio, but would put you back a thou a month, not counting service.  You would hunt about for a signal then try to dial and get somewhere, amazing your friends and family with your technology-forward attitude.  Then came the flip phones, like the Motorola StarTAC that had a little-known feature:  You could send a short text message over it to other phones that supported Short Message Service (SMS), instead of voice-calling to say you’d be late for dinner.

About that time the BlackBerry was the ne plus ultra.  You could not only make calls on it and text on it with something like a real keyboard, but you could also check your mail and send replies too!

Sure it was cool and secure, (so we thought, thanks NSA!) but then cellphones became commodities and manufacturers packed more features and doodads into phones culminating with the superphones we have now that have all but supplanted the home computer as the gadget of choice. 

Monday, BlackBerry issued an open letter to the media to calm customers and partners.  They’re trying to pull a “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” stunt from the Mark Twain Book Of Corporate Communication. 

They have not succeeded.  Indeed, the Market (insert Choir of Angels voices here) has reacted like they’re received a personalized, gift-boxed turd.  BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is set to go public with a cross-platform version for Android and iPhone that will bring BBM to others, aside from the nine guys in Waterloo, ON who still have a BlackBerry. 

If past history is any guide, the 6 million people who have pre-registered for BBM on the other platforms will install it, use it twice, then ignore it, choosing instead to download the latest app craze “NippleSifter” that scours the entire Internet for all the newest nipple pictures of celebrities, tying your geolocation to where the pic was taken so you can determine exactly how many miles or kilometers your are from where a paparazzi saw and photographed Jennifer Anniston’s left nipple in 2003, then post it to your Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook accounts simultaneously.  Plus you’ll get a free small latte from the nearest Starbucks.  Whoo Hoo!  I digress.

The stock price, once in the zillions of dollars for a chance to actually look at and touch a share, is now not much more than horse tranquilizer on the (insert Choir of Angeles voices again) Market.  Today BlackBerry said it would sell unlocked smartphones directly to US consumers, as the big cellcos view their offerings as something on par with giving away a free regular carwash with every purchase of a BlackBerry handset.

Sad to say, but BlackBerry is on life support, waiting for the that last gasp where the DNR order can kick in.

Another Data Loss


It seems that folks can’t seem to keep track of their stuff anymore and with the easy access to data, it makes is even easier to lose the confidential stuff.  Ottawa’s Montfort Hospital is the latest place to have confidential patient data go missing.  Data breaches are becoming common, with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada losing data on nearly 600,000 student loans earlier this week.

The gut reaction of everyone is that someone, somewhere will find it, put two and two together, steal your identity, clean out your savings account, buy a big-screen TV and then sit on their ass, sending spam email under your name for the rest of time as we know it.  With confidential data, the effects are even more chilling.  Conceivably, the Montfort data loss could allow someone to publish the names and treatments of everyone on that drive.  Would you be embarrassed if it became common knowledge that you were treated for recurring UTI’s and IBS? 

The reason confidential data is lost is dirt-simple:  USB drives or keys that hold a lot of data are as common as lint in just about every office we’ve ever been in. Putting confidential data on a USB drive is about as easy as leaning back in your office chair.  Walking out the door with the data is no harder than taking your car keys out of your coat pocket.  This doesn’t mean that people are deliberately stealing data to resell to Kazakhstani identity thieves, it just means they’re being careless, forgetful or dumb, like most humans.  Which is probably what happened to the Montfort Hospital data.  The drive was lost in a snow bank somewhere when it fell out of a pocket. 

The fix is almost too simple, which is why it hasn’t been done and why there are still serious data loss incidents.  Since I’m a Microsoft guy, forgive me, but we’ll focus on that pathway, as it is is the one we know best.  There are alternatives for other platforms that do the same thing more or less.

It’s called BitLocker to Go and in Windows 7, it can be applied to any USB storage device that can be plugged into a computer.  What it does is apply military-grade encryption to the data, so if you lose that drive, as long as you don’t have the password written on the back of it in Sharpie marker, the data is unreadable.  Yes, all encryption can eventually be broken; nothing is forever, but BitLocker makes it mathematically unlikely that it can be broken in a reasonable amount of time. 

Now, put a big, bold-face asterisk next to that statement.  Most of it depends on the strength of your password.  Having ‘password’ as your password, is about as dumb as it gets.  A complex password, using lower case, upper case, numbers and special characters, as well as spaces, can make things even tougher.  Tougher as in 4032 years, tougher,  By the year 6045, we don’t care if you find out what my identify was, or if I was ever treated for athlete’s foot.

So how do you come up with a ‘strong’ password to protect your stuff?  This site, from Symantec, is a secure password generator.  For giggles, I generated one and this is it:  sU!Ru@ac.  It’s tough enough and almost impossible to guess, as it isn’t my favourite colour, my Mother’s maiden name, or some mishmash of birthdays, anniversaries and collar measurement.  Is it easy to remember?  Hell no.

Thereby hangs the problem: Humans are lazy.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found passwords under keyboards, or written on a pad of paper in an office.  Most of us in IT have stories that will turn your hair white of critical passwords readily found in the clear. 

There needs to be some process in place, with consequences for those who slide on the process.  Users will copy files they ‘need’ to a USB key or drive and just as likely lose them.  The only way to stop them is to break their hands, which tends to have Workplace Compensation Board implications in most offices.  You tend to not get the best candidates for open positions, if part of the interview is the question “Do you mind having both your hands crippled by our Security Department as a condition of employment?”  

BitLocker and BitLocker to Go can be enforced easily with Group Policy Objects.  You can make it impossible for users to plug in their own USB drives or keys.  One organization provides a specific brand and model of USB keys to their staff, with BitLocker to Go already on it, and makes it impossible for any other kind, brand or model of USB device to be usable, except the company-provided one.  This fixes the human problem, at least a bit, by forcing those who insist on copying material off the network onto a USB key, to only use an ‘approved’ key already configured with encryption.  

One other organization I’m aware of goes one step further:  Before a computer gets to a user, the USB ports are filled with epoxy.  You can’t physically plug in a USB drive.  It voids the computer warranty, of course, but they’re willing to go that far.  Desktop chassis’ are locked with a tamper-evident seal and woe betide the user who breaks that seal, even accidentally.  They get an E-Ticket to the Seventh Circle of Draconian Security Hell that starts with the words “Charged with Corporate Espionage” and gets uglier from there.      

To circle back.  Data loss can be prevented easily enough by addressing the technology and the humans.  Make sure there are penalties for moving any confidential data to a USB drive for whatever reason.  Make it as hard as possible to actually get the data off the network.  Make anything that could be a destination as secure as you can with strong passwords and military-grade encryption then make sure everyone understands why as well as the consequences.  

We’re certain hospitals would much rather have a press conference and say “We lost 25,000 patient records, but the file is protected with military-grade encryption.  It sucks, but we’re confident the information is as secure as we can make it.  And the person who lost it, has had their legs broken by the IT department’s Managing Director.”

Fix the technology and fix the human factors.

Changing the Email Address


Being the technological fashion-forward bit-monkey I am, we’ve moved our usual email account over to the new, improved, way more shiny Outlook.com. 

For a few thousand years we’ve had a Hotmail.com address.  Even back in the early days, when everyone assumed a Hotmail.com email was only for porn mass-marketing and nefarious purposes, we had a Hotmail account that we could use anywhere we could find a browser and a keyboard.  It has served me well, being the portal to the original RoadDave on the Hotmail personal web sites, then Live Spaces, which eventually wound up here on wordpress.com

We can recall one very long night, in Munich after a much-delayed flight from Sardinia and a forty-five minute cab ride to find the one remaining hotel room in all of Southern Germany that wouldn’t let me in.  Hotmail eventually got me past the automated doors and into a much needed slumber, by reaching out to the tech support for the hotel, to override their incomprehensible instructions and get into the actual room with a mag card that couldn’t work and wouldn’t work.

Of course the Hotmail address had its share of looney inhabitants.  We can’t actually count the number of emails demanding my friendship from some illiterate Nigerian cabinet minister, or the still-popular friend request from a Latvian skank who wants to be my very spezial wifes.  We can’t count them, as they are shouldered away by the flood of advertisements that guarantee I’ll gain four, six, ninety-four inches in intimate length and girth with their exclusive formula of modern chemistry. 

By the way, if it ever became that big, I’d be in Vegas doing three shows daily, or I’d rent it out, topped with a midget carrying a flashlight, as a temporary marker buoy, or for store openings.  At least the store openings would be fun, (Come on down to The Sports Mart Grand Opening, Look for the guy with the monster appendage!) Vegas would merely be lucrative, but boring as hell.  Perhaps it could get second billing with Penn and Teller?  Is this your card?  It would nod when the 3 of Clubs comes up.

No, the Hotmail address has been useful and we wish it well, being superseded by the outlook.com address.  It’s the same as the old one, just backspace over the Hotmail.com and type outlook.com.

And yes, the new web interface looks nice.   

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Work–Life Balance: Inside RoadDave


It’s funny looking back over several years of RoadDave, in that we see where we’ve been really busy with other stuff, the usual Life intruding.  Some months there is one mere post, other months, seventeen thoughtful screeds of depth and logic.  The backstory is interesting, at least for me and hopefully for you.

Back in the 20th century, there was no such thing as blogging.  But there were personal websites that you could update as frequently as you wanted.  That was the original genesis of RoadDave.  I worked for a company out of the US that saw me on the road for weeks at a time, doing IT training for a very large company out of Redmond, WA that was owned by that Bill guy. 

We used to travel with 50 laptops in touring cases, as excess baggage in the pre-9-11 days.  We’d fly into a city, set up the night before, do two intense 10 hour days of hands-on training, then pack up, fly out to another city and do it all again.  My personal record was 14 weeks on the road, living out of a suitcase, on Room Service and hotel laundries who never understood “No Starch In Underwear – Starch Shirts Only”  Recreation consisted of falling asleep with the television on, while re-writing lab notes, or improving the demos as part of the training.

Being away that much meant I couldn’t keep up with what friends and family were up to.  Birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, births and the rest of the minutiae of life were missing, as I was in Joplin, King of Prussia, or Phoenix, heading to Charlotte, then St. Louis and on to Salt Lake City after a stop in Downer’s Grove.  So, I created the original RoadDave to post photos and musings for my friends to read and observe.  At its simplest, the original RoadDave was a frequently updated personal website.  After a few years, RoadDave was eventually moved to WordPress, as Microsoft got out of the personal web space business and gave us legit blogging tools.  I stopped the insane travelling in 2009 when I moved back to Ottawa and home. 

I’ve been asked by some readers “How do you come up with that shit all the time?”.  I’ll answer in a roundabout way.  I started writing professionally back in the late 70’s in broadcast radio as on-air talent, in news reporting and commercials.  Both forms of writing are as punishingly strict as writing haiku.  Reporting consists of saying “Lord Jones Dead” to those who never knew Lord Jones was alive.  A radio commercial has to fit 30 seconds, not 29 and not 31 seconds as spoken words, music, sound effects and feelings regarding the product.     

You find out if you persuaded someone to buy or try whatever the advertiser was flogging within a day or two.  When the client calls you up and says that commercial you slaved over every word, comma and pause  “didn’t sell shit, you asshole.  What the hell are you messing around with.  I gotta sell some slacks!  Do it right, fakakta Mister Writer, you putz!” you learn very quickly how to write effective copy.  You also get any delusions of ego or grandeur regarding your prose beaten out of you with a length of rubber hose across the soles of your feet in the elbows-up world of retail radio. 

Compared to writing commercials, reporting was easier, as long as you didn’t stray from Who, What, When, Where, Why and How and committed the Canadian Press Style Guide to memory.  Elements Of Style by Strunk and White was a constant companion.  So was The Law and the Press in Canada by Wilf Kesterton.  With that kind of training in radio, then television, then marketing, then speechwriting, tossing words around became very easy in a recreational setting like a blog. 

As to where I get ideas from?  I read the newspaper, watch the news and generally keep up to date on current events.  The amount of utter madness that comes out of that interweb thingy is remarkable and eminently usable to twist to my needs. 

This implies I have an agenda, which I do and will now share:  Common Sense and the application of same, while laughing at just how silly us humans really are.

If you notice, most of RoadDave can be read out loud by the human voice:  That’s how I write, by ear.  No, not with my ears, as I never learned to touch type with my ears, but by ear, as in spoken out loud and heard.  Ear typing means too many typos and too much editing after the fact, as well as that annoying waxy build-up on the keyboard.  Fingers really do work better than ears for typing as there are at least six more fingers than ears on most humans, unless they have had trouble with power tools and hand-eye coordination issues followed by a hospital visit.

As for anguishing over every last word, comma and carriage return, slaving away in a dusty garret, agonizing over every nuance of my timeless utterances?  Oh hell no, we don’t roll that way. 

Most of it is first-draft, edit-on-the-fly then proofread if something gets underlined in red, or the piece isn’t working.  Also, I tend to bury my lede, (Go look up what a lede is, if you don’t know) so after I write a ‘graph or three I go back.  That means a typical RoadDave might take all of an hour to write.  Some just jump off the fingertips, done and dusted in ten minutes, while others take longer.  This one took about average, forty minutes or so.

And the real reason for removing the cloak from RoadDave, violating the first rule of Theatre:  Never Let Them See The Machinery?

According to WordPress, this is the 601st posting to RoadDave.  I figured some kind of small milestone like that is worthy of recognition in the usual backhand way by explaining some of the backstory and showing you the mechanism that goes into it.

Thank you for listening.  We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Fixin’ The ‘Puter


Sure, I do it for a living, but from time to time, ones personal technology takes a long steamer, as mine did a couple of weeks ago.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that; as technology fails, but one would think that someone who bashes electrons for a living would have a stone solid personal piece.  You would be wrong.

As the old aphorism goes, the Cobbler’s Children always have the worst shoes.  Those of us who bash iron professionally are usually of two camps.  Camp A:  A nitrogen-cooled beast, overclocked out to one red c-hair back from “Aluminum Smelter” with 64 Gig of RAM and a half a petabyte of personal storage.  NASA calls us up when they want to run some heavy duty simulations. 

Camp B:  Some clapped out AMD barely able to run Solitaire, let alone any apps worth listing, that was last updated with Jack Layton had hair.

To disprove the rule, we sit between the two polar extremes.  A modest desktop, five years old, with way too much storage built into and around it.  However, like all technology, the motherboard up and died a couple of weeks ago.  You know it is time for the black armband services when it won’t recognize a PS2 keyboard. 

So we went looking for a new piece.  We do know that buying at the bleeding edge is brutally expensive and has more risks than offering to swap photos with Rep. Anthony Weiner, so we avoid going there.  The objective was to build wisely, without having to sell an internal organ to a Saudi prince to pay for the gear. 

We wanted a grownup case, without whirling LED lights hung off the fans and 3-D holograms of some airbrushed gaming Amazonian warrior princess from an obscure first-person shooter.  We wanted something that would take all the external drives and somehow convince them to live inside a proper chassis.  Then there was RAM.  We know that 8 is great but 16 is simply faaabulous, so there had to be room to grow, extra slots and a BIOS that won’t go stupid in a years’ time.

After much reading, link clicking and cross-referencing we wound up with a nice, one year-back from bleeding edge processor, with room to grow the RAM.  A power supply that won’t make choking noises when you plug in a USB key and a new home for seven formerly outboard bigazz drives.  Yes, there is a lot of disk space in the case and a lot of it gets used thanks.  Tweaks?  A few, modest ones, but nothing that will void a warranty or cause puddles of molten solder to wind up on our desk. 

Which means, simply, that we can write again, having exhausted all available post-work cycles on finding, building and configuring a new ‘puter with parts from here, there and everywhere in between. 

Refried History


The clever RoadDave readers will notice some subtle changes over the next few weeks.  The original RoadDave was a Microsoft Website that we updated regularly, with writings from the road.  There was no ‘blogging’ back then, or even tools to blog with.  One cold afternoon, Mothership informed us that we were being ported to something called Live Spaces, which was before this iteration of RoadDave on WordPress.com. 

What happened in the intervening years was a lot of the 2002 to 2006 postings on RoadDave disappeared, as the first version was mothballed then 404’d.  Through a happy coincidence, a site called Multiply sent me a link to the old RoadDave where many of the old posts and some of the old photos still live.  Kismet.

As time moves along, we’re taking the old postings, with their original date of publication and moving them to the WordPress blog.  The old photos will come too, aided by their assistance dog.  You’ll see posts going back to August 2002 and if you are inclined to read them, just scroll down the left hand side of the page for each months’ entries. 

We’re not correcting them beyond the obvious spelling errors, as the old postings are what they are.  I wrote differently then, but I also write differently now and a rewrite seems unfair, perhaps even vaguely unethical.  RoadDave was never meant to be a documentary record of pristine historical importance.  With any luck, it never will be either.