Updates from June, 2010 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 5:14 pm on 30 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    While on vacation last week, I had a frustrating experience with Facebook that demonstrated how “security theater” annoys legitimate users without actually increasing security.

    Since I had no proper Internet connection, I was using my phone to access Facebook, which worked fine. However, I also had my Kindle with me, so I decided to try its “experimental” Web browser to see if it would be a usable way of interacting with Facebook.

    To my surprise, my attempt to log in failed; Facebook instead presented a message telling me that I was trying to log in from an unfamiliar location (by which it actually meant an unfamiliar device), and that my account had therefore been locked out. This was no problem, it reassured me: all I had to do was log in from my usual desktop computer and confirm that this activity was OK.

    But this was a problem, since my desktop computer was a three-hour drive away. Did it not occur to the Facebook developers that I might be logging in from an “unfamiliar location” precisely because I didn’t have access to my desktop computer?

    I was now completely unable to access Facebook, even from my phone, because of this account lockout. I wasn’t willing to put up with this, though, so after a lot of experimenting and Googling, I figured out how to tether my phone to my laptop using Bluetooth, essentially using the phone as a wireless access point. My data plan doesn’t officially support this kind of usage, so I didn’t want to risk extra fees by doing it too much; but I figured I could do it long enough to get to Facebook.

    I was successful in logging in using my laptop. To reactivate my account, all I had to do was respond to a CAPTCHA and then click a button confirming that I recognized the recent activity they’d flagged as suspicious. I was back in, and now I could access Facebook from any of my devices.

    My question is, what did this accomplish, other than infuriating me and forcing me to go through ludicrous hurdles to restore my account? Any suspicious person who might have tried to access my account from an “unfamiliar location” — using my user ID and password! — could have unlocked the account as easily as I did, or even more easily, since they probably would have had access to a desktop computer. (Despite what it claimed, Facebook wasn’t paying the slightest attention to my location, only what kind of device I was using.)

    I’ve never encountered this kind of behavior from any other site, but beware: if you ever have any plans to access Facebook from a new kind of device, you’d better try it while sitting next to your regular computer before you go on the road.

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  • Hober Short 10:46 am on 30 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Introducing: Hulu Plus. For $9.99/month, you get access to the “full season” of “almost all of the current broadcast shows on our service” (i.e. not just the trailing episodes), as well as every episode of many past shows on the service (Buffy is named explicitly).

    Also, you can watch Hulu on your Samsung Blu-Ray player, iPad, and iPhone 3GS or 4, in 720P, where available. No news on Android, but that’s perhaps to be expected: you go to market with what you have.

    As an aside, it doesn’t so much look like they were trying to prevent Hulu content from going anywhere but to the desktop, they just realize that people want it so badly they’ll fork over cash, so they didn’t want projects like Boxee making it free.

    Also, hopefully more outlets set-top options will be forthcoming: TiVo? Roku?

     
  • Hober Short 12:12 pm on 29 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    I’m not sure which part of this news article alarms me more: that these people think smoked salmon vodka is a good idea, or that they introduced bacon-flavored vodka almost a year ago and I’ve never heard of it.

     
  • Hober Short 10:38 am on 24 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    I discovered Gangstagrass as a combination of two things: watching FX’s masterful Justified and listening to Michael Bane’s Downrange Radio, a podcast about guns and whatever else Bane feels like talking about. In this case, he felt like talking about Justified, so he ran Justified‘s theme song as the intro music to that episode of the podcast.

    Gangstagrass wrote that theme. But if I had never heard it on Downrange Radio and Justified, I would have never actually looked up the music, which is a positively amazing mix of gangsta rap and bluegrass. Think rap lyrics and banjo, breakbeats and fingerpickin’.

    I am under no illusions that my fellow bloggers here will absolutely revile this music, but for me it represents an amazing fusion of genres that strikes a chord. It’s that same fusion that I find so interesting that keeps me listening to classic Linkin Park, overcoming the over-the-top angst, because no one sounds like they do.

    But I never would have found Gangstagrass if not for a strange confluence in various media that I pay attention.

    I live in paralyzing fear that there are things out in the world that I would love but I have no way to find.

     
    • bxojr 11:16 am on 28 June 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’ll admit that it sounds perfectly horrid to me, but I’m just curious enough that I’ll probably follow the links and have a listen.

      I can vaguely remember the dark days of the ’80s and early ’90s, when finding new music was a hit-and-miss affair. Remarkably, there was a time when my primary avenue for discovering new music was to go into CD Superstore (a now-defunct local chain) and randomly listen to the relative handful of CDs they’d made available at their “listening stations.” If I read an intriguing review of something too obscure to find in stores, I’d often have to order it without hearing it, trusting that the review wasn’t steering me wrong.

      Nowadays, of course, we don’t depend on the scarce real-estate of store shelves to promote music. And pretty much any CD in the world is available through the “listening station” in your browser, so there’s much less risk in buying music. There will always be more music out there than you can listen to, and a lot that you’ll never hear about. But the Internet has made it possible to find so much more, so much more easily, than was the case twenty years ago. The limiting factor now is time and budget.

  • Hober Short 12:22 pm on 17 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Buried at the bottom of a WRAL story that purports to be about technology reducing privacy, but is actually about the amount of accountability being introduced by ubiquitous video recording technology: (emphasis added)

    Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison says more and more people locally are using their cell phones to record arrests that occur in public and that more people submitting complaints are using video.

    When we’re doing our job, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about,” Harrison said. “That’s why I wish we had cameras in every car that we have. We have so many complaints that come in that are false. It helps us.”

    Wow. We’ve been saying that for years, but to hear it out of the County Sheriff’s mouth…

    Anyone running against him is going to have to make a strong case to one-up a guy who’ll go on record as saying that.

     
  • Hober Short 10:47 am on 16 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Last November, Wake County voters went to the voting booth to, among other things, elect new school board members. The race was essentially one issue: busing versus community schools. The community schools crowd won. (Sample article here.)

    Unfortunately, the results of many elections are only a simulacrum of the will of the people, however in this case, it seems a pretty direct line to the pulse of the community. Folks are sick of spending a lot of time and money busing kids across town.

    To protest this, the local head of the NAACP, who we have mentioned before organized a disruptive non-violent protest, almost certainly trying to invoke shades of the 60’s civil rights movement. But this civil disobedience wasn’t quite so civil:

    [Board member John] Tedesco, who has stated repeatedly that diversity and community-based assignments are not opposites, said [president of the state chapter of the NAACP Rev. William] Barber was offered the opportunity to meet privately with the board to discuss his concerns.

    “He told us he wanted to have his discussion on camera for media grand-standing purposes,” Tedesco said. “I think that we took every step to not have someone arrested.”

    Anyway, at this point, the school board are only reflecting the will of the electorate. The time to protest and try and change hearts and minds about this issue was last October.

     
  • Hober Short 2:12 am on 16 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Bob, your blog post about country and western music (the only two kindsa real music) mentions, in passing, Darius Rucker, formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish.

    Rucker’s is a name that instantly rings a bell with me, but not for any of his album work, but instead for his one-minute jingle for Burger King:

    Of course, the melody is that of the eternally catchy “Big Rock Candy Mountain“. (As an aside, during high school, I shared a bathroom with my sister, and we both used the stereo to play music while we did our morning cleanings. The CDs that got the most play were the ones we both loved — you didn’t have to change it every day! We must have started our day to the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, of which “Big Rock Candy Mountain” was the second track at least a hundred times.)

    I’m not sure if it’s a credit to Rucker that the first thing I think of associated with him is that video, but I have to admit, gratuitous double entendres aside, it remains a darn catchy commercial.

     
  • Hober Short 10:30 am on 15 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The desperately-needed teacher $23 billion teacher bailout I wrote about last week is, of course, a shell game, trying to trick the public with specious forecasts:

    Start with that scary number of 300,000 teacher layoffs, which has been bandied about in numerous newspaper articles. The sources for it are interested parties: teachers unions and school administrators, whose national organizations counted layoff warning notices that have already been sent out this spring and extrapolated from there.

    . . .

    Moreover, springtime layoff notices are a notoriously unreliable guide to actual job cuts in the fall, because rules and regulations in many public school systems require administrators to notify every person who might conceivably be laid off — whether they actually expect to fire them or not. As the New York Times recently reported: “Everywhere, school officials tend to overestimate the potential for layoffs at this time of year, to ensure that every employee they might have to dismiss receives the required notifications.”

    The whole thing is a numbers game by the teacher unions to get more of that sweet sweet government cheese. Is anyone surprised? Not really.

    Okay, blog post #1 for this article done. Blog post #2: from later in the article:

    To be sure, the president and his advisers argue that the bill would pay for itself in part, because teachers and other school employees who are retained would continue to pay taxes and not collect unemployment benefits.

    This was just slipped in the article as a relative afterthought, but it jumps out at me as a very dangerous line of reasoning. Things like unemployment insurance and welfare create perverse incentives like this that make it rational in the economic sense to spend money to save money.

    In the field of macroeconomics, it is trivial to show that unemployment insurance decreases the costs of being unemployed, increasing the number of people who do it, raising the unemployment rate. From there, Okun’s Law says that a higher unemployment rate is an express elevator to lower GDP. On the macro side, it’s pretty widely accepted that an increase in unemployment benefits is bad for the bottom line.

    But now we see that not only does it provide perverse incentives to the individual receiving it, by paying him not to work any job that pays less than unemployment insurance’s weekly wage, but it also provides perverse incentives to the politicians who lobbied for the unemployment insurance in the first place, to justify more bailouts and payoffs.

     
  • Hober Short 4:30 pm on 14 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The “discovery” of a trillion dollars of mineral resources in Afghanistan turn out to be contrived on a few fronts:

    But the military (and observers of the military) have known about Afghanistan’s mineral riches for years. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Navy concluded in a 2007 report that “Afghanistan has significant amounts of undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources,” including ”large quantities of accessible iron and copper [and] abundant deposits of colored stones and gemstones, including emerald, ruby [and] sapphire.”

    Not to mention that the $1 trillion figure is — at best — a guesstimate. None of the earlier U.S military reports on Afghan’s mineral riches cite that amount. And it might be prudent to be wary of any data coming out of Afghanistan’s own Mines Ministry, which “has long been considered one of the country’s most corrupt government departments,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

    If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably just marketing.

     
  • Hober Short 3:54 pm on 14 June 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    He’s only sorry that he got caught.

    U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge apologized Monday, following the release of a video on the Web that shows the Democratic lawmaker in a physical confrontation with another man on a Washington D.C. sidewalk.

    “I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction, and I apologize to all involved,” Etheridge, who represents North Carolina’s 2nd District, said in a statement. “Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect.”

    I’m just glad that technology has gotten to the level that this crew was able to bring not one, but two cameras, so that the Congressman could only snatch away the first one.

     
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