Here we go again

Feb 14, 2016

Another year, another blog … sort of. This is, I think, the third incarnation of this one. I’m always on the lookout for easier ways of updating a blog where I can use plain text and not be locked in to some technology, or worse, a particular version of some technology. I’ve been burned before: I have two older Wordpress blogs; they were created with different versions of Wordpress and are accessible but are static. I suppose if I had kept up with the updates including the required manual tweaking to get everything working again, they could still be viable. Provided I also kept up with the php updates, etc. But, inevitiably, there would come a time where I wouldn’t be able to get an update or I just got tired of having to do all the work to keep it running and hack-free. By abandoning them earlier I’ve just sped up the inevitable. They are just lost in time … like tears in the rain. (Sorry.)

A couple of years ago I switched to a static blog using Markdown and Jekyll. Once it was set up, it worked OK. Since it created a static website, it was less likely to get hacked and I could host it cheaply on Amazon AWS. The downside was that every time I wanted to upload a post I had to copy files around and manually run Jekyll, log into my Amazon account and upload it. Again, it worked … but it was tedious and very quickly I tired of doing it.

Now the blog is hosted on Github pages. Because my content is simple Markdown files and Github uses Jekyll, I was able to move the whole thing over will relatively little effort. OK, there was some effort involved in figuring out how to change the template. And, OK, it did take a fair amount of slogging to get Jeykll to run on Linux Mint. Well, and I had to learn some elementary commands in git. But, other than that: painless.

But, since the posts themselves exist as simple text files rather than binary chunks in some database, once I got it set up, it really was painless to move all the content over to the new home and have it adopt the new look.

Now, the comes the really hard part: adding new content to it. ;)

ownCloud redux

Feb 14, 2016

I was writing a long update of how I had set up an ownCloud server for hosting my own calendar and contact information. But, then I stumbled onto this blog post from someone who had done essentially the same thing but explained the process much better.

A few differences between his set up and mine: I installed ownCloud on a VirtualBox VM running in tandem with other VMs on a refurbished Win7 system that I use as my home server. I installed Ubuntu Server and then installed ownCloud. I have Apache on that VM running on a unique port which I forwarded through my router. Then I followed the same steps as the Rambling Madman to get the information out of Google and sync’d with Thunderbird on the desktop and my Android devices.

More than a month so far and no issues. (Just jinxed it there.)

Fallibility of memory

Apr 7, 2015

More reasons to keep a journal and save notes on stuff you’ve learned:

We’ve heard the stories of Brian Williams and his confusion regarding which helicopter he was flying in. There are still differences of opinion on the likelihood of his lying versus mis-remembering, but it has highlighted how fallible meory can be. Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons have provided a handy list in their story on on how to not be your local version of Mr. Williams, including

  • Don’t confuse memories with facts
  • Trust, but verify
  • Revisit original sources
  • Use your personal archives

Not only are our existing memories suspect, a study carried out by Julia Shaw and Stephen Porter at a Canadian university showed how terribly easy it is to implant false memories. In fact, they stopped the study when they found that 70% of subjects were convinced the fake memories were real. The authors believe that police interrogation techniques can cause suspects to believe they committed a crime and confess to crimes they didn’t.

It's World Backup Day!

Mar 31, 2015

I’m celebrating! Are you? Someone should backup the party. I’d do it, but I’m kind of busy. Maybe I’ll get to it later. Hopefully it won’t crash and I’d lose it all.

With so much of our lives being digital (documents, pictures, emails), everyone has experienced losing some bit of it from time to time.

World Backup Day has been created as a way to remind people that it’s important to preserve at least one copy of those precious files off the computer or camera or phone in case the worst happens.

The website has the statistic that up to 30% of us have never made a backup. That’s just all kinds of sad waiting to happen.

In observation of Word Backup Day, Tech Republic has a detailed post about the importance of backing up and include the 3-2-1 rule.

This is why the introduction of the 3-2-1 rule for data backups makes logical sense for the real world, as it introduces flexibility. The 3-2-1 rule posits that there should be at least 3 copies of data that are stored on at least 2 different media, and at least 1 of the copies must be stored offsite

As the World Backup Day folks say: Don’t be an April Fool. Backup your data.

This page is not offially supported or endorsed by World Backup Day.

Texthaven update

Mar 31, 2015

A brand new, shiny version of Texthaven is available for download from the Texthaven website .

CSS Style sheets

In this version, I’ve added the ability to change the CSS sheet while viewing a note in the Markdown view.

I have a lot of notes with text captured from websites, along with notes detailing progress in different projects, some todo list and others which have a lot of linked images. I find that different notes work better with different CSS attributes. Having the ability to switch between different layouts makes it easy.

New CSS files can be created and added to the support folder beneath the Texthaven application folder and they’ll be read the next time Texthaven is launched.

New Keyboard shortcuts

There are three new keyboard shortcuts for your markup pleasure. Move the cursor to a line of text and press Ctrl + H to make that line a header. (This adds a row of == equals signs beneath the lin.) Click in a line of text and press Ctrl + U to create a sub header (Underline with — minus signs.) Using this shortcut on a blank line will create a series of minus signs which will be create a horizontal line in Markdown. Use Ctrl + L to create another style of horizontal line: three asterisks separated by spaces.

And more! But, that’s enough for now. ;)

Encryption wrench

Mar 8, 2015


 encryption comic

Suggesting, perhaps, that simple password encrypted zips might be good enough. ;)

Vint Cerf warns of bit rot

Mar 3, 2015

Speaking to the BBC’s Pallab Ghosh , Vint Cerf spoke about the obsolscence of digital documents.

“No matter what the medium is in which digital bits are recorded, ” he says, even if we can still read the medium, “how long will we make sense out of them?” If you use a program to create a complex file, in 20 or 30 years “do you have the software that knows what the bits mean?” He is proposing something called “Digital Vellum” where the entire environment needed to use that file is stored. “Capture the digital environment in which those bits were created. And make it possible a thousand years from now to recreate that digital environment so that the files that we created … can be reproduced in the distant future.” “[It’s achievable] as long as we standardize the descriptions” so that the standards are still known to be able to reconstruct this carefully constructed object.

The nub of this is of course is the part about standardizing the descriptions. How can we be sure that Vellum 4.0 will be able to read Vellum 1.0 files any more reliably than the current version of Word can read Word 1.0 files? It seems to me that this would be just adding more layers to the Russian doll that has to be unpacked by future generations.

For some types of documents this is unavoidable, but I would hazard that most of the documents we create (images, text, tables) could be saved in simpler formats without losing any of its value or usefulness.

On replaceable ROMs and batteries

Feb 22, 2015

Last year I posted a rant about how a forced upgrade forced onto my Samsung Galaxy S3 essentially destroyed the usefulness and enjoyment of the phone for me. I survived for a few months with it in that state but eventually I just couldn’t take it any more. The sheer annoyance of dealing with the crippled, slow, battery hogging device overrode my fear of permanently lobotomizing the poor thing if the upgrade went sideways.

I chose to install cyanogenmod . There are other options but my research suggested that this was one of the safest, best supported and most stable aftermarket Android ROM available. My S3 is pretty common so it’s well supported . The instructions are fairly clear (after repeated readings) and mostly worked as written. The only real wrinkle in the process was that I couldn’t get adb working to send the new ROM to the phone. Copying the zip to the microsd card and using the ‘Install from zip’ option in the Recovery app worked fine. It found the zip and away it went. I chose to install the Google Apps zip as well.

After a bit of initial configuration and logging into Google to sync my calender and contacts, then downloading some basic apps through the Play Store, I was up and running. I’ve been using it for a week so far and other than an known issue with the built in camera app I haven’t run into any problems. I have been more than pleased with the configurability of the OS and am thrilled beyond words that my apps have unfettered write access to the sdcard again. (I had missed being able to use Dropsync to keep all my notes in sync.)

While the battery draining issue did improve with the new ROM, I found that I still wasn’t able to get even a half days usage from the phone before having to recharge so I bought a replacement battery for $34. What a difference: I am now getting more than 24 hour usage between charges. And I have the original battery as a back up. Good golly I love replaceable batteries.

In just over a week and less than $50 my old phone has a new lease on life.

Avast! bad reputation

Feb 20, 2015

Recently a new user downloaded the demo version of my Texthaven installer on a computer running Avast! anti-virus. Immediately after the download was completed, Avast! popped up an error saying the application was infected with the DRep virus and had been deleted. Pretty scary! But, also a lie. The Texthaven installer is not infected with a virus: the ‘Rep’ part of ‘DRep’ stands for ‘Reputation’. What this means is that because huge numbers of people haven’t downloaded the file Avast hasn’t decided if it’s dangerous or not. No real virus was detected in the file.

I emailed Avast support and asked about this. Part of the reply included this nugget:

DomainRep is a new feature of Avast, so let me explain a bit. It blocks EXE files downloads if these conditions are all met:

  1. The file is not prevalent enough, ie. not enough Avast users launched the file yet,

  2. The domain is not prevalent enough, ie. not enough Avast users downloaded (any) EXE files from the domain yet,

  3. The file is not signed or Avast does not trust the signature.

Once one of these conditions are not met anymore, Avast will stop flagging the download. In other words, just wait until more people try to download the file, or digitally sign your files.

Us small developers don’t have the kind of cash required to digitally sign our installers so that option is out.

Does anybody else see the problem with remaining parts this policy?

How exactly are we supposed to improve our reputation score if Avast! users are not allowed to launch the file?

Or how can our websites become more prevalent if users are being scared off with a huge, scary virus notice when they try to download a file?

I replied to their mail thusly:

Unfortunately, I don’t think your company understands the catch-22 that Avast’s current policy towards unknown installers creates for us small developers.

On one hand you’re saying that to improve the reputation of our installers more people need to download the file but on the other hand you won’t allow anyone to download the file. So, how exactly are we supposed to improve the reputation score of our installers?

Forcing us to digitally sign the installers is a non starter because it’s prohibitively expensive for small developers.

So, in effect you’re only allowing the established players to gain market share because you’re giving the impression that all other installers are infected with a virus.

A fairer approach would be to download the installer, scan it and then if it actually does contain a virus, warn the user or delete the file.

I do appreciate that you’ve unblocked my site and installer but requiring that developers go through support just to make it possible for users to download their files just isn’t fair. I haven’t used Avast for a while (too many pop ups) and didn’t even know it was blocked until someone emailed me and told me.

The good news is the newer versions of Avast! will no longer block downloads of the Texthaven installer. But, it shouldn’t have happened at all.

Android 4.4.3 update displeasure

Jul 12, 2014

A rant after Android 4.4.3 was downloaded to my Samsung Galaxy S3 and discovering that apps can no longer write anywhere on the external sdcard.

If I wanted to be treated like a child living in a house where all the electrical outlets are sealed with those little plastic fillers to keep myself from being electrocuted by sticking a knife in the slot, I would buy an iPhone. (Why I would have a knife is another question.) Android is supposed to be about personal choice and options and having control over your own device. To be told from on high that I no longer have the choice to have applications update files on my own personal external sdcard on my own personal device is insulting.

Even worse is having it foisted on me after the fact. If I had bought the device with that limitation at least I would have known what I was getting before I plunked down my cash. But to download an update that was near imposssible to avoid and have this little ‘fix’ buried deep inside with no option to disable it is infuriating.

I can understand that there are those who need to have their hands held and prefer that applications be kept in their own little fenced yards but I prefer it more messy.

I like that I can have one copy of an image or a document and edit them with multiple applications. In general, document editing programs are great at document editing but are dismal at file management. Why would I want to depend on their ability to correctly sync with Dropbox when it’s not their expertise? A special purpose synchronizing application is be much more likely to do the job reliably and properly because that’s what they do. It only makes sense to trust an app which does One Thing Well rather than a franken-app half doing many things.

Sure there are more opportunities for malware to do bad things on my card and sure it’s possible for applications to write things where they aughtn’t. But I am adult and I understand the issues and I’m willing to take that risk. At least give me the option – with appropriate warning dialogs and checkboxes if you insist – to make my computing life work like I want.