2022.01.153G Sunsets in 2022

A couple of days ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a story about how all three mobile networks operating in the US — AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile — intend to dismantle their 3G infrastructure by the close of this year.

I considered the news for a moment, then broke into a cold sweat as I dialed OnStar.

My car is a model year 2013. That means that later this year, my car will be 10 model years old.

I knew with near certainty the OnStar transceiver in my car operated over a 3G network. Verizon's, in fact — based on previous conversations with OnStar.

According to the advisor I spoke with, OnStar will be marketing a device in the coming months to allow older transceivers to continue to function in the new mobile spectrum. I was told to watch for details in March.

I was also told these devices will "plug into" the transceivers, and that subscribers will be billed for the cost of those devices.

I suspect the subtext of the previous paragraph is that we'll have to have the devices professionally installed, and that subscribers are going to have to weigh the benefit of continuing the subscription against the costs of the device and the labor for installation. I fear this could be an expensive proposition, which could force owners to consider upgrading their cars.

Personally, succession planning has become a more serious matter. I love my car, and I've had very little trouble with it — so much so that I trust it for kiddo's use far more than I would buying another used car. But now the car has reached the point where the technology its emergency contact system relies on is being retired. In an age where cars are more and more computerized, and less and less maintainable by their owners, the cost of ownership is today now influenced by occasional disruptions like this.

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2022.01.012021 Year in Review

Overall, posts were down this year. In 2020, I spent a lot of time out of work due to COVID-19. Happily, I spent 2021 hard at work.

Posts on fitness and cycling were way up this year. COVID-19 posts remained in the top spot, though 2021 saw only half as many such posts as did 2020.

  • Art posts were up. Laurel gifted me a pair of Tarkay's and one or two Barnes this year!

  • Books were down this year, which likely reflected my general exhaustion with all things politics — particularly following the attack on Congress in early January. There were a couple of books I wanted to buy, but never "closed the deals."

  • COVID posts generally reflected the progress the United States had made against the virus during the spring and summer months. I posted 32 times about COVID-19 during 2021, with no posts ocurring between May and July. Contrast with 63 COVID-related posts in 2020. Posts to the topic began increasing late in the year, with the arrival of the omicron variant.

  • Posts about fitness/health shot up this year, and for good reason: I decided to finally get my shit together and be an adult — to stop eating like a 17 year old and ignoring my diabetes. To say 2021 was a transformational year for me is underselling it — I got healthy in a VERY big way, dropping from about 275 lbs down to 219, and reducing my astronic A1C measurement to 7, earning the description "well-managed."

  • Gaming posts dropped signficantly over the year, too. I haven't spent much time on the XBOX this year, except to use it to play DVD's... but I've been loving Grand Theft Auto III on my PC.

  • Geek posts were also way down in 2021.

  • Movie posts were flat, though we did go see a few this year. Theaters were prety much closed throughout 2020. Music posts were also flat, though I played a LOT of guitar over the year.

  • There were several politics and national interest posts over the year, but one of them, recounting the aftermath of the Presidential Election, ran from Election Day through to Inauguration Day.

  • Several posts to the Texas Life topic were made in February, when the state saw a terrible snow storm that took out power across the state and killed hundreds.

  • No posts on whiskey this year, which is hardly surprising since I gave up drinking like two years ago or more.

texas life4


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2021.11.25iRobot Roomba 980

I ordered a refurbished Roomba 980 on ebay for what seemed a very reasonable price. After setting it up this evening and running it for a while, I have to say the Roomba does not disappoint.

The unit arrived with only the charging station and an AC power cord for the charging station. No manual, no instructions, not even a quick start guide.

Googling "iRobot Roomba 980" quickly returned a manual. Following its instructions, I set up the charging station and docked the vacuum on it to allow it to charge. A short while later, I downloaded the iRobot Home app to my iPhone, and followed its instructions on configuring the Roomba for our home network... took maybe three minutes.

I set a schedule for the machine to run this evening. Right on cue, it sprang to life and started its task. After running for an hour, it had swept up the kitchen several times and did a fair amount of the living room and adjoining hallways. It navigated the carpeted areas with no problem at all.

In a house with more pets than people, the vacuum collected a very impressive amount of pet hair — partly, I suppose, because it moves unhindered beneath furniture I'm too lazy to move when I run the manual machine. (Look, I'm just being honest here.)

In the hour it ran, it consumed probably 80% of its battery — but much of the terrain was living room carpet. In practice, I'd probably maybe limit it to running for 15 minutes or a half-hour at a time instead of it just running open-ended like that.

Here's the most impressive part (to me, anyway): Each time the robot runs, it builds a map of the area. After the initial run of 15 minutes, it had a lot of the hard surfaces figured out — the back entrance and the kitchen area chiefly. I mean, it was sort of rough, but you could make it out. After the hour, it had added significant detail to the map: one can now clearly see the kitchen, bar, dining area, much of the living room, and the halls. It had mapped its position well enough that when I pressed the "home" button (which I thought would send it to its dock), it went STRAIGHT there, navigating the curvature of the walls and everything.

About the only negative I could say — and I feel a little dumb for saying it — is that the machine sounds like a vacuum cleaner. It's not quiet. It's every bit as loud as my Dyson vacuum or a hair dryer. Tonight for the hour it ran, I ended up "sending it home" because I'd had enough of the noise. I guess I thought it'd be quieter. Everything else about the machine so far is super impressive. The amount of junk it collected was astounding. Would I buy another? Today, I absolutely would.


One month on, and I just about can't love this thing any more than I do. It amazes me how much fur and dust and whatnot it collects.

I had a bit of a headscratcher last week... no matter what I tried, I couldn't get the bin warning to reset. Fortunately, the Internet came to the rescue. I learned two things from this person's blog post: (1) There are sensors inside of the bin compartment that work like obstacle sensors do on garage doors. If the sensors can't "see" each other, the machine interprets as if the bin is full. (2) I had been clearing the bin by sticking my fingers in its "mouth" and removing the filter from the top, then working the contents out into the garbage. It turns out the entire "mouth" side is hinged. If you look at the bin from the top, the side where the mouth is is black and has a pair of yellow triangles that appear as subtle arrows to suggest how to re-insert the bin. If you press at where those arrows are, you can open the bin, giving much easier access to its contents. The sensors I mentioned earlier are two rectangular shapes that jut out on either side of the mouth. Cleaning those may resolve a difficult bin error issue.

I would still buy one again in a heartbeat.

I also purchased a pair of virtual wall units — also from eBay, and far below retail price — and these things are awesome. The images suggest they're about the size of an electric coffee grinder, but they're actually much, much smaller... more the height of a coffee cup. Each runs on a pair of AA batteries (included). I use them to confine the Roomba to our living room — one as a boundary on the north side of the room to prevent access to the kitchen, and one on the east side of the room to prevent access to the main hall. I do actually need a third, though, to be completely effective for the family room area.

With all the amazing work the Roomba does, though, — at least, around my house, with four cats and a dog — I think it's already time to do some maintenance. I think I probably should have changed the HEPA filter a couple of weeks ago, and the brush bristles are looking pretty dark. Amazon.com seems to have no shortage of replacement parts available for purchase.

In summary, for a home that has pets, and carpet throughout, I'd recommend buying a refurbished unit straight from the manufacturer via eBay, and buying a maintenance kit with replacement brushes and air filters. When run regularly, the Roomba will capture tons and tons of debris at first — you'll be emptying the bin often. If you didn't vacuum your floors often before getting the Roomba, you may find the filter and/or brush could use replacement in that first month. Over time, you'll find there's less debris for Roomba to collect, and you'll be emptying the bin less often.

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2021.06.27So Long, Facebook App!

Over the last several months, there's been much ado about Apple's new ATT feature in iOS 14. ATT is what the cool kids call the defensive capability built into the iPhone's operating system that prevents apps from tracking your identity outside of Apple's "walled garden" without your expressed permission. Many postulated the new privacy move by Apple would kill especially Facebook's data collection efforts, which constitute a very large revenue stream for the social media platform. I've read several articles which exposed the breadth of data Facebook collects through its iPhone app — it's monstrous and unreasonable. Data collection of this magnitude, combined with weak protections, is what allowed a small company called Cambridge Analytica to weaponize Facebook for political purposes. With ATT now requiring each unit's owner to specifically authorize Facebook to collect their data, Apple, combined with user preference, have all but closed the data floodgates to Facebook entirely; the last reporting I saw suggested between 5% and 10% of Facebook users have given the permission now required for Facebook to collect data from their iPhones.

I have been using Facebook less and less of late, mostly as a function of the divisiveness and rancor that didn't entirely cease at the close of the most recent federal election cycle. But today, things in my native Facebook app were different: ads. About every third item in my feed was a fucking advertisement. This was pollution of a sort I'd never seen before, because they didn't seem to be driven by my preferences or history. It's just ad after ad after ad of random shit.

As I'd been reading about what a data Hoover the Facebook app is, I've weighed the price of using the app with the experience using a browser. I chose Firefox for an experiment, making Facebook the only page I used that browser for, so every time I'd open it, it'd open to Facebook. I found the browser-based experience not entirely distasteful. There was a lot about it that very closely approximated the experience through Facebook's app.

So today when I found all those ads cluttering my feed, I switched to Firefox and found... no ads. Anywhere. My feed was all content, no ads. I checked the app again — the SECOND item on my feed was an ad.

I looked closer at the settings on Firefox Mobile. What? A night mode? YES PLEASE! Once I found that setting, there was no reason for me to use the Facebook app any longer. It's outta here!

I'm not a hard-core privacy guy, but I do consider my information as currency where "free" apps like Google and Facebook are concerned. Put simply, if you're going to use their apps, you have to be okay with them monetizing your metadata. So be a smart shopper, and vote with your data. Personally, I'm not okay with the quantities of data Facebook and Google collect from my phone, so I choose not to use their applications.

So my preferred substitution for the Facebook App is accessing their site via browser. Firefox Mobile, built by Mozilla, is known for being pro-privacy, and it's new "night mode" sealed the deal for me.

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2021.04.29How to Stop Firefox from Opening in Fullscreen Mode

This advice is not mine — it's from Mozilla Support — I'm just passing their information along.

This particular issue has affected me for months — I even went so far as to install a browser sizer widget to try to work around it: My Firefox browser software would always open full screen — not necessarily maximized, but... it sort of reminded me of JavaScript used back in the 1990's to expand the browser to full screen. It didn't matter what I did to try to stop it.

This morning I guess I found the right combination of search terms to Google my way to the aforementioned support article. The problem I was having can be traced to a corrupted XML file.

The solution, provided by Fred McD, suggested spelunking your AppData folder down to Firefox/ Profiles to find and delete xulstore.json. I found that file in a folder one level below — a lot can happen in software over a year (Fred McD provided the solution in April, 2020).

Sure enough, once I deleted the file I was able to open Firefox, resize it, close it, and reopen it at the size I'd previously set.

Thank you, Fred McD and Mozilla!

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2021.01.15Stop AppleTV Notifications On Your Apple Watch

Image of a super fancy toaster.


I don't like ads on anything other than broadcast TV, and that's only because I grew up with them. If I'm frequenting a website that's ad-supported, I'll typically purchase a subscription — I'd rather support them directly than deal with annoying ads. But where I really draw the line is seeing ads on a service I'm already paying for.

Apple has crossed that line by pushing notifications to my Apple Watch about its programming. I don't GAF about a new show on Discovery+; grabbing my wrist to tell me about it is not only unhelpful, but it's motivation for me to tell others how to configure their settings so you don't annoy them, either.

I am running the latest versions of the iPhone and Apple Watch operating systems, and I've never messed with any of these settings before — so I assume I'm about to walk you through changes to default settings.

I started with the Apple Watch app, because that app typically controls settings for your Apple Watch.

  1. First, I touched the Notifications menu. Make sure you're looking at the My Watch panel (I think it's the default when you open the app).
  2. Under Notifications, you'll see three switches that take up the entire screen. Scroll down to see notifications settings for individual apps... you won't find AppleTV there.
  3. Scroll down further until you see "MIRROR IPHONE ALERTS FROM:" — and keep scrolling until you find the AppleTV app, just called "TV". You'll find its set to OFF. Switch it ON.

Now, move to your iPhone Settings app.

  1. Touch the AppleTV menu (the text reads, "TV").
  2. Scroll down to "ALLOW TV TO ACCESS," and touch the Notifications menu.
  3. Set Allow Notifications to OFF.

Once you've completed that last step, if you look back in your Apple Watch Settings app, AppleTV is not listed in the "MIRROR IPHONE ALERTS FROM" list.

Hopefully, this will end the ads on my Watch. And yours.

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2021.01.032020 Year in Review

It's not difficult to imagine that posts about COVID-19 were far and away more plentiful than any other topic in 2020 — there were so many that I split the content into separate records by month to try to better manage them.

After COVID-19 posts, gaming, national interest, and nerd posts took top spots in the interests topics this year. In 2019, nerd posts took the top spot, and posts in the national interest topic were only half of what they were in 2020.

texas life1


I think my totals for the year sort of reflect life during the pandemic: music posts are way up (bought a new guitar and have been playing it A LOT); I read a few books this year; my gaming posts are through the roof (I really got into playing retro games like DOOM and QUAKE on my Windows 10 laptop), and I made no movies posts. Much of our world was closed this year — including, and especially, movie theaters — and so at-home activities took the spotlight.

Also telling, my food/cooking posts increased, and my whiskey posts decreased: I was cooking more for my family, and I pretty much cut out drinking. Kiddo had a really rough year, and I wanted to show her that she could depend on me to be available to her whenever she may need. Mixed drinks don't fit too well with that goal.

There's one place where I sold myself a little short: I should have made a post in the fitness topic about the swimming I was doing starting in August. In short, I figured out a sort of a swimming routine I could do in our backyard pool, and after doing it for about a month I really started seeing some changes in my physique; others noticed it, too. So I can't wait to get back in the pool in a couple of months — I figure if I could look and feel good in the couple of months I was swimming this way, imagine how I'll look and feel after doing it for an entire season! It's actually emblematic of the pandemic, though — the truth is I don't know what I would have done had we not had the pool. I was in it every day I could this past year: being in the pool (in the sun) charges up the vitamin D, which had been said to have a huge impact on how the disease affects a person.

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2020.12.08Expense vs Longevity

Image of a super fancy toaster.


Perhaps this is a function of aging, but I guess I expect a relationship to exist between the expense of an item and its quality — or, closer to the matter, its longevity.

We recently replaced my Dyson upright "Ball" vacuum cleaner. It was an "animal" model, meaning — well, implying — it was a superior machine to the manufacturer's normal models. I paid somewhere around $570 for it new in about 2009. (By the way, I *think* Dyson announced sometime in 2019 or 2020 that it wouldn't produce its upright "Ball" vacuums any longer, preferring to focus on its "stick" models instead — perhaps as a function of demand; yet Dyson is currently selling two upright "Ball" models.)

Sometime in the past few years, it hasn't sounded the same as it had. To be honest, I believe the change in sound happened at the same time we let someone borrow it. I'm not saying that to be a jerk or anything — it's an observation, not an accusation. (Full disclosure: it's totally passive-aggressive accusation.)

Anyway, the bottom line is that my wife spoke to me about replacing it, and I was disgusted, I guess. Disgusted because I recall clearly how expensive it was when I bought it. How could this need to be replaced? Her calm response: "Well, it IS ten years old."

— and that's when my world started to crack.

My mind became overloaded with questions: "Has it really been that long?" Just considering that much produced a memory leak. I could feel letters and words falling from my brain and down my body as I tried to compare my memories and my expectations to reality.

I mean, yes of course I expected the unit to be a high-quality machine, but I guess I never really translated that expectation into time. How much time should I have expected it to operate? Is 10 years really too little? How much more should I reasonably have expected?

I don't have answers, because I never made an estimate. I was just stunned that I had to replace it at all. And that was maybe naive of me at best.

It just didn't occur to me to time-box the transaction. To think, "Well, we'll probably get 10 years of service from it" — you're not going to find that printed on the box or in the marketing materials. You'll perhaps find a warranty on what they present as a minimum time expectancy on various parts or maybe the entire machine. A lower bound, not an upper bound. Perhaps that's the value of Consumer Reports (not a sponsor).

A more pragmatic approach might have been to start with the assumption — mindfully, I might add — that companies understand that they can't build widgets so well as to preclude repeat business. Most of the time, obsolescence is built-in simply as a function of the life expectancy of the materials or as a function of use — meaning, at some point some dipshit is going to use the machine in an unintended way. Public means public. I think consumers inherently understand this, but perhaps don't approach home appliance purchases with this in mind — I just think it's not a consumer behavior.

My actual approach was more simplistic than the ideal: "This vacuum was very expensive, so I expect it to perform well indefinitely," I guess. Laurel mentioning that ten years had passed put a gaping hole in that thought. Ten years is not indefinitely, but, I mean... it's ten years, and that's a lot of years, right? The time it takes for your infant to hit double-digits is a long time, though it seems to pass in the blink of an eye.

Can I be happy with a ten-year lifespan? It's hard to resist doing the math: I spent $57 on that vacuum cleaner each year I owned it, whether it got used or not... $5 each month.

At $5 per month, did I get a good deal? Harder to answer. One the one hand, you could think, "I get to use this all I want for a month for only $5? Such a deal!" — but that's backwards of what the situation actually was. If I used it once each week, then it was like I spent $1.25 each time I ran it. If I used it every other week, the cost doubled. If I average the two, then it was like I spent $1.87 each time I ran it. Does it seem like such a deal now?

Now I feel like running the vacuum so I won't feel like I've wasted money. Which is not where I'd hoped this post would end up.

I guess it's easier to think about life expectancies when you're talking about consumer goods that one expects to have a relatively short life span. I was just inspecting a plastic food container I'd just removed from the dishwasher. The cool thing about this container is that it contracts to minimize storage space thanks to an accordion-like folding body. As I was looking it over — and I'd just been writing most of this post — it occurred to me that I've owned that container for probably longer than I had the vacuum cleaner. And I had no expection the food container would be around this long. Why? Maybe because it was about a $10 purchase.

Thinking about it now, I guess I would have expected to get maybe two to three years of service from that food container. If I'd been asked if I could expect over ten years of service from the thing, I probably would have replied that that'd be nice, but I wouldn't have expected it. Had I been asked the exact same question about the vacuum cleaner, I might have replied that I felt it should last me ten years, based on its features and expense.

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2020.10.31On the Apple iPhone 12 and Two Factor Authentication

Image of the iPhone 12 event announcement. Source: Apple


On Halloween in the year of the COVID-19 Pandemic, I found a real treat: My iPhone 12 Pro arrived today.

Naturally I thought I'd share a few words about it.

First and foremost, it is the most expensive mobile technology I have ever owned. I bought it because the glass seems to be coming out of my iPhone X, and Apple stopped selling the iPhone 11 the moment they introduced the 12. Ever since Apple introduced a way to affordably buy the units directly from the company instead of through the carrier (p.s. — AppleCare was a way better deal than was the insurance AT&T was offering), we've not looked back.

FWIW, I used to be an Android guy, primarily because I could create on that platform in ways I knew Apple would never allow. But I'm an Apple guy now mainly because of my investment in content — movies and music — and because the Apple Watch is indispensable in my life now (so much so that I've not bought the Rolex I've lusted after for years because I know I'd never wear it).

Oh, and one more thing — to underscore what I mentioned above, I didn't bother to upgrade to the 11 — so some of the things I'll mention in the following paragraphs may also have been featured on the iPhone 11/11 Pro. I've zero experience with that model, nor its novel features.

Disclaimers and whatnot out of the way, I have to say the iPhone 12 Pro is the prettiest hardware Apple has produced — especially in "Pacific Blue."


The phone's box resembles a VHS cassette: the black box (BLACK — not white!) is about the same height as one, because Apple infamously declined to include a 5W USB power adapter with the phone, claiming, when they announced the phone, that they're simply "thinking of the earth."

I call bullshit, Apple. You're trying to hide the fact that a 5W power adapter won't push enough juice to your new product line.


I offer as evidence the cable they DID include with the phone. It is NOT the Lightning to USB cable they used to include — it is a Lightning to USB-C cable.

USB-C is a technology that's been around only a few years — if you're like me, you replace your computers every 3 to 5 years. I *just* got my first laptop with USB-C almost a year ago.

You may think of the included cable as a nice accessory if you're USB-C enabled, but I'm betting most of us aren't there yet. Apple has a history of pushing progress on its customers — recall the iPhone 8 and X were the first units to ship sans headphone jacks. Apple including a USB-C cable should be viewed as another shot across the bow: Apple is about to make the standard 5W Lightning to USB power adapter a thing of the past.

(Check out the iPhone accessories Apple currently has for sale at https://www.apple.com/shop/iphone/iphone-accessories/power-cables. Using the site's default sort (by "Featured"), you'll find a 20W USB-C power adapter on page 1 for $19; the standard, 5W USB Power adapter is still available (also for $19) and may be found near the bottom of page 3.)


Also, take careful note of the wattage difference between the two chargers... I suspect Apple knew the standard 5W power adapter wouldn't cut it: Apple published this in their specs for the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro:

Power and Battery
   Both models:

   Built‑in rechargeable lithium‑ion battery
   MagSafe wireless charging up to 15W
   Qi wireless charging up to 7.5W
   Charging via USB to computer system or power adapter
   Fast-charge capable:
   Up to 50% charge in around 30 minutes with 20W adapter or higher (sold separately)

   Wireless charging up to 15W
MagSafe charging is twice as fast as Qi (because it can push 15W compared to 7.5W), and, if you can "fast-charge" 50% of the battery in 30 minutes using the 20W adapter, it'll take about 2 hours to charge 50% of the battery using a standard 5W adapter — meaning charging the phone 100% using a 5W USB adapter would take about 4 hours.


You've already spent $1300 on the phone and a USB-C cable you didn't really even want.

Apple knew damn well its customers wouldn't stand for spending a half day waiting for their phone to charge, so it slyly included a USB-C cable and left out the 5W adapter to force customers to spend at least another $20 on a 20W USB-C power adapter, OR go all-in on MagSafe charging accessories (Apple isn't selling any cases for the iPhone 12 line that aren't MagSafe — prices start at $49). This was never about the environment or the saturation of their 5W power adapters; it was about pushing people to more efficient charging solutions to hide the fact that the old adapters won't sufficiently charge these devices.

There was a lot of talk about wattage above. At a point, the wattage being pushed into your battery will create a noticeable byproduct of heat. I know that my older iPhones never really felt warm when charged using the 5W adapter, but I'd imagine that 20W USB-C adapter could make your new 12 feel warm — I don't know, because I don't have a 20W adapter. Apple's specs show that 20W is the max the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro will tolerate. As a reminder, MagSafe will charge at a max rate of 15W, and Qi charges at half of that.

WIRED, in an article titled "Why It Matters Which Charger You Use for Your Phone," reported that "Apple itself has gone on the record as saying the official MagSafe Charger is capable of interfering with the magnetic strips and chips inside credit cards, security badges, passports and key fobs, and that it might leave imprints on leather cases." (I experienced similar behavior from my EarPod charging case a couple of years ago — I kept having to get my hotel card key recoded until I figured out what the culprit was.) Apple is marketing a leather pocket that attaches to the phone using that MagSafe ring. If you bought one of these and are using a MagSafe charger, make sure you take that pocket off before charging.

Also included in the box is a poker thingie to be used to open the physical SIM slot, the customary Apple logo decal, and the instruction booklet nobody reads anyway — this edition must be targeting younger people, because this print is smaller than the fine print on medication packaging.

Phone Setup

Among the operating system improvements are newer and better ways to set up the phone. Along these lines, the iPhone 12 Pro and iOS 14 do NOT disappoint. It was basically as easy as holding the new handset over the old one for a moment to collect some initial data, then choosing whether to load the new phone via iCloud download or via BlueTooth connection between the two handsets. I chose the latter, and the process was complete within about a half hour. (I suspect your mileage may vary, depending on how much data is on your old phone.)

Even switching my Apple Watch to the new phone was easy peazy — as easy as clicking "Yes" on a prompt on the new handset.

Network Setup

This year, I did something completely new — I set up a new line with my cellular carrier and assigned a new telephone number to my new handset.

Setup through AT&T was about as easy as setting up the iPhone itself. I visited the AT&T website, chose the option to add a new line, and followed the instructions. The process included a form for typing in the handset's IMEI and ICCID, though once I typed in the IMEI the form filled in the ICCID and correctly identified the handset model.

As for a telephone number assignment, the process only allowed me to select from a list of area codes applicable to where I live, and the system assigned me an available number on that basis. I was disappointed by that, because AT&T will allow you to change your number and show you a list of about 120 or so to choose from. Why couldn't that be part of the process?

Perhaps one might have better luck if they called their carrier's customer service number and dealt with a person instead of an automated process. In my case, once I completed the process, the system emailed me a "receipt" which included my new phone number. The line was activated and number was working within about ten minutes.

Now, the truly magical part about adding a line and assigning it to my iPhone 12 is that the handset does not have a physical SIM card. AT&T was able to run it using a virtual SIM as part of the line purchase process. I don't know if previous iPhone models also have this capability. I will be calling AT&T about whether I can drop the card from the old phone into the new one (so maybe they can write the virtual SIM goop to it).

I've spent a few cycles thinking about the effort involved in switching my number. A big part of that effort is poring over every website and every application that I use two-factor authentication (2FA) on and changing my telephone number on each. It's a big undertaking, and one I'm sure most forget about. I started a spreadsheet a few weeks ago to try to track all such sites and applications.

Now that I've explained that effort, I can tell you that I learned I can change my assigned number to one from AT&T list after I've had this number for 30 days (a billing cycle). Today, I still like the notion of a "vanity" number, but I do not want to go through this whole 2FA/notify friends/notify businesses thing again. So I'll probably stick with what I've been assigned.

More about 2FA

2FA generally works like this: You attempt to log into a system — say, Microsoft.com — and after you successfully pass an initial authentication using a user ID and a password, a text is sent to your phone or an email is sent to your address. In both cases, the message contains a code that the system expects you to type in. If the two match, you have successfully authenticated yourself to the system. The first authentication measure is based on something you know (your ID and password) — the second is based on something you have (your phone or your email credentials). "Something you know" and the "something you have" are two factors used in authentication — this is actually two-factor authentication. (I would argue that a second authentication measure of texting your phone is truer to the "something you have" method, because your phone is a physical device; I'd place email account credentials into the "something you know" factor.)

The catch with 2FA is the "something you have" part — particularly if the system is sending authentication messages to your mobile phone and you're changing your mobile phone number — because you have to authenticate to the old number before you can change the system to use your new number.

It's a "catch-22": if you change your phone number on your handset (using the aforementioned list), the change is immediate. There's no "grace period" that will allow you to spend some time switching from one number to the other. Once that number is changed, you're locked out of whatever 2FA system you have because the authentication texts are going to a number that you don't have anymore. Your most likely alternative is to call customer support for each of your 2FA-enabled systems and hope a representative can make the change for you and stay on the line while you attempt authentication.

For what it's worth, here's how I approached it:

  • I made a list of all of the systems I could think of that uses 2FA or communicates with me using my mobile number. My list included Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Mozilla, my bank, and my home security company.

  • Next, I went through each of the companies on my list and found the URLs I'd need when it came time. Here are a few common ones one might need:


    Happily, some good folks made a pretty inclusive list for us. Visit https://twofactorauth.org/ for their categorized list.

  • When my new phone arrived, I visited my carrier and bought the new line as described above. Once the line was active, it was time to work my 2FA list.

  • To make the changes to each 2FA-enabled system, I needed both phones — the old one to receive the 2FA codes sent by each system when I started making changes, and the new one to test apps (for example, my bank has an iPhone app) to ensure I could authenticate using the new phone number.

  • Keep that list handy — I added a few others as life happened over the next couple of days; places like ACE Hardware and the local grocery store, with memberships that identify you by your mobile number.

  • Next, I went through Facebook and identified all of my friends who probably have my old number — I need to contact them with the new one. iOS has a feature that allows the phone owner to block calls that aren't in their address book — so if I'm texting or calling them, I know I'll have more success if I use the old phone. Of course, Facebook Messenger is also an option, but with all the news we saw in the past few years about Facebook giving away users' data for "researchers," I'd rather text from my phone if I can.

  • Because I'm trading in my old phone for a discount on the new one, the time I have to spend on this 2FA business is limited — I think Apple requires the old handset to be sent in within 10 days.

  • Once the old handset is sent in, I'll contact my carrier again and delete the line it used.

Pacific Blue

I was afraid the color would be too gray for me to enjoy. I actually planned to buy a case to hide the phone's body in prep for not liking it. I have a history with grayish blue — products made with it, like clothing and cars, seem attractive at the start, but then I burn out on the color quickly and end up hating it. It's the only color that has affected me this way.

Holding the iPhone 12 pro in my hand, I do not perceive "Pacific Blue" as a grayish blue; the color seems to have more of a metallic, steely quality that seems infused with a lighter shade of blue. Together, it's certainly more blue than gray, and much more interesting than the "space gray" I've preferred for years.

Historically, Apple has varied its devices' boot screens based on their color. Typically, lighter colored devices (like silver and gold) use a white boot screen with a black Apple logo; darker colored devices (this is why I keep choosing space gray) use a black boot screen with a white Apple logo, which is FAR easier on the eyes, in my opinion. (In my case, not just easier on the eyes: it avoids headaches.) So one of the questions I had in selecting the Pacific Blue model was about the color of the boot screen. I am happy to report the boot screen is black with a white Apple logo.

The Camera

I may have mentioned in a previous post that the reason I decided to go with the Pro model of the iPhone 12 is because I wanted a small upgrade to the camera subsystem.

I know that the term "f-stop" is a thing, but I don't know what it means. I don't need top-of-the-line because I can't understand top-of-the-line. But what I do understand is the majority of the photos I take generally involve zoom. The camera app on the iPhone 12 Pro has on-screen settings for 0.5x, 1.0x, and 2.0x zoom. And in portrait mode, there are two new lighting settings for mono images.

But to me, the most eye-popping improvement in the iPhone camera/software is in its treatment of low-light subjects. The other night, I took a photo of a directly-lit subject in a darkened room, and I was amazed at how much the camera detected — it was a bit like full-color night vision. Looking at that photo now, it's a bit hard to believe that room was dark when the photo was taken.

Everything I've said above likely in no way does justice to the advancements Apple has made in mobile photography. I mean, the tech specs for the camera reads a bit like movie credits.


So far, I love this phone, but emotionally I'm in a tug-of-war with my brain over its finish. On the one hand, the Pacific Blue is so lovely that I don't want to hide it beneath a case; on the other, I know I have to protect this beautiful shiny machine. I've been carrying it gingerly for the past two days while awaiting the arrival of a case from Amazon ($13, not $50).

Setting up the phone — including adding a new line through my carrier — was a breeze. I was stunned at how fast I was able to do both.

Working through my 2FA checklist went really quickly, too — doing my homework up-front seemed to pay huge dividends. Two days in, and I've made changes to all the accounts I've thought of, and sent texts with the new number to family and to friends. The key is this: if you're going to change your phone number for your new phone, buy a new line and assign it to the new phone so you can still work with your old number until you don't need it anymore — or until you have to surrender your old handset, which is my case.

Charging it on my current Qi charger is a little rocky. I'm not certain, but I suspect that once I get a case on the phone, it'll lay flat against my nightstand charger. I think the raised camera lenses are preventing the phone from having good contact. The great thing is that once it's charged, it sure seems to keep it — the battery doesn't seem to drain quickly at all, which may only mean that I'm simply not using power-hungry apps.

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2020.10.13Apple iPhone 12 Announcement

Image of the iPhone 12 event announcement. Source: Apple


Apple is holding an event to announce the new iPhone 12 today.

Not pictured in the artwork above are the words "Hi, Speed.", which intimates the new model's ability to connect to new 5G cellular networks — the speed being in the network, as opposed to the actual handset.

But I've been looking forward to the 12 for some time now, and I've seen mixed reports about it — a year ago everybody was saying that the 11 was the model to skip, because the 12 was going to be amazing. But rumor-chasing pundits don't strike me as super enthusiastic about the 12 anymore. I even saw one review that suggested skipping the 12 and waiting for the next model instead.

Personally, I love my iPhone X. Something about it that I do NOT want to give up is that I can actually hold this phone without a case on it. Some materials that were used in previous versions made it nearly impossible for me to grip the phone without a case. My iPhone 7 comes to mind. The X was the first to solve that problem, and I loved Apple for it.

My iPhone X has a 256GB memory capacity. Thanks to services like Apple Music, I can stream my music to my phone over my WiFi instead of having to download it all onto the handset. Plus, just like on a computer, the more hard drive space you have, the better the unit will perform. So I'll require at least a 256GB capacity from my next handset.

Other than that, I really don't have any other requirements. I've LOVED my X. I've had it for two years, and it's been great. Just this morning, I found that the glass on the face of the handset has warped and pushed outward. Not noticeable visually or functionally, but very noticeable when holding it in your hand and running your finger along the side (sans case). Since it's a two-year old unit, it's WAY out of warranty — this seriously puts me in the market for a new handset.

I think I could actually be happy with the iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max. The marketing materials claim it had a huge jump in battery life. Yes, the camera stuff is amazing, but it's not like I'm a professional photographer with a deep appreciation for all of those advances — but there's a problem: Apple appears to no longer sell the Pro models of the iPhone 11.

So... iPhone 12 Pro it is! I'm going for the Pro model because I find the idea of a 4x digital zoom pretty appealing — among all of the goodies the Apple photography wonks showed off today, the digital zoom is all I know I care about right now — and I use those words specifically because it's possible once I have it I'll find all kinds of wonderful things I never knew I couldn't live without. I think a 256GB model will fit the bill nicely. I'll also order it in blue, because it's a departure from space gray, but also because there's a chance I'll enjoy the color. If I get sick of it, there's no shortage of cases one can buy.

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2020.07.22The Pet Contest (UPDATED)

D Magazine's Cutest Pet Contest Finalist


A couple of months ago, my wife learned that D Magazine — a magazine promoting the City of Dallas — was having contest to determine the cutest pet.

The rules were simple enough: voting was open to the public, and the public was encouraged to vote as often as it wanted for the pets in the contest. That is, there was no limitation on voting, and voting was as easy as clicking a button.

So I wondered, given these rules, if I could develop software that would do the voting for us: something I could run that would visit the link that was the destination of the button click, but do it in a way that wouldn't create problems for other users — no denial of service or anything like that. Something that could run inside of a loop and just click, but would also look like a browser to the server, so the server would have data available to collect.

Over time, the project grew more and more mature. It really wasn't about my dog at all — it was about learning something new, and adding more features as I learned more about developing in Windows Forms: I wanted this to be a desktop application, something outside of my comfort zone. And honestly, I hadn't built anything in Windows Forms since maybe just after high school.

As the project matured, I thought a lot about the pace at which the application operated. I decided to introduce a slow mode to really pump the brakes and run at a pace of one click per minute over several hours. Steady clicks at a rate that should not interfere with any other traffic. Slow and steady would win the race for us — slow enough, in fact, that I even "wired in" sounds so I could run the software minimized and hear a short beep each time a click was performed.

I also had the software output to a text file as an option, so one could see the incoming status messages from the server. Shorter runs produced shorter logs.

One big breakthrough was in learning how to create menus. It made the app look so much nicer than the simple tabbed interface I'd originally used.

I found that 8-hour runs of 500 clicks at 1 per minute was the sweet spot.

I probably went a little over the top near the end of development, when I added web services. Two calls: one to report the parameters at instantiation, and another made intermittently to update the current click count. Using the web services, I could monitor the run without having to visit my computer; I could do it right from a browser on my mobile device. The first here: implementing web services on a desktop app.

This was never about the contest. My dog isn't really very cute. I don't care about having a professional photoshoot. He's a little pizza-stealing asshole who glues himself to me whenever it rains. He's not pretty. But we do love him, and he loves us so much. No, our good boi is simply a beneficiary of the development — development simply done to satisfy my curiosity.

(Even if it was about the contest, there was nothing stopping the other 999 participants from building their own click machines too.)

The contest has two parts: the popular vote and the judging. How are we doing? well...

He made it into the top 20!

D Magazine notified us today that pup is a finalist, and their art department made us the faux magazine cover. For me, this is enough. Really. If there were no judges involved, and the prize was awarded solely on the popular vote, I would explain things and insist the prize go to the next popular pet. I wouldn't feel right about that. But because there are judges, that tells me there's more afoot here than just clicks.

(Besides, I feel pretty comfortable that he's not the cutest in Dallas. I mean, look at him.)

I'm thrilled to report that we didn't win!!!

Our good boi placed in the top 20, and that was pretty amazing, I think. I'm really glad we didn't win, though, because I think I would have felt awful had we won based largely on a program I wrote. It wouldn't sit well; I would have asked them to choose another winner... even though the rules did not prohibit his particular path to victory.

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2020.06.27Windows Won't Update my Dell Machine


Late last year I bought a Lenovo laptop to replace my Dell Inspiron 13 laptop. I've loved that Dell — it's the perfect size, with an i7 processor -- but I figured out later its motherboard could only support 8GB RAM.

Over the past 18 months or so, the machine has been... slipping... with occasional "senior moments" between running the BIOS and booting into the OS. It's why I started looking for a replacement. I couldn't believe my luck when I found this ThinkPad at a crazy low price on Lenovo's Black Friday Weekend sale.

So here we are, about six months on. I use both laptops, side by side — the older one I use for work; the newer I use for fun. I've kept them both updated, and have marvelled at the speed at which my new machine (goosed with 24GB RAM) installs updates. The older one takes so much longer.

Last week (I think) I installed the new Windows 10 version 2004 on the new machine. With an update as large as that one, I figured I'd better hold off on installing it on the Dell.

Today I tried installing the update, but Microsoft wouldn't let me — Instead, I was shown a "learn more" link that reads as follows:

Windows 10, version 2004 is available for users with devices running Windows 10, versions 1903 and 1909, who manually seek to "Check for updates" via Windows Update. We are continuing our phased approach on initial availability, as we listen, learn, and adjust. Today [as of June 16, 2020] were are slowly beginning the training of our machine learning (ML) based process used to intelligently select and automatically update devices approaching end of service.
Clicking more links, I found this on a Microsoft blog:
You may not see Download and Install on your device as we are slowly throttling up this availability over the coming weeks, or your device might have a compatibility issue for which a safeguard hold is in place until we are confident you will have a good update experience.

I'm pretty sure I bought the machine at Best Buy in mid-March, 2015. So the machine is over 5 years old, and it had been running Windows 10 version 1909 just fine... what the Hell, Microsoft?

I guess they're saying either there's something about my Dell that 2004 won't yet run smoothly on, or they're saying my Dell is old.

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2020.06.24The Pet Contest

D Magazine's Cutest Pet Contest Finalist


A couple of months ago, my wife learned that D Magazine — a magazine promoting the City of Dallas — was having contest to determine the cutest pet.

The rules were simple enough: voting was open to the public, and the public was encouraged to vote as often as it wanted for the pets in the contest. That is, there was no limitation on voting, and voting was as easy as clicking a button.

So I wondered, given these rules, if I could develop software that would do the voting for us: something I could run that would visit the link that was the destination of the button click, but do it in a way that wouldn't create problems for other users — no denial of service or anything like that. Something that could run inside of a loop and just click, but would also look like a browser to the server, so the server would have data available to collect.

Over time, the project grew more and more mature. It really wasn't about my dog at all — it was about learning something new, and adding more features as I learned more about developing in Windows Forms: I wanted this to be a desktop application, something outside of my comfort zone. And honestly, I hadn't built anything in Windows Forms since maybe just after high school.

As the project matured, I thought a lot about the pace at which the application operated. I decided to introduce a slow mode to really pump the brakes and run at a pace of one click per minute over several hours. Steady clicks at a rate that should not interfere with any other traffic. Slow and steady would win the race for us — slow enough, in fact, that I even "wired in" sounds so I could run the software minimized and hear a short beep each time a click was performed.

I also had the software output to a text file as an option, so one could see the incoming status messages from the server. Shorter runs produced shorter logs.

One big breakthrough was in learning how to create menus. It made the app look so much nicer than the simple tabbed interface I'd originally used.

I found that 8-hour runs of 500 clicks at 1 per minute was the sweet spot.

I probably went a little over the top near the end of development, when I added web services. Two calls: one to report the parameters at instantiation, and another made intermittently to update the current click count. Using the web services, I could monitor the run without having to visit my computer; I could do it right from a browser on my mobile device. The first here: implementing web services on a desktop app.

This was never about the contest. My dog isn't really very cute. I don't care about having a professional photoshoot. He's a little pizza-stealing asshole who glues himself to me whenever it rains. He's not pretty. But we do love him, and he loves us so much. No, our good boi is simply a beneficiary of the development — development simply done to satisfy my curiosity.

(Even if it was about the contest, there was nothing stopping the other 999 participants from building their own click machines too.)

The contest has two parts: the popular vote and the judging. How are we doing? well...

He made it into the top 20!

D Magazine notified us today that pup is a finalist, and their art department made us the faux magazine cover. For me, this is enough. Really. If there were no judges involved, and the prize was awarded solely on the popular vote, I would explain things and insist the prize go to the next popular pet. I wouldn't feel right about that. But because there are judges, that tells me there's more afoot here than just clicks.

(Besides, I feel pretty comfortable that he's not the cutest in Dallas. I mean, look at him.)

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2020.04.07NJ Needs COBOL Programmers

image of a laptop


When I was working for the university, I was in a department that was split between web programmers and mainframe programmers. The mainframe folks were all approaching retirement — I mean like they had months to go before getting their full medical — many having joined the staff as punch card operators way back in the day.

After a couple of years, the U decided it was dumping the mainframes and moving forward with Java. All of the mainframers were given the option of learning Java or retirement. Suddenly retirements were happening left and right.

I'm reminded of all of this because the Stte of New Jersey put out a plea for COBOL programmers to support the state's 40 year-old unemployment insurance system. That system is run on mainframes which run the 60+ year old computer language. New Jersey is looking for volunteers.

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2020.03.21CompTIA Server+ Beta (UPDATED)

CompTIA Server+ Certificate


COMPTIA asked me to take a survey for candidacy to take their new Server+ exam.

I thought it was weird, but... they asked. So I gave them a link to my LinkedIn page and a copy of my resume, filled out a survey, and sent it off. Maybe I'll end up with a tee shirt.

Would I like another certification? Of course! But I don't want to get my hopes up for anything here. Heck, I don't even know how I'd study if I'm selected.

At least there are more Pearson Vue exam places nearby than I could shake a stick at... no shortage of exam facilities.


From an email I received from CompTIA on March 2, 2020:

Congratulations, you’ve been selected by CompTIA to participate in the CompTIA Server+ Beta Exam! If you take and pass the CompTIA Server+ SK0-005 Beta exam, you will earn the new certification at no cost, plus CompTIA will pay you $200! Simply complete the beta exam by March 31, 2020.

Then the pandemic hit: public places have closed; restaurants are only available for take out; the stock market went into the toilet, and there's no toilet paper to be found because idiots keep buying it all.

The pandemic had reached the east and west coasts in advance of reaching Texas. On March 17th, Dallas County issued orders which placed an emphasis on "social distancing" — the notion that people need to stay apart so the virus could not spread as easily — including limiting gatherings to 10 people — even social gatherings on private property. With this order, followed by a state of emergency declaration from the governor of Texas, it became clear the testing facility would not be open, and likely would not reopen in time for me to take the exam. Time to find some guidance from CompTIA.

I visit the main help page on the CompTIA website, and it says, in very large font, that all vouchers for currently scheduled exams are now extended throgh the end of June. This would have addressed all of my concerns handily, but I knew the beta was on a deadline, so I chatted in.

Get this (names omitted):

Chat started on 19 Mar 2020, 06:03 PM (GMT+0)
(06:03:05) *** I joined the chat ***
(06:03:05) Me: I was scheduled to participate in the Server+ beta exam. The deadline for scheduling my test was March 31st. Has this deadline also been extended to June 30?
(06:03:18) *** CompTIA Customer Service joined the chat ***
(06:04:30) Customer Service: Good afternoon, I would be happy to assist you.
(06:04:56) Customer Service: Thanks for your interest and intention to take the Server+ SK1-005 beta exam. The beta exam cutoff date is March 31, 2020, and unfortunately, it's not possible to extend this date in order to maintain the exam development schedule. We apologize that not everyone scheduled to take the Server+ beta exam will be able to complete the exam, due to the impact of the COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic.


(By the way, it's obvious to me that the customer service rep was copy/pasting a prepared statement. These people do what they're told. The shade I'm throwing here is meant for the Draconian fucksticks who made the shitburger she had to serve. And yes — I changed the font of the response so it could appear as cold and impersonal as it seemed as I received it.)

CompTIA could have approached this differently. Softer messaging would have helped. A lot. Perhaps because their messaging was as cold as it was, I got pissed off: Because CompTIA's guidance to beta testers was to study as though I was taking an actual exam (that's almost a quote), I'd spent $200 on CertMaster practice software (for the previous version of the Server+ exam) to study. I bought it figuring I'd use it to pass the course, and the $200 would cover the cost. Now I wanted that money back.

(06:06:24) Me: Not cool. The state of Texas is under a state of emergency and there's no way the testing center is going to remain open.
(06:06:50) Me: Also, I was counting on the $200 I was going to get paid to cover what I spent on the CertMaster for the exam!
(06:06:56) Me: will I be reimbursed?

More of that amazing bedside manner follows. Reading it in the voice of IG-11 from The Mandalorian might help:

(06:08:24) Customer Service: It's unfortunate that you and others scheduled to take the Server+ beta exam will not be able to complete the exam, due to the impact of the COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic. We appreciate your intention to do so, and we'd like to offer you a complimentary voucher to take the new Server+ SK0-005 exam once it launches (in lieu of the $200 Amazon gift card stipend). Please confirm if you would like to receive a complimentary voucher for the new Server+ SK0-005 exam, and we'll track this ticket and follow up with you when the exam launches. The new Server+ SK0-005 exam is currently targeted to launch in July 2020, but this is subject to change.


Let's review. I was taking the exam in the first place because CompTIA asked me to. CompTIA promised a free voucher for taking the exam, plus $200 for passing. So replacing a free thing with another free thing and taking away the $200 thing doesn't seem like a good deal. Even my kid, when she was 4, could do THAT math.

I did pursue the issue of reimbursement, and am waiting on a response. I feel I gave it a good shot, anyway (again, names replaced):

[Customer Service Manager],

CompTIA approached me about taking the Server+ beta. It's not really in my wheelhouse, nor is it really on my training trajectory, but I consider the offer and I'm accepted. CompTIA explains that I should treat the beta as an actual exam, and that I should study for it as I normally would. So I bought the CertMaster course to accomplish that. (Why would I do that? Have you seen the marketing materials?) After the State of Texas makes a declaration about COVID-19, I see a post on the CompTIA help website that says that all exam dates have been pushed out until the end of June. I chat in to be sure, and basically get told to pound sand.

CompTIA asked me to take the beta. I agreed.
CompTIA asked me to study for it like a normal exam. I agreed.
Now I'm out money and time, and CompTIA has taken advantage of my goodwill.
Please make this right, and reimburse me for the expense of the CertMaster training. The Order Number is 719987.

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2020.03.17Hard Wiping Old Hard Drives

My drive wiper rig

I have a bunch of hard drives from tower machines going back years and years. My intention has been to either keep them for the data they have on them, or to wipe them before disposal.

Motivated by my studies for the Server+ exam, I figured I'd finally get serious about looking at the data and wiping them.

In present day, I don't have a tower machine anymore... just my laptops, which use hard drives of a much different form factor than the "bricks" from my old machines. So I knew I'd need a way to access those old drives via a USB connection to my laptop.

After some online research, I decided to buy a unit from Unitek to handle the hardware connection. The device is light and compact — about the size of one's fist. It ships with a AC power cable (to power the device), a small MOLEX power cable to connect to older hard drives, a USB cable for connection to the laptop, and a small CD containing a program for the device's on-demand backup capability, if you care to use the device that way. You'll also find a tiny red instruction booklet on how to use the device. (Yes, of course I read it.)

The second thing I needed was software to handle overwriting the drive with data. I chose Macrorit® Data Wiper for this job. I found the software very easy to use, Windows 10 compatible, plus its available for free for home use. One note I'd offer — Macrorit is a trademark of Bada Technology Co., Ltd. When you install the software, you'll see that Bada name, not Macrorit. I'm very wary about installing software from developers I don't know. Don't let the different name scare you.

The Walkthrough

To save you the trouble, here's how I erased my first drive — an old 300GB Maxtor PATA drive -- using this set-up. I'd recommend you set this up in early evening and let it run overnight.

  1. Install the Data Wiper software on your Windows computer, but don't run it yet.

  2. Set the Unitek device near your computer, plug in the AC adapter, and connect the adapter into a power source. Do not turn the device on yet.

  3. As you're looking at the device from above, with the AC adapter plugged into the top, plug your old hard drive into the female interface on the left side.

  4. Now connect the provided molex cable to the device and to the hard drive.

  5. Connect the provided USB cable to the device and to your computer.

  6. Power the device up. You should see a new drive letter appear in Windows Explorer.

    Hard drive connected to the IDE interface on the Unitek device

  7. When you're ready to wipe the drive, open the Data Wiper software.

  8. Find the drive you connected — if your computer has only one hard drive, that drive should appear as Drive 0, so your old hard drive should appear as Drive 1.

    Hard drive displayed as Drive 1 in the Data Wiper software

  9. To hard wipe the drive, select Entire drive or disk as the Wipe target, then choose how you want to wipe it: I went with DoD 5220.22M as my Security level. These settings are above the partition displays, and to the left of the giant silver "WIPE NOW" button.

  10. When you're ready, click the giant silver "WIPE NOW" button. The software will prompt you a couple of times with "Are you sure?" prompts. I recall it actually made me type the word "WIPE" to start the operation.

    Screenshot taken when the wipe was nearly complete

  11. The wipe will take some time, depending on your computer's capabilities. I used a laptop with 8GB RAM and probably a USB 2.0 port, so the operation was projected to take 12 hours. I'd recommend setting all this up and kicking it off at about 7 PM, so it'll be complete the following morning.

  12. Once the wipe is complete, you'll see the target drive is now shown as uninitialized.

    Drive 1 is wiped!

  13. Turn off the power to the Unitek device.

  14. Carefully remove the molex cable from the hard drive.

  15. Detach the hard drive from the device.

The wipe took about as long as the software had initially expected. The hard drive was warm to the touch during the wiping process, so keep that in mind if you have mobile little ones or pets.

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2020.03.07Computer Power Consumption

image of a laptop


Have you ever wondered how much power your PC or laptop consumes? I work on a laptop all day long... how much juice does it pull?

While studying for the CompTIA Server+ exam, I encountered several statistics for use when troubleshooting computer problems:

CPU45 W - 150 W

Notice the power consumption for RAM is 30 W for every 2GB installed. If you consider a standard laptop ships with 8GB installed, you're talking about power consumption equivalent to two incandescent light bulbs.

Assuming a minimal demand on the CPU, a laptop with 8GB RAM is puling about 200 W — with over half of it being consumed by the RAM.

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2020.02.25CompTIA Server+ Beta

CompTIA Server+ Certificate


COMPTIA asked me to take a survey for candidacy to take their new Server+ exam.

I thought it was weird, but... they asked. So I gave them a link to my LinkedIn page and a copy of my resume, filled out a survey, and sent it off. Maybe I'll end up with a tee shirt.

Would I like another certification? Of course! But I don't want to get my hopes up for anything here. Heck, I don't even know how I'd study if I'm selected.

At least there are more Pearson Vue exam places nearby than I could shake a stick at... no shortage of exam facilities.

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2020.02.02CompTIA Recertified!!

CompTIA Security+ce Certificate


All done!

Both of my CompTIA certifications have been extended through May, 2023. How cool is that?

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2020.01.31Recertification Time!

CompTIA Security+ce Certificate


Three years passes in the blink of an eye.

And jeez what a busy three years it's been. I originally got these certifications because my job required I had at least one. For good measure, I got two — thinking I'd look good for the government contract, but also it could open a path into a cybersecurity career.

I have no complaints about CompTIA's CertMaster CE program. You read over the material and take the assessment. Once you can pass all assessments with 100% correct, you're done with the course and your certification is extended. I thought it would take me much longer than it currently seems to be; I'm over halfway done and I only started the thing two days ago.

Plus, it's a little cheaper than retaking the exam, and you have access to the course materials for a year (if retaking the course way before your certification expires is your thing).

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2019.12.22RAM JAM

Lenovo laptop

I'd mentioned before that I was concerned about the ability to expand the RAM in the Lenovo ThinkPad T490. I bought the machine based on the customer support representative's information: (1) that yes, it is expandable and (2) The board will take up to 40GB RAM.

I couldn't surf to Crucial.com fast enough. Found a 16GB stick that appeared reasonably priced, and placed my order.

Ten days had passed when I contacted their customer service. I hadn't received so much as an order number... in the past, my order would have arrived sooner than that.

I got the order number from the chat specialist, and used their online form to check status... it told me my order was out of stock. Through an additional and completely half-assed subsequent customer service interaction over email, I learned they also had no idea when the RAM would be back in stock. WTF?!?! Why did Crucial let me order something that was out of stock with an undetermined arrival date?

Then I ordered from Kingston. It arrived quickly, and the upgrade operation lasted about three minutes. BOOM.

Crucial is not the same company it used to be. I won't buy from them again.

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2019.11.30New Laptop On the Way!

Lenovo laptop

I love love love my Dell XPS 13 laptop. It's been quite a nice workhorse. I bought it at Best Buy several years ago, and over time I've learned a few things about it that soured me a bit on the experience — primarily, that I couldn't expand the RAM beyond the 8GB it came with. But with the Intel Core i7 processor, it's still been a very capable machine — capable enough that I would absolutely order another through DELL (with a custom configuration, of course).

That is, I would have purchased another through DELL, if it wasn't for the ThinkPad I was issued by an employer a couple of years ago.

The distracted boyfriend meme 
      image, with the DELL logo over the upset girlfriend's face and the Lenovo logo over
      the attractive girl's face

I was really taken by a few things about the ThinkPad. One, it was amazingly thin. Two, the keys had a nice feel — and that's super important to me. Years ago I had a Toshiba laptop that I regretted buying about a week in because the keys wouldn't give good feedback to my fingers. I had to constantly retype things because it felt like I wasn't striking keys — I was just pounding on a flat surface with my fingers. But the ThinkPad T470s felt good. Three, the ThinkPad had a docking station that allowed me to run multiple monitors from it, and to secure the machine to it. All-in-all, I really enjoyed my experience with that machine. PLUS it was a 14" laptop. A little larger than my personal DELL, but it didn't feel big.

So, for funsies, I started surfing yesterday for Black Friday deals. Not as a serious shopper — just as a curious consumer. I started at Dell, and didn't find anything exciting there. Then I hopped over to Lenovo... where they were selling the T490 — a $1900 machine -- for $749?! What the what?!!

Things got more serious. I reached out to their sales support people to address a single concern: is the RAM expandable beyond the 8GB it ships with? Answer: Yes - the board can handle up to 48GB!!

I couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger on it yesterday. I let it sit in the cart while I was wracked with indecision. Laurel and I have been working very hard on getting debt paid down. To me, this represented a significant detour from our plan, despite my current machine's occasional "senior moments." So, with that, I let it go.

Fast-forward to morning coffee today. Laurel mentioned we now have a little money coming in we weren't expecting — compensation from an auto accent at the start of the year. So she gave me the go-ahead to buy the laptop if I still could.

With a mixture of excitement and guilt, I powered up my Dell and pointed the browser back to the Lenovo site. I was amazed to find they'd extended their sale — and that the T490 was still in my cart at the discounted price!

The new machine should be here this coming week (SQUEEE!!).

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2019.11.29Apple AirPods: REPLACED

Apple AirPods


I had to replace my AirPods. RIP set one, November 2019. I replaced them because one of the pods' batteries wouldn't hold a charge for more than about a half hour.

If you look at one of the ear pieces, you'll notice there are basically two sections - the part that goes in your ear, and the part that hangs out of the ear pointing downward. Apparently, the latter part houses a long, thin battery. After two years, this one piece simply couldn't carry on.

My new pair are perhaps of a later generation, or later model. The case surely is, anyway — it can charge by sitting on a pad or by inserting the proper cable.

Finally, A check of my battery life after 10 minutes of playing music showed a decrease of 3%; extrapolating, that means an hour of playtime should drop the batteries by about 18%, meaning I ought to have about five and a half hours of playtime before the new AirPods require recharging.

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2019.11.09"Keyboard Cat"

Charlie Schmidt's Keyboard Cat

Sometimes I forget to engage my PawSense software, and the cat gets one over on me. The other day I came home from lunch and found she had renamed one of my Outlook folders with an extraordinarily long string of the letter "P", plus the magification on the active window was set so high I could see a few giant letters and the window close button.

Of course this led me to consider other solutions.

I use — and adore — the Microsoft Sculpt ergonomic keyboard. It uses a wireless transceiver to communicate with my laptop. The transceiver is a teeny tiny USB dongle. I briefly considered simply unplugging it and putting it in my pocket when I leave my desk for long periods, but the unit is so tiny that it could easily fall out of my pocket when, say, getting my keys out or something, and I'd never know it. Plus, the transceiver and keyboard are paired by some means below the software level; one can't just buy a replacement transceiver and pair it to the keyboard. So any solution involving arresting the keyboard must exclude removal of the device.

Why not just lock my keyboard? Doing that engages the screen saver or background, too. Certainly a very good idea — good enough to be SOP at an office where prying eyes are about. But I'm working from home, and want to leave certain communication software up and visible. I know how nitpicky this is. But not everybody uses only one machine or one location for everything.

My ideal answer came in the form of a USB hub my daughter had bought from Amazon. Made by a company called Sabrent, it is a four-port USB hub with the added feature of a button above each port.  Push the button in to engage the port beneath it. This allows me to disconnect the transceiver from the keyboard with the touch of a button, and without physically separating the transceiver from the port. AWESOME!

It's probably the next best thing to a switch directly on the keyboard to turn it off (which I wish the Sculpt actually had).

Now my cat can sit her fat butt on my keyboard while I'm not around and no input will be passed into the laptop. It's SUCH a beautiful thing.

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2019.10.30Dark Mode All the Rage

This week, the Office team at Microsoft FINALLY came through with something I've been wanting for a long, long time.

Microsoft Office has had a dark theme for a while now, but it didn't quite seal the deal in Outlook, because the theme did not extend to the message pane... until this week.

Microsoft rolled out its new Dark Mode in Office 365, which finally goes the last mile and gives the Outlook message pane white text on a black background.

I'm a huge fan. And very, very grateful. It's just sort of a shame that Apple introduced it in iOS first.

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2019.10.17Safari's New Setting

Do not attempt to adjust your browser.
We are controlling transmission.


Lately I've been working pretty hard on a new stylesheet for the iPad. I was pretty happy with it, but it suddenly stopped working. I frantically went through my code to figure out what I broke — then I realized I hadn't broken anything. Apple did.

...In a way.

The new iPadOS is here. I believe this is actually a fork of the iOS code, now meant to concentrate solely on the iPad as a platform. Along with the new operating system, a subtle change in Safari's behavior: it now requests, by default, desktop versions of websites. Put another way, stylesheets made specifically for devices like the iPad are now ignored by default.

To make Safari stop requesting desktop websites by default,

  • go to Settings > Safari.
  • In the right pane, scroll down to a region called SETTINGS FOR WEBSITES
  • Under the heading REQUEST DESKTOP WEBSITE ON, switch the "All Websites" toggle to OFF.

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2019.10.08Why I'm Now Onboard with Apple Pay

The Apple Pay logo

Apple, you tried so hard and for so long to make me sign up for Apple Pay. In iOS 13, you even went so far as to tie the setup of the new operating system to your beloved Apple Pay. So I signed up for it because I wanted to finally. Shut. You. Up.

I figured that having it didn't mean I had to use it. Oh, but I DID have to use it. And thanks to Jersey Mike's, I now appreciate Apple Pay.

Jersey Mike's sandwich shop is a place where my family and I pretty much always get the same things. I ordered from there online once, and the site suggested I'd receive some sort of reward for using their mobile app... so I downloaded it, and used it the next time I placed an order. The app allowed me to mark the order as a favorite, so on future orders I'd just find the favorite and all would be set.

Six taps.

Six taps and a double-click is all it took to order sandwiches from there today. The double-click was the payment part, through Apple Pay.

And now I appreciate it. Now I get it. Using Apple Pay was SUPER easy. I had the entire order done in 30 seconds. Again, six taps and a double-click is all that stood between me and a #9, Mike's Way, no onions.

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2019.09.27Facebook is Killing off Smart Lists

The Facebook logo

This morning when I opened the Facebook app on my phone, I was notified that Smart Lists are going away.

Smart Lists are lists that Fecebook makes automatically, based on certain elements in your profile that you have in common with friends, like home town, current city, and workplace.

Facebook advises that posts that use Smart Lists for access control will be converted to "Only Me" privacy when the Smart Lists feature is deleted.

For me, I have tons of posts from previous years that have at least one Smart List as part of a custom privacy setting. As a precaution, I archived all of the Smart Lists I have in my queue, hoping to prevent those posts from becoming inaccessable.

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2019.09.27Setting Up the Apple Watch 5

The face of an Apple Watch

My wife has given me an Apple Watch Series 5 (44mm) as a gift to replace my Series 3. I thought I'd offer some thoughts on the setup for others who have found it's time for an upgrade.

Right off the bat, you're asked if you want to set up the Series 5 as a new watch, or to restore from backup. I opted to set it up as a new watch, but my wife advised (a little late) that I should have opted for the restore from backup option. (Happily, I later learned the Apple Watch app on my phone can differentiate between the two watches and control them both. That's pretty slick.)

The first thing I noticed when I pulled it from the box is how much larger the display seems to be. My Series 3 is a 42mm; it shouldn't seem that much different. But when I was asked to add a password once it was on, I was pretty surprised by how much larger the display seems; the digits seem much bigger than they do on the Series 3. I believe the difference is that the display is longer than previous versions were, and this length offers some nice changes to support rectangular faces.

Okay. Let's make with the unsolicited advice. Here are my do's and don'ts:

Don't Push All Your Apps

The watch offers one the option of pushing all of one's phone apps over automagically, or the option of doing it manually. Personally, I don't want everything that has a companion Apple Watch app pushed onto the unit. I use very few of them; there's no need for them all to take up space... or RAM.

Don't Let Content Fill Available Space

I hvae a pretty big music collection. But I listen to it on my phone, not my watch. So while I'm thinking about it, in the Apple Watch app with my new watch selected, I scroll down the list of apps — not available apps, just the apps onboard by default — until I find music. When I tap into the menu item, I find that Apple has by default set my watch to download music I play in heavy rotation, plus three different curated mixes updated weekly... it turned all of those switches off.

I then do the same with the Audiobooks menu: I turn off the switches for "Reading Now" and "Want to Read."

Both Music and Audiobooks will automatically fill available space on your watch with content. The problem I have with this is updates to Watch OS won't install if you've no available memory. That's why I ensure these are all shut off.

Don't Let Your Watch Pester You with Everything on Your Phone

If you want to experience how annoying the Apple Watch can be, all you need is one group messaging thread.

As every message comes in, the watch will give your wrist a sharp tap. One very active group thread was enough for me to learn that the watch does not have to tell me about everything happening on my phone.

In the app, navigate to Notifications, then scroll way down to the section that reads "MIRROR IPHONE ALERTS FROM:"; now turn off the notifications from any app you don't feel is important enough to nag you about. Do I want notifications about my flight? Yes. Maps? Yes. Facebook? Nope. Outlook? Absolutely not. Flavor to your taste.

General Settings

The first thing I do here is scroll down to the Wake Screen item and zealously disable Auto-launch Audio Apps.


One of the settings under Clock is for a monogram. I've published instructions in the past on how to set this to the Apple logo, if that's of interest to you.

Now for the Best Part: The Faces

Sex sells. And you can bet these sexy watch faces are a big part of why these units must be flying off the shelves. I have a couple early favorites:

  • Solar Dial. The new and improved solar watch face is completely gorgeous, with the time placed prominently across from the relative position of the sun in the sky and four complications, all displayed in hues of blue.
  • Meridian is the default face displayed when the watch setup completes. One of the really nice things about it is its white face presents when your wrist is lifted, but the face fades to black when your arm is returned to your side. That is, you can still see the hands and its four complications all grouped toward the face's center which are set to multi-color by default, really showing off the beauty of the new face.
  • Infograph is similar to Meridian, except the Infograph face is circular, as opposed to Meridian's more rounded rectangular face. Infograph features a series of up to eight complications -- four circular ones clustered near the center (like Meridian), plus four that appear at the corners. Information overload all right at your wrist.


The new Watch OS does behave differently based on which version of the Apple Watch you have. One nice improvement I noticed on the Series 5 is that it will show you the time even if the last thing you were displaying was something other than a watch face.

Say you're doing what you do when a summary of a news story pops up on your Apple Watch. So you read it and drop your wrist back to a natural position. When you next look at your watch, a clock appears over the blurred image of that news story you didn't dismiss. I think it's a nice touch... I feel it was somebody's pet peeve — it seems rather a specific use case, no?

What Next?

So now I have my super shiny Series 5. What do I shop for next? More watch bands? Well, maybe. Happily, I'm told the bands I already own from my Series 1 and 3 will fit it. But I'm actually thinking about screen protectors instead.

The screen on my Series 1 smashed when the watch fell from my wrist. My Series 3 has a few scratches from bumping the face against various things. I don't want this Series 5 getting the same kinds of scratches, and a screen protector might prevent the screen from smashing from a fall. I'll be placing an order through Amazon here shortly.


The Apple Watch Series 5 is a beautiful, beautiful machine. I've found these watches to be very reliable, and indispensable. If you're careful about balancing the software and content you'll actually use against the software and content you have available, you should be able to perform upgrade after upgrade without complication (pun totally intended), and enjoy it for years.

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2019.09.23Why I Love iOS 13

The Apple iOS 13 logo

iOS 13 installed very smoothly on my iPhone X. Between the new OS and my new glasses, I feel like I have a brand new phone.

I'm not a power user or anything, but I've been an iPhone customer since the iPhone 3G, so I think I know a fair amount about how the product has evolved, and how I use it. Based on these, I'd like to tell you what I LOVE about iOS 13.

Dark Mode

I'm a programmer. I'm on a computer (full disclosure: a Dell PC, not a Mac) for over eight hours each day. I'm a big fan of software that lets me run in dark mode on my PC, so you can imagine how happy I was to learn that iOS was also coming to the dark side.

Now I just need the app developers to implement the new capability into new versions of their apps.

Improved Share Sheets

Select a photo from your library and opt to forward it. Instead of seeing a share sheet with an open area for AirDrop and some other options, you now see forwarding options for the people you're in touch with most often as a top row, a list of applications as a second row, and other options in a scrollable list below that. This new format is far more useful than was previously available. I'm really glad Apple rethought this.


The introduction of personalized animated emojis ("memojis") was a very nice novelty-— cool that you could animate them using facial tracking. But I don't know how widely used they ultimately were. Bringing up your memoji then recording yourself responding in conversation was kind of a lot of work, so I think they were largely ignored. In iOS 13, Apple introduces us to some preset memojis with various common emojis as facial expressions — that is, YOUR memoji's epressions — all ready for you to use. It seems many of the most commonly used emojis are represented here. Very slick.

Plus, memoji construction is more advanced. I could finally add my single hoop earring to my left ear!

Integration of Bedtime Clock with Other Clock Functions

The bedtime feature has been pretty nice, but it always seemed weird it wasn't integrated in with the other clock app functions (like timer, countdown, and the other alarms). No more: this is rectified in iOS 13. The bedtime alarm may even be disabled and enabled on the alarms form. Still, it's not fully integrated: the bedtime alarm sounds are still exclusive to the bedtime feature.

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2019.09.13My Ego Needs New Glasses

An image of blurry text.

Summerland in my past
Days were full and I knew it would last
I never thought there was anything else but you
The wind is getting cold
You're finally getting old

About two weeks ago I noticed a significant shift in my near-field vision. At first, I thought I was just tired from having spent too much time working that day, but when I noticed this was happening evening after evening, and that adjusting the text size on my phone made very little difference, I realized I had become dependent on my glasses for reading just about everything up close. The glasses made things manageable, but not clear.

New glasses are on the way. My prescription now includes a Near Add value of +2.00. Holy shit. I'd never had additional correction before. Suddenly I'm... Suddenly I do.

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2019.08.25Nerd Work is Killing the Will to Nerd Hobby

Low battery


Years ago, I had a really powerful PC, loaded with all of my programming stuff as well as a bunch of "kill-kill-kill" games. Packed with RAM and processing power, it was a really sweet machine.

Fast forward a few years. I was in a different place in my life — both figuratively and actually. Eventually, my "promance" with my PC fell apart, and for three reasons:

  1. I stopped playing the kill-kill-kill games because I had a four year-old in my house and usually attached to my hip;
  2. If I wasn't playing PC games, what was I doing with it? Paying bills, mostly
  3. Occasionally I'd have to use it to connect to work and troubleshoot system problems in the middle of the night.

I also found that not only was I avoiding my computer, but I was avoiding the desk it was on, too. My computer desk used to be where I'd go to have fun. But at that point, it was where I would go to sort and pay bills. In short, that wasn't a fun place anymore, so I began to avoid it. And that's when I figured out how wrong it was to actually avoid anyplace in my home.

Years later, I had a work-from-home job for a company near DC. THIS time, I put my desk someplace in my home that I wouldn't normally go — someplace I would deliberately have to visit to do work: in a corner of my basement. Great idea -- but execution was a little lacking. I spent hours and hours each day in a musty basement.

Present day. As a contractor for my current company, I do my work by remote connection through my personal equipment. Happily, my "office" is in a part of my home that isn't in the usual stream of life here — and not in a basement (they don't build basements in this part of Texas). My client has a ton of work and is very eager to my current project "under our belts," so I work 9-hour days for them... my weeks seem long, and so the zeal I normally have for working on my website on the weekends has ebbed.

And that hurts.

I spend so much time in this chair each day — working through a punch list, tracking my time, taking calls, making notes... no wonder I don't want to sit here on a Sunday afternoon, even if its to do fun things.

This is a signal to me that I need to slow down, or slog less, to get back to wanting to fire up QUAKE and mess around for a few minutes. I'll get back there -- I usually do — but right now I just need a little space.

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2019.07.08UPDATED: "Burner Phone" Apps are the New Spam Email Accounts

An image of apps on an iPhone.

I'm starting a position with a new company next week. I'll be working remotely, which means I'll be depending on my personal mobile phone for voice calls. Not that I mind that so much, but over the past few years I've learned the value of keeping my private number private. So I thought back to the days of Google Phone, and wondered whether a present-day app could do the same.

I'm considering two apps - Burner and Hushed. I'm reading reviews of both, and I'm leaning toward Burner. But then it hit me — these apps provide exactly the same kind of service that keeping multiple addresses does for e-mail: lets you quickly separate "spam" and solicitations from content you actually want.

This was sort of a bellwether moment for me — the idea that as communications technologies emerge, we'll always develop a need to fight unwanted traffic. It didn't take too long to catch onto the idea that you should have two email accounts: one for transactional use — buying stuff online, for example, because you're going to get spammed the moment your purchase is made — and one for personal use. Fast-forward to the smartphone era, when early adopters got onto apps like these to separate their personal line from whatever else they were doing (one reviewer of Hushed identified as running a "strictly-platonic cuddle business"). These apps must be becoming more popular — within the past couple of months I saw some press on the mobile phone carriers being given the authority to crack down on robocallers.

The same is obviously true for social media — Facebook got called on the carpet for not doing enough to combat the emergence of accounts spreading Russian propaganda in advance of the 2016 presidential election, and still gets blasted at the federal government level for leaks of private information (think Cambridge Analytica).

Tumblr, another social media platform, saw a huge percentage of its user base leave late last year because Verizon was having trouble monetizing the platform. Put simply, Verizon updated its acceptable use policy to drive out the porn communities so they could sell ads; but then they found they didn't really have anybody left to sell ads to!

It seems that in the digital age, regardless of the platform, somebody always has to be the reason we can't have nice things. PCs got viruses. Email has spam. And phishing. And spear phishing. Voicemail? "Vishing." Phones? Robocalls and other assholes out to trick the elderly, and people "calling from Microsoft because my computer has a virus." It's just absurd, the shit people do.

People get new technology, and then they have to think of ways to protect themselves while using that new technology. Protect themselves from everything from invasive advertising to bad actors. In a world where YouTube actually interrupts a video to show you an ad, I'm afraid that's just how it's going to be. Forever.

And the "bad actors" thing brings me back around to burner phone apps. You know, with GMail, all of the data you receive and send via GMail is available for them to do whatever they want with: 1

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.
Personal assistants monitor you all the time. And anything that gets recorded is stored and tagged and analyzed by a legion of linguists who will do who knows what with the data they capture. So as I think about something like a burner phone app, I have to wonder: who owns the data?

Who Owns the Data?

Ad Hoc Labs is the maker of Burner. Their privacy policy, dated 2015, explains that they do collect personal data "when you use certain services" (which they do not identify), and that they will "use your Personal Data to provide you with access to such services and to monitor your use of such services." In short, whatever you're saying over that line or text is being captured on your phone, sent to Ad Hoc Labs, and shared with other companies:

By voluntarily providing us with [personally identifiable data, aka] Personal Data, you are consenting to our use of it ... you acknowledge and agree that such Personal Data may be transferred from your current location to the offices and servers of Ad Hoc Labs and the authorized third parties referred to herein located in the United States.
Interestingly enough, the privacy policy says that you can use the app without providing any personal data, but that you may not be able to use "certain services" as a result.

Try Before You Buy

I have decided to try Burner.

After reading some of the reviews, I was a little worried that the app would try to trick me into signing up for some sort of premium service, but I found the setup to be pretty straightforward. I'm on a two-week trial that has limited services — 20 minutes of phone time and a maximum of 40 texts. I chose the number from lists of about ten numbers associated each area code I selected.

One thing I'm really excited about is that the Burner app appears to interface with Nomorobo, a subscription service I have that notifies me in real time of calls from numbers reported to be bad guys.

Burner also reports it integrates with other serivces. For example, Burner shows how I can use its Developer connection to integrate with IFTTT and Zapier. But when I tried the IFTTT integration, it appeared that IFTTT had no idea what Burner is, and had no intention of connecting with it. Granted, this is nerdy advanced stuff that isn't critical, but, if it SAYS it can connect with IFTTT, I expect it will connect with IFTTT. Burner will actually integrate with Dropbox, which I think is a very nice plus.

So I'm going to publish the Burner number on my outgoing messages, for the client to use. So far, I've received no robocalls, no texts, no messages, which is a great sign -- I interpret the silence as the line has probably not been cloned or the target of suspicious campaigns.

Tempus Fugit

So, it's Monday, and Burner is already trying to tell me my trial expires tomorrow:

For reference, when I created the number on Saturday, the app showed that it expires the following Saturday. The app still shows the number expires in five days, regardless of their poorly-implemented popup message.

Things like this are irksome. I don't tolerate them well. Maybe I'm predisposed to be aloof because of the reviews I read, but telling me two days into a 7-day free trial that my trial expires TOMORROW certainly doesn't read like an honest mistake.

Not cool, Burner.


I'll update this post as warranted.

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2019.06.08Apple Watch OS

Apple Watch OS 5


Thank you, Apple.

I'm loving your most recent WATCH OS 5 update (5.2.1). The other day, I was out doing some walking and returned to my car. The watch showed me a message which basically reminded me to stop my workout — I'm HORRIBLE at remembering to do that.

Then this afternoon, I was in my pool when the watch detected I was probably swimming, and asked if it should start a workout for me.

Damn convenient updates, Apple!

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2019.05.22Ransomware Hits Home

An image of a computer ransom message.

Ransomware is software that gets introduced to usually a company's data systems by a malicious actor (who wrote the program) and a generally unwitting victim (who downloaded or activated it). The victim clicks a link in an e-mail message or a web page, and that click connects that person's computer to a computer elsewhere, which transmits a file back to the requesting machine. Like almost any computer virus, the file spreads itself to all the other machines on the local network. Ransomware programs differ in that they encrypt the contents of the hard drives and advise the victim that they must follow a series of instructions to purchase the decryption key. Some versions demand payment be made within a specific amount of time; others increase the cost of the key as time passes. Given the strength of modern encryption algorithms, the data is lost without the key. In this way, the affected machines are being held for ransom by the software — hence, "ransomware."

Ransomware is also something that I read about in tech news stories and summaries. It's... it's a far-off thing for most — something we've heard of like so many bad things in our world, but it's never close enough to be... real.

Well, here's reality: I've just learned of a friend whose company was struck by a ransomware attack. I don't know any details beyond that, except to say that if the company is unable to meet the captor's demands, it could go under.

I don't want to see my friend out of work, especially due to something like this. In the IT world, the job market is volatile enough without threats like these. Why, in my own resume I mention, as a final bullet under certain employers, the circumstances of my departure: layoffs, end of contract, that sort of thing. Way back in my history I do have an instance where the company I'd worked for for several years closed. It's far enough back now where I don't generally have to reference it, but back when I did, it was always awkward to have to say "I did all these great things for this company, but you can't contact them for a reference because the company is gone." It caused problems for me for years.

I wish him and his company great luck. I don't know how many people the company employs, but I seem to recall it's a small shop. Hopefully law enforcement has been engaged, and they'll resolve it without the company suffering too greatly. I'm convinced all these captors want is money; but in situations like these, they get no money AND they ruin lives. Is that really acceptable collateral damage?

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2019.03.27Apple AirPods

Apple AirPods


In it's initial announcement about the AirPods, Apple promised:

  1. AirPods would sound great,
  2. AirPods would power themselves off when taken out of the ear,
  3. AirPods could be used individually, and
  4. AirPods would recharge quickly.

Two years on, all four are still true. Battery life was a concern I had going in, and today I took a measurement to figure out how long they would play before giving me the warning beep.

1 hour, 52 minutes.

When I wrote my first post about them in January 2017, I estimated about 1 hour 45 minutes of service, which forces me to consider that they haven't lost anything on battery life at all.

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2018.12.312018 Year in Review

Posts about politics and national issues dominated the interests posts in 2018, with some healthy side-effects: posts on books rose 500% from last year. There were maybe some not-so-healthy side effects too: fitness posts were way down, and I started a new topic about whiskey (!!).

texas life5


I published far less interests content this year than I had in 2017 — and for good reason: I spent far less time in front of a keyboard this year. We moved to Texas (the inclusion of Texas life and whiskey topics should have provided a prtty big hint) and I spent every day I could in our pool with kiddo, reaching all the way into NOVEMBER. Between the move and the sun, it's little wonder I'm not seeing the numbers I saw in 2017.

The nature of my posts were different this year, too. Those national interest posts were typically very long and very involved, with a lot of research behind them — most of the time, they were news articles (The Washington Post is my main source because I'm a subscriber), but in some cases, the sources were books that I'd read from cover to cover. So, fewer posts, but with much more behind them. I wouldn't call it a format change; I'd just say it's a function of the content — it demanded greater discipline and effort.

Finally, I split some content out into new topics this year. Kids/Family was used for probably most things family-related, and eventually I split out the posts related to our move and adjusting to life in Texas into its own topic. The cooking topic was renamed to food, so I could talk not just about dishes I prepare, but others I got to experience not of my kitchen (I still miss forkly). The new whiskey topic is separate from food, because I wanted to highlight our new discoveries in their own topic.

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2018.12.04A Few Words on Test-Driven and Behavior-Driven Development

I was lucky enough today to sit down with a solutions architect who walked me through a simple test-driven development (TDD) and behavior-driven development (BDD) exercise.

My mind was blown. It was everything he said it would be: it's challenging, because you have to think differently about the problems you're solving — first and foremost, you have to partition your mind to focus only on the test — it's givens and the outcome you're looking for (this is the test-driven part) — and THEN to focus on writing the code to satisfy the outcome (this is the behavior-driven part).

The net result is amazing and mind-bending. By making yourself think in this way, the code is reduced to the means of satisfying the tests. In that sense, it is pure.

I've worked for several organizations that all said they wanted to move to TDD, but couldn't. One reason: clients didn't want to pay for it. TDD pushes out the time to produce an application, but the benefit is the code doesn't fail. Add to that a continuous integration server that runs your tests and re-runs them when others check in their test-driven code...

I guess I want these guys to understand how lucky they are that they actually get to engineer in this way. I think it's super amazing. I'm SO grateful for the demo I received today.

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2018.09.18Upgrading My iPhone X to iOS 12

The Apple iOS 12 logo. Copyright Apple, Inc.

This post is going to be quick, just like the upgrade: My upgrade went super fast, and I didn't even have to log back into iCloud or anything. Even after I shut the unit down and restarted it. My upgrade experience couldn't have been smoother.

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2018.05.19Virtual Desktops in April 2018 Windows Update

The Windows 10 Timeline icon

Windows 10 users who have experienced the April 2018 update (a long update process with multiple reboots) may notice a different icon where the Task View icon used to be.

The new icon seems to resemble a film strip with a slider bar to its right. It actually suggests some new functionality inside of the task view: the ability to recall certain applications or documents you had open recently and insert them into one of the virtual desktops.

The new feature is called Timeline. It tracks all of the applications and documents you had open recently. Paired with Task View, you can select a virtual desktop, then click on an application in the timeline to load it into the virtual desktop.

Thankfully, one still switches among desktops using the same key chord (Ctrl+Win+(left arrow or right arrow)).

I suppose Timeline could be useful for setting up all of your virtual desktops at once from the Task View. Personally, I don't think I'd work that way, but then I'm fairly regimented in how I use them — I tend to always use certain applications within certain desktops (so you'd think I'd find Timeline useful).

Now, if I had a way to run a PowerShell script to set it all up for me at the start of a session, THAT would really be something. Of course, I'd need suitable resources (RAM) to support it.

Of course, I'm coming at this from the perspective of using Timeline on a single machine. The real power of Timeline, as PC World reports, is for users of multiple machines. Timeline will sync your history to the cloud, making it available for you to use from any Windows 10 machine.1

Also nice: you can turn Timeline off if you want to. Navigate to Settings > Privacy > Activity History. Two checkboxes should be visible at the top of the form.

The Activity History settings menu

Let Windows collect my activities from this PC is likely checked by default, and allows the machine to record the applications you've had open so they can be shown in the Timeeline feature. Let Windows sync my activities from this PC to the cloud may be unchecked by default, and is required to present your Timeline on different PCs.1

Unchecking Let Windows collect my activities from this PC is not enough to clear the Timeline. In the testing I did, I found I had to scroll down further on the Activity History form and click the button to clear the history to erase the Timeline.

My original post about the Windows 10 Task View and virtual desktops may be found here.

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2018.05.09The Power of Power BI

I started looking into Microsoft Power BI for work, and thought I'd use some data from my website as a test. I was very impressed at how powerful and easy to use Power BI is.

There's a lot of functionality packed in there by default.

For example, date data is imported in a heirarchical nature, so the graph, which is currently showing the number of posts by year, can be reorganized to show posts by month and posts by day of the month. (The graph showed me that I tend to post significantly more to interests topics on the 7th of the month than I do on any other day. I wonder why that is?)

One can also highight certain topics on the graph by clicking on them in the legend. Clicking on a topic will fade the other topics in the graph, which helps the data you want to see stand out.

There are some things I could clean up inside the data here (like the legend), but considering I threw this together with raw data, I'm really impressed with how easy this was to make!

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2018.04.10Facebook Privacy: It's About Who You Know

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Facebook privacy, and how one can examine and change settings related to the data you're giving to third parties through the use of Facebook authentication (that is, using Facebook to log into third-party applications and websites).

This morning I realize that everything I put in that post will not be enough to significantly help you keep your information from being leaked to third parties. The reason is the entire point of social media: connection with other people.

Yesterday, I was confident I wouldn't be seeing the warning banner that Facebook talked about displaying to the 87 million affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This morning, I can reproduce for you exactly what that banner said. Despite my elaborate system of lists to compartmentalize my Facebook relationships, my account is among the 87 million whose data was provided to Cambridge Analytica, and here's why: even though I never logged into the "This is Your Digital Life" app, a friend of mine did. Facebook explains:

As a result, the following information was likely shared with "This Is Your Digital Life":

  • Your public profile, Page likes, birthday and current city
A small number of people who logged into "This is Your Digital Life" also shared their own news feed, timeline, posts, messages which may have included posts and messages from you. They may also have shared your hometown.

There's no mention of a time period, except to say that it stopped in 2015. This still means that potentially several years' worth of my "digital life" — more precisely, the time between 2015 and whenever I connected to this person — was exposed to Soviet-born Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica and whomever else copied it simply because one of my Facebook friends used the survey app.

Perhaps it might be best if we paused and thought about our Facebook relationships as we would consider a sexual partner: We now know we have to trust our Facebook friends to protect and minimize the data they provide to others, because their data could include information about us. I imagine this isn't too dissimilar to the trust we must place in a potential partner to protect their bodies from diseases we could contract. In both cases, we have to determine whether these other people have been reckless and put themselves and us in jeopardy — whether they knew it or not. There are things we can do prophylactically in both cases to reduce, but not eliminate, our risk.

Make good choices.


P.S.: Gizmodo apparently feels similar frustration.

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2018.03.26Let's Talk About Facebook

I've a friend who started a thread about leaving Facebook. Now, I don't know what his Facebook habits are, like (get it?) how much time he spends on it daily, but I've never thought he posted too often or was particularly combative on threads I've seen. But the point he made wasn't really about politics and associated vitriol that has seemed to sully everybody's Facebook experience since 2016 — it was about Facebook as a steward of its users' data.

In the same thread, another friend posted a link to a neat commentary by Shelly Palmer about precisely that sort of thing. My favorite few words from the post get straight to the point:

Right now, you get to use Facebook, Google, Gmail, Waze, and other “free” apps for the cost of your data. If you don’t want to pay with your data, you are welcome to make other choices.
That's really the bottom line. Palmer's post also recounts for us the Cambridge Analytica scandal and observes, "The silver lining ... is the fact that you are becoming aware of what data you create, what is collected, and how it is used."

And by the way, let's be clear about what this Cambridge Analytica mess really is — It's about Facebook and their privacy practices. This wasn't a breach like Equifax, Anthem or MySpace. Data wasn't taken. Facebook gave CA's researcher the data, because in part the researcher lied about its use.

Let's move on.

Inspect Your Facebook Settings: Facebook Authentication

Facebook is more than just a social media platform. It's also a very convenient authentication platform. Loads and loads of phone and web apps offer authentication using your Facebook credentials as a way for you to access their content. But, as stated above, there's a price to using Facebook authentication elsewhere, and that price is your Facebook data.

Do me a favor. Open up the Facebook app on your mobile phone. Right now. Let's take a look at the permissions you've given the apps that use Facebook authentication. Jeff Rossen did a piece on this on the Today Show last week, and I was grateful for the walkthrough. Here's how — at least, on the iPhone:

  • Open up the Facebook app's settings by clicking on the icon in the lower right corner of the Facebook app's screen — the one that looks like three horizontal lines. Don't confuse this with the iPhone's settings.
  • Once the form loads, scroll to the bottom to the region marked "SETTINGS", and tap on the word "Settings" to the left of an icon that resembles a white gear against a gray background.
  • A menu should pop up with a few different headings. Tap "Account Settings."
  • On the Settings screen, scroll to the bottom and tap on "Apps."

  • You'll arrive at Facebook's Apps and Websites form. Tap on "Logged in with Facebook".

Spend a few moments taking this all in. This form is now separated into regions by sharing settings, in increasing order of privacy. In other words, the group of apps that are shared only with yourself are at the bottom, and the group of apps that are shared with the public are at the top.

Just spend a few minutes surfing this Apps and Websites area and make certain you're good with your settings, or change them. Different apps will request different data — some of them will take absolutely everything they can get:

In exchange for logging into this app with your Facebook account, the app is collecting information on your friends, your posts, your likes, your birthday, and more.

If you're not comfortable with the Facebook data you are providing this third-party app, you can change those settings here. Personally, I've set all of my apps and websites to share data with only me, and have limited the particular data to my public profile and maybe my email address, but that's it.

Inspect Your Facebook Settings: Posts Privacy

When I think of "Facebook" and "privacy," the privacy of my posts is the first thing I think of. In a time of change, a couple of years after I joined the network, I figured out how to use Facebook's lists capability and came to use it exclusively, despite whatever other controls Facebook introduced in the years since.

The key to the effectiveness of the list method is in your post security. You have to be certain that the visibility of every post you make is restricted to your lists. That means at least the posts you make from here on out, but could include modifying every post you've ever made (as far back as your wall goes) if you want to be thorough. The choice is yours.

Imagine two lists, for the sake of simplicity. One is your "white list", with ALL of your Facebook friends on it. The other is a "black list," for putting friends in "time out" on occasion. Let's say you have a friend who has been getting particularly annoying of late — maybe you've tired of her constant Candy Crush posts, or you're just done with the poltical rancor he is spreading. Put them in the penalty box by adding them to your "black list." Just make certain the privacy on your posts is set to only include the "white list", and to specifically exclude the "black list." Doing this for all subsequent posts effectively denies "black list" members visibility to anything you post (except for profile picture changes) until they're off the "black list." If you chose to change the settings on all of your previous posts, people in the penalty box will see none of your posts on your wall.

You'll likely have multiple lists. I do — life isn't as simple as black and white (lists). The more lists you make, the greater the demand for maintenance. For example, every new friend you take on must get assigned to a list with view permissions for them to be able to see any of your posts on your wall. I started with a "white list," then branched out. Some lists are confined to my neighborhood, and some are confined to family. I also have a "children" list, so posts that aren't appropriate for younger eyes can exclude that group. You get the idea.

Creating, populating, and maintaining lists is much easier using a PC browser than on a mobile device. So log into Facebook on your browser, and look down the left side of your News Feed for a heading called "Explore." Click on the item titled "Friend Lists." You may have to click on "See More..." to reveal it.

You should land at this URL: https://www.facebook.com/bookmarks/lists/. You can create and manage lists here. Clicking on an existing list will show your wall, filtered to the list you clicked on — but you can see and manage the list's membership on the right side either in the header or in a section titled "On this List".

The screen shot above is my actual "black list." There's currently one person on it, and this list has been in existence for over ten years. Notice the list has zero access to any of my posts on my wall. Toldja it's a penalty box!

I find it's much easier to manipulate the permissions of a single post using a computer browser than to attempt it through a mobile app. I think the way to go is to find a custom permissions set that will work well for most of your posts and to revise permissions once posts are made, than to mess with the permissions prior to creating the post. This is largely because a change in the permissions settings before you make a post will be retained until you change it again.

Let's say you're going to post some pics for your motorcycle buddies. I find it's better to leave permissions as they are, make the post, then edit the permissions on that one post, than to edit the permissions at the start, make the post, then have to change the permissions back to the way they were; particularly if your standard custom set is complex or if you're posting from your mobile phone.

Think about it this way: using the latter method, you might easily change the permissions to being only viewable by your motorcycle buddies list and make the post from your phone; but if you forget to get onto your laptop later and correct the custom permissions set, everything you post until you get it corrected will default to go only to your motorcycle buddies list.

A few years after I started my list scheme, Facebook created several automated lists, like "Family" and "Acquaintances" and so forth. The premise is exactly the same -— consider these as "starter" lists. They'll require the same maintenance as the lists you create.

Use Facebook's Privacy Checkup

Facebook has created a privacy checkup wizard. Apart from an appearance on your wall from time to time, you can also access it from your iPhone by tapping the Settings icon, then scrolling down to the SETTINGS region and tapping on the Privacy Shortcuts menu item.

The Privacy Shortcuts screen is also where you can verify your posts settings and even explore Facebook's data policy.

You Own Your Facebook Data

Remember that you can always request the data Facebook has on you. Log into Facebook on your computer or phone's browser — not the app — then go to Settings. The easiest way to do this is to click on the downward arrow at far right on the blue banner at the top, then click "Settings." You'll land at the General Account Settings. You'll see a series of rows of data — Name, Username, Contact, et cetera. Below this is a link you might otherwise miss: it reads, "Download a copy of your Facebook data."


  1. The Internet is forever. Be careful about who can see what you post.
  2. "If you don't want to pay with your data, you are welcome to make other choices."
  3. Check the permissions you've given to third party applications by using Facebook's authentication.
  4. Check the privacy of your posts. You can use lists if you've got the drive to see it through.
  5. Facebook has a Privacy Checkup wizard available for you to run at will.
  6. You can download a copy of your Facebook data at will.

Finally (if this hasn't been bad enough), check out this Twitter thread from Dylan Curran where he reviews all of his data from Facebook and Google.

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2018.03.18I'm bored

Welp, this is silly.

A couple of weeks ago I had a period of a few days where seemingly everything I had been working on achieved their desired end states. It was weird. And now I'm on the downside of all of those achievements: I'm kinda left a little listless because I finished it all.

Years ago I really wanted an HP LaserJet printer. A model was introduced that was designed for the home or small office, and I really wanted it — but the price was just too high for me. For well over a year I kept a close eye on the price — I'd make a bee-line for the printers section whenever I walked into any technology store -- but the price never dropped. Then one day I got brave and looked online at eBay. There I found them, new, in-box, for a better price than I was finding in retailers. So I created an eBay account and bought one. For a long time after that, I'd just feel lost when going into a technology retailer because the thing that had driven me to go for so long wasn't a thing anymore. I remember stopping myself when I'd get to the printers section and actually ask myself what I was doing — the search had become habit, but now that the search was over, I just felt... empty. Listless. Wondering, "Well, now what?"

Here I am feeling much the same, because so many different things all ended within those two days. Major upgrade to my website is completed, in production, and I'm really happy with it. I've had really good interviews with several potential employers. I'd even finished Wolfenstein II and finally reached level 30 in Pokémon GO!.

Now all that remains on the website work is some maintenance items; I have an offer from one of those firms, and I've barely the motivation to even open the Pokémon GO! app: Before, If I was driving by the local cemetery (a major location for Pokéstops), I wouldn't have missed an opportunity to pull in, open the app, and pick up some items or maybe join a raid. Lately, I can't be bothered. And it feels really weird. I'm just so used to working so hard at it.

I guess I'll just await the next bit of "brain candy" to devour.

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2018.02.14UPDATE: Will the AirPods Case Erase Mag-Strip Cards?

The Apple corp. logo. Image credit: Apple

I've been staying in a hotel for the past week. After two days here, I discovered the key card to the room was erased. A couple of days later, I discovered both of the key cards had stopped working, and had them reprogrammed by the front desk.

This was when I figured out I had been carrying my AirPods in their case in the same pocket as the cards.

I don't seem to have any trouble with the room key when I don't have the AirPods case with me.

I remember from my NEETS modules days that anything that generates an electrical field also generates a magnetic field. The AirPods case is a small capsule that acts as a charger for the AirPods, hence it generates electric and magnetic fields.

With the case and the key card in the same pocket, I can't help but wonder if the magnetic field created by the AirPods case is at least partially erasing the data recorded on the key card's magnetic strip. Apparently, this is a thing.

I'll simply leave this here: If you're an AirPods user, consider carefully where you carry the case in relation to things like key cards, bank cards and credit cards which use magnetic strips.

We're now in our third week at this hotel. I met a guy this morning at breakfast who was wearing AirPods and had his case out on the table. I told him about my experience, and then showed him the big dumb credit card case I bought as a defense against the constant card erasure. Surprised, he admitted that he kept his room card and the AirPods case in the same pocket (as had I). He thanked me for the advice and left after a few minutes.

About ten minutes later he came back to our table and told me that his room card wasn't working!

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2017.12.312017 Year in Review

Posts about fitness, family, geek stuff and national events dominated the interests posts in 2017.



Technically speaking, I did a lot on this website over 2017:

  • Added a crawler atop the welcome page
  • Made a cryptographic class
  • Upgraded the professional section to include an interactive resume, a reworked certificates and certifications form to include a coverflow-like interface, and the introduction of a technologies list
  • Implemented a major change to post favoriting to prevent records from being overwritten by production pushes
  • Numerous fixes and other minor enhancements

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2017.12.27Got Cats? Consider PawSense

the Business Cat meme image

We adopted two kittens from the shelter over a year ago. The male has matured into just a bundle of love — I adore him. The female has matured into a standard cat, who does not care one whit about people and everything has to be done on her terms. As I said, a standard cat.

One can definitely tell the difference between the two cats when they're around my laptop. The boy will very carefully walk around it and other obstacles in... whatever he decides his path is. The female simply can't be bothered, and will walk straight over the keyboard.

If you have a "keyboard cat" like I do, I've a software suggestion for you.

Keyboard Cat

PawSense is the brainchild of BitBoost Systems, which seeks to solve the very problem of cats walking over your keyboard. PawSense monitors keyboard input for values typically distinct from human typing — cats' paws typically strike more than a single character at a time — and locks the keyboard until a human unlocks it, either by clicking in a particular spot or by typing specific input.

PawSense likely runs as a service on your Windows computer, monitoring the keyboard for unusual input. The software can play a sound as an attempt to startle your visitor and to train her (or him -— my bias) to keep off your keyboard.

PawSense is available for download for $19.99. BitBoost uses Paypal to handle transactions. One word of advice: the download form requires two inputs - one is associated with the name of the purchaser, and the other is a purchase ID. That purchase ID is displayed on a screen during the transaction, but it is not included in the confirmation email coming from Paypal. Do yourself a favor and copy down or take a screenshot of that purchase ID while it's displayed on the screen so you'll have it when needed. Otherwise you might find yourself e-mailing BitBoost support for assistance (like I did) — and by the way, BitBoost support was very responsive. I had reached out to them yesterday afternoon, and had the fix waiting in my email this morning.

One more thing: PawSense was last updated to run on Windows 8, though it's running fine on my Windows 10 machine.

Perhaps an unintended additional benefit of PawSense is that it could make you a better typist. I've triggered the PawSense software twice since typing this, telling me my accuracy could improve.

Learn more about PawSense.

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2017.12.22Yes Virginia, Apple IS slowing down older iPhones

An image of Apple iPhones.

According to CNET reporting, Apple has released a statement this week which verifies a long-held suspicion: Your older iPhone or iPad really IS getting slower.

The statement was in response to an observation from Primate Labs. Published in a blog post from its founder, Primate Labs' testing showed that iPhone performance did not remain constant as the unit ages, contrary to the public's expectations.

It's a Feature

Apple's response, reproduced here, was included in the CNET article:

"Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.

Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We've now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future."

I admit, I'm in that camp — I've wondered why, after the release of a a newer model, my iPad suddenly seems like someone replaced its chip with a Pentium 60. My suspicion has been that AT&T had been throttling it's network performance. Happily, I've never had a problem with a unit (iPhone or iPad) simply shutting itself off. Thanks to this article, if that happens, I'll know one reason why.

Read the full article.

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2017.12.21University of Michigan Developing "Unhackable" Computer

An image of a Rubiks Cube. Image credit: grubiks.com

MICHIGAN NEWS, a publication of the University of Michigan, reported their computer science department is working on a new computer hardware design that moves information rapidly and randomly within the system, destroying the data occupying the previous location. "The technology works to elude attackers from the critical information they need to construct a succcessful attack."

Todd Austin, who leads Project MORPHEUS, offered this simile: "It's like if you're solving a Rubik's Cube and every time you blink, I rearrange it."

Austin is excited about the program, because he believes the design offers a solution that is "future-proof." The article argues that MORPHEUS could protect against future threats, because zero-day attacks that focus on software vulnerabilities require fixed locations of the vulnerability and the data. Under MORPHEUS, the locations of everything — the vulerability, the data, passwords, everything — would constantly be changing. In such an environment, vulnerabilities won't matter, because an attacker would not have the time or resources to exploit them.

Read the full article.

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2017.12.20Windows 10's Fall Creators Update... Update

The Windows 10 logo. Image credit: Microsoft Corporation

I noticed the other day that my Windows machine went through a GIANT install — on the order of the Fall Creators Update: installing a percentage of the update, then restarting, then installing another percentage, then rebooting.

It turns out it actually was the Fall Creators Update — again. An update to the update, if you will.

I watched a video that offered a summary of updates, and found one thing that seemed useful to me directly: the ability to save a link right onto your taskbar.

Yeah, yeah, it had all kinds of other updates to Paint 3D and so on, but I don't use those. I don't need them in my life right now. But I can get behind the URL thing.

Why? Because as it happens, I have a client for whom I'm doing a lot of work using a Web form on a specific development server. It'd be nice to have a link to that URL directly on the taskbar instead of having to open the browser, fight with it while it tries to load the home page the client has set, to get to the dev box.

Luckily, Microsoft implemented a version of the feature in IE. If I was an Edge user, I should see the feature shown in the video. The implementation in IE is a little different. Under Options (the gear icon in the upper right corner) is an option titled "Add site to Apps." After clicking, I found the shortcut (pictured as the Internet Explorer "e" logo against a white background) right at the very top of my Start Menu (the first entry under "Recently Added.") Right-clicking on the menu item gave me the option to pin it to the taskbar.

You can go as far as view the properties of the shortcut from the taskbar, but you can't edit the shortcut icon. Somewhat interesting: The shortcut is of a type called "Pinned Site Shortcut" — not just "Shortcut."

I think it's a nice-to-have feature, because it keeps shortcuts off of my desktop and down on the taskbar, where I live. One can create a shortcut on the desktop to an internet URL, but about the best you could do to get it onto a taskbar in Windows 10 is to pin it to a browser taskbar icon. Not bad, but not quite as handy.

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2017.12.16UPDATE: iPhone X's Face ID is a Pain in the Neck

The Apple Face ID logo. Image credit: Apple Corporation

Since the iPhone X was announced, Apple has marketed its Face ID feature as purely a security enhancement, designed to increase the security of the unit tenfold over its earlier fingerprint ID technology.

But I believe Face ID's hidden purpose is to combat distracted driving — or at least provide a mitigation strategy for the company. Intentions aside, Apple has made using an iPhone in a car significantly more inconvenient than ever.

"1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk."

Do Not Disturb While Driving

iOS 11 contains a key enhancement in this regard — its Do Not Disturb While Driving feature activates automatically by default when your phone connects to a Bluetooth system in a car, or when you're traveling at a relatively high rate of speed (determined through Location Services). While the service is engaged, use of the phone is permissable only after you signify that you're not driving — performed through an extra tap on the phone's lock screen. Players of Niantic's Pokemon Go! might recognize this from the game — if location services detects that you're moving rapidly, the game makes you acknowledge an "I'm a passenger" alert.

Face ID Demands Your Attention

Face ID completely ups the ante on Apple's anti-driving campaign because, by default, Face ID requires you to look directly at your phone before unlocking it (Apple calls this "requiring attention"), and applies attention awareness to other features, like dimming the phone's display. (See Settings > Face ID & Passcode for the settings.)

The new unit also forces requirement of a passcode immediately, without any other option or the possibility of disabling the requirement (see Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Require Passcode). What this essentially means is you can no longer just unlock your phone, keep it in your lap and casually use it in the car. The iPhone X and iOS 11 demand you bring the phone up to your face to unlock it, OR make you unlock it by typing in your code if you're not using it continuously.

Cheap Sunglasses

Another note for mobile users (pun intended): Face ID probably won't work if you're wearing sunglasses (it doesn't work when I'm wearing mine). So now, in addition to having to bring the unit up to your face and to look right at it, you've also got to take off your sunglasses.

Who wants to have to do all of that stuff from a car seat?

"Apple has made using an iPhone in a car significantly more inconvenient than ever."

Distracted Driving

So now I feel obligated to insert some data about traffic fatalities related to distracted driving and mobile phone use, to highlight the problem. To be fair, the numbers are alarming. According to statistics offered by a personal injury law firm, quoting the National Safety Council, "1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk." 1

With figures like these, it seems petty to argue whether Apple is acting to protect consumers or to protect itself. Besides, one could also argue that Apple is incentivized to make these changes to their products to keep people alive so they can buy more of their products — or, in the case of younger consumers, appeal to their parents. (Cell phone use is highest among 16 - 24 year olds.) 2   I'm not saying these things to act in poor taste; I'm merely exploring Apple's rationale for making the changes I'm griping about.

Not Yet Sure How I Feel About It

Yes, this makes me one of the 660,000 guilty of using a mobile phone in some way while in a car. I also wrote some software called "AUTOreply" several years ago for my Android phone because I was tired of constant text messages while I was driving.

Typically if I'm using the phone, I'm answering it over the car's stereo in a hands-free way. Sometimes, I make calls, too — and Apple's now made it really difficult for me to do that, because dictation doesn't work well through my older car's system (hmm.... are they trying to boost sales of CarPlay-equipped units too?) I'm still against texting.

The design changes of the iPhone X absolutely discourage any active use of the unit while driving or even just being in a car, and for good reason.

Over time, I'm sure I'll get used to them; right now, I guess I'm too familiar with the relative convenience my 7 Plus offered, and find myself wanting it back.


UPDATE: There is one setting change you can make to make your life a little easier. I found it after I'd published the original article (of course). You can modify the Auto-Lock setting to give you a little breathing room. Find it under Settings > General > Display and Brightness, at about the middle of the screen. I believe my machine was set to 30 Seconds as a default. Set that value to something higher to give yourself a little more time before having to reverify your identity to your phone again.

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Image of a Star Wars: The Last Jedi promotional poster. Image credit: Lucasarts

We've tickets to the first showing of The Last Jedi in just a couple of hours.


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2017.12.06iPhone X's Face ID is a Pain in the Neck

The Apple Face ID logo. Image credit: Apple Corporation

Since the iPhone X was announced, Apple has marketed its Face ID feature as purely a security enhancement, designed to increase the security of the unit tenfold over its earlier fingerprint ID technology.

But I believe Face ID's hidden purpose is to combat distracted driving — or at least provide a mitigation strategy for the company. Intentions aside, Apple has made using an iPhone in a car significantly more inconvenient than ever.

"1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk."

Do Not Disturb While Driving

iOS 11 contains a key enhancement in this regard — its Do Not Disturb While Driving feature activates automatically by default when your phone connects to a Bluetooth system in a car, or when you're traveling at a relatively high rate of speed (determined through Location Services). While the service is engaged, use of the phone is permissable only after you signify that you're not driving — performed through an extra tap on the phone's lock screen. Players of Niantic's Pokemon Go! might recognize this from the game — if location services detects that you're moving rapidly, the game makes you acknowledge an "I'm a passenger" alert.

Face ID Demands Your Attention

Face ID completely ups the ante on Apple's anti-driving campaign because, by default, Face ID requires you to look directly at your phone before unlocking it (Apple calls this "requiring attention"), and applies attention awareness to other features, like dimming the phone's display. (See Settings > Face ID & Passcode for the settings.)

The new unit also forces requirement of a passcode immediately, without any other option or the possibility of disabling the requirement (see Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Require Passcode). What this essentially means is you can no longer just unlock your phone, keep it in your lap and casually use it in the car. The iPhone X and iOS 11 demand you bring the phone up to your face to unlock it, OR make you unlock it by typing in your code if you're not using it continuously.

Cheap Sunglasses

Another note for mobile users (pun intended): Face ID probably won't work if you're wearing sunglasses (it doesn't work when I'm wearing mine). So now, in addition to having to bring the unit up to your face and to look right at it, you've also got to take off your sunglasses.

Who wants to have to do all of that stuff from a car seat?

"Apple has made using an iPhone in a car significantly more inconvenient than ever."

Distracted Driving

So now I feel obligated to insert some data about traffic fatalities related to distracted driving and mobile phone use, to highlight the problem. To be fair, the numbers are alarming. According to statistics offered by a personal injury law firm, quoting the National Safety Council, "1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk." 1

With figures like these, it seems petty to argue whether Apple is acting to protect consumers or to protect itself. Besides, one could also argue that Apple is incentivized to make these changes to their products to keep people alive so they can buy more of their products — or, in the case of younger consumers, appeal to their parents. (Cell phone use is highest among 16 - 24 year olds.) 2   I'm not saying these things to act in poor taste; I'm merely exploring Apple's rationale for making the changes I'm griping about.

Not Yet Sure How I Feel About It

Yes, this makes me one of the 660,000 guilty of using a mobile phone in some way while in a car. I also wrote some software called "AUTOreply" several years ago for my Android phone because I was tired of constant text messages while I was driving.

Typically if I'm using the phone, I'm answering it over the car's stereo in a hands-free way. Sometimes, I make calls, too — and Apple's now made it really difficult for me to do that, because dictation doesn't work well through my older car's system (hmm.... are they trying to boost sales of CarPlay-equipped units too?) I'm still against texting.

The design changes of the iPhone X absolutely discourage any active use of the unit while driving or even just being in a car, and for good reason.

Over time, I'm sure I'll get used to them; right now, I guess I'm too familiar with the relative convenience my 7 Plus offered, and find myself wanting it back.

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2017.12.03Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity Watch is Obsolete, says Citizen

Image of the CITIZEN Eco-Drive Proximity W760. Image credit: SBNATION.com

Citizen's Eco-Drive Proximity line is a series of watches that are designed to be semi-smart, in that they tie in with your smartphone to provide some very nice functionality. For example, syncing with your phone means never having to set your watch manually again. The best use of this that I can think of is when you're flying across time zones — a touch of a button and your watch is set to the correct time. It's also able to alert you when you receive new e-mails and when your phone goes out of range (e.g., you've left it someplace). Syncing with your smartphone obviously requires a smartphone app. The application communicates with the watch over a Bluetooth connection.

I received mine as a gift several years ago and loved it. It's spent the last couple of years on the shelf with my other dress watches because I favored my Apple Watch. But since I dropped it and smashed the screen, I'm back to my other watches again.

I downloaded the Citizen Proximity app onto my new phone (running iOS 11) and couldn't get the watch to connect, so I contacted Citizen support.

Some three weeks later, I received a reply, which basically told me that my watch — the W760 — is obsolete, compatible with iOS versions up to 9 (two major versions ago). The more recent W770 models are still compatible with the current operating system.

I have a problem with having only some percentage of its functionality available because the watch won't sync anymore. So I replied, asking if Citizen is doing anything to upgrade the W760 owners to a W770. Who knows when I'll receive a reply -— with the holidays coming, I might not get a reply until sometime in January.

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2017.11.08GIZMODO: Poor Guy Accidentally Steals and Then Destroys $300 Million Worth of Ether Cryptocurrency

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GIZMODO reports a newbie developer has found himself in the center of a "perfect storm" of bad moves and bugs that caused him to take "possession of an estimated $300 million worth of the Ethereum cryptocurrency by accident. In an attempt to give back the money, however, the poor guy ended up locking up the funds permanently. In effect, that money is just gone."

Read the full article here.

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2017.10.31Re: Stop HTML5 Videos from Automatically Playing

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Just wanted to say that this guidance proided by PCWorld is still useful to me, a Firefox user. I've referred to their instructions two or three times since I posted about it back in mid-April.

If you're a Chrome, Firefox, or Opera user, this post will step you through how to rid yourself of the annoyance.

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2017.10.29TIME: "Apple's Best Product is Something You Can't Buy"

The Apple logo

I really enjoyed Jon Patrick Pullen's article in Time Magazine, "Forget the iPhone X, Apple's Best Product Is Something You Can't Buy".

Pullen favors Apple's privacy policy and practices above those of competitors like Google and Amazon, based in part on the companies' business models. I like Pullen's approach here: if user data is a revenue stream, it follows that users' privacy cannot be a primary concern for that company:

Google, by contrast, not only sells phones and other devices, but also makes money off the ads (and the user data) that appear on those handsets, laptops and tablets. Amazon's gadget-oriented business model wants to sell you things... that will help sell you more things.... Facebook's users... are themselves the products unwittingly feeding the social network's revenue model.

I take issue with one point Pullen made, which was to partially blame Apple for the successes of a 2014 phishing campaign that led to the leaks of celebrities' embarrassing personal photos. It's wrong to hold Apple responsible for that. Google or Apple or Slappy's Online Fish Market could encrypt and secure absolutely everything related to users' data, but if the user surrenders their means of accessing it — maybe the ONLY way to access the data in decrypted form (passwords, physical keys, fingerprints, or whatever) — that's not the company's fault. That's like blaming Ford for the theft of your car because you gave a stranger your keys.

The article is worth the few minutes to read, because it encourages one to think about the companies behind the data storage. The author notes the privacy policy and protections add to the value proposition of Apple's products — even the $1,000 iPhone X — and subtly reminds us there's always a catch.

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2017.10.02Early Thoughts on iOS 11, Part Four

The Apple iOS 11 logo

Apple has already released a patch for iOS 11.

Version 11.0.1 was on the street this past weekend. Intended to correct a problem some were having with e-mail, 11.0.1 is apparently presenting problems for some iPhone 6 users.

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2017.09.21Early Thoughts on iOS 11, Part Three

The Apple iOS 11 logo

I upgraded the iTunes application on my laptop, my iPhone to OS 11 and my Apple Watch to WatchOS 4 yesterday.

Upgrading iTunes

The biggest thing to watch out for in the iTunes upgrade is that apps are no longer handled through iTunes. iTunes is now for media content only. That's going to take some getting used to. Also, sort of iTunes related, you can now restore your your ringtones directly on the phone. This is a huge benefit also to the AppleCare people who support iTunes — in the past, users had to call into AppleCare to have them unlocked.

Upgrading to iOS 11

My upgrade to iOS 11 went very smoothly, and I have not experienced the slowness that others have. This may be, in part, because I'm an Apple Music subscriber, which has eliminated the need to have music downloaded directly to the unit. The result is substantially fewer files stored on the phone, which means I have more than half of my space available. My surmise (read: I might be talking out of my tailpipe here) is that the relatively low number of objects (photos, music files, etc.) and the large percentage of unused space gave the OS plenty of room to index relatively few objects.

I've seen a few nice changes to the interface. I'm sure there are more I haven't yet discovered. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that they've taken the UI for Apple Music and applied it through their entire ecosystem, giving a uniform look to the other iOS apps (that is, the other Apple apps). Also, the control center has been revamped — swipe up from the bottom to check it out. Other smaller touches: Screenshots now produce a miniaturized image of the screenshot at the bottom left of the screen — more than just a nice little reinforcement that you got the screenshot; touching the miniaturized image drops you straight into editing tools, and even lets you delete the 'shot. And speaking of images, iOS 11's Photos app now displays animated gifs, and includes the capability to create an Apple Watch face directly from the menu, just like you can with wallpapers for your device. Another nice touch is in the Activity app — you can look in the history of your workouts now and see a graph of your heart rate (heart rate was a topic of discussion at the unveiling).

Apple has also introduced a new safety feature on the phone. If you connect your iPhone to your car's audio system (I do this via Bluetooth), the phone will now restrict what data you get back from Siri, will intercept texts you receive and reply that you're driving, and will make you attest that you're not driving if you attempt to access the device. I believe this can be overridden someplace in settings, but I haven't looked into how yet.

Apple has also made a few subtle statements with the new OS release. For example, the Contacts app icon now depicts silhouettes of male and female figures (before it was a silhouette of a person — I never really assigned it a gender). Another example is in the wallpapers included with the new system there are several still wallpapers which feature solid lines in multiple colors that appear similar to, though not quite reproducing, the pride flag.

iOS 11 is a much bigger deal for iPad. The change in the control center is far more pronounced on the iPad than it is on the iPhone. My iPad Air 2 has a couple of years on it, but I really don't use it for a whole lot. So I'm uncertain how the upgrade will impact my use.

Upgrading to WatchOS 4

The upgrade seemed to take forever. I chalk this up to a combination of demand and the fact that I was upgrading a first generation Apple Watch.

WatchOS 4 comes with a few new faces, but some other nice enhancements — starting with the lock screen: the numbers and keys are larger and easier to read.

But I'm annoyed with another enhancement — when I play music on my iPhone, the watch shows that the phone is playing music. (Tap the crown to close that to get back to your watch face.) Hint: I don't need that information. Really. I listen to music all day long. I'd rather not have to close the stupid music app every time I look at my watch. To fix this, open the Apple Watch app on your phone and navigate to General, then scroll down to Wake Screen. Toggle "Auto-launch Audio apps" to OFF. Now when you play music, the iTunes app won't automatically launch, and you'll see your watch face when you raise your wrist.

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2017.09.20Early Thoughts on iOS 11, Part One

Image of an iPhone battery indicator, showing low battery.

Early reporting from BGR.com suggests that, while any OS upgrade will slow all phones down temporarily while objects get re-indexed, some iPhone users, especially those with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, have reported lasting battery life effects. These users have been running iOS 11 since last week, when the Gold Master was released.

The author suggests users might try throttling back background refresh and location access settings:

If you experience faster battery drain after updating to iOS 11, there are a few things you can do to potentially extend your battery life. The two big ones are limiting the number of apps that can refresh in the background (Settings > General > Background App Refresh) and limiting the number of apps that can access your location in the background (Settings > Privacy > Location Services). If that doesn’t have much of an impact, Low Power Mode may become your best friend until Apple pushes out new updates in the coming months that will hopefully address excessive battery drain.

The author also wrote a separate article with additional information on how to lighten the load on your device.

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2017.09.20Early Thoughts on iOS 11, Part Two

The Apple Photos App icon

My wife has already upgraded both her iPad Air 2 and iPhone 7 Plus to the new operating system, and is currently installing the watchOS upgrade onto her first generation Apple Watch. I have exactly the same kit, but have done none of this so far, partly because it hasn't been on my radar, partly because I doubt I'd have made the time to do it even if it was, but also partly because I haven't yet been overtaken by the potential coolness and anticipation.

But I'm also putting off the upgrade until I have another task completed: clearing the clutter of old photos off of the phone.

I have the Microsoft OneDrive app on my iPhone. It's there really for one reason: to make backups of all of the photos I take. Now, you might say, "Well, you already have backups of all of your photos in iCloud." True. But here's the rub: deleting photos from my phone also deletes them from iCloud. Actually, deletes them from all of my Apple Devices AND from iCloud. So thumbing through the All Photos album means I have to see every. single. picture. Some of these, I just want archived in a way where I can forget about them. I'm not saying they're unimportant photos; I'm just saying that I don't need to scroll through the 200 images of Papa's birthday celebration every time I'm looking for a particular image. The OneDrive app has a feature called Camera Upload, and it does exactly what you'd expect: grabs all of the images off of the camera roll that aren't already uploaded to OneDrive and pushes them up. Once done, they're away from iCloud and the iPhone, and I can prune the photos on the phone to my heart's content.

I could keep the Camera Upload feature on all of the time, but that would mean that every photo I took would get uploaded in near real-time. I prefer instead to keep the feature turned off and do some rudimentary culling first to clear out junk like images I download for one-time use. Images like those don't really have any meaning beyond, say, the context of a conversation, so I don't feel the need to persist them anywhere. So every couple of months I'll go through my photos, delete the ones that can be deleted, then fire up OneDrive and activate Camera Upload. Once the images are done being copied, I'll shut Camera Upload off again.

Copying and culling photos like this is a great way to cut down on the number of objects getting indexed by the OS. The indexing supports Spotlight search, making searching for specific objects super fast. Major OS releases (like iOS 11) always reindex EVERYTHING at first — all of your contacts, all of your photos, and so on, and it takes time and power to redo the entire index. And by power, I mean battery life.

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2017.08.07How to Repeat the Current Song in iOS 10

I could swear this used to be easy.

I've found a song that I want playing over and over and over again while I work. It's beautiful, melodious, and would be perfect background noise while I do my nerd thing. But I couldn't find where to set the repeat or shuffle command ANYPLACE within the music app on my iPhone. Every time I'd look at the song's "context menu," I saw options to add to a playlist, play next, play later, and sharing and liking options, but nothing for simply triggering a repeat or shuffle.

Well, turns out I couldn't find it because it's not in the music app at all. To get to these options, you have to use the little control menu that has options for airplane mode, WiFi, Bluetooth and so on at the bottom of your screen. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access the menu.

The first form has the options I mentioned earlier across the top, and access to the flashlight, timer, calculator and camera across the bottom. Swipe left to access the second form, which is dedicated to music player controls.

This second form shows the album cover art at left, with text at right, starting with the name of the current track. Tap on the track name to bring up info about the track in a full-length form.

Now scroll up on that form to reveal the shuffle and repeat buttons.

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2017.08.06Replacing a Screen on an iPhone 7 Plus

In all the years I've owned iPhone models, only once have I had to replace a cracked screen. And that day was yesterday.

This post is not about how one performs a screen replacement; it's about what to expect when you take it to an Apple Store to get the screen replaced.

A couple of weeks ago, my unprotected iPhone slid out of my pocket, out of my car, and hit the concrete driveway, leaving a crack in the screen resembling a dog-ear on a paper page, and a few pits in the metal at the impact point. The unit was still usable, but I knew the crack was an unsafe condition at the very least. Besides, this kind of thing is what AppleCare is FOR.

Our nearest Apple Store is about an hour and a half away. They didn't have any appointments available for the coming weekend, so our next shot was the weekend after that.

Upon arrival, the Apple people made things as easy as possible for me, but there were a few surprises. They ran a diagnostic to ensure the unit didn't have additional damage, then had me check and disable a few things in Settings, like you would if you were replacing the unit. Replacing the unit was an option, but it would cost $99 as opposed to the $29 cost for just replacing the screen.

Now might be a good time to talk about the Find My iPhone feature. It's one of the things I had to disable when I brought the unit in for repair. Find My iPhone was repurposed as a theft deterrent in response to a wave of iPhone thefts a few OS versions ago. The feature now prevents the unit from being accessed or restored over by anyone other than you. In the case of repairs, the Apple Store technicians need this turned off in order to work on your phone; in the case of buying a new phone, it needs to be turned off to allow the information on your current phone to be erased.

The surprise part was that I had to leave the phone at the Apple Store for two hours while the repair was effected. And, when the phone was returned to me, I was told the Home button sensor was also replaced as a matter of SOP — understandable considering it's attached to the glass — but the notion of resampling all of the fingerprints I had stored was a bit annoying.

Touch ID is the phone's ability to identify an authorized user by fingerprint. Originally implemented as a security convenience for access to the phone, Apple extended the API to programmers to allow their apps to take advantage of it. It is implemented through the Home button — the only button on the face of the iPhone. So replacement of the Home button also meant replacement of the Touch ID mechanism. After "surgery," I found that some of my apps continued to respond to Touch ID as if nothing happened; but in at least one case, Touch ID was disabled, meaning I had to go into the app's settings and re-enable it. Your mileage may vary, but keep in mind that some of your apps may have disabled their Touch ID capability after the Home button was replaced.

So, if you find yourself in this situation, you can expect:

  • to be able to easily make an appointment with the Apple Store by using the Apple Support app. Download it from iTunes. The icon is blue with a white apple logo in the upper right corner, resembling the tee shirts the Genius Bar people wear.
  • to be asked to back up your phone before you visit the Apple Store
  • the technician will verify the serial number on the unit and verify that you backed up the phone
  • you will be directed to disable the Find My iPhone feature. You'll have to enter your iCloud password to do that.
  • your phone will spend a little time in surgery. In my case, it was two hours.
  • you will be directed to log into your phone (Touch ID will not work.)
  • you will be advised that you'll have to re-enable Find My iPhone and Touch ID.
  • you may need to re-enable Touch ID on some of your applications.
  • you will see they did a beautiful job.

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2017.07.29OnStar Misreporting Tire Pressures

Image of iPhone app icons

I was just at the gas station, and put air in three of the four tires on my car (I couldn't get the air hose to reach the right rear tire). The mobile app I have from the manufacturer is incorrectly reporting the tire pressures on the car — it says the tire I couldn't reach is now up to spec, and one of the tires I could reach is still below spec.

Because I'm a good guy, I'm working to contact the app developers to let them know they may have their wiring mixed up with regard to the air pressure reporting — I believe they've got the right rear data being reported in the right front, and visa versa.

So I'm on a call with OnStar and she's telling me I'm receiving the data incorrectly because I don't use the app often enough.

Now I have to weigh the cost of staying on the phone with this script-bound kid, who insists on sending data to my car, against the velue of getting the message to the app developers.

It's becoming a question of how badly I want to help — whether it's worth enduring their procedures and diagnostics. All I really wanted to do was shoot OnStar a quick e-mail.

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2017.07.25UPDATED: Persnickety Update

animated GIF of code scrolling on a computer screen

After both the May and June cumulative updates failed to install, the laptop found something about the July update it liked, and now the laptop is up-to-date.

I'm so happy this case is closed. The laptop is back home where it belongs, with a whole lot more RAM and, more importantly, it's not trying to choke down a GIG worth of data anymore every time the laptop boots.

I confessed to the HP support people that I was shopping around for somebody to reload the whole laptop and do all the updates — what I found was expensive: $120 to $150 for a complete reinstall with all of the updates. Had the price been more reasonable, I might have jumped on it — I'm glad now that I didn't.

Read previous info for this post.

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2017.07.12How to Delete a Workout

Image of the Apple Watch icon for the Workout app

Left your Apple Watch's Activity app running after your workout? Use your iPhone's Activity and Health Apps to delete bogus workout data


Never stop learning.

I recently learned that there is an "Other" type of workout available on the Apple Watch. If you set this to "Open", you've basically got the watch recording everything you're doing. It's great for limited use stuff like a busy morning routine — going downstairs, making the coffee, letting the dogs outside, going into the basement to get the dehumidifier pail, coming back upstairs to dump it, then going back downstairs to place the empty pail back in the machine, then back upstairs to the main floor... you get the idea.

One runs into problems when the activity is left to record once all that movement is done. This morning, I engaged the "Open/Other" activity to do a bunch of things downstairs before returning to work, and failed to shut it off — it ran the entire time I was taking a training course — for over an hour. After the course, I went outside to start my morning exercise, and saw my activity ring had 82 minutes recorded to it. Oops.

Here's what I did to resolve it, though be warned: You'll lose all of the data for the "bogus" workout. So if you actually exercised for 10 minutes and then sat on your behind for 60, you'll lose credit for all 70 — the good 10 minutes plus the rest. If you're okay with that, follow these steps. If you're not, read through and maybe you can figure out a better way to do business.

  • I opened the Activity app on my phone.
  • The History panel is selected by default, and the view is the current day. I scrolled down to the Workouts list and found two actual workouts and the bogus one.
  • I opened the bogus workout and noted the time range.
  • Then I went back to the list of today's workouts and deleted the bogus workout. (Yes, I lost credit for the actual workout part, but I figured that was a small price to pay.) The move ring data reset immediately, but the activity ring data did not.
  • Then I opened the Health App.
  • On the Health Data panel, I tapped on the large orange Activity icon at top left.
  • I scrolled down the list of data to and tapped on Exercise Minutes.
  • I tapped on Show All Data.
  • I tapped on the row with the current date.
  • Every minute that has recorded data shows a "1", followed by the time down to the minute. These rows are sorted in descending order, such that the most recent minute is at the top. For each row in the time range I noted earlier, I swiped left to expose a delete button, and tapped the delete button.
  • After clearing out each of the entries, I backed out two or three times to the Exercise Minutes panel to ensure the data saved.
  • The activity ring data on my watch reset.

I'm not saying this is necessarily the BEST way to handle this. I'm simply sharing what I did to get my data back in line with my actual activity, albeit I did it at the cost of the 10 actual minutes of workout data in my "70-minute workout."

Perhaps I could have done more in the Health app to whack the calories in the Exercise Minutes I deleted. I simply don't know. But what I did got me far closer to actual effort than leaving it be.

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2017.06.30What Happens When Your Apple Watch Dies During a Workout

Image of the Apple Watch icon for the Workout app

"I figured that since the Health app also takes input from some measurements on the iPhone, some percentage of the workout could be retained, like distance. In short, NOPE."


Because there seems to be so muh redundancy between the Apple Watch and the iPhone, I wondered what would happen to your workout recording if the Apple Watch battery expired during a workout.

Well, last night I found out.

I had never had any challenges with battery life with the Apple Watch v1 until I started using its workout features. I've progressed to the point where I close the activity rings every day — that's a stand goal, a move goal, and an exercise goal.

I believe the Apple Watch collects all of this data and it gets recorded by your iPhone in the Health app, then read from the Health app by the Activity app. Particularly during a workout, the Apple Watch is very busy recording. Data surfaced through the Activity app includes two flavors of calorie burn, average heart rate, the weather at the time, and elevation gains. So it should be of little surprise that all of this data collection can be demanding on the power source, and that longer workouts will mean greater drain. I've become used to seeing my Apple Watch report battery levels under 10% by the evening.

Last night we walked about a mile to get Laurel caught up on her workout — it had rained earlier in the morning, precluding us from following our normal routine. At the time we left, my battery level was at 3%. There was no way it was going to hang on for longer than a couple blocks. Still, I figured that since the Health app also takes input from some measurements on the iPhone itself, some percentage of the workout could be retained, like distance.

In short, NOPE. Last night when I got home I saw no record at all of the partial workout. It wasn't showing on my rings, it wasn't showing in the Activity app — it was like nothing had happened. This morning after powering the Apple Watch back up, the data from the workout up until the watch died was resident in the Activity app. The map shows the precise location where the battery gave up, and all of the workout data accounts for only that percentage of the workout — meaning the record I have shows that I worked out for 4 minutes and a distance of 0.23mi, burning 21 calories.

Now, the Activity app also shows your total number of steps, though not measured by workout. That data appears low when compared with the steps shown on my Stridekick app — just under 8,000 compared to almost 9,500. I don't have an Apple Watch app for Stridekick. That tells me the Activity app could be ignoring the iPhone data in favor of the Apple Watch data. But when I examine the data sources for steps in the Health app, both the Apple Watch and the iPhone are listed.

I'll reach out to Apple Support on this and report back with their response.

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2017.06.21This is Why Your Browser's Autofill Can Compromise Your Privacy

animated GIF of code scrolling on a computer screen

"Autofill can insert your personal information into multiple controls at once, like filling out an entire address form for you as a convenience. NaviStone's code can snatch it up and send it as each field is filled."


GIZMODO reported on a company called NaviStone with code that gets embedded in clients' ecommerce sites. NaviStone's code collects and transmits the data you're providing regardless of whether you actually perform the transaction.

During a recent investigation into how a drug-trial recruitment company called Acurian Health tracks down people who look online for information about their medical conditions, we discovered NaviStone’s code on sites run by Acurian, Quicken Loans, a continuing education center, a clothing store for plus-sized women, and a host of other retailers. Using Javascript, those sites were transmitting information from people as soon as they typed or auto-filled it into an online form. That way, the company would have it even if those people immediately changed their minds and closed the page.

The GIZMODO report further explains that while the NaviStone technology is giving retailers the option to collect your data in real-time, whether the retailers opt to take advantage of the collection capability could come down to policy. My interpretation: There may be a distinction between NaviStone's collection and what portion of it the retailer is interested in. (Just because the retailer doesn't want particular data until you submit the form doesn't mean the software isn't collecting it in real-time anyway.

GIZMODO also claims that NaviStone changed their collection policy as a result of the GIZMODO investigation:

[GIZMODO] decided to test how the code works by pretending to shop on sites that use it and then browsing away without finalizing the purchase. Three sites—hardware site Rockler.com, gift site CollectionsEtc.com, and clothing site BostonProper.com—sent us emails about items we’d left in our shopping carts using the email addresses we’d typed onto the site but had not formally submitted. Although Gizmodo was able to see the email address information being sent to Navistone, the company said that it was not responsible for those emails.

. . .

As a result of our reporting, though, NaviStone says it will no longer collect email addresses from people this way.

"While we believe our technology has been appropriately used, we have decided to change the system operation such that email addresses are not captured until the visitor hits the 'submit' button," [NaviStone COO Allen] Abbott wrote.

I may have some personal experience with this. I was browsing the web store for the band STYX some time ago and abandoned the transaction. I received several e-mails from the site, reminding me that I'd left items in my cart.

The NaviStone technology is not necessarily ground-breaking — JavaScript's ability to execute in the browser client is a cornerstone of the modern Web — but using it to report data prior to submitting the form is, at the very least, a betrayal of netizens' trust. (An expert GIZMODO contacted on this very topic concluded that a legal complaint could be viable.) And it is reporting the data — it's encoding it as a file and sending it each time the value of a form control gets changed, like a textbox getting filled in or a selection is made in a dropdownlist. See the GIZMODO article for the illustrated play-by-play.

This application of client-side technology could have some serious ramifications for the autofill capability in your browser. Autofill can insert your personal information into multiple controls at once, like filling out an entire address form for you as a convenience. NaviStone's code can snatch it up and send it as each field is filled.

This might sound a bit alarmist, but consider disabling the feature in your browser, or at the very least, think twice before allowing it to run on unfamiliar sites.

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2017.06.04UPDATED: Persnickety Update

animated GIF of code scrolling on a computer screen

I've a family member who was complaining of her laptop running extremely slowly. Her laptop is an inexpensive HP unit with 4GB RAM. So the first thing I did was goose it with 8 additional gig. But then I dug a little deeper and found that the hard drive activity was maxing out immediately and staying pegged for about 10 minutes or so. Between the hard drive activity and the low RAM, no wonder she felt like she couldn't do anything when she booted up.

I found that a cumulative Windows update from early May keeps getting stuck and not installing. It's a huge update — like 1GB. Walking through the issue with HP technicians, I monitored several logs in the Windows Event Viewer during an install attempt and found the root of the problem documented in CBS.log: the update code gets hashed and compared with a hash value someplace in sxs, and one part failed the comparison. The log seems to infer that the automagic fix for this is to repair a corruption in the component store (which is sxs) — that also seems to be the go-to solution for the HP technicians — but DISM consistently reports there's nothing to repair, and the repair effort always reports nothing found, nothing fixed.

If there's a hash for these updates someplace in the component store, then that means the value gets put there somehow. My guess is the store is fine, but either the hash in sxs is bad, OR there's a problem with the file Windows Update is pulling down.

Let's discuss:
  • In the latter case, if the hash that sxs is organically bad, the update should fail on ALL clients, not just mom's — and it installed fine on my laptop. So maybe that value got munched somehow in transmission to mom's laptop.
  • In the former case, it's failing to stage one particular packet — not ALL packets. Clearing the WU download directory and redownloading is having no effect (as is everything else the HP technician is asking me to do — but I understand s/he's likely following a script).

I think I need to get smarter on the relationship between the component store (sxs) and Windows Update.

In the meantime, I'm going off-script: I've cracked open a copy I made of the CBS.log and started Googling. I've found a post from Microsoft which includes a series of steps — many of them I've already done as part of troubleshooting before engaging HP or as part of the HP troubleshooting... some aren't. I figure I can include the results in my next post to HP Support.


I thought I had it licked: Critical analysis of CBS.log gave me crucial clues. The part that was failing was a file that included major, minor, build and revision numbers that seemed to match the Windows OS. Googling those numbers led me directly to a patch Microsoft had released in April — the KB number for that release was not among the updates installed on that PC. So my path was to install this missing update, then reattempt to install the problematic May update. The instal failed, but the message in the Setup log was far more direct than the Setup log messages I receive for the failed May update attempts. Perhaps that's something.

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2017.05.30Windows 10 Creators Update

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My laptop downloaded and installed the Windows 10 Creator's Update yesterday evening, and this morning my laptop said, "What printer?"

On my network, that printer has it's own dedicated IP address. There's no reason whatsoever for this laptop to not be able to see that printer.

UNLESS you're a printer driver killin' Windows update. I was able to remove the multifunction device and reinstall it to Windows pretty easily. As with most Windows troubleshooting things, identifying the problem takes way longer than it does to correct it.

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2017.04.14Stop HTML5 Videos from Automatically Playing

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Probably related to my annoyance with Edge's jealousy in Windows 10 is my annoyance with videos that start playing in my browser on page load. SERIOUSLY annoying.

If you feel the same, check out this article from PC World.

If you're a Chrome, Firefox, or Opera user, this post will step you through how to rid yourself of the annoyance.

If you're a Microsoft or Safari user, this article, dated September, 2016, won't do you a whole lot of good.

Hopefully these vendors have since developed another way to get you where you want to be. If I can find solutions for Microsoft and Apple browsers, I will update this post.

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2017.04.05Not the Answer I Was Looking For

Sent this e-mail to support this morning. Thought I'd share with my nerdlicious friends:

"I do appreciate the nod to Douglas Adams in the default assignment of Number types to a value of 42.

Fortunately, explicitly setting such a variable to zero before using it will prevent your calculations from including the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

I found this when writing a workflow that involved time duration calculations (summing the durations of calendar events).

Upon storing the sum in a variable, I found the value was being converted to a Number (as seconds) in the variable, plus a special surprise: every calculation I was making was somehow getting an extra 42 seconds tacked onto it.

The calculations were corrected once I explicitly assigned a value of 0 to the variable at the top of the workflow.

I’m hoping you might consider adjusting the app to correct for this. After all, 7.5 million years is a long gestation period for a bug."

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2017.03.07A Little Too Connected, Maybe

Dear all the connected things in my home:

Tornado. Right. I get it.

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2017.02.26Using Multiple Virtual Desktops in Windows 10

The Windows 10 Task View icon

Windows 10 users may have noticed on the taskbar a strange icon their desktop taskbar that appears to be a square overlaid atop a rectangle. (Apple iTunes users might find the icon vaguely reminiscent of Cover Flow.)

Perhaps only few recognize the icon for what it actually reprepsents: The key to greatly enhanced productivity. This Task View icon creates additional instances of your Windows desktop, and allows you to navigate among them. I started using this a couple of weeks ago and absolutely love it.

Laptops are great for portability, but, particularly when you're working on the road, one can't always plug into external monitors. With such limited screen real estate, it's hard to work with all of your windows open, or even minimized to the taskbar. With multiple desktops, one doesn't have to — all the e-mail and calendar windows can be open on one desktop, and that spreadsheet can be open another, and that other software you have to have up all the time can be on another. Keyboard commands make it easy to navigate among different desktops, and you can even use them through Remote Desktop — I'm doing that right now, in fact.

Get started by clicking that Task View icon. Your desktop will appear with a miniature view centered at bottom. If you're on multiple monitors, you'll see this miniature view displayed on each monitor.

Click the plus ("+") to quickly add a new desktop, or right-click on the miniature view of any desktop to add, remove, and perform other operations. You can even move windows from one desktop to another. You can navigate among desktops by selecting a desktop using this view, or use keyboard commands: Hold the Control key and the Windows key and tap the left or right arrows to move among desktops. If you're using Microsoft Remote Desktop on an Apple computer to get to those desktops, the chord is Control + Command and the left and right arrow keys.

I find Virtual Desktops to be VERY helpful for keeping me on task. One small addition I would have liked is the native ability to assign different wallpapers to different desktops. Fortunately, somebody else thought about that too, and did something about it. Head over to Make Use Of for some tips on third-party software designed to make tracking your virtual desktops easier. (Note: I haven't used any of these yet, but I'll update this post if I do.)

For more information on Windows 10's Virtual Desktop feature, How-To Geek and PCWorld both have nice articles with screenshots that take deeper dives into its use.

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2017.02.24Faces of the Past: The People Album in Apple's Photo App (UPDATED)

The Apple Photos App icon

Every now and again when I have some time and feel like giving myself a headache, I open the People album in the Photos app on my iPhone.

The People Album is an automated album that applies facial recognition to: (1) identify objects in photos that are faces, (2) group faces in photos that it recognizes are the same (I chose my wording carefully; some of the thumbnails on my phone are of my dog); and (3) allow you to identify the faces the recognition software has identified.

One can identify these faces most easily by adding a name to the photo or group of photos. The OS will attempt to match the name you type with one of your contacts in real-time (as you type).

Identifying people in photos like this has some real benefits. Among them, you can type the name of a person into your search and the OS will find photos of that person.

I strongly suspect that this people album automation occurs as images are introduced to your "All Photos" album, regardless of source. If it's an image, and it has a face in it, you'll see that face in your People album even if you subsequently delete the photo from your device.

Another observation is that the People album doesn't care whether you care about the faces you're seeing. Want proof? Say you're attending your daughter's recital. She and the other 120 kids that make up the 3rd grade class are standing on risers on stage. You take a picture of the group because that's what parents do. I hope you like every kid in that picture, because you're going to see them all every time you spelunk that People album. As I understand it, there's no way you can tell the software to "forget" or "hide" all of those kids except yours. You can identify your child, add that photo others of your child, and "favorite" that group, but you can't remove those 120 thumbnails — even after you delete the photo.

I can imagine this would be way worse if you're forced to sift through tons of pics of the lover who dumped you last week.


After writing the initial post, I became curious about one more thing -- whether the People album was including faces from the Recently Deleted album. That album appears with the icon of a white trash can inside of a light gray circle. Recently Deleted contains all of the photos you deleted over the past 30 days. The thumbnails of photos in this album are displayed with tiny captions centered at bottom of how many days remain until that photo is permanently deleted. Happily, one can navigate this album much like any other in the Photos app.

I found that the People album actually does include the Recently Deleted album. So, for those faces you just can't bear to see in the People album any longer, you can ease your pain by "speeding up time": Simply select the photos from the Recently Deleted album that you're sick of seeing, and delete them manually. The next time you browse the People album, you won't see those faces again.

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2017.02.14Smash Mouth's "All Star" Remade with Windows XP Sounds

animated GIF of Windows dialog boxes over a Windows XP background

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2017.02.09Thank You, Delta Airlines


THANK YOU DELTA for going a step further in your Apple and Apple Watch apps. Yours is the first I've seen that actually notifies me when my luggage has been loaded onto the aircraft, and which carousel to go to to collect it after the flight. GREAT WORK!!

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2017.01.29My First Ani-GIF Meme

animated GIF

I'd been wondering how people make memes out of animated GIF images — specifically, how to overlay apparently stationary text to an animated image.

This morning, I figured it out. Behold, my first attempt:

Here's how:

  1. Open your image editor. I use GIMP.

  2. Open the animated GIF image using the editor. You should see all of the frames appear in the layers window. If your ANI-GIF has five layers, the layers window should look like this:
    • Image Layer #5
    • Image Layer #4
    • Image layer #3
    • Image Layer #2
    • Image Layer #1

  3. Make your changes. Be sure you're doing them in a new layer sitting on top (above Image Layer #5).

  4. If you've made your edits in multiple layers, consolidate them all into a single layer sitting above the image layers. Check to make sure you got them all, and haven't made any edits to the top layer of the image.

  5. Duplicate your edit layer so there's a copy of it sitting right above each layer of the image. If your ANI-GIF has 5 layers, your layers window should look like this when you're done:
    • Edit Layer
    • Image Layer #5
    • Edit Layer copy
    • Image Layer #4
    • Edit Layer copy
    • Image layer #3
    • Edit Layer copy
    • Image Layer #2
    • Edit Layer copy
    • Image Layer #1

  6. Select each edit layer and merge it down with the edit layer beneath. Your layers window should look like this when you're done:
    • Image Layer #5
    • Image Layer #4
    • Image layer #3
    • Image Layer #2
    • Image Layer #1

  7. Export the file and view it. You should be all set!

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2017.01.29Prevent Your Kid from Using Up the Shared Data Plan

animated GIF of code scrolling on a computer screen

Got a little love note from AT&T today. It read:

AT&T Free Msg: 75% of your n,000MB shared data has been used. If all n,000MB has been used before this billing period ends... we'll add 1GB of shared data to your plan for $x. Options? Dial *DATA# to track data use, consider using Wi-Fi or visit att.com/changeyourdata to manage your account


A quick examination of kiddo's phone when she got home showed very clearly how our data plan got eaten up: She'd used 125GB of data over the billing cycle — including 110GB of YouTube streaming. (How could I tell? Open the Settings app and go to Cellular. There's a section called "USE CELLULAR DATA FOR:" that has beneath it a list of all of the apps on the phone. The cellular usage for each app is listed under each app's name.)

Here's the fix: In the settings app, scroll all the way down until you reach the individual applications listing. Keep scrolling to the bottom of that list until you find YouTube. One of the two settings is "Cellular Data." Toggle that OFF.

At this point, when the YouTube app is opened and the phone is not connected to a Wi-Fi network, the phone will display a prompt saying that the app isn't allowed to access cellular data. It will also give the option to open the settings app to change that.

Need to get tougher? Settings > General > Restrictions. There are tons of restrictions that can be set, including restrictions on cellular data use (that is, preventing changes to cellular data settings).

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2017.01.28Time to Replace the KVM

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Q: What do you get when you cross a KVM controller cable with a housekeeper?
A: Stripped wires, a smashed controller switch body, and a trackball control with the trackball out of the socket.

We have a housekeeper that comes every couple of weeks and does an amazing job of whipping the house into shape. But it seems that every time I leave the office for a quick lunch so she can clean, I find my trackball kinda jact. Here's why.

I have an IOGEAR USB KVM. The unit is comprised of a small central box with two really chunky sets of cables coming out of it, plus a small toggle button at the end of a very long, thin wire. That toggle is how you switch from using one computer or the other. It is in this small plastic housing, about the size of a pair of quarters edge-to-edge. The switch is attached to the KVM unit by a thin wire, about the width of earbud wires for an iPhone. I have the switch taped to the trackball, so that I can use my thumb to switch between the two computers I must use for work each day. Super-low tech, but it works. That thin KVM wire hangs below the desk and is hard-wired into the KVM unit, which is small and weighs nearly nothing.

I believe that as the housekeeper uses her dry mop beneath the desk, the tiny KVM wire catches on the rod of the mop, which pulls on the toggle and the trackball. Yesterday, I found the toggle wire ripped out of the unit, and my trackball smashed against the wall behind the desk.

Fortunately, replacement units are cheap — $20 and a quick trip to Best Buy put me back in business again. This time, I've (again, low-tech) attached the KVM to the desk, and I've attached the controller wire to the underside of the desktop. Hopefully this will suffice to keep it well out of harm's way. Scotch tape for now, but I'll replace it with something nicer and more durable later.

And on the subject of the KVM, I have to say, the IOGEAR USB KVM works great. I have the two-port model, into which I've plugged my wireless keyboard and the aforementioned wireless trackball. Very solid performance, but, as I've shown, the toggle switch and wire can't take much abuse.

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2017.01.20Apple AirPods: Pitch Shifting

Apple AirPods


I've observed some occasional weird behavior from the AirPods when connecting to conference calls. My calls typically use a bridge that starts with a recording of a male voice that says "Welcome to the conference calling center." Twice I've heard this recording pitch-shifted down about an octave... if I disconnect the AirPods and just use the speaker on the phone, the voice sounds normal.

It's as if the AirPods are using a technology that shifts the pitch of the signal it receives, possibly to sync the receivers with each other.

It hasn't happened often, but it has happened.

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2017.01.10Apple AirPods

Apple AirPods


In it's initial announcement about the AirPods, Apple promised:

  1. AirPods would sound great,
  2. AirPods would power themselves off when taken out of the ear,
  3. AirPods could be used individually, and
  4. AirPods would recharge quickly.
This list has basically become my requirements. As someone who has ended up on conference calls lasting 12 hours, all of these features were very important to me — important enough to make them worth the wait.

I often spend very long hours at my desk. There are times when I'm on calls running demonstrations and leading debugging sessions that require me to have hands on the keyboard and a display in my face. My point is, I'm not very mobile. Most of the walking I'm doing is between my desk and another room on the same floor. I'm typically sedentary and (relatively) stationary while the AirPods are in, but I'm not necessarily looking straight ahead all of the time. I have several monitors I'm looking at.

It's a few days after I originally published this post. I ended up on a status call while running an errand. With the AirPods in, I did some VERY brisk walking up and down flights of stairs. I never had a problem with them falling out, or even feeling loose — and I was really moving.

Also, I'm trading up from the wired earbuds that were included with my mobile phone. In the case of the iPhone 7, these are small, white, standard issue earbuds that terminate with a lightning plug instead of a standard 1/8" stereo audio plug.

Finally, my main reason for looking for a BlueTooth solution was to get rid of the wires, which would also allow me to have my phone on a charger as needed (a new complication with the release of the iPhone 7).

My review of the AirPod is very positive.

  1. AirPods do sound terrific. They fit just like Apple's standard earbuds do, with some very minor design changes (I think the AirPod's earbud part is a little longer than the standard, wired earbuds are). They stay in the ears and don't move while I'm working. By the way, I have my music playback settings set thusly: EQ is set to "Classical", Volume Limit is off, and Sound Check is toggled off. These are the settings I've used with the wired earbuds.
  2. AirPods do power themselves off when removed from the ear. Music stops, and phone conversations are routed back to the phone.
  3. AirPods can be used individually. This is excellent for calls. It means you can "hot swap" one earpiece for the other if the battery runs out on the one you've been using.
  4. AirPods do recharge quickly. The pods fit in a case that has a lightning port on the bottom.

I have only one gripe about them: battery life. I'm seeing that a single earpiece will only run for about 1.75 hours. When it's losing power, the user gets two warnings -- an indicator of a complex series of tones when the power is low, and then then the same indicator about a second before it dies. Given that ability to swap one earpiece for another, I would recommend once you first hear that indicator, pull out the other earpiece and stick the spent one back in the case. The case has the ability to charge the earpieces with or without connection to power through that lightning port (the case is essentially a battery by itself). To check the battery status, simply flip up the lid on the case while the case is less than an inch from your phone. You'll get a pop-up that shows the battery status of each earbud and the case. Simply touch elsewhere on the screen to dismiss it.

There's really not much to using them. Pairing them to your Apple device is a snap. The AirPods take only one input from the user — a double-tap to engage Siri. I've issued the following commands with succcess:

  • "Siri, turn up the volume by half."
  • "Siri, start this song over."
  • "Siri, play the previous song."

If you're Apple Watch enabled, instead of seeing the familiar red and green icons for refusing and answering a call, you'll see the green "answer" icon is replaced with a white icon with a green outline of an AirPods earbud. Put another way, the Apple Watch is smart enough to know you're using AirPods.

Overall, I absolutely recommend these. But I encourage you to compare and contrast your use case to mine when considering my recommendation.

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2016.12.30Seriously — Shut Up, Microsoft Edge

I'm pretty over Microsoft Edge popping up a little ad every time I open a non-Microsoft browser.

If you feel the same, check out this article on howtogeek.com.

Chris Hoffman walks you through how to disable all manner of built-in advertising in Windows 10, including:

  • disabling lock screen ads,
  • stopping suggested apps from appearing in the start menu,
  • getting rid of nagging tips (lookin' at YOU, Edge!)
  • stopping Cortana from bouncing on the taskbar
  • getting rid of "Get Office" notifications
  • uninstalling Candy Crush Saga and other automatically installed apps

It'd be worth your time to at least bookmark in NOT EDGE (kidding) and visit when suggestions/tips/notifications/uninvited apps start to get under your skin.


It's pretty bad when you're trying to follow instructions on how to shut off Microsoft's insidious advertising on a website that's choking off the browser because it's riddled with insidious advertising.

I've used this article several times, but on "mature" machines that already have some countermeasures installed. Today (in May, 2018) was the first time I tried to follow the article on a new machine. The ads on the page kept moving the &^%#$ page to an ad at the bottom. I got so angry I installed AdBlock Plus right away to hold the stupid page STILL.

By the way, in May, 2018, some of the guidance in the post doesn't appear to apply — or doesn't apply on Windows 10 Enterprise.

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2016.12.29I Can't Believe I DID THAT

A few years ago I built an automated solution for tracking our trash and recycling schedules. I did it because I was really getting tired of forgetting to take the trash/recycling to the curb, or forgetting which weeks are recycling weeks and which aren't; staying on top of these becomes particularly important on weeks where the pick up schedule(s) change (e.g., in observance of holidays). The week/week after of Christmas is always a big one, because our trash and recycling typically ends up full: the trash is full as a function of hosting Christmas dinner for the family, and the recycling is full from cardboard boxes and wrapping paper and the like.

I've had this reminder program running for years now, but once per year — at this time of year — I have to do some things to ensure it'll run correctly for the following year. This partly means inputting the new schedule for the following year. I do this as soon as I can after it arrives at the end of December. It's a little bit of a pain because I have to remember things like the numbering Microsoft SQL Server uses for its days of the week enumerations. Trivial, but not trivial, if you take my meaning.

So when the reminder was sent out this week, my reaction was satisfaction that the changes I'd made hadn't broken anything. My reaction SHOULD have been (1) get the trash out to the curb tonight! (2) satisfaction that the changes I'd made hadn't broken anything.

Yes, the trash truck came rolling around this morning at 7:15 AM, and I did not have my bin, which filled to the top, out for pick-up.

My neighbors CANNOT KNOW this happened.

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2016.12.23Laurel's Mega Nerdlicious Birthday!

A few months ago, I learned about a novelty item that I felt Laurel was sure to want: a replica communicator from the original Star Trek TV series! When connected via Bluetooth® to your actual phone, the device will let you make and receive calls through it, just as though you were using it the way Starfleet intended. I'd read a few reviews on it and every one mentioned the quality of the piece. It's heavy, too — it's no cheap plastic toy. It comes with a stand you can keep it on, as pictured below:

With the communicator as the centerpiece, I added items around it to create the theme. Next up was the Star Trek hoodie — a hoodie sweatshirt inspired by the uniforms of the original Star Trek series characters. I'm particularly impressed by the rank insignia stitched onto the sleeves. It's a very detailed hoodie, though I think I wish the material was a little thicker. With all of the weight she's lost, combined with the colder weather, she's been complaining of being chilly in the office... so this unique item was a complete win!

My beautiful wife couldn't be any happier. Her inner geek is absolutely squeeing with joy — she told me this morning after opening the sweatshirt (first) that she was embarrassed at how much she really loved it — particularly that it was the sciences uniform. I believe I've been treating her inner little girl to a very happy birthday.


Star Trek TOS Bluetooth® Communicator, ThinkGeek.com
Star Trek The Original Series Uniform Hoodie, ThinkGeek.com

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2016.11.24Well Played, Laurel

I've been spending a LOT of time on this advanced graph feature of late. I'm really motivated about it, because I have been using it to track our weight loss progress. I haven't been short of ideas for improvements. I spent a few days trying to convert it into an AJAX-enabled, conditional partial-page postback kind of thing, and I finally gave up and backed out all of the code I'd plugged in; ended up taking a different route which was much shorter, but less exciting. I was pretty exasperated. This morning:

Laurel:"Are you ever going to stop working on that thing?"
Me:"Yes, probably. That whole AJAX thing really took it out of me."
Laurel:"You know what that makes you, right?... Deadpool."

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2016.10.11iOS 10 and the iPhone 7

I think Apple generally does a good job with their incremental improvements to the iPhone platform and firmware. So when I heard that iOS 10 was being touted as the biggest upgrade to iOS ever, I didn't have tremendous expections.

Then I watched the reveal event. And I got excited.

But that excitement was nothing compared to how it actually performs.

I've owned an iPhone ever since the iPhone 3G was introduced. I dumped my Windows OS Smartphone because I was really getting sick of having to use a stylus to dial the unit. "Why couldn't we have a smartphone that has buttons and controls actually designed for our digits?", I wondered. Then the iPhone hit the market. Bye-bye stylus. So long, itty bitty buttons. Apple started from the ground up with its phone — with an object you can hold in one hand and operate with your thumb. The examined the typical range of motion, and designed the keyboard to reflect it. Apple's knack for beautiful and functional design has never left them. And their newest offerings certainly reflect that.

My wish list for iOS 10 was comparatively short. Perhaps my biggest pain point with the previous versions was the crowded and tiny interface for playing music. So I am thrilled with the interface redesign in iOS 10. Finally the controls for the player are easy to read and easy to use.

The new OS worked very well on my iPhone 6 Plus, but the addition of haptic feedback (introduced in the 6s) adds a new sensory dimension for the user — even ringtones and alert tones have haptic counterparts. And the long-press, is fantastic — using them, I can be more productive by having common functions for various applications all available right from the Home Screen. Perhaps the most useful example I can offer is how the long press is applied to message replies. In the past, you could reply to the message from the lock screen, but you couldn't see any embedded images, and were limited to typing text on a mini-form that was flown in from the top of the screen. In iOS 10, your reply now brings up the entire message — including images, and you reply from an interface that more closely resembles the full messaging interface. It's much more complete and far closer to the full experience. The only drawback to the long-press gesture is that the system seems to get confused now when my intention is to rearrange icons on the Home Screen.

Live photos are fun. I think they're cooler to have than they are to display on the Lock Screen, but the Lock Screen feature is certainly eye candy for the prospective buyer.

There are so many nice upgrades in iOS 10 I couldn't hope to mention them all. . . but iOS 10 really is an absolutely fantastic upgrade, even without the iPhone 7.

And the huge wow factor on the iPhone 7 Plus is the camera. It simply takes beautiful photos. I took a picture of the shelf cloud of a storm sweeping through town one night last week, and posted it to Facebook right away. I had someone tell me that she HAD to buy the iPhone 7 based on that photo. Also useful (but personally untested): the unit has been redesigned to make it water-resistant.

In summary, I'm feeling a LOT of love for the new version of iOS — way more than I have for other upgrades in the past. Many of these upgrades are evident in the course of my normal use of the phone, and I can't help but be impressed.

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2016.09.02In 2016, Your Printer Won't Let You Print If You Haven't Paid Your Ink Bill

A function of our increasingly connected world: The printer at your desk won't let you print that document you need RIGHT NOW for work because HP couldn't bill you for your ink subscription.

Yeah, that's a thing.

My bank replaced my debit card because it had suspected a compromise somewhere in a series. I have an ink replacement subscription tied to that account.

Apparently, if the service can't bill my card, it can actually disable my printer. This means that somewhere in some licensing agreement I gave them permission to do that! (Maybe I didn't actually buy the printer after all?)

Conversely, the moment the billing problem is corrected, my printer started spitting out the document I need.


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2016.08.31You Can Still Stab Yourself In the Crotch With Scissors Like You Used To — You Just Do It A Lot Faster Now

I remember playing one of the early first-person shooter (FPS) games like DOOM, in which an environment moved relative to the actions of a character you were playing. They came to be called "first-person" because your vantage point in the game was that of the character; the environment you were presented was as if you were seeing it as the character.

I also remember getting that game back out some ten years later, after computers had matured greatly, and learning hilariously that the rate of movement in that game was probably tied to the speed of the system bus in use in computers of the time.* So playing the game on a relatively ridiculously overpowered machine made for absolute comedic "replayability" (a complete win; there's nothing like giggling your butt off while playing a gruesome video game).


Fast-forward to 2016.


I just dug out an old animated GIF that resembles a stick figure on a traffic warning sign. The animation shows the figure using a large pair of scissors to stab himself in the crotch and retract them; it repeats, as though the figure does this repeatedly.

I just saw the image run for the first time since then and it immediately made that whole DOOM rebooted thing come to mind. Today the unsettled stick figure hacks his genitals more ambitiously than ever:


Animated GIF of a stick figure on a warning sign repeatedly stabbing itself in the crotch with a pair of scissors and crying



* I don't know this for a fact; I just mean to say the rate of movement must have been tied to something that was fairly standard at the time, like you'd find in the architecture of the PC — something that would seem to lie outside of the quantity of RAM or the speed of a processor built on the same architecture, so that players on multiple platforms of the time would have a consistent experience. But an upgrade in the system architecture could explain why a system ten years more advanced would have the awesome effect I observed.


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2016.08.25A Word — Message, Really – About How Text Messages are Consumed on Mobile Devices

In the tech industry we have some acronyms meant to describe the order of how things come in and go out of objects or subsystems.

"FIFO" means First In, First Out. Pronounced "fy-foe", the concept can describe any line of people, like at a movie theatre. The first in line faces the box office, so when the box office opens, the first person in line transacts her business, then moves out of the line in the desired direction to go see the movie the ticket allows her to see.

"LIFO" ("ly-foe") is more like a narrow elevator that carries everybody to the same floor. As people enter the car, they're pushed toward the back to allow for more people to enter. When they get to the desired floor, the last person who entered is actually the first person to leave: LIFO stands for Last In, First Out.

If notifications are enabled for your mobile text messages, then your messages are presented to you in LIFO order — either through dismissible popup dialogs or through notifications that display on your home screen.

In both cases, they're presented backwards from how conversation is consumed — backwards temporally, in the case of the popups, and backwards ordinally, in the case of the home screen notifications.

Yesterday afternoon I pick up my phone to see I have a number of message notifications on my home screen. I start at the top and begin to read downward:

Laurel (Work) 1 hour ago
My parents are interested in going to dinner tonight. You up for Applebee's or Chilis?

Laurel (Work) 1 hour ago
Gonna ask for a gland squeeze too


I.... had to work pretty hard to get past the notion of my mother-in-law getting her anal glands cleared at dinner (tip your servers!) to reach the final message at bottom, which read:

Laurel (Work) 1 hour ago
I made an appointment to take the dog at 4:00. Trim toenails and update shots

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