Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who are the pirates exactly?

[copied from BoingBoing, edited for brevity]

Adam the Alien has a Youtube channel that earns him money by inserting ads and giving him a cut of the money. Youtube's notorious Content ID system let big music publishers lay claim to Adam's video, on the basis that his rendition of "Silent Night" belonged to them, despite having been composed in 1818 and being firmly in the public domain. Once their claims had been laid, all the money his video generated was diverted to them.

The companies involved are the publishing arms of the world's biggest record labels -- BMG, Warner/Chappell, and Universal Music Publishing Group. They use an automated system to identify videos and claim them. There is no penalty for automatically generated claims over things that the publishers have nothing to do with. Their copyright bots are sloppy and operate with little or no human oversight.

It's a perfect storm of stupidity and greed: the big publishers have a platform that rewards fraudulent claims over indie creators' work; the publishers make plenty of such claims, all the while decrying piracy as the great evil of our day.

Adam the Alien's story.

Imagine......... Tyson / Nye 2016

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

List of excuses for high gas prices [updated for 2014]

  • The price of crude oil has gone up.
  • A refinery in Ontario caught fire.
  • Not enough pipelines to get oil from Alberta to refineries.
  • Our dollar is worth less and has less buying power.
  • We have to sell the gas made from expensive crude first.
  • The government is forcing us to pay higher royalties.
  • Taxes man, freaking taxes.
  • We were told to raise prices by the federal government to stimulate the economy.
  • It's to pay for the security measures we put in place to protect your credit card data.
  • Higher priced gas gives you better fuel economy.
  • The price of crude oil has gone down. We know - it doesn't make any sense to us either.
  • If we lowered the price, you'd feel like you were stealing from us.
  • We're barely making a profit here. Geez.
  • A train derailed and spilled its load of oil.
  • The cost of owning and operating a yacht in the Bahamas has skyrocketed.
  • We seem to have misplaced all of our lower numbers for gas station signs.
  • If we didn't hike prices, you'd all have nothing to talk about over lunch.
  • We're still cheaper than Norway....
  • Those new, shiny office towers in Calgary don't build themselves.
  • When we throw the 'price dart' at the dart board of prices, there's no telling what it will land on. And we're lousy shots to boot.
  • We were drunk during the 'set the price' meeting.
  • If we lowered prices, Americans would come up here and suck us dry. Then there'd be no gas left for you.
  • We're doing our part for public transit. Lower prices means you'd drive more.
  • We're getting a lot of 'likes' on Facebook.
  • It's our way of paying tribute to the dinosaurs, who made the oil possible.
  • There are monsters living in the gas station underground reservoirs that drink gas. We don't know how to kill them.
  • Expensive gas keeps your engine cleaner.
  • Not enough people buying high octane. If you all bought higher octane, we could lower prices.
  • Too many people buying higher octane. Geez, we're not made of the stuff ya know.
  • Because Neil Young.
  • "Why is the price of gas so high?" [said in a whiny manner to mock and insult consumers]
  • Because we can.

Bieber & Ford

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I was hustled

Darlene and I went to see American Hustle at the theatre a few Saturdays ago. I wasn't really that pumped about the movie because the previews / trailer didn't have me jumping out of my seat. But I had heard some really good things about the film and well, Jennifer Lawrence. Hello.

Anyway, holy crap. What an ensemble. Lawrence, Cooper, Bale and Adams were a tour-de-force. The characters jump off the screen and leave the theatre with you. I would have been super pissed had they left the Golden Globes empty handed.

I especially loved how the music transported me back to the late 1970s.

Midday traffic reorganized by colour

Someone took the video footage of traffic at a certain spot on a roadway and reorganized the procession by colour.

That takes some skill I think.


Illustration by Brian DeYoung

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Things I learned lately 25 January

  • In 2013, 3 million people pledged $480 million to Kickstarter projects.
  • Tesla Motors have developed an automated battery replacement system, created to swap out dead batteries in their electric cars for fresh, fully charged ones in 90 seconds.
  • Taxis in Shanghai are convenient, if you don’t mind the rush of adrenaline you’ll get from the almost unlawful speed. To communicate with your driver, who will likely not understand English, the Magic Number is your salvation. In each cab, a sticker on the back of the driver’s seat contains a number which connects you to a free hotline. You simply dial, choose your language, mention the address to the phone representative and then hand the phone over to the taxi driver. We need that in some North American cities.....
  • Detroit went from having a population of 1,849,568 in 1950 to 713,777 in 2010.
  • Korean telecom company SK Telecom recently unveiled something called LTE-Advanced. It's a super fast cell network for phones, allowing you to download 100 MB per second. That's likely faster than your current home Internet speed.
  • When to use the iPhone camera's HDR function: Landscapes; Outdoor portraits; Close-ups; In dim light. When NOT to use HDR: Motion; When contrast is needed; To get vivid colours; When needing flash; when wanting quick, successive shots.
  • Less than 20% of 18-29 year olds think it's unacceptable to answer the phone during dinner with a friend. Between 40-50% of those age 18-29 think it's not cool to check Twitter or Facebook at dinner. Only about 22% think you shouldn't text during meals. On a date, almost 60% said don't answer the phone. 60% also said just check FB or Twitter or texts while your date is in the bathroom.
  • Seeding the Free Parking spot in Monopoly with a $500 bill is not part of the official Monopoly rules. The other way Monopoly was played wrong is that if someone lands on an available property and chose not to buy it at the list price, you're supposed to have an auction on the property for the other players (if they're interested).
  • In the US, in some cities, you can now rent some very snazzy cars from Hertz. For instance, an Audi R8 will set you back $1000 per day, with a $3/mile over 75 miles charge. I wonder what the extra insurance on that would be?
  • First car in the world to have a 3-point seat belt, air bags and anti-lock brakes? Mercedes S-Class.
  • The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, meaning 'that is', while e.g. stands for exempli gratia, meaning 'for example'.
  • Geographic north, magnetic north and geomagnetic north are three different places.
  • The fetus actually starts to pee after it is 2 months old. That's right, it pees (a tiny bit) into its amniotic fluid.
  • When you yawn and stretch at the same time, it's called pandiculating.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Keeping your Nest warm

We've added another marvel of technology to our home. This time it's the Nest thermostat. It was designed by a former Apple engineer and it runs on the power coming from the wires hooked up to your furnace, so no batteries.

Installing it was easy. I had help, but there wasn't any real need for it. Nest goes through all the wiring scenarios with you to see if their thermostat will work in your situation. This is something you would do before you buy it of course. Once the wiring is hooked up and you install the Nest onto the mount, it walks you through a wi-fi connection and then downloads and installs any updates. Then it asks a few questions about your heating setup and how the Nest is located within your home, then it's ready to work.

There's a bit of temperature calibration and you then get to select the temperature you'd like set while you're not home. Nest is able to tell if you're not around and will revert to that temperature if you want. Then you select the temperature you want set right now and adjust the temperature throughout the day and night as you normally would. Adjusting the temperature is easy, just turn the outer ring, just like those old fashioned thermostats. Nest learns your pattern over the first few weeks and starts to write a schedule of temperature changes, which it will begin to follow on its own after 7 days or so.

Nest can even determine the effect the outside temperature is having on your house and adjust the settings accordingly. Nest will fire up the display as you walk by or stand in front of it, otherwise the display is off. If you care to input the information, Nest will use your location, furnace type, living space area and number of floors to calculate how efficient your equipment is based on how long it takes to reach the set temperature for a given outside temperature.

Since I've already told you that it connects to wi-fi, you're probably wondering - does it come with an app? Yes it does. The app can be used to remotely adjust the temperature and see the current status of the system, which is great when you're on your way home at an unusual time and want it to be warmed up once you get there.

Nest was recently bought by Google for $3.1 billion and I'm not surprised. They have taken existing technology and transformed the household thermostat.

[Update] There was one rather un-nerving problem. After 24 hours of using the Nest, the heating cycle worked, but during the off part of the cycle, the furnace kept cycling on and off and the fan kept running. A call to Nest support solved the issue. I was using a 3-wire setup and they advised me to use the 4th disconnected wire in my harness as a common ground. That meant stripping the wire and connecting it at the Nest and the furnace control board. Not for the unskilled. But it worked. Had I not been able to do it on my own, Nest would have recommended a service person who is familiar with the product.

[Update 2] After the Nest had a chance to monitor how we set our temperature throughout the week, the schedule was written to memory and went into effect.

[Update 3] After using the Nest for a year, we had to return it. Long story short, the Nest was causing our furnace to behave in a weird way mid-cycle with a noisy flame-out and re-ignite that would sometimes fail but succeed on the next attempt. A few separate furnace repair guys couldn't figure out anything wrong with the furnace but we eventually narrowed it down to the Nest as the culprit. So we returned it for a refund. Shame, as we liked it a lot, especially for its program-ability.

What he said....

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Things that used to be free

  • Airline services (extra baggage; meals)
  • Food delivery
  • Banking services
  • (all) TV broadcasts
  • Trash pickup
  • Air for your tires at the gas station
  • School activities
  • Directory assistance (via phone)
  • Spare cup at a fast food joint

Feel free to add to the list in the comments.......

It's a good day to blow bubbles

What do Canadians do when it gets stupid cold outside? Blow bubbles and throw cups of water, of curse.

Ted and his wife should be nominated for Canadian couple of the century.

Canada's so cold, even the machines wear parkas

Monday, January 20, 2014

How Millennials think and what to do about it

The following article by Brian Halligan (CEO and co-founder of HubSpot) is right on the money.

I propose we spend less time debating whether Millennials are slackers or savants and focus instead on how we as entrepreneurs and business leaders can adapt our companies to attract millennials. The way in which people work has changed forever, and those of us who don’t adapt will be left in the dust when competing for top talent.

The problem we OWGs (Old White Guys) have is that we built our companies' cultures around the things that motivated our generation: money, career progression, and retirement plans. The Millennial generation has an entirely different consideration set for motivation, and given that they already comprise more of the workforce than GenXers and Baby Boomers, we need to invest time, money, and energy into creating workplaces that Millennial employees will love.

Here are a few considerations that could help design and deliver a workplace that fits the way employees operate in the 21st century, and which will attract, connect, engage, and delight Millennial workers and optimize our company cultures for productivity, engagement, and results:

Money vs. Mission

What we wanted: When most of us graduated from college, we wanted a steady job that paid well.

What they want: This new crop of employees is far more motivated by their mission than by the money they make. They want to transform a broken industry, save the planet, feed the starving, etc.

What to do: If your mission this year is to improve earnings by 5% by either gouging your customers or gouging the planet, that's just not going to get it done with the Millennials. Think again.


What we did: Our generation worked diligently for our boss in hopes of being tapped on the shoulder one day to move up the next step on the almighty ladder. We typically stayed at a company for more than seven years. If we had a collective psychological condition, it would be OCD.

What they do: This new generation works diligently in hopes of learning as much as possible and moving on to the next challenging project. They typically stay at a company for 1.5 years. If they had a collective psychological condition, it would be ADD.

What to do: Lean into the ADD by creating formal rotation programs, innovative leading-edge training programs like the one at Zappos, and work environments that leverage social media interactions instead of discouraging them, and you’ll see these Millennials become just as loyal as we were back in the day.

Place v. Idea

How we thought: We thought of the office a place you went from 9am to 6pm, had four grey walls, and was someplace you took vacation from three weeks out of the year.

What they think: For the new generation, the office is an 'idea' that you work at whatever hours seem natural, wherever you are the most productive. The idea of vacation is (unfortunately) antiquated when you are carrying around a phone with more power than the Apollo space mission had.

What to do: Get rid of all offices, including yours, and let everyone work in an open space to foster collaboration. Get rid of any rules around hours in the office (except for call centers and stuff like that), and eliminate your antiquated vacation policy. Let them take vacation whenever they want.

Rules v. Judgment

How we learned: In our day, we were handed a guidebook on our first day on the job and told to read it. The rules punished the many for the mistakes of the few.

How they learn: These Millennials don't like rules. They have an unquenchable desire to be treated like adults.

What to do: Throw out your employee handbook and start from scratch. Replace as many rules as possible with this simple guideline: 'Use good judgment'.

Only 30% of the Fortune 1000 companies in 2003 will remain on the list in 2013. Why? Well, it turns out that we really are living in an age of massive change - it's not just a platitude. If your company can transform the way it operates to match the way these new workers think, live, and work, you will reap the rewards. If your company is stuck in the ‘90’s and doesn’t make the shift, you will have to deal with a continuing rotating door of Millennial employees.

These boxes look like they're up to no good

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Things I learned lately 19 January

  • Up until now, most electricity storage components (batteries) used metal ions in some type of solution. Now we've figured out how to use organic molecules called quinones to store a charge and this could revolutionize batteries by making them safer, more efficient, cheaper to make and both charge and discharge faster. A tank holding $27 worth of chemicals could hold 1 kilowatt hour of energy. Quinones can come from fossil fuel or even rhubarb. Hmmmm, pie or a drive? Both.
  • Hey America - you think $4.00 is a lot to pay for a gallon of gasoline? Try $9.24 per gallon. In Oslo Norway.
  • Confide is a new self-destructing 'secret message' app that prevents against screenshot capture because it only reveals a portion of the message as you swipe over it. It also lets the sender know that you tried to take a screenshot, even though it wouldn't work.
  • General Managers at The Cheesecake Factory typically get a new BMW every 3 years as a perk. GMs typically stay on with the chain for more than 10 years.
  • Taco Bell's re-fried beans arrive on location in powder form. The re-fried beans are actually oatmeal that inflates when you add hot water. It does contain some beans, but it's really oat clay. You can sculpt with it.
  • The best tap water in the world is apparently in Norway. 
  • When tigers hunt, they go for the kill shot: the carotid artery located in the neck. After the tiger’s canines have pierced the artery, the whiskers move forward, encircling the prey’s neck, to determine if the prey’s pulse is gone. 
  • The origins of ice cream date back as far as 200 B.C., when people in China created a dish of rice mixed with milk that was then frozen by being packed in snow.
  • In 2005, Starbucks had brand ambassadors drive around with replicas of Vente cups affixed to their car roofs. If anyone stopped the ambassador to warn them about the coffee cup on their roof, that person received a $5 gift card to Starbucks.
  • Even though Mercury can get quite hot - surface temperature up to 800°F, at the poles, in the shadow of craters, its temperature is cold enough to allow ice. NASA's Messenger Spacecraft found a lot of water ice - estimated to be over 100 billion tons of ice. To be confirmed by a visit, of course. I'm not going.
  • Venus has snowcapped mountains, but instead of water, the snow is made of heavy metals like lead sulfide (galena) and bismuth sulfide (bismuthinite).
  • There may come a remake of the movie Logan's Run.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I hate the cost of mobile service in Canada

I know, goes without saying, right? So here goes. Darlene has a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) plan that's been working well for her. $100 per year gets her $100 worth of talk time (which she barely puts a dent in).

I got her a new smart phone for Christmas. The idea was to simply add a data plan to her PAYG plan and be done with it.

Nope. Not possible. At least not with the existing provider. The only data options were a day data pass - $1 for 10MB or a week data pass - $5 for 60MB (which I refer to later as 'drippy faucet'). Of course, these passes are not meant to be used as ongoing data plans, they're just tasters. I don't know how much of a taste they think we'd get with 10MB, but whatever. The bottom line is that you can't buy a data plan with a PAYG account.

So after explaining that Darlene's talk needs are less than basic, they offer me a $40 per month plan that includes 400 minutes of talk, unlimited evenings and weekends, unlimited texts, voice mail, caller ID, long distance calls in Canada are treated as regular calls and you get 400MB of data (I refer to this later as 'firehose'). They could give me that for $16 per month for 6 months.

I explain that this is great but it's still too much. Besides, after 6 months, it reverts to a $40 per month plan, which we neither want nor need. They explain that all we have to do is switch to a pre-paid plan after the 6 months.

OK, so get this - a $15 per month pre-paid plan gets you.... nothing. No minutes. No data. That's like paying $15 for a gift card and you don't get any money on it. Unbelievable! [disclaimer: it does get you some features, but what good are features with no usable data or talk time?]

So to the $15 add $10 for 100MB of data. Then add 20 cents per minute for talk. So we're talking $30 for the cheapest plan out there. No long distance. Ridiculous data cost to boot.

In the end, we're probably going to stick with the $40 plan, because why would you pay $30 for nothing when you could pay $40 for tons more. So once again, the consumer gets hosed. You either get drippy faucet or firehose. There's no in between.

My son the SD card

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

20 things I know to be true

(inspired by my good friend Bernie)

  • Every time you say 'no', you're allowing an entire universe of possibilities to bypass your reality
  • Everyone you know has a lead to get you what you want
  • The universe has a habit of giving you precisely what you expect
  • Praise everyone
  • Other people always appreciate your stuff more than you do, so share it or give it away
  • Children can teach us so much: play; don't judge; be curious; if you keep at it you'll figure it out
  • Laughter is the most powerful elixir in the world
  • It is possible to have a job you love, so go find it
  • Having a backup of your files is critical
  • Negativity is like a virus
  • The Copyright model needs a major overhaul
  • There's a better way to provide the world with energy
  • Having an elevator speech is vital
  • Nothing is a waste of time, but 'nothing' is a waste of time
  • Conversations aren't about proving you're right, they're about trying out new ideas
  • The ego may be louder than your intuition, but it's rarely helpful
  • The news just makes you feel lousy, watch a TED talk instead
  • We have the technology to build super-efficient homes today. We just don't have willing builders.
  • The sound of water is nature's lullaby. The surf, a flowing river, waterfalls, rain, it's all deeply relaxing.
  • Art in all of its forms is the most under-rated, under-valued product of humanity.

Windoge 8

This will make no sense unless you are familiar with the 'doge' meme.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Courses high school and/or college should teach

  • How to budget your finances
  • How to cook basic meals
  • How your life will change when you become a parent
  • How the world does things differently from us
  • What's hiding under the hood of a car
  • Basic vehicle maintenance
  • Improvisation
  • How to drive defensively
  • Survival skills
  • How to write a resume
  • How to network
  • Information security awareness
Now, it is possible that some of these are actually taught in high school. But considering that I haven't been in high school since 1978, cut me some slack, k?

Some restaurants just don't appreciate art

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Things I learned lately 12 January

  • Police in Rialto CA started wearing cameras on their person while on shift. Complaints against police dropped 88%. Instances of police using force on people dropped 60%.
  • It got so cold so fast in Toronto in the first week of January 2014, that the ground water froze and expanded very quickly, resulting in 'frost-quakes' with a loud sonic boom.
  • The US has waived laws about using Chinese parts in military equipment in order to reduce the cost of building the new F-35 JSF.
  • The 'f' word is used 506 times in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.
  • In Sri Lanka, cinnamon sticks are used as toothpicks. Cinnamon kills the bacteria that causes gum disease.
  • Apple and Google may find their way into the infotainment systems of cars very soon.
  • Canadian retailers are no longer allowed to buy incandescent light bulbs from manufacturers. What's in stock is all there is now.
  • Canada no longer allows foreign workers to come to Canada to be strippers. Or prostitutes.
  • The most pirated TV show is (still) Game of Thrones.
  • There is a Kickstarter project that will build a floating pool in Brooklyn's East River that would automatically filter river water into clean pool water (using no chemicals no less).
  • The new Rolls-Royce Trent XWB jet engines in use on the new Airbus A350 produce 84,000 pounds of thrust each. Every one of the turbine's 68 blades generates the power of a Formula 1 race car and burns fuel at half the temperature of the surface of the sun.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Things you can do in Google Now (on iOS)

  • OK Google, how are the Montreal Canadiens doing?
  • OK Google, remind me to get milk the next time I'm at WalMart
  • OK Google, what is the definition of a Segway?
  • OK Google, what is the capitol of New Jersey?
  • OK Google, what time is it in Beijing?
  • OK Google, show me some pictures of Calgary
  • OK Google, how old is Samuel L Jackson?
  • OK Google, what is the theme song to House?
  • OK Google, who is the cast of Breaking Bad?
  • OK Google, how long is Frozen?
  • OK Google, what is the weather like in Montreal?
  • OK Google, how many calories in an apple?
  • OK Google, what are some restaurants nearby?
  • OK Google, what are the hours of Cross Iron Mills?
  • OK Google, give me directions to the nearest McDonald's restaurant
  • OK Google, calculate a 15% tip on 32 dollars and 30 cents
  • OK Google, what is the population of Calgary? (old info though)
  • OK Google, when is Father's Day?
  • OK Google, status of Westjet flight 1461
  • OK Google, what is the traffic like to Crossiron Mills?
  • OK Google, how do you say good morning in French?
  • OK Google, how many US dollars in 10 Canadian dollars?
  • OK Google, what is half of a cup in millilitres?

You can do much more on Android, naturally.

Not really.... no

Thursday, January 09, 2014

First online clothing purchase

This past Christmas, I did most of my shopping online. It was great. But one thing I had yet to buy online was any kind of clothing. That changed this year.

I was on the hunt for a decent mid-weight winter coat and wasn't finding what I wanted. I finally found something really nice at Winners of all places. But they didn't have my size, in fact, they only had one coat of that style or brand.

So the thought enters my brain - "I wonder if they sell this coat online?" It turns out that yes they do - Amazon in the US ( sells it directly. So I ordered it and it happened to be on sale just like the one at Winners. Yay!

I received the coat the other day and it's awesome.

Retail box stores, you should be trembling with fear right about now.

More truthiness in logo parody

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Logitech Harmony Smart Remote review

After visiting a friend who had the Logitech Harmony Ultimate, I decided that maybe it was time to revisit the idea of using a universal remote at our house. I had used one before, but it was just too complicated and the
whole idea of getting a universal remote was to make it easier for Darlene to use the entertainment system.
I didn't really want the Ultimate model for a number of reasons. The remote was bordering on the extreme with a touch screen and it used a rechargeable battery, something I try to avoid for a number of reasons. I noticed that the next model down, the Harmony Smart, had a decently simple remote and the Smart Hub, which is the brains of the system. But most importantly, it also had the Harmony app incorporated into it (like the Ultimate) and made use of storing all of your system's settings in the cloud at, which is very smart.

The first thing I had to decide was my hardware placement. You see, the Smart Hub is the source of all the
IR (or Bluetooth if necessary) command signals for your devices. The system also comes with an IR blaster (another source of IR that substitutes for your original remotes. The instructions suggest putting your hub beside the equipment (inside the cabinet if applicable. But since I have no cabinets to block the IR signal, I decided to do the logical thing and put the hub a few feet in front of all my equipment on top of one of my side surround speakers. You see, the hub only needs AC power, because the phone app and the Harmony remote itself both communicate with the hub using wi-fi. So the hub doesn't need to be right next to your entertainment system. My choice was a practical one because it works and the included IR blaster wasn't needed.

Setup of the hub was fairly simple, but I knew I was going to encounter an issue with my cable box / PVR,
because I don't ever turn the thing off as a result of my recording a number of shows. More on that later. The setup takes advantage of the phone app, which you install first. Once the app is up and running, you create an account and then take stock of all the devices you want to control. I left the cable box out of the equation
for now and added my TV, Blu-Ray player and stereo receiver. Once your devices are added, the next thing it does for you is create 3 basic tasks to simplify your system control. 'Watch TV' configures your system to
turn on and select all the correct inputs to watch basic television. I had to lie about where the TV signal
was coming from so as to not assign channel changes to any device yet. Then it was time to set up the 'Watch a Movie' task. Same deal, you choose which devices are involved and which inputs need to be selected. After each task setup, it tests the action to make sure every device is answering to the hub's commands.

I did have an issue with using the 'Watch TV' (and later the 'Watch a Movie task) task, as the TV would turn on, but it didn't reliably switch to the right input. So I decided to log in at to see if there was a decent troubleshooting routine. There was. It suggested adding delay to the command to switch the TV input and that worked perfectly (which I later had to do to the Watch a Movie task as well).

Once the basic tasks were set up, I decided to add the cable box / PVR into the mix. This was also easily done through the MyHarmony web site. Note to Firefox / Chrome browser users - the MyHarmony site only works well in IE and you have to install an IE plugin to make it work. Once I got the cable box added, I found an option to tell the system that I don't ever turn the box off, this process made me go through some hoops that were only complicating the issue, so once again I lied and said the reason I wanted the device left on is because it had no power button. Can you imagine? Now that the cable box was added, I just modified my 'Watch TV' task to include the box and use it to change channels.

Next, I adjusted my Favourite Channels feature. This was also more easily done on the web site. I had room for 50 favourite channels of which I barely used 30. One thing that was odd, but totally understandable once you understand how the system connects, is that if you make changes on MyHarmony using the web page, you have to use your phone app to sync those changes to the hub. That's because only the phone has a connection to both the internet and the hub through the wi-fi network. The one thing that was not intuitive is that after I selected all of my favourite channels on MYHarmony, I expected a sync to update the favourites on my app. They didn't. I had to reset my favourites in the app itself. I don't equate 'reset' with 'sync'. Fail. The only other criticism I have is that the favourites are only available on the phone app. I just realized though that I could always use my iPad to control the whole system, so it's not the end of the world.

Now it was time to get to know the controls on the Harmony remote. The remote is simple enough to understand, but some of its capabilities only become obvious when you look at the current button assignments using the MyHarmony app or web site. For example, the channel up / down buttons become page up / down buttons if you press them longer. The last thing I did was to figure out how to assign buttons for my PVR's 'commercial skip' function and figure out which button is used to open the Blu-Ray player tray (I had to assign it), but everything else seems to work great. I love that you can use your phone (or tablet) to control your system too. It turns out that button assignment is again easiest done right in MyHarmony - on the web site.

Time will tell whether this simplifies things for Darlene, but I know Olivia will have it mastered in days. I
will say this - there's no way the average user would get their Harmony working without issue unless their
entertainment system is as simple as possible with no quirks like I have. I can't say how effective their
support would be as I never needed to use them. About the only thing I wish my Harmony could do is see my TV screen with a camera and have access to the hub from my phone when I'm away from home. That way, I could set up PVR recordings without being home. You know - since Shaw doesn't give me that ability........


Sunday, January 05, 2014

I couldn't help it

Things I learned lately 5 January

  • Despite all the world's anti-piracy efforts, Pirate Bay's uploads saw a 50% increase in 2013.
  • The National Science Foundation released a rigorous study on the use of trademark, copyright, and patents in American business. It concluded that, overall, most businesses don't rate these protections as a significant factor in their success. 87% said trademarks were "not important"; 90% said the same of copyright, and 96% said the same of patents.
  • The new UK Firewall will have all British ISPs defaulting their customers to an "adult content filter". This means that you have to call your ISP and opt out of being filtered, otherwise all sites on the blacklist will be off-limits. Included in O2's blocklist are such hotbeds of hardcore porn as Slashdot, EFF, Linux Today, Blogspot, No Starch Press, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, and Boing Boing.
  • The average teacher's annual salary in Switzerland in 2012 was $112,000.
  • Viagra is the sanskrit word (vyaghra) for 'tiger'.
  • Google's secretive X labs are working on a project that would float internet access transceivers in the form of high altitude (20 km up) balloons. This idea is already being tested in New Zealand. These balloons would ride the prevailing winds and be solar-powered. The geek in me is hoping that Google names this 'Skynet'. But alas, they have named it Project Loon. 
  • The song 'These Dreams', performed by Heart, was written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin, not the Wilson sisters. It was intended for Stevie Nicks, but she passed it up. It's also the first song sung by Nancy Wilson instead of Ann.
  • Oreo is reportedly testing a watermelon flavoured Oreo cookie.
  • A mid-town Manhattan parking spot can cost $6744/year.
  • The residents of Inglewood Drive in Toronto have (collectively) 29 giant inflatable Santas in front of their homes during the holidays.
  • The chemical element hafnium is named after Copenhagen, whose Latin name is Hafnia.
  • Copenhagen aims to be carbon-neutral by 2025. 75% of trips will be made by transit, by bike or on foot (not difficult considering the current situation). 20-30% of cars will be electric or bio fuel. 90% of this will be funded privately.
  • Copenhagen has the two oldest amusement parks in the world, Dyrehavsbakken and Tivoli Gardens.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Attachment Harassment

Lately I've been talking to people about opening unexpected attachments. It became clear to me that there is some misunderstanding. They've heard ‘don't open attachments if they seem suspicious’. What I want you to understand is don't open attachments that are unexpected, even from someone you know.

That got an instant reaction from a few folks.

Joe: “You mean, if someone sends me any attachment that I did not expect to get, I should be wary?”
Me: That's right.
Joe: “What should I do, contact them and confirm that they purposely sent me an attachment?”
Me: That's right. By name of the file.
Joe: “You've got to be kidding!”

So that's where I need to explain further. Malware succeeds in getting onto another computer exactly because we trust messages that come from people we know. It's this trust that malware creators are banking on. The added problem is that the name or address you see in the ‘From’ field in a message is easily forged. You read that right. Malware is perfectly capable of putting anyone's name or address in the FROM field before sending it to you. That changes everything.

Joe: “Well, what about innocent attachments like PDF files or pictures? They can't harm me, can they?”

Not under normal circumstances. But by default, a Windows computer is set to NOT show you the extensions in most file names. That means that malware could send you an innocent looking job report.pdf attachment, but because (real) extensions are being hidden by default, you’re not able to see that the file is actually named job report.pdf.exe. That’s not a PDF file. That’s an executable file in a very clever disguise.

Much of this comes as a surprise to some people.

Joe: “Do I really need to harass people every time I want to send an attachment so that they know it's legitimate?”

No you don't. The better solution is to stop using email to share files.

Office staff might have access to a network drive that everyone can use. This is a perfect place to store files we wish to share with other colleagues, so long as they are not private or contain sensitive content. Send off a quick email telling the recipient(s) where the files are and delete them after a few hours. Or better yet, if you share access to a SharePoint site, put the files there in a special library just for exchanging documents, noting who else has access to that library. Problem solved. Or even better, keep all of the documents ON SharePoint, then you won't have to pass them around period.

Some people get clever and just put a hyperlink to the document in SharePoint (or a network share). This isn't a great idea either (although it is handy), because we've been telling people not to click hyperlinks in their emails either. So it's not good practise to suggest that hyperlinks are dangerous, then use hyperlinks in our own email messages. So what to do? Rather than send the link, just tell them where on the SharePoint site (or networked drive) to go to obtain the document. They will navigate manually and find what they need.

If email attachments are the only practical alternative, you could mitigate the risk of using attachments by using a mutually agreed upon security process that malware would have extreme difficulty duplicating. For example, you could tell all of your contacts that if you ever send them an attachment via email, you will always rename the attachment file in a consistent, but recognizable way. For example, job report.pdf might be renamed job report_KP1nov2013.pdf. The ‘KP’ refers to my initials and the date adds another layer of authentication. Tell them never to trust any attachment that doesn't follow this protocol. Even better – come to an agreement and get EVERYONE to follow this protocol. The recipient simply needs to strip the excess characters off of the file name after they receive it and they are good to go.

The bottom line - attachments are now risky business and must be treated with extreme caution.

This should be their slogan

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Talking politics

Whenever I have any kind of political discussion with people, I always notice a common phrase being used by those who lean toward the right (conservative) side of the political spectrum. "I don't want the government telling me what to do."

This statement confuses me, because I don't relate to government 'telling' me to do anything. So when I ask for clarification of that statement, I typically get explanations like "I don't want government forcing me to participate in programs I don't want." This gets me curious. I ask what programs they're being forced to participate in. "EI (Employment Insurance). I should be able to opt out of paying into (and subsequently - collecting) EI. I should be able to opt out of the Canada Pension Plan. I'm not going to get much out of them anyway." I see where this is going, but I suspect there is a deeper issue at the heart of it all. After asking some very focused questions I get to the root of the problem. These people don't want to give up any more of their money to the government. When we open up the discussion and explore the real problems, it turns out that it's not that people don't want to belong to EI or CPP. It's that they don't feel they're getting good return on their investment. They pay a lot in premiums, but too many obstacles are placed in the way of getting the benefits.

The problem is that since people tend to group things into black and white, once something has been deemed broken, they just give up on it and want out instead of trying to get it fixed. Of course, if you talk to anyone on the right about these 'forced programs' while they're reaping the benefits of those programs, the story changes dramatically. Now they identify what's broken and have all kinds of solutions, but maintain that they have to be zero cost. In other words, yes, this needs fixing, but I'm not agreeing to fund any of the fixes. Find a way to do it for free.

Therein lies the principal flaw in conservative thinking, in my humble opinion. It's not that the right doesn't want the programs, it's that they want them for a song. That just doesn't work. So once a program falters due to being insufficiently funded (or poorly managed), their solution is to keep slowly killing the program. As long as the people making the decisions aren't affected by those cuts, they do not care. As long as we don't raise taxes, everything will be alright.

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