Archive for General Drivel

Technology Solutions – Corner Pub Edition

There is an old adage that says “If you are good at technology, you can be good at anything” … and that includes darts. All it takes is an engineering degree, a lot of free time, and some seriously inspired design. Presenting the Automatic Bullseye Dartboard!

Duck Off

Despite all of the jokes and/or memes about the failings of auto-correct, it’s undeniable that the technology is generally a helpful and handy thing. It’s not a stretch to assume that most people would be heartbrokenly bereft if they had to do without this particular little piece of digital magic.

That said, there are times when the iOS version of auto-correct really gets in the way of evocative typemanship. Let’s not mince words here: Once in a while you just need to tell someone that you are fucking starving and to hurry the fuck up.

“I’m ducking starving so hurry the duck up!” just seems to lack a certain amount of verisimilitude.

img_0566Fortunately, there is an easy solution. Buried deep within the Human Interface Guidelines for iOS is an interesting little nugget regarding the way auto-correct deals with proper names that the system gleans from your contacts list … specifically, auto-correct gives anything it finds in the name fields there a pass.

Well then. All you need to do is add a couple of bogus entries to your address book and you are in business. Add a contact named fuck fucker and another one named fucking fucked and you are in business! A couple of things to remember … one, make sure you put the two parts of each name separately in the First Name and Last Name fields, and two, remember not to capitalize them. If you capitalize them iOS will only recognize them as such (proper names, dontcha know) and still give you the ducking runaround if you use them mid-sentence.

Oh, and as always … you’re welcome.

Got WordPress? GET WORDFENCE.

WordFence - Install ScreenYup. That’s all-caps in the title. And for good reason … actually, two good reasons. One, over the course of 2016 WordPress installations became the number one target of professional cyber-attacks. WordPress had long been the favourite target of the script kiddies, basement crackers, and other sorts of amateur slime but over the past 12 months the big players started turning their attention to the platform as well. Two, WordFence is the shit.

THE SHIT.

If you have an installation that runs WordPress in any shape or form – whether it’s the platform for your entire web presence, just the blogging component of a larger site, or anywhere in between – you need to harden it now. Not tomorrow, not this weekend when you are taking a break from surfing porn, not next week after you run it by yet another committee. It’s free* (as in beer), it works, and it’s stupidly easy to use … either start it up and forget about it until it tells you that you need to do something, sit down and tweak the crap out of it, or split the difference and get it started as is for now and tweak it later. The choice is yours.

You can download it for manual installation here, or you can look under the Plugins – Add New section of your WordPress dashboard for an automated install. Just get it. You’ll thank me later.

*NOTE: There IS a “pro” version that requires a subscription. And if you are an enterprise user of WordPress it is money well spent – I would encourage you to upgrade to the pro version right away. But for everyday “hobby” bloggers, the free version works extremely well, and is probably all you need.

UPDATE – Firefox Zero Day Exploit Traced To FBI

Yesterday a rather worrisome exploit was found in the Firefox browser and all products that use the underlying Mozilla engine – Thunderbird, Tor Browser – that allowed otherwise safe and trusted web sites to inject malicious code into computers using the Windows operating system. You can read about it (and get links to updated versions of the software that correct the problem) here.

Now an even more startling development reveals that the exploit may have been added to the Firefox/Mozilla codebase by law enforcement officials, specifically the FBI. Since James Comey assumed the leadership of the FBI they have constantly targeted the Tor Browser, ostensibly as a way to investigate and prosecute offences in child pornography but with a quietly stated endgame of adding to their toolbox for mass surveillance upon all citizens of the United States. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to assume that they will be ramping up these efforts with an incoming president who is publicly committed to destroying personal privacy and free speech rights, and this is the first stage in surreptitiously broadening their listening powers. The widespread fallout that compromises the computer security of millions of innocent “cyber bystanders” would likely be considered acceptable collateral damage in the current political climate.

A full update has been added to the original post on the WordFence blog. It’s definitely worth a perusal – if you only have the time to read one article today, this is definitely the one.

And remember – UPDATE YOUR FIREFOX/MOZILLA PRODUCTS NOW.

Firefox Zero Day Exploit – Alive And Extremely Dangerous

A freshly discovered “zero day” vulnerability in the Firefox browser is currently being exploited and – if you are using Windows – can compromise your computer simply by visiting otherwise benign web sites. Fortunately, the exploit was published rather quickly and the Firefox team was able to issue a security patch within a few hours.

However – the exploit uses benign websites (especially ones that are commonly used as starting pages for browser sessions) as “watering holes” and any use at all of previous versions of Firefox is contraindicated until you download and install the newest release. If you use Firefox you need to immediately switch to another browser such as Safari or Chrome until you update Firefox. You can get the update here:

Firefox 50.0.2 Release Notes And Download

If you use Thunderbird for your email you also need to update as it uses the same Mozilla engine for parsing HTML within email messages. This is only a concern if you have Thunderbird set to allow inline content to be displayed automatically or you manually select content to load, but it would be in your best interest to update regardless:

Thunderbird 45.5.1 Release Notes And Download

Finally, if you use the Tor browser and security package, you also need to update as it contains a discrete version of the Mozilla engine that is affected by the same exploit:

Tor Browser 6.0.7 Release Notes And Download

Remember – you should not use either Firefox or Tor for any reason, even to download the updates, until you have the newest versions installed. Kudos to the Firefox/Mozilla team for getting these updates out so quickly. If you are interested in how the nuts and bolts of this works, there is an excellent write-up along with some pro analysis at the Wordfence Blog.

November, 2016

Shitstorm Wednesday

Things to remember when the inevitable shitstorm breaks this afternoon:

The Analog Audio Jack Is Old And Stupid: Old with a capital “O”. This is literally (yes, literally) the same technology Marconi used. People are going to wail and moan, but these are the same people who wailed and moaned when the serial port and the floppy drive was missing from the iMac. Serial ports were old and stupid. Floppy discs were old and stupid and unreliable. Analog audio jacks are old, stupid, unreliable, and they let water into the device. Fail. The wailing and moaning shouldn’t be about the fact that the thing will be gone, the wailing and moaning should be why it took this long to get rid of the damn thing.

Cords Suck: Cords for earbuds suck even worse. The removal of the audio jack isn’t to get people to plug into the lightning port or to make them buy dongles, it’s to get them to stop plugging in at all. Which is why the new iPhone will come with “good enough” bluetooth earbuds in the box. It’s not about a different plug – it’s about no plug.

Megapixels Don’t Equal Quality: More pixels doesn’t make for a better image – processors, lenses, sensors, and software does. Anyone who complains that other phones have cameras with more pixels is simply advertising to you that they don’t really understand digital photography. Image quality counts. Bigger numbers are just for companies that are more marketing than innovation.

WatchOS 3 Really Does Make The Apple Watch A Whole New Device: There is no technology bump – yet – that justifies a new form factor or outright hardware version of the Apple Watch. But there is software that makes the current one less of a specialty item and more of a digital triage device for the masses. New Apple Watch next year – newly usable Apple Watch this year.

New Macbook Pro Models Are Coming: Wait for it.

The Best iCloud Tip You Will Get This Week

If you have multiple devices using iOS and OS X you are probably at least passingly familiar with iCloud Drive. For the most part, it’s entirely seamless – especially from the iOS side, where you don’t even have to think about the thing at all. Open an app, and voila! The list of all the comparable files on your iCloud Drive is there and waiting for you. Save a file, and (at the rest of sounding repetitive) voila! The file is automagically saved to iCloud Drive, no muss, no fuss, no wondering if you put it in the right spot.

Sometimes, however, automagically is not exactly what you want. Once in a great while you might find yourself wanting to be able to take a quick look at the stuff stashed away on your iCloud Drive – figure out if you have a file without opening the associated app, rename files to help keep things obvious with a collaborator, share a file, whatever. If you are sitting at a desktop you can just point your browser to iCloud.com and off you go. But if you are on mobile … are you pooched?

No, of course not. There is a not-overly-secret but also not-entirely-obvious switch in your iOS settings that will reveal the hidden iCloud Drive folder that sits on all of on your iOS devices. It’s three simple steps and totally painless. Ready? Let’s begin.

One: Go to your iOS settings and tap on “iCloud” – it’s in the section below the items that run from “General” to “Privacy”. You will be presented with this screen:
iCloud Settings Screen On iOS
Two: Tap on “iCloud Drive” and you will see a screen like this. Flip the switch labelled “Show on Home Screen” to on:
iCloud Drive Settings Screen
(NOTE: Obviously the master iCloud Drive switch at the top of this screen needs to be set to on as well. I probably don’t have to tell you this.)

Three: That’s it. Done. Return to your home screen(s) and your will see the iCloud Drive icon – it looks like this:
iCloud Drive on iOS Screen
Tap it, and there are all your cloud files, arranged by application. From here you can long-press on any item in a folder to bring up a menu of file operations, or “pop” them with force-touch to see a preview:
iCloud Drive File List
Done and done. Amaze your friends. Boost your productivity. Be cool.

September 9th Media Event – Here’s Your Hint

September 8th results from asking Siri to "give us a hint". It's binary code for the ASCII letters that spell out "Gotcha"Tick tock. Time passes, and September 9th is nigh upon us. That means “tomorrow” for you less-prosaic types. Siri is still being entirely stubborn and refusing to give any sort decent hint so – once again – it is left up to me to provide you with a sneak peek at what’s going down at the annual iPhone media event. Casually drop some of these little gems at the water cooler today, and your assorted cronies will think you are a genius tomorrow. You should be able to parlay that into at least a free coffee, and maybe a muffin too … use your powers wisely.

What’s we will be seeing tomorrow:

New iPhones – Say hello to the 6S and the 6S Plus. Like most of the “S” generations, this is mostly a performance and refinement update and – as always – is aimed at people who have hardware from three years ago … in this case the owners of the 5 and 5c. The new hardware will look pretty much exactly like the existing 6 and 6 Plus, albeit with a slightly thicker metal case to deal with handful of morons who think it is a good idea to put a thin aluminum object in their back pocket and then sit on it for three or four hours. What’s inside, however, gets some serious love. The processor is the latest of the A9 family and gives a significant performance boost. Most of that boost will be aimed at improving the camera – so many improvements, in fact, that the “6S as a camera” probably deserves a post all on it’s own. Battery life is a tad better, memory management is more efficient, and the networking hardware gets a semi-overdue overhaul. More interestingly for average users, force-touch and the taptic engine, both cornerstones of the Watch experience, come to the iOS family for the first time. And the screen remains beautiful, untainted by the garish “colours” and horrid saturation issues of OLED. Whew.

iOS 9 – No real guessing games here, since this was announced months ago and everyone already knows the release date. The betas have been out and in testing for almost as long, so everyone knows what’s under the hood as well. The one big thing of note is that Mobile Safari will now accept plug-ins, including potential ad-blockers. You will hear a lot of hue and cry about this, on both sides of the coin, but the fact is that advertisers and publishers have brought this upon themselves. It’s not the ads that people hate, its the poisoned browsing experience caused by all of the monkey business attached to the delivery of those ads. Good riddance.

OS X “El Capitan” – Again, not any actual precognitive powers needed. We’ve had the release date and all the details for quite some time. Most of what is going on here is a “Snow Leopard” under-the-hood kind of update – adding the Metal graphics framework from iOS, a long-list of kernel tweaks for both security and stability, and a bunch of network performance boosts – but there are a couple of notable UI things that are worth mentioning. First, a big change in window and workspace management. You can continue to use and arrange windows the way you always have, or you can start pinning windows to screen-edge lockpoints and work in what is essentially a split-screen mode. Second, the way that virtual desktops are used and managed has been completely overhauled. If you have giving a glance to “Spaces” in the past and decided it wasn’t worth the effort, you would take a look again now. The whole multiple-desktop experience is suddenly fluid and intuitive instead of kludgy and obtuse. Better, you no longer have to dick around with Mission Control if that’s not your cup of tea … just drag a window to the top of the screen and everything opens up. And third, Spotlight gets some long overdue love. Searches are actually global now with results from your data, the ‘net, and what’s in your apps all sharing a single coherent results pane.

Fonts – This might not get a lot of mention tomorrow, but changes to the standard system fonts are interesting from both “a single computing experience” and “the future of the computing marketplace” standpoints. San Francisco now becomes the default system font for western users on all of the platforms. More intriguingly, a shitload of work has gone into tweaking the Ping Fang and Hiragino Sans system fonts, along with a completely overhauled input method for Chinese and Japanese users. If you were wondering about the location of the big growth markets in the computer world, that should give you a pretty good clue.

WatchOS 2.0 – This is a big fat hairy deal. It’s the first step of untethering the Watch from the phone, and launching it as a full stand-alone platform. There is a long way to go, but this is the start. Until now, the Watch is mostly a “triage” device for the associated phone – it keeps your phone in your pocket and your mind on whatever you are really doing, not constantly dealing with personal information flow. For a lot of people, this is already good enough, and that’s fine. But for the future of actual wearable computing, this is an exciting bit of new ground. Also, it probably means that Ned Yost can no longer wear his Watch in the dugout.

Other Watch Bits – Certainly a couple of new cosmetic options for the Xmas buying season – bracelets and bands, mostly, along with a new finish. Also, a raft of new things – cars, home integration devices, services, companies – that will directly support the Watch. Just shiny fluff, mostly.

AppleTV – And, finally, the star of the show. This was supposed to be shown at WWDC and was pulled at the last minute. A lot of people thought that it was because their much-talked-about content deals with the big networks had fallen through. A lot of people were wrong. The next-gen AppleTV was pulled because the interface just wasn’t good enough to pass muster at that time. Apple isn’t worried about the content deals yet … in their mind, that is putting the cart before the horse. What was being sweated was polishing the interface to the point where it stops being a semi-decent media hub and starts being a whole-house touchstone for, well, everything. Apps, games, media, your data libraries … the end-game here is to start the ball rolling on the same sort of infrastructure giant that the iOS family has become. Once you have that sort of mass, the content deals come to you, and not vice versa. It makes sense, and with the new device being rebuilt from the ground up to be interacted with instead of just a dumb pass-through device the strategy has a real shot. The new OS is much more “iOS” than “set top box”, integrates Siri for the first time, and it’s easily the best interface for this sort of device ever. Period. Finis. The wildcard here is the controller – a “smart” controller that does duty as a remote, a navigation tool, and a gaming device. How does that work? Who knows? This is the one deep dark secret that nobody seems to have any dirt on … or if they do, they ain’t talking. How this all comes together is probably going to be the most interesting part of the whole show. Well, that and the tech media’s reaction to the fact that the new device at $199 is going to be at least twice the price of any previous AppleTV release. Horror! Scandal! Shock! Whatever.

What we won’t be seeing tomorrow:

Any sort of iPad announcement. Get a grip, people … that’s an October thing.

Holding Out For A New Phone?

You don’t need to wait much longer. A little birdie just passed along the scoop: Apple will hold a release event on September 9th with the following agenda:

The “mid-life” updates to the iPhone 6 line – a 6S and a 6S Plus. A performance bump and force-touch screens will be the main changes from the original 6 lineup.

The re-booted Apple TV that was supposed to be shown at WWDC and pulled at the 11th hour. The new unit will move into the iOS family, be positioned more as a “cable-cutting” device than a “personal media” one, have a far-more-useful remote, and it’s own section of the App Store.

iOS 9, since it is sort of needed for that Apple TV thing.

Watch OS 2.0. This is the version that starts the inevitable process of de-tethering the Apple Watch from the iPhone “mothership”, and begins to push the Watch out of the “novelty” market and into the “everyday device” zone.

Ready for some shiny new toys? You don’t have long to wait.