Archive for the ‘Blogging, Computers & the Internet’ Category.

Is Bing Censoring US Searches on Chinese Topics?

The other day I had a little fun with Bing's search results on Windows 8 problems.  But this seems much more serious.  From a reader:

No comment.

That’s Microsoft’s response to new revelations that the search engine is censoring Chinese searches in the United States — not just in China. Searches on Chinese topics in the U.S. now produce markedly different search results than Google, results that mimic those  in China. China broadly censors the Internet, blocking topics like the Dalai Lama and Tiananmen Square.

The censorship blog Greatfire.org was the first to point out  that Bing’s search results display information propagated by Chinese authorities. A Chinese language search in Bing for the Dalai Lama (达赖喇嘛 in Chinese) produces two results from China’s Wikipedia (Baidu Baike) and one from the state-owned television station CCTV. In Google, the same search returns two Wikipedia entries and the Dalai Lama’s official site.

Click here to see the results in Bing, versus the results in Google.

Even more shocking, a search for the anti-censorship software FreeGate produces the result: “Due to restrictions on Chinese laws and regulations, we removed the results of these search terms. For more information, see here.”

Microsoft responded to a request from Charlie Smith’s Greatfire to explain the discrepancy. At first, the  software juggernaut replied: “We’ve conducted an investigation of the claims raised by Greatfire.org. First, Bing does not apply China’s legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China. Due to an error in our system, we triggered an incorrect results removal notification for some searches noted in the report but the results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China.”

But after finding the “due to Chinese laws and regulations” search result, Microsoft replied: “Thanks for your inquiry. We have no comment on this topic.”

Much more detail at the link, with examples and screenshots

Is Bing "Managing" Search Suggestions

Go into Google and search "Windows 8 is " and you will get auto-suggestions "Crap, Rubbish, Awful, Terrible, Horrible, Slow, A Disaster, A Flop".  When this was first noticed, folks suggested Google was playing games, though personally having tried Windows 8 a couple of times I thought the suggestions were dead on.  So Don Charisma tried the same thing with Microsoft's search engine Bing:

bing-windows-8-is-search-2

It appears that Microsoft got the message and has done a little managing of their algorithm, because now you get this:

bing-search

Cool?  Great?  Amazing?  Seriously, who are they fooling?  Even Yahoo, which is powered by Bing (I think) doesn't give this kind of result

yahoo-search

 

 

Windows as a Stand-Alone Server

I have written before about how much trouble I had using windows as an unattended server for an application -- in this case for the XBMC video system on my TV's around the house.  No matter what I did, how many tweaks I made, how many websites I checked for advice, within a day or two some application or popup would take control of the screen and send my unattended application to the background.  This would not be such much of a problem if it was just me using it, but with a non-tech-savvy family members trying to interact with the device with a TV remote, it was unacceptable.  Eventually I switched to the Linux version of XBMC in a distribution call Openelec and I have had zero problems since.

I was reminded of all this at the San Diego airport.  They have these big beautiful screens with flight and weather and travel information.  But apparently they have problems making the windows popups go away as well (that's some sort of HP registration message in the window):

click to enlarge

 

The most amazing example I have ever seen was on a giant, giant advertising screen on the front of a casino in Las Vegas, which had a huge windows popup covering whatever ads were supposed to be served up.  I wish I had my camera but I was out jogging at the time.

Update:  A reader sent me this, via gizmodo, from Cowboys stadium

click to enlarge

Windows 8 Even Worse Than I Thought

Up to this point, after some initial bad impressions trying Windows 8 briefly, I have avoided it like the plague.  However, my son needed a new laptop and the only ones that really met our requirements only came in Windows 8 flavors, so we bought one.

What an awful mess.  The system boots up into a tiled mess that looks like some cheesy website covered in moving gifs and viagra ads.  To make matters worse, nothing on this tablet-based interface is organized at all logically.  The interface is like the room of an ADD child that dropped all of his toys and books in random spots.  I am sure these tiles have some sort of navigation paradigm, but it is completely different from any used in past windows versions.  I could not, for example, figure out how to easily exit the store except to alt-tab out (there is no exit or quit option and right-click context menus which are one of the great advantages of windows over mac don't seem to work a lot of the time).  Again, I am sure there is some way to do it, but I have no idea what it is and no desire to learn new navigation commands.  Perhaps Microsoft intends that one use a gamepad instead of a mouse -- I would not be surprised at this point.

Unlike older versions of windows, windows update did not run automatically at first bootup.  I knew from past experience there were likely dozens of security patches I needed to install right away.  I hunted for quite a while just to find the windows control panel (so I could run windows update).  It was buried in a sub-menu of a toolbar on the right side of the screen that only pops up if you find a tiny (unmarked) spot in the corner of the screen with your mouse.   It amazes me that anyone thought replacing the start button with an unmarked spot on the screen was a good idea.

Of course, the control panel is called something entirely different now, but I did eventually find windows update and there were, as expected, over 70 security patches that needed to be installed.  But for some reason they would not download immediately, but kept giving me a message that they would be downloaded at some future indeterminate date.  I finally found a way to force them to download.

My next step was to get rid of the stupid application tile interface and get the computer to boot directly to desktop and get the old start button back.  This requires a free upgrade to windows 8.1, but there is no obvious way to do this, even through windows update.  I finally had to search the internet to find the link.  This sent me into the windows 8 app store.  What a total mess that is!  If anything, it is more poorly organized than the Apple app store.  Like the Apple store, it seems aimed at people who want to browse applications virtually at random rather than find something specific.  Incredibly, there is no search function.  Yes, I know, I have to be wrong about that, but I scrolled all over that damn storefront and cannot find a search box.

So I cannot actually find the Windows 8.1 upgrade.  The web site tells me that I should be presented with a prominent option to download it in the store, but I am not.  It is nowhere to be found.  I found an FAQ somewhere that suggested that I would not be offered the 8.1 upgrade if my 8.0 installation is missing certain patches, so I am going back to windows update to see if there is something I am still missing.

I was wrong about windows 8 -- I once wrote it was bad but perhaps not as bad as Vista or ME.  But it is.  This is the worst thing I have ever seen come out of Microsoft.  It is inexplicable that this company with such a strong market share in the business world could saddle its flagship OS with an interface more appropriate to an XBOX.

In the past, I have said that I would not want a desktop with a tablet interface.  But at the end of the day, I would not want a tablet with this interface.  Perhaps with hours of work, I will make this computer usable.  Who would have ever thought I would have longed for the day when I had to spend an hour with a new computer removing bloatware.  Now I have to spend a day trying to emulate the windows 7 experience on windows 8.

People have developed many hypotheses for the lingering recession.  Some say it was too small a stimulus.  Some blame the sequester.  I blame the Windows 8 launch, which I think has a lot to do with suppressing PC sales and thus much of the electronics and retailing sector.

Snuggles Update

snuggs-home

This is Snuggles, happy to be home finally from her surgeries and near life-ending coyote encounter.  Thanks to everyone who sent in their best wishes.

Like most of us she is a bit vain so she asked for the head shot, since from the sides she is a total mess of randomly shaved patches, bite marks, and Frankenstein-like stitches.  She has lost about 25% of her body mass, so she is no longer the World's Largest Maltese (TM).  She has, though, upped the ante in the competition for World's Most Poorly Groomed Maltese (TM).

For dog and pet lovers, I don't have to explain why we spent thousands of dollars to keep her alive.

For those of you who are not (and I was really in that camp a few years ago as this is my first pet), I will tell you what I told a cynical friend:  "I did not necessarily spend thousands of dollars to save the dog.  I spent it to save my kids from heartbreak.  And just possibly, to preserve my reputation in the eyes of my family (sorry kids, I really wanted that new Alienware laptop so Snuggs is not going to make it)."

Update:  I find the rational choices discussion in the comments unsurprising given the diversity of responses I have had from friends.  Key facts here:  1.  I could afford it (grandma was not going to get put out on the ice flow to save the dog); 2.  I was entirely responsible for the costs;  3.  The hospital, unlike in the human world, gave me a very detailed cost estimate of what the procedure would cost in advance.    When the costs went over, we challenged them and they agreed to a refund.  4.  My daughter had a very difficult day yesterday.  This morning I found her sleeping snuggled up with the dog in bed.  Put a price on that.

Huge Improvement for my Router with DD-WRT

I have found home routers to be hugely problematic.  Typically, they do OK at basic wired network routing functions, but they often have awful reliability in their wireless connections.  Go to any review site, and find their top-rated routers.  Then go to Newegg or Amazon and read the reviews for even these best devices -- you will see a litany of unreliability, particularly with the wireless functionality.

Some of this can be chalked up to interference issues, but I possess moderately sophisticated tools for ferreting this out.  A bigger problem for me is with routers that have to be reboot every 2-3 days to keep them working.  My most recent router I purchased had some software issue where mobile devices like iphones could not access Google.com and a few large sites through the wireless, a problem I eventually decided was due to some issue with handling sites that have dual ipv4 and ipv6 functionality (which I could never fix).  My Cisco E3000, otherwise a fairly solid modem, had an awful setup program whose first time settings for things like the guest network could never be altered.

So I finally in desperation burned dd-wrt onto my pile of unsatisfactory routers.  DD-WRT is a third-party, free, presumably open-source firmware that works with many commercial routers.  So far, all of my old routers now work great, and the prior problems I saw are all gone.  DD-WRT lacks the friendly automated setup routines of commercial firmware, and a few things are harder than I would wish them to be (it would be nice to have one-click reservation of an IP address to a device, rather than having to retype its MAC address).  But the defaults tend to work fine and it is a huge relief to come home from work and not have to immediatley help diagnose some family network issue.  I have been able to re-purpose one of the old routers into a bridge so I can get wireless in my backyard now.

If you have reliability problems with your router or home wireless, this might be something to try.  For certain routers, like my Cisco E3000, the process of flashing to DD-WRT is a bit complex. There are lots of web sites and ebay retailers who will sell you modems with dd-wrt already installed, and I think that Buffalo is actually selling a dd-wrt version of one of their routers.

Masked Credit Cards

I wrote the other day about shifting to unique passwords for every single web site I visit (there were 300 I had to change!) to limit the damage from a data breach such as that at Adobe.  The irony was that to make this work, I adopted a password vault program to remember all these 300 strings of random characters.  Which means that I am putting a LOT of trust into one site, instead of a moderate amount of trust into multiple sites.

The same sort of approach is being investigated with credit cards, where intermediaries are providing masked credit cards with one-time numbers (hat tip to a reader).  In some ways Paypal has a masked approach where the transaction is settled off the retailer's site entirely, though I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with Paypal's security.

Republican Web Folks Still Suck

Somehow I managed to get on the NRCC email list.  I don't generally mind these things, as I am on several lists from both parties and it is kind of interesting to see what marketing come-ons they are using at any particular moment.

But the NRCC has been spamming the hell out of me.  This in and of itself I think shows a lack of understanding about the medium.  You lose effectiveness really fast if you send, say, five emails in five minutes, which is what I just received.  Worse, though, is that there is no opt-out link in the email.  Who in this day and age is dumb enough to send out even quasi-legitimate marketing material and not include an opt-out?  Morons.  I am one of the those people who actually can and do write rules to sort my email box, so I can take care of the problem, but this is just bush league.  If you are a GOP member, I would not be fooled by your parties happy talk that it is closing the gap on digital communications with the Dems.  I see no such evidence.

During my brief foray into politics Chairing Equal Marriage Arizona, we were trying to message from the center right on the gay marriage issue.  We found out, to our dismay, this is not at all a comfortable approach for established gay rights organizations (to say the least), but we thought it an intelligent and necessary approach to win on the issue in a red state.  Anyway, one thing we found quickly is that there is no bullpen out there of talented web people on the Right, at least in Arizona.   They are all on the Left.  If I were a member of the GOP and actually cared about their fate, I would sure be looking for a way to fix this, perhaps with some sort of internship program to start developing a bench.

Passwords

I am registered at a LOT of sites - blogs, hosting accounts, stores, message boards, etc.  A few years ago I started using the Lastpass Chrome add-in to track and remember all these passwords.

One problem though: like most people I was using the same few passwords over and over.  I had fixed, mostly, the most egregious mistakes, such as using the same password for low-trust sites like bulletin boards as for critical sites like banks.  But Lastpass showed me was that I still had a lot of password duplication.

The Adobe security breach finally got me off my butt.  My user name and password were among those that Adobe lost (which was particularly irritating because Adobe was one of those software companies that demanded a registration even when one should not have been necessary).  There was nothing at Adobe of mine they could screw up -- the registration was obviously to try to sell me more stuff but I never bought anything.  But there were possibly other sites using the same password they could screw up.

So I began a mission to change my passwords to 12-digit randomly generated strings of letters and numbers.  Having Fastpass helped a ton, as I would never have remembered all the sites with which I had registrations.  There were hundreds.

This was a real slog, a task so boring it was equaled only by the month when I ripped all my CD's to my hard drive and surpassed only by the 3 months when I ripped all my DVD's to hard drives.  The problem was that every web site was essentially a little portal-like adventure puzzle, trying to figure out where the hell the options for password change could be found.  I challenge those of you who have registered at WhiteHouse.gov to sign a survey to find the place to change your password.  At JetBlue, there is no such option in the user accounts -- you have to log off and click "forgot my password" at the logon screen and then click on the option to reset the password, but the reset email never shows up.  At two or three sites I had to email the site web manager to send me a link to the password change page.

Anyway, it's finally done now.  There are a couple of sites I use from my iPad for which I had to create unique memorable passwords because iOS does not have very good support mechanisms for such services as Lastpass, though as Chrome for iOS gets better, I expect that to make the problem easier to manage.  I had forgotten how many of these passwords (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) were plugged into things like my Roku.  It was irritating with the crappy remote to enter these random strings of characters as new passwords.

Of course security of the Lastpass account becomes a problem.  I guess I have to trust them.  My password for them is unique and never has been used anywhere else and contains no real English words.  I use 2-step verification at all times to log into it, so hopefully I am moderately well-protected.

M.U.L.E. Returns

One of my favorite early C64 games may be returning to mobile platforms.  M.U.L.E. would work great as a networked iPhone game.  Hopefully these folks do a good job with it.

I Am Not Sure the State of Florida Understands This Whole Internet Thingie

Every three years I have to endure a sales tax audit from the State of Florida.  This year they actually sent me well in advance a list of all the paperwork they needed.  I sent everything to them electronically weeks ago.  So why do they have their auditor fly to Phoenix, stay in a hotel, and do her analysis of this paperwork on her laptop in my office?  In the hour since she has been here she has not asked me for one thing.  It is just bizarre.  Given that I have been audited by them twice in the past and never owed more than forty or fifty bucks in back taxes from computation errors, I am pretty sure her flight cost way more than the expected value of her trip, particularly since she had done nothing so far she could not have done (better probably) in her own office.

Spam of the Day

I get egregious amounts of spam related to my blogs, but this was a new one:

I wanted to touch base with COYOTE to obtain some more background
information, mission statement, goals, history and interview for a
piece I am writing for CORSET magazine on sexual issues. The interview
will be conducted via email and ental approximately 10 questions for
the piece.

Still Holding Off on iOS7

There was some back and forth at Glenn Reynolds site about delaying iOS 7 upgrades.  The day before the iOS 7 rollout I emailed all my family and told them not to install it until some time had passed and Apple had a chance to do revisions.  This is my general policy with all major OS upgrades (and many program upgrades) but all the more so with Apple software because they never allow download of older versions of things like iOS or iTunes and thus make it impossible to roll back problematic releases.    Now that we see issues about battery life and slow performance with iOS 7 on certain iPhone versions, I am glad we are waiting.  Feature-wise this is a very incremental release (masked to some extent by a totally new visual look) so I can certainly wait.

(The other software that is very much in this category is Quickbooks.  Their history of buggy software is terrible, and because upgrades tend to modify the database in ways that cannot be rolled back, it is another example of software where one needs to be very, very careful before upgrading.  Let others be the bleeding edge).

Coyote Blog 9 Years Old Today

My first post was on September 29, 2004.    Thanks for the support over the years.  Those first few months were bizarre, and felt like lecturing to an empty room.  6266 posts with 54,901 comments, which probably makes me solidly mid-size as far as blogs go.  I have no idea any more how many readers I have -- page views lost all meaning in the era of RSS feeds and with Facebook and Twitter, it's even more difficult to track.

What Microsoft Windows Has in Common with [Original Cast] Star Trek Movies

Skip every other release.

Here are the original cast Star Trek Movies:

VI:  OK, kind of

V: Bad

IV:  Goofy but enjoyable

III:  Truly terrible

II:  Awesome, to the point that the two Chris Pine et al reboot movies have drawn more heavily on the Wrath of Khan than the original show

I:  Flat, boring

 

Here are the recent Windows releases:

Windows 8:  Sucks

Windows 7:  Excellent

Windows Vista (6?):  God awful

Windows XP :  Very Good

Windows ME:  God awful

Windows 98/2000:  OK

Do you see the pattern?  Windows 7 redeemed the awful Vista in the same way XP redeemed the awful ME.  I can only hope the to-be-released-in-October Windows 8.1 fixes some of the awful mistakes in Windows 8, not the least was the grafting of a butt-ugly touchscreen tablet interface to a PC OS most of us use with mouse and keyboard.  Until then our company is still only buying Windows 7  computers.  Some of my employees buy their own computers -- I provide all the company's tech support and have told them they are on their own if they buy Windows 8 and then can't find the control panel.

In Praise of Social Media

Over the last several days I have been desperate for information on the Chariot Fire east of San Diego.  This brush fire destroyed the campground next to ours and came right up to our gates, so it was touch in go for several days to see if we would lose it.

I am often disdainful of social media but the best up to date source of information, bar none, for me was the Brush Fire Partyline started on a Facebook page.  It was a fabulous resource in a news situation when the local media was often 12 hours behind the story and official government announcements were at least 24 hours tardy.  (If you click through and their header image has not changed, you will see the red burned area stop just short of Laguna Campground, the campground we operate.

Spam of the Week

I get a lot of bizarre stuff but this one made me laugh:

The Turkish renewables market is set to grow rapidly and the Turkish International Renewable Energy Congress (TIREC) is your access point. Once again 500+ attendees, serious about playing their part in the growth of the market will attend to do business for two days of discussioncontact making, and lead generation.

Sorry For The Site Crashing Yesterday

My VPS was migrated to new servers several weeks ago and my IP addresses changed.  I have had a series of down times over the last several weeks, most of which have been related to finding yet another spot where I did not change the IP addresses to the new ones and caused some sort of instability.  Having thought I had gotten them all, I found yesterday that I had not properly updated my records at Incapsula, a filtering and caching service I use for this blog and a few others.  Now that is fixed.  Hopefully, that is the end of it.

Site Fixed -- Come Back and Visit

For a second time in a month the MySql database became corrupted.  I am not sure why, but it now looks like it may be a systematic problem I have to tackle rather than a one-off.

Here is what you may have missed today

Three Cheers For Goldwater Institute Fighting Pension Spiking

Taking the Fifth, Because No One Can Pledge Confidentiality any More

Update on Climate Temperature Sensitivity (Good News, the Numbers are Falling)

Pronouns, "Quotation Marks," and Punctuation (oh my)

Dr. Mercury at Maggie's Farm supports my use of "they" as the gender-neutral third person pronoun English needs but does not have (though he includes a tasteless picture of a family member in distress).   But he wants to make it clear that I am 20 years late in joining the revolution.  So be it.   I will add that I am also on board with putting punctuation outside of "quotation marks".  For anyone who has done a lick of computer programming, in which resolution order of mathematical symbols is a key part of early training, putting sentence punctuation inside of quotation marks makes no sense.  Quotation marks are like parentheses in math, holding together one coherent expression, and so putting sentence punctuation inside them (as I did in the title) is, to me, the equivalent of this:   (2 + 4 x) 8 = 48

There was a great little book a while back called the Professor and the Madman, discussing the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary.  While the French dictionary is constructed top-down by a few folks to describe what French should be, the OED was constructed bottom-up from actual examples of usage, describing English as it is actually used.

By the way, for those of you who are horrified by the grammatical mistakes on this site (I know my friend Tom in Seattle pulls his hair out over this), they come mainly from my inability to proof, not lack of knowledge or concern.  I have some sort of mental dyslexia that can read right over horrible typos and gaffes, even four or five times, without spotting them.

PS:  Looking back at my title, I suppose we could even get into an Oxford comma argument too.

Problems Fixed

In the end, required a SQL database rebuild.  Now I have to put the site back together again.

EEEK -- Bleg Related to Google Feedproxy Links

For years I have been blogging from articles in my Google Reader, which is going away in a month.  When I cut and paste the article URL from the reader, I get a Google shortcut like "http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Twistedsifter/~3/BohimNYue3Y/".  This resolves to "http://twistedsifter.com/2013/04/strangely-similar-movies-released-around-the-same-time/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Twistedsifter+%28TwistedSifter+%29".  The links are written in my wordpress data base, in many cases, as the feedproxy version.  So they depend on this Google service remaining live to work.

Does anyone know if the Google feedproxy servers are going away with Reader?  If so, about a zillion links on my site are about to break.  My hope is that Google uses these for more than just reader.  Perhaps at Feedburner? (though if Google is bailing on RSS that might be next on the kill list).

I would normally just do a Regex search to fix this, but there is no systematic way to do it, you have to resolve the link and then replace the resolved URL.  Someone seems to have an app for this, but I am not sure it is ready for prime time and I do not want to use it unless I have to.  But once the servers are turned off, it will be too late.

Anyone know about this or have advice?  Obviously, I have been trying not to use these feedproxy URL's if I can remember not to do so.

One Problem With the Internet

I had some problems on the site when my credit card failed at my caching / proxy server company Incapsula and my account got deleted.  I think all is well now.  But there is a certain problem I never know how to address on the Internet -- after all, its not really of much use to post something here and ask people to email me if they are having trouble reading it.  But maybe a Twitter or Facebook reader will let me know if there is a problem.

Site Fixed. Hopefully

Host Gator usually does a good job for me but screwed up bringing the server back from maintenance.  To their credit they admitted the mistake.  All looks well EXCEPT for some reason we have picked up absurdly high Disqus Twitter reaction counts.

Probably an Accurate Prediction

Unfortunately, Kevin Drum's prediction is probably dead on

a fellow with the Twitter handle @FootyTube_ quickly changed his handle last night to @Dzhokhar_ and swapped out his avatar for a thumbnail of the suspect in the Boston bombings. That's hilarious!

Or not. But I predict a growth industry in this kind of thing. FootyTube's idiocy was easy enough to see through, but someone out there now has the bright idea of creating a Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/etc. account and populating it over time with grievances of some kind. Islamic, gun nut, anti-tax, libertarian, PETA, whatever. Just create a nice long chain of posts and then wait for the next terrorist attack. As soon as pics and names are available, switch the account name, make it public, and wait to be discovered.