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isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Tech Tips from My Family

i get it. i’m weird. i understand tech and how it is used and abused. i’m pretty much no longer “in touch” with the modern denizen of the digital frontier suburban sprawl complete with too many Starbucks, nothing but chain restaurants, and both a Walmart and Target across the street from each other. That digital domain.

i’m willing to believe that my long suffering wife, who’s been dealing with my special brand of paranoia for more than two decades, is also no longer “in touch”. She’s been corrupted and is no longer the perfect bellwether for the general population.

That’s why i appreciate watching my family over the holidays.

My father in law has multiple sheets of paper with various online accounts and one of three passwords scrawled on them. He carries those papers everywhere he brings his computer. Recently, he decided to create a document to hold the latest, corrected versions of his passwords.

Mind you, i showed him, repeatedly, how to get the browser to auto-complete passwords so he wouldn’t have to write those down. i showed him where he could go to see the list of all the accounts and passwords.

i printed out the password list, then secured the document with one of the three passwords he uses on all of those sites.

He couldn’t remember which one it was, so he was going to write it down.

i removed the password from the file.

He has horrible, albeit reasonably secure passwords. Telling him to use a password manager is useless. He doesn’t have the behaviors to even make that feasible, nor will he ever.

My sister-in-law pretty much lives on Facebook. i would be deeply astounded if she had any other app on her phone, including one to make calls or show the date. Facebook doesn’t need to create a phone, they already have millions of them.

These are people who don’t understand privacy or why it matters. They don’t understand security or even how to do it. i could tell my father in law that what he’s doing is the equivalent of putting a spare house key in a planter, but he does that too. i could tell my sister in law that facebook uses all of that information to sell her ads, if she didn’t talk about the great deals she got on stuff.

These are people who click and open anything that’s sent to them. They do all the stuff that gives me nightmares and see no problem. i’ve tried to talk to them earnestly and they, frankly, don’t care.

Kinda sad, but at this point, they’re not really welcome on my network. Much the same way that i think i might not be invited back if i used all the guest towels and flushed the entire roll of toilet paper in every bathroom. They get to use the “kiddie” network. The one that i put any untrusted device i don’t want getting access to my live network.

This is how an army of web cameras took out most of the internet. This is why there are vast botnets at the command of criminal organizations and why ransomware is a thing, and i harbor little if any hope that things will improve. We’re giving highly capable computers with open credentials to folks who proudly refuse to read the manual “quick start” guides.

The internet was built like how the freeway system was. There’s redundancy, and routing, but also there was a basic assumption that most folks would at least try to follow the rules. Yeah, that’s not happening. Instead we’ve wound up with something more akin to Mad Max where everyone is texting behind the wheel or fishing out a fry from the back seat.

And here i thought that political discussions were what would make me sad this year.

    What do you think, sirs?

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    :: Anger Issues

    First off, i’m going to lead with this. It’s sweary, so wear headphones if you need to, but regardless of your opinion on the outcome of the 2016 election, you need to watch this:

    Trump and Clinton weren’t the problem. They’re both symptoms. Nearly half of the registered voters didn’t bother to vote because neither were appealing enough to do so. (Yes, voter suppression is a real thing and that played a part of the low turn-out, but not all 100,000,000 people were suppressed. A good percent just didn’t want to vote.)

    And it wasn’t just the “ignorant poors” that voted for Trump, he had votes across the spectrum, including from minorities and women. Folks are angry. Folks aren’t being heard. This is what angry ignored people do.

    Because both sides continually do the same damn thing. We shout at each other. We dismiss any reason that the other side might hold an opinion we disagree with. We’re all delusional from crap like confirmation bias, “No True Scotsman” bias, Learned Helplessness and pretty much all the stuff you can read and listen to about here. And i mean everyone. Myself included. Because i am a mammal that has a brain.

    i lived in Baltimore and West Virginia. In my very limited experience, i’ve seen systems work against people for decades. Poverty is very real and not what you think. So is disenfranchisement. People have reasons for their actions and beliefs.

    Look, right now, as a country… hell, as a species… we have a huge problem. We’re isolated from each other. We’re building walls figurative and literal instead of doing what we’re best at, communicating. Hate comes from ignorance and fear, but it also comes from experience and frustration.

    Turn off the media. It’s lying to you because getting you worked up gets you watching which gets them money from running boner pill ads. (Side note: go watch the news from sites like CBC, BBC and NHK. Ideally, all three. They got horses to run, but in completely different races.)

    Find someone with a differing political opinion, and have a discussion, not a yelling match.
    1) Find common ground as often as possible.
    2) When they voice an opinion or statement you disagree with, find the root of the cause. Ask about experiences they had that lead to this belief. Do not dismiss it the way you wouldn’t want your beliefs dismissed.
    3) Disagree, politely. Do not try to change their mind. Seek understanding not conversion.
    4) If you can tell they’re getting agitated or threatened, take a break and discuss a neutral topic like favorite foods or weather or traffic. Again, find common ground.

    Do this, because that’s what makes America Great.

    And on that note:

    Addendum:
    Let me note that, yes, horrible acts by people embolded for the wrong reasons should be confronted and stopped. Those who are oppressed should be spoken for. It’s going to be messy, horrible, and there’s going to be a lot of tears.

    There will also be people who do not want to talk and hold opinions and beliefs that are repugnant to you. You will not be able to talk to those people. There will be others, however, that are more reasonable. You will be able to talk to them.

    Likewise, i fully recognize that i “look the part” and can speak to folks without raising too many hackles. That’s my goal at least. Understand what motivates and rationalizes the sort of things that lead to what we’re seeing. This is a cancer. You don’t take one pill to cure cancer. You take a lot and hope to hell you’re taking the right ones.

    :: Full of Crap

    It should be noted, to no one’s surprise and to the continually voiced proclamations of our elders, the world is full of crap.

    There are precious few, truly, well made things, and most of those you are blissfully unaware of or barely ever willingly ever interact with. The things that are “not-crap” tend to include items like a light bulb in a Livermore fire station that has continued to burn for well over 100 years, or a dam created in the post-Depression era National Work Project years, which was completely overbuilt mostly because the goal was to get labor working, not save a few bucks.

    Of course, “The more one understands something, the more one realizes how horribly broken that thing is” holds true and i’m gleefully unaware of how few lumens the light bulb casts or how little power the dam can generate.

    That’s kind of my point, really. i’m also fully aware of my contributions to the huge amount of pervasive crap in the world.

    At some point, societies innocence got the upper hand and we started believing that the people building our future were competent. They were the white coated geniuses who’s benevolence gifted us treasures from the future. Not only had they somehow crafted a bidet for our feline friends, but they allowed us to remotely monitor it through the interwebs and give Tiddles positive encouragement. What a wondrous future we live in!

    At no time did anyone ask, about how this device is secured, if it’s properly constructed, or who would pay for the post encounter kitty therapy session. All of these are important questions that need to be asked by someone other than the claims adjuster or investigating police officer. Yet, we don’t. We welcome things like “In-Car Internet” without wondering who’s holding the information about our travel and usage. We welcome open microphones into our homes because they give us the weather report, as well as constantly listen to conversations and audio (including frequencies we may not be able to hear).

    New technology is massively complicated in ways that we can’t quite wrap our heads around, and that includes the folks making it up. It’s possible to have a full computer, running a very real operating system on something as small as a stack of quarters. This means that if there’s a way to get in, an attacker has unlimited ability to modify or control that device. Likewise, “Unintended Use” is a very, very real thing. Something crafted for the most innocent of reasons could be used for some of the most nefarious, because folks who created it simply don’t think evil enough.

    It’s a bit like having a front door that has a combination lock, only the lock works off of only the final rotation of the dial, or used a key, but only one of the tumblers was active. Chances are pretty darn good you’d never bother to check. Heck, your lock could well be doing this right now and you’d be none the wiser.

    So, what do you do? i’m not suggesting we all become neo-amish and post things to the barn wall, but maybe we ought to be a bit more reluctant to believe that digital utopia awaits the next pre-order.

    Honestly, on this side of the digital fence, i’d love to proclaim the upcoming year “Digital Infrastructure Year”. Where we, as an industry, stop creating stuff and actually spend a year shoring up critical elements. Granted, it’ll be hard to sell that to the folks who have money to pay for things, but sometimes you gotta pay your taxes. We spend time closing some of the massive holes that let things like the recent DDoS attacks happen, or beefing up crypto so that communication and storage are actually secure, or any of the thousands of bugs and issues that folks have been told to ignore.

    Yeah, i know, i know. It’s a lovely idea, but turns out, it’s full of crap too.

    :: Failure Favor

    Dear Web Devs,

    Hi, can i ask you a favor?

    Web pages are complicated beasts. There’s lots of moving parts as things get pulled in from all over. Which means, there’s more than a fleeting chance that for random reasons and efficiency bits of the page may “go missing”. A broken image may be one thing, but a missing CSS file is quite another.

    Can i ask y’all a favor? Turn off “style.css” for this page.

    Can we make that a thing? Can we use CSS for good and help the rather high number of folks who don’t just know to force refresh a page (or even what that means) from thinking their computer is broken or been hacked? Basically, consider your page’s failure modes, and help out folks that may not understand what to do. Honestly, it’s not hard.

    Let’s treat our users like we’d like to be treated when we’re not fully versed on automotive repair, furnace maintenance, municipal transit regulations, or all the stuff that they’re far smarter about than us. That’d be swell.

    :: The Fall of the Tall Staff

    Palo Alto, CA recently noted that they may consider offering housing subsidies to families that earn less than $250,000 a year. This is because three bedroom homes can go for $2,100,000.

    This, of course, is insane, and a sure fire sign of impending demise for that city.

    “Wait, what? It’s full of rich people. Surely, that’s a sign of success!” i hear you say.

    Yes. Yes, it is. Thus the reason it’s going to fail.

    After several millennia humans have pretty much discovered a workable strata for functioning societies. Turns out, you kind of need people at all the various income levels for things to work right. Have too many at a given level, and things go poorly, fast. Levels of per capita pretty much fit a bell curve, the majority of the population should make “middle-class” wages.

    Have too many people below the median, you get cities that can’t afford to collect taxes for infrastructure support. Feel free to drive through sections of Michigan, West Virginia, Tennessee or similar if you want to see examples. Have too many people above the median? Nobody is willing to do “common” jobs like pick up trash, or work at counters, or do the hundreds of jobs that folks tend to ignore or easily dismiss. A “thriving” downtown in places like that are 30 storefronts, three of which are 1000 square foot “boutiques” only open alternate days when the spouse of the “money maker in the family” gets around to opening it for his friends. The rest are realtor offices.

    These jobs are low income because nobody wants to pay a lot for them. Now, mind you, low income jobs require that there’s a trade off. If you’re earning minimum wage, there’s only so far you’re willing or able to travel to work that job. Mass transit ain’t free, neither is a car, and there’s significant issues with spending 6-8 hours commuting for $88 a day.

    The problem is that Palo Alto isn’t alone. The surrounding communities (including the one i live in) are nearly as bad. Housing in the SF Bay Area is outrageous, and frankly unaffordable. i live in a 3 bed room, 2 bath house that could easily sell for $1.5 million. i paid far less for that, which is a good thing, because i cannot afford to buy my own home now. At one time, this was considered a “starter home”, aimed at folks moving in to support a near-by airbase. In other words, aimed toward the rising side of that income bell curve.

    About half a mile away, are the “lower income” housing areas, mostly apartments full of families who’s parents bus tables, are janitors, delivery folk, stock runners, and cashiers, but there’s hardly enough folk there to support all the local jobs that need them. There are lots of “Help Wanted” signs in store fronts because the folks that used to be available have been pushed beyond the radius of where they can afford to commute in.

    So, yeah, Palo Alto.

    Honestly? i really hope that shops and restaurants close because they simply can’t find staff. i hope that garbage piles up, parks and public areas degrade, and people have to pay through the nose when their toilets clog. i hope that nobody can get a meal for less than $60 because all the cheap eats places had to close due to labor shortages. i hope that folks have to drive 30 minutes to get to a grocery store because all the ones nearer closed. i hope that whoever spent $2.1 Million dollars buying a 3 bedroom bungalow is either forced to sell at a loss or has their home foreclosed, because they were stupid for contributing to their own demise.

    Look, folks, functioning communities need low income housing because rich folks are too lazy to take out the trash or vacuum their own cubes. Hell, i bet you see folks leave stained coffee cups on the kitchen counter instead of putting them in the freaking dish washer at work. You think they’re going to go empty the garbage cans at the park this weekend? You need folks who are not making dot com cash to be your uber drivers and pick up the phone when you call 911 at 2AM. You need that “undesirable” section of town (Really? Undesirable? Do you cut the crusts off your mayo and cream cheese on white bread sandwiches too?) because some folks can’t afford to buy a Tesla that matches their iPhone 6+.

    You need those because you’re not going to do those jobs. While we’re at it, if you do live in Palo Alto (or one of the many “affluent” areas, your responsibility is to do things like pay your taxes without bitching constantly, say an earnest “Thanks” to folks that do the jobs you’ve been gleefully ignoring while you poke at your phone, and not grouse about how wonderful it would be if a Whole Foods went in where the Mercado Sanchez is. Also, feel free to not pay more than most game shows offer as a top prize for anything listed as a “fixer-upper”. Pay attention to the voice that says “Yeah, it’s nice, but Good God that’s a lot of money.”

    Because it is.

    And it’s only making matters worse.

    Wall Street Journal has an article that hints about this problem in Menlo Park. Wonder if someone will create an app that will put your house fire out?
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