Sunday, 25 March 2018

Social Media.....

I'm not a huge fan of social networking, blogging, and other types of over-sharing that permeates the internet for a number of reasons, the least of them being the lack of control that I have with the data that is provided to these platforms once it's handed over. Given the recent information coming up about Cambridge Anyalitica and how it's been using data that was handed over from Facebook only deepens that distrust.

The question that we should all be asking is how Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media platform is making money, since that's pretty much the entire point of any company that exists and I'm reasonably sure that the folks running Facebook are not going without some type of paycheck.

While Facebook does sell adds that's really not the product that they are selling - the product that they are selling is access to you and access to the information about you.

If you think about it between the mobile device in your pocket and your computer Facebook, and other social platforms can get access to information about;

  • Your educational information.
  • Your contact information
  • Your address
  • Your marital status.
  • A list of your friends, family, children and how they are related to you.
  • Your activities, products, and things that you are interested in.
  • What links you click on in your news feed.
  • Your physical location, and by extension of that where you are visiting.
When you look at this information on a single person it's interesting, but when you get hundreds or thousands of folks that you can track this type of information on it makes it really easy for Facebook or others to fire off adds that are scarily relevant to things that you are actually interested in. Where this gets really interesting is when you start mining this data to look for ways to try to influence that group of people. And this is where things start getting really kind of creepy.

As stated earlier Facebook is a company, but that company is a group of people trying to run things in a way to put money in their pockets. I would fully expect the data that I provide to Facebook to be used to do things that would make more money for them, and that's something that I accept as part and parcel of my use of their services.

Now where I start to have problems with this is when that data is handed off to a third party group without any way of me knowing who those people are or what they intend to use that data for. Realistically that data is the one thing that Facebook, or any other social platform, has that is of any value so thinking that they not be selling that information out to others or that only Facebook is the one doing this is a pretty silly point of view.

So while I have a problem with data about me or that I provide to a social media company being provided to third parties for "undisclosed" purposes I don't have any say in that matter once I thin the post button to provide that information to the public. This has led me to be rather cautious about what information I'm putting on any social media platform - including this one.

To be completely honest I would rather leave the whole social media thing entirely, however that's not practical for a number of reasons.

First of all if I don't maintain a profile on Facebook, or other sites like it, there is a chance that someone else might jump on there pretending to be me. While that's something that most people who know me would probably catch on there are a lot of people that don't know me well enough for me to be 100% sure that an imposer wouldn't be doing damage to my reputation (such as it is).

Secondly there are still some people that I don't talk to outside of the occasional comment on social media. And while I would love to move everybody over to something that's able to provide me with a secure way to communicate with others that's easier said than done. Between the different platforms that people us, and differing levels of technical ability it's not as simple as just telling someone to install What's App, Signal, or whatever the flavor of the month is for "secure" and "encrypted" communication between two people is.

The only good thing going on right now is that the current amount of coverage that we are seeing on this right now, and the attention that it's getting from lawmakers in a couple of different countries might help to get some more teeth into the controls around what these companies can do with our personal information. However, as long as this information exists it's going to have value and regardless of the teeth in place and the penalties for misuse of that data someone will eventually risk getting caught if the price is high enough.

The only way that we can get control over this is to understand the value of the data that we are providing and not allowing any one platform to go in and become so dominant that we can't survive without it.

Now if you will excuse me I'm going to go get some email addresses that I should have asked for several years back.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

A tale of headpones.

This is a tale of a couple of pairs of headphones, and some interesting outcomes based on a couple of purchases that I have made.

First off, let me be very clear, I'm not an audiophile. For a pair of headphones to sound bad to me they probably are going to rate as god awful for anybody who claims that title, so this is not so much about audio quality as much as it is about the construction of the things.

That being said I found myself needing a new pair of headphones a while back and after sniffing around online I settled on a set of headphones from Status Audio, specifically the HD One's. The claim here is that Status Audio works on a direct to consumer model and that by cutting out all the middlemen and marketing crap that they deliver headphones comparable to other much more expensive brands.

Seems legit.

The price was good and I thought that since they have a 30 day statisfaction garuntee I'd give them a try and tossed out an order for them and waited for delivery. When they arrived I pulled them out of the box, gave them a go, and they sounded fine. Given the coupons that I got and the free shipping (since they messed up on the shipping) the price came in around the 50$ mark. And that's where the problem came in.

While the headphones where good and sounded fine they really didn't have the build quality that I was hoping for. They where in fact very similar to some other headphones that I've come across at a number of other dollar store places over the past several years. In fact looking around on a number of sites I can see many other headphones that look very similar for a lot less money.

Now I don't know of the folks at Status are just picking up some inexpensive headphones, labeling them and sending them out at a decent markup, or if they have some secret sauce that they have figured out and they manufacturer that they are using just uses the same molds on a bunch of different products. Either way I can't get past the feeling that these things are going to snap in half while I'm trying to adjust them to my head.

If they where something that I picked up for 20$ or so I probably would not have had any complaints but for the price I was expecting something more robust. So, given that I had a 30 day guarantee on these I decided to take advantage of that and try something else.

That something else wound up being a set of Anker Soundbud Sports. They are quite a bit different but given the price at the time (25$) I thought it would be pretty hard to go wrong. After using them for several months I was pretty happy with them but earbuds like this don't generally fit in my ears well at all and these really didn't make much difference from others.

The quality is fine, they work well enough, and the battery life is fairly good considering that they are tiny little things and I was quite willing to keep running with them for as long as they would survive. I however wound up getting a bit of good luck in the form of a door prize that I won when a local retailer opened a new shop near my house.

That door prize was a set of Plantronics BackBeat 500 series headphones.

Now these things are quite a bit more than I would normally spend on a headset, simply because they don't tend to last for me and I'm cheap as hell. However after having these things for a while I'd seriously consider spending that money if I was looking at having to replace them. The sound is goog, battery runs for days and days, and if they go dead there's still the option to wire them in with a cable that came bundled with them.

I'm actually fairly familiar with the Plantronics brand from the headsets at work - and they hold up pretty well there considering that most of the people using them generally treat them like a rented mule.

Time will tell on this one, but I have the feeling that I'll stick with these headphones for a while, they don't have the issues with construction that the Status Audio ones do, but they have the convenience of Bluetooth so that I have one less wire hanging around to deal with.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


So yea, that whole getting fit thing. Still sticking with it, but man are my legs tired tonight.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A home lab.

As many people know I work with technology for a living. For those of you who don't, well I work with technology for a living.

To support that I keep a batch of hardware at home for purposes of playing around with new software solutions that I get my hands on. For a while I had been scaling back more and more and more on the hardware that I keep in house and using virtualization more and more. However it eventually got to the point where I wasn't replacing my hardware at a pace that could keep up with the number of machines dying due to old age.

I was looking around at getting some new gear, but then I got a call from a friend who had some machines that where being disposed of and they where wondering if I was interested in recycling them for them. I figured that I may as well have a look at them, and in the end it turned out that they where a bunch of HP 6000 PRO machines running dual core processors. While these aren't the most powerful pieces of hardware they are enough to run VMWare ESXi and the price was right.

Unfortunately there was only enough memory to get a few machines running properly, but just having to purchase memory is a dammed sight better than having to purchase an entire system.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

When doing the right thing feels like a bad idea.

People that know me probably know that I'm not the most athletic person on the planet. It's not that I don't like getting out and doing things but going out and running a marathon is not something that I'm about to go out and do for fun.

This week however I did something that feels like a really bad idea.

I joined a Gym.

Now, normally that's not a bad idea, but as I said I'm not somebody who's going to run out and look for physical exercises to perform. That being said there have been some rather impressive runs of horrible luck as far as my family and the health of folks in my family over the last year. These incidents have had me reconsidering my own health and finally thrown enough fear into me that I've decided to take some steps to change things.

We will see how this works out.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Pretty little iPhones...

So, no more headphone jack on the iPhone moving forward.

I'm kind of torn on this one to be honest. While the headphone jack has been pretty much a staple on phones for a very, very, long time it does put some specific limitations on what you can do with your device. It's going to set a minimum thickness to the phone and it requires that you have the appropriate hardware to drive the thing in the device.

I can see why Apple would pull it out, a lot of people are moving to using Bluetooth to stream audio to other devices but it's not quire replaced using a hard wire in all cases.

There was a similar outcry when Apple dropped the ADB ports on the Mac hardware of the day, and another when they dropped the Floppy disk from their systems, so this is really nothing new. Apple tends to move on from legacy stuff first and others wind up following suit. I think it's a bit early right now since Bluetooth headphones are still not as cheap as the wired ones, and personally I already have too many devices to charge.

While they do give you an adapter that's still another piece of wire to lug around, and since i'm using more than one device with the same pair of headphones that wire won't simply stay attached to the headphones 24x7.

While I'm not 100% sure it's time to drop the headphone jack that's not the reason that i'll be passing on the iPhone 7. Quite frankly the price of the devices is killing it for me.

These days I have been using a set of rather inexpensive Android devices. While the user interface is not as polished on the device that I'm currently using it's still more than enough to get the job done. This phone ran 150$ bought outright, compared to nearly four times the cost to purchase the cheapest iPhone outright. And while my current phone can't do Apple Pay, that's really not something that I find myself missing. The peace of mind that I get from not having to worry about my phone hitting the floor if it slips out of my hand is worth a fair bit on it's own.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Thoughts on encryption, and why the Apple vs. the DOJ thing is important.

There is a really interesting fight brewing right now between Apple and the US Department of Justice over the cell phone used by the shooters in San Bernidino. Most people have probably read about this in some form or another but it boils down to law enforcement asking Apple to break into the phone in a way that would allow them to simply brute force guess the password on the device as fast as possible to unlock the data that it contains.

The US law enforcement position is that they need access to this information to protect the public interest and because of the way that the device is designed and encryption is in place on these things they don't have a back door unless Apple puts one in place for them. Apple's position is that this is a slippery slope and that if they do this for a single device they will get pushed into doing this on more and more and more devices as soon as law enforcement realizes that they now have a way in.

The big problem that I have with this is that if Apple concedes and opens up this one phone they have now proven that it can be done. There's already one request showing up asking them to do anywhere between 9 to 11 more phones that I've seen posted online, and there's one US district attorney who's said that he's got about 175 phones that they have been unable to unlock. Consider that this is happening before Apple has even said that they can actually do what's being asked of them and it's not hard to see where this ends up.

And if you think for a second that the folks making Android devices won't be getting similar requests as soon as a precedent is set you need to give your head a shake.

Now normally I'm on the side of Law Enforcement in a lot of cases. They have a rough job to do and they pretty much have to be right 100% of the time, where somebody trying to cause problems just has to be right once to have an impact, but this bothers me in a way that I'm not entirely comfortable with.

First of all any time you provide a back door it's going to get abused. You can put as many controls on access to this information as you want but at some point in the chain there is going to be someone who has access and uses it for their own purposes. It might be somebody stalking a ex, somebody tracking their kids, or some other equally inane reason but once you open that door it's not going to be closed and will eventually get in the hands of people who want to use it for really nasty reasons.

Secondly, while I have nothing to hide that's not to say that I don't have information about myself or my family that I don't want being publicly disclosed. Everybody has secrets, and while the only sure way to keep them secret is to keep them off of my computer having anybody with the ability to just walk in and bypass any type of encryption that I have put in place - no matter how good I am about maintaining the security of my devices - is a troubling thought.

And while there are a lot of points that one can keep going over the government already can go after people to get this type of information - provided they are not you know, dead. If the government wants into something that I have encrypted they just have to go get a court order to get the passwords, encryption keys, or whatever is required to access that information.  Then I have the choice to provide that information or go to jail because I have decided to defy a court order. The advantage to this is that it's not something that's going to be done behind my back and it puts the onus on me to decide if it's worth going to jail to keep that information secure.

This is something that everybody should be watching carefully. If this box gets opened up it should cause us all to carefully reconsider what's secure in our world, if there is actually anything that we can consider secure at all.