Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why I don't like Windows Phone 8

I attended Microsoft BUILD this weekend and all the attendees got, among other things, a Nokia Lumia 920. I've read a lot and been intrigued by Windows Phone in the past but has never really used it except for a few minutes at a time so I figured I would just throw caution to the wind and move my SIM card over and start using it as my primary phone for as long as I could take it. So here is why I am now after a little bit less than a week switch back to my Galaxy Nexus phone.

The hardware of the phone is excellent, even though the phone is a bit big for my taste (Read thick). But it has good battery life, a truly phenomenal camera and solid build quality. My problem is instead with the software.

First of all I hate that Microsoft has decided that the rules for how to use capital letters in the English language no longer applies to them (And unfortunately this is something that is carried over to Windows 8 and their other new releases too (See the all caps menu bar in Visual Studio 2012 for instance). The page that most epitomizes this on Windows Phone is the setting menu which has the top caption in all caps and then everything else on the entire screen is in lower caps letters except a few random lines that still have capital letters. My head hurts just looking at it.

Another problem with the settings menu is that there is no way (Except through some third party apps) to get a shortcut to certain often used settings, such as WiFi, Bluetooth, brightness etc... They also have completely screwed up the order of the settings. As an example airplane mode is something that to me is pretty used pretty often and on Windows Phone it is not even on the first page when you go into the settings application, but instead you have to scroll down to find it.

There are also a not inconsiderable amount of just plain bugs in it. Yesterday for instance it simply refused to let me answer an incoming call (The answer button was grayed out for some reason).

Next let's look at the search button. The phone has a big nice search button. However this button is not contextual, it is simply a shortcut to Bing, which leads to some really weird UI:s as in for instance the marketplace app where you have two identical search buttons one just above the other. The top one to search the marketplace and the second one for that all important immediate Bing fix.

I also dislike how the back button works, and just think that Android has got this use case pinned down better now (They used to behave similar to Windows Phone). To me you should never be able to go "back" further than the last time you were at the start screen and I just get confused where I will go when I can.

It is also a real shame that you are stuck with the stock keyboard. Granted it is an OK keyboard (Probably about on par with what you get on an iPhone). But if you compare that to Swipe or my personal favorite SwiftKey on Android there is a long way to go unfortunately.

The map application is pretty good and it seems to use a lot less memory to have maps offline than Google Maps does. The turn by turn navigation is definitely not as good though. It doesn't speak street names and as far as I can tell there is only driving directions (No public transportation or walking).

And finally it can't be ignored that the Marketplace (The app store for Windows Phone) is a desolate wasteland compared to Android or iOS. The number of apps does not truly show how bad it is, because even the applications that do exist are usually a lot less functional on Windows Phone than they are on other platforms (The Windows Phone version of Audible is horrible compared to the Android one). Right now the apps that I really need that are not available at all on Windows Phone are Run Keeper, Google+, Picasa (That actually integrates with the phone's photos, not a stand alone app), Google Voice (That integrates with the normal dialer) plus most games that I like to play.

That said there are several things I really like. For instance, the live tile concept is great! Now if only more of the apps used it properly. For instance the client for Picasa that I found didn't use live tiles at all, which seems very odd for a picture app. All, in all the platform itself does show a lot of promise and given a year or two they might be at a point where it is actually useful. Unfortunately it is not yet there.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Atheism more common than Christianity in younger demographic

According to an encouraging article in CNN there are more atheist and agnostics between the age of and 29 years old and in general atheism is on the rise. From the article.

"According to the poll, 34% of “younger millennials” - those born between 1990 and 1994 - are religiously unaffiliated. Among “older millennials,” born between 1981 and 1989, 30% are religiously unaffiliated: 4 percentage points higher than in 2007.

Poll respondents 18-29 were also more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic. Nearly 42% religious unaffiliated people from that age group identified as atheist or agnostic, a number far greater than the number who identified as Christian (18%) of Catholic (18%)."

This is hopeful news and makes you hope that given enough time the large intrusions into all parts of American life by religion might be coming to an end.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Americas most epic undertaking started 50 years ago to this day

It is today 50 years ago that John F Kennedy gave his inspiring we choose to go to the moon speech. With this speech started the most epic of scientific achievements probably in the history of mankind to this date.

It is important to remember how the USA was the nation that accomplished this amazing feat as we are slipping in international rankings for math and science educations. It saddens me that we are not still prioritizing this frontier more. For instance we seem poised to spend more than a quarter of the entire NASA budget this year just on the presidential election campaigns. Wouldn't it be better if we had some campaign finance reform to reduce the ridiculous money spent in US politics and use that money more wisely. And in the process we might also end up with politicians that are more interested in the common good than special interest.

I recommend everybody to watch the entire speech below. It is very inspiring and still hugely relevant.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Multiplying 6 to 10 on your fingers

It is not rocket science to handle the multiplication tables of 6 to 10 in your head but I just thought this trick for doing it on your fingers was so neat that I had to share it.

How to steal a design from Apple

Samsung has met their match when it comes to stealing Apple designs. Not only did GooPhone released their new I5 model based on the leaks of the design of the as yet announced iPhone 5. They actually patented the design ahead of Apple and they are threatening to sue Apple if a similar phone is introduced to the Chinese market by them.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keeping track of your finances

I just thought I would go through some of the sites that I have found that helps you to keep track of your finances that are around on the net. All of this only applies to the US currently. Swedish people can be happy to know that in general we are way ahead of the US in both features, security and usability when it comes to online banking and trading.

The first site I want to mention is Mint. This is a great site that can not only keep track of all the transactions from all of your financial institutions (I have quite a lot of accounts spread out and so far every single one was supported by them) so that you can monitor them for fraudulent transactions easily in one place. It also shows you trends of spending and gives you tips on how you can save money based on your spending. Other features of the site is to help you keep track of bills that need to be paid and it can even help you define and keep a budget. I really can't recommend it enough. And it is all completely free!

If you want some help just keeping track of your bills there is also the site BillQ, but I would really only recommend that over Mint if you feel uncomfortable with giving Mint access to your financial accounts.

Next step of keeping track of your finances is to check and monitor your credit. The first site that is great to keep track of your running credit score is Credit Karma which will both provide you with as many updates to your credit score as you want for free and also provide you with a free credit monitoring service. Another awesome application that also provides a free credit monitoring service is LastPass which I've praised in the past for its main password protection feature.

These services will not provide you with your actual credit report though, just if a change has happened and how it affected your credit score. To get your actual credit report there is an awesome service called Quizzle that gives the ability to get a free credit report every 6 months for free with no credit card required. If you get a credit alert from one of the other services this is also the cheapest premium service for $7 per month you can get as many full credit reports as you want and you can start and end this service easily any time you want. I have cancelled this service myself after just one months of service after I discovered something weird through my credit monitoring services that I wanted to have a better look at without any problems. Can also here let you know to be aware of the common scam where sites will give you a "free" credit report, but you need to provide a credit card and they will usually sign you up to a credit protection service you didn't want (Experian are the experts of this).

Finally if you have investments there are a few sites that are great. When it comes to actual trading I haven't seen anything that comes close to E*Trade, doesn't matter if it relates to actual trading, research, customer support and dealing with taxes it is way better than the other sites I've tried (Except when it comes to fees where Wells Fargo beats them hands down). Doing research and tracking of your investment I use two sites. Yahoo! Finance has a huge amount of statistics and facts available and access to news. Google Finance have slightly less amount of statistics available, but they do have a much nicer interface and also much better real time graphs.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Obama & Romney answer questions on science

In case you haven't already read it check out the current presidential candidates response on scientific questions over at the Scientific American.

Highlights include Mitt Romney still not thinking global warming is serious enough to warrant any actual response. In the same vein Obama is pointing to his huge ($90 billion) investment in renewable energy, however Romney does rightly point out that so far we have precious little to show for it.

This should should be required reading for everybody who plans to vote!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The end of cavities

Scientists have discovered a molecule that when kept in your mouth for 60 seconds will keep your teeth cavity proof for hours. Specifically the molecule kills Streptococcus Mutans and can be added to pretty much any dental product or even candy.

The product still needs FDA approval but once that is hopefully achieved dental care can be changed forever for the better and we will hopefully all be able to keep the teeth we have.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The difference between religion and morals

Not believing in god doesn't mean that you don't have morals or ethics. Same as being religious does not mean that you do have morals. For instance the concept of Karma is perfectly valid with or without a deity to keep the score. It is just common sense that if you are nice to people, people will generally be nice back to you. Also if you would just be nice to people when you thought you could get something back from the them, other people you interact with would see through you pretty fast. So even without a god it just seems like a good idea to follow the golden rule.

To me it seems atheists are less likely to commit truly horrific crimes than religious people simply because there is no potential payoff after this life that could be used to entice the act. I also think there are fewer beliefs that an atheist would hold so strong that they think it would be worth to do violence against other people to promote them. I don't know of any atheist equivalents to Al-Qaeda, Ku Klux Klan or the current Anti-abortion activists in the USA.

The problems arise when a specific religion tries to inflict a certain arbitrary set of moral rules on the rest of the population. This becomes especially bad when the religion has a majority and start enforcing their rules on the minority. This includes for instance gay marriage or women's reproductive rights. I also find it troubling when it leads to trying to replace science education with theology.

It is even worse when it leads to just straight wanting to not educate children at all, like in the attacks on female schools in Afghanistan performed by the Taliban. Unfortunately this kind of thinking exists even here in the USA as is shown by the Texas Republican Party coming out against teaching children critical thinking. The bottom line is that an ignorant and uneducated person is so much easier to lead than someone who thinks for themselves. Then again perhaps they were right in The Matrix. Maybe ignorance is bliss!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why I don't believe in God

I've spent a lot of time both studying and thinking about religion, theology and "the big questions" almost all my life and have come to the conclusion that there probably is no god and I just thought I would share some of my reasoning for coming to this conclusion.

First of all with our current understanding of quantum physics we actually have a pretty consistent idea of how the universe works. Even though it is by no means complete, it does in it contain ideas about how the universe was at one point created out of nothing. It is often referred to as the ultimate free lunch. Granted to understand this discussion it requires a basic understanding of how the universe works, but it isn't really past what most people can get if they are interested in it. I recommend two courses from The Teaching Company. The first one is called Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy and the second one is called Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos. So with the knowledge that the universe can exist as we perceive it today without a god. Then the nonexistance of god comes from the application of Occam's razor which roughly states that the simplest solution to a problem is probably the right one.

Another way to come to the same conclusion is to consider that the universe is probably around 4.5 billion years old. Humans have existed in more or less their current form for around 200 thousand years and no currently existing religion has been around for more than maybe 5000 years. Also factor in the size of the known universe and the pretty high likelihood of there being other intelligent life in it. It just seems so unlikely that a deity would go through all that trouble just to start nitpicking about what we eat, how we procreate and what we should think about others (Especially others who don't share our beliefs).

Compare both of these arguments to the likelihood of religion being a human invention to help people to cope with the fear of dying, relatives passing away or an otherwise unfair lot in life. Then there are also the huge benefits that seem to generally be bestowed upon those that successfully start or become the leader of religions. And you also have the benefit that in most countries religions are not even taxed on their earnings or holdings. So if you are interested in being wealthy or to have power religion seems to be a great business to be in.

This does not mean that I think that people who have come to different conclusions for these questions than me are stupid. These questions are almost by definition ineffable and unknowable. However given the fact that most people does seem to inherit their religion from their parents, it seem like they don't think that much about the alternatives.

Maybe organic food isn't better for you

If you are like me and have generally assumed that organic food is better for you then we might have all been falling for the marketing. A recent big meta study in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined 17 different studies into the health benefits between eating organic and "normal" food and found no statistically significant changes based on the source of the food.

I'll probably still keep eating the organic food since I just kind of prefer to keep my pesticide and animal growth hormone intake to a minimum regardless of health implications. If all you care about is your health though then at least for now it seems that there are probably other changes to your lifestyle that have a bigger impact on your health. Did you know for instance that regularly flossing your teeth increases your average lifespan with over 6 years.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Atheism is gaining ground in America

According to an article in The Economist Atheism is growing strongly in America. In fact it has multiplied five times in the last 6 years according to a WIN-Gallup survey. Granted it is from a paltry low and even now it is only 5% of Americans who identify themselves as Atheist.

America unfortunately still holds a very hostile view against Atheists. For instance over 40% say they would never vote for an Atheist. At least it is a small step in the right direction though.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Scientist might have found a cure for Malaria!

In an awesome development researchers at the University of Cape Town might have found a quick and easy cure for Malaria. Malaria is one of the most common causes of death world wide with an estimated 200 million cases in 2010 and around 1 million deaths. As a comparison this is almost as many deaths as from AIDS with the difference that there are few precautions you can take to protect you against the disease.

Current treatments are complicated, long and have many bad side effects. The new treatment is a pill that needs to be taken only once and so far no side effects have been observed. It is scheduled to enter human trials in 2013 and if successful could save millions of lives in the future, many of them children who are extra susceptible to the disease.

Oracle apparently knew about the current Java exploit in April

According to this article Oracle has known about the current 0-day exploit since April but have not acted to patch it.

I would seriously consider trusting mission critical data to software from a company that apparently have such a lax attitude towards security flaws as Oracle has displayed in this case.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How to open a tricky jar lid

You ever have problem open a tricky jar? This is a nice video that goes through a bunch of different tips and tricks about how to solve this sticky problem.

Unpatched Java exploit found in the wild

In case you missed it there is an unpatched security flaw in Java that is being actively exploited on the internet right now.

The vulnerability affects both Windows, Apple OSX and Linux versions of Java irregardless of what browser you use. Oracle has not announced any plans to patch the vulnerability with an out of cycle patch (The next scheduled Java patch is months away).

Now might be a good idea to disable Java in your browser. Usually you can do this by finding the settings for addins. In chrome you have to go to the URL chrome://plugins/ and find Java in the list and disable it (There is no item for this in the menus as far as I can tell).

Why we still have spam

According to a report from Microsoft and Google spammers world wide rake in around $200 million in profits, however while doing this they are also costing the receivers of that spam around $20 billion. Unfortunately given that the $20 billion is paid by all of us and not the people that are making the $200 million I don't see them stopping voluntarily anytime soon.

There are fortunately some encouraging developments that could end spam forever (At least in its current incarnation). For instance DMARC which combines Sender Policy Framework and DomainKeys Identified Mail seems a promising technology. If you want to know more about DMARC there is a whole episode on it with Security Now. One of its most important features is that it is supported by all the big guys like AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Facebook. That said it is something you need to set up on your own mail domain so it will probably take a long time before this is supported universally. Hopefully we are moving in the right direction though.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is your VPN secure? The answer might surprise you!

During DEF CON 20 a new attack against the MS-CHAP 2 protocol was announced that basically reduces the complexity of cracking a MS-CHAP login down to a single DES 56 bit brute force attack. The announcers also combined this with a new services on the site CloudCracker which will handily brute force this DES for you in less than 24 hours.

The input required is a network capture of the MS-CHAP 2 handshake. For now there are a few manual steps, but they shouldn't be beyond anybody with a basic understanding of networks and using command line tools. The payoff is huge though, once you have the cracked token you can both listen in on any subsequent traffic from the authenticated user and also authenticate as the user yourself.

CHAP authentication is currently used in almost all PPTP VPN networks (It is usually the default authentication). It is also often used in enterprise WiFi authentication but there the handshake is already encrypted using TLS so the attack is usually not possible in this case.

Microsoft has put out a security advisory (Although they are by no means the only affected vendor) advising everybody to switch to EAP authentication for PPTP. However the change is not an easy one since it needs to be configured both on the client and the server side of the VPN tunnel.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why the Apple verdict against Samsung is bad for you

Last week Apple won a lawsuit against Samsung and was awarded over $1 billion in damages. Obviously this is bad for Samsung, but I would argue that it is also bad for all of us, the consumers.

The patents that Samsung was found infringing on were either extremely obvious (Bounce back when scrolling for instance) or just weird (Design patent on a rectangle with rounded edges). It gets even worse when you hear the jurors talk about how they came to the verdict and it is obvious that they have no idea of what they were doing (Which is understandable given that this stuff is very complicated). For instance they decided to skip the discussion about prior art on the patents because "It was bogging us down". Groklaw also has a good rundown on some of the inconsistencies in the jury's verdict.

What will probably happen now is that Android phones will have to jump through a bunch of hoops trying to work around Apple's patents instead of concentrating on adding new awesome features even if Google themselves are trying to down play the significance of the verdict. Also Google has already started to leverage its newly acquired patent portfolio from its acquisition of Motorola so we will see more of this nonsense from all sides. And none of this will get us any better phones because technology is not improved by lawyers, it is improved by engineers.

I would contend that the reason why we have such awesome phones these days is not thanks to either Apple, Samsung or Google. It is thanks to all of them and the fact that they are all trying to put out the absolute best products they can so that they are better than the competition. As Steve Jobs himself was fond of saying "Good artists copy, great artists steal" (In fact even the quote itself is stolen from Pablo Picaso). The copying also goes both ways, tell me the new notifications in iOS wasn't inspired by Android's implementation.

Research and innovation has always been a matter of standing on the shoulders of giants. And most importantly as has happened over and over in the history of science, what happens is that once the body of knowledge gets to a certain point the next step becomes obvious and once anybody thinks about it the next step is usually not that hard and so should not be patentable. I am not saying that there aren't ground breaking leaps of new knowledge that is thought of (Theory of relativity and quantum mechanics stand out), but they are exceedingly rare and for instance inventing a square with rounded corners is not it (In fact if the jury had considered prior art they would have seen that Samsung had prototypes looking like that before the iPhone was released).

Gizmodo does have a different take on this where they are hoping that this will mean the end of the mere copying and the beginning of true innovation. I wish they are right, but I highly doubt it. Also, as they point out, there are quite a lot of innovation already happening in the mobile space. I don't think this will change that either way except that more resources will now be devoted expressly trying to not be similar to the competition instead of trying to make the best possible product.

46% of Americans are creationists according to latest poll

According to a recent gallup poll 46% of Americans believe in creationism. If you include intelligent design the number goes up to a staggering 78%.

If only these people also decided not to enjoying the fruits of the research based on the theory they are rejecting (Meaning most of modern medicine)? Due to Darwin's survival of the fittest it shouldn't take too long until these numbers turned a little bit saner... Since creationists don't believe in that premise (At least not when applied to humans), I can't see them having any moral dilemma with it either.

On a more positive note Richard Leakey predicts that in two to three decades the debate about evolution will be over due to a preponderance of evidence. I'm not so sure that I am that optimistic though since when we are dealing with faith, evidence unfortunately seem to not be in a big demand.

I have to admit I don't understand why it's only in this country that mainstream religion seem to have such a big problem with the theory of evolution? In most other countries it is only fringe nut jobs that are advocating creationism, while in this country we have serious debates over teaching it as science in school. In the end I think it comes down to fundamentalism being scary no matter what religion is practicing it and we just have a lot more Christian fundamentalism in USA compared to most other countries.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The next step in human development?

This video discusses how we have already started and will probably continue using technology to improve human performance. We already started using pace makers and prosthethics that might be better than the real thing.

The next logical step is to start enhancing the performance of our brains. We have already began with implants that can treat epilepsy. Is the next step to help people with concentration difficulty really that far off? Where it goes after that is anybody's guess.

The contents of the video is based on the book Amped by Daniel H Wilson.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Violent crime is down 80% from it's peak in Los Angeles

You might not now know it watching the news these days but violent crime in Los Angeles is down to around one fifth of what it was at its peak in 1992. Even more surprising is that this trend has actually accelerated since 2008 even though you would expect there to be more crime as more people lost their jobs.

Even better this trend holds true to most of the USA. Part of this is improved techniques employed by the police, some of it is also due to a demographic shift as we are growing older. Also the fact that we are having more immigration also generally leads to lowered crime rates. Yes, you read that right! Increased immigration can possible lead to lower crime rates (Although that relationship is by no means certain).

Now if we could only figure out that perhaps we shouldn't incarcerate such a ridiculous percentage of our population, I think we could really have something here! Did you know that the USA incarcerates 5 times higher percentage of its people than China or 20 times more than India. Said another way, the USA has 5% of the world population but 25% of the worlds inmates, and I don't think it is because Americans have a natural higher propensity to turn to a life of crime.

Cool interactive info-graphic to calculate the chance of extra terrestrial life

Check out this cool info graphic that lets you play around with the parameters of Drake's equation and see how likely you think it is that we are not alone.

Also just because there might be alien civilizations it still doesn't mean that we will ever run into them. The universe is really big and compared to its size the speed of light is pretty slow.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Did you know that anybody can create new BMW keys?

Did you know that anybody with a kit for around $300 can create their own BMW keys? I didn't and it kind of freaks me out a bit. Especially in a convertible where someone can just jump in (I park with my top down all the time) and get their own key for the car in around 10 seconds.

For some reason BMW has the ODB (On Board Diagnostic) port on the car powered on even though the car is off and through this port you can read the key data needed to program a new key and also add that key to the car. All BMW models are affected that have the option of key less entry except for the new 3-series 2012 sedan, but that could just be because the software hasn't been updated yet.

This is by no mean a BMW only issue, but it is exasperated on for this brand by the fact that this port is on when the car is off and also that it has no security required to access it. BMW is trying to down play the issue, but has as of yet offered no solution.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Finally someone is looking at the high price of a college degree

You might already know about Kahn Academy which provides an interesting and fun way of learning for children up to around a high school level. But what do you do if you are an adult and want to learn a more advanced topic. If you are not the person that is able to get comfortable with a new field by just picking up a book. There is another site aiming for revolutionizing higher level education in the same vein as Kahn Academy is trying to do for lower degrees called Udacity.

Currently the site is free as they are building up their course catalog, but the goal is to eventually offer the equivalent of graduate degrees for as little as $100. A slight difference to what is currently available from universities in the US.

They are also disputing the notion that learning that happens early in your life before you go off and start your career. Instead it thinks that you should keep educating yourself throughout your entire life. Something that I totally agree with.

I completed a couple of classes myself and so far I really like it and can completely recommend it to everybody who has an interest in learning new things. And as I said earlier... It's free!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to protect your digital life

I've already written in another article about how to digitize your life and what benefits that can bring. When you do this you need to start thinking about how you make sure it stays secure though as was highlighted in a spectacular fashion by Mat Honan who almost lost everything he had in a digital form including all his photos of his 1 year old daughter. So I figured I would write up some stuff that you can do to help you protect yourself online.

Securing your central email account

Almost every service you use will allow you to reset your password through by sending an email to an account you gave them when you signed up for the service. This obviously means that it is critical that you protect this account as much as you can. To this end make sure that this account has two factor authentication and make sure you enable it. It is a little bit of an extra hassle to set it up, but the extra security it buys you is absolutely worth it. Currently as far as I know GMail and Facebook do support this (Your phone being your second factor in both cases). Unfortunately Yahoo, Outlook or Hotmail do not.

Furthermore, don't use work or your internet provider as your central account. It will be a pain in the ass if you ever need to get a new internet provider or move to another job if you do, because all of a sudden you need to go in and reconfigure all your accounts to another email address. Furthermore keep in mind that your employer has the right to read and use your company email address so using that for anything you want to keep for yourself is just a bad idea.

Can add as a note that if you use Google Authenticator for your Google account you only have one chance to set up a device for this (Or you have to start over from the beginning setting it up), so if you want to have it on more than one device make sure you set them all up while you still have the chance.

Handling your passwords

Creating secure passwords are getting harder and harder. Here are some tips about what to do now.

  • Make sure they are at least 8 characters long, preferably longer.
  • Use lower case, upper case, digits and special characters in your passwords.
  • Don't use passwords that are words or combination of words.
  • Don't use the same passwords for all your sites. At least use special passwords for sites that are important (For instance your central email account or accounts that deal with real money or sites where you have saved your credit card information).
  • One method to make a password more security is to use password haystacks.

What I am trying to say here is that you really can't realistically remember all your passwords everywhere and I can totally recommend LastPass to help you out. For a detailed evaluation of it's security model check out this Security Now episode.

In case you don't have 2 hours to watch the video here it is in short.

  • It is completely Trust No One, meaning LastPass can never retrieve your passwords even if they wanted to.
  • It supports two factor authentication (Using Google Authenticator from above).
  • It supports every platform that I use. The iOS support kind of sucks though. On Android you will want to use either the Dolphin or Firefox browser.
  • It contains a password generated so you don't have to think up good passwords yourself.

Make sure you have a backup of everything

This can't be repeated enough. Even though data is rarely lost from online services it does happen and worse an attacker might wipe an account once they are done with it just to wipe out their tracks (As happened in the Mat Honan case mentioned above).

Backupify is a great service that allows you to back up a lot of online services. For your computers I can recommend Crashplan which is very cheap, is easy to set up but still has tons of features for the advanced user. If you make a backup onto an external drive make sure that drive is not stored somewhere in your house since a fire or a robber might be able to get to both the original and the copy if they are stored in the same place.

Don't enable remote wipe of your laptop

One of the main reasons the Mat Honan hack turned so disastrous was that he had enabled remote wiping on his laptop and when a hacker compromised his iCloud account they could also wipe his laptop. Remote wipe is a feature that makes a lot of sense on a cell phone that most of us has lost at least a few by this point in our lives. Laptops are lost a lot more rarely and unless you have critically secret stuff on it I don't think the chance of someone being able to remote wipe it simply by getting into one of your cloud accounts is worth the benefit. If it is for you though, make sure you have that backup.

Keep your password recovery questions secret

A lot of services allow you to set up security questions that allow you to reset your password. Make sure that the answers to these questions are not available online.

For example your first school is probably not a good idea if you grew up in a small town like me since there aren't that many schools to choose from. Other bad examples are your mothers maiden name or what was your first car (You sure you didn't post a picture of it somewhere?).

Also don't post your exact address online. Knowing your address is a good place for someone who want to hack your accounts to start. It might help with both security questions and social engineering. Just don't do it.

Online banking

The state of security for online banking in the US is just atrocious compared to Sweden but there is at least one thing you can do to at least make it a little bit safer.

Many banks allow you to select your username and password to log into it. Make sure that both of these are secret and not related to any publicly known information about you. On Wells Fargo and Bank of America you can reset the password by knowing your ATM card number, PIN and online username. This means that if your username is for instance your name (Which is also printed on the card) and someone skims your ATM card they can also hack into your online account and potentially do a lot more damage.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Check out this video if you missed the landing on Mars last Sunday

This is a really cool video where animations and live recordings from NASA are showing the landing and some subsequent commentary from the people at NASA on this amazing achievement.

I am amazed at how little there has been in the news about this fantastic engineering achievement. To me this is probably the coolest thing that has been done since when we landed on the moon and I don't understand why everybody isn't talking about. Why do people care about the Olympic Games? They happen every 4 years!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I don't understand the Chick-fil-A kerfuffle

I don't understand the current upset about Chick-fil-A that is going on right now. First of all, the owners of Chick-fil-A have always been very upfront with their bigotry. If you don't believe me just check out Google News with the search "Chick fil A gay" before June this year and you will still find a bunch of hits detailing for instance how Chick-fil-A state "We Explicitly Do Not Like Same-Sex Couples" from January last year.

This is the reason that I have boycotted them ever since they got established down here is Southern California. And it is completely in your right if you agree with their bigoted ways to eat more there to support them. It's the way of capitalism and free enterprise and I am all for it.

What I don't understand though is how anybody can think that it is a good idea for the city of Chicago to not allow them to establish a restaurant simply because they disagree with the proprietors political or religious views. Given how crazy everybody in this country seems to be about free enterprise, how can a business be denied to operate just because their owners are idiots? That seems more like something that would happen in a country that practice state capitalism (For instance China or Russia).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Perhaps it is time to look over what you "Like" on Facebook

Time to go through all your "Likes" on Facebook and and unlike the things you are no longer comfortable with. Seems that Facebook has made a change to how it is using your "Likes". With this change Facebook will not only place posts from sources that you "like" in your own news feed, but it will now also add these posts in your friends news feed as well. And it is indicated that they are coming from you.

Are you OK with the posts from the right or left wing nut case you liked a few years ago show up in your boss or coworkers feeds? There is unfortunately currently nothing you can do about this feature except to go through all your likes and remove the ones you are not comfortable with.

For more information please see this post on Gizmodo.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Probably my last flight with United Airlines

Just had what I am guessing will be my last flight with United Airlines tonight. Now I've had worse experiences flying before but I can't really recall that I have ever had one where the airline in charge contributed so much to the whole experience of awfulness.

I was supposed to leave from San Francisco Airport at 7:37pm this evening. The flight started out being marked as about one hour late. That's OK delays happens, it does get tricky though since you are not allowed to land flights after 11pm at Santa Ana Airport so if you get too delayed you will be diverted to LAX. As our delay started getting closer to that deadline I started getting a bit nervous.

However United fixed this by switching a flight leaving in the gate next to ours leaving for LAX a few minutes before us so that we would make the deadline to land at Santa Ana. Great solution! Everybody boards the plane and we are good to go, only a little bit more than an hour late.

Here is where everything goes wrong. The brilliant people at United had forgot that there is one guy quite important to fly a plane. The pilot! There wasn't one that could fly our plane. In the end we ended up sitting on the plan waiting for a pilot to show up until after 11pm before we could start our by then flight to LAX. So not only did they delay the flight originally heading to LAX so that we could go, because they didn't realize that an airplane needs a pilot nobody got to go. Although I did see the LAX flight taxi off long before us, I guess they remembered to bring a pilot.

During our over 2 hours of waiting to take off we were offered a whole glass of water as refreshment. Not only that but there was also nothing to eat or drink even available for purchase. We did have the option to leave the plane and buy things in the terminal and we were assured that we would be let on board the flight again if we wanted to. However several people that heeded this advice unfortunately came back to discover that their seats on the flight had already been given to other passengers.

Also amazing to me was that nobody who was working at United had any information on what was going on. I also realized to my amazement that apparently on this flight the crew on the plane had absolutely no way of communicating with the ground crew so they did not know anything about what was going on. You would think a commercial airline would have some sort of radio or even telephone to talk to someone who knows what was going on. United also had no idea on such basic things as if the parking lot at Santa Ana would be open (Not an unreasonable question given that we would arrive over 2 hours after the airport had closed) or how we would be shuttled from LAX to Santa Ana. Nor did they have any interest in trying to help anybody out with actually trying to find out any information. Granted given that the crew didn't seem to have access to either a radio or a phone I can understand how that would be difficult.

In the end I got to Santa Ana roughly 4 hours late after the bus ride from LAX and got home at around 2am. Awesome since I have a meeting at 6am in the morning. My girlfriend has kept saying that United airlines suck (Something that becomes funnier given that she actually works for them right now) but I didn't think it could be this bad. Should teach me to listen to her in the future

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I guess I won't be going to Arizona anytime soon

Due to Arizona's new immigration laws H-1B workers (Which includes myself) are now advised to always keep their papers on them to avoid risk of detention.

For those who doesn't know the papers involved that you need to keep on you include, your passport and also your labor certification. A big letter sized paper that is both important and not in any way protected from wear and tear. All in all pretty hard to keep on your at all times for 3 years without destroying them in the process. How would you go running for instance?

I know the rule that in any argument where you invoke the name of Hitler you automatically lose the argument, but this is pretty scarily close to WW2 Germany isn't it? Land of the free indeed?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Really cool video of how the next Mars rover will land

Check out this awesome video from NASA about how the next rover Curiosity will land on Mars on August 5th. I hope it works and it is a glimpse at what you can do when you get a bunch of really smart people together and tell them to do something virtually impossible! And all of it sound to a thumping soundtrack.

How I saved over $70 per month on my phone bill while increasing service

Today I finally cancelled all of my AT&T service as I am switching to StraightTalk. By doing this switch I am still on the AT&T network. My phone bill went down from $114 to $42 per month and I now have true unlimited calling, texting and data with tethering (Before I only had unlimited data). Another feature with my new account is that, since it is prepaid, I can just stop paying it when I go home to Sweden for 6 weeks and then reactivate it when I get back saving even more money.

I've been increasingly frustrated with AT&T lately. First of all there is the whole issue with throttling unlimited data. I was also upset when I realized that they are effectively condoning theft of phones by refusing to block stolen phones on their network (My iPhone 4S was stolen after I had had it for less than a week).

StraightTalk is an MVNO which means that it is a cell phone operator without their own network. What makes them different than the other MVNO:s in the US is that they allow you to "bring your own device". The devices you can buy that are actually paired with the service are kind of crappy, but since I can buy an unlocked phone and use it on their service that isn't a problem. Granted a good unlocked phone usually costs around $700 instead of the $200 you pay on a normal carrier with a 2 year lock in, but given how much cheaper it is per month I can buy a new phone every 8 months and still come out spending less money on StraightTalk than I did on AT&T upgrading once every two years. The phone you get for $700 is also a much better phone than you would ever get buying it through your carrier since it doesn't have any of the restrictions and bloatware that the carriers always insist is put on the phone before they allow it (For instance free tethering is a standard feature on unlocked phones, something the carrier will usually charge you a lot of money per month for). I also never bought my phones through AT&T anyway except for the iPhone since I generally want to be able to use my phone with my Swedish SIM when I go home, so for me it is just a pure win.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How much water do you use?

Given that fresh water might be one of the most precious commodities we have soon as population growth continues. Check out this really cool site that shows you how much water is needed to make common things you use every day.

Can you imagine in your wildest dream that it takes more than 2000 liters (~500 gallons) of water to make one burger? How much water does it take to make a pair of jeans? Go to the site and find out!

Friday, June 15, 2012

What's wrong with US Politics: Part 5, Filibustering

One thing that is odd about current US politics is that they somehow have moved from needing a majority to make any sort of decisions to needing 60% to pass anything in either chamber in Congress. For those not that interested in politics this is because of something called Filibustering.

Filibustering used to mean that you need a 60% vote to stop somebody from talking in Congress and you can not vote while somebody is still holding the floor so anybody who felt extremely strongly about a subject he (Or she) could simply walk up to the podium and keep talking. For example Strom Thurmond talked for over 24 hours straight in an attempt to stop civil rights legislation in 1957.

This kind of Filibustering kind of makes some sense to me. Not only is it fairly strenuous but you will also look like a complete idiot standing on the floor of Congress reciting the dictionary or your favorite recipes or anything else you can think of to keep talking so it comes with a definite cost and you wouldn't do it unless you were really passionate about something.

These days the rules have changed so now someone just has to say that he is Filibustering and everybody goes home. So unfortunately both Democrats and Republicans have started doing this almost as a rule for everything which means that you now need a 60% Filibuster proof majority to get anything through Congress since doing so really doesn't come with any real cost like it did before.

The fix for this is easy. Just go back to the old system of actually needing to perform the Filibuster and stand up there talking like an idiot. I doubt it will happen though since same as everything I've suggest before it would make the life of the people who needs to pass it slightly harder.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Learning to sail in the Grenadines

I just recently went on a two week vacation/adventure to St. Lucia and the Grenadines during which I also learned how to sail a 40 feet Catamaran.

I went on this trip with my girlfriend Lisa DuMouchel (The whole thing was originally her idea) and also joining us was Omar El-Kikhia. The goal of the trip was to attend a one week long sailing course with Barefoot Offshore Sailing School in St. Vincent (The largest island in the Grenadine island group.

First of all the pictures from the trip is available on my Google+ account (All 655 of them). I'm sorry but you will need to sign up to Google+ to be able to see it (If you want to know why read this previous post explaining why it's a bad idea to keep your photos on Facebook).

We started the trip by spending 2 days in St. Lucia and just relaxing except for one day that we went zip lining in the jungle. After that we continued on a puddle jumper down to St. Vincent where we spent one night before we got on the boat which would be our home during the next week.

With us on the boat was also a couple we did not know before hand and our teacher. Before we got on the boat we also took our first written exam for the ASA-101 certification. After that our days were pretty similar in that we got up, had an hour or two of class and something to eat. Then we sailed for a couple of hours. After putting down anchor and having a refreshing swim (And perhaps a refreshing beverage) we had another hour or two of class and finally went out and had dinner or cooked on the boat. Because of our schedule we didn't have much time to do a lot of other activities like scuba diving or paddle boarding, but now that we can rent our own boat that will just have to be next time!

Some highlights of the trip was the snorkeling in the Tobago Cays, the breakfast on Petite St. Vincent and also the improvised barbecue also in the Tobago Cays. The last barbecue was interesting since it is a nature reserve so there are no houses there. You have to bring your own cutlery and drink and then you buy the food that some guys cook for you there. Also pretty much wherever you went you were greeted with magnificent vistas and views.

Another highlight was of course learning to sail and in the end for me and my friends it went great and we all got our planned certifications (ASA-101, ASA-103, ASA-104, ASA-114). The two people we didn't know before hand it didn't go that great for. In the end they managed to get one certification each, but I have to say that they simply didn't get it and I shudder at the thought of them actually taking a boat out by themselves because they would be a danger to both themselves and others if they did so (But fortunately they didn't get enough certifications to do so, so the oceans are safe for now). I also managed to completely avoid getting sea sick even without taking any medication, although some other people in our company were not so lucky.

If there is one thing to complain about it would be the general level of service that you got anywhere you went. People were not rude or not nice, they were. It is just that everything went so slow. Something that is sort of acceptable when you are on vacation but if not I would have gone ballistic at some point during these weeks. Overall though this has been one of the best vacations I've ever been on and I recommend anybody to do it.

Coming back we spent another 2 days on St Lucia at a working Cocoa plantation which was really relaxing except for the one night when our entire hotel room got invaded by ants (We in the end got a new room fortunately).

Next step is to rent a boat and sail around without a guide with some friends. Let me know if you are interested in joining me! It's going to be a blast.

How I digitized my life

As a follow up to the previous post explaining why it's a good idea to digitize your life I figured I would follow that up with how I've digitized my life.
  • Mail - I just use Google Mail. It's simply the best solution out there as far as I can tell. I now have over 100k emails archived and I can search all of it in the blink of an eye. You just can beat it. Also if you signed up for extra storage before they introduced Google Drive they provided you with 20GB of storage that is shared over all the Google services (Google Drive, Picasa, Google+, Mail, Docs etc...)for $5 a year. As long as you are grand fathered in it seems that you get to keep that price which is quite simply unbeatable.
  • Photos - I use Google+ and Picasa. These are basically just two different interfaces to the same underlying service. First of all since Google already knows everything about me already since they have all my mails I don't think them having my photos will reveal much more about me. It allows me to download full resolution versions of the photos and it also allows you easy access to download the entire blob of all your photos as an archive should I ever want to leave. Finally with the combination of the two online interfaces, the Android Google+ app and the desktop Picasa application any kind of administration of my thousands of photos are always a snap. Finally for the love of god get a phone with a decent camera if you use your phone camera a lot!
  • Computer Backups - As I mentioned in my preivous post I use Crashplan. They are very cheap, have a Linux, OSX & Windows clients and provides unlimited storage (I currently back up around 10TB of storage to them). They also provide backup sets with different priorities so that your important stuff is always up to date if somehow it gets a bit behind on the backup.
  • Password Management - I use Lastpass. It is a really nice solution that also integrates right into the browser even on Android. It is also completely "trust no one" where no unencrypted data ever leaves your system (Lastpass themselves are not able to look at your data at any point during them providing you their service). It's free except for when you want to use it on mobile devices and then I think they charge something like $12 per year. If you are interested in a technical deep dive into how Lastpass works check out this Security Now episode.
  • Books - This is a tricky one because no matter what you chose you will be locked into one vendor and switching to another one will most likely mean that you will no longer have access to your old books. I decided to go with the Amazon Kindle. The reason being that first of all they are really good at being available on any conceivable platform. Doesn't matter if it is PC, Android, iOS, Metro or whatever else you can think of. Chances are there is a Kindle application for it. Their app is also really good on any platform and Amazon seems unlikely to go away anytime soon. They also seem to have the largest catalog of books compared to any of their competitors from what I've seen. Finally their dedicated hardware is dirt cheap and really, really good!
  • International Calling - I use either Google Voice or Skype. Skype I use mainly for it's video calling which is really neat. Google Voice though is a really cool service that integrates seamlessly into your Android phone and provides you free texting to any US phone number and also ridiculously cheap international calling (Way cheaper than Skype when calling real numbers).
  • Address Book I use the one provided by Google. It integrates nicely with GMail, Android & Google Voice. It also works fine with iOS devices for those so inclined.
  • Cloud Storage I use Google Drive. They have all the features I need and with the $5/year for 25GB deal I have nobody will be able to touch them on price. Also this service haven't suffered any of the embarrassing security issues that Dropbox have been plagued with.
  • Blogging - I use Blogger for blogging. It's a nice platform that is still actively developed and since I use Google for my photos it integrates nicely with Blogger. I also find it a lot easier to use than for instance WordPress.
  • Online Presence - I use to catalog all the services that I use and which you can get hold of me on.
  • Music, TV & Movies - I've actually rolled my own. It is based on XBMC and Google Jukebox and has been an ongoing project that I first started working on all the way back in 1995. The one feature that this system has that no other service I have seen has is a unique listening history analysis that is used to generate random play lists based on music that I am currently in to. That is what is used to generate my monthly media charts. It all runs off of a server that I have that runs dual redundancy RAID-6 and for the really important stuff runs mirroring on top of that.
  • Mobile Music - Here I have also rolled my own. Currently I only support Android since that is what I use. It supports both streaming and offline playing with delayed syncing of listening history to my home system and also allows me to stream or play offline all my podcasts, lectures and audio books. I currently don't support streaming my TV & movies, but I am plan on adding that soon.
  • Music Recommendations - I use Last.FM. I have set up my own music system to "scrobble" to Last.FM so that it will give me recommendations on new music based on what I am currently listening to on my own music system. Every once in a while I also listen to Pandora, but it is getting less and less as I am moving over to Last.FM.
  • News Reading - I use Google Reader. This is just a basic RSS reader, but it has a ready nice interface and it's basically the only way I currently read stuff online. I hardly never just open a website and browse it's contents unless I am looking for something specific anymore.
  • Project Management - For my private projects I use Pivotal Tracker. It's an awesome service in general and as long as there is only one collaborator it is free.
  • Revision handling - For source code I use Git in combination with BitBucket. I recently upgraded to this from Subversion and it is so much better, even if in my case I don't have a distributed environment and only have one contributor to my projects.
  • Service Backups - I need these since I don't trust any of the cloud services that I use (Not because they are bad, just because I am paranoid). I have backups of all my important services using Backupify except for Lastpass and Google Drive. They had some problems when I got started with the sheer size of my GMail account, but the problems seem to have been worked out now. Depending on the size of what you want backed up they are either free or relatively cheap.
  • Health & Fitness - First off I have a WiFi enabled Withings Body Scale that automatically graphs your weight and body fat on a web page as you weigh yourself on it. It also has ton of apps to show it (My TV even has an app that can show it). I then use Endomondo to most of my exercise although I am evaluating possibly switching over to RunKeeper. Both services have really nice smart phone apps and they also both integrate with my scale so you can graph your weight and exercise in the same chart. I've also considered using a Bodybugg. It seems really cool but I don't want to sit down and start counting the calories in everything I eat (I also don't really care for having another monthly fee).
  • Personal Finances - I use Mint which is a really nice and easy to use service that allows you to see how much money you are spending and earning and even though I have quite complicated finances I haven't found a single US financial institution that I use that they don't support. It also allows you to set up a budget and has tons of other features that I am not using. Even better the service is completely free. Another nice site is Credit Karma that will give you your credit score as often as you like for free. Also the site Quizzle will give you your complete credit report twice a year for free with no credit card required. Finally I do my taxes using the online version of TurboTax.
  • Online Automation - Something that is becoming more important as there are more and more services you might want to have a presence on for instance Google+, Facebook and Twitter. In my case whenever I post something on my blog I want it to show up everywhere. For this I use the really cool site IFTTT which stands for If This Then That. It's just a simple way of setting up triggers and actions that should happen when they are triggered.

One common thread you might notice is how I have basically signed my life away to Google. This is true, but even if all of Google went down tomorrow due to my service backup I would still keep all of my data even if it would be a serious pain in the ass trying to set everything back up again. The key is that there should never be a single point of failure that can cause any loss of data except for the very recent stuff not yet duplicated.

Also you might notice that Facebook is not in the list for anything. I obviously use Facebook, but because of their tendency to try their best to lock you and your data in I don't really trust it with anything really important. I just don't trust that the data will be there in 20 years from now and they don't provide me with any easy functionality for getting the raw data out of it in case I would need to at some point. Photo's being a perfect example where as far as I know there is no way to get the photo back in the original resolution at all after being posted even for the person who posted the photo.

Also one thing that is important is that you actively use your services so that if something happens to a service you try to move to a new service as fast as possible. Usually there is some sort of migration solution available if a service is sunset, but the longer you wait the less likely it is that this is still available and working if you don't jump on it as soon as possible.

Digitizing your life to protect the things you treasure

Digitizing your life can actually help you protect the things in your life you think is important. I've often found myself to be a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to "going digital". Doesn't really matter in what way you mean this. For music I went digital around 1995, photography 1998, movies around 2000, TV around 2003 and finally books around 2007. I also started archiving all the emails I sent in 1998 and finally all the emails I receive in 2009. There are several advantages to having the things in your life that are important in digital form compared to keeping a book shelf with CD:s, DVD:s, photo albums.

First of all I always have access to everything important wherever I am. I can look at all the photos I've ever taken whenever I want to. Listen to all my music, have access to tons of books I've purchased, look up any correspondence I've had. All I need is my phone and some cell phone coverage. Especially for books this is extremely nice since bringing a couple of books when you travel can fill up your carry on pretty fast.

Assuming you take proper precautions there is no single point of failure that can rob you of your memories. If you have physical items it is hard and expensive to ensure you have two copies of everything and it takes a lot of space to store it. In digital form having backups is virtually free these days. Currently few things less than the entire fall of civilization as we know it would cause me to lose any of my stuff while anything physical I have is in constant danger of even just a simple robbery, earthquake, forest fire or flooding. I use Crashplan to make a full backup of everything I have in digital form that is important. It is very affordable and has a lot of really neat features. I also recommend using some sort of RAID if possible on any kind of server you use (I use RAID6 with dual redundancy). You should probably if possible try to avoid using single external drives to store important stuff since the way these drives are usually moved around seem to cause them to fail more often than regular drives.

Most physical items except for mail, photo albums and books need some sort of technology to play it and lets face it, that hardware is not going to be around forever. Does anybody even have a cassette tape player, VCR or vinyl record player? I don't, and I lost a lot of both music, movies and TV shows with their passing. That said the same problem exists with going digital though unless you take precautions. For instance anything proprietary will most likely not be around in the long run. I seriously doubt that you will be able to play anything you buy today on iTunes in 50 years as an example. However if you keep to open formats or make sure you strip away any DRM from anything you buy you should probably be fine. As long as there is an open source implementation to play the format you can be pretty sure it will still be playable while there is anybody still using it. As an example you can still play SID music (Commodore 64 game soundtracks), I doubt anybody has used that format in the last 20 years.

If you use any internet services (Photos is a good example of where this makes a lot of sense) you definitely have a problem of obsolescence there too but you can mitigate this danger by making sure that you first of all choose a service that allows you to easily export all your data in case you wish to move it. Also make sure you have a backup of your data. As an example I use Google+/Picasa to do all my photos and then use Backupify to back them up in case something goes wrong. A service that you absolutely should not use to handle your photos is Facebook. With this service there is no way to get your photos back in original size after you have posted it. Also you have their questionable track record on privacy to consider.