Windows 8 is Terrible

I take it back. I used to say that Windows 8 wasn't that bad, you just have to get used to it. Sure it's a bit different, but once you start using it, you'll start to figure out what the thinking was.

I was wrong. At that time I had never "really" used Windows 8. I'd used it for very simple things, helping out people in the office, setting up Office, installing apps, getting the printer working, setting up a second monitor, that sort of thing.

Then my friend Shaun got himself a new computer, and I got "invited" over to help him with a few things. I got to sit and use Windows 8 as a user for the first time and thought I'd give a few thoughts.

First of all, I know this stuff. I've been using computers since 1992, and have used Windows from version 3.0 onward. I've used Mac, Linux, Windows, BeOS, and other systems that don't exist anymore. I live and breath technology, and while in the last couple of years I've migrated myself into a Apple environment (laptop, desktop, phone, tablet), I still play with new technology and feel I'm still pretty much "with it".

I also don't blame Windows for the horrible crap inflicted on the computer itself. It was a $399 Future Shop special, loaded up with all sorts of crapware, and with not the greatest hardware. Not Windows fault at all.

I'll do my best to avoid a plain old "just get a Mac" argument. Macs aren't for everyone, both budget wise and aesthetically, and I tend to disbelieve anyone who speaks in absolutes (like "macs are best").

My Thoughts

  • The desktop colour scheme is terrible. It's essentially white on white, meaning you can't easily see which is one window or another when they overlap. I know that the desktop is the realm of the super-user these days, but seriously, put back a bit of drop shadow or at least make the non-foreground window have a different colour.
  • The complete and total bifurcation of the OS is approaching the insane. There are two separate control panels, one in the "Metro" environment, one in the desktop environment. Both do different things, but there's not a hugely clear reasoning. For example if you want to change your desktop font and size, you need to do that in two separate places.
  • Updating is completely insane and understandably confusion to the non-native user. Here goes my best attempt to explain what I learned:
    The Windows Store app had updates for apps, but only the ones that you bought through the windows store. For system updates, you have to do those in the desktop version of windows update, which you get to through the easily remembered sequence of Win-x -> system -> updates (I think). This will get you all the system updates needed. Except Windows 8.1, which needs to be gotten from the Windows Store, but only after the system updates have been done in the Windows Update app.

    Makes Sense right?

  • I at first thought that I could just find the Windows 8.1 update in the store, so I wanted to search for it. You'd think that's how it would work, go into the Windows Store app, click on a search field (just like it is in the Mac App Store app) and search. Oh wait, there's not a search field, or button. To search the Windows Store, you have to go to the main system search, put in your search term, scroll down a stupid long list of other places to search (by default it searches your system) until you see "store", click on that to select it, and then it'll search through the windows store. W. T. F.
  • I found the same searching problems when I tried to install Microsoft Security Essentials (to replace the aforementioned terrible crapware of Mcafe or whatever was installed by default). You'd think that when you click on the link from the site to install it (before I realized it was built in already), or in fact any Windows Store app link, it'd jump you right to the app. On the mac you click on a link that looks something like "itunes.com/app/someapp/12345" it will jump you into the app store with that app selected, or a "not found" if it's a bad link. The Windows Store links I clicked on just seemed to go to the main page of the store. I had no idea if the link was bad, the app was gone, or if the Store didn't respect the links.

In its defence, Windows 8 now does have the ability to mount an ISO (CD or DVD disk image) built right into the OS, instead of having to deal with 3rd party Virtual CD drivers like I had to previously. So... yay.

So those are my impressions of using Windows 8 for the first time to do something, for what it's worth. Maybe after using it for a while it'd all make way more sense. Maybe.

Some days it’s a bad idea to ignore (or rather, just not check) email. And ignore weird stuff when you see it. Turns out for two days straight my server has been spewing out spam, after a user on the server had their password compromised. The server is a Ubuntu server with Postfix as the underlying mail transport.

The spam was in the form of a from address of xxx@domain.com, where xxx was a random string. The server doesn’t allow relaying, so to send mail from domain.com (hosted on my server) to random other domains (yahoo, gmail, etc) they’d have to be sending it as a user on my system.

To temporarily fix things, all the email that was in the queue got put on hold.

# postsuper -h ALL

This puts the mail on the back burner until you figure out what to do. The server won’t try to deliver it at all until you “un-hold” it. This had to be done a couple of times before I figured out where the spam was coming from. Thing is, what to do with 600,000+ emails sitting in the hold queue?

First thing was to figure out where the mail was coming from. I looked through the logs and it seemed like all the spam mail seemed to be sent through the same user.

Oct 27 10:01:14 amarok postfix/smtpd[25071]: C3E4FB1CEA3: client=unknown[46.253.82.98], sasl_method=LOGIN, sasl_username=bob

Ok, so looks like ‘bob’ got his email login compromised. Ok, now at least there’s a starting point. A bit of digging through the logs I found about where the spam started, and confirmed that by checking where the user was logging in from. Unless he could jump from Vancouver to Bulgaria in a minute, and then decided to send mail every second, it was pretty easy to figure it out.

Ok, so what now?

Next step, get a list of the IPs that the user was logging in from sorted and uniqued so I had each of the IPs used to spam.

# grep sasl_username=bob /var/log/mail.log | sort -u > iplist.txt

Now I tried a few different things to figure out if the IPs were real or not. I figure if they came from the Vancouver area they were probably legit, but if they were from Asia, Russia, or a host of other countries they were probably not valid. I used a few different methods to try to do an automated lookup of where the IPs were from, but the reverse lookup tools seem to be inconsistent at best for automated lookups.

In the end I basically used a network tool to do a lookup like this: http://networktools.nl/whois/5.57.75.82 where the IP I looked up sometimes was just the first number, i.e.: http://networktools.nl/whois/175.0.0.0. Honestly after a while I just deleted the IPs I knew were commonly used by Rogers and Shaw, and then deleted everything else:

 root@server:/var/log# grep -wFf /root/iplist.txt m.log | cut -f 6 -d ' ' | cut -f 1 -d ':' | postsuper -d -

This greps for sources in iplist.txt, in m.log (which was a combination of mail.log mail.log.1 and mail.log.2 (the three days of log files I knew had relevant data). Any resulting log file messages are cut up until just the mail queue ID was left, and then that is piped into postsuper which deletes it.

After a few of those I was down to 5,000 messages in the queue, down from 600,000. Not bad. Still a few to deal with though.

# mailq | grep domain.com | awk '{ print $7 }' | sort -u

Now that’s a list of all the email addresses in the queue that are “bad” and need to be deleted. So using a great little tool for deleting postfix messages by to or from address I called pfdel, I did this to now run each of those bad emails through it and delete those messages from the queue:

# for i in `mailq | grep domain.com | awk '{ print $7 }' | sort -u` ; do pfdel.pl $i ; done

This took me down to 38 messages in the hold queue, which were easily looked at to see if they were legit (hint: if it was coming from a .ru or .br address, or a spammy looking domain, it got nuked).

So that’s it, short, sweet, and not the way I wanted to spend my Sunday night. Now dealing with removing my server from all the blacklists, that’s another issue… Ugh :(

RIP Corny :(

On Thursday, my friend, and cat, since 1997 passed away.  He was sick the day before and Andrea took him into the vet, and we were told he needed some fluids and antibiotics, but the issue was a fixable one, not a "he's old and you're just prolonging the inevidble" situation.  We left him there but there were complications at the vet's office, and she called me to tell me he had passed away just as I was telling a model (I was out for a shoot in Abbotsford) about how he was old and I was prepared for what might happen, but was happy that he'd be with me a while longer.  Ah well, such is life.  16 years is a long time for a cat I think, and I was happy to have him by my side since before I was out of University when I got him from Pam as a tiny kitten.  The first post I could find was a while into his stay, but not that long since. The very first mention is July 1997, before I got him when the litter of kittens was still too small to come home.

Anyway, here's the last couple of pictures I have of the old man, doing what he does best, cuddling with his people.

Corny and Andreacorny and rob

And a couple from when he was a baby.

king rd apartment - corny 10.jpgking rd apartment - corny 3.jpgHe was my first "real" cat and was with me for almost as many years as he wasn't.  I miss him but am happy for the time I had with him cuddling on the couch or sleeping on my shoulder at night and purring.

On Facebook News Feed Censorship

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how Facebook is repressing my posts, people aren’t seeing them, OMG Facebook is censoring my news.

Good I say.

Here’s the thing, if you’re on Facebook you’ve probably “liked” a lot of things, from your favourite TV show, to your friends pictures, to your local community library. All those people and things have updates and they all want your attention. Chances are you don’t want to see them.

Now I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that Facebook isn’t evil, but they are (with some notable exceptions) doing what’s best for the users and censoring the news feed to show you things that you are interested in[1].

Chances are that the things you are interested in on Facebook are things like your friends announcing their baby, your mom posting a picture of her new cat, your college friends’ updates, and that sort of thing, not Drobo posting a new blog post about why their RAID technology is the best, the photographer that you follow posting a new image to his portfolio, or a website announcing a new contest (“like us and follow us on twitter to enter!”). The thing is, everyone feels like their posts are important, especially those companies, who would love to have you see everything they post. These are (in general) the ones that are complaining that “Facebook is censoring me, make sure you click our page and select ‘add to interests’”.

If you’re friends or have liked with more than a few people on Facebook, seeing everything on the news stream is going to be overwhelming, and you’ll scroll down three or four pages just to see the last hours updates, which would make the Facebook experience tiring to say the least. Facebook is very smart about retaining engagement with users, and know this, so they have sophisticated algorithms (or at least I assume they do) that let them track what gets your attention and what you do see and engage with, and show you more of that and less of the contest to win a new DSLR (“Just like the page and share this post to enter”).

The thing is it seems that most of the people up in arms about this are companies and journalists, beating the drum that their posts and publications posts aren’t being seen. I have yet to hear a user or friend actually complain about this, unless they’re just parroting back a post about it.

So I say good for Facebook for keeping my news stream (mostly) clean of posts, and good on them for taking money from people who aren’t engaging enough with people to get “real” attention and exchange it for giving them more visibility (even if it is really annoying as the user to see the promoted posts popping up).

Recently the big new Facebook news is the revamped news feed which actually does go to some extents to “fix” the “censorship” issue. Part of the new design is to let you see everything in order (i.e.: no more missed items, but you see everything) as well as separate pages for friends only, companies only, etc.

[1] The exception here is of course the sponsored posts, ads, “8 of your friends like allstate”, and so on that are obvious marketing and ads jammed into your feed.

My Pebble Smart Watch Review

There are many Pebble Smart Watch reviews, all similar, all unique.

This is mine.

I heard about the Pebble Watch on Kickstarter the day that it made it’s goal, and even though I didn’t write about it, I did back it immediately. I got back into wearing a watch a couple of years ago with a gift from my grandmother, but the watch strap has been slowly deteriorating, so it felt like a good excuse to replace it.

The Pebble team originally planned an October 2012 release, but as time moved on, it became more obvious that they weren’t going to make it. Instead of promising another release date, and potentially breaking it, they did the smart thing and said nothing until they knew a schedule that would work. They announced that shipping would start January 23. Long story short, mine finally arrived today, after an extended stay in Vancouver customs and one false start.

Pebble Shipping

The “out of box” experience is good, the shipping box is unique, fits the watch well, and there was no shifting of the watch. There was no documentation inside, no quick start guide, but I suppose if you’re the sort of person who guys a Smartwatch off of the internet via Kickstarter, you can figure stuff out yourself. The watch is smaller than I thought it would be, but still not “tiny”. Definitely not a downside.

Pebble in Package

The screen is just the right size I think, or pretty close to it. The wrist strap is less “plastic-y” than I thought. Seeing the reviews didn’t prepare me for the soft plastic that it is made out of. Not low quality as far as I can tell (not being a plastics expert), and pleasant against the wrist.

Watch build quality is good, but not perfect. The seams aren’t perfect, and there is a bit of odd distortion on the e-ink display that others have noted. Not a big deal though.

The software is simple and easy to understand. There are some bugs (being able to re-order downloaded watch faces, some backlight oddness, etc), but they are all (potentially) easily fixable with software updates. Some software updates to the watch has already been made to fix things like notification display and backlight control. The ‘flick your wrist to turn on the back light’ is a nifty feature as well.

I’m not a BlueTooth borg person, so I’m not used to having my phone tethered to BlueTooth. I was a bit worried that the battery would die sooner than normal, but my iPhone 5’s battery has only seemed to wind down a bit faster than normal (maybe 5-10% faster?) but it’s hard to tell as usage is pretty much dependant on the user. It’ll take a few more days of use to see.

IMG_2662.jpg

Right now the watch is a bit plain. On the iPhone it can:

  • show the time, with different watch faces that can be used.
  • control the music on your smartphone
  • display some notifications for SMSs, calendar events, incoming phone calls, and emails (android is less restricted by Apple’s draconian rules about what you can and can’t get notifications for, and lets you have much finer grained control of what notifications (and you get more of them))

… and that’s about it. No, not buyers remorse, but you have to remember that this is, in essence, just a watch with a couple of extra bits, not a magic do-everything smart watch (yet). That said, the ability to see what my phone is trying to tell me without pulling it out of my pocket is pretty awesome. Is the text ignorable? What thing is it that I’m about to be late for? Etc.

So conclusions…

Is it cool? Yes. Is it worth the (now) $150 cost? Probably, but it’s definitely something for people with a bit of disposable income. Do I love it? Hell yea :)

Scrambled EggsHad a nice time last night with the now-sort-of-annual New Years Eve party.  It's actually more of a "we are old and lazy and don't want to go out so why don't people just come to our house" party if I was to be honest.  Only 3 people showed up, but there was still lots of great snacks (and actual real food that A made), lots of drink (not irresponsibly too much of course), and fun.  

Among the fun was swapping computer hardware, which, even a bit tipsy, is possible.  A's computer died a couple of weeks ago (dead hard drive) so we got her another one (after 5 years that's not bad).  I got a gift card for NCIX so I got myself a(nother) SSD drive, and then last night swapped the hard drive out of my laptop, put the new SSD in, and put my old drive into her old computer.  A few (amazingly fun) hours of installing Windows Vista, and voilà, usable laptop, and a now super-speedy drive for me.

Slept in late, woke up feeling... mostly alive, got up, made eggs, and am now watching Lord of the Rings (the original trilogy I heard it referred to a couple of days ago, awesome), while A and Shaun play Age of Mythology (she's kicking his ass.... again).

Merry 2013 everyone!

First Snow 2012

Not sure yet if it's an indication of the upcoming end of the world this friday, but it is snow in the Fraser Valley.

snow-2012.png
snow-2012-2.png
Had the option of a snow day from work yesterday, but succumbed to the lure of a fancy coffee for those who weren't wimps.  Of course it's the Fraser Valley so the snow was pretty much all gone by the time I got home.  This morning I woke up to the above though, but it's not sticking (though it's still coming down nicely).

Another "Not A Chance" Wishlist

First of all, no one reads this blog anymore, and secondly, it’s my birthday soon, and with Christmas coming up I figure if I don’t get this out of my head and somewhere else, how would the elves know what to get me? So here’s my 2012 birthday/Christmas wish list

Dream camera setup

  • Nikon D800 (but magically not as heavy)
  • 24-70mm/2.8
  • 70-200mm/2.8 (ditto about being not as heavy for the big lenses too)
  • 85mm/1.4 prime lens
  • Battery grip

New laptop

  • 15” MacBook Pro, retina, fully maxed out memory and SSD drives

New iMac

  • 27”, new super thin model, fully maxed out memory and hard drive + SSD combination (in fusion drive configuration of course)
  • Why not throw in a second 27” cinema display just for fun.

Miscellaneous gadgets

  • Full on color managed workflow setup from X-Rite
  • Tripod from Really Right Stuff or Manfroto, the perfect one of course, a combination of tough and lightweight and heavy duty
  • Epson 3880 large format printer
  • Infinite supply of ink and a selection of fine art paper to go with said printer (very useful for printing out all my cat pictures)

New car (this is a dream list right?)

  • Anything that James Bond has driven (almost). DB5 from the latest movie… I’m looking at you.

Other

  • World peace
  • A fantastic dinner at mom and dad’s
  • Hugs from my wife and abuse from my cats

From the list above I am pretty sure about the last two items, the rest, well, maybe I’ll be used to generate good publicity for some rich and famous person looking to give someone the Christmas of their dreams out of the goodness of their heart.

6 years ago I wrote that the future was now and was incredible, that you could get raw images from a Martian lander on an FTP site minutes after that were transmitted…. from another planet.

Curiosity Parachute Landing Spotted by NASA Orbiter [detail]

Today it’s different, you can see images tweeted from the @MarsCuriosity twitter account minutes or seconds after they’re sent, and something like 65,000 people watched the live stream of the control room as they waited for the lander to touch down and released barely a day later is video of the actual decent. How’s that for amazing.

I remember something very clearly from when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old at a boy scout jamboree on Vancouver Island. A group of kids were assigned jobs as if we were with NASA, one was flight commander, another mission specialist this and that… The leader looked at us and said “it will be your generation that puts a man in mars.”. No pressure. Of course at the time I thought “hogwash” (or possibly “duh, of course”), but thought nothing of it. I guess I haven’t done much with my life for this, but looking at the people in the control room, well, they were all looking from their 30s to last 40s, so maybe us kids did listen.

Ironically as I re-read this now I have actually looked up the entry that I thought about, I see that I recounted almost exactly the same story as above back in 2006. Oh how predicable I’ve become. I’ll bet when I write this again in a few years when man is finally on the surface of mars I’ll tell the same story once more.

I’m still waiting for my flying car.