Friday, December 21, 2012

Update: A billion views.



Well, it happened. Since becoming the most viewed video ever over Thanksgiving, Gangnam Style gathered 200 million views in under a month to become the first Youtube video ever with more than a billion views. Man. Remember when a million views was a lot?

Oh, and the bonus is that a couple weeks ago, some people started passing around a supposed Nostradamus prediction that could be interpreted as saying the world will end when Gangnam Style gets a billion views. The prophesy included hints at Korea, the horse dance, and the nine zeros in 1 billion. And when I saw that, I realized that the video was on track to a billion views right around Dec 21st, which was only too perfect. And now it did happen on the 21st! Right at noon. Extra bonus Apocalypse points.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fake Morgan Freeman turns out to have the sanest comment on the shooting

This has been making the rounds on Facebook, misattributed to Morgan Freeman (because nothing on Facebook can occur without some misinformation propagated by the gullible). Turns out it comes from some Facebook user named Mark, but it's just as sensible a comment on this whole circus.

"You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here's why.
It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single victim of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.
CNN's article says that if the body count "holds up", this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer's face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer's identity? None that I've seen yet. Because they don't sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you've just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.
You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Best argument for Google ever



You can guess which one's Google.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finally. Netflix on Linux.


A recent post at the "OMG! Ubuntu!" blog broke the news that there is finally a working, straightforward way to watch Netflix on Linux. Skip to installation instructions below or read on for the full story. Oh, and here's a screenshot if you're still incredulous:


For those not so familiar with the story, here's the background. These days you can do almost everything you need to on Linux. But the one gaping hole for those of us who've switched to Linux full-time has been Netflix. The streaming video on netflix.com requires Microsoft Silverlight (apparently they need its DRM capabilities), and, unsurprisingly, Silverlight is not available on Linux. Last I heard, it wouldn't even run properly in WINE, the Windows emulation/compatibility layer people often use to run Windows apps on Linux. So the only standard way to watch Netflix, and the way I've been using, is to install an entire copy of Windows in a virtual machine. This is pretty clunky and slow, at best. In order to watch Netflix I'd have to start up my virtual machine, a process about as slow as booting a real computer, and often close Firefox to get the 2GB of free RAM it requires.

So naturally there have been pleas for years to get Netflix to finally support Linux. After all, they work on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android already. There have even been a number of false starts, like last year when they announced they would be supporting Chrome OS, which is a version of Linux. It turns out that even though they produced a Chrome plugin that worked on Chrome OS's Linux, no one could get it to work reliably, even moving the plugin files and executables to the proper locations in Chrome installed on a regular Linux OS.

tl;dr: We've been stuck with virtual machines for years.

But apparently two developers, Erich Hoover and David Andrews have put together a well-functioning solution using Firefox and Silverlight installed in a bundled (and improved?) version of WINE. I just watched an entire episode of Archer without so much as a blip of buffering, and this is on a Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz machine with 4GB RAM (with Firefox open!). The developers claim to have even gotten it running on a netbook. One disclaimer of note: this works on Ubuntu running Unity, but I'm not sure if it's supported outside that configuration. So, without further ado:

Here's how to install it on Ubuntu

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ehoover/compholio
$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install netflix-desktop

That's it. They've bundled it all into one package in their repository. It installs WINE, Silverlight, and Firefox (the Windows version) automatically. When you first start it up (search "Netflix" in Unity) WINE will do some configuration (say yes to the installation prompts) and the Netflix login page will pop open. (Important note: it's just Firefox full-screen, so hit F11 to exit full-screen mode.)

Further instructions and troubleshooting in the developers' post:
PPA for Netflix Desktop App - iheartubuntu

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The new most viewed video on Youtube


Well, it happened. Gangnam Style is now the most viewed video on Youtube, having just passed Justin Bieber's "Baby" at over 800 million views. And I have to say, I welcome this turn of events.

It's hard to explain, but my attitude is similar to when I decided to embrace the popularity of Lady Gaga and LMFAO. That attitude is essentially, "Well hey, at least they're making pop music interesting. So why not?" And, as you move from Lady Gaga to LMFAO, and now Gangnam Style, it shows the mainstream's increasing embrace of the ridiculousness and wtf nature of the internet that I'm so fond of. So in celebration, let's stop worrying about things making sense and enjoy one more round of that Korean pop maniac:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Totally off-the-cuff second term prediction


Apologies for the political post. I'm not actually taking any sides here, and I hope it won't turn anyone off, regardless of political persuasion. I just wanted to record a prediction on my mind so I can check it later. Anyway. Here's what I see happening:

So when did we last see a president facing heavy, ideologically-incensed opposition nevertheless re-elected by a slim margin? Don't have to think back too far. Yep, I'm talking about 2004. Now, the interesting thing about 2004 is that, looking at Bush's approval ratings, that's just about the last time he could've eked out a re-election:

Bush approval ratings over both terms

And despite Obama's similarly unidirectional trend in approval ratings, he seems to have just pulled off a similar feat. But I don't see any reason to believe his trend is going to reverse. So, reasoning by analogy, I'm going to put in a prediction of a similar second-term implosion for Obama. Now, where did that take us last time? Well, I suppose it brought a landslide victory for a candidate further to the left than anyone would have predicted possible. So I guess I have to assume a similar result in 2016.

I think this scenario fits with the ideas we're hearing at the moment about the Republican party. Yes, many Republicans believe Romney's mistake this year was being too far right and alienating moderates. The primaries were a circus that pushed everyone to the far right, and maybe Romney didn't pivot back to the center fast enough. But at the same time, I hear conservatives who are convinced Romney's problem was being too moderate and milquetoast. I don't see how these two movements could actually resolve in the next four years and give them a new, viable direction. But! If Obama really does undergo a Bush-level-implosion in his second term, the Republicans could easily nominate someone as far to the right as half their primary candidates this time and win. I'm not trying to lock in Bachmann/Gohmert in 2016, but I think we could see someone quite a bit less moderate than Romney.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The opposite of graceful degradation



This is Coursera. (No, I'm not directly linking. They've been a bad boy.) "Why are you showing their webpage before it loads?" you might be thinking. Well, to me, this is their webpage. Because I was viewing it with Javascript disabled. And if you do that, this is all you ever see.

That's right. The entirety of their site depends on Javascript. You don't just see a normal webpage but maybe the pop-up calendar doesn't work, or the navigation bar is a bit wonky. No, it's not even like Gawker circa 2011 where you still see some UI elements but everything else fails to load. Here, you simply see nothing.

You'd expect a modern, hip company like Coursera might take heed of the ideas like graceful degradation and progressive enhancement that have been all the rage lately. The point is, it's fine to have extra features provided by Javascript or the latest HTML5 specs. But if those features don't work for your visitor, you should have the more basic functionality there and operational. The particular reason the idea has been popular recently is the explosion in mobile devices, many of which are limited in their form factors and supported technologies. It's also a good idea for accessibility and even Google juice. But no, Coursera is turning away all those less-able devices and people at the door.

Postscript: Yes, I can just turn Javascript on. And I probably will. But I am definitely not turning it on for every site I happen to run into. Whether out of security concerns (and oh, there are many) or because they just don't want all that crap bogging down their browsing, disabling Javascript is a legitimate choice many people make. And if I run into a site like Coursera, half the time I'll just leave and never come back.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Nothing more dismaying than an election year!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Tech Bubble" vs. "Social Bubble"



In honor of the recent merger of Google Trends with Google Insights for Search, I thought I'd note an interesting recent trend that confirms one in my own head. People used to refer to the "Bubble 2.0" as the "tech bubble" exclusively, but now they refer to it as the "social bubble" just as much. That evolution mirrors my own, where I've come to understand that the current tech bubble is almost entirely centered on social media hysteria.

More info: I've written about bubble stuff a couple times, though you should probably just skip those and go directly to the really informative video I linked. It's a really good, informative, non-hysterical analysis of the nature and evolution of the bubble.

Oh, and P.P.S., in case you haven't heard, it's already popped. But that's no surprise, is it? This was all pretty silly in the first place. Maybe now I'll stop seeing things like my local coffee shop begging for me to like it on Facebook.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cybersecurity: not just protecting Grandma's bank account anymore

(source: PC Magazine)

So reportedly, PNC Bank's website just got hit by a Muslim hacktivist group (don't worry, it was just a DDoS). It's supposedly another front in the Youtubes Wars of 2012. But, like most of these shenanigans, people suspect it to be just a tool for political aims. Specifically, some government people think it's just a cover for Iran's burgeoning hacker corps.

The point is, for years we've been hearing people try to use "cyberterrorism" as another way to scare people into securing their networks. But it's now finally happening.

So before, security experts were saddled with warning about your credit card number getting sent to Russia as their most realistic argument. And the non-security person could counter with "Well my bank will just reverse the charges, so why is it worth running a hardened Arch Linux system just to look at cat pictures?" Now, hopefully, we're seeing that it's not just about weighing the hassle of your own (or your customers') info getting out. It's a matter of national security. So finally, people: get your shit together!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Howling Fat Men of the Coen Brothers



Of course this is a Coen Brothers trope. Why would you expect any different?

But really, this video might be better if it were restricted to John Goodman. The entire thing is worth it just to see him burst out of the ground amidst a thunderstorm, yelling at the sky like he clawed his way out of the womb that is Mother Earth herself. Nothing will convince you of that man's overwhelming presence like that clip.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Walph Raldo Emerson

Is it just me, or does anyone else always think that when they read "Ralph Waldo Emerson"? I have no idea why it transmutes in my head to that, but it does. And for some reason the name "Walph" is hilarious to me.

Somehow Google yielded no pages discussing this very important phenomenon. Looks like there's still a topic in this world that's not on the internet. (Until now. And yes, that's half the purpose of this post.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The new iPod nano

(via imgur)

Uh oh, better break out the lawyers.

P.S. I swear this won't turn into a 24/7 Apple Hate blog. But for the time being, I've decided to stop holding back at all. The fact that we can now patent rounded corners and make the other guy pay $1 billion for it means all the stops have been pulled out and we're now in free-fall toward patent law insanity. And Apple has (unexpectedly) decided to become the poster child of all of it.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Re: Apple hitting Samsung with $1 billion patent fine

(via imgur)

Yeah, now that they've come out with that verdict, I'm going to start being shameless myself about shaming Apple.

Maybe I'll just keep yelling "Xerox PARC!"

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Re: Apple's import ban on Android phones



A reference if you aren't up on the news: Apple may seek U.S. ban of Samsung Galaxy S III today - CNET

Oh, and instead of repeating myself, I'll point to a previous post that makes clear what I think of some (j/k- most) software patents: Apple swings +6 mace of multitouch at enemies

UPDATE: This post was about the import ban, but oh man, even better is the ongoing trial between Apple and Samsung over the very essence of Android: Apple is accusing Android of outright ripping off the iPhone. It's basically a repeat of the Apple vs. Microsoft case in the 90's where Apple accused Windows of copying the Macintosh. Except if Microsoft ripped off Apple, then Apple ripped off Xerox PARC. But maybe that's another can of worms.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Breach update: eHarmony and Last.fm also hit, also idiots

Following up on my report of LinkedIn's password leak, I thought I should note that eHarmony and Last.fm were also hit. And speaking of the thoughtless security practices of LinkedIn, apparently these guys were worse.

Now, I'm not as mad about them because they don't handle user information nearly as important and sensitive as LinkedIn's. But while the SHA-1 hash function LinkedIn was using was weak, the MD5 hash function eHarmony and Last.fm were using has been known to be bad practice since 1996! Apparently they've managed to ignore good advice since the first Clinton administration!

Anyway, another interesting thing about the breach is that the Last.fm database has been floating around the dark parts of the Internet since 2010, so be sure to change your password there too.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Closed my LinkedIn account


In case you haven't seen, last week it became known that LinkedIn had been hacked. 8 million passwords had been leaked to the public, and who knows how many the infiltrators kept to themselves. The passwords were obscured by a hash, but they used a hash function with vulnerabilities that have been known for years, and worse, they didn't use a salt. Normally it wouldn't be a big deal if a password database was leaked if its designers weren't clueless. Instead, with the incredibly weak hashing done by LinkedIn, over half the passwords have been cracked and are known to hackers in their original, unobscured form. So if you haven't yet, change your password at LinkedIn (also, eHarmony may have been hit). Or, if you don't really need it, you can take the approach I did and delete your account.

Here's the issue: LinkedIn has proven that they cannot be trusted with sensitive information. First we find out that its Android app has been storing users' passwords in plaintext, a truly bone-headed and reprehensible security practice. This is the security equivalent of failing kindergarten. Then last week we find out that when you enable a certain calendar-integration feature, its mobile app mines your phone's calendar data and sends it back to its servers, again all in plaintext. And now this password database appears on the internet, showing that not only have they been hacked, but their storage of our most security-sensitive information is once again failing at the most basic security practices. And, I note, I haven't received a single email or intra-site message alerting me to the event. Looks like they're not notifying their users at all? I guess they're now showing that they can't even respond in a responsible manner that shows any care for their customers' data.

So my advice: if you find LinkedIn provides you with real professional advantages, proceed with caution. But if you're not really getting enough out of it to justify putting up with these idiots, consider following me to the exit.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bubble 2.0 - details on the eve of Facebook's IPO

Okay, so back when Facebook was first valued at $50 billion I wrote a post proclaiming a new tech bubble.

But then a friend mentioned that it's not very meaningful to just say that we're in a bubble. The useful thing is to say when it will end, how much prices will drop, or at least what phase of the bubble we're in.

Touché. I didn't have an answer to that. But now I just ran into an interview on (shudder) TechCrunch that was actually very informative. It was with a tech investor, and I know what you're thinking, but he actually seems quite grounded and well-versed in the economic history of bubbles. I think he gives a pretty realistic picture of where we are.

In short, we're in the second or third phase of a bubble that was kicked off by Yuri Milner and Microsoft investing in Facebook at a $10-15 billion valuation. Then the second phase was high valuations of competitors like Twitter. And yes, the third phase will follow high-price purchases like Instagram at $1 billion. But I guess what really matters is the fact that it's not going to really get crazy (and crash soon after) until people stop worrying that it's a bubble and it's all fake. Buuuut I'm not sure that'll ever happen, given the memories of the last bubble. So I don't quite know how that plays out. In the end it seems we still have a few years before it all crashes to earth.

The video: “In the Studio,” CRV’s George Zachary Discusses Bubbles on the Eve of Facebook’s IPO - TechCrunch

Friday, May 11, 2012

Oh Hulu


Chainsawsuit puts it well, and then comically, as usual. To be clear, this isn't Hulu itself pushing for this, but instead the major studios (once again) trying to strangle it through restrictions. And it's not necessarily actually going to happen. Still, it's one more reason I suspect they're never going to learn, and we'll be forced to find some way to make them irrelevant.

Friday, May 4, 2012

GoDaddy: The Dane Cook of the Internet

..quoth Will, just now. Too perfect. That is all.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Google's new privacy policy: Nothing new

Or at least, nothing we didn't think was already happening.

Yesterday, Google's infamous new privacy policy went into effect. I've seen so much ranting and catastrophizing about this, I feel like I have to add to the few voices clarifying what's actually changing:
They aren't collecting more information on you.
They aren't sharing more information with others.
Is that clear enough? All that's happening is that they're pooling the information they already collect through different sites like Youtube and Google Search, instead of keeping it compartmentalized. So instead of Youtube ads being personalized based only on what you search at youtube.com, they'll also use what you search at google.com. That's what's new.

Which is why I'm kind of surprised at the uproar. I thought everyone already assumed they did that! Especially after the Wall Street Journal's big "The Internet is Scary"* series. Google is supposed to be the worst offender, right? Why wouldn't they be using every bit of information they can suck up? Honestly, when the privacy policy thing hit headlines I was kind of impressed that they'd kept this stuff separated.

But really, I'm not surprised. This just reminds me of moments like when the internet started focusing on ACTA after SOPA/PIPA were defeated. There were all sorts of scare stories going around, talking about how ACTA was SOPA squared, when there was absolutely no truth to that. It turns out, people on the internet  will dump a ton of effort into getting outraged about something, without spending half that effort to actually find out what that something is.

*Disclaimer: Yes, there are many problems with the level of personal tracking on the web and the lack of user consent or knowledge. We need a lot more of both. I think the Do Not Track header has potential, as long as it's done correctly. But most stories, including the WSJ ones, just come off as "Watch out! They eat people out there on the internet!"

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mp3 Patents Slowly Dying

So two more mp3 patents expired just last month on the 24th. 2012 should actually be a big year for patents on the encoding technology, with four total due to expire. By Halloween we'll only have 12 left!

You always hear about how mp3 is a patent-encumbered technology, which causes lots of pain for anyone trying to make any tool that deals with audio data. But I rarely hear specifics. Since the technology is pretty old at this point, I started wondering if we're getting to the point where the patents will just expire, and it goes the way of the .gif?

A little searching leads you to this page, listing the 20 patents registered in the U.S. I wanted to get a sense of the timeline we're looking at, so I put together a simple visualization. Looking forward to 2017!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Quines

$ ./quine.pl
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
# Had an idea for an easy way to write a quine. This might be cheating.
use strict;

open(my $fh_in, "<", $0) or

    die "Error: Cannot open file $0: $!";

while (<$fh_in>) {
     print;
}


Did I not get the point?

(Okay, okay, quick explanation after the jump)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, Neil deGrasse Tyson (and Stephen Colbert)

Here is a wonderful discussion between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Colbert. If you aren't familiar with Neil deGrasse Tyson, here is a great way to start that beautiful relationship. He's an astrophysicist best known for hosting NOVA and various science shows, and generally for explaining and popularizing science. He's also the person I most admire in science, because of his way of demystifying it and making it understandable and approachable. I'm a huge fan of taking something "too complex" to be understood by laypeople and showing how anyone can grasp it if you work with them to understand it.

Summary: He is a great man, and inspiring to listen to. And here is him being interviewed by Stephen Colbert, who (it turns out) is also an inspiring and deep thinker.