Random musings on whatever subject strikes my fancy, published every other day.

Category: Geeky Stuff Page 1 of 55

Laptop Fun

I got a laptop for Christmas last year, from a manufacturer that I will not name. But I can tell you that it rhymes with

On the side of my Christmas laptop is a little bitty slot into which I like to place a little bitty quarter-terabyte SD card, which then serves as my backup drive. The little bitty slot has an even littler-bittier clicky thing inside it that grabs the SD card and holds it firm, so the backup can backup.

In July, the clicky thing (My apologies, Dear Reader, for all the technical jargon in this post) became discombobulated, and the SD card would no longer stay firm. This made the backup not backup, and there was no backup for the backup. This greatly displeased me, because, as you know: I like my backups to backup. So, noting that my Christmas laptop was still under warranty, I contacted the company that rhymes with, well, you know.

I explained my problem to them, and they asked me for a picture of the little bitty slot. Now, this began a tickling of red flags in my brain. Because, as you probably know, the clicky thing that holds the SD card firm is totally invisible from the outside of the case, combobulated or dis-. But they had to have this picture to substantiate my claim that the clicky thing was in fact discombobulated. So I sent them a picture of a perfectly-fine-looking little slot on the side of my Christmas laptop, and… they accepted it. They accepted it. If you think this is foreshadowing of idiocy yet to come, you are correct, Dear Reader.

Well, I sent my Christmas laptop to these folks, thinking hoping that the ones who would actually repair it were smarter than the clerks who arranged the shipping and so on. Anyway, all it needed was for the clicky thing to get recombobulated. As they say on Reddit: WCGW?

click to embiggen

Two! Weeks! later, I got back a bent computer. A computer whose bottom looked like this (right). The entire computer was bent, as if over someone’s knee.

Bent.

Who bends a computer? These guys, apparently.

So I contacted them, and said, look! You have sent me back my Christmas laptop in much, much worse condition than I sent it to you. Can you give me somewhere local to take it for a proper repair? And they said, Please confirm the address where the machine will be and your availability for the next 5-7 days. And I said, Here! I will be here! Every day! I work at home! Where’m I going? And then they pulled out that rug, and said, No sorry your warranty only covers ship-in repair, please send it back, we promise not to….

I don’t know, Dear Reader. I just don’t know what they promise not to do this time. I don’t know what a shop like that could do that was worse than what they’d already done to my poor newly-concave (on the side you see here, convex on the keyboard side) Christmas laptop. What could they do? Toss it in a shredder? Actually, that would not be worse – because then they give me a new laptop, and I do have my backups. And lo, there I was, at a Walgreens cum FedEx counter, trusting person that I still seem to be for no good reason; I sent it back to them once more.

It came back after Three! Weeks! with a new bottom outer plate, so it was no longer showing that nifty 3cm dent where it looks like maybe it was hit with a ball-peen hammer. But it’s still… subtly… convex. On the keyboard side. So I contact them for a third round of Twitter-DM ping-pong.

About communication with these folks, you should know this: I got several responses to each DM I sent them. But almost none of these contained any new information, nor moved the matter forward to resolution. By my count I received, over one stretch of time, 56 DMs from them of which 4 (7.1%) contributed information or new progress/status. The others were all conciliatory babble, free of content. In response to direct questions requiring content. My favorite sequence was when they asked if I had received my system back (the second time). When I saw it and replied an hour later that I was unaware they had even shipped it and no I bloody well had not yet received it, then after yet another hour I was informed that it had just been shipped and here was the tracking link. And yes, I counted that message as one of the 4.

So when I get it this time, my Christmas laptop is… better? Not really. Cosmetically, I guess. A little. But the keyboard side of the base is still noticeably convex. It feels mighty weird typing on that, I can assure you, Dear Reader. I contact them once more (with really low expectations this time), and I inform them in no uncertain terms that I will not ship it to them anymore. They can send me a new one, they can send someone here to fix this one, or they can watch me go talk in public about all of this, at length and in detail, to a certain guy named Michael whose surname also rhymes with, well, you know.

At this point, a manager whose sole mission in life must be, “keep my boss’ boss off my boss’ back” probably got wind of the whole glorious mess. Because didn’t I just take a visit from a very nice fellow who subcontracts hardware repair service to the rhyming company? And didn’t he have a box of all the parts that can get deformed when some ijit bends a computer? And didn’t he immediately notice how my Christmas laptop was being all… convex? And didn’t he work patiently on it for two hours until it was all properly flat again?

I have no doubt this all finally happened because I expressed my intention to @ some guy named Michael. Whose surname rhymes with…

Well, you know.

Hobbies

Is it OK for your hobby to resemble your work? My hobby is, apparently, my home computer network and its various servers and endpoints.

My latest project is a pretty big server (by home standards) with 64G of RAM and 32T (4 x 8T) of disk. I aim to have this take over a number of functions currently being done by a handful of smaller machines.

Now one of the 8T drives is showing early failures and I have to idle the thing until I can get a fresh one from the distributor.

My wife has made the probably wiser choice of hobby. Birding bears no resemblance whatsoever to her “day job.” Maybe I should have gone that route.

Oriole at the Feeder

How gorgeous is that?

IoT Attack, Incident Response

Today’s post is the first in awhile to be at Safer Computing, about an attack of ransomware on my home computing, and how I responded to it.

My Banks’ Websites Suck

The following is an amalgamation based on my reluctant observation of several banks’ websites.

1) The bank website is slow. When it loads it takes so long that parts of it time out… waiting for other parts. When I perform an action I am always left to wonder if it took effect. What feels like minutes later, I see that it did. I have learned to take my hand off the mouse, sit back and wait. If I can sing the Jeopardy! song four times before it settles down, there might be a problem. And of course, controls on the screen move a hundred pixels or so, a fraction of a second after I click them. This results in my having clicked something else.

2) The bank website is buggy. When I sign off, it goes back to a login screen. It’s a trap! This login screen will not work. If you log in on this screen, you’ll get inscrutable error messages that quickly disappear, and then a new login screen. The second login screen works, but leaves behind a nagging suspicion that the first login screen has stolen your credentials.

The secret turns out to be, to click on the bank’s logo on the top left, and get a fresh login screen. That one will behave properly.

3) The bank website is arbitrary. Here’s a richly detailed example: Six months or so after changing the email address I use to have Chase Bank communicate with me, I started getting this after logging in:

A UI is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it sucks.

The redacted text is my email address. On this screen, it is selectable text but cannot be edited. The two radio buttons and the blue bar show as clickable when I mouse-over, but I am afraid to click them. Nothing else on this screen is clickable. Not that there’s much else on this screen.

The URL of this screen ends with:

intercept?name=BAD_EMAIL_ADDRESS#/intercept/addOrUpdateEmailAddress/update

If I modify the URL by removing all that crap, the website obediently reverts to its normal behavior by showing me my accounts dashboard. Solid.

This all started two weeks ago, and it seems pretty plain that Chase is having opinions about my email address. Note that this is an email address I changed to back in September of last year. I have dozens of emails from Chase using this email address.

The email address has a + sign in it to allow a Chase-unique suffix, so I can be aware if they sell my email address to spammers. I suspect, though nobody at Chase will confirm, this is why they are having a fit of pique. They don’t want me to know that they were the ones who sold my email. Unlike many people, I have another recourse from this: since I have my own domain, I can create as many unique email addresses as I want. Perhaps they will find “ChaseBankSucks@mydomain.tld” less of an issue?

Since composing the above, two interesting things have happened. One, following a looooonnng call I had with their web support line this morning, Chase sent me an email telling me that I had changed my email address. I had not. But Occam’s Razor tells me, they did. The thing is, it’s still the same email I have had all this time. So they changed it to… itself? And the second interesting thing is, the last time I logged in, the black intercept screen has not reappeared. If they actually fixed something, they have decided not to communicate that fact.

4) The bank website treats me like an idiot. Because they think I haven’t the capacity to examine more than a single item of information at once, when I want to make a payment, I must click thru five screens.
The first: Verify that the payment account I am using is the same one I have been using for six years. Next Screen!
The second: Choose an amount to pay. Next Screen!
The third: Choose the date to make the payment. Next Screen!
The fourth: Now I must review all the stuff I chose on the first three screens and then, finally, actually make the payment. Next Screen! (oh, did you think we were done? You funny!)
The fifth: Review it all again, after I have committed to it on the fourth screen. Can we escape next-screen hell now? Oh, we can? kthxbai!

5) The bank website won’t use proper two-factor authentication.
Authy and YubiKey, why do I have these? Apparently to protect my Twitter account. Because when it comes to banks, they are just not in the conversation. But sometimes in banking, news of the world can leak in a little. It’s kind of muffled and distorted but they get scraps and go with them.

So banks got the idea they should have two-factor authentication. Then they misheard the part where we were saying (out here in reality) that email and SMS were so shitty for this purpose but hey, maybe better than nothing. All they heard was “…email… …SMS…” Accordingly, I have a bank that can only email my auth code. I have one that can only text-message.

I have one that can do both, and does so every single time I log in. The “Remember this device” checkbox is a placebo, because the next time I log in from the same device, it’s the same thing again. Hey: it used to do this multiple times per session – at least they’ve fixed that for now.

One still asks “security questions.” Yeah, you forgot there were even worse things than 2FA via SMS.

Then there’s the one that can only text but if I want to sign in “with the mobile app” that’s somehow cool.

I don’t know why the bank website has to be so crap. I would hope it’s programmed to be extremely resistant to hacks, but I did not think that required a bottom-of-the-barrel UX.

Ranking

Ranking the Jeopardy! guest hosts, so far.

After Alex Trebek died in November, it was announced that a decision about the new host would be deferred until after a number of guest hosts got live tryouts. We’re almost halfway through this surprisingly excruciating ordeal, so here are my interim rankings.

#7. “Dr.” Mehmet Oz

I really can’t think of enough bad things to say about this choice. First of all, his track record of peddling quackery sullies the good name of Jeopardy!. And if that’s not enough, he’s just plain bad at this. His timing is off, his jokes aren’t funny, he talks too much. He pleads too much to get the job. He should never get the job.

#6. Aaron Rodgers

As a Jeopardy! host, Aaron Rodgers is a very good quarterback. He was workmanlike enough but there was no spark. None of the love of knowledge that most of the other candidates drip.

#5. Katie Couric

Too chipper. Too chirpy. “Katie Couric hosting Jeopardy!” sounds like something that would bring on uncontrollable giggles if we were sitting around smoking weed, and someone said it.

#4. Bill Whitaker

Technically, there are no big issues with Bill Whitaker. He does everything he’s supposed to. But his pace is a bit off. It reminds me of responses from a computer program whose CPU is a little too slow for the task set to it. And there’s one more thing about him: he makes a lot of references to the amount of money won in previous shows by the champ. It rubs me the wrong way.

#3. Ken Jennings

Seemed really nervous to start with. Never totally got over it. His voice is too thin to carry the gravitas of hosting Jeopardy!. Also he’d be lost forever as a player, which is a shame, because he’s fun to watch as a player. But maybe that ship already sailed when he took the Consulting Producer role after convincingly winning the GOAT trophy in January of 2020. Or as we like to call it, about four thousand years ago.

#2. Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper was very good. He showed a love of the game, and he handled his tasks very well. I really don’t have a fault to find with him as host. If my #1 choice doesn’t get the gig, I hope it’s Anderson Cooper. So far. We’re not quite halfway done with this.

#1. Mike Richards

He is the current executive producer, so would he want the job of host? Is it a demotion? Anyhow, he’s far and away the best at this – but it’s natural. He has experience hosting other game shows. We miss Divided. Richards shows the best balance of seriousness and approachability, and has plenty of gravitas without being stodgy. If he wants it, he would be the best of the ones we’ve seen so far.

This is a work-in-progress. There are nine more guest hosts to go, and they will be doing one- and two-week stints for the rest of the 2020-21 season. Beginning with Buzzy Cohen, a Tournament of Champions winner, who will be hosting the Tournament of Champions as of this coming Monday. Then, Mayim Bialik, Savannah Guthrie, Dr. Sanjay Gupta (a NON-quack), George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, Internet fave LeVar Burton, David Faber, and Joe Buck. I’ll redo the rankings at the end.

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