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Category Archives: technology

Why I will never, ever again vote for Sen. Dianne Feinstein

The Burr-Feinstein anti-encryption bill is a horrible piece of proposed legislation. This is a bill that will likely criminalize all forms of strong encryption. What the actual fuck?! Either Sen. Feinstein is an idiot or just plain evil. Either way, she’s not fit to draft legislation if this is what happens when she tries.

There are lots of other reasons to really, really dislike her, though:

She behaves more like a conservative than a liberal. She needs to leave the Senate and I will never vote for her again. I’ll vote for anyone else if she runs again.


Plex just screwed over its entire Roku user base

Plex was a great piece of software. I’ve used it for years. I’ve ranted and raved about it to many people, both online and IRL. I run the client on a Roku 2 and 3, in two different rooms in my house. I run the Plex Media Server in a Docker container on CentOS 6.7. Until Friday night, August 28th, 2015, it worked like a charm.

Apps on the Roku automatically update. So, when I sat down with a hot plate of food Friday night, after a long hard day at work, I expected to turn on my TV and select something fun to watch on my Roku. When I selected the Plex app, however, I saw was a message asking me to go to a URL and type in a PIN.

Hold it right there. Friday night.  Hot food on the table. You want me to do what? Are you kidding me?  I’m already pissed off to start this process.

A new version of the Plex app had installed itself since the previous night when I used it. So, I grab my phone and typed in the URL.  Oh, it wants me to login.  Well, I probably have an account, but I never use it, because I never need to before. So I fumble around for a while and start the password reset procedure.  But, my food is getting cold, so 15 minutes in I bail and switch to the Amazon Instant Video app to watch something while I eat.

When I finish eating I’m just too pissed off to enjoy watching anything.  So, I recover the password on my long forgotten account and type in the PIN.  The Plex app wakes up and tells me No Supported Servers Found. OK, I know what the problem is, my Plex Media Server can’t broadcast to the local network.  So, I’ll just manually enter the server into the Plex Roku app. But there isn’t a way to do that.

A trip to the computer and to the Plex forums. Yeah, I’m not the only one on this Friday night that’s wasting time messing around with Plex instead of enjoying some videos. There are a lot of people really pissed off about bugs in the new app, ones that I can’t experience because I can’t even use the new app.

They key piece of information I glean from the forums, however, is there is a new Roku app called Plex Classic. Here’s the procedure:

  1. Go to this URL: https://owner.roku.com/add/plexclassic.
  2. On your Roku check for updates (or wait up to 24 hours).
  3. Setup all your Plex options again. For me, that was enter the server address manually.  And tweak a bunch of UI things, like turning off background music, etc.

All told, with 2 Roku devices, from start to finish, I spent about 1.5 hours.  On Friday night.  When I wanted to be relaxing.

Ironically, earlier this week, I saw a thread on reddit where a Plex user asked: is the Premium subscription worth it?  There were many replies and almost every single one said that it was worth it, for a variety of reasons.  Some for features.  Some to support development of an excellent product.  The lifetime subscription used to be $75.  It’s now $150.  I was seriously considering throwing down $150 for a lifetime subscription.  I won’t be doing that now.  All the good will they built up had me on the precipice of donating to them.  And look what they did.

Let’s recount the fuckups by the people that made the decisions at Plex:

  1. Requiring login in a product update (to a product I purchased, by the way).
  2. No manual server entry.
  3. Deploying on a Friday, which for many working people means they’ll first see it on a Friday night when they sit down to relax.
  4. Replacing a functional app with a completely new and untested one.  What plex.tv should have done is to make a new app and advertise that app in the old app.  That would have allowed people to update on their own schedule and to give feedback while not perturbing their current setup.

And, even if people only ever saw #1 above, I still consider that a screwing over.  It alone would force people to spend time doing something unnecessary when they likely didn’t want to do it.

UPDATE: a commenter suggest the free and open source emby.

Why I’m abandoning my pre-paid cell plans (and moving to post-paid)

I used to pay Verizon more than $160/month for the three cell phones my family has.  For the last 13 months the family has been on pre-paid T-Mobile service, for a total cost of $95/month (no taxes on that, either).  It should have been $75/month, but I chickened out and got my wife a $50/month unlimited talk/text plan.  I should have gone with the $30/month unlimited text, 100 minutes of talk that I have.  My son’s feature phone is $15/month.

Next month I’m moving to post-paid when my re-up is due for the pre-paid.  Here’s why:

  • VoIP (voice calls over the data network), which I was using to stay below 100 voice minutes on my phone, doesn’t work very well on Android.  I tried the built-in VoIP and that really sucked.  Very laggy conversations.  I tried all the VoIP apps I could find and finally settled on GrooVe IP.  It uses your Google Voice number and hooks into Google Talk.  It’s better than the native Android VoIP but it still isn’t as good as the voice network for voice calls.  Here are the problems:
    • When answering a call, there is a delay of 4-5 seconds where the other person can’t hear me.  They inevitably start saying “hello?” and the beginning of every conversation is a back-and-forth of hello’s.  That’s pretty annoying.
    • There is still a good amount of lag and drop outs.  Basically, the quality of the conversation is pretty bad, even when on Wi-Fi with a strong signal over a really fast internet connection.
    • VoIP calls get dropped when transitioning from Wi-Fi to 3g/4g and vice versa.  It’s very difficult to remember when you’re leaving work (connected to Wi-Fi) to not stray too far or get into the elevator to get home.  Otherwise, the call will be dropped.
  • I really like having Google Voice handle my voicemail, however it doesn’t work with pre-paid.   So, sometimes I get voicemails in Google Voice and sometimes in T-Mobile’s voicemail.  That’s annoying.
  • You can’t have more than a single phone in a pre-paid account, so I have three separate accounts.
  • The T-Mobile website doesn’t work at all in Chrome.  I have to use IE.

T-Mobile’s post-paid doesn’t require a contract and the price will be about the same ($50 + $30 + $10 + taxes).  It’ll be nice to get off the pre-paid train.

Hal Lasko: 97-year-old MSPaint wiz kid

I’m going to let this speak for itself:

Windows 8: Worst Windows EVER

Here’s my Windows 8 story.  It’s a sad tale, because it shows how far Microsoft has fallen.

The preview versions of Windows 8 were unbelievable, in the sense that I never thought they’d actually release it “as is.”  I thought for sure they would back off on the tablet user interface (UI) for all types of hardware.  They didn’t.  Windows 8, whether you run it on a headless server, tablet or desktop computer, has the same UI.  Windows 8 was definitely designed with tablets in mind, however.  The proof of this is that I once got an error message and it said to “swipe” the dialog away, or some such.  I don’t remember the exact message, but I do remember very vividly yelling at Windows that my computer was not a tablet.

Since I help run a software company, I felt someone needed to use Windows 8 so we could find potential problems with our software and the new operating system.  No one seemed keen to try it so I volunteered.  So, I chose to upgrade my Windows 7 desktop, the machine I spend 8+ hours a day using.  When I’m at home I use Windows Remote Desktop to remote into my work machine.  I use this machine a lot.

Everyone has talked about the Start Menu disappearing.  The truth is, this was monumentally stupid of Microsoft to do this.  I knew about Classic Shell, but I resolved to try and use Windows 8 as intended, thinking it was merely a learning curve I had to get over.  The truth is, on a desktop computer with a mouse,  my sole experience with Windows 8, everything took longer than it did before.  Many, many clicks it takes to find stuff.  Even trying to organize the “tiles” on the Start screen (or whatever they call that) doesn’t work.  Why?  Because the position of tiles on that screen changes and you can’t memorize a position for a given tile.  Astoundingly stupid.

Microsoft decided to force everyone to use a tablet UI, even non-tablet users.  Perhaps they wanted a single code base.  I don’t know the reason.  But it was completely stupid to do this.  The new UI might be perfectly good on a tablet, but it sucks on a desktop computer or server.  After a few months, I relented and installed Classic Shell.  My life got a lot better after that, since I was actually able to get work done at the rate I expected.

By the way, there were news reports that Microsoft was going to restore the Start Menu in Windows 8.1.  It turns out they are false.  They aren’t restoring the Start Menu, they are adding a Start button that takes you to the Start screen (or whatever they call it).  That is not at all what users asked for, Microsoft.

The above is the main reason Windows 8 is horrible.  However, there are many other reasons.  In no particular order:

  • Because there is no notification area, it’s impossible to at-a-glance see if you have notifications.  Like, for example, Windows Updates needing to be installed.  How does Microsoft solve this?  By taking over the entire screen and making you decide “install” or “cancel.”  There are problems with this approach:
    • Once dismissed, it doesn’t come back for weeks, sometimes.  Out of sight, out of mind.
    • Finding the updates takes a lot of clicking.  Without Classic Shell it would be even more.  This makes it even more likely users will not install them.
  • Yesterday I had 23 Windows Updates waiting to be installed.  I started the install and it was finished very quickly.  I rebooted and I was back in business.  A few minutes after I started working I got the familiar take-over-the-screen-because-you-have-updates thing.  Wait, I just installed them!  OK, must be a new one just came out.  Windows Defender or something.  I go into Windows Update and find there are 20 updates sitting there.  OK, I install and reboot.   This time I check immediately to see if there are any updates.  17 remaining.   It took me 5 install/reboot cycles to install all the Windows Updates, for a total of more than 30 minutes while I couldn’t work.  THANK YOU, Microsoft.   Oh, don’t think this is a new Windows Update feature.  I updated a Windows Server 2008 machine with 20 updates and it happened in a single install/reboot cycle.
  • Occasionally, I’ll be furiously typing and my left hand will slip and I type some sequence involving the Windows key.  My desktop is replaced with a blue screen, but not the start screen.  I get these giant icons in the middle of it.  Every time it happens it takes me minutes to recover (i.e., to get back to my desktop) and each time my blood pressure is double what it was before.
  • I had to change the association of jpg and png files because clicking on them goes into a similar now-you-see-the-blue-screen hell I just described.
  • About once a month, I run into this bug: the Z order gets messed up and the “show the desktop” item gets pegged at the top of the Z order.  The Z order is the order in which items appear to Alt Tab.  Switching to a window puts it at the top of the Z order.  You can switch between the top two items in the Z order by alternately doing Alt Tab. Infrequently used windows filter toward the bottom of the Z order.  You might not have heard of this, but your brain uses it every time you use Windows.    This is the way Windows users have been doing things for decades.  Well, the bug in question causes Alt Tab to minimize all applications and show the desktop.  That’s right, you’re furiously working away and Alt Tab to get to that other window and BAM! you’re looking at your empty desktop.  The only fix I’ve found is to close all  windows and log out.
  • After upgrading my Windows 7 to Windows 8 I had the first BSOD that I can remember.  I uninstalled a bunch of software (including my anti-virus program) and it never happened again.

I know there are more annoyances, so I’ll probably come back to this post and update it when I remember new items.

All of this adds up to one thing: in the run up to releasing Windows 8, Microsoft didn’t give a shit about their users and foisted this new UI upon us for reasons that had nothing to do with our desires or productivity.

There are some things I like about Windows 8.  Alt Tab, when it works, shows you the window you would switch to if you were to let go of the keyboard chord.  Also, the Remote Desktop server in Windows 8 doesn’t have the bug that XP and 7 had that totally used to screw me over about once a month: for no apparent reason, RDP would go into “slow” mode, as if my internet connection (which is definitely fine) had slowed to a crawl.  The only known fix for this was to log out and log in again, then reconnect with the RDP client.  Because it was in a slow mode, this sometimes took a long time. I have not seen this bug since switching to Windows 8.

Couldn’t I just have this one bug fix and new feature added to Windows 7?  I’d be a huge Windows and Microsoft booster, if that had happened.  As it is, for my home system, I’m considering switching from Windows to Mac OS X next year.  I never thought I’d utter those words, but I really can’t see upgrading to Windows 8 or any successor.

How to blacklist by caller id name in Asterisk/FreePBX

I use Asterisk (1.8.11-cert5)/FreePBX (2.10.0) for my home phone system.  For years I’ve been pestered by a specific company that is running a credit card rate reduction scam.  I’ve tried and tried to get off their list, to no avail.  I finally got sick of it, so I looked to Asterisk/FreePBX to see if I could blacklist the calls.  The problem is their number changes, but their caller id name does not.  (I’m not going to list it here, since I don’t want them to see this and decide to make their caller id name less regular.)

There’s a file, /etc/asterisk/extensions_override_freepbx.conf, that can be used to override definitions in /etc/asterisk/extensions_additional.conf.  In this latter file is the definition of app-blacklist-check:

include => app-blacklist-check-custom
exten => s,1,GotoIf($["${CALLERID(number)}" = "Unknown"]?check-blocked)
exten => s,n,GotoIf($["${CALLERID(number)}" = "Unavailable"]?check-blocked)
exten => s,n,GotoIf($["foo${CALLERID(number)}" = "foo"]?check-blocked:check)
exten => s,n(check-blocked),GotoIf($["${DB(blacklist/blocked)}" = "1"]?blacklisted)
exten => s,n(check),GotoIf($["${BLACKLIST()}"="1"]?blacklisted)
exten => s,n,Set(CALLED_BLACKLIST=1)
exten => s,n,Return()
exten => s,n(blacklisted),Answer
exten => s,n,Wait(1)
exten => s,n,Zapateller()
exten => s,n,Playback(ss-noservice)
exten => s,n,Hangup
;--== end of [app-blacklist-check] ==--;

This is the text we want to copy to /etc/asterisk/extensions_override_freepbx.conf, and make some minor additions:

include => app-blacklist-check-custom
;;;ADDED by me:
exten => s,1,GotoIf($["${CALLERID(name)}" = "FOO INC"]?blacklisted)
exten => s,n,GotoIf($["${CALLERID(name)}" = "WINNER"]?blacklisted)
;;;CHANGE: priority goes from `1' to `n':
exten => s,n,GotoIf($["${CALLERID(number)}" = "Unknown"]?check-blocked)
;;;..END additions
;; the rest should be the same as that in
;; the [app-blacklist-check] section in extensions_additional.conf

Lines 3 and 4 are the additions, and the block all calls from when the caller id matches “FOO INC” or “WINNER.”  The latter is an actual caller id that I get from time to time.

It would be nice if the UI in FreePBX allowed me to do this without resorting to editing system files, but it’s not that horrible of a hack.  I just need to make sure that when Asterisk or FreePBX is upgraded that I check the code in the file I copied from to make sure it didn’t change in ways that break my custom code.

EDIT 9/4/2012: the second GotoIf needs to have a priority of “n” not “1”.

Syncing of bookmarks with Chrome is a horrible experience

It works fine until you want to delete something.  If you spend a bunch of time organizing your bookmarks, you’ll get a nasty surprise sometime later: duplicate bookmarks for everyone one you moved or deleted.  If you google this problem, you’ll find others complaining about it, but no solutions or statement from google that they’ll fix it.

I’m looking for other solutions, to share bookmarks between computers.  Anyone?

Amazing rant on Libraries

It speaks for itself, so go read it: http://www.metafilter.com/112698/California-Dreamin#4183210