Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facebook's War on Privacy

Naegle: I guarantee I can find some new revenue streams. Step one: Let's sell some ad space. Reverend, how would you feel about wearing this robe? [holds up a robe with "Fatso's Hash House" embroidered on it]
Lovejoy: Mmm...conflicted?
Burns: Too bad! You've already signed the deal.
Naegle: Actually, he hasn't.
Burns: Oh. Well, we highly value your input. [menacing] Until you sign the deal...
-- Simpsons, She of Little Faith
I am deeply concerned with Facebook's new privacy policy. As I understand it, the most damaging change is that a good portion of every Facebook profiles will now be public -- name, photo, location, groups, friends, etc. I can't fathom how this ever seemed like it would be a good idea. The possibilities for exploitation are astronomical. Anyway, I'll stop ranting now and point you to other people who have written much more eloquent pieces on this and suggest some actions you can take.

More information
What you can do
  • Share these links on Facebook, Twitter, and email! That's the easiest way to spread this information to people who need it.
  • Sign ACLU's petition to Facebook.
  • Visit the dotRight's Take Action page.
  • A properly organized (inter)national protest might bring this the media coverage it deserves... (need help from EFF and ACLU for this)
(P.S. Yes, there are some positive aspects of the changes. However, these come at too great a cost and they're completely independent of the negative portions.)

Update (12.11.2009): Some more links as this unfolds:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why I dislike text messages

This article succinctly explains the main reason I dislike text messages: (emphasis not in original)
"...Wireless data service is AT&T's only bright spot, up a whopping 26% per customer. How so? As any parent of teenagers knows, text messages are 20 cents each, or $5,000 per megabyte. After the first month and a $320 bill, we all pony up $10 a month for unlimited texting plans. ..."
I have been waiting for someone to shake things up and get cell phones using instant messaging and/or email rather than text messaging which, in my mind, consists entirely of disadvantages (expensive coupled with payment on receipt, limited message length, impossible to know if messages are even received, ...). With luck, this will help as well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weird Craiglist scam

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
-- Sympathy for the Devil (Rolling Stones)
Dear Internet,

I am attempting to sell a desk on craigslist and received an unusual response, quoted here in its entirety:
Date: Thu, 20 Aug 2009 07:53:48 -0500
Subject: Re: L-shaped desk, almost new - $150 (East Side)
From: trendy carley <>

Hello ,
I appreciate your response to my inquiry. I'm interested in buying it
from you. I would've come and inspect it myself but I am on a business
trip overseas and wont be back for a while.
Please do withdraw ,with immediate effect the advert from Web as I dont
mind adding $50 for you to do that so I can be rest assured that it is
held for me. I should believe it is in good condition as stated. I will
be making the payment via a Certified Check which my secretary will
mail across to you. I'll be picking it from you with the aid of my
mover. My Mover will be coming to pick it from you once the Certified
Check has been cashed.
If condition of sales works for you I then ask that you get back to me
with the following details so that payment can be posted ASAP:
Required Information

1.Name to be issued to...
2.Contact Address(City,State,Zip code,Country):
3.Contact telephone number:(home,cell or work)
4.Clear pictures showing details

Do get back to me as soon as possible with this details for payment to
be made out to you immediately you get it on time. Also I will want you
to remove the advert as soon as possible and I dont mind paying $50 for
you to have that done ASAP as I said earlier, so no one else is lined up
for it. Thanks Hoping to hear from you soon.

Best Regards
Just what is the nature of this guy's game (not to mention his (her?) rather unlikely name)? Completely bizarre that one would pay someone to remove an ad and weirder still that one would expect them to do it before receipt of payment. Additionally, the desk is only being sold for $150 so $50 is a considerable markup (plus he'll certainly be paying a bundle for the mover). Then there's the spot where he seemingly leaves out my name from the template ("Hello, ") and the redundancy of asking for a ZIP code and country (at least, I've always heard other countries refer to them as postal codes).

I'm really curious where he's going with this. Some ideas: (please post ideas in the comments)
  1. He's just gathering names, addresses, and/or telephone numbers.
  2. No check will ever come but maybe a mover might.
  3. Check will come and bounce. Mover will come and bounce with the desk.
  4. There's some second part of this scheme that is too tough to predict at this point.
One other tidbit is that the original email from him (which came from instead and asked me rather simply "Is it in good condition..?i am interested.") was immediately tossed into the spam folder by Gmail.

I've been thinking about comedic responses. So far, the best one I've come up with is posting his response on the Internet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Steal this idea: Google, optimize those links!

You know, those links at the top of Gmail and related services. Mine say:

Yours do too? How strange. I would think these links should be personalized if not customizable. Google knows which ones I click on since I'm logged in all the time. Why not get rid of the ones I never click on (Sites, Photos, and Web -- if I need to do a web search, I'll use the address bar in my web browser) and show the ones that I always have to find in the like Scholar. Some people would probably object to a fluid UI (i.e. if Google adjusted these automatically) and I think the preferred methods these days are to have computers suggest changes but not perform them without user intervention. Maybe there's some plugin/extension/religion that lets you change these? (not that this is really a high priority...)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Steal this idea: Phone scammer/spammer warnings

Hear my phone ringin',
sound like a long distance call
-- Muddy Waters, "Long Distance Call"
Why telemarketing is an opt-out rather than opt-in process is beyond me. Nevertheless, if you do get a call from a number you don't recognize, you may want to run it by I recently got a call from a telemarketer (see my report here*) and had an idea for a program to run on the phones of the future. When I say phones of the future, I mean roughly tomorrow since this idea is so simple it should be very easily doable on an iPhone, Android phone, or something else easily programmable. At least, I would hope this is easy to write (I haven't ever used these phones' APIs).

The idea is this: When I get a call from an unknown number, my phone should look it up on Possibly there would be a reputation system and it could automatically report good calls to the site (though there are some potential privacy issues here which would need to be addressed) and give you the option to mark a previous call as a scam. Integration with would be nice too.

* Incidentally, this phone number appears to be running multiple scams. The number is used to connect people with various scams so that the companies actually doing the scams are harder to trace. That's why the representative on the other line said that I had called her.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Technical: Getting Skype working with Bluetooth on Ubuntu with AMD64

If you want to use Skype with Bluetooth headsets on recent versions of Ubuntu Jaunty with an AMD64 architecture, this article might be of interest. If those words didn't make any sense, this article is definitely skippable.

When using Skype with a Bluetooth headset, I was getting error messages of the following form:

ALSA lib ../../../src/pcm/pcm.c:2165:(snd_pcm_open_conf) Cannot open shared library /usr/lib32/alsa-lib/

Since Skype only exists in 32-bit mode currently, you can only run it in AMD64 using the linux32 command. However, this requires 32-bit versions of all the libraries that Skype would need, including bluez-alsa if you want to use a Bluetooth headset. Ubuntu currently attempts to handle this with their ia32-libs package but the current version of this package is missing its bluez-alsa libraries (as indicated in the error message). This is the bug that has been reported here.

I have a horrible hack to fix this problem, mostly because I can't find where ia32-libs development takes place nor the Ubuntu development process. I downloaded the 32-bit version of bluez-alsa and used alien -t to convert it into a tar.gz file. I then extracted its contents and made an extremely simple Makefile with this content:

cp ./usr/lib/alsa-lib/ /usr/lib32/alsa-lib/
cp ./usr/lib/alsa-lib/ /usr/lib32/alsa-lib/

Next, I created a Debian package with checkinstall which you can find here. To my knowledge, these files are missing in Ubuntu Karmic too, so this might help those users as well.

Takeaway message: If you want to try my hack, download my new package (which I admitedly haven't been able to test on any other machines, so any feedback is welcome) and use your favorite package installer (the graphical one is probably the easiest) to install it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Steal this idea: Mobile public transportation planner

If I had an iPhone or Android-based phone instead my current piece of cellphone-shaped garbage, I would want this application: While walking someone, the user tells the application their intended destination ("I'm walking home now") and the application uses GPS information and a data connection to lookup public transportation alternatives to walking. It then suggests small detours or pauses in your journey (e.g. "Wait here, you're at a bus stop. When the #42 comes in ~2 minutes, get on.") which get you closer to your destination. As far as I know, this shouldn't be that hard to write and I'm surprised I haven't heard of it so far (of course, not owning a shiny phone, I don't follow all the apps written for them). It could also get more sophisticated by learning your pace or common routes and locations. In any event, this would be a useful tool and I think I'd take the bus more often if I had it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thesis proposal nightmare #1

Invoking Dream either by reading or talking about him (as I was doing recently) tends to cause screwy dreams. This pattern continues...

It is April 4th -- 10 days before my real thesis proposal. I've done one practice talk which indicated that more practice talks were in order, yet somehow I'm giving the proposal anyway. Weirder still, I'm giving the proposal in my parent's family room on an old television instead of with a projector. Only four people have shown up -- two faculty and two students. Nobody in my area. It is only when my advisor Eugene shows up that I realize that not only is the rest of my committee not present at the proposal (one of the attending faculty members assures me is not a problem). I then realize that I've somehow scheduled my thesis proposal during a major conference which my thesis committee members (including Eugene) are attending.

Wake up.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Error: Too many errors

Count the errors. There are at least three:
Error 1: Saying there was an error, then saying there wasn't.
Error 2: Saying there was an error, then saying there wasn't when there really was -- it really didn't rip the DVD.
Error 3: Title says "Error while burning" but it was ripping, not burning.

Is this a bad joke? While trying to rip a DVD, I got this message from Brasero. This is dailywtf material but I haven't been able to find any previous postings on it. While ripping the DVD, the output file grew, but apparently, Brasero deleted it at the end. Also, there are no messages from the kernel about a DVD read error, so we appear to be hallucinating problems.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Steal this idea: Musical intersections

Listening to you,
I get the music.
Gazing at you,
I get the heat.
Following you,
I climb the mountains.
I get excitement at your feet.
-- The Who, "
We're Not Gonna Take It"
There are a couple times when two or more people want to listen to some form of streaming music (road/train trip, shared office space, etc.). Streaming radio sites like Pandora should have the option of combining multiple peoples' musical taste and come up with music that both people would like. Being able to generate a road trip playlist for portable music players would be nice too, though there are the obvious copyright issues.

I imagine coming up with good shared playlists is trickier than just taking the intersection of the songs/musical features. Ultimately, it would depend on the model of listeners tastes. Of course, in many cases, these intersections can be small (my freshman year college roommate and I both liked Stevie Wonder but had little else in common musically).