Categories
Computing General

Random things I discovered today…

Odd sort of day really… anyway, some things I discovered / got annoyed by / had a giggle at:

Random observation: When Windows 10 slowly boots, if you have enabled the ‘locate your cursor by pressing Ctrl’ function (I *so* prefer the Mac way that expands the cursor when you shake the mouse!) and use it before the cursor has even appeared it draws it’s circle around the position the cursor will appear at once it has finished messing about and booted sufficiently to work. You know, in 10 minutes time. So, Windows tells the future.

Random thought: how many person-hours per day are wasted in total globally waiting for Windows to boot?

Radom annoyance: my imap-ssl daemon stopped for no reason and will not now restart. It whinges about not being able to find a valid cypher. I had updated the LetsEncrypt certificate but I can’t remember if the imap failed immediately after rebooting or not. Anyway, fiddling with various obvious config settings just made it crash so it’s been deleted…

..which leads me to…

Random successful modification: given the demise of the imap daemon I revisited why I even have a mailbox on my Linux server. All I need is a mail hole and postfix does that. A quick edit and rebuild of Postfix’s virtual table and I can redirect any wanted email off to Google, solving the issue and reducing my mail accounts by a third. Neat. After a week or so of checking what email gets dropped on the box I suspect all will be spam and can divert to /dev/null…or spamcop if I can be bothered. One less thing to remember to do when the SSL, sorry TLS certificate gets renewed.

Categories
Computing

MRTG

Well, after yesterday’s struggle with network monitoring software, using a plethora of information I could see a way to write code for what I actually needed by the use of snmpwalk and coding OIDs. But I installed MRTG instead!

I’ve used MRTG before and, while the graphics are not as nice as the one that I had but which fell apart when I added a more secure network switch MRTG is one of those nice examples of software that just works. Feed it the IP addresses and (take note o’ failed and thence deleted software) it works everything out and generates a configuration file and a set of HTML pages. No on-the-fly stuff that falls over and has bits falling off. The only negative is I have yet to find a way for it to extract the names assigned to the interfaces in each switch, but it’s no biggie really to simply edit the config file and add the names there which is what I did. I mean, I only have 46 Ethernet ports spread across three switches…!

I may still write some code though, as really all I want is to be able to see what device swamps our broadband and when. But the graphs are kind of nice to have.

Categories
General

network monitoring tools

Recently we’ve been having network speed issues which have caused problems with video conferencing. Given our home network is based on cat-5 cabling and Netgear switches which have SNMP I downloaded a network monitor. This was duly told where the switches were and it produced some useful graphs which actually showed the problem was one Windows machine which was hammering the broadband with Onedrive updates.

However, I wanted to add a third switch to the monitoring. This newer model had a more secure SNMP setup which, after a bit of head scratching was added to the software setup. But it never actually worked. No clues as to why, it appeared ok but then kept stalling. Un/reinstalling the software actually made it worse! No help, no useful examples, no community support. But apparently I can buy a book.

So that software has been purged with extreme prejudice.

I tried another and this one insists on installing mysql and creating a default user with a random password. That password, unseen by me (why?) did not meet mysql’s security requirement and the installation crashed. Useful!

All I want is to get port usage data via SNMP and that cannot be hard. I am going to try one more package but after that I’ll write my own darn code.

I know these packages are free and I should not complain. But my time is also valuable so please package writers don’t write stuff that only you can use with no useful documentation. If you have to, then keep it to yourself rather than throw up websites telling the world how good it is but with no actual, proper examples of how to configure it.

Categories
Cookies and tracking

Cookies under attack

So, Max Schrems is going to have a go now at cookie banners, so many of which are either confusing or downright illegal.

No specifically picking on them but Forbes is a case in point. It throws up the usual huge cookie page and when you go to choose (rather than just click click click accept everything), after scrolling down a very long way one finds a ‘reject all’ button. But it still sets 15 cookies that the Brave browser blocks and a further 11 that get through.

Ironically I was looking for info about WhatsApp’s latest about turn on its new forcing of users to accept its new privacy T&Cs. This led me to the Forbes story on the issue…

I have cookies disabled on one of the browsers I use and it’s always amusing to see sites screaming that they will not work without cookies… and yet they all seem to work just fine (obviously, shopping carts and such excepted), although you do meet the occasional website that just cycles endlessly trying and failing to set a cookie and showing a blank page. Well done guys. Nice.

Categories
General

iCloud photos blues

Having a MacBook and iPhone I use iCloud to store photos and synchronise them between the two devices. In general this all works well but sometimes it can be very infuriating, in particular it sometimes gets fed up and decides not to synchronise photos. In such times one really misses a large button marked ‘force synchronisation’ or similar but unprintable phrases.

Looking around the web throws up such comments like the photos app will not pull new photos down from iCloud until it has finished uploading. Ok I can see the logic there and presumably there is some form of contention checking, for example if a photo was edited on both devices simultaneously.

But when it fails to update it is really frustrating!

I had this recently where I had taken a lot of photos of documents on the iPhone and later adjusted these on the Mac to put them the right way up. After that, no sync. Nothing. Several days later and no amount of fiddling or swearing made any difference. So I wondered if it was simply never finishing uploading the changes. Tethering the Mac to the phone so it uses 4G made no difference.

What appears to solve it was I selected all the changed photos on the Mac and reverted them to the originals, all of which were taken on the phone. My assumption here was that the originals are on the phone and had synchronised to iCloud and later arrived on the Mac but the changes made had clogged the thing up.

Low and behold about 10 minutes later and all new iPhone photos have arrived on the Mac and everything is in sync again. While this is not really a solution it does mean I need to be careful bulk-modifying photos. Rather annoying really but hey.

Categories
Privacy Website whinging

The problem of stats

No, not statistics in itself. The problem I am writing about is website statistics, and it started a long time ago.

Back in the day we simply used web server logs to analyse website traffic. One could see an incoming IP address and see where the associated browser went in the website. This worked well back then as websites were simple affairs and essentially all one big lump. Of course, this was an era when web servers were run almost in the spare time of those few IT (and indeed non-IT) that had any interest in the web. Back then I was not in the central IT team but I was afforded some latitude for experimenting with new things, especially when redundant hardware could be used. It was 1992 and the IMG tag was still in the realm of fantasy.

Later, there were two open source packages that became very popular, one called Analog and the other Linklint. The former produced statistics about website visitors and the latter could be used to check for errors, missing pages for example. Analog could, when provided with valid data estimate which countries visitors were coming from, very useful when your organisation markets itself globally.

Of course, the marketeers desired more. I was once asked to find out where everyone who only looked at our home page went next. Ok, where they visited another of our own web servers this was do-able, but the question was expanded to ask which of our competitors they visited next. This was new thinking, by which I mean thinking that one could not associate with any other media. For example, if the publisher of one newspaper wanted to know which other newspaper a person took after only glancing at their own it would need some form of physical surveillance, or perhaps a questionnaire. Neither would be particularly reliable, the questionnaire in particular.

Enter, stage left, Google Analytics. I had attended a launch event – well of a sort anyway – where a new product was described which would enable one to search all across the web. The name? Google. We had rudimentary search products by this time but nothing like what was being described. Bells were ringing, but rather quietly. I think we could see back then that all of a sudden content has value, just not to us. But, Google search aside we later got wind of Google Analytics ad the bells got louder amongst those of us who could already see future issues.

Google Analytics arrived with two quite major advantages. First, IT people no longer had to do anything, and second, the marketeers would have access to easy to understand graphs. But those of us who had this nagging voice about global surveillance and the fact that a corporate entity would effectively have access to data indicating where everyone browsed were ignored. Fast forward to the later times of the GDPR and the coming soon and already years late PECR replacement, cookie laws and all that and I resist shouting we told you so but we did and it was back in 1994.

Of course, there was still an issue. Ok, we have this useful global search facility now but how do we include local content which is not accessible from outside? Google again to the rescue. I had a pair of Google Search Appliances (GSA) installed, one in each of our main data centres and fronted by a NetScaler appliance. This provided resilience to the loss of a single GSA. Being on our LAN the GSAs were able to spider content that was restricted to local access and which therefore could not be spidered by Big Google. It also provided a useful facility whereby we could rank, to some extent, content and could apply keyword and key phrase matching to direct searches to specific content which would then appear top in the list of results. This little Google was far more friendly, not being bloated by the desire of the mothership to know all things of all people. Perhaps no surprise then that Google eventually retired the GSA product in favour of a cloud based provision. You guessed it, they wanted to know who was accessing all your secret stuff too.

Are we really where we are because marketing people wanted to know everything about everyone and companies, not just Google cashed in on it? Yes, I think so, and you can see just how far by those invasive adverts that themselves continually leverage new technologies to further invade. Remember pop-ups? And then pop-up blockers? And of course the whole cookie debate where a really quite useful facility enabling shopping carts among other things was hijacked in order to track us across webspace. Yeah, those. Remember the good old doubleclick cookie, adware, ad blockers, layers upon layers of this stuff. It is almost all because of marketing.

Advertising is here to stay and I have absolutely no issue with it. Although I generally ignore it I will admit to having seen something advertised that I was unaware of and which actually filled a need. But there is a constant battle between the marketeers and the techies which will continue because all of this, the Internet, the web, email is designed to help us and  be easy to use and to access. And that’s where it all went wrong but it could not really exist any other way.

Categories
Computing

15″ MacBook stiff screen

My 15″ MacBook dating to early 2013 (or so it claims) had been getting very difficult to open recently. This culminated in the screen popping up about a quarter of an inch when closed, the magnet just not strong enough to hold on. So, time to get the diddy screwdrivers out. I had looked on the Web for tips and found some discussion of removing the screen to clean the hinges, not something I was looking forward to but I decided to have a look anyway.

On removing the base I was presented with this!

That’s a lot of fluff! Ok, I’ve had it from new, so it’s 8 years of fluff (has it really been 8 years?).

Anyway, after de-fluffing all I did was very carefully, and with a teeny bit of WD40 sprayed onto a cotton bud cleaned the parts of the hinge that I could see. And that did the trick. No need to dismantle or otherwise adjust anything fortunately. YMMV of course, but it worked out for me.

But… 8 years! And it will not take the latest OS… sad.

Categories
Cookies and tracking Web content Website whinging

Trust

Trust in websites is under attack as has been for some time now.  These days it is really very hard to know what website to trust and which to avoid, which produce valid, trustable news stores and which are fake, even which product reviews are valid and which are misleadingly good and may even have been paid for. Fake websites include those that wish, among other things to deprive you of your hard earned cash, or persuade you that voting ‘x’ is what you must do.

A recent win for Microsoft in a private trademark case highlights part of the issue and I have witnessed similar first hand. It transpired that scammers had passed themselves off as Microsoft or Microsoft partners and used various trademarks owned by Microsoft. This was all related to those well known ‘your computer has a virus’ type phonecalls and pop-up adverts. I have worked on cases regarding academic integrity and websites passing off as our own and so this case is interesting to me. However, it serves to highlight just how easy it is to get someone to trust you by throwing up a website which looks identical to a company that you do trust, or at least you know of.

To make matters worse of there are now so many domain variants available that it is very difficult to fully protect one’s brand. Again, I was very active here in the past and I could, for example buy and activate domains similar to those used by people who created websites to pass off as our own. It was not helped one bit when Nominet decided to sell single-letter domains such as ‘a.uk’ where typo-squatting was then made easy, for example mistyping xyz.ac.uk as xyz.a.uk. Some years ago the Ascension Islands opened up their ‘.ac’ domain, again causing confusion where people would register xyz.ac hoping to trap typo’s from xyz.ac.uk. Just how far one goes buying any domains that come close to your own is a very difficult question and can result in large spends.

Encryption, aimed at promoting trust and security does not really help. While it is laudable that one can obtain digital certificates for free, when coupled with domain squatting this can result in trust being placed where it really should not. 

This is not limited to websites. Whoever thought it a good idea to allow people using IP telephony to put their actual phone number into the system on trust was just daft. You can no longer assume that a call comes from the number shown in the caller-ID, and if someone by chance or design fakes their number to be one already in your contacts lists, well, you can see that going badly for the recipient.

So, where are we? Well, anyone can throw up a website, for free or very little cost. Anyone can grab the design of a valid website and repurpose it as their own scammer base. Anyone can buy just about any domain regardless of how close it is to a real company URL, set up email addresses and either wait for hits or advertise the fake website somehow. And this is without doing anything actually half clever like using malware. And it does not stop there. I worked on a case where a website had a valid-looking address in the City of London. Calls to the building management (on office block with lots of various companies) found no such name on record. In the event I was close to retirement and let this one slide, but I can just imagine some mailroom employee diverting any received post to the scammer. My longest running case took seven years but I finally had a foreign-based fake website closed down after radically disrupting their ‘business’.

To answer my ‘where are we?’ question in part all I can say is it has become very hard to trust any information on the web, and that’s a crying shame. The scammers are like a virus – they are killing their host. How we can stop people becoming a victim I do not know. For myself, I begin by trusting nothing and I use my decades of experience to parse what I see and determine whether or not it is valid. Mobile phone calls from numbers not in my contacts are ignored. URLs in SMS message or emails are NEVER clicked. If I can be bothered to I will investigate – obfuscated URLs, those where someone is attempting to be clever by mixing letters to look like something real, or adding to real-looking domains can be easier to read if pasted into a text-editor. Anything that comes from the bank will also appear in their app and so can be checked.

And don’t get me started on cookies!

Categories
Website whinging

The joys of recaptcha return

I’ve managed to avoid websites that use Google’s daft recaptcha thing until recently. But now PayPal wants it even though I log in and enter the SMS’d 2FA code. Despite clearing all cookies and probably-illegally stored crud it simply will not work on my Mac.

The daft thing is PayPal works fine on my iPhone – well, ok that’s the app version not the website. But I keep cookies disabled on the phone and run a cookie cruncher on the Mac. Even with that turned off recaptcha simply does not work on the Mac and it seems I’m the only one with an issue. Google hates me… but then, I rarely need to interact with it, given I use DuckDuckGo for searches and I have transferred almost all email that used to come to my Gmail account to a more reliable host.

Categories
Computing

MacBook Pro battery replacement

Recently the battery in one of our old MacBook Pro laptops gave up the ghost, big time. First, it would run for a few minutes but not long after it was totally dead, with the Mac loosing power completely if the charger was removed. We replaced this Mac as it was a vital component in our IT armoury but I wanted to fix it and, hopefully sell it as working. It’s a 2015 13″ model.

So, off to the excellent iFixit site, specifically in our case this. The guys that put these pages together are a huge help to those of us daring to venture into repairing our own kit. Anyway, I have a decent range of tools for abusing small electronic devices such as phones and laptops, so why not?

The case comes apart quite easily:

Getting the battery unstuck – my goodness they glue them in well – is hard but not so much so that it cannot be done with care. A note here, this is solely from my own experience, do not rely on this!

It took maybe 20 minutes and 4 old credit cards to very carefully unstick the entire battery. I had a new OEM battery from the Replace Base that arrived within a day, came in a neat package and included the necessary screwdrivers but I already have plenty. The price of the battery was somewhere between the cheapest eBay price for a non-OEM part and the price from Apple. Everything went back together with no screws left over (!) and the Mac works nicely, holding 100% charge and with a battery recharge indicator of 1. oh yes and I managed to throw Big Sur onto the Mac too.

I have to say though, I went through this because I have some time, being retired, and I wanted to not be beaten by something that should be simple, i.e. changing a battery. Having been through the exercise, and bearing creases on my palms for a couple of days from the force needed to unstick the battery, paying Apple to do this is actually fairly good value for money!