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The Actuator – April 24th

Level 17

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter this past weekend. We celebrated in the usual way, with the burning of the Christmas tree and eating our weight in ham.

As always, here are some links from the Intertubz that I hope will hold your interest. Enjoy!

Mueller report forced Congress to find PCs with disc drives

The Mueller report is a nice reminder for those of us that have tried restoring a system, but can’t find an O/S old enough for the app to run.

Delta is reducing how much seats recline to protect your personal space

My biggest complaint about airlines is the “business” seat doesn’t allow you to use your laptop when the person in front of you decides to recline. Here’s hoping Delta sets a new standard for everyone to follow.

5-star phonies: Inside the fake Amazon review complex

Fake Amazon reviews are about as surprising as inaccurate Wikipedia articles. But I like this article for their attempt at using data to show the extent of Amazon’s review problem.

America’s Great College Boom Is Winding Down

A handful of local schools have closed their doors; one was mid-semester. I suspect the closings are linked to the student loan bubble.

A ransomware attack took The Weather Channel off the air

They should film an episode of “It Could Happen Tomorrow” dedicated to malware.

Encryption: A cheat sheet

I found this guide to be a helpful overview and thought you may find it useful to share as well. I think it was this sentence: “Encryption won't stop your data from being stolen.” Truth.

How to Detect Hidden Surveillance Cameras With Your Phone

As someone that travels frequently, I’ve hit the point where I feel it necessary to scan for hidden cameras in my room.

Another Easter tradition for our family meal and yes, those are bacon crumbles:

deviled.JPG

38 Comments
vinay.by
Level 16

Nice article let me cont.. reading them

smttysmth02gt
Level 13

I've been an Amazon reviewer for some time now.  I got started by joining review clubs where sellers offer products at a discount.  I've been contacted frequently by Chinese sellers and I've never given a dishonest review based upon discounts.  I've even refused when asked to review something in exchange for a favorable review. I've 1 star'ed free items before because they were junk.  I understand that not everyone is this way, but it sort of ruined something I really liked doing when the fake review bus rolled through.  People say "well you got free stuff" but I often gave things away anyway.  The joy, for me, came in testing products and articulating my critique in an open forum so people can hopefully find them useful. 

Having said all that, I usually ignore 5 star reviews when I am looking to make a purchase.  I may gloss over them quickly but I look for ones that appear to show a lack of bias.  I'm analytical by nature and look for flaws in everything (and everyone)....it can become a problem for me because of how much I do it.  The policy changes and blacklisting of the "fake review" deal really put a damper on me doing reviews very much because it made me feel like I was "doing something wrong" so to speak.  I have not done consistent reviews, even on legitimate, non discounted purchases in quite some time. At any rate, thanks for the links!

vinay.by
Level 16

Another Easter tradition for our family meal and yes, those are bacon crumbles:

petergwilson
Level 14

Mueller report.  Knowing the technical abilities of bureaucrats I suspect they redacted the report by drawing on the CD with an indelible marker.    

petergwilson
Level 14

Good news about Delta and the reclining seats.  I hope others follow.  I'm 6'4" and, when the person in front of me reclines their seat, I can't see the seatback screen because it doesn't tilt enough. 

petergwilson
Level 14

Most fake reviews are fairly obvious.  I read through most of the reviews and find the middle ground.  I then look elsewhere for reviews of the product and make an informed decision.  One 5* review doesn't make me think the product is great.

petergwilson
Level 14

For profit colleges.  Not really a surprise.  Money is tight everywhere and people are realising that being in huge debt for years isn't a great thing.  Here in the UK all the Universities are having issues.  The fees are too high and they struggle to get enough enrolments.  Of course they also ran courses which would never help someone to get a job afterwards.  I used to work in the IT department of a large London Uni and saw the numbers fall.  That meant less money for IT upgrades, pay raises etc. so I left and went back to the private sector.

petergwilson
Level 14

Ransomware.  It is far too easy for this to happen.  We are really strict on IT use but we still get users doing really stupid things.  We stop them from doing something that will cause harm so they spend their time trying to circumvent our protections instead of talking to IT and seeing what we can do for them.  Then we have to clean up their mess and they complain because they can't get work done.  We have had one ex military cyber security expert phished three times    

df112
Level 13

Thanks again for another edition of my favorite Geek Speak post.  Really interesting set of links this week.  Had no idea about the hidden camera thing (we're not Airbnb fans) but it could happen anywhere.  Definitely going to start keeping my eyes peeled for that.

petergwilson
Level 14

Encryption is a start but it isn't enough.  You need to stop the stealing of the data (encrypted or not) in the first place.  Once stolen they can take their time decrypting it.  Remember the German Enigma code during WWII.  The British had all the encrypted comms and were able to break the codes given enough time.  OK we did invent a 'computer' to help.  Modern computers are so much better equipped to help.

petergwilson
Level 14

I'm going to try out that tool and advice for detecting hidden cameras.  Great find.

petergwilson
Level 14

Food does look good.  Pity we don't have taste 'o' vision.

CourtesyIT
Level 15

Wish I had more time to get into what is happening in and around DC.  The season is almost upon us and the flooding to ads will be interesting. 

gfsutherland
Level 14

Eggs.... bacon crumbs..... hmmmm. more please!

rschroeder
Level 21

Regarding feeling lucky to find a PC with a CD-ROM drive to read the Mueller Report, CD's don't seem to be nearly as vulnerable some cloud-stored resource, with only a password, and perhaps MFA, to protect it.  It's HARD to be Layer One security, and if you've got control of the physical media, no one else gets to read it.

Every employer I've ever worked for has had to purchase and mothball obsolete technologies to playback records stored in obsolete formats.  The combination of storing current data that eventually is determined to only run on old applications/versions and old Operating Systems / hardware has always been a moving target.  School Districts have old PC's in storage just to be able to drag up historical records that taxpayers never funded to be updated for modern access.  The same goes for cities and public and private businesses.

Many folks just don't get the funds to transfer data to contemporary formats and media--over and over again.

rschroeder
Level 21

Airlines seem to be caught between that rock and a hard place situation, with loss of comfort for BOTH the person in front AND the person behind, when the front person reclines.  I've been in that same boat (well, in that same PLANE) many times, worried I'm causing discomfort for the person behind me as I try to stretch back a little bit to sleep, concerned that I can't have something on my tray/table when the person in front of me reclines practically into my lap.

The problem is not the person in front or the person behind.  It's not even the airline or the jetliner manufacturer.

It's greed.  These changes are not done for passenger comfort or safety.  If that were the intent, the companies and manufacturers would build jets to hold fewer people, providing greater space and comfort, privacy and security.

But it's all done for profit, not for our comfort or safety.

When you hear (or read) how airlines make practically no money per passenger, compare these two videos:

Why airline classes cost as much as they do.

Airlines report record profits even as customer complaints soar

The solutions:

  • Telecommute instead of fly
  • Fly MUCH less--it's good for the environment!
  • Readjust your priorities and take alternate mass transit--trains, vans, a bus, etc.  Not that they're better in all ways, but you're making a difference.
  • Enjoy "stay-cations" as I do--I love where I live, I enjoy taking a week off from work and spending the time in the area surrounding my home.
  • Sacrifice.  I don't need to fly south to escape the winter here in northern MInnesota.  Airlines and too many people at the destination sites take away the relaxation benefits too many times.  Eventually I saw this wasn't a sacrifice on my part--wasn't even a minor disappointment.  It all ends up being able to recognize your blessings and appreciate your life, instead of focusing on what others do or have.
  • Get crazy and select a different job that doesn't require (or offer) flying to other places; live where you work and love where you live.  You might find there's no need to fly anywhere else.

The tragedies of 9/11 were a scary and terrible, horrible thing for most people, but "they say" that every cloud has a silver lining.  As the U.S. grounded every airline flight for the several days following the disaster, meteorologists reported amazing improvements in airborne pollution and clarity of the skies.  Astronomers everywhere saw brilliant improvements in their telescopes and photographs of stars because the pollution thousands of jets per hour was no longer released into the atmosphere.

Flying less is good for the environment, good for the pocketbook, good for our eyes, ears, and lungs.  Let's take the airlines' actions of reducing-our-comfort-to-increase-their-profit as our incentive to reduce, or avoid, flying.

gfsutherland
Level 14

Hidden cameras...   1984 is alive and well.... Will check out the Fing App...

I get the nanny cams and doorbells.... But to record people who rent your apartment,condo or house.... Some I am sure under the guise of security/theft...BUT that's what security deposits for. IT's just plain WRONG... It is the definition of Invasion of Privacy.

rschroeder
Level 21

The Amazon Fake Reviews story?  Wow.

Like the author, I've always been skeptical of glowing 5-star reviews, no matter if online or even back in the old days of print.  I've ALWAYS believed ethics are poor when it comes to a seller's claims about their products, and strongly suspected some percentage of positive reviews are fake / invalid / unethical.

Just as I've also held a gut reaction that the worst reviews of a product, 1-star bad report and the "I-wish-I-could-give-this-product-zero-or-negative-stars-because-it's-so-bad" reviews might just be from competitors who are throwing mud.

When I consider a product at Amazon (or other online sources) I ​ALWAYS ​ read the worst reviews first, and then take them with a grain of salt.  I understand there are competitors throwing mud on good products, just as I understand someone might really be upset and angry at a bad product.  Similarly, people in manufacturing and sales still participate in Monday Syndrome and Friday Syndrome, where products built on Monday mornings have worse quality due to workers having not taken good care of themselves over the weekend, and products built on Friday afternoons have poor quality as workers rush to get out of the factory and cut corners on production. There are actually bad products out there for sale, and their negative reviews are valid.

Good morals and good ethics go out the window when we don't  teach them, expect, and require them.  It starts with practicing good ethics ourselves, and teaching them to our children, and demanding them from everyone.

Without such practices, why would you trust anyone's word?  The way we've become a global economy, no one loses if they lie to buyers.  The philosophy has always been "it's a big market--who cares if that one minnow gets away when there are oceans of schools of fish who can buy my poor-quality products and services.  And when sales decrease enough because people realize my brand/product is bad, I'll just rename my company and product and do it all over again."

Be the great positive ethical example to others, always.  Demand it of your family and friends, coworkers and the businesses with which you interact.

rschroeder
Level 21

Perhaps its time the U.S. do what other countries do and invest in our children's educational futures as a way to improve our quality of live, our economy, and our safety. Instead of saddling young people with mountains of debt that slow down their ability to be productive and improve our country and our world.

I recall my father's stories about Calcutta from when he was stationed there in WWII. And I saw the changes in the 70's and 80's and 90's that came after India promoted (required?) students to get a least an engineering degree from college or university, with the result that India became a new world power in the field of intellectual resources and technical skills.


I don't know of any country that provided free or low-cost college educations for their young people that suffered for it. None of those countries devolved into 3rd-world conditions. 

Simultaneously, they also found ways to provide for their aging populations to live and thrive, while also providing better medial services at lower, or no, cost to citizens.

Why do we subject ourselves to the profit motive forced on us by greedy politicians and their supporting corporations when the result is the futures of our children and ourselves are diminished?

rschroeder
Level 21

Hmm.  The Weather Channel hit by ransomware.  That's a really tough one, from a sort of tongue-in-cheek point of view.

On the one hand, ransomware is bad, illegal, evil, greedy, mean spirited, etc.  Nothing good comes from it.

On the other hand, the Weather Channel wants to know my location so it can better target me for advertising, its web page is more than 80% advertising and less than 20% useful content, and its smartphone application mines my data and sells it to others without sharing the specifics with me and without giving me a cut of the profits--all while exposing me to even MORE advertising that I.  Don't.  Want.

I don't want bad things to happen to any good person or group or business or country.

But it sure seems like The Weather Channel strains my idea of "good".

rschroeder
Level 21

From the Encryption Cheat Sheet article, the one thing people need to understand is:

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We saw this when WEP was released for wireless encryption, touted to be "Wired Equivalent Protection", and it was broken in days.  Vendors didn't move away from WEP from far too long.  Worse, it's STILL available as an option to select when setting up certain wireless devices.  Unacceptable!

I recall learning about encryption that was reportedly virtually impossible to break with existing technologies, and then seeing it broken as users turns to high-power video cards and reprogrammed them to be cracking tools.

If you think you have a universal encryption strategy that will be easily deployed and remain safe, just study history.  It proves nothing is safe/secure once it's in transit, or once it falls into the control of unethical people.

rschroeder
Level 21

Hidden cameras.  Bad morals, poor ethics.  Why aren't we teaching the next generations better behavior and then testing and verifying it's happening.

Why don't we require good behavior from others? 

Why don't we offer it to others from ourselves?

Stop doing business with unethical people or companies or countries, and publish what they've done that's wrong.  Litigate against them where possible, and talk with your government representatives about adjusting your country's relationship with foreign companies or countries where you can't litigate against their bad behavior.

It'll never stop unless we make it stop.  Requiring ethical behavior is a start towards a better tomorrow.  It's a VERY long journey, but it starts with a single step.

Thank you, AGAIN, sqlrockstar​, for creating and sharing this series!

ScottRich
Level 12

Excellent articles, as usual.

jfaldmo
Level 12

I love articles that are educational and make me think!

jfaldmo
Level 12

Another example that better morals and ethics need to be taught from the Delta Story: "Countless air rage incidents have been triggered by people reclining their seats, with some planes diverted and others making emergency landings after fights broke out. In 2015, a man aboard a Southwest Airlines flight allegedly tried to choke a woman in front of him after she reclined too far back for his liking."

bobmarley
Level 15

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I usually do read up on an item before I make a purchase. Mostly to see what people had to say about it, if there were any issues reported as well as good things they may say about it.

Usually there are also reviews on other sources such as forums, youtube etc..

IMO people tend to go back to rate a product more often if they are not happy with it -vs- if they are completely satisfied so I tend to keep that in mind.

Also many times when I read through the reviews then purchased the item, get it assembled and use it I often notice that many of the complaints were due to poor setup or lack of reading the instructions.

Take for example this item:

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Runs great if you read the instructions and level it with your tractor, and set the depth correctly. They give you all the parts needed, but you need to read the instructions....

Most of the complaints I read were from a poor setup.

petergwilson
Level 14

Spot on.  I usually ignore the 1 & 5 start reviews and look at the rest with a cynical eye.  Like you say, most bad reviews are from people who don't know what they are doing or have bought something that wasn't what they thought it was.  I've seen some give a 1 star review for a product that they said was excellent but the manual had languages in it that they didn't understand. 

rschroeder
Level 21

I agree, the "seat rage" stories involving two passengers and reclining seat backs is unfortunate.

Although each person being more thoughtful and considerate of the other should have prevented this (the front person  turning back and asking the person behind if it were acceptable to recline the seat, and the rear person (no matter whether asked permission or not) accepting that a reclined seat back in his face is part of flying commercially), the IMPORTANT cause is neither person.  It's the airline for designing the seats to be too close.

Neither person is without blame, but as we seek to behave kinder towards each other, we must become more intolerant of airlines compromising our comfort and personal space with their efforts to increase profit by packing more and more people into smaller and smaller space.

gfsutherland
Level 14

Fake reviews..... If you have a system that promotes your product faster by the number of positive reviews, isn't that the reason why this cottage industry exists?

Now imagine if your competition wants to torpedo your product... the reverse holds true.

gfsutherland
Level 14

Question... is anyone really surprised that the Mueller report got issued on CD's?

I really expected stone tablets or parchment paper....

To my colleagues in Federal land... I know it is not all of you... but this stains all of you.

vinay.by
Level 16

Mueller report forced Congress to find PCs with disc drives - hmm

bobmarley
Level 15

"Mueller report forced Congress to find PCs with disc drives"

To me a Disk Drive and a CD Drive are to different things. Must be a very young reporter...

bobmarley
Level 15

Go figure!

"Drugs and/or alcohol contribute to 33% of all air rage incidents"

petergwilson
Level 14

It might also have a lot to do with the really poor quality air they circulate in aircraft now.  Apparently it was so much better when people were allowed to smoke on flights as they had to scrub and refresh the air a lot more.

david.botfield
Level 13

Thanks for the Articles.

vinay.by
Level 16

Delta is reducing how much seats recline to protect your personal space - what a relief, nice way to go.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

I like trying the food wherever I got too Thomas.

brianj
Level 12

University degrees are no longer worth the cost for most fields. There are a lot of tech schools that will qualify you for a very good job if you have some aptitude, and you don't need to go $40,000+ into debt.

About the Author
Thomas LaRock is a Head Geek at SolarWinds and a Microsoft® Certified Master, SQL Server® MVP, VMware® vExpert, and a Microsoft Certified Trainer. He has over 20 years experience in the IT industry in roles including programmer, developer, analyst, and database administrator.