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The Actuator – May 16th

Level 17

Welcome to another edition of the Actuator. I hope everyone is enjoying some warm spring weather. It's nice to be able to sit outside for an hour at the end of the day.

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

Alexa and Siri Can Hear This Hidden Command. You Can’t.

Fun fact for you: There is no law against sending subliminal messages to humans, or machines. The practice is discouraged and *may* be considered an invasion of privacy (for humans, not for machines). Another example of where the laws lag far behind the technology.

Digital Photocopiers Loaded With Secrets

Not mentioned in the article: the embarrassing photos from office Christmas parties.

Stanford Study Shows the Astonishing Productivity Boost of Working From Home

Glad to see we are putting some data into the productivity levels for people working from home. I’ve been doing it for eight years now. I know it’s made me more productive, happier, and healthier. I can’t go back to having a real job, ever.

Don't Skype Me: How Microsoft Turned Consumers Against a Beloved Brand

“[Using Skype] is like Tim Tebow trying to be a baseball player.” Ouch.

Amazon’s Fake Review Problem

I’ve been frustrated for years with the reviews on Amazon. I find many of them to be fake. These days I focus on the three-star ratings and do my best to discern the truth. To be fair, Amazon is not the only company with an online review problem.

Are My Friends Really My Friends?

Interesting analysis showing that despite being surrounded by constant interactions, we are more alone now than ever before.

Security researchers discover critical flaw in PGP encryption that reveals plaintext

Everything is terrible.

Seems legit:

twins.jpg

25 Comments
david.botfield
Level 13

The link for the skype story is broken. looks to have the Thwack URL prefixed to the actual link.

jm_sysadmin
Level 13

Twins huh? Must be all that bacon.

vinay.by
Level 16

Cool article

ecklerwr1
Level 19

That twins thing is really funny Thomas lol!  Also my Pixel XL 2 phone doesn't open at all without my finger on it... also the fingerprint reader is fast.  I do have a google home mini though I got free with the phone.  I'm more reserved about allowing alexa anywhere near my house...

Also where I work we can't let anything in or out of the environment without documentation from the manufacturer about all non volatile memory contained in the product and how to zero it if it contains any... if there is any doubt the device is sent to a huge furnace that burns it all up into ash.

sqlrockstar
Level 17

Fixed!

ScottRich
Level 12

Appreciate this installment, always interesting stuff.

It did not surprise me to learn that there is not a law against subliminal messages, but a law would only work for those ethical enough to not do it in the first place.

As for Amazon reviews, I generally try to get reviews from outside of Amazon if possible before a purchase.

Jfrazier
Level 18

I don't even use the "hey google" feature on my phone or siri on my ipad.

Alexa and her inlaws or outlaws depending on how you view them are not allowed in the house.

Having worked with digital modes in ham radio, it is easy to observe that a computer can pick out information from what sounds like white noise or static.

It is easy to make the leap that Alexa and her kind can do the same around you and you would never know it. 

Just think you aren't just having to worry about SQL injection anymore....its injecting Alexa with nefarious commands that you have no idea as to who or what is doing what.

Jfrazier
Level 18

Don't stop at just photo copiers....what about fax machines ?  They have store and forward capability.  What about all the copiers at the library, Staples, office max, UPS store, etc ?
What about the photo printers at Walmart where you plugged in a usb thumb drive ?  There is so much data you put out there without realizing it and then you have no control over it.

The sad thing is most people don't have a clue...or in many cases just don't care.

mtgilmore1
Level 13

Alexa -- I'm watching you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

tinmann0715
Level 16

I don't have much to add this week but this. This is a picture of my daughter during Mother's Day breakfast at a local café in Ocean City, MD. She is using a strip of bacon to scrape all of the butter out of the container. An ode to a furnace metabolism and malleable arteries.  :-)

Bacon.jpg

rschroeder
Level 21

So much for "Trust but verify."  It's one thing when a burglar shouts through your door or wall "Alexa, open the garage door."  It's another when someone intentionally leverages voice-activated systems' vulnerabilities stealthily to send your computer to sites where it could be easily compromised, resulting in you losing your private/personal information, your bank funds, your identification . . .

No one needs that kind of vulnerability and the resulting risks and aggravation and frustration.

Just stop buying voice-activated items, or turn off the voice parts of them, and be safer.

rschroeder
Level 21

Thanks, yet again, for revealing more I didn't know about poor I.T. security.  I'd no clue about digital printers and their hard drives.  I've forwarded that story and concerns to our I.T. Security and Printer teams.

rschroeder
Level 21

The "working from home" story reflects my own experience.  I prefer to stay in touch by being physically adjacent to coworkers, even though my home is a better environment.

My observation is that working from home can also be a negative; suddenly the place you escape from work BECOMES the place you work.  That's a major reason why I don't exercise my option to telecommute.  (Well, that, and the fact that my rural ISP DSL connection only supports 768K upload speeds and only 9 Mb downloads, at $60/month--which is not reimbursed by the company.)

rschroeder
Level 21

Skype:

  • Microsoft's IM/chat/telephony/video solution has been a royal pain, expensive and ridiculously complex to set up at the Internet/firewall level, and worse internally.
  • Has had problems sharing between different types/scales/licensed customers across the Internet
  • Works OK within the same internal corporation across LAN and WAN links

I just Skyped a friend at a different business yesterday and was easily able to share documents & web views with him.

Now that MS has announced they're leaving Skype and replacing it with Teams, I am again less than happy.  Teams consumes so many resources on our PC's that we only open it once for our Huddle meetings, then shut it down immediately.  Many other apps can't run on our PC's when Teams is up in the background.  Talk about a CPU / Memory hog!  And yet, it's the way we're being forced to go.  It'll cost us that much more in replacing our PCs for upgraded models--except my company is planning on dropping traditional PC's and thousands of traditional Citrix solutions in favor of VDI.

The future will be different.  And that's just the same as always.

rschroeder
Level 21

Fake Amazon Reviews--for cash?

Remember "Trust--but verify"?  The convenience of the Internet couples with the gullibility of its users.  Again.

rschroeder
Level 21

What degree of social interaction is required for happiness, success, and good mental health?

The article "Are my friends really my friends?" might bemoan the changing ways of communications and socialization, but I'm open to the idea that new ways aren't necessarily bad ones--they're just different from what was done in preceding years.

On the other hand, if a person limits friends (based on political or religious or other views shared via social media) to those who are only like-minded, that person risks having a VERY false view of the world and what is "normal."

There's a lot to think about there,

rschroeder
Level 21

Our digital photocopiers' hard drives are encrypted.  When the copiers are retired, the hard drives are removed and physically shredded.

It's harder to defeat Layer One security . . .

pastedImage_0.png

Radioteacher
Level 14

Replies from Alexa - "That is OK with me" and "I think you have Sleep Apnea, Would you like to hear your snoring from last night?"

Paul

petergwilson
Level 14

So you can activate these crappy devices by using sounds humans can't hear.  Well no one saw that coming (except almost everyone).  Next they'll bring back 'blipverts'  Come back Max Headroom, all is forgiven.

petergwilson
Level 14

Good article on photocopiers.  I've been insisting for years that when a photocopier or printer with a hard disk is replaced, we remove the disk and trash it (properly).  If the copier is rented I make the external company either prove beyond doubt that the disk is wiped or replaced and we get the original disk (even if we have to pay for it).  I do like explaining to senior managers why this is an issue as the look on their face is priceless when they go from "It's only a photocopier" to "I might lose my job or go to prison for allowing extremely confidential data to escape".

petergwilson
Level 14

Working from home.  It doesn't take a brain surgeon to work out that this would be a good thing.  After the initial period where you do slack off you will realise that you can do all the slacking off stuff AND get the work done.  There are far fewer interruptions, you don't have hour long discussions with colleagues who don't seem to have anything else to do and you are more awake as you haven't got out of bed at stupid o'clock just to get to work for 09:00 and then get home two hours after leaving work.  You get a decent lunch instead of a sandwich at your desk and meetings take a lot less time as everyone is prepared before the conference call.  If you can't handle being alone you could always work from home a couple of days a week and commute for the rest.  It turns out your remote access systems work a lot better too and your system security gets a much needed boost.  I wish I could work from home.  I'd save 20 hours a week (commuting time), £58 a week in travel costs and my sanity by not having to deal with some very irritating people.

petergwilson
Level 14

Have to admit I stopped using Skype when Microsoft bought it.  I suspected they would mess it up and they haven't disappointed me.  The mobile phone companies kinda rendered it useless for me anyway as all my calls are now free (I never seem to get anywhere near my 'free' minutes - yes I know I have already paid for them).  Skype was useful when I played online games with friends and we could talk to each other for free to co-ordinate activities but we no longer seem to have time to do this.  At work we use WebEx and GotoMeeting to manage this and that seems to work well.

petergwilson
Level 14

Amazon fake reviews.  I find something that I think will do the job.  Read all the reviews and get a general consensus (If most people say it is poor and one says it is great guess which I'll believe).  I also look for reviews elsewhere on the internet.  It's only when I'm happy that the product is OK will I buy it.  It seems to be a good approach as I've not got anything that I would regard as bad.  It's just a bit of common sense really.

petergwilson
Level 14

My friends really are my friends.  These are the people I go to the pub with, go to rugby with, ride my motorcycle with.  There's probably about 10 and they aren't all from the same group.  Then there are acquaintances.  These are people I know from the pub, rugby or motorcycling but they aren't friends.  I just know them.  Then there are work colleagues (some of whom may be in another category but most aren't).  Then there is everyone else.  I don't do facebook etc. so am not interested in these "friends".

The real friends are the ones you might not see for a while but when you do meet up you just continue from where you left off as if there wasn't a gap.  I wouldn't want any of them at my funeral as, although I might be physically present, I won't be able to have a chat and a beer or three.

tinmann0715
Level 16

"My friends really are my friends."

  I, like many of us, was blessed to be born before the onslaught of social media. Therefore in my formative years I developed friendships without the foundation of social media. The core friends I have today I have had since kindergarten and first grade (I am in my late 40's). We've shared in each other's lifetime milestones. But even we've fallen victim to the laziness of social media as the basis of our friendship and we still don't see each other as much as we used to, and I hate that.

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 15 years experience in the IT industry in roles including programmer, developer, analyst, and database administrator.