FCC Declares DDoS, I declare Shenanigans
On Sunday, May 7, 2017 John Oliver told his audience about Net Neutrality. During his 20 minute segment he indicated that gofccyourself.com will redirect people to the FCC page to leave comments. You can viewthe video clip, approximately 20 minutes long and definitely R rated and NSFW, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92vuuZt7wak
No, you can’t look in my computer…
Some of you may already be aware that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is one of the groups I support. Privacy, security, and freedom for the individual is one of my touchstones. I have written about these topics previously, both here and at AVNation.tv. (Yes, there will be overlap between this post and the one over there. My opinion hasn’t changed.)
There are proposed rule changes within the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that the EFF has made me aware of. I do not claim to be an expert on all the legalities and intricacies, however from the comments that the EFF have provided I immediately felt it was important to comment on. The proposed amendment to procedural Rule 41 would allow a judge to issue a warrant allowing law enforcement to remotely enter (hack) a computer when “the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means,” or when the media are on protected computers that have been “damaged without authorization and are located in five or more districts.”
The first portion of this means that if one uses a means to hide their location, for any reason, a search warrant would be allowed. At AVNation I spoke about how this applies to business environments where Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are used to provide a secure connection between remote users and the office. A byproduct of that process is that one’s location is incorrect quite often, sometimes on purpose. When I travel to China I use VPN for personal use. I purposely set my VPN to connect me to a point of presence located in the US. This decision allows me to access my e-mail as well as other sites, such as news sites like New York Times or Los Angeles Times. I can continue on about the Great Firewall of China, but these couple of links should help provide background https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Firewall or https://www.eff.org/search/site/china%20firewall.)
I also use a VPN connection, as well as other tools, when I am using a public hotspot. In fact I am using one right now as I sit in Starbucks using their WiFi. This approach prevents eavesdroppers to my communication. I will say that Google and Starbucks do a good job keeping things safe, however not everyplace is as secure. I want to keep my data encrypted as long as I can. Yes, there is Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) that is secure and I use it as much as possible, but not every site supports it or for all traffic.
I can continue on as to why I use VPN, the important thing to take away is that there are legitimate legal reasons to use VPN. The fact that I use it should not change the way my data/privacy is viewed by the courts. To overly simplify it would be like saying, you locked the door to your car so you have given us a reason to issue a search warrant.
The second portion of the new procedure is also damaging in that it allows for innocent computers to be searched if they have been remotely hacked. If a computer is an unwitting member of a botnet that would meet a qualification for a search warrant. The infected or innocent computer could be searched even if the owner is not involved or suspected of wrong doing. Basically if someone has already broken into your computer, the government can break into it again as your computer might be doing bad things.
To me there is a third reason that this issue is important – this process is being done under the guise of procedural rules. There is no debate, no review by elected officials, just a procedural change to allow more access. Yes, Congress has to vote to approve the rules, but there was very little notice of the process. Luckily groups such as EFF and others are around to alert people to the changes. There is the comment of, “Well if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” I agree and understand that sentiment, but I also believe that once the first domino has fallen the erosion of privacy will continue. To quote James Madison, “There are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” This procedural step is a gradual and silent move to most people.
Also if there is nothing to worry about, please send me your laptop or phone without clearing the history first. I will be more than happy to inspect it for you.
Much of this information was gathered from the webpage https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/06/help-us-stop-updates-rule-41.
The lock pick image is public domain from Wikimedia. More information about it at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALockpicking_Pickset.jpg.
Technology Stills Needs Personal Touch
I was originally going to write a blog post about the conversation topic I alluded to in a few Tweets on the evening of June 29, 2011; however United Airlines changed the topic. This blog post is about the frustration when technology does not actually make things easier. It also gets more frustrating after asking for help when the technology fails.
I wanted to book an award fare to fly myself and the L&T Wife to California on United. So I went to the United website, logged in with my frequent flier number – you know the one that literally has almost half a million miles in the past 11 years. I went through and looked at all the options for flights before finally picking one. I signed myself and the Wife up for it, picked our seats, continued to the payment page and entered my credit card number. Clicked the Submit button, and nothing happened. Clicked button again, nothing happened.
I changed browser from Firefox to Safari and tried again all the way from the beginning I could not save or hold my work. Nothing happened under Safari as well. I then decided to call United Rewards Reservations, which is when the frustration started. This is a basic synopsis of the conversation
- "Hello, I am having trouble booking reward travel on the website."
- "When and where are you trying to travel to?"
- I respond with the information
- "No, there are no seats available for the dates you want."
- "But the website shows many open seats."
- "I am sorry sir the website is wrong."
- "Okay, so what are my options?"
- "There is a flight three days earlier for outbound and two days later for the return."
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot I thought – I did not say it. I was polite to the agent as they are just reporting what the screen is showing.
We go round and round and finally get the exact same itinerary, as I had created online. I did not care if it was a mileage saver fare or not, her system was defaulting to fares that take less miles. If I was asked I would have said, I had picked specific flights online.
Then came the time to make payment. Online it was 75,000 miles per person; via the phone it was 100,000 miles per person. I ask why the difference.
The agent had no good explanation, so I asked for a supervisor. During this time I was placed on hold, without music or other audio so I had no indication I was still connected. The supervisor could not assist me.
As we passed the thirty-minute mark the supervisor indicated I should be transferred to Web Support to assist. After a few minutes with the Web Support person I was able to book my flight.
It was extremely frustrating. I tried to do it via self-service on the web. It did not work. I tried to call for help and that did not work for the first 40 minutes. It took approximately 45 minutes on the phone and three agents to finish the transaction I already had details for. If the first person I communicated with listened to my original issue they might have thought to transfer me to the web team earlier. Instead I believe that they were just going off the script, not really helping the customer.
I tweeted out my frustration and decided to wait 24 hours to see if there was a response before posting. So far I have heard nothing.
Now some people may be thinking that it is only 50K miles, ~10% of your tally. To put the value of that in context, 50K miles is a round trip somewhere in the US with the right planning. Now that this trip is booked, I will get to call again to add my dietary needs as I can’t do that from the website. I think I will wait a day or two.
For those of you that have an impact on customer interaction, think about what happens when your website doesn’t work. How will you help that person? Have you provided them with enough information to know where to go for help? Is the first point of contact going to listen and respond or just follow a script? That one decision can change a customer interaction from a phone call to a frustration and wasting time for everyone involved.
Are you slowing down the Internet?
As my faithful Twitter reader knows, I have been having some issues with my computer attaching to the network at the office. It has been Outlook locking me out, Windows Domain Server locking me out, IT changing the network configuration, entire system going down… etc. Some of these issues were due to the configuration changes that IT is making, some were unforeseen, some were just plain dumb luck.
Something that surprises me though is that for how much we like to cast aspersion on IT; sometimes we are our own worst enemy. By we, I mean the users. Not just at my company but pretty much everywhere IT has a love hate relationship with the users, the users love to hate IT. I am not saying that IT is beyond reproach, but some of the decisions we make, often times it makes it worse for everyone.
One of the most common complaints I am hearing is about the speed of the Internet. The next common complaint is the fact that many IT departments limit the streaming or some of the social network options. These concerns and complaints are all interrelated and is a case of size.
Many offices are connected with a T1 connection, which sounds “fast” but in reality it is not so much. The standard is that a T1 is 1.544 Mbps (megabits per second). The typical upper limit on residential DSL is 3 Mbps. Cable is much faster with an upper limit of 30 Mbps. Based on that it is easy to see why people often say, “The Internet is much faster at home.” Of course the first comment is why not just bring in something other than a T1? Yes, it is possible but for most business they are looking at uptimes and guaranteed bandwidth. Most contracts with a T1 or similar service state you will have a level of uptime or availability as well as guaranteed minimum speeds.
Most residential broadband services rate the speed as “up to 22Mbps” or something similar. They also typically do not have a guarantee on your uptime or availability. The Comcast Guarantee does not have a guarantee for availability or speed; the Residential Agreement also does not have a speed or availability commitment, the only credits occur after a 24 hour continuous outage. The business agreement has the same issue of lacking performance commitments.
So if I were running a business would I rely on a connection that might be non functioning for a day with no speed minimum, or would I rather have a higher availability and slower speed? I would take the one with a real service level agreement of what bandwidth and connectivity will be delivered.
The next item that impacts the speed is the amount of people using that connection to the Internet. At your house where you might have speeds up to ten times faster, you will typically have no more than four people using the connection at the same time. Now compare that to a business environment, forty people sharing a connection would not be unheard of would it? Not only is it less bandwidth but more people are using it
So if there are 40 people sharing a 1.544 Mbps or 1,554 kbps connection, let’s divide it equally. It is now each person getting 38.6 kbps. Remember dial up modems at 33.6 kbps? Now one user decides to stream a video, the typical bandwidth options are 300 kbps, 500 kbps, or 700kbps. If the user decides to stream the video at 700kbps they have effectively used half of the entire T1, okay it is only 45% but don’t forget the rest of the content on the page. So now because of one person everyone is experiencing delivered speed that can be slower than a dial up modem. Remember the bandwidth is shared for everyone.
Yes, the same thing happens in hotels, coffee houses, airport lounges … etc. bandwidth is shared.
So if I was responsible for productivity and availability of the Internet at a business, what is the first thing I would do? Turn off streaming. Why? It is a bandwidth hog and there are typically more important things to use the bandwidth on that will directly impact staying in business.
Yes, I still think that many IT departments make decisions that are not helpful to the end-users. Yes, I think that the help desk often doesn’t. I just want to point out that we as the users are sometimes the problem. Please, before you decide to fire up Pandora or Slacker, or surf YouTube think about if you are slowing down others? Don’t be a bandwidth hog.
My solution? I take lunch after most people and stay later than most. Why? Since everyone has left for lunch or for home, I get better bandwidth. I also listen to music using my iPod.
Just because it is on the Internet doesn’t mean it is free
Recently I ran across this story http://thestolenscream.com/ about a picture that was taken from a photographer’s Flickr site and was being used around the world. He was not being compensated. It is both an amazing story of how something can go around the world from just being good and how at times people’s work is stolen. The video is 10 minutes long and is well done. The back story and video link is available here at http://fstoppers.com/fstoppers-original-the-stolen-scream/
Notice what I have done above, I clearly indicated where the information is located. I could have just as easily gone into YouTube and gotten an embed link to put into my blog. I also could have just as easily downloaded the video and edited out the credits. But that is an insult to the people who created it. I am basically stealing their time and effort.
I know that some of my readers are more familiar with audio video system integration than with photography. The same thing occurs there and other places as well. It might not be a picture it could be a grounding scheme or a user interface panel just for a sample. Perhaps it is finding information on a manufacturer’s website and including it in your information package. Often manufacturers are okay with that, if you are using the information to sell and use their products. However that does not always happen.
Last year I was very surprised when someone called me to complain about a training video I did that was on YouTube. I was not surprised that I got a complaint, rather I was surprised that it was on YouTube. I did not upload the video there. I uploaded it to my work website. Not a huge deal as it was information about our products, however it then started to sink in. This website had taken someone else’s work, made some edits, and were then presenting it as their own work. They even placed their company logo over the video as well.
Someone else was supplicating all of the time and effort placed into the video. I understand how anything on the Internet is capable of being copied. Basically that was what annoyed me the most was that the effort put forth to collect and present the information was not being recognized someone else was just taking it.
That seems small, no one harmed, right? That is somewhat correct. My company paid for me to make the video and the product was still being promoted. However what happened if it was not a sales tool but rather a picture of a landmark, a presentation about a topic, a system design, or a configuration file for a piece of equipment.
The information is being provided without compensation to the creator or even acknowledgment. Basically that person’s time, effort, and knowledge is being stolen. If it is licensed under Creative Commons terms the creator expects certain respect in the process. If it is not expressly stated that it is okay to use, it should not be used.
The best example is someone who is creating a presentation or proposal and need a picture of a movie theater. I found a nice theater image on Wikipedia taken by Fernando de Sousa from Melbourne, Australia and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. That license requires attribution. Mr. de Sousa is a professional photographer. He takes pictures for compensation. He shared his work, the results of his skill, equipment, experience, and knowledge. All that he asks for is credit. Will you provide it?
Think about it another way. You went through the process of creating a proposal for a project. You outlined the equipment and process you are going to use. You provided information about why you chose that approach. The person you made the proposal to decides not to hire you. Instead they take your proposal package and use it to create the project themselves. Would that annoy you? Would you expect compensation? How about if all you asked for was attribution?
So I ask everyone to please respect the Intellectual Property, time, effort, and knowledge that is provided on the Internet and provide attribution at least. Don’t take credit for other people’s work.
I am off to go place watermarks on my stuff, if you would like to use an image without it, just ask.
The airplane challenge for help, software, and interfaces
Another blog post written at 32,000 feet as that is when the issue hit me. I have various electronic devices as my dedicated reader knows. I have previously talked about various data access connection challenges. This new challenge is not one of my own doing. It is a poor user experience or use case definition. This problem was illustrated by Amazon and their Kindle applications, but it does not apply to just them. This challenge happens to many applications beyond this example.
I have found a time where the electronic delivery of a book advantages outstrip the disadvantages I previously outlined. This happened with a “for Dummies” book. At work, I am on a software implementation team rolling out a new application package. I wanted the “for Dummies” book for the application. I looked at Amazon and the book was available both in paperback and in Kindle form. The Kindle form was substatianaly less expensive, but the key item was I could get literally instant delivery. While on a conference call I was able to purchase the book, take delivery of it, and reference it during the call. It was very powerful and better than using the Internet search tools as it has high signal to noise and no rabbit trails.
The next day I had a business trip, I had my analog reading material and my electronic versions. On the plane flight I started to truly ready my newly purchased book. It was also the first time I had started to explore some of the Kindle application features. I saw that there were sections of the book that were underlined. Not underlined texted, but a dashed underline. I was not sure what it was at first, but I found out that it meant that other readers had highlighted that passage. The idea of crowd sourced highlighting was intriguing for me; it helps to know what areas one should pay attention to.
I wanted to see what other features were available. My brain needed a little break from thinking about business practices. I was going to use that time to browse through the help file and see what other features were available that I might not be using in the Kindle application. I was airborne when I wanted to do that. I had no Internet access on that flight. As a result of not being connected to the Internet the help file was not available.
That seems very counterintuitive, why would an electronic reading application not include a help file with it? Think about that for a moment. Something that is designed to read document while disconnected from the Intenet is not able to read its own help file while not connected. It is not just Kindle that has this design flaw. Cloudreader, Nook, and iBooks for iPad do not have a help file that is readily available. I am sure that I can continue to list others as well. It also occurs with applications for workstations.
Not all applications are that short sighted. Two applications on my iPad have help that is available offline. iAnnotate and DocsToGo install their help file as a document you can read from within the applications.
Makes perfect sense to me. An application that is designed to be portable, should have supporting documentation that is portable. So for those of you involved in the design and creation of applications, think about the user that is not connected to the Internet. They might want to refer to the supporting documents; you should make it easy for them. The fact that I turned to the help file already means that the application is not intuitive enough. Do not compound the issue by making it difficult to find the help.
Also this concept applies to those of you who are creating custom control interfaces using software created by others. On more occasions than I would care to count I have ended up troubleshooting a control system and having to guess. These guesses could range from what are the IP addresses to connect to the system to what the control system is using for the backend to how to get help.
For the application users, I recommend that you try out your applications before you are traveling with them or disconnected from the Internet to make sure you understand how to use it. The help files might not always be available.
Well the fasten seatbelt sign just came on….
<note this post was recreated after a website crash, good thing I backed it up>
Why Net Neutrality matters?
Over the past few weeks there has been talk about Net Neutrality, including the FCC making rulings. I will be the first to admit that me writing about the issue is a little late, as the decisions have already been made. The decisions are not final and with Joe Lieberman now wanting to be able to turn off the Internet it is time for us to get more involved with the issues.
The item I am concerned about is what happens when Internet access providers start favoring their services over the completion. Now some will say that there is the ability to change the provider of high speed Internet. This issue is not entirely true. Just as one cannot in the United States freely chose which cable television company to use, one cannot freely chose which high speed provider to use. The Internet providers are limited by both technological needs and government mandates. Yes, one can use satellite or wireless or other solutions but it is not always comparing equal delivery of services. Think about the issues AT&T had with traffic saturation and the iPhone.
Currently my options for high-speed Internet access at my home are:
- Comcast Cable Modem (22Mbps down and 6Mbps up)
- AT&T DSL (1.5Mbs down/384kbps up)
- Earthlink or other Dial Up (0.0336Mbs down/33.6kbps up)
- Hughes Net (2Mbps down300kbps up; capped at 400MB of data a month)
- FiOs and UVerse are not available
So given these conditions I am pretty sure that all of us would chose Comcast. Also given the pricing structure, Comcast makes the most sense financially. Now Comcast has some programs in place to provide additional services through them for their customer’s use. Comcast offering Mozy is an example of extra services.
From the Comcast press release: “Comcast High-Speed Internet customers automatically receive 2 GB of storage included with their subscription. This amount allows for storage of up to hundreds of photos, music files, or thousands of documents. Comcast also offers a 50 GB storage plan for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 annually, and a 200 GB storage plan for $9.99 monthly or $99.99 annually.” The webpage http://security.comcast.net/backup/details/ outlines the basic examples.
I knew that I needed more than 2GB of backup. I wanted offsite storage in addition to backup. The differences can be subtle between storage and backup, but that is another blog post. After looking at the options I decided to use JungleDisk, it is less expensive per month and has other features I want.
One can easily see how JungleDisk is competition to Mozy. They offer similar services and both require high-speed connectivity to work effectively. What happens if Comcast was to decide to put priority on the traffic to Mozy and degrade the traffic to JungleDisk?
The issue of how one selects a service becomes much more complex. If the bandwidth I am using to connect to JungleDisk is throttled back wouldn’t that change my experience and cause me to think about another solution. All of the sudden Mozy would be much more of an option as a result of being much faster for me as a Comcast user. Having a backup take an hour instead of two hours can be a very big deal – especially if one is trying to backup data before leaving on a trip.
Now you might say, under what guise would Comcast throttle traffic like that, "network management". I easily see a situation where Comcast would decide that backups running at 2AM on everyone’s computer were causing congestion. The first solution any reasonable business is to make sure its customers and partners’ experience is optimized to keep the complaints to a minimum. The majority of the users might be using Mozy since it is included and I would be in the minority using JungleDisk. So the decision made to correct the problem for the majority by providing priority to Mozy would make sense from a customer satisfaction evaluation. I am glossing over the way that this management can be done, it is not just how data is transmitted to my location it is also how the traffic is transmitted across the interconnections of the Internet itself.
Due to the partnership between Mozy and Comcast and possible bandwidth management, Mozy might gain me as a customer while JungleDisk would lose me as a customer. Beyond that I would lose as a consumer as the choice I made would be compromised. I would have to look at the ability to use the service not just the price of the service.
This issue can be applied to many other products, virus protection software, website hosting, picture hosting, voice services. Yes, Vonage and Skype can be blocked and already have been blocked by Internet Service Providers. The same ones that offer phone service. The FCC did require the voice services to be unblocked.
To paint with a very wide and absurd brushstroke, it would be akin to the electric company also selling light bulbs. Of course their light bulbs work better for most users. They did not allow for people to tailor their light bulb choices as the power was optimized to work with the electric company’s bulb vendor. So to get effective lighting, the user is relegated to purchasing what the electric company is selling even if it isn’t the best solution for them.
Let me know if you want me to talk about Comcast now having NBC/Universal content. I am sorry why is Netflix or ABC or Fox or Hulu or …. streaming so slowly?
So when people talk about Net Neutrality, it is not just something for the technophiles. It can impact anyone who uses the Internet.
Data Backup and Access
I have found a few things out over the past few weeks that I figure I will share with you my faithful reader. I have had a logic controller failure on my MacBook Pro which meant that I was sans laptop for approximately 10 days. The day after I received it, less than 12 hours later, the cable modem at my house failed.
So between not having my personal laptop and then Internet access being a car ride away, I discovered some items along the way.
- Backing up Data is important, but one also needs access to the data
There are a few other tangential things I have found out as well, such as changes to my photography workflow, online instructions should not be the only instruction, unfettered Internet access can be a key item but those will be separate posts.
Using my backup solutions none of my data was in jeopardy, however using that data was the challenge. I have been using JungleDisk as my incremental off site backup solution. It works very well for me, but has some choices along with it that I was not fully aware of when I made them. Using a block copy approach I could reduce the amount of bandwidth and storage space I use, however this does not come without its tradeoffs. By making this choice I would be unable to browse the files online, I would have to actually restore them using the client software. At the time I did not think that it was a big deal as I figured I could always just install the client on another computer and get all the data back.
A key item here is that it is my off site backup. Too many people think that just having a backup is sufficient. It is not as there are other things to consider than just a hard drive or computer failure. One has to think of other ways that Data can be destroyed: “Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts!!“ Having the data off site makes it much less likely that Data will be lost.
I could have just installed the client on another computer and get all the data back that still was not going to solve all my issues. As a result of not being able to browse the contents, I am going to change my approach yet again.
Some items will be backed up using block copy, other items will be backed up using file copy, and still other items will be backed up to either Mobile Me’s iDisk or to my Dropbox account. You might wonder what data would go to what place and how to keep it all organized, well that is actually fairly easy as long as I make the right decisions when starting. Just by putting files into different locations on my computer they will be backed up in different ways. Placing items into the Documents directory will place them on JungleDisk, placing items in the Dropbox folder will be on Dropbox obviously (still waiting for selective sync before 100% happy with it), and items stored in iDisk will be on MobileMe iDisk.
The key to this approach is to make sure that a file is stored in one location and only one location for live Data. I have often encountered problems where two files have the same name, but different time stamps or on different computers, so how do I know which one is current. Since all of these items are backed up to the "cloud" of the Internet I do not have to worry greatly about the loss of data. I still do backups to DVD and secondary hard drives every so often so that I am not completely at risk. For items that I want to make sure I backup in more than one location, well I have not hit any yet, but using ChronoSync to keep a "Backup" directory in sync is my plan. This will allow me to create a directory in one of the other storage locations that is labeled KeyJDBU (Key JungleDisk Backup items), then I can use ChronoSync to decide what to copy into it and keep in sync.
This approach of also having the key items in iDisk or Dropbox will also allow for the items to be browsable without having to restore all the data. It still does not solve another key issue, do I have the access to the programs to use the data once restored? I found that quite often the answer was no. Most of this situation was my own fault as I chose what format to store the Data in. Once again I could reinstall and have the data back, but that would take a while; especially with the licensing headaches some companies have put in place (that means you Adobe). I am now considering how to handle that issue.