Archive for February 2018


Instagram-created art

27.02.2018

I don’t know if Instagram does this on all phones, but when I make multi-photo posts, it often leaves behind a very interesting image. Sometimes, the result is very artistic, such as this one of a Lotus–Ford Cortina Mk II.

You can see the rear three-quarter shot just peer in through the centre. I’ve a few others on my Tumblr, but this is the best one. Sometimes technology accidentally makes decent art. I’m still claiming copyright given it’s derived directly from my work.

PS., March 3: Here’s a fun one from my visit to Emerson’s Brewery.

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Posted in cars, interests, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 3 Comments »


We need to heed the warnings that Harry Leslie Smith gives

26.02.2018

Not that Asian countries get this right all the time, but generally, when a 95-year-old speaks, we (as in many of us with Asian heritage, and by ‘Asian’ I mean a lot of cultures that make up the 3,700 million people on the continent) tend to listen and we revere their experience. And WWII veteran Harry Leslie Smith, who is one of the more active people of his generation, brings us a warning about where Brexit and other developments around the world are taking us.
   The excerpt from his book, Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future: a Call to Arms, in The Independent, headlined ‘Brexit threatens everything I fought for in the Second World War. On my 95th birthday, this is what I need people to know’, makes for sobering reading, and if we don’t heed his words, we could be heading into trouble. Even if you support Brexit, it would still be advisable to read the excerpt and ensure that the future that he foresees doesn’t come to pass.
   Quite telling is this:

Unlike today, no political party in my youth advocated the isolation that Brexit will bring to Britain. Instead all insisted that our military and political survival depended on cooperation and integration with other nations. Yet today, the political descendants of Winston Churchill are turning our nation into a hermit kingdom whose wealth and ingenuity are being squandered for an idealised notion that we are still a mighty power that the nations of the world want to trade with on our terms.

   I have to agree with him there. When a very good friend of mine, whose opinion I respect greatly, and who voted for Brexit, indicated that New Zealand would be at an advantage, I had to point out that even before the UK joined the EEC, our share of trade with the nation was already declining. We had to look for other trading partners, including ones far closer to home to us. While there’s some truth in that UK–NZ ties could be strengthened, don’t expect a bonanza. If our two-way trade with the EU is worth NZ$19,986 million (Treasury figures, year ended March 31, 2017) and the ONS believes the UK alone accounts for £2,500 million (roughly NZ$4,800 million), then some quick calculations (I realize the periods may differ) indicate that the UK accounts for 24 per cent of the total. But the EU, in total, accounts for 14·5 per cent of our trade. In other words, the UK alone accounts for around 3·5 per cent of trade with us. That’s a fraction of what it was in the 1960s, when New Zealand was a sort of Little Britain (no, neither Little Britain nor the historical sense of that term), when Japanese cars were just an occasional distraction on our roads. We have new friends with whom we trade and I don’t think we’re as nostalgic for the days of Empah as Farage, Johnson, Gove et al. We seem to be more realistic, and we realize the war was a long time ago—and we had to be tougher, in part thanks to the UK’s membership of the EEC.
   It’s not just Britain: Smith doesn’t have great things to say about the US president, Donald Trump, either, especially when he recounts the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt.
   And:

The baby boomers were bequeathed by my generation a society built upon a bedrock of personal sacrifice and a commitment to social and economic justice. Yet all of our accomplishments, from the NHS to council housing as well as our unfinished work trying to ensure a more equal Britain, was pawned off by them to the hedge funds, tax-avoiding corporations and political parties that believe governments should be run like businesses.

   Whereas once upon a time, both Conservative and Labour wanted to uphold the institutions that helped make the UK a decent society—as National and Labour did here—modern ideology has changed the right into something that people like my parents—who voted National for decades—simply don’t recognize today. Even in my lifetime, which is less than half of Smith’s, I find some of the ideas that are being peddled mere caricatures of conservatism. There’s a whole generation—let’s call them ‘Thatcher’s children’—who don’t know any differently.
   Smith doesn’t conclude with this in the excerpt, but I will, as I think it’s a strong paragraph:

And now with our nation in chaos over Brexit, and fascism becoming as great a threat to our security as it once was in the 1930s, the majority in this country and the western world sit like the inhabitants of Pompeii the day before Vesuvius destroyed their city and their lives, ignoring the warning calls of imminent destruction.

   Once again, collective memories are incredibly short—which is why older people who have real experiences they can share so clearly need to be listened to. I mean, why wouldn’t you?

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Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, politics, publishing, UK | No Comments »


Upgrading from Flyme 6.2 on a rooted Meizu M2 Note

25.02.2018

Since Flyme 6.2 for the Meizu M2 Note, Meizu has ceased providing automatic updates of its OS to rooted phones. There are a lot of pages and YouTube videos about unrooting, and after finding that none were relevant, I’d like to add to the din with what worked for me.
   Meizu’s own instruction to go to the Flyme website is right. Head there, grab the relevant update.zip from their downloads (in my case, it was the simplified Chinese one), and put it into the root directory of your internal storage.
   However, clicking on the update file from the default file manager brings up a dialogue, saying you can only update if you tick the box permitting the process to delete all your data. Don’t do it.
   Even though Meizu has a section in the security settings to let you root the phone, there’s no equivalent page to unroot it. Once rooted, the original page giving you the warning about warranties, etc. doesn’t show up again. All you see is a page telling you what programs have root access. And there’s really no point getting SudoSU or other packages if you’re unsure of what to do.
   The solution is so deceptively simple that I’m surprised it can’t be easily found online. I can’t even see it on the Meizu forums. Here’s the low-down so you don’t have to spend hours trying to locate it.
   1. Switch off your phone.
   2. Switch it back on pressing both the power and volume buttons, then let go when the Meizu logotype appears. (I had to do this twice but I got there.) This puts the phone into recovery mode.
   3. You’re then given two options: one to clear your data and the other to upgrade. Since you’ve already got update.zip in the root directory, select the upgrade option. Don’t wipe your data.
   That’s it. No unrooting, no extra downloads.
   I’m now running Flyme 6.3 for the Chinese edition of my phone.
   I have to hand it to Meizu for making the process work pretty well. Unlike some other companies, these OS updates actually work out of the box. It’s just a shame there are more hoops to jump compared with Flyme 5 or even 6.1.

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Posted in China, technology | No Comments »


Wired’s Louise Matsakis did what no other journalist could: break the story on Facebook’s forced malware scans

24.02.2018

With how widespread Facebook’s false malware accusations were—Facebook itself claims millions were “helped” by them in a three-month period—it was surprising how no one in the tech press covered the story. I never understood why not, since it was one of many misdeeds that made Facebook such a basket case of a website. You’d think that after doing everything from experimenting on its users to intruding on users’ privacy with tracking preferences even after opting out, this would have been a story that followed suit. Peak Facebook has been and gone, so it amazed me that no journalist had ever covered this. Until now.
   Like Sarah Lacy at Pando, who took the principled stand to write about Ãœber’s problems when no one else in the tech media was willing to, it appears to be a case of ‘You can trust a woman to get it right when no man has the guts,’ in this case social media and security writer for Wired, Louise Matsakis. I did provide Louise with a couple of quotes in her story, as did respondents in the US and Germany; she interviewed people on four continents. Facebook’s official responses read like the usual lies we’ve all heard before, going on the record with Louise with such straw-people arguments. Thank goodness for Louise’s and Wired’s reputations for getting past the usual wall of silence, and it demonstrates again how dishonest Facebook is.
   I highly recommend Louise’s article here—and please do check it out as she is the first journalist to write about something that has been deceiving Facebook users for four years.
   As some of you know, the latest development with Facebook’s fake malware warnings, and the accompanying forced downloads, is that Mac users were getting hit in a big way over the last fortnight. Except the downloads were Windows-only. Basically, Mac users were locked out of their Facebook accounts. We also know that these warnings have nothing to do with malware, as other people can sign on to the same “infected” machines without any issue (and I had asked a few of these Mac users to do just that—they confirmed I was right).
   Facebook has been blocking the means by which we can get around the forced downloads. Till April 2016, you could delete your cookies and get back in. You could also go and use a Linux or Mac PC. But steadily, Facebook has closed each avenue, leaving users with fewer and fewer options but to download their software. Louise notes, ‘Facebook tells users when they agree to conduct the scan that the data collected in the process will be used “to improve security on and off Facebook,” which is vague. The company did not immediately respond to a followup request for comment about how exactly it uses the data it collects from conducting malware checks.’ But we know data are being sent to Facebook without our consent.
   Facebook also told Louise that a Mac user might have been prompted to download a Windows program because of how malware spoofs different devices—now, since we all know these computers aren’t infected, we know that that’s a lie. Then a spokesman told Louise that Facebook didn’t collect enough information to know whether you really were infected. But, as she rightly asks, if they didn’t collect that info, why would they force you to download their software? And just what precedent is that setting, since scammers use the very same phishing techniques? Facebook seems to be normalizing this behaviour. I think they got themselves even deeper in the shit by their attempts at obfuscation.
   Facebook also doesn’t answer why many users can simply wait three days for their account to come right instead of downloading their software. Which brings me back to the database issues I discovered in 2014.
   Louise even interviewed ESET, which is one of the providers of the software, only to get a hackneyed response—which is better than what the rest of us managed, because the antivirus companies all are chatty on Twitter till you bring this topic up. Then they clam up. Again, thank goodness for the fourth estate and a journalist with an instinct for a great story.
   So please do give Louise some thanks for writing such an excellent piece by visiting her article, or send her a note via Twitter, to @lmatsakis. To think this all began one night in January 2016 …

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Posted in internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Kylie Jenner Tweets, Snapchat’s value down US$1,300 million

23.02.2018

All it takes is a single Tweet from Kylie Jenner—and Snapchat’s value drops 6 per cent, or US$1,300 million. (Hat tip to Sarah Lacy of Pando.)

   Speaking for myself (which won’t affect Snap’s valuation at all), I could never get it to run. It said it needed Google Services, something which I don’t have and don’t want. Who wants Google tracking them all day long—while using up your own phone’s battery power?
   As Sarah points out in a Tweet, this is why ‘you don’t build a $30b co off one generation’s fads’. Twitter should heed this make their experience better rather than have double standards, keeping one particular user on because they know they’re getting attention. (On that note, why is Twitter search so broken today?)

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | No Comments »


From one school shooting survivor to others

22.02.2018

On February 14, 2008, my cousin Paul’s son Harold was shot and injured at a school shooting at Northern Illinois University. From memory, it was the fifth that week. Today, he wrote a letter to survivors and students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who endured their day of horror on February 14, 2018, the 18th school shooting this year.
   He has given me permission to share the below. My apologies for the size of the files: they are the ones I have access to.



   Transcribed, it reads:

To fellow students and survivors,
   I wish this letter was written under better circumstances. I wish this letter was written as purely formal, as rainbows and unicorns show up in the sky. But alas, the sad truth is I am writing this as now we are part of a family, that should never have been.
   Before explaining and encouraging further, let me explain who I am first.
   My name is Harold Ng, on 02/14/2008, I was at Northern Illinois University, in Cole Hall, when a mass shooting occured at 3pm. I was sitting in the back row, when shots were fired. On my way out of Cole Hall, was when I was hit by scrapnel and pellets. I survived and have been coping with the tragedy since. Your incident happened approximately one hour before ours, on our 10th year anniversary. And as I once like you; together we have to comprehend the horror. I am know reaching out to you to teach you from one survivor to another to learn together and teach you all what I have acquired over the years of how to cope with this tragedy.
   And together we can become stronger.
   Side note; Florida my 2nd home, I left IL and stayed with you for six years before; moving back my heart mourned when the Pulse nightclub shooting and now it mourns for you as well.
   I know how hard this can be, but keep your head up; each day we live another day, and know that we can make a difference. Each dawning moment, each breath, live it like it’s your last.
   I know that sounds bad, but the truth it should be taken as the strongest form of encouragement ever. Think of it as a chance to step out of the comfort zone and be who you really want to be, forget what the world and your parents want, but do what you want. By being yourself, you grow stronger and create a legacy, because they (the victims) weren’t able to.
   Over time I have learned a lot of things and I would like to share them, so that we can overcome this chaos together.
   1) Bond together as one, even though I am a whole generation ahead of you, together we will fight the fight.
   2) Never forget who you are; and as survivors we shall not let a tragedy define who we are; define the school; or define the location.
   3) LIVE. INSPIRE, and create a legacy.
   The thing that worked for me was being around the people you love; I also took time to blog, and journal about how why? when? what? this will help cycle through all emotions and feelings and each specific moment; from journaling and blogging I have been able to write a book about my experience. I also started making YouTube videos which has some comedic stuff, but also some serious Vlogs as well. Do things you may never have done or thought about doing. Find a hobby; hobbies are always good when coping with tragedy.
   One last thing to note: Please give yourself adequate time to heal; it varies from person to person, and for some it could be a long time, but do not rush it by all means.
   If you wish to talk further I extend my resources to you. The best way to reach me would be through Facebook and twitter. I will provide you with all my links below.

Love,

Harold Ng
2/22/18

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Posted in general, internet, USA | No Comments »


TPPA-11: same thing, different face

22.02.2018


Neil Ballantyne/Wikimedia Commons

How much has TPPA changed? Not a lot, according to this petition. The full content is below, and if you agree, click through to dontdoit.nz and add your signature. Point (e) is the one that most of us understand, and according to the petition, it’s still there.
   While all trade agreements have some form of investor–state dispute settlement process, what has leaked out (since the process remains secret) about TPPA, and TPPA-11, is that the process remains unfair. ISDSs have morphed into something where corporations can get far more than a fair go against governments that might, for example, nationalize their assets, which were their original intent, one that I think is fair. But here are some examples of where things can go terribly wrong, and there’s nothing in TPPA-11 that (apparently) prevents these sorts of things happening.

We, the undersigned, express our grave concern that:
(a) The Labour Party, New Zealand First and the Green Party all said in the Select Committee report on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) that they would not support its ratification;

(b) The text agreed by eleven countries after the US pulled out, the TPPA-11, remains the same as the original TPPA, with a small number of items in the original text being suspended, not removed;

(c) The government has promised a new inclusive and progressive approach to trade and investment agreements, but there is nothing new and progressive to justify the renaming of the TPPA-11 as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership;

(d) There are many provisions in the TPPA-11 that restrict the regulatory sovereignty of the current and future Parliaments;

(e) The Government has instructed officials not to include investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in future agreements, yet the TPPA-11 still contains the core investor protection rules that can be enforced through ISDS;

(f) The secrecy that the governing parties criticised in the original negotiations continues and that the text will apparently not be released until after the agreement is signed;

(g) There has been no analysis of the economic costs and benefits of the TPPA-11, including the impact on employment and income distribution, as the governing parties called for in the select committee report;

(h) There has been no health impact assessment of the revised agreement as called for by the current Government in the select committee report, nor any assessment of environmental impact or constraints on climate action;

(i) The Crown has not discussed ways to improve the Treaty of Waitangi exception and strengthen protections for Māori as the Waitangi Tribunal advised;

(j) Despite these facts, the Government has announced its intention to sign the TPPA-11 on 8 March 2018;

and urge the House to call upon the Government:

(k) not to sign the TPPA or the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership;

(l) to conduct a principles-based review of New Zealand’s approach to free trade, investment and economic integration agreements that involves broad-based consultation;

(m) to engage with Māori to reach agreement on effective protection of their rights and interests consistent with te Tiriti o Waitangi and suspend negotiations for similar agreements until that review is concluded;

and further, urge the House to pass new legislation that

(n) establishes the principles and protections identified through the principles-based review under paragraph (l) as the standing general mandate for New Zealand’s future negotiations, including;

i. excluding ISDS from all agreements New Zealand enters into, and renegotiating existing agreements with ISDS;

ii. a requirement for the government to commission and release in advance of signing an agreement independent analyses of the net costs and benefits of any proposed agreement for the economy, including jobs and distribution, and of the impact on health, other human rights, the environment and the ability to take climate action;

iii. a legislative requirement to refer the agreement to the Waitangi Tribunal for review prior to any decision to sign the treaty; and

(o) makes the signing of any agreement conditional on a majority vote of the Parliament following the tabling in the House of the reports referred to in paragraph (n) (ii) and (iii);

and for the House to amend its Standing Orders to

(p) establish a specialist parliamentary select committee on treaties with membership that has the necessary expertise to scrutinise free trade, investment and economic integration agreements;

(q) require the tabling of the government’s full mandate for any negotiation prior to the commencement of negotiations, and any amendment to that mandate, as well as periodic reports to the standing committee on treaties on compliance with that mandate;

(r) require the tabling of any final text of any free trade, investment and economic integration agreement at least 90 days prior to it being signed;

(s) require the standing committee on treaties call for and hear submissions on the mandate, the periodic reports, and pre-signing version of the text and the final text and report on those hearings to Parliament;

(t) require a two-third majority support for the adoption of any free trade, investment or economic integration agreement that constrains the sovereignty of future Parliaments that is binding and enforceable through external dispute settlement processes.

   Given New Zealand First’s vehement opposition to it while outside of government, it’s hard to believe that the minor changes would have satisfied the party so easily.
   If you have the same concerns as the petition writers, and believe our government should do (k) through (t), then the petition’s at dontdoit.nz.

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Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, politics | No Comments »


Of course Facebook knew about stolen accounts, even back in 2014: I told them

17.02.2018


Official White House photo by Pete Souza

In Wired today: ‘Russian trolls stole US identities to hide in plain sight’. This included hacking to steal Social Security details, then create social media presences using real identities.
   I could have told you about the fake Facebook presences in 2014. Hang on, I did. There was an entire series of blog posts about it here and on my Tumblr.
   While I couldn’t have known who was behind these accounts, I said Facebook had an ‘epidemic’ of bots back then. Some were really fake. But many used convincing American names and US cities and towns. Some were hacked existing accounts but most, back then, were newly created. I even tended to list them before I got tired of doing so. In one night in 2014, I found 277 fake accounts. Facebook wouldn’t even let me report more than 50 per day. After reporting them, they left many of them up, and they necessitated repeated reports.
   You can go on my Tumblr and find more posts like that, but with fewer than 277. Still, that wasn’t an outlier. I had another night were there were 240 or so.
   Now, if one guy can find 200-plus in one night, just how many were there?
   Wired says:

According to the indictment, the Russians not only created Paypal accounts, bank accounts, and false identity documents with stolen American identities, but also created social media accounts, using victims’ names to more authentically fabricate political sock puppets and avoid detection.

And:

WIRED reached out to both Twitter and Facebook to ask if the companies had any prior knowledge of those impersonation instances, and Twitter declined to respond.
   Facebook didn’t respond to WIRED’s specific questions on those stolen accounts.

   Let me tell you now that Facebook did have prior knowledge of impersonation instances and stolen accounts, and I allege they go back many years. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment alleges that the accused started their social media work (the ‘translator project’) in April 2014, the same year I reported what I saw. (A few years later, a massive bunch of South Korean Facebook accounts were hacked and renamed.) Commercial bot nets (my original suspicion, but then I’m lousy at thinking up crimes and would make an appalling crime novelist), or something more sinister?
   To this day, Holly Jahangiri and I can still find them. I don’t even use my Facebook wall any more, and just have a glance at a few groups and pages I run. Even there the bots are coming thick and fast, and many of the ones Holly finds impersonate US military family members.
   Maybe it’s a stretch to say it’s “the Russians”. I still find it hard to believe I could have stumbled upon anything like that, but reading that indictment, and the years the US Justice Department names, makes me wonder. There’s that list of 277—feel free to investigate them if you can, whether you are American or Russian. It’s open to all, and I’d love to know who was behind them. My only real surprise is that others, surely, must have seen this? So many of us use Facebook. I didn’t hunt for these people, they were just around, joining groups and pages, and sending friend requests to cover how fake they were. It didn’t take a genius to work out they were fake. I spent days reporting them because I didn’t want a site I was using to be full of bots, sucking up resources.

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Posted in internet, politics, USA | 1 Comment »


Why you shouldn’t sign up for Facebook’s two-factor authentication

14.02.2018

I know, you’re stick of reading my reporting on my experiences with Facebook et al, let alone what someone else is going through. But here’s a word of warning from Gabriel Lewis, who signed up to Facebook’s two-factor authentication. Note: he never opted in to SMS notifications, and he doesn’t have the Facebook app. He’s not alone.
   Once again, just because Facebook might prompt you to do something doesn’t mean you should. I was suckered in once,* not going to happen again.

* Facebook’s fake malware warnings are now happening to a big number of Mac users, who aren’t infected. This will simply unravel more and more.

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When Microsoft says your Windows 10 needs a reset or full reinstallation, they might be wrong

14.02.2018

As many of you know, between around December 8 and February 2—dates during which I had Microsoft Windows 10’s fall Creators update without the January 31 cumulative patch—my computer suffered roughly three to six BSODs per day. Going on to Bleeping Computer was helpful, but Microsoft’s wisdom tended to be hackneyed and predictable.
   While I was lucky at Microsoft Answers and got a tech who wasn’t rehashing remarks from other threads, eventually he gave up and suggested I download the old spring Creators update, if that was the last version that was OK.
   I never had the time, and on February 2, I got the cumulative patch and everything has been fine since.
   It means, of course, that Microsoft had released a lemon at the end of 2017 and needed a big patch to deal with the problems it had caused. No word to their people on the forum though, who were usually left scratching their heads and concluding that the only option was a clean installation.
   I had bet one of the techs, however, that there was nothing wrong with my set-up, and everything to do with the OS. We know Windows is no longer robust because of the QC processes Microsoft uses, with each team checking its own code. That’s like proofreading your own work. You don’t always spot the errors.
   I said I could walk into any computer store and find that the display models were crashing as well.
   Last weekend, I did just that.
   Here are the Reliability Monitors of two Dell laptops running factory settings picked at random at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt.



Above: The Reliability Monitors of two display Dell laptops at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt, picked at random.


Above: My Reliability Monitor doesn’t look too bad by comparison—and suggests that it’s Microsoft, not my set-up, that was responsible for the multiple BSODs.

   The Monitors look rather like my own, not scoring above 2 out of 10.
   They are crashing on combase.dll for the most part, whereas mine’s crashing on ntdll.dll. Nevertheless, these are crashes that shouldn’t be happening, and a new machine shouldn’t have a reliability score that low.
   For those of you who suspect you have done nothing wrong, that your computer has always worked till recently, and you practise pretty good computer maintenance, your gut’s probably right. The bugs aren’t your fault, but that of slapdash, unchecked programming. I doubt you need full reinstallations. You may, however, have to put up with the bugs till a patch is released. It is the folly of getting an update too early—a lesson that was very tough to relearn this summer.

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Posted in New Zealand, technology, USA | No Comments »