Friday, March 22, 2013

Yahoo! Mail Is Garbage

I've been around since the dawn of the Internet -- I remember getting lists of FTP sites back in college and connecting to them so I could download the latest scene demos, games, etc. Before that, I even used dial-up modems and BBS services, including connecting via a Commodore 64 using a 300 baud modem. Ah, good times, watching 40x25 text characters come over line by line. I remember using Netscape Navigator 1.0 (then 2.x, 3.x, 4.x), and I remember when Yahoo! was the search engine. Then things changed, mostly for the better, but some companies just failed to really keep with the times. Yahoo! is one of them as far as I'm concerned, and my latest experience merely confirms the fact.

Given my long and sordid history with the Internet, it's no surprise that I have accounts with practically every major instant messaging service: Yahoo!, Hotmail/MSN/Windows Live, Google, AIM, ICQ, and even Trillian (not to mention Facebook and Twitter accounts, a MySpace account that I haven't used in several years, etc.) Almost all of those accounts come with email, but I currently only use three email addresses regularly: my work email, my Comcast email, and Gmail. My mom unfortunately doesn't like computers much and gets confused every time she's asked to switch to something new/better/different.

When we first got her a PC, she used the rather horrible service Juno. It was free, but it was so problematic that when we finally convinced her to pay for broadband I had to celebrate the demise of her Juno email address. After Juno, she switched to Yahoo! Mail, and sadly things have only been marginally better. They've revamped the interface several times over the years, often slowing things down and always confusing her (she's in her late 70s, so changes don't come easily). Then earlier this year her computer got a virus, which I wrote about here, and that required a good ten or more hours of remote troubleshooting to fix. Now, three months later her Yahoo! account has been compromised; my guess is that virus logged her keystrokes and it just took a while for anyone to get around to trying it out. And this is where we get to today's story.

Things started with an email from my mom to all of her Yahoo! Mail contacts, with the clearly scam subject: "Trouble Trip Help......([Account Name])". Here's what the message said:
Hello,

I'm sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent but it's because of the situation of things right now.

I’m with family on vacation in Manila Philippines and a lot of crap has been spewing. We got mugged last night in an alley by a gang of thugs on our way back from shopping, one of them had a knife poking my neck for almost two minutes and everything we had on us including my cell phone, credit cards were all stolen,quite honestly it was beyond a dreadful experience for us but looking on the bright side we weren't seriously hurt or injured and we are still alive so that is whats important. I've reported to the cops here and canceled all our cards,it appeared I had acted quickly enough or they almost would have succeeded in cleaning out my bank account. I'm really having some difficulties clearing our hotel bills and also need to pick up a voucher ticket at the counter for us to catch a flight back home in a couple of hours.

I was wondering if you could please loan me (2,000 USD) money pending when we get things straighten out and I promise to refund as soon as we arrive home safely.

Write me back and let me know how soon you can get it to us asap.

Thanks!
[Name]
Yeah, I'll buy that for a dollar.... My sister-in-law was kind enough to help her regain access, which probably took far more effort than it should. She changed the password to the account to something you wouldn't be able to just go out and guess (unless you think a 20 character password with numbers, symbols, and letters is something you could hack?), and my mom got back into her email. Sadly, the hackers were jerks and not only did they send out the "ransom" message but they also deleted all her email, sent mail, and contacts. Ouch!

I had emailed Yahoo! support to see if they could restore her deleted email and contacts, but hadn't received a useful response yet (just a form letter saying I should contact support -- thanks, that's what I did!) That's when things went from bad to worse. Earlier this week, she got locked out of her account again. Going to the web page where you can reset the password, we got the helpful message: "Your password can’t be reset online. For security reasons, you need contact Yahoo! Customer Care to help you reset your password." So I contacted customer care and jumped through some hoops, only to receive this email (I listed my email as the secondary contact):
Hello [Name],

Thank you for contacting Yahoo!.

I have analyzed your message, and it is best addressed by our Yahoo! Accounts team. To protect account security, this team requires specific information about your Yahoo! account that you provided during sign-up or when you last updated your account. I will need to ask you to contact Yahoo! Accounts team directly to provide the necessary information to resolve your issue.

Note: Please do not reply to this message. Submitting an email through the form is the best way to get your answer.
Please visit Yahoo! Privacy Center for information regarding Yahoo!'s Privacy Policy.
Also, please read the help article about registering a Yahoo! ID.
For additional help with Yahoo! products, please visit the Yahoo Help pages.

Thank you again for contacting Yahoo!.

Regards,
[Name Withheld]
Yahoo! Customer Care
www.yahoo.com
So basically, I went to Yahoo!'s support page to fill out a form telling them (in some detail) what was going on, and in response they sent me an email telling me I need to go to the same form and submit that for help! And even better, in their email they tell me not to respond as I should go through the form; so I did (again), with additional information and referenced the previous incident number. One day later, I got the SAME. EXACT. RESPONSE. Welcome to the land of recursion, which comes from the root word "recurse"; that means to curse again, obviously, because that's what I've been doing with Yahoo! today.

Turning to Google, I searched for the password reset error and even came up with a phone number for the Yahoo! Verification Department. (The number, if you're wondering, is (866) 850-4303.) I called, I waited on hold for ten minutes (being repeatedly informed of their higher than normal call volume -- but if the call volume is always high, why is it "higher than normal"?), and then I finally got put in contact with a support person.

I explained the situation, I referred to both incident numbers, I explained that my mom is 70+ years old, currently on an airplane, and I'm trying to get the situation resolved so that we can restore her email messages -- which in order to do you need to be logged in to Yahoo! and send a request within 10 days. See where this is going? After explaining several things to the lady, she then told me she needs to speak with the account owner. Being the honest type that I am, I said that I am not the owner but I can answer any necessary questions. "No, I need to speak with the account owner for security purposes." I also asked a very pertinent question: if you lock an account for 24 hours with three successive incorrect login attempts, and if this account has been compromised in the past, what is going to prevent someone from "griefing" the legitimate owner by simply trying three times to log in ever week or so? "I'm sorry, I can't answer that question without speaking to the account owner."

So to recap: Yahoo! automatically locks you out of the account for 24 hours after three incorrect login attempts in a row. The account was compromised and all of the email and contacts were deleted. In order to even try to recover your deleted email and contacts, you have to be logged in, and you have to fill out the appropriate form within 10 days. Anyone that feels the urge can get your account locked by trying to log in with the wrong password. If you go through the Yahoo! Accounts form and request help, they say they can't unlock your account until after 12 hours (or more?), and they apparently can't stop the account from being locked out repeatedly anyway.

This is an actively hostile system, compounded by horrible support with an unwillingness to help. Long story short, I'm now telling my mom that her account is dead unless she can get through to support and deal with their useless support personnel. Whether she can get help or not, I'm also going to tell her to ditch Yahoo! and go with a better service, likely Gmail. I can't say that I like everything that Google does, but after the fiasco of Yahoo!'s "support", it can't possibly get any worse. Oh, and did I mention that my mom has had issues probably at least twice a month where Yahoo! fails to work properly for a couple hours -- server problems most likely. Why would anyone trust these people?

At least I received an auto-response for my incident asking me what I thought of the customer service experience. I detailed my displeasure with their lack of help and concluded with the fitting epitaph to this whole thing: "Thanks...for nothing."

BTC: 1JSrAuxPUhD2rS6yYLiPPT6X8fvz7c7k1W

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jury Duty at $10 per Day

So once again, my number came up for jury duty in the great state of Washington. This is probably the fifth time in ten years, and each time they give the same spiel: pay attention, we so appreciate your willingness to be here, and you'll get paid a whopping $10 per day. Never mind the fact that the summons to jury duty is accompanied by the kindly note, "Failure to report for jury duty is a misdemeanor...." Yes, we're all very happy to be there! But it's the $10 per day slap in the face that really irks me.

They explain (as they've likely been doing for over 60 years now) that the $10 per day rate was set back in 1950, at which point it would have been a reasonable pay for a day of work -- at least somewhat close to minimum wage. Back in 1950, the minimum wage was $0.75 per hour, so $10 for a day means they were actually giving you $1.25 per hour (for eight hours), or 67% more than minimum wage. Today, Washington actually has a state minimum wage of $9.75, which means now for a typical eight hour day you're getting paid about 13% of the minimum wage rate. Meanwhile, and this is what really chaps my hide, we have lawyers and judges getting paid $200+ per hour for their time in court.

Is it so hard to see why people hate doing their "civic duty" and serving as a member of a jury? Your work is required to give you a leave of absence, but there's no requirement that they reimburse you -- and mostly it's only the people working for big corporations and the state employees that still get their regular salary. So today, seventeen people showed up for half a day in response to a summons, and the courts paid us a combined total of $170 (I'm assuming that we all got paid -- I'll find out by the middle of April). Sure the state is "bankrupt", but again the courts continue to run and I've never heard any talk of cutting the pay rates of the lawyers and judges. I'm reminded of a quote:

"And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers." That's Jesus Christ talking to the lawyers (scribes and pharisees) who were continually seeking his destruction, and it could easily be said of our system today. I had to hire a divorce attorney at one point; I paid $250 per hour for the case work, and court time was paid at 1.5x the normal rate -- $375 per hour. You'd think that with a $125 per hour increase in cost, most of that should be passed along to the courts so that they can in turn pass along some pay to anyone that is needed by the courts (e.g. jurors), but as far as I can tell it's just a way for lawyers to make more money. Here's another quote:

"For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed." That's from Isaiah 9:16, written some 2600 years ago, and I can't help but feel that we still haven't learned the lesson. Nearly every one of our problems that the various legislators are currently "working so diligently to solve" can be laid directly at their feet. All this hand wringing over the so-called fiscal cliff and the posturing and so forth; and why is it that we're at this stage? Because the legislature couldn't properly budget for their needs -- but the same people certainly had no problem voting themselves salary increases, and they had no problem signing huge budgets that couldn't hope to be paid back.

The sad thing is, as corrupt as the system is, I don't see other places doing any better.

BTC: 1JSrAuxPUhD2rS6yYLiPPT6X8fvz7c7k1W

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Fix NVIDIA "Code 43" Error

I wrote about this one on AnandTech, but it's a cool enough trick that I wanted to repeat the information here, and maybe mention a few other points of interest that I wouldn't want to include on AT. So first, here's the link to the full article and video, but I'll include the video below as well: Hardware Tricks: Can You Fix a Failing Mobile GPU with a Hair Dryer? As you can probably guess, the answer to the question is, "Yes, but with caveats."
The basics of what I did and why it helped get the GPU working again is that the solder balls that connect the GPU to the motherboard can sometimes get cracked, or if there's too much tin content in the solder then sometimes you get "whiskers" between the solder balls that causes a short, and the heat from a dryer melts these whiskers. It's a pretty cool trick (when it works), but hopefully if you ever try it you'll have a laptop that's easier to take apart than the Gateway FX series.

Now, here's a few fun facts: the laptop in question actually belongs to my ex-brother-in-law. In fact, he still owes me money for some computer stuff (I think $200, coming up on four years or so). On the bright side, I did manage to get $60 out of him for fixing the laptop on this occasion, but considering the amount of time required I probably earned a paltry $10-$15 per hour. Try that with the Geek Squad and see how much they charge! Really, the only reason I even tried to do this "hair dryer repair" was because I figured it would be an educational experience for myself and the readers if nothing else; he's just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

If I were to do it all again, having read some of the comments on my article I think the one that strikes me as most useful is the reader that talks about using a thin copper shim between the heatsink and chip to help get a better connection. That would apply additional downward pressure once the heatsink is screwed back in place, which should improve cooling and help avoid future cracking of the solder. What's more, big OEMs like Gateway often go for lowest cost thermal grease and that just means things run hotter than desired, so replacing the thermal grease plus improving the interface with a shim doubles down on the fix.

I don't have the laptop with me anymore, and I hope to never see it again to be honest, but now I wish I had done a bit more testing to record temperatures after the repairs were completed. I figure if the GPU can be kept under 80C under load, the fix may very well last "forever", but if the GPU is still hitting 90C or more under load then we're likely going to end up with problems again. I guess we'll see how it goes....

BTC: 1JSrAuxPUhD2rS6yYLiPPT6X8fvz7c7k1W

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Daylight Saving Time -- Why?

I find it rather incomprehensible that in this day and age of technology, we continue to do the stupid Daylight Saving dance twice each year. And by "we", I mostly mean America and Europe -- many of the other countries in the world have come to realize that shifting clocks to generate more "daylight" doesn't actually work. What's more, it's inconvenient at best, causes a bunch of headaches at worst, and while people argue about whether it's good or bad most of it comes down to this: we continue to do it because we've done it for a long time now, and there were several proposals done roughly 100 years ago that suggested we could benefit by changing our clocks ahead in the summer.

Get this (from the DST Wiki): two of the earliest proposals were from a guy that liked doing stuff after work in the summers and so he wanted to shift the clock two hours ahead to accommodate his hobby, and the other guy was an avid golfer that didn't like having a round of golf cut short -- and he was also irritated by all the Londoners sleeping in and missing out on the daylight hours. So basically, the initial idea came from people that wanted later daylight hours in the summer for selfish reasons.

Later, with WWI and WWII, DST use became more common as a way of rationing. You'd get up with the sun and go to bed when it set, more or less. I don't see how changing the clocks really makes much of a difference if you're doing that, but the nanny state says that's what we should do and so we do it.

Actually, I personally don't really mind DST -- I'd just as soon go on DST permanently if I lived on my own. It's the changing of the clocks that irritates me. However, this past week, when we did the "spring ahead an hour" thing, our two boys (ages 1 and 3) surprisingly enough didn't care that the clocks had changed, so they have been staying up "late" and waking up a bit later. They'll get with the program eventually, but while I am more of a night person than a morning person, I find that my children are the opposite (except for my 10-year-old daughter). What's more, getting little children to bed when it's still plenty bright outside can be rather difficult at times. "But daddy, I'm not sleepy and the sun is still up!" "That doesn't matter -- the clock says 8PM so get to bed!" I know from experience that where we can often get our children to bed by 7:30 or 8PM during the winter, once summer rolls around and it's light until 10PM, all bets are off. They still wake up at 6AM though...ugh.

Anyway, this isn't really a "tech" related post, but it was on my mind this week. Today, interestingly, one of my coworkers located in the UK commented on how he now has to modify how he thinks about our time as we've switched to DST but the UK doesn't switch until March 31. How's that for a useful "standard"? Everyone just do your own thing and it will all work out! I'm not sure why we changed our DST dates a few years back, other than "someone" told us it was the best thing to do for the greater good or something.

My bet: some environmental group is still using an old study done 60 or 70 years ago that showed DST cut power use, and anything that cuts power use is good, right? And so they lobby for even more DST, rather than questioning whether DST actually saves any power. More recent studies from around the world have generally shown no power savings (and sometimes even a power use increase), which is what I would expect from the modern world where most people have computers, TVs, lights, refrigerators, AC, etc. running whether or not the clock says it's 10AM or 11AM. But instead, we get social engineering to try and "fix" our lifestyles, which end up costing more time and energy than they save but are declared successful.

It's times like this that I think AZ might be a good place to move -- then I can forget about all the DST silliness and just set my clock once and forget it!

BTC: 1JSrAuxPUhD2rS6yYLiPPT6X8fvz7c7k1W

Monday, March 11, 2013

Anonymous Terrorism on the Internet


We launched our redesigned AnandTech 2013 site over the weekend; change is hard I guess, and all sorts of people are coming our of the woodwork to complain and offer their two cents on how a site should look. Chief among the complaints is that the black text on a white background is horribly bright and hard to read. I understand the complaint on the one hand, but let me give a few examples of some major sites that feel this is the correct, up-to-date way of doing things. You might recognize some of these....

Facebook
Yahoo
MSN
Google
Apple
CNET

I think you get the point: most major sites are trending towards white backgrounds. The reason is simple: white is clean, and black text on a white background is easy to read. There are lots of other sites that use a different design language (though many of these are older sites or "amateur" sites, like my own Blogger site for example), but really it's not the end of the world whichever way you go. What's important is to have a site that's useful and present information in a meaningful fashion. That's what AnandTech is trying to do with the latest update, and while I can't say I like every element (I don't like the "box" with the logo, and the changing font sizes for the Pipeline feed seems rather contrived), overall I definitely think the new layout is better than the old. Let me give a few reasons beyond the simple "black on white is better".

First, the last iteration of our site had a section at the top with the three latest articles, which you could scroll through to get larger images of the latest five articles. I'm pretty sure 99% of the time people never looked at the fourth and fifth stories, so they just languished in those positions. Below this area was the main feed, which had the same stories as in the top five but with a longer summary of the article. This is one of my major complaints: we had to create an extra page at the beginning of each article that was to go in this front page view -- an abstract summary, more or less. The problem is that if someone was lazy and didn't give a concise summary, you'd get this huge section of text (and potentially images) on the front page, pushing everything else way down. You can see what the former view looked like (at least for now) on the "staging" AnandTech site.

Now, besides ditching the rather outdated looking gradient color background, we've removed the lengthy "abstract" summary and just use the first paragraph (or few lines) of text for the main document area. In effect, we've increased the article density and the new front page is about 6400 pixels long and will always be that same length, plus all of the articles now get a moderately sized thumbnail image to the left rather than a potentially very large image. Before, the front page could end up being three or four times longer (or more!) because of lengthy text sections and large images. It was a bit of a mess at times, in my opinion, and I suspect most articles past the top screen or two were never seen unless someone linked to them from elsewhere. However, now we get people complaining that our "data density" has gone way down. Most people never bothered with reading the abstracts, instead flipping to the first page to read the article; removing a ton of text from the front page where it just gets in the way does not remove the content from our site; it just puts it in a better place.

There are some other improvements as well, for example the content area is now about 90 pixels wider. That might not seem like a big deal, but if you're trying to fit a table into <600 pixels of width, it can be a pain. The result is usually breaking up more complex tables into multiple tables, which can get ugly and consumes time better spent elsewhere. You can't really go much wider without making things harder to read, but I at least will appreciate the added width. Incidentally, our brains and eyes read better when the layout is moderately wide and more vertical in size -- imagine tracking through a paragraph that's three times as wide and not losing your spot when you move to the next line; this is also why large textbooks use columns.

Okay, fine -- that's a few of the basics of our redesigned site. So where does the "Anonymous Terrorism" come into play? Just read the comments on that article above -- currently around 350 in just a few days, and increasing rapidly. The comments are full of vitriol and hate, with some name calling and other generally undesirable behavior. My favorite are the comments that basically try to hold our site hostage. "If you don't change back to the old layout (or fix problem XYZ), I will never read the site again!" It's not as bad as we see with Facebook updates (every change seems to generate hundreds of petitions to "bring back the old Facebook -- which never actually happens), but there are a lot of people threatening such things. Why? They don't like a few colors, apparently, and they can't be bothered to use something like the Stylish Extension (for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari -- Internet Explorer doesn't really have an equivalent, as Microsoft is far more close minded when it comes to add-ons/plug-ins/extensions), so they resort to threats to try to get their way.

It's the Internet equivalent of, "I don't like the way you play so I'm taking my ball and going home" attitude that we all experienced as children on the playground. Frankly, I find it just as childish today as it was when I was 10. And that's the problem with anonymity on the Internet: without consequences for what we say, it appears that a large number of otherwise civilized people trend towards anti-social behavior. What gets me is that we have many of the most intelligent and technically adept readers in the world, and still we get this sort of stuff. Personally, as one of the contributors to AnandTech, I love the redesign -- it looks so much better than any of the previous renditions.

If you want a darker background with lighter text, fine, that can be done -- one reader even demonstrates this via his Stylish tweaks. Or if you want to offer meaningful input, do that as well. Just please stop with the threats and name calling. Or put another way: if you wouldn't say something to the face of the site's creator (or you wouldn't say it to a teacher at school, or a boss/supervisor at work, or your parents...), then go figure out a better way to say it and shut your yapper for a minute! That sort of attitude will help you tremendously in life where most people don't particularly appreciate rudeness and derogatory comments. Communication is a skill that is severely lacking in our modern connected world.

BTC: 1JSrAuxPUhD2rS6yYLiPPT6X8fvz7c7k1W

Friday, March 1, 2013

Whither Asimov!?

It probably comes as no surprise, but as a youth I was really into reading science fiction and fantasy books. What's really cool to me as an adult is how many of the things that were super far fetched are now not just common place, but the guesses as to what the future would be like have in some cases been too conservative. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that we still aren't doing, here in good old 2013. What happened to our space odyssey in 2001, Dave? And why didn't we manage to make contact in 2010?  (Okay, technically that second one is from the name of the movie.) Maybe it's all just a government conspiracy that the men in black are hiding from us? But I digress (as usual)....

Today, as with most Fridays since we moved to our new home, I picked up my daughter from school and stopped by the library on the way home. The deal is that she can pick up as many books as she wants, but I get to pick one book that she has to read. I try to pick good books that I think she'll enjoy -- recently I got her The Princess Bride, which she loved (and I need to watch the movie with her still -- she doesn't know about that part). Today, I decided she needed to experience a good science fiction book. So, I turned to one of the classics: Isaac Asimov. I figured I would pick up the first book of the Foundation trilogy (which turned out to be something like seven books I think).

I wandered through the adult sci-fi section and didn't find anything; in fact, Asimov wasn't even there. Hrm. Well, maybe he's over in the sci-fi section? So I went there and looked. Nada...not a single book by Asimov. Okay, he's a classic, right? Maybe all the copies are just out right now; let me go check out the computer and see if I can get a copy sent to the local branch of the Timberland Regional Library. I first looked for Foundation, and while I got a few hits, the only one for Isaac Asimov that showed up was the trilogy; there was one copy of that available, six checked out, and the copy was at a different location. As for the first book, Foundation, I eventually found an entry with the note, "No copies currently available." What!? There was a sound recording available, but that's not actually reading so let's just forget that.

Thinking maybe I was just missing the correct entry, I decided to just to straight to the author, Isaac Asimov. I remember there being a shelf full of Asimov books at the library when I was a youth, and I probably read all of them (at least, the fiction ones -- I never touched his non-fiction writings). Under author Isaac Asimov, some 25 years later, I found a list of 90 books, but about a third of them are sound recordings and there are even some that show up that are from other authors (go figure). Limiting the search to books by Asimov, there are only around 70, with about a third of those being duplicates (e.g. paperback and hardcover, or a digital version).

Can I just say how depressing this is? With a bit of effort, I'm sure I can get most of the Foundation and Robot series books from the library, but many are only available as a digital copy, and there are definitely some that are missing. How about another classic sci-fi writer, Robert A. Heinlein? Total number of books (including duplicate formats) available: 31. I can't tell you how many of his books are missing.

These are classic sci-fi authors; they practically invented the genre! And here we are in 2013 and you can hardly find most of their works at the public library. I'm sad now, and I'm going to go drown my sorrows in sweat by going for a jog. Heh. Wish me luck...and while you're at it, pray for our poor children that are missing out on the classics of sci-fi. :-(

BTC: 1JSrAuxPUhD2rS6yYLiPPT6X8fvz7c7k1W