Tesla referral program

My wife and I recently ordered a Tesla Model S, and are now part of the Tesla referral program. If you are considering buying a Tesla, you might want to use the following link, which will give you a $1000 discount (or NOK 10’000 if you’re in Norway) on the purchase – and me the same amount in credit with Tesla. Here’s the link: http://ts.la/aleksander6200

WordPress: Make a post sticky

As you may have noticed, there has been a sticky post at the top of the page for the last two weeks or so. A reader actually emailed me and asked how I accomplished that. As it turns out, making a post sticky in WordPress is very easy to do.

(By the way, a sticky post is one that is pinned to the top of a page, independently of whether something else has been published since. It is stuck to the top, hence the name. Anyway, back to our scheduled programming:)

  • In the post editor, go to Visibility
  • Under “Public”, check the check box “Stick this post to the front page”

There you go, all done.

Change password in a remote desktop session

Most Windows users will be familiar with using Ctrl+Alt+Del to change their password on a local computer, and that works well for that purpose. However, that command is not forwarded to a computer to which you are connected remotely, as it triggers locally. So how, then, can we prompt a change of our password without waiting for it to expire?

As it turns out, there is a command to get the same prompt on a remote computer that you get locally; instead of Ctrl+Alt+Del, use Ctrl+Alt+End. From there, simply hit “Change password”, change it and Bob’s your uncle.

Security questions: still a very, very bad idea

I was recently asked to update my security questions at a reputable site. They wanted three of them, and I filled them out. Once I’d done so, I became somewhat uneasy. The reason is that the questions were all pre-sets, not questions that I chose myself. More worryingly, they either had answers that frequently change (favourite actor, movie, or band), have no correct answer (first pet), or (and to my mind worst of all) are easily researched (names of family members and friends).

So, if they are so bad, what is a better solution? Two factor authentication. There are several approaches to this, but they all boil down to adding another layer of security. My preferred solution is a random number generator (such as SecurID tokens, or the use of apps such as Google Authenticator), but pre-generated lists of single use codes are good, too.

My point is this: Security questions are the least social engineering-proof method of authentication there is, and should be done away with.

Add shortcut to all desktops

From time to time, you may, as an administrator, find it useful to ensure that all users have some common shortcuts. Luckily, ensuring that shortcuts are distributed to all desktops is easy enough to accomplish. Here’s how:

  1. Find or create the shortcut you want to deploy
  2. Open Explorer, and navigate to C:\users\Public\Desktop
  3. Copy the shortcut into that folder

There you go; now all users will see the same shortcuts.

Numbers: Limit number of decimal places shown

I use two productivity suites on a regular basis; Microsoft Office, and Apple Productivity Apps (formerly known as iWork), leaning towards the latter for most things. One of the things I do, is create spreadsheets with interdependencies, so that if I change one input, the output at the other end changes, too. One annoying thing about this, is that, by default, Numbers shows a large number of decimal places.

Luckily, this is readily changed; here’s how:

  1. Mark the cell or cells in question, and go to the Cell tab in the Format menu
  2. Set the Data Format you want, then the number of Decimals you want

That’s it. I wish they would make a global setting for this, and let us set exceptions instead, but this does serve me pretty well.

OS X: Spotlight crashes after entering two letters

After upgrading to OS X El Capitan, I was troubled by Spotlight crashing after I’d entered the letters st. I could reproduce the issue at will, and found the following entries in the Console logs:

02/10/15 12:12:37,642 Spotlight[1566]: XPC connection was invalidated 02/10/15 12:12:37,824 spindump[769]: Got xpc error message in libspindump client connection: Connection invalid 02/10/15 12:12:37,825 com.apple.xpc.launchd[1]: (com.apple.Spotlight[1566]) Service exited due to signal: Segmentation fault: 11 02/10/15 12:12:37,845 com.apple.xpc.launchd[1]: (com.apple.ReportCrash[1723]) Endpoint has been activated through legacy launch(3) APIs. Please switch to XPC or bootstrap_check_in(): com.apple.ReportCrash 02/10/15 12:12:37,852 ReportCrash[1723]: platform_thread_get_unique_id matched 158875 02/10/15 12:12:37,852 ReportCrash[1723]: Activity ID for thread 0x26c9b – 0x73f7a 02/10/15 12:12:38,217 ReportCrash[1723]: Saved crash report for Spotlight[1566] version 1.0 (972.9) to /Users/user/Library/Logs/DiagnosticReports/Spotlight_2015-10-02-121238_computer.crash

After a number of frustrating days, I was able to resolve the issue by deleting and rebuilding the index. Here’s how:

  1. From the Apple () menu, choose System Preferences.
  2. Click Spotlight.
  3. Click the Privacy tab.
  4. Drag a folder or an entire volume (your hard drive) to the list. If prompted for confirmation, click OK.
  5. Remove the item or volume you just added to the list by clicking it and then clicking the minus (“-“) button.
  6. Close Spotlight preferences.

Once re-indexed, the issue disappeared.

Reviewed: the Pentagon Wars – Reformers Challenge the Old Guard

Author: James G. Burton
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Year: 1993
ISBN: 9781612516004

I came to this book having thoroughly enjoyed the movie of the same name, expecting more of the same. While the salient points are present in the book, the book is quite serious in tone, whereas the movie is comedic all the way through, making the book a significantly different beast.

In the Pentagon Wars, Burton relates the story of how a small group of reformers within the officer ranks of the US military strove to effect fundamental change to how the US military performed procurement, from a larger sense of a need to shift battlefield tactics from the all-out assaults and war of attrition of the first world war, the Korean war, and the Vietnam war, to more adaptable and flexible maneuver warfare.

Through a series of examples spanning from the development of the F15 and F16 fighter jets to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (described as “A troop transport that can’t carry troops, a reconnaissance vehicle that’s too conspicuous to do reconnaissance, and a quasi-tank that has less armour than a snow-blower, but carries enough ammo to take out half of D.C.”), Burton spins a tale that might very well be familiar to anyone dealing with public procurement projects.

In particular, it deals with the issues of confirmation bias and tests designed to yield the desired results, while overstating performance, understating costs, and professing exacting knowledge of how a weapons platform will perform in a given situation, while pointing out the real results, costs, and severe miscalculation of knowledge of how e.g. the Bradley would perform when hit.

Though the subject matter is dry, Burton is able to write an engaging and interesting book that educates the reader, not only on how things used to be done, but also sheds some light on how things are still done. A current example is the massive increase in weight for the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, compared to the F16, which is what it is slated to replace.

To his credit, Burton not only offers criticism, but also some real proposals for improvement which, had they been followed, would have benefited not only the US armed forces, but their allies around the world who use the same weapons platforms. Extensive reading lists and references to sources are also present, in the best of academic tradition.

On understanding a product

In a previous post, I said (about modern news outlets) “The result is a “product” that has no chance at measuring up …” I feel it is worthwhile to take a moment to discuss the understanding of what the product actually is. Ostensibly, the product of news reporting are news articles. If that had been true, however, clickbait and listicles would not be allowed to be; in that understanding, they are not only not good at delivering the product, they are outrageously bad at it. What, then, is the product?

I would contend that you, the reader, are the product. If that is true, who, then, are the customers? The answer is ad agencies, who are after receptive audiences for the products they have to sell. This is summed up as follows: “If you’re not paying for it, you are the product”. There is an argument to be made that you are paying for it, through the bandwidth with which you download the ads, and the time you spend looking at them (and potentially buying), and while there is some truth to that, it is not clear to me that you are not the product.

That, of course, begs the question; if you are not paying for this blog, what is the product? You will have to be the judge of that; from my point of view, the product is the content I write. I offer up the advice and commentary on this blog for a number of reasons. Firstly, I enjoy writing, and the blog lets me get my writings out there, so that whoever may be interested can read it. Second, I believe that information should be freely available (that’s free as in freedom, not as in beer), and want to make sure that some of the information I have to offer can be accessed for free (that would be free as in beer).

Third, the blog is a good way for me to promote myself and I was hired to both my current and my former positions in part due to the writings found here. Finally; I do have ads on the blog, and there is some revenue to be gained from them. My goal with the ads is to cover the costs of hosting the site, and that goal is being met.

Newspapers and revenue streams

The last sentence of my previous post may seem strange to some. Comparing, or rather contrasting, news reporting and take-out fast food may seem strange, but I think the analogy serves, in that it is very much like comparing apples to oranges. I opened that post by saying that “It used to be that newspapers made money in order to produce news. … These days most newspapers produce news to make money.” Fast food franchises are operated with the express goal of making as much money as possible while spending as little money as possible. The result is fast food.

When operating news outlets in a similar fashion, the result is the news reporting equivalent of fast food; clickbait articles, listicles, and the reporting of press releases as if they were objective fact. I do understand that newspapers need to pay their employees, taxes, and overhead costs, just like any other business, and I realise that this is a challenging prospect in the age of online news. Ideally speaking, a news service should be run with the goal in mind to make enough money to break even. With the advent of megacorporations such as Newscorp, run as for-profit publicly traded companies, that is hardly realistic, however.

I think that the erection of paywalls that block all articles from reading by non-subscribers is the worst possible example of a paywall, and I am filled with glee every time I hear of news organisations who face problems stemming from such tactics, and I will go to great lengths to avoid linking to such news outlets. A variant of this, favoured by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten TK is to allow everyone to read a set number of articles for free each week (Aftenposten, I believe, has this number set to seven), with all subsequent articles blocked if you are not a paying subscribe. This is certainly better than the version blocking all articles, but significantly less than ideal (even if the current version is easy enough to circumvent, using different browsers and clearing browser cache).

A third variant is to split articles into two groups; short and long form. Short form articles report the news, but offer little in the way of in-depth analysis and commentary. Long form articles, on the other hand, are heavy on analysis and commentary. While I don’t think this variant is ideal either (my ideal version of a paywall is not having one), I certainly think it is far closer to the outlet serving their purpose than any of the other two.

I also think that ad design should be part of the conversation here; far too often I see ads that are loud, obnoxious, and that actually stop me from reading what’s on the page, like the popups that have been for the most part relegated to the archives of internet history. Lastly, I believe that newsrooms should continue to engage with their readership on social media; by taking the conversation about current events to those platforms, it is democratised significantly, which in turn improves the news.

Clearly, I don’t have all the answers, but I do think that news reporters should be held to a high standard of accessibility, significantly higher than what they achieve