Article Summary 2015-06-26

“What Is Code? If You Don’t Know, You Need to Read This”

This is probably the best quick summary explaining what software (and computers for that matter) really is. Thank you to Laura Haverkamp for bringing this one to my attention. There is also a good “Behind the Scenes” article. And, I have taken the pages, cleaned them up, and produced an Evernote Summary.

“Electron Microscope Slow-Motion Video of a Vinyl LP”

A great video of a needle reading the grooves of a vinyl record from the guys at Applied Science. Ben Krasnow goes through the process he pursued to be able to make this video. Ben maintains an awesome YouTube channel.

“Killjoys Really is a Most Excellent Space Adventure”

io9 goes on to say that it may (finally) be our next Firefly. I’ll believe it when I see it, but you can bet this one makes my list of shows to binge watch once the first season has concluded. (P.S. If you are a Firefly fan, please vote it up on IMDB.)

Math Puzzle: “The Nine Schoolgirls Challenge”

“Fifteen young ladies in a school walk out three abreast [as a group] for seven days in succession: it is required to arrange them daily, so that no two shall walk twice abreast.”

This problem launched a whole branch of mathematics called combinatorial design theory. A young mathematician, Peter Keevash, has made some breakthroughs with respect to the general case problem within which the above puzzle lives.

“‘EPIC’ fail–how OPM hackers tapped the mother load of espionage data”

An excellent and detailed summary of what is probably the most truly damaging hack of government systems in terms of individual safety.

“Building Prototypes by Dan Gelbart”

Hackaday has pulled together an excellent series of 18 videos of Dan Gelbart demonstrating a whole series of mechanical prototype development techniques. Dan was the co-founder of Creo–a company that developed laser-based products for the printing industry and sold to Kodak (remember them) for $1 billion. Dan has gone on to become an award-winning entrepreneur and inventor. He teaches Mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia.

“Leading People When They Know More Than You Do”

Truth is that in a knowledge worker career (such as software development) folks who move into management will be managing folks who know more about the task than they do and, in addition, who may be more highly compensated. This is not the “Peter Principle” which is more applicable to the Industrial Revolution as opposed to the Information Age. Instead, it is a natural outgrowth of the realities of knowledge workers. This article is one of the best I’ve read so far providing practical advice for managers and executives who find themselves in this situation.

“Grady Booch on the Future of Software Engineering”

Grady Booch (blog) speaking at the 37th International Conference of Software Engineering (ICSE 2015). This is an excellent discussion about both the history and the future of Software Engineering.

Grady is the guy that developed the Unified Modelling Language (UML). He was also the Chief Scientist for Rational Software Corp and IBM Research. He is both an ACM and IEEE Fellow and he won the Lovelace Medal in 2013. He has also worked for Facebook.


Does Your Lenovo Laptop Own You?

Anyone who has purchased an inexpensive Microsoft-based laptop recently knows how the laptop vendors “supplement” Microsoft Windows with various “pre-installed” software and utilities such as the ever-nagging “have you paid for your subscription yet” anti-virus software. Not only is this “Crapware” practice annoying, and performance degrading (original ad-laden article), but it is also can endanger your security and privacy.

Over the last week or so it came to light that Lenovo (a Chinese-owned company) installs software from a Superfish called “WindowShopper” on laptops from September 2014 to January 2015. The good news is that they have stopped doing it. The bad news is that what they did is very, very, bad. Just how bad is hard to explain to someone who has a limited to little technical understanding.

They installed this software so that they could inject ads into your browsing experience. What this means is that they sell your information to ad providers who then buy ad space. This ad space is “injected” into your browser search results. It is as if you are reading a newspaper like the New York Times and another company comes along and inserts ads into it without either the New York Times or your consent. This is called a “man-in-the-middle” attack.

Let me be really clear on this. The Superfish software is HACKING your Google search feed with a man-in-the-middle attack and Lenova knowingly facilitated this attack vector to make money by selling access their customers to help boost the profits of their cheap laptops

What makes this so bad (the “Paul Harvey Page Two” for you old timers) is that they do it on SECURED web sites because Google encrypts the results they send you (hence the “https” in the URL and the little lock icon in your browser). And, it turns out (surprise, surprise) that the software they installed to do this is flawed. The flaw lets those that know how break secured access to other sites such as . . . your bank, your healthcare provider, etc. Hopefully, you get the idea.

Here is more information:

And, some of my personal advice:

  • If you own a Lenova laptop, follow the instructions above to check and see if WindowShopper is installed. If it is, remove it. If you are uncomfortable removing it yourself, pay to have someone at your local computer support company do it.
  • If you need to buy a laptop and also need to minimize your spending in doing so by buying a cheap pre-loaded laptop, factor into the cost buying your own clean copy of Windows, wiping what comes installed on the computer, and installing your own copy of Windows from scratch. This is the ONLY sure way of having a clean Windows laptop that is not already loaded down with the “bonus” software the vendor sees fit to include. If you are uncomfortable doing this yourself, factor into the cost the expense to pay your computer store to do it.
  • Or, if you can afford it, consider buying it directly from the Windows Store. I have heard, but not confirmed, that these PCs are sold “clean” of all the adware and “bonus” software.
  • Unless you’re highly technical, my best recommendation is that you buy an Apple Macintosh. I am an Apple Fan Boy and admit it. There is a reason.
  • If you are technical, and you really want to take control of your computing environment, they buy cheap hardware and then install one of the various Linux or BSD distributions. This skips the whole Windows versus Apple debate (but does put you in a Linux vs BSD debate) and gives you the most control of the situation. Although, it isn’t as easy. “My Other OS Is Linux”

UPDATE 2015-02-25

Here are some updates:

  • Lenovo is being sued over their Superfish implementation. There was an excellent interview with Bloomberg News this morning on NPR.
  • Basically, you can no longer trust that a “secured” https connection really is secure. Turns out, that Superfish is not the only software vendor doing this for the sake of ads:
  • From this article (original) and this article (original), the following additional software providers may be doing the same thing. These providers all have an Israeli technology called “SSL Digestor” and “Watchdog”, by a company called Komodia. Basically, these are commercial tools to hack and break your box.
  • If you are a Mac user, while generally you are safer from “Crapware” you are still susceptible to ad ware. To help protect yourself, here is a good article walking you through some steps you can take (original). Also, I highly recommend disabling automatically running Flash in your browser. I don’t know if I would go so far as to shut down JavaScript; otherwise, you’ll be finding yourself managing a large exceptions list for all the sites you like that extensively use JavaScript.