A Little Simple Security Makes an Android Go Further

Android is a strange beast.  

It’s produced by Google, an advertising company, so you know that has it’s own pluses and minuses. 

It’s widely used, and widely rejected since many people get their first experience with Android, are confused and send it back for something like their kid is using. 

It is more configurable than anything Apple produces out of the box for the most part.  My phone announces that “You’ve Got Post!” by Joanna Lumley whenever my Yahoo email account gets something.  Can’t do that without jumping through hoops and installing special software to do that on an iPhone.

It has about the same amount of free software as you would find on an iPad or iPhone.  Plus or Minus.  Roughly.

This is just my personal experience.  I have both Android and iOS here.  I’m currently listening to a Funk and RnB channel on an Android tablet using TuneIn, and that is available on your iPhone or iPad too.  Highly recommended.  In fact I was setting up a Linux Server and wishing TuneIn was there.

It’s that new software thing that can be a wrinkle.  With anything with that half eaten Apple logo on the back running iOS, you have one place to get your software, iTunes.  Your software has been analyzed and is therefore expected to be safe from snoops and trojans and viruses.   Although it isn’t warranted to be so, it is a pleasant little walled garden that has few of those weeds.

On the other hand, Android is more like a Nature Preserve.  You can install software pretty much from anywhere you like with a few clicks, you can unlock the device, “root” the device to gain full and complete control like a Mad Scientist (Boo!) and generally run wild.  Think “Jailbreaking” on iOS.

I will say that when I had Jailbroke my iPhone, shortly thereafter I installed an app that grabbed hold of the phone and began to do wonderful things for me like serve out spam.  It’s unlocked but no longer jailbroke.

Every one of my Android devices are rooted.  It gives me complete control and allows me to use a program called Titanium Backup to completely back every last bit of that device up to a chip.  In fact I spent last night upgrading my tablet in order to have the latest software because it was nagging me to do so.

Am I on that proverbial Tightrope without a Net?  Why hasn’t my tablet become a server for Russian Marital Aids?

I am not completely sure but I do practice some very basic security measures.  Those Security Measures are basic and form my safety net.

  • I have a scanner on the thing called “Lookout Security“.  It will even tell me where the machine is if lost and completely lock it down if stolen.  There are others, such as Sophos Mobile Security.  Check them both out and see which one is for you.

  • I only install software from the Google Play store.  Think iTunes, but it is all web based.  There’s a little shopping bag icon with a couple of abstract triangles that you tap.  Once launched, there goes a half hour as I’m looking for new “toys” and shiny objects to play with.  Amazon also has its own software library.  I’m avoiding that one since there are problems with changing devices using Amazon.

  • I always, let me repeat this, ALWAYS check the reviews on the app.  If there are few reviews or the reviews are all positive I skip the app.  Here is a place it is best to step back and let “the other guy” take the bullet for you by testing the software out first. 

Like I said, Basic.  You can use a tablet just like your laptop, many do.  It just takes a little forethought to make sure that you’re doing so safely.  When you’re through you can relax, go play, and have a bit of fun with these things and not fret.  After all, making your life easier so you can have fun is what they’re all about.

Got a Mac? Time to Upgrade or Else

Don’t get me wrong, I have always been one of those PC users that have had a serious case of Mac Envy. 

When Windows was a kludgy mess of crashes and hidden DOS it barely ran.  Meanwhile, Apple computers tended to run and run fairly well with a simple but elegant design.

You must like it in the Windows World since there really isn’t that much difference between the current version of Windows and Mac OSX on the surface any more.  Besides we’re all running software on the web these days, and the software that sits on the computer is not completely unchallenged.

Of course I am summarizing greatly.  There are some significant design considerations under the hood.  To the end user, the differences are not really all that obvious.

On the other hand, the Mac had a significant problem with it.   The way Apple choses to orphan machines. 

You see an electronic device could conceivably work for decades or more.  There are plenty of antique devices.  There is a point after which they’re not supported any more.  You can’t get Vacuum Tubes at the corner Drugstore for example.

Things do wear out, and there is a point after which keeping that old machine running simply makes no sense. 

With Computers, they improve them on such a rapid pace that many times it makes sense just to get a new one.  Mind you, I’ve done quite well using other people’s old machines for a very long time.  I would keep a desktop at the cutting edge and a second machine around that typically would be a year or two old.  That machine would be my daily driver and I’d use it to do all those tasks that I would want to bang away at quickly and move on.  The heavy lifting goes on the desktop.  

The desktop is gone now.  My 2 year old machine is sufficient.

That’s because I’m running Windows on it.  I expect to be able to get a new version of Windows for this machine and run on until the battery no longer holds a charge or the dog knocks it off the coffee table.   I’ll probably use it as a tethered machine to play music after that and squeeze a year more out of it.

That flexibility means that I’ll be able to expect that I’ll be safe and sound.  I won’t be serving out advertisements for a Russian Porn Site or for “marital aids” because someone somewhere decided I wasn’t going to be supported.   Sure, software gets dropped in the PC world, but generally you just don’t get cut off and left to twist in the wind if you have a PC.

Now, look at the Apple Mac user.  It doesn’t profit Apple if you don’t upgrade so every so often. They will then make a decision that they will not support the older machines.  After all, those new machines are so Shiny you will just want to run out and get that new shiny object!

I have an old G4 Power Mac that I keep on my desk for “Mac Emergencies” and it hasn’t been supported for quite a few years.  I hardly ever use that thing which is a shame because it runs about as fast as I would expect a fairly recent machine to run. 

It is however a security hole.   That is because it hasn’t been supported by Apple for all that time.   When they made the change to “normal” Intel hardware like your PC uses, they decided that they would eventually stop supporting that aging beast after the next operating system is put out.  If you want up to date, you have to get a new machine. 

Not by my choice, but theirs.  That physical machine is still running happily, but at this point you really don’t want to do too much with it because you may get a virus.

You see this sort of thing is happening right now in the Mac World.  Sure they are beautiful machines but Apple has decided that some not so very old machines won’t be supported.  They won’t be allowed to upgrade to the latest operating system because they are incapable of running the thing.   In this case it’s their transition from 32 to 64 bit architecture. 

Windows is still supporting the older 32 bit machines, but because of the way Microsoft does its support, you won’t be cut off from security updates and cause a problem immediately.

Apple has just thrown up a wall and said you’re not supported, buy a new one.

More importantly, Apple is also not going to update the older versions of its application software.  The biggest security hole in all of this is their browser, Safari.  The browser will not be supported on the older platforms and security updates will not be issued. 

Browsers are the biggest problem in computing these days since they’re used so intensely on so many different sites.  I have gotten “virused” before and I watch extremely closely what I’m doing.  I’ve had many friends call and ask what to do about a virus.  “Update your scanner, run a full scan, update your computer, and change your passwords” is the basic suggestion.

In this case, Apple users can’t do that.  They’re locked in on the older computers to an older browser.

The solution in that case is either get a new Mac or get new software.   My suggestion is Windows or Linux.  At least you don’t have to give up your shiny hardware because of a design decision.

Yet.

After all, the browsers on Windows and Linux are being kept up to date.  The biggest security hole is safer there.  The application software like a Browser is being supported by another organization outside of the walled garden of the operating system and hardware vendor.   You’re simply safer when control isn’t so concentrated. 

That’s the definition of a single point of failure.  Now go check your virus scanner and help “mom” get hers checked too.  You’ll be happy you did.

Buying Made In China? Read This

For years, Personally I refused to buy anything stamped Made In China.  I started this after the Tienanmen Massacre.  I have changed that behavior to be if there’s a choice between made in China and made anywhere else, I’ll buy anywhere else. 

Why the change?  It’s become almost impossible to buy anything electronic or electrical made anywhere else but China.  When is the last time you saw a TV set made in the US?  That’s long gone.

Food is increasingly imported despite that we’re able to feed ourselves, perhaps a little too amply.

So while I agree with the sentiment of this article, I recognize that it’s almost impossible to follow it completely.  After all, those people who died in Tienanmen Square years ago are still dead. 

The jobs that the 1% have shipped to China so that they can concentrate their wealth more tightly may never come back.  We can protect what we have.   I have nothing against the Chinese people specifically, they didn’t steal the jobs, it was the greedy in this country that shipped them overseas.  But there certainly is more than a grain of truth in this posting.
 
So here we go, and you can thank Velma for this.

August 1st to September 1st

Well over 50 yrs ago I knew a lady who would not buy Christmas gifts if they were made in China. Her daughter will recognize her in the following.

Did y’all see Diane Sawyer’s special report? They removed ALL items from a typical, middle class family’s home that were not made in the USA .

There was hardly anything left besides the kitchen sink. Literally. During the special they showed truckloads of  items – USA made – being brought in to replace everything  and talked about how to find these items and the difference  in price etc..

It was interesting that Diane said if every American spent just $64 more than normal on USA made items this year, it would create something like 200,000 new jobs!

I was buying food the other day at Walmart and on the label of some products, it said “From China”. 

For example, the “Our Family” brand of Mandarin Oranges says right on the can “From China”.
I was shocked so for a few more cents I bought the Liberty Gold brand or the Dole since it is from California.

Are we Americans as dumb as we appear — or — is it  that we just do not think? The Chinese, knowingly and intentionally, export inferior and even toxic products and dangerous toys and goods to be sold in American markets.

70% of Americans,.. believe that trading privileges afforded to the Chinese should be suspended.

Why do you need the government to suspend trading privileges? You can DO IT YOURSELF, AMERICA !!

Simply look on the bottom of every product you buy, and if  it says ‘Made in China ‘ or ‘PRC’ (and that now includes Hong Kong), simply choose another product, or none at all. You will be amazed at how dependent you are on Chinese products, and you will be equally amazed at what you can do without.

Who needs plastic eggs to celebrate Easter? If you must have eggs, use real ones and benefit some American farmer.  Easter is just an example. The point is do not wait for the government to act. Just go ahead and assume control on your own.

THINK ABOUT THIS: If 200 million Americans each refuse to  buy just $20 of Chinese goods, that’s a billion dollar trade imbalance resolved in our favor…fast!!

Most of the people who have been reading about this matter are planning on implementing this on August 1st and continue it until September 1st. That is only one month of trading losses, but it will hit the Chinese for 1/12th of  the total, or 8%, of their American exports. Then they might have to ask themselves if the benefits of their arrogance and lawlessness were worth it.

Remember, August 1st to September 1st!  START NOW.

Send this to everybody you know. Let’s show them that we  are Americans and NOBODY can take us for granted.

If we can’t live without cheap Chinese goods for one month  out of our lives,WE DESERVE WHAT WE GET!

Pass it on, America …

Well, come to think of it, instead of doing it for just 1 month why not try to do it all the time.

No Speak Da English

Oh Velma, you’re at it again.  Here’s one about how someone learns how to speak English in Toronto, and order Chicken Parts at the same time!

NO Speak English

A Russian woman married a Canadian gentleman and they lived happily ever after in Toronto. The poor lady was not very proficient in English, but did manage to communicate with her husband. The real problem arose whenever she had to shop for groceries.

One day, she went to the butcher and wanted to buy chicken legs. She didn’t know how to put forward her request, so, in desperation, clucked like a chicken and lifted up her skirt to show her thighs. Her butcher got the message and gave her the chicken legs.

Next day she needed to get chicken breasts, again she didn’t know how to say it, so she clucked like a chicken and unbuttoned her blouse to show the butcher her breasts. The butcher understood again and gave her some chicken breasts.

On the 3rd day, the poor lady needed to buy sausages. Unable to find a way to communicate this, she brought her husband to the store…

(Please scroll down.) 

What were you thinking?

Her husband speaks English….hellooo!

Now get back to work, or working on the plot for retirement!

I worry about you sometimes!

Testing an Eee PC with Ubuntu and CentOS Linux

I was handed an old Eee PC lately. One of those small netbook things.  I usually describe them as “Barbie’s PC”.  Personally anything with a keyboard is something better than without, but that’s my preference.   Typing on a glass just does not have the feel of clicky or bouncy keys.

It didn’t have an operating system.  So very helpful, turn the thing on and it told you that.  I’m assuming that the person who had it didn’t want their data to be found, or it was one of the “refurbished” machines you see online. 

So here’s what you do when you have a machine that “doesn’t work at all”.  You know, a dead machine that you want to see if it’s intact or it needs to be recycled or you just have a machine with data on it you need to save before you start over.

Download a “Live CD” version of Linux.

They’re a full operating system that just runs from the cd or the memory stick that you’re using for the purpose.  You’ll need at the bare minimum 1GB, but a 4GB stick is the most I have ever needed for the task.

They’re an interesting thing.  In Windows and Mac machines, you’re wedded to the computer.  With a Live CD and a little dancing, the PC becomes just a box that runs what’s on the stick.  The stick doesn’t care, it can run on any fairly modern machine.

The thing with these Live CDs is that they’re completely independent of what’s going on on your machine.  If you’re off on vacation, you can have an environment that is tailored to your own use.  I’ve done that before, brought one with me.  Basically a complete computer on my keyring.  It only touches what is on the PC’s hard drive if you go out of your way to do so.

Grabbing the most friendly Live CD, Ubuntu, I managed to get it to the memory stick using the instructions that are found on Ubuntu’s site.  Plug that Memory Stick into the little Eee and power the thing on.  

I was presented with the Brown/Orange Ubuntu desktop.  Success.

Running through all the inventory of devices I managed to determine that the machine was complete, functional, intact, and ready for anything else I wanted to do with it.

After playing around and seeing that I was safe, I decided to click the helpful install icon on the desktop and let it go through the motions of a full install.  It worked beautifully.  At least the install did, but I eventually didn’t go with Ubuntu for a couple reasons.

The Wifi on the install didn’t work well.  I was constantly refreshing web pages that never loaded.  Since we’re using computers both on the web and with programs on the hard drive, that wouldn’t work.  Driver problems are the biggest problem with Linux.  It just isn’t supported as well with “Cutting Edge” hardware.

The other thing is that Ubuntu is butt ugly.  They have something called the Unity Interface which is like having a permanently opened start menu on the left hand of the screen.  I couldn’t figure out how to make it hide so I could ignore it.   This is the usual complaint.  I hate it and don’t have to use it.

Luckily there are other versions that work as well, if not better in some cases.  For small computers, and older ones like the one that is probably sitting in the back of your closet, you’ll want something called “Lubuntu“.  Think of “Lightweight Ubuntu”.  It uses an interface that looks very much like Windows, and runs blazingly fast because all the programs are the smaller ones.  On the Eee it ran beautifully except it had the same Wifi Problem.  If you don’t have an Eee or you want to experiment with drivers, you may get it to work.  I was lazy, I had bandwidth and time.  I took the “Path of Least Resistance”.

I eventually ended up installing CentOS which is a full server operating system.  This is the same thing that is running many websites and businesses around the world.  CentOS has a rock solid feel and an enormous amount of support since it is Red Hat Enterprise Linux, almost.  They took Red Hat, removed their branding, and put it out there for everyone to use free and since it is Linux it is all nice and legal.  I’ve never had a problem with CentOS, in fact since it is Linux, it runs on a very old machine with ease.  I had a 12 year old Pentium 3 laptop that had Centos 3 on it from back in the 1988 or so until it simply up and died one day.  Never had a problem with either CentOS or the ancient laptop at all and it ran as fast as the current hardware, going through update after update.

It just takes knowing what you’re doing.  A lot of that experimentation has been removed with the mainstream Windows and Mac OSX.  Running Linux is a much more raw experience but when you have it up and running, it will purr like a kitten for years or even decades.

How To Make Icing for Four Cupcakes

I’m back into Mad Scientist cooking again.

You see I’ve been rightsizing my recipes.  I’m counting calories since I have no “off switch” around certain foods, especially baked goods.   So if it says that a serving is 200 calories, I tend to make it just a little bit smaller and call it done.

I made four cupcakes today from a mix.  The box said that 1/3 cup of mix would be 200 calories.  So therefore multiply by three and divide by four and you get four perfect 150 calorie cupcakes.

Of course they needed to be iced.

I have a foolproof icing recipe that unfortunately makes way more icing than you want to use at one sitting, or 1/2 the amount of icing you need for a cake.  Surf the internet and see if I can find a simple recipe I can downsize.

Bingo, right on one.  Who knows better than that cake decorating company, Wilton?  The first hit online when I searched was their Buttercream icing recipe.  After doing the math I figured out the recipe below:

All ingredients were done by weight – 1 ounce is 28 grams, 1/2 ounce is 14 grams.  Yes, I did use grams but you don’t have to it seemed fairly forgiving but add the milk in “drips and drabs” so you don’t get a runny icing.  It’s all about the “texture”!  If it looks right, it’s done.

  • 1/2 ounce butter (one tablespoon)
  • 1/2 ounce shortening (one tablespoon)
  • 2 ounces confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla

Add all ingredients to a large-ish coffee mug.  Mix with a regular fork until smooth.  Use as icing, but chill in refrigerator.

That’s it.  It’s all a bit Frankenstein’s Cake Monster,  but the results were tasty.

You don’t have to cut yourself off from good things, just be moderate with them.  Each of those cupcakes were 250 calories a piece.  It helps that I’m eating 2200 calories a day of course.  If you’re not at that level, just act accordingly… so enjoy!

I know I did… the icing was excellent, one of the best recipes I have ever stumbled across.

Fish Oil and a Special Diet For The Dog

Having an older dog means having to watch over her and make sure you adjust.  When she’s been “the same for years” it’s a bit of a surprise when you have to change things.

It’s just good luck that she seems to like the change.

I’m surprised since I don’t like the stuff for myself.

Mrs Dog is going to be 12 in November.  I hadn’t realized that it was quite “That Old” until a good friend here, Constance, reminded me that she’s going through those changes near the end of her life.

In those words.  It was also a bit of a shock.

After the seizures, she’s bounced back.  Those were more then a year or so ago and a year before that.  You wouldn’t know she’s had them.  Her slowness is just starting to show, and we’ve now got “Shade Walks” for the 6pm walk.  High summer will melt anyone, and in Florida, you’ll see people standing in the shade of a stop light pole instead of out in the sun.  It’s what we do here, and why should a dog be any different, especially a mostly black dog.

Yes, she’s a solar panel and she wilts in full sun.

We’ve been quite lucky.  Her breed, the McNab Dog, has not been ruined by popularity, inbreeding, and “fashion”.  She’s been healthy for the most part, excluding those seizures.  She’s eating what she had been when I found her as an adolescent almost 10 years ago, but that’s about to change.

See she’s “leaking” in the middle of the night and after some tests she’s now on antibiotics and will be starting a special diet.  I’ve been told that some dogs are on a special diet since almost day one.  Most of that is fashion and “affect”, but in this case it is prescribed.

Yes, prescribed food.  A “Renal Diet” which is supposedly low protein, high “energy”.  I guess it’s higher carbohydrate so we’ll see how that goes.  She’s still got her energy as long as she’s not outside soaking up old Sol.

She’s also taking nearly as many vitamins as I do.  One of the changes is to add Fish Oil to her diet.   Dogs should take twice as much as humans per pound.   So on top of her food, she gets one golden capsule.   The food has become a production now as well.

One cup dry food, two ounces water, microwave for 20 seconds.  Add 1/2 pill for thyroid, one Glucosamine capsule, and now the Fish Oil.  Luckily she likes all of those.  Glucosamine is sweet, the thyroid is supposed to be just neutral tasting, and the Fish oil…

Ever have a can of Tuna?  Compressed into a pill? 

Now you know why those bottles come in a “Burp Free” variety with an extra thick capsule.   Fish Oil Burps are the worst.  Like someone stuffed a trout down your throat.

Being a Dog, she doesn’t find that terrible, yet.  She bites down on that pill filling the kitchen with a faint scent of the sea and chews the daylights out of it.

Mmmm Fishy!

As long as it keeps her around a couple extra years.  I don’t mind the effort, and walking behind the shopping center to stay in the shade in High Summer is not terrible.  It’s just a bit odd visiting the back of all the shops that people come from all over the world to visit the front of.