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Jaws and Scams

9 Jul

The perception that the English have terrible teeth is supposedly a myth, but we’re not so sure. Our ancestry is a mélange of Irish, Scottish, and English folks, and we’ve got the crooked teeth to prove it.  Less than a week after we finally had our wisdom teeth out (our oral surgeon laid a big guilt trip on us for our not attending to this in our teens), we busted our jaw chomping down on a Bahn Mi sandwich. (It’s a French- Vietnamese fusion of pan-fried marinated tofu with thinly sliced carrot and chipotle mayo on a baguette – our taste buds are dancing just thinking about it.) Our jaw has been wired shut for the past three weeks. Some setbacks have their advantages though – it’s done wonders for our figure (we’re sipping meals through a straw), and now we can do convincing impressions of Stephen Hawking.  On the down side, it’s a bloody nuisance. This might be karmic payback for something rotten we did in a previous life.

busted_jaw

Teeth

If you’ve not had your wisdom teeth removed and you’re in your teens, now’s the time to get it done (ideally, you have dental insurance.)  It’ll save you a guilt trip from your oral surgeon later.  If you’re past your teens, you might want to look into it – it becomes more of a big deal the older you get.  If the teeth are really impacted, you may wish to be careful and eat softer foods for the first month or so after you visit the oral surgeon – baguette isn’t exactly hard, but it’s rather chewy, so go easy on the chewy stuff.

Several days after this misfortune, we got a call from a guy (telephone number 1-156-566-5556) who said he was working with Microsoft and they’d discovered a lot of Internet traffic from emanating from our PC (or something to that effect – the upshot was that our PC had been taken over by others and he, concerned guy that he was, would tell us how to fix it.)  He sounded like he was in a room with lots of other good Samaritans also making phone calls. It was clearly a scam, but we decided to play along.  He told us to open a command prompt and run netstat -an.  This command essentially shows you information about network connections. The guy offered this as proof that the computer had been taken over by invading marauders (it proved nothing of the kind.) He then asked us to run other commands which also did nothing to show that the computer had been compromised but were apparently intended to convince us that he knew what he was talking about.  (He didn’t) We pretended to follow his instructions, waiting for him to get to the heart of the scam. By and by, he did, asking us to open a browser and visit some Web site that would cure our PC’s ills.  At this point we got bored and starting making things up when he asked us to describe what was on the web page.  We hadn’t even bothered to open the browser.  Sensing he was getting nowhere, he said he’d call back when we were actually in front of a computer.  We thought that’d be the end of it, but he actually called back several days later. This time, we weren’t amused and told him not to call back.  (He hasn’t.)

This post has been brought to you as a public service announcement from the British Dental Association and the Society for the Prevention of Guys Running Telephone Computer Scams  – exercise caution after oral surgery, and don’t believe some guy who calls you saying he’s going to ‘fix’ your computer.

Lemming of the BDA

Our man Lemming from the British Dental Association.

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Computers and Paranoia

3 Feb

We’ve been offline for a bit.  During that time, however, we were not idle.  In fact, we managed to replace the motherboard on our spouse’s laptop.  Now, that may not sound too impressive, ’cause let’s face it, it isn’t.  The average teenaged kid can probably replace a motherboard eight ways from Sunday. We were, however, pretty impressed with ourselves for two reasons:

1. We are decades away from having been a teenaged kid.
2. We managed to do it despite the fact that everything we read told us we’d probably screw it up.

In the middle of some idle web browsing, the screen on the laptop had gone dark.  After a little research, we concluded that the video card suddenly went ka-fuddah. We couldn’t just replace the card though; it was part of the motherboard, hence it needed a whole new board.  We dithered, then ordered a new motherboard online.

Being the cheap bastards that we are, we did not pay for expedited shipping.  We therefore had lots of time to figure out how we were going to install the darn thing once it arrived.  Luckily, there are online videos that described how to remove this model’s old board and toss a new one in.

We’d replaced small components in the past, so we knew there are things that you can do wrong without even trying. For example, when messing with computer stuff,  if you don’t wear a proper wrist strap (or at least touch a door knob or something metal) you just might fry the electronics with your static electricity.

Further research got us really freaked out.  Turns out that these here CPUs are in contact with a heat sink, with a layer of thermal paste between the two. The online instructions for the paste we’d bought said it “could cause problems if it bridged two close-proximity electrical paths.” Yikes – two close proximity electrical paths – who knew? But it didn’t end there – the instructions also said, “a hair, piece of lint, and even dead skin cells” could screw everything up and “fingerprints can be as thick as 0.005.”  Our own fat fingerprints could do us in! Even if we didn’t get any hair or skin cells into the mix, we could still screw it up with too much or too little paste.  We stood to lose over 100 bucks if we screwed this up.  We were nervous wrecks.

The new board finally showed up and we forced ourselves not to chicken out and set to work.  After some time, we finally transferred the CPU to the new board, applied the paste and the heat sink, and put everything back, with the video as our guide.

It was now the moment of truth.

We plugged it in and turned it on, half expecting to hear ‘zzzzzzt!’ accompanied by the smell of electronics burning. To our amazement, it booted up and ran at a temperature that remained in the safe zone.  Everything wasn’t Shangri-La, though – we’d put the screw over the battery compartment in wrong and the ‘L’, the ‘O’ and the numeric zero keys did not work. We opened it up again, and after fiddling with the keyboard cable, all the keys worked. The only casualty was the screw over the battery compartment – we’d stripped that bad boy.  Nonetheless,  we’d worried, we’d fretted, but in spite of ourselves, the old beast lived again.

Comp. Sci. and English are Practically the Same Subject

7 Jan

When we were in college, Computer Science students had trouble in English classes and English majors shied away from Comp. Sci. courses. This seems weird, as they both  deal with the same things.

In English classes, students learn English syntax, sentence structure, and how to organize ideas into paragraphs.  Ideally, they also learn to state their ideas succinctly. In Computer Science classes, students learn the syntax of the computer language,  how to structure a program, and how to organize the program into separate procedures.  They also learn to do as much as possible with the fewest lines of computer code.  Seems like pretty much the same subject to us.

A computer program is a kind of stylized essay (OK, if you want to be technical  it’s a set of commands for the computer to follow, but we’re indulging in a little bit of poetic license here), where the non-human reader either understands or fails to understand its content, depending how well we’ve written the program.  Our English paper has human readers who, depending on how well we’ve written the paper, will understand or fail to understand how our arguments support the paper’s thesis.

If you think we’re indulging in whimsy, we’re not.  We did terribly in comp.  sci.  courses until we stopped thinking about programming as being primarily about mathematics (which terrified us) and started thinking about it in terms of  structure and syntax.  Once we had this epiphany, we were finally able to write programs that actually compiled and yielded the desired results.

Hal 9000

Good morning, Dave.

 

Passwords, security, and stuff like that there

24 Oct
encryption

security is important, but …

We work for Engulf and Devour. That isn’t the company’s real name but we’re paranoid and don’t want to be fired.  Anyhoo, E & D requires its employees to have a password for starting up their PCs.  There’s also one for logging into the network.  There’s a separate one for e-mail, and there’s a couple more for other things.  Since they tend to expire at different times of the year, using one secure password is a difficult feat to accomplish.

The thing that we don’t get though, is why we have to change a perfectly good secure password every so often.  If the darn thing is more than 12 characters in length and has a mixture of uppercase, lowercase, numerals, and a few non-alphanumeric characters thrown in for good measure, then that’s one secure password. The system locks you out if you fat-finger the password more than 3 times, so the chances of someone successfully deploying a brute force attack are remote. Assuming we don’t tell anyone what the password is, it’d take years for an unscrupulous person to break into our e-mail accounts.  That’s why we can’t understand why we ever have to change it.

There is something to be said for security, but we feel that laziness is important, too.