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For this one feature, and this one feature alone

Did I tell you guys I was elected secretary of the local art club? I’m very unhappy about it. It’s a tragic tale of blackmail, intrigue and very, very old ladies.

One of the things that came with it was a Mailchimp newsletter. I introduced that, actually – before me, it was all done on paper and mailed out. Endless envelope stuffing and mail merge.

Have you had the pleasure? I shouldn’t complain about a free version, but Mailchimp can be pretty clunky to work with.

One of the things I promised was a file version of the newsletter that can be printed or emailed. Turns out, that’s a whole lot harder than it sounds.

Warning: boring geekery to follow.

I thought I’d just print to pdf and be done. It never occurred to me that the printer driver would insist on breaking it into A4 pages. Okay, fine. But it also insists on printing all the various web dinguses and controls on the top of every page (even with “headers and footers” turned off) and cover some of the text with them.

That won’t do at all.

Things I have tried: finding a printer driver with a “continuous roll” paper option, “print to fit” on tabloid paper size and then snipping the sides off, every browser on my computer, various iterations of making Mailchimp print it for me.

In the end, I resorted to one of my oldest workarounds: Firefox. It’s been so long since I used it, I had to download a copy. It’s the only browser I’ve ever used that lets you right click on a frame and print just that frame.

I’m sorry. I know this is boring. I had to get it off my chest. Goodness knows I can’t describe it to the very, very old ladies.

January 16, 2023 — 8:08 pm
Comments: 7

That was boring. Here’s a picture of a stoat

I thought I’d stumbled over an interesting story today, but I traced it to the end and it was kind of boring. I’m going to tell it to you anyway.

We’ve been desperate for stuff to watch on TV over the holidays. The BBC has been dire. I haven’t watched any of the popular Netflix serieses (we have – ahem – access). I thought I’d check the reviews on Stranger Things (unrelated: have you watched it? Is it good? No spoilers, pls).

In the Wikipedia article, there was this curious statement: “Netflix did not initially reveal subscriber viewership numbers for their original series, and Symphony Technology Group compiled data for the season based on people using software on their phones that measures television viewing by detecting a program’s sound.”

Wait, what? Phones listening in on what people are watching? Symphony Technology Group is just an investment firm, why wouldn’t they name the actual app, unless it was some other sort of app that covertly snooped on people? Something interesting afoot!

Nope, not very. It was a real app with the sole purpose of tracking your TV habits and people signed up for it on purpose. In 2015, Symphony Advanced Media built an app called VideoPulse. They paid people $5 to $11 a month to let this thing listen in all the time (but not conversations, pinkie-swear).

I guess Nielsen doesn’t track streaming services effectively, and certainly not YouTube. It was a big gap in the data for people who rely on viewership figures. They got at least 15,000 to sign up.

VideoPulse learned some interesting stuff – like millenials aren’t really watching less TV as everyone thought, they’re just watching more YouTubes. Nobody was sure how good their numbers were, though, and they didn’t make money on it, so they dissolved in 2017.

On the other hand, if you follow @STOATBOT on Twitter, you get an adorable stoat in your feed every three hours.

December 27, 2022 — 7:38 pm
Comments: 10

Timeline of a scam

I received this email about eight yesterday morning to my work account. It’s obviously a scam, but it is a legitimate email coming from PayPal. Correct name, all the links check out. Hm.

First thing I did was search that phone number – it’s obviously the heart of the scam. Sure enough, the first person ever to go looking for that number was two hours earlier. He got exactly the same message, but with a different senders’s name.

Here is the lookup page. I’m the seventh commenter down. At that time, the number had been searched around twenty times.

As of now, the number has been looked up 338 and 42 people made remarks. The messages are kind of interesting. A couple of people called the number and played along (dangerous – there are numbers that automatically charge you a bunch of money when you connect to them). Some people called PayPal.

Oh, yes – I checked the work PayPal account and this message was in it, verbatim, with the proposed transaction. I cancelled it, natch.

Here’s what happened. Let’s say I’m your gardener and I do 5 hours of shitty, lazy gardening for you at £10 an hour. If I know your account address, PayPal has a function where I can send you a message that says, “hello, Yourname. Please send me £50 for my crappy product. Love, Stoaty.” Which seems a reasonable sort of function to have.

Unfortunately, the message can also say, “FRAUDULENT TRANSACTION FOUND IN YOUR ACCOUNT OF 890. 00 GBP, TO STOP OR CANCEL THIS AMOUNT CALL US IMMEDIATELY @ +44-800-058-4853 OR THE AMOUNT WILL BE DEBITED WITHIN 12 HOURS’ and there really isn’t a way for PayPal to tell the difference. They’re well aware of it now (they got an earful yesterday) but I’m not sure what they can do but get rid of that feature.

Oh, look – I’ve just received a less interesting phishing email that *almost* passed the smell test, but the “refund here” button links to something called rebrand.ly and stoaty@sweasel.com doesn’t have a PayPal. Nice try, assholes!

BTW, the correct reporting address is phishing@paypal.com.

November 29, 2022 — 4:57 pm
Comments: 8

I don’t mean to brag…

…but I got a thousand followers on Twitter now. And it only took 14 years, a change in ownership and firing half the staff.

Twitter does seem a little different. The big accounts say their numbers are galloping. Mine are slinking, but seldom moved at all before. Definitely not seen an uptick in ‘hateful’ language. Not as much stuff seems deboosted (hidden under a “click for more” button). And he says he hasn’t actually changed anything yet.

He did urge everyone to vote Republican tomorrow – for the perfectly libertarian reason of a divided government – but you can imagine how the blue-checks have reacted.

So far, none of the people who’ve said they are leaving have, in fact, deleted their accounts. The ones I’ve checked, anyway.

November 7, 2022 — 6:36 pm
Comments: 7

Wait for it…

I’ve been F5’ing it every few minutes. It’s going to happen.

Mood on Twitter is jubilant. People are shouting “learn to code!” and “transwomen are men!” It’s like the fall of the Berlin wall, except pointless and stupid.

I just passed Katie Hopkins in my timeline. Elon Musk has replied directly to Catturd. Oh, it’s pandemonium!

Exit question: what in the heck is a Castro nudist protestor?

Have a good weekend!

October 28, 2022 — 7:35 pm
Comments: 17

Our new stamps

Before January, we have to turn in all our old stamps and trade them for these >>

Yes, that’s a QR code. Well, no – apparently “QR Code” is trademarked, but it’s the same idea. According to the Royal Mail, each stamp will be unique and the idea is you scan it with the Post Office app and you can connect your letter to an audio or video file online or what have you.

Naturally, it’s making everyone’s spidey sense tingle like mad. I can’t work out any way they can use it for nefarious purposes, though.

Well, not really. These are two stamps from a single book. I overlaid them and they are close but not exact. See here.

The green is one stamp, the purple is the other and the dark gray is where they both agree. Presumably a totally different book of stamps would have more differences.

So in theory, if you sent a poison pen letter and they raided your house and found a similar stamp…eh, it’s a reach.

Honestly, it’s probably just some boomer civil servant’s notion of STAMPS OF THE FU-TURE!

The QR reader in my phone tells me it’s a long string of numbers and letters, but I couldn’t find a way to copy and paste them into anything to compare. If I get curious enough, I might do proper scans of some books of stamps and overlay them to see if I can find a pattern.

Can anyone intuit the formula for how many unique combinations there are in a matrix of 16 x 48 binary dots?

October 24, 2022 — 5:08 pm
Comments: 15

I’m sure I missed a few

I don’t like suspense, so let me say up front: yes, I got the power supply installed without too much fuss and yes, it appears to have solved my USB problem completely. So far so good, anyway.

Those numbered things are zip ties, tightly holding the old cables to the frame. They each had to be cut, preferably without nicking the cables they were holding. Yeesh.

Things I know now:

Plug the cables into the power supply first, before you do anything else. The manual says to bolt it into the case first and then plug the cables into the motherboard and THEN plug them in the back of the power supply.

This means pointlessly sticking your fingers into many wkward tiny places to seat fiddly plugs you can’t see. I have circuit board rash on the backs of both hands.

I’m sure any way you do it is a doddle on an airy, well-lighted work bench. Sitting on the floor of a 16th Century farmhouse, not so much. Dark in here, fam.

Because the plugs are individually shaped, you can’t really go wrong. The worst mistake you can make is to leave something out so your rig is under-powered. And even that might not matter, depending on the component.

There is no over-powered splodey error.

The amount of juice coming out of each wire is the same. It’s not special sauce going to the motherboard or the graphics card. Plugs are shaped and numbered that way to idiot-proof the process.

One of these days, I’ll learn to watch a few YouTubes *before* I get stuck.

September 29, 2022 — 5:47 pm
Comments: 6

That was quick

My power supply arrived. Yeah, these people are good.

It’s a monster – hand for scale. It says it fits in an ATX case. Let us hope. But did I install it this evening? I did not.

I was busy chasing a little white rooster round and round my neighbor’s driveway. Damn, that little bastard is quick.

I chased him through blackberry brambles. I chased him through stinging nettles. I am alive with small ouchies.

I never caught him, but I did manage to chase him through a hole in the hedge so he could make his way back to the henhouse. It was well past chicken bedtime.

You know the previous post, when I said only one of those chooks in the picture is still alive? It was him – the little white bastard on the right. He was pushing his luck tonight.

September 28, 2022 — 7:18 pm
Comments: 7

Glut of tomatoes?

Homemade V8! Makes a kickass bloody mary.

Preboil celery and carrots in a little water until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook another 20 minutes with the lid off. Put in a blender or zizz with a mixer. You’re supposed to strain it through muslin then, but that makes it too thin for my taste. I just trawl trough it for chunks (celery is the usual culprit).

According to campbells.com, the proper article is tomato puree plus carrots, celery, beets, parsley, lettuce, watercress and spinach. But the as long as you have tomatoes and Tabasco, you’re good.

Sorry about yesterday. It was the database on my server. I didn’t even bother to file a ticket. I knew they were working on it and I wasn’t too fussed. I had bloody marys!

Any hardline computer geeks online?

I’m having a mystery problem with my fancy computer. It’s three years old and it’s the absolute highest spec I could afford.

While it was still fairly new, I noticed the USB ports in the front were a little flaky – sometimes cutting out briefly. I assumed that bank of ports wasn’t fully plugged into the motherboard.

Then the ones in the back got a little flaky. Then all of them got pretty flaky. Then all of them got intolerably flaky, stuttering in and out constantly.

So I broke down and bought a PCI card with four USB ports. Which worked a treat. For about a week.

What could make all my USB ports unreliable, even freshly added ones. Would that be (please no) a motherboard issue? Could it be the power supply?

September 22, 2022 — 5:19 pm
Comments: 15

Public service announcement

I put together the newsletter for work. Like most, we use Mailchimp. Every time I access audience info, I wonder if people realize how much data we inadvertently get.

If I click your email address, I get your language, percentage of opens, the percentage of clicks, the location you accessed the email from, your favorite email client and operating system, which issues you opened (every one, back to the beginning) and whether you clicked any attachments or links.

But wait! There’s more!

That’s just the data I get on the Audience Dashboard. If I download signup data as a spreadsheet, I get member rating (I have no idea what this is based on), the time you signed up, your IP, you latitude and longitude(!) – I assume this is of your ISP – your timezone, its difference from GMT, your country, your region and the last time your record was changed.

If I had ever asked for it, I also would have your name, address, phone number and birthday.

Just be aware when you sign up to Disgusting Fetishist Monthly.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

April 8, 2022 — 6:13 pm
Comments: 21