LinkedIn – A Story and a Warning

LinkedIn is one of what I refer to as a second-tier “big tech” company.  By second-tier I mean that it’s not always the first corporate name that springs to mind when that term is used.  In my mind, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft logos are the ones that seem to appear when the discussion of big tech occurs.

But LinkedIn, which was founded by Reid Hoffman and Eric Ly and which was launched on May 5, 2003, was praised in the past by technologists for its implementation of new, complex “big technologies.”  LinkedIn was acquired by Microsoft in 2016.  Yep, Big Tech.

I created a LinkedIn account during my working career, sometime around 2011.  At the time, LinkedIn was going public, with its initial public offering (IPO).  By the end of the year, LinkedIn had a higher market value than Twitter.

Let’s detour for a moment and consider “social networks.”  Think of an electronic version of a public notice or bulletin board, where anyone is free to post want ads, babysitting services, yard work, junk removal and personal profiles.  That’s the general idea behind behind the likes of Craigslist, MySpace, Facebook and others.  These sites captured the imagination of (mostly) young people and grew accordingly.  I won’t go into the psychology of obsessiveness that developed among a large number of users.

The founders and developers of these sites discovered something television producers had known for decades:  You make money by advertising.  Over-the-air television cost nothing more than the set on which to receive the signal.  It paid for itself many times over by presenting the viewer with advertisements.  This was the model that turned Google into a powerhouse Big Tech company.  Simply put:  Make the usage free and put advertisements in front of the users.

But “Big Tech” is big tech.  The Googles of the world learned that they had the ability to track users, and to target them with ads based on their searches, activities and behaviors.  A rumor floated a few years ago that Facebok (or name your big tech company) was able to read your hard disk and lift personal information from it.  That was never proved, and these days would be extremely difficult to do, but Facebook and every big tech company does read the contents of your web browser’s cache.

Cache.  Ah, a term that’s often not clearly understood.  Having worked in a field where cache is a major component of the technology, I feel qualified to discuss this further.  Cache is an area of a computer’s memory or hard disk that is used to store recently accessed data.  It does this to speed up computer operations by not needing to “go to the well” every time, thereby also reducing resource consumption at the source. EVERY web browser maintains a cache of data.  It’s this data that exists and can be used by big tech.  If you are handing out your personal information (address, driver’s license number, credit card information, etc.) that information exists in cache.  Need I draw the connecting lines?

The good news is that browsers are becoming more security conscious, as are most computer systems developers.  For example, Apple’s latest operating systems offerings continue to add features meant to secure your data from prying technology.  Of course, the cost of doing so makes using a Mac less “user-friendly,” but the trade-off is seen as being worth it.

So, back to LinkedIn.  I chose LinkedIn as the subject of this piece due mostly to my personal experience with it.  As mentioned above, I created a LinkedIn account during the peak of my professional career.  Presented as a “socia networking system for professionals,” the concept of LinkedIn was to enable professionals to post their résumés , connect with others, search for job openings, preview job candidates, and enable peer-to-peer evaluations.

On the surface, the concept sounded appealing.  After all, why not connect to a world of your peers?  It wasn’t until I’d had my account for a couple of years that the cracks began to appear.  Like other social networks, LinkedIn would propose connections.  Often, these would be people employed in your organization, in similar job fields, alumni of your college(s) and linkages (hence the name, LinkedIn) it deemed appropriate.  Fair enough, it’s how the system works.

But when I started receiving praise and recommendations for capabilities I don’t have, for experience I’ve never had,  by people I barely know, my eyebrows began to raise.  This started happening with regular frequency.  It made me question the entire veracity of the system.

Feeling that LinkedIn was more a waste of my time than a benefit to my career or productivity, I decided to close my account.  This is where the hammer dropped.  In short:  You can’t.

Oh sure, you can “close” your account, but LinkedIn’s Terms of Service (TOS) state (in my English translation of lawyerspeak) that all data you send to LinkedIn becomes THEIR data. The effect of “closing” my account meant that my data was not accessible to ME, but it was still there for everyone else to see!  Hey – check your TOS on Facebook, Google and the others.  I’d be willing to wager they all say the same thing:  Your data is THEIR data.  That gives rise to the saying, “If a service is free, YOU are the product.” 

So, I re-opened my account.  Yes, I was able to re-link (sorry!) to my data.  As I have now moved into the realm of the retired, I clearly put that as my status, and changed my profile photo to that of a milk carton with “Missing” displayed on the face.

And today, I still get recommendations and offers.  It’s a good thing Big Technology has provided a way to detect this nonsense as junk, and to send it to my trash bin unread. LinkedIn no longer exists to me, and neither do Twitter (“X”), Facebook and other “social” networks.  I use technology daily, but my searches aren’t done through Google, and I share only my AppleID account information with Apple.  My data isn’t for sale.

(The opinions in this article are those of the author only.  As the saying goes, “Your mileage may vary.”)

Being A Social Media Outcast

The title of this piece is slightly misleading.  An outcast is someone who has been literally cast out of a tribe, a community, or an environment.  In my case, it’s a self-inflicted condition.

When the public Internet was young (circa 1993-1995) social networking, as we now refer to it, was largely unknown.  But in the early 2000s, sites like Friendster, LinkedIn and MySpace came online, and social networking began.  MySpace was eclipsed by Facebook and social networking took off.  Soon to follow were the likes of Twitter (now X) and almost everything on the Internet became “social.”  I too, jumped into the pool.

My initial foray into social media came when my daughter left for college.  I had learned she had opened an account on Facebook, and I did so also, as a means of staying in touch.

There was a lot of fascination with the concept at first.  I added “friend” after “friend,” as names were suggested to me, and they were all people I knew in the circles in which I traveled.  Truthfully, not many of them would actually meet my criteria of “friend,” but it was entertaining to see photos of places people visited, accomplishments and awards earned, and other forms of vicarious experience.

But I learned my daughter didn’t really use Facebook.  So, after the freshness wore off, I began to grow tired of the rampant narcissism.  Because after all, Facebook is first and foremost about “me.”  The majority of users, I stipulate, are always putting on their best faces and showing how wonderful and perfect their lives are.  Don’t you wish you were me?

After a while, the tone of social media began to appear shrill and strident.  “Thread drift” became the norm (I maintain that if a topic goes on, by the third “page” it has devolved into a shouting match akin to “I’m right and you’re wrong.”  Except often not as polite.  And no longer on point.

When I began this post, I had a lot of thoughts I felt I could post.  But I tend to want to keep these periodic pieces short, so as to not bore the reader.  Thus, I will wrap this up by saying this:

I’m not a social media outcast.  I’m a social media “hermit.”  And I’m quite happy to be away from the mess.

Writers Writing For Writers

I recently joined Substack.  Then I joined Medium.  Why?  The short answer is that I was thinking of turning to writing once my retirement become final.

But I write here.  Why add new sites when I can write all I want on my own site? The short answer, I think, is exposure.

Yes, I admit that the idea of pulling in a few extra dollars to supplement my retirement is one of the considerations for my choices, but I’m quickly re-thinking that decision.

The research I did suggested that Medium is better suited to writers who simply want to write.  Substack is geared toward writers who want to get paid. However, I’m not sure I fit in to either category.

For starters, the general consensus is that columns, blogs, posts, or whatever you want to call them should all be “topical.”  In other words, the feeling is that readers will want you to focus on a particular subject, otherwise they won’t be interested in reading what you have to say.  I don’t know that I completely subscribe to that belief.  I enjoy reading articles by Victor Davis Hanson, Christopher Chantrill and the like.  True, they tend to speak to modern American society, politics and culture, but part of their appeal to me is that they do vary the topics on which they write.

Lately, I’ve been receiving my daily updates from Medium and the trend seems to be users/authors expressing their disappointment and frustration with the offering.  I’m so new to the site that I haven’t had the experiences others may have had, but it doesn’t speak well when the primary topic discussed is something like, “Why I left Medium.”

Still, there’s some attraction to using a delivery platform that has a built-in readership.  It’s unrealistic to think that one will be an overnight success simply by clicking a few keys and hitting the “publish” button.

I think I’ll continue.  Here, and on Medium and Substack.  At least for now.

Call This A Placeholder

A few days ago I was thinking of all the spam email I receive, and of posting a snarky comment to the effect, “Why are you welcoming me to something I didn’t ask for, don’t want, and didn’t initiate?” But in the end, I realized there was no real point to be made railing against the characters who mass produce this nonsense.

So it left me thinking that at this current point in my life, I’m somewhat adrift.  I’ve been single again for some thirteen years now, the job I’ve held has lost its luster, and my intention to retire this year fills me both with eagerness and anxiety.

I’ve taken a renewed interest in computer programming (and now I have a category into which to place this post), and have begun looking into Javascript and web technologies — the same technologies that inspired me to creating this web site in the first place.

A few plugs:  I have been using the wonderful, free web server software from Aprelium, called Abyss.  It’s a full-featured web server, and I have been exploring various aspects of server-side includes (SSI) and common gateway interface (CGI).  As mentioned in my previous post, I have also started unpacking and learning Apple’s Shortcuts program.  I also came across a nifty freeware widget called “Plash

Plash icon

Plash icon

that enabled me to fulfill my wish to overlay the name of the image file used on my Mac’s desktop.  Available on the App Store, its author has produced other superb software, and I was delighted to support him in his efforts!  I wound up crafting a solution using a shell script, a Shortcut, and Plash.

Something is pending.  I don’t know what it is, be it a new life experience as a retiree, or something else, but that’s the feeling I’ve been having.  I still exercise daily, play guitar, spend time (productively, or not) on the computer, and enjoy cooking and eating, but right now I feel somewhat in-the-middle.  Call it a placeholder.

Should I Write A Book?

As evidenced by this ongoing blog, I enjoy writing.  I have never approached this effort with an audience in mind, and most of my articles are mostly journaling personal opinions and experiences.  That said, my current motivation to write more frequently comes from two separate perspectives.  The first is my as-yet unannounced retirement, which I hope to make official a little over a month from now.  The second is from reading a book that is both informative but frustrating at the same time.  It’s this book that forms the subject of this post.

Here’s the back story:  I try to take a 30-40 minute walk every day.  As I’m heading out the door, I engage the “Outdoor Walk” workout on my Apple Watch.  I then open the Pacer app on my iPhone, which I use for its audible messages for time and distance.  I wondered to myself if I couldn’t automate that process, which led me to Shortcuts.

Shortcuts is an app that Apple produced and introduced on iOS (iPhone/iPad) and recently added to the Mac.  When it debuted, I took little notice of it, but I quickly realized that AppleScript and Automator (two other, older Apple technologies) were not available outside the Mac, so my attention turned to Shortcuts.

Another back story:  As a programmer most of my adult life and throughout my career, I’ve constantly looked for ways to simplify my computing experience, and have developed a number of scripts and processes using the command line, HyperCard, AppleScript and Automator.  Each has required a learning curve, and Apple has followed the trend of making programming languages and their syntax complicated and intimidating.  Which I find ironic, as the Mac was originally promoted as the computer for “the rest of us.”  Hmm.

To add insult to injury, Apple keeps breaking AppleScript with updates to macOS, and now I hear that Automator is likely going to be replaced by Shortcuts.

So, maybe it’s time for me to learn Shortcuts.

Shortcuts began life as a product called “Workflow,” which garnered an Apple Design Award in 2015, and was fully acquired by Apple in 2017.  It has since grown added features and in 2021 its availability for macOS was announced.  It now supports the entire Apple “ecosphere,” Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch.

Even though Shortcuts attempts to be helpful and usable “out of the box,” most of the pre-built “workflows” (or “macros”) available in the product’s “gallery” do not fit my day to day needs.  Time to roll up my sleeves and create my own.

Which is where the dark side of technology is introduced.  In its inimitable way, Apple has tried to make Shortcuts usable without writing any code.  But by so doing, one must learn the “Shortcuts way” of doing things.  Sadly, there aren’t tutorials, and the built-in help is pretty much the only source for information.  That is, until I came across the book, Take Control of Shortcuts, 2nd Edition by Rosemary Orchard (the delightful irony of both Apple and Orchard being associated is not overlooked!).   I purchased it (Kindle version, the only format available) in large part because it even addresses changes and additions to the current version of macOS, “Ventura” (version 13), which I am running on my modern Macs.

Reading the reviews on Amazon, I was prepared for a less-than-ideal reading and learning experience, so I wasn’t surprised that the author, while knowledgeable about the subject, chose to attempt to address the differences between platforms every time one occurred.  And there are many!  I found this distracting and hard to follow.  There’s a lot of good information presented in the book, but I find myself losing track as Orchard follows breadcrumbs here and there.

Which brings me back to the topic of this post:  Should I Write A Book?  I have given this some (but not a lot) of thought.  If I were going to write a book about Shortcuts, how would I structure it?  Since I am exposed to a lot of technical documentation through the course of my work, my thinking is that I would probably write it according to this rough outline:

  • Introduction.  What is Shortcuts?  Where did it come from?  Who can use it, and where to find it.
  • Definition of terms.  It helps to have a clear understanding of terms like “events,” “actions,” “variables,” “triggers” and so on.
  • Core capabilities.  Items and processes that are available on all platforms.
  • Mac differences
  • iPhone/iPad differences
  • Apple Watch differences

It always helps to have examples and even do-it-yourself templates.  Screenshots and clear step-by-step instructions in abundance would go a long way to adding value to the book.

Almost in spite of Orchard’s book, I have been able to create two Shortcuts “macros.”  The first addresses the original desire to automate my workout routine.  Because it is started on my Watch and transfers control to my iPhone, it doesn’t always work.  I’m still looking into that.  The second, which I even added comments inside, I have running as a “service” on my Mac that just uses the Mac’s “Quick Look” capability to display a random photo from a folder I use for desktop pictures.  It doesn’t serve any real useful purpose, but it’s kind of fun during a quick break to pop up and display a photo I may not have seen in a while.  Here’s a screenshot of the Shortcut “code.”

Remember that “learning curve” I mentioned earlier?  Well, I had to find out what a “Quick Action” is (in essence, it’s like a service one can call from the Services menu on.a Mac) and then I had to learn that I needed to “continue” if there was no input.  And, since I’m using folders on my Mac that don’t exist on my phone or iPad, I had to terminate the shortcut if I was trying to run it on one of them, otherwise I’d get an error.

I may never write this book.  But when I finally retire, I should have the time to learn and explore the Shortcuts app on multiple platforms, and maybe put my knowledge into words.

Has Apple Abandoned AppleScript? Automator?

Those who know me know that I’m an Apple Macintosh fan.  I was already fascinated with computers when Apple ran their famous “1984” commercial

and I went, “Whoa, this I gotta see!”

Soon after, I acquired an original, first-generation Macintosh, an ImageWriter printer, and I was hooked!

Awed by the rich, well-crafted graphical user interface (GUI), the “other guys” were suddenly rocking back on their heels.  They had nothing to compare to it.  Since Microsoft Windows hadn’t yet made an appearance, the best argument against the Mac came in the form of the criticism that the Mac had no command line, and no way for the average user to create their own programs, processes and workflows.

The answer to that complaint arrived in 1987 as Apple introduced Hypercard, the first-ever hypermedia system, pre-dating the worldwide web.  Apple pulled the plug on it in 2004 because, as Tim Oren put it, “HyperCard always had a marketing problem of not being clearly about any one thing.”  In other words, Apple didn’t know what to do with it.

AppleScript made its debut in 1993, when Apple was still shipping System 7, the operating system that was replaced by Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple from NeXT.  Compared to the DOS command line scripting language, AppleScript was not only fluid, very English-like in its syntax and language structure, but also leveraged components of the Mac operating system down to its core.  Scripts could be written to automate tasks, could integrate with other scripting languages (the porting of NextStep to the Mac and integrating it with the classic Mac OS added the ability to write Unix shell scripts).

I remember writing an AppleScript process that would

  1. Mute the sound output of the Mac
  2. Launch an Internet stream recorder every weeknight and point it to a radio broadcast
  3. Turn off the recording two hours later
  4. Save the recording to a folder with a date-time specification
  5. Restore the audio level

I could then listen to my replay of the live presentation at a more reasonable hour (for me).  Another feature of AppleScript that I enjoyed was the “folder actions” ability:  Write a script that watches a given folder and when an item is added, changed or removed, the script would take an action (in database parlance this is known as a “trigger”).  Cool stuff!

Eight years later, Apple added to its set of built-in tools Automator.  Building on top of previous capabilities, Automator is designed to create workflows using a point-and-click and drag-and-drop interface.  It can call AppleScript scripts and shell scripts, too.

Since my employment entails working with a lot of the “other guys” (Windows and Linux), I do a lot of shell scripting and DOS batch/command files.  Microsoft met the Apple challenge in 2006 with Windows PowerShell (now made open-source and cross-platform in 2016), but I’ve never taken the time to learn it (every programming language has a learning curve, and I’m pretty curved out).

Which brings me to the topic of this post.  I’m running the latest (as of this writing) macOS, Ventura (13.2).  Apple has made significant changes to its OS under the hood, and in so doing has broken a lot of AppleScripts.  A quick Internet search for “Ventura AppleScript” will reveal page after page of people reporting their AppleScripts no longer work under Ventura.

I have sitting next to me a book I purchased in 1995 by Tom Trinko titled, Applied Mac Scripting, which focuses on AppleScript, Userland Frontier (now primarily a web scripting language) and some other small automation tools.  It’s a huge book of over 800 pages, and originally came with a CD that has long ago disappeared.  I mention this because no one seems to have written anything new about AppleScript in years.  The most recent book I could find on Amazon is dated 2010!  Even Apple’s own Developer site has outdated information on AppleScript, and the “About AppleScript” forum is locked.  That’s not a good sign.

Here’s what brought me to this lengthy screed:  I like to decorate my Mac’s “desktop” with photos I’ve taken (or downloaded).  I also like to have the image rotated randomly at specific intervals. I save all my photos in a folder (not my Pictures folder).  Over the years, I have tried a number of programs that purport to do this, and all fail to meet 100% of my requirements.  The one I’ve used for years is a little freeware program, Change Desktop by Brian Bergstrand (hat tip!), now unavailable.  So, I thought I’d write one myself.  After all, I have all the tools necessary, don’t I?

As a proof of concept, I quickly whipped up a shell script.  It simply reads through the folder, building an array of file names, chooses one at random then displays the filename.  This is the script:

#!/bin/zsh
#
unset p
let x=1
#
for f in *;
do
if [ -f "$f" ] ; then
p[$x]="$f";
let x=x+1
else
echo "$f" is not a file
fi;
done;
RANDNUM=$(( 1 + $RANDOM % $x ))
echo "There are $x files"
FN=${p[$RANDNUM]}
echo "The randomly chosen file is $FN"

Okay, it works.  But the shell doesn’t provide a way (that I know of) to set the desktop image.  I found several AppleScripts that should do the same thing.  But they don’t.  They either throw an error (AppleScript’s errors are as unfriendly as any programming language’s I’ve seen) or they don’t take the right image from the folder specified.  Huh?

Automator seems now to be Apple’s preferred method of creating your own workflows (which is the name Apple gives the processes you create).  At least they’ve updated the documentation for it.  I’ve created Automator workflows, but they don’t seem as “intuitive” as AppleScript.  Well, as AppleScript used to be.  As is the case with most software, “feature creep” enters the picture and what was once a simply, handy tool (like HyperCard) gets burdened down with external functions, libraries, frameworks and no longer is accessible to the common man.

Pity.

 

Where Has “The Science” Gone?

A thought occurred to me today while I was out running (yes, I’ve started back; it’s a long way to go, but the benefits call to me…), the old saying, “Boys will be boys.”

This line was often used to excuse obstreperous, reckless, sometimes unruly behavior, because after all, boys will be boys.  The typical reaction to an overly-rambunctious boy was a “time-out,” sometimes accompanied by sitting in a corner.

Somewhere along the line, “scientists” decided that boys were afflicted with some made-up affliction they termed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and invented drugs to counteract this behavior.  In other words, don’t let boys be boys, but turn them into malleable zombies.

Today, it’s gotten worse.  No longer do the “scientists” want boys to be boys, they want boys to be girls!  Yes, as the “woke” pandemic propagates, it now seems that every little boy is a mistake, and “science” determines that they should indeed, be girls.

THEN:  Boys will be boys

NOW: Boys will be girls

Except that this entire trend lacks any true science behind it.  Now, I’m not a scientist.  I don’t even play one on television.  But I have achieved that rare quality:  An education.

Thus, despite the claim of “scientists,” boys are born boys and girls are born girls, and no amount of makeup, surgery, and/or indoctrination can change that.  How can I say this?  Science.

Research has determined that human DNA contains 23 pair of chromosomes.  Female humans have two “X” chromosomes and male humans have one “X” and one “Y.”  DNA exists in every cell of the human body.  It is beyond the reach of science to alter a human’s DNA to add, remove or change a chromosome.  Thus, males are born male and will forever remain such, as females will always be female.  Science.

“Fake science” seems to have overtaken “fake news.”

Take “climate change,” for example.  Doomsayers are claiming that anthropogenic (man-caused) climate change will destroy the planet.  They even say that the year 2030 is the deadline to enact programs designed to prevent this catastrophe.

But where is the science behind this?  Proponents of “green” technologies and “new deals” point to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a “scientific” group established by the United Nations (let’s dispense with any commentary on the uselessness of the U. N. for now, shall we?) that issues dire reports on the state of the earth’s climate.  On what does the IPCC base its science?  A simple answer:  Political science.

The upcoming sixth report from the IPCC, in a leaked documents, says, “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” the draft reportedly says. “Humans cannot.”  No, humans cannot.  And in fact, NO SPECIES HAS EVER BEEN PROVED TO EVOLVE INTO A NEW SPECIES.”  Science?

Geologists (and now the astrophysicists behind the Hubble and Webb telescopes) are constantly proving the origins of the universe, the earth and of mankind.  Once again, the amateur scientist, through my reading, listening and observation, understands that the universe is some 13.7 billion years old and is constantly expanding.  As it ages, old stars and planets die and new ones are born.  Earth was formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago, and as our sun ripened, cooled a bit, and continental shift occurred as the seas receded (a through reading on earth’s geological history may be found at the very scholarly Encyclopedia Brittanica) and an environment suitable for life was created.

Ah, science.  Much of our understanding of earth’s history comes from the fossil record.  Let me state what has been known and is known:  The fossil record never shows evolution.  Particularly of man.  Those who claim man descended from apes are “science deniers.”

Speaking of fossils, where does the idea that petroleum is derived from dead and decaying dinosaurs?  A few data, mostly buried and forgotten, reveal this to be possibly false (a brief article and interview on this topic can be found here: Oil As A Fossil Fuel Is Fake Science).  Two important takeaways:

  1. Oil is frequently found at, and drilled at, levels far below that at which fossils are found
  2. At the 1892 Geneva Convention, John D. Rockefeller lobbied to have petroleum listed in the definition of organic materials, hoping to increase its value as a “scarce” resource.

The debate over oil being biotic (formed through the decay of organic material) or abiotic, which Richard Heinberg states, “[H]olds that there must therefore be nearly limitless pools of liquid primordial hydrocarbons at great depths on Earth, pools that slowly replenish the reservoirs that conventional oil drillers tap.”

Governments seeking power and businessmen seeking riches have always been the driving force in moving man’s “progress” forward.  They don’t always use science.

One final note:  I have read (and am re-reading) a book that addresses many of these topics in detail and scientifically.  Its title is Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, by Hugh Ross.  Spoiler alert:  Ross states, and then goes on to demonstrate scientifically, that the Bible, written in antiquity, reveals more about the universe than most “science” these days.

Thank You. Welcome. Good-bye.

Can of Hormel Spam

The original SPAM – Shoulder of Pork and Ham.

Spam has been around almost since the Internet went live.  In fact, I’d probably wager the first spam message was sent the day after the Internet went live! And I’d likely lose that wager.  According to Digital Trends, the first spam message was probably sent in 1978 over the Internet precursor, ARPANET.  Six years ago, in 2015, spam traffic accounted for some 85% of all Internet traffic.  Whew!

Spam email isn’t news and it isn’t new. So, why am I writing about it now?  Simply for the fact that spammers today seem to have adopted a common practice:  Sending emails masquerading as “welcome” messages.  In essence, the unsolicited email arrives in one’s inbox and reads something like this:  “Welcome to the XYZ slimy product and service company.  We value your privacy and respect your time, so we won’t pester you needlessly.  If you wish to unsubscribe from our mailing, please click here,” with the “here” containing a link.  Which one should absolutely not, ever, never click!

The warped humor I find in these mails is the opening assertion – a “welcome” message, as if I’d actually gone to so-and-so’s web site and signed up for something.  Then, as if the message was responding to this ridiculous assumption, the smooth language meant to assuage and fears and calm the recipient down.  Many of these bogus emails contain some sort of “legalese” text suggesting one can read their privacy terms and so on.  Again, never, ever click on a link in a spam message.

The “unsubscribe” offer is exactly the opposite.  By clicking to “unsubscribe” to email one never subscribed to in the first place, is a guarantee that your email address will be validated and then sold to spammers worldwide.  You might as well close your email account now, because if you think you get a lot of spam now, be prepared for the tsunami…

By now you’d have thought most people would understand this, but the mere fact these spam messages continue says two things:  (a) There must still be gullible people in the world, and (b) the cost of sending these messages by the thousands (millions?) is so low that it is made up for by a very small percentage of people clicking on the links in them.

It wasn’t my intent to make a product recommendation, but it occurred to me now, so here it is:  I have been using a software program called SpamSieve since it first came out in 2002!

SpamSieve

Rein in your spam with SpamSieve

I’ve run it on every Mac I’ve owned since, and it has never failed, never caused problems, and continues to be updated nearly twenty years later.  It cost $30 and has paid for itself many times over.  Macworld called it a “must-have spam filter,” and I agree.  One can “train” it to a wildly specific degree, or set it up to use its defaults.  Either way, it’s unobtrusive (starts automatically when the email program launches) and never shows its “face” until an update is available.

All in all, in this day of inboxes overflowing with spam, it’s nice to have something that will just stand guard and move it aside until one is ready to give the junk a once-over and delete it permanently.  Maybe that’s why I find these “welcome” messages less than unwelcome.

On This Day in 2021

Nothing happened.

The Occupant of the White House kept America’s credit card in his pocket and didn’t spend money (that we know of).  The Washington Nationals, as a result of a four game winning streak, moved into a first place tie with the NY Mets.  But they’re only 24 games into a 162 game season.  And their record is 12-12.  (It is fun to watch future hall-of-famer Max Scherzer pitch, though).

No riots have been reported, and COVID-19-20-21-22 is not the leading story in the news.  Oh, the rule makers are still trying to play it for all it’s worth, but it’s more and more obvious it’s a “plan-demic” as opposed to a pandemic.

Wait.  Hold the phone.  It just hit the news wire:  Bill and Melinda Gates have announced they are ending their marriage.  First it was Jeff Bezos, now Bill Gates.  I guess the pitfall to being the richest man in the world is that marriage is unsustainable.  I doubt this will affect many outside their circle.

All my computers, cars and appliances are functioning normally.  All my guitars are strung and playable.  I get my daily exercise and have now been twice vaccinated.  In two weeks, I’ll be on vacation.  Today, nothing happened.

But I felt like writing about it.  🤓

Change Is A-Coming

This past year has been almost a daily re-hash of wake, coffee, work, exercise, eat and sleep. Rinse and repeat. So, it’s with a bit of excitement that I find myself all of a sudden involved with several new projects that have grabbed my attention.

In addition to adding a humidifier to my guitar room, I’ve subscribed to online guitar lessons from ActiveMelody. With hundreds (or thousands) of online lessons to choose from, I found this one addressing the kind of guitar playing I’m interested in. I am always hesitant to purchase online anything, but as one person on the site’s forum put it, a year’s subscription costs only a little more than a couple of in-person lessons. A good point, given that I spent a year with in-person lessons that cost much more than I paid for a year of tabs, downloadable jam tracks, and video lessons I can access whenever I wish. I am enjoying it so far!

The other project that has me all a-twitter began as the germ of an idea when I discovered that my favorite guitar forum might be lapsing into disuse. It’s a long story I won’t go into now, but this site has a “sister” site and the idea is to just have everyone move into one. The problem I (and some others) have, is that I don’t like the sister site!

So I got the idea of seeing how difficult it might be to create an alternate forum. I already have a domain and a site (this one), and checking with my ISP, found that I had plenty of storage and bandwidth, and that I could run a forum — perhaps as a subdomain to this (but more on that later. Maybe.).

I began researching forum software. There’s a lot of it available, both commercial and free. Side note: I believe forums are one of the oldest concepts enabled by the Internet. We used to have “bulletin board systems” (BBS) before the Internet. A forum is just a newer form of BBS. Since I participate in a number of forums (fora?) I started looking into what software they were using. A lot of cream rose to the top in short order. Here are some that I found.

  • xenForo.  This is a commercial product.  $160 for a license if you self-host it. $55 every year thereafter.  A lot of sites I visit have moved to this platform.
  • phpBB.  Many software packages proclaim they are #1, but in this case, phpBB may be correct.  The software has been around since 2000, and it’s 100% free!
  • Discourse.  This is very modern software, “designed for the next 10 years of the Internet.” Their business model suggests paying them to host your forum, but the software is free.  Being modern, it automatically reformats for smart devices as well as browsers.
  • vBulletin.  Another popular commercial package.$249 to purchase, or a monthly hosting place from $15 per month and up.

I looked at some others, but these were the standouts.  There are plenty of review sites, and I found this one lists all of the above, with comments.  Wikipedia has a table comparing forum software capabilities. Not wanting to shell out dollars for a proof-of-concept, I decided to see what some of the free packages offer.  I downloaded DIscourse and installed it on my Linux server, and then I fetched phpBB and installed it on my Mac.  Yes, that’s right, I put a software forum on my Mac!

At first, I was hesitant to install on my Mac, because with all the needed components, I thought it might chew up too much disk space.  Wow, was I mistaken!

Based on php, the scripting language designed for the web, it wasn’t necessary to install, because Macs already ship with it.  I just made sure it was up to date.  Years ago I found a free web server alternative to Apache (which is bundled with every Mac, but I find difficult to set up) called Abyss Web Server from a company called Aprelium.  I’ve used in for years, and it’s solid and feature-filled.  All I needed was a database, so I downloaded SQLite3 and created an empty database.  The install was a snap, and I began to build a forum.  I downloaded and installed a theme I liked, a language pack for American English (British English is the default) and even poked a hole through my router so that a couple of people I invited could look at it.

Well, that was a fun couple of days.  Now to my ISP…

In conversing with one of their staff (maybe the only one — she’s been with the company since before I became a customer — and that was 25 years ago!) she informed me I could install phpBB without a problem, and that she created a sub-domain so that I could add the forum without clobbering this site.  It’s done.  Now, my next step is to take what I’ve learned locally and start thinking globally!

I'm so happy!

YES!