outsourcing your work as a captcha

I guess everyone’s seen the robot test captcha thing on Google these days. If you try to use their websearch engine too fast, then you’ll soon be proving that you’re not a script that’s running on some spammer’s computer.

I'mNotARobot

Often, though, you’re then next asked to select which squares have store fronts, or doors, or signs or food.

CaptchaSigns

And of course, since we want that content, we dutifully “prove” that we’re not a robot. But—and I realize this might sound a little cynical of me—what if we’re actually being forced into conscripted labor, as if we were Google’s robots?

What if we’re actually being forced into conscripted labor, as if we were Google’s robots?

Try to follow along…

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Amazon has a variety of services within the AWS space. The one I’m thinking about at this moment is their Amazon Mechanical Turk. If you have a computer and Internet and want to make some money doing (usually) mundane tasks, then Amazon will pay you to do so.

For instance, Amazon might pay a hundred people to look at one image after another and to indicate/highlight where in the image they see a sign or a store front or whatever it is that Amazon needs highlighted. Humans are great at this. Artificial intelligence applications are getting there, only it takes a supercomputer these days in order to do these tasks.

What if Google doesn’t want to use their supercomputers nor wants to pay anyone to do object recognition either?

Google Maps Streetview

Google’s mapping featureset with Streetview represents a way for them to make a lot of money. And their collection of project managers would love to know where storefronts are within all that captured data. (Imagine that they’ve paid drivers to drive around a car with 360° cameras.) Because behind every storefront is a business who could pay Google money for placement within Google Local.

Now, Google has datacenters with plenty of available processing power to do this. But what if… they’re using us instead.

Think about it, we’re asked to identify objects within photos (which look like they’re taken from the Streetview data) and we’re being asked to identify things (businesses) which could make Google money or things (signs) which could be used in mapping directions.

Call me cynical but Google is looking a little guilty on this one. Why aren’t we identifying the squares with puppies in them? Because puppies don’t buy listing upgrades, that’s why.

 

the cost of truth

The Internet is chock full o’ news on any given day and most of that is stark-raving free, which we’re used to of course. Contrast this if you will with Reality News Media and their promise of “dissemination of truth” as juxtoposed with their $20 subscription price to read it.

dis·sem·i·na·tion
noun
  1. the act of spreading something, especially information, widely; circulation.

Um, really…?

If you really wanted to spread the truth then charging for it isn’t in your best interest. If you do so, you’d only be spreading that truth to those who don’t value their money, in other words, the rich.

truth

the story of the us$100m button

Once upon a time…

…in an enchanted forest of Interweb there lived a kindly old oracle by the name of Google. Most days would find him smoking a long pipe and—seated at the end of a very long line—dispensing answers to the person at the head of said line. See, everyone came to Google when they were looking for something they couldn’t find.

One might inquire of Google, “where can a man go to find a good pub around here?” and he’d then magic up a scroll instantly. On the scroll would be a carefully-constructed list of pubs and over in the marginalia would be a bunch of advertisements for pixie dust, faerie potions, &c. As it happened, he paid for his various sundries and such out of the monies which he received from the witches who paid for these advertisements.

Sometimes, though, Google’s hand would cramp up a bit after a long bout of magical writing like that especially on summer days when the sun grew hot and rather than handing the person a scroll he’d just get a twinkle in his eye and ask, “are ye feeling lucky?” and if the person nodded, he’d then just tap his wand on their shoulder and they’d instantly be transported to the top place which would have been on the scroll, if only he’d penned it up as before.

This carried on for some time as things tend to do. But then one day the witches hired a man whose job it was to count all the beans in the King’s silos. They wanted the man to use his advanced forms of math to cypher up the sum total of lost monies that Google was incurring by this practice of not scribing down those advertisements.

So the Royal COB (Counter-of-Beans) then set about to find out how often Google was taking this shortcut (“one soul a’ hundred”) and further, the total loss in pixie dust monies (“I fully a’sure ye it’s nigh less than a hundred-thousand-thousand of the paper scrip they call dollars a month’s sail west o’ here”). Well, the witches were fit to be tied, I’ll tell ye.

“Ye can’ot be doin’ tha’ anymore, Google”, they said. “Ye’re costin’ us out of hovel n home, ye are!”

And so,

…that’s the story of why Google can’ot just send ye on yer way anymore without the fairie dust adverts. The Royal COB and the witches simply won’t let him.

~~~ The End ~~~

free coffee on your birthday

So it’s my girlfriend’s birthday tomorrow and in conversation today I mentioned to her that Denny’s gives you a free meal if it’s your birthday and Starbucks gives you a free drink. Without missing a beat she said, “too bad you can’t create enough accounts on their website to drink for free all year”. Slightly evil, perhaps, but definitely brilliance at work.

Since I’m also a project manager, I started thinking about the logistics behind this free-Starbucks-for-life plan and it seems to be easy enough as implemented below:

  1. You’d probably start off by registering a dedicated domain name to track all the email forward permutations that you’ll need to pull this off.
  2. Next, register a free email mailbox somewhere like Gmail perhaps.
  3. Create a spreadsheet where you track the 365 different email identities/profiles which you would then use at Starbucks, for example.
  4. Back at the domain name registrar, setup email with a catch-all email forward which forwards to that single Gmail account.

Throughout the next year you’d then visit different Starbucks stores and snag several blank Starbucks cards (without putting any money on them). Feel free to put money on one of the cards if you’d like—I’d suggest going with the minimum here.

Back home on the Internet (or even in the store on your portable device), register a new card on their website, issuing the first profile/email address from your spreadsheet and entering the card’s number into your spreadsheet for tracking purposes. If you have a magic marker, then it might be useful to mark the card in some discreet way to more easily identify it from the rest.

The important part is to enter a sequentially-unique month + day combination for this card’s birthday information.

All inbound notification emails for any particular account from Starbucks would then land in that single email mailbox for later processing, if required. An email rule or two should prevent the average advertising attempts to land in a separate folder, perhaps, so that they don’t clutter the more important ones.

The Result?

Starbucks for life.

Each week, you’d pull several cards from your collection, the ones which correspond to the upcoming week’s “birthdays”. Walk in with the right card each day and pretend to be pleasantly surprised when you’re awarded your free drink.

If you’re an actor, feel free to really get into each character you’ve created.  For your Jacque Duboisson profile, you could fake a French accent, say. And then you’ve got Giovanni Bere, Hans Getränk, Juan Beber to name a few.

Evil Is As Evil Does

Should you do this? It’s probably too much trouble, honestly. But I would do something like this for Wells Fargo or US Bank or Chase Bank because they’re all evil themselves. Every day of the year they illegally charge people a $7.50 or even greater service fee for simply cashing a check locally issued from their own bank. I personally have a great stack of the receipts from them in which I was yet again charged this transaction fee for simply cashing a local check from their own branch.

“In form, a check is an order to the drawee bank to pay the face amount of the check to the payee.” ~ Justice Buford, U.S. Bankruptcy Court

So when the issuing bank imposes a fee to cash a check, this is by definition illegal since the check itself is a promise to pay the full amount indicated rather than a fraction of same.

It’s too bad that banks don’t get their karma handed back to them in some sort of Despicable Me plan like this.

 

google stabs again at microsoft

In this entry of the Google/Microsoft war, we see that attempting to visit the Google Fonts API list page results in what is an outright ban of Internet Explorer.  Note that the fonts in practice work just fine in Internet Explorer, it’s just Google doing a denial-of-service for anyone using Microsoft’s browser.

googlefontserror

slaying the giant

If you’re like me—a coder—then you’re pretty particular about which browser you use everyday and any attempts to coerce you into using a different one amounts to an annoyance.

Probably the highest on my list of try-our-browser annoyances is that dished up by Google on a daily basis.

chrome-ie-ad

Google Support indicates that it will stop displaying this ad if you click the small x in the corner but I have not found this to be the case. It continues to display over and over again.

And yet, I think I’ve managed to defeat Google’s advertisement pane and provide the solution here. I describe the technique for Internet Explorer but a similar fix is likely available for other browsers, too.

  1. Create a text file, say, in your Documents folder with a name like MY-IE-Default-Style.css
  2. Add the content indicated below to that file
  3. In Internet Explorer -> Tools -> Internet Options -> General tab -> Accessibility -> User style sheet (check the box) and Browse to find the stylesheet you just created
  4. Exit out of all Internet Explorer windows
  5. Start Internet Explorer and go to google.com, noting that the nagging panel on the right should be gone

MY-IE-Default-Style.css:
.gb_ga {
     display: none;
}

UPDATE:

Looks like Microsoft has updated their own style so it will be necessary to update our own to compensate.

.gb_ha {
display: none;
}
#gbsfw {
display: none;
}

This technique should work to hide offending DIV tags on multiple sites but you’d need to be comfortable reviewing HTML source and using Internet Explorer’s F12 functionality to inspect the offending element. Target the DIV tag that you want to hide and set its CSS style’s DISPLAY attribute to NONE as I’ve done. It helps if you understand CSS coding but this is the basic way to do it—just add more paragraphs of style data to your User style sheet and you should be set.

the economics of junk food

In today’s post I ask the rhetorical question, “How many full or even partial chips are actually inside an average bag of Ruffles® Oven-Baked Cheddar & Sour Cream FLAVORED chips?”

ruffles-oven-baked-cheddar-sour-cream

Apparently—if I only count chips that are larger than a quarter—the answer is 12.  Seriously? Granted, there is a tablespoon amount of smithereens at the bottom of the bag but it’s not enough to keep a family of San Diego cockroaches alive.

Fortunately, the nutritional information indicates that a serving size is indeed an entire bag so I’m glad I didn’t have to share my dozen half-chips with, say, another starving programmer who didn’t bring his lunch either.

At $0.90 per bag that’s 7-1/2 cents per chip. Or in financial-nutritional terms that’s 144 calories per dollar.  My can of Sprite® likewise weighs in at 140 calories per dollar.

Compare that to paying $1 for a McDouble at 390 calories per dollar and you’ll realize how I must feel right now. Google tells me that the New York Post once included a column indicating that the McDouble is the “cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history”.

I think I would suggest instead that bread itself has always held that spot in human history since—roughly calculating here—six cups of flour is about $2.40, the yeast packet is another $0.80 so bread weighs in at about 592 calories per dollar. Wow, I think I’m onto something. This page indicates that flour tops the list and white bread is then second on that list at 3,333 calories per dollar. Obviously, bakeries can bring economies of scale to my own numbers.

A University of Washington survey found that “junk food costs as little as $1.76 per 1,000 calories (568 calories per dollar) whereas fresh veggies and the like cost more than ten times as much (presumably 57 calories per dollar)”.

Too bad vending machines don’t include real food in them. Given options, I think some of us might just do the right thing and select something more… filling. I guess I should bake some bread this evening.

fedex

fedex.jpg

In today’s post I illustrate how not to deliver packages. At least five weeks ago I purchased some replacement parts for an iPad II. All in all, we’re talking maybe $2 worth of parts and weighing in at a whopping four ounces including the box to ship them in. The total cost would come to about $25 to ship from the mid-West to San Diego. And yet, I still don’t have those parts.

The Buyer

I have a Post Office box because my apartment’s mail situation is really undesirable. This isn’t that uncommon, at least here in California.

The Seller

The seller is a reputable company called eTech Parts. Their only problem here is that their website’s shopping cart should have detected that I have a P.O. box as the shipping address and therefore FedEx presumably wouldn’t be an option since the latter doesn’t like shipping to them.

The Shipping Company

So the buyer entered his P.O. box as the shipping address. The seller did the same on the FedEx paperwork. What did the shipping company then decide to do?

What They Didn’t Do

What FedEx didn’t do was to contact either the buyer or the seller to ask for a different (physical) address. They also didn’t simply return the package to the seller. And finally, they also didn’t simply deliver the package to the post office as addressed.

What They Did Instead

Then—and this is the really amazingly-stupid part—FedEx decided to look into their own shipping history database, find someone who previously had this same P.O. box number, then re-directed the package to their address! But wait, it gets worse.

They didn’t verify that that person’s name matched mine. And they didn’t seem to mind that my city’s post office and the other address are separated by 900 miles. Considering that post office box leases last for a mere six months, it’s ridiculous that FedEx could consider this as a sound business decision.

Also what they didn’t do was to update the tracking information for the package. If you looked up the progress for the package it still indicated the P.O. box and San Diego! So you get to see that the box arrived in a big Los Angeles facility and then inexplicably the truck started driving northward. And then they had the audacity to unceremoniously drop the package at some unknown person’s doorstep rather than to verify that they had successfully re-routed someone’s property.

The Aftermath

Having called the seller and FedEx’s support people I find that the package is now lost. FedEx now expects me to contact the seller to get them to re-send the package. I have done so, of course, and I’ve told them that they’re not to use FedEx this time.

In fact, I’ve suggested that they should never use FedEx again. It’s one of those “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” type of things.

google is systematically breaking i.e.

In an earlier post I described the war that’s going on among the big players:  Google and Microsoft, for example. Today’s entry relates to Google’s acquisition of Firebase in late 2014 and its recent redirection of that site’s content to an Internet Explorer—incompatible platform within the past few weeks.

If you have websites and/or apps hosted on Firebase then you will find that you are no longer able to use Internet Explorer to administer them. This is similar to the Internet Explorer—incompatible website Google Domains in which their client-side code freezes Microsoft’s browser by design.

Google’s campaign to destroy Internet Explorer now pushes Microsoft’s accumulative 16.72% of the browser market share (Dec 2015, Sitepoint.com) to the point where it’s about to be surpassed by Firefox at 14.29% and into 3rd place behind Chrome’s lead of 53.71%.

Interestingly, it looks like Microsoft’s Forefront Endpoint Protection product at least back in 2011 marked Google’s Chrome browser as a virus.

apple: hiding the truth

One business dictionary defines transparency as “a lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation and collective decision-making”. Perhaps Apple could do well by re-reading that statement and the two emails that they sent me this week, in reverse order (since it’s funnier that way).

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 8.23.54 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-16 at 8.23.01 PM

My New (Used) iPhone 5

I’d recently purchased a used iPhone 5 from a co-worker. He’d indicated that it had a problem with phone calls and had decided to upgrade to the latest phone Apple makes. So he was left with the iPhone 5 and I offered to buy it from him on the cheap since I do phone development and I knew that I could put it to good use.

Fast-forward a few weeks and I decided that my Android-based phone was really churning through the battery at a fair rate (compared to the iPhone) and so I thought I’d get a cellphone plan switch. I paid a few months in advance without thinking twice about it only to find that later when I’d gotten home, the iPhone 5’s microphone and speakers all worked great except during a phone call. Obviously, the phone had a problem of some kind.

Apple’s Support Forum

Here is the Apple support thread, in case you wanted to read along. It looks like countless people are having the same problem with their phones, too. At first I read all these and realized that nobody really knew what was going on with their phones. Like me, they were stuck with a mostly-useless piece of hardware with respect to making or receiving calls.

I took it to the cellphone carrier vendor and left it with him for an hour or two. He reset the phone and upgraded the firmware or similar but was unable to help out.

Someone on youtube had indicated that they’d thoroughly cleaned the microphone and speaker holes so of course I gave this a try. It didn’t help, of course.

I verified that all three speakers and the microphone all worked with other apps. I deduced that there might be a connectivity issue.

Inside the iPhone

Given that I have the proper tools for such a task, I decided to take it apart. Apple uses a pair of tiny “Pentalobe security screws” (Apple’s nomenclature) to secure the case of the iPhone series. I guess they think that the market won’t just make the appropriate screwdrivers and sell them to the public.

Once inside, I re-seated the various connections that could have caused the problem. I then re-tested but the problem still persisted. On a hunch I decided to twist the phone along its length and this immediately allowed the phone portion to work!

The Underlying Cause

Everything inside a phone like this is necessarily tiny and modular. As such, Apple relies upon each module to make an electrical ground connection against the outside of the case. A little twist and that connection is lost.

Another compounding problem is the nature of batteries of the type used in cellphones. They are prone to swelling and contracting over time and with each charging cycle. Apple appears to know all about this. In fact, it’s as if they’ve compensated inside the phone by allowing a fair amount of expansion room for the battery itself. One could suggest that there’s too much space since the sparcity inside just promotes more flexibility and this leads to losing electrical ground in those components I spoke about earlier.

The Fix

It occurred to me that a 3″x5″ card could be cut to fit and placed inside the iPhone’s body and should tighten everything enough so that those electrical connections would be made. Luckily, this was exactly what it wanted.

Letting the Community Know

As a good net citizen I decided to let others know what they could do to fix their own failing iPhones. I posted on that same Apple Support thread only to see that they don’t want you to know this.

Took my iPhone’s rear case off (carefully) and removed/replaced the three connectors that attach the screen itself, verifying absolutely that they were fully re-seated.  Then when putting everything back together I inserted a 3″x5″ index card (cut first to a 2-1/8″x3-1/2″ rectangle and then trimmed a portion from both long sides so that the outer snaps would clear it).

The thickness of the card is enough to tighten up everything inside so that all the connections mate up always.  It now works perfectly.  I have to think that the problem is due to occasional twisting of the phone along its length.  Old computer motherboards had the same problem, btw.

What I should have added to this on the Apple Support forum (but I can say this now) is that it appears that there is a systemic problem in the iPhone series with respect to electrical grounding.

Apple’s Response

Apple promptly deleted my post, citing that it contained “questionable advice”. Note that Apple themselves provide no advice for these users.

The problem here is that a good percentage of these users have no recourse but to purchase a new iPhone 6 ($550-$650). Apple decided that it’s in their best interest to hide a working fix to their older phones.

What Apple Should Have Done

Apple should have read the post, researched whether or not there was any validity in the claim and then should have posted something on the order of, “We are researching the issue and caution users that to open their phone would be to void the warranty. If we determine that there is an electrical grounding problem and you have registered your phone with us then we will contact you for a service call”.

If they had done something like this then they would have earned all our respect. The choice they made, however, just proves that Apple—for all their friendliness in their advertisements—are just a big corporation who doesn’t believe in transparency with their customers.