Travel to Europe and a layover at YYZ (Toronto)

Waiting at yyz

I am finally getting around to posting some of the information and experiences that we had on our 5 year wedding anniversary trip to Italy and Spain.

On Day 0 We started off in Minneapolis MN due to a lack of affordable and reasonable flights from our local airport (Des Moines).  Thankfully our friends Andrew and Kelsey put us up for the night and kept an eye on our car for the couple of weeks we would be gone. After a uneventful trip through security at MSP we hopped a Air Canada flight to YYZ. As a surprise we had to fill out full immigration forms for entry to Canada and pass through customs just to stay in the international wing of the airport. Canadian customs were quick and efficient as there was not much to talk about for our 6 hour stay with our great neighbors to the north. We rapidly found out that the £20 of credit on the 3UK sim cards we had gotten for the trip were exhausted as Canada was not a part of their free coverage (oops). This was due to the rather crappy wifi coverage in the airport.

The six hours in the airport went quickly as we spent most of the time at the American Express Plaza Premier Lounge. They had nice comfy chairs, newspapers and magazines as well as an open bar and a good spread of food this included a really good Garlic and lentil soup and Teriyaki Chicken with Boiled Cabbage and rice. The only other complaint was that the lounge was a little warm and stuffy as it was an open air area above the rest of the international wing. While we were stuck at the airport we also took advantage of a little shopping including a Canadian moose with a I ❤ Canada shirt on.

We finally left YYZ at 20:00 and continued on our 8.5 hr flight to FCO (Rome).


Out of /boot space again…

Every time Linux boots - a penguin gets its wings

You would think that ubuntu would have their game together by now, but I ran out of space again on /boot… so I had to dredge up my old post from a couple of years ago. It’s an oldie but still works.

sudo apt-get purge $(dpkg -l linux-{image,headers}-“[0-9]*” | awk ‘/ii/{print $2
}’ | grep -ve “$(uname -r | sed -r ‘s/-[a-z]+//’)”)

It’s Complicated and has layers… Like an Onion. Or How I  learned to stop worrying and love the tor.

With the latest outcome of the election and roughly half of the nation waking up to the fact that their “guy” was not going to be in the white house, people have been reminded of a need to keep their private lives a little more private. Of course this is outrageous because no matter who is in the Whitehorse the various security and spy agency of the world are always watching almost everything. One of the “easy” low cost ways of helping to secure your Internet presence is using Tor. Tor allows your Internet traffic to bounce around the Internet from volunteer to volunteer secured all the way before either landing on an exit node or a tor hidden service. In theory this prevents your traffic from being observed and monitored. Tor was originally designed by the US Government to allow spies, freedom fighters, and the oppressed to securely and communicate without fear of oppression. This in theory defends against most attacks up to massive brute force, possible flaws in the program, or if the bad actor has control and is observing a majority of the nodes in the network. (In theory these are possible by various three letter agencies owned by Uncle Sam).

Of cause, the big issue with using anything secure is that to be truly secure, you have to give up all of the nice to haves like Java script, goggle services and cookies. All allow you to be tracked by various parts of the Internet. One of the nice low hanging fruit that can quickly be secured through tor is Facebook. They have a tor service that will ensure that your Facebook traffic will be routed only inside of tor. The other easy way is to enable tor in android. The only additional software needed is orbot. The biggest thing to remember while signed into Facebook is that you just tied your tor persona to a named identity that allows you to be tracked. This is just bad opsec but would allow you to communicate out of oppressive countries elsewhere in the world. The other shortcoming to Facebook over tor on android is that push notifications of events will not work.

Vidalia Onions

Now Andy, what good is Facebook over Tor for you, you may ask. Almost nothing… even while connected via insecure wifi Facebook is already secured via https/tls encryption, and the fact that I am posting on Facebook via android is no secret, Nor am I trying to share state secrets. Plus Facebook is a US owned company, one National Security Letter and Uncle Sam has a copy of all of my actions. Plus to quote one of my friends who works in the field, “you are not that interesting.” I do it to make Facebook better for the people who need to use the service, plus to keep encouraging Facebook to continue improving the service. If no one uses the service, then it is easier to get rid of it. I also use it to help provide some additional cover to those who need it. If the TLA groups are bruteforcing the traffic, this adds yet another set of packets that they have to work on. Finally, it is so easy to do for androids. All you need to do is install orbot and click the “enable tor” option in facebook’s setting menu.

In the end, it may be just whistling in the dark, but at least it is something. Plus it ups my geek cred just a little bit. The only downside that I have found is that tor burns the battery far faster than the regular network.

Express Scripts or the value in failing the right way

FAIL stamp
System outages and maintenance are a reality of the computer driven world that we live in. The key to a good user experience is how you handle the failures that will always eventually happen. If you fail early in the process as possible, provide a meaningful error and provide the expected time until resolution it can go a ling way to keeping your users happy.
In todays example I had to call Express Scripts (my employer’s health plan’s mail order pharmacy) for a simple refill. I knew that I was in for trouble when the computer voice repeated “please wait” for several minutes while it was looking up my account. This was only confirmed after entering the prescription number and being greeted with “please wait” again. Eventually it transfered me to a human who said “The system is down, you will need to call back tomorrow after 6am. After I used the agent as a bit of a human verbal punching bag for wasting my time, I went on my way to try again successfully the next day.
What should have happened? The moment I went into the refill voice prompt, it should have greeted me with a message that the system was down due to maintenance rather than the 10 minutes that were needed to get to that information. In the end it also would have cut down on the support time and costs as the automated self service system would have been able to handle the problem with out any human intervention.
Failure happens, the trick is to plan for it and use it for the better.

The allure of the AlphaSmart

RetroRio 2012

Many years ago, when I was in elementary school computers were still somewhat rare. There was the computer lab in the library with a large number or old of Apple IIe computers that only ever ran sticky bear teaches typing and then one classroom Macintosh computer. To help bridge the gap they had a portable cart of small battery operated keyboards called AlphaSmart keyboards. They had an apple keyboard port on them and when the time came to dump your paper that you were working on to the mac or to the printer you could hook them up to the mac and they would type your paper out to a file. They were durable, the batteries lasted for ever and they were the perfect thing to keep kids on track since all they could do was type and spell check.

Time passed and computers in the classroom became more and more common. Computer labs expanded beyond just the corner of the library, and the AlphaSmart faded into the past. They became a relic of a simpler more elegant time. Apparently the AlphaSmart company continued to innovate until a few years ago when they finally ended the reign of the dumb keyboards. I was looking for a simple word processor that would be able to write drafts without the distractions of more modern systems. Also I was looking for something with a battery life that could outlast Moses himself. I remembered back to my elementary school days and the AlphaSmart units. After some research and a Lifehacker article in preparation to NANO month, I found that there were AlphaSmart that had a usb port and could work with almost any modern computer hardware. A little searching on amazon and I was able to find a gently used Neo by AlphaSmart. Shipping was quite prompt and the unit was exactly as described. A relic of a simpler time when research was done by hand and all that was needed to write a school paper was the electronic update to a typewriter.

Brigade Poster

I plan to use the neo to type more articles for my blog as well as other correspondence and will let you know how it is working out for me in later posts.  Also, by the way, this post was written on my “new” neo AlphaSmart.