Monday, May 21, 2012

Mac OS X Help: Specifying criteria in Spotlight

I just updated this post with a Mavericks screenshot, but the basic point holds true for the past few versions of OS X: the Spotlight search tool on Macs can be very powerful, but a surprising number of people don't seem to know how to tap that power (and for a long time that included me).

Apple has a good basic article on Spotlight. Remember that you can always press Command+Spacebar to pop up Spotlight. And you can use the Spotlight pane in System Preferences to change these categories around, their order, and even which categories appear.

You can type calculations into Spotlight and find that 256*2-680 is 168.

You can get the definition of a word by typing it into Spotlight and then checking the Look Up section of the results.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Happy New Tech Year

Just a quick post to say that most of my technology-oriented blogging in 2012 will be happening over on the ESET Threat Blog.

I am enjoying being part of the ESET research team which extends from Singapore to Russia to Poland to Slovakia, then through the Netherlands to the UK, on to Montreal and Buenos Aires, then San Diego, which is where I am located these days.

This international distribution of research resources provides exceptional ability to gain insight into emerging threats to data and systems, notably but not only in the computer virus arena. And the depth of talent in the group is outstanding, producing in-depth technical analysis of malware (malicious software) and the things that purveyors of this stuff get up to, always with an eye to defeating the bad guys and protecting as many honest Internet users as possible. Here is a page of recent and relevant resources.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

iTunes - Podcasts - DEFCON 3 - Feat. Me

If you are into hardware and software experimentation you might have noticed, with some amazement, that 2012 is the year of DEFCON 20. That's two decades of hacker convention fun and games. I missed the first two but was invited to speak at DEFCON 3 which was held August 4-6th 1995 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. So I was delighted to encounter this link recently: Past speeches and talks from DEF CON hacking conferences in an iTunes friendly m4b format. I took a listen to my session (on Why Hacking Sucks) and was pleased to find it still sounded pretty sane. A helpful interaction is how I would characterize it, at least for me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Will Christmas Kindles Torch the Internet and Evaporate the Amazon Cloud?

I got an Amazon Kindle Fire from my wife for Christmas and I'm a bit worried about the effect on the Internet. I should explain that I got my Fire a few weeks ago because my wife and I like to give each other digital gifts before Christmas Day so that by the time Christmas Day arrives we have said devices fully configured and can actually play with them (I got her an iPhone 4S).

The problem I see is that Amazon has been selling about one million of these Fire things a week and many of them may not be fired up, so to speak, until Christmas Day. Here's what happened after I fired up my Kindle Fire: It gave me instructions on how to put my music in the cloud, and store it there for free, and those instructions were very easy to follow, so my laptop was soon engaged in uploading 6,471 files. Engaged as in "I need to spend several days trying to do this."

When it was done, those files added up to over 30 gigabytes of data, sitting in the cloud somewhere, ready for me to listen to them at the tap of a screen. Now imagine 2 million people getting a Fire for Christmas and accepting that invitation to put their music in the cloud. Suppose they each have, on average, 20 gigabytes of music. That's 40 million gigabytes or 40 petabytes added to the cloud and Internet traffic on Christmas Day. I hope Capacity Planning at has been doing some planning. And those folks who manage the tubes, they better be ready to put out some fires.

Monday, November 28, 2011

CyberMonday SmartPhone Shopping Tip: Avoid CA, MA, RI, and maybe others

This is a quick tip for anyone looking to buy a new iPhone or other smartphone this holiday season:

Don't buy in California, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island. 

If you are in one of those states and can cheaply get to another state, or happen to be passing through another state on business or to visit family, you can save $40 or more if you purchase your phone out of state.

Why? The answer is in small print at the Apple store and--possibly in different words--on some mobile provider sites:

In CA, MA, and RI, sales tax is collected on the unbundled price of iPhone. 

In other words, you might be getting a great deal on the phone but these states charge you sales tax as though you did not get a great deal, and that's a bum deal.

Consider that the Apple iPhone 4S series has unbundled prices of $649, $749, and $849 for the 16MB, 32MB, and 64MB models respectively. That means a sales tax of 7.75% on the 16MB 4S you buy from AT&T or Apple for $199 comes in at $50 versus the $15.42 you were probably expecting. That's sticker shock if you have not been through this process before.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

RIP: The Golden Age of Unlimited Internet, It's Been Capped

The golden age of unlimited Internet is over, capped usage is now the norm. Alas for uncapped bandwidth, uncapped bandwidth is no more, and this has serious implications for everything from programming to data security and economics.

Soliloquies aside, the pleasure of making a prediction that comes true--I have said for some time that all bandwidth will eventually be capped and metered--is often undermined by the reality of what one predicted. (For example, about every new form of data abuse I have said "Typically, this is going to get worse before it gets better" and I am, sadly too often, correct in that assessment.)

I have written extensively about bandwidth capping in the context of both satellite Internet service and 3G Internet service. I have lived with daily bandwidth caps in the 400 megabyte range, courtesy of HughesNet's premium $80 per month satellite service. I have lived with the AT&T MiFi 3G cap of 5 gigabytes a month or 166 megabytes per day (for $60 per month). Apparently I am now going to live with the 200 gigabytes per month cap of Cox Cable Preferred Internet Service, currently $40 per month. 

Of course, it is clear that 200 gigabytes for $40 is a better deal than 5 for $60 or 12 for $80 (if you multiply the 400 megabytes per day that HughesNet 'gives' you by 30 days you get 12 gigabytes, but in reality you seldom get 12 gigabytes because you keep daily use below that, worried that you will exceed your cap, which costs $10 to reset every time you blow through it with a big download or streaming audio/video).

What is wrong about Cox Cable's cap, and I have to use wrong rather than a softer touch like "questionable" or dubious" or "unfortunate," is that Cox Cable does not disclose its cap before you contract for Cox service. I know this because I just went through the labyrinthine process of getting Cox Cable service in San Diego. While everyone from Cox with whom I have spoken has been very polite, friendly, and helpful, nobody said "That comes with a 200 gigabyte per-month cap and we reserve the right to charge you more money if you go over that."

Nobody. Not the first time I placed my order, nor the second time I placed my order because the first order went astray. In other words, Cox had ample opportunity to mention the cap and the consequences of exceeding it. They did not. Given the otherwise articulate and engaging nature of the service personnel that Cox puts on the line, I tend to assume they are trained not to say anything about the cap. 

So, the cap is here. It is not disclosed. And next I fear, it will be reduced. Once we are all hooked on whatever bandwidth consuming activity floats our boat, be it streaming video, audio, online gaming, hi-def photography, video calls, or something as yet not deployed, the bandwidth providers will start clamping down, shrinking the cap and raising the rates. So here are some potential implications:
  1. Using the Internet will cost more in the future, not less. We will pay per gig, not per month.
  2. Deployment of any security services that use bandwidth will meet resistance or get turned off if people are paying per gig.
  3. The rich will get more Internet than the poor (and of course the poor will get poor and the rich will get richer, a golden rule pretty much everywhere, from the USSR to the US of A).
  4. Programs that use bloated code or content will be penalized by bad reviews.
  5. Apps that are coded efficiently and elegantly will prevail.
I recently had the honor of speaking to a group of computer science students at the Jacobs School of engineering at UCSD. One topic we got into was the need to keep code lean. I mentioned to them a very interesting article that was mentioned to me by my good friend (and computer scientist extraordinaire) David Brussin and written by someone in Australia who also has to deal with bandwidth limitations, Troy Hunt.

The amount of 'bloat' that Troy found in iOS apps will surprise many, but it really wasn't a surprise to me. Why? Because my wife and I have used an iPad on a capped--and thus closely monitored--satellite Internet connection for over a year. We know how far the needle jumps when you add an iPad to your wireless Internet device mix. I fear the time will come when we pay dearly for that, by the megabyte.

p.s. Just noticed this report: Sprint is slowly but surely killing unlimited data

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quick Tip: How to Change the IE8 Default Search Provider from Bing to Google or Other

This tip is for the relatively small number of people who are running Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 and cannot seem to change the default search provider, that's the one found in the Search box at the top right of the program window. By default this is Bing but I prefer Google.

I recently ran into a problem trying to change this on a system I was using. The process for making the change that was described in the Help for IE8 did not work, but after some digging I found something that did work for me. It is actually a service provided by Microsoft. Basically, you go to the following web page and follow the instructions labeled "Create Your Own" on the right (this can be used to add just about any search engine as your default):

You may need to close IE8 and then reload it for the change to take effect. Of course, you might ask why I didn't just upgrade from IE8 to IE9, but this was not my computer, just a computer I was using. However, I would agree there are some good reasons to upgrade to IE9, as described by my brother, Mike Cobb, in this article: Is Internet Explorer 9 security better than alternative browsers?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Not Happy With AT&T? The network of possible reasons is expanding

As a consumer, few things annoy me as much as TV ads extolling the virtues of something that is currently not working right, like AT&T's 3G data service. About this time yesterday I went to the AT&T web page that tells me how much of the 5 gigabytes-per-month 3G data plan on my MiFi wireless access point I have used. Simply going to this page is a fine example of how to: A. annoy your customers, B. tarnish your brand. Why?

1 .The Mobile Hotspot MiFi 2372 data device for which I paid $100 is treated like a cellphone in all AT&T literature (it is not a cellphone) so I have to log into a secure page to find how much of my $60 per month 5 gigabyte data allowance I have used, even when I am connecting from the device itself.

B. The first thing the page says is that information about my minutes is not available. Duh! This MiFi device has no minutes, it just has data. The info about the data usage is below the fold. This gives me zero confidence that AT&T knows what it is doing when it comes to mobile data services.

C. I have to do this any time I want to check my usage, which is sometimes multiple times a day because AT&T keeps sending me emails warning that I am about to go over my limit even when I am nowhere near my limit. (But they will charge me if I go over the limit).

D. I get logged out of the data usage page after a few minutes "for security reasons" which means that I cannot leave the page on the screen and monitor usage in real time. (Speaking as a CISSP, I see no reason to consider my data usage protected information, and no reason for my provider to deny me constant access to it.)

Even HughesNet, the satellite Internet service provider whose service levels and bandwidth caps I have lambasted in the past, does a better job of keeping me informed, in real time and with little effort, of my bandwidth usage relative to their daily cap.

This might sound like an obscure issue with a niche product, but I believe it is the shape of things to come. Bandwidth caps are the norm for 3G and soon 4G and maybe for other services too. Consumers of capped bandwidth need ways to monitor their usage to avoid additional charges. Putting on my marketing and branding cap I would say that cynical consumers will assume that those providers of capped bandwidth who make it tough to monitor usage are hoping to rake in the extra fees for going over the limit.

Now here's the real kicker: The usage page was down yesterday. That's the page that tells me how much data I have used. And it remains down 24 hours later. Today I got another "High Usage Data Alert" email from AT&T but had to place a voice call to check my usage. It took the AT&T person who assisted me several minutes to figure out what I meant by "How much data have I used?" Then she told me I had nothing to worry about because my monthly usage cycle had started over today, the 12th. To which I replied: "Yes, I know that is what is supposed to happen, but I just got a warning message, at 4PM today, the 12th, telling me my usage was high."

To which she replied "I apologize for that, it was sent because you were nearing your limit yesterday."

This rendered me temporarily speechless because I couldn't decide which aspect of the absurdity I wanted to highlight first. So when she asked "Is there anything else I can help you with?" my response was simply to ask when the web page would be coming back. Her reply: "They're working on it but we have no exact time."

And then I turned on the television to see an AT&T ad about the amazing "network of possibilities" with AT&T data networks. I suppose one possibility is that AT&T may get a clue about how to deliver useful and accurate data to its customers in a timely fashion. Designing a more practical 3G MiFi/WiFi device might also be a possibility. Watch this space for a review of the Novatel 2372, the first device to inflict a five colored LED on color blind computer users.