Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

How to Block Online Tracking

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I use Disconnect, but this article discusses some other tools as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

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OMG! This is wonderful: See the owners of any member of Congress is real-time—a new app

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Install the app, hover your mouse over the name of any member of Congress—the example used is John Boehner—and you see:

Boehner

Very cool. AND it obviates the need for members of Congress to wear sponsor patches on their suits, as race-car drivers do. Win-win, eh?  The Washington Post story is here. The app itself is here. (It’s free.) The guy who wrote the app is 16. Years. Old.

Here’s the explanation:

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 4.26.01 PM

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 4:10 pm

Clever piece of code exposes hidden changes to Supreme Court opinions

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The Supreme Court has made a practice of surreptitiously revising its opinions. These revisions are now going to be visible, thanks to a bit of programming. Jeff John Roberts explains at Gigaom.com:

Supreme Court opinions are the law of the land, and so it’s a problem when the Justices change the words of the decisions without telling anyone. This happens on a regular basis, but fortunately a lawyer in Washington appears to have just found a solution.

The issue, as Adam Liptak explained in the New York Times, is that original statements by the Justices about everything from EPA policy to American Jewish communities, are disappearing from decisions — and being replaced by new language that says something entirely different. As you can imagine, this is a problem for lawyers, scholars, journalists and everyone else who relies on Supreme Court opinions.

Until now, the only way to detect when a decision has been altered is a pain-staking comparison of earlier and later copies — provided, of course, that someone knew a decision had been changed in the first place. Thanks to a simple Twitter tool, the process may become much easier.

Code to the rescue

David Zvenyach is general counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia and, in his spare time, likes to experiment with computer code. Upon learning of Liptak’s column, which was based on a study by Harvard law professor Richard Lazurus, he decided to so something about it.

Last week, he launched @Scotus_servo, a Twitter account that alerts followers whenever a change is made to a Supreme Court opinion.

The process is fairly simple. As Zvenyach explained in a phone interview, it uses Node, an application written in JavaScript, to crawl the “slip” opinions posted to the Supreme Court website. If the application, which performs a crawl every five minutes, detects a change, it notifies the automated Twitter account, which tweets out an alert.

Shortly after, Zvenyach sends out a manual tweet that calls attention to the change — something he has already had to do, flagging a small change to a patent opinion this month: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2014 at 10:24 am

Posted in Government, Law, Software

Rational redistricting: Is this why it will never happen?

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Read this fascinating article, with many informative maps.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2014 at 2:41 pm

Very interesting insight into the origins of Snowden’s mindset

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Quite a fascinating article. Snowden developed his sense of “right action” through the playing of video games.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2014 at 8:03 pm

How to guard your privacy and encrypt your communication

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This is the video that Edward Snowden sent to Glenn Greenwald, who blew it off until much later…

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2014 at 11:21 am

Posted in NSA, Software, Technology

What Minecraft Teaches Kids

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 May 2014 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Games, Software, Technology

Discoveries due to dieting

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I am enjoying at my weight-loss project, which will take me to my goal weight of 175 lbs (I’m 6′ tall) by December 23, according to my Diet Controller program (from App Store for Macbook, $5).

Earlier I mentioned how I had worked out for myself the well-known idea of eating only when you’re actually hungry: I had found that by delaying my meals until I really craved them—hunger-based eating rather than clock-based—I was above to eliminate late-night snacks: the evening meal itself was late enough that I didn’t feel hunger before going to bed. After doing this for a week or so, I can now tell whether I’m hungry or not. That is, I have relearned the feeling of hunger.

Last night 2 or 3 hours after dinner, I had a real hankering for a half-cup of the chicken salad I made, but by knowing what being hungry feels like, I could tell that the impulse to eat the chicken salad wasn’t coming from hunger but from wanting the taste, mouth-feel, and chewing: all centered in my mouth. Not real hunger, which is centered in the belly. So I’m had a (one-pint) cup of beef broth with hot sauce and a splash of sherry: tasty, warm, and fills the stomach. It was fully satisfying. (It’s interesting to see how corporations have exploited that mouth-feel hunger to push more calories into us. See this article on how junk-food companies manipulate your tongue.)

Broths are the dieter’s friend. Indeed, I would expect that some “health juice” brand like Odwalla to put out a line of tasty and healthful (and low-calorie) broths to heat and drink—Campbell’s consomme is not bad, but broths can be made in a wide variety (fish, various vegetable combinations, chicken, beef, and so on). Of course, they’re also easy to make at home, and I’ll be cooking my greens in more water to have the broth (aka pot liquor) as a between-meal beverage.

It’s also interesting to look at the weekly averages shown in the Calendar view of the program. You can specify what items the Calendar tracks—I track just weight and calories—and the Calendar is a month view that includes a column of weekly averages of those values. Friday’s calories are entered because I was planning my meals for tomorrow to check how the weekly average would turn out. Click screenshot to enlarge.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 9.03.55 AM

The weekly average weight provides the same benefit as weighing once a week, but is more accurate, being based on daily weighings. In glancing down it you see your week-to-week progress.

The calorie figures are shown in black if they are above the calorie goal and green if they are at or below calorie goal. The first two weeks the weekly average calorie figures were black, but without really trying, just basing my actions on the on-going feedback from the program, the third week’s average calories was green, and I can see that this week’s will be as well: I’m seeing progress in learning the limits.

The feedback really helps, much as a person learning to shoot free throws gets better because he gets good information from each shot, whether the shot is made or not, which helps in making the next shot better. It’s a learning thing.

The graph of the daily calorie deficits is also helpful, and looking at the figures over the past 20 days makes dieting feel more like a baseball series: winning or losing an individual game (in this case, whether the calorie count for the day is black (a loss) or green (a win)) is not that important. What is important is winning more games than you lose. It keeps the occasional bad day (Easter Sunday dinner, for example) in perspective: you’re going for the series, the long haul.

My focus is really the calorie deficit—what they call the calorie balance: calories burned minus calories consumed. Positive is good, negative is bad. When I put in my weight goal and the amount I was targeting to lose a week, Diet Controller computed my calorie target (based on my activity level: sedentary) and includes targets in its graphs, like this one:

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 7.54.46 AM

As you can see, performance is gradually improving as I learn and adjust. Shaky beginning (the red zone is when the calorie deficit goes negative) but I’m starting to hit the diet-plan target more frequently.

I certainly can see that I use things I learned in my previous big effort, and the program’s tracking and charting data helps provide the feedback to improve performance. I can see that after I hit the target weight I will continue a while, aiming at a calorie deficit of zero each day, but focusing a lot on keeping the weekly averages good.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2014 at 9:05 am

The U.S. Government: Paying to Undermine Internet Security, Not to Fix It

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Excellent article in ProPublica by Julia Angwin:

The Heartbleed computer security bug is many things: a catastrophic tech failure, an open invitation to criminal hackers and yet another reason to upgrade our passwords ondozens of websites. But more than anything else, Heartbleed reveals our neglect of Internet security.

The United States spends more than $50 billion a year on spying and intelligence, while the folks who build important defense software — in this case a program called OpenSSL that ensures that your connection to a website is encrypted — are four core programmers, only one of who calls it a full-time job.

In a typical year, the foundation that supports OpenSSL receives just $2,000 in donations. The programmers have to rely on consulting gigs to pay for their work. “There should be at least a half dozen full time OpenSSL team members, not just one, able to concentrate on the care and feeding of OpenSSL without having to hustle commercial work,” says Steve Marquess, who raises money for the project.

Is it any wonder that this Heartbleed bug slipped through the cracks? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2014 at 11:13 am

Interesting psychological effect used by weight loss software

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I blogged earlier about the $5 OS X program Diet Controller, which I bought from the App Store. Most people nowadays have diet programs for their smartphones, but I still use dumb phones, so I wanted something on my computer.

The backstory: I lost a lot of weight, kept it off for a while but when I discontinued Pilates—which I liked a lot but finally realized I could not really afford—my weight gradually started creeping up over the months. Finally, I realized I had to Take Steps.

My main weakness is eating between meals—little snacks plus a bite here and a bit there—so my initial thought in getting the software was twofold: first, I would get a better idea of my caloric intake, and second, that writing down snacks and bites (and I’m very good at recording this: skipping entries distorts the data, and I’m the only one looking at it, so why not enter all food?) would make me conscious of what I was doing, and if I ate the snack anyway, at least I would know the caloric impact.

But Diet controller turned out to be a much better program than I expected. First, the user interface is very nice. Second, it has an interesting psychological aspect. Looking at the calories has helped it itself, but the program also has graphs of the “calorie balance” (which I tend to call the calorie deficit). The calorie deficit is the difference between the number of calories required in a day and the number of calories consumed that day.

The number of calories required per day is computer from a basic metabolism rate computer from weight, age, and general activity level (sedentary, for me) and the number of calories expended in exercise, which is entered in the exercise log. (No entries yet for me.)

Obviously, a positive calorie deficit is good—you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, so body fat is burned to make up the deficit—and a negative calorie deficit is bad. When you see the deficit chart day to day, somehow one becomes motivated to increase the deficit, and increasing something is more psychologically satisfying than decreasing something. So although the only way to increase the calorie deficit is to cut back on calories consumed, by focusing on increasing something (or at least maintaining what has been achieved) is psychologically more appealing than trying to make something smaller (calories consumed). Here’s one such graph (the program has several ways of viewing the deficit). It’s for 20 days (you can select number of days), and I started using the program on 30 March. You’ll notice the deficit went negative (i.e., I consumed more calories than I burned) at first, but then I start to figure it out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.34.46 PM

It really is an excellent little program, and very nicely done. $5. Amazing.

That blowout on 3 April was because I made myself a big batch of oyster stew, which included 12 oz shucked oysters (555 calories) along with butter, flour, and whole milk. Delicious, but… But you will notice I’m catching on.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2014 at 7:37 pm

NSA: Did it know about Heartbleed? Wrong question…

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Julian Sanchex has an excellent article in The Guardian. Thanks to CrankyObserver for the link. The article begins:

The American intelligence community is forcefully denying reports that the National Security Agency has long known about the Heartbleed bug, a catastrophic vulnerability inside one of the most widely-used encryption protocols upon which we rely every day to secure our web communications. But the denial itself serves as a reminder that NSA’s two fundamental missions – one defensive, one offensive – are fundamentally incompatible, and that they can’t both be handled credibly by the same government agency.

In case you’ve spent the past week under a rock, Heartbleed is the name security researchers have given to a subtle but serious bug in OpenSSL, a popular version of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol – successor to the earlier Secore Sockets Layer (SSL) – that safeguards Internet traffic from prying eyes. When you log in to your online banking account or webmail service, the little lock icon that appears in your browser means SSL/TLS is scrambling the data to keep aspiring eavesdroppers away from your personal information. But an update to OpenSSL rolled out over two years ago contained a bug that would allow a hacker to trick sites into leaking information – including not only user passwords, but the master encryption keys used to secure all the site’s traffic and verify that you’re actually connected to MyBank.com rather than an impostor.

It’s exactly the kind of bug you’d expect NSA to be on the lookout for, since documents leaked by Edward Snowden confirm that the agency has long been engaged in an “aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies”. In fact, that effort appears to have yielded a major breakthrough against SSL/TLS way back in 2010, two years before the Heartbleed bug was introduced – a revelation that sparked a flurry of speculation among encryption experts, who wondered what hidden flaw the agency had found in the protocol so essential to the Internet’s security.

On Friday, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2014 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Business, NSA, Software

Heartbleed update: Sites that tell which passwords to change

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James Fallows has another very useful post on responding to the Heartbleed situation

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Business, Software

Steps to take in view of the Heartbleed bug

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James Fallows has some very useful tips, particularly on how to check whether a site is safe from the Heartbleed bug.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2014 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

The Heartbleed Bug: Extreme security risk

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Take a look. The article at the link begins:

The Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet. SSL/TLS provides communication security and privacy over the Internet for applications such as web, email, instant messaging (IM) and some virtual private networks (VPNs).

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.

What leaks in practice?

We have tested some of our own services from attacker’s perspective. We attacked ourselves from outside, without leaving a trace. Without using any privileged information or credentials we were able steal from ourselves the secret keys used for our X.509 certificates, user names and passwords, instant messages, emails and business critical documents and communication.

How to stop the leak? . . .

Nowadays one has to wonder what is the likelihood that this security leak is due to NSA intervention in the development process (cf. the flawed encryption algorithm that NSA paid RSA to implement—an algorithm that RSA now recommends you do not use.)

However, the article at the link given above is pretty exhaustive and it attributes the problem to a programming error.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2014 at 10:37 am

The mother of Apple’s icons

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Very interesting profile of the artist who first created the icons for the new Apple Macintosh. It begins:

Thirty years ago, as tech titans battled for real estate in the personal computer market, an inconspicuous young artist gave the Macintosh a smile.

Susan Kare “was the type of kid who always loved art.” As a child, she lost herself in drawings, paintings, and crafts; as a young woman, she dove into art history and dreamed of being a world-renowned fine artist.

But when a chance encounter in 1982 reconnected her with an old friend and Apple employee, Kare found herself working in a different medium, with a much smaller canvas — about 1,024 pixels. Equipped with few computer skills and lacking any prior experience with digital design, Kare proceeded to revolutionize pixel art.

For many, Susan Kare’s icons were a first taste of human-computer interaction: they were approachable, friendly, and simple, much like the designer herself. Today, we recognize the little images — system-failure bomb, paintbrush, mini-stopwatch, dogcow — as old, pixelated friends.

But Kare, who has subsequently done design work for Microsoft, Facebook, and Paypal, has also become her own icon, immortalized in the annals of pixel art. We had a chance to interview her; this is her story. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2014 at 8:10 am

Very cool food-exercise-weight log for OS X

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Diet Controller, $5 from the Apple Store, is really quite good. I just got it yesterday. The weight has crept up, and it’s time to Take Steps. I have had such excellent luck with tracking grocery costs (that is, it painlessly reduced the amount I spent on groceries, just from seeing what I was spending) and tracking charge card expenses as I made them (which makes you conscious of which expenses are—not to put too fine a point on  it—foolish and thus painlessly reduces charging), that I decided that keeping a food log would be the most effective route—plus that’s common knowledge anyway.

So I bought the program and started using it. It’s quite similar to FitDay, which I used in Windows, and much easier to use: better layout, more obvious choices, and so on.

So today is my first full day, and I made an excellent dinner:

4 chicken thighs

Cut out the bone and strip off the skin and put that into a pot with:

2 c water
pinch of salt
a dozen grindings of black pepper
juice of two lemons
1 onion, cut into chunks
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 stalk of celery, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp Bristol Cream Sherry

Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes. Add:

fresh tarragon leaves, chopped — about 1-2 Tbsp

Simmer 5 minutes, strain into pot. I gnaw on the bones, and discard bones and vegetables.

Add 1 cup Cal-Rose medium grain rice, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes until all liquid absorbed.

That’s the rice part. Here’s the chicken part, and I actually started this first, got it simmering, and then started the rice:

Trim, peel, and chop about 1 dozen shallots, but do it in parallel rather than in series—that is trim them all as a first step, peel them all as a second, and then chop.

Heat 1/4 c olive oil in large sauté pan, add the shallots, a pinch of salt, and a dozen grindings of black pepper, and sauté over medium-high heat for around 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Continue cooking until the shallots are beginning to brown slightly.

Add:

12 cloves garlic, minced coarsely
the meat from the chicken thighs, cut into chunks

Sauté over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is somewhat browned. Then add

1 26-oz can Italian plum tomatoes (I had whole tomatoes, so cut them up with scissors)
1 16-oz diced plum tomatoes
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Tarragon leaves
1/2 c (or more) pitted Kalamata olives, chopped coarsely
6 oz paneer cheese, cubed in 1/2″ cubes

Cover the pan and simmer for around 30 minutes or more.

I initially was going to use just the 26 oz can of tomatoes, but it didn’t seem enough. I didn’t have another can, so I used the 16-oz can of diced tomatoes. That total amount seemed about right. As you can see, I was using up the tarragon I had on hand.

The paneer cheese was an experiment. It wasn’t bad at all.

So that’s what we had for dinner. It turned out to be very tasty indeed, especially the rice. Well, and the tomato stuff, too.

After I finished it, I was thinking about getting a little more rice and tomato chicken, when I remembered that then I would have to enter the food, and then I suddenly recalled I was back on the “no bites” rule: no food to enter my mouth except at mealtimes. Somehow that had already slipped my mind.

Well, that’s easy enough. No more food tonight. Already a benefit from using the food log. But then I became aware that I was thinking about the additional bowl of rice and tomato chicken—obsessively so. And I think of it from various angles. something is going on in my unconscious, because I continue to be driven toward having another bowl, and it’s certainly not conscious. Sometimes I think of the taste and the texture as I eat it, sometimes I sort of rehearse getting up and going into the kitchen and dishing it up, and so on. And I catch myself, think of something else, and then suddenly I’m thinking of having more. It’s as though I’m driven toward it.

Something is definitely afoot in my unconscious, because I feel pushed toward having another bowl, and the obsessive thinking and the impulse to eat is certainly not something I’m consciously doing. That is, I’m conscious of it, but it’s like an earworm. A mouthworm.

It’s interesting to me to experience it. And already I can see the Diet Controller being helpful.

I need to get out the measuring cups.

 

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 7:40 pm

Trying an offline blog editor

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And this is the first post. Someone the native WordPress visual editor has developed a problem in how it filters out extraneous HTML, so I thought I’d go for something a little different.

We’re having a quiet day, semi-rainy, sleepy kitties, and good books. Things could be worse.

UPDATE: It worked. The one I’m trying: Ecto, which has a 21-day free-trial period.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Cloud-based flashcard system

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Quizlet looks very cool. Check out this Cool Tools write-up. You can use decks that have been already made, though Anki (another excellent flashcard system) strongly suggests that it’s better to build your own decks from materials that you are studying.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Education, Software

Microsoft OneNote app available for Mac: Free!

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It’s in the App Store now, and I just downloaded it and tried it out. I am more accustomed to the Windows OneNote interface, but this one seems to be good. Story at the Verge includes a link to the App Store entry. (I couldn’t find it using the App Store search.)

Recommended.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2014 at 9:38 am

Posted in Software

Best virtual piano, says Cool Tools

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I didn’t even know virtual pianos existed, but this one looks pretty cool [Link fixed - LG]:

pianoteq

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2014 at 11:44 am

Posted in Music, Software

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