Category Archive


Printer Ink Is Expensive. Does It Have To Be?

Elizabeth Technology June 4, 2024

The type of printer is going to affect the cost of the ink. A thermal printer, like the kind used for receipts and some shipping labels, won’t cost you any money at all for ink, just a bit of a surcharge for the special paper that needs to be put into it instead. Laser printers are cheaper to run than inkjets because they only use toner, but often cost more upfront; other styles, like risograph printers, are highly specialized for a specific purpose, and not ideal for the kind of printing that most offices and homes need to do. Inkjets are cheap to buy, but pricier in the long run – it was a bit of a running joke that just buying a new printer with the cartridges already in it was the cheapest way to “refill” a printer. This is because many printer companies are selling the printer itself at a loss! You can begin to see the problem of ink pricing when you know that, but surely that can’t be the entire reason.

According to HP, their cost mainly comes from R&D – to formulate an ink that is heat resistant, finely vaporizable, accurate, and colorfast all at once is very difficult! Around 2010, they said it costed them roughly a billion dollars a year to do that. But, you may counter, the average low-end inkjet printer has only had four colors available for years, and while jamming and clogging are not as common, the ink research has surely hit the point of diminishing returns. You’re probably right, although no company in the world would tell you that they mark the refills up because you have no choice but to buy. This is where the “razor” model comes in – sell the handle cheap, mark up the blades, infinite money machine.

You may have heard of a recent court case regarding a third-party repair company, and the vendor that makes and maintains the McDonald’s ice cream machines – in court, it was revealed that the ongoing maintenance was considered a source of income for the company! Meaning that if the McDonald’s franchisee wants to sell ice cream, they better keep feeding coins into the piggy bank (this practice is considered predatory – read more here at Business Insider: ). When a company sells a big machine to a consumer, they make one lump sum sale, and if they don’t sell the accessories or maintenance plans, then they won’t be making any more money off of that consumer until they need another big machine. But what if they sold the accessories? And even better, what if the consumer isn’t allowed to use substitutes?

They’ll be like a free money machine forever and ever, in the company’s imagination. A number of other companies try to sell people one big machine plus the juice that it runs on, with varying results – when Keurig tried to restrict consumers to Keurig-brand coffee pods, there was outrage over the plastic waste this would create and the limits it would put on coffee choice, and they backed down some. When Adobe Photoshop switched from one lump-sum payment for the program to a recurring subscription for forever, programs like GIMP and Photopia were shared around social media sites, so freelancers who didn’t have the funds could jump ship and be alright. When a printer company decided ‘no third party ink cartridges’ and started putting proprietary chips into the ink cartridges, most people were just forced to accept this because a printer is not nearly as easy to fool as a coffee machine, or to find an alternative for like the editing programs. To switch printers is, at the bare-bones side of the spectrum, 85$ on Amazon, but when you start looking at business-grade devices, you’d be looking at spending anywhere from 750$ to 1,350$. And then you still need to buy the ink for your new, hopefully better, machine.

An added complication to all of this is that businesses do not want to use some random assortment of programs or replacement parts for their investments! Third party ink cartridges might clog your machine or fail to print, and then what? HP/Brother/Etc. only cover their own cartridges failing under warranty. When Photopia doesn’t work quite right, you have to go to forums to troubleshoot; a business using Photoshop has the option of contacting Adobe for professional support on top of forums and other professional resources. A business wants to stick with reputable companies that have a professional reputation to maintain. Adobe is a well-trusted brand despite the nickel-and-diming, but GIMP? The name itself is a bit offputting – if you don’t already know the program, you might be concerned that someone wants to share a GIMP file with you.  

In short, the printer ink is expensive because the printer company demands that it is, and businesses are willing to accept the surcharge for the promise of quality, whether or not the printer holds up it’s end of the bargain. You can buy XL cartridges, you can buy refillable ones, or you can order from a printing company – but when it’s time to print, somewhere along the line, you need the ink. As such, you should pick carefully when you decide which printer to buy! Weigh the pros and cons carefully!


What is WiFi? How Does WiFi Work?

Elizabeth Technology May 28, 2024

Wi-Fi’s older than it may seem, as it spent quite some time at the fringe of new tech. The market was already flooded with dial up internet, and replacing it was going to take quite a bit of doing. When it first launched, it had an average speed of 2 mbps, which is actually pretty good, about four times faster than dial up, which had a max speed of 56 kbps. However, systems were so heavily dependent on that dial up system that it took many years for it to become the standard.

Wi-Fi is understood to mean Wireless Fidelity, but apparently nobody in the labs that studied or made it ever designated Wi-Fi as the official shortening of that term, it just sort of happened, and then licensing and officiating went from there.

Kind of Like Radio

AM and FM radio have been around for decades, now, and they work fairly similarly to Wi-Fi if Wi-Fi did both at the same time. AM radio changed the amplitude of the waves to transmit information across different bands, where FM changes the frequency of the band. However, AM and FM stick to kilohertz and megahertz frequencies, while Wi-Fi is in the significantly higher gigahertz frequencies.

Electromagnetic Radiation is a spectrum: at one end, there is infrared radiation which is extremely low-frequency, and at the other, gamma radiation, which is extremely high frequency. Visible light falls somewhere near the infrared side, where red is closer to the low end and violet is closer to the high end. Microwaves fall on the low side. A 2.4 GHz microwave has a gap between wave crests about the size of a baseball – the waves aren’t nearly as close together as they are in visible light. (Note – a microwave oven has the same frequency, it is much higher energy than Wi-Fi. Loud sounds can be the same pitch, or frequency, as quiet sounds, the same goes for microwaves). Microwaves, just like colors, are broken up into bands, and different frequencies can do different things. For this article, we’re focusing on information transmission.

What Can Stop WiFi?

Wi-Fi does get weaker when walls or other obstacles get in the way, although this is usually a good thing – there are only so many viable ‘bands’ for Wi-Fi to transmit over, just like radio, so crowded buildings would run out of available bands if they weren’t so easily stopped. While microwave ovens use metal, eventually those same microwaves would be stopped if they came into contact with walls or other solid materials. Eventually, distance also stops Wi-Fi. The waves lose energy as they travel and then carried information is lost.

Bluetooth devices can interact poorly with Wi-Fi as well – they work on similar principles, but Bluetooth is much weaker. If your headphones are undetectable to your phone, even when your device is on, it’s possible the Bluetooth is being drowned out by local Wi-Fi. Bluetooth typically has a range of about 30 feet, compared to Wi-Fi’s much larger 240 feet in ideal conditions.

How Does Protecting WiFi work?

Wi-Fi transmits over those microwave frequencies to bring information to the computer and send it back out.

How do you protect information if it’s just being broadcast like that? Well, a couple of things. While it is very similar, it’s not exactly like radio, where the information from the station is broadcast across the city, and all you have to do is tune it. The computer has to find the network first, and as previously stated, both physical objects and distances can keep Wi-Fi from reaching a compatible device. Distance is a solid defense. If a hacker is in the same building, however, how do you protect the network then? Assuming their device is within accessible distance of the network, can it intercept information sent over that network?

The second part is encryption: it doesn’t matter if the data’s intercepted if the interceptor can’t un-scramble it. Transmitting unencrypted data over unprotected Wi-Fi can get you into trouble – see all the warnings about using public Wi-Fi to do banking – but encrypting it stops most issues before they start. Hence, the rise of VPNs. However, encryption alone won’t stop intruders, so the third part is network security.

The next logical step for a hacker is to get into the protected network and then seek out the info they want, skipping the encryption step entirely. The network itself has to be protected as well! Network protection can be passwords, or firewalls, or anything that prevents closed data ports from being opened. An open port in data security just means something that will allow packets of data to go in or out. A website has open ports so you can access the information on it, for example. If a poorly configured application on a computer has an open port, it’s looking for information, and that can be used to get into the network, bypassing the encryption.

2.4 GHz vs 5 GHz

Some modems allow two frequencies of Wi-Fi, a faster channel, and a further channel. The 5GHz channel is what you’ll want to use for your video streaming. The frequency is higher, and that means information is transported to your device faster. The 2.4 GHz frequency is probably what the printer in the other room is best on. It’s better at penetrating solid objects than 5 GHz, and it has a larger range, but it’s also weaker. 2.4 GHz is also more prone to interference, because many things use that frequency. Microwaves, for example. If you’ve had issues with your Wi-Fi while the microwave is on, get that microwave checked! The odds are good it’s shielding is faulty.

Modem Vs. Router

What’s the difference? A router routes traffic from your network to the internet. It’s sometimes referred to as a WLAN (or a wireless local area network) device. Most houses have a router because of the number of network-enabled devices in a modern home. Printers are rarely connected by cable to a computer anymore, for example.

A modem, on the other hand, is designed to connect devices directly to the internet. Modems are hard-wired into cabled data lines, like telephone lines, so they’re less popular than they used to be. Routers have taken their spot in-home, as dial-up internet is basically non-existent.

Routers and Wi-Fi are here to stay, at least until the next big things comes out!


GPU Prices Are Finally Coming Down From An All-Time High

Elizabeth Technology May 23, 2024

But why did they jump so high to begin with?

Assumed Superiority

Pre-built PCs are of the devil. At least, that’s what PC-Build forum elites will have you believe. If you didn’t pick out each part individually to make the most mathematically perfect device you possibly could, what are you even doing with your PC? Playing Hello Kitty Island Adventure? Pleb.

PC gaming rig subcultures can range from cool to sucky depending on who’s running the forum you’re visiting. Some are great, and they genuinely want to help kids just starting out with their devices. They keep baseline equipment reasonable and establish product tiers so no one part is bottlenecking others too hard. Others will insist users have the top-of-the-line hardware for their rig, even if it’s nearly too expensive for them. It must always go faster, there is no slow down. There is no stop. Only. Faster.

If you’re going to upgrade your device, there’s no point in taking a pit stop to save up for the next GPU. In fact, if you’re having a hard time affording it, maybe you should sell the GPU you’re currently using before you have a replacement lined up, just so you have a more accurate picture of your budget. (this is bad advice, don’t do this).

PC forums like the latter only build more hype for a hard-to-find item, and folks who follow them closely might feel like a GPU is worth double or triple what the manufacturer is actually charging for it – an unhealthy mentality with any high-price item market.

Enter: NVIDIA parts, specifically GPUs.

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080. A fabled card destined to descend from the heavens and sell out immediately, then disappear for months. The initial sales price for the units in the newly released set went from a low of $499 to a high of $1,499 over the three performance options. The RTX 3080 was the middle-of-the-road unit, and it came with “serious 4K gaming performance, with access to the latest ray-tracing and deep learning supersampling (DLSS) tech from Nvidia” (Tom’s Guide).

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 and an assortment of other factors, the company couldn’t restock for months, and they began selling out of their weaker units too. When a shipment finally came in, it was gone in seconds – people had bots poised and ready to make the purchase as soon as it was an option.

Market Exploitation

The manufacturers know that their primary market doesn’t screw around when it comes to very expensive, very powerful machine components. Quality is everything. Streamers, professional gamers, people hosting tournaments, and even people who just like to go really fast all camp out to get the newest, fastest parts as they become available. This isn’t the first chip that Nvidia released and then immediately ran out of, so they knew demand was going to be pretty high.

However, this was the first time it took months to get production levels up to demand. Not only was there a pandemic slowing down overseas shipping, Bitcoin mining became profitable again. For those of you who don’t know, the process boils down to “solve algorithm – verify transaction – get rewarded”. Bitcoin transactions are heavily encrypted, and the money itself is virtual. Verification is essential to making sure the same Bitcoin hasn’t been used somewhere else first.

Anyway, cryptocurrency mining is very GPU-intensive. The reward goes to the person who verifies the transaction first, and multiple people can compete for each transaction. The only way to ensure you’re ahead of the guy with the supercomputer is to keep your device as fast as possible, and the GPU is a common bottleneck for Bitcoin miners. If you’re really making money off mining, then paying double the price for a scarce item that will keep you ahead seems like a good deal, and you’ll stay in line for a GPU selling on eBay while gamers leave and re-evaluate.

Arms Race

The pandemic keeping people inside, the pandemic preventing overseas shipping, the pandemic shifting the market and launching Bitcoin into another peak, the pandemic… everything wrong with the GPU market could theoretically be tied to the pandemic. All of it together creates a shortage of GPUs at every level, but new GPUs ran out first.

A new GPU on the market creates a cascade of used GPUs that trickle down. The used computer parts economy is actually pretty interesting, as depending on what part of the cycle you step into, the used part may cost more than the launch price of the new one. Memes to this effect flooded the market once users who’d sold parts in hopes of getting the 3080 realized everything was either out of stock or pretty scarce. Everything worth having, at least.

It’s not all bad: many of the folks waiting for the newest series learned to appreciate their old cards! A GPU in the PC is worth two in the void.

This is the downside to the more intense PC-building communities. There’s pressure to not stop and wait, and pressure to not settle for a less powerful (but still adequate) device if perfection is available for double or triple its actual price. (Please note here – I’m not talking about people who had a card break right before launch and decided to wait for it.)

This mentality creates poor-quality markets with a lot of demand and nearly no supply. The perfect environment for scalping.


As mentioned before, the used-part life cycle is really interesting. People look to upgrade when something new comes out, so they upgrade to something new and sell off their old GPU. That GPU becoming available on the market allows another person to let go of their old GPU and purchase a faster model than what they currently have. GPUs are durable, so barring a major part failure, they’ll last a while in this cycle. The gist of all of this movement is that 1st tier items become 2nd and 3rd tier when the next generation comes out, and everything moves down a peg in the wishlists.

Scalpers see this and disrupt it. The goal is to eat up available supply to drive up demand, and then resell those devices they hoarded – er, stocked up on – at the new, higher price. Now only 4th and below tier items are available at the original price! High-end GPUs are beginning to cost the same as used cars, so trying to get in on it should be a risky investment, but high-priced electronics have their own rules. If everyone waited for prices to lower, everyone but the scalper comes out better for it.

This does not happen. It didn’t happen with the Wii. This didn’t happen with the Playstation 5. It won’t spontaneously happen with GPU scalpers, not only because it wouldn’t happen anyway, but also because this is a particularly terrible year for supply. If you’re not getting it from a scalper or reseller, you may not be getting it at all! Previous years, it was possible to look at scalper’s markup as a fee for early access, while other folks waited for a restock. This year…

Blown Manufacturing

The first pandemic year was ugly for many reasons.

The lack of supply for the electronic is inevitably what drives scalpers to buy as much of the final product as they can, and we see this time and time again with other products. Why can’t the manufacturer do something about it?

The most common suggestion is buy limits, but buy limits are tricky. Multi-person households may not want to share a PS5, even though they’re ordering to the same address. This doesn’t include portable electronics like the Switch, where children may genuinely just want their own Switch, like they did for the DS series, even though they’d share a PS5. GPUs are much the same! Streamers who can’t afford to have downtime may be looking to buy a backup, and are they wrong for that? If more than one streamer is living at an address (this is surprisingly common) there’s going to be a suspicious number of cards going to one location.

They may not even want to curb the scalping, because even scalping is profitable.

Don’t forget about profits. Buy limits cut down profit if the manufacturer doesn’t do as well as it’s hoping. Some theorize that Nintendo doesn’t make enough of it’s products on purpose so it always sells out and always has demand. Widgets and electronics are expensive to make, and initial release may be the only time they can charge full price without being undercut by market forces, sales, and secondhand devices coming on the market. Besides, it’s easier to make more of a successful item than it is to get rid of unsuccessful items and still make profit.

There’s also the option of increasing supply, which would make scalpers irrelevant. See again PS5 and Wii – more did come out after the initial release burst. However, this isn’t an option right now either. Overseas trade is just now getting back to normal. The Nvidia chip was out out. This gave the scalpers inordinate power.

Long story short, this is a complicated, multifaceted issue. The best thing you can do is wait if you can afford to. If the chip’s working fine, and you’re not already experiencing bottleneck, wait it out. Patience is bad for scalpers but good for you!


Tricking Apple Customers With A Fake Download

Elizabeth Technology May 21, 2024

Apple’s pretty famous for being difficult to write viruses for. Essentially, for something to get into an Apple device, it has to be so small and so powerless that it’s worthless as a virus. Apple takes pride in this. It’s very rare for a virus to infect so many devices before Apple notices and puts a stop to it!

What Happened?

A virus dubbed “Silver Sparrow” by tech company Red Canary snuck onto devices via “update” download requests. Essentially, it tricked victims into believing that they couldn’t view certain content without updating their flash player. The ad helpfully provided the download so they could update right then and there. This was not a flash update – it was a .pkg file masquerading as one! This is a common trick, but it’s not the only way these ‘updates’ end up on machines. If a box pops up asking you for permission to download something even though you didn’t click anything requesting an update, don’t allow it. Legitimate programs will never do that!

Red Canary also notes that ads and malicious search results may have had a hand in the virus’s extreme reach – unsecured websites can carry viruses in images and ads, so if a hacker figures out a site will host ads for anybody, they can use that as a launch gate.

Besides “how”, Silver Sparrow right now is non-specific malware, an activity cluster. This just means that a set of files contain the code to carry out the attack, but they don’t fall neatly into one category over others. Identification only goes as far as “not adware” right now, but this may change as more is learned about the virus!

Reason to Fear?

It doesn’t actually look like the new virus did anything. Yet. Unfortunately, viruses like these are usually used to set up a wide-scale attack at a later date. The goal is to infect as many computers as possible without firms like Red Canary noticing, and then kill or encrypt the infected all at once. They don’t yet know exactly if this is what Silver Sparrow was going to do, but it certainly seems a little odd that this incredibly quiet virus was installing itself in places just to sit there indefinitely.

Alternatively, this could have been a sort of ‘test run’. Whoever made Silver Sparrow included a self-destruct that should have triggered by itself. It’s possible the creators were looking to gather some numbers before actually launching a more dangerous malware that could deliver a payload. Red Canary currently has an estimate of just under 30,000 Apple devices infected, but the number may grow as new infection indicators are discovered. After all, something with a self-destruct will occasionally manage to get it right!

Once Apple was alerted of the problem, they revoked the certificates Silver Sparrow had been using illegitimately and began developing an action plan to keep viruses like this one out in the future. Revoking those certificates should be enough to keep Silver Sparrow from infecting more devices. Red Canary currently recommends a solid anti-malware tool on top of what Apple’s OS already has to prevent copycat viruses, and boost security.

The virus is still pretty scary, even though it didn’t do much more than sit quietly. It’s compatibility with the M1 chip, evading the Apple MRT, and it’s high infection rate are all reasons to keep an ear to the ground if you’re a Mac owner.

Define “High-Stealth”

The virus had a self-destruct function built in, but it seems like it didn’t actually get to activate it in a lot of cases. The virus was supposed to come into contact with a different part of the library that would contain the code it was looking for to trigger the self-destruct. It’s possible the thing was hiding a little too well, to its own detriment.

Notably, it runs on the M1 chip, something malware’s not supposed to be able to do. That may have contributed to how difficult it was to identify. The chip itself is pretty young, and researchers have determined that the virus may have begun infecting devices as early as three years ago, meaning Silver Sparrow is part of a very exclusive club right now.

No activity that triggered the built in antivirus + self-destruct + small size = high stealth!

What Is MRT?

An MRT, or Malware Removal Tool, is designed to remove threats to the computer in the background without the user noticing. This can create problems with CPU usage, and it means there’s less flexibility in downloading files than Windows gives, but the security the tool gives consumers is worth it. Especially for folks who don’t know computers all that well, and may not understand how to browse the web safely. The MRT has a library of known viruses, and combines that knowledge with programming designed to combat new and unknown ones.

As said before, Apple’s pretty difficult to write viruses for. The MRT certainly contributes, but the OS itself boosts this difficulty to a point that hackers and cyber criminals don’t even try. It’s not impossible, but malware is custom-fitted for Macs. Windows viruses are just easier to make, and there’s more Windows devices than Macs, especially in the business world.

Don’t Click Random Ads – And Don’t Download Things

It’s unfortunate, but if a website’s not supporting ads from a large, trusted vendor like Google, they likely can’t vet every ad they sell space to. Anti-virus should help protect devices against ad intrusions, but what about everything else?

For other issues, like clicking links, the unfortunate answer is that it comes down to ‘street smarts’. It’s something employees and regular computer users need some training on. What looks suspicious to one user may not seem suspicious at all to another! Free-to-play games, for instance, might trick a child, while “recipe.exe” sent forward from chainmail might catch an older adult who doesn’t know what different file extensions mean.

What you can do if you’re struggling to separate good links from bad is listen to your device and carefully review the download. Is it what it says it should be (i.e recipe.pdf instead of recipe.exe)? Does the publisher’s credentials match the site you got it from? And does your computer throw a fit when you try to download it? Or warn you that the file may be from an unverified third party?

When in doubt, you can always Google the alert you’re getting – and err on the side of caution!


Being Too Smooth To Use

Elizabeth Technology May 16, 2024

Breaking rank with other companies to make things smoother can certainly set your product apart, but is there a point where something becomes too sleek to use?  

Tesla Handles

Most models of the Tesla car have handles that physically retract into the doors when not in use. Inside the car, the handles operate by a button press, not by a pull. You are not mechanically opening the car door, you are instructing the car door to open, and that’s an important difference. Both sets of handles require that the car has power. Otherwise, they won’t function. Famously, one man struggled to get out of his car after it caught fire because the handles inside don’t operate like the handles of any other car, and a special ‘release latch’ that’s hidden behind the doorgrab is necessary to open the car when it doesn’t have power. He couldn’t find that latch because it’s hidden (for added sleekness), and as a result, he had to crawl through the window. Of course, Twitter commenters pointed out the latch, but if you can’t visually identify the thing that’s going to open your flaming car in a few seconds, is it really a ‘good’ design? Sure, that’s great if the car dies and the button doesn’t work and you have time to figure it out – it doesn’t work so well in an emergency. Similarly, the doors of the new Cybertruck will stop working if the electronics stop, requiring the user inside to manually disassemble part of the door and pull on a specific wire to get out in case of emergency, which lead to the death of billionaire Angela Chao :

The handles are also more prone to freezing over in cold climates, which is very annoying. Plenty of car doors freeze shut, and this is far from a Tesla-only problem, but it turns an already annoying problem into an even more annoying one because the handle has to be freed from its pocket in the door before you can even begin to try opening it.

 Apple and It’s Missing Jack

Apple removed the aux jack from its devices. Did it need to? Maybe – the jack takes up quite a bit of space inside the phone thanks to it’s placement, and removing it would enable Apple to put some more cool stuff inside the phone. But then the phones got bigger, and the storage chips got smaller even as they held more digital storage space. Does this mean Apple will put the jack back in, seeing as it no longer needs to conserve space as much as it did when it was trying to make phones that broke technological walls? The phones are flipping huge now, there is space for the jack.

Haha, no!

Removing the aux jack also made it so that any non-Bluetooth headphones the consumers had wouldn’t work without an adaptor. An adaptor that Apple just so happens to sell. An adaptor that has the same problems that all of the cords made by Apple do. This means that a number of accessories are now effectively Bluetooth-only, which is annoying at best and kind of malicious at worst. When carriers pushed the new phone, users had to upgrade everything if they wanted to go to the next model. Apple happens to sell a lot of those accessories, and while Apple may be pricey, the name does still carry weight – it means a defective product could be returned to a physical store or exchanged immediately without waiting for Amazon to retrieve it.

The phone is sleeker. It has less ports. It’s closer to being truly waterproof than it ever has been before. It looks cooler than ever. But the minimalist principles in the design of the phone are directly costing consumers both real money and ease of use. Apple knows this – Apple likes it that way. Eventually, there may come a time when Apple removes the C-USB port and expects you to use cordless charging, with its proprietary charging pad.

Windows 10

Windows wants you to use Bing. Windows wants to add functionality to your taskbar. Windows has combined the built-in taskbar search feature with the open web in an effort to do both of these things. Unfortunately, it turns out this configuration combines the worst of both. Have you ever had a relative who doesn’t use computers much? For a long time, you could rest assured that a search on the Windows taskbar wouldn’t somehow end with that relative downloading a browser extension they didn’t need or clicking on an ad they mistook for a file on their computer.

When Windows made it possible to search for both ‘on-web’ and ‘on-computer’ pages in the same search bar, they also created a massive headache and added additional clicks to the search. Trying to search for a file named something like ‘car report’ could bring up search results for sites like Carfax. Suddenly, you’re not in your files digging around for a report that was already made, you’re on the web. That’s annoying, but you can just go back and try again. If you’re really desperate, you can open up the file picker and search there. It doesn’t work for everything on the computer (it doesn’t want you to be able to find and delete functions like Sys32 or Task Manager, so it won’t show you their file locations, and file picker isn’t equipped to open it for you like the taskbar search is even if you do find them) but it’s better than the mess you just got into with the search bar.

But wait – go back to that relative from before. For that relative, this was a linear path that makes sense, and the website must have what they were looking for because it popped up in their search. Every iteration of Windows before this one has worked by only showing the relevant files on the device, so they don’t know that they aren’t meant to be on the Carfax website. If they don’t stop to call in help, they may end up filling out a form on that site they didn’t need to, or giving up information they might not have wanted to. Imagine how much that could suck if it wasn’t the car report – taxes, Social Security, health insurance, any number of things that might be saved on a computer, could simply be confused with an ad on their accidental Bing search.

It should say something about how poorly this worked out that there are dozens of pages on forums and blogs detailing how to disable it so this exact thing won’t happen – or happen again. Windows 11 at least gives you the opportunity to turn it off, and you have to go out of your way to get to web results in regular taskbar search once it is. A search function where everything can show up in the same place is not always better.

What’s the Difference Between a .jpg and a .png?

Elizabeth Technology May 14, 2024

Loss, mostly.

Picture this: it’s 2005, you’re online, and you go to save a funny image to your family computer so you can send it to a family member later. The image saves, but when you go to open it again, you notice the image is a little grainier than it had appeared on the website. You shrug and brush it off since the image is still clearly legible, but then that family member does the same thing: they save the image from your email to send it to a friend they have across the state. That friend opens it, and it’s a little grainier than before. Repeat. Add grain. Repeat. Add grain. Eventually, the picture is a mess: seemingly random squares of color and gray splotches are everywhere, and the colors in spots that aren’t all glitchy are different.

So what happened?

Under Compression

Data needs to be compressed before it can be taken to or from places on the computer. Compressing the file means it takes up less storage space, which improves response time. However, there are different methods of compression depending on what kind of content you’re dealing with.

Lossless compression replaces long bits of data with shorter bits, while lossy compression deletes bits and pieces outright. If you open a losslessly compressed file, it is put back together exactly as it was; lossy files are still missing pieces.

The Curse of the JPG

Certain image formats are more focused on storage space than on the quality of the image. Generally, most people don’t have a problem with this, since saving an image once to send it somewhere (or hang on to for reference) doesn’t cause too much loss. Loss in photo terms means that some of the information in the photo was, well – lost. Jpgs can normally get away with this at first; lossy compression, after all, looks for unimportant parts to delete first during compression. At worst some of the shadows might get a touch harsher and some of the lines a little blurrier.

If it’s saved again as a .jpg, it’s compressed again and more data is lost from the image, blurring it a little more every time, which leads to that unique “.jpg rainbow” sometimes seen around text that was black but slowly turned red, blue, and green.

The PNG Files

Fun fact, .png files were actually made to replace .gif files, which were patented by UNIX at the time. Copyright gave us a better photo format, as .gif files aren’t fantastic at recreating colors accurately.

A .png is better suited for basically everything else except for storage space, which is a small trade-off if you’re trying to make graphics for things that you sell. Company logos, professional headshots, images that may need to be resized larger – all of these are better saved as a .png.  .png files also have the benefit of transparency, meaning that there’s no white square hiding behind the image if that’s how you saved it, like there would be for .jpg files no matter what you do.

Long story short: .png is better for graphics that have to look a certain way, and .jpg is better for casual photos that are allowed to get a little blurry.


What is Air Gapping?

Elizabeth Technology May 9, 2024

You might have heard it in the Matrix, or in a heist movie: what does “air gapping” mean?

Normal Devices, IoT devices, etc.

 In today’s age, many devices have internet capabilities. Your washer, dryer, your coffee machine, your fish tank equipment, things like glucose monitors and portable speakers, are all now capable of internet connection. Is it efficient? Sure, if you want those features – they wouldn’t still be made with WiFi enabled if they didn’t provide some use to the end consumer that was greater than the annoyance of getting it all set up. Is it safe?

No! Generally speaking, IoT devices are poorly defended and often don’t even come with passwords to prevent unauthorized parties accessing their internal computers. This can then act as a gateway to other parts of the network – your home computer, with it’s tax documents, or your business computer that shares a network with the coffee machine, to see valuable internal documents. One unlucky casino had their devices infected with ransomware after a fishtank thermometer allowed an unsavory agent to connect to it (learn more here on Forbes: ).

It’s unfortunate, but many networks are not as totally protected as they need to be, even without an IoT device providing an easy door in. Even crucial networks can be manipulated. The only way to truly secure a computer from outside threats is to not allow it any access to the outside at all.

Locked Away in a Tower

An airgapped computer may still be part of a network with other computers on it, but every part of an airgapped network is kept in physical isolation from the outside world, or any computers that are allowed to touch the internet at large.

It has no network interfaces: other devices cannot see the air gapped ones wirelessly. It will not receive updates, it will not be exposed to the online threats that a lack of updates can present. If data must be transferred to an airgapped system, it must be done via a physical data device like a thumbdrive, or disk. You may see an issue there – a malicious party could gain access and deliver a virus or malicious program on a device to infect the air gapped computer, so physical access must be tightly controlled as well. Famously, a nuclear reactor in Iran was infected with a virus known as Stuxnet via a thumbdrive, which caused a significant setback to operations in the plant by damaging centrifuges.

System requiring less protection can use things like data diodes to filter their incoming information – an unclassified computer can talk to a classified one, but only if the data is determined to be safe coming in, and only if the data leaving the classified system is carefully monitored to prevent exactly the situation such devices are used for in the first place.


As mentioned above, the easiest way to get into an air gapped network is to somehow get close to the system physically with a portable data device like a thumbdrive. But a number of other methods to steal or transmit data exist too! A couple of researchers found success by transmitting acoustic signals, or using a cellphone to broadcast at certain frequencies – the computer was contacted and internal equipment was manipulated into behaving like an antenna, transmitting data back to the phone. Furthermore, if someone does get into the system, viruses are often able to spread much faster than they would be on other networks, because air gapped systems are not updated as frequently thanks to their lack of internet connection. Security holes not present in other systems might still be found in air gapped ones!

When Did we Forget About Trolling?

Elizabeth Technology May 7, 2024

Yanking your chain. Fooling with you. Messing around. It goes by many names, but online, it’s known as trolling.

The way forums dealt with trolls was a set of rules that users were commanded to follow, first and foremost being “don’t feed the trolls”. The goal of trolling is to get the other side keyboard-smashing upset with the troll, so by denying them a reaction, you’re starving them of the attention or the control they desire. If a forum is overrun by people intentionally acting in bad faith, it dies, and all the legitimate members leave, creating a ghost town. As such, anti-trolling measures were not just a comfort, but a necessity. Cries of “Don’t Feed the Troll!” under bad-faith questions choked out arguments before they started, and kept conversations more or less civil.

Where did all of this knowledge and wisdom go? Because now it’s gone, and trolls are trolling like never before.

Negative Comments

There is a certain thrill to saying something mean to someone online – what could the other side do about it? If the troll says someone’s art sucks, for example, the worst the artist can do is block them, or try to take the high road by saying they hope the troll finds peace. If the artist gets upset, then the troll wins. This desire for control and the attention of another person is largely why trolls do what they do. If someone is deeply isolated, and they can’t get people to stick around and talk about the weather, sometimes all they can do instead is start an argument about it. Humans need social contact, and they’ll get it one way or another. A combination of factors steer all sorts of people into social isolation, and the internet can act as a release valve where they can pick fights with strangers who can’t enact consequences.

However, if the old forum rules about trolls were still being followed, these people would eventually have to move on. The rules still work; nobody has gotten more determined or better at trolling, the average person posting to social media has just gotten worse about responding.

We know ignoring them still works! For example, a soapmaker I follow was getting nasty comments, so instead of responding, she blocked the commentor. The commentor came back with a different account, and they were blocked again. The process repeated seven times in total before the troll gave up. The effort of circumventing a block is ten times the effort it takes to block! By not responding until the person had left, by blocking and not engaging, she exhausted the troll before they could get the payoff of a reaction from her or her audience. Obviously, this wouldn’t work if it were a ton of people all commenting together (which happens), but then she still wouldn’t be an entertaining target, she’d just turn off the comment section. This is how you deal with trolls. She has a nice, happy, peaceful comment section because she doesn’t respond, she just blocks. 

Content Mills – And Algorithms

Responding is the worst thing you can do. If the commentor is a normal person who was just having a bad day, then responding might get them to apologize, but it also might just make them delete the comment and move on. If they aren’t, they usually get even meaner, and the response shows other trolls that this person will read their comment and possibly reply to them, too.

The opposite of the soapmaker is another content creator who attempted to reply to a troll patiently and rationally. Why? Why even bother? There is a line of thought in debate that you should hear everyone out. This works in business and politics, but does not work at all on public social media! This guy went from dealing with one troll in his comment sections to dozens, picking on everything from his beliefs to his social life to his looks. He lost. He replied, and he lost. Trying to tell a troll that looks are not correlated with morality is like trying to explain physics to a flat-Earther. Of course they already know the physicist’s arguments, and they disregarded them all, which is why they’re still saying the Earth is flat. No amount of describing orbits and gravity could possibly sway them – they are not arguing from a position of logic, they are arguing from a position of imagined superiority. There is no value in responding. Blocking and moving on when someone called him ugly the first time was the only way to move forward. But he didn’t, and the next twenty videos were dealing with the fallout of that one video.

But that’s kind of convenient, isn’t it? Doesn’t it actually work out in your favor if you can make twenty videos out of basically nothing? The way TikTok works, if you stop posting for a bit, you stop popping up so high in the algorithmic “For You” page’s feed.

The problem with today’s social media is that influencers and creators who want to make money need to always be making content, and negative comments are a boundless source of argument seeds. On TikTok, you can rant and rave for three minutes about someone leaving “U Stink LOL” in the comments, replying directly to the commentor with a whole video. This is the most infuriating arrangement because both sides get what they want via conflict: the troll gets the attention they want, and the creator gets a “free” video. It’s a very ugly win-win.

In this way, the people populating the comment sections have become used to arguing. They assume bad faith, because they have been trained to respond to trolling, and anything even slightly ambiguous as though it were also trolling. This keeps content flowing, this simulates social connection, and thus the cycle is self-perpetuating. To put the brakes on like the soapmaker did and actively resist the siren’s song of feeding the trolls, you have to opt out of the easy way.

The New Internet Is Full of Bots

Elizabeth Technology May 2, 2024

Ever see a bizarre post with a comments section full of people spamming emotes or otherwise responding in a way that suggests they read a description of the post, but didn’t actually see it? Of course interaction bots have been here for a while, but now with AI art (rather than stolen art) it becomes obvious these are actually bots and not people.  

What Is An Interaction Bot?

Firstly, in this area, ‘bot’ refers to a bit of code that does something. What the bot does depends on its creator’s goal – some bots sit and ‘watch’ videos to boost view count, others scrape data from websites to analyze it, and some do things like scroll, interact with buttons, and leave simple, plausibly human-sounding comments on posts online. An interaction bot is meant to be a substitute for real human interaction on a post. Since many social media sites now offer moneymaking opportunities based on views or likes, and since everyone likes feeling popular, this is a problem that said social media sites have been fighting since internet points were invented.

Every time some new ‘tell’ makes the bots easier to purge, the bot makers come up with another way to thwart moderators. When bots were getting too specific with likes, the bot makers told them to like a handful of other posts before they started interacting with the desired post, and to stagger when the interactions happened so they didn’t all hit at once. When the comments got too repetitive, a library of  comments scraped from places like Reddit started re-appearing in comment sections. It’s easy to borrow human habits, and we’re at a point where an uninterested user is borderline indistinguishable from a bot pretending to be a human, at least just by looking at their browsing habits.

The goal of some bots is to get a lot of followers to follow one account so that account can then be used to sell the new followers something, whether that be a political belief or an actual product. Even on services where views are not tied to money, those eyes are still useful. The way most algorithms work, a popular post becomes more popular because the website shows those popular posts around to new people who might not have seen it. It does this because the popular post in question created engagement, and if the website can keep you engaged, you’ll stay on longer and see more ads. Having bots enter this ring and artificially boost the popularity of certain posts has resulted in a strange new kind of post dominating Facebook. Where a post had to be written by people, and a picture had to at least be stolen from a real person in the past, the widespread availability of ChatGPT and image generators makes some of these fake posts stick out like a sore thumb.

ChatGPT and Image Generators

You can tell a bot to ask MidJourney or Dall-E to generate an image, and then put that image into a Facebook post with a caption you pre-wrote. Once you set it up, you don’t even have to check on it. Once the post has been put up, other bots show up to comment on it or like it, whether they’re yours or someone else’s.

This has resulted in posts like Spaghetti Jesus or The 130 Year Old’s Peach Cream and Filling Birthday Cake getting hundreds of comments all saying “Amen!” or “Looks Good!” with maybe a dozen people asking what everybody is talking about, because the picture usually looks terrible and fake. This isn’t a case of tech-illiterate folks seeing something obviously bizarre and giving it a ‘like’ anyway – these people don’t exist. The better ones may get a couple of real people, but the strange ones are certainly not (look at these pictures The Verge has collected as an example: ).  

We’ve circled around! This new generation of bots are so advanced that, when given the chance to show off the state-of-the-art tech entering the market, they do it without question and accidentally pull back the curtain in the process.

What To Do?

Unfortunately, managing this issue as a user on the web is basically impossible. Even if you keep bots from following your accounts, you’re not immune to seeing bot-run accounts when you’re searching or scrolling. Instead, the best thing you can do is just refuse to engage with engagement bait – when something asks you to say “Heck yes!” in the comments, or leave a like if you love X hobby, you can ignore it, and avoid accidentally propping up bot accounts trying to get big. As for imagery, the bizarre spaghetti creatures and uncanny peach cake bakers are only going to get better – we’re entering a phase of the internet where pictures must be assumed to be fake and verified before they are treated as real, the opposite of what most internet users are accustomed to. On forums like Reddit or Tumblr, a user must look at the comments before taking a post as fact, because upvotes and comments are not necessarily the sign of quality they used to be when the internet was young and lacked bots. It’s a strange new world out there, and the bots are part of it now, for better or worse.

Please Share Less Info With TikTok

Elizabeth Technology April 25, 2024

TikTok is a terrifying place. Users regularly show their entire face, cons that they’ve attended, and personal stories with too much detail to their audience. They show the inside of their apartment building and their unit number. They tag their small towns. Distinctive, unique tattoos get shown off to thousands of people, as well as the view from their front yard and what stores they can walk to. Some of the TikToks that came out of the pandemic were about remote learning, with the teacher visible on the screen. License plates and unblurred faces abound.

Even the tiniest detail can be used to turn someone’s life upside down, especially if they’re underage.

The worst part? It doesn’t have to happen immediately! Sometimes a ticking time bomb isn’t noticed until it’s already gone off. Kids posting a video of themselves violating school rules weeks later can still be shuffled up front on the feed. Ticked off a more anonymous user somehow? You’ll never know how the school found out you broke a rule. Videos of dance trends that kids wouldn’t want their parents seeing are getting sent to their parents based off of information gathered over weeks or months of posts. All of it’s online. Video is an incredibly information-rich format, and when each video is under a minute long, any one person could look through them all.

It’s no surprise people are getting their own details shoved in their face when they’re posting this much about themselves!

The easy solution? Just don’t. Don’t download the app. If you do, don’t make videos. Of course, this isn’t going to happen, so the second-best option is to always film indoors away from windows, or in generic buildings like Targets or chain grocery stores. Don’t film yourself in a distinctive school uniform or in an identifying area of said school, because sometimes all it takes is specific colors. In Las Vegas, many of the school buildings look the same, but the colors are totally distinct to each school. If a kid has posted about living in Vegas before, those colors narrow down their location dramatically.

Shia LeBeouf’s flag, and 9Gag’s ‘meme hieroglyph’

It’s dangerous to attract too much attention from certain forums. 4Chan in particular is notorious for finding the unfindable, triangulating exact locations based off of things like truck honks and light positioning. See the saga of Shia LeBeouf’s flag project, where the flag was found over and over until he was forced to put it in a featureless white room.

9Gag put a limestone pillar covered in ‘hieroglyphs’ (which were really just old memes carved into the surface) underground for future archeologists to find. 4Chan and other forums found it by cross-referencing information in the background (Spanish writing on a truck) with available limestone mines and open fields in Spanish-speaking countries and found its exact coordinates based off of that little information. They couldn’t do much about it, because it was a 24-ton piece of limestone, but they found it.


If you post things online, someone may be able to find you given time and determination no matter what you do. The best thing you can do to avoid that determination is fade into the background, as hard as you can, and don’t post crimes or social misconducts to TikTok or social media. Even if you’re not planning on committing crimes, you should set accounts to private, don’t overshare, and don’t do things that get you online attention for the wrong reasons. Once again, TikTok is terrifying because small accounts may think they’re sharing with their friends, only to end up trending unintentionally!

Maskless groups of friends posting videos at the beginning of the pandemic were scolded for being maskless, and because interaction makes videos more likely to appear on the ‘For You’ page, those maskless videos were getting thousands of people’s worth of harassment. If they were lucky, it stopped there – if they weren’t, they’d find that their school or place of work were being told about their conduct. Post something dumb? Algorithm catches it juuuust right? Previously anonymous posts then get a glance from hundreds to thousands of people! Suddenly, it matters a lot if you’ve ever posted videos that looked bad with no context.

And More Crimes

If you’ve seen posts that said “help me find her!” with some sob story about a missed connection, this is one way of finding people who don’t necessarily want to be found. Sure, it might be legit. It might also be a particularly clever stalker using a sad story about ‘I was out of swipes on Tinder!’ to get unsuspecting ‘good Samaritans’ to help him chase some woman’s Facebook profile down. Missed Connections on Craigslist is one thing – that’s pretty anonymous, and it doesn’t usually come with a picture or video attached showing everyone what the other person looked like. Posting a missed connection to thousands of people on Reddit or TikTok is an entirely different thing. It’s effectively setting a mob after that person to get them to respond to the poster. Imagine dramatic music – this is a horror story. The same goes for Missing Persons posts – if the number is anything but a police department’s number, you should be wary of trying to help, because sometimes people run away for good reason.