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More Antivirus is Not Always Better!

Elizabeth Technology August 9, 2022

Built-In Antivirus

Microsoft Windows has come with it’s own antivirus for quite some time. Windows 10 and 11, for example, came with Windows Defender built in and on automatically unless another antivirus was installed, at which point it would automatically switch off. Windows Defender by itself is plenty of defense for the kind of run-of-the-mill threats you’d run across browsing unsecured websites or trying to download games from websites other than big, trusted ones like Steam (given you’re listening to it when it suggests you double-check the source and double-check that you meant to download a .exe file) but some people would rather have this protection from a paid-for antivirus like Kaspersky or McAfee. The fact that those programs cost money doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better, but it can be a peace of mind thing – complaining about something that cost money means that some penalty can be extracted if the user isn’t satisfied, even a penalty as small as a partial refund.

This Computer’s Not Big Enough for the Two of Us

Windows Antivirus is unique for automatically stepping down when another program steps up. Many others don’t!

Antiviruses do not get better the more that you have. They interact in ways that step on each other’s toes and lead to false alarms. As an example: say a computer has both Norton antivirus and McAfee antivirus installed. McAfee will try to scan the computer for new threats upon startup, but will be interrupted by Norton, who interprets the file-checking as potentially hazardous behavior. Norton isn’t wrong, because ransomware will often sweep through files in some way or another, but it doesn’t recognize McAfee, and almost no other program has a reason to do that anti-viral scanning. Thus, Norton then tries to report McAfee to you! Some antiviruses have safety rails that literally will not let you whitelist (whitelisting refers to telling a program that a file or action is okay, or ‘whitelisted’) certain executable programs, so you get stuck in this horrid, unbreakable loop of antivirus fingerpointing every time you boot up your computer.

These interactions actually make your computer less safe – if both antiviruses have deadlocked themselves out of scanning because the other one says it’s a virus, your computer is not being scanned. That’s bad! Scanning is not completely foolproof, and a regular residential antivirus won’t necessarily be able to catch or handle something industrial grade, but it catches plenty of small things like trojans before they become serious problems that can cripple your computer.

Your computer is much better off with just one brand of antivirus on it at a time. Instead of more, buy better. And if you’re unsatisfied with one brand’s performance, completely uninstall it before you install the program you replace it with. Not only does that prevent them from interacting in a negative way, it also prevents the previous program from hassling you to renew it with pop-ups (McAfee is infamous for this). Either way, it’s going to save you some annoyances!

And in Other Realms

The antivirus problem is a pretty unique one because most programs don’t interact with every file on your computer in the way that they do. Two art programs are not going to start fighting over which one you should use, for instance. However, some other cases can be pretty similar. Like VPNs! Having more VPNs is going to slow down your computer without much additional benefit. The way a VPN works is that it takes your request, encrypts it, sends it to a server, unencrypts it, completes the request, encrypts it again, and then sends it back to you. This keeps your ISP from seeing this request, but it doesn’t necessarily anonymize the data – after all, the VPN’s server has to unencrypt the data to actually complete the request, so the VPN knows what the data is, and it knows where the request is coming from in the first place. The VPN has the same visibility the ISP initially had. Adding more VPNs to your computer will not solve this problem, it will just move it down the chain, and add extra time to each request you make in the meantime as it bounces around VPN servers.

If you only need to protect your data from the coffee shop’s open Wifi or want to watch Netflix Canada, the kind of VPNs you see advertised on Youtube will be able to do the job – the data won’t be strictly, unsubpoenably anonymous, but it will be encrypted and rerouted well enough to make those two things happen. If you’re trying to search for things that nobody can know about, you’d be better off downloading TOR (which stands for The Onion Router), a popular VPN with an excellent reputation for encryption and security. Using TOR to do illegal things is illegal, of course, but the act of downloading it and using it by itself is not.

What Do You Do When Search Engines Fail You?

Elizabeth Technology July 19, 2022

The internet is forever – finding your way back to things on it is not.

1) Try a Different Search Engine

It’s well known that Google’s mysterious SEO algorithms show different results based on the person searching, the time of day they searched, where they searched (phone or desktop? Etc.) and more. So, if Google’s not giving you results for this thing you want (or you’re getting a lot of ads instead of relevant results) try Bing, or DuckDuckGo. It might not help, but Bing’s less-labyrinthine SEO functions mean it’s not tripping over itself to correct a perceived typo or find a result that aligns with your star sign off of a vague search entry. Just because Google is the biggest doesn’t mean it’s always the best!

Alongside trying a different search engine, sometimes trying a different search phrase can help as well. Say you’re looking for a foreign film that someone mentioned to you, but you only remember that the title had ‘aytoils’ in it and it’s in French. If you search for that in English, Google is going to think you meant ‘atolls’, and the results are going to feature movies about atolls or tolls or atails even if you click ‘search for aytoils’, because Google doesn’t know what you meant and it’s trying to give you answers even if those answers suck and don’t match. However, if you translate your entire query into French, Google might guess you actually meant ‘étoiles’, the word for ‘star’ in French, and you’ll be just a smidge closer.

2) Forums

Ask for help from real people! If you’re looking for something hyperspecific, an active forum may be able to help where generic Google results do not. There are forums, large and small, all around the web, and those forums cover interests from slingshots to saltwater aquariums to pastry-making to anime. People generally want to share their hobbies, and people who are really into lizards or really into baking are more likely to have run into the same weird niche scenario you’re dealing with right now.

Of course, you should remember to be polite and follow forum rules if you go this route – you’re sourcing information directly from real people, and will often be conversing back and forth with them to get your answers. This is also one of the downsides to using a forum, as ‘real people’ includes beginners to intermediates in the craft, so think critically about the advice once you receive it and whether or not it makes sense for the thing you’re trying to achieve. It’s good to partner forum results with what you could gather from Google sources.

As an example where you should use caution, forums for breeding, trading, or buying and selling ball python snakes! Google will tell you that ball pythons with the ‘spider’ pattern on their back all have a condition called ‘wobble’. Wobble is present in every spider ball python and every derivative of it, but some snakes don’t get it so severely, leading the owner to believe their snake doesn’t have it or won’t pass it down. These people may give their individual snake anecdote to someone looking to buy a spider morph for breeding, while the first few results on Google definitively say every spider or morph with spider in it has wobble (and they do! But the severity is really unpredictable, so again, some people think their snake doesn’t have it or can’t pass it down.). They don’t mean to cause harm, and they most certainly didn’t tell someone to get a snake with this condition because they want snakes to suffer, but they don’t have complete information, and the disease is counterintuitive because you can’t breed it out.

 With all of this in mind, it’s still usually better than nothing, so check out a hobby forum if Google can only give you generic results!

2.5) Forums… But Also Answer Yourself

Cunningham’s Law states that people may not answer a question if left to their own devices, but they’ll be more likely to answer that question if they have the chance to correct someone who answered it wrong. You probably wouldn’t want to do this with anything serious or time sensitive (pets, illness, cars, what the effects of CO poisoning look like, etc.) but for minor things unlikely to result in serious property damage or personal injury, answering your own question about how hot-press watercolor paper holds up to gouache may attract an expert to correct you, especially on places like Reddit or TikTok where corrections get a lot of upvotes and views. It may also attract beginners (as noted above) but Cunningham’s Law applies to them, too.

3) Internet Archive Services

If you remember the URL or the website you first saw whatever you’re looking for, these services may be a ray of hope – they catalog what things used to look like on the web, just like a normal archiving service. They’re not completely perfect, they may have blind spots and gaps, and they’re definitely not first in most searches, but  if you’re getting desperate to see something the way it was, this might be a solution. Unfortunately, the death of Adobe Flash means a huge amount of Flash-reliant content (like games and some videos on sites like NewGrounds, Miniclip, and Nitrome) died with it as well, and even the internet archives can’t bring them back. While some people are working on projects to restore these games using browser plug-ins, it’s not looking good for the vast majority of them.  

4) Seek Out Accounts

‘Han Solo shot first’. You might have seen that sentiment online in Reddit arguments. In the original, unedited Star Wars trilogy, Han Solo fired on his business contact first, cementing his reputation as ruthlessly self-serving. In the Special Edition re-release, Greedo fires first, completely changing the context of Han shooting to kill him. His action is no longer morally gray; Greedo was going to kill him, what, was he not supposed to shoot in self-defense? People were rightfully mad at George Lucas for making this change, and many were even madder that the original film had just apparently vanished into thin air for the sake of pushing his Special Edition harder. But they remembered that Han fired first, and they never missed an opportunity to spread the word.

In some cases, seeking out accounts of how something was when you’ll never be able to find it can fill in a gap in research, if you can find people willing to share. Human memory is fallible, yes, but collectively, the old Star Wars fans knew ‘Han shot first’ and passed it down to their kids in a sort of oral history. Old TV shows, live-air bloopers, consumable products that expire and mold – sometimes, all you have of stuff that’s unsearchable is first- and secondhand accounts from the people who used them and remember them well enough to share with you. It’s not going to pop up in Google, but it might in a microfiche or interview!

Intro To Phishing, And How To Avoid It

Elizabeth Technology July 14, 2022

What is Phishing?

Phishing is the action of sending someone messages with the intent to deceive them into parting with information they otherwise wouldn’t have shared. While it’s commonly used to try and steal logins, cookies, and other digital data, it can be used to snatch things like government-assigned identification numbers, important medical information, and more.

It’s also not limited to email, despite the common perception – ‘smishing’ is phishing over text using things like fake verification texts, and the ever-popular phone scams can phish by pretending to be a bank or other service that the victim may actually use.

What’s the Risk?

Getting your PII (your personally identifying information) stolen is kind of a nightmare. You probably don’t need me to explain all the ways identity theft can really screw up your credit and reputation!

If a scammer gets ahold of the login to your bank service, and you don’t have 2FA enabled on your account, they can do quite a bit of damage to your account by requesting cards, making fraudulent purchases, or transferring out money. Even if your bank has policies to protect you and undo all that mess, it’s still going to be a very frustrating and anxious few weeks of reclaiming control of your account, communicating with the bank, and the bank trying to track down the phisher (if they even can). That’s just one login!

Aside from the big, important services like your bank and utilities, getting your password and login stolen from a service you don’t consider important can still really suck. It can even lead to the phisher getting into the services you do consider really important. Take a smishing attempt that looks like Fedex has tried to deliver a package, but couldn’t. Were you expecting a package? If you were, you’re probably a little concerned. You don’t notice there’s a typo in the text, or that the number it sent from is different than usual. You click on the link, and it leads you to Fedex Smart Delivery manager, prompting you to log in. If you type in the login, then you just gave them your Fedex credentials! That doesn’t sound like a big deal – Fedex is easy to reset, right? But it is a big deal. Your address is in Fedex. You have your telephone number in Fedex. Your delivery history is in Fedex. The phisher can use some of that information to open accounts in your name that they don’t intend to pay for, which can impact your credit score. Plus, if you reused that password anywhere else, you have to reset it everywhere it was used, because odds are the phisher is going to try and get into everything they can to gather more data and steal working accounts.

How to Better Protect Your Accounts

All of this sounds really painful. Luckily, there are a few tips that can make your information safer! Firstly, don’t re-use passwords. You may groan at the thought, but reusing a password for services makes it much easier to steal an account of yours if they get that password via a site breach or a scam. We recommend a password manager like LastPass – it makes it much easier to store and create unique, strong passwords for every site!

Secondly, you’ll be better protected if you use two-factor authentication on every website that has the option to. If you do fall for a phishing scam, the scammer won’t have the code necessary to get in! Of course, some scams are sophisticated enough to think of that beforehand: Craigslist, for example, had a bad rash of scammers a while back who would “text a code” to a seller “to make sure they were a real person”. The seller then gives them the code, and the scammer now has a Google Voice number with the seller’s phone number as the verified number behind it! They just social-engineered their way into bypassing 2FA. This is why you should never give out verification codes – especially if you didn’t request them. Instead, it might be time to reset the password of the account that verification email came from. Just don’t click any links in those verification emails, either: go straight to the home page of the site instead to log in. The verification email might be a phishing attempt all by itself, hoping you’ll click a fake link to the website!

How To Avoid it in the First Place

It’s better if they never get to test 2FA at all. There are a few key tips to avoid phishing scams. Firstly, is there a sense of urgency? Your utility companies aren’t going to call and say they’ll shut off your water without at least a few mailed reminders that your bill is due! The same goes for your bank. If they demand that you resolve a problem right then, right there, out of the blue, it’s probably a phishing scam (if you’re nervous it’s not a scam, call the alleged company using their number off of their Google page or their real website). This goes for both phone and email phishers.

 If it’s an email or a text, ask yourself if you were expecting an email or a text from that company. If you get a Fedex text update that you didn’t sign up for, it might be a phishing scam. If you got a notification from Walgreens that your photos have finished printing, and you didn’t print any photos, it might be a phishing scam. They want you to click or tap the links they include to see what’s going on. Spelling errors are also a common tell – it’s not impossible for a company to make spelling errors in their communications with you, but they won’t be littering the page with them! Phishing scams do that to weed out people who know better so they won’t waste time on targets that won’t crack.

You should also check the sender of the email! Spoofing is a technique that attaches a real name that you might know to an email address or phone number that definitely doesn’t belong to them. Anyone can set their name to George Smith or Big Company Customer Service in Gmail, but they can’t change the email address they’re sending from. If it’s [email protected] and not [email protected], for example, it’s probably a phishing scam.

The same goes for caller ID, although it’s getting harder and harder to tell real calls from fake ones – scammers can set their name to something like “Hospital” or “School” to make it more likely you’ll pick up. Some more sophisticated operations can even make it look like they’re calling from a different number altogether, using VOIP technology to match the area code of the caller to the person being called. Just like in the urgency tip, you should be able to call a legitimate company or organization like a school back from the number they have on their website, or the number you know to reach them at. If they’re really resistant to you hanging up and calling back for reasons that don’t make sense, it might be phishing. Unfortunately, some scam calls are really tough to pick up on, and the FCC can’t do much to stop them if they’re not in the US. Many people today don’t answer their phone unless they were explicitly expecting a call as a result, and phone companies themselves sometimes offer up call and text screening.

Spear Phishing

Spear Phishing is much more sophisticated by default. It’s a scam that can’t just be blasted out to 500 people, they want to get you! They’ll use every trick in the book they can to get you to click a link or give out information you shouldn’t. If they think you have valuable information on your company, for example, they may send an email pretending to be a coworker by using spoofing, and they will write more carefully to avoid misspelling anything. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to check the ‘coworker’s’ email address for spoofing, which should stop most spear phishing attempts in their tracks. If you examine the entire domain name for misspellings, you may find one! For example, somebody using [email protected] or [email protected] instead of [email protected]com might snag a few people who didn’t look closely enough. A scammer may also try to use a line like “I’m locked out of my work email, so I’m using my personal one” to try and impersonate your coworker. Many organizations have policies against using personal addresses for this exact reason – how can you verify they’re with the company if they’re using Gmail or Yahoo? Anyone could make an account with their name at that point! In this case, if the coworker didn’t warn you or share this address with you beforehand, you shouldn’t interact with the email further. Don’t click any links or attachments in the meantime.

You can even forward the email to IT! If you’re worried that the coworker really needs that sensitive data (which fits into creating a sense of urgency, like mentioned above) consider the risks of falling for a phishing scam vs. the risks of standing your ground when you didn’t need to. A phishing scam can completely pull down your entire operation, lock up or steal files, and wipe computers of their data, setting a company back with nearly nothing. Not giving information out to an email address you don’t recognize can delay a project or annoy a client, yes, but it’s much better than wrecking your organization, in which case you’ll also delay projects, but for much longer as your company recovers from a phishing-based security breach. Better to be safe than sorry!

Scalable Vector Vs. PNG

Elizabeth Technology June 30, 2022

What is a scalable vector image, and why is it preferable to PNGs for advertising? Scalable vectors are just what they sound like – vector graphics, which retain their information by referencing polygons and attaching them to each other proportionally using a plane of space. If the vector image says square 1 is always X distance from square 2 in relation to the size of the image, then the image will always be recreated exactly the same. This prevents the common issue of graininess or over-sharpness in resized images.

If you’ve ever sent off a picture for printing only to get something blurry and unreadable back, that’s because PNGs and JPGs follow different rules than vectors do! PNGs and JPGs are raster based – they store information via pixels, not planes, and as such can’t be endlessly scaled up and down. If an image has 300 pixels, and you scale it to 1200, 900 more pixels have to come from somewhere! The software you’re using is instead doing its best to duplicate the right colors in the right areas, thus leading to that 300 pixel image becoming very blurry and grainy as it increases in size. On top of this, SVGs are also much smaller than PNGs and JPGs are by default.

Scalable Vectors – Downsides

Scalable vectors are not all pro, no con though – many programs struggle with them! Mailchimp, a popular mailing software program, can’t handle scalable vectors, and neither can most art programs because they aren’t rastered images. This means that to make or edit one, you’d have to download a specialty program. That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker if you really need a product that can be up- and downscaled near infinitely, but it can get annoying. It also means that most people will have to take a screenshot or otherwise change the formatting of the image if they ever need to print it. While this is still miles easier than ‘fixing’ a low-quality image in a photo-editing application, doing that becomes infeasible for poster-sized logos. If the printmaker can’t help, then the average person, who may have purchased this SVG from a designer, has to find a printing service that can. If the person with the SVG just needs a PNG and doesn’t have an end service that can help them, well – off to Google they go, with mixed results.

Another problem is that the format itself keeps the pictures simple. While they’re smaller than PNGs, they also rely on different mechanisms to create the actual image. That’s that non-rasterization mentioned above, instead of painting with pixels, you’re painting with shapes. You can still create a slow-to-load SVG if the image itself is too complex, because every time you resize it, it’s calculating out where pieces go based on other pieces, not on the preexisting map of pixels a PNG would have. In that same vein, any lossless product can DDoS a printer accidentally, but some are easier than others – SVGs, which are simultaneously simpler and more technologically complex, may create the illusion that the product is smaller than it is. While they are almost always less storage space than PNGs… that doesn’t mean they can’t take up a lot of space by themselves!

In Short

SVGs are a cool specialty file type that’s good for logos, great for logos on websites, fast-loading, and generally pretty easy to use, given you have the programs necessary to convert or alter them. If you don’t, then a PNG might be a better bet – most art programs can churn out PNGs by default!

“Apple’s Walled Garden” And the PG-13-ification of The Internet

Elizabeth Technology June 21, 2022

Tumblr

Tumblr is the most famous app to struggle with Apple’s obtuse clearance system. Since Tumblr seems to be making a bit of a comeback, it’s a good place to start the story. In 2018, the beginning stages of the NSFW content ban were beginning to wreak havoc on the site – Apple wasn’t going to allow specifically nudity-based NSFW media on any apps in the app store small enough for them to jerk around, and Tumblr had shrunk.

 NSFW content would be officially banned on December 17th, 2018, and any blog with any NSFW content would be put in the shadow realm, where they’d be impossible to search, and the posts that put them there would be removed.

 I can go on and on about how badly this screwed up Tumblr – there are a lot of artists who were making art that complied with Tumblr’s statement on what was allowed only to end up with their posts in review anyway because the auto-filter Tumblr used didn’t know the difference, there were people who reblogged something from a shirtless artist two years back, didn’t realize it was still there because of how much stuff they’d reblogged since then, and then ended up shadow-realmed with seemingly no way to figure out what got them in trouble, there were people who’d built entire careers out of shirtless art who got chased off to Twitter and took their followers with them, and there were people who were, quite frankly, only there for the shirtless art in the first place.

The ban was a huge mess and forced a lot of users off the site, including people who met all the requirements to stay but lost all of the blogs they followed to the ban. What do you do but leave when all of the people you were there for, are gone?

And it gets worse: some art was supposed to be allowed, but it de facto wasn’t. Museums were getting swept up! There are a lot of anthropologically important statues, paintings, and other representations of men and women, and not all of them are exactly dressed for church. Nobody is arguing that the Statue of David is not art, but there’s an argument (a bad faith one) that the statue is Not Suitable for Work. Automated filters can’t tell the difference between marble, paint, and flesh, anyway, so on Tumblr, pics of the statue were shadow-realmed unless they were censored. Appealing the post meant the post would be in limbo for days, if not weeks, and you may have to re-appeal it if the moderator who saw it didn’t recognize it as art at first. Combined with an overworked team of staff behind the scenes and general site-wide chaos, fixing the museum issue on top of fixing the spam bots and fixing the website and fixing the mistakenly-banned accounts and fixing the filter itself and fixing the – etc. felt like it was years away. So art where the subject happened to be nude was no longer present on the site, full stop.

Steve Jobs Hates Nudes

Which is just what Apple wanted. Steve Jobs was notoriously prudish. Steve Jobs did not like NSFW content. He did not want it anywhere near his beautiful, sleek app store. From TechCrunch: ‘When questioned about Apple’s role as moral police in the App Store, Jobs responds that “we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” Better, is what he said next: “Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.”.’ Well, fine, but – again – ordinary, culturally important art got swept up in that too, and he didn’t seem to mind. A number of apps just aren’t allowed on the store because they’re icky, not because something is actually wrong with them beyond that ickiness. You can extrapolate from his entire personality, his fear of buttons, his minimalist philosophy in design – he had a real problem with existing as a human and wanted to be something cleaner.

That philosophy has infected every app that wants to be on the Apple app store, because if they don’t tow the line, they get kicked. In a world where Apple is a billion-dollar company and a huge number of consumers have an iPhone, avoiding the Apple app store is shooting your app in the foot before it even gets off the ground. However, making an Apple-specific window into your app can actually help you out quite a bit. To go back to Tumblr, the app was wrecked. When the app was up for renewal, and thus had to go through the opaque approval process again, the person reviewing the app had spotted NSFW content under otherwise innocuous tags. So it was going to be wrecked again. To be clear, that’s mostly the spam-bots fault: spam-bots looking to get people to click their ads and links would tag their posts with every popular tag they could, resulting in innocent tags like #girl, #selfie, #boy, and more being attached to gifs of banned content.

However, this time was different. Tumblr only banned the tags for Apple because the Google app store had no such requirement upon renewal. Apple Tumblr users were understandably a little weirded out that their innocent K-Drama tags were no longer allowed, but at this point they were in it for the long haul, and communities built new tags instead of wondering too hard about the old ones. Apple’s app renewal process is difficult to navigate on purpose because Apple holds all the power!  They can declare arbitrarily that because its inspector found art under a tag in the app’s tagging system (that rightfully should have been caught by the filter, but wasn’t, because the filter sucks) Tumblr will either no longer have those tags or Tumblr just won’t be renewed, full stop. Every app is subject to this. If NSFW art can be found by an Apple app inspector, the app has to deal with it right then and there. Tumblr’s two-prong method was an interesting solution to the issue, but the result is an inequal app experience. For small developers, this may not be an option.

The Web Was A Wasteland

There was a time where the web was for adults, whether it be news, forums, math, or games, and if kids saw something gorey or scary when they weren’t supposed to, that was their parents’ fault for letting them be on there. This changed when kids were encouraged to use the internet for research, and websites acknowledged that it was possible to click an innocent-looking link on Google and end up somewhere horrid. Websites introduced the “I verify that I’m over 18” button, Google introduced Safe Search, and kids were introduced to the idea of ‘safe browsing’ in general, which curbed a lot of the issues parents had with the way the web was. Most normal people were happier with the web when they couldn’t accidentally stumble onto something gross, as well.

But then things changed. Kids were expected to have smartphones or other devices. Social media sites took root and became cool. Youtube, Twitter and Reddit set a lower age limit of 13, which tacitly said that children at age 13 or older would be accepted (at least, that’s the argument they’d use when people called them out for being kids arguing with adults). Before, minors would have to at least behave like an adult or get ridiculed online. Adults who were able to assume they were talking to other adults on forums could no longer assume that was the case. You started seeing things like ‘Minors DNI’ (DNI stands for Do Not Interact) on Tumblr profiles because a blog owner would discover, three hours into a basic philosophy argument, that the other person they’d been arguing with was actually 14. Obviously, teens aren’t stupid, but they’re also not just underaged adults!

A couple of legal cases where children were exposed to things they shouldn’t have been then led to a change in online responsibility. Anybody making that shirtless art from before could get in trouble if they learned kids were following them but didn’t do anything to prevent them from seeing said art (you can block people on most sites to prevent them from seeing your stuff, for instance) so they’d warn kids to stay away and avoid the trouble altogether. Reddit demands you make an account to verify age if you want to see NSFW subreddits, and Twitter allows adult artists to flag individual posts as NSFW, which was good for both adults who liked the artist but didn’t want to accidentally see something inappropriate for the subway while they scrolled through their feed, and kids who didn’t want or need to see it in the first place if their artist of choice retweeted the original artist.

 The reverse applied with ‘Minor – Adults DNI’,  where kids were looking for other kids to talk to online and didn’t want to accidentally talk to a predator. This wouldn’t stop an ill-intentioned adult, but it kept well-meaning adults from accidentally stumbling into a Chris Hansen situation due to a misunderstanding. Would it be better if kids weren’t allowed on the sites at all? Enforcement is the issue, not shoulds and woulds. It is extraordinarily difficult to prevent kids from pretending to be 18. Anything that actually worked would violate privacy and thus limit its own userbase.

As such, a lot of smaller sites PG-13ified themselves to avoid getting in trouble for accidentally distributing NSFW content to kids, whether it be gore or nudity, and the big social media apps began toning it down as much as they could without turning into Tumblr. Museums and other such places that had depictions of human bodies were further cornered by auto-filters.

Sometimes Art Is Not Accessible to Children… and Sometimes It’s Not Meant to Be

Some art is not meant for children. Some art is aimed at adults who have struggled in ways that adults do, and to water that art down so kids understand it would be destroying the art in the process. Its why people are angry that Disney is buying up so many properties – it means you don’t get to see superheroes rising above situations if those situations aren’t easily explained to a kid.

Imagine trying to make something like Moby Dick child-friendly in content, or A Tale of Two Cities: you’d end up with a Marvel story. Worse, think of the recent controversies over stories like ‘Maus’ – because a 13-year-old isn’t allowed to read it, now the 14-17-year-olds still in high school can’t find it in that Pennsylvanian library. For context, I read it sophomore year in high school, and it didn’t spark rebellion in me, as the argument that got it removed said it would. That argument and the inappropriateness argument is a smokescreen to remove a book that made them uncomfortable.

Allowing a small minority of parents to dictate what an entire population of schoolchildren shouldn’t read because it’s ‘inappropriate for kids’ is also a significant problem, one tied into the general censorship of the web. When parents are allowed to jerk around the people making art because the art is inappropriate for their children, you end up with bland retellings of fairy tales because anything else might offend. You end up with the Hayes Code. You end up with Holocaust deniers who never had to learn about it in high school and thus think it’s a conspiracy. You end up with kids that grow up into adults that can’t think critically about the media they consume or about the stereotypes and biases that may be hidden inside, because art for kids has to be perfectly clear about who’s right and who’s wrong so as not to confuse them with things like gray areas, which art and content for adults features all the time. Nobody’s perfect, except for in fairy tales.

Apple’s censorship of the web and the resulting child-friendly attitude that followed it has haunted the internet ever since.

Sources: https://techcrunch.com/2010/04/19/steve-jobs-android-porn/

Don’t Plug In Found USB Sticks

Elizabeth Technology May 31, 2022

(This is a repost)

Did you find a seemingly normal USB stick on the ground outside your work? How about in the lobby, where the public can come and go as they please? Did you find something that doesn’t seem to be your company’s preferred brand of USB stick, or even not branded at all? Is it strangely heavy for a typical USB stick?

DON’T plug it in. Here are some reasons why.

Ransomware

As it’s now 2022 and Russian hacker groups have made the news more than once, you’ve probably heard of ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts files, and threatens to destroy them if money is not sent to the hacker.

USB sticks are one of many ways this virus finds itself into your most important files, pictures, and documents, and it’s notoriously difficult to get rid of. In the time it takes to discover it and attempt to neutralize it, the hacker can simply *poof* the files away if they realize you’re not going to pay.

And deleting them isn’t the only way they can cause pain. Copying the files somewhere and then releasing them online can be disastrous for certain industries and businesses, even worse than just destroying the files, and the hackers know that.

Do NOT plug strange USB sticks into your device. Even if it looks like someone from your office might have dropped it, if you don’t recognize it? Don’t plug it in. Keep it on your desk or turn it in to the IT department and wait for them to come looking for it.

Broad Malware

If the ultimate goal of the USB isn’t money, malware is another widely used way to completely wreck a computer. Sometimes malware is aiming to destroy a business’s computer network, or looking to steal secrets without ransom, or infect other computers on the network and eventually break them all at once. This is where something like AI-driven antivirus comes in handy: if something is propagating very quickly across all the devices on a network, and it’s not officially licensed, and it’s bringing a bunch of .exe stuff with it – antiviruses designed around behavior and not fingerprinting will take notice. They aren’t impenetrable, but it takes more to get around them than it does to get around a classic antivirus.

Again, don’t fall victim to Social Engineering and plug in a USB you found on the floor.

USB Killers

If you thought your anti-virus was enough to stop something nasty from creeping in on a USB, you’d be wrong. There’s more than one way to go about breaking a machine.

A USB killer is a device meant to cause harm to the device’s hardware. Essentially, it takes charge from the computer with a capacitor and then redirects it back. “How much damage could the power flowing to the USB port actually cause?”, you may ask. USB killers aren’t simply redirecting the energy back into the computer at a one-unit-in one-unit-out basis. Instead, they use a capacitor. A capacitor behaves kind of like a balloon rubbed on a carpet: it stores charge in a ‘field’ (the balloon in that example) passively. It doesn’t really matter how much power is leaving the USB port, as long as there is power – when the capacitor gets to its limit, it discharges back into the computer, like the static shock you’d get from the doorknob after scooting across the carpet in socks, but many times larger. Up to 215 volts larger, according to Hackaday.

USB killers are becoming rarer, but they aren’t extinct.

But Why?

So why would someone want to use a USB killer or destructive malware, instead of using ransomware or straight file-stealing?

There are a lot of answers.

Some people just want to break expensive things, and don’t care what that is. Some people are looking to slow down business opponents or gauge weaknesses within the organization. Sometimes something expensive or hard to replace is stored on the computer, and the hacker wants it gone. Sometimes it can even boil down into terrorism, depending on the industry.

The long and the short of it is that you shouldn’t plug in a USB if you don’t definitely recognize it as yours.

Sources: https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/topic/usb-killer-how-to-protect-your-devices/

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/russian-computer-researcher-creates-usb-killer-thumb-drive-will-fry-your-computer-seconds-a6696511.html

https://us-cert.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/FactSheets/NCCIC%20ICS_FactSheet_WannaCry_Ransomware_S508C.pdf

https://hackaday.com/2015/10/10/the-usb-killer-version-2-0/embed/#?secret=k32RbNGyZX

The Problem of Internet Points

Elizabeth Technology May 26, 2022

Upvotes. Likes. Digs. Internet points are common across the web, and used to signal agreement without needing to comment that. But with the massive growth of the internet, unforeseen consequences of using points to signal agreement have made many wonder if they were a good idea at all.

Youtube

Youtube removed it’s dislike button in an attempt to prevent brigades from happening. Allegedly. Before the button was removed, there was a common thought in Youtube’s creator community that the like button did nothing to actually boost the video. Youtube’s algorithm is pretty opaque outside of a few hard rules, so this rumor spread to the point where PewDiePie, one of Youtube’s largest creators, posted a video specifically requesting people dislike his video, and it seemed he was proven right – that video got nearly four times as many views as other videos he made that month did. That felt horribly counterintuitive: “are we supposed to hit the dislike button on creators we like so more people will see them?” but it’s actually a result of including the dislike button as a positive point in their website’s calculations for interaction.

PewDiePie’s video got so much traction because it asked for something new. Fans watching always hit the like button, right? And people who felt neutrally about the video or just had it on as background noise didn’t interact with it at all. However, by asking people to break their routine, he accumulated several times as many button presses, both likes and dislikes, as he normally did, thus telling Youtube that tons of people were actively engaging with his content and convincing the algorithm to share it far and wide.

While funny, it shows how so many conspiracy videos got shunted to the front of the Youtube Recommended page before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. Likes, dislikes, and comments are all interaction, right? So a ton of dislikes and a ton of arguing in the comments are equal to a ton of likes and a ton of praise for the creator, right? Obviously not. But the website, which was programmed to understand any interaction as good interaction, couldn’t tell them apart.

Reddit

Reddit treats downvotes as interaction, but it doesn’t do so in a way that rewards bad content… at least not directly like Youtube accidentally did.

If you go to Reddit, and you see an Ask Reddit post asking something like ‘What is Your Most Controversial Food Opinion?’, the top result is likely to be something pretty innocent, or even well-liked – maybe pineapple on pizza is at the top, goofy, but not an abomination. The comments then inform you that you should sort by controversial if you want to see the weirdos eating pickles and sardines together recreationally. Those people answered the prompt, and their food choice is probably the most controversial in the thread, but many people downvoted them anyway, leaving pineapple on pizza the winner.

Reddit ranks comments and posts with an up- and down-vote system. Upvotes carry comments to the top, downvotes carry comments to the bottom, and if a comment gets enough downvotes, the comment can even be automatically hidden. Reddit insists that you use the upvote button on comments that add to the conversation, not as an agree button, but only smaller and strictly moderated subreddits can really make that happen. Everywhere else, the ‘upvote’ may as well be a ‘like’ to the population of Reddit who barely skimmed the rules before making an account. Therefore, even though sardine man answered the question with something unusual and new, he loses to pineapple on pizza, an incredibly milquetoast combination that’s not offensive unless you’re from New York or Chicago.

This system means that the first few people on a post determine what comments appear at the top, because those are the comments that have time to accumulate upvotes.

 Reddit defaults to showing either the new comments or the top-voted ones to users, and while you can sort by other metrics, the path of least resistance is to browse what’s already the default. This sometimes leads to nice-sounding but incorrect information appearing at the top of the comments under a post, and anything contradicting that information may be downvoted because it doesn’t sound as good or isn’t written as well. That’s if the correction gets spotted at all! The top comment on a front page post may have hundreds if not thousands of threads and subthreads trailing off of it, so if someone spots some incorrect information and tries to correct it, the odds that they’re successful in doing so rely on them A) writing well, B) being spotted by enough people scrolling down, and C) commenting in the right spot, off a subthread on the problem comment, not the general ocean of comments where it will float to the bottom.

This system creates a culture where being likeable and confident over text is more important than being right. The now infamous jackdaw argument is a great example of this coming to a head. For context, a user with the username ‘Unidan’ would pop in with fun science facts on Reddit posts. Anywhere he posted, he’d get floated to the top of the comments, because he came across as a sort of ‘Bill Nye’ type, fun, educated, and cool. And then he got into an argument over what a jackdaw really is (in which he was pretty condescending, but hey, it’s the internet, and people found the condescension really funny when he was right) and got banned because it was discovered he’d been manipulating votes. Specifically, he’d been downvoting everyone who posted at the same time as him and upvoting himself with a number of throwaway accounts. The result was that his comment was on top first, granting him more visibility and more internet points.

As a result of his banning, people watching finally understood the problem. Unidan, who was well-liked, couldn’t be challenged by other less charismatic scientists, even if he was wrong or not precisely accurate, because people would dogpile any criticism of him. This is another issue with the upvote system! Users see comments with upvotes, they upvote. They see comments with downvotes on them, they downvote. Now, other users can see who’s ‘losing’ an argument by who’s being downvoted, and people like to side with winners even if the winner is, technically speaking, wrong, or at least oversimplifying. Unidan as a biologist is not qualified to be giving speeches on physics, the same way Neil Degrasse Tyson as a career physicist shouldn’t be talking about biology. People are willing to call Tyson out on Twitter, but they weren’t willing to call out Unidan on Reddit, partially because the anonymity made people absolutely vicious. The other person arguing with Unidan over the jackdaw thing got death threats.

Facebook

Facebook likes have a storied history. Facebook’s origin as a ranking site for college students is not the most graceful or morally upright a website has ever had, and it shed a lot of its original flavor and features to reach its current size and social stature, for good or bad. Sure, it’s a horrible monolith determined to spy on you and sell you things based on the info it gathers… but Farmville was fun, right?

The like system was incredibly straightforward, and worked quite a bit like Youtube does – comments and likes are interaction, and interaction is good, so more people should see a liked, commented post because it is good content. Of course, some people take ‘like’ to mean ‘I like this’ and some take it to mean ‘I’m interacting with this so I can find it again on my timeline’. When Facebook started sorting content feeds algorithmically instead of chronologically (meaning your more popular friends with more interaction would pop up first in your feed instead of whoever posted most recently) finding posts you wanted to share when you were back in front of your computer was unnecessarily annoying without it.

Unfortunately, as a social network, conflating the two meanings of the ‘like’ button could spark arguments, and so Facebook added other reactions. The conundrum of showing support for the passing of a loved one by ‘liking’ the post was memed on for years before Facebook decided to add sad and angry reactions to the mix. Facebook has no dislike button – every option is an input of emotion, not a vote or a simple ‘dislike’.

Comments, as interaction, boost a post the way likes do even if the content is atrocious or dangerous and the comments are simply calling the poster out on it, which is obviously not ideal and mirrors the Youtube issue from before. Conspiracies with lots of vitriolic arguments are better for engagement and so they’re what get spread. The quality of the content on Facebook is suffering because longer, worse content (looking at the people who are mixing drinks in a toilet or dumping food all over a counter) gets more angry reactions than good content does with likes. The same goes for Instagram, even though it only has likes and comment counts – to argue, to clarify, to warn, etc. counts the same as to compliment or praise in the algorithm’s eyes. Speech filters designed to detect angry language are in the works, but it might be too little, too late. A culture is established, and arguments are good for interaction.

Tumblr

Tumblr’s like and reblog system is perhaps the best system you can make on a chronological website. The few algorithmic systems in place cater to you based off of previous interactions like any site does, but no other major social media website is willing to offer a purely chronological option like Tumblr does. You can turn every suggestion off. All of them. While the chronological system still rewards interaction and engaging content, it allows users a ton of freedom to see what they want to see, not what the website thinks will get them to stay. I give all this backstory because Tumblr has had likes and reblogs for forever, with a very recent update that includes the ability to comment on posts without requiring that reblog like it did before.

Tumblr’s like system is fairly unique – likes work like they do on other sites, with a separate page to come back to so you can find them again, but you can turn off the option for anyone else (except for the original poster) to see your likes. Some functions like the ‘in your orbit’ function allow your followers to see what you’ve liked, but only if you have those likes visible and only if they have the ‘in your orbit’ turned on. While all internet points systems have their flaws, this is probably the most capable and least manipulative out of all of them, at least on the website’s side.

That doesn’t mean information can’t be spread on numbers alone. Most famously, a post suggesting that it was possible to get infinite chocolate out of a chocolate bar by just cutting it a certain way made the rounds. People tried it, and got the ‘free’ square suggested by the GIF, freaked out, and then posted about it, further spreading the rumor. The reblog system, while less manipulative than any algorithmic feed could ever be, still has a pretty sizeable flaw in that corrections also have to be reblogged for you to see them. If you follow Blog A, and Blog A is an aesthetic blog focusing on sweets, they might have reblogged the post about the infinite chocolate. When the correction comes out alongside a criticism of everyone’s internet literacy (Tumblr was the first web site a lot of preteens used, so ‘people can lie on the internet’ wasn’t immediately obvious to them) Blog A might not reblog the correction because it didn’t fit their aesthetic… or because it just straight up didn’t come across their dashboard in the first place.

At least users have to build their own echo chambers out of other blogs and blocked tags on Tumblr and Reddit – Twitter and Facebook do that for you, and you might not even be aware it’s happening until you log out.

TikTok’s Censorship is Bad To Convey Ideas

Elizabeth Technology May 19, 2022

“Unaliving” and Other Such Words

TikTok started out pretty rough when it was introduced to the US. Much like the old internet of yore, it was possible to stumble across something pretty disturbing, graphic, or violent just by using the app. However, upon introduction to the Apple app store, which required a stringent series of reviews, the app began censoring. Users, too, began self-censoring upon pain of being blocked or simply showered with hate comments. Eventually, the TikTok environment adapted to become more like the pool of the general internet plus some extra chlorine to stay in Apple’s good graces.

However… this has had some pretty bizarre side effects. The changing of words, for example! TikTok doesn’t want to do what Tumblr did when they first started and accidentally encourage the negative mental-health boards common to dark corners online. However, moderating such a large userbase is incredibly difficult. Instead, Tiktok relied on auto-shadowbanning (shadowbanning refers to banning someone or something without alerting them/it that it’s been banned) certain words instead, even if they technically didn’t violate guidelines. Two tiers of ‘bad’ words existed, in essence: words you couldn’t say at all, and words you couldn’t say and still appear on the FYP (for-you page) algorithm for. However, not every discussion featuring a banned word was encouraging it – for example, ‘suicide awareness’ has the word ‘suicide’ in it, but the bot couldn’t tell the difference, and you’d get that video shadowbanned from the algorithm’s front page queue anyway with no way to appeal it.

Instead, users began swapping words. At first, it was “Sewer Slide”, and then the more general “Unaliving” came in to replace killing, murder, suicide, etc. Every word that involves loss of life simply became ‘unalive’. And it worked. Where metaphors might have been inappropriate, the different word worked.

And Then It Got Cutesy

If you weren’t on Tumblr or Reddit during the ‘Heckin’ Pupper’ phase, you may be missing some context for how annoying this got – it was a way of baby-talking things no matter what they were, serious or not. One of the Heckin’ subreddits was Heckin’ Chonkers, a place for owners to post pictures of their obese pets. Many people understood this was unhealthy and were posting pictures of their rescues before they started their diets, but an alarmingly large amount of people saw that subreddit and thought ‘Wow! See, my pet’s just a ‘chonker’, it’s okay!’ when it wasn’t. But instead of having this serious conversation in a serious way, commentors had to fight through the ocean of ‘he’s just heckin’ chubby, lol!’ to get the original poster to understand that this was a problem.

Mixing a joke into something that’s actually serious can really screw up people’s perception of it.

 Back to ‘unaliving’. Consider replacing ‘murder’ with ‘unaliving’ or any other metaphor for what that means. When describing a murder, do you want the words to be said with a wink and a nudge? It didn’t start like that – it started as a way to describe crimes, threats, and real cases without losing too much of the case’s integrity to TikTok’s censorship, but as more people piled in, you saw phrases that were still allowed being replaced with ‘unaliving’. Phrases like ‘passed away’ were getting replaced with ‘unalived’. Even worse, some of the people doing that thought it was funny to do so – it was no longer a way to evade a ban to share info, but a way to share info and also signal in-group membership to other TikTok true-crimers. It depersonalized the issue for the people reading it out. You’re not describing a murder, suddenly, you’re describing an ‘unaliving’. A ‘nighty night’. A ‘fishy sleepover’. This is a stranger who died and simultaneously entertainment for their listeners. A real human life and just more words on a paper, just more audio on a website.

Swapping words for cuter ones when not strictly necessary is a cousin-problem to oversharing details while hiding others to make the case seem more mysterious, and otherwise fumbling the handling of a sensitive subject for likes and laughs. Who’s to say anybody wants to be described as ‘unalived’ when they die?

Others

Other words including slurs and targeted swears were also commonly censored… but some slurs aren’t really slurs unless they’re used as slurs maliciously. Additionally, words relating to the LGBTQ+ community that weren’t slurs were also censored, and that required people who wanted to talk about the community to swap words or censor weirdly too. The most egregious example was “Lesbian” being converted to “Le$bean” in text, which didn’t trigger the algorithm and couldn’t be read correctly by the autogenerated voices, leading to people pronouncing it like ‘Le-Dollar-Bean”, the way the computer reader did as a joke.

People tried to cash in on this in a way they hadn’t for ‘unaliving’. Natural crowd movements are something you can market so long as you’re ‘chill’ about it, so it’s not necessarily a horrid idea. However, trying to make a meme localized to a group of people accessible to everyone often kills the meme. People outside the community use it wrong, they use it to be mean, they use it to laugh at the people using the meme, not with them, and the Le-Dollar-Bean song soon became cringe because it was spreading to people who were making fun of the singer and the meme itself in bad faith.

It’s not just because it was LGBT, either, although the meme wouldn’t have happened in the first place if TikTok hadn’t considered that a controversial issue. For example, the same thing happened to the phrases ‘smol bean’ and ‘cinnamon roll’ on Tumblr, which were ways of describing characters who were innocent and cute. Eventually, people started using it to describe real people, and characters who didn’t fit the description but were conventionally attractive (mostly men). Stickers of mainstream actors with the phrases around them were made, even when it didn’t apply, and then those phrases became cringe too via overexposure.

There’s a political statement to be made about the censorship of gay issues that lead to this whole situation – the Le-Dollar-Bean song, a brief mark from people who just wanted to say the word, and ended up co-opted by people who trust corporations that put rainbows on shirts and bracelets with one hand and then funnel money into anti-LGBT bills with the other, is not that statement. Somebody got a little too serious about the joke and overused it, and now Le-Dollar-Bean is cringe, and the reason it’s like that has been forgotten in favor of the song that started the cringe around actually using Le-Dollar-Bean unironically.

The Ethics of Censoring Your Captions

The goal of any translation should be for the receiver to receive it as directly as possible, with some nuance allowed for things that other languages just don’t have. The Japanese don’t really have sarcasm, and may interpret a sarcastic comment as though you were being literal. Similarly, saying something like “I Love You” during a quiet moment comes across as bizarrely direct, so some Japanese may instead reference a poem or a common phrase as shorthand, which can be translated either literally or figuratively in media. Spanish, too, does something similar: if you watch Spanish soap operas, you may hear te quiero, instead of te amo, but both will be translated as “I love you” in the captions (te quiero being literally “I want you”, but understood as “I love you”). (This triggered a huge debate in the Supernatural fandom when the international dubs of the final episode came out, but that’s another story).

So, what does this have to do with English captions on English videos?

Creator-generated captions often censor swear words, or change what the creator is saying, which is not what those are used for! Captions are not the place to hide jokes. It’s an accessibility issue. While hearing viewers may find the dissonance between what’s in the captions and what’s being said funny, the deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers who don’t have that extra context may be confused. If you can’t swear in the captions for fear of censorship, then your interpretation should be ‘I can’t swear in this video’, not ‘I can’t type this swear in the captions’. It’s not ideal, obviously, to have to censor everything, but that’s TikTok’s problem and you should be complaining to TikTok about it, not giving the deaf audience a cleaner version of the video involuntarily.

It’s not all the creators’ fault – some mistakenly believe the app can’t hear them, but will be able to crawl the captions, and thus censor them so they can still be viewed. Others rely on the auto-generated captions, and sometimes it just doesn’t understand the word that’s being said, and mistranslates it to text. Still, effort should be made to convert the audio as closely as possible to the captioning. Don’t baby-talk, don’t misuse them to hide jokes, and don’t intentionally mistranslate!

Why Didn’t Projection Keyboards Take Off?

Elizabeth Technology May 12, 2022

They’re Not Actually That Convenient

While they look cool, and the premise sounds like it’d be more convenient, the reality is that they weren’t. Anything made of light can be interfered with using other light, firstly – all of the coolest demo pics showed the keyboard being used in a low-light situation, primarily so you could see it better in these super cool pics but secondarily so it would work better. Speaking of seeing it better, that’s a problem too. Looking at bright things in the dark can cause eye strain, and while you probably don’t need the lights completely off to see your keyboard, your monitor itself is going to produce light, so working in suitable conditions for the keyboard may not be suitable given your monitor. You can lower how much light the monitor produces, but you also don’t have to do that for other keyboards, so.

Secondly, you now have to have a flat surface to type on. You may think “regular keyboards need that too!”, but they don’t need it as badly as the projection keyboards need it. You can type on a laptop on your lap. The keyboard (unless you’re typing on a flimsy, ultra-thin device) can support its own weight, and you can sit while doing it. If you don’t have a place to set the projection – like a table, or even a smooth chair – you’d end up setting it on the floor so it can project evenly. This then means that you’re touching the floor, or the wall, or whatever surface you have instead of your desk.

While this is, again, not a consistent problem, it’s the kind of thing you don’t want to discover in an airport or out on a hike looking for endangered frogs.

Nobody Likes Slapping Plastic

Turns out, a lot of people like haptic feedback. At the very least, they’re used to it. Typing on tablets can be frustrating for some because it’s unclear if they actually activated the button, requiring them to glance between the keyboard and the screen where the letters are appearing. Everything from long nails to caffeine shakes to physical disabilities can make it harder to type on tablets. The same applies to the projection keyboard. You’re left typing on whatever surface you have – most tables are hard, one way or the other, and so you’re slapping your fingertips down on something that doesn’t have any ‘give’ like normal keyboards do. It’s cool-looking, but not cool-feeling.

Mac ran into a similar issue when it was making the slimmest laptop yet – not only did the size compromise the strength and power of the laptop, it also achieved that size by eating up key height, which was the computer equivalent of breeding the snout off of an American Bulldog “because it’s what the breed standardizers want”. That keyboard felt like typing directly onto a hard surface, too, and a significant portion of the people who bought it didn’t like that.

Does it Actually Work?

It looks cool, and given the conditions are right, it works, right?

The high end models do for sure. The problem is that, like with any electronic, not every product on the market is legitimate or well-made for the price. The high end models can handle uncertainty in projection-to-desk distance, they can handle differences in light and a bright room, they can even handle small warps in the typing surface. The cheaper knockoffs of the original idea simply cannot, and in the same way Roseart pastels can convince children that pastels just aren’t for them, these cheaper projection keyboards did nothing to ingratiate the general public to the much more expensive version. After all, before you drop 300$ on something, you want to be sure you like it with a 50$ version first, right? That’s good advice for everything from fishing rods to model kits, because if you don’t enjoy it, you haven’t set yourself back $$$ to learn that.

At the end of the day, projection keyboards look cool, but they’re not actually that convenient to use, and not every model can even do the things keyboard needs to. Until they can do better than the flexible keyboards already on the market, projection keyboards are going to remain a niche item.

The myth of the Rust Programmer

Elizabeth Technology April 8, 2022

The Rust subreddit is populated by a bunch of people who seem to be the programming equivalent of Sasquatch, in that everyone who goes there as a different programming language’s expert never sees these people in real life. Stack Overflow loves Rust, but 97% of the polltakers who declared that don’t use it as their primary language. What is Rust? Why does finding people who write in it seem so hard?

Finding Training In It

If you go down to your local Barnes and Noble, you should head to the technology section. There, you’ll see a couple of strong trends – Python, Javascript, Java, and C (including C#, C+, and C++) as well as a couple of general hacking books (white hat, obvi) and a small sprinkle of other languages used for specific goals, like WordPress and Linux. At the bottom, at the end of the shelf, you might see a small book about Rust.  

Steve Klabnick, who’s written books on many of the popular programming languages, does have two books on Rust out for the public, but unlike Python or C#, his books were not available in the store. Online resources go deep, but not as deep as other living languages do, or even as deep as other offshoots of C do!

But Rust isn’t some weirdo language with one specific purpose, so why’s it so rare?

Why So Rare?

Firstly, Rust was created by Mozilla Firefox, the software company most famous for making the Firefox browser alongside a handful of other privacy-related projects. The origin of any language changes how it’s received – if C# and Linux had traded parents, we’d be looking at penguins right now. Secondly, Rust is pretty young, released in 2010. For comparison, most people put it next to Python because both are fairly powerful and concise, but Python was born in 1991. Rust is just not as well-established as its older siblings are.

Thirdly, when it comes to the language itself, it’s not alien to other programming languages, but it’s got some quirks to it. It’s format, for example, is sort of like writing a haiku instead of an essay to achieve a desired result. Its conciseness is a major source of power, but it’s much easier to write sentence after sentence to explain your point than it is to shorten that point to a handful of available syllables. Additionally, when people say it’s ‘safe’, they don’t mean safe-safe, they mean programming-safe, as in memory-safe: it’s not going to buffer-overflow your computer into a crash, but that doesn’t mean a determined beginner can’t find some other way to change their machine with it. Rust also does not default to compile inside a Virtual Machine unless you put one in its way, which is a little bit scary.

What Is Rust Used For?  

Rust touches on pain points that other languages can’t. It’s exceedingly powerful, and elegantly simple; it’s suitable for bare-bones programming alongside more complex demands. Rust is a free offshoot of C++, a language commonly used by Windows, so it’s easy to get into if you’ve got some experience in something else. In general, Rust is a good all-rounder application, although you probably wouldn’t want to use it to make games.

Sources:

https://codilime.com/blog/why-is-rust-programming-language-so-popular/