Google Wi-Fi Information “Theft” Is Overblown

So I’m a little late to the party, but things have been crazy.

For the past few months there have been news stories about how the Google Street View cars were also intercepting and analyzing people’s Wi-Fi signal as it drove by their house.

Many privacy advocates are freaking out about this. I mean c’mon, the search engine giant is going around and sniffing packets right out of thin air. All their passwords and credit card numbers (when paying bills and such) are being exposed so the big, evil Google can take and do whatever it wants with it!

Two words. Bull crap.

While I cannot begin to speculate what exactly Google actually meant to do with this information (though, they now argue a rogue engineer put the code to capture the network data), it’s total bull crap to fault Google with privacy violations. The data that Google was actually pulling out of thin air was data being broadcasted from unsecured routers. Yup, that’s right. People are tossing their data out into the airwaves without a problem and call foul when that information is intercepted.

This is like having a private conversation using two way walkie talkies with your girlfriend down the street, and being upset and morally offended that anyone dare listen in. You’re not securing the data between endpoints. You are making a public broadcast. If you make a public broadcast, that broadcast is obviously available to the public.

People who are concerned about having Google intercepting passwords and credit card numbers need to take some personal responsibility. First off, you should NOT be entering your password or credit card number on any website that is not using SSL. Plain and simple. If the website is using SSL, your network being open is entirely moot because that data is encrypted between endpoints, so if some malicious hacker, or the “evil” Google gets it, they just see  gibberish.

Secondly, those privacy advocates that are all up in arms about Google “stealing” all of people’s information they are deliberately making public… they should be more focused on educating the technologically inept individuals on the 5-or-6 click process of adding a WPA key to one’s router. I mean, people, c’mon, it’s not like it’s expensive (it’s freakin’ free!) to add a WPA key. Not only does it keep your information from being broadcast without a layer of security, but it also prevents criminals from being able to use your wi-fi for their own agenda.

Yeah, that’s right. I said it. People need to take responsibility themselves of their own network. This is the time of GUI. Graphic User Interface. Everything has shiny, clearly labeled buttons and tabs. There’s no advanced command line that only geeks can do. Nope. Log in to your router’s admin panel, go to security, click add WPA key. Type one in. Submit. Done.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing criminal going on here. All these states can investigate Google all they want for “data theft.” They can waste all of our hard-earned tax-dollars going on a wild-goose chase and ultimately put Google in a kangaroo court just to prove to the people that the government “cares about its people and not megacorporations.” But it doesn’t change the fact that people have willingly and deliberately allowed their data to be viewable by anyone with a wireless network interface card.

If anything, let this serve as an example to those technologically inept people that this is the exact reason why you should secure your data. I’m sure Google as a corporation has no use for your private IM conversations or your hotmail password. But a malicious hacker or someone holding a grudge against you might.

Lock down your network. Take responsibility for your actions and inactions. Breathe. Stop using Google as a scapegoat.

SEPTA: A Winter Nightmare

Not to offset my tremendous satisfaction and extreme gratitude with SEPTA and a few of its employees from my last noteworthy SEPTA experience, the other night I had a pretty bad issue with SEPTA.

For those that don’t know, the north east got slammed by major blizzard-like snow storm on December 19, 2009. I think we had almost two feet of snow and severe wind. It was not a winter wonderland. At all.

I had to go shopping at Target due to a last minute change-in-plans on a gift-exchange party. And due to my limit availability and energy due to my new job, I decided to go on Saturday. It took me about an hour and a half to get to Target when it’s normally a 15 minute ride. This wasn’t just because of the storm.

SEPTA has a track-improvement project going on right now, and because of this, regular service stops at the Woodland Avenue stop. After this point, there is a shuttle bus that takes you further. The shuttle bus took forever to arrive, and we were waiting outside in a bus shelter for at least 45 minutes. Once the shuttle arrived, we had to wait for the next trolley to come to drop of its passengers. At this point, I was debating whether or not to get on that trolley and just go home.

I should have gotten on that trolley and gone home.

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SEPTA: A Christmas Story

I admit, I’m usually one of the first to badmouth SEPTA when something goes wrong; tendency to strike, frequent rudeness, SEPTAlateness. But I want to share a story that changed the way I look at things when it comes to SEPTA.

Yeah, they do strike a lot, a lot of their employees are kind of rude. But not all of them. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that one (possibly two) saved my financial life. It is something that I am very thankful of and this person has my eternal gratitude.

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Officially Starting My Career

Some readers might be aware of my future loss of employment due to decisions made by my employer to essentially outsource what my current responsibilities are. Obviously if a third-party company is hired to do what I do, than I am no longer required to be around. Since I was made aware of this issue (not by my employer, but my hearsay and rumors of co-workers) I have been on a job hunt.

I’ve been all over the market. I really needed to stay in the technology field, specifically PHP programming. This was for the most mandatory for me. I didn’t want to go elsewhere (let’s say retail or customer service) and then lose my spark and enthusiasm for what I have loved doing for now more than half of my life. I’ve been on Monster.com, been on CareerBuilder.com. But there was one constant issue I kept running in. They all wanted a degree-holder. No if, ands or buts about it. Unfortunately, the little piece of paper signed by an accredited institution (or rather lack of it) caused many loss of opportunities. Many potential employers wouldn’t even speak to me once they found out I didn’t have a degree. It’s not like I didn’t want to go to college.. it’s just because of a certain set of circumstances, I was prohibited from doing so.

But then recently, I started to get a little lucky. I started getting calls from recruiters about job openings and I was really excited. My first interview was with the technology division of the staffing firm  Robert Halves. It was for a contracted term for one of their clients. I really wanted to be a permanent employee, but my time was running short and this could hold me over for the term of the contract. I went in and the interview went mediocre. The guy said that he wanted URLs of my projects that I’ve done for my current employer. Only problem is that 90% of the projects I’ve done are either intranet (locally accessible only) or are password protected. I never really followed up on this. Even before I went in for the interview they had me doing lots of paperwork. Tax forms, I-9 identification, even a consultant contract. I wasn’t a fan of this.

So the journey goes on. I’m really close to giving up hope. My time is running short at my employer (January 1), and I’m literally living paycheck-to-paycheck.

But then I get a call from another recruiting firm, Workbridge Associates. They told me that they were seeking a PHP developer with exactly my skill-set for a client in the Philadelphia area. I started looking into this right away and was very excited about this. I made sure they were aware I didn’t have a degree of any sort, and they told me that’s not a big deal. They were specifically looking for some at my experience level and my age bracket. Man, this is too good to be true!

I went in to the staffing agency for the interview. It was me and like four other guys on this day (there were others on the other days too). I connected really well with the president of the client company. He reaffirmed to me that they didn’t require a degree. He said his view on that is that “some programmers start early and know programming their entire life and they know just as much as a programmer who went to school to get a degree.” That is quite the truth and I am glad that an employer actually sees it that way. Okay, this is SERIOUSLY starting to be too good to be true. Everything’s melding and meshing just perfectly. I have bad luck, this can’t be happening can it?

I start calling the staffing agency every day and they give me new information about the client’s interview schedule. After about the third day, the agency tells me the client’s president really liked me and wanted to bring me back for seconds. They also liked another guy who they’d be bringing back. Not only that, but they feel 2 people aren’t enough, so they want to find at least one other guy to interview, so they hold another round of first round interviews. Now I’m starting to worry.

But here’s where stuff really starts turning against me. The public transportation system that I’d use to get to both the client and to get to the staffing agency just went on strike. Oh my god. I knew it. I have bad luck, of course it couldn’t be this easy to get a nice job. Well the good news is, a very good friend of mine took time out of his day to drive me to and from the interview. This man is my Non-Jesus personal savior!

Anyway, back to the second interviews. I made sure to schedule that I was the last on the list to get a second interview. I did this for two reason. First, my staffing agency contact could give me feedback on the other interviewees  and second, so I would be freshest in their minds when it came to decision-making time.

I went to the interview and felt like I knocked it out of the park. I was answering all the questions with the right answers. An example, “What Javascript libraries have you worked with?” my answer, “JQuery.” Their response, “That is exactly what we use.” Repeat this conversation a few times with a few different experience niches, and you have that interview. Suffice it to say, the interview went REALLY well.

But then some bad news came down the wire. I was told by my staff agency that the team that interviewed me were really excited about me and loved my resume and how I interviewed, but they had just one more interview to do. Except this interview wasn’t being done through the staffing agency. So now I’m starting to worry — this isn’t be done through the agency? My logic was that it could have been an employee looking to transfer positions or a relative of an employee. Uh ohhhhhh.

At this point, my hope dropped and the staffing agency did find me another prospective job that paid less than the initial company, but still well above what I’m making currently. They set up an appointment the next day for me to come in for an interview.

But as I am stepping on the trolley (SEPTA’s off strike at this point) I get a call back from Del, my staffing agency contact. He says “Hey, I know you’re on your way to the office for an interview with another of our clients.*dramatic pause*.. but would you be willing to cancel that interview if I give you a job offer with [prospective employer I was most hopeful about]?”

Of course, my answer was heck yes. I accepted the job where I receive a 106% salaried pay increase (relative to my current employer) and benefits. Wow, seriously? I’m a 20 year old guy making a fairly-low hourly rate at a school district, and I’m about to make a salary that many people in this economy will be envious of. Oh my God.

So essentially, that’s that. I’ve accepted a position as an associate web developer. It’s for a privately-owned company within the education sector, still I’m moving vertically. Sweet. My last day at my current employer is this coming friday, November 20, 2009. It’s going to be a sad day. I’ve spent just about every week day for 2.5 years as an employee and just about every week day for 3 years as a student. It’s going to be really tough saying goodbye, but It’s how this game goes, I guess. Many of these people have been mentors to me and I’ll likely never see them again. It’s all part of growing up, I guess.

My plans on my new salary is pretty much save, save, save. I plan to treat myself to new things very rarely. The only thing I can see treating myself to is the Droid phone that just came out, but that won’t be until my T-Mobile contract expires in march, so there’s still some time for that. I want to save up for a car so I can stop having 1-hour-eachway commutes to my new job, and change to 20-minute-each-way commutes. Additionally, I do want to start going to school next semester. I want to go to night classes at a local college and get my associates degree.

My career will have officially started as a web developer on Monday, November 23rd, 2009. I’m excited.

Installing Windows 7

It’s been awhile since I posted last. Most of my life has been pretty mundane and nothing really postworthy has occured, aside from getting a few job interviews. Actually, shortly I should be hearing back about a second interview as a PHP developer for a fairly local eLearning company.

I have just recently taken advantage of a deal to get Windows 7 Professional [upgrade only] for $29.99. I bought it and spent the rest of the night downloading. By the time I woke up, the download was done. However, I discovered that it wasn’t an ISO disc image Like I had expected, rather it was an executable with a folder and two .box files. Is is kind of aggravating as I wanted an image so I can burn a few backup discs and all that. But, conveniently during my normal news perusal I found an article on Lifehacker which helped me convert the files into a bootable disc image. Dude, it’s like magic!

However, I ran into some issues along the way during the install/upgrade. First off, I wanted to do an in-place upgrade.. meaning I don’t lose all my data and my installed programs. Turns out, since I had Windows Vista Home Premium I could upgrade to Windows 7 Professional using this disc, however I could not do an in-place upgrade, only a custom install, which results in losing all my files, install programs, settings et cetera. This was annoying, but I backed up all my data (music, pictures, et cetera) however, I’ll still have to re install all my programs again. Aggravating.

But that’s going out of order. At first, I didn’t know I couldn’t upgrade, because I had problems getting to the upgrade screen. First, I booted up from the DVD I created, however clicking the upgrade button demanded that If i want to upgrade, I have to run the CD from within the installer. Ugh, I just wasted 10 minutes in the shutdown, restart, screen navigation just to have to go back into the OS. Ugh. So it takes me 10 minutes to reboot (Vista has been taking FOREVER lately.. gosh) back to my desktop. I run the executable provided by Digital River, and I first get a splash screen.

I click “Install Windows” (exciting!)

I get a screen that says “Copying Temporary Files…” and then “Setup is Starting…” But that’s it the screen doesn’t update for about 5 minutes. I quit, and restart. Same thing, this time I wait 10 minutes. Still nothing. Then I thought “I’m being impatient, I’ll let it sit.” So while I sit watching COPS 2.0 on G4TV, I let it sit at the Setup is Starting screen. It’s still not progressing after an hour!

I turn to my good ol’ friend google and try a few queries. I found a few people with the same problem, some unresolved, some resolved but the solution seemed irrelevant (It wasn’t a problem with my harddrive or motherboard.) Then I found an article on Microsoft’s knowledgebase. It said something about “This screen is the stage Windows is checking your hardware for compatibility.” Then for some reason, a lightbulb goes off in my head. I look down and notice how my zune data cable (with no zune attached!) was plugged into my computer. Sometimes I’m in a rush in the morning before work and I don’t unplug the zune datacable, just the zune itself.

So I remove the ‘empty’ USB cable. The moment I did that that, my install screen advanced to the “Would you like to check windows update for updates before completing install?” screen. TADAA! Three hours for a damned deviceless USB cable. I honestly never even thought it would care about a cable plugged in with no device. I take it that’s probably a bug in the installer. It’s checking for hardware components and it gets stuck in loop while it waits for a device to registered. Oh well. Good job Microsoft.

So, I click through all the screens and I see the coveted “What kind of install do you want to do, young padawan?” screen. I click upgrade, because I want to keep all my stuff intact. However, I’m immediately greeted by a message saying “Windows Vista™ Home Premium cannot be upgraded to Windows 7 Professional. You can choose to install a new copy of Windows 7 Professional instead, but this is different from an upgrade, and does not keep your files, settings, and programs.” Ugh. I spent 3 hours trying to get to the upgrade screen, only to be told I can’t upgrade. Ugh. isuehfgudehgeiuhtiuehteiutahtiuerghsgihua. Okay. I’m done.

So, I reboot, again, and boot from DVD. Then I do a custom install. The install procedure was actually fairly quick. Once I was in, I liked what I saw. Everything is cleaner and faster. When idle and not running applications (called the baseline) the OS used less than a gig in RAM. While I remember Vista using one gig when idle. It’s a nice operating system.

So I take time and copy all my backed up data back to my folders… all my music and pictures and such. Sweet. There are a few annoyances I have that I’m still ironing out, for example, everytime I enter a link in internet explorer (havent had time to download firefox yet), I get a feedback sound effect. Yeah, gonna have to disable that.

All in all, it’s a pretty good operating system. I immediately switched my taskbar back to not group similar windows into one icon. It makes it quicker to get to the exact window i want. Maybe I’ll get used to the combined feature one day.

Another thing I wanted to mention was an issue i had with DIgsby. I love digsby, it’s awesome. It’s the first thing I downloaded (yeah yeah, shoulda gotten Firefox first, oh well). However, apparently there’s this issue with Digsby when using a brand new account on Windows 7. Basically, it’s not detecting full screen applications right, so as a result, Diggsby is incorrectly hiding IM windows. To fix this, go to your preferences, and make sure to uncheck “Hide IM windows when full screen window is active.” This will fix this. From what I understand, this glitch only occurs when the windows account is brand new. How new is defined, I’m not sure. The guide  I read said “about 1 hour.” But there you go.

Over the next couple days I’ll be going through and experimenting and optimizing it to my needs and comfort.

Google Voice At A Glance

Well, not exactly a glance. I’ve had it a few weeks now and think it’s great.

When I got my invited it was, of course, almost midnight and I was literally about to sign off. I actually set up a temporary filter on my GMail account to forward emails that contain “Google Voice” from Google to my cell phone. This way no matter where I was, I’d know instantly when I got accepted and would make haste to get to a computer. Well luckily, I was about 10 feet away from one when my cell phone went off. It goes without saying that I did stay up all night playing with it and getting it all set up and customized.

Actually, the first hour I was debating between different phone numbers, As I displayed earlier, you can pick your own number as long as the number is within the block of the million-or-so numbers Google bought from Level3. You can also search for either a combination of numbers or a combination of letters. I was trying different things to find a REALLY epic vanity phone number. I narrowed it down to three numbers.. to be honest, at this point I can’t remember what the other two were. I think one had  JFK-NIPP in it. The one i decided on was mostly chosen because it’s “more local” area-code wise than the other two candidates. The one I landed on combined my first name (shortened) and an abbreviation of my last name. It works great.

Here’s an issue I have though that’s not at all GV’s fault. I’m trying to get my old contacts to call me at my new number. Some of them have been good at adopting it, but others like my parents for some reason don’t get the idea that the new number is my “main number.” For some reason, it’s a hard concept for them to grasp, as they call and I pick up, expecting to hear “Do you want to accept a call from Mom?” and i just hear silence and I go “Hello..?” and it’s my mom. Ugh.

You can choose to have incoming GV calls display as either the caller’s number (this is good for things like fave five) or as YOUR google voice number. Several have recommended adding your GV number as a fave five contact, and switching the connection number as the GV number, that way all calls through GV don’t consume minutes. But I have a feeling that this violates some T-Mobile rule.

I think the coolest feature is the voicemail transcription. If someone calls me and I don’t answer, they can leave a voicemail. Within minutes (depending on length of voicemail, etc) I get a text message that has the text version of the person’s voice. At this point, it’s still a little off on the translating, but remember that GMail’s spam protection was nothing special when it first came out — this is because it’s a community learning that relies on spam reporting and such. I’m not sure how it’s going to work with the voicemail transcription, but I have a feeling that it is also “learning.” 90% of the voicemails I’ve gotten I was able to get the gist of what was being said just by reading the text. Others I had to either listen to it on the dashboard or call in. Also, very rarely the scribe will give up completely and not even bother to try translating. This is usually if the person is speaking gibberish, extremely (unintelligibly) loudly or there’s a lot of loud background ambiance.

This feature is cool for many reasons. I can read text faster than I can login to my voicemail, go through all the prompts (You have 3 unread and 10 saved voice messages. First message saved on..) and then actually listen to the voicemail. It results in me being more efficient as I can get things done quickly. Also, let’s say I’m in a meeting and can’t listen to the voicemail, but I can quickly glance at my phone to see something like “I’m going to be like 5 minutes late. See you soon!” Or even more likely, let’s say I’m in an area where signal reception is bad. It’s good enough to occasionally have my phone collect/sync new text messages, but not maintain a phone call for more than 10 seconds. It’s very useful, and just flat out neat.

Also, caller grouping. I can set people in groups and apply settings to those groups. So I can add my parents and grand parents to “family” and have “family” only ring my personal phone (though, that’s all I have right now) and never my work phone.  Also, I can set specific voicemail greetings for this group. So instead of my professional formal greeting, I can just give a short relaxed and casual one. I can also select a voicemail greeting for each specific person too.

One of the main features of Google voice is something I can not yet take advantage of. You can set up multiple phones to your Google Voice account. When someone calls your GV number, it will ring all the phones in your account until one of them answers (or a certain time passes). The logic behind this is that at any given time you’re very likely around at least one of your phones, let it be your work landline, your personal cell, your work cell, or personal landline. Unfortunately at this time, GV doesn’t support adding extensions to phones, so I cannot add my work desk phone to my GV account.

Text messaging is handled uniquely. You can text someone through the website dashboard. If they reply, it’ll forward that text to all of your SMS-enabled devices on your account and will appear online. However, the text will come from a 406 area code phone number. This is a little confusing, but I’ll try to explain it the best I can. Essentially, everyone on your contact list is assigned a number from the 406 area code.

The 406 area code number is an “alias.” This is done so that you can reply to texts from your cell phone and it will appear to them that you are texting from your GV number. This is because in reality, you are texting a number that google controls, so what happens is you text them, google receives it, sees it’s coming from a number on “this google voice account”, so “this alias being texted” for “this google voice account” is assigned to the real phone number 555-555-5555, sends a text to 555-555-5555.  If you call the alias phone number from any device on your google voice account, it’ll call that person from your google voice number. This is the only “convenient way” to call someone directly from your (non-smartphone) cell phone via your GV account. If you are good with memorizing numbers, you can also call their real number by calling your GV number, pressing 2, then dialing your person. At this time, the only way to get a person’s alias phone number is for them to text you. It’s not displayed anywhere else.

Another cool feature is “Call Presentation.” If someone calls and they aren’t added as a contact on my GV account or they have never called before, they are asked to say their name. It will then ring me and ask me to accept a call from [their recording]. If they already called, I’ll hear their recording from the first time. If they are added to my GV contact list, I’ll hear a Text-To-Speech version of their written name. Okay, after their name is presented to me, I can either do one of three things, Accept, Send to voicemail, or Send to voice mail with ListenIn. With ListenIn, I can hear the person as they are recording their message (old answering machine style!) and optionally press * and start talking to them. It’s pretty cool.

There’s call recording too. However, you can only initiate call recording if the person calls you. Outgoing calls don’t work for recording. Probably for legal issues. When you start the recording, you’ll hear a nice lady saying “Call recording on!” and when you turn it off, you’ll hear “Call recording off.” You can listen to the recording on your Google Voice Dashboard.

If you have a smart phone (save for iPhone) you can get an application (most likely) for you device. This application will likely take control of your CallController and TextController so that it routes all your outgoing calls through GV. This way you can call any of your contacts directly through GV without dailing in, having their alias, or calling them through your GV Dashboard.

There are a few issues with GV that I have. The main one is that there is, at current, no support for MMS. If someone sends me a picture to my GV number, I’ll never know about it. And the sender will never know that their MMS message was never seen. I have a feeling that eventually Google will figure out a way to get this to work, but it’s understandable because we’re still in beta. However, if someone wants to send you a picture, they’d have to send it directly to your cell phone (or email). Giving out your “real” cell phone number would defeat much of the purpose of GV.

All in all, I think Google Voice is amazing. I love it and can’t wait until some of the wrinkles are ironed out. If you ever have a chance to join GV, take it! It’s wonderfuL!

Yeah, That Would be A Major Typo

Yeah, I was wondering why I never received an email with my tracking status. I went and clicked “I forgot my claim ID” on Asurion’s website. This is what I was greeted with:

asurion-typo

There’s like many many errors with that email address. I even spelled my name and email domain!

Jesus God damn…

Motorola W490 Cell Phone Broken

So, since last tuesday, my phone has been malfunctioning… and has gotten worse since.

Not all the time, but often when I open my phone, my screen gets all distorted. The distortions also very from time to time. Sometimes there’s no image at all, sometimes it’s just white, sometimes it’s my home screen’s background with no icons or anything and also sometimes I see bars and lines. Also, hitting a button doesn’t seem to fix it. It usually “fixes itself” somewhere between 20 seconds-2 minutes. Last night it did not. It displayed a white screen for 5 minutes. I turned it off, turned it back on, the keypad lit up, but not the screen.. it was black (not even lit up from what I observed).

Since it is getting progressively worse, and it’s doing other silly things like turning off randomly, I’ve decided to do something about it. Originally, on wednesday, I went to the T-Mobile store by my work. The lady said that my phone model is known to have issues and she said “it’s possessed.” She said that my warranty expired and that because the phone is buggy, I “really should upgrade.” Sadly there are a few things that prevent me from doing this. I’m not yet in my “upgrade period,” which means I do not qualify for an upgrade discount, only a partial. I’m not going to to shell out $80 (at least) plus an $18 upgrade fee (wtf?). Additionally, I really want to get out of T-Mobile. They’re expensive, twitter access is unreliable, I can’t use YouMail, service sucks and is consistent, and often their customer support has thick heavy accents.. if I upgrade, I extend my contract another 2 years.. and I want an iPhone come march.

Last night I put an insurance claim. It cost me $25.00 to have a new one sent to me. The lady said my phone would be here “by tomorrow” [now today]. I’ve been sitting here all day waiting for it since i have to sign for it, and I have other things to do. Also, I never got tracking/claim information emailed to me like she said I would. Which makes me think she made a typo in my email address.

Ugh. Hurry up fedex/UPS/whatever… I have stuff to do!