IsLeaked.com registered 2 days before Gmail leak public

Final update (Sep 12): Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai at Mashable has written the most comprehensive explanation I’ve seen yet. While it is true that IsLeaked was registered 2 days before the Gmail leak, there were leaks earlier in the week for Yandex and Mail.ru.  But there are still real concerns when using unvetted third party tools to check your security.

Most media outlets are currently reporting that 5 million user accounts and passwords have been leaked. The earliest sources I can find for news outlets reporting this information all date to the 10th.

The source is traced back, at earliest, to a Russian bitcoin market forum with a post on Sept 9 at 23:55. Screenshot below.

bitcoins

All of the news articles are telling people to go to isleaked.com to check their addresses. However, I don’t think any of the media has vetted this website and could possibly be sending millions of people to a website run by people harvesting email addresses (for spam or other hacking activities.) It’s even possible that isleaked.com is run by the very people who leaked the passwords in the first place. Why could this be? Because isleaked.com was registered on the 8th, 2 days before the story broke anywhere else. You can run the whois yourself. Screenshot below.

whois

Please comment with any thoughts or info you may have.

Update: After tweeting with the author of the lifehacker article, he has removed the link to IsLeaked.com. I still want to further press the issue by posing this question: If someone knew about the password leak on the 8th, why would they quietly make a website and then wait for someone else to break the story? If they were truly trying to help, why not break the story themselves and thus ALERT users?

Update2: I am officially endorsing this private gmail leak tester. It is open source and performs the test locally (client side) without sending your information to their servers. While others may or may not be keeping your information, it would be impossible for this one to keep your information. I spoke in great detail with the author last night.

Update3: there may be evidence that the site was originally setup for yandex users 2 days ago and they added Google later. Read the comments below and decide for yourself. I still think it’s too convenient of a timeline, bizarre that the website is registered in France yet created by Russians, etc. I don’t recommend giving them your email address when there are client side solutions available.

Update4: @isleaked has been very adamant about having me remove this article from the Internet. Regardless of everything, we still don’t know what they are doing with the addresses. It’s a moot point now anyways since Google has locked out any compromised accounts. You stand to gain nothing by using IsLeaked.com regardless if it is legitimate or not. So, again, I’m not sure why they want this article removed. A benevolent website would simply link you to the Google update.

Logitech G400s is so bad it should be considered a scam

I have been using a blue Logitech G5 mouse for at least five years and it has been the best mouse I’ve ever owned. It has hard rubber along the sides and a textured surface along the top, giving your hand that perfect grip feel. I’ve never been able to find another mouse with such a nice contour as the G5. I believe I purchased it from NewEgg for around $59.99 + shipping.

It’s a two button mouse with a scroll wheel and has buttons to increase or decrease the speed of the cursor. This is really helpful as I like to run my mouse at different speeds when performing different tasks. There are two buttons on the side of the mouse just above the thumb that act as browser forward and backward buttons, but they can also be used in some games (i.e. Eve marketplace.) While I get a lot of use from the extra functionality buttons on my mouse, I don’t like mice that have too many extra functionality buttons. The more buttons, the easier it is to bump something by mistake.

The G5 has a weight caddy that slides into the bottom. You can add and remove weights to the caddy to give the mouse the exact feel you want. I prefer to max the weights in my mouse to give it a solid feel. The G5 was the first mouse I’ve ever owned that did that.

After 5+ years of hard abuse, the scroll wheel has stopped working. I decided to order a replacement mouse, but unfortunately, the G5 is no longer in production and cannot be found anywhere. I even tried eBay; the few sellers on there want over $500 – a price I simply will not pay.

Wanting to stay loyal to Logitech, I went directly to their website. In my humble opinion, wireless mice should only be used for elaborate desk configurations where running a wire would be difficult, visually unappealing or when the workstation is too far away. Otherwise, I’d rather not waste money on replacing batteries and polluting the Earth with depleted battery casings. The only wired mouse close to the G5 is the M500.

At first glance, one may think this mouse is similar to the G5 because it has the same body shape and contours, but there are differences. First, it doesn’t have a weight caddy. Secondly, the USB cord is plastic instead of the woven material on the G5. Finally, it is constructed from solid plastic pieces – there is not rubber grips along the side or texturized plastic to give it a pleasant feel.

I think the name M500 is disingenuous and meant to confuse shoppers. This is because the model that replaced the G5 was called the G500. It was very similar to the G5, but still not as good in my opinion. The G500 is still tremendously better than the M500, which is why the similar naming scheme is confusing. Impulsive shoppers may believe they are getting a deal when they see the low price, assuming they are getting a G500 or derivative thereof, when in reality they are getting an inferior product.

At this point, I realized this was the wrong part of the website, so I went to their gaming mice. The first thing you will notice is an ugly, overpriced mouse that looks like it fell from an 80s comic book about the dystopian future – the G502. This mouse does not share a similar contour with the G5, it has way more buttons than I need, and it’s more than I want to spend.

As I scroll to the bottom of the page, there is a mouse that catches my eye – the G400s. It has identical contours to the G5. Button placement in the exact same place. Sure, the colors and style is a little different, but it looks like the same mouse. The sides appear to have that hard rubber look and the top of the mouse looks VERY textured with nice black ridges along the buttons as well as the palm rest. I shoot over to Amazon and purchase it for around $45.

Today, it finally arrived. I opened the box, but instead of finding a mouse, there was just disappointment. The mouse is completely constructed from hard plastic, none of which contains any texture. Anything that appeared in the online photos as a grip or texture is simply printed into the plastic itself. There isn’t even paint on it, which would have at least provided some texture, the mouse is completely smooth to the touch. To add insult to injury, there isn’t a weight caddy and the wire is cheap plastic – unlike the woven fabric like my G5.

Why do I think this is a scam? Imagine if you bought a sedan. After the purchase, you discovered that the rear doors were simply painted on the side of the car; they don’t open nor do they have any functionality. If you wanted a two door car, you would have bought a coupe. By printing the appearance of texture and grip into a mouse made from cheap plastic, they are doing the exact same thing.

In the wise words of President George W. Bush, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” This will be my last Logitech product.

BREAKING – Global Internet Problems due to issues w/ Transatlantic Cabling between EU & US.

Have you been having trouble accessing some parts of the Internet? You are not the only one. Many companies are reporting outages via their social media accounts today.

 

eve online

nuclearfallout enterprises

 

Users from Europe are unable to access many American sites and Americans are unable to access many European sites today. These updates have come in from Cloudflare:

CloudFlare

ceo of cloudflare

 

At this time, we have been unable to access Telia’s website to confirm.

If this is true and they did lose cabling, the web will surely be slower until new cabling can be ran. This is because traffic will continue to grow at the same rate, but less bandwidth will be available to transmit it.

 

Update: Here’s a screenshot of the Akamai real time web monitor showing the severity of the problem.

real time web monitor

7 Ways to Know You Have Hired a Fly-By-Night IT Firm

I recently lost a customer to another IT company. This is not the first time I have lost a customer and it won’t be the last; that’s just the nature of business. About half the customers I’ve lost over the years eventually came back to us. I believe this is because we very gracefully hand over all the licensing, keys, web domains, and configuration information to the new IT when we are leaving. There’s absolutely no reason to ever burn a bridge with a customer, and contractors who storm off without telling anyone the passwords won’t get hired again.

Before we go any further, I want to explain something informally referred to as the “contractor’s triangle” and it applies to contractors in any type of industry. Anyone who deals with contractors should know and understand how the contractor’s triangle works.

contractor triangle

With any contractor you hire, you may only pick 2 sides of the triangle. In my case, “fast” represents quick response time and “quality” represents stable, reliable computer infrastructure. Let’s imagine for a minute you are going to build a roof over your patio. You get quotes from 3 different contractors:

  • Contractor A – Provides a cheap quote to do the work, but it’s going to be weeks or months before he can start. He is in very high demand because of his combined low prices and high quality, but that results in a very long backlog.
  • Contractor B – Provides a cheap quote to do the work and can have it done within the next week. This is because he doesn’t provide quality work and there isn’t a huge demand for him. Be wary of this type of contractor, but for some jobs, it’s totally OK to go with the cheap fast guy.
  • Contractor C – Provides the most expensive quote of the three, can perform very high quality work and have it done quickly. He is able to limit his workflow to higher paying customers because the product he offers is superior, which allows him to respond faster than Contractor A who also offers quality work. The higher rates afford him the ability to have an answering service, 24/7 hotline, etc. that isn’t within the budget of Contractor A.

When I’m competing on a quote, I never try to be Contractor A or Contractor B. If suddenly I became Contractor A – providing the same level of quality at a much cheaper rate – I would very quickly be unable to handle my existing workload. Customers wouldn’t be able to get a hold of me and I wouldn’t be able to service their systems for weeks. Furthermore, I wouldn’t make enough money to hire any subcontractors to help with a workload that would be spiraling out of control.

As the customer, you must pick which two sides of the triangle are most important for the job. It will (and should) vary depending on each situation. But, you should make the decision fully aware of how the triangle works instead of always going for the “low bidder.” In the IT industry, I would suggest Contractor C. Not only will this contractor rapidly respond to any downtime at your business, but when he fixes things, they will be fixed correctly. While more expensive up front, this is ultimately cheaper than paying someone else to fix the same issues over and over and over again.

This is a basic timeline of what I have seen happen at least a few times:

  • A business hires us to install their new network infrastructure.
  • I use my extensive knowledge and 10+ years experience in the field of IT to custom design infrastructure for said business.
  • I, with the help of subcontractors, implement my design at the customers office(s).
  • We maintain the system for a few months/years.
  • A much cheaper, less knowledgeable contractor comes along and claims he can maintain their hardware for less.
  • We lose the customer, but because we did such a good job setting up their equipment initially, it pretty much goes on sustaining itself for the next few years. They pay the new guy for essentially babysitting our work.

I know this because – on multiple occasions – those customers eventually came back. It’s usually around the time the customer is ready for another upgrade or wants to make major changes… and the existing IT can’t quite figure out the system he’s been “maintaining” for the last 2-3 years.

When we get back in there, it’s always the same: the backup schedule is still exactly the way we had configured it, despite the fact the customer’s backup needs had changed over the last 2 years and now their important documents are not located in folders that are being backed up. The Windows updates configured through Group Policy are still running, but all the computers are at least one Service Pack behind (meaning that they aren’t really up to date.) The antivirus software is expired and licenses for other programs have also lapsed. The company then has to spend a considerable amount of money ($thousands+) catching up on all of these things that the previous IT should have been maintaining.

So, without any further ado, here is my list of “7 Ways to Know You Have Hired a Fly-By-Night IT Firm.”

7. Company Website

They must have a website – they are in the tech industry. Not having a website is a pretty big red flag. It doesn’t have to be the prettiest website, but it should not have any grammatical errors or blatantly incorrect design elements, such as a menu that is cut off by an overlapping image. Not having a website indicates that they don’t have a ton of experience. A poorly designed website indicates that they don’t care about quality.

6. Jack of All Trades, Master of None

When you research your IT company’s website and business cards, are they actually an IT company? If all the language on their website is geared toward programming, web services or graphic design, you’re probably dealing with a company that hasn’t been successful in their initial business model and is now trying to recreate themselves. Even bigger red flag if they are a graphic design firm with a terrible looking website.

5. Oblivious to Security Alerts

This one will be harder for you as the customer to spot, but just by doing some basic research on tech websites, you should be able to learn enough to ask the important questions.  Just last month, the global Internet experienced another large outbreak of the Cryptolocker virus in addition to the heartbleed vulnerability and an Internet Explorer vulnerability. Some of these you may have heard about on the news, with the Department of Homeland Security urging Americans to not use Internet Explorer. If your IT people don’t seem to know about these things or what to do to prevent them, they will not be able to adequately protect your company’s data.

4. The On-The-Side Contractor

One of the reasons I am successful as a contractor is because it is my main and only job. I live, eat and breathe IT. I am always available to assist customers and if not, we have an emergency line that will forward to my subcontractors. There will always be IT consultants working a salaried position for another company while trying to moonlight IT work on the side. You may be tempted to hire these people because they are a lot cheaper than someone who relies on contracting as his/her only source of income. Moonlighting may work for you if you’re in construction or accounting, but when you are in a reactionary field such as IT, you need to be available 24/7 to fix problems and take customers calls. These people will obviously always put their salaried position ahead of their on-the-side customers, eventually resulting in downtime and financial loss for your business.

3. Your IT nonchalantly says, “We use all Mac computers at our office.”

During my last day at one of my customer’s offices, I was doing my usual hand-over-the-keys session with the new IT personnel. When I brought up a few quirks about Windows domain environments and how we handled the issues at that particular location, the new IT told me that they haven’t had to deal with that because they use all Apple computers at their office. In the business IT consulting world, this is a huge red flag. We have both Apple and Windows computers running side by side at our office because we need to be able to work on everything. Furthermore, nearly all software written for small business is done for Windows based environments.

2. Real World Experience

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hiring young guys and gals to do your IT. Young people are growing up with technology so it comes almost naturally. But, just because somebody is good at technology doesn’t mean they understand the way business networks function. If you are dealing with a startup or relatively young IT contractor, you should ask them which IT firm they were employed with prior to going on their own. They should have worked full time with another IT consultant/contractor for at least 2 years before trying to take on the responsibility of starting their own business. College degrees and certifications mean nothing without real world experience.

1. Their Rate is Less Than ½ the Average Regional Rate

There is a reason that all of the IT companies in your area are charging around the same rate, give or take, for their services. It’s highly improbable that they have found a way to be that much cheaper. Most likely, they are 1). desperate or 2). completely unaware of what they are doing. Best case scenario for you as the customer is that they are desperate, which means they will eventually replace you with better paying customers. Most likely, it’s the latter, and they will probably cause more damage to your system financially than you saved in the first place.

 

I hope this article has been informative and will help you make decisions about hiring contractors in the future.

James Watt’s guide to buying a PC this holiday season

Looking to buy yourself or loved one a new computer for the 2013 holiday season, but not sure what to buy or how much to spend? I’ve written the following guide to help answer these questions. Being in the IT industry, I come in contact with thousands of computers each year that vary greatly in style and price. I learn toward certain brands, such as HP and Intel, because of my experience in the field. This post isn’t to argue about which brands are better; it’s to give recommendations and answer the most frequently asked questions I receive during the holiday season.

While this article will cover systems for most people, I won’t be making any recommendations for Apple computers. This is because I have very limited knowledge of Apple systems and wouldn’t feel comfortable making a recommendation. Secondly, I won’t be making recommendations for gaming rigs. You should never buy pre-built gaming rigs, they are junk and overpriced. If you are going to get a gaming rig, you will need to piece one together and build it yourself. If you know enough to build your own computer, you probably don’t need me to make a recommendation for you.

If you want a gaming system, but have never built your own computer, you should look into the $399 Playstation 4. It much cheaper than the most inexpensive gaming rigs. I do not recommend the Xbox One because it is $100 more than the Playstation 4, you cannot upgrade your own hard drive, and it plays most games at 720p. The Playstation 4 on the other hand plays games at full 1080p. (I am unbiased on this, I was an Xbox 360 gamer during the last generation. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s newest console is mediocre at best. 720p is not “next gen.”)

Should you get a desktop, laptop, tablet, or All-In-One? This is really a question you will have to answer for yourself. Desktops are the most bang for your buck: you will get more storage space and computing power for a lower cost than in any of the other devices. If you are already planning to keep your new system on the same desk 24/7, I highly suggest going with a desktop computer. Alternatively, All-In-Ones are great if you are looking for a sleek desk computer with touchscreen capabilities. I suggest getting a mouse with your All-In-One to use in conjunction with the touch screen. Laptops, while less powerful than desktops, have more processing power than tablets. If you don’t plan on doing anything computation heavy, such as Photoshop, then you could go with either a laptop or a tablet. Finally, tablets aren’t recommended for people who plan on writing a lot, even though some of them come with a rubber fold out keyboard. In my opinion, even with the fold out rubber keyboard, they just aren’t as efficient as a desktop or laptop when it comes to writing more than a few lines at a time.

Software recommendations: I know that some of you will not read to the bottom of this article as you will probably go directly to the recommendation for the type of computer you want. While I still have your attention, it’s important to tell you about software bundles. When you buy Microsoft Office at the time you buy your computer, you save more than $100 than if you buy it later. If you are going to need Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, etc. make sure to purchase it with your computer and not after the fact! If you want to be able to access Word, Excel and Powerpoint files for free, please check out Open Office, LibreOffice or Google Docs. These apps work great for home use, but I don’t recommend them for business use. Finally, do not purchase antivirus software with your computer! Use the very free and very good Microsoft Security Essentials.

hp-prodesk-600-resized-100041132-origDesktop recommendations: When looking for a desktop computer, there’s a few things you should check. First, unless you already know that you like Windows 8, you should be looking for a Windows 7 system. I would purchase a computer with at least 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i5 processor or better. Also make sure it has a DVD burner, you’d be surprised how many computers do not come with optical drives anymore.

I have two recommendations in this category. The first is the small form factor HP ProDesk 600 G1. It’s listed on HP’s website for $799 with the specs I explained above. You can find other versions of this computer with better/worse specs, so feel free to browse. Just make sure to not go below the minimums listed in the paragraph above. I also suggest searching for systems on Newegg and TigerDirect to see if you can get a better deal. Do not buy computers from Best Buy. I don’t know if they still do it, but it use to be that all computers purchased through Best Buy only came with a Geek Squad warranty, not a manufacturer warranty.

HP-ProDesk-600-G1-Microtower-PC-APJ_400x400My second recommendation is virtually the same computer, but in a regular form factor (pictured on right.) Unfortunately, none of the tower units do come with 8GB of RAM, so it’s recommended that you purchase and install another 4GB stick of RAM. If you order your computer directly through HP, they can add this to your order and even install it for you. This system + RAM upgrade will cost you $834. While a bit more expensive than the small form factor, this tower will be large enough to accommodate a graphics card if you decide to get dual monitors or play games later.

While we are on desktop computers, I want to make some recommendations for displays. You have one of two options: get an actual computer monitor or get a television. Both computers above come with DisplayPort video outputs, which means you can purchase DisplayPort adapters to convert the output to HDMI if you are using a television. If you are going to get a monitor, simply find any monitor in the price range you like on HP’s website, no adapter required. If you are going with a television, I suggest getting either a Samsung or Sony television as they both work great with computer output. Don’t forget your DisplayPort to HDMI cable. I do recommend getting your display at a brick-and-mortar store, such as Best Buy, because most online retailers won’t let you return a display with dead pixels unless there’s at least 6 dead pixels. I don’t know about you, but if there is even 1 dead pixel in my brand new display, I’m taking it back.

HP-ProBook-4740s_Front_OpenLaptop recommendations: Just like with desktops, when looking for a laptop, there’s a few things you should check. First, unless you already know that you like Windows 8, you should be looking for a Windows 7 system. I would purchase a laptop with at least a 14″ screen, 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i5 processor or better. I personally don’t like the 17″ systems as they are too heavy to carry around. I always go with either a 14″ or 15″ when purchasing for myself.

I setup and configure ProBook and EliteBook laptops a couple times per month and never have issues with them. It should come as no surprise that I highly recommend them both. The difference between them is primarily the look and durability, the EliteBook is all aluminum while the ProBook has some plastic components. Both are great systems.

b6031005_HP-Elitebook-8460pIf you’re able to snag a laptop with a Solid State Disk drive in it (abbreviated SSD) as opposed to a traditional hard disk drive (HDD,) definitely do so. SSD drives, while usually smaller than the 500GB I suggested earlier, are much faster and more durable than traditional HDDs. Laptop HDDs have a propensity to crash because you are moving the laptop, so going with an SSD helps prevent most crashes. This is because SSDs have no moving parts, while HDDs are a mechanical device that do have moving parts. Finally, if you do get an SSD, get at least a 120GB drive (240GB is even better, but obviously more expensive.)

c03981881All-in-one recommendation: When looking for an All-In-One, there’s some stuff unique to this type of system that you should check. Unlike with my laptop and desktop recommendations, you should get Windows 8.1 with your All-In-One. This is because the All-In-One’s have touchscreens and Windows 8.1 is a great touchscreen operating system. I would purchase a system with at least a 20″ screen, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i3 processor or better. Always get a keyboard and mouse with the system as you will not want to use the touch interface for everything you do. Be aware that not all of the All-In-One systems come with an optical drive, so make sure that it has one if you need it.

Take a look through this list of All-In-Ones and make your decision. 23″ screen is obviously recommended over the 20″, but you will have to find what works inside of your budget. Make sure the one you pick says “Touchscreen” on the icon and meets the minimum requirements in the paragraph above. I think the 23-f460xt is the best deal right now at $699.99. Consider getting 2.1 speakers as the built in speakers aren’t any better than the speakers in most laptops.

surface-pro-2-in-purple-640x353Tablet recommendations: The Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are both excellent tablets and come in a wide variety of colors. The primary difference between the regular Surface and the Pro is that the Pro can run regular Windows apps as well as apps from the app store. The regular Surface can only run apps from the app store, meaning that some programs you already have on your laptop or desktop probably won’t work on it.

If you are going to get a regular Surface 2, I suggest the 64GB version for $549. However, if you need to be able to run regular Windows applications and want a little more power under the hood, you’re going to want to look at the Surface 2 Pro starting at $899. If you plan on storing a lot of film, television and music on your tablet, you should really consider upgrading to the 128GB or 256GB versions. Don’t even look at the 512GB version unless you are rich and want to flush money down the toilet because it’s really overpriced.

I hope this helps! Happy holidays!!!!

The above recommendations are the extent of what I’ll be suggesting this holiday season. I realize you may see deals that aren’t listed here, but due to the sheer amount of requests I get about this, I won’t be able to individually review and respond to those questions. The only systems I really feel confident putting my recommendation behind are the ones already listed on this page. Thank you for understanding this and happy shopping!

Why I’m closing my 16 year old Verizon Wireless account

My family became Verizon Wireless subscribers in the late 90s when my grandfather purchased his first cellphone. As people in the family got on the cellphone train, he usually added them to his account. Around 2003, my grandfather provided me with a phone as long as I paid him monthly, which was fairly easy even on teenager wages. Over time, most people in the family got their own plans and went on their way; there wasn’t family share plans or any real reason to keep the lines together back then. Around 2006, I switched to my first smartphone, a blackberry. This created a new $30/mo unlimited data fee. Still, overall, it seemed as though I had better coverage than my friends who did not have Verizon and I found that the prices were comparable with everywhere else at the time.

In 2007, my grandfather passed away. Instead of creating a new account, I took his death certificate to Verizon and had the account transferred completely into my name. I was the sole individual on the account at this point. I added my girlfriend at the time and we both got new smart phones: whatever the newest Blackberry was. Now at this point, Verizon still wasn’t offering unlimited talk and text, but other carriers were. Happy with the coverage of Verizon and not wanting to change gears, I decided to wait for Verizon to adjust their pricing policy to become competitive again. It took nearly 2 years for Verizon to finally offer unlimited talk and text, but I still think I was right to wait it out.

Now, I don’t remember the dates of every phone I’ve purchased, but since switching to smartphones, I’ve had four blackberries, two iPhones and seven androids. The iPhones went to the ex-wife, who made sure to keep her brand new iPhone during our split in 2011, while leaving me with the line and contract. Fortunately, I was able to recycle her line and use it for one of my technicians on a 3G blackberry phone laying around my office. That same year, I purchased a Motorola Xoom tablet and added it to my account as well.

I met Jess that summer and she was using T-Mobile. Her reception was terrible and her bill structure wasn’t too great. By this point, there were family share plans and it made sense to bring her into my plan. By the following spring, the technician with the blackberry was no longer with my firm and I had to find something else to do with the line for 8 months. My girlfriend’s son, Joey, needed a phone. I gave him a one or two year old android phone and kept the line open. Since early 2012, I’ve had 4 total lines: 3 phones, 1 tablet. My monthly bill with Verizon is around $250.

I’m not dissatisfied with the price structure. I even willingly got rid of our unlimited data so that we could do family share data (it’s cheaper over 4 or more lines than paying $30/mo on every device.) But over the last couple years, I have noticed that Verizon has painted themselves into a corner. Verizon’s mobile network technology is proprietary and therefore restricts what devices you can and cannot use, while AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile use an open standard. While this was not an issue before, it has become my biggest issue over the last few years.

Verizon branded cellphones come stock with around 5gb of bloatware depending on your phone. Stuff like NFL network and Verizon maps. There’s no way to easily remove these apps, although by rooting your phone, you can “freeze” them. This unfortunately will break the phone next time it gets an automatic software update. I’ve long since stopped trying to do things like that because I can’t afford to be troubleshooting my phone during the middle of the work day.

Jess phone disassembled

Jess phone disassembled

As someone who is always on the bleeding edge of technology, I can’t stand two year phone contracts. I end up buying one or two phones out of contract every two years because I like the latest and greatest phones. Jess, on the other hand, doesn’t really care about getting a new phone every month. In September, her phone got a little wet in a rain storm. She’s only half way through her contract. Water fried the audio jack on the phone, making it impossible to hear anything during a call as the phone was detecting a phantom headset. I called Verizon and asked them how much this one year old phone would cost now and they told me it would be over $600. Again, for a phone that came out over a year ago. You can buy a whole quad-core computer for under $600! This price, while ridiculous, is similar to prices I had paid in the past for out of contract phone upgrades. Fortunately, I was able to fix her phone by disassembling it and detaching the audio jack from the mainboard. I bought her a $50 pair of Motorola bluetooth headphones and she has been good ever since.

Speculating, I imagine the phone prices to be high for a number of reasons. 1). They force you into a contract as the average middle class person cannot afford to drop $600 on a phone. 2). They force you to use insurance, which makes you feel safe, but really just robs you blind. Here’s how the insurance costs work: Even if we only go back to my first smartphone in 2006, the cost for insurance has always been $10/phone/mo. In 2007, I went up to two lines. In 2011, I went to four lines. That’s $10((8*12)+(7*12)+(2*12)+(2*12)) which will equal $2,280.00 at the end of 2013. That’s how much I would have paid to Verizon for “insurance” since my first smartphone between all of my lines. To add insult to injury, they charge you something like $50 or $100 to actually use your insurance. What most people don’t know is that if your phone is defective for reasons other than being smashed or water damage, Verizon is responsible to replace your phone free of charge. Most people who end up paying that $50 insurance replacement fee do so in their ignorance of what their contract actually says.

Phones do not need to cost this much. Take the brand new Google Nexus 5. It’s $349. There’s a $399 version with double the storage capacity. This phone is on the upper end of mobile devices, featuring 2GB of RAM, a quad-core processor and a dedicated graphics card. Of course, it can’t work on Verizon’s network because Verizon’s proprietary hardware isn’t in this phone.  I’m speculating here, but I don’t think Verizon would ever allow a phone like this on their network as the whole thing completely ruins their business structure. If they did, it would most likely be $600+ and full of Verizon bloatware apps.

It seems at least once every year there is some awesome phone I want that is never going to be available on Verizon. This year, I really wanted an HTC One. While it was available on other carriers as early as March, it wasn’t available on Verizon until August 22.

There was once a time when you wanted to be Verizon so that everyone was in your network, but now that everyone has moved to unlimited talk and text, that isn’t even a concern. But is there really a replacement for Verizon when it comes to coverage?

Everybody knows that Verizon has the best service coverage, right? I started thinking about this and realized three of every four customers’ offices I work at have bad Verizon wireless coverage. I am constantly going outside, holding my phone as high as possible to try and talk to clients any time I’m on Babcock Blvd in Ross, anywhere in New Kensington, Mosside Blvd in Monroeville, Deer Lakes Park, West Mifflin, Glassport, the list goes on. Either my customer base just happens to correlate with Verizon dead zones or Verizon’s coverage isn’t as great as they say it is. Why did I chant the Verizon mantra that they have the best coverage then? Am I a victim of marketing?

After doing some research, Sprint and T-Mobile are right out. They don’t offer substantial coverage in the Greater Pittsburgh Area and certainly not any 4G coverage. AT&T on the other hand have good 4G coverage around my county and from everyone I have talked with, there are very few dead zones. Here’s some of the written responses I’ve received from friends and colleagues:

“I drive about 35K miles a year. From Erie to Huntington WV and Burnham PA to Hagerstown MD. I can count on one hand where I lose coverage. Rural Ridge local here, a spot between St Marys and Emporium, between Homer City and Indiana, near Luke MD and near Bradford.”

“I usually don’t have problems anywhere around the Pittsburgh area. I’ll have to think about what areas I lose service, I can’t recall any specific areas.”

“I switched pretty recently, so I guess you should take this with a grain of salt, but I am much happier with AT&T at this point than I was with Verizon.  Also, I have 4G.  I haven’t noticed many dead spots – here are a few:

1). On Mt Washington, turning off of Grandview Ave onto Shaffer [going towards the West End/51]– I’d make it about half way down the hill before I’d lose people.  [I used to drive this everyday and it never failed.]
2). I’ve also noticed spotty reception on Camp Horn Rd between Animal Friends and Rt. 65.  Sometimes my music app on my phone will freeze up and sometimes I’ll break up – but not really completely lose reception.

Other than that, I’ve been good.”

In conclusion, Verizon is charging far too much for phones. Their restrictive, proprietary network means many great phones won’t ever be available. Their coverage isn’t superior anymore. They are always behind the curve when it comes to price reductions for customers. I can no longer find a single reason to stick with Verizon. Come February, when my Verizon contract ends, I will be terminating my 16 year old Verizon Wireless account and switching to AT&T.

Could Verizon keep my business? Sure, slash the cost of new “out of contract” phones to below $400 and stop filling your devices with bloatware. Once I switch to AT&T, there’s very little chance I’ll ever switch back.

Internet Caching (My Theoretical Memory Hypothesis)

According to Cisco, in February of 2013, the average total speed of all Internet traffic was 167 terabytes/sec. Some quick math[1] will tell us that the total amount of global Internet traffic was 13.76 exabytes per day. We can presume this number has increased slightly over the last few months, but should be close enough for our purposes today.

In principle, a 64-bit microprocessor can address 16 exabytes of memory. Fortunately for our scenario here, the average price of RAM in 2013 was only $5.5/gb. Another basic math equation[2] and we can figure out that for the low price of $94,489,280,512 (around the total GDP of Morocco) we can purchase 16 exabytes of memory, capable of caching 1 day 3 hours 54 minutes of all Internet traffic. Taking into account increased bandwidth usage since February, I still feel confident that we could cache an entire day’s worth of Internet on 16 exabytes of RAM.

What’s more amazing: the amount of Internet traffic we use in a single day or the fact that a 64-bit microprocessor could theoretically address all of it?

[1] 167 terabytes * 60 * 60 * 24 = 13.76 exabytes
[2] (1024)³ gigabytes * 16 * $5.5 = $94,489,280,512

Norm Macdonald is wrong; Breaking Bad ending not a dream

Norm Macdonald recently proposed a theory on his Twitter feed that the last episode of Breaking Bad is a dream that Walter’s brain concocts in its last dying moments. According to Norm, Walter White dies in his car at the beginning of the episode when the police are approaching him. As he “dies,” suddenly the police disappear, a key falls from the sun visor – all too perfect to be true. Music starts playing that represents he’s no longer alive and now in a semi-conscious delusional state of mind. The rest of the episode goes off without a hitch, Walt successfully evades police in Mike-like fashion despite being made by his neighbor who would have given a full description to the police/FBI/DEA. He manages to build an auto-turret and parks his car just right so that it would kill everyone inside, an extremely lucky and improbable scenario when you really think about it. Norm thinks that it’s all too good to be true, therefore, it must be a dream bouncing around the mind of a dying man as his last synapses are firing.

While I can appreciate Norm’s interpretation of this show, I do not subscribe to his ending. All forms of art, including Breaking Bad, will always have more than one correct interpretation. Over the years, I have read some of the greatest fan theories, some of them making sense and others just being hilarious (Gilligan was actually the devil in Gillian’s Island, R2D2 and Chewbacca were actually the real heroes in Star Wars, the Rugrats didn’t exist and were a figment of Angelica’s imagination, etc.) Whether the original writers intended for these other interpretations or if they are purely coincidental is for the fans to decide, but in the case with Breaking Bad, I do not think Vince Gilligan intended for the ending to be a dream. All being said, I think it is more likely that they had way too much to accomplish in such a short time that they couldn’t fit a longer ending. I’m sure if they had 2 or 3 more episodes, they could have thrown a few wrenches into the storyline to make it more believable.

There is also the problem of the flash forward in Season 5 Episode 1. In the flash forward, Walt looks disheveled and is missing his watch.  After Season 5 episode 8, the show goes on a year long hiatus because the writers wanted to get the ending right. The suspense wasn’t just to screw with the audience; Vince wanted it to be perfect. Having already done a flash forward in the first episode, they couldn’t completely abandon their original ending, but I personally believe that the ending we are presented with is much different than where they thought they were going when they filmed the flash forward. (Hopefully one day that original storyline leaks as I would love to read it.) In other words, the closer that Vince and the writers got to the end, the more he had to accomplish without breaking continuity. During “Talking Bad,” when asked about why Walt took off his watch in the final episode, Gilligan simply explains that it was for continuity reasons because Walt didn’t have the watch in the Season 5 Episode 1 flash forward. But one has to wonder, what was the original storyline that lead to Walt not having a watch? Or was it a genuine mistake? Finally, the ending with the auto-turret built from an M60 seems a bit forced… they had already purchased the gun in the flash forward and now had to use it. Had that gun not been purchased, I believe Walt would have built a bomb as he had multiple times before in the series. Either way, you can see how difficult it must have been as writers of the show to rewrite the ending while still utilizing the material from the flash forward.

This, to me, is the real explanation why everything went perfectly in the final episode. Gilligan wanted to give closure to his fans and the only way to do it was to wrap up all of these loose storylines. Had things gone wrong, there wouldn’t have been time to reconcile every storyline. There is also the fact that Walt is not a psychic, there’s no way he would have known the details to many of the things he witnessed during the last episode. To name a couple, even if he somehow figured out that Jesse was actually a prisoner, he would not have known the exact means by which he was being held prisoner (chains on wrists and ankles.) He wouldn’t have known the exact markings of Jesse’s tortured face. He wouldn’t have known about the awkward “relationship” between Todd and Lydia.

If we start to believe that just since this last episode was a bit unbelievable and all too perfect, what is stopping us from concluding that during the pilot episode when Walter falls at the car wash, he goes into a coma and actually dreams the entire series? When he dies in Season 5 Episode 16, the hospital finally pulled his plug. I mean think about it, a teacher turned meth kingpin who successfully defeated every other drug lord in the Southwest and amasses 80 million dollars? And it’s only the ending that you’re having trouble believing?

To end this on a happy note, I just want to thank Vince Gilligan, the writers and the cast for making such an amazing show. As a fan, I truly appreciate the series ending and am so glad that it didn’t end like The Sopranos.

Update: Someone sent me this link from BuzzFeed with an archive of Norm Macdonald’s theory for those who don’t want to sort through his Twitter feed.

Update 2: If you want to badger Norm Macdonald about his theory, I made a link for you:

Badger Norm

9/11 – 12 years later

The moment that sticks out in my mind more than anything on this day 12 years ago was actually in the afternoon, after the attack: two or three military aircraft scrambled across the sky as I was walking up the steps to my house sometime after 2:30pm. There wasn’t a sonic boom, but they were hauling ass.

Living in Pittsburgh and not yet having been to New York City, I felt removed from the situation (although still very afraid of what was happening.) The jets overhead brought it home, we were under attack. Despite all of this, the sight and sound of American aircraft above gave me reassurance and comfort in what was undoubtedly the most troubling event I’ve ever lived through.

(Many years later, I learned that the military did grid patterns over the entire country with jets to ensure that all civilian aircraft had landed. The jets I saw were most likely part of that.)

The Day Ceasar marched across the Rubicon and overthrew Washington

I’m about to put this out there for general consumption and possible ridicule. It’s pretty much my entire worldview. I could be wrong, but I’ve thought long about this and the more time that goes by, the more I feel I’m onto the truth. This is probably the most important thing I will ever write in my lifetime. I hope to one day expand it with more sources and evidence, but for now, this is the premise of my hypothesis.

During every election for as long as I’ve been alive, the issues that are mostly discussed are social issues and government hand outs. Gay marriage, abortion, medicare, and social security to name a few. Actual lawmaking is not really discussed, and the laws that are made each year and put upon our society really come about without any say from the public.

At first this led me to the hypothesis that social issues are paraded about to distract the public from the real lawmaking issues that SHOULD be on the platform each election. This allows the Democrats and Republicans almost complete immunity for their real agendas (whatever they may be that year) since everyone knows where they already stand on abortion, gay marriage, etc etc.

But then I watched a video of President Eisenhower giving his farewell address. Eisenhower, as you probably know, was a five star general during WW2 who successfully invaded France and Germany from the Western front. He became President of the United States in 1953 and served until 1961. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address what had happened in our nation and how the balance of power had shifted.

In every great empire, there are two governments. The first, and most obvious, is the civilian government. The legislature, executives and judiciary make up this. Then, there is the military government, often less considered in first world nations like ours. We don’t actively see our military nor do we actively fear our military like citizens of some third world African nations do. Rightfully so, our military will most likely never take active measures against (passive) American civilians.

Before I can finish explaining Eisenhower, I need to take us back to the Roman Empire. I often look to the past to help decipher what’s happening; history often repeats itself. On January 10, 49 BC, Caesar led his military across the Rubicon and into Rome. The war waged on for four years, but in the end, the military was triumphant at overthrowing the civilian government. Caesar was made Dictator. I won’t go through all of the details, but I highly recommend reading about the events leading up to and during this civil war.

Eisenhower belonged to both governments. As a five star general, he was head of the military government (and I will continue to refer to the military as the “military government” throughout the rest of this article.) As President of the United States, he was head of the civilian government. He had a unique vantage point to see things unfolding that the public didn’t understand. In his hands, the military was a benevolent force, but he realized that may not always be the case. At this point, both governments touched, and one was bound to consume the other.

His farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961 warned us against something he referred to as the, “Military Industrial Complex.” This was his way of describing the economical and political machine that had come about in our nation – the second government. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties of democratic process. We should take nothing for granted, only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

But since 1961, through distractions such as television, Internet, pop culture, and radio, the citizenry has become less and less alert and knowledgeable. Today, elections are decided on the things we discussed earlier (like abortion) and not on the real issues at hand. The balance of power HAS shifted.

Kennedy, the successor to Eisenhower, was probably the last true President of the United States in the sense that the civilian government was still in charge. Kennedy came to office in 1961, and by 1963, there was 16,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam.

On October 11, 1963, Kennedy had issued Presidential Directive NSAM 263 to withdraw troops from Vietnam, against the wishes of the military government. On November 22, 1963, 42 days later, he was assassinated. On this day, Ceasar marched across the Rubicon and overthrew Washington.

Kennedy’s Vice President, LBJ was fully prepared to expand the war in Vietnam. On November 26, 1963, just four days after Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson reversed Kennedy’s Presidential Directive and issued his own, NSAM 273, which expanded the war. The military had successfully killed our President and took control of our government in such a way that the public never even knew it happened.

And they love the perpetuation of conspiracies like New World Order and other ideologies that trick you into think there’s some small group of bankers or shadow government running the world. People who promote this nonsense, such as Alex Jones are most likely funded indirectly by the Military Industrial Complex, allowing our true government to hide in plain sight: The Pentagon. It’s for the same reason they created stories of aliens to hide their secret military aircraft. “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” – Adolf Hitler

So, keep voting for your leaders on social policy and government handouts, because I imagine the way it happens is this: Day 1 in office, our President is told everything I’ve told you and more. He is told that he can do as he wishes domestically, but not to get in the way of the military in any way, shape or form. He is told not to mess with the people who protect him, as they ensure the safety of him and his entire family. This grooming may even happen before they win the election, ensuring that whoever wins is willing to play ball.

But go ahead, blame Obama for Syria and Libya. Blame Bush for Afghanistan and Iraq. Blame Clinton for Bosnia and Kosovo. Blame Bush, Sr for Panama, Iraq, and Somalia. Blame Reagan for Beirut and Grenada. But don’t for a second accept the fact that our leaders really have no choice but to sell these wars to the public.

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