Facebook Security Settings for the Paranoid

I’m only slightly joking with the title of this blog post, given that the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the accessing of personal information of roughly 50 million Facebook users.  What’s concerning is that the data from those people was gathered after only 300,000 people took a survey on Facebook.  The survey then gathered information from the friends list of those people. There are two issues here.  Firstly we need to be careful about what information we allow third party apps to gather on us. Secondly we need to worry about what information our friends are unwittingly giving up about us.  Continue reading “Facebook Security Settings for the Paranoid”

Memory’s a Funny Thing…

A while back I read an article on cracked.com about how our memory isn’t exactly great at keeping things straight. This week has been an excellent example for me of how true this is. Somewhere along the way during the times I’ve moved house over the last 6 or so years I lost track of a couple of things, and put it down to stuff getting packed in the wrong box and accidentally taken to the tip.

However, my mother mentioned that she’d found a box of my stuff at her place, and wanted me to go through it before we moved interstate.  So, I open up the box, and find a bunch of stuff I forgot that I had.  What was even weirder was that the two items I’d “lost” were in the box too.

What was weirdest though, was that I had distinct memories of using one of these things in my previous house, and had a distinct memory of packing the other up when we moved out.  Clearly both these memories were bullshit, because I had neither item in that house.

It’s got me wondering about just how accurate my memories are, and how many of the ones I’m absolutely certain of are in fact utter horse shit…

New Years Resolutions

Based on previous years’ lack of success keeping my new years resolutions, I’m going with one that’s impossible not to keep.  This year my new years’ resolution is to not make new years’ resolutions.  Ignoring the obvious logical problem with that previous sentence, this will make 2017 the year that I don’t fail to keep my resolutions.

Continue reading “New Years Resolutions”

The Joy of Being a Geek

I’ve long considered myself to be something of a geek, which I consider to be a positive thing.  I love tinkering with stuff, particularly computers and electronics.  It comes in handy, especially when you want to make something do things it wasn’t intended to do.

Take, for example, the Apple TV.  Apple TVs are great little devices for accessing media in your computer’s iTunes library on a TV.  They’re not so great if you have an extensive collection of media that’s not in iTunes, and would be too time consuming to move over. Continue reading “The Joy of Being a Geek”

A Step in the Right Direction

Confession time: I’ve been struggling with being overweight for nearly 20 years.  For the last 10 or so I’ve been over 100kg, something I’ve been extremely unhappy about.  I did manage to get down under 100kg for a few months when I was trying to eat paleo, but events conspired to make that hard to maintain, so I never persisted.  In the mean time I continued to put on weight.

My health issues late last year were a big wake up call, and I’ve been trying to get my weight back under control.  I’ve had a bit of success, thanks to being much more careful with my diet, but I still ended up with my weight refusing to go lower than 105kg.  Then, a while back, a friend posted on Facebook that they’d lost 50kg in the last year using the 5:2 diet. Continue reading “A Step in the Right Direction”

Looking to the Sky…

It’s been a while since I used my telescope, and with Jupiter, the Moon and Venus so near to each other in the evening sky, I thought it was time to dust it off.  I was quite keen to get out and do some observing, so I set up the telescope before sunset, and made sure it was collimated. Thank goodness for laser collimators, as I got the scope collimated in 10 minutes, as opposed to the good half hour it used to take me.

Once the sky was dark enough to see the brighter stars I set up the scope, and had a look at the crescent moon.  I always enjoy looking at the different phases of the moon, as there is always something interesting to see, particularly on the edge of the light and dark parts of the moon, when the details of the mountains and craters are most obvious.  I turned the scope to Venus next, and enjoyed the view of its crescent phase as well.

For me, though, the highlight was the chance to see Jupiter.  Jupiter is definitely one of my favourites to observe, and while I don’t have an eyepiece with enough magnification to see a lot of surface detail, the ever-changing positions of the Galilean moons is always rewarding.  The other rewarding aspect of astronomy is seeing other people’s reactions when they see something for the first time.

Last night it was my wife and mother-in-law having their first experience.  My wife has done a bit of observing with me, but she’s not had a chance to see Venus with a pronounced crescent phase, nor has she seen Jupiter.  Both of them found the sight of the moon amazing, and loved Jupiter and Venus too.  I still haven’t found anything to show my wife which will replace Saturn as her favourite thing to view, though.

As the evening darkened I decided to see if I could get a photo of the moon through the scope.  After much messing around I managed to get my phone camera lined up with the eyepiece, and snapped a few shots.  I was quite happy with the result, to be honest.  They’re not the greatest shots, being blurred from my hand movements, but there’s still a nice amount of detail.

Clearly if I want to do more of this sort of thing I’ll need a way of attaching a camera to the scope.  A bit of messing around this afternoon suggests it might be possible to rig up a mount strong enough to hold a small compact digital camera.  While I won’t be photographing deep sky objects with such a set up, it will be more than enough to get some half decent shots of the moon, and maybe planets.

Crescent Moon
Crescent moon, captured on iPhone 6 camera using eyepiece projection.

It’s Never Too Late

Three weeks ago I wanted a small app to simulate rolling dice on my computer.  Unfortunately the few apps for Mac OS that I could find didn’t really do what I wanted them to do.  So, rather than admit defeat and just roll a handful of actual dice, I decided to learn how to write software for Mac.

I had a bit of a chuckle to myself over that, because I had the same thought 18 years ago, when I was studying at Uni.  Back then I was studying electronics, but had several subjects devoted to programming, and I wanted to be able to write software for the Mac.  I even went so far as to outlay a large (for a uni student) chunk of cash on a software development package.

The reason I found it funny was that back then I struggled to find the resources to learn the ins and outs of programming for the Mac, and never actually managed to write any software.  Now, however, it’s completely different.  It’s possible to get everything needed for Mac software development for free, including some very good tutorials.  I think I spent 3 or 4 days learning how to use Apple’s new language, Swift, followed by a couple of days building my first app.

Now, I won’t claim to be any sort of expert, and I’m pretty sure that the code I’ve written could be improved, but I’m pretty happy.  I’ve managed to achieve something that I’ve wanted to do for many years.  I might even be able to make some software that someone else finds useful.

Rolling the Dice

Last night was a momentous occasion for me.  After a break of over a year, I’ve been able to start up an RPG campaign.  I made the decision a month or so back to start up a campaign, and the lure of the Warhammer 40k setting was too great.  Dark Heresy beat Pathfinder as system of choice, not only because I have experience GMing Dark Heresy already, but because I absolutely love the 40k universe.

I’m not sure exactly what it is about the 40k setting, to be honest.  Possibly it’s familiarity from years of playing 40k and absorbing the background material, possibly it’s the dark, grim nature of the setting, but I just keep getting drawn back to it.  I was made aware of the second edition of Dark Heresy around the time when I was looking to start up a campaign, and having looked at the radically over-hauled rules, and the new background material, I decided pretty much there and then to run with it.

Actually running the session last night was an eye opener.  It’s been that long since I GMed a game I found myself being very rusty.  I also found my train of thought getting derailed quite easily, probably a sided effect of last year’s drama.  I certainly felt like it was hard work, and rather harder than I expected.

Still, at the end of the night, everyone seemed to have fun, which is the most important thing.  Now comes the hard part, thinking up nasty things to do to their characters.  Part of the appeal of the new edition’s background is the larger emphasis on nasty stuff happening.  I think the hardest bit will be narrowing down exactly what nasty stuff will happen…

Making Something From Nothing

Earlier in the year, as I was recovering from my recent health woes, I wondered if there was anyway for me to earn even a small bit of money on the Internet.  It turns out that there are several ways that you can do this.  I ruled out things like selling stuff, because a) the stuff I have to sell is not stuff people want to buy, and b) I wasn’t in a position to be able to make stuff that people might want to buy on sites like Etsy.

Still, there were plenty of options.  More than one website pointed out that there are plenty of sites on the ‘Net that will pay you to take part in online surveys.  There were also options like online stock trading.

I initially discounted the stock trading, until I found eToro, which calls itself a “Social Trading Network.”  It works much like any other social network, allowing its users to connect with each other.  The nice part of this is that a newcomer to online trading (such as myself) can search users of the site, follow people who seem to be doing well, and even copy the trades that they make.  This tends to make what can be quite a risky way of making money less so.

There’s always a catch, though, isn’t there.  To be able to trade you have to fund your trading account, and the minimum amount you can deposit is US$50.  If you want to be able to copy other users then you need at least US$100, preferably more.  After discussing things with my wife, we decided that while it sounded interesting, we weren’t in a secure enough position financially to be able to try it out.

So, back to the drawing board, how do you get $50?  Let’s have a look into these survey websites.  It turns out that your typical survey website allows you to earn points for completing surveys, which you can then convert to actual money.  A few reviews I read suggested that the best course of action was to sign up with several sites at once.  I found 4 or 5 sites, and signed up.  Of these sites, the majority offered remuneration as in the form of gift-cards to various sites and stores (like Amazon), or as a deposit into your Paypal account.  I only found one site that wouldn’t deposit to Paypal, but it did offer remuneration in the form of gift-cards to local grocery stores, which was just as handy I figured.

After signing up I discovered the next drawback.  Initially I was rubbing my hands with glee at the long lists of surveys I could take on each site.  However, I soon found that actually getting to complete a survey was not going to be quite so simple.  For the most part surveys have particular people they want to hear from, and I got quite familiar with the message saying that I wasn’t in the demographic they wanted to hear from.  Another issue is that most surveys have a limited number of positions, and I missed out on quite a few thanks to them filling up their quota quite quickly.

The other major issue is simply the sheer number of surveys you have to fill out to actually be eligible to receive any sort of payment.  In the end I abandoned most of the sites, just due to how much work was involved in being able to receive payment.  As it stands I use two sites now, SwagBucks and MySurvey.

MySurvey is nice because its minimum payment figure is A$5, so it doesn’t take as long to be able to earn money.  SwagBucks, on the other hand, has a minimum figure of US$25 for PayPal transfers, but it does offer more than one way of earning points.  I’ve been chugging away for about 3 months now, and have actually been able to cash in points a few times.  Some of the money I earned went towards other stuff, but I’m slowly building up to a point where I could actually consider funding my eToro account.

Another way of earning money I discovered was crowd sourcing.  The idea with crowd sourcing is that if a company has a lot of basic tasks that need to be performed, then they can farm that out to willing people over the internet.  I actually discovered this through SwagBucks, who offer tasks with a site called CrowdFlower as a means of earning points.  The tasks themselves are quite repetitive, and it seems that you have to drudge away at the very boring repetitive tasks for some time before you can access other tasks.  Most of the tasks I did were either transcribing speech to text, or confirming if a speech to text transcription was correct.  I ended up not bothering, because it took a fairly long time for not much reward.

I did, however, find a couple of other crowd sourcing websites.  One site, UserTesting, caught my eye because it offered payment per task completed.  The site offers usability testing for web sites, and a typical tasks requires you to perform certain actions on a web site, while your screen actions are recorded, along with your voice (you need to talk through exactly what you are doing).

The tasks seem simple enough, although the site has a few drawbacks in terms of how easy it is to earn money.  This site has the same issue with wanting particular demographics to perform tests as the survey sites, as well as tests filling their quota quite quickly too.  I’ve found that unless I can do a test as soon as it appears in the test list I tend to miss out.

However, unlike the survey sites, they do pay per test, straight into PayPal.  The only downside is that there is a 7 day period between completing the test and the payment being processed.  Still, it all happens automatically, and most of the survey sites have a few days delay with PayPal deposits, so I don’t see that as a huge downside.

With all of these options for earning the odd bit of money here and there, I’m anticipating being able to fund my eToro account within the next week or two.  Once I’ve done that, then the fun will really start.  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to carefully invest my $50 starting money, so that I can then copy other traders who have been able to make consistent profits without taking huge risks.