Category Archives: Tech

Badgered Over HTTPS

I’ve been checking in on redirected & dead links lately, a few minutes here and there, updating, replacing, and removing where appropriate. And I’m happy to see that a lot of sites have moved to HTTPS. News sites, online stores, social networks, personal sites, publishers…. Not everyone, of course, but it’s a lot easier than it used to be. Now more than half of all web traffic is protected from eavesdropping and alteration when used across insecure networks.

The one that made me laugh, though: Badger Badger Badger. Now there’s a flashback!

It’s a silly animation loop that went viral back in 2003. The canonical site is still around…and even they upgraded!

Pixar, the Space Shuttle, and Kids’ Museum Memories

Went with the family to see Space Shuttle Endeavour and a Pixar-themed exhibit on computer animation at the California Science Center.

The 6YO loved the Pixar exhibit, which broke down all the steps to creating a computer-animated movie into separate hands-on centers where you could do things like…

  • Apply different textures and bump maps to an object.
  • Rig a character for movement.
  • Change the lighting of a scene (real or virtual).
  • Define a shape in a 3D grid and watching the computer rotate it (way too much time on this one).
  • Create your own stop-motion animation by moving an actual desk lamp.

The only way we got him out was to point out that the museum was closing, and we only had 10 minutes left to get to the touch pools he’d said he wanted to visit. As it turned out, the pools shut down about two minutes before we got there, but staff was willing to let him look at the starfish. And we did catch the last desert flash flood simulation of the day.

As for the shuttle…he wasn’t impressed. He insisted on taking the simulator ride, but the real thing? I guess it’s old news when the whole fleet’s already been shut down by the time you start hanging onto long-term memories. 🤷

Admittedly, a big aluminum hut isn’t as suitable a viewing area for Endeavour as open space in broad daylight, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. Though that might have been the fact that it was my first time getting up close. On the other hand, this time I could see both sides. Heck, I could walk under it!

There is a new building in the works, where they’ll be displaying it with one of the external tanks in launch position. I’m sure it will lead to plenty of cartoons and movies where someone goes to the museum, breaks into the shuttle and blasts off.

I couldn’t make the building line up with my memories of visits when I was younger, back when it was the Museum of Science and Industry. The only thing I could match up at all were the wall facing the Exposition Park rose garden, and some of the buildings by the parking lot (a sunken structure now, but I remember it being flat).

Then again, what I remember are specific exhibits more than the layout: a big math/physics exhibit, a chicken incubator, and a multi-screen cartoon about energy sources and engine types called “The Water Engine.” (Each screen has a character talking up internal combustion, flywheels, mag-lev, electric, etc. I still quote the Peter Lorre-inspired fuel-cell scientist saying “And then…we burn the hydrogen!”)

It turns out there’s a good reason nothing fit my memory: They tore down the whole building in the late 1990s, preserving only that one wall!

How to Forget Out-of-Range WiFi Networks on a Samsung Galaxy Phone

Samsung’s Android skin won’t let you tell it to forget a saved WiFi network unless it can see it right now. If it’s present, sure. If it’s out of range, it won’t let you tell it that no, you really don’t want it to automatically connect the next time you’re in range.

This is both annoying (your Galaxy S7 or Note 5 is going to keep looking for those networks all. the. time.) and a security risk (imagine someone sets up a rogue hotspot called “Starbucks WiFi” and you happen to park your car* or sit on a bench within range of it).

Note that the stock Android settings do allow you to fix this, with a Saved Networks section in the WiFi config. Samsung deliberately removed the feature** for some reason.

Apparently it used to be possible to remove saved networks using a third-party app, but new security protections in Marshmallow prevent that. (Ironic, that.)

Workaround (source):

  1. List all saved networks by going to Settings->Data Usage->More->Restrict networks. (This doesn’t let you remove them, just limit background transfers on them.) Take a screenshot if you have to.
  2. Remove the ones you don’t want anymore by tediously renaming your own WiFi hotspot to match each in turn [edit: you also need to match the security type (open vs WPA2)], removing them one by one in the regular WiFi settings, then renaming your hotspot back to its normal SSID.

It’s a pain, but at least it’s possible.

*I once stopped at a Coffee Bean and left my tablet in the car. I don’t remember why I pulled it out when I got back in the car, but it had connected to the WiFi while I was grabbing my coffee. It couldn’t actually load anything but the login page because it was the real hotspot…but if it had been a fake hotspot, they could have intercepted or modified any non-encrypted traffic going on in the background.

**At best, Samsung forgot to include it when they wrote their own settings app years ago.

Rogue One (Star Wars) and Imperial IT (SPOILERS!)

I liked Rogue One: A Star Wars Story quite a bit. Despite having a very different tone from either the original trilogy or the prequels, it’s still recognizable as a Star Wars film, and successfully weaves in and out of the events leading up to A New Hope.

There’s a somewhat odd setup for where they actually find the Death Star plans, though. SPOILERS after the cut:

Continue reading

Science vs Magic–I Mean, Sufficiently-Advanced Technology

An odd contradiction: People are turning away from science as a way to understand the world, even though we keep using more and more advanced technology which is invented using that scientific knowledge.

What if it’s that, in terms of Clarke’s Third Law, the technology we use is sufficiently advanced that it might as well be magic?

It’s easy to understand how a toaster works. Electricity goes in and heats up the wires. Or an incandescent light bulb, or an internal combustion engine. Anything that’s primarily mechanical, you can understand intuitively: “Oh, this part moves that part, which moves that part, and then I kind of get lost, but eventually it gets to the wheels.”

But a computer chip? GPS navigation? Downloading and playing a game on a mobile phone? These things might as well be magic to most people who use it. At the consumer level, GPS is a black box that tells you where you are and how to get where you’re going. But underneath that, it’s satellites, relativity, radio transmitters, radio receivers, computer software, circuitry, mathematics, rockets, data transmission, traffic detection, mapping software…so many pieces that take some degree of studying to really understand.

If our technology is “magic,” it ceases to be a reminder that science works, and may even encourage belief in things that don’t have clear mechanisms and supporting evidence. The very success of science at making possible the technology we use everywhere could, ironically, be discouraging people from believing in it.

*I wrote this three years ago. I’m not sure why I didn’t post it at the time. All I had to do was tighten up the wording a little bit. And sadly, the situation hasn’t improved.