Reuters: ‘Online privacy leaks worsen; “Do not track” gains steam’

A new study from a Stanford University researcher has found that a lot of  the little bits and pieces of supposedly anonymous data being deposited by your web browser are actually being gathered and reassembled by dozens of companies and sold. And stopping that from happening takes more than a little bit of effort, helped by a growing movement for “do not track” legislation.

Link to the Reuters article

It saddens me (seriously) that many folks I know don’t know that they’re being tracked, and nearly all of them say they don’t care after being told. And most of the ones that DO care about being tracked online just can’t be bothered to take simple measures to stop the tracking from happening, even though it barely impacts their internet browsing.

So here’s what I do to limit the online tracking as much as possible:

I use the Firefox browser with certain key add-ons to guarantee privacy (as much as possible, anyway) and practically zero online tracking:

To stop Facebook from tracking my movements across the web, I use Facebook only with the Opera browser on all my computers, and I limit the links I click on within Facebook. If there’s a link I really want to check out, I’ll copy the link address (right-click and choose ‘copy link location’) and paste it into Firefox.

So why go through all this effort?

This comment from this Reddit thread explains:

As a small constrained example, if you cross reference your real name from Facebook with every Facebook Like button you get a list of web pages that the person has visited. That’s incredibly sensitive information and given the cross-borders aspect there are no laws whatsoever preventing this information being sold. It’s a highly valuable gold mine.

Google have even more personal data but rarely get flak like Facebook does. Through Google+, Gmail and the AdWords/DoubleClick trackers around the web they get to see almost everything you do online.

Now, forgive me for not being a good customer, but screw that. I don’t want my information (even anonymously) connected to other bits of information. I encrypt/block/hide what I can and screw the marketers who want to sell/use this information.


On a somewhat related note, the German government has been found to have spread spyware among its citizens so it could spy on them, something the FBI tried several years ago. So it’s always worth the effort to protect yourself online!

9/11 thoughts

OK, a week late to the party, but here’s my 2p:

I happily skipped all the commemoration stuff on TV, but while I was in the airport last Sunday I couldn’t miss all the stuff on the airport TVs. (Flying on 9/11 didn’t bother me at all, the chances of anyone being killed in a terrorist attack are still like 1 in 25 million or so.) To me, the TV shows and commentary BS is like the 25th anniversary of the JFK assassination when I was a teenager – it’s just shown over and over and over again so it doesn’t seem real and you just end up numb (or I guess if you’re a Tea Party member you get all enraged, who knows, I still don’t get the Tea Party).

Maybe this will be controversial, but the US and other countries lost over 3,000 people in the attacks. That’s a lot of people, and the results could have been worse, but they weren’t – they didn’t need to be, the message got across. And in the 10 years since, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or displaced in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., and there’s no help getting to them from the US, no memorial services, no national mourning date, nothing. The TSA is a mockery (even the guy who wrote the original bill that started it wants the TSA shut down), the Patriot Act is misused and abused and there’s a whole string of worse stuff that’s happened (the banking crisis and recession brought on by normal human greed, etc.) that IMO outshines 9/11 but could be seen as stemming from 9/11.

And maybe this is even more controversial (although I’ve read it on some news websites and in newspapers, so maybe it’s not just me), but even with Bin Laden dead and sleeping with the fishes, his message is still out there and he ‘won’ in some (many?) respects. Westerners are/can be overly frightened by the media, countries still hate the US, there’s still 130+ countries in the world with US military presence (there’s only ~150 countries in the world), American soldiers (some of them my friends) are sent away for months on end to do pointless military actions, the masses are cowed into agreeing to go with the flow like these backscatter scans, security lines and other stuff, no one blinks an eye at the ‘we have to do this or the terrrorists win’ line, etc.

It seems that maybe some things are changing recently, and I accept things like the company line regarding ‘national security’ will never get back to pre-9/11 levels, but it’s been so ridiculous for many years it’s (been) at comical levels.

I know that living outside the US for going on 8 years has changed my views on being an American, and sorry if I’ve offended anyone, but I definitely think that things changed for the worse for America & Americans after 9/11. Sorry for the rant-ish post!

Ugh, so tired.

Very tired today. Even after biking for a couple of hard hours yesterday after work, I didn’t get to sleep until about 2 AM.

I guess watching a movie, browsing the internet and playing with my new phone in bed while ‘trying to get to sleep’ doesn’t help get my sleep pattern in order…

Even though I’m tired as hell, I’ve got a few things I need to do tonight:

  • Pick up a wireless router to see if I can make it into a wireless bridge for better wireless signal in my bedroom
  • Work out (haven’t done it in weeks)
  • Bring up a bunch of RC stuff from the basement,
  • Photograph it, and
  • List it all on eBay so I can get rid of it and make some space downstairs.

That’s all for tonight – I’m gaming tomorrow night and wargaming Thursday night, so it’s pretty much the only time I have to do this stuff.

Getting rid of the boxes from the basement will accomplish a few things: make my housemate happier that there’s less of my stuff in the basement (never mind his last couple of housemate’s stuff that’s been down there for six+ years), as well as provide a tiny bit of air circulation so my stuff doesn’t get completely soaked with  the moisture that pervades the basement. My books and DVDs and other things are in (non-airtight) boxes that are themselves wrapped in huge garbage bags, but anything that’s in cardboard is just wrapped in humidity.

Had to put the cat to sleep :(

My GF and I had to take her cat to the emergency vet Saturday morning, she had a blood clot (couldn’t move one of her back legs) and with recent vet bills adding up and no promise of preventing future blood clots we had to take the decision to put her to sleep. I’d only known the cat for just under 5 years, and only saw her 2-3 times a month at most, but she’d grown to like me and I’d grown to like her quite a bit (I need furry things I can cuddle and play with from time to time, I guess). It was really really sad, I’d never been with a pet that was being put to sleep before – I’d seen it exactly once, the one time I watched Animal Hospital on Discovery, and that reminded me why I couldn’t work with animals. She had a good long life (for an outdoor cat with a heart condition) though, and we even had our own little private time the day before.

The whole experience bummed me out the whole weekend, but my GF was at least prepared for it because of recent vet visits. I was even prompted to re-start journaling last night to get all my feelings out (I’ve been wanting to start up again) and I’ll go through all the pets I can remember in the near future, because they’ve been such a part of my life in many cases.

Also, my frustrations with my laptop trackpad while typing for 2 hours led me to Google for solutions to the stupid ‘jumping cursor’ problem while typing on a laptop, and I found Touchfreeze, which is awesome and helps me not want to toss my laptop out the window.

Making friends on the bus (but mostly pissing off the drivers)

So…yeah it’s been a while since I updated ye olde blogge. At this point I don’t even know when I last updated.

Long story short, things are going OK, I’m eating much more healthy lately in an attempt to yet again lose weight, I’m exercising regularly (except for the past week and a half, I’ve tweaked my back a little) and I found out last night I have to get a new clutch in my car so I started taking the bus to work today.

So this morning I woke up a little before 6, showered and dressed and realized that I would have time to drive (carefully) to the nearby supermarket to get to the cash machine, since I didn’t have enough money to get on the bus. Parked up in front of the house and had to grind the gears to get into reverse so I can parallel park on the narrow road…so that’s the last time it’s being driven until the new year, then.

Walked to the bus stop a few minutes away and the first person I annoyed was a random bus driver that stopped because I was right next to the curb (kerb) and looking at my watch as he came up. I tried to wave him off but he was stopping and opening the door anyway, but eventually he closed the door and drove off.

I only had to make one change, in the town centre of the town near my work, so I paid my fare and got on. Noticed there was a fare special if you buy 10 trips at once, alrighty, sounds like a deal, I just paid £2.30 for one trip and I can get 10 trips for £14, that’s £1.40 each, saving 90p each time. Score. I waited until the bus was stopped and asked the driver if I could buy the 10-trip ticket on the bus, he said sure and started printing up the ticket as he was driving. At the next stoplight I gave him a £20 note and he said, ‘I don’t have change, mate, I just started.’

OK, slight hiccup, so I found £4 in coins and handed him £24, expecting he’d at least have 2 £5 notes or a single £10 note…’I just started, I don’t have a ten-pound note mate.’

This is where I started to think he wasn’t really thinking of me as a mate, and using ‘mate’ in this instance would be akin to a west coast Dude-type saying, ‘man’ or a New Yorker saying, ‘you asshole’.

Well. What to do.

He was stuck because he didn’t have the cash to give me change, and said he’d take the £20 note and I take the ticket and hope for other people that get on and pay with coins, otherwise I could get my change at the depot. I said that’s fine and sat down.

The possibility of getting change from other passengers wasn’t looking likely, and proved correct as no one else got on until the village bus station, and those who did get on just flashed bus passes. The poor bus driver was already counting off change as I approached his window, and I told him I’d be happy to go there, but there were the angrily-counted-off coins, £6 (I think, I didn’t count it) and he was huffing, ‘You don’t need to go to the bus station, I just won’t have change for other passengers.’

Now this is where I think he went a bit wrong. I *did* offer to take up his suggestion of going to the bus depot, which would almost certainly be closed by the time I got there at about 6 in the evening. Or maybe writing up a receipt and explaining the situation to his route manager (or whatever they’re called in the bus trade) would be more hassle than dealing with the possibility of not having enough change for passengers in the short term.

Anyway, it was a mildly interesting first day commuting by bus.


Bus vs car commuting cost analysis…just for kicks

If it weren’t for the fact it takes more than twice as long to take the bus as it does to drive, I would seriously consider it as the main way to get to work. I use up about half a tank of fuel per week getting to and from work by car, which is about £30-35.

For bus travel, the daily prices are £4.60 round trip for the first bus from Derby to Burton, and another £4.60 for the local bus from Burton to the town I work in, but weekly prices are about £20 for the first bus (I think) and £14 for the second, which roughly equals the spend for car fuel. I’d have to check out what monthly fares work out to, if they’re available.

The ultimate solution is to move closer to work so I can bike in regularly. I’d do it more often now but 16 miles one way is sometimes a bit too much, but the bus takes about as long and I’d get even more exercise on the bike.

Jade Goody

Am I the only person in the UK that doesn’t really care very much at all about this whole story? I realize the irony of saying anything at all about it, but making the round of sites in the States? Really? I do my very best to avoid celebrity news but I couldn’t escape the ‘Perfect Day’ headline on my housemate’s copy of The Sun.

I do feel sorry for her and her kids, it’s never a good or happy thing for anyone to die, esp. a parent, and I’m not saying good riddance to Jade Goody, but this series of stories is only really lining the pockets of the papers. There doesn’t seem to be any highlighting of causes such as the MacMillan nurses, cancer charities or anything like that – it’s just a way for the papers to make money and people to say goodbye to a comic/tragedy/love/hate figure from a reality show. If any of the probably huge amounts of money she’s being paid for the photo rights are going to any sort of charity, then my bad.

Just had to get that out!

Argh. Dentist visit

I appreciate the skills and training of the dentist, but isn’t it just frustrating when you go, it’s the end of the month so there’s not much money in the ol’ bank account, and they poke around a little and tell you everything looks OK?

If I could be paid £25 every six months to go to people’s homes and have a nosey, then tell them everything looks fine and you’ll see them in a few months, thanks for the cash…I’d be so into that.

Anyway, went today to have my first check-up at this private (not state healthcare) dentist – so it cost me more, by the way – and had to pay for an x-ray of the tooth that had the root canal done on it.

Turns out that the German dentist had done a partial root canal, there was still some work to be done, and it would cost me £332 to complete it. And hey, that’s with a savings of about £100 because some of the work’s already been done. Yay. On top of that, to get a crown to pretty much assure there wouldn’t be any more problems with that tooth, that’s another £375, thanks a bunch.

Or I could get it extracted for £72 and risk misaligning all my teeth for the rest of my life.

What the hell.

Yeah, I know I should have gotten the cavity sorted out years ago when it first popped up, but dammit it wasn’t bothering me much then. I suppose dental visits and financial matters are two of my worst habits, overall. And hey, I added it up: with £25 check-up twice a year, that means I’ve ‘saved’ about £700 by not getting checkups all this time (yeah…about 12-14 years), so I’m about even, financially.

Still sucks to pay it all at once like this.

What I’ll probably do is get the root canal done next month, because they have to do a temporary filling anyway and check it after a few weeks, then get the crown the following month.

I looked into it and basically any type of dental work is fully custom (matching color, shape and bite of your teeth, etc.), which is why everything costs so damn much.

Bleah. I’m back. Finally.

So the plan for today was to wake up early (about 6 AM), have some breakfast and be on our way for the 3 hr drive to Frankfurt.

Instead, what happened was:

  • wake-up call at 4:30 from
  • wake up at 5, shower and meet in the lobby
  • drive on the autobahn (for the first time) in snow/wet/cold conditions
  • meet up with 2 lots of heavy roadworks
  • not finding a petrol station to fill up the rental cars (so extra charges on the car hire)
  • wolfing down a burger before hitting the security checkpoint
  • plane is a little turboprop (noisier, but at least not even 1/5 full)
  • find out the nose gear isn’t working so we have to circle for ages while it’s manually lowered
  • a tow off the main runway in Birmingham while the fire truck holds station on us and no other planes can land, and finally
  • a long taxi ride back
  • oh, and a £300 car repair bill

My car was busted into the other night

Normally I’m pretty blaise’ about crime, like most people – until, of course, it happens directly to me. I mean, I ignore certain things that most other people ignore, like speeding when I think it’s safe to speed, etc., but the other morning I noticed a shopping bag on the sidewalk when I was walking to my car. I was heading out to work and I stopped and thought, “That’s one of the cloth shopping bags I got for my mom for Christmas.”

And immediately I knew that my car had been broken into. Walked up to the car, spotted that there was no window and the passenger door was ajar and saw the glass on the ground.

DAMMIT! The second time, as well.

The first time was when I’d left my wallet and phone on the center console of the Fiesta I had at the time, it was a simple smash-and-grab. I would say it was my fault, but you don’t really expect some fuckwit to be walking along the sidewalk and smash your window just because he saw something he wanted, right? But that’s what happened, and I sold that car soon after.

And this time, I may be ‘losing’ this car again, too. As soon as I had glanced around the car to see what had been taken (stereo, of course – I’m sure I had left the front of the stereo on, which you’re not meant to do but oh well) and saw how the glove box had been emptied and strewn about the car, I called the police, got a reference number and drove to work. Well bundled up, too, because I had no damn window and it was just above freezing. That is, just above freezing if you’re standing still – at 60mph it’s a bit colder. Luckily it was the passenger window.

So I called the insurance company when I got to work and they arranged for a window replacement company to come out the next day (today). When I got home that day, I made a plastic window from some firm plastic sheeting I had and cleaned out as much of the glass as I could by hand. As I was putting stuff back in the glove box I noticed there was a lot more space in there than there used to be, so obviously he’d taken more than my stereo and my mom’s shopping bag. I was missing a few CDs, a road atlas of Britain, my girlfriend’s sunglasses, car chargers for mobile phones and one of a pair of racing Momo gloves I’d bought ages ago at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Plus I noticed the hood/bonnet was loose – funny that, I certainly didn’t open it, so I’d been driving around with it like that all the way to work and back. Luckily it wasn’t fully open!

First the window guy couldn’t lower the electric windows – some sort of electrical fault. He tried the fuse box but all the fuses looked OK. He tried the ignition lock in all the various positions, no joy. Then he noticed there was smoke coming from the engine, from under the hood. GREAT.

All I could think at the time was that this asshole had, for some reason, screwed around with my engine and it was damaged somehow. Later on I realized that maybe he’d just been grabbing at all sorts of things inside the car while looking for the trunk release and pulled the hood release, making it pop open a bit. At this point that’s what I’m hoping is the case and the smoke the window guy found is nothing, because I can’t afford a big deductible to pay for repairs, and I need my car to visit my girlfriend this weekend, and for Christmas.

Anyway, the car has been towed to a garage for a full estimate and I’m supposed to email my insurance claims agent as full a list as I can come up with of everything that’s missing and the approximate value. Off the top of my head, including the stereo, there’s at least £300 worth of ‘stuff’, so that leaves a lofty payment of £100 payout, plus the repairs which would be covered. Whoopee. If the repairs are TOO much, then they’ll just buy out my car, because it can’t be worth much – it’s a 13-year old car with 188,000 miles on it (it literally just turned over 188K on Monday).

Best case scenario is that the engine is fine and I’ll have to pay to have the electrical problem fixed before the window can be replaced. Worst case is that the engine is actually damaged somehow and the insurance company buys me out of my car, minus a £200 deductible.

What a ball-ache! (I’ve really become attached to this British phrase)

The best thing about the whole experience is dealing with the insurance company – you never know how good a company is until you have trouble, and the people I’m with are really good. I get calls from the window people and the towing company within minutes of reporting things to the insurance company, and I’ve already got one guy that is my main point of contact for everything. In case you’re wondering, the people I’m with are Liverpool Victoria, I’ve been with them for years since choosing Which? Car insurance (Which? is like Consumer Reports, but every issue they do is about one particular item, like Which? Car and Which? Hi-Fi, etc.).

So, big thumbs-up to LV and Which? Car, really.

Sometimes it’s embarassing to say you’re from Texas…

I’ll just quote this blog post, it basically says it all:

The latest shooting-itself-in-the-foot-moment for the Lone Star State is based on a panel to create its state science curriculum (oh, you already know where this is going, dontcha now?). Out of the six seats on the panel, three are going to creationists! And not just any run-of-the-mill creationists, but one of them is Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute.

I will pause a moment while the air leaks back into your room.

Ready? OK then, let me say this again: Texas has placed a creationist who runs the Discovery institute — a hotbed of creationist deceptions — on a panel that will decide what “science” the children of Texas will learn.

And who will lead this panel of three reality-based scientists and three people dedicated to destroying reality? Why, it’s our old friend Donald McLeroy! Remember him? He’s a creationist. He hates science. He thinks abstinence-only education works (if you want teen girls to get STDs and get pregnant, then you’d be right). And he’s proven that he has no business being within three hundred yards of any sort of educational process.