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!

Film project under way!

So my podcasting partner and I are finally about to start actually FILMING instead of TALKING about filming. Various things like vacations, work/kid/family schedules, etc., have all conspired to make the filming not happen yet, and as it stands we’ll have one weekday night every two weeks to do some filming, then talk about the next bit that we want to do.

So…hopefully we’ll have some videos on YouTube in the next couple of weeks!

Brilliant (I think) Minecraft idea: Minecraft Wars!

I play only survival single player right now but this would definitely get me REALLY interested in SMP. I posted this on Reddit and Something Awful but it’s not getting much traction in either place, so I’ll waste some more space on the internets and post it here.

Here’s the idea:

Groups of people like to build stuff on shared servers

Most servers have a home web forum where members chat and discuss whatever

None of these server members have any way of crossing over and killing each other

So…make a central website called or whatever so there is one site where members of various servers can call out groups on other servers and choose a date for a battle.

This combines several things: FPS combat; building defenses, traps & dungeons; the need for quick, targeted crafting by the attacking team & lots more!

Here’s how I see it working:

  • The group leaders agree terms and a time (after lots of smack-talk of course)
  • For example two back-to-back Capture the Flag battles take place, for a certain amount of time (say 1 or 2 hours max), one battle on each server, one right after the other.
  • Another example couple be a single battle of attack & defense, such as a raid for a hidden block of wool or whatever, once this hidden block is destroyed the game is one, etc. – the possibilities are endless.
  • The server admins are able to allow a certain number of members and a certain number of non-members (like 16 on a side) this is one part I’m not sure about, but there must be a mod that can do this
  • The home group build up defenses, traps, dungeons, towns, whatever, and place a ‘flag’ block in the fortified area, or hide The Block That Must Be Destroyed somewhere
  • The visiting group spawn in an area chosen by the home group, but they are not to be attacked for, say, 5-10 minutes to allow for scouting, crafting, etc. The visitor spawn must be in an unmodified, unbuilt-up area, etc., basically a safe zone. The spawn point must be a certain number of blocks away from the fortifications, for example the maximum draw distance at max resolution, but the attacking team must find the fortress.
  • The terms of the battle could include details on arms & armor that must be supplied by the home group (see below), to speed things along. Once the supplies have been accounted for and the visiting team is ready, the visiting leader announces in chat that the battle is on.
  • Negotiations could be made for respawns in the case of death, etc.: no respawns (hardcore!), 3 respawns, 5, unlimited, etc.
  • The visitors must locate the home group’s fortifications, destroy the block that has to be destroyed or find the ‘flag’ block and get back to the spawn point as quickly as they can
  • Lowest time wins in the case of CTF

There must be mods that can be written up for this, if they don’t exist already: new server world for each new game, turn off mobs (optional), visitor spawn area for users logging in using a certain ID/password, countdown timer to be shown on everyone’s screen for the safe time at the beginning of the game, the ‘flag’ block, the detection of the flag block in the area of the visitor spawn, etc.

Supply Chest
For the chest of supplies that the visiting group can negotiate for, I was thinking it would have a certain pre-agreed number of suits of armor, swords and basic tools to get started. For example, for a squad of 10 attackers the negotiation could be: 5 shovels, 5 picks, 10 swords, 5 suits of armor, 2 crafting tables – and that’s it.

I can imagine a well-disciplined group of attackers would have everyone with a pre-arranged role right from the start, so like in the first couple of minutes a couple of team members build basic fall-back shelter (a hole with a wooden door) while the others are scouting and the leader is taking in all the info and generating a map (not with a server mod, I mean ‘getting the lay of the land’), then deciding to send scouting parties out to find whatever, etc.

…so, what does anyone think?

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!


I know what you’re thinking: “Why did Frank put an exclamation mark after the word ‘vitamins’ in his blog post title? I mean, vitamins are exciting enough without needing an exclamation mark!”

That’s where your thoughts were headed, right?

I’m sure they were!

Krill Oil, 1000mg – More potent than standard fish oil or cod liver oil, Omega-3 fatty acids help with all sorts of things, from adding antioxidants, improving mood, helping skin condition, hair and more. Most medical experts recommend per day 600iu. More info here

Vitamin D3, 5000iu – This and Vitamin K have researchers really excited. Helps with weight control, controls 2,000 of the 30,000 genes in humans, has a role in autoimmune diseases like MS and even cancer and melanoma. It’s a big deal! Although you can get Vitamin D from normal sun exposure, many people aren’t able to get enough time in the sun, and you can’t get Vitamin D in food like you can with other vitamins. D3 is the most potent and hardest to get in foods, so supplements it is. Up to 5000iu per day is recommended by many for adults.

Vitamin K, 90mcg – Lowers the risk of coronary or artery problems, and great for bones too. More info here

Green tea extract – Not sure how much my pills are (I don’t have the original bottle any more), but green tea is an antioxidant, has caffiene (so good to take in the mornings) and also slightly speeds up your metabolism so you burn a little more energy

Chlorella, 1000mg – Recent research is really glorifying this as a major antioxidant. (Antioxidants help slow free radicals, which basically cause aging) This particular one has been shown to help prevent or ease the symptoms of hypertension, anemia, diabetes, acute stress, fibromyalgia, liver cancer and others.

Multivitamin – To top up whatever I might miss from my normal meals. Lots of people who read up on vitamins might say ‘well you just piss out all those vitamins anyway’, which might be true if you’re taking in the vitamins you need with the food you eat. Well, I don’t think I get enough vitamins from the food I eat. Especially when lunch is a protein shake and dinner is a bag of microwave popcorn (common when I’m REALLY low on money). So, multivitamin it is.

Selenium, 100ug -another antioxidant, as well as other possible beneficial effects

I just thought this might be interesting to put in the blog because when people see me popping my pills they wonder ‘what the hell?!’

Just a note – nearly all the links above have sales links or affiliate links to online sales sites, it’s basically impossible to Google anything regarding health issues without finding a site that has an online sales catalog.

So, what do I miss about the States?

This post has sat in my ‘drafts’ section for quite a while, and I found it today while looking through old posts. Since I’ve just moved into my own place and it’s the 14th anniversary today of me working for HPI (the company that moved me from Texas to California), I figured what the hell, I’ll update it and see if it’s all still true, and correct what isn’t.

Well I’ve been in the UK for nearly 8 years now, quite a long time, really. I was in Southern California for 7 years, so now I’ve here for longer than I was in SoCal, which is really weird, because I really feel I connected with and loved a lot about SoCal.

Still, I was in Texas for 16 years before I moved to California, so there’s still some time to go before I reach that milestone.

But I was having an online conversation with a friend a while back and he was laughing that I have to pay for my RC car parts now (we work for the same radio control model car company, but at different branches), and I said yeah, also I live in a much smaller place, get paid less and pay 3 times as much for gas/petrol than I did before.

However, there are certain trade-offs, like easy access to Europe (not to mention the rest of the UK, much of which is lovely), country lane driving, eons of human history to explore and touch, that sort of thing. There’s certain things about the States I don’t miss either, but to be honest there’s a lot of culture creep in the UK because of US TV shows, movies, shared corporations and the like. That sort of thing is different to different people, the average American expat in the UK is fairly liberal and doesn’t miss Hummer H2’s, soccer moms, Giant Gulps and Real Housewives of Orange County, if you get my meaning.

Anyway, back on topic: What Do I Miss About the US?

  1. Texas smoke pit BBQ (specifically, Bob’s Pit BBQ in San Antonio)
  2. Sunday barbacoa (Mexican specialty, it’s called something else in SoCal but it’s basically a cow’s head cooked in a metal garbage can buried in the ground for about 16 hours)
  3. Road trips – oh you do road trips in the UK and Europe, but every few hours you hit a new country. In the States you could be on the I-10 in Texas or the I-5 in California for, like, 12, 16 hours, and still not cross the next border. Plus, you get the ‘real Americana’ on the roads and highways – weird tourist attractions like a snake farm or old cars stuck in the ground like Car Henge, and other strange road sightings like that.
  4. Being able to talk your way out of a speeding ticket – here it’s speed cameras ahoy. You just have to know when to slow down, or keep your eyes open for different types of camera boxes. If you didn’t slow down enough you have to wait a few nervous weeks for a letter from a local council. If your letter slot stays ticket-free, rejoice! You got away with it. Otherwise…it’s a few points on your licence.
  5. Outdoor malls  – I’m not so much into ‘retail nirvana’ any more, but it is very cool to be able to stroll from store to store in bright sunshine, sipping a soda or holding an ice cream, deciding on the next food court to hit or next item of clothing to look for. Strip malls are one thing, and America is absolutely infested with them, but the mall I’m really thinking about is the Spectrum in Irvine, California. I used to live just minutes from there…and it. was. amazing. Nothing like the shopping streets in the UK!
  6. Properly outfitted movie theaters – it’s all a game of keeping up with the Joneses with movie theaters, having to upgrade to stadium seating, rocking chairs, wider screens, digital distribution and 3D, but at least for metropolitan areas with lots of moviegoers, the cinemas seem to have stayed with the curve. Not that movie theaters in the UK are all crap, but you really have to be near a decent-sized city to get a really big screen and all the amenities – although there’s a cinema in Derby (UK) that lets you order food and drinks to be delivered halfway through the show!
  7. Big honking cars and trucks – OK, yeah, sometimes I do miss them and their clueless drivers. But then I visit the US and realize…no, I didn’t really miss them that much.
  8. Big posh neighborhoods – I grew up watching loads of John Hughes movies, and movies that copied his style, like Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, that sort of thing. Where everyone lived in massive 2-story, 10-bedroom houses with huge front yards and gigantic back yards with every suburban luxury you could dream of. Well I used to like driving through these neighborhoods and just…drive. It helped when I used to deliver pizza to some of these houses, because then I could find the nicest houses as drove past and just daydream. For whatever reason those kinds of neighborhoods are hard to find in the UK, or just don’t exist. It seems most of the housing estates (except new build areas) are left over from the old mining and industrial days and you’ll have rows and rows of terrace/rowhouses, overlooked by a few large houses where the overseers/owners lived. Not better or worse to me, just different.
  9. Immigrant neighborhoods and funky foods – Not that these are hard to find in the UK or Europe, but these sorts of areas in the US just have a different feel to them. I don’t know if it’s the relative lack of outright racism (which you do get in the UK from a vocal minority) or what, but it’s…just a different feel. It’s been so long since I’ve been in an area like this in the States that it’s hard for me to describe it actually.
  10. Crazy loner people – Everyone must know some desert rat or some person living as a hermit in a cabin in the woods or something, I used to know a bunch like this in California. Living out in the desert must either require a lack of some sanity, or it must slowly drive you crazy, because most of the people I’ve met from these sorts of places seemed like the jumped right out of a Mad Max movie or something. Mountain hermits must be the same way. There’s just so much land in the US it’s relatively easy to do this sort of thing, building landships and digging your own septic tank system. In the UK there are laws and health & safety regs and all this BS hoops you have to go through to get anything at all done, it’s amazing anything gets completed.

I think that’s about it, I had to stretch a little but I think this post is finally done 🙂 There’s probably some bits I’m missing, too, and more I could expound on but there’s a life to live off the computer!

Close call on the bike ride to work

Nearly got taken out on my ride to work at roundabout/traffic circle. This roundabout has a left turn and carries on straight, and the lane approaching it splits into two. Normally at this roundabout I check behind me and if no one is coming I stay on the outside of the outside lane and carry on straight. This morning I didn’t check over my shoulder and took my usual line and a car overtook me turning left, then ANOTHER one went through, cutting me off and not using a signal.

I raised my arm to complain silently and went straight, but I realized I should have checked over my shoulder and taken the lane. Damn. Lesson learned!

Anyway. Here’s my bike:

There’s not much to it: it’s a Raleigh steel ‘hybrid’ bike that I got for free from some people on Freecycle. Free is good! I’ve had this bike for a couple of years I guess. Hybrids don’t carry much cache with serious bikers because they’re just road frames with mountain bike gearing and handlebar, but this one does the job OK. I’ve got a real road bike but I need to give it a little TLC and change the tires before I take it anywhere. It would be way lighter than this thing!

Anyway, equipment: I’ve changed the handlebar grips to ‘aero’ grips just to try them out but have a set of drop handlebars that will go on there at some point. I just changed the pedals to two-sided pedals with one side for street shoes and one side for clip-in shoes. The fenders are made by SKS but sold by Raliegh, got them off eBay. The rack is a generic thing off eBay and the basket is a wire freezer rack I found at a recycling centre near my old place.  The bottle cage rarely has anything in it, it’s mainly there because I can’t be bothered to take it off. The bag under the seat has a spare tube, basic flip-out tool set and tire levers. The tyres are Schwalbe Marathon Ultras, which are awesome. Good grip and really thick rubber on the contact patch, plus reflective sidewalls.

It’s a 5-minute ride to work (because it’s mostly downhill) and a 7-minute ride home. Not too shabby! I’m sure I’ll continue to bike to work in the winter, it’s such a short ride and I’ve got plenty of lights and warm clothes.



I’ve finished a few more books since I last posted, and it’s been a while since I posted, so here’s some more books I’ve finished recently, and the ones I’ve started:

The Count of Monte Cristo took me a while to finish, but I did finally get through it. Once I got back to reading it after reading The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo and Born to Run, I realized that I was right at the beginning of the climax, so I got through the rest pretty quickly (compared to the middle third of the book).

After that I started (and finished) Senna vs Prost, which is a well-rounded account of the infamous battle of egos between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the 80’s and early 90’s. I’d just seen the Senna documentary so I was really primed to learn more about it and read from the people who were heavily involved with the entire drama.

Then I read A Game of Thrones, after getting into the HBO series quite a lot. They don’t remove a lot of characters but do introduce at least one new character for some reason (Rosie(?) the prostitute). It was good to see that other than that the TV series follows the chapters in the book very faithfully.

I was pretty jazzed up to find out what happened next so I went right into the sequel, A Clash of Kings. A friend of mine thinks A Game of Thrones was very depressing and boring with all the political intrigue, but I think it’s fascinating.

I read both A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings (as well as The Count of Monte Cristo) on my e-reader (a Sony PRS-505…yes I know it’s old but it works great!) – which is great to be able to say without people going OMG WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHAT IS AN E…READER?!?!?! because the Kindle seems be to what everyone and their mother has, at least amongst business travellers these days.

Anyway, the e-reader worked perfectly on my recent trip to the States (more on that soon! lots of pictures!) because it was light weight, the batteries lasted all 2.5 weeks, took up no space in my carry-on bag and even though I didn’t read all 500-or-however-many-books that are on there, I was able to easily…well, read. The coolest thing was resizing the text at night when I was tired so I had massive huge text to make it easier to read, then resizing it smaller the next day to read while I wasn’t so tired. Pretty cool!

Anyway, I think those are all the books I’ve finished since May, it sounds about right. There might be one book I missed, which is why I wanted to make this post before I forgot any more! If I remember what that one book might be after unpacking (more about that soon, too) I’ll add it to my next self-congratulatory ‘completed books’ post.

So the next books I’ve started on already are How to Brew, 3rd Edition, and Into Thin Air. These are, respectively, because I want to try home brewing after having some in Indiana and visiting a micro-brewery, and because the 1996 Everest season disaster story has been widely regarded as a pretty damn good read.