January 26, 2013

Software, Republicans, and more

I continue to be frustrated by the Blogger interface in relation to commenting. I've had trouble with it ever since I learned about peripatetic patter, and even more maddeningly, have been able, on rare occasions, to get a comment posted. I can post, but Blogger just doesn't like my comments. About 95% of the time, even after signing in on my Blogger account, after composing my comment, clicking on either Publish or Preview sends the comment to the bitbucket and me back to Go. My brother, who comments here without any reported problems, uses the same system software and the same Web browser as I do. Who the hell knows ...

Whatever. To start with, concerning Republican attempts to rig the voting game in their favor: It just goes to show how far some people will go to hold on to whatever power they think they may have accumulated. The thing that keeps surprising me, though, is just how brazen they have become in furthering the interests of the people who own this country. They don't even try to hide or even camouflage what they're doing any more. I guess they realize that the dumbass American public will gladly buy any old load of shit that comes down the pike.

I also want to expand a little on Bill's post about crapware. To be sure, it's really annoying and insulting to find that some application you've installed on your computer has also installed other software that you didn't know was being installed. The crapware that was at issue at least has the virtue, though, of - at some point - revealing its presence.

Far more insidious and threatening is the software that is either a part of the known-installed program or is installed separately by it that never makes itself known to the user. Many (or maybe even most - I don't really know, because I'm not a user of a great deal of software) programs, both commercial and shareware, now have a "feature" that "calls home": i.e., it will, without either your consent or your knowledge, contact the developer via the Internet, often to insure that the software is properly registered, but potentially for any reason the developer sees fit. The vast majority of owners/users of the software have no clue that this is happening.

Web users - everybody who reads this blog, or any blog, or nearly any kind of Web site you could name - are especially susceptible to surreptitious bullshit going on behind their backs. I clicked on the link Bill provided to the original article about crapware on Slate.com - and the Slate server, in turn, connected to no less than 17 (that's seventeen) other third-party Web sites, each of which tried to leave it's own cookie on my computer (I say "tried" to leave a cookie, because I have my Web browser set to refuse cookies from all third-party sites). I know about this because I have an essential piece of software that I keep running at all times called Little Snitch. The only function of Little Snitch is to inform me of any outside connection any program installed on my computer is trying to make, and to offer me the choice to allow it to do so or not. Essentially it is a firewall - but it is an outbound firewall, as opposed to an inbound firewall, which is what nearly everybody, including me, uses. Now, Little Snitch is Mac-only software, but FWIW, I understand there are some equivalents for Windows (google "Little Snitch Windows"). I strongly urge all you Winders people to get one and install it, post haste. If nothing else, it's a real eye-opener as to what's really going on behind the scenes.

And then, of course, are the notorious Flash cookies (aka LSOs), which are installed any time you view a source of streaming content - movie, sound clip, whatever - based on Macromedia's Flash, which includes most all popular media. These, too, are installed without either your knowledge or consent, but unlike normal Web cookies, which stop tracking you once you quit your browser, Flash cookies remain active all the time, even when no programs at all (other than your operating system) are running, tracking - well, who knows what they track?

Now, I understand in principle the usefulness, and even necessity, of cookies for Web sites - within strict limits of legitimate use. But cookies can be, and often are, only marginally useful, borderline, or downright malicious, and as for me and my house, tolerance of cookies is to be tightly controlled. I also refuse to allow any outgoing connection by any of my other programs (except my email client). There might well be acceptable reasons for such a connection, but since the developers have chosen to hide those connections from me in the first place, I err on the safe side by assuming there might also be unacceptable reasons and just don't let it happen at all.

It's just sickening to be aware of how few facets of life remain which have not been sullied by the relentless pursuit of profit via every conceivable avenue. At times I yearn for the release of death from this otherwise inescapable nightmare ...

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