Urban legends have become common-place  People understand what it means when you use the phrase. There are books written about urban legends, and a dialect has grown up around them.  There are themes and categories, people doing comparative analysis, and even lingo.  One of the neatest words is an acronym: FOAF.  The friend of a friend is a non-distinct, distant source of information.  You hear it, but wouldn’t want to act on it.

Or would you?  I know of someone who is travelling to a foreign country to teach for a while, and will be staying with the friend of a friend.  Gutsy – and trusting in God.

Tonight I am looking up a computer to recommend for a friend to buy.  I am going to use a site recommended by another friend.  The purchasing person is being helped by the recommending person – a friend of a friend – and that’s a good thing.

The site is Product Chart, and they will help you decide what’s important in laptops and smart phones, as well as smaller consumer electronics.  I don’t know if they have ads – I block ads with both AdBlock and AdBlock Plus, so if you are enticed to buy an ostrich pillow or a Ministry of Silly Walks watch, I’m sorry, but it’s on you (literally).

Have fun.

Well, not exactly.  But there is free storage.

Google will bump up your normal 15G that’s available with a Google account, adding two gig if you complete their Security Checkup by Tuesday, Feb 17, 2015.  If you use Google services (anything more than the search engine), this is a good thing.

First, you are protecting your online identity.  Not everything you do – this won’t help with last week’s Anthem breach or next week’s breach at a bank or a retailer.  This will help your Google identity stay secure.  The checkup is quick and easy.  You get to see which devices are tied to your Google ID (think Gmail address).  I detached an old cell phone, just to keep tidy.  You get to see what services have access to your information, and I knocked off one or two there.  You get to check where you last logged in to your account from, physically and from what device.  If you live in Nebraska and don’t have a cell phone, then an Android login from Nigeria is probably cause for alarm.

Second, you are picking up another 2 gigabytes of space on Google Drive.  Which is shared with Gmail and Picasa, and available for whatever suits your fancy.  You can put a lot of stuff in 2G – a couple thousand pictures, or five hundred songs, or about three movies, or squillions of emails.  Use it as you wish.

Finally, there is the increased sense of awareness that this brings.  As you are doing the checkup, you start thinking about the ways that the bad guys could use something useful, like your Google account.  I understand that Google is an ad sales company more than they are a search engine.  I know that they read my email (they store it, so they have to be able to read it).  I also enjoy the support I get from an ecosystem of digital services, and I’m willing to make the privacy trade-off with Google to get the benefit of all the Google products.  Knowing search terms and browser history across machines is cool.  Something like WordLens


is completely mindblowing when you see it running on your own phone instead of on somebody else’s video.

So I think Google is pretty cool (even inventing and making available the Go language).  I want to protect my investment with them, and to encourage others to do the same.

Regardless of your motivation – greed, higher purposes, or a utilitarian view of protecting your investment, do the Google security checkup.  You’ll thank me later.

My communion meditation on Sunday, Feb 1.

I have a confession to make.  I am a crybaby.

It’s true.  If I don’t get my way, I can get mad and sulk.  God is helping me overcome this childish trait, but one of my regular internal messages is “That’s not fair!”.

A few weeks ago I had to carry the Production Support phone for my company, for a week.  It’s not bad – there’s a guy who works into second shift to cover then, and a guy who works third shift so I can sleep.  Except the second shift guy worked only two days, and the third shift guy was on vacation the whole time.  “That’s not fair!”

A week or so ago, in our small group here at the church on Thursday nights, we were talking about how God had a problem.  He created us and loves us, and wants to be gracious to us.  But we are sinners, and God hates sin.  His sense of justice demands that the penalty for sin be paid.  The solution, as you know, was to have Jesus come to earth, live a perfect and sinless life, and to die on the cross.  Randy said “God in effect treated Christ as if He were a sinner so that He can now treat real sinners as if they were righteous saints.”  And I thought to myself – “That’s not fair!”.

The injustice, in this case, is real and not imagined.  Jesus did nothing to deserve to die – I did, and you did.  And yet it was Jesus on the cross, not you, not me.  Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  It isn’t fair – it is sacrificial love.  And that is what we are celebrating with communion.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, you love us.  It’s not fair – we don’t deserve it.  And yet it is ours if we accept it.  Thank you for making it available, at a great cost.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Not me, not this blog – what’s new is the computing platform I am using to write this blog entry on.

I have a Chromebook – a Toshiba Chromebook 2, with the fancy screen.  Out of the box, it is nothing more than a piece of hardware that enables a web browser.  It is very good at that.  The afore-mentioned screen does its job very well, and the supporting hardware runs a web browser quite nicely.

It is still getting good reviews as “the best Chromebook available“, which doesn’t surprise me, based on the small sample size I have seen.

But I can’t seem to leave well enough alone.  I have switched over to the developer channel (yes, I can say “OK Google” and have the Chromebook answer me), and I have added Ubuntu running in a window (pretty cool technology – not dual boot, but running concurrently, with Linux piping its screen in to a Chrome window).

One of my goals has been to get Laridian PocketBible software running on this thing.  First attempt was to get the Android application running here – which failed.  Second attempt was to get Wine running on the Linux side, with the Windows version running inside the non-emulator.  This also failed, though I am not done with beating on it.  Other people have gotten it to work, and I want to as well.

The one hardware upgrade I have done is to add a trackball.  Never been a trackball kind of guy.  I was using a mouse (I really like alternate mouse buttons, and pasting by clicking in Linux), but the big use case for this cool toy is for me to be sitting on the loveseat as I type.  We have a towel down to protect the cushion, and the mouse was jumping based on the loops in the fabric of the towel.  Trackball removes those randomizations, while providing buttons.

The last thing I wanted to add, but probably won’t, is a sticker.  All the cool kids have stickers on their computers, and I have one in mind that summarizes my priorities:

Screenshot 2015-01-19 at 11.42.37 PM

The problem is that the surface of the Chromebook is ridged and bumpy, almost pebbly, as opposed to smooth.  So it isn’t the content of the sticker, but the attachment to the hardware.

And maybe the content attaches more easily to people because computers got no soul, regardless of how much fun they are to use.

Finally, a big shout-out to my Mom, who provided partial funding for the new toy, as long as I would supply technical support on her new Chromebook.  Which I have been doing, and will continue to do.  Thanks, Mom!

First, I want to differentiate between hacking (seeing how something works) and cracking (doing the same thing for malicious reasons).  There can be a fuzzy line between the two.  I want to stay clearly on the good side.

As an example, I once broke into a government computer, getting root access and changing the root password.  It was by their own request – the only operator had died suddenly, and the family threw out all the documentation he had at home.  The government organization contacted the company I worked for at the time, and I got to break in, and to turn the results over to the proper authorities.  As I look back, this was almost an amplified pen test. (They failed, which was good in this case.)

That’s the good side.  Here’s a bad side (that I chose not to do): I wear a Fitbit tracking device, which counts the steps I take.  Their daily goal is ten thousand steps.  My cardiologist is happy with five thousand, which I normally achieve.  When I got the device, I started looking for ways to hack it.  I’m inquisitive, that’s what I do and how I think.  I found a video where somebody hooked their Fitbit up to a hair trimmer so the device would record two steps a second.  All interesting, until you add in that my company rewards me monetarily for achieving steps.  That turns a cute prank (“Look – a hundred thousand steps today!”) into theft.  That’s wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with giving your cat a Fitbit – just don’t use that one to get points.

With that background, here’s how to do a little white-hat hacking on mysql.

We had to make major changes to the database supporting an application.  The developer was long gone, and nobody had the password to the database.  Really didn’t want to reverse engineer the whole DB and then test to see if it works – that is the wrong way to spend a couple weeks.

(aside: my favorite search tool is Google.  Bing just doesn’t cut it, though I like their image search better – I can specify what license I want the picture to have)

Googling the question led to a long list of mis-hits, and then this winner, in a reply to a longer and more complicated method.  If you’re on the machine and have root access, the anonymous tipster says that

cat /root/.mysql_history|more

is “very informative”.  Which is an understatement – the password is up at the top of the file.

Thanks, Mr. Anonymous.  You helped save the day – and contributed a tool to my hacking toolbox.


Footnote: yes, the commands

more /root/.mysql_history

or even

head /root/.mysql_history

are shorter.  This isn’t a code golf contest.  The value is in knowing where to look, not how to look.

Last Friday, there was a weather system moving through the area.  I took a bunch of pictures of some low, fast clouds with my phone.  Google added a dash of auto-awesome.  I’m pretty happy with the result, though the size is fairly large.  There is a lot of detail in the tree branches.  Probably do better with a funny cat in a plain setting.  If only I had a funny cat or a plain setting.


Bettie and I went to the Clermont County fair on Saturday – it was Demolition Derby day. We got a late start, which was on purpose – we avoided the massive rainstorms that went through on Saturday morning. We got to see all the fun things we normally do, only missing the old tractors (which may not have been there).

We got to walk through the 4H building, seeing the exhibits. This one caught my eye:

2014-07-26 15.58.11


Yup – Bridal Safety, Bridaling Your Horse Safely, and Proper Bridal Fit.

The girl’s name and 4H group were on the poster, and will not be published here.  I don’t blame the girl – she obviously cares for her horses, and words are not her main concern.

I do blame the adult supervisors, though.  This was an easy one, one I imagine that horse people have to deal with a lot.  Unless the adults don’t know any better, which is a possibility.

Nevertheless, Bettie and I will be attending the fair next year.  4H lists Head as the first of their four H-words.  We’ll see.  We’ll see . . .

Communion meditation from July 13, 2014

Charles Dickens started off his novel, A Tale Of Two Cities, with these famous words: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I was considering the Last Supper, and what Jesus was thinking and feeling. It was the best of times – He had been waiting His whole life (well, forever, really) for this time, when He was going to become the Savior of all mankind through His death and resurrection. He kept Himself sinless, carrying out the Father’s work. And yet it was the worst of times. One of His disciples, who He had been mentoring, teaching and leading for three years, was going to betray Him for thirty pieces of silver. As a result of that, Jesus was going to die a shameful death on the cross. Worst of all, He was going to be separated from God the Father as Jesus went to Hell with our burden of sins. Total separation from God, with whom He had spent eternity past with. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Now we come to the time of communion, when we take the bread and the cup and remember that sacrifice. For us, also, it is the best of times. We celebrate the freedom from sin. We joyously remember the risen Savior, who was the firstborn from the dead, whom we will meet in Heaven. And yet it is the worst of times. It was for our sin – my sin, your sin – that Jesus had to die. When we do this in remembrance of Jesus, we have to examine ourselves to be sure that we are partaking in a worthy manner. And we can be.

Because this is the best of times. Jesus has paid the price. We are free in Christ. Like Him, we will rise again. Hallelujah!

Let’s pray.

Father God, I come before Your throne in the name of Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God. You gave the best, even when we deserve the worst. Thank you for that infinite love, that infinite sacrifice. Thank you for making us part of Your family. Amen.

I am an extremist.  I read Linux Journal, and the readers of that magazine have been labeled by the NSA as extremists.  And not only am I a reader, I subscribe to the magazine.  I’m paying to support extremism!

So, since I have been granted the label, I may as well put the tattoo on my blog.


My esteemed technical cohort Dave Farquhar also has some wise words on the subject.

Not at his birthplace, but still before he was all the way out of his shell.


(I snagged this off the original dealer’s site, while it was still for sale there)

No, he doesn’t have a name.  Haven’t gotten into that habit.  Definitely a “he”, but nameless.


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