Online ads and memory leaks


repair-water-leaks1For some reason that still eludes me, after all these years, browsers, no matter which, suffer from terrible memory leaks. I have a feeling that it has to do with plug-in’s in general and Adobe’s Flash in particular. Just open a browser, any browser, load your favorite web site and go eat lunch.

When you return, start your favorite task manager and take a close look at memory usage.

Those very creative, animated, and incredibly-annoying ads with telepathic powers that know not just what web sites you visited last night but what products you looked at as you were johnesing for material gratification, will eat your computer alive, for lack of better terms, and today, fed-up with this crap, I decided to take matters into my own hands – and it was gratifying to see all those pesky ads disappear as if by magic on every page as I reloaded it. But the most amazing thing was to watch the graph for cpu-usage go quiet and the one for memory consumption go down to acceptable levels. So much, that I wondered why the hell I didn’t do this before. Maybe I do like ads, after all, but don’t take me wrong, I don’t mind one bit living an online life that’s uninterrupted by commercials.

The best part is that reaching this non-consumerist nirvana required absolutely no new software or plug-in’s. All it took was a file. A simple text file: hosts.txt (or plain “hosts” if you use a Mac or any of a gazillion Linux incarnations).

The hosts file is like a little black book of addresses. Whenever you enter a url in a browser (i.e. blogsperiment.wordpress.com), your computer looks at the hosts file to see if the IP address corresponding to that URL is there. If it is, your browser starts communicating with the web server at that IP address. If it isn’t, it asks your router or your Internet Service Provider’s DNS server for it. Do you see where I’m heading with this?

Wouldn’t it be great if your host contained entries for all the servers that push those ads on you, but instead of having them point at their correct IP addresses have them point at dead-ends?

Dream no more. There is a hosts file out there that does exactly this. You can download it from http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.txt. This hosts file contains entries for over 10,000 servers.

I won’t go into the details on how to do it, but all you need to do is download the above file and append its contents to your system’s current hosts file (in Mac and Linux, the file’s in the /etc directory and in Windows, it’s kept in the c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc folder).

If you want to see the magic as it happens, open a few browser windows and have them point to web sites that you know to display ads, then modify your hosts files as explained above, and now go back to your browser windows, hit the refresh button, and weep.

The following links describe ways in which your hosts file can be updated automagically, if you don’t feel like doing it by hand:
– For Windows: http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm
– For Mac/Linux: http://www.putorius.net/2012/01/block-unwanted-advertisements-on.html

Happy blocking!!!!!!

 

[edit]: It’s been two hours since the change and after purposely-crashing chrome, so it would reload all the pages I had open (about 40 tabs altogether) EVERYTHING is running much more smoothly than before.

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Gartner just killed Blackberry


bone

I have a bone to pick with Gartner. I’ve had it since the year 2000, when they predicted, like they’re doing now, that a product I used was dead.

You see, I don’t know much about this company except that CEOs pay attention when Gartner speaks, and with that, predictions very easily become self-fulfilling prophecies.

In 1996, just like they’re doing now, Gartner predicted the death of Microsoft’s Visual Foxpro and since then until Redmond finally put it out of its misery, it was, for a lack of a better word, a miserable time for those of us who had the fortune of working with it. A fortune, because it was a very mature product; it was a reliable (something I’d be hard-pressed to say about most Microsoft products) and, most-importantly, lightning-fast database management system. It was a self-contained development environment, much like visual studio, but if a client needed a program that required a database back-end, you didn’t have to look elsewhere (i.e. SQL Server) and, in addition to being able to use its own database engine, it could connect to anything client-server out there. In addition, it was object-oriented and it really honored the term (coined back then) “Rapid Application Development.”

But Gartner said it was dead, and from that point on, clients started shunning anything Visual FoxPro, even though its abilities were proven well beyond any reasonable doubt (the logistics of transporting troops and equipment back and forth to Iraq during Desert Storm was handled by a system developed in Foxpro for the most part). Business owners were afraid they’d look bad when they told their friends that their companies use tools developed with VFP, and CEOs, of course, didn’t want to be the laughing stock of other CEOs.

But this blog entry is not about VFP (as much as I like it and still use it when I need to extract data from large databases QUICKLY or for writing rogue apps here and there, also quickly) as much as it is about the Gartner Group. By predicting an event and being as credible as they somehow managed to become, it’s impossible to really separate the prediction from the event. It’s probably a social example of the Observer Effect, in which observing a phenomenon has the effect of changing the phenomenon itself.

Now that it’s out in the open, I won’t even bother saying that Blackberry’s not dead. R.I.M. might as well change its name to R.I.P., for all it matters. As I write this, CIOs and Office Managers around the country are scrambling to replace all their blackberrys with other phones because Gartner said that the Blackberry is dead and their bosses and CEOs heed Gartner’s advice.

It would’ve been nicer if the folk at Gartner kept their predictions to themselves, but it’s impossible to ask for discretion from someone that’s in the “predictions business.” Now, if someone could just predict Gartner’s death…

If a tree falls and no one…


Google evil

I’ve noticed lately that many times, right after paying for online purchases, Google offers to protect the goods I just got. And they want to do it for free.

I don’t like free, and I don’t like free coming from Google because one way or another, you pay for anything you get from the search behemoth (it really sucks that they have the best search engine by far over the best of their competitors, because I’m stuck with them). Of course, the price you pay is a bit of your privacy, which makes the uproar over the NSA’s scandal quite ironic.

Today, as I had a few minutes after purchasing a few things for a client, I decided to click on the “learn more” link at the now ubiquitous offer from Google and the only new thing I learned is that the protection doesn’t go beyond 60 days after the date of purchase and it only covers $1000 worth of lifetime claims, not to mention that the coverage itself is rather lame (google “google your purchase protection” and see for yourself).

The exercise was more to satisfy my curiosity and confirm my suspicions than anything else, and confirmed they were:

” If you opt in, the merchant will share your
order information and email address with us.”

It’s really ironic how the leak about the NSA’s practices elicited quite an uproar for rather basic information being collected on us while someone collecting (and aggregating) information as detailed and intimate as what we buy, how much we pay for it, and how, results in collective non-reaction.

I expect more than handful of souls to cry that our government was doing it without our knowledge, while Google’s Purchase Protection is 100% voluntary and overt. The latter is, technically 100% true, but in this day and age, to be aware of the ability of a government organization that’s powerful enough to be cloaked in the utmost secrecy and expect that it will only gather information outside our borders and only on foreign individuals and entities is the epitome of burying one’s head in the sand. And yes, Google’s program is voluntary, but how voluntary is something when it is a given that most people offered it will accept? I’m willing to bet that the opt-in rates are well over 90%. After all, you’d have to be an idiot not to accept something that’s free, and most people can’t be idiots. Right?

So, going back to the title, if Google does something evil and no one notices or cares, is it still evil?

Google detox


Took me, a while to take the plunge, especially because all my email is forwarded to and answered from my gmail account, not to mention that another such account serves as a backup for all incoming mail, but last week, after a lot of trepidation, I opened a zoho.com account.

As opposed to gmail’s 10GB limit, zoho’s mail boxes are only 5GB, but hopefully that won’t be a problem. And if it is, well, I’ll create another account or move my email somewhere else.

So far, I’m liking zoho very much. Took me a few days to get used to the interface, but it’s OK, even though you can’t sort emails by sender or subject (one of my pet peeves with gmail).

Spam filtering isn’t as good as google, but having to delete some 10 emails that fly under the radar every day isn’t too high a price to pay for a sense of real privacy.

My plan is to use both services in parallel for a few more days and then have my email forwarded to zoho.com exclusively.

Zoho.com also has a calendar tool (among a slew of other apps, similar to google’s offering), and importing my events and reminders from google was a seamless process.

So far, I’m enjoying zoho. It looks like a keeper and I’m one step closer now to leave google as behind as possible.

Privacy – yes, I know, more of the same…


It’s quite ironic that science fiction has led us to believe that it would be government who, by 1984, would be watching our every move and know more about ourselves than us, yet it is the poster children of the free enterprise, Google, Facebook, who would really have this ability and we’d be asking our governments to find a way to curb their voracity for the data that are our lives.

Google doesn’t say much about what it does with our information, but it’s just a matter of time before their vast database of emails, search patterns, clicks, and, lately, phone call transcriptions (possibly done in real time) are offered for hire, providing anyone willing to pay the price with a chillingly accurate image of our lives.

Facebook keeps making statements, which are changed about every six months in subtle ways, but judging about how the social network works, they should stop the crap, come to terms with reality, and change the name of their privacy policy to “publicity policy.” I’m the first to admit that it provides a rather pathetic picture of who most of the people in my contacts list really are (and how little they have to offer), but I can’t get away from it for prolonged periods of time. It appeals to my (and everybody else’s) narcissistic sense of self.

Will any of this happen? I don’t think so. As much as we hate the beast, we just can’t stop feeding it. They’re like those mythological creatures that feed on hate, yet everyone hates them.


If you’re into computers or in the market for a new portable machine, you’ve heard by now of some of them being referred to as “ultrabooks.”

The term, which defines (I’m working from memory here) computers that sport Intel cpu’s, are under an inch thick, and have 5 hours or more of battery life came, obviously out of Intel.

As the manufacturer behind most of the cpu’s used in computers these days, they went ahead and trademarked the name and, having the muscle they have, they’ll probably even market the concept to pre-schoolers, just like junk-food manufacturers shove their garbage down our kids’ psyche’s while they watch Backyardigans, which means that, just like toddlers in a supermarket, consumers will start asking “where’s the ultrabook?”

Obviously, as the term’s tradermarked, vendors who want to get on the bandwagon (my guess… all of them) now have all the pressure Intel wants them to have to use their cpu’s, or else face the Federal Government.

In the meantime, HP came out with a line of AMD-equipped “sleekbooks,” a term they ought to trademark, just to make the shopping experience confusing enough to consumers so Intel is forced to stop this crap, but then it’s just wishful thinking to expect companies that exist on the fine line that separates bankruptcy from profitability to stand-up to one of their only two cpu suppliers.

Quite the coup, I must say… blameless bullying. Brilliant. At least we know now that someone was taking notes while Microsoft was being dragged into court for anti-trust violations.

Cisco is like Apple. Only different…


Yesterday was the second or third time ever that I had to deal with a Cisco Pix (a glorified router, if you ask me). Before your jaw drops with secret admiration, I must come clean: I was just typing the commands that someone, who is knowledgeable on this, was dictating word by word over the phone so the router would do what it’s supposed to do – I was just his eyes and fingers for about an hour. This person, however, gets my admiration for having taken the time to learn to manage a piece of hardware as arcane as anything Cisco.

For those unfamiliar with what it’s like to set up a Cisco router, the best example I can think of from my experience today is that it’s exactly what it would feel if you turned off your computer’s monitor only to turn it on, for about a minute, for a quick peek every 10 minutes or so to see the results of what you’ve been doing. It’s a telnet interface (a text screen where you enter commands) and through the process, the device’s feedback is limited to a few error messages and nothing else: if it doesn’t complain about what you typed, you’re on track.

Cisco equipment is famously expensive (I’m sure it’s pretty good too, but then, it really takes effort to make a router that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, anyway), though the really interesting part of all this is the business model:

  1. Cisco makes expensive equipment that’s a bitch to manage.
  2. Cisco certifies users as Cisco-capable after they take one or more [rather expensive] courses.
  3. After spending a ton of money on getting certified I’d be hell-bent on recommending Cisco equipment (I want my money back, and so would anyone with an IQ higher than their waist size).
  4. Which takes us back to 1.

If there were a 3a, it’d probably read something like “The last thing Cisco-certified people want is for Cisco to add a user interface to their products that’s actually usable.”

The bottom line, though, is that the entire business model relies on the user-interface being as bad as possible. Were they to slap a web server on top of the configuration facilities (like home or small-business routers have), they would self-destroy, as they’d be, in effect, alienating their key evangelists and, in the process, they’d also cheapen their product in the eye of the consumer, as anyone’s teenage nephew would be proficient at it in a matter of hours, if not less.

After today, I think the only way they could make it worse (or better, depending on who you ask) would be to substitute the English commands, which start making a bit (a tiny bit, I must add) of sense after about an hour of being at it, with mnemonics (i.e. “A5” instead of “configure”).

But, how is Cisco like Apple? you might be wondering. Simple: both businesses rely heavily on the user interface of their products, only one couldn’t be better and the other couldn’t be worse.

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