Showing posts with label internet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label internet. Show all posts


how to get your website removed from the wayback machine

During my recent attack by wingnut trolls, I learned something new: how to request that the Internet Archive remove your site from the Wayback Machine.

* * * *

Before I was nominated as an NDP candidate in the recent provincial election, of course my online presence had to be vetted. All potential candidates were asked to deactivate their personal profiles from social media, and in addition I was asked to delete a few random tweets from several years ago. None of this was a big deal to me. The only big deal was wmtc.

Early on, I was asked if I'd consider taking down the site. My first reaction was completely negative. Wmtc is so much a part of my life. Take it down? No way!

It was only weeks before the election would be called -- and I've been blogging for 14 years. That's a lot of words! There was really no way to vet everything. While the NDP was considering the situation from their end, I was also thinking more about being a candidate, and increasingly feeling like it was something I wanted to do. The next time we spoke, I said I was amenable to taking the blog offline for the duration of the campaign. They were happy; I was happy; things proceeded.

This is where someone made a mistake. The NDP research team should have given me instructions for getting wmtc excluded from the Wayback Machine -- but they did not.

The troll that emailed wmtc links to the Toronto Sun columnist might have done it anyway -- that person may have been saving those links for a long time, or may have found them on a message board -- but the columnist would have had no way to verify it.

But that isn't what happened. Only after the columnist got in touch with me, a research person gave me these instructions:

1. Use the email account associated with your blog.

2. Email, identify yourself as the site owner, and request removal of the site from the archives.

Then, supposedly, you will quickly receive an acknowledgement of your email, and in 2-3 days, your site will be excluded from the Wayback Machine.

I sent the email.

I received no reply.

A week went by -- a very stressful and difficult week -- and still I heard nothing. Meanwhile, the trolls and the columnist had dredged up more material to take out of context, selectively quote, and use against the NDP.

The Party's research department got in touch again -- the sight of her number on Caller ID made my stomach turn over -- and we agreed that I'd email them again.

Eight days after my first email, I received this form letter.

The Internet Archive can exclude web pages from the Wayback Machine (, but we first respectfully request that you help us verify that you are the site owner or content author by doing any one of the following:

- post your request on the current version of the site (and send us a link).

- send your request from the main email contact listed on the site.

- send a request from the registrant's email (if publicly viewable on WhoIs Lookup) or webmaster’s email listed on the site.

- point us to where your personal information (name, personal contact info, image of self) appears on the site in a way that identifies you as the site owner or author of the content you wish to have excluded - in this instance, we ask to verify your identity via a scan of a valid photo id (sensitive info such as birth date, address, or phone can be blacked out).

- forward to us communication from a hosting company or registrar addressed to you as owner of the domain.

If none of these options are available to you, please let us know in a reply to this email.

We would be grateful if you would help us preserve as much of the archive as possible. Therefore, please let us know if there are only specific URLs or directories about which you are concerned so that we may leave the rest of the archives available.

As you may know, Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library, seeking to maintain via the Wayback Machine a freely accessible historical record of the Internet. The material in the archives are not exploited by Internet Archive for commercial profit.
This was very discouraging. I had waited more than a week, and still I was only at the form-letter stage! I already was emailing from the account associated with the site! Most of the other methods of verification were not available to me. I was a bit panicked and not thinking entirely clearly.

But finally, I logged into the DNS company that hosts my URL, and took a screenshot of the account profile page. I also scanned my driver's license, and sent both DNS screenshot and license pic to the archives' email address.

Three days later, I received the same form-letter reply to my second request.

Two days after that, I received this notice.

The sites/URLs referenced in your email below have now been submitted for exclusion from the Wayback Machine at

Please allow up to a day for the automated portions of the process to run their course and for the changes to take effect. If you have any other questions or concerns, please let us know.
By this time, of course, it was way too late.


on poppies, veterans, trolls, and doxing

First of all, I do not apologize.

I have nothing to apologize for. No one should apologize for having an unpopular opinion, or an opinion that the majority finds offensive.

Second, I said nothing disrespectful to veterans. My utter lack of respect -- my undying contempt -- is for rulers whose policies send humans into unnecessary armed conflict. Those rulers pay lip-service to "supporting" troops, while their policies ensure more humans will suffer from the effects of war.

If you're joining us in progress, here's what you missed. 

Before the election, I took all my personal social media offline. We knew that the opposition would dedicate vast resources to digging up or fabricating anything they could use against NDP candidates. For some reason, no one directed me to remove wmtc links from the Wayback Machine (i.e., internet archives). This proved to be a grave error.

A right-wing political hack who masquerades as a journalist received excerpts from some old wmtc posts from a troll source. I know this because Hack forwarded Troll's email to me, with the identifiers scrubbed.

Hack did what hacks do, and trolls did what trolls do. Hack kept this going for way longer than any of us expected, dedicating three columns to me, and mentioning my name in several other columns. Eventually it was reported on by more mainstream media.

The right-wing attack machine moved from candidate to candidate, digging up tiny bits of online fodder, distorting and quoting out of context, in a ludicrous attempt to portray the NDP as a hotbed of wacko radicalism.

Doug Ford and his party waged the worst kind of campaign possible: they obfuscated facts, and relied on lies, sloganeering, and mudslinging.

Andrea Horwath and our party were consistently positive, focused, truthful, and precise.

That the majority of voters in Ontario chose the former over the latter is profoundly disturbing.


I thought I knew what it was like to be attacked by trolls, from early wmtc days. I was wrong. The trolls who attacked this blog were annoying gnats who could be easily batted away. The troll attack orchestrated by Hack & Co. was a whirling swarm of angry hornets, the size of a midwest twister.

Their weapons were the most vulgar kind of personal insults, and graphic threats of violence.

I have pretty thick skin and don't tend to take things personally. My union sisters and brothers often describe me as "fearless". But this was a form of violence, and it shook me.

I'm lucky that it didn't affect my outlook, my opinions, or my self-esteem. That's down to the amazing support I had -- from the party, from my union, from friends, and from strangers who agreed with my views and reached out to me. Because of this support, I was shielded from most of the invective. I saw only a small portion of it, yet that was enough to shake me. I felt that my personal safety was threatened. That's not easy to do to me.

It's difficult -- nay, impossible -- for me to understand this kind of behaviour. The whitehot anger, the fervor so easily ignited -- the immediate willingness to attack, the assumed entitlement to say anything to anyone, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. The seeming inability to respectfully disagree. It is truly beyond my understanding.

What I think about poppies, militarism, and veterans

I wrote the now-infamous post about the poppy symbols at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was flogging the war machine in Afghanistan. I have a deeply held opposition to war, and I wanted Canada out of Afghanistan.

I also link the symbolic poppy to the general militarism that infects our society -- where "support the troops" is code for "support the war". Militarism takes many forms, including recruiting in schools, honouring military members at sporting events, using weapons as entertainment, such as air shows, and for me, the ubiquitous poppy symbol.

Naturally I understand that the majority does not view the poppy symbol this way. Hundreds tried to enlighten me, as if somehow the view of the vast majority hadn't reached my ears. But guess what? I disagree.

I have never written or said anything that disparages veterans. On the contrary, the pages of this blog are replete with disgust for the governments that disrespect veterans by slashing funding for their health and rehabilitation. My "11.11" category is about peace. If wanting peace disrespects veterans, we are living in an Orwellian nightmare.

What supporting veterans should look like

I have no doubt that for some people the poppy is a potent symbol, and that they believe wearing this symbol shows respect and reverence for veterans. I have never suggested that other people shouldn't wear poppies. I simply choose not to wear one. (I don't refuse to wear one, as the memes said. I choose not to.)

To me, if we truly want to support veterans and military servicemembers, we must do two things.

One, create and fully fund a robust array of supports for people who have suffered from war, to support their physical and mental well-being. Our society does not do that.

And two, stop making war. Stop creating veterans. Search for ways to resolve conflicts that do not involve killing people. And never use war as a means to profit.

Until these things are done, you can cover yourself in poppies, and your "support" and "respect" will be as false as the plastic flowers you revere.

A final word about respect

I don't disrespect veterans. But I don't automatically respect someone because they are a veteran.

Many people contribute to our society through their work or their passions. Others harm our society with selfishness, greed, violence, and unkindness. When people are kind and generous, when they act with compassion and integrity, I respect them. When they do the opposite, I do not. This is as true for veterans as it is for teachers, social workers, nurses, or politicians.

People who hurl crude insults at strangers because they cannot abide a difference of opinion, but who claim to love freedom and respect veterans, are ignorant wretches. I don't respect them. I pity them.


in which i contemplate the personal pros and cons of social media

I've been taking a break from social media, and I am feeling the positive effects. But I do miss people. But I feel better...but I miss people...but I feel better. And so on.

This is your brain on fibromyalgia

I struggle with low concentration and intermittent brain fog. I believe it's from fibromyalgia, but whatever the cause, it's a minor disability or a weakness for which I must compensate. I have devised various coping mechanisms, and for the most part, they are integrated into my life, as are all my many coping mechanisms for all the bullshit life throws at me. (Not complaining, merely stating.)

I recently went through a rough patch where my mental state was particularly frustrating. I had a really hard time chairing a small meeting. (When I apologized, people told me they didn't notice anything different. But were they just being kind?) I had to write an email with a lot of names and dates -- numbers are the biggest challenge when I'm mentally impaired -- and despite checking and re-checking, I messed it up, and had to send a correction. My brain felt scrambled.

I sensed that time spent on Facebook was making it worse. I don't know where I place on the continuum from people who shun social media completely, to those who live on it, but over the years, I've gotten my social media use in a good place. Or I thought I did. Like a lot of people, I would jump on Facebook for short periods of time, several times throughout the day and evening. Now I think that may be the problem. Time that should have been free -- not so much down-time as brief spaces in between activities and tasks -- were getting filled with information. It was pushing my brain into overload. I say I think that was happening, because I really don't know.

What do I use and why do I use it?

Facebook. Most of my social media use is Facebook. I use it as an activism tool, and for connecting with an extended network of interesting people. Most of my Facebook contacts are people whose company I enjoy, but who I no longer see (and in many cases, never saw regularly or at all), or else connections to the labour and peace movements.

My union has an active, closed Facebook group that works really well for us. This means that when I take a Facebook break, I have an additional challenge -- how to post only in our union group, then leave.

Facebook also serves as a news aggregator and news filter. And I also get humour and general fun and silly stuff from my feed.

Unlike most people I know, I don't use Facebook to connect with old friends or acquaintances from former schools or jobs. I have zero interest in that. Apparently people find this odd.

Twitter. I used to use Twitter for certain specific news feeds, like Dave Zirin and and Glenn Greenwald. But I found that I rarely, if ever, saw more than the tweets and the headlines, and that was too unsatisfying. I opted for more time without bits of information scrolling in front of my face.

I like using Twitter for customer service, and for sending someone I don't know a link -- for example, sending an author a book review. Our union team used Twitter a lot during our strike, and I still do use it to circulate certain union information.

Instagram. I dislike Instagram and find no use for it at all. I know it's the current "where things are happening now" for young people, but that is obviously not a consideration for me.

Pinterest. I used to use Pinterest to find library programming ideas, until I realized how redundant it was. Pinterest amounts to a series of user-created directories -- and no directory will ever be as efficient and as comprehensive as a Google search.

G+. I used to post links to wmtc posts on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter. One day I forgot about Google Plus, and that was the end of that.

So at this point, it's down to Facebook.

My problems are my own

People in my Facebook feed regularly announce that they are unfriending Trump supporters or similar pronouncements. That's never been a problem for me. I used to get into arguments with US friends who support the Democrats, but over time I disciplined myself to scroll past that information without comment.

Similarly, I hear about venomous bullying -- what used to be called flame wars -- on Twitter, but I don't see any of it.

So these common complaints about social media are not effecting me.

For me, it's all about my mental state. Since beginning my vacation from social media, I've been reading more, started and completed a jigsaw puzzle, spent more time outdoors, and in general, I'm thinking more clearly.

That is the question


1. Brain less scrambled

2. Better focus

3. Reading more

4. Less screen time, which means more print time and (sometimes) more outdoor time

5. More mental calm and quiet


1. I miss people

2. Less time with friends, so less support

3. I don't know what's going on in people's lives, so I'm also not there to give support

4. Less humour, less fun

5. Need to make more of an effort to stay informed

I'm not liking these choices.


what i'm reading: the attention merchants by tim wu

Everywhere we look, every available space is filled with advertising. The Toronto skyline is a sea corporate logos. The due-date receipt from my library book features an ad on the back. I once tracked all the ads shown during a major league baseball game -- during play, not between innings -- and the results were startling, even to me. And, of course, our entire experience on the internet -- especially on our personal mobile devices -- is tracked and used by corporations with only our dimmest awareness and nominal consent.

It wasn't always like this. How did we arrive at this current state? The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu answers this question. The answer is fascinating and entertaining, and -- if you dislike the constant and ever-increasing commodification of our lives, as I do -- more than a little frustrating.

In the first part of the book, Wu presents a capsule history of the "attention capture industry" -- what this review in The New York Times adeptly calls "the slow, steady annexation and exploitation of our consciousness". This begins with the first ads to appear in a daily newspaper, moves through snake-oil salesmen, to the first people to recognize the power of radio to sell products, through sponsored television shows, to ads during shows -- which was shocking and provoked outcry in its day! This section is truly fascinating. Wu is a master at finding sparkling details that make the story come alive. For example, I learned that snake oil, now a generic term for worthless products touted as cures for all ills, takes its name from a product that actually involved snakes. The Attention Merchants is packed with these kinds of tasty nuggets of information.

In the history of attention capture, Wu also includes government propaganda. He looks at how during the first World War, the British government, joined later by its American counterpart, used mass-media lies to entice young men to all but certain death in the trenches. This segment also analyzes the first modern total information campaign, and the first to harness electronic media for large-scale propaganda, that of one Adolph Hitler. We've all seen footage of the giant Nazi rallies with huge fascist insignias, but I didn't fully realize that Hitler, along with Third Reich propaganda master Joseph Goebbels, was the first to study and analyze attention capture, and to use it on a grand scale. (Incidentally, if you know anyone who believes the 'Hitler was all right at first, he just went too far' canard, Wu provides ammunition to shoot it down. From his earliest days making speeches in beer halls, Hitler was blaming Germany's woes on Jews.)

Another interesting segment is devoted to what Wu calls "The Celebrity-Industrial Complex". For someone like me who doesn't share the mainstream obsession with celebrity -- indeed, I don't understand it, even a little -- this was both fascinating and affirming. Wu offers an interesting analysis of Oprah Winfrey's attention methods, which he sees as groundbreaking in a not altogether positive way.

The part of The Attention Merchants that has been the focus of most reviews and interviews is about the price we pay for supposedly free services on the internet. Most of us have heard the phrase, "when a service is free, we're not customers, we're the product" or variations thereof. (Various people have made this public statement at various times, dating back to Richard Serra in 1973.) Wu dissects exactly what that means -- for the tremendous potential of the internet, now tremendously debased and squandered, and for ourselves, with our fractured attention spans, short and ever shorter.

In the book's later chapters, the tone and tenor changes from dispassionate historical analysis to passionate and savaging. The rise of "free" social media, where billions of people willingly submit to having their personal habits mined, tracked, and resold for other people's profits, on a scale never before seen in human history, is not a mixed blessing in Wu's worldview. It's a flat-out evil.

By the time I finished the book, I challenged myself to take a holiday from social media and reclaim my own attention span. Some of you know that because of my health issues, I struggle with low concentration. Perhaps the effects are exaggerated for me... or perhaps not. I want to spend less time with little bits of information scrolling in front of my eyes. When it comes to information, I want quality over quantity. I'm experimenting with it now, but I'm not sure I'll ever go back.

Wu also points out a massive public pushback, as evidenced by the millions of people willing to pay a monthly fee to enjoy advertising-free viewing through Netflix, HBO, Showtime, and similar services. The cultural phenomenon known as binge-watching is evidence that we can focus our attention for lengthy periods of time, when what we're watching is good enough to warrant it.

Wu writes:
Ultimately, the problem was as old as the original proposition of seizing our attention and putting it to uses not our own. It is a scheme that has been revised and renewed with every new technology, which always gains admittance into our lives under the expectation it will improve them -- and improve them it does, until it acquires motivations of its own, which can only grow and grow. As Oxford ethicist James Williams puts it, "Your goals are things like 'spend more time with the kids,' 'learn to play the zither,' 'lose twenty pounds by summer,' 'finish my degree,' etc. Your time is scarce, and you know it. Your technologies, on the other hand, are trying to maximize goals like 'Time on Site,' 'Number of Video Views,' 'Number of Pageviews,' and so on. Hence clickbait, hence auto-playing videos, hence avalanches of notifications. Your time is scarce, and your technologies know it."
Wu references William James,
"who, having lived and died before the flowering of the attention industry, held that our life experience would ultimately amount to whatever we had paid attention to. At stake, then, is something akin to how one's life is lived. That, if nothing else, ought to compel a greater scrutiny of the countless bargains to which we routinely submit, and even more important, lead us to consider the necessity, at times, of not dealing at all.
I've added Wu's first book, The Master Switch, to my to-read list.


here's why i love the internet, part 3,482,092 or whatever

For my work with my library workers' union, I schedule a lot of meetings. Various people can or cannot attend various meetings. We all use different calendar/agenda/diary tools, so sending an Outlook appointment, like we do in our workplace, isn't an option.

As meetings approach, I receive emails from team members, telling me they can or cannot attend, often changing from one to the other. I was having a hard time keeping track of who to expect at what meetings.

I knew there had to be an online tool to help with this. I use Doodle all the time for scheduling, but that wasn't quite right. I didn't feel like asking on Facebook, because I wanted to get a sense of what was out there, not just what was popular at the moment.

At first, Googling "online tool for meeting attendance" turned up attendance-management tools like this, or event registration tools like this. But after a few searches, I hit on "online tool to track rsvps", and found exactly what I needed: Whoozin.

I needed something, I knew it had to exist, and I found it.

I used the internet to further my use of the internet to make my life easier.


the sad tale of an oil stain, or how i was misled by the internet

Last week, while enjoying a lovely lunch at a restaurant with my mom and my partner, an oily sauce jumped out of a bowl and splattered on my shirt. All right, it didn't actually jump out, truth is I can be a clumsy eater. But the sauce went on my shirt. Ugh.

This wasn't one little dot, which can be annoying enough. This was an entire collection of splats, re-decorating the front of my shirt. Double ugh.

Because I was busy with family and friends, I wasn't able to immediately soak or stain-treat the shirt. It ended up sitting for a couple of days before I washed it.

When I got home a few days later, I stain-treated and washed the shirt several times. I used my preferred stain-removing spray, OxiClean, and also soaked the shirt in a solution of OxiClean powder, each time putting it in the washing machine on warmer water than I would normally use. The stains did get lighter, but they did not come out.

Next I Googled "how to remove oil stains from clothing". I found answers at: WikiHow, Wise Bread,, and a blog called the Northern Belle Diaries. There were other sources, but I judged these four to be most reliable. (Another source that is generally good, eHow, recommended what I had already done.)

One method was common to those four sources: putting 10W-40 or other motor oil on the stain, letting it soak in, rinsing it out in hot water, then laundering in the washing machine again.

It seemed strange and a bit shocking to put motor oil on my shirt. But the shirt was unwearable in its present condition, so I felt I had nothing to lose.

I followed instructions.

The stain did not come out.

Neither did the motor oil.

My shirt now has huge black oil stains all over it.

If the stain had not come out, but the shirt was in no worse shape, I could have tried another method. But now it's too late.

On reflection and hindsight, I might have tried a less drastic method before resorting to the 10W-40. Some sites mentioned baking soda or baby powder. However, I have tried those methods in the past and found them useless.

So what happened?

Is this idea of removing oil with more oil a myth, kind of like using tomato juice to remove skunk odor from a dog's fur? (Trust me, it doesn't work. Use baking soda and hydrogen peroxide.)

Does that mean people publish how-to articles on sites like and WikiHow without actually trying it first?

Are these websites simply repeating what other sites publish, the way people do with Wikipedia, potentially spreading misinformation along with good information?

Does this method actually work, even though it didn't work for me?

I wish I could post before, after, and after-after photos, but, not knowing that my shirt would be ruined, I never thought to take a pic. Just imagine a lovely cobalt-blue, hip-length, gathered-V-neck cotton shirt (similar to this) with motor oil all over it.


Update. Catching up on impudent strumpet, I've learned there's a word for the internet phenomenon I was trying to describe above: citogenesis, courtesy of the inimitable xkcd.


in which i survive three days without internet, or how rogers (maybe) punishes former customers

Sometime late on Thursday night into Friday morning, our internet went down. This is the worst possible time for such an event, as internet is our lifeline to baseball, and the Boston Red Sox are on their way (I hope) (I believe) to winning the World Series.

From the sound of things, there were problems at some major internet hubs in the area, with massive outages affecting parts of Mississauga, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, and so on.

What was the problem? When could we expect service to resume? TekSavvy wasn't able to tell me... because Rogers wouldn't tell them.

I have been Rogers-free since March of 2012, and I have been extremely pleased with TekSavvy. TekSavvy's customer service is excellent, their tech support is excellent and local, and they deliver more internet for less money. I pay about 30% less for unlimited service at a higher speed; that is, I paid Rogers 30% more for capped usage at a slower speed.

The only sticking point is that TekSavvy is a re-seller. They contract with Rogers and other cable and DSL providers to use networks and technicians. And Rogers doesn't make it easy. During this recent (and unusual) outage, TekSavvy said "the vendor" (i.e. Rogers) was giving them no information on what was happening or when the issue might be resolved.

When I woke up to no internet on Friday morning, I told myself, there was no game that day, and we had until 8:00 on Saturday. It seemed highly unlikely that we'd be without internet for that long.

On Saturday morning, we still didn't have internet, and I was getting worried. Our Halloween program at the library kept my mind off waiting, and when I came home on Saturday, I rushed to the computer. Still nothing.

By Saturday evening, hours before the start of World Series Game 3, I was a bit panicked. I have a smartphone, so I could see my email. Our home phone is VoIP, but I can live without a home phone for a while. But... baseball!!

Saturday at 8:00, and still nothing. A friend who is a Red Sox diehard texted me play-by-play of the game! (My hero!)

Sunday morning, still nothing. TekSavvy still has no word from Rogers.

Sometime during the day, we realized that the sports radio station in Toronto would probably be carrying the national World Series broadcast. I'm so accustomed to thinking of radio on the internet - that's how I listen to the local Red Sox announcers - that I had forgotten about regular, non-internet radio. The Toronto station probably didn't broadcast all the playoffs, but the World Series would be on for sure. And it was. I happen to love baseball on the radio, so I was happy and relieved.

And Sunday night, while listening to the game, I absentmindedly turned on the TV and saw that the Roku streaming device had a connection. We came back online late Sunday night, about 72 hours after losing access.

So, does Rogers screw with TekSavvy and TekSavvy customers?

On one end of the spectrum we have total innocence and coincidence: Rogers had a huge outage, and although TekSavvy was not kept informed, TekSavvy customers were in no worse shape than Rogers customers. On the other end we have total conspiracy: Rogers targets TekSavvy, making TekSavvy customers unhappy with their second-rate, discount service, and more likely to switch (or switch back) to Rogers.

In the middle, we have a gray area where the outage affects everyone, but Rogers conveniently puts TekSavvy at the bottom of its to-do list, and makes sure it gets to everyone and everything else first.

Here's a possible precedent. About 12 years ago, my phone service was "slammed" - that's when a telco illegally switches your phone service without your permission. After the surreptitious switch, they either charge you exorbitant amounts for calls, or charge you a termination fee to leave. Or, if you don't look closely at your phone bill, you just pay them and continue doing so. My service was switched to an AT&T affiliate. The AT&T customer service representative assured me that it must have been an accident, because a reputable company like AT&T had no interest in stealing anyone's business.

After my service was switched back, I reported the slam to the FCC. The FCC rep told me that AT&T was the number one slammer: it slams thousands upon thousands of customers every year.

You can draw your own conclusions about Rogers.


on the internet, everybody knows you're a dog (the story behind the iconic cartoon)

We all know the iconic cartoon the title of this post refers to. Boing Boing has republished a story about it, originally run in The Magazine, an ad-free, reader-supported magazine that looks really interesting.

It's a wonderful little piece: the story behind the story, a glimpse into the life of people who try to earn a living from their own considerable talents, and a look back at the early days of the internet, and how things have changed, before tinfoil-hat predictions were proven to be not paranoia, but prescience.

Go here to read the story (really, it's fun), and here to see the rest of this cartoon. Please click through. The talented people at Joy of Tech get paid by clicks.


And now...


in praise of freecycle

It's been a while since I wrote about Freecycle - once as we were getting ready to move to Canada in 2005, then again when we moved from our first place in Port Credit to the Cooksville section of Mississauga.

On this last move (Cooksville to Square One), I had no time to go through things and pare down. I hired some folks to pack us up, and now I've been combing through everything as I unpack. I thought that was completely backwards, but it's turned out to be efficient and logical. Once you're moved in, you have a better idea of what works and what doesn't, and also more time, since there's no looming deadline.

To those ends, I've been giving away lots of things on Freecycle, and I've discovered yet again that many people haven't heard of it.

Freecycle is a network of local groups, run entirely by volunteers, through which people give and get things for free. You find a Freecycle group in your own community, post items that you want to give away, and (if you choose) look for things you might want to pick up at no cost. It's like leaving something at the curb for others to take, but with a much greater reach. There are now more than 5,000 Freecycle groups globally. The only criteria for giveaways is that items are legal and free. Yay, no haggling!

Now I have a pecking order for giving stuff away.

Clothes go immediately to a Goodwill thrift shop. (People need to see clothes and try them on.)

If I need money and feel something is too valuable to Freecycle, I post it on Craigslist. Working electronics, furniture in decent condition, rugs, shelving, and tools are all great for Craigslist. Many people have switched from Craigslist to Kijiji, but I have not had one positive experience with Kijiji, only annoyance, so I gave up.

If the item is not worth selling, or if it hasn't sold on Craigslist in several tries, usually I will post it on Freecycle. Freecycle has saved me from putting countless useable items into the waste stream. I recently Freecycled our old washer and dryer (both bought used, and there are dozens for sale on Craigslist), two ceramic mugs we don't like, a gravy boat that I will never use, a stack of burner guards for the stove (the new stove has flat burners), and a dozen audio cassette tapes (outdated technology).

Freecycle is great for getting rid of furniture or housewares that no longer work for you, but that aren't in top condition. Many people Freecycle children's books and toys, and baby furniture, which is brilliant, considering the relatively short span of usefulness of those items. Planned obsolescence and the horrendously cheap and shoddy quality of almost everything sold these days works against the Freecycle mentality, but many still-useable items are thrown out - and don't have to be.

There are only two things I don't like about Freecycle, and both are minor. Because the "gifter" is not obligated to give to the first person who responds - members are encouraged to give to people in need - "giftees" often try to demonstrate their need. I find this quite irritating. If I have something really juicy to give away, I have taken to writing "Please, no sob stories" on my posts. Some people find this amusing, others dislike it, but it has helped! The other thing that can be a drag is people who say they want something, email several times for information, then no-show.

These are not major drawbacks, but it does occasionally give me pause. More than once I've been tempted to throw something out rather than deal with Freecycle, because of some members' lack of respect for other people's time. In the end, though, I'd rather give something away than chuck it, so I'll wait until I'm feeling more patient before posting.

In general, people you deal with on Freecycle are friendly and appreciative. Everyone loves to get stuff for free, and being generous makes people feel good, too.


"hide my ass" is far superior for vpn and wireless vpn

My adventures with VPNs, wireless VPNs, and other fun IP-address changes just keep getting better all the time. My new favourite addition is called HideMyAss - a stupid name, but a terrific service.

When I last updated you on our awesome wireless VPN + Roku experience, we were using two separate routers - one for wireless VPN, and one for everything else. This was necessary because MLB.TV - through which we watch baseball on our TV, via Roku - didn't get along with the wireless VPN router. The feed would continually stop for buffering, making it impossible to follow a game. To watch baseball, we would use our regular router, with our normal Canadian IP address. To watch US Netflix, we'd use the router with the non-Canadian IP address.

Flipping routers, as we call it, was no big deal. But recently, anytime I was using the wireless VPN router, my internet connection would slow to a crawl. Plus the selection of IP addresses offered by Acevpn was getting less and less reliable. And the only way to find out if a particular IP address woud work was to try it. That meant going into the router, manually changing the gateway IP address, waiting a few minutes, seeing if it worked. If it didn't, try another. And another.

Recently it dawned on me that perhaps the VPN service itself was the problem. The original instructions that I used to set up our wireless VPN mentioned HMA (and for all I know, it is stealth marketing for HMA), so I tried them.

They are great! Here's why.

1. HMA has hundreds of IP addresses all over the world. By contrast, Acevpn had a dozen or so in the US and a handful in the UK.

2. For the standard VPN connection, on your computer, you can download and install their software. It gives you a handy, user-friendly dashboard with a simple on/off button and a full choice of IP addresses. No fiddling with routers or code.

3. You can test the IP addresses before you choose one!

4. And, most importantly for users of Roku or other streaming devices, HMA's wireless VPN does not interfere with any other internet functions. We can watch MLB via Roku from a "different location" with no buffering issues.

This rocks.

Canadians, there is no reason to put up with the sub-standard content available on Netflix Canada, or to be blacked out of sports you want to see, and which you are already paying for.

We're not stealing. Netflix and MLB are still getting their monthly fees. We're just not letting Rogers dictate what we can and can't see.


healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: help me make delicious lentil soup

The healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week - now running about every-other week - has hit a snag: lentil soup. I love lentil soup, but my own is turning out just OK, not really delicious.

After the first try was too bland, Stephanie suggested using allspice and more bay leaves. Excellent idea! I upped the bay leaves from three to six, and added allspice. Result: big improvement, but still not great.

If you make delicious lentil soup, can you share your secrets? (And if the secret is homemade stock, then I'm out of luck.) More below.

* * * *

I'm still using the hell out of my slow-cooker. I usually cook with it twice a week - once for food for the weekend, and once for my meals at work, one batch for the week. I'm still collecting meal ideas, if you have any favourites to share.

I notice that recipes I find online tend to be exceedingly bland. With the exception of foods that are supposed to be hot-spicy (which I avoid), the recipes I see are shy of seasoning. Lentil soup, for example, may call for 1/2 a teaspoon of thyme, 1/2 a teaspoon of oregano, and 1 clove of garlic. A pot of soup with only those seasonings would be tasteless. Maybe this is a case for cookbooks, as opposed to cooking websites.

I also note that this is the kind of post that usually goes on Facebook these days, as opposed to blogs. As you may know, I think that is bad.

* * * *

So here's the lentil soup I made yesterday. What's yours?

1 cup dried lentils
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 lb - 1 lb smoked ham, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
6 bay leaves
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon allspice
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 litre or more low-sodium chicken stock

Everything goes in slow-cooker, 8 hours on low.


in which i discover yet another internet scam

Looking for rental houses on Craigslist, I've discovered a scam that I was previously unaware of.

I replied to an ad for a place that sounded wonderful, with unusually low rent. I was keeping in mind the old maxim "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," but at the same time, it's only an email. It can't hurt to ask.

Everything I wanted to know about the property was answered in the affirmative. Then the supposed owner told me that I should fill out a rental application and, if approved, I could see the place.

Hmm. It's been six years since we looked for a place to live, but I'm pretty sure you don't fill out an application before you even see a property, unless you're working with a real estate agent. That would be a colossal waste of time. And why would I send personal information to a person I haven't even met, for a house I might not even want?

I tried to arrange a time to see the house, saying I would bring the completed application with me, and if we liked the house, submit the application on the spot.

Supposed Owner said he would not meet me at the house. He would give me the address and send keys "by secure courier". OK. That is weird.

At the same time, I heard back from another ad I replied to, also with an extremely low rent. This Supposed Owner had to leave the country suddenly for missionary work! They would give me an address where I could see the exterior of the house, and would mail me the keys.

Next stop: Google. "Rental scams." Dozens of sites describe this very common scam, but the SCAMwatch website, run by the Government of Australia, is particularly concise.
Fake rental properties and shared accommodation listings

Prospective tenants are being ripped off by fake rental property and shared accommodation listings on the internet posted by scammers.

SCAMwatch is warning prospective tenants to be wary when responding to rental properties advertised on the net where the 'owner' makes various excuses as to why you can't inspect the property but insists on an upfront payment for rent or deposit.

Scammers will often use various shared accommodation sites to post these fake listings. They will go to great lengths to ensure that the offer looks genuine by including photos and real addresses of properties. However, photos and details of properties can be easily obtained on the internet.

Once hooked, the scammer will request money, often via money transfer, or personal details upfront to 'secure' the rental property. SCAMwatch warns consumers not to send money or provide personal details to people you don't know and trust.

Warning signs - what to watch out for:

- Too good to be true offers.

- Ongoing excuses as to why the property cannot be viewed, such as the owner is overseas.

- Securing the property requires an up front fee via money transfer.

- The prospective landlord lives overseas.

How to protect yourself

- Insist on inspecting the property - a drive-by is not enough. With these types of scams, the property may genuinely exist, but it is owned by someone else.

- If it is overseas, ask someone you can trust to make inquiries. If there is a real estate agent or similar in the area they may be able to assist.

- Do not rely on any information provided to you from anyone recommended by the person advertising the property.

- An internet search on the name of the person offering the property and their email address may provide useful information.

- Where possible, avoid paying via money transfer. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
Today in the Craigslist housing listings, I noticed two ads, both identical to ads I saw yesterday - same photo, same text - but with the rent 30% lower. The poster hadn't even bothered to change conflicting information: the text said "no smoking no pets," but the Craigslist template was set to "cats OK dogs OK". (Example: original ad, scam ad.)

Like many people, when I heard about these scams in the past, I used to blame the victim. How could anyone fall for this? Now I take a more generous view. People can't know what they haven't been taught. Need or desire can blind us, and affordable housing is rarer than an honest real estate agent.

It's not just fresh-off-the-boat rubes and hayseeds that get taken. This New York Times article describes "a woman in her 20s who works in finance at a major investment bank" who came close to falling for a scam. Several people described in that article thought they were savvy, but ended up forking over money to con men.


everything else is either public relations or a misattributed quote

I saw this:

and thought: that doesn't sound like Orwell.

I have read almost everything Orwell ever published, and will eventually read everything, including all the published letters. While no one could remember every line from every essay, this just doesn't sound like our man Eric Blair to me. Orwell wasn't given to aphorisms or one-liners. It doesn't fit in the theme of any book or essay. The essay that seems most relevant, "Politics and the English Language," does not contain this line. I was skeptical.

I did several internet searches, hoping to find a source that attributed the quote to a specific book or essay. Nothing. The quote, attributed to Orwell, is all over the internet, but not one site ever indicates where it comes from. That seemed very significant. On this Wikiquote page, other people are asking the same question, and also not finding any attribution to specific work.

I posted about it on Facebook, hoping someone might have an idea on how to research it. One friend had the excellent idea of asking an Orwell expert.

I emailed six people who have either written books about Orwell, curated exhibits about him, or run websites relating to his work. Two authors responded and told me that in their research, they never came upon the quote, anywhere. That's likely the closest we can ever come to ruling out that Orwell wrote that line.

Finally, La Zerbisias, as I like to call her, turned me on to the fascinating rabbit-hole Quote Investigator. Check out QI's extensive research on the "everything else is public relations" line. Similar quotes have been attributed to: George Orwell, Alfred Harmsworth, William Randolph Hearst, Brian R. Roberts, Malcolm Muggeridge, Katharine Graham, Lord Rothermere, and Lord Northcliffe. Their conclusion: anonymous.

It's tempting to blame the internet age for all this misattribution, but that's just shooting the messenger. As QI clearly shows, false attributions were common long before the digital age. The internet just spreads them faster.

If you enjoy fake-quotation research, you might like to read (or re-read) this wmtc post about some famous lines Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson never said: you can look it up. If nothing else, scroll down to enjoy the pics and the comments.


google, what have you got against choice?

Google is losing a lot of friends lately. Their recent decisions to discontinue iGoogle and Reader are making many people unhappy. Today, to the great dismay of many Gmail users, Gmail's new compose interface - a small box in the corner of your screen - became the default. Google says the previous compose style - the more typical large box in the centre of your screen - will be discontinued.


Why not give us options? If some people like to compose an email in a small box in the corner of their screen, that's grand. They can. And if other people prefer to compose an email in as large a space as possible, in the centre of their screen... well, why can't we?

I do not understand Google's continuing drive to dictate to its users how they should use Google products. The technology to allow for customer choice clearly exists. Why not let users decide how best to use a product? Why does Google care where and how we type our emails? Why not let us decide?

This actually affects me less than many users. At home, on my main (desktop) computer, I use Gmail through Outlook. I use Outlook for email, contacts, calendar, notes, and tasks, and I like having everything in one place. I also prefer Outlook's formatting options, and it syncs easily with my BlackBerry.

But like many people, I use more than one computer, in more than one location, so I also use Gmail's web interface when using my netbook, at work, and any other place I might need email. Having both web and Outlook options is a great fail-safe, too. I frequently go into "internet Gmail" to find something I can't find in "Outlook Gmail".

With this idiotic compose function, I'm not going to want to use Gmail on the web unless absolutely necessary. And if Google keeps this up, I'll be searching for another email solution that isn't so dictatorial.

As far as I can tell, this mandatory compose feature is almost universally hated. You can leave feedback about the new Gmail functions on this Google Plus thread.


alternatives to google reader at

Since blog comments are not a very useful way of sharing information, I'll post this again here. A list of alternatives to Google Reader can be found at ReplaceReader.

I'm very interested in this, even though I stopped using Google Reader a long time ago. I tried several times, and each time found that using any feed service hugely exacerbated that feeling of drowning in too much information. Worse, using a feed reader triggered my anxiety about not having enough time, just about the last thing I need. Thus my own internet reading continues to be the only thing in my life that is purposely erratic, unmethodical, and disorganized - and that's the only way it works for me.

Despite that, I hate that Google has discontinued Reader and iGoogle, and I hope another good feed reader service becomes hugely successful as a result.


petition google to save google reader: please sign and share widely

A while back, I expressed my frustration with the current massive emphasis on mobile apps, and with organizations that use Facebook pages instead of web pages: the walled-off internet, or why facebook and mobile apps are good for them and bad for us.

For a more complete view of this sad fact, you might want to read this 2010 article from Wired: The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff. It's old in internet terms, but more relevant than ever:
If we’re moving away from the open Web, it’s at least in part because of the rising dominance of businesspeople more inclined to think in the all-or-nothing terms of traditional media than in the come-one-come-all collectivist utopianism of the Web. This is not just natural maturation but in many ways the result of a competing idea — one that rejects the Web’s ethic, technology, and business models. The control the Web took from the vertically integrated, top-down media world can, with a little rethinking of the nature and the use of the Internet, be taken back.
Now Google plans to take a huge step in this same wrong direction, with their plans to discontinue Reader. Whether or not you personally use Google Reader, its impending demise should bother you. Impudent Strumpet explains why.

Here is a petition to save Google Reader. Please sign and share.


it's time we all starved the trolls: stop reading comments on mainstream news stories

Robert Fisk has a good piece in The Independent about the incivility (to put it mildly!) that is endemic in the comment sections of online news stories: "Anonymous trolls are as pathetic as the anonymous "sources" that contaminate the gutless journalism of the New York Times, BBC, and CNN".

Fisk wonders why newspapers that will not publish an anonymous letter to the editor will allow anonymous lies and hateful screed in comments. Surely he knows the simple answer: money. Advertisers are paying for clicks, and the idiots in the comments section are increasing the clickage.

Why should we help them by reading those comments? Consider this.

We know that governments pay people to troll the comments section with disinformation and misinformation, just like they hire fake journalists and bribe working columnists to influence public opinion.

We know that the number of comments in any one direction cannot be taken as a gauge of public opinion. When Common Dreams responded to a flood of reader complaints after they opened articles for comments, they learned that one person was posting under more than 50 names.


1. Media needs comments to generate advertising income.

2. Governments pay people to write comments.

3. Comments that may appear to represent a majority may be written by one or two people.

4. We have no idea how much #2 and #3 overlap.

Every time I share these facts, at least one person has not heard them before. This has led me to make it a personal mission: to always ignore comments to online news stories and to always encourage others to do the same. I hope you will join me in this mission.

Many people seem to believe that these comments reflect public opinion. They may or may not - we have no way of knowing. The only thing we know that comments reflect is corporate media's need for clicks.

Media sites won't close down their comments sections anytime soon, not as long as clicks are associated with income. But we have a choice.

I know it can sometimes be seductive. You want to see what people are saying. Don't go there. Refuse to look. Refuse to click. Remind yourself: you will not learn anything, the ignorance and hate will upset or anger you, and you will change nothing.

What's more, it's not an effective use of our time. If we're busy reading and responding to comments, we're not building a movement to change the world. Think of it this way: Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney would love it if we spent our time responding to comments on news stories.

That sewer of hate and lies lives on clicks. The only way it will die is if we starve it.


why is someone from the house of commons and office of privy council reading my blog for hours?

Progressive bloggers, check your stats.

The Statcounter for wmtc shows "multiple visits spread out over several days" from an IP address in the House of Commons, and a separate visit from the Office of the Privy Council.

This visitor or visitors spent time at several of my "greatest hits" posts, information about my new career, my bio at The Mark, various essays, and a good deal of time searching for "ndp cooksville east mississauga kaminker" and "kaminker member ndp", and the like.

The entry post was this: july 1 2012: national stop harper day. I noticed this post was tweeted a lot yesterday by many anti-Harper Twitter accounts. No doubt government operatives are monitoring those tweets.

Sorry for the small font. There were so many, I could barely fit it in one snip.

Is the Harper GovernmentTM trying to show a connection between National Stop Harper Day and the NDP? (I have no idea if there is a connection.) Do they think "Stop Harper" is meant to be taken literally? Should I expect a visit?

Anyone else seeing this in their stats?


viral video too good to be true: the frankfurt police did not join the demo

The photo is real. The interpretation, unfortunately, was not.

Police in Frankfurt, Germany, did indeed remove their helmets, and they were walking ahead of Occupy protesters. However, they were not escorting, they were using a blocking technique similar to kettling. They also arrested hundreds of people who were peacefully demonstrating, and bashed a few heads in the bargain. A discussion is here, with links to more info.

Organizers in Germany are upset that the photo was misinterpreted as the police identifying with and demonstrating with the 99%, and I can understand that. But we were given a brief glimpse of a possible future.


and so to bed: thank you, phil gyford and thank you, samuel pepys

One of the oldest and most well-respected bloggers has brought his online journal to a close.

Since January of 2003 - 18 months before I began wmtc - I have been reading The Diary of Samuel Pepys online. Tomorrow night at about 9:00 UK time, the Diary will end. (The final entry is here.)

Samuel Pepys (pronounced "peeps") wrote a daily diary from January 1, 1660 to May 30, 1669. In it, he recorded a life both public and private - everything from the political machinations of the King and Parliament, to his theatre attendance and what books he was reading, to his new gadgets, clothes, and other luxury purchases, to - famously - his sexual exploits and related marital woes.

The Diary provides a rare, first-person view into the life of 17th Century London, including major events such as wars, the plague and the Great Fire of London. It's both a personal view of history, and a historical view of the person - truly a window into another world. It's also a fascinating lesson in how the English language has changed in 400-some-odd years.

Phil Gyford, who lives in London (UK), began posting The Diary of Samuel Pepys online in January 2003. He posted the diary in daily installments, each entry corresponding to its original date, 343 years earlier. A dedicated group of readers have annotated The Diary online, providing additional historical context, fleshing out a wide variety of topics, speculating on Sam's motives and meanings, and gossiping about his private life. And of course, many thousands of people have read the Diary online without annotating.

As the Diary dwindled into its last weeks, then days, many readers have been asking Phil if he would start the whole project again, from the beginning. I could scarcely believe the nerve - and the selfishness! Phil's answer is here. He's far too polite!

Even more frequent than the pleas to re-start the Diary have been the expressions of sadness that it's ending. Perhaps I'm just the only person to admit it, but I'm not sad - I'm relieved! I'm so happy to have read the whole thing from beginning to end, and now I'm glad to have one less thing to read.

Reading the Diary of Samuel Pepys in an online, collaborative environment has been a wonderful and enriching experience. It's one of the very best uses of the internet I know of, and it wouldn't have happened without Phil Gyford. Thank you, Phil! And thank you, Samuel Pepys!