Author Archives: daniel

How to block notification requests in Chrome

Oh the irony.

Anyway, the steps:

  1. Go to Chrome Preferences
  2. Advanced
  3. Site settings (or “Content settings”)
  4. Notifications
  5. Click the “Ask before sending (recommended)” switch off. It should then say “Blocked”

Yeah it’s a counter-intuitive caption on that button. It implies that switching it off will just drown you in a sea of unwanted notifications without asking you.

But it seems to work.

If you use Firefox or Safari, this How To Geek article covers those. The article notes that Edge doesn’t currently have an option to turn them off for good.

New used laptop: Thinkpad T430

I meant to post this ages ago: I got my first Thinkpad – an old T430. Very nice.

I had been looking for my first Thinkpad; an upgrade off a slow Lenovo (non-Thinkpad) laptop, and I thought I might splash out on a new one.

But then I discovered my sister had an ex-work T430 she didn’t want. Sold it to me for what she got it for: AUD $100.

Specs: i5-3320M (2.6 GHz), 4 Gb RAM, 1600 x 900 display, SSD. With a dock (that I’m not sure I’ll ever use)

Some scuffing on the case, but overall it’s in very nice condition.

And I found I could still upgrade it from Win7 to Win10 for free, using the Media Creation Tool.

I added another 4 Gb of RAM.

The keyboard is lovely, but I never did get used to the Fn/Ctrl key locations being backwards from most layouts, so I ended up swapping them in the BIOS.

Problems

One oddity after upgrading to Win10: Microsoft Edge was extremely slow to respond to clicks. The solution was a clean Win10 install – via the “reset your PC” feature.

I also found that under Win10, the trackpad would sometimes freeze up for a few seconds, particularly after two-finger scrolling. This turns out to be an issue with the Lenovo trackpad “palm check” feature. Set this to the minimum setting (or turn it off) and it seems to go away. The same problem occurs for some other Lenovo laptops.

Modding

More reading for myself when I get the chance: Modding guide

But I hope this old laptop will keep me going for a while for my on-the-go computing needs.

If your XBox One game disc is faulty, you can install the game from the network

I was going to blog about this some time ago, but it slipped my mind. Better late than never.

I bought an XBox One, and some games. Then I looked for secondhand games, and bought one or two, mostly stuff you can’t buy new anymore, like Halo remastered and Star Wars – Battlefront.

The Star Wars disc turned out to be faulty. The shop would happily take it back, but didn’t have a replacement they could give me.

It turns out that, provided it can be at least partially read, you can use the disc to prove to the XBox that you own the game, then install it off the network.

It’s easy: pop the disc in, cancel out of the installation, then go to the XBox store and find the same game. It’ll give you an install option, which will download it from the servers.

Unlike a game bought online, you’ll still need the disc in the console to play the game.

Neato.

(Source: This Reddit tip)

I tried Firefox again

I used Firefox when it was initially released about 15 years ago, but migrated to Chrome a few years later.

This story made me think it was worth trying FF again: NYT: ‘Firefox Is Back. It’s Time to Give It a Try.’

A couple of weeks ago, I tried Firefox over a few days. Here’s what I found.

Tuesday

Once-off import of everything (including passwords) is easy: Switching from Chrome to Firefox

I’m trying out Firefox now on desktop and Android. Will see how I go.

So far I haven’t found a way of continuous synching of Firefox and Chrome without plugins.

Wednesday

On my desktops at home (Win7) and work (Win10), Firefox feels about as fast as Chrome, except for Gmail, but I think I’m seeing the effects of the new Gmail interface, which I switched to a day before switching browsers – this seemed slower than the old interface in Chrome as well.

Bringing bookmarks, passwords, etc over from Chrome was easy. Have synced most of them via a Firefox account (but not bookmarks, as I want the bookmarks toolbar to be different between home and work – I rarely use non-toolbar bookmarks)

It seems to run fine on my Android phone. Again, was able to sync via the Firefox account. Easy to set Android to open FF by default.

Possibly a bug in FF – on my work desktop, if I maximise the browser window on one of my monitors, the navigation all disappears. It works on the other monitor, and at home. — This is not a FF bug – Chrome, IE and Edge are all doing it. Probably be a graphics driver issue.

…at some stage a Windows Update came through and seemed to fix this.

Friday

One issue I’m seeing with Firefox: looking at Youtube, the options to embed a video have disappeared. Instead, the Share option will only let you send a Youtube message to somebody with the video link.

Tried Edge/Chrome on the same video, and they’re appearing. (It’s one of my own videos, so the option to allow sharing is definitely on).

So it seems Firefox appears to be doing something funny. I wonder if it’s trying to render a simplified (mobile-like) rendering of the page, though I can’t see an option for turning that off.

Eventually I found the Embed option. The navigation to it is totally different from within Chrome and Edge, making it difficult to find.

(Responsive Design Mode is off – looks like a handy option to have, actually)

Then I started to see similar issues on carsales.com.au… hmmm.

Tuesday

Well, I’m going back to Chrome, because:

  • Some quirks like the Youtube issue, and a few other local sites (perhaps the fault of the web designers, not the browser)
  • On my fast work PC, Firefox is good, but on my old desktop machine it seems a little bit sluggish compared to Chrome
  • I’ll keep FF on the work PC for my own development, but won’t use it as my usual browser.

For those sticking to Chrome but unhappy with the privacy defaults, there are a few tweaks that can be made, though who knows how effective they really are.

Happy browsing!

(I’m finally posting this just as news comes through of the big EU fine against Google. Interesting.)

Windows Update on Windows 7 repeatedly installs KB4103718

Surely I can’t be the only one with this problem?

For the past few days, Windows 7 Update has been repeatedly installing 4103718, the May 2018 rollup of security updates.

(Before you ask: I still run Windows 7 on one machine because I like Windows Media Center, which isn’t available on Windows 10.)

Every time, it thinks the patch is successful, but then wants to do it again. And again. And again.

I tried the Fix Windows Errors web page, which included the Windows Update Troubleshooter. It didn’t seem to help.

This article describes what to do: go to the list of available updates, right click, Hide Update.

This didn’t fix it alone. Checking for updates again, 4103718 popped up again in the guise of the April 2018 rollup.

Once I hid that version as well, it seemed to stop wanting to reinstall it.

4103718 has other problems, including in some cases disabling network connections. Hopefully they fix this one soon.

Motorola Moto G5 Plus “camera restart” error

My current phone is a Motorola G5 Plus. I really like it.

Except for one thing: sometimes it won’t start the camera. It pauses for a few seconds, then comes up with a camera restart error; you have to try it again. Sometimes it takes several goes to get it to work.

By the time the camera actually opens, whatever you wanted to snap may have gone.

It’s a widespread problem. Some people think it’s a heat issue, but I have my doubts.

There is a partial workaround: clear the cache partition.

This removes some temporary files, but no user files.

This page on the Motorola web site explains how to do it — but I’m going to post the text here, as it keeps disappearing off their site. Dodgy.

To perform a wipe cache partition:

1. With the phone powered off, press and hold the Volume Down button and the Power button at the same time until the device turns on.
2. Press the Volume Down button until the flag next to the power button reads “Recovery mode”
3. Press the Power button to restart into Recovery mode.
You’ll see an image of an Android robot with the words “No Command”
4. Holding the Power button, tap Volume Up once and then release the Power button.
5. Use the volume buttons to scroll to “wipe cache partition” and press the Power button to select it.
6. Use volume down to scroll to YES and power to confirm.
7. At the bottom of the screen, you will see your device go through the process. Once it says “Cache Wipe Complete” the reboot system now option will appear at the top.
8. Press the power button to confirm the reboot.

The above workaround clears it for a little while… then it comes back a few days or weeks later.

Hopefully eventually there’ll be a permanent fix for it.

Teletext still lives (just)

Teletext was developed in the 1970s in Britain as a way of sending information (text and basic colour graphics) in a PAL television signal.

The BBC implemented it as Ceefax (1974 to 2012), and numerous other broadcasters in PAL countries also used it. In Australia it was called Austext (1982 to 2009) and broadcast on Channel 7.

Apart from screens of information, the technology was also used to provide captions for TV programs (in Australia on page 801 on all networks).

In Australia, it ended in part because the original equipment was at end-of-life, no doubt combined with the rise of the Internet for getting that sort of information.

THE AUSTEXT SERVICE WILL CLOSE ON 30 SEPTEMBER 2009.

The Seven Network started providing test Teletext services in 1977, with live services commencing in 1982 in Brisbane and Sydney.

The Austext service today is still provided using the original 1970’s technology. This equipment has now reached the end of its lifespan.

Unfortunately,it is not possible to replace the existing Austext system with new equipment except at significant cost.

The BBC Micro and teletext

When the BBC Micro was introduced in 1981, this included a graphics mode (Mode 7) that natively supported teletext graphics. Given the computer only originally had 16-32 Kb of RAM, this mode using only 1 Kb was handy to have. It was mostly used by text-based programs, though there was the odd action game implemented in it — I remember a rendition of Space Invaders that used Mode 7.

In schools, BBC Micros could be networked together using the Econet system. A Teletext-like system was available that I think was called Eco-fax — we had that at my high school.

Less common, and only used in Britain, was a special Teletext adaptor, this could be used to download computer programs.

Teletext lives!

Teletext on broadcast television might be long gone, but there’s one place the technology is still used: in Australian racing.

Teletext displays in a TAB

Walk into any betting shop (this photo is from a TAB in Melbourne) and you’ll find these familiar text displays, with 8 colours, the capability of flashing and double-height text, and simple graphics, under the brand name “TabCorp Skytext”.

I have no idea how the signal is broadcast, but it’s definitely the same display technology. Nice to know it lives on, over 45 years since it was devised.

  • Ironically, this video from 2012 of highlights of 38 years of Ceefax isn’t playable on modern web browsers because it requires Flash

Taco Bill’s loyalty database hacked

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a suspicious-looking email that purported to be from Mexican restaurant chain Taco Bill.

I’m on their loyalty database (“Club Taco“), so I suspected their systems had been compromised.

Today they’ve confirmed it.

I’ll post the full statement, interspersed with some notes from me.

Data Breach – Taco Bill database

Taco Bill respects your privacy and values your ongoing business and, for this reason, would like to let you know, as a precautionary measure, about a data security incident that may involve your personal information.

On Friday, 22 September 2017, the Taco Bill email database managed by our external service provider was hacked by an unknown person or persons. This database contains personal information that you have provided to us when requesting to subscribe to our mailing system. This may include full name, postal address, email, phone number, date of birth, and additional linked account members’ details, if applicable (including spouse and/or childrens’ names).

By default, Club Taco asks for name and date of birth (the latter to send special offers on your birthday). Optional details include your address and phone number/s. I think — I hope — I didn’t enter those.

At present, they seem to have disabled the Club Taco joining page. Probably just as well.

The hacker uploaded approximately 1.75 million further subscribers to our database and then sent out two emails to our valued customers on our database and to the further 1.75 million subscribers that were uploaded. These emails do not appear to contain any viruses, but we recommend deleting them.

Sure, the email itself appeared to be clean. However, it did include a link to docx file on a hacked web site, multimixconcrete.com.au — hopefully they’ve figured out that they too were compromised.

From a trusted source:

At the time of writing, the multimixconcrete.com.au web site has been suspended by its ISP. It appears it belongs to a company in Western Australia.

We have been informed by our external provider that no information was copied off our database, however this does not mean that information may not have been copied.

Hedging their bets there a bit.

Taco Bill is undertaking a thorough review of the potentially affected database and its computers. We have also taken steps to protect your privacy and make sure this does not happen again, including scans of our computers, as well as changing our external service provider to provide us with faster response times on security issues, extra security measures for protection of your data and around the clock monitoring and alerts. We will let you know if there are any significant developments.

We suggest that you remain vigilant and, as a precautionary measure, review account statements and monitor credit reports. We also suggest you retain a copy of this letter for your records in case of any future concerns.

If you think your identity may have been stolen please immediately contact the relevant financial institution or company with which the account is held. We also suggest you immediately report any suspicious activity or identify theft to the proper law enforcement agency (for example, the police).

Please do not hesitate to contact Taco Bill head office on email admin@tacobill.com.au if you have any queries or require any additional information or assistance in relation to the above

If you are not satisfied with our response in resolving this issue, you can make a complaint to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, whose contact details are located at www.oaic.gov.au .

We sincerely apologise for this incident occurring. Taco Bill values your privacy and ongoing support of our business.

I wonder precisely what happened, and just how insecure their database was?

It’s a reminder that even big companies can mess up their security, and one should be wary of how much information we give them.

How to light the pilot on a Brivis Wombat 92 central heating unit

I’m lucky enough to have central heating in my house, and as the weather is cold in SE Australia at this time of year, we’ve been using it a bit.

Every few years a strong storm will blow out the pilot light. To fix it I climb up into the roof (fortunately I have an attic ladder fitted) and re-light it. Generally the effort involved to re-learn how to light it is more than the effort to actually do it.

So I’m doing like any good geek would: documenting it.

The unit is a Brivis Wombat 92 (I assume that means it’s a 1992 model). The instructions are written in tiny writing on a label attached to the inside of cover — so tiny it’s quite difficult to read while in the cramped roof space.

The steps are actually pretty quick and easy, as follows:

1. Make sure the heater control (eg in the house) is set to Off, and grab yourself a torch if you have to climb into the roof.

2. Take off the cover. On mine you pull it upwards, but I think my unit is actually mounted upside-down, judging from the logo on the side.

3. Find the dial. Turn it clockwise to the Off position.

4. Find the power point for the unit. The power cord on my unit leads to a power point about a metre away, mounted on a joist. Switch it off.

5. Wait a few seconds and switch it on again. You will hear a regular clicking sound – this is the heater trying to re-light. You’ve got about 20 seconds for the next step.

6. Turn the dial back to the Light position and press down on it. A couple of clicks later you should hear the pilot light.

7. That’s it! Put the cover back on. Enjoy the heat.

So basically, you’re turning it off then on again.

If it doesn’t work? I guess try it again. I know in 2013 mine wouldn’t re-light, and needed a service, but that’s perhaps not surprising for a 20 year old unit.

Good luck!

Windows WannaCrypt attack

This is interesting, and perhaps not unexpected: a vulnerability in Windows SMB 1 (used for shared drives) which was patched by Microsoft in March April, has been exploited.

It’s hit unpatched computers in numerous countries – most infamously, the UK’s National Health Service.

Despite what some Australian media is reporting, this tracker shows we are not immune — though it may be a reduced impact for now thanks to the weekend. Could be a different story on Monday.

For now it appears to have stopped thanks to someone finding a “kill switch”, but no doubt it or another version will hit again.

The lesson here for any of your computers that are connected to a network:

Patch them. Keep them up to date — preferably set them to automatically install patches.

If you’re using XP or older, Microsoft has just issued a patch, which you can get here.

You can also disable SMB 1 — note there are server and client portions, and that later versions of Windows make this a lot easier than earlier ones.

If you’re using Vista or older, find out about getting an upgrade. Vista patches stopped being issued earlier this year. You’ll be safe from this specific attack if you’re patched, but maybe not the next one. (Windows 7 keeps going until 2020.)

My assumption is that home users who use a broadband modem of some kind may not be at immediate risk this time from outside attack, since the modem can function as a basic firewall, but accidentally running an infected file from an email or web site could bring it in.

This attack has been serious, and other future ones will be too. So stay up to date, and stay safe.

  • Blatant plug: If you’re in southeast Melbourne and have no idea how to fix your computer, my brother-in-law runs this company that may be able to help: Bayside PC Services
  • In this blog post, Microsoft basically tells governments that they shouldn’t keep discovered vulnerabilities secret and exploit them for themselves (as the NSA did in this case, until that information was stolen) — that they should instead tell vendors so they can be fixed quickly. Difficult to argue with that.

Windows 10 close desktop: default action

In previous versions of Windows, they made it easy to change the default power option to be Log Off. This is handy for me – we tend to leave our PCs on, but logged off most of the time (with the power settings such that they put themselves to sleep).

Not so in Windows 10. If you Alt-F4 (close window) on the desktop, it’ll default to Shut down.

Worse, they’ve renamed all the options so that you can’t use a letter as the initial for Log Off. S now stands for not just Switch User and Sleep, but also Sign Out and Shut Down!

Thankfully there is a way to change the default. It involves going into the Registry.

  • Go to: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced
  • If it doesn’t already exist, create a DWORD Start_PowerButtonAction
  • Defaults are as follows (in decimal): 1 = Sign out, 2 = Shut down, 4 = Restart, 16 = Sleep, 64 = Hibernate, 256 = Switch user

Beats me why they didn’t build that into the UI somewhere.

Unfortunately it doesn’t affect the Start / Power button.

For ease of use, we also created a prominent Log Off short cut on the desktop/Start menu, pointing to:

C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe -l

(That’s a lowercase L)

Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote

Logitech Harmony 650 universal remoteI bought myself a Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote, $59 at Officeworks (RRP $89.95).

The packaging and some of the promotional material says it replaces 5 remotes, but it’s had a firmware upgrade and now replaces 8, so I think it’s pretty good value.

Although Logitech sells a range of remotes, I decided $59 was a sweet spot for what I wanted to do. This model can’t control Bluetooth devices such as the Wii U, or those controlled via WiFi/LAN such as Sonos — you’ll need to spend up on a more complex model for that, but personally I couldn’t justify the $240+ investment.

To set it up you plug it into a PC/Mac and install a setup program which guides you through it. All pretty easy, and even works with my obscure no-name PVR.

Curiously it didn’t recognise my Panasonic Blu-ray player, but it made an educated guess as to what IR sequences would match, and that worked well.

It lets you set up Devices, then group them into Actions (eg Watch a Blu-ray: turn on the Blu-ray player, turn on the TV, switch it to AV, turn on the Receiver, switch it to HDMI1/Blu-ray).

The defaults for some of the actions are a bit odd, for instance the menu navigation for Watch a Blu-ray turned out to default to navigating the TV menus. This can be overridden to a more logical setting.

One issue I’ve noted: the TV takes a really long time to start up… easily 10-15 seconds to be ready for viewing. It looks like the remote doesn’t allow enough time before changing to the appropriate input/channel, and the TV misses this step. You can insert delays in some parts of Activity sequences, but it appears not here.