February 2021 started with grey and dark days, but in the end our solar panels were quite happy: production numbers for the past 28 days are 121% of the February average for our installation. That makes up for what happened in January ;-)

Not only was February rather sunny, we have also had unusually warm days. That was a surprising experience: one week it was cold enough to freeze pools, and a few days later it was more than 20 degrees Celsius warmer. Mother Earth always has a few new tricks up her sleeve…

TED-Ed has a nice intro to the “Dune” saga, written by Frank Herbert decades ago:

Click on the image to see “Why you should read Dune” on YouTube

Being just an intro, there is no room to illustrate the richness of the book, in terms of literary qualities as well as in details about the universe constructed by Herbert. I have (read) a large collection of science fiction books, and “Dune” is still one of my favourite books (series, actually). Highly recommended, even for people who are not (yet) into SF. Just remember that you’ll need more than a weekend to work through each of the original books ;-)

(I’m using the Build number now to identify the version)

A One-Trick Pony

A browser that can only access a single site: I call that an app ;-)

Link to the source

Source: Still reliant on Flash, South Africa’s tax agency creates its own Flash-compatible browser (BoingBoing)

Just a quick follow-up: on February 3, the January 2021 Android security patch was pushed to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+. Nothing spectacular to report: it seems that patch really was the only change in the 124MB download.

That’s what the About Software screen now looks like

Just like the past three years, the solar electricity production for our panels in January was well below the average. No, January is not ready to become the darkest month of the year, but certainly now in Corona times it seemed like the grey, wet days were never going to end. We had only a single day with nothing but a (more or less) blue sky, and lots of rain – we stepped through a lot of mud on our weekend walk yesterday!

I’m convinced 2FA is an excellent idea, and I’m already using it for a few situations like my Apple devices and a Google account. Of course I use two-factor authentication on my Apple devices – but that only goes so far, of course. Google also bugs me when logging in to another Google account on those devices, but keeps sending the confirmation to an Android device that I do not always have near me (and I haven’t found a way yet to alter that setting).

But I have always hesitated to apply 2FA to all the applications and websites I use. Why? Because it’s hard to pick the right tool – which one can be applied to most/all sites (and I have a lot of those)? Should I pick a hardware solution, or an application? What about backing up your keys? What if I lose my phone? Etc.

Dan Goodin confirms the complexity of the situation, and tries to give an answer in “Choosing 2FA authenticator apps can be hard. Ars did it so you don’t have to” (on Ars Technica).

Don’t get me wrong: Goodin does an excellent job introducing the complexities of choosing a 2FA solution. But there are many more solutions available – just try any search engine and look for “2FA”. Years ago, I already looked at FreeOTP and andOTP, but I did not feel confident enough in their backup strategies to actually use them. I would also like to know more about privacyIDEA and its application to the problem.

The article mentioned however can be used as a measuring stick, to see whether your 2FA choice ticks the points that you really want/need. And if you don’t use any 2FA solution yet, at least make sure that you have all your (complex!) passwords in a decent password manager on all your devices – I still find Keepassium and the other members of the Keepass family very valuable.

Two weeks ago, we took delivery of a brand-new, ARM-powered Macbook Pro. Nothing fancy, just the basic configuration with (only) 8GB of RAM. It felt a bit weird when I started it up for the first time: why would Apple think that we speak German here in Flanders?

But after using it for a couple of days we – my wife and I – were pleasantly surprised by a couple of things:

  • For a Pro, the body is sleek and yet not as light as you might expect. Feels… professional.
  • That machine is fast – not only when compared the (very old) Macs we have been using so far, but also compared to more modern machines.
  • Battery life is more than good: I did a Zoom session lasting a bit longer than an hour and a half, and the battery went from 100% to… 90%. That’s more than pleasant, it’s fantastic!
  • The “function key bar” (Touch Bar) takes a bit of getting used to, but so far I like it. I’m not capable of typing blind, even after all these years, and I’m not good at remembering what button does what. Having an extra “touch screen” is not that bad at all.

The only minus I have found so far, except for the missing ports, is that the keyboard is easily stained when your fingers are a bit greasier than average. But that problem is easily solved, luckily.

This machine is going to be with us for a long time, just like its predecessors. Now I just have to remember where I have stored the USB-C plus HDMI hub I bought a year ago, in preparation of computers like this M1 beauty.

Another software update for the Galaxy Note 10+ has found its way to the machines here in Belgium last week: no changes in security patch level, just a new UI version, says Samsung.

Baseband version N975FXXU6ETLF is here

My current experience limits itself to two observations. First of all, the lock screen used white lettering on my very light background image, rendering the lock screen essentially unreadable until I changed the background image to something very dark. Secondly, and more annoying, it seems that Samsung has changed the rules about face recognition to unlock the phone: I now have to enter my password several times every day. Or is my hair really getting too long, given that Belgian hairdressers and barber shops are closed since the beginning of November 2020 ?

Click on the image to hear (and see) Annie Lennox and the London City Voices perform Dido’s Lament on YouTube

Historians will have plenty of time and material to unravel what happened in Washington DC on January 6, 2021. If I read my RSS feed correctly, even large parts of the preparatory conversations on Parler have been salvaged for study. Although I’m interested in what happens all over the world, I’m too far away for relevant commentary on the subject, so I’ll limit myself to point out a few interesting snippets and posts I read.

First off is a very thoughtful and reasoned statement by Martin Fowler, an eminent ‘software developer’ aka. guru who usually stays away from political comments. Let me quote from ‘The Lies that can Undermine Democracy‘:

But as much as I despise a demagogue like Trump, I also acknowledge that he’s a symptom, not a root cause. I still remember an episode of This American Life from 2016 when reporter Zoe Chace is mocked by a Minnesota state representative because she questions his assertion that cities in the U.S., such as Dearborn Michigan, are under Sharia Law. [ … ]

This ulceration of lies is why, even if Trump decides to spend the rest of his life playing golf, the problems of the last few years won’t go away. When so many people have these beliefs, they elect people who pander to them…

Dave Winer proposes an irreverent comparison (I guess HongKong would be a better choice than the Kremlin, these days):

What happened certainly was no laughing matter… but this could make you smile anyway:

Seriously, though: it remains to be seen what the long-term consequences of all the lies and mistrust will be. Not just for the USA, but for the whole world! Will there be more human casualties in the next days and weeks? Let’s hope not! What will become of US politics? What will happen to the Republican ‘party’ (parties?) ? What will the new Administration be able to do to restore some form of unity? What will all this mean for the rest of the world? What will happen to the Biggest Loser? And who will be brought before justice?

Joey Skaggs has help for those fearing presecution: you can print your very own ‘Trump Presidential Pardon‘ – don’t hesitate to get it now, because the stock is running out!

Click on the image to learn how to make your own!

You will have to read the original Github ticket – or one of its copies, in case the Github ticket were to be closed/deleted/… –  but the essence of the message is that Chrome extension “The Great Suspender” (TGS) has become a very suspect suspender. According to the ticket, version 7.18 in the Chrome Web Store does not correspond to the source on Github, and has been modified in such a way that it could (can/will/…?) be used to invisibly execute tracking or malicious code!

Copy of a tweet urging to delete TGS from your computer

I was a great fan of that extension: I’m always juggling reading material and lots of browser-based applications at the same time, and that extension made it possible to keep them all open yet limit the memory and CPU footprint of Chrome to more reasonable sizes. I read about the trouble yesterday, and did not hesitate to delete this extension from all my computers!

There is mention of a few alternatives to The Great Suspender; at least one of them is a copy of the latest “pure” version of  TGS. But at the moment it isn’t available at the Chrome Web Store and requires a bit of manipulation to get it installed properly: that’s not for everyone.

By the way: if the ticket mentioned above is too technical for you, hop over to Life Hacker or The Register get their take on the subject.

Anyway, the worst part of the whole story is that Google does not seem to be interested in doing what it should do, that being to kick the extension out of its Web Store, at least while investigating the matter. But so far there seems to have been no reply from them, even though several people, including me, reported the extensions as incompatible with the rules of the Chrome Web Store. In the words of The Register:

The Register asked Google whether it plans to implement any measures to help make it easier for people to understand who maintains Chrome extensions and to understand code changes that have been made. We’ve not heard back.

2020 is over, so here’s a quick and short report on the electricity production from our photovoltaic installation. December 2020 was a rather dark month: we did not have a single day where the sun shone from sunrise to sunset. That resulted in a measly production number, just 80% of the average.

Over the whole year 2020 the sun did quite well: an annual production of 2.086 MWh is almost average and perfectly median for our panels! We can only hope for similar (or better) results in the new year ;-)

We all know now that 2020 was a strange, an atypical and – for some of us – a horrifying year. Even though I was pretty certain that the trouble with Covid-19 wouldn’t be over by now (just add at least another 12 months, if not more), I did not have the clarity of mind to foresee so many of the things that did happen, to me as well as to all of us, since March.

But I’m not a poet, a writer, an artist; I’m not like Francesca Melandri. In March 2020, this Italian novelist wrote “A letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future“, published by The Guardian. Reading it will make you nod your head, not once, not twice, but many times: yes Francesca, that’s exactly what I did or thought…

Even now, when the crisis is far from over, it’s clear that the prediction at the end will turn out to be true:

If we turn our gaze to the more distant future, the future which is unknown both to you and to us too, we can only tell you this: when all of this is over, the world won’t be the same.