Spammers on WordPress

Ever since I started my WordPress blog, I’ve been fighting the bots & spammers.  They log onto the site and post spam messages in the comments of my posts.  It happened when I ran a Wiki site as well.  Comments were added to articles that basically clogged up the server.  My database was getting so full that my ISP was contacting me on a regular basis.  With WordPress, I was so annoyed that I started to require users to create an account first before posting comments and when that didn’t work, I started just blocking comments all together.  Which is a shame really since the purpose of my posting is to encourage people who have questions or follow up to reach out to me.

I’ve decided today to be a little more vigilant and turn back both user creation and commenting.  I want to have people read and comment on my posting.  I just have to be more diligent in logging in everyday to keep those users and comments in check.  It’ll have the added benefit of forcing me to check on the site everyday and who knows?  Perhaps even writing everyday!

I’m also enlisting the help of a WordPress plugin called, appropriately enough, Stop Spammers, to see if it’ll help me to keep them under control.  Apparently, it’s a plugin with a combination of blacklists, honey pots and other methods to detect spammers and their comments.  As I just installed it today, I can’t tell you if it’ll work or not so we’ll just have to see.  I’ll put up an update a little later down the road and we’ll see if it works or not.

Transcend JetDrive Lite 130

Transcend JetDrive Lite 130

by phuoc

Update 2014-07-10: After using this drive for nearly a month, I have some updates which were not apparent when I first reviewed the product.  The JetDrive still performs admirably and provides that much needed boost to my MacBook Air.  However I did notice a strange behavior that I need to let everyone know about: If you let your MacBook go to sleep rather than turning it off or you often use external USB card readers/devices, you may get a message saying that your JetDrive was not properly ejected.  My main concern here would be data loss, especially if you have a file on the JetDrive opened in an application when you put your MacBook to sleep.  I have not had this experience and have shifted to shut down my MacBook when I’m done with it (side benefit: saves quite a bit of juice).  However, this is enough of a concern for me to withdraw my recommendation of the JetDrive as I believe it to be a serious issue.  I’ll be reaching out to Transcend for their response on this and will update the post as I get more information.

Original review:
If you have an older MacBook Air that’s spatially challenged, then I have the solution for you!  Some older MacBook Air only came with 64 GB in their internal SSD.  That was upgraded to 128 GB (up to 256 GB in higher end configurations) in later models, upgradable to 512 GB.  While an SSD dramatically increases the performance of these computers on a usability basis, there are challenges.  Those with 128 GB or less (and perhaps even for those with even larger SSD capacity) will quickly find out that they have to do a lot of hard drive space management after loading their MacBooks with a reasonable amount of apps.  With apps, photos, music and videos, I’m often working with less than 10 GB of space free!  That causes a lot issues as well as system inefficiencies.

How can you add capacity to your computer?  I have a small, external portable USB hard drive that’s 2 TB in size.  Even though it’s one of those that’s exclusively powered through the USB port without an AC adapter brick, it’s still cumbersome to carry around and use.  You have to remember to plug it in all the time. I’m sure that most MacBook Air users have some type of external storage that they’re lugging around.  SD cards can work but they’re not designed for use as a drive and they stick out of the MacBook in an inelegant way that gets in the way of storing the computer.  Along comes Transcend and its solution:

JetDrive Packaging

The packaging for the Transcend JetDrive Lite 130.

This is essentially an SD card designed to function as a drive and is called the JetDrive Lite.  When I first read about it, I figure it’s the perfect solution and I had to get it for my MacBook Air (late 2012 model with a 128 GB SSD).  It was such a new product that it took a little bit to arrive.  When it arrived earlier than expected, I was super excited!  Looking at the packaging, it’s an MLC drive and that’s why it’s pretty affordable (around $90 for the 128 GB JetDrive Lite).  The difference between an MLC and SLC drive is important but these days they are minimized due to the controller and implementation more than the underlying technology.  There’s no detail on the controller of the JetDrive that I could easily find (read: 5 minutes of Googling).  However, the drive does come with a limited lifetime warranty and is rated for 10,000 insertion/removal cycles in terms of durability.  That’s pretty good to me and will outlast the useful life of my MacBook.

So how does it work and more importantly, how does it look?  Well, it looks GREAT!  Check out this photo I snapped of my MacBook 13″ Air equipped with it:

JetDrive Lite 130

JetDrive Lite 130 inserted in a MacBook.

It just disappears and it looks really good.  There’s no problem to putting my MacBook into it’s neoprene case and stuffing it into my bag.  It looks like it’s made for the computer.  The insertion was way easy but removal is a bit more difficult.  No tools are required but you do need a little bit of your fingernail to help so for those with freshly trimmed fingernails, good luck!  Based on the design, I would say that it’s not designed for people who frequently use the SD card slot of their MacBook.  If I had to swap the drives in and out several times a day I wouldn’t be happy.  But if it’s just a swap of once or twice a week, I think it’s fine.  The JetDrive is clearly designed to be left in your MacBook most of the time and that’s how I intend to use mine  It’s almost easier to carry a tiny SD card reader that connects to your USB port instead.  So now you’re essentially using an external card reader vs external hard drive if you’re a heavy SD card user.  But I think that’s a worthy trade off.

So how does it perform?  Quite well actually but I did run into one problem that’s worth mentioning.  The drive does work out of the box.  Plug it in and just go.  Performance is pretty good.  I’m not a technical, stopwatch measuring kind of guy but I would say it feels faster than a USB attached physical drive.  Long term reliability is a question I can’t answer yet but I expect it to perform well there as well.  The main issue I had is that the drive is formatted to exFAT by default.  While that worked fine on my system, I ran into a problem when I tried to load an Aperture library.  I received a message that the file system was unsupported.  After some quick investigation, I found that it was exFAT formatted.  This is nothing a quick trip to the Disk Utility couldn’t fix.  I re-formatted using the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition and then everything works great.  This does mean I can’t stick it into my Windows computer but I’m not sure it would be a good idea to do that anyways.

So would I recommend the Transcend JetDrive Lite 130?  Yes, I wholeheartedly would!  My only recommendation is to format it to the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system before you put it to use.  It’ll take you just a second to do so.  Good luck!

The new iPhone 6

by phuoc

There’s not much that has not been written about the new iPhone 6 that’s expected this fall so I’m not going to get into any details about it that you can’t find on any of the numerous rumor sites.  Rather, I want to talk about my own expectations for it.  This is one iPhone that I’m actually waiting for and am willing to upgrade to.  I’m still on my first iPhone, a 4S, that I bought nearly 3 years ago.  It works fine and I fully intend to recycle it by giving it to my mom.  In reality, I don’t really need to upgrade except that this new one will make sense for a variety of reasons.

I obviously skipped the iPhone 5 and the improved iPhone 5S.  I just didn’t see a big enough improvement to make the jump.  Sure, a marginally larger screen would be useful but it wasn’t that much larger.  Nor were the improvements to the camera.  However, with the iPhone 6, that equation changes a lot, especially when compared to the iPhone 4S platform.  The screen will be significantly larger and I actually intend to wait for the larger 5.5″ version rather than the smaller 4.7″ version.  My thinking is very simple – go big or go home! Actually, it’s a little more practical than that.  I lug my iPad almost everywhere I can.  It’s a 3rd generation device that’s plenty fast and has a great screen.  It’s just not as light as an iPad Air or the iPad Mini.  Upgrading from the iPhone 4S to the larger 5.5″ iPhone 6 however will be almost like going to an iPad Mini.  That’s enough for me to upgrade: to have a new phone with a large enough screen that I can leave the iPad at home on most occasion.

The other reason this makes a lot of sense to me is that I’m going to get a much improved camera compared to what I have on the 4S.  I take enough photos that this will be a huge bonus for me.  I still will drag my Panasonic LX5 around because as good as the iPhone is, it’s still not quite close enough to a high end point & shoot that I can abandon that completely.  It’s getting awfully close though!  With the combination of a much larger screen, a much faster processor and a better camera, the iPhone 6 just makes a lot of sense for me.  As much as I detest the throwaway society that we live in, I’m comforted by the fact that my mom is going to love my hand me down iPhone and I get a large enough boost in the upgrade to justify.  I’m going to closely follow how long my mom’s going to use that iPhone.  If she can get another 2 years out of it, that’s money well spent – to be able to use a mobile phone for 5 years?  That’s just awesome.  Anything beyond that is gravy.

What about you?  Are you looking forward to the new iPhone?

Taking notes

by phuoc

There are so many note taking apps out there that it can be a little daunting to select one to use as your primary note taking app.  I’ve tried so many that I’ve lost count.  The one note taking app that I really like when I first saw it was Microsoft OneNote.  Yes, you read that right.  OneNote came out in 2003, way before anyone has even heard of an iPhone let alone dreamt of a smartphone.  What I liked about it was that it worked the way I thought a notebook should work.  You can have sections, pages within sections, free form text pieces on the page intermixed with graphics, etc.  It was really cool and I used it quite a bit at the time.  (I still have my first OneNote notebook!)

The one thing I found lacking was there was not an easy to keep you data synced.  Note taking tied you to a  computer.  If you were on your desktop and then moved to your laptop or vice versa, you had to manually sync the sections/pages.  For organizations it wasn’t a bad solution though, if it was used only on the company’s network where you can keep it synced via the network.  But for home users it was a pretty big hassle.  And if you lost your OneNote notebook file you were screwed.  I largely forgot about OneNote over time as it was a bit cumbersome to use although I loved, loved the design.

Fast forward to the era of the smartphone & cloud computing. Syncing became the new norm.  You had apps like Evernote, services like Google Docs (now Google Drive), etc. where you can take notes on many different devices and have it all synced up.  Microsoft had its own cloud services called SkyDrive (now renamed to OneDrive) that started out as a competitor to Google Drive.  It worked fine enough for documents although not quite as polished.  (It is now and I’ll write another entry on that topic).  OneNote was not available on SkyDrive initially so I never revisited it.  After acquiring my iPhone and using iCloud with its associated Notes app, I was hooked.  Notes was simple but it worked.  It was simple enough that I checked out other note taking apps.  The one that I tried for some time was Evernote.  People love Evernote.  I tried to love Evernote, but somehow I just couldn’t.  It never clicked with me although a lot of people swears by it.

Recently, after re-installing my computer, I had the opportunity to install the new Microsoft Office 2013 on my computer as well.  Lo and behold, there was the app I had forgotten: OneNote.  With improvements to OneDrive (almost enough to make me switch from Google Drive), I began to seriously play around with it.  It even remembered an old OneNote notebook I uploaded to SkyDrive long ago.  It still worked!  And largely the interface has not changed.  Sure, it inherited the Ribbon interface that many love to hate.  I’ve moved on from that though… I’m used to the Ribbon now.  But by & large, the OneNote interface was mostly the same with sections and pages.  Now with the OneNote apps available for the iPhone, iPad and even my bastard Android Google Nexus device, I’ve switched completely to OneNote as my main note taking app.  Sure, I still keep Apple’s Notes app on the home screen for the quick & dirty stuff but for serious note taking, it’s OneNote for me.

Microsoft OneNote 2013

The main user interface of Microsoft OneNote 2013 on Windows 7.

The Bergdahl Mess

by phuoc

I don’t talk much about politics on this site and I’m not entirely sure why.  Perhaps it’s that rule about the three things you don’t discuss in polite company: sex, politics, and religion.  I never give much credence to those social rules so that can’t be it.  I do have a big interest in politics but somehow haven’t gotten around to saying much about it on the site.  Some background on me would be helpful.  I’m a registered Republican but consider myself a left leaning Independent.  I almost registered as an Independent or even a Democrat as it seems I’m more attuned with centrist Democrats than I am with centrist Republicans.  I disdain Tea Partyers and most right of center Republicans… the anti-abortion, Bible thumping, do-as-I-say (but not as I do) kind of Republicans.  But, due to the so-called “jungle primary” in California where any voter can vote for any candidate in the primary election, I saw no need.

In any case, with that background out of the way, it’s time to talk about what I really came here for today and that’s the whole Bergdahl mess.  If you’ve been under a rock for the last week, then you won’t know what I’m talking about.  Just in case you were, this is a swap engineered by the Qataris to exchange now Sergeant Bergdahl (promoted automatically in absentia) for 5 high ranking Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo (some people call them terrorists… they probably are).  It seems that the criticism of this deal centers around three points: 1) Bergdahl was an alleged deserter that might have gotten more soldiers killed in attempts to rescue him, 2) the secrecy surrounding the whole deal where high ranking members of Congress were not told until after the fact and 3) the doctrine that we don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Someone in the Obama White House blew it big time on this whole deal and didn’t give Obama all the information he needed.  The White House was expecting euphoria… instead they got a whole earful of criticism.  Ultimately, this is a failure of leadership that goes all the way to President Obama himself.  As much as I like him personally, not having the right people around to give him accurate information on all sides of an issue ultimately goes back on him as he picks them all.  In any case, this goes to Point #1.  The executive could have gotten ahead of this whole thing by acknowledging this issue first.  I don’t have a problem if the President felt that it was important to not leave a solider behind, even if that soldier might have been a deserter but that we’ll get him first and investigate afterwards.  But that didn’t happen so that’s why we see all this hoopla.

Point #2 is a more nuanced and political one that’s more important for the politicians involved than the public at large I feel.  The executive and legislative branches need to work on better communications as it was lacking here.  Clearly the executive branch was in error as they’ve sent high ranking surrogates to the Hill to apologize.  But this stuff doesn’t affect me or other members of the public as much although it surely  does for the White House and how they can get things done with Congress going forward.

Point #3 was also a failure on the executive to get ahead of things.  The Talibans are still terrorists but you can dance around the whole point about not negotiating with terrorists by careful arguments about a POW swap, etc.  But they didn’t.  Rather than dance around it, they waded into it big time and made a mess of things.  Again, this doesn’t affect me much but taken all together they’ve really screwed the pooch on this whole deal.  The person that feels the worse about the whole thing?  Probably Samantha Powers again.  She went on national TV to say that the whole Benghazi thing was over a Youtube video and now she says Bergdahl served “with honor and distinction.”  I think the record so far shows otherwise and Powers feels like the biggest schmuck right now.

Chinese Food

I write today about Chinese foods.  No, no.  Not the Americanized take out version of the cuisine or even the authentic versions from Szechuan, Hong Kong (Cantonese), Fujian, or any other type of the vastness of Chinese cuisine.  Rather, I’m talking about the foods manufactured & prepared in China for worldwide consumption.  Like most people, I don’t mind paying less for food.  Or anything else for that matter.  But I expect at least a minimum level of quality for it.  Or at least safety.  In the last 5 or so years, I’ve begun to actively shun any food stuff that’s made in China.  In the past year I’ve been more zealous about it.  Still, sometimes things slip through.  Like the instant noodles I bought the other day.  Yes, it was actually pretty tasty as far as instant noodles go.  But dang, it was made in China and as soon as I saw that, it just wasn’t as good anymore.

I hate to do that whole cloth to a country but there’s just too many stories about the lack of quality control from Chinese foodstuff.  From melamine in baby powder to using human hair as a source for lysine in soy sauce.  Or rat meat and rancid fox meat being passed off as lamb.  The list just goes on and on.  I really feel bad for the majority of companies that try to put out a quality product but with the lax regulations in China overall, it’s just too much of a risk to take.  One day I’m sure they’ll learn, but until then consider this a public service announcement to always check the label of the food you buy and if you’re at all unsure, select another product.  I would say that my own hit rate is probably in the very high 90% in terms of avoiding Chinese food stuff but sometimes you just can’t help it, especially for some of those exotic ingredients.

Learning Objective-C

by phuoc

I’m finally getting to learning Objective-C.  It’s taken a while but I picked up several books and am working through one right now to get the hang of Objective-C to develop primarily iOS applications but also some OS X applications.  So far I’m about halfway through the Big Nerd Ranch’s Objective-C Programming, 2nd Edition.  It’s going pretty smoothly so far and I actually kind of enjoy it a lot.  The book does a very good job of explaining how Objective-C grew out of the C language and even begins with a brief tutorial in C to trigger your memory.  It then transitions you to the basics of Objective-C, beginning with simple command line OS X apps and then transitioning to classes and iOS apps.  I highly recommend the book!  My guess is that I’ll need another week or two of diligent studying to complete this book and then I’m going to start playing around with it to see what I can do.  I have a few more books that gets into iOS 7, games, graphics, etc. that I’ll work through as well.  But this should keep me busy for quite a while!

Short faucets

by phuoc

Like everyone, I have a few pet peeves.  One of the big ones on my list are faucets that are too short for the sinks they’re installed in.  I’ve seen them everywhere, from hotels to office buildings to homes.  Residential installations seem to have the most culprits.  I’m not entirely sure why since many of the residential types are installed directly on the edge of the sinks so they shouldn’t have a problem with clearance.  Yet I’ve run into enough of them to know that just 3″ from the back of the sink is not enough to prevent splashing when you’re washing your hands or doing the dishes.

In my recent remodel, I made sure that the faucets I selected for my bathrooms & kitchen were sufficiently long enough.  I even made sure that the kitchen faucet cleared large pots when they’re placed into the sink.  If enough people are annoyed with this and vote with their dollars appropriately, I would think the problem would solve itself in time.

A good time to invest?

by phuoc

It’s been a volatile 2014 thus far in terms of investing.  The market went down quite a bit and then recover.  The S&P 500 made a new record high but even with that it’s been down for the year.  Some are nervous if this economic recovery can continue given the unwinding of the Federal Reserve unprecedented monetary policy (quantitative easing 3/QE3/”the taper”).  That’s understandable as prices have not given anyone much confidence.  Toss into that mix Ukraine’s abrupt change of government and Russia’s aggression in the Crimea.  Now people are really nervous.  The Russian rouble have marked a new low against the dollar and markets around the world are reflecting this jittery.

But perhaps because of all of the above now’s the perfect time.  The famed Warren Buffett did say to be greedy when others are fearful and we’re getting close.  It’s worth looking at this market to uncover some undervalued issues and see if you would like to allocate some of your capital there.  Speaking of Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report and letter to shareholders have been released.  They are all worth reading for the serious investor who wants to be well informed.  You can find back issues of both on Berkshire’s website and they are worth more than their weight in wisdom.  The part I find very interesting in this year’s annual report is the bit about pensions.

The bottom line is not to look at this as a time to worry… it may just be an opportunity in disguise.

Healthy eating & avoiding high fructose corn syrup
Healthy Eating

Healthy eating & avoiding high fructose corn syrup

by phuoc

I’ve been on a health kick in recent years.  Not over the top crazy but taking little steps just to make sure I do what I can to be just a bit healthier.  One of the biggest things I’ve done is to give up sodas entirely.  Whereas I used to drink at least one Diet Coke a day, I rarely drink sodas anymore except for the occasional here or there.  That made a huge difference.  There was a study that suggested that even diet sodas can potentially cause weight gain.  It was done on rats and WebMD says the science is inconclusive.  There may be a correlation between diet soda drinkers and higher calorie intake, but still, there were enough questions that it was just best to cut out the artificial sweeteners altogether.

Another is the switch from margarine and spreads to real butter.  For a long time, people thought the fake stuff was better for you than the real thing.  But then we begin to realize that the hydrogenated oils used to make those spreads weren’t that good for you at all.  Now people are slowly making the switch back.

Lately, I’ve been trying to get healthier by avoiding preservatives where I can and to a larger degree, cutting out high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  If you didn’t know, HFCS is a cheap sweetener made from corn.  Most people don’t know that the majority of corn grown in the US is not for consumption by people but for HFCS production or animal feed.  HFCS is cheaper because you can use less of it than table sugar for the same relative sweetness.  This is because HFCS has more fructose compared to glucose than table sugar.  Hence the name: high fructose corn syrup.

The body treats fructose different than glucose though and too much fructose can cause various issues.  These include increasing blood sugars and triggering the body to convert fructose to fat rather than burning it for energy.  For these and various other good reasons, it’s better to just ditch it together when you can.  If I must have a soda these days, I opt for the regular kind.  Within those, I reach for the one with sugar rather than those with HFCS.  It’s so ubiquitous in American foods though that you might not have an option.  But when you do, it pays to select the one with sugar instead.  When I buy peanut butter and jams, I look for the natural versions that uses only sugar rather than HFCS, dextrose, etc.  You can also reach out to the manufacturers and tell them you want to avoid HFCS.  It worked on taking GMO crops out of Cheerios so it may work here as well.  In the mean time, choose what you eat wisely.  A little bit goes a long way!