System Searcher My First Potentially Useful Tool

My latest contribution to the Google Chrome Store I think is the most broadly useful tool I’ve developed. It allows you to execute searches on multiple websites at the same time. This can be useful if you frequently search sites like Amazon, Walmart and Target for the same thing such as “Tables”.  With this extension you just punch in what you want, and it launches searches on the websites you setup.

You can download from Google store at: http://bit.ly/systemsearcher

Doom Best Coin On Test Network

I have launched a currency called “Doom Best Coin” using the Ethereum#ERC20 standard (on the Rinkeby test network). Currently it doesn’t do anything meaningful besides demonstrate that ANYONE can start their own currency.

This is a GOOD thing and one of the primary reasons I was enthusiastic for Ethereum long before its existence. Private currencies are a great step forward for decentralization. There are almost 500 ERC20 coins now in use on the main network, several with interesting concepts. By next year I bet we see over 2 thousand.

Now the question for the world is… which currency do you trust?? Here’s a hint: currencies that say “In God We Trust” or are named “Doom Best Coin” probably shouldn’t be at the top of your list.

Ethereum’s Augur Project One Step Closer to Reality

One of the most exciting components with Ethereum is the Augur project, or as I call it, “The Bet on ANYTHING” market!”

Yesterday the project released an updated White Paper found here.  The technical details are not for most people, but what is exciting is being one step closer to the possibility of two strangers on the internet being able to place trustless bets on almost anything!

The word “betting” has a negative emotion attached to it in American culture, but being able to assign personal stake in prediction models is incredibly valuable. Indeed it is perhaps a much-needed component in our political system.

As I type this, one of the most hated presidents in American history is addressing the nation in a Statue of the Union. The internet is filled back and forth rage about who is “right” and “wrong”. As the fury between two groups grows, perhaps the ultimate test for the truth can be found if the two opponents can form an agreement of what their disagreement is, and bet on it.

Consider how this could be used in economic debates in uncovering the truth. Politicians (particularly in my home state of California) are incredibly dishonest at presenting understated costs of projects to voters around elections. Augur presents an option to expose what politicians truly believe:

“Do you really think that this project is going to be under what the budget states? Let’s bet on it!”

Do you want to bet if this is going to truly be a temporary tax?”

Additionally, consider how this tool could be used to hold a politician at their word. During a campaign, candidates could leverage this tool to offer promises to voters: “I’m Joe Nobody running for US Congress and I will not vote in favor of any budget that is not balanced, and I’ve placed a $100,000 bet to assure this in the Augur network!” Such a statement would be much more meaningful than the standard “I promise, I’m a good person!” assurance we get from current candidates.

Hopefully, this goes live soon. Here’s an older video showing its possibilities from 2015:

Monero’s Web Mining Option

Cryptocurrency Monero has made some noise recently with its ability to mine on websites, sometimes without user consent. While this probably sounds unethical (which it is), the opportunity to leverage user CPU power as an incentive to visit a website instead of advertisements is an interesting concept.

While I’m still kicking this idea around in my head, does this make Monero potentially the most stable currency option? Measure users’ CPU usage as a function of time?

While you think about this, please see the below is an example of mining using your consent. Please click “start mining” this and leave it running for the rest of your life.

If you’re interested in seeing a less ethical example, checkout this fake page I made that looks like it’s giving VBA advice, when in reality it’s hogging your CPU. Be on the lookout for stuff like this if you’re browsing. If your laptop starts to takeoff, because the fan is going so fast… you may be on a Monero mining website!

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Downgrading Utility Of Limitless Chrome New Tab

For about 5 months I have been using a Chrome extension called Limitless as my default “new tab”. During installation, Limitless requested my GMAIL credentials, which I I declined to provide. It works fine without them. However, in light of the recent Equifax data breach, I was curious to see what exactly Limitless was asking for.

As I suspected, the extension wants the ability to have total control of your email. Specifically:

View, manage, and permanently delete your mail in Gmail

At this point, alarm bells should be ringing loudly in people’s heads if they are entering in an active gmail address. Limitless’s privacy policy can loosely be interpreted as, “Even though the NSA, Equifax and Ashley Madison can’t keep their data secure, you can trust us and every employee that works for us now, or in the future, because your privacy is important to us! 🙂 ”

They do state that data is stored locally, and looking at their code, this appears accurate. However, they also state they may change this policy at some point in the future…

Sure, you could use a dummy gmail login, or none at all. However in principle, I’m tired of extensions asking to be trusted with information they simply cannot guarantee to remain secure. So I changed my feedback to negative 2 (out of 5) on chrome store and am going to drop the extension completely.

To be fair, Limitless is just one of MANY extension offenders wanting total access to your email. The point of this post is just to encourage people to drop these extensions, even if you don’t provide or even if they are semi-useful. If Limitless adjusts their policy I’ll change my Chrome extension feedback and followup with this post saying so.

As a side note, I feel like the “new tab” extension market is kind of weak. I may tinker with making my own. Maybe I’ll call it “LIMITED” as in the amount of data I’ll seek to collect from users!

Of Course Equifax Got Hacked!

Why is anyone shocked that another data breach results in millions of people’s information falling into the hands of criminals? Stated differently, if Ashley Madison, LinkedIn, and the NSA can’t keep their data secure, what makes people think a credit score entity is going to perform any better

I don’t know the specifics of this Equifax hack and I don’t really care. If I had to guess, I’d say probably inside job. For people that think their data is secure because they trust sites like “Google” they are looking at it the wrong way. A better question is, “do you trust every single employee at Google who has access to your data?” The answer is the same as what the NSA would say if asked if they trusted all of their employees (even before Mr. Snowden left the country), of course not!

The only thing that really matters in this situation is will the public recognize the need for blockchain technology and zero-knowledge services? Steller examples include LastPass, SpiderOak, and Signal all can face data breaches with a much stronger level of confidence because even if someone gets every bit of information on their servers, it is highly unlikely anything useful could be leveraged from it.

We live in the digital age. Signatures made with pens that my 6-year-old could mimic effectively is not security. Entrusting your data to corporations that have human employees, and have human errors will ultimately have data leaked. Hopefully, today’s painful lesson will beef up the requirements to take security more seriously. It’s really pretty easy, trust no one.

Custom Excel Function For Next Highest Prime Number

I’m still having way too much fun on Pastebin.com. Below is a formula I started while working out, but ended up getting a little more fancy after I tried to clean it up to run quicker. It calculates the next highest prime number after a given number (example: =NEXTPRIMENUMBER(100) = 101)

There are some regular Excel Array formulas that can be used to test true or false on integers being prime, but they are limited to testing values matching row counts, so no higher than 1.05 million (boring!). I did run into a weird VBA bug where I discovered the vba Function MOD ALWAYS converts its values to LONG parameters. I discussed this a little on Stack Overflow as this became an issue when trying to do bigger numbers.

Anyway, check this out if you’re bored or if you’re dying to know what the next highest prime number is after 10 trillion (it’s 10,000,000,000,037). It does this calculation in under 4 seconds on my laptop. Initially it was taking about 5 seconds to do a billion, but I cleaned up some redundancies, and it’s pretty good now. If anyone can enhance (using EXCLE vba), I’d be curious to see.

My Excel Contest Video

I am in an Excel popularity contest (talk about an oxymoron). A couple Excel bloggers were invited to compete in “Excel Dashboard contest” and naturally this is what I spent last Saturday night doing. The winner is declared by how many YouTube likes each effort earns, which essentially means I have no chance of winning because a couple competitors have pretty large followings.

However, I would like to at least have a good showing, so if you have a moment, I would be most grateful if you gave my video a “like”. Requires a youtube or gmail account and just clicking the “like” (thumbs UP) button located above where the number of video plays is displayed.

Don’t feel like you need to watch the whole video unless you’re suffering from insomnia and are seeking a cure.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) A Fun Sci-Fi Book With Good Things To Come

I don’t read much fiction, but I heard We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Tayor was pretty good. I enjoyed reading it, but this book is only for tech nerds, most likely men. Lots of Star Trek and Sci-Fi references. There’s a couple interesting scenarios that I’ll not discuss for spoiler purposes, but I was pretty well entertained. It’s a healthy mix of comedy, action, and drama.

My only major complaint was the author’s choice to pick the Catholic Church as an antagonist of the future. What are the odds of the Catholic Church, or any Christian Church, even TRYING to take over America in the next 100 years? Slim to none! It’s both boring and unrealistic to pick the irrelevant One True Faith as the villain of the 21st century.

Other than that, I really did enjoy the entire book.

As a side note, the Audible version was VERY well performed by Ray Porter. I may look for other narratives by him. Various characters including Homer Simpson and Admiral Ackbar were performed quite masterfully.

If you’re a tech guy, you’ll probably enjoy this. This also appears to be part 1 of 3.

Alan Turing: The Enigma Poorly Written and Ignores Questionable Death

I dragged myself through the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. Author Andrew Hodges was so enamored with Turing that he practically doubled the necessary length of the book with all kinds of emblematic speculation. The result was a book that should have been about the life of a fascinating individual, but was instead a certifiable cure for insomnia. The writing was just too pedantic, not engaging, and full of weak attempts to find deeper meaning than necessary. Too much psychoanalysis, trying to paint Turing as a beautiful, brilliant, innocent human whose self-awareness of his homosexuality was more advanced than the world he lived in.

Turing’s acts during World War II were of course fascinating, but the writing just didn’t do a great job building excitement about it. The movie based on this book, The Imitation Game was essentially the opposite, as it deviated into 95% fiction once Turing arrived at Bletchley Park, but at least it was fun to watch.

The author must have typed 2 thousand “indeeds” which grew tiring. Additionally some of his insight was pretty silly (Alan Turing was “only” 18 minutes slower than the gold medalists in the Olympic 10,000 meters). I would have much preferred the style that the author of the Steve Jobs biography, where that author simply aimed to display as many facts as possible, letting the reader form their own judgments.

Yet the part that jumped off the page for me was the lack of insight on Turing’s death. The author stated unequivocally that Turing killed himself, even though that’s quite debatable. The arguments that the author offers to support his claim are:

  • The police report said it was a suicide.
  • Turing redid his will somewhat soon before his death.
  • Turing was tired of not fitting into in to society (with little evidence to support this).
  • Turing may have had a fortune teller tell him something (not a joke).
  • The coroner didn’t show signs of a struggle (or did he? see below).
  • Turing used cyanide in order to convince his mother that he did NOT kill himself, but to let everyone else know he DID! (what??)

Suffice to say, that’s not exactly a bulletproof set of arguments to unequivocally rule his death as suicide. I believe the author was so fixated to paint Turing as a martyr of gay prejudices, that he overlooked some obvious questions with his death. Turing was a victim of abhorrent laws against homosexuals, but those laws may not have killed him. Consider the evidence against a suicide that also comes from this book:

  • Turing didn’t leave a note and was quite a thorough person.
  • While he did update his will, he left a variable sum to his house keeper which would sensibly imply he did not have a timetable on when he would die.
  • His sexual criminal conviction had passed and he was no longer taking the state-mandated medication. Thus his “castration” or his persecution from the state was no longer a current issue for him.
  • Turing’s research affairs were very much in disarray. Turing seemed to like order and harmony, as he had left careful instructions of where some of his valuable items were hidden during WWII. Turing was also proud of his work and believed it to be important, so it seems doubtful he left his most recent life’s work scattered around his apartment.
  • None of Turing’s friends indicated that they saw his suicide coming. Quite the opposite, they all expressed shock that he would do this to himself.
  • Turing appeared in a “good mood” by the last people who saw him alive.
  • Turing showed no signs of wanting to end his own life including to that of his psychologist who he was on a friendship level with.
  • Turing, for the most part, enjoyed life, getting lost in the many wondrous mysterious of nature, mathematics and things that fascinated him.
  • Even while under the castration medication, he had found “safe cities” to be gay in by way of the Netherlands and Paris. To think he felt alone and despair in the UK also doesn’t add up, especially given his financial options to go where he wanted.

In a different book about her son, Turing’s mother claims Alan accidentally killed himself. This is technically possible considering he was using cyanide for his experiments. Yet it seems unlikely that a genius man like himself could so carelessly do such a thing, especially when he had been working with chemicals for years.

Neither author considers a third darker option which was that he was murdered. Turing was essentially the liaison between the US intelligence and the UK during World War II. It’s certain he knew a thing or two more than the average citizen.

As the book details, homosexuals were considered a risk in the intelligence community because their sexual nature could be used to compromise them. Thus it is conceivable that someone on either the US or or British side, may have assessed that Turing knew too much on a subject and represented a national security risk. Indeed, (there it is again!) others have asked this question recently and are speculating that Turing may have known key developments on spying on the Russians. Perhaps adding the most credibility to this theory is that the coroner did document Turing’s death with, “Death due to violence,” which disproves the author’s notion that the coroner ruled unequivocally a death by suicide.

While I don’t have any more research beyond what I’m posting, the two theories of accidental death and suicide seem less likely than a government murder intended to either look like a suicide or accident. I actually had a drinking buddy in my 20’s end up being found dead in way that looked like a suicide, but many (including me) believe he was a victim of a government murder. So perhaps I’m too easy easy to convince about a government conspiracy.

Getting back to the book, considering how much the author speculated on every other excruciating detail in Turing’s life, it’s unfortunate he didn’t do a better job digging for answers about the details of Turing’s death.

I’m glad I read this but I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to. Wikipedia Article on Turing is a much shorter read with about 75% of all you need to know about the founder of modern computer science.