June 10, 2019

Commentary: "Data Security" is Still an Oxymoron and An Ongoing Threat

Back in May of 2006 I gave a presentation on Data Security titled: "Data Security: An Oxymoron." I then followed up with an article in The Kuper Report and wrote more articles over several years regarding data security, including about security problems with voting machines. I've included links to some of those articles at the end of this commentary.

Fast forward to today. We are still experiencing many of the very same data security issues, such as credit card numbers and tax IDs and other personal information being hacked/stolen. There are also still many vulnerable voting machines around the country that are being (and have been) hacked, resulting in fraudulent elections. (Here is a link to a current article in TechCrunch about one voting machine vendor finally offering to create machines with paper backups after refusing to do so despite it being demonstrated by the white hat hacking community that their machines could easily be hacked to change votes. Note that nowhere in the article does it say they will fix the existing machines currently being used.)

The failures by companies to acknowledge all these data security issues and truly fix them these many years later is both mind-boggling and an ongoing serious threat. The failure of Congress and the other branches of the government of the United States to take action on these issues of individual privacy and security and the integrity of our elections continues to cause serious damage to our safety, security, and indeed, our democracy.

It is way past time that these issues were addressed and resolved. 

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Links to articles written between 2006 and 2008 regarding data privacy and security. As you read them you will come to realize that most of the problems are still with us.

May 2006: Data Security: An Oxymoron

August 2006: Data Security: An Oxymoron - continued

January 2007: So how secure is your PC?

March 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: Stolen Data from TJX (T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores) since 2003 Used in $8M Scheme Before Breach Discovery

April 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: More Security/Identity Breaches and Issues 

May 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: University of Missouri Hacked For Second Time This Year

May 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: IBM loses tapes with personal information on current and former employees

September 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: Are you giving away your personal or corporate data to thieves?

May 2008: Updated: Privacy & Security Watch: Beware of fake emails appearing to be from the IRS

June  2008: Privacy & Security Watch: TJX Fires Employee for Disclosing Security Problems

June 2008: Privacy & Security Watch: Diebold Summer Sale Offers Used Voting Machines

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Richard L. Kuper
The Kuper Report






May 03, 2019

Casting using Google Chromecast

Let’s start with a couple of basic questions to see if this is something you might be interested in:

Do you have a TV with an HDMI port?

Would you like to be able to cast what is on your phone or computer to that TV?

If you said “yes” to both questions, you might be interested in getting a Chromecast.



But wait: If you also have a Google Home speaker device of some kind (for example, a Google Mini or other model), there’s even more you can do.



If you are still reading, let’s begin.

The basics:

Getting a Chromecast is pretty simple. It’s sold by Google and almost anywhere technology is sold – even at Amazon. It lists for only $35, but it goes on sale for less from time to time.

Installing it is pretty simple too. Plug it into an available HDMI port on the TV. Connect the other (USB) end to the provided cord, and plug that cord into a power outlet. Turn on the TV and change the “Source” to the HDMI port the Chromecast is plugged into. Then, if you don’t already have the Google Home app loaded on your phone, you will need to download it to complete the setup. I won’t go through the steps here, but it’s pretty straightforward. 


If you need help, see this Google page: https://www.google.com/chromecast/setup/
 

If you already have the Google Home app with other devices set up, like a Google speaker device, then just add this new device and make sure you set it up in the same WiFi network as your Google Home speaker device.

One other note: You might want to give the device a simple name – for example, “Living Room TV”. This will make it easy to choose the right one in the event you end up getting more than one Chromecast.

Now that it’s set up, how can you use it? 


One way is from the Chrome browser, so you will want to have it on your computer and phone. You can also use it with apps that work with Chromecast, such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. Note that if you have Amazon Video, you can still cast, but it would be from a tab inside the Chrome browser.

Using An App On Your Phone:
Select an app on your phone (say, the YouTube app), choose a video, and select the Cast   button to cast it to your TV. If a list is presented, choose the Chromecast device to cast to. If your TV isn’t already turned on and the appropriate HDMI port selected, you may need to do that. Some TVs will turn on automatically and switch to the proper HDMI port when something is cast.

Using Google Chrome:

Open the Google browser. Go to, say, YouTube.com and find something you want to watch. Once you have selected the video, choose the 3 dots ( ) in the upper right corner of the browser, and then choose “Cast”. (If you see the Cast icon, you can choose that.) If a list is presented, choose the Chromecast device to cast to. If your TV isn’t already turned on and the appropriate HDMI port selected, you may need to do that. Some TVs will turn on automatically and switch to the proper HDMI port when something is cast.

You can cast just about anything you can display on your phone or computer, including videos, images/pictures, and files.

Using A Google Home Speaker:

What if you also have a Google Home speaker device? Well, that just adds more fun. As long as they are both in the same WiFi network, you can say something like: “Hey Google. Play Queen on YouTube on Living Room TV”, and magically you will have Queen playing on your Living Room TV (with the same caveats as described above about possibly having to manually turn on your TV and switch to the correct HDMI). You can also say: “Hey Google, skip” if you want it to go on to whatever surprise video might be next. You can also say: “Hey Google, stop” when you don’t want to watch anymore.

You can also stream Google Play Music, a radio station from iHeartRadio, a podcast you subscribe to, and lots of other stuff.


Final Caveat



For all of the above, there is another caveat: When you are done watching and you want to switch back to regular TV or your cable box or whatever, you will need to do that using your TV remote, just like you would if you have any other external sources (such as a DVD player) plugged in to a port on your TV.



Enjoy!


All in all, the Google Chromecast is a lot of fun – and it costs only $35 or less.
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In the event you missed previous articles about Google and Amazon devices, you can find them here:

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/11/review-google-home-mini-vs-amazon-echo.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/12/part-2-review-google-home-mini-vs.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/01/google-home-adds-feels-like-temperature.html



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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

April 01, 2019

Alexa - Why Aren't You Doing What I Ask?

If you missed any of the previous articles about Alexa and Google Home speakers, you will find links to them at the end of this article.

Lately I've noticed that Alexa doesn't seem to understand what I ask it. It either does something totally different, or it doesn't respond and I have to ask again.

As noted in a prior article, I stereo-paired two Echo Dot speakers. For the purposes of this article, I will use the default "wake word" of "Alexa." I actually had to change that on my devices -- because frequently, when someone would say Alexa on the TV, it would wake my devices and Alexa would try to respond.


Here are a few situations I have encountered recently:

Scenario 1:
Me: Alexa. Sixties on Six on Sirius XM.
Alexa: Playing Symphony Hall on Sirius XM.
In addition to not playing the station I requested, the music is only coming out of one speaker.
Me: Alexa. Stop.
Alexa thinks about this for a bit, sort-of stops, then continues playing.
Me: Alexa. Stop.
Alexa finally stops.

There are several issues in the above scenario. First, Alexa did not follow my instructions and played the wrong station. Second, the music only came out of one speaker. Third, Alexa did not stop as directed.

Scenario 2:
Me: Alexa. Play Sixties on Six on Sirius XM.
Alexa: Sixties on Six on Sirius XM.
The correct station plays, and in stereo.
Me: Alexa. Stop.
This time, Alexa stops.

I have no explanation for the first and third item in Scenario 1, but if you look closely at my first command, there is a slight difference between Scenario 1 and Scenario 2. In Scenario 2, I included the word "Play", which seemed to make all the difference.

Here is another issue I've encountered:

Scenario 3:
Me: Alexa. 1010 WINS Radio. (I am expecting to hear the news station 1010 WINS via Radio.com).
Alexa: Playing Family Values Radio from iHeartRadio. (Alexa plays what is apparently a Christian broadcast station.)
Me. Alexa Stop. (Alexa does not stop). I repeat "Alexa stop" multiple times, without success. Finally, I open the app on my phone and press the pause button. Eventually Alexa stops. One time, when I repeated this exercise as described in the note below, even that didn't work. My only recourse was to pull the plug on the speaker.

    Note: I have been able to repeat this bizarre scenario multiple times. I also tried adding the word "Play" as in Scenario 2, and I even tried adding "on Radio.com". None of these changes in command made a difference. The results were the same.
In order for this to work, I stumbled upon the following solution:

Scenario 4:
Me: Alexa. Open Radio.com
Alexa: What would you like to listen to?
Me: 1010 WINS
Alexa: Playing 1010 WINS. (1010 WINS radio starts playing.)

Me: Alexa. Stop.
Alexa stops.

 
Scenario 4 got me what I wanted, but I didn't used to have to do that.

There have also been multiple occasions when I would ask Alexa a question, or ask Alexa to do something, and it would dutifully beep or flash lights showing it heard me, but then not respond. It has been very frustrating.

By comparison, once in a while one of my Google Home devices might not respond, but this issue has been far more prevalent with the Alexa devices in my experience.


In the event you missed previous articles about Google Home and Amazon Echo, you can find them here:

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/11/review-google-home-mini-vs-amazon-echo.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/12/part-2-review-google-home-mini-vs.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/01/google-home-adds-feels-like-temperature.html



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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

February 04, 2019

The Importance of Usability Testing

By Richard L. Kuper

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This is an article about an experience with an InstaPot -- probably not something you expected to see in The Kuper Report. However, it speaks to a larger issue - the importance of usability testing.

Over the holidays there was a great sale on an InstaPot, a combination pressure cooker and slow cooker for those who may not know what it is. I’d always wanted a pressure cooker, because when I was growing up my mom made really delicious food in her pressure cooker, including the best chicken soup on the planet. My mom passed many years ago, and unfortunately I never captured any of her recipes, which I don’t recall ever being written down. Back then, pressure cookers were stove-top devices and extremely dangerous if you didn’t know what you were doing. Today’s electric ones are supposed to be much safer. But I digress.

So I bought the InstaPot and, eventually, I got around to reading the instructions on how to use it. I did the “test” run to make sure it worked -- and it did. I then attempted to follow instructions I found online to prepare Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley that my wife had purchased and seen someone else prepare in an InstaPot. It didn’t quite come out right, but we managed to salvage it.

On another occasion I found instructions to prepare oatmeal, and somehow I managed to get this right.

Then, after not using the InstaPot for a few weeks, I went and tried to make the Brown Rice Medley again. This time something went wrong. It was taking way to long and making all kinds of noises and eventually displayed “burn”. I was, of course, not a happy camper. The rice was hard and not cooked. I had no idea what went wrong. We did, however, eventually manage to salvage the rice with lots of water and microwaving a lot. At this point, I had no idea what went wrong.

Then, the next day, I attempted to make oatmeal again. I did everything the same (or at least I thought I did) as the last time I made oatmeal. Again, something went wrong. It was taking way too long and eventually displayed “burn”. Once again I was not a happy camper. I thought the InstaPot might be broken. 

I scoured the internet for clues as to what the problem might be. I eventually figured out what the problem was. On the lid of the InstaPot is a valve. The valve is supposed to be set to “Steaming” when using it as a pressure cooker. I thought I’d set it properly, but apparently I had not. So, user error, right? Well, yes and no. As you will see by the picture, on which I’ve added a couple of white arrows to help explain, the words “Steaming” and “Venting” are the same color as the background, and therefore extremely difficult to read. It is therefore very easy to assume you are making the right choice when you are not. In my opinion, this is a serious design flaw, and, just maybe, it never went through a proper User Acceptance Test. 



The point here is that usability testing is important. If I had been the usability tester for this product, I would have failed its valve design. I would have recommended that the lettering should be white on the black background so that it could more easily be read. I would also have recommended additional text. Under "Steaming" I would recommend adding something like: "Turn here for Pressure Cooking". Under "Venting" I would recommend adding something like: "Use extreme caution and pot holder glove when turning valve to release pressure, and stand away from valve" (because you don't want to burn your face or other body part when the hot steam comes rushing out).

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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

January 18, 2019

Google Home Adds "Feels Like" Temperature To Weather Report

By Richard L. Kuper
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In the event you missed the previous articles comparing Google Home and Amazon Echo, you can find them here:

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/11/review-google-home-mini-vs-amazon-echo.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/12/part-2-review-google-home-mini-vs.html

In the first article, I reported that neither the Google Home nor the Amazon Echo provided, nor were either able to provide information on what the temperature really felt like outside. I am happy to report that Google Home has started to provide that information in the weather report, when it is appropriate. For example, as I was writing this on a Thursday evening, I asked Google what the weather was. In addition to telling me that snow showers were coming, it told me it was 31 degrees. Then it went on to say: "Due to current wind conditions, it feels like it's 23." That, of course, is very helpful information. Please note, however, that when I simply asked what the current temperature was, Google told me what the temperature was and did not include the "feels like" information. So be sure to say something like: "Hey Google. What's the weather?" in order to get the "feels like" information when that is a factor. 

As of this writing, Amazon Echo does not provide "feels like" weather information.
 

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The Kuper Report

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