Of Course I’m Not A…Beepbeepboopboop…Crap!

Points for being diligent I guess, but I sure hope these Fiat selling Floridians understand cars better than they seem to understand computers. Yeesh.

The sales guy was handing me paper after paper with a brief explanation of what each one was for, and then he handed me that page — with literally nothing else on it — and just mater-of-factly said, “And this one is just to ensure you’re not a robot.
We both said, “Really?” And I don’t know if he’s just done it so long that it was normal to him now or what, but he was just like, “Yep.”

What the hell? Okay, I get that they’re printing these forms out from online, but, come on, they must know that “I’m not a robot” thing is part of the reCAPTCHA security thing that only makes sense if you’re filling out forms online, right? When you’re not sitting right in front of someone and you can tell that they’re not some blinking, blooping, oil-chugging droid?
Right? They must understand that?
I called the dealership to confirm if this is routine, this confirmation that the people there in the office are actually people, and not hyper-realistic androids who just want to buy a new Fiat.
It’s true. They do this. All the time. I asked them why, and was told by a sales associate,

“It’s not about us. In order for us to print the next one, you have to check that. So we print it out, and have the customer check that when we do.”

He went on to say, and hopefully this is a joke, that You never know; they have that girl Alexa, and she can talk and make phone calls and stuff.”

But what if this thing calling itself Marci Robin was a robot in a very convincing woman costume? What if that checkbox was all that stood between the Marci 5000 getting hold of a 4-wheeled killing machine and ending us all? What then, Mr. Sales Associate? Would you stand up for humanity, no matter the personal cost?

I asked the sales associate this, and he said if the robot had a social security number and an ID, then he’d sell it a car.

That’s comforting, aside from the part where it’s not at all comforting.

You Can Update To Firefox 60, JAWS Using Blind Kids

It took ’em a while, but apparently JAWS and Firefox have figured out how to work together again as of Firefox version 60, which was released in the last few days.

When Mozilla released Firefox Quantum, starting with version 57, in November of 2017, it introduced a number of technical changes that improve the browsing experience for our users. Tabs run in separate processes now, so that if one tab crashes, it does not bring the whole browser down with it. This is also better for security on multiple levels. Web sites load faster due to a much improved and modernized rendering engine. And a lot of other new features which you’ve probably read all about by now.
However, due to these massive technical changes under the hood, we unfortunately temporarily regressed screen reader users. And while we quickly regained much of the lost performance with Firefox 58 for NVDA users, for JAWS these improvements helped only slightly.

Therefore, a collaboration was started to bring both JAWS and Firefox back to a state together where the experience can be considered a first-class browsing experience. Over the past few months, accessibility engineers from Mozilla and VFO have identified and worked on performance and other usability issues together to improve both products to make that happen. This involved mutual understanding of what answers were required by JAWS from Firefox when it asked certain questions, particularly those that had not been dealt with in the work for Firefox 58 and 59. There were also some more architectural changes required on the Firefox side to handle very Windows-specific mechanisms. And while we were at it, we found and fixed some big memory leaks that had been bothering us since the release of Firefox 57, and which NVDA users will also have noticed improving in Firefox 59.
We’re happy to report that the combination of Firefox 60, released on May 9, 2018, and JAWS 2018, starting with the April 2018 update, are the result of this collaboration. With the combination of these versions or later, users of the JAWS screen reading software can again use the latest and greatest version of Firefox and be confident that they can browse the web in a speedy manner.

If any of this applies to you, definitely read that whole article for more info as well as instructions on switching away from the Extended Support Release and back to regular Firefox.

And let the record show that I was right. NVDA beat JAWS to this by several miles. That post was written in January. It’s May now.

I also kind of predicted that I wouldn’t even bother switching away from Firefox when 57 hit, and I didn’t. And honestly, for the most part it wasn’t that bad. It was definitely slower at times and there were a few pages that were absolutely unusable, but generally speaking it didn’t slow me down at all. And slowly but surely, things have been improving. I wouldn’t say the Firefox NVDA combo is just as snappy as it used to be, but it’s getting there. If you did switch, maybe give it another try.

Oh, and welcome back, JAWS people.

Get To Know Your Friends…A Little Too Well

Let me try and explain the soundtrack. Years ago, my parents got their computers full of nasty viruses and malware, and they were receiving tons of spam. I was trying to figure out how things got so bad, and mom said that one day a pop-up came up asking her to click on the flying ducks to win a prize. That pop-up probably wasn’t good news, but mom thought it was a harmless little game. Now, there are potentially identity-stealing Facebook quizzes. I think they are the new duck. I don’t want this new duck, but whenever I say “the new duck”, this song appears in my head.

“Please be aware of some of the posts you comment on,” the Sutton Police Department in Massachusetts wrote in a cautionary message. “The posts that ask what was your first grade teacher, who was your childhood best friend, your first car, the place you [were] born, your favorite place, your first pet, where did you go on your first flight … Those are the same questions asked when setting up accounts as security questions. You are giving out the answers to your security questions without realizing it.”

When I think of how many people fill out those quizzes, it scares me. I know they’re not all bad, but they sure do like to ask a lot of security questions, so even if they’re not actually hoovering up the information, they’re causing you to splatter it all over people’s feeds, leaving it open for other people to hoover up.

I’m so glad my folks don’t do Facebook.

Oh, and by the way, this is a pretty great commercial about identity theft. Now, I can’t not call hockey “skatey punchy”.

Internet Challenges

To answer Gill’s question, no. But I will say this. If you’re the type of person who would set yourself on fire or eat a Tide pod in the name of internet glory, go ahead and do those things. In fact, do them at the same time just to make sure they work.

From the well intentioned to the deadly here are some challenges that have been produced for the world to see.

  • 1 The cinnamon challenge – This is why we don’t allow fourteen-year-olds to get really bored. You are supposed to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon for this choking hazard.
  • 2 The ice bucket challenge – This was for a good cause. Participants would be surprised by a full bucket of ice.
  • 3 The fire challenge – Again bored plus fourteen is not a good combination. Participants would literally set themselves on fire.
  • 4 The what’s in the box challenge – This is the most recent of the list. Participants get a series of boxes with a series of items, sometimes animals, other times slimy gooey stuff.

Question

Do you care about internet challenges?

Be My Eyes Launches A Specialized Help Feature, Which Will Be Amazing If Enough Companies Go Along With It

If you’re a smartphone having blind person and you haven’t used Be My Eyes, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that your life is at least a little more frustrating than it needs to be. And if you’re a smartphone having sighted person and you’ve spent any time at all volunteering as a helper, thank you for making our lives a little less frustrating than they used to be.

In the years that it’s existed, I’ve either used or seen it used to do everything from identifying details about a package that’s stumped the automated scanning apps to making sure medicine is mixed correctly to getting registration numbers off of electronics to reading room numbers in hotels to answering some of the dreaded questions about lights and silent error messages that the blind kid can’t possibly answer for the friendly tech support agent.

Long story short, there’s not much it can’t help with. But even so, it’s still trying to make itself better, and if enough companies get behind this new plan, it could be a hell of a thing.

As you know, Be My Eyes is here to help you tackle a wide range of visual challenges as you go about your day. Until today, Be My Eyes has randomly connected you to a volunteer to solve daily tasks. Some tasks, however, require specialized assistance.

Contacting customer support through email or by phone isn’t always ideal. Direct communication with a business’s customer support agent could be a more vision-friendly alternative and less time consuming for you. If someone from the company could see the issue in real time, issues with their products or services could be resolved more efficiently.

So we’ve strategized a way to better assist you: enlisting the help of representatives from companies whose products you use all the time. It’s our sincere pleasure to introduce Specialized Help. This new feature means that a trained company representative is available to answer questions or help you tackle issues with speed and in-depth solutions. Maybe you need help figuring out how to use an unfamiliar product, or you might want to interact on a company’s app or website while on the phone with their representative. With Specialized Help, it’s easy to get in touch with businesses and organizations when you encounter a challenge with their products or services. And as always, it’s completely free.

The next time you update your Be My Eyes app, there will be a second button added to the main screen to take you to the Specialized Help Menu. Clicking “Specialized Help” will lead you to the list of companies with representatives available to answer your call and assist you through a live video connection. Each business profile will include descriptions of their services, hours of operation, and supported languages.

So far the only company officially announced as participating is Microsoft, but the hope is that over time that list will grow. To that end, if you have thoughts about companies you would like to see added, Be My Eyes is looking for feedback. You can write to them at Info@BeMyEyes.com. I’ve already suggested internet and tv providers as a priority, but maybe you have an idea that’s just as good or better.

I Hope You Drop Your Stupid Phone In Your Stupid Selfieccino

I should stop typing right now. I should pay this no mind. I should move on and let it die like I hope happens to anyone who legitimately thinks this is a good use of money and bandwidth. But sometimes my get off my lawn impulse shouts down my if you ignore them they’ll go away impulse and we all wind up with posts about some asshole paying eight dollars to print photographs into his goddamn cappuccino foam.

Hello magazine reports that the Tea Terrace cafe on the top floor of London’s House Of Fraser department store has a special printer that allows imprints of photos in cappuccino foam. Customers send a photo to the barista, who then prints out the image in foam using a fine art printer. Many people are going with the tried-and-true selfie, hence the name. But the machine can also upload pictures of a beloved pet, for example, which you may enjoy looking at right before you drink its foamy head off. The visual drink costs £5.75, or about $8. Tea Terrace owner Ehab Salem Shouly explains to Hello: “Due to social media the dining experience has completely changed. It’s not enough to just deliver great food and service anymore, it’s got to be Instagram worthy.”

To each his own and all that, but this sounds like a really good way to become my former friend. I still haven’t been able to accept people who would rather film their food than fucking eat it, and now we’ve managed to make it worse. Seriously, just go away.

True True False False Share Share Like Like

After all these years, I’m still not on Facebook. There are plenty of reasons for that, not the least of which is the company’s seeming inability to keep its fucking hands out of people’s timelines. Say what you want about Twitter, but for whatever faults it may have, it does get that right. You choose who you would like to see tweets from, those people tweet things, those things appear in order. It’s a completely reasonable adult way to treat customers, even if some of those customers have trouble with the whole reasonable adult thing. But Facebook just can’t help itself. It has to screw about with this and that, trying to solve the world’s problems regardless of whether or not those problems actually exist.

It’s latest crusade is against fake news, which to be fair is a problem that does exist and is one that Facebook had a not so small hand in making worse, so it does arguably have a role to play in shutting it down. But the route it appears to be taking to that end according to a recent issue of Broadcast Dialogue is a pretty foolish and ultimately fruitless one, I think.

Facebook began tests in the U.S. this week prioritizing news from “publications that the community rates as trustworthy,” as part of an ongoing effort to reduce fake news and clickbait. Users can still decide which stories appear at the top of News Feed with the See First feature. For publishers, the move means publications deemed trustworthy by users may see an increase in their distribution, while publications that do not score highly could see a decrease.

What could possibly go wrong, right? I mean it’s not like anyone could ever find a way to game that system through bots or well coordinated campaigns. And the United States, naturally, is the perfect place to test this. It is, more than any other country on Earth, the very definition of a united front. Its government is as honest as the day is long and would never think of starting silly wars with the media, which in turn would never dream of bending facts or outright making shit up in order to push a corporate overlord’s preferred narrative.

Anybody with a clue should be able to figure out how this is going to end. When you make the news into a popularity contest painted up as some sort of online democracy, the only thing that’s going to suffer is actual democracy. People are going to go on believing and spreading whatever they like, facts be damned. It was that way before there was a Facebook. Facebook just made it easier. Sure it would be nice if Facebook could find a way to make it harder, but doing that is going to require some very tough decisions that a lot of people aren’t going to like and that may hurt Facebook’s bottom line, at least in the short-term. There will need to be fact checkers and ground rules and ways to distinguish satire from lies. Do Facebook’s users have a spot in this equation? Of course they do. But it’s so much more than just clicking true or false on a never ending multiple choice test. It’s all about media literacy and critical thinking, and try as it might, Facebook can neither teach those things or instill them into people at will.

I know you Heavy Black Heart Emoji, But If You Use Too Many, I Loudly Crying Face And Your Post Becomes A Smiling Pile Of Poo!

Oh my god this is amazing, and I wish I’d written it. But since I didn’t, I’ll just link to it and give it a +1000.

Emojis are cute and they are everywhere. Some of them are quite amusing and I have learned about a few new ones over the years. I don’t mind a few here and there. But, when people’s user names, tweets and Facebook posts are encrusted in the things, it gets old really fast.

Look at the title of this post. Those are actual examples of some of the written out descriptions of emojis that we read whenever you put up a little face. Imagine if every time you came upon a given username, you had to listen to a million of those descriptions before hearing what they had to say. Now imagine if that username was also in a thread of tweets that you were reading. If you had to do that, would you actually stay around to hear what the user had to say? It’s especially frustrating when the tweet is shorter than the long and winding mess of emojis that is the username. Here’s a recorded example of just such a tweet.

Yes, one of those tweets just says “here’s a thumbs up gif.” Imagine having to wade through the globes, rainbows, avocados, masks representing the performing arts, just to hear “Here’s a thumbs up gif” and see a link to a video.

The short version is emojis are great and the descriptions let us in on the message you’re conveying with those little pictures. Every now and then, I still see a new one that cracks me up. But please, please, please use them sparingly. You don’t need a bunch of them in your username. Also, in a given tweet or post, you don’t need blue hearts, yellow hearts, green hearts, purple hearts, and pairs of hearts revolving, all in the same message, to convey your love for something. One heart would suffice.

Aside: People seem to use “heavy black heart” to convey something is very loved or close to their heart. I would assume if you have a heavy, black heart, you’re one miserable human. Am I wrong?

There Is A WiFi Hair Brush Because The World Is Kind Of Garbage

It’s not the stupidest unnecessarily smart gadget I’ve ever seen (I think that honour goes to these socks), but the Hair Coach is way up there.

Yes, it is a hair brush. A hair brush with sensors in it. A hair brush that has it’s own app. A hair brush that communicates through Bluetooth. And WiFi. And it can give you personalized advice from experts. And somebody please kill me.

Experience the world’s first smart hairbrush that empowers you to track and improve hair health over time. This product results from a collaboration between Kérastase and L’Oréal, who bring worldwide hair expertise, and Nokia, which brings state of the art sensors and app connectivity to everyday products. The resulting innovation is a brush that syncs seamlessly to your smartphone to provide valuable insights that can help revolutionize the home beauty routine.

Hair health analysis
Dryness
Follow hair elasticity and learn how to avoid dry hair
Damage
Measure cuticle damage to help ensure moisture retention
Tangling
Optimize sebum distribution and avoid tangles
Force & rhythm
Get insight into how to avoid damaging hair
Gesture analysis
Understand and improve brushing habits
Stroke count
Detailed information on how use impacts hair quality

All you have to do is brush your hair — Hair Coach does the rest
Designed for optimal care and ease of use
With a sleek, lightweight handle and a high density of professional-grade boar & nylon bristles, Hair Coach provides an ideal brushing experience while taking the best possible care of your hair.
Seamless synchronization with the app
The brush detects when it is being used and begins data collection automatically. As soon as you complete your brushing session, all data will be sent automatically to your phone via Bluetooth® Low Energy or Wi-Fi.
A complete hair diagnosis without leaving home
Get an instant assessment of your hair health daily
Create a personalized care routine and get curated tips from Kérastase
Follow your hair health progress over time

It was set to begin shipping in the Fall of 2017, but as I sit here in December that timeline is still listed on the website, so I can only assume it hasn’t. Not that any of you really care when it ships, because you’re all too smart to buy one. Right? Right?

Don’t Throw Away Your Scam Emails. Send Them To The Re:Scam Bot Instead

I’m all about anything that makes online life a little bit harder for scumbags and a little bit safer for everyone else. And if everyone else can have a little bit of fun in the process, even better. So yes, I shall be doing my best to remember to forward my next email from the friendly Nigerian prince who administrates the lottery to Re:scam.

It’s a new bot created by the New Zealand-based nonprofit Netsafe that replies to all your spam emails for you, tricking scammers into thinking that they’re hooking a victim. Except Re:scam simply asks each scammer more and more questions, engaging them in a never-ending conversation until they give up. All you have to do is forward your scam email to me@rescam.org and let the bot do its work.

“Do you wish to be a member of the great illuminati family? Do you want to be [sic] payment $5,000,000 weekly? Let us now [sic] if you are interested in success,” says one scam email featured in a video about Re:scam’s skills. The bot’s response? “Dear Illuminati, what a wonderful surprise! I’d love to join your secret club. Do you do a bingo night?”
When the scammer responds that there isn’t a bingo night and prompts the respondent to send their bank details, the bot responds with glee, “Terrific! But to avoid detection I’m going to send my bank account details through one number at a time,” predictably driving the scammer crazy.

I have no idea how they’re training this thing, and wisely, they aren’t saying. But I think we can all agree that it’s nice that they are.