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Notes from China, Part 2

More TIL in China…

  • There is nothing made here with High-Fructose Corn Syrup. Everything’s made with natural sugar, because China doesn’t subsidize corn like we do, insanely, in the US.
  • Food is, by and large, fresher here. Meat was likely butchered within a day or so of being served or sold. Yogurt and diary products are not pasteurized. Eggs are not washed when collected, and can safely sit at room temperature for a few days.
  • Xi’an cuisine is all about the noodle. ALL. ABOUT. THE. NOODLE. Shanghainese is apparently all about sweet, and dumplings. Tasty, tasty steamed dumplings. Now I’m hungry again.
  • Food in China is ridiculously cheap.
  • The Great Firewall of China really puts a serious damper on the Internet, especially anything that uses an encrypted protocol. E-mail doesn’t seem too dramatically affected, as my trusty Apple Mail app can still fetch and send to all of my accounts, but there seems to be a selection of services that do work, and everything else is just blocked. The things that do work are subject to deep packet inspection. This slows everything to a crawl. Unfortunately, this also means things like Evernote, DropBox, etc. are hit-or-miss, but mostly miss.
  • Did I mention traffic here is a bit loony?
  • Shanghai is definitely more upscale than Xi’an.
  • I’ve seen more upscale cars in Xi’an and Shanghai than I do in La Jolla / San Diego. Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche. I guess if food and housing is cheap, there’s only so many other places to throw your money, so a lot of people throw it at cars.
  • With as crazy as traffic is here, I’m amazed that I’ve only seen two accidents on the roads, and one near-miss. I happened to be in the taxi for the near-miss. EXCITEMENT!
  • Two weeks for a trip to China, especially if you’re going to central China (like, say, Xi’an), actually costs you about 5 days of travel, if you’re smart and plan on a one-night layover after/before you cross the Pacific.

I guess that’s about it. Looking forward to going home. Not looking forward to the extra 20 hours of travel being inserted into my day, but I’ll be in my own bed tonight after a 40-hour Friday.

Notes from China, Part 2

Notes from China, Part 1

TIL, so far in China…

  • KFC is the largest chain restaurant in China.
  • “Parking” means stuffing your car wherever you can find enough space for it to fit. Whether that’s on the sidewalk, the side of the street, or blocking in three other (illegally) parked cars, it’s all good.
  • Right of way is ruled by mass, and there’s no obligation to stop for a right turn on red. Left turns do not need to yield to oncoming traffic. Pedestrians cross at their own risk. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be the frog. Now I have an idea.
  • It’s apparently better to be here when it’s warm than when it’s cold. Nobody burns their coal heaters when it’s warm, so the air is actually breathable. The constant rain for the last four days has helped, too.
  • Sometimes the air conditioning works.
  • The hotels try very hard to feel very European, but they’re very definitely Made In China. It’s a source of cognitive dissonance.
  • If it has wheels, you’ll see it on the roads. And next to the roads. And sometimes on the sidewalks.
  • Electric scooters are very popular here. And absolutely freaking silent. Keep your head on a swivel.
  • There is a very complicated pattern drivers observe of when to use high-beams, hazard flashers, turn signals, horns, or even any lights at all, regardless of day or night. I have not yet figured it out, content to let driving be done by local professionals.
  • Taxi drivers here are insane. And belligerent. If they don’t like where you want to go, they’ll drive off without you. Be prepared to argue. On the bright side, the taxis at the airport don’t have a choice if they want to get in the taxi line.
  • Speaking of taxis, every single car service representative will chase you down to offer you a ride as you walk out of Customs. These people are dressed very nicely and professionally, speak passable English, and are quite insistent. Politely decline them all, and follow the signs for TAXI, which will lead you outside to the standard taxis queued up in a designated area, with what I can only assume are “taxi marshals”. You’ll pay about 1/6th to 1/5th the price of those driver services that feed outside Customs, and the cabbies cannot turn you down.
Notes from China, Part 1

Yet Another Mac OS X Location Changer

I was going about my business, as you do, having used the LocationChanger script and launchd agent to automatically switch my Mac between my home and non-home network locations. Of course, I decided I could do it a little better, and got to work.

Here is the result: AutoLocation.

I learned a few new things while cooking this up, including how to actually deal with arrays in bash, a nifty thing called process substitution (which resulted in my favorite line in the whole script), and a great way to return arbitrary values into variables from functions.

I really like it when I learn new things on the way to solving a problem for myself. It’s the best way to learn something.

Yet Another Mac OS X Location Changer

For this, someone needs a punch in the nose.

Dear Drugstore.com,

Please inform your software devlopers that their reasoning behind what is and is not a “valid” name is severely flawed and is thus resulting in my refusal to mutilate my name to fit your web store’s idea of what is valid.

Yes, when I go to create an account for myself, and enter in my name:

  • First Name: Gregory
  • Last Name: Ruiz-Ade

And then I proceed to fill in my email address and create a password, and click continue, I get a dialog box that tells me I must enter a valid name.

This is absurdity.

Anyone who is old enough to be competent enough to design and implement an online storefront of the size and caliber of drugstore.com should surely know that there are hyphenated last names out there in the wilds of the internet (let alone the whole world.)

As such, I politely decline to make a purchase with drugstore.com today.

Thank you,

Gregory


Yes, I just emailed that to them.

For this, someone needs a punch in the nose.

Using SuperDuper! for FileVault2 System Volumes

Since my first Mac (an Aluminum PowerBook G4), I had relied upon SuperDuper! as my backup method for my Mac notebooks. It’s a wonderful tool, and faithfully replicates an entire volume, including making it bootable, for a worst-case drive failure scenario. I’ve used it for migrating my system to a new disk when doing disk upgrades, transferring an image to a new/replacement notebook, and just plain backups.

I’ve long since switched to using CrashPlan for my backups. CrashPlan has worked wonderfully, and saved my bacon a number of times. I use it on every computer I own. Crashplan isn’t, however, an ideal solution for migrating data to a new drive when upgrading your hard disk, simply because it’s rather slow to restore a lot of data over the network.

So, back to SuperDuper! I go, as I’m planning to add an SSD to my current MacBook Pro, and re-instate the “build a DR boot volume on an external drive” policy at home. The wrinkle is that since the upgrade to OS X Lion, both my wife’s and my notebooks are using FileVault2 for full-disk encryption. Given the sheer amount of personal information on these computers, it’s the only sane thing to do, especially when the notebooks are bound to iCloud, with Find My Mac enabled. (This gives you remote-wipe capability on your notebook, which is very useful if it’s lost/stolen.) Unfortunately, there’s no clear way to use SuperDuper! with a clean hard drive and end up with an encrypted volume that duplicates the original.

At least, not directly within SuperDuper.

All is not lost, though, as there is a way to do it, and get a fully encrypted, bootable duplicate of your FileVault2-encrypted OS volume!

In short, the procedure is:

  • Install OS X Lion to your destination hard drive
  • Activate FileVault2 on the new install
  • Reboot to your normal startup disk
  • Use SuperDuper! to “Smart Update” the destination
  • Boot from the destination (SuperDuper! target) disk again
  • Open System Preferences -> Security, and click on the FileVault tab.
  • Click the button to enable users to unlock the volume, and enable any additional accounts (if you have the users there to type in their passwords.)
  • Reboot to your normal startup disk again
  • Pat yourself on the back! You did it!

I’ve tested the procedure on my old MacBook Pro, from which I’m preparing to remove the SSD to transplant it into my new MacBook Pro. It works, it boots from either volume, and they’re both encrypted (granted, with different recovery keys, as one would expect). I’ll post a followup in about a week complete with screenshots of the whole process when I migrate my OS volume to the SSD in my new MacBook Pro.

Stay tuned!

Using SuperDuper! for FileVault2 System Volumes

Balance (Security vs. Usability)

I suppose this should be filed under “Get More Pageviews”, but nonetheless, I took the click-bait to Sophos’ calling Apple out on making the iPhone 4S safer to use while driving easy to access by bypassing your passcode. My main issue is that they take what is a legitimate concern regarding the tradeoffs between security and ease of use (and even safety of use while driving) and instead paint it as a deliberately cavalier attitude towards data security.

What’s disappointing to me though is that Apple had a clear choice here.
They could have chosen to implement Siri securely, but instead they decided to default to a mode which is more about impressing your buddies than securing your calendar and email system.

You see what he did there?

Ever notice how an expert in a certain field will only ever see choices from the perspective of that field? Interesting how there is the assumption that the only options were secure and insecure. It’s like he just assumes that nobody will ever try to use a phone while driving, something that seems like it would gain a huge safety improvement by reducing phone interaction.

On my lowly iPhone 4, if I want to call my wife while I’m on the freeway to see if I need to stop at the store, I’d have to:

  • Pick up the phone
  • Press the home button or the power button
  • Swipe across the bottom of the screen
  • Tap in my passcode, or, as suggested in the Sophos article, my complex alphanumeric-with-symbols password
  • Tap the Phone icon
  • Tap the Favorites button if it’s not already on the Favorites page
  • Tap my wife’s entry

With an iPhone 4S and Siri, I’d presumably need only to:

  • Pick up the phone
  • Tap the button that activates Siri
  • Speak: “Siri, call my wife.”
  • Acknowledge Siri’s confirmation of my request by saying, “Yes.”

I wouldn’t ever have to look at the phone. The only touch target I’d need is a physical button on the phone, which is easy to locate without looking. It’s only marginally more complicated than asking a real person sitting in the car with you to dial the phone for you, because you have to push a button two times. I’m reasonably certain it’s this use case which Apple designers and engineers had in mind when setting the default options on the iPhone 4S, with the assumption that the security-conscious people could find and disable the “enable Siri while iPhone is locked” option themselves.

After all, while the iPhone is a popular device for businesses, it’s not the only market Apple sells to. Apple is going to make the choice, every time, to make it’s products easy and delightful to use for its primary customer base.

You know, ordinary people.

Balance (Security vs. Usability)