Google Fi, Voice, and Republic Wireless

I have been using Republic Wireless for a few years and really like the low price. I was coming from Sprint so RW using their network didn’t bother me at all, and I got the benefit of Wi-Fi at home where my signal was sometimes weak. My phone bill is usually around $13 to $15 because I use very little data (when away from Wi-Fi) and get credit for what I don’t use. That Refund plan is no longer offered though. Current Republic plans are either on the Sprint network or T-Mobile, but not both (like Google Fi), and would cost at $20 with 1GB of data and no refund for unused data.

With Google Fi, I am paying about $30 because they give you a refund for unused data and I use around 0.5GB a month. Yes, that is more than Republic Wireless, but I wanted the benefit of two networks (Sprint service at the farm sucks). If it doesn’t end up helping, I will go back to Republic Wireless’ new plan. Remember, neither Fi or RW are good if you are a heavy data user and probably can’t compete with a family plan.

If you are a Google Voice user, some of the features of Voice are not available on Fi so do your research. I chose not to give up Voice so am trying out Fi on a different Google account and number. I can still make and receive calls with my Voice number with this phone by signing into Hangouts with my normal account, but it is not convenient and uses data. I have to make calls from the Hangouts app which doesn’t have a contact list. I do not recommend this solution, but it does work. Republic works well with Google Voice.

Anyway, if you want to sign up (while I am still using Fi), you can use this link to get both of a $20 credit after you have been active for 30 days. I got my signup credit on my third bill. Leave me a comment so I know someone used my referral link.

https://g.co/fi/r/T665VC

Update for Redline 2.8.0 WordPress Theme

The theme I use for this blog, Redline, hasn’t been updated in four years. After the latest WordPress update, I didn’t like what my sidebars looked like (I think I just forgot what they looked like before). Plus the narrow the blog text area on my wide screen monitor has been bugging me for years.

I looked around for a new theme, but I didn’t find one I liked (flat design sucks). So, here is my fix to make the layout fit different screen sizes a bit better. A truly responsive redesign would still be much better for mobile, but this is an easy quick improvement for my low activity blog. If you want to make similar modifications to your blog that is using the Redline theme, in your WordPress admin pages, go to Appearance, Customize Theme, then on the bottom right column, select Additional CSS and paste the below code:

#container { width: 95%; } /* the whole box of content */
#primary { width: 65%; } /* main blog article area */
#secondary { width: 32%; } /* sidebars */
#sidebar_left { width: 48%; } /* left sidebar */
#sidebar_right { width: 48%; } /* right sidebar */
#logo { background-color: black; height: 85px; width: 100%; }  /* color match image; shorter banner */
#blog_header, #blog_header a { padding-top: 0px; } /* banner title alignment */
#feedarea { width: 90%; } /* site tag line and date at the top */

I looked at the author’s blog and it did much better on mobile than my site was doing. I still like the wide layout for big computer screens this gave me though. I will investigate more later, but since it works for me, it could be years till I get back to it. Way past time for bed.

Update: I came back to work on an actual Responsive Design and made a mess because its been a while since I messed with Responsive CSS. Instead I found a plugin, WPtouch, that creates a mobile version of the blog. It doesn’t have many built in customization options, at least for the free version, but works great and can be customized with CSS.

Weird Keyboard

I found a great deal on a Lenovo Yoga 710 2-in-1 15.6 inch during Best Buy’s “up to” 50% off Clearance sale on Open Box items. I was happy to find a laptop without a number pad. Other than 2-in-1s, that is getting rare for anything but small laptops.

It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed Lenovo put the up arrow key where any touch typist expects the right shift key to be. I have long fingers yet cannot reach the right shift key without moving my hand. I would hit the up arrow instead of shift if I wasn’t thinking about this unusual keyboard. That not only means I missed the shift, I would then be typing in the wrong place after pressing the up key. Otherwise, it was a great laptop. The touch screen was nice and the hinges seem solid. The laptop is fast and the battery life was really good. If you don’t do much typing or plan to use the touch screen mostly, this could be a great laptop. I thought I could adapt to the odd shift key placement, but I just couldn’t get used to it.

Getting a nice laptop for 50% off made it a hard decision, but I returned it and got a Dell 2-in-1 with nearly the same specs. The Dell was also part of the clearance sale, but ended up costing $200 more due to the “up to” 50% off. I liked the look and hinges better on the Lenovo, but didn’t want to deal with that keyboard.

Lightroom Exports Are Too Dark

I just upgraded to Windows 10 and found Lightroom exported my photo much darker than it appeared inside Lightroom. I first thought this was a problem with color spaces (sRGB vs Adobe RGB, etc.). It turned out Windows 10 had recognized my monitor and installed a Color Profile for more optimal image. But I would rather see what my photos will look like exported while I am working on them. Once I removed the color profile, Lightroom’s too light images went back to normal. In my research, I read this is because Lightroom is color managed, but internet browsers and some image viewers are not.

In Windows 10, this setting is found in Color Management on the All Profiles tab. Then scroll down to ICC Profiles, select the unwanted Display profile, then hit Remove. I am sure it is possible, but I have not investigated how to get Windows to reinstall the profile if I changed my mind, so try this at your own risk.

Update: 9 months later I had to come back to my blog to remember what I did. Windows had reinstalled the profile for my monitor.

Computer Support Scam

I know several people who have fallen victim to scam computer support this year. If someone calls you and tells you that they work with Microsoft and your computer is infected, don’t download anything they tell you to. Microsoft does not call people offering help. If you get an official looking popup that says to call a number to fix an urgent issue or remove a virus, it is most likely a scam. You should know the name of your antivirus program so you won’t fall for fake virus notices popping up. If you believe you really are infected, find someone you trust to help.

Once on the phone, the scammer will tell you how to view your computer’s Windows Event Log which will show lots of errors. That may look really bad, but every computer is going to have plenty of errors in the log. Most are unimportant minor issues with programs (like whenever Firefox or Internet Explorer freezes) and are not a sign of viruses. They will offer to fix your computer for some fee (often $200 to $300). If you download their program they have full control over your computer. It is a scam. If you are lucky all they will do is take your money. With full control of your computer, they could infect it with their own spyware and take your personal info and passwords for identity fraud whether you pay them or not. In the best case scenario, they are just over charging you to do a poor job of cleaning up your computer, maybe installing some free or pirated anti-virus and anti-malware software and doing some Windows updates for you.

Some may not even pretend to be helping you, they will just set a password on your computer and lock you out until you pay them. Depending on your setup and how they locked your computer, an experienced technician may be able to clear the password and allow you access to your computer again. Or be able to copy your files to a new hard drive. But often paying the ransom is the only solution if you don’t have your files backed up, but there is no guarantee they will unlock your files.

You should also immediately change passwords for all sensitive online accounts for anyone who uses that computer, especially: email accounts, banks, credit cards, credit unions, brokerages, retirement accounts, Mint, and social media accounts like Facebook (which could be used to impersonate you to scam other relatives or friends), etc. Put a fraud alert and/or credit freeze on your credit at each of the three credit bureaus for anyone who might have had tax records or social security numbers in a file on the computer that was compromised.

Also consider two-factor authentication for any financial accounts. That can be done for email and Facebook as well. When activated, logging into that website from an unrecognized computer will require a code sent to your cell phone. While this can occasionally be annoying, you won’t have to use the code all the time since most of the time you will be using the same few computers.

Once these sleazy hackers get control of your computer, most security experts agree, it is best to backup your data and reinstall Windows. That is the only way to ensure they don’t still have some hidden trojan or malware on your computer to steal your personal data and all your new passwords.

Someone I know who fell for this now gets these calls several times a week hoping they will fall for it again. They cannot get the calls to stop over a year later without changing their phone number.

If someone from your internet provider emails or calls you telling you that your computer is infected, that might actually be true. But still be very careful. Instead of taking their word for it, get their name and extension number and call them back at the technical support number listed on your bill and tell them you were contacted by them about having a virus. I don’t know if they would offer to fix it over the internet for you, but they may ask you to download a free antivirus from their site to fix the issue. If you aren’t comfortable doing that, you can always have someone else fix for you.

Read these page for further information:
Microsoft Phone Support Scam
Fraud Alert vs. Credit Freeze

Deterring Blogspot Content Theft

My friend, BugEric, recently found that his blog’s posts were being stolen and reposted on an unauthorized clone blog. I have dealt with photo theft and it is really upsetting when people take your creative work. My blog wouldn’t be very valuable to steal from, but if you have well written content and post frequently, your blog might be appetizing to someone looking for “free” content to monetize. I am not going to go into the takedown solutions which you should persue. This post is about making it harder for someone to steal your work in the first place.

The easiest way to steal blog posts is from the blog feed. One thing you can do to limit the value of your content to thieves is stop publishing full posts in your feed. That makes stealing entire blog posts more difficult. People who regularly read your site in a feed reader will be annoyed with this change, but many sites work this way. Forcing users to read your posts on your site will draw more traffic which is a good thing if you make money displaying ads. When I used a feed reader, I disliked sites that did this so I prefer not to limit readers that way, but I understand there are good reasons.

I am not an expert at blog security but I have some CSS and javascript that I think will help deter content theft. These methods have been around for years and should work for most blog platforms. I am only going to list how I did it on Blogspot.

In the site Template, insert:
<style>.yournametext {display:none;}</style>

In the Post Template:
[a couple blank lines]
<div class="yournametext">This article is Copyright Your Name.
<a href="http://yourblog.blogspot.com">yourblog.blogspot.com</a>.</div>
<script type="text/javascript" src="https://googledrive.com/host/0B9MBju5-QxEPbDNqTU1oVHgxSDQ/"></script>

Every time you write a new post, that code will appear and you can type (or paste) your regular post above it. That text will be invisible to viewer on your site but anyone who scrapes your HTML code or steals from the full feed will get that at the end of the post. You could include a year in there, but remember to change it every January. Users of feed readers will also see this if you publish full posts in your feed.

The javascript code will redirect anyone who views your stolen post on their blog to your site. The code is short so we could include it in the template, but it is better to put it in an external file just in case you need to update it or add to the code later. If you have your own domain, you should host the file there. Blogger doesn’t allow you to upload files, but there is a trick you can do with Google Drive. Follow the instructions here. They will walk you through uploading and getting the proper googledrive.com/host/ link for your file.

Your javascript file will include:
if (document.location.href.toLowerCase().indexOf("yourblog.blogspot.com")==-1) {
document.location.href = "http://yourblog.blogspot.com/"; }

If you prefer to stay with partial posts in the feed, the hidden CSS text at the bottom of the post won’t show so we need to add your notice to the feed. You can do that under Post Feed Footer, fill in:

<div>This article is Copyright Your Name.
<a href="http://yourblog.blogspot.com">yourblog.blogspot.com</a>.</div>

That will show only for Feed Readers and thieves who populate their blog automatically with your feed. If you are allowing full posts in your feed and used the CSS trick above, don’t do this because users of feed readers will see duplicate copyright notices at the end of all your posts.

If the rest of this post is too technical for you, adding that Post Feed Footer is a pretty easy solution that can help at least get your name and link on the stolen content. Of the three things I listed, if you only do one, make it this one. The CSS isn’t hard to do either. Setting up the javascript file takes a bit more effort. A determined thief could defeat all these techniques (and any other you could come up with), but hopefully its easier for them to target someone else instead of putting in a bit of extra work stealing your writing. Especially if you have a few different things he has to fix.

A common suggestion is to block copying and pasting from your blog. This can be done with javascript or CSS like user-select: none;. These techniques only provide a false sense of security. It won’t be so easy for someone to manually copy information (even your name) from your blog, but this won’t have any effect on someone who steals every post. They will have certainly automated the theft so every time you post, they get new “free content” for their doppelgänger blog without doing any further work.

There are some services that attempt to track unauthorized text use. I have not tried them, but from what little I have read about them, when there is a free option, it is very limited. Most small blogs don’t have a budget for content protection so we have to do it ourselves.

While hosting your own blog like mine does give you more features and plugins to use, I don’t think there are many other good solutions to preventing content theft than those I gave above, just easier ways to implement them. And if you run your own site, you must be sure to keep the software running it up to date. And you should install some security plugins (like WordFence) to help keep it safe. Hackers like to target blogs with old software where known bugs allow them easy access to your webserver. Being on Blogger or another hosted services is not a bad thing for many bloggers.

Here are some useful resources on the topic of blog article theft:
The Six Worst Ways to Protect Content
Content Scrapers
Beginners Guide to Preventing Content Scraping in WordPress

Venus LOWA 60mm f2.8 Macro Lens and Kuangren KX-800 Twin Flash

When I first heard about the Venus macro lens that can go from infinity focus to 2:1 magnification, I wanted it, but it didn’t seem real and I forgot about it. After I saw Thomas Shahan’s video review and comments by other insect photographers, I ordered it. It is available in several different mounts. I got the Sony A-Mount version.

Below are two versions of the same bug. I shot the left one with my new lens, the Venus LAOWA 60mm. The right one with my less expensive old El-Nikkor enlarging lens with eBay helicoids.

Leaf-Footed Bug Nymph - Venus LAOWA 60mm Leaf-Footed Bug Nymph - El-Nikkor 50mm

To compare the lenses, I brought the plant inside where wind would not be a variable. I averaged about 20% more missed focused shots (of around 100 shots each) at 1.25x magnification with this lens handheld. Maybe due to the extra weight of the lens. When I got the focus right, the image quality is nearly the same between lenses. The differences in background have nothing to do with the lenses.

The weight is more than I am used to when shooting macros, but not terrible. The lens is heavy and solid, it feels like my dad’s old manual lenses from the 80s. The focus distance at 2:1 is really close, about 5.5cm. My eBay lens setup (explained here with exaggerated photo) gives me 2:1 at 6.5cm. I can use camera mounted external flash with a diffuser and get decent lighting with my eBay solution. The Venus blocks nearly all the flash at 2:1 because of the wider lens and closer distance.

I have always hated being limited to shooting either extreme or regular macros so the Venus’s ability to do both is great. My enlarging lens starts at around 1.27:1 and cannot focus on anything past a few inches. Anything bigger than a honey bee and I have to change lenses.

When I first got the Venus, I missed having autofocus for when shooting larger subjects. But thanks to Sony’s Electronic Viewfinder and Focus Peaking, manual focus is pretty easy to get right most of the time. Without that, I am sure this lens would be more difficult to use.

Happy Fly Day Friday! Pretty Leafhopper

The Kuangren KX-800 Macro Twin Flash is a great companion to the Venus lens. The twin flash allows so much creativity in lighting.

The two flashes and LED are each adjustable. I have occasionally had an issue where one flash or the other doesn’t fire after a while. I have to turn that side off and on before it works again. I have also found when shooting fast, the light level of each flash isn’t always the same (when set to the same level). I presume that has to do with charging the capacitors for each flash. It is only minor variation and gives me some lighting variety to choose from in Lightroom so I am not too upset. I haven’t really noticed a pattern, but low battery levels could have something to do with both of those issues.

In the first few weeks, I accidentally popped loose one of the arm joints several times when trying to adjust too quickly. It went back in easily, but worries me. Some speculative comments on the internet I read are that the arms will wear out and won’t be user replaceable because of the wiring in the arms. This is the improved version of their flash with heavier duty arms so hopefully if I am careful it will last a long time. For me, I am not too worried about the arms because I do know how to solder. At worst, I can remove a bad segment or two and live with a shorter arm.

It is really fun to play with new lighting techniques and convenient to have that built in bright focusing LED light.

The built in LED is powerful enough to shoot without the flash at wide aperture and a bit high ISO. Its not a good light for shooting, but it could be done. It might be enough to light up your viewfinder if your aperture doesn’t get too narrow (I am usually between 5.6 and 11). Sony cameras adjusts the image brightness in the electronic viewfinder so I can see in darker conditions. I used to always use a handheld or camera “mounted” flashlight when shooting at night to find and focus on insects. I don’t need another flashlight now, I just point the camera.

I haven’t figured out a good diffuser solution for the flash. I normally always use a diffuser, but on this flash they don’t seem to be necessary for the look I want. The flash heads are so close to the subject the shadows aren’t too bad if you get power and placement balanced right. I have used styrofoam bowl diffusers and a styrofoam plate occasionally. The sago palm spirals was with a plate with a cut out for the lens. That worked but didn’t give much freedom to the flash placement. The ladybug shot used a small Styrofoam bowl for each flash. The other shots I think are all bare flash.

Build quality of this flash is nowhere near the quality of the Venus lens. Its doesn’t feel quite like cheap knock off flash. But it doesn’t feel like as high quality as a Canon or Sony flash. The button layout is a bit odd. My camera doesn’t even realize I have a flash attached so I must shoot in Manual mode to get the proper shutter speed and I have to manually set the white balance. But for the price, and especially since no one else makes anything like it, I can live with the issues. It is far from perfect, but it’s closer to perfect for me than any other. It has really changed the way I shoot. Mostly in good ways.

Update: I am still very happy with the Venus lens. It is on my camera most all the time unless I have some special need (telephoto or wide). After months of use, the Twin Flash died on me due to an issue with Sony’s hotshoe. I sent it back to the manufacturer and got a replacement. They now have a suggested/required adapter for some (all?) Sony cameras to prevent this problem. A week after I got the replacement (which had improved display and controls), I stupidly tried to use it without the adapter which I forgot at home. The other one had worked for months before it went bad so I took the risk. That was a bad idea. Venus said they would replace it again, but since it was my fault I didn’t send it back. I really miss it and will order another one soon. I have been putting it off for a while, hoping they would improve the design some more.

When I got my replacement and the adapter, I also ordered a set of diffusers from their website. They work, but I was not impressed. I don’t have a better suggestion, but it is not really the quality custom solution I hoped they would be. They connect with Velcro and have crudely cut holes to fit around the arms.

New Flickr Forgot about the Users

New Flickr - Thrips on Thistle

Its nice to see they care enough to not just let Flickr wither and die. Problem is they are using poison instead of water. This is not going to bring new users to Flickr, it is going to drive away existing users. The Help forum is full of people announcing they are deleting their accounts. Flickr was about community. Now its just a photo viewer.

Flickr’s layout was simple and clean but functional. This design is simple, but it has lost the functionality and clean look. Not everyone wants edge to edge photos or they would be posting on Pinterest or Google+ instead of here already. Instead of Favorite, Add to Group, etc. up at the top of your screen, they are in the lower right with all the group and set stuff hidden behind the confusing [] menu. Comments, descriptions, and who’s photos you are looking at aren’t visible until you scroll down. Photo descriptions are gone from our front page, even titles only appear when you hover the mouse on a photo. Our sets are virtually useless now since they are not displayed on the main page where people might actually see them.

Comments are a big part of what makes Flickr a community. Now if you even go to the photo page, you must scroll down to see them. And if there are a bunch of comments, Flickr collapses all but the most recent four comments. I frequently post alternate views in the comments on my own photos, now they would be hidden as soon as four more people comment. I know many other people do the same. Hiding comments is no way to have a conversation with your friends and viewers. Having such large photos everywhere means people don’t need to click to see them anymore. I have always left my front page photos small to make visitors click if they want to get a good look. Now they can just click favorite from the main page and move on. I bet the percentage of commenting goes down significantly. That destroys the value of being on Flickr.

It used to cost $25 to get a Pro account where we actually had some benefits. Now it will cost $50 to be Ad Free and no other benefit. That is insane. They would never get enough ad based income from a user in one year to equal that. Most ad networks pay based on clicks, not views. They just want to push everyone off the paid plans. The loss of unlimited storage doesn’t bother me. 1 TB of photos is plenty of space, even if you were posting 10 MB photos (my 16 megapixel DSLR JPEGs are around 4mb) that would be 100,000 photos. That is basically unlimited unless you are uploading every photo you shoot. And charging $500 for 2 TB, lmfao. But they have said nothing about the other limits Free accounts have always had. Or whether Stats will even exist in the new plans. My guess is they won’t. It would save Yahoo a lot of money not having to process all those Stats. If Stats doesn’t go away, no way they are going to give Stats to free users. They need some way to narrow down who they have to process stats for so they don’t overwork their servers.

I am glad I am not as hooked on Flickr as I used to be. I would be a lot more upset. I am sure they will get some of the annoying stuff improved, but the Flickr we all cared about is dead. They don’t want photographers or quality photos anymore, they just want ad views. I don’t have plans to quit Flickr right now, but if I do, I wouldn’t delete my account. No matter how bad the layout gets, at least we have a history of all those past comments and discussions on our streams.

Here is an interesting quote by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo:

” … was a decision that we would not have the Flickr Pro piece anymore, and that all – there’s no such thing as Flickr Pro, because today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers, when there’s everything is professional photographers. Certainly there is varying levels of skills, but we didn’t want to have a Flickr Pro anymore, we wanted everyone to have professional quality photos, space, and sharing.”

I am not a professional photographer, but there are certainly differences in website needs between snapshooters dumping their memory card to Flickr and people who spend hours perfecting a few photos in camera and in software before posting them.

Antique Style Halloween Lanterns

I was pretty happy with my Bloody Rustic Lantern from Spirit Halloween last year ($15), but I wished it wasn’t covered in blood spatter. So this year when I found two different ones online with no blood, I ordered them. One has the same incandescent bulb as the Spirit Halloween one, the other is sound activated with a flickering LED flame and spooky sounds.

Here are the two new lanterns I ordered and the Spirit Halloween one. Based on the pictures, I was expecting two different shapes and colors, but I guess “actual products may vary.”
Old Lantern (Battery Operated) Item 138511 or N0173 by Seasons USA Inc.
Haunted Lantern – Battery Operated w/Sound Item 181774 or 19668 by Seasons USA Inc.
Bloody Rustic Lantern Item 01001189 from Spirit Halloween

Here are all three lit up to compare their brightness.

Antique Halloween Lantern Comparison

And here is what I thought the Old Lantern looked like. If anyone finds one with the longer glass like this, let me know. I like the style.

Old Lantern

I don’t really like products with sound because they are usually stupid, but in that case I just disconnect the speaker. The Haunted Lantern is mostly screams, wind, thunder, and what might be crackling noise from a wood burning fire (which is incorrect for a lantern). Not sure if I will disable the sound on this one or not. The flame and sound are motion activated and it is dim compared to the other lanterns so it may go unnoticed without the sound. I use my stuff outdoors and its dark so motion sensors rarely work for me. Not sure what I am going to do about that. Luckily it comes with a try me button that I might be able to extend the cable and trigger it manually. I would not recommend the one with sound unless you are using it in an area with enough light to set off a motion sensor and you like stuff with sound.

Other than the blood spatter, I like the paint job on the Spirit Halloween one, but all three are very similarly antiqued and the difference could be all up to who slaps the paint on during production. All three open just like a real oil lantern would, but the LED bulb is glued in place. On the two non LED lanterns, you can change the bulb if it burns out by opening it as if you were cleaning a real oil lantern. For my needs, the plain cheap one is the best at only $9 from Halloween24.com.

These antique style Halloween lanterns appear very similar to the Deitz #76 Original Cold Blast Lantern. Though its slightly smaller, you can buy the real oil burning one for $17 in red, blue, or green. Of course, for safety purposes a battery powered one is much prefered for Halloween. Deitz makes some of those too, an LED lantern in the same style for $25 in black and a more powerful LED latnern with almost as much candle power as the real oil lantern of that style.

For our recent possible hurricane, I bought a Lamplight Emergency Lighting Kit with a very similar looking (non-Deitz) lantern for around $17 which is much brighter than a Halloween decoration. It is the reason I decided to start looking for lanterns to add to my yard haunt this year.

Halloween24.com

I did some shopping around and found an online Halloween store with great prices, Halloween24.com. The store is Canadian so my stupid credit card added a FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE for a few more dollars which I was not happy about, but I saved so much buying from the site, it wasn’t that bad. I can’t say a lot about the company after only one order, but when the website had a problem with taking my order, I called and someone answered right away and fixed it. The order arrived in 7 days, faster than expected with Economy Shipping which I used a coupon to get free.