November 12 | New Gadgets – New Technology – New Year

A Message from the Common Table

The last time I wrote to all of you was in September and I was talking about our hot dry summer. Bill B did our October Newsletter without this column. He still had some great information to share with you. Thank you Bill. Now we are at the beginning of November and all I can remember is all the rain we have had. I have a rain gauge that can hold over 4 inches. I have had to empty it several times in the last several weeks. That is a lot of rain.

I hope all of you went to the polls and voted early or at least went to vote on November 3rd. The Chief Judge in my precinct asked me if I would become a PTA (Provisional/Transfer Assistant). This is the person at your voting precinct that you do not want to be directed to. If you are still at your current address and have voted in the last election or so, you just go the table show your current address on the ATV (Authorization to Vote) slip. Someone looks your name up in the book. They affix the sticker to the ATV and over to the voting machine you go. You vote and off you go. If your address does not match, your name is not correct or you are not in the book at all, you have to see me. This visit is sometimes a formality and I get you on your way to vote. Sometimes this is a big deal and the potential voter has an issue with this whole “process”. Bill Barnes has also done this job before. He knows what I’m talking about. We have not talked to each other to share our “war” stories.

I worked at Precinct 22; this is the area just across the street from our meeting space at the church. This is where all of the South End construction has exploded recently with a massive number of new apartments. I got to see some of these new residents. Many of these folks are new to the area and yes they are mostly young and almost all of them had a phone glued to their face.

I write about all of this because, guess what I use to do all this stuff? An old Dell laptop running Windows XP. It is the tool of the trade! Don’t we all know that XP is not supported anymore, for more than a year now? Our elections are managed and controlled by obsolete software!

This month’s meeting is a round table discussion on all the new gadgets and new technology you are interested in. I want everyone to have a turn to talk about something you are interested in or have researched because you might want to buy or get a new shiny thing or so.

I am intrigued by the new Microsoft Surface Book or the Surface 4. The Amazon Fire 7” Tablet at $50 is interesting also. Bring your thoughts on new tech and stuff. We can discuss how to spend your bonus check or your lottery winnings. Oh, no bonus or lottery, maybe we can find some free stuff that’s neat also.

We also have a “eatin’ before the meetin’ ” at 5:45. Bring your own dinner to eat. We usually have tea, water and ice. This is a great time to talk and eat over “technology”.

I hope all of you had a safe Halloween. I hope to see all of you at the meeting on November the 12th.

We may also have time for a short question and answer session, so please bring your questions, issues and problems about technology with you.

I hope to see all of you this Thursday.

Galen Bolin
President PCCC

Bits & Pieces of Privacy

You’re diligent about protecting your personal information. You shred your cancelled checks after 3 years. You only give your Social Security Number to your employer and IRS. You never share personal information on the phone unless you originated the call and know who you’re talking to. On the voting machine you monitor the paper trail and don’t walk away until it returns to idle. You never click the link in the email from “your bank.” You always check whether a website is using HTTPS.

Some items are easy to control. You can flush your browser, or easier, use private browsing to allow websites to function normally, but remove your data when you’re done. Modern browsers allow you to flush only recent information if you realize this really should have been a private session (Fig 1). That way you don’t kill your New York Times cookie that you don’t remember the password for (but shame on you for that).

Other things cannot be controlled. Every internet request has to include your IP address so the information you request can get back to you. A browser request includes a plethora of other information about your activities in the header. This can be useful information like your time zone or your request not to be tracked (not legally enforceable and ignored by a few folks like Google and Microsoft). It also could be some really interesting item like how you got to that page – do we pay Google or Bill for carrying our ad.

Your ISP sees all this and more. They know your exact location, not just a geographical region. They also know every DNS inquiry you made so they could have a history of not just the websites you actually went to, but where those pages got their information from. For example, some of the pictures in this newsletter might have come from instead of from MailChimp. Many sites (such as the aforementioned NYT) may be sending you data, pictures, or ads from 150 or more different sources.

If you’re not using HTTPS, every router along the way can read, and possibly change, every word and code of your outgoing and incoming activities. Charter (hoping to soon be the dominant cable provider around here) in Wyoming was reported to be inserting their own ads onto random web pages. Not only is this more annoying than local station breaks in the ball game, but they may ruin the appearance of the page you really want. They could even contain malware.

But what about electronic tracks even HTTPS can’t cover? Things in your browser like cookies, history and cache. Things your browser may not control like Flash cookies and JAVA or other applets. Things about your computer like “fingerprinting.” Or things you have to include in your browser header, even if the data are secured.

Happy Halloween – are you scared yet?

Bill Barnes


One more thing

Galen didn’t mention it, but the Board of Elections needs more people like us. Especially like you! – people who are comfortable using computers.

Drop the Board of Elections a note (BOE websitePDF application) and tell them you’re interested in learning a new skill and are not afraid of Windows XP.

Please join us. The Personal Computer Club of Charlotte [PC3] meets the second Thursday of each month at Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church, 1117 South Blvd in Charlotte. The meeting gets under way promptly at 7:00pm. We generally start with a brief review of current PC issues in the news. Following that we have a presentation on a topic of interest to PC or Smart Phone users and wrap up by 9:00pm. Initial attendance at the meeting is free and open to the public.

In addition to our General Meeting at 7:00pm, a number of us get together for dinner at 5:45pm. We generally hold our “Eating before the Meeting” at the church. Six or seven folks generally show up, have supper and talk tech until it is time to start the General Meeting. The club will provide iced tea and cookies for desert, bring your own supper.