Category Archives: geek adventures

another way that EULAs/TOS/etc can suck

2:45 to 4:55 a.m.

So I was up too late at night (or too early in the morning) writing out my thoughts and ideas and plans and investigating various and sundry burning questions, as one does at 3 in the morning, and I found myself signing up to Zune. Really, I found myself doing it, because I had just randomly clicked through someone’s profile to their zune account, and without fully registering zune = microsoft, I thought oh yes, another media sharing site, zune — so familiar, I must have heard of it before. (I was a tiny bit sleep-addled, and yes, my family owns mp3 players of at least two non-Microsoft varieties. Zune, like Kindle, is one of those interesting devices that arouse my professional curiosity but not enough to spend money on them, and so over time the details, and apparently even the name, get filed to some lower-level-of-detail storage in my brain.)

And, because I have been spending a little time logging onto various media sharing / social networks and examining their properties and features (all without much if any media to share, I might add, so don’t bother checking out my stuff on these various accounts), I started the account creation process at zune. I had a moment of suspicion as I realized they used Microsoft’s Live ID (Who uses that?), and then was like, Oh, Zune, and I cancelled out but then thought, well, what the hell, and started the account creation process again.

Which was at live.com, by the way, so it’s not just zune, you’re signing your whole life over to Microsoft. But it’s okay, because in addition to the “service agreement” Microsoft makes you sign, privacy is very important to Microsoft so you have to agree to a privacy agreement, too. As is my wont, I decided to save copies of the things they made me agree to. In this case, it was “Microsoft Service Agreement Last Updated: October 2007” (this was the document’s actual title, with no linebreaks where you might think they would be) and Privacy Statement (whose actual title I don’t quite recall for reasons to be described later). So I opened up both those documents to separate tabs, rather than just clicking “I agree”. Firefox helpfully informed me that both documents wanted to save cookies on my hard drive, because I have Firefox set to that high privacy notification standard although it gets pretty annoying sometimes. Why do these documents need to set cookies, I wondered, annoyed. For example.

Rather than actually reading the whole Service Agreement right then, I decided to save a copy of it. It was in one of those inset frames — a scrolling window — which I hate, but Microsoft conveniently had a “print” icon for the document. Huh, I thought, clicking the print icon and saving a PDF (because I save PDFs instead of printing, to save trees and to permit better searching and personal mark-up and so on), maybe Microsoft has learned something about privacy, and EULA usability. Maybe the constant scrutiny by their critics makes them improve and be responsive. Maybe I’m wrong about giant corporations. Maybe Microsoft will become the new App— and then I opened up the PDF of the license, just to see what it looked like.

And realized that it only had one page, page one, through point six of the agreement (“6. If You Are an Associated Account User. If you are the user of an associated account, then the holder of the service account has full control over your associated account. …”). Dawning suspicion. But, still, maybe I, without realizing it, clicked to just print one page. So I went back, hit the print icon again, up popped the print window, I did not do any page selection, I saved the PDF, opened the PDF, and voilá — still just one page, the first page.

Well, now I’m really irritated, because it’s hard as hell to save the contents of those little scrolling windows, especially if you want formatting. You either have to get the browser to open up the frame in a separate window of its own, which they don’t always want to do (there’s probably some proprietary anti-open-up-separate-window code or script that can be applied), or you have to do multiple screenshots which of course doesn’t preserve the editable text, or you have to try to save the HTML separately which requires a browser to render it, or you can try to select-copy just the text out of the iframe but then you don’t get any of the italics or bolds — etc.

I decide to blog about this, because I think it’s really deceptive. Screw my personal annoyance; this is a vital political issue and it must be blogged! People save a copy of the agreement and then only have one page! So, these license agreements which are basically impossible to read onscreen because of the fine print, boring legaleze, long paragraphs, and difficult-to-read formatting, can’t be easily printed or saved for later reading or even to have one’s own copy of putatively legally-binding agreements. This particular document took fourteen screenshots to save it, I kid you not. And when I wanted to save the text for searching purposes I had to deal with the inset frame again, because if you select-all it selects ALL, as in all the contents on the master page, so one has to go through that process and then remember, oh yeah I have to click in the goddamned inset frame.

So I pop open wordpress, start this post and describe the events up until that moment. Then I command-tab back from Preview to the Firefox window to do whatever it takes to save a copy of the Microsoft document so that I can actually read it. (I really hate those inset frames.)

And Firefox crashes.Yes, once again Microsoft has managed to crash something on my computer. Usually it’s just MS Word or Excel or PowerPoint but since I compulsively command-S my work like, literally, after every sentence or two or at most after a paragraph if I’m really on a roll, I rarely lose much work. Except in Excel or PowerPoint, if I’m mucking about with graphs or graphics or whatever. But it’s wordpress, through a browser, so cmd-S doesn’t work. So I had probably several paragraphs of brilliant prose written without being saved.

So, I began the tedious process of recreating everything, and finishing my Zune application. This was helped because Firefox stores your sessions when your browser crashes, although it doesn’t save one’s precious prose or anything else temporarily stored in HTML form elements. It also can’t or won’t permit you to go back in form submissions from a resurrected session after a browser crash, so I could never get back to the Zune/Live/Microsoft sign-on page two from whence I clicked the “Privacy Agreement/Statement” link, and so I could never verify the actual text of that original link.

The story continues for a while with various misadventures of WordPress formatting (WordPress! Why does your code view always lose my paragraphing, in firefox and safari, at least? SO annoying.), browser crashing, session timeouts, pondering the mysterious user interface design issues of Microsoft’s live.com website (why does the service agreement include, outside of the frame inset on the left side of the page, a “FAQ” that links to the same service agreement? Why is there a “Table of Contents” link at the bottom, which, when clicked, switches the word “FAQ” to the bottom and the phrase “Table of Contents” to the top, but leaves the exact same link to the exact same service agreement in place?), laughing sardonically at the other tab, the privacy statement/agreement which you may have forgotten about and which, it turns out, actually just drops you on “Microsoft’s Online Privacy Notice Highlights”, also “last updated October 2007”, which then further links to “fullnotice.aspx”, aka “Microsoft Online Privacy Statement”. And more user agreements, like the Zune terms of service, which actually is in its own, user-friendly browser window, without inset frames.

But the rest of it was pretty boring, and it’s almost 5 am, and I think my demons are laid to rest and I might be able to get back to sleep. So, the take-home: Don’t just save copies of agreements; open them up to make sure they are the full monty. Because otherwise you’re still at the mercy of the company not just for what you agreed to, but for what they said you agreed to when you clicked “I agree” without reading it.

copying DVDs (part 2)

Well, I took a 2-week hiatus from trying to recover my lost mail archives from a DVD that failed its burning process. (Mac OS 10.3). But yesterday & today I’ve been on the problem again, downloading a slew of tools and digging out info on mounting unmountable discs and digging data off the disks.And the winner is … Data Rescue! from ProSoft! which can see the files on my incompletely-burned DVD backup of personal & professional email. Hurrah!

Overall comments: A winner!
User interface: Simple but virtually inscrutable without the user manual.
User manual: Very good.
Price & marketing:
Not free, but at $99 ($89 + $10 s/h) probably worth it for almost anybody who’s lost data. Marketing method was very smart: Allow the whole program to download & allow users to scan all media, and recover a limited number of files (1 or 15 files, I don’t remember) for free. In the world of data recovery software, there is a lot of hype, a lot of jargon, and a lot of deliberately vague terminology. Do you really want to shell out money only to find that the program you’ve purchased only recovers .jpgs from thumb drives? No, you do not. ProSoft lets you play with the program to figure out if it will work for you — and then buy it. I’m sure some people are motivated enough at that point to hack the serial number. But if they’re that motivated and skilled, then they are either a) so broke that who cares? it’s a kindness to them to let them have it; or b) so skilled that they probably could have recovered the files on their own anyway. Me, I was happy — happy! — to spend the money and support the folks who wrote the software that recovered the data on the disk that failed from the computer that failed in the house that Jack built.

Moral of the story: If you know the problem is intractable to begin with, don’t fuck around; jump right into the data recovery process & spend the money. OTOH, if time is not of the essence (as in optical media, where you’re not going to re-use it anyway, and there’s no real risk of re-writing over the data) then take some time & explore.In the interests of documenting this process, I’ll go ahead & include all notes from other attempts & programs, and will alphabetize most of the downloads for ease of reference.

  1. disk utility (the one that comes with OS X): The good news is that disk utility sees the disk. The bad news is that it claims the disk is unmountable.
  2. dd: Unsanity.org briefly described their disk recovery process (discouragingly titled: Dead, Dead, Dead…). The comments by Richard Soderberg included the dd command:dd if=/dev/disk0s9 of=$HOME/disk0s9.dmg bs=512 conv=noerrorI used disk utility to get the disk identifier (disk1s2) of the unreadable data partion. The dd command then did process through what seemed like the right amount of data, building a .dmg file. At a certain point though, bang, it started hanging, and I had to CTRL-C out of the process. The .dmg file looks fine but won’t mount. Now, though, I have two things to work with — a burn-crashed DVD and a poorly created .dmg file. From the standpoint of THIS IS FUCKING HOPELESS, well, that’s an improvement.
  3. hdiutil: Still trying to get the .dmg file to mount. Hitting hdiutil directly on the new .dmg file doesn’t work either:$ sudo hdituil attach filename.dmgjust returns a read/write error.
  4. archive.mac-mgrs.org very nicely detailed their (failed) disk recovery process including a number of product names.
  5. Typing this up, I am disconcerted by the periodic spinning of the DVD drive, in response, apparently, to nothing. Disk utility is open but nothing else. Is Disk Utility periodically hitting the drive? Or what?
  6. Back to Google and to mac.softpedia.com to try to dig out more programs that might help.
    • BurnItAgainNow. This program claimed to enable easy creation of linked multi-sessions. That’s not my problem, but what the hell, maybe it’ll show me something interesting, or maybe its multisessionness will let it skip past badly burned sesssions. Nope. Nothing.
    • CarbonCopyCloner. A HD backup program. Looks only for mounted disks. Not helpful.
    • CDRestore. One of the SubRosaSoft programs (mentioned below). No trial version, so I’m not going to try it.
    • DataRescue 10.4.3. Available at mac.softpedia and prosofteng.com. I can’t figure if this will help or not: it recovers “general” files from HDs (HFS file systems, which my DVD is) and “media” files from “removable media”. I’ll give it a shot, since you can “test” it for free: scan for files and recover one. I agree to the license terms and choose DEMO mode.It’s completely unclear from the cryptic buttons what the options are. So I crack open the manual which, to my very great surprise, is actually helpful. Not only does it explain the button options, but it explains how it is attempting to recover the files, by describing the catalogs and how they’re structured. So — two types of searches are available: Catalog scans (quick & thorough), which rely on undamaged portions of the catalog; and Content Scans, which ignore the catalog. I’ll start with a Thorough Catalog scan. (If there’s a catalog to scan, then I assume that means that a catalog is written at the beginning of the burning process; or, less likely, contemporaneously. If there is no catalog to scan then I assume it means the catalog is written at the end of the burning process. See? I’m learning things. This process isn’t a complete waste. Right? I’m trying to persuade myself.)… As it’s scanning, things look hopeful: It’s seeing “16860 items” which sounds like it could be a chunk of my mail files. Going pretty quickly too — maybe 5 minutes total to scan the 1.5G that was successfully burned. The 16860 were found in the first couple of minutes and nothing since then. I’m starting to feel hopeful, so I’ll stomp those feelings down right now — hope can only lead to disappointment. Even if it recovers the files they’re probably just duplicates of the files that were successfully backed up, and not the grail of files that are lost…. The program is now doing something called “Calibration: 35 files found, need 165 more.” Huh? This process is scheduled to take around 5 minutes…. Up pops a window: “Files were found! You should now blah blah blah.” The exclamation point shows that DataRescue is as excited as I am! “I am happy to serve you!”… 2 minutes later, after I select a file, recover it, and test it: Oh! Oh! Oh! Data Rescue, I love you! I will immediately go plonk down $89 or whatever to purchase you…. 5 minutes later I have begun the actual full data recovery process, which will take more than an hour apparently. Data Rescue is retrieving the file structure too which is nice. I am still filled with love for Data Rescue. Once I see what is actually successfully recovered, I will be able to then mourn what was not recovered, and of course the 6 weeks of data since this failed DVD burn. Sigh. Still — 6 weeks, versus some number of years (0-6 depending on the state of my CD archives back in California) — I’m not complaining!… maybe half an hour later it comes back & tells me that it’s recovered everything but there were errors. Indeed. Out of 16000+ files there were 12000+ errors of the ominous “Block number out-of-range” sort. My suspicion is that the catalog was written first and these errors are telling the system that the catalog refers to the part of the disk that was not burned — not the 1.5G but the other 2.9G that didn’t get burned…. indeed as I go through the files that’s what it looks like. I have recovered about half the personal files, A-M, and mid-way through the M’s the files crap out — 0 bytes, 0 bytes, 0 bytes. Maybe the disk was burning sequentially and made its way first into the “personal” folder, but never made it into “personal-business” or “professional”. Very deep sigh. Some puzzlement, though: could those A-M personal files really be 1.4G of mail? No — they are about 100+MB. Looking through I see that some of the archives further down were partially recovered — in fact it looks like the other folders had files at the top level hierarchy recovered, but files lower down in the hierarchy were not recovered. Weird. So maybe Apple’s burner goes through one hierarchy level at a time.Of course, the files that were most important to me were also the most organized, and the most likely to be included in sub-folders and organized hierarchies. And most of the 1.5G turns out to have been in the “lists” folder which was almost completely recoverable, but which was also recovered from the failed hard drive. Grrr…. Content Scan is turning up something similar. Except it turns up 2021 files, and without the catalog info, all of them are crudely organized into “audio”, “images”, “movies”, “documents”, “misc”, and are named things like D1.doc, D2.doc, etc. Ooof. This will be painful. wtf, I may recover a little more. It’ll take a long long time to sort through the recovered files and see what they are, though, so it’ll probably be weeks before I dedicate this many hours to it again…. Well, this will be a hard & painful file loss to recover from. All my personal mail from the early M’s on; lots of personal mail that was in special subfolders (like all the wedding email); all my professional mail; most of my projects email (for instance, 10 years of feedback from the femsf website). But I am happy enough to have gotten back some portion of the data, and to have a disk recovery program.
    • Disk Copy
    • DiskWarrior. You gotta pay money! I will try every free solution first, by god. This should be something you can do for free!
    • DMG Fixer for OS X claims to fix DMGs that were downloaded in ascii/text format rather than binary. Won’t be useful but I downloaded it anyway just in case it has some interesting recognition capability that’s not mentioned.
    • DMG Tool 3. Never got to it.
    • DockDisks. Mounts disks to your dock instead of on the desktop. For folks who (like me) place their dock on the right edge of the screen, where the mac wants to place the icons of mounted volumes. I’m interested enough to download this and try it out, not for my current disk recovery problem of course, but to see if it’s an improvement. Actually what would be better would be a prefpanel to let you choose where on the Desktop to place volume icons.
    • DropDMG. Another DMG creation utility. Claimed to have some interesting features to enable reading DMGs. But didn’t. However, can pull up information about DMG files, and the set of data is slightly different than Disk Utility generated.
    • DVDBackup 1.3. Requires a mounted DVD. What kind of a lame backup program is that? I know what kind, of course, but really — you can’t only write software for horse-still-in-the-barn kinds of folks. What about those of us whose barn is smoldering ashes and whose horses are out in the meadow somewhere, frighened? [ahem. you either get it or you google.]
    • DVD Extractor. Never got to it.
    • FileSalvage. Never got to it.
    • FindFile. Never got to it.
    • ImageMounter. SubRosaSoft lists a product called ImageMounter 1.0.1 in a few key places, but when you click the download [macupdate.com], it takes you to their page of various other downloads that are not extremely helpful. Is the program still out there somewhere? Or was it a scam all along to get you to clickthrough to their website? I am suspicious.
    • IMount. A GUI interface for the diskutil command, to see partitions & get info about them.
    • ISOBuster keeps coming up in the searches even though it’s a W1nd0ws program, because it can read & recover mac files. If I hadn’t gotten rid of my half-dozen old computers of various kinds & OS last fall, that might help me now. Dammit! Damn the cross-country move that caused me to become efficient and ultimately to lose all this data! The cross-country move is what caused me to consolidate all my data onto one computer and one backup hard drive, thus leading to the problem when the computer’s DVD burner fails, Applecare wipes its HD (unnecessarily! so unnecessarily!), and the backup is discovered to have screwed up, replacing a complete set of files with an incomplete set of files. Yes it’s all my fault. Damn damn damn.
    • ISOlator for Mac. Uses dd to make copies of disks. Hmm. Since I know fuck-all about dd, other than the cookbook command I typed in earlier, I wonder if this program will have interesting ability to display error files etc., and maybe I’ll get some more info out of the dd program.
    • LaCie Silverkeeper. Someone on a message board said they had success mounting a drive with Silverkeeper, and then after futzing had further success. So worth a try. Negative points for nondescriptive product-based name.
    • Mac DVD Rip Tutorial. Taught me nothing.
    • Mac the Ripper. As previously stated, requires a mounted disk. Points for good name.
    • Media Recover Image Recovery. Another of these programs dedicated to dragging off jpgs, mpgs, and the like off of thumb drives & memory cards & sticks.
    • MountMe. Very funny title. Claims to force-mount physical disks (like my DVD) that refuse to mount on your system, or you ocan drop image files to have them mounted. So I’m trying to get it, but all apparent sites are down. versiontracker, nonamescriptware.com, mac.softpedia
    • RecoverDM. Never got to it.
    • Special Move 1.0. Lets you enable/disable the auto-extraction feature of .dmg files. This really won’t help me, but I’m intrigued enough to download it — what does it do? why do you want to disable auto-extraction?
    • wwDVD. Some sort of session manager. Requires a mounted disk.

copying dvds

I have now descended into the blinking flashing pseudonymous off-coast world of DVD copying programs.Short story:

  1. 2 Computer problems: 1 SuperDrive failure & 1 power problem
  2. AppleCare
  3. “Me? I don’t need to pay for a disk backup; there’s no reason for Apple to wipe my HD because the problem is with the power management unit & I know for a 100% fact that the HD is just fine. And if worst comes to worst, I have a HD backup from 2 weeks ago.”
  4. Apple imaged my HD back to virgin state ANYWAY & shipped it back to me sans applications, sans personalized settings & files, sans all data, sans OS upgrades.
  5. I crack open my backup HD & with some effort re-install all the important mail, grieving for 2 weeks + of data (I’m an obsessive librarian / archivist; I keep everything.) This was a considerably more detailed process than it sounds, since this HD is now showing signs of failure and/or my mac is complaining about recognizing it. It involved a new HD enclosure, testing another HD, getting the original HD to mount on my partner’s machine, backing up to the new HD, and mounting the new HD on my machine.
  6. Next day I crack open my mail program (Eudora) & begin the process of reconfiguring my many email accounts & complex set of filters. Only to discover that my backup-to-HD had apparently crashed in the middle of copying the mail files. Now I see that things are much, much worse than two weeks of data — I am missing *all* my professional AND personal mail files, from 1991 to present. [Prior to 1991 I only had mainframe & BBS accounts, and I printed backups.] Yes, there are miscellaneous CD backups — back in California, and buried in a box in a mound of many other boxes of books. No way to ask the in-laws to dig through; those CDs will just have to wait until I get back to California — probably several months from now. And they will certainly be missing the last 7 months of data, and likely incomplete & sporadic before that.
  7. What about optical backups? Before the computer problems, I was in the middle of backing up the HD to DVD, and had successfully backed up almost all of our 80G+ of music files (ripped from our CD collection, also stored back in California), and was working on other data (work files, for instance). So that should have been a good secondary backup, although the backups are from early/mid April — so if it is backed up, I’ll still lose a couple of months’ worth of mail.
  8. The optical backups aren’t complete. My DVD drive failed midway thru the process of backing up some 125G of data, so that set of backups was partial. As it turned out, though, there is a DVD backup disk with mail on it.
  9. But the mail DVD backup disc is one of the scrapped ones, that cancelled out mid-burn. Darwin shows it in /Volumes but won’t mount it. Who knows what’s actually on it, but I should at least try to recover the data from it.
  10. So now I’m spending big chunks of precious & rare time trying to find the kinds of programs that the MPAA is most concerned with — programs that will copy DVDs regardless of how the data is arranged or misarranged or concealed or indexed. And reflecting on the fact that 3-2-1 Studios might have been able to help me with this one had they not been driven into bankruptcy by litigation.
    • Favorite program so far: Mac the Ripper, which makes me think of both Mack the Knife and of course Jack. It has a click-thru agreement at the beginning requiring the user to agree that she is neither a cop nor an MPAA affiliate. But, I don’t think this program is going to help me, because it requires a mounted DVD, and mine won’t mount. So I need some unix-based tool that I can operate out of Darwin, or else something that will recognize an unmounted disc in /Volumes. Sigh.

part 2, july 3, in which many hours are invested, a solution is found, and the magnitude of the loss becomes apparent.

ip/speech round-up

  • two major networks who are permitted to broadcast their for-profit programming and advertisements, for free, over the airwaves, have decided that, in accordance with their “no advocacy” policy, they will reject ads from the Universal Church of Christ (UCC) which, according to them, is “advocacy”: The ads say: “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” NBC thinks that message “clearly implies that other people do [turn people away].”
  • City of San Diego v. Roe – First Amendment public employee speech case. [opinion, linked from & analyzed by Goldstein & Howe SCOTUS blog *] The Supreme Court held that a cop’s video of himself masturbating on eBay was not protected speech. Instead of just applying the Pickering test and finding no protection on the facts, the Court also continued to build up the “legitimate news interest” test. The new test seems to protect only speech that is of “public concern”, meaning “that which is of legitimate news interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public at the time of publication.” Sigh.
  • Pew released a survey of artist attitudes toward online swapping. [link from ip news blog]

* This blog, otherwise quite helpful & informative, has an extremely annoying permalink function. … How annoying is the “link to this post” function on this weblog? Very. It unnecessarily replaces a built-in feature with a its own way of doing things. To copy the URL, you might think that you could do the ordinary — right-click [or CTRL-click if you’re not using a 2-button mouse with your mac] on the text labeled “Link to this Post” and select “Copy Link to Clipboard” from the menu. But no. On this blog, doing that pastes in a javascript function and the filename. The javascript function actually requires you to left-click on the “Link to this Post” text. This then displays a pop-up box with the URL. The pop-up box says “Hit CTRL+C to copy the URL below.” (Note to designers: You wouldn’t need instructions if you used standards that people already know — like the freakin’ default right-click menu!) Of course those instructions are platform-specific, so they actually confuse non-windows users. On macs, the copy command is apple+C [aka COMMAND+C]. But as a mac user you have to wonder: did they write a jscript to map to those keys? Or is this windows-specific? Sometimes requiring failed experiments. …