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Solution to the "Google Arts and Culture" app "tap to refresh" issue

Google has done more for the world, than any other company I can think of. It is easy to blame “big tech” companies for all that is wrong – and as I write, there is a very visible protest against Facebook – but the truth is that “humans are only humans”. We will always find ways to misuse contents and technology in general, refuse to take the blame, and then ask others for solutions.

This constantly happens, at very different scales. Parents, religious groups, organizations of different shapes and forms, blame what they think is “wrong” with their kids, affiliates, members, etc., on the music they listen, the movies they watch, the books they read, the apps they use; the people they communicate with, the news they (do not) read, etc.
The opportunity to, alternatively, take a good introspective look at the mirror, is rarely taken. It is easier to find scapegoats.

These companies and ad agencies that, today, are taking the hypocritical path against Facebook, will do it to Google, to your company, or to yourself (!) tomorrow. They are oversimplifying extremely complex social questions and, with that, doing more harm than good. Our world is not trivial. Isolated hashtag reactions are some of what is wrong in human behavior. It is required to go beyond the hashtag.

This post is about one of the many wonderful products and services that Google offers. It is not about “search”, “Gmail”, “Classroom”, “Maps”, “Earth”, “Android”, etc., but about something less known, yet equally relevant and loveable: the “Google Arts and Culture” app.
Of course, with the current trends, it is only a matter of time before one of these wonderful offerings to become under negative scrutiny, either because someone will find horrible things when searching, have sensitive data compromised, or encounter “indecent art”.

So, enjoy the “Arts” app while you can, if you can. I could NOT, until understanding and fixing the “tap to refresh” issue. This issue consists in a blank screen telling you to “tap to refresh”, to no avail.

The “Google Arts and Culture” app, is a wonderful effort, to help people learn about, and connect with arts and culture. In many countries, it will be localized enough, to be based on the local arts/culture. Unfortunately, in my case, the app did not work at all: it would launch, display a “tap to refresh” message, and systematically fail on every attempt to continue.

I investigated enough of the app behavior, to understand that the failure was because of the unavailability of certain network resources:
(1)
I had my filtering proxy configured to ignore http(s) requests matching the pattern

*.ggpht.com

, which in the past served me well, to block certain image-based ads. If I want to use the app, as it is, I must unblock that pattern.
(2)
A second network resource that must be unblocked, for the app to work, is the domain

google-analytics.com

. In my case, I had configured my private DNS to translate requests matching

*.google-analytics.*

to 0.0.0.0, not to the real IP address. Again, that served me well, for many years, not only against ads, but mostly against a plethora of user-behavior tracking techniques. In this case, I am disappointed of having to unblock google-analytics. In the future, I will research for a different solution.

Doing (1) and (2) enables the app “Google Arts and Culture” to function.



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https://arturmarques.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/google_arts_and_culture_app_02_tap_to_refresh_768.jpg (image/jpeg)

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Technical Details
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        F1 1968 @Portland, USA

        Modern F1 is probably facing its most serious existential crisis: the sport remains a formidable engineering laboratory, but the racing on track – or the perception of it – leaves much to be desired.

        Seasoned viewers should be able to appreciate the underlying technology, and enjoy the constant showoff of amazing numbers, namely 200 kph to 300 kph in ~2 seconds, unbelievable short braking distances, body challenging G forces, and so on. F1, for example, is now the reference in applied IoT (Internet of Things), with hundreds of addressable sensors per car.

        Yet, casual viewers, not knowing or not caring about the technology, and with no understanding of the history of the sport, will have no references, and see nothing but a small set of 20 cars going around boring wide tracks, designed for safety, difficult to capture on video, conveying a decent sense of speed.

        The fact is that the “relative speed” of F1 is eventually at its lowest ever: cars might be regularly exceeding the once magical 300 kph mark, but 300 kph at an “airfield” is like 12 kph on a treadmill. Moreover, the understanding that the cars are safer to crash than ever, creates the perverse collateral effect of undervaluing the drivers’ effort: in the past, one mistake would literally break or kill you, so overwhelming respect was due to those daring to ride their fallible temperamental machines. After Senna’s death, in 1994, F1 changed enormously in terms of safety. The early 1990s cars were the last
        machines to constantly challenge the drivers’ physical integrity, and even then, less than in the 1980s, the 1970s, and certainly the crazy 1960s.

        I remember the day Jacques Laffite (JL) broke both his legs in what seemed like a slow accident: his car steered to the right, at the first corner of a chaotic first lap, to avoid other cars in trouble. His Ligier left the asphalt, and then just skidded “slowly” over the zero grip grass, until its “nose” hit the barriers. The absolute speed of the car upon the impact must have been “low” (~50 kph), but the car’s construction offered nearly no protection to the feet and legs. JL’s F1 career ended that afternoon.

        Imagine higher speeds and even less modern cars, namely the machines from the 1960s and from the 1970s! Every event was a bit of a “circus”, such were the life threatening risks looming. Yet the “rewards”, for example measured in exhilaration and/or adrenaline, shared by both racers and spectators (which were crazy daring, placing themselves in unacceptable spots), is something unparalleled.

        Today, somewhat bored with the F1 2020 cars, I decided to exercise my arms and legs, by virtually racing the “Matra” from the 1968 F1 season. I did some laps around the “new” Portland circuit, USA, a track for rFactor2, released this July. It was formidable! What a challenge! The Matra is a noisy, nervous, powerful car, capable of ~275 kph in such a short circuit! My best lap was a 01:14:8xx, half a second slower than the best adversary.
        In real life, with this car, I imagine, if you put a wheel wrong, you will hurt yourself – instantaneously and seriously. The Matra is agile, nervous, very fast, but unstable. It accelerates much better than it can decelerate or turn, so be careful with what you request it to do!
        The video that follows has two segments: first it captures my best 01:14:8xx lap, from the in-car camera (footage taken while I was driving the lap), then it features two other laps, from the “TV” camera perspective.

        Enjoy and try it yourself. The “Portland” track and the 1968 F1 cars are both free.

        F1 2020 at the Estoril circuit

        This is a 01:14:xxx lap around the current (2020) layout of the “Estoril” circuit, @Portugal, Europe. The car is Esteban Ocon’s 2020 Renault F1, using “RFactor2” – the simulator selected for the first ever official “24 hours of Le Mans Virtual” (check https://www.studio-397.com/2020/06/celebrating-24h-lmv/).

        Relatively to the layout that hosted real Formula1 / F1 races in the 1980s, and in the 1990s, the key changes are at turn #1 – now a ~90 degrees corner, instead of a pedal-to-the-metal right – and, by the end of the lap, at what was called “curva do tanque”, which also became slower, but not as slow as in the horrible version, used for some races, following Senna’s death, when there was a literal stop-and-go “S” segment.

        This is an unprepared lap, done just to test the 2020 F1 cars and the circuit. For now, the cars sound bad and have much to improve in terms of credibility – I full-throttled the Renault at the exit of several slow corners and indeed got some wheel spin, but it was too easy to control. Nevertheless, a promising first version of these cars.

        The video has four segments: from in-car, then two different from-halo angles, finally one lateral perspective.

        F1’s shameful return – by FP2 F1TV was already down

        F1’s shameful return – by FP2 F1TV was already down

        Formula 1 / F1, is finally back, for its first race of the much delayed 2020 season, without spectators on the circuits and several other strong preventive measures in place, to minimize health risks.

        One would expect that after the many technical issues that plagued the associated “F1TV” service, during its first season, this second round – the coverage of the 2020 season – would run more smoothly. Moreover, I suspect F1TV has become many fans’ primary channel to keep live contact with the sport.

        Unfortunately, by the time of the “FP2” (Free Practice #2) event, the service was already down, with frustrating technical messages on display, no matter the device used, from mobile to desktop. It was a brutal failure, especially hurtful to an audience who has been getting persistently decreasing entertainment quality, over the recent years, with races that systematically reward the same racer(s), with rare natural overtakes, and boring tracks with no design features to highlight some sense of speed.

        As I write (2020-07-03 1400), the URL
        https://f1tv.formula1.com/en/current-season/austrian-grand-prix/2020-austrian-grand-prix-formula-1-practice-2
        should be giving access to the FP2 live stream, to paying subscribers.

        The pictures show what one was getting, instead.

        In a tweet’s length (@my_dot_com – https://twitter.com/my_dot_com/): “Incredible! By FP2, @F1TV #F1TV #F1 already NOT working. That was fast. This should not be happening after such a long preparation and one full experimental season already factored in.”

        https://twitter.com/my_dot_com/status/1279045286200070150



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        Technical Details
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          Ridiculous Twitch, or how I went 2FA with Auhty

          Today, my Twitch login process was one of the most ridiculous web interactions ever! As usual, Twitch sees every new browser session (cookies cleaned, no memory of the previous visited sites) as a “new device” and forces the user to provide a 6-digit code, to complement the user-password challenge. Unfortunately, those 6-digits came via email, and sloooowly, with a latency of minutes between the code request and the arrival of the corresponding email message. Maybe due to this latency, every time I entered the correct code, Twitch reacted as if I was writing the wrong number. Very frustrating.

          At some stage, I finally succeeded and took the opportunity to change my Twitch security settings:
          https://www.twitch.tv/settings/security

          I decided to enable two-factor authentication (2FA), which means a second authentication challenge, after the user-password. First, I provided a phone-number, which indeed got associated with the account, but future logins will require not a SMS sent to the phone number, but a code generated by the “Authy” app, Twillio’s (twillio.com) equivalent to “Google Authenticator”.

          When I first started using 2FA, SMS seemed the best option: I controlled the number, it required no extra app, so it was simpler, and that was – and is – something of great importance!
          Unfortunately, as many are bound to find, sooner rather than later, SMS is now considerably insecure and more prone to failure than using time-sensitive security apps. The top reason SMS has failed me in the past, was phone-network operator restrictions, temporary phone-network traffic issues, and/or other reasons strictly under the phone-network operator control: there were situations when I needed a SMS in 30 seconds, and it would never arrive that promptly. That was the day when I quit SMS for app-based 2FA. The data comes from an operator agnostic network – the Internet.

          Nowadays, SMS should be a second choice, relatively to Authy and equivalents, not only because of not depending on one specific phone-operator network, but also because the system is more vulnerable, with increasingly more documented SIM-card hijacking events.



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          Technical Details

          The laser printer drum drama

          I recently bought black and cyan “drums”, for an OKI C5600N color laser printer. Some color laser printers have toners and drums in separate units, as it is the case. As far as I understand, the toner is the part that holds the “ink”, whereas the “drum” is the part to which the toner attaches, and then has a cylinder that, through electromagnetism, controls the toner to be used in a specific print. With time, this cylinder wears out, so it is a consumable, as the toner is.

          I have previous experience in installing drums in this printer, but I have only used “originals” before. This time, I risked a certain alternative brand, from a seller in amazon.de.

          I first installed the black drum, because the printer was reporting that the life of the original as low, at ~5%, and I mostly print in mono.
          The installation itself went smoothly, but the printing results were terrible: full black pages.
          Upon removing the drum, to check what was going on, I noticed quite a load of black toner on the transfer belt, which is yet another consumable in most color laser printers. I cleaned it, retried, and got the same result. I reopened the printer and found, again, plenty of black toner on the belt’s film surface, as if the drum was leaking, heavily. Technically it sure was leaking. Its magnetic transfer surface, was fully coated with black toner, thus not showing it’s the green or blueish looking transfer layer, that normally shows up.

          This time, I cleaned the printer’s belt/film, removed the replacement black drum, reinserted the existing toner into the original black drum, and returned to good print results: no longer full black pages. The replacement black drum was clearly the culprit!

          Although I was not yet needing to replace the cyan drum, I started to question its condition: would it also fail?
          With the original black drum now in place, I inserted the existing cyan toner into the replacement cyan drum and was faced with the same surprisingly awful results: cyan toner spillage onto the belt/film, and pages not exactly “fully” cyan, but with a heavy “cyan mask”. Moreover, as with the black drum, the cyan drum displayed a very thick cyan toner sedimentation over its surface, instead of the normal clean green or blueish film.

          What a disappointment!

          Upon the removal of the replacement drums and reinstallation of the originals, such was the thickness of the toner layers in the cylinders, that spills were unavoidable. I spilled toner everywhere: to the floor, into the packages that contained the drums, to my hands, clothes, etc. Nearly everything in a radius of ~30 cm got bits of toner. It was a disastrous afternoon.

          In the end, I trashed several A4 sheets, used many cleaning tissues, filled the drums’ card boxes with considerable amounts of wasted toner, and ended up with a printer in the same working condition as when the day started, but surely with less consumables available.

          Something was catastrophically wrong with these products, or they got faulty during shipment. Again, I have replaced drums before, cleanly and with instant positive results. This should not have happened.



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          Technical Details
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            Microsoft Teams – an UNPLEASANT experience

            Due to professional matters, I am now sometimes required to remotely meet with others, using “Microsoft Teams”. Having had previous experience of other synchronous communication tools, namely Discord and Zoom, I expected (1) a similar setup process, and (2) a similar “collaboration experience”.

            Regarding (1), the setup, I expected that it would be a matter of downloading some installer, creating a product related account, and logging-in. It was not that smooth, but close.

            I am on Windows 7, feeling no need to update to Windows 10, and not using Office365. Still, “Teams” provided an OK installer, with all the necessary files – not one of those “mini installers” that will later require further downloading. Get it at:
            https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/microsoft-teams/download-app

            In my view, “mini installers” are nothing but a barrier to one’s end, so it was a good start. But there are annoyances: the user is given no option regarding where the files are to be installed. In Windows 7, “Teams” installs to:

            C:\users\<you user name >\appdata\local\microsoft\teams\
            

            And, at least three files will require Internet access, without previous warning:

            C:\users\<your user name>\appdata\local\microsoft\teams\update.exe
            C:\users\<your user name>\appdata\local\microsoft\teams\current\teams.exe
            C:\users\<your user name>\appdata\local\microsoft\teams\current\squirrel.exe
            

            Notice that Squirrel is an open source project, which is great to see, and highly contrasts with Microsoft’s closed attitude regarding most of its own products. It also uses the NuGet package manager and exhibits some reported security weaknesses. Check https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/microsoft-teams-can-be-used-to-download-and-run-malicious-packages/

            Software security is a subjective topic: you can have the most insecure piece of code, and nothing bad will ever happen to your digital assets, if, for example, you isolate it in such a fashion that it cannot communicate with other software and/or access relevant data. For that, you could use some sandbox approach and/or a firmly closed firewall and network infrastructure.
            On the other hand, you can have a supposedly “secure”, no issues known, software, and relax on the data/network/firewall environment protection, ending up in a situation that is as dangerous, if not more. It is the “unknown unknowns” that often cause the most serious problems.

            After the installation concluded, it was only a matter of minutes for creating firewall rules, before “Microsoft Teams” was ready to launch.

            The next step – account creation – was, and is, confusing to me: to use “Teams”, one must have an account, but what exact type account it must be, is a mystery. It seems to depend on intended usage and even invitation source. If one arrives to “Teams” with an invitation to meet with an organization running a full featured Office 365 subscription, then the account requirements might different from those creating an account on his/her own. In fact, if a user answers that he/she will be using “Teams” to meet with “friends and family”, the installer aborts and suggests “Skype”!
            At one point, I was creating a “Microsoft account”, redirected from a previous live.com account login. When reentering the login data, I was told that my password’s length was “too long” – I then understood that entirely new credentials were being created. I now have multiple Microsoft.com accounts, some work for gaming, some work for mail, some work for Microsoft Teams, only. I am confused, but that is probably just me.

            When the software finally accepted the account, and displayed the correct “team” with whom I was to collaborate with, I thought that was the end of all barriers and we could start working together. Naive.

            Regarding (2), the “collaboration experience”, I took the following notes.

            I usually record all my sessions. When using “Zoom” (https://zoom.us) it is easy to understand what one is doing and it simply works: one can choose to record to the cloud, or to a local storage path. No cloud for me.
            Similarly, I expected “Microsoft Teams” to allow the user to choose where to record the session, either via settings, or upon ending a recording. There is no such option in settings, so I started recording, only to discovery that every stream is automatically uploaded to:
            https://web.microsoftstream.com/browse
            where it will remain available to, at least, everyone in the hosting organization, not private to the creator, or even private to the team that was running the meeting! This is quite surprising.

            This recording behavior was not obvious to me and, I assume, to many others. From what I could perceive, people interpret “Microsoft Teams” recordings, as private digital assets, for their exclusive consumption. As previously stated, it is not like that: the recordings automatically become available to all the members in the hosting organization. I dared browsing some of the streams available in my context, and I wonder if some of them are not accidental: people might not be aware of their publication, because the software is opaque by design and does not make it explicit the properties and privacy level of such recordings.
            It was also a pain to delete my own accidental video: not trivial at all. I had to Google how to do it and did not take note of the procedure – it would have been useful right now, to complement this post.

            One visual annoyance is the lack of control “Microsoft Teams” gives the user, regarding adjustments to the audio and video devices used during the meeting. For example, if light conditions change and one wants to make the camera image brighter or darker, there is no in-software control for that.
            Unfortunately, the same goes for all other synchronous collaboration tools I have used, and what was different in “Teams”, in my particular case, relatively to other solutions, was the “zoom” level of the camera. I was using a webcam with a very wide lens and “Teams” locked it, on the widest possible view angle, unveiling more than what I intended of my surroundings. The zoom level on other software is set above the widest angle; here, it is set at the widest value, with no control available to tune it. All I can say is that, regarding video, all these synchronous collaboration tools could take a lesson from the free and open source software “webcamoid”, which gives the user full control over all the exposed device settings.

            It seems that others have already complained, to no avail:
            https://microsoftteams.uservoice.com/forums/555103-public/suggestions/32559460-camera-adjustments-in-meetings

            One final disturbing design option is the “invite” system. People who participate in a meeting have to be “invited”, yet the invite comes from Microsoft ( Microsoft Teams ), not from the meeting “creator” him/herself. To me, this is a “NO GO”. This is control hijacking. Avoid.

            If I were to choose, I would not pick “Microsoft Teams” as a collaboration solution over any of the others I have experience with. Microsoft centralizes all the process, from the invitations, to the session recording, with no alternatives given. This is not polite: it steals users crucial freedom and control.

            In a single paragraph: Microsoft Teams is opaque by-design, frustrating to use, inferior in the relevant features to the known alternatives, and hijacks the teams’ freedom, centralizing invitations and recordings.

            URLs "p1" 20200520 – 76 resources

            I am an avid WWW surfer, with hundreds of websites visited each month, sometimes daily. I bookmark them all, at least for logging purposes. These posts having the "urls" category, capture what was on my browser on a specific date. I hope you enjoy some of these shared resources.


            URLs "p1" 20200518 – 75 resources

            I am an avid WWW surfer, with hundreds of websites visited each month, sometimes daily. I bookmark them all, at least for logging purposes. These posts having the "urls" category, capture what was on my browser on a specific date. I hope you enjoy some of these shared resources.


            URLs "p1" 20200513 – 84 resources

            I am an avid WWW surfer, with hundreds of websites visited each month, sometimes daily. I bookmark them all, at least for logging purposes. These posts having the "urls" category, capture what was on my browser on a specific date. I hope you enjoy some of these shared resources.