Sunday, January 05, 2014

A possible fix for Netflix connectivity issue

I kept getting an error message while trying to use NetFlix on my iPad 2 (and my son was getting the same error on his Nexus 7.  The message was "Error: Cannot access the NetFlix server. Please try again later" and it would come up every 10 minutes or so.

Because it was happening on two different devices (on my home wireless network), I decided it might be the DSL router. It's a Motorola NVG510 (supplied by the AT&T Uverse service).

I figured maybe there would be errors in the router log that would correspond to the times when the error occurred.  But...nope.  No log entries at all at those times. 

Then, in poking around on the settings for the router, I discovered the "Advanced Firewall" settings.  This is what was set on that page:

Because I didn't want to spend a whole lot of time futzing with different settings, I changed everything to OFF, like this:

Voila!  This fixed the problem:  no more errors of that type!

I'm speculating that it was a flooding issue, and that if I tweaked these settings a bit by adjusting the Flood Limit and Flood Burst limit, the problem could be fixed while still leaving in some of the protection that the Advanced Firewall provides.

But for now, I'm just leaving the damn thing off!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Frustrating but ultimately successful fix for Internet connectivity

I have had a frustrating couple of days. But I am now connected!!

When I moved to a new apartment a few months ago, I decided to save some money by NOT getting a hard-wired internet connection through cable or phone and instead signed up with Verizon Wireless for their mobile hotspot through my Droid4. While this costs an extra $30 per month, after testing it, I found it to be fairly reliable and having enough speed for basic internet use, including occasional use of Netflix.  I figure it was cheaper than getting cable or internet-via-phone hookup.

Anyway, having a wireless hotspot as my primary home internet is fine for my laptop, my ipad, my son's smartphone, and his tablet, but it didn't work too well with my desktop. I had previously used PDANet on my desktop (allowing me to use my phone as a modem via USB tether), and while I was still able to do that, I wanted to use the legal (that is, "paid for") hotspot, so I discovered that when connected via USB to my computer, and going through the phone's system settings to Tethering and Mobile Hotspot (i.e., not the Mobile Hotspot app), I could enable USB tether and use the hotspot with the desktop. This was my primary mode of connecting my desktop to the Internet for several months.

This worked fairly well until a month or so ago, when I started running into problems with the USB tether AND the PDANet.  I had issues with the version of the PDANet not matching on the phone and desktop, and eventually solved the problem by rolling back both versions to 3.5 and using the "legacy driver." However, this stopped working a week or so ago (I didn't know why...but see below!) and at about the same time, the Mobile Hotspot USB tether also stopped working.

What was odd was that when I was tethered via USB, my university's VPN could connect, and Outlook, and Google Drive, and Dropbox, but I couldn't browse the Internet using Firefox or IE.  I couldn't get ANY web sites to come to my browser. I figured this was a DNS issue, but I confirmed that the settings for IPv.4 matched those of my laptop, which was able to surf just fine.

Because I really need to use my desktop in the next few weeks, I decided to devote some time to solving this problem. I decided that maybe I shouldn't rely on the USB tether (either through PDANet or through the Verizon Hotspot), and since I wasn't having any problems connecting wirelessly to the hotspot via my laptop or iPad, perhaps I should connect my desktop wirelessly. So yesterday, I went to Office Depot and bought a Linksys N300 (otherwise known as model AE1200) wireless USB adapter, and came home to set it up.

The damn thing would NOT install correctly.  I couldn't get the setup software to recognize the adapter during the regular installation process. However, when I plugged the adapter in, the drivers automatically installed. However, the adapter was "grayed out" in the Network and Sharing Center, saying Disabled. When I right-clicked and chose "Enable," after a few seconds I got an "Enabled" message, but the adapter was still grayed out and showing as disabled. And it wasn't functional.

The odd thing is that the adapter showed as Enabled in the Device Manager. But Disabled in the Network and Sharing Center. Odd.

No matter how many times I tried unplugging it, plugging it back in, and uninstalling it and reinstalling it, the same conditions applied. I worked at trying to fix it for a couple of hours, and then decided to cut my loses, and took the thing back to Office Depot.  I intended to buy another brand, but the store only had the Linksys. Fortunately, the local Radio Shack had the equivalent Netgear adapter (N300, otherwise known as model WNA3100), so I bought that.

My experience with the Netgear adapter was exactly the same as the Linksys:  The setup software wouldn't recognize the adapter (although when I unplugged it, the software complained), and although it would auto-install drivers if I plugged it in without the software, it was grayed out in the Networking and Sharing Center, and would not Enable there. (The Netgear adapter, like the Linksys before it, was showing as enabled in the Device Manager. But not functional at all.)

I spent an awful lot of time poking around the web looking for solutions to this problem. I figured there was some kind of problem with the driver.  So, I downloaded a new version of the driver software from Netgear. (They don't let you download just the need to install setup files that either install the driver for you or install something called the Genie with the drivers).  Because the installation software wouldn't recognize the adapter, these were fairly useless. They wouldn't complete the installation process since they didn't recognize the device.

(At this point, I decided that maybe my problem was a PHYSICAL problem with the USB system in my computer. I had had some odd unreliability since trying to install a USB 3.0 card in my system a year or so ago.  So I opened up the case and futzed around with the internal USB connections.... During this futzing, I accidentally disconnected a bunch of connectors having to do with the front LEDs and power/reset switches... So I had to find the manual to the MSI motherboard (on my laptop since my desktop still wasn't connecting) and fix those....In any case, the futzing with the USB connectors didn't solve anything.)

Here are a few of the other places I visited while trying to figure out a solution to the problem:
None of these solutions worked.

Finally, I started poking around in the Network and Sharing Center, seeing what all the menu choices do.

In the "Change Adapter Settings" dialog, under Advanced, I found the option to "Bridge Connections."  I really didn't have any idea what this does (although I did look it up later, here), but on a whim, I decided to try to bridge the LAN and WiFi connections, to see what would happen.

When I did so, all of a sudden the WiFi icon showed in color, and the Enable and Disable menu choices actually worked! I enabled it!  Wow!

However, I still couldn't connect to wifi, but I was making progress.

I decided that the bridge itself was probably the obstacle now. So I disabled the bridge... VOILA!  The wireless adapter was now enabled, and I could use the Connect menu choice, and see my Droid4 Hotspot SSID... so I connected!

So now I was connected to the wireless via the Netgear adapter! 

But now I was back to the situation before I bought the wireless adapter... I was able to connect via vpn, Outlook, Google Drive, Dropbox...but not the browser... no web sites....nothing.

So I did a search for "browser not able to connect to internet" and came across this page: There are a lot of different approaches listed there.

I tried several of the command-line and restart options, having to do with ipconfig and flushdns and netsh ...nothing. However, one good thing did happen; when I restarted after one of the command line interventions, I got this message:

(Good to know that the Netgear install software was persistent!)

Finally, on the same web site, I found

The central focus of that thread seemed to be that Norton Antivirus (of some flavor) was somehow interfering with browsing, either through a setting, or a bug, or even parental controls.  I went to look at my computer... and see what Norton was up to. Oddly, it wasn't showing up in the system tray. Hmmm....  So I found the Norton 360 folder under the Start menu, and ran the program.

Upon loading Norton showed that I needed to run disk defragmentation and do a bunch of other tune-ups... but there was no obvious setting that would be blocking internet use. The "block all network traffic" option was OFF.  Out of curiosity, I clicked  the little question mark icon next to the option to get some help...and it went to a help page on the Symantec web site!!! WHAT?  I could now surf?!?!

I opened another tab and tried to go to Google...Voila! everything was working again.

It seems that all I had to do was RUN Norton 360 to get the browsing to work.

After everything started working again, I clicked on the system tray and saw that the Norton 360 icon was there, showing a green check mark for protected. I remembered it had not been there while doing all of this other troubleshooting. Was Norton somehow disabled, and it was disabling my internet use?

I don't know the answer. I think Norton had somehow crashed and in crashing, it disabled web browsing. (This does seem to be a problem...see here and here.) Why this happened I do now know.  I do know that I am now able to surf again. 

The key findings that made this possible were:
  1. the brainstorm of bridging the wireless and wired connections (and then unbridging them), which enabled the wireless adapter...
  2. and running Norton360, which somehow had gotten "stuck" in a non-responsive mode that was blocking browser traffic.

Both of these findings are worth putting out there for others who may have similar problems with their computers. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Internet Censorship: Some Basics

A student at a school in Canada was doing research for a paper on Internet censorship, and came across my name in connection with some work I had done in the area of Internet filtering in schools (see here and here), so he emailed me and asked if I would be willing to answer some questions.   I said "sure!" and so he sent me the four following questions. I thought my answers were sufficiently erudite (this is something I've done a lot of thinking about) that I'd post them here on my blog so that others could see them.
1) How would you explain what internet censorship is to someone unfamilliar with it?
Censorship is when a governmental or other authority blocks access to certain texts, images, information, music, or other medium for the purpose of controlling or limiting thought.  Internet censorship involves blocking the free flow of ideas and information over the Internet. Generally, censorship is done without the consent of those whose access is blocked (although there is such a thing as "self-censorship").
2) Does internet censorship take away from Amendment One of the US Constitution?
The US Supreme Court has defined what it refers to as "protected speech." Not all speech is protected speech; for example, US citizens do not have the right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater, and certain types of pornography (such as that involving minors) are deemed illegal in the US and are not protected (as agreed by the Supreme Court). Censorship of protected speech on the Internet would be a violation of the First Amendment (so-called "freedom of speech").

However, it is important to remember that some speech that is protected for adults (so-called "soft porn," for example) may be legally censored in schools.  In fact, the US Childhood Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires all schools and libraries in the US that accept certain federal money to block obscene or harmful materials (such as those advocating violence against children). Is this censorship? Not according to the US courts. CIPA has been held to be constitutional because the PURPOSE of the restriction is deemed to override the limited free speech rights of children, and also because the method of blocking (and the extent of blocking) is not set forth in the law (except minimally), so local communities can set their own specific standards.

Another class of information that can legally be blocked in the US is the transmission of illegal copies of copyrighted materials (under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).  Some US citizens have been prosecuted or sued for downloading or uploading materials they do not own. US Courts have also said that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can limit the access of individuals with overly-heavy bandwidth usage, in order to supposedly protect the access of other customers of the ISP.  There is currently an attempt to pass a law in the US that would give ISPs broad latitude over what they could block, and also allow copyright owners to require ISPs to block the copyrighted content.  As always, advocates of blocking the materials do not view them as "protected speech," while those arguing against this law claim that it will inevitably violate the First Amendment.  Needless to say, because there is a ton of money at stake, the battle over this proposed law is pretty nasty.

3) In the past year, Canada has been tightening its grip on internet censorship, and is now taking aggressive measures. Can you see America taking similar actions?
I believe there will be a law in the US that will allow holders of copyright to force ISPs to block the illegal copying and transmission of those materials. Is law will address the fact that many illegal copies of materials originate from outside the US, and so it will include an international component. Certainly this blocking will be against the wishes of those who want to download/upload them. It certainly limits their freedom. A deeper issue is whether copyrights (or patents for that matter) are a good way of protecting intellectual products. The doctrine of "Fair Use" suggests that some copyrighted materials are legitimately copied (for purposes of education or satire, for example), and the rise of the "mash-up" culture also seriously pushes the limits of copyright.

Will the US become a nation in which freedom of speech is increasingly restricted (with that restriction being justified in all kinds of ways by those doing the restricting)?  Probably, although I believe the US population will not allow the First Amendment to be done away with for frivolous reasons. However, if Americans feel threatened (from outside the borders or within), there is no limit to what freedoms they might be willing to give up.

4) What would the world be like without censorship of the internet?
The answer to this question (which is an excellent one to think about, by the way) depends on what you think about basic human nature.  Are we at our core selfish and greedy: tribal animals programmed to kill anything that keeps us from reproducing (or that might help us reproduce if we do kill it).  Or are we essentially moral angels, spirits in a material world, with a deep and abiding commitment to protecting the entire world from harm?  If the first, then a lack of censorship would lead to a nasty and brutish world in which only the richest can survive in the long run. If the latter, a lack of censorship might bring about a lasting peace, as greater communication and familiarity allows more and more of us to express our peaceful nature.

Personally?  I believe that capitalism requires censorship of some kind, and so as long as we live in a world dominated by the flow of money to produce more money, there will be no end to censorship. Is there a workable alternative to capitalism as the engine of worldwide social and economic order?  Perhaps democracy, although the distance from where the world is today and where democracy might really come alive is very long. 

Note: for a video of a talk I recently gave on "Internet Filtering in Schools: What's at Stake" at a teacher workshop at the Art Institute of Chicago, see here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Religious Freedom and the Election: Why You Should Vote Obama/Biden

A key question in this election is whether abortion should remain legal at the federal level. A secondary issue is whether the federal government has any proper role in determining whether gay people can get married.  Both questions, I believe, come down to the proper role of religion in government, and also impinge on state and individual rights.

Given that the next president is likely to make two life appointments to the Supreme Court, the choice between Romney/Ryan and Obama/Biden is a critical one with regard to both of these questions. 

First, abortion. I believe that the question of abortion is really a question of whether decisions about abortion should be made by the federal judiciary, legislature, or executive, by each state, or by individual women in consultation with their partners and doctors.  This question can be considered a proxy for the whole election/debate going on in this country right now.  Here's why.

Obama/Biden will do everything in their power to make sure that the federal government  acts to keep this decision a private one between the individual woman (and her partner) and their doctor, while Romney/Ryan will do everything in their power, including working to overturn Roe v. Wade, to make sure a woman who chooses abortion (or the doctor who performs one) is treated as a criminal for making the "wrong" choice 

Even if you believe life begins as conception, you can still say (as Biden did in the V.P. debate last night) that the government has no right to interfere in this very personal choice. If, as both Ryan and Biden concede, this is a position determined by their religion, the establishment clause should dictate that the federal government has no power to interfere.  Biden made this position quite clear last night in response to Martha Radatz's excellent question about religion and abortion.

On what basis can a religious person rightfully claim that a religious belief should *dictate* US federal policy?  On no basis at's expressly forbidden in the Constitution.  (An individual can certainly rely on religion to make a personal decision, and a politician can rely on his religious values to make a political decision, but we're talking here about the use of federal powers to enforce a particular decision on others. I'm saying it's expressly unconstitutional for the government to dictate the decision for religious reasons.)

Since members of the religious right cannot rely (solely) on religion for the claim that abortion should be illegal for everyone, they argue that "science" determines that life begins at conception.  How do they make this argument?  One way is to remind everyone that "abortion stops a beating heart."  Yes, that's true, if the abortion occurs after 5-6 weeks.  But a beating heart isn't the scientific definition of life (even though it is certainly a significant emotional/spiritual marker).  

According to a very rough summary on Wikipedia (, life requires: homeostasis (not a characteristic of an early fetus); organization (yes); metabolism (not until later); growth (yes); adaptation (no); response to stimuli (gradually, but not at first); and reproduction (no).  On this admittedly crude set of criteria, the early fetus has the *potential* for life, but not life itself.  It is, rather, like stem cells that can be induced to produce red blood cells outside of the body, but which, without life support, have no independent life.  Or, to put it somewhat crassly but illustratively, the fetus is like the twirly-thingies that fall down from certain oak trees: yes, provided the right conditions for a certain period of time, an independent life is possible, but is not yet assured. A twirly-thingie is not an oak tree; it's only a *potential* oak tree. (Note that I am willing to concede that any fetus which is viable outside the womb should be afforded legal protection as a person.  To me, that's a way of basing the decision on science. To my knowledge this is also the position of both Obama and Biden.)

So without a *clear* scientific basis for claiming that the fetus is life (that is, "life" itself, not "potential life"), the abortion debate becomes either a religious issue or an emotional issue.  Just like "pre-marital sex" might be an appropriate subject for religious dogma (especially in Islam and in Catholicism, but also, notably, in Mormonism) but isn't any longer considered an appropriate object of governmental dictate (except of course in the case of statutory rape, where the issue is consent, not the sexual act itself), abortion should be off-limits as well.

But the objection will be raised immediately that the unborn fetus is like the girl (or boy) before the age of consent: deserving of government protection because s/he isn't ready to protect him or herself.  But this requires us to say that the legal status of the unborn fetus is similar to that of the juvenile person (an independent life but without legal maturity)...but that is exactly what is under debate here.  You can't claim the fetus's legal status as a person as the reason an unborn fetus is a legal person... That's circular.  So you're left making a statement of faith, or conflating "potential" life with life itself. 

To put this another way, you don't hear people saying that a woman's own hand deserves government protection (from being used for masturbation) because it doesn't "consent" to the act.  An unborn fetus is, scientifically, like the woman's hand... An appendage of the woman, or an organ of the woman.   Or, even better, the unborn fetus is like the fertilized seed of a plant that *could* become a second plant if properly nurtured, but which doesn't become a second plant until such time as those conditions have enabled independence of living. 

Some will immediately say that my comparison of an unborn fetus to a woman's own hand or to the fertilized seed of a plant is insensitive, or spiritually misguided.  This is my point, exactly: this objection isn't scientific... It's emotional or religious. (Did you notice in the debate that while Ryan said the abortion issue was a matter of reason and science, his own views were a result of the emotional/spiritual experience he had seeing the ultrasound of his first (potential) child, "Bean"?) According to this blatantly religious (or emotional) position, a woman who chooses to abort her fetus is spiritually bankrupt (or emotionally insensitive) and, therefore, should be prevented by criminal sanctions from taking that route.

I won't go into how paternalistic and hegemonic this position is (with regard to the individual woman faced with what is often an incredibly difficult personal choice), except to say that it is helpful to compare this abortion-should-be-illegal stance with another favorite "social issue" of the Right:  gay marriage. 

On what basis can people justify the position that two *consenting* adults who wish to marry each other should be prohibited (by an amendment to the US Constitution, no less!) from doing so?  The appeal in this case is to "the "sanctity of marriage" or "tradition" or something the Right likes to call the "decline of civilization."  Forget the first's clearly a religious argument and has no place here.  The second is merely an appeal to a way of doing things that has discriminated against a whole class of people for centuries (sort of like the arguments for continuing slavery... quite obviously bigoted and backwards).  "Tradition" has been almost universally discarded as a basis for justifying legal prohibitions, as it should be.  

And as for the supposed "decline of civilization," that is completely an emotional matter, as anyone who understands the way gay marriage has actually worked for the benefit of the LGBT community (and their children, in both the US and elsewhere) can attest: the legal protections and rights of marriage benefit gays as much as they benefit straight people, and do nothng to reduce the protections and benefits available to straight people. (I will buy a beer for anyone who can point to a specific way in which gay marriage limits the legal rights of non-gays, or, for that matter, that abortion limits the rights of any actual person.) By any non-religious criterion, gay marriage is a sign of INcreasing civilization, not the opposite.

Yet the Right suggests banning gay marriage and abortions for the entire country.  Let's be clear on this:  legally what is wanted is a prohibition on the STATES allowing individuals to engage in these practices.  On what basis can the federal government prohibit something that the states wish to do?!?! Certainly NOT on a religious basis (because of the establishment clause)... So, on what?  Because it is an overstepping of states' rights (i.e. because it violates the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution)?  Oh, come on!  That is not an argument... The states have all the rights not expressly forbidden to them, and the US Constitution has nothing whatsoever to say about either abortion OR gay marriage (hence the push for constitutional amendments).

Of course, the Right is consistently hypocritical about its stance on the entire range of issues revolving around states' (and individual) rights. States' rights are appealed to when the Right wants to prevent any progressive federal program (have any states ACTUALLY refused to implement Obamacare and the increased money it makes available to Medicaid, by the way?), yet if a state wants to do something that is clearly allowed by the Constitution (for example California's consistently aggressive stance toward pollution and in favor of cleaning up the environment), the argument from the Right is that the states are violating individual liberties (although the "right" to pollute, for example, is a pretty difficult thing to defend).  

Ah, and here is the rub:  what is the limit of "individual liberties"?  Does a woman have the right to decide she doesn't want that (potential) baby growing inside of her?  Does a gay man have the right to marry his long-time gay lover and enjoy the various legal and social protections afforded those who are married?  

The most commonly cited criterion by both the Right and the Left for whether an individual has a particular liberty is whether the exercise of that liberty violates the rights of others.  Abortion does so only if the potential life is treated as a life, which I have argued is a religious argument.  Gay marriage does so only if you somehow believe that two gay people marrying each other reduces the rights of non-gay people not to have to see them loving each other in that way (I don't think there is a legal right to continue to be bigoted, is there?) or if you believe that God will punish the US for allowing either (which is what the "decline of civilization" argument referred to above really comes down to), which is, of course, a religious argument.  (Despite what religious people like to believe, there is no scientific basis for the claim that God punishes anyone for anything--or rewards them for anything, for that matter.)

Ironically, the Right is willing to severely limit the right of a woman to control her own reproductive processes, and a gay person's right to marry the person of his or her choice, but howls bloody murder when the Obama administration adopts policies that force power companies to abandon coal as a source for yet-to-be-built power plants or mandate that individuals who can afford health insurance actually buy it. Yet the latter regulations CLEARLY protect the lives and health (the rights) of millions of people (born AND soon-to-be born) and/or save the country billions of dollars in unnecessary health care costs (a hidden benefit of legal abortion, too, by the way), while the former policies benefit no living person in any other way than protecting their religious sensibilities. 

Because Romney/Ryan have stated, publicly (and, until recently in the case of Romney, unequivocally) that they are committed to promoting the religiously-motivated policies of criminalizing abortion and prohibiting gay marriage, they represent a direct threat to the existence of the United States as a country without a government establishment of religion. Romney/Ryan, if elected, will establish Christian evangelism (of which Ryan's brand of Catholicism and Romney's Mormonism seem to be extensions) as the religion of the land. 

This is supremely frightening to me, and it should be to you, too, especially if you are a woman or if you are gay, but also if you are a straight male committed to the religious freedom of all people.  The Right lambastes Islamists for suggesting that the Koran should determine public policy, and yet it is willing to let its own preferred religion do the same.  For this reason, if for no other (for example the absolutely ridiculous Romney position that the EPA should be abolished), you should vote for Obama and Biden. 

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