Amazon Wishlists

Lots of people in my family use Amazon wish lists to share gift ideas. Amazon recently made it a bit more difficult to add stuff to wish lists from other sites so I thought I’d write up a quick guide on how to do it safely.

  1. First, make sure you’re using Chrome. That’s probably a good idea in general.
  2. Add the Amazon Assistant extension.
  3. You should now have an Amazon button in your Chrome tool bar. Click that and log in.
  4. Once you’re logged in, there’s an “Add to List” tab inside that Amazon menu and you can add your current age to your wish list.

But here’s the catch… when you add this as an extension, Amazon gets to see ALL of the sites that you are visiting and since you’re already logged in, they are building up quite a profile about you. If you go into the settings (click the Amazon extension and then click the little gear in the top left), you can click turn off everything in “Customize Content” and “Product Compare”.

That’s PROBABLY enough to stop them from tracking you, but personally, I just leave the extension disabled until I want to use it. To enable/disable the extension:

  • Click the Chrome menu button in the top right (three dots). Then click More Tools > Extensions
  • Toggle the blue slider for the Amazon Assistant extension.

I rarely add things to my list so it’s not too much of a hassle and I feel better not having them spy on me.


Facebook stock is down 21% on this news story about how Cambridge Analytica was able to use Facebook data to gather information about 50 million users. As usual, there is a lot of spin related to this story and it finally got confusing enough that I looked into it. I think what pushed me over the edge was hearing that Elon Musk had deleted the Tesla and SpaceX Facebook pages.

The “shady practices” that Cambridge Analytica used to gather it’s data are nothing new. If a user logs into your application, the Facebook Graph API not only lets you collect data on that user, but on all their friends as well. It has been pretty well known by API users and marketers in general. The Verge has a good article that explains that more.

One of the reasons this is getting so much press NOW instead of many years ago is that this specific instance is related to the Trump election. How sweet is a news story where you can combine privacy, BIG DATA, and a reason why dumb people were fooled into voting for Trump? The news outlets can make a lot of money off that combination.

What should normal users do about this?

  1. Go to Facebook, click Settings > Apps. First, delete all the apps that you don’t use regularly. Then click Apps Others Use and uncheck everything. That will stop sharing of your data with companies because your friends logged into something with their Facebook credentials.
  2. Don’t use your Facebook credentials to log into a website or an app. Always create a unique login for that specific application using your email address. And if you can’t create a login with your email address, then it’s probably shady anyway. The main reason all those dumb quizzes exist on Facebook is so that they can access your profile data (and your friend’s profile data.)
  3. Remove personal information from your Facebook profile. e.g. Is it really that important to have your birthday on your profile?
  4. If you want to go further, you can remove and hide some of your old activity. This is a pain, but I’ve documented it before.


So in summary, there’s nothing new about this news story that I can see, but people are finally realizing some of what has been going on. Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg. Big data is here to stay and information about you is more valuable than you realize. A lot of it is really hard to control unless you’re willing to go full-tinfoil-hat, but it’s not too hard to take a few basic steps in that direction.


I’ve played around with classic gaming system emulators in the past. There was the time I bought an old Asteroids machine and stuffed a computer inside, and I also modified an original Xbox to run old Nintendo games. Classic games are still fun for me and I thought the simpler games might be a way to introduce Elijah to video games as a super rainy weekend special activity kind of thing. Or at least that was my excuse.

It’s a lot easier to get a system up and running now. Here’s a shopping list:

Things you might have already:

Now you’re ready to follow the instructions (Lifehacker has a good guide too) and get gaming!

That only took me a couple hours to put together. I wasn’t thrilled with all the cables and pieces laying around so I decided to build a nice box for it. I have done some bandsaw boxes but I don’t recall doing any nice small wooden boxes with a lid. This seemed like a good excuse. I started with some walnut scraps from the side table build.
For the top, I found part of the wood with nice grain and tried a bookmatch. That just means that you use the bandsaw to cut down the middle of the board (the thin way) and lay it open like a book. The grain ends up as (almost) a mirror image. I was really happy with how it looked though in the final product I did goof it up a bit. I think I flipped one of the boards end for end.Because I was using scraps, I couldn’t quite get a continuous grain all the way around the box, but I did pay a little attention to it and some of the corners look pretty cool. I put in some small maple splines to reinforce the corners. The box walls were thin so the splines are pretty tiny. I finished it off with a couple coats of shellac.

I’m happy with it for a first attempt. Everything fits inside so that’s a win and the grain is pretty to look at. I want to try another box soon to use what i learned. Crosscut Hardwoods is selling small pieces of curly maple and I picked up some of that to try on the next box.

Online Personality Tests

I’ve never been a big fan of the online personality tests (e.g. “What kind of tractor/hairdo/sandwich are you?” but they are clearly a fad that won’t go away. And the other day I finally heard a compelling argument explaining why so many of them exist: many of those tests are created to build personality profiles about you and people like you. That stuff feeds into how advertisers target your demographic or even how politicians speak to you. Creepy, right?

There’s no free lunch. If you can’t figure out how a website is making money, you are probably the product.

OBDII Trip Reports

OBDII is the standard for the diagnostics plug that is somewhere around the drivers side footwell of your car. For many years I’ve enjoyed having a ScanGauge in my car, and then for my birthday this year, Tyla got me an Automatic OBDII reader. That has been plugged into my truck for a few months, happily uploading data to the cloud.

I finally got around to playing with their API. I wrote an app that runs twice a day on my computer. It calls their API and pulls down any recent trips that I’ve made. It looks for a few places that I’ve labeled (Home, Work, Safeway, etc) and looks for trips that start and end in a named place. If it finds one, it looks how that trip ranks in terms of fuel usage and time. Then I get an email showing me my “score”. It’s a fun way to see if my fast trip to work really was my fastest trip ever, or how that extra bad stop and go traffic affected my fuel usage.

The email is pretty simple right now. I keep thinking that I’ll make it fancier with some charts, additional stats, etc but so far this has been good enough. I think the next thing that I will add as I get more data is a breakdown to show the score for all time, the current month, the day of the week, etc.