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* Posts by Lee Dowling

1188 posts • joined 28 Mar 2007

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Obama insists on FOI

Lee Dowling
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@Jerome

Yeah, this is the problem with the rarity of the "honest politician".

You can do exactly what I've done every year... vote for the person you think would represent your views and make a difference. That's led to me *not* voting at all since I was eligible. I very much doubt I'm the only one doing this, considering the turnout at the average election and particularly the proportion of less-than-middle-aged people who vote. In a choice between two evils, I just don't choose - it's the only sensible option when it is available (although I'm sure the UK are working on Australia-like rules where you MUST vote - I would have to tick box 1 on year 1, box 2 on year 2, box 3 on year 3, etc. in those circumstances, or flip a coin).

I have chosen to use my freedom to vote for whoever I want to, to vote for ***ME***. ***I*** can perfectly represent my views, ***I*** would do exactly what I want a politician to do and only ***I*** can do it in the way I want. Thus, in the absence of a vote for myself (because apparently democracy doesn't allow that in general - I can't vote myself to be prime minister at the next election, I have to tick one of these boxes to select someone I've never met) I will vote for the next nearest candidate which is... erm... nobody. Problem solved. I might not be helping the next great person to power but equally I'm not electing the next Hitler, either. I consider that an all-ways-win for my country, given the current state of politics.

P.S. Laugh at old Boris all you want... he's London Mayor and he's doing a bloody good job considering. I don't even know or care what political party he's supposed to represent (a politician is a politician no matter what colour you paint him), all I know is he's made some very good decisions from my point of view and no major cock-ups.

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Lee Dowling
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Alert

Alright,

What the bloody hell is going on in politics.

First we had Boris, who comes in with the impression that he's the buffoon that you saw on Have I Got News For You, and immediately it's congestion-charge-backdown, no-yobs-on-public-trains, *paying* a parking fine that he got (with the sentiment "I'm an idiot and I've paid for it" rather than "I'm super-politician, I shouldn't HAVE to pay") and his latest one "Bugger off government, we don't want no steenking third runway". And, as of yet, no major cockups.

Then the yanks get Obama who within a day starts work on scrapping their illegal torture-fest and telling government to pull its finger out and be more open (even with a nod towards open source if you read some articles).

It's getting incredibly scary... after 11 years of not voting at all because of the problems highlighted by "It wasn't me"'s comment above (i.e. it doesn't matter who you vote for if you don't trust any of them), I'm now finding honest politicians creeping out of the woodwork who not only "promise" things but within days of being in power are actually doing something about them.

Have people actually woken up to the fact that a politician should bloody do what they promise and are they to actually do things, rather than hunt-the-scapegoat. It's almost enough to make you want to vote. I'll leave it until I've seen a good year of honest toil out of the people in question but it does make you want to say "where the hell have you been for the last four hundred years?".

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HDTV 'pointless' without perfect peepers

Lee Dowling
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HDTV 'pointless'

I'd say not just "pointless without perfect peepers" but just pointless anyway.

New, expensive display equipment with DRM built-in.

New, expensive cables to shuffle the DRM about in.

New, expensive reception equipment

New, expensive and additional cost of being able to recieve anything worthwhile in HD anyway (e.g. Blu-Ray, or HD channel subscriptions).

All to stare at a few more pixels that, from any sensible distance, you can't even spot anyway. Sure, you might think you can but the truth is you were probably never able to and the only reasons it looks different are:

- Contrast (expensive TV = better contrast = "sharper" image).

- Interpolation

- De-interlacing

- Refresh rates

- better MPEG compression (HDTV signal = more bandwidth)

- Flatscreen vs CRT (i.e. better tech in the first place, nothing to do with the number of theoretical pixels)

- Input sources (Aerial, Composite, S-video, Component, HDMI, all handled by different circuits and cables with different qualities and sources).

- Larger screen size

- Downgrading standard SD content on your HD TV (some models actually do this - make SD signals look poorer than an average SDTV could manage with the same signal, in order to make the HD "look good" and save money).

Do a double-blind scientific test with identical (fair) equipment recieving the same signal in SD and HD (no "better MPEG compression" tricks please, a pure full-pixel signal to both!) side-by-side in the same room from the same distance for a reasonable time at several times of the day (tired eyes see less, etc.). It's almost impossible to do, mainly cos all the HD stuff introduced all sorts of extra enhancements with its introduction (see above) over sheer pixel size and because of the biasing of many models towards HD content.

But the fact of the matter is that HD on an average setup looks no better to the average person than SD on a similar average setup. You can make a non-HDTV that looks the same or better than a HDTV for the same price using the same signals. Except the fact that the dollar signs won't be rolling in front of your eyes on the HD setup because you blew it all on expensive kit and subscriptions to watch the same programs.

The *only* advantage of HDTV (specifically referring to a modern implementation of a HDTV standard, not just "a new/expensive TV") that I can see is that you can sensibly plug a real high-res display in (such as a computer signal) and get pixel-perfect representation. In the past, you had to knock things down to 800x600 at stupidly strict refresh rates, or live with the squished image. But this has always been true of computers - standard monitors / laptop screens have always been "HD" because you're never more than a few inches from them. Back in the day, a WinTV card on even a crappy SVGA would look ten times better than any TV you could buy. It's nice to be able to plug a laptop into a unsilly-priced 42" screen and get a pixel-perfect image so you can play silly games in the living room, but from any reasonable distance, you could equally well be using an old TV-out signal on an SDTV without even noticing.

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Brit porn filter censors 13 years of net history

Lee Dowling
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@Graham Wood

AAISP sound like they have some really good staff and features - which is always more important to me than anything else. But, hell, do you pay through the nose for it. That might be a good solution for a rich numpty who does a couple of emails a week but their basic package is 1Gb/month at peak periods... for £18+VAT (and a large limit on off-peak).

It doesn't even compare to the current offerings that my ISP (PlusNet) are supplying (and I get a better deal than is on their webpages because I'm an old-time Premier customer).

http://www.plus.net/residential/?home=resindextop

Their most bog-standard, basic, low-use package has 1Gb/month peak (and unlimited off-peak) for £6.65/month (which technically beats AAISP's £18+VAT package). PlusNet's next highest option has 2Gb for £9.75 and you can get *twice* the peak allowance of AAISP's *top* package (£38+VAT per month with AAISP) for only £14.65. PlusNet's top options gives 30Gb (4 times AAISP's best peak usage) for under £20/month.

PlusNet are (technically) owned by BT but they have remained staunchly independent and refused Phorm and quite a lot of this sort of rubbish even though they are a subsidiary. Their staff are highly technical, they run all manner of hosting outfits on the side, they are *extremely* reasonable on their traffic limits (off-peak is basically free and unlimited) and I've never had a problem with them. In fact, since they were taken over, all I've noticed is that line adjustments and new signups are quicker, I assume because the engineers are part of the same company!

I haven't noticed any filters at all with PlusNet (I was using Wayback when I found this article in another tab) and they are highly skilled - I've had my line latencies dropped dramatically within seconds of a support ticket that I created online merely mentioning the fact they were high and they changed all the options on my broadband line to make it happen that quickly. I've called in numerous support tickets for tiny, technical issues (more to alert them to problems than because it was actually cause a problem) on dozens of their customers that I've recommended.

Good service is worth paying for, no doubt, but AAISP just charge stupid prices. And have you *seen* their co-lo price?

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Bittorrent declares war on VoIP, gamers

Lee Dowling
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Big Boo Hoo

So a major protocol switches from using TCP to UDP (which, actually, has nothing to do with bulk transfers, but more to do with connection-oriented or not - ask GhostCast who use multicast UDP or TCP to splat gigabytes of disk-image data to PC's across networks, while there are TCP and UDP ways of doing everything from VPN to DNS).

So, being UDP, the *amount* of traffic is actually technically slightly less (if this "BitTorrent does it's own connection management" thing is true) because you don't have as many layers of packet protocols involved. What's changed is that instead of having connections which *SHOULD* be reliable, they are now not needed to be reliable. In terms of the actual data going across the big networks, this makes no difference at all, because TCP is just *a* connection management style and Bittorrent happens to use a different one. If you drop or slow 50% of them (which you are perfectly able to do), all you do is create more problems for everything from retransmits etc... TCP = UDP with knobs on, basically, and most UDP users just recreate those knobs in different ways or don't need them at all.

What's changed is that people's incorrect "expectation" that UDP means "quick, small, unreliable packets" now becomes "lots of quick, small, unreliable packets". The only things this interferes with are ISP's "magic boxes" which determine the contents of a packet but to be honest, if you're doing it that way, it was bound to come to an end eventually - hence the use of encrypted torrents, Tor tunnels, etc. You cannot *ever* rely on being able to detect the protocol in use within a given packet. It's a layer violation and it's just plain stupid, because anything "naughty" will evade you at the first opportunity and anything "not naughty" will attract derision if you affect it in any way.

Yes, BitTorrent is an enormous pain in the backside because it takes a disproportionally large amount of traffic. But it's like saying that we won't let people use the radio waves for TV because TV takes up too much of our radio spectrum - it's so large because people are transferring larger files and there are more of them doing it, in the same way that TV takes more bandwidth and more people watch than listen to the radio. However, my ISP has been complaining more about iPlayer, which takes up MORE bandwidth than Bittorrent through their (major ISP, connected to BT) networks. I wonder what iPlayer uses, TCP or UDP? I don't know to be honest, but I don't care. All anyone cares about is that they can transfer X Megabytes of data from the BBC to themselves fast enough that the video doesn't jerk.

It's up to the ISP's to do one of two things - ban use of certain protocols in their terms and conditions and enforce them by whatever means they see fit or leave things alone/increase prices across the board and stop looking for sympathy for their heavily over-subscribed pathetic data lines.

They can threaten what they want but a price rise would actually mean they would have to stop over-subscribing and would lose customers. Banning/throttling certain protocols will only affect those people who don't use / don't know about them, who aren't you're primary concern anyway, you will lose lots of customers and it will cause technical support problems of enormous magnitude (Steam uses Bittorrent to download its games if I remember correctly - they even hired its main author).

A blanket throttle on each user is the only real answer but technically it's just easier to count the bytes going through and charge for the excess than to try to limit each connection with some sort of QoS. So, who's going to be the first ISP to go down that route? Wanna lose a thousand customers today? No?

And, as always, we are brought a step closer to using ISP's as just that - service providers - they give us the tube and we use it. If it means we have to encrypt, tunnel, obscure everything to stop them fiddling with it, that's what will happen. Eventually, the Internet will no longer be anything more than a base layer because everybody starts using P2P layers on top (like Tor, Freenet, etc.) and the ISP's and governments become locked out of every bit of access they had to what people were actually doing on the Internet. Then, given that everything's *completely* anonymous and encrypted, setting up small mesh networks becomes less legally liable and joining them together re-invents the Internet as what it started out - a collection of random people deciding to exchange any traffic they need to.

You don't buy an Internet connection, you join the local neighbourhood mesh where one techie has been paid by the council to fire a microwave connection into the next town and somewhere along the way, your traffic is passing through your neighbours, a local techie, some bright spark who figured out a way to transmit wireless traffic to his friend over the Channel, to Europe, Asia, etc. Government regulation goes out of the window, everybody gets "free" Internet and the ISP's go out of business.

No filtering, no monitoring, no control, totally anonymous, immune to censorship (Great Firewall of China etc.), saves people money, puts AOL out of business, gives blanket coverage, zero-cost entry (get an old USB wireless dongle second-hand), grows exponentially, takes advantage of new technology quicker (everybody who upgrades from 802.11g to 802.11n makes everyone else work that little bit faster), cuts BT etc. out of the market on data lines, and means that people start securing their damn protocols.

I'm in Essex, who wants to start it?

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Buffer overflow bug bites Linux wireless component

Lee Dowling
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Unhappy

Off-by-ones

In each case, the SVN commits relevant to this appear to be off-by-ones (e.g. > instead of >=, "size" instead of "size+1"), although they are mixed in with fixes for other problems so perhaps I missed something.

It's amazing the difference a "+1" can make to some code.

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Hotmail users bitch and moan about new interface

Lee Dowling
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And?

More annoying than anything, it doesn't work in Opera AGAIN (the buttons do nothing but give a javascript error). It's almost as if Hotmail have got a personal grudge against the Opera people because they've only just brought out 9.62. I never cared for the non-Classic look anyway - even the renaming of things like "Inbox" to "Mail" annoyed me.

However, the situation was easily resolved - I switched all my email forwarding to a GMail account instead. Never give out an @hotmail address... just buy a £2 throwaway domain and use that to forward instead - change ISP, change provider, who cares, you just re-forward the email. I wonder how many people have done the same.

It took about ten seconds to change my setting. Two or so hours for the change to propogate worldwide and now all I get is spam in the Hotmail account. Fortunately, I'm a user of MSN Messenger (using Pidgin), so my account will always stick around in case someone does try to use the @hotmail.com address.

Shame, because before they got rid of the Classic Interface last time around I was actually a "Hotmail Plus" subscriber and would have stayed on it out of sheer laziness if they hadn't caused me all this hassle before. After that, I no longer paid, I just used it as an email for casual acquaintances and because it was easy to log into from anywhere in the world. Now everyone is using my forwarded addresses so they haven't even noticed the difference, and I get an MSN "ping" if I do get anything important into that account anyway.

Oh, and Hotmail support (especially "Live Support") are the most stupid people you will ever meet. You spend half an hour explaining the problem and they say things like "Well, Opera isn't supported. Goodbye". YES, I know, but I also told you that I'd tried IE, Firefox, Netscape, Mosaic, Lynx on every operating system known to man.

No big loss for me. Big loss, I suspect, for MSN.

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Next Windows name unveiled: Windows 7

Lee Dowling
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Naming

More likely...

The version number system got silly when it got into 2 decimal places where the least significant digit heralded major functionality changes (Windows 3.1 to 3.11...). Plus if we increment the version number every time we put out a fix, we'll need at least four decimal parts (Windows 4.0.1190.4 etc.) It also gave the "dated" appearance of PC's as technical objects and larger numbers sound much cooler (e.g. Word 6 -> Word 95).

The date system was supposed to get us to always buy the latest version (Comic Relief Red Nose Syndrome) but failed miserably - all it did was make the only thing that worked looked very dated (newer numbers = worse product in the consumer's mind) and to show how long it is between major versions of Windows, plus it was ruined by SP numbers which harked back to the above point (Windows 98 SE... ffs).

Then the "moniker" titles were okay but confusing for the customer base (ME, XP, etc.) until eventually the word Windows was dropped by them altogether ("I installed XP the other day"). Additionally, Vista was such a dead horse that naming something Vista 2 would be commercial suicide and trying to find a non-trademarked, non-common-usage term which would fit the next version was nigh on impossible (Windows Vapour? Or Windows Commonsense?).

So let's do what everyone else is doing and go back to version numbers. And then we'll increment our version numbers by an overly large amount to keep up with the competition (Windows 2.6.27 anyone?) and then we'll scrap that and use the project codenames and then...

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Turbo-charged wireless hacks threaten networks

Lee Dowling
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Stupid

This is hardly a "crack" so much as a brute-force testing of common combinations of letters and numbers. Although this would well work against "password" and other short passwords, guessing the 64-hex-character WPA2 key that even the tiny, underfunded primary school I work at uses would be way, way, beyond this software. You're still looking at 512 bits of random data - that's 2^512 combinations, which is roughly 10^154, which at a billion attempts a second would still take many times longer than the age of the universe (believed to be 13.73 billion years, or 10^10-ish) to get anywhere near guessing the password.

And there's nothing you can do about this. Of course not. It's like saying there's nothing you can do against terrorist A-bombing the entire world, killing everyone and then cutting the vault door to steal your gold. This is a bogus advertisement for a password guesser, not a dire hole in WPA2 and the article should be rewritten to reflect that.

The way the article was written, you would think they had found some super-duper hole in WPA2. In actual fact, they sit and try A, then B, then AB, etc. ad infinitum... Eventually, they will hit the password that was used. Of course they will. Although this will catch out only a few people, it won't compromise anything which is already supposedly secure. And it's not new. It's not powerful. It's not effective. It's not even sensible. Using similar, better and even this exact company's software, I've yet to recover a single (modern) Word doc or zip file that I've password protected with anything more powerful than "password" after leaving the computers running for MONTHS.

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Microsoft will show world+dog how to write secure code

Lee Dowling
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Could have chosen a better acronym

I bet www.libsdl.org gets a lot more hits today....

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VPN security - if you want it, come and get it

Lee Dowling
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And?

Already been doing this for the past few years.

The workaround in Windows for the "if your connection drops" thing is to install a software firewall on the laptop and limit which networks are Trusted. Normally I use Linux with the iptables as suggested but when I use Windows I have the wireless "network" marked as untrusted and the VPN "network" marked as trusted. This stops stray packets as well as the connection-dying issue.

I use this in preference of and normally in addition to wireless security on the AP I have at home. I have WPA2 PSK on my home wireless but I really don't trust anything wireless at all, so all communications within the house use OpenVPN to talk across the WPA2 network. There's very little downside to this, the latency is no worse than normal, even with 600MHz clients and a noisy spectrum.

It's so simple that even my wife can manage it - with OpenVPN GUI for Windows, it's just a matter of making sure the little icon is green and shouting if not. We do all our main Internet things (email, web, skype, gaming, etc.) over it. It took about an hour to set up but after that it was fantastically simple.

A word of warning: if you set OpenVPN to use UDP on a Windows client (less latency I believe), you will run into lots of problems unless you have a stateful firewall on the Windows client. Zonealarm handles it, Windows firewall just blocks it entirely.

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CERT: Linux servers under 'Phalanx' attack

Lee Dowling
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Amateur

The main problem I have with this is that it still looks like an amateur programmed it. So they've managed kernel-level access, brute-forcing of low-entropy keys, they collect keys and spread between trusted machines - fantastic. But nobody could be bothered to make a primitive attempt to hide it's presence in the filesystem, thus making it trivially detectable (especially if you have anything that monitors filesystems) and (less important) trivially removeable.

Why does it need more than a prescence in something like /tmp in order to initially infect and then it's got kernel-level access, so why does it show up at all? There is all sorts of code available in projects both legitimate and not that will let you hide data inside files that are not visible, will let you pre-pend code to kernel images, will let you modify bootloaders, etc. - if it weren't visible in the "real" filesystem, it could quite easily avoid manual and automatic detection by rootkit hunters etc. and be much more prevelant and dangerous.

Again, viruses built by pluggable modules that just show that the actual author of it (should they be caught) aren't the problem - someone, somewhere wrote a set of modules to do the difficult stuff and *they* are the problem, here, not some 12-year-old that joined a few of them together in "Build-a-virus '98".

Having said that, it was only a matter of time before someone did this properly and the Debian flaw is the perfect opportunity to kick-start such an attack.

This is why I build any SSH keys on a totally seperate machine to the one they are going to be used on (physically and technologically), give them long passphrases and then keep them in as few places as absolutely necessary. If I'm the only one going to use them, then it's onto a USB key with a backup on the machine that created the key should the worse happen. Lose the USB key - you can't get in (except if it's a real emergency, when you can do it from a manually-created copy from the key-generating machine), but you absolutely **know** that someone else may have them and that you need to regenerate and change the keys immediately.

Oh, and install something that will absolutely go mad if someone gets in and does anything - you want to log every login, even if they immediately try to delete the logs, you want to log every significant file change, even if they try to immediately fix the checksums, disable the monitor program etc.

It's interesting, yes, but it probably won't hit critical mass. If it does, it'll only be among home and hobby machines and possibly the odd cheap hosting outfit. The problem is that we now have a warning about what its successor may do - and that could be a lot more nasty...

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UK ISPs agree to menace their filesharing users

Lee Dowling
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Pirate

Plan of action

So, a rough plan of action should anyone get sent a letter. 99% of this will go straight through one ear and out the other, but it gives the ISP enough of a "warning shot" to stop signing up to bloody stupid schemes:

1) Write back immediately asking for proof of the allegation. You are entitled to it. Don't tell them WHAT you require, see what they are willing to divulge first. (Send it recorded delivery - it's more scary and official). Ask them if they are seeking legal action and if not, why not? Surely withholding information concerning an illegal act is illegal too? Or have they reached an understanding with the copyright holder which indemnifies that particular act? In which case, shouldn't YOU be party to that agreement? Should they be threatening you now even if their agreement means that they will prosecute next time? And you might like to request copies of that understanding.

2) Question the proof in a follow-up letter. Proof should include not only the date, time, IP address, the protocol used, the remote addresses "seeded" and/or "leeched" from, but also an analysis of the content and the fact that the EXACT content downloaded from YOU PERSONALLY is in fact stored somewhere and available for scrutiny. With Bittorrent this will at best mean that they have a few chunks from you personally because getting an entire, unbroken file from a single IP on Bittorrent is quite difficult and likely to lead to them being "frozen out" by your Bittorrent client. Request a copy of that data and the measures used to ensure its accuracy and integrity. If the allegation is baseless, you could tell them so.

3) Question the ISP's use of the Data Protection Act in sharing (indirectly or not) your personal details with an unauthorised third party without proper consent or authorisation. That's if they HAVE shared the data and/or the letter comes with a BPI letterhead. Just because their T&C's say they "may do" that, they have to have a good reason and they can't just go throwing your details about willy-nilly. Law trumps T&C's.

4) Question the legality of the monitoring of the connection in accordance with not only the ISP terms & conditions (which are overridden by the law every time) but the actual law. Ask them if they also monitored whether the web page you visited the other day was an infringement of a local by-law. They are monitoring, so they should know (they'll fob you off but you've rammed the point home that they have NO IDEA what's legal or not and are not enforcers).

5) Question the assertion that your connection was used with your knowledge. E.g. you have a wireless LAN, you may have been infected with a trojan, packet forgery may have taken place inside the ISP's network or in the wider world, etc. your computer needn't even have been on at the time for some of this to have occurred. A speeding offence requires you to identify the driver of the vehicle at the time. A copright offence does not unless a court of law or your lawyer says so.

6) Question the assumption that what you did was illegal. E.g. if you downloaded an MP3 of a song you already have on CD, (You just couldn't rip your latest DRM'd CD so you downloaded the MP3's from the Internet) there is a quote floating around in the national press from a top-bod at something like the BPI or the record companies that says they are "not interested" in you for that and won't ever pursue any action.

That's as good as saying "do it" under those circumstances - they've waived some rights there. That's before you even get into any potential fair-use rights. Ask them if they know what CD's you own at home. Ask them if they've verified that the other party are, in fact, the copyright holder or represent them. Ask them if they've verified that you don't already have reproduction, broadcast or performance rights to that data.

7) At no point admit to anything unless you want to. Much better is to follow basic legal practice and say something like "without any admission of liability or otherwise, the following is also a potential and not unreasonable scenario that has not been taken account of by your procedures". You're not saying that you WERE hacked, but they haven't bothered to check if you could have been.

8) Make it clear that any changes to your connection or contract which occur as a result of you being "identified" had better damn well be backed up by hard data. "We've moved you onto a higher tariff because you're a heavy user" - fine... you had better bloody well state in writing that you're doing that to everyone who has the same or similar usage patterns and explain your criteria (they won't want to - that'd be effectively modifiying their T&C's which would lose an awful lot of customers once the news got out). "We've slowed your connection" - right... I want an explanation of why you've implemented a unique, non-technical punishment against me personally because of an unfounded allegation by a third-party. It's not like my broadband dropped because someone made the exchange move, you've implemented a course of action against me.

9) Do a Data Protection Act request on every bit of data held on yourself by the BPI or the ISP. Mention your IP address at the date and time alleged when talking to the BPI. If this does NOT include traffic usage, particular files you've downloaded, etc. then they have a problem - either they provided incomplete information (they are storing information about you on computer and which they are not disclosing to you) or they don't HAVE that data, in which case their whole assertion flies out of the window.

10) If you yourself produce any sort of content, present a similar ludicrous scenario - you want the ISP to ensure that nobody illegally downloads cracks for the software you designed, that nobody infringes your copyright on your webpages, that nobody downloads your music on P2P either. If they brush you off, send them a nice official legal letter stating it again. It's just as ludicrous an assertion. If they can police for the BPI, but they won't police for you, what exactly are they policing? Who's paying them to police? What if you're a BPI member? etc.

11) Don't bother to threaten to take your custom elsewhere - that's what they want. Less paperwork for them, less high-traffic customers, customers doing as they are told and not bringing legal action. Tell them that you will continue to use the connection in the way that you have agreed to and you expect them to manage the connection in the way THEY have agreed to. Any further threatening letters will need to include such details as you have requested or you'll be pursuing for harrassment, libel, slander, illegal telephone taps, whatever takes your fancy.

Anything else that should be added?

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Researchers show up deniable file system crypto leaks

Lee Dowling
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How is this news?

Temporary files on an unencrypted partition could reveal document contents? How is this news? It's true of most things that aren't programmed with security in mind, anyway.

Anybody with the brains to use Truecrypt knows this already. And if you encrypt the ENTIRE machine, like you're supposed to for best security, it's not a problem. News would be that the new version of Truecrypt allows for multiple OS's to be installed, one of which is used to "decoy" people who want to look at your PC, one of which stayed hidden and encrypted unless you know the password. But if you were stupid enough to access files from the latter from inside the former, then there would be leakage just the same.

My favourite newspaper is The Metro (London edition). They have a "No s*!# Sherlock" column. This belongs in their next issue.

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School chases truants by text

Lee Dowling
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And?

I don't see how it's news, though.

The Essex school I left (as an IT technician) last year had this same software / setup. It's considered standard in some schools now. As far as I know, they've had it for years and still use it - they are an "Academy" now, or soon will be, but they were classed as "Special Measures" for the last few years, and yet they still afforded this system. Strangely, throwing the brats out the school gets a better response than TruancyCall, and makes for a better school.

It's quite flash as an idea but it is just simple software connected to a SMS gateway. From a techinical point of view, it was quite simple and stable and I don't think I had to deal with it once apart from a annual refresh of the machine.

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Woman finds Lithuanian living in shed

Lee Dowling
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Someone give him a job.

Come on, local council, you're missing a perfect opportunity to get a hard-working, honest, proud man in your coucil teams - whether it's cleaning up the road, or maintaining a park or whatever - what a perfect man to have on your team. Arrange him a visa if he doesn't have one already (I assume he has, because it doesn't say his previous job was breaking the law).

Or get the locals to whip round and give him a couple of weeks work gardening in the neighbourhood, enough for a plane ticket home if that's what he wants.

It's just a shame that he was moved on without, it seems, a lot of his possessions (the photos in the paper seem to indicate he left most of the stuff behind).

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AVG disguises fake traffic as IE6

Lee Dowling
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It's not just the fake traffic

It's not just the fake traffic that's the problem. I sympathise with webmaster's problems here but a few extra HTML fetches are hardly the end of the world, even for a small webhost. Any decent website gets spidered endlessly anyway and even (as I've had happen to myself) mirrored word-for-word on foreign domains. Get on a decent host with a real bandwidth package. I help run one of the UK's largest Scouting sites (pulls in the same amount of / more traffic than the "official" one) and we haven't noticed a spike yet.

However, the real problem is the problem of "deniability". If it looks EXACTLY like an IE 6.0 request and it fetches ANYTHING found on Google indiscriminately, then what defence do you have if your ISP logs your "browser" visiting lots of very dodgy sites rapidly? There may not be a trace on your computer, there may be a viable explanation in the form of an antivirus that is known to do this, but will the courts see it this way?

This is why, as a technical advisor for several schools, I have revoked all my opinions about recommending AVG and would not choose to install it now. It used to be my AV of choice for home use because it used to be good but it's steadily deteriorated.

AVG - you should really be ashamed of yourself. There was a time when I would use you in preference to everyone, now I can't even recommend your use AT ALL. All on the basis of vague, inscrutable, unnecessary, overblown, badly-designed technical measures (I bet some idiot superior decided it was a good idea) and STILL you don't back down when people complain en masse. Sort it out, or lose a lot of regular customers.

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Heavyweight physics prof weighs into climate/energy scrap

Lee Dowling
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Hooray! Someone with some common sense.

Rather than guess at numbers and provide fantastic visions of a windmill in your garden running everything in your house, let's actually sit down and do the numbers sensibly. Someone give this man a medal. And alternate scenarios for the greenies - fantastic - let's show them why man MUST burn more uranium before anything like that ever gets viable.

I love the way that everything is overexaggerated - "Let's assume we need much less energy and we can blanket the country with the best windmills for ever and destroy every habitat by doing whatever we want with loch water and STILL it's not close to viable".

I was suitably impressed by the fusion numbers to want to instantly stop messing about with fluttering things in the breeze and letting the oceans slosh a couple of generators about and start researching fusion seriously as the only thing worth our time. And while we're getting there, let's just stick one or two more tiny nuclear reactors about to make up for all the lost renewable energy (and then some) for the next century or so.

Slightly offtopic: I was in B&Q the other day. They sell a home wind-turbine. I was bored and had to wait for the wife to decide between eight identical shades of beige paint, so I did some mental arithmetic.

If I bought it and installed it and achieved the theoretical maximum power from it, all day every day, it would pay for itself in about 8 years. It had a "design life" of five. That's not counting what happens if it falls off, breaks, wears, becomes less efficient, gets vandalised or happens to sit in a non-optimal location.

So, theoretically, after 8 years of (hopefully) cash-free maintenance and gale-force winds, I would *just* start to get some free electricity. Not counting installation. Or delivery. Or the planning consultant. Or the planning permission. Or getting the electricity company to install their kit so I could pump back to the grid.

And when I did start to save money, the enormous eyesore could *just* about generate enough electricity (after battery/conversion losses) to run a 1-bar electric fire if it was operating to it's perfect theoretical maximum. With reasonable averaging of windspeed, power, etc. I could *just* about get it to run a bulb or two in the shed 24/7 - energy saving ones at that.

This thing had four-foot blades, was bigger than and cost more than my car. It doesn't take a genius to look at that in realistic terms and instantly dismiss it as not viable. Even with the advantages and efficiences gained by scaling up, it's simple to see why wind is, pretty much, useless as a power source. (If you still need an analogy, it's like trying to power your kids toys by blowing on one of those handheld-fans and wiring it's battery contacts up to their Tonka).

The best bit was that EVERY bloke who walked past stopped and looked at it in admiration. I assume either brainwashing by the Green party or some sort of size comparison contest was in progress. Such was the interest generated by potentially "saving energy/money"that EVERY bloke looked. And then some of the more intelligent saw the numbers. The rest, I assume, already have one and are watching their voltmeters religiously to see when they start to claw their money back.

BTW: If you want an eye opener about your electricity usage, get a pre-pay meter. Seriously, you'll never believe the difference that turning on an electric heater/kettle makes.

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Gates threatens to buy millions and millions of servers for Microsoft

Lee Dowling
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Gates Horns

Are people honestly still on the SaaS trip?

Are people honestly still on the SaaS trip?

It's got so many holes in it, you could use it to strain your peas. First, data protection pretty much blocks its use for a myriad of companies, government departments etc. Then the problems of the actual connection - stability, speed, bandwidth, cost, etc. Then the problems of "all that traffic" at the ISP-side. Then the problems of *having to deploy bloody computers in order to use it*. Computers that, to be honest, have been far too high-powered for the basic-office software that SaaS promises to provide for years. And anything that even a thin-client and a bog-standard server can't do probably won't be available over SaaS for decades.

So let's use an entirely over-powered (even if you go tiny and embedded and cheap) computer that we have to set up and pay for, over an Internet connected line that we have to set up and pay for (maybe even pay extra to get reliability/speed etc.), to use an Office suite or database that we don't have to setup but do have to pay for, in order to work in the same way as we do now. Or we could just, I don't know, stick a one-off payment for a server into an IT consultant's hands and do it ourselves. Cheaper. With no recurring fees. With much more reliability. With no Data Protection Act problems. With no remote security problems. Using existing knowledge, hardware and infrastructure.

I know, why don't SaaS companies charge per CPU-cycle while they're at it? And we could go back to posting punchcards to them and then they return the answer in the next post.

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Dixons admits 'it's even worse than you thought'

Lee Dowling
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Surprised?

Oh come on. PC World, Currys, Dixons, any high-street store is *absolutely 100% useless* at selling anything more complicated than a toaster. Even Maplin's has suffered from this but they tend to have at least one knowledgeable staff member *somewhere* in each shop.

I reached the point *many* years ago where they were nothing more than entertainment stores - by that I mean that when the wife was browsing for bedcovers, I'd go into a nearby PC World (if there was nothing else nearby) and eavesdrop on conversations for pure humour value.

"Dual core, sir? It means it has twice as much RAM, which means you can store more documents on it."

Seriously. I work in IT support and when someone tells me they bought a PC in PC World, the problem is already solved - they bought it in PC World, ffs. Take it back to them, I'm not interested in fixing it. I've worked in schools that *bought computers from them* (not even their business arm, PCWB, which are still just as bad) as a matter of routine and I nearly passed out when I heard.

Someone bought me a £5 voucher for Dixons the year before last (I know, they were a potless student, though, so I didn't mind). After FIVE of their largest stores, I could not find ANYTHING to buy with it (I was hoping for a cable of some use, or possibly a budget game, or a set of batteries).

Vastly overpriced, vastly inferior, technically incompetent. Oh, and "Do you want an extended warranty on that" should be written on DSG's gravestone.

The only possible use for PC World etc. is to pick up a particular product so you can actually see it in real life. You'd never BUY it from them in a million years. A two-second google in-store will show you hundreds of places with cheaper prices, quicker delivery, better specifications etc. for any product they have. I once went to PC World purely to see if a particular broadband router was 4 or 1 port based on it's model number, which I couldn't find out online because the manufacturer's website was down and it was a new product.

But when you consider the fighting off of warranty-salesman, the lack of modern products (or even just products!), the extremely mislabelled pricing (the wife was an "auditor" for Dixons Group for a while and that involved going into the shops and checking that everything was out, that prices were clear and correct etc. for about 200 items every month or so), the resident idiot customers who collar every salesman in sight to help them buy a set of curling tongs and the spotty faced oiks trying to tell you that a 10GHz laptop is much more use to you than that 1Gb USB key when you *teach* their *teachers* how to do simple IT tasks, it's hardly worth the effort to even spend time in their stores any more.

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Nintendo Wii 'like a virus', games boss sniffs

Lee Dowling
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Differences.

And there are a lot of difference between the two consoles.

Wii - Sold for profit

360 - Sold at a loss to sell games which make profit

Wii - Sold to everyday joes (my mum has one)

360 - Sold to gamers (even if young gamers)

Wii - Games are quick, fun, zero-learning, party-style

360 - Games are like bog-standard videogames for PC

Wii - Intuitive, revolutionary, backwards-compatible, reliable.

360 - Not so much.

The Wii isn't INTENDED to be a console for serious gamers - I expect them to hate it. By the same token, the 360 isn't intended to be a console for causal, "I like Flash games" audience - I would expect them to hate it.

I get people who I would never thought would ever TOUCH a console coming up to me in work and asking me my Wii fitness age. Some of these people were too old to play Pacman when it first came out and haven't touched a console in all that time, but they go out and buy a Wii!

The fact is that the Wii is new - new look, new way of working, new styles of controller, new types of games (fun and quick, not intense), family-oriented (I often get dragged in Wii Sports rallies).

Not every game for Wii is brilliant, not even one will keep you enthralled for hours, but they are good fun.

Personally speaking:

Wii Sports - great fun

Rampage - great fun and a bit of nostalgia

Mercury Meltdown Revolution - Great fun

Super Paper Mario - oh my god, kill me now, how poor an idea for a game, 100 levels of same-old-same-old

Wii Kart - great fun

Carnival Games - great fun

(Although I have to say, anything more than about £10 and I don't want to buy the game - the most expensive games I play on Wii tend to be the worst).

And when we get bored, we slap in a Gamecube game and carry on playing. For my mother's birthday this year, she'll be getting a Wii network connection and a few thousand Wii points because she loves the older SNES Mario games (specifically, the battle game out of Mario 3). She'll love it because she's probably completed every Mario game ever made. But if you show her anything mildly complicated, she'll never play it. The Wii gets turned on EVERY day, though.

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French Colonial Marines to get Aliens medic-datalink

Lee Dowling
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Well.

Is this so that the French can decide to retreat quicker, then? "Your blood rate is up, better surrender now?" Seriously, without mocking any more countries with pathetic military records, it's a good idea in theory but I don't see the use in practice.

"Watch out, you're nearly dead."

"What?... ARGH!"

"Ooops."

By the time you're troops are far enough to notice that something might be wrong, there's not really anything you can do about it. And this can achieve nothing that a simple "dead-man's-switch" wouldn't achieve with much less cost.

So you know you're troops are dying in a certain area. Wouldn't the radio silence tell you that?

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Google paid click rate decelerates (again)

Lee Dowling
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Who clicks on ads?

Well, I have, but very rarely. Only if I see something that really catches my eye. I think the last one was for a school-based IT package running Linux that I hadn't heard of (I do IT in schools, and prefer Linux). And enough people must not only click on the ads but FOLLOW THROUGH WITH A SALE to make it worthwhile, otherwise it would have been consigned to the dot-com bin years ago.

The problem is making them relevant, which for some sites is nearly impossible. Having said that, within a few days of a new page on my site being made for a obscure games console (the GP2X) targetting emulation of old systems, all my Google ads on the page were for related items - MAME ROM's (not sure you should advertise that on Google, to be honest), paid-for emulators, "arcade classics" video games, video game consoles, accessories, places to buy the GP2X, games for the GP2X, etc.

There is no way I could get that sort of advertising anywhere else, because it's such small scale but highly relevant. And people DO click on those, my adsense logs tell me they do and I can see why, for some of them. I really didn't expect Google to pick up much that relevant at all... I have a blog on Blogger that often mentions Linux, uses it as a keyword all the time in articles, is linked to from several Linux projects and I get a Linux-related advert about one in every twenty that I've seen and the rest are usually random rubbish (I once had one for selling horses and I couldn't work out where it had come from, there were no keywords related to that at all).

My brother runs a popular Scouting site and his page is filled with adverts for tent manufacturers, campsites, people who sell maps, compasses, books, all sorts. Not only do they make money from advertising on his site, but they will fight over paying him money to place an ad "just for them" - he gets a phone call from a company about once a month, even though all his ads are now Google ads.

For many years before he started with Google ad's he had a popular webstore who were selling related products advertising on his website and they kept wanting to renew year after year. He makes enough money off the site adverts to keep it running and fund a couple of camps a year for a few dozen kids. But Google ads will pay him more than any one company will risk on just one site (the first round of "bids" after introducing Google ads was funny because the company's were shocked at the price it would cost to supplant the Google ads)

Think about it, if one person a year buys a tent off the store, or even a couple of small pieces of gear, the advertising has paid for itself. With *thousands* of visitors a day, all within a certain demographic, all looking for highly-related information, all potential customers and a vast percentage of them actively seeking out products to buy, that's well worth the payoff. My brother has even found several new companies to buy stuff from for himself (but he couldn't click on their advert because that's against Google policies) that he would never have heard of if their ad hadn't appeared on his own website.

But random Google ads splattered over random pages from which Google can't extract keywords - nobody would ever click them except by accident and then they won't follow through with a sale. It's the targetting that makes the difference, and I've clicked on properly targetted adverts quite a few times when doing searches for companies to purchase from. Although I don't think I've ever hit one of those ones you get in a Google search listing.

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Blu-ray 0, SDHC card 1, THX Chief Scientist predicts

Lee Dowling
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YES PLEASE!

Well, just about a year ago I bought a boat-load of 2Gb SD cards for £3 each from Amazon, so I can easily see this being true. They are tiny, convenient, pretty reliable, fairly indestructable, supported by lots of different peripherals, easy to work (i.e. physically manage, eject etc.), cheap.

If I move music about, it's on an SD card. I have a £50 CD/MP3/SD/Radio player in my kitchen that plays straight off SD. My wife has a Palm, that can play the same music off the same SD card or run the Satnav off another SD card. I have a GP2X, that can play the same music off the same SD card, and run games and movies off SD card. There's a little problem with video formats between the two but that's far from a problem if this picks up motion. We have an SD card camera, that saves JPEG's we can all view. At my parent's house, it's pretty much the same story and we are always swapping SD cards for various things. People's phones use SD or mini-SD. The Wii saves on SD cards (I've seen idiots pay £30 for "Wii memory cards" when in the next aisle are SD cards of identical size/make/speed for £5).

SD really is an under-appreciated storage format and I would love for it to become more "mainstream" in this way.

The readers are dirt cheap. The interface electronics can be absolutely trivial (they are often used as a hobbyist ROM storage because they can be run in a simple 2-pin mode, slow but they work). The software interface can be incredibly simple. They are incredibly fast considering their size and low number of pins. The SDHC version can easily address 100's of GB's in something as big as a large postage stamp. The only "problem" with SD is devices that don't support SDHC (4Gb + cards) properly (software-only update needed) and the write-protect tabs that aren't - the tabs hit a switch in the device that the software reads and refuses writes - there is no "physical" way to stop someone writing to an SD card, it can be bypassed in software by bugs, bad programming, or in hardware by faulty switches or mis-fitting cards.

But yes. I'd buy it. Please. Try not to put copy-protection on it or change the physical/electrical format to allow it but this is a brilliant idea.

Imagine the possibilities - you buy a movie, play it on PC with an adaptor/media bay, play it on a laptop, play it on a set top box, play it on a PSP or other handheld device, all from the same physical object. Fantastic idea. Stuff the HD, I'm really not interested in that - start doing this NOW. I'd gladly pop an SD card into HMV and pay for a shed-load of old movies on SD card if I can walk out in under half hour or so.

The best bit about SD? When I take my GP2X out and about, I can take a pocketful of cards and be a storage king. 2Gb of games, 2Gb of Music, 2Gb of Movies, 2Gb of text, 2Gb of files from my PC for troubleshooting. It cost me about £15 for them a year ago, they all fit into something the size of a couple of AA batteries and hold everything I can ever see a need for, even on a long trip.

Give it a couple more years and 16/32 Gb cards will be in the same position. In five years, you'll get 128Gb for peanuts. But the format is viable TODAY. A Wii software update could make the format work on the most popular console NOW. Most handheld devices take SD in some form and it's only software that stops them turning into mobile movie players. If you can get the Wii on top of this, you could easily get SD cards in every set-top-box in a year or two, where the MPEG decoder is already built-in.

Stop jabbering about it and DO IT. Get Blockbusters onboard now.

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Google's riches rely on ads, algorithms, and worldwide confusion

Lee Dowling
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Not a monopoly

I have to echo some sentiments here:

You are CHOOSING to buy an ad on Google. You are CHOOSING which terms and conditions you agree to. You are CHOOSING how much to spend. You are CHOOSING not to use the competitors (because, put simply, they don't make you as much money). You are freely CHOOSING to rely on that particular third-party, in a market of other third-parties. That's NOT a "monopoly abusing its position", that's just a greater share of the market and providing a better product.

Google are not doing things like buying up every other ad company in the world, forcing websites to display Google ad's (that's a free choice of the webmaster, nobody is MADE to display Google's ads, but there is an "exclusivity" clause in showing Google ads on your website that stops you gaming many ad suppliers), cutting off other Google services to people that refuse to display Google ads, etc. They are behaving sensibly and responsibly and within the agreements that you have agreed to.

The fact that you can't make money from buying a couple of Google's ads isn't their problem. It really isn't. The fact that you blow $90,000 on Google ads and see no return is not their problem, so long as they did what they said they would do. The fact that you can get to the very top of their listings, legitimately, without having to buy a single ad from them is a show of just what they are doing... trying to provide a search engine. They are funded by ads, yes, but they are not controlled by them - the top spot on the search engine is not bought, it's earned by being relevant. Those little bits on the right and above the actual search results that most people just plain ignore are the bits you can buy, by agreeing to Google's (not unreasonable) terms. I don't think I've ever clicked one in my life, even when it was relevant. Even people who are new to computers filter them out of their brains within about ten minutes of viewing pages and finding which results ARE relevant.

If your business relies on people clicking a Google ad, you're doomed to failure. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon... If your business relies on getting visitors from the web, that's a different story entirely and has nothing to do with Google ads.

On a personal note, I have Google ads displayed on my sites but I would NEVER buy one, even if I was a millionaire. I might try to get to the top of the listings myself through some HTML trickery but not by gaming the system. My brother runs a *very* popular website which we started together and has been running for nearly 10 years now. Just before Christmas we put our first ever adverts on it (Google ads) to bring in some money. We were expecting pence. We got more than enough to fund the hosting of the website (high-bandwidth) and a bit left over. The cheques are regular and sufficient. That's brilliant, because it was never designed or expected to generate any money whatsoever.

Not once has the site ever previously been advertised with any ad campaign. Our visitors come to us mainly because they find us in Google, or MSN, or Yahoo, or Ask.com, or a million and one other search engines and linking sites. Because we are relevant.

We submitted it to search engines years ago, created some relevant content and Google therefore rewarded us with high-ranking listings and high-paying ads displayed on the site. We could actually make the same amount of money from suppliers that approach us about displaying a single ad in the same place for a fixed fee per year. We get about a dozen offers a year. Most of them could never afford to replace our Google Ad income.

But we couldn't ever rely on any business we ran, even from that site, being primarily funded by the fact that people come to us from a Google ad that we have to pay for, that's just crazy. You have to have product, you have to have standing, you have to have profit margins, you have to have a study influx of visitors from ALL types of media, web, phone, email, fax, walking-through-the-door, word-of-mouth. But most of you, you have to be relevant and not rely on a third-party to get visitors for you unless you have read every single clause in your contract with them. If they were a conventional advertisement company, would you agree to those terms. If yes, then you can't complain about Google. If no, then why are you agreeing to Google's terms?

Don't tell me that you NEED Google to run a web business. That's rubbish. You just need pageviews. If you can't get your pageviews through Google's unpaid service, then you're wasting your time to start.

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US 700Mhz auction raises $19.6bn

Lee Dowling
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Joke

Spend it on...

"The FCC already has plans for the cash. Apparently, it's to be spent on "public safety and digital television transition initiatives", so it's digital set-top boxes all round then."

Surely it's more likely to be a bit more lock-in, like mandating HDMI, broadcast flags, etc. I don't believe they'd just give out some set top boxes without forcing people into using a few of their "best ideas".

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BBC calls DRM cops on iPlayer download party

Lee Dowling
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Pirate

Same old, Same old,

Ah, and so it starts.

1) Pathetic "security".

2) Easily overridden.

3) Pathetic attempt at fixing "security".

4) Overidden within a matter of hours.

5) A few more pathetic attempts.

6) All overridden within a day each.

7) A massive, overbearing, expensive DRM scheme far superior to that seen before.

8) Cracked by DVD Jon within a month.

9) Several attempts at fixing the problem, all ultimately failing.

10) BBC gives up on downloads because it can't legally guarantee their security.

11) Other stations follow suit, join in with RIAA's cries of "you're ruining our business" while reaping enormous profits still (good luck to them, I say, I don't deny people their profits).

12) "Piracy" continues anyway, using the much simpler methods that had nothing to do with DRM in the first place (a TV card and a cable), but now every company "knows" that you can't make money by offering consumers content, "even with DRM".

Tape copying, CD copying, dongle-cracking, inkjet printer chips, DVD's, music, Blu-Ray, it's all just a cycle. And in the end nothing happens that actually *prevents* "piracy" (this is the same copyright infringement as copying an MP3, software or a movie, don't forget) and consumers find their own ways even if the companies don't offer it.

So the money goes to the people who write the software that cracks the encryption, to the ISP's for their bandwidth charges, etc. instead of to the company that just didn't want to make it easy for their customers to live. And all because of a tiny percentage of unscrupulous people that wouldn't stop copying if you GAVE them DRM-free open-procotol downloads of everything in your archive anyway.

I don't condone "piracy" in any way, shape or form. But I condone even less companies that try to step beyond the law to protect their revenue. For instance, do I have an actual legal right to copy my music for personal use or not? Why don't you tell me, definitively, either way *before* you start spouting off that everything I copy is illegal? Or that it changes depending on jurisdiction? Or that technically it could be illegal but that you don't mind? It's taken years of fighting to get incomplete statements on the above questions, so in the meantime, everyone has just carried on as they want and ignored you. The BBC hasn't done a bad job so far, but they are still standing before important people having to explain why Joe with his Linux machine can't access the same content as others.

When you see kids in schools swapping music, games, ringtones and googling for images to put into their work without care of copyright or other rights, you know exactly where all this is going to end up - a world where all copyrights are basically ignored. That's a bad place to be.

Even back in the old ZX Spectrum days (late 80's, so that's nearly 20 years now), such DRM failed even more miserably without the fanfare. It was still one of the most popular home computers, though, and made many people millionaires. People copied tapes so authors put in copy protections, one person somewhere worked out a method around it, everyone else then carried on copying tapes. And most people still made money - I don't deny that some people would have lost out too but those people putting DRM on their tapes would not have helped sales at all - in fact the opposite.

The most effective copy-protection I ever saw, before I knew what copy-protection was, came on a ZX Spectrum copy of Saboteur - the game said on loading "If this tape hasn't got the words Durell running through it, it's not genuine". And my original, legal tape had the words printed on the lead-in to the tape. I actually checked, even though I had bought it in a store. Nothing since then has been any more effective and I don't see how anything can be (I'm a mathematician and computer-scientists and I have an interest in encryption and communication, so that's rather telling).

I work in network management and only last week, I promised to never buy from two companies again because of overbearing copy-protection. One on a piece of sign-language software that shows signs for the words you select in the bottom-corner of the screen. We're talking 50 lines of Visual Basic and a sign-language clipart folder. It ruins all my network management processes, it "sticks" to machines and won't remove itself, it refuses to install even when we have legitimate licenses and even the helpline aren't that interested in helping us install it.

The other needed a floppy disk to install, remove, or change itself and the floppy kept track of which machines it was on, how many licenses you used etc. Much neater than the above but still a PITA, especially when half my machines don't even HAVE a floppy. So I made a Rawrite image of the floppy before I started and I do "manual" license enforcement without the hassle, whether from image or a real floppy.

In any places that matter, people HAVE to do license enforcement whether you make them or not, whether the software enforces it or not. There's a tiny middle ground that MAY be costing companies some money but the fact is that with DRM you're losing more in causing the former places hassle than you EVER will make back from DRM once you take into account DRM development, lost sales, etc.

When they fix this rubbish, for-education-only software of little value, that nobody would have any interest in copying AT ALL, I'll start buying licenses again. In the meantime, neither company will be getting any money and we'll just find an alternative package and look forward to the day that nobody has the software installed on any machines at all. And that's an entirely legitimate practice in a perfectly-licensed workplace. That's how much you make me hate your software when you put DRM in unnecessarily.

Eventually the BBC will learn, like the music artists are starting to. DRM is a way to stop your customers buying and using things they want to. The BBC will have to renegotiate all their contracts which will be difficult, but the DRM is just an absolute waste of time, like the geographic IP restrictions. You can't solve an (at least) 20 year old problem overnight when there isn't a single product that even gets close... the dongles on high-end CAD software cost hundreds of pounds and they are routinely bypassed by crackers. Either offer your archive in a sensible, non-DRM format, even for a reasonable price or don't "promise" that you can do it sensibly with DRM.

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Why I downgraded from Vista to XP

Lee Dowling
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Alert

Holy hell, where are you people living?

Holy hell, where are you people living?

Dual-Core 1.8GHz with 2Gb to do some basic office work? Are the latest versions of Office really that much of a bloat, or are you in need of some power-user functionality that hasn't been mentioned?

Wireless, Gigabit Ethernet, web browser (including Flash, Shockwave, Quicktime, Realplayer, Acrobat Reader, Java etc.), antivirus, an Office suite, email client, possibly VPN software. That's just about everything you'll ever need for the average business purpose unless the person with the laptop is the *real* techie or they want to do something stupid like CAD on a laptop. You can do ALL of that basic functionality on 1GHz (single core), with 512Mb under XP SP2 Pro without even struggling, so long as you clean up those damn startup entries, like any good IT-managed machine would have. Seriously. And if I need anything more than that, we're talking 1Gb RAM max and then start upgrading *other* parts of the machine, like the battery packs.

I'm the network manager and my home laptops are 600MHz IBM Thinkpads with 384Mb, one on XP, one on Linux! They struggle on Flash-heavy websites but otherwise you hardly notice that they are doing anything, even if you're streaming Youtube across a wireless VPN. In the networks I've worked on (1000+ users in some cases) for the past few years, client machines are minimum-specced to just above 1GHz, 512Mb (admittedly some of them do go up to 1.8GHz dual-cores with 1Gb RAM, but that's because it's uneconomical to buy something as low as the minimum spec now because for the same price you can get a far superior spec that you'll never NEED but you may as well have). Laptops are minimum-specced even lower for cost and lifetime reasons. And they all run all of the above basic functionality and more.

And the article and comments have driven another nail into the coffin for Vista in my networks - I trialled it quickly and it wasn't *bad* but it just didn't do anything useful for the increased cost of clients/software etc. so we stuck with XP. If people are struggling to run it on 1.8GHz, dual-cores with 2Gb, there is something EXTREMELY wrong or people just don't manage their machines properly.

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1&1 says sorry to one in ten

Lee Dowling
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Rephrase the question:

Okay, short of 1&1, name a BRITISH host that does all of that. This is the problem - even when I'm in the UK, I have trouble getting support and I can phone up and shout at people. They are not going to care about an email from the UK if they are US based. Email is not technical support unless you're a home-user.

I ended up using Netweaver.net for my basic hosting requirements but even lately their webmail just stopped working for me and I can't get a reply.

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Hotmail dies on both sides of the Atlantic

Lee Dowling
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@kevin - Not true

I've been with Hotmail for many years too (not exclusively, I hasten to add, purely because of such problems). You're talking rubbish if you think that Hotmail has been up 24/7 for years before this. I'm not saying they don't do a good job, but I can think of at least three incidents that were notable enough for me to switch email accounts for the day/week.

A quick Google turns up an event like this about once a year since they started. Quick, random, not especially notable example:

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2006/11/16/hot-mail.html

In fact, I can even list at least three MS websites that let you log into Hotmail and use different servers - quite often, as was the case this time round, you can't get into one but you can get into others. Hotmail.com, hotmail.co.uk, hotmail.msn.com (that last one is the critical one - if that's done, it tends to be ALL of Hotmail down).

All due, having Hotmail up is a hard task that is done remarkably well, but they aren't any more infallible than other hosting companies. The only email provider that I haven't experienced any downtime on is Gmail so far but I was late to that and I don't log into it all that often, which is, I suspect, the case with yourself and Hotmail.

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NEC goes Back To The Future with XP for biz users

Lee Dowling
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Happy

Fujitsu

Just bought a shed-load of Fujitsu laptops for the school I work in and (after much wrangling with a so-called "public sector account manager" at my suppliers), it came with Vista/XP "Twin Load" dvd's. What's surprising is that these were only very cheap laptops (£300) so the choice was nice to have, even if I did have to fight for it. I also got told by my suppliers that "nobody was buying Vista in schools" but that didn't stop it being an absolute pain to try to get them to come supplied with XP.

Needless to say, it's not a hard decision to choose which DVD to boot from first...

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French police plan Windows-free jails, offices

Lee Dowling
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Linux

Give me a real OS then

If MS has a real problem here, then maybe they should give me a real OS for business/public sector (and specifically, for me, school) use, i.e. one that provides a half-useful login dialog, especially for little kiddies (and teachers) who can't remember "cat" as a password, let alone type in ludicrous extensions to their usernames in order to get domain/local logins.

One that has some sort of alternative logon software available that doesn't cost the earth ON TOP of the Vista upgrades, Vista licenses etc. for a few hundred stations. One that doesn't take five times as long to Ghost because of the enormous (and completely useless) installation size. And one that integrates NICELY into a network for a change. Until then, you'll be selling XP Pro or nothing to any school I've ever worked at, and by all accounts it's pretty similar problems that stop larger deployments of Vista in the public sector.

If I were a gambling man, I'd lay money that XP will earn yet-another reprieve when the time comes and still nobody wants to use Vista.

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Kaspersky false alarm quarantines Windows Explorer

Lee Dowling
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Whatever happened to system integrity?

I thought that you'd weren't supposed to be able to delete critical Windows files like that? Surely even as an admin, deleting explorer.exe from WITHIN explorer.exe (as a shell) should be one of those impossible things? Shouldn't Windows be disallowing it anyway, with all it's fancy system file protection etc.? I'm not going to try it but even as an admin I didn't think you could actually delete explorer.exe. Or does Kaspersky put it on the list of files to delete on the next startup?

I know that Linux wouldn't stop you doing "rm -rf /" if you're daft enough to do it when running as root but I thought that Windows didn't like you having that sort of control over your own machine.

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PC World parent awaits FTSE 100 relegation

Lee Dowling
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PC World by name,

As someone who is currently trying to order a slew of laptops for a school from PCWB (their Business arm), I reckon it's more to do with their customer service and their "charges" for downgrading from Vista to XP on most machines - even for education.

Trying to get a quote out of them is like trying to get blood out of a stone - nothing ever materialises even after it's chased up several times each day and asking them for XP not Vista is like asking for no splangibobs on my doolicklities as far as the staff are concerned.

However, with a similar company and a direct competitor, it was no problem at all (although they still charge for the Vista -> XP, which I think is still a con, it's a lot less) and they knew exactly what I wanted and most importantly, WHY I didn't want Vista. PCWB certainly live up to the PC World name. I only ever visit a PC World store when I'm feeling bored and want a laugh - "RAM sir? Oh, that means that you can store a lot more files on the computer, you don't need it unless you create thousands of documents" (actual quote and not even the best one I've heard in there!)

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New emails address you by name, then try to hose your PC

Lee Dowling
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Unhappy

Oh, come on...

Oh, come on, how does this make "news"?

"emails that mention you and your company" - Standard spam tactic, usually obvious because most people don't address you as Mr A User.

"claim to be official communications from the US Department of Justice." - and virtually anything that claims to be "official" via email ISN'T. How many people (who don't work in law) regularly get emails from the US Department of Justice that are genuine?

"They're phony and will attempt to install malware on your machine." - you don't say.

"The emails, which claim to reference a complaint recently filed by a business associate, invite the recipient to click on an attachment..." - Woop, Woop, Red Alert. Attachment. Invite to click Attachment. On unsolicited email. Welcome back, 1991.

"In May, security researchers from SecureWorks reported that emails purporting to come from the Better Business Bureau duped 1,400 business managers into installing a post logger on their machines." - then that's another 1400 businesses to blacklist and 1400 potential job candidates to have their CV's thrown in the bin.

"Spear phishing emails are notable for their impeccable grammar and spelling, a characteristic that distinguishes them from many of the plain vanilla phishing scams out there." - Oh wow. They can finally spell. Yes, the bad spelling was always a give away in the past but why do we make a whole new type of scam just because they learn to use a spellchecker?

"Other recent spear phishing campaigns have masqueraded as emails from the Federal Trade Commission." - No. Really. Another institution that probably NEVER sends email to anyone except for internal use. And certainly doesn't send it to Joe Bloggs who owns a company. And certainly not uninvited or anything "important".

"According to Websense, none of the major anti-virus companies detect the Trojan included in the fake Justice Department emails. That's likely to change in the next 24 hours, if it hasn't already."

Oh, come on, seriously. Why is this news? Idiots fall for quite obvious scam because of poor training, poor computer security, all because it was spelled correctly.

If you're gonna do this sort of article, can we at least name the 1400 "victims" publically so that we can all raspberry at them.

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Rackspace flattened by Texas trucker

Lee Dowling
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Worrying...

It does worry me a bit that what is basically a power failure (albeit elaborate, but basically boiling down to grid power not being reliable but internal power being "supposedly" reliable) caused such problems at a "resilient" hosting firm. Power going up and down is hardly an excuse for actual customers having their servers switched off until and unless a) you run out of diesel for the generators b) your generators blow up or c) something catches fire (yes, I'd let you off with switching off everything in your data centre for even the smallest of fires).

And even then I'd expect it to be a very temporary issue until you fixed the above problem.

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TV ads too loud, industry watchdog says

Lee Dowling
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Hit 'em where it hurts

Ever since I became aware of this practice (which only seems to have creeped in within the past few years... I don't remember having this problem pre-Sky Digital), I have devised my own solution. It's called the mute button. Yes, it is intensively manual and entirely impractical.

The thinking behind the loud adverts, however, is along the lines that you will have gone out of the kitchen to make a cup of tea, so the advert needs to be louder for you to hear it (alongside the usual "louder means you'll take more notice"). Hence, muting all adverts entirely (which I have now developed into an unconcious habit) removes any and all advertising revenue that they would otherwise have had. I keep a "dip-into" book on the armchair just for advert breaks. It's also a great time to check email.

And without the distraction of noisy adverts, I can actually do those things. When the adverts were audible, I wouldn't do that, I would just leave them on and end up unconsciously tapping their theme tune, or finishing their slogans.

I've also complained to a couple of particular channels but you never get anything useful come back. It's nice to see someone actually doing something, though. Pity it took so bloody long.

Oh, and thank you UK Gold for giving me a clear signal of when programming is going to resume to normal for me to un-mute (the big "splashscreens" just after the adverts finish), but if you don't stop talking over the first 30 seconds of my favourite programs, I may have to resort to just playing my DVD archive copies of them instead! (which, incidentally, I have made copies of in order to remove all the prohibitions on what trailers/splashscreens I can skip or not... another "brilliant" advertising strategy that has more-than-backfired!).

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Games firm pursues 500 pinball 'pirates' through UK courts

Lee Dowling
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Disgusting

A disgusting bit of legal practice that assumes guilt before innocence, provides an "escape route" which involves paying them lots of money out-of-court, including signing a dubious legal disclaimer and does so in an unaccountable fashion (which may well be legally incorrect... not giving names etc. on official legal documents is a bit of a dodgy grey area to start off in, especially if they then go on to effectively demand money with menaces).

Yes, copyright infringement (not piracy, remember, you need a boat for that) is illegal. Yes, they "believe" these people to be involved. No, you can't just send threatening letters without a) verifying the claim (or asking the person themselves to verify it), b) providing evidence or c) going through the correct legal system in order to pursue your claim.

If you'd have sent a letter saying "We detected X. We think it's illegal. We'd quite like you to stop, or identify the person responsible." you would have a MUCH better chance of stopping people sharing it and also not get your own law firm into hot water.

As to responsibility of ensuring that computers stay virus-free, I refer you to the recent lawsuit in the US that the RIAA ***LOST*** because they tried that as an argument. It may be the user's responsibility (although you would have to find a law that says that, which might be tricky) but you can't sue them for the actions of a third-party if it was without their knowledge or consent.

And never EVER be threatened into signing a bit of paper that says anything - the second they demand that you sign any disclaimer, even if it's just saying that you will not break a law again (which is completely useless and unnecessary for this companies purpose as the law covers that perfectly well, thank you), you MUST get a lawyer in to check what you are signing.

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