1029 posts • joined 23 Apr 2007
Get a Grip, People!
A. It's a parody. No one in their right mind (unless they've been immured in a nunnery for fifty years) thinks that the model is anything other than a adult.
B. As a parody, it's supposed to be funny and it is, including the snark it flips at the contemporary shibboleth "pedophilia". Satire, if you prefer. Sounds to me like 13 people plus the ASA forgot to engage their senses of humor -- if they have any.
C. For some odd reason, one suspects that those offended are staunch feminists who find offense in anything that treats women as sexual beings. Antidote: Boccaccio's Decameron. Penguin Classics has a good edition in English.
D. I'm waiting for Ryanair to further fluster the anti-sex crowd by issuing an ad on the theme "if there's grass on the playing field, play ball!" If you don't get that, I will not explain it.
Some other sillinesses of the flesh:
* An American city that demands, if you go barebutt in public, that your asscrack be covered by a strip of <something> at least an inch wide. Aimed at the gay boys who like to run around in leather chaps and a jockstrap.
* Where the preceding leaves the ladies who wear thongs in public, I dunno.
* Fundamentalists, Mor(m)ons, etc who think that any display of flesh is obcene and indecent. Such folks merely demonstrate that they are obsessed with sex (or, to use older idiom, have dirty minds they need to get out of the gutter). It is amusing to point out that man was made in God's own image: is God himself therefore obscene or indecent?
* Is it a sexual organ or not, for various values of "it"? I am reminded of a Canadian court case in the early 1980s. A gay newspaper, The Body Politic, had published an article "White Jockstraps Only", about the New York fisting scene and was had up on obscenity charges. One of their defenses was that neither the hand nor the anus was a sexual organ and therefore the article could not be obscene within the meaning of the law.
Many more where these came from!
Paris, as an icon of the flesh.
I'm surprised to read someone proposing to store longitude/latitude data as unsigned numbers and cute little N-S-E-W codes.
Far simpler to use signed numbers following the convention that north and east are positive, south and west are negative -- a well-established convention, btw.
Google Maps accepts such arguments, in fact. Try entering 25.345,97.4 and see where you end up. In fact, by using successive approximations of increasing precision it's possible to use Google maps to pinpoint a location within a few feet. "Where do you live?" "At 48.7732, -143.4775."
Milton Friedman Rises From the Dead
"Don't bleat Apple are evil - they are just in business to make money."
Or, as Milton Friedman put it, to maximize shareholder value, the consequences be damned. This idea that making money excuses or justifies any kind of behavior has to be stamped out.
It's time to insist that corporations' first responsibility be to society as a whole, in the broadest possible sense, secondarily to their customers and employees, and only third to their shareholders. IOW, Apple would have to be ethical and honest, even if doing so cramps Steve Jobs' style and reduces his profits. View the loss as the cost of benefiting from the laws that create the legal fiction "corporation."
Statistics Canada phoned with questions about my census return. I asked them to provide me with a telephone number listed in the phone book under "Statistics Canada" that I could call to verify the credentials of the caller. (They used to be careful about this but evidently no longer.)
He couldn't. He offered one number but it wasn't in the phone book. Too bad.
I refused to answer on the grounds that he had not properly identified himself, that I believed he was a phisher, and that was that.
Fallout from the Browser Wars?
Glenn Gilbert: "It was Microsoft who decided to fall asleep for half a decade and stop developing IE -- or fixing any bugs for that matter. The world didn't stop just for them and things have moved on without them. Just get used to it Microsoft; adopt the standards and stop bloody whinging. If your Trident rendering engine's not up to it, is that really the fault of anyone but Microsoft?"
Anonymous coward: "Sorry to belittle Firefox (it *is* my main browser btw) but I imagine Microsoft have a hell of a lot more money/manpower/etc dedicated to building a browser. Why can't they just do the job properly?"
I wonder if the reason MS abandoned IE for so long was that, once they'd bashed in Netscape's head, working on IE didn't generate any ROI. In fact, given the amount of effort they'd put into IE by then, it probably had a big debit balance on MS's internal accounts.
The same may very well be true today: MS doesn't see any real payback from upgrading IE hence are reluctant to do the job right. Costs too much money.
Andrew: "Why don't the web standards project just ask Microsoft to write the standard?"
Because MS don't know how to write a standard. Redmond has a long-established reputation for not documenting their software even for internal purposes, going back to DOS days. A lot of MS's software troubles are traceable to the fact that all they have is source code that no one understands, the original author having long since left for greener pastures.
The Villain? Vile Commerce
The repetitive data losses by UK guvmint is like an insane G&S operetta. At the top you have a bunch of utterly clueless pols who parrot whatever is the fashionable tagline of the minute, and who appear to occupy positions of authority because it's PC to put them there, not because they know what the hell the job entails.
At the bottom, you have underpaid, demoralized grunts -- as someone said in a comment on another story, "pay peanuts, get <something>".
In the middle you have all those lovely senior managers hired in from the business sector; in my opinion, that's where the real rot starts.
The business world has managed to widely propagate the meme "business is everything, and someone successful in business is blessed by God." 'Tain't so. Success in the business world is generally due to luck and possession of a certain low animal cunning and in no way implies intelligence or skill.
That meme has a variant: "run the public sector like a business." What nonsense! The public sector is not a business: it's "customers" are captive, and it has no competition, unless it's false competition fostered by the idiots described earlier. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the original of this tagline/meme was "run the public sector in a business-like way", which is a horse of an entirely different color.
What was asked for was often nothing more than keeping proper accounts for the individual departments so you could get some sense where the money was coming from and where it was going. But this need was often dealt with by setting up Crown corporations (quangos in UK-speak), contracting out, and assorted other mistaken actions.
What's to be done? Nothing. If you don't like it, emigrate. The stranglehold that business has on life is irrevocable. Me, I'm going to hang out in my bomb shelter the rest of the day.
I am reminded of a report in Computer World many years about detecting benefit fraud. The states of Ohio & Pennsylvania have a common boundary, and decided to data match their welfare recipient lists in the adjacent counties to catch double-dippers living close to the line.
The published an article in which the IT director in one state gushed away about this wonderful program that had cost $1,000,000 to implement -- and, it turned out, not unearthed a single cheat.
Someone pointed out in a followup letter (remember those? something like comments on El Reg) that the cost benefit ratio was pretty bad; in fact, it was infinite.
The situation under discussion has an eerie resemblance to that ancient report. Nothing ever changes.
@ Gordon Jahn
"MS ditched the Win3.x/95/98/98SE/ME codebase after ME -"
Given bugs in Vista that turn out to have also infested Win3.1, it's clear MS by no means ditched the *entire* codebase. My guess is that they reused a great deal of it and that Vista's problems are largely due to Vista reusing a hodge-podge of undocumented code written by people who've long since left MS.
That's also a likely reason MS has resisted documenting their network stuff for the EU: they don't have any documentation other than the source code itself, which no one in Redmond fully understands.
Phone Number Validation
We're doomed, doomed I tell you. Given the general level of idiocy of the population (*any* population), no matter what warnings you sound or safeguards you set up, the idiots *will* fall for vishing calls, just as today they fall for phishing emails.
Trying to stop this inevitable stupidity is akin to King Canute telling the tide to turn back. (At least Canute knew he had no such power.)
Perhaps the law should be changed so chickens come home to roost: if you reveal your banking information to a third party, the resultant losses are strictly your business. Let the banks off the hook. There'll be a great weeping and wailing and gnashing of the teeth by the bleeding hearts, but good Lord! if your bank sends you a printed warning "DO NOT DO THIS" and you ignore it, surely you have to take some personal responsibility, no?
In fact, we might even encourage the 419 scammers: the more folks they take for a ride, the sooner word will get around that responding to such nonsense is Not A Good Idea.
I want to bear Paris's babies, but will settle for "Outlook not so good" as, indeed, the outlook is not good today.
My (former) employer had a large IT department. Unfortunately, setting development priorities was a giant political exercise where the winner was the manager with the most clout. (We had a regionalized structure with 20+ semi-autonomous sub offices. The heads of these offices were in constant competition with one another to climb up the ladder into central management. Backstabbing was perpetual and he who got the largest proportion of his pet ideas implemented won.)
The net result was a system that often did not deliver what the grunts at the working level really wanted.
Furthermore, there was no ongoing process to prune away unnecessary complications, hence the entire system gradually became extremely involuted, convoluted, over-elaborated, and fine grained. After some 25 years of adding innumerable bells and whistles, the overall system had become so unwieldy that it had to be replaced by a wholly new system written from scratch.
Moral: involvement of an IT department is no guarantee that those at the working level will get the systems they need.
As for folk software, one insidious tendency is that supposed one-off subsystems (typically, complex analytical reports) cobbled together from bits and pieces, like Frankenstein's monster, show a tendency to come to life. Being jury rigged, they are of course wholly unsuitable for production use and upgrading them becomes a major issue.
Moral: When someone says "oh, we only need it this once", don't believe them. They'll be back next year saying "where is that annual analysis you did for us last year?"
Enterprises or Joe Sixpack?
Anonymous Coward: "And I thought Microsoft aimed their products at enterprises."
They may say they do, but the design of MS products is clearly aimed at the lowest common denominator -- Joe Six-pack and his family of chicken boner trailer trash.
By training, I'm neither a logician nor a philosopher, but this doesn't stop me from having a sneaking intuition that systems designed for the feckless masses are not serviceable for serious use by enterprises.
Case in point: the design philosophy that if the user makes a mistake, the software will guess what he *meant* to do. Wonder how many financial spreadsheets there are that incorporate the results of such goofiness? Lord knows it's hard enough to get a complex spreadsheet right without the software inserting guesswork into it!
Rantlet: it wouldn't be so bad if MS actually understood the uses to which their products are put, but holy moly, sometimes you get the impression that MS went and read a "For Dummies" book and now they is [sic] experts in this or that specialized field of knowledge.
Case in point: Windows machines controlling realtime medical equipment that decide to call home and install an update at an inopportune moment. (Is this fact, or is it an urban legend?)
Dear Bill: You can't have your cake and eat it too.
[torn between <heart> and <PH>, so settled on <geek>]
It isn't the OS, it's C
Chris Miller: "...many OS that include fundamental security constraints - e.g. segregating code from data and preventing changes to executable code in memory - but this produces severe issues, for a start it's difficult to get applications written in C (and its derivatives) to run in such an environment."
I've been wondering about that! When I read, over and over and over again, about yet another security hole based on a buffer overflow, I wonder why anybody will put up with a programming environment that even allows this to happen.
Or, to put it another way, if MS can burn off processor cycles en- and decrypting HD video repeatedly, while checking drivers 30 times a second, there's enough processor power to have enforced array bounds checking operating at all times. If you leave it to the programmers, they *will* forget to do it.
Time for some bold soul to dump C and devise a progamming environment that has some built-in safety.
@ Test Man
Hey, I resent that. I'm hardly a newbie, yet the first time a popup along these lines appeared on my archaic Win98 machine running Netscape 7.2, I had to stop and think before figuring out what was going on.
It was the use of what I suppose was an XP theme that was the clue, but even me with my marvelous brain had to pay attention. Cut the real doofuses and noobs some slack, okay?
[IIRC, it was one of those "your computer is infested with malware, quick, download our malware so you have a complete set to tell your grandchildren about" scams a few years ago.]
@ Chris C
"Why did Microsoft have to make a way (turned on by default, no less) to automatically run a program upon insertion of a disc/device?"
They didn't "have to"; they chose to for reasons that seem pretty obvious: either MS wants to simplify Windows so any idiot can use it, or MS thinks the users ~are~ idiots.
Two expressions of this attitude or design goal, whichever it is, are (a) guessing what the user intended when he makes a mistake and (b) doing favors for the user he didn't ask for. The dividing line between these categories is not sharp.
[An alternative analysis points at MS's arrogance,their patronizing attitude toward customers, and their "wasn't invented here" attitude toward lessons other people learned the hard way. Maybe it all amounts to the same thing.]
The minute you start trying to guess what the user intended, you are guaranteed to make mistakes. And those unasked-for favors will turn out to be mistakes of their own some of the time. Artificial intelligence is not yet a sufficiently advanced field to make either approach practicable.
Chris C again: " Any idiot can tell you that automatically running unknown (and hence untrusted) code upon insertion of a disc/device is a stupid idea and is bound to cause problems."
You're right, and this just demonstrates how flawed MS's p.o.v. is.
I conjecture that it's impossible to implement an idiot-proof system on a general purpose, programmable platform, but I'm not enough of a logician to be able to prove this.
A corollary to all this palaver of mine is that Windows, being designed for in-home use by idiots, is de facto not appropriate for serious applications.
PH as an example of "idiot" -- only seemingly, of course. That girl is smarter than she's given credit for.
@ Brian Miller
"Joke: Assembler is the only true language! All hail assembly!"
I think you may be confusing symbolic machine language with assembler language.
Certainly the IBM System 360 Assembler (and it's presumable Nth generation descendants) was a devil of a lot more complicated than mere machine language. On the one hand, you had to worry about making sure the hardware environment was suitable (all those lovely base registers -- anybody else remember those?) and on the other hand you had a macro facility that was an invention of Satan himself.
[Let me annoy the moderator by discoursing at some greater length on the topic, how to teach programming.]
It seems to me that it's a mistake to think that teaching any one language is "teaching programming." All that does is churn out graduates with a single skill and very little understanding, especially if the one-and-only language is a very high level one. There's no particular virtue in suffering, but exposure to the hardware guts of a computer and to a selection of languages of varying levels of abstraction is really The Thing To Do. (If I use caps like that, can I use the Man from Mars icon?)
The point of doing so is to teach not gruesome details of syntax but rather, and much more importantly, underlying principles. The successful student would be able to relate the rather simple structure of classical procedural languages (Algol, Fortran, Cobol) to all sorts of wild and wooly derivatives: OO programming environments, Lisp, Ada, Python, Java, you name it.
With the right selection of languages taught, the student is then able to get his head around whatever turns up next a lot faster than the poor doofus who thought learning one language was "learning programming."
I've been out of touch with the field for so long I can't begin to even speculate what selection of progamming languages would be optimal for teaching, but I think readers will understand my point.
[Hey, what happened to the Man From Mars icon???? Guess PH will have to do in lieu.]
CC info retention
The first widely publicized mass theft of CC information was at CD Universe in 1997. No lesson was learned: to this day, many sites retain your CC info: number, billing address, etc. The reason, as far as I can tell, is as a *convenience* to the customer, saving them the onerous chore of re-entering that information when they make their next purchase.
The only site I've run across that offers CC data retention as an option is Alibris. (Or maybe it's ABEBooks; one of the two at any rate.)
The rest seem to be captive to the Microsoft-meme "hold still, we're going to do you a favor you didn't ask for." [This meme is at the root of a lot of the stupidities in MS Windows.]
Isn't it time for Visa, Mastercard and their ilk to flatly forbid merchants to retain this information, no exceptions allowed? If merchants have to retain *something* in case a transaction must be reversed, they can put the CC number through a one-way hash function and use that to validate it when re-input.
Unreadable License Agreements
"Sears only warned users of the privacy implications of the software on the tenth screen of a 54-screen license agreement"
Reminds me of signing up for ADSL from my telephony provider and having the install CD present a very long license agreement in very small type in a very small scrollable window. I took one look, clicked "decline" and set up my connection manually.
Doing so had the added advantage of not installing whatever software Telus thought i needed; I can make that decision without their help, thankyouverymuch.
What the world needs are legal decisions that deliberately obfuscatory licenses and agreements such as these are not legally binding. If it won't fit on one browser page in 12-pt type, it should de facto be invalid. Paper agreements such as the infamous MS shrinkwrap license should be required to meet similar requirements to be binding.
Canucks still pay a tax on CD blanks (also DVD blanks, I believe). It's easy to circumvent by buying from the US, a tactic which also offers substantially lower prices anyway.
The galling thing is the assumption that *all* these blanks are used for storing downloaded copyright music, that everyone with a PC and an internet connection is using it mainly for this purpose. Such statistics as I have seen suggest a small minority of internetters download huge amounts of p2p music (most of which they never listen to!), some download modest amounts, and a very large proportion download no music at all.
One's guilt as a downloader is assumed, in other words. The possibility that blanks are used to store data is blithely ignored.
@ D L Clements
"If there is to be a new generation of nuclear power stations who will actually build and work on them? With the recent cuts to physics funding, including nuclear physics and related fields such as particle and astrophysics, there's likely to be a grave shortage of the experts needed for nuclear power."
The debate pro and con nuclear power is interesting but D L Clements has put his finger on a much deeper issue: society's devaluation of technical and scientific education, expertise, experience, and plain ol' talent. Can't have that nasty intellectual elitism, you know!
The prevailing attitude seems to be that a shipload of copies of "Physics for Dummies" will neatly fill the gap overnight.
OTOH I think the physics of nuclear power generation is actually very well understood; it's the engineers that design nuclear plants who will be in short supply. You may cue "Nuclear Power Plant Design for Dummies" as the Brownite cure.
In fact, it may be fair to say that there's always been a shortage of competent nuclear power plant designers. Such projects have repeatedly experienced enormous cost overruns as well as amazing operational malfunctions -- hardly likely to inspire confidence in the designers. Cue Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, the never-completed and now demolished Trojan plant in Washington state as examples.
Charlie Miller's analogy of the three little pigs is amusing but irrelevant. One has to wonder about the motivation for uttering such nonsense. Cui bono?
That said, it's an interesting question whether "security through diversity" is real or illusory. It's a good meme, but questionably anything more. Has any serious researcher investigated the matter? Likely more a matter for the logicians and philosophers to look into rather than the technical wonks.
ISTM that unless networks are designedly resilient in the face of single-element failures, possibly widespread, platform diversity is a red herring. Example: the inherent design of the internet is supposed to be highly resilient, but all too often we read of major outages traced to the malfunction of a single router or something equally silly.
The Minneapolis freeway bridge that fell down may be analogous, having been designed with no structural redundancy. One bolt rotted thanks to pigeon poop and road salt and bingo! down the whole thing came. Maybe.
All is explained...
A. Those 10 password holders? They haven't asked because HMRC has lost the list of their names, and no longer knows who they are.
B. Or: It wasn't a password, it was a 3-digit number to activate a keypad controlled lock. And someone simply tried one combination after another. Remember, Richard Feynman was able to unlock "secure" safes at Los Alamos for amusement.
@ Webster Phreaky
"...you don't seem to understand the concept of a STANDARD and the difficulty and amount of work that goes into developing e.g. an advanced word processor"
But most office drones do NOT need an advanced word processor. Very simple word processors work just fine for the vast majority of documents generated.
On reflection, it is worth commenting that all the effort MS has put into version after version of Wurd is, as far as the customer is concerned, wasted effort because they have made no effort to maintain a stable file format. This is no accident, being a strategy devised by low-born marketing wonks to lock customers in and force upgrades.
In the long run, it's going to be format stability that counts, esp. in government where some programs last well over a century.
War pension programs are a notorious example of such longevity because young widows of aged veterans often inherit pension rights. A few veterans will receive pensions for upwards of 80 years (15 y.o. during war, death at aet. 95, say). Those who marry women 50 years younger (say) can cause the pension scheme to last considerably longer than a century, as indeed happened with both the Crimean War and the War Between the States.
It will be amusing to see so-called paperless offices trying to decipher electronic documents generated by programs that disappeared a century earlier. The steady growth in document file complexity merely aggravates a long-standing problem.
[Paris because she represents the eternal feminine.]
TJX is brain dead as far as IT is concerned
A late comment but perhaps of interest: I went into a TJX store today, a "Winners/Homesense" place. To my delight they had a stock of excellent Costa Rican Terrazu coffee. When I went to pay, however, the bastards tried to nail me for both provincial and federal sales taxes. (Geographic reference: British Columbia, in Canada)
Coffee beans are subject to neither of these taxes. It took 5–10 minutes for the cashier to figure out the rather elaborate sequence of keystrokes necessary to override what the TJX computer thought the tax status of these goods was.
I don't understand why this was a problem, since every store in BC has to cope with the fact that some goods are not taxed at all, some get only provincial sales tax, some only federal, and some both. (Except food items, most items fall into the last category.) What I smell is an underhanded way to collect taxes that may never be remitted to the relevant government. But it may be, like their credit card data fiasco, simple incompetence.
Another data point re corporate IT incompetence.
"Nobody is forcing you to use IE..."
Wrong-o. Ever tried to update Windows without using IE? IE with ActiveX enabled, in fact?
Online IT Stupidity Nothing New in Ottawa
Another online IT cockup in Ottawa:
Canada conducted its regular quinquennial (or decennial) census a couple of years ago. For the first time, they set up a site for (optional) online submission of your responses to the census questionnaire.
I went to the website and was confronted with a message "You must have Java version <something or other> enabled", the version being very precisely defined. In the words of the profit, fuck that. I keep Java turned off, that particular version of Java may not even be available for my preferred combnation of browser & OS, and I don't install new software unless there's a compelling reason to do so.
Lowering Statistics Canada's census processing costs is not a compelling reason. I sent in the paper form instead.
You have to wonder how many other potential users of their online systerm joined me in walking away from the online submission site, in the face of its demand for a specific Java version? Considering that Joe & Jane Sixpack probably don't even know what Java is, much less how to upgrade it, I suspect that the participation rate was a lot lower than they hoped for and the costs of developing the online site were not recovered.
Sometimes I think the Ottawa winter climate congeals the ability to think clearly...
@ Brian Miller
"any cuts would send all the wrong signals."
How about "would demonstrate for the Nth time that Those In Charge haven't got a clue."
This business of "sending signals" (or "sending a message") is traceable to American Southern culture, which teaches that you can never say anything negative about or to anyone, hence when they fuck up, you "send them a message" via actions instead of speaking in plain English.
Given the advent of hyperPC, this attitude has become very widespread: you can't offend anybody at any time for any reason, truth and justice notwithstanding.
The most egregious example I personally know of was a woman who wasn't satisfied with repair work on her car. She drove back and forth in front of the mechanic's establishment "to send him the message" that she wasn't satisfied. Gee, honey, what's wrong with picking up the telephone and saying "This is Jane Doe speaking. I'm not satisfied with the work you did on my car and want it re-done right"???
But plentiful other examples are easy to spot. When George Bush says "we are doing X to send a message to Y," for any of a variety of values of X and Y, one has to wonder why he doesn't just have the State Department draft a diplomatic note.
The difficulty with "sending a message" via actions instead of words is that the semiotic significance may be overlooked or misconstrued. Perhaps cutting 400 jobs from SOCA is really sending the message "we think you are useless twits and are justifiably dumping you." Or maybe it's saying "we want British business to get fucked by hackers, teach 'em a lesson for not fully supporting the NuLabour agenda." Who knows? (For that matter, who cares?)
Moral (and to bring in the IT angle), if you have a problem, put it in writing and be plain about it, even if you end up in hot water for not being fully PC. As an example, I'm sure that when our Paris was nailed for driving sans license, the coppers put it in writing. (See how deftly I dragged in the Paris angle?)
What I smell is that NuLabour's love of micromanaging government functions at the lowest level has eroded (even eradicated) civil servants' ability and desire to act autonomously and with gumption. Treat underlings like brainless robots and guess what? They act like brainless robots, complete with programming bugs. [Programming bugs = ignoring written protocols]
This observation segues off into a rant about the folly of passing endless laws and regulations against politicially unacceptable behavior, followed by a further rant pinning the blame for the dreadful state of the NHS on micromanagement by Cabinet ministers. However, I'll spare El Reg's readership and let them word their own rants on these points. Have fun, amigos!
Another Empty "Apology"
"the executive director of the agency apologized for the problem"
Another public-titty-sucker who isn't willing to take responsibility. Betcha she's quick to take credit for Good Things that happen under her direction, however.
Is anyone else getting tired of these empty apologies? It's time for managers, govt ministers, etc to start admittng responsibility and do the right thing: fall on their swords.
One wonders if the governing body of the Marin transport agency will dock the executive director significant pay and perks for having done the job poorly. Probably not. It's time to start saying "no excuse, security is a known issue and under your direction we had an insecure system."
A Few Applicable Truisms
"Words are cheap"
"Actions speak louder than words"
"Ministerial responsibility is the heart of the parliamentary system"
"Adding insult to injury"
"Liar, liar, pants on fire!"
The Brain Behind the Curtain
One thing I wonder about all these police-state database proposals: who is proposing them, and doing it so well that Brown et cie stick to demonstrably flawed proposals like glue, through thick and thin?
It's reminiscent of the problems we have here in Canada with Customs: they are always on the warpath against gay porn (porn, I might add, that is perfectly legal to originate and to possess in Canada - it's only in passing through Customs that there's censorship). It's as though some unelected eminence grise in Ottawa or Toronto has so much power that his overt homophobia must be catered to.
So who's the dick who wants a British police state so badly, and where does he get his power from? Maybe it's time to name and shame.
Anonymous Coward wrote: "[A sickline] is a note from the doctor to say why you were unwell and to prove that the time off was genuine. Sicklines can be "X has Y and needs Z time off" or words to that effect."
In all my years working, whenever my doctor wrote a medical certification to my employer, he refrained from specifying "Y" on the grounds of confidentiality of medical records and the privileged nature of the doctor-patient relationship.
The beancounters were, of course, hostile to this, but had to swallow it as "the rules" failed to specify the precise content of a medical certificate.
What I found most interesting was the beancounters' veiled implication "you're just in cahoots with your doctor to get some extra vacation time'. This blithely ignored that MDs (at least here in Canada) are members of professional colleges and required to be honest.
It also revealed that the beancounters, in the classical manner of a thief assuming everyone else is a thief, were themselves devoid of honesty and ethics.
This whole fiasco is the result (imho) of a pervasive problem in modern management "theory": the idea that it doesn't matter who does the work, that workers are all just interchangeable cogs, and are totally fungible. This theory is never stated explicitly, afaik, but holders of MBA degrees demonstrate its existence (and widespread application) daily.
The net effect of this theory is the devaluation of experience, expertise, intelligence, education, and inborn ability. Among other specific results, you end up with call centers with employees whose accents are too thick to be understood, convicted criminals having access to confidential financial data, workers who are simply unqualified to do the work at hand, and the surrender of control over important data to consulting firms.
Applied widely and indiscriminately, the theory of worker fungibility has a great many other consequences -- corollaries to the theory, if you will. Identifying these corollaries and relating them to the details of the HMRC data loss disaster is left as an exercise for the reader.
Martin Gregorie: "...I can visualise the access creep now as they progressively change the rules so that they can:
- match medical records with disability claims
- combine them with the DNA database
- combine them with DVLA records
- combine them with the ID/passport database
- sell them to insurance companies to recoup NHS costs"
The Rand Corporation published a book about 1960 on computerized municipal record keeping. Rand being Rand and the era being what it was, the proposals totally disregarded privacy, ethics, or the potential for an IT-based police state.
The idea of cross-linking databases of all sorts of personal information is hardly a new one. All of your life are belong to us!
http://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/P1924/ may be the document I'm thinking of.
If you are interested in the history of this kind of thing, it's a document worth reading.
But we had policies and procdedures in place!!!
Data loss fiascoes always come with the yap "the established policies weren't followed" or "oh gee, the policies were followed but they didn't work."
Everybody with an IQ over, say, 65, knows perfectly well that written policies aren't good for much of anything except bum wipe. If your IT systems don't actively enforce those policies, they aren't even good for that fundamental purpose. (Yes, the pun is intentional. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.)
Management mandarins have a touching faith in the efficacy of written policies and consistently forget that the sinful masses always take the easy way out. If a policy stands in the way of convenience, too bad for the policy!
They're just like the Bolsheviks in NuLabour who, in their drive to create the New British Wo/Man (a la the Russian Bolsheviks' New Soviet Man), have passed innumerable laws against behavior and thought contrary to their ideals. Oddly enough, the crime rate goes up, the crimes become more horrific, the police squander their energies imposing draconian penalties on trivial offenses, and the government demands another round of laws against whatever is today's flavor of antisocial behavior.
Turning back to IT, prevention of data loss debacles requires that IT systems actively prevent confidential information from being held locally on PC's or being transcribed to CDs. I suspect the only effective way to achieve these goals is to go back to mainframes with dumb terminals.This kind of regimen also implies "no taking work home on your laptop." The proof of that assertion is left as an exercise for the reader.
The only cure may be to impose absolute liability on not only organizations, but also on their managers and directors, for any dataloss by their organization. Financial liability, at that, say to the tune of £10,000 per individual whose privacy has been compromised. It has to be vastly more expensive to allow data loss than to prevent it from happening in the first place; otherwise the beancounters will neuter any serious attempts to protect data confidentiality.
There's also the minor detail that the possibility of personal banktuptcy focusses the mind marvelously on the issues at hand.One might want to further heighten management angst about data loss by declaring anyone responsible (sensu latu) for such loss is forbidden to ever again work in a position of responsibility or authority.
Who pays for social networking sites?
"There's no free lunch." Who, then, pays for these "free" social networking sites?
The answer seems obvious to me: Facebook, MySpace, et al are clearly tentacles of "marketing", that same bunch of dimbulbs who brought us the TJX mess. They want to amass as much information as they possibly can so they can ram "tailored" ads down our throats.
And don't kid yourself about Google and their acquisition of, inter alia, blogger.com; nor Ebay, for that matter. Those guys are saving everything scrap of information they can accumulate about you and have no intention of deleting it, lest they damage its value to marketers.
In my more lucid moments, rare as they are, I suspect that the surveillance state Britain has become and the US would like to become are actually nothing more than highly advanced schemes to the same end, viz collection of marketing information. Once the Bush administration has compiled Total Information Dossiers (tm pending) on the entire population of the US (and as much of the rest of the world as they can manage), it'll all be auctioned off to the highest bidder, the better to sell us Chinese-made gewgaws constructed of deleterious substances.
Myself, I don't let many sites set cookies on my machines, and those that do have to be satisfied with session cookies. The few exceptions are personal profile sites where I've actually *paid*. Interestingly when I tried using session cookies with Google, it didn't work: Google, in some particulars, demands *real* cookies, not session cookies. For that reason, I deleted my blogs from Google and closed my account, and won't let Google put any cookies on my machines for any reason.
If a site won't work under these restrictions, I go elsewhere.
Principle: Protection of privacy has to start with the individual not cooperating.
@ Neal Clewlow
No one test for randomness is "best" under all circumstances. Moreoever, the tests most useful in one context may not be useful in another context.
Frequency distributions are helpful, but by no means a panacea. Moreover for modest strings of "random" digits, there is a predictable variation in the number of occurences of each digit, and too flat a distribution is suspicious.
The thing to keep in mind that the randomness boffins long ago investigated these issues in minute detail. Given the resultant huge literature on the generation of quasi-random numbers, how to do it, how not to do it, how to test it, Microsoft's failure to do better than they did is simply disgusting.
One wonders how many latent bugs there are in Vista that would have been stepped on if Vista weren't in bed giving blowjobs to the movie/music cartel.
Books were written by Elliott Organick about both the Multics system and the Burroughs B6700 system, an evolutionary development of the B5000:
"The Multics System: An Examination of Its Structure"
"Computer System Organization: The B5700/B6700 Series"
I'm shocked at the price asked for these: gave my own away some years ago, alas!
@ Jim Booth
"You are no longer innocent until proven guilty, you are guilty unless you can prove your innocence."
Recte "You are all guilty, no one is innocent. Step this way, Comrade."
"Welcome, to 1984."
Welcome to 2007 and the continuation of NuLabour's program to create The New British Man. Just like the Bolsheviks in Russia trying to create The New Soviet Man, it's done by coercion because no persuasive methods have a snowflake's chance in hell of working.
@ jeremy: "most of the demands from lawyers are unfounded and merely amount to corporate bullying."
@ Tim Lake: "these companies just throw lawyers and threats at the 'small time' site admins in the hope they'll close it out of fear"
@ Stone Fox:: "RIAA and the MPAA ... have settled for making life as difficult as possible, dragging them through the courts etc,"
Pirate Bay could, in principle, turn the tables on all the lawyers involved by accusing them of abuse of the legal system: barratry is the word, I believe. Hang a few prominent IP lawyers by their heels from lampposts (a la Mussolini and so to speak), then stand back and watch the roaches scuttle for cover.
[I may misunderstand "barratry" but it still smells to me like significant abuse of the legal system that any honorable judge should step on toot sweet. Of course, the phrase "honorable judge" is more and moe becoming an oxymoron.]
The bigger they are, the harder they fall
Coming on the heels of an unhappy experience with Amazon, this report makes me think that these big online monopolies inevitably lose contact with their customer base and fail to remember that if they don't solve their customers' problems, they're toast. I don't mean malfunction type problems but problems like "do they have that book I want?", "what it will cost to ship it?", "what kinds of payment are accepted?", and similarly mundane but essential issues.
Amazon appears to me to be working so hard to force recommendations down one's throat that the basic functions of their system have been seriously degraded. They don't seem to realize that there are alternatives and if you put too many speedbumps on the information highway (to use some archaic language), customers will turn to those alternatives: they're only a click or two away.
Ebay is shooting themselves in the foot in other ways, but the spirit of the exercise is the same: damn the customers and full speed ahead.
Give me Craigslist any day of the week.
"All your data belongs to us."
ITYM "All your data are belong to us."
"customers are commodities"
"Misusing a toaster isn't going to get your credit card details stolen."
Then why aren't computers designed for the same ease of use as toasters?
"they are considered suckers because they use computers without using their brains at the same time."
Most people don't have the necessary brains.
But my point is not to flick chickenshit at arbeyu; it's that today's personal computers are designed by ...and FOR... a buncha geeks who are not at all representative of the man in the street. Which in turn raises the question "what would be an appropriate design of an Information Toaster?" It's struck me for some time that the whole idea of having OS & app code on a writable disk is a mistake: why isn't that stuff on read-only CDs?
Yes, yes, I know, then we get into the evils of bundling with OSes that don't allow any 3rd party apps at all. Debate away, gentlemen.
It's not a plot, it's just the usual MS incompetence
I was once talking with a guy here who does contract work for MS. One thing he said has stuck in my mind: that MS is "incredibly arrogant."
However, it appears to me that this arrogance usually manifests itself not as sinister plots, but as incompetence. They're so very sure they know what they're doing they're not about to contemplate the possibility that maybe, just maybe, they don't.
Sometimes when I'm reading about the latest MS fuckup, I get the impression that someone at Redmond read a "For Dummies" book and now thinks they're an expert on some specialized field of knowledge or other. MS seems, as a corporation, to fully embody the modern MBA mindset that employees are interchangeable cogs in the machine and that experience, specialized knowledge, and unique abilities are irrelevant. Is it any wonder then that foulups like the one being argued about happen, or that Windows itself is notoriously badly programmed?
I think the implications of my remarks in the present context are obvious.
@ Tim Morrison
"How can a protocol that actually requires you to download your virus-laden spam (POP3) be better than a protocol that gives you a list of your messages waiting on the server? With IMAP you can just delete it before it gets anywhere near your computer."
POP3 requires no such thing. You can download just headers and decide what to actually retrieve from the server and what to delete straight off the server. It may be that this facility is not implemented in many POP3 email clients, but Pegasus has had it under the name "selective mail download" for many years and it remains my primary defense against spam.
In the decade-plus I've been using Pegasus, the number of incoming messages that weren't obviously identifiable as spam or not can be counted on the ten fingers, no toes required.
Fortunately Pegasus also gives the user full control over what attachments to open and whether to interpret html-ized messages or not, so it's safe to download even viral vectors as long as you have your wits about you. IOW, the rare ambiguous messages that are viral still have an exceedingly hard time infecting you.
One unpleasant development looms, however: I have received legitimate messages that looked a great deal like spam when I examined the headers. Canada Post sends out shipping notification messages that are very spam-like, for example: the Received: headers refer to servers with no obvious connection to any organization you've heard of (esp not to Canada Post), and the messages are html format only, another characteristic of many spams. Somebody in Ottawa or Toronto is too much in love with cleverness and lives in too tall an ivory tower.
Three websites that touch on accessibility:
Alertbox is Jakob Nielsen's occasional column on website design. Unfortunately, he saves the real meat and detail for his costly publications, but the online series still has a lot of worthy material in it. One virtue of Nielsen's work is that a lot of it is based on user testing, not unsupported opinion.
Web Pages That Suck is Vicent Flander's site. It has a rather joking flavor which obscures the fundamentally serious nature of the advice it offers. The Daily Sucker feature is a little tiresome in that it keeps rehashing the same old sins. But otoh, isn't there some platitude about the impossibility of inventing a new sin? Or was that an Oscar Wilde bon mot?
Finally, the last of these is an online version of Joe Clark's book on accessibility. He freely admits that the text is already out of date in some particulars, but imho for the most part it remains valid.
Of all the taglines scattered across these three sites, the one that always sticks in my mind is on Web Pages That Suck: visitors don't care about you or your website; they only want *their* problems solved and if your site doesn't solve those problems, they'll leave toot sweet. Or words to that effect.
@ Mike Smith re @ BoldMan
Actually, BoldMan may have hit the nail on the head. "Parkinson's Law" (the book) includes the example of a corporate board fussing endlessly over the design of and cost for constructing a bicycle shed while rubberstamping proposals to build a large oil refineriy (or some similarly expensive plant).
Parkinson offered an explanation: a bicycle shed is something easily comprehended, but an oil refinery is just too big to grok without specialist knowledge.
Whatever the case, however, one thing remains indisuputable: marketspeak and spindoctoring no longer fool anybody at all. Politicians trying to put positive spin on negative news would do well to bite the bullet and admit the news, she ain't so good. Bigwigs responsible for mistakes need to start admitting the fact. Any other course of action just produces cynical laughter, in some instances followed by criminal charges.
@ Mr Beast
"Fantastic idea in principle ...let down by crappy management."
Once again, evidence that the UK govt doesn't require that its managers be competent. (They're not alone in this madness, of course.)
Consider all the other, far more important, issues that determine who's hired and who isn't: date and place of birth, accent, political party, parents' and own educational level, sex, size of donations to NuLabour coffers, degree of political correctness, religion, demonstrable adherence to NuLabour thought paradigms, measurable contribution to workforce diversity, and endless other irrelevancies.
After all, the point of the exercise is to ensure that the NuLabour program to create the NuBritishMan progresses, not to get the job done. (If this reference is incomprehensible, cue the Russian Bolshevik idea of the New Soviet Man and enlightenment will be yours.)
Legal Documents via email
Somewhere fairly recently I read that a court somewhere had okayed sending certain legal notifications via email. [Sorry I can't remember the details!]
When I read that, I wondered if the honorable judge, or whoever made that decision, was aware that email isn't guaranteed delivery.
In fact, doesn't the DMCA allow notification of violations to be sent via email?
"Sorry, your lordship, but we did not receive the necessary notification; Hotmail must've deleted it."
Sounds sorta like the classic excuse "the dog ate my homework."
Not only in the UK
The last Canadian census allowed you to fill out the (long and detailed) questionnaire online if you wished. Being a good e-citizen, I went to the website but discovered that (a) it required Java to be enabled and (b) the JDK had to be a specific version. Anything else produced a rude error screen telling you to update your software and intimating that you were behind the technological curve.
I keep Java turned OFF unless there's heroin content at the other end that requires it -- and a census form is not heroin content by any stretch of the imagination.
And I'm not about to upgrade software just to satisfy the demands of some clueless idiot who doesn't know how to write simple software. Has the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle been utterly forgotten?
In the end, I had to use the paper form after all.
I am continually astonished at the number of websites that have been validated only against whatever the developer had on his winbox, but no other browsers, no other browser versions, and no other user setups. This is, of course, no news at all to the El Reg readership collective, but it's disturbing nonetheless.
All that money put into development produced a website that I'm sure a great many people could not or would not use because of its insistence of very specific software. So much for cost savings through technology.
One wonders if Statistics Canada had a projected usage level for their online census system and whether the website attained that usage level. Betcha a jelly donut it didn't for the simple reason that Joe and Jane Sixpack don't know how to upgrade their JDK, "helpful" url notwithstanding.
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