133 posts • joined 14 Jul 2009
Phase two - Robot Wars ON THE MOON please
This is what I want to see:
A chunk of the money for landing on the moon. A bigger chunk for landing within reasonable distance of another team's rover. Then, once all teams are down or out, an anything-goes battle royale for the rest of the purse with machines cutting into each other's wheels, smashing solar panels, blinding sensors with lasers and hurling moon rocks. Last rover standing wins.
It's Darwinian. Which means it's good science, right?
Re: A real shame.
Totally in agreement. That footage is stunning. There are establishing shots done by professional film companies using $100,000s worth of motion control cranes and helicopters that weren't as engaging as that video.
I can't work out whether he's pre-programmed the paths into the drone or simply flown it manually and either extracted the most stable shots or applied some stability fixes in post. However he did it it's really impressive.
Everyone will have their own take on this, but I have a dedicated net-top PC that acts as a file and print server and also a destination for automatic and manual backups from my other machines. It in turn runs Carbonite, which copies all of those backups to the cloud. CrashPlan is an oft-suggested alternative to Carbonite although I have no experience of it.
Running a whole other machine for backup may seem like overkill but for me it's great. I need something to be running as a print server anyway and it neatly sidesteps the main limitation of a basic Carbonite account, which is that you can only backup one machine and no external drives. By copying everything to a single internal drive on this machine I get the benefit of local and cloud backup at the same time.
For mirroring backups between various machines and the server I used to use FreeFileSync, but stopped recently when its author started using the OpenCandy adware bundler as part of the installer. I've now switched to SyncBack Free which does a similar job without the risk of crapware. Either can be run from a GUI or automated via a built-in scheduler, Windows Scheduler or batch files.
As an aside: for anyone whose backup strategy involves copying files across a Windows network I strongly recommend using UNC paths (\\servername\folder\) for the destination rather than mapping shares to a drive letter. The current versions of CryptoLocker that are doing the rounds will enumerate anything with a drive letter and will happily encrypt all of your backups as well as the original files. No doubt later incarnations will attack shares directly but for now using UNC offers a modicum of protection. Most backup software will let you specify paths to shared folders in this way.
Re: Fine without the possessive
...what would normally be meant...
In some ideal workplaces, perhaps, but certainly not all. It's all about the context. Believe me, when some admins use the words "my users" (with an often strongly implied, and sometimes explicit, "fucking useless" between them) it's not for the reason you outline.
Why does it annoy you so much?
I also have issues.
Fine without the possessive
I've never had a problem with admins referring to me and my colleagues as "the users." We use the systems, and so that's what we are. But when one of them refers to us collectively as "my users" it makes me so angry I want to rip their head from their shoulders and pee down the neck hole.
Over the years I've noticed a few folk here on the Reg forums who in my fantasy world would be in danger of winding up with a well urinated oesophagus. We are not "your" anything. We are fellow employees.
This thing scares the bejeezus out of me.
Don't get me wrong, I love space and all things spacey. If someone had given me a free ticket for SpaceShipTwo or DragonX or even Soyuz (in fact pretty much any manned launch vehicle from Mercury onward) I would have jumped at the opportunity.
But if you strapped me into this thing (and you'd have to) I know with absolute certainty that I'd hyperventilate all the way up and scream my tits off all the way down.
Maybe it's because traditional rockets and re-entry vehicles are tried and trusted technology. Or that SpaceShipTwo is so aircraft-like in design that there's a perception (possibly erroneous) that a non-catastrophic failure might be recoverable by a skilled pilot.
Or maybe it's simply the knowledge that those other vehicles will pretty much kill you instantly in the event of a serious accident, whereas anything snapping or ripping on this balloon gondola will result in a minutes-long weightless plunge to certain death accompanied by the screams of your fellow victims.
Even the Roton was less scary than this.
Wrong deterrent timing
The problem with these lock / wipe / brick technologies is that they only apply at the point of attempted re-use, not at the point of theft, which makes for a lousy deterrent. Your average opportunist thug or phonesnatcher-on-a-bike is unlikely to care, and if they did they wouldn't waste time scoping out a mark to see whether or not they had one of the more protected handsets. If they see someone waving around any bit of shiny at an opportune moment they'll grab it and be gone.
If the device is locked down tight so that the user's data is protected, that's great. But as for getting the device back because it can't be used, or deterring the theft in the first place, no chance. If you've accidentally left a phone somewhere frequented by honest people then perhaps this has merit. But for preventing deliberate handset snatching, forget it.
The only true deterrent against opportunist phone theft would be something that made the handset burst into flames if it went out of range of a Bluetooth accessory. But as someone who has regularly left work without his phone and only noticed when the music in the headset started to break up, I fear the "false positives" could be a significant problem.
Re: About as un-Jobsian as you can get
It's not just the colours and the plastic, although the choice of colours is definitely questionable. The black and white aren't too bad but the others are fairly sickly both alone or in combination. The various coloured iPods, and especially the original iMacs, somehow managed to be both bright and understated. But the 5C just comes across as garish.
But colour is subjective and bright things are "in" again and I'm prepared to concede that Steve Jobs might have been prepared to sign off on those, if they were the only issue. But the whole "hidden typography" thing linked above (and there's clearer view of it here) is simply unforgivable. It suggests lack of attention or, worse, a belief that little details aren't important. Once upon a time, the little things were all that mattered at Apple.
You may like or dislike the choice of colours, and you may even have your own ideas about how Jobs would have reacted to them. But if you believe for one second that he would have allowed an Apple product wrapped in an Apple case to display the words "non. ed by Ap...nia. Asse...a Mode" on the back, you are definitely not remembering the same Steve Jobs I am.
About as un-Jobsian as you can get
While I wouldn't want to try to predict actual sales performance in such a volatile market and with such fickle consumers, I can say with absolute certainty that Steve Jobs would never in a million years have sanctioned the release of the aesthetic disaster that is the iPhone 5C.
I know Jobs said before he passed that it would be folly for anyone to try to run Apple by playing the "what would Steve do?" game, and in terms of company structure and overall direction he was almost certainly right. But when it came to design philosophy and attention to detail he was much easier to predict and there is no way on God's green earth he would have let the 5C out of the lab.
This is not trying to second-guess a dead man, it's learning from well-documented history. This was a man who once called Vic Gundotra on a Sunday to complain that a single letter on the iOS Google icon didn't have the correct yellow gradient and that he wanted a team putting together to fix it. Gudotra wasn't even an Apple employee.
Does that sound like the same man who would have allowed this to reach market?
It's all very well for a company to explore new directions but it's also in a company's best interest to play to its strengths, and most of Apple's successes in the recent past were due in no small part to Jobs' singular vision. To push at the boundaries of that vision is one thing, but the 5C just repeatedly punches it in both eyes until the retinas detach. It's awful.
The touch interface on this new version is horrible. Every operation requires four fingers.
and i was quite taken with this solution so i don't have to struggle to use keys to unlock the door when my hands a full of shopping or large boxes: http://www.kwikset.com/Kevo/Default.aspx
Kwikset? They can bolt on all the electronic bits and bobs they want, but when the SmartKey barrel itself can be picked or destroyed within 15-30 seconds it's all a bit moot.
But Google Glass ain't your typical HUD
Those folk talking about the usefulness of an in-car HUD are missing the point. Unlike a military HUD, or even some new vehicle HUDs, Google Glass does not project the image onto the centre of the pilot's or driver's normal field of vision. Its screen sits above the eyeline and requires the user to look UP slightly to see the content.
Because an errant child is very unlikely to suddenly appear in front of your car by descending from a lamppost on a bungee cord, this is probably not the place you want your eyes to be darting while engaged in urban driving.
I'm as geeky as the next guy and would love to have a play with Google Glass, but common sense says it clearly should not be used by drivers in its current iteration.
Yes, I was reminded of him too. By the last five paragraphs of the article.
This is a lovely bit of design but somewhat impractical. My first accessory purchase would have to be a case with 'feet' on the back, so that when it's lying flat on the desk and I'm using the Calculator app, it doesn't keep pinging across the room like a giant tiddlywink.
"I'm pretty sure that the iPhone doesn't have mechanical shutters..."
Ah, the first "Whoosh!" of 2013. Happy New Year everyone.
I'm sure I saw that guy in 'Independence Day'. Apparently they don't let them out much.
"Some electronically stored material, about plans or other ideas represent basically computer aided thought. They are a way to increase your power to form ideas and remember them so you can build upon them later. No entity besides yourself has any inherent right to inspect your thoughts. You should be at liberty to construct whatever fantasy or narrative you please."
This has always been my argument, but then the further notion occurs that the only reason one's thoughts are sacrosanct is because nobody has yet invented the technology to read them. The day someone does, you can wave every last vestige of privacy goodbye. And that day may not be as far away as we'd like to believe.
There's is a sequence in one of Daniel Suarez' novels, either Daemon or its sequel Freedom, in which a man is being questioned by an AI while hooked up to an advanced fMRI. By showing him images and playing sounds, then reading which parts of his brain respond, the program is able to extract information by couching all questions in a form that only requires a Yes or No response. It shows him a Google Earth type map and narrows down his place of origin by sequentially zooming in on areas his brain responds to more strongly. For more complex information, such as his name, it simply shows sequential letters of the alphabet and selects each in turn as a positive response is recorded.
All of this seemed very cool, but comfortably far-fetched when the books were written just a couple of years ago. But recent breakthroughs like the case of Scott Routley (the culmination of earlier findings by the same doctor), while potentially offering fantastic news for vegetative patients and their families, should worry us greatly. When used with the subject's consent it's a miracle. But if a version that could coerce answers from the unwilling was developed it would be an Orwellian nightmare.
Personally I fear this sort of future technology at least as much as the autonomous weapons that everyone seems to be in such a flap over at the moment. Not least because I fear the "truth machine" could be with us long before the T-800s.
I wasn't much for The Hobbit back in my Spectrum days. I didn't really get into adventures until the later part of the 80s. Rigel's Revenge was probably my favourite, as I preferred SF to fantasy.
But Penetrator was the dog's danglers, especially considering how early in the Spectrum's life it was written. I must have wasted weeks with the level editor, trying to create insanely narrow vertical canyons that were still navigable or seeing how many rockets I could get to launch at once into a confined space. The game was credited solely to Philip Mitchell on the loading screen, so knowledge of Veronika's contribution is new to me.
Still, The Hobbit. Imagine writing one of the most iconic games ever (one that probably helped launch a thousand careers in game design) and not knowing about its popularity until years later. Absolutely inconceivable now.
(Nuke for the final screen of Penetrator, which was bloody difficult even without ham-fisted level editing).
Economical with the truth?
I've seen problems similar to these on and off for years with VM, across various tiers of service. What's quite interesting with the YouTube videos is that many cases I've found that the congestion and buffering can be eliminated by switching to a higher quality stream, which is so counter-intuitive that I suspect many don't even try it.
This behaviour has all the hallmarks of an inefficient transparent proxy on the VM network, caching popular content to minimise external bandwidth and so reduce peering fees. Because the higher quality streams are not played as frequently they aren't stored by the cache and the client gets a nice fast direct feed from the source server.
Every time this has been mooted in support forums VM deny running such a caching system. But in light of what's been said here, maybe that's a half truth. Perhaps it's this mysterious third-party peering partner who is running the bandwidth-impaired proxy on VM's behalf?
I'm not afraid to admit to being a fan of all things Birds and Piggies, and a bit of a Star Wars nerd to boot, so the last couple of days playing though this have been nirvana.
Rovio need to be careful when it comes to franchising the Angry Birds phenomenon, though. If they play to their strengths -- the games themselves and some well-chosen tie-ins -- they'll probably be OK, and the occasional greetings card or novelty loudspeaker shouldn't upset too many people. But if they press on with their plans to saturate multiple markets with TV series, movies, soft toys and theme parks they're in grave danger of crossing what I like to term the Mr. Blobby Event Horizon, beyond which nothing -- not even cynicism -- can escape.
It's at this point that the fickle nature of an audience that knows full well when it's being squeezed dry will turn against them and look elsewhere for its entertainment. If that happens, and they've already invested heavily in licensing and physical infrastructure, Rovio will be in very big trouble indeed.
On a more positive note the Dagobah levels of Angry Birds Star Wars, which can indeed be unlocked by an in-app payment, also unlock if you get three stars on all of the earlier levels. A nice little gift for the persistent.
Re: No iPaq?
My wife still uses a 2004-vintage hx4700 iPAQ to check her incoming e-mail and calendar entries. It sits in a dock cradle, permanently powered, running a program that displays upcoming appointments on the home screen. She can walk past, tap the screen with a fingernail to wake it, glance at what's coming up and walk on. Much quicker than powering up a laptop, even from sleep, or using one of many iDevices.
It syncs with Google Calendar over WiFi, but to make that work securely I had to install a custom firmware so it could talk WPA2 with my router. HP's own firmware was never happy with WPA2. Heaven knows what I'm going to replace it with if it ever gives up the ghost, or WPA2 is rendered obsolete by a more secure protocol.
Now I come to think of it, at 8 years it's currently tied in second place for the longest continuously used computer I've owned. Joint second is a ZX Spectrum I got in 1983 and sold in 1991.
First place goes to a BBC Master, bought by a friend in 1986, given to me in the early 1990s and used to put title cards on VHS videos right up to 2000. 14 years.
I just got a 4th gen iPad. It's lovely, but I can't imagine I'll be doing anything useful with it in 14 years.
Nice to see an Organiser in this list, but a little dismissive to suggest that Psion "shifted away from organiser functionality" with the Series 3 / 5 / 7.
While it's true that the general purpose programming environment was a boon to those of a creative inclination, the Psions' real strength lay in the Data and Agenda applications built into SIBO and EPOC. To this day Agenda remains the most useful and efficient Personal Information Manager I've used on any platform. And I've used many.
All of the basic functions were right there and blindingly efficient in their implementation. And for those features not baked in, a third-party macro program to simulate key presses and a bit of OPL code and you could have new functionality programmed in within minutes. Try doing that on an iPhone.
Psion's downfall was in treating their devices as accessories to the computing experience rather than alternatives. Even on the later models with basic internet features like e-mail and web browsers, it was all about syncing data with desktop machines. And using mobile phones and modems with legacy serial and IR connections while everyone else's technology was evolving, although they may not have realised it, towards the integrated smartphone. The Nokia Communicators were a hint of the way things were going, but nobody really picked up the ball and ran with it.
If Psion had read the market better we could have had a colour EPOC machine in a Series 5 form factor with WiFi and cellular connectivity and Bluetooth for voice calls, beating the iPhone by several years. But alas it was not meant to be.
Even a recent attempt to resurrect the form factor misses the point by having it run on Windows XP :(
Every bad idea needs a brand identity
So while internet industry experts repeatedly try to ram home the fact that implementing porn filters is at best difficult and at worst futile, Government and charities still insist on treating it as analogous to a utility pipe whose contents can somehow be kept at bay by the turning of a virtual tap.
In light of this I'd like to suggest a brand name for their theoretical opt-in porn filter.
They can have that for free. I even have a few ideas for a logo.
For some value of 'hint'
I was house-sitting for a friend a few years ago and she asked me to sort out some issues with her laptop, which was more often put to sleep than shut down, while I was there. At one point a Windows Update caused the machine to reboot and I was left at the login screen with no idea as to her credentials. I tried the obvious -- pets' names, kids' names, no password at all -- but came up blank. The password hint was three alphabetic characters, which I guessed meant something significant to my friend but not to me. I was >< this close to phoning her up and asking her what her password was when I had a sudden revelation. I tried the three-character hint AS the password. Straight in.
Sometimes you have to stop thinking like the IT guy and start thinking like a user.
Not too long ago I paid just under £90 for a 64GB SSD and considered it a bargain. I can't believe how quickly the price of these things is dropping at the moment.
Re: "slightly longer than a bookie’s pencil"
"I know El Reg loves unconventional units, but what on earth does this mean?"
According to the Profanisaurus it's about the same length as an Argos biro.
Damn it. Looking for more information on this and similar apps I just Googled "over 40 enlargement". It's going to take all night to explain to my wife where all those links came from.
Re: Charlie Stross has it right
"Hang on a minute. No, people don't need to know how heat exchangers work to own a fridge. But if it breaks they should expect to have to buy another. People who buy cars expect to pay to have it serviced. They expect it to break if they don't bother servicing it (or at least they should). Yet they expect computers, which they don't understand, just to work forever?
I don't think it's that they all expect them to work forever, although some do, I grant you. And they think that you volunteering to fix one problem gives them free lifetime support for everything else, but that's a discussion for another day.
The problem is that a brand new fridge can still pack up after a week. A newly serviced car can still break down. And a well-maintained computer can still fall victim to a subtle drive-by or a zero day exploit. The difference is that people know when, and to a certain extent understand why, their appliances or vehicles have gone wrong. The food spoils or the wheels won't turn. It's different with IT, and especially well-crafted malware. The thing does keep on working, at least as far as the user can see.
That's part of why it's so difficult to understand. Telling someone their machine is infected with something that could be causing damage to others, and may already have compromised their credit card details, is often met with incredulity at best and indifference at worst. Because they don't understand, and in many cases can't understand. When their fridge breaks it doesn't spoil next door's food. Problematic cars don't sneak off in the middle of the night, infect other cars with the same defect then return to the driveway looking all innocent.
Computers do. And you need a reasonable level of knowledge to understand why they do. Is it fair to expect every user to have that level of knowledge? I used to believe so, but now I'm not so sure.
"As for technology being part of people's lives, yes it is. But it doesn't need to be. People don't need to be on twatbook every waking minute. Outside work, nobody actually needs computers. They help, yes, but they're not necessary."
We're in a transition phase, so right now there are perhaps arguments to be said for that. But it's changing all the time and the pace of change is increasing. Are computers necessary? Perhaps not for everyone, depending on how you define necessity. But many of the things they allow us to do are certainly convenient and the inconvenience of not having access to this technology, even at home, is becoming more significant every day. Schoolwork, bargain hunting, local government administration, customer services, service contract renewals. All things that can be done without access to the internet but for which the internet offers a much more convenient, time-saving route.
Very soon that convenience will transition into necessity. Doing things online is convenient for the parties at both ends and costs less, which makes such a transition inevitable. It's already here for a lot of cases. Have you tried shopping around for motor insurance without a browser recently?
Not everyone asked for this, but it's what we got.
"Most people who do have computers only use them for the web and web-based stuff anyway, which is why locked-down tablets, phones, and games consoles work well for most people and they're willing to pay a premium for them, just as people who can't cook are willing to pay for shitty ready meals."
That's certainly true. Tablets are definitely the way forward in the short term, and although their target profile for the bad guys is increasing as they become more popular, the more security-conscious operating systems that they ship with are helping to keep the problem to a minimum for now. At least compared with the free-for-all that exists on the more traditional platforms.
But tablets aren't without their own issues. I argued here that Apple's choice to go for a simplified, non-configurable, pretty user experience on the iPad may ultimately shift the bad guys' focus away from clever malware and back to good old fashioned social engineering. I'm still not sure which way that's going to play out.
Charlie Stross has it right
Having suffered only one unintended malware infection (my own stupid fault and a strong lesson learned) in 18 years of internet use, it used to be my position that users who fell victim to these things had nobody but themselves to blame. That the net was a lawless frontier where only those with experience and savvy and a healthy streak of paranoia should be comfortable.
To some extent that's still true. But given how everyone from individuals to organizations and governments have been encouraged to throw their entire existences onto a web that was doomed with security holes from the start, I wonder if it's fair to blame users any more. It is more or less impossible now for anyone in the West to live their life "off the grid". Internet access has become a utility, and almost a life essential, in the same way as gas or water. Is it any fairer to expect end users to keep on top of IT security news than to expect fridge users to understand how heat exchangers work? They've been sold a product, and their expectation is that it should work, and that they should be able to call on someone to fix it when it goes wrong.
I used to call that attitude ignorant, even stupid. Now I'm not so sure. Many of these people didn't ask for all this technology to become part of their lives in the way we early adopters did. But now it's there anyway and they're stuck with it, and the consequences of its shortcomings.
Go back and read the first two paragraphs of this article. It reads like the opening prelude to a Gibson or Suarez novel. But this isn't speculative fiction like it might have been just a few short years ago. This is the world. Everyone's world.
In a recent intervew Charlie Stross stated, "The world we live in is the future of the 1980s cyberpunks. This is not necessarily a good thing."
Situations like this ongoing DNSChanger SNAFU just underscore that point. Those of us who dreamed of living in this sort of future are no doubt loving it. But for everyone else, forced to live in it just to get by, many aspects of it are clearly not "a good thing."
E586 and the "security" key
I took delivery of a new E586 and PAYG SIM from Three yesterday, an expensive but worthwhile upgrade as my last 12 month / 12 GB PAYG SIM is about to expire and the battery in my old MiFi is on its last legs. The device is a lovely bit of design and the OLED status screen a generally welcome addition, but I'm completely taken aback by this feature:
"Usefully, the router has a pre-defined SSID and security code - just press the key button on the side and they scroll past."
I've Googled for reviews of this device and every one I've read sings the praises of this "convenient" feature that prevents you having to look inside the battery compartment (home of the default password on earlier models) when connecting a new device. What they don't tell you is that even if you change the default SSID and password to something more secure, there is NO WAY to disable the option to display it at the press of a button.
Insanity! Colleague left his MiFi on his desk while running an errand? Display that SSID and password and grab yourself a few MB of downloads on his dime. Found a lost E586? Free bandwidth and/or all that pre-paid data is yours at the press of a button.
OK, so a savvy thief might be able to lift the SIM from a more secure device and make use of it elsewhere. And not everyone works in an environment full of potential freeloading hacker wannabes like I clearly do. But why make it easy for them?
To mitigate some of the risks with this new MiFi I've had to do two things. I've enabled MAC filtering, which of course adds massively to the time taken to set up a new, legitimate, client and so makes a mockery of the "convenient" time-saving security display key. And I've turned on the SIM lock, which is even more inconvenient in that it requires logging in to the device via a browser to unlock the SIM every time it's turned on (and as long as the MiFi is left on, the SIM lock offers no protection whatsoever).
Apparently users complained about the cryptic status lights on the old style Huawei MiFis, hence the shift towards OLEDs. But at least those devices were impenetrable black boxes if you didn't have the SSID and pre-shared key. Not like the new one, that literally gives up its secrets at the press of a button.
Making things easier for the average punter is very laudable. But leaving a gaping physical security hole, without even an advanced setting option to disable it, is simply inexplicable.
As downsides go, though, that's pretty major. My iPhone spends the night on a bedside radio, then gets moved to a USB cradle in the home office for syncing, then to an amplifier in the bathroom while I shower, then to a custom connection to the head unit in my car for the drive to work.
Each of these devices uses the dock connector. Having to remove the case each time would be impossibly restrictive. A shame, because this is one of the better looking battery cases I've seen.
I can't comment on its aerodynamic properties, but that concept drawing looks remarkably like the Flying Sub from 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea.'
Re: You stuck a label with your mobile phone number....on the back of your mobile?
Really? So if someone clocks you over the noggin and steals your mobile, all they have to do while you're staggering to A&E is call the operator who will happily hand over your name and the address of your (very likely empty) house? This might be a beneficial service in Finland but I can't imagine it going down too well in Blighty.
Remember, this is the same ASA that has ruled it perfectly acceptable to use the word "unlimited" to promote a service with limits, as long as those limits do not affect a significant majority of users. That they don't actually specify what constitutes a significant majority is just the lunatic icing on the insanity cake. When a simple English word that's had the same unambiguous meaning for over 560 years can be rendered meaningless by the power of marketing, we are screwed.
Phasing isn't L/R swapping
Not 'bollox'. The guys above aren't talking about swapping audio channels, but about reversing the phase of one channel.
I'm still fascinated by the whole Watson phenomenon. I remember noticing, while watching the earlier Jeopardy games, that for those answers Watson got wrong it seemed to be ignoring information in the category in favour of information in the clue. Reading this article suggests that this was by design, which at first seems like a major oversight.
But then given examples like Best Western, in which a lateral interpretation of both clue and category are required to resolve the question, perhaps it was one of the best choices the programmers could have made. Rather than risk Watson becoming 'confused' at categories with multiple interpretations, better to throw that information away in favour of the actual clue which is usually where most of the usefully crunchable data are to be found.
Unfortunately this choice meat that while Watson probably would have aced the Best Western question, it screwed up on Chicago.
I wonder if there's a middle ground on this? Use the category data for the first question and, if it leads to ambiguity and/or a wrong answer, discard it for future questions from the same category?
The last nail in the QoS coffin
I loved Casino Royale but was crushingly disappointed in the mess that was Quantum Of Solace. Its only redeeming hope was that it might serve as an introduction to a new generation of shady bad guys who would become the ongoing threat for a couple more movies. But if Skyfall (dodgy title, not an auspicious start) is to have no connection to the previous films it reduces QoS to nothing more than a sad waste of everyone's time.
With Virgin Media you HAVE to be prepared to renegotiate your bill every 12-18 months. The last CS rep I spoke to more or less admitted this straight out. You don't even have to threaten to leave as was once the norm, just tell them that as a 'loyal customer' you're appalled at the way the costs have crept up (have some figures to hand to quote -- that seems to carry weight) and they'll more than likely offer to customise and/or give a loyalty discount.
Things have got a little easier in the last year or so now that most of the CS people are able to make ad-hoc billing adjustments (it used to be one specific department that you'd have to be transferred to before explaining the whole situation again). Despite what their literature would have you believe they are able to negotiate very specific customised packages and make pro rata reductions on tariffs accordingly. If you have the TV service and there are channels you definitely won't use, see about having them removed even if they seem to be part of a 'package'. You might be surprised what they can do.
Beware of the 'freebies' though. When I did this a couple of years ago (before the ad-hoc changes were available) I was persuaded to keep the Sky Sports package even though I never used it, supposedly because it was difficult to remove from my service and was effectively free anyway because of the other stuff I had. Then over the next 12 months the cheeky buggers twice increased my bill because of wholesale price rises for Sky Sports. I let them away with it the first time due to apathy, but the second time I renegotiated and got a load of unwanted channels removed and a 40% bill reduction.
It shouldn't be necessary to have these annual battles of will with customer services just to get a good deal from a company you've been with in one form or another for 15+ years.
But alas it is.
Could have been worse...
The kid should be grateful he only got throttled and not teabagged.
Sorry to resort to schoolboy humour, but the judge's name sounds like one of those portmanteau insults one would expect to find in the pages of the Profanisaurus. A complete and utter Tugendhat.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Clarkson made a similar reference if this decision gets any airtime on the next series of Top Gear.
Ultimate anti-theft device
Blimey. Couple this with the Prey software and you have a winner. Just make sure to turn the webcam on remotely before activation, to record the perp's reaction for posterity. And for YouTube.
The main issue with Siri, mentioned elsewhere but warranting only a tiny line of small print on the Apple website, is that most of its processing is done online. It requires an Internet connection to function.
Where I work is a virtual Faraday cage, with no wireless access to the company LAN and metal-cased buildings that block cell signals everywhere except right next to windows. Siri would be useless to me for scheduling meetings or setting reminders. It simply wouldn't work unless I walked to a window before using it, by which time I might as well have typed the instructions into the calendar app by hand or recorded a voice note.
Neither the 4S keynote nor the promotional video makes this clear. I foresee a lot of disappointed 4S owners feeling as though they've been mi-sold Siri once the limitations become evident.
Windows Phone and sponsorship
I don't know if this makes me really shallow, but I was actually quite taken by the Metro interface of the new Windows Phones and might well have considered test driving one until I saw the ridiculous amount of in-your-face product placement in recent US TV shows from the Fox network.
The most blatant is 'Bones', where not only do the handsets warrant their own lingering close-ups, but characters actually talk about sending evidence to other characters by "uploading it to your SkyDrive."
I know product placement is here to stay, but I've seen it done with much more subtlety than this. Sometimes less is more. Microsoft's efforts are just ugly, and shatter the fourth wall. They make me hate the products, and spoil my enjoyment of the shows.
Usenet for tech support
VirginMedia used to do this for TV and broadband technical support. The staff members who monitored it were, I believe, from the soon to close Albert Dock facility.
It was one of the best technical support systems I've ever used. Available for reporting 24/7 (even if the responses weren't always immediate) it had multiple advantages over the traditional phone support, not least of which was that technical information could be passed around internally in its original ASCII form, not like on the phone where it would be subjected to an endless game of Chinese whispers ultimately ending with the user having to explain the whole thing again from scratch to yet another department.
You could even arrange, rearrange or cancel engineers' visits through it without having to go through the call centre, which was an incredible time-saver. Sadly, Virgin pulled the plug several years ago. It was given a brief reprieve for about six months, but then went away for good.
Virgin's electronic support system is now web-based, with all of the issues that entails. But I guess customers these days aren't interested in learning how to use something unless it's in a browser window.
Some smaller organisations and groups -- most notably Steve Gibson's GRC -- maintain small private NNTP servers for discussions, but they tend to be run by, and aimed at, a more technical user base.
Real world example
Where I used to work they would test the PA system by broadcasting a test message to all buildings and asking people to report if any speakers weren't working. They didn't even schedule a set time or day for this, it was random. I was so tempted to just keep phoning the office every five minutes asking, "Are you testing the PA? I can't hear anything."
That Lexmark Genesis is a work of art
Pretty much everything I was going to say about inkjets has already been said, and it's sort of refreshing to learn I wasn't the only one suffering.
I owned four over the years; two Epsons, a Brother and something else whose manufacturer I can't recall. Every one of them suffered clogging problems if they weren't used frequently, even with official cartridges, so that printing out the occasional page or photo once every month or so became an expensive waste of time and ink trying to get the damned things to self-clean to the point of usability.
I switched to an HP all-in-one laser a couple of years ago and have never looked back. The cost of toner is horrendous (£50-60 quid for each if one shops around, £80 on the high street) but the cartridges last for ages and it actually pays for itself in saved time and reduced stress. Now on the rare occasions when I want a document printed I have it in my hand after 60 seconds, not after 45 minutes of fighting with a clogged inkjet, wasting a fortune in ink and paper. On the even rarer occasions that I want a few photos printed, I pop them down to Asda.
Having said all that, kudos to Lexmark's designers for the Genesis which is simply stunning. If I had cash to waste (and a home that would do it justice) I'd buy one just as a conversation piece. It's gorgeous.
Surely at some time every gamer must have suffered Tetris Burnout, where the sight of an urban skyline has the brain scrambling for the right shapes and orientations to neatly fill the gaps? I've definitely experienced that, as have many people I've mentioned it to.
I also used to work with a chap who got into gaming in his 50s with Medal Of Honor Allied Assault. He once sheepishly admitted that when his wife expressed puzzlement at his apparent interest in upper-storey building windows during a shopping trip, he had to confess that he was looking for snipers.
Successful targeted hack?
If Comodohacker really is behind this, his 'manifesto' makes for interesting reading:
"I won't talk so many detail for now, just I wanted to let the world know that ANYTHING you do will have consequences, ANYTHING your country did in past, you have to pay for it [...] I was sure if I issue those certificates for myself from a company, company will be closed and will not be able to issue certs anymore [...] Dutch government's 13 million dollars which paid for DigiNotar will have to go DIRECTLY into trash, it's what I can do from KMs away."
And isn't that pretty much what's happened? Simplistic ideological motivations aside, does this represent the first (known) time that a lone hacker has targeted an organisation with a specific consequential goal in mind, and achieved that goal? I certainly can't think of another one.
As for DigiNotar, if the lack of security and the thing about the 'pr0d@dm1n' password is true they didn't deserve to be operating in the position of trust that they were.
Emotion trumps logic
Many of us saw this backlash coming as soon as the announcement was made. Netflix' reasoning was that by splitting the business into 'mostly DVD' and 'mostly streaming' they would simplify things and actually save the bulk of their customers some money. This line was trotted out repeatedly by Netflix and by industry pundits, not least by a certain Mr. Laporte whose sponsored podcasts could barely be heard for a couple of weeks over the sound of his frantic back-pedalling.
The thing is, logically Netflix are right. If a customer spends most of their time watching streaming movies and only rents the occasional physical DVD, they're probably better off going for the streaming-only option and popping down to the local DVD shop for the odd disc. Likewise, a traditional disc renter who never streams will save a couple of bucks a month by not taking that option. If the figures are to be believed, the bulk of Netflix' customers do fall into one of these two categories.
The problem is that customers aren't neat little rows of numbers on a spreadsheet. They're human, and human emotion nearly always trumps human reason. If you've been charging someone $x for a service, then suddenly expect them to pay $1.6x for the same thing, they'll react as though they're being taken.
Even if you can prove that they didn't need the full service anyway, or that better options exist, it's difficult to overcome that emotional response. It's a bit like dropping someone's phone package from 1000 inclusive texts to 500 even if that person never used more than 50. In terms of what they pay against what they use, nothing has changed. But that won't stop them feeling ripped off.
I'm really surprised Netflix couldn't see this.
Surely there were solutions? When eMusic were forced to increase their prices for UK customers to meet tax requirements, as a good will gesture they created a special legacy price to maintain the same cost for those customers who'd signed up under the US system. Had Netflix done something similar with their existing subscribers when they split the business, maybe the reaction wouldn't have been so negative.
Spiritual successor to the larger iPAQs?
We have a stylus-driven HP iPAQ hx4700 VGA PDA which Mrs. Grouse still uses to check her e-mail and calendar appointments, and whenever I use it I'm reminded of what a tragedy it is that HP seemed to lose interest in the PDA market just as smartphones took over. For a while their industrial design was second to none, and while the 4700 itself is criminally underpowered by today's standards it is still exceptionally good at what we ask it to do; present information on a large, easy to read screen and allow deletions and simple edits with a pen-like device instead of probing, screen-blocking digit. By contrast my iPod touch, which can do a gazillion things the iPAQ can't, feels strangely awkward in comparison when performing those same tasks.
Perhaps inevitably then, I'm rather taken by this new Samsung because of its similarities in form factor to the old HP workhorse. It's about the same size (although the screen resolution is much greater) and it can be driven with a stylus. Aside from its styling pretensions towards being an iPhone rather than a PDA, it's almost exactly what I would have expected had the iPAQ brand continued into the smartphone era.
It's unlikely I'll ever actually own one of these; I'm enough of an old fuddy-duddy to prefer a decent feature-phone for making voice calls, and the editing functions, nice though they sound, are of little use to me or my lifestyle. But it's nice to see that some manufacturers are still willing to step outside the predefined boundaries once in a while and to create products that are thought through and designed to purpose rather than simply cloned and tweaked from what's gone before.
- Updated Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
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- Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
- Mounties always get their man: Heartbleed 'hacker', 19, CUFFED
- Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders