Archive for the 'Rants' Category

LMGTFY

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

A minor intertubes annoyance of mine.

I use Google Maps quite a bit. Not massively for sat-nav, as I’m a terrible luddite for navigation, and don’t have a suitable car holder, but for finding pubs, bars, restaurants, stations, shops etc if walking. I’ll use the reviews as a guide, and I contribute back to it as well: I’ll edit places I know are wrong, I’ve added photos of opening times that Google can scan and publish automagically.

Overall, it’s pretty cool. Yes, you’re dealing with a big evil tech firm, and they’re getting a lot of data for free, but it’s useful for me, and the contributions may be useful (they’d be even better if it would let me add The Jigger’s Whistle, but meh).

One thing, though, is troubling me. Nagging away at me like an untraceable rattle in the dashboard.

Questions. Questions asked by people too damn lazy and/or stupid to do even the most basic research on the computer they are in front of or holding in their hand. The maps app on my phone will occasionally prompt me about a place it knows I have been and say

Someone has a question about [place], can you help?

and like a twat, I’ll view the question, because it’s good to help.

Here’s a typical example, with a fairly succinct answer from another contributor.

FFS. Let me Google that for you.

Really? Not even a full sentence, and the answer should be pretty fucking easy with the fucking Internet in front of you, shouldn’t it?

Looks pretty easy to me. Fuckwits.

Password Authentication Protocol

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

I’m not known for my love of politicians: I generally hold the opinion that anyone looking to become a politician should automatically be prevented from doing so. Politiciana, I feel, are generally out for themselves, are often involved in debates that they’re ill-qualified to speak in. I know there’s exceptions, I know some politicians are direct and work hard to represent their constituents.

But I also know that there’s also terribly ignorant people in the House of Commons.

Great example, this week. Damien Green is under investigation because a large quantity of e-smut was found on his PC.

Now, let’s be clear: I don’t care about the actual porn. Nothing was illegal, so if he feels the need to knock one out at at work, I don’t see the problem provided he’s alone and has sufficient tissue to hand, if you’ll forgive the expression- if indeed it was him viewing the pr0n.

And there are the problems. First of all, porn sites are famed for introducing malware, so somewhat ironically, if you go looking for Internet sex, you stand a higher chance of encountering a dose of the e-pox.

Secondly, there’s a question that it was him. Nadine Dorries was quick to leap to his defence:

and was then followed by a truckload of MPs saying similar things. Jumping over one another, in fact, to say just how shit they are.

So, essentially, it’s common practice for MPs to share their passwords with all and sundry. MPs that represent us, store our personal data, and make the laws of this country, showing an apalling lack of good practice. For a really good, in-depth analysis of just what is wrong here, take a look at Tim Turner’s Information Law Blog.

In the meantime, just take a while to think about these people who are too important to take your data seriously.

Breaking the System

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

I’ve been in hospital again. Less involved than last time, but another reduction in mobility that sees me off work for a short while, and reduced mobility for a while. I’m grumpy too, because I can’t get out to the pub, and that dancing program is on.

What I’m going to whinge about this time is the running of the NHS at the moment, no, in fact, the systematic disassembly of the NHS by the current government.

Something happened that I’m fundamentally opposed to. Not opposed enough to refuse treatment, obviously, but something that sticks with me.

I was treated in a very nice Spire private hospital, just up the road in La-di-dah Little Aston. I hadn’t suddenly discovered untold riches, and got private insurance that would actually cover my fucked-up body, or tested the limit on my credit card by paying for it myself- the NHS paid. Very nice it was too, pleasant, seemingly unstressed staff, a comfortable private room, decent food after the op. Free parking for my other half to collect me (though there’s a question over if that’s a good thing or not at a large site).

This annoys me in two ways:

Firstly, I would imagine that Spire made some cash out of NHS budgets.

Secondly, NHS hospitals could be more like this. Where it really counts. When I was last in, and the time before, my care was great. Staff were really good, but stressed, and overworked. I didn’t get that feeling in Little Aston- when I was in a bed that I’d bled over, it was changed with little fuss in about 10 minutes flat, simply because the staff had time to do it.

Despite what many would have you believe there’s no reason why the NHS couldn’t be like this. Much of the stuff we’re told about our “failing NHS” is manufactured, precisely to allow the privatisation-by-stealth I’ve played a reluctant part in, and it’s just plain fucking wrong.

If we didn’t have an NHS, I would not be here today. The circumstances of my birth not far off (not far enough!) 50 years ago meant that without the NHS I’d have died, simple as that: my family were not wealthy (not that poor, but not wealthy). I have family and friends who have been saved more recently than that. These same people would, like me, be told to go and fuck off by private health insurance.

Let’s not split hairs here: the objective here is to make money for the rich, and price anyone who isn’t rich out. Stop funding it properly, farm bits out to the private sector (because they’re always more efficient, huh?), preparing the ground to privatise the whole fucking lot. After all, it worked a fucking treat with the railways, buses, and energy, didn’t it- they’re all perfect examples of a well-run private-enterprise system working cohesively and efficiently for everyone’s benefit. The increased competition keeps prices down and efficiency up so well, and there’s no cases whatsoever of near-monopoly funded by the taxpayer to line the pockets of wealthy fucking twats.

If you think you’ll be fine because you’re healthy, you’re young, or you have a good job, take a good hard think: Life can have a good go at fucking all that up and showing you up to be a fool. If you have a hint of a prior health problem, the insurance companies will be off into the sunset before you know it. If you become ill, and lose that job, you’ll be unable to pay the premiums anyway.

Our NHS is one of the genius strokes of government policy (a decidedly rare thing), and we’re allowing it to be wrecked.

I do have a fairly decent job. I pay a reasonably large amount of income tax each month. You know what? I’ll willingly pay more if that is what it takes to fund the NHS properly, and if you don’t agree, you’re a fucking short-sighted idiot.

Make Tech Difficult

Monday, December 12th, 2016

One of the things non-techies hate about tech is the complexity of setting some things up, and the rise of IoT, and the ubiquity of smartphones and home broadband has meant that our homes have more and more tech, and that tech is expected to talk to the cloud, and perhaps talk back.

Manually configuring this gear can be a bit tricky, so there’s a bunch of things making it easier. Your ISP may well provide a router, with default passwords. IP cameras will “phone home” to the manufacturer’s site to register themselves, so you don’t have to manually set up dynamic DNS. That router from your ISP will probably use UPnP so it can open ports for the camera and any other devices. Things like Nest or Hive bypass that by depending on a server in the cloud on someone else’s computer to make the connection.

All nice so far. Even better, these things are putting my favourite OS, Linux out there. As Linux is free, and powerful, and efficient on the low-power chips in these devices, it gets used a lot.

You’d think I’d be pleased.

But there’s a problem. Lots of these devices have poorly implemented security. Others depend on a hosted service, so if someone decides to stop supporting it, or indeed changes the API you have an expensive paperweight.

The Mirai attacks first turned IP cameras into a huge botnet, and now malware has got its hands on routers: the very device you expect to secure your home network, and let’s not forget that if your IP camera (inside your firewall/router) is compromised, it could be used as a tool to attack your PC, and the router will happily help out by opening ports for it: many cameras have poor web interfaces and hardcoded “root” passwords (I have one myself with a password of “123456”)

I realise I’m sounding a little like a luddite here; or perhaps the techie complaining about tech doing stuff itself and therefore meaning people need fewer techies, but here’s the rub: the more of this stuff that gets out there, the bigger the attack surface, the bigger the gain, and the bigger the effect on everyone. So, a little advice:

1. Think if you really need that IoT device.
2. Change default passwords.
3. Consider tossing your ISP-supplied router. It’s probably shit anyway. Turn off UPnP, even if that means you have to get help opening and forwarding ports. There’s a fucking good reason a firewall closes ports, so why bypass that?
4. Consider not buying the very cheapest IP cam like mine 🙂
5. If you invest in cloud-connected devices, entertain the fact that you just lost control of them.
6. If there’s updated firmware, use it.
7. Linux does not mean secure. The kernel itself probably is, but a lot of embedded devices are poorly secured.

Self Serving

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Is it a necessity that if you design a self-service till for a shop, that you must fuck up the UI so badly that it’s totally unusable?

I’m a techy. I love shopping online, I hate supermarket queues, and I’m not yet old enough to look forward to a chat with the cashier, so you’d think I’d love them.

I probably would, were they not so shit.

First, they’re all touch-screen. Industrial touch screens are shit. Laggy, no haptic feedback, imprecise- so unlike the touch-screen on your phone or tablet. Add to this that they’re usually a lousy bit of software- slow and laggy- and then a bit of ambiguous wording, and the fact that you want the till to verify all the items (and the correct items) are being scanned and bagged, and you have a big, big, fail.

I’ve used 2 recently. 1 in a WH Smith at the QE hospital, and one in a convenience (oh the irony) store in Birmingham’s New St. The WH Smith one, to be fair, asks sensible questions (did you use a bag (or not need to), did you take one of our bags), but it’s still laggy, but by the second time you use it you learn the shitness of the UI and compensate.

The one on New St today was awful, however: the touchscreen worse than normal, it was slow, and it starts with the question “Own Bag?”. This is ambiguous. What it wants you to do here is say yes if you have a bag you want to put on the scale it uses to sense what is being scanned, and no if you don’t, and that scale is directly behind the handy-looking platform you assume is to put a bag on.

Having crossed that bridge with the help of the bloke that could have just taken the 70p for the bottled water I bought, I then encountered the coin mechanism; a mini conveyor belt that takes several seconds to swallow a pound coin (and yes, the WH Smith one does this better, but not well), and longer again to deliver my change. A bloke at a till would do it in a quarter of the time.

Am I alone in this? I happily use pay-at-pump fuel pumps, ticket machines in car parks or rail stations, and vending machines. There’s just something awful about supermarket self-service tills that makes me want to avoid them.

Someone must have costed this out, and decided that the combination of having a member of staff to help people work the tills, and the losses from intentional or deliberate mis-scans is cheaper than staffing tills, presumably, but at least could they be made to work?

Let’s Rock

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Or not.

I’m back trying to find something listenable in the car. It’s not been long enough for a repeat of HHGTTG, and I’d settled on Planet Rock: music I liked, and less obnoxious DJs than mormal.
Bauer Media have gone and spoiled it all, by giving the FM frequency to Absolute Radio, with its focus on 90s, slightly rockish pop (so that means fucking Oasis and U2 when they got shit, for a start, FFS). What a shitfest.

I could spend a hundred or so quid on a DAB radio, another hundred and fifty on the bits to fit it (new fascia panel, fixings, antenna, CANBus harness, ISO cable), and take lots of trim out and have DAB, to enjoy Planet Rock in a 80Kbit/sec mono stream, of course, but why in the name of $deity would I do that? My car also lacks bluetooth, aux-in, or a CD autochanger, and the other choices are as grim as ever, so remembering 2 CDs a day it is, or the sound of tyres/wind/diesel engine.

Simple Productivity

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

There’s been an article on the BBC website that’s caught a bit of Twatter attention, with a few people saying “right on”, notably homeworkers and people working for themselves.

I can see their point, and some of the article’s point, but really, given the author’s credentials, I’d expect a bit better: as per usual for BBC Magazine articles, it’s an over-simplification, and a lot of puff, and air, and light on facts, analysis, or thought. Maybe that’s the problem; articles here are generally low on content, high on bollocks, and perhaps his recent book would make a better read, though a recent Guardian article is, IMO, similarly flawed, and making assumptions.

If I’m interpreting the articles correctly, one of the things they’re saying is that if you’re detached from the direct production environment, your job has become worthless: i.e: If you’re making something or directly providing a service, you’re valuable, if you’re backroom staff, you’re not: so a postman is valuable, the person that administrates his salary isn’t. This is both (a) wrong, and (b) a rather odd thing for an academic (who surely is a long way from a direct production process) to say.

Perhaps I have that wrong, but one very clear message from the article is that:

The average British worker spends 36 days a year answering work emails. London workers in particular receive close to 9,000 emails each year.

and the inference seems to be that that time is wasted.
(more…)

Politics and Pain

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

I’m writing this in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election. So, while a stay in hospital is not pleasant at least I avoided much of the discussion and speculation. I don’t, as a rule, make too many political comments here: this blog is about me, and my interests, and politics both bores and frustrates me: the results and consequences don’t but the political game is too tedious, arcane, and obfuscated for me.

I will, however, express my fear of another Conservative government. I’ve spent the last couple of days in the care of the NHS: part of the package of care that Conservatives wish to either kill off or privatise. I’m lucky, in that I don’t need some aspects of care and welfare: I am usually healthy and fit, and in employment, but that could so easily be different. I’ve had a operation that would be incredibly expensive in a private healthcare system- and as I’ve had prior problems health insurance would probably run a mile- but as I have friends and family, the NHS, and a proper job with a reasonable employer, I don’t have to worry about care for myself, or who pays for it. It really doesn’t bear to think how that could be so, so different, and the electorate in their wisdom have chosen a party that are continually heading in that direction. As one of the “hardworking taxpayers” we keep hearing about, I’d like to remind everyone that most of us will use the NHS and many of us may have to use the welfare state. Ask yourself this question: If you found yourself unable to work for an extended time, how far are you from financial difficulty? If you need medical assistance, can you afford anything other than the NHS? Syill feeling nice and secure?

In the post I’ve linked, I refer to wasters. We all know wasters exist: there are people who don’t work through choice and contribute nothing: but these are fewer than some would have you believe. There are many people unable to work for a wide range of reasons and it could so easily be you.

The care I received was excellent, by the way. Part of the systematic disassembly of the NHS is to say that it is failing and inefficient (because, obviously, the private sector is always efficient and works 100%) but all I saw were hardworking, professional staff looking after patients, and I’m hugely disappointed and more than a little worried that we’ll see this situation further damaged by the new government. My pain will fade over the coming weeks and can be dulled with painkillers; the country’s pain will last for 5 years at least.

Shout

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

The 80s Tears for Fears song Shout contains the line

These are the things I can do without

and that came true last Friday. Warning: middle-aged whinge content approaching.

I’d already arranged to meet a friend in a local pub, when my neighbours suggested a meal out. I’d got plenty of time, so we trotted (well, walked) off to a local pub. The food and beer was fine, but one thing *really* grated: the volume.

The music wasn’t the problem. What was the problem was a group of people, clustered around the bar (Grrr!) seemingly unable to conduct a conversation at normal volume: even the act of moving out of my way so I could get to the PDQ machine was accompanied by a needless cacophony of shouts (to which I muttered “for fucks sake” under my breath (hopefully)), and something about the acoustics of the room made it impossible to hold a conversation ourselves (though, as we’re all distinctly middle-aged, it could be the start of our hearing deteriorating in a noisy environment).

This was repeated later when I met my friend in another pub, but also with a band playing. Loud.

I really don’t mind music in pubs; or indeed bands in pubs. In fact, I love music in pubs, if it’s decent, but why always so loud? The loud music, of course, then creates the shouting if it wasn’t there already.

This thing really feeds into my perfect pub post: and it’s worth noting that the pubs I really like often have no music, like this one, this one or this one, or music you can converse over, like this one and this one and, again referring to my critera, the old model of multi-room pubs (before they all got knocked into one space) really helps here: it may have been an answer to the smoking issue too (as many pubs had a smoke room back in the day).

This is starting to sound like a grumpy old man’s desire for quiet pubs with no life to them (last Sunday, I visibly winced when one heavily refreshed customer suggested my local needed loud music on the jukebox to “liven it up” (on a Sunday evening, FFS)), but I’ll address that in two ways. First of all, I know I’m not alone, and secondly, having been in this place at work-chucking-out on a Friday, with it rammed to the point of standing room only, and felt the buzz in the place, which, frankly, was infectious, but still been able to talk to my companion, because people were talking, I can honestly say that at times I crave a bit of life to a pub.

So then: am I just getting old (though, in truth, I’ve hated over-loud pubs since my teens), or getting (even more) boring? I know Andy will agree here, but he’s older than me (and possibly, if the two of us are present, this post may become hypocritical…), and others may not, and I suppose here there’s a point to be made that pubs are, well, public spaces, so have to accommodate different tastes.

A Bad Apple

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Andy, Ross and BrownhillsBob may be expecting me to have a pop at Apple here (as is my way), but I’m not going to, or at least only a brief whinge, with the main target (again) being idiots that claim to know a product, but don’t.

Those of you with long memories may remember this lengthy rant. A short swipe at OSX, and a big load rant at fucking Symantec (as a colleague commented, is there *any* company Symantec have bought and not fucked up the product?), and a big rant at fuckwits who don’t understand what they are being paid to do.

The OSX server mentioned in that rant failed. To be completely fair, it’s worked completely reliably for six years now, which is impressive. So I’m not going to complain, and it was clearly hardware that was bost.

A few attempts by colleagues and myself to resurrect it failed, so we called the support company (sadly the same fuckwits from the story back in 2009). They wander in, (bringing a manual, which sets off alarm bells- I’d expect a field engineer to not need it….) say the server’s not supported by Fruitco any more, that parts are a nightmare, briefly try (and fail to get) Target Disk Mode, (which, I note, doesn’t work with disks attached to a hardware RAID card, so wouldn’t have helped), shrug a bit, say that our diagnosis of a buggered RAID card might be right or maybe it might be the logic board (as there’s little more than those 2 fucking boards in it, this is hardly advanced diagnosis, and leave.

At this point, I begin to wonder what we’re paying the fuckers for, and I start restoring the files to the only place we have a Backup Exec agent and 1TB of spare storage: a Windows Server 2003 box. Most of the data restores, but some recent work is lost as it didn’t make the tapes (the Mac workstations being too old for Time Machine), and some initially didn’t restore due to file naming incompatibilities (take it from me, anyone using mixed operating systems (our backup is Windows-based) should read this, and this: most of the restrictions are with Windows, but you never know what OS you may be sharing files with. I personally think it all went downhill once spaces were allowed in filenames :-), and here’s my brief whinge: I know the limitation is Windows, but allowing “:” and “\” in a filename is just fucking wrong, and supporting your hardware a bit longer would be nice.

Now then, what to do? The users are (mostly) working again. First of all, the original support co is ditched. We call another supplier, and the difference is incredible: engineer arrives, asks all the right questions, listens to what diagnostic steps we’ve tried, sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, diagnoses a logic board failure, and offers to take the server back to the workshop to attempt recovery of the recent data for a very modest fee. Guess who’ll be getting the support contract, and potentially an order for new machines in a while?

It also makes me think I should have taken better note of the warning signs six years ago: these people claim to be supporting us (and originally claimed to know the product, but, as is so often the case, don’t. I’m glad to say that I didn’t arrange their involvement.