Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

TapSkype Newsletter?

12 Jan 2011 12:47 by Rick

If you see an email announcing itself as from “Skype Newsletter”, check very carefully. Most, if not all of these are bogus. They are spammers trying to get your login details and maybe get you to pay for an upgrade to a free product or install malware on your system.

TapMac App Store

10 Jan 2011 12:45 by Rick

At a rough count I have 32 third party applications installed on my Mac (not including stuff that came with my accessories like camera, GPS and printer). Two of those are paid-for applications, a few are donation-ware. Just one is now supported by the new Mac App Store, TextWrangler, but it doesn’t say so on the product web site.

The only benefit that I have seen from the store is that I may buy Pages now that is is available as a separate download (but curiously it doesn’t say that on the product web site either!)

SuperDuper, Springy, Crossover, CyberDuck, Sbooth Max, Firefox, SourceSource, SoundFlower, SoundApp Reborn, LineIn, LAME, Growl, KeePassX, Perian, Flip4Mac, XNJB, TextWrangler, NeoOffice, Gimp, PaintBrush, Adium, PopFile, Skype, Sonos, Thunderbird, uTorrent, VMware Fusion, Adobe Air, BBC iPlayer, Adobe Flash, Audacity, SilverLight

TapThe Battle of Gloucester Cathedral

14 Dec 2010 14:46 by Rick

The Spectator reports

Annabel Hayter, chairwoman of Gloucester Cathedral Flower Guild, received an email saying that she and her 60 fellow flower arrangers would have to undergo a CRB check. CRB stands for Criminal Records Bureau, and a CRB check is a time-consuming, sometimes expensive, pretty much always pointless vetting procedure that you must go through if you work with children or ‘vulnerable adults’. Everybody else had been checked: the ‘welcomers’ at the cathedral door; the cathedral guides; the whole of the cathedral office (though they rarely left their room). The flower guild was all that remained.

The cathedral authorities expected no resistance. Though the increasing demand for ever tighter safety regulation has become one of the biggest blights on Britain today, we are all strangely supine: frightened not to comply. Not so Annabel Hayter. ‘I am not going to do it,’ she said. And her act of rebellion sparked a mini-revolution among the other cathedral flower ladies. In total she received 30 letters from guild members who judged vetting to be either an invasion of privacy (which it certainly is) insecure (the CRB has a frightening tendency to return the wrong results) or unnecessary (they are the least likely paedophiles in the country). Several threatened to resign if forced to undergo it.

Follow the rest of the story for other examples of the CRB cancer. Thanks to Schneier on Security for the pointer.

TapGawker Media hacked

10:11 by Rick

I have heard today that this prominent publishing house, which includes Lifehacker, Gizmodo (and, ahem, Fleshbot), has had its database of accounts compromised. There is not much point in changing your password there yet, but, if you use the same one elsewhere, it would be a good idea to change them NOW.

Thanks to SANS ISC for the information. Lots more information here.

TapIs this the future of Home Computing?

8 Dec 2010 15:15 by Rick

Disclaimer: Although I work for HP, I have no contact with the division responsible for this product. All views expressed are my own.

I have always thought that home computing has never got out of the hobbyist mindset of the Sinclair Spectrum and BBC home Micro. They require deep knowledge to get the best out of them, require regular maintenance and are forever going wrong in little (how do I do that) or big (BSOD) ways. This puts a lot of people off. To really take off as a universal resource, it needs to be a commodity like your TV; you just plug it in and go. Is this possible for a computer—it is if you stop thinking of it as a computer, that was out of date at the turn of the century. People use these devices to create and read documents, do research, consume entertainment in the form of pictures, video, music and games—only the odd spread sheet could be called computing. So, look at this…

HP recently launched a product called the DreamScreen 400 but you may not have heard of it because it was developed in India for the Indian market. It is well worth taking a look at because it is quite revolutionary and yet derivative at the same time.

It is very targeted to those homes that do not have computer technology already. It is very low cost—less than £300 and does not assume any prior knowledge of computers or even the internet, that is all hidden away. I have no information about the storage mechanism, but I would hope that it is transparent like the iPad, not requiring any understanding of folders.

It is uses standard components which is how the cost is kept down—18.5″ TouchSmart screen, probably an Intel processor, internet connection, webcam & microphone, SD card slot, DVD drive, 4 x USB sockets and probably a Linux operating system with a custom UI bolted on top. I have seen no mention of a wireless connection, DVD burner or what storage capacity but the specification is pretty comprehensive. There is multiple account capability for each member of the family to be kept separate and, presumably, some sort of parental control system. The applications are clearly targeted at the growing middle class of India with emphasis on education, entertainment and running a home. They include eMail, video chat, downloaded and DVD video, music, games, documents, spreadsheets, presentations (I don’t know what formats), news, finance, travel and educational material geared to the Indian curriculum. For the more adventurous there is generic web browsing using Firefox with custom extensions.

The interface is very iPad like, including touch scrolling, and you could say that it is a large screen, permanently docked iPad. There is a mouse, and I think arm-ache would make this almost essential, and a USB keyboard. The latter would only be really required if you wanted to create documents, there is a multi-language on-screen keyboard for simple things like search terms. You can also attach certain (HP only?) USB printers.

This has clearly been engineered to a price with a limited development teams but with a rich array of “Apps”, including third-party developers, I could see this really fulfilling the requirements of any family even in the western world—Will HP pull it off or someone else like Apple with a iMac/iPad hybrid? That remains to be seen.

Update: [14 Dec] I was walking around Maplin and spotted on the discount shelf an MSI Wind Top AE1900. This is so similar to the DreamScreen 400 that the latter is surely just re-badged and with custom software. The MSI came with Wireless-N and is/was almost twice the price.

TapBroadband Speed

27 Oct 2010 10:27 by Rick

This is not going to be a very scientific post being based on a sample of just one, but it may well be of relevance for other people who find that their broadband internet is not as quick as it should be. Before blaming the supplier and accepting their explanation about old infrastructure and distance from exchanges, take a look at what is on your side of the network. In particular look at your modem/router. Is it yellowing with age? If so, that may be the problem. I recently swapped out one that was six years old for a new one and it made a huge difference. I don’t think some early models are capable of supporting current network speeds.

If you look into the detailed status reports available on most models you may find that among the incomprehensible figures there are ones for inbound and outbound connection speeds. The one I was looking at reports only 2Mbps inbound. Changing it for a new model instantly made that jump to 8Mbps. And this was not just figures, the whole browsing experience became sprightly. The replacement wasn’t particularly sophisticated and cost just £55 in a retail shop (we were desperate); if yours comes as part of the contract you could try pestering them.

The same may also be true if you are on a cable network but there you have to convince your supplier because they provide the modem. When I look into this I will report what information is available and how I got on.

As a footnote I will also remark on how peculiar the router market is at the moment.

  • It is very difficult to by a router without wireless and if you can find one they are not a lot cheaper.
  • It is also very difficult to buy a router where the built in switch runs at gigabit speeds and virtually impossible if you want ADSL rather than cable. You may ask why you want that when the broadband is running between 8 and 20Mbps but it is needed for communication between devices internally—like network storage and video streamers. There are even some that boast 300Mbps wireless but only provide 100Mbps wired connections—daft!
  • Beware of wireless systems advertised as “Dual Band N.” The better ones are simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz but others are switch-able so you have one or the other. As you are almost bound to have some devices on the older standard (even if only guests) then the 5GHz option is wasted.
  • Finally, the decision on which one to buy in the exercise above was determined by a trivial factor; wall mount. For the sake of a couple of keyhole slots on the back, competitors were discarded. Even then it wasn’t advertised on the box, I had to get a salesman to open it up to see. Our location (for power and telephone connection) was in a busy narrow gangway so a shelf was not an option but even in better environments why should we have to give up valuable surface space to a utilitarian device like this.

TapProxy Spam

6 Oct 2010 08:51 by Rick

I had a strange comment that leaked through the spam filter today. The content was just an IP address— That turns out to be a proxy machine in Hangzhou in Zhejiang, China owned by China Mobile Communications Corporation. The spam link was also interesting. It appeared to point to content that was taken from a US local paper (from Mount Vernon) but the language was strange. Here is an extract…

A name from a pointy-eyed neighbor culminated in the arrest of three suspected burglars and the restoration of nearly half of the almost $1,200 in valuables stolen.

The decision came in just after 12:40 Thursday afternoon with a precise description of the three suspects, the automotive they have been in and the direction of travel. The descriptions matched an earlier name from another deal with on Mount Vernon on suspicious persons.

I think it has been machine translated into another language and back again to disguise the source.


10 Sep 2010 10:05 by Rick

Apparently Windows 7 Starter Edition, typically installed on new Netbooks, is very crippled. You can’t even change the background wallpaper. Illiad has a solution—and it has the advantage that you no longer see what Windows is doing to your data either.

TapAnother Flash Shock(wave)

26 Aug 2010 11:20 by Rick

Adobe announced yesterday that there is a security patch for Shockwave Player which users should install. However, it would be worth first checking that you have the product in the first place and, if not, then you probably don’t need it at all. Very little content on the web uses it.

Just to confuse matters, the Firefox plugin that Adobe installs for their Flash product is called “Shockwave Flash.” This is one you probably do want as it makes surfing the web a bit easier.

TapThe Complete Church Laptop?

22 Jul 2010 12:56 by Rick

The complete church laptop containing everything you need to run your church office and services. From Kevin Mayhew Publishers: £1995 reduced to £1495 (out of stock—presumably built to order).

Sounds good—at a price. So let’s see what you get.

  • An unspecified DELL Laptop with dual screen capability (for projector not supplied), sound card (for PA not supplied) and wireless (for WiFi not supplied). It is hard to tell from the picture but it looks like a small wide-screen model. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is the 4GB i3 Studio 15 w. 1GB ATI graphics card @ £600
  • Windows 7 (version not specified—Home Premium included in above price).
  • 15 months McAfee Security (included in above price).
  • Microsoft Office (presumably home & student edition as there is no Outlook but that is only a non-commercial licence!—£100)
  • Mozilla calendar & email (free).
  • iTunes (free).
  • Spotify (but no subscription).
  • 12 Months 2GB cloud backup (not sure about DataSafe but can be free from some places like Mozy).
  • 2200 hymns and songs in MP3 and PowerPoint format, presumably with a perpetual licence to play and show them (they are publishers after all). No mention of an update service.
  • Some service-sheet templates.
  • Software pre-installed and configured.

So £700 worth of stuff plus installation and some data content. It doesn’t look good value to me unless that perpetual license is very expensive. They don’t mention that if you obtain any other songs then you may need CCL, PPL and/or PRS licences to show and play them.

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