TapGawker Media hacked

14 Dec 2010 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 Is this possible for a computer—it is if you stop thinking of it as a computer, that was out of date at the turn of the century.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.


30 Nov 2010 17:23 by Rick

I haven’t really noticed the NT reading for Advent Sunday before so don’t know if it is always the same but this seems very appropriate for the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Romans 13:13-14

let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

TapThe Portishead Traffic Light Experiment

1 Nov 2010 11:43 by Rick

As you can see in this video, the experiment to switch off a notorious set of traffic lights in Portishead was an outstanding success. I missed this at the time but, although it clearly needs a bit of work, it was good enough for the experiment to be made permanent. Since then two zebra crossings have been introduced making it easier for disabled people, but in an unfortunate retrograde step, they have been put on raised “traffic calming” platforms. Now we just need the experiment to be repeated in Bristol itself—at sensible and appropriate locations.

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.


20 Oct 2010 08:17 by Rick

I, N , take you, M ,
to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part;
according to God’s holy law.
In the presence of God I make this vow.

One or more tokens are exchanged, the text is spoken and an acknowledgement is signed in the presence of witnesses and an official with civil authority who all also sign.

This is a contract, anything else is irrelevant.

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.

TapNothing Ventured

28 Sep 2010 09:39 by Rick

The Bristol Merchant Venturers are now very similar to provincial branches of Lions or Rotary Club but perhaps on a slightly grander scale. But in their foundation they were an early example of the modern venture capitalists. Where the merchants invested in new trade routes and new world plantations, their modern counterparts invest in genome sequences and social networks. Their names are often spoken in the same breath as hedge fund managers and futures traders (now collectively called “Bankers”) and not mentioned in polite company but they can on occasion, almost seem to be charities. They put money into causes that would probably founder without them, of long term benefit to the country and even mankind—in everything it seems except intent. Their objective is, if the venture is successful, to take a very healthy profit just like their forebears. Many ventures will fail, the visionary inventors swept aside like the lost ships to the new world, but the occasional star apparently justifies the trail of debris and, of course, every one turns a blind eye to the slave gallies.

So when an initiative such as the prisoner rehabilitation scheme comes up it is very much a venture capitalist scheme. They cannot take a profit unless they reduce the re-offending rate of their “customers’ by a significant amount. I would hope there are some restrictions on how they select the clients, because the risk is that they are competing with the genuine charities such as this one founded in Bristol—both in drawing off funding and cherry picking the good candidates for reform.

The way venture capital takes its profit is not usually long term investment, they can’t wait that long. Once a company looks to become successful the usual course is to float it on the stock market if it is very good and has become a known name or, for smaller ventures, sell it to a bigger company who needs the technology or expertise. I can’t see that being possible for the prisoner scheme except perhaps to sell it back to the government when funds or the politics are more amenable.

Another reason that a successful fledgling company might be bought is to put it out of business, to squash the competition. Playing devil’s advocate, the rehabilitation scheme could be attractive to Crime Inc. as it would be drying up their recruitment field.


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.

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