* Posts by Smitty

18 posts • joined 20 Jul 2009

Revealed: The naughty tricks used by web ads to bypass blockers


Feels a wee bit illegal

Is this even legal? If you attempt to block something happening on your computer and a website goes out of its way to bypass your blocks, then that feels just a little bit illegal.

If the website detects you have ad-blockers or the like they should either refuse to serve the content until you agree to accept ads.... Or maybe the industry could finally figure out a simple way of implementing some sort of working micro-payments system and make things simper for everyone.

FM now stands for 'fleeting mortality' in Norway


DAB is a solution looking for a problem.

Back in 1997 I went to an engineering and technology fair in Newcastle.

In among all the exhibitors raving about this new internet thingy was the BBC R&D stand. They had a live DAB demo running.

The equipment was big, about the size of a suitcase and fitted in the boot of a car. They were using an reception antenna located outside the hall and playing Radio 3 at a high bit rate, so in theory it should have sounded great. But it sounded muffled and the signal kept dropping out, despite the rep telling me that they had ramped up the power of the local test transmission especially for this event.

I couldn't but help feel it all seemed a bit "early prototypey", Digital phones had been around for over a decade, there were various digital data transmission systems in use and digital DTH satellite broadcasting had been around for a while with reasonably sized receivers. I just came away with a feeling that DAB should have been a bit more advanced at that point in time.

The rep assured me that when it launched to the public it would be amazing.

Then I heard nothing more about it until Psion launched their Wavefinder USB DAB radio on 2000. I got one when they reduced the price. To be honest I was underwhelmed with what was on offer. All the drop outs and muffled audio just made me think DAB was rushed to market. Later I learned that the prototype I seen at that fair wasn't actually a prototype at all. The standard has been ratified years earlier.

And it wasn't just the underling technology that was at fault, a lot of DAB radio are incredibly poorly designed with weird channel selector interfaces. Also, so many of them have cheap crappy speakers, no doubt to offset the cost of the DAB electronics and a need to keep the unit price low.

I can't help but feel that DAB was a proof of concept idea that somehow got to market.

Its just a pity that no one seems to want to put it right by obsoleting DAB and replacing it with the much better DAB+.

Trump's taxing problem: The end of 'affordable' iPhones


It's all international now

Trump doesn't seem to get that the tech industry is just so globalised now and there's little he can do to change that. While it is admirable from a US viewpoint to force the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Dell to employ more US citizens and make more products in the States, he doesn't realise that the US is just a increasingly smaller part of the global marketplace.

What happens when he tries to turn the screws to force these companies to comply? They can simply up-sticks and move their HQs to the EU or one of the new emerging mega-markets such as India or China. Tech companies don't need to stay anchored in one country anymore.

Two G4S call centre staff sacked over 999 answering scam


Call centers like to demand the impossible.

15 years ago I worked in Comets PC support center. It was a bonus service for people who bought extended guarantees on their crappy Daewoo or other 2nd tier PC systems - they all had winmodems which I hated.

We were supposed to resolve all issues within 10 minutes. The phones were programmed to auto answer within 3 rings, we were unable to reject calls.

The managers were thick as pigshit and knew nothing about technology. We could only authorise engineer call outs after we made the customer reinstall Windows.

It was technically impossible to achieve the required performance level so staff would hang up or just lie to callers. We were encouraged to edit ticket histories to make things look better for us.

One day some Watchdog researchers called to test us. We even got solicitors letters via Comet HQ about bad service.

Toxic wasn't the word.

Maplin Electronics demands cash with menaces


Overpriced isn't the word.

Charging 20 quid for a mini to standard HDMI converter is taking the piss considering you can buy a bag of 10 for about $9.00 on eBay direct from a Chinese supplier. Actually the same applies to everything they sell, you can get it on eBay direct from the supplier for a hell of a lot less.

But I'd miss them if they went. I like browsing all the random crap they have.

'Nigerian scammer' busted after he infected himself with malware


Easyily fixed

The company I work for is pretty strict about email security.

All email to/from new domains is quarantined until someone from the admin teams Okays it. A new domain for what seems like an existing contact would set off alarm bells.

We deal with investment data so our clients are very picky about security,

BBC detector vans are back to spy on your home Wi-Fi – if you can believe it


I live in Ireland where we also have a TV licence, but unlike the UK the offerings of our state broadcast are piss-poor (Ryan Bloody Tubridy everywhere) and there are adverts as well.

Also unlike the UK is the power the TV licence inspectors have. In the UK they are simply Capita employees - they have no legal powers, even though they imply otherwise.

Here they work for a special division of the post office and have the legal right to enter your property without permission and force you to sign statutory declarations. They don't do this in practice, but my god they are the most horrifically abusive civil servants I have ever encountered in my life.

We don't have a TV, we stream everything to tablets and laptops. So when the TV licence inspector calls round they will demand access to prove we don't have one - I'll refuse. Then he'll start shouting at me and threatening to issue me a summons. I'll tell him that he didn't show any ID and he's not wearing any form of a uniform and has dinner stains on his jumper. He'll ask why does that matter and I'll respond that without ID and/or a uniform I don't know who he really is, plus I could assume he is a drunk tapping for money judging by the state of his clothes. He'll repeat the summons line and say he saw a TV, I'll respond with "Go ahead and perjure yourself, I dare you!"

He'll go a way in a huff and then come back a week or two later to repeat the process. At some point he'll say we should just buy a licence to get him off his our our backs.

Then one day my wife will answer the door, the inspector will tell my 6 year old son who is peeking through that mummy will be going to prison for not having a licence and that will be enough for her to give up in frustration and buy the licence.

Of course we go to the Garda about this, but they seem disinterested.

Bad as the BBC and Capitas tactics are, they could be worse.


Or they could just ask for licence details...

I don't get why they just don't force you to hand over your licence number when you sign up for IPllayer.

No valid licence number = no iPlayer for you.

Simply, cheap and effective.

This 125mph train is fitted with LASERS. Sadly no sharks, though


The Cameras

As an ex-Network Rail employee I feel I should mention the amazing OmniSurveyor system.

There are 7 cameras on the front of the NMT, One looks straight ahead, the rest look to the sides and on the rails.

All the footage is then made available to any staff member with the OnmiSurveyor software. It's a very clever and useful piece of technology.

London officials won't take Uber to court – because cabbies are suing the drivers anyway


Just Like Dublin

Up till 2000 there was a limited number of taxi licences in Dublin, and they were treated as property. If you wanted one you had to buy it from another driver and it could costs up to €100,000.

Drivers didn't sign up for a pension scheme, instead they viewed the money they would get from the sale of their licence as their retirement fund. Bear in mind this was not legally sanctioned and the government had been warning drivers since the 80s that they should not rely on selling their licences for such high fees.

The big problem with this system was that it was hard to get a taxi in Dublin and the drivers, with a very safe career, had no incentive to provide good customer service.

Then the rules were changed, no limits to the number of licences and the fee would be a one off payment of €6,300. The existing drivers had a fit, they blockaded the airport and did go slows around Dublin. But the public loved it. Getting a taxi in Dublin is really easy now, before 2000 it could be very difficult if not impossible at times. There have also been lots of innovations, some companies offer a 20% discount on the meter fare, some even sell phone credit via the despatch system.

The same thing is happening with Uber. The 'legacy' taxi drivers are trying to stop a service the public loves in order to protect their own interests. And just like Dublin, they will lose.

It also worth noting that a lot of the pre-2000 drivers are still very bitter about what happened. They want limits on the number of licences and love to subtly play the race card by sticking tricolour flag stickers on their roof signs to let you know they aren't one of the new drivers, many of whom are immigrants And they are still trying to sue the government to recover what they see as lost income. Expect similar where Uber launches.

Samsung's 'OS of Everything' Tizen still has little to offer


I think the obsession with getting the same OS on multiple device types is silly. The future is about interoperability. Who cares what OS a device is running if it can talk to all your other devices in the same language?

Samsung may be trying to push for a closed ecosystem it controls, but the market won't let that happen. It is easier and cheaper to connect different OSs and devices using open protocols.

Tizen is just one more OS mobile developers will have to consider. Unless it can build significant market share ASAP or come up with some other must have killer feature it just going to be overlooked like Bada, the new BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone (sort of).

The world simply doesn't need another mobile OS.

Web firms, DON'T PANIC: The Euro Google 'right to be forgotten' isn't a problem


Simple enough

I thought the ruling was quite simple to understand. I would sum it up as...

If you collect information on someone with whom you have a formal business relationship - no problem.

If you collect information on someone because you have a legal obligation or right to do so - no problem.

If you collect information on someone for the purposes of legitimate public interest journalism or media - no problem.

If you collect information on someone and none of the above apply - you may have a problem.

Why can’t I walk past Maplin without buying stuff I don’t need?


Hard sell tactics could harm them

As a radio amateur I buy a lot from my local Maplins. I go in for components and come out with multi-coloured LED rope lights, cheap quadrapcoters and weird disco ball thingies. I know I could get it a LOT cheaper online, but I'm a sucker for instant gratification.

I've noticed two distinct type of Maplin. The city centre ones which are focused firmly on consumer tat and whose staff are a bit clueless, and the out of town retail park ones which have a pretty decent components selection and staff who are a bit more knowledgeable.

What is starting to put me off going there is the ever increasing hard sell. I was buying some solder a few weeks back and the cashier tried to sell me some batteries, a chubby screwdriver thing and and an LED inspection torch. I had to say no to each item a few times. It used be the case that sometimes they tried to sell you extra batteries, now its worse. And those sort of tactics are going to get them a bad reputation.

Woz: Cloud computing trend is 'horrendous'


We promise nothing!

The problem with the cloud is the T&Cs.

The cloud service provider clould claim they offer 100% uptime, fast processing times and unbreakable security. They might even go to great lengths to give weight to those claims and foster a good reputation.

However, when a problem does occur (and it will) they will simply point to a clause hidden near the end of their service agreement that will say something along the lines of "If anything goes wrong, tough luck mate! We are responsible for nothing".

Until cloud providers are willing to offer cast iron service availability and reliability guarantees the cloud will alway be a risky proposition.

Bang & Olufsen Beolit 12


I hate to say it but...

When you buy B&O products you are buying the name.

True, they sould great. But not so great as to justify the price they charge.

I speak as someone whose parents had a B&O obsession during the 1980s. I rememeber my first visit to a Richer Sounds and being truly shocked that my parents had paid so much over the odds for what they called "Audio Perfection".

Cable thieves cost UK rail £15m a year


Hi-voltage does not stop them

The theives know how to deal with hi-voltage cables - they steal those too. They stand on a thick rubber pad. There have been many thefts of 650v third rail feeder cable in the Southern region and not one of the scallies has been killed, yet!

Copoer signalling cable is slowly being replaced with fiber optic cable which is worthless to the thieves. But it will be some time before that process is compelted.


They even take fiber otics

I used to be an Ops Manger for Network Rail and had to deal with the fallout from cable thefts.

The thieves had a very sophisticated theft method. They would use two modified heavy shovels, the bottom of which was grinded to be razor sharp. They would stand 1/2 mile apart. At one end they would tie a rope to the cable at one end and a quad bike at the other. Using phones/radios/etc they would slice the cable with the shovels in unison and the quad bike would then drag it out of the cable trough.

It wasn't just signalling cables they took, they would even take hi-voltage cable used in third rail areas. They protected themselves by standing on rubber mats.

Signaling cable is an expensive, custom made, multi-core nightmare. They yield a lot of copper, but are a right pain to fix. There could be as many as 100 wires in each one.

Fixing the cable is difficult and expensive in itself. But with no signalling system trains have to revert to pilotman operation which is painfully slow, but the only way to ensure safety when the signalling system is out. Under the rules of our modern railway Network Rail has to compensate the TOCs for these delays. Some cable thefts have costs Network Rail in the region of six-figure sums payable in compensation to the TOCs.

The thieves extract the copper by burning the cable on a wood fire. What they are left with is copper wire that does not give away its source. Apart from the obvious smell of burning which a lot of scrap metal dealers seem not to notice.

Sadly, for all their sophisitcation some cable theives are idiots. They frequently steal fiber optic cable and even go to the bother of trying to burn it down for the non-existent copper only to be left with a pile of brittle burnt fiber optics. I've seen a few of these fires and derived great satisfaction from it.

Amazon vanishes 1984 from citizen Kindles

Thumb Up

How is it legal?

Correct me if I am wrong, but don't personal ownership rights trump EULAs?

How can a company legally remove/alter the contents of a device I won with first seeking my permission? I know Amazon can say "we have permission in the EULA" , but I could always say "don't care, my property, sue me if you don't like it" and I doubt there is a lot they could do about it.

A real world example might involve a book shop selling a book in good faith, but finding out that the publisher did not have rights to produce that particular book. Can they refund purchasers credit cards and then demand the books are returned? Nope, so why is the electronic world any different?


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