* Posts by Tony W

253 posts • joined 14 Aug 2007


Amazon sues 10,000 Facebook Group admins for offering fake reviews

Tony W

Dishonest trading

Amazon knows that a substantial proportion of its reviews are fake, but makes no attempt to warn unwary customers. The fact (if it is one) that they are doing what they can to catch fake reviews is no excuse for not telling people the actual situation.

Also they concatenate reviews from different products or significantly different versions of the same basic item, to inflate the number of reviews. They must know this but they keep doing it.

I don't like dealing with dishonest people or organisations and I won't buy from them except on the rare occasions when they have something I need but can't get elsewhere. The Amazon cost saving is often an illusion, it takes a few more clicks to check but they are by no means always the cheapest option.

Health trusts swapped patient data for shares in an AI firm. They may have lost millions

Tony W

What, exactly, did they do wrong?

Something, surely, but I found it hard to define. In the end I decided that the problem is, that the data should not have belonged to the trust in the first place. If our data is to be used for medical research to benefit humanity, then it should be guarded by an independent organisation with no financial interest in handing it over. Any quid pro quo should go to benefit the NHS as a whole.

Vivaldi email client released 7 years after first announcement

Tony W

Email matters

You can't write off email, it's vital for a lot of people. If you're a freelance or sole trader, it's easy to amass tens of thousands of emails, any of which might need to be retrieved years later in the event of a dispute arising. Storage and backup need careful thought, and proprietary storage systems can make it a nightmare to transfer to a new platform. I started as a sole trader on the cheap with Outlook Express. When I moved to Outlook I discovered (too late!) that in the transfer, the names of senders were retained but their email addresses had been omitted, so it was impossible to write to a former contact. One of several MS email screw-ups over the years, so I now avoid their clients.

Personally I like IMAP with folders in the cloud, so that I can access all recent emails wherever there is internet access. But I hate to be dependent on the internet and my email server working, so I use clients that synchronise the server folders with local ones. The client on my desktop also has separate local folders for archiving.

I'm moderately happy with my setup but as I'm a Vivaldi browser user I'll certainly try their client - after a decent interval. With IMAP it's easy to try a new client so long as you're confident that it won't delete emails in error or screw up your folder system.

Photonic processor can classify millions of images faster than you can blink

Tony W

Re: Yawn!

There is very often no consistent visual difference between the images of similar looking alpha-numeric characters. We manage only because the difference is quite often detectable with the aid of a lot of human-understandable context.

New York to get first right-to-repair law for electronics

Tony W

Re: 80s

Unfortunately I presume that tthis law wouldn't have helped you as a washing machine is a home appliance. For me, appliances are the most important things to allow repairs for, as they don't go out of date so fast as phones and computers, and binning them produces a lot of waste.

The first step to data privacy is admitting you have a problem, Google

Tony W


When Google wanted to update their messaging app on my phone (not "my messaging app" as lazy speech has it) they told me they would collect and analyse my messages. I assumed that was new, because why did they need my consent if they already had it?

I didn't update and didn't get some functionality toys that I haven't missed.

I'm not assuming that my data isn't being collected despite this, but in most cases I suspect we've been warned. This doesn't excuse it but makes it harder to control and might need new legislation.

The zero-password future can't come soon enough

Tony W

Re: RE: risks

Lose your password: in most cases an inconvenience rather than a disaster. Any system has some risk of locking you out. My fingerprint changes over time, apparently.

Dido Harding's appointment to English public health body ruled unlawful

Tony W

What law?

If a law has no penalty for breaking it, is it actually a law?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the BBC stage a very British coup to rescue our data from Facebook and friends

Tony W


This is rather off topic as the protocol can be reviewed independently of the organisation that proposes it.

But I can't resist continuing. BBC bosses know that when they lose the support of the majority of the public, they won't last much longer as an independent organisation. So attitudes apparent in BBC news and programming are likely, on average, to be a fair reflection of the British majority.

That will inevitably annoy a lot of people on both right and left. And to my mind, it's better than a fragmented system where, as on line, most people largely interact only with what they already agree with.

Google experiments with user-choice-defying Android search box

Tony W

Re: Question

On the Android One "standard" version of Android, the search bar can be disabled, but you can't stop it taking up space on every page of the home screen although it's inactive. Just to remind you who's boss.

Japan's aerospace agency hooks up with Boeing to make planes quieter when they land

Tony W


Owls have extremely quiet low speed gliding flight. Unfortunately their feathers are not waterproof so you can't simply fit owl feathers to an aircraft; however I'm sure someone is working on it.

Beige Against the Machine: The IBM PC turns 40

Tony W


I still remember the shock I got when I received an Apricot (IBM rip-off, not actually compatible) and found that, as with all PCs of the period, the only way to edit text was with Edlin. Having been used to the BBC Micro I thought, what sort of rubbish is this?

(But unlike the BBC Micro, it was portable, which was vital for my work, with an integrated LCD screen, as well as taking a full length expansion card that I needed for IEEE interface. It did the job and became an old friend, so in the end I was quite sad when the LCD screen eventually went the way they do.)

Don't believe the hype that AI-generated 'master faces' can break into face recognition systems any time soon

Tony W

Be careful what you look like

OK the research is flawed and alarmist - but the basic idea looks as if it could be feasible so long as you are content to target a limited group of the population.

This highlights the fact that biometrics must be really good if it's to be used for anything important.

Galaxy quest: Yet another sub-£500 phone comes to trouble mobile big dogs in the form of Realme GT 5G

Tony W

For how long will it receive updates?


And how difficult is it to replace the battery?

I am not prepared to spend hundreds of pounds per year on replacing phones.

Microsoft defends intrusive dialog in Visual Studio Code that asks if you really trust the code you've been working on

Tony W

Crying "Wolf"

It would be OK if they didn't raise an obviously false alarm so often. Windows requires me to click to confirm it's OK every time I copy a jpg from my local NAS to my PC (although I can use a browser to copy a jpg from the real internet without any warning.) Etc., etc. It's a bit like car and burglar alarms, everyone knows that it's highly unikely to be an actual thief and takes no notice.

UK product safety regulations are failing consumers online, in the IoT, and … with artificial intelligence?

Tony W

Local regulators, international companies

How can hard-up local trading standards officers deal effectively with huge national and multi-national companies? It's not just safety, we need a national trading standards enforcement agency.

And the myth that eBay are just putting buyers and sellers in contact with each other needs to be smashed. They do a lot more than that,and they shouldn't be allowed to profit from the sale of dangerous items.

As another vendor promises 3 years of Android updates, we ask: How long should mobile devices receive support?

Tony W

Re: "support" is a sales "feature"

Some updates to my Motorola One have reduced battery usage.

Having said that, from an environmental point of view replaceable batteries should be mandatory, althoujgh this is only one aspect of reducing the number of devices thrown away because they can't be repaired or updated.

Samsung spruiks Galaxy Buds Pro performance as comparable to hearing aids

Tony W

Re: Shop around.

I suspect that most of the cost of a hearing aid is in the measurement and adjustment by a professional. In the UK of course hearing aids are completely free to those who need them, and you even get free batteries. The hearing aids supplied by the NHS are comparable with those supplied commercially.

If you have to pay, and have only mild or moderate hearing loss, some sort of amplifying device that doesn't need adjustment by a professional could be adequate. But I have moderate hearing loss and would not be without a proper aid. If you don't want to be left out of the conversation you need all the help you can get.

Of course no hearing aid is a substitute for good natural hearing. As an acoustics professional I had spent years telling people this fact to help persuade them to protect their ears against loud sounds, so I wan't surprised to experience it myself.

Surprise: Automated driving biz finds automated driving safer than letting you get behind the wheel

Tony W

Different defects

Human driving depends on the fiction that people can continuously pay attention to the road ahead (which itself is known to be false) while at the same time taking note of traffic and direction signs, the rear view mirror, the speedometer and so on. Learning to drive pushes a lot of this impossible workload into the subconscious mind. But when our own automated natural intelligence goes wrong, it can result in accidents where people apparently haven't seen a pedestrian or cyclists that was in plain sign, and they have no idea why.

AI doesn't suffer from this problem, and neither should it deliberately disobey traffic rules as most human drivers do from time to time. but it has two other problems. Firstly current implementations seem to make more mistakes than humans in categorising what is in vision. This will presumably improve. But secondly, not actually being intelligent, it cannot grasp what is going on in a situation, in terms of the intentions and likely actions of human participants. This would be a big step beyond curent AI. I suspect that in complex situations such as inner city driving we will need to rely on human intelligence for a long time yet, and this is where the accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists occur. For these situations some automated assistance to human driving is available, but that brings the problem that humans hate making effort, and the more help you give them, the less work they do themselves. We will need some good psychology to overcome this.

Google says once third-party cookies are toast, Chrome won't help ad networks track individuals around the web

Tony W

Re: You're alright, Jack?

The solution is impractical for all but a completely insignificant number of people. Pi-hole is far from problem free, it might well require you to change the router which costs quite a lot of money for a good one and is by itself way beyond the ability of most users.

Singapore reveals open-source blockchain COVID-test result tracker, eyes uses as vaccine passport app

Tony W

"such vaccination passports" ?

What is this to do with vaccination? The story seems to be about negative PR tests.

Apple's latest macOS Big Sur update stops cheapo USB-C hubs bricking your machine

Tony W

Re: Surely this is a hardwaare issue for Apple?

Fuses are not so clever and universally protective as you think.

1Password has none, KeePass has none... So why are there seven embedded trackers in the LastPass Android app?

Tony W

Re: "Cloud" and passwords

This has been well dealt with in previous posts. My master pw is stored nowhere but in my head. It's 20 characters long, and I am not a particularly valuable target. With Keepass it is also possible to require a specific local file for decryption.

The Fat iPhone, 11 years on: The iPad's over a decade old and we're still not sure what it's for

Tony W

Everyday device

With a good stand and a bluetooth keyboard, my 10" tablet is my everyday device for most computing activity: email, browser, language learning, writing short documents and streaming videos to the TV. It starts almost instantly, and having the top of the screen at eye level makes it ergonomically much better than a laptop. I was doing many of these things on a phone but the awkward posture gave me nasty aches and pains. I still go to the desktop for spreadsheets, graphics work, and photo and audio editing.

Today's 'sophisticated cyber attack' victim is the Woodland Trust: Pre-Xmas breach under investigation

Tony W

More to this story?

Their website mostly continued working and new content was posted, including a message saying that they had IT problems. But it was seven weeks before they said that they had been attacked and told members that data might have been compromised.

Their sales of Xmas cards and gifts must have been badly affected. I don't normally use Twitter but a brief look at their Twitter feed before Christmas showed lots of unanswered questions about people's orders.

Very shortly before the incident they were strongly attacked in a video by Nigel Farage for needlessly felling lots of trees. For myself, having seen them working effectively for very many years, I have no doubt that they have been doing their best for conservation, but I've not been able to find their response to Farage so it seems that they decided to ignore him. I don't think this is a wise approach, as their silence could be seen as an admission of guilt. There seems no connection between the two attacks but it is an odd coincidence.

Unauthorised RAC staffer harvested customer details then sold them to accident claims management company

Tony W

Never free of these

My car was twice damaged while parked and unoccupied. So for the last 7 years I have received about a call a week inviting me to claim for whiplash injury. Suspect garage that did repairs but how can I prove it? Got fed up with making up clever answers, now I just end the call. Certainly not a victimless crime, fake whiplash claims cost British motorists millions in higher premiums.

Trump administration says Russia behind SolarWinds hack. Trump himself begs to differ

Tony W

Re: HOWTO: hack their voting machines

It is usual to provide some link to credible evidence when making serious allegations.

Search history can calculate better credit ratings than pay slips, says International Monetary Fund

Tony W

Won't be useful for long

It's well known: if behaviour A is well correlated with desired performance B, using A to assess B will quickly destroy that correlation. As soon as people know what you have to do to get a satisfactory credit rating, they will do it.

As UK breaks away from Europe, Facebook tells Brits: You'll all be Californians soon

Tony W

Re: It's a fait accompli situation.

That's the way we like it. In the referendum on voting systems less than 10 years ago, Labour didn't recommend change and there was a huge majority against it.

45 million medical scans from hospitals all over the world left exposed online for anyone to view – some servers were laced with malware

Tony W

Re: quelle surprise?

Doctors are not employed as IT consultants. And I see no evidence that these leaks are the fault of doctors.

Ad blocking made Google throw its toys out of the pram – and now even more control is being taken from us

Tony W

Nothing wrong with ads ...

The tracking giants like to say that we are trying to get things for free that we should be paying for, but that's not true. I think most people don't object to seeing ads as a way of paying for a service. I have quite a few apps on my phone that give me the alternative of free with ads or paid without, and quite often I accept the ads, even though the sums are usually quite small and I could afford to pay. On web sites, the fact that the ads render some sites very slow and hard to use is an annoyance, but if the site owner likes it like that, it should be up to them.

The real objection to ads on web sites and social media apps is not the ads but what goes along with them: the relentless tracking, the sale of information on our likes and habits to whoever wants to pay for it, and the risk of malware. These are the reasons I block ads on most sites by default.

Robot drills hole on Moon, employs robot arm to clean up mess to bring home

Tony W

Re: sealed so tight it includes Lunar vacuum.

Thinking about it, although semantically all vacuums ought to be equal, in practice they are not. But it's a very odd way to say what they did, which is simply to get a good enough seal to prevent comtamination.

End-to-end encryption? In Android's default messaging app? Don't worry, nobody else noticed either

Tony W

Ts & Cs

Started to update Messages on my Android phone, glanced at the Ts & Cs, and aborted installation. The old SMS app works perfectly well.

EU says Boeing 737 Max won't fly over the Continent just yet: The US can make its own choices over pilot training

Tony W


What will the UK do after Brexit? If we have a no-deal Brexit I assume that we would maintain all the current EASA positions to start with, but we would be able to make our own decisions in the future. It could make for interesting choices where the US and the EU have opposing views.

The revolution will not be televised because my television has been radicalised

Tony W


We should all revise what we expect from the BBC. Think about how you yourself would run it to keep the broad support it needs to keep going. In practice the only way to do this is to keep a broad balance between the main political parties. That is something well worth preserving as no other media outlet needs to do this. But it also has severe limitations, because the truth, even in broad terms, is never balanced.

Most people with an interest in politics think the BBC is biased one way or the other to some degree but still trust it not to tell significant lies. Once the majority stops trusting the BBC in this way, it is finished.

But the best you can expect is that the BBC does not broadcast actual falsehoods. Usually, on the basis of fact-checking organisations, I think it clears this rather low bar.

What a Hancock-up: Excel spreadsheet blunder blamed after England under-reports 16,000 COVID-19 cases

Tony W

Re: *Takes a deep breath*

Nonsense. Many tools can be dangerous, such as a JCB, chainsaw or Neolithic hand-axe. As an engineer I needed spreadsheets constantly. For some types of calculation dedicated software was available but that was even more opaque and inflexible.

Mind you, it is so easy to get a complex spreadsheet wrong that I was terrified of them. I sometimes checked with dummy data and even constructed the spreadsheet two different ways to check that they gave the same answer, and I did sometimes find errors.

UK privacy watchdog confirms probe into NHS England COVID-19 app after complaints of spammy emails, texts

Tony W

Re: Worked as intended

It is not a Serco app. They had no connection with the design of the software. If you know better please give references.

Burning down the house! Consumer champ Which? probes smart plugs to find a bunch of insecure fire-risk tat

Tony W

Re: Not just smart plugs!

Scary. But citation please.

Samsung slows smartphone upgrade treadmill with promise to support three Android generations on Galaxies

Tony W

Change is possible - it happened with cars

It used to be received wisdom that new car sales were largely to companies that would keep the cars for only a few years before selling them. Therefore it didn't matter if cars rusted because it didn't affect sales of new cars - and of course scrapping cars kept the market going. Until a few manufacturers, I think they were Japanese, started giving long no-rust guarantees. Quite quickly it became impossible to sell a car that rusted.

Of course the difference is that rust is obvious and susceptibility to malware isn't. So it's up to Samsung to buck the trend by making adverts that are actually tell you about the product rather than hitching the brand to an exciting lifestyle.

And while you're at it, Sammy, how about an easily replaceable battery?

Gone in 15 minutes: Qualcomm claims new chargers will fill your smartmobe in a flash

Tony W

Is this still true?

"Bad news from science land: Fast-charging li-ion batteries may be quick to top up, but they're also quick to die."


Sick of AI engines scraping your pics for facial recognition? Here's a way to Fawkes them right up

Tony W

"16th century failed assassin Guy Fawkes"

For those who need to be told who Guy Fawkes was, this is an odd way to describe him. He was indeed born in the 16th century but the plot without which he would have remained in obscurity was a 17th century event. And assassination usually means the targeted killing of an individual, while the Gunpower Plot was more like what we would now call terrorism. Although I don't think there's an English word that does justice to the murder of the head of state and the entire legislature in one go.

Health Sec Hancock says UK will use Apple-Google API for virus contact-tracing app after all (even though Apple were right rotters)

Tony W


Prof Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, University of Bristol, said (referring to the Apple/Google option):

"With information collected from other sources (including the fact that your phone receives the Bluetooth mac address and name of the other persons device when you make ‘the contact’) it may still be possible to put together a list of all of the contacts that a particular device has seen, and re-identify some of them. Further, as we point out in our recent papers the registration details you provide when downloading, installing and registering the app, along with metadata collected by your ISP and the central (even though we are calling it decentralised) server means that those operating the server may still be able to identify you, your contacts, where you have been (location) and when."

Source: Science Media Centre, the original text includes the references.

I don't know if this is right. Anyone else?

Brit MP demands answers from Fujitsu about Horizon IT system after Post Office staff jailed over accounting errors

Tony W

Re: Any chance

Cummings not being prosecuted over his apparently clear breach of the law (the drive to Barnard Castle could not be called leaving home for an essential reason) is normal, probably not special treatment.

But that doesn't excuse him giving an explanation so idiotic that it is beyond satire, and an insult to any intelligent person. He has aroused huge rage among many Conservative voters - see the Daily Mail coverage - and if he had been a mere cabinet minister he would have been forced to resign. So either he has some sort of hold over Johnson, or else it suits Johnson to subvert his own message about the need for strict adherence, not to the letter of the law, but to government guidelines. Or both.

To test its security mid-pandemic, GitLab tried phishing its own work-from-home staff. 1 in 5 fell for it

Tony W

Just click this link

Still far too many legitimate emails that look like phishing. Just now received one from Ebico energy supply company. 'Don't reply to this email, just click this link. ' If it had been fake it could get a username and pw, and there are enough people who re-use those to make it a worthwhile attack.

Better late than never... Google Chrome to kill off 'tiny' number of mobile web ads that gobble battery, CPU power

Tony W

Re: Bugger AdBlock, it's Internet advertising that's theft.

I am astonished at the number of upvotes here, I thought The Register had a technically savvy readership. Does it really have to be explained that it is the web site owner who gives Google and others the right to place ads? In many cases, the resulting revenue is all that pays for the content. You could argue (and many do) that using an adblocker is theft. If you don't iike the ads, don't visit the site.

Having said that, I use Vivaldi browser with adblocker enabled for most sites. This is partly pure selfishness, and partly an anti-malware move.

FYI: Your browser can pick up ultrasonic signals you can't hear, and that sounds like a privacy nightmare to some

Tony W

Good security will always need some user action

I generally hate posts that say "I've done this so I'm OK." But we have to face it, security will always take some effort and most people won't be bothered.

So, on my Android devices I have simply denied access to the microphone to any apps that don't need it in order to work - which is everything apart from the phone, sound recorder and conferencing app. It is hardly very difficult. I have ignored the dreadful warnings that sometimes appear. As I run Facebook in the browser that is also covered.

Wakey-wakey! A quarter of IT pros only get 3-4 hours' kip – and you won't believe what's being touted as the 'solution'

Tony W


Nothing to say how the sample were found or selected so the data are pretty well meaningless.

But considering those who did respond, it looks as if the problem is stress rather than overwork as such. Of course overwork can cause stress if it makes it difficult to fit in other necessary things such as looking after home and family.

But stress directly related to work is different - it's about feeling personally responsible for failure. It's prevalent amongst those in insecure employment and self-employed people in responsible jobs. From personal experience, it can help to focus on covering your back first and getting the job done second.

UK snubs Apple-Google coronavirus app API, insists on British control of data, promises to protect privacy

Tony W

"Details" are irrelevant

Most people who object to this would also object to anything with Google or Amazon's name on it.

The rest of responsible people will sigh and install. Those worried will think, we can uninstall when it's all over.

Hopefully there will be enough non-compliers that non-compliance will not automatically mark individuals as supsicious, even when combined with other data. The many who are not completely following the lockdown rules will be in no hurry to install.

Vivaldi browser to perform a symphony of ad and tracker blocking with version 3.0

Tony W

Re: How is Vivaldi funded?


Oh Hell. Remember the glory days of Demon Internet? Well, now would be a good time to pick a new email address

Tony W


Chosen because it had a connection with our actual surname. But it worried a lot of Americans on Usenet who thought we were satanists. That had never occurred to us but it was too late to change.



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