Wandering in Fields of Idiots

My Blog

Google Streetview & WiFi Security

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So, let me get this straight:

 

  • Google sent cars driving around the world to gather data about the areas they pass through.
  • Amongst things they captured:

 

 

  1. 3D topographical data
  2. Panoramic photographs
  3. Wireless signals

  • They sniffed for any wifi signals that were being broadcast in the proximity and captured the raw signal.
  • Some people don’t have security enabled on their wireless networks
Thus, because Google sniffed whatever was about and because some people don’t use security on their networks their information was gathered. It was gathered in much the same way that anyone could and frankly these people who were snooped were broadcasting their details to anyone who could hear.
Last time I checked it wasn’t illegal to receive/record broadcasts, let alone those that are unencrypted! The entire process of prosecution of Google for this is a preposterous farce which the press can enjoy and which can give civil servants something to keep them occupied.

 

Search Engine Load on Servers

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How odd, I was looking at the statistics for this web site and I see that I get absolutely hammered by the search engines:

Top Total User Agents
#HitsUser Agent
1 44502 35.25% Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Yahoo! Slurp/3.0; http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/slurp)
2 32571 25.80% Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)
3 14190 11.24% Mozilla/5.0 (Twiceler-0.9 http://www.cuil.com/twiceler/robot.html)
4 6888 5.46% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Vagabondo/4.0; webcrawler at wise-guys dot nl; http://webagent.wise-guys.nl/; http://www.wise-guys.
5 1481 1.17% Yandex/1.01.001 (compatible; Win16; I)
6 1443 1.14% Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; DotBot/1.1; http://www.dotnetdotcom.org/, crawler@dotnetdotcom.org)

So, this means that 101075 hits are from search engines out of the total 126256 hits or that search engines make up exactly 80% of the traffic to this site. Nice that Yahoo and Google love me so much but the 1GB of content they downloaded over 1GB of content. Would be nice if they could tone it down a bit. I’ve already adjusted my crawl rate on the engines but I seem to have missed Yahoo and now have made some efforts there to correct that.

The e-Borders Scheme and Budgets

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So, in the news today was the fact that the e-Borders “RING OF STEEL” cost £1.2bn to set-up and has resulted in:

  • 2,000 arrests
  • 48,682 alerts
  • 1,000 refused entry
  • 14,000 intelligence reports

So, lets put this in context. this security mechanism designed to protect us has cost us £600,000 per arrest to date. Now, I appreciate that the initial start up costs don’t reflect the future of the system, but lets assume it takes 5 years to achieve Return on Investment (most IT systems are budgeted this way) well we have now achieved a cost of £120,000 per arrest. Bargain!

So, what will £1.2bn buy you?

I will leave you to decide what value the e-Borders scheme has to you, does it make you feel more safe to know this?

I Wanna Build a House!

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We are currently house hunting and that is proving to be quite a painful experience because the market really has over-inflated the price of property in the UK. I look at some of the properties and I think, why would I pay that much?! But, I really want to build my first house, however the market for land is even more uncertain. The houses that I visit have proportions that are designed for a different generation and the market seems to be under the impression they can sell a property with some over inflated price based on the value if the property was renovated less some minimal cost to renovate*. One significant factor is that we are a couple that like to cook together and most kitchens are too small, thus you either compromise your lifestyle or factor in major structural changes. With land I find that people price it based on the potential, which isn’t fair because they haven’t actually put any effort into giving the land value. Land shouldn’t be worth some mythical value which doesn’t actually give you anything in return because at the end of the day it is a location plus dirt not a virtual house.

So, if someone reading this knows of some land to buy or has some land they want to sell then let me know! I will even pay 1% commission to anyone helping me secure the purchase of some suitable land. There is an incentive for you!

 

* In addition many people add in the expense of moving and selling the property plus the expense of buying their next property. More on the fairness of the property market in this article on economically sustainable housing.

Tiger Ambitions

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I love tigers, they are my favourite animal in the world and it is my greatest ambition to see one in the wild. I would also love to meet a tiger in person but I realise that this cannot be practical because this isn’t the way that tigers behave in the real world. I don’t like seeing Tigers in captivity but I understand it is good to look after them in the west for their preservation but I am unsure about socialising them. My greatest challenge however is that even though I love them I worry about preservation tourisms impact on wildlife.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/blog/2010/apr/29/india-bans-tiger-tourism

Greece and Public Spending

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Despite not being Greek myself I have very personal connections and commitments there and I was recently asked what I would do to ease the situation further (because Germany is not happy with the proposals so far). Of course I have no real influence on Greek politics but were I to be able to dictate here are my views. Warning, this is the brutal truth as I see it, it doesn’t mean I don’t like Greece but this is what I see as stopping Greece from being great again.

Personally I feel that the Greek people have let themselves get into trouble because of the way they conduct their politics. I am told that in the main the politicians are corrupt on a grand scale but as long as they do nothing that overtly and obviously affects the daily lives of the population the people won’t do anything. The people of Greece value individual liberties even if that is at the sacrifice of the common good and for all their protestations as to having been the originators of democracy they have forgotten that the cost of democracy is collective responsibility.

The unions and the people will strike because they are getting affected by the obviously unpopular cutbacks. The most notable issue is the fact that the public sector is massively bloated with probably 20-30% of people who are completely superfluous. In addition they spend huge amounts on academic research but believe that co-operating with business to commercialise efforts would taint academia. It seems that half the café workers in Greece seem to have a post-graduate degree and most of the workers seem to be regularly practising some form of tax evasion.

I love Greece but it just needs to wake up to a little self-sacrifice and the people need to take some responsibility (not just the politicians). My interim measures would be:

  • Tell every government department to cut at least 1 in 4 jobs over the next two to four years. At the same time offer amnesty to non-permanent staff and let departments decide who they actually need (many good staff are on short-term contracts many lazy people have permanent contracts).
  • Cap redundancy payments to limit the expense and begin a separate “back to work” scheme for those who are made redundant by the cuts.
  • Don’t pay those who go on strike and let them face the responsibility of not going to work (hold firm).
  • Ask politicians (local and national) to take half-pay for the next year and/or audit all expenses for the past two years.
  • Force all academic institutions to fund part of their budget each year from external (non-academic) activities or cut their budgets proportionally. Starting at 5% and adding 5% each year until 20-25%.
  • Modernise the power generation system to avoid dependency on ancient dirty/inefficient power stations.
  • Reduce bureaucracy and paperwork by 30%.
  • Cancel all non-maintenance spending on national defence (Reduce defence spending to <=3% GDP?). (Turkey isn’t really going to invade any more and they don’t need new submarines).


Just my observations over the past five years of being involved with Greece. Perhaps I am too harsh, but it is tough love. Greece lords itself for being one of the greatest countries in the history of the world, but that is history. The Greeks must look forward with a unified vision to what they want to be and have the ambition to execute that without sacrificing the things that already make Greece great (family, social life, community spirit).

Just my two Euro-cents.

Dangerous WiFi Law Making

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I already knew it was a thin edge that people found themselves on if they offered free wifi, but I didn’t realise until today that it will soon be illegal to share an internet connection if you don’t log the identity of the person using said connection!

Thanks to a Tweet by Liam J. Hayter with a link to his blog I found out that apparently it will now be a legal requirement to take responsibility for who uses your internet connection. You will be liable for any illegal usage of your connection if you cannot prove who else used said connection.

So I have written to my local MP just to try and head it off at the pass, perhaps you might do the same:

 

Dear Chris Grayling,

I am a person who is entirely wrapped in the digital age, my life is centred around not only using but, as the chief technologist for a large consumer electronics company, I am also helping define the next generation of technology. I respect the challenges as well as the opportunities that this new generation offers and I believe that following generations will find new and interesting ways to use this technology that even I, at 30, could not have foreseen.

I am a strong believer in allowing this new digital economy to flourish and for providing mechanisms under which it can do so. I believe that many companies, who are not prepared for the next generation, will attempt to lobby government in order to defend an indefensible position. I believe that companies MUST find new ways to operate without resorting to legislation and I believe that people must not be labelled criminals on the say of corporations without due process through the courts. I have already seen too many actions by companies that are outside of the legal system and this frightens me; companies are collecting “evidence” themselves and presenting it to other companies who then take punitive action.

Most worryingly, I observe from the Digital Economy Bill that is presently before the government that there is great risk to our freedom as a nation. I see that it will be illegal to provide unfettered access to the internet through open internet connections because every user of a connection must be identified (otherwise the owner of the wifi will be presumed guilty through failure to secure the connection).

I am also very disturbed by what I read of the potential powers of the Secretary of State:
http://boingboing.net/2009/11/19/breaking-leaked-uk-g.html
The truth or detail of how much of what I have read may have been distorted in the telling, however there is no smoke without fire:
http://news.zdnet.co.uk/communications/0,1000000085,40057470,00.htm

Those old companies who are threatened do not account for as much of a contribution to the economy as the new industries that will rise as a result of freedom. I do not propose that we must endorse piracy, just that we must not assume the worst of people and the digital economy must be agile (not constrained by a legacy business structures). I am sure, as a Conservative MP you understand that liberty in business is essential, that more legislation rarely aids business and that we must be looking to stimulate not control the new.

Yours sincerely,

 

PSBs in Free to Air Environments

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The Synopsis

This document aims to describe the current movements in PSB’s (Public Service Broadcasters) and how their circumstances are affecting changes in technology. This is an incomplete document so far and I have posted it here for discussion, I could easily be wrong about so many things, but I have been working on all sides for enough time to have made some observations that need to be discussed.

The Environment

Taking the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a prime example and reflecting that on other broadcasters the duty of a PSB is to: inform, educate and entertain their viewers. There are effectively several classes of channels operating in the modern world of digital television:
1)There are those commercial channels who are funded entirely through commercial means such as advertising or sponsorship and who are subject to market forces but take no money from subscriptions and make themselves available to anyone who has the means to receive.
2)There are those public channels that are funded significantly with public money and in which advertising/sponsorship plays a lesser or non-existent role.
3)There are subscription only channels who are funded in the main by commercials but whom receive some compensation from one or more pay television operators in exchange for the right to carry the channel.
4)The high value content or Pay-Per-View channel who is funded almost entirely from the revenues of the subscription with only supplementary advertising (if any).

The first class may or may not be classes as a PSB, it is often the decision of the government or regulator as to which channels are to have Public Service Obligations. The most basic obligation is to be carried on all the primary television platforms being used in the country (“wholesale must carry”), another is to carry a certain balance of programming and another is often to include content/mechanism for minority groups (such as supporting subtitles for the hard of hearing). The idea of “Wholesale Must Carry” is the fundamental because it obliges the platform operator to provide facilities to deliver the PSB services and it obliges the channels to ensure they can deliver that service. The fundamental thing about a PSB however is that no matter if it is publicly funded or funded through some other mechanism it must be freely available to the viewers irrespective of their choice of platform.

In terms of publicly funded broadcasting organisations they tend to develop a great deal of their content in-house. This is because this can lead to good economies of scale but also because the tendency to purchase in premium foreign content does perhaps not always meet the PSB obligations and may not address the primary goals of the organisation. In many countries it is tempting to purchase popular American TV series and either dub or subtitle them, but this is probably not be nurturing the native language or talents of the broadcasters own country. But there are always exceptions to this and the benefits of using high value productions with good economies of scale are understood (subject to striking the right balance).

When purchasing content derived from third parties complex legal documents must be signed to cover the use and distribution of that content. This will discuss how the content is delivered, the target audience demographic, expected volume of viewers and the platforms over which the content is delivered. Often one of the most contentious issues for a broadcaster who is transmitting without the benefit of encryption is: who exactly is watching?

The Encryption

Encryption is used by broadcast platforms to secure content; this means that only devices or users who are so authorised may view the content. In the case of a system involving subscriber management monies can be taken in exchange of access to certain packages of content (this is referred to as PayTV). However the PSBs are often in an arrangement where they must be included in a PayTV platform but there is not a requirement to charge for their services and where they are encrypted but no specific subscription is required this is called “Free to View” (if you have the correct equipment you should receive the service incidentally to any subscription). “Free to View” has also another purpose, in situations where the broadcast may be received outside of the target demographic, e.g. there may be overspill into other countries/territories, encryption with no reoccurring costs may be deployed for border control.

If however a broadcaster must for logistical, regulatory, economical or technical reasons broadcast without encryption then this is called “Free to Air”; this is because the broadcasts are likely based on standards, and the signal can be plucked out of the air with generic/standard equipment. Where a broadcaster is broadcasting with potential overspill there may be contractual implications with the provider of content to that channel. The impact of overspill must be assessed because it may have some effect on the revenues for the rights as sold to another channel in the overspill territory. For example, if a pay television operator charges for football coverage in one country but the citizens can use some apparatus to pick up the same content for free from another country then this must be considered.

The Change

Traditionally, in most counties, terrestrial analogue broadcasting has been without any means of security but overspill has been minimal. Analogue recording mechanisms, such as VHS, were relatively crude and not easy to use for profitable piracy. With the advent of digital television has given the ability to record content at the same quality as it was broadcast and improvements in video codec’s have begun to produce video in data sizes that are transportable over the improving computer networks.

This has now created a problem, content can move between territories with increased freedom and in some countries the content may be paid for through subscription, but in others it may be only advert supported or even purchased with public money (with no adverts). Because of overspill and the easier trafficking of content between regions the rights holders are carefully asserting their rights, managing each element of the distribution and checking the capabilities of each distribution method. If broadcasters don’t make sufficient efforts to limit the movement of content beyond the target purpose then the broadcaster is either denied access to that content or charged more for it.

The Protection

Beyond encryption there are many measures that are taken by platform operators to limit the freedom of content on platforms. One of the most basic mechanisms is to specify that certain connectors are excluded from the design of boxes by the suppliers/manufacturers. Limiting the availability or quality of outputs reduces the desirability of copying the content. Currently the rights holders are requesting that analogue component HD connectors are removed from products so that only HDMI with additional HDCP security is available (the number of HD analogue only TVs is much reduced in the market). This however is a flawed measure because the market for HD analogue video recorders is very small and they are relatively expensive. When in fact, even where encryption exists, it is possible to use a computer with software decoding of the encryption, or one of the many generic broadcast receivers with recording ability and a plug in module to handle the decryption. Where the broadcast is made without encryption and this security measure is applied the requirement is a true case of ‘shutting the gate after the horse has bolted’.

Increasingly there is a desire to prevent consumer electronics devices from being pure islands of technology and to increase the availability of the connected home to deliver advantages to the consumer. The most basic desire is the ability to move content between rooms (and devices).
The simplest way of moving recorded content around is to copy it to removable storage, but this ability in turn makes it easier for people to distribute that content outside of the territory. This poses a distinct problem for a first run series which may be shown in one market before another, or on a pay network in one region but not in another. Another mechanism is to permit the device to share content over a network between devices.

The solution to the problem of allowing users to copy content has so far been to ensure that some form of encryption is maintained when the content is moved. This may tie the content from being moved between different products or manufacturers, or simply just from not being played on devices that cannot be trusted not to be a vector for wider proliferation. This technology is often called Digital Rights Management (or DRM) by consumers.
Overall however in a public service broadcasting environment this type of security is often just said to be “Keeping Honest People Honest” and to quote Dan Glickman from Motion Picture Association of America1:
“…it is not correct to assume that one clever hack dooms all use of DRM. Content owners use DRMs because it provides casual, honest users with guidelines for using and consuming content based on the usage rights that were acquired. Without the use of DRMs, honest consumers would have no guidelines and might eventually come to totally disregard copyright and therefore become a pirate, resulting in great harm to content creators.
DRMs’ primary role is not about keeping copyrighted content off P2P networks. DRMs support an orderly market for facilitating efficient economic transactions between content producers and content consumers.”

The question stands is that, in a world where there is no unified standard for DRM, are the limitations imposed on the consumer by technology light enough to actually allow them to do whatever they want with content that they have the right to watch in whatever way they wish?
By broadcasting in the clear the broadcaster is putting the work they transmit into the public domain; by placing

The Question

…tbc

Asking Surrey Council for Help

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I know that winter comes as a surprise to so many people, one moment it is sunny and the next it’s really quite cold. Then all of a sudden strange white stuff falls from the sky: what a surprise! Who would of thought that in the UK the temperature could drop bellow zero in winter?! I am sure it didn’t used to happen like that.

An open and sarcastic letter to my council, but it might easily refer to any other from what I have seen…

 

 

Dear Surrey,

I have a problem and I would like your assistance if possible, given the extensive resources provided in the multi-million pound budget (not that I would wish to linger on that point) I feel that someone might be able to help. As you cannot help but be aware it has been snowing a fair amount this winter, luckily on several days I was able to walk to the station instead of driving to work as I would normally do (there is insufficient parking at/near the station, but that is another matter not for this letter). Very little time was lost for me because of the snow and at no time did I feel at risk, despite the roads being fairly easily blocked (not a subject for this letter to dwell on).

To get to the point of my letter: I don’t seem to be able to find my car. It is a rather large 1985 Mercedes-Benz and is much admired by those whom I speak to for it’s comfort and good condition (despite its years). It is described as “Petrol Green” in the description, I am not sure what is meant by “Petrol Green” but it is a rather distinctive green colour and you can’t help but notice it. It is a classic shape with a fabric interior (I don’t like leather car seats).

I have looked around for it, but I can’t find it anywhere! My only conclusion is that it is located somewhere I have missed and the only place I haven’t checked are all of the pot-holes in Epsom. I had considered checking the pot-holes but in the past two years the number of them has so dramatically risen that I can’t possibly check them all. They are often so large that it is easy to get lost in one or mistake one for a tunnel (but I am quite sure Surrey doesn’t have such an extensive tunnel system). Could I ask, if it isn’t too much trouble, could you ask your staff to take a look around, each time they pass a pot-hole, could they see if they see a classic “Petrol Green” Mercedes-Benz and if someone could let me know if you find it I would be most grateful.

 

 

ParcelFarce Fail!

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Before Christmas I had a parcel to send to Greece, rather than abuse the company TNT account I decided to send it myself and that the safest way to send it was with good ol’ Royal Mail ParcelForce. Mistake… click ‘read more’ to hear my tail of woe..

The parcel was booked on the 22nd of December and collected on the 23rd of December. This is it’s schedule for delivery:

07-01-2010 12:00 ATH Parcel delivered
07-01-2010 11:00 ATH Attempted delivery - addressee unavailable
05-01-2010 11:00 ATH Attempted delivery - addressee unavailable
31-12-2009 08:59 ATH Arrived at delivery depot
31-12-2009 06:56 ATH Awaiting Customs Clearance
30-12-2009 01:03 CDG Arrived in destination country
29-12-2009 22:01 STN On route to delivery depot
29-12-2009 21:27 STN Arrived in destination country
29-12-2009 18:03 STN Left origin country
29-12-2009 16:48 STN Export item accepted into network
29-12-2009 15:10 London North West Depot Despatched to Integrator
23-12-2009 19:05 London North West Depot On route to hub
23-12-2009 10:26 London North West Depot Collected from customer
23-12-2009 09:00 WDM Online

 

Now, I think it is safe to ignore the failed deliveries, because the recipient wasn’t in at the time and they collected it themselves. What annoyed me was that it took 6 days for it to leave the UK, then it didn’t even go out for delivery until the 5th of January.

Hey, I accept, it was Christmas and I accept that not everyone works over Christmas. But I paid £65 for three day delivery! I could have attached it to a pigeon and it would have gone there quicker! Would TNT have done it quicker? I don’t know, but I know that I paid for three day delivery and got 14 day delivery! I’ve issued a formal letter of complaint and requested a refund (full or in part I don’t care).

What also really annoyed me was that it wasn’t until the 5th that anyone responded to my email sent on the 29th! When they did they just asked for more detail (I already provided the tracking number and my name thinking that would be enough). I eventually received two emails saying “we note that your parcel has been delivered, if you need any further assistance…”. Of course I need assistance, I need someone to actually CARE!

I don’t believe I will use ParcelFarce again, I don’t think I could stomach that much hopelessness.