Taking the mick?

I shall keep this generic because I don’t want to embarrass anyone…

We are complex animals, us human beings. We’re capable of being simple at times, but the naked truth is that we have more levels of – at times conflicting – personality that sometimes even our best friends don’t know us.

And that’s part of the ‘being human’ thing, that’s part of what makes us tick.

Just when you think you know that person at work, you discover some totally left-field thing about them that forces you to re-evaluate your entire perspective.

It may be a good re-evaluation, it may be not good. My point is that an unexpected piece of information is revealed and you’re suddenly looking at a person who isn’t quite the person you thought it was.

But it doesn’t only happen with people at work, does it? It can happen with anyone, anywhere, any time and, sometimes, for the most unexpected reason.

You might think you know everything about me but…

You may or may not know this, but I host websites for people. I do this as well as most of the commercial webhosting concerns – and better than some!

My hosting is inexpensive, ultra reliable, provides a 24/7 helpdesk (which, frankly, is so seldom used it’s actually gratifying) and has annual downtime which, for the current year, is being measured in units of 1 second.

And, because I’m occasionally (as Ian so elegantly put it in a recent email to me) soft, I will take a view on what my hosting service costs people.

Some months ago I took on a young guy – he’s in his 20’s – as a hosting ‘customer’.

He produces a daily conversation-based podcast and, due to a variety of reasons, he had run in to a number of issues with the company who hosted his podcast website.

There were unpaid bills and, as corporates do when bills are outstanding, they took his website down. This had the effect of removing him – and his podcast – from the internet.

Because I liked what he did, I offered to take him on.

So I bought a new domain name for him, I set him up with a hosted website, I gave him unlimited webspace, I gave him unlimited bandwidth transfer and I gave him an FTP account and a bunch of email addresses.

The key word here is ‘gave’; I have not charged him for any of these things, it never was my intention to charge him for any of these things and that’s an understanding that we both have.

Had.

Last night I visited his website, just to see how he was doing. While I was there I noticed that on every single page he has a funding widget.

The text in this funding widget says:

Running Costs:
It takes $1,000 per month to run (name of his podcast/website). If you enjoy what we do, please think about supporting us.

Hang on one cotton picking moment!

He produces a conversation-based podcast. What that means is he sits in front of a microphone and he talks.

He has no costs.

He has no Performing Rights Society licence to buy, he sits in the attic of his parents’ house and all of his content is self-produced.

Anyone who listens to his podcast knows these facts.

And for the grand sum of no pounds and no pence he has a free domain name, unlimited webspace, unlimited bandwidth, a bunch of email addresses and an FTP account.

But he doesn’t tell his website visitors or his podcast listeners that he has these things for free.

Instead of telling them this fact, he has put up a funding widget that says ‘it takes $1,000 per month to run’ his project.

And yet he has, on a number of occasions, told his listeners that my organisation hosts his show.

Therefore, by clear implication (in my head at least), he’s telling people that his hosting costs are $1,000 per month – not free as they actually are.

Be honest folks.

Am I justified to feel a sense of outrage at what he’s done?

Do you think I have overstepped the mark by writing to him, telling him that my organisation is going to raise his hosting costs from £0.00p to $1,000/month to keep in line with his funding widget?

Do you think I should continue providing a service for nothing while he tells people that his product costs $1,000/month to run?

Come on, be honest.

Because even now, 12 hours after discovering his funding widget, I am still fuming about this.

You’re going to have to talk me down.

Stream of unconsciousness

We are watching the final phase of the Three Day Eventing competition at the World Equestrian Games, in Kentucky.

Show-jumping.

I am also reading Twitter.

And writing a blog post.

And chatting to Daughter on Skype; as well as rattling on to me, she’s chatting to various friends on various websites.

As well as doing these things, I am also watching a totally hilarious preview for a new film that looks as though it could totally rock suck:

It is obviously a time for multi-tasking.

I haven’t ridden this weekend, instead I find myself looking after two equines who, between them, have seven sound legs.

I have called Vin ‘a big orange twat’ so many times in the last 48 hours, I think he believes it’s his new name, he whickers at me whenever I use it now.

Meanwhile.

The search for a new contract continues. If things don’t improve soon I’m going to put the horses out on to the street.

But I don’t think Vin would earn much, three-legged thoroughbred horses are probably not in major demand.

I hope that Vin will be sound again by the end of the week, he’s tweaked his near-fore by twatting about in the field like the 3 13-year old he is.

But the big effort continues; a new contract or even a permanent role within a commutable distance.

Soph’s going to be home all week, she starts her new job next week. That’s nice.

And yet…

Using my prophetic skills I can see that there will be mass cleaning.

And tidying.

And rearranging.

Meanwhile, in other news.

The show on UKHDRadio is being moved from Tuesday evenings to Saturday afternoons.

That’s nice too.

I’ve been doing a huge amount of thinking on the nature of social media – and whether or not we use it correctly. I have a partially-formed article on the subject; I might blog it, I might go for publication.

It’s a hell of a topic.

When you sit down and examine the technology in detail, look at the labels and scrutinise the tools, it is a massive area which most of us pick up and use in a cavalier fashion – and in a manner which the tools weren’t originally designed to facilitate.

Half-formed, as I said; I hope to finish it this week.

Daughter has just gone off-line after saying she was going to find something to eat.

An excellent suggestion which I’m going to follow.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re going to do with it, I hope this week treats you well.

Autumn cleaning

Blogs, GoogleReader, Bloglinks, Twitter, Facebook, social media and iPod music…

When I woke up this morning I felt a need to declutter, wanted to clear-out and clean, had to reorganise.

Are you ever subject to these impulses? Are they as rare to you as they are to me?

I sat down at the laptop and got on with it. First up was my browser.

Ask.com have given Bloglines a temporary reprieve until the end of the year, but whether it goes now or in a few months time doesn’t really matter. I’ve made the switch to Google Reader.
deletes Bloglines link from browser toolbar

I moved a lot of stuff over to Google Reader from Bloglines without checking the need for it, time was limited that day. There are currently 644 unread items in my Reader account. It’s time for a hard look at what I’m subscribed to.
begins examining all GoogleReader subscriptions and deleting some

I realised I haven’t updated the links on this blog for *ages*, so I had a quick pass down the list. The first two links I clicked on have either gone away or stopped producing content. However, one of the links goes back to the late and much-missed Ali’s blog. And I don’t want to remove that because I still love her.
begins scrutinising all blogroll links – with the exception of Ali’s – for accuracy and relevance

And then there’s Twitter. Ah, lovely Twitter. It’s social media, right? I do follow a lot of people because I like reading witty, articulate contributions and I enjoy interacting with the people who make these witty, articulate contributions. On the other hand, I don’t see the point of following slebs who are never going to follow me back because, frankly, they’re not interested in the *social* aspect of social media.

And in the ‘every day, common user’ end of the technology pool, I’ve seen some people get their knickers in a right knot over some imaginary Twitter etiquette along the lines of ‘Oh they’re following me so I should follow them but I’m not sure I really want to and I wouldn’t want to offend them and oh I don’t know what to do so maybe I’ll leave it unchanged but…’.

I have no such sensitivities. It’s like blogging. If your content loses the qualitative edge you first had and you’ve run out of creative steam to the point where all you can tweet about, for months on fucking end, is boyfriend and chocolate and boyfriend and cake and boyfriend and whining and boyfriend and homework and boyfriend and… Guess what? There’s an inevitable action coming your way.
looks long and hard at Twitter interactions

The flow of information and collateral damage

The internet is just one big fat conduit for pictures and words. Sometimes the pictures move, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the words make sense, sometimes I’m not too sure. And sometimes the words aren’t supposed to be out there.

The activities of law-firm ACS:Law have been very widely aired in the media, as has the alleged ‘loss of a list of people’ who, it is reported, the law-firm either is or has taken action against.

And you read that story and you think of ‘a list’. And you might even think ‘good, that kind of information needs to be exposed’.

But what if ‘the list’ isn’t a list?

What if the information is actually a total database of every piece of information on ACS:Law’s email-server?

What if that information was broken down in to mailboxes for each email account, and sub-broken down in to Inbox, SentItems, Drafts and Deleted?

What if the contents of that database – being the contents of everything on ACS:Law’s email-server – go far beyond being ‘a list’?

What if these emails included personal communications that included private information such as, for example, hospital appointment information?

Is there, in the civilian world – as there is in the military one – a phrase like ‘acceptable collateral damage’, an acceptable amount of disclosure of private information, which could be made available in the pursuit of exposing the methods and activities of ACS:Law?

How would you feel, if that were your personal information that was put on the internet, just because you emailed your husband or wife who happened to work for ACS:Law?

And finally, how would you feel if you were a mildly interested observer of the whole ACS: Law situation being unfolded, if that database of emails just fetched up in your email inbox?

Well, substitute the words ‘dropbox’ for ’email inbox’ and that’s the place where I was, earlier today.

I didn’t actually rub my hands with glee, once I’d understood the compressed file had ACS:Law written all over it, but I did have a frisson of excitement.

And then, as I began peeling back the layers of data, as the true nature of the information in the database was revealed, I started to feel sick.

I went outside, walked around the house, hissed at a passing cat, came back in, had a cup of tea and a slice of cake and…

Deleted the file.

I think the bounty-hunting activities of ACS:Law are reprehensible. The methods this so-called regulated law firm have employed have been scandalous.

ACS:Law’s financially-motivated ambulance-chasing has damaged lives and harmed reputations. The fact this firm is deemed, by the Law Society, to be operating within acceptable bounds is a clear indicator that the Law Society has fewer moral values than a Public Guardian should have.

I would love ACS:Law to look at my (substantial!) download traffic statistics and come for me; I could hang them out to dry.

But I wouldn’t use a database of emails that included personal information to bury them.

I’d use facts and common sense and then I’d use my media connections to expose ACS:Law and their activities for everyone to see.

But I wouldn’t use the blunt tool that appeared in my dropbox.

It appears I have higher moral values than either ACS:Law or the Law Society.

A return to style, if not form

At last I’ve nailed that big prose piece I’ve been working on.

The good news is that I can flip back to my usual blogging style.

Yay!

The bad news is that I can flip back to my usual blogging style.

Boo!

So.

There was just a comment on Twitter that said. ‘I really need to stop entering those RT competitions. I never win and look like an idiot. I probably won’t though, I do like a competition’.

And what was the next tweet from that person?

It was: ‘Win 1 of 10 iPads from @marketeer – RT to enter or read http://free-marketing-for-rubbish-products-here.com’

OK, I may have changed a couple of the details in that tweet, but the gist is the same.

Here’s my point.

These things are not RT competitions.

What they are, is a series of advertising/marketing campaigns which many people participate in, but only one person will get paid.

Need me to explain?

RT (or ‘retweet’) advertising/marketing campaigns have ‘win’ written all over them (for the advertisers/marketeers) for three very simple reasons:

  • They cost almost nothing to mount and require no significant revenue expenditure
  • Everyone who participates in the RT campaign is privately funding a global marketing campaign and, indirectly, funds the advertising/marketing agencies who are behind these campaigns. How?
  • You are funding the campaign and agency behind it with the free use of your internet resources, the unfettered readership of your personal networks and, it has to be said, you also fund them with an instant loss of your own credibility

Just saying.

Wasted on the young?

Thanks (entirely, I am sure) to the outside-but-internal assistance of Daniel, our broadband problems seem to have gone away. If it wasn’t for his help, I feel we would never have penetrated BT down to the technical level necessary to investigate and fix the issue. As of this morning we have a massive 6.9 Mbs. Thanks Daniel.

So now I need to find something else to moan talk about.

I could moan talk about a chronic piece of insomnia that hit me in the early hours of yesterday morning, but what would be the point of that?

Besides, I was productive whilst I was awake; I wrote an album review which even now, in the light of Monday morning, doesn’t look too shabby.

I also had the urge to get out my acoustic guitar and have another go at killing Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ to death, but I didn’t think Sophie would appreciate the 3.30am musical session. So I resisted.

Gemma came around in the afternoon, which was nice; we drove in to Huffkins in Witney, drank Latte and ate lunch.

Those who listen to our podcast will know Gemma as our occasional co-presenter, the slightly dippy mentalist, ‘Pigeon Girl’.

While Gem took a few hours to buy some loo roll, Soph and I went to see Knight and Day which was, you know, OK. If you leave your brain at home.

Afterwards, when all three of us were walking back to the car, Gemma told us how she passed the time; reading, mostly. And being annoyed by people. She’s so much like Sophie and me in a number of ways…

When we got back home a small garden spider scuttled over the doorstep. Gemma shrieked, ‘Is that a scorpion?’

I was put on immediate ‘Spider/scorpion Repatriation Duty’ and eventually corralled the wee timorous beastie underneath the dining-table, before shoving the poor little creature out in to the garden.

Poor bugger, it probably only came in to use the bog. Or steal some of Gemma’s freshly-acquired loo roll.

You know how people get their eyes lasered to improve their sight? Well I’m thinking of getting my brain lasered, because as sure as eggs is eggshaped there’s something not quite right in my head, because I keep having random but in-depth thoughts like…

We know that university places in the UK have been restricted on a gradually diminishing curve – and that this year there has been a greater restriction on university places than that curve could have predicted.

We also know that there’s been a significant increase in the number of school-pupils who have attained the highest possible marks in their ‘A-levels’ on an almost corresponding, increasing curve.

But what is the source of the secret intelligence briefing that seems to have been beamed directly in to the heads of the 40,000 pupils, who are amongst the 48,500 who failed to get a university place; the 40,000 pupils who have declared that they are backing away from education for (and I quote one such former pupil in Saturday’s Guardian) ‘a bit of an enforced gap year’?

Seriously?

I was having a conversation with such a student a few days ago. I know her very well, she’s not dim by any stretch of the imagination; obviously disappointed at not getting anything on her preference list, and having no luck with clearing, she has decided on taking a last-minute gap year. She’s convinced she’ll get ‘in’ next year.

Oh. Not dim, but lacking a degree of foresight! Logic tells me that next year it will be significantly more difficult to find university places.

I wonder about these 40,000 students who are, if the reports are correct, opting for an unplanned gap year.

Do these people imagine that this year’s difficulty will just go away, in some Scooby-Doo, wavy-line kind of way, in just twelve months? Have they not considered the all-too-likely possibility that if they couldn’t get the places they wanted when competing against this year’s crop of school-leavers, then the competition for places next year, when the exit grades are likely to reach yet another ‘all time high’, is likely to be incrementally more severe?

Certainly, all my reading on this so far, would seem to indicate that none, or almost none, of these unplanned ‘gap-yearers’ have considered the massive scope of the probable log-jam likely to occur next year. Almost none of them seem to be considering what they might do now, to mitigate against an even more competitive placement environment, which, in twelve months time, will be struggling to copy with even more ‘A-Level’ passes of even higher standards.

I’m not having a winge about students, as such. I’m just taking in to account the mass of scholastic, academic and economic evidence that is in the public domain, looking at the cycles that have established themselves over the last ten years, adding just a smidge of common sense and extending that to the next twelve months.

Really, I don’t see an improvement. The admission models of the UK’s established universities – not just those in the Russell Group – are based on certain constants, with marginal allowance for key variables.

The problem is that within the last five years almost every factor in the admission model has become a variable. Variable funding, variable research grants, variable application numbers, variable ‘A-level’ results, etc, ad nauseam.

One of my clients is NERC, and their funding has been cut back significantly. this has a direct effect on universities, because NERC is the funding clearing centre for environmental science.

Within the last six months, identically restricted situations have come to exist in BBSRC, EPSRC and ESRC.

It seems logical that without an increased funding variable at the other end of the student pipeline, the amount of traffic (students) that goes in to the pipeline has to be harshly culled.

I suggested, to the disappointed student, that she opted for a 12-month course at a nearby college, ideally studying a subject with an identifiable relationship to her degree choice. Or failing that, I suggested, spent the year on an arts/media course – to throw herself in to a new subject.

She met both suggestions with indifference; the choices, in her head, are her chosen subject at her chosen universities or a gap year.

I hope that, in twelve months time, she won’t be bitterly disappointed. But the evidence tells me that she’ll be one of, potentially, 80,000 candidates who will be surplus to requirements.

Sad.

Gone phishing

So the phishers/scammers are at it again and this time they’re almost but not quite clever.

An email screeched in to the podcast’s gmail account, you can see a screenshot of it below or Click here for a pdf version of the full email

I have several problems with this, but by the reports in the media, a number of people are falling for this phishing scam.

My problems are simple:

  • It is not in English, it is written in something that closely approximates English, but no British clearing bank would surely send such rubbish out? And the sign-off, given that this communication is supposed to be from a bank,  is just pathetic. Why not put a few kisses on the bottom (oo-er) too?
  • It is incredibly badly typed. The use of multiple trailing full-stops, the use of the hash-sign. Has HSBC taken to employing 14-year-old schoolchildren to write their customer service letters now? Erm, no.
  • It has spelling mistakes on it. Really.
  • The server in the ‘click here’ link is based in Taipei, Taiwan – that well-known bastion of British banking.
  • So it is an email written in something that approximates but is not quite English. It is an email that is written incredibly badly. It is an email with a link to a website in Taipei.

Hmmm, is there anyone who is still feeling warm and fluffy over this email?

Here’s the double clincher; there are absolutely no names or telephone numbers on the email.

So out of a confidence score of a minimum zero and a maximum 10, my confidence level in this email being genuine is minus 12.

Why so low?

Because our little podcast doesn’t have a bank account, not with anyone, let alone HSBC.

It’s a fake. And here’s the html text of the email (just to grab some google traffic in case anyone is searching for information on it):

_____________________________________

Message begins…

We regret having to terminate the account with us.

Please be advised of the following causes.

# Reasons:- The account would be effectively terminated due to the recent information gathered from the profile does not match the background data.

# You have refused to follow the link which were sent to the email recently.

# You logged on immediately you verified the account which caused the verification been canceled. This may be our increasing inflation problem which have forced your account to close down several of its operations.

The account will cease operation effective 16/07/2010..

Our automated security systems have indicated that access to the account will be blocked after 17/07/2010.

To cancel the termination process>>

Please DO NOT CLICK HERE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – UNLESS YOUR NAME IS TONY BLAIR, IN WHICH CASE YOU DESERVE TO BE RIPPED OFF YOU SLIMY PIECE OF DOGSHIT to verify.

If you have already logged on or if you need to login before verifing the account, please logout before you click the above.

*Warning*
____________________________________________

It seems reasonable that the login process needs to invalidate the session and perform an automatic logout before succeeding any attempt on subsequent verification.

Please do not login after you have verified the account within 72 hours, to avoid
duplicate access records in our database as this could cause the account being suspended again.

_____________________________________________

We regret any inconvenience caused…

Thanks,
We appreciate your business!
Administrative Department Team

Issued for UK use only  |  ©  2002 – 2010

BT outage, 01993 exchange (part 4)

Friday 28th May 2010, 7.20am
I ran through what has become a daily routine; switch off the router and BT Vision box, make a mug of tea, have breakfast, switch everything on and watch it all come back up.

Then I try to load web-pages, run an FTP command and access BT’s own NNTP server. I also try to access BT Vision. All of these functions continue to fail.

I wait for the engineer’s arrival.

At 9.40am, I took a telephone call from a BT Openreach engineer who had a bunch of new information.

He said he wouldn’t be coming out, because the problem has been identified as an equipment issue in the local area.

Apparently, on Tuesday, BT Wholesale upgraded some of their hardware in the 01993 exchange. Since the upgrade was undertaken, more than 200 subscribers in the 01993 have been unable to access the internet.

The engineer said that BT Wholesale were aware of the problem, but until BT Wholesale correct the problem with their equipment, there was nothing that any of us – including the BT Openreach engineers – could do.

I decided to do the only thing that a sensible person in my position would do, I drove in to Abingdon to take Sophie out for lunch.

When I got home – about 2.30pm – I checked the internet.

It was working!

Instead of contacting the BT Broadband hell-desk, because, let’s face it, the quality, content and validity of the information they have exhibited, over the last four days, has been absolutely meaningless, I went to the bulletin board.

Yep, several people were reporting that they had a full range of internet services again.

So that’s it then.

Problem solved.

We’re all back online.

The thing is, as it appears to me, that as soon as the appropriate department of BT became aware that there was an issue in the 01993 exchange, the problem was corrected in less than four hours.

But it seems to have taken 72 hours for that critical piece of information to surface.

So the three questions that have to be asked are:

  1. why did it take 72 hours for the fault to be correctly identified?
  2. why were BTs offshore call-centre staff never aware of the true nature of the problem?
  3. why are BTs offshore hell-desk staff so hugely unhelpful and combative?

BT outage, 01993 exchange (part 3)

Thursday 27th May 2010, 5.50am
I try to load web-pages, run an FTP command and access BTs own NNTP server. I also try to access BT Vision. All of these functions fail.

I don’t *want* to call the BT Broadband hell-desk, it is a pointless, fruitless experience that has yielded nothing of any value, but what is my alternative?

I decide to browse BTs forums and I am actually thrilled to find other BT Broadband subscribers from the 01993 area, who are all experiencing identical problems!

I call the Broadband hell-desk. The chap on the other end says there is a technical problem and it will take 4-5 hours to fix. I tell him I’ve been waiting for three days and I’m asked to hold.

When he came back on the line it was to tell me that there is no longer a problem in my area, that it has been fixed.

I tell him that it hasn’t been fixed because I still can’t load web-pages, can’t establish an FTP connection and can’t access BTs own NNTP server.

He says we can fix these things. I admire his resolve.

I’m told to reset my WiFi router and instructed to run a couple of command-line updates to clear the laptop cache.

None of these actions fixed the problem, so the call-centre operator puts me on hold again.

When he returns it is to contradict himself; there definitely is a service outage and it will take approximately four hours to rectify.

*sigh*

As I was hanging up the phone my mobile rang, it was xxxx from BTCare. I’m not altogether sure what this guy’s role is, but I get a strong sense of ownership from him – that he’s owning my problem and is going to try and sit with it until it is resolved.

It’s clear, from our conversation, that he’s up to date on the quantity and content of my telephone contacts with the various call-centres.

He tells me that according to the status boards, there is no service outage in my area (which contradicts the information I’ve just been given!) but, he goes on to say, it is equally clear from the number of people in the 01993 area who are experiencing the same problem, that there clearly *is* a problem. He says he will do some running around and will call me back shortly.

Although getting his call gave me a lift, my faith in BT has been so tainted that I’m not convinced he will call back.

Ten minutes later he calls back. A major service outage has been escalated to a technical team and he’ll call me back after 11am with an additional update.

Around noon he calls back to say that the problem is being flagged as ‘fixed’. ‘Can you connect to the internet?’ he asks.

No.

So we have arranged that an engineer will visit tomorrow morning.

I notice that in the late afternoon a problem status page appeared on BT’s ‘faults’ website, with an expected ‘two hour fix’ statement.

Four hours later the status against this problem is ‘Fixed’.

Yay!

I try to connect to the internet. I try to run an FTP session. I try to connect to BT’s NNTP server. All of these actions fail. The problem clearly has not been fixed.

I go to bed feeling very grumpy.

Judging by the comments on BT’s customer bulletin board from other 01993 subscribers, I am not alone.