Thursday, 29 December 2011

On walled gardens...

I am frequently asked by colleagues and friends why it is that I detest both Apple, and anything made by Apple, these days.

It's simple. It's called the "Walled Garden" (Click for definition link on Wikipedia).

Put briefly, my interpretation of the theory goes that if you buy into walled garden tech (such as Apple's iOS as used on their iPhones), you'll never be able to get out of the walled garden again, as you'll have too much invested in it by the time you realise that you actually want out of it, and by that time anyhow, you'll be so institutionalised and indoctrinated into the walled garden, that you'll think existing outside it is worthless and frankly impossible.

In short, the problem is one of control and trust, of which apple exert, in order, all and none in apparently equal measure.

While it may well be an excellent piece of marketing strategy (and I've tried to fault it, really), it's also hideously insidious and horrible, again in equal measure.

It started when Apple released their first iPhone, and became apparent when their batteries started to have problems (see the press reports at the time). All of a sudden, it became very apparent that Apple didn't trust people to be able to change a cell-phone battery, and to control who could do this, they required that only Approved Apple Service Centres could be permitted to change the battery. Since there is no battery hatch on an iPhone, and you cannot remove the back without tools, if you do remove it yourself, and you're not an approved Apple Service Centre employee (with the appropriate training certification to prove it), then you'll void the phone's warranty.

You were also trapped in which networks you could and could not use the phones on - the SIM cards being inside the casing, meant that you couldn't easily change the SIM card and thus the network if you so desired, until someone twigged that a bent paper clip could open the chip tray without opening up the body as well, allowing a customer to swap out the SIM chip - whereupon those self-same customers then found that the phones were SIM locked to the specific cellphone networks that Apple approved only (in the USA, this was AT&T/Singular, as they'd footed the development bills for the iPhone): Another almost subliminal and insidious form of control over the customer.

Simply put, this was the first step in the way Apple were re-inventing an insidious totalitarian control over their customers.

The second step was to ensure that their customers could only get software - "Apps" - from Apple themselves, via their rigidly controlled "App Store". The concept was simple enough: Go to one place online that was easy to find and access, give it a neat-sounding name that was easily memorable, and there you'll find software packages to add to your phone (the 'applications', or "Apps" as they called these software packages).

The problem is that this inhibits a free market. In order to get your App onto the 'App Store', you have to submit it to Apple for approval. This is a frequently long drawn-out process - just follow how difficult Pocket GPS World found it to get their CamerAlert App approved, and re-approved on updating it every so often (for a time, it seemed as if Apple didn't want in on the "App Store", with all the delays they returned), and they're not likely to be the only ones having these problems.

The same control aspect applies to music for these phones. In theory, you should be able to upload your own MP3 music files to an iPhone. Not so, it seems (this, according to colleagues at work who have iPhones). They must come from the Apple-owned supplier, iTunes, or the iPhone won't play them. So, again, Apple exerts totalitarian control over your choices - or lack thereof. Apple do NOT want people being non-dependent on Apple for either software, OR music.

About the ONLY things you can get from third parties are hardware add-ons, such as gel cases, mobile hands-free car adaptors, and so on. And that's because it's bloody impossible for Apple to control this area of free trade. But, as they developed the operating system - the firmware - that runs the iPhone, they can exert massive control over software and music sources. And they do, indeed, exert such control over their customers, as mentioned above.

But it's not just the customers that have a problem, even if the customers currently don't realise it, cavorting as the do in their green and apparently pleasant walled garden. The suppliers, those who write the software that make up the "Apps", and those who produce and sell the music to iTunes, have to pay Apple a slice of their takings to have their wares appear there. I don't know what the slice is for the "Apps" themselves and the music, but it hit the news earlier this year that Apple take a whopping 30% fee for all periodical subscriptions sold on the "App Store".

At the same time this figure came out, it suddenly transpired that if you had a subscription to a news feed application, say, the one for the London Times, Apple not only required the subscriber list to be maintained by - you guessed it, Apple themselves - but they also wanted to keep getting that 30% slice. Caused a massive row with a couple of news magnates that did, and resulted in a fair few column inches slagging off a certain Apple CEO and founder, God rest his now departed soul (I try not to be unkind about the departed).

There's also the privacy aspect of Apple owning these subscriber listings to concern customers, by the way. Do you WANT Apple to know that you subscribe to  - for risqué example - Muppet Fancier Monthly? No? Best not use your iPhone or iPad, then. Or anything else with an "i" at the start of the name and with a partially eaten fruit as a logo on it, come to that.

Also, who controls who gets to see that data - Apple? OK, do they sell it on to other companies? What are the controls like at those other companies? It's a worrying aspect, to be sure, because despite what Apple might say today, come tomorrow, they may very well and very legally change their terms and conditions, to allow themselves the right to sell on that privilaged and very personal information to a marketing company that'll spam you until you bleed from the ears. Don't forget: Apple is a business. They are in it to make money, boys and girls.

So, with all the negative things above, are there any positive things?

Well, maybe a couple, in all honesty. Because it's a walled garden, and Apple takes so much control in things, it's unlikely that a malicious or virus-laden "App" will get very far, if one actually can make it through their approval system (a couple have, and were stamped on ruthlessly and remotely removed from users phones by Apple).

Likewise, because of the controls and approval systems, most applications - excuse me, "Apps" - are pretty rigerously checked before release, so the chances of one accidentally bricking (a word that's come to mean wrecking) your phone is very remote indeed.

But sadly, that's about it.

Compare these issues with Microsoft Windows Phone, or Googles' Android operating systems. These do not require that you join in a walled garden. You can get your "Apps" and music - and videos, come to that - from anywhere you like, so that innovation and free trade are not inhibited. The downside is that you have to pay a lot more attention to not only where you're getting these things, but what permissions are granted to them, and watch out for any news regarding detrimental effects or malware that may be doing the rounds.

Microsoft, for example, almost inevitably required that users invest in anti-malware and anti-virus packages. I was lucky, I never did, and at the time (a couple of years ago, now), the requirement was pretty thin. These days, were I to use an MS phone, I've be getting AV/AM packages first thing after getting the phone. The risk is still pretty small, to be frank, but one still treads carefully. For Android,  there have been a couple of fairly well-documented incidents of malware designed to cause users big bills or other problems, but again, Android had a remote kill-switch that can allow Google to remove offending "Apps", so there is a small level of safety net in place. You still have to watch those permissions on installing an "App", mind you.

Still, I much prefer being treated like an adult by Google, than a child who cannot even be trusted to change a battery properly by Apple.

And that's why I will not buy into the Apple walled garden.

Because Apple will not extend trust to their customers.

And because Google allow their phone users to change batteries - oh, and memory cards and SIM chips too, come to that.

Case closed (sic).

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Foreign marketing calls, a.k.a. the plague of 'im downstairs...

So, six in the bleeding morning, and the landline rings.

"Hello?" (real original, but then I'd only hit the sack a couple of hours beforehand. What? I'm on Christmas leave!)

The line was slightly crackly, and there was a mild hiss in the background. Only on international calls does this noise seem to happen. I checked the caller display, to find that, oh joy, it said 'Blocked'. "Hello, my name is Sanjay, I would like to tell you about-"

I interrupted. "Is this a marketing call?"

"Sir, I would like to tell you-"

"Yes or no, please."

"Yes, sir. I would like to-"

"You know it's six in the bloody morning here, right?"

"No sir, I did not. I would like to tell you-"

"I don't do marketing calls. Especially on two hours sleep. Goodbye."

And then I hung up. They ring me at six in the goddam morning, they can expect me to be abrupt, if not downright moody.

Half an hour later, no joke, the same damn thing, with a different person. And again, half an hour later.

Sod this, thought I, and turned the landline to silent ring. They could leave a sodding message. Not that they would.

At eleven, my mobile rang. Luckily for the caller, their number wasn't blocked: It was my folks, on a completely different subject. I told them about the calls on my landline, and my old man chuckled, the evil wotsit. Then he told me about their own experience, and my Mum's response...

Seems they had a spate of these marketing calls from places like India, Malaysia, and so on, a little while ago.

The way my dad tells it, my mum, it seems, is like me: She doesn't suffer these fools at all. Her call went something like this:

Ring ring

Mum: "Hello?"
Caller: "Hello, I would like to tell you about-"
Mum: "Are you trying to sell something?"
Caller: "No. I would like to-"
Mum: "Good." And then she hung up. *click*

Absolutely priceless

Now, I happen to know that my folks, like me, are on the telephone Preference List, and Silent Call Guard, that is supposed to prevent marketing calls like this. Only problem is that they only tend to work for companies based here, in Great Britain. They most definitely do not work on call centres based abroad.

I wonder why those hacking "collectives" haven't targeted these moronic marketing call places? They'd win the hearts and minds of most of the bloody planet if they took out one or two of those, instead of ISPs, banks, supermarkets, and mail order shops.

The end result might be a final marketing call sounding a bit like this:

"Hello, my name is- *sound of flushing toilet, emptying sink, and a failed engine start* Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr *click*"

You gotta wonder about these things from time to time, right?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Well... one out of three can't be that bad...

Having cast heavy hints for the last month or so, I actually got one of the items that I desperately wanted this Christmas: A USB-to-IDE/EIDE/SATA converter cable adaptor, and let me tell you, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

This is it: IOMAX USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE Adapter Kit with Power Adapter for 2.5/3.5/5.25 Inch SATA or IDE Drive.

As you may recall from an earlier entry here, my desktop PC, an aging 2.6gig machine running XP, died on me mid-boot some time ago. Luckily, I had most of the data already backed up (remarkable foresight for me, as the last two machines I had weren't even partially backed up), so no great loss there, but I have long since lost the disks for a lot of my old software, including my copy of Pagemaker, and was hoping that the main boot disk was recoverable, so that I could attempt to move the package across to the my netbook.

Unfortunately, of the three hard drives from the desktop PC, only one wasn't completely borked, and was recoverable (as well as already being backed up externally for other reasons, which was nice). The other two, sadly, were completely unrecoverable: One (the boot drive, C:) was recognised by the adaptor and drivers, but couldn't be read, and the other (the primary data drive onto which I'd carefully backed up a load of software, including PageMaker, D:) wasn't; as neither of the failed drives could be read, it somehow suggested that either their file allocation tables were stuffed, or that they were physically broken somehow. Given the masses of clicking and clacking from them when they were plugged in, I strongly suspect the drives had physical errors that prevented their being read.

So, it's out with the big magnets, and render the two unrecoverable drives totally blank, then the industrial drill to ensure that they remain so - the only way, short of nuking them from orbit, to assuring one that old personal data cannot be recovered from old drives. It's extreme, but then I still haven't been ID thieved as far as I know, so I must be doing something right!

Anyhow, all in all, this converter cable is a very useful bit of kit that has, I reckon, saved me a packet in IT support costs from the local shop. It's also sized for both 2.5 and 3.5 inch IDE/EIDE drives, as well as the new SATA format, so it's fairly well future-proofed, I think :)

In the mean time, I guess I'm going to have to save up my hard-earned and either buy a copy of Adobe "InDesign", or find an open source DTP package that'll read the layered pagemaker files. Oh well. These things happen, I suppose.

One out of three can't be that bad, when all's said and done, after all, can it? ;-)

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas with the family, and the post Christmas sprawl...

We've all done it; and will, likely as not, do it again. Leaving the assorted year-long animosities in the hallway, you sit down with the rest of the warring factions - I mean family - and act civilly around the table as the feast, supplied by the masochist that is the cook (in my case, my Sister, for the must be fifth or sixth time on the trot), is placed before you on the table, your mouths watering as the aromas of perfectly prepared foods assault your nostrils...

It was, of course, delicious.

Reluctant as I am to admit it, my sister (who will remain nameless here, to protect her from the amusement of her neighbours for having a raving madman like me for a brother) is a damn good cook. Amongst other things on the menu this year, were a truly humongous roast Turkey (done to perfection, and Lord knows how she fitted the thing into her oven!) with all the trimmings, roast potatoes (crispy, not singed or soggy), baton carrots (with, I think, a touch of parsley sprinked on them), sprouts and roast chestnuts, red cabbage and onion, a very nice herb and berry (at least I think they were berries, no doubt I'll be corrected on this later today when my sister reads this) stuffing, proper giblet gravy, and the list went on for the main course. Good grief, it was delicious. A proper and decent traditional British Christmas lunch. It was amazing. And very, very filling. My doctor, of course, would probably have defecated masonry at the sheer amount of cholesterol on offer, but the hell with that on this particular day of the year

Next up, the dessert course. Sticky toffee pudding, and the pièce de résistance, something called 'Christmas Pudding Crackers' (apparently, and to my not very surprising ignorance in this field, a Delia Smith recipe), served with either double cream, or in my case some butterscotch ice cream, and ye gods, was it marvellous, and somehow, and God Alone knows how, not heavy or bloating, like a traditional Christmas Pudding tends to be (which my sister avoids, as she detests raisins and sultanas with a passion bordering on insanity, much the same as my distaste for courgettes and similar vegetables!). The photo is after seven of them had been already snaffled up by the assorted Gannets at the table!).

For once, I wasn't working the next day (there are no TfL bus services on Christmas Day, that's traditional too, and the rota showed me as being off on Boxing Day as well), so I was able to have a few drinks. So I did  - but not wine. I had beer. Call me common if you like, I just prefer the taste

Anyhow, after this amazing repast, there was only one place to go, and that was the sitting room, with it's incredibly comfortable sofas and recliners (I'll give my sister and brother-in-law this: They know how to furnish a home!), where we all managed to get maybe five minutes of post-meal sprawl and breath-catching, before my two nieces blew in with all the force of a mid-winter storm, and demanded that they open more presents!

Even the cats got in on the act - and they too will remain nameless for the sake of their standing with the other cats in their neighbourhood; it's a closely guarded thing, but they can talk. Apparently, they can also read, and as we all know, they act like they run the country, so I'd best not tick them off here!

The Ginger one claimed his place with my brother-in-law, while the practically black one wandered around and grabbed skritches (cat owners will know what a skritch is, but for the rest of you, it's the combination scratch and tickle you give a favoured pet) around the ears and neck from everyone else.

After a while, however, the ginger one got tired of the lap he was occupying, and went on the prowl, eventually finding a perch from where he could lord it over us (looking for all intents and purposes like a T-3½ Moustinator waiting for its next victim, whereupon the black one nicked the arm of the sofa... all this, while my two nieces dashed about like mad things, distributing presents to all and sundry.

Christmas is, after all, for the kids

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

How Nucking Futs is this?!

The train fares go up next month. Apparently, by an average of 5% or so. Since my other half lives some 70-odd miles away as the crow flies, it's cheaper for me to use public transport to get there, even when I *did* have a car. You will recall that a car that I owned was AGAIN stolen from where I live, close to a year ago now (the second in four years, dammit), so I haven't bothered getting another, since it seems to be open season on cars that I own, and in this economy, I can ill afford all the associated costs anyhow (hint: 'Protected No Claims Bonuses' aren't really protected very much at all: You car insurance premiums always seem to go up, no matter what). So, since TfL gave me a staff pass, I use public transport. What the heck: One saves money where one can, these days, after all.

So, I decided to check at the National Rail Enquiries website, to see what the new fare would be. £36, up two quid. Not so bad. Then I wondered what it would cost if I separated out the journey, and took advantage of my staff pass to eliminate the cost of the tube element of the trip from the railway journey ticket cost - they give you London connection journeys by tube in the cost of the ticket. The full trip is: A bus to my local railway station in the south London suburbs, a train to central London, a connection tube journey to Paddington, then a train from there to my other half's town in the sticks, and either a half-hour walk from the station, a cab ride, or a local bus, depending on how lazy or cheap I may be feeling when I get there.

So, one might think a couple of quid could be saved from eliminating the cost of the London tube connection fares, and using my staff pass on the tube instead (OK, so it'd be there's be four tickets in the amended journey plan, instead of just two, but what the hell: Two outbound, two return, instead of two tickets, out/return).

So, imagine my "WTF!?" moment of disbelief, when the cost of the two separate rail-only journeys came to eighty pence MORE than if I kept the tube connections, instead of dropping by the expected two or so quid from removing the cost of the tube element of the journey cost.

Now just how nucking futs is that, eh?

And yes, I'm still banging my head on the desk in disbelief.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Not to blow my own trumpet, but...

To misquote Colin Clive from the movie Frankenstein: "It's alive! It's ALIVE! IT'S ALIE-YIVE!"


What am I talking about? You will recall that I recently ordered a Parallel to USB cable, in the hope that I could revive my old prehistoric-like LaserJet 6P, following the discovery of a post in "Pete's Blog", where he did exactly that.

Well, the cable arrived from Amazon while I was at work today - damn, that was fast, and in the Christmas postal mayhem too - very impressive!

Having connected the printer end, I did what home users don't normally do: I installed the printer drivers downloaded from Microsoft first. It's what one should, after all, do. It says to do this in every computer product manual I've ever read, after all.

I needn't have bothered. It didn't work. I wound up with two printers labelled Laserjet 6P, and LaserJet 6P (Copy 1). Neither would print. So, I deleted both printers, and did my last-ditch fix. I performed a cold reboot of the netbook, plugged both ends of the cable in, and let the machine do it's thing.

Bingo. It loaded the cable interface first, then it correctly identified the printer, downloaded fresh drivers from Microsoft, and PRESTO! the printer is working just fine, thank you very much!


Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Annual National Finals of Murderwalk...

Like a fair number of the people I know, I do a fair amount of my Christmas shopping on-line. I find it soothes the fevered brow, allows me to browse at my leisure, and shop in the comfort of my own home - or, now I have a decent smartphone, almost anywhere I can get an internet connection.

Unless, of course, I'm physically out and about, playing at the Annual National Finals of Murderwalk, the extremely short-tempered game of physical prowess, hunting, and survival.

This is otherwise known to pretty-much the rest of society at large, as the "Annual Christmas Shopping Expedition".

This time, we played it in Newbury, as I'm visiting my better half (I have a week of leave from work before Insanity Incarnate Day, or as you lot call it, Christmas Eve shopping in the London area), and we wanted to avoid going into Reading, which would have been a right bleedin' saga, and no mistake (it's a modern and major county town town, where the sheer amount of traffic, and lack of effective and meaningful directional signs, is guaranteed to make me reach for a chain saw and do a Freddy Kruger in about five seconds flat).

So, we thought "Yeah, let's do Newbury this time. There are loads of shops, it's a regional market town, and besides, there's a half-decent market there on Saturdays too!" This, where the thinking was that we might actually pick up a bargain or two, and save some money on pressies for the assorted oddballs - Ahem. I mean relatives - that we both have.

Right off the bat, we realised that it wasn't going to be quite that easy. The pavements - such as there are in the countryside - were covered by an almost invisible coating of black ice, and here we were, with no skates. I could hear the strains of the song "Slip Sliding Away" in my head, as we managed to navigate our way to the main road. We eventually - somehow without going base over apex even once - travelled in by bus. Well, why not, I work on the buses in London, after all, and it saves on parking fees, and it's reasonably cheap, right? Actually, not that much. I forgot (heh, silly me, thinks I, beating my noggin on the table a little later on) that outside London, it's not a fixed flat rate fare, they still use those goofy blasted ascending fare charts, designed to empty ones pockets of the lower-value notes in one fell swoop if you go any distance further than say, two miles. Ouch already! went my pocket change, as it passed from my pocket, to the drivers' cash tray.

Anyhow, we got return fare tickets (we don't do those on London Buses. Odd, but true) on the assumption that we might very well be a tad out of pocket on the way back. It's happened before, and experience is a wonderful teacher.

Bull, and other nonsense. If experience was a wonderful teacher, we would have stayed back at my other half's place, playing tiddlywinks or something (I'm getting a sore throat from all this polite coughing, you know), like staying nice and warm and toasty, not freezing our... um... behinds... off, waiting for a bus that was delayed by Crimbo traffic the next village over (insert Robin Williams doing his helicopter over the Ho Chi Min Trail 'Jack-knifed water buffalo' gag from "Good Morning Vietnam").

Anyway, we got into the Newbury bus station in one piece, aided in no small part by some of the best driving that I've seen in a long time by the driver of the 'Newbury & District' bus (Good lord, they even have new buses in the Counties! I thought they got all of our old TfL hand-me-down crap out here?!), as the roads were more slippery than the stuff streaming from our noses. WOW, was it cold. Did I say that already?

Luckily, the local council had apparently gritted the roads and walking surfaces - I mean pavements - in Newbury, so getting around wasn't an experience of the ice-rink encounters variety.

Also, we had managed, somehow, to get into town a little while before everyone else did, so were able to see a few things before we got down to the serious business of divesting ourselves of cash and melting our plastic.

One thing stood out head and shoulders above everything else, for me, at least. The local War memorial was possibly the best cared for and clean that I've had the pleasure to see in many a day. In a day and age where these are vandalised by mindless young gits, or robbed of their plaques by thieving scum who aren't even fit to scrape the shoes of our veterans, it was heartening to see such care given to such an important memorial. Long may it last. Well done, Newbury.

Sadly for me, that was the peaceful highlight of the day. We traipsed from one stall to the next in the market square, and then from one shop to the other, in search of those items that we couldn't get online, or for which inspiration had completely avoided us all year. In between sojourns into the freezing bleeping cold, we ducked and dived between the increasing masses that had come out to play Murderwalk, as we tried, reasonably successfully, to not tread on the feet of, bowl over, run over, ram into, slam into, back into, or otherwise collide with, crash into, or cause compound fractures to, bawling toddlers, screaming kids, angry teenagers, stubborn Mums and Dads, and pee'd-off pensioners, not to mention the occasional local coppers who'd come out to witness this, the hunter-gatherers of the public, behaving like spoiled and short-tempered stampeding oxen.

By eleven a.m., my hips hurt, my knees ached, and my feet were killing me. I must have walked about five hundred miles back and forth around the town centre, and I was in desperate need of a toilet, a coffee, and a snack, in that very order.

And lo!, my heart and spirits rose, as there before me appeared in my sights a branch of Caffé Nero, fitting the bill right there and then.

The queue was almost out the door, of course, and could we find a pair of bloody seats? Yeah, right. Pick a winning lotto number, me bucko.

Well, we eventually got our coffees and snacks, found a pair of seats which the better half snagged as I found the queue to the toilets. Returning to the corner table, I noticed that the place offered free WiFi, so out came the phone for a bit of online shopping for the couple of things we couldn't get in town, to find that one had to register with The Cloud in order to benefit from the free WiFi. No problem there, thinks I, makes sense for them to outsource this facility, so I try to register. Yeah, you guessed it. No joy. The attempts (five of them) to register ended each time with a 'time out' non-response from the server, which either meant that it wasn't fit for purpose, or, more likely, had been deluged with registration requests on Murderwalk Day.

So, I gave up on the WiFi, and used my three-and-a-half G connection (that's HSDPA, in case you were wondering), and ordered a couple of items through Amazon. Well, at least that was painless enough.

And that was that; we'd risen early, got ourselves into town, avoided rending anyone to pieces, and reasonably successfully shopped both in person, and online. And avoided having to go into bleedin' Reading, to boot. Now, to get back home to the better half's place.


I'd lost the sodding return tickets.

Sometimes, you just can't bloody win, you know?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

OHO! There may be life in the old dog yet!

So, my desktop PC died a few months back, when the primary hard disk - the boot drive - catastrophically failed. Well, it was, I'll admit, only a matter of time, and I'd been half expecting something like that to happen, so had (wisely) been doing what I tell others to do: I'd quietly been backing most of the data on it to one of my external USB hard drives, so (queue the bugler in the background, sounding the last Post) RIP (Rust in Pieces) desktop XP machine, you served your user well over the last five years *sniff*.

For the rest of the stuff on the three remaining EIDE drives inside the old XP machine, I'll just need to lay my mitts on a drive reader, a small piece of hardware that you physically put an old hard drive into, which allows you to plug it into a USB port - such as the ones on my Acer One D255 netbook (that's running Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit), so no real problems there: The devices are available from Amazon easily enough, and are on my wish list for Christmas *hint to relatives looking for a pressie for me, lol*.

However, this still left me with an excellent and practically bomb-proof laser printer that was still turning out crisply printed pages from the old PC like there was no tomorrow: An HP LaserJet 6P. The problem with it is that I cannot directly plug it into my netbook, as the damn thing only uses the old Centronics 64-pin plug, not the more modern USB system.

So, there I was, idly surfing the net at oh-my-God-o'clock this morning (I couldn't sleep. Seems I'm a part-time insomniac. *shrug* It happens from time to time), and found myself meandering down the HTC Sensation Forums, and noticed a thread that mentioned that converters from MiniUSB to MicroUSB plugs were available. Interesting. Like many people, I've got a shedload of old miniUSB plugs for my old phone, and as my new HTC Sensation uses the new, smaller MicroUSB socket, they're somewhat useless for it - so the converted plugs will breath new life into the old kit.

And that's when the two-watt Toc-H lamp illuminated above my head, as my eyes wandered across to the LaserJet 6P on my desk, now gathering dust following the demise of the XP desktop machine... if they can make converter plugs and sockets for USB connectors, what about Centronics to USB converters?

Well, it seems that they do. The problem, however, is not purely a hardware issue - there's a firmware, or driver, issue as well. There are conflicting reports (Google search link) as to whether you can make a centronics printer like the LJ6P series actually work with a PC running Windows 7. Seems that HP have previously said that while some of the LJ6 series may be made to work, the LJ6P series may not, and as a result, they apparently haven't updated their drivers for them. Then, on one of their other links, apparently they *have* got updated drivers for the LJ6P series. Confusing isn't the word. Frustrating is rather more accurate.

And then I blundered across this: So, here's hoping. I'm ordering a converter cable later, and then I'll download the driver. I'll let you know how I get on

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Malware. The modern way to mug people.

OK, so a fair few people recently got hit by malware that they loaded onto their phones. Android phones, to be precise. It would appear that the software packages (Applications, or as lazy people call them, "Apps") they installed to their phones were slightly modified popular games. The uploader of these games cracked them open like a Piñata,and inserted some of his own lines of computer code, before closing them up again, and uploading them to the Android marketplace. The changes caused any phone loading this package to send text messages using premium-rate numbers.

I recently got an Android phone too... and I'm careful...

Now, if you've been reading this Blant for any length of time, you'll have noticed that I recently took delivery of a shiny new HTC Sensation, one of their flagship Android phones. It's a very nice phone, too. But I'm very selective about what I download to the phone - especially in the way of software packages. And I ALWAYS check the permissions that these packages want to access.

For example, is there any valid reason for a game to access any type of messaging, browser history, contacts, or, in fact, anything other than the sleep function of the screen (to stop the thing shutting down after twenty seconds of inactivity), and maybe internet access to show you advertisements as you play a 'free' game? No? Then don't install the damn thing. "Simples" (insert Merekat-like tongue sucking sound now).

If it's asking for the keys to the safe...

Simply put, if a software package is asking for the electronic version of an all areas pass to rummage around your phone, willy-nilly, then you can bet the last fiver in your wallet (the one you were going to buy a pint of beer with) that something is Not Exactly Kosher with that package, and that you ought to drop it like a hot coal, like right that blasted second.

I would have thought that this would be common sense to people these days, what with the phrase InfoSec (and variations thereof) having been tattooed onto their foreheads by the popular media over the last couple of years, but apparently this is not the case. As evidenced by this latest electronic mugging.

And, just to add insult to injury, apparently Microsoft are getting in on the act, and asking people who got enraged by their own stupidity to defect to a Microsoft Windows mobile phone. There's a Twitter trend on it already, would you believe. Look up #droidrage over there. You'll see it yourself.

Pardon me? They did what?!

You heard - I mean read - what I said. Microsoft, the paragon of insecurity (evidence the sheer mountain of viruses, malware, etc., that have hit their products over the years, causing them to have to 'patch' them repeatedly to close these security holes more times than I've had hot dinners, it seems), are spinning this to read like the Android Apocalypse, saying that Android is full of security holes. Wellllll, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't, but HA! Microsoft're FINE ones to talk, really! Can you say "Sheer hypocrisy"?!

But who's really responsible for this?

And yet... it's the phone owners, the users who got hit, who are to blame. Yes, really. They rolled snake-eyes, and failed to make two basic security checks.

First, they FAILED to ensure that they were getting the genuine games, from the genuine producer. Here's a hint: Angry Birds is made, and distributed through the Android Market, by a company called "Rovio". you can check this with a simple Google search. Try it. If the supplier blurb in the description of the package on the Android marketplace says it was uploaded by, say, Fred Bloggs, for example, then maybe, just maybe, you should avoid it like the bloody plague. There's your first blasted clue.

Then, they FAILED to check what permissions the packages were asking for. See above for why this is necessary.

And now, like children caught with their hand in the cookie jar, they're blaming everyone but themselves for screwing up.

Good practice is always good sense.

Google, who run the marketplace, give us solid advice when we use the place. Check the permissions. I go one step further, and check the supplier too. It's a belt and braces approach to a world that'll steal the trousers right off your legs, given half a chance.

The point is, you cannot, ever, be too damned careful. These electronic thieves and muggers are getting more clever by the minute, and you can't give them a chance, as they'll take your wallet, identity, and possibly the whole of your life history too, in an instant: They have no scruples, or even morals.

Don't cry foul when there isn't one, and don't crow.

So, don't blame others for your cock-up. Blame yourself.

And tell Microsoft to stop being so hypocritical. It's not pretty, and it's certainly not clever.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Good lord, I need more patience...

There I was, on the tram to work, earlier today, when, at the stop before I got off, two young women - barely out of school by the look of them - got on the tram, and loudly continued the conversation that they'd obviously started some time before.

Nothing new in that, really, we all continue conversations on public transport, although most of us have the decency to moderate - that is, lower the volume - of such converations, so as not to broadcast, television soap drama-like, the innermost details of our... shall we say messy? ... lives. So, there we were, with, for want of better and more accurate names, Sharon & Tracey, blathering on about whose boyfreind was doing what, where, and to whom, when it occured to me that practically one word in five out of these two sorry examples of humanity was "Like?" or "d'yaknowwoteyemeen?"

I'm very glad I was getting off at the next stop, or I would have either been giving them an English lesson they'd have never forgotten, or throttled them both to save the population from their propogating!

As it was, I was muttering words akin to "God give me strength...!" As I got off the tram...!