MonthDecember 2004

My predictions for 2005: wireless iPods, more phishing, and many more Firefox users

Over at The Independent I’ve put my neck on the block and put up my predictions for 2005 to follow on from my previous ones (2004 is on this site, and you never know, this might impel me to put up the ones for 2003…)

I’ll put up the list for 2005 on this site, oh, presently. Just to point out that while the headline-writers appear to be forecasting an OSX virus, I’m not.

But I am forecasting a wireless iPod (a flash-based one was too easy a slam-dunk, though of course now I’m wondering about a headless iMac), no viruses for OSX, that Apple’s iPod revenues will exceed those from computers, that phishing will be used for industrial espionage as well as boring old bank fraud, that Internet Explorer’s market share will fall to 75%, that search will become preeminent and there will be “malware” that pretends to be Google’s or MSN’s search program downloads, and plenty more. Plus, of course, advice on how to avoid being caught out by all this.

A brief break

I’m taking a brief break until around the New Year. Comments are turned off, I’m afraid, but feel free to set up a blog and point to stuff here. :-)

The Microsoft decision: the key is the server details

A lot has been written about the EC decision on Microsoft being upheld (as in, MS will have to comply with the original ruling while it prepares and fights its appeal against the original ruling).

Most people seem to be making noises about the fact that Microsoft will have to produce a version of Windows without Media Player. That might be tough, but it’ll hardly destroy it, because there aren’t going to be many OEMs who’ll sell Windows sans WMP.

However, the other part of the ruling is that MS has to reveal more detail about how its client and server systems communicate. That’s really important to efforts like the Samba organisation, an open-source attempt to reverse-engineer that communication.

The key point is that that information will now get out there – irrevocably. It won’t stay in Europe. And if Microsoft wins the appeal, how is it going to recall the information.. Hmm. Unless it were to threaten to sue in the event that it wins the appeal; such an approach would effectively stymie all but the very brave who were sure that the appeal would be lost.

Given how many businesses took fright when SCO waved patent threats at Linux, the latter might be what’ll happen.

Are print publications trapped inside a crumbling business model?

Over at SiliconValleyWatcher, there’s an interesting example of what happens when you’re not able to serve as well on the web as on paper.

In Trapped inside a crumbling business model? Exposing print advertisers to online can be disastrous, Tom Foremski notes: I recently had a chat with a buddy of mine who publishes one of the best business magazines around, and it’s been doing reasonably well despite the continuing downturn in advertising.

He told me that his publication might close down its web site. Why, I asked? We lose money from advertisers pulling their ads from the magazine, he said. When their online ads get very few clicks, they then decide that the print advertising is also not getting through to the right people. So they pull all their print and online ads.

Apparently $1,000 of under-performing online advertising can thus kill $20,000 of print advertising. Though this seems to me to be the effect of marketing people who are obsessed with metrics for everything – because they can measure the “effectiveness” of online advertising so much more directly, they think that tells them about the print form too, even though I think of online and offline properties completely differently myself.

As Tom says: Big changes are ahead. That’s what I tell people who’ll listen too…

Whether you should use Firefox and Thunderbird; and the “threat” of nanotechnology. (And Deborah Ross on gadgets…)

In this week’s Science and Technology section in The Independent, I’ve written on whether Firefox and Thunderbird, the free browser and mail reader, outdo Internet Explorer and Outlook Express; while Christine Evans-Pughe looks at studies on nanotechnology which suggest it should be kept away from the body. Or the bits inside.

Bonus link: if you haven’t read Deborah Ross’s Christmas guide to gadgets, “It’s not rocket science – it’s worse”, then get some now. Hilarious. Sample: What is it with gadgets and Christmas? And how come I don’t want any of them?

Actually, that’s not true. I lust after most them, but I’d simply rather not go there because I know what it will mean: frustration, temper, tears, a throbbing headache. The instruction manual will have been recklessly translated from the original Korean: “Pause now you are in shortly, stop.” There will be CD-roms and uploading and downloading and folders and subfolders and sub-sub-subfolders of the most fiendishly sub-sub kind, and I’ll get lost and befuddled and it will all go horribly awry and then I’ll cry.

Treat yourself – like a gadget, but cheaper.

The fourth man in the Quinn saga? And has any report *ever* found against a government minister?

Can the rumours swirling about a possible fourth romantic involvement in the Quinn saga, besides David Blunkett, Simon Hoggart and the bloke who’s her husband, possibly be true? No, surely not. Anyway, I would expect we would hear about that Tonight. Or Today.

Meanwhile, the Budd report decides David Blunkett didn’t quite do anything wrong enough to be worth censuring him about. Just this question: has there been an “independent” report in the past 10, 15, 20, howeverlong years which has said that Minister X misbehaved atrociously and should resign at once?

It’s amazing they managed to produce a magazine each week

Latest victim surely of what we can be pleased to call Spectatorgate is Simon Hoggart, who this weekend was forced to admit that he, too, had a sexual relationship with Kimberly Quinn/Fortier. Good grief, is there anyone on or around the Spectator who wasn’t up to some sort of illicit bonking? Boris Johnson, Rod Liddle, Petronella Wyatt, Simon Hoggart… It’s like Tory ministers in the 1990s.

It’s going to be extremely hard for Hoggart now. As he’s Parliamentary sketch writer on The Guardian and host of “The News Quiz” on Radio 4, how can anything he writes not be ever so slightly (or even a bit more than slightly) tainted by “Is this because you know in the Biblical sense..?”; and as for his next appearance on the quiz show.. It’s like Angus Deayton on “Have I Got News For You”, who was fatally wounded by becoming news. I wonder if Hoggart will just quietly let someone else front it.

And I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his shoes in the inevitable meeting with Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor, probably on Monday. That’s quite apart from the jolly Sunday he’ll have spent talking to his wife.

Truly, this affair is incredible, in that you wouldn’t believe it as fiction. And I’d really have to look a long way to find someone who now has any respect for Ms Quinn – noting that Hoggart says the sexual relationship carried on after her marriage in 2001. And then she took up with David Blunkett…

Wendy Grossman met a psychic called (something). He never stood a chance.

Update 17 Dec: This was a (failed) windup – she writes about it here.

One of Wendy M. Grossman’s unsung talents (besides writing interesting books about the Net and having an interesting column and those sorts of things) is her role with the Skeptic [sic] in the UK, and hence the semi-professional role of debunking so-called psychics. Debunking is the sort of thing that James Randi, the magician, has done so well; while he’s never called Uri Geller a fraud (and, honestly, who on earth would?), he has reproduced by magicians’ sleight-of-hand ever so many of the things Geller does using his unexplained powers – apart of course from appearing lascivious on the first I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!.

So Wendyg was asked by the BBC to appear as a sceptic (I prefer that spelling) on a program looking at spirituality: their plan was to do a sort of test today and then do something more comprehensive early next year. I don’t think they expected at all what actually happened. Certainly, I didn’t.

She was asked to write down five facts about herself and keep them secret. (Just pause, though, and consider how hard that is for someone whose life is so widely spread around the Net as Wendy’s; a bit of research and you’d think any would-be “psychic” could find out five things she might say about herself.) Then a psychic called “Shirley” (a man) would divine them, to stun and amaze everyone.

In the end she chose the following:

  • I have two old tennis balls in my dryer
  • I am currently reading Bodies in Motion and at Rest, by Thomas Lynch
  • My youngest friend is 19; my oldest friend is 73
  • Two of my teeth have crowns
  • I cannot draw

You’ll have to read the whole thing, which is well worth the journey, to see the amazing attempts that Shirley made to discomfort Wendy and justify his amazing “reading” of her facts. Let’s just say they diverged a little. He hardly did himself any favours by opening the conversation with her by saying that the word “skeptic” puts him in mind of “septic”. As anyone who knows Wendy could attest, this is as wise as dangling your arms in an industrial shredder.

Oh, OK, just a taster of the postcript: When I phoned Chris French afterwards — he’d also been filmed in a discussion with Shirley a few hours earlier — his experience was similar (without the test), although instead of suggesting incontinence he suggested adultery (‘Names!’ said Chris. ‘I want details!’). I have no idea whether they’ll be able to use any of it.

Update on Dashboard and security risk: why should Dashboard code have root privileges?

Just to return to this topic briefly… back in July, Dave Hyatt (head developer for Safari/Webkit, the HTML rendering engine on OSX) wrote about what a Dashboard widget in Tiger will need: A Dashboard widget is a bundle that contains a principal HTML file and any supporting code that the widget requires (be it CSS, JS, images, or native code). A widget can add an optional interface to native code, written in Objective-C, that can be bound into JavaScript and made accessible from the HTML document’s JS window object.

(Bear with me. We’ll get there.)

Anyway, some points about this model.
(1) The native plugin code must be owned by root. This means that in order for a Dashboard widget that contains one of these special types of plugins to execute that code, you have to enter a root account password (to chown the plugin code). This plugin code cannot execute, therefore, without the widget being ‘blessed’ just as an application that you might install on your system must be.

That’s the bit which worries me: the Javascript being owned by root, the super-super-user on an OSX (or any *nix) machine. I really hope wiser heads have since prevailed and that in the finished product there’s a special user called , say, “dashboard” (just as there are special invisible users called “mysql” and “www” and “postfix” on OSX machines already, for the open-source database and the web server and mail program) which has not unlimited authority to do things on your machine. Else this could get ugly.

The shields go up: I’ve banned access from spam-ridden territories

Having mentioned before that I would, I (or the web admin) have put in a block that prevents access from all of Latin America, and most of the Asia-Pacific areas (except nice ISPs in Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia where some readers drop by).

Unfortunately I also accidentally included the “62.x.x.x” grouping in those to block, which means a lot of Europe. Oops. I’m trying to get it changed back.

Why did I do it? To reduce the bombardment of comment spam. Yes, that’s collateral damage. Curses.