MonthOctober 2006

Must remember: don’t be over-optimistic about WLAN vs mobile phones

I was reading Andrew Orlowski’s piece looking at the maths of the Long Tail®™© (Chris Anderson’s pet theory, which as one does with a pet, he has nurtured and taken for long walks, and fed, and now gets back plenty from it in return) when I came across this interesting bootnote:

For a facts and figures man who is wary of speculation, Anderson can be quite reckless. The Wired editor lost a wager with your reporter [ie Orlowski] recently, which he made three years ago. Anderson bet that by spring of 2006 the sales of WLAN chipsets would exceed sales of cellular (GSM and CDMA) chipsets. He fell short by around a billion units.

I wonder why Chris Anderson had that view of the world. Why did he think – because he would have to have done, eh? – that developing countries would adopt WLANs rather than GSM/CDMA sets? It puts an awful lot of faith in the spread of computers compared to mobile phones, and we all know that a mobile is a lot more use in almost any situation in a developing country.

What is it that sends OSX into a tailspin? And why is .Mac so rubbish? (updated)

Every so often I disconnect from the network at work – an Appleshare on Ethernet – without doing the rituals of bumping the volumes and making the right incantations as I do so. And sometimes the machine then wakes up fine, and sometimes it then goes into the tailspin of death, wherein apps won’t launch (they just bounce in the Dock, like some sort of accused on speed) and you have to force-quit things and they never quite come back. The only way back is the three-fingered force restart.

Why does it only do it some times and not others? It did it this evening, so I’ve lost a stack of things I’d wanted to post, pulled from the river of news like little minnows. Bum.

Meanwhile, why is it that .Mac has such terrible spam filtering? Gmail, by contrast, which you would think has a smaller user base (though maybe not… are there any numbers?) has excellent spam-chewing; I’ve only ever noticed one false positive. By contrast .Mac, which I don’t use a lot, seems to generate a constant stream of junk.

I think I’ll likely give it up soon. I don’t need the web pages, and the .Mac “your files on the web” thing has always been hopelessly slow (perhaps it’s faster in the US), and I don’t need iWeb – I’ve got a real one, thanks – or, um, is there anything much else that comes from .Mac?

Update: and even though .Mac has had a webmail interface overhaul (mm, stack those adjectives), it’s still not much cop, according to a review by the people at Tidbits:

Also missing from the toolbar is the Junk button, which in Mail can not only move a message to the Junk mailbox but also add a Junk flag and update Mail’s junk mail filter with information about that message. Unlike Mail, .Mac webmail does not have a learning spam filter. You can manually drag a spam message to the Junk folder, but doing so does not set its Junk flag (as that’s something Mail tracks locally, not a message attribute that’s changed on the server) and does not make .Mac webmail more likely to discard similar messages in the future. There’s no way to use .Mac webmail to help train Mail’s spam filter, and no way to affect the way the .Mac mail servers themselves filter out spam.

In other words, they’re junk when it comes to junk. (I got another this morning, which was one of the image spam sort, pumping stocks. WHY are people so stupid as to buy those things??? Why??? It defeats me.)

Bilateral life vs singular life

If you haven’t been visiting Jason’s blog about his son Tom, well, you’ve been remiss. A stack of stuff has happened, including (and it made me blink some when I read it) a family-and-friends-funded second implant. (Note for those catching up: Tom was born with normal hearing but developed meningitis, which left him deaf – but otherwise OK – at about 18 months.)

It’s going OK, seems like, though the financial burden is pretty scary (if I’m reading it correctly), even with those helpful people.

Meanwhile, child3 is doing well with his single implant. Where are we, coming up for three months? He has what seems to us like lots of words: more, down, hot, meow (for any indication of a cat), baa (for any sign of a sheep), bye-bye (used when leaving anywhere, including a room or shop), and quite a few more I can’t think of just presently. (It’s Saturday evening, come on.) The interesting thing is that he accepts speech and sound as a means to get something done. When he’s had his supper, he wails; “do you want to get down?” my wife asks. “own”, he replies (pronounced like down, without the d; he’s not hot on initial letters yet, apart from ‘b’ and ‘m’). And he’s calm. It’s a big improvement over the normal 19-month-old tantrums you’d get otherwise.

In other medical news, Chris Gulker, who used to write a column for the Tech pages at the Independent – and it was always good because of his Silicon Valley perspective) – has discovered what’s been wrong with his left arm: he has a glioma in his right (brain) hemisphere. See the image on the linked page: that white thing ain’t meant to be there.

I said that his description of how they’re going to fix it somehow reminded me of…

which if you’re not getting it is Spock’s Brain, an episode from Star Trek. Read this page for the synopsis. Seen any mysterious women touching bands on their wrists lately, Chris?

Though Chris ain’t got the ears for it…

Spelling – the new frontier for ITN

Top of ITN News’s headlines tonight: “A full face transplant. Scientists [I think they meant doctors, but anyway] are ready to go it. But is science going too far?”

And underneath, to emphasise the point, the caption

GOING TO FAR?

Yes, that’s really what they had on the screen. GOING TO FAR. Now, remind me how exam results are improving everywhere. Actually, Larry Elliott speared it neatly in the Guardian earlier this week (in “Cycle paths and other models of innovation“):

There are times when Britain is the Soviet Union with better spin doctors. Take the comments last week from the education minister Jim Knight praising the 1.8 percentage point rise in the number of A* to C GCSE passes. “I would like to congratulate school staff, pupils and parents on these excellent results, which show improvements across the board. The last few weeks have seen a range of pessimists criticise our schools and teachers, describing even quickly improving schools as failing,” he said.

Put another way, this means that the central committee’s target for tractor production has been gloriously met and that anybody who suggests that half of them have only three wheels is guilty of counter-revolutionary defeatism.

The small print of Knight’s press release shows that the number of students with five good passes in subjects that include maths, English, science and a modern language stands at 26% – a fall of four points in four years.

That’s going to…o far.

..though equally, people think you’ve evil even when you’re not

So I’m trying to send an email, because I use Postfix on my computer (it’s a built-in mail server on OSX, and pretty easy to set up if you use Postfix Enabler, which is well worth the money). Using Postfix means it goes directly off my machine. So it seems to come from whatever IP I’m connected to.

Which means though that when I’m at home, I get bounces like this. This particular page, though, is just bonkers. This IP’s overall reputation is “neutral” and the risks from email, web, FTP and VoIP are all given as “low risk”. But there’s no way to get them to pass it on; no way to show that you’re reputable.

Then again, if there were, spammers would work around it. We live on a web of distrust.

Why I risked breaking the blog: because WordPress blogs are getting hacked

So, OK, I’ve updated the blog (after lots of procrastination and hesitation, after checking it would work on a local copy of the latest WordPress – thanks, MySQL+Apache+PHP on the Powerbook).

Why? Because there are rip-roaring security holes in older versions of WordPress. And because the spam (and other) hackers are getting really busy.

For instance, after updating, I came across a posting by Matt Mullenweg, linked from the WordPress dashboard (which is a panel on your blog which shows you what’s going on in your blog, and has select bits of news from blogs relevant to WP).

Basically, he’d noticed people’s blogs had been invisibly hacked, so that the text wouldn’t show up when you looked at the site, but through the magic of CSS, would to Google. And of course to your newsreader: the hacked invisibly spam-laden text would, to your web server, be “updated”, and so would refresh in your newsreader. When that happens, it’s a good sign that the blog you’re looking at has been hacked.

And that’s not the end of it. As my web admin pointed out, there are people out there who’d like to get control of the whole shebang. So they attack the comments section using SQL injection, trying to post stuff like .. some stuff I’ve just deleted so I can post this.

Here’s what the code exploit would have done. First it turns off or deletes the server’s history file (so the exploit won’t show); moves to the temp directory; makes a directory in it; moves to that newly-created directory; then tries to download PhPMyAdmin, which lets you control databases remotely; then makes that executable by the web server.

In other words, via a comment posting, take over your web server, and install and change anything that they want. (The attempt came from 72.51.42.84, which is operated by some bunch of jokers called Serverbeach in Texas – though presumably it’s a bot there.) Happily, my webhost’s security was more than equal to the task of spotting it, but having holes of any sort is something you don’t really want.

Which is why I risked breaking the blog. Have you?

I’m now going to break the blog..

OK, I’m now going to upgrade this blog to the latest version of WordPress. Which may break quite a few things. Hold tight..

..ooh, it all worked. Splendid – only had to restart one plugin. WordPress is definitely a triumph of open source.

Ooh yeah, feel that X-Factor magic at work

Ah, the time approaches when we’ll have to evaluate G4’s progress. To be specific, the challenge of “As for you folk boosting G4, come back in two years’ time and let’s see if they’re selling big then.” (It’s still my most commented-on post. It’s always the way – something you jot down in a couple of minutes gets a vast reaction. Anyhow.) Let’s wait until December..

From the latest edition of popbitch, so possibly not true, but then again it does have the ring of truth:

X Factor winner Steve Brookstein’s second album sold 200 copies on its release day, Monday.

Ey-owch. Will Young is still going strong. Gareth Gates is history. Michelle McManus.. hmm, not even Gillian McKeith could save here. (Possibly something wrong with previous sentence.) Alex Parks.. anyone? One of the birds from Popstars is in Corrie, not singing. Anyone seen the others?

Though having seen X-Factor last night, I have to say that Dionne was fantastic – what’s up with folk to put her in a singoff and not any of the other rubbish ones – and that the more I listen to him, the more I think Simon Cowell is absolutely correct in what he says – whatever it is.

Eudora to go open source, but not as it was

So the story of Eudora (which I’ve written about a couple of times here) reaches its end:

QUALCOMM is announcing that its Eudora email program will become an open source product effective the first half of calendar year 2007. As an open source product, it will be free to all customers.

QUALCOMM is also announcing today the launch of the last commercial versions of Eudora, version 7.1 for Windows and version 6.2.4 for Mac. The commercial versions will be available until the open source version is available at the discount price of $19.95 and will include three incidents of technical support in a six-month period.

Apparently Qualcomm (which mostly is known for its mobile phone stuff) realised that making an email client wasn’t really a key aim.

Tidbits has a useful little extract: Steve Dorner, the lead developer, got bored doing the useless stuff like HTML rendering (urr, couldn’t he use the built-in rendering engines on Windows and the Mac?) so iff you have input, he suggests, then give it at the Penelope page. Presumably that’s what Eudora will become.

It’s quiet. Too quiet. But it’s not my fault

Yes, there hasn’t been much here recently. Three reasons:
1) I moved all my non-Apple applications to a single folder, which means that I have to recompile all the Applescripts I wrote to help me pick out news/blog stuff
2) have ongoing ADSL nightmares – it’s mostly not working. The line is capable of 7Mb/s – as confirmed by the BT engineer who came along last week with his test rig – yet it never manages anywhere near that. More annoying is that it continually falls off. I’d put some of the logs up but you’d get really bored. “Synchronisation failed.” “LCP down.” Over and over. Connection lasts a few minutes, then goes off – sometimes for hours at a time while the router (Netgear DG834G, firmware 3.01.25) tries again and again to reconnect. Something is weird between here and the exchange. The line crackles on the phone; yet we’re only a mile from the exchange, by road.
3) urr, I’m having a week off.

None of this has helped me do the WordPress upgrade I’m meant to be doing either. You want to be confident the connection won’t suddenly disappear while you’re trying to do some voodoo.