Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas catharsis

Okay, so I took this week off expecting to powerwash the pool & steps, do some touch-up painting and replace some fixtures & fittings. "Painting up for xmas" as the Bajans call it. Well, shit, if I'd have known how it would have gone I'd have stayed at work.

First the dishwasher died. A brief forensic analysis implied the water valve: when I put water in it worked, but the water wasn't pumping in automatically, despite the pipe being clear. Must be the valve. Then the powerwasher didn't work. It started, but as soon as pressure was applied the motor cut out. Okay, I'd left it a few months and didn't drain it, so change oil, drain fuel, check plug. Need oil.

Monday: 2nd destination I found right motor oil, and 3rd destination yielded... "no" to the water valve. Not "try " or "we could order the part for you"; just "no". Our survey said "eh-ehhh". Gotta love that Bajan "I really don't care about selling you anything" customer service.

Tuesday: Colin popped round, and since he knows his way around the tricky bits of a 747, I figured my powerwasher problems were solved. "Air's ok, sparks ok, so it's your fuel pipe or carburettor." Or it could be the water pressure as the hose, even when connected by a shredded brass end to the washer, is pissing water. So, sort out the hose, drain the carb. Got hose fixture at 2nd destination. Wrong fixture: 5/8" hose not 1/2" - fucking imperial measurements. The British empire has a lot to answer for... in America, where they still use the stupid fucking system. "The British are coming!" No, we fucking left, as you LOVE to point out, shortly after the Boston Tea Party, but you still insist on using our antiquated measurement system. Now, there's a post-imperial headfuck for you: you threw us out of your country, yet retain our stupid fucking measurement system, even though we, along with many other sensible nations, have moved on.

Wednesday: swapped hose fitting, got part for dishwasher... at the 3rd attempt + an hour wait because the person with the cashbox went to lunch and forgot to give anyone the key. 3.5 hours on de road. Dishwasher part did not fix the problem. Fuck you, dishwasher!

Thursday: morning with Ryan - bliss with my 18 month old boy. Holetown was a parking lot sprawled over most of Sunset Crest, so I avoided the supermarket, got a couple of presents and navigated the traffic with Ryan yelling unintelligible support from the back seat. Afternoon: attempted to fix hose, no joy. Tried other hose: it leaked; brass fixture was hand-tightened, but I couldn't get it off the tap. Tried hammer, tap blew off: we had a fountain in the garden next to the porch. Called father-in-law, who called James the plumber. He's in the area, will be here shortly. I decided it's rum o'clock, so took a beverage and decided to get some garden xmas lights up and varnish a couple of bar stools. James the plumber proved to be a xmas miracle: not only did he turn the fountain back into a shiny new tap, but only charged $150 for the privilege. Okay, it's $150 I hadn't planned on spending, but it could have been a lot worse. The AC guy I got in last month cleaned 4 AC units, one of which wasn't working, and charged me $1000.

Gotta take the positives where you find 'em. I'll have one last crack at the powerwasher tomorrow morning. If that fails then fuck it, the garden's grimy for xmas. Thank god I didn't attempt the garden nativity - I'd probably be in hospital by now...!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

WikiLeaks, the "War On Terror" and personal empowerment

This articlet (The Economist) makes a very interesting point at the end; that, while calling Assange and Wikileaks terrorists is 'deeply counterproductive' the best lessons for dealing with Wikileaks can be gleaned from the decade-long "war on terror":
Deal with the source of the problem, not just its symptoms. Keep the moral high ground. And pick fights you can win.

It got me thinking that the pattern here is really one of personal empowerment. Modern technology provides individuals with incredible augmentation: no X-men genetic mutations required, just a few grams of strategically placed combustibles, or a phone camera, or a website, or all of the above. The capacity for one individual to influence their society has never been greater, and is still increasing exponentially. If mass media put gods and demons among us, then multimedia significantly lowered the qualifying criteria. Julian Assange is no media tycoon, nor even a feted (foetid?) journalist. He's just an outsider with strong principles and powerful media skills. Yet he has captured the world media's attention with an incredibly anarchic act that has angered nation states across the world.

Whether you're for it or against it, Wikileaks, like international terrorism (or 'asymmetric warfare', as the Pentagon liked to call it) is here to stay in whatever incarnation it takes next. It's for society, and our civic structures in particular, to get to grips with these 'people with causes' and address them appropriately. One approach may be that sometimes adopted by the information security industry: offer them a job.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Why Google may not go the way of Microsoft

Interesting article discussing the current threats to Google, and how it is mitigating them. Bookmarked here, so that I can find it again next year and compare how they are doing then.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The evolution of spam

The economist had an excellent piece about spam and online fraud last month.  Key points:-

  • Spam email has massively reduced in the last 5 years.  Research in 2008 showed only 28 “sales” on 350m e-mail messages sent, a conversion rate under .00001%
  • It's now more about making you click, to download malware, than making you buy whatever's on offer.
In the face of these diminishing returns on spam email, spammers are now targeting social apps: 
Twitter ... estimates that only 1% of its traffic is spam. But researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana show that 8% of links published were shady, with most of them leading to scams and the rest to Trojans. Links in Twitter messages, they found, are over 20 times more likely to get clicked than those in e-mail spam.
  • In Facebook, BitDefender set up some fake profiles to research ease of spamming:-
  • They got up to 100 new friends a day
  • When they invited people with at least 1 mutual friend, they got 50% hit-rate of new friends
  • Overall, they got 25% of their new friends to click on malware links.
  • The koobface trojan, spreading via social networks since May 2008 has profits estimated at $2m, and it's still out there...
So, caveat clicker, and be careful who you befriend!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The FT's take on Facebook

This is a nice layman's summary of the whole Facebook phenomenon.  It's a private members club of 500 million people.  The inherent threat to Facebook's existence is, therefore, a mass exodus.  Social networks are nothing if not fickle, so to hedge against this Facebook has to wall the garden: members can put stuff in, but we can't take stuff out (easily, anyway).  If I upload a photo to Facebook from my phone, I can't share that photo using Google Buzz.

If, like me, you believe that information fundamentally wants to be open, then Facebook may seem like the best enabler of that; except that it's a privately-owned company and it co-owns whatever information you give it.  Your rights are not exactly violated so much as 'shared': you can control you stuff on there, but so can they.  But they can also change the rules on that, and if past evidence is anything to go by, the majority of us won't care.  So, Facebook does not really practice open information.

Unlike Google.  Imagine if Google had thought of Facebook first.  How would they have done it?  I suspect it would have been rather like Diaspora.  A completely open platform for anyone to create their own Facebook, but federated using Google identity management, and of course, linking to Google's giant advertising machine.  Would it have caught on as well?  Very doubtful: most of the awesome tech that Google develops is too raw, too geeky for mainstream users, and even the more user-friendly stuff assumes more tech knowledge than the average punter has.

So Facebook has its place. But as its importance increases, as it burrows its way into the social fabric, it will hit sensitive seams like religion and politics head-on, not just via its users, and those walls around the garden will be challenged.  The question is: will they open them, or fortify them?