Sun, 26 Dec 2010
Google Service

A couple of months ago, Google suspended my GMail account for something they called "suspicious activity". This locked me out of my Google mail, RSS reader, calendar and everything else.

I've come across a few stories online about people experiencing this sort of thing. A big problem seems to be that Google don't have any customer support, other than online help pages and groups. There's no one you can contact via email or telephone and they don't tell you what the problem was. If you don't have a contact (perhaps inside Google), you're at their mercy, perhaps stuffed .... This is not good. This lack of information and contact just makes you feel powerless and is the most frustrating aspect of it all.

I have no idea what the problem was and my account seemed to come back after an hour or so. I am normally logged in to Gmail from at least two computers (home,work) and also my phone. Funny thing is - my phone carried on working (thank goodness) and could access the account.

The end result of this, and seeing others experience worse, has made me much more cautious about a "cloud" service like Google, even though I generally like the company and use its services all the time. I am not quite at the Stallman level of paranoia but am getting there.

I don't mind Google suspending an account temporarily while they investigate. Being concerned about security myself, this protects me as well. But they need to improve their communications :

  • Indicate what sort of "activity" triggered the suspension.
  • Communicate how long this investigation might take (initially at least). Perhaps aim for a couple of hours at most.
  • Supply some way of querying the issue with a human e.g. an email address. This might only need to be sent out to people who do not have the issue resolved within the initial investigation timescale.

The reason I thought about this topic just now was seeing a comment on an article about the Google CR-48 "cloud netbook".

Thu, 23 Dec 2010
After the Interval ...

Well, oh dear, oh dear ... It's been a while and it's probably the commonest trajectory for a blog. Enthusiasm initially, followed by some diminishing posts, leading to a trickle and then none.

Well, not quite dead yet anyway.

Let's see if I can do any better over the next few days. I'll try not to eat or drink too much over christmas, and keep my wits about me (famous last words).

Sun, 06 Jun 2010

Frank Frazetta made a big impression on me when I was young and trying to find my way as an artist. For one thing, his paintings were in oils, and had all the beauty, lushness and technique of a renaissance master. Oils are real painting. His colour, anatomy and superb use of light and shadow made Frazetta stand out head and shoulders above other artists.

My introduction to his work came through the 1970's paperback editions of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian books. "Pulp" to be sure, but the Frazetta covers were anything but. There was no glossy superficiality here, or slick airbrush toned bodies. Unlike many of the artists that came after him, his art had a roughness to it that perfectly matched the subject matter.

A lot of memories came flooding back when I saw he died a few weeks ago.

"All fled, all done, so lift me on the pyre; The feast is over and the lamps expire."

Thu, 06 May 2010
Computer Insecurity ... A Postscript

As a postscript to the last post ... well known author and journalist Cory Doctorow notes how he was phished recently i.e. fooled into entering his login details to a fake web site ...

As he points out ... can happen to anyone. And the main reason I do not click on URL shorteners! You don't know where they link to.

Wed, 05 May 2010
How I Stopped Worrying About Computer Security

Only kidding ...

Generally, I'm pretty pessimistic about computer security. I think that, on the whole, it's impossible to fully "secure" a computer from local or network attacks, even for a computer professional. You can mitigate the risks but not eliminate them. I think that anyone and everyone is at risk to some degree, whatever level of knowledge and experience, and whether using Linux, OpenBSD, Windows or Mac OSX. People using Unix should not assume they are are safe.

A recent article in The Boston Globe called Please do not change your password says that security advice is not only confusing to the average computer user but that it's often a waste of time.

The "triumphirate" helps of course :

  • Running anti-virus software (or multiples of)
  • Keeping things up to date with vendor patches (OS and applications)
  • Using strong passwords

But what else? We have direct threats from links in emails, crafted PDF files, malicious web sites and web sites normally trustworthy but hacked to infect you with bad software. Taking part in the distribution of SPAM is one (bad) thing, but having your bank details and credit card information exposed via a keylogger is quite another.

And accessing your online banking account?

I'm far too paranoid to do any online banking using a Microsoft Windows based computer. Mitigate the risk somewhat and use something else ... as some people have started to mention, a Linux Live CD might be a good way to make your internet banking more secure.

Bottom-line: Don't do banking using Microsoft Windows!

Sat, 24 Apr 2010
Saturday Stroll

A beautiful sunny day, maybe the first of summer, and a slow stroll round the back roads and then down Clapham High Street. I say "slow" because I left my crutches at home and am trying to walk normally, un-aided. I walked past the pub where I broke my ankle in January. Feels like another life now ....

Clapham's changed tremendously over the last 10 years, mostly for the best. It's just a shame there are always roadworks around just now!

See my (mobile phone) pictures

Fri, 09 Apr 2010
What iPad Would Jesus Buy?

Hold your iPad. Gaze at it. Pray to it. Let it transform you. And do it soon, because before you know it we are going to release version 2, which will make this one look like a total piece of crap. Peace be upon you.

-- An open letter to the people of the world

Wed, 07 Apr 2010
Modern Political Discourse ...

I don't watch much TV but listen to quite a bit of radio, usually BBC Radio 4. I'm not particularly thrilled that it's going to be wall to wall election coverage from now until May. It feels old already.

Listening to the Today program, two things I hate about the way both journalists and politicians work :

  1. Journalists constantly interrupt the interviewee. Sometimes the interruptions happen so often that it's all a waste of time trying to make any sense at all. Having said that ...
  2. The politician will talk and talk as long as they can, with as few breaths and gaps as possible. It is an obvious attempt to make sure fewer questions or interruptions are possible. A lot of talk, but little of substance said.

It has been like this for a long time. Both these complaints are related of course and are just two of many. Modern political discourse is enough to make me want to scream sometimes ...

Mon, 05 Apr 2010
Brian Kernighan at IAS

Brian Kernighan, the K in the "K&R" book, is well known to those that know some computer history as one of the fathers of the C language, and UNIX tools like awk.

A lecture he did last year at the Institute of Advanced Study, past home of Einstein, Von Neuman and many other greats, is a short and sweet introduction to some basic do's and don't when programming. It's well worth the hour spent watching :

Talk : Elements of Programming Style

I actually own the book (from a long time ago) and remember it because it is thin, and it was very expensive ....

Sat, 03 Apr 2010
Business (Over)Complexity

Clay Shirky has written an article suggesting that Big Media have problems fitting into and making money from the internet because their business is too complex.

Joseph Tainter wrote a book explaining the theory that the accumulation of complexity pushed some well-known societies over the edge (e.g. Roman Empire) causing their collapse. Shirky extends Tainter's theory to great Business Empires (e.g. News International).

There seem to be a lot of pages about Professor Tainter and his theories of complexity around. He defines complexity himself at the top of an article in the The Oil Drum about human resource usage and sustainability.

This discussion is quite apt. The sort of complexity that should seriously trouble us now is that which almost sunk our society a year ago. This is the complexity that still encompasses our financial system and our Too Big to Fail banks.

Thu, 01 Apr 2010
Start Here

Well, well ... what have we got here? So, I've decided to have a go with this new-fangled blogging stuff ...

Well, actually, I've been reading blogs for years, in fact almost from the first appearance of "weblogs". This was the dim and distant past when blogs were few and far between, and I was drawn to a blog called Scripting News by Dave Winer. Perhaps because it had "scripting" in its name, and I was fresh and new to the web and Perl. In fact, there was no Perl at all, but a lot of cogent and interesting discussion of the new frontier of web applications.

It was all very exciting actually. In fact, it still is, with the added advantage that everything's much faster now.

As I said, quite a while ago. PG - "Pre-Google". When access was by modem, slow and noisy, and the idea was to grab as many cached pages as possible and then shut the link down. And hope Netscape didn't crash ...

It's much better now. And I maybe I'll write about that.

Onwards ...