28 September 2011

Facebook privacy

From i.imgur.com via John T
In the age of the internet we all expect to not pay for products, services and most of the stuff we get online. We rarely think about why people are giving things away and we expect that smart people will invite ways of making money without us having to dig into our pockets. And for many people that is as far as it goes. They prefer not to consider what they are giving up to enable these smart people to make money. 

The more skeptical amongst us perhaps understand that many of these services, Facebook, Google, twitter etc. are collecting data and selling it on to advertisers and market research companies. Perhaps you don't find that to concerning. In the early days it seemed like a reasonable deal. You didn't need to be a rocket scientist to figure that all those stupid "Which Star Wars character are you?" quizzes were just cheap psychological profiling to enable better directed advertising. So you avoided them. You also recognized that if you clicked the "Like" button when somebody said they were fly fishing you would get barraged with adverts for fishing rods, waders and river bank holidays . It all seemed easy enough to avoid if it bothered you. 

But then things got more much more invasive. There have been a number of articles recently (e.g. here, here and here) highlighting what companies, especially Facebook are up to. Basically Facebook is monitoring every site you visit and is providing info on your web browsing EVEN WHEN YOU ARE NOT LOGGED ON. And for me, that is the point that I decide I have had enough, I value my privacy and find that all a bit too scary.  So what to do?

Well you can always opt out altogether and delete your Facebook account. But that seems a bit drastic. I have spent a lot of time travelling around, I have friends spread all over the World and I enjoy hearing what they are up to and keeping in touch with them. Furthermore lots of events are now advertised on Facebook. I don't believe that simply denying the existence of social media is a useful solution, so I went looking for another answer and I found it.

Here is a simple 7 step guide to enjoying the benefits of social media without worrying that privacy is being massively compromised. It has come from a variety of sources, not least the Technology Liberation Front. Read the original article here.

1. Stop using Internet Explorer and get Firefox. Firefox has all sorts of cool add-ins which allow you to customize your browsing experience. Get Firefox here.
2. Then download the browser add on NoScript
3. Once Firefox is up and running, go to TOOLS and then ADD-ONS. Then go to the EXTENSIONS tab on the left and click on NoScript
4. In NoScript go to the OPTOINS menu and click on the ADVANCED tab and then the ABE subtab
5. After checking the ‘Enable ABE’ box, select the USER Rule set, then paste in the following lines:

Site .facebook.com .fbcdn.net facebook.net
Accept from SELF
Accept from .facebook.com .fbcdn.net facebook.net
Site .twitter.com
Accept from SELF
Accept from .twitter.com
Site .google.com googleapis.com
Accept from SELF
Accept from .google.com

6. Then hit ‘Refresh’ and ‘OK’ and you’re all set. 

7. If you’ve done this correctly, you should no longer see Facebook, Twitter, or Google widgets such as the "Like" button. To test it out go to site that has a "like" button and you will see that it is no longer there.

It may sound involved but it took me about 5 minutes and its actually very easy. Most importantly it doesn’t affect the functionality of Twitter, Facebook, or Google, so you can still use each of these services with full functionality.

Another, perhaps even easier solution is to get rid of IE explorer and install Chrome. 
Then go to the chrome store and download "disconnect". Its installs very easily with no scripts or anything. While you are at it install "facebook disconnect" and "adblocker". Now its only google that are stealing your data but at least they produce good free stuff like google earth and google sketch-up 

23 September 2011

Friday Joke

Some classic Milton Jones
I’d just like to say to the old man who was wearing camouflage gear and using crutches, who stole my wallet earlier: ‘you can hide, but you can’t run.

When I was young my parents used to say to me: ‘To pay for your education, your father & I had to make a lot of sacrifices’. And it was true, ’cause they were both druids.

I don’t know about you, but I really hate sitting in traffic. ’Cause I always get run over.

If you’re being chased by a police dog, try not to go through a tunnel, then onto a little seesaw, then jump through a hoop of fire. They train for that.

The school had a big problem with drugs… especially Class A.

As a child I watched Mary Poppins so many times I suffered from a condition with my sight. Umdiddleiddleiddleumdiddle Eye.

When my grandfather became ill, my grandmother greased his back. After that, he went downhill very quickly.

My mother made us eat all sorts of vitamins and supplements, until one day I nearly choked on part of The Sunday Times.

20 September 2011

Wednesday Movie

I like to thing that I am largely immune to advertising and branding. I know that much of it is subliminal and I am supposed to think that but I do try hard to ignore ads.

There is an exception, there normally is. I am a sucker for Audi. It started with the Hannu Mikkola driving the revolutionary Audi quattro in the World rally championship in the early 1980's and it was greatly helped along by a couple of adverts - the first shows some stunning winter driving - 34 degrees never looked so steep and it belongs to a generation before CGI when stuntmen actually did stunts.

The second is an absolute belter. I think it is one of the best adverts ever.

It came at a time when being one of Thatchers children was still something people aspried to. The twist in the ad is symbolic of the end of that era, when general public opinion was just starting to realise that greed was not necesarily good.

I love this ad and perhaps it contributes to the fact that we now own two Audis

18 September 2011

The reality of "modern" coal mining in the UK

Following the tragic death of four miners in the Swansea valley last week, I started reading around the health and safety record of our de-regulated coal industry. Whilst doing this I came across this an old article from the Guardian by a guy called Seumas Milne.

Here are a couple of quotes from the article

“On Friday nights in the Welsh valleys, miners go from pub to pub hunting for their employers to claim unpaid wages. Pay cheques bounce, mining companies close and re-open under other names, men are sacked for being union members or refusing to work on Christmas Day.
In some pits, miners get no basic minimum and are only paid by the tub of coal produced. Underground, they stand in streams of water, hacking at the face with picks and shovels. Wooden roof props, are standard”.

“Pit ponies haul rusting carloads of anthracite back and forth from the face. On the surface, there are no showers”.

“Phillip Rees, a 32-year-old miner electrocuted at the Blaengrennig colliery in the Amman valley just over a year ago. "The manager called me up and asked if this boy was one of my members," recalls Anthony Jones, the local National Union of Mineworkers official. It's just there's been a bit of an accident, he told me. I said I'd come right over anyway. He was dead when I got there. They didn't even know where he lived."

Now I would like you to guess when that was written. People paid by the tub of coal, pit ponies, wooden pit props, mine owners who screw their staff when they are alive and don’t even know how to contact families when they die. It sounds like something out of the 1920’s, but this picture of a bygone age is truely shocking because its not 100 or even 50 years ago. It’s from 1994, ten years after the miners strike and the decimation of the UK coal. That is the reality of what Thatcher and her cronies did to one of our proudest industries – knocked it back a hundred years.


When I first proposed to Katharine a year and a half ago I had a plan for a honeymoon which involved five weeks around southern Africa in a pickup with a camper shell. Starting in Cape Town, up the west coast into Namibia, along the Skeleton Coast, east along the Caprivi Strip into Botswana. A quick stop in the Okavango, across the Kalahari and back to Cape Town. A chance for me to visit some old stomping grounds and an opportunity for Katharine to see an amazing part of the World. Then we found out that Sophie was on the way and Africa went on hold.

So then we decided on a camper van around Norway, it’s a big country and there is lots to see and since we were leaving it would be nice to have a final fling. But then things got busier and busier and the chances of an extended holiday got proportionally less and less likely. So when I went on “permission” (paternity leave) we decided to squeeze a week in Rome in before Katharine went back to work.

We stayed in the traditional area of Trastevere just by the river. Narrow chaotic streets, small squares, cafes and restaurants on every corner – mopeds whizzing in and out of smart causally dressed people. It was everything you imagine Rome should be. We stayed in a very cool little hotel, with a small courtyard so we could put Sophie to bed and set out in the evening. We were able to walk to all of the sights we wanted to see and spent a full week over dosing on history. Highlights were:
1. Just being in Rome, it was beautiful
2. The Pantheon, 2000 years old and stunning
3. Ancient Rome, was surprised at how small it was but wandering around the forums and up to the Palatine Hill was great
4. The Coliseum, clich├ęd but still stunning. To imagine the gladiators, the wild animals and the roar of the crowds – amazing
5. The Vatican – had mixed feelings about visiting the home of the Catholic church but from a historic and architectural perspective it was stunning
6. Walking up the hill to the Garibaldi monument and seeing the views of the city.

The Italian people are super friendly, especially to children. Sophie was a huge hit. Not just to middle aged women who always love babies, but to everyone from macho waiters and taxi drivers to tour guides and general passers-by dotted on her. In the restaurants they never complained when we took the pram in (unlike Wetherspoons in Edinburgh who threw Katharine out, despite the fact they were empty). It was a great place to be with a young child.

The traffic is legendary, but despite being busy and chaotic its really not that bad. I have never seen so many Smart cars and they seemed so right. Larger cars, even polos and fiestas looked big, ungainly and out of place.  The People are amazing drivers and they can squeeze their small cars into tiny parking spaces. They don’t care too much of they get banged or stretched and tens of thousands of people get into and around town each day. Best of all, it works.

I can’t recommend Rome enough it was fantastic. Having listened to the History of Rome podcast and was really keen to see the ancient parts but was also blown away by the Renaissance and modern bits as well.

16 September 2011

Some things are just true

1. I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die. 2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.
3. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.
4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.
5. How the @#!*% are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?
6. Was learning cursive really necessary?
7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.
8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
9. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.
10. Bad decisions make good stories.
11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.
12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection...again.
13. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.
14. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.
15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.
16. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lite than Kay.
17. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.
18. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
19. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?
20. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!
21. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.
22. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.
23. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.

15 September 2011

BT - Customer Service

Dear BT,
I moved into my flat in March 2010 and I signed up for a Broadband and phone package with you then. The router arrived and I was online straight away. For the first 15 months everything worked well and I was a happy costumer.

Then in July 2011 I received an email informing me that, as per my request, you were discontinuing the service. This was not my request, I did not want to be discounted, I was quite happy with the service. I loved BT, it is a part of my heritage, part of my countries history. I had grown with Maureen Lipmann and her Ologies. I had no desire to get my service from any of these upstart companies with lurid graphics and stupid names. I wanted my service direct from the mother company and I didn’t care if it was a bit more expensive because it was BT and that’s British.

I assumed that your desire to break off our relationship and blame it on me was simply confusion, caused by the couple in the flat upstairs who were moving out. So on the 23rd July I called you to say that I was not leaving you and please don’t disconnect me.

The man I spoke to initially insisted that it was me that was breaking up until I pointed out that I had been in Norway on maternity leave for the last three months. He eventually conceded that maybe you had made a mistake and cancelled the service to the wrong flat. But tragically the wheels were in motion on the run-away train of disconnection. Despite the fact that you could stop the service remotely it was technically too challenging to start it again. There was no option, I needed a new router. Despite the fact that the old one is still shinny and sits there blinking away. I can still see it in my wireless network list, but is sadly impotent. Unjustly sterilized by a cruel technician in Bangalore. Despite this inconvenience and obvious waste I agreed to proceed, not yet ready to throw away all we had together.

Then the next day I was called by someone else in BT to inform me that the order I had set up the day before had been cancelled. He claimed that I had cancelled the order which was again untrue. Why are you so keen to blame this break-up on me? If you don’t like me just say.

After a bit of heated discussion he said it would be sorted by the end of the month.

The new router arrived as expected on the 31st August along with a letter and bill for £155. Now this is starting to get random and annoying. The bill is for cancelling service - just to remind you, I NEVER CANCELLED ANYTHING – THAT WAS YOU!

Predictably the service did not come back on of the 1st September. What a fool I was to even think that anything you promised could possibly happen. So again I called BT and after the inevitable half hour of listening to illogical fuckin menus and stupid music I was answered by another mindless drone who again was unable to find my case history on his computer and after 10 minutes of not really listening to what I had to say passed me to another department who are equally disinterested and even more fuckin useless. The final person I spoke to promised it would be back on in 5 days and she would cancel the £155 bill.

I being the eternal optimist agreed to wait. By the 10th September I still have no phone or internet but I had another bill for £155 and, yes wait for it – another fuckin wireless router, that’s three and there is apparently another in the post. You are totally taking the piss. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

So later on 10th September I called again – why oh why did I bother? And after playing the inevitable game of telephone pass the parcel I was put through to a supervisor called Rohan. Oh good I thought, someone with authority who had risen through the dizzy ranks of customer service. He would be able to help, now I had a chance of getting it sorted. But alas Rohan was even more useless at dealing with costumers than his hapless staff but he did offer to send me another router. He also promised to call back the next day, but again predictably never did.

The next to final straw came on the 11th September when I got a phone message (on my mobile because I still don’t have a land line) from another of your departments who want all their routers back. Perhaps they are running out because the fuckwits in the first department keeping giving them away to anyone who rings up.

Now I genuinely don’t care if your staff are sitting in London, Newcastle or Delhi. I just want somebody who knows what they are talking about and can remotely switch a fuckin internet service back on. How difficult can it be?

So on the 12th September I finally ran out of masochistic tendencies and decided to give up on BT and get my internet from someone else. Sorry! Bugger, the history and the brand loyalty, enough is enough, all of a sudden those upstart comapnies, with their jazzy logos seemed very appealing.

But it was never going to be that easy was it? Oh no!

So I found another company who could supply the internet but they needed BT to provide the line… With that news I got the sinking feeling that you must get when you realize that you are in Rome not Britain and you have just looked the wrong way and stepped in to some very fast moving traffic…

But never one to give up, I had an inspired idea… I called the sales department which was staffed with nice people, who actually know what they are talking about and are keen to help, probably because they don’t yet have your business and want to put on a good show. It also probably helps that they are based in the UK and understand the concept of a house that has been subdivided into two flats.

A very nice man called Daniel spent a long time listening to my wows and figured out the problem. He was very calm and understanding although he also tried very hard to sell me more broadband and another router. He said that we needed a new line and it would cost £130 unless we got broadband from you. It must be a testement to his sales ability that I was even tempted, but the prospect of getting another batch of routers and having to deal with the cretins in tech support in India and the memories of all the pain of the last two months meant that I could not bring myself to do it. No, we just wanted the line and we shouldn’t have to pay for it. He agreed and told me somebody from complaints would call me back within 48 hours. He was so nice I actually believed him. Yes I really was that stupid.

So 48 hours later and no call. Why oh why am I surprised? So I call back and listen to all the tedious menus before giving up and going to sales again. There some brainless Gordie fishwife tells me that I’ll have to hold while she reads my notes, goes off has a cup of tea and then comes back 15 minutes later and says they’ll call me back with five days. What happened to 48 hours? What is so fuckin difficult to understand? You turned the line off JUST TURN THE FUCKIN THING BACK ON. Don’t send any more wireless routers, don’t send any bills for connection or disconnection, don’t make me wait weeks or months, don’t redirect me to a bunch of fuck wits in India, JUST TURN THE FUCKIN LINE ON AND THEN FUCK OFF AND LEAVE ME ALONE! Yes it really is that simple to make me happy.

At this point if I had a nuclear or biological WMD I would consider bringing it to your office and detonating it with prejudice. In fact I might just send it to Maureen Lipmann because ultimate I think its all her fault.

13 September 2011

The 9/11 decade - the true cost

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US. It's often said that you always remember what you were doing when such events occur and that is certainly true for me in this case. I was in Berwick on Tweed running a field course for a bunch of Nigerians. When the first plane struck I got a text from my then girlfriend who then proceeded to send more text updates through the day. An early version of rolling news on my phone at a time when texting was still novel.

After our day in the field we returned to the hotel to watch dumbstruck as the TV kept repeating the main events. It was indeed shocking. Next morning at breakfast it transpired that the terrified Nigerians had been up all night reading their bibles and they were convinced that the final chapters were playing out and the Revelations were taking place. To them the World was about to end. I remember trying not to knock their superstitions and saying there was no doubt that after the events of that day the World would indeed change for ever. I met one of those Nigerians in Utah three years later and he reminded me of my prediction and we agreed that it had been valid but not in a way either of us had thought. By that stage the west had invaded Afghanistan which was arguably justifiable, at least that is where the terrorists were hiding out, and Iraq, which was utterly unjustifiable.

When I was younger I was obsessed with history and I used to wander how it must have felt to be German in 1937, not an evil bastard Nazi but a normal person? How did it feel to watch your government flaunt international law, unilaterally bully it’s smaller neighbours and invaded sovereign states under an umbrella of thinly veiled lies for justification? Well in 2003 I didn't have to imagine anymore because my government, not just the government of my country but the party I had voted for did exactly that agaisnst the will of its own people and the international community. For that I was, and still am, ashamed to be British.

So while it is poignant to remember the victims of 9/11 perhaps we need to take a broader view of the decade. Let’s look at some statistics

2997 civilians died in the 9/11 attacks
There have been 8813 civilian deaths in Afghanistan
There have been a staggering 1,455,590 civilian deaths in Iraq
2710 international soldiers have died in Afghanistan
6962 international soldiers have died in Iraq
The two wars have cost $1,247,603,518,251 - that's 1.2 trillion dollars.
That's $400 million, 3 soldiers and 490 civilians for ever person who died in the towers.

And that is just the physical and financial cost. There is also reputation. We have systematically abused human rights, flown suspects (many innocent) to dark corners of the World and tortured them. In doing so we have lost all the respect and credibility that we previously had. Not even in the darkest days of the Cold War or WW2 did we behave so badly. Now the people that hate us have ammunition to sway the views of the people who were previously ambivalent or even positive towards us. We have become the evil empire and we are suprised that the World hates us.

So our allies hunted down and killed Bin Laden for what he had done and maybe that was right. I am not liberal enough to feel sadness at his death, the World is a better place without evil fucks like that. But what about the real criminals? Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice et al. have all walked scott free after causing the deaths of 1.5 million people, destroying 2 countries and bringing down the World's economy. Where is the justice there?

These people should be tried for crimes against humanity, locked up and the key should be thrown away. This is not a joke, it's not even rhetorical, I genuinely think they should be brought to justice for what they have done in our name.

So let's not forget 9/11 but also let's also not forget what a bunch of evil fuckin bastards did in the decade that followed.

02 September 2011

David's back...

From the man who brought us "can I have my spider back?" and "Lost Cat"