Thursday, April 30, 2009 Scam Update

Happened to find this brief, interesting description of what I believe to be the same computer support phone scam that was attempted on my mother a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Iris Browser / The Reason I Sold My iPhone

When I first started this post, nearly a month ago, I wrote that Iris browser from Torch Mobile still feels a bit like a beta product. But development of Iris is proceeding at such a pace that this is no longer the case. Iris has always felt like a solid browser, ever since I first started using it at version 1.0, unlike iPhone's Safari which regularly crashed on me. Version 1.0 was all of two months ago now and since then virtually all of the issues that have niggled at me have been addressed (the one major one remaining being copy and paste* within the browser).

Iris BrowserWhen you first start using Iris you may find that the specifics of the user interface odd and even annoying, as my first email to the ever responsive Iris feedback address attests. However after you've been using it for a while these unique traits start to make sense. Clicking and holding to activate a link really helps to avoid accidental clicks, the resulting animation on the link itself, which I can only describe as a visual "boing", serves as Iris's own haptic feedback and the animation on moving/opening/closing tabs serves to inform you about what's going on, and I am assured that pages load while this is going on. Another great feature of Iris is the little inset scrolling window, which not only serves to show you where you are on the page but is also a very quick way to scroll around the page. It's unbelievably quick.

One of the best things about Iris is (was) that you get the iPhone gmail interface. Unfortuntely google, in their infinite wisdom, recently "improved" their User-Agent detection code which foobared Iris in that you no longer got the nice iPhone interface, but instead got the horrible (on such a large screen as the Touch HD) mobile interface. I noticed that this link from google calendar will still give you the iPhone interface (on any browser).

Having said all that, Iris isn't quite perfect. The click and hold isn't quite consistent, I think that some javascript actions happen immediately while others need the hold. Drop down lists appear so small as to be almost unusable, as previously mentioned there's no copy and paste within the browser and some of the user interface still isn't quite brilliant, see history and bookmarks and Opera does some stuff better, such as their auto-full screening and easy access tabs, back and home buttons.

A friend asked me to give a quick mention to W3's WCTMB test with its new canvas test, on which Iris scores 11 out of 16.

* You can actually copy a single word or whole link, and paste, by tapping and holding in the usual context menu way.

Monday, April 27, 2009

rssfwd Is Dead, Long Live rss2email

I really like having the few RSS feeds that I follow forwarded to my inbox. For a long time I relied on the ever increasingly flaky rssfwd. Since rssfwd finally died a death I have been looking out for a similar service, and eventually came across rss2email, which is now happily installed and running on my server (so easy to setup!). One friend helpfully described rss2email as "old news", so this blog post goes out to anyone else who might have missed it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mixing It Up

Apologies for the long and tedious post, believe it or not it was requested.

So back in August the company I work for was purchased by another company. The list of benefits we were given included the Cycle2Work scheme.

ChargeIf you're unaware of the Cycle2Work scheme, it's a government initiative offering tax breaks on the purchase of bikes. It's effectively a loan from your employer which you pay back over 12 months from your pay packet before tax, and you don't pay VAT, which means that you save roughly 40% on a new bike. The down side is that after the 12 months you don't officially own the bike. I believe the normal practice is that you then buy the bike for 6% of the original value of the bike.

EvansNow the Cycle2Work scheme shouldn't really be counted as a benefit as it's open to all employees, no matter who you work for, but I imagine that putting my head through a brick wall would have been easier than trying to get it through my previous company's admin staff. Then there was the news that the new company chose to only offer the Cycle2Work scheme through Evans, certainly not the cheapest cycle shop in the world, and something that shouldn't be necessary. Evans also do the scheme a little differently, your company pay them direct and then Evans send you a voucher for the price of the bike. Companies should usually directly give you a cheque for the value of the bike.

The Ghetto of Nunney CastleSo in September I got copies of the forms I needed to fill in and went off to Evans to choose a bike (so I'd know how much to apply for). Originally I had in mind a single speed/fixed light-weight hybrid, and the Charge Plug immediately caught my eye. Once I'd decided that single speed/fixed were pretentious I had a look at the Tap but decided that with the saving I was going to make I might as well go with the more expensive £800 Mixer. Evans didn't have any Mixers in at the time, but I figured that the Cycle2Work voucher would a little while anyway.

ChargeAfter a month or two I went to HR to enquire about the non-appearing voucher, unfortunately English isn't her first language so it took me three attempts over several weeks or months before I understood that the forms would not be processed until we had signed our new contracts in December. Meanwhile the Mixer was still on order so I wasn't too worried.

Shimano ChargeThe voucher arrived some time in February, by which time the Evans' website had started a cycle of naming a date when the Mixer would be available then going back to "contact us for details". Eventually I called Evans who said they couldn't tell me any more than the website, but amazingly gave me the phone number of their supplier when asked. The supplier was very helpful, telling me that the problem was a lack of the Shimano Alfine rear hubs, but Evans should be getting two Charge Mixers in the following week. I called Evans and practically begged to have one of the two and my wish was granted. Unfortunately by this time Evans had put the price of the bike up to £900 and I forgot to see if they'd do a price match as some people were doing it for considerably less.

So was it worth the wait? I suppose so. It's a bit heavy, especially at the back and the gearing could be a bit higher (I usually start in 4th or 5th and regularly get up to top gear, 8th), but the Alfine hub is apparently much superior to the Tap's Nexus. The disks are pretty nice too, my first.

After having a look at all the stickers on the bike I am a bit confused as to who actually makes it. I would have thought Charge make the bike, Evans sell the bike, but it doesn't look that simple. There's the Hot Wheels sticker, who are apparently distributors. Then there is Infinity who I think make the frame. Alex Rims and Continental tyres take care of the wheels. Shimano of course do the gears and breaks. Then there is the Ghetto of Nunney Castle, who I think might test the bike.

UPDATE: I finally got around to weighing my bike, on bathroom scales, so it's not that accurate, but the Charge Mixer weighs about 14kg.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Literal Apology

For literally years I have been internally mocking people who use "literally" with sayings that aren't literally true, eg, "my heart literally broke". Well now I am offering an external apology as apparently it's ok to use "literally" as an idiom intensifier, as long as you are careful of "unintentionally bizarre or humorous effects." According to Chambers. Scam

My mum had a call the other day from someone claiming to know that her computer was slow and/or had a virus. By unfortunate coincidence when she turned on her computer the Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage popup popped up, making her think there might be something in the call. Fortunately she was genuinely busy, asked them to call back and called me. My first thought was who would have her number? Certainly not Microsoft. Possibly her ISP, who, unless they were being extremely vigilant, would be very unlikely to call her about computer problems. After a bit of googling I decided it was probably this scam. Today they called back, and sure enough mentioned the website/company that Staffordshire trading standards warned against,

Also see my update.

UPDATE: Several comments on this post claim that SupportOnClick is genuine, it's not, and my mother is still receiving calls from them despite the fact that there is nothing wrong with her computer and she has asked them not to call her. I am now going to close comments on this post, but if anyone from SupportOnClick would like to contact me, or sue me, I would welcome their comments, and an explanation as to why my mother is still being harassed.

There is now a series of videos on YouTube chronicling one of these calls. It's pretty boring to be honest, it starts to get interesting with the third video.

UPDATE March 2010: My girlfriend's dad has now also had this happen to him, he was instructed to install TeamViewer and told he could call them back on 02033185274.

UPDATE: This has now reached BBC News. And I missed this original story from the register.

You Learn Something New Every Day

I think I must have been off school the day we did the beginner's Unix class. I noticed some weirdness in my apache error logs today, even weirder, the user was apparently using my own external IP address. After a bit of investigation I noticed that w3m was running on my server, on pts/5, which according to who I was on using bash. I first had to look up tty and pts. Ok, got that. Now switch screens and find pts/5, but w3m doesn't seem to be running. A helpful colleague asked if I'd tried fg, which I'd never even heard of. Turns out you can send processes to the background using ctrl-z* and bring them back with fg, would you believe it? Guess that's how people survive without screen.

* I had wondered sometimes what happened to processes went when I hit ctrl-z accidentally, doh.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


As previously mentioned I bought my sister an eeePC last September, and within a couple of months the keyboard and trackpad started to fail. By December the machine was unusable and I started the returns procedure. As I said, the beginning was a bit of a challenge, but as they say, start as you mean to continue. Twice in February I rang to request the promised UPS weighbill, then when I called in March I was told that the procedure had changed and that I would receive a text message. Needless to say that didn't arrive either. The next time I rang the representative said she'd just book the collection herself for the following Monday. She also said that packing the eeePC wasn't essential as the driver would have a box. Well the driver did turn up, unfortunately sans box, which was more than a little annoying as the eeePC had been left with someone who had nothing to do with the situation who then had to run around the house looking for something to put it in. Amazingly it was back three days later, unamazingly not completely fixed :(

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sweet SA

My first impressions of South Africa might make me sound like a bit of an idiot, but so be it.

For some reason I really wasn't expecting the poverty, I guess I was thinking I was coming to a first world/developed nation, but the disparity in wealth seems to be on a par with Brazil or Colombia.

In India the poor people are really fucking poor, but the rich people don't appear that rich. In Brazil and Colombia and now South Africa (specifically Rio, Cartajena and Cape Town) what is shocking is the disparity between the rich and the poor, kids without shoes walking between BMWs and Mercedes.

Of course what I was expecting was racial disparity. I was wondering whether I would find mostly whites being served by mostly blacks. For the first couple of days that's what I got, but then Kai and I went to a comedy night. The audience was about 50/50 and the large majority of the comedy revolved around race, which really surprised me. The funny thing was (haha) that the most racial comedy came from a British woman.

People seem a lot more open and honest when it comes to race here, it always seems a bit of a taboo back in the UK. And "coloured" is an acceptable term to describe people of mixed race. Also Afrikaanas aren't all as bad as the films make out :)

There are a couple of really depressing things about South Africa: politics (and corruption) and HIV/AIDS. Corruption seems endemic at all levels, we were advised that the police are bribable with practically anything you might have with you, a create of Red Bull was a real life example given, and while we were over there there were two major corruption news stories in just three weeks. One was the case of Schabir Shaik, a close friend of president-to-be, Zuma's, who having been sentenced to 15 years on corruption charges mysteriously contracted terminal high blood pressure and has not spent a day in prison. The other major corruption news story was the disbanding of the corruption fighting police force, the Scorpions, apparently for being far too effective. There are a lot of people hoping that the ANC don't receive 66% of the vote at the approaching election as it would enable them to alter the constitution to prevent Zuma from being prosecuted. Politics and HIV/AIDS go hand in hand as Zuma's rape case unfortunately demonstrates. Zuma was acquitted of rape, but what went uncontested was that he knowingly had unprotected sexual intercourse with a women he knew to be HIV positive, saying that he showered afterwards to "cut the risk of contracting HIV". At the time he was the leader of the National AIDS Council. As for HIV/AIDS itself, the figures speak for themselves. Some townships have infection levels as high as 70%.

Since writing this it seems that the corruption charges against Zuma are being miraculously dropped.