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Showing posts from August, 2003
Birchington.Com is For Sale

If you wish to buy a small piece of seaside history, the domain for the small North Kent town of Birchington-on-Sea, then it's for sale at Birchington.Com

Small seaside town enthusiasts, estate agents and all welcome.

The Reality of Outsourcing

Let me share a letter from one of my readers, shown below. But before I do, here's a suggestion. As a nation, let's start outsourcing The Inland Revenue to somewhere like India or Mexico, it may make them more efficient and accountable. We could then follow a successful pilot with all the large central government departments and finally, the politicians. Would you agree?

Dear Simon

I'm 46 so I guess I may as well turn up my toes now. God knows what my kids are going to do when they leave school. I certainly can't advise them to go into engineering or software.

As I pointed out in an opinion piece, it's not just "highly paid IT workers" who need to watch out, Everyone who does not work in a customer facing job - just sitting in an office, interacting with a computer - is at risk. My wife has just got a job as in an office. Her salary barely covers our council tax and the supermarket bill (so there go our extra UB's), but the …
Southern Mail

Yesterday’s rain has stopped and in its place, a fine but windy ‘autumn’ day. It’s amazing how the weather appears to have made a seasonal change in the space of a week.

Having finished a piece for the New Statesman, I decided to investigate the progress on my rather dusty looking aircraft in the barn at Maypole. Fighting the gale along the sea-wall on my mountain bike, I cycled the twelve miles to the farm strip and ‘Oh joy’; it’s finally being reassembled after almost three months on the ground having its engine overhauled. I tell you, buying a used aircraft is as dodgy as buying a used car. Every rule says that an aircraft has to meet stringent safety checks but experience suggests that aircraft owners can be as dependable as ‘Dell Trotter’ when it comes to meeting the CAA’s regulations. Trouble is there’s no AA to give you a £30 ‘airworthiness’ check, so I have learned a hard an expensive lesson about honesty in the used aircraft business. There’s not much of it aroun…
Broadband Britain – Crime & Punishment in a Digital Economy

August may be remembered by businesses both for the record-breaking temperatures, which made working difficult and an unprecedented series of computer virus attacks, which for many companies, made work impossible.

With names like evil cartoon characters, Blaster, Nachi and Sobig-F left a trial of destruction around the world. Among the high profile victims were Sky News and Air Canada, which was forced to shut down its electronic ticketing systems. At one point, PC World reported a 163% rise in the number of calls to its PC service support lines and some outlets were repairing up to 200 PCs a day in an effort to clear the backlog of infected machines. Within the space of less than two weeks and before the counting had finished, PA Consulting were estimating the cost of business interruption at £500 million. Perhaps one day, someone will calculate the true cost of the heat wave in combination with the wave of cyber-vandalis…
Life on Earth

Following in the wake of Slammer, Blaster and Sobig, I’m looking for potential public sector case study subjects with a strong Windows security theme. So if you think you fit the bill, don’t mind the publicity and have a good story to tell, do let me know.

Outside, it’s raining, which is a bit of a surprise after weeks of summer drought, which had left my garden looking like the Kalahari. The first signs of the end of a remarkable summer, which started with rain and appears to be ending the same way.

I motorcycled back down to the coast from London, late last night having first attended my Iaido class in Wandsworth. The planet Mars, at its closest point to the earth for sixty thousand years, hung in the eastern sky like an aircraft on finals to Heathrow. I thought it was at first but it soon became obvious that the distinctly red blob above me wasn’t moving. I watched it all the way down to Kent, wishing I had a pair of binoculars to hand and of course, Murphy’s Law dicta…
The Digital Idiot

I have narrowly avoided falling into an idiot trap. Not the one where a Dutch-based Nigerian émigré offers to launder a hundred million dollars through my Halifax savings account but a much cleverer one from a village at the northern end of the Yorkshire moors.

I knew about the Data Protection Act ‘Scam’ and I’ll call it that, although legally it has fallen through a gap in the law. The letter I received looked quite convincing. It warned me that I might not have properly complied with the Data Protection Act of 1998 and that I should immediately complete the enclosed forms DP1 DP2 and Appendix A to determine my position as a ‘Data Controller’.

I’m sure you know what the morning after a Bank Holiday is like? Lots of email and post to go through and so I swiftly ran my eyes over the letter and started completing the form. I even wrote the return envelope and signed the declaration. And then I stopped, because it was asking me for £95.00 and I’m notoriously tight-fisted…
In the Black

I found out today why I couldn’t get any emails to my accountant without having them returned as ‘Blacklisted’ by Spamcop. Apparently, he was one of those who fell victim to Spammers using his broadband connection as an ‘Open Relay’.

It’s a good example of what I’ve been droning on about for months now, much to the disgust of government and others. If you are using Broadband, then for God’s sake buy some good firewall software at the very least or you too might find yourself taken ‘Off the air’ by your ISP without really knowing why.

This is of course a big problem if you happen to have your company name ‘blacklisted’. All of a sudden, you become an Internet pariah through no real fault of your own other than naivety. No email can mean no business and it can take a rather long time to change your company name and inform all your contacts of a change in email address. So be careful, technology and the Internet is far from a safe place for most of us.

Meanwhile, most of my e…
The Sound of One Hand Tapping

It’s the Bank Holiday weekend and have been reading Takuan Soho’s book, ‘The Unfettered Mind’ – Writings of the 17th century Zen Master to the Sword Master - and last night, I was woken from a dream by my daughter’s Hamster, ‘Fluffy’, noisily rattling her wheel. Strangely enough, as I lay in bed half way between sleep and wakefulness, I suddenly realised what I believe may be the answer to the Zen riddle, a ‘Koan’, “Show me the sound of one hand clapping”. I suppose this is called enlightenment after thirty years but the answer wasn’t quite what I thought it might be and illustrates how the mind, like a computer, can keep churning on a problem in the unconscious until an answer is found. Rather like the question in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe,” What is the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and all that?” Forty-two wasn’t it?

We’ve decided that the family will probably move from London to the ‘house by the sea’ here in Kent. They even …
SpamCop Out

It very much looks as if my predictions of further ‘code chaos’ in the wake of the Blaster worm, came even more quickly than I anticipated, in the form of the Sobig-F virus. In fact, at one point, it was hard not to find anyone who hadn’t been affected, friends, family or business. When I arrived in the Sky News Westminster newsroom, to pass comment on email and the Hutton enquiry, it was to find the unhappy news team locked-out of their network too.

AntiVirus Consultants

I may have told you before that I’m a bit of a Luddite, in that I don’t have a broadband connection from home for a number of reasons, first of which is that I can’t afford to lose my email capability, as experience has shown me that Broadband is wonderful but occasionally dodgy. Two good examples from last week support this view. The first, was a friend who went on holiday to Devon and left his connection ‘up’. While he was away, he missed both Blaster and Sobig-F and when he came home he had visitors; w…
Comet PLC - A Lifetime Award for Bad Service

I want to make a special award today. It’s for customer service of the worst kind and it goes to electrical retailers, Comet.

I won’t bore you with the details but let’s just say that they are “Experiencing higher call volumes than usual” to their customer service and complaints line – too damn right – and that my local branch, Comet in Margate, will not answer the telephone and are forcing the main customer service centre to fax them demanding an urgent response to my call. Fat chance two and half hours later!

All in all, I have tried Comet’s head office to complain three times and been fobbed-off back to the same customer service number which takes an average of ten minutes to deal with a call. In total, I have spent over an hour on the phone, trying to pursue a simple problem, the consequence of a salesman’s false promises, which leaves me with an oven that doesn’t work and an old oven which the delivery team haven’t taken away, as arrang…
Carry on Up the Khyber

Outsourcing appears to be the subject that is most likely to have you writing to offer your own opinion and in every example I have seen, readers are not happy about the situation as it stands today, with company after company, among them, pillars of the UK economy, entirely free to swap their call centre workforce in Margate for one in Madras.

I’m making such a noise about what I regard as economic myopia or even injustice, that one of the world’s largest providers of outsourcing services to India has invited me to lunch, which is nice but unlikely to change my mind on the subject.

If for a moment, we look at the maths for the UK economy, then I’ll leave it to you to decide who benefits from the indecent haste in which we are moving our IT and call centre workforce abroad.

If you happen to be a large telecoms company or a bank, then you might be paying each of your call centre operatives £15,000 a year. You’ve already outsourced as far away from London as you ca…
Samba Parti

I'm feeling a little jaded this morning. Today is one of those special days that starts with an inbox full of viruses. One in particular, received six times, carries the message, "Attention: Immediate Action Required for MSN and Windows Messenger Users" and carries a little payload called 'W32Minmail.' - Just the thing to start my day. To add to my fun, there is even a message from the administrator of my own domain – which happens to be me - telling me that my email address is about to expire and that I should “Read the attached message”. No thank you, because this one happens to be loaded too, according to Norton anti-virus, which has safely quarantined it.

Now, I wasn't born yesterday but some people working in government IT may have been. This month, Brazilian hackers 'visited' a number of local government websites and vandalised them with anti-government messages and digital graffiti. Ironically, the websites in question had failed to …
e-Crime the real story

Imagine for one moment that you are the Chief Executive of an international investment business and you have a problem, a very big problem. An organised crime group has picked your business to be the victim of a Denial of Service (DDoS attack), similar to that experienced by Microsoft with ‘Blaster’ in August. The exploit is directed against the company’s servers running with vulnerable ports and the objective is to bring down the company’s on-line trading activities for thirty minutes each week.

Unlike Microsoft, you can’t simply switch your servers during the attack. Outside of the damage to reputation, the cost of thirty minutes loss of trading to your business, is over a million dollars and following the first incident, you receive a phone call from the gang, telling you that the problem will continue unless a million dollars in ‘consultancy fees’ is transferred to a bank in Columbia. What do you do next? Make a call to the National Hi-tech Crime Unit (NHTCU)…
On the Beach

Try and disappear for a few days of sunshine and while I’m away, hell breaks loose. Blaster has the media once again predicting the end of the digital world as we know it, somebody turns the lights out in New York and your license fee is spent on a tenacious BBC news crew, tracking me down, quite literally to an interview on the beach, in the search for an opinion on something that I’ve never seen.

A week further on and I think I have worked out what he BBC may have been interested in. It’s to do with new software that allows for the creation of a kind of personal network space we haven’t seen before.

Following-on from the Blog phenomenon, online journals, we are starting to see the arrival of software that manages personal networks and by this, I mean networks of people and relationships. If you visit you’ll see roughly what I mean. Forget online dating, the next big thing is six degrees of separation by another name.

Let’s say, for the sake of example,…
Tips for making the best of your TV interview

The ideal candidate for a television interview, should look like George Clooney, have the dress-sense of Pierce Brosnan and the delivery of Anthony Hopkins. Regrettably, this is not always the case and the mixture of talents is rather thin on the ground, particularly in the technology sector.

What follows are a number of tips and suggestions, grounded on three years experience at Sky News Business Report, meeting many leading figures in ebusiness, information technology and politics.

Never forget that Television is an entertainment medium

The eighties were a lot of fun but fashion moves on.

Conservatism can be reassuring. It suggests competence and control to the audience.

Sensible Suit – Sensible Shirt – Sensible Haircut – Sensible Tie.

People notice little things, Bill Clinton wears a plastic watch and Tony Blair wears blue contact lenses.

The dividing line between confidence and pompous arrogance is a narrow one.

Richard Branson owns a …
What a Blast

I was determined not to write about Blaster today, as everyone else is but amid the hype, I think we need to add a little perspective. The worm is around because Microsoft added new functionality to Windows 2000, XP and Windows Server 2003. Unfortunately, we seem to have reached that point in our digital journey where if Microsoft adds something new, useful even, then someone is going to try damn hard to break it.

The alternative leaves us back in the Stone Age. No Internet, no rich connectivity and of course no opportunities for hackers and virus writers. Surely there must be a compromise between security and functionality that makes innovation possible in a Microsoft world or is this simply wishful thinking on my part?

My grateful thanks goes to those very nice people at Hewlett Packard today. Christmas has arrived early in the shape of a rather nice laptop, which originally was to stand-in for my sick Omni book while it was repaired. However, to save me the trouble, HP …
Free Milo

Today, I received an email from ‘admin’ at my own domain, with the message:

“Hello there,

I would like to inform you about important information regarding your email address. This email address will be expiring. Please read attachment for details”.

Fortunately, Norton Anti-virus picked-up the attachment and quarantined it on the way in, not that I would have opened anyway but someone had gone to the trouble of spoofing my ArabGov.Com domain with the aim of infecting my system with a particularly nasty virus.

I would of course like to meet the person responsible on a dark night and one has to wonder why they do this but then I see the war memorial on the sea front defaced with graffiti and it’s really no different in principle to the virus problem; the rebellious and destructive urge in adolescent and immature males. It’s all about testosterone and boredom where free expression, like Blogs, has run riot in too many different forms.

My daughter has just pointed-out to me that Mi…
It Must be Monday

I notice that this weblog is doing funny things today. Either a glitch in the system or a glitch in my browser. The Guardian Unlimited appears to have lost its weblinks, so I'm losing traffic to the site.

I've been busy trying to catch up with a research project and I'm resting from Computer Weekly for a week, which may explain how thin this blog is at the moment. Lots of good intentions but too little time and to be honest, it's too hot.

A BBC News team traveled all the way from television centre to my house in Kent today to do a short interview. Surely it can't have been worth three hours of heat hell on the M25. We decided to shoot the interview just above the beach and I was amazed at how many people wandered up to interrupt and ask what we were filming. One boy in particular will go down in history for his antics. He decided to race his scooter around us, jumping it every few feet before parking-up beside us and banging it against some steel r…
The Sea Like Glass

I had written rather more yesterday but Word decided to go ‘flaky’ on me and destroyed the file without any chance of recovery. On top of that, Windows XP is looking decidedly wobbly again and although I have run Norton’s system utilities, I receiving a sense of déjà vu, as this is rather like the pattern which led to a catastrophic system crash in January.

A word to the wise and forgive the pun. Windows XP is a great Operating System but it’s also one which may not be as crash proof as we might be led to believe. So make sure that you are fully backed-up on a regular basis, just in case.

Yesterday, before the crash, I was writing about my odd kayak experience in the evening. The sea was flat calm in the early evening and as I paddled between the two bays, I caught sight of a dark blob beyond the seagull line. At first I thought it might be a seal but as I paddled closer, I could see it was human, a man in fact with a rudimentary swimming style.

Are you OK” I asked …
The Mist

Never seen anything like it. A flat calm sultry evening and a mist has just blown off the sea like a Steven King movie, dropping the temperature by at least five degrees, which is great but if I had stayed a little longer in my Kayak earlier, it would have caught me out there. Very strange atmospherics.


Too warm to work and I have to drive back to London this evening. Can't say I'm looking forward to it.

It's August and that time when the EU decide to throw the book at Microsoft. This happens every year at around the same time but on this occasion, the book is getting uncomfortably close and a judgment appears to be 'almost' imminent.

Whether this will be in the interest of the consumer, the politicians or business is hard to say but in my view, there's a political dimension to the story at a difficult time between Europe and America and Microsoft is a large target and a company which hasn't managed to demonstrate truly European credentials, unlike Hewlett Packard or IBM.

I can understand the Commission's argument but I don't feel that it has a solution available other than sanctions that might do more harm than good but it's too hot to think clearly, so I'll revisit the matter at some other time.

Gone Quiet

Thanks to Hewlett Packard, who have shipped me a loan ZE4300 laptop, I'm mobile again. It's much nicer than my Omnibook 500 with the deceased screen and at some point I'm going to have to surrender the latter for them to fix it. Meanwhile, it's taking time to mirror the data and applications on one over to the other.

Almost had my hair parted by the Coastguard aircraft yesterday, as I sat offshore in my kayak. I swear I had to duck, he was so low and I didn't hear him coming until the last moment. Showing off I guess.

I'm increasingly pondering the potential benefits of moving another thirty miles south to France. Such a short distance of water seems to make it a long way but there seems to be no business objection to moving to "The other side". After all, you can't tell where I'm working now, it's certainly not an office in the conventional sense and it's faster into London from the French coast by train than it is from most…
Forget August - Go Swimming Instead

Stories are like buses. When you want one as a subject for ‘Thought for the Day’ you can’t find any and when you do finally spot one, then it’s not alone.

August isn’t the best time to be writing about IT as anyone who can, has escaped to the sun. I’m taking as short break as well, to return as programme director for next year’s eCrime Congress, so you can expect to read rather more about eCrime and punishment in the coming months.

Today, I see that NTA Monitor has released a report that reveals one in two government bodies have in excess of ten vulnerabilities in their networks and an average of 73% show worrying firewall lapses. Does this come as a surprise? Certainly not, which possibly explains the reluctance on the part of government to respond positively to interview requests for the special report on trustworthy computing that Computer Weekly published in May.

In all fairness, many government agencies and departments take security very seriou…
No Peace for the Wicked in Westgate

The annoying thud of base music on the fringes of the Costa Del Margate. It’s carnival afternoon and there’s no chance of peace and quiet as the floats assemble across the road from my house on the Royal Esplanade. I can see bunches of coloured balloons blowing past my window, escaping towards the Thames Estuary.

Yesterday, was a kind of fiesta day on Margate seafront. Music and the Sealed-Knot staging a mock battle on the beach. In the sixties I used to watch real battles between hundreds of ‘Rockers’ and ‘Mods’ from my vantage point on the cliff top but they didn’t have muskets, only flick-knives and bottles.

In fact the fiesta was a predictable disappointment, from my perspective at least. Margate isn’t Spain, even if they are trying to pretend it’s civilised by sticking the Turner Gallery there and billing the locals for the privilege. Charlotte and I cycled over for a look, pausing only briefly while I stopped to rescue a drowning refugee child …

I've just returned from an evening at Margate's 'Dreamland with my daughter.

Dreamland lies somewhere between Bruegel and Bosch, at least in the faces of the people you see there. The genetics of the medieval period are alive and well in an amusement park in Margate and I wished I could paint.

Among them are Iraqi families, eastern Europeans and Africans, a tower of Babel under the roller coaster. My daughter only sees glamour of the amusement park and is blind to the seedier side of existence.

A little girl in front of us, alone on the roller coaster, turned around and asked "Does your Dad live with your Mum still? Mine doesn't, he's in Slovakia" A comment on the times perhaps.

So after being spun and soaked and watched my daughter stay on the rodeo bull and win a certificate, I guess I'm too old for Dreamland, which has changed so very much since I first visited in the sixties when Margate still had a pier.