Sunday, January 20, 2008

The lemming has moved

Welcome to the new home of the most anonymous lemming in town. I've had a good long look at what options are out there, and wordpress looks like it's the best suited to my needs. So from now on, you'll find me over at

I hope you'll follow me over there real soon!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Toolin' around

Looks like I'm late with this week's edition, but Max is still not well, and we've been running him back and forth to vet. My kitty is not happy, so I'm not happy!

Anyway, without further ado, lets have a look at what has been running around my head this past week.

As a species, we seem to have an instinctive need to place blame. This, combined with a desire to avoid conflict seems to make for a really messed up society, because if we can't blame people, what can we blame? In too many cases it seems that we just turn around and blame inanimate objects.

You've all heard the slogan "Guns don't kill people, I do", right? Well, it's the same for cars, knives, rocks, nmap and netstat (with or without the -rn switch). And yet we still want to restrict these tools instead of dealing with the people who use them to do bad things.

If guns kill people, how come Switzerland isn't awash with blood? Why doesn't Norway look like the scene of a John Woo movie on a weekly basis? Maybe the real problem is the culture that the guns are used in, and not the tools themselves? Ya think? Nah, can't be.

Now before you miss the entire point of this article (you know, the 70 odd percent below this bit and latch onto the gun comment) if anyone has a right to hate guns, after the last time I saw my mom, that would be me. But I don't - I still see them as a useful tool for the most part.

I will grant that some tools can only be used for bad; take nucular missiles for example. But try to stay focussed on the bigger picture here, m'kay?

The UK knife laws are bad enough as it is. Does anyone know what the actual conditions under which you can legally carry a blade in London are? I've got a rough idea, but I've never been able to get someone to give me a definitive yes / no answer.

Can I carry my R30,000 Leatherman? Common sense and interpretation of the law before Gordon Brown's instruction to the police to charge anyone caught with a blade would say, yes, I can. But do we really want to rely on common sense in a country where the government and the police have shown a consistent lack thereof? Is it worth the risk of getting a 5 year jail sentence because a plod decides he wants to put me away for a while? Remember, we're talking about the same country where you can get arrested under the terrorism act for walking on a cycle path! But try and get some guidance out of the Metropolitan Police on this issue - go on, I dare you!

Ok, so I shouldn't carry my Leatherman, despite how useful it's been to me in loads of situations over the years. The Kershaw, gorgeous though it is is right out. But now they want to take my software away!

Yep, you heard me right... Nanny would like me to put down my packet sniffer and step AWAY from the keyboard.

The dangerous section of the bill states the following:

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he makes, adapts, supplies or offers
to supply any article—

(a) knowing that it is designed or adapted for use in the course of
or in connection with an offence under section 1 or 3; or

The problem here is in the statement "... knowing that is is designed or adapted..." (emphasis mine). You see, many of the tools that I use to improve security, troubleshoot network problems or investigate connectivity issues could very well be adapted for nefarious purposes. But so can a length of rubber hose; I could use it to retrieve your encryption keys by beating you about the body with it for hours on end. And rubber hose isn't illegal! Nor are rocks, despite the hundreds of deaths that cavemen likely inflicted on each other using those WMDs. Won't somebody think of the cavemen!?

I make a good living in the IT world because I have something that many other people I've worked with over the years don't - I have an insatiable need to understand how things work. This makes me very good at my job because I understand things at a level that others often don't. I know how they fit together and what problems cause other problems. I know to check that the cable is plugged in, rather than calling the vendor, writing a suite of software diagnostic tools and sacrificing a chicken. Well, ok, maybe the chicken thing is a useful step, but I digress.

I have none of your fancy university larnin'... I've learnt everything I know by prodding, by pulling things apart, by trying to do stuff and seeing what happens. And now my government want to hamstring me, they want to reduce the technical abilities of an entire generation, and the only thing their actions will achieve is to make Britain less secure and less able to deal with attacks on our systems.

You could argue that it will probably still be OK to own a copy of nmap and that if you're a Linux distro, you can still safely ship tcpdump and *gasp* telnet. But you could also argue that it's alright to walk on the cycle path. At the end of the day, you'd probably never be punished for having these tools unless they were looking for a reason to put you away. Then, all the little things you're guilty of (and honestly, who isn't guilty of something these days?) can be used to make you go away. Remember, we now live in a world when you can get a $60,000 fine for running
$     host -l

What happened to punishing people who did bad things, you know those we refer to as 'guilty', rather than punishing the rest of us? When did it become the role of government to cripple our economy and hand the competitive edge to other countries?

Monday, January 07, 2008

All your moniez are belong to charity!

There's been a lot of data leakage in the UK lately. The same lot who want us to trust them with a central database linking all of our data and include some irrevocable biometric markers don't seem to understand the Data Protection Act or have the ability to install Gnu Privacy Guard.

As a result, they managed to lose 25 million records containing data that they had been expressly asked not to send in the first place, and furthermore were breaking the law by sending. Whoops! But hey, no worries - no-one is going to lose their job over this, because it's the gubmint, right?

There was a lot of publicity at the time of the initial loss, and many people tried to down-play the severity or possible impact. Possibly one of the funniest quotes would be "Honestly, I've never known such a palaver about nothing" made by Jeremy Clarkson.

Now, I'm not a car genius, so I try not to comment on new cars and their design or manufacturing technique beyond the bits I absolutely know about. In the same vein, I'm pretty sure he's not a security expert or very clueful about identity theft.

Fortunately, someone kindly educated him for us, and now hopefully he'll return the favour by educating some Sun readers (because lord knows, a lot of them need it!)

If you've not clicked the link for whatever reason, I'll explain; after he posted his bank details online, just to prove that he's "...never known such a palaver about nothing", someone setup a direct debit donating £500 to the charity Diabetes UK from his account.

Ok, granted, it would have been a shedload funnier if they'd sent it to Greenpeace, or some charity that campaigns for an end to cars, or better still, anything supported by Ken Livingstone, but as it stands, I'm impressed. I lol'd... honest!

There's a lesson to this story chillen - identity theft is a very real threat and can absolutely ruin your life. Be careful with your old credit and debit receipts, get a block put on your credit report if you can that means you have to provide ID for all loans, etc. and check your bank statements regularly. And don't be a boastful prat in a public newspaper.

At least he was man enough to admit his mistake - I just hope he lets the charity keep the money... call it an educational cost!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The chances of anything coming from Mars...

... are pretty damn good if you're married to my wife!

To digress for a few moments, I'd like to head over to the tale of the tortoise and the hare. I hope I'm not spoiling this story for anyone, but basically, there's this race, see? It's a tortoise vs. a hare. Everyone puts their money on the hare, because, hey, hare's are fast, right? But in the end, the tortoise wins through its slow but constant plodding and the hare gets his ass handed to him.

Well, I've got proof that this is a true story because the birthday bunny is the slowest hopping mofo I ever did see! My birthday is in March. Every year. But it took the little bastard until December to deliver the goods this year.

Cheryl claims that she couldn't exactly get a multi-location arena tour moved up a couple of months but does this sound like a good excuse to anyone? No, didn't think so ;)

In case you're even slower than me and hadn't caught on yet, I got to see 'The War of the Worlds' at the dome on Saturday 22/12/2007 and it was freaking amazing!

We're not talking some new age remake crap starring Tom Cruise that takes place in the wrong era, the wrong country and the with the wrong actor, we're talking the full-on original with Jeff Wayne conducting a 48 piece string orchestra and the Black Smoke Band. We're talking about Justin Hayward doing the singing voice of the reporter. We're talking about the honest to gods, proper War of the Worlds live on stage with me in the audience.

One of the performers, the Artilleryman (It's doing the workin' and the thinkin' that wears a feller out!) would make a great replacement for Bruce Dickinson with his mental performance and range of vocals.

I used to listen to this story several lifetimes ago and 9000KMs away, and sitting there watching this whole thing come to life was just out of this world for me (sorry for the pun). Just being in London watching a musical production would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.

What's more impressive is the fact that this isn't something I would have ever expected as a gift. It's not exactly common knowledge that I'm mad about this album and I don't even have a copy in my collection since leaving SA and selling my last copy.

All in all, it was the most amazing gift followed by the most amazing gig of my life. All future gigs will be measured against this one, and sadly probably found wanting. But wow!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How to be a terrorist in the UK

Becoming a terrorist in the UK is quite involved. For starters, you need to get your head around the Terrorism Act 2000, Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. And I might have missed a few.

Ok, so reading all of that is going to be a bit too much like work, let's rather find some of the people charged under the terrorism act - maybe that will give us a better idea of what to aim for.

Our first candidate is Sally Cameron. She was arrested under the terrorism act for walking on a cycle path. But she was never prosecuted and convicted, so I guess we'll skip her.

Ok, what about Walter Wolfgang then? He sounds German-ish so he might be a good role model. What made him a clear and present danger to the British public was heckling Jack Straw at a New Labour conference and he was subsequently questioned under the terrorism act. It turns out he's not only not a terrorist, but was a Jewish prisoner interned in the concentration camps by the Nazis. At least he'll feel at home in our Brave New Britain!

I guess we'll have to move on to Samina Malik. They got her fair and square and managed to secure a conviction against this dangerous terrorist. So we finally have someone we can model our plans around. Lets get to it...

Firstly, you have to write crap poetry and have a cool name. Calling yourself the Lyrical Terrorist will get you a conviction, but being the Lyrical Gangster will just get you thousands of dollars and a gold record or two. It's a fine line, so work on this one quite carefully! Apparently it can't just be random whiny emo poetry, so you're not going to be the next My Chemical Romance, but remember, we're going for terrorism here, not MTV stardom. Focus dammit!

To be fair, ever since high school I've supported the death penalty for people who subject us to crap lyrics and poems, but I've done that for the sake of art, not national security.

The second step is to enter the following terms into Google:

  • al-qaeda poison manual

  • terrorist handbook

For the first search term, you need to download the 5th link that is returned, titled "al qaeda training manual". For the second term, you should download the document at the first search result titled "The Terrorist's Handbook". Sadly, it looks like the poison guys don't have a good SEO resource on their team, but maybe persistence will finally get them up there at the number one spot.

You'll note that this information is freely available in multiple places on the web, but even so, you need to keep these on your hard drive so that later you can show that you had possession of them without having a good reason.

The third, and possibly most tricky step is to be brown. I know that many of us will face strong challenges at this point, as I personally am as lily-white as they come. But if you're really dedicated, frequent visits to the south of Spain or your local tanning salon should do the trick. Just don't do the Essex girl thing and go orange - you'll be SOL if you do that!

That's it - three easy steps to becoming a terrorist, getting a criminal record that will follow you for life, and ruining your employment chances forever.

What!? You thought you had to be caught in the midst of some plot to injure thousands of people? You thought they would have to find at least _some_ sign of you having contact with terrorist organisations? What about proving that you had the means and ability to either coordinate or carry out an attack? Nah, shite poetry and you're half way there.

Like the judge said in his findings, "These communications strongly indicate Samina Malik was deeply involved with terrorist related groups". You'll note that he doesn't mention that they have a single shred of credible evidence to this end, just that some crap poems indicate that she was deeply involved. Lord only knows what these blog entries and my tales from Africa would indicate to this lot!

We now interrupt this programming to bring you an unscheduled rant....

The powers that be are now trying to get the amount of time that they can hold someone without charging them extended to 42 days. At the moment if you are arrested under the terrorism act, they can lock you away for 28 days without having to charge you at all. They don't have to show you or your lawyer the evidence that they have arrested you on, and they don't have to justify their actions. That's nearly a month. That's a month that your family won't know what is happening, that your employers won't know if you're coming back or not, and YOU won't know the state of your future.

Yet look at how these powers are being abused! One of the highest profile convictions was against a whiny fucking emo chick who wrote shit poetry and downloaded crap off of the Internet. When we're not using them for that, we're keeping political dissent to a minimum by throwing 80+ year old Nazi camp survivors out of party conferences.

Put your foot down and write to your MP today! Tell them that no matter how much you may approve of their policies, you WILL ban them from office for 4 years in the next election JUST to punish them for backing these stupid policies. Call it a time-out, some time to reflect on the harm that they have done to our freedom, our social cohesion and conscience and our way of life that survived centuries of attack from both without and within.

When did reading become a crime? When did having certain books become enough for a supposedly progressive government to ruin your life?

In closing, a short poem... I wonder what extremest connections this Martin Niemoller bloke has?

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
Pastor Martin Niemöller

Friday, December 14, 2007

Be Gone!

I was a Be Internet subscriber for just under 24 hours. I got my line up and running at 10:20 today, and I requested cancellation at 23:10 tonight. While their bandwidth and line speed are amazing (I was downloading at around 768kb/s consistently as opposed to around 425kb/s with Zen), their technical support and ability  seemed sincerely lacking.

While a 'ludicrously fast internet connection' is nice to have, solid customer support and technical ability are far more important to me and Be has shown a dire inability to meet these requirements during my initial dealings with them. As such, I have absolutely no confidence that Be would be able to responsively and effectively assist me should a serious technical issue occur which affects my ability to access the Internet. I went through that with Mailbox for 6 months and I'd rather stay with Zen on 400kb/s with their excellent support than risk my sanity for 200kb/s.

Be's catalog of errors is as follows:

1. The instructions given for configuring the router were completely wrong in a number of ways as detailed below...

1.1 -- Point 2 of the instructions states to select 'Static 3 Data Ports' in the configuration. This profile does not exist. Only 'static 4 ports' and 'multi-ip 4 ports' exist.

1.2 -- Under section 3 the instructions imply that you should enter all 8 of your IP addresses into a field in the router configuration. This is impossible as only 1 IP address can be entered in this field. Furthermore, after consulting with Be technical support, it turns out that NO IP information should be entered into the router.

1.3 -- For a multiple-IP configuration, 'Static 4 Data Ports' is the incorrect profile to use. The correct configuration is multi-ip.

2. The technical support I received when attempting to resolve the issues with the printed instructions was appalling. The engineer didn't know what I was talking about when I was reading from the instructions Be had sent me. There seemed to be a serious disconnect between the instructions and what the support engineer was referencing.

3. When asked about setting up reverse DNS, the engineer kept insisting that I needed to do this on the router I had been sent. This is not possible - Be have control of the zone for this IP range, and Be need to make this change. The engineer eventually put me on hold for several minutes while he went to confirm this.

4. The router configuration did not function correctly and after completing the information for the multi-IP configuration, I received a '404 not found page' in the popup box where the configuration takes place. This occurred with both Safari and Firefox. The configuration was still in place after a router reboot, but no indication of this was given during the process.

5. The 'Update from Be' e-mail sent to me on 14/12/2007 at 09:26 states 'If you have any questions, please raise a ticket through the member centre (click here to be there now)' but there is no hyperlink present in the e-mail at all. This is such a basic thing to get right, and their inability to do so scares me. A lot.

6. I raised a support ticket at 10:32 today to have reverse DNS for my IP addresses configured. At 22:58, over 12 hours later, this ticket is still in the 'new' state. With my previous provider (Zen), this was a change I could make myself through the customer portal and it would be activated and propagated to the provider's DNS servers within 3 hours.

While not an error, I'm including point 7 because it is just something that I am not comfortable with.

7. The way Be assign private IP addresses is to assign a number of addresses from a /20 range. You are then supposed to configure your router in bridged mode and then assign those addresses to individual devices. This is an odd solution, and I much prefer the standard ISP offering where a /29 is routed to me and I use one of these as the internal IP address on my router. All other machines in my network then use this address as their default gateway.

All in all, I think I'll Be a Zen customer thank you very much!

Monday, December 03, 2007

RFC2822 and the shoddiness that is Microsoft

Why is it that people feel the need to keep coding up their own e-mail validation libraries? Everyone seems to think that this is a simple task, but many sites fail miserably at it. That might be acceptable if there weren't libraries that do it correctly for almost every language I've ever used, but since we solved this problem years ago, it's not acceptable any more.

Today's case in point is Microsoft. I'm busy moving Penguinpowered to Google Apps and as a result I have a lot fewer e-mail aliases than I used to. Part of my solution is to change my addresses wherever possible to as Google allows the use of + notation to create unique addresses. Sadly, many sites seem to feel that the + sign is not a valid character in an e-mail address. But trust me, it is! Continental Airlines - I'm looking at you here, you retards! 

Microsoft take it a step further. If you try and change your e-mail address in your XboxLive profile, not only does it NOT tell you that it's not happy with your entry, you end up on a 404 - Not Found page. If you try and use what they think is a valid address, and it all works fine.

Would you use an operating system built by idiots who can't even implement a simple validation check of an RFC that's been around since 2001 ? I know I wouldn't!