Sunday, November 6, 2011

android - be discerning at the lower end (part 2)

Android tablets span a whole range of functionality and build quality.

In my February article (part 1), I covered some of the features which you should look for in the sub £200 bracket.

This article is an update. I hope to do two or three more updates until ...

£100 buys you a 768MB 10 inch tablet running Android 4.0 on a 1Ghz dual core.

[ It might take a while :) ]


...or the ten inch...


Here I quote from my February article as to what to look for:

  • 3D graphics support (OpenGL ES)
  • 256MB ram
  • SD card slot (or microSD at a push)
  • Android 2.1 or later (2.3 or later for WebM)

Bingo! Here you have two sub £200 tablets that meet most of points 2, 3, 4.
I am guessing 3D graphics support is asking too much just now, however you are £50 less than £200 limit on price.


But surely these are no good, would you buy one personally?

It depends. Budget is the thing here. If you only want to spend £200, then this is what supply and demand currently says you can have.

One thing that did previously hamper low end tablets was frugal built in memory. Here we see that is no longer an issue. Hurrah!

But Joe down the pub says that these are resistive touch screens and no good.

If you are not sure, then read up on the difference here.

The Samsung Galaxy and others have popularised heat sensitive touch, however there are some merits to pressure sensitive screens also.

If you are led mostly by fashion and popularity, then you are probably in the wrong price category here.

If Joe offers you a second hand tablet, then do consider battery life before you invest. After a years constant use, a Samsung Galaxy Tab might have a battery that does not hold charge so well. Can you buy a replacement battery and fit it?


The £200 category redefined - early 2012 and beyond:

If it had not been for the flooding in South East Asia, I would have speculated that 768MB might become the new bar for sub £200 tablets.

However 512MB is probably a more sensible limit given the temporary memory shortages.

Sub £200 Android tablets running version 3.0 of Android should start appearing in early 2012.

I stand by my previous requirement 3D graphics support (OpenGL ES). I think it is achievable at that price point at a stretch.

WebM support out of the box is something you should also check for.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

linux is lateral - uk corridor

Linux use in UK companies, clustered on M62 and M4?


Apart from stating the obvious (Central London) where big financial is regularly advertising for Linux, the two corridors stand out.
Between Warrington and Leeds the M62. With a particular focus on Manchester.

The M4 corridor, not that it is news to see this area mentioned for startups.

Cardiff and Bristol - a nice tech cluster going on there either side of the River Severn.


Developments in 2012 and 2013:

The Silicon roundabout and other initiatives should help Linux move further east of Central London. At the moment skills are concentrated in Central London and other parts of London, but not much in East London.

( Middlesex and/or the stretch Left of Central London between M1 and M4, has always traditionally been a tech hotspot also )

The Silicon roundabout will stretch the reach of Linux a little further along that southern corridor, but what about the Midlands and North?

Tech startup success in Warrington, Manchester, and Leeds should spur on the extremes (Liverpool and Hull) to eventually play catch up.

Birmingham is underrepresented, and I will keep watching the news for any development there.


Linux and Tech Startups:

Take the map above and overlay it onto a map of startup clusters. What do you see?

Note: That map at the top is a point in time analysis, and will change month to month, however I suspect the picture will look broadly the same until those initiatives mentioned above take off.

Friday, October 28, 2011

git - recreation / clone and wordiness - dvcs

You deleted your git repository or are given a brand new machine - what to do?



But why am i not on 'origin' - seem to remember that from github last time?



Think of 'origin' as your first breadcrumb in your source work - where did you start from. More eloquently put...
Origin indicates the original repository from which you started. As we started from scratch this name is still available.
Here in my case we cloned, and unless we tell git differently, we are going to be tracking the remote repository pointed to by origin/HEAD (which in my case means origin/master or simply master on my local reporting)

git push

What do you think that will do given the images shown above?

First thing to bear in mind is that unless you tell it differently a push will go to where you started.

In my case, I started from a remote .git file which I gave as part of my clone command.




The diff command is your way of testing things before your push
( Note: The diff did not need your credentials as git keeps track
locally of how you have differed from your start point.* )

The push here knew where to send your changes.

You can be explicit about things by giving arguments to push if you wish.


git checkout - some musings:

Two things are bothering me here so let's clear this up

  • checkout sounds like a hangover from previous version control
  • master sounds like it does not belong as a branch name
If you were creating your own branch then you can pick a better name than master I am sure.



Branching - do it locally or do it remotely:

This seems to be an attitude / workflow thing.

'I am little' versus 'I am big' - workflow

You have a meeting with all the devs, you agree that a significant feature named 'serialization' is going to be added to your project.

"Okay I'll create a 'serialization' branch" you say before leaving the meeting.

This is an example of 'I am big' - you are making an 'ahead of time' branch on the remote repository to which you will later commit.

git push origin origin:refs/heads/serialization

Now you do all your serialization work and commit and push.

The 'I am little' workflow is a little less formal. You might have just joined the project by cloning. Probably you have a local branch master that is tracking the remote origin/master.

Create your branch locally, make your changes, push your changes to the remote as a new branch

Here you have not made a central decision on behalf of the entire project, until after all your code changes where complete which I say as 'I am little' workflow.

Note: If other folks have committed or branched the remote repository, then you will have to find a way to merge or latch onto the current running position.


git rebase might help you in that case.



Reasons to use ssh instead of https when cloning:

Convenience.

If you have ssh keys locally that enable you easy authentication with the remote repository, then cloning via ssh has everything set up so that pushing goes ssh also.

If you have ssh keys but do your original clone via https, then your pushes will default to https also. You can adjust things in between but why make life difficult.

Here are two portions of a url - which git clone method were they?


The first is https and the second is ssh.

Note: when cloning using ssh there is no need to put ssh:// for git, however you will be in the habit of doing that for mercurial.

Note: @bitbucket.org:username is not something you would see appearing in a mercurial clone command.


Notes and Further reading:

Git is tracking by default. What I mean by this is that cloning usually creates a local branch that tracks a remote branch.

Seeing --track in commands is reassuring, but these days is often the default anyway.

The only time you will be operating locally in a non tracking mode is usually when you have simply created a local directory and ran git init

You have to do something then to hook up git with a remote url, and give it enough information to do tracking.

Creating your own branches locally will usually have you operating in non-tracking mode, unless you tell git differently. See 'I am little' workflow described above.


git push origin somebranch

...assuming somebranch was created locally and is non-tracking, the above command would create a remote branch somebranch using what you have locally.

What if you see git branch returning the following:

* (no branch)
master

...means that you should either switch to master using git checkout master or else create a branch that you want to work in.

If you like the --track in checkout commands then try this:

git checkout --track origin/somebranch

which avoids the need to expressly say what the local branch will be and git will just create one named 'somebranch' that tracks the remote you supplied.

When is the following command legal?

git remote add origin 

Answer: When you have started out locally rather than cloning. When you use bitbucket or another remote that does not make an assumption in how you should start.

Github does the origin/master thing right from the outset - some will prefer this and some not.

git checkout superprogram.c is valid ... in this case checkout is not being used to switch branches.

The very last note - git pull is really a git fetch;git merge

There are probably several mistakes in my notes in this article - feel free to constructively comment and/or correct.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why is social media on my one year old smartphone slow?

The short answer is the the developers have a trade off to make - browser bottleneck / network bottleneck.


Client side / Server side - Turning back the clock 10 years:

I write this to create context. Trying to be brief.

10 years ago there were no smartphones really, and very little in the way of mobile internet.

The database lived on a server in the computer room, your desktop intranet web pages interacted with the database via server side code (JSP, PHP, ASP, whatever)

The desktop machine itself did not have to be very powerful as JSP, PHP, ASP did all the hard work in the computer room.

The phrase "Server Side round trip" was born, to give a catchy phrase to what some folks described as a network bottleneck.


Mobile net & Smartphones - ½ of Server Side now replaced by Javascript:

Sun/Oracle and Intel sell less servers because of this. Cue displeasure.

Client side development using Ajax and jQuery is popular in some startups.

The downside for the mobile user, is that the network bottleneck has now been replaced by a browser bottleneck - javascript processing.

In 2011, the biggest browser announcements, were all about the speed of the javascript processing engine.

In 2012 the push for dual core smartphones is mostly going to be driven by single core, becoming sluggish under the weight of client side javascript.

Phrases like "Sluggish page loading" and "smartphone lockup" are just two of the new phrases emerging from this shift.


Is a browser bottleneck better than a network bottleneck?

For desktops in the workplace, a network bottleneck is unlikely to be an issue, so server side processing makes perfect sense.

For tablets, smartphones, access via 3G/4G dongles, it all depends on the country in which you live, and the amount of time you spend on the move.

I use a tablet and 90% of my browsing is done via home / work fast WiFi - no network bottleneck. Heavy Ajax and jQuery is probably using up battery life unnecessarily.

I live outside of the metropolitan areas in India, and my smartphone connection regularly varies between 2 bars and the maximum 5 bars.
Heavy Ajax and jQuery client side processing is the answer.
Your battery takes the hit, but you are able to work very effectively with less reliance on the network.

Giving just two examples does not really cover it, but I hope that is enough to stimulate your own research.


Big social media - where is my bottleneck?

Twitter and Google+ place least reliance on the network, and prefer to put a good portion of the database access and scroller code on the client side.

Seem strange to me to be naming Google there, as Google does have pretty unlimited server side resources.

Identica and Facebook place more reliance on the network, but are less taxing on your smartphone processor.

Server side scripting such as Php takes a lot of the strain in Identica and Facebook, meaning you are borrowing less of your phone out, when browsing their social media.

In short the Facebook datacentre is humming when you browse, rather than your smartphone processor being fully taxed.

Just to clarify, I am by no means a Facebook fan, however this an article about choice of technologies, which does not require me to like Facebook or Google+ or both.

Big Social Media is very expensive, and if the company can borrow half of your smartphone processor, rather than compute on the server side, then there is a financial incentive there, to use your electricity rather than their own wherever possible.


How can I see this for myself? I want to experiment:

Browse around on Twitter and Identica and notice the speed and strain on your browser. Are they different? Does one seem more responsive than the other?

By Twitter and Identica, I mean searching or logging in to the www.twitter.com or www.identi.ca urls, rather than using a dedicated smartphone app.

The dedicated smartphone app for Twitter avoids Ajax and jQuery and suchlike, and is optimised for the best native device language, and API access available.

Friday, October 21, 2011

IT skills - market recovery - back to 2007 levels

The collapse of the financial services sector in UK, Europe, and US in late 2007 had a knock on effect on IT recruiting. It has taken 4 years to recover.

The above is a graph of Linux advertisements for one particular job site.

The big question now, is, whether it will last.

Financial regulation, certainly in the UK, is on the increase. Ringfencing of retail banking from investment banking risk in particular.

The UK banks are saying it will take 5 years to implement.

Linux is particularly strong in the financial sector, so I hope to be able to look back on that graph again in a year or so, and see the levels staying broadly the same / slight rise.

Birmingham - city visit

Having never visited Birmingham except for business, i took the opportunity for a short two day hotel stay as a leisure visitor.


First impressions of this Pedestrian visitor to Birmingham, UK:

There is a lot to it. Do have satnav enabled on your phone if you plan to go walkabout.

If you are planning a shopping trip, then your activities are already laid out in the several great shopping areas in the city centre. No satnav required.
(If you are going purely for a shopping day, then you can probably ignore the rest of this section)

One of the things that attracts medium sized and large businesses to Birmingham is the excellent road network.

Unlike Leeds though, Birmingham have yet to reconfigure the inner ring roads and connecting arteries to suit current needs of traffic / pedestrian mix.

The car is king in Birmingham, and being on foot feels a bit like visiting London used to feel, before the congestion charging move.

There are expanses of paved area where shoppers are somewhat shielded from king car, however these are not well connected enough to complete the impression.

Having lived in Leeds for a decade, and witnessed the gradual change in the inner ring road & one way systems, I now understand why those changes were required.

Proactive traffic planning and a decade of staggered disruption is what Birmingham will have to endure to create the pedestrian / traffic complimentary mix which Leeds have succeeded in providing.

Alternatively the London model (congestion charging) and moving the arteries away from the centre, through charges, might be another alternative.

Now the 'Big City Plan' is Birmingham's answer to my comment above.
It also sets out visionary proposals in which each of the seven 'quarters' will be able to evolve.
The developments of New Street Station, the Library and Museum & Art Gallery (most of which complete in 2014 / 2015) will be a big step forward.

However the connectivity of those seven areas and, more importantly, creating one way systems or other ways of pushing the high speed traffic out, from the very centre, need to be addressed (my humble opinion).



Art and Birmingham - Wow!

Pleasantly surprised to find the central Art locations so well stocked.

The Museum and Art Gallery has some fantastic works, however the layout of the listed building in which it is housed, does the visitor few favours.

I challenge any couple to spend a few hours in the main Museum & Art Gallery and rely on just signage for directions.

When the renovation work is complete in 2015, I do intend to visit again. Part of me hopes that the signs will have improved, and that the lack of renovation work makes the difference in visitor experience.

Do visit. The range and total number of items on display is fantastic.


Culture and Birmingham - just dipping a toe:

It is impossible to understand the culture of a city in a couple of days, so I will not try. Do treat my comments lightly - they are not thoroughly researched and are really just some minor observations.

If you like a Cultural mix (I do) then you will feel right at home in Birmingham, it is a melting pot of cultures and friendly with it.

Whilst I am sure reading the local press I might find some examples of when this mix does not work, it certainly wasn't my impression, during my short visit, that this was the case.

Travel on a bus. Yes there are some groups of folks in two or threes chatting about aspects of their shared culture. But that never seemed to create a feeling of division. My impression was that it was just 60 people from Birmingham on a bus, with more in common, than otherwise.

If you live in an area that is uni-culture, then do visit Birmingham and see for yourself. But do so with the intention of being open and receptive. Otherwise why bother wasting your own time, and the time of the good folks of Birmingham.


Real Ale and Ska - now there is a potent combination:

I cannot think of a better activity than having a few pints in friendly company, whilst listening to some good jukebox music.

In Selly Oak, I followed my visit to the Barber Art Institute, with a few pints of Banks and some relaxed Reggae and Ska on the jukebox.


Notes and Further Reading:


Did I enjoy my 2 night city break in Birmingham? Yes.
Would I visit again? I will.

If you are visiting and the weather is good, then do explore the tourist trail near the canal - sun bouncing off the water will give you a good dose of Vit D.

You need the sun's ultraviolet B rays to manufacture vitamin D.

I try not to get too hung up on musical categories, but here are two links, if your interest takes you further:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fredrickson International - Scam debt collection?

Ways to tell disreputable companies - some ideas:
  1. PO Box Address only
  2. Signature is not a signature - no named individual

Writing letters with no named individual, is not something that a reputable company would do.

Address: PO Box 260,
 Weybridge
 Surrey
 KT13 0YH

Why would a reputable financial services company hide behind a PO Box?

But they must be a reputable company - they have a website and a data protection 'notification' entry.


So it seems De Havilland Drive, Brooklands Business Park, Weybridge, Surrey is the real address behind the PO Box.

An even fuller address might be Persimmon House, De Havilland Drive, if you are planning on calling in person.
  • Telephone:  0870 774 4111
  • Fax: 0870 777 6609
Google map search - here.

Seems this company used to collect Debts for Plant Hire / Leasing, but might want to now expand it's area of business.
Now back to the website - and here is the London address to tie it all together:

Fredrickson Int Ltd
7-10 Chandos Street
W1G 9DQ

Google map search - here.

Now a bit more about the company - who are the key people?

MR JAN MICHAEL LACEY 12 Jan 10 director - Particulars Changed
ROY FREDERICK JONES 12 Jan 10 director - Particulars Changed
PAUL WILLIAM BUTLER 12 Jan 10 director - Particulars Changed
PAUL FAITHFULL 12 Jan 10 director - Particulars Changed
DARREN SEAN WRIGHT 12 Jan 10 director - Particulars Changed
DR DEREK LOUIS JONES 12 Jan 10 director - Particulars Changed
FRANK HANAFIN 12 Jan 10 director - Particulars Changed
JAN LACEY 11 Dec 08 director - Particulars Changed
MR JAN MICHAEL LACEY 11 Sep 08 director - Appointed

Now I don't know - but the thing that stands out here is the name Lacey - Mr Jan Micheal Lacey - appointed September 2008, then particulars changed 3 months later and again in 2010 - what sort of reorganisation is going on there exactly?

Promotion apparently - since 2008 Jan Michael Lacey has been promoted to "Director – Head of Group Marketing"

Quite a fancy title for a company that has less than £10,000 capital on file?


Financial Services and name changes - dodgy? You decide:


Apparently Mr S R Jones also a director of ...

PBELLA VISTA RESTAURANTS LIMITED      05524500
BOB THE BACKUP LIMITED     05752111
CREDIT ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT LIMITED     05811099
CYCLONE ASSET MANAGEMENT LIMITED     04243606
FREDRICKSON MAILING SERVICES LIMITED     05231083
FREDRICKSON MANAGED SERVICES LTD     06323973
FREDRICKSON SECURE SERVICES LIMITED     07183391
GOLF MANAGEMENT INTERNATIONAL LIMITED     04549653
INTERLAKEN GROUP LIMITED     03167536
MERLIGEN INVESTMENTS LIMITED     07786814
PAYOFFLINE LIMITED     06194989
SRJ DEBT RECOVERIES LIMITED     05064551

Why all these different Fredrickson companies? All requiring company registration and Directorship filing.


Paying back the banks - who has Fredrickson owed money to?

RBS Invoice Finance Limited - Fixed And Floating Charge - Outstanding 1 Jun 07

National Westminster Bank Plc - Debenture - Outstanding on 02 Jun 04

Ideal Homes Limited - Rent Deposit Deed - Outstanding on 14 Sep 02

National Westminster Bank Plc - Legal Mortgage - Outstanding on 09 May 1996


Is this a service for debt reduction swap that Fredrickson are involved in?

Perhaps if S R Jones and J M Lacey were not so busy setting up so many different companies and Directorships, they might have a clearer business and make their own payments always on time.


Phone Harassment? - multiple outgoing phone numbers maybe:

0207 998 1074,
0208 127 0829
0208 616 0016
0208 759  9577

Mostly 0208 London, but also Manchester 0161 425 7458 and some other assorted numbers also.

Seems like that Manchester number has seen regular complaints.

Any phone less than two years old should have a call barring feature as standard.
Read the online manual for your phone or download the pdf user manual.

On some android phones there is whitelisting via menu entry for 'auto reject'
settings -> call settings -> all calls -> auto reject
Then you need to go into the 'auto reject' list and add that list of numbers above.

There are various smartphone apps for call reject, and most mobile antivirus has an sms/call block feature.
If you cannot find 'auto reject' or similar built in, then maybe webroot mobile antivirus or a similar shield is the way to go.

If you have a Virgin phone, then it may be worth thinking about a different network. Virgin seem to make it extraordinarily difficult on their website to access nuisance calls handling guidance.

Is this because robocalls are a healthy revenue stream which Virgin is keen to encourage?

Being locked into a Virgin contract, I had no choice but to install Webroot and add 88288 to the sms block to stop some nuisance texts.

The landline still gets robocalls, and I am keen to hear from anyone who has tried to contact Virgin to give an indication of how their complaint was handled.
( please leave your comment at the end )


Speaking of phones - what an innovative way of asset stripping:

We don't just take cash - we take your phone too!


But Fredrickson International Limited have just written to me?

It was probably for an old debt which you have already paid off years ago.

It is likely speculative.

Is this no more than an 0870 scam - where the whole point is to get people to waste their own time whilst the company collect 'per minute' call charges?

Well if Fredrickson are knowingly holding incorrect / uncorroborated data, and are not taking the time to 'prove the debt', it is certainly one argument.

Go here and ask some questions if you feel you might benefit from peer support.

Here is what Bill had to say about dealing with calls from this company:
Do not discuss anything, just leave them hanging on the phone. Do not even give them your name. They will also let it ring twice, as though you have a missed call and let you phone back......

Naming and shaming companies who deal with Fredrickson:

  • O2
  • Vodafone
  • Tiscali
  • BT
  • Virgin

Boycott those companies. It should be part of how you choose your services to consider who a company associates with.

Note: Just because Fredrickson International write in a letter that their client is "Such and Such Bank", does not make it so. One such example showed "Client: Bank of Scotland", however I am pretty sure that this is misleading.


Compiling a 'filtered list' of the most vulnerable - the 'mark' list:

Do not under any circumstances contact Fredrickson International without first checking your own credit record.

Courts should appreciate the argument:

I believed it to be a scam, so I promptly ordered a copy of my credit reference file. And this arrived within 7-10 days.
So work to your own timetable, diligently, and do not be rushed by scare tactics and barmy court cost figures in a letter.

Solicitors and part qualified legal executives who get involved in compiling 'mark' lists, based on response to scare tactics are bringing the law into disrepute.

The law was never about allowing exploitation of societies most vulnerable, by somebody with a two year City & Guilds equivalent in basic law.

The first time you respond to a bogus debt claim, you have just been promoted to the class B list.

Class A - the original list
Class B - those who have responded in any way
Class C - those who seem most unable to 'hold their own' in telephone conversation, and might pay twice for something already cleared.

That Class C 'mark list' is very valuable to all companies operating in grey areas of law.

If you make it onto the Class C list, then even if you get rid of the company that is currently bothering you, by sharing that valued list, another bogus claim from a different company is likely in the future.

Trading in lists of societies most vulnerable individuals? How on earth did we end up here?
UK Prime Minister - what are you going to do to address this awful situation?

But my Sister who has Learning Disabilities has already visited fredpay.com?

If you have verified that this is a bogus claim (Statute Barred / Already settled), then your Sister (with your help) will have to write to Fredrickson International, and ask them to remove all records they hold on her. Do it soon.

If they have not responded within 14 days confirming receipt of your letter, then they are in violation of Data Protection regulations, and seek help at http://www.ico.gov.uk/

If it were me doing the writing, then I would address the letter to the Data Controller at the Surrey address listed above, and do not bother with recorded delivery - too easy to ignore (I was not in the office)

If the company are genuinely ignoring data removal requests, then the Information Commissioner (see Helpline number) will respond to your complaint.


Notes and Further reading:

Official UK Helpline for Data Protection issues: 0303 123 1113 or 01625 545745
Next time you are being pitched a Broadband contract - ask the sales operator.
  • Does your network allow connections from automated dialers?
  • How easy is it for the network to bar a number from being able to call my landline?
  • How easy is it for the network to bar a number from being able to call my mobile?
  • Can you point me to the area of your website regarding nuisance calls?
  • Does your company have any business dealings with Fredrickson International?

If enough people ask these, then you are helping reshape demand to better meet the needs of the end user, and helping solve the problem.


Antivirus and call blocking:


I have no affiliation to Webroot or any other antivirus software, however Webroot kindly provide screenshots at play.google.com which indicate an sms/call block feature.

Most antivirus is probably as good as the next, however if you are buying it in order to get sms/call blocking, then do ensure it has this feature before hitting 'Buy'

Your personal grievance with Fredrickson:


Please seek some peer support from consumer action groups, or citizens advice if you have a current problem or personal grievance with Fredrickson.
( I wrote this blog post 3 years ago, and have no further dealing personally with this disreputable company. I leave the article content active, as it may help some of the people who are still being targeted by this company. )

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    career/life goals from retrospective points.

    Here are 4 phrases, that I hope will never appear on my fictional obituary

    • If it didn't involve 100% markup, then he wasn't interested
    • He sought to divide the globe into the 10% who could afford his product, and the other 90%, and, to make that division very tangible.
    • He made some very uninteresting people proud to wear a turtleneck
    • He learned from previous examples of 'patent aggression', then took it to the max.
    I can be pretty sure about the third entry, and the other three make good personal targets of 'how not to' for my future.

    Here are some experimental entries:
    • He wrote an anti-EULA that made app store software installation really difficult
    • He refused to dress up, and was rarely the best dressed gentleman at the convention.
    • He missed the opportunity to branch out into high street 'churches'.
    • He told a lie once about a guy with a different ideology.
    ...and some more...
    • He chopped and changed endeavours so frequently, and failed to see out some projects to true proof or disproof.
    • He often placed too little value on business partners, and failed to move forward quickly enough, by 'in-housing' too much.
    • He did not take the time to ensure that his own moral code was part of the company make up. When it went public, it turned into the very thing which he had been fighting against most of his career.
    Experimenting this way, and, for a short time trying to play the external critic, can be useful in firming up your own objectives.

    Organised religion makes a big thing about some central figure. Whilst it is okay to borrow some features and achievements from somebody else, achieving your own potential fully, will probably not come from imitation.

    If you want to explore the 'central figure' / worship theme a little, then the argument and counter arguments here are a good entry point.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Minimum Wage levels are Symptom not Cause

    Institute of Economic Affairs quote about National Minimum Wage:
    This is basically pricing people out of the labour market and onto welfare
    Source: Panorama article on BBC

    I was never a fan of the minimum wage 'idea', however it is now in place in the UK.

    As it happens I think that statement from Mark Littlewood, sidesteps the wider issue of Housing.

    The minimum wage being 'too high' is purely a reflection of rising living costs.

    Think of it as nothing more than a number/statistic helps.

    The true problem, in my opinion, is the daft idea of turning 'housing' (an essential item) into a 'free market' driven by folks looking for 20% or 10% annual return.

    Whilst that situation exists, living costs will continue to be driven by, that underlying market force, and that living cost reflection (minimum wage) will also continue to rise.

    There have been many headlines in the past 5 years from Company Directors*, complaining about the minimum wage.

    Directors and recruiters bleating about a minimum wage being too high, seems to me to be a lazy sidestepping of the wider issue.

    Do these same Directors* and recruiters own second homes?

    Because if they did, you could understand why they may be reluctant, to give up on a market system (housing) in which, they have major capital invested.

    *Directors here means Company Directors in general, and does not refer to any one individual.


    Better off on welfare - how the 'Housing market' creates this situation:

    As a Mathematician and follower of logic, this seems all too easy to describe, and illustrate with numbers.

    You are a blue collar worker named Bob and you work full time at a biscuit factory.

    Your weekly earnings have increased steadily from £200 in 1990, to £300 in 2000, and £400 in 2010.

    1994 was a good year, you got Married to Janet and bought a semi-detached for £30,000 with a Mortgage arrangement. You are 24 years old and things are rosy.

    2002 was not a good year, you got divorced, agreed to sell the house and split the proceeds.

    The 'Housing Market' now in full effect had increased the value of your property to £80,000.

    You pay the divorce lawyer, and sale fees and You and Janet end up with roughly £30,000 each.

    You choose to rent a flat at £100 per week.

    The 'buy to let' effect on the Housing Market has increased average rents, now between 2003 and 2009, your rent has increased on the flat from £100 to £180 per week.

    Luckily for you your wages in 2010 are now £400, but of the £220 remaining after your rent is paid, you must contribute to the living costs of the children from your marriage.

    You struggle financially, but have got past the divorce,  and enjoy spending a couple of days with the kids midweek and weekends.

    The £30,000 you had from the sale of the house has been pretty much spent on treating the kids - organised school holidays skiing for little Pete, and a pony for Lucy. You now have £5,000 in a saver account.

    In 2011 the Biscuit Factory closes and you lose your job.

    Now let's pretend for a second that there is no minimum wage.

    Bob has a flat for £180 per week. He has to contribute to the upkeep of his children with Janet also.

    He liked the job at the Biscuit Factory, and it gave him stability for many years, however he has few transferable skills.

    Bob's cost of living has very little to do with whether he lives in a country that has a minimum wage.

    If there was a minimum wage and it was scrapped overnight, it does not alter Bob's situation.

    Adding some detail - Bob lives in the UK and there is (currently) a National Minimum Wage of £6.08

    ( For International Readers - I give some context ... £6.08 will buy between 4 and 6 loaves of sliced bread depending on where you shop )

    Bob goes down to the job centre. Most of the jobs for which he would have any hope of showing 'previous experience' are priced at the Minimum Wage rate of £6.08 per hour.

    £212.80 per week is what you will get on Minimum Wage for working a 35 hour week.

    Assuming Bob takes the job at Roundhouse Cake Factory at £212.80 per week, and does not claim any housing assistance, he cannot stay in the flat and support his kids.

    Instead Bob takes the job at Roundhouse Cake Factory at £212.80 per week, and does claim housing assistance - he can stay in the flat and support his kids.
    Welfare won. Bob works hard but finds life is worth living and adores his children.


    Should Welfare win? - the different opinions:


    The welfare staff are chatting over lunch. The discussion is about Bob. He should really have moved out of the flat, and into a shared house with cheaper rent says Charlie. Jenny points out that a 40 plus single man with children staying over Wednesdays and Saturdays, might not work with a house of young students.

    Have your own discussion folks. Is Bob right? Is Charlie talking sense? Does Jenny have a valid opinion?

    What did not matter at all in that scenario was Minimum Wage.

    What did matter looking back at the history was ...
    • 1994 -> 2002 the cost of a semi-detached rose from £30,000 to £80,000
    • 2003 -> 2009 the rental for a flat rose from £100 to £180

    Now let's consider a clone of Bob (Bob2), who has let himself go a bit. He makes an effort with the children, but feels a little downtrodden and is not very happy except on Dad days.

    Bob2 fails to get the job at Roundhouse Cake Factory - the employer had a more enthusiastic applicant and gave the job to Ted.

    ...or...

    Bob2 fails to get the job at Roundhouse Cake Factory - the employer had 50 applicants for 2 jobs. Ted and Sally got the jobs.

    Bob2 claims job seekers allowance, and claims help with his living costs.
    Welfare won.

    Charlie and Jenny and the rest of the lunchtime crowd from welfare are commenting on Bob2's situation. Somebody suggests that it is not right that Bob2 should have his Flat paid for. Another person disagrees. What do you think?


    Idle Chatter, the Housing Market, the Housing Market:

    My Opinion: All that talk is just idle chatter - the bigger problem - affordable housing is the real issue.

    Until the government take measures regarding second ownership (tax it out of existence?), the housing costs of Bob and Bob2 will be driven by those seeking 10% to 20% annual returns on residential housing.

    This generation (and the previous generation) have been raised to maximise the income to their family unit. Whilst a situation exists where 10% to 20% annual profit can be obtained through owning a second home, the welfare system is taking up the slack.

    Everyone meets the cost of welfare, but only the second home owners get to keep the 10% to 20% profit.


    Schooled in profit - would I ever own a second home:

    The easy answer here would be to say NO NEVER, however I think it is naïve of me to reach right away for that answer.

    Let me put it to you another way...

    If I had £100,000 today and could earn 4% in a bank, or 20% in a second home, would you consider me an idiot for taking the 4%? Probably.



    If I take the 4% I am considered a fool for giving up 16% earnings.

    Regulation is required to prevent bank and building society investments, being the poor choice for most 'well off' couples and their investment.

    Residential Housing is not a 'free market' and should not be treated like one.
    Yes have a market, but have it regulated to moderate profits, through capital gains tax and other taxation measures.

    If it is 'too profitable' then speculation and greed take over, and affordable housing becomes a myth.

    Until this happens, those 20% annual returns are going to be too tempting for anyone to resist.


    But nobody makes 10% or 20% per annum on a second house now?

    If this is the case, then regulation is still required, just not as urgently.

    It does not alter the situation that all those 10% and 20% yearly increases, between 1994 and 2009 have been taken out of the system.

    Only when house prices fall so that those 10% or 20% rises are undone will the affordable housing problem go away.

    But that is impossible? Only if housing is really not a free market or there is a fundamental change in our social makeup.

    With the lack of regulation, a lack of buyers could well undo those past rises.

    However second home owners would not allow that to happen. Lobbying for removal of rent caps on social housing, and other roundabout methods of propping up the residential property market, would likely come into effect.

    The 'well off' do not like to lose money, and expect MPs, and other representatives to take action if that looks likely. Cynical? Maybe.

    I mentioned a 'fundamental change in our social makeup' - see next.


    Alternative housing - a threat to second home owners:

    Bob loses the Flat and decides to take off and become a 'traveller'. The £5,000 buys him a motor home.

    Wherever Bob goes around the UK, he is pestered by councils to 'move on'

    Bob2 loses the Flat. He meets Victoria and in order to save up a deposit, they move into a large shed in the back garden of Victoria's folks house.

    However an Anonymous complaint is received at the council, and the shed living arrangement cannot continue.

    The couple will have to scrimp and save for a decade, before having any hope of affording to buy a house.

    Note: I have misrepresented Victoria and Bob2 as a couple here. Victoria is a real person (see link), however I felt it a useful addition to this article. Bob2 bears no relation to the boyfriend of Victoria in the linked article. My words are fictional. 

    So it seems that there are perhaps too many vested interests in the 'free market' of residential property, to allow any change.

    Alternative housing will be vilified, as if it is not, then those 10% or 20% annual profits might never return!


    Notes and Further Reading:

    It is not my intention to suggest that welfare staff discuss individual cases over lunch. I just found it a useful way of introducing ideas and opinions, which the reader can mull over.

    If this article comes across as being negative towards second home owners, it is not so deliberate. I only point out the negatives to get to the root cause - Having residential housing as a truly 'free market' is in my opinion a big mistake. This article is my attempt to illustrate that, rather than targeting those individuals outright.

    An extract from a report by Shelter about Affordable Housing in UK:
    Shelter's research found rents had risen at one-and-a-half times the rate of incomes in the 10 years up to 2007.

    Shelter defines 'Affordable' as 35% of median average local take-home pay.

    Do you think 35% of take home pay is a reasonable level?

    Saturday, September 17, 2011

    Xfce desktop with kde apps - a mime issue

    As an Xfce user, I sometimes still find myself grabbing the occasional Kde application.

    Most of the time this desktop 'mix and match' works well.

    However there is a mime type incompatibility/annoyance that might affect your opening of .doc files.


    KDE and mime types:

    Installing kdelibs5-data (just to satisfy a dependency) will bring in the following file:

    /usr/share/mime/packages/kde.xml

    and here is an issue...


    The package libfile-mimeinfo-perl in Debian GNU / Linux will give you two utilities that can help you diagnose your issue:

    1. mimetype
    2. mimeopen
    I am going to try mimeopen first and mimetype second, which seems like the roundabout way of doing things, but stay with me whilst I explain.

    mimeopen --ask --database=/usr/share/mime yuck.doc


    None of my three choices were correct - illustrates the problem nicely.

    Now there is a search sequence for the mime information itself, and it is helpful to know whether the rogue setting, is in your personal user space or system wide.


    There are two commands issued above (separated by a date just for easier reading).

    What those two command together tell me is that it is not a personal (user) setting that is causing the issue.

    ( By specifying --database in the second command I ignore user specific database checking. )

    None of this is actually fixing the issue, we are just diagnosing.


    Just hacking around - not recommended :)

    mv /usr/share/mime/packages/kde.xml /tmp/

    and running mimetype and mimeopen showed no improvement :(

    This is to be expected as you need to run update-mime-database to give your system a chance to react to the new situation.


    The full command is as follows:

    update-mime-database /usr/share/mime

    and now mimeopen behaves as it should:


    If you run a full KDE desktop then you are probably not going to be happy with losing kde.xml from /usr/share/mime/packages

    However as an Xfce user, I probably do not care, and will just keep a copy lying around in case I really need it.

    The comment in kde.xml reads...

    As discussed on xdg list, *.doc is needed here for disambiguation

    However I think if this 'catch all' is to work as intended, somebody needs to give a bit more though to magic / priority so that the correct program is opened in all situations.


    Notes and Further reading:

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    google API - command line access to googledocs

    Each google service has an API.

    These APIs change regularly as google develops it's services, however the core activities should always work.

    If you want to take advantage of the latest features, then the API might well be developing as I write this. However things like 'Uploading a pdf' should work and be stable ... or so I thought.


    I repeat the text below for easy copy/paste for future web searching:

    Loading ./cal_man_EL531_509refBySharp.pdf
    Failed to upload ./cal_man_EL531_509refBySharp.pdf: {'status': 415, 
    'body': 'Content-Type application/pdf is not a valid input type.',
    'reason': 'Unsupported Media Type'}

    Other types of file might work fine, however the lack of .pdf upload facility from command line, was enough to halt my experiment.

    On Debian GNU/Linux the following install will help get you started:

    apt-get install python-gdata googlecl

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    fairplay drm and 5 device restrictions != 'free as in speech'

    So Apple app store restrictions seems to have won out (vlc)

    'Free software' developers who keep buying Apple, need to square this with whether, they truly believe in 'free redistribution', 'sharealike' and 'source availability requirements'

    Putting conditions like 'you can only install this app on 5 devices', seems to raise no issue with some developers, who are only too happy to wear a badge saying 'free software'

    Extract from a user comments (link below) seems prophetic
    Apple users are the losers here. Instead of complaining to Apple, the source of the problem, a lot of you clueless wonders want to change VLC, or try to make out that GPL should be banned.

    If you need a refresher on the spirit of sharing software, then have quick read of the bullet points in the Debian social contract at http://www.debian.org/social_contract

    Listing points (1) free redistribution, (2) source code, and (3) derived works

    App stores (as Apple defines them) prevent free redistribution, and wrap drm around the app. Both of these in my opinion are against the spirit of what you just read.

    Another comment (link provided below) seems to get to the root of the issue:

    The legal problem here is that there's no way to distribute an App on the App Store without the FairPlay DRM (even if that App is free and open source).

    The licence that VLC was originally released under (GPL) requires that anyone distributing the App not impose any restrictions on the further distribution of that software.

    If I download VLC for Windows, I can send the installer to a friend and they can pass it on to their friends etc.

    That's not possible with iOS Apps. If I download it from Apple App Store, my copy will only work with my iTunes Store account.

    Links and Further Reading:

    I have no problem with the LGPL3 or LGPL as licenses, both are endorsed and in general use. Plenty of software in Debian is LGPL3.

    What I do object to is the influence of proprietary software companies (and their supporters) in weakening of the licensing, of an established 'free software' project.

    If you cannot see the dangers in this, then it is really because you do not understand the argument, or is it simply inconvenient?

    About the comments I have linked to: Neither comments are my own, and yes I have cherry picked comments in support of the arguments I make in this article.

    If you are the original author of either of those two comments, then please use the contact link on my blogger profile so that I may correctly attribute them in my post.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    software licensing - permissive licensing, countermeasures

    GPL2 (used by Linux kernel) was released in 1991. Since then 2 or 3 large companies have used those 16 years to identify it's weaknesses and develop counter measures.

    In 2007 the GPL3 adopted clauses in response to those countermeasures (drm, tivoization, patent grants) and so it goes on.


    But MIT/Apache2 is the only license you ever need?

    A subject of much debate. MIT / Apache2 fill a need, however they do not require 'share alike' (code / patent grants) in the same way as the GPL, and, do little to protect against the counter measures of the last decade, I mentioned above.


    What is wrong with permitting large corporations to bundle your software?

    Nothing, however you need to give consideration to the following:
    • Attribution
    • Robocopping

    Robocopping - what does that mean?

    It could be argued (for and against) that Apache2 / MIT permissive sort of licenses have actually helped, create one of the silicon valley monsters, that every day works against free software and user control.

    Here is how it goes - it's the eighties and you want a big slice of the personal computer market. What is your pitch? Well we want to free you from the tyranny of control, of huge software like IBM and buggy software like MSDOS.


    So you take a project like BSD (which has a permissive license) and start the Robocopping.


    Robocop began as a human, and then had non-organic parts grafted onto his torso in place of original biological components.


    When OS8 was released it contained a good chunk of BSD low level utilities for most system tasks (free software) and this was bundled with proprietary software for the cosmetic end of things (the GUI).


    Now with OS10, more and more of the free software has been gradually removed. Ironically, whilst pitching itself as a friend of the 'hacker', the development OS8 -> OS9 -> OS10 has gradually removed more and more of the code over which those 'hacker' types have any rights.

    But Robocopping - that's just your opinion?

    Here I lift a few phrases from a 2004 message exchange, there are plenty more examples of folks expressing similar sentiments:

    Quite honestly, I don't think they've taken a great deal more than /bin, /sbin, /lib, /usr/bin, /usr/sbin, /usr/lib or if they have, I couldn't tell...

    Source: 2004 message here

    If FreeBSD wanted more than attribution, perhaps the choice of BSD license was a bad idea. :-)

    Source: 2004 freebsd discussion here

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Reasons to install KDE packages in a non-Kde desktop

    My default desktop is Xfce.

    However there are some KDE specific or Gnome specific packages that I use also.

    The Gnome ones are few (and easy to remember for me), but I need reminding about the Kde ones, so here goes:

    • k3b
    • cantor-backend-r
    • dragon-player
    • filelight
    • gwenview
    • katomic
    • kcollectd
    • kdenlive
    • kdiff3
    • kmplot
    • kstars
    • ksysguard
    • ktuberling
    • okular
    • rocs
    The really important programs, for me, are marked in bold.

    ( younger family members make use of katomic and ktuberling )



    k3b - backup to cdrom and dvd - why that particular program?

    For me k3b was the first 'burner' program to get it right. It is not perfect. Some might call the user interface a little clunky.

    In short 'It works' and it has never let me down.

    But 'blah' program is prettier? Well you can keep your pretty desktop integrated whatever - I'll stick with something that is stable and reliable thanks.


    Okular for pdf reading - but I have Adobe?

    Adobe reader goes much further than 'reading pdfs'. In short, I find the program exceeds what I want.

    Adobe products have a habit of doing things in the background, without being too informative about that to the user. This I do not like.

    Okular is a very capable replacement, and warns before opening embedded content.

    But I need Adobe reader as I need to compete pdf forms?
    Okular supports forms - but it prompts you to ensure your agreement before activating the form fields.

    Manually: View -> Show Forms


    Rocs for 'Graph Theory':

    There is the beginnings of a package for 'Nodes' and 'Edges' in the KDE suite.

    By no means complete, 'rocs' is a good start, but needs perhaps to attract a few more developers to progress.

    Programming rocs graphs to autogenerate nodes / edges uses a javascript type language, something I may dabble with in the future.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Installing software direct rather than package archives - Ubuntu

    A cautionary tale regarding self-installing a browser on Ubuntu.

    Ubuntu has a protection system labelled 'AppArmor'.

    It's big strength is in protecting users from themselves, when it comes to 'Install Me Java' type popups.


    Above is an example of what I refer to as 'Install Me Java' type popups.

    Without being a Java expert, the user is giving some Trust to the publisher (wisely or unwisely) as to what the code will do with their computer.

    AppArmor is a resident protection system, that is configured (by default) to work with a standard Firefox install*

    (*By standard Firefox install, I mean listed at packages.ubuntu.com and installed using Ubuntu supplied tools such as Synaptic)


    What happens if I install my own browser? Am I protected?

    You are still afforded some protection, however AppArmor is not intercepting script execution (Java)


    Can you give me an example of why this is a bad idea?

    As it happens, Daniel Dieterle has a great article that illustrates the dangers very clearly.

    The title probably needs a bit of qualification, and there should be some more clarification regarding the target system (see next paragraph)


    How would your system be different & reaction to that article:


    Okay, well your target system needs a bit of description here - did Daniel install Chrome himself?

    Official release of Ubuntu (as far as I know) has Firefox6 and a stripped version of Chrome named Chromium, however that article seem quite particular in saying Chrome.

    To reiterate my previous point:
    If you install a browser yourself (manually or manually from ppa) your system AppArmor resident protection, will not give you the same level of protection as an officially supported browser release.

    Solution: Stick with Firefox6 (installed by default), or disable Java scripting in any browser you self install.

    Both are simple solutions (see image below)


    If you *choose* to make your system 'non-standard', then you must also accept responsibility for any extra security precautions then required.


    Running Firefox6 with Java disabled is the most secure option.

    Running Firefox6 (with no self tinkering, and so benefiting from AppArmor protection of Java scripts), is a fairly secure option.

    Self installing Chrome and leaving Java scripting activated is the least secure option. Security conscious users never choose the least secure option.


    My browser is Official Ubuntu Firefox 6 and a AppArmor failed to intercept Java script?


    Then post the output from the following command:

    sudo egrep -i '(profile|apparmor)' /var/log/kern.log

    ...into a bug report on launchpad.


    Summary in two sentences:

    Malicious java should be stopped by AppArmor from executing withing Firefox6.

    If you still feel a 'stock system' is vulnerable or firefox6+java is not blocking malicious scripts and reporting so in /var/log/kern.log, then file a bug and help close the hole :)

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    protecting a section / paragraph in a document

    Here are the two ways which I protect portions of a document:

     ...wanting to protect it often occurs for important content which I'll also frame (hence protecting frames)

    But sometimes I just want to protect a block of text to prevent accidental overtyping...

     Create a section, then paste in your text, and then 'protect' the section. Example...



    Don't let the actual text (gcc / pthread, etc) put you off, I just wanted to show a real world example.

    Here I have included in my document some commands, which I will later use as reference. What I don't want to happen is to accidentally overtype some of those commands whilst editing my document, and losing the concrete reference.

    Frames or Sections, both will do a job for you in protecting a block of content - choose whichever you find most convenient :)


    Notes and Further Reading:

    How to protect a section is discussed in Chapter 4 of the LibreOffice / OpenOffice documentation (links below)

     Chapter 4 pdf is 1.4MB and the .odt version is much smaller.

    If you have LibreOffice or OpenOffice installed then you might have local copies accessed by pressing F1 (help)

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    The 'main' threat - 10-k filings - take aim - fire!

    Dominant market players have a substantial revenue stream to protect.

    Threats to this revenue stream have to be explained regularly to US shareholders in 10-k filings.

    The change in a 10-k filing from year to year can be quite revealing.

    It's official - what everyone suspected - Microsoft now sees Google and Apple as it's main threats to revenue. But a more important question is left unanswered*


    How Google and Apple can threaten Microsoft business model:


    Here is a question that you can answer just be reading Microsoft latest 10-k and without any regard for any competitor.

    Which of Desktop/Server, Cloud, or Mobile is Microsoft's 'main' revenue stream? 
    That is the *unanswered question which you should answer for yourself.


    Firstly it is important to pick your pitch - Desktop/Server, Cloud or Mobile

    ...which of these 'spheres' you select has a separate set of arguments.

    My feeling, Microsoft is trying desperately to reposition itself and wants a foothold in all three, but it is unsure of none of it:

    • Could be that Desktop/Server takes a profit hit soon - many have speculated this is coming in 2012/2013. Hence the rearguard in the 10-k declaration?
    • Could be that Cloud (BPOS and Azure) never really dents Amazon/Rackspace/Google App Engine
    • Could be that Windows Mobile continues to be a resource drain, and despite ridiculous media blitz in Fall 2011, still fails to dent Android market share.  

    Considering each of those 3 spheres by company - here are some future fictional headlines - any of which could be true in 2012 / 2013

    • Google Chrome takeup amongst SMEs in Europe shows healthy growth
    • Google Apps deployments accelerate
    • Android app store - new submissions rate is 50,000 per month
    Similar fictional headlines, involving Apple taking revenue from Microsoft could be written involving Macbook, iCloud, iTunes.


    Linux gets a breather - all good news:

    Previously Microsoft only had one 'arch' rival which it liked to talk about in it's 10-k filings - Linux

    Microsoft has very few tricks up it's sleeve, that it hasn't already played out in it's attempts to deny market access to Linux.

    Foundations have been launched and the GPL3 drafted, in direct response to some of these tricks.

    Now Linux can just get on with the job of being the preferred server operating system of High Performance Computing, some of the larger startups, and those who want a secure desktop experience.

    In short Linux can take a breather from being the most targeted operating system in history - it's main enemy for the last 10 years, is now turning it's attentions, to it's neighbours in America's West.


    Notes and Further Reading:

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    When 'denying market access' is dressed up as 'piracy prevention'

    How can you prevent a PC manufacturer from bundling Debian or Ubuntu?
    Easy, just get them to sign an exclusivity clause in order to allow them to preinstall Windows.

    If a domestic supplier of PCs in China makes a PC model (let's say PC500 just to give it a name), in order to be able to preinstall Windows 7, they have to sign an agreement that says that no PC500 models will ever be distributed with anything other than Windows 7.

    So if that manufacturer wants to produce 100,000 PC500s with Windows 7, and has a small market of 15,000 it thinks it could serve by preloading Ubuntu, it simply cannot.

    Tying up hardware manufacturers so that they cannot preload an alternative OS, is dressed up as a piracy prevention measure, but it seems to me is more about denying market access to newer rival OSs such as Debian or Ubuntu.

    The phrase "other unlawfully pre-installed software" appears in the USTR report discussed in this Forbes article.

    Because of those tied manufacturer agreements, that unlawfully pre-installed software includes Debian and Ubuntu.


    The nonsense in the argument - where is the fallacy?

    The argument (from the proprietary software company) goes a little something like this.

    We went to china and in this one market, we found that there were 100 PCs that were preloaded with illegal copies of Windows XP
    This provides the cover for 'denying market access' which I will return to later.

    The Fallacy - some preamble:
            Selling proprietary software that has not been paid for is an offence, so the software vendor has existing recourse to seek law enforcement help, and financial compensation for those 100 PCs preloaded with unpaid copies of Windows XP

    The fallacy is the suggestion that there needs to be additional 'legal protection measures' in the form of tied manufacturer agreements.

    Tying a manufacturer by creating an additional 'legal offense' and creating a category of 'approved software' is just a cover, to deny market access to vendors wishing to serve local markets with alternative operating systems.

    By using these tied agreements the manufacturer who wants to serve a local market with Ubuntu, is forced to create a new model identifier PC500n or similar and go again through the expensive certification processes that lead up to sale through retail channels.

    Plenty of manufacturers will baulk at the idea of paying twice for certification process, and this amounts to denial of market access - precisely what the proprietary software vendor seeks to obtain.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    social media - the rebirth of the Stasi

    Having watched the Award winning "The Lives of Others" recently, and witnessing the knee jerk reactions to UK unrest, the two things come together in this article.

    Here is an extract from a news article following the sporadic looting in the UK that occurred August 2011.

    (1) "The use of social media in the unrest looks like a game-changer. But any attempt to exert state control over social media looks likely to fail,"

    (2) "A much better approach would be to encourage and support individuals and community groups in identifying alarming developments on social media and even speaking out on the internet against extremists and criminals, and ensuring that the police have the skills and technical support to get pre-emptive and operational intelligence from social media when necessary."
    Attributing the comments to an individual, is less important than recognising that if one person can suggest it, then it will occur to others also.

    ( I have added the numbering to help organise this post )


    (1) Proactive monitoring of social media - what the UK is proposing

     
    The only way to 'know' in advance is to monitor social media for keywords and other such broad brush markers - bit like the telephone network monitoring in less enlightened countries.

    The question of "When we know they are..." is obviously a thorny one - does a judge get to verify the intelligence gathered is conclusive, or is it just guesswork?


    (2) Encourage voluntary creation of groups of 'flaggers' on social media.

    This is genius in a rather perverted fashion, and is where the phrase 'Stasi' came in to the article title.

    To those not living in the UK, there has been deep cuts in the funding of charities and voluntary organisations.

    ( I am not going to debate the need for cuts or otherwise - I am aware of the arguments both ways )

    So what can all the 'do gooders' who are without an occupation do now? Spy on their own communities of course. They probably spend a good deal of this newly spare time on 'Facebook' anyway, so why not put it to 'the greater good'?

    If this does progress, then we have learned nothing from the dismantling of the Stasi in East Germany.

    There is a long history of states becoming paranoid about unrest in difficult ideological or financial times.

    Encouraging citizens to flag up their neighbours and social media 'friends' who might use a phrase, or have an opinion, they feel is suspect, is the start of a march back to Stasi society.


    Notes and Further Reading:

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    move / resize partitions - the zero cost way

    There was a time when resizing and moving partitions required a trip to the computer store for some software.

    No longer the case.

    GNU Fdisk is a feature rich fdisk replacement that supports many options including:

    • v - move a partition
    • c - rescue a lost partition
    • z - resize a partition
    • h - check the consistency of a partition
    • o - copy the partition over another partition
    By default GNU Fdisk will work in 'compatibility mode', so as to aid users who are making the switch from traditional fdisk.

    So options v, c, z, h, o would not show in your menu.

    However the -G flag turns off the compatibility mode.


    By running gfdisk -G /dev/sda the extra options are available.

    ( Replace /dev/sda above with whatever your disk device identifier is )

    In Debian GNU / Linux you will find GNU Fdisk here.

    If all this is too much command line, then there is gparted for a clickable alternative:

    gparted list and resize

    dpkg - non super user - path limitation

    Dpkg is the [ command line ] tool for adding / removing packages in Debian and derivatives.


    Running dpkg as ordinary user - why would you?

    This for me is just about historical working style.

    Sometimes I will be doing preparatory work for system changes as a regular user, and just paste my final command into a root terminal

    It should not be too hard to leave this behind, but I document it here for posterity and to aid questions by other Debian users.


    The complaint above appears because executables such as /sbin/ldconfig are (on some systems) not in the path of a regular user.

    Some folks think it right that /sbin/ is not in the path of regular users.

    In contrast a super user (root) might have a path that looks like:

    /usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin


    Adjusting your way of working (or not) - the options:

    So you can just avoid trying to use dpkg as ordinary user, or choose one of the  options below:

    1. Setup sudo to allow a particular (non root) user to run dpkg
    2. Setup sudo to allow a particular (non root) user to run dpkg (passwordless)
    3. Alter $PATH to include /sbin and /usr/sbin
    There are security risks involved in doing (2) or (3) above, so I would not recommend them personally.

    If you are leaning towards (2), then perhaps a better way is to run 'sudo bash' or similar as a way of switching into a way of adding / removing packages.

    Note: You might want to think carefully before making sudo calls passwordless

    A good book on Unix / Linux security will cover things like $PATH settings and sudo.

    If you are tempted to ignore my warning about security risks of (2) or (3), then you might want to browse such a book.