|Crap at shopping
||[Nov. 3rd, 2013|11:24 pm]
I'm crap at shopping so my wife tells me, I have a pained expression on my face throughout, that makes shopping "torture", though my saving grace is that I am silent, unlike my step father, who's quarrelsome with his wife, and refuses to buy anything :) All married men are alike in this regardless of culture or generation, or so it seems.
Why do I mention this? Because on Friday I read this: Rethinking manhood Towards a more fallible father with which I sympathised to an extent, that extent being I also have a two year who likes to fight. Thereafter however we come to a parting of the ways.
Don't get me wrong, I tried to be the sensitive new man, I gave away my power, I was deferential, I cried. I did this for 7 years, it didn't work. I was not thanked for this, and the more power I tried to give away, the more my ex-wife wanted, I spoke to her about this, and she admitted that it was never enough, I could have been subservient and she would have wanted more. It stemmed in my opinion from a belief on her part that control was not only desirable, but possible, and the belief on my part that control was an illusion. I asked for a divorce.
Then, still wanting kids, but being 7 years down the road, I did what any data hungry geek would do, I went to the OK Cupid blog and look at what the stats nerds had to say about what I could get, and that was borderline chromosomal birth defects, that you get with "older" women. So I went the high risk route, of looking for a younger one. However, once you've imbibed of economics you come across lots of risk management, the heuristic biases that people are prey to, and the things that historically have worked. Table stakes.
Then I though a bit about the kind of woman I wanted, and the kind I knew best, and thus I ended up looking for a woman like my mother. (Go ahead, take the shot, I heard it before.) What I wanted was a woman of my mothers generation, only they're not making them anymore. As much as I have learned about modern women so far can be summarised thus. There are two kinds of women, the ones that are bright but brittle, and the ordinary ones that are needy and beset by self doubt. It has also been my experience that bright ones are belittled by the men they are with as it makes the men feel better if they feel superior. I wasn't happy with either choice. Thus I ended up in the former Soviet Union, and "through luck and craft" I became one of the 1% that ended up bringing a wife home.
The really strange thing about marrying a "Russian" woman is what it requires you to be a man. I don't mean the soft and gentle new man, I mean unreconstructed old man, without "bad habits" (Drinking and wife beating.) Not only that, she was born and has lived amongst men like this, the sort of man your grandfather was, this is the air she breathes. This is weird on several levels, from strange things like actually having to have an opinion, and the necessity of giving "black & white" answers when asked for advice. The carefully layered shades of meaning new men has learned to dispense, are despised. You can't be weak, you have to be the strong man, so she can feel safe enough to be a weak feminine woman. This has all kinds of strange implications, like looking at pictures of female hair styles, because "I'm doing this for you, what do you want me to look like?" In this I find the following to be of great use: Ten Virtues For The Modern Age. Especially Part one:
RESILIENCE. Keeping going even when things are looking dark; accepting that reversals are normal; remembering that human nature is, in the end, tough. Not frightening others with your fears.
But also parts 3, 6 & 10.
Being new at being a dad, and not even dad, but "Papa" I tried to be egalitarian about it at first, to fight, but to let him win. It quickly became apparent that when I let him win he just became more aggressive and more boisterous, because this is midnight in the garden of good & evil, there is no room for kind and gentle, this is about domination. Thus, if your child is the "Alpha Male" you're doing it wrong. My experience is that of you want your son to behave and know where the boundaries are, you fight and he looses. This is not the wishy washy celebration of mediocrity, this is about power, who's in charge, and what the rules are. Your son will sleep sounder at night knowing there are limits, you're stronger, and "in charge." If you have problems with this you need to learn to wrestle, and how to take a kick, slap and bite. He's going to play rough, and if your boy is anything like mine, the rougher you get the more he'll like it. This is a song as old as time, and it's not a fairy tale.
You can't show weakness, you can't be tired, you can't be fallible, you have to run him ragged and keep him on his toes, you're not dealing with new age mythos here, this is nature in the raw. He can control and sense his mothers mood as if it was second nature. With you all he's got to go on is whether when he hits you you feign injury, (or not) and pounce on him, or whether you withdraw in real pain, and start being crabby. Sure there are times when I wonder if this is not the way bullies are made, and far from teaching him to stand up for himself, I'll be trying to keep him from beating people up, but this is manhood, like it or loathe it, you have to roll with the punches and come out fighting. This is vulnerability, this is shame, this is the man in the arena, daring greatly.
So like I said, I have some sympathy, but I'm going in the other direction, my son is going to have to learn what it means to be a "Russian man" from a man who isn't Russian. YMMV.
||[Aug. 10th, 2013|11:49 pm]
This is in reply to this blog post but I can't post more than 4096 characters to blogger apparently, hence posting here. It's not going to make a lot of sense unless you read back :)
I can assure you I am biologically male, I make that rather peculiar and specific statement, just so you know I harbour no militant feminist attitudes, not even of the academic kind, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde :)
Rambling and incoherent. Why thank you :) I had written something much bigger, but I couldn't get the narrative to work, so with time pressing I cut and paste.
As you will have found by searching I'm the same person everywhere, I don't have alts, I don't believe in them. I try to make my point in a single narrative, I see no point in having one persona make one argument then have another argue with it, certain people may find a use in that, the same way others think that asking people for their real names will make them more civil, but you've only to look at Facebook to see that lie disproved.
The reason I posted here as praxis22 is because to post on Gamasutra I'd have to jump through the registration hoops, (as I stated at the outset) while here I simply login through Google. Out there in the wasteland of the real, the people who I met online all call me praxis, even though they know me real name, as it's on my business card. Well, all except one journalist, who calls me John, but he is rather old school.
I realise that will not suffice for somebody who is presumed to be hiding something, and people with the real name religion will not go happily into that good night with anything but a "certified" stamp but so it goes. Opinions rarely change.
Have I met anyone moved by Othello recently? Odd question, but yes. He's called Dave, he worked for 35 years for a large international firm of solicitors, who he enjoyed telling us, used to post him far and wide where he took advantage of the perks that few clients bother with, namely tickets to the Arts, Opera, Plays, Gallery openings, society evenings, etc. Most clients preferred to be taken to dinner or out to get laid so he told us, which meant there were always tickets going. So he would pack his Tux and black tie, and go enjoy the best seats. He was somewhat of militant socialist, so he enjoyed rubbing people up the wrong way at the interval, or by the canapes. Such is the life of an itinerant AS400 engineer :) But I digress.
What is my problem with your orange trousers, nothing, I used to have a pair of fluorescent pink swimming shorts myself. I was also told I was a bad customer, and had BSE once for asking if a suit shop had a bright green suit, and refusing to buy the first one they foisted on me :)
I own a few suits, got remarried in a bespoke one. I'm still a scruff. A lot of my friends are/were in the games industry, they were scruffs to a man. Having watched many developer video blogs, I see that broadly this has not changed.
I've never heard you speak, I'm not a Tory. Where I work the language is English, but the tribes gather for lunch by nationality. Besides, as an English person you get used to how others speak English, wherever I go people are always anxious to improve their English. Lucky us eh?
As for your game, I've never played it. With "staccato gunfire, man bites dog" I was looking for a phrase to describe the experience of shooting aliens & zombies, etc. The experience I was thinking of when I wrote that was actually the original Halo. I remember playing it with mate late into the night, then I went out to the nearby 24hr garage to get munchies. When I came back and got into the lift I could hear something odd, it wasn't until I arrived on my floor that I thought, "sounds like... gunfire?" The key point to understand was that I lived in an old converted bank, it had blast doors in the corridors, so I rushed back into my flat to turn the sound down. Hence "staccato gunfire." Halo is still the best game I've ever played, I actually took 3 days off to play it on launch day. I still think of it as craft/commerce rather than art. Artisan may be a better description. Hence "game as art" to me means something more than technically excellent. But again, these are my opinions, yours may differ.
You seem to believe that I have have insulted you personally, when no such thing was intended, I simply disagreed with your opinions. To understand where I'm coming from in this Google the phrase "come off it!" It is peculiarly English.
In trying to explain this to my wife, ("what are you typing for so long?") I suppose my base argument is that while Othello and Of Mice & Men were the popular entertainment of the day, equally reviled, I think that games are a different category of entertainment. (One of these things is not like the others.) They are often qualitatively different in the experiences they offer. You are not a passive spectator, but an active participant. This I believe is why there are such outcries over things like Mass Effect 3's ending, or Sim City 2013. People feel cheated. I understand that whether gamers should have such opinions or be allowed to sway the nature of the tale the developers wished to tell is one of great debate within the industry.
As for beating people down, again this was not my intent, but if you believe I am doing this out of malice then may I recommend you stop feeding the troll you obviously feel I am.
|The long view
||[Jun. 9th, 2013|11:57 pm]
This was written on the 23rd May, and updated since in light of both starting to read Schmidt & Cohen's "The New Digital Age" and some sections of the blogosphere catching the clue train, post IO, with a few from the mainstream press catching a ride, or at least trawling for link bait, depending on your opinion of what was written.
Much has been written about the death of privacy, (the book takes for granted that privacy is dead) especially for those that shared too early, too often and indiscriminately, yet nothing I've seen really gets to the core of this IMO, so this is a rough cut, then I'll move to discussing IO.
It is possible to aggregate across a group of people those who fit in and those who don't, this is how Google hires people,you may ace the extended interview process, but then they stick you in front of a three hundred question computer based test. They have administered this test to the existing employees, and thus they "know" within a fine tolerance, what a Googler looks like personality wise, the length of the test is important, it's the scope that allows them to cross check if you're faking it or not. It shows the true you. If you don't fit, then even if you aced the interview process, you don't get in.
The real danger, if you want to think of it like that, of all the data that people willingly expose about themselves, is that eventually people will be to come up with tests like Google's that show you for who you are. Already we have the famous marshmallow test, which predicts even at an early age, life outcomes based on whether at age 3-5 you have the self control to delay gratification. Now imagine trying to get health insurance when your status updates about your breakfast and drinking habits are taken into consideration. How about your credit score when they find out how often you go shopping. Or how best to manipulate you based on your socioeconomic type and your revealed prejudices, from the way you write about any given subject. This is the world of "big data" in the not too far distant future, your online life, will be scanned and a prospective employer will learn what kind of a risk you are, etc. This is only a matter of time. One thing the book says that I do agree with, (because it's mostly banal to anyone who's been paying attention) is the notion of having "the talk" with your kids, about data security and what, and what not, to share. Some people may think that Orwellian, but like many things, it's already here, this is the world we live in, all that's missing is the research & algorithms that will strip the real you from your data. Like it or not this will be a factor of your child's life, or yours, if you're a teenager now.
Personally I don't view this as a bad thing provided you get to challenge your record, the real question is what use the information is put to, being an immigrant in this situation is going to a lot easier/difficult, for good and bad. They won't need complicated interviews and tests ultimately, "just answer these 300 questions" and they will know all they need. This is what the end of privacy looks like.
So, with that out of the way, onto my take on IO, and matters arising:
I, like other tech obsessives, and those paid to attend, watched the recent 3.5 hour Google IO keynote with interest. Though I imagine I was one of the few that were disappointed that there wasn't a second keynote the following day as there was in years past.
Thinking about what was said, and what was and wasn't presented it strikes me that jokes about "Google island" aside, the mainstream press seems to have no idea what's going on. Not that they should have, but I would have expected the tech press to have done better. So, for anyone interested, and so I can get it out of my head, and into long term storage, this is my take on what IO13 meant, and what it implies for the future of computing, etc.
I suppose I should state up front that I am not affiliated with Google, nor am I an apologist for them. But as a geek in good standing I do see them as kindred spirits, and I think they have a rather radical view of the future of technology, some may even say Utopian, but whatever it is, it's not incremental, or done piece meal. At least IMO, they have a plan, and they plan long term.
For the record I don't think that doing what Apple, and most other large companies do as regards tax avoidance makes Google "evil", or in any way means that they have given up on their doubtless lofty goals, or their own view of themselves. As far as this geek is concerned they are still the magic kingdom. You may argue that it's unethical, and makes them look bad, but these are "for profit" companies, and nobody is suggesting what they are doing is actually illegal.
That said, you may want to check out this page "on Google" for a deeper view of what is going on out there, he's quite anti in many respects.
That said, let's cut to the chase, what just happened?
Reading around there seem to be three areas of discontent/misunderstanding, namely:
The twin focus on chrome and android.
The lack of new hardware, or a new release of Android.
The lack of gimmicks or big set pieces.
For which I have three answers and/or observations:
Google has already won.
The need for a full fat, big screen web experience has not gone away, though the days of the mass market general purpose computer may be numbered.
The "fact" (which is self evident to me at least) that the smartphone, regardless of how obsessed we are with it currently, was always just a transitory platform, a data gathering exercise. Or, if you like, a very large scale usability test, "a means to an end."
So what is that end? allow me to digress...
A man walks into a Vodafone shop looking for a new phone. What's important to you? Says the salesman, what do you do most on your old phone that you wish it did better? I take pictures, said the man, and thus he is shown a Lumia 920, which, subsidies and sales incentives aside, does have a very good camera.
You probably read that without a thought, (except if you have strong views about Vodafone) this is after all, a common experience. I experienced the above in a Vodafone shop as an interested onlooker, But consider it this way.
A man walks into a phone shop to be sold a computer for the express purpose of taking pictures, he may also use the computer to listen to music and stay in touch with people, occasionally by phone. In all likelihood he will pay very little, or pay monthly, for his new computer. The exact circumstance of the payment will likely depend a great deal on his credit score.
It's fair to say, I think, that very few people think of the transaction that way.
Now think of what many if not most ordinary people do with their, (legacy) computers in the privacy of their own homes, namely:
Consume, curate & edit media, (audio/video & photos)
Buy products & services
Communicate with others
"Surf" for want of a better word :-) (consume information)
Now ponder the overlap with what Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft offer.
For my money, the only real competitor is Facebook, Apple is primarily selling products and Microsoft is mostly selling things that other people give away for free.
You may argue about Apple, but in terms of dominance Google has already won. A telling stat I saw recently, (from memory) was in relation to Windows mobile. Apparently it has moved into third place. The telling bit was the percentages involved. Microsoft were at 3% of global shipments with Google at 75% and Apple at 17% and palm at 2%
There is of course the fact that Apple used to account for 55% or so of the US smartphone market. This year that went into decline with Google eclipsing Apple at 51% vs 43% or so. But the US market is more or less at saturation point, hence the need for new markets. In China & India, etc. In those markets, Apple's high margin luxury products have a fraction of the smartphone market, that is dominated primarily by cheap Android handsets.
The dominance by Google of both the handset and search business, is doubtless the main reason, for all the regulatory interest of late. So far it seems to mostly be a stern talking to and the occasional wagging of fingers. No doubt the minnows Google "competes" with feel aggrieved about that.
In short, I don't think Google needed to put on a show, they just needed to make the ecosystem better and more attractive, and continue to offer compelling products & services. Speaking of products, the Pixel, makes so much more sense as a demonstration platform for what Chrome is capable of, than it does as a consumer product I guess us pundits will have to eat crow on that score.
Now we move to the guts of my argument. Which is basically that everyone else is in a different market to Google. Everyone else is is selling products, and looking to make money from them. This isn't the business Google is in. They're dominating markets by giving most of their "products" away for free. The exception to this appears to be markets for products which don't currently exist, at least in a consumer version. By which I mean, Google Glass, fiber to the last mile, and self driving cars.
The flipside of this is that Google doesn't need to worry about the people in the hardware business, or I would venture to suggest, Facebook, who only really make sense, (& money) on the desktop. I've seen anecdotal evidence for instance, that Facebook's mobile app accounts for less than 1% of traffic driven to large websites by Facebook.com If I were an investor, that would worry me, not to mention the fickle beast that is teenage interest in any given social platform. According to the FT they are decamping from Facebook to Twitter, etc. Largely to stay a step ahead of their parents. The average age of a Facebook user is now 40+
This brings us to a fairly simple equation:
What Google needs is more eyeballs, what almost everyone else needs is more revenue, more sales of products & services. All Google needs to do in this instance is make their ecosystem more compelling, then people have a choice of hardware but the same service.
Where I think everyone else will lose is because of the products Google does/doesn't sell, (yet) and one that is nascent, but with huge potential.
As I said above, it seems obvious to me that the hardware I've typed most of this on, (phone & tablet mainly) is largely going away, what will it be replaced by? "The cloud" (a nebulous buzzword meaning storage and compute power somewhere on the open internet) and Speech. They are already offering speech input on my phone and tablet, they announced (& demonstrated live) at IO this year, that they will offer speech search on Chrome on the desktop. And of course they offer speech input with Google Glass. For video and pictures we will continue to have the TV, and possibly projection from/to the headset. What we will need less of going forward is powerful local processors, with extended local storage.
Much of what follows are things I have long thought about as relates to "computing" in general, though much of it was brought into sharp focus by what I saw and read, both at IO and subsequently.
The most telling part of the "how to hack Glass" session at IO, at least to me, was that they were not exposing the speech recognition API. It also brings into harsh focus, the utility of the Chromebook, and one solution to the paradigm of near & far. Near being things you hold or operate with your hands, phones, tablets, computer keyboards & mice, (and by association the computer itself) and objects that are far, that are accessed passively & remotely, (like the TV) Things you sit back from. The interface paradigms, and how you interact with such devices are very different.
Many pixels were spilled afterwards talking about the fact that Google TV got no love, and not a single mention at IO this year, meh. They don't need it IMO for the simple reason they have already won there too. "But they haven't sold many units, nobody has ever heard of it" you rightly say. Meh. Samsung make "smart" TV's, what that means is they run Android, Skype, etc. You have access to Google Play, you can download games & apps, Angry Birds on the big screen anyone? All the cheap USB stick devices out of China, the ones that plug into TV's, etc. They all run Android too. As do many games/media player devices, My Ouya, which I backed on kickstarter is in the mail, will get here this week. The killer app for most of these things is XBMC, which is something no corporate entity who had to worry about lawyers would ever write. Consequently, it's simply the best Media Center out there, bar none. Nothing does what this thing can do, It really is the second coming. Chrome ships by default on most of these devices, based as they are on Android 4.x The beta version of which now does auto-translation of any web page. All Google needs to do is offer the Google TV apps on such devices and it doesn't need to partner with anyone to achieve penetration and mass market adoption.
My point about Apple would be this, they sell very desirable products, but ultimately IMO, your data travels with you, you have minimal compute power with you, and a small screen, but you could display to a larger independently powered screen if one is available. The screen itself, becomes a commodity, like a plate, or a TV, it serves a purpose. There may be a market for a high margin luxury business making such screens in future, but a screen is not a smartphone, or a tablet as we currently know them.
To my way of thinking, Glass may be a geek product at first, but once it gets better at doing what ordinary people need, then it will go mainstream. At that point you have knowledge at your beck and call, along with directions, music, books, all narrated to you, with all the camera and video functionality you would expect from a "phone" and all you need to do is be able to speak. Imagine being in a foreign country and having glass translate from your language into the language of the natives back and forth in real time. How much would you pay to rent that, even if you didn't want to buy?
The fiber to the last mile could kill the cable industry, or shake it up the same way that Napster did to the recording industry. But the real impact of self driving cars, especially the lower accident rate, and the freeing up of commuting time, has yet to be encountered. Have a car you don't own drive you to work, or on holiday, or out to the pub only to drive you back again once you've had a skinful. The disruptive potential for this is vast, and I think beyond any pundit.
Similarly, think of the utility of being able to speak to your computer, to ask it to find photos, of a particular kind, or with a particular person/place on a particular holiday. Of not having to understand how the computer works, but having the computer understand you and then display the output to the best screen available at your current location, why would you limit yourself to the small screen you have in your hand, or even on a laptop that limits your mobility.
Google's answer seems to be that out in the real world you want to get the computer out of the way, while at home, why not immerse yourself in it? For that how about the return of VR and the Oculus Rift or even just a smart TV, or an Android box/USB stick attached to it
Very soon, you will have to face a choice of "going Google", or weaning yourself off of Google completely and onto mostly inferior products. I can't see anyone but the most ardent anti-Google zealots making that trade.
Tl;dr? Google have already won, and the future for most of your computing needs is going to be speech driven. Google don't need an island, they have the Western, (and increasingly the whole) world to experiment in.
"The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed."
|The art of resilience
||[May. 23rd, 2013|11:56 am]
Just occasionally you find something made of whole cloth, stuff that chimes with experience. Much like the work & words of Brene Brown you will find scattered in posts below. This is one of those things:
"At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself.
Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs… It's possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It's possible to fortify your psyche. It's possible to develop a sense of mastery."
The 10 traits I can take or leave, but that sentence is spot on.
You may also find this enlightening, though I would argue that it's a different kind of outcome, with more toys and less capacity for personal growth.
Just occasionally Psychology Today gives you all manner of good stuff.
|Here be dragons
||[Feb. 23rd, 2013|06:49 pm]
Standing in front of the mirror pre shower, pondering imminent changes, I was forced to ask again, the only question worth the time, "do you know what you're doing?" to which the answer is "no" this is always a healthy sign in my opinion, because it's only when you think you know all the answers that you get overconfident and something jumps up and bites you. At that point you panic, then you try to make reality look like the plan...
What they don't tell you in school, is that the benefit of age is experience, which will get you through a dark night or a server failure in one piece provided you remember your Socrates you aren't afraid to fail/learn, and you don't take short cuts.
Consider the following parable:
You set out on your journey, you see interesting things, meet interesting people, then you come across the dragon, you're going to need to improvise to get around it. Had you known about the dragon before hand then what you'd want is a suit of armour a large shield and a magic sword. Yet a suit of armour is heavy, the helmet is stifling and restricts your vision, the shield throws you off balance, and nobody is going to say "hi" to a tooled up madman. You still have to deal with the dragon, and a suit of armour limits your options.
I am working on a much larger blog post that goes into more detail, (probably the largest thing I have ever written online) but this part of it recurs again and again.
||[Jan. 21st, 2013|12:17 am]
|||||Silence, L' autre endroit||]|
You've gotta love Krugman. He's posting Woody Allen skits, and Python jokes about economic analysis :)
But I digress, I went to Krugman as he doing the Fed guessing game, in What Did I Know, And When Did I Know It? he says:
People have been poring over the just-released 2007 Fed transcripts, and the main surprise seems to be how complacent the institution was. Some members of the open market committee, including Janet Yellen and, let’s give credit where due, Tim Geithner, seem to have had a sense of dread; but the overall consensus was that nothing really bad would happen.
The obvious question if you’re a pundit, then, is “How did I do?” And the answer is, not too badly. Yes, I hedged — it was a statement of possibilities, not a straight prediction. But I clearly would have been in the camp of Fed alarmists, and probably the most alarmist of them all.
The first link has a good picture of the Bernank, though if you want the transcripts and discussion of same, Inside the 2007 crisis response from the Washington Post has you covered. they also link to the transcripts themselves.
So, as a pundit myself, (at the time) "how did I do?"
Pretty good I think. I nailed it coming in on April 10th 2007 A post I'm still quite proud of given how little I understood at the time. If you read as I have, my output for 2007, you'll see me make some mistakes about inflation, as we hadn't got to ZIRP yet, and I was still a little hazy about how monetary policy transmission actually worked. Still, not bad for an unlearned hack.
I reprised my narrative, as opposed to just market commentary, on July 1st and again in more depth on July 27th Even better, the music (MP3 stream) is still just as good as I remember it being. I've listened to that a few times today.
In August it got worse quickly, Bear stopped redemptions, IKB needed a bailout, and that was just August 1st things would go downhill rapidly from there. By August 4th, markets were getting choppy and I was moving into an active phase. By August 9th, One day before Krugman's post, I was a little spooked, and I mentioned LIBOR for the first time, and that was years before we knew of the scandal. The strange thing to ponder now is that, as crooked as it was, on that day, (and for many days to come) they weren't able to hold the line. I remember disregarding LIBOR altogether at one point over the LIBOR/OIS spread. Though how a layman like me ever got in that deep as to know what it was and why it was important is still a source of introspection even now. I thought it odd even then :) But this is what you get if you mainline the capital markets end of the financial world for a few years straight.
I'm still convinced that most people have no idea what really happened and how close we came, I remember sitting my (now ex) wife down at the time and using her as a sounding board for my explanation of the crisis thus far and what it meant for us. She resented, "the noise" of the TV, but even she picked up on the panic in people's voices at times, and how their faces said one thing and their voices another. She was very good at that, really.
It's also why I think Geithner deserves some slack, the big news of the day is that he "talked" to banks, Specifically BofA about where monetary policy was likely to go, but at that point calming down the iBanks was probably necessary. Especially when you think of where it went. Whatever you may think of Geithner and Bernanke they were at least on the ball if not in front of it. The Eurocrats by contrast aren't even in the stadium yet, let alone in the game.
It has been an interesting five years, fleeing back to the UK, knowing what was coming, getting wiped out and made redundant as the crisis rolled in, getting divorced when I found myself once more alone. Finding my voice. My output has tailed of in the past two/three years, with only two public posts in 2012, and by early 2013 I'll segue into remarriage, fatherhood and the chaos that family brings, something I have long wanted. I'm looking forward to it.
Updates may or may not get more sketchy from here, I've got at least one more I'm working on, but beyond that, I'll be on twitter @praxis22 if you feel the need to reach out and touch me.
|Musing on Apple & the future of Tech, (long)
||[Dec. 24th, 2012|02:28 pm]
This was in response to this: Apple: Innovator’s dilemma Which the FT saw fit to remove, for reasons unknown, but I still had it in my cache, so I present it here, for your edification and amusement. Merry Christmas :)
[EDIT: reformatted the text after complaints, it should now look better on mobile devices]
praxis22 | December 21 9:55am | Permalink| Options
Nascent Apple fanboy that I am, I do have to say that for the general public, *if* you can afford them, Apple products are by far the best on the market for ordinary consumers. You don't need to read the read the manual, and they "just work" In many ways they made computing "good again", after the extended nightmare of the Microsoft hegemony of the desktop. People "Love" Apple and it's products, this is not something that can be said for many other products & brands. Coke maybe. You've only to look at global outpouring of grief that followed Jobs' death to see that here was a company & a man, that people had real feelings for. Wither the twinkie & wonderbread?
Also, more than simple products, what Apple sells, is an experience, a culture, a lifestyle. That's fair deep stuff, but then Steve Jobs always said that the liberal arts were just as important to technology as hardware and technical know how. People want to belong, they want to look "cool" this sense of shared belonging has created a rabid fanbase that will shell out cash on a yearly upgrade cycle for this season's must have item. Even people with older macs continue to use them, see: http://lowendmac.com
That said however, the Apple experience only works because of total control, it's the walled garden effect. Apple users famously had more problems on the early internet, as they used an incompatible networking standard, (Appletalk) and the 'net ran on TCP/IP This meant that Apple users needed drivers, and they needed to know how to install them. then they needed software, (the profusion of tools that were needed before the advent of the web, and then a web browser) All this made for a steep learning curve, and lots of unfamiliar ups and downs for people who's prior experience of computing was that it, "just worked".
Windows users by comparison were used to the fact that software didn't work, and that you had to mess with it. Commercial games of the day often required you to build a boot floppy with CD & Audio drivers, to run the game, because of Windows poor memory management, and game developers wanted to hit the graphics card manually. Compared to that, the idea of installing and configuring drivers, and software was "normal" it was how the OS worked. It crashed a lot, you learned fast what worked and what didn't.
The other problem with the walled garden as opposed to the cloud, is that by and large "The Cloud" (a bunch of servers on the internet somewhere) is about content & service. Two things which Apple aren't very good at except in person at a Apple Store, there is nobody to vet the experience, to hold your hand, to keep the world out. The Cloud is the world, iCloud, by definition, isn't.
Hardware is a commodity, has been for years, never more so than with a TV set. Bu the thing about a TV set is it's a portal device, it's only purpose is to watch other people's content. The best, biggest, most expensive and technologically advanced TV in the world isn't going to make terrestrial SD TV programs look any better. in many cases the high resolution works against low def content by showing the flaws that a Tube TV used to it's advantage. Sure you could put the web on a TV, but what you really want is youtube, youporn and host of other online video sites. Apple doesn't do "content" it's not for nothing that youtube puts up adverts before you watch the clip you were looking for.
The future belongs to software, software that is aware of your personality, your current emotional state, and your desires. Software that anticipates your wishes, and provides you with timely and useful information. That lead belongs to Google's latest product, Google Now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Now it's not there yet, obviously, but it's getting there, the Google ecosystem knows just as much if not more about you as the competing Apple ecosystem does. But The Google ecosystem has one thing going for it that Apple doesn't the hacker ethos: http://www.ietf.org/tao.html
"We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code"
This is opposed, (if not diametrically so) to the pixel perfect shininess of Apple's polished gems, and the benign monarch. Though they don't believe in voting either, a creed Steve Jobs so memorably espoused :)
Android runs on almost anything, I even have it installed my aging x86 netbook. Which with the exception of wired Ethernet, (and flash) just worked. After a little tweaking I got flash working too. Sure flash is old, kills your battery and the experience is uneven. But if you want to watch Bloomberg online you don't have much choice.
Apple's products are the best in the world at what they do, they're a luxury product in league of their own, and they run on UNIX too, what's not to like?
But in the "post PC era" another Jobs quote, the world belongs to software, which on the open web, outside of the walled garden is not Apple's strength. Google on the other hand, they were born online, and exist online, they come down to earth only occasionally. They also build driverless cars, Google TV, and Google glass, the $1,500 prototypes of which began to ship yesterday.
"the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed"
Though that one belong to William Gibson :)
Though to counteract my Google fanboyism you may also want to read Evgeny Morozov, in today's paper. Which is largely talking about Google getting into the behavioural economics game, and making moral choices for you, or at least giving you variations of good moral choices instead of the choice to be bad. The article in the paper, goes under the headline "Google should not choose right and wrong" implying that the choice to misbehave should be yours alone. I have no problem with that, and even though I wrote about it above I have no truck with Google Now for the most part, if you don't allow it access to location services, etc. it turns itself off, which is kind of sad, but I'd rather not be tracked.
That said however, the banner headline on the Front page, says this, "If Google was a state we'd want to regulate it" (and a lovely graphic of a surveillance camera) leaving aside the was/were conundrum, I'd actually take issue with that, or perhaps add my own counterpoint, if Facebook were a state, it would be China, Apple would probably be the Moonies or Singapore :) But I guess you need sensationalism to sell papers these days. Sadly there was no Münchau, but given the time of year I guess I can cut him some slack, (Today is the big day in Germany) Frohe Weihnachten, and all that.
|What's in a name?
||[Feb. 24th, 2012|12:16 am]
Stand back, I'm going to do science! Well, actually, pseudo science but don't tell anyone as they'll think it's boring :)
I'm looking to get married again, which means I'm looking at diamonds. This means understanding that all diamonds are not created equal. Once you get far enough into this, you discover that diamonds have certificates, and some cost more than others. So why not buy the cheapest, right?
This is where economics/finance comes in useful again. It's not until you look up the certificates that you understand why some cost more more than others. I can see the lightbulb going on with the old hands at the back, for the rest of you I'll keep talking :)
As, I was saying, diamonds have qualities which you need to understand, then pick from. The certificate says that what you think you're buying is what you're getting. So effectively you're not buying a diamond, you're buying a bit of paper. Said paper is an "opinion" (and if you haven't got a lightbulb yet, then your name must be Stan O'Neal :) about the qualities of your gem, and as we know, opinions differ.
This was the case with "structured products" too of course, where you were also paying for an opinion, and the same information asymmetry applies, do you know what's in it? What it means? Who's interest is it that you know or not?
So, in short, if you're in the market for a diamond, or a bit of paper, then best not buy the cheapest one, or go into it blind. Otherwise you may make out just like Stan O'Neal, he didn't know what he was buying either, and his defensiveness cost him his company.
As for the names, it would appear that GIA is the one you want, (sadly not something you can say about NRSRO's) all others are not the same.
Ah, the consolations of the dismal science, it really does keep on giving.
|Man and boy
||[Oct. 16th, 2011|03:17 pm]
The past two weeks have witnessed the passing of titans, the first known and beloved by wide swathes of every industrialised country, and even some that aren't, his name was Steve Jobs, he was a perfectionist, showman, visionary, magician, business leader & family man. He made "computer" products for everyman that were beautifully designed, simple to operate and a joy to use. These are less gadgets than they are extensions of the self. Never better expressed than by Neal Stepehenson thus:
Around the time that Jobs, Wozniak, Gates, and Allen were dreaming up these unlikely schemes, I was a teenager living in Ames, Iowa. One of my friends' dads had an old MGB sports car rusting away in his garage. Sometimes he would actually manage to get it running and then he would take us for a spin around the block, with a memorable look of wild youthful exhiliration on his face; to his worried passengers, he was a madman, stalling and backfiring around Ames, Iowa and eating the dust of rusty Gremlins and Pintos, but in his own mind he was Dustin Hoffman tooling across the Bay Bridge with the wind in his hair.
In retrospect, this was telling me two things about people's relationship to technology. One was that romance and image go a long way towards shaping their opinions. If you doubt it (and if you have a lot of spare time on your hands) just ask anyone who owns a Macintosh and who, on those grounds, imagines him- or herself to be a member of an oppressed minority group.
The other, somewhat subtler point, was that interface is very important. Sure, the MGB was a lousy car in almost every way that counted: balky, unreliable, underpowered. But it was fun to drive. It was responsive. Every pebble on the road was felt in the bones, every nuance in the pavement transmitted instantly to the driver's hands. He could listen to the engine and tell what was wrong with it. The steering responded immediately to commands from his hands. To us passengers it was a pointless exercise in going nowhere--about as interesting as peering over someone's shoulder while he punches numbers into a spreadsheet. But to the driver it was an experience. For a short time he was extending his body and his senses into a larger realm, and doing things that he couldn't do unassisted.
The other man, was (intentionally) unknown to almost everyone except a certain subsection of geeks & proto-geeks, his name was Dennis Ritchie, he was a hacker, author, technologist, genius and geek in good standing, and by all accounts a very nice man. What Dennis Ritchie did was write a programming language, a book and an operating system, amongst other things.
I've never met either of them, but their life's work & lore, has shaped mine, man and boy.
I am unsure where I first heard the word "computer" though it was probably either on tomorrow's world, or in a magazine. I do remember my first computer fair, in the function room of the local library, lined with tables with computers on them, their beaming middle aged owners, (and sons) behind. They were not for sale, they were just on display, mostly running homebrew software, (software they had written themselves) they were a novelty, and hugely expensive. The room was almost empty, and contained only men. The people behind the tables were anxious to explain how much they cost, how they worked, and how to use the programs they had written, the keyboards faced outward, you were invited to type.
When the first computer arrived in the classroom one evening, to the disquiet of the maths teacher, and my utter amazement. It was an Apple II, a "real" computer, and it had an exotic & huge 10MB Rodime drive that must have cost a small fortune, (I had heard of such devices, but never seen one.) The Maths teacher was disgusted about that too. You could have refurbished all the classrooms on the one-way corridor for that kind of money. It was another world. I inquired after the manual, and was directed to a cupboard where they kept the textbooks as the teacher left. It was not locked. I feel I should point out that I was only in the maths classroom in the evening on account of having detention. I was alone. I opened the manual and read every word of the index, even page titles and sub-headings were new knowledge at this stage. Next was a blank page, then a page with a bold headline and no page number. What it contained were instructions for enabling the hard drive, and advice to remove the page from the manual. I duly complied. It would be a while before we ever saw the computer turned on.
The experience was formative. Then came the day that we found a TV on wheeled stilts in the classroom, the maths teacher was looking perplexed, he had a page of instructions and was cursing under his breath. All he knew was that the computer was making him look like an idiot, and so we sat in silence. He approached the front of the class and explained what was going to happen, and that he would be showing us examples of some board work on the computer. I had spent the interim period learning all I could from second hand sources about computers, especially the Apple II. I knew he could never get it working, I offered to help, he looked daggers at me, went back to the back of the class, time passed, we began to fidget, discipline was loosening. in the end, after what seemed like an eternity, he called me by name and told me to get it working. He left me the piece of paper, marched to the front to restore calm.
I cannot describe the thrill of standing alone in-front of a real computer with arcane knowledge, about to go "hands on" I dicked about a bit, just to see what the machine could & would do, before applying the Vulcan hand grip that was the key sequence that spun up the drive. I dicked about some more. Then I interrupted the teacher to tell him the machine was done, but I would have to shut it down when he was finished, (this was a lie.) I was sent back to my seat. This was how I got my start in computing.
By the time I (eventually) got to college, I was an old hand with computers, I had taught myself BASIC, (Beginners All Symbolic Instruction Code) I had even attempted to build my first from a kit, it had cost all the money I had in the world, £113, my mother was outraged I would "waste" all my savings in this way. she's always had a dim view of my interest in computers. Given a choice between the tattoo I now wear and a new computer she picked the tattoo :)
Computing had it's own corridor, and it had a lab full of Apple II's in the e & europlus flavours. It also had a cupboard of spare cards, for things like colour and sound, with which I could play a pirates game I had procured somewhere, and ran from floppy disk. I now had a floppy disk holder. Things continued like this for a year. then the college got a new lab. This one had "dumb" terminals in it, the room was always locked. The terminals were hooked up to a VAX Pedestal computer in a side room. I thought it odd as it had a tape deck in the side of it. I was informed by the technician, when I asked, that it was for backing up the kernel in the event of a crash. It ran what I would come to learn was UNIX. UNIX has man pages which are terse, and obey a set format, they are the authoritative and only system documentation you will ever need. They are both lesson & lore.
There were two of us who actually knew what we were doing in that room, he was teaching himself COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language) by writing a program, I was learning UNIX by reading the manual & experimenting. This was made possible as the lecturer we were supposed to have was frequently absent, and often drunk. He mocked me once by asking me what I had learned by reading so intentively, (I forget what he was teaching) pointing to the other guy, saying "he learned to program" I could already program, I learned of UNIX.
After a period of dissolute jobs in the "real word" I returned to university and became a UNIX admin. I've been making good money off it ever since, being paid well to live in nice places, and doing that which I love. For a time, I was AT&T Labs only European UNIX administrator. I wore that fleece for more than 10 years, very few people ever understood why.
Neal Stephenson describes UNIX as the Hole Hawg of operating systems:
Unix has always lurked provocatively in the background of the operating system wars, like the Russian Army. Most people know it only by reputation, and its reputation, as the Dilbert cartoon suggests, is mixed. But everyone seems to agree that if it could only get its act together and stop surrendering vast tracts of rich agricultural land and hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war to the onrushing invaders, it could stomp them (and all other opposition) flat.
Unix is hard to learn. The process of learning it is one of multiple small epiphanies. Typically you are just on the verge of inventing some necessary tool or utility when you realize that someone else has already invented it, and built it in, and this explains some odd file or directory or command that you have noticed but never really understood before.
I'm typing this on the newest addition to the family, an Acer Aspire R3700, it sits on top of the big box. it's running Arch, which has a philosophy just like it's daddy, the UNIX philosophy before it.
If you're reading this on anything but a Windows PC, (a Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, Chromebook, Linux, etc.) then whether you know it or not you're using UNIX too, as is your router. The language that all modern operating systems are written in is C, even Windows is written in C. Much of the hardware and ideas will have come from Xerox parc via Steve Jobs, but the software and the language it's written in, came from Dennis Ritchie, and a few close associates, (Brian Kernighan, Ken Thompson, et al.)
You have much to thank them for.
|The artist in the floating world
||[Jun. 4th, 2011|11:56 pm]
You're sitting in a car at the traffic lights, you drum your fingers on the steering wheel, then you look across to the car next to you. The person in that car is idly picking their nose in full view of the world, you sit transfixed for a second, "why? don't they know people can see them?" then the light changes, somebody beeps you, you go back to looking at the road and move on.
This is a common enough experience right? The answer to the question is that regardless that it has all round visibility, it's an enclosed space, and thus people don't think they're being watched, thus they do things they wouldn't do in mixed company.
The same is true of your computer at home. You're in familiar surroundings, with the curtains drawn you can loaf about the house in your underwear and nobody will know, you feel safe, you're in a familiar environment, unless they're standing behind you, nobody can see what you type. So why not pick your nose...
Only like a car's windscreen, if you're online, you're visible, where anyone who cares can look in and see you're doing. That cable that snakes like an umbilical from the back of your router, is not just allowing you to get out, it's allowing anyone else to get in. You may be at home, but you are definitely not alone.
I'll provide links to software at the end, since this will work better as a narrative.
To give you a ground up idea of exactly how vulnerable you are, and how that wondrous machine you're currently reading this on can expose & betray you is beyond the scope of a blog post, so instead of geeking out on you and boring you to tears, I will attempt to use simple language and talk about three things:
Attitude, Behaviour and Trust.
Most of the ways in which you can be lead astray online are not new, they are in fact very old, they rely on the arts of a magician, skill, slight of hand, misdirection, and the desire on your part not to look stupid. Even though you know you're dealing with a magician, (and his lovely assistant.) So let us draw back the curtain and see what's going on.
We will talk first of methodology, strategy, of ways of thinking, in short
Everybody is lazy, predators want to do the least amount of work, for the most gain, this means mostly that they will play the field, and target the biggest population, then look for the low hanging fruit, the easy meat, It's a numbers game.
There are more PC users, thus the herd is bigger, and while the hardware and software is more diverse, the sheer numbers make the percentages better, if you're using a PC, you're more likely to get get targeted, that's just how it is. Apple Mac's are a smaller homogenous population, but they're also smaller as a target, and thus generally speaking the percentages don't work, (thought they are not immune to stupid behaviour as we will see later) Linux users are an even smaller minority, and usually more tech savvy. The systems are more highly prized as a platform, but they're a much harder target. Unless you're doing it for bragging rights, the maths just doesn't make sense.
So, as the chairman of Google said just recently, if you want to be more secure, buy a Mac. If you can't afford one, and you have the right hardware, you may be able to run the Mac operating system, (the software) on PC hardware. If you want to know how to do this, google the word Hackintosh, then that should get you there. By the same token if you're up for an adventure, and getting out of your comfort zone, you could even try Linux. In which case you probably want to google for Ubuntu, or Linux Mint both of which are friendly ways to experiment.
That said, lets step back for moment and look at the problem from a different perspective. What we're actually talking about here is ways of protecting you from external predators, so we need to look at armour. The first line of defence should be a firewall. This is something you stand behind, predators can't climb it as it's on fire, and it will deflect most incoming blows. As we will see however, firewalls are more important for what they don't let out, than what they don't let in.
The key understanding here is that as everyone who builds a secure building knows, you cannot stop somebody who's determined to get in from getting in, all you can do is slow them down, and make sure they trip alarms once they get in. I'm sure you've seen a film where somebody hits the red button and the shutters come down, that's what were trying to do with a firewall. We're trying to stop somebody from getting out with your TV.
When you think about it the real reason that anyone wants to get in is to steal something, (your data) or to make use of the facilities, run up your phone bill, make a mess of the bathroom that kind of thing. So what you want to do is make sure that even if you don't spot them coming you, you stop them from getting back out again. If one bit of data is all it takes to tell the world that you're gay or have aids, etc. (0 = no, 1 = yes) then what you want to do is stop that bit of information from leaving the premises.
Your next thing in your armoury should be anti-virus, for much the same reason, you want something that's on the inside looking for things that're out to make mischief. Most people who're looking to break into your computer do not want to be found, they will thus attempt not to make a lot of noise, and will not try a direct attack, they will attempt to subvert and misdirect.
If you listen you will hear lot about virus attacks and scary stuff like "zero day" exploits, etc. in the main, if you meet one of those you're out of luck, as almost nothing can stop something that hasn't been seen before. However, those things are rare, and will largely hit people who don't have the sense God gave a sack of beans. You'd have to be unlucky to be wearing armour, and get an arrow to the armpit. Mostly the arrows will find the people not wearing armour, at which point somebody will spot the dead body and raise the alarm.
What we have to do instead is think about the nature of the risk, as I said you'd have to be unlucky to be hit by something new, this means that you're for more likely to be hit by something old & well known, and since virus -scanners work on pattern recognition, it follows that if it's old and well known, that it will be easy to spot & stop.
Next you'll need anti-spyware/malware. The internet is rife with spooks, bugs & gremlins, all wanting to parcel your data up neatly, and send it with loving care to somebody who'll sell it to the highest bidder. This can be ad-supported software, programs, (other than your virus checker) that tell you have a virus, and "please install this program" or junk that arrives as part of some other application. It's usually stuff you don't need, and we'll get to will power later, but a good anti-spyware utility, run at the start to form a baseline, then run every week, or month to inoculate you and provide another line of defence.
This approach is known as "defence in depth" this is why knights of old, wore leather, then chain mail, then plate. This makes you a hard and slow target, so Ghengis Khan, went for a silk shirt, some horse hair padding then a light, studded leaf, leather armour. This made then fast and mobile. The only thing that could hit them was an arrow, and even if it penetrated the leather and the padding the denseness of the silk weave contained the arrow head, so it was easy to remove. This is the same basic principle as modern Kevlar armour. As a general rule you want layers of redundancy,
So the last layer, and you can have as many of these as you want or can afford really, is a hardware firewall. Quite often your router will have one, you just need to turn it on. Failing that you can buy them, or you can use another router and set it for pass through, so that it will mask your presence on the internet.
Like I said, you may think you're alone in your car, but you're actually out on the road with road users. having a hardware firewall is like defensive driving. The most important thing is that it just sits there and does it's job, it's not software, so it's not something that can be affected by anything on your PC, or by you messing up.
The reason you do all this is it's dangerous out there, not only are you not alone, but people are looking for you. Infected PC's and other parts of the command & control infrastructure of criminal enterprise is out there actively scanning for unprotected machines. Much like active sonar. If you're cloaked by a firewall that doesn't respond to the probe, you're probably OK, but without firewall and anti-virus you'll likely be found and infected inside 30 seconds of connecting "naked" to the open internet. This no joke.
This is why if I ever have to rebuild a PC, I download a firewall, anti-virus and any drivers first, dump them to USB or CD, then unplug the network, reinstall the OS, then the drivers, firewall & anti-virus, only then do I connect to the internet to download patches.
While we're on the subject, patches exist for a reason, if it helps think of them as armour maintenance, oil for the hinges, spikes for the knees, a jaunty slant to the shoulders to deflect the lance. They address new found vulnerabilities, the chinks in your armour. If you're too stupid or lazy to not install them, then at some point that bullet with your name on it is going to find you.
This is why basic physical security is an attitude, it's an MO, a way of being. If you fail here, you're as good as naked anyway. Having a Mac won't help you.
The magician has a beautiful assistant for a reason, he wants you looking at her, rather than looking at him. It's a simple trick, but if she's pretty or exotic looking enough, then it generally works, this is why she waves her hands about a lot, look at me ma!. So the miscreant that sends you the email that says "click here to see Britney/Brad naked" knows that more than a few will be dumb enough to do just that. What could it hurt right? You're in the safety of your own home with the blinds down. This is where we talk about topic number two:
It's the oldest trick in the book, be it sex, sleaze, cash or the creative use of footwear, once people are driven by their baser impulses, and try to hide it, it doesn't usually end well. I'm not going to moralise and say clean yourself of impure thoughts, do three hail Mary's and call me in the morning, Porn is bad, etc. It's not. Just be honest with yourself, if you're going to do that kind of stuff, seek out trained professionals and pay for it. If you go cruising at the cheap end, like a low life deadbeat, you're going to catch something.
This applies broadly to almost any nefarious activity online, be it porn, piracy, or white supremacy. If you're doing it all there are people who'll be looking to stop you, or take advantage of your weakness and lack of judgement. Again this is a numbers game.
There are things you can do, if you pirate stuff, then make sure you know what you're doing, what it is you're downloading, and that you scan with it before you open it. If it get's to 98% and your anti-virus goes berserk, do not dismiss it and think, "but I've been waiting for this for three hours" You have tools, trust them.
Similarly, if you want porn pay for it, there are any number of reputable sites out there, ones that will not you ask you to "upgrade" flash, install a viewer, or click this specially prepared link.
There are things you can do to secure your browsing experience, and you'll find that comprehensively documented here but again if your browser flashes up a red warning page, that says "Danger Will Robinson!" trust your tools, do click through anyway.
The simple rule here is, is this something you wouldn't want to explain to your spouse/mother? If the answer is no, don't do it. Because if you can't stop yourself then somebody will happy to stick you with the "drive by" download for your trouble. To them you're just a mark. If you drive into the wrong neighbourhood you've nobody but yourself to blame, stick to cruising the strip, it's tamer, but you get out of it alive.
The other part of behaviour is convenience, I'm thinking here of things which make your life easier, like having your browser remember your passwords & credit card info, not securing wifi, as you can't be arsed with entering a passkey, or reading the manual, etc.
Personally I don't use wifi as you can't secure it, the risk is low with decent encryption, (not WEP) and people will take the low hanging fruit before they come after you, but I will always take security over convenience.
Understand the risks of installing new software, especially if it's done on a whim, or you're only going to use the software once and forget about it. There is probably a web app that will do it if you spend a while with google.
It's also a good habit to do regular backups, you never miss your data until it's gone.
Needless to say, do not click on random links be they on the web, on twitter, facebook or email. Do not open attachments. If you must, mail the person back, open up a chat, or @ them, ask the person who sent it, what it is and if they can send you an unshortened link. Read the link, before you click, know the risks. Google Mail will virus check all attachments that arrive. Do not do something yourself if you can find somebody with a competent technical staff that can look after the problem for you.
The same goes for internet banking, though I'll get more into this in "Trust" If you use internet banking and you do not secure your computer, you have your browser remember your passwords, or you do this wirelessly, then you may as well nail your bank details to your front door.
I could rant on about this, but I'm sure you get the message, don't be stupid.
Here endeth the lesson.
Which brings us neatly to the credibility, belief, assurance and Russian jokes of ex-Presidents. It can take a lifetime to earn, and only seconds to lose. When the magician saws the beautiful assistant in half, or throws knives at her, the assistant does not complain, and not just because it's her job. Like any partnership, it's nothing without our final topic:
This one is fairly simple, if you don't trust your computer, don't give it your details.
I said earlier that I'd get into the how's and why's of internet banking, well here we are. The reasons for internet banking are as follows, it cuts down on costs for the bank, and you sign an agreement that absolves the bank for any responsibility of losses incurred. This is one of those weasel words you find in the small print, here (you're looking for clauses 8.1 & 8.2) that word is irrevocable, and what it means is that the transaction cannot be undone, and that the bank has no liability if somebody presents themselves as you with your account details and password. Ah, you say, "but the person who agreed to that is stupid" Have you read your terms and conditions?
I took an interest in this when online banking first became available, and what they wanted to do was to transfer the rules that applied to ATM transactions to the online sphere. Provided somebody turns up with your card and your pin they're covered. If it wasn't you, you must have given the person the PIN number, or made it available, written it down, etc. It's up to you to prove you didn't. This is the reason for Chip & Pin for credit cards, banks were liable for losses without some form of verifiable ID, so now they have it. The system is infallible, so they say...
So the question is, how much do you trust your computer? How well do you understand it, and would that stand up in a court of law, should you lose money and want to get it back.
I tell you this because it's important that you know what you're up against. I know most people will no more give up Internet banking than they will wifi, but be aware of the risks. If you make it difficult for you, you make it difficult for an attacker. Ask if you bank supports two factor security. Usually, once you provide a password it will send a one time code via SMS to your phone, or via a third party device and you have to enter that as a second step to prove it's you, but since it's a manual process it unlikely to be faked via software. Trust, as Reagan said, "but verify"
Trust is also the defining factor when it comes to what do if you're infected with a virus or some other nasty of the twilight world. Again, this comes down to knowing verifiably that your computer is virus free. Now once you've contracted a virus, (one that you've been alerted too by your tools, anti-virus or anti-spyware) you need to understand your choices. It's not impossible that with the right tools, knowledge and patience you can remove the virus and leave you PC germ free. However for that to happen you have to leave your computer untouched and use another to download software, (preferably on a USB stick you can sacrifice) If you have no idea how a computer really works, you're better off just booting of CD, blanking the drive and then remove it and install a new one. Some virus & malware programs are so sneaky that they can re-infect you after you've re-installed your OS. Scorched earth is often the only policy that works verifiably. Even if you do disinfect the OS, the same cannot be said for the data.
Basically, once trust is broken you need to rebuild from scratch.
Of course for this to work, you need to backup your data regularly, or store it online. So that if you lose anything, or you get bitten, your data is not compromised. It helps if you keep the drive disconnected except when you run the backup, that way you ensure that you never connect the drive to an unclean system.
Trust also applies to USB sticks, these are potential plague carriers, you may be sure your machine if virus free, but how about the machine you've just plugged your stick into? Make sure that if you do this you have a stick that you can write protect. If you need to transfer a file do it via email, that way it can be virus checked in transit.
The same goes for any USB or memory chips you find, if you don't know where it's been don't plug it into a clean system. It's a common trick to drop a USB stick outside an office building in the hope it will be carried in and used. It's to counter threats like this than many companies are gluing the USB ports shut on their corporate estate.
If you do find your system compromised, and you have no backups, then you may be able to save your photos, provided you're willing to upload them and have an external service check them. Otherwise it's not worth the risk. A file may not be executable, but that doesn't mean they're not infected with something that may take advantage of the program that opens them. Like I said, once trust is gone, it's gone for good. Mourn your loss and move on.
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