|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.
Links to go below here
|The creation myth
||[May. 2nd, 2011|09:32 pm]
This was not what I had intended to write. I started musing on women as "other" a notion created by man, and expounded by Simone de Beauvoir (as an aside, why do the Marxists have all the best stuff?) who in so doing made a rod for their own back, given that having narrowly defined women in past attempts to control them, they still do not understand them. Though the broader theme I was arriving at was one of atonement. How do we as men atone for such a thing, is it even possible?
There however I got stuck, somewhere between narrative and outcome, and through a series of events, (I always loved the phrase "through luck and craft" that I first heard in Pirates! long ago :) I ended up looking at a video clip of a young Chinese woman. Truth to tell, even though my wife is Asian, I don't find Asian women particularly attractive, at least not in the conventional sense. I remember being told by my wife that a woman on Singapore TV, (though in an advert in the paper at the time) was thought of as being very attractive locally, what was my opinion? I thought she looked quite plain. She found that puzzling, indeed I think she still finds me puzzling, but I digress :)
No, what captivated me about the video was not her looks, but her mannerisms. That vaguely pouty & demure thing that women do that curls men's toes, and makes us want to inhabit such moments. The small intimate gestures that only we see, and want to possess. It is entirely an animal and emotional experience which I have only ever seen expressed in poetry, e.g: e.e.Cummings and Audre Lorde (that's probably as good a layout for poetry on that first link as I've ever seen, lovely font.)
Reading as I did, all of my mothers sociology, psychology & feminism books as a young man, and pace James Altucher's recent blog post, (he's really very good.) I remember finding it odd that Andrea Dworkin, author of Woman Hating and Mercy was herself married to a man, and wondered then as now, what it is about men that women find attractive. Or is it all just illusion and programming?
I doubt that there are answers to these questions, just another part of the mystery, when I quizzed my mother about this earlier she was also of the opinion that it "doesn't make sense" by which I meant that her books made for a very fractured narrative. In many ways, long before Tech & finance women were the first "complex system" that I grew interested in.
||[Apr. 9th, 2011|02:16 pm]
In retrospect when the council tells the student union to "turn it down", and gives them an approved play list that includes Cliff Richard, it was never going to end well.
So as his final act, before breaking for the more capitalism friendly climes of the new bar over the road, the star DJ put on a show. Mostly it must be said of the big bright and bouncy stuff that was eminently danceable. Then out of nowhere with the flower children still sweating it out on the dancefloor, came the acetic opening stanza of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Things stopped, puzzled glances were exchanged, we got ready for the break, instead, it looped. It did this a few times before anyone really understood what was going on. Then slowly, imperceptibly, the mood changed, and into the midst of the flower children came the wall flowers and other miscreants. The longer it looped the more you began to yearn for the break, people began to rock on their heels, as the Goths filtered onto the floor, and those in bright clothing left. The air grew electric, "When will it happen? When?" and still it looped. It did this for what felt like hours but was probably five minutes, at one point the next stanza boomed into view, people bounced, then stopped, as we went back to the start. It was then as the lights dimmed, that the Goths and the suburban longhairs began to step back.
I danced religiously in University, mostly downstairs, as that was where the bar was, but this was playing out in the wide open space of upstairs, the fringes of the dancefloor filled up with the faceless, it became a demarcation line, you were either in this thing or you were a tourist. The usual hubbub of a night out in the Students union faded, apart from the chords you could hear nothing else. Still it looped.
It became obvious at this point as the tension rose, that those on the dancefloor were "having it" personal space diminished, people began to shake and gesticulate, it would be an overstatement to say that by the time the break came that people were baying for blood, but not by much. I launched ferociously into somebody I'd never seen before, it was like a war zone. Lights strobed, there was fog, heat, noise. You had to make like a Maasai just to know where you were, in the fractured distance, limbs flailed.
Had it not been on a dance floor it would have been an epic brawl.
I have no memory of what came next, I remember pausing for breath, and sharing predatory glances with others that were there, but the rest of the night was a blur of sweat, bruises and loud music. Needlessly to say the police were called, but they couldn't get on the dancefloor either, I think they'd locked the doors, in the end they cut the power. The music stopped and the emergency lighting came on, over the silence you could hear people breathing heavily. We were told to evacuate.
Apart from the endless loop and the longing, the thing I remember most was how the crowd at the floors edge parted as we stepped off, bloodied but unbowed, redwoods amongst brussels sprouts.
It was never the same after that, the heart had gone, but it's moments like that that you live for.
||[Feb. 24th, 2011|06:32 pm]
Posting a copy of my free exchange comment at the economist: here
Personally I think you're arguing somewhat at cross purposes, allied with being disingenuous & over confident in your responses.
>What's important to note is that financial market losses were not
>remotely large enough to explain the drop in national output.
The stock market and the real economy are only loosely correlated IMO, what really mattered post Bear was confidence, and the fear side of the greed & fear equation. Credit dried up, money market funds broke the buck, and had to back stopped by government etc. This caused the economy to freeze and the inventory chain to back up, consumers, (60-70% of a Western economy) pulled in their horns and stopped spending, there were bank runs, and widespread job losses, leading to a net drop in aggregate demand, and the the economy as a whole operating below potential. On the Substance if not the causes I think we can both agree. This IMO is enough to cause a output to drop.
>Central banks are supposed to stabilise those expectations, and the
>Fed underperformed on this score.
Yes they are expected to do this, and under normal circumstances they do a reasonable enough job. This is anything but normal circumstances. When the Fed is enacting emergency rate cuts, and the interest rate graph looks like a giants causeway and not a measured response. When the President is making statements on the economy, and saying "this sucker could go down", etc. To have the Fed telling consumers "all is well, nothing to see here" is foolish if not counter productive. Fear in such an environment is a rational response, whether you believe in rational & efficient markets or not.
>Firms, even really big ones, should be able to fail without
>generating serious recessions.
I wouldn't argue with you about ordinary firms, but banks are not ordinary firms, never have been, and when they're intertwined with the payments systems then it is for the public good, and for reasons of public order that the government, through the central bank ensures that the payment system and consumer & business bank accounts remain untouched. We have a model from recent history for what happens otherwise, it's called Argentina.
To call a big financial intermediary an ordinary firm, and to allow them to fail would have mean that on the weekend they let Lehman fail, they would have had to let AIG fail too. This would have left many firms world wide without insurance, bringing gridlock to many parts of the global economy. It would also have gutted not only the US banking system, which had bought CDS en masse from AIG FP to cover bets they'd taken against the US housing market, (and to which they were directly exposed) it would also have crippled large parts of Asia too.
The whole, "woe is me! moral hazard" stuff is nonsense. It's being doctrinaire in a banking crisis allied to a financial crisis, got ask Rogoff & Reinhart how that works out.
You seem to be arguing from a monetarist POV, yet you're arguing against Bernanke, the same Bernanke, that apologised to Friedman over the Fed's mishandling of the Great Depression when it was again doctrinaire about a banking crisis, in the middle of a financial crisis, pace Andrew Melon. It seems to me that Bernanke forgot doctrine, and did what was necessary to stabilise the system, it worked. QE, love it or hate it, is the logical extreme of monetary policy. Interest rates cannot go below the zero bound, so you focus on pulling down real interest rates by focusing on government bond purchases, and offset deflation by pumping money into the system. The fact that we're still here arguing and the lights are still on is a good sign IMO. I lost my job and had to move to find another, so be it.
Where we go from here is another matter, because the shadow banking system, (per Gary Gorton) is still insolvent. Personally I'd be happy with one of the options Mervyn King put forward, ironically enough in his Buttonwood speech. 100% reserve, narrow banking. Of the kind championed by John Kay. Remove moral hazard, by breaking up the "Too Big To Fail" banks, re-enact a form of Glass-Stegal forbidding retail banking & the payment system (boring banking) from having anything to do with investment banks & hedge funds, etc. (exciting banking) and create a resolution regime that made senior secured bondholders liable for any losses along with other investors. That should keep them small enough, and fierce enough, to ensure that competition does it's thing. While the boring banks get on with doing what banking should do, which is ensuring that money is saved and borrowed responsibly. Mezzanine financing and other more exotic things could be left to those that want to take the risk. No doubt fees would be high, and it would attract the same calibre of people who wanted to take risks with other people's money as did previously.
The system would also be a lot less volatile & more stable. The risks here are asymmetric, if we cannot afford another bust, get rid of the booms.
|The road less travelled
||[Nov. 24th, 2010|08:51 pm]
Otherwise known as how to secure your browser.
With news that Phorm having been ditched by US & UK ISP's is looking to make a comeback quoth the WSJ:
The technology, known as "deep packet inspection," is capable of reading and analyzing the "packets" of data traveling across the Internet. It can be far more powerful than "cookies" and other techniques commonly used to track people online because it can be used to monitor all online activity, not just Web browsing. Spy agencies use the technology for surveillance.
Now, two U.S. companies, Kindsight Inc. and Phorm Inc., are pitching deep packet inspection services as a way for Internet service providers to claim a share of the lucrative online ad market.
It's time to lock down your browser and secure it against prying eyes.
There is only so much you can do to get around deep packet inspection, but the following should go some way mitigate the effects if not the cause.
First you're going to need Chrome which is a Browser made by Google. If you don't understand what any of that means go read this I'll wait :)
So now you know what the internet, browsers and web apps are, we'll continue.
Like I said, this is based on Chrome, though I imagine you can do much the same on Mozilla/Firefox or Safari, etc. But that you'll have to work out on your own, Google is your friend :)
Why Chrome? Because it's a cutting edge HTML5 capable browser built from the ground up for speed. It's other advantages are that it will translate any web page on the fly into English, (other languages too, but this guide is is in English :) this may not sound like much of a big deal, but if you're a news geek, or just want to see what people are saying about you in a foreign language on facebook, this is a revelation. There is also an inline translator, (which we'll get to later) that will allow you to translate text that is user generated or pulled out of a database into a frame, (like ebay) Chrome is of course built by Google, who contrary to popular belief are on the side of the angels, well, at least in comparison to the founders of planet facebook. it's updated often, has built in security features, and is simple to configure. You can read about other features here.
Chrome is available for the three primary operating systems, PC, Mac & Linux, and comes in a range of flavours. Described thus:
If you're as risk averse as most people, then you'll have read the text above and placed undue weight on the word unstable Here's what instability means. In very rare circumstances it may crash or misbehave in some other odd fashion. In practice I've never had Chrome crash on me, except where I've messed about with it on purpose, and only then on Linux. For day to day use I use the unstable dev build, and keep a copy of Canary handy if I just want to use a browser quickly. By which I mean I installed the dev build on my mothers machine, for her personal use.
- Stable channel. Everyone is on the Stable channel when they first install Google Chrome. The Stable channel is updated with features and fixes once they have been thoroughly tested in the Beta channel. If you want a rock solid browser but don't need the latest features, the Stable channel is for you.
- Beta channel. People who like to use and help refine the latest features subscribe to the Beta channel. Every month or so, we promote stable and complete features from the Dev channel to the Beta channel. The Beta channel is more stable than Dev, but may lack the polish one expects from a finished product.
- Dev channel. This developer preview channel is where ideas get tested (and sometimes fail). The Dev channel can be very unstable at times, and new features usually require some manual configuration to be enabled. Still, simply using Dev channel releases is an easy (practically zero-effort) way for anyone to help improve Google Chrome.
- Canary build. This build is for people who want to help test Google Chrome and contribute to its development. The Canary build is updated even more frequently than the Dev channel and is not tested before being released. Because the Canary build may at times be unusable, it cannot be set as your default browser and may be installed in addition to any of the above channels of Google Chrome. By default, it also reports crashes and usage statistics to Google (you can disable this on the download page).
So, I'd recommend the dev channel, but by all means "pick your poison" from the descriptions above. You may be asked to agree to the end user licence, (tick a box) then you click the "accept" button and it should open, run & install chrome. At least on Windows. On a Mac it should give you the standard disk image which you mount and then drag the program to the apps folder. Linux can be complicated but here's how to install it on Ubuntu from the command line.
Once you have it installed launch it. It should then import your data from whatever other browser you were using, and then we'll configure it.
See the spanner in the top right corner? Click on it and select "Preferences" from the menu. This will open up a window. Select the last tab labelled "Under the Bonnet" Tick every box up-to (and including) translate. Then click the "content settings" button. This will open another window onto the cookie settings, tick both boxes, then click the "close" button. Finally click on the "close" button on the main preferences window. We'll come back to this briefly later, but this is enough for now.
It would be useful if you opened this page on chrome too, so you can just click the links, or we can do the rest manually.
Next we'll install extensions. What's an extension? Click here. Once you're ready to install, you can either click the spanner, go down to "Tools" the click "Extensions" this will open a blank tab with the word Boo on it, (here) then click the link, or you can just click here with your mouse wheel, and the page will open in a new tab.
There are many extensions, but here I'm only going to tell you about ones that will get rid of ads, stop people tracking you and the like, and how to encrypt your Google searches, etc.
Into the search box type adblock plus and select it. Or click here click the blue "install" button, this should download a file, then open a Window, click the "Install" button. A balloon popup will appear under the spanner, click the x to remove it. You will see a red ABP icon in your location bar. We'll configure it later.
Go back to the extension page, and type Google ssl into the search box, or click here Same procedure with the popup, but the first time you run it it will open a window with one button on it. Click it, and it will open a popup, click the "Save" button. Now go back into preferences, click on the "Basics" tab, and click the "Manage" button. This will open a new window, select the Google SSL entry and click the "Make Default" button. then close both windows.
With chrome, the location bar is also the search bar, you don't have to open Google to search you just type direct into the bar and it will give you search result back in the main window. With Google SSL, all your search results, (only in English at present) will be sent & returned securely to Google, even deep packet inspection will not be able to see what you're looking for. As you move around the web and use search functions these will be added to the list of search functions available to you by default, you can clean them out if you don't need them.
Go back to the extension page, and type Ghostery into the search box, or click here Same procedure with the popup, This will open a series of pages to configure ghostery, accept the defaults. this will place a blue ghost next to the spanner. right click on it and select "Options" This will take you to another page, tick everything except "Show alert bubble" then click on "update now" in blue, then scroll to the bottom of the page and click the "Save" button.
What Ghostery does is it blocks most of the tracking/statistics services, the green/red number next to the blue ghost is the number of tracking services the current page has, Green means blocked, red unblocked.
Go back to the extension page, and type WidgetBlock into the search box, or click here Same procedure with the popup, but no visible icon will appear.
What this extension does is speed up pages by stopping them load the Twitter/facebook updates page. This is configurable from the extensions page. Click "options" next to the big red X. Uncheck the services you want to allow. Close the tab.
Finally go back to the extension page, and type HyperTranslate into the search box, or click here Same procedure with the popup.You will need to go into the extensions page to configure hypertranslate, click here HyperTranslate is the square blue icon, click "Options" next to it. On the page that loads, select the target language as "English" (set to Hungarian by default) I personally select font size 16, border 1px, padding 1px. by default the action key is shift, you can change this if you like. Then click the "Save Settings" button at the bottom, and click OK, on the popup box. This will reload all your tabs.
What HyperTranslate does is it fills in the gaps that Chrome misses with translation. It uses the same translate service, (Google translate, which has more language options than the better known babelfish.) What you do is highlight any foreign text, about 4 lines max. Then you press the action key, (shift by default) this will open a blue popup with the English translation, you can also right click the text and then select "HyperTranslate", etc. from the menu.
Now we'll configure adblock. Right click on the red ABP, (only works on live web pages, not on blank tabs) select "Options" Make sure the top and bottom boxes are ticked, and any others you want, then click "Update now" then select the last tab "General" tick all the boxes, then close the tab. If you want more ad-blocking you can install Adsweep it does work in conjunction with adblock, but doing so occasionally has unintended consequences as it's more thorough, and hence blocks more stuff you may want to see. Up to you.
Almost done, finally go back to the extension pages and tick the "Allow in incognito" box next to all your extensions. This means you can use them when you open up a private browsing session at the risk that somebody else might be able to access your physical computer and see what you were looking at later. It's a risk I'm happy with.
Next up we go to userscripts.org this is a collection of Greasemonkey scripts that can be used natively in chrome.
The form for these is you click the "install" button, it will download the script, and open a window at the bottom of the screen. Click the "continue" button, then it's just like an extension. You'll be installing the following:
Googleprivacy which blocks most of Google's tracking cookies & scripts, etc.
Facebook disconnect this is also available as an extension if you prefer here but a script is lighter. Facebook has loads of "like" buttons all over the internet, but these contain a tracking cookie, and scripts that report back to facebook where you've been, (even if you don't have a facebook account)This script stops that. It does not stop you using facebook or interfere with the functionality of facebook, it's just stops them tracking you.
Finally go back to "Preferences" -> "Under the Bonnet" -> "Content Settings..." and click on the blue link that says "Adobe Flash Player storage settings..." this will open a new window at Macromedia.com, you can find a walk through (for Firefox) here but it applies broadly to chrome too, at least for the window just opened.
On the macromedia page, click "Delete all sites" then "confirm" then click the "never ask again" tickbox. then click the next tab, the monitor with the eye, and move the mouse pointer under the "Always deny" circle, (this will highlight as you hover, then click.) Then click on the folder with the world behind it, next to the padlock.
On the new page untick "Allow third-party flash content to store data on your computer" slide the slider all the way to the left, then tick the "Never Ask Again" box. Finally click the first tab, and click "Always Deny" then you can close the window.
You will need to do this every time you update flash, Don't Forget!
Before you go explore all the new extensions and scripts you can install and mess about with and experiment with your browser, if you use Google images or Flickr a lot you may want to consider Greased Lightbox which is a script which changes the layout of image heavy pages, and allows you to cycle through images with the keyboard and zoom in, etc. It's really quite good. For instance you no longer have to load the next page in Google images, just scroll down, and it auto populates.
If you like you can make Chrome reopen the pages you had open last, or load a default set of tabs. This is in "Preferences" -> "Basics" along with the default option for opening a new tab, etc. If you do open your old tabs it will open them from the cache, which is faster than loading them live, but depending on how many you have open can delay you a little. This is why I install Chrome Canary, It allows me to just surf if I want to know the weather before I go out, etc.
Now you have a secure functional and fast browser, if you decide you want to keep it as your default, open "Preferences" again and on the "Basics" tab select "Make Google Chrome My Default Browser" you can still use Firefox or IE, etc. but by default when you click a link in email etc. it will open Chrome.
Occasionally you might see a orange ball over the spanner, this means there is a new update available. If you restart your browser it will update automatically or you can force it and it will ask you if you want to restart manually.
If you have questions post a comment.
[Update] A new extension disconnect from a (now ex) googler, looks to help you stop being tracked, by digg, Facebook, Google, twitter & Yahoo! Install it with the same procedure as above, it will install as a visible d next to the spanner. Click it for information.
[Update 2] changed adthwart to adblock plus after the two extensions were merged, (adthwart was originally forked from adblock for Firefox as there wasn't an ad blocker for Chrome)
[Update 3] Disconnect now seems to have a "Depersonalize searches" option, click on the d next to the spanner and put a tick in the box under the Y! icon at the bottom of the list.
[Update 4] While you're at it install Readability you can also sign up and give them money and they will give it to authors on your behalf, so they get paid, and you get to read good stuff. It put's a sofa on your toolbar. Click it and select "read now" to de-clutter a page. Check the site itself for more details.
[Update 5] Google have provided us with a way of getting rid of search spam and content farms, by way of a Personal Blocklist extension. Yay! Thank you Google. This puts a red hand icon next to the spanner and the sofa, click it to see the domains you've blocked, or select the Block option next to the cached & similar options (in pale blue) under each search term. w00t!
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