Indonesian Tsunami Relief Effort

I’m not in Indonesia at the moment, but my thoughts are with those tens of thousands of people in Aceh and the rest of Sumatra island, coping with the aftereffects of the tsunami. For those of you wishing to make contributions to the relief effort, one organisation is worth considering: Radio 68H, a network of independent radio stations throughout Indonesia with a strong presence in Aceh.

They have set up a fund (Indonesian only; English language page to be available soon) to help (as far as I know it’s in rupiah):

Name: PT Media Lintas Inti Nusantara
Bank: BCA
Branch: Utan Kayu, Jakarta
Number: 5800091090

I feel confident they will use the money frugally and wisely.


My Friendly Neighbourhood PC Store

I’ve long had a love hate relationship with the PC World megastore in my hometown. On the one hand they’re the only folks in town stocking any computer stuff. On the other hand they are truly dreadful:

  • Even during a lunchtime a week before Christmas they have only one till open. When another staff member opened a second till for someone buying something a queue formed. “I’m not open, I’m afraid,” the staff member said. One customer was so livid he threw his intended purchases on a nearby display, offered some unChristmas-like valedictions to the staff and left empty-handed. I would have followed in solidarity but I really, really needed the Bluetooth adapter.
  • Sadly the staff look like uber-geeks but are idiots. I asked a guy for help on scanners — which were powered, which were USB2.0 compliant, all that kind of basic stuff (which wasn’t written anywhere on the labels), and he launched into a long treatise that bore only tangential relationship with the topic in hand. I’m no expert, but I know a bluffer when I see one. He didn’t even offer to look up the information for me.
  • When I took an Ethernet cable to the counter and asked whether I had the right one for a network (as opposed to connecting two computers, which, I read, would involve different wiring) he felt the cable itself and said, “Yeah, that’s the right one, it’s red.” Ah, that’s alright then; 
  • What I really hate, and this may not be their fault, is the supplying of gear without cables. It’s been the practice of printer manufacturers for some time now to sell their printers without the USB cable. I guess this shaves a few pounds off the price, but it’s sneaky and merely enables the store to then charge the unsuspecting punter for the most expensive USB cable in the store ‘because it’s better’. The number of times I’ve seen naive shoppers taken in by this annoys the hell out of me. Probably they’ve got a USB cable at home that would do the job, but, unsuspecting and trusting, they believe the guy and take whatever is recommended to them in the shop. Some of these cables cost $20 or more, significantly adding to the cost of the device. And don’t get me started on the dodgy ‘no cartridges in the printer box’ scam. Jeesh.

For once you’d think these shops would try to win customers’ long term loyalty by giving them good information and a square deal. But why bother when you’re the only store in town?

Building Social Quirks Into Design

At my Mum’s house, and my childhood home, we have this quirk in the kitchen where the dish washer door comes down and pretty much blocks the kitchen entrance. To a designer, or someone carrying a heavy tray past, this might seem like a flaw. I’ve realised it’s not, and that designers, if they’re not already, should consider this kind of thing a feature they should intentionally include in kitchens, or indeed anything. Let me explain.

That bottleneck has created some interesting moments in our family history. Nothing major, but nothing brings people together like having to negotiate a hazard. Folk have to give way; folk have to pass trays over; folk have to try to keep the dish washer door shut. Dogs get stuck; people learn to sidle past each other; people meet in the bottleneck and fall in love. (Well, OK, not the last bit, but you get my drift. In short: A design flaw creates an interpersonal space that helps to bring people together in a quirky way.

So good kitchens (and good design) should not just be about function, form and beauty. They should include quirks, annoyances, absurdities — elements that somehow precipitate social interaction, or at least force users to behave a little differently. I wonder how many times an awkward relationship or bit of family distance was altered for the better by that bottleneck next to our dish washer.

‘Tis The Season Of The Large Christmas Email Attachment

I’m not a huge fan of Christmas greetings via email, but then again I’m useless at sending cards too, so I’m not a good person to talk about this. But while I’m guessing the online Christmas card industry is not doing very well this year because of phishing (there have been more than a few examples of phishers using this particular kind of social engineering to lure victims), I’m also not that happy about the email Christmas card attachment, which still seems to have its followers. I’m talking about the bulky JPEG, PDF or Word file that says not only ‘happy Christmas’ but ‘I’m assuming you’re on a fast Internet connection and don’t mind 1 megabyte downloads’.

My advice to those considering this methods of transmitting their love over the Internet: keep the file size under 100 kilobytes, or be ready for some less than happy recipients.

Loose Wires

Just a note to subscribers who have been asking why some of the recent columns haven’t showed up on my corner of The problem is now fixed, and you can see them here:

Apologies for the delay. There won’t be a column this week because of the holiday season, but I’ll still be adding bits and pieces to this blog. I’ve also recorded some more editions of Loose Wire for the BBC World Service’s World Business Report, which will appear on Fridays on the radio, or via the World Business Report link on this page.

Have a happy holiday, everyone.

Napster’s Sleazy Front Door

I’m trying out some of the online music sites, and am presently playing around with Napster. What ticks me off about these services is they try to confuse the novice into handing over their credit card details before they can get into the service, even if they have already bought a pre-paid card. The offer is ‘we just need your credit card, but it’s a free trial, honest!’. This happens at least three times, and then another pop-up window with no button to click but the one that takes you to the ‘free trial’. Anyone not absolutely sure what they’re doing is bound to click on the wrong button at some point and, eventually just hand over their credit card details just to get to the dang music store.

Of course the unsuspecting punter finds they forget to cancel and bang! At the end of the month they’re getting charged. Given a lot of the users are youngsters, I think this kind of approach, though not unusual, is appalling. Is there no shame on the part of the folk who run these services, and no legal safeguards against this kind of thing? First bad mark against Napster.

Phishing Tips

Further to my column in today’s AWSJ Personal Journal on Daniel McNamara, who I (tho certainly not he) have christened the ‘Anti-Phisher King’, are some tips I asked him to put together on avoiding phishing scams.

User Tips

Standard Phishing Emails

  1. Just remember that NO bank will ever, ever ask you to confirm details via email. If a bank seriously needs you to confirm information they will always require your physical presence or at the very least by phone.
  2. Banks never need you to confirm your password or PIN. They run the systems and if they ever run into problems with these it’s much simpler for them to scrub the current records and replace them with new ones.
  3. They tend to be pretty un-imaginative using the same wording over and over again. Have a read through some previous phisher emails and you’ll soon spot some common patterns.
  4. There’s always the obvious clue that the bank that requires you to confirm your details is not one you actually bank with.
  5. Ebay/Paypal Scams – Just like the banks these guys never need you to confirm your details. They do control the systems so it’s far easier for them to reset the information than to get the client to verify it.
  6. Remember this simple fact. The emails claim that due to whatever issue you need to verify your details. A quick bit of common sense shows that if they’ve screwed up the data they have what exactly are they going to verify against?
  7. The emails always threaten account closure if you don’t comply. If a bank was seriously considering closing your bank account that would almost certainly contact you in writing (via good old snail mail) or over the phone.

Job Scams

  1. Remember these jobs scams don’t just arrive via email. There have been cases of the phishers inserting these jobs into real job sites. The job sites generally do a good job of scrubbing these fraudulent job listings but occasionally they will miss one or two.
  2. Job scams are sometimes sent out via broadcast ICQ/MSN messages. If you receive an email from someone you do not know offering you a job, particularly if it offers large amount of income for very little work, treat it with extreme suspicion.
  3. Any job that offers you to make thousands a week is automatically suspect. No legitimate job (other than that of a CEO) will ever pull that sort of cash.
  4. The jobs scams almost always claim they are a European company have troubles doing overseas money transfer. This is ridiculous. Todays financial systems allow for businesses to transfer money anywhere they want in the world without resorting to wiring services such as Western Union.
  5. A “job” that pays by percentage kept from a money transfer is not legal from a tax point of Remember in the real world the employer needs to pay the appropriate amount of payroll tax. The way the jobs scams operate falls outside of this area.

Trojan Lure Emails

  1. These emails are almost always designed to get an emotional not rational response. As such the will claim things like your credit card has been charged, there is some form of huge natural disaster/terrorist attack or some of other story designed to make people click on the link out of fear or curosity.
  2. Some lure pretend to be questsions from eBay or PayPal people. Most of the time these emails looking slightly out of place

General Tips

  • By cynical. Seriously. The way the internet is today end users no longer have much of a choice but to approach anything they are presented with on the web/email as highly suspect until you feel you have enough hard evidence to prove it.
  • Keep your windows machines up to date. Yes even if you are on dial up. The time you spend now could save you from a very expense headace down the road. Make sure you run Windows Update at least once a month.
  • Use anti-virus. Doesn’t really matter which one you use as long as you actually keep it up to date. All current anti-virus systems are simply signature based checkers and can only check for trojans they actually know about.
  • DON’T treat anti-virus and firewalls as the magic bullet for this problem. Despite what many companies will try and sell you there is NO all in one cure for this. There is always a way around firewalls, there is always some lag time between the time a new trojan is released and when the anti-virus companies update their signatures. Having said this you should still use these products because most of the time they will help save you.
  • If you receive an email you’re unsure about ask the place is supposedly from. It’s worth it just to double check it now than pay the price in the future.
  • If you come across an email you know to be fraudulent try and make steps to inform the bank/company involved. Most major ones these days have a facility to do this now.
  • If you have become embroiled in one of the money laundering job scams you need to cease contact with the scammers. Don’t send them emails saying you’ve found them to be a scam and don’t respond to their inquiries. Then contact your bank’s anti-fraud department. Depending on the level of service of your bank’s helpdesk this may take a little work but once you get through to the anti-fraud department you should find it is staffed by competent and understanding people who will work with the police in order track the stolen money. Be aware this process may result in your account being frozen for a few days while this happens. Better this than potentially being charged with aiding and abetting fraud.
  • If you have been involved in a job scam like the ones we’ve seen to date do not try and hold onto the money from the “job”. Remember some that money has been stolen from some other person’s account and you have no more right to it than that of the scum that stole it in the first place.

An Appeal For Help

Fans of Loose Wire may possibly recall a column I did a year or so ago, when I tried to match quaint English placenames with computer matters, assigning the names to things that didn’t yet have them. Here are a few:

  • chettle (collective n) The debris, such as crumbs, dead insects and lint, that gets stuck inside your computer keyboard.
  • hordle (v) The noise a modem makes when it is trying to connect to the Internet. As in: My modem isn’t working. I can’t hear it hordle.
  • whitnash (n) The pain in your shoulder at the end of a long laptop-carrying trip. As in: The trip went fine, but I’ve got serious whitnash and need a bubble bath.

I’ve taken the liberty of re-publishing the piece as part of a holiday season blitz, part of which is for purely selfish reasons. Frankly, I’ve been less than happy that these words have not, for the most part, entered mainstream usage, so I figured I needed to give them a boost. I have therefore submitted the above three to Harper Collins’ new Living Dictionary/Word Exchange project, where folk are encouraged to put in their own suggestions for entries.

Of course, that it was I who assigned these words their meanings may not make me exactly an objective chronicler of the language, but as the editor in chief of Collins Dictionaries, Jeremy Butterfield, points out in today’s Guardian, “Things change very quickly now.  Words can establish themselves within a month.”

So this is where you, o reader, come in. I’d like you to back my campaign by making your own submissions of any of the words (I’ve just done the above, but feel free to use any of the other ones) to the Word Exchange. You have to register first, but, trust me, it’s worth it. In exchange, you can tell your grandchildren you helped put Chettle on the map.

A Geek’s Lexicon

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 1 May 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c)   2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
It’s unsurprising, given the kind of people who design and play with computers, but I’ve always felt there to be a chronic shortage of terms to describe what we actually do with our technology. So I’ve come up with some of my own. And, in case I’m accused of merely adding words to the English language, I’ve used existing words, in this case from the villages of the United Kingdom (I make no claim for originality here; the late author of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, did it first with a marvellous book called The Meaning of Liff. I also offer a nod in the direction of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter). Here’s my contribution (these are all real place names, so my apologies in advance to offended residents):
appledore (n) Someone who touts the superior benefits of Macintosh computers at parties, even after the dancing has started.   

aynho (n) Someone who forwards inane jokes, hoax virus alerts and cutesy e-mails to everyone in their address book, however much they’re asked not to. Usage: Who is the aynho that keeps sending Saddam  jokes?

biggleswade (v) The process of scouring through tonnes of Word files, spreadsheets, and e-mails to find a crucial document. As in: I’ve been biggleswading all afternoon and I still can’t find the dang thing.   

branksome (adj) A temperamental Internet connection. The Net’s been really branksome today.  

chettle (collective n) The debris, such as crumbs, dead insects and lint, that gets stuck inside your computer keyboard.

chew magna (v) When your floppy or ZIP drive, instead of reading a disk, grindingly destroys it.   

chipping norton (n) The point a PC reaches when it requires the use of an error-fixing program such as Norton Utilities. As in: I’m   sorry, guv, but your computer’s chipping norton.

crackington haven (n) A Web site that is home to ne’er-do-well hackers, crackers and credit-card fraudsters.   

cridling stubbs (n) The stunted, misshapen fingers and thumbs of teenagers who have spent too long sending text messages on their cellphones.

devizes (n) Gadgets you bought, used once and then, realizing they took up more time than they saved, threw in a drawer.   

fiddleford (n) A person who jabs away on a personal digital assistant in public places.

fladdabister (n) A sore or bruise that appears shortly before the onset of cridling stubbs (qv).   

foindle (v) The (usually) unconscious act of stroking a much loved gadget in public.

fugglestone (v) Frustration experienced after failing to   master an item of hardware or software. I’ve spent three hours on this dumb   program and I’m completely fugglestoned. (Not in polite usage.)   

gnosall (n) A person who frequents newsgroups and appears to know the answer to everything, while having no apparent qualifications or job.

hanslope (n) The slouch adopted when text messaging in public.   

hayling (n) The gesture made by someone answering his hand-phone during a meeting or meal, signifying it’s important and they’ll be with you in a minute.

hordle (v) The noise a modem makes when it is trying to connect to the Internet. As in: My modem isn’t working. I can’t hear it   hordle. (Also see millom)   

inchgrundle (v) To assist, reluctantly and grudgingly, a customer with their recently purchased computer.

keevil (n) A small icon residing in your Windows system   tray, the purpose of which remains a mystery.   

lostwithiel (n) The remote area not covered by your cellphone operator. As in: I would have called you, boss, but I was in lostwithiel.

melbury bubb (n) The noise of people talking on their handphone on public transport, unaware they are driving fellow commuters to distraction. How was your day, dear? Fine, but the melbury bubb on the train   home was awful. What’s for dinner?  

melplash (n) An annoying window that pops up on your screen   when you’re trying to do something important.

millom (n) The period of blissful silence when, after hours   of fiddling with settings and wall sockets, your modem no longer hordles   (qv) and connects to the Internet.   

much wenlock (n) The belated realization that you’ve been typing with the cAPS lOCK oN.

odstock (n) Gadgets and peripherals you can no longer use because you’ve lost the cables, software or power adaptor for them.   

padstow (n) The place where all your mousepads mysteriously head for when they go missing from your desk.

puncknowle (n) A geeky teenager who knows the answer to all your computer problems but never seems to actually get around to fixing them. 

scrooby (adj) When a computer screen starts behaving oddly for no apparent reason. Common usage: Jeremy can you come round and take a look at my computer? It’s gone all scrooby again.

swaffham bulbeck (n) The pseudo-authoritative spiel delivered by computer-store staff in the hope of browbeating a sale. As in:   I tried to find out which was the best computer to buy but the guy just gave me a load of swaffham bulbeck. I’m not going back to that store again.

tibshelf (n) The area near your computer where you keep software and hardware manuals you never refer to.   

ufton nervet (n) The suspense experienced upon rebooting a crashed computer, fearing that valuable data has been lost.

upper tooting (n) An insister error beep, the source of which cannot be identified. As in: I have no idea what the problem is, the   thing just keeps upper tooting.  

wantage (n) The shortfall between your present computer’s capacity and that required to run the program you just bought.

whitnash (n) The pain in your shoulder at the end of a long laptop-carrying trip. As in: The trip went fine, but I’ve got serious   whitnash and need a bubble bath. What’s for dinner?

Life In Indonesia

Folk ask why I live in Indonesia. Here’s why.

The Associated Press reported today that villagers in the South Sulawesi town of Watampone were protesting Tuesday outside the local police station demanding action against a local man they accused of practising black magic when it started raining. The police invited the protesters to shelter inside. Waiting for the storm to pass, some of the protesters wandered into the police armoury, which was unlocked, where they started playing with some explosive material. Some of it fell on the floor. The resulting explosion left four villagers injured. Local police chief Lt. Col. Oya Zulfikar was quoted as saying the four would be questioned when they were discharged from hospital.