Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Defragmentation Scareware wants your money

It's a scam: rogue software installs itself or lures unsuspecting users to install it. Then it "analyses" your system, generating a whole bunch of alarming messages about how your system is "critical", and then insists that you pay the authors for the full version to "fix" the problem. Once you pay, miracles happen: your system no longer has errors. Of course these messages were all bogus to begin with, and now that you have handed over your cash, they no longer appear.
This tactic is not new, but before it was done using fake "security" scanners, antivirus programs, or malware scanners. Now the authors have turned their attention to rogue defrag programs, as reported by GFI Labs and other web sites. I heard it first on the Security Now podcast #280:
... watch out for fraudulent defraggers.
That's the latest thing to happen. There's so many useful free software out there, it's not surprising that the bad guys are going to be mixing their own malware in with the good stuff.
So there's HDDRepair, HDDRescue, HDDPlus, UltraDefragger, ScanDisk, DefragExpress, and WinHDD have all been identified as bogus. They claim to be a free defragger to make your computer run faster, the way it used to. And who doesn't want that? What these things do, though, they're scareware. You run them; they actually do no defragging at all, but they apparently do something. And then they come back with a note that, oh ... you've got serious problems, baby. We're going to need another $20, or an initial $20, or more in some cases, to fix this problem. So again, this is going to catch a certain number of people who unwittingly download this and don't know any better.
What worries me is that this kind of scareware is likely to give defrag programs a bad name, in the same way that anti-spyware and registry scanners have been given a bad name. So, before you download any defrag software, check whether it is on this list and use the correct URL supplied. If it isn't on the list, report it, and use a trusted program instead.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My OUTsurance misunderstandings

I probably complain more than most, especially when I feel unjustly or unfairly treated. Hence my rant earlier this week about OUTsurance. What I can honestly say is that I'm embarrassed at how badly I got it wrong. And before you sceptics start asking difficult questions, no one has threatened me or asked me to remove my previous post. It is entirely voluntary, and is in response to the considerable efforts by two dedicated people: Kitso Seitshiro in claims and Peter Khan in management. Let me explain.
I first got upset because I understood my vehicle to be insured for approx R10,700 - a figure quoted verbally by the sales department, and confirmed by an assessor report. But the claims department insisted that the actual value of the vehicle is actually only R 8600. So something was "off", and I got very suspicious. It turns out that if you do an electronic lookup on the "TransUnion Auto Dealers Guide" you won't find my wife's 1988 VW Fox 1600 listed any more. It's listed instead in the more generic "Cars and Commercial Vehicles over 10 years old" category. Why their computer system doesn't reflect this is something that OUTsurance and TransUnion will have to figure out. TransUnion are already scratching their heads over this one. So what appeared to be different values from two different departments in the same company was a genuine mistake, not an evil conspiracy. Furthermore, I was quite impressed when management offered to use the higher value when sorting out the claim.
The next problem I faced was trying to get a copy of the "fine print" booklet, referred to as the Adobe Acrobat Portable Document"Personal Facility Booklet". Both the sales department and the claims department kept thinking I was referring to the insurance schedule, not the "green booklet". No one thought to say that it was on their web site all along. They were genuinely confused when I said "fine print" because there isn't any. No, really, there is no fine print. The principles and terms and conditions are written in plain language that even a programmer like me can understand, and the writing is big enough to read without a magnifying glass. Now if only some other insurance companies did that we'd all be better off. The only shortcoming of this approach is that it may err on the side of over-simplification. But still, 63 pages covering all kinds of insurance is pretty amazing.
I hate financial surprises, and the surprise I found was that if the repairs on a vehicle get close to or exceed the insured value, most people simply write off the wreck and get a new car. Our cars are old and cheap, and we wouldn't dream of scrapping a car that we could repair, because finding a replacement vehicle is going to be a financial nightmare. Call me a cheapskate, but I'd prefer to pay off my house than buy another car.
So what the claims department originally said was that rather than writing the vehicle off as scrap and selling the wreck on auction, they would pay out the equivalent "wreck" price (70% of the retail price) and allow us to keep the vehicle and repair it ourselves. I was disappointed that the car was worth so little, but not entirely surprised. They were actually trying to be helpful, but with all the other confusion about the costs I didn't see that. Now I do.
One lesson I have learnt: read the documents carefully. Every year they send out a letter informing us of the new premium values, but what had slipped my attention even though it is clearly written in full sight is that the excess increases as well. What started as R1000 ten years ago crept up to R2860. I have changed the policy to put it back at R1000, and don't mind the minor premium increase.
Another lesson: when you are insuring a cheap clunker you are mainly covering yourself if you hit something expensive, not if someone hits you. Old clunkers may be fully paid for, but they cost money to repair.
So now ask yourself this question: how many insurance company executives are willing to spend half an hour on the phone from 5.30 (i.e. WAY after office hours) to 6pm to sort out a misunderstanding and turn an irate but confused customer into a happy one? That's what Kitso and Peter did today. Plus they called me individually on Monday and Tuesday. Awesome.
I am now convinced that at no point was anyone trying to rip me off, and my frustration at their lack of understanding was simply that I was demanding to see "the fine print" when there really wasn't any. Hence their confusion and my frustration. It has eventually dawned on me that they were actually taking my complaint far more seriously than anyone could reasonably expect. Awesome.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Man's Best Friend

Thanks to Jeremy Nell for making my day with this one ;-)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stupidity is not a disability

I just had to take this picture. I saw it at a filling station on my way to our holiday destination. At many highway stops there are designated parkings for disabled drivers or passengers, but most of these spots are marked by the architect and the actual garage owners or managers just couldn't give a damn if brain-dead drivers park there instead.
I have seen fancy sports cars and taxis using these spots and no-one gives a damn if people on crutches or in wheelchairs have to struggle to get to the toilet or buy something. It's great to see at least one garage where the owner or manager actually cares. I'd love to put signs like this at other garages. Maybe I should just get my own wheel clamp and carry it around in the boot. Mmm ...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The WikiLeaks War


I found this interesting interview by Riz Khan formerly of CNN and now working at AlJazeera, called The WikiLeaks War. It would be great if other media were less shrill and spineless and asked more difficult questions like this.
What annoys me the most about the whole Wikileaks saga is how the US government can come out with rubbish about them "breaking the law" but they don't accuse the New York Times or the Guardian of precisely the same "crimes"? Why don't PayPal, MasterCard and Visa refuse to do business with these companies? What right do they have to arbitrarily cut off one of their customers? If they can do it to Wikileaks, they can do it to Google. A chilling thought.

Press Freedom is priceless. For everything else there's MasterCard ;-(
Update: Private Manning in solitary confinement for 6 months. That's the kind of thing that used to happen under Apartheid. Now it happens in the USA.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Homeland Security reveals its true purpose: stupidity

Despite vehement denials by the Washington regime, it seems that fascism is alive and well in the USA. How else could the "Department of Homeland Security", the euphemistically named department of domestic spying, lose the plot so badly?
In the same month that they decided to introduce invasive and unhealthy airport scanning equipment, they also decided it would be OK to randomly censor web sites around the world, cheerfully joining the same repressive regimes they criticise for internet censorship, like China. The screen shot above comes from www.torrent-finder.com, a site run by an Egyptian. No, it does not contain any "counterfeit goods" or copyrighted materials that I can see. You can now see his site at www.torrent-finder.info instead. I never realised it would be so easy to make the USA look so stupid.
There is an interesting article on "How to find the ip address of a seized website" and an update to your hosts file that lists 82 of "seized" web sites. This kind of behaviour gives the US a bad name, as if invading countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Vietnam and others hadn't already done so. Since when did these arrogant bastards think it was OK to censor the internet anyway?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Red" Espresso gets a green light

It came as a bit of a shock when my doctor and my cardiologist told me to stop drinking coffee, unless it was decaf. A morning pot of coffee to help me wake up has been a ritual for years. In the last two years I have taken to drinking my coffee black, with minimal sugar. What now?
I have recently experimented with Laager "Rooibos Cappuccino", a mixture of Rooibos tea and frothy milk powder, that makes an enjoyable drink pretty close to instant Cappuccino, which is a special treat. So when I visited my local supermarket, the packaging of Red Espresso caught my eye, and I decided to try it.
It's refreshing, with or without milk. So now my morning pot of coffee has been replaced with a morning pot of Red Espresso. There is no caffeine at all, but plenty of anti-oxidants instead, which I'm told is good for me. If I get the urge for coffee, I can always have decaf, but I must say I'm enjoying the Red Espresso just as much. I found more information about it on the marTea site, and there is a web site where you can buy it in several countries. Even Amazon.com sells it. It is available at most supermarkets in South Africa and online from Pick 'n Pay.

Update: It seems that their "patent" is one of those dodgy ones. See Noseweek #134, or check out a competing product at www.teaspresso.com. I can't understand how anyone would try to patent a natural product like tea.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Awesome "Change"

Four talented young musicians recently recorded this album. I gladly paid the US$15 to buy the album, and enjoyed listening to the songs and reading the lyrics. I think its pretty awesome. Last year they played at the music festival at Clarens and impressed a lot of seasoned musos with their energy and talent. This year they are even better. They even recorded, mixed and produced the album themselves. I'm seriously impressed.
The band is called "When in September"
From left to right in the photo:
Thomas Quinn - Guitar and Backup Vocals;
Levon Lock - Guitar and Lead Vocals;
Timothy Edwards - Drums and Backup Vocals;
Warren Graham - Bass and Backup Vocals;
They have a Facebook Fan Page and there are 4 extra free songs on their MySpace profile.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Pathetic Lies from Clientele Life


I finally got an evasive response from Clientele Life, and it's not good. They sent a response, retracted it, and then sent it again. Obviously they can't decide on which lies and/or half-truths they should include.
"As a company we obtain prospect information from numerous sources. We would like to assure you that this is perfectly legal ... Clientele obtain personal information to be used in our Call Centre from many different list providers. One only has to go to the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (see www.dmasa.co.org) and they will provide us with many and numerous accredited list providers, whereby we then go to these list providers and buy lists for prospecting.
This shows how cheap they are. They are not members of the DMA themselves, but claim to obtain lists from DMA members. However, my details are on the DMA's "Do Not Contact" list, so either they are lying or the DMA members are not cleaning their own lists.
They assure me that they are not breaking the law, which is a lie. Their inability to tell me who they got my details from is in itself a violation of the ECT Act. Obtaining my details from a DMA list means they already know that I don't want to be contacted. That's another violation. Failure to respond to my "stop" SMS message is a third violation.
If they duck and dive this badly with a simple request for information, what kind of ducking and diving do they do when you make a policy claim? The mind boggles. How can any organisation be this stupid?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Salander's T-Shirt Slogans

I love Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy for various reasons, such as Salander's hacking abilities. But I also think her T-shirt slogans are amazing.
Salander was dressed for the day in a black T-shirt with a picture on it of E.T. with fangs, and the words
"I am also an Alien"
Then there is:
"Armageddon Was Yesterday — Today We Have a Serious Problem."
"I Can Be a Regular Bitch. Just Try Me"
"Kill Them All and Let God Sort Them Out"
"Consider This A Fair Warning"
"You Have The Right To Remain Silent"
and in classic understatement at her trial,
"I Am Annoyed"
The audio books are fantastic, and are well narrated. I can thoroughly recommend them

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I'm tired of being called a "racist"

© 2010 Zapiro (All rights reserved)
Printed with permission from www.zapiro.com
For more Zapiro cartoons visit www.zapiro.com

One of the most annoying things about South African politics is the speed and rapidity with which any criticism of any ANC politician is dubbed "racist", especially if the minister concerned is accused of incompetence. If the critic happens to have a "white" complexion, no further justification is given. If the complexion is different, then some long tedious argument about "reactionary forces" is added, in order not to look too ridiculous.
Take Gareth Cliff as an example. He is a presenter on a State-controlled radio station, as well as a judge on the SA Idols TV show. He has a "white" face, therefore he must be racist, because he wrote an open letter to the Government that was critical. The Times contacted Nzimande's office about Cliff's letter and Nzimande's chief of staff, Nqaba Nqandela, said: "Please note that Minister Nzimande is not going to dignify these rantings of a racist with a response."
Read it carefully and underline all the racist remarks that it contains. I couldn't find any. But that's because I must be a racist too. By definition.
Dear Government
OK, I get it, the President isn't the only one in charge. The ANC believes in "collective responsibility" (So that nobody has to get blamed when things get screwed up), so I address this to everyone in government - the whole lot of you - good, bad and ugly (That's you, Blade).

We were all so pleased with your renewed promises to deliver services (we'll forgive the fact that in some places people are worse off than in 1994); to root out corruption (so far your record is worse than under Mbeki, Mandela or the Apartheid regime - what with family members becoming overnight millionaires); and build infrastructure (State tenders going disgustingly awry and pretty stadia standing empty notwithstanding) - and with the good job you did when FIFA were telling you what to do for a few months this year. Give yourselves half a pat on the back. Since President Sepp went off with his billions I'm afraid we have less to be proud of - Public Servants Strikes, more Presidential bastard children, increasing unemployment and a lack of leadership that allowed the Unions to make the elected government it's bitch. You should be more than a little worried - but you're not. Hence my letter. Here are some things that might have passed you by:

1. You have to stop corruption. Don't stop it because rich people moan about it and because it makes poor people feel that you are self-enriching parasites of state resources, but because it is a disease that will kill us all. It's simple - there is only so much money left to be plundered. When that money runs out, the plunderers will raise taxes, chase and drain all the remaining cash out of the country and be left with nothing but the rotting remains of what could have been the greatest success story of post-colonial Africa. It's called corruption because it decomposes the fabric of society. When someone is found guilty of corruption, don't go near them - it's catchy. Making yourself rich at the country's expense is what colonialists do.

2. Stop complaining about the media. You're only complaining about them because they show you up for how little you really do or care. If you were trying really hard, and you didn't drive the most expensive car in the land, or have a nephew who suddenly went from modesty to ostentatious opulence, we'd have only positive things to report. Think of Jay Naidoo, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Zwelinzima Vavi - they come under a lot of fire, but it's never embarrassing - always about their ideas, their positions, and is perfectly acceptable criticism for people in power to put up with. When the media go after Blade Nzimande, Siphiwe Nyanda and the President, they say we need a new piece of legislation to "make the media responsible". That's because they're being humiliated by the facts we uncover about them daily, not because there is an agenda in some newsroom. If there had been a free press during the reigns of Henry VIII, Idi Amin or Hitler, their regimes might just have been kept a little less destructive, and certainly would have been less brazen and unchecked.

3. Education is a disaster. We're the least literate and numerate country in Africa. Zimbabwe produces better school results and turns out smarter kids than we do. Our youth aren't usemployed, they're unemployable. Outcomes-based-education, Teachers' Unions and an attitude of mediocrity that discourages excellence have reduced us to a laughing stock. Our learners can't spell, read, add or subtract. What are all these people going to do? Become President? There's only one job like that. We need clever people, not average or stupid ones. The failure of the Education Department happened under your watch. Someone who writes Matric now hadn't even started school under the Apartheid regime, so you cannot blame anyone but yourselves for this colossal cock-up. Fix it before three-quarters of our matrics end up begging on Oxford Road. Reward schools and teachers who deliver great pass rates and clever students into the system. Fire the teachers who march and neglect their classrooms.

4. Give up on BEE [Black Economic Empowerment]. It isn't working. Free shares for new black partnerships in old white companies has made everyone poorer except for Tokyo Sexwale. Giving people control of existing business won't make more jobs either. In fact, big companies aren't growing, they're reducing staff and costs. The key is entrepreneurship. People with initiative, creative ideas and small companies must be given tax breaks and assistance. Young black professionals must be encouraged to start their own businesses rather than join a big corporation's board as their token black shareholder or director. Government must also stop thinking that state employment is a way to decrease unemployment - it isn't - it's a tax burden. India and China are churning out new, brilliant, qualified people at a rate that makes us look like losers. South Africa has a proud history of innovation, pioneering and genius. This is the only way we can advance our society and economy beyond merely coping.

5. Stop squabbling over power. Offices are not there for you to occupy (or be deployed to) and aggrandize yourself. Offices in government are there to provide a service. If you think outrageous salaries, big German cars, first-class travel and state housing are the reasons to aspire to leadership, you're in the wrong business - you should be working for a dysfunctional, tumbledown parastatal (or Glenn Agliotti). We don't care who the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces is if we don't have running water, electricity, schools and clean streets. You work for us. Do your job, don't imagine you ARE your job.

6. Stop renaming things. Build new things to name. If I live in a street down which the sewage runs, I don't care if it's called Hans Strijdom or Malibongwe. Calling it something nice and new won't make it smell nice and new. Re-branding is something Cell C do with Trevor Noah, not something you can whitewash your lack of delivery with.

7. Don't think you'll be in power forever. People aren't as stupid as you think we are. We know you sit around laughing about how much you get away with. We'll take you down, either at the polls - or if it comes down to the wire - by revolution (Yes, Julius, the real kind, not the one you imagine happened in 2008). Careless, wasteful and wanton government is a thing of the past. The days of thin propaganda and idealized struggle are over. The people put you in power - they will take you out of it. Africa is tired of tin-pot dictators, one-party states and banana republics. We know who we are now, we care about our future - and so should you.

I couldn't agree more with what Gareth wrote. He expresses our frustrations well. And before you rant and rave about how I'm a white racist South African who benefited from the Apartheid regime, stop right there and check the facts. I did not "benefit" from the state education system: my parents sent me to private schools, and used up a huge part of their income to do so.
I only got to university by means of a bursary, i.e. on merit. I refused to serve in the SADF, the army that shot people in the townships. For this I nearly landed up in jail for 6 years. I was not without its cost, or risks.
I met and worked with several Anti-Apartheid activists who later became cabinet ministers. I was not a "trendy lefty" who spent all day talking out strategy: I was a person who did grunt work like printing pamphlets at teaching media skills. Later I put my programming and computer skills to good use by helping media companies around the country, and today my software is used by companies that benefit all South Africans.
So, don't bother to call me (or Gareth Cliff) a racist. It just shows how desperately stupid or totally ignorant you are. Perhaps you call me a racist because of my skin colour. That's the definition of racism, stupid!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

20h10 20-October 2010 plans?

I'm not a clock watcher, nor do I think that anything particularly significant happens at midnight on 1st January. Still, I decided it might be fun to do something significant on Wednesday evening, given the unusual pattern of numbers in the date: 20:10 20/10/2010. I'd be interested to know what other readers will do, or did.
Update: We spent a pleasant evening having dinner at the Cape Town Fish Market restaurant. Both the food and the service was great.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cell C forced to stop using 4G logo



South Africa's most exaggerated mobile operator just "apologised" for using the term "4G" in interviews, billboards and adverts. The CEO claims that it was a "marketing term" (i.e. lies) and they did it because other networks do it. What a lame excuse. It would be much more honest for Lars to admit they lied.
Naturally this "apology" wasn't voluntary. They were forced to do so by the Advertising Standards Authority, after the other networks filed formal complaints. The other networks quite correctly pointed out that Cell C doesn't use 4G technology, and in any case the final 4G standard has not been drawn up yet. Given the ratio between the "G" and the "S" in the "4Gs" logo, the ASA clearly didn't buy the excuse that "4Gs" doesn't stand for "4G" but for "4 Great Speed".
Cell C's excuses are as lame as their service. Perhaps when they get their new network to actually work, things will improve. Right now the best they can do is get their "other" CEO to tell jokes and check that the coffee in their stores is OK. What a joker.

Friday, October 15, 2010

First Federal Insurance - Scam Alert!

Today I was called by someone from a call centre claiming to be from "First Federal Insurance" which they assured me was part of First National Bank (they are not) and a "registered financial services provider", which they are not. A search for "First Federal Insurance" on the FSB web site revealed nothing. The closest is "First Federal Investments", which is a private company.
These scam artists have been using direct marketing techniques for years. I last ran into them in 2006, and the company secretary of the FirstRand group assured me they had never heard of them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clientele Life's illegal SMS spam

Would you trust a financial services company that buys spam lists and uses them for marketing? I certainly don't. Especially when they don't check the database against the DMA's "Do NOT Contact" list before they send out the spam. Just because they are a "Registered Finacial Services Provider" doesn't mean I should trust them with my money. Because they buy spam lists I wouldn't trust them with my personal information, or my money.
My views on unsolicited marketing messages are well known: don't send them. Get permission from your potential customer before you annoy them with messages on their cell phone or in their inbox. They sent and SMS and gave me the option to send a "STOP" message, which I did. They ignored it and called me anyway. How stupid is that? Not to mention that it's illegal.
The second illegal part is that they are unable or unwilling to tell me where they bought the spam list from. So I have now filed a HelloPeter complaint. It seems I am one of three people in the last 2 days complaining about spam. I have already emailed them to tell them to add me to their do not contact database, but it seems they have no idea about the difference between "opt-in" and "opt-out" lists, or the damage that it does to their reputation.
I have also complained about this activity to the Financial Services Board, not that I think they'll do anything about it.
Update 21 Oct: I have complained again on HelloPeter because they promised to "get back to me" but nothing has happened after a week.

Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.