Thursday, December 29, 2011

LM Radio now in Joburg

In the dark days of the SABC broadcast monopoly and censorship, one bright light on the dial was LM Radio, broadcast from Lourenço Marques, now called Maputo, in Mozambique. In fact, it was one of the earliest independent stations on the continent. LM Radio was on the air from 1936 until 1975 and played a very important role in shaping the style and content of broadcasting in South Africa.
Now it's back in Joburg, and this time on 97.2 FM (Cofifi Community Radio Westbury). Broadcasting started about a week before Christmas. Instead of having to fiddle with short wave tuners (my dad had a Supersonic tuner with little stickers on the dial) you can just use an FM radio, or listen to the streaming signal from the internet. It streams at around 17megabytes per hour, which is manageable even on a capped account.
You can hear an audio history and some of the old jingles on the LMRadio.org site.
Update: I also discovered the station on the "Internet Radio" app on my Nokia phone. Just do a country search and it's listed under "Mozambique". The 32kb stream sounds pretty good on my phone.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why is the USA scared of a single soldier?

Only in the USA would media corporations studiously ignore the plight of a single soldier while feeding greedily on the information he allegedly gave them. Only in the USA would they label him a traitor at the same time. Even President Obama believes he is guilty, and gives him the Gitmo treatment. I guess that's what happens when you watch Fox "news".
I think Manning is a hero, as does much of the free world. This segment is from the AJE show called "Listening Post", which tries to monitor and analyse the way the media works.

Friday, December 02, 2011

DStv Mobile "Cannot Play Channel" Ripoff - Fixed

DStv is a perfectly good example of a large company that sucks. My latest frustration is the following message: "Cannot play channel. E16-4 Service is currently scrambled". I got this while testing their latest DStv Mobile device: the "Walka", a handheld device that can display up to 16 channels, for only R36 per month.
The Walka Handheld TV is a slim, lightweight device with a 3.5” viewing screen providing digital visual and audio quality. Its introduction gives DStv Mobile subscribers even more ways to access mobile TV on the go, anywhere, anytime.
Considering that their "Premium" package costs an eye-watering R559 (US$70) per month, the R36 per device seems a much better deal, especially since there are 5 sports channels, and you would have to get the Premium package to get all of them.
Sounds too good to be true. It is. On the DStv Mobile web site they list the channels that are available. The last one on the list is "M-Net Mobile".
Even though there is a little asterisk to explain that the channel is not the same as M-Net, it omits a very important piece of information: available to Premium subscribers only. You have to infer this from their "About Mobile TV" page, which lists the "bouquets" available.
I called the "Customer Service" number and spoke to an officious little man who kept interrupting me and telling me that it's all in the "Terms and Conditions" on their web site. It isn't. It's hidden away in the Drifta FAQ, not the "Walka" FAQ. Why hide it from the customer? Why not tell the customer when he buys the product? I have been to their head office 3 times with Drifta enquiries, plus phoned their sales line, and no one has ever mentioned the M-Net restriction, or discussed "bouquets".
Speaking of "bouquets", the only way to watch cricket on DStv is with the "Premium" subscription, or with DStv Mobile on a 3.5" screen. So we have downgraded from the R600 per month package to "EasyView" which only costs R20/month. Granted, it only shows the channels we pay for with a TV license, plus Aljazeera English and CCTV, the Chinese english news channel. Since AJE is infinitely better than CNN, I'm happy with the arrangement, and we can watch sport on the Walka. It pays for itself within 2 months.
Update: DStv have updated their web site to make it clearer in the list the channels that M-Net is only available on the Premium subscription.
Update Monday 9 Jan: 5 weeks after purchasing the Walka its screen went weird. I took it to their Customer Service Centre and they replaced it without any fuss. Good service.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Great Ideas Are Not Always Obvious

I saw this video clip on TV this morning and thought that the rest of the world could learn from it. Particularly here in Joburg, where our politicians are too interested in lavish parties and stealing money than actually doing anything useful. Also at COP17, where the 1% gather to spend the 99%'s money and discuss how to make 0% difference.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Marketing Lies told by Banks


"Congratulations, you could qualify for a limit increase ..." Does the bank really think I'm that stupid? They want to lend me money, to increase my debt, and to increase their profit, and I should be congratulated? This is one of the many lies told every day by banks and other financial institutions. And then you wonder why the world economy is in such a mess.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Apple Fanboys Being Mocked

I guess the Apple reality distortion field won't last forever. I don't know if I'll get a smartphone, but if I do, it won't be an Apple product. Not after they way they treated me in the past.

A Clever History of the English Language

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

6,418 Days of Freedom. Now it's gone in a puff of smoke

On 27th April 1994, South Africa elected the first democratic government in our history. 6418 days later, that same government, despite the outspoken opposition of newspapers, trade union groups, civil society organisations and prominent individuals, a bunch of criminals (also known as MPs) passed legislation that effectively wipes out the ability of journalists to tell the truth about politicians and public figures.
We wouldn't have learnt about the corrupt dealings of people like Mac Maharaj and his boss' "financial advisor", Shabir Shaik, and his boss, Jacob Zuma. The dubious lifestyle of Julius "fork and knife" Malema would not have been so easy to expose, and the Travelgate affair, where these criminals (also known as MPs) defrauded the taxpayer out of airline tickets and other travel perks.
Why did they pass the bill? For reasons of "State Security" (puleez!). The same reason put Nelson Mandela behind bars for decades, and had thousands of ANC members tortured and killed under Apartheid. But now that members of the ANC are busy plundering the country of its wealth for their own pockets, their lip service to press freedom has been exposed, as they try to hide their nepotism, cronyism and corruption.
What the idiots in government forget is that there is not such thing as a secret on the internet. So it will be interesting to see how they plan to prosecute WikiLeaks or other international whistleblower sites when information does get out. And the suppression of it in the local media won't last long when they can point to other sources out of the reach of our tinpot dictatorship.
What worries me is that under this "cloak of secrecy" the civil servants and low-level party officials will believe they can get away with more corruption than before. Only the "bigger fish" will be exposed while all of the "smaller fish" will gobble up the resources of the country, and the poor will continue to suffer.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mac Maharaj ducking and diving

This is the calibre of our presidential spokesman, who "stands accused of receiving millions in bribes from French weapons maker Thales" according to the front page of the Sunday Times, and who wants to prevent newspapers from publishing the "lies" he is supposed to have made in an official enquiry, presumably under oath. This interview comes ahead of the imminent passage through parliament of a bill designed to curb press freedom. Welcome to Azania, the banana republic, and Mac looks like the chief banana at this point.
Update: Tuesday 22, from EWN:
Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj on Tuesday said he firmly believes that a society without a free media will not be able to have rational debates.
He addressed the National Press Club in Pretoria amid claims that he received bribes during the arms deal.
Maharaj had said it would be illegal for the Mail&Guardian newspaper to publish documents relating to a Section 28 inquiry held in 2001.
He said his position was very clear.
“I have maintained the view that I have been not involved in any bribery, corruption and in the awarding of those two tenders and that’s my consistent position,” he said.
Stop paying lip service to media freedom when your party is about to reintroduced Apartheid's media restrictions, Mac! And don't think we haven't noticed the diversionary tactics, either.
Update Monday 28th: According to this article in the Daily Maverick:
In its original 2007 article, City Press reported that Maharaj and his wife had told the Scorpions, among other details, that they had no offshore bank accounts in Switzerland; and had received no money from Schabir Shaik, or his companies. However, this flies in the face of investigative work by City Press, as well as the Sunday Times and the M&G, showing that money was paid from French weapons manufacturer Thompson (now Thales) into Zarina Maharaj's Swiss bank account, via none other than Shaik.
Maharaj, meanwhile, speaking to the National Press Club on Tuesday, said: “I have maintained the view that I have not been involved in any bribery, corruption, and in the awarding of those two tenders. That's my consistent position. It doesn't change.” The tenders refer to the R2.5 billion N3 toll road tender; and the R265 million credit-card driver's licence tender, both of which were awarded when Maharaj was the minister of transport. A company owned by Shaik was part of the consortium that won the former tender, while Thales benefited from the latter.
Throughout the last ten days, Maharaj has consistently refused to answer the question of whether he lied to the Scorpions. It's probably advisable that he doesn't comment on this unless or until he is forced to – lying to a Section 28 inquiry is a criminal offence, and he could face 15 years in prison.
It all becomes a lot clearer: he's blustering to cover his arse, and he should be fired for bringing the Presidency into disrepute, along with his boss.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

FishWisePro gets a search facility


I have been working on the development of the FishWisePro web site for some time. I only get to work on it one day a week, with plenty of breaks when the owner goes on underwater photographic expeditions. He has published several GB of his fish pictures.
The web site is mostly data, with around 800MB of fish data, and a lot of pictures. The problem until now has been locating the data of interest to a visitor. It has been relatively easy to browse the data, although quite inefficient. In the past fortnight I have been able to add a "Quick Search" facility that makes it simple to run a search on the data. I'm quite proud of it.
Hopefully this will make the site a lot more usable, and will encourage visitors to return again for more information. Until now we have been relying on Google search results, but it seems to get bogged down in the data and its results are not good.
FishWisePro is a comprehensive, fully relational fish database of more than 99,200 scientific species name combinations and just over 34,000 fish pictures. It has been specifically developed for Academics, Students, Marine Biologists, Authors, Ichthyologists and all other serious users interested in Fish Taxonomy. I would be interested in hearing your feedback, impressions, and design suggestions. Please bear in mind we are trying to keep the site design simple and functional.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Audiobook Publishing Lunacy - Averted

Every now and then the monumental stupidity of the publishing industry (and its lawyers) gets under my skin. Take the latest example: Christopher Paolini's book "Inheritance", the final part of the Inheritance cycle (originally a trilogy).
The final book has taken some time to come out, and my wife and I were eagerly awaiting the audio book release today. It may be released in the USA, and I can buy it on the Kindle, but not in audiobook form. Idiots!
So now the race is on: do I find it on the file file sharing networks before the sluggards in the audiobook publishing industry decide to change their minds and take my money? Watch this space. If I get an "illegal" copy before I can buy it legitimately, why should I bother when the "legal" copy becomes available? After all, the publishing industry is booming, just like the rest of the economy.
Update 6.30pm: I found the epub version of the book on both BitTorrent and eMule. So much for that. The audio books shouldn't be much longer.

Update Wed: The publishers won! I have to pay double, but at least I can listen to the books. I'm glad I was wrong ;-)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Time to End the Wikleaks Banking Blockade


This tweet just in from Wikileaks:
Support WikiLeaks - you can now donate with an SMS | http://shop.wikileaks.org/donate#dmobile (check it works where you live using dropdown menu)
It works fine in South Africa, and I donated R20 for now. Will donate more soon. Watch the video and fight back at Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and the entire wunch of bankers trying to blockade Wikileaks.

What Does it Cost to Change the World? from WikiLeaks

See: Broke Wikileaks Halts Publication to Raise Money at Gizmodo.

Monday, October 24, 2011

No News is Bad News for AlJazeera English


AlJazeera English is my primary source of TV news. Sometimes I can even watch it online, depending on the availability of bandwidth. This morning I noticed that something was going wrong: there was no news coming out of their Doha studio. Was AJE under attack? Was the staff on strike or being censored? All kinds of scenarios went through my mind.
After all, the station is owned by the state of Qatar, and they recently changed senior management, so anything was possible. What strikes me as most odd is that they, as a news outlet, did not see fit to tell their audience what was going on. This is bad news, especially for a company that has numerous twitter accounts and Facebook pages. It's bad for credibility.
On the one hand the fact that their primary studio isn't working may not count as "news", but there wasn't even an explanation on their web site, and tweets to their twitter news account went unanswered. A tweet to their @AJStream account, supposedly their flagship social media program, wasn't addressed directly. Weird.
I eventually got a reply from Alan Fisher, one of their best journalists: "significant tech issues I believe". Why couldn't the station itself say that? Why is it afraid of admitting it is having a technical hitch? It's not like you aren't going to notice if you switch on the TV looking for a 30 minute news program and you get a documentary instead. Instead of getting my "morning news fix" at 9am (News Live Doha), I eventually got it at 3pm (Newshour from London) instead. That's when I got the clue that the Doha centre was having difficulties.
Note to AJE: Just put a note on your program schedule when you cancel programs. Viewers will appreciate your honesty and trust you more. Hiding stuff doesn't build trust or credibility.

Friday, October 14, 2011

ESET's Not-So-Smart Security Failure - Fixed


Resolved: I remain a NOD32 fan, particularly after the amazing response from Shaun Norris and his team. They have fixed the problem locally, and making sure the ESET engineers improve their download process in future releases.

Original Post 10/14/11: I have been a NOD32 fan for a long time, but recently I have been questioning my loyalty, particularly in the light of their very dodgy virus definition update policies. It seems they are perfectly happy to allow a PC to run with definition files that are 448 days old. Or 105 days. Or whatever. What kind of security is that!?
Take a look at the screen shot at the top of the page (click on the image) to see how the software is lying to me. I installed the software two weeks ago on this Windows 7 32 bit PC, and at the time the virus definitions were updated backwards from version 6364 (20110809) to 5307 (20100723) and then later to 6516 (20111004). OK, so it had a glitch. It came right. Wrong!
This morning I returned to the machine, after leaving it running by itself for 10 days. The virus definitions are back to 5307. No amount of cajoling can persuade the machine to download the correct version and not mislead me:

Other versions of the software have experienced similar problems. This PC was using version 4.2.71.2 and it had an issue with the definitions, so I removed the software and installed version 50.93,0. The same thing happened on a brand new Windows 7 machine I was setting up from scratch. Other PCs running Windows 98 and version 2.7 are reverting back to July 2011.
So my question is this: how can the software allow the definitions to roll backwards? How can the servers still have definition files that are 448 days old? Are they insane? They are supposed to be a security company. Yet they issue software with bugs in it, and have a policy that doesn't remove old virus definitions, giving careless users a false sense of security. That's worse than no security at all.
ESET CEO Richard Marko is still blissfully unaware of this problem

Update Mon 17th Oct: I have been assigned a bug report number #TICKET 57298
Update Tues 18th Oct: ESET requested the configuration file and SysInspector log that I sent on Friday 14th. I am starting to get annoyed as well as alarmed. In the meantime the definition files are now over 450 days old! And they want me to run WireShark to capture all the packets. WTF?!
Update Wed 19 Oct: Posted an update to the Wilders Security Forum.
Update Thu 20 Oct: Definitions are now 454 days old, i.e. 64 weeks. After making enquiries this morning I discover the ESET engineers are waiting for a log that I have already sent them. I sent the following reply:
Yes, I am on M-Web but the problem also occurs when using ISDSL which is what most of the [customer] connections use.
Yes, I sent you the event log. TWICE. Here it is: [I have removed duplicates]

14/10/2011 03:24:54 PM ESET Kernel The program modules have been updated.
14/10/2011 03:24:52 PM Update module Updater: retval = 0x0000, failures: 0 NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
14/10/2011 02:59:19 PM Update module Updater: Switch DEVEL modules retval = 0x00005007 [NOT NEED] NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
14/10/2011 01:43:30 PM ESET Kernel The program modules have been updated.
14/10/2011 01:43:28 PM Update module Updater: retval = 0x0000, failures: 0 NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
14/10/2011 01:43:23 PM Update module Updater: Switch DEVEL modules retval = 0x00005007 [NOT NEED] NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
14/10/2011 01:42:56 PM ESET Kernel The program modules have been updated.
14/10/2011 10:56:12 AM ESET Kernel The program modules have been updated.
11/10/2011 06:53:02 PM Update module An error occurred while downloading update files. NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
11/10/2011 04:53:00 PM Update module An error occurred while downloading update files. NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
05/10/2011 08:51:06 PM Update module An error occurred while downloading update files. NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
05/10/2011 03:46:12 PM ESET Kernel Virus signature database successfully updated to version 6519 (20111005).
05/10/2011 11:46:10 AM ESET Kernel Virus signature database successfully updated to version 6518 (20111005).
04/10/2011 09:46:01 PM ESET Kernel Virus signature database successfully updated to version 6517 (20111004).
04/10/2011 06:06:00 PM ESET Kernel Virus signature database successfully updated to version 6516 (20111004).
04/10/2011 06:05:57 PM Update module Updater: retval = 0x0000, failures: 1 NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
04/10/2011 04:46:44 PM ESET Kernel The program modules have been updated.
04/10/2011 12:49:52 PM ESET Kernel The program modules have been updated.

This is clearly an ESET issue because it is ESET software doing the download, and ESET software that is lying to me about the result, and ESET software that is allowing is virus definition files to go backwards.

I understand that transparent proxies may be involved, but then please explain why two adjacent computers on the same connection can have different results? One works fine and the other doesn’t update.

I really think that ESET is not taking this matter seriously. If your engineers have any further requests or questions, please ask them to contact me directly.
Update 2: Thu 20 Oct 2011: I got a call from Shaun Norris at ESET South Africa, who assured me that they are not ignoring the problem, and have requested further info from me. This is most reassuring. In the meantime I think I have figured out how things are going wrong: their update mechanism is broken. It is vulnerable to faulty proxy servers (such as those used by M-Web) and doesn't use https. It also has no check to see if the version it is updating is older than the existing version. WTF!?
Update: Fri 21 Oct 2011: Shaun Norris set up an alternate proxy for me to try, and also contacted M-Web to get them not to cache the ESET virus definitions. Last night I tried a new installation, which worked flawlessly. I'm waiting to be able to connect to the "afflicted" PC (the office opens on Monday) to see whether these changes will help.
Update: Monday 24 Oct 2011: The virus definitions have updated to the correct version, and appear to be stable. I have sent the logs through to Shaun Norris. All is well for now, and hopefully the ESET Engineers will fix this bug before it endangers other customers.
Update: Tuesday 5 June 2012: Version 5.2.9.1 was just released. It addresses some of these issues, according to the release notes.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Beware the "Windows Service Centre" phone call scam

Why is it that crooks are so ingenious? This is a social engineering scam, where a person calls you and tells you that there is something wrong with your computer, and offers to fix it. They then convince you with a whole load of misleading technical information, and even get you to run remote control software like support.me or ammyy.com so they can connect to your computer to "fix" the problem.
Do not allow anyone to control your computer unless you know exactly who they are and what they are about to do. Do not type in commands into your PC unless you fully know and trust the person issuing the commands. Not only will you save yourself a lot of hassle, and probably preserve your data, but you will not be conned into parting with your money. (You think they are doing it for free?)
Fact: Microsoft is not "monitoring" your computer, and certainly does not randomly call users if they are experiencing problems. If you agree to send error logs to Microsoft, these are collected for statistical reasons, and cannot be used to identify an individual user or machine. They would be in violation of a ton of privacy laws if they did otherwise.
Question: why don't the remote control companies like support.me and ammyy.com have big warning signs on their web pages:
Warning: do not install this software if requested by unknown call centre operators. Only allow remote control from people you know and trust.
This would protect many innocent and gullible users and protect the brand of the software. (Update: ammyy.com has done so.)
Update: Ammyy.com has posted a warning on their site. Well done to them!

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