Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Faces of SPAM?

Today I received my second call from "First Federal Investments" trying to sell me a funeral policy on behalf of FNB. I was a bit suspicious the last time they called, because they aren't listed in the phone book and the First Rand Group have never heard of them. So much for being part of FNB.
This time I asked the caller a few more details, and was then put on to the supervisor, an arrogant cocky man who insisted that they are doing nothing illegal but wasn't able to answer a few basic questions. What he was able to provide me with was the physical address and phone number of the company. After calling them I got their fax number and an email address, which gave me the correct name of the company:
Direct Channel Marketing (Pty) Ltd.
4th Floor, 328 Kent Avenue, Randburg, 2125, South Africa
Telephone: +27 11 293 9200
Facsimile: +27 11 781 1568

I confirmed this with the registration details of their domain name, www.directchannel.co.za, and visited their web site, which makes interesting reading. It would appear to confirm my suspicion that they have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with FNB, and their marketing script is misleading, and there is no registered financial services provider called "First Federal Investments".
I have written to them and informed them of my desire not to be contacted with marketing calls, and demanded to know where they got my details. I'm entitled to do this in terms of the ECT Act.
As far as I'm concerned, these guys are nothing more than spammers, and they do not have my permission to use my personal details for any purpose whatsoever.

Update: Suleman Shaik confirmed in his email today that he has no idea where my details came from, and referred me to the "Director" of "First Federal Investements", Warren Ebersohn. The fact that they won't/can't tell me where my details came from means that their company is not geared up to be compliant with the ECT Act. Can you trust a company like this? I don't.

Monday, October 30, 2006

MTN's Marketing Incompetence

What is it about my cell phone service provider that makes them think that it's OK for them to make marketing calls to my phone and send me marketing SMS messages?
Haven't they ever heard of the ECT Act? I guess not. Today I got a marketing call from their call centre where they offered me a free credit card. How sad. They must be desperate for money.
What they don't realise is that this kind of marketing tells the rest of the world that they don't care about their customers, and think of them purely as gullible fools who will swallow any lies they may make up in the guise of marketing hype. How sad. I have told them twice before not to contact me with marketing calls. The next time their incompetent lawyers will have to explain to the incompetent fools in their marketing department what the ECT Act is and why they are now going to have to pay me a lot of money. I can hardly wait.
After all, MTNSP is not a financial service provider, but a telephone service provider. They have as much expertise in running a credit card as my gym has. If my gym phoned me up and offered me a credit card, I would laugh at them. So why should MTNSP think they are any better? Even if their parent company has a deal with Standard Bank, that doesn't give them the right to abuse their position as my telephone service provider to contact me on behalf of a financial institution.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

PerfectDisk: another before and after real-world example

This is the "before" picture. It's a Windows 2000 Small Business Server drive, running both SQL Server 2000 and Exchange 2000. It was also using Diskeeper 9 Server Standard, scheduled to do a defragment every weekend. The performance has got worse over time, and eventually I realised that Diskeeper just wasn't up to the job. The "before" picture above was taken after I had got Diskeeper to do a complete boot-time defragment and a full defrag to the best of its ability. As you can see the drive is in a mess.

This is the drive after the first pass using PerfectDisk 8. The analysis recommended a boot-time defragmentation, but we couldn't do it straight away because the server is in use. As you can see from the picture there is still a lot of fragmentation, and the metadata is in a real mess, with close to 1000 fragments in total. Thanks for nothing, Diskeeper!

Finally, after doing two boot-time defragmentation passes, and a complete defragment overnight, and then a quick pass using contig, the drive is in much better condition.
The other thing I like about PerfectDisk is that it has a "batch file" mode called PDCmd, so you can run a batch file that cleans up unwanted files using Hunter-Killer, then stops the SQL Server service, does a complete defagmentation, and finally starts the SQL Server services again. All automatically and unattended. Remember this is a live server, with SQL Server making backup files from time to time, and users saving documents from their workstations. Even so, the drive is in much better shape and SQL Server is performing well once again.

Raxco PerfectDisk web site | See also PerfectDisk to the Rescue | PerfectDisk Blog | The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | all

Friday, October 27, 2006

SA Cabinet vows to counter crime

The South African Cabinet renewed its pledge on Thursday to counter rampant crime around the country, saying "tremendous progress" is being made, but more community involvement was necessary.
"Government is and will continue to take the fight to the criminals who must be made to feel that crime does not pay," government communications (GCIS) head Themba Maseko told a media briefing at Parliament following Wednesday's fortnightly Cabinet meeting.
The police service were making progress, particularly against organised crime, and there was ample evidence of this. The police had recently been reporting regular breakthroughs, such as the many arrests among those responsible for cash in transit heists, he said.
"Measures continue to be put in place to increase the capacity of the police to fight crime."
These included strengthening crime intelligence capabilities, expanding police numbers, and transforming the justice system.
The government accepted that fighting crime was the primary responsibility of the police services, and that all that ordinary citizens could do was to support the police.
However, the police's efforts would not succeed without community involvement and all sectors of society.
"The police cannot win this war alone. Participation in and strengthening of community policing forums must become second nature to all of us," Maseko said.
The Cabinet had also noted with deep concern the recent incidents of violence in schools, which had led to injury and death among pupils.
"These incidents, coupled with the violent crimes that are being committed by bloodthirsty criminals in our streets, are totally unacceptable and highlight the need for a collective effort by all South Africans to declare war on crime."
The tragic killing of an infant during an armed robbery in Johannesburg last week clearly showed that these criminals did not value life.
While expressing condolences to the bereaved, the best tribute "we can pay to those who have lost their lives, and their loved ones, is to intensify the fight against crime", Maseko said.
The Cabinet had also given its full support to the steps announced by Education Minister Naledi Pandor and her education ministers' council to address violence in schools.
These included guidelines for random drug testing, safety committees, and increased school security. Once again, school violence could not be left to the educators and police alone, said Maseko.
Parents and communities had to work with teachers and school-governing bodies to ensure not only the violent incidents were attended to, but also the causes and circumstances leading to pupils resorting to violence to resolve conflict, he said. - Sapa

Thanks for nothing! Why can't the President himself announce this, instead of relegating it to a junior spokesman to handle. Why is it such a trivial matter? I guess he's surrounded by criminals in his cabinet and doesn't want to alienate them.

DVD Santa: is it just a ripoff? The jury is still out

I downloaded and tried DVD Santa, to convert some MPG movies so I could watch them on the TV instead of my laptop screen. It's a good job this is a try-before-you-buy product, because it seems like the developers don't have a phone number, only a hotmail email address, which bounced.
I have sent them a qustion via Fax, but I doubt if I'll get a reply. In the meantime I'm trying various other DVD conversion software, recommended by Downloads.com: ConvertMovie ($29.95) and VSO ConvertXtoDVD ($34.99).
The DVD Santa converted movies froze at one point, and at another point the sound went off. Not much good for a movie, really. I will post an update to this entry if I get a reply from them.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

VISA wants you to have popups

I love my bank. They have such weird ideas about security. On the one hand they use a Digitag, a small device that generates different numbers every time you log in. The numbers can be asociated with a specific tag at a specific time, making it extremely difficult to log in unless you know the correct user name and password associated with that specific tag.
On the other hand they do daft things like asking me to send them the account number of my credit card account via email. And they did it during their own "Internet Security Week". Sad.
Now they are touting a new service from Visa that is (a) voluntary and (b) requires popups. It doesn't specify whether they are required generally or just once on the particular site where registration is supposed to occur, but still ...
Don't these people understand how annoying popup ads are, and the security risks associated with them? Haven't they noticed that IE6 and Firefox have a built-in popup blocker, and the Google toolbar became popular partly because it has a better popup blocker?
Of course, voluntary participation in the program adds an extra level of complexity (i.e cost) to the merchant's system, in the hopes they'll get fewer fraudsters ripping them off, but it doesn't mean that my card is any safer, since the program is voluntary.
Then there is the whole Javascript nonsense. Modern browsers do not need Javascript to navigate properly designed web sites. The trick is to get web designers to do their job. Still, I use NoScript, a Firefox extension that allows me to turn on Javascript only when I decide it's OK. I guess Visa knows what's best for me, and I'll ignore the advice of people like Steve Gibson. NOT.

Verified by VISA - FAQs Overview: "Q: Can I use Verified by VISA from any computer?

Yes. One of the great advantages of Verified by VISA is that it can work with just about any PC with an Internet connection. There is no special software to install. Once you activate your card, you simply shop as you usually do. Your VISA card number is automatically recognised at checkout. Be sure that Cookies and JavaScript are enabled and that pop-up killers are disabled on your computer."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Super Cyclone Blower that Extracts

The first one I bought was Dead on Arrival, so I asked for a refund. Antec don't do refunds, so a replacement duly arrived and I collected it from Digital Planet on Monday.
I couldn't hear when they switched it on, because the room had a normal air conditioner. It's quiet. I think the Power Supply fan may be noisier, but it is certainly drowned out by the noise of the CPU fan. And in spit of the fact that it's described as a "Super Cyclone Blower" it doesn't blow air into the PC at all: it's an extractor fan, not a blower. And the picture is upside down.
The main point is that it extracts hot air from the server, and I can tell that the machine is running cooler, simply by the cooler air coming out of the PSU fan. So I guess a refund is no longer necessary.

Use FileTouch utility to change file dates and times in batch files

"Windows keeps track of the date and time every file was created, and of the date and time it was last modified or opened, but it does not provide any ways that allow allows you to change these file dates and times. FileTouch is a command line utility that allows you to change them. It is similar to the well-known UNIX touch command."
This is definitely one of the most useful free utilities I have found on the net for a while. The last one was SyncToy. This time the good people at SoftTree Technologies have made FileTouch available for free. You can change the date or time stamp of a file, which is useful if you want to keep a file from being regarded as "old" by Hunter Killer or PerfectDisk or SyncToy.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Anti-Telemarketing Counterscript

"The Direct Marketing sector regards the telephone as one of its most successful tools. Consumers experience telemarketing from a completely different point of view: more than 92% perceive commercial telephone calls as a violation of privacy.
Telemarketers make use of a telescript - a guideline for a telephone conversation. This script creates an imbalance in the conversation between the marketer and the consumer. It is this imbalance, most of all, that makes telemarketing successful. The EGBG Counterscript attempts to redress that balance."

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The President Doesn't Read It

Front page comment:
It's a war; where's Mbeki?

With political foes to slay, it’s a long wait for the president to show a public flicker of concern about crime

HOW long will we have to wait for President Thabo Mbeki to appear on television and tell the men responsible for the death of 15-month-old Khensani Mitileni and others like them that he and his government, with the undoubted backing of millions of our citizens, declare war on violent criminals?
When will he and his ineffectual security ministers unveil a workable plan to round up such people, prosecute them competently and speedily, jail them and make sure they stay put in prison?
Where was Mbeki after heist criminals brazenly attacked a cash-in-transit van, took the money from it and then, without provocation, cruelly set it alight, killing all four guards trapped inside?
Or after an armed gang opened fire on the police, turning Jeppestown into a warzone and killing four policemen? Or after a 14-year-old schoolboy fatally stabbed a schoolmate and went on the run for days from the authorities? Or after hijackers took a man’s car, shot him in the head, and then drove over him for good measure? Or after armed robbers tortured and killed the four-year-old granddaughter of one of the country’s top judges? Where was the leader of the republic after these acts of terror were committed?
In fact, where is President Thabo Mbeki generally? And how long will this country live with and tolerate what amounts to a refusal to lead from the man who, through the grace of its citizens, occupies its highest office?
This week’s gun battle in downtown Johannesburg, which led to the death of baby Khensani and the injury of seven other innocent bystanders, must surely be the last straw even for a country that has become inured to the impact of daily violence. The incident has shocked the nation, but has been met with cold, arrogant silence from the nation’s leaders.
Not a single expression of outrage. Not a word of condolence to the mother whose child died violently on her back, where a child is meant to be safest. No rebuke for those responsible. No words of comfort for a city left shocked and confused by the madness unfolding in its streets.
It’s as if Mbeki and his cabinet have retired to an underground bunker, unwilling — maybe even afraid — to rear their heads, lest they be the next victims of the war unleashed on the rest of us. Where are our elected leaders?
Mbeki, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla, Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour, Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula all seem to be too busy elsewhere to be concerned with securing the lives of millions of citizens who have no other place to turn to but their government.
For his part, Mbeki has featured in public recently only when he is attacking his political enemies in the tripartite alliance. What manner of leader reaches the conclusion that his allies’ criticisms “amount to serious provocation”, but has absolutely nothing to say on the seditious slaughter of innocents by gangs who respect neither law nor life?
What more has to happen to the people who elected the African National Congress (ANC) to power, for its leaders to acknowledge that there is a crisis of rampant violent crime in SA? When will denialism and wilful blindness cease to be favoured weapons in the armoury of governance in SA?
When the history of the Mbeki decade in South African politics is written, future generations will doubtless judge more harshly than we have done. They will conclude that the social fabric of SA came apart at the seams while its leader engaged in Machiavellian games with enemies real and imagined. They will see a president so obsessed with his legacy, and desperate attempts to defend it at all costs, that he even forgot to govern.
They will point an accusing finger at Mbeki and say: “You failed Khensani Mitileni.”

It’s a war; where’s Mbeki?

Personally, I think this editorial is an understatement. Not a single South African President has addressed the issues of crime and/or AIDS while they were in office. Nelson Mandela didn't. He waited until he left office to face AIDS head-on, and complained, like the rest of his colleages, that the crime issue was being exploited by racists who didn't understand that poverty causes crime. Well, poverty also causes AIDS according to Thabo and Manto, but I don't see them doing much about either. And crime causes poverty, but that doesn't stop them being sidetracked by corrupt fools like Jacob Zuma from the real issues at hand. I voted for Thabo Mbeki, in spite of his AIDS record, because he was doing something right about the economy. But crime and AIDS are destroying the economy, and he just doesn't seem to get it.