Tuesday, July 27, 2010

HD Tune Pro helps keep laptop alive

I have always recommended HD Tune for use in monitoring the temperature of a laptop hard drive, but never thought I'd use it as a maintenance tool. It was only recently, after Penny's HP Pavilion DV6204EU laptop started doing wierd things, that I decided to try out the new HD Tune Pro to see if it could tell me anything about her hard drive.
I have always been frustrated with her laptop, since the laptop blocks or hides the SMART information on the drive, and SpinRite won't run. So the normal preventive maintenance gets really tricky, and I have never had the courage to remove the drive and plug it in to a different machine to run SpinRite. After installing the trial version of HD Tune Pro I ran the "Error Scan" and discovered to my horror that there were multiple bad sectors on the drive. This could easily explain why the laptop was freezing from time to time. Next, I ran "chkdsk /R" to get Windows to move any data from those regions, and mark them as bad.
The screen shot above shows the result: the bad sectors are in red, and the rest of the drive seems to be OK. It also shows the "Speed Map" of the drive, with the faster regions near the outside. I'll be monitoring it for further bad sectors, and plan on replacing the whole thing as soon as funds permit. Had HP not blocked access to the SMART information, these problems could have been avoided a long time ago. I won't be replacing it with another HP laptop either; Acer never had this problem.
I have published a more detailed review of HD Tune and SpinRite on my new reviews site. Benchmarks are still under way.

New Unpatched .LNK Vulnerability in Windows

Get more information at http://www.sophos.com/shortcut and download the free utility until Microsoft fixes the problem for your version of Windows. Some versions of Windows affected by the exploit are no longer supported by Microsoft. Unfortunately this fix only supports Windows XP and above. So Windows 2000 is still vulnerable.
Update: The utility installs on Windows 2000, but I don't know if it did anything.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another Patent for PerfectDisk

PerfectDisk has, for me, always been the defrag program by which you measure other commercial defrag programs. I recently learnt that the developers (Raxco) have obtained another patent for PerfectDisk. This affects the way files are analysed, and is supposed to be much faster than the standard way used by most Windows applications.
Patent #7,672,982 has been awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for new file query technology that improves the speed of the disk defragmentation process on Microsoft Windows platforms. Raxco has incorporated the new file query technology into its PerfectDisk 11 disk defragmentation solution.
This is in addition to their SmartPlacement patent, #5,398,142 which was awarded in 1995.
I'm never sure what to make of software patents, but as long as it isn't used to "attack" other products, I'm sure it's OK. Raxco doesn't have the litigious reputation of other software companies such as Apple.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

BP Spills Coffee

This is what happens when BP spills coffee.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Serves 4 - another modern marketing lie

One of the most annoying things about modern life is the misleading information on product packaging, particularly food. Consider the quiche shown on the plate above. The packaging states "Serves 4". Note that is doesn't say "Feeds 4 adults" because that simply wouldn't be true.
Did I mention that the photo above is using a side plate and not a main serving plate? Perhaps it should have said "Serves 4 toddlers" because there is no way on earth that 500g of quiche could ever actually provide a satisfying meal for 4 adults, let alone teenagers.
Why do companies lie to us? Clearly the label "serves 4" is intended to tell the gullible shopper that there is enough quiche in the packet to present to a dinner party of 4 guests? If not, then why is it there? To say that you can cut the contents into 4 pieces? That it's too big to put the entire thing in your mouth at once? The mind boggles.
After eating the contents of this box I will never believe food packaging again. Now I know when I read "Serves 4" it really means:
We think that you are stupid enough to believe that this tiny packet could actually provide 4 slices to 4 adults and actually pass off as a "serving" even though it clearly does not have enough nutrition for 1 teenager. Of course we think we can get away with it because no sane person would actually complain, and even if they complained we'd just ignore the complaint. We think all our customers are stupid, and this is our subtle little way of misleading them further.
Update: The supplier wrote and said "[we] in no way intentionally mislead customers, it is our understanding that most customers who buy this product do so with the intention of serving it with a salad or other side dish".
So my question is: how many servings does it take to make a meal ?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hacking the Woolworths Store Card in one hour

Update Wednesday 21 July: Leonora Daniels, who has worked at Woolworths for many years and is familiar with all their systems, phoned and explained that she has done some investigating on my behalf, and even informed the CEO, who was horrified by the "ten times" rule. This is what I have learned:
  1. They take the complaints seriously, which is brilliant;
  2. The person at the call centre who told me "ten times" was wrong, and the correct info has been supplied to the call centre;
  3. You only have to present your ID on the day you make your first purchase. Typically this would be the day you verify your card in the store. On subsequent days this is not required;
  4. If your account gets "stuck" and keeps requesting your ID, a visit to the in-store customer services will sort it out.
It seems that good sense has prevailed after all. If I had not been such a hothead I would have been able to make one purchase on Monday by presenting my ID, and the subsequent purchases on Tuesday would have been fine.

I have worn Woolworths clothing for over 4 decades, and had a Woolworths account for several years. Recently they sent me a new card, to replace my old store card that has become somewhat tatty. The "new card" has extra security: you have to "activate" it in the store and produce your ID. So far so good.
Now the idiotic part: for the next 10 purchases you have to produce your ID as well as the card. Or your driver's license. This is a right royal PIA since I don't generally carry these documents around with me, for security reasons. It's a real pain to get these documents replaced if they are lost or stolen, and it can take weeks if not months. Also, since I only use the card to buy clothing, it could take months or years to make 10 purchases. Even longer if I have to remember to bring my ID.
I could understand the first purchase, or maybe even the first two purchases, requiring ID, even though the same ID was probably used to activate the card in the store at the same time. But 10 times is just silly, it adds no security whatsoever, and it just adds inconvenience to the customer.
I wrote to Woolworths about this, but they are either too bored or too busy to bother to actually reply. After all, I'm only a customer and they have thousands of other customers. So yesterday I decided to break their stupid system: I made 10 purchases on the same day in the same store and presented my ID, often to the same teller, on each occasion. Some purchases were less than R10.
I bought 5 pairs of underwear, individually of course, each with its own packet and till slip, a newspaper, two nut bars, and other food items. Each item was paid for separately. It took about an hour in total. No alarm bells rang, no phone calls have been made to confirm any "suspicious activity" on my card, and today I could use the card without producing ID.
There is a huge black market in fake IDs and driver's licenses, and it's probably easier to forge these documents than to forge a WW card. Certainly, the WW "extra security" is meaningless because the extra admin achieved nothing other than wasting the time of the tellers who had to type in the ID number. Their barcode scanners clearly can't read the barcode on the ID or the driver's license.
My advice to Woolworths: give it up. Require ID when activating the card, and that's it. The rest is just a waste of time, both yours and mine. And now we all know how badly designed your "security" is. Right now you just look like idiots.
Update 3pm: A very helpful Leonora Daniels from Woolworths Financial Services called about last Tuesday's email. She was horrified to find out about the "10 purchases rule" and said she would ask management to review it. Go for it!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

M-Web 2, Seacom 0

SEACOM is an undersea cable that links Africa with Europe and Asia, when it works. It's also the primary bandwidth provider for my ISP, M-Web. Right now it's broken. This is the second time this year, and it will probably remain broken for the semi-finals and finals of the FIFA World Cup. How embarrassing.
M-Web gets my thumbs up during this debacle. When the cable went down yesterday, it effectively cut all access to the rest of the web, including this blog, Google, news sites, etc. M-Web responded quickly, posting a network status notice explaining the problem, and within a few hours they had alternative connectivity in place.
Last time the cable went down, M-Web sent a letter of apology to its customers and promised to have more effective plans in place for any future issues. Clearly they have kept their promise. Viva M-Web, Viva! They were also the first ISP to offer uncapped broadband, and it works really well. Right now we're in "emergency mode" so some services are flaky, but the important ones are online, unlike other ISPs who have nothing.
Update, Wed 7th July: Telkom, that bastion of reliability and business ethics (NOT!) decided not to provide M-Web with bandwidth after all. They have an effective monopoly of the other undersea cable, SAT3, and decided to sell the bandwidth to someone else. So now ISDSL has bandwidth but M-Web doesn't. ISDSL's connectivity has been up and down like a yo-yo the whole day. And SEACOM is still broken. Eish!

Monday, July 05, 2010

DataInc - Complete Database Solutions

There is a new spammer on the block, who is now selling his ill-gotten database of email addresses to anyone gullible enough to part with their cash. This slimeball is called "Jeremy" and he won't use his real name. I wonder why? Last month he sent out a marketing email to businesses:
Subject: Crazy e-marketing Special!
Dear Business Owner,
Special for 4 days only- (Mon 21/6-Thurs 24/6) DO NOT MISS OUT!
Make an outright purchase of our email address mailing lists. Use as you want, when you want!
1.5million (total) R4250 NOW ONLY R99!

021(Cape Town) 82 967
031(Durban) 43 588
011(Gauteng) 201 154
013(Mpumalanga) 11 879
041(P.E) 11 779
012(Pretoria) 78 239
Totals 429 606 Now Only R200!

1-All 1.5million national random email addresses (R99)
2- All 429 606 area specific email addresses (R200)

For further information or to take advantage of this massive sale, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Best Regards,
Sales Executive
Cell 072-144-2588 Fax 086-622-6041
One can learn a lot about the sender from this message. Firstly, his use of upper case letters so prodigiously means that he is a marketing novice, and an internet newbie.
Second, he is completely irresponsible about the use of such a mailing list, and I'm sure he has failed to point out to his prospective clients the legal pitfalls and ISP Terms of Service dangers involved in sending out spam. But then anyone dumb enough to buy such a list deserves to be parted from their money by this "Sales Executive". His company is not a member of the Direct Marketing Association, which says a lot about its business ethics too.
Note: "DataInc - Complete Database Solutions" should not be confused with datainc.co.za, which is a legitimate business that doesn't involve itself in dubious and shady marketing deals.

Update 28th September 2011: It seems that "Ryan" (082-697-9197) is still selling these lists from 8 Canal Side, Century City, Cape Town. He has an ABSA bank account number 4067060916.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Drambuie is Perfect

Over the last two weeks I have been suffering from a bad cold that I called "Vuvuzela flu" because it sounded like a Vuvuzela every time I blew my nose. Now it has moved to my chest.
I'm fighting it off with plenty of Med Lemon, vitamins, sleep, and Infagard. To keep my throat comfortable I'm using the nectar of the gods: Drambuie. It contains whiskey, honey and herbs, and it is perfect for colds and flu. It's like a "hot toddie" ready made. Cheers!