Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My 330 Hour Hard Drive

I'm in the process of adding a 2TB hard drive to my home server, mainly for backups and archives. So before I format the drive I decided to run SpinRite in maintenance mode to check that the drive is OK.
You know you've bought a huge hard drive when you realise that SpinRite is going to take nearly two weeks (13.75 days) to test it thoroughly. I think I'm going to have to do the testing in stages, because I don't want to have the server offline for two weeks during testing. That's a bit extreme ;-)
Update: I ran SpinRite in "Emergency Recovery Mode" and it completed the job in around 5 hours. Now I'm formatting the drive, and I'm curious to see how long that takes. It also took around 5 hours to do a proper format of the drive. I have copied around 1TB of backup files onto the drive, and it took most of the weekend to do. 2TB is a lot of data!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Groupon's Missing "Do Not Contact" List

Remember when Six Degrees, Facebook and Plaxo started, and for the next few months you got your inbox bombarded with a gazillion requests from various "friends" who were sure you wanted to subscribe, or join, or whatever?
Well, times have changed, and there are laws against emails like that. Usually I just hand it over to, which is brilliant. But last week it couldn't handle an email from a friend who thought I'd like to join the South African version of Groupon, called The site sending the email had no "opt out" or "unsubscribe" link!
Already that's a violation of the ECT Act and the new Consumer Protection Act, because companies engaged in electronic marketing have to provide the facility for a user to tell them that they don't wish to receive marketing messages, i.e. a "Do Not Contact" list. So I went to their web site and told them that I wished to be placed on their Do Not Contact List. They wrote back and said they had tried to "unsubscribe" me but I wasn't subscribed. DUH.
Spot the difference: If I was already a subscriber then I could unsubscribe, but I'm not a subscriber, so I can't, and I can't stop them from sending me invitations to join. Does that mean I have to join and then unsubscribe so they don't break the law? Weird.

Centrade/Sentrade 419 Scam Alert

I just got a call from an anonymous call centre for "Centrade" or maybe "Sentrade" that claims to teach people how to invest on the stock market. I was, naturally, the "winner" of a "lucky draw" in which my name and phone number just magically materialised out of thin air.
When I asked the caller where he got my number from, he vaguely said that I am "on the JSE" by virtue of the fact that I have a bank account. What a load of BS! If that's the quality of their course, then the entire thing is a scam. When will these guys learn?
Update Thursday 28th July: Today another company phoned. It sounded like the "Flash Business Network" but the line quality was really bad. When I asked where they had got my number from, he said that they had it on "their system" because I had recently "registered for RICA". What a load of BS! The number was registered last year with MTN when I renewed my contract. Eventually he hung up. I must really try to keep these guys on the phone for much longer.
Update Thursday 29 Sept: Judging by Centrade's evasiveness and secrecy, this looks like the classic 419 scam, where they get you to disclose your ID and banking details so they can empty your bank account.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Time for an industry "Do Not Subscribe or Contact" List

It's time the mobile phone industry woke up to the fact that their networks are wide open to abuse. I experienced it recently when random sums of money were deducted from my phone bill, after being "subscribed" without my knowledge to some "premium content" services. In this case they were run by Opera Interactive, who initially refused a refund and referred me to "Go Go Mobile", a UK/Hong Kong based company. Later they refunded me several times, presumably because they really have no idea what they are doing.
"Go Go Mobile" decided that I was a disreputable liar, and accused me of trying to make money out of my complaint to WASPA. They also brought up the matter of my legal dispute with a timeshare company, without the foggiest notion of what it was about, or how it was resolved. Clearly they seem to think that attack is the best form of defence, even when they are in the wrong.
My complaint with WASPA was lodged on 10th June 2011, i.e. 42 days ago. It was only "received" by WASPA on 22nd June (12 days later) and "resolved" on 30th June, i.e. 3 weeks after the initial complaint. I informed WASPA that I was not satisfied with the response from "Go Go Mobile" and pointed out the security holes in their system. This was sent to them on Saturday 2nd July, i.e. 20 days ago.
I would have expected this to be passed on to "Go Go Mobile", but a week later they had still heard nothing, so I sent it to Steve Hunt and Trevor Louw and asked what was being done about it. They declined to say, so a few days later I posted a note on the MyBroadband forum to add a bit more pressure. Now, finally, the server is offline. Hopefully they have fixed the problem, although I doubt it.
WASPA seems to think that their members don't need a "Do Not Subscribe or Contact" list, but clearly the public has no protection against spammers and lax security. Had I been able to add my number and my wife's number to such a list, I would not have been hassled by having random amounts of money deducted from my account, and I would not have had to visit MTN or waste money on the phone to the Opera Interactive call centre. WASPA even have an unsubscribe system ( but you don't remain unsubscribed. They just don't get it.
Now the whole industry look like morons because of bad security, poor customer relations and lax or arrogant management. I guess they get what they deserve. In the meantime WASPA has yet to make up their minds about my complaint(s), or punish the offenders. What's taking so long?
Update 11th August: After 9 weeks my complaint is "pending" adjudication. Meanwhile, the MyBroadband web site has published a stinging rebuke of the entire industry called "Is your airtime quietly being stolen?" pointing out that this problem has been going on for the last 3 years and nothing has been done. They just announced in a press release that they plan to do nothing in spite of rumours that they might be doing something useful. Needless to say, consumers are fed up. Even East Coast Radio's Consumer Watch has an article about it.
Update 23rd August: After 74 days my complaint is still "pending" adjudication. It's been under consideration for 3 weeks already. Perhaps its just languishing at the bottom of a very large pile of papers while more money gets sucked out of the accounts of unsuspecting phone subscribers. There is one complaint "pending" since October last year. I wonder whether anyone takes these complaints seriously?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Check Your Browser!

Many tech geeks know about how insecure Internet Explorer 6 is, and how even Microsoft has a web site dedicated to convincing users to upgrade. But is your browser up to date or vulnerable? One service that allows you to find out is the Browser Check from Qualys at which can check most browsers, including IE (requires an add-in), Firefox and Chrome. Here is the result of running it in Firefox 5:
It's interesting that it reports the availability of version 5.0.1 even before the browser itself offers the upgrade. It also shows that (once again) Java is vulnerable, but no fix available yet.
When you run this check on Google Chrome you may need to load the "about:plugins" page to be able to disable plugins like the RealPlayer plugin, which you may not be using. I also found its false warning about a "potential threat" in Adobe Flash a bit annoying: it doesn't check the version number correctly. Hopefully this will be fixed before another flash vulnerability comes along. The bug doesn't happen if the plugin is installed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

MTN8 Competition Greed

There are clearly no limits to how low MTN will stoop in order to recoup its advertising budget. Even if it means violating the WASPA code of conduct, not to mention the ECT Act and the Consumer Protection Act. When it comes to soccer, there are no rules; only greed.
In spite of the fact that my phone account is clearly marked as a "Do Not Contact" (for marketing messages) client, and in spite of the fact that I have contacted all WASPA members and asked them to put my on their DNC list, these knuckleheads decided to sent me the SMS shown above. Did I mention I'm also on the Direct Marketing Association's DNC list as well? MTN is a "Founding Member" of the DMA.
In spite of the fact that the message doesn't contain the mandatory "STOP" instructions, I dutifully wasted R1 and sent a STOP message to the 40570 number. I got the following reply:
So the way it works is this: MTN sends this message to a gazillion football fans, who each spend R1 (or more) to enter. Thus MTN earns R-gazillion in SMS charges, which it can offset against the cost of sponsoring the teams. The cost of the prize: 9 tickets it has already paid for. How cheap can you get?
Did I mention that they violated sections 5.1.3, 5.1.8, and 5.2.1 of the WASPA Code of Conduct? I have filed Complaint #13894 with WASPA.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Pray for Our President Zuma, Julius Malema, and Robert Mugabe

Noseweek is a wonderful source of news and information about our politicans. So I giggled when I read the following letter in the latest issue:
In slow-moving traffic, I noticed a rear windscreen sticker on the car in front of us, which read: Pray for Our President Zuma, Julius Malema, and Robert Mugabe. Psalm 109:8.
My husband's Bible was on the dashboard. He opened it to Psalm 109 and burst out laughing. It reads: Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
Let us all bow our heads and pray.
There is also a heart-warming story about a guy in the Eastern Cape doing his best to thwart corruption in the Health service.