White knight defends clueless users

But not from robobollards

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Letters One of the more unusual letters we've had this week was sent in response to Tim Mullen's opinion piece about 'Clueless Users'. Users take heart! You have a new champion:

Ah, yes... The "I'm a security professional, so everyone should be!" reply.

This is exactly the kind of attitude that drives people away from good computer practices. First, he starts out with the standard 'Oh, look at all the idiots still running 95 and NT' meme. Guess what? There are a lot of businesses that buy computers the way they buy cars - use it until it falls apart, then see how much it costs to repair it! At my company, we are just now replacing a bunch of 95 machines, because they are still working fine for running Office 97, and getting telnet access to servers. The only reason we are upgrading is to run the new Java enabled Oracle client. (Oh, and the previous version of Oracle is using a front end running on NT 3.51...)

Secondly, he sums up Mossberg's proposed solution, and then dismisses it by saying "It is fantasy: nothing like that will ever exist, as it simply cannot." Well, then obviously all of the Anti-virus companies should just shut down right now! The EXPERT has said that it is a waste of time for someone to develop an automated update system... Really, what Mr. Mullen is trying to say is that no one provider could come up with an update system that will be able to instantly fix all problems, no matter what kind of fix is needed. Well, that's too bad he feels that way - I, for one, would like to encourage companies to try! If 95% of problems could be fixed without needing end-user intervention, then you would probably see a lot less viruses spreading around the internet.

Third, he makes throw away comments about Windows 2003 and XP SP2 improving things. Well, absolutely no one I know wanted to run Windows 2003 server until recently, because Microsoft has had such a bad reputation on .0 releases. And, of course, XP SP2 isn't out yet, unless our hypothetical end-user wants to get a beta product...

Fourth, he has fun laughing at a figure of speech from the original article. ("In a word? Um, that's 24 words.") I expect this kind of nitpicking from Usenet, or in some stupid Slashdot comment. It isn't a refutation of the original point, it is just being petty.

Fifth, the analogies. I must admit, the cooking one is a new one on me. "You don't have to be a master chef in order to cook meats properly." Well, guess what? People still get sick from uncooked meat, sometimes even in fast food restaurants where everything is so standardized that the cooks don't need to think, just be able to read. People aren't born knowing what a safe cooking procedure is, they have had to learn it, and a lot of people still don't know... However, there are a lot of recipes out there for them to follow.

Of course, the auto analogy has been done to death, but look - here it is again! "You don't have to be a master mechanic to drive a car..." Well, that's because the auto industry has had 100 years to come up with a reliable product. And, of course, there is a huge infrastructure to support the driver, all of which is designed to make it so that the driver doesn't have to even think about problems. I own a Honda Civic, and besides putting in gas regularly, the only work I have had done to it is to take it to Jiffy Lube semi-irregularly. In fact, I went for 8 months without any work being done on it, and guess what? It worked fine. Show me any Windows install that will work without patches for 8 months...

The computer industry is just now starting to struggle to that level of reliability. That is why, when clueless users see that box telling them that the attachment "might" be a virus, they go ahead and open it anyway, because they have already been bludgeoned into submission by seeing a number of dialog boxes telling them that they must click "ok", either to continue installing programs they want or to confirm that their PC is going to reboot because of an error. I personally have talked to several intelligent people who have said that, yes, they should have known better, but they were just clicking "ok" to get that annoying dialog out of the way to get to what they really wanted to do.

Lastly, the nice throwaway line "And you don't have to be a computer expert to load AV software and install a firewall." Well, you may not have to be an expert, but you have to know that it exists first... I have seen a lot of people that get a computer either "because everyone is" or "because I use one at work" that don't have the slightest idea what a firewall is, and only know about viruses from the news reports. Then, the cable companies or phone companies come by and hook up internet service for them, and look - they're on the internet, and have no protection! To go back to the auto analogy, the current situation is like someone getting into an accident, and people standing around commenting "Well, gee, didn't he know he had to buy brakes separately?" This is exactly what Mossburg was talking about.

I'm not saying it isn't the users fault at all, but the software shares the blame. And calling the users names isn't going to help at all.

John D. Ballentine III

Apart from that, this week was a bit telecoms-tastic. First, Ofcom hinted that the cost of Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) could fall in line with other European countries. You thought this was a tad amusing:


No doubt this rejuvenation in interest in LLU will be warmly welcomed by Wanadoo UK (formerly Freeserve), which is keen to press ahead with LLU. Yesterday, it reaffirmed its position that it wants to see the cost of unbundling come down in line with other European countries.

Let's not forget that Wanadoo is a wholly-owned subsidiary of France Telecom, known to have dragged its feet, told everyone that LLU was a Bad Thing, and done everything lawful to stall the LLU process on this side of the channel.

And while we are talking about France Telecom, another of its subsidary companies was making news this week. Orange turned 10, to the great surprise of some of its earliest critics. One recalls a conversation with someone doing brand research for a new mobile operator:

Subject: Letter to the editor: The future is bright, but the past is embarrassing

Riiiing.... "Hello, editorial."

"Oh hi Peter, do you have a spare minute to answer a quick question?"

"I've got four unsubbed newsletters to get to the printer's by lunchtime, what do you think?"

"I understand just how busy you are but I'm doing some brand research for Hutchison and I'd value your opinion."

"You mean Hutchison as in Rabbit? CT2?"

"That's right."

"Weeeeell, I think I can spare a few seconds, fire away."

"Right. What's the first thing that comes into your head when I saaaay.....ORANGE."


"Sorry Peter, I don't understand, why Vietnam?." "Never mind, how about Guru Bagwan Rajneesh?"

"Sorry Peter, I still don't see the connection."

"How old are you darlin?"


"Ah, OK, err... what's it for anyway?"

"Orange is what Hutchison is thinking of calling its new DCS1800 mobile phone network."

"Really? Oh right. Don't you think something to do with telephones would be more appropriate though? Say, Hutchnet or Bunny 2 Bunny or something? No wait! I've got it! Of course! Carrots are Orange right?"

"I don't think you're taking this very seriously Peter."

"Look darlin, how could anybody take a mobile phone network called Orange seriously eh? Your minute is up. Byeee."

Happy Birthday Orange. Regards Peter Dykes

Freelance Telecomms Writer

PS Have you noticed that the character in the Orange 'Try' adverts looks astonishingly like Hans Snook?

Now that you mention it... But we digress. Orange also hit the 50m subscriber mark. Our coverage of this wonderous news drew some unexpected criticism, spurred by our assertion that pay as you go users chose to use this particular service to reduce their monthly outgoings. The word we used was "cheapskate":

Subject: Oi! who YOU calling names?

With ref to "Orange hits 50m subscriber mark" - how DARE you call me a cheapskate!

Just cos i dont wanna pay over the odds for a poxy phone call DONT make me a cheapskate. I dont call you a wanker for paying overpriced monthly phone bills do I? Maybe I should. you sound like one of those twats that pays 30 quid for a plain white designer tee shirt when an M&S one is better qulaity [sic] at 1/3rd the price. Mobile phone companies are pigopolists that feed off the ignorance of people like you. dont mistake intelligence for being a cheapskate.

Readers will note that the author of the original piece was one Mr Drew Cullen. As anyone who knows him will attest, designer clothes are NOT his passion. Mr Cullen has, in fact, arrived at El Reg HQ wearing odd shoes. Not odd as in strange, but mismatched. Yes, one was blue, the other brown. The fact that he didn't notice until the afternoon tells you everything you need to know about the chances of him blowing 30 quid on a T-shirt.

Now we step neatly from fashion to grooming and skincare. And all with an IT angle.

This week, we also reported on the efforts of a young lad who wants the world to go shopping for porn. This is so he can move south on the profits to live in the sun, which will be good for his psoriasis. Sounds a bit Adrian Mole to us, but it does take all sorts.

I couldn't get on www.PsoriasisConnect.com - it seems to be a bit flakey!

Ho ho!


Nuff said on that one. We can't top it.

A quick one now, just to set the record straight on what is, or is not a terabyte:

Subject: Actual size of a terabyte is....

1,099,511,627,776 bytes not 1,000,000,000,000 bytes - its a bloody big difference when your customers start suing you because you've been charging them for the wrong number of bytes used...

Isn't google great at helping muppets remember all the really useful technical stuff we forget after school....or perhaps the Royal Academy of Engineering should consult it more before they produce any more useless reports.

Simeon L Roberts

Remember that. There will be a test later.

Moving on: what about robotic traffic cones? Some were impressed, at least by the possibilities:

On the other-hand, how much fun will it be to hack into the system and rearrange the cones yourself. Just think, your friend is driving, you are sitting with your laptop, wi-fi card and latest hacking software.

You press a button and the cones do a nicely choreographed dance on the road. How entertained and amused will your fellow drivers be, sitting there watching! Happy driving.

Ric F.

Others were less impressed. Robotic bollards? Old hat, you said. The Pythons have been there and done it:

Lester, Having read this story yesterday on the BBC, it brought to mind a chilling warning of things to come that was, cunningly enough, originally broadcast as part of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

How did a group of Oxbridge graduates manage to predict the future? Will Captain Cyborg pop up again to use this story as growing evidence of the robot enslavement of the human race? These questions need answers...

There is only one possible response to that. And now for something completely different...®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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