The unholy trinity: computers, taxes and evolution
But why aren't the Brits revolting?
Letters Collapsing tax computer systems have impressed no one. The following probably sums up the response so far:
"The Revenue has since introduced a backup system."
So they implement a nation-wide tax management scheme without ANY form of backup ? And when the inevitable mistake occurs (because there always is one mistake waiting to happen), then THEN decide "oh, let's get a backup system". That is no longer incompetence, in my view that constitutes criminal behaviour. Safeguards and backups are the bread and butter of any mission-critical system. To disregard that is just about the worst thing one can do. It's not like any of this is new either ; I cannot begin to count the number of project-management books written on this subject, but I'm sure they all contain some form of reference to data backup. Heck, data backup is the very reason of existence of several high-profile IT companies. I think any English citizen would be perfectly justified in demanding that the top level of management at the Inland Revenue service be at the very least fired. I'd want their heads - on my desk.
News that the SANS institute is looking for charitable techies to help out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has pushed all your deeply cynical buttons:
What?! You mean the SANS institute isn't recommending precautionary disconnects from the Internet and precautionary reformatting hard disks like they usually do?
After all, aren't there enough new virus and worm variants named after Katrina by this time to warrant it?
This ranks right up there with TruSecure's Red Cross blood drive announcements on NTBUGTRAQ from four years ago. This is yet another publicity stunt from the computer security industry that cheapens the memory of a physical disaster.
Bah. If I had an army of BOFHs and PFYs at my disposal, I'd outfit them with coveralls and have them plug the leaks in New Orleans' physical infrastructure, never mind the leaks in New Orleans' Internet infrastructure. Worry about the net AFTER the people are safe, and the power is back, and the phones are working again...
The City of Munich's announcement that it is running a touch behind schedule on its migration to Linux will no doubt have warmed the cockles of Gates' heart. This letter will probably cheer him further:
If my experience in big IT projects is anything to go by, long delays like this are often just a quiet way of dropping the project altogether. The fact they're using something as obsolete as NT4 tells me they have no money.
Having no money means migrating to another platform is almost impossible.
They also must know by now that compared to commercial desktop OSs (Windows XP and Mac OS X) Linux just doesn't cut it. It has too much missing functionality. They must also know that OpenOffice is only any good if you can't afford anything better.
I'm using the beta of OpenOffice 1.9 (version 2, in effect) and the best I can say is its ok. The drawing tools are really good but largely irrelevant in an Office suite. The word processor and spreadsheet are all right but I'd be lying if I didn't say they barely measure up to Office 97 which frankly, is a disgrace.
The whole OOo project is mired is crushing slowness and an astonishing myopia that reasons because they're using an open format for the files it makes up for the huge deficiencies in the Office suite itself.
Instead of wasting any more tax payers money, Munich would be better off just ponying up the money to Microsoft and getting on with serving the public. City councils are meant to be about serving the public and the city, not pouring money down the drain on publicity-getting but ultimately flawed IT projects.
Next up, thoughts from the land of the enlightened on the problem of phishing. The argument that follows is not one that is new to us. We'll accept that the writer may have a point in some cases, but would argue that things are slightly more complex than he suggests. Read on:
Every time I see an article on the Reg (or elsewhere for that matter) discussing security breaches and the change in focus to the end user, a very important factor seems to be overlooked.
There is one unifying concept that explains the profitability of spam and of spyware, the remarkable amount of unpatched Windows boxes on the net, and the Republican party:
People are stupid.
Why do people buy things from spam advertisers? People are stupid.
Why do people click on pop-up ads? People are stupid.
Why do people ignore all the messages from Windows Firewall (if they've got two brain cells to rub together and have installed XP service pack 2, or have no brains whatsoever and have bought a box from a retailer recently) and just click "Allow" whenever the box comes up? People are stupid.
As far as I'm concerned anything that separates the morons from their money is just another form of social Darwinism.
Keyloggers Trojans & what? Who is going to understand that?
My solution is brilliant in its simplicity. It may sound daft but the majority of online banking is done by people who will find it difficult to grab the concept of keyloggers and such, they just want to pay a bill or check their balance.
The solution lies in using the keypad analogy found at cash machines. The bank website displays a keypad graphic and the user using the mouse to punch in the PIN code just like you would at the high st bank.
A Pew Research poll of US citizens found astonishingly (to us, anyway) high levels of support for the the creationist view of the world. But, you ask, what can you really tell from a poll like this?
First, I would like to know how a phone interview of 2,000 people is statistically accurate?
Second, I would think there is probably a correlation between people willing to answer questions in a phone survey and their religious beliefs. By this I mean that people who are willing to believe in creationism are probably more likely to answer questions in a phone interview, whereas a person who believed in natural selection would tell them to piss off.
If the statistics do somehow actually happen to be true, then I hope we colonize Mars soon so I can leave this insanity. Then again Bush is probably trying to get to Mars so he can convert the heathen natives, such as he is in Iraq.
The problem is that too many people in the US don't understand what most Europeans take for granted - politicians are masters of BS.
So when George Bush Jnr decides to invent several myths (global warming is still be debated by scientists and scientists are still debating whether evolution really happened), the red neck, educationally challenged half of America (Jesus freaks as the rest of us like to call them) believe this crap.
The global warming lie is comforting, because that means red necks don't have to give up their pickup trucks, and the nuclear waste factory they work for can keep on pumping crap into the river.
The creationist lie is for control. It's just another example in the long history of just about any country of religion being used to control its population "don't do this or you'll go to hell - you know it's true because you're being taught it in science and history as fact".
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I'm actually a Christian myself. However the big mystery to me, along with many other "moderate" Christians, is why the main point of the Bible is being ignored (the bit that says killing other people is not allowed, at all, no clauses, no excuses, killing is a big no) in favour (<- yes I'm English and can spell, but I've been living here in the US for 7 years) of made up stuff, e.g. gays are bad, alcohol is bad, pot is bad, sex is bad, etc.
So when some idiot decides, a la Taliban, to replace science and history with religious doctrine, and then makes up a name that sounds plausibly similar to evolution, people just blindly follow along thinking that sounds nice - what's the harm in teaching it to our kids.
The harm, you idiots, is that it's BS, and teaching BS instead of fact makes the US the laughing stock of the western world.
An interesting (and interestingly spelled) take on the allegations that Yahoo helped Chinese authorities track down a cyber-dissident:
As much as it may be unethical, a company isn't interested in ethics it's interested in cash and lots of it.
Now then shopping criminals (which in China is how the government views these people) and opening over a billion potential users, or saying no and getting kicked out of the area... what corporate exec would pic option number two?
Course this moves onto, in western countries many think that information on potential terrorists should be passed onto authorities. Well sorry to say it if China says Joe Blog is a dissidant it's the same as the UK gov saying that Sheikh something or other is a terrorist. The pengelum swings both ways.
Live with it, it sucks but heh thats life for ya. Don't break local laws, don't end up imprisioned/fined/dead/bellmarsh/guantanimo depending on where you are.
Break laws for better or worse you run the risks, it isn't the role of corporations or other people to risk their necks to protect you.
The great news is that, this very week, Charles Clarke is meeting with the other EU Justice Ministers to push for mandatory long-term data retention so that we, too, can have Chinese-style control.
Doesn't it make you proud?
Indeed, our beloved Home Secretary has said (again) that we need to prepare to trade our rights for our security. Lots of people sent in the Ben Franklin quote:
"Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
for which we thank you. You know who you are. No one else was particularly impressed with Mr. Clarke's views either:
I would like to express my amazement at the fact that the UK citizens aren't revolting at the fact that their country is being turned into one big Orwellian society with camera's on every corner and the government openly talking about curtailing civil liberties.
The fact that there's so little vocal opposition in the UK does make me wonder about the mental capacity of British citizens as it seems they take anything the Government says for granted or will at least accept it without even so much as a grumble.
In Holland at least the opposition would have been vocal and I'm sure Mr. Clarke would be openly called a 'jackass' or an 'airhead' . As your article points out: there's no indication at all that the spying on all citizens stop any terrorist attack (I'm sure of it). It *will* however put much greater control by the government on its citizens as to what they think or do.
Maybe it would be worthwhile to write an article on this and to examine whether this lack of opposition can be traced back to the class-based society Britain once was.
'British Home Secretary Charles Clarke has warned that European citizens will have to accept that civil liberties may have to be bartered away in exchange for protection from terrorists and organised criminals.'
A government that can't fight terrorism without abrogating the rights of law-abiding citizens has no right to exist.
There seems to be a view in government that if only they could gather sufficient information they could prevent all kinds of nasty things.
Of course, they are wrong.
They are mistaking quantity for quality, a common error made by people with no experience in real security.
The trouble with untargetted information gathering it that it will generate large numbers of false positives and the "cry wolf" syndrome soon sets in.
We must be protected from organised criminals, yes? Like the politicians themselves, yes (or do they define criminal/terrorist with the unwritten exception "but not us"?).
Could you please put up Mr. Charles Clarke's Email and FAX number if available, so we can tell him in great detail what we think he can shove up his rectum?
Freedom is the highest value we have, and it is a value to fight for, to die for. For centuries, Europeans waded knee deep their own blood for the level of freedom we inherit today. Any cut of freedom / civil liberties means giving in to terrorists. It means they win.
Patrick Henry said "What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!". This was 230 years ago, and it expresses a certain attitude that we should try to remember while we happily stun our senses indulging in cellphone downloads.
Well, Oliver, Charles Clarke is an elected representative of the Norwich South constituency in the UK, and as such is publicly accountable, so we don't mind pointing you in the right direction.
You could reach him by writing to him at The House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. His own website is here. Last time we checked it seemed to be down, but you may have more luck.
Also, check out the theyworkforyou.com website, which has links to other contact details for Mr. Clarke, and all the rest of our much-loved elected representatives.
Now you all have the whole of the weekend to compose your thoughts. Enjoy. ®