Human error, sweet music, and more bleeding football

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Like Humans Do

It was a great week for human error. First up was PlusNet, which managed to lose several hundred gigs of customers' emails. At the time of writing, PlusNet had got many people's email accounts back up and running and is hoping to restore everything.

But PlusNet did do a pretty job of telling its customers what was going on. And the story was a tragic tale of human error. The statement in the support forum was Greek tragedy writ small:

"At 8am on Sunday morning our engineers were in a position to switch over to use of the new storage solution. As the first stage of this, an engineer was in the process of bringing the new back-up storage server into service. As part of the preparation of the mirrored disks on this platform the disks had to be reconfigured and all existing data on them removed."

You can picture the scene. You get to work on a Sunday morning, feeling rough, the coffee machine is not switched on. Do a quick disc reconfig while the kettle is boiling. Then all hell breaks loose. More on PlusNet's problems.

But PlusNet's example of transparent communication was soon beaten.

On Thursday, a reader sent us in what we reckon to be the world's greatest ever error message. IT staff at Fish4 had clearly had enough when they posted up the following message:

"Thank you for coming to fish4 this morning. Unfortunately, the fish4 website is unavailable due to the failure of a very expensive piece of Sun hardware. A Sun engineer is at the data centre but didn't think to bring the replacement part with him."

Word reached Vulture Central that certain other sections of Fish4 management were not happy with the message and phoned the IT department to complain. Good to hear that the message remained, and that the site was back up at midday as promised.

We should probably also mention a couple of Reg readers who emailed us to say that no website should rely on any single bit of kit, even if it is very expensive and from Sun.

One reader suggested a better error messge might read:

"Unfortunately, the Fish4 website is unavailable this morning due to some incredibly bad planning on our part. We thought that a midrange server was a miraculous piece of equipment which never failed, so we decided that we didn't need a redundant solution. A Sun engineer is onsite, but didn't bring every single piece of hardware which might have failed! How inconsiderate of him not to carry a semi-trailer of spares around with him."

We must also lay to rest rumours that we are replacing our BOFH column with fresh, new writing from the support team at PlusNet and Fish4 - they're good, but they're not that good.

Speaking in Tongues

Communication is all very well, but if you're a really big player you don't have to bother with it. So when eBay decided it was going to stop allowing payments using Nochex, it just changed the relevant section of its rules and regulations. Bit of a blow for the many Powersellers who were forced to frantically change dozens of listings so as not to have their accounts switched off.

Using an unauthorised payment method on eBay gets you a lifetime ban. Which wouldn't be fun if it was your main source of income. Especially if this all happened on a Friday night when, even for the socially-disadvantaged Powerseller, there might be the chance of an evening out.

By Monday morning, eBay had changed its mind and Nochex was again an acceptable form of payment. Powersellers were welcome to re-edit all their listings to again allow payment by Nochex. No explanation, no apology. So what was the point of that?

Nochex received no communication from eBay - either when it was banned or when it was unbanned. Its customers, who are also eBay customers, weren't told anything either.

Part of Friday's moves were taken as a pre-emptive strike against the launch of Google's Checkout service – but eBay has never accepted payment from a new service – you've got to have a track record before you get on the list.

Maybe eBay was just demonstrating how easily and quickly it could chuck a payment service off its site. But also demonstrating a cavalier attitude to talking to customers.

Once in a Lifetime

Each World Cup, and any other event of note, is held up as the defining moment for one type of technology or another. This year's footballing extravaganza was going to the golden dawn for mobile data and video. We would all be watching goals and highlights on our mobile phones, we were told, as well as using a host of other data and media services. In fact, as is traditional, England went out in the quarter finals and we mostly watched the action in the pub.

But on Tuesday, a survey was released which showed just how far the mobile companies have to go to convince the average punter that all these new services are any good. Almost a third of data users did try services out for the first time during the World Cup. Not bad. But almost half of those who tried funky mobile services will never use them again. Cost and difficulty of use were cited for the disappointing interest.

On Thursday, another survey revealed what was causing this lack of interest in mobile services. Mobile phones are becoming the poor relations to other electronic devices. Lack of trained retail staff mean thousands of phones are returned when there is nothing wrong with them, except they've been set up incorrectly.

The research also found an increasing gap between product development and customer services – in other words developers are making things they want to see rather than things customers actually want to put in their pockets and use.

On a brighter note, we did manage to find one decent, and popular, application of technology to the World Cup with this collection of great remixes of Zidane's epic headbutt.

Road to Nowhere

The government, among others, often complains about "trial by media", but one organisation seems to have decided that trial by journalists is better than actual legal action.

The BPI has a long record of suing music fans it accuses of sharing files. But this week it changed strategy by putting out a press release naming two ISPs it accused of "harbouring filesharers". The ISPs in question, who received the press release at the same time we did, told the BPI where to stick it.

Bizarrely, the BPI seemed to welcome this and said: "We are pleased they are willing to cooperate." Just to be clear, Tiscali's response was: "Tiscali does not intend to require its customers to enter into the undertakings proposed by you and, in any event, our initial view is that they are more restrictive than is reasonable or necessary." Which doesn't sound like the sound of a cave-in to us. More on the BPI versus Bulldog and Tiscali standoff here.

Fortunately, back on planet Earth, some grown-ups were trying to move the debate forward. It's not exactly the Treaty of Versailles, but it's a good start. Two opposing sides have agreed to try and agree. Believe us, in the world of major record labels and the music sharing fans they view as virtual terrorists, this is a big step forward.

Wednesday's meeting saw independent music labels and collection agencies agree on Value Recognition Right – it's all a bit vague but no music fans were injured in the making of this policy. More details on the future of paying for music, here.

On Friday, the BPI put out a release asking the British Foreign Secretary to put pressure on Russia to get an MP3 site closed. Once Margaret Beckett gets Israeli forces out of Lebanon, British forces out of Iraq, a degree of peace in Darfur/Chad/Congo/Uganda, we hope she has time to help.

Burning down the House

This week was Patch Tuesday – Microsoft's gift of menses to security managers of all genders. There were seven updates – five of them critcial.

We also saw an attack on two-factor identification with a phishing attack against Citibank customers. Two factor ID requires a password and something else – usually a number or authentication key created by a token which gives a new number every few minutes.

The elephant in the room for the security market is the arrival of Microsoft. And this week saw it getting serious about the security market – not a new product but an offer to consultants – they will get 30 per cent of licensing revenues for certain security products – there's nothing like a bit of margin to focus those consultants' minds.

Make sure you didn't miss the demon duck of doom and the killer kangaroo – sometimes the headlines really do write themselves, especially when there's an Australian scientist involved.

Or criticism of the government's energy review by some people who should know.

And what looks very like the end for Blair's proposals for an ID card

Also, the European Commission fining Microsoft for failing to do what it is told.

And finally, next summer, as you relax on some foreign, but European beach, be reassured that it will be cheaper for work to get hold of you on your mobile phone.

That's all from us, thanks for reading and we'll be back next week. ®

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