Putin the Boogy Man

Vladimir Putin in KGB UniformI’ve been listening to Today on Radio 4. Francois Fillon has won the conservative presidential candidacy for the French president. Apparently, shock horror, he likes Margret Thatcher and is friendly with VLADIMIR PUTIN. That sounds a bit like Vlad the Impaler!

The presenter also had a jibe about Donald Trump; he also wants to do business with this monster.

He is a monster, right? He’s a Rusky, like Starlin, and therefore wants to take over the world. And he’s done all these terrible things to prove his evil intent. Lets just remind ourselves…

First off, Russian troops put down a “revolution” in Chechnya. Actually, this was an Islamist uprising, but before the West had experienced Islamist uprisings so at the time Mr Putin was portrayed as Mr Nasty. Now we don’t really want to talk about it.

Then he backed the Assad “regime” in Syria against the “rebels”. Assad was and remains the democratically elected president of the country. Sure, he tried to make war against Israel at every opportunity but that’s normal around there. Not a nice person, but democratically elected. The so-called rebels were self-appointed, and unsurprisingly, have long-since disappeared and Islamists have filled the vacuum. The West continues to condemn Russia for backing the democratically elected government against, you guessed it, the Islamist insurgents (Islamic state and the like).

“Ah”, the liberal media wail, “Russia is bombing Aleppo and civilians in the ‘rebel’ held areas are being killed.” Well there’s a war on. The “rebels” are bombing the government-held areas and killing civilians, and this is okay? And non-Russian forces are bombing rebels in Mosul, yet there they’re called Islamic State, and there is little mention of civilians.

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Okay, what about annexing Crimea. Russian tanks in a foreign country. What actually happened there?

Well in 2010 Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential election in Ukraine, beating Yulia Tymoshenko. It was considered a fair election. He won. Some people in Ukraine didn’t agree and started fighting about it a couple of years later. Reports vary, but Yulia Tymoshenko’s supporters have neo-Nazi overtones.

Ukraine was split in to the Russian-speaking Crimea and the rest, and the Russian-speaking population in Crimea was in trouble from the violence, so Putin sent in the troops to protect them, and support the democratically elected government. The West sided with the neo-Nazi rebels.

For historic reasons, Russians do no like neo-Nazis. Strangely the Western liberal media reckons they’re okay if they’re fighting against Russia.

Now I’m no more a fan of Putin than I am of most politicians. He’s got his hands dirty, to say the last. Rising up through the KGB is hardly an ideal career path for a benevolent leader, although this is how it’s been done for a long time. But when you look at the situation in Russia, there are plenty of worse candidates for president. You could say he’s the least-worst option. The Russian people like the guy; he looks out for their interests. And with the West pushing hard against Russia, who can blame them? And to cap it all, Putin is actually the defender of democracy in his foreign policy; how does he keep snatching the moral high ground from Obama?

The reason is that Obama and the West still have the “reds under the beds” attitude. Putin, on the other hand, has a different understanding of who the real enemies to freedom (or his cushy way of life) are. As do Trump and Fillon.

Enough with this “Trump Crashes Immigration Site” rubbish!

Ha Ha Ha! On Wednesday, Canada’s web site for prospective immigrants crashed due to the weight of American’s trying to escape from a USA run by Donald Trump. Really? Now other immigration sites such as New Zealand are reporting similar problems and certain some media outlets are lapping it up.

It’s a funny story, but I suspect that it’s too good for some people to check the facts.

There are two possibilities here:

  1. A load of American’s panicked suddenly.
  2. Some jokers decided a DDoS attack at this point to make it appear American’s were panicking would me funny

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I think option two is way more likely. People have been joking about the “move to Canada” option for months.

A-Level scrappage scheme – Tony Robinson dug up to condem it

Earlier this week AQA scrapped the A-Level in Art History, and today Archeology got the chop too. The luvvies at the BBC decided to get some expert comment about this act of cultural vandalism, and naturally turned to one of their own – Left-wing comedian and actor, (Sir) Tony Robinson. He’s keen on archeology, having made some reality TV show about it. However, he was knighted for his services to politics, having been a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee. So who better to discuss it?

Sir Tony was, unsurprisingly, keen to blather on without any balance, roundly condemning AQA for their decision. He knows a lot about education; after pre-school he went to a grammer where it scraped four ‘O’ Levels, and dropped out of ‘A’s.

Unfortunately Sir Tony couldn’t directly criticise the government as it was the exam board decided to drop it, but it didn’t stop him trying. And for balance, they dug up a professor of archaeology too – not a luvvie, but definitely an academic.

The argument made by this brace of lefties is that scrapping subjects like this means poor people going to state schools won’t have the chance to study these subjects. A view that wasn’t questioned. Well I’ll question it – if AQA has scrapped it, no one can do it.

Apparently it was also “limiting choice” to concentrate on core subjects. This stands no scrutiny. Hardly any schools offer A-levels in these subjects anyway, as no one wants to do them and even if they did, there is no one to teach them. If you have a love of a subject, go and study it yourself. Apparently, last year only 400 students took Archeology.

No one was keen to make the opposite case; that such A-Levels are a really bad idea. You can go on to study a degree in archeology without having done an A-Level in it; you just need a brain and the ability to think critically. You can get that by studying anything difficult. You don’t need to be spoon-fed a subject to “try it out”, all you need to do is go to the library and read some books.

Having A-Levels in weird subjects is actually a bad thing, in my view. People may choose to do them. In itself that’s fine, but human nature leads to many choosing the easy ride. In at least one private school I know of, most of the pupils leave with an A-Level in Scripture (Religious Studies). It’s an easy one to get and boosts the A-level tally.

So what happens when you take your A-Level in Media Studies, Archeology and Divinity to university? Do they prepare you for a degree course? Well, it might for a degree Archeology, but so would self-study and a love of the subject combined with an A-Levels in Maths and Physics. THat’s true of practically any subject at degree level.

The result of the current ridiculous situation is this: I have people trying to study for a degree in Computer Science who are unable to write a proper sentence in English. Their basic arithmetic skills are almost non-existent; and as for mathematics: forget it! And, surprise, surprise, they got on the course using A-Levels in soft subjects, so they don’t know how to study anything hard.

Bring on the A-Level scrappage scheme.

The Royal Mail is Doomed

Britain without the Royal Mail? ThRoyal Mailat’d be, well, un-British. But, like Woolworths, it’s coming to the end of its natural life after 500 years.

Realising this, it was sold out of public ownership in 2013 in the hope this would give it the flexibility to adapt and change with the times. Form most of its life it’s existed to provide communication in the form of letters. It survived the introduction of the telephone – in fact it used to run that too, messed it up and had that part of the business privatised as British Telecom in the 1981. This didn’t stop BT doing some odd things (like selling the division running these new-fangled mobile phones), but it has replaced the dwindling demand for fix-line domestic telephone calls by selling infrastructure of networking instead. BT are doing rather well at it.

Fax, and then email, has really put a dent in written communication. Who sends letters any more (apart from idiots)? However, the Internet has resulted in a massive boom in on-line commerce, and physical products still need delivery to the purchaser. Royal Mail plc needs to re-invent itself as a delivery company, and use its existing infrastructure to do it better than the start-ups who are filling the void. Unfortunately it’s doing spectacularly badly at this, whatever it’s accounts say.

Hereabouts, our two nearest Post Offices are closing, in spite of there still being a demand. There’s always a queue. The Post Office was their advantage – you could visit it to drop off a parcel and pay the postage on it at the same time. If you can’t do this, you may as well have an account with some other carrier, who’ll pick up from your premises without any fuss. Royal Mail will, if you’re big enough.

But the big problem they have is delivery. With another courier, it’s not a problem. They’ll always follow instructions and leave it across the road, where we have an agreement to take each others’ deliveries. Not a problem. If that doesn’t work they drive past a few hours later and there’s always someone around to handle it.

But Royal Mail has a “better idea”. They stuff a card into your post box telling you to collect your parcel the following day, from your local Post Office. (The one they’re just closing) And your local Post Office parcel department is only available until noon.

Whilst I like my local postman, and the people in the parcel office, the reality is that other shipping companies provide a much better service whereas they’re constrained by crazy working practices, partly fought for by their own trade union.

Unless Royal Mail can get parcel delivery right, by delivering the things to the address the sender intended, when they intended it, they’re going to be stuck with operating an almost pointless shrinking letter service, and eventually decreasing economies of scale will mean the competition can do that cheaper too.

Edward Snowdon is a traitor – The Washington Post(?!?)

Edward_Snowden-sIn spite of the Washington Post being chosen by Snowdon to publish his “revelations” (a circulation-grabbing but arguably cyclical move), and in spite of accepting a Pulitzer prize for this irresponsible journalism, the paper is now calling for him to be prosecuted. Unlike the liberal Guardian in the UK, the US paper, which profited by his betrayal are now seeing the situation for what it is.

Aussie Census takes a tumble

The Australian government bureaux of statistics had a census yesterday. Every aussie, wherever in the world they happened to be, and to fill in the on-line census form before midnight. For those living in London, they tried to do this late afternoon in order to meet the deadline. No luck! it’s down with a message saying “Sorry Mate, our servers are currently shagged. Please try later and we’ll forget about the fine this time.” Or words to that effect.

On trying again this morning, it was still out of action.

I wonder if all the Australians in the world decided to leave it to the last couple of hours of the day, and whoever designed the system didn’t consider what the peak load might be?

Please don’t click here to see for yourself, as their servers are overloaded enough already.

Update: 10-Aug-16 17:06

Apparently they’re now blaming it of foreign hackers or a DoS. There was some controversy about the security of an on-line census before the event; I see a “told you so” slanging match before long!

Five year old “new” malware discovered “by Kaspersky”

Yesterday Russian security company Kaspersky has released an analysis of what it claims is previously undiscovered malware, which has come to be known as Salron. Kaspersky’s analysis is incomplete, but contains more detail than was generally available in public beforehand. They admit it’s “probably” been around for five years, and this is true; but it’s not exactly unknown. The unknown group  behind the attacks has become known as Strider, and they’re using a backdoor program called Remsec. Details of this were published by Symantec a week ago.

Kaspersky’s conclusion is that this is a “Nation State” level piece of malware. It’s possible, but other than being very competently produced, I have seen no conclusive evidence to back the claim at this stage, but there’s quite a bit that’s circumstantial. According to Symantic, it’s been used to target relatively few organisations – mostly in Russia, with a Chinese airline and an unspecified embassy located in Europe. In other words, that naughty Mr Putin is at it again. Or is it the Chinese attacking their neighbour?

Based on the public analysis, it was written by some very smart people and avoids the mistakes made in previous systems such as Stuxnet. Kaspersky points to it being a rung up the technology ladder as an indication it was another government-sponsored effort, although in practice, anyone could learn the same lessons and produce a new generation.

AV companies have been detecting this for over a week, and it hasn’t thrown up a large number of infections. This is intriguing. Also, the way it works  to circumvent very specific and uncommon high-end security software indicates its in the APT category.

Microsoft, who’s operating systems it attacks, has yet to comment.

BBC plays the temperamental chef

Today the BBC hit back after being told to do its job. The white paper on its future told the public service broadcaster that it needed to produce public service output, rather than duplicating material ably produced by the commercial sector. The phrase used was “distinctive output”, and this was repeated ad nausium in its reporting of this morning’s story that it would be dropping its popular web recipe archive.

The reason given was that this was not “distinctive output”, and according to Radio 4’s Today programme, it was to save £15M/year from its on-line budget. Really? Anyone who knows anything about web publishing can tell you that publishing recipes is cheap, especially when you already have them. A quick look around the BBC more exotic on-line offerings will soon show where the money really goes.

So what are they up to? Politics, of course. The liberal elite running the BBC isn’t happy about being reminded how it is supposed to be spending our money, and is acting up in a disgraceful manner.

In its own on-line reporting of the matter, the BBC is linking this to the new requirement to publish details everyone having their celebrity lifestyle funded by more than 450K  of our license money. This is going to be be awkward for the luvvies and the star-struck BBC executives fawning over them.

It’s about time the BBC started serving the people who pay for it. It’s hardly impartial when it comes to politics; it’s right in there playing politics itself – albeit the playground variety.

Apple is too cool for the CIA to touch

Tim Cook 2009 cropped
Tim Cook – time he was sent to jail?
You can’t have missed the furore over Apple’s refusal to help the CIA get the data from a terrorist murderers iPhone. On the one side the CIA says that we need the data to protect the public, a line with the judiciary of the USA agrees with, and Apple should do everything possible to get it for them. On the other side there’s Apple’s PR engine trying (successfully) to spin the story and avoid complying with the court order.

In the mean time the Brazilians haven’t shown such deference to a cultural icon when it comes to Facebook owned WhatsApp refusing to hand over data concerning a major drugs trafficker, even after several court orders. The Brazilian authorities have arrested Diego Dzodan, Facebook’s hancho in Latin America, and thrown him in jail until such time as the company obeys the law.

Perhaps he Americans could try that with Tim Cook – you break the law, you go to jail.

Meanwhile, Apple might seem to be setting itself up as the criminals friend over this. In the land of the free where profit is king, I guess their money is as good as anyone else’s so perhaps we should be too judgemental. But in an outrageous spin, Apple has told the world that if they comply with the court order then all Apple handsets will have a backdoor and no longer be secure. This is disingenuous. The situation is this:

Apple encrypts the data stored on the phone. You have to enter a password to unlock it. If you enter ten wrong passwords it will wipe the data from the phone. The CIA has asked Apple to modify this handset to disable the data wiping feature, so the CIA can then just keep throwing passwords at it until it unlocks. Clearly, this is going to have no physical effect on any other handset anywhere else in the world. So what’s Apple’s problem?

If Apple helped the CIA break in to the handset, Apple can no longer claim that its handsets are invulnerable. Terrorists, fraudsters and anyone up to something will know that the authorities can get at Apple data even more easily than if it was stored on iCloud. Note well: the fact that Apple hasn’t produced the mod needed to do this (publicly), doesn’t mean that its not possible right now; and it may even be happening. But Apple wants to maintain the illusion that it can’t.

Put another way, it’s easy enough to bypass the locks on a front door. You just need a large enough sledge hammer. Doubt this? Look at the footage of a police raid taking place – a few burly coppers with a battering ram and it’s open in seconds. Apple is selling locks and trying to pretend there’s no such thing as a sledgehammer.

So why, might one ask, don’t the US authorities stop messing around and get the court order enforced? Are they really scared of Apple?

What’s really worrying about this situation is that “civil liberties campaigners” and some corporate America is rushing to put out statements in Apple’s defence. In other words, big business reckons it’s above the law made by the people using a democratically elected government.

Grant Shapps – need for speed?

Used with permission from http://www.communities.gov.uk/corporate/help/conditions/
Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP

People (e.g. the Guardian) are clearly out to get Grant Shapps MP, and given their bias you can see why. But he’s not helping with the publication of his recent report, which he and British Infrastructure Group of MPs have wittly titled “Broadbad” (PDF format).

It’s calling for Openreach to be made independent of the remainder of BT, in order for the public to get the “super-fast” broadband we need if we’re not to revert to the stone-age. They claim that BT has wasted 1.7Bn on rolling out this technological artery to rural areas, yet 5.7M household’s don’t have the “minimum required” speed of 10Mb.

I say wrong, wrong and wrong.

First off, Openreach hasn’t received 1.7Bn for the rural broadband project. It’s only received about a third of that, and it’s a project in progress.

Secondly, I’d dispute that 5.7M households have yet to be connected. This is based on an old Ofcom report using figures available before the project got under way.

Thirdly, the case for 10Mb+ Internet connections to homes  h as not been met. It’s justified because the UK will “lag behind” countries like Japan and South Korea. So what?

The UK lags behind the USA in gun crime; should we therefore relax restrictions on firearms ownership? “Lagging behind” per se does not matter a jot. Their justification as to why we need higher speeds amounts to “Ofcom have shown that as consumers get better download speeds, they consume more data”. No sh*t, Sherlock!

So what is this data people are consuming? Basically Netflix. Only video has the “need” for high throughput Internet connection, and although this might help the bottom line of OTT media providers, it’s hard to see any other economic benefits to anyone.

According to the report, Spain also has faster connections than our unlucky punters; so if they’re trying to correlate domestic broadband speeds with economic virility, they’ve shot their fox.

As I’ve said before, the whole concept is insane. Streaming video requires about 2Mbps. How many streams does a household need?

Most other high-usage domestic customers are, basically, pirating media. They need fast upload speeds for that, which aren’t really mentioned in the report. Why should the public purse be subsidising either OTT operators or pirates?

A few weeks ago I tackled someone from the Home Office about this crazy idea, and the reasoning behind it was more cynical than I thought. It’s only one civil servant’s opinion, but my contact has a pretty good idea about how government really works.

Consider all the infrastructure projects we could be working on; things that would benefit the country. There’s road and rail networks (HS2 is a drop in the ocean), the national grid, water supply and sewers. How about a sustainable transport network, as it’s a certainty we’re going to need one. All these cost serious money, with the exchequer hasn’t got. But the government has to be seen to be investing in infrastructure. The cheap option is to roll out mad-speed Internet. They can claim it’s needed for business; voters have no idea what a megabit of data can actually be used for. And the public want it. They don’t need it, but that’s not the point. They want it.

If you tell Mondeo Man his broadband is lagging behind the Spaniards, he’ll want something done about it. (If you tell him to wire up the house properly instead of using WiFi, it’d be in one year and out the other.)

So, by making a fuss about broadband speeds and then demanding action from BT, and throwing relatively little money about, the government can look like it’s dealing decisively with a pressing issue.

As for Mr Shapps, he claims to have been in the Internet business before becoming an MP. He should know better, but it turns out he had a web development company so probably doesn’t know the difference between a kilobit and a megabit either. If only he’d asked.