Vegetable Deluxe

In 2004 (or thereabouts) McDonalds in England dropped the Vegetable Deluxe, which is a pity. If you ordered it without the egg-based sauce it was actually pure vegetarian. Not particularly nice to eat, but no animal products.

The Vegetable Deluxe was replaced by the Quorn something-or-other, and Quorn contains egg, so its demise was a step in the wrong direction. This was itself replaced, apparently, by a vegetable and cheese sandwich; available without the cheese on request.

So what are McDonalds up to? I decided to write to them and ask, and they replied saying that the Veg Deluxe was simply discontinued. Hmmm.

The next time I was at a McDonalds (some considerable time later) I asked the manager for his views, and was told I could have one. Great! Well, not great; but better than nothing. Can I have a receipt with that?

Armed with the receipt to prove that it was still on the menu I wrote back to head office and this time I received an apology – apparently it’s available, but at the manager’s discretion. The manager I spoke to had no intention of stopping, and supplies were readily available even if it didn’t appear on the menu.

But why should anyone care? Surely McDonalds is the Great Satan of the catering world. Well, actually, they’re not as bad as many and they do respond to public opinion. Any business that doesn’t is, by definition, selling the wrong thing.

So consider this: If people don’t order the Vegetable Deluxe from time to time then McDonalds really will stop selling it. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I say it’s bad. It reinforces their (supposed) corporate idea that meat is the only thing that sells. Actually, if you go to McDonalds in India you’d be hard pressed to find meat, which is proof enough that they do respond to what the locals are demanding. If they’re not selling what you’re after, go and demand it. A boycott isn’t going to scare them.

The only downside is that if you buy a Veggie Deluxe to encourage them you’ll have to find something to do with it, unless you propose to eat it.

The road to hell…

I’m not a communist, but it’s pretty obvious to me that there are some things that are best not left to the free market. The management of Internet domain names is one of them. And no, I’m not about to discuss the pigs breakfast that the American’s have made involving Network Solutions. This problem’s home grown, and fortunately, it hasn’t happened yet.

Nominet is the not-for-profit company that manages the allocation of most of the .uk domain names (notable exceptions being .gov.uk and .ac.uk). By and large it does a pretty good job; and anyone who thinks otherwise should look across the Atlantic and think again.

But this, apparently, is not enough. The management wants to widen its terms of reference to allow it to undertake new projects such as the allocation of telephone numbers. Now I don’t have a problem with this – Nominet has proved it can allocate domain names, so they’re a sensible choice to take on this new role. However, the terms of reference they are asking for allows them to offer ‘consultancy’ services. According to the document, they’re being asked for this and turning potential customers away. I say ‘Good!’

Nominet has a ‘public service’ charter. It’s a monopoly because we need one. The Internet community in the UK effectively owns Nominet, and it represents everyone’s interests. This is why it was set up with such narrow terms of reference – it’s a one-trick pony. It does what it does, and it does it well. It’s not competing in the marketplace for anything else, and no one can compete with Nominet.

But what if it could complete with other companies? It wouldn’t be doing so on equal terms – it holds the levers of control for the whole UK DNS. It has a guaranteed income stream form issuing domain names. It can take risks and lose money without worrying because it has a goose laying golden eggs. It’d make one hell of a player! But it would do so at the expense of everyone else.

Is the management of Nominet actually bent on world domination? Well I’ve had a chat with the people responsible and they insist that they only wanted to bid of the telephone number allocation business and while they were at it they wanted some general clauses added to cover future eventualities without having to change their terms of reference again. They had no intention of competing with their members or anyone else. That’s great, but will it remain so for the rest of time? I doubt it. With nothing in the terms of reference to hold them back, sooner or later someone would take advantage. What’s the point of having power and not using it.

If you’re going to have a non-profit organisation managing a monopoly for the public good then it should do just that. No more, no less.

For more information take a look at Nominet’s web site under consultations.

For Nominet’s Consultation Document click here.

How to prevent spammers getting your email address

Everyone knows this one, right? Just obey the following rules:

  1. Don’t give your email address to strangers
  2. Never post your email address on newsgroups
  3. Don’t leave your email address lying about on web pages.
  4. Don’t reply to spam – they know you’re reading it.

Unfortunately this advice is seriously out-of-date, although some emails are still harvested by spammers this way. People keep asking the question “I didn’t do any of the above, so how come I’m getting all this spam?”

What the American spammers are actually doing is using malicious software on innocent computers (installed using the normal virus channels). Amongst other things, this software searches the victim’s hard disk for all the email addresses it can find. It then sends the results back to be added to their spamming list. In order to have your email address added to a spamming list, all you need do is exchange an email with an infected PC – or a PC that becomes infected in the future.

As to item four, about never responding to spam, this is no longer the case. Spammers don’t use their real return address anyway. They track who’s reading their wares by embedding a reference to an image in an HTML email. When the message is displayed the image is downloaded from their server; when this happens they know who it was. Microsoft Outlook allows this to happen; Microsoft doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to fix it.

So what can you do? Not much! If you can, use disposable emails. For example, if you’re the secretary of a club and you correspond with a large number of people, some of whom are likely to be hijacked, make your email address ’secretary1@…’. When this is compromised, change it to ’secreatry2@…’ and so on.

A proper solution is needed, but there’s no political will to solve it. The identity of the criminals doing this is well-enough known; the American’s just let them operate virtually unhindered. Something to do with ‘freedom of speech’!

Using AOL with a Router

Why does everyone hate AOL (America On Line) so much? Probably because it allowed Joe Public access to the Internet, and Joe Public didn’t know how to behave. AOL also provides a simplified service at what has often been a premium price. And their marketing makes the technically literate cringe with embarrassment.

However, people do use AOL Broadband, using a modem. Today I had to get ADSL running for a small charity that happened to have a live subscription to AOL, so why not use that? No information on if or how it would work with a router, that’s why not.

However, some experimentation, judicious guesswork and a polite but firm telephone call to an overseas call centre produced the following results:

First off, remember this is for England only. Secondly, AOL calls the user-ID a ’screen name’. Make sure you get the case exactly right – it’s sensitive!

So, to make AOL work with your router as follows:

  • PPP User ID: [screen name]@aol.com
  • PPP Password: [usual password]
  • PPP Authentication: CHAP (or PAP+CHAP)
  • VCI: 38
  • VPI: 0
  • Modulation: G.DMT
  • Dynamic IP address
  • Encapsulation: VC Mux (Multiplexed)
  • Protocol: PPPoA

This assumes you know what PPP is, and how you program your router. If not, I hope you’ve got a good router manual. Set this lot up and away you go – LCP will provide the necessary IP address, DNS and so on – filtered down to the machines on the LAN by DHCP automatically. Well it worked for me!

AOL doesn’t provide a full-on two-way Internet connection, but it probably does what most domestic users want and if they’re caught in a twelve-month contract there’s no sense in cancelling early.

Beefeater – what do you expect?

I’d normally give any chain of eateries with a name like Beefeater a very wide berth. About ten years ago I went with a group of friends to and Angus Steak House, and it was the vegetarian starvation zone you’d expect – with an attitude to match.

Today I was looking for somewhere to eat near Borough Green with Barry (a devout, but discriminating carnivore) and he was very keen to try the Beefeater. To be honest, there wasn’t any choice in the area and we’d been suck in the M25 traffic for what seemed like eternity and we had a lot of work ahead of us, so I went along with it.

As it turned out they didn’t have much that was pure veggie (a side order of chips?) but if you each cheese or fish you’d be okay. But at least they didn’t have the attitude.

E7Even

I’ll try not to say “I told you so”, but e7even (aka e7broadband) has ceased providing any kind of service to its customers. Has it gone bust? No. It seems to have done a deal to let Mr Marrocco (186k) take over their customers – they won’t give the MAC to anyone else. For another ADSL provider to take over a line from another provider you need a MAC (Migration Authorisation Code) and guess what? E7even aren’t providing one of those either. It seems doubtful that the customers that paid up-front will be receiving a refund.

E7even was the cheapest ADSL provider by quite a large margin. When they launched their customers felt they had a bargain – it did work quite well. The rest of us figured out that they’d either be unable to provide proper backup at that price; had swung a fantastic wholesale deal; or had found a sure-fire way of going bust.

As time passed there were signs of disagreements and problems with E7even’s wholesale suppliers (yes, they had more than one) and the whole thing started to fall apart.

Now E7even’s customers are faced with either losing their service (their money already seems to have gone) or sign up with Mr Marrocco for a high-priced alternative. I’ve seen nothing to prove that 186k is capable of supporting retail ADSL users. As a company it’s seems to be going around with a pot of money and buying everything it can.

This story will, no doubt, roll on for some time to come.

Flamin’ Forty!

Well that’s it – forty years old. I’ve just turned forty. This is pretty much half way, and I’ve never kept a diary. In fact, I’ve never had much to do with paper in any form – but technology has moved on.

An old colleague of mine from journalism days – David Brake – started a blog years ago and I thought it was a fun idea. So I’ve set this one up using the same software on the assumption that he knew what he was doing.