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The Queue

A gentle rumbling of a wheeled case, punctuated by footsteps echoing off ceramic tiles. The walls, painted white, devoid of any decoration, but marked with black scuff marks, as if something had clipped the wall at those points. The ceiling, high above, equally devoid of decoration, inset with lights, but turned off for now. A full height window to the right, admitting sunlight, and providing a view over the huge machines outside.

People stood, in a line. Each with a case on the floor in front of them. A taped barrier snaking back and forth, indicating where they should stand. The drone of the machines outside, nearer now, vibrating the floor.

Eye contact avoided, as people stared fixed in front of them, eyes on small devices in their palm, occasionally reaching out to touch it. More and more people join the line. Some sitting on top of their case, some remaining standing. Otherwise, silence.

Accidental eye contact, she smiles, briefly, then quickly averts. Her jet black hair, shoulder length, framing delicate features. Nothing said. Outside, through the window, one of the giant machines stops near a doorway. Stairs are placed against its side.

“Now boarding flight EZY1835 from Ringway International to Schiphol, Amsterdam. Please present your pass and passport to the attendant at the gate.”

In silence, the line moves forwards, the only sounds, the rumble of the machines, and the grumble of wheeled cases.

Blackpool

I went to Blackpool Yesterday


Beach

Things have been a bit rough for me recently. I needed to see the sea, breathe the sea-air, feel the ssand under my feet, and generally just recharge. So I headed to the beach. For the first time in 8 years. Went by train too. It was the first time I've been on a train since I was 17 years old. The trains are newer, but the whole train experience hasn't changed any.


It started off with a browse of the local train companies website and a failed attempt to order the tickets that way. Upon trying to buy them, it reported:


Error: Your selected dearture station does not have ticketing facilities. We suggest you choose a different point of departure, or choose to have your tickets delivered by post within 10 working days.

So, a train company that can't sell "on-the-day" tickets, not from my local station at any rate. I had an idea though. I knew the next stop along the same line had a full ticket office and waiting room. A quick check on national rail's website informed me it was open on saturdays, but only until 1pm. So I jumped on a bus, headed over, explained the situation to the guy running the ticket booth, and he was able to sell me a pair of tickets (outbound and return) departing from my local station. £15.90 though, a little bit more than I had hoped to pay, but still, I needed it.



My local station is really quite dire. Ever since the old Victorian station buildings burned down some years ago, all it has consisted of is a metal bench, and a loudspeaker bolted to a lamp post.


But still, it serves its purpose, and the old cast iron stairway going over the lines still exists. I sat, and waited, and watched 4 express trains pass. Eventually my train rolled up.


First thing that struck me, is that the conductor did not inspect my ticket. He just unlocked the storage unit in the last carriage, for me to secure my bike (borrowed) for the journey. The trains are newer than I remember from all those years ago. They no longer make the "clickety-click" sound, that I was actually looking forwards to. The only noise they made was that of an enormous diesel engine barking away somewhere, and of people chatting. The windows were sorely in need of a wash, there was no point in taking pictures through them.


My stop finally arrived, Deansgate. Which is a wholly modern station, being on the outskirts of the heart of the City of Manchester. What suprised me mostly, for such a modern and major station, is that it lacks several rather significant facilities. It had no toilets, and I badly needed to micturate. It had no covered waiting areas, and it was COLD. It had no drinks vendors (neither kiosk nor machine). The only way to get my bike from one platform (arrivals) to the other (departures), was to manhandle it down a flight of stairs, under a tunnel, and up another flight of stairs. No ramps, nor elevators. There are elevators, but they are too small for a cycle. Quite a disappointment, for what is afterall, a main station.


My onwards bound train soon arrived. However the cycle storage area was full (it doubles as a storage area for prams and push-chairs), but the conductor let me take it onto the carriage itself. "Just lean it against the doors opposite you, they never open on this journey". Thankfully, the carriage also had a restroom and drinks dispenser and I was able to relieve my discomfort. This was a long-distance train, and not a local one. Facilities were much upgraded, even power points for laptops, airline style pull down tables, etc. The conductor even let me into the first class cabin, so I could keep an eye on my bike, as it was the only place the bike was visible from. +1 for TransPennine Express services.


About half way into the journey, the conductor asked to see my ticket, the first time it had been inspected at all. I had a standard class ticket, and was in the first class cabin. I wasn't worried, the conductor was the same guy who had let me in there to begin with. He didn't even bat an eyelid either, just clipeed a little notch into the ticket to show it had been inspected, and moved on.


Soon, we rolled into a station bearing a very familiar name...



My very distant ancestors founded this city. The name derives from Old English prēost (“priest”) + tūn (“settlement”). Which is why we bear the same name as it. My father had a geanological research done, and proved the connection. This is in some ways, my "home city", even though I have never actually visited, only ever passed through.


It was interesting to observe, how the closer we got to the coast, the lower the land became. Fewer and fewer hills, the average hight of buildings droped. It was as if things were sloping down to the sea. Maybe they were.


Finally Blackpool North rolled up and after disembarking, I realised why nobody really inspected tickets. All the exits were blocked by a big security gate, that would only open if you inserted a valid ticket into a slot. Directly opposite the gates, was a police station (British Railways Transport Police). They really are police officers, with warrant cards, cuffs, all the paraphenalia, but who's authority only extends to stations, trains, and railway lines. They have no power outside of those areas.


The station is set right back, a good mile, maybe more, from the promenade, and I knew it was, which was the main reason for borrowing a bike. From this vantage point, just outside the station, I couldn't see anything other than city. Not even the legendary tower. I saddled up, and headed in what I thought was the direction of the promenade. I was wrong. I asked someone, turned around, and headed in the opposite direction.


Suddenly, in a gap between office buildings, I spied what I was looking for. The tower. Big, bold, brash, and the ultimate symbol that you actually were in Blackpool.


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Not very good

What kind of person am I?

I am not a very nice or very good person, at all.

I suck at everything I try. I suck at games, I suck at my hobbies, I suck at life. What is worse however, is that I drag the people I consider to be friends down with me, when I should be propping them up.

They will try and deny that I suck, but, deep down, we all know the truth. I am substandard in every possible way. Even the universe acknowleged this by tring to kill me several times, and finally just castrating me to ensure I don't breed.

My friends are awesome people, and they deserve better, a lot better than me.

Another annoyance

Another annouance I've recently come across. Ubuntu.


There was a time when I swore blind by Ubuntu. It was easy to manage, flexible, powerful and fast. That time has now passed.


Up until Ubuntu 10.04, I was relativly happy. I had my laptop themed out the way I wanted. There were a few "niggles", but nothing to leave me pulling my hear out.Then they released Ubuntu 11 series. I got this silly idiotic "windows style" nag box every few hours.


A new release is available now!, along with a huge UPGRADE NOW button, and no cancel button. Ok, the omission of the cancel button was no big issue, you could close the nag with the window close gadget.But it kept on reappearing and reappearing.. It felt like once an hour, although realistically, it was only once a day. Ubuntu REALLY wanted me to upgrade, and badly.


So what the hell, this is a portable PC, can always wipe and reinstall. I let it upgrade, and now I am bald through tearing my hair out.


Read OnCollapse )

Halifax Online Banking

Recently, my bank, Halifax Bank, which is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland, made some changes to their online banking login system.


The changes were purported to be an improvement in account security. I personally beg to differ, its just more security theater, that is, designed to look like an increase in security, when its not really. They are an act, at minimal cost to the bank.


What does this "increase in security" involve?


The OLD system, was a simple username/password login over HTTPS, it wasn't hugely secure, I will admit.


The NEW system prompts you to create an additional secret word. Then to log in you have to supply 3 letters from that word, selected at random. For example, letters 3, 5, and 8 of your word. You then select the relevant letters from dropdown boxes.


The dropdown boxes, if anyone actually uses them, will defeat some minor keyloggers.


I have some issues with this.



  1. When passwords are stored in a db, they are usually stored in the form of a mono-directional hash, so that people with access to the db, do not get access to your password. In order for it to select 3 letters of your secret word, the word has to be stored either in plaintext, or with reversible encryption. This means, that their own staff could in theory gain access to your secret word.

    True, if their own staff are that corrupt, then you have bigger problems, but what happens if you have reused that word elsewhere. Its bad practice, but a lot of people do it regardless.

  2. Its annoying.

    Some annoyances I can live with, especially those that actually do make my online life safer. This does not, its just theater. Whats so annoying about it? There are 3 dropdown boxes, with 37 possible selections each. Even on my big monitor, thats a LOT of scrolling up and down lists.


My solution? Greasemonkey. Since I can't avoid them, I can at least reformat the lists so they can be seen all at once, ratherh than having a lot of mousing around to drop them down, scroll down them, select...


// ==UserScript==
// @name           Fuck Off Halifax
// @namespace      http://www.fundungeon.info/
// @description    Force the select lists to display all at once, rather than having to drop them down and select one by one.
// @include        https://www.halifax-online.co.uk/CustomerAuthentication/SecondLevelPhrase.aspx?PSF=SecondLevelAuthentication:viewSecondLevelPhrase:*
// @version        0.1a
// ==/UserScript==

(function(){
	var GM_SELECT = document.getElementsByTagName("select")
	for (counter in GM_SELECT) {
		GM_SELECT[counter].size=37
	}
})();

The lights on, but is anybody home?

A few years ago now, due to the Governments love of doing an "ostrich act", that is, putting its head in the sand and hoping problems go away, the UK was faced with an unprecedented (but entirely predictable) power supply problem.

The problem comes from the European Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which sets out a timetable for the shut down of power stations with high CO2 emissions by 2016 (this deadline has been recently extended to July 2020).

In typical Government fashion, they ignored this deadline, until it came to a point where if they started construction on new power stations, sufficient to meet the UK demand, they wouldn't be ready to supply the UK grid until 2018 at the earliest, and the current, more efficient power stations were insufficient to meet the UK demand.

This left at least a 2 year gap, in which the UK would not be self sufficient in power generation capacity.

What did the Government do? Did it admit "we screwed up", no, it tried to shift the blame to its citizens. Blaming them for using too much power.

They blamed us for leaving mobile phone chargers plugged in all the time.
They blamed us for not using low power CCFL lightbulbs.
They blamed us for leaving computers and other appliances on standby instead of turning them right the way off.

All because the Government ignored the fact that it NEEDED to build new power stations.

They knew they would never get away with legislating against these things. So what did they do? They sought the cooperation of the corporations. One of the things they did was that they asked the major retail stores to stop supplying filament style light bulbs. As the profit margin on the CCFL bulbs was so much higher, the stores rubbed their hands with glee. They could now refuse to sell us what we wanted, and say "blame the government", while creaming off huge profits.

The Government would also gain by reducing the power demand, after all 60watt to 11watt isn't a huge saving, but multiply that by several million bulbs in use, and it is a very significant saving on our power consumption as a whole.

The only losers would be the citizens. After all the light quality of the CCFL bulbs is abysmal. Dull, and lacklustre.

What the nobody in charge predicted (but could have easily), was that while the major stores stopped selling filament bulbs, the local stores and minor DIY outlets, did not, and they made huge profits from the sale of light bulbs.

People did not make the change to CCFL's (despite many a push, even being given free CCFL's to show them they aren't bad). All they did, was bought their light bulbs from the local stores instead of the major outlets.

Well, finally the major outlets have stopped, and thought "Wait, this aint working. Our projected revenue stream from CCFL's has not materialized. They are just buying elsewhere.", and what is their response?

Thats right. They have started stocking normal (non-CCFL) bulbs again.

I predict that the Governments next move will be to do what it was trying to avoid. To legislate.

Changes

People, they think I'm stupid. They think that I don't know what they are up to.

They think that I will settle for breadcrumbs. They think they can offer me a crumb, and I will roll over and beg, and be a good boy.

They think that my only use is to resolve their problems. They take advantage of my kindness, all the time.

Lets take last week shall we. One of my neighbours came over with a large DELL Studio XPS, that wasn't booting. My neighbour is reknown for scavenging off the local refuse yard, so I initially assumed this is where the laptop came from. However, it turned out that it belonged to his "tobacco smuggler", who was going to give him £100 and 5 pouches of tobacco, in exchange for getting it fixed.

What was I going to get out of this deal? Sweet Nothing.

"Aw, go on Al. You're my mate."

No. Go away. I am your mate, not your ruddy slave.

Its the same wherever I go. People only want my friendship while they need my skills.

That changes. Both online, and RL.

Now.

A world of silence.

I uninstalled Skype and TeamSpeak today, and I became aware of how much I fail as a person.

I am well aware of my intelligence. I can program in at least 4 languages, and write code snippets in a dozen or so more. This is not about my intelligence.

Its about how people relate to me. I have a number of aquaintences online. People I "talk" to daily. I enquote the word talk, because it is not real talk. It is a typed conversation. ASCII characters transferred over a tcp network. It is almost never a real conversation. The capability is there, the capacity for audiable communications, Skype particularly was designed for that specifically. MSN supports audio. Nearly all the IM clients support audio conversations these days.

Its not as if I'm hurting for bandwidth either. 30Mbit down/3Mbit up, and yet.. Even on skype, a client designed for audiable communications, they prefer to type to me.

So, perhaps they prefer typed communications in general? Oh I wish that were so, but a good number of them tell me stories along the lines of "I was talking to last night, and all I could hear was..."

So why don't any of these so called friends, EVER invite me to voice talk with them? Not even my best friends.

Am I an ogre or something?

But thats why I removed Skype, and TeamSpeak. Why keep a program on my PC, that never gets used?

VirginMedia Superhub

My ISP, virginmedia.com recently offered me the chance to "Upgrade to 30MB for no extra charge". This is a highly misleading offer. What they actually mean is "no extra monthly charge", because there IS a £30 activation charge. This is a one-off charge, and nobody seems to know exactly what it covers.

Some say it covers the issuance of a new DOCSIS3.0 modem, some say it covers the admin costs of activating the new speed. I believe its just a charge because they can charge it, and it doesn't cover anything specifically.

I took the upgrade, and paid the £30, mostly because I need a new router. As they are throwing in their "SuperHub" for free, I view it personally as I bought a fairly reasonable router for £30, and got a 30MB upgrade for free.

I am a bit annoyed that now, a mere week later, VM are upgrading people for free, not even the £30 charge. But oh well, what's done is done.

Interestingly, it appears that VM developers have left their ssh console in the superhub active. I don't know if this is by choice or by mistake. It can only be accessed from a device directly connected to the gbit LAN port, and its on port 22, at 192.168.100.1. The username is admin, and the password is the same as what you set up when you first logged into the superhubs gui interface.

There doesn't seem to be much to do in there though.

messengercontentplus dot com - ROFL

So, GFWL (Games for windows live) forced me to install a new version of Windows Live Messenger. This version does not come with the famous (and my personal favourite) dancing pig wink.

I hit up google, trying to find out if it was downloadable, and one of the first hits was a site called "messengercontentplus.com" - Don't go there, its fake and possibly a source of malware. Why do I say that?

Read the front page of the site, pay particular attention to the "Benefits of the Registered User" section.

In fact, the very way they phrase "Benefits of the Registered User" itself, should be a huge clue. Its Engrish. However, press onwards. Read the bit that says...

All users and accounts in the registered user's computer can free and legal to use all of products and packs of us and need not to register again.

Yeah...

The phrasing is unprofessional, and clumsy, and feels like it was written by someone from Lagos trying to write professional sounding English.

Lets now take a look at the whois record for that domain...

  Content Plus, MSN
  MSN Content Plus Inc
  Room 1806, International Institute Building
  Shenzhen, GD 518000, CN
  Phone: 13530345040
  Email: swty1q@21cn.com

Note the Shenzhen, GD 518000, CN, the CN bit instantly tellimg me that the site was registered by someone in CHINA. Therefore, based on the unprofessional English attempting to sound professional, and the fact that its from China, where a huge amount of malware originates (not being racist here, just stating facts), I wouldn't touch this site, or its content with a 6 foot bargepole.