Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive for the 'problems with technology' Category | back to home

7 January 2008

I recently got five free tracks from iTunes (Londoners with Oystercards see here) and thought I would buy Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Unfortunately, on some CDs it is divided into lots of tracks < 1 minute long, each costing £.79, while on other discs it is on a single track... but because of its length you can only download it if you buy the whole album (£7.99). Bah!

30 December 2007

Please always provide a “child lock” mode. My less than two year old son is already turning on the drier and washing machine or at least changing the settings so that if you aren’t careful when you do turn them on they don’t do what you wanted them to. It won’t be long before he’s opening the fridge… It would cost little or nothing to add some kind of “child lock” option – I don’t know why they aren’t more common.

27 November 2007
Filed under:Personal,problems with technology at1:23 pm

It was only 18 months ago that my iBook’s hard disk died last and here we go again! Fortunately, my extended AppleCare is valid until January. However it will apparently take (at least) ten working days to fix (and since it died without warning my backup was older than it should have been). I spoke to one Apple dealer about replacing the internal 80Gb drive with something larger when they repair it and he quoted me £200 (!) for a 120Gb drive (about six times the market price I believe). The dealer said 120Gb is the practical limit because of heat problems with a larger one. Does that seem likely?

I thought I might try working on my machine or another one from my backup but just discovered that PowerPC-based Macs don’t boot from USB. Bah! Well, I don’t have access to a spare Mac anyway…

4 July 2007

Microsoft’s UK head Gordon Frazer says, “unless more work is done to ensure legacy file formats can be read and edited in the future, we face a digital dark hole.”

Is this guy from the same Microsoft that changes its own file formats every few years?

21 February 2007

OK I admit my teaching may not have been at my best today. I’ve been suffering from the flu since Friday and am still hardly at my best. There was a moment in the tube on the way to my workshop that I thought I might throw up, but it passed. I may also have been a little distracted by guilt – you see in order to come today I had to leave my (exhausted) wife at home with our (still sick) baby child.

But there wouldn’t have been time to find someone to replace me and I know you are paying more than £10,000/$20,000 to learn at the LSE (plus a great deal more for living expenses in London) so I felt I had to do my best to attend – I can’t remember a lecture or seminar ever being cancelled because of ill-health when I was being taught (though I may have forgotten a time or two).

To be honest though this was an advanced workshop session on Internet methods – a subject I enjoy talking and thinking about, and I was being a little selfish – I actually really like teaching, and a workshop full of graduate students who are (on the basis of marks and financial commitment at least) some of the ‘best and the brightest’. So I was really looking forward to my workshop…

Until I noticed early on that your attention was elsewhere. To be more precise you were using the Internet access I (foolishly) arranged in case it would be needed for teaching in order to surf some kind of funny images site. Which was bad enough. But then you started to smirk and show them off to the woman beside you. Then would have been the time to call you out on it I suppose, but I didn’t really expect you to carry on in the same way for the entire one-hour session. But that doesn’t mean what you did was fine. Here are a couple of tips.

1) You don’t get marked for attendance at the LSE – you get marked for results. If you know in advance you don’t have any interest in the subject don’t turn up – I assure you you won’t be missed.
2) If you do want to surf recreationally, sitting under the speaker’s nose is the wrong place to do it.
3) Distracting another potential learner – even one you hope to impress – puts you pretty close to the bottom tier of my personal student hell.

If you do come across this weblog posting in your idle surfing consider this a warning – if you start anything like that again in next week’s workshop, I will waste a precious minute or two of teaching time giving you a piece of my mind. It may not cure my flu but it would certainly make me feel better about teaching for a little while…

14 September 2006

According to a new article by The Economist (subscription required to read), “bets in Britain have grown rapidly, from £7 billion in 2000 to £32 billion in 2004 and an estimated £50 billion or more this year.” Internet betting accounts for 15% of this, and half of the bets are placed by foreigners (leaving half to be placed by our own citizens). Regular readers of my blog will know that I am horrified by what amounts to a de facto voluntary tax on the poor and if you are in the UK I encourage you to sign a petition against super-casinos here.

11 May 2006

David Tebbutt, an old friend, posts hopefully that ‘social software’ (wikis, blogs etc) could reduce the amount of ‘occupational spam’* we get. Alas, groupware apps like Lotus Notes and intranet messageboards were also supposed to free us from corporate email spam and in theory they could. But simply introducing the software is only the beginning. The main problems are organizational and psychological. 1) it is much harder to change people’s habits than it is to add a bit of software 2) for better or worse people feel an email to someone will at least get glanced at while other means of electronic communication (internal wikis etc) because they are not “pushed” may never get looked at and 3) having lots of communication options can lead to confusion. People think “does this belong on the project’s wiki? On the intranet? On my blog? Oh sod it I will email it to the people who need to know.”
Organizations can cut down on email spam but they need to start with a change to the organizational culture and lead from the top (with bosses participating in the online spaces they want their employees to use) rather than installing software and hoping for the best. If I had had more space in my book – Dealing with Email – that is what I would have stressed. I am sure that David knows this as well of course but I am afraid that reading this article business leaders will just see ‘social software’ as a quick fix. Unfortunately, as I said, we have been down that road before…

* Emails cc:ed to lots of people who don’t need to see them, personal email like items for sale circulated around an organization, announcements of fire drills etc.

11 December 2005

It seems that while processor speeds are accellerating so are electrical power requirements – at least for servers. This is starting to worry one Google engineer. I had no idea that, for low-end servers, “If we assume a base energy cost of nine cents per kilowatt hour and a four-year server lifecycle, the energy costs of that system today would already be more than 40 percent of the hardware costs.” I had the impression thanks to EnergyStar and similar programmes that overall power consumption was going down on PCs. I guess/hope Google’s servers (which are on all the time, presumably working at full speed and not built to minimise power consumption like laptops) are unusually power-hungry.

12 September 2005

I am beginning to realise there is no reason for me to be bored ever again…

My biggest problem remains books – I occaisionally run out of books I am interested in reading (I tend to rely on book reviews from The Guardian, Time Out, or more occaisional outlets). I do really wish that as much work was dedicated to making book reviews and recommendations available and searchable online as has been devoted to movies and music. But now that I am an academic I have plenty of interesting books and papers I can and should read alongside my recreational reading.

I am not a great TV watcher anyway but now that I have a DVD recorder I have recorded more documentaries and movies than I will ever have time to watch – around 70 hours unwatched on DVD, another ten hours or so of unwatched – and unlikely to be watched – videotape and perhaps 500 hours or so of stuff I have already watched but am keeping for a rainly… er… month. In fact the size of my collection is starting to alarm me a little.

I spend most of my time in front of this lovely little iBook and as you can see from my link list on the R there is plenty there to both interest and entertain me online…

Which used to just leave the time I can’t spend in front of a book or screeen – when I am in the shower, cycling around or doing the dishes or ironing etc – which I tend to spend listening to an MP3 player. I selectively recorded the many speech radio programs listed at R from the Internet into MP3 format and listened to them, normally in preference to music (though I now have nearly 15Gb of MP3s now that I have almost completely digitised my CD collection). There too as with books I sometimes found that I would sometimes ‘consume’ faster than I could ‘collect’ good listening material. Now with the arrival of podcasting (see new collection of links on R) I am finding at last that there is more interesting stuff coming in than I can listen to in a week and my last ‘content gap’ has been filled.

Like I said – there is no reason I need ever be un-stimulated. But I fear this may be a bit of a problem. I am getting used to having every waking moment filled with some kind of stimulus, and I can’t help thinking this isn’t particularly healthy. It also means there is an abundance of distractions available for my all-too-distractable mind…

18 August 2005

The American consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports recently published a online hazards survey which found:

  • 33% of those surveyed said a virus or spyware caused serious problems with their computer systems and/or financial losses within the past two years.
  • 50% reported a spyware infection in the past six months. Of those, 18% said the infection was so bad they had to erase their hard drives.

    To avoid spyware, 51% of all online users reported being more careful visiting Web sites, and 38 % said they download free programs less frequently.

  • 64% of survey respondents said they had detected viruses on their computer in the past two years. 4% found them at least 50 times.
  • Macs are safer than Windows PCs for some online hazards. Only 20% of Mac owners surveyed reported detecting a virus in the past two years, compared with 66% of Windows PC owners. Just 8% of Mac users reported a spyware infection in the last six months vs. 54% of Windows PC users.

To this I would add that my guess is that a fair amount of the virus reporting by Mac owners is probably "false positives" – people whose Macs stopped working for some unrelated reason and they blamed it on viruses. Ditto for spyware. I don’t think viruses or spyware aimed at current Macs are still around outside of the labs of anti-virus software companies.

There are some good recommendations linked alongside the report but interestingly it fails to mention one of the best ways to reduce the incidence of viruses and spyware – don’t use Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer. It’s not that they are bad in themselves (though I would argue the free alternatives like Eudora and Firefox are better) – it’s that virus and spyware writers tailor their programs to work with the most popular email and web browsing programs out there.

A note about computer literacy – 17% of respondents weren’t using antivirus software and 10% of those with high-speed broadband access–prime targets for hackers–said they didn’t have firewall protection.

Also see two recent reports from the excellent Pew Internet and American Life project:
Spam & Phishing (April)
Spyware (July)

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