All posts by Martyn Drake

2013-12-21 22.00.47

Suing Susie Suing Google because.. we don’t understand how things work

Above: things were simpler back then. Now it’s “I’ll sue you for this, I’ll sue you for that, waah waah waaaahhhh”, or you get shot/knifed or punched in the face – well done, humanity, well done.

What really annoys me about the state of the United States, and increasingly the UK and, well, most of the world these days, is how easy it is to sue big mega corporations (or even individuals in some cases) if one fails to read or understand the terms and conditions of service OR how a particular part of that service operates.

Take Gmail, Google’s popular free email service. A bunch of people and educational establishments are suing Google for compensation because of how it scans email in order to deliver contextual adverts which ultimately pay for the upkeep of the service. Google has been a search and advertising company since the reasonably early commercial days of the internet. It has, to my knowledge, always been upfront about the adverts it serves in email along with how it goes about doing so.

If I had ANY doubts about what Google does with my data, I’d have stopped using them years ago. What annoys me most about Google is how they change things without bothering to check with users first (it’s all about statistics for them, and funnily enough, they’re a statistical company too). But Google Apps (for Business at least) is still a very good product and meets my own personal needs. They seem to be meeting a lot of other people and organisations needs too – and they haven’t sued Google (yet)! Google aren’t really a people company, they are all about features and functionality.

Technicalities of the case aside, if these people who are suing Google actually gave a damn about privacy alongside everything else that comes from a FREE email service – they’d have been better off not spending their money on lawyers and putting it towards their own email infrastructure instead – hosted their email on their wholly owned dedicated or virtual servers in their wholly owned datacentres, and in a country of their own choosing.

What’s that I hear? It’s incredibly expensive to own loads of dedicated servers and datacentres? Why, yes, it is. So you’re going to have to trust somebody. And you need to do a lot of research before you can do that. You do not just hand over a bunch of cash, say, here: have my data, and expect everything to be peachy keen.

I wonder what the educational establishments in this class action considered prior to signing up to Google Apps for Education. Did they trial the service at all (Google have always offered dual deployment/pilot schemes since launching the service)? Did they ask the right questions to Google? These people are keen on saving money (as are we all), but surely if they wanted to be absolutely sure of their data security, they’d have handled any email in-house or at least done more research about the company that’s about to host their data before committing to it.

I really think that it’s yet another case of too much money alongside too little brains. It really angers me that human beings and organisations can be so [censored] petty and stupid at times that they need to keep suing each other out of fear or misunderstanding of what they’re trying to do. And if mistakes happen, as they do from time to time, it doesn’t mean you need to hit people with expensive lawsuits to fix the problem[1].

You may think I’m being overly harsh, but the point is that it seems far too so easy to sue. Don’t get me started on the whole patents issue because that’ll fill up several War and Peace-sized novels.

The Golgafrinchans[2] were right to send their telephone sanitizers, documentary makers and other useless members of society to another planet. Perhaps the USA and California should do the same. Less lawyers, more sanity, better understand of what it is you’re using. And if you don’t like it or what it represents, don’t bloody use it.

The overall moral of the story: if you really care about YOUR data and your privacy, DIY it.

[1] There are obviously some exceptions to this, but not many. The above situation is, in my opinion, utterly frivolous.
[2] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Douglas Adams – a most enlightening and amusing series of books.


A super short Doctor Who story!

(Featuring Matt Smith’s Doctor)

The Doctor: “Now, you see Davros, that’s where you went wrong when trying to conquer the universe. Again. By using OpenSSL 1.0.1e, your Daleks are susceptible to the Heartbleed vulnerability that sent everybody with a computer mad back in April 2014. I’ve been able to get the Dalek Empire’s security protocols and passwords. Watch.”

The Doctor tinkers with his sonic screwdriver. The Daleks stop dead in their tracks. Their eyestalks point downwards, making them all look like lost puppies who’ve been reprimanded for nibbling at their master’s slippers.

Davros: “Oh, bugger. I KNEW I should have based the Daleks on Microsoft Windows”.

A little while later..

Davros is ready to boot up the first Dalek running Windows. The Dalek goes about its business – very slowly as it happens, because Davros didn’t put sufficient RAM or a powerful enough CPU in them as he’s a cheap and cheerful sort of fellow, and to make things even worse, their hard drives are only 4,200RPM with a highly fragmented filesystem.

Suddenly the Dalek stops dead in its tracks.

“INSTALLING. UPDATES. REBOOTING.” The Dalek glides backwards as if drunk. It does this every 24 hours. After a week, the Dalek suffers the feared fatal blue eyestalk of death and keels over.

Davros: “Oh, bugger.” (facepalm) “I wonder what would happen if I installed MacOS X instead?”

Cue the Dalektosh. Steve Jobs was furious.


And that’s where Davros decides to open a time portal and head back through to the Victorian era to rebuild his Daleks using primitive technology – steampunk Daleks.

An idea that features in my story, “The House of Kaled” (that also features Vastra, Jenny and Strax). Daleks made of copper and powered by steam, and Dalek (female) human operatives wearing proper Dalek-style skirts. Oh yes.


A right old Rice pudding! Dropbox drops the bombshell

I’m a great fan of synchronised cloud storage – providing that:

(a) it’s reasonably secure (two-factor authentication, underlying encrypted file/object storage system, limited staff access)
(b) the syncing is intelligent (no multiple copies of the same file – the sync client and server can work out what’s the latest version and give it to me)
(c) offers versioning (go back in time to restore a particular version of a file)
(d) auto backup of photos and videos from an iOS device
(e) ability to view files on an iOS device
(f) applications can connect to it to be able to work with files stored within it

Dropbox is one of these services that ticks most, if not all the boxes. I’ve been syncing my 1Password password data with it for sometime across multiple Macs and iOS devices and it’s been great.

It Just Works(tm).

I have been critical of Dropbox in the not-too distant past when they’ve had serious security problems (also see this), but having been reassured of their commitment to security through the use of a decent two-factor authentication system and a very strong password, I’ve trusted them sufficiently over the past year with my data.

Until they announced that Condoleezza Rice was joining their board of directors.

Given Ms. Rice’s previous role within the US government, it seems both a suitable and highly unsuitable choice of partner. But nevertheless it’s a cause for concern. Even more so, Dropbox must have known that this would have stirred up controversy, but did not make much of an attempt to satisfy customer concerns during the initial announcement.

So it’s now time to leave them for pastures new.

Microsoft’s OneDrive is very good, but takes forever and a day to move data from a desktop machine to their datacentres (and vice versa). It does not offer two-factor authentication. It’s iOS app does, however, allow me to auto-upload photos and videos – but seems rather flakey. It doesn’t do much sitting in the background and I find myself having to open the app to push the data to OneDrive. Thanks to my Office 365 Home Premium subscription, I have an extra 20Gb (bringing total use to 45Gb). Another bonus is the use of Office iOS apps – editing proper Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on the fly.

Google Drive has been Dropbox’s closest competitor for a while. But progress has been slow. I took a look at Drive when it first launched and wasn’t suitably impressed, and when revisiting Drive a while later, it started to show some stability improvements.

Google recently announced a massive price drop for Google Drive storage. 100Gb of data now costs $1.99, 1TB costs $9.99 in comparison to the old prices of $4.99 for 100Gb and $49.99 for 1Tb. As I use Google Apps for Business (paid), I’m not automatically entitled to take advantage of these new prices. Google Apps users are still on a much higher tier. But enabling Individual Storage within my Google Apps dashboard gives me access to the super-duper pricing scheme.

One MAJOR advantage of using Google Drive (apart from that both desktop and iOS apps use two-factor authentication) is that because I have a Spanning Backup account, everything stored within my Google Drive will be backed up alongside the rest of my Google Apps data – regardless of however much space I take out with Google.

So I’m trying out Google Drive with 1Tb of storage. And so far I’m rather impressed. Upload/download speeds max out the connections, and there appears to be no upload errors anymore.

I’ve stopped syncing 1Password data through Dropbox and am now using an alternative means (not Google Drive). I do hope AgileBits consider officially supporting Google Drive one day alongside other sync systems.

I have considered using OwnCloud to host/sync my data – but really needs a decent dedicated server running an encrypted filesystem with fully redundant disks to make it useful for my needs.

There is Kim Dotcom’s Mega service which offers 50Gb of free fully-encrypted storage. But there’s currently no sync clients available (but they are promised soon).

That said, I’m sure my employers will no doubt come up with a service that can do all these things and more, and do it better than many of these other services to boot.

2014-03-17 09.27.20

Resolving Sky Go Extra download problems on an iPad Air (or mini with Retina Display) if you’re a Home Hub 5 user

While BT continue to annoy me on the telephony front by sending SMS spam messages:

2014-04-07 19.11.55

I use Smart Talk and I have the appropriate calling plan.


However, another problem that cropped up recently was getting the iPad to download Sky Go Extra content without the entire wireless connection dying and having to disable/re-enable wireless on the iPad to get things working again.

What happens is the download starts off, then eventually the Sky Go app becomes sluggish and goes into a kind of “offline” mode. Then other apps can’t connect to the internet.

The first thing I stumbled across was this post to the BT Community Forums that stated that Apple kit hate sharing the same SSIDs across dual channels. But I found this simply wasn’t enough.

To get around the problem I’ve had to separate my iDevices into 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz groups.

My iPhone, Kindle Paperwhite (2nd gen) and iPad now all use the 2.4Ghz range using a unique SSID. This is a good idea anyway, since 2.4Ghz gives greater range at the expense of performance. The 5Ghz band is used by the MacBook Air using another unique SSID. All other devices (Roku, PS3 and the Sk+HD box) use ethernet.

Since separating devices between both bands, downloads through Sky Go Extra on the iPad have been absolutely fine – no connection degradation at all.

It’s difficult to pinpoint who is at fault here, but given that I never had these issues with the Virgin Superhub 2 it’s a chance that something the HH5 is doing that is confusing the hell out of my Apple kit.

It should be noted that even dropping the connection from 802.11ac to 802.11n on the 5Ghz channel when all wireless devices are on it does not resolve the problem – one must physically separate the devices onto separate wireless bands.