Paranoid, Init

Having marvelled at the er… unique nature of MikeeUSA’s Systemd Blues: Took our thing (Wooo) blues homage to the perils of using systemd, I decided what the world actually needs is something from the metal genre.

So, here’s the lyrics to Paranoid, Init.

Default soon on Debian
This doesn’t help me with my mind
People think I’m insane
Because I am trolling all the time

All day long I fight Red Hat
And uphold UNIX philosophy
Think I’ll lose my mind
If I can’t use sysvinit on jessie

Can you help me
Terrorise pid 1?
Oh yeah!

Tried to show the committee
That things were wrong with this design
They can’t see Poettering’s plan in this
They must be blind

Some sick joke I could just cry
GNOME needs logind API
QR codes gave me a feel
Then binary logs just broke the deal

And so as you hear these words
Telling you now of my state
Can’t log off and enjoy life
I’ve another sock puppet to create

Currently not possible

On Thursday 9th, after weeks of low-level frustration at having to press “close” on every login, I sent a complaint to Barclays asking them to stop asking me on every single login to switch to paperless statements with a dialog box that has only two options:

Switch to paperless statements

This morning they replied:

Please be advised that it is currently not possible for us to remove the switch to paperless statements advert.

So, uh, I suppose if you’re a web developer who thinks that it’s acceptable to ask a question on every login and not supply any means for the user to say, “stop asking me this question”, there is still a job for you in the banking industry. No one there will at any point tell you that this is awful user experience. They will probably just tell you, “good job”, from their jacuzzi full of cash that they got from charging people £5.80 a month to have a bank account, of which £0.30 is for posting a bank statement.

Meanwhile, on another part of their site, I attempt to tell them to send me letters by email not post, but the web site does not allow me to because it thinks I do not have an email address set. Even though the same screen shows my set email address which has been set for years.

Go home Barclays, you're drunk

After light mocking on Twitter they asked me to try using a different browser, before completely misunderstanding what I was talking about, at which point I gave up.

On attempting to become a customer of Metro Bank

On the morning of Saturday 12th April 2014 I visited the Kingston Upon Thames store of Metro Bank in an attempt to open a current account.

The store was open — they are open 7 days a week — but largely empty. There was a single member of staff visible, sat down at a desk with a customer.

I walked up to a deserted front desk and heard footsteps behind me. I turned to be greeted by that same member of staff who had obviously spotted I was looking a bit lost and come to greet me. He apologised that no one had greeted me, introduced himself, asked my name and what he could help me with. After explaining that I wanted to open a current account he said that someone would be with me very soon.

Within a few seconds another member of staff greeted me and asked me to come over to her desk. So far so good.

As she started to take my details I could see she was having problems with her computer. She kept saying it was so slow and made various other inaudible curses under her breath. She took my passport and said she was going to scan it, but from what I could see she merely photcopied it. Having no joy with her computer she said that she would fill in paper forms and proceeded to ask me for all of my details, writing them down on the forms. Her writing was probably neater than mine but this kind of dictation was rather tedious and to be quite honest I’d rather have done it myself.

This process took at least half an hour. I was rather disappointed as all their marketing boasts of same day quick online setup, get your bank details and debit card same day and so on.

Finally she went back to her computer, and then said, “oh dear, it’s come back saying it needs head office approval, so we won’t be able to open this right now. Would you be available to come back later today?”

“No, I’m busy for the rest of the day. To be honest I was expecting all this to be done online as I’m not really into visiting banks even if they are open 7 days a week…”

“Oh that’s alright, once it’s sorted out we should be able to post all the things to you.”

“Right.”

“This hardly ever happens. I don’t know why it’s happened. Even if I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell you. It’s rare but I have to wait for head office to approve the account.”

As she went off to sort something else out I overheard the conversation between the customer and staff member on the next table. He was telling the customer how his savings account couldn’t be opened today because it needed head office approval and it was very rare that this would happen.

I left feeling I had not achieved very much, but hopeful that it might get sorted out soon. It wasn’t a very encouraging start to my relationship with Metro Bank.

It’s now Tuesday 15th April, three days after my application was made or two working days, and I haven’t had any further communication from Metro Bank so I have no idea if my account is ever going to be opened. I don’t really have any motivation to chase them up. If I don’t hear soon then I’ll just go somewhere else.

I suppose in theory a bank branch that is open 7 days a week might be useful for technophobes who don’t use the Internet, but if the bank’s systems don’t work then all you’ve achieved is to have a large high street box full of people employed to tell you that everything is broken. Until 8pm seven days a week.

Update 2014-04-15 15:30: After contact on twitter, the Local Director of the Kingston branch called me to apologise and assure me that he is looking into the matter.

About 15 minutes later he called back to explain, roughly:

The reason the account was not approved on the day is that I’ve only been in my current address for 7 months, so none of the proofs of address would have been accepted. Under normal circumstances it is apparently possible to open an account with just a passport. If not then the head office approval or rejection should happen within 24 hours, but their systems are running a bit slowly. Someone should have called me to let me know this, but this did not happen. Apparently approval did in fact come through today – I am told someone was due to call me today with the news that my account has been opened. I should receive the card and cheque book tomorrow.

I’m glad this was so quickly resolved. I’m looking forward to using my account and hopefully everything will be smoother now.

If you think suicide is weak or shameful, you just don’t understand

Recently, someone fairly well known in certain circles committed suicide. People commit suicide all the time of course, but this person could fairly be described as a form of genius, a polymath, hero to many. Since their sphere of influence was (is!) strongly Internet-based, the net has been alive for weeks with people feeling the need to comment upon it.

I haven’t made a comment upon it because I didn’t know this person. I knew of them, of many of their great works and deeds and philosophies. Didn’t agree with some of them, but there you go. Anyone who knew anything about this person knows that the world is much worse off to not have them in it, so no one needs to hear that from me. Speaking about their circumstances specifically though is something I still don’t feel comfortable about. It feels to me a bit too much like some sort of leveraging of grief in order to just make statements about oneself.

Yes, I do realise that by just saying that stuff I have passed comment and now you all know something of my politics and beliefs so I’m really cool for how much I care right? Well, I couldn’t avoid it as otherwise it ends up coming across like, “I don’t care that they died; I didn’t know them.”

This particular incident though, being fodder for Internet discussion by persons not closely emotionally tied to the deceased, has lead to me now seeing quite a few people expressing views like, “don’t hero-worship someone who killed themselves, they’re weak and selfish.” Or, “I’m so disappointed in them that they felt this was necessary.” Like, publicly expressing them, for the world to see. Some influential people.

I still, weeks later, can’t quite put into words how much I am disgusted with these sorts of comments, or even exactly why I am. This is my best attempt so far and it’s not really going very well is it?

This is not about the individual concerned; these are views that some people express whenever there is a suicide that is notable enough to be a topic of discussion, but emotionally remote enough from them that they feel able to “speak their minds.”

There is just some shocking level of arrogance involved when you say that someone was weak, selfish, acted shamefully, disappointed you (YOU, for fuck’s sake!) by ending their own life.

I don’t entirely (thankfully) know what goes through someone’s mind when they decide to end it all but I am pretty sure that they are in such a bad place that any thought of what other people will think has long ago ceased to have any positive effect and probably has the opposite instead.

I don’t know how to stop people killing themselves through despair. I don’t know what the best strategies are. But please just stop acting like suicidal people feel they have some sort of choice, that if they would just not let everyone down so much it would go better for them. I can’t begin to imagine that helps.

Their action must have come from a place where they truly believe no choice exists, and if you can’t sympathise with that then please at least maintain a respectful silence.

Firefox, Ubuntu and middlemouse.contentLoadURL

I use Firefox web browser, currently on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. For many years I have set the config option middlemouse.contentLoadURL to true so that middle clicking anywhere in the page (that does not accept input) will load the URL that is in my clipboard.

After restarting my web browser somewhere near the end of January 2012 I found my Firefox 3.x had been upgraded to Firefox 9.x. Also the middle click behaviour no longer worked.

Perusing about:config showed that the option had been set to false again. I set it back to true but on restart of the browser it was set back to false. A bit of searching about found various suggestions about forcing it in my user.js file, but none of those worked either.

Finally, in desperation, I did a search of every file beneath /usr for the string “middlemouse”. Lo and behold:

/usr/lib/firefox-9.0.1/extensions/ubufox@ubuntu.com/defaults/preferences/ubuntu-mods.js

…
pref("middlemouse.contentLoadURL", false); //setting to false disables pasting urls on to the page
…

Commenting this line out once more allowed me to change the setting myself.

It seems this this override was discussed by Ubuntu as far back as 2004, but it only became something that I could not override upon the upgrade to Firefox 9.

I reported a bug about this, and one of the comments seems to suggest that the method Ubuntu uses to change these settings has changed because they were breaking Firefox Sync, and that this outcome (overriding middlemouse.contentLoadURL) is not as bad as breaking Firefox Sync.

Even so, I would suggest that this outcome is very confusing for people and that as middlemouse.contentLoadURL is a popular setting which is easy to change, it should not be overridden in some obscure file.

As of the recent upgrade to Firefox 11, the file with the override in it has now moved to /usr/share/xul-ext/ubufox/defaults/preferences/ubuntu-mods.js.

Dear System Integrators, a few words about screwing

Right, System Integrators – those companies that buy components from Supermicro et al and build you a server out of them. You guys seem to have a bit of a fascination with screwing. Screwing things in as tight as you can. Please stop.

It’s 100% true that vibration of components like hard disks is bad. numerous studies have been done that prove that vibration causes performance problems as drives need to do more corrective work.

However, this does not mean that you have to screw in the drives to the caddies to the limit of what is physically possible. They just need to be tightened until a little force won’t tighten them any more.

When you supply me with a server that’s got four super-tightened screws for each drive in it, and I deploy that server, chances are that one of the first things that will break in that server is one of the disk drives.

During the years those screws have been there they haven’t got any looser. It’s likely that if you tightened them all to the limit of your strength and tools, by now the force required to unscrew them will be less than the force required to deform the screw head. Like this:

Stripped screw heads in a drive caddy

Close-up of a stripped screw head

No, this is not an issue of using the wrong driver head. Yes, you will strip a screw if you use the wrong driver head. That’s why I carry this stuff every time I go to a datacentre:

A selection of screwdrivers for your pleasure

There’s two exactly correct drivers in there, and several that should also work anyway despite being a little bit off. I have never had a problem unscrewing any screw that I originally put in. Probably because I don’t tighten them like I am some sort of lunatic. I can even unscrew them around a corner with the offline driver. Oh yeah baby. So far nothing I have screwed in with merely normal force has fallen apart.

And this is not an isolated occurrence! Nearly all of you seem to do this with every screw, everywhere. Stop it!

The drive in that caddy is a dead one, and luckily I had a spare caddy with me for the replacement drive to go in, otherwise I too would have been screwed beyond the limits of my endurance.

So, now I’ve got to drill those out just to get this caddy back to being useful again. Or more likely find someone else to drill it out for me as I don’t trust myself with power tools really.

ffffuuuuu

Did anyone else get this spam to an address they gave to Red Hat?

On November 2nd I received this spam:

(some headers removed; xxxxxxxxxxx@strugglers.net is my censored email address)

Received: from mail15.soatube.com ([184.105.143.66])
        by mail.bitfolk.com with esmtp (Exim 4.72)
        (envelope-from <bounce@soatube.com%gt;)
        id 1RLikr-00070I-6U
        for xxxxxxxxxxx@strugglers.net; Wed, 02 Nov 2011 21:53:57 +0000
Received: from [64.62.145.53] (mail3.soatube.com [64.62.145.53])
        by mail15.soatube.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 6B324181CFF
        for <xxxxxxxxxxx@strugglers.net>;
        Wed,  2 Nov 2011 14:46:01 -0700 (PDT)
To: xxxxxxxxxxx@strugglers.net
From: events@idevnews.com
Date: Wed, 02 Nov 2011 14:00:40 -0700
Subject: BPM Panel Discussion: IBM, Oracle and Progress Software

-------------
BPM-CON: BPM Panel Discussion - IBM, Oracle and Progress Software
-------------
Online Conference

Expert Speakers:
IBM, Oracle, Progress Software
etc..

The email address it arrived at was an email address I created in November 2004 in order to take a web-based test on Red Hat’s web site prior to going on an RHCE course. It has only ever been provided to Red Hat, and has not received any email since 2007 (and all of that was from Red Hat). Until November 2nd.

The spam email contains no reference to Red Hat and is not related to any Red Hat product.

From my point of view, I can only think that one of the following things has happened:

  1. Spammers guessed this email address out of the blue, first time, without trying any of the other possible variations of it all of which would still reach me.
  2. One of my computers has been cracked into and the only apparent repercussion is that someone spammed an email address that appears only in an email archive from 2004/2005.
  3. Red Hat knowingly gave/sold my email address to some spammers.
  4. Red Hat or one of its agents have accidentally lost a database containing email addresses.

Possibility #4 seems far and away the most likely.

I contacted Red Hat to ask them if they knew what had happened, but they ignored all of my questions and simply sent me the following statement:

“Hello.

Thank you for contacting Red Hat.

we apologies for the inconvenience caused however we would like to inform you that we have not provided your email address to anyone.

Thank You.

Red Hat Training coordinator.”

That wasn’t really what I was asking. Let’s try again.

“Hi Red Hat Training coordinator,

Thanks for your reply, but I’m afraid I am not very reassured by your response. Do you have any suggestions as to how an email address created in 2004 and used only by yourselves for my RHCE exam managed to be used for unrelated marketing by a third party in 2011, unless Red Hat either provided my email address or leaked my email address?

For clarity we are talking about the email address “xxxxxxxxxxx@strugglers.net” which has never ever received any email except from Red Hat, until yesterday, when it got some unwanted
marketing email from a third party.”

“Hi Andy,

Please be assured that Red Hat does not circulate student’s e-mail address to any third party.

Thanks,
Red Hat Training Coordinator”

I’m not getting anywhere am I? I was only after some reassurance that they would actually look into it. Maybe they are looking into it, and for some reason decided that the best way to assure me of this was to show complete disinterest.

Oh well, I can send that email address to the bitbucket, but I can’t help thinking it’s not just my email address that has been leaked.

Anyone else received similar email? If so, was it to an address you gave to Red Hat?

Update 2011-11-10: Someone suggested I politely ask the marketer where they obtained my email address. It’s worth a try.

“Hi Integration Developer News,

May I ask where you obtained my email address
“xxxxxxxxxxx@strugglers.net”? I’m concerned that it may have been
given to you without my authority.

Thanks,
Andy”

Also I have now been contacted by someone from Red Hat’s Information Security team, who is looking into it. Thanks!

My email marketing adventure with British Telecom

The saga so far ^

I have a phone line from BT. I only use it for ADSL (which I get from Zen Internet). I gave my email address to BT because they offered to tell me useful things about my account via email. I now wish I had never done this.

I use extension addresses to identify what the email addresses are being used for. This is not a new idea and I didn’t invent it. For those who don’t know what an extension address is, it’s an email address like andy+foo@example.com. It ends up at the same place as andy@example.com. The point is that if I receive an email to andy+foo@example.com then I know that it’s either from whoever I gave that address to, or it’s from someone they gave/lost my address to. It’s handy for working out who’s sold their database to spammers, or had it stolen.

I used to prefer using “+” in the extension address just because it looks nicer to me than other popular alternatives like “-“. Unfortunately, some web developers are idiots and don’t believe that “+” is valid in an email address, so they try to help by refusing to accept the address. For that reason my email servers accept both “+” and “-” and I used to use “-” when “+” wasn’t accepted.

After I started doing that, I began to experience an even more annoying failure: web sites that accepted “+” in my email address when I signed up, but later got redeveloped by idiots who think that “+” is no longer valid. That means that I can no longer log in to those sites, and predictably customer service is not trained to deal with situations like that.

It seems that BT is an example of such a company, and I am having unbelievable difficulty finding anyone there that can understand this.

When I signed up with BT, the email address I gave them had a “+” in it. They accepted it at the time.

March 2011 ^

I start to receive marketing emails from BT for extra BT services, as well as BT group companies such as Dabs and Plusnet.

29th March 2011 ^

I receive another marketing email from BT, decide I don’t want to receive them any more, and follow the unsubscribe link. The unsubscribe page at http://bt.custhelp.com/app/contact/c/769,978 tells me that the email address (which BT is emailing me on) is invalid.

I contact BTCare on Twitter to ask them how to opt out and to opt me out on my behalf. Also sent a request via BT’s site for someone to call me back about it.

Am called back by a polite BT chap who totally failed to understand the problem, told me I was opted out (funny, I never opted in…) and advised that I sign up to a no commercial email scheme.

18th April 2011 ^

Receive more marketing email from BT. Ask BTCare on Twitter why that is. Am told that it can take a month to take effect.

18th May 2011 ^

Receive more marketing email from BT. Ask BTCare on Twitter why that is.

29th May 2011 ^

BTCare tells me on twitter that they opted out the wrong address last time. Apologises and says it may take a further month.

25th July 2011 ^

BT sends me a marketing email on behalf of Plusnet.

2nd August 2011 ^

I (somewhat exasperatedly) ask BTCare if, since they can’t opt me out of the emails, we can come to a more formal arrangement for my proofreading services of £50 per future email.

BTCare replies that “We can’t opt you out of emails for other companies” and that “no compensation is available sorry.”

I point out that Plusnet is a BT company, that the emails are sent by BT on an email address given only to BT, and contain a BT unsubscribe link which does not work.

3rd August 2011 ^

BTCare asks if the email was from BT, and advises the use of a US-based commercial email opt-out site.

4th August 2011 ^

BTCare tells me that their unsubscribe link works now and that I should try it again. I try it again. It fails the same way. I tell BTCare.

5th August 2011 ^

BTCare tells me that I need to contact Plusnet directly: “the link may be BT related but its seperate to us and we have no control over them

PlusNet (on twitter and identica) disagrees with BTCare and says BT sends those emails and operates the unsubscribe facility. They give me an email address at Plusnet to forward the marketing to anyway.

I have forwarded the email there and have so far got nothing back except an out of office email bounce. Oh well, it’s not really their problem anyway.

What to do now? ^

I would quite like to send a snail mail letter to BT to complain about this cluelessness. Does anyone know the best postal address and entity within BT for that to be directed to? If nothing else perhaps I can start sending the £50 a time invoices there?

I’d also quite like to not be a BT customer after this. I’m not too aware of my choices on that front though. My DSL is currently through Zen Internet, who I’m fairly happy with. I’d like a bit faster but don’t want to become a Sky or Virgin Media customer.

I’m told I can get Zen to “take over the copper”. What does this mean? Would it cause me difficulty in switching to another ISP in future?

Finally I have a feeling that there’s some DPA consequences for failing to opt me out of marketing in 4 months of asking, and then saying that I can’t get them to opt me out of marketing from companies they have given my email address to. Worth dropping a line to ICO?

Just hit delete / block all email from BT ^

Yeah it’s not that annoying but hopefully you can agree that this run-around is ridiculous. While I remain a BT customer I would prefer not to bitbucket all email from them as they do sometimes send stuff related to the operation of my account.

On extension addresses ^

It’s a shame, but I now consider “+” as unusable in an extension address because of idiot web developers who turn sites that used to accept these completely valid addresses into sites that reject them.

Just use “-” instead. It doesn’t look as pretty but at least not even the most ill-informed developer can think that “-” is invalid. If your email address already contains “-” (perhaps because your name does?), shit, sucks to be you.

Why can’t a British company do something like Game of Thrones?

The first season of Game of Thrones finished this week and I have to say, I found it compelling entertainment.

Given its strong British cast (Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Michelle Fairley, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, …) and filming locations predominantly in Northern Ireland, why could this not have been a British production instead of an HBO one?

Outside the sitcom genre it seems like we have so few decent TV series in the UK compared to those in the US. There have been a few notable exceptions for me, like Luther and Sherlock. Other than that, what has there been?

I realise this is, as jwz would put it, farting in nerd church, but is Doctor Who the best we have to offer the world?

I feel like I am supposed to like that show. I want to like that show. Every time I’ve tried to watch that show, I’ve been disappointed by the poor story lines, script, acting and special effects. Yet as far as I can see this thing has a budget of £10million per series or something. I can’t like that show, sorry.

There, I said it. Are some nice men from Auntie going to come and confiscate my TV licence now?

Clue- Become Compliant

A nice email from Tuscany Networks in my inbox the other day:

Date: Mon, 26 Apr 2010 13:19:36 +0000
From: marketing
To: <elided>@bitfolk.com
Subject: DNSSEC- Become Compliant
Reply-To: marketing@tuscanynetworks.com

Your email client cannot read this email. To view it online, please go
here:
<URL elided>

To stop receiving these
emails:<URL elided>

So what happened here? They sent me a marketing email that they obviously considered too whizzy and shiny to allow me to read a plain text version of, so they inserted a plain text version that just says that my email client can’t read it. There actually is a HTML version and my mail client can probably read it fine, if I chose to ask it to, but since Tuscany Networks can’t work out how to send email properly I haven’t bothered looking.

Dear Tuscany Networks,

I would suggest that if you want to sell me on your DNSSEC knowledge then first you should try not making assumptions about what my email client supports.

Next you might like to try just putting a sensible text version of whatever your HTML was, since that would actually go beyond the bare minimum level of competency and start to approach actual usefulness.

Finally you might consider ditching the HTML entirely, since you got my address from a technical presentation on DNSSEC that was hosted by Nominet and I doubt flashy HTML emails go down all that well with the sort of people present. Save it for your fellow marketroids, who are more adept at finding ways to make each other’s utter shite show up in a different and annoying new way in Outlook Express than they are at deploying a secure DNS infrastructure.

No love,
Andy

PS Thanks for the unsubscribe link though; my mail client was still able to follow it despite not being good enough for the rest of your work, so that’s a problem that neither of us should have to face in the future.