Unwanted email from Communicado Ltd

As my regular readers will know, I run an antispam and antivirus email filtering service called antibodyMX.  About two weeks ago, I started seeing some deeply weird junk traffic coming through.  A lot of it.  It was odder because it was going to an awful lot of different domains we filter.   Statistically we filter a very very tiny set of domains and to see junk mail arriving for many of them all at the same time was very strange indeed.

The domain names the mails were being sent from were also strange.  They were all .co.uk domains and all not-quite-words.   Here are a few:


All the domains are registered to an individual called Chris Hepworth, a company called Communicado, or “World trading Partners BVI 1611097”, or “Phil Neck”, or some combination thereof.  I called them up and asked them what was going on.  I was asked to send an email explaining the problem, I did, no reply.

More mail from yet more domains kept arriving, the domain count got up to over 300.

Using the resources of a somewhat underground entity known to some as The Fish Tank, I spoke to someone who suggested I sign up to Nominet’s PRSS tool which would let me search for domains more easily.  I did so and started domain hunting.

I fed the list of domains I had through a trigram analyser and used the results of that to tease more domains out of the search tool; “qua” was especially useful, finding more than 80 domains.

More mail from yet more domains kept arriving, the domain count got up to over 800.

Searching the web and talking to people, I found that an awful lot of people I knew were getting unwanted email from these people.  I also found one lady who is taking them to court.  I tried calling them again, my voicemail has not been returned.

Today I have spoken to the Information Commissioner’s Office who say they are very interested in the data I have collected.  It will be interesting to see what, if anything, they choose to pursue here.  On the face of it, Communicado do appear to be breaching the DPA.

I have been told there is no immediate reason why I cannot publish the list of domains I have collected, you can find it here and it currently contains 1255 3971 4500 4539 5145 5249 domains.  An example use might be an ACL on your mail server.  If you run exim, you would add an ACL along the lines of:

deny message = http://blog.hinterlands.org/2013/10/unwanted-email-from-communicado-ltd/
sender_domains = ${if exists{/etc/exim4/hepworth.txt}{/etc/exim4/hepworth.txt}}

The file will be updated as and when I have time.  If you want to capture it via a cronjob, you’re welcome to  but please:

  • DO email me to tell me you’re doing so, and from which host(s). You have permission when you click send.
  • DO tell relevant colleagues and friends about it.
  • DO consider donating a little money to charity.  Because of my nephew, I suggest here.
  • DON’T cron it for an obvious time like “12am and 12pm”. Spread the load, please.

You do, of course, use this list entirely at your own risk.

Some notes on laser eye surgery

I have worn glasses for over 30 years, more than three quarters of my life.  My prescription corrected both short sightedness (left: -6.0, right: -5.75) and astigmatism (left: 24°, right: 92°).  A good pair of glasses consisting of titanium frames and wavefront-cut Zeiss glass could easily cost over £700 and then you, of course, need a spare pair of glasses and then a pair of driving glasses. Without my glasses I am essentially helpless in the middle of a big, blurry world.  When my last very expensive pair of glasses finally broke in an unrepairable way, I reached for my spare pair and started looking at an alternative, laser eye surgery.

When I’d last researched this, prices were very high.  Someone with my prescription could pay £8000 or more for treatment on both eyes.  I was very surprised at how much prices had come down and, at the time, I even found one clinic that was offering a two-for-one deal.  Both eyes treated at the same time for £2200, lifetime after-care included and you could spread the payment out over a couple of years interest free.  I reached for the phone.

My initial appointment with Optimax took place in a small office just near Liverpool Street.  You arrive, fill in a questionnaire and then are taken through a fairly extensive eye test.  Anyone who wears glasses will be familiar with most of machinery used, the one that may be new to you is a device used to measure the thickness and curvature of your cornea.  After an hour or so, I was told my eyes were suitable for the procedure and was asked if I would like to go ahead.  No pressure was put on me to make a decision then and I didn’t.  After a chat later that day with Lynda, I picked up the phone again and booked myself in for July 19th at Optimax’s north Finchley clinic.

The nineteenth  started early as I had to be at the clinic for 8am.  You turn up, the tests are all repeated, you fill in an electronic questionnaire and you have a short consultation with the surgeon, a consent formed is read, extensively initialled by you, and then you wait.  I was in a group of 8 or 9 people being treated that morning and we talked about our hopes and worries, the general air was one of nervous excitement.

I was last. I’d watched everyone go in through a door and come out again about 30 minutes later, mostly looking somewhat dazed but peering around at the world around them.  A couple of hours ticked by and the very hard aircon began to sap my body heat.  Take a warm top with you, no matter what the weather. At long long last a nurse appeared and called my name.  Off I went.

I was taken through a door into an ante-chamber next to the operating room.  I was sat on a chair, a hairnet put on my head and asked to confirm who I was and what procedure I was here for, Intralase Wavefront LASIK. I got the answers right and some anaesthetic drops were applied to my eyes.  I sat with my eyes closed for about 5 minutes and then we headed in to the operating theatre.

In the centre of the room was a large green bed with a headrest.  To the left and right of the head end were two instruments lined up vertically above the head area.  I lay down in the middle, got as comfortable as one can be and waited.  More drops were applied to my eyes, people talked around me, occasionally checking I was okay and then they were ready to begin.

The first part of the procedure is to cut a flap in the cornea.  This is done with a laser and your eye needs to be immobilised as much as possible.  My head was moved under one of the instruments which looked, from my perspective, like the inside of a bowl covered in very bright LEDs. I was asked to look at the centre of these and a kind of suction cup was placed on my eye.  What followed next was a sensation of pressure on my eyeball.  What I could see was rather like the lights you see if you press on your eyes, bursts of light and colour, but this was more intense that you can imagine it might be.  It was very uncomfortable but totally painless.  This was repeated for my right eye.

The second part of the operation is to lift the flap that has been cut and reshape the cornea.  I was moved under the second instrument, my eye taped open and asked to look at a green light above me.  After a few moments a red light was switched on and I could see swirling patterns of dots. This lasts perhaps 30 seconds and then the flap was replaced and a bandage contact lens was put in.   Again, this was repeated for my right eye.  Again, this was all certainly uncomfortable but completely painless.

I was given a couple of minutes to recover and then I got up and walked back into the waiting area.  The world was a blurry haze, lights had enormous penumbras around them, bright lights were painful to look at.  I was given some time in a recovery room and was issued with my drops.

The Drops Regime is the most tiresome part of the whole experience.  You put in Voltarol drops every 30 minutes for 2 hours.  Then you put in an antibiotic 4 times a day for 7 days.  You also need to put in steroid drops every 4 hours for 7 days and then gradually reduce the dosage.  You must wait at least 15 minutes between the different medicated drops and on top of that you need to put in refresh drops about once an hour.

I left the clinic about an hour after treatment, the world seeming very foggy and bright.   The advice was to go home and rest as much as possible. The anaesthetic started to wear off about half-way home and trying to keep my eyes open was rather like the sensation you get when chopping strong onions.  Not nice, but manageable.  I spent the rest of the day in a dark room.  I was unable to read, unable to go outside, unable to use a computer.  The only real problem I had was boredom.

You might imagine you get a wonderful “I can see!” moment the next morning when you wake up.  I’m sorry, you don’t.  This is partly because you have been wearing bandage lenses for 24 hours (even seasoned contact lens wearers know how horrible accidentally sleeping in lenses can be), but mostly because you have to wear eye shields for the first 7 days.  Once I got the shields off and got refresh drops into my eyes then I began to look around the world and I knew my glasses would be going in the bin in very short order.  The world was painfully bright and a fine vaseliney haze was smeared over everything but through the murk, especially for distance, I could see.

You mustn’t get water in your eyes for the first 7 days or so, buy a pair of swimming goggles.

That was 3 weeks ago.  The distance blur and haze reduced over the first 5 days, I felt safe to drive after 2.  The near-vision blur is still with me but is improving as each day passes.  It can take 6 weeks to 3 months for this to sort itself out so I’m well with in the target window.  My eyes tire much more easily than they used to, but this is because I spend so much time in front of a monitor and this is not ideal for newly lasered eyes.  Every so often my near-vision clears completely and the whole world is beautiful and clear and pin-sharp.  One day it’s going to stay like that.

I’m very happy with the result so far and I can’t recommend Optimax highly enough.  They have been incredibly helpful, helped me make an informed choice and I felt safe putting my eyes in their hands.  If you’re thinking of getting this done, I have some £500 discount vouchers, get in touch.


Kubuntu 12.10 and VMware Workstation 9.0 kernel panic

Yesterday I upgraded my laptop from Kubuntu 12.04LTS to 12.10 “Quantal Quetzal”.  One important change here is the move from Linux kernel 3.2 to 3.5.  The upgrade went smoothly enough but, upon reboot, I got a kernel panic from one of the vmware workstation modules when it loaded.

To fix, do the following:

After the upgrade, reboot to your 3.2 kernel (hold left shift down during boot to get the GRUB prompt), open a console session and then:

sudo chmod -x /etc/init.d/vmware*
sudo reboot

Let your system boot normally this time and you shouldn’t see the kernel panic.  Open another console session and then:

cd /tmp
wget http://communities.vmware.com/servlet/JiveServlet/download/2103172-94260/vmware9_kernel35_patch.tar.bz2
tar xfj  vmware9_kernel35_patch.tar.bz2
cd vmware9_kernel3.5_patch/
sudo ./patch-modules_3.5.0.sh 
sudo chmod +x /etc/init.d/vmware*
sudo vmware-modconfig --console --install-all

All done.


No writing nasty things about the 2012 London Olympics, okay?

As mentioned on Twitter, in the Terms of Use of the London 2012 Olympics Web site is this:

Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorized association between an organization, business, goods, or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organizations (or our or their activities, products, or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory, or otherwise objectionable manner.

So, just to be completely clear, the 2012 London Olympics is a disgraceful waste of taxpayer’s money at a time of austerity in public spending.  The corporate sponsorship and outrageous curtailment of freedoms inflicted on visitors is un-British and a national disgrace.  I can think of no other occasions where so much public money has been splurged with so little accountability. Public scrutiny will be curtailed too, behind the sham of a private company.

Oh, and how can you call it the London games when chunks of it are happening in other countries?


On the size of the solar system and manned space travel

Today a few news outlets picked up the confirmation of the discovery of an Earth-like planet in the habital zone of a star 600 light years away, but the closest such planet discovered so far.  This has created an excited buzz as indeed it should.  Life certainly exists elsewhere in the universe, and we know a planet like ours can sustain life quite well, albeit grudgingly at times, so finding a planet like our own “just” 600 light years away is indeed exciting.

Well, is it? Alas I am a bit meh about the whole thing.

Let’s assume that there’s a civilisation as advanced as ours there.  The bads news is that we’re never going to visit them, and we’re never going to establish meaningful communications with them.  Let’s look at the best possible timeline.

A “Hello Kepler 22-b” signal sent today will reach them no earlier them December 5th 2611 so we’ve got some finger tapping to do between now and then.  And we’re assuming they’re looking for a signal, and spot it, and can decode it. If they do all that, and send us back engineering plans for their FTL communications device right away, then we’ll be getting those no sooner than December 3211, twelve centuries from now.  And then we merely have to build a device designed by an alien species who almost certainly won’t be using the same engineering principles we are.

Remember what happened to the Mars Climate Orbiter?

Okay, so while we’re waiting, let’s send a ship up there.  Twelve centuries is plenty of time to develop space exploration technology.  At some point during this maybe we will figure how to build a useful FTL communications device, in which case we can beam the specifications over to Kepler 22-b.  It’ll be at least a 600 year wait for them to get back to us, but no harm in trying.

If we’re sending a ship, and we don’t have FTL yet, manning it isn’t really an option. At light speed, it’s a 600 year trip, at half light speed it’s 1200 years, and so on.  People just don’t live that long so we’d be looking at building a generation ship, currently way beyond our current technology, and beyond anything we’re likely to achieve in the next century at least.

Unmanned is easier, and we’re good at that.  We’ve had probes in space for decades that are still working just fine.  None of the complexities of life-support, all that’s needed is a nice big nuclear plant for electricity and a nice big antenna for talking back to Mother Earth. Cunning use of orbital slingshots, especially using the gas giants, means we could get this baby really moving through space.  With the nations of the world behind the project, we could launch this inside a couple of years carrying all the knowledge we dare share with the Keplians. And then, again, we sit back and wait, and work on that FTL communications device.

The fastest speed attained by a probe launched from Earth is about 157,000 mph.   This was achieved by Helios probes using the Sun’s gravity well.  We have a pretty good grasp of orbital mechanics, so I don’t expect it’d be too difficult to design a slingshot approach to the Sun that would take our probe, accelerate it to this sort of speed and then send it in exactly the right direction to meet up with Kepler 22-b in a few years time.  That was sarcasm.  We have zero experience of sending probes into interstellar space, the existence of a planet tells us nothing about how to navigate a probe through distant gravity fields to get there.  Despite the moon’s gravitational interaction with the Earth being quite well understood, Apollo spacecraft on trips to and from the moon routinely had to use course-correction burns to make sure they attained successful moon orbit and earth re-entry.

So we do build our probe, and we do manage to find a course to send it on its way at 260,000 (we got better) km/h.  What next?  Well what happens is we wait.  A long time.

The Solar system is big, much bigger than most people realise.  At the center is our Sun and one of the furthest significant objects from it we know about is Pluto.  Worst case, Pluto is 48.871AU from the Sun, that’s roughly 7.38 billion kilometers. Time to get there at our probe’s speed is 28,120 hours, or 3 years.  Not too shabby.  Alas Pluto is not the edge of the solar system.

Voyager 1 will beat our probe to interstellar space.  It’s currently about 2.5 times further away fom the sun than Pluto is. Being generous, launched today, our probe will get there around 2020. Voyager 1 was launched in 1977. So off into the inky black and on to Kepler 22-b.

Alas this is still not the edge of the solar system.

It it theorised that there is a sphere of leftover junk from the formation of the solar system called the Oort Cloud.  It’s thought to be where some of our long-period comets come from.  Recall that Pluto, at worst was about 49AU from the Sun?  Well the Oort Cloud is thought to be 50,000AU from the Sun, and marks the edge of the Sun’s gravitational influence.  Conveniently, this is quite close to the distance of 1 light year. Less conveniently, this means our probe is going to take the thick end of ten millenia to make it this far at best speed. Keppler 22-b is 600 light years away, so a mere 5 and a bit million years in space for our probe.

I would like to think that mankind will travel between the stars.  But it’s not going to happen in my lifetime, nor is it likely to in the next several centuries.  Looking out into the universe to see what we can learn is great science but, really, we need to focus on making sure we survive as a species, something we seem determined not to do.

We should have had a permanent manned presence on the moon by now.  We have taken all the hard work done to get us to the moon and allowed it to be washed away.  With the end of the space shuttle programme, the country that worked hardest to put a man on the moon now has no way of putting a man in orbit. And we watched and allowed that to happen.

I consider myself to be an orphan of the Apollo project.


A shopper’s tale

I swing the car round the roundabout and through the switch back that leads into the car park.  This is done at 3mph due to the enormously oversized MPV in front which ignores the roundabout entirely and has trouble negotiating the bends.  The MPV indicates right and then drives straight on taking the next right instead, ignoring the No Entry sign.

I take the correct right and swan up and down the car park lanes looking for a free spot, I eventually find one, after removing the stray shopping trolley, and park.  I walk back across to car park to the main entrance smiling slightly at the sight of a traffic jam around the MPV as it tries to park in a space between two badly parked cars. It eventually squeezes in, and one very small woman gets out.

I mentally flip a coin: basket or small trolley.  Tails, small trolley it is. I walk to the main trolley corral and find it empty, I wander to the nearest trolley deposit area and spend a few minutes finding one with steering that attempts to obey the laws of physics.  With my new friend pushed gallantly ahead I walk back to the main entrance.  Fifty meters later the wheels lock solid, immobilising the trolley and tarnishing my soul with the resulting mental swearwords.  I head towards the baskets to find none available and proceed down the checkouts looking for one that’s been abandoned.  Success!  I walk back from checkout 18 to 1, and proceed up the travelator to the upper floor where CDs, DVDs and other housewares are kept.

I walk on to the moving belt and stride upwards.  A woman ahead has parked her trolley right in the center, “excuse me”, and I breathe in and try to squeeze past.  The next obstacle is a small family.  Husband, wife, trolley and 3 crack-fuelled pixie-demons coated in the sticky remains of high-sugar, high-caffeine bribes to stop them sucking the souls out of passers by.  I decide it’s not worth the risk and wait as the belt takes us up to the first floor and the speed of a snail swimming through a bucket of treacle. The pixie-demons emit unspeakable slime.

Looking round at the signs overhead, I spy the section I’m looking for, it’s at the far end of the next aisle.  I turn the corner into the lane and am confronted by the living dead.  A hugely obese woman takes step and slow painful step towards me pushing a trolley, mouth open and respirating heavily.  An item takes her interest; she parks her trolley sideways across the aisle and stares vacantly into the middle distance when suddenly the sounds of souls in extreme external agony come from the empty air.  She answers her mobile phone and her deep concentration of the ensuing conversation means she fails to notice the queue of traffic backing up behind her.  I take the long way round.

The trip back to the food floor is easier; I slalom past the trolleys and manage not to cause serious injury to the kids Heelying down with me.  Must try harder.  I consult my list, just 6 items required but scattered around the store.  I need a plan.

I mentally map out a route that takes me past everything I need, but avoiding the busiest junctions.  Let’s go. Dairy proves no problem, nor the fresh meat, nor the veg.  I narrowly avoid splintering my knee on a trolley being piloted by a 6 year old boy and duck into the Asian food section to be confronted by the entire Indian nation, in miniature.

After a moment, I revise my estimate of the number of children present down from several millions to about 12.  I soon learn to appreciate the training they have been given.  I move to one side and two or three of them cunningly move to block me whilst maintaining the air of innocence. I break right to avoid them and nearly trip over another child who’s moved in to flank me.  Only acrobatics save the kid from the lifelong mutilation of having the wires of a shopping basket imprinted on its face.  I grab the item I need and head for the last section required: wine and beer.

It’s quiet, too quiet.  I hastily pick up the bottle of wine I need and head for the checkout.  With just a few items in my basket I head to the Baskets Only queue and am delighted to find a till with just two people in it, one being served and one waiting.

I should have spotted the trap a mile away.  I am such a fool.

The chap waiting has been there so long that he’s near fossilised.  I peer over his shoulder to examine the situation and glance into someone’s Hell.

An evil harpy crows over the contents of her shopping, picking an item out at random and asking “So how much is this one?” and then “It never said that on the shelf!” after the till jockey blips the item through once more.  “Well I don’t want it, or this one”.  This continues.

Hideous as it is, you have to admire the sheer malignance here.  When shopping on a budget, don’t bother looking at the prices carefully,  just jam as much as you can into a basket, then hit the “10 items or less” queue and debate it with the poor sap manning the checkout. Brilliant.

Several centuries pass, my turn arrives.

“This is buy one get one free.” I awake from my hibernation.  “Hmmm?”   “It’s buy one get one free, and you only have one.”  “That’s okay.”  “I can go get one for you.”  “NOOOOOO! I mean, No, thanks”, avoiding another millennium rooted to the spot. I pay, decline the Computers For Fools vouchers, I leave.

I return to the car and on my way find that a BMW X5 has parked next to the MPV mentioned earlier.  It’s parked by the MPV’s driver side door and I estimate the very small woman will need to slim down to nanometers to get into her car.  It’s tempting to hang around to see the resulting argument but I think I’ve had enough fun for one day.  I go home and start to prepare dinner, chopping the onions mask my tears.

HSBC security nonsense

As has been widely reported, HSBC have rolled out a new security system for personal Internet banking. The requires you to have an Internet Banking ID, a memorable passphrase and a PIN for a small one-time code pad.  I already carry one HSBC token around with me, I have no wish to carry another. The new system is cumbersome beyond belief.  Here’s why:

Worst case logging on to my HSBC business account:

  1. Enter username that I chose.
  2. Enter password that I chose.
  3. Press button on RSA key, enter number into web browser.
  4. I am now logged in.

Worst case logging on to my HSBC personal account:

  1. Enter account number.
  2. Entry sort code.
  3. Enter date of bith.
  4. Enter 3 arbitrary characters from my security number.
  5. Obtain Internet Banking (IB) number.
  6. Enter IB number.
  7. Enter passphrase.
  8. Type a different PIN into OTP pad.
  9. Take number from OTP pad and enter into browser.
  10. I am now logged in.

At best, this process can be shortened to start at step 6. HSBC recommend not writing anything down, your IB number is “IB” then 8ish digits not in any way related to your account number. When setting this up I was asked to set two security questions and answers.

Select from drop-down “father’s middle name”

> John

< Error.

Select from drop-down “pet’s name”

> Lili

< Error.

> Lililili

< Okay!

Aaarrrrrrgghh. So I now have to remember incorrect answers to security questions.  Sure, that’ll work.  I contact HSBC:

Me> Can I use my HSBC business banking token for my personal account?


Me> Can I revert to not using this token at all?


Me> I will close my account if you cannot turn this nonsense off.

HSBC> Sorry, nothing we can do.


After 16 years with HSBC, I am no longer one of their customers.


Hardware review: FOSCAM FI8918W wireless & wired IP camera

My daughter, Isabella, is at an age where she’s just starting to get mobile.  She can now turn from being on her back to being on her front and cannot often make it back again.   When she’s in bed this is a problem because I cannot tell the cry of “I’m stuck, come and turn me over” from “I’m not asleep yet, maybe yelling will get me some company”.

Some research and a poll conducted on the Dolphin Fan Mailing List suggest that the FOSCAM F18918W camera might do all I need at a price that seemed quite reasonable.

I ordered the camera online direct from FOSCAM, obtaining a small discount by using the coupon code “wifi1001”. UK first class delivery is free. It arrived the next day. Opening the box, you get the camera, two power adaptors (EU and UK), an Ethernet cable, a wireless aerial, a mounting bracket, screws & rawl plugs, an install CD and a small booklet of installation instructions.  I attached the wireless aerial, connected the network cable, plugged in the power and watched the camera perform its power-on calisthenics.

I popped the CD into my CD-ROM drive, and here’s where problem 1 occurs.  The CD is not recognised as being a CD.  I shrug, open a new browser tab and head to the UK FOSCAM website expecting to be able to download all the stuff I need.  Every attempt to download stuff results in me being asked to register. I do so, sighing slightly. I eventually get the link, click and I am diverted to a 404 page in a pictorial language I don’t recognise.  I notice the path is “/down/”, perhaps they meant “/download/”.  No, they didn’t.  I go back to the UK site and hunt for more links, none are forthcoming, so I call the number listed on the website.

After perhaps a dozen rings, the phone is picked up by someone with an American accent and the sound quality suggests IP telephony and that they most likely are really in America.  I explain the situation, asking for a download link for the setup tool.  The chap helpfully directs me to the “.us” website and leads me to a page where I can get setup instructions for setting up port forwarding for various brands of routers so that you can view your camera over the Internet.  I restate the problem more clearly, I don’t have the setup tools to configure the camera at all in the first place, and I’m not asking about routers, I just want to know where I can get the tools from.

He understands.  I am asked to send an email to a gmail account [sic]  asking for the tools to be mailed to me.  As he’s explaining this I locate a link on the .us website and download the tools.  They’re in a .rar file.  For some reason that always makes me think of warez puppies.

The tool installs, starts, and almost immediately shows me a list containing my camera with the address it has DHCPd.  I head to the URL and am confronted with a login screen.  I look for the login details in the pamphlet and find problem 2.  The login details are printed in black and white, but are printed over a black and white photo in the manual.  I know the username begins with “a” and it has no password.  It’s not “a” or “administrator”, it turns out to be “admin”.  I am admitted to the web GUI.

First task is to get it on the wireless LAN.  This proves tricky.  Clicking on the Scan button results in nothing, eventually I work out that changing the encryption protocol and clicking scan gets me an AP list.  I want to assign it a static IP address via DHCP.  I look for the wireless MAC address.  It is not listed anywhere in the GUI.  I examine the labels on the camera itself, one is the MAC address that my router says it gave an IP to, and matches the URL presented by the setup tool.  There is a second MAC address on the label, I take this to be the wireless interface MAC.  I am wrong.

I should mention annoyance 1 at this point.  Every change in setting requires you to reboot the camera.

I eventually manage to get the wireless interface to connect to my home wifi network; the MAC address is entirely different.  I sort out a static address for it and set up port forwarding.  And here’s where it gets good.

The camera does everything you would expect.  The remote control is brilliant, the sound lovely and clear, the night vision is great.  The pain of setting it up is entirely forgiven as it now Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin.  The image quality is perfectly good for baby monitoring.  The send-email-on-movement works perfectly well, the slightly ENGRISH menus will not get on your nerves at all.  The night vision lights are quite dim anyway and can be switched on and off remotely (as can the network lights) meaning the unit is barely noticeable even in the near total blackout of a nursery.

Despite the negatives above, I’m very happy with this camera. If you’re looking for an addition to your baby watching arsenal, you will do well to buy one of these.



Hardware review: Samsung Galaxy S2

I was terribly excited by the pre-release information about the Samsung Galaxy S2.  The photos and specs released showed it to be attractive, well featured and light.  Certainly everything I read suggested it would give the iPhone 4 a run for its money and might even give the upcoming iPhone 5 some competition.  I ordered the new handset on an upgrade deal from Orange and breathlessly awaited delivery.

The phone arrives in a box not at all dissimilar to that of an iPhone.  You get the handset, battery, data cable, charger cable and some leaflets.  Extracting the handset from the plastic wrap I immediately noticed the lightness and admired the shape of the phone.  It’s flatter than my iPhone 3GS but a tiny bit wider and longer. I flipped the phone to open the cover and install the battery and, sadly, here’s where the love affair starts to go wrong.

The rear cover is both large and flimsy, and certainly not splash proof.  Removing it had me gritting my teeth fearing I might snap it.  It came off much more easily than I expected due to it being held in by tiny sub-millimetre plastic flanges.  Examining them screamed “FRAGILE!” at me and I mentally added “Substantial case” to my shopping list. Installing the SIM and battery was as easy as you would expect. I crunched the panel back on, no proper insertion angle, just poke two corners in as best you can then press all the way round.

Powering the phone on for the first time put the love affair back on track.  The display is gorgeous.  It’s larger than the iPhone 3GS, nicer looking than iPhone 4, but proportionally takes up about the same percentage of the front of the handset.  The material is called Gorilla Glass and it’s beautifully smooth and slightly cooler than you would expect to the touch.  The surface does seem to take and hold fingerprints more than the iPhone’s, but this was a very hot and sticky day so maybe it was literally just me.

I have not used an Android-based phone before, for the past 2 years I have had an iPhone and before that I had a Blackberry.  I have possibly simply got used to the “Apple” way of doing things.  I am very willing and able to mock Apple products when I feel it’s needed, but one thing Apple usually get right is their user interface.  The S2’s interface is literally the worst I have experienced, a few of the gripes are:

  • No way to group icons.  On the iPhone I drop one icon on top of another, they become a group.
  • No easily accessible app switcher, you have to go menu hunting.
  • All the fonts are way too big, the smallest size is 12pt.
  • Text auto completion is both awful and broken (see below).
  • Pinch-zoom works in some places but not in others.
  • The supplied SMS and email apps are just plain ugly.
  • The email app subscribes me to all my IMAP folders, all 70 or 80, when I would normally want about 6. No unsubscribe option.
  • No strike-out-to-delete-motion facility for emails and text messages.
  • No equivalent to the double-tap-the-title-bar to scroll to the top function.

Some of the stuff mentioned above can be fixed by buying better pieces of software.  However for a £500 piece of kit, i would expect it to perform all the basic functions well and then have pieces of software I can then opt to buy to make things better.  I don’t expect to have to pay to make things work at the bare minimum standard I would expect for £500.

The text auto completion function deserves an entire paragraph of scorn.  Many of you will have used the official Twitter application for your iPhone.  You start a new tweet and you get your onscreen keyboard and an empty text box.  You start typing.  On the iPhone, when it wants to suggest a word you get a balloon come up near the word and you can tap to complete, or tap the X on the corner of the balloon to get rid of the suggestion. On the S2 you start typing and, when a word is suggested, suddenly the text box jumps up the screen and a set of words appear underneath in a really big font.  You type some more, maybe the words disappear and the box jumps back, you type another letter and it jumps again.  I started typing a word, “street’s” I think it was and promptly got into a fight with the predictive text as it doesn’t really seem to understand apostrophes.  We ended up in a bizarre state where it was suggesting “streetsunamis” [sic] and every attempt I made to delete and retype resulted in it not letting me type the word “street’s”.  Arrrrgh.  Let’s turn that off then.

I figured that maybe all the crap littering the phone (like the games that let you play once for free, then want money) might be an Orange branding thing.  So I figured I would wipe the phone and reinstall the OS, thus expunging any Orangey nonsense and letting me see the phone as its manufacturer intended.  Samsung has a piece of software called “Kies” which is kind of like iTunes but more Samsungy.  I went to the Samsung website, downloaded the 77MB installer and installed it.  I then ran it for the first time, without the phone plugged in, and it said “this isn’t the latest version of Kies” and would I like to update.  Blink.  Okay. More stuff is downloaded and installed.

I run the app, it seems to be happy and then I connect the phone.  Except I don’t, because it’s at this point that it’s not a mini USB connector as I had thought and I don’t have the right cable.  Determined not to be dismayed I go and buy the right sodding cable at PC World comedy prices.  I plug the phone in.  “MTP USB device failed to install”, or words to that effect.  I hadn’t rebooted since installing Kies so I do so.  I start Kies, plug the phone in and… same problem.  Googling the error makes me very sad indeed.  At this point I give up.  I simply want a phone that works and syncs stuff to my PC, I don’t want to dick around running a utility to locate files that might have names somehow incompatible with my running OS, or mess around with registry settings because I’m running a 64 bit operating system in the year 2011.  If I can’t run Kies, I can’t wipe the phone and reinstall it.

I’ve called Orange and arranged to return the handset.  It’s a lovely piece of hardware let down by awful third-rate software.