Sufficiently Advanced Technology

So I had a bit of a surprise earlier today. At the top of my keyboard I have a
row of “media” (for want of a better word) buttons. Under windows they do
things like turn the volume up and down, launch a browser, have your mail
client create a new email and so on. As a long time Linux desktop user I’ve
become used to these buttons doing nothing.

Imagine my surprise today when I jabbed the “Calculator” button by mistake
and…. A CALCULATOR APPEARED. Further experimentation revealed that Kubuntu,
without any fuss, had silently made all these buttons work. Ain’t modern
technology a wonderful thing?


I’m getting a lot of personal email asking me about the current situation with
Fotango. At this time I am not able to answer your questions as I could be
putting both personal and professional relationships in jeopardy.

Please direct all questions about Fotango to Gina Jones, European Corporate
Public Relations Manager at Canon Europe on +44 (0) 208 588 8000.

France and an upcoming BBQ

Lynda and I decided to go shopping in the Carrefour near Calais last weekend.
The excuse being that we needed lots of food and beer for our upcoming barbecue
and not that we both enjoy food shopping, mai non.

The trip over was very smooth, we arrived very early for our train (I
way overestimated the time it would take) but we were able to book onto
an earlier train. To get on to the train you drive along a copiously
overmarked road, up onto a bridge and then down onto the platform. Drive along
the platform and then into the train itself. Loading is efficient, we waited
perhaps 10 minutes before the train started moving. If you have a book to read
then the 30 minute crossing passes very quickly indeed.

The Carrefour is part of a huge shopping centre just next to the port. There’s
also a number of shops that’ll be familiar including a Tesco duty free, or
whatever duty free is called these days, beer and wine shop.

After a hectic day of consumerism we returned to the UK with about 20 bottles
of wine, 72 cans of beer, a dozen different cheeses, many different cuts of
meat, including some horse steaks for Bob; we now have quite a full fridge.

This coming weekend is our first event in the new house; a combined barbecue,
housewarming and birthday party for Lynda. We have a lot of friends coming
over from the continent, the house is going to be very full indeed.

Spotting stock spam

The whole stock spam situation is getting a little ridiculous. First we had
simple text in an image then, when we plugged OCR engines into our spam
filters, we had distorted text in an image, then when that damage was routed
around, we had distorted text on a psychadelic background. A little later on we
got rotated distorted text on a psychadelic background. Very recently, we got
the next step in the arms race, all of the above embedded in a PDF file.

Someone somewhere must be making money from these penny stock scams, enough to
make it worth their while to keep upping the bar. The PDF file idea is neat
but assumes the mail client of the recipient will display a PDF inline. Some
do, some don’t and we all obey the “Never open a binary you weren’t expecting”
safe hex guideline, right?

Wrong, of course.

Stock spams will carry on being sent for as long as enough people make the
price needle shake just sufficiently in the right directions so as a sharp
trader can wring a profit out of the deal. The stocks “advertised” in these
spams are invariably pink sheet. The fact they have to resort to probably
legally dubious, and certainly morally dubious, methods of bumping the price
should surely be a large neon pointer that something is amiss. Alas, on
average, people are stupid.

At the last Fotango hackday, I spent a
little bit of time working on a SpamAssassin plugin that picks out one of two
characteristics of these emails and scores them just a little bit. I have been
running the plugin on my front end mail servers and, yesterday, the plugin
flagged over 400 messages. Knowing my mail setup this means that this
represents somewhere between 5 to 10% of the actual number of messages that
were sent. I only filter mail for a few hundred domains so if we scale the
numbers up even a little bit, someone somewhere is really keen on
generating even the tiniest of interest in the symbols in question.

The low value of these stocks means that vast numbers of shares must be traded
to make the kind of money that would make such low-handed tactic worthwhile.
To my knowledge, stock trades are all recorded. Surely it can’t be that hard to
match the symbol in question up to a heavy purchase followed by a heavy sell?
This would surely make it possible to identify the individuals and, I’m sure,
companies who see saturating your mail server and polluting your inbox as an
easy route to a quick profit.

Ubuntu +1

Last night I attempted to install Ubuntu 7.04 on an Acer Ferrari
series laptop. This laptop has lots and lots of whacky hardware in
that has thwarted many a Linux installer in the past. Ubuntu got it all right
first time in about 3 clicks. Wireless, 3D, bluetooth, my odd USB gaming
mouse, the lot. I’m very impressed.

I was on call over the weekend so I spent most my time in the house. Lynda and
I unpacked a couple of boxes and generally tidied up. I did one task I’d been
putting off for days: unsnarling a huge tangle of cables. Oh, and I finally
got the stereo put back together.

Planning for redundancy

Not in the work sense in this case. This weekend has mostly been taken up with
building and installing the 4th AntibodyMX node. All four nodes are in
different buildings, on different power and on different networks, I’m thinking
this is probably enough redundancy for now. I’m very pleased with all of ABMX’s hosting partners so far, so I don’t mind mentioning them by name. In order of time hosting with they are: ORE NET, Web Tapestry, Servology and, as of yesterday, Bogons.

The new node will get a week or two to burn in. My personal mail weighs in at
about 200 messages per day so that’s a nice steady stream of mail to push
through it.