Thursday 27th February 2020 Briefly ...

Ducks and locusts

The most astonishing thing about the BBC’s ducks and locusts article is that a duck can eat 200 locusts a day. I never would have thought them such greedy guzzlers.

China is going to send 100,000 ducks to counter the plagues of locusts in Pakistan. The ducks may be successful in their task but what will Pakistan do about the plague of ducks they’re then left with? Will China have to send 100,000 cats to cure Pakistan of its plague of ducks?

It puts me in mind of the old lady who swallowed a fly.

Apple AirTags — what do we know?

461 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.

What do we know about Apple AirTags? Not much is the answer, although it seems iOS is being positioned to cope with such things. I repeat many of the rumours about AirTags in this article.

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Wescot Credit Services — spammers (01482 590502)

432 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.
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I was motivated to write this review because I’m fed up of being spammed by Wescot Credit Services Ltd. I don’t owe them or anyone they represent a penny. In fact I’ve never heard of the person they claim to be after, yet they continue to spam call me.

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Why you should not use your ISP's email

268 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.

I was motivated to post this following a recent report about the excessive charges some ISPs levy if you move away from them but want to retain your email address.

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Friday 21st February 2020 Briefly ...

iPad shutdown

Why did Apple make the iPad shutdown button combination the same as the screenshot button combination? Both use the volume up + power buttons, it's just a slightly longer press to shut an iPad down rather than take a screenshot. I've just deleted more than a dozen unwanted screenshots of my home screen, taken whilst attempting to shut it down over the past few weeks.

Why does the universe have a cold spot?

216 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
Comments by me and a link to the article cited.

The universe is cold at 2.73 kelvin, which is -270.42 C (-454.76 F), but the small temperature it does have is very useful indeed. This radiation is called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) and it was emitted only a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. In a universe that’s 13.8 billion years old, that’s extremely early. Over the eons the wavelength of this radiation has been stretched to the microwave end of the spectrum by the expansion of space.

CMB map picturing the cold spot.

Cold spot, circled bottom right.

Credit: ESA/Planck Collaboration.

The CMB tells us many things about the universe and we’ve used lots of high-tech instruments to analyse it. The radiation is homogeneous, meaning it’s largely the same in every direction we look, with only tiny fluctuations amounting to no more than about 20 microkelvins either way (and a microkelvin is 1 millionth of a degree).

That is, except for one particular cold spot, which is on average 70 microkelvins colder than the rest of the CMB and up to 150 microkelvins colder in some parts. This makes cosmologists rub their chins, mutter things like “hmm” and then they start penning theories as to why this might be.

Did we collide with a parallel universe at some point? Is it just a void of nothingness? Or did someone leave the window open when the early universe was forming?

Friday 7th February 2020 Briefly ...

Universal Credit

The BBC website has published a number of articles about Universal Credit lately and a lot of them profile people who got into trouble after taking an advance on their payments. People take these advances because it’s not until five weeks after applying that a payment is made to the claimant.

The good news is that I’ve solved this problem for the government. It’s a two-step process.

Step 1. Apparently it takes seven days for a bank to transfer the government’s money to the claimant. This is ludicrous. I can transfer money between two accounts in less than two hours and I’m sure the government has more oomph with banks than me. Is the additional six days and 22 hours it takes the government to transfer their money because they route it through the remnants of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel in Mexico in order to ‘clean’ it? The government should simply demand a modern bank account.

Step 2. Universal Credit is paid monthly, which is fine for the long-term I suppose. However, it’s clear it’s the initial wait for the first payment that’s causing a lot of people problems, so how about making the first two payments on a fortnightly schedule?

And there we are — problem solved. I’ve slashed the wait from five weeks to two by applying nothing more than common sense and I’ve assured myself a knighthood in the process.

Wednesday 5th February 2020 Briefly ...

BBC licence fee decriminalisation

So, the BBC are having a consultation to decide whether not paying a TV licence fee should be decriminalised. For the love of God, of course it should. It’s a television, not an Uzi 9mm. Not paying something like that should be a civil offence, similar to not paying council tax, not a criminal offence.

The whole issue of whether we should pay a TV licence at all is another matter. As it stands it’s simply a tax because you have to pay it whether or not you watch the BBC. I think it should get with the times and become subscription-based. You shouldn’t have to have a licence just because you own a telly. They may as well start licensing underpants.

I’d probably still subscribe. The BBC has gone downhill in recent decades, as its Saturday evening dross demonstrates. It just seems to be emulating the commercial channels with many of its programmes and chasing ratings, and a lot of it is complete pap. That said, it does produce the best factual programmes (about things like science and nature) and many of its dramas (The Bodyguard, Killing Eve etc.) are top quality.

So, yes, throw in Radio 2 and the BBC website and I’d subscribe. And I’d give them an extra tenner if they finally do away with the formulaic dancing and singing shows, which always have three normal judges, one nasty judge, a public vote and an unerring ability to depress me. The sheer amount of televisual time Strictly commands is staggering.

Tracy Brabin MP

Great reply from an MP to some trolls. I, for one, am glad MPs aren’t routinely banged over a wheelie bin before parliamentary sessions.

Tracy Brabin Twitter reply.

Credit: Tracy Brabin

The iPad at ten — success or failure?

1047 words. 4 minutes reading time.

The iPad has turned ten and that has led to a number of articles both criticising and praising it. I think some of the criticism has been harsh even if I can see where it's coming from. Here's my take on it.

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Ring doorbell and third-party trackers

419 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.
Comments by me and a link to the article cited.

I'm struggling to understand why Ring's complementary mobile app needs to pass so much (or even any) data to third parties. It does this without user consent and also goes to great lengths to hide the data its passing on, attempting to elude analysis.

Ring is owned by Amazon and Amazon was the second company to be worth more than a trillion dollars, following hot on the heels of Apple. In the last quarter of 2019 Amazon raised $87.4 billion in revenue and made a profit of $3.3 billion. Jeff Bezos is now allegedly worth as much as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined.

So why, I have to wonder, when they're charging between £89 and £229 for doorbell with camera in it, do they also feel they need sell data from their mobile apps?

Ring already has form for data breaches and they could well be setting themselves up for another one. As the Electric Frontier Foundation — who performed this analysis — says:

This goes a step beyond that, by simply delivering sensitive data to third parties not accountable to Ring or bound by the trust placed in the customer-vendor relationship. As we’ve mentioned, this includes information about your device and carrier, unique identifiers that allow these companies to track you across apps, real-time interaction data with the app, and information about your home network. In the case of MixPanel, it even includes your name and email address. This data is given to parties either only mentioned briefly, buried on an internal page users are unlikely to ever see, or not listed at all.

This all raises a few related points.

Companies like you to install their own app instead of you doing your business via their websites in a browser. This is because browsers are getting cleverer at blocking tracking and because you can install ad-blockers in browsers. There are no such restrictions with apps: they can track you at will and advertise to you as they choose.

The thing that puzzles me, though, is why, when you're making £3.3 billion profit in a quarter, you feel the need to do this. Why not instead trade on the principle of no tracking and top class security? You'd probably sell more of your expensive doorbells in the first place if you did that.

On the back of the Cambridge Analytica debacle you'd think companies would learn but most appear to have learnt little. Greed and the lure of selling data, which is after all easy money for a company, still seem to rule supreme.

Thursday 30th January 2020 Briefly ...

Google search and subscription sites

I really don't think Google should display search results for articles where, when you click through via search, you then have to have a subscription or account to see them. It's essentially advertising an article with a promise to satisfy your search criteria but then you can't view said article. Such sites are often subscription newspapers, social media pages or the woeful Medium silo.

At the very least, Google could give you an option to filter out subscription sites.

Light switches

Light switches should always be down for on and up for off. This is a problem when you have two switches that operate the same light. Therefore it should be the law that dual light switches are fitted with servos of some sort that switch the other switch(es) to match when you engage one of them.

Have I just invented that? If so, it's Copyright Gordon Ansell, 2020. I'll apply for a patent whilst I'm doing so for my electric underpants puller-upper (the deluxe model will have a stack system for your briefs on the base).

Age-verification companies want £3m in 'damages'

167 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
Comments by me and a link to the article cited.

I don't want to get into the debate about whether we should or shouldn't have a porn block, but I do want to say something about the age-verification software companies who want £3m in 'damages' because the government didn't go ahead with it.

Remember, it's the tax-payer who'll ultimately pay those damages.

As far as I'm aware, the government never commissioned these companies to come up with age-verification software, so I can't see how they've got any right to claim anything. If it turns out they were asked or commissioned to do this then of course they deserve payment, but nothing I've read indicates that.

It's the government's job to create new laws and repeal old ones and they can do that at will. If a bunch of companies jump the gun and spend money and resources developing something that's no longer needed then that's their own look-out as far as I'm concerned.

Apparently these companies have applied for a judicial review and I hope their application gets turned down.

Young, middle-aged and old

365 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.

In a desperate attempt to stretch out middle-age as long as possible, I've cherry-picked a study that suits my purposes.

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Monday 13th January 2020 Briefly ...

Royalty

I just don’t understand the furore about our Royal Family’s “emergency discussions about the Sussexes’ future”. I simply don’t care. They can do what they like. I’m not anti-royalist but I just don’t give a shit what they do and I’m staggered so many people in the country are that interested such that it’s the main news story on the BBC.

For what it’s worth, I’m in emergency discussions with my cat about the protocol she’s established for a second breakfast shortly after the first. It should be pointed out that I still remain second in line to throne of this house even if I decide to go and live in Canada. Bet that doesn’t make the front page of the BBC.

Flybe tight-lipped over collapse threat

The BBC is running an article suggesting Flybe is in trouble. If this is true and collapse is imminent (and it seems very likely) then Flybe are showing a shocking lack of morals by continuing to take bookings, whereupon they’ll leave people stranded in foreign parts and we, the taxpayers, will ultimately have to pay to repatriate them. If that happens then the CEO should do jail time. Surely it’s fraud if they know they’re going under and still take payments for flights they can’t honour.

Of course I’m only speculating on a speculative story.

Cookie consents breach GDPR law

142 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
Comments by me and a link to the article cited.

An article on TechCrunch takes a long look at how cookie consents are breaching EU privacy laws and how the cookie confirmation pop-ups are merely a hindrance to people.

I’ve talked about this here, here, here (the ‘Cooke Monsters’ bit) and even here to a certain extent.

All cookies except essential session cookies should be off by default. There should be no cookie confirmation pop-ups, just a website “settings” option where you can go in and switch cookies on if you choose to.

If a site doesn’t want you there if you won’t accept their tracking and advertising cookies then they should send you to a page telling you that. That page should just have the “settings” option and you can switch some cookies on if you choose to. Alternatively, you can simply choose not to visit that site.

That’s how it should be. End of.

Killer robots come in the shape of a ball

99 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
Comments by me and a link to the article cited.

Samsung have recently been demonstrating something called Ballie, which is basically a ball that follows you around and controls your entire home.

Any ball that follows me around will be tripped over in short order, whereupon I’ll probably break my neck. Hence it’s a killer robot. It’s quite clever actually because we all expect killer robots to look like a T-800 and speak with an Austrian accent. Nobody expects an invasion of killer balls.

I dread to think what my cat would think of such a thing.

Anyway, watch the video and be either suitably impressed or extremely scared as you choose.