Monthly Archives: May 2022

  • 1977 and all that

    1977 was allegedly a year for celebration as Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor had spent 25 years as unelected head of state of the English Empire (which some still call the United Kingdom. Ed.).

    At the time I was in the final year of my degree and well remember derelict buildings in the town centre being draped in bunting in preparation for a drive-by the queen.

    All the sycophancy at that time helped turn your ‘umble scribe into a lifelong republican, i.e. someone who would like to see this country abolish the monarchy and switch to having an elected – not hereditary – head of state. This is not to be confused with a right-wing US political party spelled with an upper case first letter.

    Come right up to date and Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor has now been minding the shop for 70 years, a record for the country. However, support for the monarchy is not as widespread or whole-hearted as it was in 1977 and in Scotland support for the monarchy is now down to 45%, as reported by The Guardian.

    However, that does not mean that republicans are having an easy ride for their beliefs, which they allegedly have a democratic right to express, as illustrated by the tweet below from the account of the Jeremy Vine show on Channel 5, a low point in daytime TV.

    Tweet reads As the country marks the Queen's 70 years on throne, should republicans perhaps keep their views to themselves this week? Celebrations are planned up and down the country. Do we really need anti-royalists spoiling the mood?

    I have no intention of being quiet. Indeed, yesterday I found the Stuff The Jubilee badge I bought in 1977 and am already wearing it with pride as per the encouragement from my ex-wife.

    Original 1977 Stuff The Jubilee badge Badge on hat

    Your correspondent won’t be the only one in east Bristol not celebrating this momentous non-event. News of three of our local pubs organising a F*ck the Jubilee punk festival has not gone down too well with some sections of the city’s populace.

    At a national level, Republic, the organisation campaigning for the abolition of the monarchy, has organised a petition to make Elizabeth the second the last monarch.

    And finally, now for something completely different…
  • Prying Google is not your friend

    The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is pointing its finger at Google for spying on users, French IT news website Le Monde Informatique reports. A real-time bidding (RTB) system which is actively used by the company enables it to follow and share what everyone is looking at or doing online and note down this activity’s location. RTB is the technology underpinning all online advertising and it relies on sharing of personal information without user consent, according to the ICCL.

    Google’s troubles are far from over. Widely singled out for its actions in terms of the use of personal data, the company is now in the spotlight for its tracking and advertising targeting activity. A report (PDF) published by the ICCL on 16 May accuses the search giant of an unprecedented data breach. The report sheds light on the RTB system, which works in the background on websites and in applications. “It tracks what you are looking at, no matter how private or sensitive, and it records where you go. Every day it broadcasts this data about you to a host of companies continuously, enabling them to profile you,” the report states.

    The ICCL report claims it presents the scale of this data breach for the first time.

    This data breach takes place throughout the world. The RTB system “tracks and shares what users are viewing online with their location in real time 294 bn. times in the USA and 197 bn. times in Europe each day”, it states. On average a person in the USA has their online activity and location tracked 747 times a day by those using RTB. In Europe, RTB exposes personal data 376 times a day. In Germany alone, Google sends 19.6 million broadcasts about German Internet users’ online behaviour every minute that they are online. “Europeans and U.S. Internet users’ private data is sent to firms across the globe, including to Russia and China, without any means of controlling what is then done with the data”. It is a high-earning business generating more than $117 bn. in the USA and Europe in 2021.

    Maps of Europe and USA showing billions of daily Google RTB broadcasts

    Advertising is an indispensable condition of this system as the majority of advertising on websites and in applications is placed there using RTB. Advertisers spend $100 bn. annually in the USA and Europe. The RTB market’s estimated value was $91 bn. in the USA in 2021 and €23 bn. in Europe in 2019. It therefore highlights that Americans’ online activity and their locations is exposed 57% more frequently than that of users in Europe.

    Google is one of the five largest users of this real-time bidding system. No fewer than 4,698 US companies are authorised by Google to receive RTB data on people, whilst in Europe the number drops to 1,058 companies. More specifically, the data collected by Google, like what people are looking at online or doing with an application and their ‘hyperlocal‘ geographical location is broadcast 42 bn. times per day in Europe and 31 bn. times daily in the USA.

    The ICCL is working to end the RTB data breach in Europe and has litigation ongoing in three European courts, as follows:

  • A guide for the rest of us

    The For Dummies set of reference books/instruction manuals has for years been sold as a non-intimidating guide for ordinary mortals and in its early days used to feature the wording in the title as a reassuring means of gaining sales from Joe and Jane Soap (or John and Jane Doe for readers on the north Atlantic Ocean’s eastern shores. Ed.).

    The series’ follow the bouncing ball style of guidance has over the years been ridiculed and that ridicule in turn used to good advantage to mock those clearly out of their depths in their chosen profession or – heaven forbid – the public office to which they have been elevated.

    Which brings us to the alleged government’s current Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, one Elizabeth Mary Truss.

    Liz, as she prefers to be called, has the reputation of not being very bright, but that is no obstacle to high public office in the kakistocracy presided over by party-time alleged prime minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

    She is however, a fully paid-up member of the two clubs to which all government ministers and Tory Party loyalists are now supposed to belong, the Cult of Brexit and the Cult of the Adoration of the Boris.

    And it is in relation to the first cult that this post is being penned.

    In the mid-18th century a song was composed exhorting Britannia to rule the waves. Since Brexit one is more likely to see Britannia waiving the rules – as is currently being threatened by the British government in respect of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a treaty between the English Empire (which some still call the United Kingdom . Ed.) and the European Union, which has the status of international law.

    Reading between the lines, it is obvious that Johnson and his government have no intention of honouring by the Protocol and are currently seeking to tear it up, with Truss making a statement to this effect yesterday in the House of Commons.

    Which brings us once again the Dummies and the inspired piece of parody.

    Parody book cover entitled International Law With Dummies

    As regards the references in the image to pork markets and a limited and specific way, a search engine is your friend. 😀

    Needless to say, the antics of Johnson and Truss have not been warmly received by the EU Commission.

    Truss’ plans will also send a clear message to states with whom the government may seek to conclude a trade deal that the British government’s word is not to be trusted.

    To hark back once again to another phrase coined in the 18th century, perfidious Albion is alive and well.

  • More Bristol borkage

    Yesterday’s trip into Bristol’s Quarter of Mammon (aka the city’s central shopping district consisting of the dire post-war Broadmead centre, Galleries and Carboot Cabot Circus. Ed.) yielded another example of borked technology to add to the collection begun last week on my visit to the City Museum & Art Gallery (posts passim).

    Corporate graffiti, better known as advertising is all-pervasive and intrusive, but there’s no way I’d stand on my heads in the rain to read this bullshit. 😀

    advertisement displayed upside-down in Carboot Circdus
  • Research reveals websites collecting information without consent

    online spying imageToday’s Journal du Geek reports that some unscrupulous websites do not clutter up their webpages with a Submit button when visitors are filling in a form.

    If you have already filled in a web form before changing your mind, your data has doubtless been sucked up by an unscrupulous website. In a recent study carried out by researchers from 3 European universities, which will be presented at the Usenix Security conference in August, we learn that some platforms are capable of spying on every character typed on a keyboard.

    By analysing 2.8 mn. webpages on the world’s 100,000 most visited websites, the research’s assessment is definitive: in the case of a web form filled completed in Europe, nearly 2,000 of them are capable of collecting the user’s email address before that user has clicked the Send button. One of the joint authors Güne Acar of Radboud University in Nijmegen states: “We were very surprised by the results. We thought we might find a few hundred sites where your email address is collected before you send it, but the result far exceeded our expectations”.

    However, the situation in Europe remains better than that in the United States. Whereas the old continent recorded “only” 1844 cases of abusive data sucking, the same request, when sent from the United States triggered 60% more instances, for a total of 2,950 cases, a difference which can be explained in particular by the presence in Europe of the GDPR , which since 2018 has obliged platforms to obtain users’ consent before collecting data..

    How do websites record one’s data without consent?

    For all practical purposes the majority of sites collecting data before submission forwards email addresses (encrypted or unencrypted) to third party sites are generally specialist advertising campanies, which collected the data to serve up personalised advertising (aka corporate graffiti. Ed.). In some less frequent instances a key logger is used to enable the keystrokes made to be directly recorded.

    In Europe, the matter is even more sensitive since a good number of major sites, including Facebook owners Meta and TikTok were amongst the sites tested.

  • Campaigner’s monoglot parking charge quashed

    The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 modernised the existing legal framework regarding the use of the Welsh language in the provision of public services in Wales.

    It made provision for the official status of the Welsh language and established the office of the Welsh Language Commissioner which replaced the Welsh Language Board. It made Welsh an official language in Wales. This means it must be treated no less favourably than English and that when dealing with the state (i.e. central and local government, the health service, etc.), Welsh speakers are entitled to use the vernacular.

    However, its provisions do not apply to the private sector, such as monoglot car park management companies based in England but operating in Wales, has been brought to light by the small matter of a parking charge in a small village in Ceredigion.

    Today’s Nation Cymru reports on the case of Welsh language campaigner who was due to appear in court for non-payment of a parking charge for the sea front car park in Llangrannog in September 2020.

    Llangrannog viewed from the south cliffs. The car park in question is just to the left of the picture’s centre.
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

    Today Toni Schiavone, a former teacher and education officer for the Welsh Government, was due to appear at Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court to answer a charge of not paying a penalty charge notice issued to him solely in English by One Parking Solution Ltd. of Worthing in West Sussex.

    Mr. Schiavone repeatedly contacted the company requesting the penalty notice and further correspondence in Welsh and is on record as stating he would only pay the charge if the notice was served in Welsh, but his words fell upon deaf ears, with One Parking Solution replied with typical colonial arrogance that the company was based in England and under no obligation to issue penalty notices in Welsh.

    Mr Schiavone’s response to One Parking Solution’s less than helpful reply was quoted by Nation Cymru as follows:

    It would be nothing for them to issue a penalty notice in Welsh but they have ignored the request and decided to take me to court. They are the ones causing trouble for themselves.”

    As this post was being drafted, Wales Online announced that Mr Schiavone’s case had been thrown out of court as there was no representative from One Parking Solution present.

    In a delicious piece of irony the court received all the papers from the plaintiff – including a copy of the penalty charge notice – in Welsh as Mr Schiavone was exercising his right to use his vernacular in court; this all had to be translated by One Parking Solution.

    Speaking after the case, Mr Schiavone put the case for extending the provision of Welsh language services to the private sector in Wales, stating:

    This clearly shows the need to extend the language measure to include the private sector. Private companies like this have said many times over the years that they will not provide Welsh language services voluntarily.
  • Common touch? Out of touch

    It has long been a source of amusement when high-ranking politicians try to show they have the common touch and end up making fools of themselves.

    Such an instance happened yesterday when the death of actor Dennis Waterman was announced.

    Step forward Nadhim ‘Stable Genius’ Zahawi, the Downright Dishonourable Member of Parliament for Stratford Upon Avon and current Secretary of State for Education, who clearly showed why education is not safe in his hands, taking to Twitter and expressing his condolences as follows with no style at all.

    Tweet reads RIP Pete. A great actor, grew up watching minder

    RIP Pete. A great actor, grew up watching minder.

    Zahawi had clearly confused 2 Watermans in the public eye, namely Pete Waterman, purveyor of pop tunes for the likes of Kylie Minogue and the late Dennis.

    Pete Waterman
    Pete Waterman
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    Dennis Waterman
    Dennis Waterman
    Image courtesy of Garry Knight

    Zahawi’s foul-up did not go unnoticed and is being widely mocked on social media, of which the following is an example.

    Tweet reads Pete Waterman and Harry Cole really made Minder the hit it was. Shame they're both dead now

    Pete Waterman and Harry Cole really made Minder the hit it was. Shame they’re both dead now.

    Some while later Zahawi noticed his mistake and tweeted the following.

    Tweet reads Made a mistake, RIP Denis Waterman

    Made a mistake, RIP Denis Waterman
    Note finally Zahawi did not have to the good grace to include an apology for his earlier error as any normal mortal would have done.
  • Borked in Bristol

    The last time your ‘umble scribe visited Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery was before the first pandemic lockdown over two years ago. There’s always lots to see and the first thing I observed was the major changes to the art exhibits. Local talent features prominently in these, including the 19th century Bristol School of Artists and prominent portrait painter and local lad Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA. Furthermore, the ceramics section has a fine selection of ware from the late 17th and early 18th century Brislington Pottery.

    However, the excellence of local art and crafts was not matched by local artefacts from the period of Roman occupation, being limited to the Thornbury Hoard (although 3,000 Roman coins on display is quite impressive. Ed.), one Samian ware bowl and a solitary drinking vessel, which is pretty poor considering the major influence and changes wrought by the Romans during the three and a half centuries that Britannia was a province of the Roman empire and ample evidence of Roman settlement and economic activity in the area. These include. for example, Abona Roman port at the confluence of the River Trym and Bristol Avon, visible remains of of Roman roads, villa sites, plus the 2 Roman pigs of lead found in 1865 in Wade Street in St Judes whilst excavations were underway on the old bank of the River Frome).

    On the other hand, the museum does have a fine natural history section, especially in respect of extinct fauna – the giant Irish elk skeleton with its antlers spanning a width of 3 metres is most impressive – and fossils and dinosaurs in particular.

    As is well known, generations of children have displayed a passion for dinosaurs. Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery has catered for this passion by installing interactive displays. Nevertheless, any child currently wishing to learn more of the life and times of Doris the Pliosaurus would have been disappointed at the time of my visit as Doris’ display was – to use a technical term borked.

    Windows 7 not behaving for an interactive museum display Close-up of Windows 7 screen and options

    The bottom picture clearly clearly shows Microsoft’s Windows 7 misbehaving, a not uncommon undocumented feature of the Beast of Redmond’s alleged operating systems.

    If anyone desires to see more borkage in public, your ‘umble scribe would refer such readers to The Register IT news site, which has a dedicated bork section/archive.

  • Brexit – the gift that keeps on giving

    The departure of the English Empire (which some still call the United Kingdom. Ed.) from the European Union is the gift that keeps on giving, especially for anywhere located outside that backward country and in another member EU member state.

    The latest news from the unlit uplands mired in unicorn manure comes from Computer Weekly which reports on research from analysts Forrester that London has dropped down the tech rankings post-Brexit due, inter alia, to immigration woes, no doubt exacerbated by the Home Office’s hostile environment.

    Helsinki South Harbour
    Helsinki – Europe’s leading IT skills cluster, according to Forrester
    As regards digital skills, Forrester’s research reveals hat post-Brexit regulatory obstacles are preventing UK cities from being ranked as a leading skill cluster in Europe: the top 10 metropolitan areas with the best skills and talent clusters across Europe are Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Hamburg, Oslo, Munich, Vienna, Zurich, and Amsterdam, whilst London, which was often formerly recognised as Europe’s tech hub, was ranked 19th (the heyday of Silicon Roundabout seems so long ago. Ed.), whilst other British cities also slid down the rankings.

    The Forrester report’s authors state that European businesses increasingly understand the need to attract individuals with specific sector expertise as well as soft skills, commenting: “Leading businesses place diversity, partner ecosystems and innovation centres at the heart of their talent management strategies.” Furthermore, IT and business need to understand where Europe’s top skill clusters are located before they can attract and retain the best talent and to source the right skills.

  • EU eyes Apple

    If you have an iPhone, you can use Apple Pay for contactless payments; and only Apple Pay. The European Union (EU) wants to change that, according to French technology news site Frandroid.

    The European Commission has officially announced that it has notified Apple in respect of the latter’s restrictions which prevent the use of third party services to access the iPhone’s NFC (Near-Field Communication or ‘tap and go’. Ed.) capabilities, thus restricting competition in the field of contactless payments.

    Paying for a coffee with an iPhone and Apple Pay
    Paying for a brew with an iPhone and Apple Pay. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

    The European Commission has informed Apple of its preliminary view that it is abusing its dominant position in markets for mobile wallets on iOS devices. By limiting access to a standard technology used for contactless payments with mobile devices in stores (‘Near-Field Communication (NFC)’ or ‘tap and go’), Apple restricts competition in the mobile wallets market on iOS.

    The Commission takes issue with the decision by Apple to prevent mobile wallets app developers, from accessing the necessary hardware and software (‘NFC input’) on its devices, to the benefit of its own solution, Apple Pay.

    The EU has the power to impose fines of up to 10% of Apple’s worldwide turnover ($36 bn. or €34.10 bn.) and impose changes in commercial practices, although any fine could turn out to be lower.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that on Android it is possible to change the default contactless payment service. This is not possible on iPhones where Apple Pay is mandatory.

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