Thursday, July 29, 2010

AirPort - self-assigned IP address for Macs

We hit a snag with our Macbook. All of a sudden, it wasn't connecting to the wireless network. Upon investigating how "AirPort" - the wireless network client thingy - was behaving, we discovered that, although supposedly using DHCP to get an IP address, it seemed to have assigned itself an IP address which was totally not going to be on the network.

A little searching came up with this discussion - going back several years! And wading through the pages revealed that a) the problem was relatively common, b) had been around for years and c) there was no obvious fix for it.

The links into MacWorld resulted in suggestions like restarting AirPort (which most times made no difference) and restarting the router (which also made little difference - in any case, we knew it was still behaving, as there are all sorts of other things connected to the network and functioning properly).

The most meaningful suggestion I came across was that it was something to do with the Mac firewall. Going to "Security" under System Preferences and then the Firewall tab, I noted that "Set access for specific services and applications" was selected. I added "configd" to the list of specific services, and it started working again. Whether this was the issue, or whether it will continue to work, I don't know. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leak of sensitive information!

There was shock yesterday when a list of names, telephone numbers and addresses were unveiled at a press conference. The press conference was called by a security firm, to highlight security vulnerabilities of which the general public might not have been aware.

"Obtaining such information was child's play!" exclaimed Mr Sturmin Ticup. "All we had to do was photocopy pages of a telephone directory - something even the lowest grade manager could learn to do in no more than a few days. In fact, we could have brought the whole telephone directory, except it didn't fit in my briefcase." He added that it also contained phone numbers for various businesses, which could be very useful for people who wished to mischievously ring them up and annoy them.

We showed some of the sheets of sensitive information to a Mrs H. Trellis, who was walking past at the end of the conference. "I'm personally appalled at how easy it is to get hold of this sort of sensitive information," she said, when asked a leading question. "I'm ex-directory, but think how easy it would have been for my own phone number to be in there if that wasn't the case!"

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ofsted and Mission Creep

Nobody could really have an issue with the concept of an Office for Standards in Education. This was, I believe, something that came from the Conservative government of the 80s, with the aim of providing a national, centrally-defined standard for education, and undermining the left-wing agenda that dominated an educational establishment that was largely libertarian and socialist-leaning.

However, I do object to the mission creep that has taken place over the years. School are no longer judged simply on the basis of the standard of education taking place - or rather, the definition of education has been stretched to such an extent that it bears very little resemblance to what the man on the Clapham Omnibus would assume it was. Ofsted doesn't simply inspect schools, it defines the standards that schools are to meet. The goalposts move regularly, requiring significant amounts of management effort simply to ensure that "when HMI calls", the school has jumped through the regulatory hoops. It is difficult to say what value the changes in terminology and pet projects driven by Ofsted add to the education of the children

To an extent, it's not even as though it makes much difference. There are certain aspects of the work of schools which override others. For example, Ofsted currently look at "The extent to which pupils develop workplace and other skills that will contribute to their future economic well-being." But the likelihood is that this section will simply mirror the overall educational attainment of the school - if the school is "adding lots of value" to the children, it will score well here. If not, it will score badly. So why bother assessing it separately? The answer is that it is part of government/Ofsted dogma to show this - a mandate it has taken upon itself. But this is political and social - in my opinion (and that of many others, I'm pretty sure) people are not just units of economic productivity. A debate should be had before the government, or its inspector, asserts that the role of education is the future economic well-being of pupils.

Furthermore, the tentacles of Ofsted have gradually spread over the years. By redefining education as (pretty much) child-rearing, Ofsted have assumed the role of guardians of (broad-sense) education not only in schools and colleges, but in pre-schools and even for child minders.

To a degree this is understandable. Government money goes into this - child-care vouchers and free nursery places - so perhaps the government wants to know that something useful is going on. But to be honest, the standard of assessment is pretty imprecise (most schools wouldn't take seriously the assessments done by nursery schools, and would carry out their own baseline assessment). And for most parents, even the concept of expecting educational objectives to be met by a childminder is utterly absurd - they simply want somewhere safe where their children can play for a few hours (or possibly do homework) until the parents get home from work. Unsurprisingly, the increasing administrative burden and inspection regime on registered childminders has resulted in increasing numbers of people vocationally well-adapted (compassionate, sympathetic, playful) to childminding packing it in, and those people who aren't what a parent would naturally look for in a childminder getting more work and being able to justify increasing charges due to restricted supply.

Even so, it wouldn't matter so much if there was any sense of an absolute standard in such measurements. But it feels as though inspections aren't carried out with any level of objectivity. Schools "in a category" (coded language for having to improve - in special measures, or under notice to improve) find that on repeated visits by people checking progress, they hear them muttering under their breath that they can't see why the school was placed in the category. Different inspectors have their own hobby horses. Inspections for nurseries and childminders are even more subjective than those for schools. My own children's preschool was criticised by one inspector for not having staples in the stapler that was in the office corner. When the staff commented that this might result in injury to the three- and four-year-olds, the inspector replied that they would only hurt themselves on it once.

And even so, since in large sections of the country, parents effectively have little or no choice about where their children will go to school, it's all something of a sterile debate anyway. If the effort that was directed to repeated inspections and implementing initiatives were instead given to the schools (who increasingly understand where they are failing to do the best by their pupils, but are strapped for resources to do much about it), that would surely be more helpful.

As a paradigm for the way government has run over the last 30 years - a central organisation created to address a specific issue which has grown like topsy, and largely unaccoutably - Ofsted could hardly be bettered. Unfortunately, the new government has shown little sign thus far of any willingness to tame this huge, unelected beast which has ended up with such enormous control over the lives of our children.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Scamwatch - make of this what you will

A new telephone 'scam' has arrived.
"I received a call from a 'representative' of BT, informing me that he was disconnecting me because of an unpaid bill. He demanded payment immediately of £31, or it would be £118 to re-connect at a later date.

The guy wasn't even fazed when I told him I was with Virgin Media, allegedly VM have to pay BT a percentage for line rental!

He realized I wasn't believing his story, so offered to demonstrate that he was from BT. I asked how and he told me to hang up and try phoning someone - he would disconnect my phone to prevent this.

AND HE DID!! (NO HE DID NOT!) My phone was dead - no engaged tone, nothing - until he phoned me again.

Very pleased with himself, he asked if that was enough proof that he was with BT. I asked how the payment was to be made & he said credit card, there and then.

I said that I didn't know how he'd done it, but I had absolutely no intention of paying him, I didn't believe his name or that he worked for BT.

He hung up.

I rang 1471 and phoned his fictitious 0800 number – not recognised.

I phoned the police to let them know: I wasn't the first! It's only just started apparently but it is escalating.

Their advice was to let as many people as possible know of this scam. The fact that the phone does go off would probably convince some people it's real.

This is good but he wasn't very ingenious. He gave the wrong number - it should have been the BT Business number 0800 800152. The cutting off of the line is very simple; he stays on the line with the mute button on and you can't dial out - but he can hear you trying. (This is because the person who initiates a call is the one to terminate it). When you stop trying he cuts off and immediately calls back. The sad thing is that it is so simple that it will certainly fool some people. Obviously, if this scam is real, once they have your credit/debit card details, there is nothing to stop them cleaning out your account.
(Notification through the usual friend of friend of friend system)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Apparently ...

I write like
Leo Tolstoy

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

The peace dividend, and other cuts

Back at the end of the Cold War, we were told that one of the big benefits of negotiating a settlement of sorts with the Warsaw Pact would be the "peace dividend" - the money we wouldn't be spending on defence, which could then be ploughed back into tax cuts, or making ploughshares, or whatever. Even in my youth, this struck me as being something of a mixed blessing. £1 million spent on buying a tank, for example, doesn't simply procure a lump of metal. It pays for the salary of the people who are involved in putting it together - which in turn, pays for the salary of the people in the supermarket near the tank factory ... and so on. £1 million cut from the forces budget represents 10 fewer people employed. So the peace dividend is really a cut in spending, which ultimately means (in simple terms) people at some level "lower down" have to find alternative work.

In fact, even with the thawing of the Cold War, the security situation didn't vastly improve (or was it that certain interests couldn't allow the overall security situation to improve? Is that too conspiratorial?). Wildcard governments, international terrorism and religious fundamentalism simply ended up with a greater influence on policy. Money was redirected rather than cut.

With the astringency that we are seeing following the ballooning of public spending over the last few years in the UK, a similar process has to take place. The government talks about spending cuts - but the money that is being spent is largely, ultimately, being spent on people's salaries. So the government says that it is going to do away with ARQ (a random quango) and save £50 million per year - and 200 people have to find new jobs. And the people who depended upon their money - the shops, services, piano teachers, vets, decorators - also risk losing part of their income.

That's the problem with cuts. Everybody wants to see the government spending less taxpayer's money - but when an economy has ended up leaning more and more upon government spending, it hurts everybody to be weaned off it. Too many people don't see the link between "government spending" and themselves. "I think the government should spend more on schools/health/defence/police", the vox pops say - but when asked if they would be prepared to pay more tax to fund it, the answer suddenly changes. Similarly, lots of people assume that government spending cuts are a good thing - until the impact becomes apparent upon people to whom they are close.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Avertible catastrophe?

Report on the Gulf of Mexico oilspill here. Do the Americans really partly have themselves to blame?
The Dutch know how to handle maritime emergencies. In the event of an oil spill, The Netherlands government, which owns its own ships and high-tech skimmers, gives an oil company 12 hours to demonstrate it has the spill in hand. If the company shows signs of unpreparedness, the government dispatches its own ships at the oil company's expense. "If there's a country that's experienced with building dikes and managing water, it's the Netherlands," says Geert Visser, the Dutch consul general in Houston.

In sharp contrast to Dutch preparedness before the fact and the Dutch instinct to dive into action once an emergency becomes apparent, witness the American reaction to the Dutch offer of help. The U.S. government responded with "Thanks but no thanks," remarked Visser, despite BP's desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer --the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge. Even after the U.S. refused, the Dutch kept their vessels on standby, hoping the Americans would come round. By May 5, the U.S. had not come round. To the contrary, the U.S. had also turned down offers of help from 12 other governments, most of them with superior expertise and equipment --unlike the U.S., Europe has robust fleets of Oil Spill Response Vessels that sail circles around their make-shift U.S. counterparts.
H/T Mike Gene via Telic Thoughts.