Archive for January 2018


Disloyalty programme, loyalty conduct

27.01.2018

P.P.P.PS.: Lumino’s head office has taken this case very, very seriously, and has been following up on Ezidebit and Goody. I’m actually really impressed—enough to add the two words to the title. They get that I’ve never put my cellphone number on an any app in the past, and they, too, know that the timing of the scam calls is suspicious. I’ve had a promise that they’ll follow up.—JY

I signed up to the Lumino Dental Plan yesterday (Friday). Big mistake. Lesson worth repeating: listen to your gut.
   Some days, the pleasant side of me kicks in and I give people the benefit of the doubt. I read the T&Cs while I was still there but it started getting unreasonable with my standing at the counter while they’re trying to deal with their other patients. ‘Don’t be such a wanker, Jack,’ I thought. ‘So their agreement wasn’t drafted by a professional lawyer. You’ve used Lumino before and the dentist last year was great, and this hygienist was excellent. Let the office manager’s sales’ technique win the day, it’s no big deal.’
   Naturally, she really wanted me to sign and made it quite clear that that was the result she wanted.
   But it was a big deal. I spent an hour last night writing the below to the companies involved. They gave five different emails so I contacted them all.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
After due consideration, I do not wish to enter into this Dental Plan, and exercise my right under the Consumer Guarantees Act to cancel it. I have been advised by Lumino the Dentists the Terrace that the cooling-off period for this sale is the standard five (working) days and I will be refunded in full.
   I was asked by the practice this afternoon to email you with my reasons should I cancel. As all the above addresses have been given to me in one communication alone, I am taking the liberty of writing to you all.
   First, I do not feel I had sufficient time to absorb the Ezidebit agreement today (Friday the 26th), especially on a tiny tablet screen, under what I felt was an expectation that I would sign before I departed.
   If I recall correctly, the tablet app links to Lumino’s terms and conditions and these are different to the ones in the DLE brochure introducing the plan. I was not made aware of the DLE’s terms and conditions initially and was led to believe that the only ones were on the tablet.
   As I advised Lumino while at the practice today, I had serious concerns about the Ezidebit agreement’s poor drafting and its reference to non-existent legislation. I was assured that should I sign, I would not suffer any loss because (a) that the cooling-off period for direct sales applied; and (b) that all Lumino customers who have cancelled to date have been refunded in full.
   Among my concerns: I have never heard of the Contracts Privacy Act (neither has my partner, who has legal training), and there is confusion about whether I will be charged administration and transaction fees (Lumino says I won’t, Ezidebit’s T&Cs say I will). I also see there are SMS fees, although I was told at the practice that my cellphone would not be used and was led to believe that its request in the app was a formality. There is no specificity on any of these fees, other than for a failed payment. Generally, the Ezidebit agreement appears to be a copy-and-paste job, its constituent parts drafted by two lawyers who hated each other, and assembled by a third who hated them both.
   Neither party has come forth with information about the handling of my private information.
   Going to Ezidebit’s parent company, Global Payments, didn’t help, since the US firm’s website says there would be information on its cookie usage on its terms of use page—but there isn’t. I never went further.
   Now that I have had a chance to sit down and review the documentation in your email, I have to conclude that with two businesses telling me different things—and the American one not even sure of what it has on its own website, let alone what laws exist in New Zealand—I have no trust in this arrangement.
   The principle might be sound enough but the execution leaves much to be desired.
   I will be happy to meet the full cost of my hygienist’s session today once I am satisfied that the refund has taken place. I respectfully request that I be refunded in full as soon as practicable, including any fees that may or may not have applied. As no privacy policy was given, I must also request that all personal details held by Ezidebit (in New Zealand and Australia, since both companies are named in the agreement) or its parent Global Payments on me, including my name, email, Visa account information and cellphone number, be deleted immediately after the refund is made. I trust that any intermediaries or contractors who got them during today’s transactions will remove them as well.

Thank you,

Yours sincerely,

Jack Yan

   A company called Goody was involved, and sent me the email asking for programme confirmation. I wrote to them separately. I’m not sure what their relationship is since the only T&Cs ever presented to me were for Lumino and Ezidebit. Goody could be an innocent third-party service provider, who also now has my personal information. I’ve asked them to delete it and take me off any programme of theirs, too. I had a peek through their terms and conditions and privacy policy, and both appeared up to snuff.
   Tonight, Lumino sent me a survey form asking me what I thought of their service. Read on if you want to find out what happened earlier today (I’ll italicize it).

The care was excellent and I do not want that mixed up with the very harsh words I have for the Lumino Dental Plan. You have already been emailed about my choice to end my participation forthwith and to pay full price for my visit once I get confirmation that I have been refunded in full including any unspecified charges. In summary, US-owned Ezidebit whom you have partnered with looks like the dodgiest company around. I do not share my private cellphone number as a matter of practice but felt compelled to do so on your app on the assurance of your staffer that it would actually not be used. I put it into your tablet and within 24 hours I have a scam caller—yours is the only “unknown” company that has this number—not any more, it seems! The American company had no privacy policy and, as I pointed out at the time of signing, cited non-existent legislation in the T&Cs you gave me. You evidently have no idea how seriously I take my privacy and I feel disappointed, distressed and let down by this whole experience. I really should have listened to my gut and walked away at the practice, instead of spending an hour writing last night’s email and even more time to update you on the scam calls I now get. I have heard of loyalty programmes but your Dental Plan is the first time I have come across a disloyalty programme.

   I feel very let down, and it’s been a lesson for me—but also for any business that decides to lend its good reputation to something highly questionable. It pays to do your due diligence, and that includes going through the customer sign-up process yourself to spot what holes there are. It’s become pretty obvious that this didn’t happen.

PS.: The scam caller on my cell came from +64 4 488-7021. Feel free to look it up for yourselves.—JY

P.PS.: The Lumino practice sent me an invoice for the hygienist’s session for another $153. No apology at all. Instead, ‘once this account is settled we will process your dental plan cancellation.’ Really?

Good morning:

I am deeply disappointed you have chosen to do it this way when I asked for the Plan to be cancelled first, as is my right—and which is something you plainly stated I could do. I don’t even get an apology or explanation for all the shortcomings in the Plan or the inconvenience caused, which is indeed surprising, or some assurance that my personal details were not sold. Given the scam calls on both my cell and land lines since providing you with my number on your app, I am sadly forced to conclude that they were.
   Let me clarify our respective positions under New Zealand law.
   Here’s where I stand:

  • I have a right to cancel this Plan. You’ve said so and I know so. I’ve exercised this right as of Friday night.
  • You do not have a right to make the refund of the Plan conditional on my settling the account.
  • I have an obligation to settle your account independent of the Plan’s cancellation.
  •    Here’s where you stand:

  • You’ve done dental work on me which you should rightly be paid for.
  • You’ve had a written offer from me to settle this account already.
  • You’re in an extremely strong position to make sure I settle the account without making settlement conditional on the Plan’s cancellation.
  • Your doing so violates New Zealand consumer law.
  •    Unlike you, I can make this conditional on your cancelling the Plan, in part because I have no way of finding out whether you’ve taken my $299 or not.
       It appears from your email that you already have.
       Logically you could refund the difference between $299 and the invoice amount, which would be taking some responsibility for this mess.
       I cannot see why I need to be out of pocket for $452 at any time. I am sure you can see how this is grossly unfair.
       This seems like a delaying tactic to make sure the five days go by.
       I now respectfully ask you cancel the Plan immediately and refund the difference, which seems the easiest solution.

    Sincerely,

    Jack

    The matter is now before the support team in Auckland. Hopefully they can sort this without my contacting their CEO (which seems like the next logical step).—JY

    P.P.PS.: The practice manager on the Terrace has received the above and responded far more professionally, asking me to leave it with her and she’ll sort it out. She assures me my details have not been sold—not that I doubted Lumino but I still have very massive doubts about Ezidebit and Global Payments. She’s also offered me 5 per cent off on future treatments out of goodwill, which is a very promising solution. Lumino’s support line in Auckland was also very friendly and logged it into their system.—JY

    P.P.P.PS.: Lumino has remained on the case and tracked down Ezidebit’s privacy policy, which I had never seen till today. And I believe we have our smoking gun. Ezidebit’s claims that they have not heard of this happening before suddenly fall flat. In cl. 3.1:

    When we share your information with third parties whom we partner with to provide our services (for example, providers of software or any other electronic applications which have been integrated with Ezidebit to enable us to process payments for users of that software or application), those third parties may use that personal information to provide marketing communications and targeted advertising to you.

    In cl. 3.2:

    We may disclose your personal information to our related companies or to third parties located outside of New Zealand, including:
    • The United States;
    • Australia;
    • Philippines;
    • The United Kingdom; and
    • Hong Kong.

    That latter clause explains the scam call on Monday, January 29 then, which was on my cell and asked for me by name. The caller had a Philippine accent and claimed she was calling from Hong Kong.—JY

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    Posted in business, marketing, New Zealand, USA | No Comments »


    Windows Unreliability Monitor

    27.01.2018

    Microsoft should rename Windows’ Reliability Monitor to Unreliability Monitor.
       This isn’t too unusual for Windows 10, is it?

       I’ve put Oracle Virtualbox and Cyberlink Power2Go back on, because it’s becoming more apparent that Windows 10 is incompatible with my hard drives in certain circumstances. It’s always when a drive (including a phone set up as a drive) is accessed that the system BSODs. It may also be a USB incompatibility. To be on the safe side, I have unplugged one of the two external drives I use.
       The Microsoft technician has finally given up and asked I do a clean install. As if I have the time—the last time I did that was on an Imac: it took days to get all the OS X updates and the software up and running again. Bwv848 at Bleeping Computer is, like me, determined. I’ll do a memtest (their latest suggestion) when I get a chance.
       Just another day using Windows 10 then.

    PS.: Since the post: as my settings window would not come up (another fault of Creators fall), I deleted everything out of C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe. That was solved. I also went to Intel to download SetupChipset.exe. Not saying these are solutions to the original cause, and I was largely away from the computer for Sunday. However, I have a real suspicion that, because the computer often BSODs when Explorer (or something relying up on it) is open, there are hard-drive drivers that are failing despite, according to Device Manager, being up to date. One of the modules regularly affected is ntdll.dll, something the Reliability Monitor revealed.—JY

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    Posted in technology, USA | 1 Comment »


    Another program rendered incompatible with Windows 10’s fall Creators update

    26.01.2018

    It’s fast becoming apparent that Windows 10’s fall Creators update is a lemon, just like the original Windows 10.
       As those of you who have followed my posts know, my PC began BSODing multiple times daily, on average. There were brief interludes (it went for three days without a BSOD once, and yesterday it only BSODed once) but these (now) anomalies don’t really diminish my ‘three to six per day’ claim I made earlier by much.
       And it’s all to do with drivers. I won’t repeat earlier posts but the result was that drivers that came with Mozy, McAfee, Malwarebytes and Oracle Virtualbox caused these. In Mozy’s case, it was an old one. Same with McAfee, the remnants of a program that even their removal tool could not take out. Malwarebytes didn’t even show up in the installed programs’ list, and required another program. In Virtualbox’s case, there were both old and new drivers. They all had to be removed, in most cases manually, because removal procedures don’t seem to take them out. This is a failing, I believe.
       But with all these drivers gone, I still had a BSOD this morning. Four before lunch. The culprit this time was a CLVirtualDrive.sys driver that came with Cyberlink Power2Go, which came bundled when I replaced by DVD burner last year.
       And Cyberlink knows something is wrong with this driver. On December 13, two days after I began getting BSODs, it issued a patch for its latest version. Of course, it leaves those of us with older versions in the lurch, and I was surprised to find that the one it had issued for mine (years old) wouldn’t even run because I was on a bundled OEM edition.
       I’m crying foul. If your program is causing BSODs, then I feel it’s your responsibility to help us out. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a trial version, because this is a window into your business. This signals that Cyberlink doesn’t really want to offer a simple download to prevent users from losing hours each day to fixing their computers, even when they’re partly to blame for the problems.
       Let me say this publicly now: if any of our fonts cause system crashes like this, contact me and I will provide you with fresh copies with which you can upgrade your computer.
       I’m removing Power2Go as I write. It’s superfluous anyway: I only use it because it came as part of the bundle. Windows’ default burning works well enough for me.
       But there’s one thing that Cyberlink’s pages have confirmed: the fall Creators update has problems and it seems to me that it is incompatible with many earlier Windows drivers. We can lay a lot of these problems at Microsoft’s feet. Indeed, based on my experience, you could go far as to say that Windows 10 is now incompatible with many Windows programs.
       That’s all well and good if you have a new computer and the latest software, but what of those of us with older ones who will, invariably, have older drivers or upgraded from older systems?
       Are we now reaching an era where computing is divided between the haves and have-nots? It’s not as though decent new computers at the shops have got any cheaper of late.

    Next part: click here.

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    Posted in technology, USA | 2 Comments »


    An accomplishment: debunking every single point in a Guardian article on Julian Assange

    25.01.2018


    Elekhh/Creative Commons

    Suzi Dawson’s 2016 post debunking a biased Guardian article on Julian Assange is quite an accomplishment. To quote her on Twitter, ‘The article I wrote debunking his crap was such toilet paper that I was able to disprove literally every single line of it, a never-before-achieved feat for me when debunking MSM smears. Check it out.’
       Here is a link to her post.
       I will quote one paragraph to whet your appetite, and you can read the rest of what I consider a reasoned piece at Contraspin. To date there have been no comments taking issue with what she wrote.

    To the contrary, other than solidarity from close friends and family, these people usually end up universally loathed. In the cases of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Bill Cosby, these men were protected for decades by the very establishment that they served. It took decades for their victims to raise awareness of what happened to them yet once they finally managed to achieve mainstream awareness, their attackers became reviled, etched in history as the monsters they are. The very speed and ferocity with which the Swedish (and other) governments targeted and persecuted Assange speaks volumes. Were he an actual everyday common rapist it is more likely than not that the police would have taken little to no action. Were he a high society predator, it would have taken decades for the public to become aware of it. But because he is neither, and is in fact a target of Empire, he was smeared internationally by the entire world’s media within 24 hours of the allegations and six years later is still fighting for the most basic acknowledgements of the facts – such as that he has still never been charged with any crime, which Ms Orr fails to mention even once in her entire piece.

       It’s important to keep an open mind on what we are being told—there are many false narratives out there, and neither left- nor right-wing media come to the table with clean hands.

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    Posted in culture, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA | No Comments »


    The last American Falcon

    25.01.2018

    I’m fascinated by the 1970½ Ford Falcon for a number of reasons. The first is the obvious one: rarity. This car was built for only half a model year, from January to August 1970. If you think it looks like a contemporary Torino, you’re right: it’s basically a very stripped-down Torino. Yet you could spec it with any of the engines from the Torino, including the 429 in³ V8 (and some did). Which brings me to the second reason: why would anyone really bother with it, if you could get a Torino for a bit more? (That answers why this car only lasted half a model year.) And that leads me to the third reason: what was going through Ford’s mind at the time? That’s where it gets interesting.
       At this time, Ford was undergoing managerial changes, with Henry Ford II firing Bunkie Knudsen (who had been lured away from GM). That happened in September 1969, by which time the decision to go ahead with the Falcon had already been made. This is, in other words, a Knudsen initiative.
       Federal regulations made the 1966–70 Falcon obsolete because it had a dash-mounted starter—the rule was that they had to be in the column. However, it’s curious that Ford made this call to put the Falcon nameplate on a mid-sizer, considering it had made its name as an ‘economy’ car (by US standards). If you read the brochure, you’ll find that this was all about size. Ford bragged that the car was 2 ft longer. Yet for this half-model year, it was still marketed as an ‘economy’ car.
       I imagine as the US headed into the 1970s, there was no sign of the fuel crisis on the horizon, so there was nothing wrong about size. Why not spoil the average Falcon buyer, used to a smaller car, with something much larger? Hadn’t upsizing already happened on every other model line out there—by this point the Mustang was about to grow into a monstrosity with massive C-pillars and terrible rear visibility?
       Ford (and the other Big Four makers) had been known to blow one model line up, then start another little one, and the Maverick had already been launched for 1970, and was now doing the compact work. By that logic, Falcon could grow more, even though other solutions might have been to either replace the Falcon with the Maverick or simply shift the Falcon nameplate to the Maverick—but both would have involved “downsizing”, and in 1970 that was not in the US car industry’s vocab. The panic hadn’t set in yet.
       Fourthly, this is a beautiful shape. Unnecessarily big (till you consider it had to accommodate the 429), but a beautiful shape. The 1970s hadn’t really started in earnest, so we hadn’t seen some of the really garish shapes that were to come. This has that 1960s classicism coupled with 1970s uncertainty. There’s still some optimism with jet-age inspiration, but the lack of practicality foreshadowed the style-first, single-digit mpg “road-hugging weight” cars that were round the corner, cars which no one truly needed but Detroit, in its optimism (or blindness), believed Americans did. There’s still something very honest about the last US Falcon. After this, only the Australians and Argentinians kept things alive, but those are other stories.

    Also published at Drivetribe.

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    Posted in business, cars, culture, design, interests, marketing, USA | No Comments »


    Does TPPA redux protect Big Tech?

    25.01.2018


    SumOfUs/Creative Commons

    Prof Jane Kelsey, in her critique of the still-secret Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (formerly the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement [TPPA]) notes in The Spinoff:

    The most crucial area of the TPPA that has not received enough attention is the novel chapter on electronic commerce—basically, a set of rules that will cement the oligopoly of Big Tech for the indefinite future, allowing them to hold data offshore subject to the privacy and security laws of the country hosting the server, or not to disclose source codes, preventing effective scrutiny of anti-competitive or discriminatory practices. Other rules say offshore service providers don’t need to have a presence inside the country, thus undermining tax, consumer protection and labour laws, and governments can’t require locally established firms to use local content or services.

       If this new government is as digitally illiterate as the previous one, then we are in some serious trouble.
       I’m all for free trade but not at the expense of my own country’s interests, or at the expense of real competition, and the Green Party’s position (I assume in part operating out of caution due to the opaqueness of the negotiations) is understandable.
       Protecting a partly corrupt oligopoly is dangerous territory in a century that will rely more heavily on digital commerce.
       While there may be some valid IP reasons to protect source code, these need to be revealed in legal proceedings if it came to that—and one hopes there are provisions for dispute settlement that can lift the veil. But we don’t really know just how revised those dispute settlement procedures are. Let’s hope that Labour’s earlier stated position on this will hold.
       Google has already found itself in trouble for anticompetitive and discriminatory practices in Europe, and if observations over the last decade count for anything, it’s that they’ll stop at nothing to try it on. Are we giving them a free ride now?
       Despite Prof Kelsey’s concerns, I can accept that parties need not have a presence within a nation or be compelled to use local content or services. But the level of tax avoidance exhibited by Google, Facebook, Apple et al is staggering, and one hopes that our new government won’t bend over quite as easily. (While I realize the US isn’t part of this agreement, remember that big firms have subsidiaries in signatory countries through which they operate, and earlier trade agreements have shown just how they have taken on governments.)
       She claims that the technology minister, the Hon Clare Curran, has no information on the ecommerce chapter’s analysis—and if she doesn’t have it, then what are we signing up to?
       However, Labour’s inability to be transparent—something they criticized the previous government on—is a weak point after a generally favourable start to 2018. The Leader of the Opposition is right to call the government out on this when his comment was sought: basically, they were tough on us when we were in government, so we hope they’ll live up to their own standards. Right now, it doesn’t look like it. I suspect Kelsey is now the National Party fan’s best friend after being vilified for years. Bit like when Nicky Hager (whom one very respected MP in the last Labour government called a right-wing conspiracy theorist) wrote Seeds of Distrust.
       And the solutions that Kelsey proposes are so simple and elegant that it’s daft they weren’t followed, since they are consistent with the Labour brand. I know, trade agreements can stay confidential at this stage and this isn’t unprecedented. But that’s not what Labour said it wanted. At least these suggestions would have shown some consistency with Labour’s previous positions, and given some assurance that it’s in charge.

    What should a Labour-led government have done differently? First, it should have commissioned the revised independent economic assessment and health impact analyses it called for in opposition. Second, it should have shown a political backbone, like the Canadian government that also inherited the deal. Canada played hardball and successful demanded side-letters to alter its obligations relating to investment and auto-parts. Not great, but something. New Zealand should have demanded similar side-letters excluding it from ISDS as a pre-requisite for continued participation. Third, it should have sought the suspension of the UPOV 1991 obligation, which has serious Treaty implications, and engaged with Māori to strengthen the Treaty of Waitangi exception, as the Waitangi Tribunal advised. Fourth, it should have withdrawn its agreement to the secrecy pact.

       I once joked that National and Labour were basically the same, plus or minus 10 per cent. On days like this, I wonder if I was right.

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    Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, politics, technology | 1 Comment »


    Twitter’s shadow-banning: not just in the US, as Kiwis get caught up, too

    21.01.2018


    Anthony Quintano/Creative Commons

    We’ve had years of Google and Facebook acting like arses, but it’s disappointing to see Twitter give us more and more causes for concern.
       In 2017, we saw them change their terms and conditions so speaking power to truth is no longer a requirement. You can’t help but think that the decision to accommodate the US president is part of that: there is a policy within Twitter that President Trump is immune to their terms and conditions, and can Tweet with impunity what you and I would get kicked off for doing. We also saw Twitter, which is scrambling to show the US government that it is doing something about alleged Russian interference, kick off a privately developed bot that helped identify fake accounts. You’d think that if Twitter were sincere about identifying fake accounts, it would embrace such technology.
       One of my regular blog readers, Karen Tolfree, very kindly linked me a report from Hannity (which another friend later informed me was first revealed on Breitbart) which showed Twitter staff caught on video admitting to shadow-banning either because they disagreed with the user’s politics (with an admission that Twitter is 90 per cent US Democrat-leaning) or because of US government pressure (when discussing Julian Assange’s account).
       What was the old saying? I might not always agree with your politics but I will always defend to the hilt your right to express your views.
       Therefore, I mightn’t be President Trump’s biggest fan but those who support him, and do so within the same rules that I’m governed by on Twitter (e.g. not resorting to hate speech or attacking any individual or group), must have the same right to free speech as I should.
       I do not wish them to be silenced because many of them have good reasons for their beliefs, and if I don’t see them in my feed then how will I understand them? I don’t wish to live in a bubble (meanwhile, Facebook and Google want you to; Facebook’s “crowdsourcing” its ranking of media sources is going to make things far worse—have a look at Duck Duck Go founder Gabriel Weinberg’s series of Tweets at the end of this post).
       Because you never know if Twitter’s shadow-banning is going to go after you, since, like Facebook’s false malware accusations, they could be indiscriminate.
       In fact, two New Zealanders were shadow-banned over the last week: one with stated left-leaning views (Paul Le Comte), another (Cate Owen) who hasn’t put her political leanings into her bio, and who was shadow-banned for reasons unknown. It’s not just conservatives these guys go after, and neither was told just which Tweet netted them this “punishment”.
       I think it’s generally agreed that we have passed peak Twitter just as we have passed peak Facebook, but as it’s one of the original, mid-2000s social media services I still use, I’m disappointed that I can’t feel as happy being on there as I once did. After all, our presence is effectively our endorsement, and do we really endorse this sort of censorship against people because of either their politics, governmental pressure or reasons unknown? Twitter paints itself as a place where we can speak freely, provided we do so within certain rules, and the dick moves over the last 12 months make me wonder if it’s heading in the same direction as Google (tax-avoiding, hacking, lying about advertising tracking, allegedly pressuring think-tanks to fire someone over their viewpoints, biasing results in its own favour) and Facebook (forced downloads using the excuse of malware detection, kicking off drag queens and kings, tracking people after they have opted out, potential database issues that kick people off for days, endless bots and general ineffectiveness in removing them, lying about user numbers). Twitter always had bots and trolls, but we’re seeing what goes on inside nowadays, and it ain’t pretty.
       In 2018, we know Twitter is not a place for free speech, where rules apply differently depending on who you are, and where the identification of bots is not a priority.
       And even though we’ve had some happy news already this year (e.g. the prospect of Baby Clarcinda in five months’ time), these influential websites, whose actions and policies do affect us all, are “doing it all wrong”.

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    Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


    Mozy driver could have been behind 100–200 BSODs since the Windows 10 Creators fall update was installed

    17.01.2018

    A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan) on

    Two very helpful people—bwv848 at Bleeping Computer and Sumit Dhiman at Microsoft—have taken me through the steps to figure out what was going on with my Windows 10 desktop computer, on which I’ve had between 100 and 200 BSODs since the Windows 10 Creators fall update arrived.
       Windows claimed that the error was a DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL in tcpip.sys, but we know that that wasn’t the cause of the crash.
       They had both got to the point where the Driver Verifier had to be run again. On the first attempt, the process had identified an Avira driver, although after removing and reinstalling the anti-virus program, the crashes continued. I had found other dodgy things in the Event Viewer, but solving them didn’t get rid of the BSODs.
       Now that I’m back from holiday—and with Windows 10 crashing one more time and costing me more work that hadn’t been backed up—I gave Driver Verifier one more go.
       I had been averse to it because of the crashes that resulted from it, and had a sense it would tell me the same thing it had in December.
       True to form, Windows wouldn’t even load and it BSODed during the boot. But this time, running Windbg on the dump file revealed something called mobk.sys (Mozy Change Monitor Filter Driver), part of a program called Mozy.
       I’ve never heard of Mozy, but it appears to be a back-up program. Checking my driver, it dates from April 2010 and was installed in 2012—around the time I bought the computer.
       It could well have been installed by me as part of a bundle, or by PB (the retailer).
       Mozy wasn’t helpful. They have a forum, but when you sign up to use it, you get to a page where they want to charge you US$109 for one of their plans. Personally, if I was making software, I’d want reports from people like me. It’s not as though the question was complex: I wanted to know if it made sense to delete the offending driver in safe mode, or maybe download a trial version of their program, then remove it, in the hope that the driver would be overwritten and deleted. It’s only been a couple of hours since I Tweeted them, so I don’t expect any replies till tomorrow.
       Rather than wait, I popped into safe mode and deleted mobk.sys from the system32\drivers folder.
       These errors are deeply frustrating and in direct contrast to the stability that my Imacs have exhibited. Even though I’ve tired of OS X, at least I wasn’t losing work because of three to six BSODs per day.
       The advice I can give to others is to create a system restore point, then run the Driver Verifier, and repeat the two processes until a culprit has been identified.
       There are a few silver linings to this: I got rid of certain software which might have been insecure, and the random resets were quite handy in “clearing” the PC sometimes when I was doing work on it remotely.
       I wonder what had changed in Windows between the spring and fall Creators updates that generated this very serious problem. I haven’t seen Windows crash this often since a dying laptop, on Vista, needed a fresh OS installation (it now runs Ubuntu). I’m still of the mind that Microsoft shipped a lemon, given that I’ve had no end of problems with this OS since it launched, from inconsistent behaviour (Windows 10 would originally be different each time it booted up, from Cortana settings to which keyboard it believed I was using), to very difficult updates (Anniversary took 11 attempts on this PC and never made it on to my laptop even after 40 attempts; it only updated to Creators because all other updates would fail).
       While I can understand that there was no way either Mozy or Microsoft could have checked on a 2010 driver for compatibility, and there are so many configurations of Windows out there, there’s still no escaping that Windows 10 could have shipped with fewer bugs. Happily, as it turned out, the troubleshooting procedures may have worked, even if things wound up taking a month.
       I’ll blog again if I’m wrong about Mozy.

    PS. (January 18): After 24-plus hours with no crashes, I got another one, with the same message. Following my own advice, I ran the driver verifier again. Windbg pointed this time to Oracle Virtualbox. I intentionally ran an older version of this because since 2015, no newer version would work due to its hardening feature. Faced with no choice but to update, it had the same error which, finally, I traced to Mactype. This was the error, for those searching:

    The virtual machine ‘Windows XP’ has terminated unexpectedly during startup with exit code -1073741819 (0xc0000005). More details may be available in ‘C:\Users\User\VirtualBox VMs\Windows XP\Logs\VBoxHardening.log’.

    Result Code:
    E_FAIL (0x80004005)
    Component:
    MachineWrap
    Interface:
    IMachine {85cd948e-a71f-4289-281e-0ca7ad48cd89}

    The key is to insert these three lines into Mactype.ini:

    [UnloadDll]
    VirtualBox.exe
    VBoxSvc.exe

       The error also picked up that there were McAfee drivers left behind from what should have been a full removal. I ran mcpr.exe, found in a thread with the ever-helpful Peter (Exbrit on the McAfee forums). Mcpr.exe did not remove the three drivers, so I took them out manually (despite this going against expert advice): mfeclnrk.sys, mfencbdc.sys and mfencrk.sys. There was also a driver from Malwarebytes, which I downloaded after expert advice in the wake of the damage done by Facebook and its forced download in 2016. Malwarebytes had to be removed with a program called mb-clean as it didn’t show up in the Windows 10 programs’ list.
       One important point: when the system restored itself after the latest crash, it appeared the old mobk.sys reinstalled itself into system32\drivers. I removed it again in safe mode. I’ve since created multiple restore points so hopefully none of the now-removed drivers resurface to cause problems again.
       I am very happy that I’m running the latest Virtualbox, too, since posting in 2015 resulted in no solid leads. It’s why I’m posting all of this stuff, in the hope others find it useful.—JY

    P.PS. (January 22): No crashes for three days, I update both the Microsoft and Bleeping Computer threads with the good news, and within nine minutes, bam! Oracle VM Virtualbox is to blame again, if the driver verifier is accurate. That was yesterday. Today, I attempted to remove the program from the Windows Control Panel. Merely removing it caused three BSODs for three attempts, literally within minutes of each other. I booted into safe mode once, tried to remove it (I couldn’t), then back to the regular mode. I was then able to remove Virtualbox. I have since reinstalled it—let’s see what happens next.—JY

    P.P.PS. (January 23): Two BSODs this afternoon, still so very disappointed software is this unreliable today. Removing a networking driver from Virtualbox has made no difference. Same error as before. I haven’t re-run driver verifier, but I have now updated MacType to the latest version and double-checked the ini file changes are still there.—JY

    P.P.P.PS. (January 24): MacType update did nothing. Bwv848 recommends removing Oracle Virtualbox altogether. I may have to do that, and reinstall it only when I need it, and see what happens. Sumit at Microsoft has given up for the time being.—JY

    P.P.P.P.PS. (January 25): After one more crash despite some tweaking of the power options last night, I removed Oracle Virtualbox this morning. There were five remaining drivers that removal did not address, two from the latest version (VBoxNetAdp6.sys and VBoxNetLwf.sys) and three from the old one (VBoxNetAdp.sys, VBoxNetFlt.sys and VBoxUSB.sys). I manually removed them. No crashes since, though I will be interested to know if reinstalling, without any of the old drivers present, will make a difference.—JY

    P.P.P.P.P.PS. (January 26): Got to its first crash by 11.45 a.m. Driver verifier now blames CLVirtualDrive.sys. Found one user on Virtualbox’s forum who had the DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL crash but the mod doesn’t like me helping out (very protective people, who don’t like their favourite software criticized). A system restore saw Oracle Virtualbox return, even though I made a restore point long after I deleted it. Let’s see what CLVirtualDrive.sys is. Four BSODs before noon. Man from Mozy got back to me—the first contact other than on Twitter—because they wound up spamming me and never responded to my original support question. Amazing how a few events—including Facebook’s forced download in 2016—have directly led to this time-wasting point in 2018.—JY

    Enough postscripts. The next episode of the saga is here.

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    Posted in technology, USA | 3 Comments »


    Zuckerberg wants to fix Facebook: too little, too late

    14.01.2018


    WTF: welcome to Facebook. (Creative Commons photograph.)

    Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to fix Facebook in 2018 is, in my opinion, too little, too late.
       However, since I ceased updating my Facebook profile last month, I’ve come across many people who tell me the only reason they stay on it is to keep in touch with family and friends, so Zuckerberg’s intention to refocus his site on that is the right thing to do. He’s also right to admit that Facebook has made ‘errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.’
       Interestingly, Facebook’s stock has fallen since his announcement, wiping milliards off Zuckerberg’s own fortune. Investors are likely nervous that this refocusing will hurt brands who pay to advertise on the platform, who might now reconsider using it. It’s a decidedly short-term outlook based on short-term memory, but that’s Wall Street for you. Come to think of it, that’s humanity for you.
       But let’s look at this a bit more dispassionately. Despite my no longer updating Facebook, I’m continuing to get a lot of friend requests. And those requests are coming from bots. Facebook hasn’t fixed its bot problem—far from it. This reached epidemic levels in 2014, and it’s continued in 2018—four years and one US presidential election later. As discussed earlier on this blog, Facebook has been found to have lied about user numbers: it claims more people in certain demographics than there are people. If its stock was to fall, that should have done it. But nothing happened: investors are keen to maintain delusions if it helps their interests. But it needs to be fixed.
       If Zuckerberg is sincere, Facebook also needs to fix its endless databasing issues and to come clean on its bogus malware warnings, forcing people to download “scanners” that are hidden on their computers. This should have hit the tech media but no one seems to have the guts to report on it. That’s not a huge deal, I suppose, since it has meant tens of thousands have come to my blog instead, but again, that was a big red flag that, if reported, should have had investors worried. And that needs to be fixed.
       Others I’ve discussed this with inform me that Facebook needs to do a far better job of removing porn, including kiddie porn, and if it weren’t for a lot of pressure, it tends to leave bullying and sexist comments up as well.
       All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.
       But the notion that businesses will suddenly desert Facebook is an interesting one to me, because, frankly, Facebook has been a lousy referrer of traffic, and has been for years. We have little financial incentive to remain on the site for some of our ventures.
       Those of us with functioning memories will remember when Facebook killed the sharing from our fan pages by 90 per cent overnight some years ago. The aim was to get us to pay for sharing, and for many businesses, that worked.
       But it meant users who wanted to hear from these brands no longer did, and I believe that’s where the one of the first declines began.
       People support brands for many reasons but I’m willing to bet that their respective advertising budgets isn’t one of them. They follow them for their values and what they represent. Or they follow them for their products and services. Those who couldn’t afford to advertise, or opted to spend outside social media, lost a link with those users. And I believe users lost one of their reasons for remaining on Facebook, because their favourite brands were no longer showing up in their news feeds.
       (Instagram, incidentally, has the opposite problem: thanks to Facebook’s suspect profiling, users are being bombarded with promotions from companies they are not fans of; Instagram’s claim that they rely on Facebook’s ad preferences, and Facebook’s claim that you can opt out of these, are also highly questionable. I get that people should be shown ads from companies they could become fans of; but why annoy them to this extent? Instagram also tracks the IP where you are surfing from, and ignores the geographical location you freely give either Instagram or Facebook for advertising purposes.)
       What then surfaced in news feeds? Since Facebook became Digg, namely a repository of links (something I also said many years ago, long before the term ‘fake news’ was coined), feeds became littered with news articles (real and bogus) and people began to be “bubbled”, seeing things that supported their own world-views, because Facebook’s profiling sent those things to them. As T. S. Eliot once wrote, ‘Nothing pleases people more than to go on thinking what they have always thought, and at the same time imagine that they are thinking something new and daring: it combines the advantage of security and the delight of adventure.’
       This, as Facebook has discovered, was dangerous to democracy and entire groups—people have died because of it—and thinking people questioned whether there was much value staying on the site.
       From memory, and speaking for myself, Facebook probably had the balance of personal, brand and news right in 2010.
       But I doubt that even if Facebook were to go back to something like the turn of the decade, it will entice me back. It’s a thing of the past, something that might have been fun once, like Myspace. It didn’t take long to wean me off that.
       Even Zuckerberg notes that technology should decentralize and democratize, and that big tech has failed people on this front. I can foresee an attempt to decentralize Facebook, but with a caveat: they’ll want to continue gathering data on us as part of the deal. It’ll be an interesting gamble to take, unless it’s willing to give up its biggest asset: its claim to understanding individual profiles, even if many of its accounts aren’t human.
       To me, the brand is tarnished. Every measure we have at Medinge Group suggests to me Facebook is a poor corporate citizen, and it’s going to take not just a turnaround in database stability or the enforcement of T&Cs, but a whole reconsideration of its raison d’être to serve the masses. Honesty and transparency can save it—two things that I haven’t seen Facebook exhibit much of in the 10-plus years I have used it.

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    Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 12 Comments »


    It took a little longer, but Autocade reaches 12 million views

    03.01.2018

    It’s a little disappointing to note that Autocade has taken slightly longer to reach 12 million page views: it ticked over to its new milestone earlier today. I really had hoped that we’d get there before 2017 was out, but it was not to be.
       Part of it might have been the slower rate of models being put up—life’s been busy, and a site that earns a fairly small amount of money compared to our other businesses doesn’t warrant as much time. But 100 models have gone up since June 2017, when Autocade reached its 11 million milestone, with the 3,600th model the Nissan Rasheen (and no, I didn’t plan this one—it’s quite an oddball vehicle).
       So here’s the running tally as I’ve been keeping on this blog, for really no reason other than pedantry.

    March 2008: launch
    April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
    March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
    May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
    January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
    September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
    May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
    October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
    March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
    August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
    February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
    June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
    January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)

       It’s a shame that the four-month time-frame needed to reach 11 million could be an anomaly rather than part of a trend.
       I also wonder whether the odd PHP error—we have had quite a few since we began hosting at AWS—has impacted on search-engine rankings. However, server management has become far, far more complex over the last couple of decades, and the controls I see at AWS mean nothing to me as someone outside the computing industry. The help pages may as well be in Serbian. The notion that software gets easier to use and the expectation that this level of computing would become democratized have not come to pass, certainly not over the last 10 years. It seems the industry wants to sew things up for itself, and the last thing needed are amateurs like me getting into the nuts and bolts. I’m not Facebook or Google: I can’t afford heaps of employees to look after this stuff. (Or, in Google’s case, maybe a couple here and there.)
       Incidentally, I may begin removing the sharing links under each headline soon. I’m concerned about the standard Facebook ‘like’ button tracking readers, and there are Po.st links under ‘Share this page’ to the top left of this page (if browsing via desktop) if you want to show Facebook friends something from here. Po.st does have its own cookies (linked to a company called Radium One), but it’s far easier to opt out of those through their site. I’m unconvinced that anyone can opt out of Facebook’s data collection.

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    Posted in cars, culture, design, internet, publishing, USA | No Comments »