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Saturday, April 18th, 2015, 9:23 am

Argos Uses GNU/Linux, Windows Leads Only to Malware

200px-Argos.svg

ARGOS, the British retailer which according to Wikipedia employs over 50,000 people, seems to have moved many of its well-integrated systems (online and in-store) to a new platform not too long ago. We’re frequent customers, so sometimes we see downtimes and issues which reveal details about the back end. There is something we can report today.

Yesterday at Argos there was a malfunction at the terminal (thin client with IBM touchscreens as the only user-facing part) and it uses GNU/Linux, as one can easily tell. Argos seems to be using Fedora (an old version likely) based on the window decorations, probably with GNOME/GTK. For 50,000+ staff plus millions of customers that would be a lot terminals running GNU/Linux.

Argos recently changed the terminal systems/front end (not to my liking, as I liked the old interface better). The crash yesterday resulted in an error message showing Opera (proprietary Web browser), so presumably that is what they are using on top of GNU/Linux. Odd choice of browser, but that’s what they want….

Last year we reported that another British giant, Ryman (smaller than Argos, but still a highstreet chain), had moved to GNU/Linux. They told me that had dumped it due to Windows malware.

Incidentally, a friend who goes by the name iophk (for anonymity), shared this link with me yesterday. “Windows should not be on PoS or anything else mission-critical,” iophk wrote. Well, based on Ryman and Argos turning to GNU/Linux, many large stores gradually learn this. My current employer moved Specsavers (British giant) to Free software in the server room a long time ago, about a decade ago.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015, 7:41 pm

Why I Believe British Police Serves and Protects Only Itself (and Maybe the Rich/Powerful)

Manchester Police

EVERY adult person will sooner or later (quite inevitably in today’s world) have an encounter with the police, either as a reporter of a crime, a victim of some crime, or an accused party. This is another rant about the police, but it isn’t just about police violence, which unless caught on tape is typically being justified (I wrote about it before) and defended by the powerful media establishment. It’s too easy to pick on the police, including Greater Manchester Police (which this post is all about), based only on sheer aggression and misuse of force. These people are tough — even too tough — perhaps because they live in a tough world and witness/confront a lot of very tough people, so it’s no wonder they often take it all out on the weak and innocent bystanders — those who want no problems with the police, let alone violate any particular law. Outbursts of violence often come from those who were themselves victims of violence — people who experience a lot of fear and pain as children, at work, and so on. There’s a reason why so many British cops (not just British) kill their wives and it’s not because their wives ask for it.

I was never accused of anything by the police or even reported to the police (I am very law-abiding), but I did report incidents to the police (on behalf on myself and others, either family or complete strangers), I provided testimonies, and I was also a victim of crime. Not even once did the police really help. I can barely say that I’m thankful for anything, not even any encouraging words (some cops were nicer than others, but words and attitudes don’t solve crimes).

Here are half a dozen memorable examples, spanning a period of time no longer than a decade (the first one being 2006 when I was foolish enough to provide a report into violence I had witnessed in the streets).

DDOS attacks

In 2008 or thereabouts my site came under a massive DDOS attack which rendered the site complete inaccessible for several days. The webhost couldn’t take it, there was nothing I can do (I were effectively censored), my sysadmin skills did not help, and the only thing I could do after days of downtime was contact the police (as a non-emergency report through a non-emergencies contact number). The conversions, which I mentioned several times online, were long and unproductive. It didn’t go anywhere. The police didn’t know what DDOS even meant, let alone offered any remedial action, a contact I could use to pursue this further, etc.

I never even bothered phoning again, not even when my sites came under more DDOS attacks in the following few years (the last time being last year).

Attempted break-in

At around 2AM in the morning someone tried to open my flat’s door. That someone first tested to see if someone was inside. I never found out how the person got inside the well-guarded (by two levels of doors with electronic keys to each), but eventually he opened by flat’s door and showed up at the doorstep. It was a guy who spoke nonsense, looked seemingly drunk or stoned and repeatedly groaned “help me!”

I shouted at him to leave, which after about a minute he finally did (he just stood there for a while, staring as though he was not sober, until I stepped towards him with assertive requests that he exits). I locked the door, at which point he started banging on it, whereupon I phoned the police (because of the banging).

What did the police do? It phoned me back quite a while later (maybe an hour later) to check everything was OK. It didn’t even try to catch the guy who could meanwhile move to another target (a different flat). I guess it would be different if I was “Sir” or “Duke”; the police reacts differently to different reporters.

It was 2 years ago that I phoned the police because of this dodgy guy who was trying to enter my house, I assume or presume in order to rob me or something (my friends said he could also try to rape someone, perhaps an unwitting female). This was the last time that I really bothered phoning the police about such incidents. The next incidents near the flat I only reported to the neighbour’s landlord (by SMS) and later to the management of the building (RMG). Those too were fruitless, despite access to CCTV etc. More on those incidents below…

Man beaten up in the street by a gang

The first real encounter that I had with Greater Manchester Police was in 2006. I gave testimony to the police because I was the closest person to the incident (at the time). I saw nobody else providing a testimony and I as a not-so-faraway bystander could accurately describe the perpetrators and what they had been up to in the street minutes before hand. I wrote about it in USENET at the time (also in this blog). I’ll never forget what happened. I saw three guys smashing a poor skinny lad, probably because he was Irish (based on what was later discussed), to the point where he lost consciousness and was just laying there motionless. He thanked me later when we spoke to the police and to give some credit to the police, they handled me politely and took a lot of notes for quite some time.

The problem was this; the police dropped me off (I gave testimony from within the police van for my own protection) near the scene of the crime, where I believe I then saw once again one of the perpetrators (there were several of them who soon dispersed and the police never caught all of them), who could easily follow me to my nearby house (I looked behind myself like a paranoid). I didn’t feel safe for several days to come, thinking I may have been an attractive revenge target for my testimony (the guy could probably just assault me right there at the street, if not just follow me). I phoned angrily to make a complaint to the police, but a nearby guard (non-police, just security at my home) strongly discouraged me, persuading me away from taking this any further, saying they would try to frame me for libel or some other abuse in order to cover their own behinds. I did eventually give up on this, following this guard’s advice (he knew the police here better than I did).

A few years later I witnessed a similar incidents at almost exactly the same place. I saw many guys attacking one guy at the telephone booth where he was trying to hide from them or maybe even phone the cops. I was there almost alone and the guy asked for help. Having already encountered that bittering experience in 2006 I did not report it to the police or get involved. Hopefully that latter guy was OK; I watched for a whole to check that they didn’t slaughter him or something. Later on I started seeing dedicated and well-shielded (at the chest) cops attending that area even in daytime (the first incident I saw was later at night, the other around noon), so presumably the police had by that stage recognised there was a violence issue there. One can perhaps save another person from one thug, but not a whole gang of them (even if they have no weapons), so the least one can do in these circumstances is provide the police with concise information.

Online scam

A relative on mine in the UK got scammed by a man in Africa, or a group of men working together within some kind of network/syndicate. It’s like she lost an entire house to them over the course of nearly one year and finally I got her to report it in December 2013. It has already begun a cyclic scam, almost like a racket. I spoke to the police on her behalf several times because she was shellshocked and terrified; it affected her health, her speech, her marriage, her entire life basically…

The police didn’t do anything (only promises and redirection) and at first even refused to visit the terrified victim, which was rightly (and rationally) afraid for her safety after she had reported the perpetrators to the police with my help (they knew were she lived, and some were seemingly based in the UK or other parts of Europe as well, based on evidence she had).

At the very end there was a cop kind enough to visit my relative and give her advice that would help protect her. He did not, however, try to resolve the crime. When I asked him why the police could not use GCHQ data to track down the perpetrators (I was partly joking, as Snowden’s leaks were having the biggest impact at that time, back in early 2014) he said that it cannot be used for such cases.

All in all, my relative saw none of the money had she lost. She now has to work for many years to pay back debt. The syndicate gets to keep all the money and move on to more victims. Well done, police! It’s worth noting that this is the only case where Yorkshire Police, not Greater Manchester Police, was involved. It actually did better than Greater Manchester Police in some sense. It was kinder and it at least tried to do some things right. It just wasn’t effective at all. Police is supposed to solve crimes, not merely provide mental support.

Domestic violence

My neighbour across the hall (not a friend at all, we never socialised) abused his girlfriend. One day he allegedly punched her. She screamed, but I wasn’t sure what had happened until she left the house and made a noise, saying he had punched her. A neighbour seemingly called the police about it, whereas I just sent an SMS to the neighbour’s landlord (I had spoke to that landlord before, but never to the neighbour, whom I find a little menacing). Why did I not phone the police like I presume my neighbours did (because the police later showed up)? See the above experiences. This later incident was in 2013. By this stage I lost faith in the police.

The police later knocked on my door, I suppose for me to provide with some testimony (like things I heard from across the fall). I didn’t even answer the door as I don’t wish to be used as a witness against a violent neighbour. There’s a lot of risk in being a police tool against a person next door. Weeks later I got mail delivered to my box (by accident). It was intended to go to the neighbour, but the postman made an error. In the envelope I saw a letter from Greater Manchester Police, whereupon I understood what happened, the impact/severity, etc. It wasn’t long thereafter that this neighbour left (or was evicted). The landlord’s daughter and her boyfriend moved in. They were a lovely couple which my wife and I got along with. But it wasn’t the end of abuse in that same building, which we have since then left. See below.

Intrusion and (nearly) assault

In that same building, one of the Three Towers, there were other negative experiences, including one that affected my wife and left her somewhat terrified. The details are all in this older post. The neighbour above us was thankfully at the scene at the time and he protected my wife. She still remembers this. It was last brought up 2 days ago even though the incident is about a year old.

I did not even bother reporting this to the police, having gone through all the above experiences to no avail. The police wouldn’t have helped; neither did RMG. It’s all useless. Maybe they’ll care only when someone dies. They must be busy protecting precious copyrights of rich people or finding people who smoke joints in the streets. If the goal of CCTV (there was footage in this case) is to prevent, deter or solve cases of violence, then this was a great example of this ideology’s profound flaws and severe failings.

Stolen bicycle

Two years ago, in a post titled “CCTV Not Effective”, I already wrote about this incident. Not much has happened since. Greater Manchester Police doesn’t have time to deal with theft. They phoned me weeks later just to say it’s unlikely they’ll find anything. Hours of phonecalls, reports etc. were basically a waste of time. There was hardly any use to reporting the incident in the first place.

Concluding

There are no other experiences that I can recall involving the police, probably because these were very minor and I have since then dodged any interaction with the police. People say that once you are known to the police (for good or bad) they can frame you for just about anything and cause you trouble if they don’t like you (unlike the intelligence community, cope can easily resort to violence and find/manufacture ways to justify this later), so it’s generally a good idea to always stay below these thugs’ radar, outside their scope of interest. To me, based on my experiences, this advice rings true.

Can we generalise all this to Manchester’s police force or to British police? Well, given the increasing size of the statistical sample above (so far nearly 10 incidents), it does seem like there’s a pattern and that pattern indicates that the police either won’t help or will just use the sources (witnesses) like tissue paper.

Sunday, April 12th, 2015, 12:47 pm

How to Block Facebook and Stop the Most Creepy Type of Spying

Facebook is facing a massive class action lawsuit in Europe right now. Facebook is indeed very unique when it comes to mass surveillance because the intrusive spying (data collected) is being shared among private companies. Facebook is a malicious network which spies on everyone, not only people who are registered with Facebook, and then sells this data to various different companies; it does not only share it with government spies. In order to protect oneself from Facebook’s wide-reaching privacy-infringing data-sharing (e.g. sharing of one’s browsing history and ID with advertising giants and even worse vultures) one must block all Facebook domains and IP addresses. In Debian/Ubuntu systems this can be achieved in the following way:


$ host www.facebook.com
$ whois -h whois.radb.net 31.13.91.2  | awk '$1=="origin:" { print $2 }'
$ whois -h whois.radb.net '!gAS32934' | tr ' ' '\n' > /tmp/fb
$ sort -n -k1,1 -k2,2 -k3,3 -k4,4 /tmp/fb > /tmp/fb2
$ for net in $(grep '^[[:digit:]]' /tmp/fb2); do sudo ufw --dry-run \
  reject out to $net;done

Or modify for direct use of iptables on OpenWRT.

Remove --dry-run to make it work on systems that use UFW. For plain iptables, one needs to use a different line but then need some additional tricks unique to each distro to make the settings persistent across reboots.

“I put up something a while back on HowToForge about this,” said the source of the above script/comamnds, “but it always needs new coverage. I usually do the same for Microsoft networks, too.

“People with decent router hardware but still with stock firmware should be nudged to OpenWRT.”

Saturday, April 11th, 2015, 7:49 am

Mike Coogan Winning European 400m Championship

Friday, March 27th, 2015, 7:39 pm

Singapore is Not a Success Story

Against the myth and against lionisation of autocrats like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia or Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore

Last week the so-called founder of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, died. He did not build Singapore, it was workers (usually foreigners) who built Singapore, but he liked taking credit for everything, not just controlling everyone. He was somewhat of a tyrant, but nobody is allowed to say it. It’s not politically-correct to say it in the West and it is dangerous to say it if you live in Singapore, where trigger-happy censorship is common and people can be ‘disappeared’. Even in his so-called ‘retirement’, despite not being elected, Lee Kuan Yew continued to manage everything (albeit behind the scenes).

I have written dozens of things (maybe between 50 to 100 tweets for example) in various places online in an effort to debunk the myth, especially when the myth expanded upon the death of the founder. This baffled some who did not understand why I was chastising a country that I had only just returned from.

More than 2 years ago I spent a lot of time studying Singapore. I spent many hours in Google StreetView, Google Maps, etc. and I inquired about houses there (crazy prices) and routinely spoke to my sister in law who lives there. Later on I found some blogs which explained to me more about the hidden side of Singapore and then I learned the breaking story of Shane Todd with much interest. It seems likely that he was ‘suicided’. Since there is no free press in Singapore, don’t expect Singaporeans to know much about it (or to know the important facts about it).

Singapore, as it turns out, is somewhat of a sham. I saw the negative things when I was there; poverty, exploitation, you name it…

Singapore is not the success story that Western leaders try to tell us about as means of selling autocracy (decisions from above without consent). They want to justify autocracy in Western nations (it’s already happening under the auspices of corporations). Singapore is in many ways a failure with pressured children (low birth rates and super-high expectations) who turn suicidal rather early (like in South Korea or Japan) and it puts a deceiving face to the outside world by means of oppressive censorship (gagging or misinforming outsiders). Singapore has a high level of investment (maybe even debt) in a tourism ‘ghetto’ which it still invests a lot of money in. The priority is image, not happiness.

My wife and I stepped outside this tourism ‘ghetto’ in an effort to study the real Singapore — the one that anonymous blogs (afraid of their regime) write about. We saw unpleasant things and should have taken more photos to document them (but didn’t). People work hard in physical jobs at a very old age (maybe over 80), people sleeping on the floor, an enforcer with a Star Wars-inspired stick telling me not to eat peanuts outside the train… those are not the images Singapore wants you to see. But that’s Singapore; rock the boat a little or step out of the boundaries and you will see it.

Strictness over location of hotels in Singapore helps one understand how the founder of the country helps control the image so as to show all tourists only the ‘Disneyland’ but not slums. All hotels in Singapore (plenty of them) are mapped below, buffered by fancy malls, banks, and shallow entertainment for those who love consumerism.

singapore-hotels

Don’t fall for the myth of Singapore; sure, it’s nicer than China (never mind the vast wealth gap between rich and poor), but it is built by foreign ‘slaves’ (foreign workers who are not even protected by minimum wage laws and suffer from deadly, lax safety regulations) and it is even somewhat of a hellhole to many of the local residents who have Singaporean nationality and are forced to joint the Army (Singapore does a good job hiding its weapons apparatus, including that which exported poisons to Iraq). A lot of this military aspect of Singapore turned its business/industry into borderline inhumane, much like in Israel, which is also tiny and surrounded by hostile nations.

Maybe there are those who seek to justify oppressive authority in Singapore. But please, don’t use the ‘Singapore model’ to sell us the Singapore-inspired autocracy here in the West. The same can be said about Saudi Arabia, but that’s slightly older news (Abdullah’s death), except if we consider how it uses US-exported weapons to bomb the Hell out of Yemen right now.

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015, 8:46 pm

Better Late Than Never? Home Office Waits Half a Year to Comply With Records Request

home-office-1

TODAY I begin a series which I was eager to start a long time ago but did not because there was a pending case. I decided to split it into many parts so as to highlight many different ordeals and mistreatments.

What heralds the beginning of this series is the document head shown above. It was sent to us only days ago, more than 6 months after we had requested information as per the law permits us (British law is generally fairly good when it comes to information disclosures in the public sector).

There is a stamp at the very top, stating August. That was 6 months ago.

In this post we wish to highlight the following points:

  • The papers, which weigh at 166 pages, were necessary in order for us to make our case
  • These papers were sent to us half a year (or more) after the request was made
  • The page above (click to zoom) serves to show that the papers could probably be sent about a month after the request had been made
  • The papers which we needed were sent to us about 4 months after the case was very much over (as we had won it, proving that were the subject of injustice)

What we can deduce, politely and cautiously, is that Home Office was perhaps not interested in providing us with material evidence that would support our case. This is just the tip of the iceberg as in future parts we shall show a lot more.

It is not entirely impossible that our solicitors, whom we paid a lot of money, just ‘sat’ on these documents for 5 months or so, but based on what was told to us, that’s definitely not the case. We were told this explicitly.

There are far more serious procedural lapses and supposed ‘oopsies’ (never in our favour), as future parts shall reveal.

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015, 12:59 am

Self-Hosting Milestone

LITTLE more than two years ago we set up a self-hosted album (no Flickr/Facebook/whatever) and have probably proven, in terms of numbers at least, that one does not need to rely on centralised networks that spy on users and treat them like products. This week we pass 300,000 views in our albums and we are planning to publish more albums for many years to come. This is not just a hobby but also a way to preserve one’s memories without relying on services that have little or weak or no long-term commitment to preservation of so-called ‘content’ (that’s how they view photos ‘generated’ by so-called ‘users’).

The so-called ‘cloud’ is a dangerous trap and even this week I experience this because clients and friends foolishly put their blogs or sites on third-party ‘cloud’ services which limit functionality and basically lock people in, giving them no control over the software even if the back end runs Free software.

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