The Minimum Systems Requirements Scam

the upgrade cycle

the upgrade cycle

The technology industry is not short of scams and the media don’t shy away from reporting them. Newspapers, blog sites, Facebook all warn us of Nigerian 419s, phishing attempts or cold calls with fake investments.

But there’s one scam ubiquitous in the technology industry which we all accept with glum resignation. Let’s call it the Minimum System Requirements Scam. Moore’s law has given us faster and faster processors for years and with faster computers the maker of Operating System (OS), such as Windows and Apple OS, have loaded more functionality into their offerings. The paradigm seems to be that if the hardware can handle more load then the OS should that load. Each time we give up on our old hardware and fall for the industry line that we need more power the OS vendor steps in and steals most of that power.

Now don’t get me wrong. Software has come a long way since MS DOS but the scam is not in creating bigger software for more powerful computers. The scam is that the vendors lie about the Minimum System Requirements for their software.

My iPhone 4 worked fine with IOS 6 which it came with it. Stupidly I upgraded it to IOS7 and it now runs like a pig. My Macbook pro, with 4 gig of ram and a 2.5 GHz processor, ran fine with Snow Leopard. It ran a bit slower with Lion but what really screwed it was Mavericks. Think that’s reasonable? In 1992 my Amiga 4000 had a 25 MHz processor and 1 meg of RAM and multi-tasked better than ANYTHING on the market today. When your Windows PC or Mac are just sitting there stuck and there’s loads of free RAM, the processor is not overloaded and the disk is not thrashing you have to wonder about the quality of the code. I’ve just upgraded by iPad and it’s slow. Apple would never release a new product as sluggish as this but that’s OK because they already have my money. You have to wonder whether the vendors are deliberately slowing things down to force an upgrade.

None of these upgrades should have been a problem because the hardware in question conformed to Apple’s Minimum System Requirements. I have no experience of Google Android and Chromebook but Microsoft are equally guilty.

Of course I didn’t have to upgrade so why did I? The two drivers for upgrading are the same as those for investing: Greed and fear. Fear in the form of the vendors ceasing to supply security patches for older OS versions and greed in the form of new applications requiring the services only present in a more recent OS.

There is some legitimacy in both these factors but only some. In the old days an OS was released with outrageous security flaws. In fact they were not secure at all but that was OK because we didn’t use them for anything serious. As computing has become ubiquitous the vendors have given more thought to security but vulnerabilities are still regularly discovered and part of the reason for this is that new OSs still contain a lot of old code.

Applications requiring services from a newer OS is also legitimate though one does have to wonder how long this farce can go on. The OS must one day mature. For what other product do we accept that it will just stop working? How would it be if your TV just got slower and slower and one day you tried to watch Family Guy and a message came up saying that this program was not compatible with your current OS? In fact microprocessors are in everything these days and Smart TVs are basically big tablet computers. Will the manufacturers continue this deception with the software in our cars? You break but, sorry you need more RAM, so the breaks don’t come on in time.

Security and advanced services will continue to drive the upgrade cycle for a while yet but vendors would do us all a favor and enhance their reputation by being honest about Minimum System Requirements. If an iPhone 5S is not going to cut it for the latest version then bloody well say so.

Longer term the whole paradigm will probably change. Hardware such as tablets and handsets are getting cheaper and cheaper and these days no one writes code with any of the core functionality on the user side. New entrants to the OS market such Alibaba have a chance to start from scratch. They could develop a mature and stable architecture with tightly written code. The future is probably disposable handsets with all the data and functionality in the cloud.

Then all I’ll have to gripe about is the monthly bill.

Buy Poppies at Fine Art America



Cyber Crime – Make the Vaccine Free

Think of the children

Think of the children

Today I was heartened by the success of the IT Security community in protecting a most valuable asset. No, I don’t mean your customer banks details or copyright music or state secrets. I am, of course, referring to the International Standard for Information security ISO 27001.

ISO27001 are a collection of standards which list numerous actions or “controls” which may be implemented to protect information against cyber-crime. The controls have been assembled into a unified framework so that they can be more easily addressed and reviewed. All terribly dull and awful of course.

But wait! In the right hands, these standards are extremely useful and one would assume that the goal would be to distribute them to the IT Community as quickly as possible so that their recommendations might be implemented. Distributed not only in their raw (and ghastly) PDF format, but in CSV or Excel format which a security professional might actually be able to use.

Not a bit of it. The guys at The International Standards Organisation (ISO) have apparently got the wrong end of the stick and have done their damnedest to ensure that it is nye on impossible to get a hint of the content of these standards without putting one’s hand in one’s pocket. The ISO27001 documents appear to be the only documents in the world protected by every single one of the bloody ISO27001 controls even right down to: If you try to google it you get a millions companies trying to flog you something before you find any meat about the standards themselves.

In my experience,  many companies have a go at IT security and end up with poorly written controls and incomplete coverage. By the time the control text reaches the techy it is frequently gobbledegook. A simple solution would be to make these standards free too everyone.

What is frustrating is that the work to devise a solid control framework has been done; the text exists and is owned by the International Standards Organisation. They will argue that it is reasonable that they, and their associated companies, charge for copies of standards as they need to be maintained and updated but, given the prevalence of cyber-crime and the threat posed to everyone, one might be forgiven for thinking that this is an emergency and copies of ISO 27001 in useable formats should be made available for free download on the ISO web site.

If cyber-crime were HIV and ISO27001 were a vaccine then the world would be crying out for this.

Think of the children! Think of the children!


I am Charlie

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo


More and More and More – The distorted Vision of Jeremy Bentham


More and More and More – Cleaning Products

The shabby, half empty Co-Op on Neville Road closed down and a new Waitrose sprung up in its place. Suddenly, the place is bustling.

When I worked in Africa, I would return for holidays and wander around supermarkets marvelling at the variety. I delighted in curry sauce, Marmite and Birds custard. It felt a bit like that in Waitrose. Like my first time in California; shiny happy people and the shelves fully stacked. Posh clientele crammed inside like an opening of la Boheme.

The car park was worse than a game of Tetris and taxis awaited the immaculate elderly. Even the trolleys glided silently, devoid of rattles and outside they were not chained up like dogs; Waitrose customers wouldn’t be seen dead stealing trolleys. Branded clothing only and away with cheap TVs and washing machines; triple the size of the wine section. Vegetables from all over the planet all in their prime. Slimmer isles but packed with “fifty kinds of toothpaste and forty types of soap”. The massive pressure of the middle class has erupted to claim its birthright. We have disposable income and we shall shop. It’s all we do. The only respite from the relentless press of people was the cleaning products isle. Waitrose customers have staff and they shop at Lidl.

“The system” is now tuned to ensure maximum efficiency and our lives are mere links in the supply chain. We are no longer citizens, we are customers. We are told that we even “consume” music and television. It’s said that no middle class American home is complete without an unused aqualung at the back of the wardrobe and this lunacy has spread to England where thousands of people own their own skis! Skis! In England!

In 1768 British philosopher Jeremy Bentham declared the work of government to be supplying “The greatest good for the greatest number”. Global Capitalism has replaced the word “good” with “goods” and taken up the challenge with a vengeance.

The middle class used to seek exclusivity but, in a world geared toward maximizing sales, what does that even mean anymore? The BMW 3 now outsells the Ford Mondeo. I suggest the current meaning of exclusivity is whatever the advertisers want it to mean. Perhaps this week it is Hendricks Scottish Gin, next week, who knows? And we fall for it. We drink Gin from Scotland and Scotch from England. We wouldn’t drink the water in Mexico yet we import the beer.

Adverts on the Underground

Adverts on the Underground

Indoctrinated from birth, we stoke the system. Our minds are like vacuum cleaners sucking up advertising wherever it is found. The TV, the radio, magazines, The Internet. Modern man needs stimulation and advertising give it to us. Sit on the London Underground and notice how your attention is drawn to the ads. This is why our leaders consider literacy so important We are readaholics but this junk bypasses the intellect and is dumped unprocessed into our sub-conscious. Snoop Dog is advertising financial services for God’s sake!

A middle class is now forming in the developing world and they too want to shop. They demand meat but the world can’t produce enough so scientists are seeking to farm insects for human consumption. The grave yards are so full that Floridians can now choose between cremation and “liquefaction”. There are now over 7 billion of us on planet Earth and in England we’re crammed in like battery hens. Office buildings get bigger but our houses and workspace gets smaller. The Economist advocates that we “Build on the green belt or introduce space rationing“.

Are we insane? Does it even matter?

Driven by tactical marketing decisions our leaders have no vision. They stand on the bridge bickering over which button to press but they don’t know where we’re going. Meanwhile Western voters are getting restless.

Up to now, humanity have been the glue that holds global capitalism together. While on a tour of his factory, Henry Ford II asked the leader of the automobile workers union: “Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?” to which the union leader replied: “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?”.

The Industrial Revolution was a wonderful thing of course. It released the resources of the world to be exploited for the good of humanity. Though workers were displaced in manufacturing, jobs were created in the knowledge economy. But the second and the third wave of revolution are not yet fully played out and computers have started displacing even the most knowledgeable workers.

This time, the revolution might be different. In the U.S. real wages have hardly budged over the past four decades and the limp economic recovery is not creating jobs. The single minded pursuit of goods for the greatest number is becoming a problem for the planet just when humanity are becoming less useful to Global Capitalism.

Perhaps, it’s time to scrap Mr. Betham’s vision and develop a new one.

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Sunshine, strikes and software development

One of those days in England

One of those days in England

Tuesday was a beautiful spring morning and I got the train up to London. The English countryside looked gorgeous and green in the sun and the haze. A tube strike of course and people thronged the streets waiting for buses. Ah, after decades of  Corsets, Cash ISAs, and Caffe Latte, England is finally getting back to normal. About time the dustmen went on strike again isn’t it? Bring back the GLC.

I was heading for Infosec, the Information Security exhibition at Earl’s Court. I’m an old hand at this now: Quick sausage sandwich, a cup of coffee then a walk round the stands to see what’s current. The main point of these trips for me is to attend the education seminars. Not much really new to report but it’s still worth a look.

Advanced Persistent Threats are really just all the other threats put together and undertaken by governments in a relentless manner. The Stuxnet worm which attacked the centrifuges in nuclear processing facilities in Iran is an example.

People Talk a lot of Bollocks in Information Technology these days and part of this comes about because the industry is changing so fast. New themes emerge and people race to name them. The names get taken up by salesman who repeat them before the industry has really figured out what they mean. Cloud used to suffer in this respect though it is generally more understood these days. A seminar entitled “Actionable intelligence: Building a holistic security threat intelligence capability” demonstrated to me that the panel had not really understood the meaning of Actionable or Holistic.

A seminar entitled “‘Applification’ of business and implications for security: Securing software development” was interesting if a little meandering. The panellists discussed very pertinent issues around the security of software development. Security is often seen as a bolt on, developers are seldom given security requirements in the functional specs and, though one guy said that all developers should be security specialists, they all had to admit that finding good developers was difficult enough; finding security aware developers was almost impossible.

One pundit contrasted software development with engineering and this goes to the heart of why we still find IT systems which are not adequately secured. I recall working for an oil company close to where oil was “lifted”. A flare had been set up and, after discussing this with an engineer, I realised that he had not just stuck a pipe in the ground and hoped. He had been trained how to handle flares safely. He’d performed a formal safety assessment. What type of gas? How much gas? What was the location? He had then consulted his training or possibly relevant standards and created a mechanism with strictly defined materials, tolerances and capabilities.

This rarely happen in software development or IT projects in general. There is no recognised standard for software developers. There is no industry wide accepted training path that is comparable to engineering. Yes, standards, training and qualifications exist but they are not prerequisites. They are something to boost a CV. The main problem is that technology and the industry are still changing so quickly that standards and qualifications become redundant before they can get a grip. Further, software developers still regard themselves as creative. They like to invent clever new ways to do something where an engineer, though obviously creative, is more restricted in what he can get away with especially when safety is involved.

Probably the reason that standard are more easily enforced in engineering is that the outcomes are far more visible. If the gas flare mentioned earlier had resulted in a huge flame blowing dangerously close to a building then everyone would have known about it but a software short cut or “innovative” coding could go unnoticed until a vulnerability is finally exploited by an attacker.

The proliferation first of mini-computers and then PCs meant that many organisations chose to run their own IT functions and this led to a lot of inexperienced and unqualified people in the industry. I should know. It’s how I started. The on-going migration of software services to the Cloud may help by concentrating computing at locations where the technology and configurations can be standardised, the staff adequately trained & qualified and the overall organisation audited to ensure compliance with industry best practice.

But change is ubiquitous in IT and many of the most innovative companies are small so we can expect software development to continue in hothouse start-ups rather than mature, standard bound organisations. We should also be careful what we wish for. Many of us got intoIT because of the creative aspects and this was underlined last week by an article in The Guardian in which developers look back at BASIC computer language which is now 50 years old.

Security, reliability and availability vs fun and flying by the seat of your pants. Tough choice.

st malo beach

St Malo Beach


Brighton houses costs 10 times salary

How many times her salary?

Lucky she bought before the prices went berserk

Property prices are recovering we’re told…….at last ay!?

‘Recovering” is an estate agent term meaning increasing ludicrously and there is concern that we are developing another bubble. The government publish figures showing the average House Price/Earnings ratio for areas of England. Sorting this by the 2013 figure it looks like Kensington and Chelsea is the most expensive with average house price just over 27 times the average salary. But even Hackney is around 10 times. But don’t stop at London. Brighton and Hove is around 10 times average salary, Cambridge just over 8 and if you want to get under 4 times you will have to go and live in Hull!

I had started to come around to the idea that London is becoming like New York. Property there is very expensive, everybody knows that and they’ve just got used to it. Londoners too, will have to accept that living in shoe boxes is the new normal. However, a quick check of some stats by Forbes magazine reveals that the Median Home Price to Median Annual income in 2012 for New York overall is 5.2, about the same as Preston in England! Or about half the price of Hackney and about one sixth the price of Kensington and Chelsea.

But British property pundits regard all this as acceptable. Apparently it’s OK for someone to pay their entire salary for 11 years for somewhere to live. Or half their salary for 22 years. Or a third of their salary for 33 years. And so on. Either this bubble must burst or we are selling our kids into indentured servitude. Nominally our kids will be free citizens (able to pay taxes, die in wars etc) but if they stop working for more than a few days then they’ll be homeless.

The word is that much of the cause of the high prices in London is from Johnny Foreigner who wants somewhere safe to park his money while the global economy is going sideways. Last August This Is Money reported that “foreign investors snap up 70% of all central London new build homes fuelling a surge in prices”. British business’ obsession with London and the mass immigration under New Labour can’t have helped. Luckily our politicians have woken up to the obscene prices of housing and are addressing the problem with imaginative new policies…..oh, no wait….they haven’t have they……..The FT reported today that the instability in Ukraine and the threatened sanctions are causing East European oligarchs to snap up London property. Oh well then. Our kids are screwed.

The full list can be found here. (Table 577)

Buy Art Prints

Buy Art Prints


Professionalisation of Politics – Labour sign Axelrod

Same bollocks but now sent direct to your phone

Same bollocks but now sent direct to your phone

Labour have engaged Bill Clinton’s old political consultant David Axelrod on a six figure salary to be their strategic adviser. Good grief! Just what they need. Another spin doctor!

Margaret Thatcher is said to have been the first UK leader to employ a spin doctor but New Labour put the idea into hyperdrive with the likes of Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. During the New Labour years I was angered at the flagrant gibberish trotted out by Mr. Mandelson during interviews. He would start a sentence, introduce a clause, introduce a sub-clause and then wander off into nowhere and if the interviewer tried to bring him back to the point he would behave as if this were the height of bad manners. He trained Gordon Brown to attempt this and there is a fantastic bit of footage showing Brown driveling on to BBC political journalist Nick Robinson and then Mandelson looming up to the camera and grinning as if to say: Yes, we’re TALKING BOLLOCKS, you know it, I know it but there is nothing you can do about it.

I even remember Mandelson stating “politics is about spelling out your policies” – No it isn’t, that’s marketing, that’s communications. Politics is primarily about setting policy and that is what Labour in opposition have failed to do.

The utter contempt that Mandelson showed for the public appalled me. While Blair cozied up to the mega-corporations and Brown continued to borrow even during the boom years, New Labour’s arrogance led them to assume that they could do anything they liked and trot out any old bullshit as justification. (45 minutes my arse!).
I applauded when New Labour were toppled and hoped that we had seen the end of this nonsense. Of course the shiny new Tory leader started spinning before getting into power. He changed the Tory logo to a little tree. Remember that? A quick look at the Tory web site reveals it’s been changed again to something a little more traditional.

But then we had the MP expenses scandal and the media phone tapping and the results of the Hillsborough inquiry and the pedophilia in the Catholic Church. It seemed that the whole establishment had been caught with its trousers down and no matter how much they spun the web just tightened around their throats.

So, with faith in politicians at a low and with no clear political winners I thought that we had come off that peak of contempt for the general public and that politicians now understood that talking the talk was not enough, they had to walk the walk.

But, oh dear. The Labour front bench. The Ed and Ed show. The Pinky and Perky of British politics. Both continue to base their opposition to the Tories on presentation over content. Their policies are oh so obviously contrived by the marketing department. Not so much “What do we believe in” but “What can we say that will win us votes”. Remember when Balls and Milliband could not open their mouths without saying the word “failure”? Eds obviously thought that if they said “failure” often enough we’d start associating it with Tories but we just associated it with anyone named Ed. And, oh GOD! Who on Earth thought that Douglas Alexander should be in the shadow cabinet? Nothing to say but wont shut up about it. The Labour leadership are a bunch of salesmen but they have nothing to sell. Just watch this video where Ed Milliband gives identical answers to five different questions.

All this emphasis on the “message” over policy comes about because our politicians are professionals. They have studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University, they have worked for older politicians and they now understand the mechanisms of power without ever having done anything in their lives which would give them any understanding of the real world. When Ed Milliband talks about “families who work all the hours that God sends” he is talking in the abstract. He has no experience of these people any more than the rest of our political elite. Cameron and Osborne have not worked in mines or in factories. Clegg has never worked in a call centre. None of the current lot have worked as union representatives, charity workers, doctors, programmers, supermarket workers or taxi drivers. Just as bad, none have ever been captains of industry or entrepreneurs or bankers in The City. Their experience of life is gained through reviewing reports and statistical analyses. They study us like we are bacteria in a petri dish and no more empathise with our lives than a scientist empathises with a lab rat.

This week even The Economist ran an article which finished: “The risks of promoting awkward talent and sacking the spin doctor are obvious……..but the alternative….is worse. It is to become ever more ingenious, hated and irrelevant”. Labour seem oblivious. They think that hiring a bigger better media wonk from across the pond will hand them power on a plate. They’ll figure out what to do with power once they’ve got it.

This is why Nigel Farage is like a breath of fresh air. People like him even if they don’t agree with him. They like him because his arguments are reasoned and sincere. They like him because his reactions are human and appear in stark contrast to the rows of pre-programed pillocks who front the other parties.

In the recent debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg it was interesting to note that the question of how much legislation the UK receives from the EU came up twice. In the first debate Farage quoted 75% and Clegg 7%. The topic arose again in the second debate only this time Farage had had the sense to research Clegg’s figure of 7% and had discovered this was for primary legislation and the very same document quoted an overall amount of about 50%. When confronted with this Clegg could only lamely restate his figure of 7%.

Clegg had come on telly to use his PPE erudition to dismiss a jumped up oik but was not on top of his brief. A researcher had obviously given him the 7% figure and he didn’t care where it had come from. He believed in the EU as an article of faith and used statistics as weapons of rhetoric not constituents of rational argument.

So, given New Labour’s appalling record on spin. Given the abject failure of the Ed & Ed show. Given Cameron’s ludicrous efforts to emulate Blair’s spin by dog sledding around Lapland. Given that Clegg’s professionalism was demolished by Farage’s charisma and homework. Given the massive discrediting of the whole British establishment. Given the fact that the UK is amongst the top 7 most unequal society in the world, with the rich hoarding power and the rest of us herded around by “nudge theory” embedded in a massive and ubiquitous marketing machine. On TV, on the radio, on billboards, on football pitches, on smart phones (on this blog site!) Everywhere we look the political/industrial complex is exhorting us that the only way out of our economic problems is more of the same. Work more, consume more and to hell with the planet.

Given the disillusionment of the British public with professional politics, what do Labour do? Do they have a policy rethink? Do they take a step backward toward socialism? Do they take a step forward with radical new policies?

No. They outsource marketing to America. You couldn’t make it up.

Why not just hand the Palace of Westminster over to Price Waterhouse Coopers and be done with it?




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