Entertainment, Technology

Finally, a thief has ended


Last night, after working through 4 games, my adventures with Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series of games has reached it’s conclusion (and that battle on the harbour full of ships was hard!)

I’ll avoid plot spoilers of course, but it’s great to have played through a game driven by story and character – some frustrating moments, some hugely improbably fire-fights – but it’s been a fun journey.

I really appreciated that Naughty Dog went to the trouble of including the epilogue chapter, not only to close the door to any more sequels, but to give the player the satisfaction of knowing how those characters continued after the events in the games finished.

From finding Drake’s tomb to Eldorado, and the search for Avery’s treasure – it’s been fun.

Now to look forward to whatever Naughty Dog games are working on next!


Are you shaving your yak?

As an IT professional, I often find myself yak-shaving – if you don’t know the term, it’s basically the end result of a series of possibly unrelated and (more than likely) unexpected hoops you need to jump through to do something – it’s a term I’ve only recently discovered but am now using more and more often to describe aspects of my job that aren’t actually “doing the thing I’m trying to do”

Seth Godin has a great example on his blog which does a nice job of explaining the term – Don’t shave that yak and there are many other examples out there… (e.g. this one)


If you’re not paying for it, you are the product

We’ve all heard that saying now – or something similar to it – by using those supposedly “free” services from companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the like, you aren’t, despite what you may think, their customer. 

The customer is the advertiser paying to get their adverts in front of you, and the information you post on those services is how those companies provide value to their customers by being able to target the adverts more effectively.

How often have you searched for a product online, only to suddenly start seeing adverts on other sites offering the product (or competing products) that you searched for. Well, that’s no coincidence.

Most people think of Google as a search engine, or an email provider, or a cloud storage service, or the maker of Android, or Chrome.  In fact, it’s primary business (i.e. the one that makes the money that it costs to provide those services, run huge datacentres and develop the software to run those services at no cost to the user) is selling advertising.  The tools it uses to make those sales are your emails, your searches, your posts on Google+, your calendar entries and other data they can glean about you from how you use their services and products.

Well, I’ve decided to make an effort to put a stop to this.  By simply paying companies for services where their primary business isn’t selling advertising. 

Rather than selling you to advertisers, they make money directly – by providing the services to the end user in exchange for cash.  In some cases, I’m even hosting myself on my own hardware – my own “personal cloud” if you like.

Yes, I still have an active email address on gmail – but the emails that are still going through there are now automatically forwarded to my real email service – hosted with a company called Fastmail – and they do not data mine my messages to profile me (trying getting Google to say that!) – and slowly but surely, I’m updating my contacts and accounts on other websites to reduce the volume of mail being routed through Google.

My RSS Aggregation moved to Newsblur.com some time ago (when Google pulled their “Reader” product) – again a paid service and one I’ve been very happy with.

Now the important thing about these two services, and one that differentiates them from the likes of Google, is simple – I pay for the service with cold hard cash – and it’s not expensive – $40 (us) per year for my Fastmail account, and $24 (us) per year for Newsblur.

This is not a story of a single moment in time where I broke free of profiled advertising driven sites – it’s a journey and a process, and one where I’m dealing with the worst offenders first – those which have the access to more of my personal data than the others – and stopping actively sharing information with Google is a start.

Useful Links:

www.duckduckgo.com – privacy search portal

www.fastmail.com – my current paid email and calendar host

www.newsblur.com – my current paid RSS aggregator service.


Backing Up and the impact of Cryptolocker

Malware logo Crystal 128.
Malware logo Crystal 128. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve recently seen a lot of discussion about a piece of malware called “Cryptolocker” – which searches all the drives and network locations it can see (as your user) and encrypts them, before holding the file to ransom, preventing you accessing them without paying the writers for an unlock key”

Clearly, the defence against this is good backups – the malware can’t hold your files to ransom if you’ve got other copies which it hasn’t encrypted.  As always, good backups turn a catastrophic file disaster (be it a failure of the media, or a physical problem like fire, flood, theft etc) into a nuisance which just takes time (and often money to replace the failed/destroyed disks) to resolve.

Cryptolocker adds a new dimension which we as users of backups should be aware of – as some simple styles of backup, may be vulnerable to cryptolocker themselves (e.g. if you backup your files to an external disc between Cryptolocker getting onto your system, and it making that ransom demand) if your backup solution only keeps one version of the file being stored – this could prevent you using those backups to recover your system as the backup itself has been encrypted… Continue reading