Martin's Blog

from a Slovenian living in Wales

Category: Politics and opinions (page 1 of 3)

I am Fox

DVLA on speed

Well, you know how many complain about government institutions being very slow when applying for documents. Just recent memories from the passport scandal flood back.
Well on Monday I had to file for a renewal for my drivers licence. Did it online as advised by the DVLA letter. Filled out all the forms, was able to use my passport photo that they had on file and to my complete amazement I received y shiny new drivers licence in the mail today.
It must have been sent in the post at least yesterday!

Yet another energy provider

I have lived at my current address for last 6 years and started of using Swalec as my electricity and gas provider. Then found out they were ripping me off so I switched … only after I clawed back the money they owed me. Switched to EDF which had its own little scams. They failed to clearly explain that they will be increasing my bills by switching me to a Standard tariff if I used their smart meter.

So then I moved the lot to Atlantic, which had a nice standard tariff and must say I was quite pleased with them although this was technically the same company as Swalec, as they are both part of SSE.

Now, with the recent price hikes that have been going on (October 2013) I have decided to have another look for a cheaper deal before my bills go up. Partly because of the winter, partly because of the before mentioned price hikes. Now I know I was quite cross about the whole issue and I didn’t think switching providers would help but it seems it can help. I was listening to the uSwitch guy speaking on BBC’s Watchdog programme and there are apparently tariffs on the market that will be frozen for quite some time.

Turns out there was something for me. For the last year I have paid about £460 for electricity and gas. Switching to npower’s tariff I will not only save about £60-£80 (depending how if I calculated the new tariff based on my previous kW usage or £££ spent). Plus the tariff is frozen till 2017 but no penalty charges if I leave early.

Not bad as now I won’t be affected by the price hike but if, by some miracle, the prices come down or there is a better deal elsewhere I will be able to still switch.

So as the final message I would advise you to not wait for the government to impose any price restrictions on the energy companies anytime soon. Get yourself a better deal and shop around.

The Oregon petrol station madness

I would admit the headline is a little sensational but at the time of driving through Oregon I did think there was something odd about the Beaver state. In my many years of driving round Europe and now the USA I have found that all petrol stations have turned into self-service affairs. You get there, you you fill up your tank, you pay and then you drive off.

But in Oregon – oh nooooo. I even saw some other fellow Americans drivers puzzled by what they we and were not expected to do at the petrol stations. I definitely wasn’t the only one. As soon as I crossed the border from Washington going south and pulled-in the first filling station I got told off by some petrol station worker that I am not allowed to fill-up petrol myself.

By the time I pulled-in my second Oregon petrol station I have almost but forgot what I was told the first time – my mother will concur that I was not always known for doing as I was told. Anyway, I was told again that I was not allowed to fill-up my motorbike myself. My disobedience was encouraged by the fact there was nobody at hand at the station to actually do the filling-up for me so I just went ahead and did it.

What also amazed me was the reasoning for this and the reasons were not exactly consistent. The first petrol attendant-guy told me this was to stimulate employment which in my opinion is one of the most idiotic ways of going about this. Forcing petrol stations to employ people to do something that everywhere they can do themselves.

The second reason at the second gas station was even more crazy – that its all because health and bloody safety. Now the reason why this seems crazy to me and will probably to everyone reading this is what happens in an Oregon petrol station once you pull-up with your motorcycle: first you have to patiently wait for somebody to appear at your vehicle. This person than has to take your payment card and swipe it for you through the card reader at the pump. you then have to tell the attendant the security code which is the US is not the card’s PIN number but your ZIP – code. Then he or she lifts the filling nozzle and instead of starting to fill your precious bike with gasoline he/she hands it over to you!
So if there ever was a ‘dangerous’ part of the whole filling-up process I think swiping your card in a card reader and pressing some buttons certainly wouldn’t be that and filling your tank definitely would be, wouldn’t you think? Oh no, they leave the use of combustible fluid to you – you know, because of health and safety.

By the time I came to my third and fourth Oregon petrol station I had more or less given up on being shocked by this bureau-stupidity and let them do their own thing. However I did refuse to pay gratuity. As far as I am concerned they can go to Salem (Oregon’s capital) and ask the governor for all I care.

One of the attendants even threatened that he and I could get a fine if we didn’t comply with this rule but I did not see one signs, not even one on any of the petrol stations I stopped in Oregon. I was also quite surprised that New Jersey has similar laws in place.

Oh, and yes, in case you think I am making this up, here is the legislature – http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/480.html

They lost me after slick surfaces and “Self-service dispensing at retail contributes to unemployment, particularly among young people;”.

The list of excuses why this has ended up and still remains a legislation is not short at all. The excuses are actually listed in the legislature text. I have sifted through it for your entertainment:

  • safety standards often are unenforceable at retail self-service stations in other states because cashiers are often unable to maintain a clear view of and give undivided attention to the dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids by customers.
    When I arrived at one of the Oregon stations I had to wait a while to get the attention of the attendant.
  • higher liability insurance rates as people can hurt themselves at these petrol stations: increased risk of crime and the increased risk of personal injury resulting from slipping on slick surfaces.
    Damn those those slick surfaces.
  • the dangers of crime and slick surfaces described before are enhanced because Oregon’s weather is uniquely adverse, causing wet pavement and reduced visibility
    Ohh fu** – now they are blaming the weather. Are they taking the piss?!
  • the law is here for senior citizins and the disabled
    In the rest of the world the senior citizens and disabled just have to remain without petrol then?
  • senior citizens and persons with disabilities must pay the higher costs of full service
    Oh really!? Never heard that happen but I think the US has to blame itself for all that gratuity-culture.
  • Self-service dispensing at retail in other states does not provide a sustained reduction in fuel prices charged to customers;
    So their reasoning is because self-service is not cheaper lets just ban it all-together.
  • prohibition of self-service petrol stations promotes public welfare by providing increased safety and convenience without causing economic harm to the public in general;
    Now they are just making shit up.
  • Self-service dispensing at retail contributes to unemployment, particularly among young people;
    Already covered it but I had to write it down again, just for laughs.
  • Small children left unattended when customers leave to make payment at retail self-service stations creates a dangerous situation
    And that is one of the reasons we have invented ‘Pay at pump’, not that Oregon lawmakers have noticed

I put Nottingham back on the map

OK, sounds like a flashy title, but I did notice that the city of Nottingham was missing from Google Maps in any of the zoom views I chose.

I tried reporting a problem a while ago and recently received the following reply:

Hi  Martin,
Thank you for reporting this problem. We’ve reviewed your problem and you were right! The default view in Google Maps has already been updated to reflect your suggested change, as shown below.

The city of Nottingham does not appear to be named in any of the zoom views.

Depending on the nature of the problem you reported, it may take some time for the update to appear on other products and services such as driving directions, Google Maps for Mobile, and Google Earth. If you see an issue with the way we fixed your problem, please feel free to send us another note. Thanks for helping us to improve Google Maps! Thanks for helping us to improve Google Maps!

In any case it seems to be fixed now as Nottingham appears where it should be. I now expect to be inundated by messages of gratitude from the citizens of Nottingham, however I feel I should not hold my breath for very long. 😉

I was surprised to learn that the city of Nottingham is twinned with my home town of Ljubljana, but Ljubljana does not publicly acknowledge that fact. I have contacted the officials in the Ljubljana municipality but I am still waiting for them to get back to me.

Poskus phishinga SKB.net

Danes sem prejel e-pismo, ki me je želelo prepričat, da posodobim sovje podatke spletnega bančništva na SKB-ju, in to v precej polomljeni slovenščini.

Upam, da je to sporočilo čim manj prepričljivo, sicer pa povezava vodi na stran (http://www.pulipull.it/wp-admin/maint/skb.net.htm), ki trenutno sploh ne deluje, poleg tega pa jo tako Firefox (14.0.1) in Chromium( 18.0.1025.168) zaznata kot nevarno stran in prikažeta zelo očitno in vidno opozorilo.

Tudi če sem kliknil naprej in si pogledal stran sem dobil napako 403 Forbidden. Slovenija verjetno ni tako pogosto žrtev takih napadov, slišal sem že za phishing napad na NLB Klik, nisem pa, vsaj ne osebno, doživel phishing na Skb.net.

Malo podrobneje…

Stran vodi na spletno stran pod domeno www.pulipull.it in whois poizvedba po domeni vrne naslednje podatke:

Domain:             pulipull.it
Status:             ok
Created:            2011-08-30 10:01:20
Last Update:        2011-08-30 10:01:41
Expire Date:        2012-08-30

Registrant
  Name:             Cristiano Predielis
  Organization:     Pulipull S.n.c.
  ContactID:        DFT-R-53594

Admin Contact
  Name:             Cristiano Predielis
  ContactID:        DFT-A-53594

Technical Contacts
  Name:             Unita Tecnica DominioFaidate
  Organization:     DominioFaiDaTe S.r.l.
  ContactID:        DFT-T-1

Registrar
  Organization:     DominioFaiDaTe S.r.l.
  Name:             DFT-REG
  Web:              http://www.dominiofaidate.com

Nameservers
  ns1.dominiofaidate.com
  ns2.dominiofaidate.com

Domena je, v tistem trenutku, kazala na IP številko, ki je v lasti ponudnika spletnih storitev seeWeb.it – torej tudi v Italiji.

Zaposleni na Si-Certu očitno budno bdijo nad takimi pripetljaji in so tudi že objavili opozorilo glede tega napada: http://www.cert.si/obvestila/obvestilo/article/si-cert-2012-09-phishing-napad-na-komitente-skb-banke.html

Watch out for the financial black hole

I decided the other day to clear up my finances, get rid of the mess and make a cull in all those dodgy direct debits I had in my bank account.

I challenge you to have a look at your finances and see how many companies have a wide-open back door to your money.

Paypal

I have been a avid user of Paypal for years and always tried to use it to pay for on-line purchases if at all possible. However recently I had a problem with a company that I had a subscription with through Paypal, more precisely with the Paypal recurring payments. Unbeknown to me at the time they hide the fact that you had a recurring payment (a subscription) deep down in the History section of your account. If you do not look really really carefully you might be led to believe that the recurring payment is not active any more and you could forget about it. This was not the case as I regretfully found out.

I would expect Paypal to have a clear list of ALL your recurring payments (they are basically subscriptions with a different name) on the Profile section, not hidden so deep that even as a long-standing customer could not find them without getting help from internet forums.

The problems is that being human you forget what you are subscribed to by the time you should have noticed it and perhaps acted on it – like cancel the subscription. You might not even know where the subscription was set-up and how you are supposed to cancel it. The company I had the subscription with was also very sneaky and deeply concealed instructions on how to cancel the subscription and made the procedure complicated.

When I decided to start clearing the debit card and bank account connections in Paypal I started getting e-mails that  some of those connections could not be cancelled as there were outstanding payments. That turned out to be not the case. One of the warnings I had was completely false and I had to remove the associated card with the help of the customer support. The other warning was about some old recurring payment I set-up with my website hosting provider. Doesn’t instil confidence in the reliability of the Paypal service.

When I was finally able to cancel my account I received two e-mails about additional TWO subscriptions that got closed when the account was closed. Where did the y come from and how come I didn’t know about them.

That motivated me to go to my online bank and cull all direct debits that either were not supposed to be there, like my O2 mobile phone membership that I cancelled last year, and my Privilege car insurance that I also cancelled last year. Do you know these guys keep the direct debit going on for at least a year after you cancel the account – just in case they need to rip you off a little more. Because that is just what I want really – an open door to my bank account. If they do take the money then I wish you good luck on proving you did not authorize the payment and even more luck to get a refund.

Experiencing the M25 car park

M25 parking lot on December 18th  Photo: TOMMY HINDLEY

There were plenty of warnings about possible weather problems before I set off from Haverfordwest in the SW Wales to Stansted airport on December 18th. There was very little snow in Pembrokeshire and the airport was open. There were absolutely no problems up to the M4 exit for Slough.

Photo taken on my iPhone of the M25 standstill

Then it all started to slow down and by the time I got to theM25 exit on the M4 the traffic stopped. We managed to somehow move a little so I was mostly on the M25 slip road but that was it until about 16.45 when we slowly started moving. We more or less crawled on the M25. Managed to see the remains of the burned-out people carrier that caused all this mess – it was just near the M40 junction on the M25.

The Highway Agency was warning there were problems on the northbound M11 so I decided to take the A10 and A120 roads that ended up being very snowed up but at least empty with no accidents on them. I arrived at the B&B near Stansted called Puttocks Farm at about 8.30pm – about 10 hours after I left Haverfordwest. The trip usually takes me 5 – 5.5 hours.

To top it all the next day I couldn’t get a taxi to take me from the B&B to the airport about 10 minutes away. They were taking orders only after 2pm but that would be to late for me. Luckily the B&B owner gave me a lift so I didn’t have to leave my car at the airport costing me £13/day. And to top that as well the place was 2 hours late due to some engine problems – apparently something refused to start up in the plane. The passenger next to me remarked that the pilot just couldn’t find the reverse gear and in the end somebody else told him.

My GMail account hacked by 115.52.213.93

Unfortunately my GMail account martin [dot] mcdowell got somehow hacked today and someone (or something) in China sent a spam message to all my 119 e-mail contacts in my address book at 15.35 this afternoon. The IP address the hack originated from was 115.52.213.93 and is assigned to the Chinese ISP CNC Group CHINA169.

It looks like there was a Google-wide attack as their systems crashed. There are several reports of hacked accounts on Google forums. The message was just a spam and did not contain any viruses or worms in itself.

Subject: How are you doing,my dear friend?

How are you doing,my dear friend?

I am really happy now because i got my new iphone.haha…

I really want an iphone,you know that,right?

And i just found a cool place to buy it with a cheaper price.

<www.newelecn.com>

Hope you can have a look.

Have a nice day and best regards!

For what its worth I have reported the matter to the police and I have also got in touch with the attacker’s internet service provider China 169. Unfortunately I have no suggestions, other than change your password regularly, on how anybody else should avoid this specific attack as I am convinced that both my computers are clean, one of them is even a GNU/Linux machine! I take security quite seriously but I do apologize to anyone who received this spam from my e-mail account.

Here is what I saw when I tried to access Google calendar about the time of the attack:

Update 24 November 2010

The one thing that angered me was that Google has a unusual activity detection system and even though I was on GMail at the time of the attack I saw no warnings. In fact the only warning I received as about 7h later at about 10pm. The original access table said the Chinese access came from a browser, now it says its ‘Unknown’.

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