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Thwarting credit card crooks: it’s all in the jeans

19 Dec 2014

Sneak goes about his daily life with a healthy dose of paranoia and suspicion. And rightly so, as he recently discovered that tech-savvy crooks can wirelessly swipe information from contactless credit cards - all via a smartphone and a bit of technical finesse.

Feeding Sneak's natural distrust of the human race and pretty much everything in between, security experts have claimed that this form of remote pickpocketing is a growing problem.

Sneak is beginning to think that it might be best never to leave the house, but unfortunately Mrs Sneak keeps going on about "fresh air", "sunlight" and "the missing cat".

Being forced to navigate the mean streets of Britain, Sneak now has to carry around a wallet lined with lead and wrapped in tin foil. But help is at hand, according to the BBC.

Security firm Norton has teamed up with clothing firm Betabrand to create men's jeans and women's blazers featuring pockets lined with a sliver-based radio frequency identification blocking material.

Security-conscious fashionistas might enjoy the video below.

Effectively, the partnership has created the first wave of cyber-security fashion. With the tech trend trackers touting wearable technology as the next big thing, Sneak predicts that more clothes will need a layer of security. Perhaps we'll see shirts with firewalls, encrypted socks and hats with data segregation.

However, Sneak should probably alert you to the price before you rush to pick up Betabrand's jeans and jackets when they land in shops in February 2015 -  the jeans cost the equivalent of £96 and the blazer a steeper £127.

Sneak gave up following fashion when the boot cut trouser died a slow death on the high street, but he still thinks some people might baulk at the prices. That being said, can you really put a price on peace of mind?

To indulge his paranoia, Sneak would splash out on the jeans, but that would mean breaking a decade of rocking mustard cords.

Warning: Chinese e-cigarettes may damage your PC's health

25 Nov 2014

Sneak remembers his first cigarette, a rather clichéd affair involving bike sheds, peer pressure and no shortage of coughing. He decided that putting tubes of burning paper and dried leaves into his mouth was not for him.

Ever since then Sneak has been the one who looks after people's coats at the pub. But apparently, smoking can be quite moreish.

For Sir Walter Raleigh fans who aren't in denial about the warnings liberally plastered over tobacco packaging, electronic cigarettes offer a nicotine vapour-fuelled alternative to a tar-filled respiratory system.

Having originally thought that e-cigarettes were simply smoking apparatus from Yorkshire, Sneak decided to do a little more research into the subject.

To his surprise, while e-cigarettes are better for a smoker's health, it turns out they are not so good for the faithful PC or laptop that has the duty of charging the contemporary cigarettes.

According to a report on Reddit, some e-cigarettes appear to contain malware that can be inhaled by PCs and laptops when plugged into a USB port to charge.

One user who claims to be "an IT guy" detailed a data breach story at a "large corporation" where a seemingly secured computer was infected with malware from an unknown source.

The IT team went into Sherlock mode and eventually deduced that the malware came from a Chinese e-cigarette. Apparently the malware had been hard-coded into the charger, making like E.T. and phoning home to infect the system once it was plugged into a USB port.

While fellow Reddit users piled in with opinions, the consensus was to avoid charging e-cigarettes via USB and to stick to wall chargers.

Sneak would have suggested that smokers try the cold turkey route instead, but thought this might prompt some confusion with Christmas just round the corner.

E-cigarettes are not the first seemingly mundane items to contain hidden malware; digital photo-frames, MP3 players and other USB-enabled devices have been known to harbour viruses that can exploit poorly protected networks.

Ever the conspiracy theorist, Sneak believes this may be the first stage of a Chinese invasion, where every e-cigarette smoker is an unwitting sleeper agent swathed in malware and nicotine vapour.

He's even taken to keeping a weather eye on Mrs Sneak's cat, Chairman Meow, who has been acting strangely ever since Mrs Sneak started Mandarin language classes.

Artist intends to spend a month in Oculus Rift virtual reality headset living someone else’s life

20 Nov 2014

Sneak has done some crazy things in his life, many of them with some purpose, some even with some point.

Once he went 23 and a half years as a celibate, and once he went seven hours without a drink. Once he completed eating a packet of crisps without tipping it up and pouring its contents into his mouth, and once he managed to have two baths in a 148-hour period.

What he has never done, though, and never wanted to do, is spend a month wearing a headset that would make him feel like he is living someone else's life.

In fact, he would ruddy hate that. Unless it was a swap with a sloth, or someone who is paid to test beds and beer. That would possibly be acceptable.

One guy, though, an ‘artist' notes Sneak from below raised eyebrows, will wear an Oculus Rift headset and wander around presumably talking about what an exciting and immersive experience they are enjoying for a whole month.

The artist is called Mark Farid, according to a conversation that Sneak overheard while he was trying to sleep on the train, and he has earned immediate placement on Sneak's people-to-avoid list.

Farid has turned to Kickstarter to fund his month in someone else's virtual shoes, and has raised around £4,000 so far. This leaves about £146,000 to raise and 28 days to raise it.

Sneak likes a dreamer, and is really trying not to be so negative about things these days. He can also see some appeal in switching off for a month and being awarded £150,000 for the privilege.

We can't be sure, but it appears that he has been spending some time on the Kickstarter pages himself, and it did not look like he was investing in anyone else's schemes.

If you suddenly find that a low-budget, grubby, curmudgeonly man is shadowing your every move for a month it is probably Sneak. We advise you not to feed him, and to avoid eye contact.

T-Mobile will cancel a phone contact, eventually, and only over a husband's dead body

17 Nov 2014

Mobile phone outfit T-Mobile has not done much to endear itself to the British public, having reportedly insisted that a widow provide physical proof that her husband was dead and no longer in need of his mobile phone contract, reads Sneak.

The lady, Maria Raybould, according to The Daily Mail, lost her husband in the summer and provided T-Mobile with a death certificate. However, this was apparently not enough and T-Mobile insisted that the contract must still be honoured.

The paper reports that Raybould received a number of demands for money from the company and made a number of attempts to settle the issue by taking the ashes of the departed to a T-Mobile shop and showing them to people who worked there.

This failed to stop the demands for the £129 cancellation charges, according to The Daily Mail.

"I've been up to the shop with the death certificate, with a letter from the crematorium, the funeral bills - even his ashes. I took in everything I could. I lost it in the shop. I gave them 20 minutes to sort it out. I went outside and had a panic attack," Raybould said.

"When I went back in the girl told me she had spoken to the manager and they were going to stop the contract. Then I had another letter about the bailiffs."

This led to more contact with T-Mobile, and intervention from Raybould's son who was told that the situation was now fixed.

Sneak could predict what happened next: the sending of another collection letter with the addition of a warning about the imminent involvement of collection agencies.

Raybould suggested that cancelling the contract was a more difficult process than burying her husband.

Sneak has asked T-Mobile if it wants to deliver its side of the tale. According to The Daily Mail, an automated system was blamed and an apology issued.

A T-Mobile spokesperson said: "We apologise to Mrs Raybould for any distress caused at this difficult time. We can confirm that the account has been closed and the balance cleared."

Blue Ticks of Doom confirm your WhatsApp messages are being ignored

07 Nov 2014

Sneak loves WhatsApp. It's fun and easy to use and so what if it's owned by Facebook? The company only has his best interests at heart. In fact, he was pleased when Facebook bought it, as he hoped they would fix the problem that seemed to be plaguing him - undelivered messages.

To Sneak the uniform lack of response to messages he sent to friends, potential lovers and even family was clear: WhatsApp wasn't delivering the message. Sure the two little ticks appeared confirming delivery, but if that was the case - WHY DOES NO-ONE EVER REPLY? It was the fault of the technology, surely?

However, WhatsApp has now dealt a cruel blow with the inclusion of 'blue ticks' that inform you when your messages have been read - and invariably not replied to.

The note to Steve from accounts on Friday at 5:25pm asking if he fancied a pint? Read and ignored. The message to Louise, the nice coder he met at the SQL Singles night, that took literally days to compose? Dismissed. The message to mum looking for a crumb of comfort after his beloved cat Mr Tickles died? Utterly snubbed.

These little Blue Ticks of Doom, as Sneak has dubbed them, have no doubt already caused misery and heartbreak for millions around the world who can no longer delude themselves that their missives have still not been read, never arrived in the first place, or were intercepted by the National Security Agency.

No, the cold hard truth is that they were read, the eyes rolled, and they were ignored. Still at least you love me, right Mr Tickles 2? Hey, Mr Tickles, come back ...

Kim Kardashian can't leave BlackBerry phones behind

28 Oct 2014

512px-kim-kardashian-2011Times are tough at BlackBerry. Billions of dollars in losses may have addled the minds of executives who were once at the forefront of the mobile phone market - case in point the crime against ergonomics that is the Passport phone.

Sneak can imagine the company's top execs sat at their breakfast tables, tears and maple syrup pouring onto their pancakes, wondering who they could call on to save their company.

"If only we hand a famous, well-loved star to advocate our brand!" Sneak can almost hear BlackBerry's head of marketing wail.

Enter reality and sex tape star, Kim Kardashian who according to Recode is keen to throw her weight behind BlackBerry.

"I love my BlackBerry. I don't understand the reaction I get when I say that," said amply-reared half of Kimye - the horrific amalgamation of Kardashian and her husband, professional egomaniac Kanye West.

Kardashian revealed that her BlackBerry is her "heart and soul" further solidifying Sneak's prejudices that all reality TV are simply robots controlled via a massive scandal-generating supercomputer run by a secretive cabal of gossip magazines and powered by the blood of celebrity bloggers.

When Recode suggested that Kardashian could become a spokesmodel for BlackBerry, she jumped on the suggestion, saying she would make a call, presumably hammering out the number on the keyboard of her many BlackBerrys.

Sneak is sceptical that a reality TV star, better known for her hefty rear than punchy personality, is really the ambassador that the enterprise-focussed BlackBerry might be looking for. Still, such a partnership would be a bold move and inject an new form of curve into the deflated Blackberry brand.

Perhaps, the Kardashian machine can help corporate directors capture the perfect bikini-clad selfie for Instagram, and help them interpret comments like "dat ass" and "OMG totes amaze".

However, Sneak wants to point out that if such a partnership were to happen, the irony police would need alerting to the conundrum of having a celebrity whose fame came from a leaked sex tape as a spokeswoman for a company that prides itself on security.

Yet, the reality TV starlet is nothing if not dedicated to the BlackBerry cause, admitting to delving through eBay to get her manicured hands on the keyboard-toting Bold handsets, adding to the three she keeps in her room as the technological equivalent of Dorian Grey's portrait.

In Sneak's mind she conjured up scenes of a tense bidding battle between the star and fellow fanatic BB4theWinAppleSuxxFanBoy101 to grab the vintage handset.

Regardless of the tenuous links between Kim and BlackBerry, Sneak doubts any partnership would ever take off, as no doubt husband Kanye will interrupt every meeting by declaring how the Nokia 3310 was the best mobile of all time.

The Apprentice does wearable technology in unbearable fashion

16 Oct 2014

Although he applies every year, Sneak does not get close to a seat at Alan Sugar's firing table on the BBC show The Apprentice, and as each series rolls by he falls to the floor at the idiocy of the contestants. This week he was excited to see them enter the wearables industry, but quickly assumed his horizontal position.

While wearables were on the agenda, somewhere along the line the apprentices invented something that Sneak is calling the Unbearables industry.

Despite some of the people there having web, sales, technology and fashion experience, it was a man who sells medicines, or something close to that, who took up the wearable banner and it was he who effectively put the greenlight to a grey jumper with an inbuilt, tilted to the side, boob level camera that no one really knew how to operate.

Sneak, who by 9pm is usually looking for ways to wake up his neighbours, was rather pulled in by the idea. He does like jumpers, after all. However, the desire and excitement soon wore off.

The jumper itself was quite dandy, but the wearable elements were not. A camera nodule looked like a third nipple, while above that was a red LED to show when the jumper is recording, presumably so you could rethink hurling water at the wearer, and lurking around that was a light up sign that said 'on air'.

The thinking was that people would wear it to capture their fun and stuff like that. However, during one pitch to potential buyers, a member of the team admitted that he wouldn't wear it in public. Here Sneak, if he were an apprentice, might have suggested that he would wear it in public, though only to immolate himself.

At the next pitch at a high street store, a different apprentice stuck his head up with some idiocy and suggested that people and technology users are bored with privacy. Sneak keeps not much more than a casual eye on the technology industry, but is confident enough to call that suggestion totally wide of the mark.

The grey jumper with lights and camera did not make any sales, except perhaps under the counter to dreadful private eyes, but the light-up, heat-up and charge-up 80s power jacket that the female team came up with did make some sales. Around 250 of them.

That item, which is wearable because it is a jacket, was a perfect example of what happens when too many cooks try to make soup. It was a Heath Robinson piece of tailoring that no one would find easy to love, never mind take seriously.

Meanwhile, and not on the UK telly,, who Sneak understands was once a Black Eyed Pea, launched Puls, which is his take on the smartwatch.

Mr reckons that the Puls is the future. Sneak, or Mr No.thank.u, thinks that Dick Tracy did this whole thing much better many, many years ago and with much less punctuation.

Face-recognition software monetises mirth in Barcelona

10 Oct 2014

Despite his often misinterpreted demeanour, Sneak enjoys a good comedy show. But if you were to tell him he'd have to pay for it by the laugh, that might stifle his enthusiasm for the ramblings of Dylan Moran or Stuart Lee.

But that's exactly what a comedy club in Barcelona is doing. The BBC reported that face-recognition software is being used at the Teatreneu club to track the enjoyment of a show and charge fans the equivalent of 23p per laugh. It would seem the club is literally looking to get the last laugh.

The club imposes a cap of £18, which prevents the easily amused from guffawing themselves into financial ruin, but Sneak still finds the entire approach a bit daft. Sneak wonders why there is a need for such mirth-monitoring, as he would assume that those with no sense of humour would evade comedy gigs like cats avoid water.

Still, such technology is moot for Sneak, as an accident with a stray blade server when he was a young IT technician means his face can't display human emotions, let alone laughter.

While the monitoring of laughter is a relatively innocent use of face-recognition software, it has led Sneak to ponder where the technology will go next.

Perhaps the NSA will use it to spot unhappy US citizens, snapping them up before they spread dissension about this new thing the Europeans call "responsible gun control". Or maybe advertisers will tap into CCTV networks and spot ecstatic or melancholic citizens to sell them Temazepam or Prozac respectively, and effectively commoditise human emotions.

But Sneak is being a little harsh on the technology; after all, perhaps it could be used to find his long-lost brother Snitch, who disappeared after carrying out Booz Allen contract work for the CIA.

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