it-sneak

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Online benefits system unworkable with almost all modern IT

02 May 2013

Microsoft Windows XP boxes on the assembly line in 2001As someone who likes to sit around in his dressing gown watching daytime TV, Sneak is well-versed with the process of claiming benefits to fund his relaxed lifestyle. So he was very excited with the transition of certain benefit claim forms to the web, meaning even less reason for him to interact with any actual humans.

Those who want to claim either Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Overseas State Pension can simply visit the Gov.UK website, where they are then pointed to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) website to fill out a form online.

So far, so impressive, in that the government is allowing citizens to apply for benefits over the web, rather than having to fill out forms and send them in via the post or visit offices in person.

However, it seems that many of those claimants could fall at the first hurdle due to some rather outdated stipulations  about the computer systems supported by the DWP.

"This service doesn't work with some modern browsers and operating systems," the DWP notes. "We are considering how best to provide this service in future. You may want to claim in another way."

That's putting it mildly. Sneak has decided to post these system requirements here in their full glory, as he couldn't word them better than the DWP.

"The service does not work properly with Macs or other Unix-based systems even though you may be able to input information.

"You are likely to have problems if you use Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9 and 10, Windows Vista or a smartphone. Clearing temporary internet files may help but you may wish to claim in another way.

"There is also a high risk that if you use browsers not listed below, including Chrome, Safari or Firefox, the service will not display all the questions you need to answer. This is likely to prevent you from successfully completing or submitting the form. You may wish to claim in another way."

And now on to the much more restricted list of what your computer needs to be running if you actually want to claim a benefit online.

"The service was designed to work with the following operating systems and browsers. Many of these are no longer available:

  • Microsoft Windows 98: Internet Explorer versions 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0, Netscape 7.2
  • Microsoft Windows ME: Internet Explorer version 5.5 and 6.0, Netscape 7.2
  • Microsoft Windows 2000: Internet Explorer version 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0, Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, Mozilla 1.7.7
  • Microsoft Windows XP: Internet Explorer 6.0, Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, Mozilla 1.7.7."

This sent Sneak running to dig out his old Windows ME machine from the loft, running IE 4 - but there are still further obstacles to getting any money out of the government.

"This service is not available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 1.00am to 1.30am because of essential maintenance work. We apologise for any inconvenience," warns the DWP.

Perhaps that's when their hamsters change shifts - you know, the ones that run inside wheels keeping government IT systems up and running.

Tetris proves effective treatment for lazy eyes

24 Apr 2013

tetris-stackable-led-desk-lamp

Sneak has often been accused of letting video games get in the way of work. But there are days when it's only the prospect of getting a highest score on Stick Cricket that makes the prospect of heading into the office palatable. But thanks to Canadian doctors, Sneak now has the perfect excuse.

A McGill university team have shown that playing Tetris can be used to treat lazy eye. According to the researchers, the game makes users' eyes work together, providing a more effective approach than the traditional patch.

“It's much better than patching, much more enjoyable, it's faster and it seems to work better," Dr Robert Hess, the group's lead researcher, told the BBC.

The researchers got their volunteers to play the game while wearing specially modified goggles, which enabled one eye to see only falling objects and the other the blocks piling up on the ground. A hour's Tetris-playing a day for two weeks was enough to demonstrate an improvement.

And not only does Tetris provide an effective treatment, other computer games might also work, he added.

Sneak is quietly confident that all those accusations of laziness will soon be a thing of the past.

Judge pays $25 fine for breaching his own phone rules

16 Apr 2013

Judge's gavel

Sneak has always been a strong proponent of the inviolability of the courthouse, and cannot abide those ill-mannered citizens that let their mobile phones interrupt proceedings with their incessant ringtones.

So Sneak was doubly pleased to see that at least one judge, Michigan's Raymond Voet feels the same way, and issues on-the-spot fines to anyone whose phone disturbs his courtroom – even if that means fining himself.

According to the Sentinel Standard – Sneak's Michigan news outlet of choice – poor judge Voet got himself in a right pickle when he inadvertently activated the voice command functions of his new phone while the court was in session.

Apparently, Voet had been a loyal BlackBerry user for years, but like most gave up with the platform to move to a new device, only to discover he had no idea how to turn off his new smartphone's voice function.

“It started talking really loud, saying 'I can't understand you. Say something like Mom,'" he told the Sentinel. "My face got as red as a beet."

But as an upstanding citizen, judge Voet also believed that he had to abide by the same rules he set for those in his courtroom, so during a recess, ruled that he was in contempt of court and fined himself $25 for the interruption.

Now that's what Sneak calls swift justice.

Falcon's nest forces Vodafone to switch off mobile mast

15 Apr 2013

A falcon has knocked out mobile coverage in Southampton

Sneak has come across some bizarre excuses for the infuriating loss of mobile coverage in the past, from operators having their datacentre kit pilfered or problems with its user database. But, for Vodafone and its customers in the Southampton area, Sneak thinks this is something of a first: loss of signal being blamed on a bird's nest.

It might sound like a feather-brained excuse, but the bird in question happens to be a peregrine falcon, one of the creatures that gets protected under British law. Disturbing its nest could land you in jail.

In fact, such is the protection these birds enjoy that Vodafone is not permitted to tell anyone which mobile mast it's had to turn off – although Sneak suspects that its customers in the Southampton area probably have a pretty good idea.

A Vodafone spokesman told the BBC it would be unable to access its mast until after any chicks had flown the nest – which would probably be some time in June.

While that might seem like an interminable wait for Vodafone's customers, Sneak can't help but get a warm glow from knowing that a peregrine has made itself a home in one of these ugly metal constructions.

After all, Sneak has always been something of a secret twitcher, and the high-powered, infra-red binoculars are definitely used for watching our feathered friends, regardless of what the neighbours might say.

Margaret Thatcher death hashtag mix-up leaves Twitter users mourning music icon Cher

09 Apr 2013

Sneak isn’t a very political person, so he’ll refrain from sharing his views on the passing of ex-PM Margaret Thatcher.

But he was horrified when reports started circulating on Monday that the world had lost a true global icon, a woman who has done as much for fashion as she has for musical invention – Cher.

cher-nowthatchersdead-twitter

The trending hashtag #nowthatchersdead was read by many Twitter users (well, those who are totally uninformed on news and global events) as announcing the news that Cher's dead, rather than Thatcher's dead, leading to an outpouring of grief for the entertainer.

And then some clarification from a bemused comedian.

Sneak himself was more concerned that the hashtag related to X-Factor contestant Cher Lloyd. Having long been a fan of tuneless, over-produced noise, Ms Lloyd is one of Sneak’s favourite performers. Still, seeing as she’s only about 12, he hopes she’ll be around to grace us with her dulcet tones for many decades to come.

Sneak is also hopeful that the #nowthatchersdead debacle, and many wasted tears over Cher #1 and #2’s passing, will lead to an upsurge in correct use of grammar on all social networks and hashtags. Although this is about as likely to happen as Billy Bragg, Morrissey and Ken Livingstone offering to be Margaret Thatcher’s coffin bearers.

Google has to take down take-down requests

05 Apr 2013

share-files-legally-illustrationIt doesn't seem that long ago that the Twittersphere worked itself into a furious lather on the issue of super injunctions. Sneak can understand that: there's nothing more infuriating than not knowing that someone is not supposed to tell you something. Or something like that, it's all far too meta for Sneak's simple brain.

Because Sneak gets easily confused, it was utterly perplexing to see that that movie makers are now sending out take-down requests to get their own take-down requests removed from the web.

The problem has arisen because Google reports any Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement notices it gets – these are typically sent from movie studios asking for pirated material to be removed from Google's results.

The trouble is, as P2P news site TorrentFreak reports, these take-down notices list the sites that hold allegedly infringing material. In effect, the take-down notices are proving to be one of the riches sources of pirated materials on the web. Fox Legal Group alone has been responsible for seeking to get more than 50,000 urls removed from Google's results in a mere two-month period.

Clearly, Sneak can see that the only way to put a definitive end to this is for the movie makers to now issue more take-down notices for the take-down notices for the take-down notices. The lawyers must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Google aims to rewrite the Swedish language

26 Mar 2013

swedish-flag

Sneak has never really understood much about the world of marketing. The sharp-suited, with a penchant for powdering their noses, have always left Sneak feeling soiled by their presence. But the one thing Sneak was confident about when it came to marketing was that brand recognition is a good thing.

Sadly it seems this is not the case, at least not if you happen to be search engine maven Google.

It has petitioned the Swedish Language Council to edit its annual list of new words, to avoid damage to its oh-so-precious brand.

The Language Council had suggested including the Swedish equivalent of “ungoogleable” to its list of new words – the term apparently having become common parlance in the country, describing a term that cannot be found by searching the web.

According to Swedish news site, Sveriges Radio, the council have removed the term from their list, after Google's pleas. It seems the search giant was worried it could set a precedent for its name to become a generic term, as happening with the hoover, thereby destroying brand value.

The Swedish Language Council have never been asked to remove a word before, but lacked the resources to get into a fight with Google, Ann Cederberg, the Language Council director told Sveriges Radio.

Of course, until this case, Sneak would have never known the Swedish had a term for “ungoogleable”. So, obviously, the only way to actually discover that it was in fact “ogooglebar” was, of course, for Sneak to Google it.

There's a joke in there somewhere but it hurts Sneak's brain to think about it too much.

Budget 2013: George Osborne joins Twitter, instantly swamped with abuse

20 Mar 2013

UK chancellor George Osborne has chosen the morning of the 2013 budget to unleash himself on the Twittersphere, sending his first tweet on Wednesday morning. Under the @George_Osborne account, he tweeted:

The tweet is accompanied by a picture of the chancellor with his red box, indeed working hard and getting on, if you call sitting with a blank piece of paper and doing some scribbling as evidence of achievement.

Sneak hopes that one of the budget announcements will be providing the UK chancellor with a calculator or actual computer to add up his sums. 

Osborne had managed to amass more than 20,000 followers by mid-morning Wednesday, including  MPs and industry groups like David Cameron, Liam Fox and the British Chambers of Commerce - those that Sneak would define as dull as ditchwater, and keeps far from his Twitter feed - plus a few random ones like Bill Gates and The Beautiful World: the most beautiful, crazy, stunning pictures of this earth, the biography claims.

Obviously our chancellor needs a little light relief every now and again, though Sneak would have gone for @sockington.

However, no sooner had poor George published his one and only tweet this morning, but the floodgates opened on a torrent of abuse and mick-taking aimed at the chancellor.

It took Sneak a fair while of searching through the hundreds of welcome tweets to Osborne to find some clean enough to post on a professional site like V3, but this gives a taste of the messages.

Some might feel sorry for the chancellor being subject to this level of abuse and ridicule, on the most important day of his year. But Sneak suspects an ulterior motive.

Osborne, or his canny PR team, would have known full well the likely outcome of unveiling his Twitter account on Budget Day, and must be secretly hoping that the interest in all the tweeting will overshadow any controversial decisions the chancellor announces this afternoon, or at least encourage some level of sympathy for him.

Sneak is sorry to reveal to Osborne that Twitter is not exactly a hotbed of sympathetic and measured viewpoints. All of which puts us in mind of this delightful moment from last summer:

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