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Big data finds the rat that links man and beasts

08 Feb 2013


Sneak has always been suspicious of the so-called big data trend – mainly because the term is so lame. But the latest scientist breakthrough has really put the tin lid on. Now, and indeed thanks, to so-called big data it has proven what some readers may long suspected: that Sneak is related to an ancient rat.

According to scientists at Stony Brook University, human beings' common ancestor with other mammals that raise infants in utero was a half-pound, rat like creature that scoffed insects and lived millions of years ago.

The Stony Brook team, along with colleagues dotted across the globe, were only able to make this discovery thanks to the data-crunching capabilities of an online genetic matching platform, known as Morphobank.

They used it to study 4,500 mammalian characteristics - from the skull, the skeleton, teeth to the internal organs, muscles and even fur patterns. That represented 10 times more characteristics than they'd previously been able to study at one time.

Attempting to identify a common ancestor using all those data points was a far bigger database problem than the palaeontologists involved had ever attempted before.

“At one point I didn't think we'd ever finish,” Micharl Novacek, provost for science at the American Museum of Natural History told the New York Times.

Frankly, given that Sneak's endured a lifetime of being branded a dirty rat, he almost wishes they never had.

North Korean leader in HTC smartphone use shock

05 Feb 2013

HTC One X Plus comes with HTC's Sense user interface

The folk in North Korea don't have it easy and that's putting it mildly.

In fact Sneak finds it outrageous that in a world of internet access and smartphones and tablets people in the nation are barely allowed online and mobile phones can only call internally, effectively shutting off the outside world.

Of course, the leaders of such despotic regimes rarely place the same burdens on themselves as they do to their poor populous, and a photo that's emerged from North Korea shows its leader Kim Jong-un seeming to enjoy the benefits of smartphone.

Speculation immediately suggested it could be a Samsung. This would of course be highly embarrassing for the North Korean leader as the south is the nation's sworn enemy. However, it appears more likely to be an HTC device.

HTC is a Taiwanese firm, struggling in the market, and having its brand associated with a tyrannically leader bent on smothering a downtrodden population with the simply swipe of a smartphone doesn't help.

The use of an HTC would suggest Kim is a fan of the Android operating system, despite its security issues. Only recently the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, was in North Korea to talk up web access. Perhaps he gave it to him as a gift.

Of course, the real question is, what does he think of BB10?

O2 offers HTC customers Blessed voicemails

28 Jan 2013

HTC Windows Phone 8S blue

There haven't been many days in Sneak's life where he's wished he was called Gordon, but mobile operator O2 might just have changed that.

In a bid to make the gloriously unhip Windows Phone 8 handsets from HTC a smite more alluring, O2 has convinced national treasure and all round shouty bloke Brian Blessed to record personalised voicemail messages for it customers.

If you're one of the first 100 to buy the a Windows Phone 8S or 8X by HTC and notify O2 by incorporating the hashtag 'brianmail' into a tweet, you could have a Blessed record your very own voicemail message.

“I’m thrilled to be lending my vocal talents to the good folk at O2. I’m planning to have a lot of fun with the voicemail messages, and leave the caller amused, confused and generally bewildered,” said Blessed.

And what better way for callers to be greeted on those occasions you're too busy to answer than have him bellow: “Gordon's alive! Just not able to come to the phone right now. Please leave a message.”

Developer outsources own job to China but VPN logs give the game away

16 Jan 2013


Like many workers, Sneak struggles to manage his Facebook, eBay and Reddit commitments with the drudgery of his day-to-day job. But now Sneak has realised the secret to striking the perfect work-life balance. 

Verizon's latest security blog posting details a great story about a worker at an unnamed firm working in US critical infrastructure. It had installed a VPN service to allow some of its staff to work from home for a couple of days a week, and all was good. Or at least it was until they started checking the logs.

It appeared they had an open and active connection to Shenyang, China. Given the VPN needed two-factor authentication, this had all the hallmarks of a sophisticated malware attack on their infrastructure – and given the nature of their work, that set the alarms bell ringing.

Having drafted in Verizon Wireless to help out, the firm soon discovered that one of its developers had been compromised. Not by a group of nefarious Chinese hackers, but by an affliction Sneak knows only too well: lazyitis.

The developer in his mid-40s had been hiring a Chinese consulting firm to do his job for him. He'd simply FedEx his security token over, and sit back and enjoy his pay cheque – as we all know, offshore workers can be much cheaper. In fact, as the investigators discovered, it looked like he'd been running the same scam with a number of firms in the area.

Still, it's not all bad news. The developer in question had quarter after quarter been rated as the best in the firm, so at least the firm was getting good coding for its money.

Facebook use makes you fat

15 Jan 2013

Health crisis

As the pizza boxes pile mounting by the bin can attest, Sneak's New Year diet is not going to plan. Of course, Sneak knows only too well that his lack of self control hasn't helped matters, but this inability to ignore the alluring call of a 15in stuffed crust deep pan with extra mozzarella and sausage is not proof of a personality defect. As it turns out, Sneaks complete lack of willpower is entirely Facebook's fault.

At least that's the interpretation Sneak had from reading a newly released piece of research from the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School.

Researchers Andrew Stephen and Keith Wilcox studied 1,000 Facebook users to see how their experience of using the social networking site impacted their lives. They found users that had strong ties with friends via Facebook were more likely to experience an increase in self-esteem, which is nice for them.

“We find that people experience greater self-esteem when they focus on the image they are presenting to strong ties in their social networks," said Wilcox. "This suggests that even though people are sharing the same positive information with strong ties and weak ties on social networks, they feel better about themselves when the information is received by strong ties than by weak ties."

But the researchers discovered this was a double-edged sword. So while users felt better about themselves after using Facebook, they also showed far less self control after doing so.

“The results suggest that greater social network use is associated with a higher body-mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit-card debt for individuals with strong ties to their social network," they wrote.

The research has been published by the Journal of Consumer Research.

Given Sneak's Facebook habit and the advent of online pizza ordering, little wonder the diet has gone for a burton.

Facebook lets users message Zuckerberg direct for mere $100

11 Jan 2013


It may only be a few days in to 2013, but it looks like being another year where Sneak will spend it desperately trying to pay off embarrassingly large bills. For once though, this isn't the result of festive largess, but purely because Sneak was trying to be helpful.

For the past few years, Sneak has been sending sage advice to social networking wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg via his Facebook site. After all, being a young billionaire, and lacking experience of the world outside Silicon Valley, can be hard. 

So Sneak is pretty sure his advice – on sartorial matters (gentlemen are allowed to wear garments other than hoodies), interior design (spray painting may look edgy, but a nice frame with a poster featuring a motivational buzz phrase does more for office morale, and is easier to change when you tire of it), and relaxation techniques (bikram yoga can soothe away stress and is likely to get you in to less trouble with Peta than butchering animals) – has been well received.

Indeed, after polishing off the left over brandy sauce from Christmas recently, Sneak was inspired to send Zuck scores of messages, advising the young pup how to make social networking less creepy and intrusive. 

Trouble is, Sneak has only recently been alerted to the fact that it now costs $100 for Facebook users that don't follow Zuck to send him a message – and Sneak has to be careful about who he lets see his timeline. 

Apparently the charges have been introduced as Facebook explores ways to cut back spam. It's a worthy effort, but one that means Sneak will spend another January glued to eBay, watching to see how much the unwanted Christmas pressies might raise. Pair of tiger-print lycra yoga shorts anyone? How about a onesie?

French thieves smash and grab Paris Apple store

02 Jan 2013


Zut alors! Le Sneak was shocked to zee zat thieves in ze French capital of Paris (That's enough faux French accents now - Parisian Ed) have stolen around £1m of Apple goods in a New Year's Eve heist.

The Gallic assassins used the cover of fireworks and drunken revellers to mask their thieving ways and cries of, "Quick, grab the Pomme iPads and iPhones!" (see those French lessons stuck!), to make off with some serious loot.

"They were well prepared," said the brilliantly-named Christophe Crepin from the police union UNSA, according to numerous reports.

"As the majority of police were busy watching the Champs Elysees the robbers took advantage of this opportunity."

The heist is estimated to be worth around £813,000 which given the pricing of Apple goods means they probably got three iPads, four iPhones and five new iMacs in total.

According to the French newspaper Le Parisien (no idea what that means) the thieves were able to first gain access by threatening a security guard at a back entrance.

Typical, a back-door exploit; see those closed ecosystems aren't as secure as you think.

Pope Benedict passes on God's message via Twitter

12 Dec 2012


And lo it came to pass that on the 12/12/12 Pope Benedict XVI would tweet and the people would rejoice for they looked and saw that his tweets were good. Well, grammatically accurate at least.

What words of great wisdom and insight did God's representative on earth have for the mortal masses who hold the scriptures dear? Like most people on Twitter it's all very self-involved stuff.

"Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart," he wrote first, before asking: "How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?"

The punch line to this zinger, is wait for it... "By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need."

Ha, that old chestnut! Oh, Pope Ben, you're so witty.

So far the Pope has only followed seven people, though, all called Ben too, bizarrely, but Sneak is hoping he may get a follow soon after he retweeted what the Pope wrote to his 74 followers.

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