it-sneak

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System administrators of the world unite and, more importantly, party

26 Jul 2013

A cake says all that needs to be said for hard system administrators

Sneak doesn't like to be grateful. Gratefulness implies somebody has done something nice for him. However, today, he makes an exception: today is quite possibly the most important day on the IT calendar: SysAdmin Day. And system administrators deserve some respect.

It's the 14th time this celebration of our unsung office heroes has been held, so it's a surprise that Sneak hasn't heard of it before. But he'll do his best to make the most of it at such short notice by meeting every member of IT staff in the building, giving them a handshake and informing them that, for once, he hasn't been downloading and running executables in direct contravention of IT policy.

An IT manager struggles to find the problem as employees grow impatient and ungrateful

An IT staffer tries to solve another one of Sneak's 'unusual' computer problems

The official SysAdmin Day website recommends ice cream, pizza, cards, gifts and t-shirts. Sneak recommends a hearty pat on the back and a ‘sorry for everything', as this will probably mean more and indirectly also help with the budget, which can be spent on that much-needed laptop upgrade Sneak's been after for a while.

An IT manager juggles balls and demonstrates the amount of tasks he has on the go at once

Sneak finds juggling a suitable visual metaphor for a system admin's job

With that being said, if your company operates a BYOD policy, Sneak suggests you BYOCake as the bravery required to enact such a policy is extensive.

For UK-based IT chaps and chappettes, there's a couple of parties taking place in London and Nottingham today in your honour. Go wild!

First draft of Boris's letter to Apple, Samsung on street thefts emerges

09 Jul 2013

London Mayor Boris Johnson

As one who never ventures far from the safety of his living room Sneak can count himself lucky he’s not one of the many Londoners who have experienced street crime, especially not of his beloved mobile phone.

However, it’s a worrying trend and Sneak was pleased to see Mayor of London Boris Johnson tackle the issue head on with a letter to the top mobile phone makers, including Apple, Samsung and Google, asking them to help tackle phone theft.

Scanning the letter, it’s clear some hasty rewriting took place in City Hall to tone down some of Johnson’s more colourful prose. However, a source in the capital passed Sneak a copy of the first draft, which is presented below in all its glory.
 
Dear chaps or chapesses (yes I know women can be high-ranking business officials these days, the modern world eh, marvelous!)

What spiffing weather we’re having! Anyhoo, look, there’s this dash awful phone-gizmo theft problem in London that I need your help with. It seems some of the awful scallywags and ne’er-do-wells who don’t live in Kensington and Chelsea are appropriating – through foul means – the portable telecommunication devices of upstanding citizens.

The rozzers at Scots Yard tell me they’re powerless to stop anyone and that I should ask you geek and nerds – and I mean that affectionately you brilliant brainy boffins – for some help stopping these ruffians.

No, I don’t mean some sort of weedy geek squads patrolling the streets, Lord no!

What I want is some sort of whizzo tech solution. Surely you can rustle up some nifty gizmo to stop this happening? Some sort of Heath Robinson contraption that stops someone being able to use a stolen phone would be great – you could call it the Boris-a-tron! You can have that free of charge! Marvelous!

Anyway, send me some drawings of what you think could work and I’ll personally look over them before giving them the sign off.

Toodle pip,

BoJo.

Sent from my blasted tablet device (haha!)

Thieves of London, you have been warned...

Sainsbury's will serve mobile phone users

04 Jul 2013

A trolley at a Sainsbury's supermarket

Sneak's go-to baked beans emporium Sainsbury's will serve people that arrive at its tills while talking on a mobile phone.

This is good news for Sneak, a man who at times has been bee-keeping, sleeping, riding a scooter, plotting a star chart, riding a bull, and making a ship in a bottle at checkouts in the past, and enjoys the freedom of doing whatever he wants, no matter who he is dealing with.

Sneak has his right to let his attention wander thanks to a lady called Jo, who was on her phone when she got to the checkout in her local store.

"I was standing at the foot of the till waiting to bag my shopping up, yet the lady on the checkout was just staring at me," said Jo Clarke to the Metro newspaper about the incident.

"I ended my call swiftly and said to the lady on the checkout, ‘Apologies, I didn't realise that it was Sainsbury's policy that you are unable to use your phone at the checkout,' and she said, ‘Well you learn something new every day,'."

Sneak asked Sainsbury's, while he was playing Ping Pong, doing a Sudoku, and wrestling an alligator, for the official policy on mobile phones at the till, and was told that the firm will serve people whether they are on a phone or not.

"It's clear that this story has touched a nerve as the weight of discussion and comment indicates," added a spokesperson.

"Whilst we appreciate the points made, given Ms Clarke was unhappy with our service, we did feel it was appropriate to apologise to her."

Well that's good. Any chance of a free tin of baked beans?

Government COO goes to dangerous lengths to prove PC boot up claims

12 Jun 2013

Like many wage slaves, Sneak has a morning routine that involves nipping off to make a cuppa while waiting for the office PC to boot up. But while this strikes Sneak as a bit of productive time management and multi-tasking, Sneak was shocked by V3 revelations of the IT woes that befall many civil servants. Apparently, Whitehall workers have time to cook and eat a full English before their computers are ready to use.

But not everybody was so shocked. Indeed, one Daily Telegraph columnist sniffed that her sources had cast doubt on the claims made by Stephen Kelly, the government's chief operating officer, that it takes him seven minutes to boot his computer.

Clearly Kelly is not one to let such slights pass without comment. So on Wednesday he got colleagues to video him logging on to his laptop and posted the results on YouTube. However, by Thursday the video had been removed, no doubt after Kelly was taken to task by his seniors for posting a video showing his PC logins, and yet again criticising public sector IT.

For those with more pressing things to do with their time than watch seven minutes 18 seconds of inactivity, Sneak can provide an abridged version: it took more than three minutes before Kelly could log in, and a further four minute pass while his personal account is loaded. Meanwhile, his iPad is timing the log on attempt.

“The iPad's losing the will to live,” he notes at one point. We feel its pain, we feel its pain.

So in many ways, it's good to see that Whitehall mandarins have a good grasp on the IT issues affecting their users. However, Sneak looks forward to the day they have similar levels of awareness over the wisdom of videoing inputting your log credentials to highly sensitive government computer systems and posting it on the internet.

HTC and Samsung in Twitter tittle tattle battle

10 Jun 2013

Sneak loves a bit of a argy bargy, and so was glued to Twitter recently as the people running the Samsung and HTC Twitter accounts in the UK fell out over some awards.

Both firms took to their UK Twitter accounts late on Friday to discuss some gongs that their hardware had picked up.

But Samsung had apparently done the best, and did not want to let HTC celebrate too hard. So it stepped up with a sharpened pin and popped HTC's bubble.

"That's okay guys, our arms were full with the other three awards we took home last night. You can have that one!," replied Samsung.

HTC didn't take long to grab a handful of mud and fire it at its Korean rival. Rather than josh the firm, it brought up the spectre of its apparent tendency to pay people to smear its hardware in public.

"All those students you paid to write fake reviews of your competitors finally paid off. Pay rise, maybe?", HTC tweeted.

This led to an intervention from LG Electronics, asking everyone to just calm down.

Samsung has been accused of using students in Taiwan to smear mud on its rivals. In a Facebook statement in April, it said that it would stop posting anonymous reviews.

"Samsung Taiwan has halted all internet marketing such as posting articles on websites," it said. It hasn't commented on the recent Twitter talk from HTC.

BBC tick-tocked off over alarming clock complaint

05 Jun 2013

clock878

Ah time, such a tricky concept. What time is it? Well, it depends where in the world you are, or as the BBC found out, what time your computer tells you it is.

A complaint from a BBC website user with, ironically, perhaps too much time on their hands, raised the alarming fact that the clock on the frontpage of the BBC website does not display the ‘correct’ time, but it merely draws data from the clock on a user's device.

This meant, to anyone who relies solely on the BBC clock to the tell the time, there was a risk of ending up late for an important event by relying on the data supplied by the BBC as it could be wrong – even though it would be the user’s fault for having their computer running on the wrong time. Or would it really be the device manufacturers fault for creating a faulty clock? The legal repercussions could be endless. No doubt someone would end up with a ticking off.

All in all, the BBC Trust agreed it was a serious matter and one the BBC should strive to get right.

"Having a homepage clock which does not necessarily reflect the right time in the UK, and which is not labelled on the homepage as deriving its time from a user's own computer clock, is not consistent with the guideline requirement for the BBC to do all it can to ensure due accuracy in all its output,” it said.

In response the BBC has taken a course of action that Sneak himself wholeheartedly approves of – giving up.

"Given the technical complexities of implementing an alternative central clock, and the fact that most users already have a clock on their computer screen, the BBC has taken the decision to remove the clock from the homepage in an upcoming update."

Well creating an accurate, working clock application would take too much time wouldn’t it?

GIF creator settles pronunciation debate

23 May 2013

Dancing baby gifMore than a quarter century after its introduction to the computing space, the GIF image format remains something of a controversial format.

No, not because the quasi-animated images slow loading times or can be incredibly annoying when recklessly deployed, but because of the pronunciation of the name. Nobody can agree whether the word is pronounced with hard G -as in 'goat'- or a soft G -as in 'gel'.

Now, however, the man behind the format is settling the debate (and quite a few bar bets) by clearing up once and for all how to pronounce the word.

In an interview with the New York Times, former Compuserve engineer and GIF originator Steve Wilhite confirmed once and for all that his iconic creation is in fact pronounced with a soft G sound.

That's right, the platform for the infamous 'dancing baby' shares its name with a popular brand of American peanut butter. And according to Wilhite, the Oxford English Dictionary has had the wrong pronunciation listed all this time.

Now that we've finally settled this silly matter, Sneak can move onto more important things, like whether one should pronounce the individual letters in LOLcats or say it all as one word.

 

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.

About IT Sneak

V3.co.uk's undercover reporter offers odds and ends from the odd end of technology.

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