4May '11
Sculpture of Jesus washing Peter's feet

The Unstoppable Church

The “Unstoppable Church”
Should stop dead in its tracks
Turn round and run back
For those left behind
Rescue the struggling,
Faithless and drowning
Care, although it’s difficult
Mend our broken throw-aways
Re-empower our marginalised
Bind up our broken-hearted
and do their dirty laundry.

Take a break from Victory.
God’s presence will still be there
When you’re up to your holy elbows
in the stench of sinful lives

Throw the children’s bread
To the dogs beneath the table
Release the captives of Facebook
From your prison of happy lies

Get your hands out of the air
And down their blocked-up toilets
Get your fingers off the keyboard
And cut off all your internets
You can’t pastor failed quitters
Just by posting truth on twitter

And leaders: wait on tables
The Word can take care of himself
Throw away your Sunday mask
And get involved yourself

And when the addicts stay addicted
And pigs go back to the mud
Don’t leave them there to die;
It’s hard to mend the broken,
But we still have to try.

Image Credit: Flickr user edwardconde

3May '11

Sitting on the Throne

Image

In my current contract I work at BSkyB in West London, and on my way
to lunch today I spotted one of the thrones used for the series which
has just launched on Sky called “Game of Thrones.”. I haven’t seen it
yet, although I have been recording it; but I’d seen the iconic poster
of Sean Bean sitting on it and thought it was worth the embarrassment
to ask a friend to take my picture! Unfortunately, I didn’t have my
sword with me…

17Apr '11

Facebook Viruses and Social Engineering

The other day, a friend of mine on Facebook reposted a message like this:

“Watch out for four awful new facebook viruses!!! These will DELETE EVERYTHING ON YOUR COMPUTER! 1. If you see a XYZ, then DO NOT OPEN IT!…2. If you get a message saying…. Warn all your friends!”

…and so it went on.  This is a straightforward hoax as described on this page at hoax-slayer.com.  There’s no way that a Facebook app can directly affect your computer in any of the ways that the warning lists.  There are plenty of viruses out there, and your computer needs protection from them, but they won’t come directly from Facebook.  For whatever bizarre reason, someone created the warning and circulated it, so in a sense the hoax warning *is* the virus.  There’s a long history of these, discussed on this wikipedia page.

But today my wife called me over to see a Facebook app that was asking her to do something a bit strange – a “5 second security check to confirm you’re a Facebook user”.  It wanted her to drag a “unique ID” – {3823-9893 3837-2837-0090} – to the address bar and press F6.

Turns out this is a clever but nasty way of getting you to run some malicious code which will spam your facebook friends with a message.  I’ll talk about how that works in a moment, but first look at this picture which shows the warning signs that immediately alerted me that this wasn’t an “Official Facebook App”:

Facebookvirus
The incorrect font on “FACEBOOK SECURITY” was the first thing that I noticed, and then the fuzziness on the text beneath (if this was made by Facebook it would be absolutely perfect).  The repeated stresses on “genuine” and “official” also marked it out as anything-but.

 

OK, so having established that the app is malicious, how does it work? On the face of it, dragging the number to the address bar can’t do anything at all… can it? In this case, the number itself doesn’t do anything… but it’s a special type of link called a Bookmarklet, which runs Javascript code in your browser.  They’re really useful and don’t have to be evil – but this one is.  It downloads a bigger script from another site – http://aagps3hh.facebook.joyent.us/s_9/a.js for those interested (don’t run it!) which from a brief look sends spam to a bunch of your facebook contacts.  The script is well commented though so it’s obviously written by a malware author with a concern for maintainability!

 

SO what’s the moral of the story?

 

  • Facebook “Viruses” don’t exist, but if an app can persuade you to do something strange, it could do something bad.
  • Don’t forward warning emails to all your friends, or requests to collect crisp packets, boycott Proctor and Gamble because they worship the devil or beware LSD in kids’ stickers . Instead, check sites like Hoax Slayer or Snopes first – or even just google for the exact text in the message.
  • If a web page or application claims to be official or genuine, but the fonts / colours / attention to detail doesn’t match the standard you’d expect from the company / bank / facebook / whatever, think twice
  • Never, ever do weird stuff involving dragging links to your browser bar.

I’m always happy to give advice if you’re unsure!

 

 

4Apr '11

No Matter What Anyone Tells You

No matter what anyone tells you

No matter who has written you off

No matter how many times you fail

No matter how great the odds against it

No matter whose opinion tells you differently:

If God has spoken to you

His word shall come to pass.

Making decisions based on that Is called living by faith.

The Best is Yet to Come.

30Mar '11

What’s on my iPad 2

I remember the first blog I ever subscribed to, and the article that brought me there: it was What’s on my Nokia 3650 by Russell Beattie.  The 3650 was a strange Nokia Series 60 / Symbian smartphone with a round number pad, and although it was weird and wacky it was also wonderful – for the first time since my beloved Psion 5 had been stolen, I had a decent pocketable computer (sort-of), and I was over the moon.  A few days after I bought it, I jetted off to Brussels on my first ever business trip, and let me tell you, I felt like I was the man.  Sad really!  Of course, I never got  around to doing my own What’s-on-my-3650 post or any other sort of blog back then… so I’m making it up for it now.  But some background first:

On Friday morning I joined the queue outside the Apple Store at Meadowhall, Sheffield.  I knew that some die-hard Apple fanboys (like @appleboyy ) had been there since the night before, but I figured that arriving around midday would be safe.  But then I heard reports the queue was growing, and so I set off much earlier, and joined the waiting congregation at 8:30 am.  I was about number 30 in the line, and we all joked about how crazy we were.  Apple brought round free drinks regularly, and everything was very jovial.

I should mention that there was nowhere to wait inside the main shopping area, so were were lined up in a fire-escape corridor; the concrete floor quickly became very cold and when my wife arrived with a McD’s breakfast I nipped down to Argos to get a fold-up chair which made it a bit more bearable.  Fast Forward to 3pm and there’s easily 500 people, queuing down the corridor and snaking round the car park.  Apple started giving out tickets from the front of the queue onwards, and once you had your ticket(s), you were (barring transactional problems) guaranteed your iPad(s).  I chose a 64GB 3G (for me, bien sûr) and a 16GB 3G for Nim.  Eventually I got to my turn, and there was a hiccup with the transaction which was a bit scary (my bank card was chosen for a random check so I had to prove my ID) but it worked out ok, and I left the store, iPads in hand.

I won’t comment here on the hardware itself as it’s been done to death.  I will mention though that I’m unhappy with the price and performance of the (admittedly cool) smartcover.  It’s just too expensive to give zero protection for the back.  I still bought one though!  Otherwise, I’m keeping my £££ investment safe in a neoprene pouch… from Poundland!

So… What’s on my iPad?

  • Dropbox –  Dropbox is a very important part of my online and iPad experience.  It will be interesting to see whether Amazon CloudDrive usurps it, but for now – I have all my accumulated eBooks – mostly in PDF format – in a folder in my Dropbox.  The iPad client lets you cache selected files locally, so once it’s been downloaded, you can view at any time.  The built-in PDF reader is perfectly good but you can open a file in an external reader like Stanza or iBooks.  This is the primary reason I bought an iPad – no more lugging big O’Reilly books back and forth between Sheffield and London.  Once Safari Books (re)releases it’s iPad app, I’ll probably subscribe to that for this same purpose.
  • GoTasks – I have a number of Google Tasks lists which I work from each day.  Bizarrely, Google don’t provide an API to access Tasks, so the fact this app exists at all is unexpected; but that it works so brilliantly, and is so totally *free*, is astonishing.
  • CHMate Lite – Dropbox can’t read .chm files natively but it will open them just fine in this app.  There’s a paid-for version as well but I don’t need it’s extra features.
  • Mocha VNC Lite – I’ll probably buy a better VNC client before too long but this will do for now.  I *wish* there were a NX client for iPad, since I use that far more than VNC, but I don’t think anyone’s working on that.
  • iSSH – perfect for connecting to text-based terminals.  I’ve used this since the early days of my iPhone 3G.   It’s supposed to have VNC support as well but I’ve never used that.
  • OliveTree Bible Reader – Chosen because of its great support for NT Greek – It has options for NA27 with Mounce-Koivisto Morphology or the Friberg Analytical Morphology and Lexicon; I chose the latter since I already had a paper copy of the former.  Next time somebody wants to buy me an extravagant birthday present I want to add the full ten-volume TDNT – having the full Kittel on a mobile device, all searchable and linked to the text – will be incredible.   I should give mention as well to the outstanding work of the Society of Biblical Literature who make available a completely free Greek NT text which can be added to OliveTree (and probably others).  Unlike the NA27 options, this one comes with a full critical aparatus!  And if this is all Greek to you, then take it from me – this is the stuff of dreams for armchair theologians :-)
  • Stanza – I’ve read several books on the iPhone version of this during my long journeys, and I’m looking forward to doing the same on my iPad’s bigger screen
  • iBooks – Still not decided whether I prefer Stanza or iBooks.
  • GarageBand – Discussed in detail all over the net, but well worth £2.99
  • Keynote I actually bought this last year when I got to play with one of Sky’s brand new iPads just after launch day.  It’s cool, but I’ve not really used it yet.
  • Sky News – the launch of this was a massive deal at Sky and I can understand why.  It’s polished and beautiful and although it’s not my preferred format for news consumption (I’d rather read an article in three seconds than watch a video in three minutes), I can see that for many people, this is News Heaven.
  • Sky+ – I currently work for the team at Sky which provides the API this app calls to, so I have a vested interest in this, and it’s a great app.  I do think screen estate could be used better, but to see what’s on when, and best of all to be able to schedule a remote recording right from the app, is real sci-fi stuff if you ask me.  Well, I’d rather have a flying car, but it’s a start!
  • Guardian Eyewitness – photo-journalism looks incredible on the iPad screen.  It’s not an app I use every day, but when I think to fire it up, I’m always impressed.  And I’m more impressed by The Guardian’s open attitude to APIs and data sharing.  I like The Guardian :-)
  • Amazon Windowshop – a pretty client for Amazon, but doesn’t quite feel right to me.  Can’t put my finger on it (well, I can, that’s kind of the point) but maybe it’ll grow on me.
  • Comic Zeal 4 – Again, I’ve used this on iPhone before but the constant scrolling and zooming made it pretty painful.  Some people say you still need to scroll on the iPad, but for me, it’s perfect for everything I’ve thrown at it.  I’ve rediscovered long-forgotten treasures from my youth (like 2000AD – I didn’t realise that some of the stranger stuff in there like D.R. and Quinch came from the pen of Alan Moore!) and found some great new material to read too.  (Although to be fair, a lot of the discovery of new comics has come instead from the Comixology app which I have on my iPhone)
  • XKCD HD – There are a few different readers for the XKCD webcomic, which seems to basically sum up my life in IT, and this app is the one I’m playing with at the moment.  I can’t see a way of marking a particular comic as a favourite, so if that’s not possible, I’ll try one of the others.
  • Dead Space HD – A guilty pleasure, this. It’s a great showcase of the iPad 2’s abilities (indeed it was specifically updated a couple of days ago) and although it was fun on the iPhone, on the iPad it’s perfect.  The storyline is very immersive and it’s challenging without being too tough.
  • Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars HD Lite – A free trial of game that currently has me a bit confused.  It seems to be a murder simulator.  Now I’ve nothing against hacking off virtual limbs from monsters on an abandoned spaceship, but this game – whilst technically brilliant in many ways, and with an engaging if morally inept storyline – had me running down helpless civilians for fun.  At least in Red Dead Redemption (my favourite game ever, from the same publisher) you can choose to be honourable.  Not sure if I’ll keep this one…
  • TapTap Radiation – My daughter Keziah is literally one of the top players in the world on TapTap Revenge for iPhone/IPT.  She plays it all the time, and her fingers are a blur over those tiny blobs – I can’t begin to keep up with them.  Radiation is the iPad version, and although it’s prettier, it’s not as much fun.
  • Alien Blue HD – After the effective demise of Digg, Reddit is now my go-to web community for pretty much everything.  Alien Blue is a great client for Reddit and it keeps getting better.  I am WastedTruth on Reddit, by the way…
  • Friendly Facebook – I’m not a massive facebook fan to be honest, but given the choice of pixel-doubling the office iPhone app or using the web site via Safari, this is probably the best way to use it on an iPad.
  • SkySafari – This was available a year or so ago in a free one-day sale and I grabbed it then and it’s stayed free for me through very numerous updates.  It’s a planetarium/observation planning program which has hundreds of features that I barely understand, but I know I can use it to find something worth looking at in the sky whenever I pull out the telescope I bought my wife (honest!) for Christmas a few years ago…

Phew! I’ll update the list in a few weeks and see what’s been added and removed….

bye for now

Matt

 

7Mar '11

VAT-Man

I *am* the VAT-man! For a flat-rate trader who has obtained services from an EC state which did not have VAT added at point of sale, the reverse charge is dealt with outside the flat-rate scheme and reclaimed with nothing additional to pay: Box 1 contains ((Turnover inc VAT x Flat-Rate Percentage) + notional UK VAT), Box 4 contains the notional UK VAT, Box 6 is (Turnover Inc VAT + actual amount paid for EC services) and Box 7 is the actual amount paid for EC services). Three phone calls to the helpline later, I actually understand all this… just!

9Feb '11

New Office

Office1

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve finally left my office at Electric Works.  It was beautiful, but very expensive – I was paying about £300 a month for a desk in shared office, and and once some more companies moved in there, it became almost as noisy as working at home.  So, I searched around Sheffield for options and had a look at a few places but found an absolute bargain at the Northchurch Business Centre on Queen Street.  I’ve got entirely my own space – almost 200sq ft – with a window and an excellent ‘net connection (I got 85Mbps on speedtest.net) at a tremendous price.

It’s unfurnished, which meant I’ve had the chance to get exactly the things I wanted.  The desk I have at home – an Ikea Mikael with glass top – has sadly been discontinued but I found one on Ebay pretty cheap.

And chairs… yes.  I agonised for far too long over whether just to splash out on an Aeron.  Ever since my days at PlusNet, I’ve equated them with status, achievement, and a working mindset.  But they’re also not as comfortable as you might think.  In particular I get pains on the back of my legs just behind the knee sitting in them.

At my desk at Sky in Brentford, I sit on a Steelcase Please (but it’s a much older version than the one on that site!) which I get on really well with.  I watched a couple on Ebay but they seemed expensive for what they were – and I’m always pulling the lumbar support forwards on it to get comfortable.  So I set my heart on a Steelcase Leap which I’ve never sat on, but after watching this video at Boing Boing, comparing it to the “ultimate” Herman Miller chair, the “Embody”, I really wanted to try one.  A visit to LTA Sheffield yielded one for the princely sum of £25, which made my day.  Admittedly, the armrest won’t stay on, but I can fix that.

I was just revelling in finding a decent chair and desk at bargain-basement prices, when I spotted an advert on gumtree for a chair that looked suspiciously like the £1000+ RH Logic 4 for £15! I snapped it up, and it’s a revelation.  I love it, and I’ll take some pics and do a full review I think, because this is *the* chair.  I can’t stop fiddling with the pump-up lumbar support, or getting a massage from the just-in-the-right-place neckrest, or rocking on the free-float tilt.  It’s delicious.

Topping off my day of bargains, I rescued a gorgeous large square glass table top from a skip outside the office.  It’s very heavy, but looks great and when I can get some trestles (or maybe a couple of 2×2 Expedit‘s?) for it to stand on, it will provide extra desk space in my new palace office workspace (there’s about another metre-and-a-half of space behind the camera in the picture above).  I’m also planning to stick a larger Expedit, or maybe a Besta unit, behind the desk for book and paperwork storage.

Finally – I’m watching some big monitors on Ebay, planning to build an Eyefinity triple-monitor setup… Because I really need that.  Oh yes. :-)

 

12Jan '11

Plus ça change…

Despite the very best of intentions, I guess this has become another ghost blog with months of emptiness punctuated by occasional apologies.  But nonetheless, here’s a long-overdue update, written out of a guilty conscience after meeting an old friend in Sheffield recently!

  • Still at Sky, now working in the Environments Team, doing mostly sysadmin and automation stuff on an estate of about 1000 VM’s.
  • Did a long stint on a project setting up Maven builds, also encompassed using Groovy to do some Jira integration with our deployment system- not exactly fun but all good technologies to add to the CV
  • Still losing weight (we won’t talk about Christmas) and now going to the gym 2-3 times a week, and actually enjoying it!
  • Based in Sheffield Mondays and Fridays, down in Brentford in the middle of the week.  Takes the sting out of being away from home (but it still hurts)
  • On Sheffield days, I work out of my office at the wonderful Electric Works.  It’s a bit pricey though (especially for just two days a week) and if my pride can take it, I might move somewhere cheaper soon.
  • Stopped contracting using an umbrella, and now working through my own limited company, Tidzo Limited.  The name comes from a Greek word “katartidzo” (arguably that should be -zd- not -dz- , but when I learned it, -dz- was in favour academically).  Anyway, the word means to repair, to mend, to equip, prepare, put right, make useful etc.  Theologically significant, not entirely irrelevant for what I do, and a nice short domain name.
  • Found an absolutely brilliant web app for managing the accounts of a company like mine – Free Agent Central.  It’s tremendous, and I simply couldn’t imagine doing this without it.  Use my referral link for 10% off for you and for me: http://fre.ag/3nkx6qby

That’s all for now – hopefully it won’t be quite so long before the next update :-)

18Jul '10

Update

Taking the apologies for lack of posts as read, here’s a long-overdue update:

 

My current contract with Sky ends this coming Friday. The team I’ve been part of won’t exist for much longer, so a renewal really wasn’t a possibility. I’ve had a great time, learned loads of new skills and technologies, and although there’s been some mundane stuff to do, I’ve??tried to be as innovative as possible even with that. I’ve done a lot of work with Hudson and Ant, both Java-centric apps, which I’ve usually been at pains to avoid until now on principle, but I’d say that I’ve gained a grudging respect for them. (Although I did bang my head against some Ant stubbornness on a few occasions, and some might say thtat writing targets and mappers in Javascript/Rhino) is cheating :-)

 

Anyway, that’s over for now. I had an interview with another team at Sky on Friday which went very well, and there’s a very strong chance I’ll be joining them soon – just waiting to hear about the approval of a new project by Sky’s top brass. I should know more in a few days. One bit of bad luck though: on my way to the interview, a wasp flew right into my face and stung me right underneath my eye! Still hurts a little even now but the swelling has gone down at last.

Now for some very good news: while working away from home, I’ve been??making a massive effort to lose weight, and it’s really paying off. In??basically two months, I’ve lost almost FOUR STONE !!!??

The secret is simple; “eat less, do more”. I’ve been aiming for less than 2000 calories a day, and each morning I’ve also been doing a bunch of “prison workout” exercises – planks, push ups, sit-ups etc. I’ve even been out for a run a few times! Add to that climbing all 17 floors at Great West House every day recently, and I think I’m doing rather well! I’ve been logging everything since last week at a great site which has a free iPhone app: Fatsecret.com. My page there is http://www.fatsecret.com/member/matzie – have a look around! I’ve still got a very long way to go, and I think to be honest that I haven’t been dieting sensibly (offer more like 1,000 calories a day) so I’ll need to be more careful; but right now I feel and look better than ever.

 

Last news: I’m typing this on an iPad; sadly it’s not mine, I just borrowed it from work for the weekend. I’ve fallen in and out of love with it several times in the last 48 hours! I’ll post some thoughts about it soon.

 

Bye for now – the best is *still* yet to come.

 

Matt