Don’t re-use passwords for your iCloud account

Australian Apple users are encountering a pretty nasty problem: someone has got into their iCloud accounts and is locking them out of their devices.

The iCloud hack appears to be a case of people reusing the same passwords, and those passwords somehow falling into the bad guys’ hands – possibly because someone has broken into the user database of some ecommerce site or user forum, or because somebody with access to such a database has sold it on – and that’s enough to enable complete strangers to lock them out of their own hardware and demand a ransom to unlock them again.

If your iCloud account doesn’t already use a unique password and two-factor authentication, you could be next.

The most fun I’ve had at a gig in ages

I went to see Marmozets last week, and they were fantastic.  The tour’s nearly finished – they’re in Exeter tonight, Bridgend on Friday and Brighton on Saturday – but they’re doing some of the summer festivals. Definitely worth seeing.

“The needle has slowly shifted away from ‘music,’ towards ‘party.’”

There’s an interesting post on about Outkast’s disappointing performance at the Coachella festival. The short version: people don’t have patience for stuff they can’t get into immediately.

The bar for energy and excitement has been set too high, and the mainstream interest at attending music festivals, driven by the proliferation of EDM mega-fests, has brought in a wide swath of people who simply aren’t what readers of a site like this would consider music fans.

I don’t think this is exclusive to electronic music, or to festivals. You’ll see it at all kinds of gigs, where people are paying top dollar for a performance they’ll only pay occasional attention to. It’s as relevant to stadium rockers as it is to rappers, and while the culprit may be EDM’s high-energy shows in this particular case there’s a wider trend of people going to gigs and only knowing, and only wanting to hear, three or four hits.

It’s a new era for live music, and acts that aren’t going to be bringing the requisite amount of energy to please a crowd filled with thousands of casual fans need to consider their audiences more carefully now than ever before.

It’s also something we punters need to consider before we splash out ridiculous sums of money on concert tickets. Unless you’re going to be right down the front with the superfans – something which, given my fear of crowds and my love of lager, isn’t going to happen – the bigger the gig, the more likely you’ll spend it listening to the people around you.

Everything you know about vinyl is wrong

Via No Rock’n’Roll Fun, what appears to be a very plausible demolition of the “vinyl is better” argument. This bit makes a lot of sense:

Early digital to analogue and analogue to digital converters were pretty terrible. I think a lot of the myths about digital were formed in the 80s, when the tech was still fairly new.

Imagine if our perceptions of digital photography or digital music file formats were based on the early digital cameras, or 128Kbps MP3s.

Flying with babies? Get to the airport early

I’m just back from Portugal, where I discovered the latest pain in the arse for parents travelling with babies and tots: while the ridiculous ban on baby food is no more, any bottles, cartons, jars or pots of breast milk, formula milk, baby medicine or baby foods have to be scanned.

One at a time.

Very slowly.

We had three cartons of formula, and the scanning took more than ten minutes. That’s just the scanning, not the queuing while you watch other people’s baby things being scanned.

One at a time.

Very slowly.

I don’t know if this is something specific to Faro or if it’s rolling out elsewhere – there appear to be new regulations incoming, so for example on our flight we were given baby lifejackets, which all airlines need to do by the end of the year – but if you’re travelling with wee ones it’s a very good idea to get to the airport as soon as you can and go straight to security. We were on time, the airport was largely empty and we still nearly missed the flight.

Alternatively, of course, you could be sensible and NEVER EVER TRAVEL WITH A BABY EVER.

So yeah, there’s a Yes sticker in the back of my car

I’m not particularly political, I’m not a dyed in the wool nationalist and I’m not the kind of person who goes for bumper stickers. And yet I put this in the back window of my car:


Yes, it’s the independence referendum, possibly the most terrifying thing to happen in Scotland since The Krankies came out as swingers.

Like many Scots, I’m neither a Saltire-swirling SNP supporter nor a Union Jack-saluting unionist. I was born here but my family is English, Irish and Welsh; I see myself as a Scottish Brit, a British Scot, that guy with the weird accent.

Maybe the accent is why some people have been surprised that I’m in the Yes camp, or maybe it’s because I’m so middle-class I’m bordering on cliche.

One of the most worrying reactions to the sticker, though, is this: “I hope you don’t get your window panned in.” It isn’t impossible: there’s a level of anger around some parts of the debate that’s really quite frightening and some car windows have indeed been panned in (albeit not many, and only cars parked near big football matches).

A caller to Radio Scotland put it very well this morning: “There’s much more heat than light”. There are very vocal and very angry people on both sides, with unionists shouting down the nationalists, nationalists shouting down the unionists, and both sides demanding silence or boycotts for anyone expressing an opinion they disapprove of. The official campaigns spout absolute bollocks – overly optimistic bollocks on the Yes side and made-up negative bollocks on the No side – and televised debates become pointless shouting matches.

The media doesn’t help. Traditional media is largely unionist. It characterises anything vaguely negative as a personal blow for Alex Salmond, as if the whole independence campaign is about making him the first King Eck of Scotland. It plays down any positive news for the Yes campaign, consistently smears pro-Yes campaigners as online abusers, repeats every gormless anti-Yes utterance by sun-baked tax exiles who haven’t lived here since the 1970s and seems unwilling or unable to compare the current crop of scare stories with the ones we were fed before the last devolution referendum and the one before that.

Online media is largely pro-independent, often smug, and frequently characterises the Union as entirely Tory – or it runs apparently serious pieces about how we’re being oppressed by the BBC’s 3D weather maps (although there are exceptions, such as Rev Stuart Campbell’s gleefully partisan and scrupulously documented Wings Over Scotland. You might disagree with the Rev’s conclusions, but at least he backs his arguments up with evidence).

It’s all noise, and it’s drowning out what the referendum is really about.

If we let this get party political – if we let it become Alex Salmond vs George Osborne, if Yes becomes synonymous with the SNP and No the Tories – then we’ll lose sight of the big picture. If we do that we might make a long term decision based on things that really won’t matter in the long term. Fifty years on, who’ll care what anyone thought of Nicola Sturgeon or Alastair Darling?

The referendum isn’t about who gets in in the next election. It’s how we elect – and get rid of – the next lot, and the lot after that, and the lot after that.

September’s vote isn’t about which political party you prefer. It’s about how we keep the bastards honest.  Those bastards might be SNP, or Labour, or Green, or Conservative. It doesn’t matter. We’re being asked to choose a system, not a party.

One of the most dangerous ideas that’s gained currency – and it’s an idea that the No campaign is really pushing – is the idea that a Yes vote is a vote for the SNP. It isn’t. Independence could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to Labour in Scotland, to the Greens, even to the Conservative party: a reborn Scottish Conservative party, one that has more in common with the long tradition of small-c conservatism than the UK party, could one day have more MPs than Scotland has pandas.

I’m voting Yes because I believe that the current electoral system is broken, too weighted towards London.

The UK is largely governed by, and governed for, the South-East of England – a part of the country that’s economically, socially and politically different to Scotland. That part of the country has one third of the UK population while Scotland has less than one tenth, so it doesn’t really matter who we vote for or against: it’s the South-East that decides who gets in.

You can demonstrate the problem with just one of Tony Benn’s famous questions for politicians: How do we get rid of you?

For Scotland, the answer is that we can’t.  If we believe that the party  or coalition in power isn’t acting in our best interests, we’re powerless to change it. We have to wait until they piss off the rest of the UK and the South-East in particular.

We voted identically in the last two general elections, with completely different results (with some irony the same Alex Salmond who’s often compared to a dictator by the media is the only party leader with a mandate here: his government won a majority, unlike the Conservatives and Lib Dems). The results were different in the last election because England voted differently.

Hence Yes: I believe that if Scotland is its own country, it’ll have a more representative democracy. We can answer Tony Benn’s question by pointing to the ballot box: if we elect a bunch of numpties we can boot them out without having to persuade millions of people in England first.  We simply don’t have that power under the current arrangement.

That’s what we need to think about, and it’d be helpful if everybody stopped shouting.

Writing on Bella Caledonia, David Greig makes some good points:

1) There are reasonable arguments for both sides. Most Yes voters have their private doubts as do No voters. The fruitful debate emerges when we share those doubts, not when we pretend to certainty.

2) Try to stay future focused. We can’t ignore the past but lets not dwell on it. This is the 21st century. Surely on behalf of our children surely we can imagine what might be best for them, and not get bogged down in a hundred quid in tax here or there, or whatever economic argument happens to suit your side politically right now.

3) Whichever way this vote goes it’s going to be close and we’re all going to have to live together in the same country afterwards. It will do no good if this debate is characterised by contempt or name calling. There’s no value in building up a new us and them, or fomenting new grudges. If either side feels defeated or humiliated in 2014 we will all be storing up serious trouble for the future.

I particularly agree with this bit:

The things which matter to me – a sustainable future for my kids; a compassionate political system, the best education, health and economic opportunity for every citizen, imaginative and flexible policy-making, stronger communities, progressive tax… It seems to me that all these things are much more likely to be realised in an independent Scotland than they are within the United Kingdom as it currently stands.

But if the Unionists can put forward a more positive proposal I’m genuinely open to changing my mind.

Here’s hoping we can work it all out without any more windows getting panned in. Especially mine.


On guest posts

Every day, I get at least one email offering a guest post or a co-written post for this blog. The emails usually boast about how much research the writer does, but that research doesn’t appear to include reading the bit of my contact page that says I don’t publish guest posts. If people can’t be bothered reading my contact page, I can’t be bothered replying politely before I delete their messages.

Over to Google’s very own Matt Cutts:

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way any more.


Speaking ill of the dead (in code)

I love this kind of stuff: euphemisms in obituaries and what they really mean.

Vivacious is a drunk as is his door was always open, so is a character.Fun-loving bachelor and he never married are usually gay; free spirit is unemployable, utterly carefree is utterly senile. Death has its own clichés:passed, passed on, passed away, passed over, passing, met his/her maker,crossed over, departed, lost, ad infinitum.

Weird tweets

I’ve found Twitter to be a fairly useful source of local news, so I’ve saved my home town’s name as a search. It’s amazing how much crap you end up seeing, whether it’s hashtag spamming (“Good morning #glasgow #helensburgh #milngavie I hope you have a great day”) or automated promos for adult dating sites (“The UK’s number one gay cruising site site welcomes Phillip from Milngavie”).

And then there’s this:

Those exact words have been tweeted dozens of times in the last few days. They’ve been posted by Gideon Brock and by Finn Donald, by Tiara Isabella and Emilio Lee, by Mira Megan and Nora Jennifer and dozens more. Each account has a photo and a bio and a bunch of unrelated tweets.

It’s fascinating to watch, because each of the tweeters is a bot. The bots are soldiers in the armies of fake accounts you can buy to make yourself look more popular than Stephen Fry, and the reason that they’re tweeting about my home town is because they’re scraping content to try and appear like legitimate accounts. They scrape tweets from here, names from there, photos from elsewhere and bios from yet more sources, and the disparate parts get glued together in an attempt to fool the fake-fighters.

The reason is simple enough. Bots work. Get enough bots talking about something and you can get your hashtag or word into the trending topics bit of Twitter, and if you can do that then real followers will follow.  Buying a bot army is often easier, and always cheaper, than trying to get your topic to trend organically. According to the WSJ, the going rate for 1,000 followers is around $50.

As ever online, if it’s possible to game a system for financial reward then sooner or later someone will game it – and from then on it becomes an ongoing game of cat and mouse between the regulators – in this case the people who detect and deactivate fake accounts – and the people they’re trying to stop.

Freelance writer Gary Marshall on Apple, technology, music and too much coffee

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