Angela Vivian Memorial Service

Tomorrow I’ll be in Wells – where a large part of my family come from – for Angela Vivian’s Memorial Service. If you’re not busy at 2.30pm or so, cast your eyes skywards for me. Be sure that, if there is a God, right now Angela is hassling him to spare her 1800 seconds so that she can talk about improving social inclusion up there. Maybe she’ll realise that she now has all the time she’ll ever need and there’s no need to rush – 1800 seconds will last a very long time. I’m sure that there will be a lot of people there but just spare the time for a little thought in her direction for me.

I spy anti-spy with Yahoo

I’ve just installed Yahoo’s new toolbar, complete with anti-spy software capability. It scanned the PC I’m using – my sexy new toshiba m200 tablet – and found it clean. I like the new toolbar a lot. I’ve customised the buttons just the way I want them. Next task is to read the privacy policy properly and find out exactly which rights I’ve signed away.

Oqo finally shipping

At last it looks like the Oqo device that I saw nearly 2 years ago in San Francisco is getting ready to ship. Plainly they are going to be short of supplies for a while once people see these things. Once they sort supply out, I would expect them to quickly move to doing them in colour versions – gold, lilac etc – taking a leaf out of the ipod book to further drive up demand 😉

Not enough oil?

I don’t get it. Oil futures vault over $40. America plays nice with Venezuela so as not to disrupt supplies there, despite the madness that seems to be going on. The Saudis say that they can pump another 2 million barrels a day (taking their output up from 9 million odd to 11 million odd), even though the last time they did that was nearly 15 years ago. The oil stocks are moving higher preparing for an era when oil costs are going to be far higher than previously for far longer.

But somewhere, someone must be adding up end to end process capacity – the pipelines, the tankers, the ports, the refinerys – and coming up short. I don’t know that you can just pump oil and have it shipped and taken care of just like that. This stuff must be planned like the Queen’s diary – months or years in advance. The shippers presumably don’t have idle boats.

And then there’s the question of whether the extra oil is “the right oil”? Will it help reduce the price of gasoline (petrol for us Brits) at the pump? I’m not sure that it will. I think it’s too complex for that. The only chance is if the “promise” of more suppliers psychologically boosts the market, driving down the futures price and so making things more affordable. Until the Chinese buy another 90 million cars on top of the 10 million they have now and really hit supplies hard!

VOIP, Webcams and Voyeurs?

One of the elite technical folks that I work with mentioned, almost casually, to me the other day that he thought someone had found out how to turn on cameras attached to PCs without the user being aware. It doesn’t take more than 1/2 a second to think of the damage that such a hack could cause if it’s true. I guess there’s some vulnerability in instant messenger software or similar that lets you remotely activate the camera – and spy in on whoever is doing whatever they’re doing. I don’t have a webcam on my PC. I guess I won’t be getting one.

That got me wondering about the new trend for Voice over IP telephony, or VOIP. This is becoming a big deal in the USA now with major carriers offering it. When I first used it, the software was available from a little company called Camelot (I think there were 2 or 3 others) with a Nasdaq ticker that I remember flying through the roof regularly (just checking now, it’s trading at $0.006). The sound quality was crap, but it felt weird to talk to someone in Seattle through your PC microphone. That was 1993 or 1994 – when my Compuserve ID was a couple of numbers in square brackets and my email address was the same and, I think, 28.8k modems were as fast as they got. Later, maybe 1999 I tried it with a camera and spoke to the same person in Seattle with a 1 frame per second update rate over a 56k modem.

Today, the technology actually works. The flaw in broadband for me so far has been that I need to pay for a phone line in the first place – so the real cost of broadband is not the £30-50 a month that the telcos quote, but that plus the phone line rental. Since about 1995 I have been totally reliant on mobile phones and haven’t needed a land line – just like I haven’t needed a television. But, with VOIP you need, technically, never see another phone bill beyond the line rental ever again, depending on how the carrier bills you. If BT get their bluephone off the ground, then you’ll have a mobile phone that goes Wifi/VOIP in the house and GSM out of the house or, for that matter, Wifi/VOIP whenever it can connect to a Wifi network even if it isn’t yours (which makes me wonder about SSIDs, WPA, WEP and all that and how it will work on a phone, let alone how they’ll make battery life long enough – after all, 3g phones still seem to run out of batteries just after you turn them on).

With emerging VOIP, I wonder how long it will be before hackers are exploiting weaknesses in “phone security” to tap into calls people are making – maybe even re-routing them in flight and crossing over calls from one person to another so that, say, they hear their own voice or their call is passed to someone else. The security services are going to want to do that so that they can continue to use Echelon or whatever to tap calls, so the hackers will certainly find ways.

If they can suck data off your mobile using bluetooth without you even knowing, how hard will it be to hack the VOIP network? Or to use backdoors in VOIP to get at your PC? Ugh.