Saturday, 29 March 2008 about phishing

The rules on phising prevention are quiet clear

" The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center, also offers these guidelines:
Be suspicious of any unsolicited email requesting personal information.
Avoid filling out forms in email messages that ask for personal information.
Always compare the link in the email to the link that you are actually directed to.
Log on to the official Web site, instead of "linking" to it from an unsolicited email.
Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the email to verify if the email is genuine. "

So you would think that the insurance companies sending out email renewals requests would have that in mind. Obviously not with And yes it is a genuine renewal request.


What a disk worth ?

A friend has a newish Power Mac and loves the box. Unfortunately it crapped out during an upgrade to Leopard with a hard disk error and had to be reinstalled losing all the data. That was a warning, as just this week the disk died completely to the point of not being seen at boot time or by disk utility. An Apple-care call to Apple was made and a disk exchange was agreed. The standard exchange a faulty part was dispatched under the "DIY repair" process that removes the need for a "return to base" repair but the faulty drive has to be sent back in exchange.

There has been recent concern about returned hardware being "re manufactured" back into the field and service folks rummaging contents so there is reason to worry about data security.

All very good so far but what is that returned disk worth ? The dead mechanicals not very much but the data on the drive can be priceless. It has all his email, password vault and documents. Chances are that the data is not recoverable but that could not be said for some drives returned under warranty. There is now no chance to wipe the disk and mechanical destruction would invalidate the return. He could of course buy his own replacement drive but then that is a waste of the extended warranty payment.

I guess it comes down to a matter for trust or using a drive/account encryption program such as Filevault to prevent data recovery from a lost hard drive.


Prevent huge bills from stolen mobile phone

There has been some fuss of late from folks who get a huge mobile phone bill by not noticing and reporting when a phone gets stolen and missused. This can be prevented ..

When I bought a phone for use by a family member the best deal was pay by monthly bill with a generous call&txt allowance. To stop huge bills through misuse and in case phone was stolen and not noticed, I insisted that there is a max credit limit on the bill of £60. If this credit limit is ever reached outgoing calls are blocked.

This is the answer to prevent a huge unexpected bills from a loosely controlled or lost phone. The phone provider was 3 in the UK. If your provider will not impose an agreed credit limit to cap your liabaility, move to a provider that will. You can take you number with you so the hastle factor of moving is quite low.


Saturday, 8 March 2008

Insurance Trap for post-Learner drivers, Tell your insurance company you passed

My friend the student driver, with whom I made the agreement below, took her test last week and I am happy to report passed at the first attempt. What's more she scored only 3 "minors" during the test. A great achievement and congratulations are fully in order to both her and her principal driving instructor.

A friend had said that we should phone the drivers insurance company and tell them of the pass as the driver would now be driving around on her own and may be doing more mileage. I did call but the stinger is that they wanted a further £30 Premium. I though this unfair for a couple of reasons
* When the insurance plan was taken out the company knew that the person was a learner driver and the premium set accordingly high. Nowhere in the documents does it say that there would be a further premium to pay when the person passes the test.
* Nowhere in the documents does it say that you have to tell them when the test is passed but the consequences of not doing so are very serious.

Now I understand that the risk profile changes unfavourably between a supervised and unsupervised driver but it also changes between a brand new driver, a person who repeatedly fails to reach test passing standard and someone who has passed a test. The insurance company did not require to be told when a test was failed.

The more I dug into the situation the more outrageous it became; by failing to inform test-passing drivers to notify the insurance company and adjust the policy the insurance company allows the just passed driver to be at risk of driving without valid insurance. I worked this through with the insurance agent it was confirmed that the insurance policy only covered the driver while they were a learner and accompanied.

This could have led to the following situation :
Police stop the just-passed driver and ask for documents, Driver hands over pass certificate, and details of insurance. Police call insurance company who say driver has policy as provisional driver only. Police charge driver with "Driving without insurance cover." This results in .. "The penalties for driving without insurance against third party risk are a maximum fine of £5,000, the automatic endorsement of an offender's licence with 6-8 penalty points and possible disqualification. " The car involved can also be seized. UK driving law says that 6 penalty points on a licence in the first two years can result in the licence being revoked and the driver having to retake the test. As a cherry on the top having lost both licence and car, the insurance company involved said that "We do not insure people who have been caught driving without insurance."

Now that would have been a very difficult situation for a young driver. Such a driving conviction would have hung like a vulture over their record for many years to come, causing vastly increased insurance premiums.

The failure to provide clear notice when a policy is issued to a known learner driver that the policy was only valid until the test is passed, is a in my opinion a negligent failure by the insurance company.

You have been warned, when you pass your test, call your insurance company, pay the "fine", then and only then go enjoy the freedom of the road.


PS: Click here for more of these frightening stats:
Increasing the number of young passengers increases the likelihood of a crash. One passenger makes it twice as likely, 2 or more, 5 times as likely.
The accident rate to novice drivers drops by 30% after the first year of experience and by another 17% after the second year.

Take care out there.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

The biggest file in Leopard, Alex's Voice


I was having a dig around looking for some space on the root file system using a rather great filesystem viewing tool called "Disk inventory X" and leaping out from the picture was a single 670MB file. This single file accounts for about 18% of the size of Leopard.

Tucked away in the Alex voice Speech library folder was the data definition for the new very smooth Alex voice. Do try it out using the System preferences -> Speech -> Alex just to hear how much an improvement the voice is over the previous very robotic attempts.

The techical details are ...

Macintosh: $ ls -l /System/Library/Speech/Voices/Alex.SpeechVoice/Contents/Resources/PCMWave
-rw-r--r-- 1 root wheel 701743856 24 Sep 02:06 /System/Library/Speech/Voices/Alex.SpeechVoice/Contents/Resources/PCMWave

The amusing bit is the file data type identifier at the start of the file which is
Macintosh:Resources $ od -c PCMWave | head
meow \0 001 \0 006 \0 \0 \0 0 002 303 Q 000

[Removing voice file instructions removed - May 2010]

This file was trimmed down for Snow Leopard which as a % of the size of HDs is not so bad.


PS I later found this Blog entry of Billyoregon who previously discovered this file using the same technique.