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A surprise email

April 8, 2013
by Brian McNeil

I got an email about fifteen minutes ago, from no less than the CEO of the hosting company Wikinewsie.org uses. This weekend saw a major upgrade for them, which anyone who runs an online service will know, can be a process fraught with risks. Some of the services on Wikinewsie were down over the weekend, but the ticket I raised was bumped to 3rd-tier support almost-immediately, ditto when I reopened it due to putting out a “brush fire” somewhere else bringing down something else.

I thanked the techies I dealt with, largely frontline people, only grumbling a little about not having access to the master ticket and more-of-a-clue as-to which of our services we should be testing, when we should re-check them, and being able to provide more-rapid feedback to those third-line folks.

But, after the hell that was Godaddy, this is a breath of fresh air:

Hello Brian,

 Thank you very much for your assistance offer, it was passed on to me from our support team.

 I would like to personally thank you for your offer and assure you that we’re doing the best we can in order to reduce those recent issues, the overall website performance will increase as we finalize and iron out the little details left.

Thank you very much for your cooperation and have a good day.

Regards,

Mohammed Naser

CEO

Would I recommend Vexx now? Yes, I would. They’re a low-cost hosting solution, in a well-connected data centre. And the above, from which I’ve dropped the direct-dial and extension number off, shows they’ve a CEO who cares about their customers. I’ve had the good-fortune to work a few places like that; you don’t mind calling off going for a beer, and grabbing a keyboard to stamp out the brush fires with companies like this. I even spent most of the odd evening or two stuffing mobile phone bills into envelopes when a prior employer’s printing company had their equipment break down. That’s where good management stay late too; not to manage, mind. To go get the pizza, Chinese takeaway, or whatever other fuel it takes to keep the people who know the systems well-enough going. The only management decision needing taken is telling people “Go home, you’re exhausted. We’ll see you when we see you.” Or, if all ends resolved at a civilised hour, buying the first round.

The alternative is ‘Tesco value hosting‘, and I experienced more than my fill of that with Godaddy. They made it out to be our fault when they’d left our services to rot on an under-powered shared server. It was quite obvious anyone there dealing with a ticket had targets to close as-many-as-possible with zero technical appraisal. By virtue of what I do, I’m part of third-line support on a few business-critical systems for a selection of companies, and organisations, which are household names – either globally, or in their own countries. I pay Vexx less than 10 Euro per month, customers of my employer pay a good-deal more. I appreciate Mr Naser’s email all-the-more, I can easily see ‘our Dave‘ writing the self-same email. Companies that care about good service, and making sure their staff can afford to give you that service when you most-need it, putting that far-ahead of any “brand recognition” or advertising budget and “acceptable churn level” deserve customer loyalty.

About Brian McNeil

The curmudgeonly site administrator. Actually (in real life) a systems analyst with a couple of decades experience. 'Fell' into journalism by accident, but find the critical thinking to design, or fix, large complex IT systems is readily-applicable to the craft of journalism. Well, it is once you unlearn many of the very passive phrasings more appropriate in specifying a piece of software.

The Wikinewsie Group

April 8, 2013
by Brian McNeil

It’s only a ‘working title‘, it could-well end up being the Wikinewsie Association, or Agency. But, this is a rather modest proposal to provide a support group, or back-end cum back-office to help Wikinewsies on the ground.

The various language Wikinews editions face many similar technical hurdles. Those which have opted for a submission -> peer-review -> publication model struggle to migrate the reviewing gadget from English, it being what the author describes as “scary” javascript. We’ve another tool, used to maintain the lead articles on the main page. That could do with a complete rewrite to allow us to push lead updates to portals. Submission itself could-well do with a guiding wizard, such might at-least reduce the issues seen with submissions and help people to think about the presentation of a news story.

It’s not the software, as some might say of using MediaWiki to host a news site. It’s just the content management system, and all it needs is purpose-specific extensions, such-as calendaring, the ability to define a workflow and move an article around in that relatively easily.

Then there’s the things we’ve looked at in the past. Credentials. Accreditation. At one point we even tried running a hotline. Luckily, we’ve not as-yet had a journalist in legal difficulties, but that is a risk we do face whenever we report on a protest march or ask questions people take a dislike to.

“Facts don’t cease to be facts,” and we’ve needed this for a long time now, “but news ceases to be new.” What’s new here is the opportunity to affiliate with the WMF. Bringing the needs of the Wikinews project – regardless of language they publish in – under one banner, has to be a good thing. Together we’re far more-likely to be heard.

About Brian McNeil

The curmudgeonly site administrator. Actually (in real life) a systems analyst with a couple of decades experience. 'Fell' into journalism by accident, but find the critical thinking to design, or fix, large complex IT systems is readily-applicable to the craft of journalism. Well, it is once you unlearn many of the very passive phrasings more appropriate in specifying a piece of software.

Wikipedians! Thousands of ‘em!

March 29, 2013
by Brian McNeil

There’s a small, but particularly noisy and obnoxious, bunch of people over on Wikipedia who do not like Wikinews. Not one bit. And, they have too much power. They’ve their own little fanzine which is a jumble of fawning adulation for the constellation of celebrities in the Free Knowledge world, a grab-bag of petty personal vendettas, and an aptitude for muckraking through the obscure corners of Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) websites.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-ZLDzYp53gRI/UB8Ha5XccoI/AAAAAAAARl0/2WQLe5Wfa0w/s640/Rothermere.jpg

The Daily Mail has had some history with well-dodgy political figures. Much of The Signpost’s editorial board would fit right in.

The few amongst these malcontents who have tried to contribute to Wikinews have made such a mess, demonstrated such an incredible inability to read and follow policies, that nobody but the editors of Heat, Hello!, or The Daily Mail could love them.

If anything needs shut down, it’s The Signpost. Quickly too, before the motley crew in charge expose the WMF to genuine grounds for libel action. Yes, that’s how inept they are; and, Wikinewsies have had the guts to call them on it. They’ve a shared belief-set with Paul “double-cunted” Dacre, who deserves that nickname based on leaks from The Daily Mail‘s newsroom to Private Eye.

Oh, good grief! I’ve not even provided a link to what I’m ranting about.

It’s this. Yet-again, those who can’t do, try to appoint themselves as public censors. They need taken to task, and their platform to agitate pulled out from underneath them. Yes, Tony, I’m talking about you and your friends.

About Brian McNeil

The curmudgeonly site administrator. Actually (in real life) a systems analyst with a couple of decades experience. 'Fell' into journalism by accident, but find the critical thinking to design, or fix, large complex IT systems is readily-applicable to the craft of journalism. Well, it is once you unlearn many of the very passive phrasings more appropriate in specifying a piece of software.

Draft Communications Bill

October 14, 2012
by Brian McNeil

Apparently, everyone who expressed an opinion on the UK’s Draft Communications Bill hates the idea.

No surprise there. Even Jimmy Wales and Sir Tim told the Joint Committee it’s a bad idea. For real entertainment, the Joint Committee’s summary of the public consultation (PDF) is well-worth reading. Over 19,000 said stuff your stupid Snoopers’ Charter. They concluded:

“[...] we have not seen a single email supporting the draft Communications Data Bill, or even agreeing that there may be a case for the security services and law enforcement agencies having greater access to communications data than they do at present.

With the Ministry of Truth working overtime, the above summary document has ‘vanished‘. You’ll also note a remarkable number of “corrected” evidence documents; which, when you open the PDFs, state:

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House.

Irony. They didn’t correct the statement saying the document is uncorrected. In other news, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.

What I’d draw people’s attention to is the evidence of Professor Ross Anderson; he highlights what the real goal is here, by pointing to a paper from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

The game plan that becomes apparent from the ETSI document is that, on the one hand, they want a lot of deep-packet inspection equipment so that they can look at communications which go via services to which they cannot get back-door access, but they would greatly prefer it if they could get back-door access to the services that we use to communicate.

And, his remarks on current Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) snooping:

At present, BT has DPI capacity on about 100,000 lines; let us say 1% of the total. The other four or five big providers probably have been told to install something similar. With this capacity, in my view, you could have a regime of targeted communications data preservation, in that the software in the boxes that provide service to the 200,000 or so most suspected individuals in Britain could, right now, harvest communications data and retain it for later use. There is absolutely no reason why that cannot be done right now by GCHQ. Therefore, I argue that there is absolutely no need for this Bill and the considerable expenditure of public money attached to it at a time when we are cutting police numbers. Yes, DPI can be used to collect comms data and, yes, we have the capacity to collect industrial quantities of it at present on hundreds of thousands of households simultaneously.” (Emphasis added.)

Most-damning of all, since the system will rely on automated querying of black boxes installed at communication service providers’ (CSPs) premises:

It introduces an almost complete lack of accountability. It creates an enormous difficulty for CSPs that hand over the data if they have to account to anybody outside the jurisdiction. In the case of BT and TalkTalk, that may not be an issue. Parliament may pass a law saying, “You cannot sue BT”, and BT may say, “Thank you very much” and hand over the data. But perhaps Facebook is not in such a lucky position.

So, when Facebook gives the UK government access to our communications data, and you send a few private messages to someone outside the UK, that person can sue Facebook for breaching their privacy.

Why isn’t this bill dead already?

About Brian McNeil

The curmudgeonly site administrator. Actually (in real life) a systems analyst with a couple of decades experience. 'Fell' into journalism by accident, but find the critical thinking to design, or fix, large complex IT systems is readily-applicable to the craft of journalism. Well, it is once you unlearn many of the very passive phrasings more appropriate in specifying a piece of software.
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