Archive for November, 2005

Partial interface modification

November 28th, 2005

I was checking out some program, and in order to download it was required to fill a personal information form (Which I didn’t do, as the program didn’t seem to justify all the info they wanted, but that’s beside the point of this post).

The form contains all sorts of field, including the usual name ones, and so on. The first field was a drop-down list labelled “Title”, without a default value.

I tried to press the submit button anyway, to see if maybe the form is optional. It wasn’t, of course. But the error message I received indicated that I have to fill in the “Gender” field.

I scanned the form, and while there were many fields there, there wasn’t anyone labelled “Gender”. At all.

So I made the assumption the check is done by order. And decided to open the drop-down list of the “Title” field. True enough, there were only two options – “Mr” and “Mrs”. So this was their way of differentiating gender.

I guess it started as a proper gender field, done the usual way with the two normal options. And then some executive decided they need a title field, thinking about all those titles and honorific they’re missing out of because the field is empty (Some sites have scary title lists with dozens of items, making it really complex for the people who are both princes, judges, and doctors at the same time, for example).

Only it appears that after changing the field to “Title”, and making it so that it could contain more options, the oversight must have ended. And it got reassigned to the gender job by someone who failed to realize that not all males want to be called Mr., nor are (a much bigger problems) all females properly described as Mrs.

Combine that with the lack of synchronization between the person doing the change, and the person in charge of doing the validation code for correct data (or at least the one in charge of writing the error messages), and you get exactly what I saw. Not filling a title, and being told I have to fill in the gender.

Funny, but it does not inspire much confidence in the technical, or design, abilities of the site operators and the company behind it.

Layout fix

November 26th, 2005

I did some minor fixes to the site’s layout and CSS file a few days ago. In a typical manner, while fixing things that weren’t particularly visible, I managed to break something else that was more noticeable, and didn’t really notice myself.

So if anyone actually visited the site over the last few days, you may have seen that the overall width of the page was incorrect, and the sidebar had the wrong width. It wasn’t critical, and could have been easily ignored, but it was there.

In any case, it’s fixed now, and everything should be in order. Or, at least, in as much order as it was before.

Going out for a smoke

November 26th, 2005

I don’t smoke, and I hate the stench of smoking. Many people, at least those who don’t smoke themselves, do too.

So for a smoker who craves another cigarette, it is usually considered polite to go outside for that smoke. Smoking a cigarette inside a building is very rude, as the smoke reaches everywhere, takes very long to dissipate, and can get the stench into furniture and clothing. When going outside, most of the smoke disappears into the atmosphere, and when the smoker gets back in they usually don’t carry with them anything more than really bad breath.

This is so common, that for many smokers it becomes automatic. When they feel they need a cigarette, they take one, and head outside. Usually they’re even nice enough not to actually light the thing until they’ve cleared out of the building.

On some cases, though, this habit isn’t always the best idea, though the exceptions are pretty rare:

Sellies was traveling on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to the east coast city of Brisbane on Saturday when the incident occurred at the start of a three-week Australian vacation with her husband, the court heard.

She walked toward one of the aircraft’s emergency exits with an unlit cigarette and a lighter in her hand and began tampering with the door, prosecutors said. But a flight attendant intervened and took Sellies back to her seat.

A very simple rule, actually: If you can’t go outside, don’t go outside to smoke. And if you can’t go outside, and can’t smoke inside, don’t smoke.

I’d go as far as to say just don’t smoke ever, in general, but that’s beside the point, and the relevant people won’t listen to me anyway, so I’ll pass.

Defense lawyer Helen Shilton told the court Sellies was terrified of flying and had taken sleeping tablets with alcohol before takeoff.

Shilton said Sellies has no memory of what happened on the flight and that she has a history of sleepwalking.

In her defence, the women probably really was totally drunk at the time. On the other hand, I’m not sure being totally drunk on a flight is such a great behaviour either.

Basing life and death decisions on automatic translation is a bad idea

November 26th, 2005

Automatic translation tools are terrible. There’s nothing wrong at all with looking up a word at an electronic dictionary, but letting one translate a sentences always ranges between pathetic and hilarious.

Even the best of translation tools does a terrible job of discerning context. And when each word can have several different translations, and often holds several different meanings, context is everything. You get that wrong, and some of the words wrong, and the translated result is pure gibberish.

Even worse, if the translation program tries to decipher some context and fails, as will often happen, the end result may not appear to be total gibberish at first glance. But we’re still far away from tools at even this level.

And all that is even when you translate between languages which are similar, and have a relatively recent common ancestor.

You can even check for yourself, just for fun. Go to one of the available translation tools on-line, enter a paragraph of text from someplace, and try to translate it first into a different language, and then back. See what a sordid mess you’ll get.

So, to change the subject completely (OK, not really), what new toys are the Americans up to in order to assist their soldiers in Iraq?

The risky business of battle-zone translation could get a technological boost, however, as researchers prepare to test a system that instantly translates spoken conversations to and from English and Iraqi Arabic.

Funded by Darpa, the system would allow troops to communicate in Arabic through a laptop computer equipped with voice recognition and translation software. Troops could speak in English and have their words instantly translated into Iraqi Arabic, “spoken” by a computerized man’s voice. The program also translates Arabic into English.

Automatic translation between Arabic and English. Two languages which are not even close to being remotely similar. At least those people haven’t lost their sense of humour. Though they may just do that after some bad incidents of horrible mistranslation that will cost human lives.

And they’re thinking of translating voice, even, not text. Voice recognition these days is still pretty bad. The best voice recognition programs these days don’t really work under non-ideal conditions, or without a lot of time dedicated to studying each individual voice they’ll be expected to deal with.

So all they have to do here is take a badly working voice recognition, drive the output from that one through a badly working translation engine, and then synthesize the output of that one to voice. Sure. No problems at all, none whatsoever. It’s going to go perfectly smooth. Nothing at all in there that they can’t get working within the year…

The only thing that seems plausible given the time frame is the voice synthesis at the end. And, well, even voice synthesis of text isn’t too hot yet these days. But really, that’s the least of their concerns.

Chinese can’t play for long, at least not on-line

November 26th, 2005

Recently there have been a few stories about people suffering damage due to excessive on-line gaming. Some idiots staying in their rooms for days playing non-stop, not taking care of themselves.

These stories get headlines, because as we all know the news media is always looking for sensations, and this is the kind of news that sells. Sad, but true.

It is, however, an incredibly small and irrelevant problem. The amount of people actually getting hurt, or dying, due to excessive gaming is very small. It just seems bigger because we’re used to just a fraction of events being on the news, while in this case every single instance gets the headlines. Plenty of other addictions are far worse, and far more damaging. Heck, plenty of other addictions actually exist in more than a score of rare and isolated cases.

So what most people do is shrug in wonderment of the idiots involved, and go on with their lives ignoring this phenomenon. Because it’s obvious it’s not really a phenomenon.

The Chinese , however, apparently think otherwise, and see this as a real problem, requiring real treatment:

Online computer gamers in China will be penalized for playing their favorite game for more than three hours at a time, as part of a plan to prevent young people from becoming addicted to fighting dragons and warlords in cyberspace.

Players that spend more than three hours online at a time will lose experience points and weapons in the cyber world.

Once a player has played for more than five consecutive hours, the system cuts the ability level of that player’s character to the lowest level allowed by the game, often zero.

Players must take a two hour break before logging into the game again to avoid being penalized.

Totally and completely crazy. In order to solve a non-problem, they’re interfering with the gameplay of nearly every single playing of on-line games in the entire country. Personally I don’t play these kinds of games, but I do occasionally play some computer games, and can easily see how annoying and distracting such limitations are.

On the other hand, the Chinese authorities are limiting Internet access in various forms for quite a long time, so I guess the idea came naturally to them.

The few quotes in the article from players seem to indicate they think it’s stupid as well, and some plan to try and trick the system. Which would be a pretty natural reaction, though I do doubt if it’s as safe to do it in China as it would be here.

Body mistaken for holiday decoration

November 26th, 2005

If someone commits suicide on a busy street, it’s likely they have a desire to attract attention, and to be noticed. To go out with just a whimper, you don’t need to do it in a public place, right?

But it turns out that, like in almost everything else, committing suicide is also affected by timing:

The apparent suicide of a woman found hanging from a tree went unreported for hours because passers-by thought the body was a Halloween decoration, authorities said.

The 42-year-old woman used rope to hang herself across the street from some homes on a moderately busy road late Tuesday or early Wednesday, state police said.

If you have the poor timing to hang yourself at a time when dressing up as corpses and trying to scare people is popular, you can’t complain when they just mistake the body for a part of the scenery…

Sponsored sub-domain

November 26th, 2005

I’ve just noticed one of the oddest types of TV show sponsorship notification I’ve ever encountered.

Anyone who watches TV shows, at least on channels which aren’t entirely viewer paid, must be familiar with both commercial breaks, and sponsorship notification. To clarify my terminology here, which may not be the proper one, by commercials I mean those breaks in the program that show general ads and try to sell you products, and by sponsorship notifications I’m talking about the specific subset of those which aren’t a regular product commercial but rather say things like “This show brought to you by SponsorCompany”.

I was just now watching a local TV show, and the commercial breaks also included a sponsorship notification for the show. But they went a little bit more than just saying that the sponsor company helped to finance the show’s production.

They presented the website address of the show during that sponsorship notification. And the official web address was not in the main domain address of the show, but in a sub-domain named after the main sponsor. So anyone trying to go to the show’s website will have to type the sponsor company’s name to get to it.

To illustrate, if the show had been called Example, and the sponsor had been SponsorCompany, then instead of the show’s address being http://www.example.com , it was http://sponsorcompany.example.com . And that’s the only website address for the show that was presented.

There’s an amusing twist, though. This address, and the main domain address, both automatically redirect to a different page, under the domain of the TV company producing the show. So the sponsorship isn’t ever in the address beyond being typed initially. And it doesn’t have to be typed there, but just optional.

Odd.

Unfree parking

November 19th, 2005

The Tel-Aviv municipality handles the administration of organized parking lots through a municipal company, Ahuzat Ha’hof (Roughly translated as “The Beach Mansion”). This company is in charge of the proper operation of the parking lots according to the city regulations, and to contracting out individual lots to subcontractors.

The regulations leave it up to them, and the contractors, to determine the operating hours of each individual lot. The condition is that on the hours where they don’t operate a lot (By putting a person there, to monitor entrance and charge for parking) they must leave it open for free public use.

A policy which actually makes sense. The lots will be free on the hours where there are not enough potential clients to make it worth for the contractor to pay workers, while the people who do look for parking will not have to go look elsewhere while there’s a whole empty parking lot nearby.

And this last is something which sadly does happen in many places where it’s less regulated. You can sometime see cars doing the rounds looking for parking, while there’s a large area that could have held them all, with a locked gate. Not entirely unreasonable from the lot operator’s perspective, though, since they do incur maintenance costs on the lot operation, even when it’s freely open. Even just the usual wear, and the potential for damage that people will cause the unattended lot, costs money on average.

One big problem that occurs with leaving parking lots open while not having well defined working hours, is that it’s not immediately obvious if the lot is open or not. When you go to park the car, and someone is standing at the entrance and charging, it’s not obvious if they’re official employees of the parking lot, or not. There are quite a lot of cases where other people take advantage, standing in front of those parking lots while they’re supposed to be free, and pretending to work there.

On occasions it can be obvious. Some of the parking lots have some sort of small shacks where the workers sit. So if someone is sitting outside, while the shack is locked and the lights are out, they’re cheating. Most people, however, are not very observant. Sad, but true. Plus, many of these places either don’t bother locking this shack properly, or simply don’t have one, so this cannot always be used as an indication.

The end result being that this sort of thing is far from rare. And they usually get away with it just fine, since nobody, or at least nobody official like the police, seems to care. People complain, on the few cases they realize they’ve been had, but it doesn’t get anything done.

Usually it doesn’t, anyway.

A few days ago there was a supposedly big sports game of some sort (As you can surmise, I’m not a big sport fan). And the parking lot, belonging to this same company, was officially out of the working hours and so open for free public use. Except that some entrepreneurial spirit saw the golden opportunity, and decided to sell parking tickets. Which worked well enough for most of the evening, until someone noticed something was fishy and raised hell.

Since there were a lot of people there, and sport events get noticed, this got noticed this time as well. The matter was, at long last, brought to official attention, be it the police or the municipality. They finally deigned to realize that the problem exists, and that something should be done.

Now, what I’d have thought a normal person would do, when confronted with a problem of thieves posing as official parking lot operators and swindling the public, is to try and figure out ways to catch the people who do these things, and discourage this from happening, so people won’t pay when it’s supposed to be free.

But that wasn’t the case, not in real life. Because, well, what bothered them wasn’t that people paid when they shouldn’t. No, it was that the people paid to the wrong party. So they made a new regulation to solve the problem. The decision is that when there are major events taking place near an official parking lot, the parking lot operator is bound to keep the lot working during the event, and charge for it themselves. Just like if it was during their normal working hours, and they’d have made a decision to keep the parking lot running at that time.

There, problems solved. Nobody will be in a position where they pay a thief when they could have parked for free.

Now they’ll pay an official contractor who otherwise wouldn’t even be interested in being there and charging there. No more chance of parking freely near such events, as was mostly possible so far.

Brilliant, just brilliant.

Annoying automatically added AIM bots

November 18th, 2005

I have the dubious pleasure of having friends on pretty much all of the major IM networks. Of these, at least among my own contacts, AIM is the least popular.

Partially it’s probably the relatively bad user interface of program, the limited emoticon set, and other aspect of the IM functionality. Additionally it may be the, somewhat justified, conception of AOL services as being simplistic.

And partially it must certainly be due to their attitude. As became apparent yet again a few days ago when they automatically, without my request or consent, and without any indication of interest on my account, added two bots to my contact list.

I signed on to my IM client, and was immediately greeted by these messages from AOL System Msg:

AIM added a new AIM Bots group to your Buddy List.

Send IMs to moviefone and shoppingbuddy for great holiday flicks and gift ideas. (To remove ‘em, just right-click and delete! Learn More)

And lo and behold, my contact list did list this new group called AIM Bots, and it did have these two new contacts in it.

Listen, AOL: if you want to let me know about new services, publish them, and hope I’ll notice somehow. Try to make them good enough that other people will tell me, buy ads, or send this as a service message to the email account associated with the AIM account (but only if I agreed to recieve such messages). That’s all fine. But just automatically subscribing me to those services, especially if they take the very visible form of new contacts in my personal IM contacts list, is not fine. It’s actually very very bad behaviour.

On their behalf, though a very small and minor plus, they did mention that it’s possible to delete the new contacts. I expect anyone used to managing their contact lists will know that, but it’s quite possible they have plenty of users who barely knows how to open a chat window with a few contacts that someone else defined for them.

But letting people know they can reverse the addition, is not enough. That’s annoying, and it feels invasive. I choose who, or what, I want on my contact list. Not the IM client.

So I had to spend the few seconds of removing the new unwanted contacts, and deleting the leftover empty group.

At which point, for a reason I can’t fathom, they still didn’t leave me alone. Instead they felt that they have to let me know what I just did. I got yet another message popping up from AOL System Msg:

The following bots are no longer available and have been removed from your buddy list: moviefone, shoppingbuddy. To find out more about bots, go to http://aimtoday.aol.com/aimbots

What’s the idea of telling me that, beside annoying me? I know these bots have been removed. I just removed them myself.

If there were plenty of reasons for contacts to be removed automatically (Do they also remove active bots that they decided I don’t need, without asking me? I can’t quite bring myself to believe that) then such notifications are in order. But that’s not the case. Telling me that something happened, when the only reason for it happening is that I did it myself, is plain stupid.

Or maybe this was simply their way of letting me know where can I find the whole selection of available bots. Funny way, to do it not when the new bots are available (Well, alright, they did it then as well), but after I explicitly shown I am not interested in a bot.

Some companies just don’t get it…

Food festival – Nahalat Binyamin 3

November 17th, 2005

In the last week there has been a mini food festival (Sorry, both links in Hebrew only), involving 7 restaurants in the Nahalat Binyamin St. in Tel-Aviv. This is the third such event (And the first I attended, or was aware of), which they have been doing at half-year intervals.

Officially (In practice some offered a wider selection) each of the involved restaurants offered, for the duration of the festival, a selection of three main courses, and one desert, for a fixed price of 20 ILS per serving. This is lower than the usual price at these places, but many of the dishes were also smaller, so this was more of a sampler than just a meal discount. Which is fine, given that this is the idea behind a food festival.

I have been in the nearby area in the past, but was not personally familiar with any of the involved restaurants. Some came recommended by people I know, and some were complete unknowns. Not a bad thing, given that this was a perfect opportunity to try them out.

When reaching the area, we (I went with a friend) started by walking around a bit to get a general impression of some of the places, and the crowds. We went on a regular weekday, not on the weekend, but the restaurants were still crowded. And we were amused to notice that the order by which the restaurants were listed on all the festival posters hanging on the streets, was the same order they were physically located along the street. Rather convenient, since you can plan ahead easily by simply reading the list of offered dishes, and glancing around.

One of the restaurants, L’entrecôte, was supposed to be a French meat restaurant. But it’s kosher. Now, and I cannot stress this enough, you do not want, under nearly any circumstances, to eat kosher meat. The exception being if you had the misfortune of eating only kosher meat your entire life, in which case you don’t know how much you’re suffering. But after eating meat that has not been so ruined, the thing is very hard to make edible. Kosher meat means that the meat was covered with salt, in sufficient amounts and time for all the blood to be sucked out. And then, because the left meat is salty and dry (nice for a jerky, not so nice for a steak or anything else), most distributors wash it (gets the salt out, but ruins the texture and the taste even further), and add all sorts of chemical softeners (so it’s not so hard, but it also loses whatever little meatlike consistency it had left, and gains a noticeable chemical taste). Scary stuff.

Not only that, but if the place is kosher, and serves meat, this means you won’t find any sort of dairy products around. Can’t mix meat and dairy when it’s kosher. That means no dish whatsoever, desserts included, will have stuff like cheese, butter, or cream.

So this one restaurant we skipped, and I don’t have any first-hand knowledge about the level of cooking there.

One item worth mentioning was that they put their security guard (sitting outside near the entrance) right in front of the festival poster for their place. So unless you knew they were a part of the festival, you could have easily missed the poster and assume they weren’t. And you couldn’t take a quick look at the dishes they offer without peeking behind the guard’s back.

A second item worth mentioning about them is that they seemed to have joined the festival as default, rather than out of any conscious decision. They had an unrelated page on the window with “seasonal specials” (or something like that, I don’t recall the exact phrasing they used), containing a much wider selection of dishes at the same 20 ILS price. All they had to do was to say they’re in, and randomly pick some of the already discounted dishes to be included in the festival menu.

The best place of the evening was Tahel. One of the places that also came recommended to me in advance, and generally have a very good reputation. There was a line of people waiting to be seated, but unlike the other places they also had an outside window where you could order the festival dishes in discardable plates, and walk with them (or, as we did, catch one of the outside chairless tables). This sped things up noticeably, and we didn’t have to wait at all.

They had their own menu of festival dishes there, which included more courses than those included in the official festival listing. Still, the ones we sampled were among the four on the official menu.

One of their dishes that we tried was a shrimp bisque, which was very good. The other was deep-fried risotto balls with lamb meat and pine nuts. According to the lists this should have came with a yoghurt sauce. But it came with tahini instead, which combined with the fried balls motif gave it a strong resemblance to falafel. Still, it was quite good as well. Certainly a place I plan to return to sometime.

Across the street was Chuka, a new Asian and seafood restaurant. There was a lot of clutter near the entrance, but I am not sure what exactly it was about, since once we went past the people we could enter the place easily, there was no line, and there were free seats. We were greeted by a host, and offered to seat either at a table, or near the bar. We chose the bar, which turned out to may not have been the best choice, as it took some time for the barman to address us, while waitresses were more actively running around the tables.

Here too we were presented with menus that had a wider selection that the officials. It was a bit unclear, though, whether it was something for the festival, or a general menu, since the menu mostly consisted of photos of the dishes, with labels but sans prices, and didn’t say a word about the festival. It was ambiguous enough that we asked the barman to make sure these were all the discounted dishes included in the festival, and not some regular menu of theirs.

We wanted to order a Calamari dish, but were told they’re out of Calamari (WTF?! How the heck does a restaurant dealing with seafood can be out of a major ingredient? That’s awful planning). We were told, however, that there is a new dish, of shrimps, in the festival menu instead. We opted for the replacement dish, and also ordered a second dish, a paella.

The shrimps were good, but the dish was very small. Four medium shrimps only, which makes it a little more than 1$ equivalent per shrimp. Steep price. The paella was also quite good, and we both liked it. We were a little amused by it having a shrimp inside as well, to compensate for the very few pieces of Calamari in it. I guess the last few went into the last batch of paella…

While we were eating, a couple of young women came over, and also sat at the bar. They looked at the special menu very puzzled, and when the barman approached asked him if that’s all that they serve there. The guy answered that it’s not, it’s just the festival menu. From the look of them, it was obvious that they had no idea what he was talking about, or that the festival was taking place. They asked if they can get a regular menu. The barman then looked very puzzled himself (Not used to having actual customers on regular days?), but went away and managed to come back a little later with a full menu.

Actually, the area is far from being dead, even in the middle of the week. Not only this street, but some of the nearby streets, are regular evening hangouts, with plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. So I guess there were quite a few more people who came for a quiet evening out, only to discover everything is crowded, and that there’s a festival going on. But most of the people around were clearly ordering the festival dishes, whether they came for them originally or not.

Another place we decided to skip was Dinitz. It’s more of a coffee shop than a restaurant, so while the food may be good (I have no idea how is their level of cooking) there was nothing on the menu very appealing. One of the festival dishes was fish&chips, for example. Could be quite decent, but not my idea of interesting gourmet cooking. If they had any extra dishes not on the official festival menu, they didn’t put the list outside, so we had no way to find out about it.

The next one we sampled was Fabiana, an Italian restaurant. It actually took us a bit longer than intended to get there, since while all the other places are right on Nahalat Binyamin St., this one is slightly to the side into one of the side streets. So we just kept walking down the street, not seeing it. Not a long detour, it’s not such a long street, and as we went all the way back we discovered it was directly across the side street on the corner Dinitz was on, and we could have saved ourselves the time had we bothered to look around a bit instead of starting to walk.

We ordered two dishes here as well. The size of the portions was quite impressive for the reduced price, which was very nice. However the waitress was a bit confused, or not paying attention, and we got one of the dishes we asked for, and one that we didn’t. We notified the waitress, who apologized and went to replace the dish with what we actually ordered. As an interesting observation, it took them quite a few minutes between our order and the time they delivered the dishes, yet it took about half a minute to replace the one we didn’t ask for with the one we did. The jury is still out on whether they have everything ready and were delaying to make it appear like they’re making a fresh plate, or whether they exchanged our order with another one and this was simply a matter of exchanging them back once both errors were noticed.

One dish was Strozzapreti (aka Priest Chokers. No, seriously) pasta in spinach, Gorgonzola, and nuts. It was very nice, but the Gorgonzola was hardly noticeable. True, Gorgonzola isn’t the strongest blue cheese out there, but if it’s in a sauce the taste should be distinct and obvious, it wasn’t.

The other was one of their deserts, Ricotta ravioli in Cinzano and caramelized fruits (In this case being Mango, Kiwi, and something else that was in small quantities, and delicate taste, so I didn’t recognize. Maybe peach). The sauce was very nice, and the dish is an interesting (in a good way) idea for a desert. My only problem with it was that the ravioli filling was a little bit too dry. Had it been a little softer and smooth, and maybe a little sweeter, the dish would have been excellent.

Overall a nice place, though the waitresses seemed quite unused to the amount of people. Interestingly enough, we also saw a large number of people eating, and drinking, things that were not on the festival menu. As I mentioned before, it did happen sometime on the other locations, but here it was more apparent. This could be an indication that their regular menu is much better, and maybe those people were returning customers and so decided not to take advantage of the festival menu. If so, the place warrants a second visit.

We tried to enter another one of the restaurants, Betty Ford. Another place that has a good name. Unfortunately, they have good enough a name that there were long lines each and every time we passed nearby. Not that we were in a hurry, but waiting for 20 minutes (estimate of their own guy at the entrance. I’d expect that they usually try to underestimate the time, even, so as not to scare people away) in line just to taste their dishes strike us as a bit too much. The long lines, and the fact that the lines were maintained all through the evening, are probably an indication that the place is worth visiting as well, though.

And last, there was Brown, on which I also received some personal recommendations. Including one on a dish they had on the last such festival, though it wasn’t on the menu now. Actually, none of the main course dishes they had on the menu seemed unique or appealing this time, so we only tried their desert, a chocolate cake with ice cream. It was nice for a chocolate Soufflé, but not amazing. Especially considering that due to simple unplanned timing issue I ate over the past week a few mini-chocolate-Soufflés I made myself, which were better in both taste and texture, so they lost by comparison.

The place was very crowded, and so it took a relatively long time to get the attention of the waitress. There were also a few people at the bar who looked decidedly drunk, but still at the level where they were having good fun.

Food isn’t everything, though, and they also had festival-wide deals on drinks. A selection of wines could be had, with the first glass costing 20 ILS (like the dishes), and subsequent refills by any of the inlcuded wine types costing only 15 ILS. And yes, refills mean that you take the glass with you (Let me tell you, walking down the street holding a wine glass in the hand is a strange experience). The wine glass is included in the price of the first glass. A potentially good deal, but the selection of wines was far from impressive, including mostly some mediocre local wines. For some odd reason they also decided to be confusing, letting each restaurant name the wines by its own preference. Some gave more details, some less, some gave different partial details from each others. It was quite confusing, and while the wines were pretty much the same in all the places, it took us a while to be certain of that, instead of assuming that they managed to find an incredibly large amount of uninteresting wines.

We did have a glass each of the only one there to our linking, a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina, from the La Consulta brand of Finca La Celia. Which it took us a while to realize was there, since true to the inconsistent descriptions, almost none of the restaurants we’ve been through bothered to write “Finca La Celia” on it in their menu.

They had a similar deal with beers, different prices for 1/2 litre or 1/3 litre, where the first glass costs more but includes the glass, and refills are cheaper (The prices weren’t high for beers, but I do know some nice bars, even not so distant from there, that normally serve good beer at similar prices). However the beer offer was limited to only one brand, Goldstar, which can best be described as insipid. About the only good thing I can say about this beer is that it’s not as horrible as the other two local brands (Nesher, and Maccabi). Then again, some people disagree with me on that, as was evident by the fact that we did see people drinking it. Most peculiar, but you can’t argue about taste. Especially not with people who don’t have it.

Some of the restaurants in the Nahalat Binyamin area seemed really nice, I’ll be going there again to give them a more personal examination. All in all it was a fun evening, though not as culinarily interesting as something like a really big food festival. But hey, can’t have everything, and it certainly matched up to my expectations.

Odd pointless spam

November 15th, 2005

Not that spam ever has much of a point for me, beside being a huge bother, but it usually does serve some purpose for the spammer. They want to get people to buy stuff from them. Or they want to con people into thinking they’re buying stuff from them while shelling out money for nothing. But it servers a purpose, and the spam message has some way for the recipient to get in touch with the spammer to give him (or her, women can spam just as well as men can) the money.

And yet over the last couple of weeks I received two types of trackback spam1 that did not fit into the mold. They were, from the sender’s perspective, totally pointless. Or at least appeared to be so, though there may be possible explanations for each.

One kind were a couple of messages with links pointing to the official SPAM site. The site of Hormel’s Foods Corporation, who are making SPAM for many more years than those annoying unsolicited sales messages are running around. And who have nothing to do with spamming.

In fact, they’re so not amused by the whole different meaning their product name obtained, that it’s clearly not possible that those were… Spam about SPAM.

It wasn’t theirs, but it pointed to them. Pointless.

It could have been someone’s idea of a joke, sending SPAM spam. I can see the humour. What I can’t see is investing the necessary resources, and going through all the bother. Because those message were, by all technical purposes, spam. Someone had to either get a list of blogs from somewhere, or set up random guesses and searches. And someone had to dedicate computers (Those trackbacks came from two seemingly unrelated IP addresses, meaning from two probably far away computers) to go and post trackbacks on them. It’s spamming technique with spamming tech. And is technically spamming as far as any possibly related laws would look at it.

The second type of trackback spam was more popular, and I received more of those. They started at a high rate, but very quickly (before I disabled trackbacks) slowed to a trickle of once a day, and then disappeared.

They all came from different IP addresses as well, spread all over the US. They seemed to target posts that included the word trackback, or just the word back in the title. So someone was especially trying to target trackback spam at people discussing trackbacks. Go figure.

These ones were more complex, the URIs they used were written as if to different pages, that contained in the address words from the post they were trackbacked (can I verb that?) to.

But all those links, from all those trackbacks, were worthless. Because the site, under which all the pointers went to, was down. Just a general notice from a hosting company that this is an unused domain and is on parking. Nothing there.

So why go through the effort (and with this amount of different IP addresses it may have been a bot net of zombie computers, so somebody invested work and money on this) just to point people to pages that don’t exist, on a site that doesn’t exist, where they can’t make any money out of it?

Although here I have not one, but two, possible yet unlikely explanations.

The first is that this is some sort of whacko tech evangelist trying to warn everyone about the dangers of trackbacks. This would explain the targeting of posts talking about trackbacks, but is pretty stupid otherwise. Usually even the crazies in those minor tech battles are better civilized than that, and don’t invest more than a lot of typing time.

The other option is that this was some sort of busted operation. Maybe the site was live, and real, at some point. Some law enforcement agency may have caught them. Or someone may have complained to their host who decided to shut their site down (Though not likely, I’d expect that these people would usually have their own servers and won’t depend on hosting).

But given the amount of spammers out there, and how little is done about the large majority of them, I don’t buy that either. I didn’t find (Though didn’t look too hard) anything about that, or them, anywhere else, except for similar trackbacks from the same date range. So this would have had to have been one quick operation. Nobody closes down spammers so quickly, ever. Not without it making headlines. All of that spam was sent and posted when the site was already dead.

Most peculiar.

1. Here’s the ultra-quick explanation of what trackback spam is: Trackbacks are a feature on many blogs that allows another blogger to signal that they have a post on their own blog which is relevant to the trackbacked post. This appears on the target post, in a manner similar to a reader’s comment, and includes a link to the second blog post. This allows several people, on several blogs, to keep a discussion on a same subject and keep everyone notified that they posted on the issue. A sort of easy version of going and manually writing an “I wrote about that too” comment. And as everything else, this is used by spammers, who post trackbacks that point to their own sordid sales pages instead of to anything relevant to the post they’re putting the trackbacks on.

Humane economics

November 15th, 2005

A new candidate, Amir Peretz, was chosen as the leader of the Avoda (Labour) party, one of the two traditionally largest political parties in Israel. Essentially that means that he has a decent chance (As always, depending on who else is running, and a myriad of other details) of becoming the Israeli prime minister following the next elections.

In the past, and where he gained most of his political attitude, and support, he was a union leader, and even led a party focusing on union rights (Yes, I’m oversimplifying a lot, but that’s the gist of it for this post’s purpose). And so, unsurprisingly, he keeps on with making loud political promises of employee rights that he will take care of if he will get elected.

Including a very explicit statement, which he stated a few times in the last few days, about the minimum wage. Specifically, he promises that if he will be elected as prime minister then he will increase the minimum wage to 4700 ILS. This is about 990 USD.

Never mind the exact amounts. The change is the important part. The current minimum wage is roughly 3500 ILS (or 740 USD). So we’re talking about a raise of approximately 34.2%. This is, if it’s not obvious to everyone, a lot.

But Mr. Peretz does not bother to specify how will the money be obtained. It’s a very simple thing, according to him. Everyone who receives minimum wage now, will just have their salary drastically increased. So the employees will have more money, and everyone will be better off.

Amazing why nobody thought about it before. So simple. Heck, maybe the wages should be even doubled, that way everyone will be even more better off and could live really well.

Oh, wait, there’s a slight snag. It has something to do with economic reality, the way the job market actually works…

Where the heck does he think the money is going to come from? Companies, the same entities who employ these minimum wage workers, pay them the salary in order for them to produce something. Something which the company will then be able to sell, in order to obtain income. And it needs that income, because that’s where the salary money comes from. It’s a fairly basic economic reality, the salary heavily depends on the production of the employee. The company cannot pay an employee more than that employee contributes to the company, since at this stage the employee is worse than unnecessary.

Most people who are worth to the company (In the manner of their contribution to the company’s income) more than the minimum wage, would have received a higher salary. Because otherwise they could have gone to a different company, who would happily offer them such a higher salary. It would be worth it to the other company, as they would still be making a profit from the deal. And it would naturally would be worth it to the employees, who normally have no qualms about getting more pay.

Generally speaking, the reason for people getting just the minimum wage is not that the companies enjoy exploiting them, and are trying to get rich on their account. Sure, there may be some of it, but it’s far from being the all prevailing reason. For most places, if they have to pay so much more to their employees, it becomes unprofitable to keep the employees. Many companies would be losing money. Not just cutting the profits, but moving from profits to losses, in any divisions that hire those minimum-wage employees.

The result of which will be mass firings, and an increase of unemployment rates. So instead of getting minimum wage those people could stay at home without any income, looking for a new job that nobody would offer them at the minimum salary they could legally accept getting unemployment benefits. This would hardly benefit those people that the increase is supposed to help (If unemployment was so much better for them than the minimum wage, they would have stopped working right now. Well, many of them do, but that’s a different story and I won’t get into it). And it would greatly hurt a lot of companies, both big and small, and as a direct result will also hurt the economy of the country.

Unless the government is going to subsidize the salary increase. In which case firing those people will not necessarily be the obvious solution, since the cost of hiring them would not rise. But that is an entirely different problem, namely where will the government take the money from? Since nothing can be cut back so drastically (there are a lot of people there getting minimum wage, on aggregate the amounts of money to finance this would be staggering), we’re talking tax increases. Large ones.

Which, you guessed it, hurt companies and force them to cut down on the workforce in order to cut costs. But will also hurt everyone else (Such as, if you’ll excuse the political incorrectness, employees who are getting more than the minimum wage, because they have valuable skills, or invested in studies). Many active businesses may stop being lucrative, causing them to close down, hurting both all their employees, and whoever was using their products.

All these options would result in an increase of the unemployment rate, and in a reduction of the GDP. This massive raise of the minimum salary would greatly hurt the economy. All of which will, as a minor side-effect, make it even harder to maintain the artificially high minimum wage.

But no, a claim on the newspaper this morning calms us. Peretz is not blind to the economic realities. He believes in economics, but he believes in Humane economics. Whatever that means. Ah, right, it means economics that pay attention to the well being of the people, and do not let themselves be confused with facts. If it is good for the employees, it doesn’t matter that it’s not sustainable for long enough for the people to enjoy them before being smashed over the head with the consequences…

Some people should not have a driver’s license

November 15th, 2005

Some days I see a driver on the road doing something really stupid, or really illegal. Usually both at the same time.

But this morning a personal record was broken. All the way to work everything was fine, no problems at all. Then, on the last few small short streets, right before I reached my office, I had a sequence of three near collisions, one after the others.

The first one was on a two-way street, with one lane on each direction. The lane on the other direction wasn’t moving, since the first car was standing at a traffic light. At the same junction from which I just turned into the street. But a mini-bus driver further behind decided he doesn’t really wants to wait. The solution? Overtake everyone. So off he went, out of his lane, speeding up to overtake all the cars and squeeze in right before the traffic light.

Except, well, that overtaking lane of his wasn’t free. It was occupied. By me.

Luckily I had a right turn (which I wasn’t supposed to take) right at the point the mini-bus decided to frontally crash into my car. And luckily I was fast enough to quickly swerve to the side into the entrance to that side street, letting the insane mini-bus driver to go on. Because he wasn’t stopping. Heck, he wasn’t even slowing down.

Exclaiming, to myself, some choice expletives, I returned to my lane, and kept going. After the nearby turn was another similar street, one lane on each direction.

This street was a bit busier on both lanes, with traffic flowing. And shortly after entering it I reached a four-way intersection. And right in front of, on my lane, was a car driving in the opposite direction. And it wasn’t overtaking a blockage, or anything like that. The correct lane on the other direction was moving and flowing, no problems at all. But this genious of a driver decided both lanes are his way, and moved to the other one. He entered the intersection like that, from the wrong lane, nearly crashing into a car trying to turn right into the lane he was occupying.

And, of course, quite startling me in the process, since when entering the intersection I did not expect such a frontal assault. So everyone, on all the roads connected to the intersection, just froze. We stood there, waiting for the idiot to cross the intersection and join back into his correct lane. After which traffic flowed again.

Two very short turns later, and I entered the street on which my office is located. A one-way street, mind you. One lane, one way, the same way I, and a few cars in front of me, and behind me, were driving.

And then I noticed that the cars in front of me turned to the side and got on the sidewalk. Now, this is an area with parking problem, so sometimes people do crazy things like that, parking where they shouldn’t. But not in such a wholesale way.

So I looked ahead, and what do I see? A women driving a car on the opposite direction, against the direction of the road.

And as those cars cleared the road, which is barely wide enough for one car, she kept moving forward. Not having much choice (or more accurately, not being particularly early, so not wanting to waste the time of an extended argument), I moved to the sidewalk myself to let the idiot proceed and clear the street.

I did yell at her that it’s a one-way street. I think she heard me. I don’t think she cared.

Some morning drive.

Online banking

November 12th, 2005

My bank has a website allowing to perform most (though for some reason not all) activities in the account, and see the current status.

Since my income is more or less the same each month, and I have my regular deposit instructions, I rarely have the need to go straighten things out at the site. I do get over to the bank occasionally, so it’s simpler to just step in and talk with the investment consultant (or whatever the official term is) in person.

All this to say that I haven’t used that site in quite a few months. But now I did have a somewhat larger amount of money sitting in my checking account, and I figured it would be simpler to put it on something bearing interest rate through the site, instead of going to the bank in person.

I entered the site, put it my user name and password (OK, it’s a bit more complex than that, I’ll get to it soon), and was surprised to see that they’re not valid. I checked, and it turns out my bank is a believer in the idiotic concept of password expiration. In their opinion just because a few weeks have passed, never mind actual uses of the password or what I did with it, the password is suddenly less secure. And since I wasn’t on the site at the time frame where they would have asked me to replace the password, they just expired it.

Well, off I went to the bank to deal with the money, and while there I also asked them to reset the password. There wasn’t any problem with that, and they gave me one of those automatically printed sealed envelopes with the newly generated password inside. Which like all such bank password is the absolute best (yes, I’m being ironic) in secure passwords, being a short string of numerical digits only. Funny, that.

At home, I tried to log into the site again. Now, most anything password protected has a user name, which is supposed to make sense and be easy to remember, and a password, which is supposed to be non-obvious and secret. They don’t.

They have a user name, but that user name is assigned from the bank, and seems like a short random string of letters and digits with no obvious relation to my name or bank account (and it would have been a better password string than the auto-generated one they gave me).

They have a password. The one I was given, which after signing in I would be prompted to change.

And they have an “identifying field”. Which in my case is my account number, zero padded. I have no idea what’s the point in that, since the whole concept of the user name is to be uniquely identifying per user. Why would anyone need both the user name, and the identifying field? Plus, if the identifying field is so obvious then it serves no practical security purpose.

So I filled in my details on the simple web form, which was, as it should be, SSL encrypted. And I pressed the submit button. Which did nothing whatsoever. Their Javascript sucks, and doesn’t work in Firefox. Effectively the whole site doesn’t work in Firefox. Just in IE. Because banks want to be as secure as possible, and what browser is more secure than IE? Practically all the rest of them, these days, but apparently my bank doesn’t know that.

So I switch browsers, and login. What I expected was to be asked to replace the temporary password with a new one, and this is indeed what happened. Except the form I received wasn’t one for replacing the password. Instead it was titled as new user creation, which is a bit confusing since I was using the exact same user name, and accessing the exact same bank account. Not only that, but I had to enter my same user name and identifying field here, or it wouldn’t accept them. So it was a password change screen, but very wrongly titled and labelled.

I entered my details, and new password. And wanted to log in into the site. I was transferred to a page telling me the site was generating a new key, and then it asked me to install and run an ActiveX control. I refused, and received an error that the key could not be generated, and I cannot access the account. Why would they need an ActiveX control running on my side in order to allow me secure login in beyond me. As I mentioned, their site already supports SSL. Implemented correctly, than more than good enough. Certainly better than whatever proprietary scheme they and their ActiveX control are implementing, which can contain a large number of bugs and weaknesses they don’t know about.

But I did need to access to site, so I tried again, this time giving permission to run an ActiveX control on the page. After a few seconds it happily told me everything went fine, and I was redirected to the main page of the site.

And was confronted with a very large web form, titled as new user registration. Only unlike the previous one that contained only the user-name/identifying-field/passwords, this one contained fields for my real name, address, and lots of other personal details, all on its first part. Its second part had a list of areas of interest, with a field for email address to receive news from the bank about them. The third part allowed me to enter an email address or cellular phone number (for SMS messages), and had a EULA. This legal agreement started off by stating that I’m interested in the bank’s service for receiving various publications on financial services.

I don’t want their news, and I don’t want their services. The whole form, all three parts, had just one “Next” button. Meaning that I either accept everything, or nothing. I could potentially enter my personal details, and leave all the other items unchecked and unselected, to indicate I don’t want them. But that EULA prevents that, as I have to agree to it before proceeding. And I wasn’t willing to do that.

So was I in a problem? Were I unable to register to the site? Not at all. The site menus (Two of them, both at the top of the screen, and at the side) were already there, and I could navigate to other pages without a problem. I could see my account details, and manage my account and money, no problem. Which to me strongly indicates that I’m already registered to the site. So why do they give me, every time I logged in since then, a form titled “Site Registration”?

I went away, to tour the site. Lots and lots of requests, on nearly every page, to run ActiveX controls. And do you know what they seem to do with those controls, that was so complicated that it couldn’t be done with plain HTML, or with some Javascript? Tables. Yep, all those simple data showing tables, they were implemented using an ActiveX control. Idiotic. Stupid. Moronic.

They also use some VBScript on the site, intermingled with the Javascript, but that’s a whole different problem. And since the thing won’t even let you enter if you’re not using IE, then it doesn’t really matter by this point. Except that they also didn’t quite do all that VBScript well enough, as evident by helpful messages I received such as:

Microsoft VBScript runtime error ’800a0009′
Subscript out of range: ‘[number: 0]‘
/Premium/SPECIFICFILES/Premium/AM_MyAsset1.asp, line 85

The site, BTW, is extremely slow. Very very very slow. Page loads can be in the range of 10, or sometimes double that, seconds. And because it’s all done with those controls, and with frames (Yes, frames. Frames are getting very unpopular everywhere, but this site still loves them dearly), it means that the browser indicated that the page has finished loading rather quickly, with the page still being totally blank, or with gaping white holes. There is no way to know that it’s still getting the page, except to wait in the hope that it’s working and not stuck. Very bad design, that. It’s bad for a quick site, but it’s terrible for a slow site where you have this dilemma on every single page load. And some of the times it really did die (either that, or I was just too hasty in refusing to wait more than a whole minute for page load), so it’s not as if every time I waited enough the page eventually came through.

This is Israel here, and the language is Hebrew. The site was in Hebrew as well. And most of the time everything went fine, giving the browser no problem. The characters were in the correct code page, and in the correct writing direction (Hebrew is RTL, not LTR like English). Except that some page weren’t. Not entirely critical, since it’s possible to select a different code page through the browser, but it’s very unprofessional. And can be quite confusing to computer illiterate users of the site.

And while most of the functionality was there, some pages were clearly broken. Some of the pages, showing certain types of deposits, has a disabled drop-down list of the bank accounts, and no details. This despite the fact that I have deposits of the relevant types. So some parts of my account are not accessible from the site, even though the site is visibly designed to deal with them.

More amusingly, these drop-downs are badly designed. Usually they work simply enough, defaulting to the main account, and allowing to select another one, or some relevant subset. But some pages gave it as a selection, with a “next” button, and the default item was “All Accounts”. Which sounded fine to me. But the “next” button didn’t want to go anywhere. I had to open the drop-down, and select one of the other options, for a specific account. I assume “All Accounts” was not so much an option as the name of what the drop-down list showed, and they should have either eliminated it as an item, or named it “please choose…” like all those standard web forms wanting you to choose a value without a default.

Another interesting design decision was to put access to preferences/settings/options both on the top menu, and the side menu. The one on the top menu even had this cute little icon next to it, and accessible everywhere (the side menu changed based on the area on the site). Naturally I tried the one on the top first. Which, regardless where I pressed its link from, just redirected me to main account details page. The one on the side menu worked well enough, though.

Not that it turned out to be interesting. There was an option to change the password. There was an option to change the identifying field (Did I mention already that I have no clue what is the point of that field?). There was an option to see the system details (running about 3 different ActiveX controls, which do complex things like check if the browser supports Javascript and VBScript). And there was an option to change the disk settings.

What are disk settings, you ask? Good question. In the long long past, when they just went on-line, they also didn’t trust SSL. So they had this external program used to encrypt (hopefully) the communications to the bank. And it kept the encryption key on a diskette. The idea was that you could take the diskette with you, so nobody could access the account without you, and yet you could access it from everywhere. Yes, whoever designed that wasn’t too bright, I agree. But that’s the way it was.

These days they don’t really use those disks any more, but the terminology still involves them (When getting the password, I had to sign a form saying I received a disk, and am agreeing to keep the disk secure. Yet no disk was involved. Seriously). And this page seemed like it allows to choose to actually require the usage of the disk for some sorts of transactions. I didn’t try to make the change, not having a disk and all, so I don’t know whether it actually does something, or just there since they hated to lose the screen after working so hard to design it.

Oh, they also had a page there stating that the site is best viewed under a 800×600 resolution. This may be a good time for me to state, in case anyone doesn’t know it, that most people use 1024×768 or higher. 800×600 is so passée.

Which leaves us just with the fascinating subject of “mail”. See, they have two totally different things. One is messages from the bank (Of which I had none, despite not checking them for months and months). The other is “mail”. Which, as it turns out, includes messages from the bank.

I think the term “mail” refers to the fact that these are the same message they send you in the post if you don’t get to check them in any other way. Since it would eventually become mail if they have to send it, they decided it must be mail in any case.

It did make me hope that maybe they will allow reading them like mail message. Getting them through an encrypted mail server would be both secure and comfortable, since I could easily set my mail program to check it automatically, and to read it comfortably. But no such luck, any relation to Internet mail standards is totally non-existent.

The main menu page shows in the corner the amount of unread “mail” messages. When I logged in there were four. After I read them there were, obviously, none. Yet as I kept navigating the site the number there kept changing. Sometimes I saw there weren’t any unread mail messages, and sometimes it showed there were four. Excellent refresh there.

I went to see the mail. There was this table, with the subjects of the message, the date they were sent at, and the date they were “downloaded” to the computer (which was blank at the first view). It was possible to click on one in order to open a new browser pop-up window with it. And there was an option to mark some of the messages (no “select all”, I had to go one-by-one through the lot of them) and download them to the computer. Downloading them seemed like a good idea, since according to the text on the site if I read them on-line then they won’t send them in the mail, meaning that I’ll have no confirmation of ever seeing those messages. It also means that from now on I’m not checking “mail” on the site.

I pressed the download button, and got to a screen with some explanations on how to read the downloaded messages. Apparently it requires a password. The password consists of the number of the branch of my bank I’m using (not secret, and in the bank’s listings), the digit 0, and my account number (also non-secret, and printed on about any interaction with the bank whatsoever) padded with 0s to eight digits. This is presumably the exact same way a password would be built for any other user on the system. So it doesn’t serve security against any attacker who is even half-serious.

I pressed the download link again. At which case IE showed a message that it blocked downloading an unsafe file. This is IE’s nice way to say that it doesn’t let me download executables, even if I want to, unless I approve them specifically. So I navigated on the short menu to where I can select to allow downloading this file for this time. Except by the time I done that I got redirected back to the main account page of the site, and didn’t get the file.

After a few such futile attempts I realized that the only way to download it would be to add the bank’s site to my secure sites link. Because I totally trust the people who design a site so well, requiring me to run their code on every turn, and even have me download an executable just to read some textual messages.

But that’s the only way to get the file, so that what I temporarily did. I then went to the mail area again, selected all the message again (they all had a downloaded date by now, the site didn’t notice my browser never asked to actually download the file it generated), and went to download them. I read again the password instructions, and pressed the second download button (the password instructions are all you get after the first one).

Stopping to read the instructions may have been a mistake. I started the download, and most of the way though the download hanged. Either they have a really bad connection, or they want to (for security reasons? Such as what?) expire the file quickly after generating it, assuming everyone would download it very fast. In any case all I ended up with was a corrupt file I could do nothing with. I had to clear the browser’s cache and download it again (without clearing the cache I just got back the same corrupt file, since the generated file had the same name).

Finally I downloaded the executable file. It was a self-extracting zip archive. Which, if you run it, is set to automatically create a folder of the same name inside the current folder, open everything into it, and run an exe file inside there. No questions or confirmations asked. Very rude.

The internal executable has the original name “Decrypt”, which had the internal name of “CPExplorer MFC Application”. No request for downloading the MFC libraries was made, so I guess on many computers the thing will just refuse to run. It also shows that possibly the bank didn’t write it, and didn’t think to change the name to something containing their own.

It also came with a DLL file called “DES3dll.dll”, so I guess the encryption they’re using is triple-DES. Though why send their very own implementation is, again, beyond me. Very odd.

In addition, the directory contained lots of HTML files and image files. Just what the site showed when reading those “mail” message. Except that the HTML files were encrypted, and appeared like junk at first glance. Though that didn’t stop them from keeping the html file extension, instead of naming them something else.

When the program was run, it opened a screen asking for the password. This password window did not appear in the task bar (So it’s not as obvious to some people how to switch to it), and did not have a title bar (so couldn’t be moved from the centre of the screen).

If instead of entering the password I pressed the “cancel” button, it closed down, leaving the created directory and files intact. Same if it was run with the password, and later closed. So many of the bank’s users must have lots of these leftover junk files still on their drives.

After entering the password, a window opened with the main html file of the index. A simple table of the messages. Clicking on the link to any of those caused the program to copy it into a temporary folder, decrypt it, and show it.

Except that it didn’t. The file names of the messages were in Hebrew. And since apparently their program isn’t UNICODE, it couldn’t find the Hebrew file names. All I got was an error message that the files cannot be found, with a garbled file name of how the Hebrew name looks like in Western characters.

The solution for that on Windows XP is to change, under regional settings, the default code page of non-UNICODE programs to Hebrew. I have no intention whatsoever of doing that at the moment. Not for this stupid “mail” reader of my bank, in any case.

Bad, bad, bad programming and design all around…

Tentative apologies to an unknown driver

November 7th, 2005

On my way back home this evening, as I was standing at the traffic light in the junction into my city, the driver in the car next to me signed that she wanted to ask something. Usually that indicates someone asking for directions, as was indeed the case.

I turned off my radio, opened the window, and waited a few seconds (She didn’t open her own window beforehand, and it took her longer to do so than it took me). She asked how to get to a nearby city. From the junction we were at, the only two short ways run through my own city, so I quickly explained to her how to use the simplest route. She should have just taken left at the junction we were at (Going into the city, the other option being driving straight and joining back to the highway), then continued straight all the way until the road ended, then turned left again. And on that road there is a big crossroad taking her into the city she wanted to go.

It seemed simple enough, and it is. She thanked me, we both closed the car windows, and went on waiting for the traffic light to switch.

The traffic light switched, and with the way the cars were arranged she took the turn ahead of me. She also appeared in quite a hurray, while I was not, and was driving faster. All this to say, my care was somewhat behind her own car, and I couldn’t exactly follow what she was doing.

I kept driving on, and just as I passed (going straight ahead) the next turn, I noticed her car standing there at a traffic light, signalling to the left. Her left turn, the one she should have taken, the one I told her to take, was the one we were standing in, the one we both just already took. At this point she should have gone straight like I did, not turn left again. Turning left there was the connection back to the reverse direction on the highway we both came from.

I wanted to somehow sign to her that she should go on straight, but I was already past the traffic light at this point, with other cars driving behind me. Stopping would have been both illegal and highly dangerous. Not to mention turning back, which was even less of an option.

As far as I could see in my rear-view mirror, she turned left, back into the highway…

I can only hope she realized her mistake quickly enough. If she figured to drive on this road all the way until it ends, she was up for a very very long drive.

There are other ways to connect from there to where she wanted to go, but it’s a bit roundabout, and would have taken her more time. Assuming she’d gone off the highway at one of the first few exits, that is. Otherwise, she was in for quite a serious delay.

So lady, whoever you are, if it wasn’t a concious decision to turn back, but rather you misunderstood my instruction about the turn, my regrets for unintentionally sending you on the wrong direction…