The new certainties: spam, taxes and software licences

And a plan for President Bush

Letters Bumper letters bag, this week. It would appear that life's new certainties (software licences, spam and taxes) have driven more of you than usual to your keyboards. Once you were there, you got chatty about all kinds of things...

Let's begin with the interview with a link spammer. We had plenty of mail on this one. Someone even wanted to get in touch with "Sam" for business purposes. We'll not be forwarding your contact details on, young link-spammer wannabe. You know who you are.

I hate this "Sam" person. I despise him. He is loathsome.

As someone who has spent a lot of time deleting unwanted comments, installing special software to stop unwanted comment spam, and generally shaking my fist at the sky about this issue, you should know that the aggravation that this practice generates in the hearts of the abused is probably way out of proportion to the actual damage caused.

But let there be no mistake, I and many bloggers that I know who have had to deal with this asininity would LOVE to give "Sam" a piece of our minds, or something rather more hard and painful, in a face to face meeting.

Please let him know this.


Joe Blogger

What in bloody hell is wrong with you? Sure, lets tell the whole damn world that there is a 7 figure income to be made if you are a programmer and want to learn PHP and pound through a few more books. Furthermore lets accentuate that with the fact that the business can be 100k to 200k a month. HELLO! Thanks for being the funnel that will further the spread of spam and muck about with our search results... great job ya tossers!


So in relation to this article, and taking the spammers view of life, are you going to go back on your word to preserve his anonymity and publish his address? I can picture it now. Spammer lies on ground as I stamp his face into the floor while repeating the mantra "Just click on the link and I'll stop....honest"


Erm, no. Sorry.

Still on spam, you might have noticed that Hormel, famous purveyor of processed meats, lost its battle to reclaim the word spam this week. Very nice on pizza, apparently:

Trivial footnote for you regarding Hormel & their annual Spam festival...

Once upon a time (circa late 80's, early 90's) I worked for a pizza restaurant chain in the upper Midwest which used a lot of Hormel products. Every year, we would bring our mobile pizza kitchen to Austin, MN for their 'Spam Days' festival. Hormel would provide us with a special Spam pizza topping and we would make Spam pizzas. And, believe it or not, the people loved it and could not eat enough!

Now I sell software to prevent spam... Ah, how life comes full circle!


Next, taxes. Or, an object lesson in why leaving things till the last minute is a Bad Idea. In the run up to the tax deadline, the Inland Revenue's online self assessment forms have proven a little too popular, and the site has been struggling to keep up with demand. We did hear from some people who have had no difficulties, but many more of you have not been having fun.

Still, you're a savvy bunch, and we did get a bit of an insight into what could be behind it all, and a suggestion or two for how it could be improved:

More amusing, it may well be that the IR are partly the architects of their own misfortune. I submitted my return on Saturday evening, and the process stuck at the stage of awaiting confirmation of submission. I looked at the site on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, and it was in the same state.

Wanting to cover my arse I'd emailed them a screen-shot, too. This morning I finally struggled with on-hold hell to speak to someone, and found that ``there's a glitch in the system'' which means that ``people aren't getting confirmation of submission''. The guy confirmed that I had in fact submitted OK.

So if there's humpty-thousand people who believe they've submitted, haven't had confirmation and are therefore re-hitting the site every few hours to track progress that's going to push the demand through the roof. And indeed this morning the website is refusing to load (the submission section just gives ``Remote Procedure Call Failed'').


Looks like Inland Revenue could take a lesson from the Dutch tax authorities.

Since the late 90s (1996?) it has been possible to download a program (or request it on floppy) that contains all the forms as well as a pretty decent help file.

Once completed, you sign using a 5 digit code (submitted on paper only once) and the proggie connects and uploads your form in about 5 seconds (via FTP if I'm not mistaken) or (a functionality that I believe is missing now) via modem.

The great thing is that almost EVERY single form you need is available for download as an executable. The bonus? Your complete tax records (password-protected if you like) are stored on your PC, and no load (really) on the tax authorities' web servers...



I got up at 5am to log in. I found logging in even at that time was hit-and-miss, but once in then the system was smooth and responsive. But don't let your session die, otherwise you will have to queue to get back in again! I did find that the assessment form for benefits was utterly non-operational, but that's a different system And it works fine with both IE and Firefox, but the cache-clearing does seem to make a difference in clearing dead sessions. Just my two pennies.


Nice to know someone managed OK.

Bill Gates worries that US visa restrictions are damaging the software industry because they are keeping foreign students out. You are not sympathetic to his plight:

Sure Gates would like to have more foreign students. The last several years US engineers - especially computer engineers and programmers have had a difficult finding a job, so why would new students shy away from professions that do not offer a reasonable job potential. They call it supply and demand.

On the topic of the dollar and the balance of payments, the more jobs that leave the US the more the US needs to import. The companies have stripped the US of manufacturing jobs, because it is cheaper to produce it overseas. If we (the US) have nothing to sell but our service labor (at high prices), then how does the US expect to pay for the imports. Microsoft has been one of the companies exporting jobs overseas (China, India, etc.). That would be an interesting question to ask Gates. If we pay our people third world wages, then how does Gates expect the US to be able to pay the high prices he demands? The dividend that Microsoft pays certainly does not constitute a living wage.

Gates is complaining about the situation, he - himself has helped to create and the rest of us have had to try to live with. Without producing a thing and with service sector jobs too expensive also, what does the US have to sell to the world that will earn an income. Gates is essentially indicating that we are selling the education of the world so that they are better able to finish the job of competing against us. I.e., we the US are selling the rope by which the world is expecting to hang us with. Where does that leave the US? US students then need to occupy the management positions like Gates - as it appears that they are the only ones left.


Huge, big, multinational PC builder, Dell, is getting all upset about a small web design firm that shares its name. Unacceptable! its lawyers said, and went in, guns a-blazing, to sort it out. We wondered, loudly, whether this was fair. Surely Mr Dell, the website designer, can continue to use his own name? What to do about this nasty trend for big companies to go after the domain names of small, non-competing businesses?

Re the stories on CyberBullying, one of the articles posed the question how do you stop the bullies

There is an answer under Australian & I would expect UK law

The lawyers for the bullies are supposed to be "friends of the court" & as such are prohibited from lodging claims they know to be without merit

So in the case of a Co like easygroup who continually threaten domain owners complaints can be made to the relevant authorities about the behaviour or the legal representatives lodging the claims

The above has cropped up in cases (non IT) related in Australia

In addition the courts here have ruled against people on the basis they are "litigious complainants" This occurred to one legal beagle (unsure of name but remember the case) over a family inheritance dispute

It would probably take a few complaints before the solicitors registration boards acted but imagine if all the easy recipients made complaints

After a while legal beagles would become reluctant to take on bullying cases for fear of complaints

Food for thought perhaps ????


There is surprisingly little sympathy amoung Register readers for the Free Software Foundation's claim that Microsoft's license terms are unfair to open source developers:

I'm a huge advocate of free software, but unfortunately over this one, I have to take sides with Microsoft. As a C++ developer (on Windows), I heavily use a lot of free libraries, including the outstanding Boost library. Unfortunately, because Richard Stallman decided to make the LGPL deprecated and got most code moved under the more restrictive GPL, in my current job I am forced by the terms of the GPL to not use any GPL libraries. Basically the reason for this is that under the terms of the GPL, I would be forced to release source code in other libraries that the company has bought and paid for, which I have a right to use, but no right to distribute. If the software had a less restrictive license (such as the LGPL), then I could happily use it in the spirit of the free software movement.

It seems that the free software movement have been bitten by their own dilemma. They should consider changing their own licence framework, rather than trying to enforce their principles on another software company (Microsoft) that has an eminently fair and reasonable set of license restrictions on their own code.


Okay, I AM an open-source addict. I would PAY for open-source software before buying equivalent closed-source software. I also firmly believe that Microsoft is a monopoly which is continuing to try to manipulate the IT world into a state of permanent dependence (if not, they wouldn't be a Good American Corporation(tm)) But even I don't believe for a second that these licensing terms are unreasonable, or that they cripple open-source software.

First of all, there is no argument that the protocols are anything but Microsoft's IP. While I agree that Microsoft should be forced to license these protocols, that does not mean that they should GIVE them away to EVERYBODY. If a compatible open-source protocol stack were developed, there would be nothing preventing anyone with 6 months of programming experience (except, perhaps, some VB "programmers") from reverse-engineering the protocols.

Second, these terms do not appear to prevent developers from publishing a freely distributable, closed-source, compatible protocol stack. Open-source developers can then link to this stack in their software. For a parallel, look at video applications written for Linux -- most if not all of them have the capability of linking to precompiled, closed-source codecs.

Finally, while I agree that Microsoft could have created nicer licensing terms, I can't honestly believe that anyone actually expected them to. This is, at least, an improvement over not letting anyone have access to this information.


NASA has plans to build a super space suit, with a little help from MIT. Our headline: MIT boffins moot space leotard, confused one reader, in a delightful way:

Thought the title was "MIT boffins moot space leopard." Never mind the cinematic possibilities.


"...but President Bush's plans to go to Mars"

Is there anything we can do to help him get there ?


Have to say I laughed bitterly when I read this:

"President Bush's plans to go to Mars have breathed new life into the [spacesuit] project."

-- We're too frightened and too broke to service the Hubble telescope.

-- We can barely feed the astronauts now on the ISS.

-- We're abandoning both the shuttle and ISS projects under the pretext of going to Mars, when we actually plan on pouring the resultant savings down the World Domination Rathole.

How long will the Bush Constellation stay in orbit, that's the issue we should be worrying about. Reentry will be an ugly affair.



News that the RFID technology used in high-security car keys and petrol pump payment systems has significant cryptographic vulnerabilities has, oddly, not struck terror into the hearts of Register readers:


Isn't there some sort of legislation in the USA prohibiting even discussion of how to break an encryption system, let alone physically cracking it? Surely these guys are in for a legal kicking :)



In your article you wrote: "The team recommends a program of distributing free metallic sheaths to cover its RFID devices when they are not being used in order to make attacks more difficult."

Sounds suspiciously like tiny tin foil hats!

Cheers, John

More on Friday. ®


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