Category Archives: Computers and Internet

Keeping tech up

DIY laptop feet.

A few weeks ago I happened to bump into a video on YouTube about how to make a DIY speaker stand. My own solution in this case was to put my speakers on boxed sets of DVDs to raise them to approximately ear height.

The idea that you might spend large amounts of money on pointy footed speaker stands to dampen vibration strikes me as ridiculous unless the speakers come without feet of any sort. No doubt if the listener prefers loud, thumpy music, vibration might be an issue, but I’m not so vulgar since the music I listen to is polite and refined.

I have to wonder about ifi’s racking system. As much as I like my ifi gear, an anti-vibration rack for its kit is ridiculous. It’s all electronic. However, if you go so far as to buy it as a system, a rack would be handy to reduce the amount of horizontal space that’d be required for it.

Anyway, I’m straying, but like conversations, one topic can lead to another.

Last weekend when I went to Livat, I went into IKEA in search of some means of elevating the old Acer 5755 laptop. It gets so hot at times that if I have it resting flat on a surface, it overheats and dies. Thus for the past few years, I’ve been propping it up at the front with an old tin of Golden Throat lozenges (a well-known brand here in China) at home, and a pack of cards at school so that the sir can circulate underneath it. I have little faith in laptop coolers (I do have one around here somewhere) and don’t use the 5755 so much that it might need cool air blasting away on it. My question was whether I might find some item in IKEA that I could adapt for my purpose.

I found the answer in the bathroom fittings section. The Skoghall hook is short (about 35mm) and T-shaped with a broad base. It was ideal, but because the thing is chromed, it’s slippery. I went to WalMart and found some rubber feet, 2cm in diameter. They’re slightly broader than the tip of the hook, but that’s not a bad thing.

The laptop sits firmly on top of these feet and is directly usable with a slight amount of awkwardness because the chassis now sits flat instead of being angled. Of course, because I normally use an external keyboard, this is mostly neither here nor there.

Anyway, I’m rather pleased with this simple instance of ingenuity which resolves to some extent a long-standing problem.

The lights went out

The clocks all stopped.

Yesterday at lunchtime, Astrill stopped working. The connection was there, but nothing was getting through, and although I was hoping it might be a temporary problem, it remains dead this morning, with none of the connection modes working.It is hard not to conclude that Nanny is behind this.

There’s been no mention of this so far via, say, the Shanghaiist, which often reports such matters.

I recently saw an article via Facebook, reporting that some security expert thought that Astrill and Express VPN’s encryption had been cracked, but Nanny was allowing them to be used as a means of spying on the users (which won’t mean the likes of me, but rather the people who count for something).

The real problem is gmail, which has been my main e-mail address for about ten (?) years now, and which is where all my contacts are and a good deal of useful information. If Astrill really has been blocked, there will come a time where I will need access to gmail. As it is, my inbox will now fill up with messages I get from various sources on a daily basis.

I’ve also been wondering whether the block also has anything to do with the news that Tiβet will be closed to foreigners in March.

As for any news about the current state of affairs with Astrill, I’m unable to check Facebook to see whether there’s been any word about this, and whether anything is being done about it; or can be done. The timing does make it appear that third-party interference is to blame.

Oddly enough, I can access the Astrill website, but the message at the bottom of the page says “We’re offline” when usually it says the opposite.

As for WordPress, I’m surprised I can even access it, and even though I can, it’s only partly functional. The menu bar at the top of the screen has vanished, and I only have the option of logging out. I can, as you can see, post messages, but I’m having to write this in HTML because the visual editor doesn’t appear.

About an hour later. I’m now on Astrill in stealth mode, but on my old laptop. I’ve sent Astrill a message more as an advisory that there may be problems here. I assume the problem is probably China, but can’t be certain; nor can I say why Astrill works (to a point) on the 5755, but not on the V15. OpenWeb seems to be down. I was getting that old error message on the 5755 that OpenWeb had crashed. The other possibility is that W10 is working its magic.

Whether I use a VPN or not, the message on the Astrill site still says they are offline, which is a little unusual since there’s been no time I’ve ever seen that message regardless of the time I visit them.

The next day. Astrill seems to be all right again this morning. OpenWeb is now functioning normally. Scare over.

In the ensuing days. Well, Astrill is sort of working. OpenWeb was out again a couple of days ago, but has since returned with a heavily reduced number of servers available. In spite of this, it seems to be working adequately.

The blockheads strike again

Don’t let a good story get in the way of paranoia.

In baffling news, the Shanghaiist reported that The Guardian has been blocked – at least the desktop version has. Why? No one knows.

Although there have been quite a few China stories in paper over the past few months, there had been nothing recently which might justify the block­ing of the site. It is possible that the block was a mistake, but that seems unlikely. It’s possible that the imperial government got wind of some (al­legedly sensitive) story and wanted to spike The Guardian’s guns, but there have been no revelatory stories so far. It’s possible that The Guardian is being punished for the activities of its journalists in China.

On that final point, foreign journalists have been having problems getting their visas renewed (The Shanghaiist).

The irony (though not a new irony in cases like these) is that the mobile version of The Guardian is still accessible at the time of writing. How long will the desktop site be out? I don’t know. It may be quietly unblocked soon rather than later; but even if it isn’t, my little darlings should still expect to see more articles from The Guardian in the future.

[21.01.14. The Guardian is now visible again, but I don’t know when access was restored. In a bout of contrariness, we were unable to access any search engines from school this afternoon, including that imperial lapdog, Baidu. It’s not unusual for Google to be inaccessible from school, but there’s no rhyme or reason to it.]

[22.01.14. Well, it seems that the block was probably a warning shot from the imperial government because this morning [still currently visible] is China’s princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven. It’s an article about a report on the colossal amount of wealth a tiny number of people in China have. Will this lead to The Guardian being blocked for good? On the one hand, this isn’t exactly news; on the other, it is a little embarrassing for the emperor and his drive against corruption. I won’t be surprised if imperial peevishness prevails.

Later. Imperial peevishness has indeed prevailed. The Guardian is blocked again – completely. Even the mobile version is unavailable this time.

The strange disappearance of Baidu and other search engines yesterday may be due to an alleged hacking attack, which directed Chinese users to some website run by the people behind Freegate. (China blames hackers for internet outage that re-routed users to US site. The Guardian – the emperor’s favourite foreign rag.)]

There you are, Internet

I’m back and I’m irate.

Because of the raging case of paranoia which has surrounded the ascendancy of a new emperor to the Chinese throne, it’s been next to impossible to access the Internet via Freegate or Ultrasurf. Even services such as gmail have come in for a kicking as we found last weekend when it was completely inccessible, and, in general, connections to the real world have, at times, been annoyingly pitiful.

At school the connection to the Net has gone beyond pitiful to an adjective which doesn’t even exist in English. I assume that schools (especially ones full of pesky foreigners like mine; pesky foreigners who might insist on thinking for themselves in programmes which encourage independence of thought; yes, a bit of irony in that statement) and universities have come in for a particular hammering because these are places where the Chinese might just be able to think for themselves (briefly) before they’re finally and completely assimilated to the Borg collective.

This afternoon, having discovered that I could access the Astrill website (secure connection), I signed up for pay-per-view Internet. Admittedly, it’s adding about a third again to my bill, but I don’t care. I’m fed up with being unable to see the Internet. It’s not that Freegate isn’t a decent piece of kit, but that the link to the real world is fragile and easily disrupted. Since term started, Freegate has probably been out for the count more often than it has been ducking and weaving around the ring. I’m hoping Astrill is a stable alternative so that, among other things, I can post here regularly, watch YouTube and Vimeo videos instead of wondering what the little black rectangle hides (such as George Alagiah’s piece on Wellington College in Tianjin, where the fees make us look like the bargain basement), pop over to Facebook or G+, look stuff up on the IMDb, and generally surf the Internet as normal people do.

The news from the Party boys conference is a resounding declaration, viz. the 12th century is here to stay – forever. Honestly, I wasn’t be expecting any change. I wasn’t expecting to hear that the government had suddenly announced an end to censorship or even a slight relaxation of the imperial anus. Necessity may force change, but it’ll be change with Chinese characteristics. That is, no real change at all.

In fact, “<noun> with Chinese characteristics” should be treated as a colossal joke because whatever the noun might’ve meant, it no longer means that. For example “socialism with Chinese cha­rac­te­ris­tics” means the worst sort of capitalism.

I don’t know how regularly I’ll be posting here, but perhaps it’ll be a little more frequent now that I don’t have to hope that Freegate might work.

Finally, is it time for me to get a Twitter account, not because I give a damn about Twitter, but because I can have one?

Bravely defending the Empire from baroque trumpeters

Alison Balsom, where is thy website?

When I was chatting to Mum and Dad on Skype yesterday, Dad mentioned a baroque trumpeter, Alison someone-or-other. I knew who he meant, but couldn’t remember her name.

I did a search for her just before and quickly tracked her down, but when I tried to get onto her official website, I found it was blocked. Since the host for the site isn’t mentioned, I can’t immediately see why the local Philistines should impede access to it, but can only guess that the host is the problem.

And yet to compound the irony, on her Facebook page is a picture of a billboard for a concert in Shanghai at the end of September.

I predict, though, that Balsom’s site will be viewable tomorrow. Probably. Wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened.

Google+ goes wild

All right, there’s a slight spike.

When Google+ kicked off, I seemed to be alone. Then I made a few friends. Wil Wheaton is one of them, but as he’s a social media slut, I don’t think he means it. But it didn’t take long for the requests to grind to a halt, by which time I wasn’t bothering with Google+ anyway. As with Face­book, I’ve never understood the point of social media because I’d much rather see my friends in person; and if I can’t, they can read my blog.

Anyway, Google+ was apparently dying if you believed The Register. But suddenly the number of requests has gone from occasional to frequent in the past couple of weeks. The question which I’m obviously going to ask is why this has happened. Academic year over, students with nothing to do? Official orders to Chocolate Factory minions to swell the ranks of G+? Who knows?

[12.08.14. It’s been awhile since I last saw any stories about the decline and possible demise of G+, which I find less interesting than Facebook be­cause it’s a sludgy mess of random, often repeated stories. It’s a bit like a lucky dip, but it just doesn’t grab me.]

::: A Short History of UK Place Names :::

::: A Short History of UK Place Names :::.

That sound you can hear is me scratching my head as I wonder why the imperial reactionaries have blocked the site above. Is it laden with anti-Empire propaganda? Not that I can see. In fact, the author seems to show no interest in the Chinese Empire at all. How dare he pay no fealty to this most glorious of realms where the air is ever so clean, the water so clear, the citizens ever so civilised and polite, and the government ever so tolerant.

I have a good mind to write to The Guardian about it.

Websites that deserve to be blocked

The Philological Society.

Hurrah for imperial paranoia. The Phil Soc website is inaccessible and good show, too, because just think of all that linguistics upsetting the feelings of the government and undermining their authority.

That’s right, dear reader. The Phil Soc website has been blocked as far as I can tell. Do I have a theory? Well, the best I can come up with at the moment is that the URL contains a word which could mean something in Tйбэтаn or the abbreviated form of the Society’s name happens to coincide with that of some other organisation which has Nanny reaching for her turd-brown knickers. But I have no idea why the site should be blocked, and it seems unlikely that it has anything to do with technical difficulties at the other end of the line. There’s a lot of wheel spin and then nothing.

iGoogle did come back to normal, but it appears that any image coming via Google is blocked so that when you try to browse the themes, you have to rely on the names and hope that what you choose isn’t a big mistake.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Bing is snuggling up to Baidu to offer English language search results via Baidu. Stick in any of those bothersome T-words, and you’ll get pictures of puppies and kittens frolicking beneath the iron jackboot of oppression. Search for pictures of anything and you’ll get Hello Kitty and Doraemon. Well, you know you really wanted pictures of them and not something else.

Time for some Top Gear, I think.

Nearly two years later. At some stage the Phil Soc website was un­blocked, but I don’t know when. The only problem is that I can no longer access the journal on line even although I thought I knew what my user­name and password were.

Lights! Camera! Inaction!

Another day of hysteria on the Internet.

I went to the IMDb last night only to find it blocked. Very blocked. We’re not talking about dither blocking, but rather insta-blocking. The only film news vaguely relating to China was about Ang Lee casting some unknown in the film version of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, but I didn’t think the junta hated Lee that much. Mind you, there’s no rhyme or reason to their loathing as they continue their plan to turn the Internet into a robot eunuch.

This morning I tried the IMDb again in case the site had had some problem, or it had been the victim of Nanny’s short-lived hysteria, but again, it was definitely off the menu. It was only when I went to the Guardian website that I found the possible reason for the blocking of the IMDb. (12.08.14. And then, quite some time later, the IMDb was un­blocked.)

Some idiot of a woman in Chongqing announced on Τwίττεr that she was going to attend some anti-Japanese rally carrying a banner praising Lίυ Ξιάοβο, and was nicked by Pc Plod. (Guardian story.)

Now the IMDb has Τwίττεr displayed fairly prominently on its front page, which makes me wonder whether that was the cause of the site being blocked. The stupid thing is that Τwίττεr is already blocked here unless there’s a Chinese version with the usual gaping holes allowing the Paranoia++ software uninhibited access to tweets.

In addition, there’s a story on the Reg about the Νόβελ Prize website being hacked. This particular piece of malice was aimed at Firefox (although noscript would put a stop to it), but there was no information about the source of the hacking. The final paragraph mentioned a certain junta’s displeasure about the awarding of the Pέαcε Prize to a certain Lίυ Ξιάοβο. If I’d been marking the article, I would’ve questioned the relevance of the final paragraph because I’m sure that the imperium sericum would never condone such an action. Nor would the Americans or any other freedom-loving nation. [Open a window. The irony stinks in here. –ed.]

The Guardian article concludes with

China has accused the west of ideological warfare. One commentary on the People’s Daily website today was headlined: “It is an un­quest­ionable fact that Chinese people have freedom of expression and press.”

It’s true, of course. Look up any English dictionary produced in China and you’ll find

freedom of expression (NP) – saying exactly what the Party wants you to say.

Meanwhile, the corruption index has come out, which rates New Zealand, Denmark and Singapore as the least corrupt countries in the world, and Somalia as the most corrupt. The UK comes in at 20 and the US at 22. China is 78th on the list, which puts it on a par with Greece, but way ahead of Russia at 154.

It is a little depressing to look at the map of the world and observe that there are swathes of red across South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, which would lead any outside observer to conclude that corruption is the norm on Earth, and wonder why anyone would be particularly bothered about it.

So is this Live Irony?

No, because I’ve edited the post.

China has launched its own version of Google Earth, which is no doubt covered in useful information like “Nothing to see here” or “Nothing happened here” or “Ghost shopping mall” or “Chinese territory. Sod off, Japan”. For North Korea it probably just says, “Beware of the insane midget”.

Windows 7 is also a year old. I thought it’d been around a bit longer. The nightmare of Vista has been forgotten, and XP, though an honoured ancestor, now feels like an antique, and is nearly nine. I’ve been fairly happy with W7, especially because I can play Need for Speed: Most Wanted again. I am, though, eagerly awaiting Hot Pursuit.

In film news, Martin Freeman has been cast as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. One of the innumerable cast of leading male actors in Spooks is going to be Thorin Oakenshield, who is the leader of the dwarves. Quite how they’re going to do that, I don’t know. Probably some CGI trickery to make him look short and broad. Of course, because of the luvvies in New Zealand being all huffy about something to do with the production, Peter Jackson is probably going to have to employ the Masai as hobbits.

I see the RN is also being ironic because not only has one of its subs run ashore off the coast of Scotland, but the name of the sub is the HMS Astute. Astute? Laughing out loud (Needed the excuse to try an emoticon. Sorry, won’t do it again.)