Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

How you can hack SpyMaster now!

June 7, 2009

I just read absolutely fabulous story on how the new Twitter game SpyMaster was hacked. I discovered this by googling ‘spymaster greasemonkey script’. Then, as my newly installed script started automatically doing tasks to earn my persona money, I started browsing for new approaches. I did not expect to find such riches.

The essence of the story is that our hero did not actually attack SpyMaster servers and take out their security. Instead, he built a few scripts and found out about a couple of bugs in the system. The key bug, which SpyMaster cleverly renamed an ‘exploit’, was that you could send money to different bank accounts including your own, and they money would never leave your account, but simply accumulate. Automating this with a script proved to be the key to great wealth in a few short hours: nothing short of inventing a bank note printing press.

“I earned 73.59 Trillion British Pounds in under 15 minutes. I bought every single safe-house and 100,000 of everything in the black market.”

Our hero, not satisfied with a personal fortune, then went one crucial step further and spread the wealth to thousands of others. In doing so, he covered his tracks.

SpyMaster was not happy to discover that some people had suddenly got not just hundreds or thousands or millions .. or billions .. or trillions in a few weeks of play. In a somewhat draconian move, they arbitrarily and without any warning shut down their accounts, renaming the bug an ‘exploit’. Unfortunately, they shut down thousands of accounts from people who were merely the beneficiaries of the new banking scheme.

Check out a YouTube video on how the bank account bug worked.


This is why your blog is dying

June 7, 2009

This seems a common problem: you start a blog but you just can’t keep it going. At first, I thought this was because actually run out of time, probably because actual events and tasks IRL take over. As an example: we recently had our second child and she takes up a lot more of my time lately, meaning that I have less time available to spend online.

Actually, this is a dirty lie. Although I have less time available, I still spend about the same amount of time, if not more, online. I just spend it in the middle of the night after a feed or in the early morning after having finally gotten her to sleep.

I think the real reason that blogs die is that the market is fragmenting at an astounding pace. On one level, it’s which blog provider you wish to use since the arms race to provide more features and integrations continues hourly. The number one problem when switching to a new blog provider is importing all those old posts. Instead, you slither out of your old skin and move on to better and brighter things.

On another level, there’s less and less need to blog any more, since you can just tweet, or send out a status update (depending on the platform du jour), and after three of four pithy updates you’ve covered the essence of a blog post. Aside: most people don’t tweet this way, instead choosing to re-tweet the constant stream of messages they skim, or point out a stream-of-consciousness snippet bordering on the consciousness of an insect.

The third level is that there is just so much to do within these platforms now. As more and more entertaining (say, Mob Wars or Spymaster) informative (say, Praizd answers) and searching (say Vark) takes place in or on or across social platforms, there is less and less time, energy and focus to write a post (like, say, this one).

Juicy link building

May 5, 2009

I saw Christopher Cemper’s presentation on juicy link building at Affiliates 4 U Expo in Amsterdam and I was very impressed. Some of the highlights:

  • Ignore page rank
  • Focus on natural link building the way that users would do it, from trusted and relevant domains

Particularly the one struck me as interesting. Two things Christopher highlighted as being red flags to Google’s spam fighting bull:

  • Using the best possible anchor text and keeping this same across multiple new links that go live around the same time
  • Having no nofollows in your links

The non-intuitive guidance that flows from this is that if you want Google to pay attention to the many links from trusted and relevant domains, you need add in some ‘fibre’ to the Googlebot diet. This fibre is what makes your link building relatively indistiguishable from the common-or-garden users who would be writing about and linking to your site. Crazily, this means that once you have found and persuaded trusted and relevant domains to link to you you actually need to ask some of them to use a nofollow or use anchor text for which you have no chance of being found in Google (like click here ).

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October 10, 2008

Great presentation on Neocartography by Andrew Turner, who is a one of the superb and regular posters on Geowankers. Geowankers (for those of you who don’t know) is a mailing list for hackers who like maps and mapping applications or for anyone else interested in the burgeoning technologies of mapping, GIS and location-aware devices and services.

The presentation is a ‘Discussion on the next generation and open mapping technologies’ and really lives up to its title. It’s a lot easier to digest than How Google Earth Really Works because all those pictures are worth thousands of words (although if you take the time, the latter is pretty darn cool too).

The guys at Joopp turned me on to Mapstraction, which is featured pretty heavily here. Amongst its other features, this JavaScript library allows you to show and use Y!, Google, Microsoft, MapQuest, OpenStreetMap,… as easily as using any one.

This presentation was shown at the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) conference in London last week and really lives up to its title. There are lots of great URLs to jump off to. I don’t get to see many conferences, but luckily there are plenty of great presenations around on Slideshare, TED, VideoLectures and of course, iTunes U and YouTube.

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Do pop down to Belgium to buy your fully legal unlocked iPhone!

August 28, 2008

I wrote in “Don’t pop down to Belgium to buy your phone…” that “After a little research, it turns out that Apple has certainly made the Belgian modes SIM-lock free exactly as the Belgian courts require — hard bundling, or koppelverkoop, is illegal in Belgium. However, the new SIMs must come from Belgium. SIM cards from any other country will not work. So, if you’re hoping to drive south of the border and pick yourself up a cheap Belgium SIM-lock free iPhone 3G to use in the Netherlands — or indeed anywhere else in the world, you’d be €600 out of pocket and the unhappy owner of a brick (or some heft roaming charges).”

As Knight points out in the comments, the Belgium iPhones do indeed work with any SIM from any network and any country. What confused me was that Mobistar and Apple said (at the time of writing the post) that the iPhones would not work with SIMs from other countries. Since then, they have taken this notice down from the website. It was either a straight lie in order to prevent consumers from other countries visiting Belgium to buy their iPhones, or since then — perhaps based on a court order — Apple has made their iPhones fully SIM-lock free in Belgium. As Knight also points out, it does leave me with a comparatively rather expensive (and as I write, still SIM-locked) iPhone. <sigh> For our American readers, you’re still looking at around $900-something for a SIM-lock free iPhone. Also note that they are, just as in other countries, very scarce.

Next step: how many mail order Belgium iPhone businesses are we going to see start up? How much more, if anything, will people be willing to pay for a legally unlocked iPhone? Given that some good apps only work with Installer (i.e. only work on a jail-broken iPhone), will some people attach more value to a jail-broken iPhone that a legal one?

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iPhone 2.0.2 firmware update

August 19, 2008

I am the proud owner of a 2.0.2 firmware update. This is why I love twitter these days. it’s just a whole lot more visceral way to surf the ol’ (micro)blogosphere. Check out and see what the buzz is — and more often than not it’s just noise. But some of the best noise out there. Last night it was ‘firmware‘. I clicked through the tag cloud to find out it was the 2.0.2 update that everyone was trying and here I am a few hours later with it installed.

There are a good deal of rumours of what it solves — 3G issues (that I’ve never had), reception issues (it’s the network stoopid), security patches and other important tweaks. Apple’s page is about as informative as during the MobileMe outages.

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Wild boar and gardeners

April 27, 2008

Amongst gardeners (I am not one but find myself in family of them and their lore), Robins are known for being tame and good friends of gardeners.

Apparently, this behaviour is because Robins have evolved to follow herds of wild boar who dig up roots, mushrooms, truffles and so on, which the Robins can dig through to get at worms, slugs and insects. Nowadays, the wild boar is rarely found, but gardeners plod through their gardens digging up the earth in much the same way, and the Robins follow them diligently waiting for a chance to snack on the fresh grub.

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How educating your business can improve IT’s efficiency

September 23, 2007

The basis of an agile transformation has to be trust. Building trust is the first job of an agile leader. We started by setting up regular meetings between IT and the business to share each other’s pain. The aim was to build relationships at all levels.

it was out of these initial meetings we realised that the idea that this was a transformation of just IT was very wrong: this was a transformation of the partnership between the business and IT. As such, a good deal of work was spent on educating the business on existing systems. This paid back in different ways.

Firstly, IT received less questions about internal systems and so were able to dedicate more time to getting client-valued software features running in production. Secondly, the business requested less and less unnecessary features — i.e. so-called feature bloat. As the trust built up, we also so less dark feature bloat from IT — so-called gold-plating. This used to occur when IT felt that the business had no real idea about what it was asking for and would not take kindly to hearing IT’s views, so they simply expanding the time needed to implement work and added the features they felt were needed.

I don’t want to give the impression that all this change happened overnight. They are significantly rarer than before but I still see gold-plating and feature bloat. However, the causes of these issues are removed as trust builds, and gradually they go away too.

Review of Gruel

June 24, 2007

67 Dame Street,

Unpretentious, hearty food, fast friendly service, cosy atmosphere

Gruel is where I always go when I’m in Dublin. It’s pretty cheap, the service is fast and the food is wonderful. The food covers some old favourites — bangers and mash, rhubarb crumble and custard — done in new ways. The signature roast sandwiches are definitely always worth a go, and the salads are superb, but in the end I normally plump for piping hot comfort food with a couple of glasses of very gluggable red wine. 

When you first step into Gruel and before you smell the tantalising roasting meat, the first thought is actually how bare and simple the furnishings are. Don’t let that distract you. Every time I’ve been the whole place is heaving with warm bodies taking respite from the Dublin weather — an incongruous mix of suits, shoppers and students. This place is a home-from-home. Most the food is hearty fare and the room feels cosy and comforting. Best of all, these guys are savvy and unpretentious at the same time.

Rated 5/5 on Jun 24 2007 by Robin Allenson
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The new face of Google

May 31, 2007

In Google Image Search Categories Google Blogoscoped announced a slightly hard to find feature: image types, including the ability to just search for faces. For instance, here are some Allenson faces. This is by no means the first face recognition or search software. Polar Rose is notable for promising much more sophisticated face recognition.