Fucking furries..

So two fursuiters at a charity event in New Jersey apparently decided to get it on explicitly on the hood of a car outside in broad daylight. Local council saw it, kids saw it, photos were taken.

In addition to the usual embarrassment & mud-flinging, the ~$600 fundraising for new medical equipment is likely going to cost over a quarter of a million dollars in lost equipment, fines and penalising budget-cuts, as well as possibly the jobs of 5 people who were hosting & organising.

Knock-on effects are likely to include not only the prosecution of the two douchebags (we can hope), but complete destruction of community events in that area and the community becoming an overnight anathema to the close-knit Fire and Emergency Medical Service community.

[Redacted due to threat of libel]

Okay this is all in the USA, so I’d hope it can be avoided in the UK, but frankly we’ve already had more than enough similar events the community’s dodged the bullet on previously. That sinking feeling you get when these things occur? Remember when you were little and broke a plate or a window or something? It’s the feeling of not knowing if this is the time you’re going to get the full wrath of god down on you for your actions. You can’t dodge bullets forever. This is why you should do things to fix shit rather than ignore or hide it. Deciding to contront a fear is the only control we ever have over it.

If I had one of those “furry pride” stickers or T-shirts, this is the point I’d be burning it. Reading this sort of thing makes you feel like a bunch of people have decided to dunk you bodily in a septic-tank. It feels like it’s cloying to every bit of you. Especially when you remember there is no way there won’t be some clutch of the group who close-ranks over it, either for self-protective interests or because they find a way to justify the actions of the people involved.



State of the fox

It’s been about a month since I broke myself from Expo. Certainly learning from that for the future.
I’ve tried taking some downtime in the interim but other matters have kept coming up. The most rest I’ve had has been over the past week or so, but only from being bedridden with salmonella poisoning.

We still need to re-home the last pair of “kittens”, and frankly their mother too now. Shelters/RSPCA won’t take them anymore as there’s just too many cats out there now.

Rant about YouTube changes
The alleged copyright infringement on my YouTube account has finally been resolved, and my 15 minute limit lifted. Sadly just in time for the interface to be updated and made awful for instantly managing subscriptions.

Instead of being able to instantly remove videos you don’t want to watch from your subscribed uploads, now you can’t at all, and they don’t even self-remove once watched. Also they form a monolithic list of all uploads in chronological order, so multiple sequential uploads from one channel get interleaved with uploads from others. I can’t see any way to filter. The only option made available is to add them to a playlist, so I presume the logic is that you’re supposed to go through, make a playlist of the ones you’re interested in, then load the playlist and watch them from there, then remove them from that, and keep a perpetually modified playlist to emulate the functions removed, but with more work involved.

They’ve also decided to put your subscriptions list in a bar filling up a 3rd of the screen estate. Do people really remove their subscriptions that often? Because you subscribe via set videos or channel pages. If you’re subscribed to more than 7 channels then you’ll need to go to a separate subscription management page to edit them anyway. If you have less that 7 or so then odds are all the videos from those channels will already be shown on your homescreen as it is. Why is this there? All it does is reduce the amount of page space available for actual videos.
Suggested channels was previously an option at the top of your recent subscribed videos list. It could be clicked away to make your page more usable. Now it’s a permanent sidebar addition along with the useless subs list and your personal info header (which contains duplicate links of the top-right account pull-down menu).
And the subscriptions activity is now only visible when merged into the recent uploads. Again it’s no longer tiered by account so each entry stands on it’s own, readily jumbled into a raw unsorted feed.

Interface updates are supposed to improve things. This means adding functionality, removing or replacing useless items, hiding or removing little-used functions and making navigation easier and clearer. This update has added redundant duplicate links, listings that take up screen estate which are functionally useless, jumbled updates into an unfiltered and now unfilterable single feed and drastically reduced the amount of information visible on each item, apparently all to give YouTube a modern-for-2002 3-column design makeover.

Do Google do ANY beta testing before these things? They’ve removed functionality and added obscuration, and suddenly I’m finding it distinctly unenjoyable to use YouTube as a result. The only ok thing has been the minor cosmetic changes made to the video and channel pages, but I still dislike the new video control icons which with the exception of the replay button seem less intuitive. It’s all about adding channels, but has removed the ability to actually deal with the videos you’ll get from them.

The mill
The milling machine is finally in the country. Due to the poor sales at Expo, I didn’t get enough money back to pay for it, so I’m borrowing from within the family to get it here.
Friday I’ll be taking some bulky items off to the Hackspace for use/loan which will clear needed space. Delivery is set for next Thursday, and I will need to take the garden gate off it’s hinges to accommodate it. It’ll have to be dismantled in the front garden to move through the house to the workshop, which isn’t such a bad thing as I can remove packing grease as I reassemble it.
Once it’s here I’ll be able to measure and order the correct size of couplers and build the stepper mounts. The control gear is ready to go and the spindle servo drive is nearly there. Got an idea for re-positionable optical end-stops too which I think I’ll be trying.

I’ve crashed pretty hard since Expo. I did a lot of late nights and a lot of all nights to prepare for it, things went wrong at pretty much every turn. Moulds failed or ripped, equipment broke and repairs were useless, supplies were wasted, suppliers sent the wrong replacement materials, and I ended up with less of a product for sale than intended that finally turned out to sell very poorly there. It was a huge amount of work and pain for relatively little return.
The horns did generate a lot of INTEREST, but few sales. Expo is not the place to sell costume parts or things that work best as part of an outfit, only stand-alone ready to wear items. In retrospect trying to ape the activities of other people I know by selling directly at conventions has been a costly mistake at almost every turn. I’m a supplier not a trader, and I should be sticking to my strengths so I can grow the business rather than limp along using my strengths to recover from self-inflicted mistakes.
Getting the base products rebooted, remoulded and tuned for ready production. Stay away from custom orders/mods unless I genuinely have the free time. The rush job has an allure, but it’s always costly and I can’t set prices at what they’d need to be to make up for the extra effort without killing the order and alienating clients.

Time management
Someone’s sending me a PDA. At the momment my desk is smothered with paper, mostly notes and to-do lists. It’s bad enough that I’m loosing lists amid other lists. A PDA makes sense as it can be updated on the fly and paper you end up filling up.
Made some time for drawing and managed to progress a picture. Started having a hard time with finishing details though. Out of practice and don’t have the time to get my hand back in.

I’m in a hole. I may have to sell some things I don’t want to to try and get out of it, but mostly I simply need more income, which is back to improving the business.

Going to stop here as I’ve reached my daily limit for rage/depression/bleak-determination.

HMRC cock-up pt4; The Final Insult

A week ago I called HMRC up to check how the mess was progressing, and got some interesting feedback.

  • There’s no mention on my file about the incident OR there is and they’re not allowed to tell me because it would be an ongoing investigation; options that were both described to me over the telephone. and a spectacular exercise in fruitless paranoia generation.
  • The cover-letter I included is probably now in a waiting list. This waiting list is currently 8 weeks long. Only at that point will my letter even be read.
  • The person whose information I received would have been notified right away.

Tonight I finally got around to giving the person in question a quick phonecall to let them know the documents had been returned. They had NOT been informed. In fact they’d had to take it upon themselves to call HMRC to inform them.

Understandable since getting my call out of the blue, you’d want to be damn sure.

I mentioned the 8-week reply time, and they mentioned they’d been told the same thing. In other words HMRC wouldn’t have informed them about the mistake for over two months! Because they hadn’t gotten to it in their pile of post, despite being informed about it directly!

THIS is why you should have a separate department for security issues; because letting someone know their personal information has been leaked to the world requires a faster response than 1/6th of a year!

A dedicated address or department for urgent security issues is obvious for even small companies, yet somehow it seems to elude the management of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs who by law deal with the critical personal information of every single citizen of the UK!

So, presuming it’s not all an insane elaborate ruse and the department actually think the first act of someone actually out to misuse someones personal information would be to inform both that person and the department itself, then I can expect the next edition of this exciting and mind-bogglingly inept adventure to occur sometime around mid-to-late April.

Don’t hold your breath. I fully expect the attached documents to have gone “astray” in their to-do pile by then.

HMRC Cock-up Pt3.

Docs went off by signed-for post as intended today, recorded photographically at every step. Thought I’d share the cover-letter I included..

Dear Sir or Madam,

Further to my phone call on January 24th, please find enclosed the offending documents as requested, including original cover-letter.

Note that interleaved as page 2 of the copy of the 2008/09 Tax Return is the page of personal information belonging to XXXXXXXX of XXXXXX, and not myself.

I am aware that this is a serious issue and breaks the UK’s data protection laws, and I am fittingly disturbed that enough information to readily steal someone’s identity could be accidentally released to a 3rd party in such a way.

I am also likewise disturbed that this extra page of information was included in a second needless copy of my requested 2008/09 Self Assessment Tax Return.

When a single figure from it was requested, I understand that information could not be divulged by telephone, but it is incomprehensible to me that it could not be provided through the secure website where it is apparently located for exactly one year after it’s submission before being removed. As the tax returns occur at the same time every year, removing it exactly when it is most likely to require checking seems at best spectacularly unhelpful.

This was thrown further into stark contrast to the actual method by which I could receive it; unregistered and untracked 1st class post, in a poorly sealed budget envelope that arrived with holes already torn from its travels.

You might argue that if it were to be intercepted I would know something had happened to it since it did not arrive and could thus take precautions. But even if that faint shadow of security is acceptable, the logic only works if a known number of the documents are being sent. IE; If I request one copy and five are sent, I do not know anything is wrong if only the single copy I actually requested arrives in my hands.

Can you guarantee to me that these two copies were the only two copies dispatched? Or have more copies I do not know about perhaps been lost in the post? Has my own information been handed over to a 3rd party as XXXXXXXX’s has been to me?

Furthermore I am concerned with the instructions I was given on relaying this leak to the telephone advisor; Simply placing the information back into the same envelope in which it was sent to me and re-posting it back to HMRC. This seems a poor option for several reasons;

  1. The envelope is already used, damaged, post-marked and labelled with an existing post-routing sticker. All these I suspect would conspire to reduce it’s chances of correctly making it back through the postal system to you.
  2. Without a covering letter and addressed to HMRC as a whole, it occurs that it could be easily overlooked in postal-sorting, and simply trigger yet another copy to be dispatched to me under the impression it was a failed delivery and possibly lead to the destruction of the evidence. And additionally it could imply that my address was no longer correct.
  3. The documents enclosed as I understand it are evidence of a crime, and to further suggest that it simply be dropped back into the post under the same conditions in which it arrived seems bordering on negligent.
  4. Though I suspect a note has been made on my file, I was not given any form of call or reference number. Though I will admit I did not ask about one, again it seems odd one was not offered.

I am taking it upon myself to include this covering-letter to explain both the situation and the number of incidents that have occurred along the path to resolving it. It is my hope that this will expedite the investigation and lead in some small way to improving the handling of our citizens information, as well as make plain my own displeasure at the actions and reaction of HMRC so far.

Additionally I hope you will note that this has been sent via 1st Class Signed-For, to ensure its receipt.

As a less important but still irritating side-note, I would recommend you consult an IT professional. Either for additional training or additional features in your data-entry software, as I do not know if it is because of a feature your software currently lacks, or that your staff simply do not use it correctly, but the copies I received were of terribly unprofessional quality.

Speaking as someone with some history in graphic-design and IT, it distresses me that only the document pages I was not meant to receive were printed in perfectly clear black and white (showing the information in an explicitly legible font, arranged in efficiently used tables) whereas the information I actually requested was in the form of a series of bitmap screen-grabs (images not only including the programs tool-bar, but wasting several pages on blank space and unused tables, as well as poorly legible mono-space fonts that were sometimes further compounded by being light-grey on a white background). You patently have the capacity for legible print-copies, but it implies they are only considered necessary for internal use.

To someone with worse reading difficulties than mine, I expect these prints would be near-illegible.

From the layout of the images sent, you seem to be using Microsoft Access (in itself, implicitly revealing the software, and suggesting additional modes of attack to those looking for security holes).

It would not take a database professional more than three days, working with the limited set of data found in a tax return, to produce a query table which would omit unfilled entries from a print-out and arrange them in a clear and concise form which would produce a visually clear and source-anonymised document.

The amount of information in my copy could have been reduced to a single double-sided sheet of A4 rather than the fourteen single-sided sheets I was sent, eight of which contained no information.

It is also worth noting that perhaps if this was done it would be vastly less likely that a page of someone’s information would be lost within the many surplus pages of another’s.

I eagerly look forward to your reply on all matters addressed, as well as the future results of the investigation I have unwillingly been made a part of.

Most sincerely,

Peter William Turpin

Taxing security? Very. HMRC have cocked up big-time!

I don’t like tax return time. The language used in these documents makes my brain spasm. For instance, their phrasing of declared losses comes up as self-contradicting to me; a loss is something I loose.. but claiming for it is something I get? How can I be loosing something I’m getting??

Maybe it’s a dyslexic thing.

Now I’ve got it done though I’m kinda wishing I could do it again, or that it had a practice-run function so I could really rip on the interface. Why did I have to click through 4 pages just to save a copy? Did I really need to be alerted what the file type was, that it would save on the next page after hitting continue, and get an approximation of download time all on separate pages?

But anyway, I had a week off from it while waiting for a copy of last years return. There was a single figure on it I claimed for last year that I needed for this year.

Now I can understand it not being given out over the phone; it’s relatively easy to pretend to be someone else there. However the HMRC website is a secure connection (in theory) which displays your current tax information. The previous return is automatically removed from it after a year apparently, which alone seems moronic; because surely one year on is exactly when you’re going to want to check it. But the information is given out through it, so how come you can’t get the details through there..?

So question-authenticated phone is insecure.

The HTTPS secure website is not considered secure for this information once it’s a year old.

But bog standard 1st Class by Royal Mail is fine.

No signature, no monitoring in transit, no tracking. It could be opened, read, photocopied & I’d never know. It could vanish into the system and all I’d be able to do is request another copy and hope no one’s preparing to rape my ghost in the government machine.

This I could visualise, this was a definite unnecessary risk I had to swallow to get the magic (and aside from this return, utterly irrelevant) number. But as they say; the problem with making something foolproof is how ingenious fools are.

I received two copies of last years return.

So assuming there were only 2 copies sent, then all is fine, right? Well no. Aside from it raising the worrying issue that if a random number of copies are being sent, you can never be sure they’ve all arrived. And aside from the matter that the “copy” is actually a bunch of printed screen-grabs (including program tool-bar!) of it on the data-entry system, one of the copies IS NOT WHOLLY MINE.

One set is fine in that it does technically have the info I need if I squint and don’t mind half the text being light grey on a slightly darker grey background. The other, which has some empty fields the other doesn’t (yet is apparently from the same screen-grabbed program), also starts with the 2nd page being from an advisor’s working form for someone else.

It doesn’t have a document number, so I presume it’s automatically generated and a printer has cocked up at their office; interleaving the first input page of someone elses claim/statement information into my own print-out.

I’m annoyed on a few levels here. Primarily it’s one of security; because my information is removed from the secure site just when I need it, it opens up the possibility of exactly these sort of mistakes occurring. They have a better system which they have elected to actively disable when required.

(The other level is typographic; their internal system prints out a visually clear and informative table of information in laser-crisp black & white, but we plebs have to deal with a printer-cropped all-grey rastered-down bitmap for our use, the likes of which a 7 year old would be embarrassed to produce for their school homework).

And because of this I now had the Name, DOB, address, NI number, telephone number, place of employment, partners name and partners DOB, of a 22 year-old woman living near Manchester who was letting them know of her partners change in employment status.

There is ample information here for someone to steal her identity, and I see that as a direct result of a poorly managed & designed government system.

Of course I’m fairly sure this incident is a breach of data-protection laws, and as such I’m intending to phone the lady in question tomorrow and let her know in case she wants to take action against them. As soon as I figure out how to phrase the conversation without sounding like a scam-artist myself.