So what’s web security all about anyway?

When you visit a webpage these days it’s not uncommon for it to require some personal details. You might be checking your bank balance, buying something by Credit Card or authorizing a payment to your electric company. All these examples require sensitive details that you certainly wouldn’t want falling into the wrong hands. So how confident can you be that you’re talking in a secure manner with the right people? The answer should be simple, but of course it isn’t.

When you visit a secure webpage, it generally has a prefix of https. If all goes well, you’ll get no warnings and a little padlock appears at the bottom of the browser window. The padlock confirms that you are talking over an encrypted link to a party that has identified itself in some manner. The quality of this encryption is likely to be superb. Modern encryption ciphers are free and incredibly strong so your electronic conversation with the other party is probably very secure. But who is that other party? At this point things start to fall apart.

In order to get the little padlock symbol without any scary warnings, the website you’re talking to must have a security certificate that’s been signed (in effect authenticated) by a third party that you trust. You almost certainly aren’t aware that you trust that third party but to keep life simple, Microsoft (or whoever your browser supplier is) incorparate a list of trusted parties. These trusted parties are companies like Verisign. Most browsers will have a huge list of these trusted third parties, located all over the world and you need to be aware that you have granted trust in them all.

So I go to an https webpage, my browser retrieves its certificate and checks that Verisign (or whoever) has digitally signed it. So far so good, but does this ensure that I’m now talking with the company I think I’m talking to? No it doesn’t! All it confirms is that I’m talking to the company that is the owner of that website. For example, I could register www.natwestbank.co (it’s available as I type this) and get a quite legitimate certificate for it from Verisign. Visitors to my website would see no warnings and could be safe in the knowledge that their connection is secure. It is indeed secure but the party at the other end isn’t who they are probably thinking it is.

So how do consumers protect themselves against this problem? Well for starters they should know the webpage for their bank. Using my NatWest example, it’s http://www.natwest.com. It’s printed on their official correspondence so you can be fairly confident that natwest.com is owned by the company you think it is. Problem solved? Not by a long way.

Lets try it out in an example:
I point my browser at www.natwest.com and click their “Online Banking Login” button. Immediately my browser is redirected to https://www.nwolb.com. Huh? That website isn’t printed on any of their official correspondence! It’s a secure site, so a third party I’m trusting says I’m actually at the website I’ve tried to reach but that grants me no confidence that it belongs to Nat West, the company I bank with. This is slightly untrue as I can examine the actual security certificate and see it’s owned by The Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc but whilst that’s good to know, it requires the visitor to understand how to view the security certificate the website is using to authenticate itself. Also, if a visitor to that site checks the ownership (Haha, yeah we all do that right?) then will they back out and not enter their security data if the Ownership doesn’t match? Not in my experience. But “hang on” you say! Surely I can trust the redirect because I’ve been redirected there from the webpage I trust (www.natwest.com). Sadly, no, because that website isn’t secure. You can’t trust the redirect on it because you have no means to trust the source at all.

Sorry NatWest, I’m using you as an example but in reality many companies are adopting this practice. Why? I have no idea. Things get even worse with online shopping as you are likely to get redirected all over the place. Many online retailers don’t use their own pay services, instead sub-contracting it out to companies like Worldpay. When you make those payments, your browser redirects you to their site. You get no warnings at all and happily type in your card details and the answers to any security questions they may ask. No problem if it’s a genuine service like RBS Worldpay, but what if it’s the bad guy with his own domain and fully authentic certificate? You lose.

So what’s the answer? Well life would certainly be a lot easier without the redirects. It would help if my browser warned me when I’m being redirected to another domain. There are plugins for Firefox that will do this, such as RequestPolicy but they tend to be annoying and sometimes break things, (excellent for the geeks though). The best solution in my humble (and frequently incorrect) opinion is to stop the redirects. If I start on www.natwest.com and remained there until my transactions were completed then I could be reasonably confident that I’m interacting with the genuine company and not handing over my bank account details to somebody in Nigeria.

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Nildram Technical Support

For the first time in ages today I had cause to contact Nildram‘s Customer Support. First I tried to email support@nildram.net which has always worked in the past. It now bounces with:
554 : Recipient address rejected: User unknown

Next I tried customercare@nildram.net and this one worked. I even got a reply, all be it, automated.

To my surprise, the (automated) reply doesn’t come from Nildram, it comes from rightnowtech.com To futher complicate matters, the return address on their email is: nildram_customer_care@custhelp.com.

In summary, I’ve sent an email to nildram.net, got a reply from rightnowtech.com and been instructed to reply to custhelp.com. What a mess. In this day and age where the majority of email is a scam of some kind, how are people ever expected to trust domains when they mess around in this manner? I use SpamAssassin to filter my email and this kind of trickery is going to be frequently eaten by it.

My next grump is the content of their reply. In it I’m instructed that should I wish to respond then I must type my reply between two cutmarks within their email, like this:
[===> Please enter your reply below this line <===] [===> Please enter your reply above this line <===] Why must I do this? I'm simply using email as defined and refined for decades now and I don't see why all of a sudden, Nildram (or whoever the hell now does their support) wants to redefine it. Right, got that off my chest now. No doubt their reply to my simple request for a Reverse DNS change will be proof that their monster of a support mechanism actually does work. Maybe.

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Why we need electoral reform

The Liberal Democrats are currently in talks with the Tories about making a pact, without which the Tories will have no clear majority in Parliament. The biggest stumbling block to these talks is probably Electoral Reform: For the Lib Dems it’s a must have whilst for the Tories, it’s a must not. So why are the two parties at such odds on this issue? Well take a look at the election results:

Total Votes: 29,653,638
Total Seats: 649 (One outstanding)

Party Votes Seats % Votes % Seats
Cons 10,706,647 306 36 47
Lab 8,604,358 258 29 40
LibDem 6,827,938 57 23 9
UKIP 917,832 0 3 0

So, the Tories clearly won with 36% of the vote but it earned them 47% of the seats. Conversely the Lib Dems took 23% of the vote but only got 9% of the seats. Is it any wonder the Lib Dems want Electoral Reform and the Tories don’t! As for UKIP (Bless), they took 3% of the vote but got no seats at all.

Now lets say we had a proportional system of representation. Based on the votes cast, this is how the seats would have been distributed.

Party Votes Seats % Votes % Seats
Cons 10,706,647 234 36 36
Lab 8,604,358 188 29 29
LibDem 6,827,938 149 23 23
UKIP 917,832 20 3 3

To sum it up, the Tories secured a seat for every 35k votes they received but the Lib Dems required 120k votes for each of theirs. As for UKIP, they just plunged into a black political hole with their 917k votes not securing them a single voice in the Commons.

This strikes me as a ridiculous system, devised by those who seemingly benefit the most from it.

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Dictocracy

I’ve proudly created a new word today, “Dictocracy”. It sort of describes the current British political system that we refer to as a Democracy whilst to all intents, it functions as a dictatorship.

As everyone knows, we have a General Election coming up and the public at that election will vote. Do we vote to elect a party at a national level? No, we vote to elect a member to parliament from the local constituency in which we live. This in itself is a highly flawed system as there’s a huge imbalance in the number of people within each constituency. To add to the confusion, you are electing an individual to represent your constituency and its needs but the person you elect is, in the most part, told that they must vote in accordance with the views of the party they represent, even if this is in direct conflict with the constituents’ views.

What normally happens at a General Election is that a single party is voted into power with an overall majority. This means they hold more than half of the total seats within The Commons. Take this in combination with the issue in the previous paragraph and in every meaning of the word, we have a dictatorship. We might have elected the party and its leader but from that point on, whatever the party leader wants, they can have by virtue of simply ordering their members to vote in accordance with their wishes on every bill that comes up. He dictates the outcome and that to me makes him a dictator.

In the forthcoming election there is plenty of speculation that no single party will hold a majority within The Commons. Does this make for a democracy? No, what it does is hand power to the third largest party in the event that the first and second parties differ in their views on a subject. If for example, Labour get 300 seats and the Tories also get 300 seats then the Liberal Democrats with about 46 seats would in effect dictate the outcome of any vote. What a horrible mess of a political system we have.

To top it all off, if a hung parliament happens, the incumbent Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) could remain in power, even with no majority at all. So we’d have a Prime Minister who has never been elected by the public and whose party holds no majority in government. We have a Dictocracy!

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Red Savina (again)

It’s really late to be planting Chilli seeds now but my recent Red Savina failure kept nagging at me so I decided to get some seeds from a different source and try again. This time I’ve planted 15 of them in Root Riot Cubes to see if I have better success with those than with the Jiffy Plugs I was previously using. So far I really like the Root Riot Cubes, they’re just so easy to use. Thanks to this simplicity, next year I’ll plant far more seeds than I expect to need. This way I can either give plants away or just employ the “Survival of the fittest” principle.

My concern with planting seeds this late is that I’m going to produce nice healthy plants and have no summer left for the fruits to develop. I guess I’ll know the answer to that in a few months time.

Posted in Chilli Growing | Leave a comment

Three party politics

With only three weeks to go before the General Election, I suppose comments like these are to be expected.

David Cameron has warned a vote for Nick Clegg could leave Britain “stuck” with Labour and said only the Tories can bring “real change”.

For Labour Lord Mandelson warned a hung parliament might give “disproportionate power” to the Lib Dems.

I wonder how they think comments like this are received by the populace? Personally I find it sad that our politics have sunk to this kind of gutter level but at the same time I like having a third spoke in the Labour/Tory wheel. Labour have been in power for the last 13 years and the Tories were there for 13 years before that. Even if the Lib Dems don’t make it to power, they’re certainly succeeding in putting a bee in the bonnet of the political dinosaurs.

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Chilli Seeds 2010

After the success of my Chilli growing last year, I enthusiastically set about choosing seeds for this year from my favourite source, Nicky’s Nursery. So far this year I’ve planted:-

Numex Big Jim
Anaheim TMR
Jamaica Bell
Red Savina
Chocolate Habanero
Hungarian Hot Wax
Trinidad Scorpion

All are now potted up and sitting in my poly-tunnel. The only exception is the Red Savina which is proving much harder to germinate than I expected. So far of ten seeds planted, only one has appeared above ground and that’s looking a bit feeble. Bit late to try more of them this year but they will probably be top of my list to grow in 2011. At least I’ll have the Trinidad Scorpions for some heat. Of five Scorpion seeds, three germinated and are looking good and healthy.

More info to follow as the summer progresses.

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Hi Sue!

I recently discovered that Sue Appleby (our neighbour), is a follower of my Blog. She describes it as interesting but a bit Victor Meldrew-ish. So I’m no longer just a cynic, I’m also a grumpy old man. I would vow to write more technical posts and less rants but the technical posts are usually also rants. Seems I’ve earned my reputation! :)

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It’s an ex port

For the most part I don’t need a powerful desktop PC. I mostly use it as a terminal interface to other machines or to produce the occasional spreadsheet or document in Open Office. Not exactly demanding tasks by today’s standards. Just once in a while though I want to watch a DVD or a snippet from YouTube and for that I need a graphics card. Not a mega graphics card like the kids need for their games, just something produced within the last 5 years or so. Doesn’t sound a lot to ask, but sadly it’s too much because my PC has an AGP port.

Judging by what Wikipedia has to say about AGP, I was the victim of poor timing, buying my PC a few months before AGP was superseded by PCI Express. That happened in 2004 and whilst everything else in the PC remains replaceable, the AGP card that died on me last month seems to be the last of an era. Sure I got a replacement but it’s a generation older than the one that died as demand for no longer produced stock has caused the price of Nvidia 7 series AGP cards to rocket far beyond that of a vastly more powerful modern graphics card. Now I’m stuck with a 6 series and to be honest, it sucks.

So here I am with a decent 64bit PC that seems destined to be converted to a server machine that will live under my stairs and only ever be accessed via a text console. Then again, it will consume more power than the old 32bit Athlon XP machine that’s doing a sterling job of supporting the several hundred users that access it, so why bother? Poor old PC, it seems you’ve become obsolete. Not only before your time, but also before that of your predecessors.

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BitDefender Bricks Systems

Saturday afternoon I was sat here burning some Debian Testing disks on a Windows 7 PC when all of a sudden I got a virus alert. I run BitDefender on the PC in question and it’s always been a reliable scanner. The feature I like best about it is that it’s not overly intrusive. I hate the Norton and McAfee practices of stuffing me with Toolbars and fitting every new PC with trial editions. No doubt it makes them lots of money but their profit isn’t my primary concern.

Anyway, first things first, disconnect from the network and scan my shared resources from another machine with a different scanner. Phew, no infections, my data is clean. Next, back to the infected (and now isolated) PC and run a full system scan. Big mistake as it instantly became clear that it was Quarantining massive numbers of binary files. I cancelled the scan and changed BitDefender’s options to no longer quarantine infected files. I wasn’t quite ready to disable real-time scanning completely as it could be that all these files were infected with something. Unlikely but possible. Next I set about restoring all the Quarantined files. This uncovered a shortcoming with BitDefender in that it doesn’t provide an easy way to do this globally for all files. It allows you to select multiple files but borks every time it finds one that already exists in the original location (restored presumably by Windows 7 trying to protect its own innards). As a result of this, restoring hundreds of files from Quarantine took a long time but at the end of it I had a clean system again. Soon after, BitDefender released an update that resolved the false positives.

Whilst this was a time consuming issue for me, it enforced an important principle: Never grant an application that does updates via the Internet with privileges to delete (or move) files. It’s bad enough that Windows is almost unusable unless you remain permanently logged in as an Administrator but that in conjunction with dozens of applications dynamically updating the system is insane. Better still would be a virus scanner that runs in read-only mode. It would still function perfectly as a virus detector but would remain totally passive until such time as the user elects to elevate its privileges. If BitDefender had run in this manner, there wouldn’t be thousands of their users currently rebuilding their bricked PCs.

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Maildir Archive

Recently I’ve become aware of how big my Maildir mailboxes are getting. I keep a running record of much of my correspondence and don’t want to delete it but at the same time I don’t want to load every message each time I open a mailbox. Google came up with a couple of archive scripts but they tended to rely on the file date rather than checking the actual Date header from within the mail file. As a solution, I produced this little Python script.

Usage:
archive.py path/to/maildir [path/to/maildir]…

This defaults to archiving any messages over 365 days old. I’m sure even the non-Python people can see how to change this in the script! Messages are archived to path/to/maildir/archive.

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British Telecom Phishing Scam?

Recently I’ve received two phone calls, both International, claiming to be from BT. In both instances the caller had a barely understandable foreign accent and has started by telling me that BT are cutting my line rental charge. Very nice of them. On today’s call that prompted me to write this, the caller correctly stated my identity and address complete with post code. At this point, the call was polite and quite convincing.

It started to go pear shaped when the caller next asked me which bank I was with. Surely if he’s a genuine representitive of BT then he should already know that information? I am after all paying them already. I lied and gave a false bank (Lloyds). He accepted this and then asked for the sort code. He even told me what it would be prefixed with, (for Lloyds). If it wasn’t for the fact that I know this info is publicly available, the scam would have been highly convincing. Unfortunately I didn’t think fast enough to make up a plausable number at this point to see where the scam might have led, (no doubt to my account number next). I told him I wouldn’t provide any more details on my bank and hung up when he pressed me.

If they call back again, I’ll try and be better prepared, perhaps I’ll try and record the conversation. For now, this is all I can offer. I hope it might be of value to anyone else looking for info about this scam.

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What is an 0844 number?

A while ago I added a Crank Calls category to my Blog and at the time it was, (like so many other rants), just a means for me to vent frustration about companies trying to rip me off with stupid offers and debt repayment schemes. It therefore came as a surprise to me that I get more emails and comments relating to blogs in this category than any other. This morning during a quick work break, I thought I’d check out exactly what 0844 numbers are, seeing that they constitute the bulk of my crank calls.

Well for starters, 0844 numbers are non-geographic. This is to say, they give away nothing about the locale of the caller. It’s quite likely they aren’t even in the UK. They also have a flat call rate, meaning you will pay 5p per minute to call one regardless of what time of day it is. Interestingly, the owner of the 0844 number often gets a cut of the call charge so think twice before lining the pockets of your crank by returning their call.

In many ways, an 0844 number is like a writers pseudonym. The number doesn’t exist in the sense that nobody is given an 0844 number by BT, they are just aliases for other phone numbers. There isn’t even any guarantee that a specific 0844 number is aliased to a consistent real number. The providers of them advertise the ease with which they can be redirected to different numbers, even in different countries.

Now whilst I’m a big supporter of privacy and anonymity, there’s something else I’m concerned about, “Transparency”. In short, these numbers are a con. They are designed to obfuscate the real identity of the caller and to generate revenue from those who return calls to them. In my experience, they are used as circumvention tools, enabling foreign businesses to make cold calls to peddle services that wouldn’t meet regulations if they were based in the UK. There’s nothing I’m going to achieve by this Blog entry that will change that but at least I have the freedom to not answer them thanks to Caller ID. I can’t recall a single occasion when I’ve been glad I answered an 0844 call so I doubt I’m going to miss any good news.

Posted in Crank Calls | 2 Comments

0844 8466524

This number hassles Lou and I on a daily basis at the moment The callers are always reluctant to admit who they are but when pressed, they claim to be Galaxy Finance. If these people have a website, it’s well hidden behind false fronts. There is a galaxyfinance.com but it goes through a series of HTML redirects before ending up at a broken link redirected from www.cj.com which belongs to a company called Commission Junction who describe themselves as “a ValueClick” company. Great, spammers in other words.

I’m wondering how 0844 numbers actually work. They appear to be the telephony equivalent of the HTML redirect, enabling foreign callers to appear as non-international. Perhaps it’s a modern way to get around the Telephone Preference Service which is intended to protect us from this kind of cold calling. I just wish there was a way to refuse such numbers or at least select silent ringtones based on caller ID.

Posted in Crank Calls | 4 Comments

Spam at work

Having kept my work email address very private for almost 10 years now, suddenly it’s become a target for Spam. It started a few weeks back with a few targeted emails from companies in the computer industry, suggesting that one of our clients had probably sold their contact database. Then this morning I received an email from a company called Laithwaites trying to sell me bottles of wine. The Spam didn’t come from their email domain, they used a domain of xmr3.com which is owned by Primiere Global Services who are an “eMarketing provider” which means they offer bulk spamming services. Well done Laithwaites, no better way to wreck the name of your company than hiring a bulk spamming outfit to do your advertising. Oh well, if the wine business goes down the pan, at least you’ll have contacts that can help you with selling Viagra and Penis Extenders.

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Think of the Children!

The subject of this post is a catchphrase you can hear in just about any technical discussion group. It’s usually stated in a cynical manner as justification for why something seemingly stupid has been incorporated into a piece of software.

Today the BBC website has this article on why social networking sites now need a “Help Button” so that children can report concerns about bullying. I find it amazing that when it comes to the Internet, normal morals and standards don’t apply. There’s been bullying in schools since the days of Tom Brown’s Schooldays and probably before that but so far we haven’t installed Help Buttons in the classrooms and playgrounds. Is this negligence on the part of schools? No, of course not.

In other aspects of life, parents are tasked with raising their chiildren to recognize the dangers around them. For example, they teach them to swim in a controlled and safe environment. To not talk to strangers and to not go out after dark. Failure to teach these basic rules of life would be considered negligence on the part of the parents, yet when it comes to the Internet the rules are reversed and blame rests with the providers of services. In many cases, free services. It’s like saying the sweetshop owner is responsible for childrens teeth or that Tesco is responsible for obesity. I guess it’s just part of the modern blame culture but it really annoys me (as a provider of free service on the Internet) to see this offloading of blame to anyone that offers a service.

The Internet is like a chainsaw, unsafe by it’s very nature for unsupervised, young children. Not many parents will buy their young children chainsaws for Christmas this year but a great many will put Internet connected computers in their bedrooms and leave them to learn on their own.

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Google Earth’s Centre of the UK

When I start Google Earth, it centres my view over the United Kingdom. If I don’t tilt, turn or otherwise move the view and just zoom in, I eventually get down to an altitude of about 411 Metres. At the exact centre of my view is an advert for a McDonnalds restaurant at 517 Bourne End. Coincidence? I doubt it very much.

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Miserable Politics

The term of the current UK government expires on 10th May 2010, about six months from now. Following that, a General Election has to be held on or before the 3rd June 2010. For me it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs as I have no faith in either of the main parties, one of which will almost certainly be taking the reigns of government for the ensuing five years.

Maybe age brings cynicism but I’m sick of hearing manifestos in which each party lies about what they’re going to do if they gain power. There seems to be no accountability for misleading the public in this manner so parties are free to push the boundaries of unobtainability in their claims to ever more ridiculous lengths. The inter-party sniping that goes on year after year will also enter a period of increased activity with perpetual insults flying across the House. Constructiveness has ceased to be a requirement of government; he who makes the loudest attack on his opponent wins the debate by weight of derision.

Does it even matter any more which of the main parties wins? It seems that since Labour became New Labour, their policies are pretty well aligned with the Tories, leaving the minority Liberal Democrats holding the socialist reigns. With no main party to represent my views, I’m leaning ever further towards Europe as the best thing for Britain. I don’t care about the Euro replacing the Pound or the loss of our sovereignty, those are silly arguments with no substance created by the The Sun and their ilk. If Europe has a weakness, it’s not making enough noise about the good things it accomplishes. Of course, good news doesn’t make newspaper sales so our worthy tabloids steer clear of such things, instead filling their pages with important information about the X-Factor.

If only one of the main parties would state a clear policy on Europe instead of sitting on the fence for fear of losing votes. I mean, as a member of the public I should have a right to vote for a party based on its policies but unless they have the balls to tell me what they are, I can’t make an informed choice. I guess this is nothing new, party representatives have been avoiding difficult questions for years but with the approach of this election I feel less informed on how to make a good choice than I ever have before.

The situation may be bad for me but it’s much worse for the young generation. As step-father to two teenagers of voting age, I’m sorry to see they take no interest in politics at all. Once again I’m pretty convinced this comes down to the lame policies and lack of clear direction. I can’t think of one policy proposed by either party that would have a direct impact on their lives. It’s not as if one party is proposing to bring back student loans or reintroducing free public transport for students. How can they possibly make an informed decision? As a result they can’t be bothered with politics and I can’t say I blame them.

All in all it’s a pretty bleak outlook. I will certainly use my vote as it comes down to a matter of principle to do so but I worry that I won’t use it well and won’t even know what I’ve voted for in terms of policy. The next leader of Britain is likely to be the wittiest guy with the whitest teeth and the best family image. Welcome to America.

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Understanding the X-Factor

What is it about the X-Factor that makes it so attractive to the British public? At this time every year I find myself obsessing over it, getting angry with who stays and who gets voted out. Ranting about the silly comments I read on web forums and generally getting worked up about something that will have zero impact on my life. Why?

Prior to this week, two acts have been voted out so far. In week one it was Kandy Rain who didn’t stand a chance simply because they are a girl band. There’s something about voter demographics that makes it virtually imposslbe for them to succeed on the show. Last year two girl bands went in the first two weeks, (this year it took three weeks). The other act to fall was a guy called Rikky Loney who didn’t really have a lot going for him in either the singing or charisma departments. Neither of these were the top performances on the night but they certainly weren’t the worst either. This isn’t just my opinion, it was also that of the judges. So why did these two acts go so early on?

On Sunday night this week we were presented with the remaining ten acts and a varied lot they were. By now I’ve had sufficient exposure to them that I’ve learnt the names of the acts and formed favourites based on personality and ability. Topping the charisma chart we have Stacey Solomon and Jamie Archer (a.k.a. Jamie Afro). For coolness there’s Olly Murs and for sheer performing talant, Danyl Johnson. Besides these chart toppers, there are a couple of pretty fair performers: Joe McElderry and Lucie Jones. That takes us up to six of the ten acts. In all fairness, one of the remaining four, girlband Miss Frank, ended up going home. Despite a good act, they were doomed to failure just by being a girlband. The big surprise of the evening wasn’t that they got voted off, but who came second to last, probably the biggest talent in the competition, Danyl Johnson. Once again, this isn’t just surprise on my part, it’s surprise on the nations part, the bookies unanimously touted him as the favourite to win, as did the newspapers. Why, after only two weeks was the grim reaper casting a look at this hugely talented performer?

I’m pretty sure the answer rests with those pesky voter demographics that always doom the girl bands. So why do the girl bands get voted out so quickly each year? Simple, because blokes don’t vote for them! Whilst a great many men might actually watch the X-Factor, I’m pretty sure that most of them, like me, don’t actually care enough to ever vote. That seals the fate of the girl bands. So having concluded that men don’t vote much, what are the girls doing with their votes?

One thing that’s a certain vote winner is cuteness. The young girls love a young guy who comes across as a bit shy and can do a coy smile. There’s one of those in this year’s X-Factor, Lloyd Daniels. I’m sure Lloyd is a great guy but on stage he looks like a lost puppy and sings with a comparable lost-puppy whimper. Despite his lack of ability, Lloyd will see many of the top performers fall before his puppy-dog loving voters are finally outnumbered by the then consolidated votes of the music lovers.

Next there’s the British love for the underdog. This year we are blessed with the partnership of John and Edward who’s recipe for success is to be devoid of any of the prerequisite talents. The more this depressing duo get slagged off by the press, judges and web forum subscribers, the more the good people of Britain will rally behind them. I admit it, I look forward to watching them, in a malicious sort of way, just to see how awful it will be. As with Lloyd, John and Edward will never win the prize but they’ll take out a lot of talent before they succumb.

In a reversal of perspective, why do the talented acts lack for votes? I think voter age plays a big part in this. It doesn’t matter how great a performer Danyl Johnson is, how smooth Olly Murs acts or how rawly talented Jamie Afro might be, they belong to a generation removed from the teen voters. After ploughing through thousands of comments on web forums, it’s obvious to me that the vast majority of them are from teens; written in text-speak, highly charged, utterly lacking in legibility and generally terminated with a “I luv u Lloyd! xxx”. I suspect these messages originate from people who don’t listen to much Led Zeppelin and think Robert Plant is the father to two little plants on a pre 9am CBBies cartoon they haven’t woken up in time to watch. Yes, that’s a heavy dose of cynicism but I doubt it’s far from the truth. They certainly aren’t going to vote for the talented over-25 acts!

Put all this together and I know why I’m obsessive about the X-Factor. It’s no single element of the programme, it’s lots of things combined with indignation playing the major part. I really feel strongly that talent should prevail and the fact it doesn’t inflames my indignation and increases my obsessiveness. In essence, I’m not obsessed with the X-Factor because it works, I’m obsessed with it because it does not. I care so much that a week after the final, I’ll have forgotten the names of the twelve finalists and will be sick of hearing the winner’s cheesy Christmas No.1 song.

Posted in Rants | 3 Comments

Breakdown Cover – Tip of the Iceburg

I feel compelled to do a quick Blog after yet another pressure call from The AA. This time they were offering me accident insurance, last time it was car repair insurance and in between there’s all the emails telling about their latest great schemes to part me from my money.

At the time I took it out, it seemed like a sensible thing to do with two aging cars in the family. The price wasn’t too bad either. When the repair insurance thing came along, that also sounded like a good idea and I took it. Before you know it, all these good things amount to a monthly bill that’s anything but a good thing. Now I just want to get out of it and will do so at the earliest opportunity. Bound to break down the day after. Life’s a bitch like that.

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