• Gordon Smith
  • Gordon Smith
  • A tech-enthusiast & engineer by trade, I am just an opinionated, skeptical guy who likes to write about topics I know a thing or two about.
31 March, 2014

| ASUS Web storage: now with delete important stuff you never asked it to feature |

As an engineer at an electronics company, I consider myself to be tech-savvy, I keep myself up to date with tech news so I thought I was clued up about the dos and don'ts of having a strong back-up strategy. It seems I was wrong... devastatingly wrong. Briefly, my back-up strategy as it related to photos was to have the master copies on a NAS drive in a RAID 1 array. These were then backed up to cloud storage, using the ASUS webstorage service. I chose this service because it came with my ASUS K55V laptop, and offered 30 odd gigabytes of storage free for two years. It was also ideal because it allowed me to make the sync folder reside on the NAS drive. Most other services (Dropbox, Drive, OneDrive) won't allow this. I regretfully did not bother with the 3rd stratgey - offsite back-up.

So, it turns out that for some unfathomable reason the ASUS sync client not only uploads copies of files and folders, but also deletes local files, and sometimes folders that are inside the sync folder. I know it does this, because it keeps a handy log file, recording the time and date and file name it destroyed, you know,  just to rub the misery in a little more. Not only does it do this, but then, consequently, the copy that was stored safely in the cloud is deleted, presumably because the client tells the web service that there is no longer a local copy, so it must not be wanted any more. I'm beginning to suspect, having studied the cryptic responses from ASUS support and the log file a little more closely that this software has an XML file (or similar), probably stored in the cloud, that lists all files that have been synchronised, and that if the cloud copy is missing, it deletes the local copy. This is shocking behaviour for software that is supposed to make your files safer, by creating duplicates in the cloud. There is absolutely no reason that this piece of software needs to delete local files without asking the user for permission.

ASUS WebStorage is providing cloud storage to over 10 million registered users worldwide. Indeed anyone that has bought an ASUS laptop in the last four years will have probably had the service preinstalled. I have done the obligatory Google search and it seems I am not alone in my experience. This bug / feature has violated the integrity of local copies for many people from the conversations I have skimmed through on ASUS's own forums.

I write this post in the hope that the attention it may bring will encourage ASUS to either fix, resolve, or withdraw this service and in particular the Windows software that seems quite clearly responsible for deleting files with absolutely no authority from the user. I have used and loved ASUS hardware for over a decade, since their first wireless router. I think their software has just crossed the line from being the typical useless bloatware that litters new machines, in to the category of dangerous malware!

Update: I have been communicating with the ASUS WebSync Support Team. So far I have not been provided a satisfactory explanation. They have suggested that I deleted the files, which I haven't. I have also dismissed the possibility of this being a virus: the directory is on an unmapped NAS drive, and files are only missing from this directory - nothing on my laptop, nothing in any other directory on the NAS. A virus would not be able to see an unmapped NAS folder, and would delete or corrupt media files everywhere. ASUS have offered one even less plausible scenario - that I have moved the files, the software and cloud server detect a difference, and so the cloud copy is deleted and the local copy is sent to the recycle bin. I shouldn't need to explain why that is blatantly false. I could be misunderstanding their their emails, so I will include these at the end.

In their final email to me they state that using USB or local network locations is 'not safe' – I can understand why a location that might be unavailable is a problem for cloud synchronisation – the software looks for differences between local and cloud and cannot see the local links, so deletes the cloud copies, assuming the local copies must have been deleted. Then the local version becomes available and the software does the same thing in reverse. Frankly if ASUS cannot solve such scenarios programmatically then they shouldn't be making software. Those kinds of scenarios should be captured in the Failure Mode Effect Analysis document and have software solutions – if I were writing the specification it would be along the lines of: if you detect a difference between local and cloud, first check that the entire directory is available, if it is, check that other monitored directories are available, if they are scan the total percentage of differences between the local directory and the cloud directory, if more than x% of total monitored data is no longer stored locally, flag the user, inform them of the situation, and ask them what they want to do [do nothing – files will be flagged as in conflict / restore missing cloud files from local repository / remove from disc to make local match cloud]. This spec could be used both ways to ensure temporary unavailability of local or cloud file(s) doesn't result in the deletion of the other source.

Another point to note: I never allowed the sync software to run at start-up. It was always an active decision to run the software every month or so, and I always knew the NAS drive was active and available, so I am sceptical that the possible root cause was the absence of the local network directory – even if it was temporarily unavailable it seems absurd that this could result in such catastrophe. I really don't understand what went wrong, but I have thoroughly tried to fault-find the portions of this that I controlled, and am still left believing that ASUS are responsible. It is either their shoddy software & lack of appropriate programmatic safe guards, or their unreliable Cloud service which is possibly losing data, and then cascading that loss down to my local master copies. ASUS have failed to give me a technical explanation of the scenarios that would result in my files being deleted. I really hope with a little (or a lot of) media attention they might choose to become more interested in explaining themselves.

email trail here: http://www.nonsenseingenesis.org/content/public/attach/asus_email.html

log file here: http://www.nonsenseingenesis.org/content/public/attach/Sync_Activity.Log

08 February, 2014

| The new RoboCop film doesn't embarrass itself |

In fact there are some pretty clever choices made. It is significantly different from the original masterpiece in many important ways. For example Alex Murphy doesn't have his memory wiped - he is woken from his coma and remembers everything. He still possesses emotions, and acts like a human (hesitant, biased, and angry). If this sounds like a disastrous move, I would agree, and that is intentional. We see his ability to make human decisions taken away from him, we see his emotions suppressed - we witness him becoming the ice-cold law enforcement machine in front of our eyes, as each part of his humanity is taken away in an effort to improve performance. This is a smart move, and works pretty well. I do feel his family become overly involved in the story, but that is because this film focuses much more on character development, history, motivation, etc. If you view this film as the 'beginnings' of the character, then it makes sense to devote two hours to slotting in all the building blocks that make up his world, giving him a believable, rich back story.
This film is much more subtle in its story telling. I have to admit that the brutal action, in your face, no doubting what you are characters, and biting satire of the original is the main reason I love the original so much. These are mostly missing, or are greatly subdued, which is disappointing. The satire is too subtle, and safe. The characters are complex, and not one dimensional, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is nice to have to adjust your opinions of them as they show their motivations, weaknesses, but never knowing who was really the bad guy made it hard to know who was genuinely important to the film, until it was almost over. The action is frenetic, without being too violent. I don't mind he lack of ultra violence; many fans of the original will.
Overall it is well acted, pretty well scripted, balances action with dialogue, plot progression, and suspense very well, and doesn't do anything to disgrace the awesomeness of the original. At the same time, for the clever little choices that put a new twist on the key elements of the original, I don't think it went far enough. It is too safe, too frightened of messing up that it doesn't push hard enough. Whilst the change of emphasis from rampant capitalism and consumerism couple with crime, poverty and corruption, to the military angle of corporate expansionism, dehumanising warfare, etc is brilliantly poignant, I would love to have seen it pushed harder, with less subtlety, and more focus. I wanted to love this film, instead I just enjoyed it. There wasn't enough fight, and punches were pulled in exchange for polite criticisms. Building up the characters into flawed humans making tough decisions added to the feeling of something that could really happen, but it also made the message fuzzy. Juxtapose this with the character of Samuel L Jackson, playing a TV show host with nothing but politicised opinions and pro robot, pro corporate rhetoric. Perhaps one or two of the other characters needed a little less depth and a little more front.
I hate the fact RoboCop has a human hand... and I don't really like his black suit, although it is nowhere near as bad as I feared. In general, though, being given the modern CGI treatment has been a good thing. Detroit is not portrayed as a crime ridden hell-hole, which is a shame. The city lacks character, or importance, it is little more than a setting, rather than being an important part of the story as in the original. All the new Omnicorp robots are brilliant. I love the promotional stuff that the studio has done - Omnicorp feels like a real corporation, with all of the conflict, hype, legal issues, product promotion etc. This was one area where the added depth impressed me, and appealed.
So if I pretend there was no 1987 masterpiece, I can say that this is a good film that tries hard to deliver a subtle message, and entertains well enough. It makes the main characters believable, and you will care what happens to most of them. There are some nicely done twists on the tenants of the original, and nothing that has been done will make you hugely angry if you are devotedly fanatical about the original (except perhaps the lack of violence). I can see this franchise being reasonably successful, and now we have established his character, there will be more room in the next film to focus on one or two key themes that resonate with our current failures.


05 January, 2014

| My review of the Playstation 4 |

I like the new controller, because it is very much like the old controller, with some ergonomic refinement. Here is a picure of them both together:

You will have to excuse the dog hair on one of the controllers. We have dogs, and they have hairs. Get over it. I did. Eventually...

Anyhoo, all the buttons are in approximately the same place, except for the Start and Select buttons which fell off during vibration testing and ended up discarded and forgotten in a dark corner of a validation chamber. But not to worry, because someone slapped a nice big touchpad in the middle, and stuck some new buttons (options and share) each side of that. Options does similar things to Start, and Share satisfies your need for narcissism.

So far I have only been able to use the touchpad in some weird demo that Sony calls the PlayRoom, which has lot of clones of Eve but no signs of WALL-E bouncing around showing you how to use the hardware. It works, in that it responds when tickled, but without some games to try it on it is just a nice gimmick that helps makes the controllers absurdly expensive.

The rear face of the controller is dimpled nicely to increase grip. It's a nicely made piece of hardware, with Nokia-worthy levels of robustness. Bravo to the design engineers. Oh there is also a piss-poor speaker that will shout at you during certain games. This may be some attempt to be more immersive, but when you've paid thousands of pounds to produce audio excellence in your living room, it is quite a rude awakening to have noises come from a Fischer Price speaker. There is a headphone jack built is so, you can at least subdue your snobbery and disgust by plugging in a pair on Sennheisers or Shures.

One other thing I have noticed about the controller (besides the Move-like glowing surface at the front) is that it seems a little more convoluted to determine the charging level. Before you could press the PS button and the icon was normally visible on the menu. Now you have to dig a bit deeper. No biggie, but I thought designs were supposed to advance to higher level of intuitiveness..

On to the console. Here's another picture, because apparently words are completely repulsive without pretty pictures:

The XMB (cross menu bar) seems to have undergone some kind of near-fatal mutation at the genetic level, or possibly some kind of aneuploidy. I'm not keen. The old way worked and this new hybrid looks like the kind of mutant man-bear-pig that should have been strangled at birth. The PS4 environment is like the PS3 lite. Notable things you cannot do: change to wallpaper, change the icons, connect to DLNA server rips CDs, play CDs, play 3d blu rays, install Linux, play PS1, 2, 3 games, you get the picture, but in case you don't here is a huge FAQ.

Hardware-wise, I have no doubt this thing is good enough to warrant being next-gen (or technically now it has been released 'this-gen'). Fast hard-drive, decent CPU, decent GPU, and some epically fast RAM. It is quiet (all sarcasm aside hoo-fucking-ray for that one - I am sick of consumer electronics that 'now come with more added noise to ruin your ear-pleasure'), fast, smooth in operation, oh and really small and light. Heat seems to be dealt with very well, something the PS3 dealt with by exhausting it via possibly the loudest fan not installed on a jet engine. Absurdly the PS3 still suffered from excessive heat problem. We'll have to wait and see here what the quality is like. It's been 7 years, and lead free soldering is still a poor, retarded cousin to superior lead solder, but the industry is doing a much better job over overcoming the shortfalls. Fingers crossed I won't have to get the PS4 swapped out (yay for insurance cover) on a near annual basis like the PS3 was.

Games - oh yeah, this thing plays games. Unfortunately I don't have £55 to waste on a game I'm not really that excited about so, erm, the truth is I don't have any triple A titles to review. I signed up for Playstation Plus, which gave me free access to the games Resogun and Contrast. Resogun is a side scrolling shooter, which I have always been rubbish at so I didn't enjoy being crap at this one just as much as I never enjoyed being rubbish at R-Type. Contrast is a clever game mechanic shoe-horned on to an irritating puzzle game with decent graphics but not enough imagination. It's clever twist is that the avatar can 'shift' into shadow form, and treat shadowed surfaces as 2d features - so a slanted shadow on the wall becomes a ramp you can run up. Nice idea, shame the game is not as fun as playing other games with novel mechanics like FEZ, Braid etc.

This machine needs a really awesome game, so come on Naughty Dog, Media Molecule, Bioware, and all the indie houses - get cracking!

Conclusion - if you are still enjoying the last-gen, you might want to wait. It's a bit quiet and lonely in this next-gen-osphere.

02 June, 2013

| our decreasing proximity to an event is inversely proportional to the degree we care about it |

To put it in to a formula - as distance increases, concern and action decrease.

By proximity I don't just mean distance, although that is certainly a strong factor. I also mean how keenly we can relate to the event - culturally, personally, emotionally. Empathy, some might call it. Remember that devastating earthquake in New Zealand in February 2011? If that had happened in the city next to the one you live in you would probably have volunteered to help in some way; if it had happened half-way across the country, you would probably have sent food and blankets; a little further afield, maybe just a donation... other side of the world, you'll feel awful, but helpless. And you are. You're too far away physically to help. Well it's just as possible to be too far away in other ways aswell. That is the only reason I can think of that I can be sat here typing away whilst knowing that there are people in my own city that won't have a roof over their heads tonight. And that's the only reason I can think of that our Men of Power, our Members of Parliament, our Masters of Privilege are blindly making things worse for those of low-income, the underprivileged, the needy and desperate. their ideology and indoctrination leaves them so distanced from the constituents they are supposed to represent, we may as well be earthquake victims on the other side of the planet.

Proximity proportionality might also go some way to explaining why two British born Muslims would murder a soldier for the 'crime' of wearing a 'help for heroes' top. Their ideology and indoctrination must have made them feel directly affected by events far from the peaceful streets of Woolwich. It might also explain the foul stench of racism that has been kicked up from where it was lingering - right under our noses. If we can convince ourselves that they are nothing like us, we can do anything - from the middle-class guilt of not sending enough of our disposable income to famine relief charities, to ignoring the undesirables in our own town, or selectively representing the people, or murder, or racist protest against people we have never met and know nothing about.

We are, I conclude, a very fucked up kind of animal. Blessed with great big brains and not a clue how to use them properly. Perhaps we should hand the keys to the car back until we've learned not to smash the thing round every lamp-post we see...

01 June, 2013

| Everyday Sexism |

This is a good news story. Sexism is becoming less acceptable every day. It still exists and happens every day, as the Everday Sexism site is testament to. But it is also opposed every day. Finally, we are living in a world where we can stand up and object to the sexist slime-bags. Finally, big corporations see the benefit of responding to complaints and withdrawing sponsorship when their adverts are placed, without their permission or knowledge,on Facebook pages that promote violence against women.

Every little bit helps. Don't let it stand - cause a fuss. Have the courage of your convictions, and that faith that you will be supported if you put some creep back in his place. The more we can expose and oppose, the more outrageous and unacceptable it will become.

And when we're done with eradicating the obvious sexism, there will undoubtedly still be the hidden sexism of equal pay, equal opportunity, equality of promotion, social advancement, and so on. The figh goes on, little by little, or gaint leap forward. Take it all, and demand more.

01 June, 2013

| A warning to all distracted drivers |

I am fed up with seeing distracted drivers, using their mobile phones whilst driving. It's dangerous, it's illegal and it is completely unnecessary. Whatever activity it is that you are doing on that phone can wait. Your sole duty when driving any vehicle is to concentrate on driving that vehicle safely, and to use all your alertness and attention to scan for hazards, and avoid being a hazard yourself. You cannot do that if you have one hand and both eyes on the screen.

Well I am going to start doing something about it. I have purchased two small video cameras that can be easily attached to my helmet, and my bike chassis. They will record high quality video uninterrupted for many hours. So from now on, whenever I travel I will have one of these devices pointing directly in front, so I can capture any reckless behaviour, and one attached to my helmet, so that when I am filtering through traffic I can get a really good close up shot of you updating your facebook status. And yes I will be sending incriminating evidence to the police.

If my plan works I think I can cut down about fifteen to twenty percent of the road traffic on my commute to work within a year. Each offence will add points on your licence, and if you don't learn quick you will lose your right to drive. So, if you cannot trust yourself to leave your phone alone for the length of time you are in your car, lock it in the boot.

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