Thursday, October 30, 2003

Cool beans. Got a reply from my MP re: the latest software patent issues, and it sounds like it could be quite an interest to him. Will neaten it all up and stuff when I have some time.

Something to do: Crypto Challenge from Thawte, including "Lunch Hour challenge" for beginners...

Possibly the funniest thing I've seen all day - Derek Wyatt MP proposes traceable e-mail addresses to stop spam. I shall reply, once I've stopped laughing and picked up my pants.

Worms and vir(ii|uses) are increasing, and yet they remain much less sophisticated than they were 10 years ago. Technically, at least.

Is this just a foreseeable consequence of scaling a network up without education of its infrastructure? Imagine a road system in which you didn't have to have a license to drive - in fact, better, go to India/Egypt/etc etc etc where that's pretty much the case, and witness it first hand. Result? It runs, but it ain't smooth, and nobody has shiny BMWs there...

Freedom, access to the system, vs education, responsibility. See, everything boils down to this. Or maybe I'm just delusional. At last.

I've gone quite morbid recently, and added the Guardian obituaries to my main bookmarks. This one struck me today...

Obituary: Ahmad Shawkat: "They don't know how to have a clear dialogue with each other. They don't know how to negotiate with each other. I hope I will be able to do something."

The downgrading of cannabis in the UK - another case of what I've been thinking about lately: Freedom vs Responsibility.

As in, it's all very well to hold freedom as a banner for civilisation, but it must go hand in hand with a responsible attitude - otherwise those freedoms do, I think, become dangers.

We are seeing "dangerous" freedom as an excuse to do what we like as individuals now, without necessarily taking into account the effects and the responsiblities that go along with it. "Freedom" is being touted as the reason why war is good (original intentions aside, ahum), and yet it is clear that there must be a level of maturity and orgnisation when it comes to allowing these freedoms to persist.

The sooner "civilisation" is seen inherently as a coupling of these two factors, the better.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Reading this (U.S. Position in Iraq Seen as Increasingly Perilous) just made me touch on two points.

1. It's definitely looking more and more like a Northern Ireland situation, as pointed out by both Phil and the New Statesman. If this is the case then the Americans (along with whoever else is in on it with them) have a choice. If they carry on as they are, they either impose a police state on a supposedly free country - another issue - until they've caught all of the baddies, or they leave at some point before that, leaving the locals to the mercy of those with the rockets. I'm thinking police state, for some reason.

2. I think something fundamental has been missed out a lot from the surrounding discourse. As we are now seeing, the impact all of these terrorist actions speaks more loudly to those not directly involved - those outside the sphere of politics, for instance - much more than those who are. We are now in a situation where the ongoing after-effects of the war are taking as much toll politically as the war itself, and whether you agree with the terrorists actions or not, whether you separate things out into sides or not, it's clear that the terrorists get an awful lot of press. And, as many an adminstration knows, the press counts for a lot, even if you don't fall for its naturally-biased, disproportional perception-swaying ways.

As much as Bush denies it, the damage caused by firepower is substantial, amplified through a networked news infrastructure and a global interest in matters. It's amusingly ironic that the powers that got the Americans into such a global superpower position - their insistence upon military strength, world cop, et al - are now the very same powers being used to undermine the credibility of their leaders.

See kids? Violence does still work! Civilisation is just kidding itself if it thinks otherwise...?

Armed security staff were alerted when the ["life-size mechanical terrier"]'s wind-breaking mechanism registered as a high explosive

Life-size???

Current thoughtthreads: Horizontal vs Vertical, in particular writing stories vs creating worlds. Defeating XSS attacks. Criticising society vs exploiting it, and the hypocrisy involved, if any?

The best thing I'd heard in a while on Radio 4 just now - I'll try and dig a link to the programme out a little later, watch their listen again page - from a man talking with regards to how Iraq should be "built". He proposed the blindingly obvious idea of starting out by working out how to help/organise things on a small scale, and then extend this approach back towards the capital. Yes, dammit! Scalable! Bottom-up! Decentralised! etc etc etc. Scratch everything, start over again, build it up, bit by bit, making sure it's scaling, making sure it's sustainable. Give people a decent quality of life, place an emphasis on education and real self-empowerment - none of this "freedom of choice" misnomer crap - and they won't be so worried about complaining about how much they're not earning, and how much they're being screwed over by big companies.

Anyway, I was so pleased to hear such a thought on prime time radio that I had to make sure I remembered it.

Oh, am back now. Learnt lots last week, including the understanding of David Blaine, the difficulties facing those trying to cram the starkly disorganised realities of council and government into the idealist structuredness of IT theory, and how to like Opera.

Got a thanks note from my MP, but no real follow-up yet.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Defence chiefs angry over huge cuts. Good. Still, I dobut this means that this country is starting to wake up and reconsider its military options. Ah well.

I'm off away this week on a training course, so probably much less blogging, if any at all. It's kind of weird, apart from missing Brighton, et al, I'm wondering if I'm going to suffer from any kind of "information withdrawal" - checking news and e-mail is integral to daily life now, so it could be strange. I shall see...

Have a good one.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

For reference purpoises... Letter to my MP re: Software Patents and the Council of Ministers next month.

Off to the postbox...

Student quizzed in US airline scare: "It doesn't appear to be a terrorist event. I think it is safe to fly,' FBI Director Robert Mueller said."

Friday, October 17, 2003

UK Software Patents

Software Patents and the EU Council of Ministers
"UK ministers are thought to support a November 2002 draft drawn up by patent offices across Europe, which would promote software patenting, instead of the September 2003 European Parliament version."

(Apparently) this means far, far fewer restrictions on patenting, and a much more laissez-faire approach to awarding patents, which would be a big step for allowing a US-style approach to the matter.

Anyone in a small-medium business will tell you that, while patents may protect a single, original idea you may have, restrictions on what ideas you can and can't use are ultimately damaging to how flexibly you can work. Owning one idea isn't very useful if all the others are owned by someone else, and owning none at all in such a situation is even more disadvantageous.

Time to write a letter, tomorrow...

And yes yes yes i know mail inboxes weren't designed as aggregation devices, but yadda yadda yadda stop spoiling my fun damn you.

Ooh, free Maya.


OK, been thinking about this aggregation stuff a little. Am thinking something like this...

1. As e-mail clients have HTML integration these days, use my Inbox as the centre.

2. Use Mozilla, or indeed just a Firebird/Thunderbird combo, to add some extra features via XUL. This could even send "feedback" to my mail server that gets picked up via procmail/perl to "adjust" my inbox, in a dynamic filtery kind of way. e.g. "Remind me about this mail tomorrow" would just re-post it to me at midnight.

3. Use that sweet X11 compression system to make streaming the mail client a reasonable idea, even over a 56k modem (must find the link for that).

4. Carry Knoppix around with me on a mini CD in case X isn't available. Can also combine with my new USB pendrive :)

Obviously there's more thought to be put into the mail filtering and aggregating webpages/blog thingies/etc etc etc but that's just a HTML/XML/RSS feed-to-email script which is easy enough.

Onwards! To the future!

Just read this article called "E-mail's special power" which intends, nay PROVES that we have reached full circle, and that we are doomed to repeat our technological progress ad infinitum: "There are other ways to publish newsletters, send automated alerts, transfer files, and hold long-running discussions. If we can relieve e-mail of some of these burdens, it will be easier to heal its wounds."

Yes, and thankfully all of these ways were thought up right around the same time as e-mail was (i.e. BCNS, before common networked society), and hence the proliferation of ftp, nntp, http, gopher, et al. Now that a limited selection has reached the large, but not particularly technical giddy heights of the mainstream, all the functionality we can think of is being hacked around to fit into a paradigm or two originally designed for another medium. E-Mail is great for discussion, and crap for the large files that now get sent round. The web is great for reading, but so limiting in terms of data entry and organisation (sorry Phil ;) - the only reason we have this state of affairs is because these interfaces are now "the norm", and any other way of thinking about the problem stands little chance of adoption apart from geeks.

The chances that we'll see a completely new approach adopted, a revolutionary widespread take-up of something fresh? Nada. The chances that we'll end up with hacked-together interfaces atop a small variety of delivery mechanisms originally unintended for the job? Probably somewhat high.

Meanwhile, on the other hand...

1. E-Mail's simplicity is far too much taken for granted. The idea, essentially, of linked lists as the primary contact, and the abstraction of the e-mail address (i.e. you don't need a separate mechanism for mailing lists - just one simple address gets forwarded to many others) make it so usable and so .. simplistically perfect. Linked lists should be some kind of standard, I think.

2. I want a new look at aggregation. A way above and beyond (Outlook|Evolution)'s "Summary" page that actively ties together web pages, e-mails, blog entries, news stories et al. The problem therein is merging "genericisation" of content (e.g. replying to an e-mail could be the same as commenting on a blog-entry) while maintaining a customisable interface, ideally being able to choose a particular client for a particular job. Just a dreamy thought, anyway.

Meanwhile, in the news...

Barclays CEO said he did not use credit cards from his own subsidiary, Barclaycard, because it was simply too expensive. What strikes me about this is firstly that there seems to be some ideology that says the head (or indeed, any employee) of a company must think that their product is the best they can do - so if I find a market for tacky toy cars, and start producing them, then I'm in the wrong because I hate tacky toy cars? - and secondly, that people don't know that credit cards are so arsig expensive in the first place. Helloooo.

Wow, big rant today.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

More hypocrisy. Universal Music to cut 1,350 jobs, citing piracy et al. But really, as per industrial revolutions et al, surely we want companies to need less jobs? Isn't that the point of technology - that it makes tasks more efficient, more automated? Populations are booming, technology should mean that either we are more catered for whilst we do less work (as the price of necessary living resources comes down due to improved processes), or more diverse jobs are created, rather than a tendency towards larger, less efficient companies.

Hmm.

>> News round-up...

"The company [Caterpillar] claims the straight-to-video slapstick comedy portrays Caterpillar earthmovers as part of an 'evil attacking army' bent on destroying the jungle." "The company claims the scenes will have a negative effect on children and could affect Caterpillar's line of children's products."

Children should be taught to use the internet "more creatively", rather than spending their time playing games and chatting to friends, a report recommends. Might have to read the report later, but IMHO we should be "teaching" "creativity" in all aspects of life. Or perhaps "instilling creative thinking" would be a better term. We should place less importance on "work skills" - ability to get a job - and more on independent, confident thinking. "How to think", not "what to think". My opinion, anyway.

Dunno why I'm bloggin this, but pentest have released their Bluetooth Scanner - guess it's just good to see this kind of work going on, even if I don't own any BT gear...

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Web Design is Magic: "For a web designer, it means coming up with a simple, uncluttered design that hides the complexity of a website."

Public Transport is shit

"Hackers" finally makes it mainstream: " Elite is the name given to the best of the group targetting the FBI in the film."

Mozilla 1.5, Firebird 0.7 and Thunderbird 0.3 have all been released - woohoo! If you're still using IE, I super-emphatically recommend getting firebird - only a 6.8MB download for windows, and way superior to IE.

Spread da word...

>> Random thoughts...

Convergence

Just what makes a phone, and what makes a games handheld? Nokia's probably wondering this as sales of their N-Gage thingy haven't met expectations. I'm still wondering about the ups and downs of convergence, and my paranoid caution on the topic stems graciously from a few years working in the Digital/Internet-enabled TV industry, which is (currently) all very, very wrong. Can a phone be a gaming platform? Or are there fundamental differences, either in the design, or even in the perception/need of consumers?

Hypocrisy

This is just something I need to get off my chest... There seems to be a real lack of seriousness when it comes to "personal energy consumption". This is the category of environmental friendliness occupied by all those people that want to "do something" to help, so insist upon turning electrical devices/lights/ etc off overnight. While the idea is semi-sound, there is a complete lack of perspective here, especially when most of these people then get in their car, drive to work, and use a PC for most of the day, then drive back and watch TV for the evening. Um.. hello? Which part of "energy consumption" do you not get? I've decided that this is just hypocrisy designed to make the "saver" feel good about themselves, rather than make any kind of actual difference to the world. If you really cared, you'd insist upon walking/cycling/skateboarding to work, and you wouldn't come to rely upon electric devices in the first place. Get a grip.

Company Image

There's a worrying trend towards companies being able to sue someone for "damaging" their reputation, even if the perpetration was valid. Never forget, reputation is based on reality, not the other way around.

OK, I'm ranted out. Lunch time.

Dammit, looks like local rag, the Argus has gone both subscription AND pdf format. *sigh*

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I'm playing about with my mail sig. You can now send a tagline to be set as my mail sig by putting it in the subject line of a mail sent to sig[at]exmosis.net.

Just realised that the address is actually in the sig, and the sig will appear in mailing list archives, and the archives will get picked up by spambots probably, so wondering how to get around this. In the meantime, I'll be deleting that line when I post to lists, I think ;)

One to check out later: Public Whip - Vote map - "Java applet for interactively navigating the space of MPs clustered by their voting records."

Monday, October 13, 2003

Perl.com has a nice step-by-step article on refactoring code - the example used is Perl, but the techniques are pretty universal. I kind of like the idea of just doing little bit by little bit. Makes sense.

There's something quite ... cosy about being part of a "liberal minority" when it comes to privacy issues and the government. The Register
reports that ID card plans may have to be shelved on a more long term basis following leaked letters by both Jack Straw and the Treasury.

Mental Note for future dealings with govt: Argue the case more heavily on cost and practicality, rather than any particular freedoms of liberty matters. It seems to grab politician's attention, which makes sense as people's wallets affects politicians' popularity which, really, is what this is all about.

Of particular moment-of-conscience too, it delves back into the idea of introduction of similar systems through a more decentralised approach - driving licenses, et al - a point which I'm going to have to think about carefully. Is this a better/worse way to do things? Can the same arguments be applied? Is there still an underlying lack of trust/respect on t behalf of the government? Is it less or more feasible to link existing systems? What are the extra dangers/benefits? How best to argue/organise against such schemes? Tricky tricky tricky.

Also mentions the Canadian study into ID cards in Europe, which I must take a look at later.

Wowsers, British Path(e) have released 12 million photos from their archive.

The site is http://www.britishpathe.com/ but it looks down for the moment. Wonder why ;)

Apparently they also have their film on-line too. Now, if the BBC get their entire archive up as well, then we can do some serious historicisation of the media.. neat.

Monday lunchtime. Picked up my skateboard, rushed along the seafront down to the main pier in the bike path with the wind driving me the other way, intention running downhill through my head to get reacquainted with the pinball machine I'd met yesterday. Cheap, tacky arcade, tucked under the promenade like a tramp just killed someone hiding from the police in a ditch. Bubble Bobble was in there, a few other classics, a few measly pence to whack a joystick around for a few minutes of escapism. And they had pinball. Four tables.

Resisted the sea-swept smell of the pancakes and the doughnuts waving luridly from the threatening entrance to Palace Pier (does anyone else read that as "pie-er", someone who pies?), picked up the deck and tramped down the slope to meet the crunch of the beachy stones. Swing round.

Met by dull grey shutters slammed over the low-slung entrance to the arcade like fortress walls. Like the place only ever opened once every ten years when the planetary alignment felt right, and the rest of the time was downtime. Shit, a new lease of life for lunchtimes, hidden away round the corner neighbouring the sound of the waves, closed off.

Jakob Nielsen at the BBC

... which coincides with what i was just thinking, about revolutionising my inbox. It's already set up to white/black/greylist. I don't do much filtering, and herin lies the problem.

If i prioritise certain items into filters, then i never get around to reading them. True. It's like my main inbox is a central stream of mails, and anything i take out of that stream i just forget to read. Unfortunately, i've also just subscribed to half a dozen tech security lists, of which at least 1 is high traffic, so that's about a hundred new mails every day, just in my central "stream".

So the problem is - how to "organise" my inbox without placing a number of mails outside of the scope of my consciousness. I'd like to "weight" mails somehow, but also introduce a system that means i don't just forget about them. Maybe the weighting system could use a variety of "filters" to work out the weight, including how old a message is. Older messages that may be of interest would "bubble" to the top of my inbox.

Hmm, a bubbling UI, I like that idea. Rather than a list of mails, how about a "pot"? Threaded discussions could all be contained within a single bubble, and you could just choose mails as you liked... Hmm.

Also, there's an interesting Slashdot article on new anti-spam ideas, including spidering the links the spam points to in order to a). work out if it's spam or not, and b). "ddos" the spammer's site. Not sure about the latter, but now wondering if i can factor in lynx/wget/dns tools to filter my greylist more effectively. Interesting.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Andy Grove Says U.S. Is Losing Edge In Tech Sector, which has 2 points...

1. "Grove said he is torn between his responsibility to shareholders to cut costs and improve profits, and to U.S. workers who helped build the nation's technology industry but who are now being replaced by cheaper labor." Good to see this conflict getting some coverage...

2. "Grove also criticized the nation's overburdened patent system, which he said is causing an abundance of innovation-slowing litigation." And this...

Friday, October 10, 2003

The fat cats are getting fatter blah blah blah.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Condoleezza Rice: "a new currency -- without Saddam Hussein's picture -- is being prepared."

Yes, that'll help them out. "It's ok guys - we've nothing to worry about, we've got rid of that god awful guy from our notes, we can get back to normal now." Hmm, somehow I don't think that's high up on the Iraqi people's agenda...

What it does scream at me is just how much of this is about image, for the Americans. It's about symbolism and marketing - they need to get across what they're actually doing out there to the American public (i.e. the potential supporters) in a way they can understand. They need to continue to portray Saddam in as bad a light as possible in order to maintain consistency of their argument.

I'm most certainly not claiming I love Saddam etc, but there are issues here that concern the American public, and other, completely separate issues that concern the Iraqi public. And while more attention is placed on the former, we have very, very little idea of the truth of the entire situation without visiting the place ourselves.

Maybe this is why I'm so against our leaderships - not because they are wrong, but because they continue to present things in a manner amenable to them, not us, and not the Iraqis.

Lots of interesting stuff from newspace today. Quick blast:

The Guardian are running a number of articles written by teenagers (and younger) about child welfare.

They're also reporting that the Vatican is spreading rumours about condoms.

From the BBC...

Vampires annoy local vicar

While it's not really funny, the headline Schoolgirls killed in Java crash made me wonder about the stability of Sun's code...

Beat Bobby expirement fails in York, but did quite well down here, I believe. I, for one, didn't mind the extra police presence - so long as they were friendly rather than fascist.

You must be afraid. You must.

An insight into how credit card thieves work

Slashdot round-up explaining why you should hate yourself for using Internet Explorer ;)

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Microsoft patents "other user typing" idea. No, wait, wait, patents protect businesses and encourage development. And they're good for the small developers. No really, why is it so hard to believe?

The patent.

Phil at Blahsploitation writes: "The US wants to feel safer by denying other countries powerful weapons. The other countries want to feel safer by having them. The West wants to secure it's economy and economic dominance by prioritising it's interests in the WTO. The rest of the world want something else."

I've started reading "The Wisdom of Insecurity" by Alan Watts, which ties very much in with the Tao of being supple, and flowing in order to remain strong, rather than, uh, actually being "strong", as such. (Confused yet? ;)

The problem is that the "wiser" religions (i.e. Buddhism) and associated self-reverence are much easier to apply on an individual basis - indeed, that's the whole point of them - but extremely difficult to apply on a much larger, e.g. national/global scale.

Monday, October 06, 2003

The Register: "Gartner predicts one in ten tech jobs will be moved offshore by the end of next year 2004"

There's something ironically amusing about the entire move towards foreign employment for larger (and smaller, indeed) businesses, in that it makes sense when you look at it from the "efficacy" point of view that actually underlies the capitalist system we have come to depend upon. Perhaps now, all of the "technocrat middle class" (as the article puts it) will realise just what they are - resources. Not people, just workforce. Not individuals in the eyes of the corporation, but an ant that is there to do a job.

Not one of these middle class suits would argue with the fact that the business they work for is out to maximise profits. And this is the point at which they should be putting 1 and 1 together to work out that an expensive, mass workforce will lose out to an inexpensive one in the eyes of the bosses every time. The structure ensures that this is inevitable.

Currently, it seems that the foreign investment is get-what-you-pay-for, and quality of work is generally less than what you may expect here. It may be that this goes one of two ways - the quality affects finished products and services, and so a swing back towards a possibly-better educated workforce occurs, or it is actually cheaper to instill better working practices and education in the cheap labour market. Training an army of cheap drones is probably still cheaper than hiring significantly more expensive crew, especially so when both the training and working procedures have been standardised by the industry and the companies involved (probably originally to make the system more efficient in the first place).

1 in 10 jobs is a reasonable number - think of 10 people in a room, then remove one of them. It's a noticeable change. Expect the number to increase rapidly if the processes instigated abroad get slicker.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Hmmm, big long article on Supermarket loyalty cards - nothing really new in it if you're aware of this kind of thing, but it's a reminder to me to put some stuff up on it at exmosis - it falls neatly in-between privacy and reality hacking, i think.

And hey, it's a slow day anyway ;)

Friday, October 03, 2003

Half-Life 2 source code has been stolen, via a good ol' Outlook exploit.

Maybe people will wake up. Maybe they won't.

Dance WIll Eat Itself: "As closing time approaches, Trengove begins playing what he calls 'really old-school records'. I expect him to start playing 70s disco, or early 80s hip-hop. Instead, he puts on a succession of 90s club anthems."

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Wondering about the inability of people to apply arguments to the future as well as to the present, in The Fundamentals of Human Design (or Why Gattaca Misses a Point).

Naomi Klein in the Guardian on Globalisation and Communities, in particular the town of Esquel, Argentina being eyed up by the gold-mining Meridian.

Two things out of this..
1. "Globalisation" in terms of worldwide communications is definitely a boon to the people of the town. Access to support, opinions, and information that they wouldn't otherwise have is the up-side of the big G.
2. Companies don't change. There are very few (a handful, probably) that, having initially decided on one business tactic, would suddenly change their beliefs and their motivations, even after a plethora of "findings" and "regulations". Business is business, sayeth the corporates. And for them, that's the way it is. But this means that there is a fundamental fault with the way we look at how to run a company. Are regulations and laws enough to change the down side of globalisation, the "disabling" factor of it? I think the real change will come when somebody, preferably the governments of the large economic power countries, start to emphasise and prioritise things other than money, subsisides, financial performance.

Of course, all this is what we are trying to achieve, naturally. But it's easy to forget, in amongst the activists, the demos and the hurling of both paint and insults. We need to make sure that we work with governments, not strictly and polemically against them. On a global scale, our route to having some control as a population is to take an interest, a real, thought out interest in getting to know the government, working out where we can change it, almost infiltrating it. The idea of government is sound, but the current implementation is lacking. The only way to change it is to gradually merge with it.