Friday, May 28, 2004

North Korea hacking Suth Korea, although I'm a little confused over the "terrorism" implications. Surely "surveillance" or "espionage" would be a more accurate term.

To Read: Tangentium - this issue, "Anarchism, Activism and IT" but some of the previous issues look intriguing too.

Watching the watchers...

Blunkett wants sex offenders to take lie tests and be satellite tagged, although the BBC reports that h wants to "extend it to those given community sentences", as well as "strengthen a new database" for all this.

They also have a slightly older piece on movable wifi CCTV cameras.

Anyone that says we're not moving towards an Orwellian, monitored, panoptical society is either lying, or a fool. No matter if Labour or the Tories win the next election (and I doubt it'd be otherwise), the technology will continue to be used, because neither of them realise how to actually run a population. Rather than trying to educate us about anything, the government seems quite happy to scare us into not doing things they don't like us to do, and then locking us up if we do do it. Either way, keeping an eye on all of us, all the time is a major part of it.

Why do I think this is wrong? Because I believe in the individual, and the responsibility that goes along with it. If the state exists solely to remove any hint of the personal and the individual, then it no longer has any purpose. I could work hard, buy things, have a family and a house, and stay out of "trouble", or I could just decide for myself what's "right" and what's "wrong". As it is, I'm not too trusting of anything the government wants, if it's not existing as an agent of the people in the first place.

Mental note: commit more "real" time to alternative infrastructures, both technical and political. Maybe it's time to exercise freedoms, rather than just think about them.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Parliament protestors 'to be silenced'

Ominous headline, but what is the best way to get a point across in our society?

Voting doesn't count for anything - we don't have referendums for pretty much anything, plus we only vote for a person, not an individual action. One may "represent" the other, but this representation only extends to the view of the person voted in, not the views of those who voted him in. The two are different, very different. Furthermore, thanks to our FPTP system, it's possible for the elected to be voted in by a minority of people.

In spite of that though, the established "guidelines of contact" go through our elected representative. But e-mailing/faxing them seems to go ignored (fair enough if standard form letters are used, but, thinks I, not if they all just get sent through the same website, wherein each will may have its own view). Writing a letter is apparently the best thing to do, as it gets their attention the most (time and effort, you see) - although bizarrely there's no reason why it doesn't suffer from the same "grouping" effect that the government attribute to faxes/e-mails.

(This "grouping" also ignores the fact that many of the people who are most interested in an issue will have gone to the site, and so are likely to submit an entry through it. Hell, the politicians rely heavily on the same kind of "central dissemination and propagation of ideologies" that they decided against listening to - gah.)

Also, in my experience, it takes a couple of weeks to get a (usually standard form - how ironic) reply to my letter, saying they'll keep me updated. While the stiff, creamy paper is lovely to hold, it can feel like I've just been entered as a reference number in a spreadsheet, rather than actually having my point of view/reasoning taken into account. Perhaps if I put in some drawings, or write it in blood next time...

Going up the ladder, and getting into the realms of the "professional democratic partner", the next effective way is by using face-to-face techniques. At the bottom of this, there are a few people who willingly get in touch with their politician, and organise a meeting. OK, so I only met one - John Gilmore, who set up much of Usenet, the Well and EFF. There are at least 2 problems with doing this though:

  1. I'm too busy doing other things to even organise the meeting, let alone go to it.

  2. My politician is probably equally busy.

Thus, he's probably not going to be too bothered about seeing me, unless I'm the King, or someone equally important.

Which leaves the problem - how do ordinary people get their point across?

Note that this may also highlight the gap between politics and employment - the more people work, the less time they have to actually do something politically.

Which is why the next step in the ladder is professional critique - the summoning of people in an industry/institute/organisation to present evidence to a council, who may (or may not) use this to influence their decision when making a decision. This assumes that a) there aren't pressures on the process elsewhere, and b) people are actually summoned in the first place.

Ater that you get the MPs, the ministers and the Cabinet members themselves, which is "ultimate political profession".

And all this is why protestors would probably be better off putting their placards away, signing up for political studies, and trying to become PM. If enough of them give it a go, then one of them is bound to make it in the end. They just need to think long term about the situation, rather than react a day too late.

(Of course, then they'll get sucked into the system, and just become one of them...)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

BBC news say Doubts cloud e-government sites, due to people wanting immediate feedback on questions (from a real person), rather than just information bunged up on a site. Guess the question they (we) should be asking is "what do people want to contact their council/government for?"

A completely assumed presumption leading to a poor analogy: On-line grocery shopping has failed. People like to see what they're buying* in the same way that people like immediate feedback for questions. Therefore, staff of public organisation are like fruit and veg.

* Ironically, this is less important when buying mass-produced, "standard", packaged goods. Is a drive towards more healthy eating actually at odds with shopping remotely? (Assuming that supermarkets don't just artifically make all their food pretty while quality suffers. Like they do now.)

Conclusions: Use technology to help people talk to each other, not just to provide a sea of information - bunging a load of pages up on-line isn't an "interface" to the information in them. Search engines still suck compared to a human who knows about everything.

Chris Lightfoot's rather scathing discardment of the upcoming European election candidates made me chuckle, as well as wonder about just who I should vote for, if any.

Shame that nice Bob Dobbs isn't running like in the last locals.

Oil prices resume upward progress, but the interesting bit is this: "Soaring demand from fast-growing China is widely seen as one reason for the tight market."

Now, China has a funny relationship with the world, especially in the light of the news that it's to develop its own standards (as well as its own Linux and its own CPU). It wants to maintain independence, but is increasingly involved with other countries, as can be seen by the interest in trading there, plus its oil. Perhaps its been reading up on Jefferson, and is sticking to the motto "[Friendship and] free trade with all, entangling alliances with none".

However, as the US have proven, reliance on fundamental foreign sources for a domestic economy is risky, and a route that I would think that the Chinese are understandably cautious of. If they have any sense, they'll pursue two routes:

  1. Undergo major investment in local sources of oil, obviously. This would have to be seen as a stop-gap solution (depending on the timeframe being looked at, naturally), but would have the added incentive of having increased value to the outside world

  2. Invest in self-contained, sustainable energy sources so that the economy no longer depends on otuside sources

So, 2 points (that may also be relevant to Oli's hopes to get governments to invest in sustainability):

  1. Seeing as the Western world is quite happy to carry on consuming as we consume, with no fundamental change to where our energy comes from, could we see the major breakthroughs (in terms of both technology and policy) for alternative energies come from a Communist empire, i.e. China? (Note also that they have the possibly-necessary scale available, plus no "barriers to entry" as a free market may do - if they want to enforce it, they perhaps could do so more than we could here)

  2. Is it fair to say that a desire for independence, by any nation state, may result in sustainable energy infrastructures being adopted more quickly? This could maybe be thought of as a "large scale" concept of the various "new-agers" in the West striving for independence from the state and the economy, and so developing the technologies as a matter of necessity.

Could be interesting over the next 200 years.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Visual geographical guide to UK candidates for the forthcoming (June 10th) European Elections 2004. Time to start reading some manifestos, but the Green Party seem to have their heads screwed on, at least when it comes to software patents.

Odd search results linking to somewhere at exmosis...

  • free boob galleries

eh? I'm at work, so I'm not repeating the search...

Friday, May 21, 2004

One reportfrom the Wednesday public meeting of ID cards. Need to read it through, plus check out the links. I note that no government representative though.

Heh, Britain axes nipple from EU film. For fear of what, exactly?

Simetimes our society is so laughable, and so utterly irrational.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Reading through the BBC's Have Your Say on Binge Drinking in the UK. Some good points in there, many of which relate to my stay in the countryside last weekend. Down in Dorset, everything's so much more relaxed, and it hit hard when I got back to Brighton.

It's extremely difficult to maintain a relaxed state in a busy place, but I suspect there are ways. Maybe I should start a new page.

Hmm, anyone fancy a pint at the new People's Pub in Brighton? It "will donate net profits to local charities" apparently...

Everyone thinks C-Side are the large corporate evil pub-buyers, so bit of a turn for their ex-owner. Maybe he really has had a change of heart...

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Poll suggests ID card backlash, but is an on-line poll - I have no idea as to the credibility of YouGov, or how the sample population was decided, etc. Note though that small percentages = large amounts of actual persons In Real Life, i.e. powerful minorities prevail.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair hit by a purple condom, despite the new public screen in the House. Just goes to show you can't trust guests either...

"At present, any money earned from oil sales is paid into an account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York controlled by the US.

Iraq is expected to take control of the funds after the Coalition hands formal power to Iraqi leaders on 30 June, though the US wants to keep an international board in place to monitor the account.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Oil prices set new record highs - and the forecast isn't good for the long term. As demand goes up, and supply goes dowwwwn, all the poor companies relying on the prices of oil, but that don't have any control over them, are going to start feeling it. The wise ones will be factoring it into their acocunts now, cutting back and investigating the alternatives. The stupid ones (and there are a lot of them) will be worrying about how the remaining oil is going to be divided up.

The problem isn't about when oil is going to run out - it's about when the supply/demand battle has a practical impact. When economies can't sustain themselves based on traditional methods, are they going to be left floundering like the RIAA in the face of the Internet? Hell, is the internet going to suffer some damage as a result of harder globalised links?

We have an economy built on oil, but it's clearly going to kill itself under its own rules before oil production itself becomes a problem. Modern civilisation will become the shortest-lived blip in the timeline of the mankind-infested world, and sometimes I wonder if that's such a bad thing.

Wow, apparently the Bush admin (John Ashcroft, et al) is suing Greenpeace - i.e. the organisation, rather than individuals (as usually happens) - for boarding a ship, under a 19th century law to stop prostitutes from boarding ships in order to rob them.

I'm not really sure what to make of it. Companies, as legal entities in their own right, get sued all the time obviously, and the company can be seen to "bear responsibility" for its employees. Personally, I don't like that - I think it detracts from personal responsibility - but how does it affect organisations?

Furthermore, I'm kind of aware that no matter how much I want something to be done, there's probably extremely little I can do, it being all in the US. The original e-mail links to a petition, but I'm always sceptical of those things. Same with all the US/EU copyright et al entanglings - it feels like the world is getting smaller, and things overseas have more and more effect here or elsewhere, but there aren't any structures in place to deal with it. We have globalised industry, but not globalised civil politics.

OK, this is bizarre. Looking through Fravia's notes from the previous workshop last year, they're extremely similar to a talk I went to at Hal in 2001. Shit, maybe I've *actually* gone to one of his lectures and *not known it*. Actually, come to think, I only discovered his site a couple of years ago anyway.

I will have to check this.

Just received mail about a Copyright vs Community day in London on Thursday - don't think I'm going to make it. Not only RMS and Cory Doctorow, but the legendary Fravia, although he doesn't seems to be talking about his Reality Hacking...

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Doublethink in action

I'm a little bemused by the whole disgust at
POW abuse
story which seems to have taken over all headlines here
(how about some news on how the war's going? Afghanistan? Haiti? Nup.*)

Everything just doesn't seem to sit right in my head. On the one hand,
the rumbling cogs of the coalition's pro-war behemoth want to spit out
propaganda that portrays our new enemies in a light dark enough to
continue "necessary" military operations, but on the other hand, nations
recoil in horror when they're not treated as humanely and hospitably as
Our Auntie coming round for tea and cake. If I subscribed to all of the
pro-national, patriotic spiel coming out of Bush's mouth that sought to
cast terrorist aspersions on anyone disagreeing with the Great Command's
vitriolic spiel (in order to win over domestic hearts and minds),
I'd probably have a hard time trying to understand the nature and
behaviour of the dark-skinned men on the other side of the TV too.
Respect? Surely if I respect them, then I'm not being patriotic! They
are, after all, murderous killing fiends, capable only of hatred of us.

It's a bit murky, but there's definitely some doublethink/speak going on
here. If you don't want your "patriotic" forces doing dumb things, then
a). get them under control (this may take time and resources...), and
b). don't tell them that their enemy is just a bunch of dogs who deserve
no mercy.

* Idea: represent news stories as a colour-coded world map, with places
of topical interest being brighter. But you can click anywhere on it to
get news of that region. Like that postcode thing Google does, but for news.

"I have practysed & lerned at my grete charge & dispense to ordeyne this
said book in prynte that every man may have them attones." - W. Caxton has been updated...

...and apparently lets you e-mail to your blog (as well as e-mail your
blog posts on elsewhere, but they always had that). If this works, I can
blog from my mobile, too :)

.sig coming up just to prove it...

Clown face, monkey face. Clown face, monkey face.

System-77 / Civil Counter-Reconnaissance offers military-style unmanned surveillance to activists, demonstrators, et al. I'm impressed (even moreso if it works), but for some reason not surprised - there's always a technical reaction on one side to the steps taken by the other - the same applies to, say, use of handweapons amongst the criminals and the police.

It's also a sign that the two sides are becoming more polarised, and as reasoned approaches give way to ideological polemics, the chances of any agreement being reached diminishes. Time to switch my "politics" hat for my "art of war" hat.

I've yet to see the demo footage, though.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Holy Hell. I've just had a gander at this introduction to Maypole and its follow-up, a Perl MVC module that uses Template::Toolkit and Class::DBI, and which makes everything Java-based I'm coding in look like the Encylopaedia Britannica. Got a project I've started that is replicating just about everything here (Model, User sessions, templates, etc) and I really want to switch it over.

Perl modules still excite me way too much. Woo, still a geek!

Innersting... Oil supply 'cannot match demand', but in particular:

"it seems that major buyers - especially governments - are stocking up on oil, possibly to guard against any disruptions to supply."

Ironically, prices are also up over middle-east instability fear - something I figured the point of re-taking Iraq was supposed to quell, not fuel...

Also, further proof that our society is based on technology, not politics:

"for technical reasons, a number of the world's biggest producers, particularly outside Opec, have been unable to increase output significantly, leading to higher prices."

Has our rapid growth in production and consumption (we've come a long way in only a few hundred years - compare the Egyptians) only been possible due to oil-production technology?

I think oil is the biggie at the moment - does everything else come off it? If people's debts et al depend upon industry profitablity (how many people they can hire, etc), and industry performance depends on, well ultimately, the price of oil, then are we going to see a chain reaction over the next year?

Things are pretty quite at the moment, but I was impressed with this account of hacking a client-side Java-based Internet Banking application.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Hmmm... is it time for an alternative to higher education?

Monday, May 10, 2004

Rate fears batter global markets - I think doctor's would call the global economy "improving, but unstable", or something.

/me wonders if increased communication efficiency leads to short cycles when it comes to these things... If news can spread faster, and in more quantity, does the state of affairs (or affairs of state) become more reactive, and thus more prone to swing?

Camden Council are the poster-child of the Red Hat driven APLAWS project, probing the future under the umbrella of the national LAWS project. Camden have finally launched their new website based on release 1.0.0 of APLAWS+. Considering that this is now the "standard" (or rather, several standards) for government websites, it's worth taking a look at what the public sector is up to.

I'm glad acessibility is playing a big role, nice one on that - if it didn't people would get sued :) Shame, though, that after all this investment, things such as XML/RSS/RDF feeds aren't offered.

Disclaimer: I have to work with this APLAWS+ thing ;)

Quick Register-driven ID Card update...

Scheme will cost more than estimated, but it's ok, the money will come from other services that may want or have to implement it.

Iris scanners confounded by tears and long lashes

Details on the upcoming mistaken identity public meeting - will Mr Blunkett be there or not?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Exmosis: Notes from a Human-Centred Technology Open Day, 6th May 2004

Thursday, May 06, 2004

China shuts 8,600 cybercafes: "As if to prove a point, Xinhuanet cites the tragic case of two youths who were crushed to death by a train when they fell asleep on a railway track after spending 48 hours in a cybercafe."

Bank ups interest rates to 4.25%

I'm curious as to the knock-on effects that everything has on each other. Rates low => more borrowing => more spending => more demand => more production => more workforce => more jobs. Simple in terms of cause and effect (as I understand it), but there are also time delays in all that - setting the rates low doesn't cause an immediate rise in jobs, and the low interest rates of the last year are only just being seen as economic "recovery" now.

So if interest rates rise => people pay back more + borrow less => spend less => demand declines a bit =>=>=> the workers taken on previously suddenly aren't needed as much?

Does this mean that once the house market starts cooling off, we should be expecting job losses a year down the road? And if businesses aren't predicting rise and fall correctly, there could be a whole load more jobs being created for a market based on old data, but that aren't needed now or in the near future?

Ross Anderson talks to Select Committee about ID Cards. Not read it yet. Busy.

NY Times gives IRC some coverage, casting it in the seedy Star Wars cantina light I've always thought of it in, which is why I love it (even if I don't use it as much any more). Always interesting when some not-so-mainstream but well-established tech gets a bit of attention.

THe Register presents Everything you never wanted to know about the UK ID card

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

One for Phil... Festival Internacional De Linguagem Eletronica in Sao Paolo. Nice web interface there, mmm.

> > Spamwatch

Nice bit of anti-anti-spam - check this url out:

<a href="">

URL "spoof" a go-go.

The problem is that everyone wants a fool-proof way of defeating spam, while keeping e-mail open to all. Is that mathematically possible? For me, the problem isn't choosing which mail to block, but how to inform non-spammers that you've blocked their mail. I currently don't send a response as it increases mail quantity, which I'm not keen on.

Technically, is there any difference between an unknown person sending an e-mail to a public e-mail they received (effectively) randomly, and a spammer?

I might just bounce any non-white-listed mail to me, with a "failed" error (I consider that ok...), and rely on Google for people to get in touch with me.

Parents voice fears over 3G phones - while I tend to "bleep" over statistics in the news, the terrible drizzle^W onslaught of 3G technology raises some extremely ... "interesting" questions. Up til now, taking a picture has been easy, but making it available to the world instantly hasn't. Here's some paranoia:

  • Videos and photos have been banned from school plays (in one place in Scotland, I think) amidst fears of paedophiles. Would phones be more surreptitous?

  • If you could instantly send a picture and delete it, how can someone prove you even took a photo (on the spot - not by records, sub poenas, etc)?

  • Set up a spam-like random, anonymised domain name approach and mix it with a Mixmaster-style remailer - voila, an anonymous, up-to-date list of pictures about whatever-you-like, whatever the content.

And probably others that I'm too tired to think up.

I've been thinking a little about the whole technological vs social solutions thing again. I submitted ages ago to the point of view that many things don't have a technological solution. But now I think that many, many things actually have a technological cause, and as such are subject to a like solution. How much of society and culture is, and how many social "issues" are built on top of technology?

Our capitalist society is built completely on top of technology. The systems of control we use are all forms of technology, from the gun to sticks to pencil and paper. The buildings we live and work in and the infrastructure that allows us to live how we live is all based on designed components, of which computers and the internet are just a fraction.

Sure, we can say that a problem isn't a technological one but actually a result of who we are, and how we handle the technology, but it seems that we've already got to where we are through the technology available to us, and as such, we could also say that our society is always going to be shaped by the technology that we have available to us.

Of course, on the other hand, you could say that social issues shape the development of technology. Here we enter into the realms of chickens, eggs, and chickens, and eggs, and...

So I think maybe it's foolish to say that something isn't a technological problem, in as much as it's foolish to say that something is entirely a technological problem. If I were to be taoist about it, I'd probably bundle solutions via technology into the yang side of things, and those via "politics" into the yin. It's also necessary to realise that technology is more than just computers - it's every single bit of man-made hardware around us - a hell of a lot, I notice.

I'm not really sure where this is going now, and I think I made the points I had in mind, so I'll shut up.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Ah, tits. Labour dominates new peers list: ""From my point of view I have spent 20 years working in business as a science entrepreneur and I have a real interest in innovation and the commercialisation of science" - Paul Drayson

Well, it's happened - a whole ton of mails for "ciallais", all sent to a different word at my domain. I don't know how they know that it works, but blah. Interestingly, it looks like it happened in 3 stages:

  1. Each mail sent to random words @ different domains (,, etc.)

  2. Each mail sent to a set of random words @ my domain.

  3. Each mail sent to ONE random word @ my domain.

Interesting things of note:

  • The mails are sent in alphabetical order, e.g. "a...@mydomain", "b...@mydomain", "c...@", etc.

  • But the mails come from a variety of domains and IP addresses, in no particular order - I think this is a result of having an "army of drones" through virus-owned PCs, via IRC or similar.

  • Random things include the "mailer version", the URL being printed (at least, the domain seems to consist of a random subdomain + one of a selection of domains, but the address after that is the same). The message body is the same for all, by the looks of it.

  • There are 2 (different) X-Message-Info fields. One still has a command to the spam parser that hasn't been replaced: "%ND_LC_CHAR[1-3]" - I've seen this before.

I can think that it'd be easy to rip out the post-domain URL and check future messages for it, which would stop me getting 100+ e-mails again. But otherwise, more thought is needed. Maybe Mozilla Coffee will help!