Friday, June 25, 2004

I love mass publishing infrastructures. Whatever I think, someone out there has probably already said it and made it available :) This week, it's spiked's turn to share my spleenthoughts about all this politico-talk of choice in the NHS - in the public's interest? or just a shrewd attempt to claw back some of the fast-dissolving public interest in politics?

"Instead, we get to choose between the cans of beans that are already on the shelf, or rather a series of equally mediocre hospitals. This assumes that the important decisions have already been made; we get to 'choose' within a framework that has already been decided."

Too right. More "demos", please...

Meanwhile, Brandon Robshaw asks the perhaps-deliberately-provocative question, "What's wrong with a National DNA Register?", complete with a few large assumptions and jumps in logic, but written well enough to possibly counterpoint if I can find the time this week...

More finance stuff...

Stumbled across Fair Finance Watch, which (last year) reported that some large companies have been involved in a fair amount of subprime lending in places with less market regulation, such as Brazil, India, etc.

I'm intrigued as to this "hidden" aspect of "democratising" the world. It seems that the US has a mission to bring capitalism (please correct me if this isn't an intended effect of modern "democracy") to places currently under some other economic guise, but there is very little (public) talk as to how ready nations are for such a major transmutation, or about how they should go about it, if at all. I'm not a historian, but most of the successful capitalist states emerged that way, rather than being dragged into it overnight. Maybe the US neocons realise that the "best" way to get a nation converted in the little time available (i.e. before oil runs out) is by giving it a clean break - to be accomplished most easily by regime change and "clean" (i.e. high-tech, less-time) wars.

Is there a real danger, though, of having a democratic, marketised world, in which only the established, larger states know how to actually use their system? If I were truely sceptical, I'd suggest that newly-converted, under-informed/supported capitalist states would be totally at the whim of the pre-globalised, well-established companies and nations who a). made the rules in the first place, and b). have done rather well under those rules.


Other items...

American house sales up, but sales of things to go in house down.

Maybe not surprising, what with a possible $8 trillon debt looming.

Oh, and in an effort to resist the perceived American imperilaist threat, North Korea shouts, "Somebody set up us the bomb!"

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Slackware 10 gets released! Maybe I'll blow my partition away and start all over again, or something...

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Catching up with

  • What's E-mail's Threat Model?

  • DTCC accused of counterfeiting shares - lots of shares. Humungous amounts of moolah. I can almost work out what's going on, but here's a snippet: "If true, this makes a mockery of governance, regulation, the system, and any sense of investment. What is the point in investing in shares in a small company if the big players are naked short selling it out of existance, simply to transfer wealth from your pocket into their pocket?"

WHO warns on alternative medicine, although what they really do, IMHO, is highlight how much we rely on rules and regulations, rather than learned experience and accumulated knowledge.

I think this maybe comes down to an ultimately scientific way of looking at the world. Is a culture that sets out to establish everything as "proven" through empirical, scientific methods doomed to keep knowledge, and the keeping and dissemination of this knowledge, to an elite versed in the methods rather than what the knowledge means?

Alternative medicines tend, I suspect, to have various benefits long-established over time, but - as is pointed out - also similar side effects. Traditionally, those involved in them would realise the philosophy that went along with them, i.e. when to use them and when not to use them. However, this isn't necessarily the philosophy put forward by our scientific-cum-capitalist culture, where we can buy the latest technology and it will fix us up. Our faith lies in the technology, and the people behind it, rather than in ourselves. (Notice how you almost expect a doctor to instantly know what's wrong with you and cure you.) And in return, we know nothing.

Suffice to say, this is an.. odd position to be in. Perhaps instead of proposing more regulations, the WHO should be promoting education, and learning about how we, ourselves, work. And we, in turn, should be less eager to maintain perfection by any means necessary.

As an exercise for the reader... compare the spread of high-tech, sophisticated technology as an empowering structure to the take-up of alternative, low-tech technology. Sure, there are many people who buy in the former, but there are many more people who would want and be able to afford/make the latter.

US admits rise in terror attacks: "The state department said 625 people were killed in 2003, compared with the 307 it claimed in April."

I'm a little confused over what terrorism is now. Is it to be measured in the number of people dead and injured, or in the "amount" of, um, terror inflicted upon people? If you're just counting the former, then shouldn't you include all the people who have been killed or injured by all the war against such terrorism as well?

If people blow stuff up, but we're not afraid of being blown up ourselves (and thus the amount of terror being inflicted is lessened), then are winning the war on terror?

So really, this is a war against killing people. Those that subvert languages annoy me.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Big numbers. Lots of people.

Interest rates take their desired effect, but something that's been nagging at me all along is the relationship between what happens, and how the media acts - moreso than other influences the media has sway over, like political bias. There seems to be a battle between the naysayers and the cautious ones, a war for column inches which has the potential to dictate how the market actually behaves over the next few months.

I like to think of media opinions as "seeds of chaos", which whip up whirlwinds of ferocious social rumour and personal opinion networks, which generate a giant feedback-loop machine. People don't rely on the media just for facts...

Cory Doctorow talks to Microsoft about why DRM is a dumb idea, including the cool quote: "Raise your hand if you're a co-author of the Darknet paper."

Long read, blogging it so I can come back to it later.

Also, the link-per-paragraph version has kicked my comment-system brain a bit. I'm trying to come up with a way to attach comments on Exmosis to a particular part of the page, and I've come up ideas ranging from Javascript-based text-selection to NTK-style "pre"-coding of everything to making every word a link (which would be ... amusing...)

Now thinking of a system that allows you to comment on a paragraph, by spitting out a link to the right of each p tag... Possible drawbacks/irritations for me:

  • ID each paragraph tag/automatically generate a unique ID for each paragraph, for identification purposes

  • Go through all my existing content and change anything that doesn't use paragraph tags (e.g. "pre"-coded stuff, or double br's) to use them.

If it got *really* fancy, you could select a paragraph, then choose a word in that paragraph or something, but I think that's getting silly. I think paragraph-commenting is enough granularity, plus encourages me to break things up into shorter paragraphs which might improve readability...

Or maybe I should just assign a unique ID to every html tag, and show some kind of "comment here" marker...

Friday, June 18, 2004

OK, before anyone asks, no, I do not LARP.

Bloody hell, I've finally gotten around to adding a link to the atom feed for this blog. How lazy am I?

>> More ideas for e-mail clients

I'm kind of excited to note (with confidence) that Mozilla does actually store its labelling of messages on my IMAP server, as an "X-Keywords" header. (You can see this under the test folder here.) So I wonder how easy it is to do with XUL.

Assuming it's easy, I see all kinds of opportunities for mailbox organisation - things like being able to relate a message to any other message ("X-related: INBOX#message-id"), or a notation system ("X-related-note: nots#message-id"). Also global FOAF links, et al.

I'm also thinking of a mailbox-to-XML script to make things like that link above into friendly RDF feeds or something.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Some politech news from BBC.

Public Sector going wireless - they've just updated the bus stops in Brighton with the intent of doing something net-related - maybe we'll be able to SMS for a bus soon, too...

And Internet's role in racism debated, looking at the issues of freedom of speech on the net. Got to say, the US are taking a good line here. Can the question be taken back a step? What causes racist speech? Is that controllable in the realms of the net? Off-line even?

Meant to blog this before... UK Parliament set for internet revamp. The most "exciting" bit is: "integrating website content with emails may make "e-alerting" possible for internal and external users.". Oh wheee and joy. Good to see they're putting some serious effort into just how the parliamentary process can be opened up to the public then.

Here's an idea. Give people access to the data, and let them build the tools. The Parliament is best at providing content, and lots of it. So much of it, in fact, that to come up with decent ways of shuffling through it requires either a). lots of money or b). ingenuity. I'm not sure, with all respect, that the "powers that be" have too much to spare of either. There are, on the other hand, many people out there doing extremely interesting things with data, and while it may not be centralised and instantly accessible to all via a stodgy portal, the great thing about the Internet is that these things can happen, and can get the attention they deserve. Just open the raw feeds up for parsing, make communication between MPs and the public accessible, whack a load of bandwidth behind it, and see what emerges - that's a good way to get people back into politics again, just to start with.

"As the elections last week showed, the voters have some messages for us. ... If we do not make it possible for them to have an effective dialogue with parliament, public frustration and contempt will simply undermine democracy altogether."

It's not just the dialogue wanted, it's the power, the control over our own lives, even if that's just building a website that lets other people converse.

Just listening to what-boiled-down-to a free-market vs state "debate" on Radio 4's Today programme, where the pro-state lady (actually, I'm not sure she was pro-state, just cautious towards free markets, wisely) was saying that to have choice, the consumer needs information, otherwise the choice is pretty useless, which I agree with - it's like having an informed democratic mass. But then if you need to disseminate information in a globalised (or even national) economy, then you need global communications to achieve this. Which is, naturally, where the net steps in. But then you need to validate the information, as those in competition with each other will obviously do whatever they can to bias the information within the net's sphere, and so you start to get into nyms and then you get into reputation. So really, this all comes down to on-line reputation which, I realise as I'm writing this, is half-and-half for-and-against my earlier piece on Laws vs Communication. You can have nyms that are tied to real, identifiable people, that live somewhere, and then you can have nyms that simply establish a constant identity on-line. The first leads more naturally to physical-enforced laws, as I seemed to be arguing against (at least to an extent), whereas the second could be free of this, and allow more "internal" systems of control to be defined, assuming that the nyms are trustworthy (or, at least, just as trustworthy as our visual recognition of people in real life).

Anyway, I've thought this for years, but I really really have to get into nyms and reputation networks. (Just as I really really have to get into XUL, and cryptomaths, and yadda...)

Also, apparently Jack Straw was "shocked" over the latest Iraq suicide bombing. Maybe these politician people would be more effective if they weren't so fscking naive, and (given the current track record of suicide bombers in Iraq, say) expect stuff like this. It's not exactly the first time it's happened. Word cheapener.

Hmm, must be feeling ranty this morning.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Some more EU election low-turnout analysis from the BBC, including graph of percentage turn-out in each country. (Malta and Italy are the 'most-interested', non-compulsory-voting nations...)

Sunday, June 13, 2004

OK, 1. I am not a football watcher. 2. I was hungry so I went to get toast and ended up watching the last 3 minutes of England vs France. 3. I laughed.

Couldn't have scripted it.

Weird, for some reason this never made it out of draft status. So I'm going to publish it now, and see where it turns up on my blog - could be a new post, or inserted way down below. I'm not really sure... Exciting, eh?


North Korea continues to develop nukes, taking it's lesson from action in Iraq, it seems: "We cannot but wake up to all those attempts to divide and devour our country like they did Iraq", which does, I admit, make sense, from a particular viewpoint.

While my initial reaction was to consider the stupidity of the cold war, my current thoughts turn to Doctor Seuss' book describing 2 factions warring over which way up bread should be buttered. (And yes, I know that was all a cold war parody - it made the point beautifully. though...)

What's the West gonna do, eh? Attack? But they Koreans are so willing to talk...

There seems to have been quite a string of Internet Explorer spoofing exploits being released lately, including at least one zero-day (i.e. undiscoverd) being used by scammers. And the latest one makes it even scarier - full-on make-it-look-like-SSL spoofing.

Surely the benefits to a newcomer of IE (e.g. you don't have to install anything) have been so outweighed by the holes in it now (easily spoofed, programs run locally on click, etc) that there is no real reason to NOT tell people to switch to a different browser :) Patches may come out, but beginners tend not to check for them, install them, or know they're there. Plus, zero-day exploits render them kind of useless anyway.

Maybe someone out there sends out a free "alternative software" CD. And if not, someone should. And maybe redirecting people away from a website is a good idea if their software isn't patched ;) (ok, mostly j/k, but I can't think of any easy way to tell people that they're open to abuse...)

Rant of the day - eXmosis: Laws vs Communication ...and why we need to leave old legal ways behind.

"So now, those in control of society find that traditional laws must be extended to bridge the gap between the internet and the physical world. Laws as we know the systems will only work on the internet if each person can be tied to a particular location. This is why electronic surveillance systems are so vital to politicians - their old regimes of control are rendered useless otherwise. This is the transferral of law from governing action to governing method."

Friday, June 11, 2004

According to the Register, the trojaned networks set up firstly by hackers, then by spammers, are now being used to disseminate right-wing propaganda.

So this story now has two stings to it. Firstly, we have people spouting opinions that are deemed immoral, but they are also doing it via an illegal medium (or if not illegal, then fast-becoming in many places), i.e via spam processes and zombie PC cracking.

Personally, I take more offence at the latter (although I assume that the former doesn't extend so far as to incite violence, et al). Freedom of speech is one thing, freedom of listening is another - and I detest anyone using my mailbox, or any other form of contact, for purposes other than what I intended it for.

Is this equivalent along some lines to projects such as Freenet in terms of freedom of speech? Just because we place arbitrary political limits on what can and can't be said, at the end of the day speech is speech is speech, and there will always be people on the other side of the line drawn that will still want to get their point across without remuneration or retaliation, or even recognition. However, the difference here is that speech is being forced on people. Posting to a webpage is one thing - I'm not forced to look at it. But sending to e-mails is quite different. This is the contrast between push and pull technologies.

I'm definitely coming more and more round to the idea that technology does define our society, more than the other way around. But perhaps to see it just as a cycle of code and culture is to sell the situation short. Perhaps we need to define society in terms of technology, and then technology in terms of something else less obvious, such as the politics internal to human behaviour, or the mind and biology of the individual. Perhaps technology is nothing more than simply the bridge between the individual and the many.

Woohoo, the UK's to get RFID-enabled license plates to identify UK vehicles. I particularly like this comment by the amusingly-named 'I did Jane Doe': "Got nothing to hide? Then please post details here of your tax records, how much you earned, where you live, where you have been over the last year, how many sexual partners you have had in the last year. If you don't want to post this then SHUT UP with the 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' nonsense."

Of course, to complete the Orwellian analogy, we need to follow people around, keep a record of everything they do, then BEAT THEM ROUND THE HEAD whenever they do something I don't like. Maybe body tackle them if they get to close to my house and make sure they can't use one of their legs again (they can still get places, but they've been successfully deterred from entering my territory ever again).

Also shoudl be good fun waiting for someone to hack the RFID and the central system database (hey, remote systems are remote - there's going to be sniffable wireless transmissions somewhere along the line), then do as they please.

On a side note... if you design technology to prevent something, but the technology is useless without police to enforce it, then why bother with the technology in the first place?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Aha, following up my concerns over postal ballot security, the BBC reports that fraud has ensued - "Greater Manchester Police are probing malpractice claims while the Lancashire force will question 60 people about 170 proxy vote applications. The Times newspaper says numerous voters were intimidated into handing blank ballot papers over. "

The TImes article wants a log-in, gah.

So, are they going to sort this out through increased policing of the postal ballot system, or some other, more "scientific" way? Is it comparable to the end-to-end nature of the net, and all the security around that to ensure we are who we say we are?

Monday, June 07, 2004

Noting Danny O'Brien noting Boogah's use of signatures as a "license" indicator, letting people know how "public" the e-mail it's attached to is. I like it - simple.

I wondered what the fsck all that Nigritude Ultramarine crap was. Now I know.

This is, of course, a common problem, and one that came up on the IRC channel at Notcon during the geolocation speech. Plausible facts:

  1. Coders design systems initially for a). a small audience and b). to experiment with new features. As a result there are often a). technical security holes, and b). "socio"-security holes, i.e. exploitable features that can turn the network into a torrent of abuse. One could say that Wikis have open-ness built in, but that doens't make b) any less true.

  2. Assuming that a system is genuinely open to all (i.e. globally public, as opposed to confined to a limited area/user group/etc), there are always going to be people ready to exploit it for whatever purpose.

Should we be thinking about these issues now, before it gets out of hand? I don't see why not. But I think there should also be more thought put into how to make the answers a) secure but b) simple, perhaps even part of the system being designed (e.g. see how many social networking systems offer contact/white lists as a "feature" rather than a "necessary hindrance").

Basically, add an automated, mailing-list-style sign-up response system to be able to edit a Wiki perhaps. Or maybe design some moderation/reputation-based (FOAF?) approach to who can edit what, or that dictates how prominent their remarks appear.

It may cut down on the sheer "openness" of many new technologies, but I think they'd be, in the long term, better, more usable places for it.

From the ePolitix daily newsletter...

"A YouGov poll for the Telegraph puts support for Labour on 26 per cent. the Conservatives on 24 per cent, UKIP on 19 per cent, the Lib Dems on 15 per cent and the Greens on six per cent."

How depressing. Labour have a slim majority over the Tories, but if you take into account the UKIP party, the right-wingers are on 43%. Hum, I suppose if you want to segregate it up like that, you could add the Lib Dems, the Greens and Labour together to get 47%. Is that useful?

I also see there's a second reading of the Patents Bill going through the Commons Chamber today. Hope TheyWorkForYou is up tomorrow...

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Back from Notcon, what a day... Got some notes (to tidy up & to type in...) over the next few days, some really interesting stuff (check the link above for the talks that were on) but here's some good links for now...

Quickly for now, highlights (and there were so many to choose from) were...

  • The lot behind Fax Your MP, Public Whip, MySociety, et al (see here announced, a huge rehash of the Hansard Society site to add better searching, better styling, RSS feeds, and other rather cool stuff.

  • Bill Thompson of the BBC, Cory Doctorow of the EFF and Will Davies, I think, on the politics of the internet, where it fits, and what fits into it. How we should go forward with it, how it affects democracy et al.

  • Brewster Kahle talking about archiving the entire fscking world - first for the, but also every piece of music software, film, TV, etc in the public domain, and many that aren't. Mentioned some ridiculously huge public music library, plus the insane task of recording everything from dozens of worldwide news channels and storing it on disk - something they're currently doing, but not releasing to the public yet (although they do seem to have tons of stuff at already). Mosaic looks really cool. Also the plan is to have back-ups and data swaps with the new Library of Alexandria, then create more (5 or 6?) of these "storage places" around the world. Wow. Definitely going to pay a closer look at now.

  • Alex McLean playing with a dozen xterms, editing some files in real time (a custom, perl-based text editor?) to produce Gabba music - seriously impressive, have video, will post (probably not very useful without exaplanation though :)

Annoyances: had to miss out on all the p2p encrypted anonymous network stuff, and got there too late to work out where everything was, so missed Danny O'Brien talking about "Life Hacks" (the Smart Disorganized Individual tribe would have loved it though, I gather... :)

Tired now. Bed time.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Woohoo, finally a chance to get to catch-up with a part of my cultural heritage previously missing from my own experience - BBC 4 repeat "The Prisoner"...

Arrrgh, I'm going to Notcon on Sunday, hopefully, but have to find a way to split myself in 2 before then so I can be on both floors at the same time... Gah.

Laptop, wireless, might work.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Prescott predicts high vote despite (or rather, because of) the recent "furore" over the "bungling" of postal-only voting.

Firstly, it reminds me that in our existing political system, it's somewhat difficult to actually get on with anything without having what is effectively competition try to dig holes in it. Our system means that whoever isn't in charge is encouraged to want those in charge to fail, which is preposterous, IMHO.

Secondly, I'm curious as to the way in which postal ballots have been designed - there doesn't seem to be any media coverage as to exactly how they've been made secure. For example, recent disussions on the near-dead Cypherpunks list highlighted the opportunities available for regional sabotage. If you know a particular region tends towards a political party, then you have more chance of swinging a vote through "persuasion" (i.e. bribes) there. I was thinking that you'd have more chance of getting a lesser-voted party in by disrupting the postal system in a similar region (more people voting for the other party = more of their votes disrupted = more chance of success for your chosen party) but now I think that might just be a proportional disruption - the *absolute gap* between the two parties would be smaller, but (theoretically) the more popular one should still win. I think.

But it demonstrates that by adding a longer chain of voting process, the system becomes more "tamperable". How much do you trust the Post Office?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

"Islamophobia is becoming institutionalised", apparently, but I wonder if there isn't a larger split - between a new, consumerist, "individualist" (in the pitiful sense of the word), anti-belief culture, and the old organised religion culture(s).

True, there aren't large-scale attacks on, say, Christians, but at the same time, there's an almost unspoken, paranoid caution directed towards churches, and the idea that people should modify their behaviour purely for some ideological value (as opposed to, say, being paid for it).

In other words, God is dead, but those who have stopped worshipping haven't yet managed to fill the societal-rather-than-theological gaps that religion (quite usefully) filled. (e.g. much as I am not a Christian, there is something to the adage "Treat your neighbour as yourself".)

Perhaps, deep down, people know this. Maybe they unconsciously realise that, while they may be apparently richer than any othe rmiddle class that has gone before them, they are desperately uncomfortable with their lot, but as this is at odds with what they have set themselves up to achieve through their chosen means (i.e. they set out to buy happiness), they try not to admit it. Established religion is a real threat to disproving their hypothesis that money == happy, and so there is a fear of it, a fear of being proved wrong.

So, word of the day: Credophobia (n): Fear of belief sytems that offer creible alternatives to the current ideology.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Well, I didn't get my question on alternative energy sources asked, bu t the discussion did go that way. BBC's "Ask an oil expert" has some good q & a on oil, the war, market forces and all that.

Chortle McBortle. Credit card signatures are a useless mechanism designed to make you feel safe, like airport security checks. So my question was, how crazy would I have to make my signature before someone would actually notice?

As a steampunk fan, I am obliged to mention this Slashdot story on Meccano-based Computing.