Friday, October 29, 2004

Bournemouth go PKI

PGP corp announced that Bournemouth Council are taking up PGP to "secure electronic communications containing personal information between the Council and its residents, merchants, and other government agencies."

Great to see some central organisations finally realising the value of PKI. Hopefully this'll spur both individuals in the area, and other councils alike to follow suit.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

Hmm, I appear to be concerned about America today. Or maybe I'm just amused, in some sick way.

Take, for instance, this commentary from Mathew Manweller bigging up the importance of the US election, and the apparent necessity of Bush getting in. What I found "unusual", for a pro-Bush opinion, is twofold:

1. It actually recognises that the rest of the world is looking at the US to see what they'll do next. Unfortunately, he also gets it completely wrong:

If we ... turn out the current occupant of the White House, the message to the world and ourselves will be two-fold. First, we will reject the notion that America can do big things. Once a nation that tamed a frontier, stood down the Nazis and stood upon the moon, we will announce to the world that bringing democracy to the Middle East is too big of a task for us.

Yes, that's right, the rest of us cower in shame because we don't aim high enough and big enough. Which maybe explains why 8 large nations resent American policies. Or maybe it doesn't.

2. It acknowledges an underlying insecurity inherent in American culture:

"Terrorists will know that a steady stream of grisly photos for CNN is all you need to break the will of the American people. Our own self-doubt will take it from there." (My underlining.)

Admission that strong-headed policies are merely to distract the home population from the fear inside themselves? Some might see it that way.

Coupled together, the two facets highlight an important part to understanding what George Bush represents - the fact that America as an "ideology" is about proving itself - not just to others, but to itself.

Of course, I'd be wrong to claim that it is only the US that suffers from such immaturity - I suspect that every nation has some element of this in its culture, and hope that all governments everywhere will some day be able to look at themselves earnestly. But here and now, it is most evident in the States, to the point where you can almost taste it.

Perhaps it's this insecurity that may ultimately put us all in unnecessary danger. But then, perhaps it's also the key to changing the fucked up world we have around us.

Web Terror

So apparently the Bush site was blocked to those outside the the States for "security reasons". The fear of the individual's influence over the political and social realm has manifested itself on the web in the same way that it's done so in the "real" world - through fantastically-broad censorship, filtering and access prevention. (Or are all these the same thing?)

Globalisation seems to be coming to a head with the forthcoming elections, twisting already vociferous and well-connected populations into extremely polarised mobs. Just where should a line be drawn for participation, in a world in which the long-clamoured path to the removal of borders has been steadily paved by an odd mix of hulking companies and progressive individuals?

Some Americans say that American elections should be for American people, and I guess that most other nations would do the same. (But then most other nations perhaps don't have as much global power as the American leader either.) But are they right, or is there now a case to be made that democratic borders no longer tally with those of influence? For an example, let's take a hypothetical and purposefully quite extreme situation. If the act of going to war was put to a referendum in the UK, should those in the "targeted" nation be ceded some similar say - whether via the same mechanism or otherwise - in the decision to be made?

Alas, I have no answers for any of this. I'm mostly certain that influence in today's world will increasingly run in both directions, and that the examples centred around the upcoming election are merely very specific, highly sensitive examples of the return feedback towards the US building up globally. But when should we start to take a good, hard look at the democratic institutions we hold so dear to our civilisations?


Florida ballot papers go missing

Just how FUBAR is the US political system? Insane.

"We really have no idea what's going on"

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Hate hate hate

Today I have discovered we hates software.com, although I can't remember how I got to it now. I'm also wondering how you contribute (as it looks like a mailing list or something...)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Technology in war

From /.. Good read on the nature of war, the utopia of the US military, and front-line geeks... How Technology Failed in Iraq

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

McSalad, coming through your door soon...

More BBC. MacDonalds is switching to posting crap through your letterbox. But - get this - it's not junk mail, oh no...

"'We take issue with the term junk mail, ' says [McD spokeswoman] Ms Pierce. 'This is not junk mail. It is a booklet, not a leaflet or flyer. It is high quality and will stand out.'"

No Ms McD, I tend to define "junk" as "unwanted", not as "how much cash has been spent on it". If I find one plonking onto my doormat in the morning, I'll be forced to spend the rest of the day tracking down Ronald McDonald to show which slot he can shove it in.

BBC Round-up

Wartime pan-Atlantic code-breakers failed to click. Alan Turing unwittingly surmises then what I reckon about a lot of Western attitude today:

"Generally speaking, their attitude is so purely mechanical and mathematical that they often fail to see the wood for the trees and do not like to admit that experience and a knowledge of immediately prior developments, combined with a little manual work, may often produce the answer more quickly than machinery."

Corrupt oil companies and overpaid Congo fat-cats continue to convince me that letting markets run "free", or unchecked, would just make things worse in so many ways.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The rise of the common coder

I almost feel guilty for putting this on the radar, for fear of it getting knocked down by stiff-collared boardroomers, but maybe the BBC will see the light.

Wikiproxy is from one of the guys behind the coding behind such jewels as Up My Street and They Work For You. What is it? Well, check out his full announcement complete with background ramble, but in a nutshell it allows you to browse BBC News On-line, but with outgoing links as appropriate to other fantastically useful services such as Wikipedia (for more info on a subject) and Technorati (so you can see who's linked to the story you're reading).

For a good example, try this "Army deployments 'not political'" story.

Complicated project? Not really. Certainly something that others can take and adapt to other sites/mirror if necessary.

Just as with They Work For You, I wonder just how much of a climate-change in terms of information-processing this represents. I want to believe that this is important, for two reasons. Firstly, it's a shift towards individuals and ad-hoc collections for data-handling and presentation - information as we, the public, want it, not as some far-off company want to hand it to us. Secondly, it's a push in the direction of the same big companies, to provide information in as open a form as possible, or failing that, to provide links to services that others find useful, all in the face of their corporate blandness.

Remembering back, this could be a repeat of the Odeon accessibility debacle. They may not have liked the accessible version, but it prompted a huge, concentrated outcry from all the disgruntled users, and maybe it had some effect. (We wait to see if an accessible booking form is on the way...)

Friday, October 15, 2004

IOU USD 7.4 trillion

I don't really get this. Apparently one of the "features" of western capitalist societies is increasing economic "health". Yet it looks like the main thing that's probably underpinning the current US recovery is . So much debt, in fact, that it's reached its legal limit. How is a system economically healthy if it's in over-arching debt?

I admit that reading DAvid Boyle's book "Funny Money" has highlighted the question "Is money just a tangible form of people's belief?" If it is, then that kind of confirms my suspicion that money's just a new-age religion.

Nvu

While probably not really for me, I was pleased to see an interesting-looking OSS web authoring package called Nvu include support for XHTML Friends Network.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Miscellanea

Update on Yusuf Islam ne Cat Steven's no-fly FBI ordeal - page 1 reveals just how shady the no-fly list still is, and page 3 hints at how anyone can unwittingly become a terrorism supporter these days (as I figured elsewhere).

Next week is Local Democracy week, and looks like politics is going the speed dating way. Question is, should democracy cater to a dumbed-down, television-fed audience in order to entice them in and make it more relevant, or will such tactics mean we end up with a dumbed-down yet-still-centrally-controlled system that achieves relatively little?

My current printfest comes from co-intelligence.org, which is looking intriguing. Hope to cover some of the things in here more prominently at a later date, but I like to alert people to this kind of thing anyway. Link goodness, mmm.

Have a good day...

qotd

I like today's quote so much I'm blogging it, so nyeh.

"What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war. Gasoline is much more likely than wheat to be a cause of international conflict."

-- Simone Weil, The Need for Roots (1952?)

Monday, October 11, 2004

"This MS E-Mail will self-destruct in 30 days..."

How key Microsoft legal emails 'autodestruct'

Sunday, October 10, 2004

There's more than one TLD

Do you know the difference between .com and .org? Remember kids, just because there was a ".com boom" doesn't mean that it's the only TLD...

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Nobody wants DRM

Insightful: The Reg on Why Microsoft don't Get It. Covering convergence, consumer demand, the music industry, DRM and MS vs Apple.

House of Cards

Yay, 3 of my favourite things - politics, the internet and yellow - come together to make Polidex - trade in your favourite MPs! Can it predict anything though? And how much fun can I have shouting "Blunkett - I choose *you*!" all the time?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Question Time.

OK, OK, so I said I'd give up reading the news. Maybe it isn't that easy - but I've definitely cut down.

Anyway, the BBC have a little timeline of the hunt for Saddam's Toys, linked to from Straw justifies himself.

Here's a question, though. Why does it start from the publication of the government's dossier? This is what keeps getting me, to the point where I think I may be WRONG or even MAD about my own memory.

As I remember it, the government published the dossier as a result of increasing public demand for argumentative evidence. Up until that point, we had simply been told that piling all this pressure in Hussein was the right thing to do. I remember this kind of clearly because I remember dismissing the dossier as a dumbed-down pamphlet that played more to the emotion than the brain, as if the government were merely trying to convince the public of the validity of their train of thought based on gory anecdotes and fear figures, rather than any - uh - politics, for example. I remember dismissing the pamphlet as propaganda.

This means that much must have gone on before it was published. But here's where my memory is blurred. What was it? Infuriating.




I'd also like to not get sidetracked by the arguments presented then, and the arguments still being presented now, as to why it would be a good idea/was a good idea to depose Hussein. In fact, all the media and political efforts to concentrate on the evidence then, the reports now, and the apparent moral case for war just prove to me quite how much of a void there is in reporting and politics alike.

For me, the questions that remain unasked in the right circles are:

1. Where was the sense of restraint (that should be a given) amongst leaders before heading into war? We're oft told that was was considered a last resort, but I see very little evidence that those in power would wait any longer had they had to go through it again, nor do I remember much talk of restraint at the time. Urgency was the order of the day. War was wanted. Why? And what other things will leaders rush into given half the evidence?

2. Am I to believe that justification after the act is now a moral way in which to act? Given the shoddy evidence, the bias inherent in intelligence agencies, the clambouring for public support and the reasons-versus-discoveries, this has been, in my mind, very much a case of "shoot first, ask questions later." Is this an attitude to now be upheld then? If we let this one pass, can all political action be counted as necessary until proven unnecessary?

3. Why is the philosophical side of global politics remaining out of sight, as if politicians are afraid of it like some unnatural, freakish son? Saddam's behaviour in Iraq (which I do not defend in any way, in case you thought me a soft-tailed tree-licking lefty) is being presented as a be all and an end all of despotism - one man, one vision of terror, all ended in one war. Realists amongst us know that the world is a whole load more fucked up than that, and a fair amount of it caused not by turning a blind eye to despots, but by the "moral" eye being blinded by the eye of economics and political relations. Where are all the questions regarding where our arms trade is sending its wares, for instance? Instead, we're treated to a cut-down, under-the-carpet view of international relations. Perhaps all hell would break looseif the public realised just what was going on in the world...

Anyway. Maybe it's time to write to my MP or something.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Evolution in the making

Going though the latest E-government Bulletin, I kind of got -gosh- excited. Why? Not because of any single item in particular, but merely down to the change in the direction of thinking that does, against all my scepticism, seem to be sweeping the ranks of the public sector.

I think, though, the triggering moment was looking through the new e-GIF accreditation site. Now, buying certificates and accreditation to say (officially) that you know how to use XML may not be ground breaking stuff, but it did highlight to me the efforts that are being put in so that information can reach the public more easily. Things start to tie together, very slowly. I agreed heartily with Jason Kitcat's vision of joined up government earlier in the week, but the scale of things didn't quite hit home until just now.

There are still some huge gaps though between the public sector's "belief" in technology, and what can possibly be achieved given "only", even, the technology available to us today. In fact, maybe that's it - maybe we have now reached a point where the technology is good enough. Perhaps we can finally stop looking at new ways to shunt information about and actually build a working infrastructure on top of the specifications and libraries that are now gaining stability and credibility all around us. In other words, maybe the human factor is the bottleneck - the skills, the motivation, and the vision.

But I probably digress. My moment of realisation linked up the tendencies being revealed today with where they'll take us in the future. Why is information flow so important? Because information is power, in an ever-clichedly way. Information allows us to make reasoned choices, and decisions that are less affected by emotion, spin and hype. Once the public has the information, not only can it decide things much better for itself, but also it can build the tools it requires that process this information. This phase has already started.

So governments moving towards a culture of dissemination rather than mere trust (as in "we're your representative, just trust us...") is a good thing. But still, the gulf between the public sector and the rest of the technological sphere is too big. Yes, there are great efforts to get information around, but at the same time, the truly useful vision of being "joined up" is hampered by a general lack of willingness, on behalf of the government, to actively integrate itself with the tools being built by those who already understand and are using the technology. For instance, the government are keen to promote their own, in-house projects, but I hear nary a peep out of them regarding many of the extremely useful ideas built by both the private sector and volunteers alike. Why is this?

I am excited because I think that the role of the government is changing, from that of representative and arbitrator, to co-ordinator. The technology available to us should finally allow us to organise ourselves, given the right information, rather than simply ask for change and hope that a central reservoir of electeds sees things the way we do. Granted, we will still need figureheads to stand in the middle of everyone, but they become more like a chairman at a meeting - someone to smooth the discussion and push for progress - and less like a spokesperson for an organisation.

This is a ripple that goes all the way through the systems we have in place, and it's this sense of scale that has given me more of a sense of motivation and "faith" in what we're doing today. For a while, I've figured that we can't just take our existing processes, stick an "e" in front of them and put them on-line. But now I think that it may be time to think differently about everything - the role of MPs and wards, the relation between a mass of people and a single channel of communication to those who decide the laws we live under, and the control we have over our own lives.

I think that if we keep pushing for more information, and so long as the technology remains available to us, the change in attitude will slowly become more reflected in the hierarchy that rules over us. Local councils and local MPs will merely reflect the efforts of the people under their "control", rather than acting as decision-maker and project-instigator, and the gap between how the public sector sees itself and how it can function will narrow.

Perhaps the government doesn't realise the power inherent in the move towards an information-based society. But really, they don't have to, so long as the information keeps being opened up like an oil pipeline, and there are people to look at it, and manipulate it. Bit by bit, I hope, democracy will take on a new meaning.

Gnowsis

One to try: Gnowsis, a semantic desktop thingy. Release notes.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Making like the FT

ePolitix snips:

"Research published by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors concludes that the private sector is unlikely to adopt more sustainable building processes unless prompted by governments. Regulation is essential if there is to be any progress in controlling the massive environmental impact of global construction activity, RICS concludes."

and

"The latest CBI financial services quarterly survey finds that 40 per cent of firms said business volumes were down over the past quarter while 26 per cent said they were up. The balance of minus 14 per cent compares with plus 44 per cent in the previous survey and represents the first fall in business volumes for 18 months."

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Clogging

Hurrah, one of my local Green Party councillors, Keith Taylor, has started to blog, and also seems to be getting quite into it.

(Ta to Jason Kitcat for bring ing it up at the meeting last week, who's also started a blog since last time I checked...)

Kwiki-o-matic

Software of the week is Kwiki - a modular Perl-based wiki. Installing (as root) was as easy as CPAN can be, and installing further plugins is just as easy. Setting up a new (non-public, sorry) wiki site is just a case of doing (not as root) "wiki -new" in a directory within my (Apache) web root, and adding in the plugins I installed earlier is just "kwiki -add Kwiki::Plugin".

Following the theme docs, I also made my own little module to change the styling, in about half an hour. So now I can install/uninstall it as I wish.

On top of the Slackware packaging system running on the box, it's all been fantastically easy. Yes, some day, all software will be this way...

Friday, October 01, 2004

My advertised innocence R.I.P.

The past week has been odd - alternatingly depressing and joyous as pulses of culture veer past me with seemingly more lucidation than before I went away. Take adverts, for example. These ubiquitous moments of comic and artistic showcasing have now been stripped bare and rendered for what they really are, after having experienced such locations as -shock- metro stations that hadn't yet been surrendered to the marketer's wet dream. Remember, perhaps, that to realise the true embodiment of something you see every day, simply live without it for at least 2 weeks. You too can silently scream in wonder at the sheer absurdity of 99.5% of the marketing dross that hits our optics, merely by first coming to understand just how unnecessary (at least, not to the extreme portrayed so lovingly) most products are. Join me on my "It's just a fucking toothbrush!" campaign. Of death.

[sidelink: Adbusters]

More on advertising and its insidious effect on every day life soon, I hope. Me have rant stored...

As a side effect of having been de-sensitised, I think I'm also becoming much less accepting, in a similar way, of various other messages and their made-up PR-spun delivery boys and girls - even less so than previously, that is. It's as if the ability to sneer completely at over-hyped, gee-whiz products has knocked-on to allow itself to be applied to over-hyped, gee-whiz politoshians, germalists and excretionary businessmen alike. In many ways, this isn't surprising - they do share a very core familial (almost in-bred) set of genes, resulting in a very loud, very shouty phenotype that manages to hold unbelievably little "real" substance. They are all as extremely expensive (in terms of attention), extremely fluffy vases, that are so inordinately dense as to be of little practical purpose at all.

Here is another example. Perhaps (or perhaps not?) the Iraqi PM's speech was mostly written by the White House in order to give a favourable view of the position in Iraq. Whether it's true or not, the fact of the matter is that it's actually very easy to work out if people are interested in acting with your interests at heart. To wit:


  1. What they do genuinely makes sense to you.

  2. They don't keep telling you that it's for your interests.


I would be a fool if I continued to believe that the majority (and, by utilitarian extension, all?) of information presented to me on a daily basis from such quarters as discussed above was actually of any practical use. In an act of final and exhuberant gross-over-simplification, I hereby claim that Companies act solely in their own interests and are therefore to be shunned, the major-player politicians only seek power to further their own viewpoint (whatever it may be) and so should be untrusted for holding a hidden agenda despite promoting democracy et al, and all news media is more-than-acceptably biased and so worthless.

Something in me is irritated by the constant distractions pushed into my face by the advertisers, the scaremongerers and the heart-pluckers. Facts of the world will filter into me naturally, and I will hopefully have more time to think my own and others' thoughts without fear of having dredged up some co-sponsored, bent approximation of reasoned instinct. I wish to exercise my freedom of thought again.

Meanwhile, look at the pretty space balloons.