Friday, December 26, 2003

Phew, all that drop in pre-Christmas retail sales was just people waiting even more for the sales - everything's back to normal then, spend! Spend! SPEND!

Hope you all had a good Christmas... I'm feeling quite rested, and ready to rant a lot more now :)

Thursday, December 25, 2003

A merry christmas is in order - Merry Christmas! :)

I was going to post some stuff now, but it'd be too depressing after that... just enjoy the holiday....

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Mail catchup. Of interest is Robin Cook arguing to change the UK voting system from First Past the Post to Proportional Representation. Wonder how this compares to the Make Votes Count campaign's AV+ system...

Whichever way, I don't like the FPTP system anyway, so any effort to examine how it could become "better" is probably a good thing...

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Woohoo! Internet conection back again! Just in time for yuletide festivities...

Friday, December 19, 2003

I haven't read Spiked for ages, due to time mostly, but have had a quick flick through this evening, starting with James Woudhuysen's article "Developing IT", on the difference between how the West sees the developing world's use of technology, and how it actually uses it. Some interesting bits, but SNR is a bit low.

From there, I jumped to Martyn Perks' What iCan can't do - a cynical look of the BBC's beta iCan site from about a month back. Much like the iCan't spoof page, he seems to suggest (although he's quite vague about what exactly it should be trying to do) that structures such as this won't really change anything, and that we're somehow better of by not bringing local politics into an accessible arena. I think.

"Instead of highlighting broader issues that require real political intervention, we are treated to a sanitised version that reduces everything to a deeply personal view of the world. This can only exacerbate an already alienated and disjointed view of ourselves - surely what iCan seeks to eradicate in the first place?"

I'm not convinced that he's convinced himself about this. Surely an issue that requires "real political intervention" is an issue that shouldn't simply be left to a small, local group to sort out? Isn't the point of ideas such as iCan to encourage people to become involved in their local area - even if they don't necessarily agree with the views of others, for whatever reason, it's better to have the communication in the first place, and the channels through which civilised discussion can take place.

I, for one, like the way that "iCan would continue to personalise and individualise our experience of the world" - on one level, things have to be personalised to make it relevant to everybody. By making them bland and generic, they tend to lose all interesting facets - witness Pop Music.

The backlash against organised, public efforts such as iCan is often right - such schemes can be organised by those who misunderstand the subject matter, for instance, or the matriarchal approach coaxed on by a large scale, publically-funded body that dulls everything down can appear. But to hope that the majority of people will come round to a particular point of view, or a particular methodology even, just because an individual believes in it, is somewhat foolish, and shows a misunderstanding of the idea of majority and difference. To scold an idea, because it perhaps doesn't go as far as liked (although it may do what it set out to do) stinks of zealotry.

There's also an article from back in March - "Social software - get real" - that supports the idea that by opening participation up to the masses, we cheapen the discussion that occurs. Borrowing a leaf from the free marketeers, I would argue that social networks tend to organise themselves into some kind of hierarchy, whereby participators of varying ranks and experience fall into different networks. This may be by design (contrast the Bugtraq mailing list to Security-basics, for example) or a natural occurence of frequencies and majorities. But just because the networks are opened up to a greater number doesn't necessarily imply that the discussion will become any "cheaper" at all.

"For [Ross] Mayfield, low-cost engagement brings more diversity to the table. But by reducing the meaning of political debate, we only reinforce the helpless feeling of being consumers first and foremost, and citizens second."

Bollocks, I say.
Boom. Blow to online music piracy fight. Blam.


Never mind the Parmalat, I'm still trying to figure out how things work:

"The figures in the Bank's latest Quarterly Bulletin do not point to a looming debt crisis, such as a sudden slowdown in borrowing that would cause a sharp fall in consumer spending. But they do highlight the vulnerability of a significant minority of borrowers, particularly those on low incomes."

Still not convinced that "Large amounts of borrowing and spending = strong pound" - can the offset from our trade deficit really be made up (plus some) by people's debts? I'm sure I'm missing something else - maybe we're not actually that bad at exporting, or maybe we're just on the lagged part of the J-Curve, or maybe I have something else fundamentally wrong/missing.

I'm definitely lacking a "comments" link ;)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Another interesting-looking-place - the BBC's Borrowing and Debt homepage.
Aha, this page on the basics of Foreign Trade and Exchange might help me.
That's it my loveliesss... keep snapping up that real estate. The economy's ssstrong, prossspectss are good, there's nothing to lossssse.

I'm still not quite sure where all this money is coming from. Our trade deficit is way out of balance, and now everyone's in huge debt just to prop our economy up. So basically, we buy stuff in, then make money selling it. But that means we have to buy it in the first place, then buy it again, and off all the money going out of people's purses, some goes to the corporates, some goes to investment, e.g. science etc.

So the question is, how long can we sustain a service economy? Making money off ourselves sounds like a great idea in the short term, but I'm still wondering where it leads to in, say, 10 years. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I'm not really an economist, but I'd like to ask one about all this. Maybe there are equivalents in science - can we see an economy as a simple system based around the conservation of energy? If money is going out of the system (via international trade), then where does it come in? (Perhaps exchange rates help out on this one.)

I see now why we're not joining the Euro any time soon. Our economy will be fucked. Royally. The difference between currencies - i.e. a "strong" pound - is partly what's keeping us from going under... or is it? We can't compete on manufacturing, so once the money goes one way, but the platform's the same, don't we just shaft ourselves?

Dammit, I *really* need an economist.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

>> Falling through the floor...

There are times when things work. Most of the time, most things work. Sometimes, something is broken most of the time. Sometimes, something just breaks and you realise just how crap something is.

I also never thought I'd see chaos theory in action, like a real live zoo creature. Witness.

At the beginning of the month, my friend moved out of our shared house. He'd been looking after all of the domestic bills, including the BTtelephone line, although the ADSL provision was under my name. In the interests of accountancy, he requested a transfer of the account to someone else in the house, and a final bill. But in order to produce such a final statement, BT had to actually stop the line, and start a new one, as a different account.

We thought nothing of it - the phone was out of action for 10 hours or so while they switched it over, but everything worked ok.

Yesterday evening, our internet connection died. I tried rebooting the firewall/router box, which usually does the trick if nothing else, but nothing. A thought hits me - I'd changed my bank card the previous week, as the last one was about to run out, so maybe our ADSL provider, Nildram had tried to bill us and couldn't, and had put our ADSL on hold. Alas, their sales department was closed for the evening.

I got into work this morning, checked Nildram's status tickets, to see if there were any major network outages (such as BT's Reading RAS router going down and taking out several dozen/hundred square miles, the preceding few days). Nothing there. I rang them up to give them my new card details, which was fine. Mentioning the outage, they checked the system, but the account hadn't been frozen or anything. Odd.

Luckily there were people at home, so I got them to try to restart the connection. Still no luck. Hmm.

This afternoon, I rang Nildram technical support, to see if they could pick anything up. The guy there ran a check of the number against BT's system to see if he could find anything. Aha, apparently the ADSL had been cancelled due to "line disruptions". That was strange - the phone had been fine. I called home to check. However, I was reminded that the phone had been out of action a few weeks ago, in the switchover. Maybe it was that.

Then it dawned on me. We had a new account.

What BT forgot to mention before we "transferred" the account was that the ADSL on top of the original would get cut also. Perhaps they assumed that we no longer needed it. In BT's corporate mind, an ADSL line is attached not just to a house, and nor just to a person, but to a particular person within a particular house. Curious.

So now the ADSL has been disconnected. My friend rang BT up to enquire about getting it reconnected, and the charge. Apparently BT wouldn't (or couldn't) charge us for it, as it was all through the ISP, as a reseller. That was odd, as I thought Nildram had quoted us a bit less than 60 quid for BT's reconnection charges. And, indeed, a (confused) phone call later to Nildram, I confirmed this was the case indeed. BT don't charge us, bu they do charge the ISP, who (naturally) pass the charge on to the customer.

What's more, it turns out (according to Nildram customer service) that now that the ADSL service has been cancelled, it's impossible to reconnect it without starting afresh, i.e. charging us for a new connection.

Obviously, I can't argue with Nildram, as it's not their fault. I suggested trying to get BT to rescind the charge, as they forgot to tell us about the connection in the first place, but the (Nildram) lady wasn't particularly... optimistic. In fact, she seemed adamant that BT wouldn't play ball.

And so! Therein lies the challenge! The gauntlet has been laid down. Despite about 5 separate parties being involved in all facets of the arrangement, is there any chance that BT will get their act together enough to reconnect our ADSL for free? Alas, it seems that the governing body OFTEL have been swallowed by the yet-more faceless OFCOM, and they are going through a "transitional period", which means the joys of dealing with either of them are going to be fantastic fun.

On top of this, we may take the opportunity to move away from Nildram. This isn't a reflection on the whole situation, nor the service we've had from them - Nildram are a fantastic company, with a fantastic service, and deep down inside I'm hoping we can still stay with them. But faster speeds at cheaper prices is like Aladdin's lamp to a techie (is that a good analogy?).

And so. I am left in a situation where the person making the mistake has no accountability. Or do they? The game is afoot. We shall see, we shall see...

I am, of course, blaming capitalism for all of this. If there were any doubt in my mind that the infrastructures we depend upon exist forthe benefit of society at large, then it is gone now. The sooner the monopoly that is BT crumbles, the better.

Friday, December 12, 2003

A good reminder that tracking technology is all too readily implemented whilst security is left relatively abandoned.

I think I'm slowly becoming more of a cypherpunk, although I stil need to work out just how the whole libertarian thing fits in with the world.

I'm pondering on the best way to sort out my brain. Other people seem to like using Wikis as braindump/store, and I can see why. But I'm going to look for something a little more functional, that fits into a model of ideas - I'm not sure I just want a site that I can muse upon, and that I have to go to in order to enter a new thought, or link between topics. A wiki at the heart of it sounds good, and I've thought about extending exmosis to have a more of a Sowjet way of working (which seems to be defunct now, shame), i.e. pages consisting of components that you can edit byb double-clicking.

On top of this site though, I'd like a way to submit thoughts and ideas that "pop-up" (fnarr) as I'm browsing other sites, or whatever I'm up to (usually walking to work or something banal), so that means integrating in a mechanism that would allow me to "queue ideas" via e-mail/browser link (a la's Blog This! link)/SMS message even perhaps.

The reasoning behind this is that when the idea comes to me, it's for a good reason, and at that moment in time, I'm in the best position to link it in to everything else and develop just what it means. However, I think so long as I've had that thought, a quick reminder later (via the queuing system) would probably be ok. So I just need to make a note of it.

Once notions start to get linked up, then the network of ideas forms, and I can run some automated scripts on it to work out the true name of God... Yay!

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Just discovered, and the urge to get right back into CSS is overwhelming... damn, damn, I'm such a presentation-layer-whore...
Hmmm, interesting. Ran this blog through Bobby, and it seems I'm (relatively) close to being AAA approved. The worst thing is I'm going to have to change that "#link" link text to something unique to each entry. Hmmm...

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Guilty until proven not-actually-a-terrorist-oops-sorry. In the UK.
Critics blast Iraq contract ban - "US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in a policy document revealed on Tuesday that the contracts were being restricted [to US & allies] in order to protect America's "essential security interests"."

Yep, this whole fiasco is so far twisted up its own arse in a whirlwind of backstabbing, propaganda, and economic control over international morals that sooner or later, it's going to just explode. Or implode. Or something.

France are the closest to having the best idea - stick up huge walls on your borders and ignore the rest of the world. They should sell the idea to the EU.
Farking brilliant paper of how spammers operate: The Rise of the Spammers; this elevates it to a whole new level, i.e. this is hacking, not just pesky mailouts. This is a business model set-up around stealth and binaries, and it confirms the paranoia of, well, all of us really :)

Definitely worth a read, for both a glimpse into just how big spam has got, and for the fantastic technical analysis.

Damn, I'd love to get into this stuff more.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Interesting piece on using mass e-mail as a "physical" Denial of Service attack - iPod email phone jam scam:

"Concerned callers rang the Huntingdon-based HQ after receiving an email informing them that £399.99 would be taken out of their account to pay for an iPod music player they'd supposedly ordered.

The email also advised recipients that they should call the number listed in the email if they had any queries. The snag was that the number did not belong to some ecommerce outfit, but to Cambridge Police HQ. Its phone lines were jammed.

Third instance of an e-mail-dependent "scam" or hoax I've seen in just two days now (firstly the o2 scam, then a hoax virus warning, and now this). This one's particularly interesting, naturally, and I expect this will become more and more of a concern as we move more of our infrastructure and information over to technology that we inherently trust way too much. There's definitely a mismatch between what we expect (and/or trust, and what actually happens, as I've said before. I guess it depends on whether we allow this to interfere with what we allow as public information (e.g. telephone numbers, postal addresses).

Should we be looking at educating people, not into necessarily being highly sceptical of everything, but at least to be wary of various channels of information? And should we be investigating the idea of connected reputation moreso than we are already? Or is this a purely social case that has no place on formal tech specifications?

Also of mention, in terms of real-world DDoS, is the (relatively old) Japanese mobile phone virus that would dial the emergency services, and the Slashdot attack against a spammer through subscription to as many magazine mailing lists as possible. Any other attack vectors?
I feel like I need a reconciliation of ideas. My aims and views have become very confused, and I think to try and solve this through further research will just confuse matters, especially as definitions get in the way and are twisted by those using the words. I feel that a simplification is needed, a step back and a look at how I am thinking, not what I am thinking, is in order.
An amnesty for internet paedophiles?: "Whatever the figure, the scale of the problem is much bigger than even the most pessimistic commentators would have predicted a few years ago.

'If every person who had a sexual interest in children was identified,' says Tink Palmer, 'I think you would be amazed.'

Now, far be it for me to start going all pro-paedophile, et al, but surely this is a pointer that a certain amount of the issue is more some kind of "human nature", rather than sheer illegality. We forget that sex-age laws are indeed our own, and that attitudes towards younger sex and small boys has varied vastly over all cultures that has gone before us. Nowadays, I feel kind of paranoid about even posting about this, due to the way small opinions on the matter can get blown out of all proportion, which I think is a decent indicator of the clash between "our" morals, as a society, and the morals of, well, everyone else...

Unfortunately, I also believe that our attitude towards the subject (and many others) verges on senseless hysteria, having a more detrimental, accusatory act on everyone, rather than a reasoned, calm approach to the matter. Are we too blinded by our own lifetimes and the values imposed upon us through fear of exile, to see beyond our veil, to something that we need to see?
Tactics changing, natch. But buggered if you'll see them on CNN... Makes sense. War is firmly becoming more and more of a propaganda tool (as well as being subject to the same), and deaths are about the most visible measure going. So reduce the visible deaths using whatever means you have, especially when you're not really at war.
Java slowly edges towards Perl-world. Course, if any of them Java-zealots start spouting them at me, I'm going to hit them. A lot.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Good ol'fashioned politic humour
Keeping an eye on Forbes this week, I can't believe the spiel that surrounds Darl McBride still. He almost reads like some kind of saviour of the capitalist sphere, rescuing a dying company and taking to the courts like some winged avenger for IP.


OK, I'll admity I almost got caught out by this one: Phone scam warning exposed as hoax

Technology, however you view it (e.g. as immoral, immature, fantastic, unnecessary, etc), has clearly reached a stage where the majority of what is possible is way more than the majority's understanding of it, i.e. reality is on a par with fiction, in the minds of the masses. As a society, we are now reliant upon an infrastructure that we do not understand. Some would say this isn't new - we've never understood our own bodies fully, for instance. But then, there are those who do comprehend technology, and can exploit the knowledge deficit, whereas such things are much less likely when it comes to biological matters...

So should we expect scams such as this one to crop up more and more, as the line between what we can actually do, and what we think we might be able to do gets blurrier and blurrier? How can we benefit from the abilities offered by science, whilst keeping ourselves from falling apart at the seams via the flipside of that which we come to depend upon?

I'm becoming gradually more interested in the difference between needs and wants. Perhaps a philosophical approach to the use of science should concentrate on dividing our skills into this simple taxonomy - concentrate on what is beneficial to our essentials, and discard (or ignore) all else that is extraneous.

By following such a line, by focusing on the bare necessities, perhaps we can maximise upon what makes us who we are, whilst keeping that which corrupts and disrupts us to a minimum.

Hmm. Monday morning.

Friday, December 05, 2003

It's Friday afternoon...

I'm Pucca! Visit to find out your Pucca Character!
Who's your Pucca Character? Take the quiz! Brought to you by!
Spam - otherwise known as unsolicited commercial email - accounted for 56 per cent of all emails sent in November."

Still thinking of switching to a Challenge-Response system, although it seems to be manageable at the moment. Subscribing to a dozen mailing lists keeps the SNR up ;)
>> Economical round-up

Interesting mix.

Insider Stock Sales Hit 2-Year High, Drugs companies are struggling, and Oil prices are falling a little. Time to predict that "the market" is going to drop suddenly after Christmas? Or can it be offset by people spending more of the money that they don't actually have, and the newfound Oil supplies from Iraq:

(From the second article) " Iraq, not bound by a quota, exported an extra 370,000 bpd to top two million bpd of production for the first time since the U.S invasion in March."

And yeah, it's all about freedom and democracy, btw. No, honest.
Computing power aids India's milk farmers - Proving you can put technology to good use in places where basic needs are still lacking? Maybe there are two definitions of "technology" when people talk about implementing it for the poor/underdeveloped. Firstly, what most people "see", i.e. MS Windows on a 2GHz+ beige PC. Secondly, proper tech that works with what's already in place. Always ask what people mean.
Power cut in Northern Ireland: "This happened not because of lines falling down or wind or anything like that, this was about the generation availability"

Does anyone else feel that it'd be more appropriate to wonder why we're using so much power, rather than how to generate more?
Have ventured into the "real world" recently, reading a wayward Marie-Claire and looking at Forbes. It sucks. I'm going back into my hole.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

SNP seeks whisky inquiry: "It is a nonsense that issues which are so fundamentally Scottish and which are so vital to our national interest are taken in London by a Treasury which for years has treated whisky as nothing more than a cash cow"
Downhill Battle go on an anti-RIAA sticker sticking frenzy, and encourage you to do the same :)
Ringing tunes come to UK mobiles: "Simon Buckingham has predicted that this kind of service will be "very very popular" because it is another important way for people to make their mobiles different."

Why are people so obsessed with a "quest for differentiation", especially when the materia that their lives consist of is, on the whole, so mass-produced and un-unique? Perhaps I've answered my own question in the same sentence, but as a population, or a culture, we seem to struggle for new ways out of the ethos that we're continually reinventing to be worse than before, a phoenician declination of who each of us is.

In short, we have been taught to identify ourselves according to what we buy and how we look, but we buy that which we know to be churned out of factories en masse. Capitalism has become identity, when it was drafted as a mechanism.

Why are mobile ringtones so popular? Why do we want others to look at what we have bought and think that we're superior? Where is the sense in factory-cultivated individualism?

Wake up, people. Wake up people.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Government launches ID card trial - that was snappy. As if they had it ready to go before announcing everything... Will try and find out some more details, like where, how, etc. I'm betting that the system (i.e. methods, technologies, etc) in use is pretty closed, when it should be wide open. Mmmm, security through obscurity. Nice.
More tales that back up the, uh, hypothesis that all the US admin wants is a right for everybody else to buy their stuff, free trade so long as it's a one-way deal. More tales to back up la resistance and the overpowering need for an infrastructure that provides for a truly free (in both trade and in soul) demographic. I prefer capitalism (which is what's marketed) to economic imperialism (which is what's brought about), and a choice to live with it or outside it, above that.

Adam Smith's lessons for IT: "Micron claims that Hynix is competing unfairly by--I am not making this up--selling its dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips at a lower price than U.S. companies do"
Fantastic: A Petition From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting.
OK, I'm going to commit this idea to blog, maybe someone can point me in the right directions with it... The timing is semi-due to an article on the BBC regarding accessible website awards.

Having played with Betsie a bit recently, as well as CSS, what I figure would be really cool is to have an "accessibility translator". In its basic form, this would do a Betsie - i.e. take a (non-accessible) website, strip out the HTML and make it viewable to those that need it.

However, it could go further than this by allowing users to attach stylesheets to sites/pages, and letting other people use their style. This effectively allows anyone to skin a basic version of another site. The primary use would be accessibility, but there's not reason, once you have this, why it couldn't be used to redesign any site in any way you liked.

The hard part, I figure, is marking up the cut-down version of a page into something that makes the CSS application easy to do, i.e. group things into divs and spans, et al. It's possible that, given an extremely basic version of this, users of the service could actually provide their own basic HTML-to-CSS-friendly code, submitting what could almost be XSL to the service, although I doubt it need be that complicated.

A server would need to keep a track of the mapping between sites, stylesheets and user-submitted translations, and could do some user-management stuff tied in with it.

So.. who's with me?? :)

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

>> Outsourcing

The evolution of capitalism given the nod by Tony Blair...

India Jobs Shift Is Way of the World, Says Blair: "that is the way the world is today."

Said he at a press conference (which I shall try to look up, they should have a transcript somewhere...): "It is maybe not what people always want to hear but it is the truth. We have not tried to pretend to people we can stop what is happening in the global economy."

So he admits it, he doesn't seem worried about (despite the fact that manufacturing jobs are down, and the service industry is the next to go, and the number of jobs available for people to pay back, for instance, University top-up fees is starting to become unhinged).. does the government actually know anything? I figure it's either stupid or malicious, but I'm not sure which yet. Either way, if jobs are going, expect some frustrated workers going postal (or, indeed "call centre") over the festive period. Fortunately, they're only cracking down on organised terrorism, not crazy nuts with knives and baseball bats. Phew.
Shock! Horror! Technology not magical! From The Register

"The report concluded that most 15-year-olds to 24-year-olds felt that the ability to use the visual aspect of the video calling and messaging can be both unnecessary and unwelcome. They felt more pressurised to tell the truth and worried about their appearance. Part of the research involved issuing 3G handsets to a sample group. It found that while most 15-year-olds to 24-year-olds were initially impressed by some of the media content found on the 3 network, they tended to be less enamoured by the end of the trial. "

I tolds em, I said "it's just novelty value" and whassa point of having t' stare at tha phone if you're walkin along the street, i saids? But they don' listen. They never listen.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Woman crushed in charge of the sheeple brigade. They all need a good shooting.
CSS v3. Not got round to testing it in IE yet, but that's next on the list.

Friday, November 28, 2003

OK Phil, either is playing up again, or you're messing with your page - what was this about? (~400k)

Photoshopped images are even better in foreign languages, I think.
Great article on bubblespeak and doublespeak (see "Doublespeak in action") -
The Bubble of American Supremacy. Cheers to Phil.
Bush back from surprise Iraq trip: "The Washington Post described it as the third key image of the Bush presidency - alongside Mr Bush with a loudhailer atop the rubble at Ground Zero, and the president declaring the war on Iraq a 'mission accomplished' on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in May."

So he stands for a). a nation being symbolically targeted by driven people (for some reason) b). speaking complete bollocks, and c). someone promoting "freedom" that can't go anywhere without a travelling company of armed militia and without having to keep it a secret.

Ah well.
I love Umberto Eco and want to marry him and have his literary babies, so I'm looking most forward to having the time this weekend to read Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books, a transcript of his lecture from the start of the month.

I also highly highly recommend "Foucault's Pendulum", more than "The Name of the Rose".

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Labour presents... The Big conversation... ooh, real democracy?

It'd be good to get this publicised as much as possible, and try and drum up a real interest in it, to prove that this kind of thing can work. Just hope it's not touted with the emphasis on interactivity (e.g. the web/SMS), as it seems to me that the people that should be using this the most aren't the upper-tech class. Still, could be interesting...
Tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day, although I'm never really sure about the intentions of such a tersely-defined "cause". How about buying from small, local retailers? Does that count? What about a copy of the Big Issue? See, I'm confused.

Anyway, I'll make lunch and stay away from those evil corporates.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Google Evolves. Interesting to see how they're adapting to Search Engine optimisers and, while some aspects may not improve the service straight away, I have some faith in Google's ability to cater their service for decent results, rather than shops...
Started following up the Queen's speech, starting with the Civil Contingencies Bill (PDF). OK, why have I not heard about this before? Too much legislation, that's why... Having skimmed through the doc, it seems that this is pretty much a UK version of the US' PATRIOT Act - i.e. a vague definition of what an "emergency" is, followed by similarly vague but extremely enforcable compliance "procedures". So if something represents a danger to "the UK" as a whole, then it's ok to demand whatever you need (as a Minister of the Crown, or the Queen). If the emergency is "forthcoming", then the directions can be issued orally too, without any real recompense for revoking those directions.

Points of order:
1. Go through in more detail, highlight areas of interest.
2. Why can't I see this anywhere else? No doubt it'll be on NTK this week.

Alas, the consultation period ended, ironically enough, on September 11th - coincidence? A couple of random points:

- Given the Police's excitement to use anti-terrorist powers against protestors, et al, you'll forgive me (again) if I don't particularly trust the powers that be behind this one too.
- Seems the telecommunications industry is also the government's bitch through this, probably after the RIPA got shouted down.

Damn damn damn.

Some other URLs:

The gov's UK Resilience homepage - and why aren't they using standard domains?
Statewatch article
Continuity Central piece
Guardian article from back in June
Queen's Speech in progress - seems to be a mix of (in descending order of amount):

  • More top-down and/or middle-class bashing legislation

  • Rhetoric regarding the fragilities of the "modern world" (one which we created, no less) and the solutions needed to survive it

  • Where the Queen is going on holiday this year

  • Some possibly-interesting stuff about communities

Pretty damned useless, really. Be interesting to see if anything comes out of that last point, but the emphasis seems to be on University fees, ID cards, asylum seekers and all the usual other stuff that I disagree with the government on...

CAUCE on the new US Federal Spam Bill - wheeee. Wow, this sounds pretty screwed from all sides - "This bill does not stop a single spam from being sent. It only makes that spam slightly more truthful. It also gives a federal stamp of approval for every legitimate marketer in the U.S. to start using unsolicited e-mail as a marketing tool."

On the other hand, we could well be seeing the evolution of capitalism, the pinnacle of sales techniques. Spam works extremely well, from the point of view touted by the "American Dream" - it's a low cost, high return method to generate private income - all the makings of an efficient capital earner, if you ask me. So if you want to sell a free market as true freedom (which, let's face it, is the real ideological battle going on round the world right now. None of this democracy piss.) then you need to accept that schemes such as spam are the natural tendency you should be aspiring to.

Of course, from the other point of view, spam's the epitome of the capitalist ideal of "me first, fuck you". Kind of funny and ironic that the powers that be, held in place by the big fat cats, are now struggling to control the tiny fish that seem to have discovered how to do things better than they ever dreamed of.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

>> Insourcing

Dell to Stop Using Indian Call Center for Corporate Customers due to customers complaining "that the Indian technical-support representatives are difficult to communicate with because of thick accents and scripted responses."

So that language barrier is still there - the difference between someone who's learnt English over a couple of years, even, and someone who's spoken it all their life, nuances included. I suspect it's more of a "language culture" barrier, i.e. the particular nuances of a language, rather than any syntactic or grammatical differences.

So, despite call centre jobs generally being tedious and scripted anyway, having someone on the other end that you know knows what you're talking about when you insult them does really matter.

I'm not sure just how specific this is - technical support is quite a personal thing, really, in comparison to, say, banking and accounting, or other call jobs that are more or less automatic, and require less "individual troubleshooting". Certainly manufacturing jobs are safe overseas.

The other question is, in the long term, how long til the offshorers do pick up on all the nuances and/or culture? How about if you taken into account increased media proliferation to such countries, and the increased instillation of American pop culture?
Financial Times: "No 10 audit posts crime and poverty warning"

"the country faces a relatively high level of crime, widening regional and income inequalities, high levels of traffic congestion and a legacy of under-achievement in skills and vocational qualifications, and has "a long way to catch up" on renewable energy and waste. On some measures, such as teenage pregnancy, the UK does so badly it is in a class of its own."

So am I a pessimist or a realist?
More militaristic, suspicion-fueled, top-down, technology-driven, objectivity-inducing feature-creep in our "educational" system, although I guess "corrective" might be a better term:

'Airport' machines test pupils for drugs

Some choice quotes...

"...the actions were not aimed at making arrests, but to "offer support" to pupils before they became addicted."

Obviously far better than bringing the issue out into the open and taking a reasoned, calm and responsible approach to the matter. Obviously bringing in machines to scan everything is the only way to do it.

"'If you go to school, why shouldn't you be expecting to be searched for drugs?'"

And if it's happening in schools, why not in workplaces? Public spaces? Toll points? Shouldn't the quot be more along the lines of "If you go to school, shouldn't you be expecting to be taught about these things, rather than being eyed with constant suspicion?"

"The use of the machines is part of an ongoing anti-drugs project called Operation Caddy, which has also used sniffer dogs to search school premises."

Why stop here? Why not advise parents to procure a "family sniffer dog", to search their children's bedrooms, just in case?

This education system is shot. Or needs to be shot. A "futuristic" approach that fails to face up to issues with any serious credibility, happy to place trust in curative measures and statistical reports, coupled with a "liberal" (read "liberated" or "paranoid") societal culture afraid to teach their children what's right and what's wrong (or even just what's sensible would do), that blames the people it's supposed to be actively encouraging. Take some damned responsibility upon yourself, once in a while.

The nice people at the Beeb have made "SIBOL" (for want of a better acronym) their featured campaign, which is cool. Guess that means I should write some more stuff, time allowing ;) Also means that I might be onto a good idea. Beans.
More reasons why America is fucked, and getting fuckeder:

Part I: Congress Expands FBI Spying Power

Part II: The Matrix has arrived.

All in the name of terrorism, natch.

Some other good links curtesy of Cryptogon again... Bill Gates is rich, in graph form and Giant Floating Purple Pills.

Monday, November 24, 2003

To coin a phrase.. "roflmao": Numbers to be patentable
I'm feeling proactively experimental this week, and have started playing about with the BBC's beta iCan site. I've created a campaign based on the idea of getting Simple Information for Being On-Line out to new users of computers and the Internet. The idea is that there are a lot of simple steps that people could take, without necessarily being geeks, to protect themselves/their data on-line (against viruses, data leak, etc), but that aren't being taken for whatever reason.

The idea of the campiagn is to encourage people to take an active interest in the getting the information from person to person - i.e. there needs to be a social aspect to this, rather than just newsgroups/websites/etc. A "culture of education", rather than simply a regime that expects the newbie to find stuff out for themself.

Anyway, I intend to add some documents and links over the next few weeks, and see if anyone picks it up... It's half an idea to play around with, and half a playing about with of iCan.
Today's quote a day made me chuckle, heartedly:

"Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the
appropriation of their contents."

Ah, how apt. Must stop buying books. But... can't... hnnng.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Exmosis: Doublespeak in action

What does a "war on terror" actually mean? Are we at war or not? Or is the duplicity of the contradiction merely a marketing gimmick?

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Enjoyable, simply put, extensively useful article on refactoring the Slashdot homepage to use decent mark-up and CSS: Retooling Slashdot with Web Standards: A List Apart.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Been meaning to blog this for a bit - quick thread on Cypherpunks with Tim May on Etherpeg's use at a conference, and later on the dynamics of web traffic in a conference room:
"The JPEGs started out being from porn sites, then became related to whatever the speaker was talking about. For example, if someone mentioned the evening's keynote speaker, Don Norman, a bunch of sites and photos related to him would appear (about 10 seconds later). If someone mentioned snow on the roads (near Yosemite), weather maps would appear."

Just thought it was a cool example of distributed "swarm art". Or something.
So it looks like we're getting foundation hospitals, after much toing and froing between the Commons and the Lords.

This whole Foundation Hospital thing is really confusing me, probably because it epitomises the conflict I'm currently trying to work out, namely decentralisation or no.

As I understand it (which, I'll admit, isn't saying a lot) Foundation Hospitals would allow hospitals to split off from the NHS, to be allowed to run their own as NPOs. Naturally, this places less responsibility on the NHS/government to increase the service as a whole.

Implementation and NHS difficulties aside, I find the extremes of complete independence and completely centralised rule both equally foul. I think there is a paradigm I'm missing that captures both sides, but organises the structure in such a way that it is more efficient than either. It's like we're looking at the wrong targets, which means things are crap whichever way we go about it.

So I find it hard to decide between a liberal, decentralised (although the LibDems voted against it) view, and a controlling central view in this case. The NHS is a horrible, lacklustre, top-down organisation that needs a good kick. But gradually feeding parts of it off into the semi-private sector can't be that good either.

That's the other thing - is decentralisation a liberal or conservative ideology? On one hand, it encourages each node to act as it sees fit. On the other hand, it perhaps discourages interaction and tolerance.

I think a lot of it depends on the implementation. But confused, I am. I think I need to redefine the terms I'm using, nice and simple. Time to go through everything with a fine dictionary.

Of course, if anyone wants to explain it to me in nice simple words (it's been a long day...), please mail me or something. graham at

The world's so complicated. I'm just going to become a farmer and grow potatos forever.

p.s. Trafalgar Square looks quite busy at the moment...

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

MSN's Google news rip-off, only with more obvious adverts, and an irritating "Created for you" report. Oh, and 2 of the current 5 most popular articles are entitled "Microsoft tests Web news service". Now, don't call me biaised or anything, but...

Ah well, it's still in Beta. Nice and fast, does the job.
To read later... How will the other half live?: "Last week Oftel announced that half the population are now plugged into the internet. But what are the politicians and ISPs going to do about the rest?"
Lazy Protestors! Watch the latest at the Trafalgar Square webcam!
Why do some people enjoy life and others don't? - this is the convention my girlfriend has just gone off to, which sounded really interesting. Would have liked to have gone. Ah well :)

One thing though. Seligman seems to concentrate on a very much desire-driven approach to happiness, e.g. exploiting our strengths - good advice, but (IMHO) somewhat contradictory to the teachings of both the Tao Te Ching, and Zarathustra, and I'm sure many others. Their teachings seem to revolve more around, to one extent or another, being content with what you have, and indeed taking pleasure in having less, depending on less. The difference seems to be that we should aim under ourselves in order to achieve more peace and happiness.
PGP Universal 1.1 is now in Beta, downloadable free of charge. Looks like a full-on distro (ISO download) for a dedicated box that talks to a mail server, holding all the info it needs to encrypt/decrypt mail going through it. Machine specs are pretty chunky, so my idea of running that old 32MB Athlon 500 is out the window. Clustered webmail looks interesting, and it'd be good if this started to get some support as it rolls out into final.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

More respect for Oliver Letwin, defending the individual point of view in Politics, no matter what the opinion. None of this "towing the party line, party whip" crap. The sooner we get away from tribalistic partymongering and into the real, civilised world of honest debate, the better for all.
Record Companies admit songs on albums are shit - phew, just as well they didn't think it was all that swapping. Maybe they're listening to the SAME STUFF WE'VE BEEN SAYING FOR YEARS.

Argh i hates them i hates them i hatesss themmmm.

On the other hand yes, Bruce had 8 tracks on hid album. And Pink Floyd had 5 on some of theirs. But then, they also had massive double albums too, just as did the Beatles. It's not the number, it's quality. When will they GET IT INTO THEIR MONEY-CENTRIC HEADS??

Just noticed the ePolitix WAP feed. Am thinking that there's a lot of information coming out of the government, it just needs to be munged to make it more high-profile, a series of systems that process it and make it generic data. Might think more about this over lunch.
New consultancy guide The Green Pages is a good idea (yeah, it could be a lot better, but it's a step in the right direction), majorly hampered by the fact that the sample to me got sent out as a MS Word doc. Unimpressed.

Have asked for an RTF/HTML version, let's see how they handle it...

Of course, getting a readily-parsable doc sent straight to a bot-handled mail could really do things in terms of getting these things out on to the net. Be interested to see what I can do with it... (Although that 299 quid a year would have to be factored in somehow, I guess they don't like people giving away paid-for content... Pesky government creeps)
On 321 Studios and the DMCA... Their defence apparently concentrates on the use of the word 'effective', as in it's not illegal to circumvent 'effective' copy-protection.

The question now is now what is considered effective, but that surely once something is cracked (if you believe 321) then it is no longer 'effective', therefore the crack is legal...?

I think 321 are chasing down the wrong tree here. Fighting the case on the DMCA's ground is foolish, especially when the "loophole" they are trying to exploit was originally probably (I remember the "what is effective" discussion from before...) deliberately vague.

But then, as I understand it, they really don't have a leg to stand on. Less so, in this country.

Monday, November 17, 2003

'Terrorist' speed camera rebels: "People making and planting bombs is terrorism"

No it isn't! It's just violence! Nothing to do with terror!

I think we need a campaign to highlight the differences between terror and violent vandalism, get the ENglish language back into some kind of sanity.

Honestly, tchah.
City's educrats can't get it write: Typos (though they look spell-checked..) in a curriculum guide "at a time when fewer than half of [New York] city students can read at grade level."
Yay! Yay! We in the UK now have our very own EUCD implentation! Lawsuits and monetarist gain ahoy! Woohoo!

Friday, November 14, 2003

Nuclear weapons lab's keys are lost (found via new blog discovery Cryptogon)
US babies get global brand names: "six boys were named after Courvoisier cognac." Meanwhile, Pop Idol names seem to have had some effect in the UK.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

The start of my looking into "What Nuclear Is" - I figure it's no good criticising either the US or anyone else if I have no idea about the arguments at stake, i.e. those over nuclear capability.

Part 1: Types of Nuclear Reactors

Note that the HWR is pretty multi-purpose, but I don't know yet as to why it might offer advantages over other, non-ambiguous tech. Apparently the Canadians use HWR, too. Also note that the HWR being built by Iran could use a metal fuel, which goes against what the BBC are saying. In fact, the BBC guide seems to be quite biased in terms of pointing out what can be achieved with various bits of kit, not what has been achieved elsewhere, say.
Oh, and another thing...

Second (sixth?) gripe of the day is an e-mail I got earlier, stating:

"Please forgive me for sending this as I am usually a
binner of "worthwhile" but unsolicited email circulars. I don't think I have ever forwarded one in the past but I felt, as a UK resident
and voter, that my government had misrepresented our national and world interests by attacking Iraq at the time and on the basis that we did. Consequently I draw your attention to the following letter which affords some small right of reply to the disenfranchised. The Our World Our Say campaign seeks to ensure that politicians are made accountable to us for their actions.

It then asks you to sign a petition. A petition?? Do these people realise just how much bureaucracy there probably was to get just the Hutton Inquiry? (Probably not, considering they don't even link to the site...)

These people want change, but they want to do it through petitions. Lists of names does nothing (ok, very little) apart from letting you know who can write their own name. If you want change, then you need people to be interested in all aspects of a nation's politics - just sitting up and shouting a bit when somebody else prods you is pointless (although I'm sure there are a few backbenchers like that...)

This is where a "communication revolution" helps - government has evolved over hundreds of years into a big mish-mash of information and process. Without technology, this monolithic structure would remain inaccessible to the public. What we are seeing now is a real move towards everyone being able to participate. It is far more important to realise this potential, than to get people to sign a bleedin' petition.
Woo! Lots to Blog, blogger was down, catching up... I think I'm addicted to publishing. Or ranting. Arse. Oh well...

US disbelieves Iran report, so better read up on Iran before going to war, or the anti-war demonstrations. Always interesting to note who's for and against which side in the whole Palestine-Israel slanging match... Not really sure yet just how "opressed" the Iranians are - they seem to be realtively free, although still religionised, so be interesting to see how the US manages to make its case whilst lacking the "intolerable dictatorship" it's used to. Cruelty is one thing, religion is another. I suspect they'll go down the anti-terrorist route though.

Glad also to see that it's so easy to get my words on to the BBC site - allude to a point (whether you believe it or not, be forceful about something or other, and never add smileys. p.s. The views therein are not representative of mine, or anyone else's on that page.

Guardian reporting that power cuts are to blame for moving 50% of National Rail Enquiries jobs to India. "Brian Donohoe, the Labour MP for Cunninghame South, suggested to Mr Scoggins that workers in India could expect to earn around £2,800 a year, compared with £12,000 at call centres in his constituency."

This, the rise in off-shoring/automation, combined with a special article from a Guardian pull-out yesterday (that I can't find on-line) regarding how the UK's huge amount of debt is dangerous, plus the warning from the Bank of England Governor, oh, and not forgetting the increasing amount of nanny statism we seem to be seeing in the run up to the next election, all has made be somewhat.. not depressed, but scowled at the way things are going. In general. Still, perhaps we'll reach a point where people will be forced to think about how they live, rather than just depending on the government to spoonfeed them, and then whinging when it goes tits-up.

It also seems at the moment (with the appointment of Michael Howard) that politics is far more about reputation, image and polemic side-taking/opponent-bashing than about how best to actually run a country.

Politics for politics sake?

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Have become interested in the ePolitix (ick name) site recently. A couple of interesting pieces of proposed (and in the former's case, dropped) legislation.

There's also a few Lord's Chamber meetings tomorrow concerning the RIP act, but I thought I read somewhere earlier that it was to do with stuff other than on-line data retention. However, the fact that I can't remember where I saw it is annoying me, and has led me to start considering ways to start logging all of the data I look at, e.g. my e-mails, web-pages, etc, in some big database. Hoom hoom.
The Guardian is running a load of pieces about ID cards as their headlining for today. Off to pick up a copy so I can read it off-line... hope they don't ask for ID. A reminder, from the main article:

"I know some people believe there is a sinister motive behind the cards, that they will be part of a Big Brother state. This is wrong." - David Blunkett

Perhaps true, but some of us others fear, unsurprisingly given the track record thus far, that the data will be similarly unsufficiently protected, so that rather than have an Orwellian state, we simply allow abuse of the data because it's been implemented hastily with a bent on efficiency (i.e. ease of access to the data) rather than security and privacy. At no point through all of this have I actually heard Mr Blunkett defend the rights of the individual. Now bear in mind that one of the points of having a single card is as a key to linking services to a central "user tracker" - that's a lot of information, and if handled improperly, then there's a big scope for abuse. There needs to be a lot of thought put into how this data is controlled, and what kind of access to it the data's owner has. I, for one, don't trust the government's ability nor intention to do this, especially if they're looking at implementing it in 3 years, and especially if the amount of consultation done with the public is along the lines of "ID cards - yes?". I need to read the Guardian, find Blunkett's paper (which, I bet, has no technical details), but I don't like the chances that all we're going to get is a big fudged system that leaks our information like a screaming cat.

OK, bad analogy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Iran's next, then...?
Remember, nothing you see is real. 'Virtual poppy' for TV host Ross: "It is the case that the poppy worn by Jonathan Ross was digitally imaged".
Blunkett launches defence of ID cards

Things About This That Make Me Rant A Lot:

1. The assumption that biometrics is an infallible system. No, it's theoretically secure, but potentially the implementation is flawed, as has been proven several times with biometric security systems. In many opinions, the technology is still too young to depend upon, and to put it into a nationwide card the sole purpose of which is to prove you are who you are, is ludicrous.

2. "Clandestine entry and working in this country, the misuse of free public services, the issues around organised crime and terrorism - all these issues will be the ones for years to come." How about the decline of and under-investment in the rest of the country? In many places, things are pretty dire, legally.

3. "they would become part of everyday life and as commonplace as credit cards or supermarket loyalty cards." I carry neither, because I choose not to - I don't like being in debt, and I don't like people tracking me without implicitly saying they're doing so, and giving me the ability to opt out.

4. Mine is one of the "5,000 [of 7,000] unfavourable responses [that] had been excluded." Hnnng. This is just infuriating.

5. I'm stil uneasy about a central server to hold card data on. Whilst it is difficult to propose an alternative path, the amount of time not spent on looking into this makes me wonder. There is nothing so far that doesn't make me believe that this central reservoir won't be expanded to accumulate more data. As a card holder, I want control over my information, releasing it to people when and only while they need it. It is unnecessary to allow people access to data other than when I specify. If it is for criminal investigation purposes, then there must be sufficient reason to pry, that is backed up by evidence and notification. Being able to look at people's data without asking just because the police think they might be a criminal is plain wrong and open to abuse.

Funnily enough, I started thinking about alternatives the other day...


Bush Bangs on about democracy

Here's the original speech given, amusingly enough, to the National Endowment of Democracy. You'll forgive me if I don't go dancing along with Bush's words straight away; they are, after all, just words. Speechwriters hold a lot of power over the people that forget that past so quickly, conjurers of strings that pull so hard upon the illusionary desire our populations seem to dwell upon so readily these days.

So Boy George is giving a speech about democracy... to a democracy-advocation organisation? Is it just me, or do these speeches have a tendency to cater to the whims of whomever-the-audience-is? When talking to the military industrial sector, the talk is of lives given, big-chinned bravery and self sacrifice. If I were a gambler, I'd place money on the speeches given here in the UK concentrating on our small nation's participation, past, present and future, in the war against those that seek to quell freedom. We'll hear more of how democracy was born in this country (we're referenced in this last speech, you know), but probably nothing of how we took over Iraq all those years ago and then ballsed it all up (prior to ballsing our own country up). We'll hear stuff that makes us feel good, like we're being roused by an army commander in the latest greatest hollywood film. Only with British people in it. At least it'll be a change from the almost-customary stars-n-stripes ranting and heralding we've been experiencing up til now.

Maybe the topdogs in the US have woken up, and realised that they stand a much better chance of a sustainable american superiority if everyone decides that they like them, rather than trying to impose their own values on everyone whether they like it or no. Maye the Republicans will merge with the Democrats, or maybe they'll just steal the name, claiming that "they're all democrats, in the end". Maybe I'm paranoid. Suspicious. I think I have a right to be the latter, in the same way that my own government have yet to earn any trust on international affairs, after all of the hokey-cokey puppet regimes propped up by cultures looking primarily at extending their own influence into otherwise untenable areas.

The real problem with (some) dictators is their independence, their headstrongness and concrete resolution, and their damned ability to not-do-as-we-say. An oppressed, weak nation is a nation unable to buy our goods, or to see what we do and marvel at our own amazing superiority.

We want the world to be free, but only if everyone does as we say.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Noticed the announcements to iCan, the BBC's new (beta) grass-roots local politicum exchange site, but haven't got round to really checking it out yet, which is a shame. It's running on the H2G2 code, IIRC, which could be interesting in terms of how they're structuring the information they have. Now Wired News have picked up on it:

Meanwhile, the spoof site, iCan't mentioned in the article is a poor man's political satire that seems to group the entire effort in with the rest of the targets of the "hard-left"'s ire. " We're never going to discuss anything important to anybody" it states, backed up by the site's creator on the Wired article, who says: "They should have stuff for campaigning against George Bush coming to the U.K."

This 20-year-old seems to believe that all locally-formed organisational ongoings should stretch their tendrils into the .. larger issues of the world, the power of the people, or persons, to influence the behaviour of the world superpowers. Ah yes. A noble effort.

But with the country in such a state, isn't it just as important to place as much emphasis on our own dependence as on the topicals that already garner so much attention? Shouldn't we be looking to solve the problems in our streets before claiming we know how to run the rest of the world?

It's also amusing to see the site's incension to "Ban the BBC from charging license fees" - surely not; an activist encouraging privately-run, self-funded, capitalist media companies? The license fee seems to me to be quite fair - those of us with TVs get to use out financial influence to have a say as to what gets shown, in a nice civilised manner. Honestly, I swear these young people have no sense of irony...

Anyway, I hope to look at the iCan site in close details, and get involved, as it's definitely the kind of thing we should be seeing more of.
The Guardian points out how stupidly people spend their cash.

Hmm, why do people flock to the big cities now? Is it a job thing? A culture thing? A sheeple effect? It's almost paradoxical; the need for real participation in areas other than big cities is growing, and the potential for jobs, I think, is increasing. Not in a large company, large employment kind of way, but more in a localised, communital (I made that word up) fashion. Questions...

1. Can products produced locally, on a small scale, match those produced on a larger scale? For this, you will need to take into account at least the cost to the buyer, scalability costs, distribution costs, attraction to the buyer, and the available resources of the buyer. If an area is "poorer", then there is less demand for higher-range goods, and more chance of a local fledgeling company with low development costs surviving. Or is there?

2. How can one influence a change in attitudes towards life, rather than simply trying to get people to think about their career? i.e. How they live, rather than just what they do. Is it more important to get a big house in a big place that you'll hate?

3. Are we seeing a cultural void outside of large cities? Certainly, the atmosphere in many towns is turning towards "anarchy" in its pejorative sense, with mindless violence becoming a norm rather than an exception. Would a sense of oth pride and involvement help to foster the attitudes, the attraction and the employment of places-that-aren't-huge?

Saturday, November 08, 2003

>> The employability deficit

Just read about Dyson profiting from off-shoring jobs to Malaysia, and started to slot everything else in with the future of a global workplace.

Dyson have kept on their engineers and scientists in Britain, but manufacturing jobs have moved overseas. This seems to be the current trend in general. So what can we expect next?

Firstly, we are now truly seeing an industrial revolution - the era we tradiitonally refer to as the IR was simply fear, an introduction. Now we have the second stage - cheap globalisation techniques that we can combine with a premise of relatively unskilled labour (brought about by more efficient production techniques) to extend the power of the revolution across borders. i.e., out of the realm of localised fear, and into the sphere of anonymous business - the factor of personal arrangements that was inherent in the manufacturing industry up til now has been discarded.

What does this mean? On a global scale, I still think that this is part of the argument for capitalism - standard labour for a cheaper cost (the article compares the high wage rates in Swindon, for instance) means that the product becomes cheaper, companies remain competitive, etc. Thus, anyone that realises that we live in an on-the-whole capitalist system must accept that this progress is surely inevitable.

For those that, until now have come to think of it as a way of life, an infrastructure that defines the way that they live and be, there are many changes coming. Firstly, we are seeing the beginning of a new split in the market - between skilled an unskilled labour. We are now in a transitional phase, where the majority of jobs going overseas are for the un-or-barely-trained. This sets up a gulf back in the areas that previously controlled the unskilled market. I am under the impression that this gulf is going to become far more important than any "information gap", rather this "employability deficit" will serve to polarise the gap between rich and poor within developed countries. Those with the skills get the jobs and the money, while those without must increasingly rely upon the state. This, naturally, depends upon the role of the state - if it is in the hands of the rich, then the gap will incresae. If it caters for the poor, then perhaps there is hope.

Either way, it becomes clear that in order to prevent imbalance in the system, the role of universal education becomes more and more important. Those that go through higher education will become more employable than those who don't, simply because it acts as a stepladder into the jobs that exist. Currently, there is some truth to the opinion that 3 years in the industry can serve as beneficial to a career as 3 years in education, if not more so. However, as the range of unskilled jobs narrows, so the ability to gain entry into an industry without education becomes less. Hence, as the job landscape shifts upwards, education will become an equaliser. It is for this reason that I think a free and accessible educational system must be offerable to all.

In the longer term, it remains to be seen whether or not capitalisam can work - whether its global tendencies can provide a global hierarchy, rather than a two-tier system that keeps profit in one part of the world, whilst exploiting another.

Friday, November 07, 2003

More information on the rise of ID cards in the UK. Mr. Blunkett seems set on biometrics, and seems to be tackling the idea from a more thought-out, slightly more long-term direction ("we're talking a three year set-up before we can bring in the biometrics.").

I'd like to look into his thoughts in more detail, from a better source than a news story, but it still appears that there is a rush to introduce the technology, like some kind of magic solve-all elixir, without any real focus on why and how such a system should run. I'm going to think about this in more depth...

You are OS2-Warp. You're plagued by feelings of abandonment and disgust for your backstabbing step-brother.  Oh, what might have been.
Which OS are You?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

DRM TV for the US masses:

FCC Endorses Built-In Copy Controls: "A small victory for consumers, say consumer groups, is that the FCC rule does allow fair use of copyrighted content. Two commissioners dissented in part from the ruling, urging a fair use provision be included. However, how it will be implemented is not clear."

Great, another quickly thought-out ruling based on the pressures of a large body (the MPAA in this case) that fails to address any kind of long term issues. Just what the world needs.

THe problem with this approach is that it's far too easy for the MPAA to now put pressure on to delay, or indeed avoid completely, bringing in fair-use allowance. This could occur through either (1) a legacy-to-be distribution of early technology that doesn't cater for it, as the definition hasn't been defined yet (fair use would be delayed, most likely), or (2) a claim of technological difficulty - once you allow any copies, it opens up a whole new (foot)ball game in terms of circumvention. The MPAA, like the RIAA, consistently show a great lack of understanding when it comes to all things technical (but hey, at least their website is still up ;) - like the X-Box, expect a great deal of activity in the underground when these devices start hitting the streets.

As usual, expect more laws to make circumvention even more illegal to go along with all this. I suspect we'll see more DeCSS style fair-use/piracy arguments (although if the DRM standard remains open and free, then us non-Windows/Mac users might stand a chance of watching TV on our PCs).

Should be interesting.
Mmmm... Ghost in the Shell 2. Loved the first, still trying to get round to reading the comic book.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Heheh, I just decided that "replaceAll" is one of the best things to type - go on, open up a new document and try it a few times.

Maybe we need a "feng shui" of typing - or "How to choose words that make you feel good as you type", a kind of workplace stress-avoidance guide whilst keeping those fingers nimble. Or maybe it's just me...

Monday, November 03, 2003

>> Watching the watchers watching the watched

So, for reasons I'll skip, I was taking photos on the way to work on the morning. I'd seen the target of my lens yesterday, a sign for a public toilet by Brighton Pavilion that had been happily adorned by the local police with one of the many "SMILE - You're on CCTV" posters that have popped up over the last few months. The juxtaposition mirrored the piss-take poster that sits in my bathroom from a hacker conference 2 years ago that reads "This public facility is monitored by CCTV for safety reasons", reflecting it in almost mocking glory. After taking the photo, I looked to the right, to the entrance to the gentlemen's, when I saw that they'd also placed one above the entrance...

Having already passed some other new signs a few moments before, hung round the neck of lamp-posts like flightful dissidents burdened with a concrete necklace, and having spent my walk so far looking at the world from a greyscale perspective, the impact of all this struck me, even though I knew it was there. The parody in my own toilet has become truth, only with a smiley face, and darker resonances as I can only imagine who placed the it there, uder watchful eye of the local camera. How far will it go? How deep has it gone already?

As I took the photo of the gents' doorway a few seconds after waiting for a solitary walker to disappear inside, I found myself nervous, somehow apprehensive about my own actions. I didn't want to stand there all day, nor did I want to ruin the shot. It was my last on the film. And yet, as a I walked away, I wondered about it, about how just taking a photo made me feel, and if that was the case, then what were the underlying feelings that we picked up just walking past, or into, such monitored spaces? How do we react when we know, or think we know, that we are being watched? Does my pulse usually go up, even if I'm not carrying my own powers of coutner-surveillance?

Brighton has a history of liberalness, of not being afraid to be oneself and to do as one likes, with a certain level of both respect and tolerance. I fear this is, in some terms, at odds with the inst(a/i)llation of panoptic paranoia, the sweeping aside of a culture bounded by its understanding rather than its inhibitions, replaced by one of constant nervousness and self-doubt. A place in which we are afraid to act irresponsibly is also one in which we fear acting differently, for perhaps we may lose control, or cross an unknown boundary, and with it we lose out alternativeness. We become simple lab mice, watched to see how we behave, and punished when the experiment warrants so that we evolve to conform to rigid standards.

As a city, we need trust. We need for those with the power to trust us, but more than that, we need to be able to trust ourselves, to allow ourselves the freedoms we savour, but to accept responsiblity for our own actions. We cannot expect our attitudes to change solely through the threat of capture, the only thing that we can expect from that is the fading of our own expression.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Wow, them e-mail fraudy things are getting good - I read this one all the way through. Usual money transferral deal, but I was particularly impressed by the lifestyle preaching, and the rather curious usage of the word "defiled"...

Dear Friend.

As you read this, I don't want you to feel sorry for me, because, I believe everyone will die someday.

My name is Uthman Micheal, a merchant in Dubai, in the U.A.E.I have been diagnosed with Esophageal cancer .
It has defiled all forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts.

I have not particularly lived my life so well, as I never really cared for anyone(not even myself) but my business. Though I am very rich, I was never generous, I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business as that was the only thing I cared for. But now I regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in the world.

I believe when God gives me a second chance to come to this world I would live my life a different way from how I have lived it. Now that God has called me, I have willed and given most of my property and assets to my immediate and extended family members as well as a few close friends.

I want God to be merciful to me and accept my soul so, I have decided to give alms to charity organizations, as I want this to be one of the last good deeds I do on earth. So far, I have distributed money to some charity organizations in the U.A.E, Algeria and Malaysia. Now that my health has deteriorated so badly, I cannot do this myself anymore. I once asked members of my family to close one of my accounts and distribute the money which I have there to charity organization in Bulgaria and Pakistan, they refused and kept the money to themselves. Hence, I do not trust them anymore, as they seem not to be contended with what I have left for them.

The last of my money which no one knows of is the huge cash deposit of twenty seven million dollars $27,000,000,that I have with a finance/Security Company abroad. I will want you to help me collect this deposit and dispatched it to charity organizations.

I have set aside 10% for you for your time and patience.please send a reply through this email address with your full contact information for more private and confidential communication .

God be with you.


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


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.