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.