Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Blast from the past - just found an old Wired article, with an interview with Miss Manners in it.

Surprisingly, for something over 6 years old :) it has some relevant insight to today's on-line world...

"Freedom without rules doesn't work. And communities do not work unless they are regulated by etiquette.
"The interesting thing is why people think that someone who is not present (a phone ringing) is more important than someone who is.
"People who are downsized, for instance, find they've been dropped by everyone they know because they don't have real friends. They only had business acquaintances
"No. We have two regulatory systems: legal and etiquette. The legal system prevents us from killing each other. The etiquette system prevents us from driving each other crazy.

Wise words.
>> Quote of the day

More press releases from the Beeb...

"'The security environment has changed since the launch of XP in 2001,' said Matt Pilla, senior product manager for Windows at Microsoft. 'Not only have hackers become more sophisticated and exploits more sophisticated but people are more connected than ever.'"

Which is obviously why the huge majority of hack and virus attacks are stupid trojans and filtering-system bypasses (the latter caused mostly by MS integrating IE with the whole kaboodle. Badly.).

Also irritaingly:
"Before now people irritated by pop-ups have had to resort to other browsers or applications to keep the ads at bay."

Yes, clearly I "resorted" to Mozilla due to IE's deficiencies, not chose to use it because it has standards compliance, extensions, tabbed interface, runs on linux(, probably more secure), etc etc.

Let us also not forget that Microsoft seem quite keen on doing away with pop-up ads in favour of bigger ones...

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Over at the newly-discovered Designing for Civil Society blog, some interesting discussion on academics studying community technology. David Wilcox proposes that current academic thinking is based too much around the technology being used being adopted by a "community", and that perhaps more of a real-world, bottom-up, personalised approach is needed. I'm now thinking about genericising the network tools that we should be using so that the systems that arise emerge from the networks already in place, rather than attempting to influence the latter via the former. Also see comment for a distinction between the network and the users, and on why "standardised" CMS's are pants. ;)

Monday, March 29, 2004

Bloody hell, I remember following this years ago, even subscribing to the mailing list, and then thinking it'd be another good-inentioned vapourware. Looks like I was wrong :) and it's looking pretty sleek. Doodlable webpages, motion sensor, connectivity, Linux. Mm, I think I want one (not said that about a PDA since I first got a Palm, about 4 years ago).

Not sure about the target market though - it was originally intended to help out the developing world swap information easily, as a communal tool, but now it seems to be targetted at the populist consumer market ("listen to MP3 music on-the-go, organize your life, plan your finances" etc). But I guess that's the modern world for you...

Can't work out what software it's running, but here's to take a further look.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Big China oilfield 'running low', which begs the question - what would happen if China decided to invest big-time in sustainable, and more importantly independent energy sources? From a political point of view, it would make sense, and they show no refrain from developing other areas independently, especially when it comes to OSes and CPUs.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Through the power of Technorati, I have discovered The Daily Ablution, which has some interesting comment on that last Jeremy Rifkin piece. I have bookmarked it and added it to my forumzilla list.

(And despite the debunking of biased information, it still seems reasonable to me that the US economy is... risky.)
A trinity of Guardian comments today...

Naomi Klein: Terror as a weapon of occupation ("These laws include Bremer's Order 39, which drastically changes Iraq's previous constitution to allow foreign companies to own 100% of Iraqi assets")

Gideon Burrows: Every 15 seconds (on the importance of gaining a solid infrastructure before civility can be achieved, i.e. water supplies before education. Makes you realise what we take for granted in the West. Plus, it makes me think that many really important things can be solved through technology rather than social politics - at least, more than many people would want you to believe...)

Jeremy Rifkin: The perfect storm that's about to hit (decent summary about the current and future state of oil and markets)

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Never mind free will vs randomness, surely the fact of the matter is that human beings are ultimately predictable, at least on an emergent scale. If we have free will, are we still confined to an extremely narrow path based on our addiction to rationality? In terms of a larger scale, is the courseof human history pretty much guaranteed based on our biology? Or can the randomness/variation in rationality (if it exists) inherent in an individual construct singular events that have an effect larg enough to change the course of the future dramatically?

The way I see it, the catch is that the variation in rationality becomes much less of a proportion of total rationality as more decisions are made by an individual - some decisions will suffer more "irrationality" than others, depending on the situation. And the world-changing events, by far and large, aren't "singular" per se - they are constructed of a vast series of small events and decisions, thus any trace of irrationality leading to such an event is swamped through scale.

Wars are a great example. People don't just "decide" to invade. The reasons behind invasions are insanely complicated, often stretching across hundreds of countries, and thousands of years. I don't really see the possibility that Hitler was a bad guy just because he decided not to have tea one morning.

The media's role in the Iraq war - a first-hand perspective.

"Gradually, it dawned on me that the military had herded us into the press center so that we could be kept away from information."
"The contrast with the British military spokesmen was profound. They readily gave me and other reporters as many details as they could verify about British clashes with Iraqi units. U.S. press officials steadfastly refused to give a shred of information about American units outside the briefings."
Fantastic reminder that technology need not be complex in order to be effective. (Maybe we've been indoctrinated into thinking otherwise?)

[oops, forgot to acknowledge Phil for that one. There.]
Gah, I was going to post about the apparent disappearance over the last couple of days of, but then I just found it again at NO conspiracy here, move along.

I was reading this on it, which I admit is obviously biaised, but does provide a fascinating insight into mind of "the other side" (the author is Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a "close associate" of Mr Bin Laden).

I found it extremely interesting as to...

  • how much of a sense of both history and politics the author had

  • who the various parties are, and the attitudes towards them

  • how long this had been going on for, after doing some cursory searches for various names mentioned, such as Tartar. This goes wayyyy back, easily to the 13th Century, back to the 5th and more.

  • how violent the continent(s) have been up until (and including) now

  • just how little we understand of other people's cultures before deciding that democracy and free markets are "obviously" the best thing for them

  • just how much "tide" there is to swim against in the work and war that's going on out in the East now

I've always thought that taking a place by force and shoving democracy down its throat isn't a sustainable future. Democracy in Europe has gathered pace over hundreds and hundreds of years, and has always been accompanied by a culture of military superiority. It took mass genocide and two world wars to get people to understand why living a daily diet of armies and weapons was possibly a bad thing - two huge events that wiped out populations, infrastructures, cities and histories. The East has been in constant turmoil, but lacks the stark horror, perhaps, of full-scale devastation.

To think that the values and ideas that we've developed in the West all this time will magically slot into a vastly different people is not ridiculous, but it cannot be achieved with occupation and might. To be sustainable, it must develop of its own accord, by its own people - the end result is not the solution, rather the understanding obtained by the people through reaching that result is. A child in an old man's body is not automatically made wise.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture of both globalisation and militism, neither of which afford much lee-way to independence and discovery. I think it's more important to give those who need them the tools to find their own way out, while we can only offer advice. Not an easy task.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Apparently, I am Dmitri Shostakovich. Is that good or bad?
Another article, interesting quote: "'Markets are very good at discounting economic and corporate newsflow but when it comes to politics they haven't got a clue,' said Khuram Chaudhry" - along the same lines as my suspicions as to why a capitalist regime isn't necessarily the "best"... "Wealthy", yes. "Understanding", maybe not.
Here we go...
WordPress has caught my eye as a possible replacement for this blog, with the intent of integrating it into It supports categories, which is great, and looks very neat and simple to install, plus imports from blogger, so I can hopefully move all my posts from here to my own webspace.

Will have to look into it some more when I have time...
First Iraqi win for a Korean firm - more evidence that capitalism and militism are intertwined? Ah well, at least it proves that not all of the business is American-gain.
"Critical" update: Microsoft Deletes 2 Characters from Office Font. What amuses me is that they have the Nazi swastika originally, but not the older, anti-clockwise one...

I wonder, if a fundamentalist terror group took the four suit symbols (hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds) as symbols, would they be removed too? And will anyone else follow suit (pun unintended...)?
Monday morning thoughts, inspired by Start the Week...

1) The "war on terror" has become branded, in the vein of so many ad campaigns before it. Are the Powers That Be deliberately trying to infuse our minds such that when we think of "terrorism", we think "Al-Qaeda"? It seems that the possibility of a terrorist organisation springing up within the US is laughable now - but is it? Meanwhile, there is certainly plenty of evidence that terrorist groups exist in Europe - the IRA, ETA, N17, etc. But nobody's claiming that they strike enough of a threat to set up an EU anti-terrorist effort - at least, not until now. Fortunately for them, they seem to have been largely overlooked, at least in terms of PR attention. The press, and by association, the governments leading "the war" seem to be eager to constantly link any mention of terrorism with eastern fundamentalism, indeed to even go further and to throw the name "Al-Qaeda" about willy-nilly, as if it were one and the same thing as "terrorism".
The name has become a poster child for the fight, and anything other just isn't the same. It's like Sainsbury's Cola.

I haven't yet decided whether this is because it makes it easier for the public or Mr Bush to understand.

2) "Capitalism" itself isn't necessarily a bad thing - I still think that it is fundamentally "misguided" (rather than inefficient). But what seems to be becoming clearer is that what we have in the West is a capitalism born of a military complex. As the lady on "Start the Week" said, Western capitalism has been sculpted through an abundance of technology, which in turn has come about through a constant era of warring faction in Europe. This, plus the resources "unlocked" in America, also originally controlled by Europe. This gives us a twisted reality that mocks the possibly-useful theories of free markets.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

My new Friend-of-a-Friend RDF, thanks to the FOAF-a-matic. A reminder to self to look more into it...

Friday, March 19, 2004

Britain backs phone and web record retention - although I think "proposes" would be a better word. What is with politicians? If people don't want it, they force it through anyway. Screw this, I'm getting out.
Cardiff could be bombed next. In fact, anywhere with more than about 20 people gathering, I estimate. Quick! Everyone stand at least 30 paces apart! Congregation should be outlawed! This is what mobile phones were invented for!

Plus people don't look when they're crossing the road - and they want more vigilance?
How the Smiley Was Invented: "No, no, no! Surely everyone will agree that '&' is the funniest character on the keyboard. It looks funny (like a jolly fat man in convulsions of laughter). It sounds funny (say it loud and fast three times). I just know if I could get my nose into the vacuum of the CRT it would even smell funny!"

(via b3ta, which linked to the parent page.)
Guardian's Guide to Freedom of Information
Might watch this... Did Noah really build an ark? Always interesting to see how the tales in the bible relate to what could have happened in real life - like looking at things through a fish-eye lens or a kaleidoscope. I don't like to discount religious tales just because they're religious, you see.
How come the fact that
Top-up fees to hit lower pay families gets front page coverage only once "new figures show" it? Isn't this something blindingly obvious to anyone that stops and thinks for about 20 seconds on the proposed system? Let me see now, don't make anyone up to a certain point pay - does that mean that people just above that point pay the most, relative to income? Does the pope shit on bears?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Ah, vindicated. Sheeple admit they know not what they do. "Of more than 1,000 consumers polled, 84% said they found the paperwork confusing, while 76% said the same of the terms used in credit advertisements" Baaaaa! Bleat! Meeehhhh!
David McCandless' recount of why he likes living in London, in the Beeb's "A capital affair: London v the regions" is possibly the funniest thing I've read in a while - perhaps because I can't tell if he's taking the piss out of himself or not.

Unfortunately, I think there are people that think like that. Which makes me all the more glad I'm not in the big place up North...

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Originally pointed to this Guardian Shortcuts page by VoxPolitics for the first article: " "We usually think of the Bush campaign as being incredibly cynical," says Ana Marie Cox [...] "But maybe they're just hopelessly optimistic. Maybe they really do just believe in the good of all people.""

But then realised that the second article is good too: "Yesterday's silence, coordinated across the continent is, I fear, part of a trend to nationalise our emotional lives. [,,,] There is also a kind of commemoration inflation which devalues some losses and places a premium on others."

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Kind of excited by forumzilla, which reads in a list of XML feeds, and displays them in Thunderbird (or just Mozilla) as a mail folder, with each item in the feed as a different message. I've also got quicknote installed, which means I can keep an easy list of stuff I want to look at from e-mail and blogs.

Only drawback is that Atom feeds from Blogger aren't supported yet, due to dodgy namespace definitions on the feed's part, so I still have to go back to the www thingy for But I'm happy with the concepts already being developed, and might even get my hands dirty with XUL if I get the time...

Monday, March 15, 2004

This is quite disturbing... violence as an effective force for change definitely seems to be gaining some "credibility" - first, a war. Now Spain 'to withdraw Iraq troops': "The BBC's Chris Morris, in Madrid, says the bombings did more than shock Spain to the core; they proved to be the decisive factor in the general election that ousted the government."

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

"'I would like lifeblogging to become a verb."

Hmm. I guess it's inevitable, but I really don't think this "lifeblogging" thing is going to go anywhere. My thoughts:

1. Most blogs are dull. Dull, dull, dull. It's one thing to blog about a particular subject, but as people point out time and time again, keeping a record of your own activities is appealing to an extremely limited audience, and is probably more novelty than genuine interest. A "Lifeblog" would be utterly dire - why would I want to see somebody else's life highlights? Why would anyone want to see mine?

2. People seem to have a tendency to charge into this whole "blogging" idea without any sense of how public it is. When the guy running the "Warm Coccoon" blog on the right found out someone had linked ot him randomly, he got very paranoid. People publish their blogs publically, expecting access control lists to somehow appear magically, and then wonder why someone knows what's in their brain the next day. (Well, I wonder that, anyway ;)

3. Why haven't photo phones taken off? Sure, they're everywhere, but people don't make a big thing of them. Or maybe they do, and I just hang out in the wrong circles. Anyway, novelty value again, I claim. There are only so many dark, fuzzy, pictures you can take before getting on with it. I think lifeblogging could be the same - why bother recording everything if nobody really cares about it?

4. It's a stupid name. Why must people construct Trademarks around the "blog" abbreviation? Plus it's not on the web, initially ("weblog", you see). It might become a "lifeblog" after you publish selected items, but the main idea of an ongoing, off-line timeline is more of a... timeline. Lifestream. Whatever you want to call it.

And another thing - the number of subjects covered by blogs is, IMHO, very very small, compared to the number of subjects covered by, say, the web, or newsgroups. Or if they are covered, they're in nowhere near as much supply. I guess this relates to the first point.

Gah. Humbug.
Some questions just appear prophetic, in hindsight.
More confused over this conservative/liberal positioning thing - I agree with Mr Mercer when he says that people should learn to handle guns responsibly, but as usual, the reactionary furore around it demands illogical emotional polemicsm.

Gun crime is not guns. I wouldn't have one myself, but I really hate the idea of banning something in the assumption that outlawing the "technology" will make the world safe, whilst education and responsibility get thrown out of the window. I wonder if we are actually grown ups at all.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

More deficit! More! A quick summary for those who have just joined us...

The dollar is stunned, but the Japanese are looking after it for the moment. The pound is stronger than the Euro, which is stronger than the dollar, which is stronger than the Yen, so basically nobody's buying anything from the UK. Meanwhile the British public like their massive debt, helped by the fact that we can buy foreign things easily. This means little money coming in - we are spending to make ourselves rich, but in the process we are, uh, making ourselves poor.

The way I see it, our economy is therefore in the hands of the Japanese. If they can't hold the dollar up, things fall, markets get very unsteady, and people start losing jobs. When people start losing jobs, they a). stop spending, and b). sell off stuff that's risky or expensive. a) means that there are less jobs, probably in the manufacturing sector (which has already been hit by the shaky market fear), and b) means that all the people who have bought-to-let will start selling off their second homes pretty quickly (with prices helped on the way down by the fact that people aren't spending as much).

And to cap it all off, beer prices will probably still go up.
Really, really interesting link from Slashdot - Command Line is your friend, in which a bunch of complete newbies are shown through a linux CLI.

"The command line is one-dimensional with a single point of concentration: the cursor. The vertical axis of the screen is always time and provides the newbie with a constant reminder of what they did along with a record to show their instructor when they have problems."

"she progressed rapidly in remembering the command names now pronouncing commands like 'mkdir' as 'muk-dear' as opposed to 'em-kay-dee-eye-ah'." (I remember doing this ;)

"It was explained to the users that computers were stupid and would only do as you told them. They understood a special restricted form of language "as if you were talking to a child"."

"One user grasped the concept rather early on and usefully described it to the others as "a box with other boxes in"." (Re file structures)

"All users preferred the bash notification to the alert box style used in GUIs."
Possibly-controversial-but-definitely-brainstir-material post from last week by Tim May entitled Don't Panic - Not All Jobs Are Headed Overseas.

I find this bit particularly interesting:

"If students don't know even how to frame a simple argument, how to consider alternatives, how to refute or falsify assumptions, it's pretty hopeless to try to train them to be Java or PHP programmers. Maybe doing cookie-cutter Web pages, but nothing very substantial and nothing with much of a future. (As the many "Webmasters" at companies discovered in the late 90s, when Web page creation tools got more sophisticated; turned out that memorizing a bunch of HTML wasn't needed.)

Overheard many times at the local malls:

"Like, you know, and then she goes "Huh?", and then I go "Way!", and it was, like, weird!. And then I was like _so_..."

This doesn't translate well into computerese. Not the words, and especially not the stream-of-consciousness mental process. (I read an analysis of this kind of valspeak, and its isomorphic ghettospeak versions, with the conclusion that many of today's kids are "replaying movies in their head," hence the blow-by-blow recitation of what people said, in fragmentary form. Logic, summaries, induction, deduction, and analysis are mostly absent from their speech.

I suppose it's one of those things I've "felt" before, but not really thought about - the possible (and plausible) interplay and dependences between speech, thought, and programming. I remember being struck the first time I saw some decent Perl scripting as to how many parameters the coder checked for, and the checking for the sheer amount of possible permutations that may crop up, and now I think that the same technique should be applied in any kind of structured discussion or situation - i.e., what other influences are there that haven't been thought of. Whether or not my speech reflects this, I'm not sure (although I think it may, to an extent).

So is it possible to improve any one of these aspects of ourselves by concentrating on another? Can, for instance, a person improve their real-world logical deduction by learning to code? Is a person with an assembled grasp of a particular language any better at thinking through concepts or arguments?

Oh, there's also some stuff about outsourcing in there. Maybe the US (and the UK) will suffer, economy-wise, as a result of having a "dumb" culture. IMHO, we are not taught to think for ourselves as such, we are taught to do (and to follow) - that, I think, is an implied part of our current situation and our values, unfortunately. So perhaps it makes sense that people in other countries that aren't necessarily submitted to the same levels of "culture dumbing" could overtake in us in terms of not just economic attraction, but also inventiveness.
Ahh, I see viruses are getting back to their old "mischievous" tricks...

"On 10 March 2004 W32/Netsky-K plays random sounds between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m."

Hopefully we'll see some more pacmans and strange 3d creatures crawling across Windows desktops soon...

Monday, March 08, 2004

I started to get interested in this ongoing idea of a Knowledge-Driven Economy, which seems to have a lot of debate around it in Parliament at the moment. The phrase itself sums up vague estimations, alongside my own utopian ideal of hackers and geeks running the world %) but I'm sure that's quite a cry from what's being discussed.

Google throws up a link to Intellect, and their Knowledge Driven Economy page. Unfortunately, this seems to consist of a large number of wavy-hand lexical abuses and very little actual "things". It does, however, have some useful links, possibly.

According to a Government Press Release, the main objectives are:

  • Increased competition from low-cost economies using new technologies, highly educated and skilled workforces and mobile capital

  • The development of new products, processes and services

  • The introduction of electronic commerce

  • The development of science and knowledge bases to underpin the new technologies available to industry

Well, that's a start. Research will continue, and opinions will be formed.

A reminder that PCs really aren't environmentally friendly, and a good prompt as to why we shouldn't be blase about our technical consumption - extend the reasoning along all other consumer lines - televisions, washing machines, fridges etc, and just how frequently "cycles" of consumer goods are replaced (built-in obsolescance ignored for the time being). It's also something worth remembering when citing other apparent "green" schemes, such as turning off monitors overnight - there's a lot more to this "technology culture" thing than just hitting a button at the end of the day.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Hmmm, Halloween X - real or fake? Damaging or embarassing?

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Today I have been watching the progress of SCO shares, as well as keeping a slight eye on the related Yahoo! Message! Board!. As a result, I have been picking up all kinds of new money lingo, like "tank", "painting" and "short". Fascinating. I'm also working out this whole trading thing.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Results are in from the latest Political Survey:

left/right: 26.18% left
pragmatism/idealism: 10.89% pragmatic

I think I'm definitely more towards center than I was in the other political compass, and I think that's maybe because I'm considering arguments more fully, as well as adopting a more realist approach (hence the positive pragmatism result). Perhaps I would be more to the left if the current political context was more left.

There were a couple of questions where I hit "submit" and then thought "oh no, actually..." so I hope they don't influence it too much... ;)
Quiet at the moment - bit busy, bit of a cold, too much nethack, etc. Here's some links to keep the googlebot busy...

W32/Bagle-H has an interesting thing: "W32/Bagle-H sends itself as a password protected ZIP file that is not detected by this identity. However, when unzipped by the user the worm will be detected by Sophos Anti-Virus at the user's desktop." - this would have the added effect of more social engineering intrigue, although perhaps it would also add an extra step to the people's "click-open-boom" mentality that helps viruses to spread so fast - don't give people a chance to think about it.

VoxPolitics has lot sof links I want to catch up on. In reverse order:

Meanwhile, Technorati looks interesting as a kind of "Google of blogging" site.