Friday, April 30, 2004

Chris Lightfoot also admits that his blog has turned into a bit of an ID Card rant, and so compensates with holiday photos. He's a clever person and I'm also moving to his hosting thing, purely by accident.

No photos here though. Just links:

Someone else's initial thoughts on the ID Card Bill. And there's also an upcoming public meeting in London.
Hmm, interesting article on a Gallup poll of Iraqis. Of note is the fact that most opinions are formed by watching (and trusting) local news networks such as Al-Jazeera, as well as market-spread rumours. Wait for the US Defence to shut down both.
VoxPolitics points out that Wikipedia now has an entry for e-democracy, but that "It isn't very good."

But what is e-democracy other than a buzzword that begins with an "e-"? Apparently it's more than electronic voting, but at what stage does democratic process (i.e. public decision making and debate) become just that - decision making and debate? How much of e-democracy is anything special, and how much of it is just technological linkage combined with social structures?

Personally, I think that there is a huge scope for e-democracy. I think distributed group decision making through a variety of means - not just the Internet (although perhaps driven by it) - is yet to be anywhere-near-realised, with most of the talk about it seeming to focus on voting, and getting MPs to blog. What we need is more people looking at how to reassemble power networks in a broader scope, start looking at solutions to problems that affect everyone that utilise the power of comms networks to get a more applicable, more practical answer. Getting councils on-line and having MPs blog is dull, and does very little to actually empower the people whom decision actually affect.

It also needs to lose that "e-". How about just "modern democracy", or maybe even "re-democracy" - the idea of moving the power back to the demos, the citizens, rather than people that exist solely for the purpose of making decisions.
Wow, I'm doing marketwatch. I don't, however, know what some of these articles are talking about at all. "Inflation has breached the Fed's implied 2 per cent target whether you look at the surge in the broad GDP deflator to 2.5 per cent, from 1.5, or the jump in the core PCE [personal consumption expenditure] deflator to 2 per cent, from 1.2" - WTF?

Anyway, I don't want to be one of them bloggers that posts "impending doom" news but then handily "forgets" to post the other side. Looks like the US economy might be growing in the same way that the UK economy is - I'm not sure if raising interest rates in either place is going to trigger anything, but it's interesting to watch. Hsn't particularly helped the dollar yet, though. Oh, and it looks like China might start pulling back, which is bad news for Tokyo, and others (Oz, NZ, etc). Apparently China's been growing rather rapidly the last few years - so I wonder what happens when they cut back, and we put up our interest rates?

Meanwhile, the debate over respect and privacy vs gaudy capitalist voyeurism rages on, while in Iraq, American soldiers are bastards. (With BBC coverage.)

[ Side note of the day: In an organisation, who's responsible for an individual's actions? Should the "US Army" be responsible for the soldiers it contains? In the same way, is it right to get annoyed with "minions" at call centres? After all, it may not be their fault - they're told to do what they do - but they also have personal choice/responsibility in the matter. ]

Thursday, April 29, 2004

OK, didn't expect US forces to pull out of Falluja. Guess they've learnt a little - send in local forces to do the same thing, and see if the opposition can handle "Killing their own". Sooner or later, all wars will be like this. "Civil".

And did anyone else think "All-Iraqi" was another person's name, Al-Qaeda, Al-Iraqi, et-Al? Not even for a moment? Ah well. Wonder what the "Al-" signifies, anyway.
Trying to get a mental picture of the insurgency in Falluja. Turns out that the population of Falluja (284,500) is actually pretty similar to that of Brighton (247817 a few years ago, and getting more popular).

Brighton is relatively small (and of a completely different structure to Falluja, obviosuly). If 2,000 people took to the streets though, I guess it'd be interesting.
Violent crime figures rise by 11%, mostly due to alcoholic "kerfuffles"... "To help deal with the problem, Ms Blears said police would be carrying out sting operations to tackle shops and clubs selling to underage drinkers."

Yes, as it's most certainly not the legal drinkers, is it? Ptchah.

There are bigger causes than just selling booze to kids.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Exmosis: An idea for viral group blogs - emergent content?
"[Viacom]'s boss Mel Karmazin accused the Federal Communications Commission of being confused about what was considered "indecent" and suggested America's First Amendment, defending freedom of expression, was under threat."

Yup, the whole thing is confused. Maybe we should break cultures down into "show culture" (the image and values "officially" presented by a society) and "subculture" (the image and values that exist on a daily and almost psychological basis).

Interestingly, ID Cards have little or no coverage today. Fickle media. Shame the major news outlets are so far removed from the fora in which the public may really get their teeth into the debate. The BBC tend to link to the iCan project, and that's about it. We have all this interconnnectivity, but corporate politics maybe seem to quash any real integration between where people read, and where people can learn more/have a discussion (not just a one-way say).

I suspect that online news will become more distributed, allowing such integration to become more feasible, but not for a while yet.
Hubert Selby Jr has died. He wrote one of my favourite films - 'Requiem for a Dream' (although its award for "Making me feel most queasy" has now been officially given to 'In My Skin' *shudder*).
Been hit by a few of these recently - spammers pretty-much brute-forcing my mailbox. Got about 100 of these (indeed, it may have been 100, indicating a script loop?) in very close succession, all to a different set of address at my domain:

Received: from ( [])
by (8.11.1/8.11.1) with SMTP id i3S7Zpj22504;
Wed, 28 Apr 2004 03:35:52 -0400 (EDT)
Received: from by; Wed, 28 Apr 2004 05:32:57 -0400
From: "Paulette Rangel"
Reply-To: "Paulette Rangel"
Subject: (no subject)
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 07:29:57 -0200
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
X-Priority: 3

- anything not to my main address, and a few others, get through to me, including this "new" spam, which means that my spam filtering rules need to be updated somehow. I'm thinking of checking the To: and CC: fields for more than 2 non-main addresses, and /dev/nulling it if that's the case, but I could throw in a check for a URL in the body too, I guess. Doesn't prevent them from sending each one individually though.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A pretty detailed guide to various Islamic forces in the middle-east. The whole thing is extremely confusing, and is probably only exceeded in complexity by the Unix/Linux kernel timeline.
Living with the ID card: the BBC get some opinions from Brits living overseas, in places with ID cards. Responses and comments from other users seem to be mostly favourable, which has prompted me to think about just what this is all about.

Yes, for the majority of people the introduction of ID cards won't encroach on any civil liberties. Why not? Because they're quite happy to live their life as is expected. I have to keep reminding myself that we do have an amazing society, and I doubt I'd swap it.

As it is then, the introduction of an identification scheme (let's get the whole "card" thing out of the way) poses little "threat" to the lives of the vast majority. Hence the "in favour of/don't care" results reflected in polls. But what does it mean to the minorities, the people that don't want to live within the government-defined system, for whatever reason. This may include fraudsters, terrorists, criminals etc, but no change there. Maybe that's what laws are for, maybe not.

It seems that the people who are opposed to the card, me included, are the people that take issue with how the government (or, indeed, any government) run the country, and where the power lies with regard to making nationwide and international decisions (with national interests).

For instance, I hypothesise that there is a large overlap between the people who don't want ID systems, and who believe that the West's foreign policy is the cause of much upset in the world. And while I may not be overly fond of some of the methods chosen to make a point about this, there definitely appears to be at least an interest in political history by such a group. If we carried out a poll of who knew the history of Iraq/the Middle East to varying extents, and who didn't, would the numbers correlate to the recent for-and-against ID card polls?

So the way I see it, currently, is that the majority of people are happy to let the government do whatever it takes to make sure they're safe, so long as they don't have to know about it.
Unfortunately, this is where democracy turns round and bites the voters on the arse. As citizens of a nation empowered through an equal-rights voting system, we do all have a duty to ensure that our leaders - chosen by us - behave in a manner that is in our own interests. Politics, as they say, affects us all. And while international affairs may not directly concern many of us, the knock-on effects of living in a globalised world certainly do, as we are now seeing.

I think this is my main argument against an ID system. I no longer trust the government to have the ability nor intent to carry out activities for the wellbeing of the general population. Their views differ from mine, given the information available to me and the background reading I have done. What they do makes no sense to me, and it seems that the barriers to entry for getting a point across, however valid it may be, are tied up in bureaucracy and political faff. As such any system that not only has the power and capability to limit my ability to get my point across (along with any of those from others) even further, but also to restrict my access to the services that I need the government to do, is a faulty one from the point of view of democracy.

Yes, the innocent have nothing to fear. But when through technology (including tracking and ammunition) the government gets to define what is criminal in order to serve their own purposes, accountability and the idea of a civilised society goes out of the window.

Any comments welcomed.
Lies, damned lies et al. What does it mean (if anything) that the iCan "No compulsory national Identity Cards" campaign has 73 non-anonymous votes in support of banning them, and 12 against? (And a further 285 anonymous votes for, with 105 against)

Is democracy all about statistics, i.e. n more voted for A than B, and if so shouldn't we be extremely careful about using sloppy statistics to produce a sloppy democracy?

In this case, it's obvious that the BBC site will attract a particular kind of person, more obvious than when an opinion poll is carried out by an "independent" commission, and so isn't necessarily "representative" of a population. But then again, isn't it also true that the people going to the site, signing up and voting may well be a). more interested, and b). more informed than average?

In other words, what good is a democracy if it's an uneducated or apathetic population? Is such a system dangerous/unrepresentative of the goals of democracy?

It seems that proponents of various unpopular schemes always seem to quote a poll of "average" voters, in the knowledge that a bit of spin will drive them in the chosen direction, like One Man and his Dog. Maybe it's time to start thinking about how to encourage an informed democratic system.

Thought this for a while now, ever since reading about the original Greek demos which limited democratic power to the "elite" men of the society. While I can't take the Greeks' line that women and servants all have their own, powerless place in society, I think that democracy in this country certainly lacks some of the point of the system, purely due to its all-inclusiveness and desire to incorporate all, thus watering it down.
Marketing bumf from the biometrics sector: U.K. Tests Biometric Passports: "'Once people begin using biometrics, they will never go back to passwords, because this technology is just too easy and convenient to use.'"

The BBC outline what the state already knows about us.
Reading the latest UserFriendly strip, I wonder if Mozilla is getting a geek gathering behind it in the same way that Google did - free publicity^W advocacy for something that works. Geeks know what's good (when it comes to using computers). See if the public follows.
Interesting quote from that last article: "The police will not be given new powers and will not be allowed to stop people to ask for their ID cards."

Must read this bill. Meanwhile, here's a bit of a news scrape...

Blunkett not really sure what the cards will do, but they won't stop terrorism.

Clarke says they're for keeping an eye on paedophiles.

Bruce Schneier gets some quoting, and he's one of them people that knows about security and technology (probably as he wrote the books on it).

For some opinion, the Scotsman dismisses the totalitarian regime paranoia, but comes up with some reasoned argument.

The Guardian leads ("Why does such a difficult issue of balancing fundamental civil liberties with the right to protection from terrorists have to be phrased in such macho language?") and Martin Kettle asks some good questions, and is worth reading (" spite of its hugely ambitious hi-tech character [...] it is essentially a rather old-fashioned national solution to a set of extremely dynamic international phenomena.").
More barrelling through of dodgy/ineffective anti-fraud measures - first they bludgeon freedom into submission, then they screw up the Scotch industry?

"The stamps were found to be easily copied, while legitimate stamps could make counterfeit spirits appear genuine, argued the committee."


"'We are now working closely with the industry on the implementation of tax stamps, and ways to reduce the costs for companies.'"

Apparently the "education secretary Charles Clarke will tell MPs today that students won't receive grants in further and higher education unless they possess an ID card."

Already the feature creep (illegal immigration? anti-terrorism? bah) is racking up a whole list of useful features. Still, it was always said that you'd need one to work/claim benefits. Will the NHS succumb next? Will only the rich be able to live outside of the system?

Update: Proper link, like.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Finally found it.

Identity Cards Consultation, April 26th - 20th July.
Nice to know that the rich can pay to avoid ID cards :) (although I'm sure punishment would involve 2500 pounds and forced enrollment). I might start saving now.

Interestingly, "Postal passport applications would no longer be possible" - now that could upset many people.
Phone cable boxes for a new century.
Heh, glad to see the paper's picking up on the same thing. ID Bill will give officers right to scan eyes (The Times amongst many others.)
ID Card Draft Spec day! Probably not going to get to read it until tonight, but in the meantime it looks like polls are still being cited as reason. Or as democracy?

Are we seeing a fusion of a "dumbed down" democracy, and technological measures, to present uninformed opinion as a basis for what should be done? Looks like it.

This blog may go ID-card-centric this week. Think of it as a special "themed week" :)

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Hmm, don't seem able to edit my blog posts at the mo, so here's the link for some transcripts of that David Blunkett chat.
More on ID Cards: "we should be better informed", to put it mildly.

Just listened to David Blunkett on ID cards, who freely admits that once a database is set-up with biometric information, the card won't be necessary as you just have to take a biometric reading of the person you wanty to identify. Bang goes any point of "not having to carry cards", I see where this is all headed now.

This makes my head spin, not just for the logistics involved, the cost involved, or the lack of trust betrayed. This is about the control of an entire nation - whether it be the cabinet we see at the moment, or a future cabinet with less than beneficent intentions. This is the ability to pinpoint the entire life of any individual that has access to the technology i.e. (even in an ideal scenario) the government. Once the technology for control is there, how can any of us be free of whatever morals, laws and values are imposed on us by those in charge of said technology? How can we live our own lives as individuals under the ever-watchful eye of anybody?

Yes, I realise there are dangerous people out there. Yes, I realise that parania may abound aplenty. But I also realise that those in control, whoever or wherever they may be, are afraid of losing their control. I realise that the solution to any problem we face born of politics and society must find a political solution, not a technological one. All we will achieve through blanket tech-caging is the suppression of what it is to be alive.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Good article from the Reg following up on the UK public wanting ID cards, highlighting the gulf between what the public want, what they understand, and what's actually being pushed.
Forget the collegekids swapping music - wait for the RIAA to start suing the IP-abusing pop-culture soldier junkies currently serving in Iraq.

The MPAA should be able to get in on the court action too:

"If a movie has been out in a theater for a week, you can get it here," said Specialist Michael Trujillo with the 819th Military Police Company. He said bootleg DVD copies of "50 First Dates," starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, were on sale just days after it opened in the United States.
I had the pleasure to go and see the absolutely amazing Icelandic band Múm last night, and it blew me away so much that I had to blog it. I got into Sigur Rós a few years ago, and they were of a similar awe-inspiring calibre live too. (starálfur remains one of my the songs.) There's something unashamedly experimental about both bands - Múm for instance brought along a fine selection of instruments - a saw, a casio keyboard, one of those little organs that you blow into, a small wooden box with metal contacts that made weird swooshy noises, some violin-cum-sousaphone bizarrity. Oh, and bells, of course. All combine to produce beautifully orchestrated tunes that flit between rhythm, sound and everywhere else, putting most of the music I hear elsewhere into a "staid" box where rehashing of old styles seems to be the norm. Múm prove there's still undiscovered music out there, and I'm so glad I got to see them live.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

As politicians vote to wall themselves in, and even further away from the public than they already are, I start to think that the way forwards is completely contained, sustainable communities well away from the big cities. Rather than join the flocks that surge towards the crumb jobs handed out by the multinationals, why not go independent? Contained communities are the way forwards - we have the technologies, we just need the people.

Reminds me of the Brighton Earthship", but also Snowcrash...
1 in 10 of coalition-trained officers have become insurgents. That's still a minority, but this is where I've been thinking about democracy vs power mechanisms.

The Coalition has been citing democracy (or at least the apparent wishes of a democracy) as a case for continuation a lot recently. But doesn't that assume that the situation in Iraq is already subject to democratic values? Surely in lieu of democracy, and indeed any other system, majorities and minorities have little currency. I guess what I mean is without a defined power structure, force is the basic power, and so to make the transition to a system of designed power balance, this needs to be taken into account. In other words, is it possible/appropriate to cite democratic reasoning in a power vacuum?

I think this ties in with the question of "what is power in a democratic state?" - for instance, almost everyone has the ability to vote in the UK, but that doesn't mean that we all have the same ability to control the country, naturally. We don't even get control over our own lives. So democracy is really an agreement to determine the power structure, rather than particular empowerment - some kind of meta-influence, perhaps. And if that's the case, is it sustainable? Can democracy sustain itself, or is it rather that there must be an alternative mechanism (or mechanisms) to maintain this democracy? i.e. without law, would democracy be meaningles?

Furthermore, how feasible is it, therefore, to use other means and methods to exert influence over a group? Do those that stick to such meta-influences really lose out?
I think I've upped my expectations for UI simplicity.

Exmosis: I'm not sure we're taking this KISS thing far enough.
Various BBC items... Must get some other sources ;)

  • So apparently the majority of the East is on our (pro-democracy and gen-u-ine American freedom) side, and it's only a minority. But it's looking increasingly like confidence in the occupying forces is waning.

  • "Public 'happy to carry ID cards'", but not so much to pay what's suggested, nor that the government can get it right (my main reason, from a security viewpoint, for opposing them). Plus if it goes wrong, what are the chances of the prices going up? Of course, this poll will be trumped by Mr Blunkett yadda yadda grr.

  • First time buyers giving up in Scotland, expect the same to happen down here soon.

  • Gel to clear up Acne - another use of technology to justify our beautiful appearances/paranoid delusions? Why not simply... not care about it, and wait til you get over it?

OK, on the happy fun side, I've started to learn XUL (although the link may be broken at the mo), with an eye to building some interesting UI experiments in Mozilla.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

PC users don't care about security - which we all know. Why should they, in today's culture of individualism and bare necessity, need to know more than what they need to survive?

Still, it ties in neatly with much of what I've been thinking lately - that technology is NOT the end point, that a user shouldn't have to learn anything special to use it, and that just cos being a geek is good, not everyone wants to be one ;)

Having said that though, people learn to drive cars all the time, which aren't particularly user-friendly. Maybe it's a cost vs benefit thing. In terms of security, there aren't any real advantages, at least in regards to immediate feedback or functional improvements, to "being secure".

Have also been thinking about putting up a really simple site for the old Simple Information campaign. An exercise in KISS, kind of thing. (Ideally, people would be able to send off for a CD containing installers for a range of necessary software to install, such as firewalls & virus checkers, etc. And ideally they'd get free updates somehow, too...)
In amongst all the EU constitution revolution and the TCP hoo-hah, the Netfilter(/iptables) project has been granted a preliminary injunction against Sitecom GmbH, to enforce the GPL (in .de). Is this the first time the GPL's been near a court?

Meanwhile, BBC says that curiosity is the reason why people find other people's mobile-phone chats annoying. Makes sense - my girlfriend finds it more annoying when, not only can you hear just one side of the conversation, but that which you can hear is in a different language, which I get too. Wonder why we care so much about what other people are saying - are we really so voyeuristic? Or just paranoid that they're talking about us?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

People's password still stupidly easy to guess, and if that fails, just give them some chocolate.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Interesting run-through for the techies of a new screenshot-grabbing Barclays Bank phishing trojan.
Project Grokdoc looks to start some user-testing with an eye to improving usability. Maybe I can get some kind of hard drive running Mandrake to take round people's houses to see how they do with it on their machine.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Tony Blair yabbers on about why we mustn't give up in Iraq. "It is not easy to persuade people of all this; to say that terrorism and unstable states with WMD are just two sides of the same coin..."

I need no persuasion, but I've yet to hear ''any'' leading politician dispute the claim that the coin was pretty much constructed by those in the West, or at the least, allowed to run freely so long as activity was in the West's interests.

When the politicians start owning up to their part in creating this mess, I might start believing them for other things too. As it is, history damns them, and their continued skirting around the real issues just puts me off "real" politics even more.

Friday, April 16, 2004

US troops to stay longer in Iraq: "He also traced a 'common thread' between Sunni gunmen in Falluja and Mr Sadr's Shia militants.
'The common thread is... to stop progress in Iraq,' he said, accusing militants in both communities of seeking to destroy the country's new institutions.

Can't get it out of my head that the way the US insists that people are "avoiding progress" is kind of like the way people in sci-fi films who have been taken over by aliens insist to those that haven't that "once it's done, you'll wonder what all the fuss was about - my mind is so calm now".
My spam's getting more and more poetic to circumvent filters, almost to the point where it's enjoyable. Skip the noise and check the signal on this one - I assume it's some kind of random word gen code:

you gotta see this bro ;)
the hottest site i've ever seen and its free too!

give it a go...


6:21:02 AM
Any well-crafted recycle bin fidgeting.
Whose slopy paper snores.
Our children smart exam book makes sound.
Whose smart mp3 player calms-down.
A given round-shaped little white clock fidgeting.
Any white boots calculates and still her tall spoon smells.
Any stupid kitchen calms-down.
The green recycle bin got an idea while a given golden dog falls as soon as their silver smart book run.
Her well-crafted soda lies or maybe any given smart purple soft expensive tv stands-still.
A given beautiful bicycle smiles.
A given soft stupid green silver sony looks around however, the fancy boots stands-still.
Her daughters well-crafted bed spit.
A fancy beautiful car run and our noisy glasses calculates.
Their white camera stares.
Our children odd shaped fancy carpet stinks or maybe whose stupid printer prepare for fight.
Her fancy round-shaped sport shoes stares.
Any given purple well-crafted sofa calculates.
His green clock is thinking.
The round-shaped sport shoes sleeps as soon as the smart printer show its value.
Her daughters stupid mp3 player calculates and his green noisy ram snores at the place that our hairy white golden eraser stares.
A silver mobile phone spit while any given fancy slopy bra is on fire or whose golden sport shoes stinks.

"A given beautiful bicycle smiles"? Wow.
Iraqi 'beaten to death' by US troops
Looks like Blogger have finally fixed that gaping XSS hole. Good.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I think if I wanted to be somebody else, I'd like to be A Poet Called Benjamin Zephaniah. I'm currently watching him on BBC's Question Time, and he's probably the most... down to earth person I've seen on there, because he's not a politico, a business man, a media star, et al. He's a person.
Osama Bin Laden's tape message:

BBC's full text as translated by BBC Monitoring
Excerpts as translated by Reuters

Most countries seem happy to continue to label him a terrorist, and that negotiations will not be entered into, despite Mr Bin Laden's blatant attempts to transmogrify into a politician. Hmm, maybe the game's been upped a little - at least Bin Laden seems to speak a little more "sense" than some of the pap that spews forth from the mouths of some world leaders. Doesn't the fact that he's willing to negotiate at all undermine their arguments that "terrorists hate our freedoms?"

I'm confused, Mr Blair. Should I believe you or him? Or should I just stay in my home and watch TV? That way, only one of you can get to me, yes. Damage limitation.

More inter-documental hyper-radishing... Am reading "Why I became a conservative" by Roger Scruton, as linked to by Phil, and noticed criticism of Michel Foucault, such as:
"Only in France is he widely regarded as a fraud."

What's the easiest way to check through French literature these days? Google, I thought. So off to some French sites, using Mozilla's handy "translate" doodah.

Now I think this ties in with a previous post I made, regarding thinking without language. I'm now considering changing that to thinking cross-languages - and, indeed, this is one of those things that I find interesting about anyone that can speak more than one language - do they think about "life" differently at all? Just as there is no real English equivalent of "joie de vivre", there must be a host of concepts that we miss out on by restricting ourselves to one language. (This is also why I'm a little depressed by the Anglicisation of the world.)

So now I'm curious if I can get closer to a level of "languageless concept" through more languages.

Also, I haven't read the whole article yet, but Scruton's dismissal of Foucault's "theories" and apparent counter-arguments seems mostly mistargetted. For instance...

" the common law of England is proof that there is a real distinction between legitimate and illegitimate power, that power can exist without oppression, and that authority is a living force in human conduct. English law, I discovered, is the answer to Foucault."

...supposedly to "answer" Foucault's claims...

"Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy."

...misses the point. IIRC (and I may well not), Foucault talks of power and oppression in more "abstract" terms - power is everywhere, it's a natural force just as gravity "oppresses" our ability to fly. I think what Scruton tries (or tried, it's a historic account) to do is counter the "take-up" of Foucault's ideas by alleged "liberals" (which is an argument I can more readily appreciate, under recent years and experiences - I am not, however, becoming a conservative, I just think the left isn't quite as left as claims to be). Indeed, Foucault himself, I believe, separated himself from any "political bias" in his work:
"It's true that I prefer not to identify myself, and I'm amused by the diversity of the ways I've been judged and classified."

Still, I look forward to reading the rest of it.
Some interesting-looking things from Demos...

Elsewhere, the UK trade deficit is down, which is good news, although I notice it's up for trade with the EU. It could just be because we're buying less from overseas, but exports of the following rose:

cars, "intermediate and capital goods" (?), chemicals and other semi-manufactured goods (?)

Haloscan seems down at the moment, so comments and trackback are disabled.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Oh duh, I'm such a fool.

1. I have been sending myself notes - things to read, ideas to remember, etc - in the form of e-mails for a year or two now, and always forget to go back through my inbox/drafts folder to find out what I was supposed to catch up on. Functionspace clash - my inbox is not my to-do list. One procmail rule and one extra folder later, et voila, a separate folder for notes. Duh duh duh.

2. I've vaguely thought of tying together my webspace with my mailspace, allowing me to access either with the other, but been put off by the terrible thoughts of using an IMAP protocol in Perl. Only just now have I realised that my mail is stored in flat text files, one directory level above my webspace, and will be a piece of wee-wee to access/convert into webspace. Integration just got a whole step closer, without me having to do anything :D Some performance and security issues may need to be considered, obviously, but no reason why I can't just e-mail myself and have it pop up as a list on a website now - instant blog!
Could do some kind of archival filtering/splitting thing using another script, and go from web->email by adding a few headers. Nice.

3. ... or even start implementing a FOAF directory structure as some kind of nested hierarchy, to coincide with my nested e-mail folders. A quick directory-crawling Perl script should be able to bundle it up into one rdf file/actually generate the xml, unless I can do it straight in rdf, or something.

4. Probably quite easy to knock up something in XUL that allows me to save messages in the folder they're already in, rather than the default "Drafts" folder. Then, Mozilla mail client is my editor...

How exciting.
I always wondered what would happen when the localhost file got attacked - viruses are beginning to use it seriously now. (Although I guess they may well have done before. I'm a bit out of the loop...)

I also wonder how far it could go, seeing as more viruses now have thing slike p2p capabilities, and automatic remote updates. Could we have a virus that uses p2p to simulate a Windows Update server on one machine, and update the localhosts file on another to taint Windows Update? Furthermore, what would be the point?
Slashdot asks "Will making Linux more user friendly result in it becoming less secure?" (hey, I just posted that...), but going through my old mail, is *nix development inherently more secure (see, for example this comparison of e-mail client base 64 decoding) as a result of the Handicap Principle appearing in software development concepts and practice?
Argh, too many thoughts for a Tuesday morning, and I think I'm forgetting some. So I don't forget...

  • Does having to think in a language restrict the ability to think, or can we only come up with new concepts in our head if we have the language to define that concept? I was intrigued by the idea this morning that I could think (new) things (faster) if I just turned the English language bit of my brain off, and let it run off on its own, but is it possible?

  • I think that ties in with my recent theories of consciousness vs language interpretation. Is self-awareness just a method to handle other creatures referring to "me" as an object in their perspective? Is it merely an observational necessity in dealing with advanced language? WIll try to write this up more fully later, plus read more GEB.

  • "Slashdot: When Does Usability Become a Liability?" has got me thinking, vaguely, about GUIs vs CLIs again, although I think the "vs" bit could be a barrier in the way of developing a really good UI. GUIs = limited, visible choice, CLIs = more choice and therefore more power. No reason why either should be so though - GUIs can offer more choice, but must sacrifice visibility. CLIs may offer visible choice, if so desired - see, for example, tab completion on the shell. But really, there seems to be a gulf in thinking between the two that shouldn't necessarily exist except in an extremist, ideological way. ("Aha, GUIs are simple, therefore interaction with them must be simple! Otherwise, what's the point?"...)

  • Have been using Ion [currently protesting - good idea, must do] on my laptop for about a week now, and finding it quite interesting. Something in me likes stripping away all the windows manager bumf - so keyboard shortcuts take the place of minimize/maximize/close buttons, as well as the need for icons to launch applications. You can use the mouse if you want to, but I'm putting myself through the rigmarole of using the keys for just about anything possible, to see how well I can get used to it. I find myself running less applications, but remembering which workspace/tab an application is in more, and this plus the lack of fancy graphics means it runs really well on my slightly-creakly laptop. Keyboard-oriented windowmanager + typeahead-enabled Mozilla works lovely, and I'm quite impressed with several applications' keyboard support. Hopefully get some more ideas down soon, plus maybe get into Lua scripting.

End splurge.
Another click-to-feed thingy for the needy of America, I like it because it's so simple, and they have a diagram. Discovered through the new non-profit classified ads of Nonprofit On-line, which was in turn a link from The Gilbert Centre.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

I just had some thoughts on David Wilcox's Ten conversation starters on community tech, or rather more specifically, point 7:

Consumer trends are towards personal, mobile, creative devices that enable people to build their personal, family, work and leisure networks - and be a bit different. Communication is wherever you are, not on the desktop. personal devices enhance people's networking capacity.

At first, I nodded in agreement, but now I'm not sure this is so true, or at least not looking at it the right way. Yes, there's a rise in "mobile" devices, but:

  1. The main reason for the success of the mobile phone (the only truly interpersonal-communicative-mobile device) is that telephones themselves are so all-pervasive already - but their main limitation was that they had to be kept in one place. So in that sense, I agree with the final sentence above.

  2. But are mobile devices changing the landscape in any other way? A laptop is simply an extension of a desktop. A PDA is simply a filofax you can turn on and off.

  3. Similarly, the advanced "features" of phones seem to be centred around sales, and attraction between product and individual, rather than any kind of networking progress. The most exciting thing around mobile phones these days is, apparently, how to come up with a new business model to sell people ring-tones. Woo. I have yet to think of a reason why streaming video will offer anything substantially new either. Answers on a postcard.
    The one possible exception to this is Bluetooth. Why? Because it's free to use, has immediate feedback, and doesn't try to do more than the context of th device allows.

  4. Question: Are "traditional" mobile networks completely and utterly restricted by their centralised mechanism? Is all hope of any real progress around the existing mobile market killed off by the technology being controlled in the same way as television, rather than the internet? None of the three (four, if you include landlines) have meshed at all yet - a result of how phones and TV are controlled, perhaps?

So, are we wrong to see personalised devices as a "new wave" of customised, distributed networking nodes? Does the rise of personal computing represent a dead-end, corporate-backed, top-down control scheme?

Scribe, he say yes.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Nokia sales slump caused by inadequate product range.

Only mentioning this because I ended up getting a new phone last week - upgrading my old Nokia 8-series to a new 6-series (the 6610, indeed). Why? I guess the main reason was just out of curiosity - I'm not a phone freak (as opposed to a phreak), and really don't want the latest hot-diggety woosh swoosh features, like a camera, or torch, or mp3 playing. A radio is good, bluetooth would have been nice, but so long as I have infrared, I'm happy. It also had to be free, based on my current "status", as it were. I was also keen to find something that I could maybe develop some Java apps on - get back to the good old days of small-time, fun coding. So I'm looking into that.

But the first thing that struck me when I was choosing, was how quickly I managed to narrow the choice down. OK, the criteria are quite numerous, and while I'm keen on Nokia phones, I didn't want to disregard any others. So the 6610 fitted and off I went with it. But it was the "best of the choice", rather than one that really leapt out at me.

Now I've been using it for a few days, it kind of feels more and more like a bit of a step backwards from my old one. With the introduction of a "pretty", graphically-filled interface, the UI response time has dropped noticeably. I'm going to see if turning the backgrounnd image off has any effect, but I don't believe it should. I constantly find myself waiting for the menu display to catch up as I scroll through even the list of names.

There are some nice little shortcuts, thanks to the extra keys now available, and there may even be some that I haven't found yet. Being able to get to my SMS inbox in less than 6 keypresses would be nice, for instance. But it's almost-worrying to see that what is surely a technically-superior product is now hampered by the push to run a media-rich interface, as if the ability to store images and ringtones is now more important than feedback time. Is this the result of an industry that has a now-saturated market, and so must continue to invent new features to maintain sales progress, thus maintaing shareholder value? I'm still skeptical about 3G over here. (Who wants to be able to see who they're talking to whilst walking down the street?)

The 7-series phone seemed a bit faster when I tried someone else's, so maybe I can take this one back and get an update. If it's not too late. But then, it's quite hard to get them these days, as people didn't like the keys... :-/

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Blather looks intriguing, if only for a little while. I like word experiments.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Now have Trackback thingy, thanks to
Thought: A society's control over itself through the use of technology will only be truly in control of itself once that technology - hardware and software - is free too.

There are 2 issues in this though:

  1. Legal rights to resources. The GPL is an important step away from a repeated-licensing, subscription-style model. Any software requiring an "upkeep" purely for its *use* (not its installation) is not sustainable. Hardware is covered under individual property laws.

  2. Control over development. If a community/society/network does not have full control over what the code or hardware does, or how it does it, then it is not self-sufficient. This entails knowledge though, and is why we (as independents) need a knowledge-driven economy. N.B. The problem is not to ensure that everyone has the requisite knowledge, but to ensure that every community has the requisite knowledge within it.

(As techies, we should not expect others to understand the technology. But should we not expect them to offer us their skills, that we lack, in return?)
Worst quote ever?: "With these types of attack, if the public are not prepared, this then becomes a weapon of psychological terror"... whereas if we're prepared, then we're no longer frightened, and so technically speaking, they're not terrorists?

Anyway, blah de blah, Blunkett claims he's vindicated, blah blah proof of an attack etc etc. Fortunately for him, he doesn't go into why we're being attacked still ("blah blah, hate our freedoms, etc etc", I suspect) - indeed, targetted by al-Qaeda et al. No no no, politicians can't talk about politics to the public, especially not of an international kind. That would be crazy.

Oh, and to redress the balance, the terrorists are stupid for killing those who are against the coalition too. At least try and aim for the enemy, rather than easy-to-hit public pray (although with more armed police and soldiers on the streets, one could claim that national armed forces were a kind of "local militia" - if we're killing the uprising masses in Iraq legitimately... hmm. Probably not legal, though. Ethically?)
For some reason whilst reading this Politech post on ACLU suing Feds over "do not fly" list, I started thinking about the plausibility of supposedly hermetic technical schemes versus the scalability of their implementation. Probably something to do with the ID Cards post before, too.

The fact that it's obvious makes it even more depressing, though.
That is, the technical effort involved to ensure a rigid flow of information increases according to the size of the network it flows through.

OK, so it's nothing new, and it's kind of vague. What I mean is, it's technically easy to dictate the flow and use of data within a small network. However, as the network gets bigger, the technology starts having to take into account emergent social factors that manifest either through collusion by the network's actors (more links between), or through pure probability (more chance of a single person doing something). This goes for people abusing the system, as well as mistakes occurring.

I'd love to know the design process that goes into large scale (as in, national/international) technical systems - do they rely mainly on lessons learned on smaller scales, that may not take sufficient factors into account (and, indeed, that may not be predictable if previous experience on such a scale does not exist)?

For instance, taking the "evidence" that biological identification schemes, such as iris-scanning, are foolproof, and using it as proof of the success of a nation-wide ID card fails to take into account either a). any large-scale tests that haven't been done of the technology, and b). other emergent "workaround" factors that render the technology useless in a large-scale context.

ID card Bill 'within four weeks'

Spot the fascist misgivings: "'Biometrics, the use of eyes, the use of fingerprints is now a certainty in a way that never was before so therefore identification either whether it be on border controls or whether we have to deal with stop and search in the street, anti-terrorism kind of activity or even along the normal way that police officers work would give a certainty we need.'" - Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir John Stevens

If I pull out my eyes, can I be excused?
Follow-up - looks like the US may have succeeded in uniting the usually-bitter-rivals, the Shias and the Sunnis, albeit not in the manner that they had maybe hoped.

Muslim Rivals Unite In Baghdad Uprising (l/p: cpunx/cpunx)

"'What Moqtada Sadr did simply woke up the people,' said Sarmad Akram, 36, who owns the small food shop next door. 'Now the people have the guts to resist.'"

Although, judging by comments such as "You have not seen anything yet. ... You will see a new style of resistance in the city. Well-organized. Advanced. They will be surprised. They won't know what to do." is there a possibility that this uprising has been stirred and orchestrated by those who, up til now, have been happy just bombing things?

>> On privacy

Precisely why any scheme controlling public data needs to be thought through considerably, a commitment I don't see being made by Monsieur Blunkett at any stage, and hence why any scheme to bring obligatory public data together isn't my favourite.

Lib Dems warn of Whitehall snooping: "The data suggests the cases cover more serious issues than using Whitehall computers for sending private emails; the Department for Work and Pensions excluded "minor" cases from the reported 31 occasions on which it took action again staff members."

>> On Iraq

Tony Blair's off for a visit to Mr Bush, now, and wouldn't like to have either of their jobs. Are they willing to give up control of the Iraqi region to achieve some semblance of stability? Are they f**k. Everyone seems acutely aware - most of all the Iraqis - that this about who has control over the region, and it makes sense to me that people can get pretty angry about any other country coming in and setting things up just as they like it. It's one thing to impose the best way to proceed upon a nation, it's another to let them work things out for themselves.

This quote from Blair gets me:

"Iraq has been a deeply damaged country and going from totalitarianism to freedom was always bound to be difficult."

Why do they keep bandying around this "freedom" tag, like it's some utopian holy grail that can be forced upon them? How can you impose freedom? Blair seems to think it's like some magic pixie powder handed out from the barrels of tank guns, like the Iraqi people are suddenly going to sit down and think to themselves "Oh, I see now, this Western civilisation thing is much better than what we have - let's all give up our religious malpractices and become a free-thinking developed nation! Yeah!"

No, it's not like that. The only way there's going to be quickly-achieved, short-term peace in Iraq is through the same amount of control imposed by their former dictator. Control, that is, not fear. The coalition's plan is probably to keep military control in place until a "free" market can develop, thus replacing the sticks and knives and guns with the droning process of the Western world, where control is stabilised through keeping the people in competition with themselves, rather than against the government.

But either way, it is not the "freedom" being touted by Mr Blair or mr Bush, and nor is it the "control" that the Iraqis understand to be theirs (from whichever region you look at). Will Iraq resist the call of the sheeple?

Gah. Rant over.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Why XML isn't a panacea for everything.
BBC op ed: Life beyond Google


  1. Search results alone don't make a site popular. Everyone started using Google because it was fast and didn't have adverts all over the place. Now it's even lighter, by the looks of it.

  2. Good points about how providing access is alone not enough to make a difference. Training is needed too, but where should that training come from - whose responsibility is that?

  3. I find the company's position quite interesting. Yes, it's a privately-owned company, but really, if it was any other way then would Google work quite as well? When it floats, will the responsibility to shareholders put an external factor on Google that didn't exist before, influencing its behaviour towards money rather than user performance? If it were a public body (a NPO) then would it be able to attract the same quality of staff and researchers? It seems to be a rare company that a). knows what its doing, and b). isn't afraid to experiment - indeed, actively encourages it. Doesn't a body of people's internal culture influence outcomes more than the economic management thereof?

  4. Could Google act as a "meta Search Engine", in that it could point to places that are likely to hold the information you are looking for? e.g. If it knows a forum is on a particular topic, but doesn't have access to that forum for log-in reasons, could it point human users to the forum and let them do further searching once they've signed on?

Monday, April 05, 2004

"We have a group under Moqtada al-Sadr that has basically placed itself outside the legal authorities, the coalition and Iraqi officials..."

Interesting that the Shias were originally pro-coalition. Wonder what made them change their mind... (trying to influence someone else's country probably didn't help).

Growing increasingly more (a|be)mused at the idea that a region with thousands of years of aggravated history can be forced into a stable, peaceful state by Advanced Use of Weaponry. Does the West seriously believe that once democracy has been established there, everything will go all flowery and nice? (Or rather, does the US administration seriously believe that a democratic system there will give them enough control over the rivallous hordes?)

Saturday, April 03, 2004

I can't believe there's not more activity around David Wilcox's blog, as mentioned in recent posts. Unafraid to ask questions that jump straight to what we too easily assume, he now asks
"Does it matter if people don't want to use the Net?"

Thursday, April 01, 2004

More fantastically interesting stuff from David Wilcox:
Ten conversation starters on community tech.

Scroll down for my comments on why information and relationships shouldn't be constrained by protocols and interfaces. The more I think about it, the more I don't like the way systems are designed to appeal to a specific "type" of community, and it now seems kind of backwards to fit the technology to the real world, kind of like saying "all communities should use a mailing list". Are our current systems just hodge-podges built on top of older systems designed with a very narrow purpose in mind? Maybe we need to start from scratch, now that we know what we know.

I also hate the way I can't just mirror my comment here, and on my website. Perhaps each of these 3 page should just be thought of as a view into information-space, like a view into a database, pulling out what's relevant to the view's context.