Sunday, August 28, 2005

It's a team performance stupid

To the tune of "Tube Disasters" by Flux Of Pink Indians

I love Andrew Flintoff
I want to marry an Andrew Flintoff
I want another one like the last one
Cos I live for Andrew Flintoff yeah

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Anthony Delano Walker RIP

Excuse me, but am I on the right planet?

Time for work judo, as all the systems me 'n' Rangor have written have suddenly deemed doubledoubleplusplusungood by the Ministry Of Transmogrification: they (and consequently we) are to be replaced forthwith. Unequivocally. Aegis (the general name for the application suite) is to be extirpated, root and branch. Discarded like a soggy old goatskin.

Aegis, fittingly in this context, is a rare rhyme for egregious.

Work judo is like regular judo: use your opponent's power against them: divert their attacks, dilute their resolve, undermine their foundations. I was only a green belt at regular judo: maybe blue, I seem to remember the sensei having pity on me. Maybe not. Judo also teaches you to fall without hurting yourself: that might be more useful.

The title of this post is a slight alteration of part of the public signature used by a Mr J Dyson on some lists I lurk on. He is the only person ever to have two hits in my signature file, and the other is my all time favourite:

Next time, let's screw it up my way first

Friday, August 19, 2005


Mo Mowlem and Robin Cook would've probably lived longer if they hadn't been politicians: it's a tough job. They were both dedicated and effective public servants, and I hope the next generation of Labour politicians is at least half as capable and principled and determined as them. It seems far too much to expect the newbies to equal let alone surpass their measure, as it is the sum of their accomplishment we remember them for: they both stood firm through the bad times and the good, while staying true to themselves when it counted. Hail and farewell.

Bits of a post or a post of a bit

I broke the scissor-cross on my "y" key yesterday, and the "u" key came off (Mac keyboards use a scissor-cross mechanism to minimise key travel) - I can get replacement keys, but I can't seem to fit the scissor back over the lower hook - any tips?

I've been accused of cowardice myself recently

Breathing while black

I think we can all understand that the police who shot Jean Charles de Menezes were scared and panicing, their procedures had fallen apart, and that they made a terrible mistake. It seems clear that the protocol they were acting under are fundamentally flawed, but then we don't know the details of the shoot-to-kill policy (not the first time this has been adopted by a UK government - I remember John Stalker's enquiry into executions in Belfast) - let's just hope no terrorists have ever been train drivers and used a dead-man's-handle, and that none of them are old enough to remember when war films had a standard sequence involving the hero holding two hand-grenades with the pins pulled defying the villains to shoot him.

Sir Ian Blair should resign. I appreciate he has stuck up for his officers, but this is now a big enough failing of procedure and protocol to warrant it - it's effectively a random execution by the Met of someone they think is vaguely suspicious. When I hear in the news about the security plans for the Labour party conference involving large numbers of armed police I feel like saying we'll all stay in for the duration. I don't want me or anyone else to be executed just because the police fuck up again.

And then, and this is worst of all, they have lied about it and tried to cover it up: when you cover up an honest mistake, it turns into a dishonest act. Jean Charles' memory and family deserves better: after the Met executed him, they tried to portray him as a suicide bomber: that is a despicable act of cowardice, a disgrace. RESIGN!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

New Marx Please

Capitalism, hate it or loathe it - you can't help but admire it sometimes.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lucky bleeders, lucky bleeders

Found a programming language consisting entirely of whitespace (tabs, spaces, and line feeds). This is some of their example code:

Although this is of course a fully functional language, I liked the subtlety of this joke:
Whitespace is a particularly useful language for spies. Imagine you have a top secret program that you don't want anyone to see. What do you do? Simply print it out and delete the file, ready to type in at a later date. Nobody will know that your blank piece of paper is actually vital computer code!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Brighton Elm

The local TV news tonight reported that Brighton has one of only two elm tree populations left - of course the news item was prompted because a diseased tree in Preston Park was being photogenically cut down. Still, there must be at least some possibility they are right (they may have omitted such qualifiers as "in Sussex" or "in Britain", who knows.)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

ID me #2 - your papers please

I've been thinking for a while about biometric ID cards.

It doesn't matter what biometric is chosen, there are people who simply cannot authenticate by the method chosen. A man with no eyes cannot take an iris identification test: a woman with no hands cannot take a fingerprint test. The managers among you might say "Do Both!" but let's suppose there's someone out there with no eyes and no hands, Mr Double-Hamza. He still needs to authenticate himself. How is the ID infrastructure to cope? Are people with no eyes and no hands to be issued certificates allowing them to bypass security checks? You're the security guard, I have dark sunglasses, hooks and long sleeves, and a certificate. Are you going to question my certificate? Are you going to shine a torch into my eyes to see if my retina shrinks, are you going to tug on my hooks? Of course, in reality there would only be one biometric not two, which increases the number of poeple who can't authenticate.

I can hardly conceive that anyone reading this could ever have criminal intentions, but identities will become hugely valuable commodities if ID cards become reality. Buy now!

One fundamental question is whether we see ourselves as people or as data - at the moment, we are people about who the government 'has data': some here, some there, most right and some wrong. A precept of the ID scheme is that the government will have to establish a central database of it's subjects (not even a citizen in your own country) and when there's a central database people start thinking about it as the primary source of information. You become a datum in a database, then you have to prove your identity ("authenticate as a registered user" if you like) before you can make any transactions, or pass through a barrier to a station or a stadium or school.

This is always a conceptual error. Databases (or at least useful ones) represent a subset of attributes of something real: decisions made about those real entities need to be made about their actual properties and not what might be stored in the database. A database of CDs has titles, artist, and tracks. It doesn't store when you first listened to them or why you used to listen to one of them all the time, which ones you secretly hate, any of a hundred billion other possible human attributes. The database has a few token properties which make it useful as a lookup device once you have decided what to put on, but while you are deciding what CD to play you look at the discs and decide what to play using the non-database human attibutes like who is with you, what mood you are in, what the weather is like: the valuable information is in the relationship between you and your CDs, not in the CD database.

I recognize there may be value in a imperfect implementation of a national database to the government but I don't believe that means there's any value in it for us (and it will cost us a packet). I don't really mind so much being part of a national catalogue, it's the "your papers please" aspect that bothers me, as in the title of this post. (Have you heard the Gestapo joke.. no, this isn't the time)

Of course, we'll be all right - it will be the most vulnerable in society will suffer the most difficulties with authority from ID cards - people with mental health problems or who are learning disabled, asylum seekers, Romanies, travellers, anarchists, punks, crazies, runners, serial name-changers. How can you keep track of people who don't want to be kept-track-of? How do they expect to be able to keep track of all this information anyway? You come immediately right up against inherent limitations of software - because a computer isn't always right, it just always produces the same answer.

I looked at some of the problems involving matching people before: even after the huge push to get everyone's details right you're going to need a big staff of smart people to make the decisions about who is who but now calls herself whatever, and you're going to need them forever. Computer systems never make decisions: the decisions are made in advance by the person who specifies how the computer system is going to behave, and the programmer implements these decisions in the program. When the end user types in the parameters, the little wheels whirr and click until the required answer is output by the tiny computer-things (sorry to get all technical there).

Yes, I suppose some of these are edge cases, but that's where the fun is to be had. When authentication breaks, what do we fall back on? What happens when criminals exploit that fallback? Can whole organisations be disrupted with tar on an iris scanner? Will they pay to avoid it happening again? What if it happens every week?

Also, if information can be accessed legitimately, it can and will be accessed illegitimately. How much will it cost to illicitly trace ex-wives, estranged families, absconded business partners, or hated bullies? If everyone has a tracked identity, everyone can be found, for a price.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The new old thing

So, I've been using a new version of Internet Explorer on Virtual PC. I installed Internet Explorer 7 the other day (I have a MSDN subscription at work) - but that isn't it, I haven't even tried it yet. No, I installed my old copy of Windows NT 4 workstation yesterday for the first time since 1999. What a palaver that installation is.. fortunately the CD is bootable as I have no floppy drive anymore of course. So, NT build 1381 includes Internet Explorer 2, which is sort-of a browser. It definitely has issues with HTTP: won't connect to Apache sites, HTTP downloads simply don't work. It has no support for CSS or JavaScript (as I can see) or anything developed after 1995. I'm fairly sure I never used IE2 back in the days (see passim) Wonderful! Like stepping back in time. Check out evolt, they have some even older versions too.

I was after the final service pack update (SP6) for NT - that would allow me to access my local disks (there's an addon for Virtual PC which allows the hosted operating systems to swap data with the host but it requires SP6. In fact, very few programs will install on NT without at least SP3) But I couldn't download it from any web sites. Internet Explorer 2 is a working FTP client though, so I went to and downloaded Firefox 1.0.6 installer - but it wouldn't install. Started, but silently exited. I got the zip version, but I couldn't get WinZip by FTP, and no HTTP downloads were working, and I can't access my local disks. I considered uploading WinZip to a temp ftp locatgion, but my network card is dropping the connection and throwing 4202 TCP/IP errors or somesuch, giving me no chance of making the upload (128k is my upload - I am lucky to get 10k per second)

So I got Mozilla 1.0.2 via FTP: - installed and works perfectly. I don't want to upgrade the install now, I am enjoying the nostalgia of old software. I have a Windows NT Server disc at work (and I've grown my Virtual PC partition) so I think I might install that so I can run Internet Information Server 2!