Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Secret gig

Me and Beck went to a 'secret' Jarvis gig at Concorde II yesterday, a warmup for the tour proper which starts next week. The venue isn't really used to your actual proper band (it's Fatboy Slim's home venue) and it shows: the seven strong band are crowded on the stage, the lighting rig fails (they play the first song in darkness then put a static spot on Jarvis and up the stage lighting, the basic blue and red bulbs on the the stage rig) and the monitors weren't particularly well positioned according to JC who claimed they only worked at knee height (and did most of one song at that level to prove it). The bass was a bit jagged maybe but overall it was not too bad a sound for a venue with debatable acoustics (and maybe PA) and at least good and fucking loud (more swearing later) with the bass drum battering the stomach, bass guitar hammering my aching knees, plenty of noisy guitar. What a gig ought to be, especially the first gig of the new millenium.. ahem.

They open with 'Fat Children' from the new album which is released next Monday: superb. Wasted on this audience, I'm sorry to say, who hardly seem to move. This is the first time JC has played live in years, he's nervous and rambly between songs, but he picks up and soon the animated arm-dancing and twitching is back: he picks up a guitar for a song or two, charisma starts sparking: we're at the back, there still doesn't seem to be much dancing going on though: one factor is age, Beck won the "audience average age" game with 32, but also seemingly the Concorde have fucked up again and put a big gap between the performer and his audience. Plus the band play no Pulp and that's what the audience would love to hear.. Jarvis repeatedly apologises for the unfamiliarity of the material, at one point likening it to looking in a fridge for 45 minutes: afterwards you get the feeling that it was bright, but unappealing. At least that's the way I remember what he said.

The new material is actually very good, I will be buying the album when it comes out next week, in the meantime there's jarvspace. After a while the band started to sound a bit 'samey', perhaps they could try to introduce more dynamics into the set, but maybe that wasn't practical in the Concorde II as it's a bit primitive. Of course there are dynamics in in the songs, Mr Cocker's signature is the high quality of his songwriting, and he takes the time to explain what some of the songs refer to: 'Big Julie Rules The World' is a mashup of a book and an early-developing girl from Loughborough (home of Ladybird books, you'll be fascinated to discover). 'Disney Time' was partially inspired by Dumbo's mum.

They play the songs from the Jarvis album, a B side (Jarvis satirically mocks the term B side, prefers 'differently abled song') called One Man Show, and a song he wrote for Lee Someone called Big Stuff. 'From A to I' is superb, it's about evil being everywhere 'from Auschwitz to Ipswitch' and seeing evil when you look inside yourself.

Then they go off, come back on and do 'C*nts are Running The World' which apparently is the hidden song on the album.. fun for when the vicar comes round 30 minutes after you've been listening. Actually, it's a stormer and available from iTunes. Jarvis is conversational, affectionate, grateful: the audience is slightly perhaps withholding of their favours, unamused by the unfamiliarity, but applause is generally warm and generous. The odd chant of "Jar - Vis" goes up, someone shouts for 'Common People', ironically maybe, though introducing Candida Doyle from Pulp for one song heightened the audiences' hopes of hearing a favourite song: you never know, however unlikely you know it to be.

Our thanks to Carl for the tip-off for the tickets, nice to meet his new wife Gretchen too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Me with hair and a dress

My sister Jane sent me this picture a while ago - it's my maternal grandmother Sarah, Auntie Belle and Uncle Dick taken in 1913 or so.

Edit: Mum sent me a picture of me in a dress! (all the babies wore them then)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hating Jimmy Carr

We have an rule with no exceptions in our house: any TV program fronted by (or prominently featuring) Jimmy Carr is switched over immediately. Try it, you'll like it..

Having said that, the only thing that's on that I currently like is series 6 of The Sopranos: once this final series is over (next year) I've only got ER left and that's been going downhill a bit maybe, or plateaued perhaps to be polite. Everything else is dead or gone - I won't watch The Simpsons on TV unless I am absolutely guaranteed nothing past series 8 will sully my eyes. I won't watch new ones anymore at all. I wish they had sacked them all when they threatened to strike for more pay (Fox advertised for soundalikes) and not made the later series. It's the worst example of cultural dilution in my lifetime: they took what was human and decent and honest and made it into a self=parodic freakshow. Homer isn't a father now, he's a monster: my own 'Jump The Shark' moment was when he was lying on the kitchen floor smashing beer bottles in an ep called something like '3 gays and a condo': that just wasn't the man i'd seen before who always tried to do the best for his family albeit in his own hopeless way. And I felt this before I had children in case you think that's a factor.

Anyway, Homer never goes to work (they make meta-jokes about it) and Bart and Lisa never go to school (not properly). They haven't written a properly-structured episode for five years or more, just "The Simpsons are Going To Japan/Brazil/Mars/England" or whatever crazy escapade they have this week. Marge doesn't care for Maggie, who never falls over any more, have you noticed?

It's sometimes possible to tell from the opening credits if it's a new ep never seen before (avoid at all costs) or one made years ago which you've seen a thousand times (you will still get something new from it if you watch it closely, and still enjoy it if you don't)

Incidentally, 'Happy Days' was considered part of the counter-culture when it was first shown: 'The Fonz' wore a leather jacket and rode a motorbike, perhaps the definitive images of rebellion to adults when I was an adolescent. Now it looks like the softest of cashmere conformity.

Oh, and I'm going to buy Resident Evil 4 from eBay so I might not be back for a while... never played RE before, sounds like fun. (Edit: too difficult!)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

To the tune of "Stop the Pigeon"

Tap the trackpad, Tap the trackpad, Tap the trackpad, Tap the trackpad .. many thanks to robh, I have enabled this and it's great! He says it is a pain on his Powerbook but on this iBook it works gloriously. I used to use gestures in Firefox but I never made the connection, anyway I need to >tap<

Edit: robh has also encouraged mt to use scrolling gestures, double-tap on the trackpad over the scrollbar button then drag it down. I've got it to work (in a motor sense) , but it only really seems useful whent the scrollbar button is big (ie the text is small) as otherwise you run out of room.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Apres le deluge

In our 10-foot-square garden we have a 100+ year old pear tree. The upper reaches are infested with spiders, the garden was dug up last year for the conservatory, but this year it has been spectacularly and massively fecund. Huge quantities of blossom (I was shovelling it off the path) and consequently a major crop of pears.

Back before the West Pier was burnt down (by the thugs and criminals who own and run the other pier) it was home to a gazillion starlings - they really did used to blacken the skies, swirling in massive crowds. One of the things a few hundred did was to descend on our tree, and in the course of a week eat every single fruit (prefectly eaten cores would waft gently to the ground) tweeting to each other as they ate. It was a grand spectacle.

Now though the pears fall when overripe and they splat on whatever they hit. I was up cleaning the conservatory the other week cleaning handfuls of rotten pears out the gutters again. I have an improvised compost heap which I dumped them all on, though it hasn't been working at full capacity because there haven't been any grass cuttings this year (because the grass shrivelled up without water). Needs cutting now though, and all the pears have fallen now. Leaves next, cycle of life continues. We lie on the conservatory floor watching..

When a rotten pear splatted on the concrete or the glass or fell and rotted on the grass we called it a "chocolate pear". Certainly they were brown..

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New look Windows

The Vista RC1 builds (finally got 5536 going) have new mouse cursors, including a throbber-like replacement for the 'hourglass' cursor - say hello to the Spinning Radioactive Doughnut Of Death: this image doesn't spin for obvious reasons.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Feet of clay

Glasgow isnae Brighton, but I was disappointed to hear of the firemen who refused to attend gay pride. Brighton's Gay Pride parade passes the end of our street every year, and up in the front are the Police. In order to avoid isolating gay and lesbian coppers they all march. Makes me fucking proud. The firemen could learn a trick from that, the big bufties.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

BAD Vista

I got one of the pre-RC1 builds of Vista (5536) as I have lost interest in it somewhat and a new build always sparks interest for a while.

I always seem to be running operating systems on inadequate hardware: Windows 95 on a laptop with 2MB of RAM, OS X 10.4 on my beloved G3 ibook (384MB RAM), Windows 2003 Server on a 1Ghz P3 with 512 MB.. and several builds of Vista in a virtual machine with 334 MB. As I have mentioned before (bloody dell) I can't have more than 512 MB in my PC without a new motherboard, which so isn't going to happen.

Anyway, this is the result. Vista RC1 requires 512 MB of RAM to install..

Notice that it's the Vista installation that requires 512 MB of RAM.

Edit: I thought I'd give it a go at work. I wasn't expecting an MS-DOS error from Longhorn Server.. to be fair this is a result of Virtual PC failing to handle the DVD, using Microsoft's Virtual CD program to mount the ISO works every time.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Spam scouts

If you have a blog and you are fighting the good fight against comment spammers, look out for bland and seemingly innocuous "nice site, thank you" comments from people with distinctive names you don't recognise: they could be spam scouts, where if this one innocent comment gets through then thousands more follow chock full of the usual links. A quick google (sorry Google) for the name or comment text will usually tell one way or the other: check if the same user always leaves the same comment.

Edit: here's the guy - Jeorge Lukasing

Friday, August 18, 2006

Brave bold Sir Robin

Went to see Robin in hospital today - he had an operation yesterday to stitch his heel together with meccano.. his tibia and fibula split it when he landed heavily after vaulting an obstacle two weeks ago today (the kind of event that introduces you to the Twilight Zone of youth: you can still see it, but it isn't there any more.)

He's bearing up - Robin is tough - but he's going to be laid up for a while.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Uri Grossman

"I once thought of teaching my son a private language, isolating him from the speaking world on purpose, lying to him from the moment of his birth so he would believe only in the language I gave him. And it would be a compassionate language. What I mean is, I wanted to take him by the hand and name everything he saw with words that would save him from the inevitable heartaches so that he wouldn't be able to comprehend the existence of, for instance, war. Or that people kill, or that this red here is blood. It's a kind of used-up idea, I know, but I love to imagine him crossing through life with an innocent trusting smile - the first truly enlightened child"
David Grossman
Uri Grossman was killed last Saturday by a anti-tank missile in southern Lebanon. [Source]

Fanboys and bombboys

More on Schneier (from his blog, the man can sure take a joke! (Edit: note that most of these jokes are cryptographic))
Edit: this is my favourite!

Most people use passwords. Some people use passphrases. Bruce Schneier uses an epic passpoem, detailing the life and works of seven mythical Norse heroes.
Vote for this fact

Anyway I found a bbc page detailing the court dates of the failed 21 July 2005 bombers, which are next month and seem long overdue. If they are guilty (and it sure looks that way but I believe the meaning of prejudice is 'pre-judgement') then send the bastards down. That will go a long way towards alleviating the unreality of the war against terrrrism and the scepticism of folks like me who see a straight-line correlation between "greater goverment and police powers needed" and "an increased terrrrist threat"

Hopefully we will see expedited prosecutions with regard to the latest threat, but frankly holding your breath looks high-risk enough..

PS - I highly recommend this post.

PPS - that post links to a University page regarding the use of 'Piranha solutions" (3:1 Sulphuric Acid and Hydrogen Peroxide, please read the instructions carefully :-) which contains this (possibly ironic?) gem:
3. As a reminder, open-toed shoes are not allowed when working in the lab and bare legs must be covered by wearing a full size bunny suit.

Piranha SOP


A collection of prison shivs - deadly weapons manufactured inside jail from everyday ingredients.


I was thinking about the rule where mothers had to taste their baby milk before being allowed to take it onto a plane.

Let's assume the baby milk is in fact liquid explosive. There are two possibilities (50-50 as my wife likes to call it):

a) The mother knows the bottle contains explosive: she's not going to be bothered about swallowing a bit, she's going to die soon anyway, along with the baby she's carrying. I hesitate after Rwanda and Beslan to say that a terrrist mother would never use a baby to do that, but I know it would be extremely rare.

b) The mother doesn't know the bottle contains explosives, she's going to get an awful shock.

There was an incident (referenced by Bruce Schneier discussing passenger profiling) where a boyfriend planted a bomb in his pregnant girlfriend's bag, but bombing your own baby or your child's baby? Human depravity could sink no lower. Even rarer. Plus someone has to on the plane to activate the explosive.

Great publicity though!

Anyway, couldn't this have been handled along with the other security questions?
Q) Has your luggage been out of your sight at all?
A) Well, it's been in the attic..

Q) Has anyone mixed any baby-milk for you today?
A) I can emphatically say they haven't.

I did note that the final allowance was a laptop bag and an iPod: handy for the executives whose inflated fares are the backbone of air travel, but shit for a mother with young children who hardly ever travels but needs to take a large bag of nappies, spare clothes, wipes, books, toys etc

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Basic Internet terminology

From Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 120687:

World Wide Web

A hypertext facility that essentially ties the Internet's many resources into a searchable web. If a certain word or phrase is highlighted on your screen, clicking it takes you to another site, file, or definition linked to that word.
The article also defines Archie, Veronica, Jughead, HGopher - all deader than dodos - and lists examples of browsers as Cello and Mosaic.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Awkward squad

Browsers are grumpy, gnomic beasts. None more than IE6 though: do you think I should be alarmed or relieved about this?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Moving purple dots

My new boss Tina sent me a bunch of optical illusions, this was the best one I hadn't seen before:

"Concentrate on the cross in the middle, after a while you will notice that this moving purple dot will turn green!

Look at the cross a bit longer and you‘ll notice that all dots except the green one will disappear."

ps - blogger image upload converts GIFs to PNGs seemingly which is why the image has been static for 24 hours

pps - if it isn't working and you've had a few drinks, try closing one eye ;-)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Capitalism at work

I hate capitalism with all my heart but this is so beautifully realised - make sure you drag the slider back and forth, how cool is that (ideally set the 'zoom' to 'max' - even the terminology is boss..)

If you find sliders soooo web 1.1 then just drag the chart dude..

Friday, August 04, 2006


Read this if you've got an iPod or you know someone who has. If you find copyright issues of interest, that is. Or you've bought music from iTunes and you'd rather not throw it away.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lern yoursefl compooter sience

Robin The Bear laughs at me but I have become increasingly interested in the history of computing and computers and computer science itself. I've been reading an extensive history of Mac OS (that page links to a 3MB 100+ page PDF) and now I'm bookmarking 'bootstrapping a simple compiler from nothing' because it looks like learning fun.

I wonder what would have happened if I had chosen computer science over sociology when choosing my degree subject in 1983. Maybe I would have got rich in the dot-con but I would have shown the exact same lack of enthusiasm for reading computer science textbooks as I did for sociology textbooks, and maybe the same disinclination to pursue it afterwards. There's nothing like studying a subject to put you off it - like maths, which I considered as a degree subject for about minus 2 seconds despite it being my best subject at school.

The annoying thing about sociology was years of people saying "oh, you want to be a social worker then?" - yes, they both contain (a homonym of) the word "social". No, I don't plan to. As a long-time Social Services employee I can tell you that a sociology degree would not in any way provide any training towards a career in social work, and you need a CQSW anyway.

My outrageous niece Chloe - who has just scored a first from Ehdenburrer - got it right. Classics! Brilliant. Unless you collapse into academia there isn't the remotest possibility of a relevant job. And she got to go to Iran, lucky lucky.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Friday, July 07, 2006

Christiano Ronaldo joke

Out on her royal yacht (borrowed for the occasion) the queen was enjoying the sea air when she spied a man in the water off the port bow – clearly being menaced by a very large shark.

Through her binoculars she could see it was Christiano Ronaldo, struggling frantically to free himself from the jaws of a 20 foot shark! The queen ordered the captain to change course to try and save the poor man, but she knew the yachts top speed would never get them there in time.

At that exact moment a speedboat containing three men wearing white tops sped into view. One of the men took aim at the shark and fired a harpoon into its ribs, immobilising it instantly. The other two reached out and pulled Ronaldo from the water and, using long clubs, beat the shark to death.

They bundled the bleeding, semi-conscious Ronaldo into the speedboat along with the dead shark and prepared for a hasty retreat, when they heard frantic calling ...... It was the Queen calling them to the yacht.

On reaching yacht the Queen went into raptures about the rescue and said, "I'll give you a knighthood for your brave actions. I thought the England team would hate Ronaldo after the world cup. But I see that the England team are true heroes and should serve as a model for sportsmanship to other countries." She knighted them and sailed away.

As she departed Rooney asked the others, "Who was that?!"

"That," Beckham answered, "was our Queen. She rules the Commonwealth and knows everything about our country."

"Well," Rooney replied, "she knows fuck all about shark fishing. How's the bait holding up?"

Thanks Paschal-with-an-h

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The future

I've installed the betas of Office 2007 and Windows Vista, so I'm seeing the future but I'm not impressed.

It's just the same as the development UI and paradigm (.Net) - everything is being done to increase discoverability for new and novice users, but what's out there for us old hands? Yet another way to to do the same old thing?

Sunscreen Pharmacy Rock

I can get sunscreen prescribed as I have vitiligo - I have less than 30% of the pigment on my face left, look forward to a future post on self-fulfilling prophecies - but I don't bother as it's cheaper to buy. On prescription I would get ROC factor 25 (25 is a total block, don't believe anything claiming higher ratings) but it costs £10 or whatever it is now for a prescription so I buy it ad hoc every year.

I went to Boots before going on holiday and asked for "ROC sunscreen" at the prescription counter. The helpful assistant tried to go and look at the suncream sector until I said it was "like what you get on prescription" at which point she looked strangely at me, had a word with her pharmacist, went off to the store at the back, and came back with a tube of ROC 25. £1.78. Bargain of the year! I asked her, if she didn't mind, to go and get another tube for me, now I have one upstairs and one downstairs for £3.50.

These are 50 ml tubes but bear two things in mind:
* This is the top-notch sunscreen, and as you can imagine I've used a few: it's hypoallergenic, unperfumed, recommended for children and sensitive skins, goes on and comes off clean.

* I recently spent £9+ buying a bottle (150 ml?) of sunscreen for my daughter to take to nursery, and it was a much inferior substance.

* Sunscreen doesn't last forever, especially if it's exposed to the sun - and a big bottle is much likelier to get spilt or stood on or go off in your bag. Have you noticed how the sunscreen companies don't provide small bottles of good-quality sunscreen at a reasonable price? This is the answer.

See you under the sun-umbrella!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It's a game of 10 halves, Binary

Thanks to Satan for this revolutionary pre-match analysis: vs

Both running on windows, a dull start...
Arse 0 - 0 Barca

Both have splash screens before you enter the main site (yawn), the Barca
one has a nice language selection menu, the arse one invites you to gamble
(which we all know is very bad)...
Arse 0 - 1 Barca

HTML etc
Equalizer for the arse as the wisely decide not to use tables, however an
own goal for the over stuffing of keywords (a redundant tag as we all know)
and the use of 7 javasript includes. The arse score again as barca forgot to
declare a doctype and declare backgound colours and widths outside the css!
Another goal for the arse as barca use a spacer gif over 100 times (got
bored counting), and omit both a noscript tag and a separate print style
Arse 3 - 2 Barca

Barca equalize due to greater language options, less encouragements to
gamble ('betting' is an option on the arse main menu - very evil) and no
blatant plugs for their own tv channel and less rotating banner ads. The
arse site appears to have a greater range of club related content, history,
stats etc (ladies team - shouldn't that be women's team) and gets quite
nerdy. Visually, I prefer the barca site, it's cleaner and more readable.
Arse 3 - 3 Barca .... Penalties it is!!!!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Product placement 3 - Henderson's Delectable Relish

Owl or blade everyone in Sheffield likes Henderson's and with good reason, it is an excellent condiment, similiar to Worcestershire sauce but a lot nicer. The Weaver picks us up a bottle from Sheffield when we run out, but you can buy online for £10 a litre or just pick up some Henderson's merchandise: interestingly, one of the recipes listed in the recipe book is "Ash, Meat & Potato Pie". I must ask the Weaver what's in it..

Friday, May 12, 2006

Network hardware

I replaced our wireless router and it's a true boiling-frog experience: now everything 'just works' again the contrast is spectacular. Anyone out there struggling with a Linksys BEFW11S4 should just start saving for (or spring for) a new router: they aren't very good.. My cat sat on mine for a year which didn't help.

I bought a Linksys WRT54G for £50 (incl tax & post) and it seems fantastic in comparison because I can upload via FTP again, which is a real boon when maintaining websites! This has been a complete pain for a year or so.

Some protocols fared better with the failing device than others. I expect the situation is analagous to teetering on the fringes of a wireless network: HTTP seemed to manage (with occasional network and page errors), BitTorrent wasn't fussed, SMTP is occasional anyway, but FTP hated it. Something in the connection would fail and FTP uploads would hang: for a while I just did HTTP uploads but they started falling over as well and I couldn't upload any files of any size. HTTP downloads seemed to be unaffected, FTP downloads were less happy, but this is probably a function of browser/client/UA used.

Windows (server 2003) fired TCP/IP errors 4201 and 4202: Network Adapters dis- and re-connected, not necessarily in that order: Mac OS logged "mDNSResponder: Repeated transitions for interface ..[RFC1918IP].. delaying packets by 5 seconds."

I am also seeing another error though: Windows' event log records

The system failed to register host (A) resource records (RRs) for network adapter with settings ... the reason the system could not register these RRs was because the DNS server contacted refused the update request.
Mac OS on the other hand says this:
Wide-Area Service Discovery disabled to avoid crashing defective DNS relay
That's one of NTL's DNS servers, I recognise it from setting up static IP addresses on Virtual PCs (it makes things a lot easier - as does activating a base copy of Windows before using it on different virtual machines). No need to ask Yossarian or Occam what's going on here, I think. I could use different DNS servers (I believe you can specify any server, but I would hope my own ISPs traffic was optimized) but everything's working now with my shiny new router so 'errors schmerrors'.

I vowed while driving home on Friday night that I would learn to touchtype: I suppose I should keep myself to it. Wish me luck..

ps I realise this post is somewhat incoherent but I becoming totally consumed with nerves over the upcoming European Cup Final starring Arsenal FC.. wish us luck, thank you

Friday, April 21, 2006

Google Calendar

This link adds my birthday to your Google Calendar.

I tried to use the date format Google suggest - &dates=20061207/20061207 - but I ended out with a birthday that ended the day before it started: what could be more of a bummer than having an invalid birthday?

Using &dates=20061207/20061208 in the URL (currently) properly creates an all day event on the 7 Dec.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Once a records clerk..

I have some experience in Public Sector Finance and what has happened with the NHS's overspend comes as no surprise to me. When you introduce new funding into an organization which has been starved of resources and forced to operate in survival mode, the expenditure gathers momentum and the tide won't subside until all the money's gone plus a bit more.

Large organisations are elastic: they can absorb times of hardship, contracting and retreating but protecting the core functionality. When the siege is lifted and new funding is provided, there will be a bounce-back as the tension is released. Each new expenditure stream introduces the possibility of knock-on expenditure especially when the underlying infrastructure has had to be neglected in order to provide core services, as when the covers are removed the rot will need fixing. Everybody knows this, of course, but it isn't possible (bar the omniscient) to precisely quantify the knock-on effects of any new spending. It's only possible to paper over the cracks caused by over-stretched resources until the pressure is released, and the worse the deprivation has been the more damage will have been caused to the infrastructure.

Forcing the Health Authorities to make redundancies and cancel services to recover the deficit is just not helpful, unless you prefer the word "idiotic": the government should bite the bullet and pay up. If finance directors are underperforming then sack them by all means, but a 1% overspend shouldn't qualify as a disaster even on a budget the size of this one. If anything, the Government's own planners should have anticipated this and allowed for it.

The Government prefers to spend our money on a spanking new fleet of submarines stuffed with nuclear weapons. A deterrent of mass destruction, though who or what they deter isn't clear to me.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Something anyway

There are two types of people in this world. The ones who divide people into two groups and the others who don't.
We're back..

Friday, March 24, 2006

Product placement vol 2 - Porky Whites / Encona

I used to be a vegetarian, and I remember that cooking sausages for the kids one Guy Fawkes night was a big contributor to my decision not to be a vegetarian any more a while later. When I started eating meat, though, I found that sausages were like real coffee: cheap ones were disgusting and expensive ones were disappointing even at their best the taste never matched the smell.

Then we stopped shopping in Tesco and went to Asda for staples instead, and in the "local" section we found some sausages: sausages which restored my belief in sausages: Porky Whites. Every time I eat them my faith is re-invigorated, these are the best sausages I have ever had and probably ever will.

After a while I had a look at the back of the packets to see where these Local supersausages are from and .. it's where I grew up! I was born and bred in Ewell, Home of Porky Whites - but I don't remember White's the butchers as I didn't buy much raw meat as a child: the only reason I knew of the Epsom butchers, the Boyts (Epsom and Ewell form a borough) was that one or more of my sisters went out with one or more of them. All I remember of Ewell is The Loose Box Wine Bar which I frequented from opening until 1983: semi-happy days making half-a-lager or a coke last all night unless someone working was buying. I remember Mr Do was the video game du jour, I played it a few times but never realy put the hours in to get good. The boxes were never quite loose enough to let me in either.

We've been getting these every week or so from Asdamart for a couple of years now, you have to search up the aisle for them as they're not even shelved with the regular sausages. We used to wonder if we were the only people that bought them but it turns out Blakers Park cafe, just up the road, has Porky White sausage sandwiches on their menu.. I haven't had one yet.

When you see the ingredients it becomes apparent these aren't the normal sock-and-stuffing sausages:

41% pork shoulder
41% pork belly
stuff (incl MSG)
natural pork casings

They aren't free range which is a shame and frankly they don't need MSG, but it's hard to believe anything that tastes this good comes from unhappy animals: the thing is, Porky Whites are cheaper than fancy supermarket own-brand sausages, let alone premium brands. We had them tonight: I lost my appetite while cooking and had them cold later with a dab of Encona West Indian Hot Pepper Sauce: absolutely delicious.

Edit: May 25: Said something on our Porky's tonight that they are "Sausage of the year 2005/06" by the Meat Awards. As good as ever. Had pepper sauce with them of course!

Friday, March 17, 2006

product placement vol 1

Brahma beer is brewed in Brazil. The bottle is ergonomically shaped to fit in your hand, and the beer is delicious.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


a> Wait for the guy in the red jumper.


i> there's that awful moment when you think he's just the school nerd and it's going to be incredibly embarassing!

Monday, February 27, 2006


Adobe seemingly have an online service which will convert any PDF you submit to them into text or HTML. This is a service for visually impaired users [and not a way around the "Selection of Text Not Allowed" restriction] and graphics are discarded. I haven't needed to try it yet though.

Bear in mind Adobe reserve the right to forward your PDFs to other companies it thinks might find them amusing..

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mister Vista

I'm installing build 5270 of Windows Vista [beta 2] on a virtual PC upstairs, as per the instructions here. So far so good. I tried to install it on VPC/Mac but it borked on lack of ACPI support in the BIOS: a real shame as the Mac has lots more RAM than the PC.

Installing a virtual PC via Remote Desktop is a real challenge: because Remote Desktop doesn't support relative mouse coordinating until Virtual Machine Additions [add-ons for VPC like shared folders from the host OS] is installed, the mouse behaves really strangely: capture takes minutes, and subsequently every tiny mouse movement correlates to a giant leap on the screen. The Windows Vista setup supports keyboard shortcuts almost completely: the "select partition" screen doesn't seem to support shortcuts for each partition. It's been a general trend for installations to ask fewer questions: Vista asks for a product key, a partition to install into (this may be the problem with build 5270 in VPC, if the technique in the link above doesn't work for you try this one) and a NetBIOS name, and then off it goes. I will have to wait to tomorrow to see if it worked though..

Edit: sort of. Running 5308 now which nearly works even better.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Chip And Pin

Much of this is based on an originating conversation with Rangor, Father Of George.

Consider a criminal retailer or retail employee whose desire is to obtain people's card details and pins for fradulent use.

The first thing to try will be to subvert or replace the existing card reader: the card readers in shops don't have any kind of identification or authentication from the point of view of the card owner - you put your card in (or you give it to the retailer and they take it away from you and insert in or swipe it or whatever - there's no standardisation there either) - and then that or another machine asks you for your pin. There's no standard interface, although admittedly even if there was it would be trivial to spoof. Unless your card can tell whether it is connected to a genuine card reader, you are more reliant on the honesty of the shopkeeper than you ever were: a spoofed card with a null signature might be used for purchases, but a spoofed card with a known pin can be used to withdraw hundreds of currency units per day from cash machines anywhere, especially ones away from cameras.

Anyway, you don't even need to do anything to the machine, you just need a couple of cameras yourself: one to scan the card numbers on the way to the reader and one to look over the customer's shoulder and record the pin. Or use the inbuilt record of card numbers and use an accomplice who stands in the queue and notes the pins. If the card reader is able to access information about the card holder from the card (date of birth and the like) then Mr Bad doesn't really need the pin: statistical analysis will have been done on the most frequently used pin numbers anyway, patterns like 1234 and the DD-MM of the card holder's date of birth will have significant usage which makes guessing the pin trivial in an economically significant number of cases. If x% of people use a simple combination of the elements of their date of birth as their pin, then all you need is their card number: if you collect a million numbers and try them all once, enough will succeed to make it all worthwhile. The x in x% doesn't need to be very high. If at first you don't succeed, try another. If you do succeed, go crazy.. No notifications of failed authentication attempts are provided to the card holder, even if they're kept: the card issuers will be canny enough to look for authentication failure patterns, but these could be masked by hiding them within enough successful transactions. What are the thresholds? Are small transactions even checked? Is that why sometimes transactions are seemingly randomly declined, because an attempt is being made to brute-force the pin? While I'm asking questions, what encryptiopn is used anyway? What OS are these devices running? Are the keys hardcoded into the device's hardware or software? What is to stop transactions being recorded and replayed?

A classic man-in-the-middle technique would be the "first-fail": the keyboard (which you should remember may not even be the same device that read the card) is presented to the customer to enter their pin. But the device fails the pin and asks the customer to retry. This time it works. In this scenario, the device has been subverted by the retailer: the first pin entry is simply logged, and the second is passed onto the network for authentication: don't tell me that in a world full of people installing linux on toasters this is impossible. A much easier variant of this: a small transaction is recorded by a "device" but the device was cooked up by the retailers evil nephew or niece: it simply reads the card details (all the smart stuff too) and the pin you enter, then it say PIN OK. You never get charged for the transaction, but why would you notice? EFTPOS transactions can take weeks to go through. The card isn't authenticating the reader, so the card holder has no way of knowing where she just put her pin.. The value of card details and pin to our unscrupulous retailer are far greater than the 1.42 currency units of the transaction which the cardholder gets for free. If they ask you to reenter your pin on another machine ("sometimes we have to use the old one") then leave the shop and call the police.

Oh, there are lots more problems with the current implementation of chip 'n' pin. Sometimes you read cash machines are safe - where were they when all the examples of criminals installing fake cash machines or fake covers over existing machines were in the news? These have to be sunken into the wall of a bank before they appear authentic, and they still worked, and cash machines now routinely warn people to watch for spoofed interfaces. The machine in the shop into which you enter your pin is presented to you: it might be on a cord (connected to something you can't see anyway) or wireless, it might have your card in it and it might not: you know nothing about it, and have no means of knowing what it is doing with the pin you enter into it.

An unsubtle but effective approach for criminals too lazy to invest in card-spoofing technology would be to determine the customer's pin using one of the techniques above, and then pickpocket (or mug) the customer. Ouch. Or, if there's a facility to enter the card number manually when the card can't be read (and I think there is) then simply submit transactions using the card reader: open for a month, collect lots of numbers and pins, then spend a week hammering those accounts and disappear with the moolah before the complaints come in.

All the hype about 'identity fraud' ignores the fact that fraud via impersonation is much older than bank accounts, and fully punishable by existing laws. Attempts to make it seem an unchecked menace which can only be solved by chips, pins and ID cards are simply fraudulent themselves. As the shopkeepers are being compliant there must be something in it for them, a reduced charge probably, but there's nothing in it for the cardholders except increased risk: the banks and shops are happy though so nobody cares.

My advice is to always use cash at places like markets, firework shops, and the like where the retailer has only a temporary presence. This doesn't protect against corrupt employees, so if you're worried (you're extremely unlikely to suffer any personal losses from this kind of fraud) then use cash as much as possible, then, except in retailers you trust and where you can visually authenticate the card reader.

There are a lot of other interesting things the banks and retailers keep quiet: automatic reauthentication within a set time, retailer flow rates, and the fact that supermarkets hit the "override pay" button which authenticates the transaction whether you have the money in your account or not: for them it is very bad business to turn customers away leaving checkouts clogged up with their suddenly unwanted shopping, and since they get their money anyway they're happy. The card holder gets charged so the bank is happy. The customer is fucked off, but that's tough..

One of the other consequences of chip 'n' pin is the transference of the liability of fraudulent transactions supported by signature alone from the card issuer to the retailer: this means if the shop lets you sign instead of using your pin then they don't get reimbursed if it's a stolen card. This doesn't apply to chip 'n' signature cards, which the banks are being very quiet about: these tell the retailer to rely on signature alone and intended for groups like blind people. If you're uncomfortable with using chip 'n' pin you might think about asking your bank for one, but banks are insisting that people applying for chip and signature prove that they are registered disabled.


Whenever I save a post as a draft, it disappears from the post list in blogger. The first dozen or so times this happened I assumed it was lost forever, but it turns out they still exist and can be accessed by searching for a space (using the search in the "manage posts" page) It must be some obscure bug in my blogger profile.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Note to self

Next time you're in Amsterdam go here.