exo : blah


Sat, 27 Dec 2008

this minister is certified idiot

Burnham, a father of three, insisted his proposals were not intended as an attack on freedom of speech, but were a necessary counterweight to the proliferation of “unacceptable” material on the internet in a similar mould to the 9pm watershed on television. “It worries me — like anybody with children. Leaving your child for two hours unregulated on the internet is not something you can do. The internet has been empowering and democratising in many ways, but we haven’t yet got the stakes in the ground to help people navigate their way safely around what can be a very, very complex and quite dangerous world,”…

Naturally, something must be done! That something appears to be age ratings for websites, which I seem to recall has been tried before with exactly no success 0. However, let us consider for a brief moment that we were attempting to implement such a scheme and consider how we would do it.

Clearly, given the nature of the internet any sort of self regulation involving meta tags in the HTML is not going to work. Partly as who can honestly be bothered but mostly, and more relevantly for Mr Burnham, because it’s rather open to abuse by all those sites hosted outside UK jurisdiction.

This then leads us to the notion that you need some sort of body to classify websites into bad and good. For this to work you have to assume that any unclassified site, or most of them as I prefer to call this category, are automatically bad. Thus you end up with your view of the web reduced to an astonishingly small subset.

Let us, just for the sake of argument, assume we have come up with some method of classifying the web quickly through some sort of crowd sourcing algorithm. You now have the problem of filtering not just websites, but individual pages on these sites. The prime example is wikipedia. There is much there that one would want a child access to; there’s also pictures of 70s album covers that are less suitable. That’s a lot of ratings and a lot of filtering and a substantial burden you are placing on ISPs. At least to do it properly, which is what I assume you’d want to do. It’s certainly not an impossibility though.

And then finally the ISPs will have to offer some sort of, oh, I don’t know Parental Controls package so you can access the web unfettered while your kids only get to see the cbeebies site.

Alternatively you could install one of the various bits of commercial software that promise to censor the intarwebs for you. And then wait the short while it takes your kids to figure out how to disable it…

Or, most usefully, you could do some research, maybe on the web, before you make half arsed statements that result in you looking like an idiot.

0: Of course I can’t find this as all the results on web site ratings are for this nonsense.

posted at: 22:09 #

Sun, 21 Dec 2008

impotent rage

I think that’s the only way to describe the emotion as I listen to and read the steady flow of stories on our less than gentle descent into recession. And also no small measure of bafflement.

As someone who is reasonably cautious about debt I’ve always been amazed at the cavalier approach many people have to it. In the individual this merely invokes bafflement. It’s when it occurs at an organisational level that it begins to make me angry. To be careless with one’s own finances is foolish, and if enough people are it’s bad for everyone; to be, essentially, careless with other people’s finances is far less forgivable.

And it’s this carelessness that results in me shouting at the radio on the way to work. All these people who were so desperate to make more money that they ceased to think about the consequences for others. At least I hope that’s the case. Yet now we all have to care about the consequences of this unchecked avarice for the very organisations and people who led us here thanks to the way a modern free market economy works. It’s astoundingly galling.

posted at: 18:54 #

Tue, 02 Dec 2008

snow fun

In which we note that snow plus a road bike is not a recipe for a pleasant commute. And also that looking out one’s window in the morning is not an altogether reliable means of predicting the weather 17 miles away, or for that matter 8 hours hence.

posted at: 22:44 #

Wed, 19 Nov 2008

a word for our sponsors

This is my somewhat belated mention of the good people at The Open Rights Group and their campaign to double their membership. If you aren’t already a member, are in the UK, and care about DRM, copyright, e-Voting, Data Protection and so on then you might want to consider chucking them some cash.

posted at: 22:27 #

Sun, 16 Nov 2008

yah boo tribalism

Yesterday I was sitting listening to Theresa May and Tony Wright on The Week in Westminster talking about how to change the culture of parliament and bring an end to yah boo politics. This is in the context of a Speaker’s commission to discuss how to make parliament more representative of the country and heated exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions over the Baby P case. As ever, they hand wring about how the culture of the place puts people off and lament about the common image, on display at the aforementioned heated exchanges, of a room full of largely middle aged white men whose apparent approach to debate is more Sunderland FC fan than Socrates. At no point does either of them suggest the two most obvious steps that could be taken to reduce the problem.

The first is to simply ban the jeering and shouting that takes place. I don’t care what anyone says about the tradition and character of British democracy or parliamentary process; it’s childish, obnoxious and serves no purpose other than to satisfy the baser instincts of the participants.

The second is to abandon the whole notion of grouping MPs of the same party on adjacent benches. Setting up the chamber in an adversarial manner is hardly the best was to get away from tribalism in politics.

I’d like to think that these two simple steps would greatly reduce the unedifying spectacle of our elected representatives shouting abuse at each other across the dispatch boxes on a weekly basis. Not to mention encouraging people to think of politics and democracy as a consensual process of arriving at solutions rather than a glorified playground name calling exercise.

( And if you’re interested in how thoughtful, polite and knowledgeable debates in parliament can be then spend some time helping TheyWorkForYou.com to match video to transcripts. )

posted at: 22:45 #

Wed, 01 Oct 2008


“We will also back marriage in the tax system. To those who say…why pick out marriage why do you persist in aggravating people who for whatever reason choose not to get married I say I don’t want to aggravate anyone, but I believe in commitment and many of us, me included, will always remember that moment when you say, up there in front of others, it’s not just me anymore, it’s us, together, and that helps to take you through the tough times and that’s something we should cherish as a society.”

Because nothing says commitment like “it simply made economic sense to get married”.

A quick poke at google will tell you that there is evidence that marriage has health and wealth benefits so perhaps should be encouraged; that’s not what is being talked about here though. Instead it is the notion that marriage is about commitment, that this is something to value in society and so should be financially rewarded. But it’s not the quality that is valued being rewarding but something that is a byproduct of the quality.

And that seems to me where it all goes wrong. Nothing in providing tax breaks for married couples actually encourages the behaviour you are seeking. It may encourage a simulacrum of it within a very narrow context, what it is unlikely to achieve is altering people’s character.

posted at: 20:32 #

Sun, 21 Sep 2008

it will not bite

Dear point and shoot digital camera owners,
your camera is less dangerous that you seem to think so there is no need for you to hold it quite so far from your eyes while taking photos. In fact it might be better were you to hold it closer in order that you can more easily see the screen.

Also, your flash will make almost no difference when taking photos of the ceiling inside large buildings. It will actively hinder when taking photos through glass. You may want to consider turning it off in these circumstances.

posted at: 16:23 #

Sun, 03 Aug 2008

dwa piwo prosze

I’m aware that summer in central Europe is warm in the abstract but on the few occasions I’m there it’s still surprising. The train apparently has air conditioning. At least that’s what we gather is the reason the man from the Polish railway company insists that the window is closed, but it’s not of the cooling variety. The heat does seem appropriate to the lazy way the train trundles through the endless flatness of western Poland where only the collections of soviet industrialism to break the agricultural tranquillity.

And then Wroclaw and the three days it takes to work out how to pronounce the name — vrochwav is the best approximation I can manage — and more heat. And churches. Like the Greeks the Polish don’t believe in being underchurched. The nations differ in that the Poles seem to think that many and large is the solution to the church problem removing the element of surprise of the Greek very many and small model. In fact as the churches of Wroclaw mostly seem to group together the chances of coming across them unexpectedly are pretty slim. The element of surprise is the astonishingly disturbing motorised diorama created from toy dolls contained in a side room of one of them. The purpose is unclear and it’s too discomforting to spend time looking in the hope of revelation.

The other diorama available is the Panorama Raclawicka. The fifteen minutes it takes the audio guide to give a brief overview of the events contained within gives some notion of the scale of the work. That it has a building dedicated to it an idea of it’s place in the Polish mindset. That I spend a chunk of the time there thinking it was quite cool that the audio guide was implemented as custom software on a PDA says too much about me.

Another gentle train journey takes us to Krakow. And more churches. But also a great many synagogues which are unassuming and discrete. And small if the one we go into is representative. They are also largely unused.

Unexpectedly, the best thing we see in Krakow is the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art which at the time is showing a great exhibition of 18th Century Japanese Woodcut prints. As even I fail to write down the details of the most appealing ones so I’m left hopelessly googling for “Japanese woodblock print skeleton 18th century” at a later date. There’s also a museum with a Da Vinci, a Rembrandt and American youth looking at nothing but those.

From Krakow we go south. As we’re heading into the countryside we abandon the train for a hire car. This doesn’t much increase our speed as all roads in Poland appear to be under construction. The upside of this is the ample opportunity provided to study the many billboards for fur and leather goods. PETA do not appear to have a strong presence. Nor does vegetarianism. One of the stables of Polish cuisine are pierogi which are ravioli like and mostly contain meat. Russian pierogi contain only vegetables and, in theory, should be the vegetarian’s best friend in rural Poland. Theory and practice diverge in the liberal garnish of tiny pieces of bacon.

The ruralness of rural Poland is exemplified by an evening of watching half a dozen people in a field gathering in hay of some sort by hand. No mechanisation is involved. It would be positively bucolic were we not sitting on the balcony of a health spa come hotel.

Zakopane is not rural. It’s Poland’s main ski resort and comes with all the commercialisation that entails. The setting, at the edge of the Tatras, overcomes the fast food and street mimes but it’s not an advert for the positive effects of tourism. As it’s summer the skiers have been supplanted with hikers and the rather direct path to the summit we choose has a steady trickle of Poles. And a Nun at the summit: the church is inescapable in Poland. On the way down we meet the most nonchalant deer who seem slightly put out to have their grazing disturbed but eventually deign to wander off the path.

posted at: 21:37 #

Mon, 21 Apr 2008

on the ethics of drafting

Having got back into commuting on a moderately regular basis I’m again facing one of the dilemmas of the cycle commuter: is it polite to draft?

Drafting is sitting behind someone else getting sucked along in their slipstream and thus requiring roughly a third less energy. I recall reading that it also helps the drafter but the details, which I was hazy on at the time, now elude me. Needless to say any benefit to the drafter is considerably less than to the draftee. In most groups of road cyclists drafting is the norm for anything other than a gentle ride and is usually well practiced; each person in the group will take their turn at the front and then pull off to join the line at the end.

For the cycling commuter though it seems to be something of a grey area. I’ve read long rants on cycling forums decrying the practice of latching on to a stranger; others seem not to care if they drag someone along for miles. I personally am in the latter camp and am also not averse to sitting in someone’s wake for a bit. I’ve no idea how you tell the persuasion of another cyclist.

At this point I should say that with the great majority of my fellow commuters the issue never arises because I’m going faster than them. This makes sense as purely from a perspective of maths I’m much less likely to see those travelling at a similar speed.

However, what this does mean is that those who are worthwhile to draft are likely to moderately serious cyclists and hence familiar with the concept of drafting. The problem then arises of how to, and indeed if you should even try to, set up the shared drafting mentioned above. In the echelons of professional, and for all I know about it amateur, cycling the accepted signal is a flick of the elbow on the side you wish the draftee to come past you on. I am not inclined to make such a commanding gesture at a total stranger. I am left with the hope that if I pass and then move in front of a fellow commuter they will return the favour after a while.

I have not yet put this to the test.

In fact thus far, depending on the speed of the other person, I either maintain a polite distance behind or increase my speed sufficiently that I pass at a reasonable rate. The latter makes me feel less like a stalker.

A third option would be to pull alongside and explain all this. It seems a lot to burden a stranger with at either end of the working day.

posted at: 20:36 #

Mon, 17 Mar 2008

failed sandwich combination No 1

Avocado and green tomato chutney is something I shall not be repeating.

posted at: 20:45 #

Sat, 23 Feb 2008

today’s useful piece of information

February is not the time of year to buy bouncy balls. They are, apparently, more of a summer thing.

posted at: 16:38 #

Sat, 16 Feb 2008

don’t use that, use this

Given that there exists a name for pretty much every common category of interaction on the interweb there really should be one for suggestions that the way to solve a problem using one particular piece of software is to use a different piece of software as it is better. It is usually the case that both bits of software are capable of solving the problem however the person making the suggestions just prefers the software they suggested and so should you.

In pathological cases an entirely different operating system, usually Linux, will be proposed as the solution.

posted at: 14:45 #

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