I'm very happy today that Mary & I have applied for Canadian citizenship.
This is the most exciting letter I've sent in a long time:
I'm proud that we've joined the queue to become new Canadians.
(I really like the common use of 'new Canadian' here. I find it much more upbeat and welcoming than 'immigrant', and the general tone with which that's used, particularly in UK politics and media.)
Tagged: Social, Rants, Upbeat
Posted at 12:27 EDT, 20th March 2015.
Tomorrow night, I expect the fine city I'm now calling home will have a mayor who doesn't just fail to win the popular vote, but for whom there is a preferred candidate for most voters.
Losing the popular vote is pretty much par for the course with FPP, but this election looks especially clear we can do better.
I think we should all vote for something; and a preferential voting system would naturally discourage the mudslinging that has characterised this campaign.
Tagged: Rants, Politics, Social
Posted at 18:17 EDT, 24th October 2010.
As a part-time political nerd, I'm keen to keep informed about British politics, particularly in the run-up to a general election. I do a lot of reading, but I also watch programmes like the leaders' debates.
I'm a registered voter, but I happen to live overseas. Given the sorry state of global television distribution by television channels, that causes some hiccups.
I'm not concerned that I can't get access to these videos; with a fair dose of technical knowledge it's pretty simple. I am concerned that it is wrong to make it harder than it need be for any potential voter to get informed.
I hope that for the upcoming debates, the television channels will make them available to all, as easily as possible. If you agree, please let them know (see the links at the foot of this post).
Update at 07:39 EDT, 23rd April 2010 – Some success
The Web is becoming more fragmented, and not quite so World-Wide. More and more often, I get to sites that can't show me what I'm there for because of where I seem to be coming from.
I know there's nothing in the internet's protocols that reliably dobs in where you are coming from, so it never really gets in the way.
Having recently moved from the UK to Canada, I naturally want to keep in touch with the old country. Moreover, I watch a number of things from our southern neighbours. As a geek I have no trouble routing my traffic so that I can see the end result. It's always a little clumsy but works in the end. If the BBC let me pay for an overseas TV licence, I'd likely jump at the chance.
I've been misidentified as German, Swedish and, very occasionally, Polish. If it's just Google taking a best-guess as to which site you'd likely prefer with a clear link back to what you actually asked for, that's fairly harmless.
[Image from the NASA Earth Observatory, by Reto Stöckli, based on data from NASA and NOAA. Thank you.]
The UK's Home Office has been running a consultation, entitled Keeping the right people on the DNA database.
I'm gravely sceptical about the entire episode and, throughout, the document tilts heavily towards keeping DNA for a long time because that will – supposedly – make us safer.
David Mery has had some choice words and a very thorough response to the Home Office's proposal. I am not so thorough, and kept my contribution to the section of which Ben Goldacre rightly asked 'Is this a joke?'.
The consultation closed yesterday, here is my contribution, written from the vantage point of my academic high horse.
(As you'll have spotted, there's strong language here. If that offends you, I suggest you move along. I try not to swear with wild abandon, but instead I try and save it for abso-fucking-lutely deserving cases.)
A nasty thing happened to me seven months ago today, and for most of that time I've been avoiding talking about it, let alone writing about it. To the few friends I have bothered with this, you have my deepest thanks: for your thoughtful suggestions but mainly for patiently listening to me with a sympathetic ear, even when I was far from my normal self.
Just before Christmas last year, late at night in Soho, a number of things happened that were deeply shit. The nastiest bit wasn't any of these:
- being jumped in the street by three miscreants, while trying to make my way home with Mary
- that the attack was, to me, pretty clearly motivated by three young white thugs seeing a mixed-colour couple, and feeling some caveman-like desire to 'protect' the white woman, who was not in any threat, except inside their tiny little cave-brains.
- having my bag nicked, containing nearly every bit of portable electronics that I owned
The really nasty thing that happened was that at a moment where I felt victimised and in need of support and aid, that the Metropolitan Police turned up. That's when the evening went from being unpleasant to a proper fucking cock-up. Somehow they saw three white blokes laughing, and one distressed pale brown bloke, and assumed the singular guy in torn clothing, crying was the culprit.
The police have been misbehaving. I'm angry about that, and would like to do something practical.
I'm pleased that people aren't sticking to the supposed ban on photographing the police. The videos of Ian Tomlinson being attacked from behind minutes before his death and the seemingly brutish attack on a woman at the memorial protest the following day show that we really do need some daylight here.
Update at 05:31 EDT, 21st April 2009 – Added notes on how to tag things.
There's been some chatter recently about how Barack Obama isn't really black. The claim is that he's basically a privileged white guy.
I've a proper problem with that, and my basic difficulty is with a classification that is so damn crude.
Why try and jam Obama into one of the pigeon-holes of being exclusively white or black, but never both? I'm sure a large part rests with the media, in wanting a story that is simple to tell; I fear that a greater part is playing on America's more fragmented, near segregated culture when it comes to colour. Growing up as a kid with a mixed background made me feel no less British. I have a great love of Irish and Indian culture, but they aren't quite home to me. I'm not sure America, or perhaps just public identity there, allows such a tick-all-that-apply approach to cultural identity. I'm pretty sure living in London makes that much easier, which is why it is home now.
I hope people start the more nuanced conversation about Obama. He is black and white. He could be their first penguin president.
Mary & I were both overcharged on a recent jaunt around London. The barriers beeped and didn't let me out, so the station staff opened the barrier to let me through. The barriers did let Mary out, but it turned out she had been charged two lots of the we-didn't-see-you-touch-out-so-we'll-take-four-pounds.
(Oyster is London's RFID-based ticketing system. You can put travelcards on them, but I use it as a pay-as-you-go card. It charges you for each journey and they promise not to charge you more than the equivalent travelcard. In practice this goes wrong a bit: it's a very complex system, and the software must be a nightmare.)
I've always been quite wary of the Telephone Preference Service (and its sibling the Mail Preference Service). It makes me nervous that the do-not-spam list is held by an organisation that promotes direct marketing.
After getting more marketing calls, and this weekend a spam text message from Firezza (a local pizza firm, no link-love from here), I finally signed up for the TPS for my mobile number and our home number.
The RIAA's head of technology deployed some twisty logic at a recent trade event:
(Recently) I made a list of the 22 ways to sell music, and 20 of them still require DRM.
… Any form of subscription service or limited play-per-view or advertising offer still requires DRM. So DRM is not dead.
So, because he cannot think of very many ways to do without, it must be workable as a technology. In the sense that they'll keep pushing it, I'm sure it isn't dead yet. For customers who just want their media to just work, however, DRM isn't really going to cut it.
London votes today in its local elections, electing the Mayor and London Assembly.
By any account the race between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson is very close, with the polls and bookies making Johnson the favourite, but not by a massive margin.
Each voter gets two choices for Mayor, with the second votes being used for candidates that are not in the top two based on the first choices.
This 'simpler' version of expressing preference is actual a little subtle, and in a race where second preferences are likely to be crucial, I fear we're going to get quite a lot of wasted votes.
Tagged: Politics, Rants
Posted at 04:49 EDT, 1st May 2008.
Digital Spy are reporting that Sky have recently dropped component video out from their new HD set-top boxes.
After reporting that some people were seeing harsh restrictions on their TiVo for HBO's new (fantastic) John Adams mini-series, Molly Wood has a response from TiVo. It was all a mistake, apparently.
This highlights how it is very hard to make DRM fail gracefully, certainly from the end-user's perspective.
It's a little thing, but if we are to have a hope of educating users to protect themselves online that reputable sites don't behave just like the fraudsters.
Here's a quick spot of fuckwittery from Harvard Business Review.
The front page of Halifax's online banking has an extravagantly stupid 'feature'.
Somehow, they have managed to publish their warnings about phishing attacks so that they look like, well, a bit of a phishing attack!
A couple of weeks ago, Matthew Cashmore of backstage.bbc.co.uk published a very interesting interview with Anthony Rose, head of Digital Media Technology at the BBC.
I was impressed by Rose, generally. He seems to be pretty clued up about what's possible with the technology, which I suppose is no great surprise given his background at Kazaa. I'll get into some of the contradictions I see in what he says in another post, but first there is one comment he made that particularly grates.
He says, just over 2 minutes in (emphasis mine):
The good news is, as you move to streaming, at this time, there's no requirement for DRM.
We put quite complex back-end controls to make sure that our rights-holders' rights are still protected. In other words the content is only available in the UK, and we make it hard to nick the stream.
A long time ago, I wrote gallery.future-i.com, and I was particularly exercised about using clean URLs (and still am).
One place I feel I did a really nice job was in making the search URLs pretty nice, e.g. a search for 'mary' lives at:
I did that in the middle of 2001, and I expect plenty of others did similar things by then, too. For me, the tricky bit is all done by Apache's mod_rewrite, which takes incoming requests to your web site, and let's you rejig it to pass parameters to scripts without exposing all that grunge to the outside world. It isn't the only way to do it, but it is powerful and effective.
My annoyance now is that Amazon have a patent on a very similar technique, covering URLs for search results of the form
http://somedomain/flibble, filed in 2004.
I was impressed by Amazon's A9 when it launched, principally for the clean URLs for search.
That doesn't mean they own the idea, which is plainly in play before that. And don't get me started on parallel invention, making it all the sillier.
I hope the patent boils away in a sea of prior art.
[Via Buzz Out Loud #589, Slashdot coverage]
So, Google are shutting down their DRM-backed video sales and rental service. Instead of giving customers the video they 'bought' or a proper refund Google are giving them a "bonus" voucher to spend through Google Checkout, which rusts in 60 days.
Back in the day, we understood the simple cases of:
- you have bought this
- you have borrowed this
- and, you have rented this
DRM intends to make the middle case go away, and skew the first to be a wierd and different thing. If we choose to build technology that breaks these norms, we're going to need much clearer language than 'download-to-own' and 'buy' to cover all of the new possibilities for worse-than-before media.
Chris pointed at a piece in the NYT where they say:
Streaming video, unlike downloads, never resides on a viewer's computer. It usually cannot be replayed as a downloaded file can be, which is another reason that content creators like it.
Pay attention, especially any lawyers hanging around at the back.
Here's the important difference between streaming and downloading:
- when you download something you are sent a bag of bits in any old order
- when you stream something you are sent a bag of bits and can start watching them before they've all arrived
That makes streaming harder to do, as a server, and theoretically nicer for the end user. The down-side is that once you have that harder performance problem of sending enough bits quickly enough it gets tricky. You can buy yourself better performance by distributing some (or all) of the information from a central server, but that gets expensive.
The next thing you can do is just to use fewer bits, that makes it both cheaper, and the technical problem gets easier. The consequence is to make the quality suck, to the point of being unwatchable for me. Content owners are well placed to compete on quality, right now they're losing to the ad-hoc torrent people.
I'm unsurprised at recent developments at Oxford as over-zealous proctors fine students for misbehaviour using evidence from Facebook.
I think there's some real trouble with people understanding quite what they're publishing, and to whom.
Worse than that, I think people have a false sense of security when they tag their updates as 'friends only' on sites like Twitter, Facebook and so forth.
I'm a Harry Potter fan. I like the books, and I really don't want spoiling about the last book. According to Torrent Freak, poor quality scans of the book are already kicking about over BitTorrent.
Now I'm not surprised, but I think – in this case at least – the publisher is winning.
Update at 12:42 EDT, 19th July 2007 – Tracing leaker via EXIF metadata
It's a depressing thought. There's a site you love, you have poured heart and soul and energy into it.
More and more frequently, I find myself fighting the corner of not doing "search engine optimisation".
Now I'm a bit of a pedant, so I do get quite exercised about definitions and terminology.
To me this site isn't a blog. There's a bloggish part to it, and the word is certainly all over the code that underpins it. It just isn't that important to me that it's seen as a blog. If that's a helpful crutch for people, they might call it that. I won't.
Tagged: Rants, Web
Posted at 11:15 EDT, 11th June 2007.
While using my Halifax Visa card online recently, I bumped into the Verified by Visa programme.
It's a nice idea, in theory, but the implementation I saw was woeful. It was depressingly similar to a phishing attack, warmly assuring me about security by chatting about it in the Web page, while hiding the parts of my browser that can tell me that more sensibly.
Like most geeks, I try and educate my less geeky family and friends about how to behave safely with technology. Things like this make that job harder.
Update at 17:51 EDT, 21st April 2007 – Follow-up: Guardian coverage
I've been stuck in a few conversations recently about Web accessibility, which has led me to think a little more about what the proper balance is between shinyness and usefulness.
In short, I don't want to poke people in the eye – they usually don't deserve it.
Tagged: Technology, Rants, Web
Posted at 05:01 EST, 9th March 2007.
The FT has a slippery grasp of DRM. In a story titled 'Apple sparks battle over copyright', they opened with:
Apple's demand that record companies do away with copyright protection for songs they sell online has set up a bitter battle between the two camps as they prepare for broad-ranging contract negotiations.
Now, that's just plain wrong.