XKCD this week had a wonderful piece of commentary about the way we choose passwords.
Four randomly chosen common English words make for a remarkably good password. Randall Monroe's example uses a word-list about 2,000 words long (11 bits per word). The beauty of this suggestion is that you can choose any 2,000 different words you like and even assume that the attacker knows your word list and it will still have about 44 bits of randomness in. And 2 to the 44 is a pretty damn big number.
This is very similar suggestion to one made by Thomas Baekdal a few years ago that:
"this is fun" is 10 times more secure than "J4fS!2"
I'm pretty sure that's wrong, but in a slightly subtle way.
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: Politics, Rants, Social
Posted at 18:17 EDT, 24th October 2010.
Twitter's a pretty handy way to vent about something good or bad that's happening.
Here's a really simple way to flag that:
They're just hashtags. They're as short as can be, but I think their meaning is pretty clear.
I've been shopping for a new DVD player recently, and have been quite surprised by the attitude of so many shops when I ask which of their players are multi-region.
I'd really like a multi-region DVD & Blu-ray player, but that hardly seems like an option. I expect I'll get an encumbered PS3 later on, and a multi-region DVD player now.
A typical response from shops that sold decent electronics was 'We don't sell that sort of thing' and to suggest I try a cheaper, dodgier part of town.
This is tricky for me as I'm looking for two distinct kinds of quality. I want both:
- a well designed, constructed and built machine, with particularly good upscaling to 1080p, so it looks good on our HD telly.
- a lack of anti-user features that will mean some of the discs I own won't play because of where in the world they were originally sold.
They are both about a smooth and pleasant user experience, but one is the side of that the industry pushes, the other is about how the industry tries to segment markets in both time and space.
I still love London, but I'm getting to love Toronto, too.
I've only been here a shade over a week but have already found a gaggle of fine places for The List.
Tagged: Social, Upbeat, Tips
Posted at 16:19 EDT, 26th August 2009.
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.
I'll be moving out of London in just a few short weeks, but I'm far from tired of it. Here's a quick run-down of some of my favourite establishments. I've been popping in as often as possible lately, each time not knowing if that'll be the last time for a good, long while.
Update at 04:07 EDT, 4th August 2009 – Honourable mentions: The Old Mitre and The Harp
Tagged: Social, Tips, Upbeat
Posted at 07:19 EDT, 27th July 2009.
(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.
After the G20 mess, I'm exercised about the police failing to identify themselves properly while in uniform.
I took this picture of officers failing just so a few weeks ago. This week, I dropped it in to the local police station to ask what was going on, and to complain.
I've just heard back from the inspector there.
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.
Joe Biden was quoted in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago (emphasis added):
"I'm going to say something presumptuous," Biden said to me. "The reason I've been relatively successful is that I have never questioned the motive of other senators, and that's instinctively Barack. Barack doesn't start off, 'Well, you disagree, you must be a, you know, an S.O.B. or you must not care about the poor or you're sexist or you're racist or you're a whatever.' He doesn't think that way." Biden continued, veering slightly into stream-of-consciousness, "I think it comes from a guy who is, you know, who's half white and half black. You know, this idea – he is a black man because society won't let him be anything else. But he's as much his mother's child as he is his father's child. And here's a guy raised in an environment that was relatively normal in the sense that there was no—he wasn't able to be squirrelled away somewhere, or he didn't live in a homogeneous neighborhood where he was part of the homogeneity. You know what I mean?"
That's a pretty simple story, and a compelling one.
Tagged: Upbeat, Social, Politics
Posted at 15:33 EST, 2nd November 2008.
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.)
The sign-up for SemanticCamp London is open.
If you are near London and interested in using the Web with meaning, then grab a spot before they are all gone. It'll be on the 16th and 17th of February, at the Department of Computing at Imperial College (or 'work' from my point of view).
We also have some good pubs nearby, for refreshments afterwards.
Tagged: Technology, Social, Web
Posted at 07:00 EST, 9th January 2008.
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]
The BBC have a great new Web site – BBC Programme Support (more info from Tom Scott of the BBC). This is especially good for Web nerds like me, but it will help make link-centric television work for Real Human Beings, too.
There are a few quirks in how things are listed right now but I'm sure they'll shake out in due course. What's great about this service is that the Beeb is committing to long-term, stable URIs for their programmes, with a single, clear link for each show, irrespective of how and when it is shown or repeated.
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.
Following Chris' lead, here's a gaggle of films that Mary & I are going to later this month in Edinburgh.
I'm also excited to be going to the Un-Festival, organised by Ian Forrester, catching some decent comedy and generally being up in such a lovely city, even while it is wearing a clown suit.
Tagged: Media, Upbeat, Social
Posted at 08:29 EDT, 4th August 2007.
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
Television has long lived in a world where viewers watch television just as it is transmitted, just where they live.
That's a fantasy world, and becomes less and less realistic every day. Technology for time- and place-shifting content around has got pretty good in the last thirty-odd years.
Watersheds on television are thoroughly hooked on the idea that the people who can watch something that was broadcast in the evening are responsible & mature. Anyone who is technically savvy, and thus most likely any enterprising kid with access to the internet, can fetch practically any programme, from anywhere in the world.