Back in May, VA Software - owner of linux.com, slashdot.org, thinkgeek.com, sourceforge.net and others, renamed itself as SourceForge, Inc.
Not half as interesting as the release of GPLv3 (as reported at linux.com) though.
I will be fascinated to see, in five years' time, what the ramifications of GPLv3 turn out to be. For now, it is too close to forecast. By 2012, it may be too late to change, if we find ourselves living in a DRM and patent-controlled world.
As a fully paid-up member of the ex-smokers club, I should be happy about the upcoming ban on smoking in all public places in England.
As it is, I am undecided.
It may mean that the next hire car I get will not smell of (cheap and nasty) cigarettes (not that I'm saying that the aroma of a good cigar would have been more pleasant, honest. Oh, alright, it would. It was a nasty smell. I like nice smells. Quality cigarettes and cigars count amongst the list of "nice smells", whether I'm a smoker or not.)
The ban should mean that my "struggle" as an ex-smoker will be made easier the next time I go to the pub; actually, I've found my occasional visits to smoky pubs (where the smell has been nice, unlike the rental car!) have strengthened my resolve to stay a non-smoker, whilst acknowledging the pleasure which I did derive from the habit.
The early views I've seen (as an ex-smoker) of the upcoming ban have meant that I have walked out of a facility, into a waft of cigarette smoke from those who have been forced outdoors.
It will mean that my children will grow up in a country where it is taken for granted that smoking is not counted amongst the list of things which it is acceptable to do in public. That has to be a Good Thing™.
It will inevitably lead to more TV adverts for "stop-smoking" products, which are a ... hang on, what's the opposite of a tautology? For Nicorette, etc, to survive as a business, they need to either
(a) produce new smokers who want to quit, or
(b) convince smokers to keep buying an ineffective aid.
If they were to "cure" all smokers, the stockholders would leave in droves.
So - my kids will grow up in a country where smoking is not seen as "just one of those things". That's good. The country may also see smoking as a revenue stream for private industry to keep taunting the addicts with their ever-increasingly unpopular habit.
I can't see that the Government will stop being a drug dealer themselves, because - however much anti-smoking rhetoric you can spew, the fact remains that smokers (generally from the lower-income spectrum) provide billions of pounds per year in taxes.
I will be interested to see how this plays out.
I dug out an old book the other day, about the BBC Micro: Creative Graphics on the BBC Microcomputer by John Cownie (ISBN 0 907876 03 X, if you are interested). The point of the book, is that it provides sample programs which produce (for the time - early 1980s) cool graphical effects, and explain what the code does.
Here is one that I dug out - mainly because it's simple, short, and easy to type in.
I won't bother with the full code, just the critical line: Line 90 provides the (simply amazing) graphic shown (after a good few minutes on an Electron; slightly quicker on a BBC Model B).
"A" represents the variable "A", which is looping from 0 to 125.7, in increments of 0.1.
"S%" is hard-coded to 400, the radius of the ball of wool. The code is as follows:
The description - the entire point of the example, is as follows:
90 DRAW s%*SIN(A),S%*COS(A)*SIN(A*0.95)
90 Believe it or not this will trace out a ball
Now that's what I call quality!
From looking at the code, it seems to loop around at a -5% (0.95) interval each time, to get the necessary looping around the ball.
No particular reason for the post, just found it interesting that a book which had a stated purpose of "here's the code, and here's what it does" chose to use such a lazy description of the one key line of code.
It seems that Apple are taking a swipe at MS with their latest icons....
It seems that Mac OS X Leopard identifies computers on the network by their OS (and even more detailed, for Apple systems; an iMac will get an iMac icon, a black MacBook gets a black MacBook icon (I've no idea how it knows what colour it is, let alone how it publishes that information to the network!)
It would be interesting to see how Linux, *BSD, and other *NIX boxes are displayed - presumably they use a simplified version of nmap's "-O" option to identify the network stack, but it seems that any Windows boxes identified on the network are shown with a generic beige monitor showing a Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) - although, of course, with a nice MacOSX-style blue curve showing on the otherwise plain blue background.
A few days ago I read this, which claims that if you fall from a plane at 35,000 feet (6 miles up), you will hit terminal velocity of 120mph, and then start slowing down as air friction kicks in. It suggests that it might even be possible to survive such a fall. Indeed, it cites the story of Vesna Vulovic, a flight attendant who apparently did survive (though it seems that she remained within the body of the plane as it fell; anyone else who was also in the plane didn't survive, so this may be a statistical anomoly).
Intriguing stuff, all the same - can the human body survive such a fall?
Then I come across this: Space Diving, which discusses the possibility of "falling" to Earth from 120,000 feet (150 miles) (albeit with heat protection and a parachute).
This goes against what my simple mind would think of as obvious. Because my physics education was pretty poor (mainly my own fault), I'm not entirely sure how to judge these apparently insane claims. They seem to somehow manage to be just a little bit plausible.
http://www.greenharbor.com/fffolder/wreckage.html has some more stories of people falling from slightly lower heights, and surviving, but again, all encased in some part of an aeroplane (albeit not necessarily a complete plane)
Still - possible or not, it's a lovely picture!
What a bargain!
I went to the tip to do my recycling today, and in the (relatively new) "small electrical appliances" container, I found an Acorn Electron, sitting there looking all unloved.
As the Electron happened to turn up in conversation at work the other day, it seemed fitting that I should give this example a loving home.
It's got a beastly 2MHz 6502A CPU, and 32Kb RAM! I never had an Electron, though I still have my BBC Model B.
The 'leccy had nothing with it - the 19V AC (yes, AC) adapter was missing, but a thread from 2005, and particularly this post (thanks, Ant, whoever you are!) mentioned that the Electron's internal transformer is pretty flexible, so I chucked the 1000mA, 12V DC from an old 100Mbps hub into it - the connector fits, so I didn't even have to cut anything, tuned in the TV, and it works fine. It seems that the 19V is just for the expansion bus; the machine itself is happy with 5V DC.
Any problems? Just two: the "N" key doesn't seem to be working, and the UHF output is rather loose, meaning that I've got to hold it in place to see the output. Oh, and I've got no cassette adapter, nor any Electron cassettes, but I'm sure I'll be able to do something about that if need be. As it is, though, I've got a functioning computer for the price of an old newspaper. That's a bargain, in my books!
Mark Shuttleworth, the funder behind Ubuntu, has posted a blog entry about the MS Patent claims.
He swears that they are not interested in licensing these nebulous claims, which is good. This topic leads him on to the subject of what Ubuntu is about:
In the Ubuntu community, we believe that the freedom in free software is what’s powerful, not the openness of the code. Our role is not to be the ideologues -in-chief of the movement, our role is to deliver the benefits of that freedom to the widest possible audience. We recognize the value in “good now to get perfect later” (today we require free apps, tomorrow free drivers too, and someday free firmware to be part of the default Ubuntu configuration)I find these statements quite interesting:
Get freedom, get users, then sort out the freedom
This reminds me somewhat of the South Park Underpants Gnomes:
If Step 4 is Freedom, what is Step 1? From Shuttleworth's previous statements, it is a limited freedom, with the undebuggable and unfixable binary-only drivers of which Canonical currently approves.
That is not a high ground from which to attack MS Office's "OpenXML" standard.
Society is not lacking a "zero-cost, very few compromises" operating system. There are lots of those. Society needs a credible alternative to insecure and unprovable proprietary OSes. That means absolute freedom must be key. Without that, Ubuntu will become another RedHat, SuSE, etc - less free even than a Debian, upon which it is based.
Alice and Bob - Dated all the way back to 1984, as an after-dinner speech. Hilarious.
Coding theorists are concerned with two things.
Firstly and most importantly they are concerned with the private lives of two people called Alice and Bob. In theory papers, whenever a coding theorist wants to describe a transaction between two parties he doesn't call then A and B. No. For some longstanding traditional reason he calls then Alice and Bob.
local cache here in black-and-white
I'm damn fed up with the FSF being the "protector of freedoms", and also
feeling that they can define what those freedoms mean.
The GPLv2 is a *legal*license*. And no, the FSF doesn't get to define what the words mean to suit their agenda.
I can't help but notice, that in many cases like this, where two parties (who 99% agree with each other) differ, that the truth generally lies part way between each side, and not with one or the other.
Of course, there are lots of examples where one party is clearly right, and the other is clearly wrong, but in my experience, it's generally neither.
I don't think that I've ever used the FSF's boilerplate "either version 2.1 of the License, or (at your option) any later version" for any of my own code, simply because it puts too much trust in too nebulous a body. What defines the FSF? What if the FSF changes? Who has ultimate control over the GPL? How would the death of RMS/Moglen affect that status? Too many questions are open, and it only makes sense to write code under a license which the author has read, not under a license which somebody else has yet to write.
Under "3.2 New Elements,"
<figure> might be good for "Semantic Web" type purposes; the rest seem to be driven by some desire to build Flash into HTML.
I can see some potential benefit for web developers to get a validated "date/time" field returned, though any server-side assumptions that such fields will be valid simply opens up a whole new raft of potential security exploits.
Some other changes I find less comprehensible: "The strong element now represents importance rather than strong emphasis." How is a browser expected to visually depict "importance"? What other abstract concepts will browsers be expected to visually depict? How will a web developer be expected to maintain cross-browser consistency for such concepticons (for want of a better word)?
They're also dropping stuff like "<img align=center" because it is "better handled by CSS"; if it's a common thing, then yes, but a one-off is better suited inline. Editing code to test new ideas, whether it's done with
vi or DreamWeaver, is more cleanly and easily done with inline styles, than by defining an entire CSS class for a single image.
I know that we got to HTML4 relatively quickly, and have stayed there (and forayed out to XHTML) since, but it does seem too soon for these vague ideas to be cemented into HTML5 already.
The BBC's 7 Ages of Rock series is - as I have already mentioned - awesome.
However, I did notice one little factette that they got wrong tonight. Dire Straits' Money for Nothing was not a parody of the rock scene, but Knopfler's reaction to an overheard conversation between employees at an electrical store (Tandy/RadioShack/etc) about the music business.
In this age of Wikiphilia, it is not so easy to find the links unless you already know the quotes, but here is one source. Or, you could just read the lyrics.
However, I had not read the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA before now. That opened my eyes. And - as they pointed out on the documentary - Ronald Reagan may not have been quite so keen to endorse the song, if he had taken the time to read the lyrics himself.
Schneier's Movie Plot Threat Contest Winner
A perfectly credible explanation as to why no liquids should be allowed on planes ever again.
Or - and this is just a thought - we could become sensible. Nah, forget I mentioned anything.
It's comforting to know that the big financial organisations are taking our security seriously. This AmEx SSL certificate has just expired. Click the small image for the fuller details as shown by the Firefox browser.
I happen to be required to put business expenses on a corporate American Express card. So - at least it's not my money. And an expired certificate isn't anything like as bad as - say - an unsigned certificate.
Unfortunately, for many people, it is their money, and they should get no warnings about legitimate transactions with their financial services providers. It's bad enough that users have to see legitimate warnings, without having silly warnings (false positives) like this, to deal with. It simply diminishes the credibility of the warnings, if - as in this case - the correct response is to say "okay; it doesn't matter in this particular instance."
And don't get confused by the "about 1am" nature of the dates... this certificate is nearly 24 hours out of date. And how did I manage to post this 1 hour before it apparently happened (though the certificate was still invalid at 2302)? Well, this site is hosted in Canada, I'm in the UK, and I'm not prepared to write the PHP to calculate Canadian and British DST, so it's sometimes up to an hour out. So this was actually posted at 0002 on the Saturday.
The banks cannot expect to fob credit card security issues on to their customers ("you must have exposed your PIN", etc) if they are not absolutely 100% provably squeaky-clean in upholding their side of the bargain.
The BBC are planning to use DRM for the content they distribute.
This will mean that the fantastic service which the BBC currently offer - the Listen Again, and (coming soon) Watch Again, for TV - will only be available for Windows users with Windows Media Player 10 or newer.
Of course, all these DRM systems get hacked - Hollywood spent $millions on AACS, but it is already broken wide open. As I blogged just the other day, once the content is on your machine, it's open to copying. It's an arms race which the content-providers cannot win. EMI, Apple, Amazon have already stepped away from DRM before it has even taken hold.
There's an Open letter, which you can sign by sending an email to email@example.com - provide as much as you can of the following:
City, State/Province, Country
Your personal comment to the BBC
There is also a petition on the petitions.pm.gov.uk site which you can also sign. The statement there is:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the BBC from making its iPlayer on-demand television service available to Windows users only, and instruct the corporation to provide its service for other operating systems also.
The BBC plans to launch an on-demand tv service which uses software that will only be available to Windows users. The BBC should not be allowed to show commercial bias in this way, or to exclude certain groups of the population from using its services. The BBC say that they provide 'services for everyone, free of commercial interests and political bias'. Locking the new service's users into Microsoft Windows whilst ignoring those members of society who use other operating systems should does not fit in with the BBC's ethos and should not be allowed.
For this second one, you must click the link in the email you are sent, for the petition to count.
In both cases, it is worth making the point (if you can), that you are a UK resident and BBC TV License Payer.
Montreal was a great win for Lewis Hamilton, but it was also a great showcase for the safety of modern F1 cars. Robert Kubica survived the most almighty crash, at a speed of around 170-190mph, and it seems that initial reports of a broken leg, were unfounded. He merely sprained his ankle. Note that the car has already lost three wheels in the linked photograph - by this point, Kubica has hit the (parked, retired) car of Scott Speed, then the concrete wall on the inside of the hairpin, collided back across the track, amongst traffic (all of which were very lucky not to collide with him), and is about to make his first impact against the outside barrier. The video below shows the full incident.
Here is my montage of the event, collated from various news sources.
All credit goes to the unsung engineers who have worked on these unpredictable failures. It is easy to praise the engineer who gets an extra tenth of a second out of the car; the engineers who ensured that all the cars on the grid will endure this kind of failure without killing the driver are the real heroes.
There was almost nothing left of the car, apart from the monocoque which remarkably kept Kubica not only alive, but safe, in the midst of this high speed crash.
My montage is already outdated. YouTube has a collection of video footage. After watching one view, you can select any of a whole bunch of other views of this (a) terrible, in its danger, whilst (b) wonderful, in its safety, incident:
Or if you prefer passionate German commentary:
The innocent have nothing to fear (possibly).
Trying to make Digital Rights Management (DRM) work in the real world is like asking engineers to do "Star Trek" style magic, rather than real engineering. DRM simply cannot work. For less technical readers who might be wondering what I'm going on about, DRM is the attempt to control copying on a digital file, or sometimes even to add a restriction on what how many times such a file can be copied. It's usually applied to online music or movies, but it's never sold to the consumer for what it actually is, an added restriction on what can be done with something they've paid for. DRM is always explained as the "wonderful new technology that will help protect your medical records from thieves". The truth is, it can't even do that.
A physics teacher has written an Open Letter to the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance and the Department for Education and Skills. He describes the current state of Physics exams as a "fiasco that will destroy physics in England." If half of what he says is true, then he is right.
Some of the sample questions, and acceptable answers, that he quotes, are:
Q: Suggest why he [a dark skinned person] can sunbathe with less risk of getting skin cancer than a fair skinned person."There is no reason any physics teacher would cover such material, or why any pupil should expect to be tested on it."
A: More UV absorbed by dark skin (more melanin);
Less UV penetrates deep to damage living cells / tissue
Q: Why would radio stations broadcast digital signals rather than analogue signals?"iPods, at the time of this writing, don’t have radio turners and computers can process analogue signals"
A: Can be processed by computer / ipod [sic]
The energy from burning bio-fuels, such a woodchip and straw, can be used to generate electricity."None of this material is in the specification, nor can a pupil reliably deduce the answers from the given information."
Plants for bio-fuels use up carbon dioxide as they grow.
Farmers get grants to grow plants for bio-fuels.
Electricity generated from bio-fuels can be sold at a higher price than electricity generated from burning fossil fuels.
Growing plants for bio-fuels offers new opportunities for rural communities.
Q: Suggest why, apart from the declining reserves of fossil fuels, power companies should use more bio-fuels and less fossil fuels to generate electricity.
A: Overall add no carbon dioxide to the environment
Power companies make more profit
Opportunity to grew new type of crop (growing plants in swamps)
There was a news article on TV today about the freedom a 1970s child enjoyed, as compared to today.
I do not let my children play out in the street, though I, in my childhood, would happily announce to my mother that I was going off (by myself, or with friends) and would be "back for tea", as young as (IIRC) six or seven years old. Times have changed. I don't claim to know why we are so stiflingly protective these days.
The recent Madeleine McCann disappearance has caused a storm of publicity, causing me (and, I assume, many others), to wonder what the actual figures are. Is little Madeleine's disappearance so uncommon as to warrant all the media attention, or do hundreds of children go missing every year? In the UK? British children? Across Europe? USA? Worldwide?
I don't have all the figures, but the Home Office have a report "Child Abduction: Understanding Police Recorded Crime Statistics" (PDF) (local copy), which includes some pertinent statistics from 2002/3:
|Type of Abduction||Avg Age||SD||Number of Children|
If this happens (within the UK alone) more than once a week - once a day, if we combine "Parental", "Stranger (Successful)" and "Other", it can only be sensible to (either):
a) ask why so much attention has been paid to Madeleine McCann, or
b) ask why so little attention is paid to other child abductions.
I cannot imagine the pain that Madeleine's parents must be feeling. I cannot even begin to image the pain that hundreds - thousands - of other parents must be feeling to see so much concerted effort being coordinated around one missing (presumed abducted) child, when those resources have clearly not been deployed for their own missing children.
Madeleine, at 4 years old, is younger than the averages found by the Home Office in their report of 2002/3 statistics; is that the reason? Do we care more about 4-year-olds, or less about 6-12-year-old children?
One difference in the Home Office report which does stand out, is the difference between attempted and successful stranger abductions. The difference is accounted for by Black and Asian children. Maybe this is, indeed, why we have heard more about Madeleine - even though the abduction was abroad, she was white, and her parents are Doctors. Is this a media bias towards white families (if a coloured child goes missing, it's not so newsworthy)? However, of the "stranger successful" abductions, 74% (39 of 59, or is it of 68, or of 67? Page 4's "Stranger successful child abductions" contradicts Table 1 on Page 3, though only slightly) were white. I do not have the figures, but I believe that over 74% of the UK population is white, so - as Fig 3 (to the left) shows, a white child is less likely to be abducted by a stranger than a non-white child. So, a white child being abducted is therefore more "newsworthy" than a non-white child.
In 63% of the "Stranger successful" abductions (regardless of colour or other categorisations), the child was recovered within 24 hours. Again, this is, sadly, not the case for Madeleine McCann. The other 27% are not clearly accounted for. Some are presumably recovered some time after 24 hours. 48 hours? Weeks? Months? Years? Never? Many questions are left unanswered.
So - abduction by strangers is not uncommon, though the child is often recovered within 24 hours. The Home Office report does not provide full figures on how many children are eventually reunited with their families, nor on how this likelihood changes over time.
Terrible as it must be for the McCann family, I cannot help but feel - as a white, middle-aged, middle class parent of a 2.4 family - that the media is dealing with this particular abduction differently, because of the parents' social status, and not - as I believe we should be - driven by the desire for the child's welfare, regardless of sex, colour, class, or any other factors, than the fact that a human being has gone missing.
It would appear that similar discussions happened in the USA in 2005 (warning: strong language)
Of a more recent nature, there is no news of João Immanuel Kidd, a six month old baby boy who disappeared from Wales last March, possibly to Portugal. Had you heard of him? I had not. The Google search above, for his name, finds one article on his council's website, and the two BBC articles (one in English, the other in Welsh). In contrast, Madeleine McCann gathers "about 1,620,000" results.
This is a cool video of a solid rocket booster separating from the Space Shuttle Atlantis. It's filmed with a camera mounted on the booster itself, so you can follow the hypnotic free-fall from from space to the ocean.
The Shuttle Rocket Boosters never actually leave the atmosphere. Otherwise, they would burn up. That's why there's sound. Add to that the fact that the camera is physically attached to something vibrating, so the microphone is going to pick up that too. You can only not transmit sound across the void of space. If the microphone is attached and the vibrations are strong enough, it will still pick up the sound.
I'm a *nix user of over a decade, and have had a Windows laptop for just over 18 months now. I still find things in Windows which amaze me.
I don't tend to delve too deeply into "multimedia" on any platform, I like my command-line, and would not survive my Windows existence without regular use of Cygwin. So, when I am forced to use a point-and-click interface, I expect it to do what I want without too much work. "
vlc *.mp3", or - better still - "
vlc *.m3u" should play the album of MP3s. I've had a hard time getting it working under Windows; it worked with WinAmp first time, but not the second time, and I now seem to have it working with RealPlayer, as WinAmp seems to have given up the ghost. I don't know how or why it's working, though.
So, tonight's gripe is that, under the "Start / Programs" menu, you get things like "Accessories / Entertainment," which is fair enough. But then, WinAmp doesn't install itself there, it installs as "Start / Programs / WinAmp / WinAmp". On the other hand, RealPlayer does install itself in the obvious place.
Many Windows apps seem to set themselves a menu item of "Start / Programs / Vendor / Application", which means that I have to memorise the vendor and application name for every app I install, instead of having them sorted by use, as (say) GNOME does: Accessories, Games, Graphics, Internet, Office (okay, not very descriptive), Sound & Video, System Tools.
I have tried to keep my Windows laptop pretty clean, but the Programs list now scrolls over into a second column, because each vendor gets their own menu item. The more stuff installed, the harder it gets to use the installed stuff. That's counterintuitive, surely? On a GNU/Linux system, the more stuff I've got installed, the more I can achieve. On Wintel, I've got less idea about what is available, because there are too many options (hmm, wasn't "too many options" one of the major criticisms of GNU/Linux a year or two ago, about GNOME/KDE, etc?)
I just don't like Windows. It's that simple.
One thing which does make it a bit easier to deal with, is Virtual Dimension, which offers something like the virtual desktops that GNOME, KDE, and the ilk offer for *nix systems out of the box. It's Free Software (GPL), and it can deal with the fact that (when docked in the office) I've got a second monitor, and a virtual desktop covers both displays.
This started as a rant, and ended up as a plug; so be it. It wasn't intended in that way, but Virtual Desktop is a particularly good tool for dealing with the limitations of a Windows system.
Wouldn't it be nice if Windows was good to start with, or if a Good system was the default?
Thinking about the recent news about the latest car ringing bust, and the controversy over sites like AllOfMP3.com brought out some interesting parallels for the end customer.
If you spend £40,000 on (what turns out to be) a stolen car, the police will (ideal world scenario) arrest the thieves, take your car, and you've spent £40,000 on nothing.
However, you get no criminal record, and the motor industry doesn't go after you as a thief.
If it is eventually decided that it was illegal for a vendor to have sold you an MP3, what's the worst that can happen? They force you to delete the MP3s? That would be the equivalent to "you lose the car."
Will the RIAA be happy with that, or would they insist on prosecuting the customers? The RIAA are quite happy to sue their own customers.
This is all without even dealing with the fact that stealing a car deprives the lawful owner of the use of their possession, whereas "stealing" music, does not have the same detrimental affect on another end-user of the product.
So, the consequences of benefiting from a low-scale a digital "theft" are worse than those of benefiting from a high-scale, property-depriving physical theft. Riiight.
$ whois steve-parker.org
Created On:20-Jun-2000 13:48:46 UTC
Yes, this website is 7 years old this month. And a cheery new graphic to go with it, too.
Images courtesy of http://web.archive.org/.
2000 saw humble beginnings, and some pretty awful HTML.
By 2002, the website looked a bit more coherent, and took on a life of its own, gaining visitors all the time.
In 2005, I took a fancy to yellow highlights, but kept the blue/grey theme:
I did keep the yellow theme going after that design:
And now I'm just doing tacky birthday-cake images!