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Thu 28th Feb 2008 @ 11:16 2008: No Entry

Traffic Light - No EntryI dropped the car in for a service this morning, and saw this bizarre traffic light. And yes, it does turn green.


Wed 27th Feb 2008 @ 14:21 2008: Data Entry

Data EntryI've just seen this advert on Facebook.

I don't think I've got the qualifications for that role...

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Wed 27th Feb 2008 @ 01:24 2008: E-Day

e-DayE-Day; from 6pm Wednesday to 6pm Thursday. Seems simple enough; - just turn stuff off for 24 hours.

Granted, it's likely that I'll have to drive to Newcastle and back in a day, to fire up a few hundred BPU-worth of hardware, but I can switch off the PC at home (unless the wife needs it, that is...)

Actually, I'm not looking terribly green, as it stands at the moment.

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Mon 25th Feb 2008 @ 22:23 2008: Beat 100%

Beat 100%!Out of two contestants, one with a score 18/20, the other with a score 20/20, this FaceBook application challenges you to beat them both.

I don't know much about Tom Cruise, but I doubt that Mr Cruise himself would be able to score 21/20...

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Mon 25th Feb 2008 @ 00:29 2008: Appropriate Adverts

Appropriately placed advert...

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Thu 21st Feb 2008 @ 00:06 2008: MS Office

It seems that Microsoft have released documentation on the major MS Office file binary formats.


Joel Spolsky defends the lack of clarity.

Myself, I find notes such as this, to be rather confusing:

Note The end of a section is also the end of a paragraph. The last character of a section is a
section mark which stands in place of the paragraph mark normally required to end a
paragraph. An exception is made for the last character of a document which is always a
paragraph mark although the end of a document is always an implicit end of section.
(Page 31, Word Spec.

Does that mean much to you? It doesn't help me a lot, and it doesn't suggest a cleanly-designed format.

But then again, I haven't in full; I'm really only interested in the MS Publisher format, as I try to decode that myself.

Joel suggests that a naysayer might suggest that these formats:

  • are deliberately obfuscated
  • are the product of a demented Borg mind
  • were created by insanely bad programmers
  • and are impossible to read or create correctly.

From what little I have glanced at, I would have to concur with they hypothetical naysayer. Joel's explanations ("we weren't thinking of interoperability") are not terribly convincing; when one version of MS Word is not compatible with another version, you have a problem anyway. The argument that RTF is a standard format is laughable; I have read the documentation, and it barely covers any features at all (headers and footers are not properly documented). CSV is another "simple" format which doesn't work properly; are quotes required around fields with spaces, or are they not required? It depends on the MS application which wrote it, and which reads it.

Joel's argument that it took thousands of coder-years to write means that it must take thousands of coder-years to be compatible is misguided, at best. The point of a document format, whether it's intended to be internal or public, is that it be clearly documented and understood, not just easy to code. At least, that's the way it's done in the professional IT world. SGML, W3C, etc etc. It makes sense even if MS assumed that their closed-source monopoly would always be accepted by every country on the planet, in perpetuity, for compatibility purposes. It's a lot easier to check that a web page is valid (it passes, or fails, the online W3C validator) than to check if a MS Office document is valid (it opens "correctly" (please define "correctly") on all versions, on all platforms).

I haven't looked at the legal requirements behind this publication, but it looks as if MS have put forward the bare minimum, whilst also acknowledging that their presumption has always been monopoly domination of the market. As that monopoly has been declared illegal, the onus to rectify it must fall on Microsoft, not on third party developers to fit in with Microsoft's formats. Microsoft are the ones who have been found guilty, not the many third parties who need to operate with their poorly-designed, poorly-written software.

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Fri 15th Feb 2008 @ 22:52 2008: I could [not] care less

John Cleese explains the difference between "I could not care less" and "I could care less" in his own inimitable style:

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Thu 14th Feb 2008 @ 00:01 2008: Smart Car Advert

I don't care much for the "Smart Car", but this pair of adverts have a certain je ne sais quoi.

Smart Car Advert

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Tue 12th Feb 2008 @ 15:57 2008: Anonymous Delivers

Anonymous delivers

Anonymous vs. Scientology - a large protest against Scientology around the world on Sunday, 10th February.

Shows how clued-in I am - I didn't even know it was happening! :-(

Go Anon!


Tue 12th Feb 2008 @ 00:31 2008: eBay promote PayPal in strange ways

I noticed this page on everybody's favourite twin-star, ebay/paypal, tonight:
PayPal vs Cheques

They point out that your:

  • Bank Details
  • Sort Code
  • Account Number
  • Name
  • Signature
are shared with the seller.

Putting aside the Jeremy Clarkson debacle, none of this information is particularly sensitive.

On the other hand, when people buy an online PDF from this website, via PayPal, the following personal details are provided to me, the seller, by PayPal. I can't even ask them not to tell me, even though I don't need to know anything other than the email address to send it to.

PayPal provide unnecessary information

Paypal provide:
  • Name
  • Email
  • Physical Address

Paypal do not provide:
  • Bank Name
  • Bank Account Number
  • Sort Code
  • Signature

...So what? As well as confirmation as to the validity of the details (in this case, "Verified" means that it has been proven to at least the level of detail that a bank (or even Blockbuster!) would require.

I would be more concerned about my postal address being on every cheque I wrote, than about my bank account number and sort code being passed on to PayPal merchants.

PayPal is a decent mechanism (albeit expensive for sellers, and risky for non-physical-goods sellers) for buyers, but the benefits over cheques are not really clear: Other than "Name", which is provided by cheque and by PayPal, the other stuff is all pretty harmless.

If it's for physical goods, you will obviously need to provide a postal address for the goods to be received (unless you arrange to collect), but if you can collect, or if it's online, there's no need to disclose your physical location. Paypal divulge this information whether it is needed or not.

Caveat emptor. Though of course you can trust me - get this great PDF online via paypal!. I won't tell anybody who you are, honest :-)

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Mon 4th Feb 2008 @ 00:04 2008: "Linux is the future" - Stephen Fry : Fried Penguin

Deliver us from Microsoft

In recent weeks I have banged on about Open Source, expending two articles on Firefox alone. Open Source applications make their code available to everyone. Disagreements and rabid balkanisation within the Open Source community aside, for our purposes the term might as well refer to free software whose licence allows you to share the source code, alter it, use it, do with it what you will.

The two great pillars of Open Source are the GNU project and Linux. I shanít burden you with too much detail, Iíll just make the outrageous claim that your computer will be running some descendant of those two within the next five years and that your life will be better and happier as a result.

For some reason, I already know that Fry used Macs (oh yeah, he works for the BBC! No, seriously, I think I noticed it on "Who Do You Think You Are?"), so he's already a *nix user, and apparently he's written about FireFox, too.

It's interesting to see a mainstream media figure talking about GNU and Linux, though. Another corner turned.

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Sun 3rd Feb 2008 @ 23:34 2008: No-Fly List

The "No-Fly List" seems to be pretty well-known to USAians (or maybe just those who travel); I'm not sure how well known it is by my fellow Brits. I'm aware of it largely through Bruce Schneier's blog, and just generally being a boring geek who finds statistics and security and the like to be interesting.

It's a list of 20,000 or so names, which are not permitted to fly in the USA. So if you're called "James Allen Marshall", and there's a "James Allen Marshall" on the No-Fly list, then you can't fly.

That's not very good; in my last job, there were four of us called "Steve Parker" (including Steven, Stephen, etc). And - as Schneier pointed out, you should be okay (internally) to fly without id.

So, I was just watching a talk at the New Jersey ACLU from Nov 2007, and he said the same thing again. (Actually, there's a more direct quote here: I've called the no-fly list a list of people so dangerous they cannot be allowed to fly under any circumstance, yet so innocent we can't arrest them even under the Patriot Act. Except that's not even true; anyone, no matter how dangerous they are, can fly without an ID ≠or by using someone else's boarding pass)

I just think that's a great line:

people so dangerous they cannot be allowed to fly under any circumstance, yet so innocent we can't arrest them

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Sat 2nd Feb 2008 @ 23:55 2008: National ID Cards - Yet again

Leaked government document on National ID Cards shows plans to coerce use of IDs.

Mirror here (PDF)

Ouch: I see they suggest using DWP's Customer Information System (CIS) database as part of the ID database:

The register for the Scheme (the National Identity Register) should be based on an existing Government technology asset, the Department of Work and Pensions' Customer Information System (CIS).

I have had some dealings with that system (see CV), and somehow do not feel overly confident.

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