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Tue 31st Mar 2009 @ 18:00 2009: UK Culture Secretary Andy Burnham showing off his technical knowledge

This was back in December 2008, but I missed it: Andy Burham has spotted the the internet is "quite a dangerous place".

“If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach"

Really? I thought that it was the US Department of Defense and their Advanced Research Projects Agency that came up with the ARPAnet, which later became "the" Internet. But then, I am just an IT professional, not a culture secretary, so I am sure that Mr. Burnham is correct.

Who were these people, Andy?

The problem with this nasty internet is that
“Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do."

I would not leave my child anywhere for two hours completely unregulated, and am very disturbed that a member of the UK Cabinet is happy to admit that he would do this to his own children.

Do you leave your kids at the park for two hours, Andy?

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Sun 29th Mar 2009 @ 23:55 2009: Vettel Penalised

After a stunning Australian F1 Grand Prix, and a fantastic start to the season, the stewards have already shown a blatant lack of understanding of basic physics, after Kubica failed to take 2nd place from Vettel, ending the race for both drivers.

Vettel penalised and fined for Kubica collision "for 'causing a collision and forcing a driver off the track’". There was nothing Vettel could have done. Kubica tried to overtake him, and forced Vettel into an impossible situation: "At the time we collided he was in front, but I had nowhere to go." Update:I missed this out: Vettel will also drop 10 places in the next race because of this incident.

The footage is on youtube. (Update:See comments for English Commentary). (Vettel is in the dark blue Red Bull car; Kubica is in the white/blue BMW):

Vettel said "Maybe I should have said let him go and bring third back home," but that is not how F1 works. It is not banger racing, but you do not simply concede whenever another driver would like to overtake you. Vettel deserves his second place, which was stripped from him by Kubica's ill-advised overtaking move.

After the event, Vettel then kept driving the car - if he had limped the last few laps (under the safety car, so no other car would be allowed to overtake him) he could have made 2nd place. But the stewards have also fined him $50,000 for "continuing to drive a damaged car." How does one define a "damaged car"? Plenty of F1 cars have crossed the finish line with damaged spoilers; should they be disqualified too? From the footage I have seen, no damage was being caused to the track by Vettel's damaged car; if he had been able to keep it on the road for the last few laps, he deserves the place.

F1 is a fantastic sport, technically interesting and fun to watch. The new aero changes look set to make for a thrilling season. But stupid stewards decisions like this (not to mention the total incompetence in the deployment of the Safety Car, particularly the first instance) bring the sport into disrepute.

The FIA keep banging on about how it's everyone else's responsibility to keep the costs down, bring money in, keep it entertaining, but the FIA's inconsistent, irregular and uninformed stewards keep damaging the sport more than any other factors combined.

If there was anything that Vettel could have done to avoid the incident, penalties may be justified. As it is, this was caused by Kubica's determination to jump from 4th to 1st based on the team's understanding of the state of the BrawnF1 teams' tyres on their cars (placed in P1 and P2). Kubica was not concentrating on the Vettel move, assuming that Vettel would let him past, which is not consistent with the rules of F1 racing.


Sat 28th Mar 2009 @ 01:36 2009: BBC F1 Coverage - less than dynamic?

Here is the BBC's 2-minute summary of the Friday practice at Melbourne 2009, their first F1 broadcast since ITV took over UK coverage 12 years ago.

With "The Chain" back in the title sequence, Brundle and Coulthard providing relevant drivers' views, no adverts, and the BBC's renowned high quality output, this must be a great thing, surely? ITV lost Murray Walker's regular input a few years ago, but F1 is about more than just "Go! Go! Go!". This coverage sounds more like the unnatuarally-neutral coverage of a foreign election than the start of a new season of the world's highest league of motorsport.

Where are the BBC star performers? I hope that once the Qualifying and Race sessions get going, we don't have the dismal commentary we see here, and that we had on the "Red Button" today covering Friday Practice.

Auntie Beeb - we love you for your solid quality, we really do. But please let us enjoy the excitement that makes this sport truly entertaining!

Update: It sounds like the Friday commentary was possibly from Five Live, not BBC TV; is also a bit more dynamic than the previous link.

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Fri 27th Mar 2009 @ 00:58 2009: Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)

If only somebody had said this in 1997. Oh wait, they did, but I was young, so I didn't listen.


Fri 27th Mar 2009 @ 00:52 2009: google time

Google really is good; the Friday practice session is starting in Melbourne, Australia around now. shows the exact answer:

google time

Update:Shame the FIA don't quite get it...
starts in 4m18s ... in my time
If it starts in 4 minutes, then it starts in 4 minutes wherever you are!

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Thu 26th Mar 2009 @ 17:02 2009: Data Explosion

harness the power of the data explosion

Thanks but no thanks... I'm not sure it's a great idea to associate your database software with explosion, doesn't give quite the right image.

Oracle have some idea about creating a somewhat more stable image:
Oracle unbreakable Linux bus

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Wed 25th Mar 2009 @ 00:37 2009: Bored Lift

I don't think I have ever heard a bored lift before.

Sure, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy had lifts which could see a few seconds into the future, and which were therefore naturally somewhat nervous shortly before the building was demolished by robots.

But this lift is in Bracknell, and it is decidedly bored of its lot.

Still, can't really blame it.

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Sat 21st Mar 2009 @ 01:41 2009: IE8

Apologies to users of Internet Explorer 8. It doesn't work. Other web browsers are available. Only 32% of you are using any version of Internet Explorer, with only 237 visits using IE8 in the past month. 21,147 visitors used FireFox 3.x. 6,885 used IE6, whilst 6,746 used IE7. We seem to have the more technically savvy audience here, which is nice company to keep.


This seems to occur when Google can't provide any adverts to display.

w3c validates the pages as XHTML Transitional, and IE8's own "Developer" mode (F12) links to the same page. and checklink on are both happy with the page.

The latter doesn't like the fact that Google's "Urchin" doesn't allow HEAD requests, nor that Google's has a :
User-Agent: *
Disallow: /
Noindex: /

That seems to be no reason to show a 404 within an otherwise perfectly valid web page. I suppose that it can be argued that JavaScript instructions may create 404 responses, but if the JavaScript doesn't actually return a 404 error code (which seems unlikely - how would one check?), the browser should not display a 404 error message.

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Wed 18th Mar 2009 @ 14:53 2009: Sun, IBM in buyout talks


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Wed 18th Mar 2009 @ 01:27 2009: Defective By Design

I hadn't come across this image before; part of the FSF's Defective by Design campaign. Nicely done.

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Wed 18th Mar 2009 @ 01:04 2009: F1 WTF : GP wins will decide world title

What part of "fair" does Bernie not understand? The principle that "He who gets the most points is the winner" is a pretty simple one, and it's really quite fair, too. "Best of 3" works okay for a game between two players, but when there are 20+ competitors, each taking part in 18+ races, the only way to realistically work out who has performed the best, is to award points for the end result of each race, and to accumulate those into a final tally.

The current system somewhat favours winning races over settling for a good position:
1st 10 points
2nd 8 points
3rd 6 points
4th 5 points
5th 4 points
6h 3 points
7th 2 points
8th 1 point
...with the rest of the field scoring no points. This results in a system whereby the back end of the field are proud to score more than 5 points in a season, whilst the winners will have scored over 100 points. The balance is already there to encourage winning, and it is not a lack of driver effort which affects the results. F1 drivers are like pop singers; their egos are even larger than their salaries. They want to win races, but they really want to be crowned World Champion.

Similarly, teams can get more funding, depending on how well positioned they were in the previous season's championship, so they are very financially motivated to improve. It's easier to tell a potential sponsor "We'll put your logo on a winning car" than "We'll put your logo on a car which only ever gets on TV when a faster car overtakes it."

Bernie Ecclestone wanted to have Gold/Silver/Bronze medals for 1st/2nd/3rd place. That was a VERY. BAD. IDEA. There are going to be 20 cars on the track; getting onto the podium is important, but since each team provides 2 cars, those 3 places are usually taken up by two teams (typically Ferrari and McLaren). What we, as fans, enjoy, is not just the overall winner, but how the midfield fare, and even how the back-markers stack up.

Now - with less than two weeks to the start of the season, Bernie announces that this year's championship will be a "Winner-takes-all" affair: Whomever gets the most number of race wins, will become the champion. Never mind if three drivers are unreliable, whilst another comes second in every race, one (effectively randomly chosen) of those inconsistent drivers will be selected as the winner. The consistently reliable car driven by a consistently reliable driver will lose out to the flash-in-the-pan who happens to have come first once more than one of his rivals.

This is even worse than the Gold/Silver/Bronze system; this is Gold-or-nothing. The count of who won the most races in a season is an interesting statistic for the record books, but the best driver, and the best team, are those who earn the most points during the course of the season.

If Gold/Silver/Bronze was bad, Gold/Zero is even worse. At a time when F1 is desperate to lure teams to join (Honda dropped out because of the "credit crunch"; Brawn F1 will be entering that car due to a management buyout, but won't expect to win any races), the message this sends to the teams and the fans, is that the FIA are only interested in a McLaren/Ferrari shootout, and the other teams may as well not bother turning up to the events.

Mark Webber, on his first F1 race, got 5th place and 4 points for Minardi. That was a fantastic result, and to be honest I don't remember who won that race; Minardi got points on the first race of the season. has a radio interview with Bernie Ecclestone talking about the changes (3m24s).

The rest of the championship will run as it always was, so this whole farce is only about the winner of the championship. Conspiracy theorists may note that Ferrari's driver, Felipe Massa, would have won last year's championship under these rules, but McLaren's Lewis Hamilton won because he was more consistent in providing results. provides a little more detail.

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Tue 17th Mar 2009 @ 00:50 2009: McLaren F1 2009 Wallpaper

McLaren F1 2009I can't wait for the 2009 F1 season to start, and I'm a big fan of the McLaren team. But I couldn't find any widescreen wallpaper of McLaren's 2009 car, so here is one, if you want one, in 1680x1050 resolution:

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Mon 16th Mar 2009 @ 23:33 2009: Why I like GNU/Linux in general, and Debian in particular

SqueezeIt's one month since Debian 5.0 ("Lenny") was officially released, and plans for 6.0 ("Squeeze") are under way: Kicking off Squeeze: initial tidbits from the RMs.

When new software is launched, particularly when it comes from a closed set of developers, it is very hard (if not impossible) for the makers of that software to admit that it could possibly be flawed. The launch of Windows Vista didn't come with a fanfare of "tell us how badly this sucks," for example (though a fair number of users were quite happy to do that without prompting).

Microsoft certainly did not announce Vista with anything like this:

It’s rant-time o’clock. We would like you to stop and think about things you didn’t like, or that plainly sucked, about the Lenny development cycle or about Lenny itself, why they were a problem, and (if you can) your proposed solutions. We are aware of many of them already, but mentioning them will allow us to see which of them are the biggest worries among the developers, and everybody will have different ideas on how to solve them.

VistaThe ability to honestly and openly assess the quality of the current state of the project is vital for ongoing improvement. Yes, it can be good for morale to yell "I love this cooooompaaaany!" but there has to be sober critical assessment of the flaws, from the superficial to fundamental infrastructure issues in how the code is developed and the project is run. I am sure that that does happen within Microsoft - they would not be around today if it did not - but the nature of the project, that it depends upon an assumption of "we are the experts, doling out the best thing for you, the masses, to consume", and also needs to keep that message up internally as well, for morale.

How much better is it to allow a full and frank discussion amongst equals? Yes, Debian ... Free and Open Source software in general, come to that, has been accused of bickering in public. But the truth is that the bickering which is seen, is pretty much the sum total of all the bickering that goes on, it's just that we can see everything out in the open, because we (as users) are granted, by the GNU GPL, the same status as the developers, packagers, maintainers of the software, instead of being treated like ignorant serfs, happy to scrabble for the offerings granted from above, and to accept terms that force us to not even share amongst ourselves, that which we have been granted.

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Fri 13th Mar 2009 @ 18:39 2009: Jim Cramer interviewed on the Tonight Show

These clips are uncensored and include the F word a number of times. You have been warned. Still, this comedy show does an excellent job of bringing down the CNBC journalist who has been hyping the market.

This was edited for broadcast; here is the uncut interview, in a 5, 8 and 8 minute segments. If you only watch one part, watch part three.

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Wed 11th Mar 2009 @ 15:19 2009: Google Adverts getting carried away

Google do a pretty good job of crawling and indexing the entire web purely in the name of selling contextual adverts to put onto web pages and into search results.

Now they are going a step further; using the abundance of pages which contain Google adverts to track users as they browse different websites, and then categorising those users according to their habits.

They have announced this on the blog: Driving monetization with ads that reach the right audience:

This week we're announcing plans to provide interest-based advertising across AdSense publisher sites to help achieve that goal. In the past, advertisers have taken advantage of contextual and placement-targeted advertising on AdSense publisher sites. With this enhancement they'll also be able to reach users based on their previous interactions with them, such as visits to the advertiser website, as well as reach users on the basis of their interests (such as "sports enthusiasts" or "travel enthusiasts").

BT have been proposing something similar, though slightly more underhand, with their Phorm technology, which has got them into hot water a number of times already.

In 2008, Google told US Congress:
"In our quickly evolving business environment, ensuring that we can keep our users' trust is an essential constant for building the best possible products. With every Google product, we work hard to earn and keep that trust with a longstanding commitment to protect the privacy of our users' personal information. The bedrock of our privacy practices are three fundamentals: providing transparency, choice, and security."

It appears that Google are stepping away from this commitment to trust and privacy.

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Mon 9th Mar 2009 @ 01:52 2009: Crypto explained - from absolute beginner to intermediate
This is a very simple (to many, I would expect this to be slow-to-get-started) introduction to the maths behind cryptography and cryptanalysis.

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Mon 9th Mar 2009 @ 00:37 2009: GPRS, Bluetooth, Vodaphone, Linux and Nokia

This is really a post just about Linux and GPRS, though that may be partially that bluetooth is already working. I'm cheating, by using Gnome, and the bluez-utils package, so my phone and laptop are already associated with each other.

After that, this guide has pretty much all you need:

$ hcitool scan
Scanning ...
00:12:37:EA:09:78 Steve's phone

Okay, so I've got my phone's address.

$ sdptool browse 00:12:37:EA:09:78
Browsing 00:12:37:EA:09:78 ...
Service Name: Dial-up networking
Service RecHandle: 0x1003c
Service Class ID List:
"Dialup Networking" (0x1103)
"Generic Networking" (0x1201)
Protocol Descriptor List:
"L2CAP" (0x0100)
"RFCOMM" (0x0003)
Channel: 1

There was lots more stuff, about COM1, Voice Gateway, SIM ACCESS, and so on. All we want here is the channel number for Dial-up networking. In this case, it's channel #1.

STEP ONE: Create /etc/bluetooth/rfcomm.conf, using your phone's address:
rfcomm0 {
bind yes;
device 00:12:37:EA:09:78;
channel 1;
comment "My GPRS Connection"

STEP TWO: Create /etc/ppp/peers/vodaphone:
connect "/usr/sbin/chat -v -f /etc/chatscripts/vodaphone"
remotename rlw-p900
ipparam rlw-p900
lcp-echo-interval 0

STEP THREE: Create /etc/chatscripts/vodaphone:
# This chatfile was generated by pppconfig 2.3.10.
# Please do not delete any of the comments. Pppconfig needs them.
# ispauth chat
# abortstring
# modeminit
'' ATZ
# ispnumber
OK-AT-OK "ATDT*99***1#"
# ispconnect
# prelogin

# ispname
#login: xxxxxx
# isppassword
#password: yyyyyy
# postlogin
'' \d\c
# end of pppconfig stuff

STEP FOUR: Dial up the interwebs:
$ sudo pon vodaphone

What can I say? It works for me...

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Sun 8th Mar 2009 @ 00:31 2009: ICE - In Case of Emergency

This sounds like quite a sensible idea; I know that most of us have "Home" programmed into our phones, but a dedicated "ICE", or "In Case of Emergency" number in your phone would be a useful way for the emergency services to contact someone if you are not capable of stating who to call. From the facebook group page:

The concept of 'ICE' is catching on quickly. It is a method of contact during emergency situations. As mobile phones are carried by the majority of the population, all you need to do is store the number of a contact person or persons who should be contacted during emergency under the name 'ICE' ( In Case Of Emergency). The idea was thought up by a paramedic who found that when he went to the scenes of accidents there were always mobile phones with patients but they didn't know which number to call.

He therefore thought that it would be a good idea if there was a nationally recognised name for this purpose.

In an emergency situation, Emergency Service personnel and hospital Staff would be able to quickly contact the right person by simply dialling the number you have stored as 'ICE'.

Please forward this. It won't take too many 'forwards' before everybody will know about this. It really could save your life, or put a loved one's mind at rest.

For more than one contact name simply enter ICE1, ICE2 and ICE3 etc.

If this becomes a standard, it could make the emergency services' life a lot easier, and make those who use the scheme better served.

It's well known that programming "Home" into your SatNav might not be a great idea for security, but I can't immediately think of a similar issue with this scheme, other than malicious pranks.

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Tue 3rd Mar 2009 @ 23:51 2009: Tabloids

I do not read the Daily Mail, nor do I generally appreciate the articles written in it. When StumbleUpon provided The Jade Goody circus is like the ghoulish spectacle of public hanging, says cancer suffering BBC journalist James Landale, I almost instantly Stumbled away to get the next picture of a fluffy kitten, or whatever. But the irony of the combination of headline and the publication itself made me read on, and the article is actually quite tender, and argues against the red-top coverage of Goody's illness:

Here, in the shape of a 27-year-old woman from Essex, we can experience death - but vicariously, from the safety of our armchairs.

I agree there must be better ways of dealing with death and grief than hiding from it.

But the public circus and hysteria of a celebrity death is surely not the answer.

In the coming months, there will be much talk of legacy as people look for meaning in the life and death of a celebrity.

My own hope is, at the very least, for a more balanced portrayal of the realities of cancer, and perhaps some fresh thinking about how we as a society approach death.

In former times, there was more public ritual and ceremonial - the wearing of certain clothes, the black-edged cards, the wakes held in same room as the body, the sharing of stories about the life just gone and how it touched others.

Death was part of life.

Now, it seems, it is perilously close to becoming a form of entertainment.

It would be nice to think that the Daily Mail and the other tabloids will from now on leave the family alone and let them deal with this in peace. And that they will continue to have the same respect for human life in future decisions about what to publish, and what to avoid.

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Sun 1st Mar 2009 @ 00:11 2009: Associative Selling

In my local supermarket the other day, I was getting nappy sacks (don't ask; you don't want to know. The cat is old and poorly) when I noticed that - in the same way that the beer aisles have been augmented with vertically-aligned packets of snacks dropped between the shelves - the nappy aisles have been similarly augmented, but with condoms. (Click the image for a larger version).

Beer + Snacks is a logic I can follow; He's buying beer, so suggest some snacks and make more profit. That makes some kind of sense.

I'm not entirely sure what they think is going through the nappy-buying customer's mind, though...

Right, need to get some more nappies; this is our 5th baby, I love them all to bits of course, but gosh this is becoming expensive. We're going to have to get separate bedrooms or something. If only somebody would invent some kind of device which would... oh, what's this? Wow, why did nobody tell me about this before?!

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