111 posts • joined 21 Jan 2008
Sales levelling out
Take into account the fact that 5 million of last year's increase was down to the PS3, and that lots of people will have been holding off until the format war was decided, and it looks like BR player sales increases are levelling out at a much lower level than DVD player sales did. This means that this time next year, DVD sales for the first seven years will be higher than sales of BR for the first seven years. The year after DVDs will be significantly higher than BR.
There are occasional headlines of BR sales rocketing, but the graph shows that this isn't happening. 'BR sales growth shows small but significant year-on-year increases since 2003' doesn't make for great headlines. Create an Excel spreadhseet and plot a graph of sales increases (and take off, say, 2 million, for PS3 correction), rather than total sales, and you'll see my point. What I want to see is DVD player sales for the last year to see if BR is outselling DVD.
Security for idiots
With a firewall on my router, with Windows Firewall, Windows Defender, normal AV, Spybot SD resident, UAC and a degree of common sense this link scanning is entirely unecessary.
Don't allow dodgy websites to install ActivX, don't run keygens for hacked software and scan your P2P downloaded Rar and Zip files before extracting them. Anyway, a decent AV will catch a virus when it tries to install from a web page. AVG 7.5 used to do this for me when I had it installed.
This link scanning thing is a gimmick - its the equivalent of buying an SUV to increase your safety. It doesn't really, and just blocks up the roads. Note: the only virus I've found on my computer in the last year was an old keygen for a bit of software I wanted to test out, but forgot about and never used. This was missed by AVG for many months and was only picked up when I switched to Avast!
Slower browsing experience
Yes, it does severely impact on computer speeds as it puts a big drag on web searching and so inhibits browsing. Occasionally it crashes the browser completely. The really annoying thing is that you can only stop it by disabling the AVG module, which leaves you with a grayed out AVG taskbar icon that prevents you being able to easily spot if AVG is not functioning properly. You can't unselect this function at the install stage and you can't change its parameters to lessen its grasp on your browser.
I used to be a die-hard supporter of AVG and have used it as my only AV at home for about many years. After half a day of swearing at this stupid idea (which should never have got past the initial testing stage) I switched to Avast!. I doubt I'll change back.
Basically, the Sun's political stratergy is to appeal to people's ignorance, bigotry, fear and working-class inverse snobbery to spread misconceptions, propaganda and lies. The ultimate aim is to further Murdoc's neo-conserviative, religious right agenda and anyone who thinks the Sun is just a bit of 'harmless fun' is an idiot.
What about bypassing DVD region codes? It's well known that these have no legal basis and exist purely for companies to prevent global free trade.
I hate this kind of 'will benifit normal Canadians' argument. What it really means is that it will benifit Canadian tax revenues. A bit of political honesty would be nice.
Definition of Surveillance Society
Surveillance is the act of monitoring someone's behaviour for the purpose of catching them in the act of carrying out an illegal activity. A Surveillance Society is the situation where the population as a whole is monitored to catch people in the act of committing a criminal offence. A non-Surveillance Society is one where a citizen is only monitored when there is good reason to believe that the specific individual has actually committed a detected crime.
Examples of a Surveillance Society would be:
1) ISPs indiscriminately monitoring data for illegal file sharing or for illegal images or prohibited books.
2) Universities monitoring the books its students read.
3) Cameras observing public spaces when no crime is being investigated.
4) Searching citizens (or scanning their clothing/bags) in a way that cannot be avoided by the citizen (eg at the entrance to a school building - pupils cannot skip school to avoid being scanned).
There are also some indirect signals that you are living in a Surveillance Society:
1) Citizens asked to report suspicious activities (as opposed to reporting criminal acts) to the police.
2) Organisations (eg Mosques) asked to monitor the behaviour of the people who use their services.
3) A presumption of potential guilt even for those who are not under investigation for any crime, such as police databases of DNA records of people who are not currently under investigation for a crime.
4) Recording of private activities eg if the State records internet use and electronic communications of citizens who are not under investigation for a criminal offense.
Argue over the value of these surveillance activities, but it is simply incorrect to claim that we do not live in a Surveillance Society. This is just another example of impotent MPs pandering to the Government in the hope of moderating New Labour's authoritarian behaviour without p*ssing off Gordon Brown.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right
Copyright was invented to prevent plagiarism and to stop evil businessmen stealing creative works and exploiting them for financial gain with no compensation for the creator and no respect for the work itself. The equation is simple. Protecting creative people = justice and maximised social benefit derived from creativity.
In the age of digital music, high capacity storage and cheap broadband a new variable has been added to the social benefit part of the equation; the creation of a near complete library of human musical output available free at the point of use. It's as hard to quantify the actual value of this universal musical library as it is to quantify its financial cost to the music industry and the injustice it currently presents to the artist, but the fact that this concept is given so little time by either the pro or anti P2P campaigners shows just how stagnant both musical culture and Western society has become.
We have in our hands the opportunity to create the musical equivalent of a blend of the British Museum, The Louvre, The Great Library of Alexander and the Social Welfare State. And what is the argument over? A slowing of album sales.
I wonder at what point Wikipedia will become self-aware and start telling its readers that it is not a relaible source of information?
The future is not parallel
For decades, the leading edge of computer technology and the leading edge of computer consumerism have moved in parallel. There simply wasn’t enough computing power available to do the things we wanted to, so to see what we would be using at home and in the office in five years time you looked at predictions of technological developments.
Now this link is ending. For the first time in thirty years, we’re seeing manufacturers deliberately under-speccing their computer hardware to make it more attractive to the consumer (eg the Wii and the Eee PC), whilst the Macbook Air is selling very well considering its comparative technical limitations. Very soon (if not already), we’ll stop replacing our computers with faster models, but will instead replace them with cheaper, more personally tailored and better looking models. Thus the personal computer market has matured, and the technology will plateau. Parallel processing will not be particularly important in the personal computer for the foreseeable future.
In servers it will come in handy in specific situations… but look at it this way, as the processing power needed by individual network systems is dwarfed by the ability of physical server machines, virtualisation will become increasingly commonplace. If we have a large number of services running on a small number of servers, the expense of specialising the hardware on servers will actually inhibit the flexibility of the virtualisation. You don’t want to put an expensive parallel processor specialised for handling SQL databases onto each hardware unit in a set of servers that will only ever be hosting a variety of non-database related virtual servers.
I’d also go as far to suggest that the future of computing even in servers is not in parallel processing. There are two ways of viewing a multi-core processor. Either you have one computing environment with access to many processing ‘engines’ running in parallel, OR you have many co-existing computing environments each running one or two services on one or two cores. Moore seems to be seeing the future as the former – in which case the OS is clearly the problem as you need an OS to co-ordinate 50 human users trying to access a varying selection of one or two processes through a single environment running twenty different processes on 64 cores. It would be much easier to set up a system where the individual human users are only given access to the one or two virtual machines the services they need are running on.
I think this is one of those cases where basic reality will win out over the ‘ideal situation’. Water flowing downhill always takes the easiest path… and so it will be with computing. It will always be easier to adapt the new technology so that it runs the old systems than re-write the old systems to best take advantage of new hardware. Virtualisation allows software houses to make little or no adjustments to the way their software works, whilst true parallel processing would need us to throw everything away and start from scratch. Will MS spend billions creating a brand new server OS to handle 64 cores all at the same time when it can offer almost as good a server solution simply by virtualising and updating its existing server OS kernel? And which company is going to buy an expensive new server OS to parallel process on its new 64 core server when it can just virtualise the OS its already running on all its other servers for a fraction of the cost? I can't see it myself.
It's not the economy, stupid!
El Reg seems to be expecting some kind of Web 2.0 implosion... and a certain Andrew Orlowski has been denying the existence of Web 2.0 for ages. The mistake folk seem to be making on this site is equating Web 2.0 (the web as we now use it) with the economic framework that has grown up around Web 2.0. The argument runs like this: the real world and the real economy are intrinsically linked. If you can't make money from a cultural activity in the real world, then it isn't significant because people will always pay for something that is important to them. Web 2.0 is an on-line version of the real world, and as you can't make money from Web 2.0, then (QED) Web 2.0 doesn't matter.
But this ignores the fact that the Web 2.0 economy (as defined by the provision of Web 2.0 services) is still largely peripheral to normal Web 2.0 use. Google goes bankrupt tomorrow? Everyone switches to Yahoo and Web 2.0 life goes on as usual. Wiki gets wiped out? A replacement will spring up in a few weeks (if not days). Unlike the real world, Web 2.0 society doesn't need Web 2.0 economy: the success of video sharing doesn't depend on the ability of YouTube to make money and the future of social networking doesn't lie in the advertising revenues of FaceBook and Myspace. Start up costs are so low, overheads so small and the economies of scale so high that Web 2.0 can get by on a much smaller investment than is possible for real world services. For Web 2.0, the on-line megacorps are entirely disposable because they are so easy to replace. The reason there is so little money to be made from Web 2.0 is because Web 2.0 needs so little money to get by.
Web 3.0 - the web where BT allows you to use only one search engine, and where Virgin allow you to use only one video sharing site - now that will be a different matter altogether.
Thin end of wedge
The government's tactics are quite clear; take something most of the population (and by extension MPs) don't like, (eg, paedophilia, terrorism, animal rights extremists) and set new far-reaching legal principles under the banner of controlling these 'dangerous' people.
Once the MPs who vote for these laws have been won over (and I think this is more about persuading MPs than the population, as MPs are currently the weak link in defending human rights) then the laws can be broadened out to include any activity Brown thinks is harmful to society.
We're seeing this now with the lengthening of the imprisonment without trial period for terrorist suspects. Government 'wins over' enough MPs by saying that the law will only be used in 'extreme situations' and hey presto - a law that allows the government to put anyone it doesn't like in prison for a month and half without any real evidence.
So what is the system?
I'd be curious to see exact details of what is being done. I mean, how hard can this be? You've got patient name, address, age, place of birth, nationality, sex etc, and then you've got details of their current and past medical conditions.
How hard can it be to get this data into a single database accessible with a simple resource light, multi-platform interface?
My suspicion (going by observations of how NuLabour works) is that Blair/Brown want to create a system that effectively micromanages the whole of the NHS. A single recording structure that tracks everything from drugs prescription costs to heart transplant failure rates would be very useful to a control-freakish central government.
Maybe this system is more about monitoring how the NHS is behaving (down to the level of the individual doctor) and ensuring that performance and budget targets are met than making sure patient info is easily accessible to healthcare workers. NuLabour clearly believes that weighing the pig makes it fatter, and the NHS is a very big pig.
And I bet that the Fujitsu contract cancellation (and the drop-out of two potential ID card scheme providers) has come about because Brown is trying to cut costs to cover the whole 10p tax band cock-up and other budgeting catastrophies. Brown reminds me of a boss I once had who seemed to believe that all a big spending consumer (like the Treasury) needed to do to gain extra cost reductions was to dig his heels in and tell the company that if they didn’t do what he wanted then he’d go elsewhere. The fact that what he wanted was often impossible at the price he was prepared to pay was irrelevant. After all, market forces are supposed to ensure that the consumer always get what he wants!
Innate, my arse
‘Innate’ maths ability is essentially the sum of mathematical skills that those untouched tribes people in the Amazon have. They won’t have a concept of zero, probably can’t multiply, and may well not be able to count over a few dozen. The maths ability you and I have (and the ability being measured by this team) is about as far from innate as it is possible to be, and is the product of a decade or more of strict and intensive training.
So, what this team has actually done is repackage information we already knew, namely that girls are better at boys when it comes to passing Western style maths exams when educated by a Western education system. In non-Western systems, boys are better than girls. There are two possible reasons for this; the first is that girls are better at maths than boys, and that the link between sexism in society and girl’s results proves this. The second is that the two factors are actually a correlation rather than cause and effect, and that societies that have greater equality of the sexes also tend to have the type of school education system that favours girls over boys.
The trick is distinguishing between the two. Studies of the way boys and girls learn support the latter idea. Boys generally like competitive, fun, hands-on lessons where experimenting and playing are more important than getting grades, whilst girls tend to do better with high-pressured, but less competitive environment where learning is more passive, more highly structured and requires dedication and conscientiousness. However, when we get to university the culture of education flips. Suddenly macho posturing, risk taking and hierarchical rather than co-operative behaviour are desirable, and so boys race ahead of girls.
This is really a reflection of the society our politicians want. The bulk of learning should be like the bulk of the population it is designed for: passive, obedient and attentive, soaking up lessons and being hand-fed ideas without challenging them. However, the top end of society should be like stereotypically male University maths students: thrusting, competitive, egotistic, arrogant, challenging, and striving to screw over the competition. Following this model, we should expect women to dominate the majority mainstream, with a small number of men dominating the top echelons… which is pretty much where society is headed.
The real issue is to work out how much of this detail is down to social training and how much is down to evolved behavioural patterns. If girls are better in our current school system because they are predestined to be mature and conscientious, and vice versa for University, then you could say that girls have an innate ability for maths at school, whilst boys have an innate ability for maths at Uni. Then maths ability does depend on society – but depends on the type of culture society deliberately chooses rather than as an unplanned consequence of a traditionally paternalistic society.
First they came for the...
Gordon's police force are the ones in the cloackroom looking for the brownshirts.
All becomes clear
Is the reason several bidders for the ID card scheme dropped out because they are expecting the scheme to be cancelled? Also, Fujitsu have just been fired from a big NHS IT sceme, so presumably the number of ID card bidders is effectively now down to four.
If you sign a contract with the government that is not legally binding because the government made promises it has no right to make, then who do you go to to get compensation? The EU law courts? This is LMFAO territory now. For years I've moaned about New labour letting the big companies scr*w over the consumer through it's incompetence - it looks like it'll be the big companies that get scr*wed over when the ID scheme goes tits-up.
Religion and thought control
In a secular society it is generally the case that the morality of a person is defined by their actions. If you act in a way that is harmful, then you have acted immorally and deserve some kind of punishment. If you can show that your activities are potentially beneficial, or at least neutral, then your activities will be protected by the State to prevent over-zealous 'moral guardians' infringing your liberties.
In a religious society, the converse is true - and it is important to look into the psyche of the religious belief system to find out why. Religious people believe that humans have a soul that can be corrupted or purified. They believe that a moral person is a person with a clean soul, and an immoral person is a person with a dark soul. When people do bad things, it is because their soul is corrupted by sin (sin being a force analogous to gravity or magnetism). To a religious person, an individual who gains pleasure through thinking about sinful activities has a corrupt soul and can therefore be expected to carry out sinful activities.
Now, draw a Venn diagram - one secular and one religious - depicting two groups. The first group is people who get turned on by looking at cartoons of physically mature topless 15 year old girls, the second is people who go out and rape 10 year old girls. Now, in the secular diagram it is pretty much impossible to get a cross-over for these two groups. You could try under 'distasteful activities' but paedophilia is far too horrific to be merely 'distasteful'. Both are taboo, but one is clearly a natural pleasure and the other is clearly an un-natural pleasure, so it’s a real stretch. As there is no evidence that getting turned on by the image is in any way harmful, there is no real possibility of cross-over.
However, if we go to the religious diagram we see that there is plenty of cross-over. Firstly, both are basically pretty sinful, and as thoughts can be sinful, they can corrupt the soul (note: one of the Ten Commandments says its wrong to want to have sex with your neighbour's wife). Secondly, both involve taking pleasure from sexuality outside of marriage, which is deeply distasteful to many religious people. Thirdly, both involve 'spiritually pure' children – for religious people it is much worse to mix sin with children because children have purer souls than adults. In physiological and psychological terms, 10 year old girls and 15 year old girls are profoundly different in the sexuality stakes. In a Christian spirituality sense, the distinction is overwhelmed by religious sentiment. But most importantly, both activities are seen as directly leading the offender away from God and towards hell. Secular people draw a distinction between thoughts and actions, but religious people often do not. To a deeply religious person, getting turned on by the image is effectively a 'gateway sin' that inevitably leads on to much worse sins.
There was recently a huge outcry in the UK when the Archbishop of the Church of England suggested we should integrate religious laws into the UK justice system. We are naturally a secular state, and the people of the UK do not tolerate god-botherers interfering with our way of life. However, the religious people at the top of our government are now using anti-paedophile sentiment to introduce religious concepts of justice by the back door. We must realise this law for what it is and get rid of New Labour post-haste.
The earliest 'modern' musical instrumants date back 10,000 years. Copyright law dates back just over 300 years. Now, can someone suggest why music lovers do not take kindly to being told by music company execs (who usually have no musical talent themselves) that it is the music industry and not the fans who 'own' music?
Music is an intergral part of human culture - more so than sport, literature or even religion. Allowing a small group of wealthy, largely white, largely middle class, largely middle-aged men determine how we experience music is as unethical as it is impractical. P2P isn't popular because many people ignore the law, it's popular because, on a fundamental level, many people simply cannot accept that access to music should be unecessarily and significantly curtailed by the State to protect the vested interests of the economic elite.
Historic accident has led to the situation where many people are fooled into thinking music companies have a right to control music. What society has yet to realise is that the music industry is not the moral guardian of music creativity... it's simply the middle-man - a distribution channel no different to Amazon or Virgin Cable. Unfortunately for society, the Reagan / Thatcher obsession with market forces has allowed the money-obsessed distribution network to borg the creative production network. Now it is impossible to seperate the motivation behind investing in music from the maximisation of profits made from that investment.
The current system is broken, but can probably survive as it is for a while yet. As technology becomes more advanced and as the internet matures, the real artists will move away from money-grabbing distribution channels to ones where the focus is more on promoting variety and innovation, or focuses more on using expert knowledge to reach certain target markets (Web 2.0 in action). Money will come from live performances, film, radio and advert placement royalties and from consumer determined contributions. However, as long as there are people who don't want to break the law, musicians who want to be popstars rather than artists, and music listeners whose tastes are dictated by fashion rather than artistic merit, the big labels will survive. In other words, unless governments act, millions of music lovers will be criminalised simply for adhering to their cultural heritage.
Scottish independence getting closer
Just a reminder that this won't be happening on the same scale in Scotland as the SNP have already said ID cards won't be needed for using any Scottish government services up here. The Scottish government has also voted against the principle of ID cards and the SNP will be able to use the removal of a highly expensive, ineffective and unpopular ID card system as leverage for Scottish independence.
It is worth noting that if current voting trends continue, it is quite likely that the next Scottish election will give the SNP an overall majority, and Salmond will be able to force a vote for independence through the Scottish parliament. That will probably be 2012 - just as ID cards are being introduced.
I can see the campaign now: save Scotland from the tyranny of Tory-boy Cameron's English ID card by voting for independence!
Watching us, watching you, watching us
The government clearly plans to start monitoring everything we do online, either directly or indirectly. If they didn't, they wouldn't have bothered to pass the legislation, and they wouldn't be planning to keep this info:
Before the internet, there was no effective way to actually police people's thoughts. Heavy handed states like Stalin's USSR and Hitler's Germany had to recruit evangelical supporters to root out people with 'antisocial' ideas or oblige normal citizens to grass up their 'subversive' or 'terrorist' neighbours so as to avoid going to the Gulags themselves. But technology allows us to do things we never thought would be possible.
From now on, if you post anonymously on a site like El Reg the opinion that, say, Scientology is a cult, (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1997376/Boy-faces-court-for-Scientology-placard.html)
BT's secret monitoring system will pick up the phrases and inform the police. The police then search the archives of your online activities, build a case against you (you've criticised the Pope in other posts) and before you know it, you've got size fourteen boots kicking your door in. A few weeks later you're in prison for having the temerity to publicly disagree with an idea on the government's list of officially sanctioned beliefs.
Please vote against New Labour at the next General Election.
Obedience over intelligence
If you're choosing people who are going to be in charge of a craft worth billions of dollars, who will be under great stress most of the time and who may be placed in extreme danger at a moment's notice, what is the single most important quality?
You don't want the pilot freaking out and disobaying orders.
As for space sickness - if space travel is ever going to be a big part of our future, nailing the problem of space sickness is a top priority. NASA need space sickness suffering astronauts to use as test subjects for various trial treatments.
March of the Liberals...
No suprise, but it turns out I'm clearly a Liberal Democrat (though I often vote SNP as I live in Scotland).
Worryingly, though, the site suggests that I'm actually closer to being Tory than New Labour! Mind you, I have been thinking for a while now that New Labour has combined the worst policies of Thatcher (universal privatisation, competition where it is unwelcome, lack of proper industry regulation, imperialistic military philosophy, tax regime that favours the rich etc) with the most opressive aspects of Socialism (Big Brother invasion of privacy, micromanagement of society, numerous unecessary laws and rules etc) and also adding in an (un)healthy dollop of anti-secularism and anti-science.
Maybe Cameron wouldn't be, as many New Labour voting Blair apologists claim, "just as bad as Blair" (I need a shower - I feel dirty just thinking about voting Tory).
OK, admit it - who voted for New labour?
It was obvious that this was going to happen years ago, but stupid voters still picked Blair. Well, thanks a bunch so called 'electorate' for scr*wing up Britain.
I'm just hoping Scotland gets independence before The Great Leader forces any of these neo-conservative thought-control ideas onto us (and don't think voting Cameron in England will help, 'cause it won't).
P.S. Does this post count as 'social tension'?
A new way of providing services
The answer to the P2P issue is so startlingly obvious that I’m amazed no one has suggested it yet (and why didn’t I think of it myself earlier?). ISPs should sell packages with three different components – one is for ‘normal’ traffic, the second is for unmonitored and unshaped P2P traffic and the third is for internet TV/Radio/legal P2P file-sharing (which is monitored for copyright). This way, the ISPs can ring-fence the bandwidth we need for normal surfing, whilst P2P users will be forced to ‘shape’ their own use along the terms of their contract. The unmonitored P2P can have an additional charge to go towards royalties, whilst the monitored one can have the material providers subsidise it to make sure investment comes out of the pockets of the big media corporations instead of from those who don’t use the service.
So, a typical package may look like this for current bandwidth capacity: a subscriber pays for unlimited normal surfing internet access at 2Mb/s from 12 midnight to 6pm, with service dropping to a guaranteed minimum of 1Mb/s during the evening. As the subscriber uses little P2P streaming of BBC or Ch 4 content they will use a ‘pay as you go’ system for this third of internet use. The subscriber does use Torrent P2P, but doesn’t need to use this type of P2P in the evenings, so he or she will sign up for a cheap package that gave P2P only between, say, 12 midnight and 8 am. If the subscriber then decides they want to watch BBC multimedia content regularly, they’d pay an extra charge to move from ‘pay as you go’ to a more traditional bandwidth model (which is only fair – why should others suffer bandwidth collapse just because other subscribers forget to set their DVD recorders?).
The beauty of this system is that P2P users only compete with other P2P users for bandwidth. Also, if you download too much, you only loose your P2P download allowance and can still surf normally (the biggest gripe with traffic shaping). It also prevents big multimedia corporations paying to prioritise their content over non-competing websites by giving them their own ‘channel’. This stops multimedia content costing ISPs their profit margins, and gives a true reflection of the cost of streaming media over the internet instead of just watching normal digital TV. It also removes the justification for ISPs to monitor our service, repays artists who lose money from copyright infringement and allows non-file-sharers to buy high peak bandwidth for a price consistent with their low overall data download volume.
The new system would be much more flexible, honest and would bring the current shady practices of ISPs out into the open. It would also prevent ISPs being able to use P2P as an excuse for not providing the service we pay for. More importantly, the new system would allow the separate types of internet use to develop independently; why should on-line retailers have to adapt their websites to work on a bandwidth that is constrained by the popularity of BBC TV programming? Motorway planners build bypasses to prevent the heavy ‘bandwidth’ using commuters and trucks jamming up the normal business of citizens travelling around their towns. Doesn’t it make sense to do this on the interent?
Updating the updates
Are we talking problems with clean installs? Or problems with fresh builds?
An XP SP2 PC will have over 100 critical OS updates, a variety of non-critical updates, possibly some of MSs own drivers for legacy hardware (ill-advised) and a variety of third party drivers that are probably a few revisions out of date (some for hardware designed for 98SE). There are also going to be plenty of computers with corrupt system files that havn't made themselves obvious yet.
So, it's not surprising that whacking a major rewrite of the core OS onto a old installation will cause problems for some. However, if loads of folk are having problems with fresh builds with all the latest drivers and no legacy hardware, then its open season on MS.
The social phenomenon that is internet pr0n raises several issues; the increased objectification of women by the media, inappropriate workplace displaying of porn as sexual harassment, unrealistic expectations by men of women in the bedroom, girls thinking 'porn star' is a desirable career move, boys gaining a completely false understanding of how sex and relationships work, blokes suffering performance anxiety by comparing themselves to giant willies in porn, or being too porned out for sex, or being addicted to porn and loosing their partners or even their jobs...
How does the government respond to this complex situation? It seizes hold of a tenuous correlation between violent porn and sexually violent men and uses tabloid fear mongering to turn tens of thousands of addicts, fantasists and other harmless weirdoes into sex criminals for doing nothing more than getting turned on by some strange sex images involving consenting adults, or even cartoons. Massive oversimplification from the policy makers gives an approach no different from locking up people who watch Die Hard because of the murderous activity it inspires, or handing out ASBOs to people who read The Dice Man because the novel encourages anti-social non-conformism.
A recent documentary on Blair's time in power made it clear that Blair had great vision, but a poor grasp for the details. This 'extreme porn' thing is New Labour all over - they know something significant and often bad is happening as a result of internet porn, but they lack the sophistication to figure out the nature of the problem and find a practical way of doing something about it. Blair / Brown and their respective 'inner circles' can tell when something should be given attention, but their ham-fisted reaction is necessarily black-and-white and uncomprehending.
What we have now is a government run by members of University Debating Societies. Our politicians are arrogant, socially isolated, unwilling to sacrifice ego for expertise in areas they can't understand and are a lot less intelligent than they like to think they are. The problem is that when we do get rid of New Labour, we'll be replacing them with the identically vacuous and idiotic New Conservative party. For the voters it’s a lose-lose situation.
3-0 down with five minutes left...
Despite a change of manager half way through the season, New Labour is still bound for relegation. Most of the big signings made by the original managerial team (the Iraq war, breaking up the Royal Mail, introducing many PPP and PFI initiatives, hands-off industry regulation strategy) haven't paid off and all those debt problems are starting to catch up with them. Good number twos make rubbish number ones (e.g. Sammy Lee at Bolton), and Brown is no exception - but even Ferguson couldn't have done a Great Escape with this team.
So, its the final game of the season and New Labour desperately need a win, only they're three down and there's only five minutes left. All the subs (tax and drugs policies on loan from the Tories) are now on, but there's still no sign of a goal... the fans have their heads in their hands, but the neutrals will just be glad to see the back of them.
Wiki, Wiki, Wild, Wild West
Wikipedia has become the internet equivalent of a Wild West town; it has a Mayor with delusions of grandeur, a law force unable to cope with its duties, roving gangs of semi-vigilanties making arbitrary rulings, corrupt behaviour by big businesses and national government and loads of gunmen trying to prove themselves by shooting down other people.
It was an interesting and valuable experiment, but the reality is now setting in. If you want a reliable encyclopedia, you have to have an all-powerful editorial team that know exactly what's in the thing. This way the encyclopedia can protect content from maniuplation and ensure continuity from one edition to the next (reference a Wiki page today and when your lecturer looks it up tomorrow the content will have changed, probably with some vital peice of information suddenly removed).
If Wiki succeeds in claiming that it was not aware of the nature of its content, then, ipso facto, it is not a reliable source of information. However, if it loses then the Wiki gold-rush is well and truly over, because there is no way it can cover its ass for every single Wiki page.
In most modern nations it is considered to be part of the role of the state to ensure that a minimum level of health is maintained in the general population. This is not just a human right, but also ensures that the workforce is fit for their jobs and minimises the wider social burden of ill health. At the moment, computer health and safety is in the same position as human health and safety two hundred years ago. It's the role of the individual to take care of themselves. However, with electronic fraud on the increase, and with costly attacks on websites etc, I wonder if a case can be made that the provision of PC healthcare should be partially the responsibility of the state.
The issue of P2P is similar to that of STDs or hard drugs. As P2P becomes increasingly criminalised, the ability of the AV companies to deal with viruses that originate on P2P networks will be reduced, and the harm done by the nasties will increase. As businesses find their networks devestated and data security compromised by new viruses brought in from home by users on their mp3 players or downloaded through the Tor system, the social burden of P2P prohibition will balloon. It may even reach the point where the cost to society of free downloads through an open and legal P2P network is LESS than the cost to society of a smaller but much more widely trojan and virus ridden underground P2P network.
In the long term, the more we become dependent on personal computing as a society, the more important proper home PC healthcare is. Just as in real life, we have to weigh up the good health and security of the global IT infrastructue with the costs this will entail and the immorality some people may feel liberalisation encourages. There are many examples of industry-harming and/or unpopular social changes that were brought either directly or indirectly for H&S reasons; eg, child labour laws, Unionisation, the compensation culture, seatbelts, public smoking bans, free condoms from the NHS, etc etc. Will the IT world follow suit?
Nuke them from orbit...
... its the only way to be sure.
As for overwriting... it IS possible to recover data from drives that have been overwritten. The theory goes like this:
Imagine that a hard drive data track is a circular motorway, and the data bits are cars stuck in a traffic jam. Cars (data) is parked (stored) on the middle lane and the inside and outside lanes are coned off to make the gaps between tracks. However, the data tracks on a hard drive are extremely narrow, so as to allow more data to be stored on a platter. In fact, they are so narrow that the hard drive magnetic heads can't actually stay in the middle lane all the time. The result is that the data (or cars) sometimes sit astride the white line between lanes.
An erase of a HDD is like a big satellite mounted laser (like the one in Akira) burning down the middle lane of the motorway. Now, because some of the cars are astride the white line, the vehicles are not completely destroyed. The inside and outside lanes will have the remains of the cars that were atstride the white lines sitting at their edges, marking where a car was parked. Take a fly-by picture of an 'erased' motorway and you will be able to see where quite a lot of the cars were parked before the erasing process. When the police sieze a hard drive, they will use special reading heads to scan the areas either side of the central data track and will pick up these remaining data marks.
Repeated erasing will help because the laser is actually the hard drive record head and so doesn't stick entirely to the middle lane. As the laser strays into the inside and outside lanes it will destroy the remains of cars missed on the first pass. Do this enough and there will be too little car remains left to put the data back together.
Of course, it is not the cars themselves that store the data - you need to know what the pattern of the cars is. Thus there are two ways to remove the data from a hard drive; the first is to blank the magnetic data bits, the second is to jumble up the data bits so that it is impossible to work out what order they are supposed to go in. Smashing the fragile hard drive platters with a hammer (pointy hammer + concrete floor + 'user error' enraged PFY) is the quickest and easiest way of doing this. The only way for anyone to read data from a smashed platter is to put all the bits back together, which is like completing an immensley complicated jigsaw with thousands of tiny peices and no picture to go by.
I would like to see some comparative studies of these two methods, because I suspect the hammer option is actually more effective than the method detailed in the article.
So much for secularism
If you vote for overtly religious politicians, you are directly encouraging Scientology - simple as that. By allowing YouTube to censor the critics of any religion, the US government is encouraging its people to value faith over rational thinking. This is, of course, exactly what the US government wants, as it is much easier to control a population that puts the two main American faith-based belief systems of Monotheism and Nationalism above reason, logic or science.
Scientology may not be an intended beneficiary of the evangelism of Bush and his puppet-masters, but its recent success is clearly a by-product of a general society-wide faith-based indoctrination. To program your people into believing whatever propaganda bullsh*t you send their way, you first have to remove their rational inhibitions. This opens the door to cults like Scientology. Next time you are door-stepped by a political candidate or canvasser, ask them if the candidate practices any religion. If they say “yes”, don’t ask which religion it is; just ask them what their views on secularism are. Politicians need to know that voters care about the seperation of the state and religion.
PC keyboard numberpad
The current location of the PC keyboard numberpad forces the mouse further to the right than is desirable, leading to in increased risk of RSI. Having the numberpad on the left would make computing a more comfortable experience for many millions of computer users.
Bundled by default
Most popular freeware titles come with bundled stuff these days, and most of it is ticked by default at the installation stage. What makes Apple particularly sneaky is that they added their extra software in at the update stage rather than the install stage where most of us know to watch for it. I now make sure I always untick Auto-update for Quicktime in both the installation phase and through the control panel settings to prevent anything like this happening again.
On IE being bundled with Windows; it should be pointed out that in 1997 Apple did a five year deal with MS to make IE the default browser for MacOS too (note - I discovered this a few months ago on the main Wiki page for browser history, but when I went back to check this interesting fact I discovered it had been removed. I can't be bothered to correct Wiki omissions or inaccuracies any more because the corrections usually don't last, but this info remains on the IE for Mac Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Explorer_for_Mac). Presumably this was to break the back of Netscape, which was, of course, independent from both Apple and MS.
Face it, there is so little genuine regulation of the IT industries that most companies will happily ignore the principles of the free market, break competition laws and even commit criminal offenses if it helps increase their market share and their profits.
OK, so science doesn't know everything - in fact, a scientist will never use the term 'know' as an absolute term anyway. So, what are we to think?
The thing is, the current level of understanding we have of our atmosphere predicts that we should experience global warming as a result of all the greenhouse gases we produce. If we don't, its because our understanding is flawed. This is possible. But what if it is? Do we just give up on predicting atmospheric changes as a result of human activity? Or do we assume that humans can't have any influence on our planet?
The sensible thing to do is assume that a) we are changing the atmosphere, b) we don't exactly know how and c) producing loads of CO2 is likely to make the globe warmer. Now we get into the nitty-gritty - exactly what effect are we having? We don't know. How do we find out? Do more research.
It is unreasonable for scientists to think we know everything, but then scientists generally don't. The people who like definite answers are campaigners, politicians, industry folk and journalists, which is a big problem because when the scientists say 'uh-oh, we may have a problem here' the response from the people making the mess is 'show us facts'. When the scientists are unable to do so, the politicians and industrialists just ignore them.
This is why we're now at this horrible stage - if the worst case scenario is true, then if we don't act in the next couple of years in a really big way, we're scr*wed. However, it is still possible (but not probable) that we are not heading for a big problem. If the policy makers had taken this serously twenty years ago we would probably have a good enough understanding of our atmosphere to say whether we need to make all those emmissions cuts. But they didn't, and so we don't know for sure.
Being pragmatic, we have to now accept that climate change of some sort is probably happening, and that we have to make pre-emptive changes before we know for sure just how bad the damage will be. Genuine scientific debate is important, but only if we accept that it is now to late to wait for the scientists to produce a cast iron set of theories and predictions to base our plans on.
BBC v Sky = socialism + capitalism
There are only two multimedia multi-platform 'channels' that have true global brand awareness; one is Fox/NewsCorp/Sky, and the other is the BBC. Ever since Thatcher allowed Murdoch to own an illegal percentage of the UK newspaper industry, Sky has been on the advance. In comparison, it's competitor, the BBC, initially struggled to find its place in the post-socialism, ultra-capitalist modern world. However, the BBC is that unimagined thing: a publicly owned and run organisation capable of competing with private businesses. Not only is it now seen as a much more trustworthy source for both written and broadcast news than the establishment-biased NewsCorp, but now it has cracked the internet TV nut that up until just a few months ago the cynics (e.g. me) said wouldn't be done for years.
That this is possible must come as quite a shock for the Murdoch family. After all, Murdoch was chosen by Thatcher because she felt that NewsCorp would out-compete and neuter the BBC (always seen as the enemy of the incumbent governing party) and so prove that capitalism is better than socialism. To see a locally based organisation funded by the public and run by the comfortable, liberal middle-classes provide a better service than a privately funded global megacorp run by success-hungry businessmen is utterly contrary to the current political ‘market-forces’ dogma. Given James Murdoch's upbringing, he probably believes it is literally impossible for the BBC to be doing what it is doing without some kind of underhand practices going on in the background.
Perhaps this is a sign of the shape of things to come. Public and private bodies are both important, but we have seen back in the 70s and now in the 00s what happens when either of the two types becomes overly powerful. Maybe both work best when both systems are supported and are encouraged to compete with each other. Maybe our internet provision would be better in the UK if BT had been turned into a smaller, streamlined public company competing with private companies in an open marketplace. We could take this idea further - why not allow public healthcare services like the NHS to compete in the US healthcare system? Or encourage the publicly controlled French rail transport company to compete in the UK rail network marketplace.
But what do the Tories think?
Incapability Brown can't have more than a few months left in charge of the country, and I think it's pretty unlikely that even New Labour will be able to sell the idea of having three different PMs between elections. Considering how bad Blair was, and that Brown is worse... how awfull will New Labour leader Mark 3 be!
So, the pertinent question is: what does Cameron think of this? He'll be in charge by this time next year.
P.S. Can anyone else hear that whooshing noise? Its the sound of legislation being secretly rushed through the system.
Fight for your right....
The everyday freedoms that we in the West currently enjoy were hard won, often bloodily, and generally against the wishes of the politicians and lawmakers in charge at the time. So it will be with the internet. If we want a guaranteed right to privacy and a guaranteed right to freedom of speech on the internet, then we are going to have to fight for them.
The first stage of the fight is to go through the normal channels. There actually are politicians out there who care about the people they represent - if you live in a country that deals with YouTube (eg, in the UK the BBC has done a deal with YouTube) then you should write to your local MP saying something along the lines of 'how can we justify handing over British tax-payer's money to a media organisation that censors so readily'. If enough people make a fuss, the more independent and less toadying members of the political classes will start to rock the boat.
Its a new OS? So what!
I've recently had the chance to start using Vista, and I like it. Do I like it enough to spend £100 to upgrade from XP? Erm, nope! But then, would I make the effort to get XP on a new computer when Vista is no extra cost? Another 'nope'.
The thing is, I've been using computers with a GUI fronted operating system for 15 years now - and I have reached the conclusion that I really don't care how the OS user interface looks or behaves. As long as my hardware works and my software works, and its pretty easy to get around and to tweak, then I'm happy.
So, a question springs to mind. If the details of an OS don't matter, why should the release of a new computer OS be such a big deal? Aside from the continual security battle and the need to adapt to occasional new generations of technologies, we should have reached the a natural endpoint of OS development by now. Compare the different ways of controlling a computer back in the late 80s with todays current slew of OSes and diversity has significantly decreased.
What I'm saying is that the OS should be seen as a basic component of a computer and is not worthy of huge sales figures or fanboy worship. The typical computer user should have no strong preferences between OSes because they all do the same rather basic things. Do you care about the interface of your car stereo? Or your phone, or your MP3 player? Do you choose a house on the basis of the way the lights turn on, or the direction the doors open in? Well, perhaps a little - but not enough to determine what you buy. So it should be with OSes.
The public response to Vista isn't really a reaction to MS' incompetence, poor planning or mismanagement of the promotion. It isn't a response to the superiority of Linux or MacOS over Vista either, as there is now so little to choose between them all (if they are all set up properly and running on newish hardware). Basically, we have said 'meh' to Vista because we have all suddenly realised that an OS isn't actually that important - only MS hasn't caught up with reality yet and tries to promote difference when all we really want is consistency.
You can't sell people change when what they really want is for things to stay the same.
Internet crime ignored
Face it, the government is entirely unprepared for the growing social burden of internet related crime. What we need is to make the websites like Amazon and eBay responsible for enabling fraud in the same way that websites like PirateBay are held responsible for copyright infringement.
Unfortunately, this would require our mighty leader to take some action... which seems unlikely considering New Labour's eleven year track record of sucking up to big business at the expense of the consumer. If eBay was used to sell vast quantities of Leona Lewis albums I bet things would be different!
Spooks go private
"It is important to remember that private companies such as ISPs are allowed to do certain things under section 3 of [the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] that Law Enforcement Agencies cannot do without permission."
So, companies are allowed to do things that the Government can't do when it comes to monitoring network traffic. Hmmm - so, the Government allows BT to monitor customers' traffic without permission from either a judge or the consumer themselves... now, what if BT just so happens to spot someone is looking at anti-democracy websites and they, purely out of civic-mindedness, decide to inform the police?
Voila! The State secretly gets to find out who's reading/saying what on-line without having to conform to annoying 'principles' such as human rights or judicial process.
Its easier to get useful statistics about the war on terror than it is on Apple computer sales. What I want is a nice set of graphs going back ten years or so showing:
Apple quaterly unit sales for US and Global.
Apple quarterly sales as percentage of overall sales for US and Global.
That would give us a realistic impression of just how well/how badly they have done over recent years.
Laptops in desktop's clothing
If you look inside some new model All-In-One desktops (the ones with the box mounted at the back of the monitor stand) you will see laptop RAM. Many also come with a laptop style external power transformers.
For a long time, the main design driving factors behind PCs and laptops were quite different - but with increasing energy costs and climate change a growing concern, and with the low cost of LCD monitors ushering a new generation of small footprint PC opportunities (no longer have to rely on terminal machines to go in small workspaces) the two are converging. Most business use only needs low spec PCs, so laptop hardware inside PC case will do the job no problems.
Give it a few more years and business laptops and small desktops will both have the same solid state HDDs, same RAM, same on-board graphics and sound cards, same low power CPUs. This will cut production and support costs significantly for the likes of HP, Dell, Acer etc as they can cut out a whole section of their production lines.
OK, so they won't slow down those content providers who don't pay... they'll just speed up those that do pay. WTF? This only makes a difference if broadband subscribers never upgrade, and with Virgin upgrades happen automatically.
I've had enough of this cr*p and I will not be a Virgin customer for much longer.
As for traffic shaping; we must not allow a short-term technological bottleneck determine pricing structures for multimedia provision. Imagine if ISPs had started charging websites for providing jpegs for download back in the early 56k days! In the very near future (viewed in terms of the UK's 3000 year old culture) broadband will be fast enough to make problems like the BBC P2P effect a thing of the past for everyone. This is another example of short-term economics damaging society. The ISPs need to be given a good kicking, only Gordon Brown is just too feeble and weak to do anything but kow-tow to the demands of our new social elite.
Perhaps I'll start learning Korean.
The system doesn't work
The US government seems to want it both ways - on the one hand they want to let the markets regulate themselves... but on the other hand they want to favour certain companies over others and impose poorly thought out restrictions on certain areas of certain industries.
Either Google is a big company that has been allowed to mess up the system because US government is too weak to regulate properly, or the the US government was hoping to deny the companies the ability to supply the consumer with the best services. Neither scenario is ideal!
For a capitalist economy to work properly we need a system that ensures fair treatment for all corporations (to prevent monopolies and encourage competition) and a minimum level of protection for the consumer (to prevent price-fixing cartels, restriction of service provision etc). It seems like the US currently fails on both counts.
The high value of biofuel crops is leading to deforestation in Brazilian rainforests to grow biofuels. It is likely that we are nearing a 'tipping point' where the rainforest is no longer able to generate the rainfall it needs to sustain itself and so will collapse.
I think that's what they call irony.
Ah, another one of those articles based around 'surveys' released by companies providing information for "the greater good" that coincidentally also demonstrate just how useful their new product is. They're usually a bit more amusing than this, though, running along the lines of "95% of male internet users tug their willies whilst browsing pr0n' says new survey released by Maxi-absorbent Tissues".
If this article was a peice of software it would be classified Ad-ware. I wouldn't mind if this was followed up by a nice set of El Reg field tests to show that Panda was actually providing a useful service - then it could come in as a proper software review rather than as a peice of filler.
Market forces failiure
Recent years have seen some very high-profile demonstrations of the shortcomings of Thatcher and Reagan’s ideology of the ‘marketplace as a social tool’. Whether its Big Pharm systematically suppressing important negative results in drug trials, the Credit Crunch, MS allegedly colluding with hardware companies to lie about Vista hardware requirements, the lack of proper safety checks in the US airline industry, ISPs selling services they do not have the ability to provide and BT apparently illegally monitoring customers’ surfing, the list of big companies screwing over the consumer or failing to provide the bare minimum service is lengthy (and these are merely the examples that have come to light over a period of a few months).
The music industry is another example of the marketplace failing to provide anything like the best possible service that one could envisage. By consistently failing to promote innovative artists and genres over many years we find one of our most significant cultural forces is stagnant. Celebrity is more important than quality, whilst selling volume and dominating the market is more important than encouraging creativity and supporting new cultural movements.
Perhaps we have reached the stage where big music is simply no longer up to the job. It is no coincidence that by far the most innovative area of music in the last twenty years (techno and its children) is the one where development of the genre is least reliant on the music industry. Here individuals have much greater control over both the production technology and the music distribution system (most production takes place at home, whilst the music is played live or in clubs by DJs and spreads through word-of-mouth, P2P and social networking websites) and so the genre is self-defining rather than directed by the music moguls.
Also, we must wonder about the ethical justification for allowing the big labels and very successful artists to maintain an iron fist grip on back-catalogues. Up until the early sixties, mainstream popular music was (with a couple of notable exceptions) as it largely is now – disposable and unimaginative. The explosion of creativity in music that took place in the sixties, seventies and early eighties should be seen as a significant part of our cultural heritage. We may well not see a similar period for another hundred years (or more), and so we should consider making this cultural heritage widely and cheaply (if not freely) available to the general public. However, the current system means that artists and labels are dependent upon unit sales of old music, and, as the financial burden of this system has to be bourn by the consumer, it prevents millions upon millions of music lovers fully experiencing the huge musical archive of what is arguably the most important creative period of Western civilisation since the renaissance.
What are ISPs for?
I currently pay Virgin Broadband to shuttle unlimited amounts of data from websites to my home and back again IRRESPECTIVE of what that data is or where it comes from. I pay Virgin TV to provide me with a strictly limited TV viewing package defined by an agreement between myself and Virgin as to how much I should pay for what content.
Now, if ISPs want to switch from the traditional ISP model to the cable TV model, then that's fine (or even preferable) – it’s a free country after all. However, I'm getting pretty sick of this ‘having ones cake and eat it’ attitude of the ISPs. The big ISPs have deliberately sold a service they know they cannot provide, which, in my mind, means they are conciously stealing from millions of UK customers. How they thought that no-one would notice I have no idea, but I suggest that they knew it wouldn't last and were just making as much money as they could whilst the government was turning a blind eye.
If one good thing has come out of this debacle, it is the huge demonstration of just how little forward planning our big technology companies actually do, and just how little respect they have for the typical customer. A small amount of actual industry regulation would have prevented this mess from happening. Well done New Labour - big government where it opresses the masses, little government where it increases the wealth of rich shareholders. Is this what Blair's Third Way really means?
While no-one is watching...
I worrying thought - as terrorism has fallen down the public's 'fear list' (now well behind a possible house market collapse, global warming, the English Premier League's 39th game suggestion and the forthcoming release of Carry on London), no-one is paying propper attention to the fact that the government is trying to sneak through its police state-esque legislation to increase the length of time suspects can be detained without evidence.
It now seems that the only people interested in anti-terrorist laws are the police (who are instinctively favourable towards any laws that reduce the freedoms of the citizens) and Gordon Brown (who seems to think its his job to turn the UK into a weird cross between the USSR and a Tesco megastore). All the human rights protestors are worrying so much about Zimbabwe and Nepal, they've forgotten about the proto-despot we have at home.
Wiki doesn't work
Whether it is companies using Wiki as advertising, idiots using it to incorrectly re-number TV episode lists or Megacorps using it as a way of dispersing propaganda - I've said it before and I've said it again. Wiki doesn't work!
And to think, a few months ago the Wiki guys were trying to convince UK universities to allow Wiki as a reference source for dissertations!
How can showing adverts targeted at me (using personal data) to other people I share a computer with not be a breach of my human rights? BT might as well put 'This is what X has been looking at' posters up around my house!
This government is becoming really scary - Gordon 'Stalin' Brown is selling our human rights down the river for some abstract concept of 'the greater good' that a huge number of electorate disagree with. Well, that's BT on my boycot for life list (along with Nestle and Shell), and Labour are almost there as well.