history_monk: (Me)
Grant Shapps, Conservative Party Chairman, has said it's time to draw a line under the issue of Maria Miller's expenses, and the apparent attempt by one of Miler's staff to intimidate a newspaper that was investigating the story. Miller is the Culture Secretary, the minister responsible for regulation of the press.

Shapps' comment seems to translate as "We don't have any good answers to these questions, so we're asking our allies in the media to change the subject." At least, that's the charitable view. A less charitable view would be that this is a misguided attempt to intimidate all of the media.
history_monk: (Me)
I've been thinking about this a bit recently, having noticed that my ideas about what makes a good story and what doesn't are a bit individual. I The books I read and re-read, in the most distant and foggy memories were mixed, to say the least.

The Swallows and Amazons series, which had been important in my mother's childhood (one of the best things about visiting her parents was the complete set in hardback in the loft, which she has now, and I will keep when she's gone). Asterix, which always seemed far better than the British boy's comics of the early seventies, even if I didn't understand everything. The space exploration novels of Hugh Walters, which got their numbers approximately right. Those are the ones that stand out.

There isn't any TV among those, because we didn't have one until I was about nine. Once we had it ... it didn't seem important, somehow, the way it did to so many other kids. We watched it, but not watching it was always an option. Not getting habituated to TV-style plotting may have been one of the things contributing to my alienation.

What stories shaped you?
history_monk: (Me)
Apple; Discworld; MS-SDL; Negotiation; Green Room; LSB; Aftermath; Getting rid of XP; Geology; Disappointment of 8; Compromise; CIX; Fonts; The Small Folk; Laptops; Snowdon; DrPam; Illnesses; Telephone spam; eBay; Werewolf; Webcomics; PayPal; Wendy; GURPS; Keyboards; Cataracts; Cold Front; Glasses; Annunaki; Ashes held and lost; TORG; Visual Studio; Alpha Centauri B; HMS Belfast; Wikipedia; VBCW; Spam; Ogre; DMWCarol; Chain of Command; Security paranoia; Dux Britanica; LiveJournal; Stalingrad; Aldebaran; Halley’s Comet; HMS Jackal; Etruscan; Ram; FN; Baghdad; Decline of Cook; Guadalcanal; Loss of Swann; Canaris; A Great Shedding; Fukuoka; Gift Aid; Mk14 vs. MKVIII; Waterstones; Tyr; Back to the loft; HHhH; Research!

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all; apologies to those who get this twice.
history_monk: (Me)

This book is important to me. I first read Asterix in the early seventies, and it matters to me. In the place in the heart where some people keep Star Trek or Dr Who, as a formative experience that always matters to them, I have Asterix. In the eighties, there was a full set of reprints and I bought the lot. Since then, I have bought the books as they slowly emerged, and grieved their decline. That place in my heart grew cold and dusty, mirroring the disillusionment of middle age.

When I saw that a new artist and writer were taking on the burden of expectations, I dared not hope. When it was time to order, I almost didn’t, sure that it would be a waste. I was wrong there.

Asterix and the Picts is not perfect, but it’s good. Conrad’s artwork is simple to describe, it’s just like late-period Uderzo, well-executed. My personal preference is for the tighter, sparser style of the earlier books, but that is a detail. This is fine.

The writing was always going to be the challenge. The loss of Goscinny changed the series: these books do not have many words, but Goscinny used them with a subtlety that Uderzo working by himself never matched. A new writer had a huge task. Ferri has not matched Goscinny’s best work, but he has outdone Uderzo’s writing, and can improve. His plot is a little rushed, missing the chance for some jokes (a page on hunting the wild Haggis could have been wonderful). This seems to me because too much space is spent performing the established routines in the Gaulish village, but that’s probably necessary to reassure fans that this is the world they know.

It’s not perfect. But it’s good. They can do better. There are stirrings of spring in my heart.
history_monk: (Me)

I found a pack of flour in the cupboard that I'd forgotten I'd bought. I'd vaguely wondered what ship's biscuit was like since I was shown one while going round HMS Victory with [livejournal.com profile] timill and others years ago, so it seemed like time to try. There are plenty of recipes on the Internet, and they're all about the same:

Preheat the oven to 190C, 375F, with the usual adjustment for fan ovens.

1lb flour, brown or white, but I doubt self-raising is a good idea.
1tsp salt.

Mix with water (about a quarter pint) to form a stiff dough. Roll out to about 8mm thick and cut up into pieces - I used a pizza wheel. Authentic military hard tack came in 3" squares, but I cut it much smaller, since I expect this batch to be mostly used for tasting rather than as staple food. Poke dents into both side of each piece with a stick (I used the butt end of a chopstick). Place the pieces on an ungreased flat baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes (it doesn't seem necessary to be precise), turn the pieces over and bake again for the same time, after which it should be golden brown. Allow to cool before sampling.

It really is very hard. "Toothbreakers" was one nickname, and it's only minor hyperbole. Once you break up a piece, you'll discover it's brown all the way through. It tastes OK, if unexciting: basically like extremely crunchy bread. I can see why military cooks would frequently grind it back to flour and make something more interesting.

It should keep more or less indefinitely in a cool dry place: I'm using an airtight jar, and hoping that weevils don't actually appear spontaneously.

history_monk: (Me)
A very happy birthday to the wonderful [livejournal.com profile] dorispossum!
history_monk: (Me)
There’s a consultation out on changes to legal aid in England and Wales. I don’t like the look of it at all, and here’s what I sent into the consultation this morning:

The courts are vital for maintaining a balance between the power of government, the rights of companies, and the rights of individuals. The difficulties in this balance depend on the character and programme of the government, but there are always issues that have to be tested

No government can afford to act in ways that undermine trust in the legal system. This change to legal aid is dangerous. It's quite obvious that companies that are contracted by the government to provide legal representation in volume for individuals are potentially subject to political pressure, by any government that feels unhappy with the way cases are being decided in the courts. Pressurising individual lawyers under the current system is harder, because there are so many of them, and because they're more willing to expose such pressure than corporate managers, who tend to seek a quiet life and regular profits.

I am not accusing the government of having plans to exert such pressure. The capability to do so seems to be being created inadvertently, through a desire to save money without full consideration of the side-effects of the change. But that doesn't affect the problem.

A populist claim that legal aid lawyers were subject to financial pressure from government will make every minor case into a "popular cause", and any result unfavourable to an individual into a "travesty of justice" in the media. The populists of UKIP and their allies in the press are fully capable of exploiting this, gumming up the courts far beyond present levels and undermining trust in ways that will take decades to rebuild.

Cutting the costs of legal aid needs to be done some other way, and the possible undesirable consequences need to be considered more carefully before a consultation is started.

If you’d like to comment, 38 Degrees’ page about it is here.
history_monk: (Me)
Even if Scotland votes for independence, and manages to keep the pound, there's another problem facing its choice of currency.

There is a risk that the rest of the UK will decide to leave the EU, thus leaving the independent Scotland using a currency that is controlled by a non-EU state. It's hard to believe that this will be a practical proposition, and harder still to believe that the EU will stand for it.

English and Scottish politicians haven't mentioned this issue so far. They may be trying to consider the Scottish and EU referendums as separate matters. But don't worry, I'm sure the European Central Bank is considering it.
history_monk: (Me)
"The hookers were slap-fighting a Hare Krishna up at the intersection when the bullet came through the windshield."

Tim Dorsey, The Riptide Ultra-glide. The rest of the book isn't quite that cool, but it's still a decent example of the Florida Weird genre.
history_monk: (Me)
The son of a friend, one Kenneth Dalglish, is planning some slightly excessive fund-raising activity. Here's his pitch:

On 15 March 2011 I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I'm a very lucky man: I caught it early and was operated on 3 days later. I had some chemotherapy a fortnight later to make sure any stray cancerous cells were mopped up, and I had more or less recovered when I returned to work 10 weeks later. I'm technically in remission, but the chances are high that I won't have any kind of recurrence and I'll be able to get on with my life as if nothing had happened.

As you can imagine, I feel pretty passionately about spreading the message and indeed looking after those affected; it was a pretty scary time for me and for Laura, who was about 6 weeks pregnant. The day I went back to work, in a spirit of carpe diem, I signed up to run the Marathon des Sables in Morocco in April this year, as a target for getting back to fitness. The MdS is a seven day, 150 mile race in the desert, the ultimate ultra marathon, billed as "The Toughest Footrace on Earth". If I can finish it then I really will have beaten cancer.

Along the way I've set myself a target to raise £10,000 for the Orchid Charity, which is devoted to education and support for guys who get "young man's cancer". If you can, please could you sponsor me? A little or a lot, whatever you've got.

I've got a website, www.saharakenny.com, with lots more information, and where you can donate via JustGiving, or Virgin Money Giving if you prefer. In addition, I know that times are tough but I would dearly love to get corporate sponsorship: if that's something you can help with do let me know, and finally please follow me on Facebook ("saharakenny") and Twitter (@saharakenny) to lend me some moral support!
history_monk: (Me)
Radio 4 has just told me about The Visiting Professor of Money Laundering and Corporate Fraud at the University of Westminster. The chap's own website - he's a Russian corporate lawyer - agrees that's the title.
history_monk: (Me)
Wandering around the Internet last week, I ran across a good new verb. To ture is to user the Internet in general; this was coined from confusion over the concept of the Turing Machine, and fills a need, as well as honouring Alan Turing, who was important in making it all possible.
history_monk: (Me)
LJ; OS X; Dali; The Pretenders; War memorial; nomaf; New Hall; Red Hat; Wendy; Foglios; Clang; Jules; Roger; Auction; NetApp; PhilM; Xcode; Congenial; Sue; Attachmate; Marrion; Hawkwind; Chris Bell; Goldfrap; NickW; Teeth trouble; JC & Di; Minox failure; Among Others; Roz Kaveney; Kondor; Amazon reviews; Babylon Steel; KarenG; No photography; Vicky; Cataracts, no surgery; DaveD; Chocolate sorbet; Camcon; Stalingrad; PhilN; OTO; WinRT; Mary; California; Age of Aquarius; DaveC; Infinite Cabal; Test Match Special; Roma Mechana; AIX; Jianwei; iOS; Florence; Ingvar; Ogre; Android; KP; Project Unnamed; KarenK; Janos; Stroh; Ola Nordman; Fire of Europe; FOSS and Siemens; /Qfast_transcendentals; Jaine; Radio 3.
history_monk: (Me)
As is common with English words, it's engaged in splitting into two separate meanings. One is the sense used in "scientific theory" and the like: a chunk of knowledge that explains something and is demonstrably true to some degree, possibly with known limits. The other is the looser meaning, of "an idea that might explain something, but isn't well-developed". The mixing of these two meanings is helpful to those who oppose science they find inconvenient, with slogans such as "evolution is only a theory".

I find myself reluctant to use "theory" in writing these days, and prefer "hypothesis" for ideas that are close to the second meaning. Maybe learning Greek would help, but it seems a bit late for that now.

Bad idea!

Dec. 3rd, 2012 10:23 pm
history_monk: (Me)
The article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20578691 tells us that the Ministry of Defence (UK) is intending to forn a mational Computer Emergency Response Team ("CERT"), and to recruit a "Cyber Reserve", to provide a means to use civillian computert security expertise if the UK is subjected to a major "cyber attack."

This may be a good idea, although the MoD are good at messing up new ideas. But my twisted mind immediately came up with the idea of a TV comedy series based on it, as an unholy combination of Dad's Army and The Big Bang Theory. And the really ironic thing is that such a series might actually be a good way of teaching the population some basic security precautions. Ordinary methods don't work at all well. But doing it would be really hard, because preaching will kill the ratings, quickly. 

"Script kiddie" puns in the comments, please. 
history_monk: (Me)
Dear Dr Huppert,

While I have definite reservations about the conduct of the coalition government to date, I am writing to express my support for the Liberal Democrats' position on the Leveson Report.

It seems to me to be crucial that the system by which the public can obtain redress against abuse of the power of the press be changed. We need, without any kind of direct control, to mark a new phase in the conduct of the press. It has been clear from the testimony to the enquiry, that the Conservative Party has been strongly influenced by the press, and that this influence needs to be limited. If Mr Cameron resists this, he will be confirmed in the public's eyes as a puppet of News International.

We do not need our government's status to be brought so low.

Yours sincerely,
history_monk: (Default)
It's international book week*. The rules: Grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the 5th sentence. Don't mention the title. Copy the rules as part of your post.

"Not that it had worked so far"
history_monk: (Default)
The BBC has a new Director-General. Who, like all of them, has to fight accusations of political bias, best countered by keeping all the politicians mildly unhappy. 38 Degrees are collecting signatures for an open letter, to demonstrate that he has support in this matter.  https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/BBC-DG-letter
history_monk: (Default)

I gather from the press that you are not in favour of this bill, for which I am glad.

I am only slightly surprised that the Conservatives opposed the similar Labour bill in the previous parliament and now favour this one. It may be worth pointing out that this makes them look like puppets of the Home Office civil servants who have always favoured such authoritarian measures.

As is common with such measures, they contain contradictions that will wreck their own effectiveness, at great cost, and with serious damage to our privacy and freedom. The kind of communications traffic data they aim to provide to the police can be very revealing, but it can also be a snare and a delusion, especially if there is too much of it.

Access to it for law enforcement purposes with a warrant from a magistrate is fine - I'd much prefer this to a warrant from the Home Secretary, since Jeremy Hunt has illustrated how well some politicians understand their quasi-judicial functions.

Access without a warrant is a show-stopper for me: if this passes with Lib Dem support, I won't be able to support the Liberal Democrats again.


Permit me to explain my reasons.

Firstly, this information, on current plans, would be open to any journalist who can persuade a policeman that the journalist can help him, via corruption or otherwise. We have seen a certain amount of what phone hacking has done, but I am not confident that we have got the whole story, especially on the influence of journalists over the police. We also do not know if appropriate action will be taken as a result of the Leveson Enquiry: the breaking up of News International's newspaper interests, so that no publisher has such domination, would be decent evidence for its effectiveness. Another establishment press regulatory body would not. Requiring a warrant raises the barrier considerably, and also means there needs to be evidence, which must be recorded.

Secondly, the ready availability of communications data in bulk creates a temptation for the police. Suppose they have a suspect against whom they have decent evidence, call her Alice. They reasonably want to find out who Alice is communicating with, so they request her communications data. If she exchanges e-mail on a variety of subjects, visits various web forums and social networking websites, and so on, there are a large number of people with whom she could potentially be interacting.

At this point, there is an obvious temptation to get the data for all of those people, and all of their contacts, and use "data mining" on it. This has the potential to discover all sorts of interesting connections between different suspects, via people who look innocent, but are members of two or more suspects' communications networks. The problem with this is that many of these people will *be* innocent. This kind of "traffic analysis" is perfectly sensible in a communications network dedicated to a particular purpose. But in a network used for every purpose, where each user has contacts with hundreds of others,  the rate of false positives becomes high enough that false leads dominate the results.

The likes of GCHQ know this. But do local police forces really understand it? If they think they have found someone who's  link man in a terrorist cell - recall the Colin Stagg case for their willingness to fit facts to someone who looks right - and push this claim in court, will judges with a limited insight into the Internet and its uses understand this?

Thirdly, fears being expressed that it may not be possible to separate traffic data from content adequately miss the point: with most things apart from private e-mail, the traffic data lets you find the content anyway. Web forums, Facebook, newsgroups and public mailing lists, to name but a few examples, all generally have their information publicly accessible; the only hard part is finding it, and the traffic data solves that problem.

And finally, there's privacy. Plenty of people are complaining about that side of the issue already, and I don't have much to add to it, except that if the Internet is as important for the future of our economy as is commonly claimed, putting young people off using it because they expect to be spied on is unwise.


John Dallman

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Letter to MP is taking shape, having to be revised now I know he opposes it, but here's a petition:
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