Blind Cyclists Union
Theresa May says judges must “follow or take into account” the views of Parliament

No, actually, Theresa, you ignorant authoritarian harpy, they must not.  Parliament has precisely one method by which to communicate its views to the judiciary, legislation. 

And that’s something for which we should be thankful, because the situation in which the rule of law can be overturned at the whim of a politician is called tyranny, and tyranny gargles massive goat balls.

There is a reason, you know, why we keep these things separate.

How To Review Windows 8 Preview - If You’re An Asshat

First off, note that it is a preview, not the shipping the version.  Then, quick as you like, segue directly into a description of how you installed it into your production environment.

At this point, it’s probably helpful if you misconfigure it a bit, perhaps by setting up Live! accounts rather than Active Directory.

Now complain about how that isn’t really working in your production environment and lament the fact you can’t get your mail.

Mention that even though it’s not a release version, it has some further stability issues that make it unsuitable for use in a production environment. 

Harp on about how nice and snappy Metro is, and note that metro is clearly designed - very specifically - for touch screen devices with limited hardware and battery capabilities. Now that’s out of the way, write a few paragraphs about how using Metro on your dual screen quad core desktop just doesn’t really work, because you can’t have multiple tasks running in multiple windows at the same time.

Mention, very briefly, that Windows 8 does, in fact, include a legacy desktop mode that would have met your particular usage needs, but muddy the waters by pointing out that it won’t really work that way on platforms that use ARM CPUs because they are likely to be the kind of low spec hardware systems where battery life is critical and therefore be designed to use the Metro UI.

Do not, under any circumstances, mention that the whole world is rushing headlong toward a computing and UI model that is very different from the one we’ve grown used to over the last decade.

Congratulations! You have reviewed a Windows 8 beta. You are an asshat.


Sinclair ZX81. 1981.
Pure 80s class. Also useful as a doorstop.


Sinclair ZX81. 1981.

Pure 80s class. Also useful as a doorstop.


Tolkien on Anarchy


Tolkien on Anarchy

Dunning-Kruger effect spotted in article about Dunning-Kruger effect

That said, spotting an expert outside of one’s field is a task one can become better at. And that’s important, given just how much information, good and bad, is not available to people. For example, is the expert associated with a university (a good sign) or some ‘think tank’ (a bad sign)?” Again, though, this takes experience and expertise. Groups like think tanks try to give themselves the trappings of expertise in a move specifically designed to fool us into trusting their statements.

Notes Ars Techinica’s Chris Lee in an article about the Dunning-Kruger effect : “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average”.

Now, granted, yes, think tanks do usually have a policy agenda. That’s the nature of the beast. And certainly, when we look at their output we should remain aware of this and cast a more than usually cynical eye over any evidence that they are using to support their arguments, most especially if it happens to be a think tank which appeals to our own ideological biases.

That, right there, is the kind of metacognition that Dunning and Kruger argue is lacking when people overestimate their ability in some area - in this case, picking experts.

Sadly for Chris Lee, he is happy to rely on a cut and dried ‘Uni = good, not uni = bad’ test which has it’s roots in the cognitive bias so often displayed by academics in the sciences that academics in the sciences are always right, and totally ignores any objective assessment of the actual quality of expertise on offer from any non university organisation.

Even more sadly, he spends much of the next paragraph stumbling over precisely that kind of issue without realising that he did it.  Boom. Dunning-Kruger. Right there, baby.

[Of course, the whole DK thing is about not realising you’ve done it, so an honourable mention to the first person able to point out any DK effect that I’ve exhibited here. Meta, baby.]

We’re passionate about this technology stuff, it’s what makes us geeks. We like to talk about it amongst our geeky selves and we like to pick sides and choose teams. It’s in our nature to want to be part of a larger group so we team up in almost everything.

When we buy a laptop or sign a two year smartphone contract, we’re picking teams. And of course, we root for our team to “win” to somehow better validate our decision.

So says William Kujowa.

I beg to differ.  I have for years operated a thoroughly heterogeneous computing environment. At almost no point have I ever felt like I was ‘picking a team’.  My technology choices are determined by about 90% pragmatism and maybe 10% pure aesthetics - bearing in mind that for user facing stuff, UX is included in that first 90%.

I don’t need to have my decision validated by some bullshit manufactured pack ‘wisdom’, or indeed by anyone other than me or my end users or client, and I don’t want to join your fucking club.

Picking teams, rooting for them, and hating on the other teams is what we did as 9 year olds the year that Christmas started to deliver Speccies and Commie 64s and we formed up into tribal cultures shouting ‘yah boo sucks to you’ at the other kids.  Because that’s what 9 year olds do.

If you’re still doing this as an adult, it’s not because you’re a geek, it’s because you’re a dick.

#geekorigins Whiz Kids (1983/1984) - formative TV

If you were a computer obsessed kid in the 80s, it is likely that you will have fond memories of this show, which featured a group of spunky kids, who, like all groups of spunky kids on American TV, solve crimes.  Only the Whizz Kids used a computer to do it.

And what a computer! Although it’s difficult to tell from these shonky screen grabs, the computer is question is built around an IMSAI 8080, which is surrounded by and connected to an incredible amount of geek cruft : robot arms, oscilloscopes, bitmapped graphics displays, video cameras, random boxes of blinkenlights, a chess board, and quite possibly even a fish tank.  If you know a computer geek who grew up in the 80s and is a bit of a clutterbug, chances are this is the environment they’re trying to recreate.

The Whiz Kids live in wealthy suburban Los Angeles, and at first blush, you’d have to be insane to live there, because this otherwise idyllic neighbourhood is populated largely by  criminally insane masterminds whose first reaction to any sign of interference in their evil machinations is to start plotting the brutal killing and disappearance of any awkward witnesses.  Fortunately for property prices, the one redeeming feature they all share is that they all apparently use the same temping agency for their henchmen, all of whom are readily distracted from their murderous pursuit by a good soaking.

Quite a high concentration of these nutters work for the local evil company, NASCorp, a highly diversified corporation with interests in everything from murderous elderly care to murderous record production, and, in one later episode, murderous weapons manufacturing.

With such a heavy emphasis on murdering, you’d expect NASCorp to have pretty much denuded the locality of it’s inhabitants, but fortunately for their would be murderees, NASCorp have a habit of wiring all their critical murdering systems up to computers and phone lines, making it easy for Richie and the gang to hack into them and foil their dreadful plots.

Ah yes, the hacking.  Whiz kids was never released on video or DVD, and much though I’d like to own a copy that doesn’t have such awful VHS artefacts - it was possible to turn the jpeg quality of these images all the way down to 1 without it being noticeable - I suspect it never will be as all of the plot lines revolve around nice, cheery, spunky, well spoken, highly educated, wealthy American kids committing what would now be considered felonies.

Checking all 9 digit passwords. Ah the nostalgia.  I once wrote a very similar program for the BBC model B that my school had foolishly furnished with a MoDem.  My version only checked four digit numerical passwords, of which there are a possible 10,000 combinations.  The program running above would need to check through (at least) 101,559,956,668,416 combinations.  Luckily, one of the symptoms of the local form of criminal insanity is picking passwords that are either easy to crack using this fiendish method, or are ‘john’.  

Using their ace password cracking and social engineering skills, the Kids penetrate computer systems and inveigle themselves into private property with wild abandon  in the tireless pursuit of justice. Cracking stuff!

They are aided in their mission by spunky, principled, bleeding heart liberal journalist Lew Farley of the LA Gazette, a likewise tireless seeker after justice, token responsible adult, and father figure to Richie, whose own father is notable by his absence. Ostensibly, this is due to him being away working on shady defence contracts, although it is later revealed that he and Richie’s mum have divorced, largely as a narrative device to allow Richie to sign his mum up to a computer dating service. Which turns out to be run by murderers.

Richie’s mum, Irene Adler, must have been quite traumatised by the divorce, as she has clearly been so heavily medicated that she never in any way finds teenage Richie’s habit of pursuing murder crazed lunatics and inviting random adult men up to his room even remotely odd or disturbing. As you do.  Even when Richie is kidnapped by the KGB about the most she can muster is to look slightly confused.  I suspect that her kitchen cupboards (much like mine) are largely full of Gin.

I’m not sure exactly which year Whiz Kids aired in the UK, but it can’t have been much later than it aired in the US, as it was definitely showing when I got my first ever computer, a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16K.  Coming as it did in the midst of the white heat of the UK’s micro computer boom years, this was incredibly formative TV.  Most awesomely of all, it almost certainly inspired a generation of micro obsessed kids to indulge in rampant criminality*.  Not many TV shows, especially ones that are so genuinely wholsome, can  make that claim.

Above all though, while Whiz Kids does it’s bit to establish the archetype of the young hacker - male (although Alice’s mad skillz are repeatedly hinted at, they never become part of the story), bespectacled, sits up in his room in the dark doing weird shit with computers, etc - it does so in a way that shows computer geeks in a uniquely warm way.  Later media outings for the hacker archetype tend to heavily feature ‘outsider’ narratives, computer geeks are portrayed as lonely, alienated, obsessives.  Whiz Kids offers a version in which the computer geek is happy, healthy, well adjusted and just, well, normal.  Whiz Kids made it OK to be a geek.

Sadly, Whiz Kids is not available from any legitimate source, though it can sometimes be obtained from torrents, and these people will send you what I suspect is a likewise pirated version for some money.  Here’s a snippet of Episode 5, “A Chip Off The Old Block” - in which Richie is hacking into a bank -  to whet your appetite.

* Though of course, at that point in time, it wasn’t actually, technically, criminal at all. So widespread was the desire and ability of young geeks to hack into stuff that eventually, the government passed the Computer Misuse Act 1990, effectively criminalising thousands. But that’s for another day.

Via thebishopspulp:

Statists in a nutshell 

Via thebishopspulp:

Statists in a nutshell 

The Trouble With Tribbles - Saying No To Geek Activism

I am probably, almost certainly in fact, a geek.  I do weird shit with computers, and not the sort of stuff you probably know about, but the sort that you’d have to have explained. Which I would happily do, in detail and at length, with amusing historical digressions until my partner has to come and rescue you because many of your panicked body language signals indicating you’d quite like to die now please are invisible to me. I am a nightmare at parties. I know how to do mathematical proofs by induction, how to do asymptotic analysis of algorithms, and why you maybe shouldn’t.   My sister is a proper scientist who specialised in genetic and epigenectic research and now works in biotech. She is married to a lovely chap with a masters degree in CompSci and and MBA. My partner has a masters and a doctorate and her crowd boast an enormous number of  qualifications and publications between them.

So I’m pretty sure that I’m at least on the edge of the kind of demograph that Mark Henderson is aiming at with his book “The Geek Manifesto”.  I spotted a copy in Waterstones the other day and vowed to obtain a copy at some point, though I haven’t so yet, if only because it will likely end up becoming so much a part of the geek cultural canon that people who haven’t even read it will irritatingly spew up great chunks of almost direct quotations from it without realising it, very much after the fashion of Stephen Levy’s ‘Hackers’.

So this is not a review of the book, rather this is a criticism of the kind of people who will read it and heed it’s call to arms.  And to start with that, we need look no farther than (where else?) the Guardian, where Martin Robins illustrates rather neatly why we don’t, in fact want to see a rise ‘geek activism’.  To fans of liberty, activism of any kind is a constant irritant, representing the potential for legislative and regulatory capture by monomaniacal interest groups eager to either ban or enforce some particular type of behaviour,  leading ultimately to a situation where everything not forbidden is compulsory.

Decisions are made by those who show up, and one person’s apathy is a chance for someone else to put their shoes on, jolly-up, and make a difference. Mark Henderson wants geeks to seize that chance, and he’s written an entire manifesto to try to spur us into action.

Explains Robbins, lamenting the low voter turnout in the London mayoral elections. Like, well,  nearly everyone by this point, Mr Robbins has noticed that our elected representatives are not simply venal, but apparently also rather stupid.

I can’t remember when I first realized that most politicians are even less competent than I am, but since that day I’ve viewed Westminster with a growing sense of disbelief and horror. Watching them wrestle with the issues of the day on Question Time is like watching elderly relatives try to operate my smartphone, if instead of giving them my smartphone I handed them a small box with a picture of a smartphone printed on the front.

I couldn’t agree more, and I would recommend reading the whole thing for some quality rantage of that particular variety.  Unlike Robbins - and presumably Mark Henderson - however, I do not relish the idea of geeks inheriting the political system because no one else can be bothered with it.  Here’s one reason.

What I desperately want is a move toward an evidence-based culture in politics. Politicians are free to say: "I think people on drugs should be punished because drugs are immoral." That’s a moral call, albeit a rather stupid one in my opinion. What they shouldn’t do is say: "I want to reduce drug use, and sending all users to prison is the most cost-effective way to achieve that." That’s not at moral call, it’s a factual statement; as such it should be evidence-based, or else the person making it should shut the hell up.

Yes, Martin, that is a moral call. (I’m not going to get into a big semantic tangle about the word ‘moral’, lets just assume that it means ‘stuff that a person thinks is right or wrong for whatever reason’. Maybe God told them, whatever.) All politics - or at least all state politics - is fundamentally about making ‘moral calls’, because all political  decisions start from an argument about whether, under what circumstances, to what extent and in what form to apply coercion.

Robbins’ example here is extremely pertinent. In the form he gives it, the politician seeking an effective way to minimise drug use has presumably already made that moral call, the ‘drugs are bad, m’kay ?’ call.  We’re all supposed to be fine with this because it was a politician what done it, and the geeks or scientists or statisticians or whatever are simply furnishing the best practical method to achieve the coercion involved.  Some fucking utopia.

The only way you could actually make such a scenario worse, in fact, is if the politician is actually basing his moral call on some other science. Even staunch anti prohibitionists like me are all too aware that drugs can indeed cause harm - the general principle being that unless drug use is harming someone other than the user, it’s really none of anyone else’s business - this is scientifically indisputable.  We can see that is possible - very easy in fact - to start off with a reasonable sounding goal : minimise the indisputable harm of drug use, and to erect a policy framework based on entirely sound scientific principle, that is utterly horrible : send all drug users to prison.

And why stop there ? We can generalise the reasonable sounding principle of minimising harm to, say, maximising good.  Et voila! Here we are at utilitarianism, again and about to invoke the names of Jeremy Bentham, proponent of liberty, individual rights, animal rights, freedom of expression, and designer of the thoroughly hideous concept of the Panopticon, which he himself described as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”, and of course J.S. Mill, likewise proponent of liberty, progenitor of the harm principle I invoked earlier, and yet believer that “ despotism is an acceptable form of government for those societies that are “backward”, as long as the despot has the best interests of the people at heart”.

And then there were the Fabians, who  ”advocated the ideal of a scientifically planned society and supported eugenics by way of sterilisation” amongst other fun stuff.

So really, the historic precedents for a more scientifically based policy framework aren’t all that great.

Of course, our modern touchy feely scientists wouldn’t drag us all into a hellish dystopia of of Fabian technocratic tyranny, would they ? They’re smart! Aren’t they ?  Undoubtedly, but obeisance to authority and respect of hierarchies are second nature in academia, where lots of the kind of geeks that Robbins and Henderson are reaching out to are to be found.  Many academics are well aware of this, but scientists will scream blue bloody murder that their adoption of the scientific method means that this isn’t so, that, uniquely amongst the primates, they are not in any way subject to such concerns.

Whole books have been written about this being a steaming pile of horse shit, but the one I would particularly recommend is “The Trouble With Physics" by Perimeter Institute cosmologist Lee Smolin. Partly because it’s written by an actual practising scientist (who heavily references the two preceding volumes), but also because it’s quite a good book on string theory, as well as the broken sociology of scientific academia. An interesting mix.

So a group of authority worshipping types who don’t believe they’re subject to the normal corrupting influences of humanity. Sounds a lot like politicians already.  Brian Cox for example - a man whom I greatly admire in many ways including that he has fantastic hair and access to helicopters - is a poster boy for this kind arrogance.

So, there are reasons to be cautious, very cautious of geeks bearing manifestos.


Commodore C64c - Hollywood Pack (1986)


Commodore C64c - Hollywood Pack (1986)

It’s not so much labelling kids as SEN, as what you do next

As it happens, I actually oppose such labelling. Partly on principle, but largely because it’s stupid.  What does it mean for a child to have a “special” educational need ? All children have IENs, Individual Learning Needs, and the world would be a happier place if we simply dealt with kids on that basis. But let’s put that aside for a moment.

At first glance, the way that kids bearing an official SEN label - or fitting into that general category as currently defined - are treated has changed beyond recognition since my time at school.  I most certainly did fall into that category, but I was simply labelled disruptive for trying to point this out. These days being labelled disruptive is in itself a marker for an SEN assessment, and rightly so.  Tommy might just be a vicious little bastard, or he might be acting out to cover something else, either way it’s a good idea to find out what’s up.

The system we seem to have now is much better at catching potential ‘problem’ students early, partly because educational professionals are terrified about what will happen if they let anyone slip through the net.  It may be that this means they are casting their net a little wide.  This, however, is not - by itself - the problem.

It’s really what you do afterwards that makes the real difference.  During my journey through the state education system, what you did after identifying a group of kids with a diverse set of issues ranging from various severities of physical and/or mental impairment all the way through to extraordinarily severe behavioural issues (like, say, repeated arson and assault), was to stuff them all together in a couple of classes - creating an extremely challenging teaching and learning environment - and only ever allow them to take the easiest possible sets of exams, lowest stream for everything, and then basically ignore them until one of them set something important on fire.

It was slightly more complex than that, but not much, and a full exposition on this subject will use up about a week’s worth of actual bile, so let’s skip forwards to today.

Recently my dearly beloved partner spent some time teaching a class of ‘statemented’ (don’t get me started on the quality of the statements) kids.  My observations of this lead me to believe that the modern approach is that you identify a rather broader spectrum of kids with issues ranging from various kinds of physical and/or mental impairments and/or behavioural issues, release some of them into the general population with blue paper overlays and more or less ignore them,  then stuff the rest into an SEN group - creating an extremely diverse and challenging teaching and learning environment - and never allow them to take any of the kind of exams that will fuck up your all important success and retention metrics.

It is - of course - more complicated than this, and I don’t say any of this to denigrate in any way the often excellent and quite clearly heartbreaking work done by the staff who teach these kinds of classes, many of whom exhibit a level of caring, empathy and respect for their charges that I’d have given my right arm for.  The whole deal is a lot more fluffy and less upsetting at the student/teacher interface. 

But still. Taking all your statistical outliers, grouping them together, treating them as though having an SEN label makes them all the same, despite being the most mixed ability groups you will ever see, and then effectively hiding them from as much of the system as you can get away with is much the same outcome.  That it is done more humanely is really only very slightly comforting.

I’d like to think that when the architects of the current reform  talk of challenging ”low expectations”, that they will at least try to address this in some way, but as with much of the current education system, excellent outcomes in this area are often very much in spite of, not because of, repeated applications of shambolic, headline grabbing, centralist policy fiddling. 

Freedom is the birth right of every citizen. To preserve and defend that freedom, to defend it from within and without, is the first duty of any Prime Minister.
Margaret Thatcher, Party Election Broadcast 1983. (via garethalteran)
BBC Builds Orwellian Plaza in Salford

There has been a monumental amount of cockwaffle spewed forth into the internets about the BBC’s new “Media City” in Salford, largely by people who haven’t been there. I happened to be there last week, and so here’s my personal contribution, and some moody photos.

As you can clearly see from the above picture, no one can accuse the BBC of not planning for the future.  Clearly, when the aliens land, Orwell Plaza in Salford is going to be the place to be. I don’t know what the correct name for this space is, nor if it even has one, but frankly, giant talking heads dictating to me from poles is Orwellian enough to justify the nomenclature.

This being Salford and all, you can see from the picture below that the citizens are not exactly queuing up to be reeducated. In fact, it seems that they are more likely to simply rob BBC ‘talent’.  Having said that, it is about twenty (count ‘em!) years since I was in Salford and it is a hell of a lot nicer than it used to be. And not on fire, which frankly is a huge improvement all by itself. I would speculate that they are probably about to erect a second screen to the right, as the one shown is still being poked at by hard hat types.

Much of the rest of the skyline is very post future dystopian, in a Blade Runner stylee.

Questions in the Guardian with perfunctory answers

Asks Gaby Hinsliff

But painstakingly purifying water, via more than half a dozen complex and expensive processes, just to slosh it over your hatchback or pour it into the lawn from whence it came? Are we really going to do that for ever? 

Yeah. Pretty much.

No, dear CPS, journalists are not special, and you are not the public

Crown prosecutors will be told to consider whether journalists were attempting to expose activity such as a crime or a miscarriage of justice when committing offences including phone hacking, bribery and “blagging” personal records.

This is a bad idea. A stupid idea. For (at least) two reasons.  Firstly, it establishes, de facto, a separate category of citizen, a two stream justice system. For journalists will be treated differently when there is evidence that they have committed crimes, some of them quite serious.  In and of itself, this is stupid for (at least) two further sub reasons. Sub-firstly, all should be equal before the law, and sub-secondly, how precisely is one to be categorised as a ‘journalist’ ? NUJ member ? Some credential ? Employer ? Is Polly Toynbee a journalist ? Is Guido ? Am I ? The answers to those three may be very clear cut in one person’s mind, and much less so in another.

Then of course there is the whole ‘public interest’ question. Always vexed, and here we have another example of the authoritarian view that the arbiter of what is or is not in the public interest should not be the great unwashed public themselves - oh no, that would never do - but some coterie of political apparatchiks. 

If there is evidence that an individual, journalist or no,  has committed a crime but there may be a defence at law that it was done ‘in the public interest’ then let that individual be prosecuted, and let their legal defence make that argument before a judge and jury.

To do otherwise is simply to create a privileged class of people who may expect to break the law without any kind of accountability, provided they only commit crimes against whatever particular arbitrary social grouping it is currently politically acceptable to persecute.  In doing so it potentially enables media pogroms at the whim of the CPS and whoever can pull their strings.  And those people, funnily enough, tend to be heavily influenced by what appears in the press.

This is not justice, but a mockery of justice.