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Draft Defamation Bill - Blogger witch hunt begins in earnest

A day, such as today, of utter cuntistry would be, as former Labour spinweasel Jo Moore would have said, a good day to bury news.

I’m quite sure however that it is the purest form of coincidence that today, the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill scrunched up it’s collective parliamentary sphincter and squeezed out its first report.

Just to get a taste of what’s to come, here’s the first sentence from the summary.

The Government’s draft Bill proposes worthwhile reforms of defamation law, notably in effectively removing trial by jury, with its associated high costs, and in providing better protection for publishers by introducing the new single publication rule.

Justice is expensive, so let’s not do it.  Not a great start to be sure.

But fear not, here’s a quote from the ‘Core Principles’ section

Freedom of expression/protection of reputation: some aspects of current law and procedure should provide greater protection to freedom of expression. This is a key foundation of any free society 

The more cynical among you may be thinking that this is basically politician speak for “Imagine your freedom. Now imagine it in a cellar. Now imagine I’m Josef Fritzel”, and you know what? You wouldn’t be far off, at that.

Here’s what the committee recommends in the case of someone alleging defamation by someone on the internet who is not anonymous.

a)  Where a complaint is received about allegedly defamatory material that is written by an identifiable author, the host or service provider must publish promptly a notice of complaint alongside that material. If the host or provider does not do so, it can only rely on the standard defences available to a primary publisher, if sued for defamation. The notice reduces the sting of the alleged libel but protects free speech by not requiring the host or service provider to remove what has been said; and

b)  If the complainant wishes, the complainant may apply to a court for a take-down order. The host or service provider should inform the author about the application and both sides should be able to submit brief paper-based submissions. A judge will then read the submissions and make a decision promptly. Any order for take-down must then be implemented by the host or service provider immediately, or they risk facing a defamation claim as the publisher of the relevant statement. The timescale would be short and the costs for the complainant would be modest.

So far, so fuck you, but unfortunately this is very much in line with the precedent established in the now infamous Godfrey v Demon Internet libel case, and so far never overturned - though the wikipedia article hints that it may fall over on an HRA challenge - which established that your service provider can be held accountable for what you say, and by accountable, I mean like unlimited libel damages. There’s a good write up of some of the issues here, if you want some of the background, suffice to say that this fun fun bit of legal shenanigans already makes it pretty easy for your shit to be disappeared from the net, because your ISP/web host isn’t going to take the risk. If I’m reading the above right, it seems that the draft bill mitigates this somewhat if your ISP/host/provider of whatever publishes a notice saying that your ass is about to be sued.

I’m not even going to get into the technical or jurisdictional stuff, because what’s important here is the contrast between content with an identifiable author and content without such, viz :

We recommend that any material written by an unidentified person should be taken down by the host or service provider upon receipt of complaint, unless the author promptly responds positively to a request to identify themselves, in which case a notice of complaint should be attached. If the internet service provider believes that there are significant reasons of public interest that justify publishing the unidentified material—for example, if a whistle-blower is the source—it should have the right to apply to a judge for an exemption from the take-down procedure and secure a “leave-up” order. We do not believe that the host or service provider should be liable for anonymous material provided it has complied with the above requirements

So, say something bad about someone anonymously and all they have to do to get rid of it is issue a complaint to your service provider and unless you are prepared to reveal your identity, it disappears. Oh, unless of course your service provider decides to pony up some money for lawyers on your behalf.

I don’t want to get into a rant about the value of anonymity here, there’s plenty of that elsewhere and it’s a many faceted argument, but lest anyone be in any doubt that this represents an attempt to write into law the ability to silence the anonymous voice, here’s another quote

Specifically we expect, and wish to promote, a cultural shift towards a general recognition that unidentified postings are not to be treated as true, reliable or trustworthy. The desired outcome to be achieved—albeit not immediately—should be that they are ignored or not regarded as credible unless the author is willing to justify or defend what they have written by disclosing his or her identity.

Nudge nudge. Dog fuckers.

Siri backported to iPhone 4, perfect in almost every detail, except for one

Den of fuckwits 9to5mac, butthurt because the iPhone 4S voice activated personal assistant thingy ‘Siri’ isn’t available on the iPhone 4 have taken it upon themselves to persuade iOS hacker Steve Troughton-Smith to rip some of the good juice out of the iPhone 4S’ binary codebase and forcibly insert it into the poor, unprotected, digital sphincter of an innocent iPhone 4.

All very clever in a binary reverse engineering stylee, to be sure, but …

Here’s the video of Siri in operation, can you see, or rather hear, what’s missing ?

Yes, it’s the VOICE CONTROL part.  Because, you see, Siri doesn’t process the voice on the phone, that would use shed loads of CPU time and hence drain the battery. Apple do not like this, in fact they will drop the banhammer on you from the app store if your app is to power hungry, per the developer agreement.

Apple does the processing for voice recognition ‘in the cloud’, i.e. on their servers, and, unsurprisingly

The only issue at this point is that Apple is not authenticating (obviously) commands to its servers from iPhone 4 hardware.

So what you see is in fact what you get. Some Siri-ish screens, and dog shit performance due to the lack of the iPhone 4 GPU driver. And that’s all. So the one tiny flaw is that it doesn’t work, and it isn’t ever going to work, because apart from anything else, Siri is one of the iPhone 4S’ most important USPs.

But apart from that, it’s just fucking perfect.

Morons.

Update Tue 18 Oct 18:48 it also occurs, what is Apple’s revenue model for Siri ? Where are they going to get the cash for all those teraflops. Could it be from sales of, oh, I don’t know, the iPhone 4S by any chance ?

St. Tim Berners Lee does that thing, graaaagh

Oh, FFS.

Asked about what he felt were the greatest security issues on the net, Sir Tim said that this wasn’t his field of expertise but said that “as a user” he was “amazed” that secure, encrypted email exchanges using PKI technologies had not become the norm

First things first. When you are the progenitor of the communication protocol and markup language which underly the world wide web, the co-implementer of the aboriginal software ecosystem that powered its ascendancy, and the founding director of the W3C consortium which coordinates the development of web standards, you don’t really get to say “as a user”. 

Like a lot of uber-geeks, TBL doesn’t quite seem to grasp that his frame of reference for “as a user” is far removed from that of an average user of technology, that is, someone who uses a computer or similar device as a tool to accomplish stuff that isn’t primarily related to making magic boxes do neat things.

To most people, if I start a sentence with “Sure it’s easy, first you need to generate a 1024 bit RSA public/private key pair, then …”, all they hear is “mah, mah, mah, mah, mah, I’m a massive geeky douchebag”.

Doing crypto right is hard, and also time consuming to set up.  Shit like this becomes ‘the norm’ when it becomes transparent (or near transparent) to the average user.  As is in fact the case with the PKI crypto system that underlies the majority of the WWW’s secure financial transactions.

Sir Tim is also demonstrating one of my other least favourite aspects of geekdom, namely the argument from personal incredulity, after admitting that info security really isn’t his specialist area, he goes on to be amazed by some aspect of it because he personally doesn’t understand it.

If it were something he was more familiar with, he might have read some of Ross Anderson et al’s excellent research into the economics of infosec, and then he wouldn’t be quite so amazed.

So, y’know, graaaagh, Sir TBL, just graaaagh.

RIP Dennis Ritchie

Contributor of so much joy and frustration to my geek life. This eulogy was estimated to be delivered on October 13, but the schedule slipped. 

So it goes :-)

I’m glad that Richard Stallman is still alive

On the demise of Steve Jobs last week, RMS had this to say :

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, ‘I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone’. Nobody deserves to have to die – not Jobs, not Mr Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.

Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

Well, I’m certainly glad that Richard is still alive, and I hope he lives forever.  Because then, after the singularity, our post human overlords, when they come to examine the history of their genesis, will no doubt convene a suitable panel and put Stallman’s open source stored personality on trial for crimes against digital humanity.  Why ? For spawning the crawling horror that is the EMACS text editor. A project which, like an unfortunately large number of it’s FLOSS brethren continues to try and foist the ethos, process, practices and, for fucks sake, even some of the same damn keystrokes found in a 1970s campus computer room onto 21st century hackers.

I have no doubt that the post singularity EFF legal defence hive mind (consisting of several concurrent instances of Eben Moglen and John Perry Barlow) will raise the GCC project in mitigation.  There will be some back and forth about Stallman’s political coding style and his staunch resistance to allowing anything into the source tree that would enable software not following the one true way to play nice with it, but the killer blow will come when the prosecution shows the virtually asembled mass of post humanity the archival footage of the free software song, for which there is, quite simply, not only no mitigation but also no excuse.

Stallman’s construct will then be sentenced to eternity running on an instance of Windows For Workgroups, there to languish, gnawing on its virtual toe jam, until the heat death of the universe. By which time it still won’t have released a production version of HURD.

Steve Jobs, February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011. RIP

Steve Jobs, February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011. RIP

Offshore wind. You would not believe the places I have sand.

Binge drinking MPs ? No, Dr Wollaston, it’s not a shock

Dr Sarah Wollaston, the MP for Totnes, alleged that a “shocking” number of MPs have “no idea” what they are voting for in the Commons as they just follow the orders of their leaders.

No ! You don’t say ?

“Who would go to see a surgeon who had just drunk a bottle of wine at lunchtime?”

Well, no one, but then again, performing surgery requires judgement and fine motor skills. Voting the way the party whips tells you requires neither.

“But we fully accept that MPs are perfectly capable of performing as MPs despite some of them drinking really quite heavily.”

Presumably by ‘we’, she means ‘other MPs’. I can’t say I’m feeling much acceptance myself.  My last but one employment contract had a specific clause in it which made even entering the building after drinking potential grounds for dismissal.

Thanks to the continual lobbying of the likes of Dr Wollaston (who is the GP kind of doctor, not the Phd kind of doctor) the days when it was acceptable to have even a single drink at lunchtime are long gone for most employees.

Dr Wollaston called for such behaviour to be “challenged”. She said: “It’s really shocking that so many MPs have no idea what they are voting for when they walk through the doors of the lobbies. I think we need to change the culture in Westminster.”

Disgusting, yes. Utterly hypocritical, certainly. Further proof - as if more were needed - that the westminster village is completely divorced from reality, definitely.

But shocking ? To be shocking it would have to a surprise. We’d have to be labouring under the misapprehension that our elected representatives were actually representing us and not their parties, that they were somehow employing their critical faculties to the issues before them rather than existing simply as number swelling bench fodder. We’d also have to assume they weren’t massively hypocritical cock sockets. Surely even the most naive among the electorate have had such illusions shattered by now.

So shocking, no, not so much.

And all your future lies beneath your hat*

In computer programming, as in so many other spheres of life, correct apparel is paramount, and as any fashonista knows, the most important fashion statement you can make is the one you make with your hat.

As a programmer, when you have the case off, a bandana is most appropriate. Signifying your gung ho, can do, no nonsense attitude, it has the added benefit of retaining the beads of fear sweat that form on your furrowed brow as you peer into the dusty, spider colonised recesses of several hundred quids worth of mysterious green and black chunky bits and prepare to poke at it with a screwdriver until the magic smoke comes out.

During the summer months, that tempero-climatological aberration during which the sky is haunted by a terrifying light brighter than any VDU, even with the gamma jacked up to 11, which seers the skin and leaves the dense, still air redolent of ambre solaire basted troll, it is acceptable, though not always wise, to go hatless.

But as autumn finally makes it presence felt, the brief heat wave drawing to a close - no doubt soon to be attributed  by some meteromagical derivation of the law of fives to climate change - appropriate cranial coverings are once again high on the agenda of the couture conscious codemonkey.

My dear ol’ dad, Cthulu rest his soul, was well known to favour a Woolworth’s floral pattern tea cosy for serious work, but then he was also known to favour pale brown flares, polaroid sun glasses and Nana Mouskouri, and kept boxes of punched cards and ICL manuals squirrelled away in the loft. Truly the ways of the old ones are not our ways.

Of course, there’s no reason to abandon the past entirely. In geek chic, retro is always in. You can bet your bottom dollar that on the 11th of March 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson were rockin’ Ts screen printed with 8 bit pixellated pictured of themselves and a caption reading “Watson! Come here! I want to see you! For The Lulz!”.

Of course, there are few things more iconic than the classic ‘skull and bones’ emblem. What could say more ? Skulls could mean pirates, pirates are hip, pirates are sexy, pirates can be kind of sinister.  A skull pattern can be nuanced, it could be saying “I’m jolly!”, “I’m downloading every Battlestar Galactica Episode!”. It could be saying “I’m skimming your ATM card!”.

There is practically no geek shirt that cannot be successfully and tastefully accessorised, no codemonkeying outfit that cannot have it’s meaning subtly refined, by a keen hat with a skull on it.

As luck would have it, now is the perfect time to obtain such a piece, the festival of all hallow’s eve is approaching and the high street is currently a goldmine for the acquisitive tat seeking cheapskate and/or diligent chaser of the zeitgest who is currently in search of the season’s must have skull emblazoned hat.  

So, go on, treat yourself, because hats are keen, basement lairs are cool, and central heating is for pussies.

Photo : My coding hat, £1, Poundland.  * Apparently a quote from this chap.

#cpc11 : Something, something, something, family values

It is well known that I am no fan of the Labour party, who have, in my lifetime, gone from being a party of gruff shouting ‘working class’ people, stubbornly convinced of their own righteousness and unable to conceive of why they aren’t at the top of the perceived (by them, via the medium of the huge chips on their shoulders) social order, to a party of shrill, shouting, ‘middle class’ people, stubbornly convinced of their own righteousness and unable to conceive of why they aren’t at the top of the perceived (by them, via the medium of the huge chips on their shoulders) social order.

This of course roughly follows the social mobility trajectory of the times, often vocally denied by the very people who benefitted from it most. My paternal grandfather, for instance, was a miner from age 14 until retirement, my maternal grandmother was actually a servant. I am a computer programmer and my sister is a fellow of the royal society, go figure.

This leads some people to consider that I must therefore be a fanboy for the Conservatives, because to those of a Labourish bent, anyone who disagrees with them must prima facie be a raving right wing Tory.

But this simply isn’t the case. I think the title of this post sums up fairly neatly what I hear coming from the conservatives.  They very idea of an ideology which, by it’s very nature, does not seek to run joyously into the future, embracing new ways of living and of doing and gleefully shouting “Right then! What are we going to do today ?”, but seeks to hold on to “traditional values” simply for the sake of doing so, which, Canute like, seeks to stem to the very tide of cultural evolution and change which makes us human, makes us adaptable, makes us rich, is anathema to me.

I’m aware that due to my utter disdain for the Labour party and many of its appendages, mouthpieces and fellow travellers, I have picked up quite a few twitter followers who are, in fact, Conservatives. If any of you are reading this and thinking “Hey! That’s not me! That’s not what my ideology is all about!” then I’m extremely glad for you, but you’re in the wrong party.

Since it’s conference season, we don’t have to look hard for some spectacular examples of this in action, and this one is tied up with my other favourite thing to hate about the tories, the godawful, patronising, paternalistically authoritarian, pseudo victorian moralising about families and marriage. As. Per. Fucking. Usual.

Mr Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, will issue a clear statement designed to ensure that the Prime Minister holds good to his commitment to give married couples a tax break.

He will say: “This isn’t about Government interfering in family life; it’s about Government recognising that stable two parent families are vital for the creation of a strong society. It’s about parents taking responsibility for their children.

Yes, you blue bell end, it is about government interfering. It is about the government deciding that there is one single state authorised type of familial grouping that will be officially recognised, approved of, and financially incentivised.

Regardless of one’s particular opinions about the institution of marriage, whether you regard it simply as a contract or harbour some bronze age belief about its sanctity before the grand sky fairy and his psychotic bewinged minions, it is quite simply not for the state to decide what social structures people should choose.  It is, quite simply, none of the state’s fucking business.

Simply treating people as individuals would probably do the trick. Labour party policy on tax credits was widely (and correctly) decried as incentivising parents not to live together due to the calculation of working tax credits as per couple, rather than per individual.

Note though, that is simply ‘couple’, not ‘married couple’.  If this is the injustice IDS is seeking to reverse, then the word married has no place whatever in the discussion of either the problem, nor the solution.  It is only there because the pious traditionalists amongst the Tory demograph can’t conceive of any other family grouping that doesn’t offend their twattish moral sensibility.

Shit like this, and the frankly Orwellian ’nudge unit’, demonstrate that the Conservatives are no less horrifyingly statist and authoritarian than the Labour party, and no less bound to their own particular brand of breathless, moronic,  moralising. 

Like I always say, same shit, different tie color.

Once upon a time, being Left-wing meant exposing the structural problems with capitalism and putting forward some solutions for fixing or overhauling them. Today, if Occupy Wall Street is anything to go by, it simply means getting all super-moralistic about evil bankers and corporate bigwigs, who apparently are responsible for every ill in the world. Forget analyses of society or programmes for change – these occupiers just want to get their rocks off by pointing a collective finger at billionaires while screaming “Waaaah!”.

It’s more like a two-minute hate than a principled campaign, more a tantrum than a protest, the aim of which is to assuage the inchoate moralistic fury of the sons and daughters of the East Coast bourgeoisie who look at mass America and its inhabitants and feel nothing but pity and disgust.

These campaigners are nothing like workers’ movements of old, which brought together principled men and women in a campaign for change; instead they have merely elevated the teenage screech of “I hate you and I wish you were dead!” into a political rallying cry. No wonder the vast majority of Americans are blocking their ears.

The teenage moralism of the Occupy Wall Street hipsters almost makes me ashamed to be Left-wing - Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked, writing in the Telegraph.
To Govern Is To Choose

So said David Cameron in an interview I was unfortunate enough to catch this morning. He is of course quoting Nigel Lawson, the full quote, according to the magical steam powered interweb, being

To govern is to choose. To appear to be unable to choose is to appear to be unable to govern.

Lawson was almost certainly paraphrasing De Gaulle, who himself said 

To govern is always to choose among disadvantages

Inveterate politicians to a man, they all rather fail to notice what’s actually wrong with that, which is that, simply, to govern is to choose for others. That being, fundamentally, the source of political power, the glittering prize that the feces flinging fuckmonkeys that polite society dubs ‘politicians’ scrabble over one another to attain.

De Gaulle, being French, may himself have been channelling the French ‘revolutionary’ Honoré Gabriel Riqueti who put it rather more honestly

To administer is to govern: to govern is to reign. That is the essence of the problem.

Quite.

Hand ban brouhaha - the stupid, it hurts.

Pupils at Burlington Junior School in Bridlington, East Yorks, have been asked to adopt [a] new hand signal to create a more relaxed classroom.

So far, so un-newsworthy, one would have thought, but one would be wrong, oh yes, one would indeed.

So, why am I writing about it, you may well ask.

Well, it certainly isn’t the new hand signal, which the increasingly frothing and Daily Mail like Telegraph describes as 

The children - aged eight and nine - have now been told to get the teachers attention by giving a thumbs up while cupping their hand.

It’s not even that one of the parents the Telegraph managed to dig out doesn’t like it, quoth he

I think it’s a bit pointless, it’s not benefiting their education - they could focus on other things.

Nor that one of them said 

It is going to make the class look like they are all imitating the Fonz from Happy Days

Though that is fairly fucking stupid. Obviously the parents are entitled to their opinions, even though they directly contradict what the kids’ teachers have found, through experimentation, which is that

 All these ideas help make the classroom environment calmer as well as encouraging the quieter pupils to share their ideas

Now that sounds like a win to me, from the article it’s clear that they’ve tried various different methods to find out what works for them, in their classrooms, with their particular classes. 

No, it is this 

Dad-of-three Dave Campleman, 44, who has two children at the school, said: “I thought it was a joke at first. It’s daft. I can’t see the logic in it.

"Fair enough if it was across the board, but I’ve not heard of any other schools doing it."

Really ? That’s what wrong with it ? You don’t see the logic (and haven’t bothered your arse to find out, despite the fact that you felt strongly enough to phone in a quote to the Telegraph) and you therefore think it’s daft, but, if it had been thought up by some faceless policy wonk in whitehall and mandated across the board regardless of its appropriateness to any particular environment or class, you’d be just peachy with it ?

You utter dick.

People might criticise this as political correctness gone mad. Erm, Yes. I expect so.

Teachers should censor the toy box to replace witches’ black hats with a pink ones and dress fairies in darker shades, according to a consultant who has issued advice to local authorities.

Reports the Telegraph, and not only that, but white paper is right out of the question

Another staple of the classroom - white paper - has also been questioned by Anne O’Connor, an early years consultant who advises local authorities on equality and diversity.

Children should be provided with paper other than white to drawn on and paints and crayons should come in “the full range of flesh tones”, reflecting the diversity of the human race, according to the former teacher.

Seriously, if your flesh tone matches any of the crayons in the box, seek medical help immediately.

People might criticise this as political correctness gone mad

Yes, yes I think some people may indeed draw that conclusion.  Personally, I think it’s just the ‘gone mad’ part. This might have started out as some kind of attempt at PC, but it ended in the section of the building with the soft walls and curved plastic cutlery.

(Quick note, there are, in fact, some good reasons for having non white paper, other than the fact that color is fun, but not the ones posited by this lunatic)

Ass backwards politics by the Labour party

@paulwaugh draws attention to this piece over at Labour Uncut blog by Dan Hodge (who he?). It’s a readable enough bit of Red Ed bashing, but naif that I am, my brain started to make poorly bad noises when it encountered this paragraph

Opposition isn’t easy, but it is simple.

You begin by deciding where you want to position yourself politically. You then develop a policy framework to support that positioning. And finally you construct a philosophical and intellectual narrative to define your programme as you sell it to the electorate.

Personally, I’d have thought that one would start with the philosophical and intellectual exercise, then form one’s policy in support of that, and who gives a fuck where that ‘positions you politically’.

But that would be principled, and this is the opposite. This is pure brand management. Decide what you want to say you’ll do, then construct a line of bullshit so that the electorate will think it is justified.  Winning is all that is important.

It’s a pretty good explanation of the entire political system, in fact, and certainly nothing new. But I am surprised to find it quite so brazenly expressed where the proletariat can see it.