Blog hiatus stuff

I’m attempting to get back into the blogging habit, but I’m finding it a little annoying to deal with two at once, and I get better feedback on Livejournal, so I’m really using that as the main one at the moment. That’s Penguin Marginalia. A couple of recent entries there now, one about Second Life, which has been really diverting me recently, and one ranting about gadgets.

I may switch the Feedburner feed over to that if I keep this up; we’ll see.

Livejournal really has grown some nice new features recently, including the possibility of it looking like a Real Blog, which was always what put me off.

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Your data belong to the state

Yeah, I had noticed. The rebel faction in New Labour didn’t stop this one going through.

The government has staved off a backbench rebellion to reverse changes imposed on the controversial ID Cards Bill by peers.

Only 20 Labour MPs voted against the government, and the bill – opposed by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats – was passed by a majority of 31.

MPs also voted to force people to get cards when they apply for passports.

I’m not sure what exactly motivated the turncoats to sell out to the Empire this time. It surely can’t have been the “concessions” – there aren’t any worth speaking of, though as far as I’m concerned the only ID card bill I’d consider it okay to vote for would be one that made it entirely optional and also mandated that no government body or private company could ever refuse to offer a service on the basis of someone not having one. One can’t leave out private industry here – if it becomes, say, impossible to have a bank account without also having the Mark Of The Beast, that makes it effectively impossible to live in this society without it.

I’m not going to rant yet again about how the stated reasons for the ID system are utterly bogus – won’t stop terrorism, won’t stop ID fraud (will actually make it easier with a centralised “trusted” system rather than multiple independent methods of personal identification), won’t stop benefit fraud etc. I’ve done so many times, and if you’re still unsure of the details you could start by looking at the No2ID site, which has lots of the issues and arguments together in one place.

I won’t rant about, but will sneer sarcastically in the direction of, the idea that requiring people to register in the ID database and get a card before they can renew their passport is not compulsion. Oh, I suppose the idea that I can’t go abroad – well, not if I want to return – without one isn’t pressure of any sort? Of course not!

Yeah, it’s not gone through the Lords yet. I can still hope. Otherwise I predict that my passport will get lost very soon before the deadline and have to be renewed. I really am not going to get one of these things, you know, for as long as I can possibly hold out, and if I have no choice but to register I’ll be looking for ways in which data going in to the system can be tuned to cause the most problems.

While we’re on the subject of personal information security I spotted this one as well:

UK officials are talking to Microsoft over fears the new version of Windows could make it harder for police to read suspects’ computer files.

Microsoft Vista is due to be rolled out later this year. Cambridge academic Ross Anderson told MPs it would mean more computer files being encrypted.

He urged the government to look at establishing “back door” ways of getting around encryptions.

The first rule of encryption systems is of course “don’t put in back doors” but I wouldn’t be surprised if MS did agree to put one in, because the whole point of Trusted Computing is not to give the user data security against outside parties wanting to access their stuff, it’s to give other people data security against the user themselves. The point of TC is to stop you from doing things on your own computer; you are locked out from accessing certain data on your own hard drive according to someone else’s whims. I actually hope MS do agree to back-door their system. It would be the ultimate illustration of the principle involved.

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On a brighter note… brighter-ish… at least Blizzard did apologise for banning the mention of LGBT-friendly groups (which I wrote about previously).

In an e-mail to Ms Andrews, Thor Biafore, senior manager of Blizzard’s customer service, said: “Please accept our apologies for the way our staff characterized your conduct, and rest assured that your account will not be penalized in any way for this occurrence.”

Ooh, how amazingly generous of them, they won’t penalise her account. One wonders whether the “training” mentioned for administrators will also include dealing with the in-game harassment that leads to people wanting to set up safe space guilds in the first place. One suspects that it won’t. Challenging homophobia is just so gay, after all.

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I do not want to hear

If I hear another person say “Islam’s not a race, it’s not racist to criticise Islam” (followed by or following up some immense generalisation about Muslims)….

  1. Immigrants aren’t a race, either. It’s not necessarily racist to criticise immigrants. But it’s often done by racists. The fact that you say you’re just talking about the religion doesn’t mean that I have to believe you.

  2. More importantly, since when are there approved xenophobias? Racism is a subset, one which used to be perfectly acceptable for that matter. I would have thought by now that it was irrational fear and demonisation in general which was perceived to be the underlying problem. But apparently, some types are acceptable.

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Googlechatmail integration

This is quite interesting, if rather brown-trousering for the Google Paranoids out there. Gmail is incorporating Google Chat straight into its web interface – that’s not the interesting bit, though it’s quite good. They’re giving you the option to save chats as messages in Gmail, which is more interesting, and even more useful. The most interesting bit (and I hope you’ve not been holding your breath for this) is that they’re giving people the option to “go off the record” so that their chats aren’t saved by anyone else.

10. What does it mean to go off the record?

We know that sometimes, you don’t want a particular chat, or chats with a specific person, to be saved. Most existing IM services give no indication of whether the person you’re chatting with is saving your conversation. But when chatting in Gmail or Google Talk, you can go “off the record,” so that nothing typed from that point forward gets saved in anyone’s Gmail account.

Going off the record applies to individual people, and is persistent across chats. That means once you go off the record with a particular person, you will always be off the record with him or her, even if you close the chat window, and the two of you don’t chat again until several months later. You will not need to go off the record each time you chat with the same person, but you will need to make this decision for each person you chat with. We’ve designed this to be a socially-negotiated setting because we want to give users full disclosure and control over whether the person they’re talking to can save their chat.

They say “most existing IM services” but I don’t know of any others that do this. Of course, it’s not actually safe. Anyone who wants to can just cut and paste the text in the chat window, or if they’re using a third-party Jabber client like Psi to access Google Chat it will pay no attention to your “off the record” settings.

How much do you have the right – legal or moral – to restrict what sort of recordings people can make of what you say, anyway? Personally I tend to think that, as long as they’re not actually eavesdropping, you don’t have that right. If you email people, after all, you can expect that to be saved. You can always expect that they might remember what you say, depending on how good their memory is. I’m not very sympathetic to someone who doesn’t want what they say to count, and really, once you say something to me, it’s up to me how I want to record it. It smells a bit of Internet Lawyers. “I’m going to SUE YOU under the DMCA because I have COPYRIGHT and you CAN’T RECORD ME it’s ILLEGAL”.

Google’s merging of chat and mail does suit my view of data convergance though – I’ve written many times before about how I don’t really see the difference, or feel the difference, between types of data in any case, and the difference between a chat and an exchange of emails is practically zero, apart from the speed. On OS X I can use Spotlight to find information, which doesn’t differentiate between mail, chat histories, plain text files, bookmarks, random files with the right metadata, or anything else it indexes, but (a) I’m not always using OS X and (b) even when I am I’m not always using the computer that I have all that data saved on. My Gmail account is backed up via POP3 on my main machine, but without annoying manual synchronisation I won’t be able to index that, not to mention all the rubbish sitting around in `~/Documents’, anywhere else.

There’s a practical aspect as well: a really efficient browser-based chat system, with centralised chat saving and contacts, would be a godsend for people behind firewalls, save huge amounts of bandwidth, and make searches on it much more efficient. I got an email today with 16 bytes of content (three words plus a question mark) and 1235 bytes of header, footer and disclaimer. All that has to be indexed which slows down the whole process. The quicker I can convince people to get and use Gmail accounts for this sort of nonsense, the better, which is clearly what Google would like, and I don’t mind since it’s of mutual benefit.

The above starts me thinking about a program called Yojimbo which I’ve been trying recently, and going “hmm, yes but also could try harder” about. Leave that for later, I think.

P.S. have a cookie

P.P.S. GOOGLE – WRITE AN OS X GOOGLE TALK CLIENT

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Rehabilitation

I was watching C-SPAN on BBC News 24 just now, and a familiar name came up – Jerome Corsi, announced as the author of a book called Atomic Iran. “Isn’t he some sort of ridiculous right-wing flack?” I thought, but I wasn’t quite sure until it was then mentioned later on that he wrote Unfit For Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.

That rang a bit fat bell. Corsi. Wasn’t he the guy who was exposed as a ranting nutcase freeper? (A freeper is a poster on the right-wing US forum freerepublic.org, by the way, if you’re not familiar with the term.) He was also mentioned as writing for WorldNetDaily, which is a wingnut news site.

I had to Google to make absolutely sure, but yeah, that’s the guy:

CORSI: Think the liberal press will ever let out that these 2 were lovers — typical Islamic boy-buggering — older man, younger man — black Muslims? I doubt it. Not a pretty picture, but one certain to be hidden by PC media. (11/08/2002)

CORSI: Isn’t the Democratic Party the official SODOMIZER PROTECTION ASSOCIATION of AMERICA — oh, I forgot, it was just an accident that Clintoon’s first act in office was to promote “gays in the military.” RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters — it all goes together. (11/18/2001)

CORSI: Just don’t let anybody put a tablet with the Ten Commandments in front of the school where that girl wants to wear a Muslim scarf — OH, No — then the RATS would complain. Anti-Christian, Anti-American — just like their Presidential Candidate — Jean Francois Kerrie. (03/31/2004)

CORSI: After he married TerRAHsa, didn’t John Kerry begin practicing Judiasm? He also has paternal gradparents that were Jewish. What religion is John Kerry? (03/04/2004)

CORSI: Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she? (06/08/2003)

(source) and, you know all of the rest of the usual stuff. And he’s on TV now? Being treated as a serious commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, rather than someone exceeding even the usual over-high Ranting Partisan limit for guests? He was coming across as quite sane, but I find it hard to believe all that has been successfully exorcised….

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Can’t see any positives at all

Rrr. Cartoons, Mohammed, Muslims blah blah. Freedom of speech! We can’t let ourselves be censored by religious fanatics!

Mohammed-drawings-newspaper1.jpg (16K)and I’m supposed to defend this?

Have you seen these cartoons? Don’t tell me that all the funny-ha-ha Mohammed plus bomb stuff is anything other than the use of nasty stereotypes to insult a particular group. It’s not a bold secularist statement, there’s no satire, there’s no meaningful social commentary. It’s about picking on a bunch of people by using a common characteristic (in this case, them being Muslims). Let’s not forget the social context here, of quantities of Muslim immigrants into certain parts of Europe; surely we know what happens to poor minority groups by now.

Now we have a bunch of people claiming that the problem with it is that not that it’s stereotypical bullshit but that you shouldn’t make depictions of Mohammed, which is something that I’m informed is a tradition rather than an actual instruction in the Koran, and which I don’t really have any sympathy for at all in any case. We have hysterical protests. We also have a bunch of people playing “more Islamic than thou” for audiences around the world; various politicians and businessmen are jumping on the bandwagon with condemnations and boycotts. Wonderful.

And of course the press here will be very happy to print as many pictures of people waving placards and as many reports of death threats as they possibly can, because, as we know, it’s politically correct to support the position that Muslims are dangerous irrational types who represent a threat to our freedoms and can’t really be talked to (thus if one’s government is forced to invade them to help them out, they couldn’t help it, so you can feel better about not doing anything, and if the police are forced to “crack down” at home that’s just the only language they understand).

It’s the hypocritical Islamophobes, the ranting nutjobs and the opportunistic self-publicists of all stripes who are dominating the whole thing now. Forget any actual issues, it’s all about posturing now, and feeding off the posturing of the other side. Once I become Supreme Dictator of the Universe, I shall ban all of them, but given that I can’t do that yet I will just mutter about each to myself and have another pint.


Edit: Lenin’s tomb points out further evidence of the original intention…

One (cartoon), by Lars Refn, makes fun of the whole exercise, by portraying a Danish Muslim schoolboy called Muhammed who has written in Persian on a blackboard: “Jyllands-Postens journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs”. The paper rebukes this cartoonist for “cowardice” and his refusal to acknowledge the “Muslim threat to free speech”.

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World Of Warcloset

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Via Venusberg, one hears that Blizzard (publishers of World Of Warcraft) prefer don’t ask, don’t tell.

Sara Andrews thought it was a big misunderstanding when she received an e-mail from a game master in Blizzard Entertainment’s popular online role playing game “World of Warcraft” citing her for “Harassment – Sexual Orientation.”

Andrews had posted that she was recruiting for a “GLBT friendly” guild in a general chat channel within the game.

Believing that her notice had been accidentally flagged, she e-mailed Blizzard to correct the problem. Blizzard, to Andrews’ surprise, upheld the decision…

…In her follow-up letter to the company, Andrews explained that there was an obvious misunderstanding and that she was not insulting anyone, but merely recruiting for a “GLBT friendly” guild.

The response from Blizzard was, “While we appreciate and understand your point of view, we do feel that the advertisement of a ‘GLBT friendly’ guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise. If you will look at our policy, you will notice the suggested penalty for violating the Sexual Orientation Harassment Policy is to ‘be temporarily suspended from the game.’ However, as there was clearly no malicious intent on your part, this penalty was reduced to a warning.”

Blizzard’s stance was clear that recruiting for a guild using “GLBT” was inappropriate as, the company said, it may “incite certain responses in other players that will allow for discussion that we feel has no place in our game.”

Apparently, Blizzard then floundered around for a bit trying to think of some better reason why they wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout of umpteen teenagers trolling GLBT groups:

“Many people are insulted just at the word ‘homosexual’ or any other word referring to sexual orientation,” Blizzard responded to Blatzheim in an e-mail. “Also to discriminate against other players, such as not allowing any heterosexuals into the guild simply because of their sexual orientation, could cause extreme offense to a large percentage of our players and should be avoided.”

but may have settled on something which doesn’t sound quite so pathetic, though is clearly just an excuse given that insulting sexual orientation seems to be quite appropriate as far as they’re concerned:

“We have determined that advertising sexual orientation is not appropriate for the high fantasy setting of the World of Warcraft and is therefore not permitted”

I wasn’t aware that Aragorn, say, ever came out with the line “omg heal me u fag” but perhaps I’m just not familiar enough with high fantasy settings.

Anyone spending any time on the internet, and particularly in any sort of gaming context, will be aware that various forms of “gay” are routinely used to mean “lame”. The idea that it’s a linguistic progression and that “gay” doesn’t actually mean “homosexual” any more, it just means “lame” – so that’s okay then – and more importantly that you can’t do anything about it so you might as well not try, is surprisingly common.

It’s balls of course. The three forums that I use most often all have quite strong positions on the practice, and, believe me, it’s really easy. If somebody turns up and calls people “faggot” because they disagree on some point of computer advocacy, you say quite clearly “that sort of homophobic language is not tolerated here” and then, if they continue, you ban them. All that’s required is posters and moderators who give a shit.

Blizzard, it appears, don’t really give a shit, or at least are more concerned about the purchasing power of stupid kids (and also perhaps any parents who wouldn’t want to hear about their offspring playing on an internet with gayers) than the concerns of people who aren’t even trying to change wider WoW society, just trying to establish a safe space not full of arseholes. Well. Perhaps some wider publicity might change their mind. I already know of one person who’s cancelled their subscription over this.

(Quick plug: said shit would absolutely not happen on Second Life.)

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Just in case anyone was curious

…which they’re probably weren’t, but here’s a section of what the control panel looks like in WordPress.

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2328 spam comments means that that page was three and a half megs. Imagine if I’d been on dialup.

For readers under the age of 25, dialup was back when computers used to talk to each other over the phone. No, really. They’d make this annoying squeaky squawky noise at each other, and that would apparently mean something. You had to plug them into the wall socket. For readers under the age of 20, wall sockets were not originally for ADSL, but for an old sort of phone which didn’t come with an aerial.

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Two things that you see

The stupid, utterly sybaritic expression on the face of a cat as you scratch it behind the ears, or under the chin, is one of the best sights in the world.

The phenomenon of office workers with pictures of their husbands, wives or children on their laptops could be seen as a breaking through of humanity, expressing itself on the very tools of depersonalising corporate culture etc. Every time I see it, though, it makes me sad. “This is where I want to be,” it says to me, “this is who I want to be with. But I’m not.”

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It’s the economics

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I tell you what I do care about, and that’s ID cards, which seem to be getting less press time than that bloke with the moustache at the moment. Regardless, they’ve once again met with opposition (2, 3) on the basis of a refusal to actually say how much the project is expected to cost, a number which we can then triple to find out a reasonable lower limit, under the ineluctable rules of government IT projects. Okay, yes, this is still talking about money, and I would prefer that the ever-so-slight data protection and civil liberties issues came out more, but as I’ve said before you have to start somewhere and cost is (a) an entry-level issue that everyone understands and (b) not something that’s ever going to have the government looking good. They will always screw up on the cash issue.

I was going to include some theorising on why that is, but my theories started to turn into a much longer piece than anticipated, and for a change I’d rather get it right than take a load of cheap shots, so I’m going to wait and do a bit more work and hopefully come up with something meaningful rather than just abusive. Yes, I know, a bit of a departure.

Incidentally, in my Christmas stocking I received a book called Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? which I’ve been taking on the tube recently. It basically reads like an extended edition of my blog without the penguins or the geekery – there’s even a lengthy bit about the Daily Mail. I’m not sure whether to take this as meaning (a) there’s a demand for sarcastic commentary on public life and public figures and thus I should continue or (b) there’s a glut in the market and I should desist. I think I’ll just carry on writing whatever I like.

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