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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Not so employees of our own dear Royal Mail. Now I don't have a copy of The Economist to read at lunch time. Even worse, a couple of inches of snow and the roads are chaos, with people stranded on the motorways whence they are apparently being rescued by the Army, and unable to perform the simplest of maneouvres on the roads. What a nightmare. We did build a snowman, though.
On the general flying sucks theme, here's If airlines sold paint.
I hope that everyone has sent their responses to the Home Office's consultation on `entitlement' (i.e., identity) cards. Here's mine (from a few weeks ago):
I am absolutely opposed to the introduction of `Entitlement' or identity cards in the UK.
As a Czech acquaintance remarked,Here in the Czech Republic we have ID cards (since Adolf Hitler instituted them for us).
Of course, the actions of the current UK government aren't comparable to those of the government of occupation in Czechoslovakia in 1938--45, and I understand that the government has ruled out the possibility of a card which must be carried at all times and produced on demand.
But that's not to say that a future government might not decide that a compulsory card was, after all, a good idea, and build upon the outcome of this current proposal to implement a more repressive scheme. And in any case, it's clear that the proposed cards are expected to become generally used for identification, with the result that it will become effectively compulsory to carry one. This sort of `voluntary' requirement, effectively enforced by the private sector without appeal to law, could be even more damaging to our freedoms than a real compulsory scheme. After all, the last compulsory scheme was eventually repealed as a result of public dissatisfaction; but that might not be possible with a scheme which has been taken to heart by the banks, utility companies and other powerful actors in the economy.
The consultation document claims that the identity card will help to combat identity theft and other forms of fraud. It is not clear why this should be the case. The document states that every individual will be issued a unique identifying number; it seems reasonable to suppose that the result of this is that all sorts of unrelated organisations will start to use this number to identify individuals, with two consequences:
it will be easy to steal somebody else's personal number, since the third parties holding personal information keyed by the personal number won't necessarily secure their computer systems as well as they should;
practically, identity theft could be accomplished simply by stealing the personal number.
This is essentially the situation which prevails in the United States where every individual has a `social security number', and identity theft is trivially accomplished by obtaining somebody else's number.
The consultation document also advertises at great length the virtues of `biometric' information for authentication or identification. This is an even worse idea than the card itself. Biometric information is a terrible choice for an identification scheme, because it is impossible to revoke or replace it. For instance, if the card stores a thumbprint and somebody manages to copy my thumbprint and use it to spoof (say) a bank auto-teller -- which turns out to be rather easy with current fingerprint readers, which can often be fooled by a simple photograph of the print -- there is no way for me to get another thumb to replace the one which has been compromised. So victims of biometric identity theft will be stuck with their compromised authentication data.
Nor would it be safe to assert that the introduction of such technology could be delayed `until the technology is mature'. It is inconceivable that future biometric authentication technologies will not be susceptible to some sort of spoofing. Criminals have tremendous incentives to invent ways to subvert authentication devices -- much greater incentives than the vendors of the devices. And, of course, technology is advancing all the time, so an authentication device which is safe and secure today may be trivial to subvert to a future criminal who is using the technology of two or ten years from now.
As a final comment, it is worth pondering this: with what types of states do we associate identity cards? Do we regard them as a feature of democratic states where the populace is free and a tradition of rights prevails; or with authoritarian states whose governments demand the right to peer into the affairs of their subjects lest they take it upon themselves to throw off their oppressors?
No state with an old and stable tradition of democracy and the rule of law enforces an identity card system. There is no reason that Britain -- the oldest and most stable of the lot -- should be the first to do so.
(signed) Chris Lightfoot.
-- the whole thing is futile, of course: we'll get identity cards if Blunkett wants them whether we like them or not, just like anything else the Dear Leader decides. But at least this way I get an MI5 file. Hmm....
You'd have thought that a politician would know the meaning of the term theft, right? Think again:
Anne Campbell, MP,
House of Commons,
It has recently been brought to my attention that Dr. Kim Howells, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport the present Government, made comments in the news media criticising remarks made by Robbie Williams, a singer, about `Internet piracy' -- that is, the making by individuals of copies of songs using `file-sharing' services. Dr. Howells apparently said: (source: Sky News and elsewhere.)
``Williams should not be defending theft, and this is real theft.
``It is the equivalent of going into a record store and shoplifting material on sale.''
As you will be aware, theft is the taking away of the property another, with the intent permanently to deprive. It is clear that, though often a violation of copyright, the Internet `piracy' to which Mr. Williams refers does not have the character of `theft' because there is no `intent permanently to deprive'; in fact, when one member of the public gives a copy of a song to another, nobody has been deprived of anything. You will also be aware that the violation of copyrights is a matter for the civil courts, and it is not clear why Dr. Howells should choose to involve himself in arguments about it.
I am at a loss as to how Dr. Howells came to make such a misinformed statement. I am sure that he did so in error, rather than by way of attempting dishonestly to identify a large group of people who have committed no criminal offence with thieves and other criminals who are rightly despised by members of the public.
I hope that the remarks made by Dr. Howells do not constitute a statement of Government policy. I hope that you can confirm for me that they do not, and that it is not the intention of the present Government to promulgate further lies of this type about law-abiding citizens. I imagine that it is too much to imagine that Dr. Howells might apologise for his outrageous claim.
(signed) Chris Lightfoot
-- what's that phrase again? ``Pissing in the wind''?
And while you ponder the weather, look at just how much worse it could be: a marvellous collection of weather icons from across the web.
Which came first, the oranges or the colour orange? Oranges, apparently. The OED identifies the first adjectival usage in c. 1600, but the first occurence of the fruit from 1044. Thanks to a colleague for this observation.
A shade of purple like that of the flowers of the heliotrope.
-- not, as I had thought, yellow.
Here's the the eventual outcome of the incident in September 2002 during which a motorist deliberately ran his car into me on a Zebra crossing, and the Police investigation of same. At the time, I contacted the Police and described the incident in a letter.
Cambridgeshire Police responded to my letter in November, as I noted in a newsgroup article.
I was invited to make a statement by the Police in December, and did so at the beginning of January (I had been out of the country). My statement essentially recapitulated the details in my original letter, though I was slightly surprised that the statement took two and a half hours to give and resulted in almost nine pages of handwritten ungrammatical prose. Ah well....
The Police contacted me last week to inform me that they had decided not to proceed with any formal action against the motorist, who had been identified and had admitted to his part in the incident (although he denied actually hitting me with his car; `Criminal tells lies to Police' is, I suppose, not news). A statement was also taken from the passenger in the car, who turned out to be the daughter of the motorist.
I understand that the decision not to proceed with any formal action was informed by the expectation that a conviction would be hard to secure given that the only third party witness was a relative of the accused.
I am informed that the motorist in this case was surprised to find that the Police had taken an interest, however slight, in his behaviour. Whether this surprise related to the long delay between his attack on me and the Police response, or whether he did not feel that his criminality ought to have attracted the curiosity of the Police, I cannot say. The constable who interviewed the motorist told me that he felt that even the investigation without any subsequent formal action would have a deterrent effect upon my attacker.
It's hard for me to identify any useful lessons here. I think that the most important one -- which most of us, on some level, already know -- is to obtain the names of witnesses, since this ought to make prosecution easier. At the time, I was too shaken to do so. So the second most important lesson is, I suppose, to remain calm even in the face of outrageous and frightening behaviour by other road users.
Everyone is writing Bayesian spam filters. This is my effort. So far it seems to work OK, but no proper statistics yet.
Dubya has declared a ``Sanctity of Human Life'' day. Has this man no self-awareness at all?
I had the misfortune to listen to Any Questions on the radio today. It's truly horrifying that a random selection of second-rate politicians can easily be provoked into demanding that asylum seekers be rounded up and put into -- let's not beat about the bush here -- concentration camps while awaiting `security screening'... and that the audience put up with this and even applauded it.
As so often, the Tories are to blame, but why is it that our supposedly liberal government is pandering to this shite I cannot understand. I suppose the real answer is that they're not at all liberal; in fact, they're just as reactionary and racist as the other lot, but of course they get to dress up their offensive views in some sort of crazy amalgam of working-class consciousness and Hampstead intellectualism which somehow justifies dismantling what remains of the post-1945 settlement while from time to time dropping bombs on people with whom they disagree.
It's got cold again. Is now the moment to start advocating my plan for an enormous Truman Show style dome to enclose Cambridge and give it a more amenable climate?
Somebody has written a book. With a chapter about tpop3d. And they didn't send me a free copy. Sob.
... but I feel I should draw everyone's attention to the truly marvellous photograph on the cover of Peter Hennessey's book, The Prime Minister: the office and its holders since 1945.
(This link is on BIMBO but I thought it worth recording here, too.)
But I want to take you into the world of very low Reynolds number-- a world which is inhabited by the overwhelming majority of the organisms in this room. This world is quite different from the one that we have developed our intuitions in.
Life at Low Reynolds Number by Edward M Purcell: how bacteria swim -- and why. Fascinating.
(Also available as a PDF file, though it doesn't really add anything.)
This is all done with wwwitter.
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