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OK, so I seem to be batching things up and sending them off to my web log in big chunks. Maybe this is missing the point, but what the hell. In other news, `Stay Calm April' is still going OK, just about, though obviously mentioning it was a mistake, since the result was that my so-called friends spent yesterday evening trying to shatter my air of calm. (Can you shatter an air? Probably not.)
Compare and contrast:
Hard Numbers (from The Economist). Maths teaching is in decline; there is a shortage of 3,500 teachers per year, and only 350 new teachers entered the profession last year. The suggested solution:
An obvious long-term answer is to pay teachers more in hard-to-fill posts such as maths and physics. That would breach the taboo that all subjects are of equal value.
Which seems fair enough. After all, that's what private schools do. And yet, this is deeply controversial. Why?
Maths `should be optional' (from the BBC):
Allowing pupils to drop maths at the age of 14 would create more time in the curriculum and would alleviate the shortage of specialist maths teachers, Mr Bladen [of the NAS/UWT] suggested,
This story was the subject of a really awful bit of reporting on Today this morning, in which a few kids coming out of a mock exam were interviewed about how much they disliked maths, and then some hapless professor was wheeled out and repeatedly asked for an `everyday application' of quadratic equations. Naturally the real point -- that people do (hopefully) use the analytical skills they're taught in maths -- was ignored.
But the same programme had the BBC berating the Liberal Democrats for putting up candidates in local elections who are campaigning on local issues and local policies, so at least the idiocy was applied without prejudice.
I've been listening to music from MP3.com, which seems to work fairly well. It does, however, lack the feature I really want, which is `people who listened to this song also liked...'. The problem with music that random indie bands have uploaded to The Webternet(TM) is that I've never heard of any of it, so a means for finding stuff I'd actually like better than `clicking on things at random' would be helpful. MP3.com insist on setting all sorts of cookies and other shite, so they presumably are tracking everything their users download; it should be possible for them to `leverage' some of this information to `add value' for their `stakeholders'. Excuse me, I'm going to have to shoot myself now. (At least I didn't say p---, so I avoid having to pay £1 into the p--- penalty fund....)
Obviously the MP3.com people (Vivendi Universal, in fact) have thought about this a bit, since for each band there's a link that says something like
Find more artists in place.
... but that's completely pointless, because the whole point of recorded music is that I don't care where the band is! (OK, if they were really good I might want to go to a gig, but that's hardly likely to apply to
Find more artists in Kawasaki, Kanagawa -- Japan
or the slightly surreal
Find more artists in PO Box 1837, Wonder Valley, California -- USA
or indeed most of the myriad other garages and lock-ups from which these people presumably hail.)
So, actually legal free music on the internet isn't quite there yet. (It's not like Napster or whatever had this feature either, but it didn't matter, since all of the mainstream media are churning out publicity for the bands which have record contracts and airplay, so it wasn't necessary.)
This week's futile letter of protest:
Anne Campbell MP,
House of Commons,
Thank you for your letter of 9th April 2003 concerning the remarks of Dr. Kim Howells, MP, on copyright infringement. We are apparently in agreement that copyright law should be upheld, though it is clear that my views on the evolution of intellectual property law differ markedly from those of the Government.
I am very glad to hear that Dr. Howells's claim about the equivalence of theft and copyright infringement was not a statement of government policy. However, you will no doubt appreciate how such an utterance by a member of the government might be misinterpreted by the public. Lending Ministerial authority to a false statement such as his is unhelpful at best.
As you will be aware, there is a wide-ranging debate about the future of copyright law in this and other Western countries. Many campaigners, including myself, look at the essentially undemocratic procedure by which new intellectual property law is being framed, and feel that the historical rights and present interests of the public are not being given sufficient weight in the deliberations of policy makers.
The misuse of the term `theft' in describing copyright infringement is one which is eerily familiar from the public statements of special-interest bodies such as the British Phonographic Industry. Few in everyday life would describe copyright infringement in this way. It is a turn of phrase which is designed to be emotive and to mislead, and one which identifies the speaker very strongly with one section in the present debate.
What assurance have we, as concerned members of the public, that the Government will address these issues in a balanced fashion when statements by Ministers parrot so closely the language of one side?
It is this which leads me to suggest that Dr. Howells ought to retract and apologise for his untrue statement, and instead invite participation in the wider debate by all interested parties, not only content brokers such as record companies.
(signed) Chris Lightfoot.
Probably I was wise not to say,
I was heartened by your statement that the Government, like me, expects that copyright law should be upheld. Can you confirm that this policy will be extended even to the preparation of Intelligence reports by the Prime Minister's office?
It's not really obvious that there's any point in writing these letters, and doubtless my correspondence is already filed under N for `nutter' down at Anne's office. But I'm not the sort of person to run away from an, uh, discussion, and -- however facetious the original letter was -- there is a valid point here about the use of language in the copyright debate.
`Theft' is an example which particularly annoys me, but there are other examples on both sides. The use of the term `sharing' to mean `copying' is the obvious counterpart, and it's similarly unhelpful: to use the same word to describe the sharing of Free software and the theft of commercial music or film makes it easy to twist its meaning: (note that this was written by a judge, but this shouldn't worry you, because it's old news)
... he was a leader in the ``open source'' movement, the purpose of which was to make as much material as possible available over the Internet.
(I particularly admire the use of the past tense here.)
Piracy has been co-opted twice: first, more then two centuries ago, the word was turned from referring to vicious and violent robbery on the high seas to refer to commercial infringement of copyright; and now, by the Recording Industry Ass. of America and friends, to mean private copying. And so on.
(Taken from an email, so, this one will already be familiar to most of the readers of my ``'blog'' who actually know me....) Tuesday:
My morning has been totally bollocks so far. I woke up this morning just about recovered from my hangover / food poisoning / whatever, and decided to collect my bike from the station where it had been left since Sunday for complicated reasons. Since I've now mentioned (a) a bicycle and (b) Cambridge station, you can probably guess what's coming next, but in any case I'll allude briefly to the ghastliness that is travelling anywhere on Stagecoach Cambus.
Every time I do this I ask myself the question, `how is it possible to produce a bus service which is actually slower than walking?' In any case, I'm ill, man, so I didn't want to walk the the station. So I'm not in too great a mood by the time I finally get there.
And, when I do get there, I discover that most of my bicycle is still there. In hindsight this is probably something about which I should be cheerful, but obviously I wasn't too pleased about it at the time. Anyway, I go over to `Station Bikes' to get a new front wheel -- I wonder how much revenue these guys derive (indirectly) from petty crime? -- and establish that it'll take half an hour to fit a new wheel. So I buy a newspaper and a coffee and sit down, trying to radiate ``bring that cigarette one step closer and you'll regret it'' vibes to people waiting in the taxi rank queue.
When I get back to the repair place I observe (a) that they've fixed my bike, and (b) that the attendant is sitting on the step frantically pressing buttons on his mobile 'phone. I assume initially that he's writing a text message, but it becomes increasingly clear that he's actually playing Worm or Tetris or some fucking thing, and doesn't seem to intend to stop and allow me to pay up and go away. Somehow I find this really quite exquisitely rude -- which perhaps means that my sense of etiquette is obsolete -- but, in keeping with Stay Calm April, I say nothing. Eventually I have to go in, find Bicycle Repair Man and drag him away from his profitable employment actually fixing a bike.
Of course, no part of this -- with, perhaps, the exception of being a Victim of Crime, which in fact irritated me the least -- ought to have bothered me too much, but nevertheless it did. At least it was a bit cheaper than the last time I bought a new wheel.
(Actually `Stay Calm April' is a new invention which I am, uh, announcing here for the first time. The nice thing about inventing it now is that I only have to keep it up for two weeks. Win for player, I'd say.)
No common thread here at all, I'm afraid:
I hate to just repost something off SuckDot, but this study of how email addresses are acquired by spammers makes interesting reading. In particular, they conclude that obscuring email addresses on websites is entirely effective at stopping address harvesters -- even if just by writing
chris at ex-parrot.com
Harvesting of addresses from USENET was significant too, but only addresses in the headers were obtained. There's an obvious efficiency reason for that, if you're attacking somebody else's NNTP server. If you have your own newsfeed, it doesn't matter, obviously, since you could just grep through the spool files on-disk. I guess people smart enough to set up inn probably have better things to do than sell bulk email lists.
In one-sixth of cases where email addresses were given to on-line retailers, spam was sent in spite of the user `opting out' of marketing email. Quelle surprise.
I'm slightly surprised that the obscuring techniques work. There's obviously little economic reason for the spam-address-gatherers to write code to decipher them (or the common cases, anyway), since people who obscure their addresses are very likely to be unreceptive to spam, but there's so much malice in the spam debate that I'd expect some effort to harvest these addresses out of pure spite.
(You'll note that I don't bother to obscure my address on my web pages, though I do on USENET. Plainly, this is totally backwards, but there are other reasons to obscure one's address on USENET, and I find that a combination of bfilter (fast, learns) and Spam Assassin (slow, doesn't) kills almost all my spam.)
I got a response to my letter to Anne Campbell about Kim Howells's confusion over theft and copyright infringement. (Apparently an earlier copy of this response, went astray, hence the long delay.) She writes,
Dear Mr Lightfoot,
Thank you for your letter of 21st January.
Kim Howells was right to say that the kind of activitiy that Robbie Williams was condoning is illegal and, while not constituting ``theft'' under a legal definition, is nonetheless robbing the artist of the income by which they make their living. While this may be of little concern to a multimillionaire artist suck as Williams, internet piracy could have a serious impact on less established performers.
Dr. Howells was not making a statement of Government policy except to say that the Government expects copyright law to be upheld. I see know [sic.] reason why he should apologise for this.
Splendid, though she rather misses my point -- which is that Howells should apologise for trying to mislead the public, not for disapproving of file-sharing (or, for that matter, of Robbie Williams). It's nice to see that the Government believes that copyright should be upheld, too; cf. this old story.
(There are some other issues here, in particular the suggestion that `less established' performers ever make anything out of selling recordings; and the question of what effect file-sharing actually has on sales. But obviously none of that is really relevant, because copyright infringement is still infringement, regardless of the economics. And it still isn't theft, regardless of bluster by Howells and Campbell.)
So, Major Charles Ingram et al. have been found guilty of `procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception'. Aside from wondering exactly where the `deception' was here -- after all, he plainly answered the questions correctly -- this is sad news.
I don't know whether they can appeal, and none of the news reports address the question. I find it a little hard to believe that they can be guilty beyond reasonable doubt, especially since the judge wound up accepting a majority verdict. Majority verdicts are a 1960s Roy Jenkins innovation, designed to require gangsters to intimidate two or more members of a jury in order to produce a acquittal. I haven't seen any suggestion that intimidation was involved here, so I can only assume that this innovation has come adrift from its original intention, and is simply being used to avoid a hung jury and an expensive retrial.
In any case, I can't see anything much wrong with cheating on a television quiz. Celador, of course, don't seem to -- they're milking this for all it's worth, and will apparently be broadcasting a special documentary about the case. Putting up £1 million for members of the public to grab will, of course, invite a certain amount of ingenuity from members of the public, and that is commendable. In this case the scheme -- if a scheme at all -- was pretty amateurish, and may tell us more about the Royal Engineers than we would like to know. Regardless, a little bit of ingenuity and teamwork seems far more creditable than simply cramming a collection of fatuous `general knowledge' trivia.
This is all done with wwwitter.
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