Monday, November 27, 2006

Jon Stewart on 'Identity Theft Tuesday'

"Enjoy being you while you can."

Why is there no 'turn off overstrike mode' option

Two of the most idiotic and loathesome features of Windows are the capslock key and overstrike mode. Close competitors are the idiotic features whereby Windows ignores the fact that you were selecting only part of a word and force selection of the whole word instead, the fact that cut and paste defaults to keeping the current formatting and the fact that in Word a document that has track changes turned on will always open in the 'view with markup' mode.

I have never found a use for any of these features but turning them off is either not possible or not an option. Although the Insert key can be remapped to have another function this does not seem to guarantee elimination of the loathesome overstrike mode. Same holds for the capslock key. If I remap the key I will end up in a situation where capslock is turned on and I can't turn it off.

These should be user preferences that can be easily and reliably set at the platform level. I keep telling Windows to turn off sticky keys, why do I still get asked about them? I told the machine to turn the option O-F-F. That does not mean ask me again next time I hold the shift key down for five minutes. Its my shift key you stupid machine.

Nanny options like Melinda Gate's talking bloody paperclip should be easy to disable.

The PC keyboard has function keys but for some reason the user has never really been allowed to configure them. I want two keys added to my keyboard. The first would reset the capslock, overstrike and any other modal interaction (did I mention the ultra-idiotic numeric keypad overlay mode on the thinkpad).

The second key would be for control-alt-delete. This is now a regularly used key sequence, hitting it by mistake no longer has a negative consequence (oh yes I remember the handily placed RESET key on the Apple ][). So make it easy to activate.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Web 3.14159265

There has been so much talk of Web 2.0 and now Web 3.0 that its time to lay claim to the next meme.

O'Riely's definition of Web 2.0 always left mutch to be desired. Curiously the conference agendas seemed to always be filled with the same type of vaccuous venture capital driven bubble-speak as Web 1.0. All buzzwords, no substance.

At the Web Conference in Edinburgh I suggested trumping the Web 2.0 nonsense by adopting the Microsoft Approach: 'Web 2008', 'Web 2010' and so on. Instead they declared the Semantic Web to be Web 3.0.

So what next? As the title of this post suggests I believe that we should adopt the Knuth approach and declare Web 3.1, Web 3.14, Web 3.141 and so on. Not only would this be fun and cliquish it is the only thing I can think of that might succeed in burying this idiotic meme in the popular press.

Blogger Beta sucks

The blog this button no longer works on my Google toolbar.

Come on guys, wouldn't have hurt to make it work right.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Matthew Taylor blames the blogs

It is not surprising to see politicians complaining about the effect of the Internet on their profession. Nobody likes it when technology makes you more accountable.

His specific criticisms are that the Web and in particular blogs fuel "shrill discourse of demands". The article continues:

he said more needed to be done by the web community in general to encourage people to use the internet to "solve problems" rather than simply abuse politicians or make "incommensurate" demands on them.

The blogs certainly do encourage a certain type of dialogue. But so does the mainstream media. Is it really the case that the mainstream media that has reduced all politics to personalities and all policy to focus group tested soundbites are any worse?

Blogging has been possible for over a decade. As some readers know I ran a political web site in 1992, the first politics site on the Web in fact. Back then it was the mainstream politicians who were trying to find ways of getting their message out without having it intermediated 'filtered' by the press.

What blogs are really a reaction to is a combination of the mainstream or 'legacy' media and the strategies politicians have adapted to manage it. The most frequent complaints in the blogosphere are not about personalities or politics but about the blatant manipulation of the legacy media.

The Friday afternoon document drop that comes after the deadlines for the national newspapers is now a staple of every Western country. The Mathew Taylors of the world are upset only because it no longer works as well as it used to. The Friday afternoon drop takes place after the professional reporters have already started writing their stories but just as the amateur blogger logs in after the day job. The information that the legacy media ignores is grist for the prime weekend blogging newscycle.

rather than work out these dilemmas in partnership with their elected leaders, they were encouraged to regard all politicians as corrupt or "mendacious" by the media, which he described as "a conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage".

Again this seems to me to be much more true of the legacy media than the blogs. The blogs are partisan and many blogs make a full time profession out of muckraking but they are considerably more focused in their criticisms than the legacy media.

It is true that the legacy media has paid considerably less attention to the Abramoff and Cunningham scandals in the US than the blogosphere. The blogosphere on the other hand has paid much less attention to Hillary Clinton's haircuts and Al Gore's choice of suit. Five years ago these were the leading stories in the legacy media for several news cycles. Meanwhile the question of whether it was possible to increase spending and cut taxes without busting a huge hole in the budget was ignored.

The blogs are having a profound effect but that effect is being felt directly by the legacy media rather than the politicians. The effect on the politicians is indirect, they have to unlearn the habbit of using soundbites and start actually discussing policies.

Contrary to what Mathew Taylor believes the people are not behaving like irresponsible teenagers, it is the politicians like him who have been treating them as such for the past twenty years and that is why they are so angry.

UK Passport security. Oh dear oh dear oh dear

Fatally, however, the ICAO suggested that the key needed to access the data on the chips should be comprised of, in the following order, the passport number, the holder's date of birth and the passport expiry date, all of which are contained on the printed page of the passport on a "machine readable zone."

[The Guardian]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Twist on the Money Mover Scam

I just got this in email.

Dear Sir/Ma'am,

Calvary greetings to you in the name of our lord!Kindly
note that wehave some of our missionaries travelling to different
destinationsaround the world on mission team.Arrangement have been made in
regardsto payment as we have a lot of our sponsors in USA,UK,Japan,Austrailia

It would be our pleasure to know if you could assist in theevangelical
work by arranging their flight tickets booking.We shall besending you payment
from sponsors immediatelly you confirm theirflight tickets arrangement.
Should you require to get back to me urgently,do not hesitate to do soby
contacting me via E-mail,Phone or Fax.

May God bless you!

The tickets are almost certainly bought using stolen credit cards. Presumably they have some means of reselling the tickets or claiming a refund.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Its the oversight, not the supoenas

Lots of silly articles are being written predicting a showdown between Congress and the administration over subpoena power.

The point being missed here is that the ability to hold the hearings and set their agenda is what is important. The administration can stonewall attempts to subpoena the administration, they cannot block subpoenas againt third parties.

If you want to find out how mant times Jack Abramoff visited the Whitehouse you subpoena him, not the Whiehouse. You subpoena the Whitehouse to prove that they have something to hide.

The point of oversight is to lay the groundwork before questioning the guilty. The only reason you need them at hearings at all is to demonstrate that you gave them an opportunity to give their side of the issue. The hope is that they have nothing to say.

Web 3.0

Looks like O'Rielly's attempt to define the next generation of the Web has been beaten. Web 2.0 meet Web 3.0.

How long before others take my suggestion to use the year? Web '08, Web'09 and so on.

Interesting article by the way.

Senate Midterms, scandal, not politics

Much is being made of the role of policy and the Iraq war in the Democratic takeover of the House and Senate. This seems to me to be misplaced.

Only two of the Senate losses can be attributed to policy issues: Santorum and Chafee. The voters were voting against GOP control of the Senate, not Chafee. The voters in Pensylvania realized that Santorum was exactly the type of Republican politician that disgusted them most.

The other four fell because of self inflicted wounds. Looking straight into a video camera held by an Indian and directing a racist insult at the as Allen did in Virginia is simply incomprehensible. Burns and DeWine were both felled by corruption, Burns because he is likely to face prosecution over his role in the Abramoff scandal, DeWine because the entire state party was embroiled in the Noe scandal.

It appears to me that the only race lost due to a bad campaign decision was Talent's loss to McCaskill where the Talent campaign mishandled the stem cell research issue. Michael J. Fox's campaign video was personal and powerful. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Fox as a faker the Talent campaign should have disowned him immediately. Instead they were silent and were (correctly) interpreted as endorsing Limbaugh's mean spirited attack.

Health service IT boss 'failed computer studies'

The GBP 12 billion ($20 billion) project is behind schedule and headed for the traditional HMG fiasco.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Midterm postmortems - Republicans

Hekuva job Karl.

Republicans are quick to rally round Karl Rove asserting that its not his fault that the Republicans lost the midterm elections.

Not so fast.

I agree that Rove is one of the finest political tactitians in US history but he isn't a good strategist and certainly isn't a genius. Exit polls indicate that the biggest issues for voters were corruption, Iraq and incompetence. Although both were outside Rove's direct control his influence was critical.

Rewind to the first 12 months of the Bush Presidency. After running as 'a uniter not a divider' Bush swung sharply to the right before the election results were counted. From the start Rove put 'the base' first. Any hope of bipartisanship evaporated as Rove attacked with a series of wedge issues beginning with abortion and gay marriage and ending with the biggest wedge issue of all - the Iraq war.

If Rove had been a political genius he would have realized that Bush could have eclipsed Reagan if he had chosen to act just slightly differently in the wake of 9/11. The entire country was behind him and wanted him to suceed. Instead of reaching out to the middle Bush sucker punched them.

Rove was not in control of every part of the Bush strategy but he was most certainly the author of the Terri Schaivo fiasco. Intended as a cheap means of ingratiating the party with the conservative right the Schiavo affair reaked of political opportunism so baddly that even the base was offended. Later when the Katrina fiasco unfolded numerous comentators noticed how Bush had rushed back to the Whitehouse from his Crawford ranch to sign the bill but didn't find Katrina as important.

If Rove had been halfway competent, let alone a genius he would have had the President on show before the storm hit. Rove was also on holiday when Katrina hit but what sort of genius does not have a halfway competent deputy to mind the store and call him in when there is a major problem?

Rove's personal involvement with Abramoff was not discussed widely enough to have been a cause of the defeat. Rove does however share responsibility for the failure to police the Congress and ensure that political liabilities were removed. In particular Rove was responsible for pressuring Mark Foley to stand for another term despite the fact that his page problem was already known to Hastert. A halfway competent strategist would have known what Hastert knew.

Rove also bears an indirect responsibility for the culture of corruption. Rove was so good at the tactics that the party had become complacent. Ted Stevens would never had his bridges to nowhere approved if the party had seriously considered the possibility of defeat. The party approved them because they thought that they could get away with it. The insistence on controlling every news cycle set the party up for failure as soon as the news cycle refused to be controlled.

Midterm postmortems - Democrats

Success has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.

One might think that after the most successful midterm elections in over thirty years that most Democrats would be applauding the '50 states' strategy of Howard Dean. Not so, James Carville is attacking Dean claiming that the party could have won another 10 to 15 seats by targetting the resources.

Dean supporters counter that if the party had followed its usual strategy it would have only backed 18 seats and almost certainly fallen short of the 15 necessary to win. This argument has a lot going for it, particularly as it is far from clear that the Democrats would have suceeded in picking up 8 GOP seats hit by scandal without the ground-work laid under the 50-state strategy.

The more important argument is that Dean and Carville were trying to achieve very different things. When Dean became chair two years ago very few people expected the Democrats to take the House or the Senate in 2006. Dean's strategy was designed to start building infrastructure that would support the party in the years beyond. As the political mood of the country changed and Democrats realized that there was an opportunity the argument was made for a tactical shift to the 'battleground states'.

This conflict between strategy and tactics is not new. Nor is it necessary for one to exclude the other. US politics has long been oversaturated with cash. It is not clear that Allen could have beaten Webb or Burns have beaten Tester by spending another million dollars.

Nor is the system a static one as Carville implies. Strategy is dialectic, if the Democrats had adopted different tactics the Republicans would have responded. Attacking the Republicans in 50 states reduced the amount of money flowing from 'safe' seats to the battleground states. The amount spent on the 50 states strategy was small compared to the amount of Republican cash that was pinned down.

The Democrats might have gained more seats in 2006 with a different allocation of resources. But like betting on roulette it is easy to see how you might have done better after the fact. If the 18 seats strategy promited by most of the party had been followed the Democrats would have won fewer seats. It is hard to see how 40 seats could have been won when nobody argued for that strategy.

Which does the party need more: another 10 seats in the House it already controls by a 15 seat margin or a nationwide party infrastructure capable of taking the Republicans on in any state of the nation?

Until Dean the Democrats had no party organization whatsoever in Alaska. Even today the staff is small. Ted Stevens, the incumbent Senator up for election in 2008 is facing a major corruption investigation. The offices of his son were raided recently after which the son decided not to stand again. Stevens is also a target for Republican criticism, his bridges to nowhere costing $315 million and $1.5 billion are widely considered to be a major cause of the loss of the Senate. If Stevens is replaced by a Democrat in 2008 the 50 state strategy will be the reason.

Why are wireless telephone handsets so useless?

I am now on my second wireless telephone system. The first, a Siemens gigaset died within 18 months due to the poor quality of the components used despite costing almost $2,000. After the third $300 basestation died it was time to write off the nine proprietary and system specific handsets at over $100 each.

The other problem with the Siemens was that visitors found the system unintuitive and had to be shown how to use it. So even though I found no difficulty using it the system was a constant source of aggravation.

The second system, an AT&T badged Uniden system was a lot cheaper but offers fewer features. It only supports one line so I have to have a separate basestation and handsets for the office line. The basestations only support 6 phones each. Again the handsets are proprietary and specific to one basestation.

My rule is that a phone should always be where you are likely to need it. 12 handsets may sound a lot but it isn't really. Each member of the family needs one in their bedroom - thats 4 plus one for the guest bedroom, two for the offices, one for the kitchen, living room, hot tub and workshop. Another will be needed if we get round to building a garage. My house is a bit larger than most but there is no real reason why there should be any limit on the number of handsets. If I was designing the system I would design it to support at least 64. Another related problem is that the wireless signal is not really strong enough to cover the whole house. This is not unusual and there should be provision for repeater stations.

The AT&T and Siemens systems both have half-baked directory support. Both systems assume that you will want to have different directories on every handset. On the AT&T you have to program each number into each handset separately. This is very tedious with 6 handsets. so as a result people wander round the house to find the 'right' handset to call a person. The Siemens had a scheme for copying the directory between phones but this was also half-baked. To copy the directory you had to enter the command on every phone separately.

Both systems are poor when it comes to handling area codes. Using the redial feature on the AT&T always fails unless you remember to press the right sequence of buttons to select the correct area code. This can and therefore should be done automatically.

Another irritating feature of both systems is the lack of features to control which handset rings when. I don't want the phone to ring at all in the bedroom at night. There are some callers whose calls I want to go straight to voicemail and some that I just want to hear a fast busy.

The reason for the lack of usability in these systems is that they are all limited by the user interface of the handset. Typing in callers using a keypad is a pain. The phone system should have a network interface and allow remote management via the Web.

My ideal home wireless telephone system would be WiFi based. Both the phone lines and the fax line are VOIP. More important than the technology though would be the feature set:

  • Use standards based non-proprietary protocols.
  • Support a minimum of 16 handsets, preferably more.
  • Support a minimum of 4 repeater stations.
  • Cost less than $200 per basestation, $50 per handset.
  • Support at least two lines.
  • All management operations accessible through Web interface.
  • Directory entries automatically replicated to every handset.
  • Operation of the handset to follow familiar use model.
  • Central reporting of battery status
  • Support all existing features (speakerphone, headset jack.

Lithium ion batteries would be a welcome but non-essential addition.

I don't think that it would have taken very much thought to realize the need for any of these features. Why does it take the manufacturers so long to understand?

Friday, November 10, 2006

National Donut Day

today is national donut day and the Marine Corps birthday. This is not a coincidence as this article inDefenseLINK News explains.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wednesday Shipping Container Blogging

Dvorak has an interesting article on turning shipping containers into housing.

Its a neat idea. Main problem would be the limited width. 8 ft wide rooms are not easy to use.

Better idea might be to use them as structural elements within a more conventional building. As a foundation, framing or to provide tunnels or ariel walkways.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Idiotic Prediction of the Day

[Houston Chronicle]: "Daisy Waugh, columnist for The Times of London, wrote: 'Never again will an aging multimillionaire take a beautiful young bride with an unsubstantiated history and be arrogant enough to imagine that she's not interested in his money,' she wrote."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

NeoCon III

Further reading of the NeoCons attempts to relaunch themselves shows that they may have more in mind than getting an early start in the post-election recriminations of the Republican party. In addition to re-affirming their commitment to 'stay the course' the NeoCons want to invade Iran as well.

One of the most infuriating features of the NeoCon cabal is their attempt to claim that the future is inherently unpredictable and so there is no reason to suppose that their wishful thinking might be entirely wrong. The invasion of Iraq 'might' have been a cakewalk, but most serious analysts predicted that the occupation following the invasion would be very grim.

So now that they are planning to attack Iran seems a good time to point out the likely outcomes.

  • The utterly implausible outcome is the one where the Mullahs simply fold like a cheap umbrella after a few weeks bombardment. The regime has already lost a million martyrs in the Iran-Iraq war. Expecting the mullahs to care much over a body count of less than a hundred thousand is only possible if you are profoundly ignorant of the nature of the regime. The mullahs appear to believe that the US will invade sooner or later unless they build an effective nuclear deterrent. How is an attack meant to dissuade them?

  • Equally implausible is the idea that the US somehow manages to find men and materiel to launch a ground invasion that results in the same rapid initial success seen in Iraq. The US military is fully committed already, there are no troops left in reserve to launch a successful ground invasion of a country with three times the population of Iraq and a considerably better equipped military.

    The best outcome then is that Iran simply ignores the attack and continues as if it never happened without attempting to retaliate, in other words the best outcome that can be reasonably expected is that the US position is no worse after the attack.

    It is rather unlikely that Iran will not retaliate. They have three possible avenues to do this. The first is to use their proxies in Lebanon to attack Israel. Iran demonstrated its willingness to do this three months ago when it allowed its proxy Hezbollah to escalate tensions by kidnapping an Israeli soldier. The second avenue is to use their proxies in Iraq to attack the US directly. The third avenue is to go for the West's jugular and shut down transport of oil through the Straits of Hormuz.

    My guess is that the Iranians would go for the second and third option. The second being not so much an option as a more or less inevitable result, if the US attacks Shi'ias in Iran the Shi'ia militias in Iraq are going to find it much easier to recruit causing the Iraqi civil war to escalate further.

    Even if Iran was a fourth rank military power it would have no difficulty in blockading the gulf. Supertankers are the slowest ships imaginable, their cost is stupendous. The insurers are risk averse. Iran was only persuaded to suspend attacks on tankers during the 1987-88 tanker war because it could not afford the risk that the US would assist Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. The cease-fire was signed months later.

    Today Iran has what it did not twenty years ago - surface to sea missiles allowing it to effectively control the straits without the need for surface boats.

  • David Frum

    I already blogged the Vanity Fair Piece. Kevin Drum notes a comment by David Frum that I had also thought particularly noteworthy but for different reasons. [The Washington Monthly]

    "I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."

    Drum's take is 'so what did you expect with this president'. Having written speeches for others my take is 'since when was policy decided by speechwriters?'.

    The role of a speechwriter is to communicate policy, not to make it. If a speechwriter for Kennedy or Clinton had attempted to 'persuade the president to commit himself to certain words' they would have been shown the door very quickly.

    The risk is that policy will be decided by which course of action allows for the greatest rhetorical flourish. As a speechwriter Frum was responsible for the phrase 'Axis of Evil', probably the single most disastrous phrase used by any US President. Effectively a declaration of war against three countries at once the phrase Axis of Evil ensured that Iran and North Korea would ensure that they acquired nuclear weapons at sany cost.

    NeoCons - Blame Bush for taking our advice

    After railroading the administration and the country into a war that has conspicuously failed to meet its objectives the architects of the fiasco have found someone to blame - the President. []

    They don't accept any blame themselves of course: they haven't stopped offering advice and they refuse to admit that plenty of policy specialists had predicted the outcome of the war in advance. The President was at fault for failing to execute their plan correctly. The plan was undermined by opponents within the administration. Socialism did not fail, it has never been tried.

    The NeoCons no longer matter. It is clear from the article that this administration no longer listens to them. Even if a future president were to accept their world view the country will not. Instead of remaking the Middle East to suit the interests of Israel and the West they have reshaped the region to suit the interests of Iran and the Mullahs.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    You need a lie detector for what?

    The Denver Post reports that the gay male prostitute at the center of the Haggard allegations failled a lie detector test.

    You need a machine to tell you that he might be lying? Seriously.

    In fact all the 'lie detector' is alleged to do is to detect stress. The test was taken at 5am in the morning and the subject has been followed around by the press for the past 24 hours so finding stress is not suprising.

    Besides which alleged lie detectors are no better than Witch smelling devices. The guild of polygraph operators has standing instructions on its members to refuse to be involved with any scientific testing.

    Update: Haggard admits buying crystal meth, denies using it, having sex with the prostitute. But his voice is on the prostitute's answering machine discussing $100/$200 buys of meth. So while there are points of disagreement the polygraph result appears to be definitively busted.

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    When customer preference detection goes wrong

    I recently attempted to find out if Bronowski's The Ascent of Man has been reissued in DVD form yet. Unfortunately it appears not, at least not in the USA as yet althought Keneth Clark's equally excellent Civilization is available.

    After viewing Civilization and the Ascent of Man Amazons comparison shopping algorithm gets a brainwave. I might want other books with the word 'civilization' in their title.

    The crossover appeal is rather interesting and not what you might expect. 9% of the people who look at the history of porn by Kenneth Clarke's series instead but the number of customers going the other way is too small to register. The history of porn is #5,000 or so, Clarke is at #1000 despite costing twice as much.

    WaPo: Seafood Population Depleted by 2048, Study Finds

    The idea we might run out of fish is completely believable and demonstrates the critical problem with fisheries politics. Every year stocks dwindle. Every year scientists call for massive cuts in quotas. Every year quotas are cut by an amount that is insufficient to halt the decline.

    Jarred Diamond explains a similar set of political processes in his book Collapse. This should be required reading for all politicians. The point is that civilizations can and do collapse and the reasons for this occurring are very much the same reasons that stop our politicians getting to grips with issues like exhaustion of the fisheries.

    The action of the politicians is not just shortsighted from an environmental point of view, it is dooming the fishing industry to extinction as well. No fish, no fishing. If the industry had accepted the cuts proposed in the 1950s quotas would be an order of magnitude larger than they are today. Instead the fishermen fight every quota cut tooth and nail.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Sun's Project Blackbox -- datacenter in a container - Engadget

    So now we find out why so many geeks seem to have suddenly taken an interest in shipping containers. Sun's Project Blackbox -- datacenter in a container - Engadget

    The data center in a container concept is the next logical step in containerization: containerized manufacture. Build the equipment into the container, on arrival plug it into whatever inputs and outputs it requires. If the machinery malfunctions swap it out for a working unit, return the defective one to base for repair.

    Information fits perfectly into this scheme as the inputs and outputs are bits, not atoms. Bury the container underground and it becomes very hard to steal.