Friday, 27 January 2012

ACTA


Those of us who thought the American PIPA and SOPA acts were bad need to start looking hard at the intended EU ACTA legislation. It is one of the most pernicious bits of legislation to threaten us in some time.

It’s strange isn’t it how the authoritarian dictates and tactics used to impose censorship and control  in one country echo those used elsewhere in the world. The forces driving these measures are global.

Just as SOPA and PIPA discussions were often held at short notice during the winter break to prevent opposition the EU has been discussing ACTA for years behind closed doors, in virtual secrecy. Even to the point that the draft has been agreed and signed off by many nations already – including the UK – with no domestic consultation whatsoever and months before it gets to the EU parliament for even their pseudo democratic discussion.

The acts supporters claim that it will not change the law, it’s just a simple trade agreement, therefore it requires no ministerial approval. You believe that at your peril!

Essentially it outsources copyright and IP protection to private firms, with powers to read your emails, get your ISP’s records and block you from the Internet. It would allow border guards to impound any goods or belongings that are thought to infringe copyright and even scan hard drives for infringing music and videos. It has implications for everything from generic medicines to shoes. Anything you own without a big business international brand name is potentially a target. There are no legal safeguards written in, assumption of guilt by the accuser is enough for them to take action. It’s not a ‘law’ you see, it’s just tidying up a ‘trade agreement’.

It must be bad when a French MEP has spoken out against it. Especially the way it was discussed and drafted in secret behind closed doors without external discussion. French MEP thinks it is antidemocratic!  

I desperately hope the companies like Wikipedia, Google and the like will oppose this legislation as enthusiastically as they opposed SOPA and PIPA. In the meantime publicity is vital.

A primer is here on Zdnet 


The MSM is waking up, even the Guardian!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I Found One!

Some weeks ago on a blog (although I have sadly forgotten which it was) a challenge was put forward to find 10 things we could do that were totally free of EU influence or control. At the time I couldn’t think of any but recently I thought of one!

An activity which anyone can attempt, that requires no licence or authorisation, is not the subject of any nannying advice from government or health quangos, is free of emissions and needs no protective clothing.

So why not try water divining.

OK, I hear it – “but that’s stupid it doesn’t work”. Except that actually it does work and I know this because…

Years ago, when renovating our house, we had a problem locating the water main. The house being on a rural bend and a junction there were plenty of possibilities but no sign of an external stop tap anywhere in either the front or the side road. Our Builder jokingly said we needed his old boss who could always find water pipes. I asked how, was he suggesting a hazel twig? And was told no, he used a couple of bits of wire.

Our builder, a sensible down to earth local tradesman, said it never worked for him. But he could show me how he had been told. Anything for a laugh, I went in search of some stiff steel wire.

Thus a short while later I found myself with two bits of chopped up wire coat hanger walking slowly back and forth across the front and side lawns feeling a complete and total idiot and hoping the neighbours weren’t watching. That was until I found three lines of ‘activity’ leading away from the house. One was the main drain, a giveaway because of the manholes, but the other two were completely concealed. One turned out to be a disused drain running to a long disused septic tank on the boundary and the other, diagonally across the lawn, was indeed the water supply pipe!

My background is down to earth scientific: physics, electronics and computing. I don’t get excited about ley lines or alien power grids or any of that stuff. In my book water divining should not work. It can’t work can it? There is no scientific process to allow it. But yet it works. I have since shown a few other people how to do it, and seen it work for some of them too. I don’t claim it’s reliable, and I don’t pretend to understand how it works. It’s certainly a weird emotion when it does.

It’s nice to know that there are some things that are outside the control of the PTB and that also suggest the world contains a lot more than politics, lies and corporate finance.

For my reader, hello Mum, who probably won’t believe a word of the above here are the instructions, why not give it a try?

Take two pieces of stiff steel wire, a wire coat hanger is ideal.  Make 2 lengths, each about a foot long, and bend each into an ‘L’ shape with a short 4 inch piece and an 8 inch piece. The bend must be sharp and exactly a right angle (a vice is good!) and the lengths must be absolutely straight, actual lengths do not matter  much but they must be identical.

The short piece is the ‘handle’ and I’ll call the long piece the pointer. Hold the handle by curling your fingers into the palm of the hand so the ‘handle’ rests in your hand (like a pistol but gently). Support the bottom on your little finger so the bend and pointer is clear of your hand and free to rotate.  You are not trying to control it or twist it, you can’t in that hold because the wire has no grip, you just support it with the handle vertical and the pointer horizontal and free to rotate.

Then, one wire in each hand, hold your hands in front of your chest a couple of inches apart, the pointers will swing around with any movement of your hands. Grip just hard enough to add a tiny bit of friction. 

You need the pointers horizontal, parallel with one another and pointing ahead. In that grip you can’t twist them so tip them slightly away from you, let gravity swing them down, then gently bring them back to horizontal and parallel to one another.

Now start surveying. You need to walk very slowly and gently and evenly to keep the pointers just resting parallel and horizontal and free to swing. They will wobble a bit randomly as you move but if they go far out of place just stop and reposition them. 

As you cross water (or electric cables) the pointers will either swing together and cross or they will repel, pointing along the run of the pipe. It’s fairly easy to tell their synchronised movement from any random wobbling caused by movement.

Think I’m joking? Just try it!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Bright Stuff


Mrs. Woodsy42 uses an Orange PAYG mobile. Generally reliable and reasonable cost and she has been quite happy with it.

But late last year while driving through France it started beeping. Damn things always know when you are busy don’t they, so we pulled off the motorway into an aire so she could check the text message and see who wanted her. It was an invitation from Bright Stuff to participate in their great offers. No, she didn’t want their offers and deleted it.

A few days later it started beeping again, Bright Stuff sending a highly resistible advertisement for some sort of crap. It was instantly deleted. Over the next few months the number of spam texts from Bright Stuff increased until by early January there was one per day. None of them gave any method of opting out.

But before binning the sim and going through the aggravation of changing numbers a little research. Bright Stuff appears to be a marketing arm of Orange, set up with some outfit called ‘Monkey Messages’.  Now it may be that some people are so desperate for texts and free MP3s that they want this stuff thrown at their phone to disturb their days. WE DON’T!

It appears that the initial ‘invitation’ spam is an automatic opt in – if you don’t reply ‘no’ you are co-opted. 

Having found the link between ‘Bright Stuff’ and Orange I went to the Orange web site. 
http://www.orange.co.uk/ There is NOT a MENTION of ‘Bright Stuff’ or ‘Monkey Messages’ or any indication they are connected to Orange, even in the small print links at page bottom. 

Having found (by web search because it’s not linked from Orange’s main page) the page http://www.orange.co.uk/brightstuff there is still no easy indication at all of any way to opt out from the messages.

If Orange think this is a moral and legitimate way to run their business I can only say I am disgusted with them. Such auto opt-in spam is not just a nuisance it is an invasion of privacy, it costs money if the phone is abroad, it blocks the phone up, and could be worrying and even dangerous to people who may only have a phone for specific notification or safety purposes. Shame on you Orange for such thoughtless and despicable tactics.

If anyone else is bothered by this particular text spamming you can stop it (apparently) by texting ‘stop’ to 200000 – I couldn’t even find that information on Orange’s web site.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

SOPA and PIPA

The SOPA and PIPA acts, currently working through the US government, are probably the biggest threat ever to the freedom of the internet. They give the Hollywood studios and RIAA power to mess with the fundamental structure of the Internet just to protect their outdated business models. Although american acts they will have repercussions around the world.

Wikipedia, along with various large Web companies and social media sites, are going dark tomorrow in protest against SOPA and PIPA. We should wish them luck, whatever we think of them in other respects they are on our side in this situation.

It would have been nice to hear something from our politicians.

Here is a short intro for anyone who doesn't know what the acts are about.:

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sunday Party Games


Way back in the dim and distant days of my extreme youth we used to have birthday parties, generally consisting, in that Wii, DVD, and mostly cash free era, of simple wholesome games and activities. Mixed in around the musical chairs and pass the parcel and sometime before the jelly and ice cream I can remember playing a newspaper game. 

The organiser, generally the mother of the lucky birthday boy or girl, would have taken a number of newspapers (probably my grandfather’s Daily Mirror in those days) and muddled them up, pages back to front, upside down and all out of order. Each competitor then took a pile of pages and on the mark of ‘go’, while sitting on a chair so no spreading them over the floor, had to sort out all their pages into the correct order and fold the paper properly back together. It wasn’t a trivial task for junior age kiddies, but after a few minutes the winner would be rewarded with a sweet or small chocolate bar.

This memory came to me this morning when I sat down to read the Sunday paper, trying to find the boy’s toys gadget bit, which is folded inside the homes bit and sideways on inside the larger format appointments section, which is inside the travel bit cunningly concealed inside the folded review section, and all held together in a solid clump by tiny perforating holes down the edges.  Almost the same game in reverse.

Last week I treated myself to a nice fancy computer monitor, replacing the now alarmingly flickering 10 plus year old glass tube monstrosity that was given to me free and has since then given 5 years good service. Oddly it took no more time to unpack and start using the new monitor than it took me to isolate all the bits of my Sunday paper this morning.

 Progress is sometimes a wonderful thing – perhaps.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Depressing news of SOPA, and censorship but United Utilities gets it right


It’s been a depressing week for news, and will probably get worse as we approach ‘Blue Monday’ next week (or the week after, there seems to be disagreement over this year's date). This is supposedly the most depressing day of the year when we run out of money because of Christmas overspending, the weather is crap, New Year resolutions are difficult or broken, work is back to the routine and numerous other alarums and excursions make life difficult.

This week has been bad enough with the USA passing laws to allow the imprisonment of its citizens without trial by allowing the military to take over police duties. This supposedly contravenes their constitution, but as we know politicians don't care about such things nowadays.

Then we have our own Ken Clarke trying to do something equally totalitarian, attempting to bring in laws giving the UK authorities the absolute powers of a third world tyranny. The power to lock people away and disappear them using a secret trial, without jury or publicity, in which the accused will not even be allowed to speak in their own defence or have contact with their appointed defence lawyer. (so how can that work?) The accused will not even know what crime they have been accused of. This breaks every single rule of justice and fairness, and indeed breaches our constitution. The most frightening part to me was the Mail report (can't find it now) where he said it was merely clarifying and simplifying procedures, which makes you wonder what they have been doing.

Next on my depression list we have the US SOPA and PIPA laws to censor the internet. (Here for Nominedeus' take.) If this goes ahead everyone will be affected as effectively any court in the USA will have carte blanche to close any Internet site across the world by removing their domain registration. Worse than that it makes the carriers ISPs and net service providers responsible for any copyright violations their customers might post., making life impossible for any public services like Facebook, Google, and Twitter that host user's content. In the light of today’s news of the extradition trial of a UK computer user  to the USA for allegedly breaking US copyright laws nobody will be safe from accusation even outside the USA. And the USA wonder why the world thinks of them as bullies! Fortunately there is significant opposition to the bills and for once Google, Facebook, Wordpress and other groups find themselves on the same side as Anonymous. An interesting example of my enemy's enemy. There is talk of an Internet blackout in protest next week. Being old I can remember the USA arguing that they should have control of international Domain registrations via ICANN because they would ensure its safety and independence while the Arabs, Europeans and Chinese and suchlike foreign folks couldn't be trusted not to misuse the power.....

With regards to the usual and ongoing greed culture I note EDF and British Gas, having hiked their prices for the winter, are now trying to pretend to be nice by giving us half the increase back, but not until they have filled their coffers during the last blast of winter weather.  This sort of commercial manipulation and extortion seems almost benign and irrelevent  in comparison to the things our political elites have in store.

But then yesterday I had one of those unexpected moments when at least one tiny bit of the world supplied a glimmer of hope in people. In the morning our water pressure went down to a trickle, and then the supply stopped. The problem with combi boilers! An interruption in supply really does mean no water at all which is annoying,. I was also a bit concerned about our elderly, on-their-own neighbour, so phoned the utility company. No waiting or queuing, and despite the usual mess of questions about address, date of birth, customer number, granny’s shoe size* etc to get to the helpline once there the helpline were helpful! Saying they already had reports of low pressure at our postcode and were investigating a suspected leak. I went out for the afternoon but there was still no water when I returned at 5pm. I checked the utility website (and the neighbour) and sure enough on the water company problems page was an item saying they had a burst main, where it was (about a mile from me) and that work was in progress. At about 8:30 in the evening the water came back. To my surprise about 15 minutes later the phone rang. The same helpful person from the utility company helpdesk, to tell me the workmen had reported the pipe as fixed and she was phoning to check our water had come back OK with no problems. We often complain about utility companies but it’s nice to know that within them there are people who do care about their customers and about providing a good service even at almost 9pm. So whatever negative opinions I hold I have to give United Utilities full marks for doing their job efficiently and helpfully on this occassion.
 
* that last one is a slight exageration

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Get involved.

I’m sure that anyone arriving here will already know about the democratic deficit in the UK. 

It’s a nice cosy idea that we have a democracy. That we elect representatives to go to Westminster so they can work together, discuss and decide issues in the way that maximises the benefits to us, their electorates.
While that system can never please everyone, as issues will always demand compromises, we still retain the fantasy that all the representatives do their honest best and are supporting the people and the country.

Sadly it simply doesn’t work like that any more (did it ever I wonder?). What really happens is we vote for one of the main brands of political party, the blues or the reds. Whichever has a majority choose the Prime Minister. He chooses the cabinet, and they become an autocratic elite governmental authority, effectively isolated from the voters and with a hold over the elected representatives strong enough to ensure those representatives are no longer representing us but will always support the government elite.  If you doubt that just listen to the political language, they talk about being ‘in power’, ‘winning power' in elections, this is how they think.

True enough, every few years the government make pseudo-democratic noises and enough promises to get their supporters re-elected, but they rarely keep those promises. Even when they do it’s usually in a manner that twists the result towards something they want rather than what was asked for.

That in itself is bad enough, and would be bad even if the representatives were honest people genuinely and selflessly determined to work for the country (some indeed are, but many are not). Now the entire law and justice system is being outsourced to the EU and the UN, our laws drawn up by an unelected self-serving bureaucracy and foisted on our country by our government in an attempt to ingratiate themselves into that higher bureaucracy or appease international commercial interests. All of this is happening in complete disregard for our constitution and our traditions, not to mention our wellbeing and prosperity. It may not yet be called totalitarianism, but increasingly it looks like it.

As a moderately pacifist person I don’t recommend lamp posts and rope, even though it is a traditional cure for traitors and governments who exceed their authority, but we surely need to do something to ensure our government starts working for us. I have had enough of working for them! 

Voting for the other team isn’t going to make any difference when they all come from the same background and putting our heads in the sand sadly won’t make them go away. I do recommend taking an interest and getting involved with the constitutional discussion forum started by Witterings from Whitney  and Ian PJ.

(edited to set the web addresses as links, they hadn't gone right!)

Saturday, 7 January 2012

So how is Progress?


A few nights ago I watched a reasonably decent BBC documentary on the history of stone age Britain about some newly discovered ruins they have found on the Orkneys. 

Coincidentally some Turkish ruins dating from over 11,000 years ago were recently mentioned over at Jo Nova’s blog.

 The Orkney programmes wasn’t one of the BBC’s best documentaries, I suspect the best of the BBC now also lies in the past. It was a bit dumbed down and it missed answering some important questions, but despite being introduced by Neil Oliver, who annoyed the hell out of me by bringing global warming into every episode of Coast, there wasn’t a mention of climate change to be found.

This 5000 year old site shows clearly that all those years ago there were buildings, specialist artisans, artworks, beliefs, all the features of an organised and enduring society. I suppose life might have been short and brutish by our standards but they managed to get by and obviously took pride and pleasure in their skills.

We all like to think we are very clever nowadays with our digital electronics, instant communications, science, technology, political values, income tax and suchlike. There is a built in arrogance to modern society suggesting that because these old communities had less knowledge than us in the technological areas that we now value they were therefore inferior, primitive and less clever people than us in all ways. 

Yet I sometimes wonder if we are really so much better. After all nobody knows what we may have lost because we can’t see what isn’t here. I wonder if our obsession with technology is really something that will endure and if our descendents  will still be around in 5000 years to dig up our temples to mammon?